Thursday, November 22, 2012

Is ‘Gangnam style’ the epitome of capitalism?

Ipso facto, capitalists love this song. :rolleyes:

I would think that Slavoj Zizek’s appearance was abhorrent enough for people not to bother listening, but apparently people take his ideas seriously, as unhelpful they may be to understanding issues.

For instance, this video where he provides the ‘insight’ of the Gangnam Style video being a “pure ideological phenomenon.” I would suppose he meant that, because the singer Psy is being materialistic and posh, it epitomized capitalism.

What is the means?

Basically, he equates the outcomes of a political system (material wealth), with the system itself (capitalism). As though material wealth could not be violently expropriated via the state.

As Franz Oppenheimer explains in ‘The state,’ there is the economic means, i.e. markets, and there is the political means, i.e. the state, for allocating resources. Ironic that what is often criticized as ‘capitalism’ is actually monopoly as granted by the state. Because monopoly systems require only continuous expropriation and not the benefit of clients/constituents to function, they decrease the utility of transactions of those without political perks, and diminish overall utility in a community.

Money is not the same as utility (Why trade it otherwise?)

Utility is often defined in monetary terms, but it also includes a greater sense of spiritual satisfaction, something definitely not promoted by choice-limiting monopoly. And if, in exercising one’s freedom, one degenerates into the superficial, this would not be hindered by coercive restrictions, least of all from an entity that supposedly represents one’s self (the state).


So, considering that,
1. Material wealth is not congruent to the process that is free-market capitalism; and
2. Material wealth is far from the only form that utility takes,

does Zizek’s “ideologically pure” comment still make sense?

Perhaps if my cocaine dosage was high enough.

The result of this misunderstanding is a prescription of more state power in the accomplishment of supposedly noble goals, even if state monopoly makes it that much harder to achieve these, and is actually the very cause of the poverty being blamed on markets, as is the case during the time of Marx (one of Zizek’s idols) and today.

Further reading:
The introduction to Butler Shaffer’s ‘The wizards of Ozymandias

Monday, November 12, 2012

10 social problems, and their solutions

You mean I don’t have to find and kill anyone? 

1. If you want to reduce trafficking, legalize prostitution
Being against a certain practice should not equate to ‘stricter’ prohibitive laws. 
Legalizing prostitution would flood the ‘sex trade’ with competition, for which violent elements would lose wealth. After all, what clients of traffickers would risk procuring a slave when they could choose among willing companions?

2. If you want to reduce idiocy among people, eliminate the DepEd
Who should define what constitutes an ‘educated’ person? No one. That is, there should be no single set of criteria through which people should be judged. Today, much of what is practical to one’s career has nothing to do with what is taught in school. Imagine if those earlier formative years were devoted to individuals’ strengths and interests. This would make for a more efficient division of labor, not to mention smarter people.

3. If you want to stop overcharging by public utility companies, eliminate government franchises
There is much opposition to the concept of monopoly, and indeed, with the numerous privileges granted to supposedly ‘private’ corporations such as Meralco or PLDT, we can expect subpar services, where a brighter alternative never makes its way to reality. A more competitive environment begins with eliminating government privileges in the first place.

4. If you want to reduce incidence of patients being denied treatment at hospitals, eliminate government licensure examinations
There is much fear that ‘deregulating’ the health care sector means throwing standards out the window. In fact, standards that are responsive to actual patients’ needs can only come about in a competitive ‘free-for-all’ environment where no single agency determines competence of practitioners.

5. If you want to end smuggling, abolish Customs
What is to be feared about ‘smuggled’ products? Low prices? Substandard goods? Reduced local jobs? If mistrust was directed towards government collection and use of funds (a coercive process) instead of profit-oriented businesses (which require voluntary patronage), perhaps ‘protection’ of enterprise would give way to a more consumer-oriented direction of entrepreneurial energies.

6. If you want to reduce unemployment, eliminate union privileges
Unions, granted privileges by labor laws, may raise nominal wages, but in doing so reduce productivity, ultimately resulting in lower real wages and less employable people.

7. If you want to reduce smoking among the population, legalize marijuana
Smoking tobacco stinks. But absent healthier, non-addictive alternatives for vices such as marijuana, people resort to tobacco and liquor. The ban on marijuana also makes for more powerful criminal organizations, as they are protected from cheaper, peaceful competition.

8. If you want to reduce flooding and pollution, privatize sewage and other infrastructure
Local governments can implement these paper bag policies till hell freezes over, and nothing will be achieved in terms of solving the drainage problem most evident during rainy season. If you want accountability in the upkeep of infrastructure, private property is the way.

9. If you want to reduce laundering, or the transacting for illicit activities, legalize gambling, drugs and prostitution
Money laundering is just a made-up offense that gives governments an excuse to control the flow of money. By legalizing what are perceived to be vices, the less violence there will be in these sectors, and thus less money will change hands in the conduct of activities that involve coercion.

10. If you want to free up roads, eliminate transport licenses
Transport licenses make for unduly high costs on the part of transport companies. These costs are passed on to commuters. What’s more, these licenses prevent the entry of vehicles owned by companies that are more cost-conscious. At present, government-protected companies can bring on the road near-empty vehicles that make for heavier traffic, because the artificially high fares also justify such a practice.


The common element in the problems enumerated above, is government barriers to competition. The solutions as listed merely remove these barriers that have no place anyway in civilized, voluntary society.

Friday, November 9, 2012

In defense of sarcasm

Sarcasm is an underappreciated art, especially in less economically developed communities. It may even be equated with bad manners.

Being a very sarcastic person, I would like to defend myself, and even go so far as to claim that without sarcasm, or the forces that manifest as sarcasm, there would be no progress in anything, at all.

Breaking preconceptions, constantly

The abstraction of a status quo is based on a fixed, ‘objective’ view of the world, where no variation exists between my perception of a thing, and another’s. Words have their set meanings, and could not go beyond these.

Sarcasm destroys this arrangement. I can use the very words associated with happiness and agreeableness, to express the opposite sense. And all this is done by a change of tone and emphasis, in so subtle a manner as to make analysis difficult or pointless.

Actually, the wonders of sarcasm and its ability to expand perspectives and meanings, can be attributed to humor in general. Sarcasm is simply my weapon of choice in this regard, in its emphasis on wicked destruction.

Sarcasm in enterprise

In a sense, successful entrepreneurs, acting as agents in the disrupting of economic equilibrium in anticipation of a flux in economic preferences, are masters of sarcasm. The significance of any specific economic good or service is constantly rendered novel when capital is redirected under the tutelage of the entrepreneur.

A capital wielder who surrenders to ‘the way things are’ without regard to the future, renders himself less and less relevant, in favor of those whose conceptions of a product are more dynamic and society-oriented.

It’s everywhere and everything

Sarcasm has its parallels all around us: in music, martial arts, technology — even in humor itself. God knows that ancient humorists are boring in this day and age, and we are glad that they are dead in their lameness.

All that is not new or continually relevant is fair game in this world. Without sarcasm, there is no life to speak of. You can tell a person’s education (in life that is, not ‘enlightenment’ derived from university), or their will to live for that matter, by how receptive they are to sarcasm or how sarcastic they are themselves.  


This article is entirely pointless of course. You’re either sarcastic, or aren’t, and the only thing that can change the latter is death.

Economics: When trusting the experts can be fatal

I’m a fan of Scotch Whisky. Not so much for the taste — which is horrible — but because it makes me feel classy. The truth is, I don’t know anything about Scotch. If you replaced the contents of a Johnnie Walker Blue Label with White Castle (Wayt Casel), I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. I go by the words of the experts, regardless of my ability to discern flavors.

In this case, the reliance on experts is basically harmless, aside from being a waste of some of my cash. We can also say the same thing about the subject of relativity. I have no idea if physicists are just making up that stuff and hiding behind complicated equations, but the implications of the nature of gravity, light, curved space, etc. are not readily apparent in daily life anyway.

But in other fields, blind reliance on experts could be dangerous. Obviously, we wouldn’t subject ourselves under the knife of just anybody who calls themselves ‘Doctor,’ or have anybody who knows the Pythagorean theorem build a house. For the most part, there is no question as to the authority and knowledge of people who make a living in specifalized fields, even as certain aspects of medicine are controversial, or one may dislike the aesthetics of a certain house.

Who knows what’s right?

But when it comes to economics, we have a wide variety of experts with fundamentally opposing views, and the effects of a certain policy as recommended by an economist are long-reaching, for better or worse. Whom can we trust? Is it enough to know that an economist has received his doctorate in some prestigious school, or that he writes for a major daily, or that he serves as economic advisor to the present administration?

On the one hand, we should be humble enough to admit that, since we are non-economists, we may not know enough to open our mouths about some political issue with economic implications (and which political issue doesn’t?).

But on the other hand, economics is so important in our day-to-day lives. Not an hour goes by that we do not contribute to the economy in some way. Even asleep, we expend electricity through the electric fan or night light, and lie on a bed previously produced and acquired, not to mention gather sufficient energy to go about making economic choices the following day. Whatever some bureaucrat tells us through the media will have some effect on the way we consume, or produce. It is practically impossible to step aside and stay apathetic to all the economic activity in our midst. If we are not required to understand economics, we still ought to. To entrust ‘the experts’ just because they’re experts, while we’re normal laymen, seems quite irresponsible in this regard. 

A government is only as good as its people, and if a people don’t make an effort to be informed, we can expect bad policy to be the order of the day. 

We don’t have to be knowledgeable enough to write in specialized journals, but we ought to at least know enough to know when we’re being taken for a ride. Even if we as a minority of educated individuals have no political pull to counter stupid policies, we at least can stay sane while weathering the consequences of stupid policies, after which a wiser constituency could emerge, hopefully. 


When we first realize that we may not know as much as we thought we knew about certain issues, something magnificent happens: we shut up. Instead of supposing some program is good just because it sounds good or is for a good cause, e.g. health care, we start asking: ‘How? We tell ourselves: It is a given we want poverty to decline; for people to eat well; for people to be educated well; for people to stay healthy; for people to have sufficient funds to accomplish certain goals; etc. We have long known the ‘what’ of things, but being humble about our economic ignorance, we now no longer confound the ‘what’ with ‘how.’

Instead of demanding that some program provide so-and-so to the less fortunate, we now ask: “What were the conditions by which this good or service came about in the first place, and could these conditions be emulated elsewhere? How?”

‘How’ is everything in economics.

Misplaced trust

The reason it’s so important for us laymen to become ‘mini-economists’ ourselves is because the ‘how’ is not explored well enough even in the academe. These same Ph.D. bigshots advise bureaucrats on policies that not only prove ineffective, counterproductive and are with great opportunity cost, but invite the corruption that so many lament as the cause of such economic failures. 

The success of a policy has less to do with whether it has been implemented according to the letter, but whether it is based on sound economics. The trite statement about corruption being the cause of poverty in the country is insufficient, when the conditions by which corruption breeds are ignored. 

The most popular economists in the country are part of the status quo, and their beliefs are the same beliefs that keep not just our people poor, but also those in Africa and South America. It is their brand of supposed economics that leads to and perpetuates the financial crises of the West.

Alternative education sources

Luckily, we no longer have to rely on them, or university courses for that matter, for economic enlightenment. The internet has pretty much everything we need to learn the technical aspects necessary to view an issue critically. Googling “schools of economic thought” will give you a good distinction between paradigms in this field, and you can research for yourself the good and bad of each. It pays to have a general idea of what other schools of thought say about a particular topic, such as money. Not to say that learning economics is easy apart from formal education; it’s still considered a discipline.  

Apart from economics proper, there is the matter of epistemology, or the study of knowing, which is crucial in the social sciences such as economics. For example, it’s not enough to show a correlation between two entities in a graph and declare causation. Rigorous logic, and not supposed ‘empirical evidence,’ determines the soundness of your point of view. Sans logical relations between variables, every assertion is carelessness, bias, or both.

Parting shot

Politics is one of the most socially acceptable means of theft. But politicians usually do not go to battle unless armed with some justifications backed by a pseudo-thinker with a degree. Our knowing no better is no excuse for being fooled. Ultimately, the only weapon against wrong-headed economics is a wiser people.