Monday, October 27, 2014

‘Family ties’ and political dualism

Michael J. Fox was the star of ‘Family ties,’ where he played diehard Republican Alex P. Keaton. Back in the 1980s, when I first saw the show, I had no idea about the issues discussed, nor of how the concept of a family with political differences yet united in love, appealed to Americans, making the show a huge hit during the Reagan years.

Watching it 25 years later, I can say that ‘Family ties’ has its flaws, but overall is still worth watching for some good laughs, and also, its educational value as to 1980s sensibilities. One thing that bugged me though is the manner in which, in the person of Alex Keaton, the show seemed to equate an interest in economics, finance, etc. with a love of money, or greed. From my experience, this just isn’t so.


Economics, in particular banking, has been a source of fascination for me the past eight years, not out of any extraordinary pleasure derived from money – which after all is just one economic good of millions, simply scapegoated for its nature by-definition of relative exchangeability – but because of its social relevance, what it says about people and their relationships with one another.

If it weren’t for reading about the Great Depression, I don’t think I would have come to appreciate the market for what it is, and ultimately realize the implication that the state is the representation of the worst of humanity.

False either-or

The prevalent Republican-Democrat or liberal-conservative paradigm, as seen in shows like ‘Family ties,’ is indicative of most people’s limited understanding of political economy, where the rich are attacked for “working only for the money,” as though:
1) Other workers didn’t prioritize the size of their salaries;
2) Money had inherent qualities; and
3) Acquiring money from another was necessarily to the other’s detriment.

Little effort is made to distinguish the various means of acquiring money or any other good. Actually, there are only two different means of acquisition: exchange, and forcible taking. And practically all the ‘wicked corporations’ who are supposedly only after the money can actually be found to use the second means, of forcible taking, through political privilege.

Greed is neither good nor bad. The further question is if greed manifests through violence, or cooperation. Scapegoating moneymaking itself makes for the worst policies, as entrusted to the state.

How you defend, not what you defend, matters most

The funny thing is, most people, depending on whether they are liberal or conservative, are right half the time, siding with freedom. To put it simplistically, ‘fiscal-conservative, social-liberal’ is the best combination. I say ‘simplistically’ because oftentimes, when one is right, their reasoning is all wrong, and makes for inconsistent ceding to forces of unfreedom.

For example, those who support free speech or are against state censorship would yield when it comes to the issue of libel or slander, thinking that it is right for the state to lock up people on account of what they say. Or those who support free trade think it’s all right to have a central bank – which is actually the most enslaving of institutions.

Why err on the side of freedom? Educate yourself why

More consistent reasoning comes about from education on markets, property rights and law. Like with libel, the matter of whether something is libelous or not is moot, if the rights of the owner of the property used as avenue for expressing the contentious statements, is given precedence.

People should associate as they please, and thus face the consequences of doing so in the most fair manner. 


Friday, October 24, 2014

Metro Manila traffic: Just ban the LTFRB already

The traffic problem in Manila is not really about ‘colorum’ buses or overpopulation. These are effects, or perceived effects, of a monopoly on traffic regulation held by the LTFRB.

There is a seeming need for an agency to limit vehicles, especially in major roads like EDSA and C5. Such prohibition seeks to curb supply, in the face of unrelenting demand for these vehicles. 

But instead of seeing ‘colorum’ or non-licensed transportation as a cause of traffic, we should recognize it as nature’s way of adjusting to those in power who ignore the real problem: insufficient resources*.

Those damn bus lines

Another issue is the congestion of roads by buses that are mostly empty yet blocking whole lanes. The knee-jerk reaction would be to call for more bans or restrictions on buses. It seems so obvious: The less buses, the less traffic, right?

But we should ask rather: Why are these bus lines able to profit from such a seemingly unprofitable practice? Why does such wasteful behavior pay? The answer lies in artificial ‘anti-colorum’ restrictions.

If there were more competitors to meet existing demand and take some of the market share, there would be more incentive on the part of all players involved to invest in a way that balances or maximizes both spatial demands and fuel use. Ironically, further tightening the existing LTFRB restrictions would increase empty buses on the road.**

Solution: Free roads

The problem is not limited to just traffic management. The size of capital in a community, its manner of upholding property rights, as well as cultural preferences, are related to the issue. But even just taking a decisive step such as abolishing anti-competitive regulation would save us a lot of trouble, frustration, and wasted time. Could it really get much worse?

If all transportation companies were allowed free reign, this will involve entrepreneurial miscalculations, especially at the beginning. But then, once sufficient knowledge is transmitted as to profitability and non-profitability of certain investments, we can expect not just a more rational use of roads, but lower costs too, which happens in any decentralized industry.

The real regulator is competition.

Just to make it clear. I’m not proposing some wild, new idea. The facts are agreed on easily. The main bone of contention is how such facts are interpreted. And this article would serve its purpose even if it merely crushes our existing biases.

End note: Sobra na ’yan, UBER na ’yan

Needless to say, the LTFRB’s attempt to stop Uber is just another confirmation of the agency’s dinosaur status. Better to cooperate with rather than fight technology. Of course, cooperation in the case of the LTFRB means its quick and painful death.


There should be more road space available to people, and these people should be more spread out as opposed to concentrated in a rather tiny spot of the Philippines called Metro Manila. Why isn’t there more space then? But asking this points to a more general problem of poverty.
** But let us say for the sake of argument that the existing bus lines reduce the number of buses, and the non-licensed companies are wiped out. And let’s further assume the buses stop taking up whole lanes as they now do to the detriment and annoyance of other motorists. The imposed bus limit will signal reduced profitability in the sector, and ultimately discourage future investments, contrary to the actual prevailing demand for the services. The commuting public lose out. 
Personally, I doubt that any easing in traffic due to an imposed bus limit complied with, would offset the loss in productivity and comfort as a result. I could see how some people will stop using the roads on account of not having work to go to, since employment is dependent on capital accumulation, which in turn requires prior productivity. And all this hassle because of a disregard for the price system in favor of simplistic bureaucratic control. State interference does much to complicate and little to solve.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

I tried Grabtaxi and Uber for the first time today

I tried Grabtaxi and Uber for the first time today. I don’t have the same comfort level as when I have a car of my own, but they are just about the most convenient substitutes.

I think I’d have to prefer Uber in terms of the riding experience, but the relative scarcity of Uber cars makes Grabtaxi more reliable in terms of availability.

Apart from the fun and ease of using an app as a means of obtaining transportation, is the security. Although Grabtaxi and Uber are far from crime-proof, I would feel more assured getting a ride through them as opposed to just a random taxi if coming home from the airport or some other venue in the wee hours of the morning. 

With the increased awareness we have of criminals’ modus operandi involving taxis, let alone other public transport, these options made possible through only-recently-profitable technology is a blessing. And what do you know? The state had nothing to do with it (Apart from its pesky coding scheme).

Related article: 
Is Uber exploiting its drivers?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The minimum wage and scientific methodology

Scientific understanding is ultimately derived from a combination of ceteris paribus (all other things being equal) statements. Causal necessity can be established, even when it appears that the examined phenomena do not display one ceteris paribus statement or the other.

If employment increases after a raising of the minimum wage, it could never be assumed that the increased minimum wage caused the rise in employment, because (artificially) higher wage costs mean  decreased supply of jobs and lower demand ceteris paribus.

There must be other factors involved to explain the rise in employment, such as the discovery of new natural resources or the popularization of an avenue for jobs (e.g. the internet), the increase in jobs of which it must be assumed have offset the loss of jobs that have become obsolete from it. These additional factors themselves are also essentially ceteris paribus supply/demand/price relations.

To assume that it is the minimum wage itself that increases employment is to defy causation itself. Whatever peculiar instances are involved in one situation provide the explanations, which themselves require causal necessity.

Related article: 

Friday, October 10, 2014

10 different meanings of Facebook likes

Mark Zuckerberg, or whomever he got the idea of the Facebook ‘Like’ from, could not have possibly conceived of the myriad ways the mechanism has been used. That’s the beauty of social phenomena. To paraphrase Hayek, we know so little about what we imagine to be designed.

Here are several types of ‘Likes’ you may have at one time or another clicked.

The ‘Shut up already’ ‘Like’ – You’ve said all you had to say about a certain topic, and you want to cap the conversation with a friend who insists on justifying or elaborating on his earlier comments.

The hesitate ‘Like’ – You haven’t been that in touch with them recently, or don’t want them to think you’re stalking their profile, but figure their post is significant enough to ‘Like’

The ‘I know you were at the party’ ‘Like’ – Rather passive-aggressive, this ‘Like’ is a way of telling your friend that you know about their white lie

The insiders ‘Like’ – You’re a fan of something being referenced in the post, which trumps even your lack of closeness to the FB friend; it can also signify a desire to bridge the distance between you two.

The ‘Because we’re in a relationship’ ‘Like’ – A usually unspoken commitment to ‘Like’ most everything a significant other posts

The ‘Because you tagged me’ ‘Like’ – If they felt you were important enough to be tagged, you want to return the favor with a ‘Like’

The pity ‘Like’ – The post looks so bare, with none of their dozens/hundreds/thousands of friends having thought much of the post. Oh, what the hell.

The quid pro quo ‘Like’ – Either as a preliminary to asking some favor, or for their having liked something you posted

The acknowledgment ‘Like’ – Saying ‘Got it’ without having to think of how to phrase a meaningful reply.

And lastly:

You actually just like the post or comment


As to the future of the Facebook ‘Like,’ all we can really do is wait, and speculate. For example, I imagine each ‘Like’ to eventually be made likeable as well. And this will allow people to form a kind of binary code chain of ‘Likes’ being liked and ‘Likes’ not being liked, and this can go on perpetually, almost like cyberknitting, a kind of art.

Oh, and someone did something like this article before. Not that it’s such an original idea.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Is Uber exploiting its drivers? and other stupid questions (well, just that one actually)

I think I don’t usually bother anymore with writing refutations against anti-market stuff I see on the Web, but this tirade against the Uber app made me venture out of my usual public indifference. I guess what did it was the arrogance of the author. Arrogance apart from myself is rather appalling.

So I wrote a comment to it, that went:

Blaming Uber is like investing your life savings on an eBay store and blaming eBay when your feedback rating goes to crap. I suppose eBay has to provide a minimum wage to its sellers too huh.

But of course we have to ultimately blame the thousands of exploiting consumer-passengers who find Uber so useful.

Is giving people an option to profit where no better one existed so condemnable? Or would it be better to encourage yet more Uber-like companies to compete for drivers?

But as the Bill Moyers website is quite selective in publishing comments, rejecting mine, I thought I’d put it here. That will show ’em.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The death penalty only begets more violence

Under prohibition, activities deemed criminal do not stop; they only change into a more dangerous form. This includes not just substance prohibition, but also death penalty legislation, which seeks to ‘prohibit’ heinous crimes by graver threats.

Those who engage in crime do not do so out of the lack of fear of punishment. Rather, it is a distorted sense of moral conviction, and/or desperation, that brings one to overlook the risk of social backlash, whether such backlash involves ostracism, imprisonment, or death, or a combination of the three. Upping the punishment thus scares no one into ‘good behavior.’

When punishments become more severe, the organization of crime shifts, empowering the more dangerous and those capable of fighting back against legislation-empowered forces. This means more criminal power is concentrated into the hands of the fewer. Just like how centralizing authority creates dictatorships. Instead of deterring crime, the death penalty creates a situation where society is faced with a growing institution more capable of going to war or colluding with the state.

Violence, or even the threat of it, is never a solution.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

On sucker-slapping suspected drug pushers

Taken from
Slapping a member of a gang involved in murder is hardly the worst thing an honorable statesman can do.

But you have got to laugh at the way a significant number are cheering our former matinee idol on, as though a publicity stunt in front of cameras and beside the suspect held in his car wasn’t so obvious, as though he was not deliberately trying to project himself as the tough guy envisioned of a major national politician.

More importantly, many neglect the real problem: prohibition, which shifts control of potentially beneficial chemicals to the more violent elements in society, endangering families and shifting focus away from health concerns, not to mention serves as rationale for continued state expansion and a larger incarcerated population. Expanding black markets goes along with an expanded state. Sadly, the US’ prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s is a lesson heeded only half the time.

If our slapper were really serious about wanting positive social reform, he would not put at risk a criminal case against gang members by having called to question the dueness of process. Also neglected is the implicit precedent set to abuse and coerce those not yet proven to be guilty of a crime. 

Bloodlust accomplishes nothing. Do we merely want to vent our vengeful tendencies, or do we want to understand?

The mayor’s act is a gamble that the majority is as base as he hopes they are.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Why the QC half-rice ordinance is bad

Doesn’t it make sense to offer a half-cup serving of rice in restaurants, as Quezon City has recently ordained? I mean, they did point out how much rice is wasted when an entire cup is not consumed. Isn’t this a failure of the market to avoid excesses, for which the government justly steps in?

You would think that a demand for half servings would be enough for restaurants to offer half-rices of their own initiative. This hasn’t been a widespread practice, so I can’t really fault politicians, listening to the consuming public, and being as ignorant and vote-hungry as they are, for stepping in.

And it’s not like people will be deprived of the choice to eat a whole cup of rice, right? So it’s a win-win for consumers, the restaurants who profit from the demanded half-rices, and the numerous poor who’ll have more to eat! Or so we hope.

Beyond the knee jerk

Rice in restaurants is priced the way it is, already factoring in the wastage. It may seem unfortunate that x amount of rice is not eaten, which may lead to the conclusion that x amount could have been eaten by someone else.

But in fact, there wouldn’t be this x amount to be wasted at all were it not for producers meeting the existing demand for whole-cup servings (the non-halving of which to be honest is doubtfully a large part of the supposed P8 billion wasted). In the absence of more half-cup options in the market, legislation artificially creates lesser demand, which, unbeknownst to most, will in the long run reduce the supply produced. z supply becomes z y. To create less supply is actually more wasteful than creating more supply that isn’t all eaten. And less supply also means more expensive.

Import restrictions – The real enemy

If Quezon City Hall were really concerned about food wastage, and missed opportunities to feed the poor, they should oppose existing rice importation limitations that keep rice prices higher than they otherwise would be. This also makes rice less accessible/affordable to the poor.

But really, what is done with food that is uneaten, and why don’t more restaurants recycle this for charity (as far as we know)? Perhaps there are bureaucratic health restrictions. Perhaps restaurants are worried of getting a bad reputation of the food they serve. Whatever the reason, greater public awareness of what is done with uneaten food can spur those in the food industry to make better use of leftovers. For now, the tendency is to leave it to bureaucratic bozos to act enlightened.

Just because something sounds good (e.g. less rice wastage, less cracked heads due to motorcycle helmet laws, more housing through easy loans, etc.), it does not follow that legislation is the way to get it done. Prudence is something demanded and thus reflected in market prices, for which manipulation via the state does not make for a more prudent population, or greater resources.


The boring, but ultimately more compelling reason to oppose ‘anti-wastage’ legislation is this.

The varying price for a cup of rice in restaurants is the basis for all other prices of goods used to make the rice. When businesses are forced to provide something where considerations are not factored in via direct consumer decisions (i.e. not through lobbying for legislation), there will be a change of prices, of the consumer good and of the capital goods that made it, in a way that is less coordinated with what people actually want.

When the price mechanism, which is really an information system, is tampered with, you also make market participants less knowledgable, for which we can expect misallocations of resources, leading to reduced supply and higher prices. What a waste.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Why dictatorships (and other threats of force) are never the answer to achieve social reform

Increasing accountability is a matter not of shifting behaviors per se, but shifting mentalities. It’s only with a critical mass of people who understand private property in some aspect that social reform happens. Legislative prohibition, or the use of fear to promote or discourage certain actions, merely changes the manner in which mentalities manifest (e.g. prohibiting alcohol empowers mobs, prohibiting certain types of speech empowers those who benefit from a na├»ve society, etc.).

But there is the argument that people won't change for the better unless it gets written and passed into quote-unquote law for them to do so, through certain actions and restrictions. And to think people would just change of their free will is plain stupid.

But history is an attestation of human beings becoming freer and better off materially and spiritually, thanks to continuously accumulating material and mental capital, and this is most often in spite of the state and whoever happens to be running it at the time. 

What’s more likely, for people to change their concept of private property and freedom, or for the majority of people to live in fear sustainably? No empire in history has lasted. People somehow wise up long enough to get free of even the most brutal dictators. The lack of a stateless society doesn’t point to unlikelihood of its future, it only tells of what is past. And over time, the trend has been towards an increase of freedoms, a decrease in privilege by force.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

NBA vs. Gilas fail: Beyond the booing

Why do NBA superstars, in this day and age, seem to have so little power, that they couldn’t even play an exhibition game in the so-called third world?

It reminds me of pre-WWII Hollywood, where the bosses of MGM and Warner Brothers had a tight hold on stars like Clark Gable and Bette Davis, who had to sign contracts that limited their ability to choose their films. It was only slowly that the talents obtained independence so that today, actors are not limited to doing films for one studio or another (nor do they have to sleep with some big executive such as Jack Woltz in ‘The godfather’).


The NBA today, even more than the golden era of Hollywood, is a monopoly, partly to meet popular demand for the best to compete against the best, but also because of the subsidies it is granted by the cities with NBA teams. We’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars paid by people, many of who couldn’t give a crap about basketball. Nor of baseball. Nor of football. The leagues of which are also financed similarly.


It is no wonder then that they have such control over even the most renegade of players. Sure, the league will have its reasons for their use of powers of sanction. They don’t want to dilute the players’ images with non-NBA performances. They don’t want the risk of injury (as if players could not assess the risks themselves). Perhaps pickup games in a player’s neighborhood would be banned if this were possible.

They can want all they want, but this shouldn’t mean having authoritarian control. Which is a natural consequence of nonmarket protections via the state.

It’s not just a PLDT problem

So yeah, it was foolish of the PLDT people (who incidentally are part of an anti-SME crony empire as well, in case you were wondering why your internet connection blows) to make promises they couldn’t keep. They’re paying the price for such dishonesty bigtime, and not just from refunds. 

But outrage shouldn’t be so one-sided; it should not be taken for granted that a sports league could say yes or no to every professional decision made by their laborers.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Sports is trivialized tribalism (World Cup 2014)

Look at the anguish on their faces.
Similar to Brazilians watching
Germany (for lack of a better name for a team)
beat the shit out of Brazil (ditto).
Sports is tribalism, trivialized.

When humans’ acquisition of resources was uncertain, and chances for survival were improved by violent domination of others, such actions could be said to have been ‘socially’ acceptable.

But what could be considered of ‘society’ back then? Society, least of all on a global scale, was basically non-existent, so talk of what is right, morals, rights, etc. was pointless really.

With the rise of trade/civilization, a return to such savagery meant thwarting the mechanisms by which society came to be. It was now the market, and no longer threats and harm, that allowed people to satisfy their wants, however base or spiritual such wants may be judged by so-called improvers of mankind.

People’s value judgments evolved along with, and are tied to, humanity’s quest for power. As this quest goes on through the generations, the ‘irrational,’ primitive impulses of kinship and tribalism that kept our ancestors alive are being more and more relegated to games, and humor too. A sense of belonging or connection with other perceivers of worlds is now a matter of ideas, not blood.

When I watch the 2014 World Cup, there’s much that is appalling, such as the presence of state officials and ambassadors, or FIFA’s cronyism, as well as the uptight rabidity of fans on the basis of culture or political boundaries. But there is also a recognition, somewhere, of it being ‘just a game,’ by which people like you and I cheer for the team of our known-to-be-biased preference.