If Brevity is the Soul of Wit…


Damn.

A Noble Library


We love to go to Barnes & Noble.  It's one place everyone in the family enjoys.  There's WiFi and coffee for me and my wife, there are books and toys for the kids, and it's free!

It's great to have a peaceful place full of books where you can go to read, think, browse and let the kids do the same.  Such places used to be called libraries.  Before we moved to South Carolina, there was a library closer to us than a large bookstore.  We would go from time to time for story hour or just to meander.  It was OK, but pales in comparison to B&N.

B&N charges no membership fee.  Nor to they do they take money coerced out of taxpayers.  They have Starbuck whereas the library doesn't even want you to drink inside, besides the crusty drinking fountain.  There are toys for kids of all ages.  The architecture and lighting are fresher and newer, unlike the Societ-esque design of most public libraries.  You can browse books in both, but if you really like one at B&N, you can buy it too.  They have wonderful story times and special events for kids.  And it's located close to other places we like to go, unlike suburban libraries which are often far from retail areas.

You can look at books for free or you can buy them, but you cannot borrow them.  This may be a major downside for some people, but I've never found it much of a problem.  For one thing, children's books are usually so short that you can read it all to your kids in the store in one sitting.  As for myself, I try to read books that I think worth buying anyway, and I am increasingly moving to all eBooks.

Suburban libraries seem pretty silly now.  There are wonderful and spacious bookstores.  There are all kinds of non tax supported niche libraries at everything from local churches to the Polish American Club.  For people who use libraries to do serious research, there are a growing number of online solutions like JSTOR and others, and of course universities maintain their own, often much more extensive, libraries for such purposes.

All of this seems sufficient to at least propose an end to tax dollars flowing to libraries.  Some would certainly survive by charging higher membership fees, raising donations, or finding some other revenue model.  Some would disappear.  The adjustment doesn't really seem that difficult given what's available online and the kind of experience offered for free by large bookstores.

I am constantly reminded of just how amazing commerce is as a civilizing force.  Who could have imagined a business model where you let anyone off the street waltz in to your store and thumb through all of your merchandise as long as they like with no charge?  If I'd never seen it myself and you asked me whether a service like that could be provided on the market, I would have said no.  Entrepreneurs have shown time and again how things no one could imagine being done outside of a coercive monopoly can be done, and done better, through voluntary markets.

Keep an open mind and think about what else might be possible if legal barriers that prevent entrepreneurs from providing other services were removed.

When it’s Good to be a Failure


I'm a failure according to my own definition.

The current me doesn't think I'm a failure - I'm pretty happy about where I'm at in life and feel I'm doing what I love at the moment. It's one of the versions of me from the past that thinks I'm a failure.

There was a time (I shudder to recall) when I thought being an elected politician was the way to live and spread freedom. I went to work in the legislature to see how to become a lawmaker. During that time I met a lot of people who didn't know me before and haven't kept up since. They knew the Isaac who defined success as being an elected official. Friends and relatives saw me working in politics and could foresee what a successful end in that realm looked like in their minds. For these people, my life won't be a success until I achieve what I was then pursuing.

Along the way I learned more about myself. My goals didn't change, just the way I visualized achieving them. I was pursuing a certain ideal and a bundle of sensations. I was pursuing freedom. I was incapable of imagining anything but a crude vision of political freedom, and my worldview was so simple I thought politicians created it. Therefore I wanted to be one. Freedom is still what I want, but with more experience and knowledge I have come to believe being involved in politics would be the worst possible way to achieve it. My definition of success morphed.

This happens all the time with humans. A child may say he wants to be a firefighter only because in his world, firefighter is one of the four or five options he can imagine. It's the one that makes him feel the most excited and good about helping people.

As they grow, children learn about a huge range of activities in the world and realize that, to achieve the feeling they desire, firefighting is an inferior method to being a paramedic, a teacher, an entrepreneur, or an X-Games athlete. It's not that we sell out on our dreams, it's just that our dreams were crude representations of what we thought we wanted.  When we learn more, we make different decisions. C.S. Lewis talks about the, "[I]gnorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea."

Once we learn what's possible, we laugh at what we previously thought of as the ultimate achievement. This growth is all well and good until we confront people from our past who have us locked in to our previous dreams.

Sometimes people ask me when I'm going to be president, and no matter what answer I give, it seems to them like a cop-out or excuse for my own failure. They refuse to believe me when I say I wouldn't wish political office on my worst enemy, let alone myself. They think I'm being modest.

I have a friend who went to Hollywood wanting to be an actor and now realizes his creative energies are far broader. People back home always want to know when they'll see him on the big screen. We sometimes joke that someday, when he has millions and is producing, directing, writing and doing whatever he wants in life, his friends back home will say, "Haven't seen you on TV...you just haven't caught that break yet, huh?"

It can be a little weird to describe how and why your dreams and definitions of success change over time. A lot of people don't actually want to know. They just want to know if you're Governor yet, or an Oscar winning actor. That's alright. Don't fret over it and don't spend too much energy trying to convince them you're really not a failure. If they insist on defining success they way you did before you knew better, just let them think you're a failure and laugh at the absurdity.

If I'm a failure for not being the silly thing I once wanted to be, it's good to be a failure.

Don’t Let Words Own You


I had a recent discussion with some passionate people who were frustrated by various public figures describing themselves as libertarian.  They felt it imperative to police the use of this word and go on the offensive, making sure to publicly demonstrate how wrong it was for people to use the word to describe themselves unless they believe certain things.  I'm not sure this is a productive response.

I understand the frustration.  When you use a word to describe yourself or your philosophy, you become increasingly attuned to how the word is used and perceived among the masses.  Christians and other religious groups have this problem, as do political ideologies.  It's easy to feel like the labels you use abandon you as they become hijacked by people with views entirely different from your own.  The often cited example of the word "liberal" serves as a warning in the minds of many of what happens if you don't fight to protect definitions.  It used to describe the ideas of people who favored more freedom from government power, now it means something far more nebulous and sometimes it is even used to describe the ideas of people who see more government power as the solution to nearly everything.

But who has "lost" in the transition?  It is true certain words sound nicer than others, but the word was always a shortcut to convey ideas.  The ideas are still here.  You are no less free to believe in less state power because the word "liberal" has changed meaning over the years.  You are no less free to use the word as you choose either.

To say that a word is hijacked is to assume it was first owned.  Can you really own a word?  Language is a constantly evolving spontaneous order.  You can use it, influence it, and benefit from it.  You can't really own it.  If you spend your time feeling bitter and robbed when people use language in ways you don't like, you will probably enjoy life less and you'll be no more able to stand athwart language and yell, "stop!"

There are two potentially productive responses.  You can simply ignore the misuse.  Stop using the word if you must.  Or keep using it if it makes sense.  Or use it sometimes and not others.  Ask people to clarify what they mean by a word if you're not sure, but don't demand they stop using it.  Try going label-less.  Be indescribable.  It can be a little inconvenient, but it can also be a lot of fun.

Maybe labels are too important to you to drop and you want to influence the way they are used.  Instead of getting mad, see it as a kind of game or challenge.  What can you do to alter the way people perceive a word?  If you want people to associate good things with labels you use, live a life that impresses and attracts them.  Your ideas and your example are likely to do more to shape the meaning of the word than direct attempts to define it.  When you hear the word "Buddhist" or "Atheist" do you think only of the dictionary definition, or do you think about the way people using that label speak and behave?   Living your ideas will certainly do more for them than brow-beating word abusers.

Live your philosophy and don't worry about trying to own the words that describe it.  Either live without labels, or live in such a way that it improves the public image of your labels.  Appointing yourself language police and waging war over words is likely to make you look small and grumpy.

If you live in perpetual fear that whatever label you belong to might move in a direction you don't approve of, then you're being owned by that label.  Language is an awesome and beautiful tool, but it won't be made a slave and it's a poor master.  It can be used, but it can't be owned.  When you try, it tends to own you.

Don’t Let Your Success Define You


My good friend and blogger over at Tough Minded Optimism, T.K. Coleman, just wrote the blog post I intended to write today. This should not come as a surprise, as we have talked at length on this topic and most of my ideas on it come from him. I'll quote him at length, because he nails it:

"Every time I attempt to create, I am confronted by two aspects of my self: T.K. the brand and T.K. the creator.

T.K. the brand is the part of me that feels a need to protect my reputation from the fatal possibilities of being seen as incompetent, uncreative, inconsistent, and unintelligent.

This is the P.R. department of my psyche and it never approves of me experimenting with new techniques out in the open.

It always reminds me, with the very best of intentions, of course, that the subtlest miscalculation could result in permanent damage to my image as a writer, a thinker, or an innovator.

T.K. the creator is the part of me that wants to exploit every experience as an opportunity to discover something new.

The creator is not concerned with saving face, protecting the brand, or subjecting creative impulses to quality approval tests.

This conflict is more acute the more successful you are at your "branded" activity. If you get a paycheck, or acceptance in your social circles for being the X guy, it's a lot harder to be the Y guy. Even if you're not the best at X, the mere fact that you've been doing it for some time and are known for it makes it more secure than Y. While it makes sense to specialize and go where returns are greatest, it's also wise to make sure we include our own fulfillment in how we define returns.

I love music making, songwriting, poetry, short stories, and other creative forms of expression. I happen to think I'm not very good at them, but I get a lot of joy out of trying. It's hard to let that part of myself show, because I've engaged in so much more public commentary and analysis. Whether or not I'm good at the latter, I'm comfortable with it and many people I know got to know me as a person who engages in that. To introduce a new aspect of myself is scary and a little embarrassing. But it feels even worse to repress it.

There was a special on an NFL game earlier this year about 49ers tight end Veron Davis and his love of art. Davis opened an art gallery in San Francisco where he displays and sells art, much of it his own. I was impressed. Not with the art as much as with the courage of a top tier athlete to put another side of himself out there for public scrutiny. Whether or not his art is good, it will tend to be seen as art produced by a non-artist, or the opening of his gallery as a self-indulgent act by a guy too rich for anyone to tell him he's not an artist. I happened to think his art was pretty good, but that's not the point. The point is he was willing to recreate himself, or enlarge his brand beyond what had worked before. I respect that. He was not letting the public perception define the private reality.

T.K. ends with some advice from his experience,

"I've been somewhat of a rebel towards the first voice [of risk aversion] for over a year and I've gotten more creative work done during that time than in my entire life combined.

I've discovered that it's not enough to merely FIND work that's worth doing. One must also FIGHT for the permission to keep doing the kind of work that turns them on, to avoid the trap of being boxed-in by the demands of the brand.

We each have to find our own ways of negotiating the concerns of our brand while making sure our creative evolution is not stunted in the process.

I leave the details of the process up to you.

My point is philosophical:

A brand is a great asset, but a very poor master.

At all costs, avoid becoming its slave."

The Only Place is Out


I saw a man on a corner street
Yelling out a name

He told me, “Vote for this guy”
I said, “They’re all the same”

He yelled, “This one’s different
He’ll give us what we need”

“That’s what I’m afraid of”
I said, and turned to leave

The man yelled, “Wait! Stop!
I still don’t understand”

I said, “What I need ain’t the business
Of any other man”

He hung his head and groaned
Still clearly in the dark

And said, “You’re with the other party
They’ve surely missed the mark!”

I said, “Sir, I don’t care too much for parties,
Freedom’s what I’m about

Whether it’s in the bedroom or the boardroom
The only place for government is out”

Ten Reasons to Blog Regularly


1. Self Discipline – Like all disciplines, it makes you a better person; more in control of your schedule and habits.  It is empowering to do something on a regular basis.

2. Self Translation – You hold a set of beliefs and ideas about the world.  You may not even know exactly what they are, but they exist.  Blogging helps you translate those ideas into a form that you and others can use.

3. Self Education – You have no idea how much you know, or how capable you are of understanding and explaining things.  Once you start blogging, you’ll be surprised to discover what a genius you are.

4. Observation – Every day you are taking in loads of sensory information.  You see news clips, billboards, emails, people; you hear music, talk, etc.  When you start to blog you learn to find meaning in the things your senses take in, and find story lines.  You learn to observe.

5. Humor – The things noted above are often hilarious, you just don’t always realize it at the time.  Regular blogging helps you recreate experiences you've had, which often reveals their hilariousness.

6. Writing – Blogging ain't great literature, but it can be.  Any kind of writing regularly will improve your skills.  Blogging will especially help you learn to be more concise and interesting.

7. Self Knowledge – You may not know your area(s) of interest and expertise – regular blogging will help you discover what you are interested in and good at as you begin to see patterns and reoccurring themes in your posts.

8. Experimentation – Blogging allows you to be a pundit on any issue.  You can comment on things you normally don’t have time or knowledge for.  You are allowed to speculate and think out loud on a blog in ways that more formal media do not allow.

9. Crash-testing – Blogging regularly will inevitably produce some pretty good writing.  Blogging every day will help you get all kinds of stuff out, and then look back and see if any of it is worthy of refinement and publication elsewhere.  It’s a great testing ground for ideas, themes, articles, outlines, etc.

10. Archiving – Regular blogging for just a year can result in hundreds of articles on hundreds of topics.  You will develop an archive of your thoughts and a record of how they've evolved over time.  When someone asks for your opinion on an issue you won’t have to start from scratch.  You can send them a link to that time you expressed it so well.

Why Government Fails – Public Choice for Everyone


There are innumerable arguments about the legitimacy and morality of government and its proper scope, all of which are worth exploring.  Public Choice Theory examines an entirely different question than what government ought to do.  It asks what government actually does.

Public Choice is the study of the operations of government using the analytical tools of economics.  In short, the same assumptions about human interests and actions are applied to the political market as the market for economic goods.

The real power in this theory is its ability to reveal how poorly government works in practice.  It does not address lofty notions of the ideal state, or the right and wrong of state action, but rather examines the actual operations of states to see if they are effective at achieving their stated goals.

Public Choice theory by that name is relatively new among schools of economic thought, but the application of economic insights to political institutions is not new.

This is a basic overview of the core insights of Public Choice Theory.

Why government?

The need for government is typically justified by the claim that there are certain “public goods” which cannot be supplied by the voluntary forces of the market, but are nonetheless beneficial to all members of society.

The standard analysis describes goods like roads, for example, and spends a great deal of time analyzing the incentives in the market to explain why roads will not be sufficiently provided.  It is supposed that everyone would benefit from a road and it would be “non-excludable”.  That is, once constructed, it would be too costly to prevent members of society from using the road whether they paid for it or not.  Because of this non-excludability, rationally self-interested individuals would be unwilling to contribute to a voluntary fund for the maintenance of the road.  Each individual knows that their contribution is small relative to the entire road fund, and furthermore that without their contribution, they will still enjoy use of the road.  With these incentives facing everyone, no one will contribute and the road will decay.  It is in no one’s individual interest to pay for road maintenance, but everyone would be better off if each person contributed.

You may substitute any number of “public goods” for roads, but the standard analysis is the same.  It looks closely at the incentives in the market, deems them unfit to provide the good in question, and concludes that the good must be provided by the state.

Let’s grant, for the sake of argument, that the analysis of the market is correct.  (There is ample evidence to the contrary of course: Nearly any “public good” you can imagine has at some point been, or is even today, provided by the private sector, even though theorists sometimes fail to imagine how.)  If we accept the inability of the market to sufficiently provide the good, there’s still something missing in the standard story.

All the time is spent analyzing what would happen in a market of rationally self-interested individuals and what the incentive structure would produce.  When deemed insufficient, no time is spent analyzing what happens when government attempts to provide the good.  (This is what Art Carden has colorfully dubbed the political economy of the Underpants Gnomes.) What happens if we use the same assumptions and analytical rigor when examining government provision of public goods as we do for the market?

Political self-interest

In order for government to solve public goods problems it would require selfless politicians.  The political actors who use tax dollars to maintain the road would have to be counted on to discharge this duty rather than, say, spend the money on something else or give it to a subpar contractor who happens to be their friend.  But if we are consistent in our analysis, we must treat politicians as rationally self-interested people too.  They have every incentive to act to their own benefit at the expense of the taxpayer.

How can the self-interest of the political class be kept in check?  The textbook answer is democracy.

Democracy as a restraint

Does democracy ensure that the political class will pursue the interest of the public, rather than their own?  The answer is a resounding ‘no’.  The reason is because voters are also self-interested.

It is well known that, statistically, an individual vote in a state or national election is meaningless.  The odds of one vote changing the outcome of a national election are worse than the odds of winning the lottery.  The odds of getting in a car accident on the way to the polls are greater than the odds of an individual vote making a difference.  In other words, the possibility of an individual vote resulting in measurable benefits to that individual is almost nonexistent.

In order for democracy to keep the self-interest of politicians in check, voters need to have an understanding of what they’re voting on and what policies are good for the whole of society.  This would take a tremendous amount of time and effort.  A single bill may be several hundred pages of technical legalese, and most elected officials vote on hundreds of bills in each term.  For a citizen to be informed enough to know what policies are good for society vs. good only for the politicians is incredibly costly.  Yet the individual vote of a citizen has almost no chance of changing the outcome or conferring any benefit.  The rational response is to be ignorant of policies, because the cost of being informed is so much greater than the chance of benefiting from being informed.  A dedicated, informed voter has one vote that is cancelled out by just one ignorant voter.

The result is what economists call “rational ignorance”.  Voters are ignorant of policies and positions because to be otherwise is a burden with no reward.  But there are some people for whom knowledge of policies is beneficial; namely, the small groups that are directly affected by those policies.

A bill to give a $100 million subsidy to Acme co. is worth a great deal to that company.  They would not be foolish to spend $99 million lobbying for its passage, as they would still come out $1 million ahead.  Voters, on the other hand, have no incentive to lobby against the bill because spread out across taxpayers it might cost each just a few dollars, while active opposition – even just a letter to a Congressperson – might take hours of time that could be spent doing something worth more than a few dollars.  This is why democracy results in concentrated benefits and dispersed or diffused costs.  The rationale of politics is to provide benefits to concentrated interests and spread the costs as far and wide as possible – including into the future by way of borrowing or inflating to pay for it.

The obvious result is a myriad of special interests seeking benefits at the expense of the broader public.  In the end, everyone is worse off, but every group has the incentive to continue to seek privileges, if for no other reason than to offset the costs they are bearing for the privileges lavished on every other group.  This is why Frederic Bastiat described the state as, “That great fiction by which everyone tries to live at the expense of everyone else.”  It has been described elsewhere as a game where people stand in a circle and the state takes a penny from each person, then awards five pennies to one of them at the end of the round (the other five being kept by the state).  The game is repeated until each person has been the “winner” of five pennies at least once.  They all begrudge the loss of a single penny each round, but all eagerly expect to be the winner in another round, not realizing that at the end of the game every single person in the circle has less than they started with.

The incentives in a democratic system lead to special interests lobbying for and receiving privileges at the expense of society.  Far from keeping the self-interest of politicians in check, instead democracy promotes and rewards it, so long as those politicians also provide benefits to every imaginable minority and hand the majority the bill.

But let’s ignore all that…

Let’s assume away rational ignorance on the part of voters.  Let’s pretend that voters will expend every effort to become knowledgeable and constrain the self-interest of politicians.  Let’s say the “will of the voters” can keep officials in check.

But what is “the will of the voters”?  It is not an easy question to answer.  Let’s walk through the selection of a preferred policy through the democratic process.  The policy in question is what to do with troops in Iraq.

Option A: Keep troop levels the same

Option B: Increase troop levels

Option C: Remove all troops

Now let’s look at the preferences of three different voters.

Voter 1: A>B>C – Prefer to keep the same level of troops, but if any change is going to occur would rather increase troops and “get the job done” than to pull out.

Voter 2: B>C>A – Prefer to increase troops to “get the job done”, but if that’s not going to happen better to pull out entirely than keep the same level of troops.

Voter 3: C>A>B – Prefer to remove all troops, but short of that, better to leave the same number of troops there than to add more.

Whether or not you agree with the preferences of these voters, it is clear that each of them has a rational sequence of preferences among the given policy options.  You probably have met people who hold each of these views.  To determine the “will of the voters”, let’s put these options to a vote and see what policy the elected officials should follow…

In a vote between policy A and B, policy A would win.  Two of the voters prefer A to B.  If we put policy B and C to a vote, policy B would win.  Finally, if we put policy A and C to a vote, policy C would win.

So what is the will of the voters?  According to the votes, they prefer A>B, B>C, and C>A.  In practical terms, it means the “will of the voters” is to have the same level of troops instead of more, more troops instead of none, and no troops instead of the same number.  That would be like a person saying that, between Snickers, Baby Ruth and Heath bars, they prefer Snickers above all, followed by Baby Ruth, followed by Heath, which they prefer to Snickers.  This is a non-transitive set of preferences, and is one of the definitions of a mentally impaired person.  The will of the voters is a logical impossibility. This is called vote cycling, or Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem.

You can see how, based on the structure of the voting process, entirely different preferences can emerge.  This means that even if the voters were well informed, democracy would fail to provide a clear “will of the voters” for politicians to be accountable to.  Take this simple example of three clear policies and substitute a number of politicians each with positions on dozens of different policies and it is utterly impossible to know what the “will of the voters” is based on the results of elections.

Okay, let’s also ignore all that…

Let’s go a step further.  Let’s pretend that voters are not only informed, but that by some magic the “will of the voters” is clear as day and easily ascertainable through the democratic process.  If we grant these two monumental assumptions surely democracy will serve to protect the interest of the public at large from those of politicians and special interests…right?  Unfortunately for democracy, its problems are even greater than rational ignorance and the impossibility of a clear “will of the voters.”  The “will of the voters” may actually be for policies that are harmful to those voters themselves and the public at large.  This is what Brian Caplan has called “Rational irrationality”.

Voting is not the same as purchasing something in the market.  To vote is to express a preference, while to purchase something is to demonstrate a preference.  Voting, like filling out an anonymous survey, is “free”.  You can voice whatever preference you like without being held accountable for the result.  Imagine if a grocery store sent a survey to nearby residents and asked them to vote for what items they would like on the shelves.  It’s not hard to see what a disaster this would be for patrons of the store.  People may vote for bizarre items just to be funny.  People may vote for items they think they ought to buy, rather than items they actually do buy; or items they think their neighbors should like, rather than what they do like.

When people are asked whether they like it when companies outsource production to countries where labor is cheaper, most will say no.  Yet many of these same people purchase lower priced items produced overseas instead of more expensive domestically produced alternatives.  Their stated preference is for American made goods, but they demonstrate by their actions that they see foreign goods as more beneficial to their own well-being.  It is “free” to say you want to protect American manufacturing jobs, and it may feel better to voice that opinion, but if faced with the costs that result from the outcome of a protective tariff, people may choose otherwise.

Voting is a free way to indulge irrational biases.  Voters do not vote for policies that they themselves favor, but for policies that make them feel good to vote for.  They vote for the candidate who promises to stop immigration because it feels right on an emotional level, yet they hire the migrant worker to landscape their business because it benefits them more than the alternative.

Voting separates the voter from the results of his vote, and creates an incentive to use votes carelessly and in ways contrary to his actual interest.  Even if we grant the most generous assumptions imaginable – voters who are fully informed no matter the cost to them and the fact that they have no chance of benefiting from being informed, and a democratic process that can clearly express a single “will of the voters” across a complex range of issues – democracy still provides incentives for policies that harm the public by their own definition.

Public goods revisited

We began the exploration of how government works by assuming it was the solution to public goods problems.  Government was supposed to the solve those instances where it is in no individual’s interest to bear the cost of overcoming a problem, but where everyone would be better off if all would share the cost.  What Public Choice reveals is that, rather than solving public goods problems, democracy is the greatest public good of all.  It is in no individual’s interest to bear the cost of being informed and voting their true preferences, but in order for the system to work everyone would have to sacrifice their self-interest to the greater good.

Regardless of the moral standing of the state, the practical outcomes of government activity are inferior to what the market produces.  Even in cases of so-called “market failure”, it may be better for the government to take no action than to intervene and make things worse with the even greater “government failure” embedded in the incentives of the state.  In other words, whether or not government is an evil, it may be an unnecessary one.

Hope?

To reduce the harmful effects of the perverse incentives in government, it must be reduced to its smallest possible form.  The scope of activities taken on by the state must be narrowed as far as can be accomplished.  Many practitioners of Public Choice theory advocate constitutional checks, supermajorities and other adjustments to government procedures in the hope that these will change the incentives and create a more accountable government.  The flaw in this approach is that the parties responsible for making such changes are themselves part of the government apparatus and face all the same incentives they are hoping to overcome.

If followed to its logical conclusion, pure Public Choice theory would lead us to believe that the state would be all-encompassing even now.  The incentives are aligned, for example, so that there should be mandates on every facet of our lives in every industry and the sphere of freedom should be nonexistent.  Yet this is not the state of affairs in which we find ourselves.  Why, given the incentives in the system, has the state been restrained at all, little though the restraint may seem to us?

In the final analysis, it is the beliefs of the public that create the ultimate check on the state.  If the public has a firm belief that alcohol should be legal, the interests of bootleggers and Baptists will not be sufficient to bring prohibition back.  We cannot reasonably expect incentives to be overcome or people to act against their self-interest, but we can and do see incentives change as people’s view of what is in their self-interest changes.  Most people would not find it worth their while to attempt to stop the passage of a subsidy to Midwestern beet farmers; but a great number of people consider it worth their while to attempt to stop the passage of a new prohibition bill.

Only when it is widely believed that farm subsidies are as absurd as alcohol prohibition will the incentives change enough to produce a more restrained state.

Further reading

Public Choice, A Primer – Eamonn Butler

Beyond Politics – Randy T. Simmons

Government Failure – Gordon Tullock, Arthur Seldon, and Gordon L. Brady

————————————————–

*I am indebted to Professor Benjamin Powell for the basic structure of the arguments in this article, which he presents in a lecture for the Foundation for Economic Education.

*I am indebted to Matthew Mitchell for the example of vote cycling.

*This was originally posted at LibertarianChristians.com.  I thought it prudent to repost here because there are so few basic intros to Public Choice and because many would-be readers who are not interested in Christianity or Libertarianism may overlook it at the original site.

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 65.5: FwTK – ‘Valley of the Shadow of Debt’, Patriarchy, Anarchy, Basketball, Internet Fame, and Listener Questions


Today we tackle a little bit of everything in this Fridays with TK episode, merged with "Ask Isaac".

  • The Valley of the Shadow of Debt and how to avoid it.
  • Are boys are girls treated differently?  What does it mean?
  • How to sell unpopular ideas?  Should you reform or revolutionize?
  • What does Kobe Bryant's 20 year tenure with a single team mean?
  • Can we survive without government?
  • What's up with the graph about physicians and administrators?
  • How do you deal with internet fame you didn't want?

Mentioned in the episode: Robert Anton Wilson, Karl Hess, James P. Carse, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Kobe Bryant, John Hasnas, Howard Thurman, and probably more I'm forgetting.

Thanks to: Anonymous, Artie Duncanson, Phil Gross, Harold Serrano, Harry Miller, Byron Matthews, Phil Trubey, and Jim Taylor for submitting questions.  Submit your own any time via Ask Isaac!

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

In Less Than One Year Get a Startup Job at $40k – No Degree Required


Learn more at Praxis!

The idea that you should spend four years and six figures in classrooms, shielded from the real world of opportunity, and cross your fingers and hope it gets you some kind of job is absurd.It's time for a new era in education and career.  If you're good you can prove it in the market without going into debt or dying of boredom.

That's why we created Praxis, and that's why we're making it better every day.

Over at the Praxis blog is a description of current opportunities with business partners in Austin, Atlanta, Charleston, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Raleigh, and San Francisco where we're placing participants.  If you get in, you not only get paid to apprentice there, you get a job at $40k+ when you graduate.

From the post:

"Participants accepted into the Praxis program get an intense bootcamp where they gain the skills needed to succeed in their careers.  After the bootcamp they begin a paid apprenticeship with one of our business partners.  These aren’t dull corporate internships.  These are dynamic startups and small businesses where participants get a chance to create real value and do real work.  Entrepreneurship is the most valuable skill in the emerging economy, and there’s no better classroom than alongside entrepreneurs in the real world to learn it.

While apprenticing, participants get weekly coaching, access to a rich resource library, tailored modules to improve hard and soft skills, a world-class network, and a portfolio to showcase their work.

Upon completion of the program, graduates get hired full time with their business partner at a minimum of $40k/year.

That means in less than a year and at zero cost you begin your career.  No debt.  No wasted time.  No blasting out resumes to jobs you’d hate.  No fretting over GPA’s for four years just hoping it results in a job.  You join an amazing team doing meaningful work immediately.

Here are some of our current business partner opportunities, and we’re adding all the time..."

Check out the post to see what kind of companies we're placing participants with.

A great career won't come from classrooms or generic resume blasts.  It will come from you taking charge and going out and building the mix of experience, knowledge, network, skills, and confidence that can only come from working with dynamic people in real companies.

Applications are now open.

 

Take the ‘Cut it in Half’ Challenge and Improve Your Writing


...and your verbal communication, and time management, and thinking.

Good writing styles may be as unique as people but when it comes to bad writing there's one nearly universal mistake.

Too many words.

Everyone begins their writing endeavors (whether emails or books) using too many words, too long sentences, and too bulky paragraphs.  It's hard to economize on words.  The better your language skills and vocabulary, the harder it is.  You want to flex those wordiness muscles!

But good writing is clear and to the point.  Removing needless words makes what's left more, not less important.  Words are too precious to be drowned in a sea of superfluity.

Here's a challenge to quickly and dramatically improve your writing:

Cut everything you write in half.

I suggest doing this for at least two weeks.  It will hurt.  It will take a lot of time at first.  But compare results after the experiment.  You will be better.

Every Facebook post, email, essay, blog post, or memo (heck, you can try it with texts and tweets too, but that might be tough) should be halved.  After you write what you want to say, just before you click "send",  "publish", "post", or "save", go back and cut it in half.  Count words, divide by two and edit down.

I've done this and found almost no paragraph I write gets worse as a result.

Give it a shot and see for yourself.

If You Time Travel to the Past, Tell Yourself You’re Wrong


It's really hard to break free from your past definitions of success.  I've met a lot of unhappy people who are doing exactly what they used to want to do.  The problem is, we change.  If you shackle yourself to the form of success envisioned by your past self, you're a slave to a person that doesn't even exist.

I've written before about how it's good to be a failure when you're failing at a past goal.

It can also be constraining to attempt future growth based on the models of past growth.

Check out the short video below.  What things do you and your past self disagree on?

Episode 65: Jeremy McLellan is a Business, Man


*Forgive the echo in the audio. New microphone and live interview gave us some issues.

Some forty episodes ago, comedy was just a side gig for Jeremy McLellan but now he is moving to make it his full-time job. On this episode we talk about corporate vs bar comedy and whether things that we like doing become less likable when people start doing them as their income sources.

Reputation is king in the comedy business, so we also covered the issue of joke thieving, dealing with hecklers, offending people, apologizing and other strategies, as well as one of the biggest questions every business faces - what is my price?

Check him out on Facebook, or check out his website.

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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