Archive for the 'economics' Category

iPhone Agorism

May 21, 2009

It’s hard to be part of the counter-economy.

Most people want to be free of the clutches of the state and the manipulation by their corporate benefactors and lackeys. Agorism and counter-economics is, theoretically, a perfect way to starve the state and ignore the corporations, to “grow a new society within the shell of the old” as Kevin Carson is wont to say.

Of course what works in theory is harder  to do in practice.   Often, for most people, counter-economics brings up visions of “black markets” where nefarious people buy drugs and guns, indulge in hookers or take giant, risky leaps of faith like refusing to pay their taxes. For most it is a scary, dangerous leap that prevents most people from engaging in counter-economics who would like to.

But what if there was a small step, a small almost unnoticed action one could take that would start the journey? What if there was a way to join a counter-economy while still maintaining a facade, at least, of being a “law abiding citizen” and still participating in the regular economy on occasion?

There is.  If you own an  iPhone, jailbreak it and join in the growing market in applications for jailbroken phones.

Jailbreaking is easy and safe (and reversible) and opens up whole new worlds and capabilities for your phone. What it really does, however, if free you. YOU actually “own” your phone. No more restrictions on software and use implemented by Apple in order for them to enforce their monopoly on where these phones are used or from whom you can get applications. You also get capabilities (already built into the phone but turned off by Apple) such as a full bluetooth stack or full motion video and sound.

The iPhone is actually a high end 400 Meg desktop computer from 1999, but with modern graphics and 3D acceleration, an always on modern, high-speed network and a large hard drive. And it fits in you pocket and can make phone calls. But Apple won’t let you harness the full potential of this. Even after selling it to you, they seem to think its still “their” phone. Anything you can run on Unix, BSD or Linux can be run on an iPhone.

For the consumer, there is a wider selection of applications, both free and comercial covering a wider range of functions. Admittedly some are of a lower quality than the official App Store (Cycorder mentioned above has a pretty bad UI) but some simply blow away anything the App Store can offer. The consumer can still buy from the App Store, but now has alternatives and can can choose to purchase apps with capabilities not allowed by official Apple App store applications – record calls, scramble voices, games etc. And as more people use these alternate sources, the better the quality will be, from competition and the action of a truly free market.

For the developer and entreprenuer, applications for jailbroken phones opens avenues for better, more productive offerings (because Apple’s restrictions are gone) but also opens avenues for more revenue. As a legitimate Apple iPhone Developer, I can testify to the high barrier to entry of Apple’s process – it took months to get my acceptance to the program (while larger companies took days), still cost $99 USD, had a complex system for phone provisioning, and requires numerous, onerous tax forms to be filled out before they will accept applications to the App Store. They are know to reject apps for vague or no reasons and not provide pointers for developers to make the changes needed. Once in the store, Apple gets a 30% cut. This makes getting updates and add-ons out to clients very difficult and slow (though, to be fair, rumour has it this might be changing in iPhone 3.0).  The jailbroken app market is wide open. For the cost of creating a repository and maintaining it on a web host, a developer and entrepreneur can be to market almost imidieately and push out updated, changes and add-ons just as fast. One can give away or sell their applications and use a variety of payment methods not available in the App Store. And none of it need be reported.

It is a near perfect market and a real world demonstration of agorist principles that is easy to do and available to anyone of the 10 million+  iPhone users in the world.  Really own your phone, put on it what  you want, buy from where you want, earn money from your efforts without being forced to give up a cut or to pay the taxes against your will. For most people this could be the first, and easiest step into the counter-economy and truly the first step into “jailbreaking” their lives.

Jailbreak your iPhone and gain your freedom.

(or use an Android based G-phone and get all this without jaoilbreaking…;-) )

Update: Learning to proof read…thanks Mike

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Alex Jones is not our ally and not our friend

April 26, 2009

The old saying goes “you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.”

Its a pretty straightforward admonition to be careful with whom you associate, lest you be tarred by their behaviour and judged by your association with them. It is for this reason I want to appeal to those of us in the libertarian movement – left or right, miniarchist or anarchist – to studiously and strictly avoid associating with Alex Jones.

Jones is, to put it bluntly, a paranoid conspiracy theorist whose grasp on reality surely needs to be questioned.  He has in the past attempted to rebuild the Branch Davidian compound, to infiltrate the Bilderberger Group and Bohemian Grove.  Lately he is the loudest purveyor of New World Order idiocy and 9-11 Truth.

His latest pronouncement was that the swine flu outbreak in Mexico “was cooked up in a lab”, created by the government as a weapon. Of course, as Brad Spangler points out, if you know even a minimal amount about virology and how labs search for virii, then the pronouncements are not nefarious at all. They merely tell us matter of factly how a lab determines what strain of influenza we are dealing with. It is the same process that has been used to determine every new flu strain for the last 50 years.

This incident show just how deluded and paranoid Jones is. And clearly how stupid.

And yet, I see that people like Ron Paul, Peter Schiff and Judge Napolitano are regulars on his radio show. These respected libertarians even glad hand with Jones. And when those of us who are trying to use logic and reason to advocate for libertarianism and market anarchy try to present the excellent arguments of these men, we have to try to explain away why they associate with a madman like Jones.

I understand, strategically, that his radio show reaches a large number of people. But is it worth it? Does libertarianism really need the kind of “help” that people who believe Jones’ paranoid delusions would offer? Ask Sheldon Richman how productive his appearance on the Glenn Beck show went (a show only slightly less paranoid than Jones’ but paranoid nonetheless).

Jones, Beck and others like them are not libertarians. They do not have our interests at heart. They wish only to use our anti-government message to further their ends. That could be money-making self-promotion (as is likely the case with Beck) or it could be pure paranoid conspiracy nonsense (as is exactly the case with Jones).

I am an anarchist, a libertarian, an Austrian economics follower and a devout skeptic dedicated to reason and evidence. It was this devotion to reason and evidence that lead me to become a libertarian in the first place. Why then would I condone appealing to conspiracy nuts with no critical thinking faculties in order to promote libertarianism?

I am asking that folks like Peter Schiff, Ron Paul, Judge Napolitano and others avoid giving credibility to people like Alex Jones at the cost of their own.  I am asking that they actually be more critical of these people and to actively call them on their nonsense.

As long as the genral public think we are finge and fanatics like Jones, they will never consider out message in any serious way. And they will think we are fringe so long as we keep associating with them.

Don’t lay down with those dogs.

How the Vulgar Libertarians work against Liberty

April 14, 2009

While listening to Wes Bertrand’s latest Complete Liberty Podcast, I heard about a disturbing Rasmussen poll in the US that stated only 53% of American’s think capitalism is better than socialism.

So, despite the horrors of the Soviet Union, Cambodia, the East Bloc even current Communist China, and the abject failure of domestic socialist policies, the poll says that 20% of Americans think Socialism is better than capitalism and 27% don’t know which was better. That’s 47% of Americans who don’t like capitalism.  The numbers for those under 30 are more shocking: only 37% prefer capitalism, with 33% preferring socialism and a full 30% unsure either way.

Where do these ideas come from? The pat answers, of course, are the “government school system” or “brainwashing” or “ignorance” and all kinds of other common libertarian shibboleths.  The truth is that the blame can be laid at the feet of the very people who have for years claimed to be the defenders of “capitalism” – the vulgar libertarians who try to use the language of capitalism and free markets in order to apologize for and promote the current state-capitalist, economic fascist system.

The poll report itself confirms this, based on a previous poll in which a healthy 70% of repsondents supported the free market.

“The fact that a “free-market economy” attracts substantially more support than “capitalism” may suggest some skepticism about whether capitalism in the United States today relies on free markets.”[emphasis mine]

So, needless to say, when American Republicans and Canadian Conservatives call our current system of state interference in the market with regulations, tariffs and cartels created to benefit their favoured corporate donors and then call it “capitalism”, it is no wonder people don’t think capitalism works. Given the Enron’s, Tycos and Lehman Brothers of the world or the various Savings and Loan, tech-bubble or current government bailout schemes, it is then hardly surprising. If that is capitalism, then they are right.

Of course, that isn’t capitalism, but mercantilism or fascism. But because the vulgar libertarians call it “capitalism”, those common sense folks who see clearly that it doesn’t work, that it isn’t fair or that it is incredibly exploitative are driven into the arms of real socialists and fascist who have no qualms about using the state openly to achieve their ends. Their purposeful conflation of our current system with “capitalism” blinds people who clearly would prefer a “free market” to the real libertarian message of non-aggression and voluntary association.

In short, the vulgar libertarians in the Conservative and Republican parties are the useful idiots of the socialist and statist they claim to deplore. It shows in the nonsense of the teabaggers, who not only don’t have a clue what “teabagging”  is, they cause legitimate criticism of the Federal Reserve system to be associated with insane conspiracy theories about FEMA camps, 9-11 Truthers and thus completely ignored and discredited. I cannot image a better and more effective way to fight against libertarian ideals than to associate with the likes of Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh or most of the Republican Party/Fox News crew who are promoting this. If I were a statist, this would be a perfect “Goldstien’s Book” approach to destroy and marginalize libertarianism.

The only bright spot is that most Americans still believe in the free market and do seem to be able to differentiate between the free market and capitalism, when it is put to them right. This is a glimmer of hope for real libertarian efforts.

But make no mistake, Republicans who talk about free markets, but then turn around and vote for earmarks or bailouts or deficits for war are not our allies. They use our language to work against our ends in an insidious fashion.  They are against our goals as surely as social democrats, socialists or communists are.  At least the social democrats, socialists or communists are honest and up front about their position.

The Problem with Canadian Healthcare

March 13, 2009

Its not what you think, at least not from a libertarian perspective.

The biggest problem with Canadian style universal health care is that, for most people, most of the time, it works well enough. Yes, that’s right, it actually works.

But that never stops some well-meaning people from misrepresenting the Canadian system for their own ends.

For my American friends (and possibly for some Canadians as well) let me do a quick primer on what our system actually is.

The main reason that our system works as well as it does is that, despite cries of it being a “Soviet style socialized medicine”, the Canadian system is actually a hybrid system, with private, for profit delivery and public, monopoly insurance for core care. That is, doctors, diagnostics, clinics, some hospitals and insurance for things not covered by the provincial insurance plans, are all private business, usually operating for profit, based on the number of patients and obtaining fees by billing the patients insurance. The difference is, there is only one insurance company – the state.

The state, either at the provincial or municipal levels, runs hospitals and can keep some costs down because they can buy, for instance, aspirin or antibiotics or bandages or wooden crutches in bulk from private suppliers.

In short, there is just enough private and market forces at play within the system so that it works pretty well. As a Canadian who has been in the system for his entire life, let me assure American libertarians that, much to their chagrin, we get high quality care, for the most part.

Emergency rooms still see people based on priority and waits for this kind of service are not outrageous.

The quality of treatment is exceptional.

The problem is, there is also just enough state interference and manipulation of market forces to be causing the system to be unsustainable and to deteriorate.  We now hove long wait times for necessary but elective surgeries like hip and joint replacements. We have to wait months to see specialists or to get the latest in high-tech tests. People cannot even find a family doctor in Ontario anymore. And the conditions of our hospitals are worsening.

A large part of this is due to a government doctor cartel. Anyone over 30 will tell you that in the 70’s and 80’s, we did not have these problems. But around 1990, after the infamous Barer–Stoddart report, provincial governments and various provincial and national medical associations conspired to keep the numbers of doctors practicing low, so that each individual doctor (and by extension the Canadian Medical Association, the CMA, which is essentially a doctor’s union) can earn more money.

The report stated that there was a glut of doctors and that somehow this was going to cost the system millions. So provincial government, with the blessing of the medical associations, reduced the number of places in our medical schools and placed incredibly high barriers to entry for foreign trained doctors.  As a direct result of this blatant interference by the state into the market for doctors (and applauded by the medical profession itself at the time) we went from having low wait times for treatment, and the ability to change doctors at will in the 80’s and early 90’s to what we have now – long wait times, and no choice in who your doctor is. Meaning today you cannot leave an incompetent doctor because there are no doctors accepting patients.

Provincial health regulations also require a doctor for even the most basic medical requests – a refill of a prescription, to tell you the results of a test etc. Often these require a visit to the doctor’s office, resulting in a bill to the provincial insurance plan, even if the visit lasted 5 minutes. The reduced number of doctors becomes the bottleneck in the system.

Diagnostic clinics can open, but are not allowed to “extra bill” clients for services  and may only bill the province for service. Based on a fee structure negotiated with the province ever few years. Meaning that if a new piece of equipment comes on the market, they cannot charge what the market would bear, but what the state says. And in the end, they simply don’t buy the equipment, or find it economically viable only to run the equipment during certain hours.

In the end, thanks to this interference in the market, at the behest of doctors in order to maintain their privileged positions, we get wait times and poor client service (though the quality of treatment is still high when we finally get it).

So, although Canada’s system is not the much ballyhooed “soviet bread line medicine” it has been made out to be, its ever growing issues are still the result of interference and manipulation of the market by the state. Indeed, it is a microcosm of our entire Western, state-capitalist system – it works “just good enough” to keep most people happy and thinking that it works.  Most people miss how the very serious and growing issues are caused by the state and those they serve and favour.

That is the most nefarious part of it. It is difficult to convince people that freeing it totally from the state would make it better, when they seem to believe that more government will make it better. Trying to convince people of that is immensely harder when those who could and should be allies completely miss-charaterize how the system works. It displays an ignorance that turns people away from our message of freedom, rather than too it.

Its about being truthful and having integrity.

Two years ago I wrote a post discussing some of these issue and demonstrating how the goal of universal health care could be obtained without the state. It seems like a good time to bring it up again.

I am perfectly able to advocate for free market healthcare while recognizing both the strength and weaknesses of the Canadian system. I hope that others can now do the same.

Corporate Extortion

March 12, 2009

Well, they aren’t even trying to hide it any more.

Up here in Canada, Chrysler LLC sat in a parliamentary committee hearing and threatened to pull out of Canada completely unless it got “$2.3-billion (U.S.) in loans [from the government] and its Canadian union agrees to slash labour costs by 25 per cent.”

Luckily, most of the 799 (at the time of writing) comments at the Report On Business have the absolute correct response – go ahead, leave.  We don’t like your shitty cars anyway.

It seems our “conservative” government is only too willing to give them money though – our Finance Minister is from Oshawa Ontario, where a huge GM plant provides most of the jobs.

Enough of this blatant corporate extortion and vote-byuying corporate welfare. Let Chrysler go out of business. Let GM and Ford follow them. Let Schumpeter’s “creative destruction”  do its good work, so something better can come along and replace these behemoths.

I don’t know how many people will be buying Chrysler after this stunt anyway.

A word to my American friends – we are the canary in the coal mine. Expect similar threats and dire posturing in Michigan, Indiana and Ohio.

Of course, maybe this is what they mean by “Going Galt”…

Anti-Stimulus Trifecta

February 8, 2009

Its no secret that I think that all of the various economic stimulus plans are simply a bad idea. None will work, and in my opinion will make any recession or depression longer and deeper, not shorter.

Over at the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), they have 3 excellent pieces that do an excellent job at refuting the “Stimulus Madness!” that has gripped governments not only on both sides of the border, but around the world:

1. My friend Sheldon Richman’s The Goal is Freedom: Smoot and Hawley Return shows how the infamous “Buy American” portion of the package is merely a repeat of Herbert Hoover’s ill-fated Smoot-Hawley Tariff, widely accepted as one of the causes of the speed and depth of the great depression.

“When laws prohibit or limit the purchase imports, foreigners have fewer dollars and therefore fewer opportunities to buy American exports or to invest. The Americans who would have benefitted from those transactions lose out. So while protectionism is defended as a way to help the American economy (at the expense of foreigners), in fact it is special-interest legislation that helps only a small well-defined interest group at the expense of many other Americans. If people generally understood this, they would not fall for protectionist appeals.”

Its odd that for all the daily comparisons to the depression we are seeing, no one seems to have noticed that the US Congress and President Obama are acting more like Hoover than FDR (not that acting like FDR would be much better).

2. William Anderson questions the very idea of government spending – especially bailing out failing companies and industries – to create jobs in his Not So Fast!: The Fallacy of Production for its Own Sake:

“…jobs simply are a means to the end of consumption; they are not ends in themselves. People become confused because they fail to recognize the connection between production and consumption. Yes, jobs produce income for individuals, but they can provide real income only if the job contributes to the production of goods people are willing to purchase.”

So simple an idea, yet something that few people get.

3. And to shore it all up, FEE links to an article first published in 1957 (warning: PDF), an excerpt from economist Frederic Bastiat’s classic 1850 Pamphlet That which is seen and that which is not seen.

“From all the benefits attributed to public spending we must deduct all the harm caused by preventing private spending—at least if we are not to go so far as to say that James Goodfellow would have done nothing with the five-franc pieces he had fairly earned and that the tax took away from him; an absurd assertion, for if he went to the trouble of earning them, it was because he hoped to have the satisfaction of using them. He would have had his garden fenced and can no longer do so; this is what is not seen. He would have had his field marled and can no longer do so: this is what is not seen. He would have added to his tools and can no longer do so: this is what is not seen. He would be better fed, better clothed; he would have had his sons better educated; he would have increased the dowry of his daughter, and he can no longer do so: this is what is not seen. He would have joined a mutual-aid society and can no longer do so: this is what is not seen. On the one hand, the satisfactions that have been taken away from him and the means of action that have been destroyed in his hands; on the other hand, the work of the ditchdigger, the carpenter, the blacksmith, the tailor, and the schoolmaster of his village which he would have encouraged and which is now nonexistent: this is still what is not seen.”

I’m quite sure my stance will not make me popular with my progressive friends, but I cannot support an orgy of spending, a return to long, deep deficits – no matter how well intentioned – when the effect will be the opposite of what is wanted. Sometimes, perhaps, we should rely on sound economics rather than wishful thinking to help people.

Right now, the road to economic hell is being paved with gold by the very governments trying not to.

Cross-posted at Rational Reasons.

Evolution and Economics

January 15, 2008

Dr. Michael Shermer, of the Skeptics Society, has a fascinating article at Scientific American entitled ‘Evonomics‘. He postulates that evolution and economics are both part and parcel of the same phenomenon – complex adaptive systems.

In biological evolution, nature selects from the variation produced by random genetic mutations and the mixing of parental genes. Out of that process of cumulative selection emerges complexity and diversity. In economic evolution, our material economy proceeds through the production and selection of numerous permutations of countless products.

Quoting both Mises (“Socialism”) and Basitat, Shermer shows that top-down government “design” of the economy is a ludicrous as “design” in evolution.

As with living organisms and ecosystems, the economy looks designed—so just as humans naturally deduce the existence of a top-down intelligent designer, humans also (understandably) infer that a top-down government designer is needed in nearly every aspect of the economy. But just as living organisms are shaped from the bottom up by natural selection, the economy is molded from the bottom up by the invisible hand.  [emphasis mine]

He still thinks (sadly) some interference is necessary to ensure “free and fair trade”, but he is, at least headed in the right direction.

But what this really points to is yet another example of hypocrisy that seems to plague both the ‘left’ and the ‘right’, both so-called liberals and conservatives. Each has their own cognitive dissonance here. The conservative right, staunchly defends the idea (for the most part) that the economy is molded “from the bottom up by the invisible hand” of the market, while denying the identical process that occurs in biology.  Of course, the liberal left seems to have the opposite problem – while rightly defending the process of evolution and natural selection, they fail to see this exact same process in the field of economics and claim that the government is needed to manage the market.

One cannot support true free market economics and deny evolution nor can one deny the power of the true free market while vehemently supporting evolution.  Interference in the market causes unexpected distortions and unintended consequences just as interfering with evolution does.