Saturday, April 30, 2005

If You Ever Need a Message Near Your Crotch

Free markets create some of the crazies things. Here's one for the books.

Mad props to Seth for sending me the link.

Re-entering the Fray / Free Market Enviromentalism

Before I go into my post, I’d like to say a few things. First, let me convey my apologies for being lax about my participation here at LL&L this semester. As some of you may know, I am graduating from Bethany College next week, so this has been my final semester. Congrats to me – I finished my comps this week and have been notified that I am graduating from Bethany with Distinction. Yay!!!

Also, I’ve just been notified by IHS that I’ve been accepted to the Liberty & Current Issues Summer Seminar at Catholic University in D.C. this July. I am quite excited about that, and I hope that maybe I’ll see some of you there.

Now to the post…

Interesting set of articles in The Economist magazine this past week about environmental issues. Among them a discussion about how our ability to assign price to environmental factors is increasing the markets ability to account for those factors efficiently. For example, it has been found that coffee fields planted within one kilometer of a forest are 20-plus percent more productive than fields further away, and that the key difference between them is the increased natural pollination that occurs as a result of forest-dwelling insects. In this way, the presence of that forest is worth, to the farmer at least, the margin of increase in productivity.

Another example is some of the forested area on Panama’s Pacific coast. Medicinal scientists have been documenting for some years now numerous cures (or likely cures) that exist in the swampy muck and moldy undergrowth of that region. Large pharmaceutical companies are already clamoring to gain rights to those areas in order to leave them undeveloped, because in this case, the trees and swamps have enormously more value than condos and golf-courses, that is, if one is operating on a longer time horizon.

Granted, these are not a perfect demonstration of the free market at work, and getting market systems to take hold with regards to environmental stuff has much further to go in terms of sophistication. Most significantly, there are still many perverse incentives written into national laws throughout this country and Latin America. But it does signal a move in a generally good direction. The more that the market can demonstrate itself capable and competent in assigning accurate value/price to environmental concerns, the more likely governments are to abandon the command-and-control regulatory/prohibition model that so dominated green-policy over the last three decades in favor of a market-oriented approach. I’d strongly encourage those of you who are interested in the intersection of the free market and the environment to pick up a copy of The Economist for April 23-29, 2005 – it’s worth a look.

See also: the IHS site dedicated to applying the free market to the environment.

How To Be Sporty

In an earlier post I made fun of baseball because I found it boring and hinted that it wasn’t a real sport. One commentator asked what I consider a sport to be and implied that since I admit I’m not a fan of sports, I’m not in the best position to define one. But it is because I find no sport-like game interesting that I think I am very qualified to define what a sport is—I lack the vested interest to mold the meaning to favor “my” game. Besides, I don’t live in a cave and I’m well aware of what the idea of a sport should be.

And we should really be honest about this definition. Sports get public funding (such as youth sports) and their own special laws (such as monopoly rules regarding baseball). Since only athletes play sports and people hardly care about participates of just any game, properly defining a sport hold real world consequences. (Of course, government shouldn’t coddle it, sport or not, but this is the world we live in.)

A sport is a type of competitive (the object of the game is to win over an active adversary, such as a computer or a person) game (a strategy-based activity). Specifically, it requires that intense physical exertion is an inherent part of the game.

Thus NASCAR is not a sport; sure there’s strategy and it’s competitive, but physical exertion isn’t inherent in the activity.

Golf isn’t a sport, either. An avid golfer friend of mine pointed out that “real” golfers carry their own clubs, thus it’s physically intense. But carrying stuff around isn’t inherent to the activity. You see someone swing a club at a little ball, they are clearly playing golf. If you see someone haul around a bag of iron sticks, they could be doing anything (like working as a caddy). You can’t claim what’s inherent about your game just so you can call yourself an athlete (which is what a lot of golfers call themselves).

Now baseball’s a pseudo sport because about half the time you’re sitting down waiting to bat. This is different from sitting on the bench as second string. No matter how good you are, you will have to sit down, often for (relatively) long periods of time. Waiting is intrinsic to the game and while parts of it are inherently physically exerting, it’s not a true sport (like basketball or football).

Here’s a quick way to tell if something’s a sport: if practicing it is good exercise (as in you get winded), you are at least halfway there.

The Other France

The French are a people of contradictions. I think it’s a mix of realizing that in order to do well in the global economy they need to work hard while at the same time pursuing the European Dream of free money. Forget two Americas, but there really are two Frances: one wants to work hard, the other wants to fall asleep drinking wine.

In a recent poll, 56% of the French thinks they don’t work enough. This consensus is reached while they protest adding another day of effort to their work year. The vacation day that’s being proposed to be scraped didn’t even exist two years ago.

This attitude is typical of most crowds. Like many environmentalists, socialists, democrats, republicans, industry leaders, NGOs and a myriad of other special interest groups, they want a better society but they’ll be damned if it means they have to pay for it. You really have to work to be this inconsistent.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Going, Going...Yeah It's Still Dull

I know I’m not in the minority when I say this: Baseball is boring. Our national pastime has got to be most mind-numbing national sport (and I use the term “sport” loosely) of all national sports. Hell, cricket is more interesting and I don’t even understand it.

You’d think this thing that’s so important to our national identity would have the freedom to reinvent itself so people might actually watch it. Think again—the House wants the Commerce Department to randomly test players of all pro-sports and get teams to contribute millions to a fund that would run ads discouraging young people from using steroids.

Why can’t there be two baseballs: a boring one, where the teams disallow the use of performance enhancing drugs, and a slightly less boring one, where it is allowed? If everyone agrees on the rules, it’s not cheating and it would lead to better safety measures because we would remove the incentive for secrecy. But I guess our representatives don’t care about keeping our national pastime alive.

Centuries of the Blame Game

While driving around today I noticed a pick-up with a Confederate flag instead of a front license plate. Considering both Iowa and nearby Illinois were both free states, this was rather odd.

But it got me thinking about a cartoon I saw some years ago when Virginia wanted to hoist the Confederate flag over their state capital building. It depicted a trio of Afro-Americans looking on at a group waving the symbol of the Confederacy. One said, “I wish people would stop living in the past.” All of them were holding signs demanding reparations.

History’s useful for perspective (something we are genuinely lacking), but it’s often the target of obsession. Not only do people think things were better then, they use long-standing history to justify whatever they want and in doing so, repeat the evils they are trying to correct for. Afro-Americans used it to justify affirmative action, effectively legalizing racism. Zionists used it to justify Israel, kicking out hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes and igniting one of the worst continuous conflicts in human history. Palestinians are now using ancient history to justify kicking out Israelis. Of course slavery and oppression are horrible things but we can't let its past consume our future.

I have no problem in assigning compensation with regards to recent atrocities (like, say, the Holocaust), but these others conflicts are hundreds or thousands of years old. That’s simply too long to flatly blame someone’s ancestors for your problems—too many thing happen in the meantime to prove guilt. Stop living in the past!

Monday, April 25, 2005

All I Ever Needed To Know I Learned From Watching Prices

I just finished watching an episode of Penn & Teller’s Bullshit of which they debunk the myth that recycling is good for the planet. The reality is it takes more resources (time, energy and so on) to recycle trash than to simply throw it away and make stuff from scratch. I’m not sure if P&T realize it or not, but they offered two pieces of evidence that alone demonstrates this truth.

This first one is as follows: It costs $50-$60 a ton to throw garbage away in a landfill. It costs $150 a ton to recycle it.

Prices are determined by supply and demand. If an input has a high demand and/or a low supply (compared to alternatives), its price will be higher. But we don’t care about just one input (like energy costs or landfill space); we care about all of them. The price for a good captures all the scarcity of the inputs for that good. The higher the price, the scarcer the inputs as a whole are, and the more society looses when the good is produced. (This only works if inputs come from privately-held property, and for the purposes of the topic, this holds true.)

Note that if one input becomes scarcer, the overall price increases (all things held equal). If it becomes dangerously scarce, the price will increase a lot. Thus when environmentalists say we are incredibly low on landfill space, we know they are lying. If it were true, the price of throwing away garbage would skyrocket beyond recycling. It has never done that.

The second bit of evidence involves the other side of recycling: material creation (as opposed to disposal). It costs more to create resources from recycled inputs than from virgin inputs (except for aluminum cans).

Again, this difference in price tells us all that we need to know. The key distinction between recycled products and virgin products is the origin of the core material (such as trees versus paper to make paper). Since the other factors of price are so similar, comparing prices is the same as comparing the costs of each strategy to society as a whole. If one of these valued virgin inputs becomes dangerously scarce, the price will reveal that by becoming more expensive than recycling.

The main input for paper, for example, are trees (the vast majority of which are grown on private land just so they can be turned into paper). If trees were as scarce as environmentalists claim they are, then the price would be so high it would be cheaper to recycle newspaper. The same goes for just about anything else.

Aluminum, on the other hand, is comparatively more expensive to extract and manufacture, which is why recycling those cans isn’t only cheap, it nets a profit. It’s not a coincidence that this is the only aspect of the recycling phenomenon that didn’t need some of the eight billion dollars of subsides that recycling programs require every year to stay afloat.

Recycling isn’t profitable, thus it doesn’t add anything to the economy or to the environment.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Earth Day Footprints

In contradicting their mantra that “Earth Day is everyday,” Greens are making a big fuss this twenty-second about how angry our planet is. As the world turns to the 35th anniversary of the day we all complain about the environment, be prepared to hear a lot about finite resources and “ecological footprints.”

Both concepts demonstrate a juvenile understanding of the economy (for the former) and the environment (for the latter). I’ve explained many times that the amount of resources on the planet doesn’t matter—the important concept is how scarce they are, and they are becoming less scarce. The economy is a living thing and it adapts as needs change.

Ecological footprints are a little different, but people misunderstand their role for similar reasons. According to, an eco footprint is “the process of determining the bioproductive area that a person or a population needs in order to sustain a specified lifestyle.” The explanation continues:

There are two sides to ecological footprinting - supply and demand (of renewable resources).
-An ecological footprint = demand for (and impacts on) biological product, which is defined as the area (mostly land) needed for that product.
-Biological productivity (bioproductivity) or biocapacity = supply of biological product (biomass).

This straightforward idea assumes if we leave a “footprint” (take in more than we put out), we are doing harm to the environment. Essentially, it assumes our ecosystem is perfectly balanced and every species has a vital role to play. This runs contrary to the theory of evolution which describes nature as a messy, creative destructive process that’s happening all around us. The planet is designed to take a beating.

Does that mean we should slap it around just for fun? Of course not. But we don’t need organizations making sure we minimize our impact. Combined with free markets and private property, ecological footprints have about as much impact as real footprints.

Parks for Turks

I’m spending the next few days writing cover letters to potential employees and I was recently reminded of a nasty little law I learned about while studying in Istanbul.

If you ever go to Turkey’s biggest city, you’ll notice something annoying immediately. It’s rather a pain to get anywhere because the metropolis is so spread out. My Turkish friends told me the city extends the entirety of both peninsulas it sits on. When I first left the city on a bus trip, I learned this exaggeration is well justified.

The reason for this sprawl is quite clear—most buildings in the city never reach up more than fifteen or so stories (with the exception of one area of the city where modern hotels rise like trees on a well-cut lawn). But why this limit? I asked a friend about it and she said there was a law against skyscrapers. (Well, she didn’t use the word “skyscrapers” because she didn’t know it, though her English vocabulary was very extensive. I found that to be an interesting cultural consequence of the law.)

She attributed the law to Turks’ love for green spaces. I tried to explain to her that the law doesn’t increase the amount of parks and gardens, it actually decreases. Floor limits require people to use more land than they normally would to make a certain amount of space. I illustrated this with a pair of glasses. First, they were both directly on the table and then I stacked one on top of the either, leaving an empty space for “development.”

She still wasn’t convinced and she continued to be unconvinced after I used this same logic to explain how Manhattan Island—some of the most expensive real estate in the world—is home to no less than seven parks (including Central Park which covers 6% of Manhattan). She then added that tall buildings are ugly, referencing the skyscrapers in the district that’s the exception to the rule. Of course that’s ugly—there are only a few such buildings. A good skyline has many. Think how different Manhattan would look if the only towering edifice was the Chrysler Building.

It’s instinctive to think that creating public goods (including beauty and natural spaces) require laws. There’s no doubt that the developing world’s biggest barrier is learning to surpass this instinct, even when it comes to trees.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Statebusters II

A few months ago I wrote an article about how the movie Ghostbusters has a strong libertarian theme. Last night I finally got around to renting Ghostbusters II and I’m proud to say they didn’t stray from their roots.

In the opening scenes, we learn the ghostbusters’ business ended because they were sued for saving the city (just like in The Incredibles). But it wasn’t private citizens or even private businesses that created the legal troubles. It was the government. “[We] ended up getting sued by every state, county and city agency in New York.” -Winston

A few scenes later we learn the city didn’t even pay the ghostbusters for services rendered. When Bill Murray’s character tried to talk to the mayor about being screwed over, Jack Hardemeyer, the mayor’s assistant, intercepted him. The mayor’s up for re-election and doesn’t want to be associated with the once-heroes. Power is more important than paying what’s owed.

While in court for tearing up 1st avenue (granted, they shouldn’t have done that), we learn just how much the government is pushing them around. The judge begins the trial by saying he doesn’t believe in ghosts and denies any reference to them during the case (odd because five years ago, the city was attacked by a giant marshmallow man, but I guess the judge thought that was just the Michelin guy on steroids). Then we learn the ghostbusters have a judicial restraining order that bars them from performing services as paranormal investigators or eliminators. It’s like keeping a firefighter away from a burning building because last time he put out a raging inferno he got the carpet wet.

Minutes later the judge rescinded the order, not because it was the right thing to do but because he was being attacked by ghosts and needed their help. So much for judges being completely neutral.

This allows the ghostbusters to restart their old business, which they use as a jumping point to better investigate the growing evil presence in the city. After they figure out what’s going on, they go see the mayor to warn him. He waves them off. The wormy assistant takes this as an opportunity to have the ghostbusters committed so they wouldn’t hurt the mayor’s re-election. Hardemeyer’s a typical bureaucrat, pushing around other people for greater power and prestige.

The mayor releases them only after it really does look like the world’s about to end. He uses the ghostbusters—the world’s best chance—as a last resort, endangering the entire planet so he doesn’t have to admit he was wrong to ignore their warnings. Yet even in this darkest hour, the bureaucrat tries to convince the mayor otherwise. Thankfully, it didn’t work.

Ghostbusters II builds on the importance of local knowledge and liberated societies. Authorities are more often a barrier than an ally and are willing to ignore overwhelming evidence if it suits their needs. For heroes to be heroes they need more freedom, not less.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

A Little Bit of Sanity

Someone at Wiki wrote this on my talk page concerning my contributions to the global warming article.

Thanks for trying, Atlastawake. Be aware that enlightening people who have been trained to accept what they have already been told, can be difficult. I think Plato mentioned something about this difficulty with his parable of the cave. And sometimes a paradigm shift can be too painful to contemplate. "How could it possibly be that so much of what I believe is a lie?" It's so much easier to belittle the annoying revealers than to examine the evidence they reveal.

It's like sociologists studying the new religious movements. If they don't join the anti-cult movement in denouncing the "cults", then they must be "cult apologists". The possibility that objective research doesn't support the "mind control" theory which justifies deprogramming is just too painful to face, for some people. (At least in the cult articles, we contributors are on good terms. I don't know why it's not like that in the climate articles.) -- Uncle Ed (talk) 20:45, Apr 13, 2005 (UTC)

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Monday, April 18, 2005

A Week of Waste

It’s National Parks Week (apparently) so I thought I’d celebrate it by doing a little investigating.

The International Paper Company privately holds tracks of land to grow trees for production. The largest of these acreages is in the mid-South region at 1.2 million acres. While the trees grow, the company sells the use of the land for purposes of camping, hunting, fishing and hiking adding up to $5.5 million dollars (25% of revenue). That’s a huge incentive to keep the forest sustainable and the firm even cuts trees down in such a way that it maintains wildlife cover.

Some may say that this is a relatively small amount of land and nature needs more room. But if this little-known bit of forest was a national park it would be the tenth largest by acre, tied with the Grand Canyon. Privatizing national parks is most certainly a profitable and environmentally sound business opportunity.

Contrast this success story with the National Park of American Samoa: 9,000 acres of rainforest and coral. In 2003, it received over $1.2 million of taxpayer money for its operating costs. Hot Springs, the only national park smaller than American Samoa, had over 1.5 million visitors (with a budget of about $3.36 million). Black Canyon of the Gunnison (whose budget barely edges over one million) had about 165,000 visitors. So how many did American Samoa had? 200,000? 500,000?

Try 366. That’s right, just 366 people: an average of one person a day, at the cost of $3,478 per person. You can rent whole floors of hotels for less.

Assuming that a private company couldn’t cut the park’s cost (unlikely because federally funded parks have to wade through costly requirements, among other reasons) and assuming advertising wouldn’t boost attendance (also unlikely; the place is gorgeous) then this private park would probably go out of business. If this happened, environmentalists would claim this is why the park has to be national—its value is so high, it has to be preserved no matter what. Of course if they really believed that, they would have shelled out the four grand for admission.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Hollywood Libertarians

"Hollywood liberals" is a term conservatives like to throw around when they want to describe the source of some new idea or fad or Washington policy. “This uproar is nothing but the work of Hollywood liberals,” “The only people telling you this is okay is just a bunch of Hollywood liberals,” “The Democrats are too busy trying to please some Hollywood liberals” and so on.

They make it sound like there’s a subculture in the Democratic party whose values and ideologies are fundamentally different from the rest of it, so much that it needs a special name. But really there’s nothing ideologically distinctive about this group. A Hollywood liberal is just a left-winger that’s rich, good-looking, has legions of fans and lives (more or less) in Hollywood. Sounds like someone’s just jealous.

But it’s true that a lot of celebrities are Democrats, especially the ones in Hollywood. And I’ve discovered that some of their core beliefs “rub off” on the scant few libertarian counterparts they interact with. While a Hollywood liberal is just some rhetoric bullshit, a Hollywood libertarian really means something.

I’ve discovered this while watching Real Time with Bill Maher (a self-described libertarian) on the night he had Jason Alexander (another libertarian) on the show. At the end, Bill brought up greed and how bad it is that all companies care about is “hitting the numbers.” Jason built on that and argued that it was because we are too short sighted and we don’t plan enough. We think too much in the short term. Later he suggested the government should set energy goals in reducing our dependency of oil.

Bill then moved the conversation to why companies have to grow: “It seems like this is the only country in the world where just doing well is not enough. No corporation can just do as well as they did last quarter. We always have to have growth.” Growth, of course, is a good thing. That’s why people want it. But Bill’s rather suspicious of corporations.

In general, a Hollywood libertarian shares these values with their liberal counterparts:
-The government is the best tool to protect the environment.
-People are too greedy and that’s inherently bad; government should pull it back via taxes (specifically progressive taxes and the estate tax).
-National health care is a good idea, even though it’s a disaster in Canada.
-Schooling is the government’s business and public schools need more funding.
-As a nation we should be concerned about outsourcing and foreign competition.
-Corporations are poisoning us (via pesticides and other chemicals).

This is a working list and is mostly generated from Bill Maher (there are few Hollywood libertarians and Bill’s the only one I know that talks about politics for a living). I really do admire Bill Maher—he has a lot of good thoughts and was my early introduction to libertarianism. But he’s also pretty damn Hollywood.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Market Saints

Yesterday I wandered into Suncoast looking to use a five dollar gift certificate I’ve been holding for a few months. I wanted to expand my movie collect but I didn’t want to spend more than ten bucks (in other words, no more than fifteen on the tag).

After about twenty minutes of wandering around the store I decided on the beloved classic, Boondock Saints (which is a kick-ass movie by all measures). I went to the cashier to pay for it only to discover it’s already five dollars off. With the gift certificate, I got the DVD for less than a value meal. Woot to the free market!

The War Between the Stars

The line for Star Wars III begins. Makes me wish I was in a city that was large enough to have the big dorks that would camp out at the theater so I could get a Spock costume and flick them all off.

Or at the very least, drive by and tell them to enjoy their “Star Trek” movie. That would really piss them off.

I gotta respect Star Wars, though. It’s certainly more realistic than its counterpart. A sword made of light? Okay. The Force? Sure. Socialism that works? I don’t think so.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

A Contract Is a Contract Is a Contract

Skyler Stone is a young man who decided a long time ago he would be a con man. For many years he lied to get free stuff so he wouldn’t have to actually get a job.

I’m very rarely in favor of government intervention in our daily lives but I do have a problem with this. Con men violate verbal contracts (whether such a contract is legally binding in a local state in question is irrelevant). Because contracts are a basic tool of a well functioning extended order, ignoring them does a disservice to the economy (on a local, national and global level). Ensuring they are fulfilled is a job of the government.

Currently Mr. Stone has a new show on Comedy Central unimaginatively called Con, ironically transforming someone who takes away from the functionality of the economy to someone who contributes to it by taking away from it. I’m not sure if there’s a net loss or a net gain in this matter.

But I’m finding that as I watch this show, it demonstrates how well the economy works because the contract is so trusted. The victims readily believe his lies. While part of that stems from his ability to lie, another part is that the conned have no reason not to believe him. It may not seem this way from what we hear on the news magazines but breaches of contracts are pretty damn rare.

When I go through the drive thru, I give my money before I get my food. I have never encountered or heard of a time when a fast food place collected the cash but refused to live up to their end of the bargain (by denying the Happy Meal or whatever people are eating now).

When you pay for furniture and ask for it to be delivered, we rarely consider that the store will never show. We might fear that they will be late, but never completely absent.

And if I were to finally receive a letter from George Mason telling that I was, say, accepted to their PhD program, I wouldn’t consider that they would deny me entrance when the semester began (assuming I could pay for it).

These are all small exchanges between economic agents that are repeated in some fashion a million times everyday. When it comes to big projects—such as the construction of a building—at least one party involved is a lot more careful because they are on unfamiliar ground. That’s why Mr. Stone focuses his lies on everyday verbal or implied contracts—we inherently trust them. Because the economy works so well, so do his cons.

Monday, April 11, 2005

49 Down.....

I heard on the radio this morning that Montana recently became the 49th state to outlaw open alcohol containers in moving vehicles (Mississippi being last in line).

Open container laws always kind of rub me the wrong way. Having an open container doesn’t mean you’ve been drinking and driving. I can understand it usually means a drunk driver, but that’s what breathalyzers are for.

But there are everyday scenarios where A does not follow to B so nicely. What about bringing home a half-finished bottle of wine you brought to a party? Or transporting cans to the store for recycling but one of them wasn’t quite empty? Should one get a ticket because he absent-mindedly forgot to finish his drink at a tailgate party? Or if friends are having a picnic and it suddenly starts raining, should they be punished because in their haste they brought their drinks into the car and then forgot about them?

I’m not a drinker myself so I could only imagine the myriad possibilities where an open container is justified. Is it really worth punishing everyone especially since we have the technology to better separate the legitimate lawbreakers from the victims of circumstance? Of course not.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

The Sweet Smell of Death

Visiting college friends is a lot of fun, but it certainly has its disadvantages. For example, if you’re at war and you leave, the enemy has a golden chance to gain significant ground.

The day after I got back from Beloit, I discovered an ant crawling along my desk. Then I saw another on the floor. Then another. Then another. I followed a short path to the bathroom floor, which was crawling with the suckers. Twenty or thirty easily. As soon as I realized how bad it was, I got into my car and drove to a nearby hardware store. It was eight o’clock at night.

What traversed over the next hour was a vicious retaliation as I defended the home land. Following the strategies on the Raid can, I soaked them until the floors where slick with poison and after I swept up the bodies and mopped the floor, I secured a perimeter in the bathroom. (Where I occasionally see one or two of the suckers.) I used a whole can.

I would like to thank Raid for supplying the weaponry. Not only did they include the strategy, the spray also comes in two scents (plus a scentless). I opted for Country Fresh, making my victory that much sweeter.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

A New New Deal?

Thomas Friedman was one The Daily Show tonight plugging his new book, The World Is Flat. The economic world today, Friedman says, is much like what people once thought the physical was: flat. We now live in a world where technology has linked in such a way that more people have a better chance at equal opportunity. Geniuses in Beijing can be just as useful as those in New York because they can bypass their poor economies and oppressive governments to contribute to the economy at large via Internet, satellite communication and other advanced tools.

This can only be a good thing. Once, brilliant people who could make the world better were shut out from it. Now they can enter the discourse and add their passion and intellect to society at large. With this extra help, we can hasten the discovery of a cure for cancer, enrich cultures across the board or build wonders far greater than anyone has ever dreamed.

And yet, Friedman insists there’s a dark cloud: the country needs to continue the pursuit of knowledge and technology. And we could be in danger of falling behind. He even says we need a “New New Deal” for these changing times. “When was the last time you met a twelve-year-old kid that wanted to be an engineer?” he asked anchorman Jon Stewart. It’s good rhetoric, but a pretty useless question when you think about it. Most people don’t know what they want to do when they’re twelve. (I wanted to be a magician that did real magic.) Most people don’t even know what they’ll do when they enter college. (I was originally going to major in English.) The strength of our economy is embodied by our ability to adapt and considering we are still the number one source for technological advancements across the board, we really have nothing to worry about.

But somehow, somehow, Friedman made a transition from this to energy independence. There’s a valid facet of concerning about where we get our energy (as in oil) from (because it comes from corrupt and oppressive governments). But that’s becoming less and less significant as we expand our definition of oil, new countries export it and we create and improve alternatives. This captures what’s wrong with Friedman’s vaguely nationalistic anxieties about the level playing field because it doesn’t really matter where we get the good from, just as long as we get it competitively. Who cares if we don’t create all the new technology in the world? We’ll still get it. Who cares if we’ll get most of our energy from abroad? We’ll still get it. Wanting a stable economy free from unstable and tyrannical governments is one thing—I’m on board with that. Trying to get it by encouraging self-sufficiently (in technology or energy) is quite another. It won’t make us wealthier, only busier.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Make Your Economy Happy

On my way home from work yesterday, I heard a radio commercial brought to me by (if memory recalls correctly) the Department of Health and Human Services. Apparently the government has amazing news for us: walking is good for our health.

Now you could say that our health is important (no argument there) and we needs someone to remind us of ways to improve it (agreed). But why does it have to be a government agency? There is not a single method of improving our health that would not benefit from a product or service generated privately. Thus those firms that provide the service could advertise the importance of health and sell their product at the same time.

Case in point: Even something as mundane as drinking more water is encouraged by private industry. Aquafina is running commercials that remind us of the importance of water in our daily diet. Their slogan: Make Your Body Happy.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Fallacy 2

In response to my earlier question, David has suggested that we refer to the fallacy as "the fallacy of the unclaimed dollar." It comes from a joke:

Two economists are walking down the street. One sees a dollar lying on the sidewalk, and remarks on it. The other economist scoffs, and tells the other that his mind must be playing tricks on him. "If there were a dollar there, someone would have picked it up!"

It is my hope that, years from now, someone will credit Law, Legislation, and Lunacy for the naming of the Fallacy of the Unclaimed Dollar.

All the Fallacies, Baby

People make all kinds of mistakes. One of the more popular songs the kids are listening to is “Rich Girl” by Gwen Stefani. Its refrain goes like this:

If I was a rich girl (Na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na)
See, I'd have all the money in the world, if I was a wealthy girl
No man could test me, impress me, my cash flow would never ever end
Cause I'd have all the money in the world, if I was a wealthy girl

On two accounts Gwen mixes up her cause and effect, committing the Casual Fallacy of Wrong Direction.

-Just because you are rich does not imply that you have all the money in the world. I can think of lots of rich people that do not fulfill the criteria (like, all of them).

-Just because you have all the money in the world does not imply that quantity is infinite. In fact, the amount of money is a set comprised of a limited number of elements, thus it is actually finite.

Most people would agree that it’s simply a matter of direction and the reverse (if I had all the money in the world, I would be a wealthy girl) is logically valid—assuming "I" is a young female). Casually speaking, I would agree with them.

But let’s be anal retentive economists and see if there’s a way to make it invalid. Money is often quantified into four broad categories: M0, M1, M2 and M3 (economists aren’t very creative). Each one of these definitions can be applied to different currencies. Suppose Gwen is talking about M0—all cash and coin in circulation—of, say, the Soviet ruble. Since the Soviet ruble is no longer in circulation, that total is zero. Having all the money in the world can result in no change to your bank account. If you have no other holdings, then you certainly are not rich even with the inclusion of these rubles.

She also made the Inductive Fallacy of Hasty Generalization when she said “No man could test me, impress me” as a result of her theoretical limitless funds. Perhaps in her experience all the men she’s encounter have been intimidated by wealth but I doubt she’s been tested by a large enough portion of the population to logically make that conclusion (especially since all we need is one case that makes the assertion invalid). However, it’s reasonable to conclude a proportion of men could not test nor impress her if she was wealthy, which I think she is.

To make her song logically valid to our anal retentive selves, it would have to go a little something like this:

Suppose I was a rich girl (Na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na)
Now suppose I have all the legal tender in the world (assuming that quantity of legal tender represents a significant proportion of economic activity and the economy in question is widely defined), thus I would be a wealthy girl
A larger portion of men couldn’t test me, nor could they impress me, my cash flow would be larger than possibly most
Because I'd have all the legal tender in the world (assuming that quantity of legal tender represents a significant proportion of economic activity and the economy in question is widely defined), I would be a wealthy girl

Logical errors may make result in poor understanding, but they are certainly useful in music.

Note: I'm aware that "widely defined" and "a significant proportion" are not terms appropriate to logical agruments but the vagueness of the word "wealthy" barred me from constructing a more precise logical statement.

Bonus Question: There is an economic argument that questions the validity of my claim that even after correcting for Wrong Direction and Hasty Generalization, the lyrics still don't logically hold. What's the argument?

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Education: A Libertarians's Concern about Compulsion

A key factor that affects the libertarian outlook is compulsion. Compulsion in a philosophic sense is similar to determinism. In legal terms, compulsion is when you break the law because someone was holding a gun to the head of your child. Dr. John Marks, a psychologist writing for the Libertarian Alliance wrote of achieving a so-called good by compulsion:

“Of all the tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. To be "cured" against one's will of conditions we may not regard as diseases is to be put on a level with those who have not yet reached the age of reason and never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.” [1]

Perhaps the most obvious illustration of compulsion today is public education [2]. Most any Introduction to Teaching textbook will cite Massachusetts as the “cradle of education.” This is as much propaganda as anything, since education had been formalized throughout Europe in schools (universities or grammar) since around 800 A.D, and before that (albeit somewhat less formally) throughout ancient Greece and Rome. What Massachusetts, and more particularly the Calvinist-inclined Massachusetts Bay Colony (MBC) did in 1642 was to make public education compulsory. It is true that during this period under John Winthrop the MBC was a theocracy, being in nature neither democratic nor republican, and not necessarily akin to Massachusetts or America today. However, it was their philosophy of public education that quickly disseminated throughout America as the South and West were opened to settlement; and it was in this way that Massachusetts earned its reputation as the cradle of education. By 1850 every state was supporting a network of public schools, and by 1900 nearly every state in the union was imposing compulsion.

It is not my intent to launch into the deeply divided debate over public education today. However, it should be noted that the original proponents of public education were very often socialist activists who, like Plato, saw socialism and public education as bedfellows. For example, socialist Robert Dale Owens, the infamous 19th socialist agitator, comments:

In republican schools, there must be no temptation to the growth of aristocratic prejudices. The pupils must learn to consider themselves as fellow citizens, as equals. Respect ought not to paid to riches, or withheld from poverty. Yet, if the children from these state Schools are to go every evening, the one to his wealthy parent’s soft carpeted drawing room, and the other to its poor father’s or widowed mother’s comfortless cabin, will they return the next day as friends and equals?

Thankfully, the idea of children becoming full-time state wards never materialized in this country. But it is clear that many of the early figures who championed public schools also advocated compulsory attendance at those same schools; and that they viewed the public school more as a tool of social engineering and control than of education per say. The libertarian, on the other hand, does not oppose the principle of public schools in and of themselves; indeed, free schools for those unable to afford a private education has long been part of communities in both Europe and America. The objection arises when the state attempts to use its monopoly of coercion to force attendance at their schools (i.e. compulsion), and/or when the state attempts to extend its monopoly over education itself (as with restricting homeschooling or regulating the curriculum of private schools). And of course, especially onerous to most libertarians is being forced to support financially the vast network of public schools through burdensome property taxes, and to pay evermore oppressive levels of local income tax to offset persistent public school-induced bond levy debt. And let us not forget the various “school taxes” that subtly appear in utility bills, county and city assessments, and an ever rising federal tax burden.

Many Libertarians would probably be satisfied to “transfer control of education from bureaucrats to parents and teachers and encourage alternatives to the public school monopoly.” In fact, the Libertarian Party platform calls for a “true market in education – one in which parents and students would not be stuck with a bad local school, because they could choose another; measures such as tax credits so that parents will have the financial ability to choose among schools; financial incentives for businesses to help fund schools and for individuals to support students other than their own children; and the elimination of the U.S. Department of Education, which spends billions on education and educates no one [3]. As usual, the prevailing theme is the government’s problematic use of its monopolistic power of legislation and coercion.

As Rothbard has rightly pointed out, the state has become in the public mind so synonymous with the services it provides “that an attack on State financing appears to many people as an attack on the service itself. Thus if one maintains that the State should not supply court services, and that private enterprise on the market could supply such service more efficiently as well as more morally, people tend to think of this as denying the importance of the courts themselves [4].” I think we clearly see this today with regards to our public schools. If libertarians are ever to gain ground in the struggle for minds and worldviews, as important as it is for we libertarians to focus on political and economic issues, education is perhaps fundamentally even more important to our future.


[1] Marks, John, “Political Notes No. 82” The Drug Laws: A Case of Collective Psychosis (London: Libertarian Alliance, 1993)

[2] Discussion and quotes from: Rothbard, Murray N., Education: Free & Compulsory (Auburn: Mises, 1999) 37-55

[3] Libertarian Party homepage

[4] Rothbard, Manifesto 194

Hot, Sweaty, Dirty....Conversations (Properly Censored, Of Course)

You know what we really need? Government in our life, especially our sex life. It’s not strange enough to talk to the parents about this most personal of activities. Luckily, our tax dollars let us get the whole deal from our government (who then encourage our parents to talk to us).

It’s a good thing, too, because now we know the proper progression of intimacy.

We also learn that condoms are too unreliable and marriage is a magical force that kills STDs.

And did you know that if your kid is gay you should seek a counselor because it may be just so traumatizing?

Thankfully government is giving advice about who to date so I’m not tempted to go gay.

And while parents are encouraged to engage in open and honest communication, our government is also suggesting that parents should spy on their kids. Maybe so they can have enough information to start a conversation. (I understand you recently visited, son. You want to talk about it?) The conversation may be easier than one thinks; the government tells us over half of all teens think teens should be abstinence. I bet they’d advocate vasectomies, too.

And parents wonder why teens rebel.

Mad Props to Mike for the heads up.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Making Cheap Cheaper

Yesterday my favorite morning show, Dwyer & Michaels, got on the topic of earned deals. Seems one of them has a relative that wrangled a major company (AOL I think) into giving him a better deal. All he had to do was ask.

So hosts wanted to know how many of their listeners earned themselves good deals. Here’s a (small) sampling.

- A 60% reduction in monthly payments for internet from AOL.
- A two point reduction for a credit card rate.
- Free tickets to Six Flags to stay with AOL.
- A check for $125 for switching phone companies.
- 25% (instead of 10%) off that day’s purchase for signing up for the store’s club card.
- A zero percent rate for credit cards by switching from card to card and taking advantage of the intro rate.

All of these bonuses came simply from asking for it (except the last one, which carries some risk via your credit report and requires continuous effort). People would simply call up the company, tell them they think they deserve a better rate and, after being passed around to a few people, get it. It doesn’t take very long, either. Over the course of the bit, a listener got inspired and called AOL. By the end of the segment, he had a lower monthly fee (from the $30s to $9.95).

Capitalism is great for the vast majority of society and for those who are willing to work at it, it can be even better. Thanks to a small government, competition is fierce. All it takes on your part is a bit of backbone and some patience.