Monthly Archives: October 2006

Is This a Market Failure?

Microsoft, who has largely been able to bask in the fact that the new corporate whipping boy is Wal-Mart, is under fire from the usual sources. Microsoft, of course, likes to make all their document standards proprietary, so that the only way you can read or work with it is to buy their software. Since they have such a large slice of the market, that means that most corporate environments must use Microsoft or risk having to spend time and money training their employees on unfamiliar systems and have trouble sending documents to their partners and customers.

But there’s another answer. A consortium of software developers is pushing the Open Document Format (ODF) as an alternative. As Windows slowly loses market share in the browser space, in the network and server OS space, and with the delays plaguing Vista, perhaps eventually in the consumer OS space, this is one more chink in their armor. An open market will eventually break monopolies. But it’s not quite fast enough for this guy:

A handful of thoughtful government officials are trying to require software vendors, including Microsoft, to use this new open standard, in order to achieve a number of important public policy objectives…

This battle, which is often very difficult to follow at the level of the technical details, is quite important. For years we have tolerated the manipulation of data formats to maintain a monopoly that has imposed all sorts of costs of society, in terms of high prices, lack of innovation and poor quality software. One only needs to compare the innovation seen on web publishing to the dearth of innovation you see on the computer desktop. If ODF succeeds now, Microsoft will have to compete on the basis of prices and quality – rather than by being the only product that will not mangle a document. That should be a good thing for everyone in the long run.

State and federal government agencies should be asked to require that software vendors support ODF.

Yes, “thoughtful” government officials know what they’re doing, and they’re only taking away freedom for your own good. And requiring Microsoft to support ODF won’t turn ODF into a stagnant standard, by virtue of making it a defacto monopoly…

Most of James Love’s article is pretty good, from a technical standpoint. The market power of Microsoft is large enough that their refusal to open their document format effectively reduces choice for consumers. That’s certainly not a good thing, but where James and I differ is on what we do about it. At the moment, Microsoft is slowly being punished by the market for their inability to play well with others. It’s not a fast thing, because it’s the sort of environment where you need to reach a certain “critical mass” before widespread change starts to occur.

Microsoft refused to support the open HTML standards, having their own little tweaks in Internet Explorer. Thus, web site designers were forced into a choice of designing sites to work in IE, or work to meet standards. When IE had the overwhelming market share, they simply designed for IE. But over the last few years, Firefox has taken enough market share that web site designers are forced to craft web pages to support it. The effect for Microsoft is that IE7 is reportedly much better about supporting the open web standards than IE6, if for no other reason than that users demanded it and had an alternative product. Primarily Microsoft wants to make money, and if they need to follow a standard to do that, they’re going to do it.

I think the ODF is headed the same direction. Microsoft, right now, hasn’t felt even the first inkling of a sting to their bottom line as a result of not opening their document formats. But the writing is on the wall, and as Apple continues its resurgence, and Linux adoption becomes more widespread, users will begin to demand of Microsoft that they support ODF. Document portability across systems will be crucial to breaking the Microsoft monopoly, and while they’re in no hurry to help their competition, they cannot ignore this forever.

ODF will come, and Microsoft will eventually support it. Would you rather let the market bring it to fruition, or rely on politicians and technocrats to decide that they know better, and force Microsoft into compliance? I, for one, am not a fan of government creating monopolies, and should they force Microsoft’s hand, that will be what ODF becomes. We all see how well that worked for the postal service…

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I Can’t Believe I’m Saying This

But, I actually like something that Markos Zuniga Moulitsas a.k.a “Daily Kos” has written:

The Case for the Libertarian Democrat

In this article, Kos attempts to describe why he thinks there is a more natural alliance between those with libertarian principles, and the Democratic party; as well as why the Republican party has been losing so much of it’s traditionally libertarian center…

…and but for two important points, I’m agreeing with what he’s written (which by the way isn’t what I think he truly believes. I’ve read enough of his stuff over the years that I know he’s way more to the left than he’s presenting himself here).

The first principle that I utterly disagree with, is that corporations are the ultimate evil in this world; and that capitalism must be strictly regulated and monitored by government or it will inevitably become a totalitarian evil.

The funny thing about that one is; it’s not too far wrong. Oh it is completely wrong in reality; but the difference between reality, and this socialists paranoid dystopian fantasy future isn’t very large. Mercantilist fascism is a distinct posibility if certain elements get tweakend in certain ways.

The irony of this principle, is that this result is exactly what we KNOW to be true, and will ALWAYS happen with an unfettered government; which brings us to the second issue I have…

The second principle he espouses here that I completely disagree with, is the core philosophy which separates Liberals, Democrats, Libertarians, libertarians, Republicans, and Conservatives alike.

Those on the left and the right (presuming a continuous linear spectrum as presented above) both believe that government can to some degree or another, do good; and be a legitmate and positive force; either for change, or to maintain stasis.

Those who are Libertarians, or libertarians; in general believe that all government is inherently a negative thing, but that some government is less negative than the alternative.

This principle was once the guide of the centrists wings of both the Democratic, and Republican parties; however those wings are severely weakened (in the case of the republicans), or have simply been purged from the party over the past 40 years (the democrats).

This means that there is no longer a functioning constiuency for severely limited government in power today. Both major parties are operating under the principle that with THEIR guidance, government can and WILL do good (or what THEY consider to be good – which is nothing of the sort), no matter the consequences.

One thing that these types never seem to understand, is the law of unintended consequences, and it most important corolary, the corolary of intentions.

ALWAYS REMEMBER THIS:

No matter what you do, what you know, or what your intentions are; every word you say, every thing you do, will have consequences you did not intend, forsee, or understand. Good intentions matter, but good results matter more.

Oh, and I suppose there’s one other principle that Kos is espousing that I can’t take: The idea that the way to fix the country is by voting democratic; and that if enough libertarians come to the democratic party, things will be alright again (or it’s corrolary, that tactically voting against republicans will force them to become more libertarian as a reaction to their electoral losses).

I reject this concept as utter folly; and dangerous folly at that. If the democratic party is ever allowed into the kind of power position it had in the late 70s again; it will destroy America utterly, and possibly kill us all in the process.

No, I’m not being hyperbolic, I am simply doing that which is prudent: the consequences of following what democrats say are, or have proven to be, their policies; will be the utter subjugation of the west to political correctness, weakness, appeasment, “tolerance”, and “multiculturalism”; and that WILL get us all killed.

The Democratic party, and the left who have chosen the Democrats as their represntatives; are in fact not liberty oriented at all (though some individuals may be). They are controlled by totalitarian transnational “progressivists”.

If these political philosophies are given reign over the country, it will weaken us to the point where we would be unable to resist the muslim and communist assault on our society, and we would all be killed or converted.

This is not to say the Republicans are all that much better; but I do not fear for my immediate safety, or the safety of my children given Republican principles and track record. Yes, taken too far, we COULD become that totalitarian mercantilist fascist state that frothy leftists have paranoid wet dreams about… but I for one would rise in bloody revolution first, as I know would at least hundreds of thousands of my fellow citizens; and we’ve all got plenty of guns.

Of course we wouldn’t if the transnational progressivists had their way, now would we.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Meeting With a Liberal

Sometimes I forget just how different the South is from the Pacific Northwest. I spent the early part of this week in Baltimore for a trade show, and the format of the show meant myself and the sales engineer spent a lot of time with no customers around. We ended up chatting for most of the day with the marketing guy from Oregon in the next booth, and he ended up joining us for dinner that evening, as he was without a car, and the hotel for the show was a long way from any halfway decent restaurants.

I should have known what I was getting into at lunch. We were sitting around talking about gas, alternative fuels, etc, and I heard a typical leftist talking point: “I think we should slap another dollar of taxes onto gasoline, so that we can encourage the use of alternative fuels and more fuel-efficient vehicles.” I held my tongue, because I was in a work setting. All I ended up saying was “Well, that’s certainly not what I’d do.” What I was thinking was that while I have an ideological argument against using tax policy to influence behavior, there is a much stronger argument. The costs of such a policy would far outweigh the benefits, in reduced economic growth, government mismanagement of the tax largesse, and higher costs to consumers to purchase these expensive technologies. That’s to be expected when you’re using a blunt-force government policy, i.e. using a chainsaw to remove an appendix when you really need a scalpel.

So that night, we ended up heading out for dinner. A bit of a boring meal for me, as he and my coworker, both divorced, were discussing strategies for meeting women on match.com. As a married guy, I sat back with my beer and meal during that portion.

But on the way home, we stopped at a gas station, and he followed up his earlier comment, explaining how “glad he was that Oregon didn’t have any self-serve gas pumps.” We got onto the topic, and he trotted out the first idea, that “it’s a safety issue.” I was not so interested in holding my tongue any more (might have been due to beer), and had to point out that we don’t really have much of a “safety” problem pumping gas in the rest of the country. Basically, that’s an argument from pure common sense, and he must not have had an answer, because he moved on.

He followed up with his concerns about how he didn’t want to have to get out of his car, and how if there was a line at a station, people could go to another one. He mentioned that he heard a radio show where a station owner called in and said it only cost him $0.03 per gallon to pay someone to pump the gas, and how great it was that they had it. Well, that was cause for another simple answer. “If it’s so great, and cheap, why do you need the government to enforce it?” Again, no real answer, so he moved on.

He followed that up with two arguments. First, that it’s great to have these jobs for high school and college kids, and how much of a benefit that is. Second, that he’d been to gas stations in California, where they’re dirty, dangerous, and you don’t see that in places where they have more people on staff. Well, we had just arrived back at the hotel, so I couldn’t take the time to refute him. Of course it’s great for the kids who get the job, but how great is it for those of us paying for it? And while he might have been to some stations in California, I can point to quite a few counter-examples. Perhaps he’s seen these sorts of dirty, dangerous stations in Compton, but I didn’t see too many in Irvine.

But as I don’t spend too much time with people of his ideological stripe these days, it was a bit instructive. I learned that a leftist is completely willing to use the power of government to make everyone bow to his wishes. And that if it’s in his interest, he’ll latch onto easily-refutable, feel-good arguments that hold no weight under scrutiny. Of course, he’s more than entitled to his opinion, and it’s possible he thinks my arguments against him hold no merit. But there’s a big difference. He wants to use the force of government to make me pay for and conform to his wishes. I ask for nothing but freedom. But I’ll bet he thinks he’s the one with the moral high ground.

The Five Motives

At core, there are really only five motivations in this world:

  • Preservation
  • Procreation
  • Pleasure
  • Power
  • Profit

Forget about Maslows Hierarchy of needs (self actualization? Please…) when it boils right down to it the five P’s are it.

Preservation covers self preservation, life preseravtion, societal and social preservation, and even part of the procreation urge. Procreation… well let’s include other lusts in that as well; is self explanatory, as is Pleasure.

Now, power and profit…

The study of economics is so important, because economics govern both power relationships, and profit relationships; in that economics isn’t the study of money, but the study of cost (of all kinds, financial is only one of them), incentive (and dis-incentive), result, and consequence.

Economics is all about profit and power; history is all about economics and psychology; and psychology is all about… yup, those motivations again.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Protecting You From Evil Gambling Sites That We Can’t Tax

Congress is, once again, doing the Lord’s work, making sure that you don’t have access to immoral offshore gambling web sites.

US President George W. Bush this week is expected to sign a bill making it harder to place bets on the Internet, a practice which already is illegal in the United States.

Bush was expected to act quickly after Congress approved the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act making it illegal for financial institutions and credit card companies to process payments to settle Internet bets. It also created stiff penalties for online wagers.

Billions of dollars are wagered online each year and the United States is considered the biggest market.

The bill’s chief Senate sponsor was conservative Republican Jon Kyl, who, like Leach, has said he believed Internet gambling was a moral threat. He has called online betting as the Internet version of crack cocaine.

“Gambling can be highly addictive, especially when its done over an unregulated environment such as the Internet” he said this year.

You see, you are too weak to make your own choices. Especially in an “unregulated” environment. Perhaps we, the esteemed Congress, might allow you gamble from time to time, but only when we’re watching over you.

This, like every other vice law, doesn’t do anything to stop gambling. Especially since the “unregulated internet” moves a lot faster than Congress. Try to shut down one payment method, another will crop up. Just like with every vice law, from gambling, to drugs, to prostitution; if people want it, they will find a way to get it.

When it comes to a vice law, though, this is typical government behavior. They made it illegal. It didn’t stop it. So they’re going to expand their power, in order to try even harder to find the behavior, and punish it more severely. When that doesn’t work, they’ll expand their power again, expanding their reach and control over our lives, because they have to crack down on this “immoral” behavior.

But the true coup de grace? They’re protecting the family and the children…

“It is extraordinary how many American families have been touched by large losses from Internet gambling,” said US Representative Jim Leach, the bill’s main sponsor in the House, in a statement after its passage early Saturday.

Leach cited research which showed that young people who tend to spend hours of leisure time on the Internet, are particularly vulnerable.

A 2005 survey by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center found that 26 percent of male college students gamble in online card games at least once a month, while nearly 10 percent of all college students gambled online at some point last year.

“Never has it been so easy to lose so much money so quickly at such a young age. The casino is in effect brought to the home, office and college dorm.

“Children may play without verification, and betting with a credit card can undercut a players perception of the value of cash, which too easily leads to bankruptcy and crime,” Leach said.

Ahh, it’s for the children… How can you argue with that?

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