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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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In Praise of Weird

At the Students for Liberty International Conference over the weekend I heard and overheard several jokes and comments about how many weird participants were there. It was mostly good-hearted self-deprecation, but there was often a hint of concern. There was perhaps a subtle but sincere belief that, if libertarian ideas and the individuals and organizations at the event are to have an impact on the world, the oddballs need to be drowned out by normal people. I'm not so sure.

Of course any group that rallies around a particular interest or set of ideas will have it's own vibe somewhat distinct from the "average" person in the world. (If you ever meet this average person, I'd be curious what he or she is like. I've searched for many years and have yet to meet them.) If insiders and outsiders alike view events like this as gatherings of assorted weirdos, that's probably a sign of a vibrant, healthy, non-group-thinkish phenomenon. With libertarian ideas as the rallying point, all the better to have a broad swath of all that humanity has to offer in attire, personality, tastes and preferences; what a wonderful testament to the humane and universal character of the ideas.

If, on the other hand, there is a drive to get more conformity and less weirdness in order to look more like the mythical average person, such gatherings tend to end up either stale or cult-like. In the former case, a lot of social pressure to wear non-offensive clothing and behave in an average way can sap the energy and creative life out of groups of shared interests. I've seen churches like this. Everyone makes such a point to be normal - in part to prove to the world that believing what they do doesn't make them strange, in part to prove it to themselves - that it's like a bunch of Stepford wives. While it may make being a part of the group less risky, it doesn't make it any more attractive to outsiders, and it certainly makes it more dull for insiders.

The latter and far worse result of the desire for normal is cult-like conformity. If nobody wants to be the weirdo who gives their "movement" a bad image by dressing out of fashion, everyone can end up wearing cute little matching suits. There are subcultures where everything down to facial hair is uniform. Not only is this creepy and off-putting to the outside world, but such pressure for aesthetic sameness seeps into the realm of the mind and grows into intellectual conformity, the death-knell of any social movement, especially one as radical and free as libertarianism.

The weirdness or non-weirdness of a group of people doesn't seem to indicate much about their life and potential. It's the sameness that does. If everyone is weird in the same way, you've got a closed off niche easily caricatured or ignored. If everyone is normal in the same way, you've got much the same thing. If you've got enough weirdos to make the normals feel surrounded by weirdos, and enough normals to make the weirdos feel like the minority they enjoy being, it's probably a pretty exciting, interesting, dynamic and growing bunch united around some pretty powerful ideas.

I saw a lot of unusual looking and acting people at the event. They stood out because the majority of participants looked pretty normal and acted pretty sophisticated. I took both of these to be wonderful things, and I hope those commenting on the need for less weird were poking fun more than seriously hoping to change the culture and weed out the oddballs. The range of religions, styles, personalities, persuasions, motivations and behaviors in that room were a beautiful testament to the breadth, depth, and life of the ideas of freedom. Bring on the weird. May it never die.

Traveling with We and Me

Snow falls on a Southbound train
Flakes enough to paint and stain
All the world in their domain

Stuck inside this stagnant crust
On metal wheels and under-rust
Feels more like pain than wander-lust

Sitting still because of freight
To see its fate we wait and wait
The youngest stir, their voices grate

There has to be a better mode
To cross the land to one's abode
Since progress from when horses rode

Indeed there is a smaller box
Much smoother too sans bed of rocks
To it the wiser masses flock

This newer mode more civilized
More flexible and free it rides
The height of speed industrialized

Often now is criticized
"We must ignore the soul to rise
Above the individual lies"

"The greater good we all comprise"
Or so they do idealize
I'm stuck here as I realize

The greatest mode of transport be
The one that makes a person free
And that one still a car for me

"So blow the smoke and smog", they say,
"And hasten now our judgement day
Unless we find a better way"

Unless that way will give me wings
I won't let go my joyous flings
I do not fear these doomsday things

I'll drive my car free and fast
Knowing that the fad won't last
It'll be your train, not me that's passed
So joyfully I'll push the gas

You needn't worry that I do
It's me who pays instead of you
Unlike your train that's funded through

Money taken from the rest
And given to the pompous blessed
So they can do what they deem best

I'll keep mine, thank you, if you please
It makes us all feel more at ease
So keep your hands away, you sleaze

I'll drive into my own sunset
Excited for new forms unmet
Or maybe my own private jet

There's something wonderful and free
Left uncontrolled by transport "We"
When making plans for me is me

Democracy is Not Our Savior

(Originally posted here, but I remain bewildered by the religious devotion to democracy, so I'm reposting.)

Imagine if your local grocer used mass voting to determine what to stock on the shelves. Everyone in a 30-mile radius of the store would get a ballot every few years, and you could vote on what items they should sell. Think long and hard about what people would vote for. Do you think this would result in better selection and quality than the current system of letting markets decide?

Voting is an incredibly inefficient mode of social organization. It rewards irrationality, selfishness, ignorance and greed. It makes peaceful coordination and cooperation incredibly difficult. It is divisive and hopelessly, systemically flawed. All the incentives are wrong. We should not see voting or democracy as a solution to social or political problems, but one of the primary causes.

Perhaps my example of voting on groceries is unfair. In most political systems we don't vote on each and every issue. Instead, imagine that residents within 30 miles of the grocer don't vote on the store's stock and policies, but rather vote on who should manage the store. Let's go a little further and say they vote on the manager, CFO, board members and a handful of other middle-management roles. What would be the result?

For starters, those seeking to hold management positions at the grocery store should forget about any skills except the skill of convincing all the voters to vote for them. Marketing themselves as better than the other would-be managers would be the only thing that would get them the job; not their expertise at running a store or their knowledge of stocking procedures, management or the industry. Would people's votes provide better and clearer information about who should manage the store than the profits, losses, operations and happiness of employees? Of course not.

At first glance, voting may seem similar to a market. After all, when people buy or don't buy from the grocer, it sends price signals telling management what shoppers value. It's like a vote, with a crucial difference: It costs the buyer. Market exchanges reveal what people want when they face trade-offs. Voting reveals what people want when it's "free." Lots of people might vote for the store manager who promises not to import anything from other countries because it makes them feel good to support local farmers. These same people, when faced with higher priced and lower quality local food in the open market might very well choose to purchase imported produce. Voters support candidates who promise to restrict cheap imported goods, then on the way home from the polls they stop and buy cheap, imported goods. Voting irrationally is costless, while shopping that way hurts your pocketbook.

Voting also turns friends into enemies. I have neighbors that support different products and services and businesses than I do, but this doesn't cause any tension in our relationships. But if we were forced to vote on which products, services and businesses were available to us, how much they should cost and who would pay for it, in a zero-sum election, you'd better believe tension would arise.

The fact that no grocery stores select products or managers by popular vote should clue us in to something: Democracy is a far worse way of coordinating and managing complex processes than markets.

It's easy to see how disastrously inferior democracy is to the market in providing groceries. The provision of food is the most fundamental and important service to any society; if the market can handle food provision so much better than democratic processes, why not the provision of less fundamental services like health care, education, protection and all kinds of lesser services? In truth, the incentives built in to the democratic process create massive inefficiencies in all these government services, as well as allow for corruption and all manner of moral transgression.Government failure is an inescapable part of government.

In civil society, voting is a rarely used mechanism. We vote on inconsequential things like where to eat or what movie to see with a small group of indecisive friends. Voting is used in religious or civic organizations to select board members or decide on some major issues. Not only are these relatively small, homogenous groups, but they are groups of people who have voluntarily come together around a shared vision. They can also freely enter and exit; shopping for a church or denomination may sound off-putting, but the freedom to do so is crucial to the health of individuals and churches.

Even in these smaller, voluntary institutions, voting has important incentive and information problems that most organizations try to curb in some way. The more populous the group, the more complex the decision—and the more costly or important the outcome, the worse voting is as a coordinating mechanism. When you're dealing with hundreds of millions of people and a cross-section of highly complex policies with life-and-death consequences and millions in potential gains or losses, voting becomes an absurd mechanism of coordination. Governments may try to supplement voting with all kinds of irritating and invasive data collection like censuses, but these do not solve the problem in any way—and can make it worse. Does your grocery store need to conduct a census to supplement the anonymous information you provide them with your purchasing behavior?

Most advocates of limited government understand why tyranny and central planning are dangerous. But too often they assume more or better democracy will improve things. We hear about turning backward countries around by making them more democratic. We hear about turning our own country around by convincing people to vote for better candidates or policies. None of these will ultimately address the problem. The grocery store that is managed by vote would not be much better off if the residents selected a "better" manager; the manager would face the same lack of vital information, and the voters and manager would face the same bad incentives.

The way to make the world a freer, better and more prosperous place is not to enhance and expand democracy or to elect better people through the democratic process. It is instead to reduce to a minimum the number of things decided through the democratic process, and to allow more peaceful and emergent institutions for social and economic coordination to take its place. This can only happen when enough people understand and believe in the power of peaceful, voluntary interactions over the power of coercive political methods.

Be a Philosopher

I have had the privilege of meeting a lot of very successful people.  Some have been successful in academia or art, but most have been successful in business of some kind.  No matter how diverse the industry or experiences or path, all of these successful people have one thing in common: they are all philosophers.

Obviously, all of these people don't have "philosopher" written on their business cards and they don't publish articles in journals of philosophy.  But they are all lovers of knowledge and people who have spent and do spend significant time and energy examining their life and pondering the world.  I'm always amazed at how clear and coherent their life philosophy is.  Scratch that; I'm amazed that they have a life philosophy.  How many people do?  Do you?  Could you describe it in five minutes if someone asked you?

Highly successful people work hard and they work a lot.  But they also observe and ponder.  They continue to refine their worldview and test new theories to see if they work better than the old.  If you want to achieve great things, cultivate your mind.  As I've written before, you need to work your butt off, but if that work isn't fueled with fresh ideas and new ways to see the world, you'll only get so far.  Take time to think.  Let your thoughts grow and develop.  Be a philosopher.

Carnivals Just Aren’t That Cool Anymore

We took the kids to a carnival of sorts last weekend.  It was nothing huge, but I thought it would be pretty exciting for them.  When we arrived, I was underwhelmed.  There was popcorn and hot dogs and a little cotton candy machine.  There was an inflatable slide and ski-ball.  There were a few games and a few people in Star Wars costumes.  We spent a few hours there and had a fine time, but it was nothing amazing.

It would be easy to fall back into the old-guy attitude of, "Things were so much more amazing when I was a kid", or, "Kids these days are so spoiled, nothing is special anymore."  But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the Carnival wasn't all that amazing simply because every day is so amazing for my kids.  We've been to numerous backyard birthday parties or get-togethers for no special occasion at all where the hosts have rented giant bounce castles, slides, or water playthings.  Cotton candy can be purchased cheaply almost anywhere.  My kids love these things no less than I did as a kid, they just have the ability to enjoy them more often and on their own terms, not only after waiting in long lines and being crammed in with sweaty strangers.

It's pretty amazing that it doesn't require a monumental feat of organization, fundraising, ticket sales, and planning to have a once a year event with cool stuff for the kids.  I appreciate this even more as I watch my kids have those nervous moments of indecision about whether or not to hazard the giant water slide.  If they chicken out, they don't have to spend possibly years regretting that they missed that one opportunity, as I had done in similar situations as a kid.  They can take their time, and if they regret the decision not to give it a try, they'll likely have a next time soon.  They probably make better decisions because of the everyday availability of carnival trappings - I remember feeling sick almost every time I pounded giant wads of cotton candy or elephant ears with all the pent-up demand of an inmate on holiday.

I could be bitter at the fact that, in many ways, my kids have it better than I did, and therefor they don't seem as excited about stuff I loved.  But why?  Who cares?  I decided to enjoy the fact that I don't have to run out and attend every fair, because my kids have a lot more options than I did.  Yeah, sometimes it hurts that they don't lavish me with praise for getting them a pack of Big League Chew or a corn-dog, but that's my problem, not theirs.  It doesn't mean there's anything wrong with them, it means I'm too sensitive and doing stuff more for me than them.  They'll probably never realize how awesome their world is compared to the past, but none of us really can.  Let's enjoy the present regardless!

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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