Sunday, August 29, 2010

A couple of the many reasons why libertarianism and socialism are at odds

Ross suggests that libertarianism and socialism may not actually be at odds.

So, I have a couple of objections.

  1. One libertarian goal Ross posits is realizing a world in which people retain the full value of their labor. I fear that this is based on Kevin Carson's modern advocacy of the Labor Theory of Value. I haven't read Carson yet myself, but his basic idea as described to me is intriguing. It is plausible that it would be strategically productive to focus on the unjustness of rents captured through statist legal arrangements, but why ignore the Austrian contributions of subjective value? Advocacy for workers to retain the value of their labor doesn't make much sense, since it's not labor that's valuable; such a standard would be arbitrary, since the Labor Theory of Value is simply not true.

  2. Class warfare is wildly wrong. Yes, there is economic inequality among different groups of individuals, but this is the wrong analytical tool to evaluate societal welfare and social mobility. In the United States, if you track the poorest quintile in different time periods, then you will seem to notice a class of people who are stuck in poverty. However, If you actually track individuals from the lowest quintile and follow those individuals into future time periods, you'll see a high degree of mobility into richer quintiles. Assessing the group is fallacious. It would be like checking to see what percentage of second-graders could do calculus in 1990, and comparing that to the percentage of second-graders that could do calculus in 2000. What you want to check in 2000 is the percentage of high school seniors, who were the second-graders in 1990, and see what percentage of those seniors can do calculus.
Aside from these quibbles, I do admire Ross's good will. One phenomenon that Penn Jillette has noticed is for folks to believe that their political opponents actually agree, but advocate the opposite because they're evil. Thomas Sowell has attributed that as characteristic of the unconstrained vision. Ross certainly does not fall into this trap. I admire the socialist drive to do good, but it is misguided, since it is generally ignorant of economics.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Whiskey and Car Keys and the evolution of The Paltry Press

Recently I've been blogging primarily over on Whiskey and Car Keys, which was Aaron's brainchild to replace Incessant Dissent. I'm still trying to figure out what I'll blog about here. For now, I'm thinking that I'll use it for more esoteric or technical writing, but that's subject to change. Rest assured, though I haven't posted to The Paltry Press in a while, it is certainly not dead.

Charles Murray on Ayn Rand

Charles Murray reviews the two recent biographies of Ayn Rand. I haven't gotten around to reading them yet, but I really should. I'm particularly interested and surprised by the kinder, gentler Rand of the early 1950s.

Both biographers also describe a kinder, gentler Rand who was just as real as the fierce intellectual combatant. To Martin Anderson, Ronald Reagan's long-time advisor, she was a "pussycat," who alone among a crowd at a café noticed that Anderson couldn't get his package of cream open (he had a broken arm) and helped him prepare his coffee. Joan Kennedy Taylor, for whose wedding Rand was matron of honor, once told me about Rand shushing Joan's objections when a recently widowed friend talked about rejoining her husband in heaven. If it gave her comfort, Rand said, Joan had no business trying to convince her she was wrong. There are repeated examples in both biographies of the ways in which Rand could be a sensitive, loyal, and affectionate friend.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Wasteful, delusional video from the UVA administration

This year the UVA administration has produced a video providing safety tips for UVA students who will be attending Foxfield. This is, of course, a total waste of resources. UVA students are supposedly the smartest people in the state, yet the administration felt the need to instruct UVA students, as a parent might instruct a seven-year-old child, to drink water and wear sunscreen when spending the day outside. What UVA student doesn't know the risks of getting a sunburn, or that it's possible to get a sunburn through a cloud cover? What UVA student doesn't know that alcohol has dehydrating effects?

Why waste all these resources distributing such obviously unnecessary advice? It is, of course, a completely delusional attempt by the administration to assert that they have control over the situation, when in fact they don't. Foxfield is sheer, reckless idiocy. Minors know that it is easy to obtain alcohol there. Rather than acknowledge outright the immutable fact of underage drinking, the administration shrieks for authoritarianism as an appropriate response, as if punishment is an effective deterrent, and as if deterrence is somehow the most effective way to make underage students safer, healthier, or happier.

The video is a feeble attempt by the administration to demonstrate that they have control when in fact they have little. The administration is attempting to indicate that they're on board with the event, and that they have it under control. They would otherwise be embarrassed to acknowledge that the event is uncontrollable, and contributes to a reputation of drunken idiocy. The unintended message the video conveys is the administration's own powerlessness and embarrassment.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A mystery solved

For a few months I had been wondering why so many scientific and mathematical academic papers were formatted the same way. It's because LaTeX is the industry standard. What I thought was Century, available in Microsoft products, is actually Computer Modern.

Monday, February 1, 2010

This American Life covers college partying

I love This American Life, so it seemed strange when I found myself unimpressed after listening to their episode that chronicled the booze-soaked partying of college students at State College, Pennsylvania, where Penn State University is. Then I realized that as a college student, I'm just so used to the scene that they describe. It's so typical to me as to seem banal, but it actually is interesting. I was a fish who didn't see the water. The episode is no worse than any other. Indeed, it's great, as always, but because it covers a subject so close, listening to it forced me to step back and rediscover how insane this aspect of America really is. An outsider looking at the situation must be fascinated.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Why do academics lean left?

A topic I've been thinking about for a while is why academics lean left. Bryan Caplan points to some thoughts about why it's not typecasting.

Monday, January 25, 2010

International Media Wall in Alderman Library Is Wasteful Signaling

At UVA, Alderman Library has an international media wall. It's a couple of years old. Its stated purpose is to bring an international perspective to the University community. Four prominently located monitors display different non-English news stations.

Of course, this is completely wasteful signaling. The administration responsible for the wall wanted to signal that the University community is cosmopolitan and cares about international issues. It doesn't matter to the administration that no one really pays any attention to these monitors; actively watching requires checking out a headset from the circulation desk, and this doesn't really happen. Everything about this is a complete waste. The wall illustrates clearly the drive for pretentious signaling.