Category Archives: Economics

Ethanol not only isn’t Green… It’s Blacker than Coal

Mother Jones Ethanol Problem Breakdown

Image credit: Mother Jones (oh… and that was 7 years ago. it’s worse now)

 

A new total environmental impact metastudy has been published, rating the environmental impact of electric cars, with results for each type of electric car and the types of power generation used to fuel them; comparing them against conventional gasoline, and ethanol fueled vehicles.

http://www.nbcnews.com/science/environment/your-all-electric-vehicle-may-not-be-so-green-study-n268961

Their basic conclusion, is that electric cars are in fact no better, and are often worse for the environment, than conventional cars (because of their manufacturing inputs, waste outputs, and the impact of electricity generation).

Of course, anyone who has been paying attention to the actual technologies and manufacture of electric cars has known this for years… They’re essential philosophical symbols, rather than any real benefit to the environment.

… but that’s a different argument for another day…

What I find most interesting though, is the conclusions and comparisons they drew between different energy sources… particularly ethanol:

“The study finds that overall, all-electric vehicles cause 86 percent more deaths from air pollution than do cars powered by regular gasoline. But if natural gas produces the electricity? Half as many deaths as gasoline cars. Wind, water or wave energy? One-quarter. Hybrids and diesel engines are also cleaner than gas. But ethanol isn’t, with 80 percent more deaths.”

… 80 percent more damage (expressed here as deaths) than regular gasoline, just direct damage, not second order effects and the like. Nearly as much as straight coal.

When you add the damage ethanol causes from starvation, increased food costs, food insecurity, and additional transportation costs, as well as damage to vehicles and distribution infrastructure… it’s FAR worse than coal.

Resource Media - Ethanol, Food or Fuel

Image Credit: Resource Media

Then there’s the subsidies it soaks up and therefore the additional tax burden it creates… Ethanol is far FAR worse than coal.

Oh and then there’s the fact that ethanol is actively preventing better greener technologies from being developed; both by consuming resources which would otherwise be more productively used, as well as directly, because the ethanol industry lobbies against competing technologies, and for mandatory ethanol use.

… And of course, that’s ignoring the damage it does to our political process, dominating the early primary process, in effect acting as a filter for presidential candidate selection.

Ethanol is quite possibly the worst fuel in common use.

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

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Government Spending Has Been Flat The Past 5 Years. No, Really!

Revenue and Spending 2000-2019 (estimated)

Back in 2011, I looked at some CBO projections, and said that the country was in dire straits financially. Spending seemed to be on an absolute tear, and revenue–even if it lived up to wildly optimistic projections–wasn’t going to come close to keeping up.

Essentially, the CBO projections pointed to spending occurring at absolutely unprecedented levels, and relied on completely unrealistic projections of economic growth to [not quite even] pay for it. At the time, I said:

Even with those assumptions, where does spending fall historically? Even at these rosy projections, it never falls under 22% of GDP (on par with the highest spending the country has seen since WWII), and those rosy projections came in January 2010. A year later, in January 2011, the CBO outlook got worse. It now shows spending never falling under 23% of GDP during the decade 2011-2020. Historically, spending has not exceeded 23% of GDP for a single year between 1946 and 2008.

Where has revenue been over the last few decades? Well, for the years 1991-2000, during which time we suffered one mild recession followed by the tech bubble, total government revenue averaged 18.75% of GDP. For the years 2001-2010, where we dealt with the tech bubble collapse followed by the subprime bubble and then crash, total government revenue averaged 17.07% of GDP. A sizeable drop, to be sure (the worst spots being 2009 & 2010, where the financial crash slammed revenue below 15% of GDP). But fundamentally not that far out of line with historical precedent.

Now, I hadn’t gone back to look at the numbers since then. So I was very surprised to read a Cato post suggesting that spending was stagnant and was sitting at a mere 20.3% of GDP, not the 23%+ area that the CBO was projecting. As Daniel Mitchell from Cato puts it (emphasis added):

Here are some specific numbers culled from the OMB data and CBO data. In fiscal year 2009, the federal government spent about $3.52 trillion. In fiscal year 2014 (which ended on September 30), the federal government spent about $3.50 trillion.

In other words, there’s been no growth in nominal government spending over the past five years. It hasn’t received nearly as much attention as it deserves, but there’s been a spending freeze in Washington.

I was frankly shocked. So I ended up going straight to the OMB data (note: it’s an .xls file) to confirm.
Revenue and Spending 2000-2019 (estimated)
Looks pretty legit. Spending was pushing well above 23% GDP for a few years due to the economic meltdown, the stimulus, and the continuing effects of global war.

What’s interesting, and I pulled this out of the graphic for clarity (go download the original source data if you want to confirm) is that this is NOMINAL spending. Considering there has been inflation since 2009, it’s actually fair to say that spending has decreased in real dollars over the last 5 years.

Spending is well below the CBO projections from 2010 that I used in my previous post. And frankly, revenue is WELL below their projections as well. But the spending restraint is sufficient to keep both spending as a percentage of GDP and deficits as a percentage of GDP in reasonable territory.

Now, there are always devils in the details. Mitchell points out a few in his post at Cato, and has even more to say on the subject here. But either way you slice it, the fiscal meltdown that many (including me 3 1/2 years ago) were predicting hasn’t come to pass.

Some on the left will credit Obama (even though they’ve never seen spending they didn’t like). Some on the right will credit the Tea Party (even though they spent the 8 years prior to Obama spending like a Kardashian wedding).

As for me, I’m just going to say that I’m glad my predictions–based on CBO projections–didn’t come to pass.

Climate Change… The New Inquistion

I was searching for something else, and I came across this piece I wrote back in 2007…

…And perhaps unsurprisingly, not much has changed today, except that now catastrophists are saying EVERYTHING is proof of climate change.

Climate change can apparently do anything whatsoever, including mutually exclusive and contradictory things, because “science”.

It’s absolutely unfalsifiable.

I decide to republish it here, to point out, that while the science against the catastrophists has only accumulated and strengthened; their stridency and grasping demands have only increased.

I say again, the concept of catastrophic anthropogenic climate change, except in the case of localized micro-climates, holds absolutely no scientific water.

Honest scientists will tell you the same thing if pressed (and if their funding doesn’t depend on it), but the agenda politics of todays science (admittedly on both sides of the political spectrum, but generally on different subjects), prevents real, honest, science from occurring anymore; or from being reported if and when it is (the record of suppressing science which disproves catastrophic anthropogenic climate change is long and shameless at this point).

The mere language used by catastrophists against those who seek to use actual science rather than sociopolitical ideological faith, calling us “deniers” in an attempt to paint an equivalence with holocaust deniers, should make it clear that their concern is not truth.

The honest numbers are simple.

Global temperatures have risen an average of less than 1 degree centigrade since measurements started being taken (“adjusted measurements”, which have been conclusively proven to be inaccurate and possibly deliberately manipulated say it may be as much as 1.8 degrees, but that is the absolute maximum).

There is no “sudden and precipitous increase”. There is no hockey stick. It was a lie, and even many of the climate change people have admitted it. The ice caps aren’t melting, in fact in most areas they are thickening slightly. The sea level isn’t rising any more than it would have naturally.

Oh and in case you didn’t know… Polar bears are excellent swimmers.

More damning to the catastrophists faith; even by their own admission, there has been NO rise (and there may in fact have been a slight decline) in global average temperatures, SINCE 1996.

Since temperature recordings have begun, volcanic eruptions have put more carbon into the atmosphere, and caused more temperature change, than all of human industry and activity since the beginning of the human race; but it wasn’t by increasing temperatures with carbon, it was by decreasing them with dust in the air… much of which was in fact carbon particulates.

The world has been far colder than today at times when there was far more carbon in the atmosphere; even without more dust. The world has been far warmer than today with far less carbon in the air, even WITH more dust.

The amount of anthropogenic carbon dioxide and carbon particulates in the atmosphere are FAR less than one half of one percent of total carbon dioxide, and far less than one half of one percent of total carbon particulates (the vast majority of CO2 is released by soil, rotting vegetation, oceanic microorganisms, and seafloor offgassing. The vast majority of particulates, are released by forest fires, and volcanic activity ). Considering how small a percentage of our atmospheric carbon and carbon compounds (between 0.03 and 0.06 percent. Not between 3% and 6%, 3 one hundredths of a percent), that amount is completely insignificant to global climate change.

This is not to say they don’t effect local microclimates, they certainly do. But in those local microclimates, these concentrations are literally hundreds to thousands of times higher.

These levels of anthropogenic CO2 in the atmosphere are not a temperature driver, or a climate forcing.

In fact, historical records show that overall CO2 levels (which, remember, human inputs make up only a tiny fraction of) TRAIL global climate change by anywhere from a few hundred years, to a few thousand.

All currently existing GLOBAL climate change can be fully and scientifically explained by natural endothermic cycles (atmospheric oceanic interaction combined with volcanic and other geothermal activity, and large particulate emissions such as forest fires, plus natural greenhouse component and other climate forcing component emissions), and the fluctuation in output of the sun (because earth is an exothermic system). The suns output has varied greatly over the course of human history (and of course long before), and periods of warming and cooling have tracked right along with that output.

Models using average sunspot activity as an indicator of solar thermal forcing, have proven to be accurate within a few percentage points at predicting historical temperatures.

Some models (those used by catastrophists) predict that there may be FUTURE global climate change based on a theory that human generated carbon inputs, even though they are far lower than historical levels which did NOT cause these things to happen, will somehow cause the entire climate system to change the way it has always functioned.

These models are ridiculous on their face. The way you test a model is to run if forwards and backwards without adjustment, and see if it can accurately predict what actually happened in the past, using the data from further back in the past; then verifying against actual future results over time.

None of the models that predict significant global climate change due to human carbon inputs, come anywhere close to predicting the historical record.

They always consistently overestimate warming by SEVERAL HUNDRED PERCENT, as in estimating 4 to 8 times the actual warming.

And NONE of them came anywhere close to predicting the variability of the historical record, always showing a consistent warming trend over time, even for CENTURIES that had a significant cooling trend.

The models were not made to predict the actual climate… they were specifically made to predict massive warming, no matter the input. And that’s what they do, as non-catastrophists have proven, running data which any rational model should predict steady or cooling temperatures through the models… and they STILL predicted significant warming.

I leave it up to you to decide whether the models were just designed badly, or whether the distortion was intentional. Either way, these models cannot be trusted, and decisions should certainly not be made based on them.

The climate IS changing, and has since the moment the earth formed a climate. As near as we can tell (through ice core samples and the like) there has never been a period of more than 200 years without at least a 1 degree change in global average temperatures.

The climate will continue to change on its own, and no NORMAL human activity will change global climate significantly one way or the other… unless it’s something that actually would kill us all (which would by definition not be normal… Incredibly massive particulate pollution over a high percentage of the earths surface – including the oceans – would do it. It would initially trigger warming from trapped thermal radiation, followed by extremely rapid cooling from blocking out the sun, and then a sudden ice age; and likely kill all crops and food animals in the process, along with at least 80% of humanity in the first two years, if not more, and ultimately followed by mass global extinction).

That isn’t to say we shouldn’t attempt to develop better sources of energy, we should. We aren’t going to “run out” of oil… ever in fact; a basic understanding of economics would show that. But, eventually hydrocarbon fuels are going to get more and more expensive as time goes on, and petroleum fueled combustion engines are relatively inefficient, and do contribute significantly to micro climate pollution.

In many ways, doing things greener IS in fact better. Saving energy is generally a very good thing. Not polluting is generally a good thing. When it isn’t, is when it destroys economies, prevents job growth, reduces food production, increases food prices, and all the other ways that forced greenism (I won’t even call it environmentalism, because it isn’t doing the environment much good), causes pain, suffering, misery, and general reductions in peoples health, quality of life, standard of living, and basic liberties.

“Climate change” isn’t about the environment… It’s about giving financial and political control to anti-western, anti-capitalists…. Or just the cynical opportunists who would use peoples good intentions and fears to increase their own power.

It’s about punishing those rich capitalist nations and people, for not being poor socialists… Or just for “not doing things the RIGHT way”…. whatever that particular person or group happens to think the “right” way is.

It isn’t science, it’s a pseudo-scientific sociopolitical ideological movement, and near religion. The adherents don’t need any proof, because they have faith; and any who challenge that faith must be burned as heretics in their new inquisition.

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

Do Rich High School Dropouts Do “As Well” As Poor College Grads?

Poor Grads & Rich Dropouts

That’s the claim of Matt O’Brien at Washington Post’s Wonkblog, in a post titled (unsurprisingly), “Poor kids who do everything right don’t do better than rich kids who do everything wrong.” His main point:

Even poor kids who do everything right don’t do much better than rich kids who do everything wrong. Advantages and disadvantages, in other words, tend to perpetuate themselves. You can see that in the above chart, based on a new paper from Richard Reeves and Isabel Sawhill, presented at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston’s annual conference, which is underway.

Specifically, rich high school dropouts remain in the top about as much as poor college grads stay stuck in the bottom — 14 versus 16 percent, respectively. Not only that, but these low-income strivers are just as likely to end up in the bottom as these wealthy ne’er-do-wells. Some meritocracy.

So the anger is that some rich dropouts still succeed and make it to the top, and some poor college grads remain on the bottom. Or, to annotate a graph as O’Brien did:

Poor Grads & Rich Dropouts

This, however, is a terrible analysis.

First and foremost, it doesn’t live up to his title. Poor kids who do everything right do quite a bit better than rich kids who do “everything” wrong. Only 20% of rich kids who don’t graduate high school make it into the top 40% of income earners. 41% of poor college grads make it into those upper quintiles. Almost 70% of poor college grads make it into the top 60% of income earners. Only 49% of rich HS dropouts do so. The other half of rich high school dropouts end up in the bottom two quintiles, as you’d expect from high school dropouts.

Now, nobody will argue that poor kids don’t have an uphill battle from day 1. And nobody will argue that rich kids have a multitude of advantages in front of them. Their path to success is easier. There are many reasons for this, and I’m not going to go into them here, but suffice to say that I agree with the simple premise that it’s harder to succeed when you start out poor.

But what the graph that O’Brien uses to prove his point is actually proving that putting your nose to the grindstone, pushing yourself to enter and complete college, is important whether you’re rich or you’re poor. If rich HS dropouts were successful at a higher rate than poor college grads, I might agree with this analysis. But they’re not. Poor college grads do measurably better than rich HS dropouts.

Yes, some poor college grads still end up on the bottom, and some rich HS dropouts still succeed. But how many, and why? Compare the above chart with the below (also from the Reeves/Sawhill paper):

Overall mobility

Social Mobility Matrix, US Overall

In this chart, you can see that the bottom quintile–60% of them, in fact–stayed in the bottom two quintiles. Only 23% made it to the top two quintiles. And the top quintile–56% of them–remained in the top two quintiles. Only 25% fell to the bottom two quintiles. So overall, completely outside of any educational data whatsoever, the bottom remained on the bottom and the top remained on the top.

But if you’re poor, and you graduate college, you flip the script. Your odds are very good to go from the bottom quintile to middle class or better. And if you’re rich but don’t graduate college, your odds are better that you’re going to end up in lower middle class or worse. It won’t hold true for everyone, as there are strong cultural factors in play. But those cultural factors are not overwhelming. Demography DOES NOT equal destiny.

That’s meritocracy.

Community Conservatism – Reviving the Middle Class Economy

median_income

Governing for a Healthy Middle Class Economy

Conservatives do not believe that the government can “create” jobs directly. This canard of the left does nothing but destroy market-driven, sustainable jobs at the expense of increasing the national debt and attaching an anchor to GDP growth in exchange for short term government employment and expanded private sector government influence. That doesn’t mean that a conservative Congress can’t stand for job creation. The way we get there is by providing the modern infrastructure, economic freedom, and competitive tax code that attract, rather than repel the world’s wealth. We want to decrease the cost of doing business here at home and focus government resources on business-supportive roles, rather than coercive ‘partnerships’. It begins with a smarter tax code.

A) Pass Corporate Tax Reform (dare Obama to veto)

I don’t recommend settling for half-measures here and I recommend putting this near the top of the agenda for 2015. Obama has, on multiple occasions, put Corporate tax reform in his state of the union address in his 6 years in office (five addresses, 4 mentions). Corporate tax reform that accomplishes the closing of certain loopholes, the ending of certain forms of corporate welfare, and the reduction of rates to something that competes with the rest of the developed world has broad, bipartisan support among the voting middle class. In Washington, such measures have met with stiff resistance from corporate lobbies who do not want to see the corporate tax base broadened to include them, specifically (through the removal of loopholes). Let the GOP stand for the voters, not for special interests, and pass comprehensive corporate tax reform that does the following:

• Cuts the corporate tax rate to 25% at most
• Creates a two-tiered capital gains tax bracket, where all capital gains are taxed at a much lower rate below $250,000 each year
• Excises many of the tax-sheltering loopholes used by the biggest corporations to avoid paying; in particular, the shelters to profits earned overseas by American companies
• Gives corporations a ‘tax holiday’ to repatriate foreign capital until January of 2021
• Creates a lower corporate tax rate for wealth generated by manufacturing concerns – 15%, perhaps

There are, I’m certain, other great ideas that could be included in a sweeping change like this, and we’re all ears. This is just a start. The goal is to create an environment that encourages businesses to take risks and expand their workforce here at home without taking the punitive approach championed by Obama (penalize companies that keep their money overseas, rather than improve the economic climate at home).

B) Pass the REINS Act (obtain Obama’s veto)

REINS is a relatively simple piece of legislation passed in the GOP-controlled house and left to gather dust in Harry Reid’s file cabinet. It requires congress to approve all regulations in excess of $100M as scored by the Congressional Budget Office each year. If said regulations cannot be approved, they are immediately stricken. This is good policy on so many levels, not the least of which is that it maintains the separation of the non-political government agencies from the political process in the drafting of public policy regulations but forces Congress to exercise some oversight on those regulations that are particularly costly. We recognize that regulatory science should not be trapped by the political process, but we also believe that unelected agencies should not have carte blanche to pass regulatory rules without oversight that serve as a huge burden to economic growth. It will give the voters some ability to hold their representatives responsible for the regulatory state and encourage those who draft said regulations to minimize their costs or garner broad public support for their necessity. It will also make public the CBO scoring of the cost of every major regulation, helping the public to get a sense for the true costs and benefits of each.

C) Return the Full-Time Workweek to 40 Hours

We’ll talk more about the Affordable Care Act when we get to healthcare, but one of the most pernicious things the ACA accomplished was to effectively reduce the American workweek to 30 hours in the eyes of the law. Democrats supported this concept to avoid the tendency of corporations to get 39 hours of work per week out of employees to avoid having them counted as full time and thus be forced to offer benefits. The problem, of course, is that reducing the workweek to 30 hours meant a lot of people just got cut down to 29 hours. If you’re a struggling poor or working class American, this tends to drive you to take two part time jobs and you end up working more and still not getting benefits, or working drastically less and not making enough money to survive. If all else fails, regarding the ACA, increasing the workweek back to 40 hours at least offers some relief for people in this situation (and the CBO projects a big surge in part time labor under the ACA as it currently stands).

D) Expand the Earned-Income Tax Credit

Right now, if you earn less than $11,000 for an individual or $88,000 for a family filing jointly, and are legally eligible for that work, you can claim an earned-income tax credit (variable by family size and earnings). The EITC is good policy for the poor and working classes and should be expanded with increased credit sizes (perhaps another 30-40% proportionally) and availability (up to incomes of less than $125,000 for a family filing jointly). Make this revenue neutral by creating a “super-wealthy” tax bracket (>$1,000,000) that is taxed at a slightly higher rate and by eliminating eligibility for certain tax credits for people in this new upper tax bracket. Normally, the GOP is not associated with eve the smallest of tax increases for the wealthy, but if we reduce corporate taxes as previously outlined, this sort of minor compromise will come out in the wash while selling as good, fair tax policy to middle class voters.

E) Exempt Small and Moderate-sized Businesses from Burdensome Regulation

Small business start-ups are responsible for the majority of new jobs that pay above the media household income. They’re also in sharp decline here in the US. One of the major reasons for this is that, when Congress enacts legislation to regulate business, it does so with larger businesses in mind. We recognize that it is indeed necessary to regulate larger corporations, because they can have disproportional impacts on the environment, the free market, and the welfare of the people. We also recognize that big business can absorb the cost of our most aggressive regulations, but small business cannot. We also believe it is unreasonable for small businesses, frequently run by citizens without the resources to educate themselves on the full extent of the regulatory state cannot be expected to comply to the same degree as larger corporations, and that their likely impact on people, the market or the economy is greatly reduced. We, therefore, must pass a law stating that regulations determined to be of great impact by the CBO as in the REINS act, should be applied only to corporations with greater than 250 employees or more than a negotiable amount of total assets.

F) Repeal Sarbanes-Oxley and Replace with Common Sense Reporting

Again on the subject of over-regulation, this panic-move following Enron’s collapse is among the worst offenders for needless corporate regulatory burden, annually costing billions in the private sector for compliance and producing no change in accounting transparency. It reminds us of the mindless and often pointless busywork we used to get in school, and compliance requires companies to hire a fleet of folks who are specifically experts in the labyrinthine letter of this law. It must go and be replaced by much simpler-to-follow guidelines for financial reporting.

G) Greenlight Keystone XL and Other Energy Infrastructure Projects on Federal Lands

The latest estimate by industry sources is that Keystone XL pipeline would create in excess of 20,000 good paying jobs immediately and have extensive multiply impacts on the job market, not to mention making it cheaper to move oil to high-demand parts of the country where oil prices are currently far too high. Our best environmental impact studies conclude that the XL pipeline would be a net positive for the environment if you assume that the alternative is transport by rail, rather than non-use. This is a no-brainer.

H) Abolish the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Allow Nuclear Energy Expansion – Complete Yucca Mountain Facility for Waste Management

As the science improves to reduce waste products from nuclear fission power, and as the EU and Japan continue to move ahead of us on safe, clean nuclear energy, our ability to innovate and, perhaps, solve the problem of excessive fossil fuel emission is stymied by the anti-science left’s crusade against Nuclear Energy. It’s time to stop being parochial and superstitious in the face of overwhelming evidence that nuclear energy is, by far, our best source of affordable, clean energy.

I) Abolish the Export/Import Bank

It may not be immediately apparent how ending this brand of corporate welfare can help create jobs, but it becomes clearer when you realize that many of the businesses that benefit from Ex/Im assistance are the non-dynamic, struggling corporations not likely to hire a large labor force, and it always seems to come at the expense of healthy competition. Again, the key to job creation is a competitive, free market that rewards well-run companies, not the ones out begging for federal dollars to stay afloat and squash upstarts.

Obama Using “Net Neutrality” to Obscure Federal Take-Over of Internet

fiber-optic-cable“The government will fuck the Internet up.”

So says Mark Cuban. Truer words were never spoken. Allowing the federal government to treat the Internet as a public utility, as President Obama is calling for, under the guise of “net neutrality,” is an abysmally bad idea.

To be clear, “net neutrality” and public utility regulation are two different but equally bad ideas. It appears Obama is using the former in a cynical bid to trick the electorate into accepting the latter. Neither is needed and both are undesirable.

“NET NEUTRALITY”

Net neutrality is the idea that, having paid for Internet service, consumers should have unfettered access to all content. It would prevent a whole host of business model experiments that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) might otherwise try:

  • Selling tiered data plans like cell phone companies do.
  • Developing their own content and then delivering that content at higher speeds than they deliver a competitor’s content.
  • Creating different “lanes” of Internet traffic and charging higher prices to content providers or users for access to the “fast lanes.”
  • Preferring certain content providers to others, likely depending on who pays.
  • Blocking users from using certain online content that takes up too much bandwidth and slows down the network for other customers.

I see none of this as frightening. We pay different rates based on the size and weight of the mail we send. We pay different rates for concert seats, cell phone plans, Netflix memberships, cable subscriptions and a whole host of other services.

The sun still rises.

What consumers who demand heavy content at low cost really want is to have other users overpay for light content while suffering the slow buffering speeds caused by the heavey users. As Casey Given, writing for Rare, observes:

Even if the FCC’s worst fears come to fruition and ISPs start charging cell phone-style “plans” for different levels of Internet access, online access would only become cheaper for low data users. As it is today, a grandmother who logs online once a day pays just as much as the tech-savvy teenager next door who regularly downloads gigabytes of data. As such, she is subsidizing his usage and could instead be paying a cheaper rate if her ISP offered varying plans.

In any case, ISPs own their technology and infrastructure. They invested in that property with the aim of making a profit. The idea that the public has some sort of claim against the property of ISPs reflects a sense of entitlement I cannot endorse. Rights are things we get to do—not things we get to have at others’ expense.

It is where we stand on this principle in the hard cases that defines us.

In addition to heavy content users, the other main beneficiaries of net neutrality are Internet giants like Facebook, Google and Netflix. These companies do not want to be charged by ISPs for the heavy traffic their users generate while slowing down buffering speeds for everyone else.

But is there any reason we should prefer the profit of big content providers over the profit of ISPs? Is there some principle that says Netflix should be allowed to earn whatever profit the market permits—but not the ISPs who deliver its content to consumers?

As Doug Mataconis wrote for TLP back in 2010:

It’s Comcast’s network, [it] should have the right to decide how it’s used and to take action to protect its property and its other customers.

PUBLIC UTILITY REGULATION

Obama’s plan to regulate the Internet is not the same as net neutrality. His plan is to treat it as a public utility, the “most draconian” level of regulation that could apply. It would require ISPs to provide universal service, i.e., “wire up every house.”

It would also allow them to charge the rates necessary to recoup that expenditure at a profit. In fact, public utility regulations allow the type of tiered pricing net neutrality advocates want to prevent:

What some critics of the Commission’s recent proposal may not realize is that even if the FCC agrees to impose the price, non-discrimination, and other forms of common carrier regulation on ISPs, Title II reclassification, would not necessarily ban paid prioritization. As former enforcement director at the Federal Trade Commission, David Balto, has pointed out, the title only prohibits “unjust and unreasonable” differences in services. Carriers regulated under Title II still “may offer different pricing (including volume and term discounts) … so long as they are ‘generally available to similarly situated customers.’”

In plain English, all this means that if some websites, like Netflix, want “faster lanes” on broadband networks, the providers of those networks can charge extra for that service even under Title II, so long as they stand ready to offer the same service to all similarly situated comers.

So Obama’s proposal presents a solution that does not fit the purported problem—which may not even exist.

In June 2006, there were two or more broadband providers in 92 percent of the nation’s zip codes, and four or more providers in 87 percent. A June 2014 study found at least two providers (wireline and wireless) for virtually all of the U.S., and at least two providers (cable and telephone) in nearly three quarters. Nick Gillespie reports at Time Magazine that 80% of households have at least two providers capable of delivering the Internet at 10Mbps or faster.

This access has been achieved even as prices have gone down:

President Obama’s call this week to regulate the Internet as a public utility is like pushing to replace the engine of a car that runs perfectly well. The U.S. data sector — including wired and wireless broadband — is the envy of the world, administering a powerful boost to consumer welfare, generating high-paying jobs and encouraging tens of billions of dollars in corporate investment. Indeed, the prices of data-related goods and services have dropped by almost 20 percent since 2007.

So what is really going on? Does Obama really think the future of the Internet requires the government to sort out squabbles between Netflix and Comast?

I doubt it.

Maybe it is intended to deliver to big donors. Maybe it is about the 16.1% tax on interstate revenues that would be paid by broadband consumers. Or maybe it is something more sinister. As Christopher Bowen wrote last week:

The problem with the government regulating the internet is that … when they get to determine the rules, the consequences turn sinister.

*     *     *

What about communications of interest to the government, such as anything with heavy encryption? Or Tor?

The government has a direct interest in controlling that kind of traffic—hello, Wikileaks/Edward Snowden/any other whistleblower—and if anyone thinks the federal government will look the other way on these things, they are naive.

This isn’t just a possibility, it’s the reality of current legislation on the books, as Chris Byrne pointed out in 2006. Every single packet, every communication, every image, would be captured and stored—by law—if common carrier became the letter of the law in regards to internet traffic, without a warrant, and it would take just a rubber stamp to get a warrant that would be used to punish anyone the government pleases…

REGULATION HURTS INVESTMENT IN INFRASTRUCTURE

For years, federal agencies themselves have resisted calls for regulation, on the states basis that forcing ISPs to treat content neutrally was not necessary, would impede the development of infrastructure, and would have an adverse effect on consumer welfare.

That is because developing the technology to respond to demands for bandwidth requires heavy investment. In fact, in 2013, telecom and cable companies topped the list of industries investing in the U.S., to the tune of $46 billion in investment.

Regulation cuts into the profits that encourage that level of investment.

This Cato Institute podcast, for example, covers the fact that Google Fiber does not provide Title II (public utility) services precisely to avoid the onerous regulations that come along with such endeavor. Another stark reminder of this basic fact came in the wake of the President’s message. On November 12, 2014, AT&T announced it would delay installing high-speed fiber-optic Internet infrastructure in 100 U.S. cities until the rules were clarified.

Perhaps this is why the American people oppose regulation. A November 2014 survey by Rasumussen Reports found that 61% oppose federal regulation of the Internet. Only 19% want more regulation than we already have. What is more, seventy-six percent like the quality of their Internet access.

Only 5% have complaints.

At best this is a solution in search of a problem. At worst, this is a Jonathan Gruber style misinformation campaign, designed to lull the public into complacency as the federal government assumes control of the Internet.

This time, let’s not fall for it.

Image via BandwithPlace.com

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

Net Neutrality… Obama… Cruz… How About Oliver?

Today, Barack Obama(D) has announced that he will pretend to support net neutrality:

 

 

In response, Ted Cruz (RPDGC*), has announced that Net Neutrality is the work of the devil:

 

 

The idea that either Democrats OR Republicans actually support net neutrality is a joke.

The Democrats have (and still do) very strongly supported big media and big communications, who are largely anti neutrality. it’s only when net neutrality obviously became a big issue among young liberals (who were largely unmotivated to turn out this midterm election) that they have pretended to support it.

The Dems could have made it a campaign issue, except then they wouldn’t have had the huge media and communications industry money for the elections, that they needed to avoid getting spanked even worse than they did.

If Obama had actually supported net neutrality, he wouldn’t have appointed an anti neutrality industry stooge as FCC chair… but again, if he did that, the Dems would have lost that sweet sweet big media money.

On the other hand, the Republicans are largely anti “big media” and anti “big communications”, and only became anti-neutrality when the Democrats decided to take it as an issue.

What is Net Neutrality?

Frankly, any libertarian should support net neutrality as a principle (government regulation is another matter).

Net neutrality as a principle, is simple. All legitimate traffic should be treated equally, no matter the source or destination. No internet service provider should filter, censor, or slow down traffic from their competitors, their critics, or because of politics or national origin; or for any reason other than technical requirements for safe, efficient, and reliable network operation.

It’s how the internet has always been run, up until recently, without any government action necessary. There’s a famous quote: “The internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it”. Any internet service provider that censored, filtered, or slowed down traffic from anyone (for anything other than technical reasons) was routed around, and cut out of the net, by its peers. It was a great example of independent action and peer enforcement working in the marketplace.

Unfortunately, this is no longer the case.

Why is it an issue now?

Large media and communications companies like Comcast and Verizon have been deliberately and artificially blocking or slowing down traffic to and from their critics and competitors.

Of course, getting government involved does generally make things worse. In fact, it already did in this case, since the government has been involved from the beginning, and it was largely government action that created the current problem.

In a rational and unbiased competitive environment, consumers would have a reasonable choice of internet service providers, and any ISP that chose to censor or limit access, would lose customers, and either correct themselves or go out of business.

Unfortunately, we don’t have anything like a free and competitive market in internet access. Government regulation and favoritism has created huge monopolies (or at best duopolies, and no, wireless access is not realistic and reasonable competition given the distorted market and cost structures there either) in internet access.

We’ve reached a point where the telecommunications monopolies that government created and support, are in fact deliberately applying anticompetitive, unfair (and in some cases already unlawful) restraint against their critics and competitors.

Since they are government supported monopolies, the market is not allowed to correct the undesirable private action.

This means that, unfortunately, government action IS required… and even if it were not required, it’s inevitable, because politics is politics, and this is now an “Issue”.

So what do we do about the problem?

Please note, I don’t trust either Democrats OR Republicans on the issue in general, and I don’t trust either, or the FCC to regulate neutrality at all. Cruz does have at least one valid concern, in that the history of government regulation of almost every industry, but particularly technology, is mainly a long record of suppressing innovation and other negative unintended consequences.

The ideal solution is to end the government created internet access monopolies that most Americans live under, and allow free and open market competition to correct the problem.

Without government limitations on competition in actual high speed, high quality internet access; competition will increase, prices will fall, and any provider that filters or slows legitimate traffic will lose all their customers and go out of business.

This isn’t just a prediction or libertarian idealism talking by the way. It’s been proved out in Korea, Japan… even in the UK. Everywhere that internet access competition has been allowed to flourish, everything has improved (conversely, in the U.S. where we have deliberately increased the power and scope of these monopolies, we have the worst internet access of any technologically advanced nation).

Unfortunately, that isn’t going to happen.

The next best thing, is to mandate net neutrality in the least intrusive, least stupid way possible, and to react intelligently (and rapidly) to changes in technology and its uses, to avoid regulatory distortion and suppression of innovation.

Unfortunately, that isn’t likely to happen either…

That said, it’s remotely possible for us get closer to that, quicker, than we can to disassembling the thousands of federal, state, and local regulations, which have created these monopolies, and made the barriers to entry for competition impossibly high.

Of course neither Democrats nor Republicans support or plan to do that.

The whole thing is a spiraling charlie fox of disingenuous cynical idiocy.

Personally, I say forget Obama, forget Cruz, and listen to Oliver (or if you don’t care for Oliver, or can’t watch a video, there The Oatmeal):

 

 

*Reactionary Populist Disingenuous Grandstanding Cynic… not the Republican party, just Cruz

Edited to add a few paragraphs clarifying what net neutrality was, and why it’s currently an issue

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

Vote Cynically… The Politicians Certainly Do

So far, my co-contributors at The Liberty Papers have encouraged you to vote for Democrats, vote for Republicans, vote for Libertarians, not vote at all, and vote idealistically.

All are good arguments… or at least reasonable ones, with well argued rationales and logic behind them. I encourage you to take the time now to read all of them, and then come back here before continuing.

Done reading? Great…

Now, my position on how you should decide who to vote for is basically…

Screw all that… Vote Cynically

Presuming of course you’d prefer to optimize your voting pattern for reduction in the amount YOU… and most everyone else… gets screwed by the government that is.

I base this on one simple fact, that we all know (or at least should know) to be true:

Politicians are all liars

Of course, not all politicians lie about everything all the time, but generally assuming that all politicians are liars is a sensible optimization.

Though actually, there is a better… or at least more accurate and comprehensive…way of putting it.

Politicians, respond to their perceived incentives, to maximize their perceived advantages, and minimize their perceived disadvantages, for their own perceived benefit or interest (whether direct or indirect); often without regard for objective truth, facts, or “the greater good”; if these things are perceived to be in conflict with their interest.

Of course, so does everyone else.

Generally speaking, people respond to their perceived incentives and interests. Of course, they may misperceive or misunderstand what those are (very frequently), and they may respond in ways that are inefficient, ineffective, inappropriate, or counterproductive (in fact they most often do).

Even in the case of “pure altruism” (which yes, some deny the existence of), people do what they think is the “good thing”, or the “best thing” to do… which is still acting in according to a perceived interest or incentive, they just valued the “higher interest” greater than their own direct personal interest.

Most often, people do not intentionally act against against their own perceived interests

If you think politicians are better than everyone else, that somehow their motivations, intentions, or actions, are purer or more altruistic than those of any other person, you are wrong…

… and you know you are wrong… or at least you should.

If you think any politician is actually protecting your interests, or “standing up for you”, or “for the little guy”, or “the victim”, or  that they value or prioritize the principles, “values”, and issues, that they notionally “share” with you; over… or even equal to… their electoral calculation, you are wrong…

… and you know you’re wrong… or at least you should.

Sadly, most people seem to delude themselves into believing otherwise… or they wish it were, so strongly, that they simply choose act as if it was, against all evidence.

Some people just can’t, or won’t, let go of that hopeful, comfortable, delusion. Even when they know the truth, they keep voting for politicians thinking that somehow, “this one will be different”.

No… they won’t be different… 

Politicians are “different” , only in that they ACTIVELY seek direct personal power over others, and are willing to do what it takes to gain that power; including lying, cheating, stealing, and killing (even if it’s only at second hand).

This certainly does not make politicians better or more altruistic than anyone else, no matter how “good” or “beneficial” they, or you, or anyone else believes their ideas are, or how much “good” they claim to want to do (or you think they could do).

Yes, it’s possible that some politicians, at some point, will stick to their “values” or “principles”, or their honest position on issues, even if they know that doing so is against their own personal best interests.

It does happen… very rarely, but it does happen.

Most often though, no matter what they actually believe, or pretend to believe, or publicly claim to believe (sadly, often all three are different); what they actually DO, is vote cynically (or tactically, or strategically, or pragmatically, or corruptly, or with loyalty to their party and their financial supporters). They vote for what they believe to be optimal for advancing their true interests: perpetuating and increasing their own power, and enforcing their own preferences against others.

… After all… that’s why they become politicians (no matter what language they choose, or justification they claim, to pretty it up).

This is true of those who call themselves Democrats, and those who call themselves Republicans.

This is true of those who call themselves liberals, and those who call themselves conservatives.

What about Libertarian (or libertarian) politicians? 

There are so few who even CLAIM to be libertarians (or Libertarians), who are actually elected to national office (or  who in anything close to the real world, even stand a remote chance of ever being elected to a national office) that they are safe to ignore for the most part (and thus far almost all of them are actually Republicans).

Even if they were not however, libertarianism as a philosophy (and basic economics for that matter) would rather clearly show, that you shouldn’t trust “libertarian” politicians either.

You shouldn’t trust ANYONE who has, wants to have, or is trying to obtain, personal control over the coercive force of the state. Including those who claim to wish to reduce that control, use less of it, or to abolish it entirely.

It’s simply safer… and smarter, and more realistic… to assume that they are all lying; or that even if they are trying to be honest, once they have that power, they won’t want to reduce or release it (no matter what their justification may be).

… such an assumption has been proven by history, to nearly always be justified.

You have to understand, that most of the time what most politicians claim to believe, and their claimed goals and positions, are simply not what they actually believe… and very often even when they are, that’s a bad and dangerous thing.

The most dangerous thing in the world is a true believer, with the power, and the motive, to enforce their beliefs on others.

Most of what politicians claim to believe is actually about social signaling and fundraising

Allow me to repeat my frequent admonition, that many… perhaps most… of those who identify themselves as conservatives, are in fact no such thing; they are reactionary populists… or just cynical opportunists.

Many or most of those who claim to be liberals… or progressives… are ALSO reactionary populists, or cynical opportunists.

They claim what they claim, because it’s just about the easiest way for them to raise three things they need: Passion, Fear, and Money.

Politics runs on Passion, Fear, and Money

Importantly, any one, can be converted into any of the other two (with varying degrees of difficulty).

Real policy, is boring. It’s messy, and detailed, and complicated, and tedious, and most often unsatisfying.

“Doing nothing”, which frankly is most often what the government SHOULD do,  is even more boring.

Most people don’t have the time, the background, the information, or sufficient interest; in the complexities of the issues, the details of policies, of how real legislation actually ends up being written and passed into law… nevermind the infinitely more tedious and complex regulations that implement those laws.

Hell… even most politicians don’t… They staff it out, or just do and say what their party, their PR people, and their fundraisers, tell them.

I can only think of one president who was elected on a platform of doing as little as possible, and just trying not to screw up too much, Calvin Coolidge… and that was only because he was running for re-election on a successful record of having done so the previous two years, after being elevated to the presidency by accident (the death of Warren Harding). The only thing he ever actually actively did, was to increase tariffs dramatically… which as it happens, turned out very very badly.

Good government is boring. Bad government (or the idea of it) is what generates passion, fear, and money

Government is complicated and boring, and people for the most part don’t understand it… but they do understand narratives that conform to their sociocultural expectations, norms, and biases.

So that’s what politicians and the media give us (not because it’s a big conspiracy, simply in furtherance of their own interests).

We have shorthand. We have litmus tests, and shibboleths, and sacred cows, and “dog whistles”.

We have social signalling, and ingroup identification, and outgroup demonization.

We have “Barack Obama is a secret muslim socialist” and “The Republican war on women”, and “the Democrats will steal your 401k” and “the Republicans will ban abortion”.  Or to simplify “Democrats are evil and stupid” and “Republicans are stupid and evil”.

We have constructed narratives, that people can relate to, idealize, and project themselves into

There are a disconcerting number of people “on the right” who seem convinced that if we just wish hard enough, we can live forever in a magical time approximating 1957 through 1962 on continuous loop… But with iPhones.

For leftists, its the same kind of fantasy, except it’s 1962 through 1967, and Kennedy never dies (and is actually the “Progressive” fantasy they project onto him…).

So, these are the narrative preconceptions that “liberals” and “conservatives” attempt to pander to, and the narratives they attempt to construct.

Sociologists, psychologists, political scientists, PR people, political consultants, and the politicians themselves; figured something out a long time ago, which unfortunately many don’t understand, find disturbing, or simply refuse to believe…

For most people, most of the time, the facts, issues, positions, policies, and outcomes, don’t even really matter that much (though most don’t understand this about themselves, or believe it when it’s pointed out to them). Politics (or political issues) become a matter of social signaling;  ingroup selection, identification, and reinforcement; and outgroup exclusion and demonization.

Their sociopolitical identification becomes part of their identity, their self justification, and their ego.

It’s a team sport, and it’s about scoring points for “their side”, and avoiding having points scored on  “their side”. Their side has to be defended and error cannot be admitted, because the other side would score points, the “good guys” might lose the “bad guys” might win etc…

The way you “score points”, and raise passion, fear, and most importantly money; is to make people believe you’re like them (the good guy – ingroup identification), that the other guy isn’t like them (the bad guy – outgroup exclusion and “othering”), and that they are bad, and evil, and stupid, and wrong, and ruining everything in every way (outgroup demonization).

Once someones sociopolitical identification has become internalized as part of their sense of self, they generally cannot admit serious fault or error on the part of their sociopolitical ingroup, without causing themselves emotional and intellectual injury and pain, cognitive dissonance, even existential crises… most people try to avoid those things whenever possible (sometimes going to great or ridiculous extremes to do so).

There are two major parties, but one overriding interest is shared by both.

Some believe that there is effectively no difference between the major parties… that’s is JUST a team sport, or a horse race etc… That they’re the blue statist party and the red statist party, and the only difference is in the rhetoric.

This is false. There are plenty of very important differences. The devil is in the details, and there are so very many details… Particularly when you get into cabinet and subcabinet posts, executive appointments (and the impact on the executive agencies), and state and local government.

The great problem though (and the large element of truth in the concept), is that both major parties believe in using the coercive power of the state to “fix things” and “do good things” and “make things better”.

Both parties believe that to do so, they need to increase the power of the state in the areas that “need to be fixed” (…and between them, they believe EVERYTHING needs to be” fixed”).

Both parties believe that they (and the people who they agree with and identify with) are the “right people” to have that power, and make those changes, and “fix those problems”; and that in order to do so they need to stay in power, and in control of its mechanisms and institutions.

It’s just that the two major parties believe that different things are “wrong”, or “broken”, or need “improvement”… Or that they should be “corrected”, “fixed” or “improved”, in different ways, by different means.

That’s not “no difference at all”, or even a distinction without a difference… but it can certainly seem like that at times.

Let’s be clear about something though… 

If you believe that an appropriate response to someone doing something you do not like, but which is not otherwise violating someone else’s rights, is to use the government to force them to stop, YOU ARE NOT CONSERVATIVE.

If you believe that an appropriate response to someone doing something you do not like, but which is not otherwise violating someone else’s rights, is to use the government to force them to stop, YOU ARE NOT LIBERAL.

If you believe that an appropriate response to someone doing something you do not like, but which is not otherwise violating someone else’s rights, is to use the government to force them to stop, YOU ARE MOST CERTAINLY NOT LIBERTARIAN.

…Even if what they are doing is in fact, bad, and stupid, and wrong, and harmful.

Let me use the Republicans and “Conservatives” as my example for now…

One must draw the distinction between a political party (which must operate in the real world of electoral and legislative politics), and a political philosophy.

The Republican party is in no way “the” or even “a” conservative party, they are simply
generally more notionally and theoretically “conservative” in their rhetoric, than the Democratic party.

They officially profess to subscribe to some conservative principles and ideals, but they also have elements of their platform and policies which are in fact antithetical to truly conservative principles and ideals. That’s not even getting into what they actually DO… or sometimes more importantly, choose NOT to do.

There is no truly, explicitly, and consistently conservative political party in the United States… or at least none that have any national notice or significance. That includes the American Conservative party, and the Constitution Party; both of which are even more reactionary and populist than the Republican party.

This of course is how they attract and retain their adherents, and raise their money.

There is little money in true conservatism. There is often little passion as well, at least from the outside perspective. 

There is money (and power) in anger, and fear.

There is money (and power) in authoritarian reactionism.

There is money (and power) in authoritarian populism.

There is money (and power) in “there oughta be a law”.

These things are not conservative (nor are they liberal).

Actual  conservatives, are actually generally pretty “boring”… or at least they are more nuanced… subtle… or just muddled looking and feeling; than either media, or “the base” can get excited over, or even understand.

There is rarely any purely black and white, definitely good or unambiguously bad, in ACTUAL conservative policy; there is only “less bad” and “slightly better”, and balancing of interests, advantages, and disadvantages.

With truly conservative policies, without gross oversimplification, there is rarely a clear, compelling, and easily understood narrative for people to identify with, or for the media to  portray.

In an attempt to engage the public, sometimes conservatives or their supporters, attempt to use the techniques of narrative construction that reactionaries and populists use (beginning with the aforementioned gross oversimplification)… This generally results in less than positive outcomes. Often at best misunderstanding and misrepresentation (intentional or otherwise), at worst descending into parody and mockery, and buried under strawmen.

When there is a clear, factual, and truthful narrative, it is generally inconsistent with… or even explicitly contradicts, the activist, statist, idealist, or authoritarian narratives; that most people (both those who identify as “liberal” and those who identify as “conservative”) have internalized as their own map of “reality”, and as part of their own identities.

Rather than face this contradiction, most will ignore it,  oversimplify and distort the truth to sorta kinda almost fit an existing narrative they understand, or simply make one up that fits their preconceptions and biases.

Ironically, those who most loudly proclaim themselves to be conservative; who with great wailing and gnashing of teeth and rending of garments, decry the Republican party the loudest for being insufficiently so; are IN FACT  most often doing so, not for being insufficiently conservative, but in fact for being insufficiently reactionary, authoritarian, statist, or populist.

Of course… do a find and replace in this section on “conservative” and “Republican”, with “liberal” and “Democrat” , and it will also be accurate (… okay… you also have to replace “constitution” with “green”).

Most people want to be controlled… they simply want to believe they chose their own masters

It is sometimes said, there are three types of people:

  • Those who want to control others
  • Those who want to be controlled
  • Those who just want to be left alone

The core problem libertarians face, is that most people really do want “someone to be in charge of things”. Either themselves, or someone they agree with, or identify with, or think is “the right man”, or who will “do the right things”.

Even if they don’t want to be controlled themselves, they want “someone to be in charge” of  “the other people”… You know, the bad people… the ones they disagree with and don’t identify with. The ones who are “screwing everything up” or “getting in the way of things being improved”.

They see the many problems in the world, see the resources, reach, and power of government, and think “hey, we should SOLVE these problems… Fix these injustices. Right these wrongs… We can do it if we really try, we just have to really want to do it”.

Most people have internalized the idea, that if we just put people who are good enough, and smart enough, and “right” enough, in charge of everything, with the power to “make it right”, that everything will be better, or good, or right….

…or some other such fantasy.

Even if they know it’s a fantasy, most pretend it’s true anyway, because the alternative seems far worse… Far scarier.

The idea that no-one is in charge, and that no-one can “fix it”, is far more terrifying, than the notion that “the bad people are controlling everything and making it all bad”. At least then, there something you can do… some control you have.

Most people simply don’t want to face that there isn’t any such thing as “the right people”, and only very rarely is there a “right thing”.

Trying hard, and meaning well, don’t count.

“Ok… so what do you do then? Give up? Ignore politics? Don’t Vote? Does it really just encourage the bastards?”

Well… yes, voting DOES encourage the bastards, but that’s not ALL it does.

You may not like politics, but you can’t ignore it. To paraphrase… You may not be interested in politics, but politics is interested in you.

You are a participant, whether you want to be or not… just like everyone else.

Then only question is, are you going to be a passive participant, or are you doing to at least try to do something?

Is voting actually doing something? 

Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t… It is if you do it right.

Of course, it’s not the only thing you can or should do… but that’s a discussion for later.

“I hate this politics crap… it doesn’t work, it’s all wrong, it’s messy, it’s inefficient, it’s nasty, it’s corrupt… ”

Yes… it is. That’s life. Deal with it.

I’m a libertarian, not an ideologue.

For me, libertarianism is a matter of ethics, and morals,  and process improvement. It’s not really a matter of politics… or at least not just politics.

“Politics” is not an identity, or a moral system, or a philosophy, or a social belief system.

… or at least it shouldn’t be, because man… it’s pretty awful at being any of those things, never mind all of them.

Politics, is how economics, sociology, anthropology, biology, and psychology; all battle against each other (and often, against reality itself), in an absurd and perverse attempt, to agree on some way of not killing each other… or taking or breaking each others stuff… at least not without permission, or damn good reason.

More concretely, “Politics” is a set of frameworks for making collective decisions. Governments are one of the systems we have for managing these frameworks. States are one of the structures by which we can enable and execute on these decisions (there are several other options in all three categories, but what we’ve got now isn’t likely to be replaced by anything better any time soon).

They are just part of the toolsets needed to execute the mission of  maximizing human liberty, and minimizing the coercive restraint thereof.

note: For those of you who are actually strict or pure anarchists, who believe that human liberty can only be maximised in the absence of governance, or of a state… unfortunately you are wrong. Without government, the strong who desire power over others, will  gather power to themselves, and use that power to force their will upon the weak and the unpopular. 

…Of course they do that with government as well… the tyranny of the majority is the worst tyranny… The trick is to limit government power, and ability to grant itself more, as much as possible… and to periodically shoot them all and start over.

As a minarchist, I understand and accept that the state exists, likely always will exist, and for some things it is the best realistic option (meaning likely to be close to achievable in the world we actually live in) to get certain things done which need to be done.

Note: Or which are of such great benefit to all, at so little detriment, that doing so is an objective good, and not doing so is an objective negative (basic sanitation, public health, common defense, disinterested courts etc…) Exactly what things are absolutely necessary, vs. what is just acceptable for the state to do, vs. what it is NOT acceptable for the state to do…  is a much bigger argument… actually a centuries long series of much bigger arguments. 

There’s lots of things we COULD do using the power and force of government. I just think that most of the time we shouldn’t, because no one and certainly no collective, knows how to run my life better than I do… And I don’t know how to run anyone else’s life better than they do.

…Even if that means that stupid or evil people do stupid and harmful things, or that we don’t make things as good as we could possibly make them. 

We can’t ever know what all the consequences and effects of our decisions and actions may be, nor can we truly know if we made a correct or optimal decision, nor can we eliminate our own biases and prejudices, nor can we ever have perfect information or perfect reason.

No matter what we do, we will always be wrong, in some way, at some time, for some one. We can only make what we believe to be the  least wrong decision for ourselves, at the time  we have to make it, with the information we have at the time, and under the conditions we made it.

Since we cannot know these things, and can’t be right, only less wrong; we should only force on others that which is absolutely necessary (or which is of significant, unambiguous and compelling benefit to all, with minimal or inconsequential cost or detriment… and even that much, and what constitutes that… is up for major debate). 

We don’t have the moral or ethical right,  to violate other peoples rights for their own good, or for the collective good; even if they are doing stupid and harmful things with those rights… so, long as they are not actually violating anyone elses rights (and again, what that constitutes is vigorously debated). 

I believe it is a moral imperative to use the force of the state as little as possible. I believe it is a practical optimization to help achieve this imperative,  to reduce the power the state has whenever possible, as well as reducing both the opportunities it has to use it, and the ease in which it does so. 

Unfortunately, this ethical philosophy generally won’t get you elected anywhere I know of…

Politicians get elected, because people still believe “there oughta be a law”

There are NO elected or electable politicians who agree with me… or at least those who

None.

Even those who claim to be libertarians… They still believe (or at least claim to believe) in using the coercive force of the state to enforce their preferences.

…Because if they didn’t, they wouldn’t have a purpose or a job.

Politicians don’t get elected on the promise of doing nothing, they get elected by promising to “right wrongs” and “fix problems”.  They get elected because most people, no matter what they claim to believe, still think “there ought to be a law” when they see something they dislike enough.

There are plenty who CLAIM to agree with me, or who agree with me in part, or who will at least generally vote in a way that would advance (or not undermine) what I believe in… at least on some issues. Particularly when it comes to local politicians and local issues.

… but that’s an awful lot of caveats.

The Perfect is The Enemy of The Good… or the “Good Enough For Now”… or the “Best We’re Gonna Get”… or the “Least Bad” 

Since no one who is ever going to be elected, ever agrees with me completely… or generally in more than a few particulars… I have to work on a “least bad” decision making basis.

That’s almost always true of any complicated issue by the way… there’s rarely ever such thing as an unambiguously good or right decision… Only the “least bad” or “least wrong” decision.

So, whenever possible, I vote in the way that I believe will reduce the power of the state, the legitimate use of that power, and the ease with which the state may do so; unless doing so would be cripplingly wasteful, inefficient, or hindering, of the critical and legitimate missions of the state.

When, as is so often the case, I am unable to vote “well”, I try to vote in the way that will be “least bad” for that goal.

If that’s impossible, I will attempt to vote in a way that blocks the formation of overwhelming power blocks, or restrains the use of such power; for example voting for split government, bloc spoilers, effective opponents to dominant power concentrations etc…

Purity tests are not useful. They are in fact harmful. Trusting them is stupid, and applying them makes you miss out on things which might usefully advance your interests (or at least usefully aid in defend them)

If you could trust them, then MAYBE purity tests would be worthwhile, but you can’t.

As a libertarian, how can you vote for “them”?

“As a libertarian, how can you vote for a Republican when the party is controlled by so called social conservatives, who are against drugs and gay marriage”

“As a libertarian, how can you vote for a democrat when the party is controlled by socialist nanny staters”

Because in the real world, politics and government are not about purity, or perfection, or ideals… They’re about calculation and optimization, of the possible. It’s simply a question of least bad decision making.

If I waited for a candidate who believed exactly what I did… Well, that’s never going to happen.

If I waited for a candidate I trusted completely…. Well, that’s never going to happen either.

So… if I want to have any impact or influence whatsoever, I need to act locally, and personally, and apply least bad decision making.

Why bother voting at all?

Because yes, least bad decision making actually works.

Is it great… no… but it’s better than nothing…

You CAN have an impact as an individual. You can influence local candidates, and local parties. Local parties write state level platform and legislative input, and select local candidates. Local candidates become state level candidates, and local party positions become state party positions. Then later, state candidates become national candidates, and state party positions become national party positions.

Hell… Robert Heinlein wrote a book about the process in 1949 called “Take Back Your Government”, and most of what he wrote then still applies today (at least in principle… obviously demographics, social issues, cultural tastes etc… have changed).

Decisions are made by those who show up

I go to local political events. I meet candidates and participate in conference calls, and round tables, and townhalls and debates. I have been active in my local political scene several places I have lived. Through county level involvement, I’ve helped write position papers  which became part of the state party platform, select candidates who were elected to statewide office, and even write legislation that was eventually passed on the state level (in north Idaho… we basically arranged a libertarian takeover of a county republican party).

… Perhaps more importantly, I’ve helped STOP legislation, and positions, and candidates, which would have been AWFUL for liberty.

If there is a competitive libertarian (no matter what party affiliation they claim), who isn’t a nutjob, or a 9/11 truther, or some form of involuntary collectivist, or authoritarian statist claiming to be a libertarian (Chomskyites… christ no… ) I’ll gladly vote for one. I have voted for libertarian local candidates in the past, a couple of whom even got elected.

If I live in a state or a county that’s going to go Democrat, or Republican, no matter who I vote, I’ll absolutely vote for a libertarian, because the higher the numbers libertarians get, the less they can be ignored,  the more negative press the major parties get, and the more people get exposed to libertarian ideas.

If both parties select absolutely awful candidates who I can’t see any advantage in voting for, or disadvantage in voting against, I will vote libertarian as well.

As I said above, I will vote to block concentration of power, or to counter existing concentrations or excesses, or to blunt their effectiveness.

Most often though, least bad decision making, means I vote Republican (and every once in a while, very rarely, and only on a local level, Democrat).

Why Republican? Why not Democrat?

There are a few “benchmark issues” that will GENERALLY give you a good idea about where a politician stands on rights, freedom, liberty as a whole, individualism and collectivism and the like.

  • Abortion
  • Gun control
  • Economic freedom
  • Drugs
  • Taxation
  • Wealth redistribution
  • Personal moral choices
  • Publicly funded and controlled education
  • Foreign policy
  • Freedom of speech

Sometimes an individual politicians positions on these issues will be inconsistent with each other, or with other members of their party, but they’re generally clustered into areas of agreement with their party which are generally roughly identified as “social issues’ and “economic issues”

I disagree with most major party candidates, about most of theses issues… “both” sides… in some fairly significant ways.

I disagree with both major parties, about social issues, and economic issues. I am not socially a Democrat and economically a Republican. That’s just pseudo-libertarian populism. My disagreements with the Republicans  are absolutely as strong, and as important to me, as my disagreements with democrats.

So why do I generally vote Republican (at least for national offices)?

Because I’m a cynic…

Well, that, and because I’m an engineer by both nature, and by education and training.

Engineers understand that the perfect is the enemy of the good, and that small incremental changes with testing, and iterative optimization over time (with evidence, data, and metrics); is the only way to actually be successful in complicated endeavors over the long term.

We got here by creeping incrementalism. We can roll SOME of it back through creeping decrementalism

Liberals, and conservatives, Democrats, and Republicans… All have stupid, harmful, and destructive notions about the use of the coercive force of the state. I would like to minimize the impact of these stupid, harmful, and destructive notions, to the extent I am able.

Very broadly, Democrats claim to believe (and generally vote for) one set of ideas in each category, and Republicans claim to believe pretty much the opposite set of ideas in each category.

As I said, I am not a Democrat on social issues, and a Republican on economic issues… HOWEVER, very broadly and generally speaking, Democrats claim to believe stupider and more harmful things in the “economic” category, and Republicans claim to believe stupider and more harmful things in the “social” category.

So, if both social and economic issues are equally important to me, why do I generally vote Republican?

I’m counting on incompetence, inefficiency, ineffectiveness, venality, malice, and deceit.

… and I’m rarely disappointed.

Now… the thing is… with liberals, or “progressives” or leftists of most stripes… most of them really sincerely believe in using the coercive force of the state to make changes in society.

Importantly, they often actually attempt to. and are depressingly successful in, passing legislation theoretically intended to implement and enforce their stupid, harmful, and destructive ideas (though generally speaking, not the changes they actually claimed they were trying to make, with the results they claimed to intend; since it seems liberals don’t believe in or understand the law of unintended consequences, or that results are more important than intent).

Critically for my optimization process (and most unfortunately) Democrats seem to be pretty good at passing stupid and harmful laws in both the social and the economic regimes.

Republicans for the most part, limit their efforts to… or at least focus the majority of their claimed efforts on… their harmful, stupid, and dangerous social ideas (yes, the majority of… not all, by a long shot).

In particular, with notionally socially conservative politicians… or at least the ones that actually manage to get elected… most of them don’t actually believe in the stupid ideas they claim to believe. They’re simply social signalling, or pandering to the less intelligent on “their side” (who unfortunately are also often the most motivated).

More importantly, they rarely make any kind of sincere or effective attempt to actually pass these idiotic and harmful laws (they’ll propose them, but they hardly ever actually even try to pass them). The few true social conservatives who actually manage to get elected, and who do sincerely believe their own idiocy, are mostly ineffective at passing legislation attempting to implement said idiocy

Basically I trust Republicans to generally be less competent and effective  at executing on their agenda than Democrats

Which, under this rationale, is exactly what I want.

So… it’s generally a cynical, but realistic, optimization to vote for Republicans, because the stupid and statist ideas from their side generally don’t actually get implemented or enforced (or they get overturned in court), while the Democrats stupid and statist ideas often do.

That’s what voting cynically really means.

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

Why Capitalism? Why Not Capitalism?

Reason has an interview in their November issue,  with Jason Brennan, professor of philosophy at Georgetown, and author of the recent book “Why Not Capitalism”, published here in the piece “Why Capitalism?”.

From the blurb:

Most economists believe capitalism is a compromise with selfish human nature. As Adam Smith put it, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.” Capitalism works better than socialism, according to this thinking, only because we are not kind and generous enough to make socialism work. If we were saints, we would be socialists.

In Why Not Capitalism?, Jason Brennan attacks this widely held belief, arguing that capitalism would remain the best system even if we were morally perfect. Even in an ideal world, private property and free markets would be the best way to promote mutual cooperation, social justice, harmony, and prosperity. Socialists seek to capture the moral high ground by showing that ideal socialism is morally superior to realistic capitalism. But, Brennan responds, ideal capitalism is superior to ideal socialism, and so capitalism beats socialism at every level.

Clearly, engagingly, and at times provocatively written, Why Not Capitalism? will cause readers of all political persuasions to re-evaluate where they stand vis-à-vis economic priorities and systems—as they exist now and as they might be improved in the future.

I am in the midst of reading the book now, and if I think it’s warranted, I’ll post a review of it later this week. However, the thesis of the piece is that capitalism works, because it is in concordance with human nature. All other economic systems are dependent on humans denying or modifying their nature.

While I agree that the basic thesis is correct; my personal belief is that it’s even more basic than that.

Why Capitalism?

Because capitalism is not a system which has to be promulgated, enacted, imposed, or enforced.

Capitalism doesn’t depend on any government,  group, or single individual, deliberately controlling or changing anything. It’s the natural result of voluntary and rational response to economic incentive and feedback. If things are left alone to work out as people will, the result is capitalism.

What capitalism ISN’T, is the gross parody promulgated by socialists and other leftists. In real world terms, this misconception of capitalism is closest to 18th-19th century imperialist mercantilism… Which isn’t surprising, given that mercantilism was in fact the dominant economic system when Marx and Engels were writing.

Capitalism is simply the end result of spontaneous self organization of autonomous rational actors, and their response to changing conditions, intelligence, incentive, and feedback; including market conditions, and pricing.

We had capitalism, tens of thousands of years before we even had governments, never mind the invention of the term.

Capitalism is the default mode of economic interaction.

It’s basically gravity.

The video interview of Professor Brennan:

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

Denver Post Editorial Board Responds to Pot Halloween Candy Paranoia With Common Sense

Supposedly, Colorado parents have a ‘unique challenge’ this Halloween. You see, because enough Colorado voters were bamboozled into legalizing pot for recreational purposes in 2012 (in addition to the already legal for medicinal purposes), now parents have to worry about cannabis laced candy in their trick-or-treat bags. There have even been products made available to test questionable candy of the presence of THC.

The editorial board of The Denver Post’s response? Perhaps parents should be checking their little goblin’s candy anyway.

[T]his year should be no different for parents, who should always employ common sense on Halloween. Throw out any unwrapped candy and inspect all packaging before letting your kids gorge on treats.

If the package looks suspicious, tampered with, torn, unwrapped or in unfamiliar packaging, throw out the candy. That should be the same message every year.

Wow, how hard was that? The board also points out that these ‘edibles’ aren’t cheap. The example they use: a package of 10 pot laced gummy bears retails for about $27 before taxes. Who is really going to be that motivated to spend that much money to get strange children high? I suppose it only takes one to start a new wave of ‘Reefer Madness’ circa 2014*.

My bold prediction: there won’t be even one reported case of a child receiving pot laced candy in Colorado.

*Maybe a bit conspiratorial on my part but who would be more motivated to give children pot laced candy, those who are in favor of its legalization or those opposed?

Ebola: Saving Life As We Know It, But Not You Specifically

ebola-quarantine-area

As the first U.S. citizen remains forcibly quarantined over Ebola fears, now seems a good time to revisit the role of government in our lives. Some so-called “conservatives” seem to have undergone a sudden evolution to the position that it is the government’s job to keep us perfectly safe from all risk.

One cannot help but wonder, is this their new position on guns as well?

One person has died in the U.S. from Ebola.

We lose 32,000 times that many every year to guns. Is there no cost too high, no civil liberty that cannot yield, in the quest to defeat that risk?

What about cars?

In 2012, 92 people died every day in automobile accidents. How many civil liberties can be ceded to protect us from death-by-car?

Anyone who thinks there is no cost too high to pay to keep Ebola from tarnishing the pristine lands of America is a statist in sheep’s clothing.

The government’s job is to preserve Life As We Know It. To do that, it does not need to save you, specifically. And it certainly does not so direly need to save you, specifically, that it should declare marshal law and shut down global travel.

In the years since 1976, the U.S. has lost between 3,000 to 49,000 people per year to influenza. By my math, that means we could lose another 48,999 people to Ebola this year and still not suffer much impact to Life As We Know It.

But you know what would impact Life As We Know It?

Massive losses in wealth due to travel bans, “aversion behavior,” quarantines and fear.

For example, Michael J. Casey, writing for the Wall Street Journal reports an interesting study about the effects on the global economy of a flu pandemic:

One study led by U.K economists that modeled the global economic fallout from a hypothetical influenza pandemic predicted only a 0.5% GDP loss from the base effect of the disease itself but up to 8% due to policies intended to mitigate its spread, such as school closures.

Think about it. Tourism to and from Africa ceases. Tourism between the U.S. and the rest of the world slows. Hotel rooms sit empty. Restaurants close early. No one rides the bus or takes taxicabs. A lot of people who would otherwise be working—and spending—are quarantined for weeks at a time. Equity indexes fall. Shares in travel firms dive alongside companies heavily invested in Africa. International financial institutions with interests in the region take a hit. The prices of iron ore and oil rise.

Your job might cease to exist. Your retirement account might be wiped out. The value of your house might plummet.

Is there still no price too high to pay when it is clearer that it will be you who must pay it?

However distasteful it might seem, the government must weigh the lives saved against the cost (in both dollars and civil liberties sacrificed) of saving them. Just like the Federal Reserve has a conflicting dual mandate to maximize employment and keep prices stable, the government has a conflicting dual mandate when it comes to Ebola—to protect us from Ebola and to protect the worldwide economy and our civil liberties from collateral damage in the fight to stop Ebola.

Take heart, gentle lambs.

Just because it is not the government’s job to spare no cost keeping you safe, does not mean you cannot make it your own priority. Disabuse yourself of the notion that only the government exercises any control over the big stuff, the important stuff, the dangerous stuff. You are free, all on your own, to spare no expense keeping yourself safe. Wash your hands more and touch your face less. Drive your car instead of using public transportation. Start prepping.

Stay home from work, like you think all those returning aid workers should.

Well go ahead.

You first.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

Tesla Whines About Protectionist Legislation for Auto Dealers While Using Government Largesse to Compete

Last week, I wrote about rent seeking auto dealers lobbying for protection from competition with manufacturers utilizing direct-to-consumer sales models. I mentioned direct-to-consumer manufacturer Tesla by name, and suggested such legislation would prevent consumers from enjoying the savings that might otherwise be realized from Tesla’s efforts to “eliminate the middle-man.”

I should have taken the opportunity to address Tesla’s own abundant receipt of government largesse.

And to be clear, “government” largesse is always paid for by the taxpayers.

In a piece entitled “If Tesla Would Stop Selling Cars, We’d All Save Some Money,” Forbes contributor Patrick Michaels details all the ways Tesla benefits from government handouts. Michaels concludes that taxpayers shell out $10,000 for every car Tesla sells.

Michaels starts with a claim that purchasers of Tesla vehicles receive a $7500 “taxback bonus that every buyer gets and every taxpayer pays.” Since the tax credit appears to be non-refundable, I would not count it as a cost to other taxpayers, as Michaels does.

But the federal tax credit is only the tip of the crony capitalist iceberg for Tesla.

There are also generous state subsidies paid by taxpayers to the wealthy people who buy Tesla’s expensive vehicles. Purchasers in Illinois, for example, can receive a $4,000 rebate from that state’s “Alternate Fuels Fund,” a $3,000 rebate to offset the cost of electric charging stations, and reduced registration fees. California likewise offers a long list of rebates and subsidies to buyers of electric vehicles.

One of the hidden costs to consumers comes in the form of the increased price tag on cars sold by manufacturers who do not qualify for California’s mandated emissions credits, which they instead have to buy from Tesla, allowing it to earn a profit despite selling cars at a massive loss. As Michaels explains:

Tesla didn’t generate a profit by selling sexy cars, but rather by selling sleazy emissions “credits,” mandated by the state of California’s electric vehicle requirements. The competition, like Honda, doesn’t have a mass market plug-in to meet the mandate and therefore must buy the credits from Tesla, the only company that does. The bill for last quarter was $68 million. Absent this shakedown of potential car buyers, Tesla would have lost $57 million, or $11,400 per car. As the company sold 5,000 cars in the quarter, though, $13,600 per car was paid by other manufacturers, who are going to pass at least some of that cost on to buyers of their products. Folks in the new car market are likely paying a bit more than simply the direct tax subsidy.

Slate’s Scott Woolley details another way in which Tesla has cost taxpayers money. In 2009, Tesla received a $465 million Department of Energy loan that allowed it to weather a financial maelstrom. Unlike Solyndra (and Abound Solar and Fisker Automotive and The Vehicle Production Group LLC), Tesla managed to repay the loan in 2013. According to Michaels, it did so by reporting its first ever quarterly profit (earned from the sale of the emissions credits), which sent its stock soaring and enabled it to borrow $150 million from Goldman Sachs, and then issuing a billion in new stock and long-term debt.

But Tesla paid the U.S. taxpayers back at a rate far below what venture capitalists would have earned on the same loan. As an example, Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk also made a loan to Tesla. Musk got a 10% interest rate and options to convert the debt to stock, which he did, resulting in a 3,500% rate of return on his investment.

In contrast, the U.S. taxpayer received a 2.6% rate of return.

In other words, in our crony capitalist system, taxpayers take the loss on bad loans like the one to Solyndra, but do not enjoy commensurate reward on good loans like the one to Tesla.

But there is still more. Tesla cannot keep earning emissions credits, which allow it to earn a profit despite selling its cars at a loss, unless it can keep selling those cars. Josh Harkinson, writing for Mother Jones, writes that:

Its first-quarter profit, a modest $11 million, hinged on the $68 million it earned selling clean-air credits under a California program that requires automakers to either produce a given number of zero-emission vehicles or satisfy the mandate in some other way. For the second quarter, Tesla announced a $26 million profit (based on one method of accounting), but again the profit hinged on $51 million in ZEV credits; by year’s end, these credit sales could net Tesla a whopping $250 million.

Tesla’s ability to continue selling the cars that earn the credits is in question. The market for $80,000 cars has a limited number of buyers. Tesla must expand its customer base with a more affordable product.

One way to achieve that would be to cut the vehicle’s range. But subsidies, credits and fuel savings notwithstanding, consumers have little taste for lower ranges—even at a much lower price. Another way for Tesla to lower the cost of its vehicles is to cut the cost of its batteries without sacrificing the range. As Harkinson observes:

That, however, may again depend on massive subsidies—in this case funding to battery researchers and manufacturers by the governments of Japan and China. Over the past five years, Japan’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization, a public-private partnership founded in 1980, has pumped roughly $400 million into developing advanced battery technologies. Tesla’s Panasonic cells also might be pricier if not for subsidies the company received to expand its battery plants in Kasai and Osaka.

When Republican Gov. Rick Snyder signed the bill reaffirming Michigan’s protectionist legislation for traditional automobile franchise dealers, auto blog Jalopnik reported GM’s position as follows:

“Competition is always healthy,” GM spokeswoman Heather Rosenker tells Jalopnik. “But it needs to be on a level playing field.”

In the context of the substantial aid Tesla receives from federal, state and foreign governments, it is easier to have some sympathy for the plight of traditional manufacturers—and their dealers.

Ultimately, that sympathy shines a spotlight on the problems created when government starts “tinkering” in the market. Inevitably, that initial, well-intentioned tinkering necessitates ever more intrusive secondary tinkering aimed at remediating the unintended side effects of its initial foray into the market.

Consider health care. Inflation in the cost of U.S. health care began to outpace the general rate of inflation when the government began subsidizing health care costs. Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman has estimated that real per capita health spending is twice what it would be in the absence of third party payments, and that Medicare and Medicaid are responsible for 43% of that increase. The remaining portion can be blamed in large part on the third party payments from mandated employer health care coverage, further separating patients from the cost of their care and eliminating the market forces that would otherwise keep costs down. Add to the foregoing the government-enforced monopolies on health care education, leading to 22% fewer medical schools in the United States now than one hundred years ago, despite a 300% increase in population, and attendant provider shortage. All that well-intentioned tinkering created a whole host of ugly, unintended side effects, necessitating more tinkering. The federal government responded with the Affordable Care Act and its accompanying thousands of pages of new regulations.

Everywhere the pattern repeats. The cost of higher education outpaces general inflation precisely because the government wants to help people pay for it. The unintended side effect is increasing numbers of graduates with useless degrees and few job prospects, necessitating further tinkering in the form of loan relief, jobs programs and minimum wage hikes. The Federal Reserve suppresses interest rates to artificial lows in the well-intended effort to speed recovery from the bust of the dot-com bubble. The unintended (in this case, it may actually have been intended, at least by Paul Krugman) side effect is a new bubble in housing. When that bubble bursts, the government must step in to bail people and banks out of their bad investments, create new bureaucracies and new regulations making it harder for people to qualify for loans (in contrast to previous tinkering designed to make it easier).

Lather, rinse, repeat.

I am not a radical free-marketer because I dislike poor people or have a special love for corporations. I am a radical free marketer because I know no amount of tinkering ever produces results as beneficial as what the market produces, naturally and efficiently, all on its own.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

Could The Fuel Of The Future Come From Whisky?

This is a possibility according to a new Scottish startup company. Celtic Renewables Ltd. hopes to turn the waste products in Scotch whisky production into a biofuel.

Science Alert.au has more:

Whisky making requires three ingredients: water, yeast, and a grain. However, only 10 percent of those products end up as whisky, the remaining 90 percent is wasted during distilling. These waste products are either released into the sea or turned into animal feed.
Celtic Renewables Ltd is a start-up company in Scotland that is working to reuse the waste products from the Scottish Malt Whisky industry to develop biobutanol – an advanced biofuel that can be used instead of fossil-derived fuel. This will in turn reduce oil consumption and CO2 emissions, and provide an energy guarantee for rural areas that have a booming whisky industry.
The team have refined an old industrial fermentation technique, and managed to change draff (husk residue left by fermented grains) and pot ale (liquid produced during the mashing process), into 1-butanol and ethanol – which can both be used as fuel.

According to About Autos, the advantages of biobutanol over ethanol is that it has a higher energy content than ethanol. Biobutanol can be blended with gasoline at higher percentages and doesn’t need a separate distribution network, unlike ethanol. Finally, unlike ethanol, biobutanol is not corrosive.

However, the major disadvantage of biobutanol over ethanol is that ethanol has a much larger production capacity and has been the beneficiary of subsidies all over the world. Hopefully this company can change that and this technology can be adapted to other whisky producing areas of the world such as Canada and the United States.

 

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at IJ Review.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

Hey FCKH8, I Have a Few ‘F-Bombs’ of My Own!

If you thought modern progressive feminists couldn’t be any more childish, you haven’t seen FCKH8’s latest viral video entitled: “F-Bombs for Feminism: Potty-Mouthed Princesses Use Bad Word for Good Cause.”

In the video (below), girls aged six to thirteen repeat progressive feminist bromides and talking points along with some F-bombs (as advertised) in an attempt to get this message to go viral (mission accomplished). As expected, the response by many is to be offended by having these ‘princesses’ use such foul language for any reason.

Personally, I think the whole thing is awful. I don’t like it when children are used for any cause foisted on children by adults, regardless of how noble the cause might be. It even turns my stomach a little when I see politicians use their own children in their campaign ads. It’s even more tacky to hear children speak about such things they most likely have no clue about. My daughter is pretty intelligent and the same age as some of these girls but I’m fairly sure she doesn’t even think about the ‘equal pay’ or ‘rape culture.’ Why should she? She’s nine years-old for crying out loud!*

So here’s the full uncensored version. If this is too much for your ears to handle, go here for the censored version.

Now, wasn’t that just precious!

More important than the shock value of elementary shool girls cursing like sailors…are the things these girls saying true? For the most part, no, these are the same old progressive feminist myths repackaged yet again. I’ve already dealt with the ‘equal pay for equal work’ nonsense here and here. You can also read this article 5 Feminist Myths that Will Not Die. I’ll let Julie Borowski take care of the rest as only Julie Borowski can – dropping her own F-bombs (Fact bombs, I should say) without actually cursing.

I have a few other F-bombs about gender disparities progressive feminists almost never bring up (and I’ll do so without exploiting any elementary age children to make my points):

A young man is required by law to sign up for Selective Service by his 18th birthday. In the event Congress decides to reinstate the draft, men exclusively are conscripted to risk life or limb for ‘his country.’ Also, of those who have died in all the U.S. wars (declared and undeclared) since the American Revolution, 99.99% were men. When men’s rights activists say that society has long decided that men are the ‘disposable gender’ this is one example of what they are talking about.

When young girls are circumcised we call it ‘genital mutilation’ and we are rightly scandalized by this barbaric practice. When baby boys have their genitals mutilated, we call it circumcision because either the boy should ‘look like his father’ or because some women prefer their partner to be circumcised. So much for ‘my body, my choice.’ And imagine the outrage if even one man said that because he preferred the look of a woman’s vagina without a clitorous, baby girls should have it removed?

When it comes to parenting and divorce, mothers get custody of the children roughly 84% of the time.

Let’s call this the gender ‘crime/time’ gap. For Similar crimes under similar circumstances, on average women serve 18.51 months vs. 51.52 months for men.

Since 1976, 15 women (2.9% of the executions) have been executed even though women are responsible for 10% of murders. While I am unapologetically opposed to the death penalty, as long as this barbaric practice is part of the system, this punishment should be an equal opportunity punishment without regard to sex, race, religion, economic or political status, or creed.

At least 3 states (California, Tennessee, and Kansas) require men to pay child support to his statutory rapist.

I could go on but I think I have made my point. There is inequality between the genders and both have their challenges. Personally, I would like to look at the individual rather than who is on ‘team penis’ or ‘team vagina.’ But first, we need to elevate the debate above the elementary school playground.

*This isn’t to suggest she isn’t already very opinionated or doesn’t care about important issues. That’s right, my daughter already has an issue she cares deeply about. Her issue: the alarming decline of the ‘big cat’ populations. According to National Geographic, there are as few as 3,000 tigers, 7,500 snow leopards, 10,000 cheetahs, and 30,000 lions left in the wild. I had no idea about this until my daughter started writing out a script she wanted to read over the intercom at her elementary school to collect money to help ‘save the big cats.’ I suggested that she should ask for donations to the local big cat sanctuary for her birthday instead of presents. Would you believe she was actually thrilled with this idea and followed through? I couldn’t be more proud of her. If she wanted to make a viral video about saving the big cats, I might make an exception to my ‘no kids’ rule because this is an issue that she actually cares about.

How Do You Measure The ‘American Dream?’

The question of class mobility has come to define the “American Dream” in political discourse. And, although this post will take a bit of a contrarian position, it is absolutely inarguable that there is a problem with economic immobility today that is having a very depressing impact on the way we communicate to solve problems and on our freedoms in general. But this is not how you go about making that point.

There are many accepted indicators of whether a person has “done everything right” but the most important such indicators have traditionally included college advancement (graduation and especially graduate degrees), marriage, and home ownership.

The original graphic is a classic example of a complex topic simplified into uselessness. When I look at the graph, I see that, in fact, college grads who started poor move up to the middle classes and stay there at much higher rates than rich kids who drop out of high school (yay!)…but somehow the Post comes away with the misleading headline: Poor kids who do everything right don’t do better than rich kids who do everything wrong.

Really? This only looks at the shear proportions who “graduate college” vs. “drop out of high school” – that can hardly be seen as “doing everything right” vs. “getting everything wrong”. What did the college grads major in? There is ample research supporting the conclusion that most college majors these days are bad long term investments. What did the rich kids who didn’t finish HS go on to do? Were they drop-outs because they had alternative plans? Did they pick up a trade?

And more to the point – how many of those poor kids had good parenting examples at home upon which to build the foundations of healthy marriages?

Slate takes on many of my same talking points here. They mention other confounding factors, and note the misleading nature of the Post’s article title. Props to them!

But they make the unfortunate logical leap that there is something inherently wrong with a system where not all poor college grads do well later in life, or that the forces leading to their remaining in poverty are things we can fix.

An excerpt:

The real issue, as O’Brien points out, is that rich kids enjoy lots of advantages that keep them from falling to the very bottom of income distribution, and sometimes those advantages keep them at the very top. They might be able to go to work for family businesses, for instance, or family friends. Researchers like Brookings’ Richard Reeves call that collection of advantages “the glass floor.” Educated poor kids are in the exact opposite position. Many attend second- or third-rate (and possibly for-profit) colleges that churn out less-than-useful degrees. And instead of a floor propping them up, their families and friends can act like an anchor pulling them down. A classic example: a college-educated woman who goes home and marries a boyfriend who never made it past high school and has trouble holding down a job.

Emphasis mine. Notice the not-so-subtle insinuation that colleges that operate for profit are bad for the poor, and that the less-useful degrees are not to be found in the halls of elite, expensive colleges, only those second rate low-end state schools or the aforementioned dirty capitalist institutions. Of course, even top end colleges (including the ivy leagues) are now offering degrees in a wide array of financially useless liberal arts curricula. Also notice the suggestion that the problem isn’t with the failure of people raised in poverty to establish and keep stable families, but that those families are holding them back. They’re getting it exactly backwards. Every credible study on the persistence of poverty finds that single parents and people who suffer divorce are the most likely to get stuck in poverty.

So let’s summarize the position of Slate’s team (and likely that of the Washington Post):

1) Economic mobility continues to be problematic at best for the poorest Americans, even with hard work.
2) Graduating from college is a mark of hard work.
3) Hard work should be rewarded with a high rate of success.
4) If we could separate the poor from the things that hold them back (especially their struggling families and their alternative education sources), they would thrive.

If the writers at Slate would like to address the problem of hard-working, driven poor people being less able to move up the economic ladder than (perhaps) would be ideal, I suggest that they stop grinding political axes and start looking at the hard data. The data all indicates that the leading indicator for economic immobility is single parenthood, and that children of single parents are more likely to also be single parents themselves later in life. Get to the root of the problem and you find that this is not something that government can forcefully correct – and frankly, I’d be terrified if they tried.

“Climate Change”, and the false dichotomy of “evil or stupid”

As we run up to the midterm elections, the drumbeat is once again sounding throughout that land, that Republicans… or rather, everyone not Leftist… are “anti-science”, “pro-ignorance” etc… etc…

I am constantly hearing some variant of “Republicans are either evil or stupid for not… X”.

The sad part of course, is that a certain percentage of non-leftists, including libertarians and conservatives are in fact, nuts, particularly about science… and another large block are ignorant.

Of course, so are large blocks of those on the left… but that’s not what we’re talking about right now.

There are certainly many scientific issues over which the ideological spectrum split, but likely the biggest one, with the most uniform split (there’s very few whose ideological “side” don’t match the position staked out by that side, to some degree or another)….

“Climate Change”

Ok, talked about it here before, and there’s plenty of great resources on the topic (try Climate Skeptic for a start)… But it’s an issue among my friends right now, and Neil Degrasse Tyson has been talking about it lately (before his most recent brouhaha), facebook is… well, pretty much always covered with it etc…

Let me just lay things out for a bit…

First, YES, there ARE loonies out there who say that there is no climate change “because Jesus” or “It’s all a conspiracy man” etc… etc… etc…

Feel free to ignore them, as you would on every other subject. They don’t represent any kind of reality based universe, never mind a rational position.

There are also those who simply say that there is no such thing as climate change whatsoever… But mostly they are either ignorant of, or don’t understand, the science, math, or historical record in question

And yes, there are far more of those than there should be in 2014.

However, some of us come to our positions through a knowledge of science, engineering, math, the scientific method, research methodologies and data analysis.

There are those, myself among them, who actually DO understand science, and don’t believe in CATASTROPHIC, ANTHROPOGENIC, global warming, leading to systemic, catastrophic climate change.

We are not irrational, ignorant, evil, driven by unsavory motives, or stupid.

We come to this position, because we understand that:

  1. The question isn’t whether climate is changing and will change in the future, it always has and always will. The question is how much has it, how much will it in the future, and why.
  2. Catastrophic, anthropogenic, global warming leading to catastrophic climate change, is a tightly interconnected theory. For any element of the conclusions to be correct, ALL of the suppositions within the theory must be correct. The instant any of them changes, at all, the theory falls apart.
  3. The mathematical models for this have always been highly speculative and have proven non predictive both forward and backward.
  4. The data is greatly variable ( and often poor) in quality, and is adjusted in ways that make it less than useful for a model with high sensitivity predictions, because small changes or inconsistencies in the data make big changes in the model.
  5. The catastrophic model adopted by the U.N. has some major dependencies which are entirely theoretical, and have not been borne out by historical facts; specifically estimates of forcing, estimates of weighting of various factors, and particularly estimates of extremely high sensitivity to certain factors (especially CO2), that while throughout all of history have exhibited one behavior (a stable, negative feedback system), for some reason (i.e. humanity is bad and stuff), things have changed now… even though CO2 has been much higher in the past, and it didn’t happen then… Such that a very small change in CO2 will have a large multiplier effect, transforming the stable negative feedback system that the climate has been throughout the entirety of history to this point, to an unstable positive feedback system.
  6. There is no evidence for this catastrophic theory, nor does it correspond with historical models, or models that prove to be historically predictive (i.e. if you run the model backwards and forwards in time, it matches roughly with what actually happened).
  7. This prediction has been made since the mid 80s (prior to the mid 80, from the early 70s they were predicting global cooling and ice age by the way), and the models have proven to be grossly inaccurate. They are constantly revised to reflect the same conclusion, but never actually predict what ACTUALLY happens in the real world. There was initially slightly more warming than the previous historical models predicted, but by 1991 warming was back to the historical trend line, and there has actually been no significant warming since 1994-1998 depending on exactly which dataset you look at.
  8. Human outputs from all of industry, vehicles etc… Make up less than 1% of total atmospheric CO2… actually between .3 and .4%. The VAST majority of CO2 comes from forests, oceans, animals, and soil (and the bacteria contained therein). They also absorb CO2 in the natural CO2 cycle.
  9. If the historical, non catastrophic models prove correct, and they have so far, there will be between less than 1 and just over 2 degrees centigrade warming in the next 100 years. This is not catastrophic, and is consistent with warming/cooling cycles throughout history.
  10. If all human output of carbon dioxide and other theorized elements of climate change stopped right now, today… That number wouldn’t change at all, or at most very little. Within the margin of error.
  11. Once you take the catastrophic sensitivity to a tiny change out of the model, many other factors become far greater “forcings”, particularly the suns variability (relating to sunspot cycles).
  12. If the catastrophic models are correct, either we already have, or we soon will, pass the point of no return. We would not only have to completely stop emitting CO2 entirely, but we would have to take large amounts of it out of the environment.
  13. No matter what, the developing world isn’t going to stop burning wood, and coal, and growing and modernizing and using as much hydrocarbons as they can. They don’t give a damn what european liberals think, they just want to cook their dinners and have lights at night.
  14. No matter what, China and India aren’t going to stop being 60+% of all CO2 emissions from human sources (that’s according to the environmentalist group, the earth policy institute. UN numbers say it’s more like 30-40%), because if they did they’d all be plunged into even greater poverty and likely starve to death.

What it comes down to is this:

  • If the catastrophic models are correct, it’s too late to do anything about it anyway.
  • Even if every western nation utterly stopped producing ANY output which contributed to climate change, it wouldn’t make any difference whatsoever.
  • If the catastrophic theory is wrong, and everything point to it being so, then we would be spending trillions of dollars, destroying economies, ruining millions or billions of peoples lives etc… All for little or nothing.
  • There are real, actual, proven problems that are far more likely to be important, and that we can actually do something about, that are much better ways to spend our time and money.
  • Ok… so why do so many people support the idea… particularly so many scientists?

    The same reason anyone does anything… because it aligns with their perceived incentives, beliefs, worldview, narrative, and identity.

    To wit…

    1. Funding
    2. Social signaling an ingroup identification
    3. Politics
    4. Power and control (climate change legislation is all about taking power and control from one group, and giving it to another)
    5. Ideology and alignment with world view
    6. The precautionary principle
    7. Anti-capitalism
    8. Funding
    9. Because if they don’t, they don’t get jobs, their papers don’t get published, they don’t get university positions etc…
    10. Because they know that it’s not as bad as the press makes it out to be, but that making it super duper scary is the only way to make the morons out there pay attention and actually make some of the good positive changes that need to happen (like more energy efficient technology, and more research into alternative energy)
    11. Because the entire world has lined up into teams, not just about climate change, but about ALL social, cultural, and scientific issues… Evolution, homosexuality, everything else about the environment etc… and one team has decided to label themselves “progressive” and “liberal” and “pro science” and the other team “anti science”, and nobody wants to be “regressive” and “anti-science”.
    12. Did I mention funding? There is no funding in saying “things are going to be about like they always have been, with some small changes as expected, and maybe a very small degree of increased change… it will have some moderate impacts”. That’s boring, and it gets ignored, and no-one gets any funding, and you can’t do additional research on it. No-one is paying for research into squirrel populations and how “1 degree per century of climate change will impact them).

    Yes… I repeated myself, in several different ways there… That was intentional.

    The Broken Record

    Catastrophists have a record, of being broken records… and being mostly or entirely wrong.

    From 1974 until 1985 or thereabouts, many of the exact same scientists, politicians, pundits, and environmentalists who today are saying are going to warm our way into a combination of ice age, deserts, and typhoons everywhere… were saying the exact opposite.

    At the time, their theories and models said that we were going to precipitate our own ice age, blocking out the sun, and that crops would fail and we would starve to death.

    The fact is, we’ve heard over and over again for decades that if we don’t do exactly what this one particular group wants us to do about any particular issue within 5, 10, 20 years etc… that we’re all gonna die, the world is gonna end, everything will turn to dust, there will be no birds, no trees…

    Anyone remember when acid rain was going to kill us all?

    Yes, in part, it’s because we did respond to the concerns of the environmentalists, regulations were changed somewhat, technology got better, we polluted less and cleaned up more. These are all good things.

    But mostly it was because they were dramatically overstating both the problems, and the solutions; either because they actually believed it, or for political reasons…

    Seems to me, mostly for political reasons.

    Mostly we haven’t done what they asked.

    The world didn’t end.

    We didn’t all die.

    Of course, that doesn’t mean they aren’t right this time…

    …One of these times they just might be… or at least they might be more right than wrong…

    …it just means that we should really be very careful, and very skeptical, about what they say, what we believe, and what we do about it.

    Oh and one more thing…

    There is one final, and almost universal test of the validity of someones claim that “everything has to change”.

    It can’t prove that a claim is true… but it can nearly always prove a false claim to be false, or at least greatly exaggerated.

    Simplified, it’s called the “Act as If” test.

    Does the person making the claim, act as they would if the claim were true, and as urgent as they say?

    Is it conclusive? No… but it’s a pretty strong indicator.

    Do those who say they believe in truly catastrophic anthropogenic global warming pass this test?

    Do they actually act as they would, if they actually believed their predictions.

    The answer is very much no… not even close.

    So, if they don’t… why should anyone else?

    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

    Watch A Couple Of Millennials Talk About Barack Obama’s Policies Have Harmed Their Generation

    A couple of young Millennial women, Alyssa Lafage and Elly Mae, appeared on “The Rick Amato Show” on the One America News Network (don’t worry, you probably don’t even get the channel). Amato had both young ladies on to talk about how the policies of President Obama and progressives have harmed the Millennial generation.

    Some reports show that Millennial unemployment remains high at 15% in September. This summer, it was estimated that Millennials are 40% of the overall unemployed in this country. Millennials still cannot afford health insurance, despite Obamacare’s promises.  Finally, Millennials are trapped by high amounts of student loan debt, which cannot be discharged in bankruptcy, in order to obtain near worthless degrees.

    Watch these two Millennial women describe how the polices of President Obama and progressives have harmed their generation and made their generation worse off than ever. Also, check out our own Quincy’s takedown of Obama drone Paul Krugman’s proclamation of Obama as one of the greatest presidents ever which touches on some of these same issues.

    h/t: Wayne Dupree

    I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at IJ Review.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

    Cost is NOT Price, and Neither Cost, nor Price, are Value

    Prices Provide a Misleading Measure of Dollar Devaluation
    Forbes Magazine Online – Keith Weiner

    There’s not a human being alive who doesn’t know the dollar is falling. Everyone over 25 has stories of what prices were like, way back when (and younger people have heard them). I remember when gasoline was 60 cents a gallon, and my mom remembers when it was 20 cents.

    Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen acknowledges the official objective to push the dollar down by 2 percent per year. This intention is behind the Fed’s ill-conceived loose money policy.

    It’s important to measure each drop. This is not just to keep a scorecard on the Fed, but because a change in the dollar skews historical comparisons and distorts business decisions, like giving increases to workers and pensioners….

    Read the whole piece, and then come back…

    The thesis statement of the piece is correct, in that prices provide a misleading indicator of currency valuation (and that our weak dollar policy, as pursued by every administration since Bush 1 to some degree or another, is fundamentally wrong and destructive for that matter).

    Unfortunately the author suggests that simply using a different price denomination and comparison (to gold) is a less misleading indicator… In this, he’s absolutely incorrect.

    What you really want to compare is purchasing power parity (PPP) as measured by equivalent standard of living, expressed as a dollar cost in constant dollars normalized to average labor hour wage or compensation.

    i.e. this item costs 5 minutes of average labor, this costs 8 hours, this costs 20 years; the cost to maintain this equivalent normalized standard of living across an aggregate population is 1940 hours of median labor wage etc… etc…

    Note, this is NOT an expression of the fallacious labor theory of value, it is an explicit measure of purchasing power parity as actual cost, INCLUDING opportunity cost (in terms of time), not currency denomination.

    The critical function isn’t price, and it isn’t wage… it’s cost, in this case expressed as a cost to value ratio as a normalized dollar (to make it easy to relate to wages and prices).

    Cost is not price; it’s a totalized measure of inputs including resources, time, and opportunity.

    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

    Windowpanes, Pencils, and Paperclips

    A few days ago I wrote something on facebook that bears repeating here:

    A comprehensive understanding of the pencil problem, combined with a thorough understanding of the broken window fallacy (and its inputs and corollaries… Hazlitt for example), makes a pretty good inoculant against socioeconomic lies and stupidities.

    Although they are implied by the conditions above, perhaps one should also specifically reference the scale and complexity problems, the perfect information fallacy, the perfect man fallacy, and the law of unintended consequences…

    Some of our readers may be unfamiliar with the pencil problem.

    In comments, the novelist Ryk Spoor provided a decent explanation, which I’m going to paraphrase here, with my own edits and revisions (and the addition of the last bit, about planning and control):

    No one man, can make a pencil, or at least a pencil which could be sold economically.
    In general terms, the pencil problem, is that even simplest and most common objects in our civilization generally require an immense number of people and inputs; to not merely build, but manufacture and sell in sufficient numbers, to make it worthwhile to build them cheaply (or at least so that they can be sold economically).

    The applies to everything from cars and computers, to pencils, to paperclips.

    If you wanted ONE paperclip, it would be an epic undertaking, from locating the appropriate ores, refining them, turning them into steel, figuring out how to draw the steel into the appropriate size of wire, and then finally producing the paperclip from that wire. The amount of effort involved in it would be months of your labor, assuming you had the talent and resources to do it at all.

    Instead, you go to a store and buy a 100ct box of them for a dollar; or even at minimum wage, a few minutes of your time for a hundred of the things.

    Multiply that by all the different types of goods and services in a modern civilized society, and it starts to become clear just how many people, in how many different specialties, with how much infrastructure, are needed to keep everything running.

    Given that scale and complexity, it should also be clear how impossible it would be to plan, control, and manage, anything approaching a national economy or infrastructure centrally; or in fact in any way other than as devolved and decentralized as possible.

    The original statement of the problem in this way came from an essay by Milton Friedman (which was a restatement of an earlier essay, “I, Pencil” from Leonard Read, which was a restatement of Hazlitt, which was a restatement of Bastiat and back down the chain).

    A video of Friedman explaining the problem:

    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

    Jason Lewis Goes Galt; Quits Halfway Through Show on Air

    Over the past week, talk show host Jason Lewis has been letting on that something big was going to happen on his show. July 31, 2014 he dubbed “Judgement Day.”

    Being an avid listener of his, I thought it probably had something to do with his political activism site Galt.io* and probably something to do with his cause called “Starve the Beast.” Was he going to announce that he was going to move his show from the high tax progressive state of Minnesota to a more tax friendly/liberty friendly state?

    As it turns out, I wasn’t too far off but he took his “starve the beast” thing a step further. You could say he had “gone Galt” on the air halfway through his radio show.

    The following was his epic final monologue:

    All over the continent of Europe there are castles. Castles that children are taught to admire. But these monuments are not shrines to liberty but are a stark reminder of an oppressive past that we are quickly forgetting. These elaborate fortresses were built to honor the riches of royalty. Such wealth was not derived from the cooperation of capitalism but from the conquest of collectivism. It was stolen through taxes and fees collected from the serfs. It was not earned.

    We have apparently learned little from history for today we have our own royalty dressed up in the robes of compassion. A false altruism that merely enables the mob and crushes the individual. We have erected a shrine called the welfare state and as a result, we now resemble a nation with more takers than makers. Crony capitalists who preach the virtue of community service while acting like economic parasites who live off the system. Indeed the real entrepreneurs are no longer valued. Only the political ones who loathe them. Profit is a dirty word while one’s obligation to society regulates the most productive to second class status. We are it seems endlessly told to live for others. Endlessly told. Taxes are patriotic. We are told to apologise for our own existence. The pursuit of happiness has been replaced by the mandate of self sacrifice. This is not freedom, it is tyranny.

    And so we, I, you are faced with a choice. The choice that all people in all times must make: to fund the beast or to starve the beast. To host the parasite or walk away. To participate in the system that punishes the value of your own existence or boycott that system.

    Ladies and gentlemen, I have now chosen the latter. They can now feed off one another.

    I quit.

     

    Just after Lewis uttered the words “I quit” there was silence followed by his confused producer getting on the air “Um…Jason?” and then announcing that Jason had left the mic. They then went to commercial and found another talk host to fill the remaining hour and a half remaining in the show.

    From there there was a flurry of calls and people going to this website and the Galt.io homepage. Was this some kind of stunt? Did Jason Lewis really quit halfway through his syndicated talk show?

    Personally, I wasn’t sure. It does now seem that Jason Lewis indeed did quit and decided he was no longer willing to keep feeding the beast.

    Okay, so a talk show host who would likely be retiring soon quit in dramatic fashion, what’s the big deal?

    For me, it is a bummer. Jason Lewis was one of the few talk show hosts that didn’t tow the party line or spend three hours a day attacking Barack Obama for everything under the sun. Its true that he did attack Obama’s policies with gusto but he didn’t spare the Republicans either. He brought insights that no other syndicated show offers.

    And maybe this going Galt is more symbolic than anything else. But what if his message resonates to other high achievers who could stop the motor of the world if they followed this example?

    I for one hope this inspires such a revolution even if its on a smaller scale than what took place in Atlas Shrugged.

    *I have a cause and a group that I started within Galt.io: The Non-Aggression Principle (educates people about the NAP) and my group called Restore Everyone’s Property And Individual Rights (REPAIR). Contact me via Twitter @s_littau if you would like to join Galt.io and these and other causes.

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