David M. Brown's Blog

August 23, 2016

#TriggerWarning: Don’t ever say any of the following things to me. I will be offended.

Filed under: Economics,Ethics,Philosophy,Politics,Society and culture — davidmbrowndotcom @ 6:22 pm

#TriggerWarning: Don’t ever say “Here are some words you may never use.” I will be offended.

#TriggerWarning: Don’t ever say “Let’s soak the rich because they’re rich.” I will be offended.

#TriggerWarning: Don’t ever say “A person accused of sexual assault is guilty regardless of the facts.” I will be offended.

#TriggerWarning: Don’t ever say “A police officer who shoots somebody is automatically guilty of wrongdoing, regardless of the facts.” I will be offended.

#TriggerWarning: Don’t ever say “I don’t have time to read the free Kindle sample of your new book The Flying Saucers Are Very Very Real.” I will be offended.

#TriggerWarning: Don’t ever say “The earth, which I like to call Gaia, or Gaea, is in great danger from industrial civilization; therefore, we must outlaw plastic bags, incandescent light bulbs, and toilets that flush too vigorously.” I will be offended.

#TriggerWarning: Don’t ever say “The meaningless, nihilistic smears and juxtapositions of modern pseudo-art are an eloquent and transcendent expression of something-or-other.” I will be offended.

#TriggerWarning: Don’t ever say “As a journalist, facts are not important to me. What’s important to me is skewing or omitting the facts in service of my egalitarian or socialist ideological agenda, and always licking the boots of the politically powerful.” I will be offended.

#TriggerWarning: Don’t ever say “Islam-motivated terrorism isn’t at all motivated by Islam and maybe it isn’t even terrorism.” I will be offended.

#TriggerWarning: Don’t ever say “You will enjoy this movie as long as you turn off your brain before you start watching and desist with your importunate demands for originality, intelligence and honesty. It’s just a movie.” I will be offended.

#TriggerWarning: Don’t ever say “I don’t care how much wealth and survival is made possible by capitalism and ambitous profit-seeking; capitalism is evil. Why? Because production, division of labor, trade, freedom, human life and rationally fulfilling the requirements of human survival are evil, I guess.” I will be offended.

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August 18, 2016

The triumph and tragedy of George Reisman’s Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics

Filed under: Economics,Philosophy,Publishing,trade — davidmbrowndotcom @ 7:33 pm

George Reisman’s Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics is a triumph of sustained creative insight into the nature of economics and the ethical and epistemological ideas that illuminate the science of economics and strengthen the philosophical defense of capitalism as a rights-based social system.

Some more technical parts of the book are beyond me. But I would say that at least a good two thirds is a clear-sailing voyage of intellectual discovery. It is a tragedy that the tome’s virtues, because of how much it has to offer on so many levels, can never really be fairly indicated by even the best critical assessment. Some persons who should have commented on this work have yet to do so, two decades after it was originally published. And some even favorable commentators have taken too few pains to outline its many virtues while spending too much space on sometimes unworthy disagreements. The virtues of the book include its clear, forceful, eloquent style; its continuous stream of small and large original insights (some of them controversial among fellow-traveling Misesian economists); and the smoothly interlocking logical development of a mammoth theoretical structure that must have been brain-cracking to keep track of and keep concise. The scope of integration is really thrilling, and must be experienced firsthand. Reisman credits the invention of the personal computer for having made the project possible at all. This seems plausible. The book is primarily a positive achievement, a contribution to our knowledge, but also by the way smashes many an egregious anti-capitalist fallacy at its root or at the root of its root.

Yes, the book is concise. It is compact. It is tightly written and non-word-wasting. Years ago, on his Objective American web site, the journalist E.G. Ross (now long dead) took a casual swipe at the work for allegedly going on too long. Didn’t Reisman know how to get to the point? (Or words to that effect.) I had to doubt whether Ross had skimmed more than a few pages or done more than lift the book or look at a picture showing how thick it was. He certainly said nothing in his remarks to indicate that he had tackled any of it with understanding, the doing of which would have provided more than one clue as to why the length was more than justified. I am glad to see that many of the readers leaving comments about the book at Amazon do understand why. Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics is the furthest thing you could imagine from a slack and wordy recapitulation of stuff about capitalism that every informed person or competent economist already knows. It is a careful, fresh and often brilliant rethinking of the subject from the ground up and in detail.

Of course, Reisman takes care to generally credit many major sources and influences. But that he seeks comprehensiveness in articulating his own synthesis is a great virtue of the work. A Reader’s Digest Condensed Version of the book would fall short, I’m afraid; it would cripple the overarching awesomeness. On the other hand, the book could probably be divided into ten or fifteen normal-sized volumes, and perhaps it should be published that way also. Alas, Mr. Ross would not be around to give one of the entries in the less intimidating format a try and thus realize how tightly welded and enlightening this intellectual accomplishment really is.

Reisman may never fully get the credit and understanding he is due for Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics. But at least he knows he did it, that he achieved this.

Read The Flying Saucers Are Very Very Real

Read Omelet: A Tragedy of Bill Shake-a-speare

Read The Case of the Cockamamie Killer

 

A social media forum that won’t muzzle and ban? Sign me up.

Filed under: Economics,Politics,Publishing,Self-help,Society and culture — davidmbrowndotcom @ 2:54 pm

If you do Twitter-like and other social-media communicating but hate Twitter-like, Facebook-like muzzling of too-contrarian views and banning of those who utter them, you may want to get on the waiting list for http://gab.ai/ , which is being founded with the explicit purpose of protecting freedom of expression on its forum. Its home page has this quote:

“What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.”— Salman Rushdie

Gab.ai is small now. Will it get lots bigger? That’s partly up to us. I say we help it reach the tipping point that will make it competitive with the muzzlers and banners. I’m #8052 on the waiting list. Yes, I am a Number.

August 1, 2016

No, automation is not a productivity-killer

Filed under: Economics,Society and culture,Technology,trade — davidmbrowndotcom @ 9:36 am

Contrary to GeekWire’s Alan Boyle and, apparently, Instapundit’s Glenn Reynolds, automation is not “the biggest challenge to jobs” if by that is meant the biggest challenge to a high-employment and highly productive economy.

Automation improves productivity. It enables you to do more stuff with less time and grunting. Automation is not a “challenge to jobs,” even if it makes specific jobs irrelevant because people don’t have to do them any longer. Do we really want to lament that we’re not 90% farmers these days because of vastly improved technological methods of agriculture, or that the candle and buggy makers were once thrown out of work by light bulbs and automobiles? New means of productivity require new kinds of jobs.

The point of any productive work is to produce something of value so that one can directly and indirectly sustain one’s life; it is not to cling to a (static, never-changing) job as an end in itself. That technological progress has gone beyond flint, spears and bear skins is not a tragedy.

July 19, 2016

The going rate for honesty is one dollar

Filed under: Economics,Ethics,Psychology — davidmbrowndotcom @ 4:48 am

Or at least, that’s the going rate when that’s what I can spare after having paid ten dollars for a soda. What I mean is that I ended up paying two dollars, one for the soda, one for the honesty.

Yesterday afternoon, in exchange for a can of soda, I was dumb enough to hand a ten-dollar bill that I thought was a one-dollar bill to the owner of a small grocery store. After I had zipped out the door and was definitively on my way, he called me back to give me my nine bucks in change. Embarrassing; but I appreciated the honesty. I said so verbally but also with an extra dollar, which pleasantly surprised him. Of course, I’m not trying to suggest that one should receive cash whenever one acts in a principled virtuous way. Nor do I believe that the prospect of gaining nine unearned dollars can either tempt or compensate a person who is honest on principle to suffer the injury to character that must result from stealing even a few dollars. But unexpected bonuses are fun to get and to give; life is short; and life is made out of moments.

Years ago, I did the same dumb thing when paying a pizza delivery guy, realizing my mistake soon after he had left. Reflecting on the incident, I realized that he had noticed my blunder and known that it was a blunder, but had suppressed his surprise as he kept the overpayment. If honesty were automatic, nobody would ever be dishonest. Being honest is not hard, if that’s a principle by which you live—and regardless of the amount of apparently easy-to-get-away-with loot involved. But it’s not automatic.

 

Read The Flying Saucers Are Very Very Real

Read Omelet: A Tragedy of Bill Shake-a-speare

Read The Case of the Cockamamie Killer

July 5, 2016

It is okay and even good to “outsource,” i.e., engage in voluntary trade to mutual benefit

Filed under: Economics,News,Politics,trade — davidmbrowndotcom @ 1:25 pm

At NRO, Victor Hanson has penned a strong article about the ways and wherefores of those who are rich plus powerful plus corrut; but the article is undercut by Hanson’s lumping of “outsourcing” with all manner of blatant corruption and lies.

In a sense, these revolving-door apparatchiks and incestuous couples are bullies, who use their megaphones to disparage others who are supposedly blinkered and ignorant to the point of not believing that a videomaker caused the attacks in Libya, not trusting the Iranians, being skeptical about the theory of sanctuary cities, missing the genius of the European Union, not seeing the brilliant logic in allowing in 12 million immigrants from southern Mexico and Central America under unlawful auspices, panicking about $20 trillion in debt, and incapable of appreciating the wonders of outsourcing.

The same non-corridor folks who don’t appreciate lies about Benghazi and Iran and who worry about trillions in red ink are “incapable of appreciating the wonders of outsourcing”? Incapable of appreciating what? International trade? Trade per se? Is Hanson saying that exchanges on the market are in the same category as rampant political dishonesty and looting? Is that the argument? But he doesn’t say exactly what he means by disparaging outsourcing as he does.

It may well be the case that specific instances of outsourcing, or any specific market transaction, would not have taken place had alternatives not been foreclosed by assaults against producers and consumers in the domestic economy. But this is no indictment of “outsourcing” or markets per se. It is an indictment of high taxes and endless senseless regulations by municipalities, states, and the federal government. Let’s not condemn businessmen–or, for that matter, Amazon and eBay customers who “outsource” certain purchases to overseas vendors offering lower prices on a good–for trying to reduce their costs and do the best they can for themselves despite the constant assaults.

May 26, 2013

U.S. Senate candidate Ed Markey, tax-break foe, reports abundant deductions

Filed under: Economics,Politics — davidmbrowndotcom @ 5:47 pm

Congressman Ed Markey has chastised income earners for seeking to keep their tax bills as low as possible. But has he ever tried to minimize his own tax bill?

Deviating from his 37-year policy as an elected official of keeping his tax matters private, Democratic U.S. Rep. Edward J. Markey, now running for U.S. Senate, on May 24 released tax-return data for the last several years.

The returns show a 25% total tax bite of the Massachusetts congressman’s income of $161,443 for 2012. He paid 20% of his income to the federal government and 5% to the state of Massachusetts. From 2008 through 2012, his total state and federal taxes ranged from 18% to 25% of his annual income.

The Boston Herald notes that Congressman Markey’s release of his returns was “timed for the Friday before a holiday weekend in an attempt to minimize the impact on his campaign. He had been delaying putting the returns out for more than a week despite Democrats attacking Gomez for failing to release enough years of his returns.” Gabriel Gomez is Markey’s Republican opponent in the June 25 special election for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by former U.S. Senator John Kerry, now the U.S. Secretary of State.

Both the contents of tax returns and a candidate’s reluctance to make tax-return details public can be fodder for mere demagoguery. During the recent presidential election, for instance, Senate majority leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, used Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s reluctance to release his tax returns to accuse Romney of “basically [paying] no taxes in the prior 12 years,” a vaporous charge for which Reid refused to provide evidence, and which was soon confuted.

But tax-return information can also be used to legitimately expose a politician’s hypocrisy ─ e.g., if his conduct as income earner or as tax-filer contradicts some of the key doctrines that inform his policy-making.

The Boston Globe reports that Congressman Markey has habitually taken large deductions, which include “about $9,000 a year in work-related deductions.” His deductions were as high as $49,066 in a single tax year. Thus, it seems that the congressman has made liberal use of the much Markey-reviled “tax breaks” to reduce his taxes.

Does he therefore believe himself to be tearing lucre from the beneficiaries of government handout programs?

The question is pertinent because in a 2011 article on his congressional web site, Congressman Markey is quoted as saying that he regards the efforts of “Exxon-Mobil, BP and other large companies” to keep “unnecessary tax breaks” as “the kind of shocking, tin-eared, tone-deaf, special-interest lobbying that has Americans sick and tired of how political power is wielded in Washington. Every dollar given to an oil company is another dollar taken away from Medicare, from student loan assistance, from child hunger programs. This isn’t some kind of cute social media campaign, it’s an anti-social safety net monstrosity that should be given the hashtag #CLUELESS.”

Hmm. Perhaps nobody should be allowed to keep any of his honestly earned money?

This passage comes to us via the same congressman who has formally asserted, in Congress, that “Christians had a better chance against the lions than the consumer has against the oil companies at the pumps in the United States today” (the clip is on YouTube), thus demonstrating a puzzling inability to distinguish between murder and shopping.

The anti-tax-break fulminations quoted on Markey’s congressional web site invite the reader to conclude that:

1) A person or company that earns an income by productive effort is not entitled by right to the fruits of that effort.

2) To earn profit on the market is somehow to take the money from other persons not involved in the relevant voluntary transactions. If I pay for a gallon of gas and the gas station owner or oil company employees then deploy the revenue I have given them for their own purposes, to pay bills and so forth, there’s something wrong about their doing so.

3) Running a productive, profitable company does not create jobs that keep persons off welfare rolls. In a free market, wealth cannot be used to produce more wealth. If a successful company is free to use and dispose of a greater percentage of its own income than politicians would prefer, the company either cannot or will not use that wealth to expand or improve its operations and to hire more employees. Very large companies do not employ more persons or pay more vendors than do very small companies.

4) Any attempt to keep more of one’s own honestly earned income from politicians trying to grab ever more of it proves that one is “tone-deaf” to the demands of those trying to grab more of one’s money. (By similar reasoning, any mugger would be entitled to scream “Hey, don’t be tone-deaf!” if his victim objects to turning over the wallet.)

One cannot necessarily call any congressman’s labors “productive,” as opposed to, say, counterproductive. But the question may still be asked: Since Congressman Markey, just like the large oil companies, has sought to reduce his tax burden by exploiting tax breaks, does Markey also regard himself as shockingly tone-deaf and inadequately subservient to the demands of government welfare program recipients and/or politicians?

If not, does Congressman Markey still regard large oil companies ─ profit-seeking entities that do offer something of value to people ─ as shockingly tone-deaf and inadequately subservient to the demands of government welfare program recipients and/or politicians?

If not, will Congressman Markey recant his attacks on the persons running large oil companies for trying to keep as much of their own honestly earned wealth as possible?

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September 20, 2012

Making versus giving

Filed under: Economics,Philosophy — davidmbrowndotcom @ 11:22 pm

No. No matter how much “teeing up” to “set oneself up” for a massive philanthropic legacy one engages in, the production and trade that make the philanthropy (and civilization) possible are the greater gift.

June 10, 2012

Making money requires what’s required to make money

Filed under: Economics — davidmbrowndotcom @ 11:37 am

A NYT commenter states, with the bald contempt for elemental economic facts that is so typical of commenters at the New York Times site: “Software should reflect people’s actual needs, not corporate strategies and profit margins.”

Why wouldn’t an effective business strategy for pursuing profit have something to do with providing something that customers are willing to pay for, i.e., a product or service that serves a need or want? Equally nonsensical would be the following statement: “Grocery stores should reflect people’s actual needs, not corporate strategies and profit margins.”

Let’s take several milliseconds to work through this. What happens to businesses that fail to satisfy the needs of customers? They lose customers. What happens to businesses that lose too many costumers to competitors that are better able to satisfy customers? Those customer-losing businesses also lose profits. What happens to businesses that can’t earn enough profit to stay in business? They go out of business.

The commenter’s unreflective (or anti-reflective) anti-capitalistic statement adds up to the following assertion: “Companies should pursue corporate strategies and profit margins by satisfying their customers’ actual needs; they should not pursue corporate strategies and profit margins by satisfying their customers’ actual needs.” In a market unhampered by government intervention, there is no way to stay in business over the long haul except by satisfying “actual needs”; a strategy for successfully pursuing profit would obviously reflect this fact.

February 16, 2012

Ebooks are not overpriced if you are buying them at their price

Filed under: Economics,Philosophy,Publishing,Society and culture — davidmbrowndotcom @ 5:23 am

Animating some of the commenters in this Amazon discussion is a certain medieval “just price” notion according to which certain books, and in particular ebooks as a category, are supposedly “overpriced.” (I assume that this complaint exempts the hundreds of thousands of books we can obtain for 99 cents each or for 0 cents each.)

If Amazon were to charge $1,000 for an ordinary paperback that would typically sell for $7.95, it is unlikely that Amazon could move a single copy. But this $1,000 paperback would not be overpriced with respect to some Platonic abstract principle of The One True Price to which a disgruntled reader might appeal as he flings accusations of “greed and price-fixing.” It is, rather, overpriced with respect to what can be sold and earn a profit in the marketplace.

If I own a rare first-edition copy of a paperback in pristine condition, and I know I can sell it on eBay for $1,000, should I sell it for $7.95 (or perhaps $2.95) for the sake of protecting myself from JoCr’s accusations of “greed and price fixing”? If I seek a profit by participating in the marketplace, my profit-seeking is per se “greedy,” i.e., self-interested. But as philosopher and commentator Tibor Machan has often noted, the buyer is “greedy” too; he wants the most bang for his buck, just as I want the most buck for my bang. The buyer makes the trade because he values what I’m selling more than what he gives me in exchange for that good. If he knows that he can get a better deal in terms of price and convenience, though, he’s apt to take that better deal.

As a seller, I can “set” any price I wish for my wares (at least if Uncle Sam doesn’t intrude with orders to desist from alleged “price fixing”). But I must take into account how market conditions, including the valuations of buyers, determine the range of prices I can charge if I am to both sell my product and earn a profit. To overprice my product means to sell it at a price that too few customers will pay or that none at all will pay. That’s an error, of course; but it’s not in itself reprehensible. Similarly, I would not call a customer maleficently greedy for missing out on a good deal because he erroneously thought a better deal was just down the road.

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