Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Switcherooception: Position-switching and Inferential Distance

"What is more likely: a racist becoming an anti-racist, or the vice versa?"  Those who are opposed to racism may believe that the racist->anti-racist position-switch is more likely, whereas the racist may believe the opposition position-switch is more likely; I believe that those "may"s are in fact "likely", but I have no proof.  However, let us suppose that it is more likely that a person with position X, being opposed to Y likely believes that humans are more likely to switch their position from Y to X.  With such an assumption we can as the question, "why do people who assume that people who have position Y are irrationl/stupid/ignorant/evil for not switching to X?"  The answer is provided by the term inferential distance.

When a topic is complicated, whether by technicalities (e.g. evolution) or by emotions (e.g. preferable behavior), inferential distance is that amount of understanding that must be induced in the listener before the listener will switch his/her position from Y to X, or from nothing to X.  The greater this "distance", the more difficult such an induction will be, such that it might seem impossible ton convince the listener of anything.  It would be an indefensible position to thereafter claim that the listener is irrational, stupid, ignorant, or evil for his/her lack of switching to X.

This in-defensibility is due to the fact that why one holds position X is plausibly irrelevant to the merits of position X.  What is more likely is that the listener simply has not heard an accurate account of position X, thus rationally refuses to accept it; would it not be irrational to accept a position without knowing its assumptions and what it entails?

Look at it from the listener's perspective: suppose someone were to demand that you accept position Q; you respond by saying, "describe this position to me, such that I can understand it."  He gives a short summarization of position Q, which amounts to no more than five sentences.  With little to mentally digest, you tell him to sod off in a sort-of-polite manner.  He calls you irrational for not accepting position Q, and you wonder why he is such a fanatical jerk; he must think that only his world-view is the correct world view.  Thus, the viciousness of ignorance on both sides and of different sorts destroys any conveyance of understanding.

On the one hand, the man presenting position Q thinks you are [insert pejorative] for not accepting position Q, because he does not see that you need more information and more time to understand position Q before accepting it.  In your case, you think he is a [insert pejorative] for his impatient demand that you accept position Q.  These two failures are irrelevant to position Q; the messenger's virtues/vices cannot determine the merits/flaws of position Q any-more-than the personal peccadilloes of Bill Clinton affect his understanding of the concept of predication.

Well, maybe those might be related...

I hope you see what I mean, by this switching of positions in order to demonstrate the difficulty with convincing others to switch their position with respect to X, Y, or Q.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Grey-goo - what's all the worry about?

What is often overlooked when considering the machines that would be created in the singularity is the fact that these are machines with functions and controls.  Sure, a machine that appears intelligent may be frightening were the machine to begin attacking humans, one must remember that it is still a machine.  This is cause for inspection not fear; fear is the mind-killer.

Let us consider the Grey-goo, that wave of nano-machines that would conceivably consume all matter on earth, including humans.  One might look at the Grey-goo with a sort of resignation at the hypothetical; it seems futile to try to fight the Grey-goo, given the assumption that such machines would tear apart even the most impenetrable of human barriers.  However, this power that is seen in the Grey-goo is not the complete picture; there are aspects of the Grey-goo that could lend to their trivial destruction.  Suppose the Grey-goo consists elector-mechanical nanobots; you need only set off a nuclear bomb at 17,000 kilometers above the surface of the earth, and the Grey-goo turns into a pile of sand-like metal to be blown away by the wind.  Suppose the Grey-goo were to consist of a biological pathogen, a sort of biological nanobot; kill it with fire.  Napalm might be banned for use on human soldiers by international treaty, but the Grey-goo isn't exactly human.  The smell of napalm might be appealing, but the stench of the burned pile of Grey-goo might be overpowering.

While I will admit that it is possible that the gray-goo could consist of neither electro-mechanical or biological, or even that the goo could find solutions to these serious flaws, it nevertheless stands that if we are to be concerned about the Grey-goo, then we ought to find ways to defeat it (if peace is not an option).  Worrying about the insecurity of one's own house against burglars normally encourages people to actually improve the security of one's house; no change would take place if the person did not care enough to bother.  Whether or not the house is actually insecure is irrelevant; the Grey-goo does not exist, at least not in so far as it is actively consuming Earth.  Burglars do exist and are actively breaking into people's houses.  If you care about Grey-goo, then think of how you would stop it from consuming the planet; worrying without consummate effort amounts to learned hopelessness.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Initial Review of OpenSuSE 12.03 KDE

I recently installed OpenSuSE 12.3 KDE on my two desktops and my laptop, in an effort to branch out from my long-running usage of Ubuntu.  This is an initial review, because I have not spent very much time actually using the distro.  I am so far dissuaded from using the distro for any daily purpose, because it is acts as an non-intuitive power-user experience.

Note: I am purposely avoiding reading any documentation beyond what is necessary to get the system up and running.  If I have to read a man-page or search google to gain normal desktop functionality from the OS, then the OS is for power-users with time to spare configuring their OS.  I would prefer to avoid using an OS that is a project dedicated to eventually attaining normal desktop functionality.

Starting with a serious downside: I have yet to get wireless working on my laptop in OpenSuSE.  What is odd is that it was easier to connect to my home wireless network during net-install than once OpenSuSE was installed.  Yes, after OpenSuSE was fully installed, I could not figure out how to get it to use the wireless device in my laptop.  Despite YaST's power (see below), I cannot for the life of me figure out how to properly configure wireless usage.  The network program in the lower-right-hand corner (too lazy to find the name) provides plenty of tabs and text entry fields, but they are all greyed out, as though my account, an administrator account, has no privileges to modify the network configuration.  I went into YaST, yet that said that another program was managing the laptop's network connections.  I don't recall the name of the program, but that program was nowhere to be found in any menu.  There are two programs that appear to handle network configuration, one being YaST and the other being the program contained in the lower-right-hand menu of the desktop.  Neither offered any obvious means to use my wireless hardware.

I see no justification for wireless to trivially work during the non-gui installation, but simply isn't intuitive enough for me to figure out how to enable it in the main desktop gui.  I would rather use the net-install menu system, because at least I could connect to the internet on my laptop without taking the ethernet cable from my main desktop.

(By comparison, Ubuntu 12.04 made it trivially easy to enable wireless functionality on my laptop.)

A trivial positive side of OpenSuSe is YaST.  Yast is by far the most powerful bit of software that I have seen used on Linux.  It seems that you could control nearly every bit of OpenSuSE just from YaST's gui menu.  While that is a nice feature set for power users, it is a very mild feature for all other users.  Thus, this positive side is effectively orthogonal to normal desktop functionality, meeting the latter at only very rare points and departing for the Lands of Too-Dense-for-Noobs.

KDE on OpenSuSE was a nice experience.  Even on my old laptop, its still is able to handle all the nice visual features that KDE has to offer.  Having poked around at various bits of the gui, I noticed that it provides some sort of management of activities (the name escapes me), which leads me to believe that KDE is one of those desktop environments that takes its job seriously without coming off as pompous.  Depth of functionality does appear to be the point of KDE.

My laptop has remained unused, because of the irritating wireless issue in OpenSuSE.  I intend to install another distro on it, so that it can return to usefulness.

I have also installed OpenSuSE on my two available desktops (names: Main and Pentium).  Both installation processes were relatively intuitive and deep.  What I don't recall seeing in the net-install on my laptop, yet was obviously present in the Live-KDE install, was the ability to choose various alternative options for the OS.  The most welcome option was encryption, which appears to be a partition-level encryption, though that was definitely not stated anywhere.

Pentium has done well with OpenSuSE, especially considering the hdd being used is a 10k rpm SCSI drive.  (The desktop was a throw-away, so I have no answers.)  OpenSuSE acted as though the drive were a totally normal drive.  (Note: this is the first time I have had the opportunity to use a SCSI drive in my own PC, so I am more curious than surprised.)  I recall no problems on Pentium, so I will probably leave OpenSuSE installed.  This is at least an improvement upon the non-bootable installation of Windows XP that was previously installed.

Main, the computer which I am using to type this post, went as well as Pentium in general, but a more serious issue seems to be present.  I could not tell whether or not OpenSuSE was using any sort of proprietary video card drivers.  In Main, I have an AMD card, which is very capable of handling Arma 2, thus I prefer to use an OS that takes advantage of its power.  I honestly could not tell whether or not drivers for said card were in use.  Further, OpenSuSE did not automatically announce whether or not such drivers were available.  Maybe I am just spoiled by Ubuntu, but I do like to be notified of the ability to install said drivers.  I might try to search through YaST to see if it provides such drivers, but I am uninterested to do so, since I have better things to do than toy with YaST.

KDE is a fine desktop environment, but I have been heavily spoiled by Unity in Ubuntu 12.04.  As I have been writing this, I have been flying from workspace to workspace, handling various programs, as I wind down for bed.  I determined a few months ago that I could increase the workspace amount from 2x2 to 5x5 (any higher would have been pointless).  Thus, I have 25 workspaces, most of which go unused; I will occasionally fill a column of workspaces with a set of windows associated with one task. For instance, I am preparing a bootable USB thumb-stick for my laptop in one column, while I have a set of terminals open for handling Minecraft-related stuff.  This habit of spreading windows across multiple workspaces is has lead me to strongly dislike any having to minimize programs.  The workspaces are navigable via Super+S; you zoom out to see all the workspaces in real-time, similar to compiz.  One workspace has a YouTube video running, while another has an ssh session cruising along, thus allowing me to visually identify where and what is happening on this multi-tasking machine.

Why am I explaining this?  Because Unity has spoiled me, thus making me dislike KDE for not having this.  I know, I am being stupid about this.  I do not blame KDE for not mimicking Unity in this one small way.  Further, my modification to Unity requires searching through the Ubuntu documentation.  Maybe I will find a similar feature in KDE and use it on Pentium.  Otherwise, KDE is smooth in appearance and seems to function as a high-class desktop environment.

There is one odd thing that OpenSuSE did during the installation process on Main that may require more effort to fix than I like.  OpenSuSE modified grub on my main hdd on Main, such that I now have to deal with OpenSuSE's grub menu during boot up.  Grub now automatically boots into OpenSuSE.  At no point did I tell OpenSuSE to make such a change.  Now I have a legitimate dual-boot machine, when I wanted two isolated hard-drives, between which I could boot without either be affected.  I have learned my lesson: do not install OpenSuSE unless you have unplugged all other bootable hard drives.  If I were paranoid, I would question what else OpenSuSE might have changed.  Alas, I am too lazy to care.

Overall, OpenSuSE proves to me to be less than acceptable for my everyday needs.  I will leave it on Pentium for further testing, though I cannot use it on Main nor on my laptop, because it does not allow the normal functionality that I demand for each machine.  Main needs the workspace management that Unity provides (with a minor configuration change), whereas my laptop needs wireless functionality.  I am uninterested in wasting time on either, though I may attempt to get both features working on Pentium when I have the time.  YaST is a welcome tool, though its largely irrelevant to my needs.  KDE is nice, but limited for my user-style.

I give OpenSuSE a score of 5/10.  More intuitive configuration of wireless connections (post-installation) would bump that score up to a 6/10, while obvious provision of proprietary video card drivers would bump it to a 6.5/10.  If OpenSuSE had not modified my grub configuration, then it would get a 7/10.  Out-of-the-box partition-level encryption, YaST, and easy-on-the-eyes KDE are its major upsides in my mind.  If I understood its security features better, then it might earn an 8/10 or 9/10.  However, I'd have to read the documentation to gain such understanding; I may do so in the future, but not now.

Monday, March 4, 2013

The silent Majority of Civcraft

Some on the Mumble server for Civcraft have been concerned and/or complaining over the social change that has been occurring since Civcraft started.  I should be more specific: the position is vaguely that the "good" or "fun" people are leaving whereas "immature" players have replaced them.  There are two problems with this position: sample size and loudness (sort of).

First, the sample size of those observed are small compared to the overall size of the Civcraft server.  Sure, if you only spend most or all your time on the Mumble server, then you probably care little or not at all for what goes on in-game.  However, the Civcraft community is bigger than the Mumble server.

Second, the loudness of the liked or disliked people affects one's perception.  By loudness, I mean how often someone talks.  For instance, a hundred people can join the Mumble server and just listen; their presence is moot as to whether or not one considers the server to be diluted by immature individuals.  That is, if you never hear someone communicate, then they are irrelevant, superfluous, to the community.  However, there are many players who never join the Mumble server.

What matters to these people who are concerned with the increase of morons on Civcraft is that they perceive a social change.  Unless they are taking care to watch the in-game community as well as the Mumble and subreddit, then they have a limited view of what is going on Civcraft.

Afterall, the point of Civcraft is to play Minecraft.  I think it is these concerned individuals who have lost sight of the purpose of Civcraft.  Yes, Civcraft involves community, but it is about the experiment of Civcraft first, with the social and economic layers as the stuff that makes the experiment human and challenging.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Genocide and the state: a lesson from the Holocaust

An article by Werner Weinberg answers the question, "Why did you not leave Germany when you had time", of those Jews who remained even after the Crystal Night.  Weinberg mentions that emigration was difficult to impossible before the Crystal Night, and outright impossible afterward.  He says that there were quotas, ludicrously expensive visas, and various other regulatory blocks to just go from Germany to most nations on the planet.  While Weinberg gives numerous reasons why individuals either chose not to leave or were incapable of leaving, I feel it necessary to state a simple answer to the question: state control was ubiquitous.

I am not one to treat bigotry as the cause of a policy, because there are far more serious issues to consider, such as outright murder, kidnapping, rape, and imprisonment.  The Holocaust was an atrocity (at best) because it involved so much criminal activity.  What made it so much worse was the fact that the already-normal controls that nation-states had on immigration made the atrocities even easier.  Afterall, when a set of something is physically concentrated, it is easier to gather them up for destruction.

What we may treat as normal made up the long list of excuses for what ended as Jews and other state-hated groups in concentration and labor camps.

First, there is the immigration controls.  Weinberg states very clearly that Britain, America, France, and other countries simply refused to allow anymore Jews to enter legally beyond various arbitrary limits.  After the Crystal Night, you couldn't even leave Germany illegally.  The rest of the nation-states acted as guardsmen for the Nazi regime by helping the German state to keep German Jews in Germany.  The Nuremburg trials were a farce because those states that organized it were complicit in keeping Jews in Germany.  It could only be more obviously farcical if the guards of the concentration camps had organized the trials.

Second, states are widely considered to be the legitimate definers of what is legal and illegal.  This is the foundation of any state-run genocide, whether against a religious/cultural group in Germany or a tribe in Africa, because the color of law is the first excuse for every added aggression, whether increased regulations or mass-murder.  The soldiers, the police, the courts, the juries, the legislators, and sometimes the Press readily support aggression on the part of the state, because it is the state that is calling the shots.  "Shoot the Jews", "Yes, sir!"  "Shoot the Tutsi", "Yes, sir!"

Immigration controls are tighter than when Hitler ran the German state, yet none are weary of the prospects for genocide.  For if few can leave when bigots are on the rise to power, then many more will be swallowed in future, state-run genocides than otherwise.  "But having open immigration policies would lead to a weakening of national security," says the politician of [insert any polity here].  That betrays two condemning bits of information: (1) the state can't secure the nation against threats that are inside of the nation, and (2) increasing the risk of an attack upon oneself is somehow sufficient justification to block immigration.

When the nation-state is considered the greatest protector of humanity in a given nation, it is hilariously pathetic that a common justification for immigration control is security.  Imagine if the city police where you live decided that the only way that they can fight crime in the city was to control who can and cannot enter the city.  "The city is too easy to be invaded by criminals, so we have unfortunately decided that we must now create check-points at all roads that enter the city and turn away all who do not have approval to enter the city."  The criminals already inside the city may cheer on such a policy, because the cops would be spending less time actually fighting crime.

Now imagine that all nearby cities create similar policies.  Now it is trivial for the city government to begin a campaign of persecution against a group of residents, because that minority has nowhere to go. Of course, many might state that it was the wrong policies or even the wrong people in office that made the immigration controls and persecution possible.  Such a position treats the state as a benign organization who merely occasionally gets bad leaders, thus provides no understanding as to why genocides are so easy.

Yes, genocides are easy because of the state, and are likely most easy today because states have access to more advanced technology and thus more advanced methods of surveillance and control.  Imagine if all you had to do to achieve one of your goals was to be elected to an office and write a few pages of text.  Other people would be paying for and organizing the achievement of your goal, all because you were in that office and gave a particular order.  Even if an additional barrier to achieving your goal was a committee-based organization, wouldn't this be a very attractive means of achieving your goal?  For such a means does not require that you pay anything; you only need write and talk in such a way that people will declare their support.  Abracadabra, your goal is on its way to being achieved.

Now imagine that your goal is to ruin the lives of a minority.  The process is the same; you just have to find some way to make the genocide sound like it isn't diabolical.  That is why propaganda is so commonly employed by the state; they have to find some way to make people think that the genocide, or whatever terrible policy, is somehow good or necessary.

When someone says, "genocide can't happen here, not in the land of the free and brave," respond with this: "agents of the state bravely and freely upheld slavery in America, which would've qualified as genocide if so many slaves hadn't survived the state-supported brutality."  It has already happened here and it is now easier than ever.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Bitcoin as Money? No, because of taxation.

Amongst those interested in Austrian economics (AE), notably Smiling Dave, there has been some debate regarding whether or not Bitcoin can even qualify as money (near-universal medium of exchange).  It is indeed obvious that Bitcion is currently not money, because it it not near-universally accepted as a medium of exchange.  I compare Bitcoin to fiat currencies to help illustrate my point.

The question amongst these AE enthusiasts boils down to the question, "can a medium of exchange, which has no industrial value, become near-universally accepted?"  My answer is a qualified no with respect to Bitcion.

The Origin of Money

For those unfamiliar to what I am referring, the question is made in reference to Mises's Regression Theorem, with which Mises answered the question, "why do people accept money in exchange for goods and services?"

The Regression Theorem holds that the reason people value money presently is because (1) they expect money to be exchangeable for goods and services in the future, because (2) they remember that the money was exchangeable for goods and services in the past.  So far, the theory has a seemingly infinite regress: If X is money, because it it was exchangeable in the past, before which it was still further exchangeable.

To end the infinite regress, Mises points to Menger's theory of the origin of money.  Essentially, gold was valued in its own right just as other goods were valued in their own right.  That is, when barter was common and indirect exchange uncommon, gold was traded like any other good.  Whatever usefulness that gold had in the eyes of the buyers of gold are not necessarily important for this, but it is sufficient to say that gold had such use value or else gold would not have become a money.  (inb4 someone asks about the State's role in what was chosen as money: I answer that later.)

Thus, gold, having initially not been a money (b/c there was at one point no money), but exchanged as a good, demonstrates that gold had non-monetary value.  Such value is called industrial value by Mises.

The chemical properties of gold made it particularly conducive to being used as money.  Thus, assuming the State had no hand in money initially, gold became money because those in the market began near-universally using it in exchange until nearly everything was priced in terms of units of gold.

Further explanation of the origin of money lies in the efficiency of indirect exchange compared to barter, but we needn't go over that.

Two Answers to the Question

Back to our original question, "can a medium of exchange, which has no industrial value, become near-universally accepted?"  There are two answers to this question, one of which I have alluded to earlier:
  1. Yes, because money nowadays, such as the Euro and the dollar, have no industrial value, but were enforced as money by States.
  2. No, because money must have some previous value in exchange for it to be presently valued in exchange.

First Answer to the Question - Taxes and Industrial Value

It is indeed odd that US Dollars are treated as money.  Hold on, are they even universally-accepted?  It is one thing for a secluded island community to use something as money, but it is entirely different for a modern nation in the context of global, international trade to use something as money.

In the former case, the "near-universal" is accurate, because that economy is not affected by any other economic activities elsewhere in the world.  However, the US economy is very much affected by economic activities elsewhere in the world, especially because of international trade.

The concept of trade imbalance is brought up only because many economists treat the economic activities in the arbitrary geographic area known as the US as distinct from, say, economic activities further north in what is called Canada.

We have another question, "is there even any real distinction between economic activity that takes place in the US and economic activity that takes place in Canada?"  The answer is, yes, because of taxation.  See, you cannot pay taxes in the US with Canadian dollars.  Because exchanging Canadian dollars for US dollars is not free, it is cheaper for tax-payers in the US to exchange in US dollars.

Thus, for economic activity in the US, there is a positive benefit to using US dollars for indirect exchange.  But, almost everyone treats US dollars as money, and not merely a medium of exchange, because almost everyone accepts US dollars in exchange for good and services.  Therefore, the US dollar is money, at least in the arbitrary geographic area called the US, because of taxes.

Thus, we seem to have answered this new question with a yes: economic activity in the US is distinct from economic activity in Canada, because each State enforces taxes in a different medium of exchange than the other.  Thus, the present money in the US is distinct from the present money in Canada.  But that is already obvious without any critical thought.

The reason I bring it up, is because it brings into question whether or not the US dollar and the Canadian dollar are both near-universally accepted.  How can two things be near-universally accepted for the same function?

One must remember the tax issue:  Canadian dollars are useful in Canada precisely because they are valuable as payment of taxes, and are not valuable in the same way in the US.  Thus, the origin of the present mediums of exchange in the US and in Canada are that of a non-market origin.

To put it another way, money as it presently exists, at least in the US and Canada, do not seem fit into Mises's Regression Theorem.  For that theorem requires that the money have origins in voluntary exchange.  Because taxation is a non-voluntary exchange (you pay or the State puts you to jail), the Regression Theorem doesn't apply.  Or does it?  I answer that later.  Let's address something else right quick.

Some clever individuals may say, "the reason we accept any money at all is because gold was universally accepted, and fiduciary media eventually popped up in order to make trade even easier by being even more indirect."  Even more clever individuals would say, "we accept fiat money now because it was previously exchangeable for gold, which had its monetary origins in voluntary exchange."  The former statement is flawed, because it only addresses voluntarily accepted fiduciary media.  The latter is more accurate to reality, because it is on topic: it at least provides some semblance of an explanation as to why present fiat money is used as money.

However, the latter statement is incorrect, because it leaves out the fact that the only reason people were exchanging their gold for fiat money is the fact that they had to pay taxes in US dollars.  People would have continued using fiduciary media and/or gold, if only they didn't have to pay taxes.

As is the case with exchange rates between US and Canadian dollars, so the exchange rate between a fiat currency and the fiduciary media would make it prohibitively expensive to deal in anything other currency than the fiat currency.  Thus, we have an explanation as to why fiat currencies are treated as money.

Some time ago, I came up with a saying, "coercion distorts incentives," in order to summarize the effects of coercion, but also violence in general, on human behavior.  I mention this in passing, because it is important to recognize that while State intervention in monetary affairs (e.g. requiring that taxes be payed in the State-created currency) does leave room for the market to function, that function is necessarily limited as a result of that coercive intervention.

As demonstrated in the preceding paragraph, the origins of the present money regime in the US is not a result of voluntary exchanges, but of coercion, but also some amount of real violence.  As soon as coercion or violence becomes involved, humans change their behavior in order to avoid as much of the negative externalities that they are likely to experience.

In the case of money, people switched to the State-sanctioned currency because those people wanted to avoid the costs of non-payment of taxes and also because those people wanted to avoid the costs associated with paying exchange rates between market and State currencies.  But, does the Regression Theorem has nothing to say about this?

Where is the industrial value of US Dollars?  It lies in avoiding jail time.  Yes, I am saying that US Dollars became money because the are useful.  Yes, I am saying that US dollars have industrial value.  Absolutely Scandalous!  I should be treated as a twat of unimaginable proportions for not agreeing with the PC position that money is useless!  Meh.

Second Answer to the Original Question - Taxes again

The second answer does not contradict the first answer, because, as stated above, US dollars are useful.  Its industrial value was, to begin with, the avoidance of jail time; it remains so today for those living in or working in the US.  Thus, this second answer is better phrased with "yes" instead of "no" at the beginning.

Further, the first answer is better phrased, "yes, because, while US dollars have no industrial value outside of the US tax regime, US dollars have a definite industrial value in payment of taxes in order to avoid jail time in the US."  Thus, both original answers are half-true, but half-false.  The first answer was right to include mention of the state regarding the present monetary regime, whereas the second answer was right to mention industrial value as necessary for money.  Each failed to assume the industrial value of fiat money.

What About Bitcoin as Money?  - Taxes, they're everywhere!

While Bitcoin is presently a medium of exchange because it is used for some amounts of indirect exchange, it must be made clear that Bitcoin is not money, because it is so sparsely accepted as a medium of exchange.

While it is rightly debatable as to how many people must exchange with Bitcoin in order to make it money, what is not debatable is that Bitcoin cannot presently be used to pay taxes.  (I would be surprised if, in the future, any State accepted Bitcoins for payment of taxes; the arbitrage capabilities would be enormously hilarious.)  Thus, State-sanctioned moneys, like the US dollar, will continue to have greater industrial value than Bitcoins.  Coercion distorts incentives.

Even if Bitcoin had a greater industrial value in a free market, we have no free market.  We have already seen demonstrated that the State interferes with the choice of money through taxation; whereas gold or even Bitcoin might be chosen as money, the US dollar is chosen, because you can't pay taxes in gold or Bitcoins.  (Technically you can pay in gold, but the IRS treats an ounce of gold as worth significantly less than what is available on the market, thus an arbitrary exchange rate ruins any prospect of gold having greater industrial value than US dollars.)

Better Terms for Value

While the terms "industrial value" and "monetary value" are somewhat helpful, I think we would benefit from using more precise terms to describe the different concepts of value.  I propose Direct Value and Indirect Value.  (I am not sure if I am origin in this proposition.)

Direct Value equates to industrial value or use value, whereas Indirect Value equates to monetary value.  This direct vs indirect value paradigm is more obviously related to the concept of direct vs indirect exchange.  Thus, we can better recognize that indirect exchange results from immediate indirect valuation, whereas direct exchange results from direct valuation. (The reason for indirect exchange is the expectation that direct exchange will be possible in the future. See below for an explanation.) This follows from the axiom that an exchange occurs because the post-exchange situation is desired greater than the pre-exchange situation.

Note that I am using direct exchange seemingly loosely: I use it to mean any exchange of one good for another good.  While that seems like a loose usage, it is in fact not.  For instance, I am treating the exchange that takes place when you consume gasoline to drive somewhere as direct exchange; you would be exchanging the good of X units of gasoline for the good of travelling to a particular location.

Here's a diagram: (Exchange(Trade)).  Trade is a subset of exchange, especially in praxeological terms, because trade is necessarily inter-personal, whereas exchange includes intra-personal and inter-personal changes of situation as the result of action.  Thus, the above example would qualify as an intra-personal, direct exchange.


With these better terms, I think we can more clearly state where Bitcoin fits in the grand monetary scheme of things.  US dollars have greater direct value than Bitcoins because you cannot pay taxes with Bitcoins.  However, it is debatable as to whether or not Bitcoin would have greater direct value on a free market.  Honestly, I don't know.

Thus, my answer to the original question is "no, because direct value comes before indirect value."  I will have to save a direct explanation of that answer for later, because I feel that this post is long enough as it is.


As always, please discuss this in the comments.  I was able to write the above only because other people have already been commenting on the topic.  More comments = I learn more.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Calling politicians stupid is at best inaccurate

Stupid and incompetent are two of those words that are thrown around without much thought, thus leading to confusion.  Usually, someone will make a mistake or mess up when doing something, and those watching or seeing the result will call that person stupid for the failure.  Politicians are often called stupid for frequently failing to fix things like the economy, poverty, and the imbalanced Federal budget.  Despite how accurate it is to say that politicians regularly and maybe even naturally fail to fix such things, it is not accurate to say that politicians are stupid because of those failures.  For the job of politicians is to get policies enacted, thus calling politicians stupid because they fail to balance the Federal government's budget amounts to calling an electrician stupid when he fails to fix your plumbing.

Humans have an interesting habit of saying someone is stupid or even incompetent when that someone behaves in a stupid or incompetent way.  When the derogatory label is applied, it is often inaccurate at best.  The distinction lies between the general case and the particular case.  While I cannot currently imagine how anyone can be generally incompetent, it is entirely appropriate to use "incompetent" to refer to particular incompetence.  Similarly, stupidity is especially appropriate when used with respect to someone's ability to do X or even someone's ability to comprehend X.  An artists may be totally unable to grasp the concept of angular momentum, but that artist is not stupid, he is just stupid with respect to angular momentum or incompetent with respect to physics, whichever the case may be.

Why then do so many people persist in saying that politicians are stupid or incompetent when a politician trying to fix some problem that is not in anyway in the job description of politician?   I currently see two answers: either (1) some of those people want the politicians, and consequently government, to fix those problems, or (2) some of those people are trying to make a point that politicians are not competent to do anything beyond politics, so politicians are stupid when they try to change things outside of politics.  Unfortunately, this distinction is lost in the rhetoric of politics.

Let us examine the first answer.  Those who fit this answer to my question are the hopeful sort of people, who believe that government would be better able to ease our woes, if only we had smarter, more competent, or even more moral politicians.  The hope is so often dashed when, for instance, the economy wallows along, as it is often want to do in this era of semi-central planning.  A non-partisan example is that of the Federal budget; few if anyone in the Mainstream Media seems to ask why politicians talk about balancing their budget, but they continue to pass imbalanced budgets.

This first answer applies to both liberals and conservatives, because both of these groups treat politicians as a means to particular ends, such as economic prosperity, equality, liberty, or even morality.  Since I am betting that many liberals and conservatives who read that sentence might think I am crazy for glossing over their issues, I will have to delve into my assertion with respect to the similarity of liberals and conservatives in a future post.

Lastly, unless I can figure out what it would mean to be generally incompetent or generally stupid, I see no reason to label politicians as stupid or incompetent without simultaneously mentioning "with respect to X".