Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Convenient Untruth

A Convenient Untruth

The excellent ARCHNBLOG (Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature) gleefully relates the official Objectivist's reaction to Jennifer Burns’ new Rand biography. Capsule summary: "na na na I can't hear you!"

It's about time the hagiography was punctured.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Libertarians should oppose corporatism.

Why Corporations Are Not People, And The Unsavory Consequences of Pretending That They Are by Mike Hoy.

Points out that corporations consist of government-created special privilege, and that individualist libertarians ought to oppose such things.

The author uses scare quotes for derision: annoying stylistically, but otherwise harmless.

libertarian censorship

An Interview with Mike Hoy,
Founder and President of Loompanics Unlimited
What is Going On Here Anyway?

Q. Is there more? [examples of private censorship]

Unfortunately, yeah, lots. One of the most widespread forms of private censorship is the forbidding of advertising. The “Libertarians” are notorious for this kind of censorship. Reason magazine for years forbade Loompanics to place any ad whatsoever – this from a publisher who claims to be devoted to “Free Minds and Free Markets” (as long as they are not too free, I guess). I remember once, shortly after they had refused one of our book ads, receiving a fund-raising letter from Reason soliciting “donations” on the grounds that they were such big-balled, two-fisted freedom fighters that they had difficulty selling ads in their magazine, and you were therefore supposed to give them something for nothing. These hypocrites refused to engage in a straight-forward honest business deal (selling us ads), instead asking for handouts (and lying about why they were doing it) – this from an outfit which opposes food stamps for poor people on the grounds that giving them something they did not earn would destroy their “incentive” to earn a living.

We used to occasionally rent the subscriber list of Liberty magazine to send its readers a sampler of our books. On these occasions, Liberty would rent their list only “on the condition that no nudity appear in the mailing piece.” Thus does the publisher of a “Libertarian” magazine protect the virgin eyes of his readers from the trauma of seeing a pen-and-ink drawing of a woman's left nipple.

Q. Why do you think that the “Libertarians” are so timid?

Well, these examples are actually more silly than they are threatening – I mean, what a bunch of fucking sissies, eh? But the fact of the matter is that no one has ever done more to discredit an ideology by espousing it than the “Libertarians.” They foghorn away about the necessity of the profit motive, but every “Libertarian” propaganda outfit is a non-profit corporation or foundation. Every one. Being themselves so incompetent that they cannot run an enterprise at a profit, they beseech the government to adopt policies forcing everybody but them to live by trade.

And since their products (books, magazines, treatises, etc.) are so worthless that they cannot support themselves by selling them, they ask the government to grant them “tax-free” status, and then ask corporations to give them “donations.” That is why they are so squeamish about accepting ads – they are afraid some corporate suckfish might be offended by actual “free minds and free markets” and shut off their handouts. And when corporations give the “Libertarians” money, the corporations are allowed to deduct these handouts as a “business expense.” Corporate donors are their real “customers” and they are scared to print anything the corporations might not like.

There has been a number of books published recently which call into question the corporate form of enterprise, especially as it is practiced by American/multinational corporations, but you won't find ads for any of them in “Libertarian” magazines. A recent piece in a “Libertarian” magazine (one devoted to “individual liberty”) warns its readers against even thinking critically about corporations and presents them with their thought-stopping mantra: “anti-corporatism.” Thus, any discussion of the true nature of corporations will be labeled by “Libertarians” as “anti-corporatism” and they will respond to the thing as if it were the label. That is, they will refuse to think about it at all.

Q. But don't these magazines have the right to exclude any content they don't approve of?

Of course, any magazine has the right to exclude any content – I am not advocating that the government pass some kind of law that every periodical be forced to carry advertising for products they don't like. What I am saying is that these “Libertarians” are full of shit. While claiming that they want “less government,” they run to the government and ask to be granted exemption from marketplace forces. Just run down the mastheads of Liberty or Reason and look at all the “editors,” “fellows,” “associates,” etc. and you will see that the majority of these “Libertarians” do not earn their livings in the private sector. The “marketplace” is the last “place” “Libertarians” want to be.

Of course, it isn't just “Libertarian” magazines who have forbidden Loompanics (and others) to advertise; the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, and Soldier of Fortune are among mags that don't want their readers to know that we exist.

Going back to the anti-free-trade nature of corporations, three excellent books on this subject are: The Divine Right of Capital, by Marjorie Kelly, When Corporations Rule the World, by David C. Korten, and Unequal Protection by Thom Hartmann. Check 'em out, Homes.[...]

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Why is Atlas Shrugged selling well again?

I don't know for sure, because I have no real data. But that doesn't stop lots of people from speculating.

Take Reason senior editor Brian Doherty in Why Ayn Rand is Hot Again :

"Readers and pundits alike look at America and see a world scarily reminiscent of Rand's government-choked dystopia in Atlas. It's a world with a struggling economy where political pull matters more than success in the free market, where the government blithely takes over huge transportation industries."

His claim about readers and pundits might be absolutely true. But somehow he doesn't point out that the readers and pundits he's discussing are idiots. Because the real world is NOT like the conspiracy plot of Atlas Shrugged. If government "looters" WANTED to take over transportation industries, it would take over the most profitable ones. Not the losers. Likewise the banking industry. Did government take over the profitable rail freight industry? No. It took over the unprofitable passenger rail industry. Did government take over the profitable foreign-owned auto industry? No, it took over our failing domestic auto industry.

The right-wing echo chamber is full of stupid assertions that the economy is behaving as in Atlas Shrugged. They're patently false, but ought to pump the sales up as a side effect.

Another factor that would push up sales of AS are the Twin Biographies of a Singular Woman, Ayn Rand. I don't think the publicity of these two biographies is nearly as effective as the right-wing echo chamber, because the media are saturated with the latter.

A third possibility is that sales to Asia have increased. With around 3 billion people in India, China, Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia, one thousandth of a percent would be 30,000 sales.

Of course, book sales are a bad measure of how many readers a book actually has. Atlas Shrugged is such a miserable read that I suspect most people don't finish more than a small fraction of it.

The libertarian movement crested around 10 years ago, and has been conspicuously declining ever since (judging from the collapse of the US libertarian party.) Its strongest economic claims have been usurped by neoliberal corporatists who want economic liberty for corporations, and the hell with real people. They're already very powerful (plutocrats have always been powerful), and Rand is just more grist for their continuous propaganda efforts. A bump in the sales of AS is nothing I worry about: all it signals is that AS is a talking point for this month.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Bitch is Back

GQ magazine has a reasonable article about Rand believers titled: The Bitch is Back.

There is no denying the effect of Rand's writing on teenagers. It's characteristic of propaganda aimed at teenagers. If they only believe in these true principles, they will find their triumphant place in life leaving their worthless competitors in despair! How exhilarating! Thus the emotional hook which fosters belief resistant to criticism, logic, and reality.

This sort of propaganda works on teenagers and other ignorants because they have not yet been vaccinated with enough worldly cynicism, let alone been exposed to more sensible alternatives and counter-arguments.

Even if you are not ignorant, it is difficult to answer Randian "when did you stop beating your wife" assertions that you must believe or you are a looter. The perverse framing is pervasive in Rand's books.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Reason Magazine has a hard on for tobacco

A reader emailed me this list of 4 recent articles from Reason Magazine. They illustrate a consistent opposition to government efforts to reduce smoking. We'd expect that sort of corruption from organizations that receive (or have received) large amounts of funding from tobacco companies.

He writes:

Apparently reason mag. has a serious hard on for second hand smoke. You know how cigarettes have a filter to take a bunch of gunk out of the smoke you breathe, apparently being on the other end breathing unfiltered smoke is less harmful. In fact, they argue that smoking bans increase heart attacks, no joke.

"has immediate adverse effects on the cardiovascular system and increases risk for heart disease and lung cancer.", they challenge this, well they really don't, but they really do :)

This article seems to be of a type that helps carefully brand anyone who opposes smoking into emotionally driven idiots like environmentalist or liberals, great ad hominem while accusing the opposition of ad hominems. Apparently questioning smoking and cancer might cause the public to brand you something they don't like.

2) The science is irrelevant to the policy question of whether the government should dictate smoking rules on private property.
Classic your only freedom that is to buy argument. Property worship. If your only freedom is to buy or not, do you really have any freedom?

Apparently flavored cigarettes don't cause teens to start smoking, "duh!".

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Ostrom Nobel and organ donation

I was delighted to see Ostrom win a Nobel. I knew of her work from my previous researches into the nature of rights, when I found her descriptions of the rights bundles associated with common resources (Schlager and Ostrom, 1992).

Reviewing the various summaries of her work, I'm delighted that she's finding good support for non-market solutions. That should stick nicely in the craw of many market-uber-alles libertarians and neoliberals.

Now, some libertarians may claim that the solutions she documents and researches are not government solutions: and indeed they are not. However, they rely upon government supported special privilege to coerce rule-following behavior in ways libertarians would not consider freedom. In the frequent example of the alpine pastures, there is an enforced rule that you may not pasture more animals in the summer than you can maintain over the winter. Such coercion (I'm using the libertarian sense) is unjustifiable for libertarians, since there is either no ownership or communal ownership of the commons. Unless a commune is granted governance powers, it has no legitimate power to direct any behavior than any partner in a partnership does, nor even the power to exclude endless newcomers.

I also wondered if organ donation, which is strongly regulated and prohibited from markets, might benefit from this alternative approach. So I searched in google, and lo and behold:

"The Puzzle of Private Rulemaking: Expertise, Flexibility, and Blame Avoidance in Regulation." By David L. Weimer, 2005.
"My approach to the analysis of private regulation as an institutional form, although much
less ambitious, follows in the spirit of Elinor Ostrom’s study of self-governing common property

Libertarians (and others) proposing marketization of transplant organs are opposed to Ostrom's sort of system in this case.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Objectivist Party

I guess I'm not up to date: I'm a year late in noticing the Objectivist Party.

It was bound to happen: the phenomenal success of the Libertarian Party HAD to spawn even more splinter parties. :-) Yet more evidence that getting libertarians to agree or cooperate is like herding cats.

See also: The Objectivist Party vs "Toxic Randroid Cultists".

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Drug abuse.

Here's an idea that is not statistically valid, but may be a good indicator anyhow.

Think about how many of your relatives, friends and acquaintances have died from illegal drug overdoses or side effects. And how many have had serious addictions to illegal drugs.

Then think about how many rich public figures you can name who have died from illegal drug overdoses or side effects. And how many have had serious addictions to illegal drugs.

In the latter group, I can name at least 20 or thirty without trying hard.

Libertarians want to make it legal and affordable for everybody to enjoy addiction and death from overdoses. Free from oversight by government, doctors and pharmacists. Free from the expenses of black markets and dubious private doctors.

You too can have a pathetic side like Michael Jackson, River Phoenix, Janis Joplin, Rush Limbaugh, etc.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Jane Galt's Got a Gun

Over at Cogitamus, the recent post Jane Galt's Got a Gun has two excellent observations.

First, on carrying guns to town hall meetings:
The guns that people bring to these events are designed to kill people -- that is their sole purpose. When I strap one on and wear it to an event I am saying to my fellow citizens "if you fuck with me, I am willing to kill you." The gun is not designed to stimulate debate, it is designed to end it. It is not a symbol of civil liberty, it is an instrument of solipsistic incivility saying rather clearly that I intend to have the last word[...]

Second, echoing my dislike of the corporate propaganda of NPR's Marketplace program:
Maybe NPR should consider a show called "Workplace" which would focus on the 90% of Americans who really don't give a fuck about the "numbers."

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Progressivism explained.

Tyler Cowen and Arnold Kling attempt comically inept descriptions of progressivism through libertarian blinkers. But worse, neither of them see the big picture.

I'll take a stab at describing progressivism.

Progressivism is a political philosophy that takes the "pursuit of happiness" seriously. Pursuit of happiness in a more Aristotelian sense: human flourishing. Not beer parties. Flourishing means being able to become what you want and do what you want. Progressives want more human flourishing. In this sense, early liberals were progressives and most modern liberals are progressives. And not just flourishing for elites, but for everybody at every age.

Progressives see many obstacles to human flourishing: poverty, disease, tyranny, corruption, monopolists, bigotry, ignorance, traditions, pollution, crime, war, etc.

Progressives believe that humans can flourish better if these obstacles are removed or circumvented, and that society can find solutions. This improvement is the progress in progressive.

Some of the solutions to problems of human flourishing include markets, regulations, unions, corporations, education, laws, publicity, privatization, takings, antitrust, buyouts, public works, infrastructure, balancing powers, social provision, etc. Progressives are pragmatic: they are not committed to one set of solutions (such as traditional solutions or markets): they will look at the history of experimentation with these solutions accross the planet and select what they think will work best in their situation, even if it is untried. In this sense, the founders of the US and authors of its Constitution were progressive.

Progressivism demands improvement, but not perfection. Early liberal enfranchisement of white, male landowners with the vote was progressive, but far from perfect. Later enfranchisement of blacks and women was further progressive improvement. And civil rights voting acts to enable blacks and other minorities to actually register and vote was further progressive improvement still.

This doesn't mean that progressives all perceive the same problems and would choose the same solutions. Progressives are a heterogeneous lot, and can disagree strongly. But their pragmatism and lack of perfectionism allows them to work together and with others easily through compromise.

It may appear that progressives turn away from markets and towards government, but that is because there is little progress to be made by markets that markets aren't already making. In some cases, markets create problems (such as redlining) that require regulation to undo. In some cases, conspicuous market failures require either government incentives or government provision (such as for roads and schools.) In some cases, government institutions were under-performing (such as representation of the indigent in courts: the solution was access to free legal services.) And sometimes government is oppressive: hence the ACLU.

Progressivism has often been defined by its history and people. The history of progressivism is usually a list of issues that progressives have fought for such as 8 hour work days, universal enfranchisement, antitrust, etc. What unites all these issues is that they were viewed by progressives as solutions to the problems they saw for human flourishing. Lengthy work days provided no opportunity for leisurely pursuits, education, family matters, health issues, etc. Voting restricted to men meant women's issues (such as their legal status, whether they could own property, etc.) were not attended to. Monopolies and trusts created hardship for farmers and the poor by keeping prices artificially high.

Viewing progressivism by its history and people, rather than by its basic objective, causes a "can't see the forest for the trees" problem. But a moderately good list is available at Progressive Living.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Libertarian corporate catspaws.

The American Enterprise Institute has published a very successful propaganda piece opposing Michael Pollan that is being widely circulated on the web. But it's not a real argument: it's denialism. Luigi over at Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog noted the black and white framing: that's a good guideline for spotting the propagandistic nature of the article.

As propaganda, you can't trust any provided numbers or anecdotes: the turkey drowning story is an urban myth. His calculations on the amount of table scraps needed for fertilizer make all sorts of ridiculous, inefficient assumptions.

And of course, the techniques that he endorses such as no-till were developed precisely to deal with "agri-intellectual" complaints against loss of topsoil to erosion. And they were developed by "agri-intellectual" researchers at public universities. And it took a whole lot of convincing to get farmers to begin using them.

50 years ago, Hurst would have written a screed against "agri-intellectual" concerns about topsoil loss. He wouldn't have had the vision to dream that solutions could be found, so he would deny the problem, ridicule the identifiers of the problem, and claim it couldn't be solved anyhow. Hurst has that same lack of vision for these newer concerns.

The American Enterprise Institute is a propaganda organ for conservative corporate capitalism. They don't really care about Pollan's book: all they care about is that they can present another
denialist club for bashing liberals and progressives who criticize capitalists for trampling over our health, environment, politics, and culture.

There's a good criticism at The Big Money.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Austrian Economics can't count.

Austrian economists are notorious for their rejection of mathematical models in economics. Considering this evidence that they can't count, we can guess what their REAL reason is.

Seven Periodicals

Our monthly The Free Market examines the economic and political scene from a classical-liberal viewpoint. The Austrian Economics Newsletter links our academic network with in-depth interviews. The Mises Review surveys new books. The Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics (the successor journal to the Review of Austrian Economics), is the premier setting for new research and ideas in economics. The Journal of Libertarian Studies is the scholarly venue for political theory and applications.

They say seven, but only list 5 (or 6 if you give them the benefit of the doubt.) Taken from About the Mises Institute.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Now why would they want that?

I asked for silly Reason articles, and here's a doozy:

Hands Off Hitler! It's time to repeal Godwin's Law by David Weigel.

Now, Godwin's Law has several interpretations:
(1) If a discussion goes on long enough, EVENTUALLY a Hitler/Nazi analogy will be made.
(2) An observation that when a Hitler/Nazi analogy is invoked, meaningful argument is over.

Since the invention and popularization of Godwin's Law, libertarians feel hobbled when they want to lump all their opponents with Nazis and Hitler. The propaganda and hyperbole don't work when they can be so easily ridiculed with a pithy invocation of the words "Godwin's Law".

Now, Weigel assembles a well-documented pseudo-intellectual argument for "repeal" of Godwin's Law, exploring special cases, history, and persecution when this victimless crime is committed. Why pseudo-intellectual? Well, how can you respond to howlers such as "Thus, despite all efforts at regulation, the market has repeatedly decided in favor of the N[azi]-bomb." What regulation? What market? If anything, you'd expect a libertarian to claim this is an example that should be in Ellickson's book "Order Without Law". Here we have a social institution that has developed without government and without markets. Without markets? Libertarian heresy! There must be a way to purchase the institution!

Evidently Weigel misses the corollary to freedom of speech that others are free to laugh at you for whatever reason. Knowing that others will punish you with derision must make him feel unfree. Poor baby. If only propaganda was easy, and you could always simply tarbrush your opponents without anybody understanding how they were being manipulated!

"We'll be better off rolling back Godwin's Law and admitting the all-purpose usefulness of Nazi analogies. It's exactly what the Germans wouldn't want." Ah, and here we have the ultimate justification. Stick it to the Germans! Wow, what a lot of intellectual traction THAT argument has!

I think Reason Magazine should be more properly named Prejudice Magazine. The article-writing process is rather obvious: start with the conclusion and bend facts, history, and argument until your point is "supported". A dark ages scholastic approach. About the only nice thing I can say about Weigel is that he's far from the only one at Reason who writes this way.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Extreme cases.

I saw this over at Marginal Revolution and just had to laugh.

Imagine the extreme case -- a 100% income tax. No matter how much you make, you actually receive nothing. Therefore, no one works. Result: 100% unemployment and GDP=0.
Obviously, smaller taxes will have less extreme effects. But increasing a tax can surely make a recession worse.
Posted by: Robert A. Book at Jul 7, 2009 12:47:48 PM

I love the world of economics. Imagine the extreme case--no taxes. Assuming we weren't taken over by some other country, we would have no army, a fragmented system of private toll roads, unlimited immigration, warlord armies fighting over territories. Kind of like Somalia. Obviously this proves the more taxes the better, and that taxes will make everything better.
Posted by: es32 at Jul 7, 2009 1:33:11 PM

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Top 10 Most Absurd Time Covers of The Past 40 Years

The Top 10 Most Absurd Time Covers of The Past 40 Years

Reason Magazine, ever delighted to snipe at others, points out a load of silly hype from Time.

If only what was good for the goose was good for the gander: no, wait! Is it possible that Reason Magazine has published something that was ridiculous hype? Could they have published some libertarian point of view that is ludicrously alarmist or otherwise silly in hindsight?

Let's collect a top 10 silly articles from Reason. Pick a back issue at random and look at it for the ridiculous. Extra bonus points for black helicopters!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Seasteading redux.

Seasteading: Libertarians Set to Launch a (Wet) Dream of 'Freedom' in International Waters

Brad Reed takes an amused look at Patri Friedman's seasteading plans, yet another repeat of utopian libertarian daydreams for the wealthy.

This must be at least the fourth or fifth version of this sort of plan. As I see it, all the old ones foundered on the problem of distrust of their centralized planning by incompetent or downright criminal organizers.

In the "Freedom Through Technology" index. Hat tip to Markus Cavanagh for this one!

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Parable of the ship: why Austrian Economics fails.

Many libertarians and other conservatives look to Austrian economics because they find their preferred positions explained with clear moral stories. But the great fault of Austrianism is that it is not scientific. Science is a better way of knowing than philosophy, because scientific theories have to explain close to all the scientifically collected data. For all the faults of conventional economics, it is far closer to a science than Austrianism because it relies heavily on data. Austrianism has a methodological disrespect of data. It is structured as a medieval philosophy based on authority, rather than systematic adherence to real-world data.

I've collected criticisms of Austrian economics for many years in my index Austrian Economics. But a sheaf of miscellaneous criticisms may not be as clear as a parable.

The owner of a ship noticed that his ship was filling with water. Being an educated man (if not nautically trained) he knew there were many possible causes for water in a ship: leaks in the hull, the bilge pump being broken, waves washing over, condensation, and even the crew urinating in the hold. He heard the bilge pump running, he saw water from waves pouring in the open hatches, but worst of all he smelled urine in the hold! Being sensible, he ordered the crew to shut the hatches and then gave them a lengthy, stern harangue on hygienic use of the head. While he was lecturing the crew, his ship sank due to a combination of causes: large, unobserved leaks in the hull, a bilge pump that was running but not pumping correctly, and condensation that had shorted out warning circuitry.

Now, it's easy to write a story to justify or ridicule any course of action, any philosophy. Indeed, that described Ayn Rand's fiction. But my purpose here is to illustrate ways in which the owner failed to think correctly. Ways which are STRONGLY analogous to Austrian economic methodology.

In every theory-rich subject, there can be a multitude of explanations of cause. For example, there might be 5 possible causes for a specific problem, be it inflation or disease or whatever. All or none of those causes might be valid. If all of them are valid, some might be unimportant because they cause very little of the problem or cause the problem very infrequently or cause the problem only under specific circumstances. But more than one of the causes might be quite important, singly or in combination. Economics is just such a theory-rich subject.

There is no way to identify from philosophy which of these might be the case. You need to be able to observe enough to quantify these factors. However, Austrianism is staunchly against measurement: indeed, it is innumerate because it does not use measurement. Rothbard, Mises, and Hayek railed about how measurements were philosophically invalid.

In the parable, the owner did not investigate condensation; he presumed the pump was working correctly without measurement; he did not attempt to measure leaks; he presumed (again without measurement) that the water sloshing in the hatches was the right amount to explain the filling; and he distracted the crew from finding the real problems with his own assumptions and moral haranguing.

Since Austrians are innumerate, instead they must rely on their assumptions, which needless to say tend to have a very right wing bias. Science does not work that way. Nor can Austrians really defend their assumptions: no assumption about the real world is totally true which means that there is fallacy in all their logic about the real world. They make up for this in bluster and old-fashioned appeal to their own authority.

When confronted with real-world problems that could have multiple causes, logical verbal models are insufficient. You MUST introduce measurement and mathematics into your models if you want to have any hope of valid answers. Logical verbal models are sufficient to specify possible chains (or networks) of causation, but telling which are significant is a quantitative problem that requires measurement.

This is not a new position: it is basic to science and ought to be basic to philosophy. Hume said it very clearly 260 years ago:

Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.

David Hume, Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, 12, "Of the Academical or Sceptical Philosophy"

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Going Galt part two: others point out the stupidity.

As UUbuntu pointed out in comments to the previous Galt post,

Steven Colbert rips apart the Going Galt theme in his Rand Illusion sketch. I'm afraid the ironic humor might not mean as much to folks who come back to this in later years.

In addition, In Contempt comics has an excellent "Galt Gestalt" comic with accompanying commentary that will make clear the issues to folks who come late to this contretemps. If you don't have the background for Colbert's sketch, read this first.

A friend of mine, early internet jokester Rich Rosen ("we are all Rich Rosen"), sent me a link to his essay: When Atlas Shrugs, People Listen... But Why? He does have an indignant, serious side.

Hoisted from his comments is The Last Person On Earth To Turn To Now Is Ayn Rand by Johann Hari at the HuffPo. He points out at length a number of Randian idiocies.

Building on a response to that last one, I'd say that Ayn Rand was the unattractive Ann Coulter of her time. Except worse in that she was a cult leader, was even more divorced from reality, and a horrible writer.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Going Galt: the latest propaganda.

Hilzoy writes: It's a reference to the famed Ayn Rand novel "Atlas Shrugged," in which protagonist John Galt leads the entrepreneurial class to cease productive activities in order to starve the government of revenue....

I agree with Hilzoy about the reference. He says it's strange that the producing entrepreneurs seem to be staying in place.

Much more obvious is that it is not the Randian Ubermensch that are dropping out: it is the workers/consumers. They've closed their pocketbooks and ceased spending as much, starving the entrepreneurs who now have unaffordable overhead on their idle productive capacity.

The interesting thing is that Rand had wrong in so many ways if you want to consider this analogous to "Atlas Shrugged". The causes were a real estate bubble and interlocking dependencies between banks. The players are essentially all from publicly owned corporations, rather than privately held corporations led by the owners. I haven't read Rand in 35 years (who could stand it as an adult?), but I don't think she mentions bubbles or bankers or non-owners as causing the collapse.

So if anybody is using the term "Going Galt", they're WAY OFF, and probably trying to pretend they're powerful in this crisis, rather than helpless. They'd like our supplication, not our scorn.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

The Libertarian From Nazareth?

The Libertarian From Nazareth?

Thanks to Paul Trombley for pointing this one out. A perfect illustration of "Spiritually baptize the deceased as libertarians because they cannot protest the anachronism" from my Libertarianism in One Lesson.

The simplest reason that Jesus was obviously not a libertarian is because he does not condemn slavery: instead he tells slaves to be like their masters. A five-second google search for "jesus" and "slavery" turned up SLAVERY and the BIBLE, which details all the missed opportunities Jesus had to condemn slavery.

If I wanted to be as stupid and anachronistic as the author, Butler, I'd also point out that Jesus doesn't preach for a right to keep and bear firearms. Or any more temporally-correct form of weapons.

It's been added to my Make Or Break Views Of Libertarianism as an example of amazingly awful reasoning crossing the line into self-parody. Not to mention Libertarian Revisionist History. The idea that Jesus was a libertarian is one of the most amazingly stupid anachronisms I've ever heard.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

What is Political Capitalism?

A week ago, I wrote a response to a Marginal Revolution post about "political capitalism". I wrote:

"Political capitalism" is yet another far-right think tank spawned pile of crap. Every few years, the right needs new, less boring clubs with which to beat their opponents. We've seen a number of them in the past: trickle down, Laffer curve, etc. Austrianism is required to believe in this one, according to the author.

You need only look at the biography of the author to see just how pathetic this is. His PhD was under Murray Rothbard at the now-defunct International College in Los Angeles, and pretty much all of his work has been based on Austrianism.

The author, Rob Bradley, responded.

Sorry to see that one participant has turned the discussion into argument against the person.

Two comments: One, a review of my dissertation, published as Oil, Gas, and Government: The U.S. Experience, was published in the Southern Economic Journal by Tyler Cowen.

Two, a major endorsement of my "political capitalism" theme comes from Gabriel Kolko, a New Left historian out of the Marxist tradition, who stated on the back cover of my new book, Capitalism at Work: "Fascinating, comprehensive ... far surpassing my own history of political capitalism done in the 1960s."

I tried to respond again, but my post was supposedly filtered for too many links (no other responses appeared.)

So rather than waste my efforts, I'll post here so that I have them for reference....

Bradley criticizes me for "argument against the person", and defends himself with appeal to authority.

Take a look at Tyler's review of his published thesis which is as fine an example of damning with faint praise as I've ever seen.

Yet another review says "it is ironic that the main criticism one can direct against him relates to his ideological a priori attachment to the belief that any form of government intervention in the market economy must always and everywhere be pernicious and counterproductive."

If you check the Gabriel Kolko wikipedia page, it points out that "political capitalism" is a term Kolko used for corporatism, but hardly anybody else adopted it in the subsequent 40+ years. There isn't even a wikipedia page for "political capitalism", nor does it redirect to corporatism.

Yet he totally ignores my first paragraph where I point out that two other giant negatives for his credibility: that he is a tool of the right wing think tanks, and that he relies on Austrian economics.

A little reading of his introduction tells the full story. Shorter Rob Bradley: "Enron and Ken Lay failed because they were victims of a mixed economy even though every other corporation that fails or succeeds is in a mixed economy. Fairytale pure capitalism, as fantasized by Ayn Rand, would be free of these problems."

Comic quotations:

"Adam Smith, Samuel Smiles, and Ayn Rand elucidated the character traits, mental models, and interpersonal conditions behind success and failure, while differentiating sharply between free-market entrepreneurship and political rent-seeking."
Right. Female industrialists swooning before the economic might of mighty male industrialists, as in Atlas Shrugged.

"In the twentieth century (chapter 3), the philosophy of Objectivism, formulated by Ayn Rand, explains how Enron’s financial bankruptcy was at root a philosophic one."
Shorter Rob Bradley: It's only because Ken Lay was not an Objectivist cultist, unlike every successful CEO.

"Smith, Smiles, and Rand did much to frame what can be called heroic capitalism"
Most of us outgrow moralistic stories of heroes by the end of our teens. And Smith was much more sensible than Smiles or Rand: he showed good and bad in capitalism. Not simple heroism.

"But why did inferior thinking in the social sciences and humanities prevail? [...] The answer is the by now familiar one: arrogance."
Ah, the classic crank explanation for why everybody else is wrong, and he's right. How humble of him to proclaim that they're arrogant, every one!

There are so many stupid things in this introduction that it beggars description. Essentially, he wordily describes the Enron/Lay problems as hubris, but attributes the hubris to the mixed economy. Sorry, jack, but hubris doesn't need mixed economy to occur.

He also declares that he worked at Enron (and for Lay) for years. That's honest, but it sure points out that he has an incentive to find somebody else to blame. Was he the one point of light at Enron who wasn't suffering from the moral flaws that brought Enron and Lay down? Somehow, I doubt it.

I guess I'll finish by quoting my Libertarianism in One Lesson and Libertarianism in One Lesson; The Second Lesson, because Rob Bradley embodies these caricatures:

Government is the Great Satan. All Evil comes from Government, and all Good from the Market, according to the Ayatollah Rand.

Require perfection as the only applicable standard to judge government: libertarianism, being imaginary, cannot be fairly judged to have flaws.

Government causes pollution, crime, discrimination, slavery, poverty, and all the other evils of the world. Businesses and individuals only produce wealth: they are not involved and not responsible for any of those problems.

There are no market failures, only government failures. Which is why we should abolish corporations, patents, copyright and other intellectual property; they are established by government interference with free markets.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Libertarian loser of the week.

Every now and then, another libertarian writes another stupid rebuttal to my FAQ, and the sycophants gather around and cheer because they're no smarter, and can't recognize the errors.

One such twit, "KipEsquire", wrote an addition to the latest and made all sorts of stupid errors.

I responded with corrections to his errors, and pointed out that I am a Madisonian social contract fan, as opposed to Locke or Hobbes.

Kip replied without anything more than ad hominem and berating me for not appealing to the authority of Hobbes and Locke.

I pointed that out, and explained that I didn't need to appeal to social contracts that were philosophical fantasies when Madison created an actual, practical social contract. After all, why would I appeal to flying horses and flying carpets when I could talk about airplanes?

I tried to check back, and Kip had locked me out. So I used an anonymizer, looked, and sure enough the coward had deleted my response. What a baby. I wrote another taunting him, which he'll probably delete.

It's funny how many libertarians can't defend their claims, and instead have to rely on deletion and lockouts to silence their opponents. They really are authoritarian when they feel threatened, and shut down free discussion by hiding behind their property rights.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Venn Diagram of Poker Hands: Solution

Venn Diagram of Poker Hands:

FOUR OF A KIND and FULL HOUSE are both inside THREE OF A KIND and TWO PAIRS, but do not overlap.

THREE OF A KIND and TWO PAIRS are both inside PAIR.



PAIR, STRAIGHT and FLUSH are all inside HIGH CARD.

Because any hand has a HIGH CARD and HIGH CARD includes all the others, HIGH CARD is identical to ALL HANDS.

The above diagram is topologically correct, I think, so it doesn't really matter what sizes or shapes the boundaries take.

An additional problem, for those who love easy combinatorics, would be to show the numbers and probabilities for all the regions. This requires a slightly different interpretation of the labels: for example, HIGH CARD is interpreted to mean "HIGH CARD ONLY" which excludes PAIR, FLUSH and STRAIGHT.

Update  3/16/17:  XKCD has set me straight: technically, this is an Euler diagram.

Biomimicry of evo-devo patterns.

The evo-devo (evolutionary developmental biology) idea is that organisms have basic developmental core processes (a toolbox) that are regulated during development by other genes. Thus basic mechanisms such as development into segments can be regulated to produce few-segmented organisms such as insects or many segmented organisms such as snakes.

There is a surprising analogy in the UNIX (and thus LINUX) operating system design philosophy: "Rule of Separation: Separate policy from mechanism; separate interfaces from engines." The short version is "mechanism, not policy".

The X windows system, written about 25 years ago, made heavy use of this design principle. X provided the mechanism for user interfaces that did all the hard work of drawing and reacting to user input in a very concise and general way. Specific user interfaces such as Motif and OpenLook (that looked very different) could then be created just by controlling the use of X mechanisms.

A more recent development (10 years) exploiting this design principle has been the addition of cascading style sheets to HTML. The underlying HTML of a web page can be displayed in radically different ways depending on the style sheets applied to it. (For explanation and some amazing variations, see Zen Garden.)

Another possible example of this biomimicry is the Constitution of the United States, as I explain in Mechanism, Not Policy: Creation Of The Second Invisible Hand. This one predates modern evo-devo ideas by quite a bit, but is my own (possibly crank) interpretation.

The evolution (in the sense of change over time by modification) is obvious in all three of these examples.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Venn Diagram of Poker Hands

A couple of years ago, I took a course on teaching Discrete Math at Tufts. While we were talking probability, we used Venn diagrams to illustrate how to compute some probabilities. And it occurred to me that it would be interesting to make a Venn diagram of all the types of poker hands. After I did it, I looked on the web to see if there was one posted any where, searching with "venn" and "poker", but couldn't find any. This is the best I found today:

It's obviously got some gross mistakes. For example, the straight circle is by itself, rather than including straight flush. And the non-straight circle is an abomination.

The challenge is to make a correct Venn diagram of the poker hands. Every kind of hand should be properly nested in all the simpler kinds of hand. I'll post my answer in a week or so. Alternatively, if you can find a better answer on the web or elsewhere, I'd like to know where.

Update 1/17/09:
Here is the solution. No peeking until you've solved the problem!