Sunday, January 27, 2008

An Economic Thought

I recently heard a Libertarian (who also happens to be a scientist of some stature) refer to their brand of anarcho-capitalism as “evolutionary capitalism”. As a scientist that has had to defend evolution from all sorts of ridiculous attacks, he should have known that such a comparison wouldn’t help his position with other evolution supporters. While the selective mechanism certainly makes sense, a somewhat regulated market can still be selective, as well. Mutations and permutations of business, if correlated to evolutionary biology, don’t look that great. Mutations are more often harmful or benign than beneficial, so I don’t understand how protective regulation that prevents too many “harmful” mutations in the system is a bad thing. There are some things that are known to work or not work. There are things that, if changed, might be more convenient for a business, but could cause long-term harm to the consumer. Anarcho-capitalists figure that such things will eventually out and market pressure can force changes. The problem becomes, though, one of how many people have to deal with being harmed before it becomes unprofitable for the business. If regulations exist saying you need to cook meat to temperature X to reduce the chances of a nasty infection, that generally is easy to meet, has a discernable benefit, and prevents harm. I have heard it argued, however, that such a regulation is unnecessary. If a business chooses to undercook (or, in the real-world case of the argument I participated in, maintain a certain temperature level of meat in a holding area), they should be allowed to, and as people get sick, word will get around and people will stop eating there, forcing a change in practice or forcing the organization out of business. Now, that of course relies on people not only correctly identifying the source of illness, but that they make the results publicly known, that there are comprehensive outlets for finding and distributing such information, and that it happens with enough frequency that, likely, large numbers of people have been harmed on some level. That’s a lot of potential harm that could have been prevented with a single regulation.

Most of economics is a balancing act between market forces and regulations designed to prevent harm. If you regulate too tightly, it stifles innovation and even the ability to succeed. Too lightly, and you run the risk of a great harm of some type (health, financial, etc.) escaping notice until it is too late for some innocent schmuck to avoid. A lot of regulation comes after the horse has left the barn for the first time already; it just gets put in place to prevent it happening again. Too many of the big “L” guys seem perfectly fine with exposing me and mine to potential harm, as long as it all balances out in the end. The problem is that, sometimes, it’s easy to make a quick profit without and short- or long-term harm being noticeable. Market forces can’t be brought to bear in that case, but if regulation and enforcement are already in place, it stands as a potential barrier that wouldn’t be there otherwise. I can see anarcho-capitalism as a reaction against the sometimes-ludicrous over-regulation that occurs in the business world. Just because the system isn’t perfect, however, doesn’t mean we should scrap it. It still serves a strong and necessary purpose. You just have to work on that balancing act.

Friday, January 25, 2008


It’s been a while, and given my normal topics of discussion in meatspace, I guess it’s time for a political commentary. Now, politically, I’m one of those folks that drives the pollsters nuts. My religious outlook is discussed below, and it of course squares perfectly with the fact that I’m a Republican.

You can stop laughing now.

I signed up for my party back in the heady days just after high school, where I was a member of the young conservative movement of the early nineties. I believed in the Contract with America. I had a savage dislike for Bill Clinton’s careless use of language, because I had the idea that what one speaks is what one should mean. While my feelings about (Bill) Clinton have somewhat softened, I still consider his weasel-like manipulations of language to be his greatest failing. The man lied even when the truth would have served him better, and it seemed almost pathological. I was a Rush Limbaugh fan, though I retained enough original thought to avoid being a Dittohead. I had a naive belief in Regan’s America, much because I saw the harsh oppressions of Soviet Communism falling, and because I really felt that the optimism exuded by this amiable old actor was a positive force for the nation. I didn’t understand the scandals; I was really too young for that at the time, and by the time I was old enough to understand, they were a part of the irrelevant past.

Signing up for the Republican Party was also an act of youthful defiance, not so much against my parents, but more against the idea that I didn’t have a choice. Anyone from West Virginia, particularly the southern part, can tell you that if you run, you run as a Democrat. The only major exception to this rule is often the Governorship, but, in general, you don’t get elected without that (D) next to your name on the ballot. Hell, you barely get to vote in a primary without that, because there are no Republican candidates. We had a friend of the family that ran for virtually every county office as a Republican, and couldn’t get a vote. He changed to Democrat, and won in one of the largest landslides in county history. Nothing he said had changed; just the designation by his name. To a young conservative, that was intolerable.

One of the big things that attracted me to the Republicans, though, was the fact that I had a strong libertarian (not “Libertarian”) streak, and the old Republicans were the party of individual freedoms. It was the Democrats that sought to restrain my speech, my viewing, and my actions. The Republicans were willing to leave me the hell alone. Of course I also didn’t fully understand the alliance between the Religious Right and those I envisaged as my ideological allies; I was young and stupid. While the positions haven’t exactly reversed, I don’t take well to assaults on my rights and protections.

The nineties didn’t do a lot to change my opinions, other than to disillusion me about the Republicans in Congress. The Inquisition they set up was a massive waste of time and money, for no more than a minor skewering of a lousy man who was a serviceable President. Yes, he was a philandering bastard who lied about virtually everything (definition of “is” notwithstanding), but he did a good amount of positive work, particularly in the international area, and his personal failings weren’t worth the attempted destruction of the office. Then came 2000.

I wasn’t given a choice from my party, as the primary race was over long before it got to my home state. John McCain was my choice then. He was on the ballot, but out of the race. So I got Bush. I voted for Bush for one reason; I hated Al Gore. I despised the man as an uncharismatic lump that had abandoned his principles, as well as facilitating his wife’s assault on free speech back during the Eighties. I thought that a potted palm would provide more dynamic leadership.

Well, shit happens. I defended Bush early on with 9/11. I still believe that Afghanistan was and is the right war at the right time. Had we stayed with it to reasonable completion and through a positive rebuild of the nation, I think we’d have one hell of a strong ally in the region. Unfortunately, the dipshits in office wanted to bite off more; they wanted Iraq. Now, being a child of the first Gulf War, I knew the Powell Doctrine by heart, and I knew that it was the set of guiding principles that kept us out of the quagmire of Iraqi occupation the first time. I knew that, if applied to the current situation, it would still dictate staying the hell out. I knew when I saw Powell himself defending the idea of going into Iraq that his potential Presidential run was never going to happen. He toed the line of official loyalty, even as we all knew that his opinions were different. It killed his credibility and career. It killed my loyalty to the party.

Now, given all the crap that has happened in the ensuing years, I’ve stayed a Republican. Partially, it’s because I think that the Dems are fairly rudderless – even when they have a uniting cause and a ton of momentum, they tend to screw it up. The Anarcho-Capitalist Big “L” Libertarians are just sort of crazy (even though our last two Fed chiefs fall under that umbrella), and I like having some say in the primaries, which means turning Independent is out. I like to think I’m trying to drag my party back to sanity, kicking and screaming. Also, if I ever plan to run for any sort of office, it’s the way to go around here. It’s sad how I look at it that way, given that the same idea angered me greatly a decade and a half ago.

Now, with all that background, here’s my take on the candidates of the current Presidential field.


Mitt Romney: Slick, polished professional politician. Has some executive experience. Has already declared that people like me don’t belong to the American ideal. Religious in an even more batshit way than most. I don’t think I could vote for him even out of desperation.

Mike Huckabee: Another batshit insane type, he has essentially proposed changing the Constitution to remove all those nice protections and freedoms, at least for those who don’t agree with his vision of god. I would rather elect a half-consumed water buffalo carcass that was running as a Libertarian.

Rudy Giuliani: More autocratic than Bush ever dreamed of being, he’s ghoulishly trying to ride the disaster of 9/11 into more power. He’s marginally qualified, but very, very scary to anyone who likes the idea of not provoking the rest of the world.

John McCain: I’m torn here. This was my man in 2000. He readily crosses party lines. He’s not afraid to call bullshit, and seems to believe in reasonable separation of powers. However, he still thinks Iraq was a good idea. That is firmly established as being “incorrect”, to put it lightly. He’s also an older candidate, which while not necessarily a knock, is a concern for the long term. He didn’t pander to a lot of special interests in 2000, which is why they drove him out of the race, and has been a strong voice against hypocrisy in politics. However, he’s edged that way more and more the last few years. He’s played it with a wink and a nod, though, managing to keep most of his centrist cred while gaining ground with conservatives. I don’t know how much I trust it. He’s my top Republican, but I don’t know if I’d vote for him in a general election or not.

Ron Paul: See Big-"L" Libertarian thing above. Plus, like many "Constitutionalists", he has a nasty tendency to ignore the parts of the Constitution he doesn't like. Y'know, like those amendments that legalize an income tax, and things like that.


Before I start, I’ll say my ideal candidate here is already out of the race. I liked Richardson on experience and policy (though his Iraq ideas were unrealistic). He just didn’t have the machine or media support, though, but even so might make a strong case for a V.P. bid. I think the field is weaker than expected, though, and could still use the wisdom of a Richardson, Biden, or Dodd.

Barack Obama: Young, fresh, and energetic. He’s got some good basic ideas down, and a hell of a lot of charisma. He is, however, a first-term Senator. There’s no executive clout or seasoning there, and that’s his biggest negative. He hasn’t done anything except be young, fresh, energetic, and charismatic. Without a flawless general campaign, a strong Republican would maul him.

John Edwards: Barack Obama with less charisma and skin tone. The “Two Americas” message isn’t going to play to the affluent of the other party. Equality is a good push, but you still haven’t done anything. Experience will be the factor putting him out of the race. Won’t get V.P. consideration, because he couldn’t draw the south as promised last time.

Hillary Clinton: The most divisive candidate in the field. The is no “kinda-sorta” when it comes to opinions on Hillary. I must say, I fall to the negative. I didn’t like her during her husband’s Presidency, partially because she tried to take on policy issues as if she had been elected. “Spouse” doesn’t qualify you to administrate anything. Now, I’m sure she had some knowledge and input on what Bill did; it’s impossible to be married and not. However, it’s been firmly established that she neither sat in on cabinet meetings nor had security clearance. She was not a Co-President; she was a strongly independent and capable litigator who happened to the spouse of the President. She has a frosty, calculated demeanor, though. It seems that every move she has made since leaving the White House has been geared toward gaining that same power for herself. Running for Senate would have seemed less like a calculated bid for influence had she run in, say, Arkansas, where she had real connections, instead of New York, which just looks better on a Presidential application (more electoral votes, too). It all looks like she calculated a Presidential run in from the beginning, rather than looking to serve a constituency. Looking at the facts, she has actual experience of barely a year or two more than her main rivals, if that much, and, like them, none of it was executive. Proximity does not equal experience. I think she would be petty and cold in office, and would do little to regain the dignity of that office or restore the balance of power. That said, I’d still be more likely to vote for her than any Republican, save McCain. In fact, he’s the only Republican that I would even consider favoring at this point.


Michael Bloomberg: If he runs as an independent, he’ll be the Perot of the Democrats (much more so than Nader ever was), virtually guaranteeing a GOP victory. He’s got a lot of business experience, and he’s done the same mayoring as Giuliani, but that isn’t enough to be President, as far as I’m concerned.

In conclusion, I’m not in a great dilemma as to who I’m voting for, unless McCain wins the nod for the Republicans. We’ll see how it all works out.