Saturday, 30 September 2017

Why There Is No Such Thing As The 'Centre Ground' Of Politics, And Never Has Been!

Jeremy Corbyn thinks the political mainstream has shifted to the left of centre, and that his brand of politics is going to be the barometer for many more disaffected voters in years to come. It's hard to say how accurate Corbyn's hypothesis is because there hasn't ever really been a political centre. At best, the mythical centre ground has been a kind of weighted average of a diverse range of socio-political views that encapsulate both left and right wing beliefs in both the social discourse and the economic discourse.

Here's how the myth of the centre gathered intellectual traction over the years. Because of all the left vs. right wing squabbling, many people have tried to claim themselves to be the more reasonable moderates that sit somewhere in between two extremes - in the proudly occupied 'centre ground' of politics. But it's just not true that the best position on most social and political issues lies somewhere in the middle - life is just not like that in most other areas of objective truth and empirical facts, and it's not like that in politics either (see here for further reading).

One doesn't adopt a middle position about whether it's fine to drop litter, or whether it's good to put diesel in a petrol engine, or whether it's wise to accept astrology as true, so why should anyone expect a middle position on subjects like abortion, same-sex marriage, price controls, assisted dying, environmental issues, the qualities of trade and the harms of retarding it? People have convicted opinions one way or the other - and the judgement about who is right and who is wrong is one for the intellect and the emotional intelligence.

There is not some kind of central ground comprising a reservoir of middle positions. The weighted average of socio-political views that make up our society is not like mixing blue, red, yellow, purple and green paint, it is more like a deep pool of blue, red, yellow, purple and green coloured balls. Consequently, when political parties try to win elections by appealing to the so-called centre ground, you know what they are really doing: they are trying to win a popularity contest a la carte by selling themselves as a weighted average of society's preferences, which is as illusory as it is empty (see here and here and here for further reading)

Given the foregoing, to what extent, then, is there a genuine appetite for hard socialism, and to what extent is Corbynmania merely an extreme cult of personality movement that has been allowed to get out of hand by a mob of credulous individuals?
To see why I think it's the latter, consider this hypothetical question: It's the eve of the Labour leadership contest in 2015, and Jeremy Corbyn is tragically murdered by a far right extremist. One of the other candidates (Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper or Liz Kendall) becomes leader, and we have an alternative history in which there is no cult of personality developing around Corbyn, no huge influx of new party members signing up, no barmy shadow cabinet that wants to take Britain back to the economic plight of the 1970s - just a mainstream, unremarkable, business as usual Blairite leader that may or may not have gone on to win the next election.

I think it's pretty evident that under this scenario, without Corbyn, this mass proliferation of hardline socialism, the putrid sense of envy and entitlement from the young, and the vulgar and aggressive intolerance for people that disagree with them would not have become as mainstream as it has - it would have remained within the remit of the fringe lunatics who stand on street corners with sandwich boards declaring that "Capitalism is Dead".

The other main reason I suspect that the rise of hard socialism is really about a cult of personality is that this generation more than any other is a generation in which the anachronisms of Thomas Carlyle's Great Man theory - that history is written by the impact of a minority of charismatic and powerful men - have been well and truly put to bed.

If Corbynmania is an attempt to blow the dust off the outmoded idea that individual humans are good candidates for being put on pedestals - an idea that was already beginning to die alongside the likes of Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, Norman Mailer, Kingsley Amis and Harold Pinter - then the intellectual vacuity of the man and his ideas suggest very much that Corbynmania amounts to a personality cult where the leader's proclamations are uncritically and gullibly swallowed whole by a large group of people that are easily led and easily manipulated into some kind of mass hysteria of nonsense.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Don't Be Fooled By Mrs May: No Party Is Really On Our Side At The Moment

After the Labour Party has spent this week explaining how they plan to ruin our economy if they get in power, soft-socialist Theresa May has come out today in support of free market capitalism. Quite why she did this is beyond me, because everyone knows she's no friend of the free market, and no one is going to be fooled by any claims to the contrary. Actions, as always, speak louder than words - and her actions regarding our economy show that she is very much part of the socialist wing of the Conservative Party.

But alas, she is not alone - there are no defenders of free markets in mainstream politics at the moment - even the conservatism of Thatcher (and even that wasn't wholly market-friendly) was replaced by the Blairite Cameron government before Theresa May took charge. Voters who understand economics, and are therefore small state, low taxation, pro-market voters, have nobody to vote for in mainstream politics.

Aside from the many ways that politicians are harming our economy, what's also happening is that two other things are making it harder for the average Brit to thrive - one is foreign competition (foreigners being able to do things cheaper than us) and two is that competition success is creating a power law whereby more wealth is concentrated into the hands of the world's best innovators.

However, if you remember that the biggest measure of our prosperity is consumption - that is, what we get to consume - then both those things are actually good for us. Foreign competition is good for us because it helps us consume a more diverse range of things less expensively (a double winner) and competition success is good for us because it means big-scale providers are supplying us with things that we value hugely (Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Amazon, YouTube, Sainsbury's, etc) and doing so by outcompeting less efficient rivals.

Take Google, Amazon and Facebook - the odds are that when you turn on your computer, if you want to search for some information you'll use Google, if you want to buy a book you'll use Amazon, and if you want to do some online socialising you'll use Facebook.

Now the thing is, the market dominance of Google, Amazon and Facebook is not because there is no competition out there, it's because those three are currently the best at what they do. In 25 years it may be that hardly anyone uses any of those sites - they probably won't if they've been replaced by better alternatives. Or quite possibly, those sites will become even better and they will have increased their market dominance even more. The consumer will decide.

As well as being great at what they do, another reason why big companies have a lion's share of the market is that they are also very good at using competition to their advantage. In a highly competitive industry, there is selection pressure on innovation, and penalties for inefficiencies and complacency, so firms are always looking to improve the quality of the good or service and for a price that's more attractive to customers and potential customers.

When big firms get better, they make better profits, which means power law inequalities widen as more money goes to shareholders and those at the top. However, there's absolutely nothing wrong with that, as I explain here - it's simply reward for merit-based ingenuity.

A common misconception is that if workers are getting slightly less of the economic pie then the way to correct it is for politicians to redress the imbalance by penalising the rich with heavy taxation in order to redistribute the wealth more evenly. But this overlooks two key things - one, that the pie is not fixed, and two, that increasing innovation at the top is what is helping to create jobs for the workers.

Therefore, the best way for politicians to address the concerns of the electorate regarding job creation and having enough money to live on each week is to help make the economic pie grow; and the best way they can help the pie grow is by slashing public spending, lowering taxes and lightening regulations that harm growth. That way you help enable competition to flourish, and as we've seen, it is that flourishing that will help the UK become a haven for economic growth that can benefit from foreign competition, from big business innovation and from a bigger sized economic pie.

Two deep contradictions at the heart of the left
The left really need to get their heads around what they believe about the harms of taxation. Here's a test: next time you're with a lefty, try to pin them down on whether or not they acknowledge that tax affects economic behaviour negatively. If they say yes, then you can watch them try to wriggle out of why they themselves don't argue for lower taxes. If they say no, then you can ask them to think about why tax competition is such a prominent thing for attracting businesses through lower taxes, and why politicians try to be a little bit competitive in looking to be parties that lower taxes whenever possible. They can't have it both ways, which kind of tells you all you need to know about the fact that their motives are not really about what's good for the society and the economy.

The other thing that strikes me as odd is that everyone in Labour's shadow cabinet evidently wants to stay in the single market, because even they realise that trading with Europe tariff-free benefits both agents involved in the exchange. But if they can understand that, why don't they apply the rationale to its next logical level - that if open, low-regulation trade enhances mutually beneficial transaction between nations, it is going to do the same between trading agents within nations (like, for example, Uber and its customers, tenants and landlords, etc)? Alas, I think we all know the answer to that, don't we?  


Sunday, 24 September 2017

I Can See Why Socialism Would Be Attractive To A 12 Year Old

I saw a statistic from Thomas DiLorenzo that greatly concerned me. Apparently 43% of Americans under 30 view socialism more favourably than capitalism, and 69% of voters under 30 would vote for a socialist Presidential candidate. This is really disturbing and ought to horrify, probably about as much as it should horrify if a young earth creationist was lecturing in biology at Oxford University, or if an astrologer was appointed as a high school physics teacher.

Things are similar in the UK, with Corbynmania becoming an ever-proliferating personality cult based on the crass distortions and uncritical evaluations of its delusional leader. I've just listened to Corbyn's interview on this morning's Andrew Marr Show, where he is practiced in the art of making statements that are attractive to the credulous, and absurd to anyone with a smattering of intellectual curiosity.

I can well imagine being about 12 years old, and hearing positive political aspirations about making society more equal, paying people a 'fair wage' and 'investing' in our economy. But naïve ideas only survive in the heads of naïve people - and once the linguistic manipulation of these words is exposed, and once one develops even a sketchy understanding of the adverse effects that would occur through the introduction of Corbyn's policies, it becomes very easy to grow out of socialism, and somewhat alarming that there are so many young, so-called educated, worldly people that have not rejected it.

Socialism and its more aggressive cousin Communism have the most dreadfully tainted of histories - responsible for repeated legacies of dictatorships, mass killings, state-mandated theft, war crimes, environmental destruction, forced labour, famine, drastic food shortages, housing crises, mass unemployment, disease, totalitarianism, censorship, hyperinflation, poverty, and oppression.

One of the big mysteries of the present age is why so many otherwise intelligent people think that this disease of the mind is so laudable and fashionable - they would never point such approbation in the direction of starvation, mass unemployment and oppression, so why do they extol it so fervently when it goes by another name? They hate the symptoms but love the disease that causes those symptoms.

I think the explanation is fourfold. Firstly, they get fatted up by the lies and distortions of the propagandists; secondly, they think that what is being promised is medicine instead of poison; thirdly, they completely misunderstand and are ignorant of all the basic economics that would help them see the error of their thinking; and fourthly, they believe they are doing good, not bad, so their moral suasion pulls them in the direction of these falsehoods.

They have no realisation that the big things they desire: greater living standards for the poor, a cleaner more environmentally friendly planet, less divisiveness in society, better healthcare and social services, a more even distribution of power, more value for money, job creation for the unemployed and a more educated nation are all provided much more readily by markets than they are politicians. Moreover, with some irony the socialists don't realise that every good cause to which they cleave is paid for by the fruits of free market labour - it is trade and competition that produces the tracks on which the carriages of socialism can travel.

It's not just noteworthy how much socialists are actually unmindful capitalists - and how in just about everything they do they rely on something capitalism has provided. It's also noteworthy how the common tactic in cults like socialism, Marxism and young earth creationism is the tactic of proclaiming problems and proffering no solutions. Criticisms of capitalism and biology largely amount to spurious criticisms of the thing in question – they are almost wholly devoid of their own explanations, they are merely parasites that feed off the efficacy of their host organism. For example, read anyone from olden day Marx to modern day Ha-Joon Chang and you’ll find no theories of viable alternatives.

There is no mention of a system better than the system of a free market where decisions are made to create mutual value for buyer and seller. The anti-capitalist rhetoric fails at every basic reality-check, and offers nothing that gets close to matching Pareto’s principle that a nation will progress with economic growth and value if there is increased specialisation. That is, it makes no sense if nurses make their own uniforms or car mechanics grow their own vegetables – it is far better if individuals specialise in a particular skill and engender a free economy of diverse varieties to match the diverse varieties of human beings.

It amazes me how so many people still cling to absurd and counterfactual ideas about how the state over-wielding its influence is to be preferred over the prosperity of the free market and increase in trade. One of the main reasons it amazes me is because history furnishes us with repeated real life social experiments that confirm beyond any doubt that what causes increased prosperity and happier citizens is free trade, which is underpinned by competition.

If you want a large scale example of the effects of our being back into self-sufficiency from a comparably good market system, you have the collapse of the Roman Empire and the ushering in of the Dark Ages, where free trade was retarded by a mass de-urbanisation process that put us back a few rungs on the evolutionary ladder of social progression.
Or perhaps you could consider the alternative paths that Germany took after it was divided into West Germany, a parliamentary democracy that embraced the free market and went on to be the most prosperous economy in Europe, and East Germany, a Communist dictatorship that provided its citizens with economic stagnancy thanks to the Marxist-Leninist Soviet-led influence.

You may like to look at the difference between the dreadfully closed state hegemony of North Korea and the hugely prosperous market-embracing South Korea; or the difference between Hong Kong, one of the freest markets in the world, and other nearby Asian nations that didn’t follow suit. Or, if you get time, read this lovely little IEA article Latin America: A tale of two continents by Diego Zuluaga Laguna about South American prosperity that saw individual nation growth commensurate with each nation’s opening up of freer trade.

All of these examples share a vital piece of wisdom – more trade and less state equals better and more prosperous societies. It’s not rocket science. Why after repeated demonstrations of this does anyone with an ounce of realism still support the woefully misguided rhetoric from neo-socialists who still want to run on about all the things that retard progress, growth and well-being?

The reality is, with the rise of the personality cult of Corbynism we are seeing one of the biggest mass delusions this country has ever seen. And the only way to stop it is by the same method we use to stop childhood guilelessness; by growing up and growing out of it.  

* For additional consideration, if you want more things to read on this matter, in particular how the burden of regulation stultifies growth, Dan Mitchell from International Liberty is well informed about how it affects things like aggregate cost, job losses, time wasted, and foregone growth.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

What's The Answer To Reality's BIG Big Question?

The biggest philosophical question of all is Why is there something rather than nothing? That shouldn't just mean Why does our universe exist at all? - as it so often seems to have been adapted to mean, it should mean something even more profound: Why isn't it the case that absolutely nothing exists at all?

The most rigorous popular attempts to answer this have been put forward by the likes of Stephen Hawking and Lawrence Krauss, both of whom tried to solve the problem by positing highly spurious notions of what 'nothing' actually means and how 'something' can apparently come from this 'nothing' of theirs (I wrote a response to their dodgy hypothesis in this blog post).

The upshot is, even if we accept the highly dubious notion that universes can somehow arise from nothing, this doesn't give us any clue about why the things that supposedly came from nothing couldn't have been vastly different. Why couldn't there have been no laws of physics, or no things at all that are not 'nothing'?

I think what looks to me to be the most reasonable explanation is that every single thing that can be said to have existed - that is, every thing that is a something and not nothing - is at its most primary essence a mathematical object. Anything that is physical or has any kind of physical laws is made of mathematics (in that it has the fundamental property of mathematics). This means that the primary question - Why is there something rather than nothing? - is really a question about why mathematics seems to have a necessary existence - that, in fact, whatever 'nothing' means in terms of physical things that may or may not exist, mathematics seems to not be able to help existing - it cannot do anything but exist.

On a place like the Internet you will find people who insist that mathematics is a mere human invention that we use to explain theories about the physical world. It's a strange view to have, because it appears to be completely wrong. As an example, consider Fermat’s Last Theorem, which states that a, b, and c satisfy the equation an + bn = cn for any integer value of n that equals at least 3. In other words, if you write four positive numbers and n is greater than 2, the equation an + bn = cn  will never be true.

Fermat’s Last Theorem is not self-evidently true - it took nearly four centuries to prove, and is true based on propositions about the property of numbers, not based on anything physical or on anything anyone has invented. It was true long before we came along to think it, and it would be true in any in universe with any physical laws and properties. Consequently, then, it doesn't satisfy the proposition of being a human invention nor something we use to explain theories about the physical world.

Another reason to believe that numbers exist is that we directly perceive numbers, and we tend to believe that the things we perceive do exist in some meaningful sense. The brown table I'm sitting at seems to exist - I am directly perceiving it. But if I got up and stood at each corner, I would observe a slightly different table from different angles each time. The shading of the colour brown changes according to my relative positions in the room, and my perception changes in accordance with where the light is shining in. The smoothness exists, but its texture depends on my reference point of observation. From a distance I see the table as being smooth, but with a powerful microscope I see lots of pits and crevices.

Nobody who stands next to the table denies that it exists, nor my hands that are rested on it. The apparent reality of the physical world conceals much activity, of which our naked eye is largely unaware. My hand is made up of skin and flesh and bone, which are oscillating molecules, which are an arrangement of bonded atoms, which are an aggregation of particles about one-hundred-millionth of a centimetre. Once we zoom in on the atom its solidity becomes hazier and cloud-like until we encounter its empty space. If we look further we would find the atom's nucleus, around which we would find particles called protons and neutrons and electrons - hundreds of thousands of them within one atom.

If we could enlarge a single atom to measure fifty yards in diameter its nucleus would be about the size of a grain of sugar, and its electrons would be like a few specks of dust circling the nucleus at a distance of about twenty-five yards. That tiny grain of sugar-size nucleus amounts to most of the atom's solidity, yet it only occupies a comparatively small fraction of the atom’s total volume (only about one millionth). 

Given that the table is made of atoms, in what way can the table be said to exist? It exists though our sense data, what Kant called 'phenomena', and it gives its appearance relative to the person perceiving it. Do you still think the table exists - and if so, in what way can it be said to exist given that its existence relies so heavily on sensory perception?

Hold that thought. Let's now turn to Kurt Godel - one of the smartest mathematicians ever, and probably the smartest logician. Here's one of his most well known quotes:

"Despite their remoteness from sense experience, we do have something like a perception of the objects of set theory, as is seen from the fact that the axioms force themselves on us as being true. I don’t see any reason why we should have less confidence in this kind of perception, i.e. in mathematical intuition, than in sense perception."

Godel's position is the right one, I think. If you're going to trust that the reality you perceive is based on things that actually exist, it seems quite a bizarre strategy to believe that objects that change according to sensory perception are the things that really exist, and that numbers, which do not change according to sensory perception, don't really exist. If we're going to believe in the concrete existence of anything, mathematics seems to be the one thing we definitely can believe exists.

Whichever way you cut the cloth, the thing about which we can seemingly be most certain is that the answer to the question Why isn't it the case that absolutely nothing exists at all? is that numbers exist, they always have always will, and they cannot help but exist.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Ask The Philosophical Muser: On Attacking Burglars and Good Gift Buying

Here's my latest Q&A column - if you have any questions for me, you can message me on Facebook, or email them here

Q) What is the economics consideration regarding whether society is better off if house owners can attack burglars that enter their property?

A) Well firstly, I wholeheartedly support a victim's right to defend themselves if a burglar illegally enters their property. I support this on grounds that I think people should be entitled to defend themselves and their family when in danger, and when someone forces their way into your home their incentive not to get caught and arrested is enough to make them a viable threat.

As for the economics, burglary has an immense social cost for the victims (not just having your valuables stolen, but also the sense of being intruded upon), but a relatively low cost for the perpetrators because conviction rates are low, and for many burglars addicted to drugs, life in prison won't be much worse than their current life situation. Therefore, a law that increases the costs for victims and decreases the costs for burglars is a highly questionable one.

The other thing to consider is that the law probably wouldn't do much good anyway. The kind of people that feel sufficiently threatened to the extent that they would use physical force against a burglar are unlikely to be the kind of people that would refrain from doing so because of a law that forbids them from doing so.

Q) What’s good wisdom for mastering the art of great gift buying?

A) The best gift people buy are the gifts I didn’t even know I needed, but was chuffed to bits when I received them. That’s the epitome of a good gift. The other bit of wisdom I’ve distilled is that gifts are well chosen when they are gifts the receiver wants but wouldn’t necessarily buy for themselves.

Good gifts do other things too – they make the giver and receiver emotionally closer, and they help create memories (either experiences or objects) that stay with the receiver long after the gift is given. Great gift-buying exhibits a signal that you understand the tastes, wants and needs of the person for whom you’re buying – making the gift as much about the thought behind it as the thing or experience in itself. If you can perfect all that, you’ll be a) a great gift buyer, and b) mastering something I haven’t yet mastered.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Richard Dawkins Gets This Argument Entirely Backwards

I caught Richard Dawkins' appearance on Bill Maher the other night, and alas, nothing much has changed - he still doesn't quite get this whole complexity thing. He's always been stuck on the notion that the cause for why there is something rather than nothing must have been something alarmingly simple, because "complex things had to emerge, by gradual degrees, from simpler beginnings"

Not only does Dawkins have this entirely backwards, he doesn't seem to be able to intellectualise the fact that if he turned his proposition around 180 degrees he'd have a much better argument for atheism than his current playpen philosophy. Because it is evidently not true that complex things have to emerge gradually from simple beginnings - the natural numbers are more complex than anything in the physical universe and they don't satisfy the condition of emerging by gradual degrees from simpler beginnings.

Dawkins is desperate to be seen as one of the smartest atheists, yet staring him in the face is the best argument against God he could ever come up with - that the universe doesn't need a creator God because it is the result of mathematics.

Instead of arguing that God does not exist because complex things must begin with simplicity, he would have been better trying to argue that God does not exist because complex things do not have to begin with simplicity, therefore the complexity of mathematics could be behind the universe instead of God. Anyone tempted to argue that numbers don't actually exist can be directed to where I've covered this at least twice before (here and here).

It wouldn't be quite so bad if Dawkins failed at that level of the task - that would be somewhat understandable. But alas Dawkins takes his argument down an even more preposterous cul-de-sac:

"Where does Darwinian evolution leave God? The kindest thing to say is that it leaves him with nothing to do, and no achievements that might attract our praise, our worship or our fear. Evolution is God's redundancy notice, his pink slip."

Oh dear! Biological evolution can't serve God His redundancy notice because biological evolution (at best) explains organisms that evolved with biological properties, and that has never been the ultimate thing that needs explaining. Asserting that biological evolution implies God has nothing to do is as silly as saying that filling a hotel with staff and guests implies that there was nothing for the planners and builders to do in constructing the hotel. 
Biological evolution only explains the relatively easy part - that is, once we have the mathematical underpinnings, the laws of physics, and the informational platform, then biological life, once it gets going, is a relatively straightforward step by step cumulative selection process, certainly in comparison to creating a universe and designing the complex physical laws that act as a canvas for the colours and textures of evolution of life.

The hard part is in explaining why the universe is made of mathematics, why there is any mathematics at all, and why anything so complex exists in the first place. The natural numbers show that Dawkins' underpinning premise is wrong: complexity can not arise only from simplicity. You can use just a fraction of the complexity of the natural numbers to encode the entirety of the genomes of every living thing biochemistry has ever created.

So in my view the best argument for the non-existence of God is that there is already something infinitely complex that could explain the existence of nature - numbers and the laws of arithmetic. This does not prove or disprove God, of course, but it does show that Dawkins has this entirely backwards, and cannot even recognise a better proposition for the cause he wants to champion.

Whichever side of the line you fall on - theist or atheist - the most primary fact you have to begin with is the fact that something infinitely complex exists (the natural numbers), that it has always existed, and that it stands outside of the constituents of evolved nature.

Further reading - The Mathematical Bias Theory: Why There Probably ‘IS’ a God – in 20 Steps

Sunday, 10 September 2017

'Schrodinger's Leftist' Simultaneously Misunderstands Both Schrodinger & Leftism

Schrodinger's leftist: a leftist who is simultaneously a cowardly snowflake and a violent thug.

Popular cultural terms alluding to Schrödinger's cat (like Schrödinger's immigrant) can be quite effective because they take a small liberty to reveal an apparent contradiction, while playing on the nature of a superposition of possibility - something that's easy to grasp if you properly understand Schrodinger's thought experiment.

For those less familiar, the thought experiment called ‘Schrödinger’s cat’ by Erwin Schrödinger proposed a scenario with a cat in a sealed box, with its life or death being dependent on the randomness of radioactive decay breaking a container of poison and killing the cat. With the Copenhagen interpretation*, Schrödinger's conclusion implies that the cat remains both alive and dead because neither possibility has any reality unless it is observed.

That is to say, unless we open the box, the cat remains in a ‘superposition’ state of being both alive and dead, because in the everyday world events are governed by probabilities, and whether through decay a radioactive atom will emit an electron is down to probability

So with something like Schrödinger's immigrant, the point being made is that sections of society as a whole are trying to have their cake and eat it by painting immigrants in a 'superposition' state of being bad for the country because they come here to work and take jobs, and at the same time here to laze around claiming unemployment benefits (which is a contradiction - at best an immigrant can work and have his or her pay topped up with benefits).

Those who have been lauding the Schrodinger's leftist meme are not seeing either picture, as there is no contradiction at all between a leftist being both a cowardly snowflake and a violent thug. Once you remind yourself how easy it is for them to be both, it'll be easy to see the defect in the perceived contradiction.

As we're seeing far too often these days, many on the hard left quite seamlessly fluctuate between the two extremes when the matter suits them. When encountering people that disagree with the views and beliefs they are promoting, they become whiny snowflakes determined to take offence, regularly attempting to censor or shut down opinions they do not like. However, when encountering people promoting views they disagree with, they take to the streets in mobs, often becoming intimidating and aggressive towards people that stand in their way.

There is more than enough cognitive dissonance and internal dissension in the average hard leftist for them to house in their cranium cowardly snowflake traits and violent thug traits, and unleash them in whichever way suits their cause. There need be no contradiction at all.  

* The Copenhagen interpretation says that because we require photons to detect electrons' positions, and this then alters their momentum, the uncertainty principle is actually a failure of our measuring ability, and an artefact of the observer effect/wavefunction collapse. The ‘hidden variable’ interpretation maintains that there is an incompleteness to our ability to work with quantum systems and that in actual fact elements of reality are sufficiently hidden, prohibiting us from identifying a more deterministic system. With the Copenhagen interpretation there are two levels of uncertainty going on; the uncertainty due to the intrinsic disorder of the system but further uncertainty by our disturbing the system by hitting electrons with photons. 

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

The Salty Cereal Fallacy

I probably have just about enough faith in humanity to believe that the hardline extremists of either political persuasion (left or right) will never gain enough traction to be highly influential. There is enough contemporary evidence to show that the majority see socialism and extreme nationalism as being fringe crackpot viewpoints comparable to the foolishness of astrology and Scientology.

I'm actually more perturbed by the centrists at the moment - the ones that are surreptitiously promoting a third way that looks to conflate the so-called best parts of socialism and the so-called best parts of capitalism. This is more of a concern because it falls foul of what I call the 'salty cereal fallacy', to which I will now introduce you.

Here's how it works. Those on the side of the market and human prosperity understand that cereal can be positively supplemented with fruit, nuts, raisins, or even a sprinkling of sugar in moderation. Socialists, on the other hand, are under the mistaken impression that adding salt to cereal will make it better - sometimes confusing salt with sugar, and sometimes believing that salt will actually improve the flavour of cereal.

Now it's easy for those on the side of the market and human prosperity to win the salt vs. sugar (fruit, nuts, etc) argument - so as a consequence, some on the left are now trying a centrist compromise. That is, cereal will be improved with a bit of sugar and some fruit, but it will be even tastier if we balance it out with some salt too.

To those who understand the qualities of eating cereal, this is an obvious fallacy. Losing the argument to put nothing but salt on your cereal doesn't mean that you can improve sugary cereal by adding sprinkling just a little salt on it - that's not how it works.

To take the analogy further - salt is, of course, good for many things - it brings out the flavour in savoury foods, and its hypertonic nature helps preserve food by inhibiting bacterial growth and stifling pathogens. In the analogy, cereal represents the financial economy and savoury foods represent the social economy - where the salt of socialism is bad for the former and good for the latter. As long as people get the benefits of sugar and salt right, and apply them to the right meals, things are ok.

I have some practical advice on how this can be achieved - it is built on understanding an important distinction between the market economy and the socio-personal economy. The principal distinction between the two is that the market economy has exchanges that are precisely recorded in terms of cash exchanged or increases/decreases in 1s and 0s on banks' computers, and the socio-personal economy has exchanges that are less-precisely recorded in terms of voluntary transactions for the good of one another.

The difference between their operations is notable too. In the financial economy the demand almost always exceeds the supply (of a limited range of labour, goods and services), because suppliers maintain their status differential (principally income) by increasing their prices or their supplies (or a combination of both), and endeavour to become top of the supplier tree by out-competing their competitors.  

Conversely, in the case of a socio-personal economy, the supply (of a nigh-on unbounded range of actions) almost always exceeds the demand, and suppliers who care enough about others maintain their status differential (primarily their character and reputation) by trying to summon up new ways to be a better citizen in society. Of course, a financial economy has a necessary social economy woven into it, because it’s hard to be successful in business without good character and reputation.

The salt of socialism is well suited to savoury foods, such as those instances in society where humans do nice things for one another in a non-contractual sense (such as inviting friends round for dinner). The sugar of the market economy is well suited to sweet foods, such as those instances where a financial transaction occurs that makes buyer and seller better off.

But interfering in those flavours by using salt or sugar inappropriately makes the meal worse not better. Just as it would be harmful and improper to offer friends financial payment for a meal they'd cooked for you by invitation, it is similarly harmful and improper to interfere with socialist principles in the complex price system that bootstraps our market economy.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Ask The Philosophical Muser: On The Value Of Middle Men

You may recall a while ago that I invited readers to submit any questions they might have to and I would publish some of them in some Ask The Philosophical Muser articles.

I have finally got round to putting some of them together (which was easy as there have only been six or seven thus far), as well as extrapolating some questions/comments/queries I've stored from my time on debating forums.

The questions that appear henceforward in the Ask The Philosophical Muser articles are a heady mix of actual reader questions, varying enquires and feedback that have come my way on social media, and some semi-factual/semi-fictional elaborations where I've taken segments of actual discussions I recall over the years and turned them into fun questions and answers for this Blog. I promise I have taken no liberties that depart from actual questions people have in some way been curious about either in written or spoken conversations.

For the first one, a reader probed me with a very intelligent question that I'd not really thought about in quite this way before. I'm not quoting him verbatim, but the gist of what he asks is this:

Q) If governments are bad when they provide an unnecessary filter between provider and consumer, then why aren't many shops bad when they provide an unnecessary filter between wholesaler and consumer?

A) It's one of those great questions because the logic is pretty robust, it's just that the information needs a little tweak. By which I mean, yes, at face value the logic suggests that any middle men (or middle women, of course) between provider and consumer are going to cream off a share of the value for themselves, because if I want to buy £3000 worth of envelopes from a paper mill via the middle man involvement of a stationery company like Espo, then by the time Espo have taken their cut, I will be paying something closer to £3200 or £3300 for the same product.

But what you don't always get to see about middle men is that they bring to the transaction certain specialities in which they have the comparative advantage, and through which they actually make your transaction with the manufacturer/wholesaler more financially beneficial.

To see why, imagine a baker who is also a pretty good driver with good knowledge of the city in which he bakes. If he wanted to provide a service where he delivered pizzas and cakes around the city, it would obviously not pay him to make the goods and deliver them himself, even if he is a slightly better driver and navigator than the person he hires to do his deliveries.

The reason being; it is more economically efficient for the baker to pay someone else to do the deliveries because what he'd gain in forgone wage costs he'd lose two or threefold in lost opportunity for baking. Suppose in terms of gross profit our baker can make £50 worth of baked good per hour (revenue minus cost of ingredients) and pay someone else £10 per hour to deliver the goods. The baker's profit goes down to £40 per hour, but if the baker spent 3 hours a day doing his own deliveries it would cost him £120 of baking profit to save just £30 of delivery costs.

Similarly, shops are good for consumers and providers alike, because even though the shops have to take their cut as middle men, they have the comparative advantage in things like market research and sourcing information on behalf of consumers. In fact, one can go so far as to say that the fact that the wholesaler chooses the services of retailers shows that the presence of retailers reduce costs by performing actions that would otherwise have to be performed by the wholesalers and the consumers.

As ever, any questions for this Blog can be sent to me and may become part of the series, consistent with the four golden rules:

* Please don't ask me to do homework, coursework or an assignment for you. No reader or blogger is interested in that.

* Before asking something, please check the *Labels* section on the right side-bar, as that topic may well have been covered before on here.

* There's no point asking a question about facts or information that you'd be better off typing in Google.

* Please keep your question short. You have a better chance of getting an answer if your question would comfortably fit on a post-it note.