Friday, December 02, 2016

Political References in Popular Science Writings


While reading Darwin's Dangerous Idea by Danel C. Dennett, in a discussion of possibilities, I was brought up suddenly by the following:
Historical impossibility is simply a matter of opportunities passed up. There was a time when many of us worried about the possibility of President Barry Goldwater, but it didn't happen, and after 1964, the odds against such a thing happening lengthened reassuringly.
 One wonders why he didn't use the worry about a second term for Lyndon B. Johnson, which split the Democratic party and led to the election of Richard Nixon. The fear there was that the Vietnam War would continue unabated, fomenting increased social unrest and costing the U.S. more blood and treasure. Johnson's decision not to run created that particular historical impossibility--a second term. But clearly, Dennett is signalling something--his membership in the sensible people of the center left.

I encountered this same sort of thing in Dawkins' The Selfish Gene. Dawkins frequently brought up his support for the Labour Party as a salve to his readers who might otherwise think he was some kind of mean Conservative.

Now Michael Shermer is libertarian(ish), and I don't remember seeing such stealth signalling in The Mind of the Market. In fact, Shermer describes his libertarian background extensively, and then goes on to write in a way that panders to center-left thinking, promoting "free and fair markets." No true libertarian would be concerned that free markets wouldn't be fair.

Much has recently been made of the bias in academia (see Jonathan Haidt, author of The Righteous Mind), and that bias has certainly leaked into popular science literature. It behooves us to be careful of these concealed nudges to the left.

Finally, I have to say that Barry Goldwater was my last political love affair. That put me on the road to conservatism, then libertarianism, and now market anarchism with a heavy flavoring of evolutionary epistemology. I escaped from politics in January, 1967, with the help of Robert LeFevre, and never have cast a ballot to choose my master. I owe the start of my journey to my Sue Dame, now Sue Montgomery, whom I will never forget.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

If x were true, the World would have imploded by now.

This essay, Why Libertarians Should Support Many Forms of Government Intervention, showed up in my Facebook feed recently. It was shared by a woman I met at FEE's "Advanced Austrian" (economics) seminar back in 2011. In our back and forth she threw this out:
As Frank argues above, if every regulation were the path-dependent slippery slope that some folks suggest, the world would have imploded a long time ago.
My response was as follows:
I think that I will have to write an essay on that--"If x were true, the world would have imploded a long time ago." My standard for "implode" may be a little lower than Frank's. It seems we had an implosion as regulations like Smoot-Hawley Tariff created/extended the Great Depression. There was an implosion in the 1970s that led to wage/price controls and "stagflation." There is the current Great Recession brought on by bank/housing/security regulations, and the "recovery" hampered by even more regulation and Federal Reserve policy. Was the U.K. before Thatcher an implosion? Have Argentina and Brazil imploded? Venezuela?
And if you set a higher bar (civil war, violent regime change, etc.), the Soviet Union didn't "implode" for over 70 years. Millions of people systematically starved to death and murdered, but it didn't implode. Cuba and North Korea haven't imploded. I guess that they all must be happy that they arrested the slide down that slippery slope!
And finally, if it is truly the world that is the criterion--that the world must implode--then even the deaths of 262,000,000 people at the hands of their governments in the last 115 years didn't cause the implosion (https://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/NOTE5.HTM). The world still turns, and people still live their lives.
My real problem is that the people who say such things as "if x were true, the world would have imploded a long time ago" have no suggestion as to the negative feedback mechanism that will stop that from happening. Their only negative feedback mechanism IS the implosion. All their platitudes about how they are "libertarians" and worry about excessive regulation will have little effect as the fall from a great height nears its end.
Her answer was to ask me if I had ever been to Cuba (I have not), never responding to my post.

Ludwig von Mises's argument was that each intervention would lead to additional interventions in order to correct the unintended consequences of previous interventions. The alternative would be to reverse the intervention. Certainly, the first intervention is not the guarantee of a collapse, just as the ingestion of the first gram of lead does not lead to the death of a child. At any moment there might be the reversal of an intervention or a number of interventions, and society makes a bit of recovery--see for instance, Margaret Thatcher. But without the realization that interventions upon interventions produce a steadily worsening situation for society, the end is clear--if not implosion, then widespread misery and stagnation.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Thoughts After the Orlando Massacre

I think we are entering a time when we must take self-defense seriously. I mean concealed carry and/or open carry among those who are willing, and a call for businesses that disallow weapons to reverse their policies. It is a cost that I'd rather not bear (I have a CCW, but I hardly ever carry), but we are in a deteriorating world where our government continues to poke at the wasp's nest of the Middle East and turn out, through public education, aimless, shiftless drones who have no future to look forward to. Add to that the manufacturing of crime related to the so-called "drug war" and no person can feel safe outside of his home.

I believe that guns will someday be unnecessary, but at the moment the trend is in the opposite direction.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Republican Party is Done!

The Republican party is done. A large segment is so angry about the cram-down of leftist policies that they will support an authoritarian who (sort of) promises to wage war on the left (shades of 1932). In addition, we can expect that blocking Trump's nomination will lead many of his supporters to be disillusioned with the Party. Nominating Trump will lead to a guaranteed loss and a continuance of the left's attack on civilization. The only compensation for those of us who despise politics in general is that it will not be the candidate who is characterized as "free market" who is wreaking havoc.

As Ludwig von Mises wrote:
A man who chooses between drinking a glass of milk and a glass of a solution of potassium cyanide does not choose between two beverages; he chooses between life and death. A society that chooses between capitalism and socialism does not choose between two social systems; it chooses between social cooperation and the disintegration of society. Socialism is not an alternative to capitalism; it is an alternative to any system under which men can live as human beings.
Unfortunately, in the guise of the two major parties, we are offered only socialism--the national socialism that was supposedly destroyed in World War II.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

David Sloan Wilson on Evonomics: An Agenda Cloaked in Science



After David Sloan Wilson wrote the article, The Road to Ideology: How Friedrich Hayek Became a MonsterPeter Boettke invited him to give a seminar at the F.A. Hayek Center for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. On February 11, 2016, Wilson presented the seminar, which is summarized here with a link to a video that incorporates a recording of the seminar and the slide presentation. I suggest that those interested in Austrian economics or coming from a non-leftist position watch the presentation as it will give you a clear idea of what we are up against. Make no mistake, Wilson and his comrades at Evonomics are heavy hitters and have an agenda that you won't like. Having listened to the presentation once, I have a few thoughts.

First, Wilson alleges that laissez-faire has its roots in the Christian worldview of universal harmony. Doing so is an attempt to discredit it as mystical and unscientific, and rob it of its roots in the Enlightenment. The reality is that Christianity was the home of top-down, unrelenting authoritarianism until it was tamed by the realization that markets tended to reduce or eliminate the antagonisms between religious groups. The resulting intellectual movement, in which those such as Voltaire argued that religion and aristocracy should be de-emphasized and commerce elevated, was probably more of an influence on Christianity than the other way around (see Jerry Z. Muller, The Mind and the Market, p 23).

Wilson goes on to state that progress came from the societal suppression of "disruptive, self-serving behaviors," rather than the realization on the part of individuals that cooperation was to their advantage in achieving goals that would have been difficult or impossible for them on their own (see Ludwig von Mises, Human Action, p 143). This view results in a bias toward top-down (coercive) rather than bottom-up (evolutionary) thinking. Wilson is definitely pushing methodological collectivism. He believes societies were successful because they dragooned their members into following the rules, not because they had rules that helped individuals flourish, thereby attracting and keeping members. Group selection is a reality, but only in the context of the feedback of individual selection that makes one group prosper over another.

While wanting to speed up group selection, Wilson fails to realize that the state suppresses selection by bypassing the feedback mechanism of profit and loss, and even imprisons its victims within its boarders, preventing the possibility of "voting with your feet." Failing the latter, there may be an effort for governments to form cartels or impose rules through a world-wide body, eliminating the possibility of selection still further. After all, if there is only one body, we are done with selection. The feedback of money profit and loss in an environment of open competition is superior, and the only objective method I can see that can facilitate group selection.

When watching Wilson's slides you will see that he believes the Earth is being destroyed by human activity. The Evonomics agenda is to reverse that perceived destruction by imposing an "intelligent design," cloaked in science, that has no possibility of effective criticism or reversal--of negative selection. Only by critically developing our own arguments and pointing out that their approach is actually anti-evolution can we succeed in defeating their effort.


Wednesday, February 03, 2016

The Economic Calculation Debate: Misunderstanding Mises and the Austrians

Andy Denis, a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Economics at City University London (see his home page), has written a paper, Economic calculation: private property or several control,
 that disputes Mises's requirement of private property to permit economic calculation.
First of all he suggests that several property, or multiple ownership, is to be preferred to private property and that control is to be preferred to ownership. These preferences, in Denis's opinion, take a socialist or planned economy out of the realm of impossibility, at least in terms of Mises's argument.

As I see it, Denis completely misses the point that the owners of private property, singly or severally, value it and are at risk when purchasing or investing. Without the risk of loss -- what Nassim Taleb calls an 'absence of "skin in the game"' -- prices are simply wild guesses and do not reflect the values or opportunity costs of market participants.

Denis does mention the principal-agent problem, in which owners are subject to the will of managers, talking as if this process amounts to expropriation.  Certainly this situation is a problem in a publicly held, bureaucratically run, stock corporation; but he fails to recognize that owners may withdraw their property from the managers if they are dissatisfied with the results. If there are no owners, there is no one to value the results, and hence no one to withdraw the property. If the benefits and costs of control are added to his system, he arrives at the a point where it is hardly different from that of private property.

Perhaps Mises fails to adequately stress the connection between the ownership and valuation of property, leading Denis to misunderstand the thrust of the argument. But it is also possible that Denis, in his eagerness to upend the Austrian/Misesian argument, has a great incentive to ignore or misinterpret it.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Karl Popper's Three Worlds and "The Market"

Introduction

Talking about "the market" in a more generalized way – that is, one which includes all of the living world and nonconsensual interactions that occur between humans and between species – requires increased semantic clarity. In order to achieve this increased clarity Karl Popper's three worlds can be used as a model. After introducing a terminology that parallels that of Popper its potential utility is discussed.


Three Worlds, Three Markets

English: Karl Popper in 1990.
English: Karl Popper in 1990. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In discussing "the market" it is difficult to transmit a number of different meanings that depend on the context, e.g., one that is consensual vs. nonconsensual or one that is human versus one that is inter-species. These different meanings are reminiscent of Popper's three worlds, and his concepts are used to introduce a parallel analog relating to markets.

Firstly, there is the market that is composed of the physical world. As Popper says, in describing world 1:
There is, first, the world that consists of physical bodies: of stones and of stars; of plants and of animals; but also of radiation, and of other forms of physical energy. I will call this physical world ‘world 1’. (1978, 143)
This market consists of all of the interactions, physical and/or chemical, that occur in the physical world. These interactions, as far as we know, are not guided by conjectural knowledge. This physical market is called "market 1".

Market 1 can be subdivided into the living and non-living, as Popper suggests:
If we so wish, we can subdivide the physical world 1 into the world of non-living physical objects and into the world of living things, of biological objects; though the distinction is not sharp. (1978, 143)
Secondly, there is the market of conjectural knowledge. This description might be thought to augment Popper's world 2, which he described as follows:
There is, secondly, the mental or psychological world, the world of our feelings of pain and of pleasure, of our thoughts, of our decisions, of our perceptions and our observations; in other words, the world of mental or psychological states or processes, or of subjective experiences. I will call it ‘world 2’. (1978, 143)
Popper's view is expanded to include the conjectural knowledge encoded in DNA or any similar, yet-to-be-discovered encoding system. This market is called "market 2".

Again, market 2 can be subdivided following Popper's prescription:
World 2 could be subdivided in various ways. We can distinguish, if we wish, fully conscious experiences from dreams, or from subconscious experiences. Or we can distinguish human consciousness from animal consciousness. (1978, 143)
Thirdly, there is the market of expressed knowledge. This market consists of the actions taken based on the conjectural knowledge of market 2. Popper describes world 3 as follows:
By world 3 I mean the world of the products of the human mind, such as languages; tales and stories and religious myths; scientific conjectures or theories, and mathematical constructions; songs and symphonies; paintings and sculptures. But also aeroplanes and airports and other feats of engineering. (1978, 144)
In striking contrast to his descriptions of worlds 1 and 2, Popper includes only "the products of the human mind" (emphasis added). Omitting the non-human expressed knowledge of plants and animals, including everything from the behavior of the E. coli bacterium (Cziko, 1995, 120) to the engineering feats of the Great Sequoias and honey bees, clearly damages the consistency of the discussion if nothing else. As Popper might agree, these expressions of world 2 cannot be criticized without becoming objects in world 3, where criticism is based on evolutionary fit. Notably, this form of criticism also affects world 2 as Popper framed it, culling those living systems whose conjectural knowledge is not up to the task.

With the addition of these non-human components this market is called "market 3". Clearly, the human component of market 3 is where business plans are exposed to the criticisms of consumers, with the result that the objects that appear in market 1 will be created and the conjectural knowledge of market 2 will be modified.

Popper suggests some subdivisions to world 3:

It would be easy to distinguish a number of different worlds within what I call world 3. We could distinguish the world of science from the world of fiction; and the world of music and the world of art from the world of engineering. (1978, 144)
Market 3 contains some additional markets – the markets of successful and unsuccessful expressed knowledge, and the markets of voluntarily and involuntarily expressed knowledge. These distinctions are blurred and the two sets definitely overlap.


Conclusion

Where does the forgoing discussion get us? Most importantly, it enables us to talk about society in a non-religious way that unifies it with the rest of the living world. With it we become aware of a wider range of questions that are rarely even asked. Why is killing animals or plants acceptable while killing humans is not? Why is the killing of some humans supported or even demanded? Why is the enslaving of animals widely practiced while enslaving humans is considered barbarous? Would a super-human species treat us more like we treat animals or more like we treat each other?

Without an ability to explore these questions in a value-free manner we cannot identify man's position in the universe and investigate what environment is most conducive to his flourishing. Hopefully, we will also be able to discern the difference between conjectural knowledge that is universally applicable and that which is dependent on time and place.


Bibliography

Cziko, G. (1995). Without Miracles: Universal Selection Theory and the Second Darwinian Revolution. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
Popper, K. R. (1978), "Three Worlds", In The Tanner Lecture on Human Values (Delivered at The University of Michigan on April 7, 1978). (pp. 143-167). Retrieved November 26, 2013 from http://www.tannerlectures.utah.edu/lectures/documents/popper80.pdf.
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