Thursday, September 30, 2010

Robot Workers of the World Unite?

It just occured to me that there is a definitive argument against the Marxist claim that the workers are the real owners of the products they create. Consider this: What is it that laborers do? They transform matter according to some pattern -- a pattern created by someone else. That would be one argument against the Marxist view, as the workers couldn't do what they were doing at all unless someone had created the pattern for them to transform matter into that particular pattern. But there's a stronger argument than that. As physical labor becomes automated, you wouldn't expect anyone to argue that the robots doing the transforming-of-matter-according-to-a-pattern are the "real" owners. If it makes no sense to argue that robots making something according to someone's pattern own the produced good, it equally makes no sense to argue that a human worker should own it. In the former case, one pays to buy the robot to do the work; in the latter case, one pays the worker to do the work.

Monday, September 27, 2010

What Do Your Opinions Signal?

Robin Hanson has an excellent list here that anyone who is honest about finding truth should consider. I reproduce it here:

Signs that your opinions function more to signal loyalty and ability than to estimate truth:

1.You find it hard to be enthusiastic for something until you know that others oppose it.

2.You have little interest in getting clear on what exactly is the position being argued.

3.Realizing that a topic is important and neglected doesn’t make you much interested.

4.You have little interest in digging to bigger topics behind commonly argued topics.

5.You are less interested in a topic when you don’t foresee being able to talk about it.

6.You are uncomfortable taking a position near the middle of the opinion distribution.

7.You are uncomfortable taking a position of high uncertainty about who is right.

8.You care far more about current nearby events than similar distant or past/future events.

9.You find it easy to conclude that those who disagree with you are insincere or stupid.

10.You are reluctant to change your publicly stated positions in response to new info.

11.You are reluctant to agree a rival’s claim, even if you had no prior opinion on the topic.

12.You are reluctant to take a position that raises the status of rivals.

13.You care more about consistency between your beliefs than about belief accuracy.

14.You go easy on sloppy arguments by folks on “your side.”

15.You have little interest in practical concrete implications of commonly argued topics.

16.Your opinion doesn’t much change after talking with smart folks who know more.

17.You are especially eager to drop names when explaining positions and arguments.

18.You find it hard to list weak points and counter-arguments on your positions.

19.You feel passionately about at topic, but haven’t sought out much evidence.

20.You are reluctant to not have an opinion on commonly discussed topics.


Of course you may want your opinions to mainly signal loyalty and ability.

Tyler Cowen reproduces the list too, and adds one (which is really just a reproduction of #12):

"You feel uncomfortable taking a position which raises the status of the people you usually disagree with."

It's a good list to always keep in mind with anything you write, with any opinion you have. We should be interested in the pursuit of truth, not scoring ideological points. One can perhaps add a few to the list from my previous posting on ideology, found below.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


If this is Progressivism, then I'm practically a Progressive. If we reject the economic ignorance expressed in the article as being central to progressivism, then I'm a full-fledged Progressive. What the author, Conor Williams, describes is a moral spontaneous order. In such a case, there is in fact no conflict between the expansion of rights and "natural rights," as he supposes. His argument thus implies a break with tradition that is not necessary -- nor, quite frankly, realistic. One has to have property and property rights in order to have changing ideas of property and property rights. One has to have a concept of voting rights to expand voting rights to more and more people. One has to progress within a tradition. Breaking with tradition isn't progress -- it's merely change. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes one needs this kind of change. But history has shown that it is much better to continue within a tradition. One of the consequences is that over time, where you are in that tradition may little resemble where you began. But the change has happened at the margins, allowing people time to adjust and integrate everything together well.

Williams thus seems to suggest that Progressivism is interested in discontinuous change change, even while trying to argue that there is in fact a tradition of progressivism in the U.S. This idea that progress involves discontinuous change is what brings about charges of nihilism and lack of foundations. Insofar as Progressivism advocates for the rejection of tradition, it is in fact anti-foundationalist. the classical liberal position, however, is one of change within a tradition. It is a foundational progressivism. This makes all the difference in the world.

There seems to be some disconnect between Williams' ideal Progressive and real-world ones. For example, he argues that, "Constitutional protections of individual property, speech, and conscience are meaningful because they make it possible for Americans to enjoy valuable individual and community goods. They are judged by their consequences, by their fruits. Insofar as American institutions do not lead to the political goods central to the American wager, they fail in their stated purpose." Fair enough. Why then do actual Progressives repeatedly support policies that have proven to "fail in their stated purpose," arguing that what really matters was their intentions? What he describes here might be more accurately attributed to real classical liberals rather than to real Progressives. Indeed, one can go back to the above stated examples of American Progressivism, in the expansion of voting rights and the alteration of ideas of property in the abolition of slavery, as successses in classical liberalism, as it was the classical liberals who pushed for these reforms.

If we replaced the problematic economics with a better understanding of the catallaxy, then what Williams describes is classical liberalism. Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised by that, as the modern American liberal tradition comes precisely out of this tradition. It is classical liberalism stripped of an understanding of economics, returning instead to folk economic understanding. And that's not progress.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Blinded by Ideology

Ideology -- especially when tied to a particular political party or movement -- does strange things to people. For one, it makes people extremely selective in judging what is right and what is wrong. A party ideologue will defend to the point of irrationality a member of his party doing exactly the same thing he rightly condemms a member of the other party for. Why? Just because the person in question is a member of their party.

You are a member of Party A, and a member of Party B is found to be cheating on his wife with several women. You condemn the member of Party B for being a sexist and a cheater. Good. But then a member of Party A does the same thing and . . . you excuse his behavior? Why? Because he believes the "right" thing, even if he does the wrong thing? Even if his actions belie his words?

When we are blinded by ideology, we cannot see the evils of those on our team. This is one of the great evils of collectivist thinking. Party loyalty is collectivist thinking. Racism is collectivist thinking. Socialism is collectivist thinking. In each case, collectivist thinking brings out the very worst in us. The party ideologist ends up supporting and defending the indefensible. The other side is pure evil; my side is pure good. This Us-Them mentality is part of the collectivist mentality, and it is common to party ideologists, racists, and socialists. More, no amount of evidence is sufficient to persuade. You cannot provide enough evidence to show that the other side is not really evil, that they may in fact be well-intentioned (and it never occurs, then, that the Other may just be wrong, or different, as the case may be). This is because the collectivist suspends all judgment, accepting instead the judgment of the collective. One cannot judge for oneself in a collective. One can find these kinds of ideologists on the right and on the left -- it's not a matter, then, of right and left, but of the inherent collectivism in ideological thinking.

One element of ideological thinking is that those who engage in it seem to think that everyone else is then necessarily ideological. Yet, there are world views that are inherently anti-ideological. Among them are pragmatism and classical liberalism. In politics, pragmatism pretty much boils down to a cynical "what works to get me re-elected." The problem with pragmatism is that is sees things in the short term. Missing the big picture, those who make "pragmatic" decisions very often make bad decisions for the long term. The classical liberal is interested in how the world, as a whole, and in its particular parts, actually works. The classical liberal is interested in both agents and their interactions and the systems that arise out of those agents interacting. The traditional classical liberals saw the world as self-organized from the bottom-up, and that top-down ordering was unnatural. The science has borne them out. That is indeed how the universe came into being, and how each level of complexity has organized itself from its constituent parts. If this is true at the atomic through the biological and psychological levels, what sense does it make that it is not true also for the arts, the economy, the culture, the sciences, and other social systems and processes? Do we all of a sudden have to have a wise orderer where we did not need one before? I mean, it makes some sort of consistent sense that if you believe that there was in fact a wise orderer needed for natural processes, that one would be needed for social processes -- one would be a consistent creationist in both cases. One could also be a consistent intelligent designer if you applied it to the natural world and to the social world and were thus a social interventionist (in the economy, a Keynesian, welfare statist, interventionist, etc.). But to posit that self-organizing, evolutionary processes are sufficient for natural processes below the level of human complexity, but not for those above human complexity -- which is to say, social processes -- is logically inconsistent. The same is true if you reverse it.

Only an ideologue could believe that some things need a wise orderer while others things don't. Being an ideologue is the only way to be comfortably inconsistent. It also allows you to comfortably ignore inconvenient facts, or to make up facts without thinking you are being intellectually dishonest. These are all the things ideology can do for you. Me, I prefer to being open to learning how the real world works. I have no interest in being blinded by ideology.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Horwitz on Buchanan on Spontaneous Order

Some thoughts by Steven Horwitz on James Buchanan and spontaneous order. We have to really study spontaneous orders in all their forms.

The Moral Order vs. The Democratic Order

Kenneth Minogue on the moral order vs. the democratic order. An example of why we should, to the extent possible, keep the spontaneous social orders separate.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Friday, September 10, 2010

A Few Thoughts on Networks, Self-Organization, and Complexity

Networks with maximum efficient connectivity are neither orderly nor chaotic, but exist on the border of these two. At the border between order and chaos, you get a far-from-equilibrium state and self-organization. To have self-organization, you have to have a power law distribution of elements. Self-organizing, far-from-equilibrium systems are complex and maximally creative. The more complex a system, the more creative (or, more rapidly creative) it is. Greater complexity is achieved thorugh the creation of a nested hierarchy -- the social network is made up of people with minds, which is made up of an embodied neural network, which is made up of cellular networks, which are made up of chemical networks, which are made of atomic networks, which are made of subatomic networks. The most connected and, thus, complex networks are those made of both strong and weak bonds (friends and acquaintances). Which are likely to be more complex, though: networks of homogeneous or of heteroegeneous members? All homogeneous polycellular organisms are simple; all heterogeneous multicellular organisms are complex. Note, though, that multicellular organisms have difference cells programmed by identical DNA. When humans are homogeneous, they live in simple tribes. As the tribes grow, they become increasingly heterogeneous, allowing them to become even more heterogeneous, until humans reach a high level of complexity. Heterogeneous networks are thus more likely to be complex networks.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Artists as Entrepreneurs

After having heard Israel Kirzner at the FEE seminar on Advanced Austrian Economics, it occurred to me that the idea of the entrepreneur might be a good approach to understanding what it is that artists do, and why. Of course, one of the benefits of looking at this idea through economics is that you know if you have succeeded or not as an entrepreneur: you made profits, or not. Definite feedback. However, how does an artist know if she or he has succeeded or is succeeding? We have artists who are considered important artists who did not succeed in the market, and we have market successes that end up not lasting long within the artistic order.

Mises points out that "Profit-seeking speculation is the driving force of production" (Human Action, 325-6). How would we have to redefine "profit" to make it apply to the artistic order? What is it that artists qua artists are after in creating their work?

Hayek is interested in how the market facilitates mutual learning among people so that they end up maximizing their knowledge. How can we apply this insight to what artists do? What is it that artists are trying to learn in what they do? Can what they do be called "mutual learning"? Might this be a way to understand various artistic movements? More, Hayek shows that competition is a discovery process. Within the arts, we indeed see artists becoming most creative when they considered themselves in competition with others. Are there institutions which can foster more competition among artists?

Kirzner says that "The theory of entrepreneurial discovery sees the explanation of market phenomena in the way entrepreneurial decisions, taken under disequilibrium conditions bring about changes in prices and quantities. The market process so initiated consists of continual entrepreneurial discoveries; it is a process of discovery driven by dynamic competition, made possible by an institutional framework which permits unimpeded entrepreneurial entry into both new and old markets. The success which capitalist market economies display is the result of a powerful tendency for less efficient, less imaginative courses of productive action, to be replaced by newly discovered superior ways of serving consumers - by producing better goods and/or by taking advantage of hitherto unknown, but available, sources of resource supply. The theory focuses on the concept of discovery in contrast to the notion of the individual decision of mainstream theory" (How Markets Work, 31).

As the last sentences indicates, the Austrian approach is much more open to being applied to other social processes, such as artistic production. Artistic production, done properly, is a process of discovery, not a "decision." How can the above language be modified to apply to artistic production and, thus, to the artistic order?

How can we combine these insights to understand the artistic order? These are the questions I need to work through. It will be interesting reading more Kirzner on entrepreneurship.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Can We Ever Model an Economy?

In "The Sensory Order," F. A. Hayek observes that "any coherent structure" such as the brain "which within itself contians a model guiding its actions, must be of a degree of complexity greater than that of any model that it can contain, and therefore than that of any object it can reproduce" (5.91).

This raises some interesting questions. From a purely human perspective, if the economy is less complex than the mind, then it can be fully comprehended. However, if the economy is either as complex or more complex than the human mind, then it can never be fully comprehended -- we will only ever be able to comprehend its various parts and some of the relations among those parts. At best, we will be able to create some abstract models that will be more or less accurate to the actual economy, though it will always be hard to tell if it actually is. It is therefore very important to know if the economy is more or less complex than the human mind.

Interestingly, a complex systems-theoretic approach seems to argue that the economy is more complex than the human mind, while a complex process-theoretic approach seems to suggest(at least, according to Sabelli) that the human mind is more complex than the economy. Of course, Sabelli may be wrong, and the process-theoretic approach may argue that it is either at the same level of complexity, or more. The co-evolution of psychological complexity with social complexity may suggest an equivalence in complexity. More, it may suggest that more complex psychologies may be able to understand less complex social systems, but not equally or more complex social systems.

Many questions.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Leftist Antihistoricism and Education

In "Individualism: True and False," from Individualism and Economic Order, F.A. Hayek notes that Descartes showed contempt "for the study of history, languages, geography, and especially the classics," and that this came out of his antihistoricism, which came out of his philosophy of Reason (10n13). He also demonstrates how Cartesian Reason led toward collectivism and, thus, socialism. Now consider: is it any coincidence that the postmodern Left also demonstrates contempt for the study of history, languages, geography, and (especially) the classics? or that contemporary American education is dominated by the Left? or that history, languages, geography, and (especially) that classics have been deemphasized and outright denigrated? I would argue that the New Historicism is itself an antihistoricist approach to history. An interesting idea, that the Left are antihistoricist (an irony that this claim comes from Hayek, an Austrian economist, who is in an economic tradition typically thought of as not being interested in history? or does this make clearer that the Austrians were in fact historicists in a more proper fashion, in the same way they were more properly scientific because of their opposition to scientism?). Their antihistoricism may also explain in part (or is it, rather, a product of?) why they are political and economic creationists.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Friday, September 03, 2010

From Vice, A tragedy


Outside. We see the corners of two houses. There are bushes planted between them. Flowers also decorate the fronts of both houses.

Scene 1 – Enter Sam, Allie, Ben, and Randy. Allie is dressed in such a way as to indicate she is a member of a very conservative religion. It should look fairly uncomfortable. She will wear something similar throughout. The men are dressed conservatively.

Sam: The sign is down. I guess that someone bought
This place. What kind of neighbors will they be?
I hope they’re moral and do as they ought.
To know that, we will have to wait and see.

Allie: Don’t judge them, Sam, before you get to know
Them. We will see if each is a black crow
Or swan-white, full of grace and beautiful.

Sam: If they all shine with grace or else are dull
From evil living, I will know for sure
When I meet them. I’ll know if they are pure.

Ben: And if they’re not? What will we do with them
Beside us? It could be a real problem.

Randy: Can virtue live this close to wicked vice?
I hope they’re good, else we’ll pay the price.

Allie: I’m sure that they’ll be fine. They’re moving here,
So they must know that our community
Is very ethical. I doubt they’d leer
At us or try to foster enmity.

Sam: I hope you’re right or, if you’re not, that they
Are open to conversion. This, I pray.

[Exit all.]

Scene 2 – Enter Carter, Nancy, Albert, Barney, Britney, and Lindsey. Carter and Nancy are dressed like the upper-middle-class professionals they are. Albert is dressed like a typical teenaged boy. Barney is dressed flamboyantly, advertising to all his homosexuality. Britney and Lindsey are wearing miniskirts and/or short-shorts, tops leaving little to the imagination, and heels. Each should wear variations on these outfits throughout the first two acts.

Carter: Well, here we are. The movers say they’ll be
Here soon, so we can get moved in. Are we
Still happy with the bedrooms that we chose?

Nancy: The people that I saw as we drove in –
They made me nervous, like they all are part
Of some big cult. I don’t think we’ll fit in.

Carter: Oh, don’t be silly, hon. No matter where
We live, all people are the same. They can
Be reasoned with; they all love one another.
We also should be sensitive to how
These people live. We cannot judge the way
They dress or eat or live their lives. We let
Them live their lives, and they’ll let us live ours.

Barney: This place is marvelous. I hope that there
Are lots of real cute boys around cause I
Am feeling hungry. Do you think the boys
Around this town are out and open too?

Britney: I want my clothes and stuff to get here soon.
I’m bored. I want to get my room set up.

Nancy: Have patience, dear. The truck will be here soon.

Lindsey: Well, Barney better keep away from my
Boyfriends this time, ‘cause me and Britney hate
It when he hits on them and runs them off.

Barney: I didn’t run them all off, Lindsey. Rick
Kept coming over. You were an excuse.

Lindsey: I know, you jerk. And how am I supposed
To get another boyfriend when the whole
School thinks that Rick’s my boyfriend? Why should I
Be forced to do without so he could stay
With you in secret? He was in the closet
And I’m the one who suffered. You had fun.

Barney: He was a lot of fun. Too bad we moved.

Albert: I wish the two of you would quit. You both
Annoy me with your pettiness. You both
Are superficialities, no more.
It’s sex and shoes and sex and clothes and sex
And blah-blah-blah-blah-blah. There’s more to life.
The world has gone to shit and you are both
A pair of gaping assholes. Fuck you both.

Nancy: I wish you wouldn’t say those kinds of things
To Barney, Lindsey, Britney. It’s not nice.

Carter: The boy’s expressing himself, as he should.
It doesn’t matter if you disagree:
Don’t stifle his expression or his speech.

Albert: Oh, shut up, dad. Annoy somebody else.

Lindsey: Don’t talk to dad that way, you selfish jerk.

Albert: Go find a football team to fuck, you floosie.

Lindsey: “You floosie”? When you from, the fifties, jerk?

Albert: I won’t apologize for having a
Vocabulary from which to draw insults.
The only thing you seem to have is “jerk.”

Carter: Not everyone’s as widely read as you.

Nancy: I really don’t think that’s the point. I wish
The two of you would stop the fighting. Moving
Is already so stressful as it is.

Carter: The truck is here. At last. Let’s go and show
Them where to put the furniture. I’m glad
We finally can move into our home.

[Exit all.]

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Morality in a Nutshell

Morality has a biological foundation in our origins as a social species. In other words, we evolved to have a moral mind. The details of ethical behavior is worked out in the moral spontaneous order as we learn to live with people and learn to rationalize our drives and, in rationalizing, think them through and adjust using moral reasoning. This allows us to expand our moral universe and live together with more and more people. Moral philosophers act as eminent critics of the spontaneous order, but they necessarily come much after the fact. They mostly theorize about what has already happened, and provide critiques of it, but they are not the origins of moral thinking -- let alone behavior.

That's the moral universe in a nutshell.