Fri, 30 Sep 2005

The Real Poverty of Understanding

Nancy Cauthen, deputy director of the National Center for Children in Poverty, has a poverty of understanding. She is so clear on this issue that she has taken to writing about it. Unfortunately, I have to wonder what would she do if there were no children in poverty? I don't mean to be excessively cynical, but I think that when people's words are directly aligned with the source of their income, a reasonable person should take them with a grain of salt. For example, she says:

But research indicates that it takes an income of anywhere between one and a half to three times the current poverty level to meet basic family needs.

And yet somehow people manage to live. What does that tell you? It suggests two things to me:

Then she asks "So what can be done?" and answers her own question with "... it's time to talk also about the obligations of government to its citizens." Ahhhhh, now we get to the prescription: more subsidies. I'm sorry, but leftist strategies are the cause of our current problems, not the solution to them. We need to be clear: government spending does not create charity; government spending *displaces* private charity. The question is not whether people will help; the question is how they will help. The decision is not between government help and no help but instead between government help and private help. Remember: a government with enough power to tax to help the poor is a government with the ability to wage a permanent floating war.

Posted [14:50] [Filed in: economics] [permalink] [Google for the title] [digg this]

Copyright Natural Law

I think that everyone is aware of the battle currently being waged over the distribution of music in digital form. This is currently being done by P2P (Peer to Peer) file sharing. People can share their digital music collection at the same time that they download other people's music files. Clearly this is a violation of copyright law.

Copyright law has two expressions, however: the state's law (the written-down law backed up by the power of the state) and the natural law (the way things work in the absence of state law). Many people don't understand natural law. They think that law can exist in only one fashion: through the action of the legislature in enacting a law, the action of the executive in enforcing the law, and the action of the judiciary in interpreting the law.

Natural law exists, however, and those who break it, do so at their own peril. For example, there are the three natural laws of thermodynamics, or the speed limit of sound in air, or light in transparent media. I hear people objecting to these as mere physical facts of the universe. And yet is not human nature not also a physical fact of the universe? The typical person wants to live and will do nearly anything short of killing themselves to do so. Thus there is a natural law against murder. People will take steps to ensure that they are not murdered, or if they are, then their murderer will be killed. State law has nothing to do with these natural laws, although it is one possible way of expressing natural laws.

State law cannot change natural laws.

The RIAA as breaking the the natural copyright law. They've managed to ensure that copyright never expires. The natural copyright law is a bargain between the publishers of copyrighted works and the recipients of copyrighted works. The publishers promise to eventually put the work into the public domain, and the recipients promise not to copy. Clearly, the RIAA has violated the law, and is suffering the consequences of doing so.

Whenever state law doesn't match natural law, you see massive disrespect for state law. Can you think of some examples of this?

Posted [11:41] [Filed in: economics] [permalink] [Google for the title] [digg this]

Thu, 29 Sep 2005

Affirmative Action must go

Affirmative action must go. It is a crutch, and any healthy person who relies on a crutch will become dependant upon it.

Posted [12:06] [Filed in: economics] [permalink] [Google for the title] [digg this]

Thu, 22 Sep 2005

Hijacking is so passe

Nobody will ever hijack an airplane again. The 9/11 hijackers ensured this by convincing EVERYONE EVERYWHERE that their life depends on mashing the hijackers into a pulp. 90 pound grannies will stab them with their knitting needles. Blind men will slash them with their canes. Children will bite their ankles. There will be so many people rending their flesh from their bones that most people won't have a chance to help.

The only current on-board threat to airplanes is explosives. Any effort to prevent hijacking is a Maginot line. Defenders of the concept of useless fortifications point out that the Maginot line succeeded. Defenders of real security point out that the enemy gets a vote, and he votes to attack you at your weakest point, not your strongest.

Posted [11:57] [Filed in: politics] [permalink] [Google for the title] [digg this]


This one is for Doc Searls. He likes taking photos from the window seat. He grew up in New York City listening to the good old AM radio stations. Turns out that their towers are over in the New Jersey meadowlands, just on the west side of the Hackensack River. You can (barely) see them in the photo below. They're in the three wetland "cells" formed by the two Conrail tracks in the foreground, the New Jersey Turnpike, and the Amtrack tracks. The right-hand border is the Belleville Turnpike. Just out of the frame to the bottom (northwest of the photo) is I95. The WAAT towers are in the near cell, probably just off the frame to the right. The WNEW towers are on the little spit of land in the middle cell. The far cell shows the WMCA towers best. In the distance you can see the Hudson River. On the Jersey side you have Hoboken, and on the New York side is Manhattan with its missing twin towers. In the Hudson is Liberty Island with the Statue of Liberty barely visible. The second photo has a better shot of the Statue of Liberty across the Passaic River in the near front, Kearny Point, the Hackensack River, Jersey City, and the Hudson.

WAAT, WNEW, and WMCA towers (Thumbnail)

Statue of Liberty (Thumbnail)

Posted [11:11] [Filed in: life] [permalink] [Google for the title] [digg this]

Tue, 20 Sep 2005

Ride starting Mon Sep 19 13:17:08 2005

14.15 km 46408.89 feet 8.79 mi 2784.00 seconds 46.40 minutes 0.77 hours 11.37 mi/hr

Rode back from Mom's Schoolhouse Diner. Heather was taking Eric to his piano lesson, so they went on to Canton, and I bicycled home.

Posted [16:39] [Filed in: bicycling] [permalink] [Google for the title] [digg this]

Sun, 11 Sep 2005

Why are there so few in office?

Why are there so few economists and libertarians in elected office?

Economics: I think that if somebody thinks they can decide things for other people, they do not understand economics. If you understand economics, then you are humble and modest. Of course, that would explain why there are so few economists in elected office. You have to have a large amount of confidence that you can help people by forcing them to do things they wouldn't otherwise do.

Libertarianism has a philosophical problem in that the better a libertarian you are, the less likely it is that you will seek to control other people. The Libertarian Party is at best an effort to do the least bad possible, and who would vote for that? You're more likely to be successful in preventing the most bad by voting for the least bad major party candidate.

Posted [17:57] [Filed in: economics] [permalink] [Google for the title] [digg this]

Sat, 10 Sep 2005


I asked a few friends why a significant number of people feel that it's not enough for your actions to help people; you have to have intended to help people. Also why some people think that actions intended to help people is sufficient regardless of whether the actions help or hurt them.

I got a reply from J.D. Von Pischke which I will explain in my own way below. Credit for the idea goes to J.D.; blame for a poor explanation of it goes to me.

There is a simple explanation for this: humans do not easily comprehend indirect effects. In Biblical times (which is to say the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim tradition), institutions were much simpler. Actions and results were linked more directly, and chains of actions were fewer. If you wanted to make yourself better off, you did more of the same thing. A carpenter would build more chairs or cabinets; a shoemaker more shoes; a baker more loaves. Indirect action was rare. If you wanted to help someone, you gave them help directly.

Slowly, over time, institutions became more sophisticated. People's interactions with each other and with groups became more complicated. If you want to help someone, you can still help them directly, but there are now groups and people whose life work is helping others. Your help is probably more effective when it is indirect: helping the helper.

Look at today's situation: you could drive down to the Gulf Coast to help people, but without good logistical support, it's quite possible that you could become a victim in need of aid yourself. This certainly happened a bit more than a hundred years ago at the Johnstown Flood, where the first people on the scene brought no food or water and needed to be fed alongside the victims later. Your aid is better done indirectly, by donating to the many groups who are helping. Are you helping? Surely. But because of the indirection, nobody is in a position to comprehend everything that's being done.

Just as aid organizations have become more sophisticated and effective, so have institutions which improve welfare and create wealth. They're harder to understand because they operate indirectly. Because of this, people look for simpler explanations. These may be based on scripture, such as the Biblical suspicion of material wealth -- a view was based on the creation and use of wealth in those simpler times. Other simple explanations have been used to obtain political power, as Marx's followers so devastatingly demonstrated in the past century.

Look at how Wal-Mart prepared for the storm. They knew from past experience that some of their stores would need extra supplies, so even before the storm hit landfall, they had many trucks loaded with relief supplies. They did this to make money, but indirectly they were helping people. They have also given millions of dollars in donations.

Today wealth is much more widely spread than in antiquity, as represented by modern liberal societies' great institutions, including education, health, commerce, justice, government, etc. These are also more difficult to explain and comprehend. A challenge for economists and many others is to sort out the dimensions of simplicity. This is an exceedingly complex task in an exceedingly complex world in which indirect leverage, i.e., complexity, has increasingly greater effects than direct action.

Posted [22:39] [Filed in: economics] [permalink] [Google for the title] [digg this]

Ride starting Fri Sep 9 15:29:07 2005

17.39 km 57053.64 feet 10.81 mi 3551.00 seconds 59.18 minutes 0.99 hours 10.95 mi/hr

A boring trip into the bank to deposit some checks and drop off a magazine article at Jimmy Sheehan's. Still, any bike riding is better than none.

Posted [21:53] [Filed in: bicycling] [permalink] [Google for the title] [digg this]

Tue, 06 Sep 2005

Like a Spitzer with his head cut off

Why is it, that the first thing a politician does when under any kind of political pressure, is to do something which is economically moronic, bereft of good sense, stupid, and out and out damfool? They're no more sensible than a chicken with its head cut off.

Consider two politicians, Elliot Spitzer, and Darryl Aubertine (who is so lame that he doesn't even have a website). Elliot Spitzer proposes to thwart the free market's efforts to conserve precious gasoline. He proposes to deal sharply with people gouging drivers by charging high gas prices. He must have been studying the gasoline supply chain in his copious spare time, because he has suddenly become an expert on gasoline pricing. At least, he proposes to be able to distinguish "who is price gouging and who is raising prices to survive."

Sorry, Elliot, but you're not that smart. I'm not that smart either. No one person is that smart. It takes a village to set the price of gasoline properly. Only by individuals deciding how badly they need gasoline can markets properly adjust the price of gasoline to match the supply of gasoline. If the price goes way up, then that is what the individuals have decided should happen. If gasoline retailers, distributors, refiners, see that there is lots of money to be made by coming up with more gasoline, then that is what they will do.

Now on to ream Darryl a new one for suggesting in the 8/28 Advance*News that New York State should lower the its gas tax. Hey, Darryl, remember studying economics in college (assuming that you did, which is probably a stretch, but if you didn't, how is it that you get to interfere in the economy when you don't understand anything about economics)? Remember the law of supply and demand? If the demand is higher than the supply, the price goes up. If the demand is lower than the supply, the price goes down. Pretty simple, eh? So where do taxes come into this? If the supply shrinks because of a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico, and demand doesn't shrink, the price will go up. Why do you think that, by lowering the New York State gas tax, either the supply will go up or the demand will go down?

Darryl, you don't have a magic wand. Lowering the NYS gas tax will only result in an unfair windfall to the gasoline retailers, distributors and refiners. Don't fiddle with things you don't understand.

Political control and free market control are inevitably at odds with each other. John Trever, Albequerque Journal, makes this obvious in this cartoon:

Posted [21:37] [Filed in: economics] [permalink] [Google for the title] [Tags ] [digg this]

Ride starting Tue Sep 6 10:52:30 2005

20.87 km 68473.57 feet 12.97 mi 5949.00 seconds 99.15 minutes 1.65 hours 7.85 mi/hr

Running errands. Dropped a Rutland Trail poster off at The Treadmill. Dropped off some WISAN modules at Clarkson. Stopped by COSI's lab to offer to give a talk on open source licensing.

Posted [13:56] [Filed in: bicycling] [permalink] [Google for the title] [Tags , , ] [digg this]

Mon, 05 Sep 2005

Ride starting Mon Sep 5 13:58:11 2005

47.99 km 157436.24 feet 29.82 mi 14792.00 seconds 246.53 minutes 4.11 hours 7.26 mi/hr

Rode most of the Rutland Trail today. If I had started in Norwood, it would have been the entire trail. There's a couple of detours off the railbed; one in Winthrop where the bridge is out and another in North Lawrence, again where the bridge is out. The trail actually extends beyond Moira by almost two miles. Beyond that, somebody used the trail as their driveway and the other end of that .58 mile section ends in another bridge that's out. Then in Brushton you have a section of the trail in the village that is basically in people's back yards, then another section behind some businesses, then another section leading up to a missing bridge, and finally the last quarter-mile section on the way out of the village has been built upon. So Brushton is a black hole as far as the Rutland Trail is concerned.

So today is our 24th wedding anniversary. Took Heather out to dinner Saturday, and out for ice cream today. She was really sweet, and drove out to Moira to pick me up after my ride. I had never ridden so much of the Rutland in one day as today. Excellent ride!

Posted [20:23] [Filed in: bicycling] [permalink] [Google for the title] [Tags , , ] [digg this]

Baby Owen

Baby Owen farted in Quaker meeting today. That would be otherwise unremarkable given that he's 8 weeks old. But the event was commemorated by a leading thanking God for sending Jesus to grow up as a human, with all the high points and low humor that entails.

Posted [01:57] [Filed in: life] [permalink] [Google for the title] [digg this]

Sat, 03 Sep 2005

155 and One Reasons

155 and one reasons why the government should stay out of disaster recovery. Update 9/4: Donald Boudreaux agrees

Posted [21:24] [Filed in: economics] [permalink] [Google for the title] [digg this]

Fri, 02 Sep 2005

Ride starting Fri Sep 2 18:45:31 2005

18.68 km 61302.24 feet 11.61 mi 4710.00 seconds 78.50 minutes 1.31 hours 8.87 mi/hr

Wow. Almost rode in a perfect square tonight. Or, at least as perfect a square as one CAN ride here in the North Country of New York where the roads are aligned with whatever pattern of dirt the glaciers decided to leave lying around. Cleaned up some Hurricane Katarina debris off the Rutland Trail. Met a father and son riding ATVs east as I was riding west. Told them about the RTP grant that the Rutland Trail received, and about the website.

There is a tree down on the trail, mostly blocking it. Too big to move, needs chainsawing. I put an X on the map at the location of the tree, slightly east of North Stockholm. UPDATE 9/3: chainsawed the tree out of the way.

Posted [20:37] [Filed in: bicycling] [permalink] [Google for the title] [Tags , , ] [digg this]

Ride starting Thu Sep 1 15:47:07 2005

18.01 km 59074.83 feet 11.19 mi 5616.00 seconds 93.60 minutes 1.56 hours 7.17 mi/hr

Biked into town (Thumbnail) to run errands. Had to Express Mail (Thumbnail) off an NDA (Thumbnail) to Broadcom (Thumbnail) . They want a packet driver (Thumbnail) , undoubtedly for a customer making a cash register for McDonald's (Thumbnail) . Also mailed off a T-shirt (Thumbnail) to Colin Viebrock (Thumbnail) , who devised the OSI logo (Thumbnail) in the first place. Then on to Potsdam State
(Thumbnail) to drop off a contract they'd mistakenly mailed to us in Heather (Thumbnail) 's Beginning Knitting packet. Then on to the bank (Thumbnail) to get money (Thumbnail) after going bankrupt at State Fair (Thumbnail) . And finally on to Jimmy Sheehan's (Thumbnail) to pay the monthly rent on the wireless base
station (Thumbnail) .

Posted [17:43] [Filed in: bicycling] [permalink] [Google for the title] [digg this]

Bush's Katarina speech if he were truly a Republican

If George Bush were truly a Republican, here's the speech he would give:

My heart goes out to all Americans who have suffered, who are suffering, and who will suffer from the continued effects of hurricane Katarina. Their suffering has just started, as many of them have no homes to return to, no employment, and little hope.

Many American are looking to the Federal Government to help with Katarina relief. They're looking in the wrong place. In any disaster, information is scarce and needs are scattered. In all humility, we in the Federal Government simply don't know, and can't know whose needs are highest. The people who will provide the soonest help, the most help, and the best help are you, the American People. Many voluntary agencies have already mobilized to help the katarina victims, well in advance of the donations needed to pay for the mobilization.

Y'know folks, the people of the Gulf Coast need my salary more than I do. Everybody knows that I'm well off. I appreciate the salary that comes with the office of President, but I'm going to donate September's salary to my church, to the Red Cross, and to the Salvation Army. I encourage every other elected leader to lead in the most tangible manner possible: with their wallet.

For those of you who pray, pray for the people of the Gulf Coast. For those of you who do not, keep your thoughts close to the victims. They'll need your good thoughts. Thank you.

Posted [10:48] [Filed in: politics] [permalink] [Google for the title] [digg this]