Monthly Archives: December 2012

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Iterative Learning versus the Student-Debt Trap – Video by G. Stolyarov II

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Categories: Culture, Education, Self-Improvement, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Mr. Stolyarov explains why the structure of formal schooling does not teach the ways in which real achievements are attained. The worst obstacle to true, iterative learning is student debt that locks people into a particular path for most of their lives.

References
– “Iterative Learning versus the Student-Debt Trap” – Essay by G. Stolyarov II – The Rational Argumentator. This essay was originally published on the as a guest post on the “Education Bubble and Scam Report” website.
– “Reasons Not to Pursue a PhD” – Video by G. Stolyarov II
– “Advice for Most Recent High-School and College Graduates” – Video by G. Stolyarov II
– “Commonly Misunderstood Concepts: Education” – Video by G. Stolyarov II

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“What Did Not Have To Be” – Science-Fiction Short Story By Mr. Stolyarov, Published on Transhumanity.net

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Categories: Fiction, Technology, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

My new short science-fiction story, “What Did Not Have to Be”, has been published an entry in Transhumanity.net’s 2033 Immortality Fiction Contest. The short story focuses on indefinite life extension and those who resist it. I invite you to read it and offer your thoughts.

Winners of the contest will be announced on January 10, 2013. I applaud Transhumanity.net’s efforts to promote the cause of indefinite life extension by encouraging the writing of fiction on the topic.

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When Will The End-of-the-World Nonsense End? – Article by Edward Hudgins

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Categories: Culture, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
Edward Hudgins
December 26, 2012
Recommend this page.
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Yawn! The world ended again, this time on December 21, 2012, as predicted by the Mayan calendar. Seems few of the actual Mayans in the Yucatan today were particularly concerned about this.

It was folks in the most advanced industrialized countries who shivered in fear of the apocalypse, who flooded NASA with phone and email messages asking whether the prophecy was true, and who headed for the hills in attempts to survive or perhaps to be taken up into heaven, the Mother Ship, or whatever.

Okay, this particular doomsday might have been mostly hype by the media meant to titillate sensationalist-seeking audiences. But these doomsday fears pop up on a regular basis and too many people actually take them seriously.

Last year fundamentalist fruitcake Harold Camping predicted The End, using his 66 radio stations to get the word out. Many of his followers gave away their possessions in preparation for the Rapture. A woman who believed him wanted to avoid the horrors of fire and brimstone so she slit her 11- and 14-year-old daughters’ throats with a box cutter and then slit her own. (All survived.)

Clear-thinking individuals often don’t understand why folks with even a minimum of intelligence and education can fall for this stuff.

First, culture matters. In the twenty-first century most folks appreciate the products that come from the rational mind, everything from advanced medical devices to the iPad. But t reason itself is hardly venerated. Rather, indulgence of undisciplined impulses saturates our culture with the most idiotic and pernicious products, spiritual as well as material. New Age cults are one of these products, manifested in people wasting what few functioning neurons they still have worrying about whether primitive peoples half a millennium ago predicted the end of the world.

Second, the virtue of rationality is an attribute of individuals. We must exercise it, each of us, one mind and one brain at a time. And it takes an effort to think. A culture that values the virtue of reason as well as its products is important. But you develop that virtue through practice, not through osmosis.

Third, to be rational doesn’t simply mean to memorize the forms of the syllogism or to master the knowledge and technical skills needed to be successful in some narrow field or profession. Most of the 39 Heaven’s Gate cult members who committed mass suicide in 1997 earned money as website developers. Rationality means always being honest with one’s self. It means always asking, “Am I trying to get at the truth or simply to rationalize some prejudice or convenient belief that bears little resemblance to reality?” It means practicing self-reflection, monitoring one’s thoughts and emotions to make sure they are not clouding one’s mind. It means practicing the virtue of integrity, of making certain that one’s thinking and actions are in sync. And it means exercising one’s independent judgment and not letting one’s beliefs be determined by group-think and popular opinion.

Those who fall for predictions of Armageddon certainly don’t practice the virtue of rationality.

Those who laughed at the foolish fears over the Mayan doomsday should take a mental step back and understand the cause of this and so much else that’s wrong with our culture today. And they should understand that a commitment to reason and rationality will both guide one to a happy and flourishing life and help create a wonderful world as it can be and should be.

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Dr. Edward Hudgins directs advocacy and is a senior scholar for The Atlas Society, the center for Objectivism in Washington, D.C.

Copyright, The Atlas Society. For more information, please visit www.atlassociety.org.

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Iterative Learning versus the Student-Debt Trap – Article by G. Stolyarov II

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Categories: Culture, Education, Self-Improvement, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
December 18, 2012
Recommend this page.
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This article was originally published as a guest post on the “Education Bubble and Scam Report” website.
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Contemporary formal schooling inculcates a counterproductive and often stressful fallacy into millions of young people – particularly the best and brightest. The fallacy, which undermines the lives of many, is that, when it comes to learning, productivity, and achievement, you have to get it absolutely right the first time. Consider how grades are assigned in school. You complete an assignment or sit for a test – and if your work product is deficient in the teacher’s eyes, or you answer some questions incorrectly, your grade suffers. It does not matter if you learn from your mistakes afterward; the grade cannot be undone. The best you can do is hope that, on future assignments and tests, you do well enough that your average grade will remain sufficiently high. If it does not – if it takes you longer than usual to learn the material – then a poor grade will be a permanent blot on your academic record, if you care about such records. If you are below the age of majority and prohibited from owning substantial property or working for a living, grades may be a major measure of achievement in your eyes. Too many hits to your grades might discourage you or lead you to think that your future prospects are not as bright as you would wish.
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But this is not how the real world works. This is not how learning works. This is not how great achievements are attained. It took me years to figure this out. I was one of those students who insisted on always attaining the highest grades in everything. I graduated first in my class in high school (while taking honors and Advanced Placement courses whenever they were offered) and second in college – with three majors. In high school especially, I sometimes found the grading criteria to be rather arbitrary and subjective, but I spent considerable time preparing my work and myself to meet them. While I did engage in prolific learning during my high-school years, the majority of that learning occurred outside the scope of my classes and was the result of self-study using books and the Internet. Unfortunately, my autonomous learning endeavors needed to be crammed into the precious little free time I had, because most of my time was occupied by attempting to conform my schoolwork to the demanding and often unforgiving expectations that needed to be met in order to earn the highest grades. I succeeded at that – but only through living by a regimen that would have been unsustainable in the long term: little sleep, little leisure, constant tension, and apprehension about the possibility of a single academic misstep. Yet now I realize that, whether I had succeeded or failed at the game of perfect grades, my post-academic achievements would have probably been unaffected.
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How does real learning occur? It is not an all-or-nothing game. It is not about trying some task once and advancing if you succeed, or being shamed and despondent if you do not. Real learning is an iterative process. By a multitude of repetitions and attempts – each aiming to master the subject or make progress on a goal – one gradually learns what works and what does not, what is true and what is false. In many areas of life, the first principles are not immediately apparent or even known by anybody. The solution to a problem in those areas, instead of emerging by a straightforward (if sometimes time-consuming) deductive process from those first principles, can only be arrived at by induction, trial and error, and periodic adjustment to changing circumstances. Failure is an expected part of learning how to approach these areas, and no learning would occur in them if every failure were punished with either material deprivation or social condemnation.
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Of course, not all failures are of the same sort. A failure to solve a math problem, while heavily penalized in school, is not at all detrimental in the real world. If you need to solve the problem, you just try, try again – as long as you recognize the difference between success and failure and have the free time and material comfort to make the attempts. On the other hand, a failure to yield to oncoming traffic when making a left turn could be irreversible and devastating. The key in approaching failure is to distinguish between safe failure and dangerous failure. A safe failure is one that allows numerous other iterations to get to the correct answer, behavior, or goal. A dangerous failure is one that closes doors, removes opportunities, and – worst of all – damages life. Learning occurs best when you can fail hundreds, even thousands, of times in rapid succession – at no harm or minimal harm to yourself and others. In such situations, failure is to be welcomed as a step along the way to success. On the other hand, if a failure can take away years of your life – either by shortening your life or wasting colossal amounts of time – then the very approach that might result in the failure should be avoided, unless there is no other way to achieve comparable goals. As a general principle, it is not the possibility of success or failure one should evaluate when choosing one’s pursuits, but rather the consequences of failure if it occurs.
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Many contemporary societal institutions, unfortunately, are structured in a manner hostile to iterative learning. They rather encourage “all-in” investment into one or a few lines of endeavor – with uncertain success and devastating material and emotional consequences of failure. These institutions do not give second chances, except at considerable cost, and sometimes do not even give first chances because of protectionist barriers to entry. Higher education especially is pervaded by this problem.
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At a cost of tens of thousands of dollars per year, college is an enormous bet. Many think that, by choosing the right major and the right courses of study within it, they could greatly increase their future earning potential. For some, this works out – though they are a diminishing fraction of college students. If a major turns out not to be remunerative, there may be some satisfaction from having learned the material, and this may be fine – as long as it is understood that this is a costly satisfaction indeed. Some will switch majors during their time in college, but this is often in itself an extremely expensive decision, as it prolongs the time over which one must pay tuition. For those who can afford either non-remunerative or serial college majors out of pocket, there is the opportunity cost of their time – but that is not the worst that can happen.
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The worst fate certainly befalls those who finance their college education through student debt. This was a fate I happily avoided. I graduated college without having undertaken a penny of debt – ever – largely as a result of merit scholarships (and my choice of an institution that gave merit scholarships – a rarity these days). Millions of my contemporaries, however, are not so fortunate. For years hereafter, they will bear a recurring financial burden that will restrict their opportunities and push them along certain often stressful and unsustainable paths in life.
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Student debt is the great disruptor of iterative learning. Such debt is assumed on the basis of the tremendously failure-prone expectation of a certain future monetary return capable of paying off the debt. Especially in post-2008 Western economies, this expectation is unfounded – no matter who one is or how knowledgeable, accomplished, or productive one might be. Well-paying jobs are hard to come by; well-paying jobs in one’s own field of study are even scarcer. The field narrows further when one considers that employment should not only be remunerative, but also accompanied by decent working conditions and compatible with a comfortable standard of living that reflects one’s values and goals.
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Money is ultimately a means to life, not an end for its own sake. To pursue work that requires constant privation in other areas of life is not optimal, to say the least – but debt leaves one with no choice. There is no escape from student debt. Bankruptcy cannot annul it. One must keep paying it, to avoid being overwhelmed by the accumulated interest. Paying it off takes years for most, decades for some. By the time it is paid off (if it is), a lot of youth, energy, and vitality are lost. It follows some to the grave. If one pays it off as fast as possible, then one might still enjoy a sliver of that precious time window between formal education and senescence – but the intense rush and effort needed to achieve this goal limits one’s options for experimenting with how to solve problems, engage in creative achievement, and explore diverse avenues for material gain.
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If you are in heavy debt, you take what income you can get, and you do not complain; you put all of your energy into one career path, one field, one narrow facet of existence – in the hope that the immediate returns are enough to get by and the long-term returns will be greater. If you wish to practice law or medicine, or obtain a PhD, your reliance on this mode of living and its hoped-for ultimate consequences is even greater. You may defer the payoff of the debt for a bit, but the ultimate burden will be even greater. Many lawyers do not start to have positive financial net worth until their thirties; many doctors do not reach this condition until their forties – and this is the reality for those who graduated before the financial crisis and its widespread unemployment fallout. The prospects of today’s young people are even dimmer, and perhaps the very expectation of long-term financial reward arising from educational debt (or any years-long expensive formal education) is no longer realistic. This mode of life is not only stressful and uncertain; it comes at the expense of family relationships, material comfort, leisure time, and experimentation with diverse income streams. Moreover, any serious illness, accident, or other life crisis can derail the expectation of a steady income and therefore render the debt a true destroyer of life. Failure is costly indeed on this conventional track of post-undergraduate formal schooling.
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It may be difficult for many to understand that the conventionally perceived pathway to success is in fact one that exposes a person to the most dangerous sorts of failure. The best way forward is one of sustainable iterative work – a way that offers incremental benefits in the present without relying on huge payoffs in the future, all the while allowing enough time and comfort to experiment with life-improving possibilities at one’s discretion. Diversification is the natural companion of iteration. The more you try, the more you experiment, the more you learn and the more you can apply in a variety of contexts.
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Having avoided the student-debt trap, I can personally attest to how liberating the experience of post-academic learning can be. Instead of pursuing graduate or professional school, I decided to take actuarial and other insurance-related examinations, where the cost of each exam is modest compared to a semester of college – and one can always try again if one fails. In the 3.5 years after graduating from college, I was able to obtain seven professional insurance designations, at a net profit to myself. I have ample time to try for more designations still. My employment offers me the opportunity to engage in creative work in a variety of capacities, and I focus on maximizing my rate of productivity on the job so as to achieve the benefits of iterative learning and avoid the stress of an accumulated workload. I could choose where I wanted to live, and had the resources to purchase a house with a sizable down payment. Other than a mortgage, which I am paying ahead of schedule, I have no debt of any sort. Even the mortgage makes me somewhat uncomfortable – hence my desire to pay it off as rapidly as possible – but every payment gets me closer to fully owning a large, tangible asset that I use every day. In the meantime, I already have a decent amount of time for leisure, exercise, independent study, intellectual activism, and family interactions.
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My life, no doubt, has its own challenges and stresses; anyone’s situation could be better, and I can certainly conceive of improvements for my own – but I have the discretionary time needed to plan for and pursue such improvements. Moreover, the way of iterative learning is not fully realizable in all aspects of today’s world. Comparatively, I have fewer vulnerabilities than debt-ridden post-undergraduate students of my age, but I am not immune to the ubiquitous stressors of contemporary life. We continue to be surrounded by dangers and tasks where it is truly necessary not to fail the first time. As technology advances and we come to life in a safer, healthier world, the sources for life-threatening failure will diminish, and the realm of beneficial trial-and-error failure will broaden. The key in the meantime is to keep the failure points in one’s own life to a minimum. Yes, automobile accidents, crime, and serious illnesses always have a non-zero probability of damaging one’s life – but even that probability can be diminished through vigilance, care, and technology. To avoid introducing vulnerability into one’s life, one should always live within one’s present means – not expectations of future income – and leave oneself with a margin of time and flexibility for the achievement of any goal, financial or not. Productivity, efficiency, and skill are all welcome assets, if they are used to prevent, rather than invite, stress, anxiety, and physical discomfort.
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Learning absolutely anything of interest and value is desirable, as long as the cost in time and money – including the opportunity cost – is known and can be absorbed using present resources. This principle applies to any kind of formal schooling – or to the purchase of cars, major articles of furniture, and electronic equipment. If you enjoy it, can afford it out of pocket, and can think of no better way to use your time and money – then by all means pursue it with a clear conscience. If you cannot afford it, or you need the money for something more important, then wait until you have the means, and find other ways to use and enjoy your time in the interim. With the Internet, it is possible to learn many skills and concepts at no monetary cost at all. It is also possible to pursue relatively low-cost professional designation programs in fields where sitting in a classroom is not a requirement for entry.
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Remember that success is attained through many iterations of a variety of endeavors. Try to make each iteration as inexpensive as possible in terms of time and money. Except in times of acute crisis where there are no other options, avoid all forms of debt – with the possible exception of a mortgage, since it is preferable to the alternative of renting and giving all of the rent away to another party. Do not put all of your time and energy into a single field, a single path, a single expectation. You are a multifaceted human being, and your job in life is to develop a functional approach to the totality of existence – not just one sub-specialty therein. Remember, above all, never to lose your individuality, favored way of living, and constructive relationships with others in the pursuit of any educational or career path. You should be the master of your work and learning – not the other way around.

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Right to Work is Part of Economic Liberty – Article by Ron Paul

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Categories: Economics, Politics, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
Ron Paul
December 18, 2012
Recommend this page.
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Many observers were surprised when Michigan, historically a stronghold of union power, became the nation’s 24th “Right to Work” state. The backlash from November’s unsuccessful attempt to pass a referendum forbidding the state from adopting a right to work law was a major factor in Michigan’s rejection of compulsory unionism. The need for drastic action to improve Michigan’s economy, which is suffering from years of big-government policies, also influenced many Michigan legislators to support right to work.

Let us be clear: right to work laws simply prohibit coercion. They prevent states from forcing employers to operate as closed union shops, and thus they prevent unions from forcing individuals to join. In many cases right to work laws are the only remedy to federal laws which empower union bosses to impose union dues as a condition of employment.

Right-to-work laws do not prevent unions from bargaining collectively with employers, and they do not prevent individuals from forming or joining unions if they believe it will benefit them. Despite all the hype, right-to-work laws merely enforce the fundamental right to control one’s own labor.

States with right-to-work laws enjoy greater economic growth and a higher standard of living than states without such laws. According to the National Institute for Labor Relations Research, from 2001-2011 employment in right to work states grew by 2.4%, while employment in union states fell by 3.4%! During the same period wages rose by 12.5% in right to work states, while rising by a mere 3.1% in union states. Clearly, “Right to Work” is good for business and labor.

Workers are best served when union leaders have to earn their membership and dues by demonstrating the benefits they provide. Instead, unions use government influence and political patronage. The result is bad laws that force workers to subsidize unions and well-paid union bosses.

Of course government should not regulate internal union affairs, or interfere in labor disputes for the benefit of employers. Government should never forbid private-sector workers from striking. Employees should be free to join unions or not, and employers should be able to bargain with unions or not. Labor, like all goods and services, is best allocated by market forces rather than the heavy, restrictive hand of government.  Voluntarism works.

Federal laws forcing employees to pay union dues as a condition of getting or keeping a job are blatantly unconstitutional. Furthermore, Congress does not have the moral authority to grant a private third party the right to interfere in private employment arrangements. No wonder polls report that 80 percent of the American people believe compulsory union laws need to be changed.

Unions’ dirty little secret is that real wages cannot rise unless productivity rises. American workers cannot improve their standard of living simply by bullying employers with union tactics. Instead, employers, employees, and unions must recognize that only market mechanisms can signal employment needs and wage levels in any industry. Profits or losses from capital investment are not illusions that can be overcome by laws or regulations; they are real-world signals that directly affect wages and employment opportunities. Union advocates can choose to ignore reality, but they cannot overcome the basic laws of economics.

As always, the principle of liberty will provide the most prosperous society possible. Right-to-work laws are a positive step toward economic liberty.

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Expanding Covert Warfare Makes Us Less Safe – Article by Ron Paul

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Categories: Politics, Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
Ron Paul
December 18, 2012
Recommend this page.
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Earlier this month we learned that the Obama Administration is significantly expanding the number of covert Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) agents overseas. From just a few hundred DIA agents overseas today, the administration intends to eventually deploy some 1,600 covert agents. The nature of their work will also shift, away from intelligence collection and more toward covert actions. This move signals a major change in how the administration intends to conduct military and paramilitary operations overseas. Unfortunately it is not a shift toward peace, but rather to an even more deadly and disturbing phase in the “war on terror.”

Surely attacks on foreign countries will increase as a result of this move, but more and more the strikes will take place under cover of darkness and outside the knowledge of Congress or the American people. The move also represents a further blurring of the lines between the military and intelligence services, with the CIA becoming more like a secret military unto itself. This is a very troubling development.In 2010, I said in a speech that there had been a CIA coup in this country. The CIA runs the military, the drone program, and they are in drug trafficking. The CIA is a secretive government all on its own. With this new expanded Defense Intelligence Agency presence overseas it will be even worse. Because the DIA is operationally under control of the Pentagon, direct Congressional oversight of the program will be more difficult. Perhaps this is as intended. The CIA will be training the DIA in its facilities to conduct operations overseas. Much of this will include developing targeting data for the president’s expanding drone warfare program.

Already the president has demonstrated his preference for ever more drone attacks overseas. In Pakistan, for example, President Obama has in his first four years authorized six times more drone strikes than under all eight years of the Bush Administration. Nearly three thousand individuals have been killed by these drones, many of those non-combatants.

President Obama said recently of Israel’s strikes against the Palestinians in Gaza, “No country on Earth would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders.” This announcement by the administration amounts to precisely that: the US intends to rain down ever more missiles on citizens overseas. I believe what the president says about Israel is true everywhere, so what about those overseas who live in fear of our raining missiles? How will they feel about the United States? Is it not possible that we may be inviting more blowback by expanding the covert war overseas? Does that make us safer?

An exhaustive study earlier this year by Stanford and New York University law schools found that US drone strikes on Pakistan are “damaging and counterproductive,” potentially creating more terrorists than they kill. Its recommendations of a radical re-appraisal of the program obviously fell on deaf ears in the administration.

Thousands of new DIA spies are to be hired and placed undercover alongside their CIA counterparts to help foment ever more covert wars and coups in foreign lands. Congress is silent. Where will it all end?

Representative Ron Paul (R – TX), MD, was a three-time Republican candidate for U. S. President. See his Congressional webpage and his official campaign website

This article has been released by Dr. Paul into the public domain and may be republished by anyone in any manner.

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Defeating the Special Interests Behind Draconian Copyright Laws – Article by G. Stolyarov II

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Categories: Culture, Politics, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
December 14, 2012
Recommend this page.
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In November 2012, it appeared for a day that some influential Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives, chastened by their party’s defeat in the 2012 elections, were actually looking for innovative ways to reform the American political system and their own tainted image. Yet, in the area of copyright reform, Mike Massnick of Techdirt writes that it took these same Republicans a mere day to cave into the usual special-interest pressures from recording-industry and film-industry lobbying associations.

Although the Republican Study Committee (RSC) initially produced a promising report on copyright reform (fortunately saved on an external site prior to its prompt removal from the RSC website), its retraction was far more revealing than the report itself. If anything, this episode seems to show how beholden the Republican Party is (as is the Democratic Party) to Hollywood lobbyists, which are possibly the most pernicious and damaging lobbyists in the US, if not the world, today (in close competition with the “security” lobby of the military-industrial complex). To pull a report after it has already been released smacks of behind-the-scenes lobbying influence of the greatest impropriety – the same backroom machinations that brought us one failed attempt after another at draconian Internet censorship: COICA, SOPA, PROTECT IP, ACTA, and surely more to come.

It is possible that both major parties might marginally improve if certain lobbying blocs were weakened or disregarded. However, I doubt that these effects are possible to achieve by politicians. Rather, civil society needs to exert pressure on the lobbyists and expose their machinations to the sunlight of transparency. Even the retracted report can be used to spread an understanding among the general public that the politicians themselves recognize the absurd and repressive nature of the current system of copyright law – if they are allowed a moment to think for themselves without being lied to, threatened, and cajoled by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). Furthermore, technological changes and institutional innovations need to occur so as to disempower the traditional lobbying blocs – particularly Hollywood (RIAA, MPAA, et al.) and the military-industrial-security complex.

Public sentiment against draconian copyright laws has indeed been heightened by the recent movements against SOPA and the PROTECT IP Act in the United States and against ACTA in Europe. But it is also likely that the majority of people in the Western world who use the Internet have long considered current copyright law to be unreasonable – hence the extent of online piracy that otherwise law-abiding persons engage in. If politicians were responsive to broader public opinion (as opposed to special-interest influence), then the proposals to reform copyright law would have been seen as no-brainers. Indeed, copyright terms would never have been lengthened in the first place, and copyright terms would have probably remained close to the original 14 years, while prosecution and litigation for non-commercial use of copyrighted works would never have occurred. The key challenge in the copyright wars is to dislodge the power of the special-interest lobbies, which exert undue pressure on the politicians and lead politicians to largely ignore public opinion – with the recent exception of massive campaigns of outrage at attempts to censor the Internet in the name of copyright protection.

So, while public pressure on politicians should certainly continue (especially acute pressure that derails pernicious legislation or achieves incremental improvements), the long-term solution  must work to undermine the very influence of the special interests that push for longer copyright terms. This should be done not just through spreading improved information and arguments on the subject, but also through a change in consumption patterns away from the “traditional” 20th-century forms of media and toward the more decentralized, participatory media available via the Internet – as well as away from the creations of large recording and movie studios and toward works by much smaller-scale independent creators who are roughly equal with their consumers in terms of bargaining power.  These independent creators are much more likely to market their works under a “copyleft” (e.g., Creative Commons) license or even to release them into the public domain. They are also much less likely to viciously persecute their consumers, and are thus appealing enough to enable people to want to pay them.

In order for this cultural and consumption shift to occur, many more people must begin to use the Internet for much of their entertainment. This is the key behavior that many in the younger generations have already adopted – but, unfortunately, too much aversion to computers and the Internet still persists among many older Americans (of course, exceptions abound, but the statistical generational divide is nonetheless vast), whose consumption of the obsolete 20th-century media supports the special-interest lobbies. If all of these people were to become proficient with the Internet overnight, then the agenda of the draconian pro-copyright lobbies would instantly become a non-starter. This thought offers another promising way forward: for every one of our acquaintances, friends, and relatives whom we persuade to use the Internet extensively for the first time – and to like it – we make the special-interest lobbies incrementally weaker, gradually sapping the financial resources available to them for combating common-sense liberalizations of copyright law.

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The 2012 US Election and the War on (Some) Drugs – Article by Bradley Doucet

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Categories: Politics, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
Bradley Doucet
December 14, 2012
Recommend this page.
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I spent the evening of November 6 with some friends, intentionally notwatching US election coverage. There were only two plausible outcomes in the presidential race, and each was worse than the other, as one friend likes to quip. Another friend kept referring to the occasion as Halo 4 Launch Day, and we all pretended the release of that pvideo game was the most momentous thing happening on the world stage. We didn’t even tune in to see what humorous comments Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert might have come up with to lighten the sombre mood.

But along with the dark storm clouds that will continue to hang over the United States for at least another four years, there are other, lighter, more fragrant clouds that will be hanging over two states in particular: Colorado and Washington, whose voters approved ballot initiatives legalizing marijuana not only for medical purposes, as many states have already done, but even for recreational use. That’s right, in Colorado and Washington, you can now legally get high without a note from your doctor.

Two Steps in the Right Direction

I’ve written against the Drug War a number of times in the past, a fact that has led some people to think that I’m a big pothead. No, I assure them, this calm, laid-back demeanor is my natural, unaltered state of mind. I don’t write about ending drug prohibition because I personally want to smoke marijuana without fear of legal reprisals, but rather because drug prohibition is stupid and wrong. It’s stupid because it does not achieve its ostensible end of protecting us from ourselves by curbing drug abuse, and it’s wrong because protecting us from ourselves is not a legitimate function of government.

The Colorado Marijuana Legalization Initiative (aka Amendment 64) asked voters if there should be an amendment to the state constitution “providing for the regulation of marijuana” and “permitting a person twenty-one years of age or older to consume or possess limited amounts of marijuana,” as well as licensing production and taxing the proceeds. The Washington Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Initiative (aka Initiative 502) asked voters if the state should “license and regulate marijuana production, distribution, and possession for persons over twenty-one; remove state-law criminal and civil penalties for activities that it authorizes; tax marijuana sales; and earmark marijuana-related revenues.” Both measures were approved, each receiving 55% of votes cast. This is a sign of the times, as more and more people are realizing that drug prohibition is as wrongheaded as alcohol prohibition was in the 1920s—although a similar measure was defeated in Oregon, receiving only 45% of the vote.

Now the Hard Part Begins

Of course, just because the people of Colorado and Washington decided to legalize marijuana production and consumption does not mean the War to End the War on Drugs has been won in those states. For one thing, other recreational drugs will remain illegal, so the government can keep right on kicking down doors and shooting family pets in its crazed search for those substances. (If you haven’t heard about such occurrences yet, check out this chilling music video for the song “No Knock Raid” by Toronto musician Lindy.)

But even when it comes to marijuana, a substance that by all accounts is less harmful than alcohol, the fight is not over. That’s because the federal government is unlikely to honour the democratically expressed wishes of a majority of voters in these two states to be left alone. Instead, according to two former U.S. drug control officials interviewed by Reuters, “the federal government could sue to block parts of the measures or send threatening letters to marijuana shops, followed up by street-level clampdowns similar to those targeting medical marijuana dispensaries the government suspects are fronts for drug traffickers.”

On the campaign trail in 2008, Barack Obama, who has admitted to using marijuana and other drugs when he was young, spoke as if he were going to allow states to go their own way on the medical marijuana issue, breaking with the Bush administration’s policy of raiding pot dispensaries. “I’m not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue,” he promised. Yet as President, he has broken that promise, cracking down even more than his predecessor on growers and dispensaries in the 16 states that allow marijuana use for medical purposes. There is little reason to believe that the Hypocrite in Chief’s reaction to the Colorado and Washington initiatives will be any more restrained.

We’re from the Government, and We’re Here to Help

The notion that prohibition could accomplish anything besides the empowerment of organized criminals is one that should have died with the Volstead Act in 1933. The notion that other people ought to have the power to tell you what you can and cannot put into your own body is one that should offend any individual with a modicum of self-respect. On the one hand, it’s discouraging that the Drug War drags on in this day and age. But on the other hand, the fact that voters in Colorado and Washington have, for practical or moral reasons, denounced this destructive, bankrupt policy is at least a little something for lovers of liberty to celebrate this election cycle.

Bradley Doucet is Le Quebecois Libré‘s English Editor. A writer living in Montreal, he has studied philosophy and economics, and is currently completing a novel on the pursuit of happiness. He also writes for The New Individualist, an Objectivist magazine published by The Atlas Society, and sings.

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Headed Toward the 11th-Hour Compromise – Article by Ron Paul

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The New Renaissance Hat
Ron Paul
December 14, 2012
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As the year draws to an end, America faces yet another Congressionally manufactured crisis which will likely end in yet another 11th hour compromise, resulting in more federal-government growth touted as “saving” the economy.  While cutting taxes is always a good idea, setting up a ticking time bomb with a sunset provision, as the Bush tax cuts did, is terrible policy.  Congress should have just cut taxes.  But instead, we have a crisis that is sure not to go to waste.

The hysteria surrounding the January 1 deadline for the Budget Control Act’s spending cuts and expiration of the Bush tax cuts seems all too familiar.  Even the language is predictably hysterical: if the federal government reduces planned spending increases by even a tiny amount, the economy will go over a “fiscal cliff.”  This is nonsense.

This rhetoric is based on the belief that federal spending sustains the economy, when in fact the opposite is true.  Every dollar the federal government spends is a dollar taken from consumers, businessmen, or investors. Reducing spending can only help the economy by putting money back in the hands of ordinary Americans.  Politicians who claim to support the free market and the lower and middle class should take this to heart.

The reality is, however, that neither Republicans nor Democrats are serious about cutting spending. Even though U.S. military spending is exponentially larger than any other country and is notorious for its inefficiency and cost overruns, Republicans cannot seem to stomach even one penny of cuts to the Pentagon’s budget.  This is unfortunate, because this is the easiest, most obvious place to start getting spending under control.  The military-industrial complex and unconstitutional overseas military interventions should be the first place we look for budget cuts.

Similarly, Democrats are digging in their heels on not cutting any welfare or entitlement spending and instead propose to fix the deficit by raising taxes on the rich, even though the U.S. Government already has a progressive tax code and the rich already pay more than their fair share. Furthermore, these higher taxes would fall on small-business owners, investors, and entrepreneurs—in other words, the source of economic growth and new jobs!

The truth is that there is no excuse for federal spending being as high as it is, nor for taxes being as high as they are.  Even the God of the Old Testament only asked for 10% as a tithe and offering, and Americans revolted against the King of England for taxes that amounted to less than five percent.  Yet so many people today complain about “loopholes” for the rich that lower their actual tax rate to “only” 13% in some instances.  Even that is a criminal amount to pay for a wasteful, abusive, unconstitutional government.

We are indeed headed to a fiscal cliff and have been long before this latest hysteria cropped up.  But it is not cuts to spending or reduced federal-government “revenue” that will send us over the cliff, it is continued federal-government spending that will.  Until the federal government limits itself to its Constitutionally-mandated role, spending and taxation will remain out of control.

Look for a “bipartisan” compromise in late December, with Republicans giving in to tax increases and settling for phony spending cuts that actually grow the federal government, and Democrats caving on defense cuts in exchange for tax increases.  This is how the federal government has always grown: both sides will sacrifice their pro-liberty, small-government stances in certain areas in order to grow the federal government where they prefer.

Liberty always loses in the 11th hour.

Representative Ron Paul (R – TX), MD, was a three-time Republican candidate for U. S. President. See his Congressional webpage and his official campaign website

This article has been released by Dr. Paul into the public domain and may be republished by anyone in any manner.

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Workplace Freedom and Right-to-Work Laws – Article by Edward W. Younkins

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The New Renaissance Hat
Edward W. Younkins
December 14, 2012
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On Tuesday December 11, 2012 Michigan, the birthplace of the nation’s organized labor movement, became the country’s 24th right-to-work state. This short excerpt from pages 81-83 of my 2002 book, Capitalism and Commerce, explains the propriety of right-to-work laws.

Before the Norris-La Guardia and National Labor Relations Acts (NLRA) in the 1930s, the employment relationship consisted of voluntary exchange contracts between employers and employees. A return to the common law of contracts, property rights, and tort would permit each person to decide if he wanted to contract with or join any union for representation services. Under such an arrangement there would be competitors among labor organizations and the possibility of having workers represented by a variety of unions and other workers having no representatives. Instead, they would bargain for themselves as individuals.

Before these acts, an employer had the common-law right to fight the unionization of his company. The employer could enter into “yellow dog contracts” with the employees in which the two parties would agree not to have a union—one reason for such contracts was the desire of the employees to avoid the loss of work and wages that would occur during strikes. Because these agreements were voluntary, they must have been to the mutual benefit of both parties. In addition, before the 1930s, the employer was free to attempt to persuade workers that unionization would not be to their benefit. Also, in his efforts to gain loyalty to his firm, the employer could refuse to hire workers who wanted to engage in union-related activity. The employer also had the common-law right to establish a company union. Then, of course, the company always had the right to voluntarily agree to hire workers who belonged to a specific union.

Unions were subject to the antitrust laws before Norris-La Guardia—not so thereafter. The National Labor Relations Act then destroyed the common-law right of an employee to join a union of his own choosing or to represent himself. After such New Deal legislation, unions operated with the help of laws and court decisions to force employees to join them to gain a monopoly of particular jobs. Unions were free to use violence (picketing) against competing workers and intimidation against the employers through the strike.

After a union has been certified as an exclusive bargaining agent, it is presumed to have majority support indefinitely (unless there is a decertification election) even if all the workers who originally chose it are no longer with the company. Section 8(a) 3 of the National Labor Relations Act empowers unions with monopoly bargaining privileges to agree with employers that all workers represented by the unions must join the union or at least pay union dues. Section 14(b) of the Act permits states to forbid such arrangements. Twenty-one right-to-work states have chosen to do so by banning all forms of union security. In these states workers can be forced to have a union (selected by majority vote) represent them, but they cannot be forced to join or pay dues to any unions. However, in the twenty-nine other states, security clauses are permitted. In these states, workers who do not want to be represented by a union (but are forced to because of monopoly representation) may be compelled to pay for the unwanted representation or be fired. Nonunion (i.e., union-free) workers who don’t want to become members of a union may be forced to pay dues (or their equivalent) as a requirement of their employment.

If a union security agreement specifies a union shop then the worker must join the union after a probationary period. However, if it specifies an agency shop, the worker does not have to join the union but must pay dues or their equivalent. In an agency shop, workers do not have to become members, but they all must pay dues or “service fees” to the unions that represent them. Unions employ a free-rider argument to justify this coercion. They argue that, without the imposition of forced dues, some workers would choose to receive the benefits of union representation but not pay for them. The goal of compulsory union dues is apparently to prevent free riders. Of course, if a union simply represented those who wanted it, there would be no free-rider problem. The union’s free-rider problem stems from section 9-A of   the National Labor Relations Act that requires that a certified union be the exclusive representative that bargains with the employer for all workers, both union and non-union. Unions that have gained monopoly bargaining privileges by majority vote must represent all workers, whether those workers want it to or not. The unions created the free-rider problem themselves when they persuaded the authors of the NLRA to permit monopoly bargaining. They now use monopoly bargaining as an excuse for forced dues!

By empowering labor unions the government did away with the old common-law rules of contract, property, and tort that applied equally to all involved parties. They were replaced with a coercive legal framework designed to help labor union leaders attain their goals. As a result, common-law courts were replaced by administrative tribunals (e.g., the National Labor Relations Board) which could be relied upon to implement prounion policies. The government thus promoted unions by failing to apply laws of equal applicability to unions and employers alike, used its power to support unions, and allowed unions to use force in pursuit of their ends.

Dr. Edward W. Younkins is Professor of Accountancy at Wheeling Jesuit University. He is the author of Capitalism and Commerce: Conceptual Foundations of Free Enterprise [Lexington Books, 2002], Philosophers of Capitalism: Menger, Mises, Rand, and Beyond [Lexington Books, 2005] (See Mr. Stolyarov’s review of this book.), and Flourishing and Happiness in a Free Society: Toward a Synthesis of Aristotelianism, Austrian Economics, and Ayn Rand’s Objectivism [Rowman & Littlefield Pub Incorporated, 2011] (See Mr. Stolyarov’s review of this book.). Many of Dr. Younkins’s essays can be found online at his web page at www.quebecoislibre.org. You can contact Dr. Younkins at younkins@wju.edu.

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