Wherein The Boy And I Have “The Talk”

No, not the Birds and the Bees talk. That’s what the Internet is for.

I’ve been musing about the difference between free markets and Capitalism. I’m very for free markets: People + stuff = trade. That’s pretty much how things work, and the closer we keep to that, the better off things seem to be. I don’t see the struggle we’re undergoing now as “Communism versus Capitalism” but “Slavery versus Freedom”.

Capitalism arises as organically from free markets as free markets do from people + stuff. Naturally some people are going to want to trade money for more money. And just as naturally, some people are going to end up just trading money for money. This leads to people saying “Hey, those guys aren’t doing anything but making money offa us!”

This, in turn, leads to upsetting or compromising the free market, even revolution.

Well, I was trying out this logic on The Boy, and he would have none of it. He pointed out that problem wasn’t Capitalism, but envy. Or ignorance. And I pointed out that Capitalism had always failed, ultimately leading to less free markets. And he pointed out that the State was always involved in the failure.

And so I said that if the system always failed, how was that different from Communism?

Well, The Boy wasn’t having any of it. He was quite deftly arguing his point, puncturing my arguments and standing his ground. But I didn’t let on that I basically agreed with him.

An hour or so later, he emerged from his man-cave and said that he’d always thought I knew everything and had all the answers magically. Now, of course, I’ve done everything I can to discourage that notion, gently, and he’s been coming ‘round to my less-than-divine status for years, but I’m not sure it fully dawned on him until that night.

It’s a very good thing.

He did reassure me I was still magical, though, just in a different way.

sniffI promised myself I wouldn’t cry…

Odds and Ends

From around the Intarwebs:

Ed Driscoll has dug up an old review of Michael Moore’s movie Roger and Me. I found it interesting because she exactly describes what took me years to figure out. Blatant lies notwithstanding, the key quote is:

It does something that is humanly very offensive: Roger & Me uses its leftism as a superior attitude. Members of the audience can laugh at ordinary working people and still feel that they’re taking a politically correct position [242-245].

Yeah. And doesn’t that seem to be common these days from the left? Disagree and you’re a rube, worthy of contemptuous mockery.

Freeman Hunt links to a thorough take-down of the Penn and Teller “Vatican” show that I found so appalling. Seems they were more than a little factually challenged. Confirmation bias is the enemy people: Take a chainsaw to them hobby horses.

This Doctor Zero guy at HotAir is pretty dang good. Here he’s talking about confidence, and talks about the way the government bumbling through the private sector tends to undermine it. These talks of health care nationalization—well, not so much the talks as the fierce drive that always seems on the verge of achieving it—undermine the medical sector. I suspect we’ll see some shortages even if it doesn’t pass. (If it does, shortages are a certainty.)

My old pal Nick Hodges re-tweeted Jeff Atwood (of Coding Horror) about the apparent increasing effectiveness of placebos. I tend to be cynical about this stuff and just assume the pharmaceutical companies were lying about the effectiveness of anti-depressants.

Chuck B. (back40feet on Twitter) tweeted about this cool book, The Math Book: From Pythagoras to the 57th Dimension. Total nerd moment here.

Finally, I’ve been sitting on this post from “Cloven, Not Crested,” a blog I occasionally read, entitled “Are Women Unhappier?” I suspect that, on the whole, they are (as I suspect men are, on the whole), but a segment is probably far happier than they ever would have been. But I haven’t had the time to do the topic justice.

Check ‘em out!

Today Is Not That Day, Part 5

Well, actually, yesterday wasn’t that day. Pardon my lag.

The President gave a speech to all the little prisoners yesterday. You know the ones I’m talking about: The ones sentenced to 12 years of school?

I don’t care what he said. Well, I do care what he said, but it’s not the issue. (This is like health care: It wouldn’t matter if it were perfect and free, it’s not an appropriate task for government. The injury added to the insult is that it will mediocre and overpriced.)

I wouldn’t always be against a speech being played in class; Pearl Harbor or 9/11, for example, the President could come out and say something, and that’d be appropriate. But just casually? Like this? Feels like Orwell.

I could make another point, too, about how the government education system creates people who are unable to survive on their own and feeds into the government welfare system, which fosters an inability to survive—and how despite all this neither system can be meaningfully reformed or eliminated—but this would just bring us to healthcare again.

Manic Monday Apocalypso: This Is Not How The World Ends

Well, gosh, folks, despite all the dire predictions, it turns out that the world may actually be in for an extended cooling period before we go through the horrors of global warming. The above New Scientist article (hat tip Ace Of Spades HQ) is priceless on so many levels.

We have “scientist” Mojib Latif insisting that cooling should not be taken as proof that there won’t later be warming. Reassuring us that despite the evidence, he’s still a true believer and he’s only bringing up these ugly questions because, you know, deniers will point to this as some sort of validation, and question the whole premise of man-caused disaster.

Note that “global warming” carries the implicit guilt of Man in it: “natural variability is at least as important as the long-term climate changes from global warming.

Even the arctic ice loss may, in fact, be at least partly, no matter how minutely—we hate to even bring it up lest it give the easily led the wrong idea—due to natural causes! The money quote, for me, as it admits what I’ve said all along:

Model biases are also still a serious problem. We have a long way to go to get them right. They are hurting our forecasts.

Yeah. No kidding. Look, anyone using a computer model to predict something should minimally be able to: “predict” the past and also predict a short way into the future. The climate models I’ve seen couldn’t even predict the past.

When you model something, what you do is feed your algorithms with your data starting from some arbitrary past point where you know the outcome well. Ideally, your model then shows what happened. If it doesn’t, you rework your algorithms until your model actually works.

And then, it can still be wrong and completely unable to predict the future. Because what you’re really doing with the above process is, basically, cheating. You know the desired results. Even if you’re completely honest and pure, you can glean what changes in the algorithm will tend to favor the desired outcome, and it can’t be easy to stop yourself from coming up with a theory to justify those changes. But the game is already rigged at this point.

Never mind if your intention is to create certain results. The Civilization games have off-and-on done an excellent job of modeling certain aspects of actual history. It wasn’t unusual in Civ 3, for example, to have world wars break out at the beginning (and middle) of the 20th century. It could be positively eerie.

To the degree that it matters, the real shame is probably that global warming as an actual phenomenon has been demonized. But global warming would probably be a very good thing. It’d be a little (more) uncomfortable for those of us living in the desert, though the difference between a 118 degree high and a 120 degree high is not that much, perceptually.

But just look how much of the world’s land is under permafrost. It’s a cold world, overall, and a little more warmth would give us a much bigger food supply, shorter winters, fewer freezing deaths, and on and on.

Not that it really matters to the earth what we think or what is good for us: It’s gonna get colder. Right now, I think, ironically enough, we might be headed for a new ice age.

But, honestly, that probably won’t be the end of the world either.

So, until next time, stay frosty, non-mutants.

The Math Of Political Ideologies

As a geek, I tend to get excited over the possibility of applying logic, math and science to the mooshy topics of politics. We’ve talked about “test-driven” government (borrowing from programming), where any change to policy would have to be run through a series of rigorous tests to determine effect and unintended consequences.

But chatting with a friend today I began to realize that you can express the two main warring ideologies in politics with mathematical formulas. And it’s kind of interesting. At least to a geek like me.

Let X = resources available
Let Y = cost of resource
Let Z = number of people
Let $= cost per person of resource

X × Y ÷ Z = $

This is a simple way of looking at a situation where resources are limited and are to be divided evenly among a group of people. Note this works both ways: For distributing resources and for distributing the cost of a resource.

This is, more or less is how collectivists and statists view problems. “If only,” they think, “I—or some suitably clever person who shares my values—were in charge of collecting the money and distributing the service, then we could make sure everything was fair and equitable and just.”

They fret because Y seems to go up all the time, as does Z, while X dwindles or doesn’t seem to grow fast enough to cover some ultimate disaster. The whole “overpopulation” scenario is based on Z increasing exponentially while X flattens or decreases. This becomes the justification for a centralized planning system. To avert crisis.

But, of course, the system tends to reinforce itself: X dwindles while Y skyrockets. Z tends to flatten but can’t keep up (down?) with the issues created by X and Y.

And you can tell when someone is really married to this mindset, because they can’t see the problem any other way. (They’ll even see the surrounding issues as relatively simple variables: if only everyone adhered to the orthodoxy in terms of diet, exercise, home size, whatever, all our problems—the ones they’ve very often created to justify their takeover of whatever—would be solved. This is actually true for them, because their ultimate problem seems to be that people are just too numerous and unruly.)

To someone with an appreciation for the complexity of human interaction, X can go up wildly, Y can drop crazily and Z going up is a good thing—because only people have the power to change X and Y in unforeseen ways.

In a larger sense, in Communism (including Socialism, which I think is pretty apparently a stepping stone), X is just a short-hand for wealth. A lot of people seem to operate under an even simpler formula:

X ÷ Z = $

Divide total wealth by the number of people and that gives you how much wealth everyone should have.

You can see the mentality, too: There’s a fixed amount of gold, therefore why shouldn’t we all share it equally? As if all the wealth in the world were just lying on the ground and—and this is not far off from what is actually said—disparity only occurs because some guys took away our wealth and made it their wealth.

Wealth is theft, in other words. Now, virtually everyone who utters this sentiment has some form of wealth. So you can safely assume that they mean your wealth is theft. They might be talking about someone else now, someone richer, but they’ll get around to you.

But let’s backtrack a bit: Is there a fixed amount of gold? (This goes back to my original X.) For that matter, is there any gold until someone pans for it/digs it up/picks it up off the ground, even? And then refines it?

Even real estate, which is considered to be fixed and finite, has to be explored, tamed or cultivated or exploited in some fashion before it becomes wealth. Finite? Even in this day of mapped out terra, there’s building up—and almost completely undone: building down, building on the sea, building under the sea, given an anti-grav tech you could build in the sky. And that’s just this planet.

Science-fiction, now, just like skyscrapers were sci-fi not too long ago.

It’s all potential wealth, just waiting for someone clever enough, industrious enough, persistent enough to exploit it. And all wealth is created and must be maintained.

But in some philosophies, wealth, once created becomes everyone’s. In practice, what happens at that point is that wealth ceases to be created. Worse, the wealth that already exists is left to rot.

This is often clucked about as selfishness and greed, which it can be. But the wild variable not considered is that wealth is also highly subjective, and any system which purports to distribute wealthy “fairly” must first evaluate that wealth. The Y in that first equation—the cost (or value) of the resource—is not uniform from person-to-person.

In other words, before you create anything in one of these “fair” systems, you have to confront the fact that an arbitrary person or bureau is going to set Y, that is, evaluate whatever it is you create.

Children are transparent when it comes to this sort of thing: If you want to kill a child’s creativity and work ethic, simply evaluate whatever they produce. Obviously, trashing someone’s output can make them stop producing, but even praise can have a deleterious effect. This is the pernicious side of testing and grading (and a mine field for parents).

Adults really are the same way. Even if you plan to give something away, creating it with the knowledge that not only will it be taken from you, but it will then be valued arbitrarily by someone who isn’t going to consume it?

That’s a joy killer. And, not coincidentally, a wealth killer.

And eventually you end up with this:

$ = 0

When Spam Is Weirdly Relevant

Got a diatribe about Catholicism in my e-mail today, which was weird because I don’t associate any e-mail in this blog. I didn’t recognize the sender, but it just seemed like it was in direct response to my Vatican post.

Then, as I scrolled, there was a graphic selling me all the usual penile things.

Which, I guess, they have a 50-50 shot at some relevance there.

And I suppose that the whole point of sending out random fragments to millions of people is that you will occasionally hit a coincidence like that. Though, you know, does someone really read about the Church and Gallileo and the Inquisition and then go, “Yeah…They make a good point, I could really use some ED meds/male enhancement pills”?