economics free market freedom

The problem with democrats and republicans

Ludwig von Mises summed up the entirety of political “solutions when he penned:


Scarcely anyone interests himself in social problems without being led to do so by the desire to see reforms enacted. In almost all cases, before anyone begins to study the science, he has already decided on definite reforms that he wants to put through. Only a few have the strength to accept the knowledge that these reforms are impracticable and to draw all the inferences from it. Most men endure the sacrifice of the intellect more easily than the sacrifice of their daydreams. They cannot bear that their utopias should run aground on the unalterable necessities of human existence. What they yearn for is another reality different from the one given in this world. They long for the “leap of humanity out of the realm of necessity and into the realm of freedom.” They wish to be free of a universe of whose order they do not approve.


I got that from the Mises Institute blog talking about how the OWS crowd is attempting to shut down west coast ports. So many people have definite ideas of what should be accomplished and how to accomplish it, they don’t take any time to try to understand what might happen if they actually do what they intend. Their daydreams of sticking it to the 1% are going to cost a lot of regular folks paychecks. If they had their way, they would punish the 1% by making it much more difficult for everyone else to get stuff from Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, and yes, China. Even a basic understanding of economics would allow them to understand that it is impossible to “hurt” one group in isolation without affecting everyone else. also quotes Rothbard in that same post:


It is no crime to be ignorant of economics, which is, after all, a specialized discipline and one that most people consider to be a “dismal science.” But it is totally irresponsible to have a loud and vociferous opinion on economic subjects while remaining in this state of ignorance.


You can do what you want with yourself. Because it is impossible to know but the largest first order effects of any overall economic activity, acting on everyone else’s behalf should be the first warning sign that you’re out of your depth.

culture freedom

Occupy Wall Street

I’ve been reading about the OWS protests and the one thing that is clear is that they are not a monolithic entity. There is general discontent over “Wall Street” and how they profited during this downturn, and there seems to be a general stance against “capitalism” and corporations. a more nuanced view seems to be that only “bad” corporations are the target of their ire. A generally accepted solution to this is that the government should do more, more regulation and more observation are what the protesters seem to be calling for the most.

You might not be surprised to hear that I don’t agree with their solution. I agree with the anger over bailouts, over saving failed companies with taxpayer dollars. The difference is that I direct my anger towards the ones that did the bailing out and set up the system that encouraged the financial entities to take the risks they did.

The OWS crowd seems as though they are so blinded with their view that Wall Street equals greed that they have never wondered why the banks and financial houses did what they did. The combination of low interest rates, guaranteed loans, and various regulations that made it profitable and logical to sell off and re-buy derivatives of mortgages was set up by the federal government, and then the feds bailed out the institutions that got into trouble doing that. Wall Street will always be about making money, but when there are actual risks of losing everything, they will not act so crazy. The bailouts have to stop, the distortions have to stop. Turning to the cause of the problems for a cure is incredibly misguided.


It’s also funny how the various anti-semitic signage seen at these things has been dismissed as crazies in the midst of the protest, unlike the tea party. One group is labeled as racists for their fringe and another is given a free pass over the crazy ones in their midst. It’s also strange how there are widespread reports of arrests of the OWS crowd when there wasn’t with the tea party crowds despite the fact the tea party had bigger gatherings.


So yeah, I’m with them on the anger about corporations profiting at taxpayer expense. They have lost me on the whys and the solution though.

christianity freedom religion

Jesus and Taxes

I’m getting sick of the recent meme going around asking the rhetorical question, “Surely Jesus commanded us to help the poor. What kind of Christian nation is this really if we don’t do that?” It’s considered a “gotcha” when critiquing the tea party stance on paying taxes. Surely good Christians (and the Tea Party and Republicans in general are overwhelmingly Christian) shouldn’t object to helping the poor. In fact, their resistance to paying taxes proves that they really don’t give a shit about the poor. Using Christian’s duty to help the poor is trying to be used to paint the entire tax resistance movement as heartless hypocrites that are only interested in their own money and inexplicably invested in rich people keeping all of theirs too.


The first thing that comes to my mind is how odd it is that every left leaning person automatically equates taxes with charity. They act as if paying taxes is the same thing as donating to the Red Cross. Never mind that a considerable portion of those taxes go towards wars and other things that the left is supposedly against. Incredible incarceration rates of blacks? Done by the government. Deporting Mexican workers? That’s the government. The ongoing futile war on people getting high and relieving their pain? Guess who? The biggest outrages committed against poor people, minorities, and people spread across the world are funded by your tax dollars either directly or through proxies.  Never mind all of the bailouts and handouts to corporations and other types of legal graft that our taxes contribute to. Nope, it’s all about charity! What would Jesus think of that?


I can’t speak for all Christians, but here’s this Christian’s view on Jesus and taxes. Yes, Jesus did tell us to take care of the poor, the weak, and the imprisoned. Funnily enough he didn’t mention that the government was the only way to do that. Taxes? He did say something about taxes… I’m going to paraphrase here, but He said something along the lines of, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and render unto God what is God’s.” The bottom line? When you pay taxes, you are paying for Caesar’s ambition, Caesar’s wars, Caesar’s folly. If Caesar helps the poor, that’s a bonus, but remember, you are supporting not only Constantine, but Caligula. You have to pay taxes regardless of who is in power, but we are always capable of helping the poor on our own.


freedom MS


It was suggested to me to go on disability when I was diagnosed. I bristled at the idea, I felt like I was still a useful person and could work, if I could find a job. Eventually, I did get a job and I’ve been working ever since. I think the main idea for me going on disability at the time was that I could go on medicare. Looking back, I probably couldn’t have gotten disability benefits at all, or if I did, it would have taken quite a while for them to kick in.

I think a lot of my reaction came from growing up with lots of stories of fraudsters trying to get out of work. My mother faced a seemingly never-ending stream of people faking injuries and incapacitation.  I was doing some research into disability insurance when all of those stories came flooding back to me. One of the advice forums about disability insurance was filled with dodgy claims. The most egregious was a guy claiming PTSD from being fired from his last job. Really?

I know I shouldn’t let it get to me, but I really don’t want to be lumped in with people like that. I’ll admit to having days where I don’t think I’ll be able to keep working and I understand the temptation to give up and claim disability. Two things have kept me from going there. First of all, there would be a substantial pay cut. I have insurance, but it would still be a 30% cut in pay. The way disability insurance works, they will pay you a certain percentage of your salary and when you go on social security disability, they will pay the difference between what SS pays and the percentage of your pay. The main reason I dont want to go on disability ‘s that I just don’t believe that everyone else should pay because I have a hard time at work. So far, my awful days come and then they go. I can work, and I’m pretty damn good at what I do. If I get to the point where I just can’t work at all, I’ll have to go on disability. Let’s hope that day never comes….


PTSD from getting fired? I’m still pissed about that…

economics free market freedom

Thinking in aggregates (corporations aren’t people)

Mit Romney has been getting some press for his “Corporations are people” blurb. Lots of people are mocking him, pointing out the obvious, that corporations are not people. The irony is that the people mocking him are missing the point. Not only that, they are assuming that corporations are people after a fashion. Let me explain…

What Romney was trying to say was that corporations are made up of people and anything that is done to a corporation eventually ends up affecting the people that make up that corporation. The people mocking him are essentially assuming that a corporation is a stand alone entity. They think they can tax it and regulate its speech without affecting actual people. To my mind it is yet another example of being sucked into the fallacy of aggregates being tangible things. And like all of the other examples of that fallacy, acting against that fiction causes problems for actual people.

Paul Krugman is another great example. Whenever he claims that an alien invasion, or 9/11 would be good for us, he is thinking of GDP. GDP is an aggregate of production in a country. It is a loose proxy for economic activity. What he overlooks, and we should never forget, is that GDP is an aggregate measure that doesn’t tell us the first thing about prosperity. Trying to boost GDP can in fact have effects, and it might even make that measurement go up, but what does it really mean for all of us? If GDP gets a boost from rebuilding from a disaster, will anyone care?

I myself am guilty of talking about aggregates. How often do I rail against “the government” as if it were a single, monolithic thing? I should be more precise and bemoan the laws passed by congress, the unilateral action of the executive team in the White House, or the actions of the board of the Federal Reserve. It’s important to remember just how few people are actually moving things around for the rest of us. All of those groups try to co-opt us by saying that they are doing what they do for “the American people.” As if there were a simple group mind that is happy with the same things. They do what they do for the benefit of what they think the American people are, but how often do you or I agree with them?

And of course the most common aggregate fallacy of them all is all of the talk about “the economy.” There is no such thing. We are the economy. Each one of us, each action we take, every transaction we do, every act of cooperation with someone else, that’s what the economy is. There is no way we can sum all of that up with a single concept let alone a word. When you look at it like that, phrases like “The economy is depressed,” or, “The economy needs to be boosted” stop making sense. We need to respect the enormity of what we are summing up in that aggregate. The idea that a single action can improve all of the things that make up the economy is pure hubris.

Things are complicated. We like to sum things up for the sake of being concise, but we quickly lose what is actually being discussed. Language has a funny way of shaping our thoughts, we need to be careful about lumping too much into neat, orderly concepts because that rarely exists in the real world.

economics freedom

Reading again (political/economic stuff first)

After a protracted bout of not reading, I’m back to it. A friend gave me an iTunes card and instead of blowing it on music and TV shows (or show as it usually turns out) I bought some books. I feel very grown up… I got one new to me and an old favorite. I’m enjoying using iBooks on the iPad. I have been using an app called Stanza for most of my reading but I think I like the way iBooks looks better. There will be more purchases in the future. I am also finally getting around to a book I got for Christmas, one of the old fashioned kind.

So what am I reading? The recent ridiculousness in DC has me fuming and I have turned to a couple of books talking about politics, government and the decisions that come out of the process. First up is the old fashioned one, Hayek’s The Fatal Conceit. It is one of those books that I have always felt that I should read, but it is intimidating. Hayek wasn’t exactly the most scintillating of writers, but he was a very serious thinker. I’m only a few chapters into it, but he hasn’t disappointed so far. There are some really big ideas in there. A very short summary is that the book attempts to answer the question I’ve always had. Namely, why is socialism so attractive to so many people despite the obvious awful results that it brings about? So far, he has said that it comes down to the tension between small group dynamics, like the family, and large scale interactions that build societies. There is an inbuilt distrust of strangers and of more powerful tribes. That puts the worry about the tribe or the family in direct opposition to the things that lead to rising living standards. Hence, socialist ideas tend to sound attractive whereas allowing things to evolve without anyone’s control scares people. That’s his premise and it’s as good an explanation as I’ve ever heard. I’ll update as I go along.


I bought Murray Rothbard’s For a New Liberty because I had always heard that it was “the libertarian Bible” or some such like that. It was another book that I thought I should read. I have only read a couple of his essays, this is my first book by him. Everything I’ve read by him so far leaves me scratching my head about his “libertarian” label, he seems like a straight up anarchist. Anyway, he has some interesting things to say, especially when he puts things in a historical perspective. Libertarianism was the original “liberal.” The liberals back then were railing against the divine right of kings and the manipulations of people’s lives by him and his privileged merchants and guilds. Sometime in the 19th century the liberals joined with the powers that they had been fighting and we got the modern definition of liberal. Modern liberals invest rulers with lots of power and depend on politically connected merchants and guilds (corporations and unions) to help shape society the way they want it to be. Some things never change, and libertarianism is still as radical now as ever.

Rothbard uses some hand waving and conspiracy theories to explain why people have been following socialism in all it’s manifestations. I think Hayek has a much more nuanced and believable theory. To be fair, Rothbard glosses over that in a handful of paragraphs whereas Hayek dedicates an entire book to it. Anyway, I’m a little ways into it, I’ll see if there are any great revelations in it, his supporters would have you believe that it is the most amazing thing ever. We’ll see.

freedom odds and ends

Give directly, a great new charity

A little while ago, Tyler Cowan put together the principles of the ideal charity. You give money directly to people, that money has no strings attached, and they shouldn’t expect it. Giving directly reduces the non-charitable cost aspect of the donation. All charities have overhead, giving directly minimizes this. If the people arent expecting it, you have a much better chance of avoiding scams and corruption diverting the charitable donation.

It’s the second part that is so important, and it is also the part that so many people have problems with. Economists call things like food stamps, vouchers, etc. as “gifts in kind” and it has been known for a long time that they aren’t a very good way of giving aid if the primary aim is to help people. Poor people are like anyone else, they need money for different things. When you give cash, they can apply it to whatever their most urgent need is. It might in fact be food, but it could just as easily be paying off debts, legal help, maintanince, or even investing or savings.

“But they might spend it on drugs or prostitutes!” Yeah, they might. A former professor summed up that attitude with the sarcastic comment, “Oh, I like the poor, but I don’t trust them!” If we want the poor to get better, and if we want to help them, we have to allow them to make their own decisions and use money the way they need to. A more practical aspect of having no strings on the donation is that it saves the cost of monitoring them and enforcing the rules. The primary aspect of no strings donations should always be respecting who you are giving money to, it is supposed to be a charitable at after all.

GiveDirectly is a new charity based on these principles. They are working in Kenya right now because of the easy and inexpensive system for distributing cash via sim cards in place there. They are claiming a 90% effeciancy for donations. I am going to start using these guys for my monthly charitable donations along with my microfinancing thing thorugh Kiva. They are brand new, so there isn’t much information on the progran just yet, but I am willing to give it a try. I encourage you to do the same if you want to give aid directly to recipients!

freedom politics

In celebration of the 40th Anniversary of the war on drugs…

… a little joke.

Q: What’s the worst thing that could happen to a kid that tries pot?

A: He could go to jail.


We are now at a point where the treatment is far worse than the disease. The number of non-violent people languishing in prison for doing something that only effects them is truly sad. The violence that has arisen from the black market of banned substances is horrifying. The kicker is that the vast majority of all of these problems revolve around marijuana, cocaine, and heroin. Of the three, marijuana is, by far, the biggest one, and least dangerous. Even more outrageous, there are a multitude of even more dangerous substances, alcohol included, that are perfectly legal.

it’s time to end the war on people that do things to their body that the government doesn’t like. Ending the “war” is the humane thing to do, 40 years is way too long and we have ruined enough people’s lives.

culture financial freedom

Debt makes the world go down

Greece is teetering on the edge of default. They are also threatening to take down Spain, Portugal, Ireland and who knows who else. Iceland has already gone through the wringer. Japan is in bad shape, even before the earthquake came around they were on life support. In addition to that, the world continues to be caught in the throes of a recession that won’t go away. Home prices keep falling. What is the common denominator between all of these things? Debt.

There is both private and public debt, but that line has increasingly become blurred. Governments around the world promise more benefits than they can afford. When the bill comes due, they raise taxes to try to generate the funds necessary. Is that public debt? When the mortgage crisis hit, governments were quick to rush in and take care of bad debts. Is that private debt? The European countries that currently have the biggest problems don’t have the excuse of costly wars to use. They were just going about business as usual when all of a sudden, they couldn’t afford it any longer. Other countries like France, Germany, the UK, and the US are hoping to avoid getting to that point.

Debt puts you in a precarious position. You might be able to keep borrowing in order to pay current bills as long as nothing comes up. But then there’s an earthquake, a housing bubble pops, or your lenders simply decide you aren’t such a good risk after all. The further in debt you are, the less it takes to really screw you up.


Living debt free, or even with a surplus is obviously a better way to live, but few want to do that at any level. There are too many incentives to go into debt, not least of all the taxation of income from investment. Put tax breaks for home debt and forced low interest rates and you have the perfect combo to convince people to spend instead of save. I think absent screwed up incentives, people would save more and avoid debt.

Would the governments? Not they way they are structured now. Politicians will always have the incentive to promise people more for their votes. The only way around this is to set limits. I would like to set limits on what the government is involved in, but I would be happy with setting limits on what it can spend. Balanced budget anyone?

Debt is bad, debt is dangerous. At current levels, it will also be a big burden on the generations to come. We need to foster a culture of saving, not of debt.

culture freedom

Gays on TV and hypocrisy

The latest episode of Doctor Who had several references to gay characters. In both cases, they were couples, one was a married couple. Predictably, this has elicited cries of “Such ideas shouldn’t be in a children’s show!” The clear implication is that children shouldn’t be exposed to… you know, the kind of things that homosexuals do.




The hypocrisy is sickening. Gay couples are associated with sex, so they are not appropriate for children, but heterosexual couples are about love so they are positive influences. I think that it is very much like racism in that we don’t always realize the baggage we bring to depictions of people. For many people, they get uncomfortable about homosexuals because of what they “do.” Never mind that heterosexual couples engage in the same practices…


Here’s the thing, kids, watching a kids show, are not going to think of that. There is nothing scarring or dangerous about showing a couple engaged in couple banter. If you think that gays just shouldn’t be shown, that’s very close to saying that they shouldn’t exist. Gay people, whether you like it or not, do exist. It’s in everyone’s interest to see them in normal relationships. Pretending that they are some sort of exotic, deviant species does nobody any favors, especially children. Maybe if more adults stopped acting like children this world would be abetter place.