Sunday, December 28, 2008

counter-historical fiction

I have just finished reading the fourth and final book in the Time's Tapestry series by Stephen Baxter. Overall, I find that the series is unlike the typical scifi novels I have read in the past and come to love. I would not say that I found the books boring, but I wouldn't recommend these to any scifi-reading friends unless I knew they had an earnest appreciation for millennia-spanning history lectures squeezed into the novel format.

The first book of the series is titled Emperor and the setting spans the course of Pre-Roman through Post-Roman historical England with fictional protagonists cast among famous historical figures. The pace of the story is that which will suddenly jump a century or two forward between chapters, and likewise, the following two books, Conqueror and Navigator follow the same breakneck speed.

Conqueror, still set in the England, follows a new group of fictional characters and recounts the invasions of the Vikings, the Normans, and the Germanic Saxons, though not necessarily in that order.

Navigator takes the reader through the Crusades, the back-and-forth conquests of Moorish Spain and the Iberian Peninsula, and culminates with the famous sea expeditions of trying to navigate the Atlantic passage to India and the far east.

Weaver slows the pace down significantly to follow a single group of main characters, who more or less make it through the entire novel and is firmly entrenched in World War II England under Nazi occupation. In this novel, we finally meet the fellows who tamper with the history of the first three books, but I will have to say I was disillusioned with this climatic element; metaphorically speaking it was more akin a bottle rocket that fizzles in disappointment than the atomic explosion of brilliance I patiently awaited.

I might add that not having read any of Harry Turtledove's alternate history novels, I can't say how Baxter stacks against this narrow category's 800-pound gorilla. My recommendation for your typical scifi reader would be to skip this series completely. But if you're anything like me, a guy who would love to have some idea of world history but never takes the opportunity to get cracking into the dryness of textbooks, you will probably enjoy having a history lesson crammed into a novel format.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

the non-Copenhagen interpretation

I'm in middle of reading this intriguing book by (Rabbi) Akiva Tatz titled Letters to a Buddhist Jew, (website) which is a compilation of an exchange of letters between himself and a [now formerly] Buddhist Jew by the name of David Gottleib. Tatz artfully blends the Jewish tradition with a fresh mix of philosophy, kabbalism, and a fascinating exploration into the etymology of the Hebrew language to demonstrate to Mr. Gottleib, a seeker of spiritual fulfillment, a small taste of the richness that Judaism has to offer.

So without further ado, a favorite passage of mine.
As always, the words say it all: the Hebrew word for doubt is safek, and for certainty, vadai. Now these commonly used words are not to be found in Scripture. Nowhere does the Torah mention them; both are of Rabbinic origin. If the essence of an idea is contained in the Torah word for that idea, and we find that there is no word for a particular idea we encounter, it surely means that at the deepest level, that concept does not exist... If no word exists in the Torah corresponding to a thing we perceive in the world, that constitutes a strong suggestion that the thing we are perceiving is illusory. Someone has painted it up on the screen of reality, but it is not being projected from the source. And of course - the world as formed by its root in Torah contains no doubt: things either exist or they do not. There is nothing in the world that exists "doubtfully," tentatively; doubt is a problem of our perception, not an objective reality. (And if there is no doubt, there is no certainty either - certainty exists only where doubt is a possibility; if there can be no doubt there can be no certainty, a thing simply "is.")

The primal, pristine world is clear and open. We opacify and confuse it. The word for "doubt" is of human origin; it is a description of the damage we do to our own perception.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

unorthodox commentary

This [Jewish] calendar year, I began reading the commentary of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch to accompany the weekly Torah portion. While I have not able to finish even a quarter of the weekly commentary, I've learned some very fascinating insights, some of which I feel are apropos to this little blog of mine (I'm gonna let it shine!)

A few weeks ago we read Parashat Bereshit, otherwise known as Genesis. We read of the two brother Kayin (pronounced "Cain" in English) and Hevel (A.K.A. "Able"). In explaining the etymology of the name 'Kayin' which means to acquire (and so named by Eve), R' Hirsch notes that the concept of ownership derives from that of production. Thus we find from here a biblical support to the Lockean theory of original acquisition, the 'mixing of one's labor' with unowned matter to create "property".

In the following weeks reading of Noah, the Torah states that what sealed the fate of the antediluvians was that they engaged in "Cha'mas" (read that with a gutteral "kh" sound, just like 'Chumas' the famous chickpea spread). Cha'mas is etymologically related to two other words, "Cha'metz", leavened products which are forbidden on Passover, and "Cho'metz" which is vinegar. The common meaning of these three words is that they denote a gradual ruination of a substance until it is unrecoverable, as opposed to a quick-paced ruination.

In this particular case, the wicked people in those times did not steal or rob from one another in a grand fashion. Instead, they each stole in very trivial amounts that were unrecoverable via the legal process. However this trivial amount was multiplied by the actions of many people until the victim was robbed to the point of destitution.

To me, this sounds a lot like the effects of monetary inflation, in that it transfers a couple of percentage points in buying power to the first-recipients of the new money at the expense of those last receivers of money, usually those people on living on pensions or fixed incomes. As far as I know, there is no legal remedy to help the victims of monetary inflation, and so this would probably qualify as Cha'mas, as opposed to Gezel, what we call theft, which if the perpetrator were to be apprehended, we would have the opportunity of legal recourse and some chance of restitution.

This last bit is from Perashat Lech-Lecha, in which R' Hirsch notes that, and I quote verbatim (from the English translation of his original German)--
"Honesty, humanity, and love are duties incumbent upon the individual, but are regarded as folly in relations between nations and are viewed as unimportant by statesmen and politicians. Individuals are imprisoned and hanged for the crimes of fraud and murder, but countries murder and defraud on a grand scale, and those who murder and defraud "in the interest of the state" are decorated and rewarded."

Monday, November 03, 2008

meaningless noises

For those interested in Argumentation Ethics, you can find an echo of it in Steven Pinker's The Stuff of Thought in his analysis of the claims of linguisitical relativists- those who hold that there is no truth, "only competing metaphors, which are more or less apt for the purposes of the people who live by them."
"As such, Lakoff's version of relativism is vulnerable to the two standard rebuttals of relativism in general... The other rebuttal is that by their very effort to convince others of the truth of relativism, relativists are committed to the notion of objective truth. They attract supporters by persuasion — the marshaling of facts and logic — not by bribes or threats. They confront their critics using debate and reason, not by dueling with pistols or throwing chairs like the guests on a daytime talk show. And if asked whether their brand of relativism is a pack of lies, they would deny that it is, not waffle and say that the question is meaningless."

Friday, October 31, 2008

Why I'm not voting

There are a few reasons why I will not be "expressing" myself at the ballot box come this next election.

Primarily so, because the very process disgusts my sensitivity to the ideals of individual liberty. What I mean is that the gross act in playing a very small part in selecting our next overlord should make every egalitarian cringe- if equal liberty is truly their goal, this could only be realized when there are no masters lording over us any longer.

Secondly, because voting is a farce if you are given extremely limited options and no option for exit. The very concept of choice requires the ability to reject and so long that one cannot "express" this choice at the ballot box the only way to do so is to abstain from beans.

Third, because I think it borders on immorality to play even a minor a role in the perpetuity of the institution of mass enslavement. I won't argue that voting in presidential elections is per se immoral (a violation of rights), after all one may feel inclined to vote for pragmatic and strategic purposes. What I do have is a very strong preference of being averse to any situation through which my participation can be viewed as my lending moral support to such a rights-violating institution.

Some people may question my hostility to democratic institutions- I will not deny this charge. I do not see the logic in being imposed upon and having my liberty infringed by the majoritarian opinion no matter the excuse. Whether or not it is better than the alternative (monarchy, oligarchy, communism) is to limit yourself to of a determination of rulership and to not admit the possibility of self-determination.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

separated at birth?

With profuse apologies in advance, I would like to make the case that our very own J. Tucker has an hyperinflationary alter-ego... You be the judge.

Exhibit A:

Exhibit B:

Video source:

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

risk and uncertainty

As the local hobbyist economist, I find myself constantly plied with questions for which I don't have readily prepared answers. The inability to predict  and recommend less risky, more sound and profitable ventures somehow impinges on that reputation, because someone who thinks himself informally educated on that subject should be overflowing with policy suggestions, right?

Yes, I can easily parrot what other notables have advised, such as Jim Rogers or Peter Schiff, but I've found that taking the role of an economic Cassandra quickly turns off people who want to hear that everything is fine and dandy in our mixed-economy.

Personally, I've been looking for "the answer" too; I'm been considering transferring my little nest egg into various non-dollar assets, be that less-volatile foreign currencies, but especially into ventures such as

My take on the U.S. 'security' markets is exactly that; a bitter joke since I've yet to profit from any of the shares I've held in mutual funds. The minor amount of amateur stock trading I've tried hasn't been encouraging and the strategy of buying "solid companies" hasn't paid off for me as there has been no appreciation on those fronts. 

The only success I've had came from investing in technology companies for which I've had early knowledge of upcoming growth. For example, prior to the introduction of the XBOX 360, there were rumors circulating in the tech circles that Microsoft was talking with ATI to handle the graphics and was going to shun Nvidia which powered the first XBOX. Seeing that there was no public announcement of this, it did me well to purchase ATI shares which greatly appreciated when the announcement came some time thereafter. I've also had success in buying shares in Apple when it was at its $19 low in early 2003  sometime before the 3G iPod was released. I was positive that this was going to be a turning point for Apple to once-again become a household name. No more than six months later Steve Jobs was profiled on the cover of Time Magazine holding the 3G iPod.

But even with those success stories, it is certainly nothing I could duplicate on a daily basis; they were one-off type of bets. The only way to reliably make money in the security markets is to collect commissions from gullible folks who think that their broker knows his stuff. A big thank you for that goes to the S.E.C. for its role in keeping the people stupidly complacent in this regard; after all if they are 'regulating' the markets, people can automatically trust anyone to look out for their best interests, right?

As for real estate ventures, I made a decision back in late 2006 to exit the field for the meanwhile, and luckily so. I still follow developments in this field, but for the most part I am disgusted with how the U.S. Imperial Government is assuming new powers to further distort the market and stem ultimate recovery.

This is the point where I hold out my hat to solicit some spare financial advice from my imaginary readership, e.g., how they've diversified their wealth. What I'm really looking for is a liquid type vehicle, something from which I would be able to regularly withdraw funds to pay for living expenses; something I'm not sure easily accomplished, say if I want pay an American Express bill with savings.

Monday, June 23, 2008

aqua regia

(Shamelessly pilfered from

Aqua regia (Latin for royal water) is a highly corrosive, fuming yellow or red solution...It is one of the few reagents that dissolves gold and platinum. It was so named because it can dissolve the so-called royal, or noble metals...

"When Germany invaded Denmark in World War II, the Hungarian chemist George de Hevesy dissolved the gold Nobel Prizes of Max von Laue and James Franck into aqua regia to prevent the Nazis from stealing them. He placed the resulting solution on a shelf in his laboratory at the Niels Bohr Institute. It was subsequently ignored by the Nazis who thought the jar—one of perhaps hundreds on the shelving—contained common chemicals. After the war, de Hevesy returned to find the solution undisturbed and precipitated the gold out of the acid. The gold was returned to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and the Nobel Foundation presented new medals to Laue and Franck."

Thursday, June 19, 2008

bookmarking bastiat #2

It has been a while since I finished reading the Bastiat Collection put out by the Mises Institute, so before I completely forget some of the best material I've found in there I'll whip it up into this blogpost, which I realize should get quite lengthy as I quote stuff.

In ridicule of the "balance of trade" protectionist theories, Bastiat writes;
"There is still another inference to be deduced from this, which is that according to the theory of the balance of trade, France has a very simple means of doubling her capital at any moment. It is enough to pass them through the Customhouse, and then pitch them into the sea. In this case the exports will represent the amount of her capital, the imports will be nil, and impossible as well, and we shall gain all that the sea swallows up." --Economic Sophisms— Social Fallacies Chapter Six, Pages 224-225
On the folly of central planning and practicality of spontaneous order;
"On entering Paris, which I had come to visit, I said to myself— here are a million human beings who would all die in a short time if provisions of every kind ceased to flow toward this great metropolis. Imagination is baffled when it tries to appreciate the vast multiplicity of commodities that must enter tomorrow through the barriers in order to preserve the inhabitants from falling a prey to the convulsions of famine, rebellion and pillage. And yet all sleep at this moment, and their peaceful slumbers are not disturbed for a single instant by the prospect of such a frightful catastrophe. On the other hand, eighty departments have been laboring today, without concert, without any mutual understanding, for the provisioning of Paris. How does each succeeding day bring what is wanted, nothing more, nothing less, to so gigantic a market? What, then, is the ingenious and secret power that governs the astonishing regularity of movements so complicated, a regularity in which everybody has implicit faith, although happiness and life itself are at stake? That power is an absolute principle, the principle of freedom in transactions. We have faith in that inward light that Providence has placed in the heart of all men, and to which He has confided the preservation and indefinite amelioration of our species, namely, a regard to personal interest— since we must give it its right name— a principle so active, so vigilant, so foreseeing, when it is free in its action. In what situation, I would ask, would the inhabitants of Paris be if a minister should take it into his head to substitute for this power the combinations of his own genius, however superior we might suppose them to be—if he thought to subject to his supreme direction this prodigious mechanism, to hold the springs of it in his hands, to decide by whom, or in what manner, or on what conditions, everything needed should be produced, transported, exchanged and consumed?" --Economic Sophisms, Social Fallacies Chapter Eighteen, Pages 272-273

Bastiat was in favor of practicing wertfrei economics, to not let personal preferences cloud judgment of economic fact;
"In political economy there are no absolute principles.
In plain language, this means:
“I know not whether it be true or false; I am ignorant of what constitutes general good or evil. I give myself no trouble about that. The immediate effect of each measure upon my own personal interest is the only law which I can consent to recognize.” --Economic Sophisms, Social Fallacies Chapter Twenty, Page 281

On the dangers of mixing your metaphors;
"The word invasion itself is a good illustration of this. A French ironmaster exclaims: Preserve us from the invasion of English iron. An English landowner exclaims in return: Preserve us from the invasion of French wheat. And then they proceed to interpose barriers between the two countries. These barriers create isolation, isolation gives rise to hatred, hatred to war, war to invasion. What does it signify? cry the two sophists; is it not better to expose ourselves to a possible invasion than accept an invasion that is certain? And the people believe them, and the barriers are kept up.

And yet what analogy is there between an exchange and an invasion? What possible similarity can be imagined between a ship of war that comes to vomit fire and devastation on our towns, and a merchant ship that comes to offer a free voluntary exchange of commodities for commodities?" --Economic Sophisms, Social Fallacies Chapter Twenty-two, Page 296

On being sold counterfeit goods;
But among civilized nations surely the producers of riches are now become sufficiently numerous and strong to defend themselves.
Does this mean that they are no longer robbed? They are as much so as ever, and moreover they rob one another.
The only difference is that Spoliation has changed her agent She acts no longer by Force, but by Cunning.
To rob the public, it is necessary to deceive them. To deceive them, it is necessary to persuade them that they are robbed for their own advantage, and to induce them to accept in exchange for their property, imaginary services, and often worse." --Economic Sophisms, Social Fallacies Chapter Twenty-three, Page 304

Looking now at my reference list I realize I have 29 bookmarks more to go, all from the second volume. Should I spare you the agony/joy for until the next time? I warn you though, I may be absent for a while.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


That is how a verbaholic such as myself would describe the sensation commonly referred to déjà vu.

For a while I was secretly embarrassed to think that although I've read most of Neal Stephenson's books, notably the Diamond Age, Cryptonomicon, and the enormous Baroque Cycle trilogy, I never got around to reading his first major, coming-of-age novel Snow Crash. Or so, that is what I thought to be the case.

You see, I remember reading the Diamond Age when it came out back in 90's when I was still in grade school; to be technical, while I summered at a sleepaway camp. To this day I cherish the memories of reading it, vaguely recalling the basic storyline and some of the more remarkable elements which still reside deep in my neurostructure.

But I had no recollection whatsoever of ever reading Snow Crash until I bought a fresh copy a few weeks ago and finally read the damn thing.

And boom!, just like that, memories came flooding back-- the metaverse, the dentata, the rat thing. Even the parts about glossolalia.

I think I was 11 or 12 when I first read it. Hands down I think I've enjoyed it much more this time around.

To recap a paragraph sure to bring a smile to fellow anarchonomists;
"It's always been a mystery to Hiro, too, but then, that's how the government is. It was invented to do stuff that private enterprise doesn't bother with, which means there's probably no reason for it;"
Well said, Mr. Stephenson.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

zoning for death

A NY Times editorial published today insinuates that the heady sin of avarice is alive and thriving in the real estate industry, to the detriment of public safety. The article speaks of various regulations that Department of Buildings has tried to implement in the wake of the tragedy at ground zero, among them the widening of and the increase of required staircases.

The main force against such safety precautions is said to be the real estate industry, who are stalwart against the maximization of 'dead weight', space which is neither rentable nor salable, and hence unable to be capitalized.

As usual, what we have here is a few bureaucrats attempting to supplant the will of the people, to try to overrule their desired level of safety, to force them to pay for more safety then what they are willing to voluntarily part for by themselves.

[Monetary] greed, the most maligned, misunderstood characteristic is bandied here as though it simply were a destructive life force of its own. Say what you will of morality in general, but scratch an avowed amoralist, and you should find his instinctual hatred for avarice right there for all to see. I certainly can recognize the presence of greed, but I try to avoid ascribing to it the power of causal explanation.

In this case, it would be far more fruitful to state that the prior intervention of zoning regulation has come at the expense of public safety. Zoning, by arbitrarily and artificially constraining the natural growth of the human habitat has upset the delicate balance of market preferences into favoring space-maximizing strategies at the cost of public safety. It is a safe bet to say that in the absence of such well-intentioned intervention, society will have a better chance at working to obtain an optimal admixture of safety, and pleasant cages than it would otherwise.

Instead of pettily focusing on the motive of greed, it would be more mature (and productive!) to recognize it as an immutable nature of what it means to be human, and to let institutions and relations develop anarchically around that natural formation how they will.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

bookmarking bastiat

I've been sending myself emails whenever I come across passages of particular interest when reading the new collection of Claude Frederic Bastiat's essays on economics prepared by the Mises Institute. I'm not quite done yet, but I've already live-tagged so many nuggets I figured I would start sharing them with my imaginary readership.

So here without further ado is Bastiat on the topic of justice
"When law and force keep a man within the bounds of justice, they impose nothing upon him but a mere negation. They only oblige him to abstain from doing harm... In fact, it is not justice that has an existence of its own, it is injustice. The one results from the absence of the other." — book 1, page 64

On the contradictory absurdness of dialectical materialism
"They divide mankind into two parts. Men in general, except one, form the first; the politician himself forms the second, which is by far the most important.

In fact, they begin by supposing that men are devoid of any principle of action, and of any means of discernment in themselves; that they have no initiative; that they are inert matter, passive particles, atoms without impulse; at best a vegetation indifferent to its own mode of existence, susceptible of assuming, from an exterior will and hand an infinite number of forms, more or less symmetrical, artistic, and perfected.
" — book 1, page 67

Everybody except for themselves of course, a parody of fine quining.

Where he asserts binary exchange is a trade of equal satisfactions to each party—
"After much investigation it has been found, that in order to make the two services exchanged of equivalent value, and in order to render the exchange equitable, the best means was to allow it to be free... When we look into these subjects, we are always compelled to reason upon this maxim, that equal value results from liberty. We have, in fact, no other means of knowing whether, at a given moment, two services are of the same value but that of examining whether they can be readily and freely exchanged." — book 1, page 144
And explicitly rejects Condillac's theory of the inequality of exchange
"The explanation Condillac has given appears to me to be quite unsatisfactory and empirical—in fact it explains nothing. “From the very fact,” he says, “that an exchange is made, it follows that there must be profit for the two contracting parties, for otherwise it would not take place. Then each exchange includes two gains for humanity"...Holding this proposition as true, we see in it only the statement of a result...Exchange includes two gains, you say. How? Why? It results from the fact that it takes place. But why does it take place? What motive has induced the contracting parties to effect the exchange? Has Exchange in itself a mysterious virtue, necessarily beneficial, and incapable of explanation?” - book 2, page 90

In the former quote Bastiat endorsed the idea that value is a subjective notion, an indeterminate quantum event valid to but a specific moment, observable only through the action of exchange. That's all nice and shiny, however I think Bastiat's criticism of Condillac's theory applies equally as well to his own notion of equal value; how do we know the observed exchange was of equal values? Through the fact that it took place? But why does it take place?

It also seems odd to me that here Bastiat disapproves of Condillac utilizing an empirical method to prove his inequality of exchange theory when Bastiat himself asks the reader to do the same to arrive at the notion- stating that only upon examination of exchange do we know that the values are equal. It's odd to me because Condillac is in fact utilizing a deductive method, to reflect upon a given event to deduce that if it occurred, it was because each party gave up less than what they expected to receive. And furthermore, it seems to me that what Bastiat calls "examination" is also not empirical fact gleaned through a posteriori observation, but rather a priori deduction!

Note: Philosophy mavens and bowtied economists of the cloth are hereby invited to comment and set me straight as to what Bastiat is saying. For now, I'm taking this to be the sometimes unavoidable result of a translation where concepts get mangled when bridging that gulf.

Friday, April 04, 2008

from the frontline trenches of the war on patterns

I posted the following comment to a Gothamist post relating a NYPD raid on a Queens-based warehouse containing eight trailer loads of goods which were subsequently plundered.

In a non-Kafkaesque world, the headlines would read:

"Brazen Bandits Make Off with $4.5m Worth of Goods, Kidnap and Take Hostages into Involuntarily Confinement".

The government is the only agency which should be prosecuted for counterfeiting; the crime of defrauding [and coercing] customers into exchanging one good for another good of inferior quality.

For a transaction in which both parties are fully aware of the nature of those items which they exchange, it cannot be justly said that there is a victimized party, i.e. when Ms. Tourist purchases a 'Gucci' purse in Chinatown neither party is harmed by the consensual exchange, and in fact both parties profit in the ex-ante sense.

I know that some of you think that perhaps there are other victims here that should be taken into consideration, perhaps the Gucci corporation, or the NYC Department of Finance which didn't steal, umm, 'collect' a sales tax on the transaction.

For one, the Gucci Co. can only be a victim if they were actively deprived of a physical good, or the use of that which they already own. In this case, fictitious rights to so-called "IP" is exactly that, a scam fostered upon the backs of society to prop up the sales revenue of pattern monopolists.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

cranial tragedy

What's that poor excuse for government licensing requirements-- oh yes, oversight for public safety purposes.

Stories like the recent tragic crane collapse in Manhattan which killed seven [see the shocking NY Times report here] bring to light what I call counterfeit goods, the supposed 'public goods' which the intervention of government is allegedly providing but is not in reality. It's no surprise at all to me that such tragedies occur when society mistakenly relies upon a unaccountable government agency whose task is to oversee that crane operators know what they're doing.

This does not mean to say that I think that construction 'accidents' never just happen; I just think it more likely to be the case because of the existing statist-quo than perhaps what counterfactually might occur otherwise in a privately regulated industry.

I'm also quite interested to learn if the insurance companies that insure the crane operators rely on those very same government-approved credentials/licenses to be their sole assurance against underwriting an excessive risk.

In any case, the provision of the supposed oversight by government agency also tends to crowd out private efforts to do the same, especially if the insurance companies didn't overtly prefer a private evaluation of those same credentials.

Monday, March 31, 2008

the ghost of iceberg past

I just found an old post of mine-- okay it's not that old, but old enough that I didn't recognize the authorship as my own until I reached the end of the post.
"...Governments shouldn't attempt to regulate markets because they cannot. To the extent that they try to, they exaberate the problem on hand, and must seek to correct their earlier correction.

Secondarily, governments shouldn't attempt to "correct" markets, because to say a market has failed is a normative statement, and cannot be proven. In fact, the market is never "right" nor "wrong", as all a market consists of is billions of individuals trading property rights, and who is to say what two or more consenting adults agree to is incorrect?

Last, it's actually a joke to think that government "regulate" a market, because only markets can regulate themselves. The "regulation" that the government deems to provide is a poor substitute, and in fact in most times the regulatory bodies are captured by the special interests themselves, in a process known as regulatory capture. That's why our energy and telecommunication sector lags behind the world, and the biggest firms within that field are typically those that were granted monopolies by the same regulatory crew. And to think you call that "regulation".

As for suggesting that Wal-Mart must take their business elsewhere is to say that government has the right to dictate when, where and which private individuals are permitted to exchange goods. They are not "free" to take their business anywhere, as the word free implies that they have an un-interfered choice. Otherwise it is like saying that a person being mugged is "free" to choose his money or his life.

As for empirical observations, they are invalid as far as economic theory is concerned, since it is impossible to control for every variable. Economic theory can only be deduced from a axiomatic, a priori logic. To the extent that your observational data differs from theory, you must either admit that your data is incomplete or simply wrong."

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

the root of all evil

In concern to my last post, I meant to include a specific example indicating Murray Rothbard's even-handed approach to TPo1819, in that he would simply restate the arguments made by the differing parties without explicitly endorsing either.

For example, money-brokers were at one point considered the scourge of the early colonial American bank system. These gentle folk were guilty of the crime of purchasing discounted bank notes belonging to out of town banks, and then taking these same notes and redeeming them at their respective banks for their par value in specie. However the banks wouldn't stand these slimy two-timers who dared to impoverish their banks by withdrawing specie and so they sought to outlaw them.

It was here that I thought that Rothbard could interject that the banks had the duty to thank these money-brokers whose selfish, nefarious actions actually served to bolster the exchange value of the very same bank notes. To see why, simply imagine the lack of such money-brokers; after all if a vendor is presented with a bank note for a distant bank of which he knows almost nothing about, it would be more like that the note would have to be discounted even further before he would begin to consider it worth his trouble to accept it in lieu of specie, or in the notes of a closer banking institution.

The money-brokers in their actions thus filled a role in minimizing the discounting of bank notes of distant banks, and countervailed the tendency to further discount then what would have been otherwise.

Monday, March 24, 2008

don't panic!

Murray Rothbard's The Panic of 1819 is quite unlike any other scholarly work of his that I'm familiar with in that he let the facts speak for themselves. Though he does color the arguments presented, he does it in a fair-handed, 'just the facts, mam' manner which might mislead the unknowing reader to think that that he doesn't have a horse in the race. Honestly, I can recall seeing the term "Austrian School of Economics" mentioned just once in the entire book, a shocker considering that in it he analyzes the conditions surrounding what could have been the great depression of the early 1800's in support of the Austrian Business Cycle Theory.

The Rothbard that I'm familiar with, from the handful of his books that I've read is never dry, uncompromising, and his arguments intellectually-honed which can help the typical unmotivated reader to slog through the 1,400+ pages scholars edition of Man, Economy and State; perhaps not by the edge of his seat, but enough so.

In contrast, TPo1819 is a work of drudgery, detailing the minutia of inductive economic research, one which Rothbard clearly set aside his prejudice for utilizing the thymological method of Verstehen as pioneered by Mises in favor of appealing to those who favor a rather historical, empirical approach to the matter. After reading the first chapter I already was under the impression that Rothbard was writing not to the choir, but to mainstream historians and economic professors alike in an attempt to subtly win over academia to the ABCT.

Though this book required more patience than what I usually have to offer, I was rewarded every now and then when I found insider comments passed off as innocuous statements. One such comments appears towards the end:
"Stress on the moral virtues often took the form of attack on luxurious consumption and other extravagances of the day. Embryonic Veblenians called upon the rich to set an example in thrifty living to the lower classes, who tended to imitate the former."

Thursday, March 06, 2008

false bravado

There was jitters in the air this morning as the local news-media prattled endlessly about an early morning explosion at the military recruitment station located in Times Square, which resulted in no bodily harm and minor property damage.

Michael Bloomberg, ever the bloviating yenta, wagged his fingers and called out against the coward who perpetrated the attack, if one can call it that. 

What I can't understand is why this presently-unknown figure was labeled a coward, and why it should be considered an appropriate epithet in this case. Is it wrong that he lacked resolve to take life, and instead chose to 'attack' when it was certain nobody would be in harms way?

If anything, one can legitimately make the opposite case-- that this is one hell of a brave fellow, who is risking life and limb to deliver a middle-finger salute to the imperial U.S. war regime and her insatiable hunger of destroying human life in her relentless meat grinder of "foreign policy". I reckon that Times Square is one of the worlds most surveilled locations, up there with Orwell's London, and this courageous act sends a loud message to our oppressors in blue that we are resolved to overcome their trigger-happy, cattle-prodding enforced servitude.

Just compare this bomb-throwing 'coward' with the Hercules cavalcade of police squad vehicles which goes on pretty much every day in NYC. For those who've never heard of the Hercules
"And there are the Hercules Teams, elite, heavily armed, Special Forces–type police units that pop up daily around the city. It can be at the Empire State Building, the Brooklyn Bridge, Times Square, or the stock exchange, wherever the day's intelligence reports suggest they could be needed. These small teams arrive in black Suburbans, sheathed in armor-plated vests and carrying 9-mm. submachine guns—sometimes with air or sea support. Their purpose is to intimidate and to very publicly mount a show of force." - article link
Pray tell, what bravery do these hostile brutes exhibit? Do they suppose it to be especially courageous to parade around the killing fields of Manhattan while waving around machine guns under the protection of cover from air support? The biggest danger any one of these S.S. knuckle-heads face is painful priapism from the hard-on they get from being 'in control of the situation'.

If it were up to me, I'd reverse the conventional doublethink application of the labels for coward and courageous. But as everyone knows, Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

dinah demalkhuta dinah

Among Orthodox Jews there is a consensus that government is a necessary institution, and which is legitimated by our religion. Furthermore, leading rabbis often urge that it is an obligation upon each and every eligible citizen to register and vote, for the purpose of having "our voice" heard loud and clear, in order to acquire via political means our fair share of the loot which we ought have coming to our neighborhoods maintenance and pet causes[1].

The Jewish principle which justifies and legitimizes governmental terrorism is known as 'dinah de'malkhuta dinah', which literally translates to "the law of the kingdom is the law". Most laymen are familiar with this halachic maxim, and a overwhelming majority of them take it as gospel, without understanding its applicable parameters, and make even less effort to understand the underlying principle.

A short while ago, I came across the sugya (section) in the tractate Nedarim on pages 27b-28a which discusses cases in which one is permitted to falsely declare a neder, a vow forswearing the benefit from either an activity, an object, or from a person. The three cases where one is permitted to falsely swear is to a brigand, a murderer, and a tax collector. [The purpose of the neder would be to bolster another false claim that the property they are looking to loot either belongs to the temple, or to the royalty which will dissuade them from taking it.]

In those three cases, it is permissible to make such a vow to forswear the benefit of his wife and children if he were to be lying about the ownership of the goods in question, which is of course the truth of the matter.

The commentators ask, and in regard to the tax collector, isn't the collector fulfilling a legitimate role to raise taxes for the king based on the principle of dinah de'malkhuta dinah? (Henceforth shortened to DND) So why is one permitted to lie, and on top of that to declare a false vow?

The commentators come up with an answer along the line that if taxes are not being collected equitably from the population, one is permitted to protect his property from that excessive plundering[2].

In any case, where did the commentators come up with this concept of DND?

To some commentators, DND isn't a groundbreaking rule of unique halachic origin, but one simply based upon the principle of ownership. To them, the power to tax derives from the fact the that the sovereign is the landlord, and by that right can demand payment allowing you on his land. Exactly how he comes to own the kingdom isn't discussed, but this explanation will at least frame the boundaries of what DND would entail, contrary to the all-encompassing principle some would have you believe.

Other commentators disagree and instead would like to base DND upon a social compact of sorts, that people are effectively giving their consent to abide by the law of the land by choosing to settle in that certain region. Perhaps this is a more fashionable explanation to the democratically minded who like to think that they live in a contract society, but excuse me if I feel that it's a horrid justification for democracy in search of a halachic source.

The one thing that the commentators are in agreement is to the extent which DND would require of the individual in regards to compliance with positive law. In short, it is limited to 'roads and taxes' which is to say that one is obligated to pay the tolls to use the roads and bridges, and to pay the taxes of their respective jurisdictions. Other than those two categories, a person is permitted to follow the mandates of positive law, but is in no way obligated to. Furthermore, any positive law which to fulfill would necessitate a violation of Torah laws is forbidden.

Most people I know are either unaware of these facts, or simply would like to forget them. To them, DND says what they want it to say so that they can go on accepting the statist quo in their sheeplike existence. To myself, DND does not sanction grand larceny to the tune of 25%-39% tax brackets, even as I acknowledge that yes, there are some lunatics out there who would defend a 150% income tax in the name of DND. The one thing I truly wish to accomplish with this post is to stop the bandying about of DND as a halachic principle justifying any absurdity one can dream up.

[1] Thankfully the pet causes I'm talking about are not local tennis and swimming instruction, or banal theater productions, but causes such as senior citizen foster care, food pantry programs, etc. This is no way forgives the original sin of robbery-via-taxation, but hopefully it can be viewed as a lessor evil in light of the thick-thin prism of dialectical-libertarianism.

[2] What makes the taxes inequitable in this case according to the commentators is that the tax collector is trying to burden the rich with the bulk of the taxes. It's not yet clear to me if their distaste was with a proportional or a graduated (progressive) tax rate or perhaps either one, but I think that anything other than a poll (head) tax was considered an odious tax, one which permits the victim to not tell the truth or to take upon vows which he does not intend to keep.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

maybe credits

Here are two F for Fake screen captures from Robert Anton Wilson's Maybe Logic. Click the images for more info.

Note: I think the "Dubya" one needs no further linkage, unless it's for google-bombing purposes.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

dragging it on

About a year ago, BK Marcus quoted verbatim a definition from A.W.A.D. for the word dragoon to which I took a particular fancy, and thus will reproduce here.
dragoon (druh-GOON) verb tr.

To force someone to do something; coerce.

[From French dragon (dragon, to dragoon).]

This is a good example of how a term transferred from an object to a people to an action. Originally it referred to the firearms, either from the fact that they breathed fire like a dragon or from the shape of the pistol hammer. Eventually it began to be applied to a European cavalryman armed with a carbine. Today the term is used in the sense of forcing someone to do something against his or her will.

At the time, I was curious to learn if it was perhaps related to the word goon (when used to connote 'thug') and was mildly surprised to find a bit of disagreement surrounding the etymological origins for the word goon, a word I was convinced was related to the Indian word goonda, slang for ruffian. Most dictionaries attribute to the word goon the following etymology:
1921, "stupid person," from gony "simpleton" (c.1580), of unknown origin, but applied by sailors to the albatross and similar big, clumsy birds (1839); sense of "hired thug" first recorded 1938 (in ref. to union "beef squads" used to cow strikers in the Pacific northwest), probably from Alice the Goon, slow-witted and muscular (but gentle-natured) character in "Thimble Theater" comic strip (starring Popeye) by E.C. Segar (1894-1938). She also was the inspiration for British comedian Spike Milligan's "The Goon Show." What are now "juvenile delinquents" were in the 1940s sometimes called goonlets. doubts the goonda theory; "The Hindi and Urdu term goonda can be translated as rascal or ruffian and even as goon, but there is no evidence to indicate that the English goon comes from goonda or vice versa.

A perhaps less authoritative source argues that "[a]ctually it is one of the many Indian words that crept into the English language during the days of the Raj. It is a modified form of the Hindi term "goonda," which means gangster. This term and a derivative "goondaism" are widely used in Indian English." See here also.

I found a talmudic source which should lend credence to the latter opinion. On daf 32a of tractate Nedarim the word goonda is spelled out in the Aramaic, and in this instance it denotes a destructive fighting force, which can be used to denote a group of thugs anywhere from a squad to an entire army.

What are the odds that the Aramaic word goonda which has been around for 2000+ years to denote a group of fighters in no way influenced the English language, lent to, if not borrowed from the Hindi word for the same? I go with the Aramaic/Hindi theory, at least for the time being.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

jumping the tommy gun

Geez, it's only February 7th, and the criminal gang, writ large decided that they couldn't wait another week for the anniversary of the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre to launch a preemptive strike against a rivalrous mafia clan, albeit one whose coercive power is puny in comparison, and which wholly owes its existence to the larger gang in a parasitic fashion by thriving off the extra-legal scraps they are afforded.


"Materialist philosophers assert that thoughts are a secretion of the brain as bile is a secretion of the gall-bladder."
- Human Action, Part I, Chapter III commenting on Karl Vogt's Köhlerglaube und Wissenschaft.

"For a doctrine asserting that thoughts are in the same relation to the brain in which gall is to the liver, it is not more permissible to distinguish between true and untrue ideas than between true and untrue gall."
- The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science, Chapter I, Subchapter VII

See, I already told you that Mises was no dullard, and was quite capable of deadpan delivery when need-be.


I can't believe I forgot this one from Epistemological Problems of Economics, Chapter IV, Subchapter VIII (pg 172 in the third edition)--
"Even materialism, which professes to have solved the problem of the relation between the psychical and the physical by means of the famous simple formula that thinking stands in the same relationship to the brain as gall does to the bladder, has not even undertaken the attempt to establish a constant relationship between definite external events, which are quantitatively and qualitatively discernible, and thoughts and volitions."

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

bootlegger & real estate developer coalition

Says the NY Times:
"It may seem befuddling that an industry group would favor having to pay higher fees to the government for more intense regulation, but that seems to be the case with developers of condominiums and co-ops in New York."

You know I'm shocked, SHOCKED to find that there is a baptist-bootlegger coalition going on over here!

Thursday, January 31, 2008

post hoc ergo propter hoc

Despite the NYPD's best efforts, recorded crimes have continued to decrease year after year according to this NY Times report.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

death becomes them

To my ears (and eyes), the verb kill has a negative connotation which describes a causal relationship to the death of a person, animal or animate matter in a unfair and judgmental manner when there is no direct agency to ascribe the responsibility. Because I shun, excuse me, eschew such usage, I like to substitute the verb die in its various tenses; i.e., "he died from a fall from a four-story window" instead of "the drop from the four-story window killed him."

This is unless I am talking about a scenario involving a conscious attempt of life-taking, in which case I would prefer kill for justifiable or accidental homicide, and murder when it's neither. So if I shoot an aggressing brigand in self-defense it's the former, while if I did the same to a pencil thief, my improportionate response would be tantamount to murder according to a libertarian theory of justice.

It's not a watertight distinction. If someone commits suicide, I don't know if that counts as killing one's self or self-inflicted murder. Or deaths stemming from a reckless driver's car accident, an event he didn't want to eventuate but none the less contributed to by operating his vehicle in a manner not conducive to a safe-driving habitat.

I find that many folks are in this habit of using the word kill to push forward their political agenda (and I'm not specifically referring to anti-abortionists.) For example anti-development zealots will decry the unfortunate plight of construction workers "being killed on the job" to shamelessly push forth their agenda of a housing or commercial stasis.

Thoughts anyone?