When Academics Describe the World

I always gets a kick out of academics confidently describing the world based on their models and research, especially when the world right outside their window works nothing like what they are sure must be happening based on their theorizing.

I’m all for theorizing.  Big ideas require reflection.  But the best theorizing happens in a loop, taking in the real world, reflecting on it, putting the resulting theories to test back in the real world, reflecting again, etc.

In economics, theorists will tell you “public goods” like lighthouses can’t ever be supplied by private, profit-seeking ventures.  Meanwhile, right outside their window there are private lighthouses, provided in ways too varied and ingenious for the academic mind to comprehend, and too skin-in-the-game trial-and-error intuitive for the entrepreneur to even know how to explicitly describe.

So you have the self-interested tinkerers doing the impossible without being able to describe it, and the sheltered academic calling things impossible without being able to try them.  The Royal Society confidently declared that years of peer reviewed research proved what a couple of bike mechanics did at Kitty Hawk was not possible.  They didn’t publish any papers, they just flew the damn plane and changed the world beyond the small dreams of academics.

A far less dramatic example I recently encountered gave me a laugh too.  A professor told me that the best way for candidates to stand out on the job market, given the ubiquity of college degrees, is by their GPA.  It seemed to him a sensible and efficient way of beefing up the flabby and dying signal of a degree.  In the real world of hiring, no one cares about GPA.  No one wants to see it on a resume.  In fact, listing it has a greater chance of being a negative signal than positive.

I’ve also been following a debate in the bitcoin community about an academic paper on the probability of profit from “selfish mining”, basically a way to cheat the bitcoin system and, for all intents and purposes, ruin it.  I don’t pretend to know the higher math involved, nor do I claim to know the actual probability of this threat.  Still, I find it amusing the amount of confidence about what is mathematically possible that ignores what real rational actors in the market actually do.

It has a similar flavor to those old silly Hobbesian claims (often portrayed in unimaginative Hollywood films) that, absent Leviathan, everyone would immediately kill each other, or that all power disparities will result in total annihilation of the weaker.  Those who see the world this way claim to be taking account of man’s high level of self-interest, but in reality they don’t see the world at all, and are completely underestimating just how self-interested humans really are.

It seems the lack of academic imagination stems from lack of seeing the world around them, the way Watson failed to see what Sherlock did.  Those who can see are rarely the ones able to describe what they see or write books about it.  Instead, they act on it with innovation and value creation.  In a free market anyway, profit goes to the visionaries, even if they’re unable to describe what it is they see.  Then everyone else spends decades debating the proper description of the world created by the innovators.

Let them debate.  Go create.

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Taking the “Digital” out of “Digital Gold”

There’s an idea that bitcoin should be a “store of value”, like digital gold, instead of something used directly for every day transactions.

But this misses the entire point of digital gold.

Gold has been the most pervasive form of money on the planet for thousands of years because it has the best properties of any substance to act as money.  The one property gold does not have is portability.

That missing property is the source of many monetary woes in history. It makes gold easy to seize by governments. It requires claims to gold to be used in every day transactions, instead of gold itself, which opens an entirely new opportunity for fraud, fiat, and inflation.

The idea of digital gold is to take all the amazing attributes of gold and add the one thing it’s missing: portability. That’s what the “digital” part means. The magic of bitcoin is that it found a way to maintain all the very best properties of money found in gold and add to them the greatest portability of any money in existence with instant, near free global transactions.  Until bitcoin, there was always a choice between the other key attributes of money and portability. Digital scarcity was thought impossible. Bitcoin emerged as a new kind of money that puts the properties the oldest and best form into bits and bytes for maximum portability.

If the plan is to hamper the portability with low block limits, long waits, high and radically changing fees, then it’s not digital gold at all. The whole point of making gold digital is to take advantage of the portability of digital. Without that, it’s just like regular gold. But we already have regular gold.

If it requires second layer solutions and claims to the underlying asset, it’s no improvement over gold standards with paper money, which may be better than what we have today but vulnerabilities in that system also got us to today.

If you kill portability, you don’t have digital gold. You have a gold competitor that brings no new attributes to the table, save perhaps the known limit of supply.

To make use of the “digital” in digital gold is to ensure that one great property that physical gold lacks, portability. An instantly portable gold functions as cash. But better. It functions as the best properties of cash but with all the key properties of gold at once.

So a bitcoin unusable for daily transactions should certainly not be called electronic cash. But I think even digital gold is too generous, since there’s no point to digitization if you don’t take advantage of it.  It’s more like gold without history.

I prefer the vision in Satoshi’s paper. All the best properties of gold with instant portability is a game changing advance in human society.

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Danilo Interviews Gabriel Scheare of the Underground Homebirth Movement in Chile (1h3m) – Peaceful Anarchism 035

Peaceful Anarchism 034 features an interview of Gabriel Scheare, of Fort Galt and the underground homebirth movement in Chile, by Danilo Cuellar. Topics include: Galt’s Gulch Chile, Exosphere, Cryptacademy, bitcoin and cryptocurrency, his underground homebirth story, Danilo’s waterbirth experiences, vaccinations, sovereign immunity, Jordan Peterson, Ayn Rand, and more.

Listen to Peaceful Anarchism 035 (1h3m, mp3, 64kbps)


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How I Try to Help Crypto Without Being a Techie

I’ve been in love with crypto and its world-shaking potential since I first heard about it around 2012. I bought some Bitcoin not long after, and was always excited for an excuse to use it or give it away. I was in it for the philosophy and potential to expand human freedom and prosperity, not really as an investment vehicle.

At some point, when fees got high, merchants stopped accepting it, and the price began to climb, the ethos of the crypto community changed. Alt-coins and ICO’s really enhanced the shift, and before long, it came to feel like the only way to be “involved” in crypto was to be a developer (I’m not a tech guy) or just hold it.

I’m no Keynesian, but simply holding an asset as a passive investor with no interest or ability to increase use and value directly is a sucky way to change the world. Forget whether or not it works, it’s no fun feeling like a stingy old dragon guarding a hoard instead of an intrepid explorer charting new paths.

Well, what can a non-tech person do to help crypto change the world?

You can talk about it, sure. That’s good, (mostly) fun, and needed. But talk is less valuable than action. You can talk about how taxi cartels suck and convince people, but using Uber, or ordering them an Uber so they can experience it for themselves, are more powerful than words for bringing about a shift in how transportation is done.

That’s why I post almost every day on Yours.org.

I don’t do it because I need the few bucks it can earn me from an article. That’s fun and enhances the experience, but it’s not enough of a motivation. I use all the money I earn tipping and voting on other content anyway. I don’t do it for exposure to my writings. I have a personal blog, company blog, a podcast, speaking engagements, social media accounts, and several books that do that just fine. I don’t do it because I’m bored. I’m building a growing company that has nothing to do with crypto (but we do accept BCH as payment!), have a wife and four kids, and plenty of hobbies and stuff to do.

I post to Yours because I’m in love with the promise of crypto and I want to do more than talk about it. I want to make it succeed. That takes work.

I can’t do dev work. I can write about stuff in my wheelhouse, like entrepreneurship, education, economics, personal freedom, careers, parenthood, sports, and a bunch of other random non-technical stuff. So why not use what I’m already good at to help build crypto?

Yours is an excellent place for it.

  • Writing stuff earns me some BCH, which means the network is getting more use and more opportunity to see what’s working, deal with kinks, etc. Again, not a Keynesian “grow wealth by consuming”, but an understanding that networks gain value and obtain info through use.
  • The BCH I earn can be used to tip and vote on other content, which does more of the above.
  • Sharing my Yours writing brings crypto outsiders to the platform. Like giving your friend an Uber ride, they get to see real-time micropayments in action instead of listen to me blab about it.
  • Posting about non-crypto stuff helps show that the crypto economy isn’t just an insular circle where crypto is only used to buy crypto stuff.
  • Yes, I have BCH stickers and shirts too, and I love that stuff. But if crypto purchases are confined to insider memorabilia, growth will hit a ceiling. In my small way, by earning a few tips in BCH for non-crypto content, I’m expanding the crypto economy beyond kitties and socks.
  • It keeps me close to the user experience, and reminds me every day how magical this stuff is. It never ceases to be fun to see “You earned 25cents for your article” pop up in real time. The promise of crypto is real to me when I use it rather than just sit on it and price watch.

So no, I’m not going to be submitting any cool code to Github, but I’ll be damned if I sit idly by on a stack of coins and let everyone else do the work of building a better world with crypto! I’m sticking to what I know and running a business and a family, but I can take a few minutes out of my day to post to Yours and be a tiny part of the revolution.

Just one tiny bit of value added to the ecosystem every day has a powerful compounding effect.

Who’s with me?

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“Treatment We Associate With Regimes We Revile as Unjust…”

On January 29, US District Judge Katherine B. Forrest ordered the release of immigrant rights activist Ravi Ragbir from pre-deportation detention.

Ragbir, who came to the US from Trinidad in 1991 and got his “green card” in 1994, has been fighting deportation over a fraud conviction since 2006.  Earlier this month, while checking in with immigration authorities to renew his annual extension, he was detained and jailed.

Ragbir’s is an interesting and compelling story, but this column is about Forrest and the elegant hypocrisy of her words in ordering his release:

It ought not to be — and it has never before been — that those who have lived without incident in this country for years are subjected to treatment we associate with regimes we revile as unjust, regimes where those who have long lived in a country may be taken without notice from streets, home, and work. And sent away. We are not that country; and woe be the day that we become that country under a fiction that laws allow it. The Constitution commands better.

Where, I wonder, was Forrest’s devotion to the Constitution when she sentenced Ross Ulbricht to life in prison without the possibility of parole in 2015?

Ulbricht’s crime was, simply put, operating a web site — Silk Road, on which users bought and sold things both legal and illegal — without permission from the regime Forrest serves.

Ulbricht’s trial was a farce from beginning to end. The  prosecution poisoned the jury pool with claims that Ulbricht had hired out multiple murders. It then withdrew the accusation before trial — but Forrest included them  as part of her justification for the harsh sentence.

The prosecution hid the fact that two government agents working on the case were under investigation for (and would eventually be convicted of) wire fraud and money laundering charges for using their investigative power to steal Bitcoin from Silk Road. A third agent was later accused of tampering with evidence.

Forrest forbade the defense to present its alternative theory of who ran Silk Road. There’s a term for a trial in which the defense is forbidden to defend the defendant. It’s called a “show trial.”

Ulbricht’s defense team has appealed his conviction to the US Supreme Court. Hopefully that appeal will be successful. The trial administered by, and the sentence handed down by, Katherine B. Forrest, deserve to be repudiated as what they are: Treatment we associate with regimes we revile as unjust.

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Animal Ethics, the Social Contract, & Bitcoin (32m) – Editor’s Break 045

Editor’s Break 045 has Skyler giving his commentary on the following topics: the U.S. budget deficit and taxpayers as collateral, universal ethics and what that means for human/animal relationships, the so-called social contract, the revolutionary nature of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, gradualism in abolishing crime, and more.

Listen to Editor’s Break 045 (32m, mp3, 64kbps)


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