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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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The Question Henry Ford Just Can’t Answer

It seems a safe, affordable vehicle, powered by an internal combustion engine, accessible to all would be wonderful. Except we've never seen it.

Horse and human powered transportation have their drawbacks, but they've been used the world over, and sometimes pretty effectively. We know it's possible, even if occasionally slow, smelly, and costly. Automobiles, on the other hand, have never existed as more than dreams, fleeting playthings, useless hunks of metal, or dangerous death traps. The idea of a practical, functioning horseless carriage has been around for a while, and it's appealing. But is this pipe-dream worth taking seriously or pursuing?

The Henry Ford's of the world need to answer this one, glaring question: If the automobile is such a great idea, why hasn't anyone tried it?

Why I Love the “Like” Button

Facebook's "Like" button is genius.  It's positive, affirmative, and gives an incredibly simple way to express support for content we enjoy.  It requires no deep thought or time, yet sends a reinforcing signal to the poster.  It also provides immediate feedback on what your group of friends in the aggregate enjoy.

Those are nice perks, but the real value is that the button acts as a check on the overall quality and tone of Facebook content.  Everyone wants to earn likes.  But since there is (mercifully) no dislike button, you have to frame negative content up the right way to get liked.  No one wants to click like on a story about a house burning down.  But the same story, with a line or two about wishing the victims well, is easy to like. The inability to quickly display negative emotion towards a post forces the poster to position and comment on items in a way that makes light of frustrating events, or shows sympathy in tragedy.

Deep, meaningful, terrible, sad and heavy content can and do still get posted.  But there is an incentive to put these into some kind of context or perspective with a softer, human touch, or a fun-loving sarcasm that makes a like sensible.  This structure is a valuable contribution that alters the ways in which humans talk about the events around us.

Crowd Funding vs.Taxation

The main justification given for taxation is that it solves a collective action problem.  Everyone would be better off, we are told, with the construction of a road or a park, but no individual has the incentive to pay for it, and if a collection were taken up, everyone would shirk and expect the next guy to pay.  If you know your few bucks won't make or break the project and you'll get the benefit either way, why pay?

There are many flaws in this analysis, but even if we accept it, consider the emergence of crowdfunding as an alternative.  You can share the details of a project and the cost, and offer specific access or benefits to those who contribute a certain levels.  The project does not move forward until full funding is committed.  This is an amazingly powerful tool that is just starting to reach its potential.

If what is funded benefits the whole world, great!  They needn't be labelled free-riders, because everyone who pledged to support it knew ahead of time this would be the result, and indeed welcomed it.  If it's a project that can't sustainably benefit everyone, crowdfunding allows the ability to restrict access to those who pay.  It also utilizes the power of transparency and shame.  If you claim to really want a project to succeed, yet you pledge no money yourself, you'll incur the wrath of your peers.  Crowdfunding harnesses people's public spiritedness.  It lets you openly demonstrate what you've pledged.  It creates competition to cooperate.

I'm not just talking about bake sales for summer camp.  There have been startups that raised ten million dollars on sites like Kickstarter.  There have been massive research projects and prescription drug advances utilizing crowdsourcing (harnessing dispersed knowledge) as well as crowdfunding; not just the supply of capital, but the supply of human and intellectual capital can be done without central control.

The very projects that people worry wouldn't happen without government funding are those most suited for crowdfunding.  Works of art that won't generate tons of popular sales through traditional channels.  Highly speculative research.  Space travel.  Charity and welfare enhancing programs.  Helping a single person pay for a costly medical procedure.  Why couldn't bridges or buildings be financed in the same way?

We live in an amazing world.  Every day, more people voluntarily coordinate and co-create and make the functions the state tries to monopolize less and less relevant.  Humans have always created free institutions that, under no compulsion and with no clear designer, enhance our individual and collective well-being.  Technology just puts it in high relief and speeds the process.

Expect Benevolence; Don’t Need It

Wake up every day expecting great things to happen to you.  Look forward to some unforeseen goodness to fall from the sky.  But make plans and take action as if you'll never get a thing you don't scrap for and earn with hard work.

People who live on the hope of unexpected good news end up sitting around waiting to win the lottery.  It's a corrosive, stultifying mindset.  People who embrace the opposite, and assume nothing good ever happens and every inch must be taken through sacrifice and grit, are often cynical, overly skeptical, and can miss opportunity because they don't think it ever knocks.

If you can expect the universe to shower goodness on you every day, yet work like the only rain is the rain you make, you'll be hopeful and cheerful, yet motivated and persistent.  You won't be bitter when good things don't fall on your lap, and you won't miss it when they do.

Five Great Economics Books

Originally posted here.

1. That Which Is Seen and That Which Is Not Seen, Frederic Bastiat

This essay is almost single-handedly responsible for sparking my interest in economics. If you don't have any economic understanding, this is sure to give you several "lightbulb" moments. Though two centuries old, it is still the best introduction to the economic way of thinking I know of. The book addresses common economic myths—like the idea that government programs can boost the economy—with clarity and wit. Henry Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson is essentially a modern revision of Bastiat, and it is also excellent, but I still find Bastiat's style and frequent sarcasm unbeatable. Start with this book, and if you're not intrigued by what you learn, you can have your money back.

2. Beyond Politics, Randy T. Simmons

This is a fine introduction to the field of Public Choice Economics. Just when you thought you had come to the end of epiphanies after reading Bastiat, you discover Public Choice and the lightbulb goes on hyperdrive as you see economic thinking applied to the political process. This book is a must for anyone who thinks democracy is the cure for the world's ills, or that electing better politicians is the key to securing liberty. In fact, I would be so bold to say that if you engage in any type of efforts to reform policy without a knowledge of Public Choice, you are acting irresponsibly and doing more harm than good. Beyond Politics will open your eyes and clear your head.

3. Economics for Real People, Gene Callahan

This is an incredible book. It's not only fun to read and at times humorous, but it's immense scope is dumbfounding given its reasonable length. If you want to understand economics from the very first principles and see how things like the law of demand are derived, this is your book. It is an introduction to the Austrian School of economics, so you will not have math and charts and graphs, but logic as your guide. If you have no mainstream economic knowledge, start with this book before you take a class and become polluted by make-believe models and regressions. If you already have mainstream economic knowledge, read Economics for Real People and be refreshed!

4. The Fatal Conceit, F.A. Hayek

Hayek is not always easy to read, but this is his best book in terms of readability, and I think his most profound in terms of possible applications. Hayek's most interesting work focuses on the role of information in the economy, and how amazing markets are at giving us information to act on. The Fatal Conceit is the opposite side of that coin; how deluded central planners are to presume to have enough information to make good decisions absent the market process. This book is short, but after you read it you will want to apply these Hayekian insights elsewhere. I suggest reading some Thomas Sowell to follow the rabbit trail.

5. Human Action, Ludwig von Mises

I know, I know, this book is really big. Some people complain Mises is hard to read. I could not disagree more. His writing is very structured, his arguments very logical and clear, and his conclusions groundbreaking. Human Action is one of those very few books that every thinking person should read. This is the more sophisticated version of Economics For Real People (but don't worry, real people can read this too!). Mises takes aim first at the methodology of economics as a discipline, then builds a comprehensive theory of economics from the ground up, and uses it to expose all manner of fallacies in socialist and mainstream economic thought. Before you either embrace or dismiss the Austrian School of economics, you have to read Human Action. After you read it, you will start to see everything else through a Misesian lens, and you will be the better for it. This book changed my life!

I decided to stop at five books, but I am going to add a little caveat to sneak in a few more.  The granddaddy of the discipline, and still probably the single most insightful book that launched political economy as we know it is Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations.  When paired with his Theory of Moral Sentiments, you get the moral backdrop.  Everyone talks about Smith, but really reading and rereading him firsthand is unbeatable, even if challenging at times.

For a more modern intro to basic economic thinking than Bastiat or Hazlitt, Stephen Landsburg's Armchair Economist is a great book.  It's got a lot of non-intuitive insight, but on a more solid foundation than some of the Freakonomics style stuff.  If you have an interest in economic history or you are grappling with questions about economic booms and busts and the growth of government, Crisis and Leviathan by Robert Higgs is your book.

Finally, some readers may have noticed that my economic reading list includes nothing of what people call economics today. Between the five books above I don't believe there is a single chart or graph. There is no talk of determining someone's utility function, no calculus, and none of the stuff that most people associate with the discipline. That is because I think most of that stuff is bogus and has nothing to do with understanding how the economy works. If you are unsatisfied with my dismissal of what most economics courses teach, and in particular if you are curious to learn about macro economics, I highly recommend Micro Foundations and Macro Economics by Steven Horwitz. Read it after you have read Economics for Real People and preferably also Human Action, and it will help you relate those principles to the things your professors talk about.

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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