We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

Actual capitalism is thin on the ground. We have democratic and undemocratic socialism, democratic and undemocratic fascism, and miscellaneous varieties of corrupt cronyism. But to the extent that capitalism currently exists, it’s not free-market capitalism but chained-market capitalism, weighted down with laws and regulations – and then criticized for its inability to function efficiently.

Of course, even if capitalism hadn’t been chained down, we still might not see lunar resources being exploited. Not because of “market failure” but because of the market correctly deciding that it would currently cost more than it’s worth. There’s an old quote I wish I could find the source for. It applied to “market failure” regarding insurance for flood or hurricane damage but the same principle might apply here. “That isn’t ‘market failure’ – that’s the market working. That’s the market saying ‘Don’t build there! Are you crazy?’”

- Samizdata commenter ‘Deep Lurker’

30 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Indeed, although given that the world is most definitely not free market capitalist, it begs the question of how we should live in such a place? Should we commit ourselves to live as though the world were the ideal we seek after? Or should we compromise on our principles and live in the world as it actually exists?

    I’m in the unfortunate position in that I’m within spitting distance of obtaining a PhD in Experimental Psychology, a subject I entered into with the best of intentions, and I’ve started to question whether this qualifies me for anything I would consider a “proper job”. That is, something that would still exist even without state coercion or funding. There are maybe a few posts on the applied psychology end, but they are damn thin on the ground.

    As for the other jobs (i.e. the ones that can only exist in an unfree statist society), when I go to the interviews and fail to talk in bullshit execuspeak, they see right through me and don’t hire me. It’s maybe for the best, although it doesn’t make my current financial situation any easier.

    So often libertarians and the like are the sorts of people who would thrive in a stateless or minarchist society. But a question that needs answered what do we do for the people whose skills only have value in a statist society? Do we just toss them on the bonfire? Not all of them are malignant parasites, and not all of them chose a life as a vassal of the state.

    For all my poor choices in education, I’d like to think I’m not useless. But I genuinely don’t know where to go from here.

  • Regional

    JV,
    You learn more from life by fucking up.

  • Dom

    JV, I got my PHD in experimental psychology, back in 1978. After 1 year of unemployment, I took one course in computer programming, and now I’m DB administrator of a fairly big company, ready to retire. Just sayin.

  • Dom

    “For all my poor choices in education, I’d like to think I’m not useless. “.

    Hmmmm, if you’re like me, you spent years watching rats running in straightways, pressing levers, pigeons pecking at keys, and stickleback fish mating. Answer your own question.

  • Regional

    Dom,
    So you were in the Public Service?

  • Paul Marks

    In most Western countries the government (at all levels) spends about HALF of all resources – and ties the rest up with a crazy net of regulations and a credit bubble financial system (where lending is based on monetary expansion not REAL SAVINGS).

    This is certainly not capitalism (compare what proportion of the economy American government spends now with what proportion, fraction, it spent in fiscal 1947-8 when Mises was writing “Human Action”).

    But it is not socialism either.

    We in the West are about half way between capitalism and socialism.

    And the people waving the Black Flags (marching with their Red Flag waving friends in “Occupy”) are nto going to take us closer to capitalism – they are going to try and take us closer to full socialism.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Sorry folks for the first post. I had a bad case of the unemployed (well, massively underemployed) at Christmas blues. I’d also just come off the back of a very disappointing interview. Foolishly I had applied for a job with the NHS because on paper it sounded objectively useful. When I got to the interview the job wasn’t what it sounded like at all.

    To be fair, Psychology isn’t completly useless. There would definately be both Psychology researchers and lecturers in a free society for example. Just nowhere near the ammount there is now.

    Dom, the entrance requiresments for all careers have been massively increased since 1978. I doubt taking one course in anything at this stage would set me up for a career, let alone anything in computing. They have the highest rates of employment of all students. I’m a Cognitive Psychologist (I don’t work with animals) which is, on the plus side, probably one of the most useful areas of Psychology, so I’ve got more hope of honest employment than I would if I were, for example, a Social Psychologist.

    If I could have a do-over I’d study vetinary medicine. But I can’t have a do-over, I need to deal with my situation as it actually exists. There’s no point in acting out the old joke of “Oh I wouldn’t start from here…”. Getting a PhD takes a long time, and in that time I have married and had several children. I have responsibilities and need to be able to produce an income for them.

    I just saw a research post looking at the study of attention among drivers (enhancing visibility). That sounds fairly objectively useful, and is the kind of research car manufacturers fund all the time. I think I could work in that with a clear conscience.

    We’ll see.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    ADDENDUM: That should read computing students have the highest unemployment rates of all students. Somewhere around 15%. The market is suffering from massive oversupply of computing graduates. Psychologists are somwhere around 7.8% as I recall, which is good because the non-graduate unemployment rate was 7.9% when I last checked :) Yup, those years of study win you a whole 0.1%

    But studying computing makes you less likely to have a job.

  • John B

    Market failure is defined as an outcome not to the liking of the clever, progressive types who KNOW they can plan and command an outcome more to their liking, and better for the Plebs incapable of deciding what is best for themselves.

  • Radonel

    Jaded Voluntaryist,

    Definately?

  • JV, I wish you the best of luck, and I truly wish I could help more.

  • bloke in spain

    “So often libertarians and the like are the sorts of people who would thrive in a stateless or minarchist society.”
    Strange. One sees so little evidence of it. The sort of people who would thrive in those sort of environments are not the sort of people who spend their time endlessly arguing the exact definition of libertarianism or how many libertarian idealists can dance on the head off a pin.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    I didn’t say they’d be top of the pile bloke, but they do tend to be self employed or employed in private enterprise. That means they’d do OK.

    I’m quite willing to admit that many of the people who would find themselves “useless” in a true minarchist or stateless society deserve everything they get. What I’m saying is that there is a whole group of people between the two extremes whose skills are atuned to a statist society and who do not deserve the hardship such a transition (were it to occur) would bring.

  • bloke in spain

    Yes,JV. It is that self reliance provides the starting conditions. But it really isn’t that hard to carve yourself out a great deal of freedom from today’s over restricted world. It’s its own failings make that possible. But to do so, you do have to forgo the benefits it provides. And one sees so little appetite for forgoing those benefits.

  • bloke in spain

    JV. Ask yourself these question. Have you ever needed the services of an experimental psychologist? Do you think a minarchist or stateless society would have a pressing need of experimental psychologists? So if you were in favour of a stateless or minarchist society,would your being an experimental psychologist be a step towards that? Because like all journeys, it starts with a single step It’s as much your opportunity to take that step as anyone else’s. Which direction it’s in is up to you. One might have a piece of land & it would be pleasant to grow flowers on it. But if your aim is to eat, potatoes are a better bet.

  • Edward MJ

    “…given that the world is most definitely not free market capitalist, it begs the question of how we should live in such a place?”

    I don’t believe that you have to compromise on your principles to live in the world as it actually exists, but I can identify with the frustration of dealing with the world as it exists, not as how we’d prefer it to be.

    Psychology is not an area I know that much about, but I would have thought that psychology qualifications would be useful in marketing? Also, human resources is a somewhat related field.

    To answer the broader question, given that governments exist and they operate in the economy, one might as well take advantage of it and profit from the distortions that they create. That’s the stance taken by one of my favorite authors, Doug Casey. There’s plenty of his columns online, and he’s also released a couple of books.

    For an overview of his thoughts on the above, check out: http://www.caseyresearch.com/cdd/doug-casey-profiting-government-stupidity

    L: Okay, so again, having realized that we live in a politicized economy, it’s not a free market, how does one navigate, how does one stay afloat?

    Doug: Well, the way I see it, you’ve got to take advantage of the fact that it’s a politicized economy. It’s a very bad thing to have a politicized economy, because it’s destructive of capital. It generally reduces the standard of living. It’s a horrible thing. But you always have to look at the bright side; the government is going to create tremendous distortions and misallocations of capital by the very fact that it’s involved, and that does present opportunities. It’s not a time to be an investor, because an investor is somebody who allocates capital to create more capital, to grow wealth. That’s what investing is all about. Speculation doesn’t imply that at all. It’s very different; speculation implies capitalizing on politically caused distortions in the marketplace.

  • JV, in my book the “having kids to feed” card trumps all others, including the ideological ones. So don’t beat yourself up if you end up taking an unsustainable in a free-market-type job.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Bloke that’s a bit like asking “have you ever needed the services of a rocket scientist”. Just because psychology is a speciality does not make it useless. If you want to know how human beings process information, a psychologist would be just the person to ask. Common applications in the private sector for this knowledge are things like usability studies and interface design.

  • bloke in spain

    Sorry, JV. On reflection, maybe a poor but easy to grab choice. But the principle stands. If one’s against the system, then choosing to benefit from the system in a way that supports it isn’t going to get rid of the system. I’m personally more inclined to the argument under Edward’s tag. Screw the system on the way to bringing it down.

    I’m minded of an acquaintance, bores long & heartily of the iniquity of the banks. He makes his money by the leverage he gains by borrowing his capital from the banks. The banks have the upper hand because there’s always more people wanting to borrow than their are funds to lend. So his argument really boils down to – other people shouldn’t borrow to give him better bargaining power.

  • Crow

    The phrase “real capitalism has never been tried” sounds suspiciously similar to the phrase “real communism has never been tried”. We know from Hayek etc that so-called “real communism” will never be tried because it will always be taken over by the most sociopathic for their own ends, break down organizationally from the lack of price information, and be rejected by people who want to live freely, making their own decisions and owning the product of their own efforts.

    So what is it about “real capitalism” that leads to it never being fully implemented, despite the enormous gains that would be achieved? If there is something fundamental in psychology or structural in modern politics that prevents real capitalism from ever being implemented, then that is a very important problem to solve. Is it insurmountable like the communist ideal (which is undesirable besides being unachievable), or is it something whose barriers are slowly being broken down now and in the future?

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    I see where you’re coming from B.i.S., but there’s more facing me right now than just the choice of “to screw the state or not to screw the state”. If that’s all it was, the only real challenge would be finding a way of “faking” my way past the statist true believers at the interview stage. But it is worse than that. Some of the things I might be asked to do are downright wrong, and not all of them are in government funded jobs.

    There was a job recently that I seriously considered applying for. It was with an international HR consultancy firm. They had offices in lots of places I’d love to live, and the pay was good. The problem was that the job was administering psychometric tests to employees of client firms. These tests are used to define aptitudes and reassign, or even fire people who lack the necessary abilities. This is high on the list of things I think Psychology theoretically could be used for, but shouldn’t. It’s immoral and an abuse of both trust and position.

    To make it worse, any Psychologist worth his salt will tell you the scientific background of these tests is complete bullshit. You could come up with as good a battery of tests just by making stuff up.

    “Good” psychologists always refuse to pigeonhole individuals in that way, with a good test or a bad. But there is a whole world of organisations, both public and private, that want psychology to do just that for them and are willing to pay good money to get it.

    The NHS job I recently had an interview was a bit like that. It was advertised as “help clinicians to do their jobs more effectively by improving clinical practice guidelines”, when what it actually was was “be a government enforcer forcing clinicians to do their jobs more badly by imposing arbitrary rules upon them”.

  • Fraser Orr

    FWIW, I was never a fan of the word “capitalism”. I think it places the emphasis on the wrong thing, in fact on one tiny thing — capital. The thing that produces wealth is not capital — after all, the government has LOTS of capital. No rather it is free markets and freedom in general, that produce wealth. It is the unfettered role of innovation driven by the innate human desire to succeed and the crucible of unadulterated competition, that truly makes us wealthy. Which is to say that although capital formation is a useful tool, it is free markets, lassiez faire, that makes for a rich society.

    To call it capitalism is to suggest that the hurdle is to raise resources, when if fact the hurdle most often is to circumvent the regulatory system that protects the fat cats from competition, or a paternalistic overlord who gets to decide what you want or need rather than letting you decide for yourself.

    To me “capitalism” invokes pictures of fat cat, cigar chomping, rent capturing, slime balls. Freedom is still a word with positive connotations in our society. Which is to say, for me “capitalism” is not good spin.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Here in America, the ‘capital’ in ‘Capitalism’ is either the state capital or (preferably) Washington, DC.

  • GoneWithTheWind

    While I don’t disagree with what he is trying to say I disagree with the implication that capitalism is a political entity like socialism or democracy. Capitalism is more like a law of nature, like gravity. That is; it just is. Everyone practices capitalism. In socialist, communist and fascist contries the government practices capitalism. It is freedom that allows individuals to practice capitalism. We are not a democracy because of capitalism we can practice capitalism because we are a democracy. China is a communist/fascist country and probably the most capitalist country on earth today.

  • Mr Ed

    JV

    But studying computing makes you less likely to have a job.

    That may be so, but are we comparing like with like? Are computing graduates more choosy, (in the main) holding out for a job that suits their qualifications?

    Are they otherwise unemployable due to ‘geekiness’ and/or perceptions thereof?

    It might not always be that studying computing makes you less likely to have a job, but that your overall package of traits makes you unattractive to employers, and also led to you studying computing.

    I would suggest that generalisations can only take us so far, and knowledge of the individual circumstances in each case is important. E.g. Steve Jobs probably had traits that would make him a terrible employee, but did make him a fantastic entrepreneur.

  • Bod

    While there may be a vast oversupply of Computing Science grads and postgrads, the demand for technically competent engineers and technicians who combine relevant knowledge with numeracy and presentability remains pretty high.

    The latter qualities are in particular demand, simply because the education systems (K-12 and beyond) of Western democracies in general are piss poor at communicating with their clients that there’s more to being a valuable member of society (and a valued employee) than being able to root their smartphone and fit a condom on a cucumber.

    The problem of course, particularly in the US, is that the only practical way to ensure you have good employees is to filter out the crappy ones before you give them a paycheck. Once someone’s on payroll, the hurdles you have to jump to get rid of someone who is lousy, are quite high – certainly in cities like NYC. So the HR team has to take a deep breath, recruit someone with the ‘right’ credentials, which is some protection in the event the guy goes postal.

    “If he managed all those years at Wharton without flipping out, we’re probably safe enough.”

  • Richard Thomas

    One must deal with the world that one finds oneself in but one should aspire to change it to the world which one desires.

    Working in a government job is not in-and-of-itself a bad thing, particularly when that job would have been provided by the private sector had the government not muscled in. Working in a job which actively advances the agenda of big government should give one pause, however.

  • Robbo

    @Fraser Orr

    The value of the ‘Capitalism’ idea is that Capital goods can be traded and thereby gravitate into the possesion of those able to make best use of them. This of course is to everyone’s benefit. The UK state indeed controls a lot of capital goods but it generally does not trade them and because it does not trade their outputs it cannot know how to make best use of them.

  • Paul Marks

    JV – I wish all the best in getting work that is worth doing.

    You have the right idea – do something that is worth doing (if you can).

  • Laird

    JV, I join with the others in wishing you luck in finding gainful employment, but I have to disagree with you about the “psychometric testing” job you rejected. I don’t doubt that those tests can be misapplied, but they aren’t “complete bullshit” (at least, not all of them). As Bod has already noted, in this litigious and highly regulated environment one needs some means of screening out applicants who will be a poor fit. Beyond that, in a small company one has to be very careful to hire only people who will blend into the existing culture; there is no room for error. Personally, I would never hire someone without first having a personality profile conducted. One example: we were considering hiring someone (who we knew well) for a commission-only sales position. He wanted the job, but his profile indicated that financial security was highly important to him, and the uncertainties and erratic timing of commissions would have lead to unbearable stress for him. When we showed him the profile he agreed with the assessment, and we mutually agreed that this was not the job for him. He ended up elsewhere, and we were both better for it. (And we’re still friends.)

    There can be value to those tests. And perhaps with someone like you administering them you could help keep employers from misusing them.