Friday, December 24, 2010

Thursday, December 23, 2010

That Old-fashioned, A Priori History

Now, whatever one thinks of Mises view of economics as an a priori science, one must give him this: He never for a moment thought that history was an a priori science. But many of his followers are far less astute. Oh, the many times I've been in some Internet discussion and seen some Mises epigone write, "Well, it seems logical to assume the [Jefferson / Lincoln / Lenin / whoever ] did not..."

It seems logical?! That's how you're doing history? Well, here is an example I came across today:

'To be sure, fractional-reserve banking is not, as Mr. Wolf notes, "a natural consequence of market forces." It is a result of, and has been upheld by, government law.'

Now, of course, in one sense, shops and private farms and many other market institutions are "the result of, and have been upheld by, government law." But that meaning is trivial. No, Mr. Polleit seems to mean that fractional reserve banking was created by government fiat.

But that is just made up. You only need to go to Wikipedia for about thirty seconds to set that story straight.

Now look, just because someone is in favour of free markets doesn't mean that you have to be in favour of every single thing that arose on a market. Nigerian Internet scams were not developed by any government, but one can still be against them. But it is just ridiculous to make up the history you would like to have happened because it fits with your ideology.

Missing the Trees for the Forest

A man all too willing to believe in massive conspiracies ironically bilked by a little conspiracy (aka, the kind of conspiracies that actually exist).

Abridging the Freedom of Speech

First amendment absolutists like to cite the text of that amendment and then smugly declare the case decided, for instance:

"Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press. Now get over it."

But have these people thought about what "abridge" means?
"abridge: to reduce in scope, extent, etc.; shorten"

So, this amendment does not in the least say that the freedom of speech is absolute; instead, it says that, whatever that freedom is, Congress may not reduce it.

And if you read a little history it is clear that no Founder thought that right was anything like absolute. Not a single one of them thought that, for instance, laws banning pornography were unconstitutional.

It is one thing to argue that they were wrong, and that the freedom of speech should be considered absolute. It is quite another to make the blatantly false historical claim that the Founders did think it was absolute.

The Smallest Integer Not Discoverable via Google Search

How would one discover it? Discussion here.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

I'm Dreaming of a Tight...

Christmas! Or at least Jason Peters is.

Economism in Action

You often here economists denying that economics reduces the subjects it studies to having only base, material motives. And in the hands of some economists, it doesn't. But in the hands of lots more it sure does. Take, for instance, this piece, in which Karl Smith tries to solve the problem of "revolving doors" between the public and private sectors, in which people pick up inside knowledge and contacts working in government, then cash in on those assets by moving into the industry they had formerly regulated. Smith recommends higher pay for public officials as the solution, and then cautions:

"I do hope that economically oriented folks aren’t suggesting that we use moral suasion to control government corruption. People respond to incentives. If you don’t want them to sell you out then you have to pay them more."

In other words, for Smith, the mere desire to act morally cannot possibly be an incentive: incentives mean "material incentives" and only material incentives.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Weird English Advertising

Now having TV access for the first time in years, I'm noticing an odd new trend in advertising... or, at least it seems to be a trend. For instance, there is some bladder control ad featuring animated women made of plumbing fixtures, in which the following two sentences occur:

"I have better things to do than only go to the bathroom."

"You have better things to join than always a line for the bathroom."

Now, it's one thing for an ad to be ungrammatical in a homey sort of way, to get in touch with the common Joe, e.g., "I ain't got no time for none of that."

But the two sentences quoted above are not constructed the way any native English speaker would speak in the placement of "always" and "only." (Although if ads like this keep running I assume that soon native English speakers will begin speaking like this.) Now the copywriters had to have know that they were writing very weirdly, so that means it was a strategic move... so what is the strategy?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Steve, They Aren't Listening

My friend Steve Horwitz tried to explain what Austrian economics is and isn't.

But I fear Steve casts pearls before swine; see this article, in which the author "defines" Austrian economics as:

"What's more, Paul is a big believer in Austrian economic thought – the idea that government has no role in regulating the economy."

Because, you know, that's exactly what Friedrich von Wieser thought.

Kirznerian Baseball

is described here.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Arnold Kling on One-Sided Bets


Money quote:
'If I offer flood insurance in New Orleans on behalf of my company, my bet might be "There won't be another Katrina in 2011." Let's say that we lose $1 billion if I am wrong, and we win $1 million (in insurance premiums) if I am right. If the chance of another Katrina is one out of 1000, that is a fair bet. But I can choose to make that bet even if the chance is 1 out of 50. The chances are 49 out of 50 that this deal will show a nice profit and I can get a fat bonus, and 1 out of 50 that I lose my job and the shareholders take big losses. A reasonable deal--at least for me.'

This sort of thing goes on in financial companies all the time. Traders make bets far, far more risky (given the payoffs) than they would if it were their own money. But you could make one of these a year for fifty years and the odds would be you're fine. Until the 51st year, when you bring down Barings.

How Many Stupid Things Can You Say in One Sentence?

Listen to Bob Beckel below, starting at about 1:00. He calls for Julian Assange's assassination (because Bob's not in favour of the death penalty!), and then says (I'm transcribing as accurately as I can, but probably got a word or two wrong):

"a dead man can't leak stuff..."
-- Ahem, Bob, the whole point of the threat is that if he is killed, then he will leak more stuff, because, you know, he already has it and it's already on hundreds of servers.

"this guy is a traitor"
-- Er, Bob, he's not a US citizen.

"a treasonist"

-- Er, Bob, he's not a US citizen.

"and he has broken every law of the United States"
-- 1) he's not under US jurisdiction, Bob; and
2) every law?! Does Bob mean he thinks Assange has shot bald eagles, counterfeited US money, cheated on his taxes, brought a minor across state lines for illicit purposes, trafficked in cocaine, etc. etc.?

Now, amusingly, while one part of the US media openly calls for Assange's assassination, another part of it attacks him for having been in hiding!

(Hat tip to Murphy.)

Reflection No. 17

There are days when I think this narcissism business is all about me.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


Here is a little slide show on high fructose corn syrup which makes the point I would have though obvious: it's sugar, folks!

'"Really, it's just sugar in liquid form—no different biochemically from common table sugar," explains Marion Nestle, Ph.D., professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University.'

But there are some rather surprising assertions made:

'But it also lurks in other types of foods that may come as a surprise: ketchup, frozen dinners, salad dressing, bread, marinades, cereal, canned vegetables—the list goes on and on. "About 30 to 40 percent of all products in the center of the grocery store have high-fructose corn syrup. And people don't expect any sugar in these foods," points out Phil Lempert, the Supermarket Guru.'

There are people who don't know that Captain Crunch contains sugar?!

And here's Lempert again: '"We have no idea what real food tastes like anymore because of all the sugar being added," says Lempert.'

So, adding sugar makes food imaginary?

Hey, and iVillage: It's really obnoxious to glom your little ad onto all text copied from your site.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Great Piece on the Paradox at the Heart of Conservatism...

here, by Patrick Deneen.

What I Meant Was, You Should See...

these works I've listed, not that I have seen them.

That was my thought on reading yet another book whose references consist in footnotes that list only the author and year of a dozen or so other works, works from which not a single quote is used, of which no analysis is performed, and which are never referenced again in the work being read.1

1 For early works on how to pile up an impressive number of references in your work without actually reading any of them, see Smith(1692), Jones (1743), Johnson (1894), and Filbert (1902). For more modern approaches to padding your bibliography, consult Murphy (1963), Mangrove-Throatwarbler (1975), Fitzsimmons (1987) and Depardieu (2001). A game theoretic approach to pretending you've read any number of books you've never even laid eyes upon is discussed in Bozo (1999), Hunter (2002), Lesh (2004), and Alias (2007).

Was Your Wish for the Holidays...

to hear Vampire Weekend up to twenty times per day, often accompanied by a bunch of preppy douches acting really stupidly? Then I bet you're having a good holiday!

Friday, December 10, 2010

More Ridley

And here is the always sharp John Gray, making some of the points I made on Ridley and more besides:
Whatever political goals it is used to promote, the idea of cultural evolution is not much more than a misleading metaphor. Laissez-faire was not the result of any spontaneous process of social evolution; it was imposed on society through the use of state power. Memes are just a pseudo-scientific way of talking about ideas, not actually existing physical entities. There is nothing in society that resembles the natural selection of random genetic mutations; even if such a mechanism existed, there is nothing to say its workings would be benign. Bad ideas do not evolve into better ones. They tend to recur, as racist memes are doing at present in parts of the world where economic dis­location is reviving hatred of minorities and immigrants. Knowledge advances, but in ethics and politics the same old rubbish keeps on piling up. The idea of social evolution is rubbish of this kind, a virulent meme that continues to reproduce and spread despite having been refuted time and time again.
The best evidence against Ridley’s claim that ideas evolve is the existence of this book, which reproduces some of the most pernicious myths of social Darwinism. Spencer and his disciples thought evolution was a progressive movement from lower to higher forms of life. But natural selection has nothing to do with pro­gress – as Darwin put it in his Autobiography, it is like the wind, which blows without any design or purpose. Certainly human development has been affected by the material environment – geography, climate and resource scarcity, for example. But rather than evolving, societies regularly break down, and what comes next is determined by power, chance and (occasionally) human choices rather than any supposed evolutionary laws. Evolution is one thing, progress another, and human history something else again.
Disdainful or ignorant of the past, Ridley is uninterested in the forces that shape events. He writes hundreds of pages about the wealth-increasing virtues of free markets, but allots post-Mao China only a few lines. This brevity is symptomatic, as China falsifies Ridley’s central thesis; the largest burst of continuous economic growth in history has occurred without the benefit of free markets. Wealth has been created as never before, not as a result of evolutionary change, but as a product of revolution and dictatorship.

How Did Ridley Happen?

It's always surprising to me how someone who keeps saying very silly things can find the stars align with his silliness, and he's really big for a couple of years. Recent case in point: Matt Ridley.

Here Ridley tries to compare the role of trade in "social evolution" to that of sex in biological evolution:
The notion that exchange stimulated innovation by bringing together different ideas has a close parallel in biological evolution. The Darwinian process by which creatures change depends crucially on sexual reproduction, which brings together mutations from different lineages. Without sex, the best mutations defeat the second best, which then get lost to posterity. With sex, they come together and join the same team. So sex makes evolution a collective and cumulative process...
Well, this is all very good. Or would be, if not for the facts that:
1) The "Darwinian process" cooked along fine for a couple of billion years without sexual reproduction, so it could hardly "depend crucially" upon it; and
2) In the Darwinian model, there is nothing to "accumulate" -- that implies a telos and some idea of progress, neither of which have any place in Darwin's model.

So, once we take 1) and 2) into account, Ridley is just babbling pseudo-scientific rubbish, in order to give a scientific veneer to his ideas about trade.

And then I came across this piece, in which Ridley tries to make a case that it really wasn't ideas that spawned the Industrial Revolution, but "material forces":
As Gregory Clark has reminded us, it was only in the nineteenth century, when fossil fuels amplified human labor, that wages really began to rise. The rest of the world then borrowed this innovation — fossil energy — and its ability to produce increasing returns through new technology. Today the average citizen of planet earth uses fossil energy equivalent to having 150 slaves working continuous eight-hour shifts on his or her behalf. That is why we are all so rich and that is why per capita economic growth turned upwards so sharply after 1800.
As I say, a materialist explanation.
Because, as we all know, coal did not exist on our planet before 1800, at which point it  arrived from space and began mining and combusting its own bad self.

Say what?! The coal had always been there? And what was new was the fact that people had developed the technology for getting it out of the ground and making use of it? In other words, it was new ideas that were responsible for this change?

As I say, an idealistic explanation.

Is There Really a Market for...

OK, there is a company that is marketing a whole line of Mark Twain / Nikola Tesla goods "for all fans of the two geniuses that have strongly influenced our modern world."

Is it remotely possible that this is a viable product line? Now, I've never met a Mark Twain fan (no, not just someone who liked Tom Sawyer, but someone who wants to wear a Twain t-shirt), nor a Nikola Tesla fan. But this product line assumes there is a fair number of people who want both men on their t-shirt, since every product features both of them.

Have I missed a huge surge in Twain / Tesla joint fanship?

I'm Rationally Addicted!

Bob Murphy sent me:

Well, I'd Like to Read This, But...

My friends Pete Boettke and Pete Leeson have edited The Legacy of Ludwig Von Mises, which I'd like to read, except:
1) Amazon is not offering a Table of Contents, so I can't really tell if what is in it is new to me; but, more importantly...
2) The price is... wait for it... $590.

Aaargh, the pirate in me says -- my opportunity cost for buying this is 10 or 20 normally priced books.

F****n Spell Checker!

This site is pretty funny. I really like the one where some guy used the word “Badonkadonk” once, after which his phone "decided it was important and now replaces many words with [it]."

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Oakeshott on Rome and America

I have reached an agreement with Imprint Academic to publish my new book, which currently has the title above, in the first half of 2012.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Doug Casey, Shining the Light on Sociopaths...

Turns it on himself:

"I’m fond of saying, 'Do what thou wilt, shall be the whole of the law – but be prepared to accept the consequences.'"

Yes, well, Doug, someone who regards that as the whole of the law would pretty much be... a sociopath, hey?

Friday, December 03, 2010

Discovery of the Decade? Century?

Detailed here. If this is actually as it's being reported, it is a phenomenal, science-shattering find. When thinking of a discovery with which to compare this one, I came up with SN 1572.

UPDATE: One of the paper's authors is Paul Davies!

David Gordon Reveals a Disturbing Fact

He details how, when people were not directly under the control of Rothbard, they started to think for themselves!

"There is indeed an Austrian program at George Mason, but Rothbard was proved correct. Absent his guidance, the program veered from his ideas."

I remember that L. Ron Hubbard used to complain about this all the time: as soon as he gave up direct control of any Scientology organization, people started "squirreling," meaning thinking for themselves. What bad news.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

The Great Glenn Greenwald

exposes Susan Molinari and Jonathan Capehart as tools:

Our "Democracy"

John M├ędaille pulls the covers off of it, and reveals the ugly truth underneath: "both [American] parties are really the same party with cosmetic differences for the entertainment and manipulation of the public."

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Riding MetroNorth...

to work, and the conductor collecting tickets advances one row up the aisle, shouts "TICKETS!", collects them, advances one more row, and booms out "TICKETS!" once again. For every single row through the entire car.

That was a great rendition!

I was watching TV with someone the other day. The CIA was transporting a terrorist, and the flight they all were on were brought down. When...