31 July 2007

Markets and Electorates

Perusing the internets today (it was a long and slow day in the office), I came across the page of Bryan Caplan, an economics professor at GMU (a hotbed of Austrian free-market folks on the US scene). It appears that Prof Caplan has a new book out called The Myth of the Rational Voter, in which his central thesis seems to be the idea that the average member of the electorate not only is ill-informed in regards to economic policy, but actually makes irrational voting decisions even based on the information s/he has. He bases this on a survey of average voters as compared to economists and highly educated non-economists. The results show that economists would be more likely to vote for stronger free-market outcomes than average voters, a boon for the Libertarian Caplan, and that economic policy may be best left in the hands of the “experts” as average voters affected by certain biases actually skew policy instead of reaching the best possible outcome through the “miracle of aggregation.” (Note, please, that I have not read Prof Caplan’s book and am certain I am doing neither his argument nor his research justice.)

This started me thinking (and be forewarned, this is mere musing not backed by any evidence beyond the anecdotal and likely not properly reasoned) democratic principles at work in politics versus those at work in a market, and the shortfalls of both. Markets serve a number of purposes, but two above all else. The first is the setting of an agreeable (not equitable, not rational, but agreeable) price at which a commodity might be passed from one actor to another. Markets are unquestionably efficient and successful at this task, and are also self regulating by virtue of the fact that the commodity simply will not change hands if the price is not agreeable to both parties. Markets are also conveyors of information through the act of price setting. The manager of the steel mill knows how much to produce for all of the various buyers by virtue of the price. If prices are rising s/he knows to produce more as there is greater demand. If prices are falling, there is a surplus on the market and the manager should hold back production. This can change day to day across millions of markets for billions of commodities, more than any person or computer can track efficiently, yet markets are able to make these on-the-fly corrections because they convey the knowledge of the person-on-the-street through interactions of supply and demand. Towards these two ends, price and information, markets are unmatchable, but notice that I say that markets set agreeable prices, not equitable or rational prices.

Markets, I think, don’t account for the greater good. Their outcomes are geared towards creating exchanges at prices agreed upon by buyers and sellers, but these buyers and sellers are, as Caplan says the electorate is, both ignorant of their true needs/desires and acting irrationally. Perception of needs and desires are skewed by greed, among other factors. The lust for money (i.e. profit seeking, in econ-speak) has created an entire multi-billion dollar industry around manipulating buyers’ desires. How has the market reached a equitable outcome when you can drive past a dilapidated home in need of numerous repairs with a Lincoln SUV with rims worth a few grand sitting in front of it? How has the market reached a equitable outcome when the upper echelon of society sees it’s income growing exponentially while the middle-class and impoverished fall further behind? These are clear examples of ignorance, by the market, or the greater good. But what of rationality in decision making? Even actors acting on incorrect information about their own needs are not acting rationally. For evidence, just look to the stock market bouncing to and fro on the whims of investors. Fear, arrogance, and caprice, not rationality, are market driving forces.

So maybe Caplan is onto something, that economists, not the electorate, should determine economic policy, but at least the electorate wears its ignorance and its irrationality on its sleeve, and doesn’t hide it behind fanciful explanations like the market does. Democracy doesn’t bring about the best of all possible outcomes, but like the free-market, it brings about an agreeable one.

25 July 2007

Reflections on a New Experience

For the past six or seven months I’ve had a headache. It’s fairly constant, fairly consistent, but far from severe or debilitating. At times it flares up, others it subsides, and from time to time it seems gone entirely. I think of these little nuggets of time as moments of clarity, of sorts. They’re times when I can think and act without the constant wondering of what’s causing this bit of pain at my forehead, nose, and teeth. In any case, these headaches aren’t terrible, but they are annoying, and I’ve seen a GP, an eye doctor, and an ear, nose, and throat guy in attempts to figure out what’s causing them. I’ve heard explanations from high blood pressure (now under control) to sleep apnea, but none of these explanations with their solutions has panned out.

So, on Monday, I did it. I left work early, drove out to Annandale at the suggestion of a cousin, and visited an acupuncturist. Now, Eastern medicine, mythology, religion, and philosophy have always deeply intrigued me, so this was no far reach for me, but it was interesting to measure it up to my long held expectations. I’ve considered yoga before, studied Eastern philosophy, and do meditate and practice breathing exercises (though not as often as I’d like), but have never sought out the aid of a “professional.” I expected something holistic in his methods and demeanor; maybe an older man or woman taking the time to discus my problems, my lifestyle, her thoughts on my condition, and potential treatments or lifestyle changes. I expected a slow, but practiced and sure progression into treatment and a rational setting of my expectations.

Wow, was I off base! Entering the office was interesting in itself. The walls and shelves were lined with boxes labeled in Chinese, large jars with roots of some sort or another suspended in liquids, other jars with ground substances, and all enveloped with a distinct earthy odor. To this point my expectations remained intact. I filled out a questionnaire about myself, answered a few other questions and was led into a room. A few moments later a 30-something year old man in a while lab coat entered and shook my hand. He reminded me more of the chiropractor I used to visit than of a practitioner of some ancient form of medicine. The man briefly scanned my questionnaire and asked me where my headache was centralized. Within seconds he had me on my back tapping needles into my stomach and face. Fifteen minutes later I was in the bathroom wiping the little beads of dried blood from my cheeks, not quite sure what had just transpired. Talk about misconceptions! He gave me only a bit of advice, “Don’t overeat, and no cold drinks,” “Don’t worry so much,” and “Your sinuses are very tight.” He then asked me to come back on Wednesday and Friday. On my way out, the young receptionist charged $30 to my card and sent me on my way.

In this time when complaints abound about the lack of time doctors spend with patients, forced by insurers to move us in and out one of after the other like an assembly line of medicine, I expected something different here. I failed to realize that these practitioners are a part of the same system, operating in the same constraints. They have bills to pay and mouths to feed and the way money is made is by a constant flow in but also out of the door. We leave no time in our lives for questioning, for explanation. The quick fix is the American way.

Even so, I went back today and will again on Friday. The experience is one of incredible relaxation for that short time left alone, lying perfectly still, listening to your own breathing with no distraction. That solitude, that time of release, of freedom of the mind might be worth $30 alone. I don’t know if acupuncture is working for me, but I’ll give it three or four weeks and see if there are any results. In the meantime, I know not to expect much from my acupuncturist beyond a few needle sticks and a brief massage.

18 July 2007

Glimpsing Beyond the Bubble

Thinking about solutions, thinking about change. I often find my mind stuck inside a paradigm, like a bubble not allowing me to see, to understand, to imagine, to intuit the changes that might be possible. I can think of change within my bubble; how we might do this thing or that thing differently, and how it might affect my life, your life, their lives. The bubble, though, always constrains my imagination. I can think only right up to the edge of it, to its shimmering surface, but the light strikes it just so, and I can’t see beyond.

Think of a billiards table. A number of balls strewn about, and a cue ball in hand. There are any number of shots I can play within the rules of the game…inside this bubble. Every one of them a chance, a change, with a number of predictable outcomes. But you’re constrained by the rules to play only certain shots, and with only once cue ball, and with only one cue, and to only strike certain balls, and to only play on one table, and on, and on. But what if those rules can change? What if you can push them, bend them, twist them? Now your possible shots and possible outcomes have changed…possibly grown, possibly become more appealing, but definitely changed.

Sometimes I catch a glimpse beyond my bubble. It doesn’t pop, but a shadow passes by and allows me to see possibilities if I could just stretch the edge of my bubble a little bit farther. If we could just bend, twist, and push some of these rules, some of these assumptions, so many new possibilities lay just outside our understanding. A little fracture opens up in the paradigm, possibilities become visible that had never before been grasped.

Think about maternity and paternity leave. Think of the absurdity that these are a luxury. Why? Because they negatively affect productivity. Time, as the saying goes, is money, and money is king. Productivity equals gains at the margin, and this is what drives a capitalist economy. We must always consider the almighty margin lest we fall behind our competitors, lest we flounder and fail. But look around and tell me what you see. Cars, sometimes 2 or 3 or 10 to a person; I see houses larger than a family of 4 might live in for a couple alone; boutique stores, high end grocers, expensive restaurants; I see wealth and abundance all around (though not equally shared). Outside this bubble that constrains me to the capitalist mindset, I see the possibility of wholesale change. We cannot provide more maternity leave for the new mother inside this paradigm because it is a paradigm of constant competition, not cooperation. I can argue easily why it is inefficient to grant more time, why it will cause failure. But outside of this paradigm, outside of this bubble…we have the capability to produce beyond our wildest dreams, and should we choose to share it there would be abundance for all. Outside my bubble, I can see maternity and paternity leave as a basic right granted to all because we’ve forgotten about scarcity, about price, about the margin. But I can only see it. The bubble hasn’t burst, and the shadow passes, and my view is obstructed once again.

12 July 2007


Embarrassed, disgusted...these are the words that come to mind watching this video. The first time a Hindu has offered the opening prayer in a session of the US Senate and this man is interrupted by the shouts of the Christian Right. TPM Cafe has a good synopsis of the event here as well as an...ummm....interesting?...press release from Operation Save America.

I really don't even know what to say about this. How are we to have a meaningful dialogue, a meaningful political discourse, a civil fucking discourse, if we can't even allow each other the decency of listening? This is not mutual respect, this is pure and ugly hatred.

I showed this clip to my roommate and after a few minutes of silence he said, "Well, a little foresight and anyone could have seen this coming." My first reaction was anger at his simple dismissal of the actions of these three 'protesters.' After a little reflection though, I have to admit that I wonder if he might be right. An open Senate session with an advertised "first," it seems rather obvious that some crazies will come out. This, though, says something so much more horrible about our society than his initial statement lets on. If we are to expect the worst of people, if we are to expect that intolerance will always rear it's head, always rise to the occasion...well, another reason to walk away shaking my head.

09 July 2007

My Theory of Actual Reality

Because reality just can’t hold their interest, some have turned to the virtual world…even for a source of income. I’m not talking programming, networking, and internet commerce here. No, I’m talking about this. “Gold farming” is the practice of harvesting virtual goods in an online gaming environment and then selling them for real cash in the real world.

This is what capitalism leads to? It’s time to enter the real economy, produce in the real world. When “commerce” that is confined to the universe of an online game requires real world legislation to govern it, it’s simply gone to far. We have real problems affecting real people all over the real world, and it just seems utterly wasteful to me to have millions of dollars a week changing hands over virtual goods. It also seems a monumental waste of legislative time (not that governments around the world don’t find thousands of other ways to waste this time) to have to create laws to govern this little economy. Some things just make me walk away shaking my head.

06 July 2007

Only PG-13???

Hurrumph! Apparently I haven't been angry enough lately:

The stats: 4 hells, 2 bitches, and a fuck.

05 July 2007


What a crazy ride is life. I haven’t yet become too reflective over how it is I’ve found my way to this point in life, but looking forward to the next couple of months I’m expecting an insane whirlwind of activity. Decisions to be made, moves to be undertaken, classes will start, writing again, working still, time for a life?

Most of you already know that I’ve accepted an offer in the philosophy MA program at George Mason University. Classes that I’ll sit down with the grad studies director next Tuesday to choose will begin on August 27. I’m excited and anxious to dive back into philosophy as a full time student. I’m afraid there’s a lot I’ve forgotten. I know my writing skills are rusty and my research skills unpracticed. I have absolutely no idea what will be expected of me or what to expect of the program. That being said, I can’t wait! I’m ready for something new, something interesting. For too long I’ve had a routine, and it’s time to mix it up a bit.

By the time classes start I’m hoping to have moved. I’ve both found a place and am looking for one at the same time. A college roommate has been offered an apartment near American University and has asked me to move in with him. For a long time I’ve wanted to live in the city, and this will place me only minutes from my office and about a half hour from school and from BL. I wish I could be closer to her and closer to school, cutting traveling time out of my life is going to be a big part of making this new schedule work, but in all likelihood I’ll be taking this apartment. The location, the roommate, and the rent are just too good a combination to pass up.

I’ve mentioned I’ll still be working; the plan there is to cut my hours by as much as possible while still keeping my benefits. I’ve got a great boss who in turn has a great boss who both have agreed to help me toward this end. It looks like I’ll be “working” around 30 hours a week. Some of that time will be spent working from home, and I’m sure a bit of it from time to time will be on the good will of my bosses and coworkers. A new twist, however, in this little scheme is that one of the VPs of our little company, even knowing that I will be a fulltime student come fall, has approached my boss about moving me into a new position…as a manager. This VP’s international sales pipeline is being backed up because of a logjam in the implementation department, and he would like me to come on as a second implementation manager to focus on his new clients. I love that this opportunity is being presented to me and that they think this highly of me, but I just don’t know how to react. A big part of me wants to jump at it. I love the idea of more responsibility, of taking a leadership role and making things happen instead of begging others to push the ball along. This is the kind of position I would thrive on, but I just don’t know if I can truly handle the time commitment come fall. There will be some discussions over the next few weeks to see if we can actually make this work.

Thinking about all of this tonight I’ve realized what it is that has me really and truly excited to be on the cusp of such uncertainty and potential craziness. Throughout high school and college I always considered myself a bit of a renaissance man (yes, I’m modest, I know ;-)). I always had a multitude of different activities between classes, sports, musicals, work, and play, going on at the same time. My days were full to the brim with very little down time in front of the TV or lounging around. Since graduation I haven’t had this. It’s been up in the morning, drive to work, sit at a desk all day, drive home, cook dinner, watch the tube, read and sleep. Occasionally the gym slips in there or some time with BL. Sometimes I have a happy hour or other event to get to, but not the same level and variety of activities I had in my past lives. I miss those activities, and I think what has me most excited is the possibility that my days will once again be filled. I’m sure I’ll bitch that I have no time to rest, that I’m stressed and don’t know how I’ll meet this or that deadline, but I strive on that level of intensity…I’m ready to have it back in my life. So here goes…I’ll keep you all updated on whether or not my head explodes.

02 July 2007

It's a Meme!

Wow, so it's been almost two months since I last posted ANYTHING. I'm pretty much a terrible blogger at this point. SteveG and Spaz, however, have coaxed me out of the shadows by both tagging me on this meme. So, for the Oxymoronic Philosopher's 100th post, here it is:

First we have the rules:
  • We have to post these rules before we give you the facts.
  • Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
  • People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
  • At the end of your blog post, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
  • Don't forget to leave them a comment telling them they're tagged, and to read your blog.

8 Random Facts or Habits about 71.

  1. This is the first meme I’ve ever been tagged on :-)
  2. Growing up I wanted to be everything from a Secret Service Agent, to a garbage man, to an Orthodox Priest, but philosopher never entered the mix. It’s funny looking back and trying to trace all the steps I took to get here. Even entering college I was planning on a health and exercise science major with a focus on athletic training…somehow I ended up with degrees in Econ and Philo.
  3. I’m starting grad school in the fall at George Mason University where I’ll be working on an MA in philosophy. I’m both excited beyond belief to start something new and scared shitless that I barely remember what philosophy is.
  4. I worked for the US Secret Service for two years during college. The job was awesome, but the coolest part by far was when some co-workers got me into a Capitol Hill bar underage by flashing their Secret Service commission books.
  5. Ok, I lied, that wasn’t the coolest part of the job. The coolest part was when they sent me to Vegas on an all expenses paid business trip for two days and two nights to set up a video camera and tape recorder for an interview. Yes, my friends, your tax dollars at work.
  6. From the time I was in elementary school through middle school, I collected those little collectible spoons you find in tourist trap gift shops. I had about a hundred of them in a rack on the wall in my bedroom, and every time I’d close the door half of them would fall. I hated those things…why did I ever collect them?
  7. I was the coolest little kid. Ok, maybe not, but I, honest to god, got to play w/ Reagan’s dog Rex in the Rose Garden, and that’s gotta make me pretty damn cool. My mom’s cousins worked at the Service (and dated in the Service), they used to hook me up in so many ways. I even have a picture of myself behind the podium in the press room.
  8. Even though I’m turning into a rather progressive oxymoronic philosopher, I’m still a country boy at heart. I refuse to give up hunting, as it’s one of the few pastimes I share with my dad, and I love being out in the woods. I also am finding it hard giving up my pickup, I just can’t see myself in a little teeny tiny car. I hope I’m not the only one who often has trouble giving his/her rational beliefs with the life I live. It’s something I’m constantly working on.
Now...if I only new 8 other bloggers to tag on this...hmmm. I guess I'll just go with some of the Gburg bloggers, know them or not:

Effie Jones at Brown Girl in the Ring

Maynard at Creative Destruction

Ping right here

quaker j at resounding peace

A Stranger at A Stranger in a Strang(er) Land

Matty at Matty's Blog

Ok, honestly, six is enough...man this is hard work.