Sunday, December 28, 2014

Are private services inherently expensive?

Imagine you are a promising car mechanic who wants to open a new car repair shop. You would like to provide basic services to low-income citizens at affordable prices. You would charge a bare minimum for your labor, and you would buy used (but decent) replacement parts. This service would be great for people who just want to keep their cars running for a couple more years--nothing fancy, just bare functionality.

Suppose now that your neighbor also wants to open a car repair shop, but he came up with a different business model. He managed to persuade the local government that basic car service is a human right and that it should be provided free of charge to everyone. Since no one can be profitable by providing their service for free, there needs to be some way of funding this "free" service. The government and your neighbor came up with a scheme. The government would collect "the car care tax" from everyone in your neighborhood, regardless of their car care needs and hand the collected money to your neighbor. And, your neighbor would announce that he would provide free basic car service to everyone who needs it.

Now you are facing a problem. Even though you would charge only, say, $15 per hour for your labor and you would buy the most affordable replacement parts, so that, for example, it would cost your customers only $50 to replace their front shock absorber, this would still be much more expensive than $0 charged by your neighbor for a similar service.

You can try to make your service cheaper by charging less for your labor, but even if you provided your labor for free, you still need to buy replacement parts. And, in the long run, you need some source of income. Thus, you can't provide your labor free of charge forever.

So, lowering the price of your service won't make you more competitive compared to your neighbor. You need to provide something different, something that would attract people who would want to pay for car care. You can try providing basic care, but also offer superior customer service to your customers. For example, you could be more polite to your customers than your neighbor; you could provide more timely service; you could provide a warranty on your service etc.

But, would your customers care enough about these extra benefits to pay, say, $50 for them? Maybe some of them would, but it is more likely that most of them would rather receive inferior service free of charge than pay $50 for superior service. Remember, these are people who want bare functionality. They don't care too much about the extras you are willing to provide.

At this point, you realize that you have to focus on a different customer niche. You need people who would not be satisfied with your neighbor's service even if it was free of charge, people who drive newer cars, who want new parts installed, and who also value courtesy and timeliness enough to pay for it. Of course, this kind of service will be more expensive than the "bare bones" service you were planning to provide initially. You abandon your plan to provide basic service and instead open a "high end" repair shop that offers top-quality service for high-paying customers.

Now we have two car repair shops in the neighborhood: your neighbor's shop that provides basic service at no charge to customers, but collects a car care tax from everyone in the neighborhood, and your shop that provides superior care to higher-paying customers.

Looking at this situation without knowing your decision-making process could make one believe that private car repair shops are inherently expensive and that they don't want to provide service to lower-paying customers. But this is an incorrect interpretation. Knowing the unseen decision-making process that was occurring in the background helps us understand that the existence of the tax-funded shop motivated the private shop owner to abandon his plans of providing cheap service. Instead, he decided to provide a more expensive service. In this example, the private shop is not inherently expensive. It's ability to be cheap was prevented by the existence of the tax-funded shop.

I used an example of car repair, but this is not a story about car repair shops. The message here is much more general. We could apply this reasoning to pretty much any product or service, and we would get similar results. The existence of a tax-funded basic service displaces private provision of the same (or better) service and motivates private providers to focus on a higher-paying customer base. This makes private service appear inherently more expensive, but this is only a superficial impression. Understanding the logic of human choices that lead to this outcome helps us understand why we should not be deceived by this superficial impression.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Do people around you control your mind?

A recent Washington Post article titled "People around you control your mind: The latest evidence" refers to a statistical analysis of the behavior of thousands of airplane passengers and, based on some observed regularities, concludes that you don't control your mind--other people do!

This analysis shows, for example, that people are more likely to get a drink or a snack on the plane if a person next to them gets one first. The study interprets this as evidence that the behavior of people around us controls our mind.

This is, at best, a rushed interpretation, and at worst a logical fallacy. Why? First of all, do you believe in free will, that is, do you believe that you have some say in the way you live your life? If you think you don't, then this is a good spot to stop reading this post. In that case, you should be perfectly fine with the idea that something outside of you controls your mind.

However, if you believe in free will, then there are a few things you might want to notice. First, the claim that other people control your mind misunderstands the relationship between human choice and the objective facts around us. Within the framework of human choice, objective facts do not control our minds; they are simply the raw material that enters our judgment.

You, as an individual with free will, observe the objective facts around you and then use your subjective judgment to evaluate those facts. Your evaluation of the reality around you is up to you. This evaluation determines your actions and thus guides your life path. The objective properties of the world around you matter inasmuch as they are the raw information that enters your subjective judgment.

You might say that this is too extreme. What about, say, food and water; we are surely bound by laws of nature there, you might say. However, even in this extreme case, the laws of nature do not determine our actions, at least in the sense that these laws do not determine our preferences about life and death. It is true that if one wants to live, one has to eat and drink, but it is not implied in the laws of nature that one must want to live. Most of us have had moments in our life when we made a conscious decision to choose life over death. Implicitly, we make that decision every moment of our waking life.

Some individuals, however, have made a different choice. For example, some people sacrifice their own lives to save others. It is also not uncommon that, during wars, people would rather die than be captured by the opposing army. Some people start hunger strikes for political or ideological reasons fully committed to taking their strike to its logical conclusion if their demands are not satisfied.

I avoided including the case of suicide in the above examples because it is commonly believed that suicidal tendencies are an illness with a biochemical background. However, if suicide was completely determined by the objective facts around us and by the natural laws that bind those facts, that is, if our free will had no say in it, then it would be an illusion to believe that suicide prevention efforts prevent anything.

So, how can we explain the fact that people tend to buy more stuff on an airplane when other people around them buy something first without invoking the idea that some people's minds are controlled by other people's actions?

One possibility is that some people simply don't like to be the only ones buying food or drinks on a plane. But, they lack information about other people's preferences, so they wait for others to reveal those preferences. Once someone reveals that he is willing to buy something, the people who don't like being the first movers obtain new valuable information. They then make the choice to buy a snack or a drink based on that information.

In this interpretation, at no pint did the first movers control the minds of people around them. They simply provided the facts that were used to inform the decisions of people around them. These decisions were controlled by the subjective preferences of the people making the decisions, not by the actions of other people.

We simply can't derive metaphysical conclusions using statistical correlations. The fact that some behaviors occur more frequently than others says nothing about our ability to control our actions. It is simply a historical record of our actions, nothing less and nothing more than that.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The necessary war fallacy

It worries me how militant many people are. It takes so little to persuade them that their existence is threatened and that military action is their only salvation. Although I understand that our brains were hardwired for tribal violence for hundreds of thousands of years because violence was often the best survival strategy, I believe we can consciously rewire them to make them better fit our current needs. And our current need is global peace, not tribal violence.

The most often used defense of war is that it is sometimes the only way of stopping evil. But, this claim is self-defeating. Claiming that war is sometimes the only way of stopping evil people from ruling the world also implies that it is only a question of time until evil people take over. Why? Because we can't assume that the good guys always win.

For example, if we assume that war is necessary only 1% of the time, this means that there is one year of necessary war for every for every 100 years. This also means that there were about 20 years of necessary war since the birth of Christ, and that there will be 20 more in the next 2000 years. That's 40 years of war, or ten four-year wars. How safe is it to assume that all ten of these wars would be won by the good side?

But even if we assume this unlikely outcome, we know that there will always be more necessary wars further in the future. So, if our assumption that war is sometimes necessary to prevent the rule of evil is true, it is statistically inevitable that the evil side eventually wins some of these wars.

If it is true that war is sometimes the only way of fighting evil, then, after the evil side wins, there is no way of persuading that evil side to become good. This means that we would eventually end up with a world ruled by evil.

In Canada, we often hear the following slogan: "They fought so we can be free." Every new generation of school children gets to hear this slogan around Remembrance Day, when Canadians express their gratitude to the their soldiers that fought in the world wars. The fact that the slogan gets transmitted from generation to generation suggests that the argument for fighting in WW1 and WW2 is that if the Germans and their allies won, freedom would have been forever destroyed in all the places they took over.

Fortunately, it is not true that war is ever the only way of fighting evil.

There is an obvious historical example that contradicts this theory. Beginning in 1592, Europeans started invading North America and committing massive genocide of the indigenous population. They were the evil anti-freedom side in this conflict. However, most of us believe that human potential for freedom has not been destroyed in North America, even though the equivalent of the Axis powers conquered this continent.

We may not think that the British invaders of North America were comparable to Nazis, but historical research suggests otherwise:

“Hitler’s concept of concentration camps as well as the practicality of genocide owed much, so he claimed, to his studies of English and United States history. He admired the camps for Boer prisoners in South Africa and for the Indians in the wild west; and often praised to his inner circle the efficiency of America’s extermination – by starvation and uneven combat – of the red savages who could not be tamed by captivity.” -- P. 202, “Adolph Hitler” by John Toland

“over 100 million killed” “[Christopher] Columbus personally murdered half a million Natives” -- American Holocaust by David Stannard

Every time we perform the simplest of tasks, tasks that have minute negative consequences, we consider multiple scenarios, and we pick the scenario that we think is the most favourable or the least painful. But, most people's imagination hits a brick wall when it needs to find more than one possible way of responding to a military intervention. Over eighty million people were killed in the two world wars. I can imagine many scenarios in which there are fewer than eighty million victims. In all of those scenarios, the ideals for which we claim those millions died would still be preserved.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Three lessons we can learn from the Jian Ghomeshi case so far

1. Seeking acceptance

Ghomeshi's initial lengthy Facebook post "addressing" the allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour simply screams a desperate need for acceptance. If there is one thing I learned from the Jian Ghomeshi case, it is that I will aim to teach my ("ethnic!?") children not to seek acceptance of "native" Canadians at any cost. If someone sticks their nose in your personal life, you don't justify your personal choices--you tell the nosy person where to go, even if that means you forego acceptance. You don't need those who care about your personal life that much.

2. Public lynch and herd mentality

Apparently, everyone knew about his questionable behavior all along, but no one ever raised their voice because they feared for their careers. This shows that people are not brave enough to confront someone individually, but they are eager to run you into the ground when in a crowd. This makes me wonder who is next in line to be publicly destroyed beyond recognition. Well, at least people are not throwing stones at him.

Activists are racing to use Ghomeshi as a tool for promoting whatever their preferred message in political philosophy. Some are saying he is a symbol of a sexist society, while others are saying that he is a symbol of corporate power. Then there are those who use him as a symbol of the rape culture.
To me, his case is a great example of how quickly and how strongly the emotions of the masses can change from almost infantile adoration to almost infantile hate. This reminds me a bit of how wars start. They start with the seeds of these same emotions in the hearts of the people.

3. He had no friends

Another insight that we can gain from the Ghomeshi case is that he had no friends around him, only people who, in order to promote their own careers, would ignore his problematic behaviour. Friends tell you the truth even when they know you might retaliate against them. Jian, it is better to have only one friend who will stand with you in front of an angry mob than $55 million from CBC.

Now different slime bags are coming out with their "confessions" and their "conscience" and their "analyses" of their own culpability in the whole story. I have a piece of advice for any one of them who wants to earn some respect: Shut up, learn what you can from this, and then act in the future on the basis of what you had learned. The technical term for this kind of bahaviour is--adulthood.

This also reveals that the broader group of people implicated in this situation is lacking one basic lesson--you don't accept favours from people you despise. Sure, that means that you will often forego money, power, prestige, fame, but what you get in return is--freedom, freedom from being manipulated, emotionally blackmailed, harassed, attacked, or associated with the misdeeds of those that you despise. That's a simple rule that even a small child can learn: you don't take candy from bad people.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Socijalizam kao sredstvo za pranje vlastite savjesti

U posljednjih nekoliko godina se krećem u krugu te neke kanadske više srednje klase. Većina njih je živjela prilično ugodne živote, izolovane od nemaštine, poslova "na crno," zavisnosti od droga i alkohola, i sličnih problema. Takođe, većina njih su, bar deklarativno, vatreni socijalisti u smislu da se zalažu za državnu preraspodjelu zarade u smjeru od bogatijih ka siromašnijima. Zagovornici su i raznih državnih nameta na sve i svašta, a sve zarad "socijalne pravde."

Malo sam ih testirao da vidim šta misle o onima koji su protiv takvih državnih intervencija. Oni bi osobu koja je protiv državne preraspodjele imovine nazvali okrutnom i sebičnom, osobom koja ne zna kako je siromašnima i koja ne saosjeća sa ljudima kojima je život težak. Pošto oni sami ne znaju kako je tim siromašnim ljudima, a ja definitivno znam jer sam najveći dio života bio jedan od njih, i sada nisam jedan od njih baš zato što nisam čekao državnu pomoć, mogao bih da ih bocnem time, ali neću. Neka sami otkriju.

Moj opšti zaključak (u kojem me podržava i draga mi supruga) je da oni tim svojim socijalističkim deklarisanjem u stvari žele da se bolje osjećaju u vlastitoj koži i da žele u javnost da plasiraju sliku sebe kao saosjećajne osobe koja brine o pravdi.

Ah da, zaboravih napomenuti, ja se s njima ne slažem kad se radi o ulozi države u kreiranju sreće svojih građana. Ali, da ne bude zabune, ne vidim ja ništa problematično u njihovoj želji da pomognu nego u tome što misle da je njihova deklarativna želja da pomognu dovoljan razlog da i druge primoraju na preraspodjelu imovine. Inače, ne pokazuju nikakvu želju da samoinicijativno djeluju kroz dobrotvorni rad. Štaviše, gledaju da ugrabe svaku priliku za bilo kakvu državnu subvenciju za naš kooperatvni dječji vrtić. Ja sam asistent blagajnika u toj našoj kooperativi i često me je sramota kakvim oni kombinacijama žele da dođu do državnog novca. Oni taj novac ne vide kao nešto što je neko s mukom zaradio pa dao državi nego kao poslastičarnicu otvorenu za onoga ko prvi dođe.

Neki bi ovakve ljude nazvali folirantima, ali mislim da bi to bilo pogrešno. Ne bih ih nazvao folirantima jer mislim da oni sagledavaju situaciju iz druge perspektive. Oni svoje plaćanje poreza vide kao moralnu propusnicu za popovanje drugima, ali i propusnicu da se upuste u sveopštu utrku za državnim novcem, ako sebe mogu uvjeriti da je njihov cilj društveno-vredniji od nekih drugih ciljeva, a vrlo lako sebe u to uvjere.

Ne bi ovakav mentalitet bio važan društveni problem kada bi ovo bio izolovan slučaj, ali bojim se da nije. Čini mi se da ima mnogo ljudi sa ovakvim pogledom na svijet i da ovakvim mentalitetom idemo u svijet u kome više ne znamo kako sami jedni drugima da pomognemo nego nam treba država kao "posrednik," a u isto vrijeme se otimamo i gložimo za novac poreskih obveznika jer vjerujemo da smo baš mi ti koji znamo kako ga najbolje utrošiti.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Has neoliberalism brought out the worst in us?

I am not a senior professor, neither do I hold a chair position in my department, nor did I publish eight books, like the author of the recent Guardian article, Paul Verhaeghe. But, according to Dr. Verhaeghe, this might actually be a good thing for me. The thesis of his article is that neoliberalism[1] has brought out the worst in people, that it rewards psychopathic personality traits and thus brings people with such traits to the top of the social structure.

Dr. Verhaeghe is, according to most criteria, a successful academic, close to the top of the academic achievement scale and pretty high in the general social structure. To avoid ad hominem criticism, I will assume that Dr. Verhaeghe is an outlier, that he climbed to the top despite the goodness of his heart, and not because of some psychopathic personality traits on his part.

Having this out of the way, I can critique the logic of his argument on its own merit. Dr. Verhaeghe claims that

A highly skilled individual who puts parenting before their career comes in for criticism. A person with a good job who turns down a promotion to invest more time in other things is seen as crazy – unless those other things ensure success.

From this, he concludes that this system rewards career and penalizes one's love for his family. There are at least two problems with this conclusion. First, we don't know how other social systems perform in this regard. Did feudalism favour "success" to a lesser extent than the system Dr. Verhaeghe is critiquing? How about communism? Were there fewer psychopaths at the top of the social structures in the communist/socialist Yugoslavia or the USSR than in the current system?

I don't have quantitative answers to these questions, but neither did Dr. Verhaeghe offer any. I do know however, that the Yugoslav dictator Tito sent about 16 thousand political prisoners to something that looked more like a concentration camp than a prison. No one of the top Yugoslavian political or economic officials complained strongly enough to change this system. Did they exhibit more or less psychopathic tendencies than the people at the top of today's social structures in neoliberal societies?

Second, Dr. Verhaeghe's conclusion assumes that rewards and punishments are objectively determined outside of our minds. This is problematic because, from what we know about the logic of choice, human choice is based on subjective valuations. This means that the definition of success and failure is subjective. Each individual defines her own success. For me, for example, choosing a promotion over spending enough time with my family would be a failure, not success. I value time spent with my family more than a promotion if that promotion implies less family time.

Similarly, I value my family's happiness more than avoiding some stranger thinking I am crazy for choosing family over a promotion. All of us are free to make such choices because the value of alternatives is determined by our own valuing minds, not by the objective properties of the alternatives.

If we followed Dr. Verhaeghe's logic and assumed that the system is causing people to focus on their career rather than on their family, then we also assume that we have no power to change the system. How can I decide that I don't want to be a part of the neoliberal society if my valuation of everything, including that society is not determined by me? If career advancement always represents a reward and more family time always represents a punishment, then what if living in a neoliberal society always represents a reward? Then, even if Dr. Verhaeghe is right, there is nothing we can do about it.


[1] This is an unfortunate and often abused term, but let's stick with it without getting into a deeper discussion of its frequent use and misuse.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Pet katastrofalno loših antigej argumenata

1. Homoseksualnost je odvratna.

Ono čime svake godine započnem predavanje na predmetu o zakonu i normama je da podvučem važnost umjetnosti razdvajanja vlastitih osjećanja i sklonosti od argumentacije koju gradimo. Tako, na primjer, činjenica da meni sama pomisao na to da pomirišem domaći pčelinji med pobuđuje refleks povraćanja nema nikakvog uticaja na to da li ja mislim da drugim ljudima treba ili ne treba da bude dozvoljeno da jedu med ili da promovišu jedenje meda. Slično je i sa seksualnim odnosom između dva muškarca ili dvije žene. Naša lična osjećanja i sklonosti su nebitni kad određujemo da li drugima treba da bude dozvoljeno da upražnjavaju ili promovišu upražnjavanje takvih odnosa.

Kada bismo se vodili svojim sklonostima kao osnovom za postavljanje moralnih normi, postali bismo tirani svima oko nas. Da li stvarno želite da budete tiranin koji će svoje lične, subjektivne sklonosti nametati drugima kao moralnu normu? Kako bi bilo da zabranimo promovisanje meda samo zato što se zakonodavcima povraća od pomisli na med?

2. Homoseksualnost je nenormalna.

Čak i da se složimo da je homoseksualnost nešto nenormalno, opet to ne znači da treba zabraniti njenu afirmaciju. Na primjer, natprosječno inteligentni ljudi su nenormalni. Normalno je da čovjek ima koeficijent inteligencije, recimo, između 70 i 130. Otprilike 95% ljudske populacije je u tom intervalu. Tesla je, po ovom kriterijumu, bio nenormalan. Njegova inteligencija je bila ubjedljivo iznad koeficijenta od 130. On nije bio kao većina ostalih ljudi pa su opet svima puna usta Tesle. Svi se za njega otimaju, a bio je nenormalan da nenormalniji ne može biti.

Dakle, normalnost, kao statistički koncept je potpuno neutralna što se tiče moralne ocjene bilo koje devijacije od norme. S druge strane, ako koristimo normalnost kao sinonim za ono što nam se estetski dopada, vraćamo se na tačku 1.

3. Homoseksualnost je bolest i zato homoseksualce treba liječiti.

Čak i da se složimo da je homoseksualnost bolest ili poremećaj, iz toga ne slijedi zaključak da mi možemo da određujemo da li homoseksualce treba liječiti. Ako je istina da je homoseksualnost bolest, onda je na oboljelome da odluči da li treba da se liječi ili ne. Ja imam ravne tabane pa sam ipak odlučio da taj moj poremećaj ne treba da se liječi.

Oni koji tvrde da je homoseksualnost poremećaj, gejeve bi slali na psihijatrijsko liječenje. Ali, oni koji bi slali gejeve na psihijatrijsko liječenje se upuštaju u jedanu od klasičnih matrica diskvalifikovanja neistomišljenika korišćenu kroz istoriju. Inkvizicija je "istjerivala đavola" iz onih koji se nisu slagali sa ondašnjim crkvenim dogmama. U bivšem SSSR-u su ljudi koji nisu vjerovali u komunizam slani na "psihijatrijsko liječenje". U bivšoj Jugoslaviji su politički neistomišljenici slani na Goli otok na društevno-političko "osvješćivanje."

4. Gejevi ne mogu izroditi djecu i zato su društveno štetni.

Čak i kada bismo se složili da je stvaranje potomstva potencijalno društveno korisno, može se pokazati da je često društveno korisnije nemati potomstvo. Ako, recimo, to potomstvo nanese čovječanstvu više bola nego koristi, ona bi bolje bilo da potomstva nije ni bilo, bar sa stanovišta društvene korisnosti kao normativnog principa.

Mi se svi nadamo da će naša djeca biti dobri ljudi, ali ko nam garantuje da bas to naše, uz svu brigu i ljubav koju mu pružimo, neće postati neki budući tiranin i krvnik, neki budući Staljin, Mengele ili Džek Trbosjek? Eto, tu nas gejevi koji su ostali dosljedni principu nemanja potomstva mogu poklopiti i reci da oni, iako na svijet nisu donijeli niti jednog novog Gandija, bar nisu iznjedrili ni jednog novog Hitlera.

5. Gejevi znaju da ljudi ne vole homoseksualnost i zato su gej aktivisti sami krivi ako ih neko napadne.

Ko god kaže da su gejevi krivi ako ih neko napadne jer su svojom pojavom isprovocirali napad, taj tvrdi da su napadači mašine ili životinje koje nemaju slobodu izbora. Ovaj argument, u stvari, više ljudskosti daje gejevima nego njihovim napadačima. Prema logici ovog argumenta, gejevi imaju moć slobodne volje; oni imaju sposobnost izbora između izlaženja na ulicu i neizlaženja. S druge strane, njihovi napadači su kao neživa materija koja nema slobodnu volju i sposobnost da se suzdrži od reakcije. Oni su kao mašina koja je programirana samo za određenu reakciju. Ako gej izađe na ulicu, napadač mora da reaguje; on nema izbora. Po toj logici, gejevi kontrolišu i svoje postupke i postupke svojih napadača. Gejevi su ljudi, a napadači su samo automatska, refleksna, nesvjesna reakcija.

Ovo je mentalitet pokoravanja fizičkoj sili. A šta ako se sutra nekome ne svidi vaša frizura, način na koji govorite, način na koji se oblačite, način na koji bilo šta radite? Možda se nekome ne svidi uopšte vaše prisustvo na licu Zemlje. Da li to znači da treba da prestanete da postojite samo zato da biste izbjegli batine?

Saturday, September 13, 2014

O nasilju nad gejevima

1. Agresija prema kome ili čemu, zašto?

Zanimljivo je koliko mržnje i bijesa postoji prema tim ljudima koje mi nazivamo gejevima, a da nikakav akt agresije nisu počinili. S druge strane, niko ne baca kamenje na provjerene kriminalce, nasilnike i pljačkaše. Zanima me zašto je to tako. Bez obzira na konkretan razlog, uglavnom se bijes javlja kao reakcija na vlastitu nemoć kontrolisanja svijeta oko sebe. Postavlja se onda pitanje: zašto neke ljude plaši činjenica da ne mogu da kontrolišu svijet oko sebe do te mjere da postaju nasilni?

2. Neženje bez djece u odbrani porodičnih vrijednosti

Nije li ironično da najagresivniji protivnici gej parada opravdavaju svoje nezadovoljstvo brigom za zaštitu porodičnih vrijednosti i nataliteta nacije, a isti ti agresivni protivnici gej parada su, najvećim dijelom, neženje bez djece? Ti mladići u dvadesetim i ranim tridesetim godinama života puni su energije koju strasno koriste za bacanje kamenja i ostalih predmeta na pripadnike gej parada.

Možda bi prikladna kazna za krivično djelo narušavanja javnog reda i mira i fizičkog nasrtanja na nenasilne osobe za ove "branioce porodičnih vrijednosti" bila oko godinu dana nekog rijaliti šoua u kome treba da pomažu samohranoj majci ili udovici u podizanju domaćinsva. Time bi se ovaj bogat izvor energije koji ovi mladići posjeduju, usmjerio ka proizvodnji materijalnih, a možda i duhvnih dobara umjesto što se sada usmjerava ka uništavanju dobara. 

3. Opravdavanje nasilja

Nasilje nije u redu, ali i ti gejevi, šta ima da paradiraju? Mnogi koriste ovakve rečenice. Ako mislite da nasilje stvarno nije u redu, onda se tu diskusija završava. Nasilje nije u redu i tačka. Ako za vas tu nije tačka i u istoj rčenici govorite o tome kako nema potrebe za paradiranjem, onda ste vi apologete (opravdavači) nasilja. Nasilje nije u redu, ali u ovom slučaju, po vama, možda malo i jeste u redu jer su gejevi svojom pojavom, kao, provocirali. Trebali su odmah znati gdje im je mjesto i ne izazivati vraga. Neki razmišljaju otprilike ovako: Šta on ima da paradira, evo ne paradiram ni ja. Da nije paradirao ne bi ni dobio batina. Ovo je mentalitet pokoravanja fizičkoj sili. A šta ako se sutra nekome ne svidi vaša frizura, način na koji govorite, način na koji se oblačite, način na koji bilo šta radite? Možda se nekome ne svidi uopšte vaše prisustvo na licu Zemlje. Da li to znači da treba da prestanete da postojite samo zato da biste izbjegli batine?
Nebitno je šta mi mislimo o paradiranju i gejevima, ali je vrlo bitno šta mislimo o nasilju koje se tamo desilo. Zamislite da neko ubije čovjeka koji vam nije baš nešto pretjerano simpatičan. Da li je za vašu ocjenu toga ubistva uopšte relevantno da li vam se ubijeni sviđao ili nije?

Monday, August 25, 2014

Stručnjaci objavili novu analizu uspešnosti akcije Ledeni izazov

Prema najnovijoj analizi istraživača Instituta za društvene akcije iz Padinske Skele, dr. Jovice Uzora i dr. Đure Poštapala, akcija Ledeni izazov (Ice Bucket Challenge) je na teritoriji Republike Srbije podigla nivo svesti o sledećim ključnim društvenim fenomenima:

- o postojanju ženske osobe pod imenom Stanija,
- o rasporedu tetovaža na grudima Čede Jovanovića,
- o postojanju ljudi koji bi se polili kofom ledene vode, a da ne znaju zašto,
- o postojanju ljudi koji uspevaju da za postojanje ženske osobe pod imenom Stanija optuže kapitalizam, socijalizam, ili neki drugi društveni sistem,
- o ceni struje potrebne da se zamrzne jedna "tabla" kocaka leda,
- o postojanju ljudi koji misle da je Ice Bucket Challenge poslednja kap koja će preliti čašu i sve nas pretvoriti u praznoglave potrošačke zombije,
- o postojanju ljudi koji misle da je krajnje vreme da država interveniše i sve nas vrati principima istinske humanosti,
- o postojanju bolesti pod imenom amitrofična lateralna skleroza.

Uzimajući u obzir sve ove rezultate, istraživači su zaključili da je akcija uspela.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Dragi kritičari Ice Bucket Challenge-a, vi i profesorka Dragićević imate nešto zajedničko

Počinjem ovaj tekst istim pasusom kojim sam počeo, prije godinu dana, osvrt na govor profesorke Dragićević studentima diplomcima Filološkog fakulteta. Počinjem istim pasusom jer je suština onoga što ću sada kritikovati identična suštini problema u profesorkinom govoru. Greška koju i profesorka i oni koje ću sad kritikovati čine je u primjeni marksističke teorije vrijednosti i u nepoznavanju implikacija subjektivne teorije vrijednosti.

Po marksističkoj teoriji vrijednosti, vrijednost onoga što čovjek postigne se mjeri time koliko se čovjek "namučio" da bi do toga došao. Po subjektivnoj teoriji vrijednosti, vrijednost onoga što čovjek postigne se mjeri time koliko to čini život drugih ljudi boljim. Tu vrijednost nam drugi ljudi iskazuju time što nam ponude nešto zauzvrat za naš "trud" i "muku". Naučno gledano, subjektivna teorija vrijednosti je logčki tačna, a markisistička je netačna.

U posljednjih nekoliko dana javlja se veliki broj glasnih kritičara humanitarne akcije Ice Bucket Challenge, kojoj je cilj prikupljanje novca za borbu protiv ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). Ovi kritičari tvrde da je akcija plod "bolesnog kapitalizma" i da ubija u nama pravi osjećaj empatije prema drugima, dok u isto vrijeme potiče naš egoizam. Po ovim kritičarima, ako nekome pomognemo samo zato da bismo promovisali sami sebe, onda je ta pomoć bezvrijedna. Pomoć mora da bude izraz iskrenog odricanja zarad drugoga da bi bila vrijedna, kažu kritičari Ice Bucket Challenge-a.

Drugim riječima, vrijednost naše pomoći se ne mjeri radošću unesrećenih koji boluju od ALS kad saznaju da im vi financijski pomažete. Vrijednost vaše pomoći, po kritičarima Ice Bucket Challenge-a, se mjeri načinom na koji ste pomogli, mjeri se odricanjem i mukom koju ste uložili da biste nekome pomogli, mjeri se vašim trudom koji ste uložili u uspostavljanje direktne veze sa onim kome pomažete.

Kao i u govoru profesorke Dragićević, nebitno je da li to mučenje i "samoodricanje" da bi se nekome pomoglo na kraju rađa nešto što neko drugi smatra vrijednim. Po logici kritičara Ice Bucket Challenge-a, ako neko ne vidi vrijednost "samoodricanja" koje je potrebno da bi se uspostavila direktna veza sa onim kome pomažemo i da bi se pomoglo bez želje za samopromocijom, onda on nije spoznao prave vrijednosti.

Ostaviću po strani potpuno nejasno pitanje kako mi to možemo objektivno utvrditi da neko pomaže samo radi pumpanja svog ega, a neko drugi uopšte nema na umu svoj ego dok pomaže. Kojim se to instrumentom mjeri ego onoga koji pomaže nekome u nevolji? Ali, kao što rekoh, to nije centralna ideja ovdje.

Centralna ideja je da kritičari Ice Bucket Challenge-a imaju estetske primjedbe na ovu akciju. Njima se ne sviđa forma akcije. To bi bila sasvim legitimna primjedba, ako bi je oni zadržali na nivou ličnog iskustva. Sa estetskog stanovišta, akcija se ne sviđa ni meni, ali to ne znači da ja treba da i od drugih zahtijevam da imaju isti esteski doživljaj. Moj esteski doživljaj ove akcije je subjektivan. Pretvarati se da taj doživljaj ima objektivni značaj i za druge ljude znači počiniti osnovnu grešku pri primjeni teorije vrijednosti.

Ipak, upskos tome što mi je akcija esteski "ružna," ako je izbor između polivanja vodom i time spašavanja života djeteta koje skapava od gladi, čak i ako donator nema nikakvih emocija prema tom djetetu, s jedne strane, i pomaganja komšiji punog srca i duše, s druge, ja bih više cijenio spašavanje djeteta bez emocija. I ova vrednosna ocjena je subjektivna, naravno.

Ali, ne zaboravimo da postoji i još jedna opcija, baš zahvaljujući lakoći korišćenja kamera i interneta--možemo da učestvujemo i u Ice Bucket Challenge-u i u pomaganju komšiji, baš zato što je Ice Bucket Challenge tako jeftin u smislu uloženog novca, energije i vremena.

I za kraj, ako stvarno želimo ocijeniti estetiku ove akcije, treba da znamo nešto i o njenoj istoriji, a tu istoriju je vrlo lijepo opisao Dejan Nikolić:

Prvi Ice Bucket Challenge u ovoj seriji (bilo ih je i prethodnih godina) nije postavio nikakav holivudski selebriti vec pacijent koji boluje od ALS, Pit Frejts (igrac bejzbola kao i Lu Gerig). Izazvao je svoje prijatelje i par bivsih saigraca da sebe poliju ledenom vodom jer ta senzacija kada se misici zgrce pod ledom predstavlja u sekundi ono kako se oboleli od ALS osecaju celog zivota.

Oni su izazvali svoje prijatelje dalje i tako se prosirilo neminovno i do poznatih i tek onda su krenule donacije brzinom kojom idu sada (skoro 45 miliona dolara za nekoliko nedelja).

Sada, kad znamo i ovo, možda će biti zadovoljni i oni kojima je bitno koliko smo se "odricali" i koliko smo svoj ego "zanemarili" pri pomaganju nekome. Mi ostali, kojima je jasno da vrijednost usluge koju nekome učinimo određuje baš ta osoba kojoj pomažemo će i dalje biti drago da i oni koji daju i oni koji primaju imaju koristi od Ice Bucket Challenge-a.


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Novo izdanje srpskog Rečnika neće sadržavati reč "osumnjičeni"

Kako javljaju izvori bliski portalu LELE (Loose Ends in Literary Economics), stručnjaci specijalizovanog ogranka Instituta za imenice, zamenice, priloge i predloge u Padežu kod Kruševca odlučili su da se reč osumnjičeni neće pojaviti u novom izdanju Rečnika srpskog književnog jezika. Stručnjaci navode niz veoma jakih argumenata za ovu svoju odluku.

- Ova arhaična imenica se u svakodnevnoj komunikaciji ne koristi već godinama. Za reč osumnjičeni postoji nekoliko savršeno prikladnih i lepih sinonima kao što su monstrum, ubica ili manijak i naš narod je to brzo uočio, kaže za LELE prof. dr. Stevica Pojam. - Jezik živi i razvija se sa narodom koji ga koristi, a rečnici treba da zabeleže i dokumentuju promene u jeziku. Krajnje je vreme da srpski rečnici stanu u korak sa promenama u živom jeziku koji je već odavno reč osumnjičeni izbacio iz upotrebe, nastavlja dr. Pojam.

Ova promena nije samo puka formalnost. Izbacivanjem reči osumnjičeni iz upotrebe postići će se značajna ekonomska ušteda, o čemu nam govori saradnik Instituta za imenice, zamenice, priloge i predloge, ekonomista i pravnik prof. dr. Milomir Tvrdica. - Ova odluka lingvista je korisna jer možemo odmah raspustiti veliki broj sudova i većinu advokata koji su i onako odavno bespotrebni. Narodu je i bez suda savršeno jasno da su „osumnjičeni“ i „ubica“ jedno te isto, a sudovi samo traće novac i vreme na dokazivanje te činjenice, objašnjava dr. Tvrdica i ističe da bi to narodu donelo znatnu uštedu.

- Možda zato i volimo da sudimo drugima pre nego što im sud presudi, a možda to volimo zato da bismo ovim ponašanjem nadomestili osećaj istinske empatije sa žrtvom nasilja, ali to već nije moja specijalnost, to je stvar za psihijatre, nastavlja dr. Tvrdica.

Predrag Rajšić
Bojan Savić

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Fable of the Ant and the Grasshopper in the World of Universal Basic Income (UBI)

The original version of the fable:
In a field one summer's day a Grasshopper was hopping about, chirping and singing to its heart's content. An Ant passed by, bearing along with great toil an ear of corn he was taking to the nest.

     "Why not come and chat with me," said the Grasshopper, "instead of toiling and moiling in that way?"
     "I am helping to lay up food for the winter," said the Ant, "and recommend you to do the same."
     "Why bother about winter?" said the Grasshopper; "We have got plenty of food at present." But the Ant went on its way and continued its toil.

     When the winter came, the Grasshopper had no food and found itself dying of hunger - while it saw the ants distributing every day corn and grain from the stores they had collected in the summer. Then the Grasshopper knew: It is best to prepare for days of need.

The new and improved version:

The fable remains the same until the last paragraph. The new and improved last paragraph now reads:

     When the winter came, all the Grasshoppers voted for the political party advocating Universal Basic Income (the UBI Party). Since Grasshoppers were in the majority, the UBI Party won the elections, passed the UBI Bill, and the Ant was forced to provide the Grasshopper with food and shelter for the rest of the winter. When the summer came, the Grasshopper was once again hopping about, chirping and singing to its heart's content. Then the Grasshopper knew: We need the government to provide for the needy.
Disclaimer: Any extrapolations of this story to the human world are solely at the reader's risk. The intended scope of the fable applies only to the world of Ants and Grasshoppers.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Pogledajmo tragediji u oči

Povod za ovaj post je nedavno ubistvo u Srbiji koje je zadobilo neuobičajenu medijsku pažnju. Pošto ni sam nisam imao predstavu koliko je problem nasilnog okončavanja ljudskih života na našim prostorima zastupljen, potražio sam neke opštedostupne statistike.

Najskorija godina za koju postoje podaci o broju stradalih u ubistvima i samoubstvima u svijetu je 2012. Iskoristio sam te podatke da bismo dobili sliku šta se dešava u neposrednom komšiluku. Godine 2012. u Sloveniji, Hrvatskoj, Srbiji bez Kosova, Bosni i Hercegovini, Makedoniji, Crnoj Gori i na Kosovu ukupno je u ubistvima stradalo 338 osoba. To je otprilike jedna osoba dnevno. Dakle, na prostoru bivše Jugoslavije te godine je svakog dana ubijena u prosjeku jedna osoba.

U samoubistvima je, te iste godine, stradalo 3,216 osoba na teritoriji bivše Jugoslavije, izuzev Crne Gore i Kosova, za koje podaci nisu dostupni. Dakle, svakog dana 2012. godine samoubistvo je počinilo, u prosjeku, devet osoba.

Dijagram ispod ilustruje gorenavedene podatke za Sloveniju, Hrvatsku, Srbiju, Bosnu i Hercegovinu i Makedoniju. Ove statistike se ne mijenjaju drastično iz godine u godinu, tako da za tekuću godinu možemo očekivati slične rezultate. Ovdje sam naveo samo "gole brojeve" a vama ostavljam tumačenje tih brojeva i eventualnu emocionalnu reakciju.

Moja najupečatljivija reakcija je shvatanje da je danas, negdje na području bivše Jugoslavije, vjerovatno ubijena jedna osoba, a još desetak je počinilo samoubisvo. Sutra možemo očekivati još jedno ubistvo i još desetak samoubistava, a isto tako i prekosutra i svakog sljedećeg dana.


Sunday, August 3, 2014

A short war story

At 5 am on Friday, August 4, 1995, my mother woke me up with these words:
- Predo, get up. Let's go to the basement. They've started.
By "they" she meant the Croatian army, and by "started" she meant that they stated shelling our town after a few months of ceasefire. But, since we all knew quite well who "they" were and what they might "start," detailed explanations were unnecessary.

We packed a bag of food, a bag of most necessary clothing, we took all the cash we had in the house (which wasn't much) and went to the basement of a nearby unfinished hotel. The basement was two thirds in the ground, and it had concrete walls and three stories of walls above it--it was the best shelter in our neighborhood. Pretty much all our neighbors were there already.

I, being I, and being sixteen, tried to make light of the situation by teasing my mother for being scared.
- Oh, c'mon mom, like it's our first time. We are well trained basement dwellers, well accustomed to dark and damp conditions. Maybe we should start a mushroom business or something like that.
She would just smile and pretend she was enjoying my jokes. But, we both knew that this time it was different. The shelling was frequent and regular, and we could hear it coming from all sides. This time, it was all or nothing.

We teenagers would climb up between the periods of shelling to look at the damage. Two of my friends' houses were already missing their roofs. Later I learned that one of them was still in the house when the shell exploded. He lost all his teeth.

At about 11 am, a man that we knew came with a truck full of people fleeing the fighting in the suburbs of our town. The man was pale and scared.
- Run, they've entered the city and they are cutting people's throats, he said.
Many of our neighbours climbed his truck.
- I have to go home. All our photos are there, my mother said nervously.
- Fuck photos! You don't want to die for photos.
This was the first time I ever swore in front of my mother. I was scared I would lose her. I lost my brother three years before that; I wanted to keep others around me alive at any cost.
She didn't go home. We left our town about half an hour after that, and we never came back. We do take a lot of photos now though and keep them stored electronically on portable devices.

Neil deGrasse Tyson's bad argument for GMOs

This video featuring Neil deGrasse Tyson's response to a GMO critic is making the rounds and it seems to be hailed as a death blow to the critics of the GMO technology. However, this is a bad argument for at least two reasons.

First, the GMOs question cannot be solved by natural sciences because natural sciences can't answer the "should" question. We need social sciences for that. Should GMOs be used? Regardless of the scientific claims about GMOs, the answer to this question depends on the theory of ethics or political philosophy we adopt. Tyson's view of social sciences is disappointing, so I wouldn't hang my hat on his arguments for GMOs.

Second, a red flag that his argument immediately raises is that he intentionally avoids to explain why the distinction between artificial selection and transgenics is irrelevant. Those who believe that this distinction is important will see this as a sign of dishonesty.

I work with geneticists. They are always quite explicit in their public relations and state that their technology includes only selection, and not transgenics. This indicates that they are aware of the differences in the public perception of the two, and that it is dangerous for their public image to even try to argue that the distinction is not important.

But Tyson approached this argument as if those who think that the distinction between transgenics and artificial selection is important will automatically agree with his implicit equating of the two. They probably won't and will probably leave this discussion angry.
Ultimately, Tyson's "argument" does a huge disservice to the GMO debate. It simplifies the terms of the debate to the point of arrogance, and it treats the critics with dishonesty.  

Militantni gej aktivisti i konzervativni "branitelji" porodičnih vrijednosti, smorili ste i boga i narod

Termin "porodične vrednosti" je jedan od trenutno najnesretnijih termina u srpskom jeziku. Zašto? Zato što ga mnogi uzimaju u usta da bi se potkusurivali sa onima koji ih, na ovaj ili onaj način, nerviraju. Dvije grupe koje su najnotorniji mučitelji i mrcvaritelji pojma "porodične vrednosti" su, s jedne strane, promoteri anti-gej mentaliteta, a s druge strane promoteri gej zajednice. Ovi prvi se plaše da promovisanje gej populacije urušava porodične vrijednosti, a ovi drugi se opet pokušavaju podsmijevati samom konceptu porodičnih vrijednosti. Mislim da su i jedni i drugi promašili metu.

Promoteri anti-gej mentaliteta smatraju da je heteroseksualna porodica neophodan preduslov za ostvarenje bilo kakvih porodičnih vrijednosti. Ako heteroseksualne porodice nema, onda, po ovom shvatanju, ni porodičnih vrijednosti ne može da bude. Po ovoj logici, ljubav, povjerenje, poštovanje, istrajnost u podršci, nesebično davanje, prihvatanje, odricanje zarad partnera ili djece, privrženost, odanost, iskrenost, roditeljska strepnja i briga, i mnoge druge vrijednosti jednostavno nemaju svoj suštinski smisao u homoseksualnoj zajednici.

Promoteri gej zajednice uzvraćaju istom mjerom. Oni pronalaze u dnevnim vijestima slučajeve nasilja u porodici, incesta, mentalnog rastrojstva i zlostavljanja i to sarkastično nazivaju porodičnim vrijednostima. Po njihovoj logici, ovo bi trebalo nekome otvoriti oči i pokazati da tradicionalne porodične vrijednosti u stvari ne postoje, da je to samo šuplja priča onih koji mrze gejeve. Eto, govore oni, nismo mi bolesni nego vi. Vi, heteroseksualci, se međusobno tučete i ubijate, a sve pod plaštom nepostojećih porodičnih vrijednosti.

A gdje je tu mjesto za nas koji ne volimo da tučemo pripadnike drugog pola, grozimo se incesta, a heteroskesualci smo i mislimo da tradicionalne porodične vrijednosti ipak postoje, bar za nas? Ni jedna od ove dvije antagonističke grupe nije ostavila tu mjesta za nas. To je velika šteta, posebno za članove gej populacije jer im je cilj, bar deklarativno ako ne i suštinski, da približe gej zajednicu svijesti opšte populacije.

Sirovim asociranjem nasilja u porodici, incesta i maltretiranja svih vrsta sa tradicionalnim porodičnim vrijednostima se ne pridobijaju srca onih koji nisu nasilni i incestoidni, a vjeruju da svoju sreću mogu da ostvare samo u tradicionalnoj heteroseksualnoj porodici. Takvo sirovo asociranje će prije proizvesti odbojnost, a u najboljem slučaju nezainteresovanost opšte javnosti za gej zajednicu.

Zašto nezainteresovanost? Zato što baš ti promoteri gej zajednice koji koriste sirove asocijacije nasilja i porodičnih vrijednosti time pokazuju nezainteresovanost da razumiju ljude oko sebe. Kad bi pokušali da ih razumiju, možda bi shvatili da mnogi heteroseksualci koji vole svoj (nenasilni i skladni!) porodični život, asociranje nasilja, duševne bolesti i incesta sa porodičnim vrijednostima vide kao uvredu, kao nerazumni nasrtaj na nešto što im predstavlja centralno mjesto u životu. Racionalna reakcija na ovakav površan i bezosjećajan nasrtaj bi bila emocionalno udaljavanje od ljudi koji takve nasrtaje koriste.

Dakle, dragi pripadnici gej populacije, ako želite da pridobijete srce prosječnog građanina zemlje Srbije, kojem je nasilje u porodici jednako odbojno kao i vama, mislim da ćete morati prvo s tim njegovim srcem da se ophodite s poštovanjem. Priznaćete da to nije prevelik zahtjev. Naposljetku, nije li baš to ono što vi od tog prosječnog Srbina tražite--da shvati da u vašem srcu može da postoji ista ljubav koja postoji i u njegovom, da vam vjeruje kad mu kažete da svog partnera volite isto kao što taj prosječni Srbin ili Srpkinja voli svoju ženu ili muža?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The absolute advantage fallacy in land use planning

If there is one thing in which I agree with Paul Samuelson, that would be that comparative advantage is the most important but also most misunderstood concept in economics. We know that this concept is not well understood by trade policy designers. That's not a surprise. But, what I came to realize today is that this concept is poorly understood by our land use planners as well.

Land use planners argue that "prime agricultural land" should be zoned for agriculture. But, "prime agricultural land" may also be even "primer" land for commercial buildings or some other purpose. This land may have a comparative advantage as commercial space, despite it being the best agricultural land.

Similarly, even though I may be the best heavy duty industrial cleaner in southwestern Ontario, my comparative advantage is not in heavy duty cleaning but in economic research and teaching. Just because I am a "prime industrial cleaner" does not mean that I have to be legally required to be an industrial cleaner. Just because some land is "prime agricultural land" does not mean that this land has to be legally zoned as farmland.

Utilitarianism and the Politics of "Humanitarian" War

Typing the phrases "cost benefit analysis" and "war in Iraq" into Google finds about 15,000 hits (for these exact two phrases together). The results include scholarly articles, blogs of law experts, TV-news websites, newspaper articles, speeches of politicians and so on. These results are a rough indication of the size and scope of the utilitarian quest for the correct estimate of costs and benefits of this war. The estimates attempt to include not only the monetary expense but also "human suffering," "national security," "freedom," etc.

Another recent military operation where similar arguments were used was the 2008 bombing of the Gaza strip. It has been described by its promoters as an attempt to prevent the future suffering of Israeli civilians while keeping the Palestinian civilian suffering at a minimum. The underlying premise was that any civilian casualties of the war can be justified by claiming that they were a necessary step in preventing far-greater future civilian casualties.

These cost-benefit justifications of humanitarian wars can be summed up in the words of Frida Ghitis, a political analyst and a regular columnist for the Miami Herald and World Politics Review. Ms. Ghitis wrote to me that "war is sometimes justified to stop even worse atrocities. That's the humanitarian rationale."[1]

Thus, it is recognized that the humanitarian war, just as any other war, implies some costs in the form of suffering or death of innocent victims. But this suffering or death is justified if it is a necessary collective sacrifice for a greater benefit, regardless of whether the victims involved agree to being sacrificed.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The morality of the response to the human shield tactic

The current Gaza conflict has raised an important question: Who is to blame for the death of civilians? Is it Hamas, as it allegedly uses civilians as human shields, or is it the Israeli army? Since the definitions of a human shield can me quite stretchy, let us use the strictest possible definition in the following hypothetical example.

Suppose Jim physically restrains Janis, puts her between himself and Kurt, and then starts shooting at Kurt. The only way Kurt can shoot back at Jim is if he shoots Janis first.

When Kurt kills Janis, is it Kurt or Jim the person we should blame for Janis's death? One might argue that it is Jim who is morally responsible because if he had not used Janis as a human shield, Kurt would not have to defend himself and kill Janis.

But, while it is Jim who decided to use Janis as a human shield, he did not make the decision whether Janis will live or die. It is Kurt that made that decision. Kurt chose to save his own life by ending Janis's. He chose that outcome instead of the alternative: letting Jim kill him. If Kurt let Jim kill him, then Jim would be morally responsible for Kurt's death AND for restraining Janis against her will, but obviously not for her death, since she would still be alive. While Kurt is perfectly free to choose his own death, it is hard to escape the conclusion that he does not have the right to choose whether someone else will live or die.

Obviously, Janis did nothing to deserve being killed, so we can't derive Kurt's right to kill her from anything Janis did. Also, we can't derive Jim's right to Kill Janis from something someone else, including Jim, did. If we were to derive Kurt's right to kill Janis from a third person's actions, we would put Janis at the mercy of a third person. Would you want that someone's right to kill you be conditional on something I do when you have absolutely no way of controlling my actions?

If we claim that Kurt is not morally responsible for Janis's death, we are also claiming that Kurt had a moral obligation to save his own life. In other words, we are claiming that, had he not defended his own life, he would have done something morally wrong. Or, by defending himself he was trying avoid doing something wrong, which is choosing to be killed. Is it morally wrong to choose to be killed? I don't think it is. In fact, most of us think it is heroic to sacrifice one's own life for the sake of saving someone else's. On the other hand, most of us think it is selfish to take someone's else's life in order to save one's own life.

Instead of concluding, it would be useful to stress that both Jim and Kurt have choices to make, but Janis is completely helpless. Jim has the power to decide whether Kurt will live or die, and Kurt has the power to decide whether Janis and Jim will live or die. Therefore, the correct questions are:

1. Does Jim have the right to restrain Janis?
My answer - No, and therefore Jim is guilty of restraining Janis.

2. Does Jim have the right to choose whether Kurt will live or die?
My answer - No, and therefore Jim is guilty of Kurt's death if Kurt refuses to shoot, and Jim kills him.

3. Does Kurt have the right to choose whether Janis will live or die? My answer - No, and therefore Kurt is guilty of Janis's death if he chooses to shoot.

4. Does Kurt have the right to choose whether Jim will live or die?
My answer - Yes, and therefore Kurt is not guilty of Jim's death if he (Kurt) chooses to defend himself.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Is war an excuse for abandoning the rule of law?

I've been somewhat quiet about the Israel-Hamas conflict, mostly because the whole thing depresses me, and I don't think I can do much to help anyone there. One thought, however, is important to mention.

Imagine you are a parent whose child was killed in the fighting between the two warring sides. Both sides claim that they were defending themselves against the aggressor, and although their intention was not to kill your child, his death was, according to them, an unavoidable consequence of their self-defense. Therefore, they claim, they are not morally or legally liable for the death of your child.

What would you say to them? Would you accept their justification? I don't think I would be satisfied with their justification because I don't think it is my child's duty to die for the sake of someone else's self defense. Neither I nor my child ever agreed to a contract in which we would accept paying with our lives for someone else's safety.

This is recognized by law in most jurisdictions. If you killed an innocent bystander while defending yourself in the US, your action would be labeled as reckless injury of a third person. For example, Sec. 9.05. of the Texas Penal Code states:

"Even though an actor is justified under this chapter in threatening or using force or deadly force against another, if in doing so he also recklessly injures or kills an innocent third person, the justification afforded by this chapter is unavailable in a prosecution for the reckless injury or killing of the innocent third person."

One might argue that the definition of a reckless injury of an innocent third person does not apply in the Israel-Hamas conflict--i.e., that the injury or death was an unavoidable consequence of necessary self defense. This is fine, but this claim is a matter of a legal dispute in court. I doubt that any of the parents of the children killed in the Israel-Hamas conflict will ever get the chance to accuse anyone, in the court of law, for the death of their children. This is tragic and sad.

So, the least we can do is to refuse using war as an excuse for abandoning the rule of law. The fact that an innocent person was killed during a war doesn't make that person any less dead than an innocent person killed in peace time.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Morality face-off: Dawkins vs. Rajsic

Dawkins' Position: Dawkins went on to say that one of his former school masters “pulled me on his knee and put his hand inside my shorts,” and that to condemn this “mild touching up” as sexual abuse today would somehow be unfair.

Rajsic's Position: The only thing a grown man should be morally allowed to touch up is scratched car paint.

Whose position do you support?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Why libertarianism?

The minimum that a moral theory should achieve is to be able to unambiguously separate all human actions into two categories: (1) morally permissible actions, and (2) morally impermissible actions. I have shown here and here why various forms of utilitarianism cannot achieve this purpose. Other strands of consequentialism, which is a moral philosophy according to which actions should be judged on the basis of their consequences, suffer from the same problem. Why?

Imagine that you want to eat a greasy burger. Is this a morally permissible action? Using the consequentialist approach, we would first have to determine all the consequences  of you eating a greasy burger. Although this seems a rather benign action, we must admit that, at best, we can only propose some scientific hypotheses about the effect of eating a greasy burger on your health. But, scientific theories and hypotheses are only tentative statements about the world. They are not the same as truth. In other words, we will never know if our theories about the effects of eating a greasy burger are true or not. More importantly, we will never know the full scope of the consequences of any human action.

But, let us, for the sake of argument, assume that we have godly powers, so we can look at any action and know all of its consequences on all people from now to eternity. Suppose, for example, that eating a greasy burger today would shorten your life by one day, and suppose that we know all the consequences of you dying one day earlier (i.e., one more day of pain for your family and friends, one less day of food, water and air consumption, more work for the funeral home in your neighborhood, etc. etc... But, even knowing all that, and much more, won't help us determine if these consequences are overall desirable. Are they good or bad? Depending on who you ask, you might get different answers. All these answers will be equally subjective, so we have no reason to consider one of them to be more valid than any other.

So, even if we assume that we have perfect knowledge, we still can't determine whether eating a burger is morally permissible if we use consequentialist ethics. Note that this does not mean that consequences don't matter. They do matter in individual decisions, but they are also always speculative and subjective in nature, and that's why they are not fit to be moral criteria. Imagine going to jail for eating a greasy burger. This might sound absurd, but if enough people believed that the consequences of you eating a greasy burger are bad enough, they might well put you in jail. If you are not convinced, think again. The prohibition era treatment of alcohol consumption was not far off.

Libertarianism, however, does satisfy this bare minimum required of a moral theory. Libertarianism defines the limits of permissible actions using objectively measureable quantities: space and time. If you own the space in which you want to eat your burger, if you own the burger, and if you don't use anyone else's property during your eating of the burger, then it is morally permissible to eat that burger. Otherwise, it is not morally permissible.

Thus, the reason why libertarianism is superior compared to consequentialist moral theories is not that it makes the world a nicer place, although I believe it does; it is superior because it satisfies the necessary condition for being a moral theory, while consequentialist theories don't. We may argue about whether or not this is sufficient for accepting libertarianism, but we must admit that this reason alone is sufficient for rejecting the status of a moral theory to utilitarianism and its derivatives.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Oda efikasnosti srpskih građevinskih radnika

21. maj -- Premijer, Aleksandar Vučić

Vučić je poručio da odmah, u narednih desetak dana, treba krenuti u obnovu infrastrukture. Drumska mreža je nastradala više nego železnička i neki putni pravci neće dugo biti otvoreni ni za putnički, a posebno ne za teretni saobraćaj. On je naveo i da će se najhitnije krenuti u obnovu kuća i to, pre svega, onih ljudi, koji su ostali u potunosti bez „krova nad glavom“. Učiniće se sve da se taj posao završi za dva do tri meseca.

27. maj, Krupanj -- Premijer, Aleksandar Vučić

Za četiri meseca biće obnovljene oštećene i srušene kuće, obećao je premijer Aleksandar Vučić građanima Krupnja.

"Ovde je 38 kuća u potpunosti srušeno. Svih 38 kuća obnoviće država Srbija. Takođe, 168 kućaje oštećeno. Svuda ćemo pomoći i građevinskim materijalom i radnom snagom i na druge načine"

28. maj --  Premijer, Aleksandar Vučić

Premijer Srbije Aleksandar Vučić rekao je da je situacija na poplavljenim područjima svaki dan sve bolja, da je država napravila plan i da za nekoliko dana kreće u snažnu obnovu. Svi kojima su porušene kuće - dobiće kuću, poručio je Vučić. Naveo je da je ukupna šteta od poplava oko milijardu evra.

9. jun -- Premijer, Aleksandar Vučić

"Posao obnove počeće sledeće nedelje. Ljudi kojima su kuće uništene ne mogu da dočekaju zimu bez krova nad glavom. Sve porodice kojima su kuće značajno oštećene dobiće do 250.000 dinara u novcu, a naći ćemo načina da dobiju i aparate i nameštaj."

7. jul, Krupanj -- Predsednik opštine Krupanj Rade Grujić

"Kada je reč o kućama, tačno je da gradnja nije počela izuzev dve kuće, ali čeka se zakon o obnovi, a mi očekujemo da veoma brzo posle toga počne izgradnja kuća"

9. jul -- Ministar građevine, Zorana Mihajlović

Govoreći o protestu nezadovoljnih građana Obrenovca, Mihajlovićeva je rekla da nestrpljenje svakako postoji i poručila da Vlada jeste tu i da zna šta radi. „Biće sve, ali ne može odjednom”, rekla je ministarka.

Dakle da rezimiramo, obnova porušenih i oštećenih kuća će biti završena 28. jula ili 28. avgusta ili 27. septembra 2014., ali ne može sve preko noći. Zato ćemo dva, od ta dva, tri ili četiri mjeseca, provesti u pripremi zakona o obnovi iako je premijer obećao da će "posao obnove" početi krajem maja pa je to nenajavljeno "pomjerio" na 16. jun. Očigledno je u taj "posao" uključio i mjesec dana čekanja (između 17 maja i 16 juna) da počne zasjedanje Skupštine i mjesec dana zasjedanja (između 16 juna i dana kad će novi zakon biti izglasan).

Ako je suditi po ovome, srpski građevinski radnici su među najefikasnijima u svijetu, a zasigurno su efikasniji od srpskih političara. Političarima treba dva mjeseca (a možda i više od dva) da odluče da radovi mogu da počnu. Građevincima će biti potrebno najmanje dve nedelje (od sad do 28. jula), a najviše dva i po mjeseca (od sad do 27. septembra) da završe sve radove na obnovi porušenih i oštećenih kuća. E pa, što bi rekli stanovnici Krupnja--srećan vam rad!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Five common misconceptions about Austrian economics

These five misconceptions were recently publicized in a piece published by Bloomberg View, and there have been some great responses to that piece. I'll take a slightly different route and try to explain why poor interpreters of Austrian thought have these misconceptions about Austrian economics. Note that there are poor interpreters of Austrian thought among Austrian enthusiasts as well. And it seems that the Bloomberg piece itself focuses only on these misguided Austrian enthusiasts. This is unfortunate because it creates the impression in the general public that the 150-year history of serious intellectual work in the Austrian tradition can be reduced to a number of ridiculously shallow propositions. I'll trace these misinterpretations back to the likely original Austrian ideas that have been misunderstood or lost in translation.

Misinterpretation 1: Austrians believe that the Federal Reserve money-printing is a government plot to boost big banks.

Original Austrian idea: The fact that many Austrian economists warn about the consequences of the expansionary monetary policy pursued by the Federal Reserve does not, by any means, imply that Austrian economists believe this policy is a "plot." Austrian economics is not a conspiracy theory, but, more importantly, it is not a mere exercise in historical forensics. Austrians simply point out the fact that, if the Federal Reserve "prints money" to save banks that have made unwise business decisions in the past, we can expect more of the same problem in the future as the same banks keep making unwise business decisions. At the core of this position is the idea that profit is a signal that a firm is making good business decisions, while loss is a signal that a firm needs to change something in order to stay in the market. Without these signals, we wouldn't know who is performing well within the market and who is not. Profit is like a mark that a student gets on a test. Marks tell us which students can pass the course and which students need to either improve or try changing their occupation. Bailing out banks that operate with a loss is like giving passing marks to bad students. Whether giving passing marks to bad students in the banking industry is a plot or not is a matter of historical inquiry into the facts of the actual situation. But, even labeling this situation as a plot does not change the economic consequences of subsidizing bad performers in the banking sector.

Misinterpretation 2: Austrians believe that prices are rising much faster than anyone thinks.

Original Austrian idea: Austrian economists put a lot of emphasis on prices because they recognize that prices are signals of otherwise unavailable information about people's desires and availability of resources. This information is necessary for the coordination of millions of individuals within the market. One of the important features of the Austrian theory is that it stresses that an increase in the money supply generally affects prices of different commodities differently. Some prices rise sooner, while others rise later. Some don't rise at all, while some may even fall. A potential problem with this arises if an increase in the money supply changes relative prices in a way that gives misleading signals to market participants. If this happens, then market participants make decisions based on prices that are poor indicators of the underlying plans made by other market participants. This leads to a lack of coordination within the economy and can ultimately lead to a recession. So, when you hear an Austrian warning that prices of some commodities are rising much faster than the official overall inflation figures would suggest, they are not necessarily claiming that the official inflation rate is a bad indicator of the overall increase in the price level of all commodities. They are warning about these price increases because they might be caused by an increase in the money supply, not by a change people's desire for this commodity or by a change in its availability. This would be a false signal to market participants that they should consume less and produce more of that commodity, which would lead to excess supply in the future. A common term for such excess supply is a bubble. The bubble bursts once people realize that the price signal they were receiving was false. Most of us are familiar with the recent housing market bubble.

Misconception 3: Austrians believe that real “inflation” means money-printing, not an increase in prices.

Original Austrian idea: This is partly a definitional issue, but the core of it is about understanding the origin and consequences of increases in prices. If all prices were rising at the same rate all the time, then we would have little to worry about because people's expectations and plans would always be adjusted to these increases. However, Austrians stress that increases in prices that can happen as a consequence of money printing (physical or electronic) are neither uniform across commodities nor are they predictable over time. This is why an increase in some prices may happen soon after a large quantity of money has entered the market while others may happen years later. In fact, depending on people's (and banks') desire to hold money balances (not to spend or invest money), an increase in the money supply might not affect prices at all for as long as people want to keep their money in idle accounts. This is why we don't get much understanding of the underlying economic process by just looking at prices. But, if we keep track of the money supply, then we may realize that, even if prices are not rising, they may start rising as soon as people decide to spend or invest the money that has been printed and given to them. This is why Austrians stress the importance of increases in the money supply in understanding inflation.

Misconception 4: Austrians believe that printing money can never boost the economy.

Original Austrian idea: It would be unwise to claim that anything can never happen. So, I would be surprised if any conscientious social or natural scientist would claim that an event can never happen. What many Austrian economists will tell you, though, is that money printing tends to temporarily boost some sectors, and not the whole economy. In Misconception 2 above we said that this "boost" can, in fact, be a consequence of false price information created by a sharp increase in the money supply. If this is the case, an Austrian would tell you that we can expect a bust of the "boosted" sector in the future, once people realize that the "boost" was simply a case of excess supply in this particular sector.

Misconception 5: Austrians believe that academic economics is a plot to use mathematical mumbo-jumbo to cover up government giveaways to big banks.

Original Austrian idea: Austrian economists often warn against uncritical application of mathematical formalism, but this does not mean that Austrians are opposed to any use of mathematics in economics. If you open Mises's Human Action, one of the most important treatises in Austrian economics, you will find that he sometimes uses numerical and algebraic examples to illustrate a point. This is math, although relatively simple math. What Austrians warn about is not the use of math in general but its uncritical use that blurs the fundamental features of the economic problems we wish to study. Austrians are not the only economists that warned about this. Ronald Coase, a Nobel laureate in economics was not an Austrian, but he was a fierce critic of uncritical mathematical formalism.

Another important point we should understand before we turn to analyzing the claim that the use of math is a "cover-up" for government giveaways is that not all academic economics contains math. In fact, there are prominent academic economists who are Austrians and who may or may not use math to illustrate their points. Thus, it is possible to be an academic economist without using "mathematical mumbo-jumbo" and it is possible to be an academic Austrian economist.

Is the use of mathematical formalism a cover up for government giveaways? Just like the question in Misconception 1 about a potential plot between the Federal Reserve and big banks, this is not a question of particular interest for an economic theorist. It might be an interesting research question for historians of economic thought, which is just a small segment of the economic discipline.

However, a more profound problem that Austrians point out is that the use of mathematical formalism creates an illusion of knowledge where actual knowledge does not exist. This gives us an impression that we can design policies with predictable outcomes when in fact the model on which we base these policies does not capture the key features of reality we want to predict. For example, this was the central idea of Friedrich Hayek's 1945 paper on prices as sources of otherwise unavailable information, information that is generally assumed to be known in mathematical models of the market. Assuming that unknown information is known removes the need for markets as means of economic coordination, Hayek stressed. All economic planning in such a world could be performed by the government. However, claiming that mathematical formalism creates incentives to turn over the economy to the government is not the same as claiming that the use of mathematics is a plot by anyone. And, even if this was a plot, this fact would be of little importance for Austrian theory.  


Austrian economics is a complex, multilayered approach to economic thought with a long history. It requires careful analysis and consistent application of critical thinking to get a full appreciation of the implications of some of the Austrian insights. This applies both to the critics and to Austrian enthusiasts. Let us not insult the serious scholars in the Austrian tradition with shallow interpretations of their work.