Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Net Neutrality is a Leftist Socialist Plot to Silence Dissent

True story.

Okay I lied. But that's okay. On the Internet you can say anything you want. Lies, deception, slander, and so much spin that it sends Superman back in time. It's a boon to the far right. And the far left. Extremists thrive on cheap, open places to lie, and the Internet is the best.

The Internet is also the biggest fact-checking machine in the world. It has facts and it has people who like to spend time comparing claims and those facts.

But these are all sissy 'freedom' arguments. So let's go with this instead: the Internet drove the massive economic growth of the 90s and continues to drive growth and efficiency.

I'm sure you know this already.

So instead let's look at what happens when people who either do not understand or do not appreciate the Internet attempt to influence and regulate it. I am of course referring to net neutrality.

Specifically, opposition to it.

The government has been meddling in the Internet since before it was born. In other words, it created the Internet and then shoveled money at it until it transformed the world. All the while it kept poking around in the Internet telling traffic to go wherever it wanted and told everyone to play fair. That was net neutrality, letting everyone talk at the same speed.

It wasn't a fairness doctrine. It was an awesome doctrine. It was an idea that made it so anyone could run a business or send an idea, or shop and listen. This was government regulation against regulation, essentially saying "No one will regulate this." That's net neutrality.

But people paranoid about government regulation either don't understand this or are actively and consciously working against the freedom of the Internet.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Prison as part of a debt to society

Now and then I hear the phrase "debt to society" used in combination with imprisonment, the implication being that people are sent to prison to fulfill the "debt to society" and then once that is complete, they may go free. This is a completely absurd concept.

Can you think of any other situation in which a debt is paid by the debtor losing huge amounts of time, and at major cost to the creditor? Let's imagine that the prison system really is a literal system of debts. A guy with an income of about $20,000 per year(arbitrary) is imprisoned, at a cost of about $22,000 per year (actual number). If we imagine a strange fantasy world in which the lost income of prisoners goes to the creditor (that being society), then at best society is still down $2000. In other words, the process of paying off the debt causes the creditor to lose even more money. Of course this will be different if the prisoner has a higher income. But of course a prisoner isn't generating any income because he's not at his job, so the actual income for the creditor is zero, resulting in a loss of $22,000 when attempting to regain a debt.

Does this sound ridiculous enough yet, this concept that prison is part of repaying a debt to society? Let's go further.

Imagine that you take out a mortgage. Then you default. You now owe a debt to the bank. The bank seeks to regain that debt. How? By burning down the house. See how completely absurd this is?

Why don't we treat the "debt to society" as an actual debt to be repaid? I mean money, not vague concepts like "justice". Not to dismiss justice, but if we're going to talk about debt, we might as well talk about something definite.

I propose that this debt be calculated by damage caused. That damage includes the stolen property, assets, money, etc. So if someone breaks a window (cost $500) to steal a stereo worth $200, the total crime is $700. This actually gives them a discount since it leaves out inconvenience and the police work cost. But I'm willing to let that go for now, for the sake of simplicity. Simpler is better for everyone except lawyers and fraudsters.

To repay the debt, the individual literally repays it from either bank accounts or future wages. This would be calculated to ensure that they are not financially ruined by the process but also so that they do not gain any benefit from the crime. For example, an individual cannot be forced to put it on credit, since that would put them into a cycle of debt, nor can they lose so much of future wages that they cannot afford basic living expenses. The goal is to repay the debt, not to drive them into crime just to pay for their previous crime.

If the individual is unemployed, well that's a tough one that I haven't figured out. Leaving the debt over them to be paid when they do eventually find work would discourage them from seeking over the table work. But just dropping the debt would encourage crime. Mandatory employment is more commonly known as slavery and would result in the crazy situation of criminals taking jobs from law-abiding citizens, possibly driving those same citizens into crime to get by, and well we can see how that's a path straight downhill. On a side note, we can see there how government oppression is encouraged, and to some, justified, by criminal behavior.

Crimes such as property damage fit easily into this system. Fraud and other 'theft-like' crimes fit as well, since they fall into a material loss category. Murder, rape, assault, or other non-property crimes are clearly difficult to fit into this and perhaps would be handled in a separate system.

The goal is to keep people out of prison, not because I like them, but because it's expensive and often hardens criminals. What could be more encouraging to a "fuck the system" attitude than spending five years locked up by that system?

It's more than a little bit idealistic, but imagine how much lower taxes could be if people weren't locked up. Imagine how much less crime there could be without large parts of the population being taught to hate orderly society. Or maybe crime wouldn't change. But at least the overall cost would be lower. At the least there's little interaction between prison terms and crime rates. Unfortunately being "tough on crime" is a politically useful stance, just like being "strong on defense", another stance which encourages huge amounts of spending for little to no benefit, but which is always politically safe. No one wants to be "soft on defense" or "weak on crime".

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Tax cuts for business

Eliminate payroll taxes and offset the revenue loss with a higher top tier tax rate. This makes job creation cheaper. It makes hiring cheaper. It makes business cheaper. It makes small business cheaper. The only people it hurts are the ones who are not creating jobs: the ultra-rich.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A brief statement of the obvious

The midterm elections made it clear that Americans want a government that works for the people.

Uh, no shit? Just once I'd like to hear an opinion person say that an election shows that Americans want a government that fucks them over. Sure, it would be inaccurate, but at least it wouldn't be someone stating the obvious and using it as a foundation for whatever ideological stance they picked before the election.

Ban Sharia law, it violates the first amendment, and so does this ban

Judge blocks Oklahoma's ban on Islamic law

This ban seems both redundant and unconstitutional.

On the redundant side, I see the ban as a preventive measure to protect against the imposition of Sharia law on a non-Muslim population. Redundant because such an action would violate the first amendment. The ban is as pointless as a ban on slavery; the Constitution has that taken care of.

But the ban was too wide, potentially covering even personal matters, such as wills or contracts. In that case, it's clear government overreach by restricting personal decisions without even a hint of a public safety element or even protection of potentially vulnerable parties. For examples: I cannot write a contract for an illegal service such as murder and mentally disabled and underage people may be required to have the consent of a caretaker for some contracts.

Beyond the government overreach angle, which I don't put much stock in anyway, since too often it seems that 'government overreach' is just a derogatory term for "regulations which protect people from the abuses of others", there is the first amendment. Government cannot establish, or prohibit, a religion. As I've said elsewhere, the Christian-based Islamaphobia which uses a Christian theocracy as a way to block Islamic theocracy, is actually the very thing which would allow it, since to allow Christian theocracy would mean destroying the first amendment, which is the main protection against an Islamic theocracy. Or as I put it elsewhere: Is the American Tea Party a radical Islamist front?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Choosing your Tyrant

Over at Troll Racials are Overpowered I made this claim
humans are not naturally free and perhaps freedom is never even possible. Not since we lost the ability to kill tigers with little more than rocks. Which is to say, never. Even then we worked together. Cooperation is such a lovely word. So I'm led to only this: choose your tyrant carefully, for if you do not pick one, then it will be chosen for you.

The word choice seemed to cause people to misunderstand, so I'll elaborate. The tyrant is simply outside control. Someone or something will always tell us what to do or reduce our options. This is inevitable. Nothing short of a god can be absolutely free. Even the libertarians are picking a tyrant, though they do not realize it.

We've seen the control of a priest, a king, and chieftan. These are old tyrants. We've seen social control, caste systems, and exile from the tribe to a certain death. These are old tyrants. More recently we invented, or perhaps finally recognized, the market. This is a tyrant, a form of control over our lives. It is the greatest of irony that we call if a free market, when it is no promoter of freedom.

Just as a socialist government may tell you what to plant, so will market forces. Oh you can defy the market, but you will pay a price, quite literally; not so different from the government, though it may take a higher price. That does not mean that the market is innately more free than the socialist economy. After all, the government could give more options and back up those options. And it could be representative or even direct democracy. Imagine voting about your wallet. The market has an equivalent of voting with your wallet, which sounds nice, but it is a poor substitute for democracy when one person may have a million more votes in his wallet.

Markets and governments will tell us what to do. They exert control over our lives. We cannot get that control back directly, except by becoming a part of the market and being the controllers of others. But government can offer a way: representation and regulation. Regulation is a way to indirectly take back some control. If we can vote for government and government can exert some control over markets, then we have gained some control over the markets, and in doing so become more free, as we will have gained more control over our situation.

This is not perfect. Regulatory capture is a persistent risk. Socialist regimes do not have a good history, due to some mix of implementation, circumstance, and unaddressed flaws within the idea of socialism. I'm not advocating a Soviet-style system, or even Chinese, or Venezuela. These were all destructive to freedom. But American socialism, this has worked. We are more free as consumers, more secure, when we can buy products with confidence that they will not kill us. With no regulation this would be a major problem, leading to what I call the trust trust: monopolies on trust. Those are for a future post. Here I only wanted to explain why we might choose tyranny, because it will inevitably happen, so it might as well be one we can remove or shape to our needs.

Related post: Producer regulation does not imply consumer restriction

After more thought I've seen that this post isn't done. Why do I allow for certain things to be illegal? These restrict my freedom! Security. Yes, we're always trading a little security for a little freedom. I'm willing to give up my right to kill to protect myself from the same. A libertarian might say that I should pay attention and protect myself. I'd rather not have to waste all my life struggling to keep a little bit more. Similarly, let the buyer beware is a philosophy that I find to be stupid. Is it worth the greater freedom to have to check the safety of anything I buy? I don't think so. Many dangers I could not even test myself, so I need some higher power to handle that for me, and I am willing to concede to that authority some freedom over what to buy. I'm willing to give up my exploding cars. Similarly, I give up my choice about which side of the road to drive on in return for greater security, based on the reduce chance of a head-on collision. Should we instead let the market decide? No. That would be stupid. The entire cultish devotion to markets as the solution to everything is stupid and dangerous.

Is regulation a slippery slope? Yes. It is. There isn't a clear distinction between sensible regulation and a nanny state. That's something we have to figure out as it comes. But to simply reject protection entirely would be suicidal. Literally.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Reminder: Gold is a scam

There are two grand gold scams going on now: 'investment' and the 'gold standard'.

Let's start with investment. Gold is protected against inflation, so in times of inflation, buying gold will essentially give a safe currency. Right? Well... In times of inflation, everything that isn't currency follows inflation, so gold is not really any better. But gold has two things going for it.

1) Gold is nearly worthless. Once you get past some electronic use and decoration, what is it good for? You can't burn it for heat, you can't eat it, you can't build with it, you can't do much of anything with it. Also it's very stable so it's just as worthless now and ten years down the road, so obviously you'll never lose.

2) Bubbles! They're not just fun for children and stressed out housewives.

If we expect 10% inflation, we should expect the price of gold to go up by 10%. Of course the numbers will vary due to not everyone having the same predictions, but let's take 25% as a reasonable amount to expect over a year. Gold doesn't do that. It doesn't follow predictions of inflation. It follows speculation bubbles. The price goes up so we all jump o the moving commodity and that drives the price higher and up and up it will go until we all calm down about inflation and suddenly realize we've just bought gold at double the highest sensible price (actually I think even 'normal' gold prices are dramatically inflated, but that's for another day).

When you speculate on a bubble, whether you see it as a bubble or not, you're effectively betting on when it will burst.

Or to look at it another way, who would buy gold? I'm going to use imaginary numbers here for ease of rounding. I think gold will go up to $110 in a year, so I buy it for $100. Who will buy it? The person who thinks that gold will go up further. He must think it will go up. Staying the same isn't beating inflation, it must go up to be a worthwhile investment. So he buys it expecting $120 the next year. And so on.

And now for the glorious gold standard. Did you know that if the US switched to the gold standard that there would be no more inflation and the so-called economic cycle would go away, replaced by joyous prosperity, upward forever?


I find it funny that the gold standard is so often advocated by libertarians and Laissez-faire acolytes would actually be a huge government intervention in the economy. It's not establishing a value of currency: it's setting a price of gold. That would make the US government the biggest influence in the world gold market. And since it isn't going to be easily allowed to inflate the currency when gold prices change elsewhere, the standard would inevitably collapses into a giant wealth-losing machine. Since libertarians and their ilk so often demand a balanced budget, that wealth loss would have to be offset by even higher taxes.

Short version: the gold standard would bleed the average American dry, and quickly.

My opposition to the gold standard doesn't mean I think that current monetary policy is just fine. It isn't. But the gold standard is an incredibly stupid way to fix it. It's not a practical economic idea, it's more of an outdated moral crusade, with about as much usefulness as the old practice of fixing the economy by imprisoning Jews. And no, I am not suggesting that the gold standard is in any way comparable to the Holocaust or the world-wide tradition of anti-Semitism, I'm just using it as another failed idea to fix the economy. I have no idea what Hitler's stance on the gold standard was and I don't care; it's irrelevant.

Monetary policy is important. It matters. The money supply must vary, sometimes up, sometimes down. Maybe less variation than it has had, and we certainly need a better way to do it, but a stagnant money supply fixes nothing.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Have you voted yet?

I'm rather sick of hearing this. I know they are well-intentioned, but it just sounds wrong to me hearing this before election day.

I recognize the value of early voting and absentee, especially absentee. For many people, such as active soldiers and the sick or elderly, those are the only ways they'd be able to vote. But me? I don't need it and don't want it. In fact, I believe that if someone can vote on election day, they should not vote early.

Why not? Revelation! No, not the Bible book. Instead I mean the stuff you hear later on.

For example, I was really leaning toward Mark Kirk for Illinois Senate. I'm usually a Democrat and he's a Republican, but from what I'd heard of him at debates he seemed like a reasonable guy and the Democratic candidate didn't seem all that inspiring. I could have voted early for Kirk. Now I'm glad I didn't, as more information comes out about him getting mixed up with Karl Rove and the usual tactics of voter intimidation disguised as anti-fraud action. Bullshit, I say. More real voters are driven away than fake voters, meaning a net loss. I still think Kirk is a decent guy, but he's making bad friends and I'm not eager to see how much they can corrupt him.

Still, him winning wouldn't be the ed of the world, not by a long shot. At least he's not Brady. I swear, the man is a walking stereotype: an anti-government creationist. I can't stand people like that. Smaller government? Sure, it definitely needs a lot of streamlining and cleaning up. Teaching that science isn't the absolute truth? Sure, that's part of how science defines itself: always falsifiable. But this bullshit of just wiping out jobs and thinking that will balance the budget in the long term (it won't, since education in particular is the one biggest driver of long-term wage and economic growth, in other words the sources of tax revenues), combined with sneaking religion into schools through creationism or intelligent design, that's just unacceptable.

Maybe our campaigns are too long, but ironically, I don't think cutting them short is a solution.