Friday, June 30, 2006

July's Most Random Wikipedia Page Is....

Forbes Fictional 15, a 2002 list, according to Forbes, of the most well-known and richest fictional characters in pop culture. For some reason, Scrooge McDuck is only number four (and I heard in the 2005 version, he drops to number six). How he's below that lazy Richie Rich, I'll never know.

And could someone explain number one?

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Executive Compensation

While it's only a component of overall corporate accountability, Jason brings up the point that CEOs are rewarded if they succeed, and suggests that even in failure, are rewarded with significant severance packages.

First, like any other employee, a business wants to pay the CEO as little as possible, yet still enough to attract the individuals with qualifications the company is looking for.

Second, the severance packages aren't "going-away presents" - they're prenegotiated, as a condition of the CEO's service, or sometimes granted as reward for performance, as Jason mentioned. If a CEO is tanking a company, the last thing that business wants to do is give them bags of money to dig themselves in deeper before booting them. They do it because it's the cost of keeping the CEO desired around in the first place; while the CEO may not be good in the long run, if it seems like a good idea at the time, the company can bet on the CEO with compensation and salary.

Like all bets, and like all employees, they may not pan out as desired; but that doesn't mean the prior contracts can be negated - of course, if a company and CEO agree, they can have punitive measures in place in case of failure, but this is likely to just scare away the best candidates for the job.

The question always comes down to whether the CEO is worth the salary. Isn't it ridiculous to pay a single person Every month several times what a common worker might make in the coarse of a whole career in a low-paying job? It certainly doesn't seem that way to the company - if it thought it would lose money by hiring anyone, even a CEO, it wouldn't do it at all.

The CEO can theoretically destroy the company, or at least do it irreparable damage. Look at what Bush's "business" is doing to the US, as it's Chiefe Executive - wiretapping, bloating spending and debt, committing soldiers to costly, unpopular wars (I still think Iraq was a good thing, even though I don't support the war effort. Saddam gone is a blessing to the whole world, IMHO), attempting to further cement government control of marriage, free speech (flag burning), etc.

While Michael Isner didn't have the option to launch an invasion of Six Flags, or to imprison rowdy park guests and hold trials for them in the back of the Epcot Center, he still could have done tremendous damage, and had great power and responsibility of a company now worth more than 30 billion dollars. That sort of position, such a company clearly judges, is necessary to fill with a person judged worthy of the trust and responsibility. To attract those kinds of people, salaries tend to climb, if the supply of excellent candidates doesn't change.

That's about the bottom line for me - companies look out for their interests, and overpaying employees to the point where they get less from them than they pay is hardly something they're in the mind to do, even if it's the CEO.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006


Economist Jason Furman and author Barbara Ehrenreich are currently engaged in a Wal-Mart discussion at Slate. Read the entries and follow the debate; it's a solid discussion on a hot-topic, though I doubt it will change people's minds. (As those that already have an opinion are most likely to read it and least likely to be changed by it.)

I just want to quickly point out a flaw in Ehrenreich's logic after Furman discussed two very different stores: Best Buy and Stereo Exchange. Best Buy has the good prices but the less knowledgeable (and paid) staff while Stereo Exchange is the opposite. If all of the former were replaced by the latter, we would have more "good" jobs but more unempolyment. Ehrenreich responds: "If Stereo Exchange took over from Best Buy, there'd be a lot more better-paying jobs in the retail electronics business. Why wouldn't the former Best Buy workers take a lot of these new and better jobs? They're not all as clueless as you seem to think."

There's a lot of reasons why this argument is not so but let me illustrate a key idea with a story. I knew someone who used to work at Best Buy. He said one of the most annoying things about the job was when customers would ask him where stuff was. He never knew the answer so he quickly learned a fast way to handle the problem: he simply would pick the corner of the store farthest from him and confidently declare that's where the product is. (Customers, as it turns out, are incredibly gullible in this regard.)

It is not that Best Buy empolyees are all clueless: some just don't care. Some would care if they were paid more, true. But others would only care if they were paid much more and others wouldn't care at all because it's just a summer or part-time job--they have no desire to go through additional training. Both customers and the work force demand retail diversity. Why shouldn't it exist?

The Downsides to Capitalism

I've been thinking about this for a bit, and wanted to try and share what I think is one of the fundamental problems we have in communicating ourselves to non-believers. They think we don't care what happens as a result of the free market. Some seem to think that means that people can be bought and sold, abusded and thrown away. Others might just despise corporate layoffs and the whole bother about the bottom line trumping the people involved.

Businesses fail (sometimes spectacularly, like Enron), businesses can hurt people (firing them when they really need the job), and so on. I don't deny any of that. But I think these failures and personal injuries are not only magnified by government involvement, I think they're rather the products thereof as often as not.

The Austrian theory of the business cycle revolves around the money supply, and as the Fed has been inflating it (or inversely, devaluing the dollar) at a fairly steady rate since founded in 1913, it's been fueling booms and the subsequent market corrections, in which people get hurt. In boom times there aren't many layoffs, but man, when the corrections come around and people realize that there's really no value in a business, jobs go flying.

This, compounded by the warping of time-prefernce spurred by the availability of easy money (via credit) and the constant erosion of savings (via inflation), leads to a great many negatives, which people rightly criticize - but rarely do they pin the blame on the institution that's actually causing the inflation, creating malinvestment, and ultimately, causing loss of jobs, productivity, and so on. They blame the proximate cause, the business that cuts the jobs, and not the government bank-cartel that fueled the problem.

Believing that, am I cruel to say that the real solution, at least in my eyes, would be to liquidate the Fed, instead of implementing stringent business regulations? To me, that's just bandaging a compound fracture; it may help keep out infection, but it's not helping to make the fundamentals any more sound. You can cover up problems, like the USSR did for more than 70 years - but eventually, debts need to be paid.

I firmly believe that this sort of action is helpful and moral; does that make me a monster? I don't think so.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Buffeting Statism

Yesterday I got an unexpected e-mail from Ryan questioning why no one's posted on Warren Buffet's unprecedented donation to the Gates Foundation. He wondered why I didn't point out that successful businessmen contribute more to society than their donations, or that the lesson in this story is if people work hard they can support whatever cause they choose to.

This is all correct, but hardly the story I'd like to tell. I'd rather ask a different question: "Why the Gates Foundation?" or better yet, "Why all to the Gates Foundation?" Not too long ago Ted Turner gave billions to the UN and once in a while the news blares headlines about some milllion who left their fortune to help reduce the budget deficit. Why not give to a political organization which, almost by definition, is larger and thus more capable to handle the world's problems?

The short answer is that Warren Buffet is not so naive. He's one of the world's greatest investors and he didn't make his fortune by believing that bigger is better or trusting bureaucrats to handle his money. The Gates Foundation is actually quite focused, which Buffet rightly sees as an asset. In a letter to the Gates family, he wrote, "You have committed yourselves to a few extraordinarily important but underfunded issues, a policy that I believe offers the highest probability of your achieving goals of great consequence."

Buffet doesn't even completely trust long-life friend Bill Gates that the money will be used effectively (even though the Gates Foundation is one of the most effective in the world). Two of the three conditions the foundation must meet to get the installments of the Buffet gift are (a) remaining a legal charity and (b) minimum annual awards totalling the previous year's donation plus five percent of assets (creating an incentive to keep the overhead slim).

The last of Buffet's requirements speaks to trusting free and proven individuals instead of government agencies: Bill or Melinda Gates must be alive and active in the running of the Foundation. Sounds like a solid investment.

FDA Calls Cocoa Via Bars Adulterated, Misbranded

I'm going to dive into the chocolate business, so this does nothing to cheer me up. To make it short, the FDA is wagging a finger at MasterFoods USA's Cocoa Via "functional" bars. Why?

1) They used folic acid in their product, which isn't expressly permitted.
2) The FDA claims the product isn't heart-healthy as claimed, despite the presence of plant sterol esters shown to lower LDL cholesterol as part of a low fat, low cholesterol diet, which a piece of chocolate certainly can be.

This is utterly insane, and I suggest that anyone that gives a damn about freedom write the FDA to tell it to shut up, and then go buy a pack of Cocoa Via bars to show 'em what-for.

The criticism ill-founded - in our system of law, something need not be permitted expressly to be legal, merely not prohibited to be legal. If there's a legal prohibition to using folic acid, there's another silly problem to deal with altogether. If they don't like this, they can uproot their organization and go regulate France, I'm sure they'd welcome them.

On the second count, this is both bad science, and a hollow attempt to regulate a food product as medicine. Saturated fats may have been damned by plenty of doctors, but I'm not convinced that it's quite fair.

Take a charming study of the effects of dairy consumption (I'll link in comments if anyone is interested) - it showed an alarming correlation between dairy consumption and cancers, tumors, etc. In short, all sorts of wretchedness. The conclusion is that a healthy diet has no place for these things. But where was the study undertaken? In a population where milk products have been almost unutilized over thousands of years. China.

For sakes, ~93% of the whole damn country is lactose-intolerant! Is there even a shade of a chance that there's a bit of a problem here? I think so. If they included some Mongols in their study, or for god's sake, Swedes (~2% intolerant prevalence), would the results have differed? Who knows, but silliness like this just clouds the water.

A more specific criticism of the whole "saturated fat is bad" argument is here:
More than anything, I think it shows the silliness of allowing government to regulate claims rather than a civil court.

And of all the things we don't need, the government telling us what candy we can't have is about the last.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Jennifer Superman

In case you need more evidence that Superman is a statist, I just caught him reading Jennifer Government (second panel). For those of you who don't know, JG takes place in an Orwellian future where corporations control the US government. Admittedly I haven't read it, but I reviewed the Wikipedia entry and play Nationstates, which is based off the book.

I bet Batman would read The Future and Its Enemies. I love Batman.

An Inconvenient Movie

The plan is to see Al Gore's movie this weekend with some friends and in preperation I found a TCS article written a month ago entitled "Questions for Al Gore." Climatologist Roy Spencer hits on a lot of good points, notably reminding us there is not a total consensus that global warming is an unnatural phenomenon. It sounds like this film is a "documentary" in the same way Star Wars: The Phantom Menace was "good." The only people that buy the label are already too invested in it to consider otherwise.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Tempers, Temperatures and Temper Tantrums

Today's Wikipedia's featured article is global warming, an article I've tried to edit in the past and gave up after receiving unkind commentary on my changes, some of it deserved and some not. Skimming the talk pages reveals this is not unusual--nasty words have been exchanged by both sides of the argument. The whole thing is not unlike Jason and Tim's argument this past week. Just read it and you'll see as much heat as light.

When I was in college, I read Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam, which argues people are spending more and more time alone thanks to certain of technology, such as television and the computer. Putnam agrues Internet interaction is a poor substitute for real human interaction. I don't agree, but one thing is for sure is it makes it a lot easier to be nasty. Any online forum (blogs, Wikipedia, discussion boards, etc) is prone to parties simply throwing rants and temper tantrums, barely reading what the other has to say. Part of this is because we are only thinking of our counterpart in the abstract; we just don't know him. Part of this comes from talking to our agreeing friends about such issues, so we are more prone to repeat the less diplomatic agruments we make to each other. Part of it is because we talk in paragraphs, which end up becoming speechs for ourselves. I'm sure there are other reasons.

In being a better advocate for liberty, I think it's worth learning how to tone down our arguments and make shorter, cleaner claims. For example, it's amazing how much more likely people will pay attention to what you write if you show some patience and acknowledge some points the other side made. It's something we all need work at.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A Post to Jason the Anonymous

OK, this has gotten a bit out of the lines of a response to a response, so I'm throwing it up-front. I'd like to thank Jason for participating and reading, and speaking his mind. I think he's wrong, but I respect him nevertheless for that. His comments to David's "Gas & Butter" post just below are reproduced so I can respond to them in context. In most of the quotes, he's quoted me, so there's a bit of quote-madness going on here. Bear with me, folks.
There are products that may seem as though they're a choice. You can purchase them or not and the price, when loooots of people choose the same way, will
adjust accordingly. That's all fine and dandy-like. But what about products that *seem* to be a choice, that you can *theoretically* choose not to purchase, but really you can't? Really you have no choice? That's the case with gasoline and, well, most of America.

Only a few cities have public transport that can actually get people where they need to go and could hold the amount of people who would use the system if they chose to use it (due to gas prices rising too high). Some of our largest cities (Detroit, for obvious reasons, Houston, Los Angeles, Dallas...) have very little public transport options. And forget the suburbs and swaths of rural areas. Those people really are forced to buy gasoline at any price. if they don't, they can't leave their homes!

You can talk all you want about alternatives being trotted out, but it wouldn't be soon enough for those who are really struggling and really can't pay their bills. We're talking months before the pressure builds, before new model non-gas cars can be built and sold, and years before public transportation can be built. And gas is just one example of an ostensibly "chosen" product that a lot of people are actually forced to buy.

People being forced to buy gas at any price? Oh please. You really have an active imagination, or maybe you've never lived in suburbia (a nightmare, don't get me wrong, I'm with you on that one!). Where I live, I'm on the far end from a train station - about 6 kilometers. But guess what? I've got a bike. If all the gas in the world disappears, I can ride there or hoof it without trouble in well under half an hour (just minute by bike, actually). If things were terribly bad, we'd still have the freedom to move someplace else.

But realistically, the gas ISN'T going to disappear. Prices may increase, but there's no evil profit to be made in sitting on your reserve while your customers begin to hate you (especially dangerous, since in a democratic country, your customers can then essentially destroy or dismantle your business via government). And what do people do? They begin to make choices to compensate. Instead of buying a 8 gallon-per-mile SUV, maybe Ms. Soccer Mom/Dad will decide on a Prius - more like 70 gallons per mile. Joking aside, my Camry gets about 25-30 miles per gallon, and the Prius (or most any other hybrid), about twice to triple that. Guess what I'd buy in a crunch?

But that's outrageous, you say! People would have to spend fortunes on new efficient vehicles! Well yes! Just like they spent on their OLD, inefficient vehicles - which, I might add, can be resold. And motorcycles and other such vehicles have been sold for decades boasting amazing MPG ratings. If that's what you're looking for, it's just a few grand away. And you must admit, the sight of Molly Soccer Mom driving her kid to practice on a Harley just does something for the soul, brings a tear to your eye, you know?

Still no go for you? OK, guess what? Gas prices go up, alternatives already exist. Hell, if you have a diesel engine in your car, you can pretty much just toss in anything combustible (not speaking about efficiency or long-term damage, just about the robustness of the basic design). Ever heard of ethanol? Biodiesel? Heck, have you even heard about the successful extraction of oil from algae? We're talking a massively efficient process that can produce oil for your favorite purpose (be it what it may) anywhere you can harbor a load of algae. How much do people spend keeping them OUT of their pools? Point is, they'll grow easily, and projects like this are bearing fruit. I'm an optimist, and I think within a few decades the oil "crisis" will be right back there with "global cooling" in the 80s.

Let's round it up, shall we?
1. Adjust consumption down
2. Reallocate spending
3. More efficient vehicles
4. Alternative fuels
5. Public transportation
6. Change job
7. Relocate (move home)

Guess what? As needs arise, solutions - including public transportation - comes right along, IF the government doesn't stand in the way. I'm in Russia, and here very few people have cars (thank god!). How do we get around? The public transportation is pretty atrocious - you can wait a half hour just for your bus or trolley, and then another half hour to your destination - and not all destinations are even covered. How do people here get around? They walk some, yes, but there's another institution that makes me proud.

When the USSR broke up, the resulting financial crises set the clock back a bit. The already bad infrastructure became worse, or sometimes temporarily disappeared (now things are basically OK, for the record). When the artificial barriers to entrepreneurship disappeared, guess what was one of the first things to pop up? Marshrutki: fixed-rout taxis that will carry you to any of the stops on their itinerary for the flat rate of 8 rubles (about 25 cents, a price not only necessary, but considered insignificant by Russians and myself).

I love 'em. They're cheap, efficient, and mean that the price of gas is split between dozens of people. A single liter might see 100 people come and go. The only problem is probably that the government here has fixed the maximum price for the rides - leading, of course, to undersupply and chronic shortage of the marshrutki at peak hours. But nevertheless, they're wonderful, and there's no reason that similar services wouldn't pop up in urban centers around the country. You think it takes years to arrange marshrutki and car-pools? Only if the government stands in the way, Jason.
No it isn't. Oil and gas are necessities for the entire nation. If you don't use it yourself, then the products you buy are delievered by using it. That is too much power to go unchecked. And don't go talking about market forces. It's not a tenth as effective libertarians make it out to be.

Well I hate to break it to you, but oil isn't necessary. You're making assumptions that you're not putting out on the table. Let me suggest that civilization doesn't stop when the oil does. Change, yes. Hurt? Possibly. But stop? Hardly. Humans survived for thousands of years without the stuff, we'll do fine from this point on. And at this point, there's just too much flexibility to make that even a remote possibility (see above). Oil (and it's alternatives) isn't disappearing before the sun that's used to make it does.

You're absolutely right that there's a lot of gasoline built into everything in the economy. All that means is that if gas prices rise, the price of everything rises a bit with it over the long term. Do you really care if you pay .99 cents for your McBurger or $1.29? And like I said, optimizing routines that people would take after increases would mitigate the effects.

You don't think they own their gasoline? Why not make them give it away? A price ceiling of 0 - think of the wonderful productivity benefits, right? Free gas! Right.
"The next complaint of "price gouging" I hear when ... I swear I'm going to cry."
David is the only one who mentioned it. Of course your keyword is "legally", as if a large business every let something like the law get in the way. Corporations scatters legal responsiblity so much lawsuits are virtually ineffective. All you can really do is fine them and if you think fines really punish corporations I have a ski resort in Flordia to sell you.

You're talking about price gouging, like to think it or not. If you think someone else's idea of a fair selling price is bad, you're basically accusing them of abusing the want of said commodity.

You seem to think corporations are bound on death and destruction. Good, then you can agree that the government, as the biggest corporation in a country, moreover with the power to tax and use force, is in a corporate league of its own. You're scared of McDonald's? McDonald's doesn't try to commit genocide. They may do stupid things, but putting trans-fats in their fries or heating their coffee beyond the "reasonable" limit is hardly the same as rounding people up in concentration camps.

I'm most worried about corporate deviance as it regards negative externalities. They must be born by their maker, and I'm not sure as to what the best way to do it is. Some of us here are minarchists. Others are anarchists. But I think all of us agree it's not OK to dump toxic waste on your neighbors property. Those problems tend to arise most often, though, in public commons - that is, the unowned land. If someone dumped waste on my land, I'd have a spectacular lawsuit. Toss it in the public pond, it's a bit harder to deal with.

As for the difficulty of placing lawsuits, ask yourself why lawyers are so dear. Let me suggest that its because the government "ensures their quality" by giving monopoly rights to practice law. The problems of violating ancient legal principles of common law is another story, but might also be addressed as a consequence of the proliferation of legislation versus inherited common law tradition.
"And by the way, YES you can safely store gasoline in bulk."
Two words: fire hazard. You may not know this but gasoline burns pretty well. Keeping more over a few gallons not only puts your place at risk but your neighbor's too. Should other people have to risk their lives so you can save a few bucks? If storing large enough quantities of gas to keep a suv happy was really possible, Home Depot would have a sale on them every other week.

Two words: storage tank. I'm not advocating soaking your laundry in gasoline to take it home, or filling empty vodka bottles with gas before filling the next with a rag. Do you think gasoline is stored at gas stations in magical trans-dimensional tanks? It's a fire hazard there too, but it doesn't stop them. Nor does it stop the tankers from brining it. Keeping more than a few gallons is a risk to self and community? Lock me up, I've loaded my share of multi-gallon tanks and parked it in my very own garage. If there was a demand, there'd be a supply. Don't you remember filling lawnmowers with gasoline? Everyone used to fill up their tanks with those at the station, toss it in the trunk, and drive home. Not lots of gas, but the principle is scalable with almost no trouble.

And whose interested in storing enough gas to run an SUV? Can you say "trade-in"? As of today, I know of no law forcing people to own and operate cars that are expensive to drive. If they want to economize, they'll do it.
"butter prices CAN change daily"
Never saw it happen. Stores change prices by the week. Even then not every price is changed.

This is too silly to even argue about. I don't care about butter prices; talk to David.
"And how much relative to gasoline?"
Don't go saying "relative", we're talking about actual dollars. $5 worth of butter lasts longer for $5 of gas for 90% of the population. Trying to put things in "relative" prices is a hat trick unless you're talking about inflation. But you're not.

I'm talking in actual dollars too, Jason. OK, let's complete the quote: "And how much [am I spending on butter] relative to gasoline? I'm projecting using about 60 dollars to 120 dollars a week on butter - maybe half that on gasoline."

I'm trying to trick people by showing how I'm going to use more butter in the US than gasoline on a cost-basis? I think you misunderstand. This 'hat trick" is a demonstration of the fact that I can get around by using under 6 gallons of gas a week - that's about what, 20 dollars? With my ride, that takes me a whopping 100-150 miles. I don't need to go farther in a week, but I do need plenty of butter.

I'm not saying that everyone will drive that little, or use that much butter. The point is that gasoline is cheap.

"but relatively they fell from their highs of decades ago"
So how about sallaries? You know, what real people use to buy gas. Have they risen like gas prices?

If you want to toss a fact out there, I'm all up for it. But impatient as I am, I'll toss out something of my own:

Mean Household Income Received by Each Fifth and Top 5 Percent
All Races: 1967 to 2003
(Households as of March of the following year. Income in current
and 2003 CPI-U-RS adjusted dollars28/)
YearLowest fifthSecond fifthThird fifthFourth fifthHighest fifthTop 5%
2003$9,996$25,678$43,588$68,994 $147,078$253,239
19989,22323,28838,96760,266 127,529222,283
19937,41218,65631,27248,599 101,253173,784
19886,50416,31727,29141,25478,759 124,215
19835,23912,79621,10531,667 57,30383,943
19783,8079,11215,01021,980 38,79157,625
19732,5686,36610,40214,954 26,52140,417

Source: - 6/21/06

I REALLY hope the table comes out - but even if it doesn't, let me summarize. This table draws us from the 1973 oil crisis to 2003, the last year given. All dollars are 2003 dollars, adjusted for inflation. The chart is by households of all race, measured in quintiles plus the top five percent by income.

The results? Incomes increased. As I said, relative to the incomes, the oil prices decreased - meaning that the price of oil rose more slowly than the income, resulting in more ability to buy oil. Ergo SUV-madness.
"Sales on gas?"
I've been in Illinois for 7 years and never heard of that. I also listen to 780AM with their gas prices. If there was a sale every week on gas, I would have heard of it by now.

Not my problem you don't know of it. You want to see, go to the gas stations at the corner of Skokie Blvd. and Lake Cook in Deerfield, Illinois. I'm pretty sure it's Wednesday sales, but it may be Thursday - I've been gone too long to remember (or care very much).
"butter is MUCH more important to my life"
Not everyone is like you. (Thank goodness!) If everyone was like you, ideas like communism with its faceless conformity would work a lot better. Different people have different needs and requirements. It's something I haven't seen acknowledged very much in libertarianism. We're not drones. By what I've seen here people, I mean "employees", are expected to work excessively at our jobs to keep them then work more to find a new job just in case our company decides to move oh and for good measure work to learn a new trade if our industry collaspes. The biggest reward goes to the one who gives up the most of their private lives for a company who doesn't value loyality. We're still treated like cogs, no matter how much brass plating you put on us.

I'M a commie? You're the one saying that the "compelling need" of the American people justifies the outright theft of property rights regarding oil. Why stop there? There's a compelling reason behind lots of theft, but I don't think that really goes very far in justifying it - even IF there really is a compelling reason in the first place. I'm all for diversity of needs and requirements - I'm just interested in making people pay for them out of their own pocket, rather then someone else's.

I don't want or expect anyone to be just like me - my point is that they could all change consumption patterns. Take my mother - she drives to her sister's house every day, practically. I think it's an atrocious waste of gas, but it's about two gallons a day, not including side trips. It's worth the 6 bucks a day to do it. If prices rise, maybe she'll reconsider. That's about all it takes.

I think Jason is a bit of a pessimist. I'm an optimist. I think people are not monkeys with guns waiting to tear each other apart. His idea of individualism seems to be socialism, and hey, if that's your bag, run with it. To Sweden, maybe?

Monday, June 19, 2006


Can I get some opinions on this? Will the US change to a more libertarian system within its rules, or will it take a complete disaster to turn things around?

My experience is that disasters tend to just make the Fed pull its resources closer to its chest to survive, not loosen up. Disasters are, after all, when rights go out the window - or, as Amitai Etzioni puts it, "out rights are not unlimited, and are defined by the times in which we live." Right. Let's all let terrorists and bureaucrats tell us how much freedom is healthy for us.

Or is there a middle ground? Maybe a partial disaster, maybe the collapse of social security, maybe massive inflation of the fiat dollar (meaning they just print out as much as they like on demand, ergo fiat, like the car)?

I don't think we'll really know until something happens, but how do you all feel about this?

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Gas and Butter

This morning I caught Tim Russert interviewing a few CEOs of oil companies (I didn't catch which ones). Focusing naturally on public opinion, Russert pointed to the overwhelming popular consensus that oil companies are to blame for rising gas prices, not macroeconomic changes, as the CEOs maintained.

He then tried to get the corporate heads to understand the public's position. I paraphase: "When they see Shell, Exxon, BP gas stations with all the same prices, that suggests you guys are gouging and colluding." They responded unremarkably, citing changes in the global economy.

It instantly reminded me of when John Stossel tried to answer a question I laid down concerning the rhetoric of defending free markets. He said he's always surprised how poorly executives express themselves on that subject.

So let me offer them some advice in defending free markets in mainstream media. Respond with something vivid and witty and then use that to lead into your point. It allows you to turn the conversation in your favor. For example, I would respond to that question with "But we see constant prices in butter and no one's suggesting some kind of secret butter cartel. The price of oil is due to changes that affect all of us equally, just as average butter prices would rise if industry could use butter to power its factories."

Thursday, June 15, 2006


TGIF. Back to real life, slaying dragons and what-not. AND, most importantly of all, figuring out at what point it becomes economical to buy a lyophilyzer (freeze-dryer) - rather than, say, building a crappy one with parts from eBay.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Tribal Madness

I promised that I'd explain exactly what prompted my question earlier, so I'll fulfill that obligation here and now with pleasure. UNFORTUNATELY I'm not sure how to make it appear listed under the current date - so it may get buried like the other posts. I'm going to have to start writing on my PC if this keeps up.

The folks on the Mises forum were discussing the merits of anarcho-capitalism in comparison to the perceptions of need in certain capacities for a state. It was asserted by one participant that government performs an essential peacekeeping and law-enforcement duty which makes the market possible - this is consistent with a Misesian, minarchist perspective. Government is usually bad, but when it comes to some goods, it's a necessary beast.

Another gentleman suggested that it's ridiculous to presume that a society of rational actors would go around killing each other in cold blood if the police disappear. Actually, he said something like "drink their blood, eat their still-beating heart, and dance in their entrails." But that's just hyperbolic.

Before I get on with it (yeah, Tim, hurry up!), I'd like to say that I basically agree 100% with that statement. Normal, well-adjusted people are not going to off their neighbors, just like K-mart is not going to bomb Saks.

But here's what I'm bringing to the table: this is almost to the letter exactly what happens in many tribal societies all the time. Australian aboriginals routinely engage in revenge-killings, which bounce back and forth as one family takes revenge on one killing, just to spark another killing to avenge that death. According to Jared Diamond (love him or hate him), it's much more widespread than that, and controlling this behavior through compulsion, he supposes, is largely part of the reason why states flourished (and continue to do so).

A more close-to-home example might also do the trick. Take the feud of the Hatfields and the McCoys. Their fued from 1880 to 1891 ended with just over a family member a year being killed, and a spate of kidnappings and other crimes.

Now take in mind that they were both supposedly involved in criminal enterprise, according to Wikipedia, and the dispute was nominally over property. Nevertheless, for 11 years right here (well, there, if you want my perspective from Russia), they were killing each other at an extremely high rate.

So it's possible, even today, under the right circumstances. That's a given in my eyes. But is it likely? I think not, especially if private defense agencies are doing their job to protect their clients. Impartial security no longer has to be provided by the government, in my opinion. But it's something worth thinking about. It may be "insane", but remember, sometimes people do go insane, and indeed, sometimes even sane people can do things they later regret. Just waving off the issue seems a bit irresponsible to me - let's take it head-on like true scholars, eh?

And in other news, it looks like I'll be moving back to the US in a few months to Pheonix, Arizona. Sounds like a lovely place, except for the murderously scorching summers - which, if you think about it, is the perfect way to balance out my Siberian winter with -50 temperatures (BOTH temperature scales) and nasty wind.

The Edge of Austrian Theory

Here's another question for you all to ponder with me:

How does the Austrian school identify and adress in terms of its praxeological consequences the phenomena of addiction, and other impulse-driven behavior? I believe that most people are able to control their impulses, but even momentary laspses can lead to a third beer, a second child, etc.

I guess you could say that the experience or expectation of a pleasure can in some cases warp a person's time-preference, cloud their judgment, or otherwise make them do dumb stuff they wouldn't do in a "right" state of mind.

I'm not saying people are any less responsible for their actions, but I think it's a given that people are generally going to experience a corresponding rise in their time preference with a rise in their... well, you know.

Any thoughts or comments of interest?

I'll describe later WHY I'm thinking about this, so tune in, same Bat Time, same Bat Channel!

The Mystery of Capital Freedom

Running dry on blog posts but badly needing to post something, I thought I'd mosey on over to Capital Freedom. Sometimes she gets things wrong and elaborating on her articles always generates some good writing.

But to my surprise, she hasn't posted since April. Early April. Strange, I thought: CF usually posts once every day or two. Two months is unheard of for her. Granted there have been events in her life that justify taking a little break (finals, work, etc) but no one is that busy.

This got me pondering the economics of keeping a blog. Most blogs go for a few weeks and then stop. Other blogs persist but its path can easily be rocky. This one, for example, just started its third year. Of the two founders, I'm the only one that posts regularly with Mike taking occasional (and lengthy breaks). We've added three posters since our founding: Jenny, who's only posted once; Ron, who posted often but has since fallen off the face of the earth; and Tim, who posted regularly, disappeared for almost a year and is now back and writing with all the frequency of student hopped up on coffee and pulling an all nighter to finish his 30-page paper on the voting system in India.

I think a lot of the explanation lies in why people stop working out. You do it a few times, it feels good, then you stop going one day. After the day passes and the world doesn't end, you don't go out the next day, the next. Pretty soon you don't go. But others can't stop going. They step up how often they work out. They work-out harder. They live their lives around the culture. Blogging is like exercise for your mind; it's hard for some people to keep it up, but for others, it's addictive.

The addiction can be useful if a lot of people visit the blog, which can also feed the desire to post. If L3 recieved 1,000 hits a day, I would certainly write more: I'm reaching more people and I also would feel the pressure to post. Which brings us to this article's title. CF once told me she posts so often because if she doesn't, people e-mail her wondering when the next post is. Has she finally become narrowly self-interested, shrugging off the cries and desires of her fans? Maybe she hasn't checked her e-mail in two months.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

An open question

Force and coercion are major historical themes, but the roles of which I fear may be somewhat underplayed by Austrian economists. While I'm surely hoping for a minarchist state or better to come about, the conspicuous absence of any readily identifiable forms of such existing in practice doesn't encourage. While it may be that such states are possible, they're not in evidence around every crook and corner.

So, I ask all of you, what role does force play in the collapse of market relationships (i.e. free, voluntary) into political relationships (i.e. coercive)?

Taking the accumulation and inheritence of property in a typical society revolving around intensified agricultural production, especially sedentary and with a complex division of labor, social stratification is almost bound to occur. Once you have a stratified society, you have different power-potentials - that is, different abilities, due to the accumulation of prestige, wealth, skills, etc. to work your will above and over the will of others.

Now given this scenario, I believe that rational self-interest will inevitably lead to attempts at violence and coercion. Situations that encourage high time preference (i.e. instant gratification over maximized future returns) are likely to see the worst of it. Ultimately, I think this almost precludes a developing society with a complex division of labor and stratification, high population density, and with an overall high social rate of time preference from becoming anarcho-capitalist or minarchist - there's too much short-term gain to be had by fleecing your neighbors, making such a turn fleetingly unlikely.

Any thoughts? Does that sound about right, or am I full of it? Tell it to me straight, people!

Partisanship and Bounty

Everyone seems to want something from the Government. Corn growers want subsidies on ethanol, drivers want increased spending on roads, the fearful favor dropping bombs on bogeymen.

All the meanwhile, a movement has been building to make it harder for money to buy a candidate - prohibiting "soft" money, outlawing campaign contributions of some sorts by some parties, etc. Since most of this focuses on the money aspect, you can be sure that this is an effort to silence that demographic - and like it or not, rich people get to vote too. You're not going to change the fact that candidates are bought - just changing the currency with which they're traded.

In this case, there seems to be a desire to have the candidates bought and sold with votes - which, on the face, is a smashing notion - that candidates should represent their voting constituency. But the problem with this is that it does nothing to stop the redistribution of money, it just changes some of the names. The corn lobby still gets what it wants.

Let me suggest that the problem is not that candidates are bought and sold, it's that they have the power that makes that profitable. In short, politicians would not be commodifiable in this sense if they couldn't provide any consistent return on investment.

I'm clicking my heels as I write - there's no place like home! So let's all join hands, sing kumbayah, and wish away the power of government to take from Peter and give to Paul. I'm not so nieve as to believe it's going to happen, but I'm sure I won't stop getting pissed off until that day.

We don't just need a new representative in office to change things, we need, ultimately, a new constitution, and a national consensus that has, to my knowledge, never existed. Here's the good news: it can be built, and the political system that we third-way voters chafe under can be used against it. Since most people don't care enough to vote, it takes a FAR smaller consensus than would be necessary under a parliamentary system.

Ain't I all full o'sunshine today?

Monday, June 12, 2006

A Honey of a Law

In reading a business guide (From Kitchen to Market, if anyone's interested), I was warned by the author not to attempt to sell honey in 12 ounce jars in California - there, it's strictly forbidden to sell honey in jars of that size. You'd better respect the wisdom of the legislature and use the government-approved 8 and 16-ounce jars for all our good.

Kinda reminds me of a write-up by a nice guy, Jeffrey Snyder, on Wisconsin laws regarding margarine and cheese production. Can you say "unnecessary burden?"

I'm really believing that a government without the will and ability to repeal its own laws (take the recent end of the Spanish-American war, for example) isn't any sort of government at all.

Friday, June 09, 2006

June's Most Random Wikipedia Page Is....

List of China administrative divisions by highest point. A littled belated this month thanks to my visit home in Iowa, but no less random.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Montenegro Independent?

So apparently, the uppity Serbian "partner" state, Montenegro, has decided that the whole south-Slavic state project was, in fact, not in their best interests. Accordingly, they have sought to dissolve the ties that bind. At worst, this could lead to a war. At best, an independent government.

Now taking the cue of the American government's response to a similar dispute a few years back, I'd like to suggest that Serbia engage in a genocidal war of reintegration in order to maintain the status quo. In fact, this seems to be the standard. Bougainville? Chechnya? West Turkestan? Ahem. But I digress.

But playing a brighter note from the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, I'd like to suggest that the parties should simply quietly go their separate ways, and the international community should, as soon as they get around to recognizing any other groups that seek to be free, recognize the state of Montenegro as a sovereign power. And if the Serbs of Montenegro, a sizable minority, wish to in turn form their own state? Good! Let them.

'Nuff said.

Lock up yer daughters!

I remember a year ago watching on television - O'Reilly on Foxnews, to be precise - righteous outrage about a new book for young adults dealing with something called a "rainbow party." The subject matter involves participants attempting to see how much of their lipstick they can get on the genitals of a boy at said party, and this idea - of young girls engaging in oral sex - brought on some fury from O'Reilly and other commentators.

But hold on here - I understand the idea behind these broadcasts - you want to inform parents about potentially irresponsible activity your children could be getting into. But how many young girls first LEARNED about this notion from the broadcast itself? Maybe I'm fooling myself, maybe lots more than I'd imagine, but in my mind, I bet lots.

And remember, to do something intentionally, you first need to have the idea to do it. This may be a bit dated, but I read a blog post today that made me remember it (maybe this one
? I visit hundreds of blogs a day, sadly).

So I think Mr. O caught himself in a cross-purpose, and ended up doing more damage than good. Can I test that? Nah. I think the point is good enough. Reporting can influence behavior, so report responsibly, if you really care about what you're saying.

And in other news, learn Russian, meet babes!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


To anyone confused as to why brand-new posts are appearing days down in the pile, I'm sorry for that - it's entirely due to carelessness and my inexperience with the eBlogger interface.


I'm recently pissed off by the French government attempting to censor international media - and they say they, unlike the US, respect borders. Their current schtick involves Yahoo!, and access to racist material. French Law bans free thought and discourse, and as a corrolary, democracy. I'd like to say that's someone else's problem, but we're all in the same boat when it comes to freedom.

I don't think selling swasticas makes you a free country, but when anyone else gets to decide what you can and can't say, based on an arbitrary judgement of what constitutes racism, discrimination, hurt feelings, etc., you're no longer living in a free country, you're living in Candyland, where the gum-drop mountains offer a grand backdrop to the soda-pop sea.

And the French I talk to seem to think it's all pretty much well and OK - so much for liberal ideology, huh? But then, they call Chirac a flaming conservative. Just goes to show you what happens when a prolitical spectrum gets unhinged from its moorings. They tell me the French hate themselves as much as anyone else, and love to complain - glad to hear someone else tell it.

Man, is THIS what getting your clocks cleaned in every war in the last century does to a country?

Selfish Virtue

Time and time again, I read on supposedly liberal rags how we must work to reign in the selfish impulses given free reign in our capitalist system. I don't really think saying it again is going to help, especially since I doubt many Al Gore cheerleaders are reading these posts. On the other hand, if I say enough things like Democrats, Social Justice (tm), fair-trade, living wage, and so forth, some of them are absolutely bound to surf on in, right?

Ahem. Anyway, allow me to coin a word and beat a dead horse at the same time: such umbrigificating remarks both ignore the fact that we're about as close to capitalism as the Chinese Communists are, and makes the assumption that greed and selfishness leads only to bad things.

Leaving aside the invisible hand argument, it's worth bearing in mind that being selfish is essentially doing what you want, action that is consistent with your personality (i.e. not insanity, accident, and certainly not coercion). If I give to a charity that gives food to orphans, that's perfectly within the free-market sense of selfishness.

Selfish business too can result in actions that harm the profit motive for the sake of less tangible capital - maybe selling fuel-efficient cars gets you great publicity. Maybe it pleases the CEO and chairmen of the board. Who knows, it's not important, except to say that all of these things are every bit as selfish as Uncle Scrooge, try as you might to paint them all rosey and cover them with butterflies and sparkly glitter. Someone is getting something, and "gettin'" is the essece of selfishness, from money to love to satisfaction.

And I'm not even going into the "the US is an evil capitalist oppressor" argument, since that's too stupid to bear reason. We're one of the most over-regulated nations on the planet, and here in Russia, I actually feel FREER and LESS regulated.

Laws here are blissfully ignored, and even the enforcers don't seem to care. Under a sign on the streetcorner prohibiting the peddling of merchandise (mostly done by old women, trying to supplement their pensions), you'll find dozens of goods for sale, from potatoes and herbs to sunflower seeds and knit sweaters. No automobiles on the beachfront? Tell that to the dozens of cars parked there.

Is it good? Well, it does undermine the "rule of law", which I can't say is entirely bad, but it's definitely a breath of fresh air, a place where being a little bad doesn't get you damned to a hot place (heck, it's already Siberia - I mean, this is where the sent exiles, where can you be exiled FROM here?).

On a slightly tangential rant, in light of this burden or regulation, I sincerely hope that our government is so excellent in the creation of new laws that it excessively burdens the people living under it, leading to a collapse and eventual rebuilding (i.e. perestroika, from "pere", through, or re-, and "stroit", to build).

But whatever they case, I'm going to keep writing things like that until they take away my right to say it (I've a few months at least, right?).

Sunday, June 04, 2006


Welcome back, readers!

I'd like to present a new proposal: opensourcing language under a general-public use license. Let's start with English. I'll release the basic software, and you can go ahead and modify it any which-way you like, and go ahead and release your edition at will.

I think that the more people realize that language isn't something owned, not controlled by a "regulatory body" like the French would like to imagine, the sooner the concept of "le cheeseburger" will be accepted quietly, rather than ranting and fighting about something that's likely as meaningless as the word's referrent.

Cultural imperialism? No, cultural indifference, and cultural equality, at least on the playing field of government. Hands off, don't touch. Need I say more?

Day Care

Over at Amitai Etzioni's blog, I noticed a link to this page. I'm not planning on dropping my baby off at day care - nor am I dumping the job on my wife. We're going to work together with the baby, as long as possible.

I'm not sure if it's a bad decision to use day care centers, but the page linked to certainly thinks so (makes me wonder what Arch-Authoritarian Amitai thinks himself of it all). What does pique my interest is that while in exile in Mongolia (another story), I had conversations with some Australian girls who, when I noted that a cousin of mine left in daycare is a little odd, were quick to strongly defend the institution.

Yes, it's great that women can work. But I'm not sure if it's great to leave a baby with strangers in a germ-farm. Men can stay home and care for baby too, as well as women. Yes, it hurts careers, but is a career the only thing you're after? For the moment, I'm content to earn considerably less money if I can be with my family as much as possible, confident that we can adjust our living to below our means, and that we're surrounded by loving, caring people who won't let us starve and die.

The Problem with Poverty... because all those damn poor people are lazy, and don't want to work!

Heh. OK, you're reading. Good.

What I really want to say is how I strongly dislike the attitude of the professors at my college towards measures of poverty that were absolute rather than relative. While it's always true that an element of poverty is going to consist of making significantly less than the average member of your society, I don't think it's fair to neglect the fact that there's a real (not theoretical) difference between eating enough to maintain your bodyweight and not.

Other dimensions that relative analyses don't even touch on, EVER as far as I've seen, include how you feel about your status. Do you call yourself poor? How do you feel about it? Why are you so? If you blame someone else for it, why? In a very real sense, being poor is a state of mind, especially once the nutritional aspect is taken care of.

And ultimately, this sort of analysis is what lead to Marx's identification of the Proletariat as the down-trodden. They certainly may have been in his time and place, and may be still, but it's undeniable that even many poor Americans enjoy luxuries that the Pharoahs couldn't have imagined, and moreover, may not be upset with their lives.

I wouldn't advocate eliminating a relative standard of poverty - especially as it measures things like the Tantalus Effect - resentment and wanting that people have due to exposure to things they can't obtain. But is it the only basis of poverty? If I'm making 200 dollars a month, that makes me unbelievably poor in the US - but I'm in Russia.

Here, that's above-average. Does that make Russian people poorer than Americans? In a way, yes - we can't afford to travel internationally with such wanton abandon, and going to Western countries definitely places a burden on our cashflow. But what I would count as most significant is the fact that many people here, despite making very little money by international standards, live comfortable lives.

A girl I talked to a few days ago said: "Go to America? Why?" Read: Russia is not a prison that all people are seeking to escape from. Some, absolutely, but believe me, the same is true of America.

So remember that making assumptions on the basis of raw income, and even standards of life, aren't entirely justified. To make these kind of assumptions just exhibits a paternalistic attitude that is fraught with problems of its own.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Property Rights

Reading blogs around the web, I found that a recent article touched on zoning laws, and how they amount to theft. I’ll heartily agree with that in principle, but the whole discussion raised a few questions in my mind.

First, who owned the land the towns are built on before they existed, and how did it come to them? Second, covenants are mentioned as private solutions to limit future use of a scarce commodity, and I wonder what some of the potential consequences of this could be.

Towns seem to be mostly created through incorporation in a superior legislative body to facilitate tax collection, provide services, etc. Property owners, in theory, would incorporate in the same manner as a business, choosing to organize themselves and choose a board of trustees.

My first note would be that the process is likely to be democratic, i.e. completely indifferent to property rights in the first place. A simple majority would, I suppose, be able to petition said higher legislative body for recognition and a charter, thus vacuuming in any and all dissenters. Of course, since incorporation usually is a great way to get access to state funds, or OPM (Other People’s Money), there are strong incentives to do so.

Nevertheless, this essentially allows legal authority to be exercised over other people’s territory without consent. Of course, the upper levels of government already HAD that authority, else they couldn’t have granted it; the difference may only have been there was less money funding local controls, and less knowledge as to what to do in the first place (not that that stops the US Federal government from building bridges in Alaska).

The point of all this is just that there are no property rights as recognized outside of the laws of the US Government and its creature states. From the parapets of Federal offices to the leering gargoyles of State governments to the lowest stone of the foundation in the towns and neighborhoods, the authority was already in place. If a law is passed saying that you cannot build a building taller than the Capitol in Washington DC, then you may not, because your ownership of the land your structure will be built on is already bought and sold under the watchful eye and heavy hand of its true owner.

We’re the temporal minor authorities given run of a plot we are registered to, but remember, that can change, as I think some recent Eminent Domain cases have ably shown, and as zoning laws constantly remind us.You only have the rights that you take for yourself – if you rely on someone else to give them to you, you’re dependent on them and on their continued good will.

I was going to write a bit about covenants, but found it interesting rather than agitating. So tune in tomorrow and I’ll ramble on a bit about it.