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Posts posted by Maarten

  1. Where did she say this? Do you have a reference?

    He might be paraphrasing her thoughts on student loans. I think that was essentially what her argument came down to in that case (that you had either already paid taxes or would pay taxes in the future, so student loans aren't immoral to accept)... But possibly that is not analogous to this situation.

    Or am I confusing this with fellowships?

  2. Thomas, I do not disagree with a gold standard. I am just seeking clarification on the "finite quantity problem". Your assumption that prices fall with more production is only true if demand does not increase correspondingly. Which is why I introduced the thought experiment above to take things to the extreme and see how well the gold standard holds up. So far, your explanation does not address my island situation in which demand and supply have increased almost equally, thereby increasing demand for money to transact (unless I am missing something).

    agrippa1, your explanation sort of makes sense but even if I accept that the purchasing power of gold increases over time in my island scenario above, what about the fact that the paper currency backed by gold has a fixed quantity? ie there is only $1 million of paper currency at a fixed rate to the gold and since the gold quantity cannot increase, there will be a severe shortage of money supply, making new transactions impossible. Would this therefore not mean that the ratio between gold and currency would need to be changing every day, thereby going back to an earlier point I made?

    How is an island with only enough resources to have 1 million worth of paper/gold equivalents going to have an economy that booms so much that they're having currency shortages? That seems a tad counter-intuitive?

  3. Also, in the very long term, there are considerable amounts of gold (and other rarer elements) present on both other planets in the solar system, as well as asteroids. I think the price of gold is already high enough (at 1700/oz it's about $54 500/kg or 54.5 million per metric ton) that it could be profitable to launch a spacecraft and get the stuff somewhere else. If not profitable today, that would certainly become profitable very soon if either the price of gold continues to rise, or it gets cheaper to launch stuff into space. There are basically limitless quantities of gold in the Universe (practically speaking, it's of course not really limitless, but for all intents and purposes it is), just waiting for someone to retrieve them.

    The same holds true for many other expensive elements. Yeah, someone has to take a risk and start a venture, and figure out how to mine in space, but I wouldn't put it past an enterprising businessman to come up with a solution like that.

    *I am not an expert on current launch costs, but I'd be very surprised if 54.5 million per ton is not above what it costs to launch something into space. I think it is considerably less than that with a good, cheap heavy lift vehicle.

  4. Also, it is worth asking how whatever standard is supposedly more important than life is justified itself. Why is that important to achieve? Basically anything besides life cannot be an ultimately value because it can't be good in itself; you can't say world peace (to give a nicely trite) is your ultimate value without justifying why it is important. How do you do that if not by placing it in relationship to some other value?

    Rand makes the argument convincingly that life CAN be the ultimate value (and is), how do other people defend their "equally valid" ultimate values? I have never seen a rational argument for adopting any other value; I don't think it can be done without relying on intrinsic value theory to some extent, which is untenable.

  5. I cannot believe how often I see supposed individualists relying on peer pressure to make their ideal society work. It's ridiculous.

    Isn't that how issues such as discrimination would ideally be solved, though? It was my understanding that in the case of discrimination, Objectivism rejects laws banning the practice (because they restrict the right of a business owner to hire whom he pleases to) in favor of what basically amounts to the same as what I was talking about (i.e. businesses that are discriminatory should be shunned, and market forces will take care of the matter in the longer term). Why is the only possible solution something that is mandated to everyone by law?

    Yes, I object to protection rackets. Can't you see the economic motive here to stage fake crimes in order to raise money? This already happens with the drug war, both with property forfeitures and arrest quotas.

    You can come up with these types of scenarios for pretty much any situation. Yes, it's possible for people to be defrauded in this way, but this is hardly unique to the police. You could make the exact same argument when talking about any business transaction. This can easily be addressed by various means, whether that is judicial review or some other way isn't really relevant at this point.

    Why would a police officer be much more likely than any tradesman to try and rip you off? And why wouldn't existing mechanisms that deal with these issues be sufficient in this case? If the local police department is staging fake crimes everywhere, sue them. That's ultimately what the judiciary is for.

  6. My concern: practically speaking, the police function, by its nature, requires rapid response. There is no time to verify whether or not a citizen has paid for this or that program of protection. Also, it is to my self-interest to have all citizens covered by the police, since uncovered citizens would become a source of social violence, either as victims of criminals, thus increasing criminality, or criminals themselves, out of a need for self-defense.

    Exactly, which is why I stated several times that this should be something determined after the fact; not a prerequisite for whether the police comes to your house. However, I don't see any issue with charging people after the fact. Not paying could have other consequences, though. They could publicly post a list of people who refuse to pay, for example. That probably would provide quite a bit of incentive for anyone who really does have the ability to pay to actually do it.

    Maybe there are fundamental issues with this proposal, but I don't think this concern people keep bringing up is necessarily a problem. I sincerely doubt that the average person whose house is getting burglarized would mind that much paying, say, 200 dollars after the fact to the police that showed up in a timely manner (especially considering there wouldn't be any taxes, people would have far more disposable income).

    Does anyone have an objection to this idea that is not something I already addressed?

  7. Ice, that graph really doesn't show what you're claiming it does very convincingly. Yeah, for the US the point comes in conveniently at the depth of the crisis, but several other countries did it before their worst crash, or once things had already gotten better. Besides, there are so many reasons as for why a depression can be prolonged that saying based on this that it was obviously the gold standard's fault is ludicrous, to be honest. There's a million different government policies and economic facts that come into play there. I'd be very interested in seeing how much of the drop in income is explained by the gold standard; I'm willing to bet it is a very small % (when you do statistical analysis on it).

  8. I have a Hyundai Elantra, and I really like it. It's very dependable, maintenance doesn't tend to cost very much, and it gets fairly great gas mileage (I get 33-35 mpg when driving long distances on the highway, which is quite nice). It's pretty spacious, too, even though it's a compact car. Mine is an '05, so not sure if they made a lot of differences since then. I would probably buy another one if my current car dies eventually :) Oh, I got it at 49k miles, used, about 2 and a half years ago, and it was still under warranty until 60k miles which I thought was pretty nice for a used car. I think the powertrain is 100k miles/10 years, so I'll hit that level pretty soon with how much driving I do.

  9. The European debt crisis probably isn't directly related to the US, but it probably is relevant because of how interwoven the economies are these days, so I thought I'd give my perspective on that in case anyone wants to know :).

    I don't think the whole place is going to fall apart, literally, although it is always possible if they have a major panic and for some reason can't muster the political will to paper over any policy differences and bail out whatever countries they need to. Having said that, the system in Europe is absolutely unsustainable, and in the longer term can't stay together unless all the economies there suddenly pull out of a major tailspin and start growing phenomenally. Further integration probably could force the peripheral countries to live within their means, but I really, sincerely doubt the political will is there. The EU is more and more unpopular, and if it goes on too long there will probably be electoral consequences and I think we'll see more and more anti-Europe parties getting into power. Given how they built the EU, any country can block progress over there so it doesn't take much to throw a spoke in the wheels.

    I think in the short term they'll probably come up with some new bailout scheme a la TARP, which obviously doesn't fix anything and will likely make matter worse long-term, but it may be enough for them to continue to ignore reality for a while longer. The wildcards there are either one of the core countries putting their foot down (or having elections where someone totally opposed to the bailouts wins), or if one of the peripheral countries decides to leave the Euro, as that will probably get messy. Not end of the world as we know it messy, but if Europe falls off a cliff and they lose half their banks due to government defaults and corresponding insolvencies, our economy will probably also tank because of how big a market the EU is.

    Having said that, I don't know if there's much we can do about it. I'd say Greek default is inevitable, but then it is hard to overestimate how much governments and central banks can manipulate matters if they really feel the need... We certainly don't have free bond markets by any stretch of the imagination, and the status quo will probably continue until we run out of other people's money. If China does have their real estate bubble implode we'd probably be in trouble :)

  10. Thanks Maarten,

    I believe I understand the argument of your first paragraph - that you're attempting to disprove the existence of the supernatural based off the meaning of the word "natural". I can see the argument, I think, but am also not completely comfortable with that type of argument, after all, we all know and recognize the inadequacies of words and their meanings. If words are symbols for concepts, and we are willing to argue so heavily on the meaning of words someone who disagrees could just as easily make the same argument with another set of clever words. It's a bit like saying, "God is the greatest being ever and a being that exists is better than a being that does not exists so therefore, God exists".

    The second paragraph is helpful, and I agree that the burden of proof rests in the affirmative.

    Ultimately though, this doesn't zero in on my question (or what I see as a problem of the logical assumption demonstrated by the author I quoted). Your second paragraph is a good reason for the rejection of the supernatural, the original author's reason is not.

    I hope that makes sense! :-)

    You're welcome. It'd probably have been better for the original quote to have included another sentence or two linking the thoughts. I think the quote you gave is correct, but it relies upon quite a bit of pre-existing knowledge on the part of the reader for it to truly make sense.

  11. For the first question: think about what the term supernatural refers to, in essence. If something is beyond natural, and Nature is that which exists, then something that is beyond nature by definition couldn't exist. The concept doesn't refer to anything in Reality, therefore anything supernatural can be known to be false.

    The other part of the answer rests upon the idea that positive claims have the burden of proof; it's not up to anyone else to disprove that the supernatural cannot exist... If you think it exists, then you need to provide good evidence as for why that is the case. In the absence of this evidence, any statement saying that supernatural could exist is arbitrary and has no basis to be considered. That explanation depends on a good understanding of how a person can be certain, and what possible means (rationally speaking). But that is probably a separate discussion in itself.

  12. House price bubbles occurred globally and most nations did not bail out shareholders. For example across Europe banks were nationalized meaning shareholders were wiped out. Bankers aren't stupid, but they are more interested in short term profits than long term shareholder value (its called the agency/principal market failure).

    Everytime you hear someone blame CRA or any other US specific government intervention, you should ask yourself why that meant the Spanish and British real estate markets also experienced a massive bubble.

    Most of those countries have their own distortions in the housing market; they're certainly not capitalist paradises that are completely unregulated. And in Europe, to a large extent their bubbles had to do with the Eurozone and many of their banks making terrible investments in peripheral countries, the results of which are currently playing out with all the sovereign problems they're having over there.

    Bank nationalizations are a form of bailouts, because the taxpayer assumes the risk at that point. Granted, it's a more explicit form of government involvement, but you can't argue that nationalizations are somehow not a way of bailing out a corporation. Yes, a nationalization wipes out shareholders, but there's a lot of shenanigans that tend to go on behind the scenes that reward certain groups more than others (see auto bailouts over here, where the unions got fat rewards). Ultimately, CEO oversight is something that should be up to the shareholders of a corporation, and not anyone else. If it takes a few terrible bankruptcies for them to learn this, then so be it. Maybe next time people invest in a company they'll demand more oversight and less risky behavior.

    Bankruptcy is the only proper, lawful way to resolve these issues.

  13. The CRA was Carter, not Clinton. BTW Thomas Sowell's book on the housing boom and bust is a must read.

    That is correct, but under Clinton the program was put into overdrive and became a lot more involved in banking practices. That may have been what Thomas was referring to.

    No, it was the private non-regulated asset backed securities issuers who made the NINJA (no-job, no income, no assets) and low-doc loans (blue line in the chart above).


    Again, CRA, Fannie/Freddie, etc were factors but not the main problem. The main problem was asset backed securities issuers (non regulated) who lowered lending standards in order to boost short term profits.

    If it wasn't for the implicit backing of potential losses by the government, a lot of these loans wouldn't have been made because the risk would be too great. Bankers normally don't make terrible loans if it's their own money that is at stake. They're not stupid...

  14. Agreed, the socialization of risk is ultimately what leads to these huge excesses. Even before the '08 crash it was pretty clear from history that the government wouldn't let a big investment bank fail in all likelihood (as they didn't in S&L crisis), so it really wasn't much of a stretch for people to assume that would happen again.

  15. Ninth Doctor,

    in the next sentence down I specifically stated that for the first alternative (charging part of the cost to someone who makes use of a service) you probably would set it up in such a way that continued protection is NOT linked to whether you had the ability to pay last time. And sure, that probably means that some people won't pay; however, I think the vast majority would if the police did an excellent job. If there is no other taxation people would have much more money to spend, and I think most people are rational enough to realize that it would be in their interest to give a few hundred dollars to their local police department to make sure they can continue to provide excellent protection.

    I'm not saying all of it need be funded this way, but it's a matter of fact that some people will directly benefit from police more than others in life. Currently, everyone pays more or less the same towards it; why is it so inherently bad to shift part of the cost to those who actually end up using it?

    As for the poll tax, there's various ways that can be administered. In this day and age, with almost everything being done electronically it wouldn't be too hard to set up a system that records people's incomes, just for the sake of administering a tax like this. Sure, there'd probably be some fraud, but given the amounts we're talking about I don't think evasion would be that much of a problem.

    Again, the fact that you think it unlikely that the average person today wouldn't volunteer is entirely irrelevant. People have been used to confiscatory levels of taxation for decades now, and it will take a while to change that. But before taxes used to be that high, note that charitable giving was much greater than today. It's not without precedent to suppose that you can raise a few % of someone's income in voluntary donations, considering even today many people donate 4-5% of their income to charity anyway. If everyone did that, you'd have funded the government easily.

    As for wars: in defensive wars you can also finance them in various ways and them demand reparations from the aggressor that cover a significant portion of the cost of it. If you issue war bonds and people buy them, yeah, you eventually have to pay them back, but this can be done over a long time frame, too, and when you think of, say, WW2, there was a lot of patriotic investment going on back then by the population here to support the war effort. You can't simply say that people would be totally unwilling to do these things voluntarily. Yes, it would be problematic raising 300% of GDP, but that's true of any government any time.

  16. Ooh, we used to have a thirty-some page topic on this very subject back in the day, I think. Always fun to revisit these discussions :)

    I think the most relevant part of this discussion pertains to privately owned property that is publicly visible. Public property as such is an anti-concept, and is inherently going to result in contradicting principles when we try to apply it consistently.

    When we're talking about someone's property it becomes a lot easier: if a certain property owner allows nudity and you have a problem with this, then simply do not go to that part of town. You have no inherent right to visit that person's property anyway, and if you choose to go there then you need to accept whatever rules they have set down. If it's your neighbor who is doing these things on his land, then just put up a fence or hedge that's high enough that you don't have to see it.

    If it truly bothers you so much to see these things, then move to a community where every land title includes basic rules of conduct that you find acceptable.

    I don't think there is any good argument that can be made why seeing someone naked or having sex is a violation of your right. It in no way prevents you from acting, nor does it defraud you of any value. Whether or not you experience an emotion when you see something isn't anyone's business, and the mere fact you experience an emotion you don't want to doesn't violate your rights. The only way you could argue that being disgusted violates your rights is if it compelled you to act in a certain way, and I don't think any Objectivist could believe that emotions have such a power. In the absence of that coercion, how could seeing something violate your rights?

    As an aside, I also am not particularly convinced by the argument that children need to be protected from things that are bad for them. Yes, it may lead you to have an uncomfortable conversation with your child before you wanted to, but the same thing could happen if they spend an afternoon browsing the internet and you forget to child proof your connection. Yet, no one would think to sue, say, a porn website because it violated their child's rights (who happened to browse there by accident). I don't think any sights are inherently scarring (not of the type we're discussing, anyway) because the conclusions someone draws from what they see is under their volitional control. If the child is too young to understand properly what those people having sex are doing, then how could it be harming them? (And coincidentally, we could be making that same argument to ban parents from having sex in their own house because it might scar their children. That's not that different from a child seeing some other adults having sex.)

  17. Also, in the case of police and/or courts, there are a few other ways to fund them, too. Without going into the merits (just for the sake of raising other alternatives), you could set up a system where someone is charged after the fact for making use of a service. It goes against most current conceptions of police being "free", but we all know that's not true anyway. I.e. the police will show up regardless, but then (part of) the cost will be billed to the person who benefited from their response. For certain other services that are more preventative in nature, one could imagine making these conditional upon sufficient funding; if you want them to patrol regularly in your neighborhood, donate more. Yes, some people would probably be in the position that they couldn't afford to pay, but this would probably be a minority (and you can compensate for that in other ways, maybe charge everyone cost + 10% to account for missed payments).

    In the case of criminal acts, one could also imagine using them as labor (for certain projects that need to be done anyway) so that may partially offset the cost of these acts, too.

    As far as the military goes, I would imagine there'd be a fair amount of donations, too. Most free countries with a volunteer army wouldn't need *that* much military funding in peacetime, and for fighting a just war I am willing to bet quite a few people would willingly donate money. Yes, it makes it harder for the government to fight unpopular wars, but that's probably a feature, not a bug :)

    Another way to raise funds could be to use a poll tax; simply say that if you want to vote, you have to pay 2 or 3 or 4% of your income as a fee. That way, there is no coercion because you can simply not vote if you wanted to, and you are paying for the privilege of electing officials in various positions. That could also raise quite a bit of money, and government would be MUCH less expensive to run in this situation. You would probably only have 2-3% of GDP in peacetime, or something of that nature. And in wartime, again, it would be a lot easier to raise money if the war was just.

  18. So you see no moral problem with taking credit for someone else's work and pretending you were the one who did it? Would you also say it's okay to, for example, take a coworker or colleague's work, put your name on it and tell your boss you were the one who did it?

  19. And whether or not you can copyright your new book or song depends on whether you actually created it; i.e. it has to be the product of your thought. So you're right, one person having copyright doesn't prevent anyone else from having copyright on a completely different work. However, you keep saying "new work" when you really mean "something that is only slightly different, but mostly someone else's old work".

    You should be able to claim the new parts as yours, but not the old that are already someone else's words/ideas written down. Let's use a rather extreme example to illustrate this: would it be okay for someone to, say, copy the entirety of Atlas Shrugged word for word, give it a different title, and publish it as their work? If not, why shouldn't they be able to? Isn't it their work?

  20. Quite so. The statement probably comes from someone who read someone who read an expert who claimed to have read and understood Rand.

    When a 'critic' comes out swinging with such ignorance, it's a waste of time to refer him to the original literature - he's not genuinely looking to increase his knowledge.

    That's what it sounded like to me. Someone misunderstanding a mistaken wikipedia entry :)

    RandNotAyn, if you are genuinely interested in Objectivism, go to the source material and really read it. I think you'll see soon enough that Rand isn't claiming most (if not all) of the things you attribute to her. Possibly Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology would be your best start, as it seems you're most mistaken on the metaphysics.

  21. A related thought: a value is something one acts to gain and/or keep (that furthers your life if it is objective). But life goes primarily in one direction, forward, so at any given moment you need to pursue things that are objectively valuable at that time. It doesn't do you any good to pursue something that used to be a value, but no longer is, in the same way as a meal you've already eaten is no longer nutritious and will not sustain your body even if you really enjoyed it at the time.

    Certain values are certainly persistent in the sense that they can continue to provide values for a long period of time, but it is the ability of this value to sustain your life in the present (and its projected ability into the future) that really, objectively matter the most. And I think in that way we do have a fairly good comparison between what is meant with a sunk cost; that a value's current value is what matters and not its past value, because you cannot use something that is no longer there to sustain your life.

    Now, there is certainly (emotional) value in past events and experiences (I'm just not sure to what extent that is objectively valuable for life qua man... I mean, I value these things, but I can't articulate why that is (and why it is right to feel that way, if it is). But one question with that, too, is whether an emotional reaction to something you valued in the past requires you to also still actively pursue that value today... I would be tempted to say that this is not necessarily the case, as many things that happened in the past are very emotionally satisfying to think about, but when you look back at an old friend, for example, you don't necessarily need to still be their friend to think fondly of those times and derive emotional value from those memories. People can certainly think back on something that happened in the past and enjoy the memory, let it reinvigorate their spirit, but that seems like it is completely separate from whether or not you still possess these values (whether they were people, or places you visited or whatever else) today. You can certainly derive value from a past value even if you still have access to that value it today; but I don't think it is necessarily required, either.

    Otherwise people couldn't rationally value, say, a dead friend. You may say that a live friend is probably a higher value (everything else being equal), but that is exactly my point; the live friend would be more valuable today because he can keep providing value into the future. In other words, I think it is important to recognize that when we talk about (objective) values, we mean a value sustaining Life today, and into the future.

    Another way of saying that is: you certainly couldn't derive all value from past relationships and friendships, right? That would be a pretty sad way to live, if all you had left was remembering how good things were in the past, and nothing to look forward to. I think that may be a better way to state it; that because Life is a process that moves forward (and not backwards), it requires values that are objective values in that same frame of time. And while things that happen in the past can genuinely provide value (either intellectual because you can think about it and learn from it, or emotional), it seems it couldn't truly substitute for something that is valuable today.

    Kind of in the same way as your GM shares that lost a lot of value really aren't worth what you originally paid for them any more. You may have emotional attachment to them, still, and that could make them (marginally) more valuable, but it is ultimately no substitute.

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