End of 2020 Solo March, Op. 90 (2020) – Musical Composition by Gennady Stolyarov II

End of 2020 Solo March, Op. 90 (2020) – Musical Composition by Gennady Stolyarov II

Gennady Stolyarov II

Composed to commemorate the end of the most difficult year in recent history, this march by Gennady Stolyarov II conveys both the struggle and turbulence of the year left behind and the aspiration toward a brighter future. The piece is one of contrast and duality; it does not always move in the direction of brightness, since as the pandemic has taught us, there can be both incremental improvements and (sometimes sudden and dramatic) setbacks. Nor does the piece end definitively in a major or minor key; it ends in the key of C, but which C? The outcome of the battle between progress (potentially exponential progress) and ruin (potentially catastrophic ruin) is up to us humans to determine in 2021 and far beyond. And yet this composition also uses the principles of harmony to convey its moods, because it is through such a structured approach that humans ultimately rescue meaning out of the chaos and have a chance to restore order to a turbulent world.

Because 2020 was a year during which solitude became the default and the norm, this piece is written for solo piano, which also suggests that the conflict between progress and ruin is one that is experienced and participated in by each individual uniquely on that individual’s terms. Humankind is not really marching forward together and is perhaps more divided than ever; rather, the efforts and choices of each individual are what ultimately chart the trajectory of the long arc of history. Also, this march is one that can actually be played by an individual human!

This march was composed by Mr. Stolyarov during December 21-24, 2020, and is played using the MuseScore 3.0 software.

Download the MP3 file of this composition here.

Remember to LIKE, FAVORITE, and SHARE the video of this composition in order to spread rational high culture to others.

See the index of Mr. Stolyarov’s compositions, all available for free download, here.

Career Advice – Short Story by Gennady Stolyarov II

Career Advice – Short Story by Gennady Stolyarov II

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The short story below was authored by Gennady Stolyarov II, FSA, ACAS, MAAA, CPCU, ARe, ARC, API, AIS, AIE, AIAF, Chairman of the U.S. Transhumanist Party and Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Argumentator, and is one of the entries in the Society of Actuaries 14th Speculative Fiction Contest. It was published as one of the contest entries here.

You can read all of the entries here and vote for your choice of three of them here, until April 15, 2021. You are encouraged to read all of the entries, and also to consider supporting Mr. Stolyarov’s story, which contributes to the realm of non-dystopian science fiction. Remember only to vote one time!

Wuhan Center – Photograph by Baycrest

On December 8, 2008, the overhead projector in the classroom glowed blue and white from the Skype interface as the Professor established the connection with the caller on the other end. “Mr. Yoo, can you hear me?” the Professor inquired. “Yes, I can,” came the somewhat static-laced response.

“Welcome, Mr. Yoo. I apologize for any technical difficulties in advance. We are still quite new to this technology. In fact, I had to jump through hoops to get the Mathematics Department to allow me to install it on a college computer. But it is quite remarkable that we can get a remote speaker to address the students now. I know that Skype can sustain video as well, but our Internet connection speed is still insufficient for that.”

“That is not a problem,” replied Mr. Yoo. “I am happy to speak to your students, and to show them some career possibilities they had not considered before. Hopefully my remarks will resonate with them even if they cannot see me.”

“Absolutely, this is why we invited you.  Students, this is your opportunity to learn from a truly outstanding actuary,” proclaimed the Professor. “Just a year ago in 2007 Mr. Yoo became a Fellow of the Society of Actuaries, which means he had to pass a sequence of some of the most rigorous exams in the world. But what is especially impressive is that Mr. Yoo passed every single actuarial exam with a perfect score – the only person to ever do so. Normally the Society of Actuaries would not publish the exam results at this level of detail, but they made an exception for Mr. Yoo. What is more, he specifically requested to be closely monitored by the exam proctors at every moment that he was writing his exams. Multiple people confirmed that he absolutely did his own work and provided unique, thoughtful answers to the essay questions. I was so astonished when I learned about this, but even more astonished that Mr. Yoo reached out to our college and our department and actually suggested this presentation himself. Unfortunately, I urgently have to grade papers before the end-of-semester deadline, so I will be unable to stay, but you are in excellent hands for this class session. Since you will graduate next semester, this is an opportune occasion to explore what careers are possible with a mathematics degree.”

“Thank you, Professor, for this introduction. I am honored by your good words,” began Mr. Yoo. “I understand that you have a student here who has passed several actuarial exams already.”

The Actuarial Student sat up in his chair, a bit surprised at the direct mention. “Yes, that would be me,” he replied.

“And quite a dedicated student also,” the Professor noted. “It seems to me he spent all of his time outside of class – evenings, weekends, lunch breaks – studying for the actuarial exams, and he has already passed four of them.”

“A formidable effort,” acknowledged Mr. Yoo. “So you know that the actuarial exams are not the sort that one can just study for and be assured of passage. Being knowledgeable and competent regarding the subject matter will not suffice; one needs to be ultra-competent, and ultra-swift, and even then success is not guaranteed – and some will be blindsided by a completely new type of question, or follow a promising but false lead, or simply run out of time. Many will fail, and not for lack of trying. This, however, is true not just about actuarial exams; it is true about the world in general, and certainly about the kind of world you will be stepping into when you graduate. But I do not mean to discourage you; while you cannot avoid the difficulties of the actuarial exams if you wish to have a successful actuarial career, you can avoid many of the broader difficulties of life through a prudent and creative career choice.”

“Fascinating,” remarked the Professor. “I am quite sorry that I cannot be present for the rest of your remarks, but such are the rigors of the academic workload.”

“Perfectly understandable,” Mr. Yoo reassured the Professor, who then walked out with a stack of student papers. “I am sure you have been following the news recently,” Mr. Yoo continued to address the seated students. “No one could miss the bursting of the housing bubble,
the precipitous stock-market crash, the scramble by the federal government to bail out large banks. Yet nobody will bail out ordinary people, particularly young students such as yourselves, about to graduate into the deepest recession for the past 75 years. Even though you had no hand in causing this crisis, you will bear its greatest burdens. Even a few years ago, when I was still studying for my actuarial exams, it used to be that if you passed one exam, you were a prime candidate for an entry-level job, and then you could earn while you learn and work your way up. No longer! Now, even if you passed four actuarial exams, you are far from guaranteed to have even one job offer; if you do get one, it will be due to a combination of luck and determination. Job openings are scarce these days; companies are in panic mode and reluctant to hire. You might apply to a hundred of the job openings that remain, and you will start cherishing the rejections you get, because at least the employers will have communicated with you; you will be most fortunate if you get a single interview and a single offer after months of searching.”

The Actuarial Student listened to these words with a sense of validation for some of his prior misgivings about the job-search process – validation that gave him no satisfaction. Virtually everyone he had spoken to – professors, career counselors, friends of family – told him that he should have no trouble finding a job. And yet already he felt that his initial applications had disappeared into the void. Something about this entire situation did not reconcile with the facts; contrary to the common narrative about the actions that could assure a prosperous future, it seemed that the entire world was about to slide inexorably toward calamity. Almost nobody else had shared this hunch of his, and certainly no official source of information had expressed it – until he heard Mr. Yoo’s remarks.

“So, in light of this situation, you might be wondering, ‘Is it even worthwhile to pursue an actuarial career?’ Do not give up on it so quickly,” Mr. Yoo continued. “This is a systemic, macroeconomic crisis, and every previously lucrative profession is going to have similar shortages of openings. If you try becoming a lawyer or a doctor, you will likely have immense debt from your schooling and no job waiting for you at the end. At least the actuarial exam fees are affordable enough that you will not need to take on debt – but the work you do while you study for them will need to change. I know of a way to bypass the job-search abyss, but it will require an especially creative approach toward the identification and management of risk – skills that actuaries need to excel at.”

Now the Actuarial Student was laser-focused on Mr. Yoo’s every word. Previously, in his academic studies, a clear path toward success was always laid out before him. That path could be quite challenging on occasion, but he could always expect that rewards would be commensurate to effort. Here Mr. Yoo was suggesting a similar possibility – some way to bypass the indeterminacy of the job-search process and find a set path of progress once again.

“You may find what I am about to say difficult to believe, especially if you have always followed the conventional expectations of you because it seemed to be the easier way toward good grades, respect, or simply being allowed to be left to your own devices during what little spare time you could engineer for yourself.” How had Mr. Yoo so accurately pinpointed the Actuarial Student’s true underlying motivation with that latter mention? The Actuarial Student saw largely blank, indifferent looks on his classmates’ faces; they did not seem to identify with Mr. Yoo’s characterizations – but he already knew that he was different, and it seemed that Mr. Yoo had found a way to relate to his way of thinking. “What if I told you that following your personal ideas precisely when they are unconventional is the key to success? This is the case not just for your personal values and worldview, but also even your idiosyncratic tastes and preferences. For example, who among you is a vegetarian? Raise your hands; I can see you even though you cannot see me.”

No hands were raised; this was a predominantly conservative college where traditional ideas about food consumption prevailed.

“For the meat-eaters among you, then, how many of you believe in only eating from among a limited subset of animals – cows, pigs, chickens, fish – but not exotic or unusual animals that are not bred for consumption in the Western world?”

Several of the students exchanged quizzical looks. “What in the world does this have to do with actuaries?” whispered one of them. However, a few hands went up in response to this question, and the Actuarial Student’s hand was among them.

“There is an important wider benefit to humanity arising from this avoidance of consumption of exotic animals,” Mr. Yoo continued. “You should keep in mind that the study of risk is foundational to actuarial science, and actuaries look to other scientific disciplines to identify key contributing factors to various risks. Epidemiologists have known for a long time that most devastating infectious diseases originate through unusual contact between humans and animals – although this is not commonly recognized by the general public, yet. Eating animals which have not been raised for food over the course of millennia is the practice which poses the greatest risk of causing a novel pathogen to jump from animals to humans. People’s immune systems are unprepared for such new pathogens, and they can spread rapidly and trigger a worldwide pandemic before our public-health measures have the opportunity to respond. If you remember SARS from 2002, it was caused in this way as well.”

“But SARS caused relatively few deaths, virtually all of them in Asia, and petered out before reaching the Western world,” another student interjected. “Surely this is a minor risk compared to the others that people encounter every day!”

“So it may seem, until one finds oneself amid a pandemic!” Mr. Yoo replied. “I am sure that many people ninety years ago, prior to the Spanish influenza’s onset, considered it a similarly improbable and minor risk. Yet just because a particular peril has not affected people for a long time, does not mean it will not return! The next deadly flu season may even happen during the late winter a few months from now! Likely it will not be anywhere as deadly as the 1918 influenza, but it should motivate people to put their guard up – if they are rational, that is.”

“But what does all this have to do with searching for actuarial jobs?” asked another student impatiently. “I don’t know much about what actuaries do, but I’m pretty sure that epidemiology is not it.”

“I am not suggesting that actuaries become epidemiologists. What I am suggesting is that the students of today create their own jobs that would address this risk of a global pandemic that could kill millions of people,” Mr. Yoo replied.

“Are there opportunities to do this already?” inquired the Actuarial Student.

“Not officially. No insurance company is interested in this risk yet. Indeed, after the SARS outbreak in 2002-2003, many insurers introduced policy provisions excluding coverage for business income losses arising from viruses and bacteria. So the traditional insurers mostly wish to protect themselves against having to pay for this risk. What they do not realize, however, is that if a worldwide pandemic occurs, then major business disruptions for every company are inevitable. Governments will go so far as shutting down places of business or any other venues where people could gather and spread the virus. No company will be spared major turmoil and costs of dramatic, immediate adjustments. Moreover, millions of people forced out of work and hundreds of thousands of businesses forced to shut down would mean many fewer clients for insurance companies and many fewer people able to afford insurance altogether. Thus, preventing the pandemic makes far more sense even from a purely economic standpoint than just trying to shield one’s own business from the consequences. As Ludwig von Mises put it, ‘No  one  can  find  a  safe  way  out  for  himself  if  society  is sweeping towards destruction.’”

Now Mr. Yoo was quoting Mises, who was the Actuarial Student’s favorite economist. It was as if this speech were tailored to speak directly to him!

“So no insurance company is currently focused on this pandemic risk. But this is where the opportunity exists for you to make a difference,” Mr. Yoo continued. “To prevent the devastation caused by such a novel infection, one needs to address its source and avert the animal-to-human transmission that renders the virus a problem in the first place. I can think of no better way to stop such transmission than discouraging people from eating exotic animals. This is not a major problem in the Western world, but it is an immense problem in the country where most pandemics have historically and recently originated – China.”

The Actuarial Student happened to think that consumption of exotic animals was repugnant. He had been called closed-minded before for only eating meat from a specified and limited list of animals, but he felt validated that the aversion had a rational basis behind it.

“If you are disgusted at the thought of people consuming bats or snakes, this is your opportunity to do something about it,” urged Mr. Yoo. “Do not search for jobs in the United States. Go to China and advocate against such behavior! You will find an assortment of allies, not just among epidemiologists, but also among animal-rights and anti-poaching groups, and perhaps even the Chinese Communist Party itself, if you present your effort as helping China to modernize and turn away from harmful old traditions. Collaborate with anyone you have to, regardless of what you think of them otherwise, because stopping the consumption of exotic animals would save humankind from a greater tragedy than you could possibly expect.”

“This is so weird!” one of the students exclaimed. “You are asking us to abandon our job search to do that? Couldn’t we join the Peace Corps if we want to do humanitarian work? And I can’t imagine that such a job would pay particularly well.”

“I happen to have a small pool of money that could pay stipends for living expenses to those who relocate,” Mr. Yoo replied. “In fact, I know some inexpensive hotels in Wuhan, the capital of China’s Hubei Province, which offered discounted rates if I can persuade American students to stay there. Wuhan is a large city with all the amenities one can desire, and I believe it offers the best base of operations for combating pandemic risk. I also have enough funds to pay for actuarial exam fees, so you can study and continue to advance toward your credentials while you do this valuable work of reducing global pandemic risk.”

“Still, that seems to be more like graduate school than an actuarial career,” the Actuarial Student noted. “I know it is not uncommon to earn $60,000 per year for an entry-level actuarial job.”

“It is true,” Mr. Yoo replied, “that even in this economy you could probably eventually land a $60,000-per-year job if you try exceptionally hard or are exceptionally lucky in your search. It is also true that humanitarian advocacy in Wuhan would not pay nearly so much. However, looking to the future, I can see a way for one to earn much more money than a conventional actuarial salary. For those of you who are interested, just a bit over a month ago on October 31, a certain Satoshi Nakamoto published a paper that I can share with you about a new concept for a decentralized digital currency using a distributed ledger system called a blockchain. This digital currency will be an alternative to government-issued fiat currencies and a hedge against inflation. Rumor has it that in less than a month, the first such digital currency will be released. I strongly suggest that you be on the lookout for the term ‘bitcoin’ – the name of this currency, and that you acquire as many units of bitcoin as possible, and if you can sell any goods or services in exchange for bitcoin, so much the better. I anticipate that there will be tremendous speculative demand for blockchain-based currencies in the future. If you own any from the beginning and simply hold them for, say, nine to twelve years, you will then be able to sell them and never worry about money again.”

Most of the students’ eyes were glazed over. It was clear that they had no idea what Mr. Yoo was referring to. “Why in the world would anyone value mere pieces of computer code that anyone else can create or replicate?” one of the students asserted skeptically.

“The supply of the digital currency will be algorithmically limited to increase at a decreasing rate, removing the possibility of discretionary inflation. Also, the technology of a decentralized ledger where everyone can access the entire transaction history can ensure trust among users and remove the role of banks as intermediaries. This is especially important since our centralized banking system is the major source of monetary inflation, and blockchain-based currencies can be designed to be impervious to that risk, though not to the risk of speculation driving prices to fluctuate far more than the purchasing power of government-issued currencies ever could,” Mr. Yoo explained, taking a nuanced position on this novel concept. “Well, one might not mind the fluctuations if they occasionally result in massive increases to the number of dollars one can obtain for each unit of digital currency sold! But obtaining the currency early is the key to benefitting from the growth in the market value later on.”

“So are you proposing that we give up on getting a steady salary, because the job market is too tough, and instead settle for a stipend for living expenses while we rely on being able to sell this… bitcoin many years from now in order earn our money?” the skeptical student asked, still unconvinced. The Actuarial Student, however, had a different reaction: “Logically, there ought to be some value to the bitcoin if it is indeed designed to resist inflation – especially now with the ‘quantitative easing’ that the Federal Reserve is undertaking, which will likely boost dollar price levels soon.”

“Well, perhaps not as soon as one might fear, since some complex factors are at play actually restraining the inflationary pressures,” Mr. Yoo reassured him, “but eventually dollar inflation will indeed erode one’s purchasing power – and one will be happy to have some digital currencies to sell when that happens. In fact, selling digital currencies will be our way of financing our operations in Wuhan. If you value sound money and stable purchasing power, you are likely worried about hyperinflation right now.” Indeed, the Actuarial Student was worried precisely about that. “I would like to emphasize that the threat of a global pandemic is far more salient and proximate than that of hyperinflation. It is difficult to envision just how little purchasing power one begins to have, no matter what amount of money one has saved, if one is confined to one’s home by government order or if stores lack essential goods, even toilet paper!”

Now the Actuarial Student had to wonder whether Mr. Yoo was engaging in rhetorical scare tactics. Instead, however, he inquired, “I am still not clear on how you propose that actuaries use their skill set to reduce pandemic risk. Is this not a task for more conventional activists – people who hold demonstrations, give speeches, distribute leaflets, and try to persuade politicians?”

“But the actuarial skill set is perfect for addressing this problem,” Mr. Yoo countered. “The key is to design the appropriate incentive structure for people to stop consuming exotic animals. Laws prohibiting such consumption are not going to suffice, because such laws often already exist and are ignored. Public shaming might help deter some, but not all, or else such practices would have disappeared long ago. We need to give people an incentive to voluntarily avoid the risk – and for that we can create an arrangement that is essentially the reverse of an insurance company. An insurance company collects premiums from many individuals in the expectation of paying much larger losses for a few. However, if losses are likely to affect many people at once and to have colossal severity, this mechanism cannot function. Instead, we can pay people a premium so that they take the steps needed to avoid the risk, but also inform them that they will receive no payment if anyone in their community is discovered to be consuming an exotic animal. We set the premium sufficiently high that the recipients will be disappointed by its absence and so will take steps to prevent their neighbors from violating the terms of the agreement.”

“The privacy concerns here are huge,” one student remarked.

“You may be surprised to learn that the Chinese government will be seeking to institute a

‘social credit’ system soon, which will monitor most of its citizens’ activities in person and online,” Mr. Yoo replied. “The incentive system I describe will be quite mild and limited by comparison. Everyone in the community will be paid a premium and asked to report any information they can get about consumption of exotic animals. Each month, if nobody consumes an exotic animal, everyone gets paid again. If, however, anyone consumes an exotic animal, then the entire community will not receive the premium next month. All that people will need to do for this money is to avoid a particular action, provided they remain vigilant in preventing a narrow set of undesirable activities; indeed, perhaps some will start to see it as a kind of universal basic income. I would not be surprised if, to ensure that their premium revenues keep flowing, some citizens will form their own volunteer groups to patrol the nearby wilderness areas and ensure that no poaching of animals occurs there. We will need actuaries to calculate the premium amounts sufficient to actually have the desired effects, and determine whether the premiums need to vary based on any characteristics of the recipient, such as proximity to the areas where people are likelier to encounter wild animals.”

“Yet it seems that paying a premium to the entire population at levels that would affect their behavior can become quite expensive, quite quickly,” the Actuarial Student pointed out.

“That is correct,” replied Mr. Yoo, “and it is one reason why I cannot offer a generous salary to entry-level actuaries. However, I estimate we will have enough bitcoin to sell to cover the costs of the premiums for all of Wuhan’s citizens. We can even take our time in designing the incentive system; it does not need to be launched right away – around the mid-2010s would suffice to have the desired effect. By that time I hope that one could sell one bitcoin for several hundred dollars, after having bought it for pennies or even ‘mined’ it for free on our personal computers, which it will be possible to do during the first two years of bitcoin’s existence or so.”

Some students were shaking their heads. “This is all so improbable!” one of them exclaimed, “And even if you could sell these strange… bitcoins for a profit every time, how do you expand this system to the rest of the world? You wouldn’t be able to pay everyone, after all!”

“We would not need to pay everyone,” Mr. Yoo replied. “Just covering the at-risk areas of Wuhan would suffice. Another area where I would need actuarial analysts’ help will be constructing predictive models to determine where in Wuhan people are most likely to consume unusual animals.”

“But is it not the case that exotic animals are eaten outside of Wuhan as well?” the Actuarial Student inquired.

“Yes, unfortunately,” Mr. Yoo responded. “But…” he seemed to pause a bit, as if he were trying to carefully construct his response. “What we truly need is to create a viable proof of concept, and Wuhan will more than suffice for that. If it works for us in Wuhan, others will emulate us, and this incentive model will spread throughout China, particularly if we can convince Chinese officials that this is a good idea for doing away with superstitious old practices and driving forward the modernization of social customs in the 21st century. Yes… that is what will happen if we succeed in Wuhan.”

“And yet what leads you to be confident in the likelihood of success?” the Actuarial Student inquired. “Is there not considerable political risk in working in China?”

“Yes, there is,” Mr. Yoo acknowledged.

“And is it possible that the next pandemic would arise somewhere else while we focus on Wuhan?”

“Yes, but I think it is most likely to arise near Wuhan… Perhaps my reasons for thinking this will become more apparent to you after you complete your studies and become a Fellow.”

“And is it possible that people might not uniformly sign up for the incentive structure or –find ways to cheat and conceal the consumption of exotic animals from view?”

“Yes and yes – but we only need enough people to comply and start putting obstacles in the way of those who wish to consume exotic animals. We need to reduce such consumption enough to greatly lower the probability of virus transmission – which does not happen every time. All actuarial science deals with probabilities, not certainties. We cannot prevent all pandemics, but if we can lower the probability of the next big one by, say, 90 percent, I would consider that a job well worth dedicating the next twelve years of one’s life to!”

“Twelve years?” the Actuarial Student inquired.

“Did I mention that this is a guaranteed twelve-year opportunity? No other employer will offer this assurance, even though the starting salary may be much higher. My question for you is, if you agree with my assessment of the risk and what can be done about it, and if I have suggested a course of action that resonates with your personal preferences, then why not at least try it and see what happens?”

The Actuarial Student knew exactly why not to try it; he knew that everyone in his life would be aghast if he, after a straight-A academic record, after passing four actuarial exams, decided not even to apply for any job with a decent starting salary – and instead abandoned any notion of a conventional career path to go to China to work on a completely unproven concept with no historical precedent or indication of success, other than Mr. Yoo’s word for it, as heard from his disembodied voice over the static-ridden Skype connection. And yet Mr. Yoo made exactly the arguments that spoke to the Actuarial Student’s personal convictions – his view that technological innovation was necessary to transcend the status quo that brought about the present recession, his hope that decentralized market-driven currencies might protect against inflation, his aversion toward eating exotic meat products. At the very least, the extensive discussion of these topics by a fully credentialed actuary suggested to him that he had picked the right career field. Most other people would consider such views to be weird if not reprehensible, but here was a person suggesting that these inclinations not merely be embraced but committed to as a way of trying to… save the world from a deadly disease? As eccentric as this opportunity seemed, it was also quite appealing – but only to the Actuarial Student. It was evident that none of his classmates demonstrated any response that could remotely qualify as enthusiasm.

The classroom door opened and the Professor returned. “Well, I trust that you learned something about actuarial career possibilities today. Thank you very much for your time, Mr. Yoo. Our class is coming to an end, but is there a way for the students to contact you if they have further questions?”

“Of course,” Mr. Yoo replied. “I am happy to share my e-mail address, and if anyone wishes to follow up on the opportunity I mentioned, I will happily provide details about next steps.”

“Thank you, Mr. Yoo,” the Professor said just as the bell rang.

The Actuarial Student remained in his chair for a moment, immersed in thought, as the Skype connection terminated. He overheard several students bantering as they left the classroom, “Well, that was a waste of time,” said one. “I think a snake-oil salesman could give better career advice,” another replied. “Hey, does your dad’s auto dealership still have that receptionist opening? I need to earn some spare change,” yet another whispered. “No, I think they stopped hiring after dad’s stock portfolio took a dip. Maybe you should go to Wuhan…” They chuckled as they left.

Whatever uncertainty previously pervaded the Actuarial Student’s mind had receded upon hearing that kind of derision. How could the others treat this accomplished Fellow actuary, a man who had attained perfect exam scores, in such a dismissive manner? Nothing was quite as effective as this kind of casual social injustice at motivating the Actuarial Student to do the exact opposite. He was determined to write to Mr. Yoo that same evening.

***

On March 15, 2020, the former Actuarial Student entered the coffee shop in downtown Wuhan and ordered a small piece of cake with his beverage, to celebrate becoming a Fellow of the Society of Actuaries – at last, and after considerable delay. In truth, his studies had taken a second priority to implementing Mr. Yoo’s design all these years – not to mention learning to speak Mandarin semi-fluently. The work had not been easy, and indeed he never seemed to have any permanent colleagues, just temporary contractors whom Mr. Yoo had hired to carry out routine tasks from time to time. Mr. Yoo himself turned out to be a recluse who spent all of his time in his office on the top floor of the Wuhan Center, where he did not permit visitors. Mr. Yoo only ever communicated via e-mail or the same old audio-only Skype connection where the static never seemed to improve. Why his boss never bothered to upgrade his technology despite having vast amounts of money, the former Actuarial Student could not say. Life in Wuhan could be comfortable, yet it was mostly solitary and consumed by work – vitally important and life-saving work, as Mr. Yoo never hesitated to point out. And thus, day by day, the work went on. Occasionally the opportunity arose to celebrate moments such as passing an actuarial exam or attaining a major designation – and a little bit of cake here and there did not hurt. “Go enjoy your cake,” Mr. Yoo told him in their last Skype conversation. “Believe me, this is the good timeline,” he had said, a bit cryptically as usual, but always in a strangely relatable way, as if no context needed to be explained, and so that the former Actuarial Student was not tempted to ask too many follow-up questions.

And yet, as his 12-year position was approaching its conclusion, the new Actuarial Fellow was not altogether disappointed at how it all turned out. As the crowds of local residents bustled around him, he took his place in line and spotted a minor functionary of the city government, also waiting for his coffee. “Ah, good day, and congratulations on your efforts in advancing the social progress of our city!” the official greeted him. As astonishing as it seemed even in retrospect, Wuhan now indeed had regular citizen patrols in the surrounding wilderness areas, which reduced the poaching of wildlife to nearly zero. The Citizens’ Basic Premium, originally seen as quite an oddity given its tie to non-consumption of exotic animals, became a widely relied-upon source of income for residents. Government officials, after several years of initial reluctance, were persuaded to cooperate with this arrangement and even ordered the police to thoroughly inspect all of the produce at the animal and seafood market in the Jianghan District. The police presence could seem a bit draconian at times, but Mr. Yoo assured him it was all for the best.

Somehow Mr. Yoo had managed to liquidate his holdings of bitcoin, and now many other cryptocurrencies as well, at just the right times all these years to ensure that there was always more than enough to pay Wuhan’s 11 million citizens. Building that kind of payment stream from nothing was truly mind-boggling – but it seemed a product of Mr. Yoo’s extremely good luck at having noticed Satoshi Nakamoto’s paper and taken action on its ideas before virtually anyone else.

The new Actuarial Fellow had done quite well financially himself after liquidating his cryptocurrency holdings back during the short-lived boom of 2017; he did not feel that he needed to revisit that volatile market, but at least his capital gains far exceeded any conventional cumulative actuarial salary for the same time period. He truly had the financial freedom to pursue any course in life once the term of his contract with Mr. Yoo expired.

Whether or not there would have ever been a pandemic, the Actuarial Fellow still could not be sure. However, whatever the initial motivation for it, the enterprise developed by Mr. Yoo with his help had taken on a life of its own, and the culture of China had been forever altered by it – seemingly in a reasonably good way.

As he sat down at his table and ate the first spoonful of cake, a mail carrier half-jogged into the coffee shop and approached the Actuarial Fellow’s table with a small, sealed envelope. “Special delivery from Mr. Yoo,” the carrier said and dropped the envelope. Odd, thought the Actuarial Fellow, as Mr. Yoo had never sent a paper letter before.

As he opened the letter, the Actuarial Fellow’s mouth dropped. He saw his own handwriting upon the piece of paper inside.

Congratulations to me? Perhaps not yet. I thought my actuarial studies would finally be complete after all these years, but I am only halfway through. This evening I need to go to SOA.org and download all of the past exams and solutions. I need to find all of the historical price charts of Bitcoin, Litecoin, Dogecoin, and Ethereum. I need to download all this on my thumb drive and then check my e-mail for a link to a set of documents that will describe a history I have never seen before. Then I will need to go to the Wuhan Center, to the office I was told was off-limits these past twelve years. Thereafter, the next steps – and the stakes – will be clear. Now to move forward I will need to go back.

Sincerely,

Mr. You – or, rather, I

P.S. But of course, I should have known that it is just my sense of humor to do this!

P.P.S. 2004 is not a bad time to live as an adult in my mid-thirties. The only question is, how can I persuade my younger self to act according to his preferences, however unusual, rather than what others expect of him? How can I make the strange but principled path more appealing than the obvious and conventional path? What can persuade a young person that by following one’s conscience, one can truly save the world in more ways than one will ever know?

U.S. Transhumanist Party Chairman Gennady Stolyarov II’s Update Interview on the Archer Report – July 24, 2020

U.S. Transhumanist Party Chairman Gennady Stolyarov II’s Update Interview on the Archer Report – July 24, 2020

Gennady Stolyarov II
Steele Archer


U.S. Transhumanist Party Chairman Gennady Stolyarov II’s July 24, 2020, appearance on the Archer Report with Steele Archer, was an opportunity for a fascinating 130-minute conversation about the forthcoming U.S. Transhumanist Party Virtual Enlightenment Salon with Dr. David Hanson of Hanson Robotics, Charlie Kam’s 2020 U.S. Presidential campaign, concerns about public reactions to the pandemic, and major issues with the contemporary media ecosystem, both with legacy and social media.

References

Trump challenged by radical presidential candidate hoping to REVERSE ageing” by James Bickerton. Daily Express. July 6, 2020.

Free U.S. Transhumanist Party Membership

Stablecoins: The Next Gold Rush? – Article by Adam Alonzi

Stablecoins: The Next Gold Rush? – Article by Adam Alonzi

Adam Alonzi


What money should be has been explored by more than one economist. What it is, strange as it may sound, is also up for debate. Yet amidst these disputes, practical and abstract, there is consensus.

At this time the entire crypto market is valued between 380 and 560 billion USD. The value of all the world’s stocks is around 70 trillion USD. The daily volume of the Forex is 5.1 trillion USD. Despite the excitement it periodically sparks in mass media and high finance circles, crypto is barely a drop in the bucket.

As I stated in my response to Robert Shiller’s critique of Bitcoin, tokenization is a means of dividing an asset. Tokenization, easily dividing an asset among stakeholders, is a strength of blockchain technology. Tokens can represent abstract entities issued on the blockchain, but they can also be tethered to a piece of real estate, a work of art, a trademark, or a freighter of Chilean copper.

A Stablecoin is related to this concept. A Stablecoin (SC) is a cryptocurrency that is pegged to fiat currency or a commodity in a fixed ratio. Stablecoins are being developed by massive corporations like JPMorgan Chase and are being looked into by governments around the world. The backing of mature institutions, whatever your opinion may be of them, can give crypto credibility and capital to move forward.

At this time cryptocurrencies are for the most part speculative toys or safe havens for those expecting for the fiat system to implode. In any case, common use remains elusive. While milk and eggs can be bought with crypto, it is not a normal occurrence. The major barrier to this is volatility.

Stability could come after a stampede into crypto by a reasonable percentage of the world’s population. Some authors have claimed an economic catastrophe could precipitate an exodus from fiat, but this seems to spring from wishful thinking – the same sort gold bugs have been indulging in for the last half century.

This is not meant as disparagement of gold or its advocates. Gold is a fine investment, but the issue at hand here is common use, something gold is not likely to readily lend itself to ever again – at least not in its most familiar forms. Several Stablecoins are currently backed by gold. By doing so, they combine the benefits of crypto with the timeless tangibility of precious metals.

Stablecoins are digital representatives of an item that may not be readily divisible and therefore inconvenient or impossible to use for daily transactions. Very few shoppers would want to overnight a tiny gold nugget to an eBay seller. Those hoping for a speedy ingress of users should consider that an equally rapid egress could follow.

Slow and steady wins the race?

While more users and more merchants could curb price swings, how and when this will happen remains an open question. If stability is not established, at least for long enough to secure investor confidence, conventional cryptocurrencies will never outgrow their reputations as dangerous playthings.

Some members of the crypto community are philosophically opposed to Stablecoins because they betray the vision of total decentralization. High ideals can clash with reality. Decentralization is not a strong selling point for most folks. It is not easy to explain beyond “no one controls it”, which is as likely to make them feel uneasy as it is to instill confidence.

It’s not as though Stablecoins are taking anything from the crypto community. Aside from bringing in new converts, they also add diversity to the cryptosphere. An orchard of identical apple trees is doomed when the right pest arrives. Monocultures are inherently weak. A diverse financial ecosystem is a resilient one. The proliferation of new blockchain projects, as overwhelming as it may be, is good for all of us.

There are a plethora of cryptocurrencies aiming to be “just” mediums of exchange. Monero (XMR), Ripple (XRP), and Dash (DASH), for all their differences, are innovating and are finding their niches. Anonymity, speed, and low transaction fees are attractive, but is it enough to convince Uncle Fred to begin buying his sweaters with them?

Although some have nuanced algorithms managing their supply, Stablecoins make crypto more understandable to the average person. Finance and technology are boogeymen to most consumers; there is no need to make either more arcane or frightening than necessary.

Adolescence is difficult because we feel pressured, from within or without, to choose a path. We are under the impression that our choices are final and our one-dimensional trajectories are set. Whether Stablecoins are a passing phase or a critical bridge to the materialization of Satoshi Nakamoto’s original vision, they seem poised to become permanent fixtures in high finance and daily life.

Adam Alonzi is a writer, biotechnologist, documentary maker, futurist, inventor, programmer, and author of the novels A Plank in Reason and Praying for Death: A Zombie Apocalypse. He is an analyst for the Millennium Project, the Head Media Director for BioViva Sciences, and Editor-in-Chief of Radical Science News. Listen to his podcasts here. Read his blog here.

New Decade’s Message for the 2020s – Gennady Stolyarov II

New Decade’s Message for the 2020s – Gennady Stolyarov II

Gennady Stolyarov II


As 2019 draws to a close, Gennady Stolyarov II, Chairman of the United States Transhumanist Party / Transhuman Party and Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Argumentator, expresses hope that humankind will emerge from the “Crazy Years” and offers ten concrete resolutions for human achievement during the 2020s. This message was recorded on December 31, 2019, and is available for viewing here.

As 2019 draws to a close, let us bid farewell and good riddance to a decade which could, in retrospect be referred to using the prophetic Robert Heinlein term, “The Crazy Years” – a turbulent, conflicted decade during which, while glimmers of hope appeared on multiple fronts of technological advancement, society and culture have clearly declined due to the rise of incivility, tribalism, authoritarianism, identity politics, and mass breakdowns of sanity. It is no secret that I had hoped for humankind to have been farther along the path of advancement by now than it has actually come. The great conflict of our decade – between the marvels that have been built by the creative and rational higher faculties of the human mind and the biases, fallacies, vulnerabilities, and atrocities spawned by its darkest evolved recesses – between the Apollonian heights and the Dionysian depths of human nature – will carry on into the 2020s and perhaps beyond. To win this conflict, those of us who desire a brighter future need to advocate for more progress, faster innovation, greater rationality, higher standards of civility and morality, and a long-term outlook that seeks to cultivate the best in human beings.

As the winds of fortune shift, some of us individually will rise, and others will fall. This certainly was the case this past decade. In so many respects, for me, it has been marked by colossal achievements and improvements, but also tectonic shifts in my own life which were not of my initiative – to which I needed to respond and adapt and preserve what I valued in the aftermath. Reflecting back on the end of 2009, and comparing it to today, I realize that absolutely everything about the circumstances of my life is now different… and yet I myself am essentially the same. I believe that it is this core of myself, this fundamentally constant and consistent identity, which has carried me through the crises and enabled me to defy adversity and arise stronger every time – to pursue new endeavors and take on new roles while remaining the same essential individual, to learn from the empirical evidence before me while maintaining the same convictions and understanding of the good. The events of the 2010s have illustrated for me that, indeed, peace and stability in life must ultimately come from within – although it is not a matter of withdrawal into the self or mere self-affirmation, as some popular creeds would claim. Rather, it is the self that must devise and implement solutions to the crises of the day while pursuing consistent improvement in as many dimensions as possible, and preserving that essential core intact.

It is beyond our power to live a decade over again, but we can harness the best of its aftermath and turn the coming decade into a superior and more rational one. Some of us will create resolutions as individuals, and then pursue plans of varying degrees of specificity and likelihood of success. But perhaps it is best to consider the resolutions we would wish to have for humankind as a whole. It is all well and good, of course, to wish for progress and prosperity, but it is also well-known that the resolutions which have the greatest likelihood of succeeding are those which are accompanied by concrete indicators of fulfillment. Therefore, I propose the following ten resolutions for humankind during the decade of the 2020s, which will enable us to empirically identify whether or not they have been fulfilled at the decade’s end.

  1. Construct the next world’s tallest building – because humankind must always reach higher.
  2. Build a base on the Moon – because it is time to colonize other worlds.
  3. Land a human on Mars – because it is time to expand beyond our orbit.
  4. Establish the first fully operational seastead communities – because it is time for human habitation to expand beyond land and for jurisdictional experimentation to resume in earnest.
  5. Have at least one person live beyond 120 years again – mathematically possible given that 10 of today’s supercentenarians are 114 or older; it is time to begin to approach Jeanne Calment’s longevity record of 122 years once more.
  6. Cut all world nuclear-weapon stockpiles in half – more than this has been done before, and so this is really quite a modest goal, but it is imperative to reverse the trajectory of the current arms race. Complete nuclear disarmament by all powers would, of course, be preferable, to finally dispel the “MAD” cloud of annihilation looming over our species.
  7. Compose 100 tonal symphonies – because it is time to rediscover beauty.
  8. Develop medically effective cures for every type of cancer – because, really, it is decades past time.
  9. End the decade with 50 percent of all vehicles on the road at level 2 autonomy or greater – because road deaths are a travesty and should become a relic of a barbaric past.
  10. Experience at least one year in which no country is at war with any other, with “war” including armed insurgencies and terrorist attacks – because national, ethnic, religious, and ideological warfare needs to be relegated to the past.

Of course, there are many worthwhile objectives not encompassed above, and it is my hope that efforts to reach those goals will also advance in parallel. You may have a list of ten resolutions for humankind that differs from mine, but they may be compatible nonetheless. The overarching aim, however, is to restore humanity’s much-needed confidence in progress, to emerge from the postmodern swamp of self-doubt and deconstruction and return to the heights of ennobling ambition and creation. Concrete benchmarks to track our progress can also serve the dual purpose of motivating people everywhere to undertake great tasks. A certain President has expressed the desire to make America great again, but I would venture to say that he has not selected the proper means for doing so. I challenge everyone during the next decade to make the world great again and demonstrate that the most impressive achievements and the most lasting solutions to our age-old problems are still to come. This is the message of transhumanism, and I hope that it can become the theme of the next decade – so that when I speak to you again at the decade’s end, we can reflect upon the wonders that have been built.

March-Trio in C Major, Op. 89 (2019) – Musical Composition by Gennady Stolyarov II

March-Trio in C Major, Op. 89 (2019) – Musical Composition by Gennady Stolyarov II

Gennady Stolyarov II


This is a determined, uplifting march composed by Gennady Stolyarov II for piano, violin, and cello – intended to be played by a human ensemble. As the decade of the 2010s concludes, this composition expresses the hope that a better future awaits for the entirety of humankind.

This march was composed by Mr. Stolyarov in October-December 2019, and is played using the MuseScore 3.0 software.

Listen to this composition on YouTube here.

Download the MP3 file of this composition here.

Find the score of this composition here.

The fractal artwork is Mr. Stolyarov’s Fractal of 85, available for free download here.

This composition and video may be freely reproduced using the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike International 4.0 License.

Remember to LIKE, FAVORITE, and SHARE this video in order to spread rational high culture to others.

See the index of Mr. Stolyarov’s compositions, all available for free download, here.

 

Homicides in the US Fall for Second Year as Murder Rate Drops in 38 States – Article by Ryan McMaken

Homicides in the US Fall for Second Year as Murder Rate Drops in 38 States – Article by Ryan McMaken


Ryan McMaken
December 28, 2019
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As 2018 came to an end, politicians and media pundits insisted that ” gun violence ” was growing and hitting crisis levels .

While a homicide rate of anything greater than zero is an measure of very-real human misery, it nonetheless turns out that fewer people were murdered in 2018 than in the year before. Moreover, 2018 was the second year in a row during which the homicide rate declined.

According to new homicide statistics released by the FBI last month, the homicide rate in the United States was 5 per 100,000 people. That was down from 5.3 per 100,000 in 2017 and down from 5.4 in 2016. In 2014, the homicide rate in the US hit a 57-year low, dropping to 4.4 per 100,000, making it the lowest homicide rate recorded since 1957.

 At 5 per 100,000, 2018’s homicide rate has been cut nearly in half since the 1970s and the early 1990s when the national homicide rate frequently exceeded nine percent.

The regions with the largest declines were New England and the Mountain west where homicide rates decreased 18 percent and 12 percent, respectively. The only region reporting an increase was the Mid Atlantic region, with an increase of one percent. This was driven largely by an increase in homicides in Pennsylvania.

 At the state level, the homicide rate went down in 38 states, and increased in 12.

The states with the lowest homicide rates were South Dakota, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine. The states with the lowest rates were nearly all found in New England and in the West. For additional context, I have graphed US states with Canadian provinces (in red):

Indeed, when we map the states by homicide rate, we can see some clear regional differences:

In American political discourse, it is fashionable to insist that those places with the most strict gun control laws have the least amount of violence.

This position, of course, routinely ignores the fact that large regions of the US have very laissez faire gun laws with far lower levels of violent crime than those areas with more gun regulations. Moreover, if we were to break down the homicide rates into even more localized areas, we’d find that high homicide rates are largely confined to a relatively small number of neighborhoods within cities. Americans who live outside these areas — that is to say, the majority of Americans — are unlikely to ever experience homicide either first-hand or within their neighborhoods.

We can see the lack of correlations between gun control and homicide, for instance, if we compare state-level homicide rates to rankings of state-level gun laws published by pro-gun-control organizations.

For example, using the Giffords Center’s rankings of state gun policy, many of the states with the lowest homicide rates (South Dakota, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Utah) are states with the most laissez faire gun policies. The Giffords Center naturally ranks these states the lowest for gun policy, giving Maine and Utah grades of “F” and “D-“, respectively, although both states are two of the least violent places in all of North America.

Homicide vs. “Gun Violence”

As is so often the case when dealing with gun statistics put out by pro-gun-control groups, the Giffords Center attempts to fudge the numbers by measuring “gun deaths” rather than homicides. By design, this number includes suicides — which then makes violence rates look higher — while excluding all forms of homicide not involving guns.

Thus, a state with higher homicide rates overall — but with fewer gun homicides — will look less violent than it really is.

Meanwhile, a state with little violent crime, but with relatively high homicide rates, will be counted as a state with many “gun deaths.” These nuances are rarely explained in the public debate however, and the term “gun deaths” is just thrown around with the intent of making places with looser gun laws look like they have more crime.

Moreover, the attempt to use suicide to “prove” more guns lead to more suicides is easily shown to be baseless at the international level: the US has totally unremarkable suicide rate even though it is far easier to acquire a gun in the US than many countries with far higher suicide rates.

Mass Shootings

As the total number of homicides in the US has gone down in recent decades, many commentators have taken to fixating on mass shooting events as evidence that the United States is in the midst of an epidemic of shootings.

Mass shootings, however, occur in such small numbers as to have virtually no effect on nationwide homicide numbers.

According to the Mother Jones mass shootings listing, for examples, there were 80 deaths resulting from mass shootings in 2018, or 0.5 percent of all homicides. That was down from the 117 mass-shooting total in 2017, which was 0.7 percent of all homicides. And how will 2019 look? This year, there have been 66 mass-shooting deaths. On a per-month basis, mass shootings have so far been deadlier in 2019 than in 2018. But we could also note that although there have been 66 mass shooting victims this year, the total number of homicides in Maryland alone fell by 68 from 2017 to 2018.

And then, of course, there is the issue of crime prevention through private gun ownership. Since averted crimes are not counted in any government database, we only know how many crimes actually occur. We don’t know how many are averted due to the potential victim being armed. Nor does the homicide data differentiate between criminal homicides, and homicides committed in self defense. Thus, sloppy researchers will simply report all homicides as criminal killings. But this is not the case.

As one might expect, pro-gun-control advocates insist that the number of crimes averted due to defensive weapons is very low. But, again, there is no empirical evidence showing this. Some gun control activists will point to studies that conclude more homicides occur in areas with more guns. These studies may be getting the causality backwards, however, since we’d expect more gun ownership to result in areas that are perceived to be more crime-ridden.

Ryan McMaken (@ryanmcmaken) is a senior editor at the Mises Institute. He has degrees in economics and political science from the University of Colorado, and was the economist for the Colorado Division of Housing from 2009 to 2014. He is the author of Commie Cowboys: The Bourgeoisie and the Nation-State in the Western Genre.

Politics Drops Its Pretenses – Article by Jeff Deist

Politics Drops Its Pretenses – Article by Jeff Deist


Jeff Deist
December 28, 2019
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Can the increasing politicization of life in America be stopped, or even slowed?

To be sure, average Americans do not want this. Most people prefer not to lead overly political lives, beyond perhaps voting once in a while and grumbling about taxes or potholes. Most people prefer to focus on work, family, hobbies, sports, or a million other pursuits instead of politics. We watch the game instead of attending the Tuesday night city council meeting. But increasingly we all feel the pressure, drawing us inexorably into a highly-politicized world which demands we take binary “sides” on Trump, impeachment, abortion, guns, climate change, and far more. This politicization seeps into our jobs, family lives, neighborhoods places of worship, social interactions, and even our sports and entertainment.

The most salient feature of national politics in 2019 America is its lack of pretenses. The two political Americas, represented by Red and Blue teams, no longer pretend to share a country or any desire to live peaceably together. Much has been made of this cold civil war on both the Left and Right, and much of what has been made is probably over-hyped. Americans, after all, are materially comfortable, soft, addled, diabetic, and rapidly aging; the over-65 population is set to double in the coming decades. Hot civil wars require lots of young men with nothing to lose who are not busy playing Fortnite. But the overall mood of the country is decidedly hostile and suggestive of irreconcilable differences.

So how does our political system address this? By throwing gasoline on the fire, in the form of another national election in 2020. That looming contest already tells a story, it’s not about healing or coming together. Today the political class is more open about its desire to hurt and punish opponents; in fact, revenge and punishment feature prominently in the political narratives that fill our media feeds.

Hillary Clinton recently quipped that maybe she should run against Donald Trump in 2020 and “beat him again,” openly positioning her personal vendetta as the rationale for seeking the presidency. “The issues,” such as they are, take a distant backseat to her more pressing goal of defeating both Trump and his voters in a visceral way. Her 2020 candidacy, should it materialize, will coalesce around revenge: voters failed her not once but twice, in 2008 and 2016. Her campaign, almost by necessity, will be a scorched-earth exercise in revenge against the Deplorables.

Her potential Democratic primary rival Elizabeth Warren, meanwhile, appeared last week at an LGBT equality town hall—organized by CNN for the express purpose of further politicizing sex and sexuality (so much for pre-political rights). In response to a softball question about gay marriage (likely planted), Warren sneered that a hypothetical religious man should marry a woman “if he can get one.” Needless to say the audience loved it, which tells us less about Warren’s safe, vanilla views than it does about the setting and mood of attendees. Identity politics is required, not optional.

These presidential aspirants, like Trump, no longer care to maintain a facade of representing all Americans or smoothing over divisions when elections are over. Nobody runs for president to represent all Americans, and of course, nobody could in a far-flung country of 330 million people. Candidates who give lip service to the idea, as Tulsi Gabbard and Andrew Yang have, gain little traction in the media-driven bloodsport. The presidency is about winning either Red or Blue America, not both, and presidential candidates will be far more open about this in 2020—and with their hostility for the Electoral College. They are in the business of winning at all costs, not persuading. 51% of the electorate will do, and the rest deserve to suffer for not going along with the program.

The standard explanations and justifications for politics are breaking down. Democratic consensus and needful compromise and good governance were always empty bromides, but today our political overlords understand and pander to an altogether different mood. The Trump presidency, like the Brexit vote, was never accepted by the same elites who spent the early 21st century gushing about the sanctity of democracy. The entire pretense for democratic politics, ostensibly the peaceful transfer of political power and the consensual organization of human affairs, now gives way to new and uncomfortable questions. What if we cannot vote our way out of this? What if the structural problems of debt and entitlements and central banking and foreign policy cannot be solved politically? What if the culture wars are unwinnable? What if we have reached the end of politics as an instrument for keeping American society together?

Democracy and politics will not alleviate our problems; only committed individuals working in the intermediary institutions of civil society can. Democratic elections can work locally, and in small countries or communities; Switzerland’s system of express subsidiarity comes to mind. And clearly the best hope for America’s survival will come through an aggressive form of federalism or subsidiarity, one that dramatically reduces the winner-take-all stakes of national elections. But mass democracy, in a country as large as America, is a recipe for strife, bitterness, endless division, and much worse.

Murray Rothbard said in Power and Market that “ballots are hailed as substitutes for bullets.” But in modern America, politics leads us closer to war, not closer to peace and justice and comity. Why should we accept weaponized mass politics when we have civil society, markets, and non-state institutions?

We need an anti-politics movement just as surely as we need an antiwar movement.

Jeff Deist is president of the Mises Institute, where he serves as a writer, public speaker, and advocate for property, markets, and civil society. He previously worked as a longtime advisor and chief of staff to Congressman Ron Paul, for whom he wrote hundreds of articles and speeches. Mr. Deist also spent many years as a tax attorney advising private equity clients on mergers and acquisitions.

This article was published on Mises.org and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution United States License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

Trump Flip-Flops on Syria Withdrawal Again – Article by Ron Paul

Trump Flip-Flops on Syria Withdrawal Again – Article by Ron Paul


Ron Paul
December 28, 2019
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President Trump is reversing his foreign policy decisions so quickly these days that it almost seems like he overturns himself before making the decision in the first place. In October 2019, he was very clear that the US was pulling its troops out of Syria. “Bringing soldiers home,” he said. “Let someone else fight over this long-bloodstained sand.”

But then he overturned himself later in the same speech. He said: “We’ve secured the oil and therefore a small number of US troops will remain in the area where they have the oil. And we’re going to be protecting it and we’ll be deciding what we’re going to do with it in the future.”

Where does President Trump think he gets the legal or moral authority to send US troops to illegally occupy foreign territory and determine what that foreign country can or cannot do with its resources? After eight years of Obama’s disastrous “Assad must go” policy, during which the US provided weapons and training to radicals and terrorists with a half million people killed as a result, President Trump had the opportunity to finally close that dark chapter of US foreign policy so the Syrian people could rebuild their country.

Instead he sat down on Thursday with Senator Lindsey Graham, who has been wrong in every foreign policy position he’s ever taken, and decided to follow Graham’s advice to take Syria’s oil. Even though Trump himself has said many times that ISIS is 100 percent defeated, he claims we must take Syria’s oil to keep it from ISIS.

The real reason the neocons want the US military to occupy Syria’s oil fields is they are still convinced they can overthrow Assad by carving out eastern Syria for the Kurds. They don’t want to keep the oil from ISIS, they want to keep it from the Syrian government. They don’t want the oil revenue to be used to help rebuild the country because they still want to make life more unbearable for the population through sanctions so they will overthrow Assad. They don’t care how many innocent civilians die.

So instead of bringing the troops home like he promised, President Trump has allowed himself to be convinced to actually expand the US presence in eastern Syria! Instead of ending a foolish mission, he’s giving them an even more foolish mission – and sending in more troops and weapons. Instead of removing the approximately 200 troops in that region as promised, Trump is going to add more troops to equal about a thousand. He’s also sending in tanks and other armored vehicles, according to the Pentagon.

If President Trump believes following neocon advice on Syria is going to produce results different than the past eight years of following neocon advice on Syria, he’s naïve or worse. This new mission is going to cost tens of millions of dollars per month and will only serve to inspire the next generation of radicals. Trump is right that the people of the region, including Russia, Iran, Syria, and Turkey have all the incentive to keep ISIS at bay. So why does he fold like a cheap suit every time the neocons strong-arm him into another dumb foreign policy position?

Ron Paul, MD, is a former three-time Republican candidate for U. S. President and Congressman from Texas.

This article is reprinted with permission from the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity.

Antoninus Pius: The Greatest Roman Emperor You’ve Never Heard Of – Article by Marc Hyden

Antoninus Pius: The Greatest Roman Emperor You’ve Never Heard Of – Article by Marc Hyden


Marc Hyden
December 27, 2019

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Photograph by Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP(Glasg)
[CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

In the book of Genesis, God agreed not to destroy Sodom if Abraham could find 10 righteous people there. Abraham failed, and God wiped the city from the face of the earth.

More recently (and much less importantly), my friend and former Foundation for Economic Education president Larry Reed issued a similar challenge: He asked me to identify one good Roman emperor—besides Marcus Aurelius. I immediately felt a bit like Abraham, frantically searching for a needle in a haystack. Thankfully, Larry didn’t threaten to destroy Rome if my quest failed.

But it was a difficult endeavor nonetheless because most Roman emperors, at least at certain points in their lives, were little more than murderous megalomaniacs too willing to spark wars for their own benefit and chip away at the Romans’ liberties. This is true even for the most revered emperors, including Augustus, Hadrian, and Constantine.

After accepting Larry’s challenge and ruminating over it, one emperor finally came to mind: Antoninus Pius. While imperfect, for the most part, Antoninus ruled with prudence, restraint, and moderation. He is known as one of the so-called “five good emperors,” but his name has survived in relative obscurity because history is often kinder to ambitious conquerors and great builders than to those who respect liberty and govern with a servant’s heart.

Antoninus understood that if he governed justly, the emperorship would be a major sacrifice, not a windfall

Born in 86 AD, Antoninus came from an influential, wealthy family. Early in his life, he enjoyed a successful career as a public administrator. But when then-Emperor Hadrian’s health began to fail, he named Antoninus his heir even though Antoninus may not have wanted the honor. In fact, Hadrian purportedly acknowledged that Antoninus was “far from desiring any such power” but nevertheless believed he would “accept the office even against his will.”

Not long after, Hadrian died, and Antoninus became emperor. When Antoninus assumed office, he told his wife, “Now that we have gained an empire, we have lost even what we had before.” These words show Antoninus understood that if he governed justly, the emperorship would be a major sacrifice, not a windfall.

Antoninus proved to be a forgiving and scrupulous ruler. One of his first acts as emperor was to annul some of Hadrian’s final decrees. The ailing Roman had condemned an untold number of senators, but Antoninus opted for mercy and freed the men. According to some historians, this is why the Senate bestowed the appellation of “Pius” on Antoninus. But the new emperor didn’t simply spare other people’s enemies. When a conspiracy formed against him, the Senate, not Antoninus, prosecuted the attempted usurper, but Antoninus prohibited the rebel’s co-conspirators from being investigated. Beyond these acts of mercy, Antoninus also abolished the employment of informers and announced that no senator would be executed during his reign.

While he accepted some honors, including the cognomen of Pius, he rejected others. For instance, the Senate and the Roman people so adored Antoninus that they offered to rename the month of September after him, but he flatly refused the honor. Indeed, Antoninus often seemed to eschew the grandeur of his office. He sold off imperial lands, reduced or eliminated superfluous salaries, and lived in his own villas rather than imperial estates. He never even traveled beyond Campania during the course of his reign because he believed he simply could not justify draining the public treasury for travel.

While several conflicts erupted during his long reign, many were defensive in nature. Antoninus didn’t seek to massively increase Rome’s domain.

Antoninus was frugal in other ways, too. He conscientiously guarded the public treasury while simultaneously reducing confiscations and his subjects’ tax burden. On more than one occasion, he chose to expend personal resources to support the empire. For example, he contributed money to repair Hadrian’s construction projects and, during a famine, he provided free wine, oil, and wheat to the Romans at his own expense. He so prudently managed the state’s finances that when he died, he left the public treasury with a massive surplus—a rarity in old Rome.

Part of this surplus appears to be related to Antoninus’ aversion to vanity projects and unnecessary wars. Like many emperors, he was a builder, though not nearly to the degree of others, and his construction projects do not seem to have been designed to glorify himself—at least not overtly. And while several conflicts erupted during his long reign, many were defensive in nature. What’s more, Antoninus didn’t seek to massively increase Rome’s domain. Only two small advances occurred during his tenure, in Britannia and Germania, but it appears that his rationale may have been, at least in part, to adjust the borders so that the Romans could more economically defend the frontier.

Unlike many of his predecessors and successors, Antoninus seemed to legitimately care for his subjects and the state. He established an endowment to support poverty-stricken, orphaned girls; he loaned personal money at a four percent interest rate (a low rate at the time) to those in need; he didn’t initiate any Christian persecutions, and he sought to return prestige and respect to the Senate. In fact, his only major blunder was that he debased the silver Roman denarius by around five percent in order to fund a major celebration.

Aside from this misstep, volumes could be written about Antoninus’ virtues. His life is perhaps best summed up by his successor, Marcus Aurelius, who described Antoninus as a grounded, introspective, and humble man who was respectful of others’ liberties. Aurelius wrote, “Though all his actions were guided by a respect for constitutional precedent, he would never go out of his way to court public recognition of this.”

Antonius’ biographer, Julius Capitolinus, likewise glowingly recorded:

Almost alone of all emperors [Antoninus] lived entirely unstained by the blood of either citizen or foe so far as was in his power.

Marc Hyden is a conservative political activist and an amateur Roman historian.

This article was originally published by the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE).