Not stuck in traffic, yet

Great stuff, Anthony Downs An Economic Theory of Democracy, summary from wikipedia:

Here is a list of the key propositions Downs attempts to prove in chapter eight:

  1. A two-party democracy cannot provide stable and effective government unless there is a large measure of ideological consensus among its citizens.
  2. Parties in a two-party system deliberately change their platforms so that they resemble one another; whereas parties in a multi-party system try to remain as ideologically distinct from each other as possible.
  3. If the distribution of ideologies in a society’s citizenry remains constant, its political system will move toward a position of equilibrium in which the number of parties and their ideological positions are stable over time.
  4. New parties can be most successfully launched immediately after some significant change in the distribution of ideological views among eligible voters.
  5. In a two-party system, it is rational for each party to encourage voters to be irrational by making its platform vague and ambiguous.

The conditions under which his theory prevails are outlined in chapter two. Many of these conditions have been challenged by later scholarship. In anticipation of such criticism, Downs quotes Milton Friedman in chapter two that: “Theoretical models should be tested primarily by the accuracy of their predictions rather than by the reality of their assumptions”

Here’s a rare occasion when I agree with Milton Friedman, and would add that Downs model from 1958 has weathered fairly well as a predictive framework.

Not stuck in traffic, yet

William Gibson likes (real) books, too

I agree with much of his observation below.  The bookstore of the future looks more like a showroom, with some machines that can make books on the spot, or perhaps have them made and mailed to you.  Certainly kindle and other ebooks have a convenience factor for some, but they still don’t beat regular books:

Will you mourn the loss of the physical book if eBooks become the dominant format?

It doesn’t fill me with quite the degree of horror and sorrow that it seems to fill many of my friends. For one thing, I don’t think that physical books will cease to be produced. But the ecological impact of book manufacture and traditional book marketing –- I think that should really be considered. We have this industry in which we cut down trees to make the paper that we then use enormous amounts of electricity to turn into books that weigh a great deal and are then shipped enormous distances to point-of-sale retail. Often times they are remained or returned, using double the carbon footprint. And more electricity is used to pulp them and turn them into more books. If you look at it from a purely ecological point of view, it’s crazy.

How would you do things differently?

My dream scenario would be that you could go into a bookshop, examine copies of every book in print that they’re able to offer, then for a fee have them produce in a minute or two a beautiful finished copy in a dust jacket that you would pay for and take home. Book making machines exist and they’re remarkably sophisticated. You’d eliminate the waste and you’d get your book -– and it would be a real book. You might even have the option of buying a deluxe edition. You could have it printed with an extra nice binding, low acid paper.

William Gibson likes (real) books, too

But it was . . .

Just finished the book “Box Boats: How Container Ships Changed the World” by Brian Cudahy. It was an interesting and good book in many respects, but extremely frustrating in others. It really needed some diagrams and more pictures, as well as a little more discussion of how the global economy was affected by the development of the container ship. Towards the middle, the writing style and lack of diagrams or drawings both dragged it down a bit, so I am recommending the book with the advice to read Chapters 1-4 and 6, and then the others if you are really interested. There are many things covered very well, and discussion about the network effects of a very simple (from a technical standpoint) innovation goes to the heart of what innovation really means. So on a quality scale the book is 8/10, mainly for a lack of pictures or diagrams, but the subject matter rates a 10/10 on the importance scale. Also there are some very interesting examples of open-source methodologies, and the advantages of technology unencumbered by patent restrictions.

My favorite quote:

Measured against twentieth-century innovations in fields such as electronics or nuclear medicine, a thirty-five-foot box that can be securely stacked atop similar boxes and that can be lifted by a crane hardly seems like cutting edge technology. But it was,

Continue reading “But it was . . .”

But it was . . .

Where’s the dilemma..?

A book about the broader effects of piracy that is next on my reading list gets a write up over at Ars. I have made many posts at TLF and IP Central weblog about the informational value of black markets and grey markets, a very interesting subject. It seems that there is much of interest for those looking at the intersection of web 2.0 and the production of cultural goods in this work:

Hat tip: Tim Lee

Ars Book Review: “The Pirate’s Dilemma”
By Nate+Anderson
Published: May 14, 2008 – 11:48PM CT

The strength of street knowledge
The Pirate’s Dilemma: How Youth Culture is Reinventing Capitalism (buy)
Matt Mason (blog)

Continue reading “Where’s the dilemma..?”

Where’s the dilemma..?

The Self-Regulating Market requires state intervention

Tim Lee makes a couple of points about what he sees as the puzzling connections between free trade and protectionism, and he stumbles across the point I’d made earlier to one of Jerry Brito’s comments, (yes, the comment that Jerry can’t respond to, and therefore must censor) It’s a simple point that Karl Polanyi made in his excellent book The Great Transformation: that the self-regulating market requires state intervention, both for it’s creation and for its maintenance . So the creation of a self regulating market in copyrighted goods requires state intervention to create and maintain that market. But Tim, being a libertarian, can’t read or understand Polanyi, so he’s confused about why those who support free trade also support certain market interventions:

This is a fascinating question. One of the things I find really interesting about the 19th century political debate is that the opposing political coalitions were more sensibly aligned, perhaps because people had a slightly clearer sense of what was at stake. My impression (which may be wrong in its details) is that the free traders tended to be liberals and economic populists. They clearly understood that protectionism brought about a transfer of wealth from relatively poor consumers to relatively wealthy business interests. In the opposing coalition were a coalition of business interests and xenophobes making fundamentally mercantilist arguments about economic nationalism.


Karl Polanyi covers this period in his book The Great Transformation. His perspective is a little different.

First, Polanyi notes that those opposing the liberal agenda there were the defenders of the old order, ultimately derived from the feudal social structure, as well the working urban proletariat. Their interests never coincided and their visions of an alternative to the dominant liberal creed were so very different, it is not surprising that they never formed a united opposition. It is true that once the middle class realized that free trade meant cheaper food they were temporarily won over to its cause. But there were a few others who realized how disastrous free trade would be in the long run.

Second, Tim Lee, as all libertarians do, makes a whole series of informational exclusions about what comes along with liberalism. For example, it cannot be an accident that Great Britain, during the time of the ascendancy of liberal ideals, also maintained a very large colonial empire. Ultimately, adherence to the dogma of the self-regulating market requires state intervention to ensure that the prices of labor, land, and money are all controlled only by economic factors internal to that self-regulating market. When social, environmental, religious or national policies interfere with the operating of that self regulating market, state intervention is required. Case in point: US invasion of Iraq. When political ideals interfere with the functioning of the self-regulating market, state intervention is also called for by supporters of the market. Case in point: the DMCA. From this view, the fact that those who support the self-regulating market also support strong imposed patent, copyright and trademark laws is entirely consistent and unsurprising.


The bottom line is: you cannot separate the economic functioning of society from its broader social, political, environmental, national and social contexts, as liberals are wont to do. Human society just cannot be distilled into neatly separate fungible categories. They are all connected. Failure to come to grips with this reality is why libertarianism can only be maintained by making excluding whole categories of information.

Thus the following confusion on Tim’s part:

Today’s free trade debate is much weirder, because there are enough businesses who want to export things that significant parts of the business community are for freer trade. On the other hand, the liberals who fancy themselves defenders of relatively poor consumers find themselves in bed with predatory industries like sugar and stell that have been using trade barriers to gouge consumers. And the “trade” debate has increasingly come to be focused on issues that don’t actually have much to do with trade, whether it’s labor and environmental “standards,” copyright and patent requirements, working retraining programs, cross-border subsidies, etc.

Continue reading “The Self-Regulating Market requires state intervention”

The Self-Regulating Market requires state intervention

The Great Transformation

Reading The Great Transformation by Karl Polanyi. It is certainly one of the great cross-disciplinary conceptual efforts of our time, and is the best book about economics I’ve read since Amartya Sen‘s Development as Freedom. Essential to Polanyi’s views is that our economic structures are embedded in a wider social and political context, and he makes the great point that men can not be reduced to economic automatons, as so many economists were (and still are) apt to do.

One of the insights he has is that there are some inherent conflicts within the dominant neo-classical liberal creed, specifically between the idea of laissez-faire policies and the institution of the self-regulating market:

“Strictly economic liberalism is the organizing principle of a society in which industry is based on the institution of the self-regulating market…For as long as such a system is not established economic liberals will call for the intervention of the state in order to establish it, and once established, in order to maintain it.” (page 149)

And I found a great example of this contradiction right over at that libertarian website, TLF:
Continue reading “The Great Transformation”

The Great Transformation

Insanity, or the War America fights against itself, especially in California

I’d received my email from the Marijuana Policy Project reminding me the US has past a milestone of some kind, and that tied in very well with a book I’d been reading too:

Our nation is currently incarcerating a record one in 99 adults, according to a new report by the Pew Center on the States. You can read The New York Times’ article on the U.S. government’s war on the American people here.

Continue reading “Insanity, or the War America fights against itself, especially in California”

Insanity, or the War America fights against itself, especially in California