Archive for September, 2014

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Another one bites the dust

September 27, 2014

Paul sends a link to this article at Vice about a utopian settlement project called Galt’s Gulch Chile. Has any utopian settlement ever lasted for more than a couple of decades?

Based on this article, it sounds as though this project didn’t fall apart so much as it never got started.

ATLAS MUGGED: HOW A LIBERTARIAN PARADISE IN CHILE FELL APART

It was a good idea, in theory anyway. The plan was to form a sustainable community made up of people who believed in capitalism, limited government, and self-reliance. The site was already picked out: 11,000 acres of fertile land nestled in the valleys of the Chilean Andes, just an hour’s drive away from the capital of Santiago, to the east, and the Pacific Ocean, to the west. Residents could make money growing and exporting organic produce while enjoying Chile’s low taxes and temperate climate. This was no crackpot scheme to establish a micronation on a platform floating in the middle of the ocean (a common libertarian dream)—this was a serious attempt to build a refuge where free marketers and anarcho-capitalists could hole up and wait for the world’s fiat currencies to collapse. They called it “Galt’s Gulch Chile” (GGC), naming it for the fictional place where the world’s competent capitalists flee to in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.

The project was conceived in 2012 by four men: John Cobin, an American expat living in Chile who once ran unsuccessfully for Congress in South Carolina; Jeff Berwick, the globe-trotting founder of the Dollar Vigilante, a financial newsletter that preaches the coming end of the current monetary system; Cobin’s Chilean partner; and Ken Johnson, a roving entrepreneur whose previous investment projects included real estate, wind turbines, and “water ionizers,” pseudoscientific gizmos that are advertised as being able to slow aging.

That initial group quickly fell apart, though today the principals disagree on why. Now, two years after its founding, the would-be paradise is ensnared in a set of personal conflicts, mainly centered on Johnson. Instead of living in a picturesque valley selling Galt’s Gulch–branded juice, the libertarian founders are accusing one another of being drunks, liars, and sociopaths. GGC’s would-be inhabitants have called Johnson a “weirdo,” a “pathological liar,” “insane,” a “scammer,” and other, similar things. Some shareholders are pursuing legal action in an effort to remove him from the project, a drastic measure for antigovernment types to take. Johnson, who remains the manager of the trust that controls the land, claims all the allegations against him are false. So what happened?

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What he said (5)

September 24, 2014

A good essay about what science is and what it’s not. (The author’s emphasis below.)

How our botched understanding of ‘science’ ruins everything

Here’s one certain sign that something is very wrong with our collective mind: Everybody uses a word, but no one is clear on what the word actually means.

One of those words is “science.”

Everybody uses it. Science says this, science says that. You must vote for me because science. You must buy this because science. You must hate the folks over there because science.

Look, science is really important. And yet, who among us can easily provide a clear definition of the word “science” that matches the way people employ the term in everyday life?

So let me explain what science actually is. Science is the process through which we derive reliable predictive rules through controlled experimentation. That’s the science that gives us airplanes and flu vaccines and the Internet. But what almost everyone means when he or she says “science” is something different.

To most people, capital-S Science is the pursuit of capital-T Truth. It is a thing engaged in by people wearing lab coats and/or doing fancy math that nobody else understands. The reason capital-S Science gives us airplanes and flu vaccines is not because it is an incremental engineering process but because scientists are really smart people.

In other words — and this is the key thing — when people say “science”, what they really mean is magic or truth.

H.T. Jeff

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When humans lose control

September 23, 2014

This is a pretty interesting article about government bureaucracies – and their incentives – at The Atlantic by Philip Howard. RTWT.

When Humans Lose Control of Government

The Veterans Affairs scandal of falsified waiting lists is the latest of a never-ending stream of government ineptitude. Every season brings a new headline of failures: the botched roll-out of Obamacare involved 55 uncoordinated IT vendors; a White House report in February found that barely 3 percent of the $800 billion stimulus plan went to rebuild transportation infrastructure; and a March Washington Post report describes how federal pensions are processed by hand in a deep cave in Pennsylvania.

The reflexive reaction is to demand detailed laws and rules to make sure things don’t go wrong again. But shackling public choices with ironclad rules, ironically, is a main cause of the problems. Dictating correctness in advance supplants the one factor that is indispensable to all successful endeavors—human responsibility. “Nothing that’s good works by itself,” as Thomas Edison put it. “You’ve got to make the damn thing work.”

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Three cheers for Kahler Nygard

September 23, 2014

The TSA wanted to screen Kahler Nygard after his flight from Minneapolis to Denver. (I don’t know if the flight continued past Denver.)

So he called their bluff about getting the local police involved and he walked – bless his heart. This nonsense won’t stop until we put a stop to it.

If you don’t defend your rights, you don’t have any.

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Eugene

September 20, 2014

An old friend sent me a link to Greg Brown’s Eugene.

Sometimes you gotta not look too hard – just let the dog find you.

Live free or die.

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An official protection racket

September 13, 2014

Matt Ridley gives us a lesson in the history of governments – think of it as Civics 101 – while he writes about the militarization of police in the United States.

Government begins as a monopoly on violence
It’s an official protection racket

My Times column last week was on the historical roots of government: […]

The deal implicit in being governed is at root a simple one: we allow the people who govern us to have an exclusive right to commit violence, so long as they direct it at other countries and at criminals. In almost every nation, if you go back far enough, government began as a group of thugs who, as Pope Gregory VII put it in 1081, “raised themselves up above their fellows by pride, plunder, treachery, murder — in short by every kind of crime”.

Was Canute, or William the Conqueror, or Oliver Cromwell really much different from the Islamic State? They got to the top by violence and then violently dealt with anybody who rebelled. The American writer Albert Jay Nock in 1939 observed: “The idea that the state originated to serve any kind of social purpose is completely unhistorical. It originated in conquest and confiscation — that is to say, in crime . . . No state known to history originated in any other manner, or for any other purpose.” […]

One of the great peculiarities of the United States is that it never quite managed to impose a state monopoly on powerful weaponry. The right to bear arms was a reaction to the presence of redcoats as an occupying army before 1783. The government got to own the tanks and aircraft carriers, but never pointed them at its own people, who were allowed to own guns much more freely than in other countries.

This is what makes the kit that the police displayed in Ferguson, Missouri, this month so alarming. With their camouflage uniforms, armoured vehicles and heavy-calibre machine guns, “law enforcement” cops looked less like a constabulary and more like an occupying army. In recent years, largely by exploiting the “war” on terror and the “war” on drugs, the American police have indeed been radically militarised. […]

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Like watching your sister’s kids go to pot

September 10, 2014

The more news I read from Venezuela, the more anti-socialist (or anti-statist, to be clearer) object lessons I see.

To set the scene, Venezuela is a member of OPEC – that’s the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. And Venezuela used to export a fair amount of oil. But here’s a graph of its production for the last 50 years — which is down by about 1/3 in the last 15 — so now Venezuela’s ready to start importing oil.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but you’ll recall that el señor Chávez was first elected in 1999.

oil-production-venezuela
(Graph from EnergyInsights.net.)

Venezuela Set To Import Oil

The management acumen of Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro continues to amaze. Reuters:

Algeria is in talks to export crude oil to fellow OPEC member Venezuela, Algerian Energy Minister Youcef Yousfi said on Tuesday, confirming a Reuters report. […]

“Yes, we are in talks,” Yousfi told Reuters when asked whether Algeria was planning to export crude oil to Venezuela. He declined to provide details.

More details come care of the Miami Herald:

It turns out that Venezuela’s own production of light crudes has plummeted since the late President Hugo Chávez took office in 1999, and the country desperately needs light crudes to blend with its Orinoco Basin extra heavy crude oils. Without such a blend, the Orinoco Basin’s extra heavy crude is too dense to be transported through pipelines to Venezuelan ports and exported abroad.

Venezuela’s oil production, which accounts for 95 percent of the country’s export earnings, should be used in world classrooms as a textbook case of what happens when a populist government starts distributing a country’s wealth in cash subsidies, without investing in maintenance and innovation. Much like happened with Cuba’s once flourishing sugar industry, Venezuela’s Chávez-inspired populism has destroyed the goose that laid the golden eggs.

In 1999, when Chávez took office, PDVSA had 51,000 employees and produced 63 barrels of crude a day per employee. Fifteen years later, PDVSA had 140,000 employees, and produced 20 barrels of crude a day per employee, according to an Aug. 14 report by the France Press news agency. […]

There was a popular riddle bandied about the Soviet Union back in communist days that went something like this: Question: if the Soviet Union conquered the Sahara, what would happen? Answer: nothing for 50 years, then a shortage of sand.

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