The Remnant


Sometimes what you do has no immediate impact. Sometimes it has no visible impact at all. But, if its something you love, and doing it brings you fulfillment and peace, there's value in it. Not only value for you in the act of creating or doing, but if you genuinely feel in 'flow', it's a sign your working in and around truth, and that cannot help but impact other truth seekers.

You may never have the pleasure of seeing others appreciate it. You may never have evidence that what you do has changed the world. But if it's true, it has. Albert Jay Nock reminds of the story of Isaiah, who's job was not to reach the people all around him. It was to speak to the Remnant.

Marketing Creates Value


Near the end of the classic movie "It's a Wonderful Life," George Bailey saw reality in a whole new light. He glimpsed a world in which he was never born and realized just how important he was to those around him. This experience instantly and dramatically changed George's outlook on life. In a matter of minutes, he transitioned from attempted suicide to pure joy at the fact of his own existence. No material facts changed. George Bailey was still stuck in Bedford Falls. He was still hard of hearing. He was still in deep legal and financial trouble. The angelic Clarence did nothing to improve the external condition of Mr. Bailey's life, but he saved it nonetheless. He saved it with marketing.

Marketing is often criticized as being deceptive, slimy or at least economically wasteful. How could anyone justify a $2 million dollar Super Bowl ad about a bottle of Coke? Skepticism of marketing springs from an overly narrow and simplistic view of value. In the real world, the line between the real and perceived characteristics of an economic good is all but nonexistent. Our knowledge of and beliefs about goods are just as much a part of their value as anything that can be weighed or measured.

Economists have long understood that value (in the economic sense) is subjective. There is no universal formula to determine how much a good or service or experience is worth, because each person has different tastes, preferences and needs, and each will value things differently with changing circumstances. This means that how we feel about a good and what the good is made of are equally important in determining its value to us—i.e. how much satisfaction it brings. If making a better mousetrap can make lives better, so too can making people feel more confident in their mousetrap. This is not trickery; it's value creation. Confidence in my mouse trap might help me sleep better at night and enhance my quality of life in a very real way.

We've all seen news stories about blind taste tests. They are meant to reveal consumer stupidity and branding smoke and mirrors. I recall reading about customers given a cheap beer and told it was a more expensive brand. They reported that it tasted much better than what they were told was the cheap beer, but was in reality the more costly. When they were told the opposite, the results reversed.

The report was framed as some kind of "gotcha" moment, as if a great hoax had been revealed. Why should these results be surprising? If you've ever picked up a glass of milk, thinking it was water, and taken a swig, you'll understand. Even if you like milk you are likely to spit it out. Your beliefs about what you are consuming prepare your brain and your taste buds for a certain experience. The knowledge you have about what you ingest literally changes the experience of consumption. Try smoking a good cigar while stressed or in a hurry and see if it tastes even remotely similar to the same cigar when you have an hour to kill with nothing on the mind.

They say marketing is all about the sizzle, not so much about the steak. Why shouldn't it be? Steak without sizzle is little more than raw meat; carrion fit for vultures and wild dogs. Steak beautifully plated and garnished creates more value for the person consuming it. Sight, sound, smell and taste are all part of the experience, and the brain is the crucial interface. Even if you have a purely utilitarian approach to eating and care only for the sustenance, you can't ignore the mind. What you believe about your food actually affects how much it satisfies you.

My father suffered a closed head injury many years ago which affected, among other things, the communication channel between his brain and his digestive system. His brain always tells him he is hungry, no matter how much he eats. It is a near full-time job to convince him that he is full and doesn't need any more food—that's some serious marketing. In fact a great many people without head injuries resort to all kinds of tricks and techniques to convince themselves of the same thing in order to stay trim.

I recall talking to a friend who had no taste for coffee. I convinced her to try a sip only after closing her eyes and letting me describe step-by-step the growth, cultivation, harvesting and roasting process. She admitted that, while she still didn't love it, she began to enjoy the taste a good bit more and understood why I love it so much. I know of people who can no longer stand the taste of meat because they observed the operations of a meat-packing factory. The meat did not change, yet its taste changed with their knowledge and feelings about it. The value of the product radically shifted with a change in perception.

If marketing makes us love a product more, and therefore makes us happier, it has indeed created value. Love for a new car comes not only because it is red, weighs 2,500 pounds and has four doors—all things that can be measured objectively—but also because it is safe, one-of-a kind, and edgy, all subjective to the person experiencing it. The purely informational role of an advertisement is no more valuable than its ability to make us proud of what we purchase. But how valuable is it?

We can get a rough idea of the minimum value created by marketing in dollars and cents. This does not, of course, measure the subjective value to each consumer, but it reveals how much value consumers placed on the marketing in money terms. If a marketing campaign costs $10 million and it results in an additional $11 million of revenue, we know that it has created more than $1 million in value, as judged by those who willingly spent money on the product. If the campaign made the product more valuable to more people and induced them to buy more or buy at a higher price, that is a reflection of the fact that the consumers felt the product and associated satisfaction created by marketing was worth more than the money they gave up to get it. Real value was created. If it was not, people would not have willingly parted with their money in exchange for the good. Better marketing can often be a cheaper and more effective way of improving a good and making people happier than altering the product itself.

Goods and the knowledge and feelings that come with them cannot be separated. New tile floors and soft lighting may be just as important as variety and good service at a clothing store. An inspiring ad campaign may bring just as much happiness as new features on a smartphone. This is no scandal, but a fact of the human experience of reality.

Rather than denigrate it as some kind of fraud or waste, we should applaud good marketing. Not only does it enhance the value of the products we buy, it enhances our quality of life even when we don't buy the products being marketed. TV ads are often funny and entertaining. Billboards and magazine ads are sometimes works of art. Good marketing is a free gift to all, and it makes all our lives better. A world without marketing would be dull and far less fulfilling.

Altering our perceptions of reality is one of the best ways of improving our quality of life. It's powerful stuff. Clarence saved George Bailey's life with a recasting of the facts, and set him out with a full heart ready to take on the world. The creative efforts of marketers everywhere have the same power to make our lives richer and better.

Originally posted here.

Ask Where Things Come From


Yesterday, I came across this quote:

"America: Less than 5% of the world's population, consumes over 25% of the world‟s resources."

This is meant to shock and shame.  How selfish of the people living within this geographical area to consume so much!  That sentiment may be warranted if life were some kind of reality TV show with everyone stuck in a house with a fixed pool of resources, but it's not.  If we really want to understand the world, we need to ask a key question: where do those resources come from?

They come from production and trade.  Everything that is consumed must first be produced.  There ain't no such thing as a free lunch.  In order for people in the borders of America to consume stuff, they must obtain it.  They can produce it themselves or trade something else they have produced for it.  In a free market, every exchange is voluntary.  In order for both parties to agree to trade, both must consider themselves better off after than before.  Because economic value is subjective, both walk away wealthier than before because they gave up something they valued less than what they got.

Now that we know some basic economics, what does the statistic about consumption tell us?  It tells us that, in order to consume a lot, American's must have produced a lot.  It means what they produce must be more valuable to their trading partners than what they consume.  In other words, it means they are creating value for the world.

There is an exception to the rule that more consumption happens after more value creation.  Consumption can also happen after resources are taken by force, outside the operations of the market.  This fact is illustrated by another quote I came across yesterday on a list of common economic fallacies.  The commenter said a common fallacy is,

"Not asking where 'G' comes from."

In macroeconomics, wealth is often measured (somewhat dubiously) in GDP.  The typical formula for measuring a nation's GDP is: C+I+G+(X-M).  In this equation, C means private consumption, I is investment, G is government spending, X is exports and M is imports.

There are plenty of problems with this formulation, but leaving those aside, the math tells you that increasing any of these addends increases total wealth.  This is what leads many to advocate for increased government spending as a way to grow the economy.  To the true believers, any spending will do.  John Maynard Keynes famously suggested that the Treasury should stuff jars with bank notes and bury them in abandoned coal mines to be dug up again.

But where does G come from?  Government produces nothing, it only takes.  Every penny in the G category was taken from C or I.  This would not seem problematic at first for the economy as a whole, much as individual taxpayers may not like it, because the sum would remain unchanged.  Except that, as we have been reminded, economic value is subjective.

A dollar taken from someone and spent on her behalf is less valuable to her than keeping that dollar.  If this were not so, she would have given it up voluntarily.  People put their resources to their highest valued use, according to their own scale of value.  Any time resources are taken by force, value is destroyed.  Further, the choices people would have made would send signals rippling through the economy, telling entrepreneurs and producers what to produce more and better of.  When government puts resources to their uses, it signals entrepreneurs and producers to create more of what government wants, which diverts production and innovation away from the areas most valued by the citizenry.

The common problem in both scenarios - assuming the a high rate of US consumption means less for everyone else; and assuming an increase in government consumption means more for everyone else - is a failure to examine causal connections.  Static snapshots of data - whether a percentage of world consumption or GDP - tell us nothing about the ongoing relationships in our world.

These relationships have patterns and feedback and adaptations.  The data comes from somewhere, and it's more than a simple path; it's the result of a complex and constant churning of causes producing effects.  Freezing this dynamic process in time and measuring where a bunch of stuff is can't tell you whether the process is just or efficient, or what the results will be over time.

Before you make data-based judgments about systems in the world, understand where the data come from.  What does the process look like that produced it?  What are the causal relationships?  What happens to the data through time?  Citing a lot data might make you feel smart, but if you accept data alone as proof of cause, it's only a feeling.

The Birth of an Idea


Just because something is inevitable doesn't mean it's easy.

I used to think having an idea I believed in was the hard part, and once I had it, acting on it would be easy.  When you get an idea that you know you must act on - a thought you must put into words, an expression you must create - and you know there is no choice but to bring it into being, the real challenge starts.  It's a process not dissimilar to pregnancy.

If you have been trying to get pregnant for some time, it is a relief when you do.  But things don't get easier just because the eventual child is all but inevitable.  You have the knowledge that birth is coming.  You also realize how much has to be done between here and there.  There are moments of panic when you consider you have no nursery, no diapers, no baby clothes, no stroller, no idea what challenges may come, no knowledge of all the things you might have to do to care for the child.  There are other times when you feel completely at ease, resting in the knowledge that what you have created will come to fruition in due course.  You have a vision of life with a child, and you know that vision will be fulfilled and somehow everything you need to get done will get done.  Of course, you still have to do it.

The seed of an idea that moves you, once planted, will - must - grow.  You know it must be created, expressed, brought into the light.  But how many things are there to do first!  How can you handle them all?  How can you fill that space between now and then with the things that must precede the birth of the idea?  How can you prepare to raise and nurture it once it emerges?  Yet you know you will, because the idea is going to happen, just as the child is going to come.  Nature must run its course.

The mental, emotional, and spiritual challenges of pregnancy reveal the unique process of moving from potency to act; from knowledge of a new life, through gestation, to birth and beyond.  The near inevitability of the outcome is joyous and overwhelming.  Being 'pregnant' with an idea has many similarities.  It's right to experience the tension between complete relief that the new creation is coming, and uneasiness with the knowledge of all that must happen first.  Your job is to do two contradictory things at once: relax and let it happen, and actively ensure the process and preparations move forward.

Creativity = Hard Work and Ignoring Everyone


A few links to get you thinking about creativity:

Marketer and cartoonist Hugh MacLeod's great booklet, "How to be Creative"

Designer Jonathan Adler's presentation on keeping other people's opinions out of your creative process.

Bad Arguments Against Immigration


Originally posted here.

The Economic Argument
Arguments against immigration on economic grounds basically boil down to “They took our jobs!”. Some feel that allowing people to freely cross borders will result in a flood of low-wage labor that will “steal” jobs from natural born citizens. Labor is a factor of production, just like raw materials or financial capital. Restricting the flow of capital and labor will always decrease economic prosperity. Access to more resources – human or otherwise – always increases wealth and opportunity. If this does not make sense to you, I recommend Frederic Bastiat’s “What is Seen and What is Unseen”, chapter 7, as well as his brilliantly satirical “Candle Maker's Petition

The Culture Argument
Others argue that immigration must be restricted in order to protect the nation’s unique cultural heritage. I submit to you that any culture which must be maintained by force is not an authentic culture and is probably a bad one. Cultures freely arise because they provide benefits to those who participate in them. Cultures are always changing. Getting government in the business of protecting culture is dangerous and counter-productive. First, who gets to define what constitutes culture? Bureaucrats don’t have the best track record in such matters. Second, do we really want to live in a culture that is forced upon us by government prohibitions, restrictions and mandates?

The Welfare Argument
Advocates of limited government sometimes argue against immigration on the grounds that immigrants make use of the welfare state and increase the cost of government. State-sponsored welfare programs are a problem. Stopping immigration because immigrants might use welfare programs treats one tiny symptom, not the problem itself. If you routinely tossed open cans of tuna on your front lawn and found the neighbor's cats hanging around your property, would you try to ban cats or would you clean the up the fish?

Though I think the vast majority of immigrants immigrate for jobs, freedom and opportunity, I’m sure some come and make use of government handouts (though less than U.S. Citizens, and likely less than they pay in taxes). The handouts are an attractive nuisance and should be addressed on their own merits, not by attempting to ban the free movement of people.

The Safety Argument
Some argue that allowing easy immigration will bring bands of criminals into their country and make them less safe. First, if something is a crime it is already, by definition, illegal. Threats to life and property are already supposed to be addressed via the existing police and justice system. Putting up a wall and stopping anyone from crossing it on the grounds that some of them may be criminals is ludicrous. By this logic, governments should perpetually engage in random home searches because they might discover criminal activity.

Closed borders probably don’t stop criminals, but let’s pretend that they could; if we could keep foreign criminals out by keeping out anyone foreign, what would we gain? We’d have spent tons of resources keeping out foreigners, most of whom aren't criminals, and we’d have that many fewer resources to fight domestic crime. Banning people from movement because some of them may be criminals is even dumber than banning gun ownership because some people may use them for crime.

A Better Argument
Freedom to immigrate can be defended from several angles, but I believe the most important argument is based on rights. Imagine you and I have pieces of property that share a border. You wish to traverse my property and I wish to let you, but lawmakers prohibit it. What business do they have dictating whether we can make decisions about our own property? Sure, they were democratically elected, but what business do others have of voting to determine how you and I peacefully use our property?

What if government issued a decree that business owners were prohibited from hiring anyone born on a Tuesday? It’s no different when they prohibit hiring anyone born in another country. Shouldn't the business owner be free to hire whom he wishes? If an individual wishes to travel, work, buy, or sell peacefully and all other parties involved agree, why should government prohibit it?

When you think up other arguments against immigration, ask yourself why they should not also be applied in state to state immigration? City to city? Home to home?

At bottom, I think much anti-immigration sentiment comes from a fear of people unlike us. I support anyone’s right to be prejudiced, or to associate only with those of like culture. But putting that attitude into public policy not only hampers wealth and progress, it violates my right to associate peacefully with whom I choose.

Interview with a Decamom: Heather Hinkle


IMG_8390How many people know a mother of nine with a tenth in the womb? I’m related to one. Don’t hold that against her. She’s got children between the ages 2 and 12, with one set of twins in there.

IMM: I guess the obvious question to ask a mother of (nearly) ten is, why? Are you trying to field a baseball team?

HH: No, I hate sports. I love children and so does John and we always wanted a large family. We (obviously) have left our family planning to God!

IMM: Did the experience of growing up with such an angelic and genius younger brother cause you to desire tons of kids?

HH: Quite the contrary...it really made me doubt the wisdom of humanity propagating. I'm always fearful of my children displaying 'Isaac-like' behaviors.

IMM: Do you ever worry that each individual child won’t get enough attention with so many in the house? How to you try to remedy that?

HH: It's definitely something both John and I contemplate and my full thoughts on the issue would take up more time than your readers would want to give. However, ways in which we try to combat it are by taking the older children to a special store they like, such as a bookstore, or taking the younger ones to the play-land at the mall. It can also be something as simple as one of us playing board-games with them once the smaller ones are in bed.

IMM: Are people generally kind and happy for you when they see you with all your kids, or do you get dirty looks? What’s the most surprising comment you’ve gotten?

HH: It's interesting, but we've found in the south that people seem the least accepting of our large brood. This manifests itself by complete disinterest/ignoring of us. I'm not sure why this is, but we were approached/asked questions a lot more whilst living in the midwest. Once a lady at a store basically forced me to take a twenty dollar bill from her, to buy something for the family and another time an individual asked John how much money he made!

IMM: OK, you’re a homeschooling mom with a massive family. The picture most people have in their mind is of a giant farmhouse and a bunch of kids churning butter, wearing bowties, and giving each other violin lessons. Does that describe your home life?

HH: Nothing you listed describes us...except the bowties, which we don religiously. I think most people would be surprised to see that we live in a neighborhood, have a relatively small yard and our house is decorated really well!

IMM: Hardest and most rewarding parts of having such a big family?

HH: My pregnancies are definitely the hardest part for our family to endure; I wish I felt well and enjoyed them, but it is the exact opposite. It's a sacrifice for all of us to endure eight months of me feeling sickly. And the weight...ugh! I look like Martin Short's character, 'Glick' for my last two or three months. It's hard to pinpoint what is the most rewarding aspect, but one would definitely be watching the kids interact with each other and how much they enjoy it...when they're not arguing, of course!

IMM: Do you ever feel constrained by the fact that you are primarily defined by the size of your family? Do you feel held back from going after other things you want in life?

HH: Not especially; I feel I have plenty of other interests, etc. that define me. There are definitely times where I feel held back from pursuing other things I enjoy, but on the whole I feel that motherhood has propelled me to be more creative, organized and good with managing my time.

IMM: How long does it take you to get everyone ready and out of the house?

HH: You'll find out in a few weeks, when you and your lovely bride come to watch them! If we are talking Sunday morning, it's about an hour-and-a-half to two hours from awakening to pulling out of the driveway. If it's a normal day where we are just getting in the car to run an errand, it's actually fairly quick, maybe 10-20 minutes.

IMM: How many loaves of bread do you go through in a week?

HH: Nine. I really have to keep my eyes out for good prices on bread, because we don't care for Wonderbread and the like...though I'm not trying to besmirch their fine name. Buy-one-get-one deals are the best!

IMM: Do your kids seem to like being in a big family? Do any of them ever complain about it?

HH: Well, judging from the strained looks on several of their faces in the accompanying picture, I think it may be a hardship for them! They all really like it; they generally start praying for a new baby shortly after I have given birth! I encourage them to delay that prayer for awhile, so I have some time to recover and enjoy feeling well. In conversation you will hear them say, "They only have five children in their family"!

IMM: How many kids do you plan on having?

HH: As I said earlier, we leave family planning to God. But I hate vague answers such as that; my feeling is we will end up somewhere around sixteen.

IMM: Do you recommend having a big family to others? Are there some people you think would be better with a small family, or do you think it can work for anyone willing to try?

HH: I do think having a big family is extremely rewarding and I try to be encouraging to people about it, while still being real. I think most people would benefit from having a large (or larger) family, but the reality is you have to be extremely dedicated with your time, resources and emotional energy. People very rarely say they regret having another child, but more often regret not having had more.

IMM: If you could go back to just before you started having kids and give yourself one piece of advice, what would you say?

HH: This is a tough one, but I think it would have to be 'Everything is a phase that will end, but will move into another phase'. I know that wasn't very sage; I wish I could say something that made me look smarter and others would consider hanging on their fridge.

IMM: In the midst of raising and homeschooling all these kids, you've launched a business. What was the inspiration? Can you tell me about it?

HH: My business is called Bliss and Brahm and it is a clothing line specifically for twins which will carry coordinating items for boy/girl multiples. It is in the very rudimentary stages, but is really exciting in the sense that I am doing this from start-to-finish, from helping to design the sketches for the pieces to getting them shipped out to the buyers. My inspiration came eight years ago when I was searching for matching outfits for my own boy/girl twins and could not easily find items. The name came from my twins' middle names!

IMM: Do you have a website or Facebook page? When will products be available?

HH: I do have a Facebook page called Bliss and Brahm. I wish I had an incentive to offer your readers to 'like' my page, but I'm going to count on the fact that you have been pounding into them the positives of free-market and entrepreneurial business ventures and hope that will compel them! My website is slated to be up in early July and we are actually launching our first line of clothing in March of 2014. I realize that seems a long way off, but the world of fashion runs on its own timeline. In the meantime, my website will allow browsers to see our progress and weigh in with their own thoughts and ideas.

IMM: Thank you!

College: A One Sided Sorting Mechanism


I recently listened to an excellent EconTalk podcast with Arnold Kling discussing technological changes in higher education.  Kling pointed out the main role universities play is sorting, not forming.

There is a somewhat romantic idea among the populace that education molds and shapes young lumps of clay into the men and women they ought to be.  In this view, what school you attend is very important, because they have the power to mold you for better or worse.  Kling combats this notion by reference to studies that have tracked students accepted to Ivy League schools: They achieve the same level of success whether they attend the Ivy League school or choose instead to go to a lower ranked college.  In other words, it's the type of student that goes to Harvard, not the type of student Harvard creates, that makes for success.

For employers, this sorting mechanism significantly reduces their hiring cost.  Kling described the process as a coin sorting machine, where you dump in a pile of loose change and is sorts all the quarters, nickels, dimes and pennies.  An employer looking for a certain skill level would be at great pains to sort all the applicants, but the type of institution from which they have a degree does a lot of the work for them.  What a student majors in also play a part in the sorting process.

Though this works reasonably well for many employers, it's pretty inefficient.  Does it have to take four years and a few hundred thousand dollars to sort out who excels at what and who's worth interviewing for which roles?  The signal sent by many degrees is getting weaker as more and more students flood into schools.  With the exception of the top schools, many middle of the road universities have turned into massive degree mills.  The printing of more degrees makes those already in circulation worth less to employers.

But there seems to me a worse problem.  Even if college serves as an effective sorting mechanism for employers, it is seriously deficient as a sorting mechanism for employees.  After all, a career is a two sided affair.  It's not a matter of businesses finding out what you're good at and allocating you there; it's primarily about you finding what you love and what helps you get the most of what you want for the least of what you don't.  The student needs a sorting mechanism to discover what industries, what kinds of work, and what companies they like.  College doesn't have a lot to offer here.

Most degrees do not entail any kind of on the ground experience in the business world.  In fact, most classes don't even talk about what different kinds of work are like.  You may enjoy learning philosophy, but that fact alone doesn't do a lot to tell you which career paths are your quarters, nickels, dimes and pennies.  Students spend tens of thousands and a good chunk of their time tumbling through a system that gives employers some valuable info about who they are, but it provides the student with little info about who these employers are.  It's like a dating service where only one side gets to view the profile.  It's not uncommon for graduates to spend the first five or ten years of their career discovering what kind of career they want to have.

There are a lot of things students can do to remedy this problem.  They can seek knowledge, ask people with experience, take a wide range of courses, and explore different majors.  But at the end of the day, nothing beats genuine experience in the world of commerce.  As it is, most students are expected to cram that in an internship for a semester or two.  That's a lot of time and money to burn if you don't walk away with a good idea of what makes you come alive.

Isaac Morehouse


Isaac Morehouse is the CEO of Crash, the career launch platform, and the founder of Praxis, a startup apprenticeship program. Isaac is dedicated to the relentless pursuit of freedom. He’s written some books, done some podcasting, and is always experimenting with self-directed living and learning.

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What Homeschoolers and Startups Know About Learning…


Check out this post on the Praxis blog, where I make the case that homeschoolers and self-directed learners already embody the learning style that is the future of hiring and professional development.

From the post:

"Classrooms don’t prepare young people for success in life and career.  They’re slow, expensive, often boring, the incentives are all wrong, the setting is dull, customization is almost non-existent, and lack of real choice means peers and professors alike aren’t the most valuable people to add to your personal network.

Home educators and self-directed learners know this.  They eschew the conveyor belt approach to education.  They step out of the classroom and into the world.  They understand that real learning is a lot more fun, varied, and valuable than chasing the same paper as everyone else."

I share the three things that homeschooling an apprenticeships have in common:

  • Interest vs. credentials
  • Doing vs. memorizing
  • Being around vs. reading about

Check out the post.  It's good.

How the World Will Change


When the world becomes free it will not be by the creation of new laws, or the removal of old, or of new political leaders or any election result. It will not be because of a change in government, but because of a change in attitude toward government. It will not be because of legislation, but because of disregard for legislation.

Genuine change will come when the state is ignored, not reformed. It will come not when politicians are better, but when they are irrelevant.

When state-made law is no longer deemed necessary or important it will not be respected. When it is not respected it will not be enforced because it will not be enforceable.

This is how the world will change.

Evidence in the Face of Disbelief

The world can become free of the barbarous relic called the state. The state is a dangerous fiction whose power rests entirely on people’s belief in its necessity, or inevitability. Belief in the state is not insurmountable. It is not hard-wired into the human mind. It is not a given that a state must or will always exist. The state, like so many other superstitions now thought to be outrageous, inhumane and inefficient, can be left in the ash heap of history.

Many once laughed at the notion that an institution as old as humanity itself, the institution of slavery, would or could ever be removed. The prevailing wisdom for centuries, even among those who had discovered the moral repugnance of slavery, was that it was just a part of human nature. Reformers argued the best thing was to work for a more humane version of slavery.

Slavery was an institution that, however evil it may sometimes be and however utopians might imagine a more perfect world without it, was here to stay. Some embarked on efforts to improve the institution, to teach masters to be “good” to their slaves. Some setup rules and mores designed to limit the nastiest outcomes of the institution. But the institution itself was as unavoidable as scarcity and death.

The fatal flaw in this thinking is that slavery and government, unlike scarcity and death, are human institutions. They are, above all, mental constructs. Their physical manifestations are not physical realities humans simply encounter in nature, but realities we create, and humans only create by first imagining. An idea does not become an action unless the individual actor believes that the idea is worth acting on. To subjugate another human being, or to condone or allow the subjugation of one by another, one must first have the idea of subjugation and must believe that acting on it is preferable to ignoring or condemning it. Scarcity and natural death need no such human consent. The old saying about death and taxes turns out to be only half true.

If the state, like slavery, is the result of the ideas held by people it is not inevitable. Some day humanity could look back on the institution called the state with the same sense of shame and wonder that we now have about slavery. How could so many people – many of them good people – live their lives day in and day out surrounded by an institution so inhumane, so nakedly violent and demeaning? Did they really think it was necessary? Did they not understand how degrading it was? It will be hard to understand how so many humans thought the state was inevitable, tolerable and even good. As sure as slavery became a hated relic, so can the state.

How It Happens

When slavery ended it was not by changes in rules or laws or political leaders. Such changes often quickly follow changes in belief and mistakenly receive the credit, but they are never the cause. Slavery ended as people’s ideas about it changed. People began to believe it was not only an evil, but an unnecessary one. People began to believe it so evil that they were willing to tolerate the short-term sacrifices of ending it in order to reap the long-term improvement in the human condition.

The calculation of cost and benefit changed as people’s sense of morality trumped their sense of conservative institutional stability. The unknown outcome of ending slavery became an acceptable risk when considered against the known evil of the institution, which became an unacceptable reality.

Political Reform

Political reform can never bring about liberty. It can on rare occasion expand a bit of liberty for a few, but as long as that expansion occurs via political methods, it means bargaining that often takes away freedom in some other arena, or the long-term furtherance of trust in the state. The political game is about reshuffling and re-enforcing the necessity of the state.

The political game attracts great attention, and as such many suggest using it as a means of educating people about the power of liberty. Politics as education is only valuable in the long term to the extent that it educates people that politics is at bottom bad and government cannot ever be good. If it merely inspires people to advocate that the state do to things better, it is not, in the end, going to make society more free. It is disbelief in politics and in the state that leads to freedom.

The Chinese army fired on their fellow citizens in Tiananmen Square. This massacre was not caused by political leaders and generals saying, “Shoot”; but by men in the Chinese army deciding to shoot. It was not caused ultimately by bad leadership, but by a belief in the necessity of obeying orders. There will always be people with a will to power; a desire to control. Only when the rest don’t believe that power to be necessary and therefore do not obey does freedom reign.

Shift Focus

Humans want to solve problems in the most immediate and direct way possible. We want to know where the problem of restricted liberty begins. We discover the source in a gradual progression. First the focus is on people – the wrong political leaders. This quickly generalizes to political parties or groups, then to policies or laws, then to agencies and institutions, and finally to the state itself.

Here it seems we’re at the core of the problem: the state itself. Not any of the personalities or parties or bureaus or laws under its aegis. But a further shift in focus is required. The state is not the root of the problem. The real problem is not an institution, but an idea. It is the idea that government is necessary. That’s the culprit and final basis for every bad thing the state has ever done.

To a small degree, a shift in focus is happening now. A great many people don’t believe that a particular politician will solve the problems created by the state. An increasing number don’t believe one party is more likely than another to do so. It is more common to hear institutions or the incentives built into the system of government blamed. This is progress. It is, however, still rare to hear the existence of the state itself blamed, and rarer still to hear blame placed on the idea that a state is necessary.

The belief in its necessity gives rise to the state, which by definition is full of bad incentives that attract and nurture bad people in bad parties. To say the people, parties, or policies are the problem would be like blaming the sidewalk for breaking your leg after you walked off a tall building because you were ignorant of the staircase and elevator. Frustration with the sidewalk is useless and ignorant. The proper response would be to question the necessity of walking off the building; perhaps in so doing you would discover other less painful methods of achieving your goal and reaching the ground floor.

There is no form or arrangement of a state that can guarantee liberty. The answer is always peace, markets, and voluntarism. The ring of power cannot be wielded for good, but must be thrown into the fire before it uses good for evil.

Changing Lives and Changing Life

I do not wish to downplay the possible outcomes of attempts to reform the state. By such efforts lives can be changed. A court decision can save an individual or a whole neighborhood from being bulldozed by the state. The removal of a regulation can change the life of an entrepreneur and allow her to pursue her dream. These activities are analogous to disaster relief or soup kitchens; they can genuinely change lives and offer welcome relief. They can change lives, but they cannot change life.

Disasters will still come and go. The conditions that brought about hunger are not ameliorated with the appetite of the person receiving soup. The liberty-crushing actions of the state do not cease when it ceases to crush one neighborhood or regulate one industry for some period of time. The state will – must – continue to seek its own expansion, and it will push at every weak point it finds to do so, ensuring that an endless stream of lives will remain to be helped, but that the conditions of life itself will not be fundamentally altered. Treating disease is noble, but it is different than eradicating disease.

Changing lives is good and fulfilling work. But for those courageous enough to dream, changing life itself is bliss, and can only be done by undermining, not improving the state.

What to Do?

The only tactic worth pursuing is enlightenment. Enlightenment of self and of others, and both continuously. This does not mean telling people what to believe or what to do. It is more akin to discovery than education. A teacher may help you discover truth by providing information, but the discoverer has to have curiosity and openness. It is the discoverer himself who chooses to discover.

Become a free person, and your freedom will be a beacon to others who are searching. Create liberty in your own life, exchange ideas, be open to the power of human creativity. Free your own mind and you will begin to help others to free theirs not by telling them what to believe, but by demonstration and discussion.

The market does not produce new innovations and technologies because smart people tell others what to design; instead it is a constant dynamic give and take, show and tell, creation and imitation, trial and error, the greatest ongoing play of economic exchange.

The building of a free-society needn’t wait until the state is limited or absent; indeed the state will not wither until the free society is first built to replace it. The explosive power of ideas will destroy the foundations of the state as free people continue to live and breath those ideas and demonstrate the life, energy, fun, progress and fulfillment in freedom.

This does not mean everyone who wants liberty must do the same thing. Demonstrating and discussion the ideas of a free society is such a broad and evolutionary task that it opens endless doors. The differences we have in ability and interest lead to numerous efforts, and enlightenment leaves ample room for differentiation.

Our differences will manifest in which “others” we exchange with, and what methods and mediums we use. But it must be an exchange of ideas and the building of a free society. It cannot mean deceiving, cajoling, “nudging”, forcing, bribing, or dictating. These, in the end, will only lead to less freedom.

Liberty not inevitable, but it is possible. A state that does not trample liberty is not possible. So long as the state is deemed necessary it will exist, and the state will always grow beyond its originally desired limits. The state will prey upon society until it destroys it, and then destroys itself. But if the belief in the necessity of the state remains, the deposed state will soon be replaced by a new one and the process will begin again.

The only foundation that society can be built on without collapse is a belief in statelessness.

It must be belief. Consequential (practical) and deontological (moral) arguments against the state miss the point. People will accept an inefficient and immoral system if they believe it necessary. Once they find it unnecessary, they will abandon it and give moral or practical reasons for doing so, but the belief in the necessity of the state must go first.

Imagine Liberty

Ludwig von Mises described three preconditions to human action. An individual must have dissatisfaction with his current condition, a vision of something better, and a belief in the ability to achieve that vision.

Everyone has dissatisfaction with government. Almost no one has a vision of something better. People have visions of a differently structured “necessary evil”, but their lack of imagination makes them keep the modifier, “necessary”. The Proverb says that for lack of vision people perish.

If we open up our imagination there is abundant evidence of order without the state. Non-state norms and institutions produce the majority of the world we see around us. Historically, society precedes the state, and there is ample evidence of stateless solutions to problems we are taught to believe only the state can solve.

Beyond past or present evidence, an application of our knowledge of human potential can also help us envision what could be. Science fiction writers imagine unheard of technologies by looking at technological advances in the here and now. They extrapolate and predict where human ingenuity, if it continues on its present course, may go. The best social thinkers do the same with society.

Some advocates for liberty do have a vision of something better. They can imagine multifarious social arrangements without the state. But most still lack the third condition of human action; a belief in the ability to get there. After so many vein attempts at revolution and political activism it seems there is no answer. But in some ways, the second condition of action is the answer to the third. If enough people can imagine a better solution, they will cease to support an inferior one (even in the face of the unknown, if they believe it to hold promise) and cease to prohibit new experiments. People with imagination too small to envision an automobile may very well accept restrictions on road building. But people who can’t envision the specific manifestation of the automobile, but can imagine human progress and invention capable of surprising them will be reticent to restrict the construction of something with unknown promise.

This is why we needn’t all share the same, or even a very specific, vision of a stateless world. We must, however, be brave and broad-minded enough to see in human relations the potential of order without the state.

For those who can imagine such a world, the task is to open others up to the same possibility. Show them, intrigue them, inspire them. Where imagination is wanting, so is liberty.

When It Happens

Perhaps the beginning of the end of the state will be gradual. Maybe state efforts to restrict minor activities will be increasingly ignored. Bans on food and drink may be laughed at and become unenforceable. Perhaps it will slowly extend to ignoring bigger and bigger restrictions.

Perhaps it will start with a bang. The prohibition of drugs may simply come to an abrupt end, and sooner than anyone expects. Public schooling may suddenly become so little used and so uncompetitive in the face of educational innovation that it disappears.

It may happen without a big production. The visage of the state may not even die with its function. The royalty of England still exist, but they are longer relevant in regulating daily life. They exist as reflection or memory of what was once believed. Some Native American tribes perform rain dances not because they believe, as they once did, that they will bring rain, but as an homage to their past. The state may transform similarly. It may never “go away”, but it may cease to have meaning except as a tradition. Parades and pomp may remain while power over our lives withers.

Fast or slow, big or small, conscious or unconscious as it may be, the world will change. The state can be a relic of the past, harder to understand as time moves on, like slavery in America today. In so many ways the trend is well underway and we are already in a mostly stateless world, though it is little appreciated or understood. It may be a matter of merely realizing what is already true: the state is not, and never has been necessary.

Realistic and Radical

The dissolution of the state doesn’t rely on people to become better or morality to change, or for the next step in evolution. It is a fallacy that government is inevitable and necessary. It could wither away in no time. It is only a matter of us changing our beliefs, paradigms, and theories of world. It only requires that we realize that it is not necessary. I say only, but the power of imagination necessary to see that the state is not is no small thing. Opening our minds to this possibility is the greatest and promising intellectual and practical adventure.

Excerpted from the book Better Off Free

How to Build Social Capital


Not enough saving, way too much spending.  Willingness to go deep into debt, a demand for instant gratification, and the inability to defer consumption.  I think these problems are real, and far too common.  But I'm not talking about money.  I'm talking about social capital.

A lot of young people, eager to carve out a career and life path, burst onto the social/professional scene looking for favors.  Every new person they meet might be able to help them get a gig, a contract, an interview, or a check.  I don't think most realize that approaching people with a, "What can you do for me and my career?" mindset is the fastest way to burn through social currency and end up broke.

Every time we interact cordially with another person we generate some good will.  It's like putting a deposit into a social bank account with their name on it.  A simple smile and a handshake is worth a little.  A interesting conversation is worth more.  Connecting them to an idea or person of value to their goals, offering insightful feedback, or helping them achieve something can be worth quite a bit.  Being reliable, and doing these things consistently over time can build up a massive balance.  When you consider all the people you know and meet, it's easy to see how a diverse portfolio of social capital can accumulate.  In the long-term, this social capital is more valuable than money, education, or credentials.

I've observed a lot of ambitious types meet a new person, and two minutes after shaking their hand, try to withdraw the tiny amount of capital they accumulated.  Indeed, many try to take out a massive loan without even a down-payment.  Every time you ask something of someone, you're withdrawing some currency.  If all you've done is say hi and tell them where you work, you've deposited the minimum balance to establish an account.  When you follow this by immediately asking them to introduce you to someone, or read your manuscript, it's like setting up a free checking account, dropping five bucks in, then hitting up the ATM for ten grand.  When nothing comes out, you shouldn't be surprised.  The next move should not be to see a loan officer and beg for credit.

Don't misunderstand; allowing others to help you can also be a way to accumulate social capital.  If someone really wants to help you, or if part of their job is to help you, or if they want to offer advice on something they are more experienced in than you, let them.  People love to be helpful, and especially love to give their opinion.  If you think of creating social capital only as you helping others, it may come off as condescending.  Often the best way is to ask people about their own life, work, and success.  Tell them your dreams and ask them what advice they'd offer, then really listen and try to take something from it.  Being an eager and grateful recipient of things that others enjoy giving is one of the best ways to achieve a positive balance in their account.

If you spend social capital before you've earned it, you probably will get ahead faster than your peers.  If you push and pester every new contact and drop business cards faster than Bernanke prints bank-notes, you will eventually get some interviews and make a little headway.  You'll have the debt-fueled illusion of prosperity.  But you'll owe so much to so many.  Your reputation, like a credit score, will scare away the prudent, who are those you'll most need in the long run.  If you tap your Rolodex for social capital for every new pursuit, you'll have nowhere to go when the really good idea comes along.  You'll be a short term prodigy and a mid-long term failure.

Create a relational reserve.  See every person as another place to deposit some social cash, let it earn interest and be accessible when something really worthwhile pops up.  Ask yourself what you can do for people.  Don't over-strategize how much help to offer based on how much you might value their help later.  It comes off as sketchy, and you're probably not smart enough to figure out ahead of time who will generate the best return.  Keep a diverse portfolio, but deposit more where returns are consistent and solid over time.  Think about people that you would be eager to do a favor for, ask yourself what it is about them that earned your willingness, and emulate it.

If you spend your professional life building up social capital by being generally helpful, resourceful, reliable, and likable, you'll soon have tremendous net social worth.  That pool of social capital can provide more knowledge, skill, counsel, connection, and even cash than any amount of paper money you could save.  There will come a time to withdraw and spend social capital.  There may even be a time to borrow some on credit, but you'll need a good credit score and a down-payment in the very least.

Make it your goal to help people, listen to people, generate goodwill, and deposit a little more each day in your social bank accounts.  Someday soon, you'll be glad you did.

Check out the Praxis blog for why social capital is more important than mentorship.

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Originally published June 14, 2013.

The College Dropout’s Guide to Getting a Job


Praxis intern Amber Grubenmann put together this great infographic on how to get a job without the need to purchase paper prestige.

And, of course, you can join Praxis and we'll give you the job straight up!  We provide a three month professional bootcamp, help you build a personal website and populate it with projects that demonstrate your value, give you a paid apprenticeship at a startup, and at the end you walk away with a job offer.

Graphic

84 – You Can’t Teach Entrepreneurship (but You Can Squash it), from RP Radio


Kevin Geary (previous guest of this podcast) brings me on his Revolutionary Parent Radio to discuss raising kids who have entrepreneurial know-how.

You can't teach entrepreneurship. Attempts to do so are silly. But, you can provide an environment that allows the entrepreneurial spark we all have to grow. School and authoritarian structures do just the opposite. The best thing is to first do no harm.  Get out of the way.  Remove the things that artificially increase the cost of failure, dampen curiosity and experimentation, and provide too-quick answers from experts to be memorized and regurgitated.

Even if your kid will never start a business, the traits being crushed through the conveyor belt mindset are the very traits needed to succeed at any form of employment in the near future.

Check out Kevin's stuff at revolutionaryparent.com.

This and all episodes are available on SoundCloud, iTunes, YouTube, and Stitcher.

Isaac Morehouse


Isaac Morehouse is the founder and CEO of Praxis, a startup apprenticeship program making degrees irrelevant for careers. Isaac is dedicated to the relentless pursuit of freedom. He’s written some books, done some podcasting, and is always experimenting with self-directed living and learning.

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