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Controlling Democracy

May 17, 2018

Governance is the task of organizing violence. Capacity for violence, properly channeled, can be a force for good: crime prevention, public goods, property rights, coordination points, defense against outsiders, resolution of grievances, etc., however it is a dangerous tool.

People don’t generally resort to violence unless they don’t have another option. In a democracy, if people people get what they want, and a public vote lets everyone know what everyone else wants, people in the minority know that they won’t be able to get their way through other means either. Popularity is a proxy for a measure of violence capacity and legitimacy.

Depending on how steep the hierarchy is, you wind up in very different looking societies. At one extreme, you have a flat anarchistic government, and at the other a dictatorship with very few people in the “selectorate“. Large selectorates tend to spend more money on public goods and less on private benefits for their members. The logic is that when the governing class (“the winning coalition”) is tiny, it is better to buy them palaces and fancy cars, but when it is most of the population, you need to get stuff like roads and quality governance to stay in power.

“There’s a big dilemma in the design of political institutions. Should we be ruled by the few or the many? What this amounts to is the choice between being ruled by the smart but selfish or dumb but nice. When only a small number of people hold power, they tend to use this power for their own ends at the expense of everyone else. If a king holds all the power, his decisions matter. He will likely use that power in a smart way, but smart for himself, rather than smart for everybody. Suppose instead we give everyone power. In doing so, we largely remove the incentive and ability for people to use power in self-serving ways at the expense of everyone else. But, at the same time, we remove the incentive for people to use power wisely. Since individual votes count for so little, individual voters have no incentive to become well-informed or to process information with any degree of care. Democracy incentivizes voters to be dumb.”
– Jason Brennan

It sounds like a choice, but it’s not really. There are many tasks required of governments that are simply impossible to vote on. You need experts. The more complex a society is, the more the experts are unaccountable because the voters simply don’t know enough to evaluate whether or not their interests are being served. It’s the Hayekian problem of local knowledge. The populist option is not really there, in the sense of letting the common man actually govern. They have neither the time, the knowledge, nor the inclination.

People might not know the mechanism by which they’ve been screwed, but they know when they’ve been screwed. People know a recession when they see one, they know when jobs evaporate, they know hyperinflation, they know injustice. They can also see the reactions of politicians, and maybe not the exact effectiveness, but at least the tone. The Clinton/Bush ruling class in America has been pretty lackadaisical about the economy and it’s really started to cause rifts in America’s social fabric.

People might not have any control over the kitchen, but if they don’t like the pie, or the size of the slice they get, they can always throw the pie out the window. America’s political stability is remarkably high. Democracy provides legitimacy, removes bad leaders with a minimum of fuss, helps avoid extremely bad policies, promotes more popular cultural policies, and the large selectorate means more public goods compared to transfers of private goods to cronies.


World of Warplanes Tech Trees as of

January 30, 2018

USA Tech Tree

Keepers: P-36, P-38F, P-51D, F-94D, PF-86A, XF-90

USSR/Russian Tech Tree

Keepers: Yak-7, Yak-15, Yak-30, IL-20, IL-40

German Tech Tree

Keepers: Fw-189 Eule, Bf 110 B, Fw-190 A-5, Me 410, Me 262, Me 262 HG III

Japanese Tech Tree

Keepers: Ki-84, A6M5

United Kingdom Tech Tree

Keepers: Hurricane I, Spitfire IX, Beaufighter

Favorite Tanks for World of Tanks

December 31, 2017

Lights: Luchs, Chaffee, Type 64, T71, WZ 132, AMX 13 90, T100 LT

Mediums: T-28 F30, T-34, Cromwell, T20, T-54 mod 1, Object 430 Version 2, Bat Chat 25t

Heavies: TOG II*, T29, Conqueror, T110E5

TDs: Hetzer, Hellcat, E25, Skorpion G, Object 263

Arty: Object 261

Silencing Popularity

October 10, 2017

There’s an article in the Atlantic about a poll done by Cato and YouGov. They list the popularity of censoring speakers at colleges on various topics. What surprises me is that among the category of “expressing unpopular opinions”, the least popular thing was:
“A speaker who says the Holocaust did not occur (57 percent)”

And the most were:
“A person who says all illegal immigrants should be deported (41 percent)” and
“A speaker who says men on average are better at math than women (40 percent)”

The least popular is, in my mind, both completely crazy and a great litmus test to see if the speaker is utterly evil. I would not silence such a person, but I would not go to their speaking event either unless it were to challenge them. The other end of the spectrum though is only 17 percentage points away. That means that statistically, only 17% of people statistically (I get that they are not the same people question to question), want to silence Holocaust deniers, but don’t want to silence speakers who say that men are better at math. The opinion that illegal immigrants should be deported, an idea our current president won by campaigning on, has a whopping 41% of respondents saying speakers should be silenced.

It’s just very surprising to me just how little the rate changes between expressing things that are true (men are better at math), things that are popular enough to win presidential elections on (deport illegals), and anti-Semitic nonsense. I wonder what the numbers would be for silencing speakers who say that puppies are fluffy and cute? Maybe 35% if this is anything to go on.

Galacticraft Best Simple Oxygen Setup

October 6, 2017

A lot of other guides have big complicated setups. But what if you don’t want to spend a ton of resources on a huge base? Well my friend, you’re in luck because the set up above is as simple as you can make it.

What you’ll need:
1 Advanced solar array
4 aluminum wires
2 oxygen pipes
1 energy storage module
1 oxygen compressor
1 oxygen collector
80 dirt
80 seeds
1 bucket of water

Other useful base building materials:
4 stacks(256) of cobblestone or stone
64 glowstone torches
2 stacks (128) of glass for your roof so the plants and solar panels can get light.

Build a 9×9 crop field with water in the center.
Put an oxygen collector on the edge.
Arrange the rest of the machines as shown in the picture above.

You’ll want to use heavy oxygen tanks and have a spare one for the moon since the nights are really long. If you can fill up the storage unit before nightfall, you should have enough oxygen to last the night.

In the picture above, I’m using a glass ceiling to get light while protecting my base from monsters. You can also use a coal generator instead of solar, but remember to bring a lot of coal if you do.

Ending Inflation?

July 7, 2017

A response to:

The Federal Reserve Board seeks to maintain an inflation rate around two percent per year. While this rate might sound low for older types who remember double-digit inflation rates in the late 70s and early 80s, and a rate of 5.4 percent as recently as 1990, why tolerate, let alone seek to sustain, any inflation at all? Why not seek to establish zero inflation and stable prices? After all, even an inflation rate of only two percent a year means nominal prices still double every 36 years.

36 years is a long time. Longer than I’ve been alive, and certainly long enough for people to adjust. Furthermore, since quality adjusting prices is more difficult the longer the time horizon, it could easily be the case that the true inflation over the decades has been substantially lower than what’s measured. Many goods have gotten better over time (electronics, cars, toys) so if you simply compare the price, you’re overestimating inflation. I doubt very many people would want 1980 prices if it meant they could only buy goods with 1980’s quality as well.

The problem of the zero lower bound is overblown. The main cause is the unwillingness on the part of the Fed to target levels rather than rates, do catch up inflation, and communicate their intentions in a language other than short term interest rates. The idea that the Fed could purchase every asset on planet Earth with newly printed dollars and not have inflation budge is frankly absurd, but also depressingly common among macroeconomic commentators.

“…there exists a sizeable contingent of macroeconomists skeptical of the efficacy of interest rate manipulation as a means of responding to recessions”

Yes, but no serious economist doesn’t believe that the Fed can’t influence inflation. Even if the main reason for the business cycle is “real” or supply side factors, there are demand based recessions, such as the one in 2008 and 1930 that even the most die hard RBC advocate must admit weren’t totally caused by technology shocks. When prices drop by 5% suddenly, you’re going to have some fallout. Prices (especially wages) and debt contracts are sticky and sudden changes have real microeconomic impacts.

“the trick with that is preventing people from holding cash when interest rates go below zero. So how to do that?”

All of the solutions in the article seem a bit extreme. If the Fed simply targeted the price level instead of the inflation rate, any drop in prices would be matched by an increase in prices later, so there would be no need to do anything crazy in the short run. Instead, we get a Fed that pursues rate targeting and treats the 2% target as a ceiling instead. It’s really no wonder that when we get 2% deflation for a year (2008), the economy takes a long time to recover from the shock. It’s not about the particular target! It’s about stability. People can adjust to 0% inflation – that’s fine. People can adjust to 2,3, 4, or 5% inflation – all those are fine as well. What matters is that when mistakes are made, they are fixed. The Fed’s mistakes in 2008 were never fixed, they were just left until the market sorted itself out and readjusted its expectations.

The economy is fine now. Yellen has pretty much targeted 1% inflation and unemployment is low and stable. I have no complaints anymore about the macroeconomy. There’s a reason (besides laziness) I haven’t written much about it – things are good and it looks like they’ll keep on being good. Ultimately, if you want to lower the measured inflation rate target to 0%, I think that would be ok, but do it slowly and give people time to adjust to it. Also, there is no need to do anything radical like abolish currency or do negative interest rates on savings accounts or anything like that. Plain old monetary policy is just fine.

Morality of Welfare

July 7, 2017

The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest. It becomes
The thronèd monarch better than his crown.
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings,
But mercy is above this sceptered sway.
It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings.
It is an attribute to God himself.
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice.

– Portia’s Plea for Mercy, The Merchant of Venice

Bryan Caplan wrote an article about reasons to oppose a welfare state. I have a very different way of thinking about welfare than Caplan, but I still identify as a libertarian. I think I am in the target demographic of his article. I had originally intended to do a point by point commentary, but found myself mostly in agreement with Caplan’s reasoning. However, I have one major disagreement:

“7. “No fault of their own.” Why you’re poor matters. Starving because you’re born blind is morally problematic. Starving because you drink yourself into a stupor every day is far less so. Indeed, you might call it just desserts.”

Mercy and forgiveness are virtues too, not just cold prudence. Someone starving because they made bad decisions is suffering just as much as someone who is starving because of bad luck. We have no control over the past, and predicting outcomes is difficult. I’m not saying people taking drugs or dropping out of high school somehow believe that things will work out fine. I’m saying that it’s immoral to condemn someone just because of foolish past decisions.

Is dropping out of high school enough to declare someone unfit for welfare for life? How about a teenage pregnancy? Haven’t we all made some bad choices in life? I suppose that’s the rub. If you want to say only welfare to people who deserve it, no one deserves it and you get to the conclusion that there should be no welfare at all.

I think a fault based welfare program would be more terrifying than no welfare at all, worse than our current welfare system, and far worse than a universal poverty welfare program (all poor people get $x, or a UBI). Imagine having a government bureaucrat combing everyone’s past scanning for moral failings that disqualify you from welfare. How easily would such a system be abused? Any political dissent or unpopular opinion expressed might disqualify you and that would certainly chill free speech as well as limit your personal freedom to live your life as you see fit. How would that remotely be a libertarian world?

The core decision to make is: Given that any charity is going to go to some undeserving people, is it better to accept that and keep doing it, or decide that it’s better not to do charity at all?

“When Jean Valjean steals a loaf of bread to save his sister’s son, he has a credible excuse. By extension, so does a government program to tax strangers to feed Valjean’s nephew.”

The main reason why you would even consider putting a fault requirement is to discourage the sorts of behavior that leads to poverty to begin with. Yes, the poor are less responsible, lower IQ, less conscientious, and more likely to engage in all sorts of behaviors likely to result in poverty. Do such people respond to incentives that are distant in time and uncertain (future disqualification of welfare they might never get anyway)? No, they don’t. Only the most hyper-rational superhuman would respond by adjusting their conscientiousness and those sorts of people don’t become indigent anyway.

I see welfare as about relieving high levels of suffering of those who are very poor. I do not believe you should have to do anything in order not to suffer at such levels – merely being a member of the human race should qualify. I get the whole nation border/global poor argument, but we live in a world where the most effective reallocater of resources is the nation state and people’s moral sympathies end at the border. I personally donate my charitable giving to international causes, and I advocate that others do as well. I don’t view the nation state as being remotely good at international poverty reduction, so I would prefer they focus on national poverty relief.

Welfare creates a better polity. A population that feels safe and protected is less prone to populism, extremism, demanding punitive industrial policy, trade restrictionism, etc.

If you desire equality, there are three approaches:
1.) Hope the free market gets you there. Deregulate, no corporate welfare, etc. The government is a source of much inequality and removing those sorts of policies can improve equality. Libertarians understand this, progressives do not. Unfortunately, some people fall through the cracks. Some skill sets are made obsolete by changing patterns of technology and trade. Sometimes people make mistakes and are harshly punished for them by the free market.
2.) Regulate the market in the hopes that the outcomes it gives you are more equal. Firms tend to capture regulatory agencies and the regulations have unintended consequences. All you end up doing is calcifying rents and entrenching the elites. This is the mid-century progressive approach and it doesn’t work.
3.) Merge free market/light regulation with moderate to generous welfare systems. Let the free market work. Let labor markets adjust. Have low levels of taxation. However, if people are in trouble, give them money. The Scandinavian countries do this approach quite well. I think their welfare is too generous for my personal tastes, but it could be toned down and implemented in other countries.

Welfare should be a part of the preferred libertarian policies. Knowing you have a safety net to try something risky and fail increases your personal freedom. Having some money even when things don’t go well for you (even when those things are your fault) increases your capacity to live life as you see fit. The cost in terms of taxation to others required just doesn’t impose as much on their liberty as the loss in liberty that comes with being extremely poor.