Sink, the Bismarckian state!

Hmm: On 24th February I wrote, in a comment on this blog:

We’re about to reach the end of the historical era that began when Bismarck first implemented state socialism in the 1880s. The changes will be huge and wrenching; I wouldn’t even put the dissolution of the USA outside the realm of possibility.

Two days later, Mark Steyn writes this in Our own Greek tragedy:

The 20th century Bismarckian welfare state has run out of people to stick it to.

Coincidence or conspiracy? You be the judge.

239 thoughts on “Sink, the Bismarckian state!

  1. One of the manifestations of the Bismarckian state is the Germanic model of the university — that’s the big, centralized, state research-university model that swept the US during the late 19th century and has been with us ever since, becoming ever more factory-like throughout the 20th century.

    People may not be aware, however, that there is a growing international movement (small, to be sure, but very real nonetheless) to reject the Germanic/Industrial model of the university in favor of the older, decentralized, British collegiate model, of which Oxford and Cambridge are exemplars. Here are three short items on the specific contrast between the centralized-Germanic and the decentralized-collegiate models:

    The Twilight of the Germanic University:
    http://collegiateway.org/news/2009-graff-courseocentrism

    Bowles Hall and the Collegiate Way of Living:
    http://collegiateway.org/news/2008-bowles-hall

    Woodrow Wilson on British Colleges vs. Germanic Universities:
    http://collegiateway.org/news/2008-woodrow-wilson

    The hub of this movement to sink the Bismarckian university is the Collegiate Way website (collegiateway.org) where those posts appear. It’s a big place — poke around and see if anything strikes your fancy.

  2. Greece is certainly in a pickle. Following your previous post, this one should be titled “Greek Dills: Why socialism will fail and free markets will win.”

  3. Coincidence or conspiracy? You be the judge.
    It’s coincidence! I don’t see any proof, that this will happen. Economy develops always in cycles. Peoples said the same things is the 80s. Then came the 90s and we had a major upturn.
    The only thing I am really worried is energy ressources. Because developing countries can’t do the same things the western world did. So we have to find different sollutions.

  4. @esr: Surely you mean on the 24th of Februrary.

    ESR says: Yes, corrected.

    And Mr. Steyn is obviously a regular reader on your blog, or perhaps it’s just that you and he see things the same way. or maybe both are true. Anyway, I think you even mentioned on the same page that Greece was ahead of the curve.

  5. >Greece is certainly in a pickle. Following your previous post, this one should be titled “Greek Dills: Why socialism will fail and free markets will win.”

    Ha! That’s good.

    I was actually playing off two titles: “Cry, the beloved country” and “Sink the Bismarck!”

    :-)

  6. It’s not just Greece.

    It’s also Portugal, Italy, Ireland and Spain in the EU.

    The Bulgarian national debt is now 111% of its GDP, and its bond rating is being discussed in in terms of BBB- ratings (which is roughly what the middle tranch of the mortgage debt bubble should have been.)

    Iceland is having what would be, for Iceland, unprecedented voter disapprocal to repay the ~5.5 billion dollars used to bail out the Icelandic banking collapse. And by unprecedented, we mean that with 40% of the votes tallied, the ratio is 93% “No” to 5% “Yes with modifications” and 2% “Yes as is.”

    Greece will be a test case for California in 3 months.

    China spent most of February exploring ways out of dollar denominated debt. It’s now backing the dollar, hard, because as crappy a OUR situation is, we’re still the least bad alternative for an investment potential to try and weather the storm on the horizon.

    My three rules of advice:

    1) Put your financial assets in a locally owned, locally held bank. Even better, a local credit union, because you will be allowed to sit on board meetings with better transparency.
    2) Buy stocks – but buy stocks that make necessity items. Diapers, Peanut butter. Baby formula. Fertilizer. Tractors.
    2A) If you have a spare quarter million handy, buy two A-shares of Berkshire Holdings (Warren Buffett’s company); the dividends on two A-shares will give you about $9K a year income, which is enough to live off of if you’re frugal and without a job, and that income will index to inflation with about a 3-6 month lag.

    Pray like hell that Buffett’s training his heir apparent with Manchurian candidate-style personality-overwrite discipline, or that he has the genetics to live another 7-10 years with mental acuity.

    3) Start your own business while you can still get lines of credit of any sort, use credit minimally (enough to keep the lines open), and make sure you have a local customer base that can support you.

    What’s my record on this? I predicted the AIG collapse and told people to get out of AIG in late August. I successfully gave a list of banks due to fail after the AIG fiasco.

    When economics fights political stability, political stability LOSES.

  7. Marco wrote:

    I don’t see any proof, that this will happen. Economy develops always in cycles. Peoples said the same things is the 80s. Then came the 90s and we had a major upturn.

    Always in cycles? Please review the history of Russia and then tell us, with a straight face, that it’s cyclical. For bonus points, please list the times in the last century when Russia has had upturns.

    Did you even read Steyn’s article. I’m guessing you didn’t, or you would have seen where he points out that Greece’s fertility rate of 1.3 is “the point from which no society has ever recovered.”

    The only thing I am really worried is energy ressources. Because developing countries can’t do the same things the western world did. So we have to find different sollutions.

    You don’t have the foggiest notion of what you’re talking about. Israel and Hong Kong don’t have any energy resources, and they are highly advanced, prosperous Western-style democracies. Saudi Arabia and Nigeria have plentiful energy resources and they are medieval hellholes. Venezuela is swimming in energy resources, and it’s a corrupt banana republic. Russia also has huge energy resources, and it’s an economic basket case.

    The resource that matters is human capital: the tendency of humans to, if they are allowed, create value out of nothing. But this doesn’t happen if the humans in question are shackled by repressive governments (e.g., North Korea, Iran). It also doesn’t happen if the human population in question is on the road to extinction due to disastrously low fertility rates (e.g., all of Europe).

    ESR and Steyn aren’t talking about “developing countries”. They are talking about collapsing countries: formerly prosperous Western democracies where the population is aging rapidly and birth rates are falling through the floor. There’s only one “different sollution [sic]” for that: shore up your population through immigration. In other words, give up and hand over your country to someone else.

  8. The Germanic university is a Soviet-style welfare state for professors and administrators (i.e., people who produce nothing of value). The sooner it’s destroyed, the better.

  9. …the Bismarckian state was sunk earlier today by British warships, after several days earlier being crippled by torpedo bombers off the Ark Royal.

    Hmm. I’m unsure how to map that metaphorically to the current situation.

  10. >They are talking about collapsing countries: formerly prosperous Western democracies where the population is aging rapidly and birth rates are falling through the floor.

    The U.S. is the only G8 country where this is not happening. That fact will probably be the single most important driver of geopolitics for the next 40 years or until the Singularity arrives, whichever is sooner :-).

  11. I believe that unless something changes a lot, anyone who’s under sixty or so and isn’t way above average on both love and money is likely to die of neglect. The hands and minds for taking care of old people simply aren’t there.

    This isn’t something I’ve worked out numerically, it’s just from observation of the amount of work old and ill people need, plus the declining birth rate.

    The things which can change which would make a better deal for old people are health extension (certainly a possibility– there are people who are in good shape into their nineties, and only debilitated for a few years near the end) and vastly improved automation.

  12. Forgot to mention– I think lifestyle changes help, but I haven’t seen evidence that they’d help enough to move people into the only a few bad years at the end category.

  13. The Germanic university is a Soviet-style welfare state for professors and administrators (i.e., people who produce nothing of value). The sooner it’s destroyed, the better.

    It was imported from Germany to the US very deliberately and it did spectacularly well for a long time. Granted, the whole research enterprise was growing fast post-WWII and massive amounts of money was spent on it, so probably there were good jobs available for capable people. Now it seems that the cost of tuition is out of control and the desire to control the academics and subject everyone to various kinds on reviews, bean counting and general bureaucracy is killing the whole thing. I agree about the administrators. At least getting a professorship takes some real credentials, getting to be an administrator who can make the professors fill out all sorts of new forms seems to require nothing at all.

  14. >The U.S. is the only G8 country where this is not happening. That fact will probably be the single most important driver of geopolitics for the next 40 years or until the Singularity arrives, whichever is sooner :-).

    Not true, there’s also Canada. While we aren’t breeding at replacement rate like the US, we also don’t have a collapsing birthrate like the rest of the G8 does and we don’t have the economic issues that all other G8 countries have (Our banking system avoided the troubles that the rest of the G8, including the US, ran into). I’d chalk a lot of this up to high levels of Indian and Chinese immigration and reasonable amounts of assimilation, which has kept the birthrate up without running into the societal issues that Europe has due to high Muslim immigration and poor assimilation. Simply put, the Indian and Chinese immigrants don’t cause the same level of trouble as the alternatives since they’re both already somewhat culturally compatible due to British influences on their culture.

    Downside is Canada is simply not big enough economically to provide any sort of realistic damping on the current lot of problems globally. All we can do is hunker down and hope the US can.

  15. Ken Burnside says:

    >>>> 2) Buy stocks – but buy stocks that make necessity items. Diapers, Peanut butter. Baby formula. Fertilizer. Tractors.
    2A) If you have a spare quarter million handy, buy two A-shares of Berkshire Holdings (Warren Buffett’s company); the dividends on two A-shares will give you about $9K a year income, which is enough to live off of if you’re frugal and without a job, and that income will index to inflation with about a 3-6 month lag.

    Overall, this is sound advice, Berskshire is a fantastic company. But if you are looking for dividends you need to look elsewhere; Berkshire does not pay any. And if you can’t afford these expensive A shares, there are also the much cheaper B shares (but still no dividends.)

    If you like dividends MO (Phillip Morris) pays a nice fat dividend. Personally, I own a stake in Apple right now, along with some LEAP options on same, that I am excited as hell about.

  16. Not true, there’s also Canada. While we aren’t breeding at replacement rate like the US, we also don’t have a collapsing birthrate like the rest of the G8 does and we don’t have the economic issues that all other G8 countries have (Our banking system avoided the troubles that the rest of the G8, including the US, ran into).

    You mean you don’t have the collapsing birthrate yet. There are two factors, I think, that are driving Canada’s lower birthrate. The first is that Canadians are migrating to the U.S. in droves. The second is part of the reason for the first: your health care system sucks.

  17. Huh, looks like JP Bedell, the domestic terrorist who shot two cops in DC, was a libertarian crank and computer geek like the local proprietor of this blog. He just took the “armed and dangerous” slogan a bit further. More here.

    I don’t suppose ESR is going to actually take his guns and use them on government officials. Presumably he can do cost/benefit calculations better than Bedell. But he promotes a rhetoric that leads to unbalanced individuals doing exactly that.

  18. The list of things I’ like to understand, excerpt:

    #Item 143: by what strange twist of fate or history did it happen so, that it were two conservatives: von Bismarck and Disraeli, who invented the welfare state?

    Given that both were relatively genuine conservatives, von Bismarck has said: “Politics is not a science, as the professors are apt to suppose. It is an art.”, and Disraeli has said: “My objection to Liberalism is this—that it is the introduction into the practical business of life of the highest kind—namely, politics—of philosophical ideas instead of political principles.”

    These are the very arguments by which modern intellectual conservatives attack the welfare state.

    I’ve arrived at a contradiction. Should I do Ayn Rand’s suggestion and check my premises? Which ones?

  19. I don’t buy that the US is beating other countries in birthrate. It would be more accurate to say that Mexico has a high birthrate, much of it in the US.

  20. Goddinpotty: you do realize that there are between 80 and 120 million “armed and dangerous” Americans who didn’t shoot up the Pentagon, right? Support for gun rights is hardly a fringe position here in the US. If anything, Eric’s 2nd Amendment views are probably less controversial than his support for Open Source.

  21. I don’t see what the problem with a low birth rate is, none of the countries mentioned have even a negative population growth (except Germany).

    It seems that countries rely on a ponzi scheme of continuous growth so the young can support the old. The fact that people cease to be of economic value when the get old means it is difficult for a country’s population to be strink without problems. Immigration may help, such a pity that so many countries oppose it.

    I don’t think it is sustinable for the world economy to rely on constant population growth, we only have one planet.

  22. Although the whole birthrate problem has lots of causes that can be clearly explained by economic disincentives, still there is another factor: a general lack of faith in the future of your kids – a general lack of faith in the future, the lack of a situation where you can reasonably believe the future will be good enough to take the responsibility of making kids into it. And this sort of optimisim is disappearing, isn’t it? At least here in Europe somehow nobody believes anymore that the world of 2050 could be a better world than that of 2010 or at least an acceptable one. There is nothing but uncertainity and anxiety. I think we all know why it had happened so – a radical divorcing of what you do and what you receive and so on – but perhaps, hopefully, this overall pessimism carries in itself the seeds of its solution.

  23. @goddinpotty:
    Reading your first link, I note that the article referenced says that the shooter was ‘right wing’ but then cites writings that “express ill will toward the government and the armed forces and question whether Washington itself might have been behind the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.” Hardly views associated with the right wing, n’est-ce pas? Sounds more like a lefty to me. True, he later talks about the government’s encroachment on the economy, but anti-government sentiment is a.) more of a libertarian point of view than a ‘right-wing’ one, and b.) also expressed in circles of extreme leftists. It also cites an SPLC report that I, having read, have no respect for whatsoever; the report grossly overstates numbers of ‘hate groups’ and counts many non-violent groups whose politics SPLC disagrees with in that category as well. Even assuming that the Think Progress article is spot on in analyzing this guy’s political views, I’m not sure where anyone got the idea that because person X supports ideology Y, any violent act done by person X is attributable to said ideology or discredits it in some way. If you’re trying to do anything besides take a cheap shot, you’ll need some better sources.

  24. There’s a vastly higher statistical correlation between ‘leftist’ ideology and mindless violence. They can barely resist the urge to smash and burn stuff whenever their herd mentality turns to protestation.

    Contrast with the millions peacefully involved during the “Tea Party” protests. To suggest that “right = violence” is beyond hysterical….as for ‘the left’…hmmm…not so much – it’s almost a modus operandi for them.

  25. Tom Dickson-Hunt, show me a leftist who praises private property and raves about communist and socialist influences within the US Government, as Bedell did.

    Bedell is a relic from the mid-nineties McVeigh era of right-wing paranoia. Nothing more.

  26. With better than 60% acknowledging that the federal government is no longer legitimate I think we’re “living in interesting times.” The last time there was a sea change the Germans decided to tour their neighbors. Change is coming. It’s going to be messy. What I suspect is happening is more and more of us are accepting that the “devil we know” is not, in point of fact, better than the devil we don’t.

    I’m ready for it all to be rebooted.

  27. Leftists tend to be younger. Conservatives tend to be older. Violent people tend to be younger. That’s why leftists tend to be more violent.

    Yours,
    Tom

  28. Always reduce to the fundamentals. How long can any society borrow without end or consequence, while failing to produce compensatory wealth? I think that we’re about to find out.

    Now would be a good time to anticipate what things might be in short supply during a time of economic hardship. Then pick out one of these goods or services and educate yourself on the ways and means of producing it. If you’re really bold, you may even choose to stockpile necessary equipment and resources. And also remember that during hard times, labor is usually pretty cheap.

  29. Ken: it is not support for gun rights per se that is a problem, it is the combination of that with extreme and irresponsible anti-government rhetoric.

    Shenpen: true conservatives value social stability and thus a strong state. Bismarck adopted social welfare measures to stave off the threat of left-wing revolution — just as FDR did. Don’t get hung up on words: the present-day American definitions of “conservative” and “liberal” have very little to do with how those terms were used historically or in other parts of the world.

  30. Shenpen: another part of the birthrate problem, and quite the elephant in the room politically, is feminism. Women have been told for decades that just having kids is backward, and that they should have careers instead, but inevitably that makes them less likely to have kids. Oh, they might have one or possibly two, but very few will have three or more and a career at the same time, not enough of them to get the fertility rate up to the replacement rate of 2.1.

    And, of course, the irony would be that the “advanced,” “progressive” Europeans have created a society that can’t reproduce itself, while importing millions of Muslims, most of whom have very old-fashioned ideas about the role of women, and have no problem reproducing their numbers… and then some. In perhaps 50 years the victories for progressivism in Europe might well be Pyrrhic.

  31. Tom DeGisi: Do you really think a demonstration by young conservatives is just as likely to turn violent as a demonstration by young leftists? As far as I can tell, recent decades don’t show that, at all.

  32. Tom DeGisi: Surely you have noticed that it is the left that riots out there. People on the right like the tea partiers are quite nice in comparison.

    The left are like kids who are mad at the world because it is unfair, and this is why they have their tantrums. It has little to do with age.

  33. PapayaSF,

    No, I don’t. I should have said “That’s one reason”, not “That’s the reason”. Current leftist ideology worships violent overthrow of the status quo. Conservative ideology does not. That’s another reason.

    Yours,
    Tom

  34. it is not support for gun rights per se that is a problem, it is the combination of that with extreme and irresponsible anti-government rhetoric.

    OK, so let me extrapolate from this for a moment. (Note that this is not meant to apply to you; it’s just taking the above to its logical conclusion.)
    We have people who a.) support gun rights and b.) engage in ‘extreme and irresponsible anti-government rhetoric’. At least one of these people attacks government employees, possibly causing deaths. A certain subset of people takes this as an excuse. They notice a.) and b.). One group goes after a.), and attempts to implement strong controls on gun ownership. One goes after b.), and attempts to implement laws against certain anti-government speech, under the pretense of said speech being incitement to violence. Legislative and judicial controls may or may not stop them. Oddly enough, it’s fear of this precise scenario, and others like it, that lead to a.) and b.) in the first place.

  35. If you look at recent history, the death count from right-wing terrorism includes 163 people dead at Oklahoma City, at least eight murders of abortion providers (and many more attempts and death threats), the three police officers killed by deranged gun-nut Richard Poplawski, the security guard at the Holocaust museum killed by white supremacist James von Brunn…and probably more. The death count from left-wing terrorism is approximately zero.

    Of course this hasn’t always been the case. There was plenty of left-wing terrorism in the sixties, although it never approached the scale of the present day right.

  36. The OK City bombers weren’t right wing. Neither was Poplawski. Neither was von Brunn. And neither was the Unabomber. All were in favor of various left wing causes and various right wing causes. They were all, really, garden variety lone wackos. None were in the sort of organized terrorist cell which would allow them to be moved out of the lone wacko category and into either the right or left wing category.

    I’m willing to count the abortion provider murderers as terrorists. But I count late term abortion providers as left wing mass murderers. Not terrorists, but their body count is thousands a year.

    Yours,
    Tom

  37. it is not support for gun rights per se that is a problem, it is the combination of that with extreme and irresponsible anti-government rhetoric.

    Wow, so anti-government rhetoric is extreme and irresponsible? Why didn’t you tell us all this four years ago when people were buying T-shirts that expressed their distrust of government? A lot of people really could have used that advice back then.

    Ok, I was joking. I hope someone got a laugh out of that.

    Seriously though, here’s a couple of scenarios to consider:

    When the “gun rights” people exercise their right to keep and bear arms, it does not prevent you from *not* exercising that right. You are free to keep and bear arms, and you are free to not keep and bear arms, the choice is yours. You have that freedom. It is yours.

    When the anti-gun and anti-gun-rights people take away your guns and your rights, you’re not free to make that choice. You do not have that freedom. It is stolen from you.

    That’s as simple as I can put it, and there’s nothing extreme, irresponsible, or anti-government about your rights.

  38. Tom: you must be joking, or in some form of deep denial.

    The OK City bombers were devotees of white supremacist literature had ties to the milita movements.

    Poplawski was a budding white supremacist who frequented one of the most popular neo-Nazi websites and harbored an apocalyptic dread of the federal government.

    Have you ever read the Unabomber manifesto? It’s largely an attack on the left: “Leftists tend to hate anything that has an image of being strong, good and successful. They hate America, they hate Western civilization, they hate white males, they hate rationality.” Sounds like your garden-variety right-wing internet crank to me.

    I can’t be bothered to address the rest. Get your head out of your ass.

  39. Tom: you must be joking, or in some form of deep denial.

    Did you not get the bit about ‘various left wing causes and various right wing causes’?

  40. Tom Dickson-Hunt,

    Yeah, he does need to read more carefully. And perhaps it would help if he knew that the last big racial supremacy movement – the Nazis – was left wing. But then humanity’s built in tendency towards bigotry tends to find expression in all political movements. Ironically, it is a form of bigotry itself to reflexively assign bigotry to the right wing.

    I would also note that neither one of us has been willing to stash the various American Islamicist lone wackos into a wing.

    Yours,
    Tom

  41. godin,

    Oddly, The Christian Science Monitor is even more in deep denial than I am. They refuse to characterize entire groups, not just lone wackos:

    The Ku Klux Klan, the Aryan Nations, Christian Identity adherents, skinheads and neo-Nazis, state and local “militias” and “freemen” here and there. It’s hard to pin them down along today’s conservative-liberal political spectrum. Like many in today’s “tea party” movement, they are nonpartisan. Or maybe “post-partisan” in a way President Obama never intended.

    Yours,
    TOm

  42. @Tom DG: I recently read a Monitor article that at least by strong implication put Joe Stack, the plane -> IRS office guy, in the right wing. My earlier impression had been that he was another lone wacko; his manifesto certainly seemed to espouse a mixture of left- and right-wing causes. Thoughts?

  43. And perhaps it would help if he knew that the last big racial supremacy movement – the Nazis – was left wing

    And perhaps it would help if I gave myself a lobotomy, because that’s the only way I’d be capable of believing something as stupid as that.

    That Christian Science Monitor piece is almost as stupid. The idea that Christian Identity is “hard to pin down” is ridiculous — they are part of the extreme right, there’s not the slightest question about it. The article seriously distorts the sources it is based upon, like Chip Berlet, who says “They [mainstream right-wing pundits] are not legally culpable for the assassination of Dr. Tiller, says Berlet, “but they must share some portion of moral responsibility for creating a dangerous environment.” — which is exactly what I was saying.

  44. goddinpotty: Read this, and this. Neither are what you would call unbiased in presentation, but both have good information. Also, where are you getting this idea that violence is only a creature of the right wing? Don’t say ‘the facts’, because they’re not.

  45. Tom Dickson-Hunt,

    Joe Stack == lone wacko.

    godin,

    Make a less stunningly boring and vacuous argument than calling me (and lots of other people) stupid.

    Yours,
    Tom

  46. goddinpotty: why do you insist that everybody has to fall on a single line? Someone is either left-wing, right-wing, or centrist in your simplistic view. You know what that view is? It’s simplistic.

  47. I’m actually fairly sanguine about the welfare state, both because I think we’ll see the kind of growth that will make its promises less onerous and because it is losing its grip on the populace after a century of failure and will be dismantled. For example, I think the huge unfunded liability of Medicare will get much cheaper because of medical decision software replacing most doctors and the internet driving down the prices of the rest of the medical market. As for its popularity waning, people are finally starting to realize that medicine is not a govt responsibility and that unions don’t usually help them. The message of economic freedom has been driven home by 30 years of prosperity, it’s time to finally dismantle the welfare state and reap further rewards.

  48. @ajay — The question is how we get from welfare state to self-reliance without a nasty trip through bloody revolution. Talk about deleveraging! If you thought popping the housing bubble was painful, just wait until we pop the entitlement bubble. The ideal would be to avoid a pop — to phase out all entitlement programs gently, say by cutting them 1% a year for the next century, so that we don’t have to absorb a giant shock. Sadly, I don’t see that happening. Seeing the yawning chasm ahead, our collective response so far has been to turn up the stereo and hit the gas.

  49. @goddinpotty

    >> And perhaps it would help if he knew that the last big racial supremacy movement – the Nazis – was left wing

    > And perhaps it would help if I gave myself a lobotomy, because that’s the only way I’d be capable of believing something as stupid as that.

    You seem to lack a brain so lobotomy may not work. Nazis were not the name of the party. The name was National **Socialists**. You know, as in Socialism, the defining ideology associate with right-… oh… damn!

    Nazis stances on pretty much EVERY single issue that is disputed between the right and the left:

    - Gun control: Nazis were VERY much into gun control.
    - Abortion: Very much pro-abortion.
    - Government control of the economy – strongly for.

  50. # Marco Says:
    # Economy develops always in cycles.

    Economy does not always develop in cycles. Sometimes it’s flat (think Russia’s for long stretches of time). Sometimes it spirals down. Think Zimbabwe.

    # Peoples said the same things is the 80s. Then came the 90s and we had a major upturn.

    90s upturn was a fairly unique situation. The only way it can repeated is through major technological advancements staggeringly improving productivity, in both energy, agriculture and industrial sectors, or after a major war.

    # The only thing I am really worried is energy ressources. Because developing countries can’t do the same things the western world did. So we have to find different sollutions.

    The main reason they “can’t do the same things the western world did” is a culture of corruption and lack of a culture of industriousness. Any country that manages to overcome both goes up economically farily quickly (Singapour, Taiwan, Israel, Brasil, India)

  51. Jeff, bloody revolution over rearranging 10-15% or so of current GDP? I have to say I find all the comments on this blog talking about survivalist scenarios pretty out there. I think what will happen is that we’ll be fairly rich, so we’ll have the choice of continuing on as is or reforming and we’ll choose the latter simply because most will finally understand the benefits of Social Security privatization or elimination, for example. Take a look at the growth in real household net worth per capita over the last 50 years, it only gets better :) – note the acceleration in growth starting in the mid-90s. Even with the current setback, we will not fall back to the previous growth trend from the 60s-80s for some time. I just saw this video so I had to link to it, we live in interesting times. :D

  52. @goddinpotty — The word Nazi is an abbreviation for Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, or in English, National Socialist German Workers’ Party. It was, in terms of domestic policy agenda, a fairly typical left-wing party.

    That said, let’s be clear: most people, regardless of politics, are not evil and do not support genocide. The reason you see more carnage under leftist rule (Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot) is that once you decide that the Collective is paramount, the Individual becomes expendable and can be “liquidated” for the collective good. And there is a certain logic to this. For individuals there is right and wrong, but for the collective there is only cost/benefit. Thus a culture that values individual liberty will say “better a hundred guilty men should go free than one innocent man hang”, whereas one that values the collective good will naturally err on the side of conviction to protect the collective from potential future harm.

    If you can give even a single historical example of a political movement that valued individual liberty more than collective good, and ended up putting millions of people in mass graves, I’d love to hear it.

  53. > it is not support for gun rights per se that is a problem, it is the combination of that with extreme and irresponsible anti-government rhetoric.

    I must point out that if you combine every single lone wacko in the world in the entire history of humanity, the combined body count would still be several orders of magnitude less than even a (quite common) small genocidal or democidal campaign.

    Note that most of the great powers are ready on a moment’s notice to engage in the wanton slaughter of most of the world’s population in order to guarantee their uncontested territorial hegemony.

    It is quite clearly the pro-government rhetoric that is extreme and irresponsible, at least in terms of sheer human cost.

  54. Mass killings like those perpetrated by the Nazis are not necessarily a left-wing or a right-wing thing. You see political extremists of all varieties advocating such lethal policies, especially when they obtain absolute power. As Lord Acton once said, absolute power corrupts absolutely. The libertarian and anarcho-capitalist worldviews do not allow for absolute power, therefore you won’t find anyone from these political movements advocating for such things.

  55. The death count from left-wing terrorism is approximately zero.

    You might want to consider whether the millions upon millions of dead victims of various ‘leftist’ regimes, and the millions upon millions fortunate enough to survive, ever felt terrorized at all. Maybe? Just a tad inconvenienced?

    Nah. I’m sure they were just fucking dandy about the whole thing. The trains had smiling people painted on them, after all.

  56. The problem is, Jeff, that your view about people who support liberty falls flat on its face, when these so called supporters of liberty browbeat and meanmouth anyone who disagrees with them, thus proving that they want collectivism.

    In fact, the concept of society, and the means to enforce social cohesion (such as peer pressure, conformity) is collectivist.

    And of course if anyone is targeted by such depraved acts of social control (it is depraved because I actually do believe in liberty, not collectivism in the form of society), and they react badly to it, the so called supporters of liberty will laugh at them for not being “strong” enough to “endure” being maltreated over being different (ignoring that such maltreatment has no right to exist to begin with).

  57. > The libertarian and anarcho-capitalist worldviews do not allow for absolute power, therefore you won’t find anyone from these political movements advocating for such things.

    Well, not absolute power, but the power of using nuclear weapons is not constrained by the libertarian and anarcho-capitalist worldviews, nor do they explain how they will positively prevent all political extremists of all varieties from ever obtaining power. Consider a minor mass murderer, Jim Jones. What exercise of power to prevent his rise will the libertarian and anarcho-capitalist worldviews allow?

    Libertarianism (much as I like it) and anarcho-capitalism (attractive though it may be) and even my favorite (conservatism) are not silver bullets. We will have political werewolves.

    Yours,
    Tom

  58. Indeed.

    Left wing politics are not the true answer, they are merely the lesser of two evils.

    The true answer is Instrumentality, that is to say, Enlightenment and Nirvana.

    Only then shall the depraved darwinism that impels humans pass away, and those who actually have basic human decency shall have the last laugh.

  59. > Left wing politics are not the true answer, they are merely the lesser of two evils.

    If we limit it to two, I’d say greater. But really it is simplistic to limit it to two, although I’ve been playing along.

    > The true answer is Instrumentality, that is to say, Enlightenment and Nirvana.

    I was thinking it was Jesus and the Second Coming.

    Yours,
    Tom

  60. Is that all you have? Contrary words? I know you are more erudite than that, Tom, I’ve seen it.

  61. @Jack. I think you do not understand Buddhism very well. Buddhism holds that human existence is suffering and the source of all human suffering is attachment to the ephemeral. In the Buddhist view, it is only once we learn to remove our attachment to the ephemeral that we can achieve Enlightenment and, after all of our karma is gone can we achieve Nirvana. This is a constant struggle for Buddhists, that Buddhists believe extends across many lifetimes.

    Or were you being facetious?

  62. That is precisely what I believe. That human existence is dukkha, and the rest of it.

    And I have vowed to help bring about Instrumentality. That is to say, swiftly attain Enlightenment and be free of karma and samsara so that others may attain Enlightenment and Nirvana (Instrumentality).

  63. > Buddhism holds that human existence is suffering and the source of all human suffering is attachment to the ephemeral.

    > That is to say, swiftly attain Enlightenment and be free of karma and samsara so that others may attain Enlightenment and Nirvana (Instrumentality).

    Well then you’ll have to give up your attachment to the ephemeral left wing, right? Is that what you were saying above?

    Yours,
    Tom

  64. morgan and Jack,

    There are obvious Christian parallels, BTW. Plenty of Christians (not me, though) have maintained that we should cast aside politics and concentrate only on the person of Jesus, scripture and Heaven that awaits.

    Are there pagan parallels, morgan and esr? Given your previous explainations of your beliefs I would say that you personally do believe there is any pagan call to cast aside politics. But is there a prominent thread of paganism which does?

    Yours,
    Tom

  65. Just one thought on this: often the hyper inflationary conditions that cause the destruction of a state arise in a slightly different situation than we have here. Specifically, the problem occurs when government debts and obligations are denominated in foreign currency. In our present situation, most debts and obligations (whether US bonds or welfare and social security obligations) are denominated in US Dollars. This makes a big difference. If Germany has huge debts in Pounds Sterling and French Francs, they cannot devalue these currencies to devalue the debt. However, by the simple expedient of printing more US Dollars the dollar is devalued, and consequently the debt and obligations are reduced, and more dollars are available to pay those debts. This is a nasty situation, but it allows a longer deferral before the chickens come home to roost. It is also why the Federal Government which has been much more profligate than California is not in any imminent danger of default, whereas California, which cannot print more money, is, to coin a phrase, about to “terminate.”

    I am not saying the feds aren’t in big trouble, but this is a powerful tool they have to delay the disaster until the next election (and I don’t mean 2010, I mean that there is always a “next election.”)

    It is also worth pointing out that most of these problems stem from one simple thing, namely that we are legally required to use the national currency for all economic transactions. Were alternative currencies available, there would be a massive flight from the dollar. This has been a major historical reality, though governments have tightened down on this via the IRS.

    For example, during the depression, farmers would go to the doctor and pay for the doctors services with a chicken, or labor to dig a ditch or some such. This situation is an example of the total failure of the monetary system in a country where money cannot be used effectively as a trade medium. If we could remove the handcuffs of the dollar we would all be much better off.

  66. >Are there pagan parallels, morgan and esr? Given your previous explainations of your beliefs I would say that you personally do believe there is any pagan call to cast aside politics. But is there a prominent thread of paganism which does?

    No. We have no equivalent of that tendency.

  67. Jessica,

    I have long been interested in systems where we have more currencies since back when I was a liberal. Jane Jacobs argued in Cities and the Wealth of Nations that each city should have it’s own currency, so that local economic decisions could be reflected in its strengths and weaknesses. It’s true this would increase transaction costs and enable easier counterfieting, but it would also provide excellent feedback.

    Yours,
    Tom

  68. Coincidentally, I used to be a right wing conservative, in my younger days.

  69. Tom DeGisi Says:
    > It’s true this would increase transaction costs and enable easier counterfieting

    Not true, it would have exactly the opposite effect. Competition always squeezes transaction costs, and readily counterfieted currencies would so quickly devalue that they would quickly disappear. I suggest you think about technology. If one had the ability to design a currency based on electronic transfers with cryptographic security transaction costs would be hugely reduced, and counterfieting could be essentially eliminated. If you think only in terms of paper with different pictures then you might come to the conclusions you did (though I think you would still be wrong), but if you think about the opportunities dynamic innovation would allow then money would be transformed. However, monopolistic control, and draconian penalties for violation make for a moribound, stagnant mess. Control of money is one of the strongest tools in the toolchest of government so it is unlikely to be given up easily.

  70. Jessica,

    I can see this will be an enjoyable discussion.

    > Competition always squeezes transaction costs, and readily counterfieted currencies would so quickly devalue that they would quickly disappear.

    Currency exchange is the transaction cost I was thinking of. More currencies == more transaction costs. Are you suggesting that competition would rapidly drive out small operators?

    I’m basing my comments about counterfeiting on the pre-Civil War American experience, where a multitude of paper currencies led to a multitude of counterfeiters. Of course the historian whose book I briefly browsed could be wrong or I could have misunderstood him. For example I can see that it may be easier (and more profitable) to counterfiet a single currency in the same way it’s easier to crack a single operating system. But if in the real world moving from many paper currencies to one cut counterfieting I would rather rely on empiricism, not my intuition.

    > Control of money is one of the strongest tools in the toolchest of government so it is unlikely to be given up easily.

    Can’t the market route around the damage?

    Yours,
    Tom

  71. >What exercise of power to prevent [a hypothetical future Hitler's] rise will the libertarian and anarcho-capitalist worldviews allow?

    What did statism do to prevent it? Sweet fuck-all. In fact, statism amplified the damage by handing Hitler the machinery of state coercion.

    More generally, why do you think it’s fair to demand that anarcho-capitalists have perfect answers to edge cases statism has never handled well? Beware the utopianism trap.

  72. Tom DeGisi Says:
    > Currency exchange is the transaction cost I was thinking of.

    You are correct there is one additional potential cost, but you also eliminate a lot of costs, such as inflation (which is, in simplified terms, the percentage to which the government issues more new money than is justified by economic growth.) Of course the cost of converting from one currency to another would also be driven down by competition, after all, anyone could do it, and if it was done in an electronic exchange, pressures would comoditize it to a very low degree. I might add that it would serve a very powerful quality control purpose. The cost of converting to volitile or unreliable currencies would be much higher, a cost that would be passed on to the consumer, and thus would discourage the use of such a currency. This is a very positive feedback loop.

    > I’m basing my comments about counterfeiting on the pre-Civil War American
    > experience, where a multitude of paper currencies led to a multitude of counterfeiters.

    Don’t know much about this, however, this is hardly competition of currency, since the currency was only accepted in the southern zone. I am sure they dedicated most of their resources to the war rather than producing a good currency note.

    However, clearly there are technologies today that could largely eliminate counterfeiting.

    In grocery store I frequent the prices on the shelves are now displayed on small LCD screens rather than with stickers, presumably this makes them more secure or more easy to change or something. However, clearly such a technology could readily be adapted to display the price in any currency you choose. You could easily imagine a small electronic wallet that could dispense signed tokens by bluetooth, and scan barcodes of products, which could have prices looked by by wireless connection and displayed in a currency of your choice. The consumer products that this would lead too, such as automatic comparision shopping, would have a dramatic optimizing effect on the shopping experience. These are some of the technologies available today to support such a system, and that is without the driving force competitive currencies would bring about.

    However, the power to tax, spend, inflate and control all derive in large part from control of the currency. Clearly it is not something that would readily be given up.

    > Can’t the market route around the damage?

    The market does route around the damage to a certain extent in such areas as barter, black market, smuggling, cheating on taxes, airline miles and so forth. However, the importance of money to the government means that the laws relating to money are enforced with brutal energy. Without a doubt, the IRS is one of the most efficient and effective agencies in the government, and the penalties for violating the rules are quite remarkably disproportionate.

  73. More generally, why do you think it’s fair to demand that anarcho-capitalists have perfect answers to edge cases statism has never handled well? Beware the utopianism trap.

    In fact, you could argue in the case of Jim Jones or David Koresh or even Hitler that statism created those people. What could Hitler have done if there were no statist power structure already in place?

  74. My replies are apparently being censored. That’s the host’s privilege of course — blocking your opponents is a great way to win an argument. I won’t waste my time on forums that restrict my speech.

  75. > More generally, why do you think it’s fair to demand that anarcho-capitalists have perfect answers to edge cases statism has never handled well?

    I don’t, and I didn’t. I specifically said that my favorite blend of statism and liberty, (American Constitutional) conservatism was no silver bullet.

    > Beware the utopianism trap.

    Yes, we agree. No silver bullet, as I said.

    Another way of looking at it is that morgan effectively said, “Hey, if everyone were to convert to and implement my beliefs we wouldn’t have problems with power hungry people.” Well if everyone converted to Christianity… err… um… sigh the Renaissance popes. Oh but if everyone converted to Buddism… err… um… sigh Burma. You have extolled the virtues of the Sioux as close to anarcho-capitalists. Ask the neighbors of the Sioux about Sioux expansionism. I will not stretch credulity by trying to claim that (American Constitutional) conservatism prevents problems with power hungry people.

    Sometimes I think that libertariansim and anarchism (both varieties) tend to get a free pass because of the dearth of historical examples, when the dearth of historical examples should be a giant red flag. Something there is that doesn’t like libertariansim and anarchism. I think it’s human nature. OTOH, collectivism, while awful, seems to be repeatedly tried.

    Yours,
    Tom

  76. > Don’t know much about this, however, this is hardly competition of currency, since the currency was only accepted in the southern zone. I am sure they dedicated most of their resources to the war rather than producing a good currency note.

    Jessica, before the Civil War in both North and South, paper currency was not printed by the government. It was printed by banks and other private companies, including railroads. Think bearer bonds.

    Yours,
    Tom

  77. > In fact, you could argue in the case of Jim Jones or David Koresh or even Hitler that statism created those people. What could Hitler have done if there were no statist power structure already in place?

    Yes you could, and I would, and I do. But there is no absense of statism. It seems to be part of the human condition – perhaps down to the tribal level, in the form of successfully brutal power hungry people. Could we say that human nature abhors a power vacuum?

    Yours,
    Tom

  78. >My replies are apparently being censored.

    Yeah, just like this one was. I don’t, as a rule, delete anything that WordPress hasn’t tagged spam. Unless it’s from someone I’ve had to drop the ban hammer on, and that doesn’t include you. You are foolish and obnoxious, but don’t meet my very strict criteria for banning. Yet.

    >I won’t waste my time on forums that restrict my speech.

    Don’t let the door smack you in the ass on the way out.

  79. Do what you want, ESR, but this is only making you look worse. Regardless of what well intentions you have for this policy of yours, all everyone else will see is a belligerent blowhard who can’t argue fairly.

  80. godin,

    > I won’t waste my time on forums that restrict my speech.

    So you won’t send email to people with Spam blockers or virus checkers?

    Yours,
    Tom

  81. It does seem I misread, I thought ESR had said that he did censor the post. For that at least, I apologize.

  82. Tom DeGisi Says:
    > Jessica, before the Civil War in both North and South, paper currency was not printed by the government. It was printed by banks and other private companies, including railroads. Think bearer bonds.

    Ah, yes thanks for the reminder. More like gold or silver certificates if I remember right.

    FWIW, I am not a fan of the gold standard. I think it would be great to have a currency based on it that could compete against other currencies, but it has many flaws that means that I am not a fan of it for a national currency. (Specifically it is to do with the nature of money. Money represents the value in an economy, so as an economy grows you need more of it to represent the new value created and keep the “value to dollar” ratio the same. However, if you create more money than value then you get inflation — if you create less you get deflation, but that almost never happens.

    The problem with gold is that the amount created, that is dug out of the ground, has only a tenuous relationship with the growth of the economy, and also that it is extremely unpredictable. A big discovery sends inflation through the roof. Supply demand has some effect on this, but the realities of mining have a far larger effect. However if you produce trust based notes, such as we have today, you end up with political control, including the massive hidden tax of inflation. If we have to have one currency what I would recommend is that we printed 4% more money every year on a regular schedule. It would approximate growth, would sometimes be inflationary, and sometimes deflationary, but would at least have two very positive qualities: free of political manipulation, and completely predictable. These are both very important qualities to markets. However, what would clearly be better would be competition in currencies.

    BTW, as I have said before, economists are always passionately opposed to deflation, but I don’t really understand why it is any worse than inflation. In fact, deflation in, for example, the computer industry, has been a massive positive benefit not a cost. So, not printing any more money at all might be a reasonable strategy, inducing the good old puritan value of delayed gratification.

  83. Well, there are reputed to be sites which delete lots of comments. I’ve heard that Real Climate does it, but I have no experience with that. My experience is that most of the time it’s a spam filter. But almost every host can be pushed to the point they ban someone.

    Yours,
    Tom

  84. Jessica,

    I agree with you generally. In addtion, I don’t support the gold standard because you can’t keep a government on it. We abandoned it during the Revolutionary War, the Civil War and World War I. How can you trust a standard which can’t make it through a war? I think it would take a Constitutional amendment to enforce either a gold standard or your 4% cap. Fiscal discipline, thy name is not democracy, even if thy first name is representative.

    > BTW, as I have said before, economists are always passionately opposed to deflation, but I don’t really understand why it is any worse than inflation.

    I think it’s because people really hate recessions and depressions. People are used to inflation.

    Yours,
    Tom

  85. Goddinpotty:

    “Shenpen: true conservatives value social stability and thus a strong state. Bismarck adopted social welfare measures to stave off the threat of left-wing revolution — just as FDR did. Don’t get hung up on words: the present-day American definitions of “conservative” and “liberal” have very little to do with how those terms were used historically or in other parts of the world.”

    I’m pretty much form the “other parts of the world” and if you ignore those insufferable populist Rush Limbaugh types – who are really just right-wing Rousseauists – who are not interesting at all if we are talking about intellectuals, because they are clearly not intellectuals, I see relatively little difference between real Conservatives in todays America, say, the writers of the Front Porch Republic, City Journal, and suchlike, and between the 16-18. century style European and British Conservative writers. John Lukacs is pretty much like Johan Huizinga, John Kekes is pretty much like Michael Oakeshott, I see relatively little difference between Wendell Berry and Wilhelm Röpke, between Barry Goldwater and Lord Salisbury, between Charles Murray and any of my “Aristotelean virtue-ethics individualist” friends I’d care to name in my homeland, Hungary, and actually f.e. most of the Catholic Libertarian-Conservative Austrian intellectual elite from Voegelin to Ritter Erik Maria von Kühnelt-Leddihn have been good friends with and writing for William F. Buckley Jr..

    On this level – an this is the only level worthy of consideration IMHO unless one wants to descend into a boredom similar to watching the news on TV i.e. worrying about the particular and the accidental instead of analyzing the essential, the difference is actually little. We all are virtue ethicians because simply that’s what common sense dictates (the stuff about the tree and the fruit), and while we might not be as individualists as the Libertarians – but rather community-oriented – we kind of have no choice but to follow a relatively similar course because it is clear from experience that big gov incentives vices and disincentives virtue, and collectivism actually kills community. So actually the difference is mostly in details, style, methods and rhetorics, IMHO.

    FDR was no Conservative. He even praised Mussolini. That in itself says enough.

  86. > In my case, you have to work pretty hard at it.

    I don’t think Rosemary Esmay (now Ribner, I think) ever banned anyone, although her brother the sysadmin did edit some posts in fear of a Google bomb. I think that was very counterproductive, as it really teed off a long time guest. But I haven’t been paying close enough attention to be sure.

    Yours,
    Tom

  87. > FDR was no Conservative. He even praised Mussolini. That in itself says enough.

    FDR was an American Caesar, that is, a tyrant. You, know, Caesar, from which we have obtained such words as Tsar and Kaiser. He was saved from being the worst American Caesar by his wonderful accomplishment of winning WWII. I think Wilson (who inspired Mussolini) was the first and worst American Caesar. Teddy Roosevelt was a sort of proto American Caesar. Great character, sure, but I wish he had been successfully politically hobbled by his position as Vice President.

    Yours,
    Tom

  88. “The true answer is Instrumentality, that is to say, Enlightenment and Nirvana.”

    Mixing Buddhism with left-wing ideology is a very bad idea. The Left has all sorts of totally un-Buddhist ideas, such as trying to fix the Samsara or thinking it is social circumstances that make criminals and denying personal responsibility (i.e. karma), denying objective morality (which of course on the absolute level does not exist but definitely there is such a thing as ten helpful and ten harmful actions on the relative level and politics works on the relative level), thinking circumstances program the mind (of course it is the opposite, the mind projects the circumstances) and so on. OTOH Buddhism has lots of conservative qualities: virtue ethics (six liberation actions etc.), taking responsibility for our lives (karma), a general skepticism of utopias (samsara can’t be fixed), a general skepticism of rigid ideology (like human rights or any other rigid list of ideas) because of the map-terrain problem and so on.

    David Kalupahana, perhaps the best scholar on Buddhist ethics, have said that the best way to explain Buddhist ethics to a Western philosopher would be to say that it’s a kind of modified Aristoteleanism: teleology towards happiness, the method is developing certain “inner goods” (“virtues” in the Western system) etc. This is why I actually got interested in Conservative writers: because they often tend to kind of Aristoteleans, from Charles Murray to Alasdair MacIntyre (despite that Murray is a pro-Capitalist and MacIntyre is an anti-Capitalist) and even back to Burke emphasizing the four cardinal virtues, and basically Aristotelean virtue ethics is pretty much the only thing in the history of Western philosophy that makes sense to a Mahayana/Vajrayana Buddhist.

  89. @Tom DeGisi: An anarcho-capitalist society wouldn’t create a power vacuum at all. It would just distribute and decentralize power. Most of the way the Internet works today is essentially anarcho-capitalist; there’s no ‘central’ networks anymore, like there was with DarpaNet and NSFNet. You just have different ISPs that have different backbones, and there are cross-traffic agreements between them.

    @Tom and Jessica:
    Re: The gold standard: I’m no economist, so I don’t know if I would be a fan of a gold standard, but from what I understand, the one thing that a gold standard would do is severely cut the cyclic inflation and deflation cycles that create recessions and depressions.

    The bad thing about our current monetary system is that our money has no intrinsic value. Money is only “worth” anything because most people have “faith” in the system. If that system were to collapse, as it is perilously close to now, our currency would become worthless.

  90. morgan,

    The internet operates within a highly statist political structure. Anyway, I’m not sure how you can say an anarcho-capitalist society wouldn’t create a power vacuum at all. Let’s say a person who desires political power decided to amass power within an anarcho-capitalist society. What would prevent that person from playing on the same fears that politicians do now? And as that person gains power, wouldn’t this be the power vacuum being filled. We have never suffered fro lack of alpha males. But the truth is, neither you nor I know, since human beings don’t appear to for anarcho-capitalist societies.

    > The bad thing about our current monetary system is that our money has no intrinsic value.

    Gold has only culturally detemined high intrinsic value. You can’t breathe it, drink it, stay warm with it or eat it, and it is not that industrially useful.

    Yours,
    Tom

  91. Speed != well proofread.

    > The internet operates within a highly statist political structure. Anyway, I’m not sure how you can say an anarcho-capitalist society wouldn’t create a power vacuum at all. Let’s say a person who desires political power decided to amass power within an anarcho-capitalist society. What would prevent that person from playing on the same fears that politicians do now? And as that person gains power, wouldn’t this be the power vacuum being filled? We have never suffered from lack of alpha males. But the truth is, neither you nor I know, since human beings don’t appear to form anarcho-capitalist societies.

  92. >> The bad thing about our current monetary system is that our money has no intrinsic value.

    >Gold has only culturally detemined high intrinsic value. You can’t breathe it, drink it, stay warm with it or eat it, and >it is not that industrially useful.

    Um, at this point what is required is a proper theory of money.

    Which I can’t provide in a comment but as a food for thought:

    generally, we can use that as a starting assumption that everything people buy not for their own use is based on the expectation other people will want it or want something made with it, from shares to industrial machinery. All investment is at some level based on faith – or rather, expectations.

    Such predictions are generally based on the past. People will buy X because they bought X or something like X in the past. People will accept my paper money because they have accepted it yesterday. Or my gold. Or my shares. Or the products made by my machinery.

  93. morgan greywolf Says:
    > The bad thing about our current monetary system is that our money has
    > no intrinsic value.

    All value is subjective and conditional. If you want to talk about gold’s intrinsic value, then it would be the fact that it is a non corroding conductor, with a very low resistance, and I suppose that it looks pretty and is highly ductile so is suitable for decoration. Gold’s intrinsic value is very substantially below its perceived value.

    > Money is only “worth” anything because most people have “faith” in the system.

    Anything is only worth something because people say or believe it is. Which is not to say that people have blind faith in value, their faith is often based on good evidence. But there is good evidence that the US Treasury will make good on its promises of dollar bills too.

    Like I say, all value is subjective. The advantage of gold is that its supply is not set by arbitrary political fiat, in all other respects it is an inconvenient and unreliable form of money.

  94. It’s important to think in terms of very short time intervals and the unpredictable nature of events when a catastrophe occurs. For example, try buying a snow shovel at the hardware store after an unexpected heavy snowfall in October. If a large-scale financial collapse were to occur, you won’t find any relief at the bank or a government office. You either live off of anything tangible that you have stockpiled, or start providing a good or service that your neighbors need and are willing to trade for. You might also anticipate that the federal government will start imposing its will on everyone.

  95. “Mixing Buddhism with left-wing ideology is a very bad idea.”

    Probably. I freely admit that I am the least of Kuan Yin’s children.

    I predict that this is where some genius will chime in with some sort of thinly veiled pompous declaration as to why Kuan Yin is conservative and thus I should be as well.

    “The Left has all sorts of totally un-Buddhist ideas, such as trying to fix the Samsara”

    I acknowledged this in my first post on the matter, when I said that left wing politics aren’t the answer, they’re merely the lesser of two evils.

    Mainly I just don’t want America to become a Christian Taliban. What’s the point of fighting the Islamists if we simply become the christian version of them? That is why I’m not a hawk.

    “or thinking it is social circumstances that make criminals and denying personal responsibility (i.e. karma)”

    Believe it or not, personal responsibility and acknowledging extenuating factors in the same are not mutually exclusive.

    “denying objective morality (which of course on the absolute level does not exist but definitely there is such a thing as ten helpful and ten harmful actions on the relative level and politics works on the relative level)”

    I’ve been trying to champion objective morality, only to be called morally vain for doing so. See, left wing people are subjective on sex, and right wing people are subjective on war.

    “thinking circumstances program the mind (of course it is the opposite, the mind projects the circumstances) and so on.”

    Actually it’s both. Someone who is not in control of their own thoughts probably will be unduly influenced by outside influences.

    “OTOH Buddhism has lots of conservative qualities:”

    Well the asian culture tends to be conservative so I take any conservative slants on doctrines with a grain of salt.

    “a general skepticism of rigid ideology (like human rights or any other rigid list of ideas) because of the map-terrain problem and so on.”

    I am troubled that you list human rights as an example of something to be skeptical of.

    “David Kalupahana, perhaps the best scholar on Buddhist ethics,”

    But are you actually a buddhist? How can you judge what is ‘the best?’

    To be perfectly honest, you could say that I am the buddhist equivalent of that sort of born again christian who ‘gets saved’ and then makes up the rest as he goes along.

    Even if it’s wrong, you won’t be able to influence my standpoints from that particular angle.

  96. I should like to see some sources on Buddhist views of Aristotle, as basically Aristotelian virtue ethics is the only approach to ethics that makes sense to ME. Of course, I acquired my Aristotelianism from Ayn Rand originally, but I’m interested in the broader virtue ethics tradition as well, and seeing other perspectives on it could be instructive. And while I’m not sure I agree with the Buddhist view of reality, Buddhism strikes me as more like a science than a religion, in that its positions look to be falsifiable hypotheses rather than dogmatic articles of faith. Shenpen, can you recommend a specific work by Kalupahana that’s relevant to this, preferably a book rather than a journal article?

  97. Jessica: I think you’re wrong about the lack of relation between gold and productive output. Consider: If the economic output increases, so that the same amount of gold is chasing more goods and services, the purchasing power of gold rises. That means that if you dig up the same amount of gold, it’s worth more. So it becomes worthwhile exploiting less rich mines, making more effort at extractive processing, searching more for new mines, and so on . . . gold production gets turned on. As more gold comes into circulation, the purchasing power drops again, and it becomes more expensive to mine more gold. That’s a classic negative feedback mechanism, exactly like the workings of a thermostat . . . say, the kind that maintains temperature stability in a chem lab. Of course, the time constant for the gold industry is a good bit longer, but there is a control mechanism at work.

  98. Firstly, there’s no such thing as “intrinsic value”, because outside our heads there’s no such recognizable thing as “value”. There is no quantifiable property external to our imaginations that can be identified as “value”. “Value” is merely an abstract human metric of ‘worth’…and varies wildly depending on the particular dimension of ‘worth’ we’re measuring against.

    An important couple of properties for a token of currency to possess are : (1) it is scarce, and (2) it cannot be counterfeited.

    Barring the alchemists’ dream coming true, gold is pretty darned immune to counterfeit….OK…other than a very expensive bombardment process ;)

    Having a gold standard doesn’t prevent inflationary or deflationary cycles, booms or busts…but what it does do is prevent governments from doing what ours (US) is doing now – printing and promising their way out of it – and thereby actually lessen the severity and duration of such cycles.

  99. William H. Stoddard Says:
    > Jessica: I think you’re wrong about the lack of relation between gold and productive output.

    Indeed, I granted in my original comment that supply/demand does have a limited tracking mechanism, however, the connection is to say the least less than direct, which makes it a very poor mechanism for money.

  100. Jessica: Compared to what? The usual alternative is paper money. But the cost of printing bank notes is effectively zero. There’s absolutely no negative feedback mechanism there.

  101. Shenpen> Um, at this point what is required is a proper theory of money.

    I would refer you to the discussion of money and monetary systems by Adam Smith (“http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/3300″).

    Mr. Smith discusses the trade of goods for other goods and services. At it’s heart, Smith says, that MONEY is a stand-in for labour, which is the primary value of all goods and services and the one thing that we all use to purchase the “necessaries and pleasures of life.”

    This is the working definition which the founders of the American economic system used to establish our currency. I think it could work for this discussion.

    BTW, Smith rejected gold and silver as a valid long-term monetary system because it was too fickle.

    Note: I’ve not finished the treatise, so I may well be missing some things here.

  102. >At it’s heart, Smith says, that MONEY is a stand-in for labour, which is the primary value of all goods and services and the one thing that we all use to purchase the “necessaries and pleasures of life.”

    Smith’s theory of money was unsound precisely because it was founded on a labor theory of value. This premise is unsalvageably wrong, and has been replaced in modern economics by subjective-value theories based on marginal utility or price-equilibrium analysis.

  103. What esr said.

    A while back, I read David Ricardo’s classic treatise on political economy, which was the real source of the systematic labor theory of value, as used for example by Karl Marx. And I was surprised to find that, in the opening chapters, Ricardo said explicitly that the labor theory did not account for the market prices of all commodities, and in particular in did not account for the value of gold and silver. In other words, he treated it not as a final truth, but as a workable model for the economics of many commodities . . . which in some cases it is; if I’m trying to model prices of equipment in a roleplaying game, for example, I’ll start with labor costs. The treatment of the labor theory as a completely rigorous analysis of the economy was an error of the later classical economists, of whom Marx was one, in a sense.

    At a certain level, it has struck me that the labor theory is effectively an energy-based theory of economics, whereas the marginalist or scarcity theory is an information-based theory (scarcity equating to improbability of finding something). Thus each fits the century when it became common.

  104. Jessica, the federal govt is not allowed to be more profligate because they control the currency, in fact if treasury holders thought they would be inflated away, they wouldn’t loan money to the fed govt. The fed govt borrows much more than CA because it collects much more from taxes. The CA state budget is around $60 billion, compare that to the trillions in the federal budget. Hyper-inflation is not a real concern because its damages are well-known and only a fool would allow it; whatever Bernanke is, he’s not a fool or a Mugabe. Private money through fractional-reserve bank loans is actually going down because of the uncertain business climate, which is why see a mild deflationary climate today. Also, there’s no real monopoly on currency as I understand it, legal tender law doesn’t force exclusive use of national currency, it merely requires its acceptance as an alternative to pay off debts. There’s nothing stopping you from using your local currencies and demanding payment in that currency, you just have to also allow people to pay you in Dollars at some exchange rate to your local currency.

    Even if the Dollar were abolished, the fed govt would still tax some percentage of whatever currency you used, so I don’t think national currency is that big a part of the taxation problem either. I agree that the gold standard is a waste of time and I wonder why people think it was ever very useful given that fractional-reserve banking long accompanied it and helped enable plenty of financial panics regardless. You are thinking about ways to make the currency system more efficient and I thought along those lines at one point too, but came to the conclusion recently that currency itself is an outmoded concept. How much currency do you actually handle as a percentage of your monthly transactions? It’s basically nil for me for many years now. Currency is fundamentally an information business, it will drastically change just like all other information businesses are being reshaped today.

  105. The Labor Theory of Value can be demolished simply:

    Sgt. Carter orders PFC Pyle to dig a hole in the ground. Then he orders him to fill the hole back in. Clearly, PFC Pyle performed labor (even a physicist would be able to quantify the “work” he had done in moving the dirt), but what value has he produced? To anyone other than a hard-core communist/union man, the answer is: NONE.

  106. What makes a currency sound is the expectation that it can be redeemed for something of tangible value. One of the more interesting ideas to back a currency is energy. If an energy producer created a currency denominated in, say, megawatt-hours of electricity, it could gain acceptance.

    The price of energy in real dollars has been remarkably stable over time. Call this the Energy Theory of Value: A thing has value based on how much energy is gained/saved by having it. On the surface, this sounds like the Labor theory, but it is not. PFC Pyle has used energy in moving the dirt and moving it back, but he has not “created or saved” any energy that he or anyone else can use in doing so.

    But a tiny amount of “labor” performed by a computer programmer could save much energy, and thereby be objectively valued as worth much.

  107. Monster,

    Your example is a little silly. PFC Pile has given value (moved dirt) and so has earned payment for his labour. Just because you pay somebody to do something, doesn’t mean that what you paid for is worth the labour put into it. Smith would call this a problem of management, whose responsibility it is to use the labour for which he has paid to do useful work and create value. To Smith, as in real life, the issue here isn’t that Pile didn’t do his job, it’s that Carter wasted Pile’s efforts.

    This is no different than the investors that paid the dot-bombs for things that were completely meaningless and useless and lost their shirts. If you pay somebody to type in the name and phone number of everybody in the phone book and it costs you $1M dollars, it doesn’t mean you can sell it for $1M. It just means you paid a million bucks for something you could have bought from the phone company for a $100 or less.

    And BTW, Smith addresses amplification of labour which would cover your power-based scenario, so what you’re positing is indeed in line with the labour-based theory.

    Mr. Stoddard,

    Thanks for the feed back. I’m just beginning my reading in this area, so your recommendation will be useful. I started with Smith simply because he was largely responsible for the establishment of the US monetary system. It seemed appropriate.

  108. >Thanks for the feed back. I’m just beginning my reading in this area, so your recommendation will be useful. I started with Smith simply because he was largely responsible for the establishment of the US monetary system. It seemed appropriate.

    Adam Smith is worth reading because he founded modern economics, and some of his insights into free markets and specialization are unsurpassed. But his work was not without errors, the labor theory of value being the single largest. He has to be read critically, with attention to later corrections by neoclassical and Austrian-school economists.

  109. Adam Smith is worth reading.

    But have you ever actually tried to slog your way through The Wealth of Nations?

    It is not exactly a captivating read.

  110. A monopoly paper money system cannot stand. Legal tender laws ensure that Gresham’s law will apply, in spades. Instead, you need a competitive money system, where people only accept money if they think it’s worth what it claims to be worth. The printers of such money have a VERY VERY STRONG incentive to preserve the value of that money.

  111. Darrencardinal: That’s what I’m reading now. Not the most exciting read I’ve ever had, but being a complete novice, it is interesting to see his dissection of economics of the time.

    Russel Nelson: I think what you are advocating is already true on the international scale, and that’s why we’re staring down the barrel of a gun with our economy. The printers of our money have ignored the incentive to maintain the value of our money and everywhere where the legal tender laws don’t apply (out side our borders) our money is dropping like a rock.

    How would you recommend restructuring the monetary system? Going back to each State printing it’s own money? Each Bank? They did that for a while during colonial times and under the Articles of Confederation, and it was one of the reasons for establishing a stronger federal government. If you where dictator for a day, how would you set it up? Can you point at any publications on this idea?

  112. Of course my example is silly. It is designed to be silly.

    PFC Pile[sic] has given value (moved dirt) and so has earned payment for his labour.

    He has earned payment because he followed orders, and that is the contract he has with the United States Marine Corps. Pyle is not paid a penny more for having moved the pile of dirt than he would have been paid to disassemble and reassemble his rifle, to repaint a jeep, or use his inexplicably wonderful baritone singing voice to entertain people. He is given orders and he follows them. The value of his labor has nothing to do with how much “value” he has given as measured by the “work” (in the physics sense of the term) he has done.

    Sgt. Carter does not actually find any value in the fact that the dirt has been moved from one place to another; it’s part of his job to prepare PFC Pyle to be able to do things like dig a foxhole, which may in turn allow him to better perform his primary task as a Marine: Shoot people. A pile of dirt between Pyle and an enemy might let him live long enough to shoot a few more. But that dirt has the same value regardless of how much labor he did to put it there. If he is able to find natural cover, he may not have to dig as much, or even at all.

  113. The Monster Says:
    > currency is energy.

    I don’t have much time to address some of the interesting comments directed toward me this morning. However, I did want to say that energy (electricity in particular) is a terrible idea for a currency. The basic function of money is the ability to store value. The three formal purposes being a unit of currency (something to temporarily store value), a store of value (ehem), and a unit of accounting (a measure of how much value is stored.) Electricity and energy cannot be stored, you can only store it in proxy form, and so it doesn’t fulfill the most basic requirements of money.

  114. William H. Stoddard Says:
    > There’s absolutely no negative feedback mechanism there.

    Actually there is, it is called inflation. Many Western countries have Central Banks that are supposedly independent of political influence who are specifically tasked with managing monetary policy to keep inflation within a certain target range (which is another way of saying they are tasked with devaluing the currency at up to a maximum rate.)

    I am not saying this is good. But it is the supposed feedback mechanism that is in place. The one virtue gold has as money is that it is entirely independent of political control (or largely so anyway.) But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have huge problems as a currency. As Russell said, competition in currency is the only really good way to do it. And we as a western society are technologically capable of implementing such a solution. Of course we are politically a million miles away.

    I have recently been reading the autobiography of Margaret Thatcher (the Prime Minister of Britain from 1979 through 1991.) She is a fascinating person, with many good qualities, and many faults, a classic conservative. However, what I found fascinating was all the machinations she went through to try to control the currency, especially via interest rate, money supply, and exchange rate (during the time of Britain’s potential entry into the European monetary system.) When you read all her other passion about competition, deregulation, denationalization and so forth, one wonders where all the talk of the free market went when money starts to be discussed.

  115. > energy cannot be stored

    Petroleum, coal, big bodies of water behind dams….

    Actually we may have a good example of a black market currency going here. Remember Saddam Hussien and the Oil for Food scandal….

    Just trying to jog some neurons, here, the idea is probably really bad. We would replace prospecting for gold with drilling for oil.

    Yours,
    Tom

  116. Tom DeGisi Says:
    > Petroleum, coal, big bodies of water behind dams….

    Right, that is why I said it could be stored by proxy. However, another one of the fundamental requirements of currency is that the trade to trade transaction cost is low. Money serves as an intermediate store of value. You sell me your labor, and I give you money which stores the value of your labor temporarily. You then use that stored value to get pizza and beer at the local bar. The conversion from your labor to money, and money to beer and pizza must have a low transaction cost or else all the value is eaten up in the money.

    So unless you are actually proposing oil or stored dam water as currency (which could be traded by paper certificates), the energy idea is not a good one. (And commodity based currencies have a whole other slew of problems, especially when they are not gold or silver.)

    What I would say is this: nobody is really smart enough to come up with the best currency. That is why we should all work together to come up with the best currency. The most efficient way of us all working together to come up with the best set of solutions is called the free market. Competition in currency would be a very powerful way to select a good solution. People vote with their bank account far more carefully than they do at the ballot box.

  117. Jessica: The point about gold and silver is that they emerged as money through centuries of market competition. They weren’t decreed to be money by governments; rather, governments recognized their use as money and started issuing coins of certified purity to facilitate monetary exchange by replacing weighing with counting and by limiting the need for merchants to test the money they got. In other words, humanity all did work together to come up with the best currency, and that’s what it was. Certainly they’re not perfect . . . the first historically known catastrophic inflation came about when the Spanish started importing Mexican and Peruvian gold . . . but they’ve averaged more workable than anything else. And we aren’t going to get a perfect money in the real world. The market doesn’t do “perfect” but “less bad than the alternatives.”

    That said, if someone can come up with something that works better, and bring it into use without needing governmental legal tender laws to enforce its acceptance, I’d say more power to them.

  118. Right, that is why I said it could be stored by proxy.

    The method of storing the energy is orthogonal to the question of whether a currency backed by a promise to exchange that currency for a specified amount of energy stored in some form would be better than one based on the promise to provide the bearer with some precious metal, or the current situation, in which a dollar is no longer tied to any other value at all.

  119. Maybe a better solution would be to release X dollars and then vow to never release anymore. This would give very stable deflation, leading to a very predictable money supply.

  120. This is off-topic, sorry. I’m sure ESR is aware of this article already, but just in case, Johann Hari writes in The Nation about how much money the NGOs for environmental protection accept from the major oil and gas producers.

    ‘The Wrong Kind of Green’

    http://www.thenation.com/doc/20100322/hari

    That the big hydrocarbon producers are involved in various sorts of greenwashing is hardly news, but I still found the story rather interesting. I’m hearing Cyndi Lauper sing ‘Money Changes Everything’ in my head.

  121. Makes me want to start a money corporation (and bank) creating various paper currencies backed by various commodities, including gold.

    Yours,
    Tom

  122. The basic function of money is the ability to store value.

    I’ve heard/read this before…that money ‘stores’ value or buying power. I don’t think that this is at all possible, or in any way a correct understanding of what money is.

    I think the confusion stems from observing the ‘value’ money has in terms of its purchasing power at any given point in time in an economy….but then making the strange leap that this ‘value’ is somehow magically stored in the token of currency itself. If this was correct, you wouldn’t experience inflation/deflation.

    Money is a proxy token of value (as perceived by humans), and as such the value it represents can fluctuate at a whim.

  123. >Pfc Pile has obeyed orders

    A soldiers trained to dig a foxhole FAST has not, by military standards, suffered from pointless orders

    Citizen Pile, ordered to believe The Ice Is Coming in 1979 and now to believe Only Holocaust Deniers Doubt the Hockey Stick, has.

  124. > A soldiers trained to dig a foxhole FAST has not, by military standards, suffered from pointless orders

    Neither has a soldier trained to dig a latrine at any speed. The neglected knowledge of Roman latrine building methods killed a lot of soldiers since the fall of Rome.

    Poetry, philosophy and proper waste disposal are key hallmarks of civilization.

    Yours,
    Tom

  125. Dan: Yes, but that’s true of any asset whatever. All value is subjective and subject to market fluctuations. You can put your wealth into buying, say, real estate, confident that you own a real asset, land, and that real estate never goes down in value . . . and then five years later find yourself holding an underwater mortgage.

    And yet people do contrive ways to “store value”: that is, to buy something now with the intention of spending it in a year, or fifty years. The safest way to do this is to buy a diverse portfolio of assets, but some assets are more stable than others.

    The primary function of money, as an asset, is to be more exchangeable than any other asset. Therefore it’s where you put your reserves for unexpected situations (like holding part of your military force in reserve to be committed where there’s trouble). People maintain cash balances to be ready for such situations. So for money to work well, it has to be relatively immune to fluctuations in value.

    I’d also note that the very concept of “value” as a thing in itself, and a thing that can be measured, only emerges once money exists. Before that, you may have a price of cows in fish, and a price of spears in sheep, and a price of slaves in wheat, and so on . . . but it’s a huge matrix of customary exchange ratios. A wife has a fish-price and a sheep-price and a wheat-price and a slave-price and so on, which may not correlate perfectly with each other. But once you have a money commodity, you can look simply at a vector of money-values of all other commodities, one number for each commodity. You evolve the concept that everything can be exchanged for everything else. It’s kind of like how the concept of energy in thermodynamics emerged as it become possible to convert every form of energy into every other.

    It also then becomes much simpler to optimize the functioning of an economic enterprise by focusing on increasing its monetary profits.

  126. William, metallic currency or backing worked great for millenia, but we have much better technology today. We could have replaced currency years ago but these things are often deployed long after they’re feasible. ;)

    The Monster, actually in normal times, the $900 billion or so in Fed notes, ie dollars, are backed by $800 billion or so in treasuries with the rest in miscellaneous financial instruments. This is not as good as commodity backing perhaps, since those financial instruments are payable in dollars so the backing is a bit circular, but it is certainly not nothing. While the number of “dollars” were almost doubled recently, most of it is held in reserves on bank sheets (third and fourth charts) and does not enter the economy. Bernanke has been doing a lot of financial engineering at the Fed lately, much of it fairly ingenious and well thought out, so critics are often seizing on the wrong aspects to question. The real question is whether it is worthwhile for the Fed and federal govt to take the losses on all those “toxic” assets- the Fed now has an alarming $1 trillion in mortgage-backed securities on its books- spreading the losses across all of us rather than focusing them on the people who took those risks.

    Peter, freezing the monetary base may not accomplish your goal if fractional-reserve banking continues alongside, where banks issue private money backed by their loans. Most “money” today is such private money, Fed notes are only 10-30% depending on how you count it. ;)

    Currency is a very fluid concept and with new technology we’re seeing all kinds of new instruments do what currency used to do. For example, Google stock is essentially a private currency, as it has been debased from the normal role of company shares to a token only meant to be traded. Their commonly available Class B stock pays no dividends and gives you almost no voting rights (scroll up to the top of page 30), the two functions of shares of stock, meaning it has essentially been debased to a largely useless scrip, ie a private currency. You still cannot pay for your groceries with this private currency but it has many of the other functions of money and is easily tradeable for currency for whatever you might need. We will see new, intentional ;) innovations like this that will largely obviate the need for currency very soon.

  127. I am not well versed in economics, so I have a couple of questions:

    1. Is poverty neccesary for a healthy economy?

    2. What would happen if there was no “elite?” If everyone had the same amount of money.

  128. “There’s only one “different sollution [sic]” for that: shore up your population through immigration. In other words, give up and hand over your country to someone else.”

    The solution is to reject the ideaology that gave you those low birth rates.
    That will never happen as that ideaology is seen as the greatest good.
    The most traditionally opressed group in the world finnally inheriting the earth.
    I don’t have to state the ideaologies’ name, I don’t want to get you all foaming at the mouth.

  129. Jack: The elite would be defined by some variable other than money. A look through history will show you all sorts of other criteria for elite status. Though actually, most elites, no matter how chosen, will contrive to get money too. The Soviet Union’s official ideology was egalitarian, but the nomenklatura enjoyed not merely wealth but access to special markets where the common people weren’t allowed.

  130. Jack, given your past comments I suspect you’re not dealing plainly but oh well,

    1. Define “poverty.” It’s now set at $10k/year in income by the US govt, which is rich in most of the world. More broadly speaking, an income gradient is not only natural (foreshadowing answer 2 ;) ) but is one of the drivers of a free market. Even if the poorest made $30k/year at a minimum, most would strive to move up the scale and earn more, because there are people making more than them. Further, the rich don’t actually have more money, ie cash, rather they own valuable assets and companies that they are better equipped to direct. An owner of an apartment building is more capable of equipping it than the average person, precisely because of the skills he showed in being able to acquire it. Bill Gates and Warren Buffet own billions of shares and control some of the biggest companies on the planet, because they’ve shown themselves astute at making the types of decisions that those companies require. Wealth is an incentive system to put the most capable in charge of where they’re most needed. There are always flaws in a free market, which are continually improved, but capitalism has proven empirically to work far better than any other system, including democracy.

    2. If there were no elite and you redistributed income, within a decade or two it would be unequal again, likely exactly approximating what it was before. That is the nature of things, as people have varying abilities and discipline. However, these answers do beg the question, why would you want everyone to have the same amount of money? As I noted, inequality in wealth is one of the main drivers of human drive.

  131. Jack: yes, poverty is necessary precisely because people are different, will desire different amounts of wealth, and the ones with the fewest will be called “poor”. As Jesus said, the poor will be with you always.

  132. “There’s only one “different sollution [sic]” for that: shore up your population through immigration. In other words, give up and hand over your country to someone else.”

    That depends on how you go about it. The Swiss are currently importing productive adults from German< at a rate that has got the Germans (and even some Swiss) mightily worried. But they're not allowing them to become citizens until they've absorbed enough Swiss memes. They are also importing Thai women, but the only effect that has on the Swiss population is in their appearance. And appearance doesn't really matter. The future swiss population might have some more chocolate colored faces in it, but as long as the culture survives that's not something to worry about.

  133. “The solution is to reject the ideaology that gave you those low birth rates.”

    Actually why should low birthrates be that bad? It means things will have to change, people will have to be more productive, but that is doable. And the reduced population inherits all the capital and infrastructure that was used to support a larger population.

  134. K, it’s not bad at all, but when you’re running a ponzi scheme like social security or medicare, that’s less suckers being born every minute. ;)

  135. >1. Is poverty neccesary for a healthy economy?

    Poverty is a relative measure of wealth, constantly re-adjusted as civilization becomes as a whole wealthier. Thus “poverty” will always be an economic fact as long as economy exists (i.e. as long as scarcity exists).

    2. What would happen if there was no “elite?” If everyone had the same amount of money.

    It is practically impossible, but even if we had managed to somehow equalize material wealth (more or less) we would need authoritarian measures to keep it that way, as people will naturally begin to engage in commerce, wealth creation, and wealth accumulation. And i think history gives plenty warning of what totalitarian authoritarianism leads to.

  136. Wether or not Medicare and Social security are “ponzi” schemes doesn’t matter. The economy is not about money. It’s about production and consumption, and about incentives. If the ratio consumers/producers changes we need to increase productivity if we want to maintain consumption levels. It is quite conceivable we pull this off. Imagine a society where most of the production is done by robots, where a small minority (of mostly young people) produces ideas, and the large majority (of mostly elderly people) just lives a life of leisure. Such a society could survive with low birthrates.

  137. @K — The products we take for granted are not viable without economies of scale. With a total population of a million people you could not sustain a computer industry, a drug industry, etc. The more people there are, the more specialized, life-improving things become possible.

  138. @Jeff; Imagine a world where the costs of manufacturing about anything is negligable (like the software world for example). Don’t you think that the problem on how to produce enough to allow pensioners to maintain their current consumption levels would be solvable in such a world?

  139. In the absence of a medicare/social security “ponzi” scheme the free market creates its own one, children.

    Before the invention of pensions, you would “invest” in raising children. In exchange the children would be obliged through family loyalty to look after your parents. This causes the population explosion in developing countries, children are a risky investment (high infant mortality). so you need lots of them (more children means better old age).

    Now we have pensions, which means that children make a net loss for us and we only bring them up for fulfilment. Contries where more people have pensions have lower birth rates. This does not, however, solve the fundamental economic requirement for young to look after old, it just spreads it out across the population and hides it behind social security “ponzi” schemes.

    This explains why we have continous inflation, because the currency must inflate so that the total value of pensions doesn’t exceed the value being produced. The reason high birth rates are neccessary is to prevent to proportion of the population that works from falling to low. Unfortunately there is a limit to how much population the earth can sustain, I’m all in favour of lowering birthrates as opposed to raising death rates.

  140. “This does not, however, solve the fundamental economic requirement for young to look after old”.

    The fundamental requirement is not for the young to look after the old. It is for “someone” or “something” to look after the old. What if in the future it’s the old-but-still-able that look after the old-and-frail. Or what if it’s robots?

    Or what if we just all upload in to the matrix and stay young forever :-)

    It’s so hard to predict the future that I’m very skeptical about claims that some present trend will inevitably lead to disaster. That’s one kind of prediction that has a long track record of missing its mark.

  141. In the United States we need to put to rest the myth from the 1900′s that overpopulation is a problem. Overpopulation is a problem for overpopulated countries — not for the U.S.

    Apparently this concept applies to Europe as well.

  142. Additionally, we need to bring back something like a reproductive version of the old colonialism. Not the idea of invading weaker countries and raising our flag over their soil, but the idea that we are engaged in a war of making babies whether we like it or not, and the most prolific country wins.

  143. @PeterDavies, your economics is in variance with what actual economists (you know, the people who THINK about economics, rather than the rest of the population’s FEELINGS about economics) say. Please read more before you embarass yourself further.

  144. Jack asks
    > 1. Is poverty neccesary for a healthy economy?

    Certainly yes. There has to be an opportunity to improve to make it worthwhile to exercise the energy necessary to do stuff.

    Of course poverty in the United States and other Western countries is completely different from poverty historically. The major issues for the poor are over eating rather than starvation, and idleness, rather than overwork. Of course there are exceptions to every rule, but most of the so called poor in the United States have a home to live in, plenty of enjoyable (and at their discretion nutritious) food, usually many entertainment options, usually opportunities to work in low end jobs and improve themselves up the employment hierarchy, the opportunity for an education, usually through tertiary (if the child is willing to apply self), ready access to excellent medical care, and cradle to grave welfare, assuming they fulfill the most basic of requirements.

    So “poverty” is a loaded word. Gradiation of income is certainly necessary.

    > 2. What would happen if there was no “elite?” If everyone had the same amount of money.

    There is only one way to ensure everyone has the same amount of money, and that is to eliminate money so everyone has zero. If we somehow enforce a law that says everyone has $10,000, then each time you buy a cheeseburger you will have $3 less, and presumably some government functionary will come along and give you the money back.

    Of course, if we eliminate money people will just find some alternative form of money to replace it, because self improvement, differentiation and trade are a core part of the human condition. I believe cigarettes and vodka were the currency of trade last time something like this was tried.

    But I presume that, since you asked such an obviously loaded question, you have some sort of point to make? We all wait with bated breath.

  145. William H. Stoddard,

    “Shenpen, can you recommend a specific work by Kalupahana that’s relevant to this, preferably a book rather than a journal article?”

    Sorry, it was a mistake: the guy is Damien Keown and the book is “The Nature of Buddhist Ethics (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992″. Actualy Kalupahana was the one who argued _against it_. I mistook one for the other because they have the same initials.

  146. K, the fact that SS and medicare are ponzi schemes matters a lot, as such govt ponzi schemes are exactly why people fret about birth rates here and particularly in Europe. As I’ve said before, I think economic growth pulls us out of this mess, precisely through robotics and other new tech that you mention, but these ponzi schemes actually delay such growth. Every dollar that’s taken away from the productive and given to the non-productive delays it, as they’re not the ones thinking up new robotics tech. ;) Jeff’s argument is not very good as we could cut world population by half and still have 3 billion people, hardly the 1 million he posits. Overall, economies of scale arguments are overused, exhibiting a kind of Peter principle for ideas, where an idea is promoted to a large enough domain where it doesn’t apply anymore. For example, there are some economies of scale for firms but once you reach the size of a Citigroup or Microsoft, the managerial difficulty of directing such a Titanic far outweighs the diminishing returns to scale at that size.

    Peter, people in the developed world haven’t been having kids to take care of them during retirement for decades. Private pensions, specifically defined contribution plans, do that job very well and do not require the young to pay for the old at all. It’s only the govt pensions, the ponzi schemes, that rearrange the problem without solving it, often making it worse as the politicians and their constituencies have to take their cut. As for inflation, Social Security in this country is wage indexed, which rises faster than price inflation. Hence, even taking price inflation into account, someone receiving SS benefits in 2030 would receive more in price inflation-adjusted terms than someone today. Note how that linked article argues against such a change, making the subtle shift that Social Security has gone from nominally being a forced govt “pension” scheme that redistributes income to an entitlement on society, where the rest of us must deliver more and more every year to the SS entitled.

  147. @Ajay — OK, make it 3 billion. That means every business out there today suddenly has half as many customers, half as much revenue, half as many employess, but all of the same fixed costs (e.g. R&D); therefore prices would have to rise, which means fewer people could afford the product; it’s a death spiral. Yes, the world as we know it would survive in a recognizable form, but we would all be noticeably less prosperous.

  148. “…every business out there today suddenly has half as many customers, half as much revenue…”

    Because every business serves a perfectly evenly distributed subset of the population….oh no, wait…that’s not right….in fact, that’s utter bollocks.

    Remove the poorest half of the population, and certain other countries would disappear. The ‘poor’ of the US are living high on the hog by global standards. Even so, with some of them gone, maybe JC Penney would see a dip, but Maceys would be just fine.

    “…half as many employess, but all of the same fixed costs…”

    Oh sweet jesus….the economic illiteracy…

    Please tell me you realized your nonsense as soon as you farted it.

  149. @Russell Nelson: I was expecting/hoping that I would be partly wrong. I make no claim to be economic authority (I don’t like putting ‘I think’ everywhere). But could you please tell me how I am wrong, so that I (and anyone else who reads this) feel more enlightened, rather than more irritated.

  150. Well, Jeff’s economic conclusions may be incorrect, but we don’t know what would happen to the economy if the population is cut in half, because we haven’t experienced it. Hey! Why don’t we apply the precautionary principle to that? We have to have more kids, because we don’t know what will happen if we don’t. ;)

    Yours,
    Tom

  151. Tom, I’m pretty sure there would be bizarre and wildly unpredictable economic effects if such a thing happened….because, well, HALF THE HUMAN POPULATION IS GONE…

    We shat ourselves with horror when a couple hundred thousand Indonesians got too much water in their mudhuts one Christmas….God knows what headless chickenry would ensue if a few billion were snuffed out ;)

  152. Techtech, you are right: overpopulation is not America’s problem. Overshoot due to resource profligacy inherent to the American life style is our problem. Currently, to support the American population it takes several times as much land as is actually in the US. There is no need for this; it is simply waste. Consider the bizarre social construct of the front lawn. How many hectares of otherwise arable land are rendered useless except as status display? Then there is obsession with automobiles. Not everyone needs a car, but you would never guess that seeing two cars in every garage. Poor city planning and urban sprawl have turned cars from a convenience into a necessity (due in no small part to government lobbying by big oil and auto manufacturers). Meanwhile in Europe, walkable neighborhoods are the norm rather than the exception and the shipping infrastructure and logistics is centered around trains rather than trucks. (We fail at trains too; light duty commuter rail lines in the US are built to the same gauge as long-haul passenger and cargo lines, meaning the train which takes you to work is carrying excessive dead weight and wasting fuel by design.)

    We could live simpler, more sustainable lives with convenience and leisure time to spare. We choose not to. Waste, phenomenal waste, is written in our cultural DNA. What happens to a yeast culture when it grows to consume more than is available? The population of yeast cells crashes to a level that can live off whatever meager amount remains. Behold: America’s future.

  153. # Jeff Read Says:
    > We could live simpler, more sustainable lives with convenience and
    > leisure time to spare.

    Yes we could live such a lifestyle. We could also live in caves, and eat bread and drink water. Fortunately, as you point out, we choose not to, and our system of government, our cultural inheritance and our energetic, educated and entrepreneurial population enable us to do so. We are even kind enough to share the fruits of our efforts with the rest of the world. What a glorious thing to be celebrated! (Not to be too American centric, of course many other nations have done so too.)

    > Waste, phenomenal waste,

    One man’s waste is another man’s necessity. BTW, stop wasting all that electricity and CPU time to spread your opinion around the world. It is a real waste of resources.

    > What happens to a yeast culture when it grows to consume more than is
    > available? The population of yeast cells crashes to a level that can live
    > off whatever meager amount remains.

    Yes that is what happens when the pie is of a fixed size. However, when capitalism grows the size of the pie then we can have our pie and eat it too.

    Just think, 500 years ago the North American continent could barely support a few million humans on a brutal subsistence diet, dying young, 25% child birth mortality rate, 70% child mortality rate. Yet here we are, on the same continent, with hundreds of times more people, and ten thousand times better lifestyle. And we don’t even have all that many buffalo left. Who’d have thought it possible?

  154. As for its popularity waning, people are finally starting to realize that medicine is not a govt responsibility…

    Tell that to Matt Welch, editor of Reason magazine (and a hardcore libertarian. Even he’s come around to see that socialized medicine is a win.

  155. Yet here we are, on the same continent, with hundreds of times more people, and ten thousand times better lifestyle. And we don’t even have all that many buffalo left. Who’d have thought it possible?

    It isn’t: it takes about five times as much land to support our population than there actually is within our borders. Google “ecological footprint”.

  156. “Ecological footprint” belongs in the same shitcan as “carbon footprint” & “carrying capacity”, Jeff.

    If we chose to, we would have far more land than we need to feed ourselves. We don’t need to, however. Our economy has moved on, and it’s cheaper to import lots of our food. I’m sure you’ll find some absurd way to lament that fact, but I think it is miraculous and wonderful that we have such global commerce.

    The fact that we don’t feed ourselves 100% is no proof that we cannot do so. We can. We don’t. Our quality of life improves because we’re not toiling in the fields 20×7….we pay others to do that.

  157. # Jeff Read Says:
    > It isn’t: it takes about five times as much land to support our population than there actually is within our borders. Google “ecological footprint”.

    Sorry, I wasn’t thinking globally. My mistake.

    Two hundred years ago the whole world supported 16% of the present population. Nearly everybody today is much richer and better off than back then, even in villages in darkest Africa. Hundreds of millions of people live better than the kings of the 17th century.

    So unless we suddenly started farming on Mars, I think my point is well made.

  158. Two hundred years ago the whole world supported 16% of the present population

    That’s not true either. 200 years ago, the world sustained itself on a primarily local basis. Textiles, luxuries and slaves were commonly shipped…at significant expense. Your regular Joe ate what was around him, or within horse & wagon trading distance.

    The cheap, rapid transportation of commonplace goods around our planet is a relatively recent advancement….and a wonderful thing that, as you say, allows “hundreds of millions of people to live better than the kings of the 17th century”

  159. >Tell that to Matt Welch, editor of Reason magazine (and a hardcore libertarian. Even he’s come around to see that socialized medicine is a win.

    Stop lying, Jeff. Stop now.

    Second paragraph of Welch’s article: “It’s not that I think it’s either feasible or advisable for the United States to adopt a single-payer, government-dominated system.”

  160. “he one virtue gold has as money is that it is entirely independent of political control (or largely so anyway.) ”

    Actually it was always prone to manipulation by reducing the actual gold/silver content of the coin. The Catch-22 was that people usually didn’t have the means nor the time nor the patience to check the actual gold/silver content of every coin they accept: this would have meant precise that sort of extra transaction cost that’s incompatible with the very idea of a currency. So they just accepted a king’s stamp on it that said it has a certain gold/silver content. Precisely this was what led to abuse. AFAIK the modern first historical bubble, the Tulip Bubble was cause by exactly that sort of manipulation.

    So gold is not really safe, it’s merely somewhat harder to manipulate.

    The idea of a free market money – instead of simply gold money – sounds good but the costs incl. transaction costs to prevent fraud and manipulation look really high to me.

  161. Shenpen,

    > The idea of a free market money – instead of simply gold money – sounds good but the costs incl. transaction costs to prevent fraud and manipulation look really high to me.

    We have common widely used free market instruments which are subject to fraud and manipulation – and the costs aren’t too great. Consider credit cards and checks.

    Yours,
    Tom

  162. Jeff Bonwick, your analysis may be true if those 3 billion were to disappear off the face of the planet instantaneously, as we would then be stuck with a bunch of tractors and hotels that were half used or empty, but that’s not a realistic scenario. In reality, population will decline over decades and when the normal decisions over replacing those tractors are made, they’ll just buy less new ones to replace the old ones. Firms in sectors with minimum fixed costs will merge, so that you’ll have the same firms with the same fixed costs, just half the number of firms as before. In fact, there will be less of us competing over the same natural resources such as oil or land, so those prices will drop. Our true wealth is our knowledge, that doesn’t disappear with population declines. The one argument for population growth that superficially makes sense says that the more people there are, the more Oliver Heavisides or Jeff Bonwicks we have thinking up new innovations for us. However, this ignores the fact that population growth is mostly occuring in rural poverty nowadays: Bihar may be replete with Einsteins, we’d never know it. Frankly, I don’t much care whether the independent decisions of billions of people leads to population growth or decline. We’d be fine with 15 billion, we’d be fine with 1 billion. I do lean towards the latter as I think antiquated social norms pressure people to have kids, many who aren’t really interested in or equipped to deal with parenting. But what really concerns me is the horrible systems we currently have in place to allow people, however many they are, to reach their potential, particularly the horribly broken and ancient, quasi-socialized education and medicine systems in this country.

    Jeff Read, I agree that people tend to overconsume but I argue the problem is govt shielding people from those decisions. Why are we subsidizing the overuse of water, electricity, and home construction through the govt? I have no problem with consumption if it were tied to real market incentives and I disagree that regulation is the solution. As for shipping through train as opposed to trucks, I’ve heard that the most efficient form of mass transportation is bus, not train, because of lower capital costs and being much more flexible: you can always change bus routes to match demand. I suspect it’s the same for shipping cargo. As for Matt Welch’s article, all he says is that the US system has many problems, he makes no policy prescriptions imitating France. All he’s doing is telling the truth about our problems, artfully phrased to get him on TV, where I saw him 4 months ago make the usual libertarian prescriptions (btw, reason.tv has some great videos, I’ve been following it for months), and the blog you linked to.

  163. The idea of a free market money – instead of simply gold money – sounds good but the costs incl. transaction costs to prevent fraud and manipulation look really high to me.

    You might also look into digital cash, which would (theoretically) eliminate most fraud, but requires no more transaction costs than credit cards (granted it would be difficult to switch over). Of course, it requires a trusted issuer, but that problem should be solved by the market.

  164. Jeff Read, get your facts straight. Maybe read up on Europe one day or the other.

    “Meanwhile in Europe, walkable neighborhoods are the norm rather than the exception and the shipping infrastructure and logistics is centered around trains rather than trucks. (We fail at trains too; light duty commuter rail lines in the US are built to the same gauge as long-haul passenger and cargo lines, meaning the train which takes you to work is carrying excessive dead weight and wasting fuel by design.)”

    “walkable neighbourhoods” are found in large cities. Most of the middle-class people in cities tend to move out of those cities and “into the country”, generating the same suburban lifestyle that are so typical for the US. Those who remain in the cities are the rich and super-rich in the city centers, those in the developing ghettoes of have-nots and people of “migratory background”, students and the like.

    Shipping is continuously moving from train to road, simply because it’s much easier to build a road to a new factory than a railroad line. Trucks move the cargo door-to-door, trains only railyard-to railyard. Guess what is the biggest company in Austria that runs most trucks? The Oesterreichische Bundesbahn. Same goes for Germany and the other countries.
    And having the same gauge on all rail-based transport systems is not a US phenomenon. It’s simply a matter of efficiency. Everything, from TGV to the London Underground to the Vienna streetcars runs on standard gauge. Narrow gauge lines are remnants of a time when you would build railroads with narrow radii instead of simply tunneling through the mountains.

    Disclaimer: I was born in Vienna, Austria, and currently reside some 30 km away and commute in daily.

  165. @Dan — I will not reciprocate your disrespectful tone, but I am mystified by your objections.

    Let’s say you want to make the iPhone. To do that, you must incur the fixed cost of designing it plus the variable cost of manufacturing each one. The manufacturing process itself has both fixed and variable costs (fixed cost of an aluminum smelter plus the variable cost of bauxite and electricity). The whole concept of economy of scale is that you amortize your fixed costs across a higher volume of sales, and you also lower your per-unit COGS because the higher demand you provide your suppliers lets them amortize their fixed costs, and so on through the value chain.

    What part of this basic economic proposition do you disagree with?

  166. That’s not really the lesson that should be learned from the Simon-Ehrlich wager. It does not prove such a simplistic relationship between population and prices. It demonstrates Ehrlich’s folly in predicting economic catastrophe due to rising populations, but does not prove that the inverse relationship is therefore true…in anything other than an auxiliary sense, at least. There are more significant reasons why adjusted prices trend downwards (your linked wikipedia article touches upon these), not directly related to “economies of scale”.

  167. Jeff, nobody’s arguing against the concept of economies of scale, only the scope. Put another way, economies of scale is a threshold effect, it diminishes past certain volume and equipment thresholds, which are far smaller than a global economy. Perhaps one can find tortured examples of a single global bauxite provider, that is only sustained by the many dozens of manufacturers out there selling to billions of people, but if you added up the revenues of all such examples and multiplied their costs by 10 because of a customer base cut by half, the resulting costs would still be a negligible fraction of the similarly halved GDP. As for the Simon-Ehrlich wager, I am well aware of it but you’re conflating population and time, a classic example of correlation not causation. :) What really causes the price of resources to fall is innovation, our knowledge base grows with time just as population has been. However, this can be countered by competition over those resources caused by that same population growth, as we saw with the recent commodities boom. My point is that if we had a smaller population, innovators would continue building on and extending the ideas of the past while there would be less of us competing for the same natural resources.

  168. “walkable neighbourhoods” are found in large cities. Most of the middle-class people in cities tend to move out of those cities and “into the country”, generating the same suburban lifestyle that are so typical for the US.

    O rly? An associate of mine, who goes to Germany somewhat regularly, describes the suburb as a pathologically American phenomenon; he describes German towns as placing shops and residences cose together so you don’t have to travel far to get what you need.

    Then again, Wal-Mart was a French invention (as Carrefour)…

  169. > pathologically American phenomenon

    Sounds like ignorant bigotted exaggeration to me. How about “sub-optimal” rather than “pathological”? Even though he is really expressing a personal preference.

    Yours,
    Tom

  170. An associate of mine…describes the suburb as a pathologically American phenomenon

    Sounds like a fun guy. I know the UK & Europe well, and ‘suburbs’ are very much a common development…not ‘pathologically’ American at all.

    Then again, Wal-Mart was a French invention (as Carrefour)…

    Ah yes…the French ‘hypermarket’ – I always liked shopping at Mammout, myself ;)

  171. he describes German towns as placing shops and residences cose together so you don’t have to travel far to get what you need.

    Let me point out that was the norm here in the States, right up until governments started “zoning” to enforce by law strict segregation of residential and commercial property. The thinking was that residential property would be more valuable because it’s somehow “protected” from the noise, bustle, and crimes associated with commerce.

    A free market would have continued to construct buildings with businesses on the lower floors and residences above, small neighborhood general stores well within walking distance of most homes, and even light industry mixed into residential areas (so that employees might live within walking distance of work) had they not been forbidden by fiat.

  172. Sounds like ignorant bigotted exaggeration to me. How about “sub-optimal” rather than “pathological”? Even though he is really expressing a personal preference.

    He didn’t use those exact words, of course, though he did treat the subject of the American suburb with visible disgust, especially as compared to what he knew from Germany.

  173. A free market would have continued to construct buildings with businesses on the lower floors and residences above, small neighborhood general stores well within walking distance of most homes, and even light industry mixed into residential areas (so that employees might live within walking distance of work) had they not been forbidden by fiat.

    Mirabile dictu, this trend is coming back: even in the Connecticut town where I grew up, they recently knocked down a mouldering 1960s era shopping mall to make room for a sidewalk-laden town center with integrated shops and residences.

    So there are glimmers of hope on the horizon, despite my usual dark pronouncements. :)

  174. Another example of counter-productive regulations are those which effectively outlawed the boarding house. (Most of them have to do with zoning and serving food.) Boarding houses are a great way for people to save money and live in a lively community. They would might help a little with the homeless problem for unattached men, and they are a great way to repurpose big old houses without having to knock them down.

    Yours,
    Tom

  175. (Oh, and they replace ten people driving around shopping for food with one. Economies of scale and environmentally more sound.)

  176. Define “suburb”.

    If “suburb” = a place where your kid is playing in your garden and not out on the street, with the dogshit, if it means a place with better air than the inner city and you have a chance of waking up the chirp of birds and not the chirp of the tramway, then it’s by definition a good thing and I don’t get the hard feelings against it. It’s simply natural, it’s how people always lived, it’s the downtown beehive with the 4th-floor apartment and the aggressive drunks down on the street which is abnormal.

    If “suburb” = a place where you commit 20 miles from a traffic jam, well that’s not such a good thing.

    Also, probably there are differences between suburb and suburb. Basically there are two kinds.

    One is that’s common in Europe and in the older (pre-1930 or so) towns of America: the one with the real houses and real gardens with rose bushes and all that. That’s the good kind of suburb that radiates a bourgeois respectibility, stability, rootedness and a real quality of living, even when the houses are not very big (they don’t necessarily need to be).

    The other kind is which is only common in the new towns of America, the one of the light-structure, oversized, fragile, balloon-looking houses, and patches of lawn instead of real gardens. The most telling sign of such a new suburb is the lack of front porches, which means a lack of community, which mean a certain lack of depth in one’s vision of a good life. I think these are just providing an illusion of real suburbia, they are make-believe, fake-bourgeois, plastic places, for people who cannot really afford a suburb neither have the cultural background of a real suburbian bourgeois, but pretend to do as if they could/were, and tend to value quantity over quality in a kinda bigger-is-better, gimme-bigger-fries-with-that way of thinking.

    However, I think this second type, whatever the failures, still beats the downtown way of living, better air and more space and more safety and more green stuff and all that.

  177. “So there are glimmers of hope on the horizon, despite my usual dark pronouncements. :)”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_urbanism

    Which is pretty much the same way as the older one, Post-Post-Modern meets the Pre-Modern.

    Er… the situation is that it were more or less people on the Left/Progressive side who came up with the Modern city with the gigantic mall and all that, although of course that wasn’t the original goal. But it was pretty much people like http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le_Corbusier , who created the Modern city, who made stuff like this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birmingham_Central_Library , which was clearly meant as “socially progressive”, “anti-bourgeois” symbol: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brutalist_architecture

    If we can agree that a proper place for human beings is something like http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poundbury that would be a good first step in finding a Post-Post-Modern that’s pretty much the Pre-Modern, and finally closing the whole horrible Modern and Post-Modern era – and actually not only in architecture…

  178. Jeff Read Says:
    > describes the suburb as a pathologically American
    > phenomenon; he describes German towns as placing
    > shops and residences cose together so you don’t have
    > to travel far to get what you need.

    Let me share something about me personally. I am of the opinion that people who put fatty meats such as pepperoni or sausage on a pizza may very well be evil. Anyone who has half a brain knows that vegetable pizza is far an away the best. As you no doubt know, original Italian pizzas would be topped in such a manner, for example with, mozzarella, tomato and basil, much more in line with my preference.

    However, despite the fact that these evil pizzas are a pathologically American adventure (though you non Americans now more and more share this evil option) I don’t actually think the evil doers should be put in jail. Rather, I think they should simply shunned for their bad taste. Thankfully here in America you can choose vegetable pizza or disgusting fatty, meat slathered pizza, you don’t just have one item on the menu decided by some wise panel of putative experts.

    To put it another way, as those damn foreigners would say, vive la différence.

  179. Shenpen, original italian pizza was a dish for the poor consisting simply of the crust and tomato. What you are talking about is Piza Margherita, created by a chef for Margherita of Savoy, incorporating the colors of the Italian Flag, because she wanted to know what the downtrodden were enjoying. It is traditional, and well known, but by no means the original.
    Furthermore, I did not know pepperoni was a fatty meat.
    Furthermore part two: sausages or other pork meats on a pizza are in no way an American invention. Here in Argentina we enjoy pizza -for example- with calabrese salami or with cooked ham and pepperoni. Google for ‘Pizza Boscaiola’.
    Son of furthermore: in the end, pizza, burritos, and the like are essentially a way to say ‘ok, we got bread, what can we put on it and call lunch?’
    Furthermore Rides Again: Perhaps by American you mean the excess of putting stuff like burgers on a pizza, but not pizzas with pork byproducts such as salami or ham. I am aghast at stuff like thisiswhyyourefat.com too.

  180. Why did I confuse Shenpen and Jessica, I do not know. I apologise to both.

  181. >I am of the opinion that people who put fatty meats such as pepperoni or sausage on a pizza may very well be evil.

    Remind me never to order a pizza with you, Jessica. Meat lovers’ special rules OK! (Mushrooms are considered an honorary meat. Hot peppers are also acceptable.)

  182. > Remind me never to order a pizza with you, Jessica.

    Where I live you can order a pizza that is half meat lovers and half veggie.

    We need more non zero-sum compromises in this country.

    Lots of Italians in Argentina and Brazil, right, Adriano?

    Yours,
    Tom

  183. “What you are talking about is Piza Margherita, created by a chef for Margherita of Savoy, incorporating the colors of the Italian Flag”

    Red – check, white – check, but what exactly was green in it? If it’s the cheese, well, ugh… ;-)

    “ok, we got bread, what can we put on it and call lunch?” – I’d say sentences beginning with “OK we got bread” are 60% responsible for the obesity epidemic and suchlike in the Western world (not that the sentences beginning with “OK we got rice” in Asia are much better, so the carb dependency is pretty much global). My own folks (Hungarians) are just as “guilty” in it as pretty much every other people except maybe the really southern parts of Italy and Greece. Really the same story everywhere: breakfast = bread, the only question is what to put on top of it, other meals = meat with potatoes or rice or pasta.

    In theory I’m perfectly aware that in order to lose weight what I should cut is bread, potatoes, rice and pasta, but just what the hell would put my morning ham and cheese on? Basically to cut the carb dependency one must pretty rethink the whole _identity_ of things we consider food, such as that breakfast means a square, flat object with butter and then something else on top of it. Breakfast would then mean something really different. I suppose this is why obesity is a problem – we are deeply attached to certains shapes, smells and tastes that are considered “proper breakfast”, “proper dinner”.

  184. Shenpen Says:
    > Red – check, white – check, but what exactly was green in it?

    The green is the basil.

    > “OK we got bread” are 60% responsible for the obesity epidemic

    The reason we have an obesity epidemic is because we are so profoundly rich compared to the past, and our cultural memes haven’t caught up with our spectacular success. Specifically, in the past getting as many calories as possible was the key to not starving to death. Today, we can obtain enough calories at vanishingly small cost, and consequently tend to eat way more than we need.

    Bottom line is that what is needed is to change ones attitude to one of eating for the purpose of fueling the body rather than satisfying the tastes and enjoyment. Do we have to have three spectacularly delicious meals every day, or can we have one of these a week, and use the other 20 meals as simply nutritional fueling our our bodies?

    The problem with food is people have the most breathtakingly ridiculous attitudes to food.

    Of course this is about as far off the topic of the matter of the great American benefit of being able to choose suburban or urban living. Apparently, Jeff Read thinks he should impose his views on this on others. I respectfully disagree and celebrate the diversity of choices that our wealth offers us.

  185. > Lots of Italians in Argentina and Brazil, right, Adriano?
    In Argentina, roughly half of us are of Italian descent, the other half of Spanish descent, the other half of both. Plus the jews, germans and muslims. Yes, there’s a lot of superposition. I’m three-quarters Italian myself (in case my name didn’t give that away), and lived for a while in Italy. I don’t know the proportions in Brazil, but there should be lots of Italians there too, yes.

  186. Peter, no economists think that the currency is inflated to keep pensions constant. At least, I’ve never heard of any that do, but please educate me. No, the currency gets inflated because it’s easier to print up new fiat money than to raise taxes.

  187. @Jeff Read and @Kurt, if you’re interested in railroads, look at http://www.ruf.dk/ — it’s a modern replacement for light rail and commuter railroads. It gives you everything that people like about trains, but none of the drawbacks.

  188. “ok, we got bread, what can we put on it and call lunch?” – I’d say sentences beginning with “OK we got bread” are 60% responsible for the obesity epidemic and suchlike in the Western world (not that the sentences beginning with “OK we got rice” in Asia are much better, so the carb dependency is pretty much global). My own folks (Hungarians) are just as “guilty” in it as pretty much every other people except maybe the really southern parts of Italy and Greece. Really the same story everywhere: breakfast = bread, the only question is what to put on top of it, other meals = meat with potatoes or rice or pasta.

    Meh. I can’t survive without (bread|rice|pasta). And I’m not obese, and I eat a lot of it. Edge case, maybe, but it seems pretty common to me.

  189. Russell Nelson,

    I’ve heard of the RUF idea, and it sounds cool on paper. It reminds me of the Silver Line hybrid-diesel trolleybuses here in Boston, though with certain other advantages (no tangle of wires overhead!). I’ll be impressed once I see a rollout of these things in a medium-sized or bigger city.

  190. …what is needed is to change ones attitude to one of eating for the purpose of fueling the body rather than satisfying the tastes and enjoyment…

    Thankfully, the classic food cultures of the world have never agreed with you…and I pray they never will. Food & drink & family & friends is the source of all joie de vivre :)

    And we don’t need to cut carbs or fats or meats or eggs or full-fat milk or any of the other moronic ideas regularly spoonfed to gullible Americans as the latest dietary fad. Americans need to be more moderate in general, true, but mostly need to get off their fat asses and stretch themselves in the great outdoors ;)

  191. @Russell Nelson:

    The RUF idea isn’t new. One of the biggest problems with it as opposed to other, similar ideas is that it requires an entirely new infrastructure. This is as opposed to other ideas like driverless cars. One concept, which was tested in California, involves the placement of special metal disks in the road which can be detected by the car. Cars could run in a train-like fashion along the special road with little modification to the car over existing designs. Additionally, the costs of the the road upgrades are minimal, especially since you need to rebuild roads every few years anyway.

    All ideas along this line have severe luddite problems, though.

  192. Dan Says:
    > Food & drink & family & friends is the source of all joie de vivre :)

    If that is true of your life then you need to get out more.

  193. If that is true of your life then you need to get out more.

    And if food and drink and family and friends are not a source of joie de vivre in your life, then I hold that it is you who need to get out more. :)

  194. morgan greywolf Says:
    > And if food and drink and family and friends are not a source of joie de vivre in your life

    They are, but not the sole source. I also recognize that EVERY MEAL doesn’t have to be a celebration of French Cusine, or a competition to pack as many calories in the name of pleasure. Au contraire, most meals should be about fueling your body, which, ultimately, is the purpose of eating. It is the desire for satiating more than just the stomach but the emotions that leads to the deeply compromised health of many western countries (although our spectacular wealth, shared by all by any realistic historical perspective is an important contributing factor.) When else in history has obesity been a problem for the poor?

    Occasionally I watch these shows where some guy is trying to impress us with some huge steak he is eating, or some insane number of oysters or whatever. I remember watching one such show and realizing that the guy ate more calories in that one meal than I had eaten in the previous eight days, and more fat than I had eaten in the preceding 15 days. That is pretty disturbing to me.

  195. >It is the desire for satiating more than just the stomach but the emotions that leads to the deeply compromised health of many western countries

    I think you are utterly wrong about this. The historical evidence says that obesity and diabetes rates began to mount seriously at just about the same time earnest nutritional puritans like you got the U.S. government onside and started pushing fruits, grains, and complex carbohydrates at us. As the Atkins people pointed out, this is what you feed pigs to fatten them for slaughter. The body doesn’t get strong satiety signals from this stuff as it does from processing fat and meat, so of course we overeat. The fix is to put foods that actually satisfy hunger back at the center of our diet, so we’re not chasing junk calories all the time.

  196. Jessica, you’ve got a pretty fucked up perspective on the human diet. I don’t care to analyze what went wrong in your life to bend you out of shape so badly…but you need some help.

    EVERY meal, EVERY snack….EVERY little thing I consume….is an effort to celebrate my existence on this planet.

    I’m not bullshitting you.

    Simple grilled cheese with some tomato soup

    A home cooked burger

    Steak

    Merlot-marinated venison, slow cooked in a dutch oven

    Wasabi-encrusted salmon

    Welsh rarebit

    Fresh baked Madeleines

    Bacon & eggs

    Butterfly chicken slathered with a butter baste of wild herbs

    It’s ALL a miraculous celebration of how wonderful and exclusive our life is….on this lonely rock.

    You need to cheer up, girl ;)

  197. Jessica….perhaps you should try applying your attitude to food to your sex life.

    Not every sexual encounter should be about love or pleasure. Get your fella to jerk off into a basting tube so you can clinically douse your nethers with his baby batter….after all, that’s what it’s really all about, isn’t it?

  198. Dan’s attitude towards food is also Larry Niven’s, who says you should never waste a single calorie.

    Yours,
    Tom

  199. My attitude towards food – is that it’s a fucking miracle I’m able to discern the difference between basil & brie…that I can appreciate the harmony of strawberries and a good dry bubbly cava (fuck champaign).

    Hell…a good corndog at the county fair gets me going.

    Life is fucking awesome. Stop listening to these retarded cunts that try to convince you to inhibit your existence in accordance with their retarded cunty dogma. Fuck ‘em to hell.

  200. # esr Says:
    > The historical evidence says that obesity and
    > diabetes rates began to mount seriously at just
    > about the same time earnest nutritional puritans
    > like you got the U.S. government

    First of all, have you ever known me to be puritanical, or have you ever heard me advocate getting the US government to do anything (apart from back off?) Just because I think eating 8,000 calories with 60% from fat in a single meal is stupid, I am certainly not advocating putting you in jail for doing so or making such stupidity illegal.

    Second, I don’t really have the time to investigate your claim, however, the evidence in front of my eyes is pretty clear. Specifically, people who follow primarily low fat, vegetable focused diets generally have very good weight control, and I know almost nobody who follows a high fat, high meat diet that is not at least somewhat overweight, if not outright obese. No doubt there are exceptions, but that is a pretty clear pattern I see.

    Furthermore, there are some pretty obvious things that might obviously lead to the present situation based on the assumption of high fat, high meat diets are likely causing the problems. The rise of fast food, the decrease of Mom at home making nutritious meals, the increased amount of meat in our diet (a pretty new phenomenon.) And so forth.

    > As the Atkins people pointed out, this is what you
    > feed pigs to fatten them for slaughter.

    You can’t seriously be putting forward that argument. The reason pigs are fed these sorts of diet to fatten them up is because these sorts of food have the lowest cost per calorie of potential feedstuffs. There is nothing in the nature of the food that encourages fattening. So yes, a high grain and vegetable diet with no restraints and nothing to do but eat is likely to lead to some serious problems.

    > The body doesn’t get strong satiety signals from
    > this stuff as it does from processing fat and meat,

    I’m afraid that is incorrect too. Certainly, highly dense food like meat and vegetables, and heavy sauces will kick in the leptin feedback loop more quickly, but not with less calories. And complex carbs are ideal foodstuffs for managing blood sugar. To put it another way, vegetable oriented diets kick in both these key responses for much lower caloric cost. And there is another thing that is important here. Most of these responses are kind of slow to kick in. Consequently, one of the real problems with the way we eat is that we eat far to quickly, not allowing the feeling of fullness to happen early in the meal. When you eat food that has very high nutritional density and caloric density, that effect is magnified.

    > The fix is to put foods that actually satisfy hunger
    > back at the center of our diet,

    No, the fix is to satisfy our hunger with a reasonable amount of calories. Excess will simply be damaging to your health. High density foods are not a good choice for this. High fat foods have the double whammy of being very high density, and also prone to being used for storage rather than consumption.

    > junk calories all the time.

    I’m not really sure precisely what “junk calories” means, but I will assume you mean calories that do not come accompanied with other beneficial nutrients. If so I agree but it is far from clear than a meat focused diet is superior in that respect in any way. “Junk” in food terms is usually reserved for McDonalds and Twinkies, I have rarely heard corn and sweet potatoes put into that category.

  201. In case I didn’t make my loathing for such dietary carpetbagging wretches clear enough…

    …they all warrant terminal justice in a woodchipper a la “Fargo”.

  202. # Dan Says:
    > I don’t care to analyze what went wrong in your
    > life to bend you out of shape so badly…but you
    > need some help.

    Seriously? Did you really say that?

    > You need to cheer up, girl ;)

    Seriously? Did you really say that?

    > Jessica….perhaps you should try
    > applying your attitude to food to your sex life.

    Seriously? Did you really say that?

    Sex does not clog your arteries, and make you feel sluggish and unfocused. Sex does not cause you to have inadequate nutrition to feed your body in the way that it needs to be fed. Sex does not make you overweight. On the contrary, sex does the opposite of all these things.

    As a matter of fact, obesity and poor diet lead to high blood pressure, which, according to the TV ads can cause ED. So perhaps if you maintain your high fat, low nutrition, artery clogging ways you will have to satisfy yourself with a cheeseburger, since biology might deny you the other option. I hope not, but nature is a bitch.

    I recommend a nice bean salad tonight Dan, it will help you and your wife continue to celebrate your love for many years to come.

    A ta santé.

  203. You can fornicate in your own flatulent beany nirvana, lass.

    Perhaps you should trade notes with that FNC food nazi chick….Mimi Roth.

    There have been many threads where I agree with you, Jessica…but it is the emergence of a thread such as this that reveals your true nature.

    You’re a breath away from fascism, despite your libertarianish affectations.

  204. Jeezz dude, let a girl enjoy her bean dip. I’m more a top sirloin kind of guy, but when girls are farting too proudly, I toss some epazote and give her some space.

    Fascism? Guess I’m not the only one who posts drunk.

  205. >First of all, have you ever known me to be puritanical,

    Not before this thread. But you wouldn’t be the first libertarian I’ve met with an inexplicable streak of nannyism when it come to dietary choices, either.

    >No doubt there are exceptions, but that is a pretty clear pattern I see.

    You need to read What if It’s All Been a Big Fat Lie?. Then research the statistics on which diets actually work. You’re in for some interesting surprises.

  206. Fascism? Guess I’m not the only one who posts drunk.

    Dude :)

    Don’t underestimate the fascism of the food nazis….

  207. esr Says:
    > an inexplicable streak of nannyism when it come to dietary choices, either.

    Why exactly do you think that a disagreement of opinion constitutes nannyism?

  208. # Dan Says:
    > You’re a breath away from fascism, despite your libertarianish affectations.

    So you think that because you and I do not agree on what constitutes a healthy diet that I deserve to be murdered and my body ground up in a tree chipper?

    And I am a fascist?

  209. >Why exactly do you think that a disagreement of opinion constitutes nannyism?

    A disagreement in itself doesn’t. Your position smells of dietary nannyism, though. Don’t worry, though, I’m not Dan and wouldn’t even consider feeding you into a wood chipper.

    Dan, you are being rude and excessive. Calm down, or you’ll blow your own credibility. That is, even with me.

  210. @morgan: ahhhh, but driverless cars need a completely new legal infrastructure to be built up. To wit: whose fault is it if a driverless car crashes? What happens if it hits an animal? What if someone owns the animal? What if it hits a patch of black ice? Now you see the strength of the RUF — it is designed to be so safe that an investor can be confident that they’ll never be sued for liability. And what you call a weakness is actually a strength: the RUF is an overlay over the public streets. A RUF can be built without increasing congestion, and once built it can be used without increasing congestion. Compare that to Minneapolis’s Hiawatha light rail system, which caused congestion while being built, and since it has the right-of-way at traffic lights, it has created more congestion than it has solved by getting people off the roads.

  211. It’s odd that we’ve been eating for thousands of years and we STILL don’t know why some people and some foods store calories as fat.

  212. @Russell

    I would submit that is because of two factors – [a] until quite recently (in an evolutionary sense) mankind’s main dietary mode has been one of scarcity, punctuated by the rare bout of gluttony (think ekeing out a life via gathering and small game hunting, with the occasional success at bringing down something big enough to feed the whole group with leftovers), and [b] only in the last 25 years or less have we had the subtle understanding of molecular biology necessary to tease out, not only the gross mechanisms of nutrition (“eat meat, digest to amino acids and fatty acids, circulate through the body, metabolize and/or store”), but the intricate feedback loops governing satiety and hunger.

  213. > As the Atkins people pointed out, this is what you
    > feed pigs to fatten them for slaughter.

    Aside from what Jessica said, I’d hazard that pigs fattened for the slaughter are
    - allowed to move as little as possible
    - overfed if possible

    Though it’d be an interesting experiment to feed pigs with meat and see if they get more or less fat than usual. Anyone know of previous work?

  214. Eric,

    > A disagreement in itself doesn’t. Your position smells of dietary nannyism, though.

    It does? Jessica is very clear. She is not advocating any government control. She is advocating for a healthy diet. When you forcefully advocate for good coding practices, does your position smell of coding nannyism?

    > Calm down, or you’ll blow your own credibility.

    It’s probably not a good idea to take ourselves too seriously anyway. I’m glad Dan so nobly enables us to keep his opinions in proper perspective.

    Yours,
    Tom

  215. …I’m glad Dan so nobly enables us to keep his opinions in proper perspective.

    LOL Well said. :)

  216. So you think that because you and I do not agree on what constitutes a healthy diet that I deserve to be murdered and my body ground up in a tree chipper?
    Oh come on…I know you know blowhard hyperbole when you see it ;)

    She is not advocating any government control. She is advocating for a healthy diet.

    Sure. Her words evoke the image of Mimi Roth, however…and where you sniff those sentiments on the breeze, you can be sure of ‘laws’ to follow.

  217. > Sure. Her words evoke the image of Mimi Roth, however…and where you sniff those sentiments on the breeze, you can be sure of ‘laws’ to follow.

    Let me translate to another form.

    Sure. His words evoke the image of (some code Nazi), however…and where you sniff those sentiments on the breeze, you can be sure of copious corporate Methods and Procedures to follow.

    I knew I couldn’t those people who kept telling me not to use goto.

    Ability to flame != desire to rule. If so you better give up the blowhard hyperbole. ;)

    Yours,
    Tom

  218. I’d say that — dietary considerations aside — factory-farming animals for meat is wrong and evil, and we should work to implement regulatory guidelines that discourage this kind of behavior in animal husbandry.

    That said, the meat of cows that have been corn-fed, penned up in unspeakably horrific and unsanitary conditions, and shot up with growth hormones and antibiotics can’t possibly be as good for you as free-range grass-fed beef.

  219. >[corn-fed] can’t possibly be as good for you as free-range grass-fed beef.

    Which, by the way, also tastes noticeably better. But there’s no real alternative to factory farming short of a human population crash; too much of the world lives in climates with winter temperatures below the critical threshold where vegetarianism = death.

  220. [corn-fed] can’t possibly be as good for you as free-range grass-fed beef.

    Emotional generalizations about “unspeakable” conditions aside – there’s actually no significant difference in nutrition, only quality (flavor, texture, marbling etc)…so they’re pretty much equally “as good” for you.

    There is, of course, constant debate over the various drugs used – it’s a pretty silly attempt to undermine the industry, but like AGW alarmists, they keep trying.

    I eat the superior grass-fed (finished with corn) organic beef myself, but we grow our own around here, so it’s cheaper to do so ;)

  221. >Emotional generalizations about “unspeakable” conditions aside – there’s actually no significant difference in nutrition

    Until recently I would haver agreed with you. But I now think the difference in Omega-3/Omega-6 ratio is a significant advantage for grass-fed beef.

  222. That is a difference related to the qualities of fat with different diets, true. If that is ‘significant’ enough for you to care about, fair enough. I’m not convinced the differences are too noteworthy, especially if you also consume fish. For me, the quality differences are paramount.

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