Monday, April 14, 2014

Highlights from Michael Huemer’s brilliant ‘The problem of political authority’

[My comments in italics.]

The state per se is unjustified.
[Democratic] laws normally come with threats to impose punishment on those who do not follow the law, backed up by credible threats of violence against those who attempt to avoid punishment. On the face of it, the disrespect for persons and the violation of equality involved in issuing and carrying out such threats are far more palpable than the supposed disrespect shown by those who do not comply with the laws.

On fears of what absence of government will bring:
Evidence such as the Milgram experiments, the Holocaust, and the My Lai Massacre leave little doubt that the average human being is far more likely to commit heinous crimes in the name of obedience to authority than he is to rashly disobey justified commands of an authority figure.

Market anarchism is the only political viewpoint consistent with what most of us agree to be good morals.
[R]evisionary political views emerge out of common sense moral views.

If we are to argue for zero government, we must pit it up against the ‘ideal’ state, by which the argument for anarchism is that much more convincing.
[I]n comparing government with anarchy, we should examine the best feasible form of government.

On claims of anarchism being utopian due to few people supporting it:
[O]ne is left with the status quo, if one can only cite existing mentalities.

Defenders of government are often keen to point out the harms that might result from the widespread greed and selfishness of mankind in the absence of a government able to restrain our worst excesses. Yet they seldom pause to consider what might result from the very same greed and selfishness in the presence of government, on the assumption that government agents are equally prone to those very failings. It is not that statists have some account of why government employees are more virtuous than average people. Nor do they have some plan for making that be the case. Rather, it seems simply to have never occurred to most statists to apply realistic assumptions about human nature to the government itself.

The state itself is the problem, not by any means the solution.
The standard solutions to the problem of human predation all start by cementing the very condition most likely to cause predatory behavior – the concentration of power – and only then do they try to steer away from its natural consequences.

Criminal behavior won’t be tolerated by private security ensurers, if only because it wouldn’t be profitable.
Offering protection for criminals is analogous to offering fire insurance for arsonists.

[T]he most common objection to anarchism, the objection that protection agencies would go to war with one another, overlooks both the extreme costliness of combat and the strong opposition that most people feel to murdering other people. The very real threat of war between governments appears a much more serious concern than conflict between private security agencies.

Anarchism alone recognizes what makes human nature work. What are the political conditions that allow man, who is inescapably profit-oriented, to cooperate with others for mutual benefit?
It is theoretically possible for a government to reform itself – to eliminate all victimless crime statutes, shift its focus from punishment to restitution, and so on. But when we look around and see that no government has in fact done so and when we notice that this kind of unresponsiveness to problems has a systemic explanation rooted in the basic incentive structure of government, conversion to an alternative system begins to seem like a more rational and less utopian solution than that of reforming the present system. There will always be room for improvement in any justice system. In governmental systems, reform will tend to be slow and difficult to implement. By contrast, businesses in a competitive industry tend to move quickly to improve their products or reduce their costs when the opportunity presents itself.

On the possibility of anarchy in the future:
Throughout most of human history, slavery was widely accepted as just. The mass slaughter of foreigners for purposes of capturing land and resources, forcing conformity to one’s own religion, or exacting vengeance for perceived wrongs against one’s ancestors was often viewed with approval, if not glorified. Alexander ‘the Great’ was so called because of his prowess at waging what nearly anyone today would unhesitatingly judge to be unjust and vicious wars.
Judicial torture and execution for minor offences was widely accepted. ‘Witches’ were burned at the stake or drowned. Despotism was the standard form of government, under which people were granted no right to participate in the political process. Even when democracy was at last accepted in some countries, half the adult population was denied any rights of political participation because they were deemed inferior.

When people today say that there is little agreement in ethics and politics, they are ignoring all the issues mentioned in the preceding paragraph. For us, none of those issues is worth discussing, since the correct evaluation is intellectually trivial. ‘Should we torture someone to extract a confession of witchcraft and then execute her for being a witch?’ This question merits no more than a laugh. But practically speaking, these questions are far from trivial. Slow though it may have been in coming, the current consensus on all these questions represents an enormous advancement from terrible ideas to not-so-terrible ideas.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

A reader's experience registering at the BIR (2014)

A reader, a good friend who wants to be known only as A.S., sent me this account of him registering his business at the BIR this past week. A.S. wants to advise his fellow entrepreneurs who read my blog of what is in store for them. To me, his ordeal is an illustration of the BIR’s cluelessness as to why they’re not collecting enough revenue. When you constantly make it harder for willing taxpayers to pay, you will get less taxes.

I made minor modifications.

A.S.’s story:
So after four days, and a conservative four hours total waiting time (excluding travel, form-filling and all), I got a certificate of registration (COR) for my new venture.
This Rappler article was really helpful:
It presumes however that you already have a tax identification number, which is a whole different monster from registering a business, requiring barangay clearance and whatnot.

Luckily for me, I didn’t need too many requirements. Since I was applying to be self-employed, registering in my name and with my home as business address, they only asked for a:
Birth certificate and
An ID photocopy.

I also prepared an:
Affidavit as to my fees and manner of billing, pursuant to the BIR RR 4-2014.
This was how it happened for me, the simplified version:
Day 1 - Got the forms from the BIR, nos. 1901 (for self-employed registration) and 0605 (for payments). The forms are no longer available on the BIR website, God knows why.
Day 2 - Paid the registration payment fee of P500 at a bank in my revenue district, using BIR form 0605, four copies. I guess most banks wherever you live will accept. You can also pay in the BIR, but for me, the BIR branch had ran out of slots for payment and I had to go back to my neighborhood.
I also had to transfer my TIN to a revenue district office (RDO) where my address is now located. Luckily for me, both RDOs are of the same branch. If you’re just getting a new TIN, this won’t matter.
Day 3 - Went back to the BIR to give my filled up application for registration (1901), three copies, and submitted my birth certificate, photocopy of ID, and affidavit of billing crap. Was then told to go to an ‘Officer of the Day’ in a separate cubicle, who, after telling me what taxes I was obligated to pay, signed my application. I was then told to return three days later, for my COR.
Day 4 - Bought a documentary stamp elsewhere in the BIR building, you can ask around where to buy one. P15. And I had no line to deal with. Then lined up to get my COR, where they attached the documentary stamp.

BIR employees are like regular people with thoughts and feelings, but because it’s competition-free, they can be arrogant jerks. One girl was being told to go to Makati where her TIN was registered, so as to be able to transfer to her desired RDO. And when she left, the BIR personnel laughed at her for voicing her frustration, also eliciting laughs from taxpayers waiting in line.

I wanted to admonish the BIR person, who was handling my papers, by saying “Come on, don’t laugh at her. She’s a taxpayer. It’s hard enough dealing with the bureaucracy here.”

[My note: Imagine if a McDonald’s employee made fun of a customer in front of other customers for ordering a pizza. And these government folk think it’s all in a day’s work. Disgusting.]
But I didn’t say anything, which may have been practical, considering what they can do to my files.
So overall quite a hassle, but not as bad as I thought it would be, in fact. 
So I have my COR, and now what’s left is to get some receipts printed. You’ll need BIR form 1906, ‘Authority to print,’ for that. An accountant can deal with filing that stuff for you and getting the receipts for your use. 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Earth Hour 2014: Bad consciences going strong

Earth Hour 2014, still drilling it in people's heads that their very existence is a bad thing for nature, even as humanity is its worst enemy. 

We tend to forget that we're a part of nature, and can do nothing to it that is not worse for us. 

Having said that, there is nothing in my actions that could not be sustainable. My energy consumption does not harm the planet in any way. Provided that a critical mass is not there to give certain groups political privileges, market prices will guide actions in a way reflective of consumers' concern for property, as well as the yet more nebulous concept of the environment.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Louis C.K. is really funny, but...

Laughed so much from Louis C.K.'s 'Chewed up.' Tried watching his series' pilot, but gave up halfway, partly because it wasn't too funny and also because I had just heard his comments about how 'capitalism' ignored the 'social' aspect of transactions. I don't want to be so sensitive about this stuff, but it just diminishes my view of people when they reveal themselves to be poor thinkers in this regard, unknowingly perpetuating socially detrimental political arrangements.

When A denies B's preferences for what B considers better services, in the interest of A's satisfactions sentimental or otherwise, the multiiplied effect is poorer products for all, not to mention aggression towards outsiders and ultimately one's neighbor. The real enemy is in fact not efficient competition, but 'competing' via political privilege.

Ultimately, one implicitly believes that a government represents its voters better than products and prices represent consumers, or vice versa.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Is Bitcoin doomed because of taxation?

Fortune makes a bold declaration on the fate of Bitcoin: it is doomed, because of taxes. As if the prospect of taxation is an automatic death sentence to an industry. 

Let us assume the claim that tax records will eliminate the anonymity or pseudonymity of Bitcoin users. Does this undermine its whole rationale? Is pseudonymity the only reason people turn to cryptocurrencies? 

If Bitcoin is taxed, wherein accounts are tied to people, there is still the advantage of its maintaining value in contrast to government fiat currencies. Gold is taxed, yet it has been going up in value relative to fiat this past millennium. 

In addition, Bitcoin is still a great way to transfer money elsewhere almost instantly. It remains to be seen though if additional taxes will remove its advantage in contrast to Paypal or Western Union.

Doomed Bitcoin? Not quite.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

How use of the word ‘consumerism’ is worse than consumerism itself

Along with ‘exploitation,’ the word ‘consumerism’ is one of the most abused words when trying to pin down what’s wrong with modern society. It’s the refuge of the intellectually lazy, and makes for a bad combo with compassion.

When you label a certain community as ‘consumerist,’ it’s so easy to be careless in prescribing a cure. Look at all those new gadgets, new car models, instant-gratification entertainment, junk food, etc. which come about in a market. No one is ever satisfied with what material goods they acquire! All the while, there remain the hungry and uneducated. The solution? Impair the market!

I don’t blame anyone who thinks in such a way. If I had never studied Austrian economics and philosophy, I would speak in the same fashion. It’s simplistic and easy to carry around in the head.

What is meant anyway?

But what exactly is lamentable with consumerism? And is it responsible to lump this with a money-based economy where people engage in trade according to mutual benefit? That is, does it follow that, barring any impediments to exchange between two free parties, the satisfaction sought will be superficial and wasteful?

Considering that most of our interactions do not involve money but are nonetheless exchanges of sorts, e.g. exchange of ideas in conversation, can we stretch the idea of rotten consumerism to include all our dealings in society?

But at this point, it is quite obvious that consumerism does not necessarily follow in exchanges between two parties, even those involving money (ugh, such a dirty word, keep me away from it). If so, any prescriptions to resolve such a hypothetical problem, including and not limited to legislation, are doomed to promote this nebulous notion once carelessly labeled.

Boo to the state

Let’s consider the political ‘solution’ a bit longer. It is assumed that the fight against ‘corporate greed’ would involve empowering the people against these companies that make money off of them by unleashing the worst in them.

But how would distorting the consumer preferences that make possible the profits of those who ‘exploit’ such preferences, make for smarter, healthier choices? A mere hindrance to choice couldn’t do that. The only thing that could happen is that whatever greed and superficiality exist in a populace will take a more monopolized form for the satisfaction of a narrower group of consumers, that is, politicians and their cronies, to the detriment of the masses, who are no more ‘refined’ for it. So scratch the government from the list of possible solutions to consumerism.

So far, we’ve seen that consumerism is not equal to markets, and that political control is not a counteraction against it. What better understanding can we get than this?

It’s all about timeframes

I propose that what we are so quick to label ‘consumerism’ is actually action based on short-term thinking, akin to savages who seek pleasure now with little care for the future, and for this purpose engage in base things that are unsustainable in the long term.

At the end of the day, it’s all about maintaining satisfaction. Whatever satisfaction is gained from the constant chase of the new, is no satisfaction really. It gets old pretty quick, or at least, the ‘fix’ that one gets from such acquisitions does not provide fulfillment.

And the emptiness of a short-term mentality is seen not just in what people buy, but in their attitude to each other, to society as a whole.

When your idea of charity is to course things through monopolistic, vertical structures, rather than acknowledging the capacity of others to care of their own free will, you engage not only in self-righteous conceit and snobbery, but in intellectual error. Of course, the advantage of being wrong is never realizing what harm you’re doing to the world along with everyone else who believes that a state could paradoxically be more compassionate than the people it supposedly represents, so your conscience is clear.

The recognition of market cooperation as precisely the solution to the limited capacity of individuals to determine what is best for one another, itself promotes the long term. And this will also be reflected in healthier thinking and refined tastes, including of the proletariat.

And by the way, the very act of recklessly crying out ‘Consumerism!’ as a substitute for clear thinking is itself an indication of short-term thinking. Watch yourself!

But what about… ?

There are dozens of ‘But what about…?’s to the ‘revelation’ that markets are the only hope to transcend consumerist thinking. There would be continued concerns of “How are workers’ rights protected in a dog-eat-dog world?” or “What if someone was left out in the cold with no one to turn to?” All I can say in these few remaining lines is that the state has never enabled people in a way that markets weren’t able to, and it is likely that whatever problems exist that elicit fear of the market are caused by prior government intervention in the guise of ‘capitalism.’

Friday, January 17, 2014

‘The wolf of Wall Street’ is fun, but don’t believe its BS

Guess what? That is not real money
Leo DiCaprio is tossing away.
It can’t be helped if Martin Scorsese’s ‘The wolf of Wall Street’ (2013) is interpreted as supportive of the police as means of consumer protection. That the only thing that can stop consumer-harmful activities is the threat of jail; competition doesn’t wipe out ‘the bad guys’ naturally.

How did the real-life Jordan Belfort stay in business with such a supposedly bad track record? He must have presented something, even if this was false claims as to the returns of his recommendations. Why did people invest through him then, instead of through more competent brokers? Or are there none of them?

The limit to brokers’ bullshit

Today, what with the internet and all, alternatives are more easily available. Advisory newsletters take annual fees rather than commissions, and can present an impressive portfolio, including of penny stocks, which are disclaimered as being extremely high-risk but potentially high-gain. Brokers, if any human ones are necessary, are then left with the simple task of doing what a trader wants.

Central banking

The fact is these firms, along with clients, do continue to profit, at least nominally, even without a corresponding rise in a community’s aggregate wealth or production. Such a situation is possible via the central banking system, where an increase in debt is followed by rising stock indexes. Such a system’s collapse may take years, as we’ve seen time and again in the heavily regulated financial sector. 

More regulation, as impliedly recommended by the movie, actually means more of the same problem. The commission of acts deemed illegal isn’t the problem per se, it’s the lack of accountability of entities who engage in such activities as promoted by a ‘Fed-put’ environment.