Saturday, January 19, 2008

My left-libertarian pedigree

Via the Freedom Democrats blog (and Brad Spangler), I have been tagged with the "left libertarian pedigree meme":
“What motivated you to start looking into Anarchist/Libertarian thought?”
Well, it all started as I was approaching adulthood and deciding what to do with my life. I had developed the general attitude that life is easy and that I could make a great life for myself if others would only get out of my way. I felt that others were constraining me both with their lifestyle laws, and by demanding tribute for access to natural resources. At this point, my vision of "the good life" was most influenced by Thoreau's Walden and Huxley's Island*.

Based on these attitudes, my political outlook developed into a very ideological form of geolibertarianism, though I had never heard of "geolibertarianism", nor had I read core works such as Agrarian Justice or anything from Henry George, or even heard of "wage slavery". At university, I discussed these ideas with friends and received two responses that helped define my political path:
  1. A friend involved with the local LP told me that my ideas sounded like Dan Sullivan's.
  2. Another (non-libertarian) friend called me an anarchist.
Following these exchanges, I started to study anarchism and geolibertarianism. I rejected anarchism at the time, and turned my attention to geolibertarianism in the Libertarian Party. I helped out with Harold Kyriazi's campaign for state senate, in which we were trounced.

That electoral defeat marked the beginning of the end of my activities with the LP and serious electoral activism. I developed a renewed interest in electoral reform, with a special focus on proportional representation and strategic voting. This interest had originally been seeded in high school by Lani Guinier's The Tyranny of the Majority. This shift in attention marked a more general shift from an ideological (top-down, wholistic, megalomaniacal) view of politics to a more organic (bottom-up, individualistic, practical) view of politics, in which I focused on the nature of power in society.

This realignment of viewpoint coincided well with my increased involvement with the Unitarian Universalist movement. Their emphasis on freedom of conscience always attracted me, but now I was also attracted by their grass-roots organizing and their "peer-to-peer" approach to solving social problems. I was excited when I found out that the UU movement had a history of involvement with Henry George's movement, but I was turned off when the congregation would take positions that called for increased state activism in society.

My most recent political transformation occurred in 2002-2003. I was in the San Francisco Bay area while Bush was pushing for war with Iraq. I checked out one of the early anti-war rallies (Oct 2002, I think), but was turned off by the Marxist/Leninist organizers. The rallies grew and became more mainstream over the next few months. My congregation and many of my peers were involved in these massive protests, but by that time I had concluded that no protest would deter the invasion; the logic of the state had taken over.

During this crisis, a woman addressed my UU congregation. I don't remember much of what she said, but she identified herself as an anarchist. Her witness persuaded me to reconsider anarchism. I rejected the common Democratic idea that Bush's presidency (and the invasion of Iraq) were an avoidable mistake. I knew that the "lesser of evils" problem delivered political power to a self-interested elite and we'd get crappy Presidents on a regular basis. Even more troubling, I saw how the vast majority of Americans felt compelled to march to war without a good justification; some simply decided to give the President "the benefit of the doubt", but even those who strongly rejected the war would never consider withdrawing from the war machine. At this point, I recognized what libertarians meant by "the cult of the state".

Following this, I reconsidered the numerous arguments underlying the ideology of hierarchy (the mother of all ideologies), and realized how weak they were. I realized that the problem of cheaters and fools within society is nothing compared to the problem of a cheaters and fools ruling society, and I realized that we did not have an effective way to prevent cheaters and fools from taking the top spots in our hierarchy.

With this, I became an anarchist. I decided that my (casual) activism would focus on combating the cult of the state. Somehow, I found Kevin Carson's blog, which fed my growing awareness that the state exists specifically to allow the cheaters to rule society. Carson directed me to Benjamin Tucker's work, which has provided the most recent revelatory reading: State Socialism and Anarchy.

So here I am.

*Island presents an interesting vision of "the good life", but it's a poorly written book, probably because it was written specifically to present that vision.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Wikia search engine

It looks like Wikia is launching their search service. Wikia is a spin-off of Wikipedia, and since I like the design of Wikipedia and the attitude of Jimmy Wales, I'm gonna give Wikia a shot.

Right now, it's pretty primitive, so to remind myself to return to it in the future, I've installed its search engine into my web browser (Firefox). Here is the Wikia search engine add-on for Firefox.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008


Our economic opinions are often influenced by our perceptions of how our decisions will influence the competitive environment faced by ourselves and others as producers. The nature of the competition that we face not only influences our productivity, but also influences our personal lives and social structures.

I'd like to see greater consideration of the impact of competition on our lives, but that seems to be difficult in the absence of a formal description of the competitive environments that we may face. If you, dear reader, are familiar with any writings on these issues, please point me to where I may find them. Otherwise, please consider the following analysis and provide any feedback that you may have.

I think that our competitive environments can be described by a point along a spectrum, ranging from monopoly, to competition, to hyper-competition. These environments are described in detail below, but I am specifically interested in hyper-competition, since I have never seen a discussion of this environment*, despite it's widespread occurrence in our economy.

Monopoly (including self-sufficiency): The condition where an actor's welfare is not influenced by competition. Economically, this arises when demand is satisfied by a single producer. The simplest example is an individual producing a good for his own use. However, producers can increase demand for (and hence, the value of) their produce by engaging in markets with others. The standard definition of "monopoly" applies to this condition, where a market is supplied by a single producer, who typically sees very large returns on his productive labors.

Competition: The condition where an actor's welfare is primarily determined by his own actions, but the benefit is limited by others seeking to access to the same resource. Economically, this arises in markets where multiple producers are satisfying the cumulative demand of consumers. Consumers are free to choose among the producers, meaning that producers will be unable to sell their produce unless they compete effectively with the other producers. This is the competitive structure that is typically studied in introductory Economics courses, where market prices tend towards the cost of production.

Hyper-competition: A competitive structure where an actor's welfare is solely determined by his performance relative to others. Hyper-competition is characterized by "winner-take-all" dynamics, and epitomized by sports and politics. Economically, this may take many forms, but it may arise from intense competition for access to monopoly benefits. A good example of this is our patent system, where "inventors may work independently for years on the same invention, but one will beat the other to the patent office by an hour or a day and will acquire an exclusive monopoly, while the loser's work will then be totally wasted."**

Many parts of economy seem to share this structure, to a lesser extent. I propose three ways that hyper-competition may arise:
  1. From inflexible demand, such that productive innovations do not expand the market--they only displace other producers.
  2. From formal bottle-necks in market-entry. One example would be an educational system where school admission is very competitive, but once accepted, students are almost guaranteed to succeed.
  3. From informal bottle-necks in market entry, arising from bounded rationality (limited information processing ability). This may arise from a positive-feedback loop where successful exploitation of one opportunity produces a reputation that leads to greatly expanded opportunities.
Along this competitive spectrum, I expect to see a change in how much reward a person receives for each unit of good that he produces. Under monopolistic conditions, the law of diminishing returns dominates, and rewards decrease with each unit of production. In competitive conditions, market prices are independent of one's own produce, so the producer gains a constant reward for each unit produced. In hyper-competitive conditions, the producer's reward per unit increases as total production increases (this increase may be continuous, or involve thresholds).

Overall, hyper-competition might be expected to produce Pareto distributions in human achievement, where success is not directly proportional to skill, but instead increases as a power function of skill. Conversely, the reduction of hyper-competition would put greater emphasis on the "long-tail". It's interesting to note that a progressive income tax may counter-act the influence of hyper-competition on income.

Any thoughts are appreciated.

*A Google search for "hyper-competition" turned up two concepts. Most prominently, a business-school professor has been using the term to describe a gradual erosion of market imperfections, thereby eliminating many semi-monopolistic advantages held by assorted producers; this is not what I'm talking about. My concept is most closely reflected by the writings of some random blogger, who discusses "winner take all" market conditions, specifically with respect to high-tech entrepreneurship.

**This quote is from Ayn Rand's essay on Patents and Copyrights, which I remember as the epitome of what I dislike about Rand. Her rejection of this "objection to patent laws" is quite dismissive, even as it exhibits glaring circular logic.

Have a cynical new year!

Mike Huckabee tells us not to be cynical.
This from a man who is asking us to give him broad powers to kill, imprison, or take money from others, and who will apparently use these powers liberally. Huckabee's quest for power seems to be driven by a faith that humans will only do the right thing when subjected to constant surveillance, bribery, and intimidation--and he tells us not to be cynical.
This from a man exhibiting quite bizarre behavior: first capturing media attention for a day with the promise to unveil an attack ad against Mitt Romeny, then showing the ad to reporters with their cameras rolling before "deciding at the last minute" to cancel the ad. Huckabee manages to effectively smear Romney while claiming to keep his hands clean--and he tells us not to be cynical.
Thankfully, in contrast to disingenuous candidates, we have the Capitol Steps to provide us with a bit of satire and cynicism. Enjoy the 2007 year-end show! (real media format)