Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Well, let me introduce you to some of my friends…

"Hence even the most committed free-market economist would readily admit that governments have a role in providing pure public goods." -- Francis Fukuyama, Political Order and Political Decay, p. 55

Well, Rothbard/Hoppe/Block says that would not be permitted!

One very curious ancap habit is to declare what would actually transpire in ancapistan by looking in some book by an ancap writer. So, for instance, when asked "Would there be IP rights in ancapistan?" they look in Block's work and answer, "Well, Walter Block says 'no,' so, no."

But Walter Block will not be the king of ancapistan, so how he thinks ancapistan ought to work is almost completely irrelevant as to how it will work. To answer that question, we should look to the interests of those with the most money to pay defense agencies to get the rules that they want. And once we do that, we can see that almost certainly ancapistan will have stronger IP rights than we do at present: the large corporations that own those rights today can pay a hell of a lot more to have them enforced and enforced more strongly than they are today, than Stephan Kinsella and his coalition of 50 anti-IP activists can pay to have them done away with.

Incentives matter, but according to ancaps, apparently they will no longer matter in the earthly paradise of ancapistan.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

If it's not your body it's not your decision

I saw a bumpersticker declaring this on a car in a parking lot today. Presumably, this bumper sticker was meant to make an argument in favor of abortion rights. But it is a very shallow argument: all anti-abortion folks have to do to refute it is to note that the fetus's body is not the mother's body.

I don' for a moment pretend this post has definitively resolved this issue: I am merely noting a very bad argument for abortion rights.

In ancapistan, if you have no property, you have no rights

Ancaps often declare, "All rights are property rights."

I was thinking about this the other day, in the context of running into libertarians online who insisted that libertarianism supports "the freedom of movement," and realized that this principle actually entails that people without property have no rights at all, let alone any right to "freedom of movement."

Of course, immediately, any ancap readers still left here are going to say, "Wait a second! Everyone owns his own body! And so everyone at least has the right to not have his body interfered with." Well, that is true... except that in ancapistan, one has no right to any place to put that body, except if one owns property, or has the permission of at least one property owner to place that body on her land. So, if one is landless and penniless, one had sure better hope that there are kindly disposed property owners aligned in a corridor from wherever one happens to be to wherever the nearest charitable homeless shelter is located.

Or consider the position of a lone poor person, owning a shack and a small patch of land, in the midst of an area that has attracted many rich people: let's call him "Jeb." (When I lived in Weston, CT, I saw such situations: despite Weston being one of the wealthiest towns in the nation, there were still little patches of "Swamp Yankee" housing remaining from the days when Weston was a poor backwater.) The wealthy landowners want Jeb gone, since his shack is an eyesore and brings down property values. But Jeb likes where he lives, and doesn't want to sell. Under standard ancap doctrine, per say, Rothbard, the wealthy landowners literally have the right to starve Jeb to death should he fail to sell, since once they have him surrounded, they can refuse to let him off of his land. (We can even imagine that Jeb's land abuts a privately owned road, but even then, the wealthy landowners can simply pay the road owner to refuse Jeb passage on his road, unless he agrees to sell his land to them.)

It is very strange to characterize such a regime as embodying "freedom of movement"!

UPDATE: I removed "Block" from the sentence with "standard ancap doctrine," as KP notes that Block forbids this.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The computer does not give partial credit

I am working with a student on a programming project at present. I can see that he needs to make a fundamental shift in his mentality in terms of working on a project like this, as opposed to the sort of things he's used to doing in school. He is a smart guy, but he is used to thinking things through part way, and getting close to the idea, and having professors tell him "not bad."

But the computer never tells you "not bad." You either got the code right, and it does what you wanted it to, or you got it wrong. Something very close to the right code can often produce results wildly off from the right results. The computer does not give partial credit.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Wouldn't it be ironic…

if in some future, garbled version of the history of our time, historians described it as follows:

"Around the year 2000, humanity faced a crisis: a new ice age, more terrible than those before, was about to put the world in a deep freeze. Luckily, the far-sighted people of that era had foreseen this looming disaster, and, in a valiant effort to avert it, frantically burned fossil fuels at an incredible rate in order to keep temperatures higher than they would have been otherwise. Thanks to their valiant efforts, humanity narrowly pulled through the frozen centuries that followed."

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The genius of Thomas Schelling

I am rereading Micromotives and Macrobehavior, as I am supervising the senior thesis of a student who is writing agent-based models drawn from this book. I must say, if there is a superior analysis of what models are and what they are good for, I do not know of it.

The red tribe and the blue tribe

Scott Alexander has a great piece on tolerance and the red and blue tribes.

Among other things, it explains what Noah Smith meant when he said that "white" people move out into the country so they can be around only other "white" people. At the time, I had remarked that there were plenty of non-white people at my local redneck bar the very night that I read his post. But as Alexander points out, "white" is used as a code word by the blue tribe for members of the red tribe. So Smith was, in a sense, correct: The blacks and Hispanics who hang out at that bar drive pick up trucks, own guns, go hunting, and watch NASCAR races. This makes them members of the red tribe, and thus "white" in this classification scheme. And right as I was reading Alexander's piece, I was sitting in a Chinese restaurant with a black couple two tables away. The guy was chatting with the (white) people at the next table, and saying, pointing at the TV, "How great is this? Chinese food and NASCAR on the TV!" He was displaying his red tribe bona fides to fellow tribe members!

A very interesting point from Alexander's essay: far more white Democrats and Republicans reported that they would be upset by their child marrying someone of the other party than said they would by him or her marrying someone who was black.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The persistence of false ideas

This is been a running theme of this blog, but sometimes, readers might suspect that I have been biased in my accounts here: perhaps Gene notes the falsity of the typical view of the Middle Ages simply because he is sympathetic to religion, or contends that the typical understanding of Berkeley is false because he is sympathetic to idealism.

But tonight I offer a case in which I cannot see that the persistent falsehood has any religious, ideological, or social implications, and yet it just goes on and on: The idea that Einstein's formula E=mc2 explains the power of atomic and nuclear weapons. Here is a good version of the true story. The true story has been pointed out again and again, yet the falsehood just keeps circulating: tonight I read it in a recently published Italian history book. Once a falsehood becomes popular, it is seemingly almost impossible to eradicate it from the world of thought.

Does Siri have a political bias?

Just now, every time I tried to dictate the word "repellent," Siri instead put in "Republican."

Hmm, doesn't Apple contribute a lot to Democratic candidates? Very suspicious, I think.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Tibetan idealists are largely in agreement with the British idealists

"For instance, when reading the words on this page, we automatically tend to think that they exist independently from their own side. We do not take into consideration their relationship to ourselves, the factor of our consciousness, or our manner of perceiving them. Holding on to the concept of independent existence, we continue to read without awareness of the interdependence of things. This applies to all phenomena we perceive. However, this appearance of all external objects and of our own person as being independent entities is merely superficial and does not withstand analysis." -- Geshe Rabten and Geshe Dhargyey, Advice from a Spiritual Friend, pp. 41-42

Take that, Ken B.

"'Pilgrimage' implies piety and reverence. I have not had occasion here to mention my impatience with traditional piety, and my disdain for reverence where the object is supernatural... It is not because I wish to limit or circumscribe; not because I want to reduce or downgrade the true reverence with which we are moved to celebrate the universe, once we understand it properly... My objection to supernatural beliefs is precisely that they miserably fail to do justice to the grandeur of the real world." -- Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor's Tale, pp. 613-614

So, the "real world," not any theory about the real world, is, for Dawkins, the object of a "pilgrimage," worthy of "piety" and "reverence," and praised for its "grandeur." But I predict this attitude would immediately disappear if someone notes how grand this indicates its source must be: "What?! Can't you see how wasteful evolution is?! Red in tooth and claw?" etc. etc.

What do you think of that, Ken? Not only do I own a book by Dawkins, I have read it start to finish and can remember where to find quotes in it! (And it is actually an excellent book for the 600+ pages where it avoids philosophy.)