Thursday, August 25, 2011

Has Patri Friedman Never Heard Of Pirates?

A friend from the Mises Institute in Finland recently contacted me to ask if he could translate the SOLE "Be The Hero" video into Finnish. Of course that was fine and he e-mailed me back to tell me the video is up. They did a great job with it and even added a few animated flairs all their own so I recommend you check it out.

At the end of the e-mail he also included a link to a video of Patri Friedman speaking at the Mises Institute in Finland about his Seasteading Institute and the seasteading project. Readers of the main EPJ page may remember our own Robert Wenzel posting about the involvement of billionaire libertarian entrepreneur Peter Thiel with this project.

Now, I've read a lot of stuff from all three of the Friedmans over the years, including Patri, and I had heard of the Seasteading Institute and the idea for these floating countries out in international waters. As a result, I wasn't too interested in following the link because I assumed there wasn't much new for me to learn. But, as the link was sent by my friend I thought it would be polite to at least review the first few minutes...

I ended up watching the whole thing.

If you're already familiar with "seasteading" and you like the idea and want to share it with others, this is the link to send around. And if you've never heard of seasteading and you want to learn about the philosophy and practical considerations of the idea, this talk of Patri's at the Mises Institute in Finland is the most comprehensive one I have come across. It is clear from watching it that Patri "gets" the philosophy of freedom.

And what I like about this idea besides its revolutionary and original nature is its subversiveness. Don't let Patri's marketing of seasteading as "competitive government" fool you-- the seasteading philosophy is thoroughly libertarian and the practical implications of actual floating seasteads will be more places for people to live free of government regulation and intervention because anyone who wants to try socialism on the seas will find it breaks down even faster than communism on a kibbutz.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Thank Zeus For Government Food Inspectors

Without them, we'd all be eating radiation-contaminated beef products (WSJ):
Within days of the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, Japanese food inspectors were spot-checking meat from the region's slaughtered cattle for radioactive contamination. Officials later fanned out to farms near the crippled plant to pass Geiger counters over the animals to determine whether they were safe to sell.

"We urge consumers to continue shopping as usual and retailers to do their business as usual," Agriculture Minister Michihiko Kano reassured the nation on March 31, more than two weeks after explosions at the plant first spewed radiation into the air.

That advice turned out to be misguided. On July 8, government officials testing meat from a Tokyo slaughterhouse said they detected levels of radioactive cesium at nearly five times Japan's limit. The contaminated beef was traced to a farm here about 16 miles north of the damaged plant—from an animal whose hide had been checked by inspectors.

The revelation has raised all kinds of questions about how much contaminated beef had already been consumed, kicking off a food scare that continues to grow as more tainted meat is discovered.
Oh, never mind.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

How Do You Define Libertarianism?

I've often debated with people on the idea of whether libertarianism (or any other -ism, "movement", category, etc.) should be a Big Tent or a Little Tent. Obviously, the Tent gets bigger the broader your definition of a category tends to be.

Some people associate libertarianism with wanting more freedom, therefore anyone who claims to want more freedom, however it is defined, would be a libertarian.

A prominent libertarian blogger many of you have heard of once told me that a libertarian was anyone who hates the State.

My preferred definition of libertarian has always been "Anyone who accepts the primacy of the Non-Aggression Principle in social affairs and who applies this principle in interpreting the acts of other individuals, as well as themselves, in a fully consistent manner, making no excuses or exceptions."

I admit my definition is a bit wordy (surprise?) but I think it is more technical and specific. Sometimes I add as a corollary that acceptance of the NAP implies self-ownership and self-ownership implies private property rights. But I think at a minimum a libertarian is someone who sees the initiation of the use of force by any individual, in any society, at any time to be a criminal act.

I think you can want more freedom without being a consistent advocate of the NAP. Wanting freedom and understanding the NAP are not necessarily dependent ideas.

I think you can hate the State without being a person who consistently applies the NAP to their observations of human action. For example, you could be a common thief and still hate the State. Therefore, I think you can hate the State and still not be a libertarian.

I'm not trying to pick nits here, rather I am trying to wrestle with something important. If I'm going to label myself and be labeled by others as a libertarian, I need to have a clear, consistent and sufficiently restrictive definition of what that word means if I am to understand it myself. If I don't understand it myself I have little chance of communicating it to other people.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Bill Gates: When Good Intentions Meet Total Cluelessness

Bill Gates and his charitable foundation have been working to reform the public education system for years now. The result? Utter failure and a hint of despair (WSJ):
"It's been about a decade of learning," says the Microsoft co-founder whose Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is now the nation's richest charity. Its $34 billion in assets is more than the next three largest foundations (Ford, Getty and Robert Wood Johnson) combined, and in 2009 it handed out $3 billion, or $2 billion more than any other donor. Since 2000, the foundation has poured some $5 billion into education grants and scholarships.
"But the overall impact of the intervention, particularly the measure we care most about—whether you go to college—it didn't move the needle much," he says. "Maybe 10% more kids, but it wasn't dramatic. . . . We didn't see a path to having a big impact, so we did a mea culpa on that." Still, he adds, "we think small schools were a better deal for the kids who went to them."
A decade of learning. And just what is it that Bill Gates has learned over the last decade?
Asked to critique these endeavors, Mr. Gates demurs: "I applaud people for coming into this space, but unfortunately it hasn't led to significant improvements." He also warns against overestimating the potential power of philanthropy. "It's worth remembering that $600 billion a year is spent by various government entities on education, and all the philanthropy that's ever been spent on this space is not going to add up to $10 billion. So it's truly a rounding error."

This understanding of just how little influence seemingly large donations can have has led the foundation to rethink its focus in recent years. Instead of trying to buy systemic reform with school-level investments, a new goal is to leverage private money in a way that redirects how public education dollars are spent.
Oh good grief! The man has learned nothing but thinks he has learned that there simply isn't enough money being thrown at the problem. It begs the question whether there ever could be.

Bill Gates has billions of dollars in his foundation and yet it does him no good because he's coming at the problem all wrong. He's trying to fix something that isn't broken. He is operating off the flawed premise that public education is a.) meant to educate (defined as, what?) and b.) can actually fulfill that objective in a state of calculational chaos.

What is Bill Gates's problem-solving methodology?
"I believe in innovation and that the way you get innovation is you fund research and you learn the basic facts."
Great news, Bill! The work has been done for you, the research already funded, the basic facts laid out and a real solution comes with it all. The best part? It won't cost you a penny!

Here's your homework assignment, Little Billy. Happy reading!

Secrets Of The Mises Institute

I visited the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, AL for the first time last weekend (July 26-29) along with some friends of mine from the Society of Libertarian Entrepreneurs. I met a number of people from around the world (students and faculty alike of this past week's Mises University 2011), became engrossed in more than one philosophical debate lasting several hours long, took in the sights and even came away with a few secrets.

I'll share a few with you, dear reader, if only you'll listen.

Secret #1: The Mises Institute is THE "home" of Austrian economics and libertarian thinking for the entire world.

As we drove around downtown Auburn last weekend looking for the Mises Institute, my friends and I ended up completely missing it the first time by because we had no idea what shape the Institute would take.

Was it actually on Auburn University's campus, nestled amongst the engineering school's buildings, the dorms and the massive football coliseum? Would it be a regal, brick-and-columned structure evoking the classic Southern university aesthetic similar to Dallas's SMU or the University of Virginia? Or perhaps it'd be completely lacking a visual distinctness, instead occupying a few floors of a local, nondescript office tower?

No, when I say the Institute is the "home" of worldwide Austrian economics scholarship and libertarian philosophy, I mean it literally looks like a home. A really big home.

Which is a good thing! The Mises Institute has character and warmth. Rooms with disparate uses on each of the three floors are wrapped around each other, the hallways and stairways are like so many tunnels between them rather than following sterile, repetitious floorplan of a modern office or college lecture hall. Corridors and rooms alike are adorned with sculptures, pictures and paintings relevant to the history and culture of the Austrian economics community.

The grounds are well-kept and clean. Along one side of the building is a terraced garden area resembling something like a quarter-odeon, where I am told lectures are given in nice weather and Mises U students enjoy projecting favorite films up onto the building's wall at night. There are a few simple fountains to add a sense of calm and tranquility with their gently bubbling sounds. Along the opposite side is a large, shaded outdoor gathering area where group lunches and dinners are held.

The libraries are well-stocked with texts both friendly and critical of the Austrian framework. While the third floor library is more quiet, academic, confined and reminiscent of a traditional archive, the first floor library is more open, inviting and comfortable. I found it hard to get away from my favorite seat in one of the two reclining leather armchairs in front of the fireplace where a picture of Mises sits over the mantle. Nearby, the bookstore beckons to anyone who wasn't already enchanted enough with the library, tempting them to spend their savings on the spot in a mad dash to acquire fresh copies of all the Austrian classics and new releases alike.

And everyone that works at the Institute is just so nice. They are more than happy to show you around, they're always asking if you need anything and they make great local concierges in a pinch if you care to find something good to eat nearby and don't know where to go. It's not like a stuffy think-tank or college where many people and areas are off-limits to the uncredentialed or the "insignificant". You can wander around the Institute to your hearts content and no one will ever ask you what you're doing.

Want to drop by the office of Doug French, president of the Mises Institute, just to say hello? The door is always open. Want to see what Jeff Tucker, media and technology guru of the Mises Institute is busy with? Interrupt him at will, and rather than tell you off you'll probably find yourself an hour later standing with him in his doorway talking about his latest strategic vision for disseminating more and better information about Austrian economics to the world, all free of charge.

The Mises Institute feels like someone's home. You're always welcome. People appreciate your passionate desire to discuss Austrian economics and philosophy. For those who never knew it in college or afterward, it offers an authentic and collegial intellectual community.

Secret #2: The Mises Institute provides you with an opportunity to stand on the shoulders of giants.

Early Sunday morning before most of the Mises U students would arrive I found myself sitting around the table in the 2nd floor conference room, surrounded by my fellow chapter-organizers from SOLE, recent acquaintances from the US and rest of the world and portraits of some of the original Austrian scholars like Menger, Hayek and Rothbard who had come before us.

One by one these travelers from across the country and world stood up, introduced themselves and shared a bit about their hunger for liberty and the steps they're taking to achieve individual greatness. Those assembled had all declared themselves dedicated toward taking the collected wisdom and intellectual technology developed by original thinkers like Mises and Rothbard and putting it into daily practice. We realized that these wise, ferociously courageous theorists had figured out the "why" for all of us and now we had the opportunity to demonstrate to ourselves, our families, our communities and the world the "how."

As entrepreneurs and social practitioners, we have the unique opportunity and vision to take the intellectual heritage of our Austrian forefathers and use it to construct the free society of tomorrow. Sharing our strategies and ideas in local coffee shops and hotel meeting rooms as we typically do back home is all well and good, but coming together at the Mises Institute itself drives the point home even further that these principled men of the mind made it possible for us to be principled men (and women) of action.

Secret #3: Somewhere in the library of the Mises Institute sits a copy of Keynes's General Theory once owned by Rothbard, covered in his doodles and margin notes.

Okay, this secret was shared with me by a correspondent and unfortunately I was not able to verify it myself during my visit despite searching in earnest. It's possible I missed it or that it may have been checked out. It's also possible that the margin notes are completely illegible. Jeff Tucker advised me that the Mises Institute possessed a draft of what would've been volume five of Rothbard's Conceived in Liberty, but Rothbard's handwriting was miserable and as the manuscript was never type-written, it probably won't ever make it to print.

To me, the value in locating a treasure like this is not to sit in awe and worship of it as some sacred relic of a holy amongst holies. Instead, I sought it out as confirmation of the fact that Rothbard WASN'T a god-- he was another mortal man, like you and me, and he didn't just will his intellectual brilliance into his voluminous books, essays and other writings. He had to work, hard, at developing his own ideas and criticisms, culling them from his various research sources and adding to them his own thoughts and interpretations. A Rothbard-annotated copy of Keynes, for example, is an encouraging reminder that all men, even talented ones, must purposefully employ their reason if they hope to attain true knowledge.

Consider this secret one you might confirm yourself one day with a visit to the Institute.

Secret #4: Mises University is an A-List production and it attracts talented, passionate, highly intelligent young people from all over the world who are eager to spend part of their valuable summer vacation sitting around, learning!

I don't think it's much of a secret, at least not amongst those familiar with the Institute, that the once a year, week-long collection of seminars and events known as Mises University is the place to be for anyone interested in learning more about Austrian economics and libertarian philosophy and sharing that interest with others.

What I think is less well-known, verging on a potential secret, is the truly amazing quality of the individual students this event attracts. I didn't even get to stay for the whole event (I came in late on the Friday night before and left around noon the following Monday) and I am still in a state of shock and awe with regards to the personalities I came across.

For example, I met a young man from Germany who is currently living a "libertarian jetsetter" life, traveling around the world making connections and soaking up knowledge and experience from different people, places and cultures all while helping to coordinate a European chapter of Students for Liberty. In addition, he is preparing to begin a graduate program where he will study under Austrian money and banking theory master Jesus Huerta de Soto.

I met a young woman from Illinois who has recently "graduated" from her home school and is not only on her second tour of Mises U, but has managed to publish her own liberty-themed WW2-era novel. Back home she recently started a job in which her boss became so impressed with her reasoning and self-responsible manner that he hired two people based upon her recommendation and has essentially made her office manager. She was visiting the Institute with an older family friend who is so enraptured with this young person and her irresistible ideas that she is now something of a Mises Institute fanatic herself.

I met another young man from England who is doing a summer fellowship at the Mises Institute, working on what he calls a monograph that will not only integrate disparate elements of monetary theory by various classic Austrian theorists but, he hopes, will also result in his own original contribution to monetary theory as it relates to financial markets.

These are just a few of the many bright, motivated young torchbearers for liberty and sound economic reasoning I met that weekend. Here is the case for optimism. These people are taking Mises's dictum "Ideas move society" seriously. They're living their lives according to their knowledge and principles and fearlessly sharing their beliefs with others. They're leading, and convincing, by example.

It is hard not to be happy when surrounded by a crowd of these youthful doers (and thinkers), knowing that Mises University provides them a forum where they can be further enlightened and energized so they can shine the light of reason into the deepest, darkest corners of our statist planet.

Secret #5: The Mises Institute needs your help.

This is the final secret I will share from my trip. In my mind, it's also the most puzzling and maddening one. Keep in mind, I am not a paid sponsor nor am I a secret agent or a plant for the Mises Institute. I am speaking from the heart on this.

I was positively flabbergasted to learn of the shoestring budget the Mises Institute operates on annually. I had no idea that the Institute pulls together funding for each special event and presentation, such as its various Mises Circles, and even Mises University, on an individual basis. I did not know that the Institute does not have some massive, private endowment and that they have far more projects and ideas than they have funding for currently.

Case in point, this year's Mises University. While it was an outstanding event that provided a lot of young people a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn, share and grow, a lot of eager people got left behind. Did you know that the 2011 Mises U saw record attendance of over 250 students, but that this was all they could accept out of a total application pool of 400?

That's nearly 150 young people that didn't get the learn about Austrian epistemology and ethics, the methodology of praxeology, the history of the struggle for individual freedom in economic thought, the philosophy of non-violence and peaceful, voluntary exchange with growing wealth and prosperity for all. Those people, and others, were hopefully catered for with the ongoing outreach efforts of, and this year got to enjoy live broadcasts of many of the speeches and seminars. But in not being able to attend due to funding limitations, many missed out on what could've been a transformative life experience.

That's just a rotten shame.

All the criminals and bandits and villainous scum out there, the politicians and their paid-for academic apologists, the connected-capitalist cronies and the bureaucratic legions munching down our stolen wealth as so much pigswill at the federal and state troughs don't seem to have any trouble finding millions upon billions of dollars to fund their various think-tanks and captured universities and research centers. But one of the few beacons of truth and consistent reason in the world, the Mises Institute, working 24-hours a day to spread the knowledge and intellectual technology of the free market and individual liberty, can't even find the money to host all 400 applicants to its one-week long summer program?

Part of the reason for this is that the Mises Institute is 100% privately funded-- it refuses, on principle, to take any money or grants which are or might possibly have been tainted by connection to the State. And this is good that the Mises Institute doesn't flout its own principles in the name of spreading its principles.

But it is positively baffling that there are not enough freedom-lovers in this country, or the world, to at least help 400 young knights of liberty find their intellectual arms and armor in the Auburn summer.

My friends and I at the Society of Libertarian Entrepreneurs have recently issued the challenge to our members and acquaintances to take our liberty advocacy seriously, to live our principles in a purposeful manner everyday. One way to do this is to put our money where our mouth is. We've encouraged our attendees to consider putting at least 1% of their net, after-tax income toward achieving personal freedom on a monthly basis. After all, the cretins who control us are spending a lot more than that every month trying to keep us all enslaved.

Of course, nobody is obligated to do anything for personal freedom or the Mises Institute. That's one of the great things (though frustrating in this case) about our philosophical credo. That being said, if you've been a beneficiary of the Mises Institute, if you've had your eyes opened, the fallacious chains of your previous mental prison torn asunder, your life transformed for the better in a powerful, meaningful way, maybe you should consider what kind of an effect it might have on your world if you helped provide others the opportunity to do the same.

It's not about giving back. You haven't "taken" anything and you needn't feel guilty of what you have received. Rather, it's about ensuring that those who want to receive, those who can transform the world with this knowledge and these tools, have the continued and expanding opportunity to do so.

The Mises Institute works ceaselessly to promote an individualist, rational, pro-liberty philosophy that we all benefit from. Unfortunately, it is not a profit-generating business and so it can not support itself without some help. We can not all be politicians and academics. If we want to continue to enjoy the fruits of institutions like the Mises Institute, those of us who are out there "doing" in the world, putting these ideas into practice, entrepreneurs and employees alike, will have to make the voluntary choice to do what we can to help the Institute get its work done.

Some secrets should never be told. These, however, are secrets worth sharing. If this post was your first introduction to the Mises Institute, I hope it has inspired you to take a closer look and get more familiar with the Mises Institute and Austrian economics. If you're a long-time learner, I hope you'll consider spreading the message more urgently and earnestly than before. No one is coming to save us and no one is waiting in the wings to deliver liberty to all of us.

If we want to live in a free society, we'll have to build it (and advertise its merits) ourselves.