New Domain

Tired of typing out that whole .blogspot.com section of the URL? Boy, are you in luck!

As of today you can surf directly to my blog by simply typing "www.stationarywaves.com" into your browser's location bar. And off you go.

Try it yourself. It really works.


Before I Go

Tomorrow, I take a trip to South Asia. It should be a wonderful experience once the jet lag subsides. I am very excited.

I have loaded my e-Reader (a Kobo) with a hefty dose of scholarly and not-so-scholarly literature from Mises.org. It is astounding how much expertise a person can acquire absolutely free of charge, when one is equipped with the right technology. I should return to Canada with my head full of Austrian visions and praxeological whimsy. Yes, I just used the phrase "praxeological whimsy." With luck, I will be able to churn out a greater number of articles for 2012.

I'll also be taking along my resistance bands and running shoes so that I can stay in shape and keep my blood sugar down throughout my trip. Preparedness is key.

A Look at What's Ahead
Now, will all my various apparatus charging in my laptop's various USB ports, I'd like to pause to reflect on what I hope to accomplish at Stationary Waves over the coming year. Take this list with a grain of salt; I am constrained by my many commitments. I will try to achieve these things. Certainly any of of them is possible, but of course achieving all of them may prove to be too challenging a goal. That said, let's take a look.
  1. Complete the Ottawa Marathon. If I can get myself out into the cold winter air, I should have all the training required to complete the Ottawa Marathon for the second time. The course is different than it was in 2008, and of course the state of my body is very different indeed.
  2. Finish and Publish My Blood Sugar Tracking Model. This one is a big one. There is not much to do, and it could be a great service to my diabetic readership. I am trying.
  3. Post More Music. I have a lot of music "in the bank," still to be recorded, and I always get good feedback on the music I make available. I would like to provide more of this music in the future. Let's see how much I can provide.
  4. Re-Design the Blog. This is a big one, too, but very do-able, and would greatly improve the Stationary Waves experience, bringing it in line with my over-arching vision for what I would like this website to be. 
  5. Publish More Articles. It is not for lack of opportunities that I have not written more formal articles for mass consumption. It has simply been a time-crunch. Applying myself properly, though, would yield good results. For that matter, I have several book ideas I would also like to pursue.
  6. Add a Consulting Feature. Some of you may not know, I am always on the lookout for freelance consulting opportunities. I have a knack for numbers, modelling, and analysis, and I rent out my services at an attractive rate. I would like the blog to also reflect this fact.
Of course, there should be many small gems (ha ha) given out along the way. For now, I will just have to stick to live-blogging the coming travel experience and working toward achieving the above stated goals, and many more.

Best Holiday Wishes to You and Good Luck Achieving Your Own Goals in the New Year!


Government Declares More Things That Didn't Happen

Today might be the first time in history a country has ended the same war twice. As The New York Tiimes reports, Barack Obama has officially declared an end to the war in Iraq, as George W. Bush did over eight years earlier. Not only was "mission" not "accomplished" then, it is also not accomplished now.

Furthermore, as Ron Paul rightly pointed out in the Yahoo/CBS GOP debate (a good link to this eludes me right now - please post one in the comments if you have one), the Iraq War is in no way over just because Obama says so. A true end to the war in Iraq would be withdrawing our troops and going home. Creating a permanent military presence that professes to be "peaceful" is the furthest thing from ending a war. Imagine if Iraqi troops were on patrol of the streets of Manhattan all day long. How would Americans feel about that?

The Iraq War is only the latest (again) example of the government simply proclaiming that something happened/is happening when it certainly did not and will not happen.

Remember when Obama closed the illegal prison at Guantanamo Bay? Didn't happen. Remember when Obama captured and killed Osama bin Laden and then mysteriously dumped his body in the sea and refused to provide any evidence that the event actually happened?

The jig is up. We have to stop believing these things. More to the point, does anyone still believe them?

Oh, well. When this all blows over, we can always end the Iraq War again...


Traveling, Re-"Visited" - Major Voyages

A little while ago, I presented some tips for exercising and diabetes management when you're travelling. On the verge of going on a much bigger and more extended bout of travelling, I thought I would revisit the topic here.

(Get it? Re-Visit? Do you get it?)

First, let's recall the tips I shared before:
  • Stay on your own home's time zone, ignore the time zone changes.
  • Avail yourself of the hotel gymnasium, where applicable.
  • Buy your food in advance from a grocery store and keep it in your room for mealtimes.
That's all well and good, but next week I'm going on a much more significant journey, a longer distance over a longer period of time. To further throw a monkey into the works (yes, I do know that I have expressed this metaphor incorrectly), I will not be staying at a hotel, and will not have access to a home gym. In fact, I'll be experiencing a time zone difference of twelve hours and will have no real opportunity to get outside and exercise. This could be a real challenge.

Well, it's nothing I haven't tackled before, so I'd like to take some time to cover advanced travelling (for you experts out there). Rather than providing entirely new tips, I think it's better to simply expand on the rules we've already established.

So, here we go...

Don't Fight the Time Change
Ignoring the time change is important for small changes because it maintains your circadian rhythm with minimal interruption... up to a point. Naturally, there is only so far you can push this. When you find yourself with a twelve-hour time difference, you pretty much have to adapt to local time unless you plan on staying on everyone else's night shift.

Despite all the many pills and products that claim to make the transition easier on the body, the only sure-fire way to pull this off is to do the following:
  1. Sleep for the entire duration of the plane ride;
  2. Immediately behave as though local time is natural for you;
  3. When you get up, immediately turn on the lights and make sure your face and eyes get thoroughly doused in bright light (preferably sunlight).
Of these, #3 is obviously the easiest to control. #1 is something you'll just have to do your best at. #2 is the real challenge, but if you're a faithful Stationary Waves reader, then I'm confident you have the right mindset to pull it off!

Exercise: Just Figure It Out
If you're like me, you may be going somewhere without a readily accessible gym. You might luck out and find yourself in a location where you can walk around all day long, every day, or go for a hike every day. Or, you might find yourself mostly stuck indoors without a gym and in a heavily urbanized place that isn't really set up for a daily run. What to do?

First of all, resistance bands are inexpensive, easy to pack, and provide the perfect alternative to free weights. Zip on over to your local department store and pick them up - they are well worth the investment! You'll be able to do pretty much anything you can do with free weights.

Next, consider taking a jump rope with you for an excellent indoor cardio workout. Failing that, stick to proven things that work. Running in place might be a little silly, but jumping jacks are one of the greatest plyometric/cardio motioons out there! You can do them in virtually any space that has a little elbow room.

Never surrender your workout. You will only ever be limited by your imagination. There are so many great kinds of workouts out there. Choose one that works for your new travel environment and go with it.

Make Simple Food Choices
Going somewhere exotic? You might not have the same kind of control over your diet that you're used to having otherwise. Especially for us diabetics, that can spell major trouble.

No matter where you happen to be going, though, you can always find some variation of cooked meat, cooked vegetables, and fresh bread. These also happen to be the most inexpensive things to eat throughout the world. The simpler, the better. 

Fried fish is a classic. Cooked at high temperatures until it is absolutely crispy, it should provide you with enough protein and monounsaturated fat to keep your muscles healthy with minimal risk of food-borne illness.

Every country has its own favorite vegetables. I recommend going for cooked vegetables. (The fresh ones can be problematic from a sanitary standpoint.) The longer they're cooked, the fewer the nutrients, but also the more you can guarantee that they won't make you sick. For a temporary stay, it is probably best to have them over-cooked. You can always bring along some vitamin supplements if you're worried about micronutrients.

Every country also has its own version of bread, whether it's Indian roti or Salvadorean pupusa. This will give you a bigger blood glucose hit, so make sure you're familiar with the area you plan on visiting, and keep a notebook of carbohydrate counts with you, so that you can plan your insulin boluses correctly.

Well, that's it. Get some sleep, get a good workout in, and stick to simple foods. Oh, yeah, and have some fun while you're at it!

You may notice some reduced blogging while I'm traveling, or I may keep it going. Liveblogging my experiences would be pretty cool, so I'll do my best.


When Thinking About Health, Sometimes Logic Trumps "Science"

According to The Wall Street Journal, a series of studies downplay the risk anti-ADHD drugs pose to patients' developing cardiovascular disease.

Considering optimal therapy regimens, this is probably true. On the other hand, applying some logic is absolutely necessary for situations like these.

Logic and ADHD Treatments
Stated simply, ADHD drugs tend to be variants of amphetamines and other such stimulants. Setting aside their therapeutic benefits, we all know the impact that amphetamines have on human health. Even in an acute state, they increase heart rate and cause constriction of blood vessels. They temporarily increase blood pressure and trigger some neurochemical stimulants that are typically associated with physical activity, stress, excitement, and so forth.

Considering all of that, it stands to reason that ADHD drugs are a bit harder on the cardiovascular system than the absence of ADHD drugs. We don't need a study to tell us this; we know it aprioristically. It is true because it must be true. It is true because many of these physiological responses are precisely the therapeutic benefit of the drugs in question.

Therapeutic Benefits and Trade-Offs
As I try to emphasize throughout Stationary Waves, the most important aspect of big decisions is not the particular course of action to take (in this case, should a person with ADHD take anti-ADHD medication?), but the trade-offs associated with each option.

Issues are not simple or binary. Few things in life boil down to a simple yes/no response. We must learn to stop thinking about things in terms of yes or no.

Instead, weigh the benefits according to your own needs and values. Considering not just the risk of anti-ADHD medication, but the physiologically necessary response to ingesting them, is taking the medication worth it?

The answer is: It depends entirely on your own, unique situation. I certainly don't have the answer. Neither does your doctor. You have it! You shouldn't make this decision based on a WSJ headline claiming that "there is nothing to fear." There isn't anything to fear, but that's not the issue.

The issue is how much cardiovascular health are you prepared to sacrifice for the sake of the therapeutic benefits. If you have a severe case of ADHD, medication even in large doses is certainly worth the trade-off. If you have an extremely mild case, you can probably self-treat using other methods. (May I suggest exercise?) If your case falls somewhere in between, you have to balance both aspects of your health, make an informed decision, and then monitor your choice carefully.

You may also have to "pick up the slack" by exercising more. Not because "you read so in a study," but because you know certain medications put you at greater risk for cardiovascular malaise and you simply wish to avoid avoidable consequences.

It's the same with diabetes. There is no "right answer," you have to make informed choices and consider your lifestyle and your own behavior. Furthermore, you have to be objective about who you are and how you actually behave.

I can trust myself to exercise once or twice a day, with very few exceptions, therefore I can get by with less insulin than other type 1 diabetics. Is this approach sensible for everyone? Absolutely not. Most people don't work out as much as I do. Many people who genuinely want to work out as much as I do can't spare the time or energy to do so. Such diabetics should consider using more insulin than I do, and managing their diet more carefully than I.

But in every case, we are talking about trade-offs associated with choices; we are not simply talking about a prescription of X minutes of exercise combined with Y units of insulin and food choices from a single, static menu.

It's Not the Industry, It's the Absence of Reflection
When people suggest that the pharmaceutical industry is "evil" because they "get us hooked on drugs we don't need," I think they are often perceiving therapeutic choices as simple yes/no scenarios. People are inclined to want a simple, definitive answer. It's natural; but it is also very naive.

The industry isn't hell-bent on getting you hooked. Instead, they are in the business of providing options based on what you're willing to trade. That doesn't mean all drugs are perfectly safe, that simply means that some people may wish to take dangerous drugs if the therapeutic benefits are great enough for that particular individual.

So when you make decisions about your health, don't just think about whether a drug is "safe," or "effective," or even "safe and effective." Consider what the product offers you and what you're willing to give up in order to gain that benefit.

Everything in life is a variable that we can control for our own benefit, so long as we understand the trade-offs.


Comparative Advantage and Charity

What is "action," anyway?

I know a man who never, ever gives money to the homeless. He doesn't give money to people on the street, and he doesn't financially contribute to homeless shelters or anti-poverty organizations. Despite all this, he considers homelessness and poverty to be terrible local problems that need to be addressed.

How can these two positions co-exist? How can a man both refuse financial contributions to the homeless and insist that homeless and poverty need our desperate attention and action?

Pretty simply, actually. This man I know spends a lot of his time teaching at-risk youth how to manage money. He sees this as his contribution to the problem.

From time to time, others do ask him why he doesn't give money to homeless people and support organizations. They seem to insinuate that this man is heartless or that he isn't giving enough unless he contributes financially. That this man has many success stories about how he was able to deeply impact the lives of specific youth does not seem to dent his critics. They believe he should pay up.

He believes that he has a unique skill set that makes him particularly well-suited to teaching at-risk youth good financial practices that will enable them to save for their educations, manage their expenses, and pull themselves out of poverty.

I suggest that both approaches are useful and appropriate. There is certainly no "one right way" to fix a social ill. If there were, we would have identified it long ago, and the problem would have been eradicated. Remember, human beings have been around for more than 10,000 years. That's a long time to think through problems and propose solutions. For 10,000 there has been human need. We haven't solved these problems; the best we can do is try according to our unique skill-sets.

The Money Myth
If there is one thing we should have learned by now, though, it's that problems with social causes cannot be solved by simply throwing money at the problem. The reason people are poor or at-risk or etc. is not because there is a lack of funding for anti-poor, anti-at-risk, or anti-etc. activities.

Instead, these problems are complex, come from a variety of causes, and require many different methods of addressing them. We cannot simply spend money or buttress existing organizations if we hope to solve them.

In fact, it might be safe to say that social ills like "poverty" can probably never be solved. There will always be people among us who require special effort and attention. There are as many of these situations as there are potential solutions.

Helping Out
Therefore, I think it's important to keep one's skill-set in mind when wishes to address tough problems.  Some of us are fabulously wealthy and can easily provide money to well-run organizations designed to deal with these problems.

Others (most of us) don't have a lot of money, but might be able to contribute time. And of those of us who choose to contribute time, we have to pick our battles. We cannot possibly give enough time to every conceivable social ill that we wish to address. We choose the most important issues to us, and focus our efforts there.

Out of those of us who contribute time, some of us have the kinds of personalities and backgrounds that enable us to function well as counselors, peers, mentors, etc. Like the man I know who teaches at-risk youth. But what about those of us who are, because of our natures, particularly ill-suited to serve as mentors? Are we just bad people?

No, I don't think so. I think some people can't stand the sight of tears just like some people can't stand the sight of blood. It takes a certain quality to act as peer support, and not all of us have it. Those of us who don't will probably do more harm acting as counselors than if we stayed out of the way.

On the other hand, it doesn't mean we don't have useful skills. Some of us are great at writing, or managing, or providing technical support. Some of us are great at strategizing or fund-raising. The list goes on.

Capitalism and Charity
So that great feature of the market economy - comparative advantage and specialization of trade - is also a boon to the world of not-for-profit activities. Not everyone can donate blood or write huge checks for charities. Not everyone has enough hours in the day to spend serving up hot meals at the shelter.

So we all contribute in our own way, and so long as there is positive impact, we've done a good deed.

Or so it seems to me.


Guitar Exercise of the Week

This week's guitar exercise is by request: faithful Stationary Waves reader ZK asked me to put together a sweep picking exercise, which I have done.

We will call this the first of two sweep-picking exercises. The reason I'm splitting this up is because, in my opinion, the major difficulty with sweep-picking (i.e. playing arpeggios across sequential strings in a single up-stroke or down-stroke) is not the sweep itself, but rather the transition.

So, when I developed this exercise I decided to focus on passages that would emphasize the transitions, rather than the sweeps. Focusing on these transitions should give you better control over the plectrum. You won't simply and wildly be trying to sweep, resulting in a garbled mess. When you get this exercise down right, it should sound pretty good at both slow speeds and high speeds. Sometimes it can actually be more difficult to sweep slowly than quickly, because you have to have a lot of picking control to give each note the proper rhythmic duration. That tight, metronomic accuracy is what makes the difference between a killer sweep-picked arpeggio and a garbled mess.

Exercise #6: "Turning Heads"
The only real oddity in this exercise is that it begins with an upstroke. This may seem illogical to you at first, but when you start cycling through this exercise over and over, you will eventually understand why it's more comfortable to begin with an upstroke.

For those of you unfamiliar with the notation, the "v" in tablature indicates an upstroke. The squared-off "u" indicates a downstroke.

Here it is, without further ado:

Start this one slowly, at something like 70bpm (or maybe even less, depending on your skill level) before you start tackling the high speeds. Remember, the goal here is picking control. You'll have better success if you make each note sound very nice at slow speeds than you will if you try to burn through this one too early. We want a clean, appealing passage, not a garbled mess.

When you're comfortable with this one, I'll post a second sweep-picking exercise that involves more strings and more notes. You'll find that one much easier if you have a good handle on this one.

This exercise also functions as an excellent warm-up.

Good luck!



I only have one rule when it comes to comment moderation: No robots. This means, I delete anything that looks like mindless spam. I don't mind if someone advertises their own blog or website on my blog, but only if a human being does it. If it's a line of code, it most likely gets deleted automatically by Blogger. The few that occasionally filter in get deleted by me most of the time.

I do not delete any of the following:
  • Comments with which I disagree
  • Comments that lead to tangential discussions
  • Comments by specific people or members of particular groups
  • Jokes, profanities, vulgarisms, etc.
Thinking about it just now, I imagine I would probably delete an embedded picture if it could be deemed offensive by some of my readers. (A link to the same picture would be okay by me, though.)

The point is, I don't delete comments. I don't believe in it. 

I have occasionally had my comments deleted from other blogs. Given that I never post vulgarities or obscenities, this has always been due to a simple disagreement: the owners of the blogs in question disagree with my opinion so profoundly that they do not even want their readers to encounter it as a comment.

I go back and forth on this. It seems to be either dishonesty or fear, or some blend of the two. I commit to avoiding any blog that deletes my comments more than once for no good reason. I don't mind that some blogs have a "no advertising your own blog" rule (like EconLog). I play by those kinds of rules. That's fair.

But when some bloggers repeatedly delete peaceful, calm, but well-reasoned counter-arguments to their posts, I basically stop reading their blogs altogether. I have no reason to try to engage with individuals who refuse to engage with me in an honest way, who will only agree not to delete my thoughts on the condition that they reinforce their own.

One More Thing (Important)
Some of you have experienced having submitted a comment to my blog, but it did not appear. I have received reports of this behavior many times, and frankly I cannot figure out what the problem is. I suspect it is a web browser issue (I use Chrome, which works fine for me, but Blogger and Chrome are both Google products), but I don't know for sure.

If you have experienced this, please accept my apologies and know that I want you to post your comment. In the worst-case scenario, you can always reach out to me via email, Google+, Facebook, etc., and I will attempt to post your comment myself. 


You Don't Have to Stir

Why waste a spoon? If you put the cream in first, and the coffee in second, then no stirring apparatus is necessary. I wish more people understood this.


The Endurance Base, or Endurance Basics

As you know, Stationary Waves is no place for absolute fitness beginners. Just by way of refresher, let me explain that this is not because I am hostile to beginners or dismissive of their efforts - we have all been beginners!

Rather, it is because I feel there is enough advice out there for beginners that it isn't a subject area I feel inclined to explore. I have often been disappointed by the lack of internet distance-running content aimed at the intermediate-to-experienced runner. Therefore, I have decided to fill that niche myself. It's not advice, it's a discussion. If you have a couple of years of running under your belt, join the dialogue!

Let's Talk About The Endurance Base
The unsung secret to having a seamless, injury-free training season is the building up of a good endurance base.

The phrase "endurance base" means exactly what you would expect it to mean. Prior to undertaking a major training regimen (for example, an 18-week marathon training regimen), it is customary for experienced athletes to spend anywhere between one and four months increasing their bodies' cardiovascular endurance.

The goal is rather obvious: The more punishment you can handle, the harder you can train; the harder you can train, the faster you can run.

Building Blocks
Let's think about it this way:

If you've never run a step in your life, your first undertaking is just to get outside and give it a try. That's the first building block.

Once you've tried it out enough times and you've decided you're interested in it, the next step is to learn how to save your energy for the full distance in question. You go from sprinting as fast as you can and then walking the rest of the way, to developing a sense of pacing that takes you from a few hundred meters all the way up to several miles. That's the second building block.

After you get used to controlling your pace for an extended period of time, you discover that alternating the length and speed of your daily run can result in increased speed and increased endurance. Before long, you've exposed yourself to comprehensive training philosophies and you've undertaken to engage in some event-specific training (like a marathon). That's the third building block.

Building an endurance base is simply the next link in the chain (if I may mix metaphors). Once you have some experience with event-specific training, it's time to pre-train (for lack of a better term). In anticipation of the coming training regimen, we start slowly building on our weekly miles run, acquainting (or reacquainting) our muscles with long-distance running and simply getting used to running again. At this point, there is no pressure, and no need to run too fast. Endurance training is a nice, relaxing process of iteratively adding to what your body can handle.

Astute Stationary Waves readers may have noticed that the building blocks I've listed above represent a progressively lengthening cognitive time-horizon.

How to Build an Endurance Base
If you have never built any kind of an endurance base before, then my recommendation is to keep things as simple as possible. Sometimes common sense is the best approach: Start with what you know you can do, and then just get comfortable doing it. When you're finally ready to take on a training regimen, go for it.

That simple approach should get you started. Of course, the more thought and planning you put into it, the better off you'll be.

The options here are virtually limitless, but there are a few important things to keep in mind:

  1. The primary goal is to avoid injury. The whole benefit of an endurance base is in being able to subject your body to more strenuous training down the road. If you injure yourself, that is clearly the opposite of the intended effect. To avoid injury, take on only moderate mileage to begin with, and increase your weekly miles by no more than about 10% per week. So if you start with 30 miles per week, add three miles per week on Week #2...
  2. Forget about speed for now. There will be time to wow yourself and others with record-breaking speed. Now is not that time. This goes right along with number 1 above. If you go too fast, too soon, you can risk injury. You'll also fatigue your muscles too early in the game, which will make it a challenge to steadily increase your endurance. Remember, we are extending our cognitive time-horizons here, so don't take on future speed training before you've built your base. Always run at a relaxed pace; resist the urge to hold yourself to a specific pace. For now, I'd even suggest you leave your watch at home.
  3. Give yourself enough time to reach your goal. If your first week of serious marathon training involves some 50 miles of running, then your endurance base should build up to at least that much mileage. Building up even more mileage in the pre-season will be even better, of course. But if you want to get to 50 miles per week and you're starting from zero, this will take you some time. Be realistic about the amount of time it takes to build up the endurance base you're aiming for. If you're increasing your mileage by 10% per week and starting out at 20 miles per week, do the math. This will take some time. Start early, and don't be afraid to hold yourself to it. 
  4. If your body tells you, "This hurts!" then back off. You may still end up with sore joints, tendons, and muscles. You may get some shin splints or a little tendonitis. Don't worry! This is the pre-season! You're not training yet. If your body hurts, back off a little. Take a few days off and try again later. Your training has not yet begun. Don't take on too much too soon.
  5. Get in the habit of stretching. If you don't stretch regularly, I would not suggest you even attempt a marathon. Stretch every day. Learn to love it. Stretching improves your body's capacity for muscle-building and elongates your muscle fibers, helping to prevent injury. This is incredibly important!
I might add that this fifth point is vitally important. The reason I pulled a muscle last season and had to bail on the Montreal Marathon is because I wasn't stretching enough. Take that seriously.

What Will I Do?
If you still need a bit more of a real-world example, I'll give you an idea of what I'll be doing to build my endurance base, starting today.

For the past few weeks, I've been running about 30 minutes a day. This week, I plan on doing at least that. Perhaps I will go for 35 minutes if I'm feeling a little ambitious. Nothing more than that, however.

From there, I will add about five minutes of running per week. Now, bear in mind that I'll be travelling out of the country for two weeks in December, and during that time, I'll be lucky to get out for a run at all. So I may lose two weeks there.

Regardless, I should be up to about 50 minutes of running per day by mid-January. More, if I'm lucky. I'll be taking it easy, enjoying the sights of the city, keeping my head up, and trying to stay warm in the cold Ottawa winter.

The Appalling Hypocrisy of US Drug Policy

Some of you may remember that I chronicled the killing of energy drinks in one of my "Things That Used To Be Legal" featurettes. You may also remember the relatively recent scandal involving highly caffeinated beverages that were mixed with alcoholic beverages at bars throughout the United States.

Surprise, surprise: Today a product called Blowfish hits store shelves. Blowfish is an effervescent beverages that combines aspirin and caffeine in sufficient quantities to kick hangovers.

Apparently drinking caffeine mixed with alcohol presents major health risks, but taking a caffeine-laced hangover remedy is A-okay!

Is it any wonder that people in the United States and elsewhere complain of "crony capitalism" and the corruption of the FDA? In one breath, the government bans caffeine and in the next they made it available over-the-counter from their pharma friends.

The system is broken. We have abandoned all reason. 

Manliness: Courage

I have blogged about fear before. I have defined it on my Lexicon. I have gone out of my way to promote the idea that fear is perhaps the single most destructive force in human psychology. Of all the truly evil things in the universe, fear is the least dignified and most ubiquitous. Fear slinks into your life through the back door, incapable of attacking you head on; it weasels itself inside any situation it can, because your defenses are down, precisely because you have nothing to fear. Once it finds a way in, it quietly acts to destroy. Think of all the truly reprehensible things in society, and it is likely they can be traced back to fear.

Now, before you start to think that I'm about to have a Donnie Darko moment here, let me assure you that fear's cure is not love (although, heyyy, why not?). At the risk of sounding a little thick, eradicating fear requires simply being fearless.

What I mean is, there is no trick. There is nothing you can fall back on, no mantra you can recite to yourself, no deity to which you can appeal. It's not something you're born with or without. It's not a choice or a way of thinking.

No, eradicating fear means simply being aware of its destructive potential and "striking it from your heart."

Manliness and Fear
One of the worst things about fear is that it is a rational emotion. Typically, the things we fear are credible threats in our lives taken so seriously that we start to obsess over them. With things like drugs, it's easy to talk about how irrational bad behavior is; we can't do that with fear. Fear comes from a very logical place in your mind. This is why I say there is no trick to getting rid of it.

Traditionally, it has fallen on the man of the household to stand as a lone protector against the things the women and children fear. The man was responsible for providing safety and security to the others.

If you're a woman, you can certainly be fearless without the risk of being mannish. Similarly, men can demonstrate "traditionally womanly" character traits. No problem. Manliness isn't about gender, nor is it about fulfilling traditional gender roles. At the same time, gender roles are a time-tested aspect of human psychology. They're not going anywhere any time soon. They evolve with the age in which we live - but that is not an argument against gender roles. To a large extent these norms and mores define the boundaries of our behavior, or at least give us some useful guidelines.

I am certainly not a traditionalist, but the fact of the matter is that for us men, fearlessness is a bit of a job requirement. Courage is manly. As a man, you will encounter situations where you must act as the family's calming mechanism. Take this seriously. It is likely that in most families, no one but the man will rise to the occasion, and if someone else does, some will question why it wasn't you. This, too, will feed your fears and insecurities.

So, fear is something men have to face. Get used to it.

What's the Worst That Could Happen?
While fear is logical in most cases, the good news is that courage is, too. You never have to fight fear with irrational thoughts, behavior, or actions.

That is pretty important, so let me repeat myself a bit: No matter how bad life gets, we never have to seek solace in irrationality. That will only make our situation worse. Even though fear itself is logical, we still need not run to illogical thoughts or behaviors to get us out of a scary situation. Courage is logical.

Courage isn't about being stupid and putting yourself in danger just to prove that fear has no impact on your sense of self-preservation. Courage is simply knowing that every situation is best served when you think clearly and reasonably about how to solve your problems and then act toward resolution. Courage is action and dignity in the place of paralyzing doubt.

When you act on your courage, you reclaim your dignity. You will not always succeed in solving every problem you face, of course. Courage isn't about being perfect. But courage allows you to know that whatever situation you faced was met head-on with the nobility of a man who accepts his responsibilities to himself.

So what is the worst that could happen? You could fail. You could still be afraid. Everything you think might happen, may actually happen for real. Every threat that you face could come to pass.

But how is that different than if you are afraid of it? It isn't. Remember, there is no trick. Bad and scary things can and will happen in life, most of which we cannot control.

Courage as an aspect of manliness is a choice to claim your dignity and at least try.

You might succeed. That's the one difference.


A Perspective on Environmentalism

My Assertions
As a human being and an economist, I assert the following:
  1. Time is a valuable resource that is worthy of conserving if we want to make the most of it.
  2. Money is a valuable resource that is worthy of conserving if we want to make the most of it.
  3. Making the most of our money and our time allows us to have more of the things we want, including more vital things like food and medicine.
I would be surprised if any environmentalist - or anyone at all, for that matter - objected to the above assertions.

I Accept the Following
The following are a list of beliefs held by environmentalists with which I entirely agree.
  1. Clean is better than dirty; less pollution is better than more pollution.
  2. More bio-diversity is better than less.
I believe almost all reasonable people agree with all of the above assertions. Anyone who feels otherwise is at best irrational and at worst insane. I think we can all agree on that much. Obviously, where self-proclaimed "environmentalists" diverge from those who do not proclaim themselves to be "environmentalists" is in weighing all of these assumptions against each other.

For example, which is preferable: A year of your life or a California Redwood tree? If you had the opportunity to, say, gain a promotion at work at the expense of one acre of tropical rainforest, what would you take? The more favorably you weight the rainforest, the more we can describe you as "an environmentalist." 

If you could permanently feed one starving child for every 5-gallon bucket of radioactive water you poured into Lake Superior, how many buckets would you pour?

Keep in mind, the answers to these questions are entirely subjective. Some people would never chop down an acre of rainforest under any circumstances, and would rather pour zero buckets and let children starve. That is a valid perspective.

Who Gets What
In economics, we routinely state that we live in a world with limited resources and unlimited human need. Based on what we human beings need, we produce things. 

When we needed furniture, we used to go into the woods, chop down some trees, haul some lumber back home, and build the furniture. That we now face some level of deforestation is a predictable result of our need for lumber. That we exist as human beings means we produce some waste that has to be thrown away in either a garbage dump or a sewer of some sort.

Every aspect of human life requires some combination of time, money, and natural resources. The very best aspects of human life require the minimum amount of time, money and natural resources. But competing technologies and methods cost different amounts of time, money, and resources. So, we all make choices for ourselves about how much of each should be minimized or maximized. 

Environmentalists tend to minimize environmental impacts at the expense of time and money. Nonetheless, they should keep in mind that by neglecting to minimize money or time expenditures, their actions adversely affect others. 

Time and money are resources worth minimizing, too. Technologies that save us time and money at the expense of the environment feed children and make our lives more convenient. Non-environmentalists are "environmentalists of time and money." We believe that the starving children of the world are best served by modern technologies that free up time and money that can be spent on feeding them.

I believe that if more people understood these trade-offs, human society would be very different.


Immigration: Important Concept

Last night's GOP debate was all abuzz with immigration talk. I was glad to hear Romney emphatically laud legal immigration. Even though I don't believe him, it was still somewhat encouraging to hear pro-immigration rhetoric. The other candidates were less enthusiastic, and of course Ron Paul was not given an opportunity to discuss the issue at all.

When we're talking about immigration, we have a tendency to assume our rhetorical outcome in advance. What I mean is, before we ever present our arguments in favor of or in opposition of immigration, we decide who we want in and who we want out, and then present examples consistent with that assumption.

Us Versus Them, Us Versus Us
Take the example of a hypothetical would-be immigrant. Should we allow this person to immigrate? Why or why not?

As you might immediately notice, the question assumes an intrinsic "us versus them" framework. The question seems to be, under what conditions should "us" allow "them" into "our" country. Whoever does the talking seems to own the country. We all seem to want to dictate the migration over the imaginary line that separates millions of people who are nothing like us from millions of other people who are also nothing like us.

Let's rephrase the question a little. Consider your next-door neighbor. Should we throw him out of the country? Why or why not?

If you think this isn't a fair question, then you're not being ideologically consistent.

If We Can Keep Them Out, We Can Throw You Out
The fact of the matter is that if you think you have a right to determine who moves over the imaginary line that separates millions of people who are nothing like you from millions of other people who are also nothing like you then you have already assumed that you have the right to determine who's in and who's out. That means, as imaginary dictator, your power to keep people out is also the power to throw people out.

I need not further point, I hope, that if others can be thrown out, so can you.

So, you think I'm making this up? I hate to play the Hitler card here, but isn't this precisely what happened in Germany all those decades ago? One day, "us" decided that "them" was a real burden on "us's" society, so "us" went ahead and threw "them" out. And then tried to exterminate "them."

Germany is a poignant example (probably because Jews are light-skinned and cook food that looks and smells a lot like our own food), but it's not the only example. Japanese internment camps in North America are also a good example of legal immigrants being rounded up and harmed, or expelled, or both.

Most nations have some sordid experience with xenophobia, and it's not always about the people on the other side of the imaginary line. Often it has everything to do with people on our own side of the imaginary line.

A Revolutionary Idea: People Are A Good Thing
I start from a crazy idea: people are good, more people are better, human civilization is a net positive.

From there, I add another crazy idea: All people should be treated equally under the law. I know that one is falling out of favor these days, but I think it still has enough intrinsic value that I need not spend precious blog time "proving" it.

Combine the two elements, and you get my take on immigration: Let people in. That's it. Just let people in. Illegal immigration occurs only because legal immigration is prohibitively difficult. We can solve that problem by making legal immigration easier. We also have the added benefit of denying the state any power or philosophical justification for throwing out its own citizens.

One Last Point
In general, the arguments against illegal immigration boil down to one thing: People don't want illegal immigrants crossing the border and subsequently becoming wards of the welfare state.

I ask: Is this a problem with people crossing borders, or is this a problem with the welfare state?

As we see time and time again, welfare and socialism breed conflict among individuals in our society. Were there no such thing as social welfare, who in their right mind would care who moved over the imaginary line and who didn't? It is only because we have a socialist welfare scheme that we care who has the legal power to request state support.

Thus, once again, we see that socialism is the true source of the ugly kind of nationalism, that socialism is what pits us against each other. The free-flow of individuals across imaginary lines is a free trade issue as well as a peaceable assemble issue. Socialism is antagonistic to both.


The Curse of Terminology

One of the primary obstacles Ayn Rand faced in her work was the way used language. Even today, people have a tendency to take her at her most literal when she used terms like "good" and "evil." Her most fervent supporters are often the most guilty of this, lending Rand fans that infamous "cultishness" that is now married to every popular citation of Rand.

To really understand her ideas at the level they were meant to be taken, one has to develop a familiarity with Rand's written tone and unique use of language. I would speculate that this is what lead to the creation of The Ayn Rand Lexicon. Everyone has their own unique voice, and Rand was no different. But a person's unique way of expressing himself/herself shouldn't get in the way of the ability to contribute to a discussion.

Consider a Hypothetical Situation
Let's say you know a man named Bob, who always and consistently refers to the color blue as "grargh."

The first time you meet Bob and hear him use the word grargh, you will be taken aback. You will ask what he means by that. You will speculate that he is talking gibberish. You will not want to hear him remark about how grargh the sky looks today, nor about the savory taste of the grarghberries he recently picked up at the local farmer's market.

Eventually, though, using the context in which he uses the term grargh, and noticing that he is always and everywhere consistent in the use of that word, you will figure out that grargh = blue.

Once you figure that out, it is your responsibility to understand what Bob means when he says grargh. Were you instead to take his every use of grargh as an opportunity to lament that he is not saying "blue," you would not be contributing anything to anyone. You would not be making Bob's life better, nor would you be making your own life better. Furthermore, you would be hindering any discussion being had by anyone who knows and understands what Bob means when he says grargh.

You, not Bob, would be the jerk.

My Lexicon
When I write on my blog (and communicate elsewhere), I use the terms listed on The Stationary Waves Lexicon. It was entirely voluntary that I compile a list of the terms that I frequently use and define them for the benefit of my readers. I felt that doing so was important first, because it helps ensure that the writer and his audience share a common understanding of what's being said, and second, to help formalize certain concepts and build on them in the future.

Without the Lexicon, I would simply refer to concepts over and over again using similar-but-not-identical language to kind-of-sort-of convey what I'm kind of getting at. Simply speaking, it would be impossible to discuss philosophy and ethics without a readily-available glossary of terms.

I concede that I use language in a way that is tailored to my own unique voice. I phrase things in a particular way and, without some background as to what I'm getting at - some context, if you will - it just sounds like a random, opinionated guy yapping all the time. That's not fun for anyone.

Reach Out and Touch Someone
This blog is not merely a vehicle for my own personal political opinions and the occasional song or workout. The idea here is not simply to speak my mind. Believe it or not (and my critics will find this one really tough to swallow), I'm actually getting at something here.

What *I* happen to be getting at is a philosophy for living, a way of approaching life from the standpoint of cardinal-but-secular virtues and free-and-cooperative interaction with other human beings via respect for private property, personal responsibility, capitalism, and acting in good faith.

What *OTHERS* are getting at is something else entirely. Some people express ideas that are complimentary to mine, while others are opposed. The agendas of some people have absolutely no relationship to mine whatsoever. And there is every combination of complimentarity, opposition, and ambivalence out there, because everyone has their own set of ideas that they hold dear. (And, yes, ideas matter!)

If we want to learn, we will not only let each other speak and communicate, but we will take people on the level at which they intend to be taken. That means listening to the point that you understand what the other person is actually saying, rather than just assuming they are saying something you don't agree with.

It shouldn't matter whether Bob says blue or grargh, so long as his meaning is clear and consistent. There is no shame in not immediately understanding what Bob means the first time he says grargh, but if the years go by and you still can't acknowledge the obvious, then you simply aren't listening to Bob.

If you need specific examples of what I'm getting at here, consider my notorious article about Amy Winehouse's self-abnegation. My point was a simple one: Drug use - even in absence of drug addiction - is a terrible act of self-destruction. The point that others understood was that anyone who makes mistakes deserves what they get. See the difference?

Another big one is the Aggregate Demand framework in macroeconomics. Most economists go along with it, although some dissent. These two groups should be able to communicate with each other despite their difference in paradigms, but instead what we observe is the orthodox community refusing to acknowledge the real meaning of the things the heterodox community says, instead "defeating" the heterodox arguments by an obtuse application of the AD framework. How is that communication?

Well, friends, listening is a two-way street. In order to defeat a person's argument, you have to understand it at the level on which it is intended.

Blue or grargh, if you don't take Bob at his words, you're the jerk, not Bob.



I wrote this for the band a while back, but one way or another it just didn't quite happen. I finally finished the demo this weekend.



The Answer is Yes

The question is do famous, rich people really care if their taxes are increased?

The supporting evidence is this.

HT to Tyler Cowen.


Most Anti-Climactic Science News Story In a Long Time

What has become of science?

The Register reports that scientists have made a "mystifying discovery!" As we all know, the majority of the Earth's core is made of iron. (If you didn't know that, you probably just forgot what they taught you in junior high school - no big deal. You knew at some point in time.) As you may not have known, the density of the Earth is inconsistent with a solid iron core, so scientists have concluded that there must be some lighter-weight material mixed in with the iron.

Up until now, they thought it was oxygen. Turns out, it's silicon. "Mystifying," eh?

For those of you with absolutely no prior geology knowledge whatsoever, I refer you to this table, courtesy the Physics Department at Georgia State University, showing element abundance in the Earth's crust:

% by weight
All others
So it turns out, the second-most-abundant material in the Earth's core is also the second-most-abundant material in the Earth's crust. It required a great deal of lab work and government funding to uncover this startling mystifying discovery.

I was expecting something actually surprising. The fact that the "mystery material" turned out to be one of the most abundant materials in the solar system is not at all mystifying. The fact that the scientists were somehow surprised by this is stymieing.

Are we really the same species that invented set theory? 

Signal, Or Human Capital?

Bryan Caplan often blogs about his view that education is a signal of employability to employers, rather than an investment in human capital. What he means is that when we educate ourselves, we aren't amassing skill sets so much as we are demonstrating that we have all the right human qualities that employers want. I am sympathetic to this view point. Many other people disagree.
The more I think about this, however, the more ridiculous the "debate" about these two theories seems to be. Do any of us really think we live in a world where education is either an investment in human capital or an investment in market signalling?

It seems to me that education is clearly both. You could model it something like a classic Cobb-Douglas function: Y = [S^f] * [K^h]
  • Y = expected payoff of education
  • S = signalling returns
  • K = human capital returns
  • f and h = the extent to which each is important for a given course of study
Now obviously for people getting a certification in coding Javascript at a local vocational school f is nearly zero and h is very high.

For people enrolled at Harvard, f is extremely high and if h is greater than zero, well that's just gravy.

Clearly, every degree comes with some combination of market signalling and skills. An ideal education would be one for which f and h are both large positive numbers, but the reality of the situation is that for most of us with a generic business degree from a generic state college, our education consisted more of a dull signal than a large amount of human capital.

The question isn't "is education human capital or signalling," the question is, "for any given degree at any given university, to what extent is that an investment in a signal and to what extent is it an investment in human capital?"

The answer could vary between schools, degree programs, and potential employers. There's no reason to believe we have to choose between paradigms. They are not mutually exclusive.

Note: The majority of the above was posted as a comment to Bryan Caplan's most recent blog post regarding education.


Paul Gregory's Wisdom and More About Creeds

Paul Gregory writes:
Compromise is not possible when there is no middle ground. It seems this truth escapes domestic and world politicians and pundits.
And concludes:
In democracies, we hope that elections will resolve such impasses. In authoritarian states, impasses are resolved by violence, not by diplomacy. 
Every day we pontificate to our friends, families, and colleagues that "compromise" is the only way forward, that "the truth, as always, lies somewhere in the middle," that "moderation in all things" can save the day. Such pontification goes on endlessly.

It is our egalitarian nature, our profound desire to be nice guys to each other, that inspires us to champion compromise and centrism for its own sake. No one wants to be the judgemental a-hole who finds fault in his fellow man. We should all strive to judge not, lest we be judged. Let those who be without sin cast the first stone. In general, judging is bad, while peace, love, and understanding is good.

Gregory notes that there are limits to how far we can take this ideal. If we're talking about one-on-one personal relationships or the victimless decisions of acquaintances, it is incredibly easy to avoid judgement, to recommend moderation, and to cultivate a saintly centrism. But this charade evaporates when life gets serious.

And it is a charade. Evading every call to stand by one's creed, to speak up for right and wrong, all in the name of not hurting someone's feelings, is a charade we undertake to present the image of sympathy where in fact there is none.

For what is sympathy? It is the feeling of compassion or concern for another, the wish to see them better off or happier. Concern implies that the other person could be better off. Better off implies a comparison to their feeling otherwise. Their feeling otherwise implies the existence of a situation that would create that result. And the preference of that situation to this one is, my friends, that terrible awful thing we demonize so much in our society: A value judgement!

Part of the reason I keep this blog is to help promote an idea that I feel we've lost somewhere over the past century or so: Maintaining a strong, personal creed or code of ethics is a vitally important aspect of human happiness and positive human relationships.

Taking a moral stance, even a seemingly harsh one, isn't cruel. Lording one's supposed moral superiority over someone else is cruel, but having a strong ideology and creed is very definitely not cruel. It is the very thing that moves us to sympathy, that enables us to help other people, that allows us to make the world a better place.

And unfortunately for the "moderation police" and the "judgementalism police" out there, there can be no compromise on a person's core ethical identity - their creed - without a corresponding compromise in that person's fundamental happiness.

You don't have to hold the same moral values I have, but I hope for your sake that you never, ever compromise on your own core ethics. There is no nobility in that kind of compromise. There is no truth to be found in that middle ground, and nothing laudable about that kind of centrism.

Ayn Rand once wrote, "In any compromise between good and evil, it is only evil that can profit." You're not doing anyone any favors by subverting your personal creed in an effort to avoid wounding another person's ego. The best, most inspiring way out of a bad situation is through a moral triumph. It's true that this sometimes requires taking a hard-line, but the long-run payoff for this is worth more than a few uncomfortable moments with someone who hasn't the courage to admit that morality implies judgement a priori

Running in the Snow, Training in the Winter

Stationary Waves officially "welcomes" the first major snowfall of the year in Ottawa.

Courtesy http://www.parliamenthill.gc.ca/text/camera-eng.html

So it begins. This is the time of year that officially separates the men from the boys, or the little sparkly pink princesses from the real women!

That Ottawa Race Weekend occurs so early in the year is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing, because it provides a good motivational force to drive us through midwinter training; a curse, for more or less the same reason.

Frankly, it's going to be a cold one this year. The wind will hurt. The icy conditions will make running virtually unbearable. Every moment you spend outside in that weather is a moment you can't be sitting on your living room couch with a good book and a hot cup o' joe. At times, it will feel like there is no good reason to keep going.

Well, it's never been easy, and it never will be. If you've been waiting for that magic day on which you become impervious to inclement weather and have an endless font of physical motivation, you have a long wait ahead of you; it will never come.

Lucky for you, I can offer a few suggestions - collected over years of experience - to help you make the most of the slippery training that lies ahead.

Suggestion 1: Make the Morning Workout a Habit
For the better part of a year, I have been extolling the virtues of working out twice-a-day. I know many of you have been resisting this suggestion because you think it is way too hardcore. Really, though, it's not so bad! 

Here's how it works:

First, give yourself between 30 and 45 minutes to wake up, pull on some workout clothes, and find some free floor space somewhere in your house. That's right - it's completely unnecessary to brave the harsh weather over a trip to the gym. Make this easy on yourself. You don't have to climb Kilimanjaro every morning at 5am. Just pull up a piece of floor and get started.

Second, focus on the most effective strength training exercises:
  • Push-ups
  • Crunches
  • Squats
  • Lunges
  • Pull-ups
These exercises impact almost every major muscle group in your body. If you're looking for a no-brainer, quick-and-easy way to train through the winter, do three sets of each and go eat breakfast. Done and done.

Even if you don't do these five exercises every day, structuring your morning workout around these movements requires no special equipment, no gym  membership, no nothing!

Like I said, make it easy on yourself.

Finally, to really stay committed to your morning workout, pull out the laptop or the newspaper and browse the headlines for 30 seconds between each set. The point is, you don't have to dread your morning workout, you can multi-task and enjoy making it a regular part of your day.

Suggestion 2: Run Anyway
I know, I know - in the winter it gets cold outside, you slip around on the sidewalk, the roads are never adequately ploughed, your nose runs, cars honk at you, you're never quite warm enough, the wind blows, it takes a lot of time to put on all that winter running equipment, and so forth.

It's hard to run in the winter, I get it.

Here's the thing, though: If you somehow manage to pull on all your gear and get outside for just five or ten minutes, you'll find you're over the hump. The rest of the workout is no big deal.

What I'm suggesting is that while your arguments against running outside in the winter are all perfectly valid, their severity disappears if you just go ahead and run anyway.

Human beings are remarkably resilient creatures who have managed to adapt to the conditions of both the Sahara Desert and the Arctic Circle. We're like rats and cockroaches, we are literally everywhere. There probably isn't a rain forest or tundra anywhere on the globe that isn't inhabited by human beings. Granted, given the choice, we would all prefer to live on a pineapple farm near the Equator. Despite that fact, when we find ourselves in Canada during the winter (or whatever), we manage to adapt.

And if you just get out the front door and down the road a little, you'll find that you yourself adapt pretty well, too. 

Suggestion 3: Leave the Record-Setting for Summer
So it's winter and you have a lower-than-normal sense of personal motivation. The shorter days are giving you a mild case of Seasonal Affectedness Disorder and you really just want to stay in bed with an active coffee machine nearby.

Now is not the time to take on every aspect of the universe.

The point is, choose your battles. You have enough to deal with during the winter that you shouldn't feel like you have to keep up your fastest, most ambitious pace. You don't have to get out there and start doing hardcore speed training or hefty fartlek training. Ottawa Race Weekend is still several months away. All you really need to do is keep your endurance base up high enough that you can capitalize on the good weather once it finally returns.

That's it! I mean, if you want to get extra ambitious, feel free. It certainly won't hurt. But the key to winter training is not getting in your best workouts of the year, but simply ensuring that you don't give up entirely and start packing on the seasonal pounds.

Suggestion 4: Be Proud of Yourself
One of the most important (and often-forgotten) aspects of rising to challenges is taking the time to congratulate yourself once you get there. 

Today is November 23rd. That means there are five weeks until all the other folks sign up for a new 2012 gym membership and come out in droves under the auspices of a New Year's resolution. When they show up, you will have been there the whole time, driving yourself forward, keeping fit, and overcoming challenges that, frankly, those other guys couldn't hack.

That's not a slight against them, it's reality. If you manage to keep yourself going this winter, allow yourself to be proud for doing what other people couldn't do. It's okay to feel happy and satisfied with yourself for having accomplished more than what the average person could do.

Rewarding yourself with some positive feedback helps reinforce your motivation and gives yourself a reason to be happy about some of the tougher moments you put yourself through. So don't skimp on the personal accolades. ;) 

Things That Used to Be ILLegal

I love being able to link to good news. Here's a story reporting that the Governor of Massachusetts has just signed a state bill that legalizes casino gambling.

I have no moral position on gambling. I consider it a form of entertainment that I, personally, find uninteresting. It does tend to attract people who probably ought to be saving some of the money that they're gambling, but that's hardly justification for making a peaceful activity illegal.

The law is also not as liberal as I would prefer, as it apparently only allows for three licenses for resort-style gambling. I'm a marginalist, though. I note that three licenses are better than zero.

So the world takes a small step in the right direction. Huzzah!


Allow Me to Be the First...

This is destined to become viral in the econo-blogo-sphere. This morning xkcd.com presented a beautiful chart demonstrating the current value of wealth and debt in 2011 dollars. Hold on to this one, folks, because in 20 years we will be surprised at what it shows.

The link is here. The image is below:

What is most interesting to me about this chart is that the value of actual goods and services is absolutely dwarfed by the value of the debts and obligations of the world's governments. If that doesn't prove to everyone in the world that our current governmental spending structures are unsustainable, nothing will.

The Mises blog posted the graphic.

Introduction to Manliness

By way of The Anti-Gnostic, I came across a blog article entitled "40 Years of Ultimatums." In rather emotionally charged language, the article describes the losing battle men have been fighting for about forty years.

Now, if I quote the article out-of-context, I am afraid the author's point will be lost. Why? Because it is difficult if not impossible for men to be able to engage in this kind of discussion without convincing everyone around them that they are big, chauvinist jerks. Furthermore, the author is obviously disturbed by the forty-year trend, and has allowed his emotions to seep into his writing.

Long story short, I am not going to risk obliterating his point by doing an inadequate job of excerpting it. I recommend you read the whole thing yourself. I can, however, provide comments of my own.

Manliness: A Stationary Waves Introduction
I have been meaning to start writing about this topic for a long time now. This article has really just kick-started the process. This will be a series of Stationary Waves posts, really, or perhaps a recurrent motif.

The key point is this: While women have been actively engaged in redefining what a modern woman is, men have not undertaken the same process. The result is a situation in which men are demonized no matter what their choices are.

Now, just be patient with me here. I'm not arguing against feminism. Equal rights for women is still a long way off, and the end goal is a good one. We should all have equal rights, regardless of gender. I have to be clear about that because when people talk about the impact of feminism on men, they tend to get instantly criticized as being opposed to equal rights. I'm not opposed to equal rights. I support them.

The problem isn't that feminism has given women equal rights - that's a good thing! The problem is that - because men and women are complimentary and need each other - any time one whole gender embarks upon a social process of redefining their place in society without the other gender, it's going to cause a social disruption.

Men have sold themselves short by not engaging in something analogous to the feminist movement. In part, this is because any such movement would have inevitably been a response to feminism, a reaction. In part, this is also because feminists took complete control of the definition of gender roles and excluded (heterosexual) men from the discussion entirely. In part, this is also because the things men tend to be proud of are all those ugly things the feminists decry: hunting, competitiveness, boorishness, overweening, et cetera.

Concluding, For Now
I think it best to wrap up here. I have a much more to say on this subject. Most of what I have to say is about men, not women or feminism. I would like to dedicate some of my blogging time to defining what manliness is and why society needs it; and also why I feel that society is losing it, slowly but surely.

I do not believe that my concept of  manliness is opposed to female equality in any way, shape, or form. My belief is that if men are real men, respectable men, then women only stand to gain from that. Women are just as interested in men being manly as men are.

Nonetheless, the years of feminism have undoubtedly taken a toll on men's unabashed manliness, and it is something that needs to be restored. Look for more posts on this issue in the future.

Worth Reading

Richard Posner has written an excellent critique of the OWS mob. Unlike the typical analyses you'll find in the mainstream media - or on blogs like mine - Posner does a good job of summarizing the movement and its critics and manages to draw some effective conclusions.

Many of his views parallel mine. For example, Posner believes that the police should never have kicked the protesters out. He writes:
The police I think made a tactical mistake in routing the “Occupiers” from Zuccotti Park near Wall Street. That is the lesson of the 1960s. Arrests, whacking demonstrators with billy clubs, dragging screaming women to paddy wagons, and other police just create anger, martyrdom complexes, and sympathy for the demonstrators. 
Posner also believes that OWS would have self-destructed, anyway. (Gee, where have you heard that before?) He supports this claim by citing an example from an old protest at the University of Chicago:
In January 1969, student radicals occupied the Administration building of the University of Chicago. The police were not summoned, and after two weeks the radicals abandoned the building; almost 100 were then expelled or suspended from the university. The university was largely spared the turmoil that continued for years at other major universities.
Posner sums up the financial industry saying something I believe, but have never written about. He says that what was observed in the financial sector in the wake of the "deregulation" that occurred is natural and "Darwinian." They took risks because they had to, competition required them to do it.

Unlike Posner, though, I would add that this is precisely why I see the financial sector as victims in all of this. They never would have engaged in that kind of behavior were it not for the inflationary policies of the Federal Reserve. When currency is perpetually being debased, the financial sector has no choice but to engage in ever-riskier market choices in seek of the highest returns possible.

We cannot exactly fault people for doing the best that they can subject to the current state of the universe. Everyone does that. It's not "corporate greed," it's human behavior. Should we suddenly expect everyone to sell themselves short so that a bunch of dirty college students don't slap the "greed" tag on them? Get real. Life is about making the most of oneself and one's situation. If any federal agency decides to distort our ability to reliably plan and calculate economically, then we are all victims, including the people who appeared to "profit."

A victim who mitigates against bad circumstances is still a victim. That other people could not mitigate does not mean they are "even more victimer."


Zero Marginal Product of Labor?

Bryan Caplan and Arnold Kling have been going back-and-forth on the concept of "zero marginal product of labor." Today Caplan summarizes his main objections to the idea.

My observations:
  1. Caplan's arguments seem to hinge on the idea that once someone's MP(L) is zero, it's zero forever, which basically misses the whole point of Kling's PSST theory. (It's sort of like saying, "Assume PSST is false. Ergo, PSST is false!" But of course I have blogged about this kind of assumption before.)
  2. Caplan seems unwilling to approach the problem from the standpoint of microeconomic models, which I think resolve the whole issue.
My Defense of PSST
Here's my disclaimer: I know very little about PSST, other than what I have read on EconLog. So take this "defense" with a grain of salt. But if I understand the theory correctly, then the idea is pretty simple and frankly inarguable.

Consider the following story:

Once upon a time there were a group of economic consultants and a Chief Statistician who produced statistical models for a niche market. One day, company management hit upon the idea that they could make more money by offering one, comprehensive online statistical model to all of their clients for a subscription fee, rather than paying junior economists to develop labor-intensive spreadsheets every time their clients had a question.

So the Chief Statistician developed the model and translated it into an online, Javascript-based platform. The company fired all its economic consultants, retained the Chief Statistician to maintain the model, and revolutionized the consulting industry by offering online models developed by a great statistician, rather than expensive custom models developed by consultants.

Meanwhile, the fired consultants found that every other company had moved to online models, too. It took them some time, but eventually they brushed up on their Javascript coding skills, and found jobs with firms who were willing to hire them to program the models or conduct business analysis (or both).

What we see in the above story is the following:
  • A sectoral shift toward more efficient, less labor-intensive technology
  • A group of employees whose MP(L) goes from quite high to effectively zero
  • Approximately no change in real output
  • A group of employees who must acquire new skills to remain competitive in the job market and to engage in a sustainable pattern of production
Now, the above story is a real-world example (I'll let you guess who one such "economic consultant" was.)

Caplan seems to believe that the economic consultants in my story "didn't have ZMP because they found other jobs." But of course their MP(L) was zero at their old employer, and only became positive again when they realigned to new labor market conditions. The process took some time. This is fully consistent with Kling's theory.

As Kling noted a few days ago, Caplan may score some debate points by maintaining that the consultants' MP(L) never really dropped to zero, subject to Caplan's assumptions. But doesn't that miss the whole point of Kling's theory?

I feel like Caplan is just prodding Kling a little on a technicality. But this is very much an absurd technicality. MP(L) can be zero if profit is zero, regardless of quantity-produced-per-hour. MP(L) can also be zero during periods of time in which the employee produces nothing (like vacation, or sabbatical, or unemployment, or...).

My point is that everyone knows that there is only real and permanent ZMP for invalids and corpses. Kling's PSST model doesn't claim that an employee's marginal productivity is zero now and forever, and they are screwed. Kling's theory suggests that when the macroeconomy experiences a bubble, a whole lot of people are engaged in activities that aren't very productive or profitable; and when the bubble bursts, these folks will have to find more sustainable employment elsewhere.

So what can Caplan really object to?

Question to Market Monetarists

This post is an edited version of a comment submitted to Scott Sumner on his blog.

My assumptions:
  1. My salary does not increase by anything close to 5% per year
  2. Market Monetarists like Scott Sumner prefer a world of ~5% NGDP targeting
  3. In such a world, NGDP would increase by ~5% per year
My question: Why does this gap between inflation and my salary not hurt me in the long run?

Can this question be answered without the cop-out of suggesting that "I am asking for is constant real wages?” 

The point is that a world of perpetual inflation is a world in which my real income is perpetually diminishing. That sort of works against the NGDP-targeting-for-better-growth hypothesis.

Let’s accept the tenet of sticky wages and assume my expectations are spot-on. There still exist periods in which I am unable to respond to my own inflation expectations (if there were not, wages would not be sticky). How will I ever make up the difference between the inflation I know/expect and the income I am capable of earning?

Now I understand the response to this: A Market Monetarist might suggest that “on average” there is growth, i.e. that the income growth for the beneficiaries of venture capital is a greater total sum than the losses accrued by the rest of us… Okay, but why should “the rest of us” go for that?

In other words, why should I care about a policy that promotes growth to people other than myself, at significant loss to myself?

Give me a practical reason why I should go for that.