Monday, July 26, 2010

Kristen Hauck's Short Story Blog

Go check out Kristen Hauck's short story blog. From now on it will also be in my blogroll. If I didn't think it was worth reading, it wouldn't be there. The stories capture you and make you want to go back and reread them. There is no higher compliment for a work of literature than to say that it makes you want to read it again.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Food Insurance at Mises

I have a new article at titled Suppose There Were Food Insurance.

Economics: Creationist, Intelligent Design, or Scientific?

I was raised a Baptist in rural Kentucky. So it should not surprise anyone that I was a creationist when I entered college. Of course, considering that I majored in recombinant gene technology, it should also not surprise anyone that I encountered a bit of cognitive dissonance. The first solution was to become a believer in intelligent design – though I didn’t know at the time there was in fact such a movement afoot. But then, by the time I graduated, the understanding I had of living things as evolving complex systems had made me a full-fledged Darwinian.

All of this means that I understand the world views of each of these positions. The creationist sees order in the universe and believes there must be an orderer who keeps constant control over everything. The intelligent designist is willing to admit to some chaos in the universe which can contribute to some order, but they still insist that there must be some higher intelligence to intervene periodically to fix things and to make more complex elements in the overall system. The evolutionist – particularly the cosmic evolutionist – believes order emerges naturally, self-organizing out of the interaction of less complex elements. Chaos gives rise to order naturally, and simple elements can give rise to complexity. These are the three main ways to understand the natural order. The first is religious; the second purports to be scientific, but in the end is really faith-based and, therefore, religious; the last is purely scientific and requires nothing external for order to arise.

The latter view is the one I had almost completely embraced by the time I took the Intro. to Philosophy class that changed my life. It was taught by Ronald Nash, a Christian free market philosopher who taught his book Poverty and Wealth and, thus, introduced me to free market economics. That the economy should be a free market was immediately obvious to me, as it was clear that a free market, like an ecosystem or an organism, was an evolving complex system requiring no one to give it order. Nature gave rise to ever more species over time through evolution; the free market gave rise to ever more goods over time through a similar process. All of this was perfectly clear to me. I was a Hayekian before I’d read a word of Hayek.

It has since become clear to me that these three world views – creationism, intelligent design, and cosmic creationism – are equally applicable to understanding why people hold different theories of economic organization.

Economic creationism is socialism. The socialist looks at the free market and sees nothing but chaos. Naturally, order is to be preferred to chaos and, since order requires an orderer in this world view, the economic planning of socialism is what is required. That, at least, was the position of the socialists prior to the socialist calculation debate that was definitely answered by Mises and Hayek. The socialist is now left in the same position as many theists who, unable to believe in the divine creative orderer, now believe in the divine creative moralist – meaning, they believe that creationism is still a necessary belief in order to have a moral society. Another reaction to science having pulled the rug out from under creationism is to seek order in the workings of some secretive group or other. This is why so many arguments from the Left sound like conspiracy theories (rich oppressing the poor, men oppressing women, the West oppressing everyone else, the capitalists oppressing the workers) – because they are. As such, as we will see, they are disconnected from reality.

Those who find they cannot help but believe in reality, yet insist upon holding on to their faith often become intelligent deisgnists. The economic interventionist argues that, of course the free market works better than outright socialism, but there are market failures and moral issues which require intervention in the economy. If it weren’t for government regulations, welfare, and subsidies, the market would fall into chaos. There is no fundamental difference between this belief and that of intelligent design. One is applied to the economy, and thus the control is assigned to people; the other is applied to living things, and thus must be controlled by a higher power. That is all. Both agree, though, that the designer must be smarter, wiser, and more ethical than the rest of us. On this those who believe in biological intelligent design have a stronger case than do those who believe in economic intelligent design, the interventionists. They also don’t need to have nearly as much faith.

This then leaves us with the theory that the economy is a self-organizing , evolving, complex system. This is the view of the economy supported by the Austrian school of economics, and given the name of spontaneous order by Hayek. In this theory, no one is in charge, and no one needs to be in charge. Lower order interacting elements give rise to higher order patterns of order. New things emerge naturally and, literally, as quickly as physically possible in such a system. Natural selective forces choose what survives and what does not. Creation can happen even more quickly in an economic spontaneous order than a biological one because the brain acts faster than does biological evolution, and because we can retain past bad inventions and use them in the future if they prove useful later. When something is lost in the ecosystem, it is lost forever and cannot be retrieved. One can have a series of failures and learn from each one (consider Edison’s track record with the light bulb). A spontaneous order economy is thus the most powerful wealth-creating system possible.

For someone who understands evolution and self-organizing complex systems, the truth of biological evolution is overwhelming. So why, then, do we still have people who believe in creationism or intelligent design? There are many answers to this. Some find it simpler to understand. Others believe any order requires an orderer, and haven’t learned what is necessary to learn otherwise. Still others believe it is the only way to ensure a moral universe (something which is rapidly being answered by the work of such people as Marc Hauser and other evolutionary psychologists). But in the end, no matter what the reason, it all boils down to choosing faith over reality.

When someone expresses a belief in cosmic creationism, many who believe in biological evolution express shock that anyone would believe such a thing. Battles are fought in schools and courts over the teaching of such beliefs. And yet, many – if not most – of the believers in biological evolution are economic intelligent designists, or even economic creationists. Though this belief arguably has a more widespread and more negative effect on peoples’ lives and well-being than the belief in cosmic creationism, there are not only few if any battles fought in our schools and courts over it, it is in fact accepted by a majority of people. And really, ignorance is no excuse. Far more people believe in evolution than understand it; but with the free market economy, the only people who truly believe in it are those who understand it. Worse, this is true not just in the general populace, but among academics in the field itself. This should be a scandal. It would be as though 90% of biologists were intelligent designists of various levels of faith, with another 5% or so being creationists. No doubt biology would have advanced in the 20th century about as much as economics has had that fact been the case.

The medieval world view was creationist through and through. God gave order to the universe, to life, and to the mind or soul of man, as well as to the economy, culture, and political structures – though these last three were typically through His representatives on earth (from the religious to the royal hierarchies). But then the arts broke free in the Renaissance – Shakespeare’s plays show characters ordering the play rather than the play ordering the characters, as happened with Medieval plays. The economy, whose new order was recognized by Adam Smith, eventually followed. Then governments, with the emergence of representative democracies. Finally, it was recognized as existing in the living world by Darwin, and then in the physical world (whose increasing disorder was recognized before its increasing order was). Ironically, as nature was increasingly recognized as being a spontaneous order, Medievalist notions of economy, culture, and politics returned – only this time, replacing God with Man. As a result, the Inquisition of the Communists was far worse than that of the Medieval Catholic Church.

If the universe is a self-organizing, evolving system and every complex system in the universe, from living cells to brains to ecosystems, economies, and cultures, are self-organizing, evolving systems, then classical liberalism is the world view most accurate to how the world really works. Indeed, the classical liberal position is the same as belief in the world as a spontaneous order. The classical liberal accepts the fundamental nature of reality, seeking to understand it so we can learn how to best adapt to it. As the collapse of Communism and the current decline of the socialist and welfare economies of the West show, one can only ignore reality for so long. We must fight against those who believe in political and economic creationism and intelligent design for the same reason their cosmological and biological siblings must be fought against: so that truth may be known and the lives of people around the world improved.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Secular Free Verse vs. Religious Formal Verse

I think there are good reasons why formal poetry the world over preceded free verse. Those reasons are likely to be biological than directly connected to religion, but the ancient naturalness of both seem to be connected to each other.

On the other hand, free verse and the non(anti)-formalist verse that followed seem to be distinctly secular in manmade-and-therefore-unnatural fashion. The antiformalists all argued (absurdly) that formal verse was antidemocratic, indeed, elitist — while their verse (which the masses hated, loving formal verse) was democratic and anti-elitist. Of course, the opposite was in fact true. People prefer lyrical rock, country, and rap songs to surrealist, LANGUAGE, and postmodern poetry. With the addition of such music especially, formal verse seems to tap into a deep Dionysian element that 20th century free verse and other antiformalist poetry discards completely. Formal verse seems to tap into the very rhythms of the universe — including our mental/neural universe — which makes it deeply religious in its experience. This is something free verse, etc. cannot create, whatever other interesting elements they may have. In this sense nonformalist poetry is deeply secular insofar as it cannot connect us to those deep rhythms which we describe as religious.

Of course, as I have pointed out elsewhere (my dissertation, for one), poetry is likely to have its origins in song, which is the reunion of language and music from a primate mating song (think gibbons). Indeed, we know that The Iliad and The Odyssey were sung, and these were religious texts. It seems likely that many initial songs were connected to religion as well. Of course, if you want to get right down to it, songs and dancing were both likely connected to mating calls and sexual demonstrations (as they still do). At the same time, I am convinced that the emergence of language gave rise to the simultaneous emergence of religion. Which may be why the earliest narratives are religious texts. This double origin of poetry -- in sexual music and language-giving-rise-to-religion is probably why there is so much tension with religion and sex in poetry.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Darwinian Classical Liberalism at Cato Unbound

There has been an interesting discussion over at Cato Unbound. The first article is by Larry Arnhart, who argues for a Darwinian Liberalism. This is followed up by P.Z. Meyers' Evolution is Far Freer than Classical Liberalism, Lionel Tiger's Much Work Left to Be Done in Connecting Politics and Evolution, and Herbert Gintis' Reflections on Arnhart's Darwinian Liberalism.

Arnhart touches on several ideas I've been thinking about, including ideas for a paper I am writing for one of the Advances In Austrian Economics series on Hayek's philosophical psychology, where I talk about the relationship between Hayek's spontaneous order theory of the mind and the moral order. I am of the opinion that spontaneous order theory is the true foundation of what libertarians want, which is a society of liberty. More, we can see how supporting a moral order (in the form of the spontaneous moral order) is not inconsistent with a libertarian world view. This is a place where many libertarians get themselves in trouble.

P.Z. Meyers' followup to Larry Arnhart's article connecting Darwinism with classical liberalism does not address the specifics of Arnhart's article -- in fact, except that both are about evolution and politics, I would be hard-pressed to point out how this refers to Arnhart's article at all. His arguments are vague, rambling, and inconsistent. Myers argues that "evolution" is no defense of classical liberalism, but Arnhart never said it was. He was arguing that humans evolved in such a way that classical liberalism is the best social organization for humans to thrive. If this is the best criticism of Arnhart's position (and I don't think it is -- we still have Herbert Gintis' to come), then Darwinian liberalism is in good shape. Of course, a good criticism will actually strengthen the position, so I always look forward to good criticism of his position. This just wasn't it.

Lionel Tiger gives a very entertaining rejoineder to Arnhart's essay though, again, I think it falls far short of Arhnart's essay. This is not to say that he doesn't raise some interesting questions, which libertarians need to address. He also brings up the (horrifying, in my opinion) observation that the new family (abut 40% of births) consists of a mother, a child, and a bureaucrat. Considering that bureaucrats are the parasitic class of modern society (not just failing to create wealth, but in fact actively destroying it), this cannot but necessarily have a negative effect. A true single parent household is to be much more preferred!

All in all, the first two responses were disappointing. Herbert Gintis', on the other hand, is a great response. Well-informed and thoughtful. The first thing I would note, though, is that at the end, Gintis is talking more about a certain kind of libertarian who is so libertarian that they won't criticize anyone's actions or beliefs than he is Arnhart, who explicitly says he is a conservative rather than a libertarian precisely because he thinks virtue is necessary for a free society.

Another big argument I have with Gintis is his statement that, "The notion that mutual tolerance and adjudication of moral differences emerges spontaneously in civil society is implausible." With all due respect to Gintis, he needs to familiarize himself with the history of civilization, which shows precisely this happening. More, there has been actual scientific research proving that this phenomenon actually occurs. People actually do spontaneously treat each other better and fairer in denser, wide-ranging societies with market economies. I suspect that this is as much a reflection of modern liberal pessimisim (an irony, since golden-age thinking is reactionary, not liberal) as anything. Darwin himself notes this occurance, and even provides an explanation for it. From this perspective, this idea is as Darwinian as one can get. On the other hand, it is also likely to be a reflection of his not really understanding the nature of the spontaneous order. If he is expecting such behavior to emerge "spontaneously" from people living their lives as islands, then he is right. But that is not what spontaneous order says happens. First, spontaneous order theory requires humans be social mammals, interacting with each other. It in in and through those interactions that "mutual tolerance and adjudication of moral differences emerges spontaneously in civil society." Gintis (and everyone else) needs to familiarize himself more with the spontaneous order literature.

I will say this, though: Gintis is right that evolution does support many forms of governance. But network theory and complex adaptive systems theory, combined with human universals/evolutionary psychology demonstrate that only a spontaneous order -- democracy, catallaxy, and even virtue ethics in the Aristotlean tradition -- allows people to live freer, more prosperous lives. It may not be the only political-economic system, but it is the best one for a social mammal with a population as large and dominant as ours -- the one in the end most suited for a species such as ours to live the best life possible.

Friday, July 16, 2010

From Self-Organized Criticality to Cycles

One of the intentions of government regulations of the economy is to reduce unpredictability in the economy. Certainly the Federal Reserve was put in place with that stated purpose -- the Fed is supposed to reduce economic uncertainty. However, unpredictability and uncertainty are features of complex adaptive systems. And the economy is a complex adaptive system. When you simplify a dynamic system, you move it from the region of self-organized criticality, where new things are created, into a state of periodicity -- cycles. In other words, the effect of government regulations, including those involving the Federal Reserve, that are intended to simplify and reduce unpredictability and uncertainty, in fact cause economic cycles. The cure is the cause of the illness of business cycles. Worse, further simplification to remove uncertainty and unpredictability further only works to calcify the system -- until it is no longer a system, let alone a complex adaptive system.

This is a fancy, scientific way of saying that the Austrian economists were right about business cycles.
Brad DeLong blogged on how our cyclic pattern has turned structural. This is very bad. The economy is rigidfying -- as one would predict from systems theory. This is the original post, by Dave Altig.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Connecting Good Workers With Good Jobs

The current system doesn't seem to do a very good job of making sure that the best people are getting the best jobs -- or that the best positions are getting the best people. This may be true locally, but in the age of the global internet, it seems antiquated for it to still be only locally true.

I'm not seeing a lot going on on the internet, either. Unless you're a middle manager looking for another middle manager job, I haven't found things like Monster to be of much use. I'm getting tired of being offered jobs selling insurance!

It seems to me that someone could make a fortune with a search engine that could do a global search of job postings online and match them with resumes/C.V.'s and put both parties in contact with each other. Maybe combine it with personality tests, etc. that could further refine searches. If anyone does this, don't forget whose idea it was! I'm not greedy -- 1% of the profits would do just fine. :-)

Monday, July 05, 2010

Deirdre McCloskey on the Arts and Economics

Economist Deirdre McCloskey on the arts and economics. Some really interesting ideas here. A challenge to artists to represent more of the world than we typically do.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Happy Birthday, America!

Happy Birthday, America! You're 236 years old today, which is very old for a democratic republic. That makes you the oldest in history. Very notable. I hope you can remain in good health, though I see you have grown very weak in your old age. I blieve you could be vibrant. I believe you could be reborn! Please resist those who would pull the plug on you, who deeply desire you accept euthanasia. Those people are evil. While you haven't always been good, you have been better than almost everyone else. When I chastise you, I do it out of love, wanting you to be better. Resist those who do not love what is deeply, truly you: liberty, true equality (not the evil that is egalitarianism), true individualism (as proposed by the Scottish Enlightenment philosophers, not the false one proposed by the Continental European philosophers), and spontaneous orders (democracy, free market economy, freedom of speech and press and beliefs). Happy Birthday, America. I hope you recover. I hope you get well. I home you come back stronger than ever, on the things that made you strong and are the only things that can make you strong again.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

What Makes a Leftist a Leftist

"The Grand March is the splendid march on the road to brotherhood, equality, justice, happiness; it goes on and on, obstacles notwithstanding, for obstacles must be if the march is to be the Grand March.

The dictatorship of the proletariat or democracy? Rejection of the consumer society or demands for increased productivity? The guillotine or an end to the death penalty? It is all beside the point. What makes a leftist a leftist is not this or that theory but his ability to integrate any theory into the kitsch called the gramd march."

Milan Kundera, "The Unbearable Lightness of Being," pg. 257

And remember, for Kundera, kitsch is the denial of shit.