Monday, February 17, 2014

GOLD vs. Nudge

I see the theory of GOLD articulated in my new book "Golden Rule Libertarianism" as the equal but opposite of the "Nudge" theory of law professor and Obama crony Cass Sunstein. He argued in his book of the same name that government policy should let people be as free as possible, which he calls the "Golden Rule of Libertarian Paternalism" (not to be confused with MY Golden Rule Libertarianism). But--and this is an important "but"! But Sunstein believes that, even if we let people be free, the government can "nudge" them into making better decisions and choices than they would do in a system of unrestrained freedom. He speaks of "choice architecture" as the set of policies which shape our choices, and he says that if he nudges people then they will make better choices and have fewer regrets from having made bad choices. All with freedom preserved, by magic.

When Obama talked about going to war against Syria last year, he said he wanted "pinprick strikes," to which one Pentagon official replied "the US military uses sledgehammers, not pinpricks." Similarly, the government, with the army, and the police, and the regulators, and criminal prosecutors, and laws, enforced by jails and fines, does not "nudge" people, it SHOVES people into the path that it desires for them. When you break the law then you go to jail. You are either free or else you are a slave. There is no in-between.

As you would know if you had read Golden Rule Libertarianism, one of the basic ideas of GOLD is that human minds are fallible and can always make mistakes, so it isn't fair for one person to force another person to obey his decisions about what the other person should do or which behavior is best for him, because the other person could be mistaken. GOLD goes on to posit the "government as God complex" idea, which states that individuals within and outside the government are basically the same, so the same rules of private people apply to government politicians. In other words, politicians and regulators are not gods who magically know the perfect choices for everyone to make, despite their claim to be experts and brilliant legal scholars. If Cass Sunstein wants to "nudge" me into drinking carrot juice and eating tofu, he doesn't have the right to do so, because he is not God, and I can make decisions for myself just as well as he can make them for me (despite his "impressive" pedigree of Yale Law professorship and degrees from top Ivy League universities). If I want coffee and he thinks I should drink carrot juice, I might be wrong and he might be right, or he might be wrong and I might be right. But the person who will prosper and be healthy and alert or else get food poisoning and get sick and die is me, not him, so the fair and just thing is for me to decide for myself, and let Cass decide for Cass.

Contrary to GOLD, Nudge is simply a sophisticated, complicated justification for liberal leftist dictatorship, couched in soft mushy language designed to soften the public's fear of going to jail or being shot when a person refuses to be "nudged" into the decision by the Big Government which "knows what's best for us." Cass Sunstein doesn't know what's best for us, but he does want the government to rule us.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

My E-Books are Now Up for Sale on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Please Buy Them!

My philosophical treatise The Apple of Knowledge and my political essay Golden Rule Libertarianism are now both live on Amazon and B&N. If you enjoy my blog, please consider buying them. Each one is available for Kindle and Nook. The links for Apple are:

The Apple of Knowledge: Amazon Kindle

The Apple of Knowledge: Barnes & Noble Nook Book

The links for GOLD are:

Golden Rule Libertarianism: Amazon Kindle

Golden Rule Libertarianism: Barnes & Noble Nook Book

The books are just $4.99 each. If you read them and have any thoughts, please post a comment to this blog to let me know how you liked them. I am confident that each of these books is full of useful ideas that will improve your life and sharpen your grasp of philosophy and epistemology (Apple) and also your understanding of politics and economics (GOLD). Enjoy!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Cover Reveal!

I am presenting the ebook covers for my two new books, both of which should be available soon at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the iBookstore (and I am also changing the cover for my novel Rob Seablue). These covers were designed by Graphicz X Designs, and they did a great job.  Take a look!




Friday, December 13, 2013

December 2013 Update: Staying Power, "Friends," The Hobbit, Upcoming Titles

Staying Power: In one week, on December 20th, I celebrate the four year anniversary of quitting smoking cigarettes. How did I stay quit? In all honestly, I drink 2 to 3 cups of coffee everyday, so I get my upper fix from caffeine instead of tobacco. That, combined with iron determination and willpower, is the reason why I haven't had a smoke in the last 4 years.

"Friends": My most recent legal document review project ended. The thought I want to post about in this blog, in regards to my job, is that working is a lot of stress, and to be a good worker you need a way to relax while at work in high pressure situations (e.g. deadlines, quotas, etc.). My coworkers would relax by talking a lot, e.g. about their girlfriends and sneakers, but I developed a very useful trick for how to relax at work. I own all 10 seasons of the TV show "Friends" starring Jennifer Aniston on DVD, and I have seen all 200 episodes at least 20 or 30 times. So while I am at work I will literally play jokes or scenes from "Friends" in my mind while I am working, over and over again, because I have probably 1000 jokes and scenes memorized. This puts me in a constant good mood at work, which I think makes me a better worker and breaks up the monotony.

The Hobbit: I saw the second installment of The Hobbit trilogy today. It was escapism at its best. A rich, vividly imagined world, with great acting and an awesome dragon (and I love dragons!). The only problem was that it cut out in the middle of the story when I was looking forward to the ending with great anticipation, and it will be a pain to wait, and wait, and wait for the third movie to come out. Here let me note a story common among fantasy fans, that the two founders of the fantasy genre, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis had a conversation, in which Lewis asked "they say our novels are escapism? What sort of person hates escapism?" to which Tolkien replied, "Jailors."

Upcoming Titles: I am putting the finishing touches on my two new nonfiction books, tentatively titled "The Apple of Knowledge" and "Golden Rule Libertarianism." You will be the first to know because I will post it here as soon as they are released, probably for Kindle, Nook and iPad via Amazon, BN and the iBookstore.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Just Checking In

I have been "working like a dog" recently, billing 55 to 60 hours a week at my job in Manhattan doing legal document review. My project ends soon, so expect a longer blog post around Christmas. I continue to plan to release my two independently published nonfiction books soon, so anyone reading this should have something to look forward to. Happy Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, belatedly!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Work Portrayed on Television

The essay Thoughts on Work and Working in the October 2013 issue of The Freeman is the inspiration for this blog post, which will discuss the portrayal of working and jobs on television. In the essay, author Sarah Skwire reviews the book "Working" by Studs Terkel, which contained oral narratives of different types of workers talking about their jobs. The author uses her analysis of the book to argue that the public's view of free market capitalism is influenced by how we view and talk about work. Specifically, if we hate our job and view working for a salary as slavery to the rich then we will hate capitalism, and if we enjoy our job and take pride in doing good work then we are more likely to favor capitalism.

Ms. Skwire cites cases in Mr. Terkel's book which show that this hate-my-job vs. love-my-job dynamic does not line up neatly with poor vs. rich or working class job vs. upper class job. She describes blue collar workers, like cashiers and assembly line workers, who love their work. Here I will elaborate on this point that working class jobs are not exploitation with reference to the portrayal of jobs and working in two TV shows: Shark Tank and Project Runway. Up front I must confess that I watch and enjoy both of these shows, for reasons that should become clear below.

(1) Shark Tank is a show about a group of wealthy venture capitalists called "sharks," including famed Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who hear presentations by small business owners and then decide whether to invest in the business. This show is interesting to a libertarian because the rich investors are not portrayed as exploiting the small businessmen. Although the sharks do often make predatory initial offers, like buying 75% of a business for $10,000, the five sharks compete with each other and if the investment opportunity has merit then they frequently undercut each others' offers in ways that favor the entrepreneur, e.g. the initial offer could become a final offer of $20,000 for 20% of the equity.

The entrepreneurs who pitch ideas to the Sharks are frequently people who started off in a working class job and loved what they did and wanted to start or expand a business where they take their expertise and passion of an area and develop that passion into a brand or product, for which they need capital. Indeed, many of the Sharks themselves, including Mark Cuban, began as small businessmen and then got rich due to hard work and success. Shark Tank depicts in reality what it looks like for capitalism and Wall Street to help small business and create jobs, rather than describing that in disembodied abstract theory as so many libertarian economists have done.

For example, in the last season of Shark Tank a boy in middle school, who happened to be from a town close to where I live in Connecticut, dreamed of making gourmet dog food, and cooked up batches of dog treats in the early morning before school and sold dog treats to his friends and teammates' families at his sports teams' practices. Despite what some Marxists would assert as child labor, his story felt like an ambitious passionate young person wanting to work and make an honest living for himself. He pitched his dog treat business to the sharks and, although four of the sharks did not really take him seriously due to his age, one of the sharks liked his product and gave him a reasonable offer. He decided to take her offer and he did the deal to get her investment capital.

(2) Project Runway is a show, hosted by supermodel Heidi Klum, where a group of fashion designers compete in a series of challenges to win a $500,000 prize. Most of the contestants in this reality shows are poor and/or gay, and many of them have fascinating and eccentric personalities. Although the challenges are grueling and difficult, like sewing and working all day and all night to design a runway-ready evening gown from idea to finished clothing in 24 hours, the show does not depict the contestants as slaves in a sweatshop who are exploited by the $500,000 prize's control over them. The opposite is true: the show depicts the money as a prize for the worthy, not as an evil system of oppression. The contestants are young and ambitious and have a deep love of clothes and they enjoy the work they do despite it being very difficult. Most of them view Project Runway as an opportunity to show the world their talent and be rewarded for all their hard work and skill.

In the most recent season, the show ended in a competition between two designers, Alexandria and Dom, with everyone else having been eliminated by the end. Alexandria ended up losing and was very upset and bitter (despite winning $25,000 as runner up), but Dom, a poor young black woman from Philadelphia, had done what was in my opinion the best collection to show on the runway in the finale, with clothes that were exotic and attention-grabbing, and she worked hard and deserved her prize. Project Runway depicts work as good and something that earns its just reward, not as a necessary evil that we should all complain about and try to abolish.

Television, like Hollywood and the news media, has its fair share of Marxists. But these two shows, and others like them, are getting people to talk about work in ways that are accurate in assessing the values of freedom and capitalism.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Deconstructing the Motives of Marxist Professors



Deconstructing the Motives of Marxist Professors

By Russell Hasan

Most ideas which are too smart for their own good eventually end up in a Woody Allen movie. Continental philosopher Jacques Derrida’s theory of deconstruction was no different, showing up in the movie Deconstructing Harry. Deconstruction looks at something, typically a text, and peels away the layers of explicit meaning and logical order in order to see the bloody reality that lurks beneath. It is interesting to attempt to apply the theory of deconstruction for a libertarian analysis, specifically by deconstructing the motives of Marxist professors on college campuses and examining why so many academics are Marxists.

Marxist professors appear to preach the political philosophy of Marx because they believe in it. Or, perhaps, they are Marxists because that is what they were taught by their professors way back when they were themselves students in college. But a deeper motive can be discerned by looking underneath the surface. In Ayn Rand’s opus Atlas Shrugged, the physicist Dr. Robert Stadler justifies his betrayal of John Galt and his support for the State Science Institute by telling Galt that he wanted to set the mind free from money by getting government funding for scientific research. The deconstruction of this statement shows that the free market either does not, or might not, place a high value on the work that professors do, such that some scholars could go unfunded if left without state assistance. Generally, in a free market traders trade value for value, so that in order to buy something you must first be productive and actually make some money. What is it precisely that a Marxist professor of sociology, history, or political science really produces? Unless their scholarship and ideas have some sort of concrete financial value, the free market would not pay them very much in return for their work. On the other hand, government funding for universities, especially in the form of Department of Education-backed student loans but also from government grants for research, results in a situation where the salary of the typical college professor bears no relation whatsoever to his or her productive value.

The situation in the economics behind university education might accurately be called a higher education bubble. Spending on education, motivated by the Department of Education’s policies, goes ever higher and higher, as seen in data presented in the Wikipedia article Higher Education in the United States, while the actual productive value that results from a college education bears no real relation to rising spending. The university administrators and professors in general don’t seem to care. Indeed, the theory of a “liberal arts” education, as articulated by Progressive education pioneer John Dewey, believed that the purpose of an education was to free the mind, not to help the student make money. Dewey also asserted a belief that part of the purpose of education is to convert youth to Marxism, as seen in the Wikipedia article John Dewey, and Dewey’s influence upon modern education cannot be understated. Today’s students should thank Mr. Dewey for the fact that their minds have been set free while their bodies need to eat in a job market that has been mercilessly crushed by the Great Recession, which resulted from the statist policies of Bush and Obama.

Perhaps the situation will be rectified when the higher education bubble bursts and the forces of supply and demand wreak havoc on college funding and drag spending back down to what is fiscally justified by the return on investment for a college education. Bubbles usually burst when state-controlled systems run out of other people’s money, in this case, the taxpayer’s money which funds student loans and grants. If the economics of supply and demand are allowed to correct the higher education bubble, then many Marxist professors might be fired unless they can provide something to students which furthers the students’ careers or future earning capacity, which would mean that the professors are actually productive. A plausible deconstruction of the motives of Marxist professors is that the professors just want to maximize the amount of money in their salaries, because the state’s influence over education accomplishes a vast disconnect between the professors’ salary received and the value that they produce. Note that the state also receives a quid pro quo from the professors in the form of the Marxist propaganda which they teach to their students in order to persuade impressionable young minds to believe in statist economic policy, so that the achievements of Marxist professors would have no value in a free market economy but have a high importance in a centrally planned economy.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Author Update

My two new nonfiction books, the first about the politics of libertarianism and the second about the philosophy of science, have now both been completed! The first drafts are written and I am editing, and I hope to release them within the next 6 months. Of course, the indie ebook self-publishing phenomenon has been driven by fiction, so indie nonfiction is something of a charting a new path, but hopefully it will go well! Although fiction is fun and entertaining, with nonfiction it is possible to sell ideas or information which are unique, so a nonfiction book can be truly one of a kind, whereas with most novels it is possible to find similar novels or substitutes. And both of my books offer content that is original and can't be found elsewhere.

In other news, I have been working a new job recently, a legal job in Manhattan. I have done legal internships and pro bono work in the past, for example I used to be an intern at the Connecticut Attorney General, but this is my first full time law job. For a lawyer to have a job that requires a law degree and bar admission, which my job does, is a great blessing, especially given the oft-chronicled collapse of the legal job market in the Great Recession era. The job is a temporary position which ends soon, but it is a nice step forward for my career. I am very grateful for the opportunity.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Lamestream Media: Democratization vs. Nationalization as Solutions

This blog post is my reaction to the article Did Capitalism Give Us The Laugh Track? in The Freeman July/August 2013 issue. The article's main point is that the laugh track in television comedies, e.g. sitcoms, is ugly and stupid, and its widespread use was a flaw due to homogeneity caused by the fact that FCC regulations gave an oligopoly to the broadcast radio stations (ABC, CBS and NBC), and the laugh track was done in by evolution and innovation caused by the rise of free market competition in television, first with Fox and then with cable TV like HBO.

This article highlights a point that is hotly debates among the general public: what is the solution to the horrible, atrocious quality problem in the media? Most people agree that the most of the news shows on the media are stupid and offer cliched, hackneyed tripe, not deep, biting insight. Not surprisingly, the Left and the Right differ in their characterization of the problem, and in their proposed solution. The Left says that the profit motive drives news stations like CNN (and Fox News) to dumb down their news and turn the news into entertainment in order to get higher ratings. To the Left, the media can only improve if the profit motive is removed and the news is made into a public good, like PBS or the BBC. The Left in particular criticizes Fox News for being biased and stupid. The Right makes an argument not unlike Freeman author B.K. Marcus, that the government-sponsored FCC-administered monopolization of the media has stifled innovation, and the solution is deregulation and competition to improve quality. The Right complains that networks like CNN and MSNBC have a liberal agenda and view all policy debates through a Leftist lens.

In any political analysis which pits libertarian policy vs. statist policy, it is interesting to speculate about whether the findings lead to the conclusions as the result of empirical research, or whether the analysis uses a priori assumptions which conform the data to fit the desired result. The former is a neutral unbiased analysis, whereas the latter is bias contaminating the research. Can we say that the FCC helped the laugh track, or was it the low taste of the public that contributed to the laugh track? In the absence of empirical data capable of distinguishing these two possibilities with precision, we cannot achieve an answer to this question that possesses scientific certainty.

But in the case of freedom vs. tyranny in explaining the "Lamestream Media", reality is handing us something that approximates a neutral scientific experiment. This is, obviously, the internet, and podcasts and Youtube channels as independent media. The government has not yet shackled the internet media with regulatory controls, so independent internet media has the chance to break free from conformity and be innovative. If the Right interpretation is correct, then internet-based competition will produce lean, hungry new media stations which will abandon stupid shallow news shows and two-dimensional biases in favor of deep, honest, insightful analysis, and the free market will reward the new media, and the good media feeds will prosper and evolve and improve. But if the Left interpretation is correct then the profit motive will afflict new media just as it did old media, with the need for ads and ratings driving down the intelligence of the analysis. As a libertarian I predict that the evolution of media to an internet-based mode will lead to competition among thousands of news feeds, which will destroy the "lamestream" mainstream media and break the news free from the orthodox conformist paradigm through which the news is filtered in the process of being taught to the news-consuming public. Indeed, the internet is bringing new libertarian media like The Freeman of FEE, as well as other libertarian media like Reason Magazine and Liberty Magazine, to the attention of people who would never have had access to it in the absence of the internet. Internet media will enable libertarian news feeds to compete with the mainstream statist news feeds, and let the public, not the experts, decide whose accounts of the facts are most trustworthy. The eventual result of whether or not media enrichment happens once we fully transition to an internet-based media model will be a scientific proof supporting either the Right (if media gets better) or Left (if it does not) interpretation of what is wrong with the media.

Friday, July 19, 2013

New Updates to my Libertarian Activism Page

Today I have added links for Congressional scorecards, legislative tracking sites, and activism sites to my Libertarian Activism Page on this blog. The link to the Page is on the upper right side of the blog. Please take a look! If nothing else, have the curiosity to learn who your Congressman is and how he or she votes on the issues you care about.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy Fourth of July!

Happy Fourth! I recently added a few new issue advocacy groups to my Libertarian Activism Page on this blog. Please feel free to check it out. Also, today please pause for a moment of contemplation and reflect on the meaning of freedom, especially in the context of the American soldiers who have died to defend the USA. The tradition of patriotic soldiers dates back to the American Revolution, the Civil War, and all the way forward to World War II and beyond. While libertarians are generally anti-war, we support the troops, and appreciate their sacrifices, as much as anyone else. In fact, we work to stop needless loss of soldiers' lives in unnecessary, politically motivated wars.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Libertarians: Allergic to Activism?

Many libertarians, especially Rothbardian AnCaps, Agorists and Voluntaryists, are philosophically opposed to political activism. They think that political participation would "legitimize" the government they hate. This is absurd. Activism on behalf of freedom is the best, indeed the only, way to move the world closer to freedom. Refusing to vote, talk, donate, write, and be active, in order to "de-legitimize" the political process, accomplishes only one thing: it neutralizes and de-claws the libertarian movement, so that the Big Government status quo politicians have fewer pro-liberty advocates to worry about.

I have started a "Libertarian Activism" Page on this blog to list useful informational resources for ways to get involved and things to do. I am not an expert or a professional activist, and make no claims to be such. The site, as you can see, is currently a work in progress. But hopefully it is a step in the right direction. Remember, the United States of America is a democracy, not (yet) a dictatorship, so we the people, and the voters, control the laws and the government.