let the gun ban games begin

I deny any predictability in politics, but there are many hurdles on the way to enacting any new Federal gun control laws:

  1. Economics: we have enough guns to arm each American citizen, resident alien, and illegal immigrant. Confiscation without compensation is politically impossible, whereas confiscation with compensation would be economically ruinous. Besides, the state of global economy leaves little room for compounding the Congressional constipation that hold captive any possible means of its resuscitation, by yet another polemical bottleneck.
  2. History: though I am far from the absurdity of their right wing anarchism, I admire the panache with which the Tea Party has commandeered the House of Representatives in the wake of the enactment of Obamacare. Moreover, our elected officials are by law old enough to remember the Republican Revolution ushered in by the 1994 AWB, and preponderantly most mindful of remaining in office. Any other motives they might have would be trumped by concerns for reëlection.
  3. Law: the SCOTUS rulings of the last four years imply that keeping and bearing effective small arms in common use is Constitutionally protected, and their regulation cannot be upheld but by passing at least the intermediate scrutiny test, through showing that it furthers an important government interest in a way that is substantially related to that interest. Black rifles and handguns, the most likely targets of gun banners, are especially unlikely to pass this test in virtue of their utility and ubiquity. (Ironically, the former ascended to their status of the most popular long guns in the U.S. as a result of the 1994 AWB.) Update: Moreover, Justice Roberts’ reading of the Commerce Clause in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, 567 U.S. ___ (2012), appears to leave as little room for the Congress to debar Americans from owning certain goods, as it does for it to require their purchase of broccoli.
  4. Stupidity: no idea is so sensible that our political debate cannot dumb it down fatally, and will not do so inevitably. Ideas most likely to elicit a consensus, such as criminal liability for unsafe storage of firearms, can and will be reduced to prospective measures repugnant to most gun owners, even as they remain inadequate to most nanny staters.

That said, the Gun Ban Games will be loads of fun to live through.

thorstein veblen on the business of nations

Thorstein Veblen Farmstead: National Historic Landmark
16538 Goodhue Avenue, Nerstrand, Minnesota

In the last analysis the nation remains a predatory organism, in practical effect an association of persons moved by a community interest in getting something for nothing by force and fraud. There is, doubtless, also much else of a more genial nature to be said for the nation as an institutional factor in recent times. The voluminous literature of patriotic encomium and apology has already said all that is needed on that head. But the irreducible core of national life, what remains when the non-essentials are deducted, still is of this nature; it continues to be self-determination in war and politics. Such is the institutional pedigree of the nation. It is a residual derivative of the predatory dynastic State, and as such it still continues to be, in the last resort, an establishment for the mobilization of force and fraud against the outside, and for a penalised subservience of its underlying population at home.
    In recent times, owing to the latterday state of the industrial arts, this national pursuit of warlike and political ends has come to be a fairly single-minded chase after unearned income to be procured by intimidation and intrigue. It has been called Imperialism; it might also, in a colloquial phrasing, be called national graft. By and large, it takes the two typical forms of graft: official salaries (The White Man’s Burden), as in the British crown colonies and the American dependencies; and of special concessions and advantageous bargains in the way of trade, credits and investments, as, eg, the British interests in Africa and Mesopotamia or the American transactions in Nicaragua and Haiti. The official salaries which are levied by this means on the underlying population in foreign parts inure directly to the nation’s kept classes, in their role of official personnel, being in the nature of perquisites of gentility and of political suction. The special benefits in the way of profitable trade and investment under national tutelage in foreign parts inure to those special Interests which are in close touch with the nation’s official personnel and do business in foreign parts with their advice and consent.
    All the while, of course, all this trading on the national integrity is carried on as inconspicuously as may be, quite legally and morally under democratic forms, by night and cloud, and is covered over with such decently voluble prevarication as the case may require, prevarication of a decently statesmanlike sort; such a volume and texture of prevarication as may serve to keep the national left hand from knowing what the right hand is doing, the left hand in these premises being the community at large, as contrasted with the Interests and the official personnel. In all such work of administrative prevarication and democratic camouflage the statesmen are greatly helped out by the newspapers and the approved agencies that gather and purvey such news as is fit to print for the purpose in hand. The pulpit, too, has its expedient uses as a publicity agency in furtherance of this gainful pursuit of national enterprise in foreign parts.
    However, the present argument is not concerned with the main facts and material outcome of this imperial statecraft considered as a “gainful pursuit,” but only with the ulterior and residual consequences of the traffic in the way of a heightened sense of national integrity and a closer coalescence of this national integrity with the gainful pursuits of all these dominant business Interests that engage the sympathies of the official personnel. By this means the national integrity becomes ever more closely identified, in the popular apprehension, with the security and continued enlargement of the capitalised overhead charges of those concerns which do business in foreign parts; whereby the principles of business and absentee ownership come in for an added sanction; so that the official personnel which has these matters in charge is enabled to give a more undivided attention and a more headlong support to any manoeuvres of strategic sabotage on industrial production which the exigencies of gainful business may dictate, whether at home or abroad.
    Statecraft as a gainful pursuit has always been a furtive enterprise. And in due proportion as the nation’s statecraft is increasingly devoted to the gainful pursuit of international intrigue it will necessarily take on a more furtive character, and will conduct a larger proportion of its ordinary work by night and cloud. Which leads to a substitution of coercion in the place of consultation in the dealings of the official personnel with their underlying population, whether in domestic or foreign policy; and such coercion is increasingly accepted in a complaisant, if not a grateful, spirit by the underlying population, on a growing conviction that the national integrity is best provided for by night and cloud. So therefore it also follows that any overt expression of doubt as to the national expediency of any obscure transaction or line of transactions entered into by the official personnel in the course of this clandestine traffic in gainful politics, whether at home or abroad, will presumptively be seditious; and unseasonable inquiry into the furtive movements of the official personnel is by way of becoming an actionable offense; since it is to be presumed that, for the good of the nation, no one outside of the official personnel and the business Interests in collusion can bear any intelligent part in the management of these delicate negotiations, and any premature intimation of what is going on is likely to be “information which may be useful to the enemy.” Any pronounced degree of skepticism touching the expediency of any of the accomplished facts of political intrigue or administrative control is due to be penalised as obnoxious to the common good. In the upshot of it all, the paramount rights, powers, aims, and immunities of ownership, or at least those of absentee ownership, come in for a closer identification with the foundations of the national establishment and are hedged about with a double conviction of well-doing.
    In that strategy of businesslike curtailment of output, debilitation of industry, and capitalisation of overhead charges, which is entailed by the established system of ownership and bargaining, the constituted authorities in all the democratic nations may, therefore, be counted on to lend their unwavering support to all manoeuvres of business-as-usual, and to disallow any transgression of or departure from business principles. Nor should there seem any probability that the effectual run of popular sentiment touching these matters will undergo any appreciable change in the calculable future. The drift of workday discipline, as well as of deliberate instruction, sets in the conservative direction. For the immediate future the prospect appears to offer a fuller confirmation in the faith that business principles answer all things. The outlook should accordingly be that the businesslike control of the industrial system in detail should presently reach, if it has not already reached, and should speedily pass beyond that critical point of chronic derangement in the aggregate beyond which a continued pursuit of the same strategy on the same businesslike principles will result in a progressively widening margin of deficiency in the aggregate material output and a progressive shrinkage of the available means of life.

— Thorstein Veblen, Absentee Ownership and Business Enterprise in Recent Times: the Case of America,
New York, N.Y.: B.W. Huebsch, 1923, pp. 442-445

de l’économie dans l’amour et dans la haine

Nos femmes prennent tout notre argent pour rester avec nous, tandis que nos putes en prennent un peu pour nous quitter. Lesquelles font donc la meilleure affaire?

Frans de Geetere, Une prostituée et son client, les années 1930s

Nous répétons après Samuel Johnson, qu’un second mariage est le triomphe de l’espoir sur l’expérience. Mais même si on ne peut pas se plonger deux fois de suite dans la même rivière, aucune force de la nature ne lui interdit pas de pisser à chaque fois dans le même égout. De même la facilité de faire renaître une vieille haine contraste avec la difficulté de renouveler une vieille amitié. À cet égard, nos amours sont plus proches des égouts que des rivières.

Basile Poukireff, L’Union mal assortie, 1862

big in japan

Japanese apparently have some of the least active sex lives, a finding that tantalizes economists and sociologists. […] “Wealth is the best contraceptive,” says Nicholas Smith, director of equity research at MF Global in Tokyo, who has long studied the supposed correlation between procreation and economic growth. “There is a well-known correlation between rising per capita GDP and falling fertility.”

—William Pesek, “Waning Sex Drives Give Economy ‘Perfect’ Cushion”, Business Week, 14 April 2010

People say, “I want to get laid a lot and make lots of money.” That’s not the right order.


What gets me confounded is the rule of order. On the one hand, it makes sense for lust to defer to greed. On the other hand, the satisfaction of greed tends to suppress lust. And on top of that, the poor have more sex and enjoy it more than the rich,—or at least the former afford the latter an opportunity to believe it to be so, and to share it vicariously and enviously.

Anyone inclined to sell Gene Simmons short ought to consider how his counsel resonates with Darwinian principles whereby the optimal reproductive strategy for an attractive woman is to get knocked up by the tennis pro while married to a millionaire. And now we learn that the millionaire is not really into fucking his trophy wife. Looks like a win for the back-door man.

the poverty of libertarianism

A problem for libertarians:

Following Aristotle and Aquinas, it is customary to distinguish commutative justice, which deals with the relations that arise between individuals, between individuals and groups, and between groups that comprise any given community, from distributive justice, which deals with the overarching relation of that community as a whole to all of its constituent individuals and groups. Continue reading the poverty of libertarianism

virtues and values in market exchanges

All appropriations and transfers of conventionally valued goods or services, be they consensual or coerced, are essentially self-regarding as regards their cost, but essentially other-regarding as regards their value. For consumable goods, the relevant distinction between their consumption and socially warranted dominium arises from Deuteronomy 23:24-25, as explained by John Kilcullen. To the extent that sex is valued conventionally rather than intrinsically, all varieties of sexual intercourse are likewise essentially other-regarding. In particular, while no one is qualified to speak for all sadomasochists, the following passage from a review by Charles Rosen is very much to the point:

When I was writing a review of Alban Berg’s correspondence, I remarked to an elderly and very distinguished psychoanalyst that I was surprised by how many of Schoenberg’s students seemed to enjoy being so badly treated and humiliated by him. She replied, “I have no time to explain this just now, but I can assure you that there are a great many masochists and not nearly enough sadists to go around.”

What is valued in all kinds of sex, as in all other kinds of conversation, is not the mere brunt of its experience, but also its mutuality.

Market exchanges of all sorts of goods or services are essentially other-regarding, not in regard of obtaining them at the lowest possible cost, but in regard of establishing and maintaining their value. In so far as an analogous situation obtains in communication, this is a matter of conventional values in the conventional Lewisian game-theoretic construal of convention as coordination. Notwithstanding any misgivings concerning the expense of spirit in a waste of shame, market exchanges are expected to leave each party with the impression that what they received in the exchange is worth more than what they gave up. In the normal course of events, a notional impression of increase in value would serve as well as, or even better than, an actual increase therein. Thus Max Weber’s criticism of Benjamin Franklin in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, that the appearance of honesty serves the same purpose as honesty itself, and hence an unnecessary surplus of this virtue would appear to Franklin’s eyes as unproductive waste. Weber concludes that Franklin purveys a strict utilitarianism, whereby the mere appearance of honesty (der Schein der Ehrlichkeit) is always sufficient when it accomplishes the end in view. But in the long run, such appearances can only be sustained by tacit collusion of both parties. The butcher who places his finger on the scale enters in a relation of mutual dependency with the carnivore who averts his eyes from this petty subterfuge. Likewise the wife who shores up her sex appeal with face paint and foundation garments, colluding with the husband who bears mute witness to her daily embellishments.

Consider sexual politics. In the context of a long-term romantic relationship, reciprocal constructive ambiguity manifests in the woman wondering whether the man is just using her for sex, while he wonders how long he can keep her guessing. The maintenance of this equilibrium depends on a delicate balance between competition and coordination, negotiated among the parties. This is where David Lewis’ analysis of convention may pay off. Lewisian conventions exemplify two main conditions:

  1. Convention is a strict Nash equilibrium with no gain realizable from unilateral deviation by any party thereto, and a loss realized by any deviating party, with an additional coordination proviso that all parties prefer universal compliance in the convention, on condition that at least all but one comply to it.
  2. Convention is arbitrary in having an alternative that could serve equally well in its place.

Consider the case of corporate employment, where the corporation is tasked with creating the appearance of improvement in the lot of its employees over the scenario of their free agency. As explained by Ronald Coase, this improvement is due to amortizing the transaction costs of their initial association. The appearance of extra value accruing to the employees in this association, depends on coordination among its parties in representing real or imaginary long-term benefits of sticking together. Correlatively, the appearance of extra value accruing to the employer from the employees is a matter of coordinating their appearance of hard work sustained through brown-nosing and back-biting, and relieved by the meremost minimum of discreet sexual harassment and persiflage around the water cooler. And so on.

A Microsoft employee takes several years to vest into his stock options. In exchange, he gives up the opportunity of higher wages in the free market. (That may no longer be the case in the current economy, but let us set that aside.) The value of this long-term benefit depends on the interim growth in the Microsoft stock price. This dependence yields a motive for all Microsoft employees to prefer universal loyalty to their employees amongst their colleagues, on which see the pep talks by Steve Ballmer, with their disparate reception among the faithful and the unaffiliated. At the same time, when and if Google gets big enough to buy Microsoft, with all outstanding stock warrants subject to universal conversion, all current Microsoft employees would prefer a universal shift in loyalty to their new employer amongst their colleagues. In short, their loyalty is stable in being motivated by a prospective gain dependent on universal compliance, but arbitrary in lacking an essential connection to the fortunes of the brand.

An analogous situation appears to arise with any construal of value motivating economic exchanges putatively benefiting both parties. Indeed, it is hard to conceive of an alternative to construing it as a matter of coordination in the foregoing fashion, given that the labor theory and other unfashionable imputations of inherent value are unlikely to yield the preponderance of the “win-win” scenario. As for the aspect of virtue playing its part in market exchanges, its role appears to be taken by Frankfurtian bullshit serving as the counterpart of the mere appearance of honesty claimed by Weber to be necessary and sufficient therefor.

nobody knows anything

1. Thomas Hobbes: “In the nature of man we find three principal causes of quarrel: first, competition; secondly, diffidence; thirdly, glory.”
2. Only artists and scientists compete for timeless glory. Only soldiers and statesmen compete for worldly glory. To the extent that they are exempted from these vocations, the world’s finest economists belong with everybody else, striving to lessen their diffidence by competing for lucre.
3. If their knowledge of economics enabled them to dope out the trends of supply and demand one step ahead of hoi polloi, we would see the world’s finest economists consistently prevail in this competition.
4. That has not been the case.
5. William Goldman: “Nobody knows anything.”

thorstein veblen on the propaganda of the faith

Official Seal of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples
Writers who discuss these matters have not directed attention to the Propaganda of the Faith as an object-lesson in sales-publicity, its theory and practice, its ways and means, its benefits and its possibilities of gain. Yet it is altogether the most notable enterprise of the kind. The Propaganda of the Faith is quite the largest, oldest, most magnificent, most unabashed, and most lucrative enterprise in sales-publicity in all Christendom. Much is to be learned from it as regards media and suitable methods of approach, as well as due perseverance, tact, and effrontery. Continue reading thorstein veblen on the propaganda of the faith

keynes on hope and greed



    We are suffering just now from a bad attack of economic pessimism. It is common to hear people say that the epoch of enormous economic progress which characterised the nineteenth century is over; that the rapid improvement in the standard of life is now going to slow down — at any rate in Great Britain; that a decline in prosperity is more likely than an improvement in the decade which lies ahead of us. Continue reading keynes on hope and greed

the basic laws of human stupidity


by Carlo M. Cipolla
illustrations by James Donnelly

THE FIRST BASIC LAW of human stupidity asserts without ambiguity that:

Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.

Stupid Person No. 1
At first, the statement sounds trivial, vague and horribly ungenerous. Closer scrutiny will however reveal its realistic veracity. No matter how high are one’s estimates of human stupidity, one is repeatedly and recurrently startled by the fact that:

a) people whom one had once judged rational and intelligent turn out to be unashamedly stupid.

b) day after day, with unceasing monotony, one is harassed in one’s activities by stupid individuals who appear suddenly and unexpectedly in the most inconvenient places and at the most improbable moments.

The First Basic Law prevents me from attributing a specific numerical value to the fraction of stupid people within the total population: any numerical estimate would turn out to be an underestimate. Thus in the following pages I will denote the fraction of stupid people within a population by the symbol å.

Continue reading the basic laws of human stupidity