Friday, November 09, 2012

Disturbing Thoughts on Education

The following graphic comparing the percentage of educated people with voting patterns could be interpreted in some disturbing ways.
One of the immediate conclusions which might be drawn from this is that people who are "stupid" vote differently from others.   The unfortunate thing about this conclusion is that people who do not have a higher level of education are not necessarily stupid, or unintelligent, to use a more precise term.  There are many reasons why people have not attained a higher education which have nothing to do with intelligence.

Note that I am not claiming there is absolutely no correlation between intelligence level and education level, only that one is not a cause of the other.  I only wish to point out that on an individual level it is not valid to suspect that just because a person is uneducated that they have less mental capacity and decision making capability.    

Next, take into account that the fact that a person has a higher level of education does not necessarily mean that they are better thinkers or more agile in solving practical problems than a person with a lower level of education.  In fact, it is commonly know that many highly educated people get their degrees by cramming for exams and then promptly forget a large amount of what they crammed into their minds after their final exams have been completed.

In one way it is only normal for people who have a higher education to favour government involvement in their lives, because if it weren't for government funding and subsidies a great many of the institutions where they were educated wouldn't even exist.  Just as animals don't bite the hand that feeds them, educated people would tend to support the forces which made it possible for them to get the education they received.  And, in addition to this, since most of the institutions are supported by government largesse all of the teachers would have a tendency to reinforce a kind feeling at the least toward their benefactors.

From this perspective then, it is quite understandable that bigger governments will tend to support more higher education and expand opportunities to make more people able to receive higher education because it will result in a larger number of voters who would continue to support their existence.  

Sunday, November 04, 2012

What's the Matter with this Photo?

Even though most people would agree with the idea, there seems to be something fundamentally wrong with the thinking in the photo to the right.

To begin with it starts from the notion, that politicians should be reformed.  That, in itself, might not be a bad idea, but it's like saying that forks should be punished because you can't eat soup with them.  If forks were changed to be suitable for eating soup, and politicians were changed so that they never lied, both would lose some or all of their ability to perform the things which they do best.

Politicians work within a political system in which lies, deception, and duplicity is necessary in order for it to function as it does.  The fact that many people expect the political system to solve the problems which they see in society and in the world is similar to believing that you can butter your toast using a jack-hammer.  The tool isn't the right one for the job and using it with the belief that it is, only brings about consequences which are not wanted.

What I would say to the person who first uttered the thought in the photo is:  If you want to hire someone to do a job where honesty and openness is important to you, first make sure that they are going to work in a system where those traits will be successful, and then only put your trust into someone who has proven to be trustworthy before you hand them the keys to your future.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Money, Prices, Value, etc

Recently I've been reading and watching a variety of fascinating explanations of what is wrong with our world and ideas of how its problems might be fixed.

One case in point is The Secret of Oz, a 1 1/2 hour documentary from 1996 which has some unique views and probably would have a lot of people say that it makes a lot of sense.

The problem with making sense, though, is that it isn't enough to make it work and the reason it wouldn't work is that it is missing an essential element, or at least is confusing two things which seem to be the same but are not.

My take on this is that many writers about economic matters confuse money with prices.  You hear statements like: "If the supply of money in a country drops the economy will fall into a depression."

I'm ready to concede that sometimes a depression and a decrease of money supply happen at the same time, but former is not the result of the latter.  A decrease in prices isn't a depression, even though prices often do decrease when there is a depression.  And just because people might earn less money, isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Now with that statement, I'm sure many people are laughing or saying that I've just proven that I'm completely out of my senses.  But, wait a moment and you may see that I'm not.

Suppose, for example that you lived in a world where there was only $1.00 and you had a bowl of rice which you sold for $1.00.  Now you have all the money in the world, but you have no shoes.  You look around and find someone who has a pair of shoes to sell and they want $1.00, so you buy them.

At this point you have no money and think that if you could figure out that it would be great to sell two bowls of rice, except that there's only $1.00 in the whole world, so what's the use?  If you sell both bowls you'd still have only $1.00 and you would have cut your income in half, effectively reducing the price of rice to $0.50 a bowl.  How could that possibly be good?

Well, with the ability to feed twice the number of people, you now have twice as many other potential products or services which you might buy but, in order to sell them, they too would end up lowering their prices so that everything that was wanted could be sold with the amount of money available.

As more and more products and services became available, and as the quantity of each thing increased, the prices would continue to keep dropping … exactly the opposite of what we have become accustomed to with continuing inflation.  

There is no one price which fits everything from a grain of rice up to a train locomotive, or a cruise liner because there are many complex elements involved in all of the myriad of things we buy and sell, but if the supply of money … whether it be dollars, gold bars, sea shells or whatever it might be is fixed, then as more and more things become available, and more and more people are consuming them, prices can only fall lower and lower.   If you could imagine that everything that was for sale were of equal value, then the simple way of finding out the price of each thing would be to simply divide the amount of money available by the number of things for sale and voila its price would be the answer.

At some time in our past we somehow came up with the notion that it was undesirable to have prices go down … especially if that "price" was what we received for our labor or services, but when you stop and think about it what difference does it make to you how much money you get for what you do, if you can get an equal or increasing amount of something you value in return?

This is the thing that I find difficult to swallow from The Secret of Oz … that it is necessary to control the amount of money to keep the economy going.  As long as people are getting value for their time and energy it really doesn't matter how much money is in the system, or whether prices stay the same, go up or go down.  And while there may be some validity in the idea that having the quantity of money being manipulated by private interests produces unwanted abuses, what guarantees are there that putting this into the hands of politicians or bureaucrats would be any better?

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Dangerous Democracy

It is very popular to equate Democracy with Peace, but this is a fallacy and, in practice, the exact opposite is true.

Before you write this off as seditious nonsense, take a moment to examine what a democracy is. In very simple terms, a democracy is a form of government in which the majority rules.

That, in itself, does not imply or even make any allusion that a government which is a democracy is peaceful, nor that living in a democratic country needs to be peaceful.

Part of the notion of equating a democracy with peace comes from the formation of people who live within that kind of a system who are taught, from their very earliest days that to solve a problem you vote about it and that everyone peacefully accepts the will of the majority.

To put this into perspective imagine the smallest possible country that could exist as a democracy. This would have to be a nation with 3 people in it, because with a population of only 2 you could never have a "majority" except in those cases where "everybody" agreed.

Now imagine some issue where there was a division of opinion. It could be anything that you can think of, but let's say that it is an issue over whether or not we allow alcohol to be used. Two people are against the use of it, and one person wants to use it.

They take a vote, and inspite of the majority deciding that they don't want it, the third person decides that he will not accept that decision for himself.

How are the other two going to stop this person from making or using alcohol? They may eventually have to resort to force as long as the majority does not reverse their position or change it to allow the minority to do as they wish.

Whenever anyone uses force, or even the threat of it, in order to get their way, we are no longer talking about peace. Peace does not mean accepting what someone else wants because, --if you don't-- you're going to get stompped on.

So to return to original premise, Democracy has nothing to do with Peace. We, who live in a democracy, may have been trained to accept the decision of the majority without complaining, but that acceptance will only last as long as we feel that what we want is less important than the consequences we would face for not accepting.

Don't subscribe to the illusion that just because a country is a democracy, that its government or its people are peaceful … all it means is that they chose the people who make their rules through a process of voting; nothing more, nothing less.

Friday, June 01, 2012

The Elephant in your Back Yard

Would you be surprised to discover an elephant in your back yard?  And what if, on discovering it, you learned it had been there for several years?

I imagine your reaction might be similar to what I felt after I finished reading a short publication I received a couple of days back entitled Hack Your Showerhead: Ten Ways to Get Big Government Out of Your Home.

What I found most amazing was the variety of ways in which government regulations affects us and our lives without our even being aware of it.  The unfortunate thing about this is that we often have a tendency to blame other the wrong people for the consequences of these regulations.

One of the ten ways that Jeffery Tucker, the author of this article, sees government regulations affecting us is in the shorter life that many --maybe most-- electric appliances have today, in comparison to the way they were a few years back.

I'm sure you've heard the complaint: "They just don't make [insert name of appliance] like they used to!" and then the complainant goes on to blame the greedy manufacturers for cutting down on the quality presumably in the interests of making more profit.

As Tucker sees it, these manufacturers are under the pressure of government pressures and regulations to implement a series of changes to their products, some of which actually make them perform worse than they did before without adding any material benefit to the end user.  So, in order to comply with the government presser so that they can stay in business, they are forced to substitute parts and materials that will meet the government requirements and yet will not increase the price beyond what their customers are prepared to pay.   All too often the consequence of this is to use cheaper parts which will wear out faster than the older ones.

Tucker explains what happened to air conditioners:
Manufacturers are permitted to make units that use only so much electrical power. They must choose among the features in which to allocate this energy ceiling. The lighter, “more efficient” parts tend to break more easily than they once did. This means that you have to replace the units more often than you did in the past. 
And that's just air conditioners.

Adding Tucker's article to my own observations over the years I have started to wonder how many of all the problems we face in the world today, ranging from wide spread diseases, to aberrant social psychopaths, to threats of depleted resources, to animals in danger of extinction, to hunger, to wars, etc. could be traced back to government interference, intervention or stimulation of some sort or the other, regardless of how well intentioned it may have been.

This suspicion is not because I believe that everybody in government has some evil intention to make the world into a living hell for us, but rather that people, both those who are in the government and those to look to the government to solve problems have too much faith in the ability of these people to find solutions.

The people in government are not superhuman before they go to work for the government, nor do they become endowed with any special abilities once they enter the government.  Why then, do we, and they believe that they can solve problems which supposedly couldn't be solved before the government became involved?

So if you discover you have an elephant which you don't want in your garden, do you then look around for another elephant to deal with it, or is it better to consider other alternatives such as finding a new place to plant your garden, start planting things which elephants don't like, or some more imaginative option?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Google vs China

Many people might recall reports of conflict between Google and the Chinese government.

During the summer of 2011, I happened to be using Google Maps and entered instructions to get driving directions from "China" to "Taiwan."  GM produced some surprising results, which I was sure would disappear at sometime in the future, so I took a screen-shot to preserve the moment.

Below is the screen-shot which I have preserved for posterity. Point A is the start which is Bejing, the capital of China and point B is the destination "Taiwan."

I've annotated the surprise in this version … as you read it keep in mind that these are supposedly driving directions.  Click on the image to see the whole thing.

If you try this today you'll get a note that says:
"We could not calculate directions between China and Taiwan."  

Some reports of this in the summer of 2011, called the original result shown in the screen-shot an "Easter Egg," however, the fact that there isn't even a route now calculated might suggest that it was something else.