Mises Dailies Archive


My articles published at the Mises Institute - http://mises.org/articles.aspx?AuthorId=1109

Why I Don’t Follow the News


I rarely follow the news and almost never get it direct from news sources. What news I'm up on tends to find it's way to me through filters - blogs I read, emails from friends, Facebook posts and hearsay.

This is not because of laziness or a lack of concern with being informed.  Indeed, I love information, trivia, knowledge and truth.  However, I found that keeping up on the news, especially reading papers and watching news shows, significantly diminished my quality of life.  It made me angry and depressed more often than not.

This is not because the cold, hard realities of terrestrial life are simply all bad news.  In fact every day billions of people are voluntarily, peacefully co-operating and being made better off through trade, commerce, community, and friendship.  Millions of things are invented, quality of life improves, the creative destruction of the market (in both goods and ideas) brings about untold beauty and opportunity.  Indeed, with a little bit of reflection it is not hard to see how vast, mysterious and awesome life is, even in the smallest tasks of a typical day.

But, probably for rational reasons, the news chooses to focus on those relatively few happenings between relatively few people that are violent, coercive and troubling.  A disproportionate amount of space is devoted to that tiny sliver of our individual and societal existence, politics, and nearly all the rest to all the other dangers and troubles in the universe.

It's not an accurate picture of the world, nor is it particularly useful.  I think it was for this reason (and perhaps the generally bad quality of the writing) that C.S. Lewis warned against frequent newspaper reading.  Mark Twain (I think) said "Those who don't read the news are uninformed.  Those who do are misinformed".

Does this mean we turn a blind eye to reality so that we can be happy?  Isn't that a form of escapism?  Frankly, I think that's the wrong question.

There is a phenomenal scene in The Silver Chair, part of C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia series, where a group of children and a kindly swamp creature are trapped in an underground world by an evil queen.  The queen has them under a sort of spell and she is trying to convince them that there is no outside world, but only the cavernous underworld.  When they object and say that the outside world is real she asks them what it is like.  They tell her it has a sun, which is much like the lights in the cave only bigger and brighter; it has lions which are much like the cats of the underworld only grander and more fierce, and so on.

The queen remarks that there is no outside world at all, but that the children have simply taken things from the real world and pretended they were bigger and better.  It was a mere game, and the reality was in the caves all along.

The group is on the verge of being persuaded of this sad state when the humble swamp creature proclaims that even if this were true, what would it say about the real world?  What kind of world would it be if children could easily create a make-believe world that was so much better?  Even if the outside world is make-believe, he declares, it's so much preferable to the "real world" underground that he'd rather go on pretending.  At that the spell was broken, hope restored and the deceptive queen's power rendered inert.

It is more than a mere cliche to say that perception is reality.  Expectation is also reality.  Believing a better world is real and possible makes this world better, if for no other reason than that positive, optimistic people are more pleasant to be around.

The evidence also supports optimism.  Who could ever have predicted the kinds of technologies and opportunities we have available today even just 50 or 100 years ago?  The iPhone alone is jam packed with capabilities that were the stuff of sci-fi even a decade ago.

Why then do we listen to the news when it constantly reports on the fearful side of the present and future?  That is only one view of reality.  It's a tiny slice of all that is, and a very unrepresentative slice at that.  If a human can only take in so much of reality at once, why would I focus on the negative in a sea of positive?

I'd rather create my own reality - a powerful, free, beautiful one - than get angry about the false reality portrayed by the news.  If that's escapism, so be it.  Escaping something bad into something better is nothing to be ashamed of.  It's a choice to perceive and embrace reality in a more useful, constructive manner.

It doesn't mean injustice doesn't exist, or that there are not things I am hoping and fighting to change - not least of which are in myself.  It just means there are better ways of doing it and thinking about it.

Instead of letting it be selected for me, I choose each day what bits of news I take in about the vast and wondrous universe.  It beats the hell out of the paper.

The Pursuit


This was written in response to a challenge issued among myself and some good freinds.  We wanted to see who could write the best short story using only 200 words.  My attempt clocks in at 200 words exactly.

_____________________________________

The crinkling of the paper bag brought hope and tension…thankfully there was life inside.  Shep did not hesitate to pull out the store-bought mini pie, half eaten though it was.   They split it.  Any sustenance the two could get was welcome, especially in weather like this.

Until tonight Tad had enjoyed the thrill of the chase.  An outlaw.  Free, yet a slave to stealth.   Their faces were posted everywhere, they were wanted, and for no small reward.  Many days practicing the art of evasion were catching up to the old friends, and they felt it in their lungs and stomachs.  Both had thoughts of turning themselves in and ending the whole thing…not after coming so far.

Neither spoke; neither rested well, both constantly wondered when the other would suggest they continue on.  Both knew they soon must.  It was difficult to think of trading the shelter of the highway bridge for the cold rain.  A moment of daydreaming was broken…Tad’s muscles tensed as he saw light not fifty yards away…

As they fled their shelter the sound of voices echoed behind them, reminding them how close they were to caught:

“Tad! Tad! Shep!”

“C’mon boys, c’mon…”

“Good hunting dogs indeed!”

A Pure Duality


It has come into my mind that you’ve grown frustrated, or confused as to why I have not been in any real sense present in your life. I will not pretend to have an answer sufficient to settle your uneasiness and feeling of loss, but I can perhaps provide a fuller perspective.

I don’t know exactly where I am, or rather where all of me is. Have you ever been two places at once? I don’t suspect so, as I think it is rare among the healthy on earth. Maybe I should start from the beginning…

Late in the fall some twenty years ago I awoke on a typical morning and left for work. I left a wonderful family and a great house, and headed off to a promising job. I don’t remember giving much thought to my life during that short car ride, but I felt somewhere that I had led a good one.

Something happened…blackness…I don’t remember much for a long period of time-like when you know you’re asleep, but you’re not dreaming or thinking, just blackness. This felt like weeks, or months.

As if my eyes were opened, there I was. I was suddenly in a great green field, surrounded by multitudes of rejoicing people. It was a magnificent celebration, and we seemed to be in some beautiful valley on a beautiful sunny day. It was unlike any landscape I’d seen before, unreal in its beauty, yet more real than any solid object.

A wise old man, who seemed one thousand years of age, yet looked not fifty and healthy, stepped out from the crowd and greeted me warmly.

“Welcome! We have been waiting for you for quite some time!”

Thinking I was dreaming I didn’t respond, but just watched and listened.

“Come, walk with me; you have many choices before you.” He said, “You have come here because you are greatly needed…your gifts make you extremely precious in these times, and those to come no doubt. I can assure you it will all make sense eventually, and your every need will be met, you have only to choose whether you are willing, or not.”

“What are you talking about?” I asked.

“Not many are given this choice you know.” He replied.

“What choice am I given? Am I dreaming? Given the choice to wake or continue dreaming, I would gladly wake, and remain sensible.”

“You are in no way dreaming!” He shouted, not seeming in the least amused, “I took you for smarter than one who thinks this is a dream!”

Not wanting to further offend him, but still unsure of the nature if this experience, I did not attempt to defend my statement.

“Now, your choice?”

“Explain to me what choice you refer to, and I will gladly tell you my thoughts on it.” I replied.

“Your thoughts on it? Your thoughts? This surely will not do! This is not a choice but to muse on, or some hypothetical presented for mental exercise or sport! This is The choice! The choice!”

Still confused I was forced to ask again what now seemed a stupid question.

“What choice?”

“Sit down son.” He said, “I can see that you are still fresh in your logic, and your time in the darkness did not cleanse you from your confidence in what you know and have taught yourself to react to. Impressive mind indeed, very impressive.”

Not knowing what kind of statement this was, but choosing to take it as a compliment, I felt proud of whatever it was that my mind had done to slow this process, and necessitate further explanation.

“Your ignorance, at least, is a result of much discipline and so being is quite consistent, and finely tuned, so I shall paint for you a simpler picture, in your undeveloped language.”

I think he sensed my pride after his previous statement, and simply had to let me know that whatever plane he operated on was one higher than mine. At first I grew resistant, but this lasted only a minute, as my curiosity soon overtook my dual senses of dignity and defensiveness, and I listened to what he had to say.

“Here in this realm, let us call it X, for I can only assume by your look that you are comfortable with mathematical terms, there is a great movement occurring in the great war that is ever raging. Though I cannot explain it without giving you references to what you know as ‘time’, try not to focus on the sequential order of these events. Our enemy has hit us with something so twisted, so divisive and confusing, that we petitioned our superiors for an exception. This exception was sought so that we might bring you here, for we knew that to overthrow this plot of our foe, you were our only choice. An exception was granted. Which is what brought you, after a long time in the darkness for purposes of ‘unlearning’, (though now I see perhaps not long enough) out of what we shall call subordinate X, and into X.”

Though not understanding all of this, I moved on to the original question, and repeated it. “Yes, but you have still not told me what this choice is?”

“As with any exception, it is only granted on the condition that you are given the choice of whether or not to accept. You see, without this choice your presence here would be counterproductive and even fatal. By denying you choice, the enemy would have already won, and our need of you to combat his attack would no longer exist. Thus, I have been given the authority to grant you your choice.”

“Yes, yes but again, what is the choice! I cannot see any choice at all, for I am here listening to you speak whether I want to wake up or not!”

“You are incorrect! Even now you are choosing. You do not have to be here, but your willingness brought you, and now your curiosity keeps you here. Do not so underestimate your will. However, I need not go further into this. You are correct to seek an explanation of the choice. You have been pulled, temporarily, from subordinate X to be presented with the situation we are facing in our war, and our need of your gifts. Your choice is, quite simply, whether you want to help us, or return to your family and all that you previously knew (in the simplest sense of the word ‘know’ that is) in subordinate X. “

It suddenly occurred to me that I had a family. Three young children, a beautiful wife, a life that I loved….it suddenly sank in that I was indeed in another place, away from all of that, and that this wasn’t a dream.

“You mean, I must choose whether to stay here and help you, and never return to my family and my life as it was…or to go back, and leave you without whatever of me you are in need of?”

“Precisely.”

“And what of you, if I choose to go back?”

“I know not. I only know that things were desperate enough for me to be granted an exception. This is evidence enough of the nature of our situation for me to implore you with all my heart, please stay! But in any case, please choose soon, for time, as you know it, though not passing here, is growing short in the place from which you come.”

I felt, for no reason I could identify, an urge more pressing that any I’d felt before to stay with this wise stranger and to fight. I knew almost nothing of what I was needed for, or what would ensue, and yet never has my heart desired anything more than to stay and accomplish it. It was what I was made for! I almost shouted out with all my soul that I’d stay, and fight! But suddenly I saw my family again, my three children, my wife, my friends, all that was depending on me for provision, for love, for support and strength….I could not choose!

“Surely there is another way!”

“There is no other way!”

“But I cannot, and will not, abandon my family and my life for this! Yet I cannot and will not run from this place, where I know deep down I was made to serve and fight! No, there is another way, and I choose it!”

“But I tell you, there is not!”

“You? You who tell me all that is unbelievable, all that is profound, you who tell me that you yourself sought and were granted and ‘exception’, now say that there is no way?!?! I don’t believe it! There is another way, and I choose it!”

Suddenly another voice spoke, and thundered with all the urgency and authority in the universe…

“Granted!”

_________________________________

I have been here in X since that one word was spoken. Yet somehow, in some way I know I am also somewhere else. I am two persons, not just one split in half, but two, somehow the same, but entirely different. Neither complete, both lacking something, but each existing where each is needed. I cannot tell you what this means, yet I know, somehow, that this was the right choice. I am here, fulfilling my destiny…yet I know, somehow I am there.

I am sorry you do not see me nor hear me as I once was. But I implore you, do not give up! I do hear you! I do see you! And what you see of me, whatever may be lacking, is me, and yet, not all of me. I am here….and I am there.

A Cigar


Three cheers a man may give to beer,
Or set his watch by Scotch.
But greatest moments surely are
Those when paired with fine cigar.

Vice and Virtue


I was talking with a friend recently who said that he didn't beleive the government should legislate on "purely moral" issues, such as gay marriage.

He also said he thought the government needs to make sure to have social programs for the poor, and programs to create greater "equality".

I had to break it to him - prohibiting vice and forcing virtue are both "purely moral" uses of legislation. Not to mention, using government to try to achieve "equality" and alleviation of poverty doesn't work.

Great article on vice, virtue and morality in law here - http://libertyunbound.com/archive/2003_04/legate-christ.html

Monster and the Fed


A blog post originally written for the Prometheus Institute.

---------------------------------------------------

There's a reason the earliest economists likened the economy to a human body

I’m a huge fan of Monster energy drinks.  The things are dangerous.  I have to severely limit myself.  I only consume one if I’m in desperate need of a wake-up and I know I can handle the crash that inevitably follows.

Energy drinks are basically a way of fooling your body.  When the human body needs something, it sends all kinds of signals to let you know.  When you need sleep, you feel tired.  It tells you when you need food.   You feel sick when you’ve not eaten the right nutritional mix.  Health problems kick in when exercise is lacking.  Headaches can mean lack of sleep, water, nutrition, too much stress, bad posture, etc.  These signals can be a pain in the butt – but they perform a vital function.  Ignore them at your own peril.

Your body is begging you to sleep; so you slam a Monster to make you feel like you have energy and shut down the bodily signals screaming for repose.  This may give you a temporary productive burst, but there is no long-run net benefit.  The burst is followed by a crash of equal (sometimes greater) magnitude on the opposite end.  Worse still, the greenish liquid you’re putting in via Monster has other deleterious health effects (sugar and acid which rot your teeth to name just one) that will be especially pronounced if you frequently imbibe.  So while your body is tricked into telling you that you feel great for a few hours, inside bad things are happening, and they’ll be felt in short order.

If you begin to rely on high doses of caffeine and ginseng, you find the dosage must be continually increased, which makes the crashes greater.  To avoid the crashes, even more must be taken; but this only prolongs the inevitable and causes more negative health effects.  It can get to a point where the Monster fails to give you a boost at all.  (If you’ve gotten this far, I suggest stopping vs. moving on to anything stronger).

Monetary inflation is a lot like a Monster drink, and the Fed is a lot like an addict.

The current housing “crisis” was created in part by the Fed injecting constant doses of caffeine-like dollar bills into the economy, tricking the market into thinking it had more capital than it did, and mixing up a system as vital to economics as your nerves are to your body – prices, profits and interest rates.

The problem with mortgages was created largely by the Fed increasing the money supply, causing rates to be artificially low like your body is artificially energized via Monster.  Meanwhile, the screwed up rates diverted capital and production away from its truly best use towards uses that looked deceptively profitable – i.e. the purchase of crappy mortgages banked on exaggerated equity rates.  The natural market signals were fuzzied by an injection of valueless dollars, and some made decisions based on those false signals.

As with Monster, a crash has to come.

I would say that the Fed should be as careful with inflation as I am with Monster, but that wouldn’t be a fair comparison.  They need to be far more careful than that.  When I drink Monster, I choose to do so and take the consequences myself.  When the Fed inflates they are force feeding the monetary Monster to us and making us pay for the fallout.  That’s not just economic stupidity, it’s moral transgression.

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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Give in to the Hype Just a Little


"Call me when it's actually ready."

I've seen variations of this comment on many posts and articles about cool stuff happening in the world.

While I have no opinion on when or whether another person ought to be impressed by something, it strikes me as a rather odd disposition. All the fun of knowing is knowing before it's a common fact. How often do we say, "Imagine being there while the automobile was first coming to market!", or, "Imagine seeing Babe Ruth while he was still creating his legend!"

Celebrating new advances and achievements before they are fully complete is being a part of their making. It's a rare chance to experience the remarkable in its becoming.

Possibility is at least as exciting as a foregone conclusion. Indulge in it!

Stop Telling Good Arguers to Become Lawyers


I've met a lot of bright young people planning on law school or in law school.

I've also met a lot of unhappy lawyers.

I suspect lots of these young people will end up unhappy lawyers too, and I've got a theory as to why.

Lawyers are often "successful" in terms of external indicators and cultural prestige.  They tend to make good money and are held in esteem (lawyer jokes notwithstanding).  And, of course, lawyering is a perfect fit for some people.  I know some very happy lawyers.

But it seems a large percentage of the profession consists of unhappy people.  People who don't particularly enjoy doing divorce or merger and acquisition paperwork.  Many who wish they could escape.

How did they end up there in the first place?

Because the educational conveyor belt doesn't know what else to do with truth-seekers.

Everyone is motivated by a lot of things.  But most of us have one core value that, when push comes to shove, trumps the rest.  For some it may be freedom, for others security, adventure, or in the case of many an unhappy lawyer, truth.

Those whose dominant core value is truth are rather relentless.  They're smart.  They like to argue, and they tend to argue well.  They want to get to the bottom of things.  They want to find the right answers.  They want correct facts and knowledge of right and wrong.  They are willing to examine and explore multiple sides of issues and ideas in the process.

Similar to those whose highest value is independence, they're comfortable questioning authority.  But the freedom-seekers tend to be more willing to disobey or ignore the rewards and punishments of the education system.  They might rebel against assignments or good grades.  Truth-seekers on the other hand, though happy to question the status quo, are typically comfortable following basic rules and getting good grades as well.  They see winning at the grade system as a way of finding whatever truth is to be found there.

Herein lies the problem, and the beginning of their disproportionate and often unfortunate pursuit of careers in law.  The school system doesn't know what else to do with them.

There are few ways to channel their truth-seeking desires in school.  There's little in the way of philosophy, history doesn't do as much debating as fact-spitting, and even the sciences pre-graduate level don't really spend time questioning anything fundamental.

What's left?  Debate and forensics.  Truth-seekers do well here.  They love it.  Most high school debaters will tell you it was the absolute highlight of their educational experience.  They finally got to question everything, look at all sides of issues, argue without being offensive or reprimanded.  And they got to "win".

Parents and teachers of young truth-seekers are so conditioned with the conveyor belt mindset that they struggle to see beyond an easily identifiable handful of job titles.  The work/identity trap is also strong, so whatever junior likes must immediately be mapped onto a business card.  A focus on external indicators of success furthers the tendency.  The common refrain for young debaters is, "You're always arguing.  You should be a lawyer!"  What other possible avenues for all this truth-seeking could there be?

"I get to search for the truth?  I get to debate it?  I get to make everyone proud of a prestigious career?  I get to make good money?  Yeah, I guess I do need to go to law school!"

So lots of them do.

And lots of them end up wishing they hadn't.  They find out too late that most lawyer jobs have little to do with truth-seeking.  The law itself isn't primarily about truth, and most law jobs are even less so.  They're about navigating bureaucracy and nearly impenetrable wordplay to help people do very simple tasks like buy and sell things, move money, end or begin professional or personal relationships, or draft up "just in case" language.  It's a fundamentally conservative endeavor, concerned with protection from liability more than the caution-to-the-wind pursuit of truth that landed them there.

Law requires attention to detail, a high degree of literacy, and plenty of patience and problem solving.  Those things are perfect for some people.  But those whose core value is truth aren't often among them.

Because their desire for truth was so quickly tracked and careerified, they never had the chance to explore.  Law school is particularly problematic then, because of its astronomical price tag.  Upon completion, more doors have been closed than opened.  There are only so many jobs that pay enough to service the debt.  And by now they're closer to marriage, kids, and other financial obligations that make lower starting pay gigs tougher.  After law school, they kind of feel like they have to be a lawyer, even if it doesn't scratch the itch for truth.

A decade later and the debt burden might be gone, but the golden handcuffs replace it.  Quality of life seems locked in.  Mortgages, cars, schools, and prestige can't easily be downgraded, even if they are unhappy most of the day most days.  It's lifestyle slavery, and it kind of sucks.

Where else might these truth-seekers have gone with their passion?  Perhaps philosophy.  Not just in the academic sense, which often comes with its own bureaucracy and BS, but more generally.  It's true, you can be a philosopher and a lawyer or a philosopher and a great many other things.  Your source of income and who you are need not be the same.  Seeking, writing, researching, fact-finding, and questioning are such general and generally valuable traits that a true philosopher can apply them in myriad careers.  But law is a career that makes being defined by anything else particularly hard.

How many authors, podcasters, coaches, mentors, counselors, investigative reporters, or entrepreneurs are at bottom truth-seekers?  Truth as a core value is applicable in a great many areas.  Most of all, someone with the freedom to follow their passion for truth is likely to discover or create a career we can't even yet imagine.  Sadly, the school conveyor belt tends to corral more than its fair share into law.

So here's the takeaway: Stop telling good arguers to become lawyers.

Let them explore the world fully and freely.  Let them try a lot of stuff.  Let them follow their questions.  If after real exposure to the day to day reality a career in law appeals to them, great.  They'll choose law school.  But don't obsess about placing them on a list of predefined career categories and channeling their core values into it before they know what's what.

I'm a parent.  I get it.  We worry how our kids will feed themselves and build a life.  If they love something, our mind immediately tries to formalize and monetize it.  My son loves video games and comics and superheroes, and more than once I've begun formulating ways to turn this interest into a career as a video game designer or illustrator and set him on that path now.

Fight that urge.  Open the world up to them, not just the few aspects of it that come with a title and salary today.  But everything that it is and could be tomorrow.

This leads to another good question...what are some other career tracks that young people with other core values get placed on too early?...

A Few Odds & Ends…


 

Be Your Own Credential


We talk a lot at Praxis about building a better signal than generic degrees and institutional imprimaturs.  Whether or not you have a degree, you need to learn to 1) create value and, 2) signal your ability to create value to the world.  Degrees are a very weak way to achieve either.  You need something more.

I got an email today from a guy who decided to put that advice into practice.  Check out what Daniel Myers had to say:

Hey Isaac,

You know how Praxis always talks about creating value? About taking the entrepreneurial route in your work? Well, I decided to do just that, by writing a 44-page report on business and entrepreneurship for a venture capitalist firm here in TN. I had read an article this past Fall on the Praxis website about value creation for a company instead of just shooting a CV/Resume out to everyone and expecting it to do all the work. This report has been well received by the public and has truly allowed me to create a name for myself, rather than just being another undergrad with "some resume".

All this said, I want to thank all of you at Praxis for what you do. I am continually inspired by all of you at Praxis and hope you all continue to be successful in all your endeavors. Again, thank you for your inspiration!

Best, Daniel

P.S. I'm reading Derek's book on "How to Get Any Job You Want". It aligns perfectly with what I did and will continue to do in my career.

Here's a link to Daniel's report on startups in TN.

I don't know how long it took for Daniel to put together such an in-depth report.  But compared to what?  How does time spent creating a valuable resource like that compare to time spent sitting in a classroom, blasting out generic resumes, or waiting and hoping for a cool opportunity?

Daniel gained not only a great signal of his value creating potential, but a lot of knowledge, skill, confidence, and even some free PR along the way.  In short, by creating value now instead of waiting to be invited to with a formal job offer, Daniel became more of who he wants to be, instead of waiting for someone to tell him what to do.

Go start building now.  What are you waiting for?  And of course, if you need some help, a great apprenticeship with an entrepreneur, and an intense year-long experience in value creation, discover Praxis.

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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