Chad Perrin: SOB

7 September 2009

OWL 0.7

Filed under: Humor,Liberty — apotheon @ 01:56

The Open Works License has been updated to version 0.7, basically because I realized I had (perhaps stupidly) included part of the disclaimer in the conditions. On the upside (for simplicity), this change means the license only has two conditions now rather than three. On the downside, this means the disclaimer is now two sentences, rather than one.

The words “modified or unmodified” have been added to both of the two conditions of the license as well.


I’m considering adding Google AdSense ads to the OWL site. The fact I got a $1+ click on an advertisement on the site for a license I don’t even use any longer (the CCD CopyWrite license) is what got me thinking about this. Thoughts?

(For those readers who haven’t noticed, this is the license used for all original content here at SOB.)

14 June 2009

No Dilemma

Filed under: Cognition,Humor,Liberty,Writing — apotheon @ 03:47

In a Cato @ Liberty article, Gerald P. O’Driscoll raises what he calls A Libertarian Dilemma. In it, he quotes Simon Johnson:

MIT’s Simon Johnson has argued, “Anything that is too big to fail is too big to exist.” He favors breaking these institutions up.

Of course, as O’Driscoll correctly points out, the idea of governmental interference in “private” business (such as breaking up business concerns by authoritarian fiat) is anathema. Thus, the dilemma, which he sets out to solve.

The word “dilemma” comes from the Greek, where “di” means “two” and “lemma” comes from “assumption”. A dilemma, then, is a circumstance of facing two conflicting assumptions. There is, in fact, no dilemma here, however. Both lemmas in this case — that libertarians must simultaneously favor breaking up corporations that have been deemed “too big to fail” to protect economic markets from interfering governmental action and oppose the interference by government implied by forcibly breaking up large corporations — are, in fact, missing the point, the real root of the problem at hand.

The real root of the problem is simply that governmental interference in economic markets by way of corporate law has created legal “persons” that compete for rights protection without actually being people, and that receive immunities and political influence not available to individuals. These advantages (and conflicts with the goal of protecting individual rights) created the “too big to fail” issue in the first place.

It isn’t just that they’re too big to exist — it’s that they should never have existed under their current organizational structures, regardless of size, in the first place. When what amounts to a manila folder full of legal briefs and a set of ledger books is accorded the same “rights” that are Constitutionally guaranteed to individual people under the banner of encouraging “private” sector success, a grotesque perversion of law and market forces is clearly underway.

The solution is to start stripping away the unique legal status of corporations in the first place. I’m open to suggestions for how we can effectively and efficiently work toward such a goal, but I suspect that at this stage the mere act of getting the word out that corporatism itself is antithetical to a free market is the necessary foundation we must lay before building a structure of economic liberty. The mainstream media, politicians, and partisan commentators have equated “corporation” with “business” for so long that, I fear, the task of educating people on the actual incompatibility of corporations with a fair (by which I basically mean “free market”) business environment is almost insurmountable.

Supposed libertarians often scream bloody murder when the subject of dismantling corporate law (and thus the institution of the legally recognized corporation itself) comes up, spuriously asserting that anyone who would say such a thing is a communist, socialist, or other anticapitalist. Supposed libertarians actually end up defending what amounts to fascist economic policy (by literal definition, rather than mere connotative insult) against true free market policy.

It’s probably worth examining the meaning of the term “capitalist” and how it fits into the grander scheme of economic things in the attempt to understand this problem.

  • Back in the early days of economics as an academic discipline, Adam Smith referred to an economic policy he called “economic individualism”. Note that I’m getting this second-hand, from a number of sources such as The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics and Wikipedia; I have not actually read Smith’s seminal economic work, The Wealth of Nations, yet.

  • Economic individualism was in effect both the original term for a free market economic school of thought and the first academic economic school of thought. As Wikipedia puts it (though The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics gives a much more detailed account):

    The doctrine of economic individualism holds that each individual should be allowed autonomy in making his or her own economic decisions as opposed to those decisions being made by the state, or the community, for him or her.

  • Karl Marx, in laying the groundwork for orthodox socialist “thought” for centuries to come, essentially coined the word “capitalist” as a reproachful epithet, lumping together all manner of people who advocated for economic systems that allow for recognition of nongovernmental property. The term “capitalist”, in short, arose as a dire insult to those who support the concept of ownership — a key requirement of mainstream free market economic schools of thought. It is in effect a statement that all economic individualists care about is money itself, ignoring the fact that money is actually a technological advance that improves opportunities for productivity in a manner analogous to that of the invention of agriculture.

  • Ironically, those who should have come to be known around the world as “economic individualists” have instead chosen to wear the yellow badge of the “capitalist” label. It has become such a widely accepted term that would- or should-be economic individualists call themselves capitalists without irony, and do not take it as an insult when an economic collectivist sneeringly uses the word.

  • Perhaps as part of that adoption of the term “capitalism”, and abandonment of the term “economic individualism”, many would- or should-be economic individualists too easily forget the individual factor of economics — the single most important part of economics. Corporations are collective “persons”, entirely incompatible with an individualist economic policy, and require government interference in economic markets for their very legal existence, but far too many self-described capitalists and libertarians never even notice this basic contradiction in their support for nominally free market capitalist economic policy.

With that in mind — how can we come to any conclusion other than that a market correction for all the externalities created by corporate law has been far too long in coming?

Steps in this direction would inevitably bring about the dismantling of major corporations. Doing so would solve the supposed libertarian dilemma illuminated by O’Driscoll, by seeing that any organization too big to fail (and thus too big to be allowed to exist) naturally comes apart at the seams. Reorganizational efforts by those with a vested financial interest in the continued success of the surviving components of a previously extant “public” corporation would surely lead to an orderly devolvement from capitalist collectivism to a state of entrepreneurial individualism.

People call for forcibly dismantling these financial empires, but no force is needed. Simply remove the application of force that allows them to legally exist at all a little at a time, and watch them divide themselves into separate (but coöperative, one hopes) business concerns. If we accept the idea that libertarianism requires a free market approach to economics (which we must, if we are to accept market economics at all), we are left with the inescapable conclusion that there is exactly one answer to this:

The institution of the government sanctioned corporation, itself the result of interference in the operation of market forces, must be dismantled. Governmental interference must be rolled back. Do that at a reasonable rate, and large corporate organizations such as Chrysler and Bank of America will dismantle themselves. Problem solved.

Replace your false dilemma (don’t force the corporations to do anything; don’t let the corporations continue to contribute to hosing up our economy) with a justifiable, genuine lemma — that any economic actor dependent upon governmental interference in the economy for its very existence is incompatible with a truly free market. In fact, it’s better than a lemma. It’s a tautology.

2 June 2009

Statistics 101: US Gun Crime vs. UK Knife Crime

Filed under: Cognition,Geek,Humor,Liberty,RPG,Writing — apotheon @ 01:09

All too often, I find myself reading some line of nonsense about how gun control legislation is important to protect the lives of citizens, all “proven” by gun crime statistics in the US. In one discussion in particular, some hoplophobic idiot tried to tell me that the fact guns account for the weapon of choice in more murders than all other weapons combined means they’re too dangerous to allow people to have. This says nothing at all about the actual murder rate, and the effect of gun control legislation on the murder rate — just that, even if the murder rate is lower in the presence of firearms, guns end up having the largest share of the murder market in the US.

An alternative theory of the statistic might go something like this:

  1. More guns in the hands of private citizens discourage people from committing murder with knives.

  2. The number of murders with knives declined, and the number of murders with guns remained constant.

  3. The overall number of murders decreased because of the decline in knife murder rates, so the percentage of murders committed with guns increased even though the number of gun murders remained constant.

I don’t have any idea whether that’s an accurate explanation for the higher rate of gun murders than knife murders in the US. The statistical basis for proving or disproving this kind of theory of the effect guns have on murder rates doesn’t exactly exist. It certainly is a plausible-sounding hypothesis, though, and no less supported by the lone statistic of 68% of murders in the US in 2006 being committed with guns.

The same guy, in the same comment where he pointed out that more murders are committed with guns than with any other weapon in the US, also linked to UK gun crime figures. Well, sure, let’s compare crime rates in the UK with those in the US. We’ve already established that gun crimes are more numerous in the US than knife crimes, and I’ll stipulate for the sake of argument that gun crimes are more numerous in the US than in the UK (though there are niggling holes in that comparison, too). Let’s try a different comparison. Note that I’m probably overestimating the UK population and underestimating the US population in these statistical comparisons, which favors the UK in terms of estimating low crime rates (since these rates are measured per capita). The same goes for the fact I’m underestimating UK crime incidences and overestimating US incidences. Despite heavily favoring the UK for determining the per capita statistics, I think you’ll find the results illuminating:

  • In or about 2006, there were about 60 million (actually closer to 58M, but we’ll use the rounded-up number to be kind to hopolophobes) people in the UK as a whole, including Scotland.

  • In England and Wales alone — discounting Scotland — there were over 163 thousand knife crimes.

  • By the end of 2006, there were more than 300 million people in the US as a whole.

  • In the US as a whole, there were fewer than 400 thousand gun crimes.

  • In the UK, based on these numbers, there was one knife crime commited for every 374 people (rounded down).

  • In the US, based on these numbers, there was one gun crime committed for every 750 people — less than half a gun crime per 374 people (about 0.4987 gun crimes per 374 people, actually).

  • That means that, based on these statistics, you are more than twice as likely to be a victim of knife crime in the UK as you are to be a victim of gun crime in the US.

Statistical studies can be great tools for determining the results of policy changes, but the devil lies in the details. Simply picking a number out of thin air — like the fact that 68% of murders are committed by the use of a firearm in the US — in no way proves anything other than that 68% of murders are committed by the use of a firearm. That alone doesn’t mean you’re in more danger in the US because of laxer gun control legislation than in the UK, where firearms are all but entirely prohibited (hey, at least the police can check them out of the supply room under very extreme circumstances — right?).

Note that even the statistical comparisons I present here are not sufficient to prove a case. There are too many other variables in comparisons between crime rates in the UK and in the US to reasonably expect any real certainty about exactly what effect gun control laws have in either country. A far more reliable statistical comparison for purposes of determining the effect of gun control legislation is, as I pointed out in gun control arguments aren’t exactly “rigorous”, to compare crime statistics before the passage or repeal of a gun law to those after the passage of the law — say, the three years prior and the three years after. Other factors will come into play, but given enough case studies, trends will definitely be seen to emerge.

If you aren’t prepared to produce statistics like that, you aren’t prepared to produce statistics that prove anything worthwhile about the efficacy of gun control legislation.

statistical sources:

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