Thursday, December 18, 2008

"Nothing Is Definite Yet" -- Squirtch

My dad ran across this in the old Illinois Wesleyan newspaper; It's a story by my grandpa (his dad)  that he wrote there. He attended Wesleyan after fighting in the Korean war, and I think he was a senior when he wrote this. I, personally, think this is awesome.

"Nothing is Definite Yet" -- Squirtch 
By Neil Langrill

The other day I drove over to the campus and parked my car in President Holmes' place. As I got out of the car my friend, the only one I have by the way, walked up to me and kicked me in the shin. This was the way we had decided to greet each other. Then we started to walk across campus toward the Grill, making sure not to walk on the sidewalk. The people that we observed on the way were obviously all idiots. One in particular! He was clean shaven and had his shoes shined. 
Once we arrived at the Grill we crawled in a window and sat on a table. Here we became engrossed in a deep philosophical discussion on why can't people be like us. Right in the middle of this trend of thought, a young man walked in the door. He had a jacket on that showed he was a fraternity man. It was obvious that he was a mental midget. My friend and I became very upset by this turn of events and wished we could walk up to him and tell him to throw away his chains and join the movement to nowhere. This did not bother us long, because we had more important things to solve for mankind.
The more we talked, the more we realized that people had been walking on their feet too long. We came to the conclusion that from that moment on we would walk on our hands. As we left the Grill we found this rather difficult, but we had made up our minds that we were right. By the time we got back to the car, our hands were bleeding profusely. We smiled and wiped them off on a couple of ignorant sorority girls who were passing. 
Then we paused and again started to talk. We discussed an idiot we both knew. This particular person had only one personality. This we decided was a bad thing. He was a person who thought there were some good things on this campus. He would admit there were a lot of wrong things, but he had the audacity to think that people would be able to work these out for themselves.
As we parted we shed a few heartfelt tears for humanity and wondered how long it would take us to convince them to walk on their hands.

Neil: How many sides has a circle?
Jim: Two---inside and outside.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Fate of the Republican Party Lies in the West - Or Nowhere at All

The Republicans need to become the party of the West again; now is the perfect time for them to reposition themselves as such. Westerners are naturally inclined to distrust Washington, in part because of their geological distance, and in part because of the natural cultural differences between the West coast and the East coast; even in California, which is as East-coastey as you can get in the West, there is a lack of the elitism that is on the East coast (though there is a different sort of elitism… but that is another story). Obama is the perfect president to become a contrast to – educated in the elite Eastern schools. Pelosi is a supplanted easterner – her dad was a congressman from Maryland and mayor of Baltimore, and Reid… well, Reid has his own problems.

So what the Republicans need to do is drop the social conservatism from their national platform, and return to federalist principals of states’ rights and local self determination. A fiscal moderate or conservative who might otherwise be inclined to vote Republican can easily be scared away by the Republicans in Washington trying to ban gay marriage, or abortion. The Republicans need to assert, as McCain has (though unconvincingly), that social issues need to be left up to the states. Local Republican parties can do whatever they want – if South Dakota wants to ban abortion, the South Dakotan GOP should feel free to back them, but the National party should take no stance. This plays to the median voter theory well, as social conservatives will vote for states’ rights as better than what the Democrats offer, and moderate voters who are fiscally conservative would also be able to support this platform. Also note that the country is shifting to be more socially liberal - and if social liberals can only vote for fiscal liberals, they will; sticking to the social right ensures a diminishing voting base.

The Republicans need to stick to the same message on fiscal issues as well; get away from the NCLB, etc, with the message “who knows how to fix the problems in our schools better; Washington politicians who are 2000 miles away, or us, who know the teachers and the children involved in the schools…” Replace schools with seniors, etc, and it seems to me like you have a winning message.

This party would be strong in the West, but also the South, which (for some reason) distrusts Washington. Obama will run stronger in the South and Midwest than the average Democrat would, but if the Republican Party reforms itself it could be very competitive South of DC and West of Illinois. The Northeast and Eastern-Midwest would remain Democrat, as they seem quite fond of free money from the Taxpayers.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Myth of Consumer Sovereignty

And here is an essay by John Kenneth Galbraith that I completely disagree with. He argues, in the essay The Myth of Consumer Sovereignty, which is, in turn, from his book The Affluent Society, Galbraith argues that in an affluent society, the marginal utility of production becomes zero, since we are filling needs that are created only because the producers have something they want to sell to us; or that our desires for an item to not exist until advertisers tell us that we need them, or our neighbor gets the item.

On its face, this kind of makes sense. If there don't exist jetpacks, I don't want one, and the object has no affect on my happiness, but once someone invents one, there is the possibility of it making me happier by getting one; Galbraith argues that we're just as well off if the jetpacks had never been invented.

I think that Galbraith has this all wrong though; in my mind, we do not desire specific items, we want items that are of a specified use to us. Every thing belongs to a family of goods/services that we desire regardless of specific items within that family that exists. We have a desire for transportation, entertainment, education, leisure, human interaction, etc. Advances in technology, and indeed, affluence, provide us with better, more efficient ways of satisfying these desires. If I want to see the world, and it happens to be 1750, then, unless I happen to be born into extreme wealth I will have trouble fulfilling that desire; I might be able to work my whole life for a trip to Paris, and if I live in a small town even a trip to the nearest large city will be an extreme cost in time and money. Affluence allows us to explore these dreams at a much lower cost than ever before. While I would have never yearned for a car before one was invented, I am nevertheless better off after I get one than I was before.

I think back to Alasdair MacIntyre, who claims that the goal of a human life should be to build a positive narrative; it seems to me that affluence allows us to build a richer, deeper narrative, and gives more people the opportunity to explore things they never before would have been able to do. Sometimes people don't use their wealth to build their own narrative, but that is not the fault of wealth.

Conventional Wisdom

The conventional wisdom is not the property of any political group.  On a great many modern social issues, as we shall see in the course of this essay, the consensus is exceedingly broad.  Nothing much divides those who are liberals by common political designation from those who are conservatives.  The test of what is acceptable is much the same for both.  On some questions, however, ideas must be accommodated to the political preferences of the particular audience.  The tendency to make this adjustment, either deliberately or more often unconsciously, is not greatly different for different political groups.  The conservative is led by disposition, not unmixed with pecuniary self interest, two adhere too the familiar and the established.  These underlie his test of acceptability.  But the liberal brings moral fervor and passion, even a sense of righteousness, to the ideas with which he is most familiar.  While the ideas he cherishes are different from those of the conservative, he will be no less emphatic in making familiarity a test of acceptability.  Deviation in the form of originality is condemned as the faithlessness or backsliding.  A “good” liberal or a “tried and true” liberal or a “true blue” liberal is one who is adequately predictable.  This means that he forswears any serious striving towards originality.  In both the United States and Britain, in recent times, American liberals and their British counterparts on the left have proclaimed themselves in search of new ideas.  To proclaim the need for new ideas has served, in some measure, as a substitute for them.  The politician who unwisely takes this proclaimed need seriously encourages something new will often find himself in serious trouble.
-John Kenneth Galbraith, The Concept of the Conventional Wisdom

I have taken to reading some Galbraith now. For me, he's very hit and miss, he makes some really astounding points, and I vehemently disagree with him on others. But I really like this point he makes, and it really echoes what I have been feeling in recent times. Liberals will often trumpet the need for an open mind and condemn their opponents as closed minded, while in reality they are just prescribing to a different sort of doctrine, and are just as closed minded as their opponents. Both of them carry with them an air of moral superiority, which is really what pisses me off; though at least the religious fundies on the right are open about it. The sense of "if you disagree with me, you're closed minded" is probably one of the most innane thoughts ever thought. 

For years I carried with me the belief that liberals were generally, truely open minded, questioning individuals, whereas conservatives refused to critically think over their ideas and ideals. College broke me of that, not only by exposing me to many terribly unthinking liberals, but also introducing me to some intellegent, questioning conservatives. Honest people with different premises can indeed have legitimate differences, it would seem. Before college, I don't know if I would have admitted that.

Of course, the hope is that I am actually striving for new ideas; hopefully I have not become myself indoctrinated within a separate ideology. 

Sunday, October 12, 2008

I just want to say...

I don't get how Alan Greenspan (I'm reading his memoir, The Age of Turbulence) can go on and on about how terrible central planning was, and then not get the irony when he says something along the lines of: "After returning from Russia, which had been ravished by central planning, my buddies and I got together at the fed to plan what the US economy would do."

I mean, I like Greenspan and all, but come on.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Modern Politics, again.

I am convinced that, within ten years, we will not have a Republican Party. And if we do, it will be significantly different than the one we have now. The $700 billion bailout bill exposed the sharp difference between the Limited Government Republicans and the Big Business Republicans. Throw in the fact that America is growing more socially liberal, and you find the end of the Republican Party. 

I could see it playing out somewhat like this:
There could be a legitimate third party that challenges the two major parties, mostly at the expense of the Republicans. The way I see it, the Republicans are broken up into several subgroups: 
Religious Isolationists, who believe in limited government so that people can stick with their own. Tend to be pro-School Vouchers and homeschooling, and are much more social conservatives, but don't feel the government should interfere too much. Generally pro-immigration, especially Catholics.
Religious Interventionists, who support things like the Drug War, and are more vocally anti-gay marriage, etc. Generally, both of the above are anti-abortion. These people tend to be more Populists, Mike Huckabee types, and are also more anti-immigration.
Big Business / Big Agriculture - They like regulations written in their favor, subsidies, etc. 
Free Marketeers - People who believe in the free market, and have decided that the RP is the best they can do. Pro-immigration.

Right now, the Republican Party is the Hawk party, but that seems to change with whoever is in power. They were against the wars in the Balkins, and had a relatively strong anti-Vietnam segment. I can't see either party keeping the title permanently.

Of course, if the RP were to fall apart, it would affect the Democratic party quite a bit. I would predict that the Dems would shift much more to the Center on Social issues, while absorbing the people I termed 'Religious Interventionists'. I see this as possible only with the decline of social conservatism. I see the Democrats reclaiming the South, with the southern democrats much more conservative, but still populist. The Democrats would move to be more anti-immigration, and would retain their economic interventionism. 

During the transition, there would be a period of time when the Democrats were in complete control. I have a feeling that they would attract the lobbyists of Big Business, who would fit perfectly into their system.

This leaves two groups stranded: social liberals, and free marketers. Clearly, my hope is the social liberals and the free marketers band together, and the Libertarian Party wins out, or the Republican Party becomes more like them. 

Sunday, July 13, 2008

American Politics

There's an example from Economics that I keep thinking of. Say there is a long stretch of beach, and there are two food stands, one on each side. Where would each of them move to, to maximize profit? Well, if both are on the far end of the beach, one could move closer to the middle, and get a greater percentage of the customers (assuming the customers choose to go for whichever one is closest). While the optimal placement for customers (shortest walking time) would be one at each of the 3/4 points along the beach, equidistant from both the edge and the center, both businesses will move to the very middle, to prevent the competition from moving over any more and taking their customer base. This assumes that no other competition can move in.

This is pretty much what American Politics seems like to me. By November, McCain and Obama will be barely differentiable, but everyone to Obama's left will vote for him, and everyone to McCain's right would vote for him. This is what a two party system does; going back to the beach analogy, if given no other choices, and Hitler were running for the Republicans and Stalin for the Democrats, right at the edges of the beach, then the voting results would be fairly similar.

This is what happened in the 2000, election, at least. Bush was a moderate-conservative and Gore was a moderate-liberal. That was just branding, of course, because both have turned out to be quite different than they were when running.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Brave New World III

What interested me most about Brave New World was the character development, in particular the element of solitude in the development of the people. The people who 'fit in' the best were all useless human beings. Lenina, the closest thing to the female protagonist, was little more than a cookie-cutter member of the upper class. So I figured that Bernard would be the 'good guy,' as his isolation from society due to his small stature would have given him the opportunity to develop a more independent set of values. But, given the chance, he turned into someone just as petty and superficial as those who fit in. He was isolated from society, yes, but he was resentful about it. John, the Savage, was also raised in isolation, due to his mother being from out of the reservation. He was not overly resentful over this, except in the society's unwillingness to allow him to participate in the religious ritual, and thus was able to develop an independent set of values from his society, aided by his unique ability to read (on the reservation).

The real thing that interests me is how, in the real world, isolation from the mainstream results in the development of individuals. My premonition is that those who were the most popular and accepted in High School, say, have a difficult time getting by in more real social situations. Some degree of independence is required to become a successful human being, and sometimes that independence is unwillingly forced upon someone - the key is to not be resentful about it.

The book I am reading next is Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove. I'm thinking that it will just be a silly-fun alternative history.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Brave New World II

Something that I found interesting about Brave New World was the lack of a 'good guy.' The point of the novel seemed to be that 'this is bad this way, and this is bad this way.' John, The Savage, was provided as a counterbalance to the established civilization; this did not make his way of life better than the civilization. The 'Savage' lifestyle, at least to me, was as flawed as the 'Civilized' way of life. While one permitted only contentment, as prescribed by the central authorities. Dulled happiness is not less good than self-destruction. It seems that if you averaged the happiness of the civilized, and the happiness of the savage you would have the same amount. The only difference is the extremes.

More later.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Huxley and Utilitarianism

"Consider the matter dispassionately, Mr. Foster, and you will see that no offense is so heinous as unorthodoxy of behavior. Murder kills only the individual - and, after all, what is an individual?" With a sweeping gesture he indicated the rows of microscopes, the test-tubes, the incubators. "We can make a new one with the greatest ease - as many as we like. Unorthodoxy threatens more than the life of a mere individual; it strikes at Society itself..."

-Brave New World pp150

It appears that Brave New World is a diatribe against Utilitarianism - and a rather effective one, at that. This Utilitarian paradise - a place where the lower classes are created as genetic and mental inferiors, conditioned to love their menial labor, while the upper classes are forced into prioritizing society above all else - hence the taboo long-term relationship; we wouldn't want someone to prioritize their partner over any one else - everybody belongs to everyone else.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Brave New World

I just started reading this classic, and I wanted to share this snippet from the intro:

It is probable that all the world's governments will be more or less completely totalitarian even before the harnessing of atomic energy; that they will be totalitarian during and after the harnessing seems almost certain. Only a large-scale popular movement toward decentralization and self-help can arrest the present tendency toward statism. At present there is no sign that such a movement will take place...

A really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude. To make them love it is the task assigned, in present-day totalitarian states, to ministries of propaganda, newspaper editors and schoolteachers.

This was written in 1946, a year after Hiroshima, at the height of Harry Truman and Josef Stalin; Huxley is understandably pessimistic. How did we escape his prediction of a totalitarian future? The newspaper editors were as cowardly and lazy as he predicted, the schoolteachers retained a near-monopoly on the development of the youth, and the ministries of propaganda were in full swing.

The answer, in my mind, lies in the message that we were trying to send through these outlets. The red scare and the Cold War in general gave these brainwashing institutions more than enough to deal with. In order to portray the Soviets as negatively as possible, we had to portray totalitarianism in a somewhat negative light, and exalt freedom and liberty more than we might have otherwise. I have seen this argument used to explain the shift against immigration; in the 1980s, it was okay for Reagan to grant amnesty to the illegal immigrants - by showing off the great number of people who wanted to come to our glorious nation, we could differentiate ourselves from the Soviets, where people were dying to leave.

I also think that credit should be given to Eisenhower; as of right now he is my favorite president of the 20th century. Electing a man who had as much firsthand experience in the horrors of war is the best way to avoid more wars. (Though I'm not going to claim this for John McCain; he is thirty-plus years removed from war and seems to have forgotten how bad it was - his reaction to the recent Guantanamo ruling proves that.)

Monday, June 16, 2008

Response to Jake's comment

Jake Quinton:
Honestly, in all the hubbub about tax cuts, I didn't stop to think once that those wealthy bastards I love to hate (and aspire to be like) pay for such a large portion of our government.

I still would like tax cuts to be seemingly the most beneficial for those lower quintile (love that term) of the population that is most often faced with the choice of having either milk or lights some months.

But that might just be the socialist in me.

I'm going to respond in post-form, because I just know if I start typing out a long response my computer is going to die without auto-saving. So yeah...

My problem with this is:
1.) the lowest quintile pay .65% of the income tax in America, so income tax cuts won't benefit them too much. (time for a digression) The real place where the poor are hurt are in things like gas taxes and excise taxes; these taxes tend to be regressive, because the poor will spend a greater percentage of their income on these. Especially with things like New York's new cigarette tax, which more than doubles the price of cigarettes. This is done with the full knowledge that it will force the poor, who are more likely to smoke, to have to decide between smoking and eating.

2.) It tends to be the top quintile who produces and distributes things like milk and lights. By punishing them, the government indirectly punishes the people who have to pay for their products. If a research scientist, working to produce cheaper light bulbs, works 35 hours a week at a 50% tax rate, but would work 50 hours a week if the tax rate were 20%, meaning that each additional hour he or she works means marginally more money for him or her, then it's more likely that a cheaper light is produced, which would benefit the poor.

It also drives up the cost of doing businss, as hiring someone who wants to make a certain amount of money costs businesses more, which is passed on to the consumers via higher prices.

So cutting taxes for the rich may not directly benefit the poor by giving them more money, but it benefits them by making their money able to buy more.

I think this may be Reganomics though, now that I look at it. Whoops.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


After listening to one of his speeches on the radio regarding his tax plan, I can safely say that whatever chance I had of voting for Obama is now gone. I hate it when pundits who whine about tax cuts benefiting the wealthy. Well, no shit - One percent of Americans pay for 34.3 percent of the government. Is it really surprising that tax cuts benefit those who pay the most more? He went on to say "I don't mean to embarrass you, but could those of you who make more than 2.8 million stand up?" implying that to make that much money one must have a racket in stealing children's lunch money. He kept complaining that tax cuts rewarded "Wealth" not "Work" as if the two were mutually exclusive. I also liked that he is comfortably above the $2.8 million mark (those making 2.8 million or more would get 1/4 of the tax cuts by McCain), but didn't mention that.

Granted, I'm still as likely to vote for McCain as I am for Ahmadinejad, but all of the initial enthusiasm I had for Obama is gone.

(I would like to note that the spellchecker for Blogger has 'IBM' as the closest match for Obama)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

I called it

It turns out the guy who has the blog,Five Thirty-Eight, which I mentioned earlier is Nate Silver, who happens to be involved with Baseball Prospectus, which is a big baseball-statistics think tank that I used to subscribe to. And indeed, he studied economics at the University of Chicago.

Baseball, Politics, and Economics. Whodda thought.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Justice Vs. Power - Chomsky Vs. Foucault, Part 1

Well worth the watch; you can get to part 2 from Youtube.

Foucault on history

From What is Enlightenment? by Michel Foucault: seems to me that this historico-critical attitude must also be an experimental one. I mean that this work done at the limits of ourselves must, on the one hand, open up a realm of historical inquiry and, on the other, put itself to the test of reality, of contemporary reality, both to grasp the points where change is possible and desirable, and to determine the precise form this change should take. This means that the historical ontology of ourselves must turn away from all projects that claim to be global or radical. In fact we know from experience that the claim to escape from the system of contemporary reality so as to produce the overall programs of another society, of another way of thinking, another culture, another vision of the world, has led only to the return of the most dangerous traditions.
I prefer the very specific transformations that have proved to be possible in the last twenty years in a certain number of areas that concern our ways of being and thinking, relations to authority, relations between the sexes, the way in which we perceive insanity or illness; I prefer even these partial transformations that have been made in the correlation of historical analysis and the practical attitude, to the programs for a new man that the worst political systems have repeated throughout the twentieth century.
I shall thus characterize the philosophical ethos appropriate to the critical ontology of ourselves as a historio-practical test of the limits that we may go beyond, and thus as work carried out by ourselves upon ourselves as free beings.

This is a very significant passage; I'm fairly sure I don't grasp the entirety of it, but a few things that jump out at me:

1: History, or at least Foucault's preferred method of history, is the analysis of the fringes of our everyday lives. What we perceive as 'insane' has shifted throughout history, and this perception is indicative of a deeper truth of our society. Sexuality (though perhaps less at the fringes today than in other times), too, is something that exposes much more about society, gender relations, etc, than meets the eye. Hence his works: Madness and Civilization, and The History of Sexuality.

2: He also seems to be saying that history should be done in such a way that the lessons we garner from history must be in some way useful and practical. I might be reading that wrong; either he means that, or he means that the models used for historical inquiry must be somehow applicable to contemporary society? Maybe it's the same thing, or neither.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

This guy must have some econ training

This is a great blog for election buffs and number nerds.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Violence and Movies

I seem to have developed a strong distaste for films that revel in violence. There are movies out there whose main intent is to show the suffering of innocent people. These are basically snuff films without the sex. The root of these films is a hatred for humanity; there is no thought involved, and the moral is: causing pain is good, even if the pain is caused by the 'bad guys.'

This is completely contrary to violence in, say, war movies, in which violence is a means to an end. The end of these gore film is that human life is meaningless, to be destroyed.

The Dreadful English Language

I stumbled upon this brilliant essay by George Orwell: "Politics and the English Language"

The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies "something not desirable." The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning. Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different. Statements like Marshal Petain was a true patriot, The Soviet press is the freest in the world, The Catholic Church is opposed to persecution, are almost always made with intent to deceive. Other words used in variable meanings, in most cases more or less dishonestly, are: class, totalitarian, science, progressive, reactionary, bourgeois, equality.

Many political words these days tend to be completely meaningless. I would add to this list the word 'people,' and 'society.' Rarely does anyone stop to ask: "which people?" or "who makes up society?" When a politician speaks of doing something for the people, or society, or the common good, what he or she really means is "my people," "my constituents," "my friends," or "my lobbyists." If someone asks you to sacrifice for the common good, be more skeptical than you would be dealing with a used car salesperson. Their intentions are usually darker and the means they are willing to use much more dangerous.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Friday, May 30, 2008


I seem to have developed a strange fetish for graphs and maps. Whenever I get a new Economics book, I look through all the graphs. The same is true for history books and maps. For those who share my strange affection for maps, I have the perfect place for you: Strange Maps.

It will suck hours of time from you.

Thursday, May 29, 2008


The day after the primary, I decided to become a dues paying member of the Libertarian Party. It was not out of support of Barr, but the realization that as much as Barr was the last person I wanted to win the nomination, he is better than either of the major party candidates. I am planning on voting for Barr/Root in November.

I think I tend to side with the left-libertarians on most issues, but I'm much more pro-market than I think the left ones are. I like the market, not only because it is the best way to accomplish the goals of decreased poverty and increased wealth creation, but because it is the only system where a person is rewarded based on what he or she contributes to the rest of society.

Libertarian Party: 2008

Today's Libertarian Party is extremely interesting. For such a small party, the internal divisions rival those of the larger parties, if they don't surpass them. There seem to be two rival factions: the Left-Libertarians and the Right-Libertarians. By Left-Libertarian I don't mean the Noam Chomsky Libertarian Socialists, those guys don't really fit in here.

The Right-Libertarians tend to share the social outlook of the conservatives. They are the type of person who believes that the moral fiber of society is being eroded by government intervention - i.e., social security breaks up multi-generational homes, the government through welfare makes the nuclear family unnecessary, etc. Right-Libertarians are less likely to stand up for gay rights, and are more likely to be pro-life. To their credit, they are unlikely to want to enforce anything via the federal government.

The Left-Libertarians share the same goals as extreme social liberals, but do not believe that they can be accomplished by government intervention. Their primary goals include the abolition of poverty, the empowerment of women, the queer community, and of minorities. They support things like affirmative action in spirit, but not practice, because they realize that the use of government to pursue these goals just gives the establishment more power which hurts any positive social cause in the long run. They believe that the best way to fight poverty is to create wealth - and the best way to do that is through a laissez faire, capitalist system.

This is my perception of the two sides; I don't know how correctly I've characterized them.

For this presidential election, the Libertarian nominees were, on the Right: Bob Barr, Wayne Allyn Root. On the Left: Mary Ruwart, Steve Kubby, George Phillies, and maybe Mike Gravel (though Gravel was less enthusiastic about the free market). These sides are clearly not fixed; Mike Gravel did end up endorsing Root, which surprised me. For the most part, through the six ballots, the votes stayed on the same side. As Kubby, Phillies, and Gravel were eliminated, their support went to the strongest Left-Libertarian candidate, Ruwart. Root and Barr were fairly strong throughout, and once Root was eliminated most of his support went to Barr, which was enough to push him over the edge.

There has been surprisingly little backlash against Barr. The Left-Libertarians realize, that for all their philosophical differences, they agree about what the government should do 95% of the time. Even though the ticket ended up being Barr/Root, the schism between the left and right hasn't hurt the party too much.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Henry George

In a libertarian world, where do taxes come from? Income taxes violate the most fundamental of rights; the right of a person to his or her own body, and the labor that it produces. They also have the negative effect of disincentivising work; if people get to keep less of what they produce, they'll produce less, especially in a progressive income tax system, which punishes people for producing the most.

Sales taxes have the same problem; they punish people for trading, which is the last thing you want to do in a free market system. So do tarrifs, etc.

What remains is property tax. This is where Henry George comes in - to digress slightly, a problem with libertarian philosophy comes with the ownership of land. The ownership of private property, or anything that is the product of one's labor, can morally be assigned to whoever produced it, or whatever they traded the product of their labor for, etc. Land was produced by no one; natural resources were produced by no one. Therefore, the only way one can claim ownership of them is by showing up before anyone, or by using coersion to claim ownership. Neither is tenable under libertarian philosophy.

So, a legitimate form of government is the collection of rent from a resource that cannot be morally owned. A good primer for this is here.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


What responsibility does a person have to society? Ayn Rand would turn this question around, and rephrase it: "How much ownership can other people claim on you?" A responsibility seems to suggest some claim of ownership, which, in most claims of ownership, implies that the owner has some role in an object's creation. The question comes down to: how much does society create us? If we owe a majority of our selves to outside influences, than it can be justified that some of our labor go back to that society. Even Rand concedes that, in the case of parents, children have a special responsibility due to the labor that the parents put into raising someone. If we are largely products of our selves, then we owe little back to society (I am speaking of responsibility, or duty; this would be the moral justification for such things as welfare. If one concedes that they owe nothing to society, yet derive pleasure from helping others, that is a completely different case).

This is (clearly) a question I have yet to fully answer for myself. It is due to my happening to be born into modern, rich, post-industrial nation that I had the possibility of schooling, etc. My most valuable tool, perhaps the most valuable thing in any society, is language. I would be capable of little without language. But to whom do I owe the possibility of my learning a language? My parents, clearly, and my schoolteachers, yes, but they hold as much claim on language as the cashier at the store holds on the giving me of bread. Do I owe society a part of me because there is access to more and more information that I had no part in developing? I can't see that as possible, as the only free people could be isolated savages, and as we learned more and more we could own less and less of our selves. If something is a free, public good, then I don't think that people can ethically be required to pay for it.

I tend to lean more towards the 'we owe little to society,' because despite the advantages that individuals may have due to race, class, etc, I believe that an individual has the largest role in what he or she ultimately becomes. Why is it that someone who is mentally handicapped can earn a living in this society, but some people who are more genetically gifted cannot? This is the question I've been trying to answer for a while. Luck may be a factor, but in most cases I can't see that as the determining one. Lack of opportunity? I don't think this is so - if anything it is the lack of knowing that there are opportunities that impedes people most. Ultimately, I believe, the answer is a lack of ambition (I'm not saying this is a character flaw; some people may believe that they really do have no opportunity). I think this is largely due to our society promoting a belief that if someone is not well off, it's not their fault; I'm not challenging this belief, but it seems to me that if this is accepted there will be more people who are not well off.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Windfall Profits

There is no greater indication of a widespread ignorance, if not sheer loathing, of economics is the concept of a "Windfall Profit Tax." Generally levied on oil companies as a way to take anger out on someone, these taxes are perhaps the most irrational taxation of all. 'Windfall Profits' happen when one of two things happen: the supply of a good shoots down, driving prices up and rewarding those with inventory, or the demand shoots up with an inelastic supply curve, meaning price rises inordinantly.

To bring the price of a commodity back down to the market rate, the industry so affected must invest in new forms of production. To do this, the companies will invest in capital and labor, increasing their supply. They use their 'Windfall Profits' to return the good back to its equilibrium price.

Of course, if the government slaps a 'Windfall Profits Tax' on the industry, less of this investment will happen, so the government keeps the price artificially high for a longer period of time. This is what the government wants to do to the oil industry; though to be fair, they receive subsidies from the government, so they kind of asked for it.

One of the industries that is experiencing the most 'Windfall Profit' right now is the farming industry. The government, instead of slapping a tax on them, is rewarding them with the biggest subsidy of all time (I think). Now that's just stupid.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Health Care

The biggest benefit of the free market is that it gives each person the ability to allocate their time and resources in the way that benefits him or her best. In the market, this means that producers have to provide the highest quality goods at the lowest possible price, or people will go somewhere else. This system would of course be best for health care, as well... but in America today, does such a system exist? Not at all. If the cost of health care is rising, and the cost of providing care isn't rising, then this cannot be a free market system.

What is it then? Our system seems to have the downsides of a bureaucratic system with the downsides of a free market system, and few of its benefits. The problem stems from WWII wage controls (see, the government removing choice from the people) - sometime during the war, the government imposed a wage freeze, looking to provide stability in the labor markets, most likely. Of course, this didn't work. Some businesses were still expanding and were willing to pay more for employees - so they offered non-wage benefits that were tantamount to a pay raise. Now we have employer provided health insurance. This is stupid for several reasons: it impedes the freedom of workers to go to the best jobs, out of fear that something will happen in between jobs, making them uninsurable. It's also stupid because insurance came to cover everything - the price signaling that is so important in a free market does not exist when the customer never sees the price tag; why go somewhere that charges $100 for a physical, when you can go somewhere where it costs $300 - it makes no difference to the consumer, because the insurance just covers it. It makes sense to have insurance for emergency situations, you aren't going to shop around for the lowest price if you're having a heart attack.

What are the solutions offered? There's single payer nationalized health care, where we just decide to end the market for health care. Prices go up (though consumers don't see it directly - only through their taxes), quality goes down (and consumers can no longer decide not to patronize the poor quality places, since they would all be the same), and waiting times go up, and people have no incentive to take care of themselves, since no matter what there will be no cost to taking care of them. The benefits: everyone has access to at least some health care. The rising prices under the employer-based system, which hurts the poor most, would be taken care of.

I think the two front Democrats' system is that the government would become an alternate health care provider. The government offers health care at an artificially deflated price, and you can choose between that and the current options for health care. (Under Barack's system, you still have the option to decide not to have insurance, but you must cover your children somehow. Under Hilary's system, everyone's a child and has no choice but to get some sort of insurance). This doesn't solve any of the problems of the increasing price of health care, and has the further disadvantage of screwing up the market for health insurance. The advantage seems to be that there would be fewer uninsured people demanding care, who drive up prices by being unable to pay; health care would be available to a lower class of people (but it doesn't solve the problem of illegal immagrents being uninsurable).

I think both of these alternatives are worse than our current system. What needs to happen is insurance needs to be shifted to covering only emergencies, and it needs to be moved out of the hands of employers. It wouldn't cost workers more: their wages would go up, as the money that was spent on insurance would instead be given out as wages. People then have greater choice in getting insurance, and can buy a program that best fits them, and they are no longer tied to their employers (how lame would it be if you got a car and house leased to you by your employer? Noone would ever change jobs). We would see prices drop - this would make health care accessable to even more people, and it would give everyone more wealth. For those who truely cannot afford the bare minimum of health insurance, charity would be able to cover this (as it is now, the high price of care makes the government the only charity that can possibly afford to cover everyone). I think our system is slowly moving this way, and is likely being impeded my the government, and the health lobby's control over regulation. The best thing the government can do, if it wants to improve the quality of life for people, is to do nothing.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


There's a passage I like in Stranger in a Strange Land, in which Valentin Michael Smith (I think that's his name) realizes what the concept of 'money' is. I think that our society today doesn't recognize its conceptual beauty; In a perfect world, money would represent an individual's value added to other individuals; the only way a person could earn money is by doing something that improves another's life somehow. Therefore, the highest paid people should be the people who produce most for society.

Of course, this has some issues. First, what will be used as money? This is easy among a small group, as long as they can agree on something. Historically, of course, gold has filled this role. The problem is, since the Industrial Revolution and the end of Mercantilism, economies have been growing faster than the gold supply, causing deflation. With deflation, people can earn wealth by just sticking money under their mattress, which violates the entire purpose of money.

That's where the Federal Reserve comes in. This is almost as bad; money went from being directly transferable to something solid to being completely determined by faith in the government, with the money supply being completely arbitrary, chosen at the whim of the Federal Reserve Chairperson. I think, for money to perform its purpose, there has to be some set value; I wouldn't be opposed to having the money supply fixed to GDP. I also kinda like David Friedman's idea of having the money supply fixed to a commodity bundle - i.e., like being tied to gold, but instead weighted 1/8th to wheat, 1/8th to oil, etc.

The other question is: does our contemporary society distribute money in the way that I described in the first paragraph? Are the richest people the ones who contribute the most to society? In general, yes, I believe that. People criticize our society because baseball players make several times the amount of school teachers. This makes complete sense, though. Of course, education is several times more important to society than baseball, but the utility is gained from the millions of schoolteachers, whereas the utility derived from baseball is from only a thousand or so players. If the average person in America decides that baseball is worth $10 to them, (on average; it will be unevenly distributed), then that's $3 billion distributed to 1000 players, the executives, managers, coaches, etc. If education is worth $1000 a year to the average American, that means the Education industry is a $300 billion industry. This is distributed over a much larger number of educators than baseball players, which is why they make less than a baseball player.

Of course, there ARE people who make money and don't contribute anything to society; this usually is a result of either force or fraud, or a pure misallocation of resources. An ineffective employee at a giant firm may not be producing equal to his salary, and isn't employing either force or fraud. Government is also a massive perpetrator of giving money to people who do nothing for society, which makes sense given the fact that they can employ force to get other people's money, and government bureaucrats are responsible for spending the money of other people. The person who best knows how to allocate an individual's resources to maximize his or her happiness is, of course, that individual. Anyone other than that person who tries to maximize their happiness with the same resources cannot succeed.

History and Economics

In deciding between the study of History and the study of Economics, I should try to define why I am attracted to each of them. Economics is the application of reason and common sense to reality; it is the science of making good decisions, as one of my econ teachers puts it. One would think that this means that Economics may be limited and straightforward, but it is anything except that, largely because determining what will happen in the future, which can affect decision making, is an art. Especially in Econometrics, thinking about your data and how it relates to other phenomena. There's a misconception that Economics has all to do with money; this couldn't be further from the truth. It's just that people care more about rational decision making when money is at stake.

One of my professors and I wrote a paper about Major League Baseball; the purpose of the paper was to determine if players gave 'hometown discounts,' and whether they accepted less money to remain with their previous team. We didn't find that the first one existed; perhaps players figure they will be traveling enough during the 162 game season that they should maximize their salary and just live near home in the offseason. I have a feeling that people with exceptionally high incomes have less of an incentive to stay near home than those with lower incomes; the cost of traveling home is porportionally lower for someone making a million dollars a year, since they could afford airline tickets, etc, more easily. We did find that players accepted less to stay with their previous team; the psychic cost associated with moving houses, and changing employers, would be about the same regardless of income, it would seem. There was much more to the paper, but that's it in a nutshell.

Does this give us any useful information outside of Major League Baseball? I think it does. When looking for a job, each of us has to weigh the cost of leaving home behind in order to get the best job; quantifying this is useful.

Human Nature II

I have yet to be convinced either way, about the existence of a specific human nature.

The best evidence for the existence of human nature is the consistency among differing human societies for some specific morality... in no society has there been the acceptance of murder, for example. If one can distill what that morality is... you'll get a very narrow definition of morality.

I believe that every individual has a specific nature... my evidence for this is the existence of such a thing as happiness. If an individual is happy, he or she is operating in accordance to his or her nature. I also believe that a society has a nature... there is some way to maximize the total happiness of individuals in a group.

The leap from these to a nature for all of humanity is the one which I have trouble with. C.S. Lewis makes this leap, I think Ayn Rand does to. We live in a society that is different from any other existing society; technology makes the rules different than they have ever been before. For example: I believe, that in previous societies, patriarchy could be somehow justified. If a group needs a consistent hunter, than it will not look to the woman to find its catch, because a woman will bear children. In contemporary society, however; this is not the case, a woman can give birth to a child an be back on the job within a couple weeks. If my wife had a child, I would request the same time off. If this is the general case, then there should be no differentiation between women and men in the workplace - the nature of women and the nature of men is pretty much the same in contemporary society.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Human Nature

The big question I have been grappling with over the past while is: Is there such a thing as an inherent Human Nature? This seems to be one of the most important questions in philosophy, and one of the most fundamental ones; someone's philosophy hinges on this. Philosophers with extremely varied beliefs all believe in such thing as Human Nature: C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton and other followers of Thomas Aquinas, but also people like Ayn Rand and Noam Chomsky.

On the other hand, you have those who believe that humans have no nature. Either they are completely dependent on society, or they have no real purpose. Nietzsche, Derrida, Foucault, and of course David Hume are in this camp.

I've yet to be convinced either way. I'll talk about this more later.


Since I am now a college graduate, and will no longer have my school's newspaper to publish my random thoughts, I have decided to start writing a blog!
I've named it (at least for now) with the following comic in mind:

This was published in the Gonzaga Bulletin, and is drawn by Rod Aminian.

So, what is the purpose of this blog? Basically, it will just be a place for me to think out loud. I will (hopefully) be reading a lot of philosophy, economics, and history over the next year or so while I decide what I want to do with the rest of my life.

A tiny bit about me: I am a recent graduate of Gonzaga University, a major in both History and Economics. I am taking a year off to decide where I want to continue my studies; I'm leaning towards Economics, but I don't yet know what sub-genre I want to work in. History is still a dark horse, as I enjoy the studying history as well as economics and could be persuaded either way.