Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Monday, August 10, 2009

Monday, August 3, 2009

POETRY SUCKS

homeless man's semen
much cheaper than IVF:
Turkey baster love

Fat womans dancing
jiggling almost hypnotic,
I need way more beers

Sour gummy worm
you tantilize my tastebuds,
empty bag of dreams

8.2%
Life and death, sickness and health
I love thee scrumpy

Crystallography:
If only life could be solved
P21/me

Sunday, August 2, 2009

ON WHY YOU DON'T NEED AN ECONOMICS DEGREE TO SEE WHY SOCIALISM = SHIT

Socialism is a term that seems to be bandied about alot these days. With a global recession provoking increasing criticism of free-market economics, the election of an egalitarian American president and our very own prime-minister handing out jobs like popcorn at a funeral, many a bourgeois might have cause for pictures of Marx dancing in his or her head. However, the allure of equality and common-sense calls for fairness often obscure the costs of socialist policies.

While I'm meant to know a thing or two about "economics", I often forget the incontrovertible evidence and arguments that best defend the free-market against the red tide. Thus, I shan't attempt to convince you of them here. Instead, with a simple model, and some supporting explanation and discussion, I intend to argue that a particular socilaistesque policy, while well meaning, is not at all rational and, worse, is - at least I shall argue so - immoral.


In order to lead the kind of material life of which I am so fond, I currently hold a part-time job. Some of my friends work full-time. Others have accepted positions that entitle them to fill out accurately, and with some pride, the blank square labeled 'occupation' on their census form. However, working life is not a privelege bestowed upon all. Up to March, 5% of all working-age New Zealanders capable of joining the workforce were unemployed (http://www.stats.govt.nz/products-and-services/nz-in-the-oecd/~/link.aspx?_id=2A2BE2696C0A436892985CA72AC7469D&_z=z). Jobs, one might argue, define the kinds of people we are, empower us, in addition to improving our material welfare. On this basis, then, oughtn't all people be entitled to jobs? Sure: most developed countries actively discourage discrimination in the workplace, enabling access to employment for large portions of society. Nevertheless, this open access to employment is not enough, one might argue. People are not only entitled to jobs; jobs are a positive right: we ought to do all we can to ensure that every able bodied person is employed in order that their human dignity be respected.
Such arguments might well be held by those in favour of policies designed to drastically reduce unemployment, for example, John Key's recent announcement to create positions for many of New Zealand's unemployed youth (http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/2712268/Keys-ambitious-plan). I take it as relatively uncontroversial that such policies, defended on the basis of entitlement, fairness and/or equality (that is, equality of job opportunity), are typical of socialist-leaning types. As an example of a socialist policy designed to promote better outcomes for society (in this case fairness, or perhaps equality), I will show that no matter how well-meaning they are, such policies are inherently inferior to those that encourage a free-market (not necessarily a neo-libertarian free-market, but more free than a market directed or influenced by socilaist policies).

Economics is a dense subject area. It is strewn with complicated theories and often unintelligible empirical evidence. Hence, I wish only to work with a very simple model describing a socialist policy. We shall call this social policy "protectionism", by which I mean that a government (or society, if you wish) decides to enact a policy or policies that protect the jobs of those already employed and seeks to provide jobs for the currently unemployed. I suggest that a socialist would argue that such a policy is a "good" one, or the "right" policy, when compared to a non-protectionist policy (I don't wish to define "goodness" or "rightness" here, only to point out that based on the above discussion, socialists would tend to approve of a protectionist policy on the basis of it being "good" or "right").
Now, what are the outcomes of "protectionism" when compared to "non-proctetionism"? Let's say that protectionism is carried out by a government by subsidising New Zealand made goods (I am intentionally simplifying here: a subsidy is a payment from the government to a firm with no expectation of any reciprocal exchange; a New Zealand made good is one that is made here and is sold both at home and overseas). The effect of the subsidy is that New Zealand producers can now make their goods at a lower cost because they no longer need to pay for some portion of those costs (the subsidy pays that portion of the costs instead). This lightens the load for New Zealand producers: they can now afford to sell their goods for a lower price, meaning they can outprice overseas competitors and gain more customers than them. This increase in sales allows the producers to hire more staff in order to churn out more product. We thus get the desired result: increased employment.
"What's this? More New Zealand-made goods sold, cheaper goods for customers and more jobs? Producers win (they sell more and make bigger profits), customers win (the can buy goods at lower prices), the unemployed win (they are now employed). What's not to like?" we hear the socialist cry in support of such a policy. "This is clearly the right policy to implement".

However, we have neglected the fact that producers also sell their goods overseas. While one might be tempted to argue that a protectionist policy indirectly benefits overseas customers by giving them access to cheaper goods, overseas producers feel the pinch as less of their more expensive goods are purchased. As overseas producers are now selling fewer goods, they no longer need as many employees to make them: there are inevitable layoffs. This results in lower overseas incomes and thus these customers do not enjoy the benefits of cheaper New Zealand goods (notice, also, that this would also mean fewer customers to purchase New Zealand's goods, possibly reducing the number of sales).
Why would a foreign country put up with these effects? Surely they would be better off implementing policies to protect their own workers. How, then does the effect of both of these protectionist polices play out for each of the countries (if we assume, for simplicity, that we are only considering two nations: New Zealand, and some foreign country)? The model is drawn below:


















Again, I have simplified things: the nunber on the left in each box represents the preference rank of the outcome for New Zealand (1 being the most preferred outcome, 4 being the worst), the number on the right representing the preference ranks of each outcome for the foreign country. Following the above discussion, clearly each country would most prefer to have its own protectionist policy in place, while the other country does not: this ensures more jobs, and cheaper goods in the home country (note that it causes a loss of jobs in the foreign country, hence, this being their least preferred outcome).
Why is it, though, that both countries prefer non-protectionist policies in both countries to protectionist policies in both countries? If both countries implement protectionist policies then the cost of producing goods in both countries decreases, thus granting neither country's products a competitive advantage over the other: there are no increases in sales for either country and thus no subsequent increases in employment for either country. One might argue that, at least, the price of goods in both countries has decreased, however, this reduction in price has come at the cost of the subsidy, a subsidy which is funded by the taxes paid by the very consumers who will supposedly enjoy the benefit of lower prices (note that the cost of employing civil servants to collect the taxes and redistribute them to producers will yield a net cost to the taxpayer/consumer. Moreover, basic economic theory notes that producers do not pass on all of the benefit of a subsidy to their customers, and thus even with a perfectly efficient government, taxpayers will not see a price reduction equivalent to that of the subsidy they paid out of their taxes). Clearly, then, a situation in which neither country employs protectionism is more desirable as there are no subsidization costs to the consumer, while employment remains the same in both situations. Protectionism, then, is not a "good" policy insofar as it does not produce the desired (by socialists) outcome (greater employment).

However, protectionism is worse than simply being a poor choice of policy, I argue that it is an immoral choice of policy. Following the reasoning I laid down in a previous blog post (http://h8uchch.blogspot.com/2009/07/avoiding-life-that-is-nasty-brutish-and.html), we can see that a country's shallow focus on the benefits to itself will lead to the relatively undesirable outcome where both countries will end up employing protectionist policies. However, this decision by each country imposes costs on the other: New Zealand's employment of protectionism forces the foreign country to pay taxes for a subsidy that has no effect on the economy and costs them more than if New Zealand were not to employ protectionist policies. This imposition of costs is not only irrational, but is immoral for there is not even an appropriate justification for such an imposition: the protectionist policy has no discernable benefit for New Zealand (or the foreign country). It is not as if New Zealand could claim "oh but at least OUR workers are better off for it", because this is not the case. We would be simply throwing money down the drain, only to force our foreign friends do the same. How can such a policy be the "right" thing to do? The imposition of such costs on others is not only wasteful, but immoral for those same wasted taxpayer dollars could have been spent on schools, hospitals, orphanges or bad-ass symphony orchestra accompanied shark-cum-laser light shows.
Socialist inspired protectionist policies, then, are not only ineffective, but are wasteful and needlessly impose costs on others.

Therefore, I implore you, next time you're discussing the domestic economy with Barack or John, or heatedly (read: drunkenly) debating with your local anarchist/communist/punk/socialist/Green-and-or-Maori-Party supporter, pick out your favourite Crayola and draw yourself a pretty little prisoners' dilemma explaining in far too simple terms the problem with socialist inspired economic policies. You don't have to be an economist, or even to have to finished high-school, you just need to think clearly (even simply) about just what it is that a particular policy/idea implies.






P.S. If you even remotely sympathised with this, go out and read some Ayn Rand. I'm sure you'll be delighted with her.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

CARRYING WEIGHT #1

(Part #1 in a series of columns on 'books//films//movies' that have like "changed lives", or something)

I'm really not sure if books can change lives. Predetestination, Determinism, Science, etc. And even if they can, it's kinda hard to find a perspective from which to judge whether an individual book has lived up to such lofty criteria. I really don't know if my life would have been any different without
Spot the Dog or Where's Wally?. On the other hand though, if any book could be said to have “changed my life”, then surely all books I have read could too, however insignificantly. But this makes the phrase “changed my life” seem trite and prosaic, almost meaningless. Setting aside these deconstructive semantics, of which Derrida would be proud (and maybe putting away the name dropping too) I think much easier and less fraught question can be asked: “What book do I remember best?”.

Probably The Collected Tales of Nikolai Gogol. But that doesn't really count, seeing on only finished it today. I lack the Kantian aesthetic distance required for proper judgment. So instead I will say George Orwell's 1984. Skipping from Predestination to precognition, I can see prospective readers groaning ironically (if that is possible) at this choice, usually the fanfare of pseudo-intellectual teenagers. We are back to the trite and prosaic apparently. But hear me out.

I think I first read 1984 when I was about ten. And like most ten year olds I didn't understand a fucking word of it and didn't finish it (went back to my pro-yo or something). All I knew was that it was (quote) greate literature (unquote) and that it ought to be read as part of a decent (quote) cultural education (unquote). I came back to it when I was about fifteen to find that, while the actual book had decayed considerably sitting on my parents book shelf, the content seemed to have miraculously improved. It was good. Seriously fucking good. It had everything any fifteen year old would want. Sex, Violence, Jewbashing, all the good stuff. Yet it also had something for the discerning reader. The historico-political references were cognitive reinforcement heroin to a kid raised on the History Channel. Most of all though, it had tragedy. Not weak-arse Romeo and Juliet type tragedy, but proper, gut wrenching, so-bleak-you-want-to-cry, tragedy. Pathos, I think Aristotle would say.And of such an all encompassing kind too. Things are not getting better, good does not triumph over evil, the entire future of the planet is simply a boot stomping on a human face. Eternally, just stomping. Or at least I thought at the time.

Looking back, with a little aesthetic distance of my own, I can certainly see the flaws. Like most of Orwell's writing, it is transparently didactic and an obvious expression of its author's politics. And as I recently found out, the concept, plot, themes and conclusion were a complete rip-off of an earlier work by Evgeny Zamyatin. The curious thing though, is that this didn't really matter then, and it still doesn't now. For better or for worse, 1984 meant something to me, and it still does. Not because it changed my life, but because it is so inextricably tied up with a time when it wasn't necessary to judge a book intellectually, or deconstructively, or in a Kantian manner, or in an Aristotelian manner, and it wasn't important to think about whether it was 'cliched' to like it or not, or even to find it necessary to put scare quotes around words to distance myself from them. It could just be enjoyed because it was so fucking good.

- B. Richardson

H8 U, SUCCESS.

(successful dogs)

(This may not make sense to anyone. It's kind of personal like genital warts, but for those who also have things they would rather not talk about, read on and best of luck)

THE SUCCESSFUL PERSON, AKA LIFE SUCCESS STORY PERSON, AND WHY YOU CAN STOP LOOKING DOWN ON ME AS A FUCKING FAILURE JUST BECAUSE I THOUGHT MYSELF INTO A PICKLE OF A JAM AND REALISED SUCCESS HAS NO DEFINITIVE CONNECTION WITH WHAT IS GOOD OR THE RIGHT WAY TO LIVE

SO. SUCCESS STORIES.

(e.g. Tony Robbins, Madonna, Jared (Subway), Paul Holmes (although he's feeling it now, poor old successful sod (rich daughters are even worse than those who consider themselves "successful" especially if they think they are successful for appearing on television)), Donald Trump, Billy Ray Cyrus (and its offspring), Silvio Berlusconi, Kim Jong-Il, Ben Johnson, MJ, Any record holder, DOUBLE POINTS FOR past record holders (you're not even the best anymore, gutz bro) and Six Figure Bureaucrats (there are too many vowels in what you are, mother fucker).

It doesn't mean anything.

A MEASURE OF 'SUCCESS'

(There is at most one correct answer for each of the following questions... some have no answer. "Such is life" and all that)

1) You're a successful person relative to what/who?

2) You have succeeded in life, but at what cost?

3) You have succeeded in life, but for whose benefit?

4) You obtained the desired outcome... now what?

5) Success at this juncture has guaranteed happiness for the rest of your days?

6) You have a high income relative to your peers. Can you make the assumption you deserve it more than them?

7) Does your success result in you having excess? Does that mean you deserve to indulge in it how you please?

8) Did you get it all on your own? Would the same opportunities have presented themselves if you were born in another country?

9) Is success in society something we imagine to make ourselves happy and give us something to do before we get too old to compete?

10) Did you do it to feel better about yourself/make yourself look better to others?

11) Does being a more desirable mate affect what you choose to do?

12) Are we monkeys?

13) What are you trying to do?

A person can succeed at winning a match, climbing a mountain, yes I suppose, but I don't want to do things just to become a "Successful Person" and besting my fellow man. So I'm forgetting about the societies self important success story chumps and about my own success.

Everyone can live at their own pace.

Not competing.

Besides, Jesus was a bit of a failure when you really think about it...

h8 u jesus / competing / life / etc.

AVOIDING THE LIFE THAT IS NASTY, BRUTISH AND SHORT (YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE)

Rationality, like/possess it or not, plays a major role in determining the kind of life that we all lead. Rationality is that faculty of mind that we use to make decisions about day to day choices, what beliefs to hold and which world views to adopt (at least this is true for anyone that does not subscribe to radical cognitive-determinism). Alongside emotional and random brain processes, it is responsible for many of the decisions we make and thus shapes our life paths. As far as decision-making faculties go, rationality is a goodun': via processes of inference and deduction, our rationality helps us to make the best possible decisions with the (often limited) information that we possess.

Or at least that is what we might assume.

The prisoners' dilemma is a hypothetical game played between two people, each of whom seek the best possible outcome for themselves via rational decision-making. Imagine that two acquaintances are caught by the police trying to smuggle drugs into the country. They are placed in separate interrogation chambers and each told that when it comes to their trial they will be given the option of confessing or remaining silent. However, the resulting prison sentence will depend not just on their own decision but on that of their acquaintance. If both players remain silent there will not be enough evidence to charge them with drug smuggling and each will be convicted of the lesser crime of weapon possession and will land 1 year in prison. If both players confess they will be convicted of drug smuggling and each will land 5 years in prison. However, if one player confesses and the other does not, the player that confesses will be released with no sentence for turning evidence against his acquaintance, while the player that remains silent will go to prison for 10 years. The game is represented below.














Knowing that his acquaintance will have to make a decision at the same time as himself, what does the player's rationality tell him is the best decision to make? Notice that regardless of what the other player chooses, it seems that the best choice for a player is to confess. If player 2 is definately going to remain silent, then player 1 ought to confess because he will get to go free, as opposed to spending 1 year in prison. If player 2 is definately going to confess then player 1 ought to confess also because this lands him only 5 years in prison compared to the 10 years he would get if he remained silent. Thus, rationality tells each player that the best option is to confess.

Yet if we look at the game again, we see that the best outcome for the players does not occur if both confess. The best outcome for both players is if they both remain silent (they receive 1 year each as opposed to 5 years each). If rationality tells us what is best for us, how can it be so wrong in this situation?

There are many answers to this: rationality only works in a world in which there is perfect information (we don't have that here, neither player knows what the other is going to choose); rationality is not in fact the best guide for our actions; the most rational option is actually to remain silent, not to confess. Each of these has its merits (and flaws), but each has been touted before. I propose that to exercise our rationality properly, we must consult the 'moral law'.

Immanuel Kant, often considered the most important firgure in enlightenment rationalism (though he expounded empiricist tennets also), suggests that our rationality naturally brings us to the moral conclusion that we should always "Act according to a maxim which can be adopted at the same time as a universal law" (Kant, Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals). That is, we should always act in such a way that if anyone else were in our position, it would be best for them to act in this way also. What does this imply for the prisoners' dilemma? Well, we must ask ourselves, what decision is the one that would be most rational to make if everyone else were to make that decision also? Obviously, the answer is to remain silent: if all players were to make this decision also, this would lead to the best outcome for everyone. If all players remain silent, all players receive 1 year in prison as opposed to 5. (Of course, this outcome hinges on the assumption that all people arrive at Kant's morality via their rationality. We might not think this to be the case in the real world, but in the prisoners' dilemma we assume that each player reasons similarly.)

As a product of truly rational thinking Kant's categorical imperative (also referred to as "The Golden rule" [do unto others as you would have them do unto you], though this is not how Kant in fact preferred his thoughts to be interpreted), shows us why it is not in fact irrational to be rational in the prisoners' dilemma. One would only think that this was the case if they did not realise that moral thinking is in fact a part of rational thinking. But one can hardly reject the result that morality is a natural conclusion of rationality, for it does indeed produce the best outcome for each individual.

Why are such thoughts at all important or relevant to modern life? I hear you ask. Morality is so last century, I hear you sneer. I'm all about me, man.

The fact of the matter is, examples - and well reasoned solutions - like the prisoners' dilemma show that even if we are truly only concerned with ourselves (the selfish bastards that we are), it pays to be moral. Not only does society at large do better with a system of morality, individuals themselves do better than they otherwise would by following a rational system of moral conduct.

Hence, next time you're thinking about throwing shoes at your friend's wall, vomiting in someone else's bed or shitting in his or her shower, consider whether this is really in your best interests. If you do not heed the rational call of morality, you might find that your life is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short" (Hobbes, Leviathan).


- J. A. Graham