Friday, May 24, 2013
The fundamental force that enables both protection rackets and governments to impose their will is violence. The German philosopher Max Weber "defined the state as an entity which successfully claims a 'monopoly on the legitimate use of violence.'" The main difference between government and organized crime in that definition is the word "legitimate," and the degree of legitimacy depends on the degree to which the citizens "voluntarily" comply with government legislation, where "voluntarily" means they would comply even if there were no penalties for not doing so.
In order for a government to be violent, it has to have the will to be violent, which in turn means that its capacity for violence needs to be fulfilled by people willing to order and commit violent acts. The more "well regulated" an economy and the less "voluntary" the compliance of the citizens, subjects, or serfs, the greater the capacity for government violence is required.
One of the most "well regulated" economies the world has ever seen was the Soviet Union. Not surprisingly, one of the most totalitarian, ruthless, and violent governments the world has ever seen was also the Soviet Union during the same time period.
Stalin pulls all of the concepts above into one nasty package. Before he was chief thug of the Soviet Union and responsible for the deaths of at least 20 million people, he was the chief thug of an organized crime group. Via Stephen Hicks, we have the fascinating story of a major bank robbery orchestrated by Stalin:
[O]ne of its most swashbuckling leaders, Josef Djugashvili - better known as Stalin - was about to pull off a dazzling heist. [...]
The carriages were transporting an enormous sum of money - as much as one million roubles (£7 million) - to the new State Bank. [...]
Stalin knew it would require great daring to pull of such a coup. He also knew he’d need a dependable gang of fellow criminals to help. These were easy to find in Tiflis: Stalin had already been involved in previous robberies and had a trusty band of individuals who could be relied upon.
The robbery was meticulously planned. [...]
The carriages swung into the square exactly as expected. One of the gangsters slowly lowered his rolled newspaper, the signal for the attack to begin. Seconds later, there was a blinding flash and deafening roar as Stalin’s band hurled their hand grenades towards the horses.
The unfortunate animals were torn to pieces. So, too, were the policeman and soldiers. In a matter of seconds, the peaceful square was turned into a scene of carnage. The cobbles were splattered with blood, entrails and human limbs.
As the gangsters ran towards the carriages, one of the horses - maimed but not killed - reared up and began dragging the money-bearing cavalcade across the square. He picked up speed and there was a real danger he would get away.
One of Stalin's men chased after the horse and frantically hurled another grenade under its belly. It exploded beneath the animal, with devastating effect. The horse was blown apart and the carriages were brought to a definitive halt.
Before anyone in the square could make sense of what was happening, Stalin’s most faithful accomplice - a bandit named Captain Kamo - rode into the square. The gangsters hurled the banknotes into his carriage and then Kamo rode off at high speed.
The carnage caused by the attack was spectacular. Some 40 people were killed by the grenades and gunfire and a further 50 wounded. Amazingly, none of the gangsters was killed.
Lives and pain clearly meant nothing to Stalin. With the bank robbery he proved beyond a shadow of doubt that he had both the ruthlessness and capacity for violence for both organized crime and government.
And with that capacity for violence we can see where the "well regulated" economy begins.
Monday, May 13, 2013
While that lecture was a bit extreme, that pretty much was and still is the narrative of drugs: drugs are extremely addictive and damaging, should be avoided at all costs, and justify the huge costs of the so-called "War on Drugs" which is, of course, really a war on people.
I'm going to explain why I'm extremely skeptical of this narrative. Let's start with heroin, the bogeyman of drugs. Heroin is not quite as debilitating as you might think. It has adverse effects, for sure, but "like most opioids, unadulterated heroin does not cause many long-term complications other than dependence and constipation." The constipation can be overcome by increasing consumption of leafy greens and other fruits and vegetables. Addiction (dependence) is an actual problem because it's illegal and expensive, but a perceived problem primarily because it makes us uncomfortable to think that someone might be addicted to something. If heroin were legal and reasonably inexpensive, then a user who took heroin nightly in moderate doses, even if addicted, would be little different than a drinker who has a couple of glasses of wine nightly, addicted or not.
It's impossible to really know what addiction rates are, especially for a drug that's illegal since that makes studying it somewhat difficult. However, there are some statistics available. For example, from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (whose charter is to reduce substance abuse), as of 2010 (latest available year) an estimated 4.1 million people in the United States have used heroin sometime in their life, yet only 618,000 used heroin in the last year and only 240,000 used heroin in the last month. Even if every last one of the 240,000 users last month is addicted, that's only a 5.8% addiction rate when compared to lifetime use. Compare this to marijuana (a drug considered to be much less addictive) where over 16% of those who have ever used it also used it in the last month. While these numbers don't tell us anything terribly concrete, it's hard to reconcile them with the narrative of immediate and permanent addiction.
As Nobel Prize winning economist Gary Becker points out:
The likelihood of becoming and remaining addicted to drugs or other goods is not determined only by personal biological and psychological propensities to become addicted. For example, many individuals end their addictions to smoking and drinking alcohol when they get married, find good jobs, or mature.This is also difficult to reconcile with immediate and permanent addiction.
At least some experts believe that "Alcohol More Harmful Than Crack or Heroin", with an overall harm index of 72 for alcohol, 55 for heroin, 20 for marijuana, and at the bottom end, a mere 5 for mushrooms.
The lead researcher for this study was David Nutt. Unfortunately for Dr. Nutt, who was the chairman of the British Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) at the time of publication, the need for the evil drug narrative is so strong that he was summarily sacked for presenting this information. His dismissal lead to several resignations from other researchers in protest. As a society, we're clearly not ready to face the facts and strive to cling to The Narrative.
I've seen addiction up close because my father was a severe alcoholic who turned his back on his job, friends, and family and lived for years as a homeless drunk. He wasn't alone: "In the United States and Western Europe, 10 to 20 percent of men and 5 to 10 percent of women at some point in their lives will meet criteria for alcoholism." Note those are percentages of ALL adults, not just those who drink.
While the addiction rates for narcotics are probably somewhat higher than those for alcohol users, alcohol is a good representative for addictive drugs, especially since we all have experience with ingesting it and observing others who drink. The spectrum for all drugs ranges from using the drug with no significant negative effects to having a devastating impact on quality and quantity of life with a distribution of these effects being similar to that for alcohol. Alcohol is bad enough, but the others are no worse (per Nutt's research). If fact, alcohol is the only drug (other than things like blood pressure medication) for which, when severely addicted, withdrawal can kill you.
To summarize so far, there is no drug that is immediately and universally addictive. With the possible exception of alcohol, all non-medicinal dependencies can be beat, and indeed, most people do manage and eventually escape addictions to illegal drugs.
On the other hand, the majority of people are addicted to something. Even ignoring food addiction (when it causes obesity, sometimes severe and even life-threatening), there are all kinds of medicines that keep users alive (for blood pressure, asthma, angina, etc.), there's caffeine (coffee, tea, and don't forget chocolate), there's alcohol and tobacco; and all sorts of other obsessions (video games, porn, sports, etc.) to which people are addicted. Many of these addictions are beneficial or even life-sustaining. Others may be detrimental, but it's not the addiction, it's the activity itself that's detrimental.
Even for potentially detrimental things, it's very hard to measure. For example, smoking an occasional cigar statistically reduces life expectancy which is generally considered detrimental, but if it brings enough pleasure and enjoyment to the smoker, is it really detrimental overall?
The bottom line is that fear of addictive substances is terribly overwrought and has lead to bad policies that have damaged tens of millions of lives and prevented the use of substances that may enhance quality of life overall.
Thursday, May 09, 2013
"Of course, if you do 12 exercises for 30 seconds each, with 10 seconds in between as recommended, that’s eight minutes, not seven. But they’re mostly English majors at the NYT."
The real answer is 7 minutes 50 seconds since there are 12 exercises but only 11 "in betweens", but Instapundit is only a lawyer, so you can't really expect arithmetic accuracy from him either.
Update: I sent an email pointing out the error to Instapundit and he responded: "I always start with a ten second rest period." No smiley face emoticon or anything - sounds like a damn lawyer, doesn't it? :-)
Several excerpts from a recent New Yorker article by James Surowiecki give an indication. First, there's "Greece, where tax evasion is a national sport and the shadow economy accounts for twenty-seven per cent of G.D.P." In other words, Greece is more than one-quarter of the way to operating outside the well-regulated economy.
Surowiecki notes that the U.S. is headed in the direction as well:
"When we all finished filing our tax returns last week, there was a little something missing: two trillion dollars. That’s how much money Americans may have made in the past year that didn’t get reported to the I.R.S., according to a recent study by the economist Edgar Feige, who’s been investigating the so-called underground, or gray, economy for thirty-five years. It’s a huge number: if the government managed to collect taxes on all that income, the deficit would be trivial. This unreported income is being earned, for the most part, not by drug dealers or Mob bosses but by tens of millions of people with run-of-the-mill jobs—nannies, barbers, Web-site designers, and construction workers—who are getting paid off the books. Ordinary Americans have gone underground, and, as the recovery continues to limp along, they seem to be doing it more and more."There are many factors pushing in that direction.
But the forces pushing people to work off the books are powerful. Feige points to the growing distrust of government as one important factor. The desire to avoid licensing regulations, which force people to jump through elaborate hoops just to get a job, is another. Most important, perhaps, are changes in the way we work. As Baumohl put it, “For businesses, the calculus of hiring has fundamentally changed.” Companies have got used to bringing people on as needed and then dropping them when the job is over, and they save on benefits and payroll taxes by treating even full-time employees as independent contractors. Casual employment often becomes under-the-table work; the arrangement has become a way of life in the construction industry. In a recent California survey of three hundred thousand contractors, two-thirds said they had no direct employees, meaning that they did not need to pay workers’-compensation insurance or payroll taxes. In other words, for lots of people off-the-books work is the only job available.Most, if not all of those factors, are strongly related to the desire to avoid being well-regulated.
Increasingly onerous regulations can be followed by either draconian enforcement which strongly discourages private business formation leading to requiring massive government intervention in the economy ultimately leading to the situation where people pretend to work and the government pretends to pay them (per the old saying about the Soviet Union), or continuing lax enforcement, where the regulations are ignored and are therefore pointless and counterproductive (like in Greece).
A well-regulated economy is a shrinking and/or non-existent economy that exists mostly in the minds of collectivists.
Tuesday, May 07, 2013
I had written early at my surprise at seeing my CD available on eBay. In searching for the above picture (I think I've lost the original "art"), I found that it's also available on Amazon and a slew of other sellers. I wonder if anyone has actually sold one? Should I write myself a fantastic review? Or a scathing one?
My other album, which I consider to be a lot better, is still only available at last.fm (right where I left it). I'm guessing that the Let's Party title is more catchy which is why it has shown up other places, though it may just be that the overlap of what I think is good and what other people like might be very small.
Monday, May 06, 2013
I'm joking, of course.
However, there are striking parallels with a recent brouhaha involving a paper by Reinhart and Rogoff which correlated government debt levels with poor economic growth. In particular, they found that growth cratered as debt approached and exceeded 90% of GDP. The cratering turned out to be wrong (as noted by Herndon, Ash, and Pollin), but not the direction of correlation. According to Keynesians, the paper was allegedly used as an excuse to limit government borrowing in both the United States and Europe and prolonged the recession as a result.
However, just as high tides don't cause werewolf activity, high government debt in a government's own fiat currency does not directly cause poor economic growth. Just as high tides and werewolves are caused by the full moon, large deficits (and the resulting debt) and poor economic conditions are symptoms of the same underlying causes. In either case the observable symptoms have very limited direct effect on each other.
If you have no idea what I'm talking about (I readily admit this is somewhat obscure though numerous economists and pundits such as Krugman have written about it), and are interested to learn more, you can read about the Reinhart-Rogoff tempest in a teapot here.
Wednesday, May 01, 2013
Not a whole lot of socialism was happening when the world exploded from universal poverty two centuries ago. Note that the most free market during the period also had the most growth.
This post is stimulated due to the comments on this post.
Monday, April 22, 2013
One important aspect of the transformation is that it is a huge enabler for creating and publishing independent ("indie") content. The physical CD, tape or record for music, and the physical book were substantial obstacles to independent song-writers and authors. They cost money to produce, money to ship, money to find places to display and sell, and were expensive to produce in small quantities. While it was possible to download music and books over the Internet to a computer before the release of the iPod and kindle, it was clunky and limiting.
I've been interested in indie publishing of music ever since I originally produced my two albums. They were produced before the release of the iPod. They each costs thousands of dollars to record and produce. The ultimate "product" was 1,000 CDs of each, a few hundred of which are still sitting in my attic (I've since uploaded them to last.fm (here and here) where they are available for free). Producing those same albums would've cost one-tenth as much and taken half the time with today's technology.
There have been a lot of songs published at this point. For example, there are currently more than 25 million songs available from iTunes alone. There are possibly approaching 100 million published songs worldwide representing a good fraction of a billion minutes of listening enjoyment (for comparison, we only live about 40 million minutes).
The related milestone of interest is that iTunes recently sold its 25 billionth song and the math here should be a bit scary for any song-writer hoping to make money creating music. While 25 billion songs is a lot of songs, it's only an average of 1,000 sales per song. At 99 cents per song, that's an average revenue of less than $1,000 per song.
The revenue per song will likely drop and drop rapidly. Music tastes don't change very rapidly and songs have a pretty long shelf life. There are now multiple songs published per minute and with each new song, the number of ears per song drops. This, more than anything else, will force nearly all recorded music to be offered for free within the next few decades.
Fortunately, a song-writer/musician can make money performing. A major act performing in a large venue generates revenues of millions of dollars per show. Unknown groups can still sometimes get a toehold playing clubs and parties. In some sense, the recorded music for these groups acts as marketing and advertising and has value to the artists even if no revenue is generated from sales of the recorded music.
It looks to me like the book industry is a decade or two behind the music industry but following the same trajectory. Here's a quick excerpt to put it in perspective:
That means it’s possible that 15,000,000 books could be published in 2012. 15,000,000. Yikes. (The truth is, though, there is no way of extrapolating from the data how many books will actually be published. Some ISBNs don’t get used, some titles have a different ISBN for every edition, and some ebooks are published without ISBNs. As a frame of reference, 407,000 ISBNs were issued in 2007.))
Google estimates that as of August 2010, there were 129,864,880 books in existence. Which means that the total number of books that could be published in 2012 is more than 1/10 of all the books in existence. That is an unfathomable jump, a 500% increase in a single year.
Furthermore, contemplate that Project Gutenberg already has more than 42,000 free books in their digital library and are releasing dozens more per day. They pick the most popular classics of all time so they alone can keep the most avid reader quite entertained, for free, forever.
Just like ears per song, the number of eyes per word is plummeting. Just like music, the vast majority of novels will eventually be free due to overwhelming market forces.
Unlike music, the novelist has one advantage that the song-writer does not. The novelist can write a sequel whereas music rarely has a compelling order. Once a reader is 'hooked' on the first free book, the novelist can earn money from all of the books in the rest of the series. For example, even if Rowling was unable to charge for Harry Potter 1, she certainly would've been able to make good money from the other 6 books.
I only read books (for entertainment) that have sequels. Once I put effort in to learning the world and the characters, I want to know there's more. Here’s my current book finding algorithm:
- Goto amazon kindle books
- Select genre of interest
- Select 4 stars or more average
- Sort low price to high price (at least the first several hundred books will be free)
- Ignore books with less than 20 reviews.
- Ignore books that aren’t the first in a series.
- Ignore books with titles that aren’t appealing (I’m not too picky).
- Ignore books with covers that aren’t appealing (I’m not too picky).
If I like the book, I'll buy the rest of the series.
This method has worked pretty well for me so far. However, my current favorite SF/Fantasy series (the first in the series is Outcasts and Gods) I found by a different method. The author (Pam Uphoff) made an insightful comment at a blog I read where many (most?) of the participants are authors. I tracked down her books and I've really enjoyed them. This is similar to how I found song-writer Jeff Shattuck. With regards to the government takeover of GM, he wrote in a comment somewhere that "The Road to Serfdom is best traveled in a GM or Chrysler".
But, in the end, the huge volume of content being generated is going to make it very difficult for content providers to make money. Content wants to be free!
Thursday, April 04, 2013
The attention deficit diagnoses didn't even exist prior to 1980, yet somehow, when I went to school back before 1980, it didn't seem to be needed. Now, according to a NY Times article (via Brothers Judd) 11% of all children are diagnosed with A.D.H.D. Judd feels that (and has repetitively stated over the years) it's "just a way to control boys", but he ignores the key statement in the Times article:
"... the pills can vastly improve focus and drive among those with perhaps only traces of the disorder, an A.D.H.D. diagnosis has become a popular shortcut to better grades..."In this very competitive world in which today's students exist, managing to cop an A.D.H.D diagnosis gives you a huge advantage.
And I do mean huge. During college, a friend's girlfriend's father was a pharmacist and via this connection I had the opportunity to try Ritalin a couple of times. It made the most mundane trivial facts and bits of knowledge seem fascinating; the most monotone and dull lecturer seem like a visionary putting forth pearls of enlightenment with me hanging (and remembering!!!) every word; and the most boring mental tasks like memorization and editing papers seem like The. Most. Interesting. Activities. Ever!
So it's not that this class of drugs increases attention via somehow controlling you. Instead, you focus because everything is so, so interesting! I'd be willing to bet that the vast majority of users, even those without a supposed attention deficit, do a lot better in school than they would've if they hadn't regularly taken the drugs.
The drugs aren't particularly euphoric, but they're not unpleasant either. For example, they seemed less jittery than caffeine. I'm told they're addictive, but addiction in and of itself isn't a problem. For example, the vast majority of those in western civilization are addicted to caffeine, and it's simply not a problem. Addiction is only a problem when the cost of obtaining the drug is excessively high.
There are probably other downsides to chronic use of the drugs used to treat A.D.H.D., but they seem fairly mild, and even if more significant, excelling in school and career might well be worth it anyway.
To me, the question becomes: if grades are important to the student and the parent, why shouldn't all students be allowed to get A.D.H.D. drugs if anybody's allowed to get one. Why should only some people be allowed this huge advantage? Do we really have to teach our children to fake A.D.H.D. symptoms to get ahead? Why does a doctor have the final say about what's best for us and our children?
Everybody's focus varies - that's part of being human. Perhaps being human in this day and age is a disorder for which we need to be treated.
Friday, March 29, 2013
All illegal drugs combined are to alcohol as the Mediterranean is to the Pacific. We have our whole navy in the Mediterranean. [...]
Half the people in prison were drinking when they did whatever they did…When I was young I remember thinking that it was ridiculous to pretend that alcohol was somehow radically different and more benign than the rest of the drugs people take.
I continue to tire of the War on Drugs.
Thursday, March 21, 2013
"High IQ correlates, almost always with highly undesirable characteristics of an intellectual and physical nature…"
"The idea that creativity and psychopathology are somehow linked goes way back to antiquity--to the time of Aristotle. Centuries later, this belief was developed and expanded by various psychiatrists, psychoanalysts and psychologists. For instance, Cesare Lombroso, M.D., argued toward the end of the 19th century that genius and madness were closely connected manifestations of an underlying degenerative neurological disorder."
RESULTS: Schizophrenia and related disorders, other psychotic disorders, adjustment, personality, alcohol and substance-use-related disorders were significantly associated with low IQ scores, but this association remained significant for the four non-psychotic disorders only for the four non-psychotic disorders only when adjusting for comorbid diagnoses. For most diagnostic categories, test scores were positively associated with the length of the interval between testing and first admission. ICD mood disorders as well as neuroses and related disorders were not significantly associated with low IQ scores.
A longitudinal study of premorbid IQ Score and risk of developing schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, severe depression, and other nonaffective psychoses, Zammit, et al
RESULTS: There was no association between premorbid IQ score and risk of bipolar disorder. Lower IQ was associated with increased risk of schizophrenia, severe depression, and other nonaffective psychoses. Risk of schizophrenia was increased in subjects with average IQ compared with those with high scores, indicating that risk is spread across the whole IQ range.
Is bipolar disorder more common in highly intelligent people? A cohort study of a million men, Gale, et al
ABSTRACT: Anecdotal and biographical reports have long suggested that bipolar disorder is more common in people with exceptional cognitive or creative ability. Epidemiological evidence for such a link is sparse. We investigated the relationship between intelligence and subsequent risk of hospitalisation for bipolar disorder in a prospective cohort study of 1 049 607 Swedish men. Intelligence was measured on conscription for military service at a mean age of 18.3 years and data on psychiatric hospital admissions over a mean follow-up period of 22.6 years was obtained from national records. Risk of hospitalisation with any form of bipolar disorder fell in a stepwise manner as intelligence increased (P for linear trend < 0.0001). However, when we restricted analyses to men with no psychiatric comorbidity, there was a ‘reversed-J’ shaped association: men with the lowest intelligence had the greatest risk of being admitted with pure bipolar disorder, but risk was also elevated among men with the highest intelligence (P for quadratic trend=0.03), primarily in those with the highest verbal (P for quadratic trend=0.009) or technical ability (P for quadratic trend < 0.0001). At least in men, high intelligence may indeed be a risk factor for bipolar disorder, but only in the minority of cases who have the disorder in a pure form with no psychiatric comorbidity.
Excellent school performance at age 16 and risk of adult bipolar disorder: national cohort study., MacCabe, et al
RESULTS: Individuals with excellent school performance had a nearly fourfold increased risk of later bipolar disorder compared with those with average grades (hazard ratio HR = 3.79, 95% CI 2.11-6.82). This association appeared to be confined to males. Students with the poorest grades were also at moderately increased risk of bipolar disorder (HR = 1.86, 95% CI 1.06-3.28).
Saturday, March 02, 2013
I know that the conventional wisdom is that Republicans and conservatives are hopelessly irrational and self-contradictory on fiscal policy. Let us stipulate that such is the case. That does not mean that the Democrats and progressives are rational and coherent. If someone on the left can point me to a budget that does what you want, does not lead to explosive deficits, and does not depend on spending an imaginary dividend of “lower health care costs, through magic,” I would like to see it.
To put it this another way, I think that even if the entire conservative side of the political spectrum were to collapse tommorrow, the left still could not govern. (emphasis added)
Saturday, February 23, 2013
With all the talk about the use of drones to kill terrorists and the debate whether or not to use them within the boundaries of the United States, it seems odd to me that no one considers that this technology forms the basis for personal drones. In about ten years, for a few hundred dollars, anyone will be able to build an incredibly maneuverable autonomous drone that will be able to find and destroy a target.
Technology is wonderful but dangerous.
HT: Marginal Revolution
Friday, February 22, 2013
I think civilization and the extended order is just one big bubble. Well, actually more of a high order multidimensional froth - a whole bunch of tightly intertwined hyperbubbles which I'll call a hyperfroth. Each of the hyperbubbles is a mathematical representation of an entity of civilization - individuals (tiny hyperbubbles), companies, institutions of commerce and law, other agencies of governance, etc.. Some hyperbubbles are partially or completely enclosed by other hyperbubbles.
The reason I envision the froth in more than 3 dimensions is that it enables more interaction of the surfaces of far, far more hyperbubbles. For example, it you pack oranges as densely as possible in a plane (2 dimensions), each orange touches 6 others. In three dimensions each orange will touch 12 others. In 24 dimensions, each orange will touch 196,560 other oranges when tightly packed (see the Kissing Number Problem for an excellent description). These additional dimensions are necessary for allowing more interactions between more entities represented by the hyperbubbles if a model was going to be created that was representative of civilization (it would, of course, be impossible to create an accurate model, but it would be possible to create a model that exhibited some emergent behaviors similar to civilization). It's perfectly fine, however, to visualize the hyperfroth as soap suds in 3 dimensions and from here on I'll generally leave the "hyper" prefix off of bubble, froth, etc.
In this model, there is an elastic hypermesh that surrounds and puts pressure on the froth. The mesh is civilization's frontier. The elastic pull of the mesh represents entropy, the tendency towards randomness that's the inherent enemy of order and usually an enemy of complexity and therefore civilization. The pressure due to entropy acting on the mesh is pushing inwards trying to compress (and collapse) the froth. As long as there's enough energy to keep the bubbles inflated and as long as the bubbles remain sufficiently resilient, entropy is kept at bay and civilization continues and possibly even expands (i.e. becomes frothier).
The bubbles of civilization are going to deflate or pop from time to time and usually it's no big deal. If you look at soap suds with lots of bubbles and a few of them pop, you hardly notice. Likewise, as long as only an occasional bubble of the extended order deflates (occasional relative to the vast number of bubbles), and as long as that bubble is either not all that large or the rate of deflation is moderate, civilization isn't much impacted and perhaps doesn't even really notice. For example, every time someone dies, that's a tiny bubble popping and civilization isn't much affected.
On the other hand, every time a bubble pops, in the area of that bubble, entropy accelerates the frontier mesh towards the center of the froth. If the bubble that pops is big, the resulting mesh momentum towards the center can be large. If the nearby bubbles (and in hyperspace, a lot more hyperbubbles are nearby than in 3 dimensions) are insufficiently resilient, then these will also pop or otherwise collapse, the inward momentum increases, further stressing and popping bubbles, gaining more and more momentum and greatly increasing the probability of an all out collapse in which a substantial percentage or perhaps even all of the bubbles collapse leaving only a bit of soap scum instead of the froth.
In the general case for systems like this, events like popping bubbles occur according to a power law distribution where small bubbles (or small groups of bubbles) will pop with far more frequency than an event where a very large bubble or large group of bubbles pop. This means that for long periods of time, the froth will have sufficient resilience to handle the popping events. Eventually though, the big event with lots of bursting bubbles will happen, creating the acceleration and momentum that causes the whole froth to rapidly implode.
You'll remember from Resilience and Collapse that according to Joseph Tainter, an expert who studies the collapse of civilizations, that the complexity of a civilization is "generally understood to refer to such things as the size of a society, the number and distinctiveness of its parts, the variety of specialized social roles that it incorporates, the number of distinct social personalities present, and the variety of mechanisms for organizing these into a coherent, functioning whole. Augmenting any of these dimensions increases the complexity of a society."
The current civilization of which we are part is orders of magnitude more complex than anything that came before it. If you consider the extent and complexity of specialization that's developed to produce a simple pencil and that the pencil is one of the simplest of tens of millions of products produced by and then distributed to billions of people with innumerable governments, institutions, laws, agencies, etc., it's a complexity far, far beyond the civilizations of the past.
It's also orders of magnitude more complex than it was a mere century ago when 50% of the population of the United States worked in agricultural versus less than 3% today. But the 3% remaining in agricultural form a sub-froth that's far more complex and specialized than the 50% that used to engage in farming. The knowledge, techniques, management, planning, business practices, etc. are far more specialized, complex, and intertwined than they were. The other 47% are now engaged in whole new sets of activities creating goods and services that weren't even imagined back then and the vast majority of these new industries have a sophistication well beyond what the original 50% could comprehend a century ago.
Every story has an ending as does every civilization. This civilization, like all others before it, will one day collapse, where collapse, in Tainterian terms, is the rapid simplification of society. However, there's been an increased perception lately, especially among libertarians and conservatives, that the time till the collapse is short, perhaps measured in decades or years or even less, rather than millennia or at least centuries that might otherwise be expected to mark the time remaining for this civilization. While the power law distribution of events might not have changed at all, the ability of the froth to withstand smaller events might have been significantly reduced in recent times. There are a number of possibilities within this hyperfroth model to explain new weaknesses that could lead to collapse.
First, it's possible that the froth of civilization is too puffed up, with too many bubbles stretched beyond their limit. It might be that the irrational exuberance of the Internet bubble was actually just a mirror of general over-exuberance across all of the bubbles of civilization and the momentum caused by this exuberance pushed the mesh of civilization beyond a sustainable frontier. In a organizational sense, humans may now be stretched well beyond what they are capable of sustaining. Perhaps Deirdre McCloskey's Bourgeois Dignity put humanity as a whole into a mania that hyperventilated the hyperbubbles and as the manic phase wears down and leads to the depression of the psyche across most or all of humanity that inevitably follows the euphoria, the stretched out bubbles will pop and/or rapidly shrink and the froth will collapse to nothing. This is rather like Icarus flying too close to the sun and when the wings melt it's a really long ways down.
A second possibility is that civilization would potentially have been perfectly sustainable, but Statism has changed the characteristics of the froth. The bubbles that represent the institutions of commerce, law, and governance have ceased to allow energy to flow through the rest of the froth with the necessary efficiency. These sclerotic institutions have become rigid and sharp (as opposed to smooth) and instead of adapting when other bubbles deflate and cushioning the impact of the deflation, they've instead started puncturing and otherwise hastening the demise of the other bubbles.
A related problem is that when it comes to the institutions of governance and commerce, lots of small, independent and therefore resilient bubbles have been replaced by a few colossal bubbles that take a great deal of energy to keep inflated. Not only do these bubbles absorb energy that could be used to keep other bubbles inflated, these colossi are also rigid, heavy and sharp and burst the surrounding bubbles at ever increasing speeds.
It's of course impossible to know exactly how things will play out but given that the volume of the mesh of civilization far exceeds anything that came before it, if and when it collapses, the collapse may make the dark ages look like a shining golden age. From such a lofty expansion comes the possibility of an implosion that wipes out humanity or at least takes the small percentage of humans remaining all the way back to being hunter-gatherers with no or limited technology.
When Rome collapsed, it did so fairly slowly. More importantly, most people during that era knew how to do enough to survive (farm, hunt, fish, gather, etc.). Compare that to the current situation or what the situation will be in a few decades when even the 3rd world becomes more reliant on technological sophistication to survive. Earlier I pointed to the example of creating a simple pencil. It requires a huge network and no single individual knows how to do it. Without an unbelievable number of entities a silicon fab can't be built/maintained, without computers and other advanced technologies, energy acquisition (finding it, horizontal drilling, distribution, etc.) is hopeless, without energy and other advanced technology can 7 billion people grow and trade enough food to keep themselves alive? No! They cannot, so the population will be reduced to a small percentage of what it is currently and that reduction will make it impossible to support the specialization necessary to wield sophisticated technology. Those few of us who are left will be reduced to trying to scratch out a living in the dirt.
And then the really long, hard, and slow cycle of creating and pumping up hyperbubbles and building the next civilization will begin.
Labels: Extended Order
Thursday, February 21, 2013
"We might not be able to stop the collapse. It might (MIGHT) even be in our best interests to speed it up. BUT we must stand ready to take the reigns when it all crashes, and we MUST not let [collectivists] pick the man on the white horse, and shove his “enlightened” rule down our throats. You know what always results from it ... and we can’t allow it to happen." [emphasis added]That's a lot of "we" and "our" for one small paragraph written by a libertarian. But how do libertarians, who eschew power and refuse to "collect", obtain and use power in a sufficiently ruthless fashion, possibly compete against those whose primary purpose and goal in life is to obtain, maintain, and yield as much power as possible, usually in the name of a collective?
I've asked that and similar questions over at Hoyt's blog and it hasn't made me any friends (to say the least). It seems like a rather important and fundamental question, yet not only do she and her regulars refuse to answer, they paint me as horribly evil for even asking the question.
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
An underappreciated story of the Progressive Movement and its progeny (The Fair Deal, The New Deal, The Great Society, The New New Deal, and so on) is its emphasis on collaboration over competition. FDR put it this way:
Competition has been shown to be useful up to a certain point and no further, but cooperation, which is the thing we must strive for today, begins where competition leaves off.
This has it exactly backwards. It is cooperation that is useful to a certain point, and then we must rely on competition.
Cooperation arises from trust. Robert Axelrod, in his 1984 book The Evolution of Cooperation, used game theory to describe the way in which cooperative behavior arises from competitive game structures:
For cooperation to emerge, the interaction must extend over an indefinite (or at least an unknown) number of moves…For cooperation to prove stable, the future must have a sufficiently large shadow. This means that the importance of the next encounter between the same two individuals must be great enough to make defection an unprofitable strategy…In order for cooperation to get started in the first place, one more condition is required. The problem is that in a world of unconditional defection, a single individual who offers cooperation cannot prosper unless some others are around who will reciprocate. On the other hand, cooperation can emerge from small clusters of discriminating individuals as long as these individuals have even a small proportion of their interactions with each other.
“Indefinite number of moves,” “shadow of the future,” “small cluster of discriminating individuals” – these are characteristics that break down as the size of a human grouping grows. With your neighbors, you’re likely to interact with them repeatedly in the future, the future interactions are likely to be important, and there aren’t that many of them. But as the scale grows, these conditions erode, and with them the possibility of cooperation.
That’s when competition kicks in. The fact is that human beings compete in groups; there is a significant advantage to be gained by having multiple skill sets and personalities united in a common effort. (Engineers and salespeople are famously different, but rely heavily upon one another for their livelihood.) There is cooperation within these groups, but competition between them.Smith's "Invisible Hand" is required precisely when actual hands start to become invisible due to the size of the group.
Monday, February 18, 2013
It's For Your Own Good!
The fact that the ideas in the article are even being taken seriously is appalling in my opinion.
Tuesday, February 12, 2013
The words that were mentioned the most include: "improving," ...I don't know about you, but I think that anybody who looks at that cloud and sees "improving" first is "screwed", "pathetic", and pushing "propaganda".
Monday, February 11, 2013
"I spent the last thirty minutes listening to a group of arrogant and condescending noneducators disrespect my colleagues and profession. [...]
Today I have listened to people who are not teachers, have never worked in a classroom, and have never taught a single student tell me how to teach.”The last part is extraordinarily unlikely. We've all been students and have all taught ourselves (for example, at minimum, that would be the ostensible purpose of homework). Therefore, we're all experts to some degree on teaching and, more importantly, learning.
If I had to do it over again with my kids, I'd be sorely tempted to home school them
Thursday, February 07, 2013
Here is a link to a 30 second youtube video of it in operation:
The pictures below show the effects of thinning the lettuce. In addition to costing about 1/3 as much as manual labor using hoes to thin, notice that the ground is undisturbed by the thinner which, according to the growers using the thinner, allows the "keepers" to be more consistent in size and health since their roots are undisturbed. In addition, fewer weeds are able to get started in the unbroken ground.
In the "4 days after thinning" shot, if you look closely, you can see little brown dead lettuces that have been thinned by fertilizer in between the remaining green keepers. In the "4-5 weeks old" shot, the lettuce has been cultivated (weeded) so at this point the ground is disturbed but the lettuce is way ahead of any possible future weeds.
Each Thinner takes the place of roughly 30 to 50 people with hoes. The world (well, North America) only needs about 150 Robotic Thinners to thin all of the lettuce so it's a pretty small market. That will displace about 5,000 laborers, but it's really terrible work and the growers are having trouble getting people to do it anymore.
It's been a fun project. I know a LOT about growing and processing lettuce now.