Friday, March 30, 2012

Only Capitalism can work for Mary

This is a fable adapted from a child's storybook. It involves three people living on an island, Jack, Tom, and Mary. Jack is industrious: he likes to work hard, to be industrious, to make things, to have a nice house, and to have excess reserves stored in the case of an emergency. Tom, on the other hand, is unlucky: his ventures fail more often than they succeed, and he is also afflicted by poor health and has no money. Mary is a free spirit: while she has the skill and intelligence to earn more than Jack ever could, she prefers leisure to labor and only earns enough to sustain herself and her love of camping, hiking, and artistry. Natural resources are abundant, and they all have equal amounts of time.

This is of course a very constructed setup designed to get to weed out as many extraneous elements as possible. If there really were only three people on one island then the three would all be working hard at basic survival, and there would be no money to speak of. The question of who the medicine for Tom is purchased from is also glossed over for the sake of setting up a simplified system to analyze basic roles. Jack spends his time acquiring wealth while Mary spends her time acquiring leisure.

Most economic systems concern themselves only with the question of how to take some "excess" wealth from Jack and give it to Tom on the basis that he needs it so badly. It has to be Jack on the basis that he is the only one with wealth enough to have some transferred to other people.

This scenario, when presented to progressives, presents a riddle to them, because at first they are only concerned with the relationship between Jack and Tom. That will be their first answer, that of course some wealth must be transferred from one to the other and anything else is unfair. So it has to be pointed out that they missed the most important part - how their system deals with Mary.

At first, the answer is that progressives accuse Mary of "going Galt," that her failure to work up to her potential was some sort of political protest. Mary is accused of failing to pay taxes and leeching off the system by using the roads that taxes are supposed to pay for.

But once it is pointed out that Mary doesn't work hard because she liked leisure and not for political reasons, the answer is that she obviously must come from an upper class white background in order to be able to choose to not work. Except that was also not in the original description, which failed to list her race or class but did mention she had only enough money to get by because of her greater desire for leisure.

Once all the distractions are dispensed with, and it is very clear that Mary is nothing more and nothing less than someone who simply prefers leisure to labor in spite of a greater potential if she applied herself, a very different picture of how progressives would handle her emerged.

The more progressive a person is, the more they feel it is proper to take from Jack and give to Tom. Interestingly, they also feel it is more proper to require Mary to work hard in spite of her desire not to in order to produce enough to give to Tom. It is seen as unfair that Jack alone is made miserable, in that his pleasure is enjoying the fruits of his labor and that is taken away from him. Mary must also be made miserable in that her leisure is also taken away from her and given to Tom.

When it is pointed out that this basically makes Mary a slave, because unlike Jack she actually desires to not work, rationalizations are offered that her freedom is not restricted because "what is forced in one sense may be freed in another; what is restricted in one place may be relieved elsewhere." The argument was actually offered that she is not made a slave. "Yes Mary must work. Liberty and freedom simply shift their point of emphasis." Ironically, the person arguing Arbeit macht frei was actually arguing in favor of socialism replacing capitalism, and not arguing in favor of fascism. Jack also allegedly benefits because his "mind is freed from material pursuits."

Socialists and Communists have no problem with forcing Mary to work, as her labor choices do not belong to her but belong to the people. Fascists have no problem either, as her labor choices do not belong to her but belong to the state. Corporatists would force Mary to work through debt slavery, forcing her to labor far more than she would otherwise choose to in order to pay off an impossible debt. Keynesians and Monetarists would shrink back from using force, but would instead use fiscal or monetary policy in order to "guide" her decisions into a more "productive" direction.

Only Capitalism, the economic system which is often accused of dehumanizing people and reducing them to nothing more than commodities, can recognize that Mary’s choice is valid. Only in Capitalism is it recognized that people work to their level of satisfaction, and that people have different levels of satisfaction. Only in a free market is Mary able to work enough to get by because of her greater desire for leisure. And that is why only Capitalism is the only moral economic system.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Stand Your Ground Laws

The killing of Trayvon Martin is a tragedy. Also the average person does not know all of the facts of what happened in that encounter. But based on what is known one conclusion can be immediately drawn: the "Stand Your Ground" law that exists in Florida is not to blame.

People are blaming that law, and it appears that George Zimmerman may plan on using it as a defense if charges are brought against him.

A "Stand Your Ground" law only applies if the person doing the shooting does not initiate the encounter. That law only applies if the action is defensive. If someone initiates an encounter, and the confrontation escalates over the course of the encounter, there is still no interpretation that leaves defensive lethal force on the part of the person who initiated the encounter.

George Zimmerman, if the press reports are accurate, was trying to act as a neighborhood watch. At some point he confronted someone he thought was suspicious in his neighborhood. He initiated the encounter.

Those who are claiming this is the result of "Stand Your Ground" laws are deliberately obfuscating the issue. Their purpose can only be to argue against this particular aspect of self defense, so as to confine all defensive actions to those by the government on behalf of the people it allegedly protects. It is unfortunate that George Zimmerman is falling for that obfuscation as his doing so only adds fuel to those making the claim.

Vigilantism isn't the same as self defense, and "Stand Your Ground" and other related doctrines don’t apply to the vigilante. There are times when vigilantism is valid, but it should be clearly identified as such and not confused with a purely defensive action.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

An Economic Bump

A tiny bump of economic good news has supporters of President Obama crowing about how this will guarantee his reelection. The conventional wisdom is that the best chance the Republican Party has of capturing the presidency is by running on the economy.

Although reports conflict on what is actually happening, the official numbers on unemployment have dipped slightly. If the CPI is to be believed, the number has actually dipped under 9% for the first time since 2008.

Running on this meager improvement in the economy would not be a good idea if the goal is to win in November. In spite of statistical improvements and a climbing stock market, these improvements are not reflected in the experience of those outside the government-financial complex. It presents the Obama administration as detached and aloof, disconnected from the concerns of the average American. Ironically that is probably the campaign attack Obama wishes to use against Romney should Romney become the Republican nominee.

The thing to watch is inflation. The inflation that Austrians have been predicting (and Keynesians have laughed because it didn’t instantly appear) is arriving. It is expressing itself most heavily in energy prices at this time, above the rises that would be expected simply from the saber rattling going on. It is also expressing itself in the stock markets, but people consider that to be good when stocks are up.

President Obama will probably win in spite of the economy, not because of the economy. Hyping up his achievements with regards to the economy seems like an odd strategy as a result.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

How to defeat some forms of electronic surveillance

There are more and more ways that people are under surveillance, but here are some simple ways this can be countered.

RFID is a big topic. It takes the form of small chips implanted in various forms of identification. If the identification does not have any necessary magnetic information, then simply putting it in the microwave for a few seconds will effectively and permanently disable the RFID chip.

If they are installed on a credit card, where the magnetic strip contains valuable information, then a more crude solution is necessary: put a thick piece of cloth, flannel will do, underneath and on top of the ID card, and then hit the spot with the chip with a hammer. The goal is to destroy the chip without destroying the card, and that is actually a fairly simple task.

With regards to the Backscatter X-Ray or the Millimeter Wave scanners used by the Transportation Security Agency, there are a few solutions. The simplest involves the choice of clothing that can be worn. Clothing made of lamé would scramble some of the signals, and also leather offers some resistance because the radiation theoretically does not penetrate the skin. A blogger recently found another flaw by having any metal sewn into pockets on the side of garments.

GPS tracking is actually absurdly easy to defeat, because it is a device that is easily removed from a vehicle. For maximum benefit, if a tracker is found, it should be mailed to a random address in a foreign country. The person who was tracked should claim no knowledge at all of any GPS tracking unit if following this plan. Meanwhile, since the FBI is supposed to be in charge of domestic intelligence actions and the CIA is supposed to be in charge of all international intelligence actions one can sit back and watch the turf war while the US government has to request the recipient nation kindly return the GPS unit.

The new Smart Meters being deployed by power companies also have a safe and effective way of defeating their transmission capability. All it takes is to build a Faraday cage around the meter. In order to avoid any legal hassles the ability to physically read the meter should not be impaired, so that the power company still has the same options for reading the meter as they did with the original analog meters.

Since these meters transmit their data to the power companies over what appears to be frequencies similar to cell phone frequencies a Faraday Cage will completely block those signals. It does not require the cage to touch the meter in any way at all, so there can be no questions of tampering with the meter. It is impossible to tamper with the meter if one doesn’t touch it or transmit any data to it. A visual reading doesn’t contain the hour by hour (or in some cases minute by minute) readout that is another offending feature of Smart Meters.

A Faraday Cage has one more benefit. It prevents the meter from communicating with compatible technology, most importantly the air conditioning unit. There will be no way for the meter to instruct an air conditioner to shut off.

These are only some solutions. The full number of solutions is as wide as human imagination.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

The Mafia Fallacy

The question is asked: if the government were to recede wouldn't some other organization promptly take over? In earlier incarnations of this fallacy the "other organization" discussed was often the Mafia or other organized crime syndicates. It has since been updated to discuss "the corporations" taking over, and sometimes even specific corporations such as Blackwater / Xe. Since the argument started by using the Mafia, and that is the version closest to having a sensible basis to argue from, the fallacy should be named in honor of the Mafia.

With regards to corporations it is actually an absurd question. First of all, corporations as they exist today exist because of government charter. Without the government, corporations as we know them would not exist. Blackwater is even more special because it would not exist unless the government is itself imperial, as a company like Blackwater would not exist without government as a customer. It is, essentially, an adjunct of government. The powers that corporations have that are abused are powers that were granted by the government.

Corporations, with the power not abused, are there to conduct peaceful voluntary transactions with willing customers. How could they "take over" with that sort of mindset? And what exactly are the critics thinking of when they make that claim? With corporations form police forces and require people to purchase their goods?

That is why the original claim, about organized crime syndicates such as the Mafia, makes a better argument. The classic "protection money" correlates very well to paying taxes. But an analysis of organized crime reveals some flaws even in this.

The primary revenue source of organized crime is engaging in black market activities, the sale of goods or services that are illegal In the 1920s that included alcohol. When alcohol was no longer banned open competition drove organized crime out of that market. When alcohol was banned, competition took place in the form of territorial jurisdiction, while legal goods compete in terms of price and quality.

In the event of a government drawback the primary revenue source of organized crime will disappear. The primary criminal black markets - drugs, gambling, sex - will not have government restrictions. That leaves only the classic activity of protection money as a potential activity for organized crime.

Shakedowns, protection money, unauthorized taxation, that is the point which shows that the fallacy can only work when someone is ready and willing to use coercive force, and why criminal organizations may do this and why discussing corporations makes a much weaker fallacy.

The reason that organized crime is able to do shakedowns is because of their subversion of the police, how officers will look the other way at criminal activity. An individual who attempts to fight back against organized crime will find no help from the agencies that are supposed to assist.

But it has a very small economic return. Government is inherently an unprofitable activity. The shakedowns, under current criminal activities, augment the income of the crime syndicates and are not a major source of revenue. Depriving organized crime of black market revenue while allowing people to defend themselves from shakedown enforcers will make even the Mafia have a hard time instituting a new government.

It isn't impossible, but it is far more difficult than is assumed by those committing the fallacy, and it is only possible for criminal gangs and not the corporations. Not even Blackwater.