Lookism, Colonizing Mars, Expectations, Gender Expression, & Egalitarianism (25m) – Episode 270

Episode 270 has Skyler giving his commentary on the following topics: what lookism is and why it’s absurd; his view on colonizing Mars and the space program; why parental expectations of children should begin and end with joy; the infinite number of genders in the world; why markets are best suited toward bringing about egalitarian ideals; and more.

Listen to Episode 270 (25m, mp3, 64kbps)

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On Entitlements

An entitlement in the context of government is a promise of something, be it a good, a service, or money. Because government only has resources it has first taken from other people, the fulfillment of entitlements requires future takings. If those who call themselves “government” are unable to prove a right to that which they take from others, they are simply robbers engaged in extortion. It then follows that entitlements necessarily violate the liberties of other people. To demand more entitlements from government is to demand that liberties be violated. Entitlements are thus antithetical to liberty. You must prioritize one over the other not only for yourself, but for your neighbors as well. “If I don’t choose entitlements, then they will” does not justify or excuse what amounts to unethical behavior. Do you believe that you have the right to violate other people’s liberty? Do you?! If so, what class of human being does that put you in, hero or villain? And that’s today’s two cents.

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They Miss Economic Concepts and Incentives

I think there is an intuitive criticism of free markets that I have empathy for, but is totally wrong. I find something somewhat sexy about this contention … but I do think it is incredibly myopic.

I like to think I am a good businessman. I think I am uniquely capable at running a pest control company. However, I think many people could learn the knowledge I hold, and many other great businessmen could also run a successful pest control company.

I can observe many other businessmen who hold qualities better served towards the goals I have. I am incredibly proud of what I have built and the results I have earned, but I hold no illusion that there are people who could’ve created more value than I have.

This all being said, I think I have unique abilities in other fields that I am vastly more uniquely skilled in. I am a trained singer. I am a trained instrumentalist. I am a trained conductor. I am a trained teacher. I am a trained director. In fact, Vastly more people can run a pest control company better than me than can run a choir, opera, or musical theater production better than me.

If a person doesn’t understand economics they would think my resources are being inappropriately allocated, but they would be wrong. They miss many economic concepts and incentives that show I should probably be leading a pest control company rather than pursuing music. The main misunderstanding they have is in understanding subjective value. In short, people are willing to pay vastly more for quality pest control than the difference in mediocre choir direction and great choir direction.

People in the arts think this is a misallocation of resources, but that is mere arrogance. The reality is that people don’t find relative values in these artistic skills as these artists think they should.

I think I am a skilled performer, producer and director. In fact, I think I am amazingly skilled in certain arenas that other people aren’t. That beings said … what I am uniquely skilled in isn’t that valuable, and I accept that. Ergo, I will learn skills that I am not quite uniquely talented in, but has vastly higher market demand. People who critique the market cannot accept this because they can’t accept subjective value. People think others ought to change their values.

I think I am a better choir director than I am a pest control businessman. However, I make much more as a businessman because the market forces at work value a good businessman more than a great music director. Even if I am better at one task, I am more valuable to people’s subjective preferences at another.

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Reflections from my Panama Cruise, II

Our ports were Falmouth (Jamaica), Cartagena (Colombia), Gatun Lake (Panama), Limón (Costa Rica), and Grand Cayman.  Reactions to each:

7. Falmouth had the most lavish port shopping area; I’d compare it to Reston, Virginia.  The area beyond, though thinly inhabited, was fairly poor, but with quite a few middle-class homes mixed in.  Our tour guide said that many Jamaicans spend years building their own homes so they can live rent-free (but not property-tax-free) for life.  The many promising but half-built homes I saw seemed to confirm this.  All this made me wonder: If the American poor were allowed to build rent-free shacks on public lands, how many would?

8. Cartagena’s skyline sparkles; it’s so uniformly new I’d compare it to the Gold Coast of Jersey City.  The old town, however, looks markedly worse, with more than a few people sleeping on the streets and in the parks.  A major public fountain was full of garbage.  (Trash cans were a little hard to find, but not nearly enough to explain the severity of the littering).  I was excited to see the Palace of the Inquisition, but the Naval Museum was far better.  Using my sons as translators, I asked our cabbie a lot of questions about Venezuelan refugees.  He was quite sympathetic to the incomers, and loathed Maduro.  (“Is he Satan?” I inquired.  “No, Satan is scared of Maduro!”)  My ability to distinguish Colombians from Venezuelans is near-zero, but the cabbie told us that refugees with money live in the city; the rest live on the streets or in refugee camps outside of town.

9. Panama was the highlight of our trip.  Until we sailed through, I only vaguely understood how the Canal worked.  Indeed, only after we were through did I discover that our ship was well over the old Panamax limit; we had sailed through the all-new Third Lock.  Our tour guide amusingly asked us if we’d been following all the Canal news.  When we furrowed our brows, he joked, “That’s right, you haven’t.  When the U.S. handed over the Canal, everyone predicted disaster.  So no news is good news!”  Panama City was even more eye-popping than Cartagena, and the Miraflores museum was top-shelf.  The most economically gripping display explained that the U.S. always ran the Canal on a cost basis (whatever that means for a project that opened in 1914), but Panama vowed to run it for profit.  I suspect most economists would fret over the static efficiency losses, but would the Third Lock have ever been built without the carrot of profit?  Both are state enterprises, of course, but it’s probably far easier for a state-owned firm to operate like a business when almost all of the customers are foreigners.  At the end of the day trip, we drove through the port city of Colón, where the poverty (and especially the trash) were disturbing.  In Colón, the cruise line wouldn’t even allow passengers to walk the town for fear of what might happen.

10. Jamaica’s GDP per-capita is way lower than Costa Rica’s: roughly $5,000 versus $12,000.  But Limón had the worst poverty I’ve ever witnessed; seriously, the best house I saw in Limón looked worse than the worst house I’ve seen in Fairfax.  The best building on my tour route was clearly the McDonald’s.  A tour guide later told my sons that the locals are happy to bask inside this consumerist enclave for hours – and the restaurant permits this as long as you make a small purchase.  Why the disparity between the statistics and my experience?  A little googling informed me that I was in one of the poorest regions of the country, so that fits.  In any case, our tour group drove on a dirt mountain road for about 45 minutes until we reached the Veragua Rainforest.  Aside from Americans, the eco-tourists’ most common nationality is… German.  They’re so green it’s like a religious pilgrimage for them, though I can only imagine what the fastidious Germans think about the piles of litter in town.  As an economist, my main thought was that Limón desperately needs more multinational businesses to manage the inhabitants to prosperity.  That includes agro-business; while rain forest tourism is one vital industry, they could replace 80% of it with cash crops and the tourists would hardly notice.  Last thought: Our tour guide told us that many Nicaraguans migrate to Limón in search of a better life; I shudder to think what they’re leaving behind.

11. Grand Cayman naturally looks great.  But with roughly $1T offshore accounts, I expected skyscrapers.  Instead, the island struck me as a cross between Key West and Lake Arrowhead.

12. Big Picture: Everywhere I went, the voice of Michael Clemens spoke in the background.  The world is bursting with human talent.  They’re doing great things all over the world – the Third World included.  Pre-assimilation runs rampant.  But as long as migration barriers stay in place, everyone who chose the wrong parents is working with two arms and a leg tied behind their backs.

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America’s War Culture

For most of the opinion-making class in America today, war is the default position. Representatives of establishment newspapers and TV news operations are not likely to grill someone who favors U.S. military intervention somewhere — anywhere. He or she will have no burden of proof to sustain. But those who oppose a new war or call for an end to an existing one are sure to be treated like oddballs if not traitors. They’d better have an extraordinarily strong defense of their position because the burden of proof will be squarely on them; even a strong defense, however, won’t get the heat turned down.

Need I point out that a presumption in favor of war is toxic to a society that fancies itself free and humane? Continuing wars and readiness to intervene anywhere in the world costs money and, worse, lives. A war state cannot long coexist with strict limitations on government power and spending. Moreover, it impedes people without influence from prospering because military spending diverts resources from consumer investment and production to weapons and other things irrelevant to consumer welfare.

Let’s face it, empire is bloody expensive.

So why the presumption in favor of war? (The general population is split, but opinion seems driven by partisanship and therefore is subject to opportunistic shifts, Glenn Greenwald writes.) Part of the answer simply is Trump Derangement Syndrome. Trump has occasionally talked peace since his presidential campaign began, and therefore his opponents apparently feel they have to favor war. Whatever Trump wants, they want the opposite, even if it is something they once may have favored.

While he has pushed obscenely large increases in Pentagon spending — increases that dwarf Russia’s entire military budget — rattled his saber at Iran, and made aggressive moves in Russia’s direction (arms for Ukraine’s government, withdrawal from the INF treaty, sanctions, etc.), he has also made some welcome overtures toward retrenchment, most notably with North Korea, now Syria, and to a lesser extent Afghanistan. (What’s the point of cutting the U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan merely in half?)

Alas, any overture toward peace has prompted most of the pundit class and most politicians to unload on Trump. He has been accused of being a traitor or Russian agent just for talking about exiting a senseless war. His decision to get out of Syria — although many times he said would get out — was described as sudden and erratic, not to mention as a payoff to Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Russia scholar Stephen F. Cohen says Putin wants the small and uninvited U.S. force to stay in Syria as a partner in the battle against terrorism.)

Of course, we can’t be confident that Trump will follow through on Syria or other pro-peace initiatives — he can’t help equivocating — but we surely ought to be encouraging him to do so. The pundits and politicians, in contrast, apparently see their role in discouraging him by portraying him as disloyal, loopy, or both whenever he talks peace. The lethal attack on Americans in Syria the other day was immediately used to pressure Trump into changing his mind about withdrawing. It hasn’t occurred to the war class that the troops would not have been killed had they been removed.

When a news interviewer gets push-back from a guest who supports a Trump peace move, the interviewer typically switches gears: “But do you approve of how Trump is going about it?” No word on behalf of scaling back the war state is allowed go unchallenged. If a mainstream media representative can’t score a point against a proposal to get out of a war, he’ll go after the “process.” Overlooked is the fact that Barack Obama intervened in Syria in defiance of both Congress and the American public. When has that process been challenged by the intelligentsia?

Speaking of process, the media delight in going after Trump for not meekly deferring to allies and generals, apparently forgetting that the U.S. government is supposed to be run by elected civilians, with the military strictly subordinate. The pundits cheer whenever a war-mongering military officer or national security appointee publicly undercuts Trump’s declared intention to withdraw from or avoid a war.

The media also delight in impugning the sanity, character, or “loyalty” of the rare public figure who favors a Trump peace overture. Opponents of intervention are routinely smeared as sympathizers of whoever rules the country in question, as though it followed that if you don’t like a country’s ruler, you logically ought to favor obliterating his country. In this video, Glenn Greenwald reminds us that those who objected to the U.S. wars in Iraq and Libya were accused of being soft on Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi.

To see the presumption of war in action, watch this recent exchange (beginning at 1:12) between CNN’s Jake Tapper and Sen. Rand Paul, who has applauded Trump’s announcement about Syria.

Tapper says: “I do want to ask you one philosophical point and I don’t want you to think I’m being rude here, but I’m just wondering, in the last 20 years is there any act of U.S. intervention with military force abroad that you support?” The implication here is that unless Paul has supported at least one war, his support for an end to U.S. intervention in Syria is suspect.

I wish Paul had turned the question around and said, “Jake, let me ask you this: is there any U.S. war in the last 20 years that you opposed?”

Instead, Paul told Tapper he supported the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, though he was not in Congress at the time. That’s too bad of course, but to his credit, Paul reminded Tapper that subsequent interventions have no authority under the resolution passed by Congress with respect to Afghanistan. He also added that he opposed nation-building in Afghanistan: “I would have declared victory and come home long ago.” He also schooled Tapper on the fact that as long as the U.S. military is present in Muslim hands, terrorism will be a risk.

Finally, Paul pointed out that withdrawal from Syria would not reduce the U.S. government’s ability to intervene one iota because it has military forces ready to pounce everywhere.

True, but that’s part of the problem.

Advocates of peace and liberty have no nobler mission than to overturn the presumption in favor of war.

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Are Your Dreams Keeping up with You?

Whenever you follow a dream, it leads to new observations, discoveries, and relationships.

These experiences will modify your sense of what is possible and what is preferable.

To chase after a dream is to undertake a surprising and challenging process of personal transformation.

It’s impossible to act on your dreams while remaining identical to the person you were when you took the first step.

For this reason, dreams need to be upgraded in order to account for the evolution we undergo when dreams are pursued.

Who we are is always changing. Why should our dreams remain the same?

Follow your dreams, but don’t forget to let your dreams follow you.

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