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Galileo Blogs

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  1. Check out Friends of God: A Roadtrip with Alexandra Pelosi on HBO. I wrote a review of it in my blog. It a disturbing, eye-opening documentary of mass irrationality. I hope Moose is right, because anecdotal evidence as shown in that documentary paints a picture of rampant religious mindlessness. Of course, if I understand Moose correctly, he also points out that modern-day Christianity is heavily attenuated compared with the ascetic life called for in the Bible. I guess that point was also shown in the documentary, with Christians having to resort to parading "Christian wrestlers" (shown in the documentary) to draw the believers in.
  2. That is a very interesting study. Economic theory confirmed! As to your view of how our world will change for the better, I agree that it will happen this way. That is how the Industrial Revolution happened in the first place. Many, many incremental changes occurred as people began to understand and value freedom on sundry issues. As they did, they enacted better laws and repealed bad laws. Sometimes those changes were dramatic, such as the repeal of the Corn Laws that began the British era of free trade. Most of the time the changes are small and incremental, such as the imposition of "congestion pricing." Imagine what a big step that really is, for no private owner could operate roads if he didn't have the freedom to charge prices as he sees fit. Now the principle of variable pricing based on usage has been established.
  3. Nat King Cole's "Fly Me to the Moon" flies me to the moon everytime! I listen to it on Rhapsody, the best online music service ever. No downloading and they respect copyrights. Yes, that's a plug. In the interests of full disclosure, I am not being paid to give it.
  4. You are mixing up several ideas here. As to your basic contention that higher prices won't reduce congestion, why not? If you double the price, will some people find carpools or telecommute, or take the bus or even call in sick? Not even 1% of the drivers? Over the long run, will not some people move closer to the city to shorten their commutation time? Won't some people who can, work different hours? You are saying there will be no adjustment to a higher price paid. Is that true at any price and over any period of time? If it is, and all other factors are constant, it would be the first market in the world where the price mechanism did not work.
  5. When you charge more for something, people demand less of it. That is always true in all markets. It doesn't matter whether the product sold is a "necessity" like driving to work or electricity or [you name it] or a "luxury" like foie gras and champagne. There can be other factors at work simultaneously that contradict the effect, but as far as prices are concerned, they directly influence how much people demand. That is the sound economics behind congestion or peak pricing. Charge more to use something at peak periods and you reduce congestion. Although people "suffer" because they pay higher prices, they benefit from faster travel times since there are fewer drivers on the road. In the hands of a businessman functioning in a capitalist system, this freedom to charge more at peak periods is a benevolent thing. As I described in my earlier post, it ends up putting capital into the hands of capitalists that results in more investment and better and, ultimately, cheaper roads. It also encourages innovation into even science fiction type innovations such as flying cars, not to mention more mundane innovations as better road-beds, signaling systems, railroad tracks, etc. However, none of that is present for roads anywhere in the world, as far as I understand. So, you have a monopolist charging more at peak hours. Are you still worse off for it? That depends on how adroitly and market-oriented the pricing is. Ideally, it should at the very least reduce road congestion over time and make your commute faster, albeit more expensive. So, the economic principle here of charging more for peak usage is a sound one, but it is not nearly as beneficial as it could be in the hands of government. It could even be harmful if the prices charged have little to do with traveling conditions and are motivated strictly by political and government revenue considerations. *** In another industry, an interesting application of peak pricing is the electricity industry. Unfortunately, like roads, the transmission grid is de facto government-owned because all aspects of it are government-regulated (it is nominally privately owned by utilities). However, to improve usage of the grid at peak times, "congestion prices" are charged. These are higher prices to transmit electricity during the late afternoon or during the hot summer season when usage peaks. Unfortunately for electric reliability, that money does not go into the hands of capitalists who would build us new transmission infrastructure. So, the good "rationing" effect of congestion/peak pricing is at work, but the capital-inducing effect is not. By capital-inducing, I mean the tendency of high prices and high profits to induce more capital to be invested in the sector. So, although electricity might flow more rationally on a hot summer day, we'll probably still have blackouts because there is not enough investment in the grid. Because of congestion pricing, those blackouts just occur a little less frequently than they would otherwise. *** The bottom line for roads and the electric transmission grid is not that a little bit of so-called "privatization" has been tried with such steps as tinkering with pricing, but that too little privatization has been tried. What is needed is complete unrestricted private ownership of the entire industries. All roads, all electric transmission lines should be auctioned or somehow transferred to private owners, with all restrictions on how they can be used completely and permanently eliminated. This will happen, eventually, perhaps in baby-steps such as implementing "congestion pricing", if done rationally.
  6. That is a key point. Taking widely proffered and routine government "benefits" such as student loans, public schools, public libraries, free concerts, etc., is one thing. Becoming a professional moocher is another. It should be clear whether one's actions fall into the former or the latter category. A hint: If you find yourself writing letters to a congressman petitioning to keep a certain government program, you fall in the latter category. In any case, one's efforts are best directed toward productive, joyful living. Why would anyone want to spend more than a minimal amount of time pandering after government benefits? Is it to live like the woman referenced by SoftwareNerd above?
  7. The scheme is based on sound economics. Charge more for peak usage and you eliminate congestion. However, for it to be truly capitalist, a lot more is needed. There must be complete freedom for road entrepreneurs to build competing highways and other forms of transportation, such as railroads, helicopters or whatever. With the freedom of entry that is an essential part of capitalism, there will be innovation in building the best, cleanest, fastest and most convenient means of transportation possible. Without freedom of entry -- i.e., if the roads remain in the hands of government and no one else has true freedom to compete -- the pricing scheme only approximates some of the benefits of capitalism. In a capitalist society, the extra revenue the road owner gets by charging more for rush hour usage would increase his profits. Those high profits would result in more capital being drawn to the transportation sector, making it even better. This happens whether the owner of a particular road invests his money in transportation or not. If he doesn't invest, his high rate of profit serves as a beacon inducing others to invest in the sector. Thus, there is a connection between prices charged and investment in new roads and other forms of transportation. However, when the government is the monopoly owner of the roads, that connection is broken. In all likelihood the extra revenue will just be squandered on other government projects. In any case, the pricing scheme sounds like a good idea, even if it exists in the context of government ownership. At the very least, it should reduce everyone's commuting times. Hopefully, it will also be a first step toward actually privatizing the roads.
  8. Grendel, you might consider doing a little editing before you hit the "send" button. It doesn't have to be too polished, but to coherently focus on a topic or two is a good thing. I did not read your entire essay, but the original issue that upset you is interesting. From what I read, you are upset about a British plan to charge for road use per mile traveled. The question I have for you is, how would roads be paid for if they were privately owned? One method of paying is a toll based on distance traveled similar to the one you decry. A similar method is commonly used in toll roads in the United States. Admittedly, all or nearly all of them are government owned. A private owner may think of a better way of charging for use of his road. What are your thoughts?
  9. Excellent point. That is why a contract selling a lifetime of servitude to another person would not be enforceable in court. There are rational standards as to what types of contracts are enforceable.
  10. Her works are exquisite! I particularly liked "Adam and Eve."
  11. Remember his last job?? No particularly philosophical point here, I just wanted to say that.
  12. Blackdiamond, Walk into a welfare office. Observe the type of people who go there and work there. Imagine joining them as a supplicant, kow-towing to the welfare bureaucrats and answering intrusive questions about your personal life, all the while working hard to show to them that you are so poor you need welfare. If you think you can still write that great novel under those conditions, I admire your ability to keep focused!
  13. On this last point, any long-time resident of New York can spot what I call the "rent control mentality." People who have lived in decrepit rent-controlled buildings for long periods of time have it. Their biggest quality is fear. Because their rents are so much lower than market rents, they know that if anything happened to the rent control law or the rent controlled status of their apartment, or if for some reason their building became uninhabitable due to fire or the landlord simply walking away from it (there are acres and acres of buildings in New York that have been abandoned by landlords whose rental property became worthless because of rent control), they are sh_ _-out-of-luck. Furthermore, because they never bought an apartment, they have accumulated no equity in real estate which they could sell to enable them to buy a new apartment somewhere else. No, the rent controlled tenant is really the one who is controlled. He is trapped in his apartment, and as the years go by he finds himself more trapped. Meanwhile, his apartment gradually decays around him. He may have insufficient electric service, so he cannot buy that flat-screen TV. His heat goes out inexplicably in the winter. Loud neighbors move in next door to him. The super is surly and he has a landlord who would give his left arm to kick him out of the building. As his friends and classmates, those who weren't "lucky" enough to score a rent-controlled apartment, buy condos or move to fabulous apartments in other cities, he is left behind in his lonely little rat-hole. In case you think I am exaggerating, spend some time in New York. The rent control mentality is everywhere. Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers live in just the type of fear I describe. Relating this back to our topic... Yes, it is moral to accept government benefits, subsidies, etc., but beware the cost. It may not always be apparent at first.
  14. This brings up the larger issue of whether and if so on what terms, it is acceptable to accept government-financed benefits. Such a topic may warrant its own thread. I use the term "benefits" in the broadest possible sense to encompass not just welfare, but "corporate welfare" such as the farm subsidies referenced above, cash grants for sundry purposes, loans, loan guarantees, housing, education, etc. It encompasses all forms of wealth that are granted to some individuals after having been stolen from taxpayers. As a general principle, I think it is moral to accept such benefits from the government. I do not think it is acceptable to take it in all circumstances, but it is acceptable in many circumstances. The government largesse is money that has been stolen from everyone, including yourself. It is entirely moral to reclaim some of that property. You are not stealing it; you are reclaiming what has been stolen from you. The fact that you cannot specifically identify which portion was stolen from you or whether at this instant in your life, you are a net "involuntary contributor" or net recipient of government booty, is not particularly relevant. Over the course of your life, if you are reasonably productive, it is highly likely that far more will be taken from you by the government than you are getting back from it. It is moral to accept government benefits if it would be self-sacrificial not to. Using the example of farm subsidies, if it is extremely difficult to succeed at farming because farm subsidies are widespread, it would be self-sacrificial not to accept them. If all your competitors, neighbors and friends have their hand deep in the public trough, could you even succeed if you don't reach your hand in as well? Another example is subsidized housing in New York City. NYC has the most highly distorted housing market in the country. It has had some form of rent control since World War II. Under that system, renters are tenants-for-life, and they can pass down their apartments in perpetuity to their heirs. Large, decrepit buildings cannot be torn down if there is a single regulated tenant in there who does not want to move out. The result of rent control is that not enough new rental housing gets built in the city. So, rents and housing prices generally, because of the artificial scarcity of housing caused by rent control, soar into the stratosphere. Since it is nearly impossible to "score" a decent rent-regulated apartment in the city (turnover is extremely low in these apartments), you must pay ridiculously high prices in rent for one of the permitted "market" rent apartments, or you must pay a humongous price to buy a condo. Or, you simply don't live in New York and move to Chicago or another city without rent regulation. Given this type of environment where the government has made it very difficult to purchase housing, is it immoral to accept a subsidized apartment from the city? More of these subsidized apartments are being built these days. Today (until they eventually become decrepit), some are rather nice. All of them are much cheaper than market alternatives. I do not think it is immoral to accept subsidized housing in the situation I describe, nor is it immoral for a farmer to accept crop subsidies. In both instances, government intervention has made it very difficult to prosper without the subsidy, and the subsidies represent money that is theirs, as well as belonging to the rest of us. Analogous arguments can be made why it is moral to attend public school, etc. If it is moral to accept government benefits in some instances, this leads to three related topics: When is it immoral to accept government benefits? What are the risks to one's well-being of accepting government benefits? I elaborated on that in my post on welfare above. Accepting government benefits runs you the risk of becoming psychologically dependent and less self-reliant. That is why, this leads to my final point: If you can, try to avoid accepting government hand-outs to the degree you are able. You will be better off for it. You will be more self-reliant, more productive, etc.
  15. I agree with RationalBiker on this one, but I would go even further with some observations. Everyday I am impressed by the productiveness of foreigners all around me. These people, in general, are hard-working and ambitious. Does not that make sense given that they had the determination to move out of the countries they lived in? It is much easier to stay put; the less ambitious are left behind. America was and still is a land of immigrants. Today's immigrants become tomorrow's business leaders, scientists, etc. That is not a cliche; it is true. Also, what was true in the past remains true today: the "native" Americans (i.e., those whose ancestors immigrated here in an earlier era) are often bothered by the customs and habits and, often, general poverty of the newcomers. I recall reading about signs at business establishments in the 1800s that said, "No dogs and Irishmen need apply." The same type of hostility to newcomers has been practiced against every new ethnic group that arrived here: Chinese, Jews, blacks, Italians, Latin Americans... you name it. Just how successful some of those impoverished newcomers can become in a country like America can be surprising. Economist Thomas Sowell has done a lot of research on this topic. I do not have researched, up-to-the minute figures to provide, but I remember learning such things in college as: West Indian blacks made more money than whites in the United States. People from India who barely scratched out a living in India became millionaires here because of the much greater ease of setting up a business. Asians earn more than whites, on average. (That is a far cry from the Chinese "coolies" who came here in the 1800s to build the railroads. The Chinese were the ethnic group against whom the first-ever immigration law was passed, in California.) [Caveat: these statistics are meant as an example. Because I am going from memory, they may no longer be true or I could be in error. Even if that is the case, many other surprising statistics come from looking at the economic achievements of immigrants.] I also learned similar stories in first-hand narrations from Cuban immigrants who came here after Castro took over Cuba. Often, they were wealthy businessmen or professionals such as doctors who had everything stripped from them, often down to having wedding rings taken from their fingers. Some of these same people who lost so much, after they arrived in the United States, rebuilt new fortunes from scratch. These are the kind of people I want in this country. So, I am an advocate of open immigration, subject to limitations for reasons of self-defense. It sounds like most people on this thread agree with that basic approach. However, there could still be disagreement on whether immigration today is on balance harmful or not. I contend that it is highly beneficial, even with our welfare state and prevalent irrationalism. Further, I contend that the American standard of living would suffer (or grow less than it would have otherwise) if immigration was restricted, beyond the limits imposed for reasons of self-defense.
  16. I like this idea, and I nominate MisterSwig as producer, director or writer. When he tells Bible stories, religion takes on a whole new meaning to me. What do you think, MisterSwig?
  17. It is necessary to distinguish between the morality of ever talking government-provided benefits versus the psychological risks of doing so. I think it is moral to accept welfare, for the reason cited in this post and the fact that your earnings are looted by the welfare state. It is a form of repayment of those earnings. Of course, those earnings are stolen not just from you, but from everyone, but that fact does not mean that you are immoral for reclaiming some of those funds. The main issue that distinguishes receiving welfare from taking advantage of things such as public television or public schools is that the latter are goods, whereas the former is a form of state-financed "charity" (it really isn't a charity, because charity implies voluntary giving). Because welfare essentially involves living or mooching off someone else's expense (and yours, to the extent you have or will have paid taxes), it can be very psychologically damaging. One should try as hard as one can to live productively and avoid ever having to even consider accepting welfare but, if through misfortune, you end up doing it, I do not think it is immoral. However, try this. Go to a neighborhood where many people live off welfare and see how they live. It should make you think twice about accepting it and, if you have accepted it, to resolve to get off it as fast as humanly possible. Lastly, one should never equate accepting any government-financed benefit, whether welfare or public schools or scholarships or whatever, with advocating such things. It is in one's self-interest that all of these things be abolished so that you can benefit from laissez-faire capitalism. The self-interest to you of freedom outweighs any temporary benefit you may receive from a government freebie. Moreover, if you actively try to "grab" as much government booty as you can get your hands on, you may find yourself beginning to justify and rationalize these programs. Accepting government booty is a very slippery slope, indeed. It need not be immoral, but it can be risky to one's well-being.
  18. JMeganSnow, I entirely agree with your comments, speaking personally.
  19. I can agree with this. Everyone has rights; it is just that our government has no obligation to protect or enforce the rights of people living outside its borders. Our government, just like any individual member of our country, cannot violate anyone's rights, including foreigners, unless it is in an act of self-defense. Our government refusing entry to foreigners who could pose a threat is an exercise of that right of self-defense. If a foreigner believed he was unfairly harmed by an action of our government, would he have standing in our courts to petition for redress? Or, would he have to file a lawsuit in a court in his own country? I believe it would make sense for us to have special immigration courts that would resolve immigration disputes. It is in our self-interest to do so because it would ensure an orderly process of immigration that is ruled by law. It also makes sure that those productive, non-threatening individuals who should be able to get in have a means of appealing a mistaken or arbitrary decision by immigration officials. Bottom line, I agree with your formulation.
  20. I would go further, and say it is moral to take more than $1,000 in welfare benefits in this situation. It is nearly certain that over the course of his life this man will pay far more in taxes to the welfare state than he will receive in return. My only piece of advice to this man is that welfare is very dangerous psychologically. He must endeavor to get off it and back on his feet as quickly as possible so that he does not develop the psychology of a moocher. I am not saying he is one; he is not one in the situation as described. However, he will be surrounded by moochers to the extent he involves himself with the system. That is spiritually degrading.
  21. Nice summary of where we stand in this and similar discussions, SoftwareNerd. As you say, "we're left with unanswered questions, not contradictions." To answer these specific questions of how individual rights should be upheld by government in many particular situations, moves us from philosophy to law. I don't think philosophy is the right conceptual framework to answer these questions. It is too abstract and broad. The types of issues you raise must be answered by reference to legal principles (which themselves reference philosophical principles). Is there a lawyer in the house?
  22. That makes sense. Extending the reasoning to immigrants, if we prevent a resident of a threatening Muslim country from entering, we are violating his rights, but the responsibility for that violation lies with the terrorist-sponsoring government he came from. That government forced us to cast with rational suspicion the residents from that country. In this case, the burden of proof would lie with the potential immigrant to prove that he is not a threat, even though he came from Iran. So, it is moral if in the act of defending ourselves against foreign enemies, we unavoidably violate the rights of some individuals. If we unavoidably violate their rights, the blame for those violations lies with the foreign enemy. Foreigners do have rights, like all of us. However, we are allowed to violate their rights (for example, with immigration or in war), if it is necessary for us to defend ourselves. Obviously, absent any need for self-defense, our government would not have the right to violate the rights of foreigners any more than it would have the right to violate the rights of its citizens. I suspect we are in agreement here.
  23. Inspector, I don't think we are in disagreement. I consider it part of the government's policing powers and an exercise of our right of self-defense to restrict the entry of foreigners who could threaten us in some way. Does it violate the rights of foreigners to do that? If it does, it does so in the same manner that killing civilians of an enemy country in wartime violates their rights. I do not think rights are violated in either case, but I may be mis-understanding the concept of rights. We are in agreement in terms of what the government can and cannot do. Our disagreement is whether foreigners' rights are violated if we limit immigration in the manner I have described.
  24. As I said before, I am not sure whether de jure extinguishment of the unpayable portion of a debt is part of bankruptcy. Having said that, it is interesting to observe that the above example represents a de facto extinguishment of part of the debt, since the quadriplegic (in all likelihood) will not be able to pay off the full present value of the debt over the course of his lifetime (assuming the debt is large enough). This ties in with Kendall's argument (pardon if I am mis-stating it) that any restructuring of debt involves a de facto extinguishment of part of the debt obligation. At the very least, it involves a de facto altering of the terms of the debt in a manner not wanted by the lender.
  25. In answering his questions, I do not think it is necessary to come up with actual statistics on Arabs terrorists. I agree with Necrovere's answer on this topic (post #3) and entripon's (post #6). As for entripon's answer (he references Peikoff here), he stresses that statistics provide a basis for action in the face of a lack of information of causal relationships. This is certainly true, and is a very useful aspect of statistics. As a stock investor, I find this to be helpful. For example, I may know that based upon a certain set of factors, 70% of stocks with those factors went up on average 20% over the following 12 months. Statistical data I have collected over the past 10 years demonstrate that relationship. Based on that, and without any additional information, I may choose to invest in that stock. With stocks, because so many factors affect their prices, and it is impossible to have complete knowledge of all of them, statistics are very useful. The "need to act" aspect of entripon's answer is very interesting. For example, if I am sitting in my office window late one night, and I see ten tough-looking youths walking down the street below me, I am not obligated to conclude anything about them. On the other hand, if I am alone on that sidewalk and they are walking toward me, I immediately cross to the other side of the street. Do I know that they are hoodlums? Of course not. But in the absence of complete information, and faced with the need to act, I act on what I know. What I know is that, based on my knowledge of crime incidents (these are my "mental statistics"), there is a meaningful probability that these youths could be a gang looking for someone to assault or rob. Of course, when I cross the street and get a closer look at them, I see they are just a bunch of easy-going college kids having a good time... I can laugh that one off, knowing that I am safely across the street and still did the right thing, faced with the need to act based on the limited information available to me.
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