The case against identity politics

In episode 45 of his “Waking Up” podcast, I loved this piece by Sam Harris on identity politics, and wanted to capture it here for future reference:

Sam Harris:

As far as I can tell, becoming a part of a movement doesn’t help anybody think clearly, so I distrust identity politics of all kinds. I think we should talk about specific issues, whether it’s trade or guns or immigration or foreign interventions or abortion or anything else. And we should reason honestly about them.

And I’m not the first person who has noticed that it’s pretty strange that knowing a person’s position on any one of these issues, generally allows you to predict his position on any of the others. This shouldn’t happen. Some of these issues are totally unrelated. Why should a person’s attitude towards guns be predictive of his views on climate change? Or immigration? Or abortion?

And yet, it almost certainly is in our society. That’s a sign that people are joining tribes and movements. It’s not the sign of clear thinking.

If you’re reasoning honestly about facts, then the color of your skin is irrelevant. The religion of your parents is irrelevant. Whether you’re gay or straight, is irrelevant. Your identity is irrelevant. In fact, if you’re talking about reality, its character can’t be predicated on who you happen to be. That’s what it means to be talking about reality.

And this also applies to the reality of human experience, and human suffering. For example, if vaccines don’t cause autism, if that is just a fact—which is what the best science suggests at this point—well, then to argue against this view, you need data. Or a new analysis of existing data. You need an argument. And the nature of any argument is that its validity doesn’t depend on who you are. That’s why a good argument should be accepted by others, no matter who they are.

So in the case of vaccines causing autism, you don’t get to say, “As a parent of a child with autism, I believe X, Y and Z.” Whatever is true about the biological basis of autism, can’t depend on who you are. And who you are in this case, is probably adding a level of emotional engagement with the issue, which would be totally understandable, but would also be unlikely to lead you to think about it more clearly.

The facts are whatever they are. And it’s not an accident that being disinterested—not uninterested, but disinterested, meaning not being emotionally engaged—usually improves a person’s ability to reason about the facts.

When talking about violence in our society, again, the facts are whatever they are. How many people got shot? How many died? What was the color of their skin? Who shot them? What was the color of their skin? Getting a handle on these facts doesn’t require one to say, “As a black man, I know X, Y and Z.” The color of your skin, simply isn’t relevant information.

When talking about the data, that is, what is happening throughout a whole society, your life experience isn’t relevant information. And the fact that you think it might be, is a problem.

Now this isn’t to say that a person’s life experience is never relevant to a conversation. Of course it can be. And it can be used to establish certain kinds of facts. If someone says to you, “Catholics don’t believe in hell”, it’s perfectly valid to retort, “Actually my mom is a Catholic, and she believes in hell.” Of course there’s a larger question of what the Catholic doctrine actually is, but if a person is making a statement about a certain group of people, and you are a member of the group, you might very well be in a position to falsify his claim, on the basis of your experience.

But a person’s identity and life experience usually aren’t relevant, when talking about facts. And they’re usually invoked in ways that are clearly fallacious. And many people seem to be making a political religion out of ignoring this difference, so I urge you not to be one of those people, whether you’re on the left or the right.

Email, please

Because every WhatsApp “informational” group eventually devolves into a water cooler chat, my app badge currently shows 1,457 unread messages. Because I rarely open Facebook, its app badge shows 312 unseen notifications. Because I participate in seven Slacks, with several “channels” in each, there are currently 117 unread messages in there.

Add in iMessage, Skype, Basecamp, Google Hangouts, Telegram, Signal & Twitter DMs, and we have a clear situation of contact-point overload.

If it’s important that I see what you have to say, there’s only one reliable channel—email. If you contact me through any of the others, let me apologize in advance—because I probably won’t see it.

Paying one’s “fair share” of taxes

In this article about Roger Ver’s $100,000 bitcoin bounty to Bernie Sanders for a debate on the topic of patriotism, we come across this quote (emphasis added by me):

These great lovers of America who made their money in this country, when you ask them to start paying their fair share of taxes, they’re running abroad. — Bernie Sanders

The obvious problem with this is that Sanders’s opinion of what constitutes one’s “fair share” is likely to be quite different than that of, say, Milton Friedman.

And in the context of Sanders’s desire to raise taxes on the wealthy, it’s probably worthwhile to take a moment to review the current situation in terms of taxes paid versus benefits received across all income levels:

Taxes paid vs benefits received

The Heritage Foundation has an interesting 2015 article on, The Redistributive State: The Allocation of Government Benefits, Services, and Taxes in the United States. In it, I saw this interesting chart comparing taxes paid versus benefits received, based on income. I’ll refer to this next time someone mentions that the wealthy aren’t paying their fair share:

Politics, Society and Corruption

Hardly a day passes here in Spain that we don’t hear news of yet another case of political corruption. Whether it’s the left-leaning PSOE or the right-leaning PP, representatives from both the country’s main political parties are regularly caught in unimaginable schemes of corruption.

Continue reading Politics, Society and Corruption

Fucking politicians—The consequences of having donated to the Ron Paul political campaign

Back in 2008, I made a terrible mistake—I donated to the Ron Paul political campaign.

Why a mistake? Because Ron Paul proceeded to sell or pass on my email address to a multitude of conservative politicians and causes, who in turn did the something—resulting in a snowballing, unstoppable, never-ending flood of conservative, donation-seeking, nearly-always-irrelevant political spam arriving in my email inbox. Continue reading Fucking politicians—The consequences of having donated to the Ron Paul political campaign

Does Erik Vorhees understand things better than Milton Friedman?

Speaking with people of different religious beliefs, I’ve always found it curious to hear a common viewpoint, that goes something along the lines of:

It’s quite obvious that all gods in which people around the world believe, and have believed, are false. In fact, it defies logic and common sense that people have actually believed in them. On the other hand, it should be intellectually obvious that the god I believe in, who happens to be the god relevant to the place and time in which I was born, actually does exist.

It seems so strange that these people never seem to question in themselves whether they just might suffer from the same blind-spot they find obvious in those who believe in gods other than their own. And it seems intellectually arrogant.

I thought of this analogously today when I read a comment by Bitcoin-proponent Erik Vorhees, about Milton Friedman:

As the most popular champion of free markets, it’s always surprised (and dismayed) me that Friedman seemed to have little issue with central planning when it came to money itself. He would abhor central planning in basically every good, except the good of money, which is arguably the most important.

Having studied Milton Friedman and his work for many years I’m left with the belief that he was a truly special and brilliant man. I consider him in the same class as people like Richard Feynman.

While I acknowledge the importance of independent and critical thinking, if I found myself in disagreement with these people on a particular issue, my first instinct would be to deeply question my own research, my own understanding, my own logic and assumptions and even my own intellectual limits long before I’d conclude myself as “being dismayed”.

The consequences of making political donations

A libertarian at heart, I donated to the Ron Paul presidential campaign back when he made a run for office—and that has turned out to be a terrible mistake.

As a result of that donation, my email address has been forwarded to every conservative group in the United States, and now I regularly receive solicitations from national activist groups to local small-town politicians, and everything in between.

Today, one arrived from “GOP Contacts”, strongly encouraging me to vote in New Jersey’s upcoming senate race. I guess those dimwits email every address they have, just to avoid missing anybody who might be eligible to vote in New Jersey.

Sometimes these mails have a link in the footer that says, “Click here to learn how your name got on our list”, which leads to a web page at a mass-mail provider displays the non-sensical, “Opt-in source: Mailing List.”

But the footer of today’s email contains this insult:

I’d love to have 10 minutes with the person who wrote that.

I never gave Ron Paul permission to pass on my email address, and now that it’s out there, there’s apparently no way to stop its continued spread from list to list to list.

Fine, they can continue to email me, but through their actions these groups have ensured that they’ll never, ever get another dollar in financial support from me.

IRS claims it can read your email without a warrant

In this CNET article some disclosed documents reveal that the IRS claims it can read your email without a warrant.

An IRS 2009 Search Warrant Handbook obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union argues that “emails and other transmissions generally lose their reasonable expectation of privacy and thus their Fourth Amendment protection once they have been sent from an individual’s computer.”

This is another reason why it’s probably a good idea to host your own email, as opposed to going with a service like Gmail or iCloud.

Eye-opening observations about American poverty statistics

Eye opening comments on American poverty statistics from Philip Greenspun

How many American households suffer in poverty? It might be twice as many as you think. If a man and a woman live in the same crummy apartment with their two biological children, a layperson would walk by and count one poor household. The expert economists at the Census Bureau, however, upon finding that the man and woman are not married, count two households. The father is one household. The mother and the children are a second household. Both are “living in poverty”. What if the man and woman each had a low-wage job and they were to get married? Now the two “poor” households would become one “not in poverty” household.

The days when you still had a chance to be heard

Josh Williams is a great story-teller—a quality I’m sure has played no small part in his successful career. Reading his wonderfully-told story of Gowalla, something he said really hit home (emphasis mine):

We believed this idea to be the craziest of the lot, so we set about on a rigid pace to launch it in time for SXSW (these being the days you still had a chance of being heard).

How true it is—today it seems near impossible to be heard.

We’re about a week out from launching Rego, Makalu’s second iPhone app. To prepare for the launch, I’ve been reaching out to people in the press who typically cover app launches and reviews—and have failed miserably. I’ve tried different pitches—some long, some short—and I’ve read the book, but I’ve yet to receive one single reply.

I’ve come to use Rego so much myself that it’s earned a coveted spot in my iPhone’s dock, and that’s not because my company created it—I really love it! And knowing it’s a great product makes it that much more frustrating to see sometimes trivial apps (to my eyes at least) get coverage on the big review sites, when we can’t.

(We had a similar experience with our other product, RaceSplitter, an iPhone app for do-it-yourself timing of sport events. RaceSplitter is a truly disruptive product—in its own little niche market—and has been used to time nearly half a million racers in more than 60 countries. But just like Rego, we haven’t had any success getting broader press attention.)

Books like Pitch Perfect warn that, these days, one unfortunately shouldn’t really expect a response as bloggers and writers get hundreds of requests per day—but it’s still really frustrating.

Why good intentions can fail as a starting point for organizing society

In discussions about society and economics, proponents of collectivism often respond to free-market capitalists with incredulity. How could you possibly put profit above the needs of human beings?

That is a tragic misunderstanding. And in a domain so important but so closely tied to emotion, it often derails constructive conversation and progress.

The sad truth is that putting the needs of others first, ultimately fails as a societal model. Intentions don’t matter; what actually works — or more precisely, what produces the best results among imperfect alternatives — is what matters.

As it happens, organizing society around the innate human tendency to act in ones own best interest will achieve, through the invisible hand of the impersonal price system, the best sustainable results for the poor and needy. Not perfect results; but the best possible results.

Good intentions

It naturally starts as the most noble of ideas. There are those in our society who are in need due to no fault of their own, and we as a society should collectively help them.

How do we collectively help those in need? We don’t tend to do it directly; rather, we attempt to do it indirectly through government. We allow the government to tax a portion of our income, in order to use that money to — in addition to the basic functions of government — help those in need.

But government is comprised of people; human beings. And that’s the fundamental problem.

Who goes to work in government? Government jobs are stable, by and large free from accountability and the pressures of competition. At mid and high levels, government jobs offer power and opportunities for corruption.

I’ve lived in four countries and visited many more, and my experience in this regard is fully consistent. Although there are exceptions, government everywhere, in general, attracts people for whom such job qualities appeal. In general, these are not qualities consistent with achievement in private enterprise, where only the most competent, efficient, productive, competitive and effective entities survive.

The result is no surprise — incompetence, inefficiency and ineffectiveness. For every dollar collected in taxes to help the needy, only a fraction arrives at its intended destination. Furthermore, the situation grows worse with increasing size of government, and government always tends to grow. Over time, less and less of each tax dollar ends up actually achieving the initial aim of society — helping the needy.

Today we see massive inefficiencies, incompetence, and corruption in government, and growth in government spending as a percentage of GDP on a scale in the United States (as in Europe) that is clearly unsustainable. And it extends beyond welfare; just look at the America medical and education systems.

What are the effects on those being helped?

The existence of welfare creates situations in which those with the capability to escape their needful situation choose to remain. And, worse, it creates situations in which those outside actually prefer to enter welfare, rather than to fend for themselves. (Here in Spain, I often speak with unemployed who are in no hurry to find a job, and have seen all manner of ingenuity and innovation in fraudulently accessing government welfare and benefits programs.)

Over time, the proportion of the ever-growing total population eligible for government help who are actually in need, declines.

Milton Friedman was one of history’s most intelligent and respected social and economic thinkers. A life-time of research led him to conclude that although the intentions of a collectivist societal model are good and noble, such a model can’t and doesn’t work in practice in the long run.

A fundamental flaw, therefore, in designing a social model is to begin with good intentions.

Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government’s purposes are beneficial. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers. The greater dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.
—Justice Louis Brandeis

What’s the alternative?

The alternative is free-market capitalism. In his ground-breaking work, “The Wealth of Nations”, Scottish economist Adam Smith discovered that the impersonal system of prices in a free market acts as an invisible hand, organizing very complex and distributed systems of efficient production, resulting in a situation in which the individual, acting in his own interest, actually works towards the larger benefits of society; objectives which were of no intent of his own.

According to the research of Milton Friedman, history clearly demonstrates that wherever you find reasonable conditions for the poor, you will find something resembling a free-market society. And wherever you find the worst disparity and conditions for the poor, you will find a model of central societal planning.

It’s a counter-intuitive idea, for sure, and leads to hundreds of reasonable questions and concerns. I would urge anyone interested in this topic to watch Milton Friedman’s “Free to Choose” series, now available on YouTube.

The inefficiency of government subsidized medical care

Phil Greenspun posted an article discussing a study of the efficiency of Medicaid in Oregon.

The conclusion was that Medicaid increased hospital use by about 30 percent, outpatient medical care by about 35 percent, and total spending by 25 percent. Finkelstein noted that advocates for expanding health insurance often predict that use of hospital emergency rooms will decrease when everyone is insured. That turned out not to be true in Oregon. The insured and uninsured used emergency departments at hospitals at roughly the same rate.

My observations here in Spain, a country with a state-subsidized medical system, has been that waits at emergency rooms are excessively long, due to large numbers of people visiting for common colds and other minor problems. It has gotten so bad that the government has begun to impose a minimum (nominal) payment to access the emergency room.

Update: A friend suggested that a desire to see a more efficient system implies less access. That’s untrue. Efficiency is about maximizing productivity, with minimum wasted effort or expense. Greenspun offered some interesting ideas for health care reform a while back.

Obama’s reelection — are we on the path to Spain?

For me, the Obama acceptance speech began ominously:

…the belief that while each of us will pursue our own individual dreams, we are an American family and we rise or fall together as one nation.

It seems that Obama’s dream is a nation of people working hard as individuals, and collectively contributing their fair share towards the provision of a societal safety net, administered by an efficient government.

It’s a beautiful ideal. Who wouldn’t want to live in such a society? There’s just one problem; it simply doesn’t work. Why?

  1. Government attracts those seeking power, operates inefficiently and always becomes corrupt.

  2. The existence of a social safety net lowers the motivation of survival, and usually leads to abuse.

Free to Choose

I wish everyone would take the time to watch Milton Friedman’s series called, Free to Choose. It’s the culmination of the life’s work of one history’s most brilliant economic thinkers.

A society that puts equality before freedom will get neither. A society that puts freedom before equality will get a high degree of both.

Friedman argues convincingly — through both logic and historical evidence — that socialism, while noble in concept, simply doesn’t work.

Taxing removes the incentive to invest. Through incompetence, inefficiency and corruption, only a fraction of tax receipts end up at their intended destination. The presence of a safety net creates unproductive dependency, a sense of entitlement and abuse.

The path of socialism ultimately leads to a society in which an unreasonable portion of its resources are consumed by a growing, inefficient and corrupt government. Its citizens have, by and large, become uncompetitive with those of freer nations, are suffering and have developed a deep sense of entitlement. The productive sector of the society has left, to invest its resources and capital in freer places.

The tragic irony is that this path is governed by a vicious cycle, because it’s so easy for the suffering to place their hopes in the hands of politicians who blame anything and everything except the root organization of the society itself, and promise relief from the government, funded through debt, taxes and redistribution of wealth.

Am I living in the future of the United States?

I live in Spain, a socialist country, and in a sense I feel I’m living the future of the United States.

As you’re probably aware, Spain is in dire straits. In response to an ailing nation, the Spanish government has tried social program after social program — subsidies (money) to those with children, subsidies to young people who want to rent a property, subsidies to those who take jobs far from home, subsidized loans, massive stimulus funds given to local governments, scholarships based on economic status rather than merit, free medical services for everybody including illegal immigrants, laws that protect renters, laws that protect employees.

You name it, and it’s been tried here.

What are the results? Widespread corruption. Widespread fraud and abuse. Massive inefficiencies. An economy hopelessly burdened by its debt. And a society deeply rooted in the culture of entitlement.

In my time here, I have been absolutely astounded at what I’ve seen and have personally experienced as a result of this approach to organizing society.

As a businessman, I’ve experienced the abuse of the Spanish employment protection laws. As the owner of rental property, I’ve experienced the abuse of the Spanish renter protection laws. I was once told,

You’re going to watch me enjoy this apartment’s swimming pool and not paying any rent, while you spend years trying to get me evicted.

In recent news, a nearby local town received 11 million Euros from the central government, as part of a massive stimulus plan. Of those 11 million, 10 million disappeared, and one million went to a mysterious company who was the only bidder on an infrastructure improvement project. Hardly a week goes by without the breaking of another story like this.

Only on the brink of financial collapse under the weight of its debts has the government began to implement austerity measures. And what is the response of the people, who have developed such a deep sense of entitlement? Revolt — against the government who are cutting back entitlements, against businesses and against anyone who’s in a better situation.

Just yesterday I overheard a group of people talking about burning a bank, because it foreclosed on someone who could’t pay their mortgage. It doesn’t matter that it was the bank that provided the possibility for the person to buy a home, and that that person agreed that if they do not repay the bank, they will lose their home. It doesn’t matter that, rather than saving and living frugally during the past generation, the person likely (statistically) lived a life of consumptive excess beyond their means.

And the world view reflected in this example is absolutely typical of a large portion of the Spanish society today.

What about those who could help? Well, more and more, I’m learning of capable Spanish individuals and businesses who are emigrating to other countries, freer countries, to apply their skills and resources.

Over the past few decades, I’ve gotten the sense that America is moving away from its roots as a free society and towards a model of collectivism and ever larger government. Granted, I’m viewing this from afar, but perhaps that also makes it easier to see. Sometimes I feel it’s easier to recognize where America is headed, when you already live in a place that’s just down the road.

Obama’s campaign message wasn’t that we Americans need to bear the painful consequences of a generation of excess, and move in a direction — both individuals and government — of taking more personal responsibility and creating the conditions for freer markets, incentivizing people to take risks and seek opportunities.

Instead, the message was that we’re one big family, we’ll all take care of each other through government mediation, and we’ll pay for it with debt, increased taxation and redistribution of wealth.

As Friedman pointed out, that’s a noble idea, but has never worked. America is worse off today than it was four years ago. I predict it’ll be worse off still four years from now, and over time will continue to look more and more like Spain. I hope I’m wrong.

Is this inevitable? Perhaps it is.

I often wonder why the tendency of nations towards collectivism seem almost inevitable, and I guess it’s because freedom, while a superficially attractive concept, ultimately demands personal responsibility and unavoidable accountability. It’s attractive and easy to delegate the hard parts of freedom to a government willing to make promises, and easy for us to believe that having made that delegation, we still retain the good parts of freedom.

In that respect, the free-market capitalism model which Friedman so eloquently argues is the best known system in the overall interest of a society, is one that appears to be unfortunately unsustainable in the long-run.

Footnote:

I don’t see how any average person, like myself, can claim to know how a society should best be organized. Certainly that’s not what I’m trying do in this article. What I am trying to do is simply articulate the world view I seem to have developed over time, through study, observation and experience.

The Wealth of Statesmen

I ran across an info-graphic visually demonstrating how much less Mitt Romney pays in taxes, as a percentage of his income, implying that’s because he’s part of the 1%, the “Super-Wealthy”. The info-graphic is very deceptive. Can you figure out why? Think about it before skipping to the discussion below the image.

The reason this chart is deceptive is because the income of Romney is different than the income of the simple millionaire. A tax rate of 30% would imply that the millionaire earned normal income. We already know that the majority of Romney’s income comes from capital gains. Capital gains are taxed differently than normal income, and always have been.

The graphic is comparing apples and oranges, but would try to lead us to believe that the reason Romney pays less is “because he’s part of the 1%”.

In most developed countries, investment income (capital gains, dividends and interest) are taxed differently than regular income. Although there remains healthy debate on the topic, most economist agree that the lower investment income is taxed, the better off is the society. Many economists argue that investment income shouldn’t be taxed at all, thereby maximizing the incentive for people to make capital investment. (And keep in mind, that American companies — the ones providing these capital returns — pay among the highest corporate tax rates in the world on the normal income they make.)

The image comparatively suggests that it’d be better if Romney paid 30% on his capital income, just like the millionaire does on his normal income. Would you like to see what a country looks like that levies 27% tax on investment income? Spain, where the unemployment rate among the youth in the area where I live has reached 50%.

Of course, that’s an overly simplistic statement, too; Spain’s situation is by no means exclusively due to their capital gains tax. But it would be instructive for people supporting an increase on investment income taxation in America to look around the world and through history, to see what countries look like that levy high rates on such income.

As a final note, I hate seeing this kind of simplistic and misleading political advertising. I also observe that it’s the prominent strategy employed by both liberals and conservatives alike. That such advertising is effective is a reflection of how uninformed we are, and how little time we invest nowadays to even try to understand issues.

Are philosophy and religion dead?

The history of both science and philosophy is one in which man observes things (or studies the observations of others), and attempts to construct models for understanding those observations. Those models are borne in the thought processes of humans, and thereby limited to the realm of human experience.

Quantum physics, on the other hand, is a different story.

Having discovered that the Newtonian models for describing the behavior of physical bodies fail when predicting the behavior of elements at the atomic level, man could no longer rely on human observation and experience in his search for answers. Instead, the mathematics were discovered which held the potential for understanding the unobservable.

And through these mathematics, a portal was opened to a world of phenomena that simply defy the human experience. A world in which time can slow down. A world with far more than the basic four dimensions we experience. A world in which a particle travels from A to B not along a single path, but along all possible paths — simultaneously.

A world in which something can actually come from nothing.

Although we can’t observe the things that quantum theory predict, we can gain confidences in the theory by testing its consequences. For example, if something actually does come from nothing, trillions of times per day, we should be able to measure its residual energy in a vacuum. If gravity does come from a vortex caused by the earth rotating in the space-time dimension, we should be able to measure the consequences of that with highly sophisticated instruments in space.

Over the past decades, man has repeatedly searched for, discovered, and constructed ways in which he can test the consequences of quantum physics, and in every case, the predictions have been validated through measurement to a accuracy that leaves little doubt as the reliability of the quantum models.

To put this in perspective, we’re talking about an accuracy on the order of estimating the width of the United States to the precision of a human hair.

Of all existing human knowledge today, quantum physics is accepted to be that in which we can most rely to be true. It also happens to be the body of knowledge that offers the promise of understanding the origin of our universe; offering an answer to how and why we are here.

Let’s deeply reflect on that:

The body of knowledge which offers an understanding of the universe is both:

  • the knowledge we most take to be true, of all knowledge, and

  • the domain of phenomena which are outside of the realm of human experience.

When physicist Stephen Hawking said at a Google conference that “Philosophy is Dead,” I think this is what he was referring to. How can any branch of understanding compete with science, once truth has been determined to exist outside the domain of human experience?

Is there a better alternative to taxing the upper class?

It seems that each day we get to read comments from political leaders — whether Obama in the US, or Zapatero in Spain — arguing for increased taxes on those who have earned or saved more, with justification that it’s “fair”; that this segment of society should do more to help those in need.

Moral issues aside, the problem is that the reality is far less straightforward than one segment of society helping another.

The reality, as we all know, would be that one segment of society gives more money to government, who will then spend that additional revenue on social programs intended to help the needy, along with a lot of other programs completely unrelated to helping the needy (including their own salaries and pensions.)

And regarding those programs intended to help the needy, I think we can all agree that the efficiency with which government processes its revenue sucks, and gets worse as government gets bigger. And today, government has never been bigger.

As Milton Friedman often stated, the intentions of socialism are noble and good. But the unfortunate reality is that they never work in practice.

I would suspect that the majority of social spending here in Spain ends up in the hands of corrupt politicians, corrupt businessmen and corrupt individuals who learn to play the system. I see this every single day. And the nature of that corruption is just as relevant in the US and every other government in the world, as far as I can tell.

Who knows what percentage of a dollar or euro in tax revenue actually ends up helping somebody. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s less than 10 cents.

So, if one segment of society is going to be coerced into helping another, let’s do it this way: Let them find their own way to provide that help, and then submit receipt of that help to the government, thereby cutting out the inefficient/ineffective middleman.

A prayer for Japan?

Over the past few days, it’s been interesting to watch the widespread, literal appeal across Twitter that we all pray for Japan.

So how does that logic work?

One morning God decides, “I think today I’ll hit Japan with massive earthquakes and tsunamis.” There we go.

Then, due to the powers of the social networks and the #prayforjapan hashtag, he’s hit with a flood of prayers like he’s never experienced before. Taken aback, he thinks, “Oh, I never realized so many people wouldn’t be behind this thing.”

He has a change of heart, and decides to help a few folks make it through the ICU, and maybe help get the nuclear plant’s cooling system back online.

This might sound irreverent, insensitive and potentially offensive, but, honestly, wouldn’t the logic have to work something like that?

I imagine myself drowning off the side of a cruise ship, contemplating the world in which I live as I look up at a mass of people congregating hand-in-hand on the bridge, organizing themselves to collect as many others as possible to sing hymns and pray that I’ll get some help — all while sits an inflatable raft just behind them.

For those really concerned about the tragedy in Japan, there are ways in which you can actually help if you just seek them out.

The unfortunate consequences of protective social laws in Spain

According to Milton Friedman, the problem with socialism isn’t its intentions; the notions of government helping those in need, and protecting the disadvantaged are honorable. The problem is that when implemented, public funds inevitably end up in the wrong hands, and far more people exploit protection than benefit from it.

Continue reading The unfortunate consequences of protective social laws in Spain

Are we entitled to data security?

In a Wall Street Journal article related to Twitter’s settling of a privacy-related case, Consumer Protection Bureau Director David Vladeck states:

Consumers who use social networking sites may choose to share some information with others, but they still have a right to expect that their personal information will be kept private and secure.

If I, as a consumer, choose to create an account with a free social network service like Twitter, why am I entitled to anything beyond the terms of services to which I agreed?