Friday, April 29, 2011

The True Nature of Government

Me on the nature of government, from a comment left at EconLog:

Government is a social ape hierarchical power structure, where power is weilded for the sake of power. We see this in all primate hierarchies except one -- bonobos, which are a special case I will discuss momentarily. We used to think that the governing hierarchies of social mammals came about to ensure more breeding opportunities for the alpha, but genetic tests proved otherwise -- sometimes the alpha would actually have slightly fewer, as the rest were sneaking around behind his back, breeding with the females in the shadows. So that's not why the alpha male in mammalian hierarchies evolved. Nor, does it seem, to have to do with getting more food, as that distribution seems more or less even -- though the alpha can and often does get first dibs, and grants such favors to favorites as well. In chimpanzees, the alpha males lead war and hunting troopes -- which is actually dangerous, and exposes them to being more likely to be hurt. Alpha male apes also tend to grow much more massive in response to becoming the alpha. This is the origins of human governance, then, in ape social hierarchies. From what primatologists can tell, it seems that the hierarchy is simply power for the sake of power. It may contribute to protection against outside groups, but that seems to be the primary benefit to the group, which is often oppressed by the alpha and his followers. Of course, if the alpha is too oppressive, he may find a coalition that even includes the females overthrowing him.

Add language, and what you have are people grabbing power for the sake of power and using language to persuade everyone else that they are doing it for the benefit of everyone else.

Now, as promised, the bonobos. They are unusual in that the females are slightly larger, and thus the bonobos are led by females. There is less meat-eating, because the males hunt, but any meat they get, the females just take it from them. Almost all conflicts are resolved using sex. Yes, all conflicts. Sex is also used as a greeting and for trade.

Behaviorally, humans are closer to chimpanzees than bonobos, though.
Go down further on the comments. Arnold Kling agrees with me. :-)

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Laws of Economics Apply to Education

I find it interesting how comments on my article on the free-lance professor at The Pope Center has gotten similar arguments from friends, commenters at The Pope Center, and commenters at Phi Beta Cons. All are based on the same falacy: that the laws of economics somehow do not apply to education. If there is a demand for something and scarcity of supply, the laws of economics apply. Period.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Atlas Shrugged, The Movie

I have seen Atlas Shrugged. If you haven't, go see it. It is the movie our times calls for.

I could snipe at any number of little artistic flaws the film has, just as I could snipe at the artistic flaws in the novel. It is no Casablanca or Great Gatsby, respectively, but then, what is? Shall I compare like to like, dystopian fiction to dystopian fiction, Atlas Shrugged emerges as an exemplar of the form.

The villains are as wonderful in the film as in the novel. The actor playing Hank Reardon does a great Hank Reardon. He's the man's man we all hoped he would be. The plot is there, and the mystery is compelling -- even if, like me, you know what it is.

I went with my wife, who only just now started reading Atlas Shrugged, and did not finish Part I before we went to see the movie. She is loving the novel, and she loved the film. She wishes she had the time to just sit and finish the novel, and she can't believe she has to wait a year for Part II. That's a rave review from someone who is smart and highly educated, but never learned to become a literature snob as too many of us who have advanced degrees in literature become. She liked Sophocles' Oedipus plays because they are in fact great works with exciting plots, not because she was told it was great, and therefore concluded it is great. There is much to be said for an honest response to a work of literature.

In any case, this isn't her review, but mine.

Rand's works are didactic. That is a tradition in literature that was abandoned with much post-Renaissance literature, but that does not mean it is not a valid approach or tradition. Rand does morality plays, and her works should be judged as such -- as much as they should be judged in the dystopian tradition. From this perspective, her works are, again, to be recommended. One does not have to agree with her moral system in whole or part to understand her works in these traditions. And if you don't like her moral system, then the film will be something you will enjoy, since the speeches are minimized.

I will also note that Rand is quite satirical, something which comes out a bit better in the film when you actually hear the names of the legislation which get passed.

What we see in the film, which was brilliantly modernized/futurized to make the centrality of trains make sense, is a tale for today, that is taking on horrifying reality. We may desire to know Who is John Galt? for today -- but of equal importance, we need to know Who is Wesley Mouch?

Australia's Creative Meccas

Calling Sydney and Melbourne "fashionable, innovative, diverse, and prosperous" (The Flight of the Creative Class, 175), Richard Florida says that if these were U.S. cities, they would rank 4th in the creative class, 5th on his Bohemian Index, and 4th on his Creativity Index. More than that, he points out that "Creative occupations make up a whopping half of the workforce in central Sydney (51 percent) and central Melbourne (50 percent)---well ahead of most U.S. regions. Both cities are also hotbeds of high art, fashion, music, and street-level culture" (175).

As a creative person myself, it sounds like these are the places to be. If I could get a job in Australia, would I move there? In a minute. Surely Sydney would welcome a poet/playwright who writes formalist poetry and verse plays.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Subject-Based Learning

I don't believe in "student-centered learning." Eduardo, a commentor at OwlSparks, agrees and, more importantly, has a far better alternative:

As opposed to student-center, I believe that a subject-center approach tends to be more effective. This is when teacher & student collaborate to improve each others expertise. It focuses on what needs to be learned, it recognizes that both have something to add (because both do), it's flexible, nurtures problems solving skills, cooperation, communication, curiosity & awareness, etc.

If you are learning something, it is the subject that is important, not the teacher, and not the student. That may seem odd to say, unless you understand what "student-centered learning" really is, which is adjusting what you are teaching to what the student considers relevant, rather than helping the student understand that the topic is relevant. Student-centered learning caters to the ignorance and prejudices of the student rather than expanding their horizons; it directs education to the narrow foci of the students rather than to giving them a larger, more complex world from which to choose. It has come about because it is easier to adjust to the student than to try to get the student to understand the relevance of the subject. At the college level, it caters to those students who are there not because they love to learn, but because they want a certificate.

If I understand Eduardo's meaning of the subject-centered approach, the focus becomes on learning about the subject and its full usefulness (vs. the narrow usefulness of student-centered learning). Learning occurs in the interplay between the student and the teacher. It is Socratic in the best sense of the term. It also requires the students to investigate the subject outside of the confines of the classroom and the textbook, in order to bring something to contribute. Naturally, the relationship among teacher, student, and subject is that the teacher knows far, far more than the students (or else the teacher wouldn't be the teacher, nor the student the student -- a seemingly obvious statement that seems lost on far too many people). We cannot forget this. The teacher is there because the teacher knows things, and the student is there because the student is ignorant relative to the teacher. The teacher is there to help facilitate learning, and to correct errors. If the student is treated like some delicate flower that cannot bear the least little criticism, the students will never be corrected, and will continue on in life in error. Without correction, there is no education.

The teacher, though, should be open to learning as well. The important thing is learning the truth, not in avoiding correction. Teachers can be wrong about facts as well, and should be open to correction, in service of the truth. Ego has no place in education, from either side of the desk. As suggested above, though, it is important not to take this too far.

While I think having students present information to their fellow students is an important part of their education, since those who teach learn the subject better, one must again not take things too far. If the student(s) making the presentation present false information, it is important that the teacher correct the students then and there, to prevent false information from spreading. This is particularly vital since it has been demonstrated that people deeply believe whatever they are told for the first time, often in spite of the evidence. Errors have a long life, and it is unethical to allow error to persist or be presented as fact without correction.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Good Riddance to Detroit's Public Schools?

The Detroit public school system has a 75% dropout rate. That's right, 75%. This is a failure of the school system in Detroit by any definition of the term. Yet, E. D. Kain must think things are just fine since he has nothing but criticism for Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb, who has used new Financial Martial Law known as Public Act 4 (which he also criticizes) to issue a layoff notice to all 5,466 public school teachers. Well, if a 75% dropout rate isn't an emergency, I certainly don't know what is. And if the school system is producing a situation wherein 75% of students are dropping out (which doesn't address the failure rate), then all 5,466 public school teachers who created this situation ought to be laid off.

What is worse for Kain is that Bobb is a recent graduate of the Broad Foundation’s Superintendent Academy which -- horror of horrors! -- promotes school choice and privatization. This is horrifying to Kain because, as a public school propnent, he is in fact a proponent of central planning. For some reason we are to believe that top-down central planning of schools is supposed to work, even though it fails in every other social order. That is what public school proponents all believe, anyway. Never mind the laughable complaint about top-down apprpaches to school reform. That is a red herring. Kain doesn't believe in bottom-up reform any more than Bobb probably does -- though Bobb's apparent intention to dismantle the top-down bureaucratic nightmare known as the Detroit public school system is at least a move in the right direction. Whatever replaces that monstrosity is so unlikely to produce worse results, that it ought to be celebrated.

My own position is that there should be complete privatization -- a separation of school and state -- so that children can actually learn something rather than merely be schooled. Is that Bobb's intention? I cannot speak for him, but it's probably unlikely. Nevertheless, whatever reforms he does put in place are bound to benefit the children of Detroit. One has to wonder why Kain wants to prevent this from happening there.

Hayek, Instincts, Spontaneous Order

Larry Arnhart raises some interesting questions about the relationship between instincts and Hayek's conception of spontaneous order.

He complains that Hayek sees civilization/spontaneous orders as suppressing our instincts. I think Arnhart is right that this is at least partly incorrect. Work needs to be done to clarify the issue of instincts in relation to spontaneous order vs. organizational structures, incuding tribalism and socialism. I think that Hayek is right that socialism is essentially atavistic in the way he suggests, precisely because they share organizational network structures. Socialism attempts to impose the hierarchical network structure found in tribes and firms on society, where only scale-free networks can work. This actually gets to the knowledge problem Hayek talked about. Hierarchical networks create bottlenecks, a problem not found in scale-free networks.

Nevertheless, work does need to be done on the expression and suppresion of instincts in spontaneous orders and organizations. Humans are full of paradoxical instincts: we are xenophobic and xenophilic simultaneously, for example. What system emphasizes one over the other? What institutions? These are interesting questions that need to be investigated.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Camplin Consulting

Camplin Consulting has begun.

A Future in Consulting?

I am thinking about setting up a consulting business. I'm tired of not finding a job; it's time to make my own future.

This of course raises the question of what I should focus on. I have recently consulted on public relations, and I am hoping that I keep that going, and expand it in the company in question into educational consulting as well. This of course raises all sort of questions, as my interdisciplinary background inevitably does.

Let us take by educational background first.

I have a B.A. in recombinant gene technology, with a minor in chemistry, and two years of graduate classes in molecular biology. Of course, the last class I took was in 1995; yet, at the same time, I have been keeping up. How can I use this background to my advantage?

I have a M.A. in English, which might make me desirable as an editor or proofreader, but it is not immediately obviously of use in consulting.

I have a Ph.D. in the humanities, which is also not obviously of any help, but is in fact if one goes into the details. For example, in my dissertation I discuss education, social interactions, how the brain works, and the biological foundations of aesthetics. This suggests consulting in education, particularly aesthetic education. But it also suggests aesthetic consulting. Cities are taking aesthetics more into consideration, as well they should, and computer interfaces are increasingly taking into consideration aesthetic concerns. Are there elements that social netowrking sites, for example, are missing in their design?

And, though I have degrees in all of these fields, my primary scholarly research has been in spontaneous orders. I have published on the spontaneous orders of the arts, on the brain and morality as interacting spontaneous orders, and I am working on projects on the brain as a spontaneous order and its relationship to various networks, such as the hierarchical networks of organizations and the scale-free networks of spontaneous orders, such as the brain, living cells, and economies, and on the city as a spontaneous order. I am confident that I can help people understand how to use these differences in network structures to help them with their companies. Much of what I am reading about cities, for example, I have been using in the P.R. work I mentioned above. I think there are a variety of ways that I can use this area of expertise to my advantage. I just have to figure out the details, is all.

I have also been writing a lot on education. I have written pieces in the past for the Dallas Morning News, and I am currently writing pieces for The Pope Center. This, in addition to my experience teaching middle and high school and college all demonstrate expertise in education. This of course is a wide-open area. Education is a necessary aspect of economic growth in the creative economy, and creative workers need more and more various kinds of education. But they need education, not necessarily schooling. What can I develop along these lines?

I am only just now starting to think about these things. I would appreciate any input from my readers!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Just a Thought . . .

On the off chance that anyone would like to help support my blogging, and perhaps make me the Perez Hilton or Ariana Huffington of interdisciplinary classical liberal blogging, I just added a donate feature in the upper left-hand side. Content is, of course, still free. :-)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Record-Breaking Blog Hits Coming Soon

It looks like this blog is on its way to breaking the record for most hits in a single month already. Maybe my regular readers could get one or two (or three or four) of their friends to come to the blog and push it through the stratosphere in hits? :-)

Saturday, April 16, 2011


There is a new text analysis tool known as CASS, or Contrast Analysis of Semantic Similarity. It is designed so that one can "understand differences in the way people or groups of people think about concepts". The initial run analyzed bias in Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN, with the unsprurpsing result of conservative, liberal, and neutral, respectively. Sounds pretty fun. Since in my dissertation I ran a text analysis searching for fractal patterns in a novel, one can imagine my excitement about this.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Spontaneous Order and the Market Process

Steve Horwitz explains Spontaneous Order and the Market Process.

"Equilibrium" in an Economy is Really a Strange Attractor

If we take seriously the idea that an economy is a process, then we cannot take seriously the idea of equilibrium, as equilibrium cannot be reached in a process.

Supply and demand are usually described using supply and demand curves, and the place where they cross over is described as the equilibrium price. As Israel Krizner argues,

“As soon as we draw the cost and revenue curves facing the firm, no matter what their shape, we have created a theoretical case in which all competitive behavior has by definition been ruled out.” (1973, p. 108).

In other words, once everything is known, no discovery can take place. And competition is a discovery process (Hayek). If you can draw the curves, you have made the false assumption that costs and revenues are static. Neither is true. Drawing a supply and demand curve a) suggests you know how each actually curves, meaning b) if either supply or demand changes by a known amount, you will know the exact price to charge and the demand or supply that will result. I suspect that a) is in fact impossible. And if a) is possible, then b) is possible and if b) is possible, then 1) socialism is possible, and 2) entrepreneurship is unnecessary, as there is nothing to discover. In other words, one must assume an equilibrium point that does not and cannot actually exist. More than that, since any creative process has to be in a far-from-equilibrium state to be creative, an equilibrium state implies creativity has ceased. (Please keep in mind that far-from-equilibrium does not mean wild fluctuations, but is merely the discontinuous region between two (momentary) equilibria. Of course, what we are here calling equilibria may not in fact be anything of the kind, as we will soon see.

In any case, here's the best anyone can do for any given firm:

1) look at the costs and revenues over the lifetime of the firm
2) draw upper and lower limits over varying time scales (say, yr 1, yr 2, etc.)
3) conclude that a bunch of stuff happened between the upper and lower limits that drove entrepreneurial discovery

The space between the upper and lower limits, or equilibria, is the far-from-equilibrium state where creativity can occur. If costs and revenues hung out at an equilibrum point for a while, nothing was happening. That's what happens at equilibrium points: nothing. Why? Because you are finished discovering.

Let us apply this to a larger system, like a city. Let us say you have a city where apples are cheaper on one side of the city than the other. Someone discovers this is the case, and finds that transportation costs are such that it makes it worth it to move apples from the cheaper to the more expensive location. Before the entrepreneurial discovery, we had two local equilibria. This creates the condition for a far-from-equilibrium state where one can discover new knowledge. Once the discovery is made, one has a situation of disequilibrium, because the entrepreneur will now work to try to move the city toward apple-price equilibrium. Will he actually achieve it? Probably not, because there may be others who make the same discovery, more apples may be coming into the city, people may want more or fewer apples, etc. Thus, the system always has multiple potential equilibria popping up, keeping the overall system in a far-from-equilibrium state.

Now one can solve the problem by pointing out that the curves can never be drawn accurately, as they can never be discovered. Thus we are talking about a point -- the supply-demand equilibrium point, or the clearing price. If nothing changes in the economy -- if there are no more customers entering, no more producers entering, tastes do not change, etc. -- then in theory this point can be reached. But this requires our theorizing a non-existent economy, one that can never exist. This suggests that even the idea of supply=demand as a point is wrong. So how should we imagine this entity that everyone talks about, but which cannot exist, but which seems to have some value for theorists? Even Kirzner argues that the entrepreneur is trying to move prices toward equilibrium from a state of disequilibrium.

So what is the answer. Let us answer that by first beginning with a given set of inventories. When sales go up, how do the companies producing the good know? Depletion of inventory. So there must be a change in inventory -- at least enough to tell the producers to produce more to restock the inventory. If sales continue to increase, a general trend may be noted, and production adjusted appropriately, but even with a general increase in sales, there will be fluctuations in the rate of change, and that will affect inventory and, thus, production. The companies are trying to discover the right production level and right price throughout this process, and this is changing throughout. What are we in fact seeing here? An equilibrium? Or a constant chasing after a constantly shifting supply-demand point? If we view this in with rough-enough grain, we will see supply=demand; but the finer-grained we view the process, the less aligned supply and demand are. In fact, they have to be if the business is going to adjust production to try to make supply=demand. In reality, what we see is fluctuation around supply-demand point, where inventories are slightly depleted or slightly increased over regular inventory levels relative to the ideal point. That ideal point is rarely if ever reached, and if it is reached, reached but momentarily. From this perspective, the supply-demand point is acting more like an ever-moving strange attractor -- which is what you would expect to find in a far-from-equilibrium self-organizing process. Thus one can look at the relatively inventories of each firm in question as being in a steady-state -- but each firm is ni turn responding to a strange attractor, not an equilibrium point.

Thus, when supply = demand, we do not have an equilibrium; rather, we have a description of a strange attractor, since one is always approaching, but rarely ever (never?) reaching the supply-demand point.

Whether this makes a difference in understanding Kirzner's point, I don't know. I doubt it. However, it does change the way one understands what is going on in an economy. With the concept of equilibrium, you cannot theorize an economy as a process; with the concept of strange attractors, you cannot have anything but a process.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Why Should Science and Technology Majors Study Literature?

I am hoping that soon I will be in the position to have to defend this question: How would you explain to a science major why learning about literature should matter to them?

After all, I believe that I am in a unique position, as someone with a Bachelor's degree in recombinant gene technology and two years of graduate school in molecular biology, to answer this question. Why should a physics major or an engineering major care about literature? Why should a chemistry or biology major? A pre-med or psychology major? An economics or sociology major?

Certainly one can make the argument for each of the above learning something about the others. Clearly the psychology major should know some biology and sociology. And in the case of Hayek's theory of spontaneous orders, anyone studying networks, including sociology, psycholgy, brain science, and biology, should definitely learn some economics. But where does literature fit into all of this?

Is literature some kind of outlier, mere entertainment for those wealthy enough to get a liberal arts education? Or may there be something more to it? What does literature do for you?

The first answer that comes to mind is that literature helps stimulate creativity. Of course, many things can and do stimulate creativity. Art in general is stimulative. When I dabbled in painting for a while, I was actually writing more short stories than at any other time. There is creative crossover, and this crossover actually helps one to see patterns and connections in other fields -- which is simply another way of saying it makes one creative. Literature is filled with any number of patterns. There are complex patterns of meaningful word distribution in novels, rhythmic and often rhyming patterns in formalist poetry, patterns of speech and action in plays. Some of these patterns are regular, others are irregular, and many are fractal (exhibiting both regularity and irregularity simultaneously). Literature is filled with the expected and the unexpected. It is sometimes filled with the strange -- Kafka's The Metamorphosis being an obvious example -- that challenges your thinking, the way you view the world. Great literature is of course unpredictable, yet postdictable. One cannot predict what will happen, but when one looks back on it, you realize that it of course had to have happened that way. Literature is full of such tensions, heightening them, bringing the paradoxes of life and reality to the fore. To the extent that it does this, literature is a fantastic stimulant for any kind of creativity one will have to bring to bear to be successful in any of the fields one will study.

Another thing literature allows you to do is inhabit the life and world of an other. Men can experience what it's like to be a woman; women can experience what it's like to be a man. I've experienced being an African-American woman through Toni Morrison and Alice Walker, being an African-American man through Langston Hughs, being an African tribal priest through Chinua Achebe, being Hispanic through Gabriel García Márquez, being a Czech expatriot through Milan Kundera, being a Czech Jew through Kafka, being French through Andre Gide, Victor Hugo, Baudelaire, Stendhal, de Beauvoir, Camus (really, French-Algerian in this case), Balzac, Michel Houellebecq, etc., being German through Goethe, Hesse, Rilke, Celan, Gunter Grass, Heine, Holderlein, Nietzsche, and Thomas Mann, being an Indian woman through Arundhati Roy, being a Japanese man through Kawabata, being ancient Greek through Homer, Sophocles, Euripides, and Aeschylus, and being a contemporary Greek through Kazantzakis, just to name a few. I have inhabited these in the only ways actually possible, and it has made me more open, cosmopolitan, and creative. (I have even been described by a few Europeans as the most European American they had ever met.) This opennes, this cosmopolitanism contributes to creativity, by opening up new ways of thinking. New ways of thinking do not occur just among disciplines, but among cultures as well. These cultural differences have resulted in geographically distinct scientific developments -- is it a coincidence that so many of the revolutionary physicists of the early part of the 20th century were Germanic? or that early Darwinism was an English phenomenon? or that the Nobel Prizes for the sciences have been dominated by Americans? There were cultural elements that contributed to these patterns. If a person can tap into these different ways of seeing the world, different ways of thinking, different world views, that cannot help but contribute to their creativity. The more perspectives one can bring to a problem, the more creative solutions can emerge to solve it. Or even discover the problem in the first place.

Friday, April 08, 2011

My Growing Impatience With the (Hopefully) Willfully Ignorant

Lately I've felt considerable impatience with those who defend Marxism, socialism, or even various forms of interventionism. There was a time when it was reasonable to believe in socialism, even if there were equally reasonable arguments against it. Theorizing in ignorance, many Marxists really believed it would bring a more just, equitable world. Socialists really believed that one could engage in economic planning and eliminate all the perceived inefficiencies and market failures.

Of course, Hayek and Mises laid bare the fact that economic planning was impossible -- meaning it could not achieve what socialists claimed possible. More, history laid bare the fact that central planning does not and cannot work. And is demonstrated in no uncertain terms that Marxism not only will not bring about a more just and equitable world, but that it creates one of the most unjust regimes ever known to man. Mass murder and mass starvation were the norm -- with the latter finally being eliminated through even the smallest reforms in favor of markets. Since an economic system cannot change human nature, but can only emphasize the nature we have in particular directions -- meaning institutions matter a great deal -- cronyism prevailed (and prevail) in socialist countries. If there is someone in charge, they face incentives to engage in cronyism and to exercise the power given them. Thus, under communism, not only was it "He who does not obey shall not eat," it was also "He who I do not like shall not eat, and he who I do like shall get double rations." The fact that there were rations, that there was rationing and long lines to get the most basic necessities, gives the lie to the argued efficiencies of such systems.

All of these facts being well-established, how can anyone continue to support such systems? How, especially, can anyone be a Marxist? It either requires an extreme amount of willful ignorance or an actual desire to have exactly the kind of systems which emerged. There is no excuse for the former, and as for the latter, it is an expression of the worst kind of will to political power and is thus a bald expression of evil intent.

You won't find too many economists arguing for socialism anymore. There is more humility in the field than there was in the early part of the 20th century. This, of course, does not prevent anti-economic thinkers from nevertheless embracing socialism for reasons utterly different from the reasons originally developed. The original socialists thought that central planning was superior to messy free markets, and that it would improve mankind overall by eliminating greed, want, and poverty through a fair distribution of wealth. Today's socialists know nothing about economics, and don't seem the least interested in learning anything about it. They aren't interested in improving mankind, either. They only want "fairness." Whatever that is depends on the person you ask, and is typically achieved through superficial means, like political correctness. To justify their positions somewhat (when they bother), they rely on bizarre interpretations of history, where conspiracy theories abound. Considering the fact that socialists of all stripes believe the world has to be ordered by an orderer of some sort, this is not in the least surprising. They attribute all order to there being an orderer. This inevitably leads to conspiracy theories, especially when one has given up belief in God (either explicitly, or at some fundamental personal level).

Note I have left out the interventionists to this point. The interventionist acknowledges that socialism does not and cannot work, that central planning is indeed impossible. However, they are still driven by the same idea that markets are fundamentally flawed and unfair. Thus, one has to intervene and regulate, redistribute wealth (but only a little bit). Ultimately, they are anti-economic thinkers as well. They reject the fact that prices communicate accurate information when left alone, and are always advocating for various price-changing interventions. Wage and price controls have proven over and over to cause shortages or excess production -- and we have seen less of that over time (until recently, with the health insurance law) -- but we still have price-distorting subsidies, third-party payers, and minimum wage laws. The distortions caused by each intervention causes people to call for more interventions, mistakenly thinking the problem is with the market and not the last round of regulations. Mises argued that interventionism would lead inevitably to socialism for this very reason. Unfortunately, the distortions can so easily be attributed to the market, the greed of this or that group, etc., that the public's economic ignorance, resulting in the widespread continued belief in folk economics -- accepted by almost everyone in government, and promulgated by Keynes, whose policy suggestions are rather convenient for politicians, who prefer controlling mercantilist policies over free market ones -- allows for the continued creep of interventionist policies.

There should be no excuse for economists, who are supposed to be able to engage in economic thinking, to accept interventionist policies. They no doubt do so because of lingering fallacies in mainstream economics, the mathematicization of economics such that too many think such precision is possible, residual folk economics, acceptance of the theories of defunct economists, and outright desire to have political power. All but the latter are excusable to some degree.

The latest recession has caused a degree of soul-searching among macroeconomists. Not enough, though, as we still have people like Krugman promulgating the same policies that got us into the mess in the first place. I have grown weary, too, of such demagogues as Krugman spreading economic ignorance for . . . what? Demagogic power? That seems a pretty pathetic reason to keep the masses in economic ignorance.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Ashley Thorne on Philly Soc

Ashley Thorne, who as I noted below, I met at the Philadelphia Society meeting, has her own reflections after attending. I didn't pay that much attention to the fact that the speakers primarily read their presentations, but then, perhaps I have been to more conferences, where that is standard practice. (The exception being the Fund for the Study of Spontaneous Orders conferences, which are unusual in that people have read the pieces before arriving, so the conference is dominated by discussion.)

She notes that she heard many talking about the Good, the True and The Beautiful. Ah, but these are the same thing!

Virtue aims at the beatiful -- Aristotle
Beauty is truth, truth beauty -- Keats
Beauty is unity in variety, variety in unity -- Francis Hutcheson
The just is fair and the fair is the beautiful -- Elaine Scarry
Beauty is the value of values -- Frederick Turner
Beauty is "the highest integrative level of understanding and the most comprehensive capacity for effective action." -- Frederick Turner

Monday, April 04, 2011

The Philadelphia Society

This weekend I attended a meeting of The Philadephia Society, which was being held here in Dallas. I was invited by Lenore Ealy, who publishes Conversations on Philanthropy. I met her through the Fund for the Study of Spontaneous Orders conferences I have attended, and I am grateful for her generosity since then at getting me invited to this meeting (and, I presume, at getting me invited to the Liberty Fund Hayek Colloquium I attended, since her husband, Steve, works for Liberty Fund).

It was an interesting meeting, and I met sereral interesting people, including people I only knew online, such as George Leef and Jane Shaw from The Pope Center, where I have published serveral articles, and Ashley Thorne, from the National Association of Scholars. I also had the great pleasure to meet Ramon Parellada Cuadarado from Universidad Francisco Marroquí­n. UFM is, as I understand it, the foremost center of Austrian economics in Latin America. I had a very pleasant conversation with him at the Claremont Institute dinner Saturday.

The theme of this meeting was Progressivism. They talked about the origins of Progressivism, something which I have discussed before. They of course went into much greater detail, outlining its origins in philosophical pragmatism, German Idealism and historicism, particularly Hegelianism, and in Social Darwinism (which was profoundly un-Darwinian in its precepts and conclusions), but they also talked about the postmodern turn in Progressivism, where all of the foundational epistemology -- particularly the belief that science would solve all of our problems and give us a science-based economy (socialism) -- of Progressism has been abandoned. But if the foundations of Progressivism, including the very idea that progress is possible, have been abandoned, why continue trying to realize it? What is Progressivism if you give up the very idea of progress? It is, basically, an attempt to create a society in which everyone can do whatever they want without consequences. That doesn't seem to be a lot to hang your hat on, but it has some real consequences. If what is preventing me from fully expressing myself are financial in nature, meaning I have to live according to the rules of the economy, and I have to worry about making enough money to pay my house payments, my bills, and for insurance, then it makes sense to try to get universal health insurance, the government guaranteeing wages and home loans (the result of the last one was the housing boom and subsequent Great Recession), the government removing all barriers to getting an education, etc. It also makes sense of their social views, which are not all that different from those of libertarians, of course, but which clearly have differnet foundations. Does the reason you support something matter? Of course. It matters for the arguments you can make, at the very least. And it matters for how your vision is realized. It is one thing to argue, for example, that abortion should be legal; it is quite another thing to argue that not only should it be legal, but you shouldn't judge anyone for having an abortion, you should in fact encourage people to have them if a baby will get in the way of their lifestyle, etc. Obviously this is a far cry from the original reason for Progressivist support of abortion: eugenics. There is a commonality, though, in their desire to get rid of unwanted people. At least with postmodernism, it becomes harder to justify the overt use of force by the state, since if all of this is just a matter of opinion, on what basis does one force another to adopt one's own views? So instead of mass murder, mass sterilization of unwanted peoples, etc., all we end up with is a Foucaultian prison fetish, with increasing numbers of people as prisoners of war in the Progressivist "moral equivalent of war", whether it be glamourization of union strikers, glamourization of wage and price controls and rationing found during a major war, the War on Poverty, the War on Drugs, or whatever "war on . . ." is popular.

These all are Progressivist in nature, whether from the right or the left, and they all result in massive expansion of government. With its roots in Hegelianism, one can easily look upon neoconservatism as a form of conservative progressivism. One can particularly look at its preference for a continued state of war as a way of making the citizen virtuous as deeply progressivist in the original sense. If we understand Obama as a Progressive who is in fact trying to negotiate both the original and postmodern versions of progressivism, we can make sense of much of what he's been trying to do, and why he has such a hard time trying to explain himself (as with the Libya speech). In other words, it's not so much that Obama is a neocon because he chose to intervene in Libya militarily, but that the neocons want to intervene in places like Iraq and Libya because they are, in fact, the conservative versions of progressives.

So this meeting was very stimulating. The next one is going to be on "America the Beautiful," meaning it will be about the nature of beauty. As someone who has written on beauty, I would obviously love to be able to not just go, but speak on the topic. I have been thinking of the relationship between beauty and spontaneous social orders, as I have discussed here and here, including how the internet is affecting our ability to live well in spontaneous social order. These are, of course, intimately interelated. More, I am certain it is something I will be developing further anyway. In fact, there are a great many aspects of spontaneous order theory I am interested in working on and developing. But that's a different topic for a different posting (heck, it's really a topic for an entire book, but we'll get there one of these days).

Friday, April 01, 2011


The Weekly Standard has an excellent piece on the paranoid left's obsession with the Koch brothers. (Note: the paranoid left are to be distinguished from regular leftists.) The left, which cannot imagine that self-organization can occur (believing, as they do, in top-down creationism), look at spontaneous opposition to Obama and the Democrats and think there must be someone behind them. Enter the Koch brothers! Surely they must be funding all of this! (If so, where's my check? I blog on Austrian economics all the time. More, I even set up Austrian Economics and Literature. Perhaps someone could tell the Kochs so we can get some funding!) In any case, all silliness aside, the article is a good one, and worth reading.