Category Archives: Uncategorized

Automation and Comparative Advantage

Sanford Ikeda points out that given super-competent but not super-abundant (i.e., scarce and expensive) robots, the principle of comparative advantage comes into serious play. It entails that a robot may exceed any human in technical efficiency for producing all sorts of goods, but it would still make sense to allocate the robot entirely toward those tasks in which it is relatively more efficient, reserving the other tasks for the humans.

So long as the robot is better than a human at producing X by more than it is better than the human at producing Y, it will be cheaper to specialize it fully for X and set the human to take care of Y, despite the robot's absolute advantages over the human at both X and Y.

Left-Wing Penchant

The left has built a secular church with a large number of pieties to be observed. It so happens that this church is atrociously bad. Nevertheless, the "left-wing penchant" is that "anyone who disagrees with their policies is a bad person. End of story," says Jeffrey Tucker.

He describes the responses to him of his defense of freedom for younger kids to work. "I was called out for being a bad person, a cruel person, a man with a heart of stone, a complete jerk who lacks a shred of human decency," Jeffrey writes.

But I don't understand why the left is against kids having money, marketable skills, entrepreneurial mindsets, or serving their communities.

Perhaps they imagine that, absent child labor laws, parents will want to exploit their kids by sending them to work at "salt mines." But that makes no sense. The best way to "exploit" children would be to invest into their long-term productivity, including training for sophisticated jobs. The whole point is that starting working at a young age builds the children's characters and prepares them for adulthood most efficiently. It makes these kids into future winners and effective (and grateful) helpers in their parents' old age.

What's not to like?

Two Parts of Socialist Computation

In Human Action, Mises considers a curious hypothetical scenario:

If the memory of all prices of the past were to fade away, the pricing process would become more troublesome, but not impossible as far as the mutual exchange ratios between various commodities are concerned.

It would be harder for the entrepreneurs to adjust production to the demand of the public, but it could be done nonetheless.

It would be necessary for them to assemble anew all the data they need as the basis of their operations.

They would not avoid mistakes which they now evade on account of experience at their disposal. Price fluctuations would be more violent at the beginning, factors of production would be wasted, want-satisfaction would be impaired.

But finally, having paid dearly, people would again have acquired the experience needed for a smooth working of the market process. (337)

Apparently, even a complex market like ours could recover after a wound as grievous as the destruction of the knowledge of all present / immediate past prices.

But can a socialist dictator also solve his many millions of simultaneous equations to determine the "shadow" equilibrium prices of the factors of production if similarly afflicted? I think not; this problem is too hard computationally.

And this is just the first part of the socialist calculation problem. Even if one has a fully solved system, the next task is how to improve it, to re-configure the entirety of the structure of production upon introductions of novelties into the system and inventions of new technologies and methods of production, and to do so every day.

This second problem is, in my view, completely intractable with a complex economy.

Unitary Executive

In an interesting article, Andrew Napolitano describes the doctrine of "unitary executive" as follows:

That concept, which was accepted in theory by the federal government until the Watergate era, states that the president is the chief executive officer of the federal government and therefore everyone in the executive branch works for him.

I contend that it is actually a very good theory, but not for the reasons Napolitano adduces:

Because he and he alone in the executive branch is answerable to the voters, this theory relates, there can be no people or entities in that branch that are not subject to him.

Were this not so, then vast areas of governance would take place and vast amounts of government resources would be spent by those not answerable to the people, and that would violate the right of the people to be governed by a government to which a majority of the voters in the states have consented.

But look, the majority of the people did not prefer Trump's rule to no one's rule; they did not prefer Trump's rule to 1,000 other contenders' rule; they merely preferred him to one Hillary Clinton. That is hardly much of a vote of confidence.

Nevertheless, having every federal bureaucrat obey Trump is a very good idea. We want Trump to be able to exercise effective and personal control over every aspect of his administration. This becomes impossible if the bureaucracy grows large. Thus, Mises argues:

For under government interference with business the unity of government policies has long since disintegrated into badly coordinated parts. Gone are the days when it was still possible to speak of a government's policy.

Today in most countries each department follows its own course, working against the endeavors of the other departments. (Bureaucracy, 85)

We need Trump himself personally to make the entirety of the federal executive branch's policy on all things within its competence. Incidentally, this will shrink government dramatically. This will also suppress the ongoing coup d'état against him by the "deep state." It will do so by entirely eliminating the deep state.

"I see no good in having several lords: Let one alone be master, let one alone be king." Amen, Odysseus.

Looting Directions

Logically, legal plunder can flow either from a minority to the majority or vice versa.

In the first case, the minority is simply outvoted. Of course, expropriating wealth or progressive income taxation so obviously lead to economic stagnation that only abject stupidity can cause the voters to decide to loot the "rich" in this manner.

In the second case, the stupidity is of a different sort. Here the people falsely believe that being looted is either in their own interest or in the interest of the common good.

Thus, for instance, young people agree to pay payroll taxes to finance old retirees, imagining that they, too, one day will benefit from this system. Again, the public, thoroughly in thrall to the Keynesian ideology, is sanctioning the awful money and banking regime that so spectacularly undermines economic progress.

What else but a mass hallucination of the tax victims can account for the fact that trillions of their dollars are taken from them and fed to the American war machine? Either they are really enamored of the "beauty of their weapons" or they are just fucking idiots.

Concupiscible Powers

Those are centered around bodily senses, particularly sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. But they also include the goods and evils, and pleasures and pains associated with them. Thus, for sight, we have beauty and the love of it, and ugliness and hatred of it. Some of these might be more intellectualized than others; perception of beauty may have a more robust cognitive component than of a delicious dish, but all senses come with apprehension of reality (such as again texture for touch) and delight or discomfort thereof.

To these it must be added sexual pleasure which seems to have no corresponding pain, other than for women in childbirth. (It's unlikely there would be new generations at all if women did not thoroughly crave cock.) Of course, there is plenty of "pain" in relationships, but it's more akin to sorrow, i.e., not sensual.

Further, there is the pleasure of the operation of a fit and healthy body. This is divided into is the pleasure of rest and the pleasure of exercise, such as a mastered sport. The pain of a decaying or dying body or of an illness complements it.

It is curious that that the pleasures of health tend to be much less intense than the pains of sickness or dying. Nevertheless, some genetic luck and a healthy lifestyle can ensure that pleasure rather than pain is felt most of the time.

Overall, when all the pleasures and pains are tallied up, it seems that our human sensual experience is well-nigh balanced in these terms.

Divine Goods

Mercy is plentiful; glory is scarce.

What Is a “Republic”?

It's a local government that combines with a measure of harmony commonwealth-democracy for the legislature, aristocracy for the judicial branch, and monarchy for the executive.

Drugs: A Constitutional Amendment

The legislature shall make no law restricting, nor shall any judge abridge, the right of the people to manufacture, transport, sell, trade, or consume marijuana or any of its ingredients.

All existing state laws to that effect are repealed.

All existing federal laws to that effect are null and void.

No special tax shall be imposed on any marijuana product with an express purpose of discouraging consumption or production of marijuana.

The right of private property owners to regulate the use of marijuana on their premises shall not be infringed.

The last clause is to ensure in our crazy world that no one can complain if, say, a company prohibits smoking marijuana at its place of business.

Respect and Love

By not killing or not stealing from a man, we should him respect; by giving life and profiting him, we upgrade respect into charity-love.

2nd-, 1st-Order Desires, and the Market

2nd-order desires determine what kind of person one wants to be. A typical 1st-order preference is between chocolate and vanilla ice-cream. But when one thinks, "Liking ice-cream is not manly. I am just not the sort of guy who has any interest in ice-cream," he is expressing a 2nd-order desire. He is contemplating not what he wants but what he wants to want: "I like ice-cream, but it's a nasty temptation; I'll purge the desire for it from my soul."

This distinction is crucial to understanding the so-called "dependence effect" or the idea that our wants are determined by society.

In the paper linked to, Hayek points out that while all entrepreneurs collectively determine the maximum extent of the choices for all consumers collectively, no individual entrepreneur can compel any individual consumer to buy his product.

But there is a deeper issue here.

A company can cater to men whose self-image is either "strong rugged individualists" or "effeminate milk drinkers" (including those men who are not yet but are trying to become those types of people). These personal identities will generate the requisite first-order desires. The company can, upon guessing or predicting people's self-images and deciding on their target demographics, seek to inflame or stimulate those 1st-order desires, such as through marketing and advertising and even affirmations of the identity.

But it is a losing strategy for a company to try to change self-proclaimed tough individualists into weak milk drinkers as a precondition to selling them their product. An attempt to inflame 2nd-order desires will be perceived by the consumers as a threat to their very identity. They will not take this assault kindly and will reject it with contempt and disgust.

How to Destroy the State?

I mean specifically the imperial "federal" government?

Cohen’s Rescuing Justice and Equality

I read it first in 2008 and made notes. I will be rereading it again now starting tomorrow, but I've been putting if off for a couple of days, because the poison he writes depresses me.

Equality with Angels Is Promised to the Saints

So says St. Thomas on a number of occasions. But certainly not equality in nature; the angelic nature will remain superior to the human nature.

Could it be equality of dignity or importance in the eyes of God? But we have this equality even now. The good angels serve us as the condition of their beatitude; the evil angels suffer defeat at our hands, and so must acknowledge our greatness.

Further, if Mary is the queen of heaven, then she is above the angels, as well. I think the equality spoken of is of ultimate happiness. It will be impossible to predict, by picking an arbitrary angel and arbitrary human saint, who will be happier. Some angels will be happier than some saints; but some saints will also be happier than some angels. If there is a "hierarchy of happiness," then both angels and humans will be interspersed within it.

Another possibility is that equality refers to the good possessed by each, which is God, though the capacity of enjoying Him will be unequal for all creatures.

Mary and Eve

Angel Gabriel hails Mary, as though a superior to him creature, and calls her "full of grace." What sort of grace is that? It could be sanctifying grace suitable to make Mary holy and assure her personal salvation. But it's more probably the gift of being the mother of God.

But do you really think that God could've picked a random slave-girl toiling in the fields and by copiously giving her "grace" made her exactly as good as Mary?

Why then the thousand-year-long history of the nation of Israel that culminates in Mary and Jesus? It can't just be the Jewish religion, i.e., the strict monotheism, admittedly an island of sanity among the polytheistic nonsense around it.

It must have had something to do with genetic purification, which was in some part responsible for Mary's natural perfection. God was being a eugenicist, and He used Israel to make Mary well-born, not just rescuing her from original sin, but granting her freedom from "concupiscence" understood as imperfectly ordered or sinful desires.

Mary was not a robot who did not enjoy food or drink or was sexually frigid. For example, she was slated to marry Joseph normally before the annunciation, and so she must have expected to have sex with him and even looked forward to it. Angel Gabriel's visit was a surprise to her. Remaining a virgin was a sacrifice Mary had to make for the sake of a more highly valued good, namely, becoming the mother of God.

We may ask: If Mary, who was born without original sin, was a huge success as a human being, so great in fact that she qualified to give birth to God the Son, and is now a queen of heaven, then:

Why wouldn't God have all of us born without the original sin, thereby making every man a king of heaven, equal to Mary, if absence of that troublesome condition is all that stands in the way of such glory?

If more than that is needed, then how was Mary different from Eve who, while also in the state of original natural happiness, still sinned?

Perhaps just as some angels were created already naturally predisposed to accepting God's grace and some, to rejecting it, Mary was naturally superior to Eve, and where Eve failed, she succeeded. Eve was created easily given to temptation, easily corruptible, while Mary was created much more steadfast. Eve then had a major character flaw. It is Mary's greater natural righteousness through which she persevered.

The conclusion is obvious: Eve was created weak, unlike Mary, because the fall of humans somehow served God's purposes. A world in which there is original sin must then be ultimately superior to a world in which it never occurs. More precisely, a world in which Eve's strength equals Mary's is better from the Father's point of view but worse overall when the Holy Spirit's and and Son's missions are also taken into account.

Consider also that Mary was conceived without original sin, whereas even now those who are baptized in the Catholic Church as infants gestate in the womb while still afflicted with original sin. So, Mary's body must've been exceedingly healthy and beautiful and strong, free from any inborn defects. This surely was crucial to her mission as mother of God. She had to be up for it physically, and that is never a joke, especially in ancient times, and especially when giving birth to God (of all, uh... people).

So, it seems that Mary was naturally a uniquely magnificent specimen of our species.

Whatever sanctifying grace was given to her, to further her own personal salvation, was ordinary, rather than extraordinary, and similar to graces given to would-be saints today.

She was different from other humans not by the amount or type of sanctifying grace bestowed on her, but (1) regarding the timing of removal of OS -- at conception rather than from baptism at birth or as an adult; (2) her wonderful nature and personality, far exceeding Eve.

But I could be wrong on this one; perhaps in Mary both spectacular nature and spectacular sanctifying grace during her entire life were combined.

The Problem of Evil and Nature

Those who are troubled by the theological problem of evil may not even realize the full extent and size of the difficulty.

If man is yang and the active force, then nature is yin, something to be subdued and shaped. Yet as I write in my book, the female archetype is not only receptive but also destructive in its various guises: e.g., if you do not take the opportunity to plant your crops in the summer when nature is pliable, the same nature will starve and kill you in the winter.

Now it would be wrong to suggest that because of this destructive aspect, nature hates us. Rather, nature is completely unforgiving of our mistakes, rather like its creator, God the Father.

In fact, the Father's lack of interest in forgiving sins stems from precisely this aspect of nature and His mission.

That forgiveness of sins is nevertheless provided for through the solicitude of the Son is a miracle and incredible testament to God's overflowing goodness.

Minimum Wage and the Market Process

Let's evaluate the assumption of the "moderate" economists, referred to by Walter Block, that minimum wage legislation will have the following effect:

"A few people will lose their jobs, but the overwhelming majority would either find or keep their employment slots, at higher compensation rates."

Now in the market, there is an equilibrating tendency toward equalizing wages and marginal productivity. There is no way in the longer run for one to be paid more than he is worth to the company. So, the idea that the overwhelming majority will start enjoying higher wages as if by magic, getting something out of nothing, is extremely short-term.

First, during any negotiation between firm and potential employee, there is a narrow range of possible wages, where the determination of the exact wage is made purely by bargaining. In the short-run, for those unskilled lowly workers who will not be fired right away, minimum wage transfers some gains from trade from the employer to the worker, and that's it. It is not clear, however, how this is "just." For many businesses, especially small, in many stages of their development, the business owner may receive negligible profits or even suffer losses. The workers end up being better off than the entrepreneur. Perhaps some leftist "compassion" should be given to the latter.

In other words, the moderate economists are no better than the Marxists who see the alleged "surplus value" and get mad because the entrepreneur supposedly gets away with a crime and laughs all the way to the bank. It seems rather that the minimum wage can make the poorest party in the whole shebang, i.e., the entrepreneur, even poorer.

Second, the equilibration occurs by force of law not through the market process. As a result, it is one-size-fits-all and extremely crude. It grinds into dust indifferently and equally both underpaid and reasonably compensated workers. It makes workers unemployed and businesses workerless. It is moreover entirely superfluous, as the market abhors profits and perpetually, with the help of equilibrators, tries to arbitrage them away.

Third, the market process has benefits beyond diminishing existing profits and raising wages. Even equilibrating entrepreneurship increases the quantity of goods available, lowers their prices, and may even make small technological improvements to them. The bigger problem is that artificially high wages discourage creative advance or disequilibrating entrepreneurship. A budding capitalist's alertness consists in many things, but in particular in containing costs by uncovering underpriced factors of production. If unskilled workers are either highly paid or cannot legally be employed, business opportunities to that extent dry up. As a result, society loses from new goods that fail to come into existence that would otherwise under free markets be produced.

The moderate economists are shortsighted even on their own terms. Again, unskilled jobs are not ends in themselves but stepping stones to career-building. Remove their crucial aid, and one will languish forever in abject poverty or on welfare. This suggests that the harm to "a few people" will far outweigh even the benefits to the majority.

Why Does Walter Block Do Philosophy?

My guess is that he falsely thinks that it's easy. He argues against minimum wages law as follows:

Posit that the "moderate" economists were right. A few people will lose their jobs, but the overwhelming majority would either find or keep their employment slots, at higher compensation rates.

Suppose I were to go to the inner city (which contains a disproportionate number of the unskilled), and did the following. I went to one in every 20 people I met, and, at the point of a gun, I relieved them of, oh, $10,000 (40 hours per week time 50 weeks multiplied by $5 per hour). Whereupon I turned to the other 19 out of 20 people and dispersed these stolen funds amongst them.

If I did so, I would be promoting the precise effects that the moderate members of the economics profession who are supporters of minimum wage claim will occur. Namely, this law, they contend, they concede, will hurt very few but benefit the many.

But how would my excursion into the inner city, and my wealth transfer, be considered by law? Of course, I would be considered a criminal, and very properly so.

This is a really amazing piece of reasoning, blithely confusing ends and means. The end, namely, the transfer of income and the means by which it is actuated are separate variables that can change independently of each other. The consequences can be either good or bad; the means by which the consequences are caused, lawful or unlawful. Let's further call Block's raid into the inner city, Blockean robbery or BR.

We can take note of the following 4 permutations:

Good Lawful -- Minimum wage (according to current mores)
Good Unlawful -- BR
Bad Lawful -- Losing money in the stock market
Bad Unlawful -- Common robbery or theft

The very same event, namely, the transfer of control of a sum of money from me to another party, can be good or bad for me or society as a whole; and can occur lawfully or unlawfully. Observing only the act of transfer does not provide us with enough information to determine either. Rothbard understood this point well:

Suppose we are walking down the street and we see a man, A, seizing B by the wrist and grabbing B's wristwatch. There is no question that A is here violating both the person and the property of B. Can we then simply infer from this scene that A is a criminal aggressor, and B his innocent victim?

Certainly not -- for we don't know simply from our observation whether A is indeed a thief, or whether A is merely repossessing his own watch from B who had previously stolen it from him. (EoL, 51)

The exact same transfer of $30 can be unlawful if I am threatened with death unless I give it up, and lawful if I pay with this amount for my dinner at a restaurant.

Again, suppose that company X made $100,000 in profits this year through purely market activities. Block grants, for the sake of argument, that laissez-faire economists are right and property is not theft. But he says, even then it is easy to prove them wrong. Suppose instead X's security department went out into the inner city and robbed people there until the amount of money it thereby collected became equal to $100,000. Surely, the company would then be considered a criminal enterprise or even a terrorist organization! See? This "shows" that it obtained its profits illegitimately.

The fact that a certain transfer is made criminal by one set of circumstances surrounding it does not make it criminal in all sets of circumstances.

The criminality of BRs is completely irrelevant to the questions of either the criminality of minimum wage or the utility of minimum wage. Here's an example.

It is true that BR, unlike minimum wage laws, will be considered to be criminal. But presumably it will still be a holy act. We may even regret that the law will treat it this way, but it may be because it is rule utilitarian not act utilitarian. A single BR will produce good consequences, but a policy of allowing anyone to redistribute income in this way at any time at his own pleasure will be counterproductive and is prohibited for that reason. However, it can be argued that the government's minimum wage law will be a way of mimicking BRs appropriately and orderly without any disturbing chaos of vigilante economizing.

Other Good Unlawful acts may be the paradigmatic stealing from a miser or emergency situations where a good is commandeered for the sake of saving a life.

Thus, if minimum wage is good, then Block should perform the robberies described routinely but try not to get caught. He will be forever honored as a "people's hero," despite the undiscriminating formalism of the law. There'll be statues on him erected in the inner cities!

Defining “Need”

It may be true that the word "need" should be expunged from economics; but it can be defined virtuously as a state of affairs in which one wants a good not to obtain pleasure or relief from discomfort but to preserve his very life, and getting that good by normal means, i.e., by buying it on the market, is somehow impossible.

This is because one is never under a necessity to enjoy a particular pleasure, but must do anything to survive, religious considerations aside, since a corpse has no use for pleasure at all.

A typical situation is a finding shelter in someone else's cabin without explicit permission during an Alaskan snowstorm; or breaking into a drug store at night to get a life-saving medicine needed immediately. Even those situations are almost always "take-and-pay" where compensation is due legally and gratitude is due morally after the danger has passed.

Prayers, Cont.

We can see, by the way, Jesus' attitude toward miracles. He performs them solely in order to authenticate his claims and lay open the nature of Himself and His mission.

But, when disappointed with humans and clearly exasperated, He says: "An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah the prophet." (Mt 12:39)

"Enough miracles," Jesus goes on; "Jonah's and Solomon's wisdom was sufficient to convert many; if all I've done still has not convinced you, then you've dug your own grave."