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Rothbard vs. Induction

Murray Rothbard rejects induction! An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought (emphasis added):

This prolific statesman and writer [Francis Bacon], with great fanfare and self-advertisement, in a series of books from the 1600s to the 1620s, set forth a series of injunctions about the proper method of scientific inquiry into the world, including social as well as natural sciences. Essentially, Bacon wrote numerous exhortations to everyone else to engage in detailed factual investigation into all life, all the world, all human history. Francis Bacon was the prophet of primitive and naive empiricism, the guru of fact-grubbing. Look at ‘the facts’, all ‘the facts’, long enough, he opined, and knowledge, including theoretical knowledge, will rise phoenix-like, self-supporting and self-sustained, out of the mountainous heap of data.

Although he talked impressively about surveying in detail all the facts of human knowledge, Bacon himself never came close to fulfilling this monstrous task. Essentially, he was the meta-empiricist, the head coach and cheerleader of fact-grubbing, exhorting other people to gather all the facts and castigating any alternative method of knowledge. He claimed to have invented a new logic, the only correct form of material knowledge – ‘induction’ – by which enormous masses of details could somehow form themselves into general truths.

This sort of ‘accomplishment’ is dubious at best. Not only was it a prolegomenon to knowledge rather than knowledge itself; it was completely wrong about how science has ever done its work. No scientific truths are ever discovered by inchoate fact-digging. The scientist must first have framed hypotheses; in short, the scientist, before gathering and collating facts, must have a pretty good idea of what to look for, and why. Once in a while, social scientists get misled by Baconian notions into thinking that their knowledge is ‘purely factual’, without presuppositions and therefore ‘scientific’, when what this really means is that their presuppositions and assumptions remain hidden from view.

I wonder what, if any of this, Rothbard got from Popper. The book is from 1995, decades after Popper had explained this.


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Eli Goldratt Screencasts

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Rothbard's Bad Scholarship on Godwin and Popper

I know some bad things about Murray Rothbard (like his view that abortion is justified by the property rights of the mother against a trespasser, his belief that children are property and that parents are not obligated to feed their children, his attack on Objectivism, and his anti-semitism). But I've seen some merit in his work on economics, and I've begun reading his book An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought. I mostly like it so far, but one must be careful not to trust everything. A particularly interesting part, to me, was the discussion of Aristotle, which I thought was good. It was a lot like what Objectivists say about Aristotle. I don't know how much this is because of Rothbard's knowledge of Objectivism, and how much it's a standard non-Objectivist view. Reading about Aristotle on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Encyclopaedia Britannica, or Wikipedia is rather different than the Objectivist or Rothbardian interpretation. I tried to google for material on Aristotle similar to the Objectivist view, and found this page ... but I checked and the authors are Objectivists.

Here are some new Rothbard errors I've discovered (italics in quotes are added by me, unless noted):

The continual progress, onward-and-upward approach was demolished for me, and should have been for everyone, by Thomas Kuhn's famed Structure of Scientific Revolutions.[5] [italics in original]

See the replies to Kuhn by Karl Popper and by David Deutsch. (Deutsch's writing on this subject is more accessible and more general, so it's what I'd recommend first if you're interested.)

Related to Kuhn (a critic of Popper) is Rothbard's completely false hostility to Popper in The Present State of Austrian Economics:

For my purposes, I am ignoring the allegedly wide gulf between the earlier positivists with their “verifiability” criterion and the Popperites and their emphasis on “falsifiability.” For those far outside the logical empiricist camp, this dispute has more of the appearance of a family feud than of a fundamental split in epistemology. The only point of interest here is that the Popperites are more nihilistic and therefore even less satisfactory than the original positivists, who at least are allowed to “verify” rather than merely “not falsify.”

Popper is not a positivist, nor similar to one. This is totally ignorant, yet he writes about it professionally (rather than being aware of his ignorance and leaving this matter to others).

Going back to An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought, I searched it for discussion of Godwin and Burke, who are thinkers where I could readily judge the quality of Rothbard's work, offhand, from my own expertise. Burke isn't mentioned at all, which is an error in a detailed book which gives attention to many lesser known figures. (Burke is fairly well known in general, but not for his comments on economics, even though he made many of them.) Rothbard did very extensive research for this book, but somehow omitted Burke. An example of Burke's relevance, from an 1800 biography of Burke, which has been quoted in many more recent books:

[Adam] Smith, [Burke] said, told him, after they had conversed on subjects of political economy, that he was the only man, who, without communication, thought on these topics exactly as he did.

Adam Smith is a major focus of Rothbard's attention, so Burke was worth discussing at least a little.

Rothbard's treatment of Godwin was much worse. He brings up Godwin briefly in relation to Malthus and makes egregious errors:

In his Utopian belief in the perfectibility of man

The "perfectibility" of man is not a Utopian belief, it means that man can be improved without limit (without reaching an end to progress), not that man can or will reach perfection. The improvement includes both improvement of ideas and of technology. This is a major theme of Deutsch's The Beginning of Infinity, which is titled for this theme and includes Godwin in the bibliography.

William Godwin, on the other hand, was the world's first anarcho-communist, or rather, voluntary anarcho-communist. For Godwin, while a bitter critic of the coercive state, was an equally hostile critic of private property.

That's just not what Godwin says in his material on property in Political Justice.

Godwin believed, not that private property should be expropriated by force, but that individuals, fully using their reason, should voluntarily and altruistically divest themselves of all private property to any passer-by.

Rothbard doesn't provide any quote or citation for this false claim. I will, nevertheless, offer some quotes from Political Justice to refute it, from book 8 (of 8), Of Property.

Of property there are three degrees.

The first and simplest degree is that of my permanent right in those things the use of which being attributed to me, a greater sum of benefit or pleasure will result than could have arisen from their being otherwise appropriated. It is of no consequence, in this case, how I came into possession of them, the only necessary conditions being their superior usefulness to me, and that my title to them is such as is generally acquiesced in by the community in which I live. Every man is unjust who conducts himself in such a manner respecting these things as to infringe, in any degree, upon my power of using them, at the time when the using them will be of real importance to me.

It has already appeared[1] that one of the most essential of the rights of man is my right to the forbearance of others; not merely that they shall refrain from every thing that may, by direct consequence, affect my life, or the possession of my powers, but that they shall refrain from usurping upon my understanding, and shall leave me a certain equal sphere for the exercise of my private judgement. This is necessary because it is possible for them to be wrong, as well as for me to be so, because the exercise of the understanding is essential to the improvement of man, and because the pain and interruption I suffer are as real, when they infringe, in my conception only, upon what is of importance to me, as if the infringement had been, in the utmost degree, palpable. Hence it follows that no man may, in ordinary cases, make use of my apartment, furniture or garments, or of my food, in the way of barter or loan, without having first obtained my consent.

The second degree of property is the empire to which every man is entitled over the produce of his own industry, even that part of it the use of which ought not to be appropriated to himself.

Godwin didn't think people should give away their property to random people, he thought they should have property rights but sometimes, due to rational argument, give some property, as a gift, to someone who had a better use for it. I think trade should be emphasized over gifts and that Godwin wasn't a great economist, but Godwin did support private property and the free market, and was an individualist.

It is not easy to say whether misery or absurdity would be most conspicuous in a plan which should invite every man to seize upon everything he conceived himself to want.... We have already shown,[3] and shall have occasion to show more at large,[4] how pernicious the consequences would be if government were to take the whole permanently into their hands, and dispense to every man his daily bread.

Note the anti-communism.

The idea of property, or permanent empire, in those things which ought to be applied to our personal use, and still more in the produce of our industry, unavoidably suggests the idea of some species of law or practice by which it is guaranteed. Without this, property could not exist. Yet we have endeavoured to show that the maintenance of these two kinds of property is highly beneficial.

Godwin supports the protection of property.

For, let it be observed that, not only no well informed community will interfere with the quantity of any man's industry, or the disposal of its produce, but the members of every such well informed community will exert themselves to turn aside the purpose of any man who shall be inclined, to dictate to, or restrain, his neighbour in this respect.

No one should interfere with anyone's property rights, and people who try to should be stopped.

The most destructive of all excesses is that where one man shall dictate to another, or undertake to compel him to do, or refrain from doing, anything (except, as was before stated, in cases of the most indispensable urgency) otherwise than with his own consent. Hence it follows that the distribution of wealth in every community must be left to depend upon the sentiments of the individuals of that community.

What more does Rothbard want from property rights than that men use their minds in order to use their property in the way they see fit? If Godwin had his way, the result would be a capitalist dream, not a communist society.

But, if reason prove insufficient for this fundamental purpose, other means must doubtless be employed.[9] It is better that one man should suffer than that the community should be destroyed. General security is one of those indispensable preliminaries without which nothing, good or excellent can be accomplished. It is therefore right that property, with all its inequalities, such as it is sanctioned by the general sense of the members of any state, and so long as that sanction continues unvaried should be defended, if need be, by means of coercion.

Godwin, an early anarchist of sorts, who hated violence, was still willing to recommend that the government use violence in defense of property rights, even for unjust types of property that were in existence at the time (think of feudalism and serfdom kinda stuff), let alone for property rights to the product of one's industry.

The arguments however that may be offered, in favour of the protection given to inheritance and testamentary bequest, are more forcible than might at first be imagined.

Godwin defends inheritance of property, too.

The first idea of property then is a deduction from the right of private judgement; the first object of government is the preservation of this right. Without permitting to every man, to a considerable degree, the exercise of his own discretion, there can be no independence, no improvement, no virtue and no happiness. This is a privilege in the highest degree sacred; for its maintenance, no exertions and sacrifices can be too great. Thus deep is the foundation of the doctrine of property. It is, in the last resort, the palladium of all that ought to be dear to us, and must never be approached but with awe and veneration.

The view of property as being implied from the right of private judgment is the best and most correct view of the matter. Godwin is a great liberal thinker, who Rothbard doesn't appreciate. Godwin is, in this respect, more (classical) liberal than Rothbard, and closer to Objectivism which also emphasizes reason in its defense of man's rights. (Objectivism says men have one fundamental right, the right to life, and this implies "the freedom to take all the actions required by the nature of a rational being". Property rights are the implementation of this.)

And let me repeat what that last sentence says, in more modern words (palladium means source of protection, safety or preservation): Property rights should always be approached with awe and veneration, because property rights are what protect everything good. Rothbard majorly failed at scholarship.

[Godwin] was, after all, not a scholar of population theory, and he had no immediately effective reply. It took Godwin all of two decades to study the problem thoroughly and come to an effective refutation of his nemesis. In On Population (1820), Godwin came to the cogent and sensible conclusion that population growth is not a bogey, because over the decades the food supply would increase and the birth rate would fall. Science and technology, along with rational limitation of birth, would solve the problem. ["On Population" is in italics in the original]

This falsehood about Godwin needing 20 years to figure out a reply to Malthus is refuted in Godwin's book, Of Population (Rothbard got the title wrong), in the preface:

I believed, that the Essay on Population, like other erroneous and exaggerated representations of things, would soon find its own level.

In this I have been hitherto disappointed. ... Finding therefore, that whatever arguments have been produced against it by others, it still holds on its prosperous career, and has not long since appeared in the impressive array of a Fifth Edition, I cannot be contented to go out of the world, without attempting to put into a permanent form what has occurred to me on the subject. I was sometimes idle enough to suppose, that I had done my part, in producing the book that had given occasion to Mr. Malthus's Essay, and that I might safely leave the comparatively easy task, as it seemed, of demolishing the "Principle of Population," to some one of the men who have risen to maturity since I produced my most considerable performance. But I can refrain no longer. "I will also answer my part; I likewise will shew my opinion: for I am full of matter; and the spirit within me constraineth me."

Godwin didn't reply immediately because he thought he'd done enough by writing Political Justice, and that someone else could handle the much easier task of refuting Malthus' bad ideas. This had nothing to do with Godwin needing 20 years of thought or research. Godwin underestimated how influential Malthus would turn out to be, and overestimated the ability of other thinkers to address the issue.


I will keep reading Rothbard anyway. I don't think there's a superior alternative, and I do think he's better about other thinkers that he researched more, especially when their focus is more on economics (Rothbard doesn't adquately understand Godwin's thinking about reason).


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1921 Capitalism/Socialism Debate

I comment on Debate Between E. R. A. Seligman, Affirmative, and Scott Nearing Negative (1921) (free ePub and PDF downloads are available from the gear menu at the top right). This was recommend by Mises in Liberalism: In the Classical Tradition (in the appendix "On the Literature of Liberalism").

The debate topic is That Capitalism has more to offer to the workers of the United States than has Socialism.

The format the debaters each speak three times: to explain their position, a rebuttal, and short closing remarks. The moderator gives a brief introduction first. My comments were written as I read through it, without knowing what's said later.

Moderator's Introduction

The (self-proclaimed) moderate moderator says:

the then Governor of the State [of New York], Alfred Smith, solemnly proposed no less than nine ultra-radical or Socialistic laws, including such things as the ownership, development and operation of all water powers by the state, maternity insurance, the municipal operation of all public utilities, the taking over of the medical and nursing professions to the extent of supply ing doctors and nurses to rural communities now destitute of such aid, the declaration that production and distribution of milk are a public utility subject to the control of the State in all details, and State-owned and operated grain elevators in three cities, precisely after the manner of the Nonpartisan League plans in North Dakota. I have long thought that "Al" Smith was a wonderful man, but I do not know of anything in his career that is more wonderful than the fact that he got away with these proposals without even being denounced as a Socialist by the New York Times. Of course, he did not get what he asked, but the point is that if the Governor of North Dakota were to come out tomorrow and demand these things, the New York Times would shriek with anger and declare that Bolshevising of America was at hand.

I thought it was interesting how different the NYT was then, at least by reputation (he's saying the NYT did not complain about radical socialism, in this case, but he expected them to, in general). It's also notable what sorts of socialist policies were being proposed in the US around 1920.

Al Smith was governor of New York four times, and was the Democrat candidate for president in 1928. Wikipedia says that when he badly lost the presidential election, he carried the Deep South (that's notable in terms of how the electoral map has changed). To think Al Smith "was a wonderful man", while knowing he had made such proposals, is clear partisan bias from this moderator who claims to be a moderate supporter of capitalism.

All of which, I think, proves my case that the Socialistic experiment in greater or less degree is going to be undertaken by the world. In the ardent hope that it may produce a better world than we have been living in, my plea today is, as I have said, not for Socialism, but for a careful examination of this and all other proposals for the betterment of the race which is so badly off, that, for all we know, civilization may not recover from the shock of this war. [emphasis added]

People today don’t take seriously how bad and destructive the world wars were, especially WWI.

The moderator then quotes the (self-proclaimed) conservative, individualist, anti-socialist Hammond Lamont, who thinks debate over socialism may help educate the populace, even though it’s a mistaken idea, as he says debate over free silver coinage did. He's confident in reason winning out in debate. He adds:

For one thing, Socialism is eminently a peace movement; it is steadily opposed to militarism; and it will thus help us to see more clearly the silliness of the huge naval and military expenditures in which we seem bound to rival the groaning nations of Europe.

Foolish! Socialism has so much blood on its hands, and its consequences were always foreseeable. Mises published Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth (which refutes socialism) in 1920, long before Stalin, Mao, etc. And how can a movement be peaceful when its goal is to take huge amounts of property (all property used in economic production) from its current owners?

Capitalist Argument

The pro-capitalism guy, Seligman, goes first. Notes on what he says:

  • Capitalism is private, individual ownership of the means of production (mainly machines).
  • Socialism has many varieties. Their theme is group ownership of the means of production.
  • The attitudes of capitalist people vary, but the capitalist system itself is progressive. (He thinks even slavery and serfdom were "progressive" institutions because they were different at later times than earlier times. I disagree.)
  • We must analyze what wealth each system produces, not just how much it distributes to workers.
  • Marx said that under capitalism the rich get richer while the poor get poorer, but factually this is incorrect and both groups have gotten richer. Important socialists recognized Marx was wrong about this.
  • Marx thought that capital accumulation caused periodic, worsening crises, but he was wrong. The economic panics of 1818, 1837, 1857 and 1873 got progressively worse, but then the ones in 1884, 1894, and 1907 got progressively less bad.
  • Marx thought the most developed capitalist country is where socialism would come, but it came in Russia not USA, so he was mistaken.

What are the achievements of capitalism?

  • The accumulation of wealth, regardless of owner, has made the worker's life better, e.g. by providing him with railway transportation (including trolleys for commuting to work), libraries and museums.
  • Diversification of consumption: bread from North Dakota wheat; meat from the Western US states or Argentina; tea from Cathay; sugar from Cuba or the Far East; tobacco from Sumatra or the Orient; leather shoes from Siberian, Russian or South American hides; wool from Australia; soap from Africa; Pittsburg iron for commuter trolleys, refined from ore from Western states.
  • Capitalism brought real democracy. The greeks had sham democracy because they had slaves. England was an aristocracy, not a democracy, in 1776. In 1800, New York was run by great families just like in England. [This point is short and I don't think it's explained well.]
  • Liberty of movement, as against serfs bound to the soil.
  • Capitalism is the source of education and science. Our public schools are flawed but still amazing compared to human history. The Greeks and Arabs had some science, but capitalism brought us modern science because "the modern business man in order to succeed must know the secrets of nature. He must secure the proof and in order to get the proof he must employ and utilize those forms of organized investigation which we call science."

Weaknesses of capitalism?

Because capitalism is progressive, the weaknesses are being reformed.

A weakness is "unfair competition between businesses and human beings". As explanation, he names Jay Gould and Jim Fiske, who have robber baron reputations today, who he says would be unthinkable today (in 1921). He says the Interstate Commerce Commission is regulating the issue of financial instruments related to railroads and "such things" will be impossible in the future. He concludes this point with:

What President Roosevelt did, among all his many accomplishments, was to so change certain forms of unfair competition as to make them more difficult. Society under modern capitalism, is gradually rendering competition more and more fair.

[It's hard for me to evaluate this without knowing about Gould or Fiske in particular. Some alleged robber barons were great men, but some really were bad. I also don't know enough about 1920's politics to know what sorts of "unfair competition" are being talked about here.]

Second weakness: some unjust privileges and monopolies exist, but when recognized they are counteracted, e.g. by the "trade commission" [presumably government regulation].

In the third place, I should say that modern capitalism does result in exaggerated fortunes. The development of a leisure class has its bad sides at a time when everyone ought to be working.

Ugh, the pro-capitalism guy, recommended by Mises, is so much worse than Mises. He dislikes wealth inequality instead of being more like Mises' student, George Reisman, who wrote: How The 1 Percent Provides The Standard Of Living Of The 99 Percent. (It's only 99¢ and 14 pages.) Continuing the same quote:

A generation ago, I wrote a book on Progressive Taxation and I was attacked on all sides by the reactionary and the standpatter on the ground that I was preaching confiscation. Nowadays, everyone, the capitalist like the others, not only believer in, but argues for, progressive taxation. We have today gone further in this country than in any other—perhaps as some of us think even too far—with a system that takes up to 69-73 per cent of a man's income and in some cases even more. Progressive taxation is a sign of what modern capitalism is doing to restrict some of its own evils.

My question at this point is why did Mises recommend this debate, when the supposed advocate of capitalism is such an awful traitor to capitalism? Mises wrote:

Also instructive is the record of the public debate held in New York on January 23, 1921, between E. R. A. Seligmann and Scott Nearing on the topic: “That capitalism has more to offer to the workers of the United States than has socialism.

You can learn something from this, sure (from the socialist as well, by seeing what he's like – especially because the equivocations considered necessary were different 100 years ago, so he openly says some things that socialists don't admit today). But it's so sad that Mises didn't have better things to recommend than this ignorant compromiser. If anyone would have known where to find better materials, it would have been Mises, so I'm concerned that they don't exist. (He did recommend other things as part of the literature of liberalism, for people who want to learn more, but this debate made the list, beating out everything not listed.)

Seligman goes on with further counter productive comments about working hours, then about wages:

Wages are by no means what they ought to be. Wages are certainly far less than they should be. But wages have been growing during the last hundred years indubitably, and starting In Australia, going on to England, and now proceeding in this country, we have the great minimum-wage movement which is gradually improving those conditions.

He says capitalism is making this better – including with minimum wage movements (which he apparently doesn't realize are anticapitalist price controls which make everyone less wealthy and especially hurt the poorer and less skilled workers). But his view of the matter is awful compared to Mises himself or Mises' student, George Reisman, as explained in Reisman's Marxism/Socialism, A Sociopathic Philosophy Conceived In Gross Error And Ignorance, Culminating In Economic Chaos, Enslavement, Terror, And Mass Murder: A Contribution To Its Death and my 10 educational videos covering that book.

Seligman goes on to praise government unemployment insurance, which he thinks will improve the capitalist problem that workers fear losing their jobs, and then he states his acceptance of the very nasty belief that working with machines is less enjoyable than previous non-industrial work. His defense, here, is that socialism will need machines too, and that capitalism shouldn't be blamed for the problems of machines, and that we're increasing leisure hours which make up for industrial work being unpleasant.

Seligman says despite his reservations about capitalism, he rejects socialism because:

  • Paying everyone equally, instead of paying for efficient production, results in less production. (He says even in Russia they had to have bonuses for good workers, and gave up on the equal pay that Lenin preached.)
  • Ricardo (who Mises praises) wrote fallacies (which aren't specified). But, somehow related to that, industrial leaders are rare and are valuable to society, and capitalism handles that better. Socialism would remove the incentive to be an industrial leader, or even to try to produce a little more than your neighbor, and it'd also limit the risks that industrial leaders would take to try to make a profit. Seligman says that under socialism people couldn't "afford" to take those risks, but doesn't explain why. I guess, from the word "afford", that he has in mind that socialism wouldn't let some businessmen get rich enough that they could afford to lose a lot of money without ruining their lives.
  • Various (unspecified) socialists have admitted their system would restrict freedom.

Socialist Argument

The moderator introduces and praises Nearing, the socialist debater, but did not introduce or praise Seligman previously. This is biased and unfair. Nearing apparently went to court to defend his free speech rights to argue for socialist ideas, even during war time (World War I).

Nearing agrees about what capitalism and socialism are. Note the mention of no private profits:

He [Seligman] has defined capitalism as that form of industrial organization where the means of production, primarily the machines, are in the control of private individuals. He has defined socialism as the control of capital in the hands of the group and under it there shall be no room for private rent, interest or profit. [emphasis added, and FYI Nearing means economic rent, he's not saying that you couldn't charge rent for an apartment]

I appreciate the clarity from Nearing, even though he's mistaken, and he continues with more clarity:

I want to try to demonstrate to you that under capitalism the worker has to accept, first, intermittent starvation, second, slavery and third, war.…

… Under the present system of society, a little group of people own resources, machines, capital, all of the machinery upon which forty million workers depend for their living. That is, the capitalist owns the job. The capitalist owns the job without which the worker dies of starvation. The worker therefore must go to the capitalist and ask for permission to work.

I would say the businessman created the job which allowed forty million workers to be born and fed, and they wouldn't be alive without the businessman. Without businessmen who saved wealth and invested it in machines, there'd be far fewer people. A low-technology society with large numbers of self-employed persons (mostly farmers) can only feed so many people on a given area of land (who are slaves to Nature – they must work or Nature will starve them to death). The reason there are more workers than can have their own land to farm, or otherwise be self-employed, is because capitalism enabled them to be alive at all. The reason most workers seem bound to seek jobs is because those jobs are the only reason they can be alive at all. They should be grateful for the jobs which gave them life, and that they live in a society where they can improve their life situation, where capitalism has provided upward mobility through many means other than military success.

Besides, the businessmen compete for workers. Wages are set by supply and demand. Workers need jobs, sure, but businesses also need workers. The buyers of labor compete with each other, in the market, just as the sellers of labor do. Nearing is ignorant of how supply and demand set prices. This is covered in Reisman's Marxism/Socialism book linked above (which refutes Marx's iron law of wages), and my videos on it, and in detail in my educational discussion teaching Andy why minimum wage is bad and how the free market determines wages, and of course in the books of Mises and in Reisman's Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics.

I hope Seligman has a decent rebuttal to this point. He should at least know how supply and demand set the price of labor, I hope.

Nearing continues with details rather than arguing further his claims that workers ask permission to work instead of negotiating. He says the 1918 tax returns showed that only 14 families in 1000 had $10,000+/yr income, which he says isn't very much money. Then he says it's only 4 in 1000 – I think the 4 or the 14 must be a transcription error in the book, not Nearing's fault. He says he unfortunately couldn't get statistics for how much wealth people own, just the income numbers. Nearing says that because a handful of people own the "railroads, the banks, manufactories, mining and other establishments", the workers are slaves. He says that 26% of school children are underfed, while some document that isn't available says that businessmen made hundreds or thousands of percent profit in one year (1917). And he keeps saying Marxist things (refuted by Mises and Reisman) about how the worker has to produce his bread and also produce a surplus profit for the capitalist who doesn't labor for it.

Nearing also says that businessman accumulated too much surplus from the workers, and they wanted to "burn" it and "dispose of it", and World War I gave them a chance to dispose of surplus wealth, and exports gave them a chance, and now without those chances they are firing workers. He doesn't explain this nonsense, he's basically just ranting. Here's a part that's meant to be more of an argument than the smears about WWI:

I got a report from the New York State Industrial Commission this week: 643,000 men and women out of work in New York State. What have they done? Why, they cannot have work. But what have they done? Why, they have produced too much. They have created too great a surplus. They must wait to produce more until this surplus is consumed. Can they consume it? No! Because they did not receive enough wages to buy it back.

But that isn't how economics works. You don't get fired for producing too much. I'd refute it in more detail, but he (so far) doesn't give detail about why he thinks this. Nearing continues with the barrage of claims, including more statistics and factoids, rather than trying to explain reasoning about how he thinks economics works. He's a demagogue, riling up the audience and getting applause and laughter (which are repeatedly mentioned in the text in parentheses). He reminds me of Roman demagogues like Publius Clodius Pulcher, and the role of the mob in Roman life.

Nearing says what socialists want is to own things like coal mines themselves, rather than be poor in the richest country ever to exist, and he wants everything priced with no surplus/profit. But he says he doesn't want to stress that, he wants to focus on the essential issue: accusing capitalism of being a system of slavery.

The employing class owns the Press, the economic power centering in the banks, schools, pulpit, press, movie screen, all the power of wide-spread propaganda now. "When we have something to sell to the American people, we know how to sell it." Slavery—going to the boss and asking for the privilege of a job;—slavery—sending your child to school and having him pumped full of virulent propaganda in favor of the present system (Great applause). Slavery in every phase of life all tied up under this one banker's control. Is it true that no man is good enough to rule another man without that man's consent?

My take: Nearing has complaints about society, some correct, some incorrect. People find his speeches appealing because they agree with some of his complaints. He doesn't know anything about economics (and neither does his audience). Socialism would only make things much worse (giving one employer, the group in charge of the means of production, a monopoly. Today, if one employer doesn't like you, you can find a job elsewhere. A monopoly on all the jobs, as socialism proposes, would only make the employment situation worse.) But I'll have to see what he says when he gets to talking about socialism instead of just criticizing his current society (without paying attention to which thing she doesn't like are due to capitalism, and which have other causes).

The employing class owns the Press, the economic power centering in the banks, schools, pulpit, press, movie screen, all the power of wide-spread propaganda now. "When we have something to sell to the American people, we know how to sell it." Slavery—going to the boss and asking for the privilege of a job;—slavery—sending your child to school and having him pumped full of virulent propaganda in favor of the present system (Great applause). Slavery in every phase of life all tied up under this one banker's control. Is it true that no man is good enough to rule another man without that man's consent?

If you want ownership, then save money and start buying businesses – as a big group, if you wish. People are free to do that. They choose not to – then some of them (the socialists) want to take businesses by force.

People may assume this is unrealistic, but let's glance at the numbers:

The U.S. Stock Market Is Now Worth $30 Trillion (Jan 2018)

Moreover, the run-up in value since President Donald Trump was elected is some $6.6 trillion, in just about 14 months. That’s half the entire gain seen under the eight years under President Barack Obama.

So it was $23.4 trillion 14 months ago, and around $10.2 trillion 8 years before that.

Now let's look at total US salaries: 16.5 trillion for 2017 – people get paid the whole value of the stock market in 2 years (and it was more like 1 year back in 2009). Yeah people have to pay taxes and living expenses and stuff, but basically the workers could buy all the stocks in under a generation if they really wanted to – without any of the violence of a socialist revolution. If workers saved 10% of their salary, then currently they could buy all the stocks in around 20 years – not counting any dividends they'd get from owning some of the stocks partway through. Workers as a whole don't do this because they each individually think they're better off buying other things rather than having more ownership of capital – though plenty of workers already do have investments which sum to a large total. (I don't trust this number at all, but Time reported last year that the bottom 90% of the population, in terms of wealth, already own 16% of the stocks. Time's spin was that the rich control everything, but I think 16% ownership is a lot more than the Marxist narrative assumes, which treats the figure as 0%. And I think 10% is a rather large portion of the population to consider the rulers instead of the workers. If the elite capitalists are just the top 1%, then the workers already own 62% of the stock – according to an NPR article with an anti-rich-people narrative, which also mentions that the majority of Americans own stock.)

I didn't research these numbers much because I don't expect them to be super accurate, but I think they're loosely in the right ballpark. If you deny it, I challenge you to find some reasonable numbers that lead to a dramatically different conclusion.

In 1914 Great Britain had a highway to the sea. Germany wanted it. A pistol shot sounds in Central Europe and ten million men go to their graves to decide that Great Britain shall hold Bagdad and that Germany shall pay what she can. (Applause.).

Factually, that is not what happened. See Omnipotent Government by Mises. (The book is more about WWII, not WWI, but it goes back and traces historical events starting well before WWI.) Nearing goes on to incorrectly claim that Germany and Russia (and the rest) were capitalist states in 1914, which needed a "capitalist War" to use up surplus wealth that they wouldn't let workers have. Really? World War I and the Triumph of Illiberal Ideology:

I will discuss only one general problem that helped fuel the catastrophe: the ideological shift that occurred in Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries away from the liberal philosophy of laissez-faire and laissez-passer and toward autarky, protectionism, nationalism, and imperialism. Mises, himself a veteran of the First World War, identified these latter ideologies as joint causes of numerous conflicts. Furthermore, he repeatedly warned that war is a necessary outcome of abandoning economic freedom, which is inextricably tied to the spirit of liberalism and its philosophy of peace:

[...]

By and large, these are the kinds of international conflicts that developed in the decades prior to 1914. As relative free trade declined and imperialism flourished, a culture of militarism swept Western Europe, triggering a race to accumulate military assets and materiel on a previously unknown scale. By the outbreak of the conflict, every major belligerent except Britain had also adopted conscription so as to ensure an abundant supply of human as well as physical resources. Such policies could only end in disaster. [emphasis added]

The decline of free trade is not capitalism. Mises' book, Omnipotent Government, explains much more about this.

Oh, that was the end of Nearing's remarks. He never actually got around to giving any positive explanation of how socialism would work (as he said he would when he began). Pathetic! Here’s how he opened:

I do not see capitalism in so rosy a light as does Professor Seligman and I want to try to explain to you in the brief time that I have why not, and what the socialists propose to put in its place

But he didn’t talk about what he wanted to put in place of capitalism.

Capitalist Rebuttal

Mr. Nearing said that he wanted Socialism in order that no surplus shall be produced. That is my objection to Socialism. (Applause). The World has progressed in civilization only because every generation did not consume all that it produced, but that it laid by a surplus. (Applause).

That’s a pretty good start on answering the socialist. I like it as debating rhetoric. It’s not very good as a rational explanation that’ll actually educate the audience, though.

How long would the shareholders of the United States Steel Corporation [live] if that were all they had to live on—how Iong would they continue to enjoy their luxuries if the workmen all stopped work permanently? (Applause). Does the workman need the job giver any more than the job giver needs the workman?

No mention of supply and demand, but at least it’s an answer that brings up the mutual benefits of the employee/employer relationship – employees hire people because they benefit from doing so, and they are worse off if they don’t hire workers.

One point in which Mr. Nearing did not meet me at all, but which I trust he will meet in his rebuttal is this: that while we may be entirely favorable to the aspirations and the hopes and the desires of the great mass of the working population, he must prove that forces are not at work under capitalism which will meet and realize those hopes and those aspirations.

That’s a good point, yes. Nearing didn’t address the ways by which capitalism can improve the current situation, and the ways by which he thinks socialism can, and do a comparative analysis. (He didn’t even try to analyze how socialism could improve the situation, let alone try to point out limits to improvement under capitalism.)

Seligman then shares some recent factual information about Russia in order to give some examples about whether socialism improves or harms liberty. First, in the Petrograd government printing office, workers were made to work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, with no lenience for women, and a policy of compulsory overtime had recently begun. Here’s his second and third examples:

I have extracts from The Metallurgist, an organ of the metallurgical workers. "At our factory, absolute submission to the administration of the plant has been established. No arguments or interference with its orders on the part of the workers are tolerated. At our factory, failure to report for work without permission is punishable by forfeiture of extra food. The same punishment is meted out for refusal to do compulsory overtime work. For being late on the job, two days food are deducted." And here comes the resolution of all the Petrograd workers on September 5th, as a result of the liberty of Socialism: "We feel as if we were hard labor convicts where everything has been subject to iron rules. We have become lost as human beings and have been turned into slaves." There is your socialistic liberty. (Great applause).

This much was known about Russian socialism, in the US, in 1921, and was quoted by professors in public debates. So much for the later excuses, during the cold war, by the dupes of Russia, who believed Soviet propaganda about the working conditions there.

The next example was about how Russian socialism deals with strikers: they arrest strikers and send them to forced labor camps or shoot them. The last example is horrifying:

the report of the President of the Petrograd Commune to a delegation from the workers of a certain city who complained of being starved and not getting enough to eat. "Yes, we do admit," he says, "that the food allowance is insufficient, but at the same time we also know full well—this has been taught by real life—that as long as the worker or plain citizen is busy obtaining food he takes no interest in politics. Just give the workingman enough to eat today and you will hear him cry tomorrow for civic liberties. Our object," says the socialistic government "is to keep the workers just from dying; and that is what we are doing."

Of course, today, right now, socialism is destroying Venezuela, and we have all sorts of news available online which is full of horrifying examples, and still many people don’t notice or care, and find socialist ideas appealing. These old examples shouldn’t make much difference to any educated modern reader who knows anything about Venezuela or the USSR or many other examples.

Seligman says, factoring in the purchasing power of money, and using the data from Nearing’s own book, the wages of workers under US capitalism went up from $147 in 1850 to $401 in 1910, which shows capitalism is progressive.

When Mr. James J. Hill, the great Empire builder, built one of the trans-continental railroads which have brought about the cheapening of products and the diversification of consumption of which I spoke, did he not contribute to production? When Mr. McCormick invented and finally utilized the reaper and the thresher and the mower, which have revolutionized the work of the farmer and the whole life of the community and built up a fortune, did he not contribute to production? When Mr. Westinghouse invented the air brake and finally reaped a fortune by utilizing it in the uttermost parts of the world, did he not contribute to production? And when our friend Mr. Ford with whose general philosophy perhaps I am not in entire accord, (laughter) when he brought down the price of automobiles, the automobiles that are used by the workmen all over this country in going to and from their daily work (hearty laughter)— I passed by a factory the other day and found that there were 550 automobiles. They did not happen to be all Ford automobiles— and I stepped in and said: "To whom do they belong?" And I was told: "Each one of these belongs to a workman in this factory. They come every morning and go back every evening." Now then, could those fortunate workmen say that Mr. Ford has been able to heap up his millions by simply taking them, niching them, stealing them, from the men in his employ?

Nice examples of how businessmen contributed to production instead of just exploiting workers.

I do not deny that there is robbery. I do not deny that there are bad people as well as good people, but I do say that the essence of the capitalist system today, that the essence of profits today, of legitimate profits is not theft but service and that people in the long run cannot under modern conditions, in the long run and under normal conditions make great profits unless they really do service for their community. [emphasis added]

Pretty good as a debating statement. But he didn’t do much to educate the audience and teach them any economics.

Socialist Rebuttal

Nearing denies credit for the Industrial Revolution to capitalism. He says it happened under capitalism, but the causes were machines and technology, and he suggests we would have seen the same advances under socialism. Nearing is kinda ranting again, then says something I found interesting:

In the early days of capitalism any man could get a job by going out to the frontier and taking a farm. The frontier is gone. Capital is required in large quantities. If you want to open a successful business, it needs tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. Only a few can start in business. Most of us must remain workers. The old factory was a little two-by-four concern. The modern factory employs you with a thousand or five thousand others.

That factory enables five thousand people to be alive. The frontier enabled some increase in population, and as it filled up we needed factories in order for more people to live.

He sees people living in less than ideal circumstances and fails to see that capitalism has enabled them to live at all.

After some storytelling about visiting Europe, and some quotes of a Seligman article about WWI, and some other non-arguments, Nearing says:

Professor Seligman wants to know what I think of Lenin and Trotsky. Now I will tell him if I can (Laughter), and in a word. I think that when the history of this period comes to be written that there is not a man nor a woman in this hall this afternoon whose name will stand that high (indicating) with the names of Lenin and Trotsky in this period (Great applause). There are not two braver men in the world today, men who have stood up in the face of great opposition and steadily have worked for the end in which they believe. Do I agree with their theories? With some of them I agree, and with some of them I don't. You could not agree with both Lenin and Trotsky because they don't agree with one another (Laughter and applause). But just as I regard the Russian revolution as the greatest event in history since 1676, just as I regard it as the epoch-making event, the dividing line between capitalism and socialism, so I regard these two men as two of those whose names will go down as having played mighty roles in that page—the great page of our modern history.

Well, at least he admitted it clearly.

Nearing’s answer to poor conditions in Russia (the five examples from Seligman) is to blame it on civil war, blockades, hostile trade policies, and Western aggression (contrary to the desires of the workers of Europe who, he tells us based on a visit, approve of Russian socialism and want it for themselves and are unwilling to fight against Russia).

But in Russia they have taken over the resources, they have taken over transportation, machinery, they have taken over the factories, the community owns the means of its own livelihood. And they have appointed a Supreme Council of National Economy, and they are going to organize the nation as an economic unit on economic lines. It is the first time in history that it has ever been attempted. If it does not succeed in Russia it will succeed somewhere else, maybe here

He was wrong. And he didn’t do economic analysis to reach his conclusion. He seemed totally ignorant of supply and demand, and of the writings of the (classical) liberals (especially the economic writings).

Capitalist Closing Remarks

“He who shall not work, neither shall he eat”—a noble sentiment.

Ugh, that’s nasty, not noble. What if he worked in the past and saved? What if she has a husband or parent who works? What counts as work? Is writing philosophy “work” or does everyone have to do manual labor? If intellectual work counts, who gets to be an intellectual and who will be forced to do manual labor by threat of starvation?

It’s bullying to threaten people with starvation if they don’t do things you consider “legitimate” work for them to be doing. I don’t take offense when nature presents us with the possibility of starvation, naturally, but I do take offense when humans make starvation a political threat.

Socialism [in Russia in 1921] is bringing about a situation, the most horrible, the most frightful, the most hideous that the world has ever seen—the disappearance of culture, the disappearance of cities, the disappearance of civilization, and the rapid progression of universal starvation among the workers themselves. That is socialism in practice.

He was right, but many others didn’t figure that out until over 50 years later.

Seligman points out 3 ways Nearing didn’t address the arguments, then gives 7 ideas for social reform. I list them and briefly give my evaluation as liberal or illiberal.

  1. “equality of opportunity through increase of education and the disappearance of unjust privileges” – liberal, as long as it isn’t government education.
  2. “the raising of the level of competition by law and public opinion” – laws to interfere with the market, and try to somehow increase competition (by making people compete? by subsidies?) are illiberal.
  3. “increasing the participation in industry through what is called industrial democracy and what is rapidly going on under representative government today” – the Wikipedia article on “industrial democracy” is “Part of a series on Libertarian socialism”. It’s hostile to the property rights of business owners, which is illiberal.
  4. “diminution of the instability of employment through the application of the principle of insurance which we have already applied to accidents and which we are beginning to apply elsewhere” – this would be liberal, except he already said he wanted government unemployment insurance, which makes it illiberal
  5. “conservation of national resources in order to prevent the waste which is responsible for much of the present-day trouble” – how is this to be accomplished? By government conservation programs or laws? Vague but sounds illiberal because it seems to envision a “national” authority that controls the use of resources in the nation.
  6. “social control of potential monopoly which has been proceeding apace and which has even reached unheard of lengths in some modern countries” – antitrust laws are illiberal, see Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal chapters 3 and 4.
  7. “the resumption for the community of swollen and unduly large fortunes through the use of taxation which must go, however, only to that point of not stifling and killing the spirit of enterprise which socialism would bring about” – this is shameful. He wants to go after the rich and take their money. Illiberal.

The guy on the liberal side of the debate advocated 6 illiberal things out of 7 ideas. No wonder liberalism’s influence in world events continues to diminish.

Socialism is a beautiful theory

Said the man opposing socialism in a debate, despite knowing that socialism takes away people’s freedom and starves them.

Capitalism can’t win debates with advocates like this. Yes, Seligman had better arguments. But Seligman admitted weaknesses of capitalism and looked to compromise (even preemptively, before Nearing’s first word), while the socialist Nearing gave no ground and made no concessions. (Nearing didn’t even talk about what socialism is or how it would work, let alone any weaknesses of it. He only went on the attack and pointed out flaws in the current world, some true and some false, and blamed them all on capitalism without analysis of their actual causes.)

You aren’t going to persuade people to oppose socialism by calling it beautiful and then saying that your own system may have a lot of flaws but has reformed some and can be reformed more in the future. Seligman wasn’t actually willing to make a principled defense of capitalism.

I maintain, ladies and gentlemen, that socialism is not practicable

And if it were practicable, would it be beautiful? Is the difference between Seligman and a socialist simply that Selgiman is a pessimist who thinks there can be no solution to make socialism practicable, while the socialist is an optimist who seeks to find a solution?

Seligman says socialism is not desirable because it will lead to tyranny or, if not that, at least inefficient production. These arguments won’t convince people – they will still want to find a solution to socialism which keeps the parts they like about it while avoiding tyranny or major reductions in production.

Seligman goes on to say socialism is idealistic, but we have to be moderate, practical, and conservatively build on tradition. Why doesn’t he know how wonderful and idealistic liberalism is?

Socialist Closing Remarks

Nearing says economic panics got progressively worse because the number of business panics increased. An audience member corrects him, saying he should consider proportions (100 out of 200 businesses failing is worse than 200 out of 5000, even though 100 failures is fewer than 200 failures). Nearing grants the point but then moves on without any attempt at valid comparisons.

Nearing says Russia’s problems are due to war, not socialism. Europe still hasn’t recovered from WWI, including in non-socialist countries. This isn’t an honest answer to Seligman, who didn’t just say conditions in Russia were economically poor, but also gave examples of Russian authorities stamping down on liberty. Nearing asks people to wait 20 years (until 1941), and see how the socialist countries do, before passing judgment.

Really, however, the issue between Professor Seligman and myself is very simple. He don't think the people can handle their own economic affairs, and I do (Laughter).

This is pretty much meaningless since Nearing never explained what system he’s proposing. It sounds like Nearing doesn’t want central planners handling everyone’s economic affairs, but then what does he want? And capitalism does have people handle their own economic affairs – under capitalism, individuals are free to decide what to buy and what to sell, and at what prices.

Nearing ends with idealism. He says even if Russia fails he’ll be glad they tried, and that scientists always have failures but keep trying anyway. And, finally, to close, he smears Seligman as favoring “plutocracy”.

My Conclusions

The debate is instructive if you read it as Ayn Rand would have, by seeing how the compromiser cannot win despite having all the facts and logic on his side. It’s a good example of how capitalism lost the public debate, despite being true, because its own advocates didn’t understand it and thought socialism was beautiful but impractical. You don’t win hearts and minds by saying, “Their idea is ideal, but settle for my idea because it’s more pragmatic.” Even if people agree that current socialist approaches are flawed, they’ll react by wanting to fix that, not by giving up on dreaming of a better world.

The arguments that can beat socialism are the ones that explain how it consists of nothing but the violent destruction of an ideal, moral system. It is capitalism, not socialism, which is a rational system that serves the masses and uses their brains in economic planning, is fair, offers liberty, offers hope of peace and prosperity, and can create a better world. (If that interests you, read some of the links above, particularly books by Ludwig von Mises, Ayn Rand, and George Reisman.)


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Preferences and Indifference – Comments on Walter Blocks' Article

Austrian Theorizing: Recalling The Foundations by Walter Block:

“Indifference,” for the Austrian School is a technical word. We deny that indifference is compatible with human action, the attempt to render the world a more preferable place than would have occurred had no such act taken place. Were a man truly indifferent between state of the world A (the one which would ensue without his intervention) and state of the world B, he would not act so as to make the latter more likely.

We do not deny, however, that “indifference” also has a perfectly reasonable usage in common parlance. In ordinary language, a person could be readily understood to be indifferent between wearing a green or a blue sweater. This means that he doesn’t care much which one he chooses. Given that he will only wear one of them at a time, and chooses the green, he is still reckoned, speaking loosely, to be indifferent between them, because we can readily imagine him picking the other.4

But if we were to “get technical” about the matter, it would be at the very least extremely puzzling for a man to select the green sweater in preference to the blue if he were truly indifferent between them. Indeed, this would be nothing less than a logical contradiction. If indifference were his exact mental state, surely he would select neither article of clothing. As in the case of Buridan’s Ass, who avoided both piles of equidistant hay, he would eschew both sweaters.5 Very much to the contrary, if when presented with both the person selected green instead of blue, we as outside analysts, or economists, would be entitled to infer from this act a preference for green.

People don't get stuck like the donkey who can't choose between two equidistant piles of hay. They do other things. When they are indifferent they can use a tie breaker, even an arbitrary one like a coin flip. Then they can say, "Yes I chose the green sweater, not the blue one. But that doesn't mean I prefer it. I chose it by coin flip."

When people are genuinely indifferent but prefer to make a choice rather than do nothing, they act accordingly – they make the decision somehow, such as with a coin flip or by examining their preferences more carefully and discovering they were only indifferent to some level of precision but not infinitely indifferent.

Coin flips are very well known. Why doesn't Block address this? It's true that the coin flipper preferred the coin flip method over alternatives like sitting there unable to choose. But that is a different preference than preferring a green sweater to a blue sweater.

Block also specifically covers the sweater example:

Our author’s second sally (1999, p. 826) is “One can only observe that I choose a green sweater, but this does not rule out the possibility that I was actually indifferent between a green sweater and a blue sweater.” In common parlance, we are certainly prepared to accept Caplan’s introspection on the matter. Presumably, he has no strong preference for the one color over the other. But as a matter of technical economics, we are hard put, on the basis of indifference, to account for the fact that he did indeed pick up and put on the green sweater, when he could have had the blue. Perhaps the green one was on top of the blue, and some slight additional effort would have been necessary to wear the latter; perhaps they were side by side, but at the last minute, even thinking he was fully indifferent, he veered toward the green based on a very slight, perhaps even unconscious preference. All we know is that he dug into his sweater draw, and came up with the green one. What else are we to infer but that he preferred his color?

Block seems to be missing the point that you could prefer the top sweater which is a different thing than preferring the green sweater. In the last words of the paragraph, Block summarizes a preference for a more convenient sweater as a preference for "his color" (that is, the color he chose). But that's silly. He may not have been choosing a color of sweater, but a proximity of sweater, as Block himself just said. (Caplan, the inferior thinker who Block is arguing with, simply fails to provide any notable analysis of this matter to discuss. But Block, so starved of discussion – after I was ejected, years ago, from the Mises email group (where Block participates) for lacking the authority of credentials – is pleased to have Caplan to talk with, as he says in the introduction.)

As Critical Rationalism explains, actions don't speak for themselves anymore than data does. It takes intellectual interpretation to figure out why a man took a particular action. Block seems to know this when talking about getting into the mind of the economic actor, but seems to forget it in this part about the sweaters. When you get into the mind of the actor and try to understand his purpose, you may discover he wasn't choosing by color.

Did he take that action because he preferred green over blue, or because he preferred a closer sweater? The action of picking up a sweater alone can't tell you on which basis the man made the choice (color, location, something else, or a mix), only that, in that instance, he preferred the green-and-closer-and-many-other-things sweater over the alternatives (he preferred the whole bundle of traits that he chose). The bundle of traits people chose is always infinite, so it takes explanations and critical thinking to determine which traits were important to the person's preference. Such analysis matters because people have preferences which are not unique to each individual choice, but instead allow them to make many choices according to common themes. These ongoing, persistence preferences are key parts of a person's life/personality/thinking which enable him to do any planning regarding the future, and enable him to be understood by others.


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Discord Discussions

Read our discussion about correlation studies (24 page PDF). They don't work, they're full of inductivism, and most social "science" is counter productive.

Read our discussion about religion, anti-depressants and more (55 page PDF). It includes criticism of the violent, leftist ideas of Sam Harris and how they are worse than Bernie.

Here's the link to join the Discord chatroom yourself. It's public.

Bonus Discussion: The value of Diversity and Four Day Work Weeks

Andy asked about his reddit topic, So how does Diversity make America strong?

curi: diversity of skills is a strength in economics.
curi: diversity of ideas/perspectives helps with brainstorming
curi: diversity of skin colors is ... a racist goal?
curi: diversity of cultures is somewhat related to intellectual diversity, and also it's good to see alternatives to one's cultural customs
curi: but that applies way more to chopsticks than to learning from other cultures how to more brutally control children or wage wars
curi: anime is good diversity, different way of using TV and art than the US does.
HeuristicWorld (Andy): What about creativity, do you think it boosts it?
curi: lots of these benefits are available via travel, book translations, the internet, intellectual collaboration with foreigners, global free trade, etc
curi: ppl don't rly know what they mean by "creativity". very vague
curi: and the assumption it comes in degrees is also not thought through
HeuristicWorld (Andy): I am thinking of "creative" problem solving. Like interesting solutions to engineering problems that is unique to the US that is not true of more homogenous cultures.
curi: if ppl were more rational, they could learn more from japanese approaches to certain problems. some ppl have tried but they could do a better job.
HeuristicWorld (Andy): Are you thinking of something specific or their overall approach to problem solving
curi: but ppl also often fail to learn much from English materials, so shrug
curi: there are lots of examples including toyota production system
curi: and that rent in tokyo is lower than in SF
HeuristicWorld (Andy): How did they manage that?
curi: by building homes
curi: https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/pointing-and-calling-japan-trains
curi: "A seemingly silly gesture is done for the sake of safety." It's very good that their culture teaches people to act properly instead of sacrificing safety to try to avoid looking silly.
curi: it's not just trains. there are related things for software engineering to prevent mistakes.
curi: on the other hand, salaryman culture sucks
curi: and their culture makes it hard to express disagreement/negativity/conflict to ppl. overly polite.
curi: and the asians cultures in general overrate hard work as against smart work.
curi: you see this a ton in education
HeuristicWorld (Andy): Oh that reminds me. How much do you know about these companies that are implementing 4 day workweeks that seem to have increased productivity. Do you think its a good idea?
curi: it depends on the industry
curi: it's a good idea in software
curi: knowledge workers in general can do around 3 hours of hard work per day, on avg.
curi: sustaining more than that leads to burnout
curi: and mistakes in software are expensive. bug fixing can take up a lot of time and effort.
curi: it's better to try seriously to write great code upfront than to have an unnecessarily high bug rate due to tired coders


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Objectivism and Empathy Discussion

A new guy joined the Fallible Ideas chatroom on Discord (come join us and ask a question!) and had some questions about Objectivism. Excerpt:

The objectivist ideology is lacking in empathy. <-- this is the claim

How likely is that to be the case?

Objectivism strongly lacks empathy in some cases, and has plenty in others. it depends on the situation and the things at stake. Harris doesn't attempt to define empathy, investigate when it's good or bad, appropriate or inappropriate, and engage with the Objectivist position on the matter or explain his own mainstream position on the matter.

...

In one of my favorite Rand quotes, she suggests redirecting empathy from some less important causes to another more important cause. The point is a disagreement about which things (smart youths or ducks) are more deserving of empathy, charity, help.

They [young fighters for ideas, rebels against conformity, independent minds seeking the truth] perish gradually, giving up, extinguishing their minds before they have a chance to grasp the nature of the evil they are facing [our irrational culture]. In lonely agony, they go from confident eagerness to bewilderment to indignation to resignation—to obscurity. And while their elders putter about, conserving redwood forests and building sanctuaries for mallard ducks, nobody notices those youths as they drop out of sight one by one, like sparks vanishing in limitless black space; nobody builds sanctuaries for the best of the human species.

Read the full conversation: 12 page PDF


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Discussion Structure

Dagny wrote (edited slightly with permission):

I think I made a mistake in the discussion by talking about more than one thing at once. The problem with saying multiple things is he kept picking some to ignore, even when I asked him repeatedly to address them. See this comment and several comments near it, prior, where I keep asking him to address the same issue. but he wouldn't without the ultimatum that i stop replying. maybe he still won't.

if i never said more than one thing at once, it wouldn't get out of hand like this in the first place. i think.

I replied: I think the structure of conversations is a bigger contributor to the outcome than the content quality is. Maybe a lot bigger.

I followed up with many thoughts about discussion structure, spread over several posts. Here they are:


In other words, improving the conversation structure would have helped with the outcome more than improving the quality of the points you made, explanations you gave, questions you asked, etc. Improving your writing quality or having better arguments doesn't matter all that much compared to structural issues like what your goals are, what his goals are, whether you mutually try to engage in cooperative problem solving as issues come up, who follows whose lead or is there a struggle for control, what methodological rules determine which things are ignorable and which are replied to, and what are the rules for introducing new topics, dropping topics, modifying topics?


it's really hard to control discussion structure. people don't wanna talk about it and don't want you to be in control. they don't wanna just answer your questions, follow your lead, let you control discussion flow. they fight over that. they connect control over the discussion structure with being the authority – like teachers control discussions and students don't.

people often get really hostile, really fast, when it comes to structure stuff. they say you're dodging the issue. and they never have a thought-out discussion methodology to talk about, they have nothing to say. when it comes to the primary topic, they at least have fake or dumb stuff to say, they have some sorta plan or strategy or ideas (or they wouldn't be talking about). but with stuff about how to discuss, they can't discuss it, and don't want to – it leads so much more quickly and effectively to outing them as intellectual frauds. (doesn't matter if that's your intent. they are outed because you're discussing rationality more directly and they have nothing to say and won't do any of the good ideas and don't know how to do the good ideas and can't oppose them either).

sometimes people are OK with discussion methodology stuff like Paths Forward when it's just sounds-good vague general stuff, but the moment you apply it to them they feel controlled. they feel like you are telling them what to do. they feel pressured, like they have to discuss the rational way. so they rebel. even just direct questions are too controlling and higher social status, and people rebel.


some types of discussion structure. these aren’t about controlling the discussion, they are just different ways it can be organized. some are compatible with each other and some aren’t (you can have multiple from the list, but some exclude each other):

  • asking and answering direct questions
  • addressing unstated, generic questions like “thoughts on what i just said?”
  • one person questioning the other who answers vs. both people asking and answering questions vs. some ppl ignoring questions
  • arguing points back and forth
  • saying further thoughts related to what last person said (relevance levels vary, can be like really talking past each other and staying positive, or can be actual discussion)
  • pursuing a goal stated by one person
  • pursuing a goal stated by two people and mutually agreed on
  • pursuing different and unstated goals
  • 3+ person discussion
  • using quotes of the other discussion participants or not
  • using cites/links to stuff outside the discussion or not
  • long messages, short messages, or major variance in message length
  • talking about one thing at a time
  • trying to resolve issues before moving on vs. just rushing ahead into new territory while there are lots of outstanding unresolved points
  • step by step vs. chaotic
  • people keeping track of the outline or just running down rabbit holes

i’ve been noticing structure problems in discussions more in the last maybe 5 years. Paths Forward and Overreaching address them. lots of my discussions are very short b/c we get an impasse immediately b/c i try to structure the discussion and they resist.

like i ask them how they will be corrected if they’re wrong (what structural mechanisms of discussion do they use to allow error correction) and that ends the discussion.

or i ask like “if i persuade you of X, will you appreciate it and thank me?” before i argue X. i try to establish the meaning X will have in advance. why bother winning point X if they will just deny it means anything once you get there? a better way to structure discussion is to establish some stakes around X in advance, before it’s determined who is right about X.

i ask things like if they want to discuss to a conclusion, or what their goal is, and they won’t answer and it ends things fast

i ask why they’re here. or i ask if they think they know a lot or if they are trying to learn.

ppl hate all those questions so much. it really triggers the fuck out of them

they just wanna argue the topic – abortion or induction or whatever

asking if they are willing to answer questions or go step by step also pisses ppl off

asking if they will use quotes or bottom post. asking if they will switch forums. ppl very rarely venue switch. it’s really rare they will move from twitter to email, or from email to blog comments, or from blog comments to FI, etc

even asking if they want to lead the discussion and have a plan doesn’t work. it’s not just about me controlling the discussion. if i offer them control – with the caveat that they answer some basic questions about how they will use it and present some kinda halfway reasonable plan – they hate that too. cuz they don’t know how to manage the discussion and don’t want the responsibility or to be questioned about their skill or knowledge of how to do it.

structure/rules/organization for discussion suppresses ppl’s bullshit. it gives them less leeway to evade or rationalize. it makes discussion outcomes clearer. that’s why it’s so important, and so resisted.


the structure or organization of a discussion includes the rules of the game, like whether people should reply more tomorrow or whether it's just a single day affair. the rules for what people consider reasonable ways of ending a discussion are a big deal. is "i went to sleep and then chose not to think about it the next day, or the next, or the next..." a reasonable ending? should people actually make an effort to avoid that ending, e.g. by using software reminders?

should people take notes on the discussion so they remember earlier parts better? should they quote from old parts? should they review/reread old parts?

a common view of discussion is: we debate issue X. i'm on side Y, you're on side Z. and ppl only say stuff for their side. they only try to think about things in a one-sided, biased way. they fudge and round everything in their favor. e.g. if the number is 15, they will say "like 10ish" or "barely over a dozen" if a smaller number helps their side. and the other guy will call it "around 20" or "nearly 18".

a big part of structure is: do sub-plots resolve? say there's 3 things. and you are trying to do one at a time, so you pick one of the 3 and talk about that. can you expect to finish it and get back to the other 2 things, or not? is the discussion branching to new topics faster than topics are being resolved? are topics being resolved at a rate that's significantly different from zero, or is approximately nothing being resolved?

another part of structure is how references/cites/links are used. are ideas repeated or are pointers to ideas used? and do people try to make stuff that is suitable for reuse later (good enough quality, general purpose enough) or not? (a term similar to suitable for reuse is "canonical").


I already knew that structural knowledge is the majority of knowledge. Like a large software project typically has much more knowledge in the organization than the “payload” (aka denotation aka direct purpose). “refactoring" refers to changing only the structure while keeping the function/content/payload/purpose/denotation the same. refactoring is common and widely known to be important. it’s an easy way for people familiar with the field to see that significant effort goes into software knowledge structure cuz that is effort that’s pretty much only going toward structure. software design ideas like DRY and YAGNI are more about structure than content. how changeable software is is a matter of structure ... and most big software projects have a lot more effort put into changes (like bug fixes, maintenance and new features) than into initial development. so initial development should focus more effort on a good structure (to make changes easier) than on the direct content.

it does vary by software type. games are a big exception. most games they have most of their sales near release. most games aren’t updated or changed much after release. games still need pretty good structure though or it’d be too hard to fix enough the bugs during initial development to get it shippable. and they never plan the whole game from the start, they make lots of changes during development (like they try playing it and think it’s not fun enough, or find a particular part works badly, and change stuff to make it better), so structure matters. wherever you have change (including error correction), structure is a big deal. (and there’s plenty of error correction needed in all types of software dev that make substantial stuff. you can get away with very little when you write one line of low-risk code directly into a test-environment console and aren’t even going to reuse it.)

it makes sense that structure related knowledge is the majority of the issue for discussion. i figured that was true in general but hadn’t applied it enough. knowledge structure is hard to talk about b/c i don’t really have people who are competent to discuss it with me. it’s less developed and talked through than some other stuff like Paths Forward or Overreaching. and it’s less clear in my mind than YESNO.

so to make this clearer:

structure is what determines changeability. various types of change are high value in general, including especially error correction. wherever you see change, especially error correction, it will fail without structural knowledge. if it’s working ok, there’s lots of structural knowledge.

it’s like how the capacity to make progress – like being good at learning – is more important than how much you know how or how good something is now. like how a government that can correct mistakes without violence is better than one with fewer mistakes today. (in other words, the structure mistake of needing violence to correct some categories of mistake is a worse mistake than the non-structure mistake of taxing cigarettes and gas. the gas tax doesn’t make it harder to make changes and correct errors, so it’s less bad of a mistake in the long run.)


Intro to knowledge structure (2010):

http://fallibleideas.com/knowledge-structure

Original posts after DD told me about it (2003)

http://curi.us/988-structural-epistemology-introduction-part-1
http://curi.us/991-structural-epistemology-introduction-part-2

The core idea of knowledge structure is that you can do the same task/function/content in different ways. You may think it doesn’t matter as long as the result is (approximately) the same, but the structure matters hugely if you try to change it so it can do something else.

“It” can be software, an object like a hammer, ideas, or processes (like the processes factory workers use). Different software designs are easier to add features to than others. You can imagine some hammer designs being easier to convert into a shovel than others. Some ideas are easier to change than others. Or imagine two essays arguing equally effectively for the same claim, and your task is to edit them to argue for a different conclusion – the ease of that depends on the internal design of the essays. And for processes, for example the more the factory workers have each memorized a single task, and don’t understand anything, the more difficult a lot of changes will be (but not all – you could convert the factory to build something else if you came up with a way to build it with simple, memorizable steps). Also note the ease of change often depends on what you want to change to. Each design makes some sets of potential changes harder or easier.

Back to the ongoing discussion (which FYI is exploratory rather than having a clear conclusion):

“structure” is the word DD used. Is is the right word to use all the time?

Candidate words:

  • structure (DD’s word)
  • design
  • organization
  • internal design
  • internal organization
  • form
  • layout
  • style
  • plan
  • outline

I think “design” and “organization” are good words. “Form” can be good contextually.

What about words for the non-structure part?

  • denotation (DD’s word)
  • content
  • function
  • payload
  • direct purpose
  • level one purpose
  • task
  • main point
  • subject matter

The lists help clarify the meaning – all the words together are clearer than any particular one.


What does a good design offer besides being easier to change?

  • Flexibility: solves a wider range of relevant problems (without needing to change it, or with a smaller/easier change). E.g. a car that can drive in the snow or on dry roads, rather than just one or the other.

  • Easier to understand. Like computer code that’s easier to read due to being organized well.

  • Made up of somewhat independent parts (components) which you can separate and use individually (or in smaller groups than the original total thing). The parts being smaller and more independent has advantages but also often involves some downsides (like you need more connecting “glue” parts and the attachment of components is less solid).

  • Easier to reuse for another purpose. (This is related to changeability and to components. Some components can be reused without reusing others.)

  • Internal reuse (references, pointers, links) rather than new copies. (This is usually but not always better. In general, it means the knowledge is present that two instances are actually the same thing instead of separate. It means there’s knowledge of internal groupings.)

Good structures are set up to do work (in a certain somewhat generic way), and can be told what type of work, what details. Bad structures fail to differentiate what is parochial details and what is general purpose.

The more you treat something as a black box (never take it apart, never worry about the details of how it works, never repair it, just use it for its intended purpose), the less structure matters.

In general, the line between function and design is approximate. What about the time it takes to work, or the energy use, or the amount of waste heat? What are those? You can do the same task (same function) in different ways, which is the core idea of different structures, and get different results for time, energy and heat use. They could be considered to be related to design efficiency. But they could also be seen as part of the task: having to wait too long, or use too much energy, could defeat the purpose of the task. There are functionality requirements in these areas or else it would be considered not to work. People don’t want a car that overheats – that would fail to address the primary problem of getting them from place to place. It affects whether they arrive at their destination at all, not just how the car is organized.

(This reminds me of computer security. Sometimes you can beat security mechanisms by looking at timing. Like imagine a password checking function that checks each letter of the password one by one and stops and rejects the password if a letter is wrong. That will run more slowly based on getting more letters correct at the start. So you can guess the password one letter at a time and find out when you have it right, rather than needing to guess the whole thing at once. This makes it much easier to figure out the password. Measuring power usage or waste heat could work too if you measured precisely enough or the difference in what the computer does varied a large enough amount internally. And note it’s actually really hard to make the computer take exactly the same amount of time, and use exactly the same amount of power, in different cases that have the same output like “bad password”.)

Form and function are related. Sometimes it’s useful to mentally separate them but sometimes it’s not helpful. When you refactor computer code, that’s about as close to purely changing the form as it gets. The point of refactoring is to reorganize things while making sure it still does the same thing as before. But refactoring sometimes makes code run faster, and sometimes that’s a big deal to functionality – e.g. it could increase the frame rate of a game from non-playable to playable.

Some designs actively resist change. E.g. imagine something with an internal robot that goes around repairing any damage (and its programmed to see any deviation or difference as damage – it tries to reverse all change). The human body is kind of like this. It has white blood cells and many other internal repair/defense mechanisms that (imperfectly) prevent various kinds of changes and repair various damage. And a metal hammer resists being changed into a screwdriver; you’d need some powerful tools to reshape it.


The core idea of knowledge structure is that you can do the same task/function/content in different ways. You may think it doesn’t matter as long as the result is (approximately) the same, but the structure matters hugely if you try to change it so it can do something else.

Sometimes programmers make a complicated design in anticipation of possible future changes that never happen (instead it's either no changes, other changes, or just replaced entirely without any reuse).

It's hard to predict in advance which changes will be useful to make. And designs aren't just "better at any and all changes" vs. "worse at any and all changes". Different designs make different categories of changes harder or easier.

So how do you know which structure is good? Rules of thumb from past work, by many people, doing similar kinds of things? Is the software problem – which is well known – just some bad rules of thumb (that have already been identified as bad by the better programmers)?

  • Made up of somewhat independent parts (components) which you can separate and use individually (or in smaller groups than the original total thing). The parts being smaller and more independent has advantages but also often involves some downsides (like you need more connecting “glue” parts and the attachment of components is less solid).

this is related to the desire for FI emails to be self-contained (have some independence/autonomy). this isn't threatened by links/cites cuz those are a loose coupling, a loose way to connect to something else.

  • Easier to reuse for another purpose. (This is related to changeability and to components. Some components can be reused without reusing others.)

but, as above, there are different ways to reuse something and you don't just optimize all of them at once. you need some way to judge what types of reuse are valuable, which partly seems to depend on having partial foresight about the future.

The more you treat something as a black box (never take it apart, never worry about the details of how it works, never repair it, just use it for its intended purpose), the less structure matters.

sometimes the customer treats something as a black box, but the design still matters a lot for:

  • warranty repairs (made by the company, not by the customer)
  • creating the next generation production
  • fixing problems during development of the thing
  • the ability to pivot into other product lines (additionally, or instead of the current one) and reuse some stuff (be it manufacturing processes, components from this product, whatever)
  • if it's made out of components which can be produced independently and are useful in many products, then you have the option to buy these "commodity parts" instead of making your own, or you can sell your surplus parts (e.g. if your factory manager finds a way to be more efficient at making a particular part, then you can either just not produce your new max capacity, or you could sell them if they are useful components to others. or you could use the extra parts in a new product. the point was you can end up with extra capacity to make a part even if you didn't initially design your factory that way.)

In general, the line between function and design is approximate.

like the line between object-discussion and meta-discussion is approximate.

as discussion structure is crucial (whether you talk about it or not), most stuff has more meta-knowledge than object-knowledge. here's an example:

you want to run a small script on your web server. do you just write it and upload? or do you hook it into existing reusable infrastructure to get automatic error emails, process monitoring that'll restart the script if it's not running, automatic deploys of updates, etc?

you hook it into the infrastructure. and that infrastructure has more knowledge in it than the script.

when proceeding wisely, it's rare to create a ton of topic-specific knowledge without the project also using general purpose infrastructure stuff.

Form and function are related.

A lot of the difference between a smartphone and a computer is the shape/size/weight. That makes them fit different use cases. An iPhone and iPad are even more similar, besides size, and it affects what they're used for significantly. And you couldn't just put them in an arbitrary form factor and get the same practical functionality from them.

Discussion and meta-discussion are related too. No one ever entirely skips/omits meta discussion issues. People consider things like: what statements would the other guy consent to hear and what would be unwanted? People have an understanding of that and then don't send porn pics in the middle of a discussion about astronomy. You might complain "but that would be off-topic". But understanding what the topic is, and what would be on-topic or off-topic is knowledge about the discussion, rather than directly being part of the topical discussion. "porn is off topic" is not a statement about astronomy – it is itself meta discussion which is arguably off topic. you need some knowledge about the discussion in order to deal with the discussion reasonably well.

Some designs actively resist change.

memes resist change too. rational and static memes both resist change, but in different ways. one resists change without reasons/arguments, the other resists almost all change.


Discussion and meta-discussion are related too.

Example:

House of Sunny podcast. This episode was recommended for Trump and Putin info at http://curi.us/2041-discussion#c10336

https://youtu.be/Id2ZH_DstyY

  • starts with music
  • then radio announcer voice
  • voice says various introductory stuff. it’s not just “This is the house of Sunny podcast.” It says some fluff with social connotations about the show style, and gives a quick bio of the host (“comedian and YouTuber”)
  • frames the purpose of the upcoming discussion: “Wanna know what Sunny and her friends are thinking about this week?”
  • tries to establish Sunny as a high status person who is worthy of an introduction that repeats her name like 4 times (as if her name matters)
  • applause track
  • Sunny introduces herself, repeating lots of what the intro just said
  • Sunny uses a socially popular speaking voice with connotations of: young, pretty, white, adult, female. Hearing how she speaks, for a few seconds, is part of the introduction. It’s information, and that information is not about Trump and Putin.
  • actual content starts 37 seconds in

This is all meta so far. It’s not the information the show is about (Trump and Putin politics discussion). It’s about the show. It’s telling you what kind of show it’s going to be, and who the host is. That’s just like discussing what kind of discussion you will have and the background of a participant.

The intro also links the show to a reusable show structure that most listeners are familiar with. People now know what type of show it is, and what to expect. I didn’t listen to much of the episode, but for the next few minutes the show does live up to genre expectations.

I consider the intro long, heavy-handed and blatant. But most people are slower and blinder, so maybe it’s OK. I dislike most show intros. Offhand I only remember liking one on YouTube – and he stopped because more fans disliked it than liked it. It’s 15 seconds and I didn’t think it had good info.

KINGmykl intro: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TrN5Spr1Q4A

One thing I notice, compared to the Sunny intro, is it doesn’t pretend to have good info. It doesn’t introduce mykl, the show, or the video. (He introduces his videos non-generically after the intro. He routinely asks how your day is going, says his is going great, and quickly outlines the main things that will be in the video cuz there’s frequently multiple separate topics in one video. Telling you the outline of the upcoming discussion is an example of useful meta discussion.)

The Sunny intro is so utterly generic I found it boring the first time I heard it. I’ve heard approximately the same thing before from other shows! I saw the mykl intro dozens of times, and sure I skipped it sometimes but not every time, and I remember it positively. It’s more unique, and I don’t understand it as well (it has some meaning, but the meaning is less clear than in the Sunny intro.) I also found the Sunny intro to scream “me too, I’m trying hard to fit in and do this how you’re supposed to” and the mykl intro doesn’t have that vibe to me. (I could pretty easily be wrong though, maybe they both have a fake, tryhard social climber vibe in different ways. Maybe i’m just not familiar enough with other videos similar to mykl’s and that’s why I don’t notice. I’ve watched lots of gaming video content, but a lot of that was on Twitch so it didn’t have a YouTube intro. I have seen plenty of super bland gamer intros. mykl used to script his videos and he recently did a review of an old video. He pointed out ways he was trying to present himself as knowing what he’s talking about, and found it cringey now. He mentioned he stopped scripting videos a while ago.)

Example 2: Chef Heidi Teaches Hoonmaru to Cook Korean Short Rib

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EwosbeZSSvY

  • music
  • philly fusion overwatch league team intro (FYI hoonmaru is a fusion twitch streamer, not a pro player)
  • slow mo arrival
  • hoonmaru introducing what’s going on (i think he lied when he said that he thought of this activity)
  • hoonmaru talking about his lack of cooking experience
  • hoonmaru says he’ll answer fan questions while cooking
  • says “let’s get started”
  • music and scene change
  • starts introducing the new seen by showing you visuals of hoonmaru in an apron
  • now we see Chef Heidi and she does intro stuff, asks if he’s ready to cook, then says what they’ll be doing.

The last three are things after “let’s get started” that still aren’t cooking. Cooking finally starts at 48s in. But after a couple seconds of cooking visuals, hoonmaru answers an offtopic fan question before finally getting some cooking instruction. Then a few seconds later hoonmaru is neglecting his cooking, and Heidi fixes it while he answers more questions. Then hoonmaru says he thinks the food looks great so far but that he didn’t do much. This is not a real cooking lesson, it’s just showing off Heidi’s cooking for the team and entertaining hoonmaru fans with his answers to questions that aren’t really related to overwatch skill.

Tons of effort goes into setting up the video. It’s under 6 minutes and spent 13.5% on the intro. I skipped ahead and they also spend 16 seconds (4.5%) on the ending, for a total of 18% on intro and ending. And there’s also structural stuff in the middle, like saying now they will go cook the veggies while the meat is cooking – that isn’t cooking itself, it’s structuring the video and activities into defined parts to help people understand the content. And they asked hoonmaru what he thought of the meat on the grill (looks good... what a generic question and answer) which was ending content for that section of the video.

off topic, Heidi blatantly treats hoonmaru like a kid. at 4:45 she’s making a dinner plate combining the foods. then she asks if he will make it, and he takes that as an order (but he hadn’t realized in advance he’d be doing it, he just does whatever he’s told without thinking ahead). and then the part that especially treats him like a kid is she says she’s taking away the plate she made so he can’t copy it, he has to try to get the right answer (her answer) on his own, she’s treating it like a school test. then a little later he’s saying his plating sucks and she says “you did a great job, it’s not quite restaurant”. there’s so much disgusting social from both of them.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Media Matters Memo: Their Plans To Control All Political Speech

I saw The Shocking Soros 'Speech Code Cartel' Memo. I downloaded the memo and OCRed it (link). It's about how Media Matters plans to control the media and defeat Republicans.

The goals of Media Matters include:

  • Serial misinformers and right-wing propagandists inhabiting everything from social media to the highest levels of government will be exposed, discredited.

  • Internet and social media platforms, like Google and Facebook, will no longer uncritically and without consequence host and enrich fake news sites and propagandists.

  • Toxic alt-right social media-fueled harassment campaigns that silence dissent and poison our national discourse will be punished and halted.

They don't want there to be neutral platforms where conservatives speak to.

CREW will be the leading nonpartisan ethics watchdog group in a period of crisis with a president and administration that present possible conflicts of interest and ethical problems on an unprecedented scale. CREW will demand ethical conduct from the administration and all parts of government, expose improper influence from powerful interests, and ensure accountability when the administration and others shirk ethical standards, rules, and laws. Here's what success will look like:

  • Trump will be afflicted by a steady flow of damaging information, new revelations, and an inability to avoid conflicts issues.
  • The Trump administration will be forced to defend illegal conduct in court.
  • Powerful industries and interest groups will see their influence wane.
  • Dark money will be a political liability in key states.

[bolds added]

Amazing they call CREW, one of their groups, "nonpartisan". They publicly present it that way, but they are lying and plan for it to afflict Trump with damaging information. The memo calls CREW one of "our institutions". David Brock, founder of Media Matters, was elected chairman of CREW in 2014. They show CREW as one of their groups and strategize what it will do. They also say:

CREW is a nonpartisan 501(c)(3) organization.

Jeez. And lying that it's nonpartisan is part of its motto:

Read more info on CREW.

So you can see that they don't care about the truth. The memo is full of lies. What do they care about?

Leverage our authority to encourage good journalism.

They want to control what journalists say. They repeatedly call anything agreeing with their partisan, leftists views "good".

MEDIA ADVOCACY-PUNISH ENABLING AND COMPLACENCY

They want to punish journalists who don't comply. In addition to punishing journalists who help the right (e.g. by sharing any of their ideas), they want to punish complacent journalists – that is, journalists who don't actively fight for the left.

GOT FACEBOOK TO COMMIT TO FIGHTING THE RISE OF FAKE NEWS.

During the 2016 election, Facebook refused to do anything about the dangerous rise of fake news or even acknowledge their role in promoting disinformation: Mark Zuckerberg called the notion that fake news is a problem "crazy." In November, we launched a campaign pressuring Facebook to: 1) acknowledge the problem of the proliferation of fake news on Facebook and its consequences for our democracy and 2) commit to taking action to fix the problem. As a result of our push for accountability, Zuckerberg did both. Our campaign was covered by prominent national political, business, and tech media outlets, and we've been engaging with Facebook leadership behind the scenes to share our expertise and offer input on developing meaningful solutions.

They brag about their success controlling the world's information.

$170,000,000 in earned TV airtime for Media Matters research and video since 2013

$311,685,233 value of TV airtime for Bridge-placed research and video since 2011

PUSHED ROGER STONE'S BIGOTRY OFF CABLE NEWS.

DISRUPTED RUPERT MURDOCH'S TIME WARNER EXPANSION.

DROVE UP THE KOCH BROTHERS' NEGATIVES.

They are proud of these things. Meanwhile they complain that a right wing group has 18 million of funding to try to get their message out, and complain that right wingers can talk on Facebook without having billionaire funders or pulling the strings of journalists.

The onslaught of well-funded right-wing media manipulation brings with it significant challenges.

The conservative Media Research Center, with an annual operating budget of $18 million, works closely with establishment right-wing media to reinforce the myth of a liberally biased media, push journalism to the right, and propel misinformation into the mainstream.

That's an onslaught? If you compare funding, the left is way ahead.

DROVE COVERAGE THAT LED TO TRUMP ENTERING OFFICE AS THE LEAST POPULAR PRESIDENT-ELECT IN MODERN HISTORY.

While the dynamics of the election overcame Trump's sky-high negatives, the groundwork we laid will be critical to delegitimizing Trump as president. Bridge drove 673 stories throughout the campaign exposing Trump's unstable temperament, scam-filled business record, history of sexual abuse and misogyny, and racist behavior. As he enters office, he is the most unpopular president-elect in modern history.

They brag about being the puppet master behind 673 anti-Trump media stories. Meanwhile they don't want the Media Research Center to exist and do anything to counter them.

Responsible for more than 40% of the total fines given out by the FEC in 2016 and just about all of the fines levied in 2016 resulting from complaints by good government groups

Besides pulling the strings of journalists, they are working to control government agencies to fine their political opponents.

“Over the years, Media Matters has won or assisted in a number of tangible victories, from getting Glenn Beck off cable news to holding 60 Minutes accountable for its faulty Benghazi reporting.”
—The Nation

They are proud to deplatform their enemies and kill stories they don't like. They want more "tangible victories". At the same time that they brag about how effective they are, they also try to say the right wing is far more influential than people think, and they need to do more to control all sources of information to only promote their favored "progressive" ideas and policies. Meanwhile, they falsely present their organized strategy as coming from independent groups, including CREW which lies that it's nonpartisan and gets favored tax status.

“It’s often easy to trace Media Matters’ influence on a major news story.”
—National Journal

They would hate for any right wing group to have that influence, but they brag about their own influence.

They want to control speech to advance their far-left "progressive" agenda. They are completely driven by trying to win for their side, and will resort to lying, hypocrisy, and anything else they think will work. They think most Americans are stupid and gullible, and that they can fool us. They want to be puppet masters who tell us what to think, indoctrinate our children in school, and impose their vision of society on us all.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (5)

Explaining Liberalism in Discussion

This post is highlights from my discussion about liberalism on the Fallible Ideas discord chatroom (it's public, you can join and ask questions or discuss).


curi: liberalism is a principled system. because it's based on principles, it is "extreme". the principles are taken seriously using logic. no exceptions are allowed for the sake of moderation, only due to logical reasoning.
curi: the liberal system of government does not consider basic needs. that is not the principle. hence it doesn't provide food. the logic is totally different.
curi: the purpose of a liberal government is to protect man's rights. that means, essentially, to protect man against violence.
curi: building roads or schools does not protect man's rights, and therefore is not the proper business of government.
curi: the government is special compared to other organizations. it is tasked with controlling the use of violence. because of its involvement with violence, its size and function should be minimized. violence is very dangerous. you don't want the people with the guns doing extra stuff, like being involved with farming, because that gets guns and violence involved with farming unnecessarily.
curi: it would be nice if the government could be funded in a fully voluntary way, but we don't currently know how to do that, so we allow it to raise taxes by force.
curi: this is a very dangerous power – the initiation of force against people who are not persuaded to cooperate voluntarily – so its use must be strictly controlled and minimized.
curi: the necessary condition for a peaceful society and successful government – which is highly desirable so that men can have their rights protected, including against murder and robbery – is the consent of the governed. without voluntary consent from the majority (preferably a large majority), bad things happen. the government has to use force to suppress revolutions, or there will be a revolution. but as long as most people are willing to pay taxes and consent to it, then it can work, and threatening the small minority with violence is unfortunate but at least doesn't destabilize or ruin society.
curi: the situation of living with one's rights protected, and without any limits on your actions other than not violating the rights of others, is called freedom. in short, it's freedom from violence, and freedom to do non-violent actions. in a free society, capitalism is largely implied. what's to stop it? people are free to trade, and to decline trades. people are free to bargain as they will amongst themselves, hire and fire each other, offer goods or services at any prices they wish, etc, etc. people could choose to act in other ways, like giving lots of stuff away without worrying about money prices, so understanding capitalism and its advantages is important, but most current deviations from capitalism could not happen in that situation because they involve rights violations. government intervention in the economy (price controls, tariffs, taxation to fund things other than defending men's rights) and socialism are rights violations – violent attacks on freedom.
curi: in this society, the division of labor is advantageous. it allows economic specialization. instead of us both producing 2 things, we can each produce 1 and trade, and be better at it b/c we have less things to optimize. division of labor also fosters peace (with neighbors, within a country, and internationally) b/c if you use violence against trading partners after you specialize then you dramatically lower your standard of living (b/c you're bad at producing the thing you relied on them to produce).
curi: liberalism is a system where men deal with each other by reason and voluntary cooperation, not violence. you can make offers and appeal to people's reason. interactions only happen for mutual benefit because, given freedom, people will decline offers they don't think benefit them. more or less anything may be accomplished if men are persuaded to do it, but men who are not persuaded are free to live their own life their own way. in this way, people who choose to be involved in projects (like business ventures) take responsibility for the outcomes, and gain the rewards or suffer the losses.
curi: if you want someone to do something or give you something, you can persuade him (including by offering things in return, or by arguing in favor of charity, or by saying what an important use for it you have and why you can't pay, or whatever else) or you can find another option. it's up to him whether to listen, or agree, or not. you don't get to control his life or his property. but if you have a really good idea that requires his property, then the typical thing that happens is: you offer more money for it than it's worth to him, and you both benefit. the reason this works is you have a better use of it than he does. so e.g. you can use it in a way that it helps create $1000/day and he was only getting $500/day value from it, so you can offer to pay him the net present value of an annuity worth $750/day or whatever.
curi: rights violations – violence – are seen as harm and are suppressed. but failure to help someone – lack of benefits – is a completely different category and happens all the time and is totally fine. people have no obligation to help each other, and no right to demand help from people who are not persuaded (with reason, money, or whatever as long as its voluntary) to help.
curi: violence must be suppressed. without that, society will be destroyed by any malcontent or evil bastard or whatever. but lack of benefits must not be suppressed, or else everyone would become slaves to the needy, and it would require massive violence to enforce that.

compSciSooner: I understand what you saying
curi: ok. do you think that your argument about evolution refutes a specific thing i said above so far?
compSciSooner: I think that I would modify it or change tack as I see a difference in values/principles that leads to different perspectives on how society should be structured
curi: ok. so you disagree with some significant part of the above?
compSciSooner: With the starting values. You seem to value "non violence" and minimizing violence is what we should focus on and this society is structured to minimize that
compSciSooner: I would start with something like "non suffering" and would minimize suffering. Suffering being the human experience, 'how to make peoples lives better' would be the motivating question
curi: yes. violence hurts people and also it's antithetical to reason. settling disputes by violence is not a truth-seeking method.
compSciSooner: behind society.
compSciSooner: I agree that we should minimize violence
curi: do you perhaps want to use violence (only with super majority consent, perhaps) to hurt one person to try to help two people (or 200 people, or even one person but to a large enough degree that you think it outweighs the harm of the violence)? is that the point of disagreement?
compSciSooner: If you mean physically hurt, then no. But, for a practical example, taxation is the threat of violence and use of force. But it is necessary and I dont see taxation as harm
curi: i went over taxation above.
curi: there's no principled difference between involuntary taxation and violence. if someone complies for fear of violence, or because you actually punch him, either way you are shutting his mind, reason and judgment out of the equation, and you are making an enemy of him.
compSciSooner: I dont disagree with that but I think it that when that is used to justify less government and/or taxation that it misses societal needs and practicality and how people actually act in the world.

Like I said, these ideas of non violence and government arent new to me. I used to think the model of what you have clarified above would be the model society.
curi: is your disagreement that you're in favor of some violence, not allowed in the liberal system, because you think that violence against a minority will help others sufficiently to be worth it?
compSciSooner: You state the governments purpose should be to minimize violence. I say it should be to increase the general welfare of the people, like that one document says. I think its the declaration of ind
curi: by some metric like utilitarianism or minimizing suffering.
curi: so is that a "yes" to my question?
compSciSooner: Yes, to increase the general welfare, minimize suffering
compSciSooner: That sort of thing
compSciSooner: And when we disagree what the purpose of government is, its hard to debate what the government should do and when, I am sure this is why we were having trouble earlier

curi: ok. there is a liberal idea about this which we haven't mentioned yet. it is the harmony of interests idea. liberalism says that there are no conflicts of interest between men in a liberal society. therefore, whatever is best, if it really is best, and you know it, you can persuade people to participate voluntarily and you don't need violence. because you can tell them why it's better for them! if you cannot persuade them, you should learn more about it, not escalate to violence just when your arguments fail you. you are fallible and may be mistaken. and, besides, there are plenty of other good things to do besides this particular project.

one of the main reasons people want to use violence is they think there's a conflict of interest between e.g. the very rich man the the 500 poor ppl who could benefit greatly from his wealth. they think it's for the greater good to hurt the one person to help the 500, but they do not think that's in the interests of the one person. they see a conflict with no win/win solution possible, whereas liberalism says there is always a win/win solution that could be found (and if you can't find it, then, in your ignorance, leave each other alone so that you don't risk violently imposing your errors on a person who has the truth of it).
curi: this is related also to belief in objective truth, including about morality. there is one truth of the matter about the right way to act in a situation. and these moral truths about how each person should act are compatible, rather than leading to chaos or violence (which wouldn't make much sense as the moral truth). liberalism rejects doctrines like polylogism (that there are different logics or ways of reasoning or truths for different groups, like by class, race, nation, etc)
G Neto: @compSciSooner >Yes, to increase the general welfare, minimize suffering

Why is it good to let an authority decide what will lead to a general welfare? Or decide what that means?
curi: liberals broadly see conflicts as disagreements about what the truth is, stemming from our ignorance and fallibility, and respond to this with attempts at learning and persuasion and, failing that, leaving each other alone and trying to coexist anyway despite disagreeing – which can be accomplished by not violating each other's rights – not using violence (or threat of violence). liberals find it appalling to respond to a disagreement with violence and are unimpressed by excuses for violence like "i think he's judging in bad faith". liberals see the symmetry in violence – either of us could be wrong, and neither of us knows how to address all the misconceptions or questions or doubts or whatever that the other person has.
curi: people often disagree about what the general welfare is, and also disagree that it should ever require sacrifices or win/lose options (rather than win/win options with mutual benefit). shall we have a civil war over it? or shall the majority force their ideas on the minority, with guns instead of books? is that the way to a better world?
curi: and if violence is to be permitted whenever the majority has some excuse, what will society look like? a struggle for power. coalitions seeking to be the majority and use violence to benefit themselves. conflicts everywhere. and no long term security of property for anyone.
curi: bribery and corruption too, of course. once the government has the power to help some groups and harm other groups, the social cooperation is fundamentally at risk. perhaps a broken system can survive anyway with the good will of many citizens who don't want to gain or abuse power, but it's best to put safeguards at every level possible (majority of citizens love peace and the government has carefully limited powers).
curi: one of the major examples of the harmony of men's interests is the harmony between producer and consumer. the self-interested producer will produce what consumers want, so that he can make the most profit. this serves him and, at the same time, serves the consumers. the self-interested profit motive incentivizes men to create what other men want, to serve the preferences of others.
curi: and if you use violence against people you disagree with, what are the safeguards? what if you're mistaken? how do you make it predictable way in advance so people aren't caught off guard and hurt extra? what do you do about people manipulating or trying to control the use of violence? and won't this violence suppress positive outliers, which always start as a minority and have good reasons for what they are doing which other people don't yet understand, and thus it'll violently suppress the best and brightest human beings and the progress they would have brought? and, for what? if you get e.g. 80% of people to agree on something, surely they have enough wealth between them to do it, do you really need to violently take wealth from those who disagree?
curi: liberals think their system does minimize suffering, overall (because there is no better system). but that's a consequence instead of a design principle. minimizing suffering is hard to figure out how to do (and hard to agree about what is suffering and in what amount) and doesn't lend itself well to good system design. liberalism deals with the problem of what to do when people disagree (leave each other alone – which means not using violence), whereas the various "minimize suffering" schools of thought i've seen don't have as clear or good a way to address the problem of disagreements. note that "majority rules" is not the liberal answer to disagreements in general, and liberals fear the "tyranny of the majority" and carefully limit what powers the majority vote has. the majority vote is not seen by liberalism as a guide to truth. (majority opinion is one of the common answers for how to address disagreements about what constitutes minimizing suffering). also majority vote/opinion is unpredictable in advance, so it's unsuitable for doing our best to put violence under objective, predictable limits.
curi: another part of liberalism is equality before the law. no special legal privileges by caste, race, having a grandfather who was important in winning a war, etc. everyone is equal when it comes to the government and the use of violence. laws should not target specific groups for different treatment, let alone individuals. one implication is not using the law to take from a minority group to help another group – that would not be equality before the law, whether or not some people believe it minimizes suffering. (liberals think it would be a major cause of suffering to take that kind of action because it's breaking and harming the system itself that creates peaceful cooperation and social harmony. it creates a totally different kind of society where the government is the enemy of some men, and there are conflicts between rival interest groups, and political battles get nasty because they are about who gets to used violence against who.)
curi: Tangentially, on anarchism: many liberals, including myself, are interested in how to improve the liberal system. From the liberal perspective, it would be better if the government was funded in a fully voluntary way, without the violent collection of taxes from anyone. Further, there are some notable upsides to be gained if one didn't have a government at all. The goal is to refine liberalism, not to replace it with a different system. Without debating whether this can be achieved, I will say I think it has not been achieved, and so I'm not advocating a liberal-anarchist system today. I disagree with those who think they figured liberal anarchism out and it's ready to go.

compSciSooner: I was going to read all your posts previously
compSciSooner: Until I saw you most recent post on anarchism
compSciSooner: The idea that anarchism is something we should want to implement if we could only figure out how
compSciSooner: Is an idea so preposterous, you have lost all credibility as some one who isn't naive or crazy or at least has practical ideas
compSciSooner: For all your research you claim to have done
compSciSooner: You seem to be caught up in ideology and can't/won't accept any ideas/research/facts that contradict with your principled system
compSciSooner: And I hope you eventually become as intellectually honest with yourself as you claim to be
compSciSooner: But until then, bye
compSciSooner: It's like arguing with a communist, the ideas are so obviously preposterous, until said communist realizes how wrong they are, the discussion is pointless
compSciSooner: It is like arguing with a flat earther, I am not going to prove the earth is round, it is, I am not going to prove communism is bad, we should all agree on that, I am not going to argue that anarchism is a terrible idea, it should be obvious!
curi: you're exactly like the ppl who freak out the moment i question global warming
compSciSooner: Like I said, intellectually dishonest. Do you have an education in climate science? No? Then don't tell me what the guys who have PhD's in the subject tell the rest of us is peer-reviewed research


Then he gave permission to post the discussion and use his name (which I had offered to anonymize), then left. Plus the chatroom is labelled as public.

Italics were omitted. Not all messages above were consecutive, but many were. Here's the full log (79 page pdf). The rest is more of a chaotic mess (it was hard to get him to answer questions) instead of a clear explanation of ideas.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (26)

Liberalism and Charity

People should, as a starting point and first approximation, pursue their self-interest. And society should be set up to give people the freedom to control their own lives, so that they can. People are in the best position to know what they value and how to get it. They are in the best position to help themselves. And if they pursue their self-interest fully correctly, there will be no conflicts with others who are also acting correctly.

It’s much more reasonable if, as a starting point, everyone looks after and takes care of himself. If each person instead took care of his neighbor, it’d be chaotic, uneven and (accidentally) unfair, kinda random who gets taken care of how much, and broadly less efficient. It’d be hard to plan your life and future actions because you wouldn’t have much control over what resources you’d have in the future. And there’d be constant fights, resentments and suspicious that someone put some of his effort into his own self-interest and thereby got a larger share of help for himself, and there’d be fights about the distribution of help to others – some popular people would have thousands who want to help them, while some unpopular people would have no one.

People aren’t omniscient. They make mistakes, live in a society with flawed incentives and memes, etc. So just doing what you think is in your self-interest doesn’t always work well. The first check you should do is: do you think it’s in your self interest to initiate force? If so, seriously fucking reconsider and study up about the harmony of mens’ interests, the advantages of peaceful cooperation, how the claim that capitalism exploits the workers is false, etc. But if the thing you think is in your self interest won’t hurt anyone else or break laws, then you’re only risking yourself and your property, so just put thought into it relative to the importance, irreversibility and risks.

Do not consider the good of others as your starting point. If you do that, you will end up sacrificing yourself in some ways because you aren’t omniscient and significant attention to self-interest is required to do a good job of promoting your self-interest. Instead, start with self-interest and then consider the good of others secondarily. Any time your beliefs about your self-interest appear to clash with the good or self-interest of others, that’s an indication you have a misconception about your or their interests (because if there are no misconceptions then, in a free society, there’s a harmony of men’s interests). So try to understand where the apparent conflict of interests is coming from, and consider some adjustments – maybe there is a way to act which is better for others and a way to make that work for yourself too. Or a way to do almost the same thing but with a slight adjustment to avoid it bothering others. Your number one criterion to keep in mind is: do not sacrifice yourself. If you do, you’re betraying yourself and your life, and harming your ability to help yourself or others in the future. Such sacrifices ruin lives while also broadly reducing the total overall problem solving power of the world (especially effectiveness to act in reality, due to wealth and knowledge). You need to be happy and have your own house in order, and only spare things for others when it’s cheap and easy, not when it’s hard and difficult and significantly impacts your own progress. This is not the attitude expressed by Effective Altruism and others.

Charity should be and is a small fraction of the total economy. Charity is less economically productive, so having a mostly-charity economy would mean there’s a lot less total wealth. It’s better to have a bigger pie (economy, wealth), which is growing (a large amount of effort goes to efficient, productive activities to grow the economy and create more wealth), and which has a reasonably small fraction being used in other ways. A mostly-charity oriented economy would mean a smaller pie with less growth of the pie. Charity is generally short term focused, plus anything productive can be done at a profit so charity is unnecessary (it can still be done in a charitable way, but there’s no need to; I’d advise against doing things that could be done profitably, while passing on the profit, on a big scale, as a large part of the economy).

The more of money flows are related to productivity and profit, the more signal there is about the values and preferences of consumers. The more economic planning there is to decide how wealth is used. Charity is inferior at economic planning because it isn’t able to use the price system, and the profit and loss system, as well as normal commerce.

Humanity makes progress, overall, because people try to use lesser amounts of wealth (as measured in money prices, which are by far the best way to measure the value of some wealth in almost all cases) in pursuit of greater amounts of wealth, but not vice versa. And because some people save wealth – which means accumulating capital, which can be used to raise the productivity of labor (thus beginning a virtuous cycle in which the more productive labor creates wealth at a higher rate, allowing for even more saving, allowing for even more productivity increases. Note that scientific research is one of the ways that accumulated wealth gets turned into higher productivity of labor, it’s not just about building factories and tools.). Charity deviates from this system, largely in order to help with short term problems (because in the long term this system creates the best overall situation, the most wealth, the biggest pie, and so is best for everyone). It’s fine to spend a little on charity to help people who fall through the cracks (though there’s a lot of pressure to be more charitable to some of the worst people, not just to help a few good people who got unlucky, nor to help some great people who find that, as a (positive) outlier, they don’t fit into society quite right, so they have some difficulties.) But charity shouldn’t be a major priority, it’s not how things get better in the future. What makes things better in the future is, broadly, when people pursue their own self-interest efficiently (which generally includes valuing their own future, and the future of their children, and even, sure, humanity’s future – most people need not and do not narrowly value only themselves right now). If everyone keeps making their lives better, and interacts with others only for mutual benefit, then things will keep getting better. It’s dangerous when there are interactions without mutual benefit – then there’s the potential for loss, sacrifice, force, hatred, lying, war.

So, in broad strokes, I think charity should be under 10% of the overall economy. Maybe under 1%, but it depends how you count economy size. For each piece of consumer spending, there are many business-to-business transactions that go into that production. GDP or total consumer spending are poor measures of economy size.


These thoughts are related to this discussion.

Thank you Ludwig von Mises (books), Ayn Rand (books), and David Deutsch (discussions) for helping me understand these things.

See also my first comment below.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comment (1)