Chad Perrin: SOB

18 February 2008

YouTube – FOX News Exposes Diebold Electronic Vote Flipping in Florida

Filed under: Geek,Liberty — Tags: , , , , , , , , — apotheon @ 12:21

YouTube – FOX News Exposes Diebold Electronic Vote Flipping in Florida

That’s video of a demonstration on Fox News of how a Diebold voting machine can be compromised. Some important steps were left out, of course. The gist is pretty obvious, though — and unsurprising.

The only way around this kind of thing is to take an open source approach to voting machine development, of course. When you can’t trust the developer (Can you trust Diebold?), you need to make sure the source is available. When you can’t trust the deployer (Can you trust the government under the Bush Administration?), you need to make sure the source is available. It’s that simple.

Nice to see that even Fox acknowledges there’s something wrong with the way voting machines are being “validated”.

If you’re on a Unix-like system, and the audio doesn’t match up with the video when viewing this, you can adjust the video framerate. I had to do this. Here’s one way to do this:

  1. Make sure youtube-dl is installed.

  2. Make sure MPlayer is installed with the necessary codecs for viewing Flash video.

  3. Use youtube-dl to download the video. I used the -o option for youtube-dl to specify the name of the saved file.

  4. Watch the video with MPlayer, using the -fps option to set the framerate for the video so that it roughly matches the audio. For me, a value of 30 worked pretty well.

Here’s the series of commands as I would have executed them if I did it all at once:

  portinstall youtube_dl
  portinstall mplayer win32-codecs
  youtube-dl -o vote_flipping.flv 'http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fVdVcAyDtBI'
  mplayer -fps 30 vote_flipping.flv

This is the Debian version, assuming the needed codecs are in a win32-codecs package in APT archives:

  apt-get install youtube-dl
  apt-get install mplayer win32-codecs
  youtube-dl -o vote_flipping.flv 'http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fVdVcAyDtBI'
  mplayer -fps 30 vote_flipping.flv

I don’t happen to recall whether there’s a package in the standard APT archives for those codecs (I haven’t dealt with this on Debian in a while). If they’re in there, you surely need to have the non-free archives specified in your sources.list file.

8 Comments

  1. Can I trust Diebold? If the question is regards to Diebold, as a company, deliberately messing with the voting machines, I trust them. I trust Diebold multiple times per month with my money, when I make ATM transactions. Indeed, I would imagine that Diebold would benefit much more by ripping me off than messing with my vote. More likely is a malicious Diebold employee. Again, this employee would be much better off (maybe capturing ATM card numbers and PINs and beaming them to a storage area) than manipulating votes. All said and done, the profit to messing with a voting machine is much less than messing with ATM equipment that Diebold makes. If this is the kind of “trust” in question, open source is irrelevant since a maliciously minded Diebold would just say they put the software on, then load a bogus version instead.

    That being said, if the question is not, “Do I trust Diebold?” at the level of, “do I trust Diebold to not screw up the software and leave a security hole?”, then the answer is, “probably not.” There already have been too many instances of these machines having problems. It took 20 – 30 years for ATMs to reach the level of quality and security that they enjoy today.

    J.Ja

    Comment by Justin James — 18 February 2008 @ 01:36

  2. I’m not talking about trusting Diebold the company to refrain from intentionally fixing the vote (though that’s not necessarily completely out of the question — these corporations are subject to the whims of actual human beings, after all). I’m talking about trusting Diebold to do things like, for instance, actually caring about the sanctity of the electoral process. As long as they sell machines, they don’t give a crap (as a company) about whether they’re doing a good job. Just enough of a reputation for bureaucrats to be able to claim they don’t think there’s anything wrong is all that’s needed for Diebold to meet its goals.

    Comment by apotheon — 18 February 2008 @ 03:41

  3. Yeah, my previous answer still stands: not much trust, particularly in light of the past.

    I would be interested in getting your view, as a proponent of free market economics, as to how situations like this are handled in FME. This kind of thing is a major reason why I do not support it. There are certain “mission critical” needs (I consider maintaining the accuracy of the election system “mission critical”) of the social fabric in which market forces, in and of themselves, are not sufficient to guarantee that the need is properly met. In this case, Diebold is a huge corporation; the voting machine contract would hardly sink them if they lost it due to mistakes. As you say, “As long as they sell machines, they don’t give a crap (as a company) about whether they’re doing a good job. Just enough of a reputation for bureaucrats to be able to claim they don’t think there’s anything wrong is all that’s needed for Diebold to meet its goals.” In fact, the only way these machines will be made properly, is if the companies and people involved go above and beyond the role of “rational agent” and take a completely irrational emotion (pride, caring about one’s work, etc.) and put it into the process.

    This is a major shortcoming of FME to me. Interestingly enough, it is also where I see the government’s role, in channeling & harnessing those irrational items for good. I think that when the government tries to get in the role of manipulating market forces in order to influence “rational agents”, that’s when the economy gets into big trouble. Working with the irrational (such as providing the leadership to initate the “Space Race” or win WWII through industrial might) as opposed to economic interventions that act upon the rational (the New Deal which was “useless” at best is a good example, or tax codes that try to influence people’s personal choices like marriage) is when the government has shown that it can be successful at doing good things and boosting the economy.

    J.Ja

    Comment by Justin James — 18 February 2008 @ 10:02

  4. I would be interested in getting your view, as a proponent of free market economics, as to how situations like this are handled in FME.

    Basically, in a truly free market, a huge effin’ corporation with a whole lot of political connections like Diebold wouldn’t exist. Problem solved.

    There are certain “mission critical” needs (I consider maintaining the accuracy of the election system “mission critical”) of the social fabric in which market forces, in and of themselves, are not sufficient to guarantee that the need is properly met.

    I can see that this managed economy is doing a great job.

    Oh, wait . . .

    In fact, the only way these machines will be made properly, is if the companies and people involved go above and beyond the role of “rational agent” and take a completely irrational emotion (pride, caring about one’s work, etc.) and put it into the process.

    Nonsense. A project like this cannot be trusted to anyone that won’t share the underlying design — and there’s nothing else to it. Transparency is the key to honest government.

    Interestingly enough, it is also where I see the government’s role, in channeling & harnessing those irrational items for good.

    I’m always mystified at this widespread theory of a conspiracy among government bureaucrats and power-hungry politicians to do everything for the good of the people.

    I think that when the government tries to get in the role of manipulating market forces in order to influence “rational agents”, that’s when the economy gets into big trouble.

    That sounds like an argument in favor of free market capitalism to me.

    Working with the irrational (such as providing the leadership to initate the “Space Race” or win WWII through industrial might) [. . .] is when the government has shown that it can be successful at doing good things and boosting the economy.

    In the short run, these things seem great. In the long run, not so great. Government involvement in space exploration has set back private industry involvement by decades, in part by providing the economy-destroying juggernaut of tax-funded brain drain that sucks all the talent in the industry into huge, over-budget, under-delivering contracts, and in part by regulating it in ways meant specifically to maintain a government contractor oligopoly. Every time government gets involved in an industry in a major way, it effectively destroys the private industry. Those parts of the industry that flourish are the parts least conducive to a level free market playing field — subsidized megacorporations.

    Comment by apotheon — 19 February 2008 @ 12:47

  5. “Basically, in a truly free market, a huge effin’ corporation with a whole lot of political connections like Diebold wouldn’t exist. Problem solved.”

    I am really not sure about this. You have been saying it (and related items) for a while, but I do not really understand what your basis is for it. I am not disagreeing, of course. But I am not sure how a free market economy prevents this from occuring. Diebold would be big, with or without political connections. Heck, Microsoft become ginormous without ANY political connections until this decade. Unless, of course, that the idea is that the “political connections” are the problem, and a much smaller, much less influential government would reduce or eliminate that (which makes sense). But if mega corporations are the issue, I do not see how it follows that FME gets rid of the existing ones and/or prevents new ones from being created.

    “A project like this cannot be trusted to anyone that won’t share the underlying design — and there’s nothing else to it.”

    It’s the open source principle, I get it. But I have never felt that the open source concept is definitive. Granted, for something like this (indeed, most things it could be applied to), nothing but good can come from it. But there is no guarantee that anything will come of it either. That’s actually my #1 objection to people that use “open source it” as a method for everything. There is simply no guarantee that making it open guarantees that the right people will look at it, just as there is no guarantee that a closed source environment will have the right people looking at it.

    “Transparency is the key to honest government.”

    I think this is only partially correct. Like open source, transparency is merely an enabler. It is no guarantee. Is there a possibility of “honest government” without transparency? Only in Plato’s Republic, right next to “reluctant philosopher-kings”. But in reality, even with wide open windows into government, the government would need to be excruiatingly small for the average person to be able to inspect it and find problems. A properly protected and valued press is much more important than transparency. Good journalists can get information even out of something that is not supposed to be “transparent” (Seymor Hersch’s breaking of the Abu Gharaib story and “The Pentagon Papers” immediately spring to mind), but something that is transparent but so complex that no one “gets” it is useless (like if they open sourced to code to Windows ME). Of course, you are also in favor of government shrinkage, but I think it would have to get much smaller than you envision for transparency to guarantee honesty.

    “I’m always mystified at this widespread theory of a conspiracy among government bureaucrats and power-hungry politicians to do everything for the good of the people.”

    I am always mystified by the widespread theory of a conspiracy among government bureaucrats and power-hungry politicians to do everything to enrich themselves at the expense of taxpayers, sit around for 20 years being incompetant just long enough to get a gold watch and a pension, or to push some “special interest agenda” that is code for “Big Tobacco, Big Oil, and Big Pharma”.

    All snide jokes aside, I beleive that government has the capacity to do great things. Why? “For the people, by the people, of the people.” Plain & simple. Government is a reflection of the people within it and the citizens of the nation who continue to support it. Even in something as monolithic as the Soviet Union, the average government worker wasn’t some crazed Stalin wanna be bent on oppressing the Russian population, he was just someone trying to bring home a paycheck and support a family. When the citizens of a nation beleive in their government and want it to do great things and reward that kind of leadership (in other words, free market at the ballot), you get real leadership. When you have a cynical populatgion who expects nothing but garbage from their government, they get garbage. It is impossible to have any kind of quality government when the government is not respected, working for the government is not respectable, and the average citizen’s attitude is one of “give me mine!” instead of “what can I do to contribute?”

    Your attitude regarding open source & transparency leads me to beleive that you share this idea of a population motivated to be civic minded. In your viewpoint, they either do it out of self interest (“I’d better find out if my mayor is crooked before I decide to pay my taxes this year, he could be ripping me off!”) or simple Kumbaya-ness (“I want to spend my spare time making the government better.”). I take a blended stance, which is that most people are a bit civic minded, but a paycheck goes a long way in motivating them.

    You are really forgetting your history though. There was a period of time where smart, business savvy, educated people worked in government, sometimes purely out of good will, like the “dollar-a-year men” during WWII. Unfortunately, since around the mid-60’s, government is no longer seen as a potentical vehicle for good, and it is viewed as inherently bad, evil, ignorant, stupid, blind, or incompetant, depending upon who you talk to. Let’s face it, post-mortem revelations of JFK’s shortcomings, LBJ’s misguided push for the “Great Society” (combined with the Vietnam debacle), Nixon’s shennanigans, Ford’s blunders (starting with Nixon’s pardon), Carter’s incompetance, Regan’s tripling of the debt, Bush I’s floundering, Clinton’s sexual escapades and abuse of the office, and Bush II’s assault on liberty, it is pretty easy to be down on the idea of government.

    But government is so much more than the politicians. It is the citizens too.

    “That sounds like an argument in favor of free market capitalism to me.”

    Not necessarily; but definitely an arguement against the same enemy, which is heavy handed government interventions in the economy.

    “In the short run, these things seem great. In the long run, not so great.”

    I’ll go beyond “seem” and stick with “are”. The problem is that the government doesn’t gracefully take its bow and exit once its done its role. The Space Race is STILL a good example. When the original goal was met (getting to the moon), and the “Space Race” was over, the government should have essentially “spun off” NASA and much of its functions to private government. Instead, as you point out, NASA and space exploration became a magnet for way too much government money and essentially a welfare system for scientists. “Space Race” good, “government control of anything that goes above 10 miles” bad. So to speak.

    At the end of the day, much of my economic beliefs are founded in the irrational premises that I cannot prove and can barely explain. Things like a belief that Man as an idea as well as individuals are destined for much more than mere profit making in a rational economy. For me, earning a good living is not about money, or even what it overtly buys, per se. It is about being able to provide a stable household for my family and not have them filled with worry and fear. In other words, I stopped “earning a paycheck” and started “making a living.” Education is important to me, not just because I want my son to have a good future, but because I believe that people are better educated than not educated. I beleive that there are universal moral laws of nature, such as not only not harming others, but trying to actively help others, and that when people do not live by these principles, they are unhappy. I think that it is hardly coincidence that as societies became jaded and cynical, their governments transition to increasingly tyrannical forms.

    I have had particular life experiences which led me to believe the provably impossible and definitely unexplainable. For example, one of my two majors was Philosophy, from Rutgers. That’s like getting a law degree from Harvard, or learning to program at MIT. People like Stephen Stich were my professors, and we had guys like Jerry Fodor on staff. This isn’t to brag, but I am quite proud of the education I received there, and it paints the picture a bit. I can (and did) refute every classic ontological prove. Descartes, Locke, not a problem. I can show that Plato’s Republic is essentially satire and skepticism (in the classical sense of the word, meaning that “the truth is unknowable”). But despite the advantages of what amounts to the finest undergraduate education available anywhere at any price in these matters, and having a transcript that shows I understand all of these things, I have been forced to accept and acknowledge the realm of the spirit and its influence in my life. Irrational? Yup. But it logically followed from my personal experiences. Can I rationalize away those experiences? Sure I can. But an honest re-examination of events and judicious application of Occam’s Razor made such conclusions, interestingly enough, most reasonable.

    So when it comes to stuff like this, I hold certain unprovable, and from the outside, irrational premises in mine and work from there. It’s tough to deal with, because my natural inclination is to dismiss those basic ideas. After all, I can’t prove them (note Descartes first tries to prove God’s existence [and essentially kicks the ball onto the freeway, I may add] before he proves anything else). I can’t even fault myself for trying to shoehorn pre-existing beliefs into some “facts” or “evidence”, since most of what I beleive today is about 180 around from what I used to believe even as recently as 3 years ago. Indeed, I had a fairly libertarian viewpoint without formally recognizing it, blended heavily with existentialism. Today I am very much an optimist. This mindset is, incidentally, why I much prefer using computers for “computing” and “communications” as opposed to “data processing”; in otherwords, the “personal computer” mindset rather than the mainframe view. I beleive that computers should be a potent force for unleashing the potential within each and every one of us, but not if we spend all of our time trying to figure out how to use them or just doing “bit shuffling.”

    In any event, I know that I am not likely going to win you over to my viewpoint, which is why I am not really arguring too hard for it. I know your views pretty well, and I know (or beleive I know) your underlying reasons for having those views, and you have a lot of good reasons. All I am really doing is providing some exposure to some ideas that you’ve encountered before, but based on different premises. Why? Because a lot of other people did the same for me, they put themselves in front of me knowing that I would politely listen and scoff when they left the room; I’ve since tracked down nearly all of those people and thanked them for what they did for me. This applies to a wide range of ideas, mind you, all sorts of them. But I’ve found that when an idea is laid out to be inspected in a “take it or leave it” manner that is respectful and polite, you will help both yourself and the other person. You get the chance to try to explain your ideas which help you understand them better, and the other person gets to see something in a non-hostile, “in your face” way. It’s like the difference between going to the zoo and being stranded in the Sahara Desert. :)

    I know I’m not going to change your mind, and that’s OK. Heck, I’ll freely admit that my ideas have plenty of holes in them. Some holes I see how to patch them and correct, others are extensions of unprovable premises. As a professional logician (which is a fancy way of saying “programmer”) I dislike those holes, its like seeing a project spec that says, “User clicks the ‘OK’ button and magic happens.” And the more I discuss these ideas, the smaller the holes get; I am certainly not too proud to never change my mind; indeed, looking over a lot of the discussion threads I’ve been involved with, I admit being wring and accept the other person’s ideas more than anyone else on the Internet, probably. So I am a pretty open minded person, I think, in the true sense of the phrase.

    In other words, I hope that I am making sense still, and that you’ve enjoyed learning a lot more about this topic as much as I’ve enjoyed discussing it. I am positive that it will continue to come up time and time and time again, but I thought that this was definitely a good time to explicitly verbalize (as it were) the fact that since I am coming from an unprovable premise or three, that you will see certain inconsistencies and that I will seem illogical in places. :)

    J.Ja

    Comment by Justin James — 20 February 2008 @ 01:03

  6. “Basically, in a truly free market, a huge effin’ corporation with a whole lot of political connections like Diebold wouldn’t exist. Problem solved.”

    I am really not sure about this. You have been saying it (and related items) for a while, but I do not really understand what your basis is for it.

    Corporations are constructs of centralized economic power, which translates to political power. Corporations are inventions of state interference in the market. A free market, by definition, is one in which there is not an “authority” interfering in the market. Without the governmental interference in the market that created corporations in the first place, the vicious circle of power aggregation in corporations would not have begun in the first place.

    But I am not sure how a free market economy prevents this from occuring. Diebold would be big, with or without political connections.

    Diebold, as a corporation, would not exist in a free market economy by definition.

    But if mega corporations are the issue, I do not see how it follows that FME gets rid of the existing ones and/or prevents new ones from being created.

    Without corporate law, corporations wouldn’t exist, period. Corporate law is a form of governmental interference in the market economy. Interference in a market economy makes that economy, by definition, not a free market economy.

    It’s the open source principle, I get it. But I have never felt that the open source concept is definitive. Granted, for something like this (indeed, most things it could be applied to), nothing but good can come from it. But there is no guarantee that anything will come of it either.

    Tell me — do you think nobody would look at the source code if they thought the source was designed to screw them over? That’s what you seem to be suggesting here.

    There is simply no guarantee that making it open guarantees that the right people will look at it, just as there is no guarantee that a closed source environment will have the right people looking at it.

    This is not the sort of situation where people will just ignore the source if it’s made available, I’m sure. It’s part of the machinery of government. The trustworthiness of these voting machines is critical to the health of the system, insofar as they are used. Why wouldn’t people check out the source code?

    A closed source environment, particularly under the control of a corporation like Diebold, lends itself to ignoring actual problems in favor of trying to assuage fears about perceived problems. Even when the perceived problems are the actual problems, fixing the problems is unnecessary if you can just make people think the problems have been solved. Making it all open source would substantially damage the ability to hide corruption, incompetence, and other negative factors.

    I think this is only partially correct. Like open source, transparency is merely an enabler. It is no guarantee.

    You’ve got that backwards. Opaqueness is an enabler — an enabler for incompetence, corruption, et cetera. Transparency is the state of lack of that enabler.

    But in reality, even with wide open windows into government, the government would need to be excruiatingly small for the average person to be able to inspect it and find problems.

    One can inspect the workings of government and find problems now. You don’t have to hold the complete structure of government in your head all at once to be able to examine the workings of part of it. I’m not saying transparency automatically makes all of government better and more honest — but it contributes substantially to making a lot of government better and more honest.

    A properly protected and valued press is much more important than transparency.

    The press is a force for transparency — at least, when it hasn’t been significantly co-opted by partisan forces.

    I am always mystified by the widespread theory of a conspiracy among government bureaucrats and power-hungry politicians to do everything to enrich themselves at the expense of taxpayers, sit around for 20 years being incompetant just long enough to get a gold watch and a pension, or to push some “special interest agenda” that is code for “Big Tobacco, Big Oil, and Big Pharma”.

    It doesn’t take a conspiracy. All it takes is a few bad seeds in positions of power, without effective checks and balances in place. The more power you grant to government, the worse it will get.

    People seem to think that the only way to guard against bad people is to give government the power to be a watchdog over everyone, to pry into everything. What they forget is that government is people, too — the same people who they think need watching.

    All snide jokes aside, I beleive that government has the capacity to do great things. Why? “For the people, by the people, of the people.” Plain & simple.

    Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote. (Apologies to Ben Franklin for the paraphrase.)

    When the citizens of a nation beleive in their government and want it to do great things and reward that kind of leadership (in other words, free market at the ballot), you get real leadership. When you have a cynical populatgion who expects nothing but garbage from their government, they get garbage.

    So . . . what? Are you saying that it’s the fault of people like me, who want to eliminate corruption and authoritarian violations of rights as much as possible, that government is corrupt and routinely engages in authoritarian violations of rights? That’s poppycock. Blame the victim. Good policy.

    People come to expect from government what government gives them.

    It is impossible to have any kind of quality government when the government is not respected, working for the government is not respectable, and the average citizen’s attitude is one of “give me mine!” instead of “what can I do to contribute?”

    I certainly won’t argue with the problem of the average citizen’s attitude. That’s a problem of the structure of government, though, not of some humans being bad people. Some humans will be bad people no matter what. The key is to have a government resistant to their influence. That’s the idea behind the Bill of Rights, but the structure of our government makes it too easy to obviate that limiting influence over the long haul. A quote generally attributed to Alexander Tytler addresses the matter of democratic government without sufficient limits on its power:

    “A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts form the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship.”

    Your attitude regarding open source & transparency leads me to beleive that you share this idea of a population motivated to be civic minded.

    Nope. Far from it. I believe, however, that it doesn’t take everyone to expose the corruption of government, just as it doesn’t take everyone reading source code to find problems with an open source program. The inability to effectively hide problems in the face of those with a vested interest in exposing them, however, greatly improves the overall quality of the government, or program, or whatever else is being treated with transparency.

    You are really forgetting your history though. There was a period of time where smart, business savvy, educated people worked in government, sometimes purely out of good will, like the “dollar-a-year men” during WWII. Unfortunately, since around the mid-60’s, government is no longer seen as a potentical vehicle for good, and it is viewed as inherently bad, evil, ignorant, stupid, blind, or incompetent, depending upon who you talk to.

    I’m not sure how you get the notion that I’m “really forgetting” history from that. In any case, the government here in the US has been primarily bad, evil, ignorant, stupid, and incompetent, since about the mid-1800s at least. That doesn’t mean it can’t be fixed, or that government as a whole is necessarily all those things.

    In any case, I think you’re mischaracterizing the common perception of government. In truth, most people think government is the only thing that can solve the world’s ills. They see it as a panacea, and they just need to get their fellow voters to stop being bad, evil, ignorant, stupid, blind, or incompetent long enough to create the “perfect” government that can impose goodness on us all from above. The problem with that thinking is that it removes the reins of government entirely, leaving it without limits. It grows exponentially, consuming everything in its path, utterly failing to provide any of the goodness people expect from it. They blame people with different ideas about what government should do with all this power, but never question the notion that it should have all that power — and so the problem remains.

    As George Washington said: “Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”

    But government is so much more than the politicians. It is the citizens too.

    In some respects, it is. The problem with government, however, is in a lack of limits. Citizens are always going to be a mixed bag at best, but with proper limits government is, well, limited from straying too far into the red zone at the behest of the citizens.

    Not necessarily; but definitely an arguement against the same enemy, which is heavy handed government interventions in the economy.

    Without government intervention in the economy, you get a free market economy — by definition.

    The problem is that the government doesn’t gracefully take its bow and exit once its done its role. The Space Race is STILL a good example. When the original goal was met (getting to the moon), and the “Space Race” was over, the government should have essentially “spun off” NASA and much of its functions to private government. Instead, as you point out, NASA and space exploration became a magnet for way too much government money and essentially a welfare system for scientists. “Space Race” good, “government control of anything that goes above 10 miles” bad. So to speak.

    The problem, to some degree, is that people think government will ever just take its bow and exit. If limits exist that prevent government from getting involved in the first place, it won’t end up squatting at the top of the heap preventing anyone else from succeeding for the next few decades, or even centuries. The only really effective means of preventing the problem that arose is to prevent government from getting involved in things like this in the first place.

    Things like a belief that Man as an idea as well as individuals are destined for much more than mere profit making in a rational economy.

    Y’know, I never said anything about that being the sum total of the destiny of the human race. A free market economy is merely these two things:

    1. the only ethical way to organize an economy

    2. the most effective way to encourage people in the aggregate to strive toward greater things

    In other words, it’s both an ethical mandate and a means to the end of encouraging humanity toward a brighter future.

    I think that it is hardly coincidence that as societies became jaded and cynical, their governments transition to increasingly tyrannical forms.

    Governments, over time, tend toward increasing tyranny. This is true of any ultimately unfettered centralization of power. As a result of this drift, people become jaded and cynical.

    In any event, I know that I am not likely going to win you over to my viewpoint,

    Yeah, that would be pretty difficult to do, considering that from what I’ve seen so far you don’t have a coherent viewpoint.

    All I am really doing is providing some exposure to some ideas that you’ve encountered before, but based on different premises.

    All you’ve really exposed me to is your skepticism of my beliefs, without any real underlying reasoning that I’ve seen so far.

    What do you believe is the “right” answer to government? Do you even have such beliefs? Your response to my comments about free market economics so far has largely been to ask questions that are answered simply with tautologies, then pretend nothing substantive has been said, as far as I can tell. You sorta half-assed argue against free market economics by saying you disagree with the concept (which is a position statement, not an argument), that it “can’t fix everything” (which I never claimed), and that people are destined for more than making a profit (which I never disputed). After all that, I still don’t know what you believe, if anything.

    As for me . . .

    I have a rational, logical foundation for pretty much everything I believe, with the possible exception of my underlying metaphysical belief system (substantially Taoist in nature). I build my beliefs about the practical, physical world from a minimal set of effectively self-evident, necessary premises. Unless someone can dispute them effectively, they’re going to have a hard time convincing me that some wild proclamations without logical support are worth the electrons on which they’re printed.

    . . . but that’s not to say I’m not willing to change my mind. 2003 saw a significant alteration in my views on “intellectual property”, in fact, because of a conversation I had with a friend I had only met for the first time that day. Over the course of the next year or so, the ideas suggested in that discussion sank in, overturning the foundations of my beliefs on the subject, and a more substantial, reasoned set of beliefs took their place. In that conversation, I had summed up my reaction to what was said by saying that I would have to consider what my friend told me, examine the implications, and figure out what I thought about it when I’d considered it at great length.

    I’m willing to change my mind about something, but only when there’s an actual reason to do so.

    Comment by apotheon — 20 February 2008 @ 12:00

  7. “Without corporate law, corporations wouldn’t exist, period. Corporate law is a form of governmental interference in the market economy. Interference in a market economy makes that economy, by definition, not a free market economy.”

    I agree that government regulations grant an especially favorable climate to the corporation as an entity; an interesting mixture of no responsibility for the actions of its employees, they are freed from responsibility of their actions, meanwhile maintaining the civil rights nearly 100% intact that individuals get.

    That being said, a primary tenent of FME (as I understand it) is the concept that privately executed contracts are to be honored and enforced; after all, without strong contract law, it is doomed to failure. So what would stop people from forming corporations and such? This is, I beleive, a weak point in the FME idea. Most FME proponents seem to be against the quasi-governmental mega-corporations, but any effort to forbid them is government interference. At best, the government can simply not give them any special status.

    “Tell me — do you think nobody would look at the source code if they thought the source was designed to screw them over? That’s what you seem to be suggesting here. … This is not the sort of situation where people will just ignore the source if it’s made available, I’m sure. It’s part of the machinery of government. The trustworthiness of these voting machines is critical to the health of the system, insofar as they are used. Why wouldn’t people check out the source code?”

    Simply put, if Diebold is seriously intent on being malicious, they can simply put fake or bogus code on the system, a different build from what the public saw. Even if Diebold is well intentioned, it would take a pretty serious effort to prevent a rogue employee from tampering with the system in the plant.

    That is, in my opinion, the #1 preventer of abuse by any large entity, and that is simply “get a lot of people involved.” It is one thing for one or two individuals to try to do something wrong for whatever reason and cover it up. It is another thing entirely when 100 people are involved. I know what you’re saying, opening these things up allows that to happen, which I certainly do not dispute. Indeed, in this particular example, I am quite positive that plenty of people will look at it. But there is plenty of stuff where openess is no guarantee that anyone will look at it. Like I said, it certainly is not harmful, and can only be good.

    “You’ve got that backwards. Opaqueness is an enabler — an enabler for incompetence, corruption, et cetera. Transparency is the state of lack of that enabler.”

    No, I had it right. Your statement about opacity is quite correct as well. Transparency is an “enabler” too, an enabler of inspection. It does not guarantee that inspection will occur.

    “The press is a force for transparency — at least, when it hasn’t been significantly co-opted by partisan forces.”

    I agree; what the press does, why is traditional gets special treatment, is for bringing light (or transparancy) to things that are not normally transparent or spotlighted. For example, magazines publishing the Abu Gharaib story, despite it being an extremely opaque situation. But what I meant by that, is that with a strong press, transparancy occurs, regardless of whether or not “the system” is open.

    “People seem to think that the only way to guard against bad people is to give government the power to be a watchdog over everyone, to pry into everything. What they forget is that government is people, too — the same people who they think need watching. … Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.”

    We really are working with the same basic prinicples by and large. I agree completely about the wolf/lamb situation. It’s why I am quite thankful that we are a republic and not a democracy. The problem with the wolf/lamb analogy, is that I all I see that FME offers is an open gun shop for the lambs to go to, if they know where it is, know that there are wolves they need to protect themselves against, know that the guns are an effective defense, are willing and able to pay for the guns, and then are willing and properly trained to pull the trigger when they need to. I agree that a truly free market is the best solution in a world full of rational agents. But without a roadmap to a world full of rational agents, FME is a non-starter from my perspective. You’ve said so yourself (http://sob.apotheon.org/?p=355) that you see that the vast majority of people are extremely irrational. I’ve said it too.

    If I have a choice between trusting the government, an organization charged with watchdog duties, and then watchdogging it myself, and having to watch out for everything around me, I will go with the government. Essentially, it is single vendor outsourcing for the tasks I can’t or won’t do myself. Have there been lapses or problems, sometimes catestrophically? Sure. The unreported story is just how well things are working. Compare food safety of the days of “The Jungle” to modern food safety. It was not until the press exposed the dangerous shortcuts that private industry took that the government stepped in and started regulating. As a result of government regulations, the days of food safety being a question mark in the average citizen’s life are over. Does it come up occassionally? Sure. But we’re not eating bleach in our sausages every day, either.

    “So . . . what? Are you saying that it’s the fault of people like me, who want to eliminate corruption and authoritarian violations of rights as much as possible, that government is corrupt and routinely engages in authoritarian violations of rights? That’s poppycock. Blame the victim. Good policy.”

    I beleive that you have completely misread this. All I was saying was that when the population gives up on the idea of “good government”, it is impossible for government to be good. After all, who would go into government if it was disreputable or disgraceful to do so? Only die-hard true beleivers and those who are disreputable and disgraced. When people expect the government to stink, they don’t bother to look out for corruption and violations, they just assume that it happens and don’t do anything about it. And that then becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.

    “I’m not sure how you get the notion that I’m “really forgetting” history from that.”

    Mainly because I keep hearing absolutes from you; when I hear absolutes, it tells me that you may be forgetting that there has been some good done too.

    “In truth, most people think government is the only thing that can solve the world’s ills. They see it as a panacea, and they just need to get their fellow voters to stop being bad, evil, ignorant, stupid, blind, or incompetent long enough to create the “perfect” government that can impose goodness on us all from above.”

    I may misunderstand it, but I do not think that I am mischarachteraizing it. I think that is a very true point, that many people see it as a panacea, basically a guardian angel plus all-loving parent that can sweep up after their messes. I don’t view it that way.

    “Without government intervention in the economy, you get a free market economy — by definition.”

    I think we have a different idea of the word “intervention”. I take it as a sudden, sharp increase in regulation, attention, change in course, or other attempt to drastically and suddenly change the status quo, specifically as a response to a perceived problem. Very similar to what “intervention” might mean to a substance abuse counselor, for example. You take it to mean any kind of involvement. I think that a government that participates in the economy, if done lightly, delicately, and with an eye towards not attempting to dictate or control, merely to subtly influence is fine, to an extent.

    “Y’know, I never said anything about that being the sum total of the destiny of the human race.”

    To be honest, I really wish you had. :) Too many FME people are these bitter, cynical people. They don’t want anything better for humanity, they just latch on to the FME concept because it meshes nicely with their dislike of other people. George Carlin is a good example. He is funny as anything, but to be honest, his world outlook is fairly depressing; I know that when I had such a dim view of the world around me, I was racing towards disaster at many levels in my life, which only made the perception issues worse.

    Where I really screwed up on this, is that I know for a fact that you are not like that, but I allowed those people to cast therir shadow over you in my mind anyways, for which I deeply regret.

    “Governments, over time, tend toward increasing tyranny. This is true of any ultimately unfettered centralization of power. As a result of this drift, people become jaded and cynical.”

    I feel it is a chicken & egg issue. Bad government leads to uncaring & apathy, which allows worse government.

    Now I’m going to go (slightly) out of order.

    “Your response to my comments about free market economics so far has largely been to ask questions that are answered simply with tautologies, then pretend nothing substantive has been said, as far as I can tell. You sorta half-assed argue against free market economics by saying you disagree with the concept (which is a position statement, not an argument), that it “can’t fix everything” (which I never claimed), and that people are destined for more than making a profit (which I never disputed). After all that, I still don’t know what you believe, if anything.”

    Yes, I am treating this as a conversation, not a debate or attempt to really write an essay of effective thesis (although I am doing that as well on the side, just not in this venue). In a conversation, hearring something interesting & asking for more details, possibly while making a remark about your own ideas is fairly common.

    “Unless someone can dispute them effectively, they’re going to have a hard time convincing me that some wild proclamations without logical support are worth the electrons on which they’re printed.”

    That’s pretty true for myself as well, although like I said, I have a number of areas where I am completely irrational. Overall,what you said about how so few people have a reason behind their beliefs, that is actually why I find it so impossible to support FME in practice. In theory? Not a bad idea at all. In practice, though, I feel that far too many people simply do not have the level of financial sophistication to survive in it, combined with a total irrationality underlying many major financial decisions. They aren’t stupid, they just do not think things through, or lack the education to understand what the implications of what they are doing is. Let’s face it, the housing bubble made sense to someone who does not understand economics. After all, if everyone you know if selling their house 2 years after buying it for a 30% profit, that interest only loan on a house that costs 7 times your yearly pre-tax income looks like a good deal… the monthly payments are (for the moment) affordable, and you can sell it in 3 years for a handsome profit. As someone who understand economics, I didn’t buy a house during that period, because I knew that the speculators were driving houses about their proper valuations, and I am not going to buy something priced too high, regardless how much I want it. Which is a discipline I learned after years of taking self-inflicted financial beatings.

    “What do you believe is the “right” answer to government? Do you even have such beliefs?”

    Great question. I do not have a definite “this is 100% what I believe is the solution” answer to that (remember the “questions of policy” discussion a few months ago? this falls under that banner). But I am getting closer and closer. Some of the things I believe to be true that will get baked into the answer when I have it for sure:

    • FME is a good solution, provided a population that is educated in “financial hygiene”, practices delayed gratification, is willing and able to practice moderation, and otherwise understand and make sound financial decisions. Without such a population, FME simply provides a well stocked hunting grounds for a few “bad apple predators”.

    • Those predators will exist regardless of the type of government. It’s a fact of life. Any good system will be effective at limiting their ability to enrich themselves at the expense of others.

    • There is a substantial difference between “ruling” and “governing”. A “ruler” has the ability to give orders or direction and mete out some type of punishment when disobeyed. A “governer” explicitly has the mandate of those governed, which means some type of participation as well, whether it be a benevolent king who solicits feedback, a forced democracy where everything requires a vote that everyone votes in, an anarchy where people form loosely bound communes, or whatever. When the formal ruler is truly lousy, people form alternative, supplemental, or unofficial replacement governments in place of the ruler. My favorite example of this is Hamas. Sure, they are a terrorist organization. But they survive by providing the government that the Palestinians demanded and expected from the PLO, but never got because Arafat was ripping them off, things like medicine, food, education, etc. A government does not exist without the mandate of the people governed.

    • As such, FME, anarchy, libertarianism, and other “minimal government” style ideas do not truly get rid of “government”; they reduce the size of the “official government” (the ruling organization) significatly, and replace much of its functionality with a combination of private industry, individual volunteers, and ad hoc associations and organizations of citizens. A good example of this is the idea that some put forth that instead of having police (or as many police, or increasing the number of police to keep up), a significant portion of citizens should be armed at any given time, so that it will deter crime and stop it if it occurs. In other words, a volunteer police force with enough checks & balances to keep it from becoming a group of armed bandits roaming the streets. It is still “government”, there just are no “rulers”.

    • Any “government” as I see it is going to provide certain services, or else people will not want it: crime prevention/law enforcement, fire departments, roads & transportation, sewer, defense from foreign threats, contract & property rights enforcement, legal system to the extent needed by law enforcement and civil needs, and so on. Note that all of these items tend to follow either an “insurance policy” funding mechanism, where most users use much less than they pay for, and a few use a lot less than they pay for, and/or they are the types of systems where the average citizen could not afford to have a bill handed to them for services rendered, so money needs to come from outside the service itself to pay for it (tarriffs, a graduated tax rate on income, a sales tax, etc.).

    • Nearly everyone wants to do good, and does do good. Very few people will do good on the level that requires extreme self sacrifice without a motivation above & beyond “doing good”. For example, most people will not murder someone else, but few people would actively roam the streets looking for an escaped convict either.

    • Good government, as an expression of the citizenry, has the mandate to perform the will of the people, within the bounderaries of moral law. Additionally, good government has the mandate to do what the citizenry feel is “good”, but lacks the wherewithal as individuals to perform. For example, if the citizens feel that saving endangered species is the right thing to do, but few of them have the time to scour mountains looking for bald eagle eggs to incubant to birth, then the government should be performing endangered species protection of some sort.

    • Government can be an active participant in the lives of its citizens, as it is an expression of its citizens.

    • National boundaries are arbitrary and are, at best, a necessary evil, and at worst, an evil that brings no benefit at all.

    • Many “nations” are simply a number of governments that cooperate a bit, or use the “nation” as a mechanism to rule areas that they do not govern. The compromises inherent in the US Constitution regarding the House of Representatives as opposed to the Senate are an example of an attempt to mitigate this. During the formation of the US, there was great concern by many of the Southern states that the Northern states would have sheer population advantage, and pushed hard for the Senate (and simultaneously ther “3 5ths rule”) to offset this.

    • Everyone has a “special interest”; blaming a nation’s problems on “special interests” is rediculous. Any given culture will have a certain number of special interests in common with each other, like “the elderly”, “the poor”, “the handicapped”, etc. Multiple your cultures, and you are multiplying your “special interests”. As a result, the “me vs. them” attitude is easy to pick up. “Me vs. them” distracts from the true issues.

    • Victim mentality is deadly and infectuous. Having something bad happen to you does not make you a “victim”, it makes you unlucky (or maybe, just as lucky as the rest of us). It is when someone deliberately hurts you that you become a victim and have a reasonable expectation of “justice” (aka: “court regulated vengeance”). Having a tornado hit your house does not make you a “tornado victim” worthy of a government bailout as “justice”; getting shot by a mugger makes you a “victim” who should see their assailant pay the legal price of their actions.

    • Any “solution” that bills itself as a cure-all (or close to it) isn’t. With 4,000+ years of history, if something was workable and good, it would have been major at one point by now. The very fact that governments of some variety universally arose in the first place is clear evidence that raw anarchy does not work. Nomadic tribes almost always seem to end up with either something very close to Communism or true FME, off hand. They may live a life of freedom, but their wives are basically deliberatiely sabotaging the nomadic way of life because they want modern appliances (no kidding, either, I heard a report on NPR about this a number of months ago). They are trading in their freedom of life for freedom from chores.

    • Everything happens for a reason; it just is not always God’s reason. Blaming God for all of the bad things in your life (“thy will be done”, “He works in mysterious ways”, etc.) while taking credit for all of the good things in your life is a sure route to unhappiness.

    • “Big business” is not inherently evil, but it is suceptable to corruption, being exploitive, and inefficient. Most mega-corporations manage to survive and grow in spite of themselves, not because of themselves due to sheer inertia of the customer base, creating a hostage crisis amongst customers, employees, and once big enough, the economy at large. If WalMart were to disappear tomorrow, the consequences not just in the US, but internationally (particularly China) would be immeasurable. We almost need to ensure that WalMart does not disappear (at least not slowly) becuase it is almost a matter of national interest. Sad, but true.

    • Children do not get to choose who their parents are. Above all, any good government must dilligently ensure that every child has the opportunity to suceed, even if that child’s parents are unable or unwilling to give them the tools to do so. Any species that neglects or allows its young to be harmed is one headed for extinction.

    • The right to life, liberty, and the persuit of happiness means just that, and it is the government’s mandate to protect that. I am allowed to persue happiness; happiness is not promised to me. That being said, your persuit of happiness is not allowed to infringe on my right to life or liberty.

    You can see why I am turned off by current politics, while seeming to espouse similar ideas, I think. Much of what I beleive the government should be doing is protecting my life and my liberty. Without, for example, the EPA, I have little hope or reason to hope that I will have clean air to breathe or water to drink, because the “government watchdog” is protecting my right to life. If there is any attempts to bypass this, it will either require lapses in government vigilence (wholly possible, of course) or a deliberate conspiracy. To be honest, conspiracies to do stuff like that is pretty darned rare. If you think of every interaction with the government in our lives, the “failure rate” as a percentage is insanely low. For every Watergate, there were millions of drivers who successfully registered their cars. For every police officer that gets caught shaking people down, the fire department saved 10,000 people. And so on.

    We focus on the failures, in other words. And as the “Information Age” progresses, the failures become more and more visible (transparancy). It is when we conflate the increasing visibility of problems with increasing rates of problems that people get themselves in trouble. A good example is the unwed teenage pregnancy rate. It has held fairly steady for 400 years, despite the common perception that it is “getting worse”. The Puritans had approximately the same unwed teenage pregnancy rate as the US today (but the prevalence of shotgun weddings made the rate of unwed births much lower). We think the government is getting worse and worse; I disagree, I think that we are seeing more and more of the problems. JFK’s sexual escapades remained a “dirty little secret” for quite some time, they would have been exposed in a minute between modern tabloids and the Internet.

    I put FME in the same category as Communism: it is a really good idea if certain aspects of current realitgy were greatly magnified, and other parts were removed. It has its appeal, and much of it is well based in current reality (yes, I am saying that Communism as an academic theory does have some attractive aspects). Heck, Fascism as defined by Mussolini has some attractive aspects. Communism spread, not through any inherent advantages, but because it was different from what people already had (and knew to be crummy), and the Communist leaders were the ones taking action. China, for example, only went Communist because Chiang Kai Shek was corrupt and inept. Ho Chi Minh only chose to be a Communist after Western leaders refused to help him, choosing their alliance with France instead.

    I really think that alternative systems tend to be viewed with a “grass is greener” mentality by most of their proponents. I have not found any form of government to be “self evident”, “obvious”, “intuitive”, etc. I have found good things as bad things about every type of government, including dictatorships, tyrannies, ologarchies, aristocracies, plutarchies, and monarchies. I also feel that the continued existence of the human race, combined with the relative infrequently of entire civilizations wiping themselves (or each other) off the planet is cause for celebration. If things were truly as bad as so many people seem to feel, we’d all be dead.

    Does this sound like a lot of “don’t worry, be happy”? Probably. But without seeing a map of transitioning a population to being well suited for FME, Communism, anarchy, or any other alternative government mechanism, I cannot support any shift like that. Throwing a baby into a pool doesn’t teach it to swim, it drowns the child. Until I see evidence that an overwhelming portion of the population would fair well under FME (and right now, I think it might be 50%), I just cannot support it.

    J.Ja

    Comment by Justin James — 22 February 2008 @ 01:11

  8. That being said, a primary tenent of FME (as I understand it) is the concept that privately executed contracts are to be honored and enforced; after all, without strong contract law, it is doomed to failure. So what would stop people from forming corporations and such?

    Corporations are not just contracts. They are legal entities. This is a state of legal recognition outside of the terms of a contract. Corporations consist of more than a contractual agreement — they consist of a charter, recognized by law, that requires no “legal agreement” between any parties other than government and a sole shareholder if the would-be corporation was a sole proprietorship before incorporation.

    Most FME proponents seem to be against the quasi-governmental mega-corporations, but any effort to forbid them is government interference. At best, the government can simply not give them any special status.

    If you don’t give them special status, they aren’t corporations.

    Simply put, if Diebold is seriously intent on being malicious, they can simply put fake or bogus code on the system, a different build from what the public saw. Even if Diebold is well intentioned, it would take a pretty serious effort to prevent a rogue employee from tampering with the system in the plant.

    I suppose there’s no such thing in the world as system audits, for instance, then. What about checksum verification? I guess that’s impossible, too.

    These are not difficult things. It’s easy to perform a checksum verification — and if everything’s open, it’s easy to get a checksum to use.

    Indeed, in this particular example, I am quite positive that plenty of people will look at it. But there is plenty of stuff where openess is no guarantee that anyone will look at it.

    What’s your problem, exactly? I never said there was a guarantee that at all times openness necessarily translates to an inviolable state of perfection. Shit, pal, I’m talking about statistical benefits — huge, gigantic honking statistical benefits. Call it 99.999% if you like, rounded down to the third digit to the right of the decimal point.

    No, I had it right. Your statement about opacity is quite correct as well. Transparency is an “enabler” too, an enabler of inspection. It does not guarantee that inspection will occur.

    Play word games if you like. The practical fact of the matter is that transparency is a natural state in matters like this, so it’s not an “enabler”. Rather, if you want to speak of the effect on inspection, the unnatural state (prohibition of inspection by law) is a disabler.

    But what I meant by that, is that with a strong press, transparancy occurs, regardless of whether or not “the system” is open.

    Without a somewhat open system of government, the press cannot do its job as a force for increasing transparency. Notice that in substantially closed governments, the press (if it even exists there) is significantly controlled by the state itself.

    The problem with the wolf/lamb analogy, is that I all I see that FME offers is an open gun shop for the lambs to go to, if they know where it is, know that there are wolves they need to protect themselves against, know that the guns are an effective defense, are willing and able to pay for the guns, and then are willing and properly trained to pull the trigger when they need to.

    . . . and to the extent that you lack a free market, that stuff tends to be missing. So what’s your hang-up?

    But without a roadmap to a world full of rational agents, FME is a non-starter from my perspective. You’ve said so yourself (http://sob.apotheon.org/?p=355) that you see that the vast majority of people are extremely irrational.

    Nonsense. A free market system of economics protects the rights of everyone. Those who act irrationally are making use of their rights as much as everyone else. The fact they’re irrational in no way gives anyone the justification to interfere with the rights of any actors in the market — rational or otherwise.

    If you’re going to discard a free market just because you think some people might behave irrationally, you had better discard democracy too. People might behave irrationally in a democratically composed government that has a nonfree market economy — they might in fact behave so irrationally as to want someone like Hillary Clinton or John McCain for President! I know it’s hard to imagine, but it could happen.

    If I have a choice between trusting the government, an organization charged with watchdog duties, and then watchdogging it myself, and having to watch out for everything around me, I will go with the government.

    Without watching out for everything around you, you cannot be effective in the task of watching government. After all, the problem with watching government for signs of perfidy is that its power is derived from the other 299,999,999 million or so people in the country, most of whom disagree with your pathetically outdated notion that you have rights.

    I’m not saying we shouldn’t have government, practically speaking. I’m just saying that government shouldn’t be in the business of fucking with my rights. When I say we need a free market, all I’m really saying is “I’m trying to act as government’s watchdog. Right now, it’s misbehaving. It has become the wolf that threatens the flock. It is violating rights. Give back my economic rights, dammit.”

    Compare food safety of the days of “The Jungle” to modern food safety.

    Don’t even go there. Do you really want me to school you on matters of food safety? The FDA does more harm than good. Hell, high-ranking FDA officials are Monsanto lobbyists and executives. That’s why anything short of the word “organic” can be printed on milk that contains rBGH, and why milk producers aren’t allowed to advertise the lack of rBGH. That’s also part of the reason that Monsanto-patented genetically engineered corn is the primary source of ethanol and high fructose corn syrup in this country — and why even about 75% of the sandwich bread in the country is made with HFCS. Can you imagine that shit? Wonderbread, of all things, is made with HFCS. So are some brands of bread with the word “natural” on the label. It’s pure insanity, and it’s all thanks to the FDA having been compromised by major food industry corporations almost from the day it was created.

    As a result of government regulations, the days of food safety being a question mark in the average citizen’s life are over.

    That’s a good one. Tell me another.

    Perhaps you think that’s true because, unlike me, you don’t pay much attention to what you’re actually eating.

    Does it come up occassionally? Sure. But we’re not eating bleach in our sausages every day, either.

    On the other hand, small beef producers are prevented from testing 100% of their beef for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, because the large beef producers decided it would cut into their bottom lines too much to try to compete with that practice. That’s right, the FDA is intentionally acting to prevent safety measures in the beef industry. Far from fixing the problems of the beef industry highlighted by a truly awful piece of socialist literary confection, the FDA is actually creating problems that could not have existed without it.

    All I was saying was that when the population gives up on the idea of “good government”, it is impossible for government to be good.

    Government isn’t either good or evil. It’s a collection of people — and they are good or evil. Government can only really be judged for its resistance to being used for evil, and ours is rapidly sliding down the scale.

    Notice all the people normally down on government getting into their lives unnecessarily who, despite all that, have been enthusiastic about Dr. Ron Paul. That’s because he’d be a good person in government, rather than the usual choice between evils that people perceive as their only options. I think your impression of how people view government when the veils are ripped away is overly simplistic. Of course, that’s in large part because people’s impressions of how they themselves view government is overly simplistic. They don’t recognize the complexity in their own manner of thinking about government. Ironic, really.

    Anyway, apathy gave corrupt politicians their opportunities — not the other way around.

    Mainly because I keep hearing absolutes from you; when I hear absolutes, it tells me that you may be forgetting that there has been some good done too.

    Well, that’s just great. In order for you to consider me anything but a simpleton, I have to eschew any actual positions on anything. I guess I’ll just continue being a simpleton in your eyes, then. I guess that kind of postmodernist crap is what I should expect from someone with a top-end “education” in “philosophy”, though.

    In any case, I haven’t forgotten that there has been some good done. I just don’t think that excuses the evils. Keep the good aspects of government and get rid of the bad — that’s all I want.

    I think we have a different idea of the word “intervention”. I take it as a sudden, sharp increase in regulation, attention, change in course, or other attempt to drastically and suddenly change the status quo, specifically as a response to a perceived problem.

    Call it “influence” or “interference” if you like — though “intervention” can be small as well as big. The degree of intervention doesn’t change the fact it’s still intervention, though, nor does the fact that there’s an ongoing, sustained campaign of interventions over a long period of time. Nickel-and-dime attacks do the same thing as twenty dollar attacks in the long run, but they tend to be less noted along the way.

    You take it to mean any kind of involvement.

    Nope. I take it to mean any kind of involvement that skews market forces unnaturally. One can always participate in the free market economy — but managing it makes it necessarily unfree.

    I feel it is a chicken & egg issue. Bad government leads to uncaring & apathy, which allows worse government.

    The initiating incident is the existence of bad people in government. It doesn’t take apathy for bad people to get in government — just fraud. An insufficiently limited government, however, doesn’t recover when the bad seeds are found out, and doesn’t stop them from doing damage.

    In a conversation, hearring something interesting & asking for more details, possibly while making a remark about your own ideas is fairly common.

    . . . except that your remarks amount to “You’re wrong,” followed by a significant lack of any explanation of that other than more statements to the effect that I’m wrong, undergirded by nothing more than disputing what I say without actually addressing it head on. Contradiction alone doesn’t make substantive discussion.

    In practice, though, I feel that far too many people simply do not have the level of financial sophistication to survive in it, combined with a total irrationality underlying many major financial decisions.

    A free market economy and a managed economy each let different people slip through the cracks. The one constant is that there will always be people slipping through the cracks.

    A truly free market economy would let people slip through the cracks who are monumentally unlucky, or just really unsuited to, y’know, living. On the other hand, a free market economy improves productivity across the board, which increases the total wealth of the system, which spills over to elevating the quality of life of the substantial majority of even the bottom-most strata of society. In other words, the cracks don’t fall as far down, and they’re getting shallower all the time.

    In a managed economy, on the other hand, productivity is harmed by contrary incentives, reducing the wealth generation in the system, and the people who fall through the cracks are often those who would otherwise be best suited to improving the quality of life of their fellows. As a result, many of the best and brightest end up hanging on by the skin of their teeth, suffering a quality of life comparable to that of the worst-off in the free market economy, while the worst off live at a level far below even that.

    There are two bad habits of thought people have a tendency to fall into when considering matters of economics:

    1. They tend to think of economics as a zero-sum game, where the wealth in the system remains constant, but its distribution changes. This fails because when you start shuffling the wealth around contrary to the dictates of market forces you eliminate many incentives to productivity, thus reducing or even reversing the growth of wealth in the system.

    2. They tend to think of the relative wealth of actors in the market as being an absolute wealth. They measure an average, and complain about the disparity between the extremes. Meanwhile, the lowest extreme might be higher than the average in another system — but if the range of wealth in the lower-average system is smaller, people seem to think it’s necessarily better just because the poorest are not as far below the richest. Well, when the richest can’t afford to fill his own belly, that doesn’t mean very bloody much.

    They aren’t stupid, they just do not think things through, or lack the education to understand what the implications of what they are doing is.

    In a managed economy with welfare and the like, the rational actors are the people trying to game the system, and the irrational who are being abused by it and slowly destroyed are those who try to be productive. In a free market economy, the rational actors are those who produce the most, applying the leverage of a facility for efficiency of voluntary exchange, thus contributing to the total wealth of the system, while the irrational actors are those who try to get away with something — and maybe they do in the short term, but in the long run they end up destroying their own ability to participate effectively in the market. I know which state of affairs I’d prefer.

    Let’s face it, the housing bubble made sense to someone who does not understand economics.

    It only “made sense” because the entire system was biased toward a short-term benefit that ultimately led to a long-term detriment. In a free market, on the other hand, there wouldn’t have been a false safety net beckoning people on with the promise of easy money without much in the way of consequences for failure, so nobody (or at least far fewer people) would have done something as stupid as rushing headlong into economic disaster. The potential for disaster was obscured, in this case, by the impression that there’s always a way to sell off the badly-timed debts incurred by subprime mortgage lending, thus making something obviously anti-rational suddenly look rational.

    I’ve covered this elsewhere in SOB recently, so I’ll stop now before I start repeating myself.

    As someone who understand economics, I didn’t buy a house during that period, because I knew that the speculators were driving houses about their proper valuations, and I am not going to buy something priced too high, regardless how much I want it. Which is a discipline I learned after years of taking self-inflicted financial beatings.

    I don’t think you understand economics well enough. That’s not even the major problem behind it. The major problem is that, in the long run, you can’t just go around selling debt at a profit. That’s what was really going on, after all.

    This is a perfect example of people thinking of an economy as being a zero-sum system, in a personal sense: they think they can buy something, then resell it, all in the same market, and make a profit — even though they’ve incurred interest debt in the middle. Normally, it would be obvious to anyone with eyes that the ability to make a profit that way is a statistical anomaly, but the state of the market under the gentle guidance of our market-interfering government causes statistical anomalies to distribute chronologically rather than naturally, leading to bubble-and-bust cycles that sucker people into a superficial boom that then plunges them directly into a very real collapse.

    FME is a good solution, provided a population that is educated in “financial hygiene”, practices delayed gratification, is willing and able to practice moderation, and otherwise understand and make sound financial decisions. Without such a population, FME simply provides a well stocked hunting grounds for a few “bad apple predators”.

    Poppycock. A managed economy is “well stocked hunting rounds for predators”. A free market economy rewards productivity and shares the wealth through free exchange. Here you are again, ignoring a lot of what I’ve said to reiterate an unsupported point, contradicting without reasoning.

    Those predators will exist regardless of the type of government. It’s a fact of life. Any good system will be effective at limiting their ability to enrich themselves at the expense of others.

    . . . and the only way to do that is to:

    1. limit the power of government

    2. charge government solely with protecting rights

    When the power of government is limited to its actual duties (protecting rights), it doesn’t create systems of power consolidation that favor the fraudulent and coercive over the productive.

    As such, FME, anarchy, libertarianism, and other “minimal government” style ideas do not truly get rid of “government”

    I’m no anarcho-capitalist. I haven’t been since I was in high school. I never said anything about getting rid of government. How you think “minimal government” is about getting rid of government, however, is fucking well beyond me.

    The key is that in a free society, individuals govern themselves — and “government” (the state) is only there to stop individuals from interfering with the self-governance of other individuals. I only oppose states that usurp the power of governance from the individual in general.

    A free market is a perfect example of this principle in action: the state refrains from trying to govern the economy, but acts to remove bad actors (those who perpetrate fraud and more direct coercion) from the market.

    A good example of this is the idea that some put forth that instead of having police (or as many police, or increasing the number of police to keep up), a significant portion of citizens should be armed at any given time, so that it will deter crime and stop it if it occurs. In other words, a volunteer police force with enough checks & balances to keep it from becoming a group of armed bandits roaming the streets. It is still “government”, there just are no “rulers”.

    . . . and yet, any time I advocate something along these lines — with you, generally in matters relating to economics — people like you come along and cry foul at the notion that such things can be achieved without a formal state government running the entire show. Sure, a formal state government is useful for enforcing noninterference with self-government, but when it starts trying to force what it thinks self-government should be, it obviates its own purpose. Interference with market forces is a prime example.

    Any “government” as I see it is going to provide certain services, or else people will not want it

    All the things you listed can, to varying degrees, be achieved without the state imposing an authoritarian form on them. Roads are a particularly egregious example — government’s involvement in managing roads has been particularly disastrous.

    so money needs to come from outside the service itself to pay for it (tarriffs, a graduated tax rate on income, a sales tax, etc.).

    Wrong-o. Again, roads: Usage fees and subscriptions can pay for upkeep just fine, with a tidy profit. There’s a reason the Autostrada system in Italy is so well maintained, y’know. It’s because the system pays for itself. In the rare cases of services that really are more efficient and effective when some part (at least) is managed directly by the state, such as formal police forces, and courts, service subscription and usage fees can easily pay for those parts of the system that are not so easily monetized.

    Very few people will do good on the level that requires extreme self sacrifice without a motivation above & beyond “doing good”.

    That’s one reason that a free market economy works: people are presented with natural incentives to do things that that lead to greater good. You don’t even have to try to do good for others, regardless of motivation — you just have to try to do good for yourself, and to the extent that you succeed, you will have automatically done good for others.

    For example, if the citizens feel that saving endangered species is the right thing to do, but few of them have the time to scour mountains looking for bald eagle eggs to incubant to birth, then the government should be performing endangered species protection of some sort.

    Absurd.

    If there’s a market need for something, a free market economy provides opportunity for a business model to be developed that fills that need profitably. When you get government involved in doing things with resources appropriated from people at gunpoint, however, you kill the potential for profit, and you suck resources away from other market needs as well that would otherwise be addressed by market forces.

    Everyone has a “special interest”; blaming a nation’s problems on “special interests” is rediculous. Any given culture will have a certain number of special interests in common with each other, like “the elderly”, “the poor”, “the handicapped”, etc. Multiple your cultures, and you are multiplying your “special interests”. As a result, the “me vs. them” attitude is easy to pick up. “Me vs. them” distracts from the true issues.

    Agreed. Thus, when your form of government is built around the process of taking resources from one to provide them to another, you foster that “us vs. them” attitude rather than mitigating it. On the other hand, when two people need different things, they can work together to ensure that both needs are met. That’s what free exchange is all about — and free exchange is, in turn, the basis of a free market economy.

    Victim mentality is deadly and infectuous. Having something bad happen to you does not make you a “victim”, it makes you unlucky (or maybe, just as lucky as the rest of us). It is when someone deliberately hurts you that you become a victim and have a reasonable expectation of “justice” (aka: “court regulated vengeance”). Having a tornado hit your house does not make you a “tornado victim” worthy of a government bailout as “justice”; getting shot by a mugger makes you a “victim” who should see their assailant pay the legal price of their actions.

    Well, damn — I sure do agree with that, with the caveat that a proper justice system is concerned with preventing of future harms by removing proven sources of harm from the system, and not with vengeance.

    Nomadic tribes almost always seem to end up with either something very close to Communism or true FME, off hand.

    The difference is that free markets can scale well, while communism starts failing by the time you get to a hundred people. Start introducing impurities into communism, and it continues scaling for a little bit, but you’ve passed the point of diminishing returns, until you reach epic fail at (estimated) about ten thousand people at the very most. If you’ve heard of the “monkeysphere”, that should give you an idea of why that is. Note that 300 is the practical upper limit of the monkeysphere — not the practical sweet spot. The sweet spot is basically 100 monkeys. It takes more individuals to make a system more sustainable, but beyond 100 individuals you start running into problems of the ties that bind wearing too thin.

    The problem is that communism is communal — effectively filial (though not genetically so). Anything more than at most 300 people isn’t going to feel very bloody much like family.

    Meanwhile, a system (I’m speaking of the free market, here) that is built upon an assumption of individual motivations rather than individual relationships scales pretty much infinitely.

    Most mega-corporations manage to survive and grow in spite of themselves, not because of themselves due to sheer inertia of the customer base, creating a hostage crisis amongst customers, employees, and once big enough, the economy at large. If WalMart were to disappear tomorrow, the consequences not just in the US, but internationally (particularly China) would be immeasurable.

    That’s all because of the naturally aggregative nature of economically (in the broader sense of the term) unnatural centers of power — or, from another perspective, that’s the cause of that nature of unnatural centers of power. The only way to get runaway self-reinforcing effects in natural systems is to introduce unnatural influences. I’m speaking, here, of economic systems and governmental interference in market forces.

    Of course, I’ve never advocated for cutting off the entirety of the corporate body of law in one fell swoop. It should be an iterative process.

    The right to life, liberty, and the persuit of happiness means just that, and it is the government’s mandate to protect that.

    I agree — and the very first mandate of government is to protect these rights from itself.

    Without, for example, the EPA, I have little hope or reason to hope that I will have clean air to breathe or water to drink, because the “government watchdog” is protecting my right to life.

    The EPA is getting to be as corrupt and counterproductive an organization as the FDA. There’s a very simple solution to the problem, though: proprietary rights and enforcement of laws against criminal negligence.

    Your watchdog is actually the biggest polluter in the country — and it is by definition exempt from the EPA’s oversight.

    For every Watergate, there were millions of drivers who successfully registered their cars.

    That’s a bad example. Vehicle registration as a legal requirement is a case of government corruption, not an individual need being met.

    We think the government is getting worse and worse; I disagree, I think that we are seeing more and more of the problems.

    You’re going to have a hard time convincing me of that, considering that the power of the courts to issue a Writ of Habeas Corpus may have been suspended in the US in the past, but it has never been truly obviated until this century — among other problems. This is not some trivial thing. It is one of the four pillars of liberty, along with the rights of free speech, self defense, and privacy.

    I put FME in the same category as Communism: it is a really good idea if certain aspects of current realitgy were greatly magnified, and other parts were removed.

    Nonsense. Communism is a good way to hang out with your friends, and that’s it. A free market economy is the natural state of free exchange — period. Communist systems can exist within a free market, but the opposite is not true.

    But without seeing a map of transitioning a population to being well suited for FME, Communism, anarchy, or any other alternative government mechanism, I cannot support any shift like that. Throwing a baby into a pool doesn’t teach it to swim, it drowns the child.

    You don’t need a “map” to avoid cutting off the head of the current system in one convulsive act of violence. Gradual change can occur organically, through as-needed elimination of the problems in the system. In fact, that’s the beauty of libertarianism — you can get there by getting rid of one complication in life at a time, ultimately arriving at a state where things are pretty darned good through a gradual, rewarding process. Other systems tend to have opposite effects when adopted piecemeal, and gradually adopt those effects on their own when the system is imposed through swift action.

    Until I see evidence that an overwhelming portion of the population would fair well under FME (and right now, I think it might be 50%), I just cannot support it.

    Watch the development of economies around open source software — particularly software that involves licenses that are not particularly socialist in nature like the GPL, sticking instead to the more-free licenses like the BSD license — for your desired proof. Unless such incipient economies get destroyed by threatened socialist or corporatist impulses via legal wrangling, they’ll be among the best examples of free market economics in microcosm in the next few decades, I think.

    Comment by apotheon — 22 February 2008 @ 06:37

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All original content Copyright Chad Perrin: Distributed under the terms of the Open Works License