99% uptime…or not

In the “real virtual world” of Internet-based entrepreneurship, Web hosting companies aim to provide 99.9+ uptime to satisfy their clients, who in turn have customers to satisfy, and so on.

So imagine my sardonic chuckle at seeing this screenshot taken from the “virtual virtual world” of government — namely, the website of the Social Security Administration:

Those in the know will realize how rich this is on multiple levels. I find it funny that apparently the government computers consider Sunday a day of rest, relatively speaking.

Out of curiosity I actually visited the site just now, before “closing hours.” They’ve closed already. No matter; by the time I’m of age to “collect,” this Ponzi scheme and the websites associated with is will cease to exist, whether the powers-that-be like it or not.

Secretary of the Arts!?

Got this from a Facebook friend who will remain nameless — a Secretary of the Arts Petition:

To:  President-Elect Barack Obama

Congratulations and thank you for all you do.

Your good friend Quincy Jones said: “…next conversation I have with President Obama is to beg for a Secretary of Arts.” [November 14th 2008 WNYC interview by John Schaefer on “Soundcheck.”]

We the undersigned support Quincy Jones’ plea.

Thank you.


The Undersigned

Couple of questions from this antistatist freelance choir director. First, how good a friend of Obama’s is Quincy Jones — should that even matter? Second, if the National Endowment for the Arts hasn’t been destructive enough to the arts already, why add another paid bureaucrat to the Unitary Executive? Just throw more funny money at the NEA instead — it’ll subvert its stated mission sooner rather than later.

I don’t have the energy or desire to pick this apart rigorously; but suffice it to say that while I understand at some level the sentiment behind this petition, not only will I refuse to sign it, but I will forever refuse to fall in lockstep with artists who would use the coercion and thievery of the state to advance their cause “for the betterment of all.”

Is there a counterpetition? If so, I’ll sign it immediately. In any case, I hope that the president-elect ignores his “good friend.”

Henry Hazlitt and the unseen

One of my Christmas presents was Henry Hazlitt’s very excellent Economics in One Lesson.  The essential point of this work is the importance of understanding the broader consequences of economic decisions, and not just the immediate effects.

For instance, certain spread-the-work policies do give jobs to more people, but without an actual increase in production no one has gained anything in terms of real wealth.  Certain union policies regarding division of labor also create the same appearance.  Union rules might make it necessary to hire two men to perform a job that could be efficiently completed by one.  Yes, someone got a job out of it, but the customer spent more money than he needed to, which has a negative impact on his limited resources to benefit the economy in other ways.  It is true that these kinds of policies can benefit certain individuals, but only at the expense of society as a whole.

These wider-reaching deleterious effects are what might be called the “unseen” effects of these policies.  They are not invisible, mind you, but rather go unnoticed for whatever reason.

Perhaps the tendency for these kinds of things to go unseen explains the frequent false accusation that free market economics, and in particular Austrian economics, is atomistic.  In truth, though, it seems as though the aforementioned make-work projects are the actual atomistic approaches, for they take account only of the most obvious effects of a given situation without realizing the broader consequences which are involved.  They look at the benefit to one particular man or group and not at the consequences for the entire economy.   That sounds pretty atomistic to me.

Happy Holidays

Blogging has been slow lately, but I seriously doubt that at this time of year too many people are glued to the computer screen.  At any rate, I just wanted to wish all of you happy holidays—Christmas, Hanukkah, etc.

Much fuss has been made about the supposed “War on Christmas,” but on my visit home to see my family, I overheard something once or twice that jogged my memory and got me to thinking.  I heard people–real people exercising their own discretion–say to one another, “Have a nice holiday.”  What is more, I can remember hearing this phrase throughout my entire life in the area in which I was raised.   So if real people use this phrase, why can’t store employees?  What then makes it an assault on Christmas?

Of course, I think sometimes that people can be too p.c. about the appropriate holiday greeting.  A few years ago, I slipped up and accidentally wished a friend of mine “Merry Christmas.”  I immediately realized my mistake, given that he is Muslim, and the look on my face surely showed this.  His response?  “Merry Christmas to you, too.”  That kind of graciousness is instructive.

Jeff Tucker has made quick work of all this nonsense on Inside Catholic.

And remember, Christmas has twelve days, culminating in the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6, so let the celebration continue.  I leave my decorations up until February 2, the Feast of the Presentation in the Temple.

Transition politics

In the past few days, I’ve obtained functioning cable for the first time in years.  I was actually afraid that this would turn me into a couch potato, but so far it hasn’t come to that.

I do get some TV, however, when exercising on my indoor bike, which I’ve been using in lieu of running outside lately.  Tonight I was watching several cable news channels and indulging in the hilarity that is politics.  Really, the most hilarious part about politics is the indignation that decent people, who should nonetheless know better by now, show when some aspect of politics is revealed to be heaped in corruption.

Here are some fragmented obsessions from the transition period:

–George W. Bush today, daring to speak on behalf of the American people, said that the citizenry wants the Big Three auto makers to succeed.  Not me.  These are companies that have been investing unwisely for decades—for example, paying much more for labor than market circumstances would suggest reasonable.  I want them to fail so that better companies with better products and better service can take their place.  And look at it this way: if they were to go under, the remaining inventory would probably sell off for dirt cheap.  As to replacement parts, well, a savvy businessman could fill that void.  Long live Honda, I say!  (And I should have bought a used Honda instead of a brand new GM car, which is now, at eight years old, a complete piece of crap.)

–GASP!  Caroline Kennedy missed some elections!  The pundits are talking about this in a way that only gives support to my smart-aleky talk about “pious civic claptrap.”  A few talk radio personalities spoke of this revelation as though Kennedy missed Holy Days of Obligation and will have to go to Nation-State Hell unless she repents of her awful sin of not choosing the Lesser of Two Evils.  But since politics is the art of legalized theft and violence, I say that her absences were moments of shining glory.

Kennedy does seem to be campaigning for this Senate seat, something which the Establishment of yore would likely have considered to be in bad taste.  Of course, taste went out the window a long time ago.  Here’s my question:  If Kennedy really is the saint that everyone says she is, why is she seeking to enter the dirtiest profession known to man?  (Yes, politics is dirtier than prostitution, since both the prostitute and the john are engaged in a consensual, rather than a coerced, act, unlike the taxpayer or the young man signing up for Selective Servitude.)

–When did Charlie Sheen become Governor of Illinois?  Sorry, I just couldn’t resist.  In a twisted sort of way, I sympathize with Blagojevich.  He is a politician, so I have no love for him, but the idea that the Federal government should come after him on corruption charges is laughable.

–A number of constituencies which helped to elect Barack Obama are already frustrated with him, which is understandable.  As I said a while ago, expect your change in pennies. Good for the true believers on the Left for holding the new guy accountable (such vigilance always helps to highlight the evils of politics), but I think they’re going to end up being disappointed nonetheless.  George W. Bush broke his campaign promises (humble foreign policy, no nation building…), so did Bill Clinton, so did George H.W. Bush, and so did Ronald Reagan, if I’m not mistaken.  Why should it be any different this time?  And why does the electorate keep coming back for more every four years?  Boycott the 2012 election, I say, and show these people just how much legitimacy this cracked up system really has.

Ultimately, all this stuff is just a big show to me, useful for entertainment purposes only.  Once you’ve read enough Albert Jay Nock, most of this garbage becomes pretty predictable; nor does it seem like a terribly good idea to try to change any of it.  When you’re a jackass like I am, you begin to realize that you’ll be lucky if you just get around to changing yourself.

The miracle that is the free market

I spent the early part of this evening running some errands.

First I had to pick up my car from the shop. It needed a few minor (thankfully!) repairs. I got to the shop while the mechanics were still finishing up. While we were waiting, the owner was chatting me up about some musical questions. He’s working on buying a particular instrument for someone who needs it and wanted my help. I’m afraid to say that I was a bit out of my depth in this particular case, though I promised to follow up.

When we finished talking business, we kept batting the breeze nonetheless. My mechanic is an old school Philadelphian—hard working, honest, direct, and as good-hearted as they come. He’s the kind of guy that looks you in the eye the whole time he’s talking to you. I instinctively trust him. The mechanic finished up the car, we finished chatting, I paid a very reasonable charge for the work, and we all bid each other a Merry Christmas, and that was that.

Car fixed. Now what’s for dinner? After mulling over some options I decided to go right back to the hoagie shop where I had eaten lunch. While the workers—both of them immigrants—worked on my sandwich, we chatted about tonight’s biggest, brightest full moon of the year.

Now before I go any further I want to assure you that, while I’m an introvert, I’m no loner, and I have plenty of friends. Sometimes it’s hard to keep track of them all. But nevertheless a thought struck me about my various vesperal visitations. What characterizes my relationship with these several proprietors? It is frankly, as if we are all buddies. This is the miracle of capitalism.

The free market gets a lot of bad press these days, but this is the result of a careless conflation of crime with free exchange. Corrupt business leaders getting in bed with government deserve to be called out (though one could certainly argue that this is not representative of a truly free market). Wal-Mart customers stampeding a janitor to death justly rouse disgust. But in its essence, the free market is a system of voluntary exchanges. The voluntary aspect of this makes each party responsible for himself and dependent upon the others. Each person is there because he wants to be, and this, coupled with the obvious desire to succeed, helps to build relationships.

This is not true in any other economic system. Surely it is not true in feudalism, nor is it true in socialism, which micromanages economies right down to who works in which job. Voluntary exchange would not even exist on an anarcho-communist paradise island, since everyone would be forced to pool resources.

The free market is the sole guarantor of voluntary exchange. It liberates us, so that we are no longer slaves, but free men—no longer slaves, but friends.

Pithy Comment on American Education

The other night during my schola rehearsal, I don’t remember what I said, but I must have let something slip in German. One of my singers asked me, “Do you speak German fluently, or did you just study it in high school?”

The look on my face must have been priceless, judging by the reactions, and all I could say was that there wasn’t anything to add to such a question, that it is perhaps the pithiest and most damning description of American education I’ve ever heard.