Most People Go to College to Feel Normal


Most people don't go to college to learn. That can be done much easier and less costly in myriad other ways.

Most people don't go to college to become well-rounded. That can happen through any number of experiences.

Most people don't go to pick a career. They could try working different jobs to learn quicker, and most don't work in what they major in anyway.

Most don't go for the practical value of the credential. I've never met a college student who actually inquired with employers what they view as the best credential.

Most people don't even go to college for the social experience. How many examine all the ways to meet people, party, etc. and firmly conclude college is the best way for them to have fun?

Most people go to college to be normal.

It's the normal thing. They want to meet normal people, make normal friends, learn normal facts, have normal experiences, and appear normal to family, friends, and future employers. They take it on faith that college is good, beneficial, educational, career-enhancing, a great social experience, worth the cost, etc., rather than really examine these oft repeated tropes. They want them to be true because they want to list these normal reasons for doing what's normal.

College can be great. Besides, it's too late for most of us to consider alternatives. But if you are pre-college, ask yourself what you really want out of it. Look long and hard at other ways to get what you want. Weigh the costs. Be prepared if you find college is not the best way...you may discover your best path is not normal. Are you ready and willing to bear the social costs of an abnormal choice? It might be worth it.

Monopoly Is Everywhere; Monopoly Is Impossible


Concern over the power of "monopoly" is often given as justification for government intervention in the economy. It shouldn't be. There is no logically consistent definition of monopoly that warrants interference in market. Furthermore, government efforts to disperse market power tend rather to concentrate it, particularly among those best at playing politics, rather than helping consumers.

What is this monopoly thing that is so feared?

Monopoly is often described as two-pronged: complete control over a unique resource, and the ability to be a “price maker”. ("Price maker" means to set the price you want to sell at rather than responding to market conditions and being a "price taker"). Once you define monopoly, you realize what a meaningless concept it is. One of the two prongs is inevitable; the other is impossible.

If monopoly means control over a unique resource that no competitors can sell, everything is a monopoly. Every single product is unique. I have a complete monopoly on the product “public appearances by Isaac Morehouse”. No one else can offer it. What kind of power does this give me?

Sadly, I cannot charge whatever I want for public appearances simply because I have a monopoly. I've tried, and so far no one has been willing to pay $50,000 for this unique good over which I have sole control. (Email me if you're interested.) In other words, I (and everyone and everything else) satisfy the first prong of the definition of monopoly, but that doesn't help me with the second prong. I'm not a price maker.

In fact, no one is a price maker. OK, I suppose anyone can make any price they want to, but in order to actually sell something – no matter how valuable – they're constrained. Think of a product that you need badly and can’t really live modern life without. How about gasoline. Why doesn’t Exxon start charging $20, $100, $1 million per gallon at the pump? What would happen?

Life would change pretty dramatically for some people, maybe just at the margin for others, but almost no one would pay that price. Even if all the oil in the world were controlled by one company (a scenario almost impossible to imagine absent government intervention), they still would not be a price maker.

Even complete control over a resource that people really need does not a price maker make. The firm faces substitute goods as a very real form of competition. McDonald’s burgers are not competing only against Wendy’s burgers. They are competing against Subway’s subs, mom’s PB&J, or going without lunch altogether. Firms are held in check not just by substitute goods, but by potential competition. If gas is too costly, new or old technologies become more profitable. Bicycles and solar cars both take a chunk of consumers.

So the first prong of monopoly, control over a unique resource, is everywhere. The other prong, the ability to be a price-maker, is impossible. In reality, firms and consumers are constantly moving up and down to varying degrees on being price takers and makers. There is no complete maker or taker. The market is a process of discovery, and if we want the best outcomes, we need to worry about keeping the process free and unencumbered, rather than the particular distribution of resources among firms at any given snapshot in time.

Efforts to fight the myth of monopoly and make the market look more like make-believe “perfect competition” make things worse. They often result in the one kind of monopoly that is dangerous; the one maintained by force. Forced monopoly, or forced price floors or ceilings, or the breakup of firms or the prevention of mergers, or any other intervention creates artificial markets. They shift entrepreneurial activity away from innovation to serve consumers and towards efforts to ensure regulation benefits me and harms my competitors.

We're all monopolists, yet none of us are price makers. Stop worrying about it.

The Myth of Self-Regulation


No business, product, service or industry can self-regulate. All must and will be regulated by some external entity. The question is who or what?

In a market, regulation is inescapable. Firms are regulated by wholesalers, retailers, capitalists, workers, packagers, shippers, competitors, consumers, shareholders and public opinion. These myriad regulators are exacting. They apply pressure from every angle, on every aspect of business. Get sloppy with your purchasing practices and wholesalers make better deals with your competitors. Overlook product safety and consumers and public opinion slap you down. Make frivolous expenditures and your source of capital and shareholders head for the hills. Drive too hard a bargain with employees and productivity declines or they leave you for another firm.

Firms have room for experimentation and risk-taking, but they have full responsibility to all of these market regulators for the outcome. No firm is a "price-maker" in a market. No firm is a compensation, safety, or policy-maker in the market either. All the parties to which they answer set the terms. Oh sure, firms can do what they want; unless they seek profit. Profit demands that they obey the regulators that fill the market across the whole production chain. It's not easy.

Firms that have become successful and large tend to get tired of the constant regulation. They want a reprieve from the demands of stakeholders. To gain freedom from the regulating market, firms seek the comfort and stability of government regulation.

Government regulation is nothing like market regulation. It's yoke is easy for the well-connected and deep pocketed, but often unbearable for the shoestring upstart. Market regulation is blind to size, wealth, political affiliation, slickness, religion or creed. Government regulation is built upon them.

Market regulation keeps an open invitation to anyone who wants to join the ranks of regulators; though promises no one their opinions will have a final say unless they prove worthy across the market. Government regulation is strictly closed off to anyone except those long-loyal to the party in power, and promises that the elite cadre of regulators' opinion is final and binding. Market regulation is nimble, swift, constantly adapting, inescapable and unrelenting. Government regulation is ham-handed, slow, hidebound, avoided with a little craftiness, and backs off for a favored few with the right mix of political moves.

Market regulation is created and enforced by parties that stand to gain or lose by the actions of the regulated; parties who gain real-world expertise on the regulations effects. Government regulation is created and enforced by parties with no connection to the regulated actions or items, except the few politically connected firms that agitate for it. Market regulation draws on the dispersed knowledge of millions across the globe, from experts to anonymous users. Government regulation pretends a handful of elites can outthink the millions.

Market regulation seeks only the betterment of all market participants, regardless of which firms offer it. Government regulation seeks to destroy some firms for the benefit of others, regardless of what they offer market participants. Market regulation is by the many, for the many. Government regulation is by the few, for the few.

Self-regulation is not an option. The question is who's a better regulator, markets or government?

There’s No Such Thing as a ‘Public-Private Partnership’


It's long been a trend for local and state governments to create agencies and entities that are supposed to enhance commercial activity in their area.  There are myriad legal and logistical arrangements, but they all have some common features.  They're all reliant on government in structure and law, they all use taxpayer funds to accomplish their projects, and they all love to use newspeak phrases like, "public-private partnership" to describe their activities.

An online dictionary definition of partnership is useful:

"A legal contract entered into by two or more persons in which each agrees to furnish a part of the capital and labor for a business enterprise, and by which each shares a fixed proportion of profits and losses."

And,

"A relationship between individuals or groups that is characterized by mutual cooperation and responsibility, as for the achievement of a specified goal."

Clearly, government economic meddling projects do not fit either of these definitions.  How can "the public" enter into a partnership?  How can "the public" share in profit or loss?  In reality, governments take money from people in their vicinity by force, then they give some of it to suits in an agency who give it to favored businesses and investors.  "The Public" never agrees to anything.  There is no mutual cooperation and certainly no responsibility or profit/loss sharing.

The absurdity of calling it a partnership can be illustrated with the following thought experiment.  Imagine your friend took some money from your wallet, deposited it in his checking account, kept most of it for himself and gave the rest to another guy to start a business.  No strings attached, just a gift of start-up capital.  Then your friend started publicly talking about how this was a partnership between you and startup guy.  After getting over your initial anger that he took your money and didn't even consult with you before throwing it after some business venture, you try to consider the possible upsides of this unjust act.  You ask him if that means you will own shares in the company.  No.  Does it mean you get some percentage of any profit?  No.  Do you get an interest payment on your stolen and loaned money?  No.  He assures you it's OK though, because neither are you on the hook for any losses (besides of course the loss of the money he already took, which you'll never see again.)  In other words, this is nothing like a partnership.

What you get is money taken from you, spent on middle-men who are paid to give the rest to whatever business they want to.  You are not a partner, you are a victim.  Partnership implies consent.  Partnership implies shared benefit and responsibility   Partnership implies choice.  There is no such thing as a public-private partnership.

When We Met


Water falls over these rocks
Lashes brush your golden locks
Leaves burn crisp in flaming sun
All my tries a glance have won
Glowing snowfall in streetlight
Stealing kisses in the night
Humid air and glowing moon
Your eyes know I’m leaving soon
Whisper softly ancient verse
It was love that found us first
Simply drawn to what you knew
And I followed e’r you flew
Taken in by lovely form
Feeling the still waters pour
Water falls over these rocks
Overcomes all human clocks
Timeless space through which we flew
Knowing I, by knowing you
Sharing thoughts without a word
All the lines we knew were blurred
Led to where we make our life
Here we are with pleasure rife
Water falls over this place
Back to then it all can trace

Institutions Can Improve Even If People Don’t


Originally posted here.

Airlines are loaded with passengers who surf the Internet while soaring through the air, chatting in real-time to anyone else on the globe, posting in social media, shopping, and downloading and reading books on a wide variety of readers. Such a scene would have astonished a person living 50 years ago, to say nothing of a person living 500 years ago.

How do we account for this? A person born five centuries ago is probably just as smart as someone born today. The raw material of the human brain has not changed much during this span of time. Yet people are today infinitely more capable of accomplishing almost any task imaginable than people in 1512.

The greatest navigator of centuries past would have found it a monumental task to leave from one destination and arrive at a precise latitude and longitude halfway across the globe, and it would have taken months. Today, a half-witted teenager can use Google Maps and modern transportation to accomplish the same feat in a single day.

The greatest communicators in the past were unlikely to reach 1 million people with their ideas in a lifetime. Today, the most-incoherent celebrities can reach millions in minutes on Twitter. Conversely, if the greatest scientists today were sent back in time, they would be able to achieve almost nothing absent computers and modern lab equipment.

A weak and feeble worker today can move more tons of earth than the strongest shovel-wielding excavator of the past. Given the inherited technological progress of humanity, even an average Joe can do amazing things with ease. It does not take a superior human to achieve superior results.

Economically speaking, the marginal productivity of workers increases with the capital and technology available to them.

But let’s broaden the point to issues of morality. How can we become better people — more peaceful, cooperative, and creative — in the same spirit in which we have become more effective and productive with better technology? We need better moral “capital” and moral “technology” that enables morally superior outcomes even without morally superior people.

The moral technology I am speaking of is social and political institutions. A person born today is more or less likely to be more or less moral than a person born 500 years ago, but they can be more or less likely to act morally based on the institutions around them.

Moral institutions change and evolve just like technology. They can reduce or expand not only the morality of individuals on the inside, but the harm or good caused by their actions on the outside. The most saintly person born into a world where slavery was the norm would have very limited ability to stop the practice, though she could abstain from participating in it ,at great personal cost.

A horrendously evil person born into a world where slavery is considered abhorrent would be unable to lord over slaves, without tremendous personal cost. It is entirely possible that many people living today have it in them to be on par with the worst slave masters in history — only the opportunity for their evil does not present itself, given the progress in this area of our social and political institutions.

This does not mean that individual choices are meaningless. Far from it. A moral person can always do good within their institutional framework, and a good framework can exponentially enhance the good one can do. Individual choices are vastly important.

But in order for the world to be free of oppression by states, for example, it does not require that every individual be an angel or that the average morality of the population be better than it currently is.

How can institutions improve if morality does not? Institutions are ultimately the result of our beliefs. Better beliefs will result in better institutions, but better beliefs do not require morally superior people any more than beliefs in a heliocentric solar system require more-intelligent people.

Many people believe the Earth revolves around the sun not because they are smarter than ancient peoples, but because they grew up in a world where that was accepted. Many people believe slavery is wrong not because they are morally superior to all people from ages past, but because they grew up in a world where slavery was condemned.

The broader social narrative creates the institution. But where does this narrative come from? Here’s where individuals come in again.

Progress typically begins with iconoclasts and radicals espousing and experimenting with ideas that challenge the status quo. This is true of technological, intellectual and moral progress. The few who advance these radical ideas attract small, but influential followers, and some minds are changed by argument alone. But the real change comes when discussion turns into demonstration.

When the Wright brothers got off the ground, when slavery ended in some countries and the economy did not collapse — these occasions did more to change the prevailing beliefs about manned flight and slavery than did the necessary intellectual work that preceded them.

People do not have to possess superpowers to learn and adapt. All humans do it. Learning even to reject foundational and dearly held beliefs is possible and frequent in history, especially because the change typically takes place over several generations, so that each generation has to learn to give up only a part of the cherished belief. When it is understood that a new belief will result in better outcomes, it can be adopted with relative speed and ease, sometimes without any conscious “a ha!” moment at all.

Neither technological nor institutional progress is inevitable. History is replete with times of retrogression and collapse. When there are no radicals challenging the status quo, innovating and demonstrating new and better beliefs, it is not long before the prevailing institutions stagnate or advocates of a romanticized past win the day and drag humanity backward.

Progress is not inevitable, but progress is entirely possible even with flawed humans like us. Our beliefs can change as we learn better ways of doing things, and with our beliefs will change our institutions. Better institutions — free institutions, rather than coercive ones — will result in a better world.

We ought to continue to discuss and demonstrate the fact that states — their oppressions, confiscations, impositions, kidnapping, counterfeiting, and war — are not necessary or beneficial. Better morality is always better, but if we change the prevailing narrative about states, we can live in a stateless world even without a saintly populace.

It is a false and arrogant belief that only angelic geniuses are capable of believing that statelessness is possible and desirable. If a bunch of idiots can live in a world of technological wonder, so too can a bunch of jerks live in a world of freedom.

But Who Would Bilk the Roads?


But who would create the long lines in which to wait to be told you have the wrong documents?  Who would build the bridges to nowhere?  Who would pay $300 for a toilet seat?  Who would lose your important items in the mail?  Who would force you to turn off your cell phone while taxiing on the runway?  Who would pay a horseshoer to not shoe horses?  Who would pay a farmer to not grow crops?

Who would encourage the poor to buy education and housing they can't afford?  Who would encourage workers not to work?  Who would encourage the generous not to give?  Who would encourage the productive to stop producing?

Who would punish the innocent for doing what makes them happy?  Who would subsidize some chemicals and plants and ban others?  Who would perpetuate gang wars across the globe?  Who would encourage and prop up organized crime?  Who would jail sickly grandmothers for seeking natural pain-relief remedies?

Who would incentivise healers not to heal?  Who would force entrepreneurs to become legal experts rather than creators?  Who would create laws sufficient to make everyone a criminal?  Who would artificially raise the price of health care?  Who would artificially lower the price of waste?

Who would prevent people from seeking damages when another pollutes the water?  Who would fail to maintain the forests?  Who would squander the resources?

Who would help well-heeled businesses crush their competition with laws and regulations?  Who would steal half of the production and spend it on stifling the other half?  Who would pay thousands of agents to create thousand of rules to penalize millions of people for making a living and not properly filling out paperwork to classify and justify it all?

Who would force the children into factory schools?  Who would cram bad ideas into their heads?  Who would drive them to near madness with tedium and tyranny controlling their every waking minute?  Who would call it bullying or a disorder when they reacted?  Who would cram pills down their throats when they thought divergently?  Who would lie to them about the value of schooling?  Who would teach them to obey arbitrary authority instead of their own consciences?

Who would force the peaceful to pay for war?  Who would encourage the violent to aggress and call it honorable?  Who would give sanction to racist, hateful tendencies and call it security?  Who would attack the innocent?  Who would build the drones?  Who would man the concentration camps?

Indeed, who would carry out the genocide?  Who would massacre the millions?  Who would force famines?  Who would torture?

Want a Better World? Make a Profit


A few days ago, I noticed a post on Fast Company's Co.Exist titled, "Is Working on Wall Street Actually the Most Ethical Career Choice?"  The post is about a project called 80,000 hours that is trying to get people to think about how best to spend the average 80,000 hours they will be in a career.

Somewhat refreshingly, the project encourages people to consider going into high-income careers rather than the non-profit world.  It describes the outsized impact you can have by funding several causes vs. working in one.  But the premise remains: to do good, it's nonprofits that provide the boots on the ground.  You might have to bite the bullet and take a high-paying job so that you can support such efforts, but it's very clear that aid and charitable organizations are what make the world a better place.

What's so odd about this perspective is that all the evidence in world history reveals just the opposite.  There has not been a single, massively transformative development driven by charity work.  But millions upon millions have seen the end of poverty, disease and plague; we've seen lifespans extended, air and water cleaned, culture, art and beauty preserved and enhanced, and lives saved by profit-seeking enterprises.

Working for profit is, in a free-market, always a win for others.  Profit is a signal.  It reveals when value has been added to society, as measured by the subjective values of those in society.  Resources are purchased for a price.  That price is what the resources are valued at for their next best use.  Profit-seekers then do something to the resources.  They apply ideas, time, other resources and labor.  What comes out the other end is sold.  If consumers willingly pay a price high enough to cover the cost of inputs plus some, profit is made.  What does that profit signify?  It signifies value created.  It shows how much more valuable the resources are after the transformation than before.  It shows, in dollars, how much better off people are because of the enterprise.

Of course dollars are not a perfect measurement of value.  And of course economic value is subjective and changing.  But there is no perfect measurement, and there is none clearer, cleaner, or fairer.  You can ask people what they value, but when they willingly trade their dollars for it, it speaks volumes.  Any uncoerced exchange that generates profit should be hailed as a wonderful benefit to the world.

Sure, you can make a bunch of money so you can give lots away to causes you believe in.  That's a wonderful thing.  It feels good.  It can help some people in tangible ways that are fulfilling to be a part of.  The truth is, whether you like it or not, you're doing more good for the world by the activity that makes you the money (so long as it's not subsidy, tax, or regulation supported) than by the activities you support in giving it away.

I highly recommend this excellent article by F.A. Harper on "The Greatest Economic Charity".

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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Episode 69.5: FwTK – Heartbreak, Loss, Change, and Space


My family and I just moved to a new house and it's been a surprisingly hard adjustment.  TK and I discuss how to handle moving, change, grief, and heartache, as well as what a sense of space means and how humans interact with light and their built environments.

Mentioned in the episode: Christopher Alexander, Too Many Dirty Dishes, Tim Ferriss, Peter Thiel, Aslan, In Defense of Metaphor in Science Writing, Jeff Till's Five Hundred Years, George Lakoff, Your Brain is Not a Computer, Metaphors and Magic,

Recommended: Space and Place, Landscapes of the Soul, A Timeless Way of Building

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

Sometimes I Get Irritated


I can tell you right now it doesn't matter what industry. There are tons of jobs available everywhere. Companies are hungry for talent.

But most job seekers suck. Most of them suck mostly because of years of schooling. It's given them bad habits, fear, lack of confidence, arrogance, and monetary demands due to thoughtless debt.

Opportunity is everywhere. School is killing the ability of young people to seize it.

Screw school. Go do cool stuff. Go do hard stuff. Go do different stuff. Build things. Try things. Get good at things.

These Four Words Will Help You ‘Hold Strong Opinions Weakly’


I first heard the phrase from tech entrepreneur turned venture capitalist Marc Andreessen.

"Strong opinions, weakly held"

I love this concept. (In fact, I almost called my podcast, "Strong Opinions, Weekly Held").  I had never thought of it in such a succinct way, but this approach has been valuable to me for some time.

The beauty lies in the ability to embrace the power of definiteness and the power of openness at once.  When you act, you can't be of two minds.  You have to commit and proceed boldly.  But to understand the world you have to constantly learn, adapt, and grow, which implies shifting direction.

Here are the four words I employ to do both:

"As if it's true"

When I am taken by an idea I act as if it's true.  The "as if" is important, because it reminds me that I'm acting on the best available knowledge and that I'm fallible.  The "it's true" is equally important, because unless and until being convinced otherwise I must decisively move forward.

One of the strengths of this approach is the lightened intellectual burden and the enhanced importance of experimentation over theory alone.  If you have to settle on complete truth before translating it to action you're unlikely to act.  Action is one of the key factors in generating the feedback necessary to know if your ideas are correct.  And on the other side if you only ever act on an idea without reflecting on the feedback you'll crash and burn if your initial hunch was wrong.

When it comes to something really big like launching a business I think the core idea or purpose of the business - the "why" - must be something unchangeable.  If it turns out the "why" is wrong, better to quit and start an entirely different business than to try to "pivot" to a new purpose.

But the how and what are subject to change.  You don't plan to change them, or pussyfoot around waiting for a focus group to give them to you.  You arrive at conclusions - opinions - about the world and act decisively, while holding onto them weakly.  You act as if they are true unless and until it's proven they are not.

New information, new competitors, and new ideas are never a threat but a welcome opportunity.  Any chance to firmly disprove your theory means a chance to improve.  But put the new stuff to the test.  Always operate as if the current theory is true until it is completely clear it's not.  Don't just get scared or take someone's word for it that your approach is obsolete.  Act as if it's spot on until you know it isn't.  But always be eagerly looking for evidence that it's not.

The "eureka moment" is valuable.  Don't let it get lost in a sea of analysis.  But that doesn't mean you have to never let it adapt.  Move forward as if your initial insight is true while constantly scouring the globe for reasons it mightn't be.  Act on your current truths while adding to them.

To hold strong opinions weakly, act as if your current knowledge is true until you know it's not.

Episode 69: Robin Hanson on the Coming Age of Robots


Special thanks to show producer Lav Kozakijevic for his tireless work editing, posting, and adding show notes for each and every episode!

We live at a time when artificial intelligence is booming and major breakthroughs are happening, with a lot of people thinking about what is coming and how will it impact society. Robin Hanson is an economics professor at GMU with a background that ranges from philosophy, to physics and computer research.

He joins me today to talk about his book ‘The Age of Em: Work, Love and Life when Robots Rule the Earth’ which is shipping as we speak, where he outlines what he thinks will happen when humans become able to emulate a human brain in a machine. We discuss what are the things that might be different, what are those that will change less than we expect, and how social institutions will change once AI reaches such a level.

Don’t skip his blog overcomingbias.com and you can order his new book from Amazon here.

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

Newest Book Now in Audio Format


"Why Haven't You Read This Book?" is now available in audio format!

Huge thanks to Mitchell Earl for his work narrating the book and getting it added to Amazon.  You can get it with an Audible subscription.

Additionally, Mitchell setup an awesome way to get any chapter from the book for free here.  Since each chapter is a totally unique story from a unique author, you can simply pick your favorite and listen as a stand-alone audio essay.

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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