Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Production, not consumption drives economies

It is often said that we live in a consumer-driven economy, with the implication being that not only does the economy primarily serve the consumer, but there seems to be an implicit corollary to this statement that since consumer activity (or consumption) directs the economy, that a reliable method to increase the size of an economy is to increase the consumer activity of consumption.  This incorrect belief assumes that the correlation between an increase in a society's wealth and the increase in consumption of that wealth means that the consumption of that wealth is what created the wealth in the first place1.

To enrich the members of our society we have to produce more wealth for them to be able to consume.  While being able to consume wealth may be the motivation for its production, but consumption itself does not create more wealth any more than consuming a bowl of oatmeal causes more of it to appear in your pantry.

People consume goods and services, and not money, so wealth is definable as the quantity of goods and services available, and this is the measure of an economy.  The only possible way an economy is grown is by increasing the production of wealth. I say only possible way, but it's simpler than that - since a growing economy is defined as one where wealth is increasing, the only real way to increase wealth is to increase the rate of its production, unless, of course, one believes that wealth may be increased by use of either magic or pixie dust.
  • This requires capital investment in either new (higher output) equipment or research and development into more efficient methods of production.  
  • Only those people who have been able to amass and manage large amounts of capital are able to afford to both make those investments and support themselves comfortably.
  • Only if there is the possibility of reward will they risk the sure thing of keeping their money with the possibility of losing it on an investment that can go bad.  
  • Only the threat of losing their investment will incentivize them to do the necessary work to be determine that their money and the resources that will be consumed by it's spending will actually produce more wealth than is consumed.
Getting more money into the hands of consumers by allowing them to earn the money through their production of wealth will improve the economy.  But the increase in consumer spending is an effect, not a cause of increased prosperity.  When more wealth is produced it follows that more can (and will) be consumed and not the other way around.

I admit that this may sound about as ridiculous a point to argue as arguing that the earth is a sphere or that 2+2 really is 4, but I keep hearing people arguing, in effect, that 2+2 may equal 5 for sufficiently large values of 2.  The explanations are always long and involved, but they amount to nothing more than hand waving to distract from their hollowness.

I therefore assert that when people start talking about how getting more money into the hands of consumers will help the economy, and when they propose that it be done by either first taking that money from others or by just printing it, then either they are ignorant or they are lying.  I suspect that either explanation is equally probable for the current political class today.

  1. ^For the purposes of my explanation of why this is a stupid idea, I am assuming the impossibility of time travel, the existence of which I am willing to concede would be a possible means for goods and serviced could be utilized prior to their creation.  Of course if you want to debate this point with me you should first debunk Hawking's chronology protection conjecture.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Bipartisanship for our lifetime...

So I heard Representative Eric Cantor (Virginia) state earlier this week his intention to repeal Obamacare and replace it with Cantorcare, which, apparently, means that only the "popular" provisions, i.e. requiring insurance companies to provide coverage to people with pre-existing conditions AND requiring companies that provide insurance to children to cover those children to the age of 26.

I don't know if Cantor thinks he can compromise with Obama, and that maybe this will be a way to get a less-bad law in place of the current one, but this current batch of Democrats have proven time and again that they do not honor their commitments.  And if they do succeed, then their fingerprints will be on the destruction of our health care and health insurance markets.  Consider:
  • Insurance for pre-existing conditions is not insurance, it is welfare.  Insurance is when you pay into a common risk pool to cover future (unknown) risks.  If it's something you already have, then it's not a risk, it is a reality, and to have someone else pay for your reality is welfare, not insurance.
  • Children to the age of 26.  So what is already happening here is companies are beginning to refuse to offer policies on children.  Nevermind the classification of a 26 year old person as a child, but in our current nanny-state country, that somehow seems to fit.

The real problem here is that they are not "forcing" insurance companies to do squat, they are "prohibiting" me from entering into agreements with those companies under terms outside of what they "deem" acceptable.  Who are those idiots to decide for me?

I will never support any Democrat because of what they have collectively done to my country these past 4 years that they've controlled Congress.  For the Republicans to repeal the abominable restrictions on my freedom in Obamacare I expect and demand.  But for them to replace it with their own version will force me to refuse to support them either.  Ever.  Might not be a bad thing for me to give up my interest in politics.

to paraphrase Orwell, "The voters outside looked from democrat to republican, and from republican to democrat, and from democrat to republican again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Understanding The Trade Deficit and How It Can Be Fixed

To understand what a trade deficit really is, I think it best to illustrate the abstract with a concrete example. Look at the following financial transactions of a "Mr. T" (this was an actual person whose full name was not given, but from whose financial ledgers this example is drawn):
  • T exports to France a shipment of cotton valued at $200,000.  Shipping costs amounted to $80,000, and the shipment sells in France for $320,000 making a $40,000 profit.
  • T spends his $320,000 purchasing French goods which he ships back to the United States at a cost of $32,000 (bringing the total cost of the shipment to $352,000)  He is able to sell this locally for $422,400 realizing a $70,400 profit.
From the point of view of the U.S. customhouse, Mr. T exported $200,000 in goods and imported $352,000 in goods, thus concluding that the sum of his transactions resulted in a $152,000 trade deficit.  Somehow, in spite of the $110,400 profit made by T, this is a "bad thing."

Some time later, T sent another shipment of $200,000 worth of cotton to France, but the vessel carrying it sank, resulting in a loss of $200,000 for T.  From the point of view of the U.S. customhouse however, they recorded exports of $200,000 and no imports, resulting in a $200,000 trade gain.

Clearly, this example shows the way forward for us to rectify our trade deficit in very short order.  The United States should:
"...after entering entering into the custom-house her articles for exportation, cause them to be thrown into the sea.  By this course her exportations can speedily be made equal to her capital; importations will be nothing, and our gain will be, all which the ocean will have swallowed up." -- from "Sophismes Econimiques" by Frederic Bastiat
I pity the fool country which follows that course...

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Shades of grey....

It’s not that I don’t see the shades of grey, it’s that in many cases I see them up close, and I can see the little black and white dots that make up the grey.  And they are black and white.  I think it’s just that so many other people focus so much on the “big picture” that they lose sight of the details (wherein the devil lies).

Many people cannot see the trees for the forest.

To expound upon this, I also assert that a good does NOT “cancel out” an evil.  Life is not arithmetic. You cannot simply take the sum total of all the good and all the evil and that is what you either owe or are due.  When you accumulate good karma or bad karma, you must satisfy both before your balance is clean.  If I save a person from dying, that does not mean that I am now allowed to kill someone else.  Yet somehow people think that it’s ok to do a little harm here or there so long as the greater good is served.  Maybe, but only if it’s done because to not do it would cause a greater amount of harm, and even then, I believe that you must accept responsibility for the harm you have done.

So why all the fuss about details?  Well, the problem with doing something ill "for the greater good" is  that one can never foresee all the possible consequences of one's actions.  We must therefore accept the unintended consequences of our actions as a part of the price for pretending that there are shades of grey.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Hybrid car burns down warehouse

So there was a warehouse fire in San Carlos last week (9 November 2010), caused by Neil Young's hybrid car being left to charge unattended. What if your neighbor had one and left it to charge overnight while he slept.  His house could catch fire, burn and catch YOUR house on fire in the process. Given the newness of these cars, and the obvious danger this un-tested technology poses to the public I think it would only be appropriate for the feds to announce a moratorium on hybrid and electric cars. 

Hey, if that's a good enough strategy for oil drilling off the Louisiana coast, then it's a good enough strategy for the "Environmentalist" activists in California.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Remembering 1942

Today is the 68th anniversary of the Wickard V. Filburn decision.  This court case extended the encroachment of the federal government into activity in the individual states by way of the "Commerce Clause" in the U.S. Constitution.

Article 1, section 8, clause 3 grants to the U.S. Congress the power:
To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes;
The events leading up to this case were these:
  • The Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938 established limits on the amount of wheat any given farmer was allowed to grow.
  • In July of 1940 Filburn was given notice that he would be allowed to plant wheat on 11.1 acres.
  • In the Fall of 1940 Filburn planted 23 acres of wheat.
  • In the Spring of 1941 he harvested an additional 239 bushels of wheat from the 11.9 acres he had planted in excess of his allotment.  He never sold any of this excess wheat, but kept it for his own consumption.
The U.S. Supreme Court in 1942 overturned the Federal District court ruling that found for Filburn holding that even though none of the excess wheat was ever sold, the fact that he grew it meant that he did not have to buy it elsewhere on the market, and thus by deciding to not engage in commerce, he was, in fact, engaging in interstate commerce, and his actions were therefore subject to be regulated by the federal government.

I would like you to consider:
  1. Is there any activity in which you can engage in which it is impossible to involve commerce of some form?
    1. If it could possibly involve commerce, then by the logic of the Marshall court, it is subject to the laws of the federal government, even if you decide to not engage in commerce.
  2. The 10th amendment  states: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."  If all activity is under the purview of federal authority, then what does this mean?
It is under this "interpretation" of the Commerce Clause that the federal government has used to justify its ever expanding usurpation of power from the people and the states to who the federal government is supposed to serve. This is the justification for:
  • Federal Criminal Drug Laws
  • Federal regulation of a local Chicago meat market
  • The subjugation of a local Pennsylvania steel manufacturer to the National Labor Relations Boar
  • Many more federal laws regulating individual conduct, many of which may have laudable goals, but are really the responsibility of the State and local governments, who are really in a better position to craft rules appropriate to their local populations.
California Democrat Representative Fortney Stark pretty much summed up this attitude recently when he infamously said "The federal government, yes, can do most anything in this country."  Jerk.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Friedman on the four ways money can be spent

There are four ways in which you can spend money.
  1. You can spend your own money on yourself. When you do that, why then you really watch out what you’re doing, and you try to get the most for your money. 
  2. Then you can spend your own money on somebody else. For example, I buy a birthday present for someone. Well, then I’m not so careful about the content of the present, but I’m very careful about the cost. 
  3. Then, I can spend somebody else’s money on myself. And if I spend somebody else’s money on myself, then I’m sure going to have a good lunch! 
  4. Finally, I can spend somebody else’s money on somebody else. And if I spend somebody else’s money on somebody else, I’m not concerned about how much it is, and I’m not concerned about what I get. And that’s government.
-- Milton Friedman

Thursday, October 21, 2010

I support Justice Clarence Thomas

Just got an email from CREDO (I got on their email list after voicing support for one of their gay-rights causes) demanding that Supreme Court Justice Clarance Thomas apologize to Anita Hill.

I remember the confirmation hearings, I remember the unsupported allegations by Anita Hill.  She was the ONLY person to testify at those hearings against Clarence Thomas, in spite of the fact that the Democrats ran the Senate at that time (and I find it hard to believe that, if any shred of evidence to support any allegations actually existed that they would have aired them, especially given the public statements at the time that "We're going to 'bork' him."

Nancy Altman who worked with both Thomas and Hill at the Department of Education testified before the U.S. Senate that:
"It is not credible that Clarence Thomas could have engaged in the kinds of behavior that Anita Hill alleges, without any of the women who he worked closest with—dozens of us, we could spend days having women come up, his secretaries, his chief of staff, his other assistants, his colleagues—without any of us having sensed, seen or heard something."
Not just her, but a number of women came forward to testify in opposition to Hill's claims against Clarance Thomas.  Staffers to Senator Joseph Biden (who was the chair of the Judiciary Committee and an opponent of Thomas) alleged that there were a total of 2 people who made statements to them in support of Hill.  I can only assume that neither was credible enough to testify or as willing to risk getting caught lying as Hill, as neither testified before the Senate.

I can never know the truth of her statements in any absolute sense, but if she did, in fact, lie, there is no possible justifiable reason for her to do so.  If she did not lie, than she is an idiot for making such allegations without supporting evidence.  I believe her to be an ideologue, not an idiot.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Marksmanship and Life 3 - Self Position

Learning to let the rifle rest where it wants to is fundamental to being able to hit your target.  The bullet is propelled down range by a small explosion, and the recoil caused by that explosion will move the rifle.  If the marksman is trying to consciously "muscle" the barrel to point to the target, then that will be the weakest support for the rifle's position.  The recoil may be initially directed back, but the weakness of the barrel's support due to the "muscle" action will cause more successful motion against that direction than will be directed elsewhere.

Therefore, when aiming at a target, one should sight in, relax for a moment and see where the barrel points.  The way to adjust ones aim from that point on is to move ones body until the barrel points properly to the target.

Being able to properly direct ones efforts is fundamental to being able to achieve one's goals.  The results of effort are achieved by the "explosion" of action one aims at one's hoped-for goal.

My experience is that in the undertaking any significant effort there is always resistance from the inertia of the status quo.  This is not a bad thing, as the status quo is usually the safer path and deviation is usually risky.  I think of it as guard rails, it protects me from carelessness, but also makes it difficult for me to get off into the really fun places beyond them.

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  As I expend effort I am invariably pushed back upon.  If I am properly situated I can withstand and overpower the pushback, but if I try to act in a manner out of my nature, I am invariably knocked over onto my ass.  This is because my natural support for the action will be weak, the action is likely to end up misdirected and will not bring the best possible results.

My opinion, therefore, is that the best way is to first know oneself, then analyze and understand the goal, and, finally, if necessary, adjust one's position so that the desired goal is a more natural outgrowth of one's daily activities.

Living under the roof of the Washington D.C.

One of the logical problems I have perceived and am trying to understand well enough to define is the mechanics of enforcing our natural rights when the state does not respect or honor them.

Taxation is theft because it is involuntary.  I think tithing to be superior as it is voluntary, and most churches seem to do pretty damn well with it.  Even as I believe that the government does not have the moral right to seize part of the wealth I produce, I do not have the means to resist them.  In fact, the principal mechanism for rights enforcement is financed by taxation, property forfeiture (at least there is some due process with the IRS), etc...

So how can I demand my rights be enforced by those funded by the infringement of those same rights?  Am I not really asking for others to have their rights infringed upon to prop up mine?  This is not to say that I have any doubts that the state is acting immorally, but there seem to be no way to make it behave beyond trying to change the hearts and minds of those who support the state with the persuasion of argument.

As long as I live under their roof (i.e. the protection of their armed enforcers) I accept that I must either follow their rules, unjust as I view them to be, or expect to pay the consequences for breaking those roles - to argue those rules to be fiction is absurd.  It's just a little frustrating to feel like I should be able to be more free.  It seems....unfair and unjust.

Monday, October 18, 2010

"blind faith in the market"

Sayeth Barak Obama (peace be upon him):
The basic idea is that if we put our blind faith in the market and we let corporations do whatever they want and we leave everybody else to fend for themselves, then America somehow automatically is going to grow and prosper.
I'd like to respond to this sentiment of our President:
His basic idea is that if we put our blind faith in the government and we let the politicians and bureaucrats do whatever they want and we leave everybody else to fend for themselves, then America somehow automatically is going to grow and prosper.
Given that more Americans are organized in corporations than in government bureaucracies, even the moral fallacy of being for the "greater good" being defined as benefiting the most people fails to support His radical views.  On the practical front, I challenge anyone to find a place on this planet where a centrally planned (i.e. government run) economy has ever lead to prolonged prosperity for the citizens of that nation.

"a deep observation about" useful idiots

Chris Matthews
But how would those miners have survived, the 33 of them, and their loved ones living above if they`d behave like that with the attitude of every man for himself. This is above all, and deep down they`re in the mine about being in all there together. It`s about mutual reliance and relying on others.
He further implies that the message coming from those opposed to the increased intrusiveness of the government is "a statement that we're not all in this together."

First, I would like to assert that it is human nature to project ones own personality and motives onto those around us.  When a person assigns a likely motivation to someone else based upon no evidence, but just "common sense" I think that says more about the person talking than the subject of the talk.
I would like to divide humans into two camps for the purposes of the observation I would like to make:
  1. Those who believe that voluntary co-operation of self-interested individuals is the best way to supply the needs of the community as a whole.
  2. Those who believe that physical coercion is the best way to supply the needs of the community.
Any activity mandated by the state is, by it's nature, physical coercion, because at some point continued non-adherence to the dictates of the state must lead to violent action against those resisting. Admittedly on a few rare occasions the state may blink in the face of popular resistance, but I believe that history shows this to be the rare exception and not the rule.

Some comments about these two groups:
  • It is not that the people in group 1 will not organize to fulfill the needs of their community, they will just not force the participation of others into their endeavors.  I think this seems like the natural solution to them because they themselves are willing to voluntarily act for the communal good.
  • By contrast, I can only assume that people in group 2 feel that force is needed to meet community needs because they would only act against their self-interest for the communal good under duress, and they assume that most people are like them.  I assume this because I am assuming that these people project their motives the same way I project my motives.
And this is the basic reason I believe that those in group 1 are more likely to act in a moral manner than those in group 2.

Of course, what defines the "communal good" is not always obvious, and good people may disagree on this depending on their values, perspective, and specific local knowledge. This is the functional reason why the people in group 1 are more likely to act in a correct manner than those in group 2

Then, to illustrate the idiocy of asserting that self-interested capitalist attitudes would have lead to the deaths of the miners, Daniel Henninger has an interesting write-up in the Wall Street Journal. (the basic gist of it is that without the innovation of a special drill bit by a "greedy capitalist" none of the miners could have been rescued alive.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Louisiana Educational Pyatiletka (пятилетка)

The Louisiana Career Options Law requires that all High School students have a "Five Year Plan" for their education.  Am I the only person who finds the choice of words here just a little disturbing?

"Beginning in the 1998-1999 school year, by the end of the eighth grade, each student shall develop, with the input of his/her family, a Five Year Educational Plan. Such a plan shall include a sequence of courses which is consistent with the student's stated goals for one year after graduation. Each student's Five Year Educational Plan shall be reviewed annually thereafter by the student, parents, and school advisor and revised as needed."
Hmmmm, so the average eighth grader has at least a reasonable idea of what they will want to do with their life.  OK, OK, so it's actually about where they will want to be a year after High School, but doesn't knowing that require knowing if you want a professional career, a technical career, or some other life path?
"It is the intent of the law that students have a focus while in school to help make learning more relevant and meaningful."
Sounds like a well intentioned law, hope those good intentions lead somewhere nice.

Now, I'm not trying to assert that having goals is a bad idea, nor would I assert that people should not at least start thinking about this stuff by the time they're ready to start High School. What I don't understand here is, why is this the business of the government?  So some people won't do this unless they're forced to, it is for their own good after all.  But who are these arrogant busybody jerks who claim to know our best interest better than we do?  Oh yea, that would be congress - they are elected to manage our lives for us, after all.  Besides, this is all for the children, and we don't hate children, do we?

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Where Rush is Wrong

I was listening to Rush yesterday and heard him go on a tirade about evolution, and it just drives me nutso to listen to someone who is just brilliant in some areas, spout off utter nonsense when talking about something he so obviously knows very little about.  And it's such a sad thing too, because it's not that complicated.

  • Evolution is not faith, it is science.  Creationism/Intelligent Design/etc... are not science, they are faith.  This does not mean that one is right and the others are wrong, what it means is that evolution can be disproved, where as the others cannot.  The attribute of a thing that places it in the realm of science is not truth, but the ability to hold it up to scrutiny and methodically attack it.  If an idea survives repeated attacks and attempts to disprove it, then it may eventually be considered a theory.  If, on the other hand, an idea is constructed in such a way that it cannot be scientifically attacked, then it is not science.
  • Next thing he got wrong - the theory of evolution describes a mechanism, it says nothing about any purpose, it says nothing about how it got started, it merely attempts to describe how members of a species can change over the course of generations into a new species, or into several new species.
  • Next thing, evolution has nothing to do with the "Big Bang" theory.  As I mentioned before evolution describes a mechanism for the differentiation of species, not the origin of this universe.  I have no opinion about the merits of the "Big Bang" as I have not studied it, I know even less about astrophysics than I do of biology, and I fear that any attempt to even comment on it would out me as being a bigger idiot then is probably already apparent.
  • Finally, evolution does not deny the existence of God.  Charles Darwin was a Christian when he wrote On the Origin of Species and while he did eventually come to be an agnostic, as far as I am aware he never did claim the non-existence of God.

It may be true that there are those who use evolution to argue against the existence of God, just as there are those who use God to argue against the existence of evolution.  I have not personally heard God's explanation about why evolution is nothing but lies, nor do I see anywhere in any mainstream theory of evolution that says anything about God.  That unscrupulous people will misrepresent unrelated things to bolster their point of view should surely come as no surprise to someone who lives their professional life in the arena of politics.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Good Fences......

 Disclaimer: I am about as un-authoritative as one can get to comment on scriptures with which I just barely familiar.  I am also fully aware (and wish to alert the reader) that some of my logic here is circular - I accept this as being necessary given that faith and religion specifically deal with those things which are beyond the reach of experimentation and proof and therefore outside the scope of rationality.

Eventually Krishna left Vrindavan for Mathur.  As he was leaving, His path was blocked by the gopis who refused to allow Him to pass until He assured them that He was coming back just after finishing His business there.  Krishna never returned, and the people of Vrindavan were left in constant longing for Him.

As Krishna explains in his letter (delivered by Uddhava):
"My dear gopis, in order to increase your superexcellent love for Me, I have purposely separated Myself from you. I have done this so that you may be in constant meditation on Me."
So I got to thinking about what this really means.  I prefer to ignore questions related to literal interpretations if historical events - it may or may not be as recorded, my interest is in the reason why it was recorded and how this can be applied to understand our lives.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder

The poet Sextus Aurelius Propertius expressed in one of his elegies, "always toward absent lovers love's tide stronger flows."  This seems to be a curious sentiment, but there seems to be some intuitive truth to it.  So I wonder if the explanation for Krishna's leaving of Vrindavan might also serve to explain why we do not see God physically manifested here in our daily lives, running our Earthly affairs for us.

Since it is asserted that the way to return to God is through the cultivation of love and devotion towards Him, it would make sense for Him to assist us in the cultivation by whetting our appetite and then allowing our hunger to increase and using that to pull us back to Him.  Like the smell of freshly baked bread that seems to draw one to it by smell alone.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

starting on the first of never

I recently heard our dear Leader speaking the other day, complaining that keeping our current taxation rates at their current level for the wealthiest people will cost the U.S. Government 700 Billion dollars. These are the people who own businesses and provide jobs for the rest of us.  If we accept this 700 Billion figure as true, then it follows that raising the tax rates on these people to their pre-Bush levels will cost the private sector of our economy 700 Billion dollars.  I think that the private sector has suffered quite enough in this downturn, and the government sector has suffered not at all.

One problem with a progressive income tax is that there is, built in to the underlying assumptions of it, the idea that a person who makes less money needs what money he does have more than the person who makes much more money.  May be this sounds like common sense to you, it did to me before I really thought about it, and thought about what it implies.  To see the moral corruption one must first examine the premise behind this axiom, mainly that a person's "needs" can be evaluated by anyone other than that person.  Only the person in question has the most up to date and through information for determining this.

I don't even entertain arguments that somehow "needs" can be determined by a majority vote.  It is a fact as to whether or not a person has a particular need, and facts are determined by reality, not democracy.  Much like the ratio of a circle's circumference to diameter is a fact, and no vote in the Indiana General Assembly can alter it.

To argue that "progressive" taxation rates are compassionate is to attribute compassion to the act of reaching into a pocket that is not one's own. To assert this is to cheapen genuine acts of compassion and charity.

A "progressive" tax can only be seen as moral if you accept the premise that someone's needs can be determined in advance by someone else, AND you accept the premise that this person making the determination is justified in taking the "unneeded surplus" from whomever is determined to have more than his "fair share."

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Milton Friedman and Phil Donahue

Ya know, I find it interesting to look back at what TV talk shows used to be, and what they have become.  What follows is a part of an interview of Milton Friedman by Phil Donahue from, I think, 1979.  Now a days the apex of the talk show seems to be Maury's "Who the baby daddy?" DNA tests.  Which, of course, I've never seen... "I did not have television relations with that show, Maury Povich, not a single time...."

Phil Donahue: When you see around the globe, the mal-distribution of wealth, a desperate plight of millions of people in underdeveloped countries. When you see so few “haves” and so many “have-nots.” When you see the greed and the concentration of power. Did you ever have a moment of doubt about capitalism and whether greed is a good idea to run on?

Milton Friedman: Well first of all tell me is there some society you know that doesn’t run on Greed? You think Russia doesn’t run on greed? You think China doesn’t run on greed? What is greed? Of course none of us are greedy, it’s only the other fellow who is greedy. The world runs on individuals pursuing their separate interests.
     The great achievements of civilization have not come from government bureaus. Einstein didn’t construct his theory under order from a bureaucrat. Henry Ford didn’t revolutionize the automobile industry that way.
     In the only cases in which the masses have escaped from the kind of grinding poverty you’re talking about – the only cases in recorded history – are where they have had capitalism and largely free trade.
     If you want to know where the masses are worst off, it’s exactly in the kinds of societies that depart from that. So that the record of history is absolutely crystal clear that there is no alternative way so far discovered of improving the lot of the ordinary people that can hold a candle to the productive activities that are unleashed by a free enterprise system.

Donahue: But it seems to reward not virtue as much as ability to manipulate the system…

Friedman: And what does reward virtue? You think the Communist commissar rewarded virtue? You think a Hitler rewarded virtue? You think – excuse me – if you’ll pardon me – do you think American Presidents reward virtue ?
     Do they choose their appointees on the basis of the virtue of the people appointed or on the basis of their political clout ?
     Is it really true that political self-interest is nobler somehow than economic self-interest? You know, I think you’re taking a lot of things for granted. Just tell me where in the world you find these angels who are going to organize society for us? Well, I don’t even trust you to do that.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Traditions, customs and prisoner's

I think that one of the advantages to following social norms as opposed to always doing the "rational" thing is that there are some problems where the ability of members of a group to rely on the coordinated behavior afforded by their customs and traditions can provide greater benefits to most if not all members of that group than if they each pursued their own rational self-interest.  Consider the Prisoner's Dilemma, for example when foisted upon members of a culture like the Sicilian Mafia.  If they all abide by their cultural values and keep their mouths shut, then they beat the game.  The use of cultural norms and peer pressure here is so effective and powerful that our government had to resort to extreme measures (like passing the vague and often over-reaching RICO laws, property seizure and property forfeiture laws, many of which poke their thumb in the eye of the U.S. Constitution.)

Friday, August 20, 2010

evolution and faith

I believe in "the eternal, unchanging, infinite, immanent, and transcendent reality which is the Divine Ground of all matter, energy, time, space, being, and everything beyond in this Universe," Brahman.  If you want to refer to God or Allah, my sentiment remains the same.  There is no rational basis for asserting this truth

More generally, I believe in the "rightness" of religion and faith in part because they have stood the test of time much longer than this body and intellect that I presently occupy have even existed.

If, as I believe to be the case, life on earth adapts and evolves via natural selection, then it stands to reason that the aspects of life forms which exist today exist for a reason, even if we, as individuals, do not possess the data to rationally understand that reason.  My point here is that as our human society has developed, and as far as I know this is true in every long-term collection of humans, that we have come to a belief in God, and the universality of this is evidence (by my way of thinking) that the belief in and worship of God is advantageous to humans.

This doesn't mean that it's true in some absolute sense, but it's "good enough for government work" (excepting, of course for the whole separation of church and state thingy...)  When I was learning arithmetic there was a trick (that I think everyone knows) for the multiplying a number by 9.  You subtract 1 from that number and append that number with the number that would equal 9 if added to the first number.  Now, I don't know much of anything about number theory, but afaik, there is no mathematical justification for solving a multiplication problem by subtracting 1 and appending another number.  But it works and it's fast.

So I have faith in my ancestors, and in this world, and this universe, that we would not believe in the divine unless that was better than not believing in it.  Especially since it seems more natural to not believe in something for which no concrete evidence exists that it is to believe in that thing.

Or am I just spouting off nonsense and talking in circles?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Marksmanship and Life 2 - The Front Sight Post

"God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference."
In life, the best one can hope for is control over one's self and actions.  On the rifle range, the best one can hope for is control over one's rifle and the shot from it's origin to the end edge of the muzzle.

The two main aspects of proper aim with a rifle are sight alignment and sight picture:

Sight Alignment. Sight alignment is the relationship between the front sight post and rear sight aperture and the aiming eye. This relationship is the most critical to aiming and must remain consistent from shot to shot. To achieve correct sight alignment, center the tip of the front sight post vertically and horizontally in the rear sight aperture.

Sight Picture. Sight picture is the placement of the tip of the front sight post in relation to the target while maintaining sight alignment. To achieve correct sight picture, place the tip of the front sight post at the center of the target while maintaining sight alignment.

The human eye can focus clearly on only one object at a time. For accurate shooting, it is important to focus on the tip of the front sight post the second the shot is fired. When the shot is fired, focus must be on the tip of the front sight post; secondary focus will include the rear sight and the target. The rear sight and the target will appear blurry. To stare or fix the vision on the front sight post for longer than a few seconds can distort the image, making it difficult to detect minute errors in sight alignment.

The human mind can only focus clearly on one task at a time.  To properly aim ones will towards a goal one should properly align oneself with the achievement of that goal and focus one's activities only on those things over which one can exert influence.  Truly, one only has control over the bullet until it leaves the rifle, so ones focus should be on  the front sight post at the end of the rifle barrel.  To focus on the rear sight assembly, is to dwell on the ego, and ones aim will drift off target.  To focus only on the target is to lose the present moment, and the task at hand of keeping that 24 inch tube directed where it needs to be.

Two illustrations of what I'm trying to express:
  • While I am certain that making money was surely a goal of Henry Ford, I doubt that he went in to work each day focused on that.   One can see from the results of his life that he went in each day focused on the best way to make as many quality cars as possible, the money was a desirable side effect.
  • If a person is lonely and wants a partner, I think the best way for that person to achieve his/her goal is to focus on being happy first, and then companionship will follow. I have heard it sarcastically said that nothing attracts women like the sweet scent of desperation. It's only when one stops grasping after the fruits of desire and performs ones duty that those fruits are obtained.
The lesson I took from this aspect of shooting was that the best results are achieved when one is concentrating on those things one can directly do, and trust that the rest of the universe will do it's part.  Doesn't always produce success, but I've not found better success with anything else.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Marksmanship and Life 1 - B.R.A.S.S.

It is my experience that one can draw life lessons from almost any field of study, especially when that field involves observable physical effects.  Learning to fire a rifle taught me a number of things that I try to apply to my daily life.  FWIW, I was never a particularly good shot, the martial arts were just not something I could become passionate about - this probably explains my indifference towards professional rasslin.

Breathe, Relax, Aim, Stop, Squeeze, this is what I was taught in boot camp as the way to situate myself when firing a rifle.  The Barrel of an M-16 is about 24 inches long, and that is all the real control you wield over the path the bullet travels.  Being able to successfully direct a 5.56 millimeter piece of metal 500 meters to reach a specific and relatively small target is a really difficult thing to do.  It requires the proper frame of being, the proper aim, the release of effort, and the faith that the effort will reach it's intended destination.  It's a lot like achieving any worthwhile goal in life.

Breath (prana) control is critical to marksmanship because the act of breathing causes the body to move.  Proper breath control will lead to the weapon being fired at the moment of least movement - the pause between breaths when the muscles are at their most relaxed and the weapon's sights are settled at their natural point of aim.

Relax - tension is an enemy of control, and proper aiming requires a calm and relaxed marksman.  One should pause and clear the mind to allow it to focus.

Aim - The human eye can focus clearly on only one object at a time.  Similarly the human mind can only focus on one task at a time.  Even the most powerful computer processor (which we understand much better than the human mind) can only do one task at a time (though it is capable of quickly switching between tasks to present us with the illusion of multi-tasking.)  Proper aim is the most difficult step and my next two posts are devoted to further exploration of this.

Stop - After aiming, one should pause and let ensure that the execution of will (i.e. the shot to be fired) will be directed by the aim, and not by one's ego.

Squeeze - Slowly squeeze the trigger without anticipating the shot.  Anticipation will cause the shot to move up and to one side or the other as your body will naturally brace for the recoil.  One should be surprised by the shot going off.  Similarly in life, if one attends to the tasks at hand without constantly being concerned about the eventual payoff, then one will surely reach the goal aimed at.  Of course this presupposes the one has aimed oneself properly, and taken windage (the actions of other actors) and trajectory (the forces of the natural world) into account.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Fair and Just

Is it fair to stab a faultless newborn child with a syringe of vitamin K?  Surely the needle puncture is painful to the child, and it's not like a newborn has had the time yet to do anything deserving that pain.  Of course it's necessary for the health of the child who lacks the intestinal bacteria that would be making this vitamin and we do this to prevent possible bleeding problems until the child has the ability to produce this on their own.  But the infant neither knows nor understand this, and I would bet that if offered the choice, none of them would accept the needle.

I believe that the human rationality is limited, even crippled, by our incomplete information about the universe.  If you trace any line of reasoning back far enough, you will meet a place where it has to be bootstrapped up, not out of logic, but from observation and assumptions about the cause and meaning behind those observations.  These assumptions are nothing more than wild-ass guesses for which we have not yet found a counterexample.  This defines science, and the scientific quest to understand.  Given the vast size of the universe, and the tiny sample size of what we've been able to observe, I have little faith that anything we currently believe to be true will never be shown to be at least a little flawed.

If this is so, then is it reasonable to assume that events we view as unfair with our limited understanding can indicate that:
  • God is unjust,
  • God is uninvolved, or
  • God does not exist.
I think that it is simply the case that we do not understand the purpose, and we do not really need to understand the purpose any more that an infantryman needs to understand all the nuances of the political aims of his country in order to advance those aims on the battlefield.We would dearly like to understand, we want to understand, we wish we understood, but a wish is not a need, and sometimes life is as cruel as a syringe of vitamin K.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Sacking of Elm Street

I don't remember exactly how old I was, but it was between the ages of 5 and 10 years, and I lived on Fleetwood street in Longview, Texas.  I had two neighbors both names Mike.  There was "Big Mike" who was at least a year or two older than me, and "Little Mike" who was I think a year or so younger than me.  This story involves "Big Mike" (with whom I have long since lost contact, but given that I blame all of my own delinquency during those years of my life on him, I have no doubt he went on to have a long life of crime and mischief.)

It was one of those long days of summer and we had nothing important to do, so Mike and I went walking up the street to Elm Street where they were building a new home that they were in the habit of leaving unlocked.  We sauntered in and, enjoying the new sheetrock smell, proceeded to play some before Mike got the idea to open up the cans of paint and dump them on the floor.  Sounded like fun to me and, grabbing a screwdriver left discarded on the floor, we proceeded to open up each and every can of paint in the garage.  Having them open we knocked them over and I think we splashed paint on the walls as well.  Getting a little bored I looked outside and saw a garden hose attached to a faucet.  Curious I turned the faucet on and what did I know, but the water was on!  Well, we thought we'd spray down the room with water (which I hear is good for sheetrock.)  So I'm spraying away, standing outside the back door, and some movement to my right catches my eye.  It was the next door neighbor, Mr Lawson.  I grinned, waved, and got back to spraying the garage down.  For some odd reason when he got to me he seemed agitated, took the hose from me, and sent Mike and me home to our respective parents.

On my way home he called my father and I think he called Mike father as well.  Somehow my mother seemed aware of my activities as well as I was sent straight to my room to wait for my father to get home.  It would be a while as he, Mr Lawson, and (maybe?) Mike's father were over at the house cleaning up the mess I made.  Of course I was told what was going on, and that my dad was cleaning up after me and would be home to discuss it once he had a few hours working to stew over it.  He spent a long time cleaning it up, and I (rightly) got my ... behavior properly modified.

It's kinda odd looking back on things - it's hard for me to comprehend destroying someone's property with no regard for either their damage or the cost to correct the damage.  I am so grateful to my parents for teaching me not only proper behavior, but the reasons why behavior is right or wrong, and helping me to see a little deeper past my actions and towards their effects.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Cuba Libre Comercio!

Boycotts, unless they are universal, are useless if one is attempting to force those running the object of the boycott to step down, especially if the attainment of your goal would leave them with nothing to lose.  The Cuban "embargo," as the past 50 years have demonstrated is similarly ineffective, but it is much more than that - it is also hugely counter-productive and immoral.

I believe that the fall of the Soviet Union can be partially credited to blue jeans.  Once we began to trade with them on a large scale, the people living under the Soviet regime not only developed a taste and a desire for our products, but, being able to see for themselves what the fruits of freedom were, their appetite for their own freedom was whetted and the Communist Party eventually lost their choke hold on their subjects.

I see no legitimate reason for our government to prevent private citizens from trading with Cuban citizens.  Prohibiting them from trading with the government of Cuba, perhaps, but not citizen to citizen.  Of course the Castros would certainly resort to pressing their subjects into acting as little more than "front men," but at least this would force them to jump through hoops, and we could for them to make it look believable, and this would prove expensive to the Castros.

We could also stipulate that given the actions of the Castro brothers, our courts would not enforce contracts with Cuban front men, and that we would certainly not honor any decisions of Cuban courts attempting to enforce contracts.

We should also drop all travel restrictions to Cuba to further facilitate the exporting of our culture.  I find it infuriating that members of congress can make up any bulls--t excuse to travel there, meet with the thug rulers and pose for pictures, yet I, as a private citizen, can be thrown in prison for doing the same thing unless I have a US government issued "license" (which, of course, cannot be issued for certain nefarious activities like, say, tourism.)

The pussyfoot "embargo" response to tyrants deserves more ridicule than I am qualified to give.  Holding the "high moral ground" with respect to Cuba requires, I believe, direct military action.  Any measure short of that (and I am well aware that such an action is rather obviously out of the question) means we have already given up said "high moral ground," and to pretend otherwise reveals us as fools.  Since we're not going to uh, act, we ought to get off the pot.  We should drop this facade of moral righteousness and drop the travel and trade restrictions from our citizens.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Too Smart To Fail

If I were teaching math to a child and I was more concerned about his self-esteem than his knowledge of math, I might not mark incorrect answers as such because if he fails a lesson, that might damage his fragile little self-esteem. If I did this then I would not actually be teaching math, I would simply be preventing him from doing something more constructive like playing outdoors or chasing after the cat. By providing false feedback to his answers I would be training him for failure when he left the classroom and had to apply my lessons to reality, because reality doesn't care about his self-esteem, it cares about truth.

In reality, 2 + 2 ≠ 5, even for really large values of 2.

When we bail out a person, or a business, or an industry, we are teaching them (and everyone else) that:
  • the activities in which they engaged were not bad for failing to produce enough value to society for the members of society to voluntarily pay to support them.
  • the activities were actually valuable for society because society was willing to collect involuntary payments from its members to support that activity.

So it should be obvious, given what we've been teaching our citizens and their businesses lately, that they are having trouble competing in the global market.

Any market regulated by a government which engages in bailouts of either persons or businesses is not a free market, and such an economy can not accurately be called free market capitalism. It may be more properly called crony capitalism and is identical in mechanism (though perhaps different in degree) to socialism, fascism, and communism.

This is not to say that, as a society we need to help our fellow man, but that help must be voluntarily given or the recipient is stained by the receipt of stolen goods.  There must also be a cost for the assistance paid by the recipient, or the moral hazard will encourage both:
  • a forever increasing drain of wealth from those who produce and make prudent life decisions.
  • a continuous evolution of society from one that produces wealth to one that only consumes it.
Both shame and/or gratitude are appropriate costs for accepting charity, but these are human emotions and can not be paid by an company.  Since I see no way for any company to pay for the receipt of charity, I can only conclude this to be an inappropriate exercise in public-private interaction.  The proper means for a failing company to raise money is from voluntary investment by other individuals from their evaluation of the relative worth of the company.

Bargaining with God

I'm re-evaluating my thoughts on making promises to God in exchange for favors from Him. I have heard it said that this is wrong because it transforms the relationship into one of commercial traders, and that this is an affront to God.  As if there was something despicable about such a relationship.  As I hold traders and merchants in high regard, and don't see such a relationship as an inherently inappropriate one.

Given that:
  • A trader gives something of value in exchange for something of value.
  • A subject gives his regent the regent's due his regent is owed in payment for the regent's favor.
  • A regent grants favors to his subjects.
The relationship from the perspective of a subject sounds more like that of a trader, then.  It seems to me as if those who grant themselves to God while claiming that they ask nothing in return are behaving as if there is nothing God could have that they would want.  That strikes me as if they believe themselves to be the regent in their relationship.

We see numerous instances in various religious texts of people negotiating deals with God.  Just to list a few of them:
  • Genesis, chapter 18 - Abraham strikes a bargain with God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah.
  • Mohamed was originally told by God that he and his followers should pray 50 times per day - he was able to bargain God down to only 5 times per day.
Besides, if one is selling oneself to God, wouldn't one have a serious incentive to offer the best devotion one could.  Those things I donate (like these blog entries) I am less likely to put much effort into, but if it is something I am selling, then I will certainly give my best.

I am thinking that a person has value, and that he is his most valuable property.  That he should take care of that property, and when selling himself to God that he should try to get as much as possible - it's not like any boon received would diminish God.

Bargaining is a form of discovery, and in a financial transaction, it is a method for discovering the true value of a good or service.  Wage negotiation is a method for discovering which line career one is best suited to pursue.  I think that it has demonstrated it's general purpose utility, and I assert that this utility includes the discovery of the best path of service to the divine.

    Tuesday, April 27, 2010

    Faith Requires Choice

    Anyone can believe with proof, but belief in the face of uncertainty demonstrates commitment to the belief that cannot be otherwise shown. Of course, it is one thing for one to believe the unproven, and quite another to impose those beliefs upon others (be it a belief in the Deity or Human-Caused Global Warming, or any other such unproven article of faith.) For the virtue demonstrated in the fastness ones own belief is never present in the victims of oppression.

    Of course, belief in the face of obvious evidence to the contrary is idiocy and certainly not virtuous. But I am not thinking here of faith in things demonstrable false, but faith in things whose truth we do not or can not actually know.

    I think it can be reasonable asserted that the universe in which we live is rational and ordered. I also believe that, given enough information, we could perfectly discern that order. I see no evidence that we will ever gain enough information do do this, however. The universe is simply too large, and we are too small to handle such large reigns.

    Hayek, in his 1945 essay on "The Use of Knowledge in Society," describes the difficulty of human attempts to order society rationally. The solution, it seems, is to allow order to emerge or evolve on its own, giving our faith to this process that results from the crucible of somewhat randomly casting solutions into the primordial sea of existence and allowing them to sink or swim. We are required to have faith in the localized knowledge of the swimmers that we allow them to do as they will and hinder them not at all. For they may know something which we do not. What appears to us as a lack of rhythm may, in fact, be in time to a drummer which we do not yet hear.

    Monday, April 26, 2010

    GMO's are coming for the children!!!!

    I periodically get emails from this group called CREDO Action (they're a far-left wing group based out of San Francisco who raise money to donate to various leftist political groups.)  About once a week or so I get alerted to the latest outrage being perpetrated by the right-wing industrial-complex toadies and their jack-booted thugs who, as we all know, run the world.  The latest headline: Stop the sneak attack on food labeling. almost made me spit out my coffee all over my computer.  What followed was a semi-coherent conspiracy rant about the WTO, some mysterious "Codex Alimentarius" and that bastion of right-wing neo-con Zionism, the United Nations.

    And then some whining about the labeling of "organic" food (as opposed, I suppose to "inorganic" (non-carbon based) food.  I know, I know, the "organic" label doesn't really mean squat since the government got involved with it, but I assert that the term itself doesn't mean squat.  OK, you might be able to assert that it means "expensive" but nothing more than that.

    So they had this on-click-to-sign petition:
    "I demand that the U.S. delegation to the Codex Committee on Food Labeling follow sound science and existing U.S. law and FDA policy. The delegation must drop its stated opposition to Codex provisions allowing the labeling of genetically engineered food. Further, the U.S. delegation should generally express positions consistent with current U.S. law and FDA policy which recognize a clear 'difference' between genetically engineered foods and other foods. "
    How can one request that the government both "follow sound science" and "recognize a clear 'difference' between genetically engineered foods and other foods."???  Find me a structural, definable physical difference between the two categories of food.

    I'm reminded of something the renowned humanitarian and microbiologist Norman Borlaug had to say on about the "environmentalist" luddites:
    "some of the environmental lobbyists of the Western nations are the salt of the earth, but many of them are elitists. They've never experienced the physical sensation of hunger. They do their lobbying from comfortable office suites in Washington or Brussels...If they lived just one month amid the misery of the developing world, as I have for fifty years, they'd be crying out for tractors and fertilizer and irrigation canals and be outraged that fashionable elitists back home were trying to deny them these things."

    Virtue requires privacy

    Almost anyone can behave while being watched. We learn early in our lives to not act up when those who enforce the rules are watching. What we do when no one else is watching, that is the best expression of our character as it is. While I suppose it is possible for a person always living under a microscope to behave properly out of their own nature, I think it is about as likely that the fat cells encircling my waist will decide to shrink of their own accord. I believe that we need to have the ability to act some of the time without oversight in order to develop character, much as we must occasionally lift heavy objects in order to develop a strong body capable of lifting ever heavier objects.

    John "Anthony Burgess" Wilson explores this theme in his novel "A Clockwork Orange" (which I assume most people have viewed either in print or on film.) The related point (with which I happen to agree) that I got from the film was that since virtue is the choice of good over evil, that if there is no choice, there is no virtue. Interestingly enough the 21st chapter of the book (omitted from both the US edition of the book and film adaptation.)

    This is, of course, one answer to the theodicy problem (i.e. how can suffering (or evil) exist if God exists and God is all-compassionate.) In our dualistic view of the world, where nothing can exist in our awareness without something with which to contrast it (does a fish know that it's wet?) then the background of suffering shows us the joy of the cessation of suffering. The existence of evil shows us the virtue of good.

    As I try to imagine a world without distinction, and world without contrast, the only concept with which my mind keeps arriving is the void, a cessation from existence. Significance requires effort, existence requires sorrow, and freedom requires eternal warfare. This is the wonderful, terrible dance of existence, and as clumsy as I am, I am forever grateful to be here, and be a part of it.

    Friday, April 23, 2010

    Self-sufficiency is the road to poverty???

    So I was thinking about some things Russ Roberts had to say on trade and the advantages of specialization that lead to material prosperity. I'm not going to repeat everything he had to say here, but the gist of it was that he made some really convincing arguments to the effect that we all become significantly wealthier by doing our job and paying others to do their jobs than we would have been if we did everything for ourselves. I accept the basic argument, but I wonder sometimes, about why it is that we hold self-sufficiency in such high regard if it's really a dis-advantage.

    In particular, I wonder about my own personality, my own desire to build or fix things myself. To figure out how to make things work, whether they're related to my field of specialization or not. I think that this desire for this behavior is what enabled me to do the sort of technical work that I do. I also think that by acting out on this desire, the logical training imposed on my mind in troubleshooting an automotive problem, designing a solution to running electric service in support of a particular activity, or discovering the source of a plumbing problem. The lessons I had to learn growing up to solve these problems I can apply in different ways to the problems I am confronted at work as I try to break down business practices into their smallest logical steps, discover the points that require no complex decision making, and come up with ways to automate and facilitate those processes.

    School zones on my daily commute

    So I drive past a school every morning on my way to work, and I've yet to see a single child anywhere in the schoolyard. Yet the school zone demands that I not exceed 20mph - it's for the children, don't you know. Yet I do see a number children waiting to be picked up by the bus on my morning commute, and never a school speed zone to protect them from the dangers of the cars that speed past them.

    Perhaps I shouldn't say this out loud (lest some authoritarian hear and implement this) but if we're going to reduce auto speeds and generate traffic bottlenecks near schools (which seem to be peppered throughout the city) "for the children" the why is it that we don't just limit traffic speeds for the entire country (excluding perhaps highways where there wouldn't be any kids waiting for a ride to school) to 20 mph from 6-8 am and 2-4 pm?

    Of course a nationwide 20 mph during commute hours is a STUPID idea, and that's part of my point in suggesting it. The other part being the idiocy of placing bottleneck school zones throughout every city in the United States. Now there are probably a lot of schools where it is appropriate to require speed zones, places where there may not be fences or high walls surrounding them. Places where some of the students walk along the sidewalk to get there. I think those are totally appropriate places to require speed reductions. And, to be fair, I suspect that most schools fall into that category. But not all of them, probably not even a sizable minority of them.

    The more general idea I'm on here is that I think it better to deal with situations on their own rather than with blanket, one-size-fits-all policies. Put appropriate school zones as necessary where they can be defended, because they should need to be defended - they impose a time cost on the rest of society, and given that time is one measure of life, that is a cost to the mortality of us all.

    Thursday, April 15, 2010

    Give Me Convenience or Give Me Wal-Mart

    I think one of the reasons I like to shop in stores rather than simply buying everything by mail is the convenience of being able to quickly get what I want with the minimum hassle. I'm willing to pay a bit of a premium for that convenience both in the cash I give them and in the time I spend in their store.

    In the case of Wal-Mart recently, the cost to me in terms of my time has been increased to the point where it's become cheaper for me to do my grocery shopping at a regular grocery store (in terms of time spent in the checkout line AND time spent walking through the store to find what I want) and I'm finding lower price other items on-line (not only the dollar price, but it does seem to take a lot less time to check out, even for those obnoxious sites that demand you register with them.)

    And, of course, on-line merchants they don't hassle you about boxes. What a strange thing to hear about them being stingy with their empty, trashed boxes.
    • So maybe they're recycling them, but I believe that recycling cardboard costs more than it produces (as evidenced by the fact that no one will pay for your used cardboard boxes - if it made any economic sense, a market would have emerged to draw whatever economic benefit could be had from it.) So the recycling has to be a public relations thing, and given that, it should follow that to give the boxes to a customer (who would, btw, be making a more efficient recycling use of the box than could possibly result from crushing it in a compactor) and it builds more goodwill since they would be materially benefiting a specific individual directly.
    • Maybe it's a legal liability thing. Perhaps if they gave the box to Erin and she threw out her back because she completely filled a 10 cubic foot box with books and tried to pick it up, some creative lawyer could weave a legal theory of liability out of whole cloth. While we seem to have become a much more litigious society in the past several decades, I still have a hard time accepting the BS fear of some lawsuit-happy crank being the basis for modifying ones behavior in daily life. Trying to appease those people is like trying to appease fanatical religious terrorists - the truth is that the justifications for their actions that they come up with are lies - they don't really care about us being sinful or what not, they hate us for not bowing down to them, and until we turn over out lives to their care, they will continue to come after us.

    So, from Wal-Mart and the Internet to recycling and lawsuits, to not letting the terrorists win.... forget tangents, I'm off on cosecants....

    Tuesday, April 13, 2010

    Early morning at Wal-Mart

    My time is somewhat scarce, but I really like the prices at Wal-Mart, and there is a store on my way to work that is really convenient for me. I have taken to shopping there early in the morning to avoid the crowds and long checkout lines that I have gotten used to expecting at other times during the day.

    This morning, around 6:30, after doing some shopping, I went to check out so I could get on my way to work. There were only 2 lines open, one line had, I think, about 7 people in it, and the only other line open at the time had 5 people, but one of those people had 2 baskets full (top to bottom) and so I decided to go to the line with 7 people. After a few minutes, the cashier (whose light was still on) informed me that she was actually closed and that I should go to another line. This is not the first time I've seen cashiers there do this, but this was the first time it was done to me.

    I left my basket there, in line, and walked out of the store. I drove to the Albertsons across the street and paid a little more, but was in and out much faster. I will never return to that Wal-Mart, and it will probably be a while before I return to another one.

    Now, I know that I'm probably over-reacting to this single incident, and this is a really inconsequential thing in the grand scheme of things, but there's just something about having to wait needlessly that drives me batty. I hate waiting in traffic, and will go 10 miles out of my way to avoid spending 10 minutes in gridlock.

    I remember back before Sam Walton died, the Super Wal-Mart I shopped at had signs by the cash registers stating their guarantee to a fast checkout and that they would open up a new register if there were more than 3 people in any given line. Those days are LONG gone.

    Wal-Mart may have figured out the way to the lowest prices anywhere, and I am thankful for the efficiencies they have brought to the retail market, but my cost of shopping there has been increasing in the amount of time it takes to make it through the checkout. Time is money, and the money I was saving there has now been outweighed by the cost of my time.

    When it is Wal-Mart's time to lose out to another store, it will not be to lower prices, it will be to better service.

    Monday, April 5, 2010

    On the non-initiation of force

    So I've been thinking some lately about the libertarian doctrine against the initiation of force, and I find that I can't square universal application of that doctrine without advocating vegetarianism. Certainly the killing of an animal(generally necessary to eat it) involves the initiation of force against another being, and I think that the natural revulsion that we most non-serial killers feel towards animal cruelty can be taken as evidence that animals should be considered as beings.

    So if we take the view that eating non-human animals is OK, then perhaps we can say that the initiation of force against fellow members of a grouping to which we belong (say, mankind) is immoral. But if we can draw the line there, then can we not draw that line also at our nation's borders? If so, then an aggressive foreign policy would be justified. I kinda like this result because I feel that an aggressive (and non-belligerent) national stance serves my self interest by discouraging acts of aggression from foreign groups directed towards me.

    I think that the line cannot be drawn any more restrictive than at the national border because the enforcement of non-aggression is at the national level, it would become nonsensical to apply it to any smaller group. I think that it is not useful to draw the line any less restrictive since the enforcement of it would then have to be applied by our nation on the citizens of another nation, which is, of course, a belligerent act and a violation of that nation's rights.

    Sunday, April 4, 2010

    Private Charity

    To give of one's life to another is the ultimate expression of love. We venerate the gift of the life of Jesus of Nazareth to mankind in the Christian church, we institutionalize the giving of the rest of ones life to another in marriage, and we honor the giving of one's life to save the lives of ones comrades with posthumous awards and glorification.

    Ones property, the fruits of ones labor, is a physical manifestation of the effects of ones life as lived up to this point in time. The giving of one's own property to another is, in effect, the giving of part of one's life to that other person, and it is a deep expression of love worthy of praise. I believe it is the proper way to express the natural impulse to help our fellow man. I also believe it is the most effective and efficient way to do it since the two people to whom a gift has the most value are the giver (who has given a part of his life to earn the gift) and the receiver (whose life will be improved by the receipt of that gift). Because these are the two people who assign the highest value to the gift, it is reasonable to assume that they alone have the highest motivation to make that the most efficient use of that gift. This is why I assert that private charity is the most efficient means to the the uplifting of humankind, and that it holds even if you have a utilitarian point of view.

    Since I believe that the fruits of ones labor belong exclusively to ones self, I can also see no moral justification for any charity other than private, voluntary charity. In fact, I believe that anything non-private cannot truly be charity, and that to redefine charity such that it may apply to non-private means muddles the definition to the point of incoherence.

    Government "Charity"

    The thing is, that I don't believe that most people who support government-run health care understand that they are, in effect, hiring people to rob their friends and neighbors.

    I accept that:
    • Government funding comes from taxation.
    • Taxation is non-voluntary. If I refuse to pay taxes, then at some point people paid by the government will commit violence upon me.
    • No person is owed anything by their very existence beyond the very basic right to exist unmolested by others.
    • Forcing a person to perform labor against their will is the most basic definition slavery.
    • Charity is the giving of one's own time or property to another with no expectation of anything in return, and this is the best expression of the goodness of one's heart and soul.
    It must follow then that for government to spend $1 to help a person who has not earned that dollar, it must first take that dollar from another person who has earned that dollar. Now, what motivation would a person in elected office have for the taking of the earned property of one citizen for redistribution to another citizen? It does not fit into my understanding of charity, that would be the case only if they gave their own personal property. Since it is not charity, I conclude (and this is a conclusion guided by experience, not direct evidence) that it is not without expectation of reciprocation. So what does the recipient of this taken property have to give? The coin of the realm is the vote.

    This is the basis for my belief that the basic function of government social programs are to provide a means for government officials to buy the vote of one person with the forced taking of the fruits of some other person's labor. The fact that the other person "is rich and can afford it" does not change the nature of the act any more than the murder of an elderly person who has "lived a long life" makes the taking of his life something other than murder (please note that I am not attempting to draw an equivalence here between theft of work product and theft of life.)

    Now in the case of government using taxes to support the defense of our country, well, the collection of taxes is still immoral at some point, but, as I see it, the sad state of affairs in our world is that if they don't then some other government that does will overrun us and then we will be forced to pay taxes to them. Yes it is an evil, but it is the lesser of (at least) two evils. Perhaps you can come up with something even less evil, and I would certainly embrace that, but I haven't seen it yet.

    Additionally, the use of government to prevent its citizens from being molested is, in my opinion, furthering a basic right that they have. The use of government to give away goodies does not further any right, but due to the non-voluntary nature of government financing, it does necessitate the perpetration of a wrong (i.e. violence and the threat of violence) against some of its citizens.

    I am not trying to personalize this, advocates for big government solutions have already done that and I am only reacting to what they are saying. All these sob stories about people in tough situations has drawn our focus to sympathizing with people and away from examining the mechanics of how the proposed "solution" will, by necessity, actually be implemented.

    If my money will not be taken from me to support this, then why is it being done by the government? What about this requires government action if freedom is no being abridged? If this will not cost anything, then surely Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reed could have accomplished this through a private effort and by doing so would not have incurred the high political cost they will surely pay in November. The fact that they are willing to cram this down our throats at such a price is evidence that it involves a taking of freedom from us. Sorry, I just don't believe that they are willing to pay such a price without getting at least as much in value for themselves in return.

    Saturday, April 3, 2010

    IT in the Middle

    So previous to my graduation from college, I held a job as a COBOL programmer at a local bank (Whitney.) One of the things I noticed while I was there was the low salaries that IT professionals commanded relative to the salaries of the sales staff.
    • Having taken a number of classes (Accounting, Economics, etc...) in the school of business at my university I consider myself well aware of the difference in relative difficulty between these two fields of study (hint: I could have slept through and aced business classes while I was in high school).
    • Looking at what we did day in, day out, working in front of our computer screens in a windowless building near Elmwood, while they pretty much spent at least half their workdays on the golf course or drinking their (bank paid for) lunches with clients it seemed like we had a less enjoyable workday.
    • We were constantly having to work long and hard to enable the bank to fulfill the promises of the sales staff who would literally promise almost anything to close the deal. This, of course, resulted in large commissions and bonuses for them and nothing more valuable than headaches for us.
    I came to realize that the IT department was a "cost center" while sales was a "revenue center" and so long as I remained as an expense that allowed revenue generation I would never be as valued as those who were able to actually put their fingerprints on that revenue. Naturally, I began to look for another job, and limited my search to software companies rather than software consumers.

    I have come to see that humans have a difficult time understanding indirect value, and that this applied to me in that position relative to the bank's owners in a similar way as it applies to merchants and other "middlemen" relative to consumers and the public at large.

    While recently listening to a discussion on middlemen this all came more into focus for me. Middlemen provide the invaluable service of moving resources from people to whom they are less valuable to people to whom they are more valuable, thereby increasing the overall value of a given static amount of material wealth in the system. Yet the function they provide is difficult for us to fully grok and value because it is not an easily observable process. We cannot see the value as it is added because the value is not material in nature. Similarly the value added by my work at the bank was not visible because it could not be seen on the balance sheets or financial reports.

    I'm not complaining about being undervalued - it is possible that I was genuinely not as valuable to the bank as I subsequently was to a software company (though it is hard for me to understand fully, possibly for the same reasons as above, how my value could almost double by switching employers while performing essentially the same tasks in the same city.) I just find it curious and interesting to see this dynamic play out in my own life.

    Thursday, April 1, 2010

    Complex is just complicated

    Ya know, as I'm working on one of my current projects that the customer keeps adding things to, the whole thing is just getting so damn complicated to maintain, and some of the frameworks people come up with to manage the complexity seem to make a little more sense.

    But thinking ahead several more steps, I really don't think that the addition or complex frameworks will really do that much to reduce the complexity unless I'm really careful about the selection and configuration, because when it comes down to it, there really isn't any way to implement a complicated process in a simple way - you can only move the complexity up or down the chain.

    Reminds me of a conversation I had with my dad about the efforts to develop a cleaner burning fuel by processing the fuel so that when it burns the exhaust is cleaner. Of course, the amount of pollution removed from the burning of the fuel is equal to the pollution caused by the processing of the fuel. So there is no net reduction, just moving the place that generates the pollution.

    Nature of Money

    Money is not wealth, it is only a tool used to exchange wealth between persons. The advantage of money is that it abstract labor to facilitate more complex trading arrangements. Say three people, Alice, Bob and Chuck are neighbors. Alice grows apples, Bob has a still, and Chuck has a chicken farm. Alice doesn't drink, Bob is a vegetarian, and Chuck doesn't like eating raw fruit. Alice loves chicken, Bob needs apples to distill, and Chuck likes to drink hard cider. Without money there is no ability to barter, but with money Bob can buy apples from Alice by selling cider to Chuck. Alice can buy chickens from Chuck by selling Apples to Bob, and Chuck can buy hard cider from Bob by selling chickens to Alice. By free trade, all can gain from each transaction and the total wealth of the community is increased.

    Of course the money itself is simply a token with no intrinsic value - since it is not wealth but a means of coordinating wealth and the production of wealth. It is a means of communicating needs of consumers to producers. Perhaps it can be seen as potential wealth, while good and services could be seen as kinetic or "real" wealth.

    A market is a means of discovering the relative importance of objects and activities. If left to itself, a market will lead to the most efficient allocation of resources to meet the needs of the community it serves. Coercion (i.e. governmental interference) can only serve to distort the allocation of resources by effectively granting government leaders a larger voice in the market's determinations than reality would grant.

    The free market may be the worst means of coordinating the production and fair distribution of wealth, except for every other means of coordination ever tried to date.

    Saturday, March 13, 2010

    In The Land of Milk and Honey

    "think of an economy where people could be an artist a photographer, a writer, without worrying about keeping their day job in order to have health insurance. Or that people could start a business and be entrapenurial and take risks but not be job locked because a child has asthma, or someone in the family is bipolar you name it any condition is job locking"
    -- Nancy Pelosi
    Think of the land where such an economy would exist, where lollipops grow on trees and the rivers flow with milk and honey. Nobody ever grows old, and adults never send you off to bed. Just imagine such a place, and vote it into existence!