Browsed by
Tag: market

Calico and the Paradigm Shift in the War on Death – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Calico and the Paradigm Shift in the War on Death – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
September 19, 2013

Finally, the war on human senescence and involuntary death has become mainstream. With Google’s announcement of the formation of Calico, a company specifically focused on combating senescence and the diseases it brings about, a large and influential organization has finally taken a stand on the side of longer life. Unlike the cautious, short-term orientation of many more conventional manufacturers of drugs and medical devices, Google’s philosophy of making investments with possible immense payoffs in the distant future offers tremendous hope that this company will be around through the many years it will take to engage in the search for promising treatments and their subsequent testing.

 Aubrey de Grey, one of the chief strategists and key intellectual innovators in the escalating war on senescence, has written that Calico signals that the war on aging has truly begun. De Grey emphasizes that it is no longer necessary to persuade most of academia that this war is a worthwhile endeavor: “With Google’s decision to direct its astronomical resources to a concerted assault on aging, that battle may have been transcended: once financial limitations are removed, curmudgeons no longer matter.” As with its remarkable advances in autonomous vehicles, mobile operating systems, and wearable computing, Google does not need to ask the permission of the entire world to explore the possibilities. Rather, it can simply achieve the breakthroughs, whose momentum and adoption naysayers would be powerless to halt.

Funding has always been a major bottleneck for true life-extending research, but now the resources of Google, as well as the highly skilled researchers who will surely be recruited by Calico, will enable this bottleneck to be overcome. Few details about the company are yet available, and it is likely that several years will elapse before major discoveries are announced. However, the barrier to mainstream acceptability of the war on senescence has been breached. Once significant successes are announced, other companies will hopefully shed some of their current caution and will seek to profit from the burgeoning field of longevity research. A few other companies still may even try to emulate Calico before any results are announced – just so as to remain competitive with Google and stay ahead of the pack, in their view.

The key to the success of any sustainable enterprise focused on life-extension research is to recognize that the sole pursuit of profits next quarter or next year is not a viable strategy for altering the status quo in radical ways. Great innovations require great leaps outside the norm. Such leaps are not often immediately rewarded financially by the broader market, which is why much of the longevity research to date has been sponsored by non-profit institutions such as the SENS Research Foundation and various universities. However, a prudent, forward-looking pursuit of profit can take the radical alteration of the status quo to the next level, by harnessing the immensely powerful motive of self-interest for the purpose of improving human lives. In this case, the improvement from gains to human longevity – and hopefully the ultimate defeat of senescence altogether – would be so immense as to be humankind’s crowning achievement. Google develops technologies with the eventual intent of marketing them to millions of consumers, and the success of Calico would be a triumph not just for longevity research but for the dissemination of cures to age-related diseases, and perhaps to senescence itself.

While anyone of sufficient intellectual courage can have a long-term vision and projects aimed at advancing that vision, Google has the distinct advantage of an extremely viable business in the present, which continues to bring in short-term revenues so that Calico does not need to be concerned with profits next quarter or next year. Instead, Calico will be able to survive on the profits of Google’s many ongoing operations, while devoting the time and effort of world-class researchers to pursuing all of the explorations, experiments, and tests that are needed to ultimately develop marketable cures. Once the cures are out there, though, the profits could be unprecedented, because life is the most precious, the most fundamental value we humans have. Any entity that discovers a way to transcend the current frailties of old age and push back or remove the current limits on human lifespans will become fabulously wealthy beyond comparison.

May Calico usher in Adam Smith’s invisible hand in the realm of longevity medicine – a hand that pushes back senescence and death and creates a world where health and wealth are ours to enjoy indefinitely.

Let Market Forces Solve Organ-Transplant Crisis – Article by Ron Paul

Let Market Forces Solve Organ-Transplant Crisis – Article by Ron Paul

The New Renaissance Hat
Ron Paul
July 16, 2013

Ten-year-old cystic fibrosis patient Sarah Murnaghan captured the nation’s attention when federal bureaucrats imposed a de facto death sentence on her by refusing to modify the rules governing organ transplants. The rules in question forbid children under 12 from receiving transplants of adult organs. Even though Sarah’s own physician said she was an excellent candidate to receive an adult organ transplant, federal government officials refused to even consider modifying their rules.

Fortunately, a federal judge intervened so Sarah received the lung transplant. But the welcome decision in this case does not change the need to end government control of organ donations and repeal the federal ban on compensating organ donors.

Supporters of the current system claim that organ donation is too important to be left to the marketplace. But this is nonsensical: if we trust the market to deliver food, shelter, and all other necessities, why should we not trust it to deliver healthcare—including organs?

It is also argued that it is “uncompassionate” or “immoral” to allow patients or insurance companies to provide compensation to donors. But one of the reasons the waiting lists for transplants is so long, with many Americans dying before receiving a transplant, is because of a shortage of organs. If organ donors, or their heirs, where compensated for donating, more people would have an incentive to become organ donors.

Those who oppose allowing patients to purchase organs should ask themselves how compassionate is it to allow those people to die on the transplant waiting list who might otherwise have lived if they were able to obtain organs though private contracts.

Some are concerned that if organ donations were supplied via the market instead of through government regulation, those with lower incomes would be effectively denied access to donated organs. This ignores our current two-tier system for allocating organs, as the wealthy can travel overseas for transplants if they cannot receive a transplant in America. Allowing the free market to alleviate the shortage of organs and reduce the costs of medial procedures like transplants would benefit the middle class and the poor, not the wealthy.

The costs of obtaining organs would likely be covered by most health insurance plans, thus reducing the costs directly borne by individual patients. Furthermore, if current federal laws distorting the health care market are repealed, procedures such as transplants would be much more affordable. Expanded access to health savings accounts and flexible savings accounts, combined with generous individual tax deductions and credits, would also make it easier for people to afford health care procedures such as transplants.

There is also some hypocrisy in the argument against allowing market forces in organ transplants. Everyone else involved in organ transplantation procedures, including doctors, nurses, and even the hospital janitor, receives compensation. Not even the most extreme proponent of government-provided health care advocates forcing medical professionals to provide care without compensation. Hospitals and other private intuitions provide compensation for blood and plasma donations, and men and women are compensated for donations to fertility clinics, so why not allow compensation for organ donation?

Sarah Murnaghan’s case shows the fallacy in thinking that a free-market system for organ donations is less moral or less effective than a government-controlled system. It is only the bureaucrats who put adherence to arbitrary rules ahead of the life of a ten-year old child. It is time for Congress to wake up and see that markets work better in all aspects of health care, including organ donation, just as they work better in providing all other goods and services.

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

This article is reprinted with permission.

How Government Sort of Created the Internet – Article by Steve Fritzinger

How Government Sort of Created the Internet – Article by Steve Fritzinger

The New Renaissance Hat
Steve Fritzinger
October 6, 2012

Editor’s Note: Vinton Cerf, one of the individuals whose work was pivotal in the development of the Internet, has responded to this article in the comments below. Read his response here.

In his now-famous “You didn’t build that” speech, President Obama said, “The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.”

Obama’s claim is in line with the standard history of the Internet. That story goes something like this: In the 1960s the Department of Defense was worried about being able to communicate after a nuclear attack. So it directed the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) to design a network that would operate even if part of it was destroyed by an atomic blast. ARPA’s research led to the creation of the ARPANET in 1969. With federal funding and direction the ARPANET matured into today’s Internet.

Like any good creation myth, this story contains some truth. But it also conceals a story that is much more complicated and interesting. Government involvement has both promoted and retarded the Internet’s development, often at the same time. And, despite Obama’s claims, the government did not create the Internet “so all the companies could make money off” it.

The idea of internetworking was first proposed in the early 1960s by computer scientist J. C. R. Licklider at Bolt, Beranek and Newman (BBN). BBN was a private company that originally specialized in acoustic engineering. After achieving some success in that field—for example, designing the acoustics of the United Nations Assembly Hall—BBN branched out into general R&D consulting. Licklider, who held a Ph.D. in psychoacoustics, had become interested in computers in the 1950s. As a vice president at BBN he led the firm’s growing information science practice.

In a 1962 paper Licklider described a “network of networks,” which he called the “Intergalactic Computer Network.” This paper contained many of the ideas that would eventually lead to the Internet. Its most important innovation was “packet switching,” a technique that allows many computers to join a network without requiring expensive direct links between each pair of machines.

Licklider took the idea of internetworking with him when he joined ARPA in 1962. There he met computer science legends Ivan Sutherland and Bob Taylor. Sutherland and Taylor continued developing Licklider’s ideas. Their goal was to create a network that would allow more effective use of computers scattered around university and government laboratories.

In 1968 ARPA funded the first four-node packet-switched network. This network was not part of a Department of Defense (DOD) plan for post-apocalyptic survival. It was created so Taylor wouldn’t have to switch chairs so often. Taylor routinely worked on three different computers and was tired of switching between terminals. Networking would allow researchers like Taylor to access computers located around the country without having dedicated terminals for each machine.

The first test of this network was in October 1969, when Charley Kline, a student at UCLA, attempted to transmit the command “login” to a machine at the Stanford Research Institute. The test was unsuccessful. The network crashed and the first message ever transmitted over what would eventually become the Internet was simply “lo.”

With a bit more debugging the four-node network went live in December 1969, and the ARPANET was born. Over the next two decades the ARPANET would serve as a test bed for internetworking. It would grow, spawn other networks, and be transferred between DOD agencies. For civilian agencies and universities, NSFNET, operated by the National Science Foundation, replaced ARPANET in 1985. ARPANET was finally shut down in February 1990. NSFNET continued to operate until 1995, during which time it grew into an important backbone for the emerging Internet.

For its entire existence the ARPANET and most of its descendants were restricted to government agencies, universities, and companies that did business with those entities. Commercial use of these networks was illegal. Because of its DOD origins ARPANET was never opened to more than a handful of organizations. In authorizing funds for NSFNET, Congress specified that it was to be used only for activities that were “primarily for research and education in the sciences and engineering.”

During this time the vast majority of people were banned from the budding networks. None of the services, applications, or companies that define today’s Internet could exist in this environment. Facebook may have been founded by college students, but it was not “primarily for research and education in the sciences and engineering.”

This restrictive environment finally began to change in the mid-1980s with the arrival of the first dial-up bulletin boards and online services providers. Companies like Compuserve, Prodigy, and AOL took advantage of the home computer to offer network services over POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) lines. With just a PC and a modem, a subscriber could access email, news, and other services, though at the expense of tying up the house’s single phone line for hours.

In the early 1990s these commercial services began to experiment with connections between themselves and systems hosted on NSFNET. Being able to access services hosted on a different network made a network more valuable, so service providers had to interoperate in order to survive.

ARPANET researchers led by Vint Cerf and Robert Kahn had already created many of the standards that the Internet service providers (ISPs) needed to interconnect. The most important standard was the Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP). In the 1970s computers used proprietary technologies to create local networks. TCP/IP was the “lingua franca” that allowed these networks to communicate regardless of who operated them or what types of computers were used on them. Today most of these proprietary technologies are obsolete and TCP/IP is the native tongue of networking. Because of TCP/IP’s success Cerf and Kahn are known as “the fathers of the Internet.”

Forced to interoperate, service providers rapidly adopted TCP/IP to share traffic between their networks and with NSFNET. The modern ISP was born. Though those links were still technically illegal, NSFNET’s commercial use restrictions were increasingly ignored.

The early 1990s saw the arrival of the World Wide Web. Tim Berners-Lee, working at the European high energy physics lab CERN, created the Uniform Resource Locator (URL), Hyper-Text Transfer Protocol (HTTP), and Hyper-Text Markup Language (HTML). These three technologies made it easier to publish, locate, and consume information online. The web rapidly grew into the most popular use of the Internet.

Berners-Lee donated these technologies to the Internet community and was knighted for his work in 2004.

In 1993 Mosaic, the first widely adopted web browser, was released by the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA). Mosaic was the first Internet application to take full advantage of Berners-Lee’s work and opened the Internet to a new type of user. For the first time the Internet became “so easy my mother can use it.”

The NCSA played a significant role in presidential politics. It had been created by the High Performance Computing & Communications Act of 1991 (aka “The Gore Bill”). In 1999 presidential candidate Al Gore cited this act in an interview about his legislative accomplishments,saying, “I took the initiative in creating the Internet.” This comment was shortened to: “I created the Internet” and quickly became a punchline for late-night comedians. This one line arguably cost Gore the presidency in 2000.

The 1992 Scientific and Advanced Technology Act, another Gore initiative, lifted some of the commercial restrictions on Internet usage. By mid-decade all the pieces for the modern Internet were in place.

In 1995, 26 years after its humble beginnings as ARPANET, the Internet was finally freed of government control. NSFNET was shut down. Operation of the Internet passed to mostly private companies, and all prohibitions on commercial use were lifted.

Anarchy, Property, and Innovation

Today the Internet can be viewed as three layers, each with its own stakeholders, business models, and regulatory structure. There are the standards, like TCP/IP, that control how information flows between networks, the physical infrastructure that actually comprises the networks, and the devices and applications that most people see as “the Internet.”

Since the Internet is really a collection of separate networks that have voluntarily joined together, there is no single central authority that owns or controls it. Instead, the Internet is governed by a loose collection of organizations that develop technologies and ensure interoperability. These organizations, like the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), may be the most successful anarchy ever.

Anarchy, in the classical sense, means without ruler, not without laws. The IETF demonstrates how well a true anarchy can work. The IETF has little formal structure. It is staffed by volunteers. Meetings are run by randomly chosen attendees. The closest thing there is to being an IETF member is being on the mailing list for a project and doing the work. Anyone can contribute to any project simply by attending the meetings and voicing an opinion. Something close to meritocracy controls whose ideas become part of the standards.

At the physical layer the Internet is actually a collection of servers, switches, and fiber-optic cables. At least in the United States this infrastructure is mostly privately owned and operated by for-profit companies like AT&T and Cox. The connections between these large national and international networks put the “inter” in Internet.

As for-profit companies ISPs compete for customers. They invest in faster networks, wider geographic coverage, and cooler devices to attract more monthly subscription fees. But ISPs are also heavily regulated companies. In addition to pleasing customers, they must also please regulators. This makes lobbying an important part of their business. According to the Center for Responsive Politics’s OpenSecrets website, ISPs and the telecommunications industry in general spend between $55 million and $65 million per year trying to influence legislation and regulation.

When most people think of the Internet they don’t think of a set of standards sitting on a shelf or equipment in a data center. They think of their smart phones and tablets and applications like Twitter and Spotify. It is here that Internet innovation has been most explosive. This is also where government has had the least influence.

For its first 20 years the Internet and its precursors were mostly text-based. The most popular applications, like email, Gopher (“Go for”), and Usenet news groups, had text interfaces. In the 20 years that commercial innovation has been allowed on the Internet, text has become almost a relic. Today, during peak hours, almost half of North American traffic comes from streaming movies and music. Other multimedia services, like video chat and photo sharing, consume much of people’s Internet time.

None of this innovation could have happened if the Internet were still under government control. These services were created by entrepreneurial trial and error. While some visionaries explored the possibilities of a graphically interconnected world as early as the 1960s, no central planning board knew that old-timey-looking photographs taken on ultramodern smart phones would be an important Internet application.

I, Internet

When Obama said the government created the Internet so companies could make money off it, he was half right. The government directly funded the original research into many core networking technologies and employed key people like Licklider, Taylor, Cerf, and Kahn. But after creating the idea the government sat on it for a quarter century and denied access to all but a handful of people. Its great commercial potential was locked away.

For proponents of government-directed research policies, the Internet proves the value of their programs. But government funding might not have been needed to create the Internet. The idea for internetwork came from BBN, a private company. The rise of ISPs in the 1980s showed that other companies were willing to invest in this space. Once the home PC and dial-up services became available, people joined commercial networks by the millions. The economic incentives to connect those early networks probably would have resulted in something very much like today’s Internet even if the ARPANET had never existed.

In the end the Internet rose from no single source. Like Leonard Read’s humble writing instrument, the pencil, no one organization could create the Internet. It took the efforts of thousands of engineers from the government and private sectors. Those engineers followed no central plan. Instead they explored. They competed. They made mistakes. They played.

Eventually they created a system that links a third of humanity. Now entrepreneurs all over the world are looking for the most beneficial ways to use that network.

Imagine where we’d be today if that search could have started five to ten years earlier.

Steve Fritzinger is a freelance writer from Fairfax,Virginia. He is the regular economics commentator on the BBC World Service program Business Daily.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution United States License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

Are We Destroying the Earth? – Article by Sanford Ikeda

Are We Destroying the Earth? – Article by Sanford Ikeda

The New Renaissance Hat
Sanford Ikeda
October 3, 2012

People often complain that mankind is destroying the earth: that insatiable consumption and relentless production have laid waste to irreplaceable swaths of our planet, and that these activities have to stop or someday it will all be gone.

Which raises the question: What does it means to “destroy” something?

When you burn a log, the log is destroyed but heat, light, smoke, and ashes remain.  It’s in that sense that physics tells us that matter is neither created nor destroyed.  Similarly, cutting down a forest destroys the forest but in its place are houses and furniture and suburbs.

The real question is: Is it worth it?

Value Can Be Both Created and Destroyed

What people usually mean when they say mankind is destroying the earth is that human action causes a change they don’t like.  It sounds odd to say that my wife, by eating a piece of toast for breakfast, is “destroying” the toast.  But if I wanted that toast for myself, I might well regard her action as destructive.  Same action, but the interpretation depends on purpose and context.

When a missile obliterates a building and kills the people in it, it may serve a political purpose even though the friends and family of those killed and the owners of the building are harmed.  The perpetrator’s gain is the victim’s loss.  In the political realm, one person’s gain is necessarily another person’s loss.  You rob Peter to pay Paul; you kill Jack to appease Jill.  It’s a “zero-sum game.”

In the economic realm, however, a thing is destroyed to the extent that it loses its usefulness to somebody for doing something.  Someone may want to bulldoze my lovely home just for fun.  If she pays me enough I may let her do it and be glad she did.  When not physically coerced, a trade won’t happen unless each side expects to gain.  If it does happen, and if the people who traded are right, then all do in fact gain.  Each is better off than before. The trade has created something–value.  If they are wrong they destroy value and suffer a loss, which gives them an incentive to avoid making mistakes.

Profits and Losses Help to Minimize the Destruction of Value

In free markets gains manifest themselves in profit, either monetary or psychic.  (In the short run, of course, you can sustain a monetary loss if you think there’s a worthwhile nonmonetary aspect to the trade that will preserve the profit.)  Now, the free market is not perfect, despite what some economics professors say about the benefits of so-called “perfect competition.”  People don’t have complete or perfect knowledge and so they make mistakes.  They trade when they shouldn’t, or they don’t trade when they should.  Fortunately, profits and losses serve as feedback to guide their decisions.

There’s another source of market imperfection.  People may be capable of making good decisions but they don’t trade, or trade too much, because the property rights to the things they would like to trade aren’t well-defined or aren’t effectively enforced.  In such cases their actions or inactions create costs they don’t bear or benefits they don’t receive.  The result is that their decisions end up destroying value.

If I free-ride off the oceans, if for example I don’t pay for dumping garbage into it, then the oceans will become more polluted than they should be.  If there is a cleaner, more efficient source of energy than fossil fuels, but no one can profitably use it because the national government prevents anyone from doing so (for example by prohibitions or excessive taxation), then again the value that would have been created will never appear.

Aesthetics or Economics?

Our esthetic sense of beauty is part of what makes us human.  If we wish to protect a lake or a valley from development because we think it beautiful, how do we do that?

To some extent it’s possible to do what the Nature Conservancy does, and purchase the land that we want to protect.  But that’s not always possible, especially when the land is controlled not by private persons but by the national government, which makes special deals with crony capitalists in so-called public-private developments.  In any case, even the free market is not perfect.  Economic development and material well-being mean that some beautiful landscapes and irreplaceable resources will be changed in ways not everyone will approve.

Remember, though, that economics teaches us that an action is always taken by someone for something.  There are no disembodied costs, benefits, and values.  In a world of scarcity, John believes saving rain forests is more important than saving the whales.  Mary believes the opposite.  If we are to get past disagreements on esthetics–essentially differences of opinion–that can turn into violent conflict, we need to find some way to settle our differences peacefully, some way to transform them into value-creating interactions.

Imperfect though it may be, the free market has so far been the most effective method we know of for doing that.

Sanford Ikeda is an associate professor of economics at Purchase College, SUNY, and the author of The Dynamics of the Mixed Economy: Toward a Theory of Interventionism.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution United States License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

Thoughts on James Sterba’s “Liberty and Welfare” – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Thoughts on James Sterba’s “Liberty and Welfare” – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
April 14, 2012

In “Liberty and Welfare” (2007), James P. Sterba of the University of Notre Dame makes an argument that a libertarian society, grounded in the principle of classical enlightened egoism, would be consistent with a government-organized system of welfare, or redistribution of wealth from wealthier to poorer members of the society. There are some areas where I am in agreement with Sterba’s premises, and some areas of difference.

Sterba’s argument, essentially, is that enlightened self-interest renders it legitimate for a person to take the property of another in certain “conflict situations” – cases where doing so would save that person’s life (or not doing so would endanger that person’s life).  I acknowledge that there may be cases where it is legitimate to violate the property right of another in order to save one’s life – but only to the extent actually necessary to save one’s life and only if proper compensation is made afterward. For instance, suppose Person X is ejected from a burning airplane onto the vast estate of Person Y, a wealthy landowner with plenty of fruit orchards. Person Y is an absentee landowner, and is not able to give permission, and it would take Person X several days on foot to leave Person Y’s land. In my view, Person X can legitimately eat some of Person Y’s fruit so as to survive his journey. However, the proper course of action after Person X has returned to his normal life would be for him to contact Person Y and ask whether Person Y desires to be compensated for the fruit that was taken. There is, at that point, a likelihood that Person Y would be generous and overlook the incident, recognizing Person X’s need to survive. But, if this does not happen, Person X could offer Person Y a reasonable payment for the fruit. It is unlikely that Person Y would, for instance, turn down a payment that is several times the fruit’s market value.

As the loss of life is irreversible, while loss of many kinds of property can be undone through adequate compensation, in true emergency situations, it may be justified for someone else’s property to be put to use in truly saving an individual’s life. But this can only be carried out if confined to true emergencies, if done with minimal interference, and if adequate reparations are made afterward.

That being said, what I am referring to are true emergency situations – which are, by definition, acute events that subside after the cause of the emergency has passed. An ongoing situation where one person or a group of people appropriate the belongings of others without the consent of those others is not a justifiable position within a truly free society. Sterba’s paper borders on implying that there exists some group right for “the poor” to expropriate “the rich” without regard for the circumstances of specific individuals having either of these designations or for whether individuals called “the poor” could, in fact, manage to survive without such expropriation. If there is a way not to take another’s property without his consent and to still preserve human life, then that is the course of action that should be pursued.

Ultimately, Sterba’s argument leads to the support of some manner of redistributionist welfare system. Such a system may indeed be justified in an unfree or semi-free society, where artificial political privileges result in a non-meritocratic distribution of wealth – and where, for instance, inefficient and customer-unfriendly firms can achieve market dominance or incompetent individuals can come to control vast resources. The overall level of wealth in such societies is lower compared to a libertarian society, and there may be many “worthy poor” in such societies, who are poor for none of their fault and despite earnest efforts at improving their position. Indeed, the United States at present, with its massive levels of involuntary unemployment resulting from an economic bubble inflated by the Federal Reserve, could be considered to exist in such conditions. Thinkers such as Sheldon Richman have argued that, in such situations, welfare systems can be seen as secondary or “band-aid” interventions to mask or mitigate some of the harmful effects of the primary interventions (e.g., corporate subsidies, barriers to entry into markets, and laws that limit innovation and progress). While the secondary interventions bring their own unintended negative consequences, a national government that only practiced the primary interventions (which benefit and enrich a favored and politically connected elite) would be much worse in its effects. The only aspects of the secondary interventions that might be justified are those aspects that would undo some of the harms of the primary interventions and more closely approximate a meritocratic, individualistic, market-driven outcome.

I contrast “band-aid” welfare measures in a mixed economy – which could be justified – with redistribution of wealth by a government in an otherwise libertarian society – which would not be justified. Such redistribution of wealth would infringe on the justly earned property of numerous individuals, simply because they belong to some arbitrarily designated category (e.g., “the rich” – as defined by some artificial threshold). In a libertarian society, occasional emergencies might arise whereby one or a few people might legitimately avail themselves of the property of another, but only if they compensate the owner fairly afterward. But, by definition, such emergency treatment cannot apply across the board and as a systematic, ongoing matter. Furthermore, unlike the emergency treatment I described, a welfare system by definition redistributes wealth from some people to others, and does not compensate the people whose wealth has been redistributed. In a fully libertarian society, where all wealth is acquired based on the principles of merit and consent, such redistribution would be unjustified and harmful. It would, further, be unnecessary, as practically all people would be massively more prosperous than the majority of people are in today’s Western societies.

Eliminating Most Foreclosures: An Innovative and Just Approach to Mortgage Delinquencies

Eliminating Most Foreclosures: An Innovative and Just Approach to Mortgage Delinquencies

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
March 25, 2012

The economic and personal consequences of foreclosure are devastating. Foreclosures leave behind not only blighted neighborhoods, but ruined lives. Furthermore, during the past three years, immense abuses of the foreclosure process have come to light – with numerous banks being found to have improperly foreclosed on thousands of homeowners. The banks have either been unable to produce documentation that demonstrated their right to foreclose – or, worse, have foreclosed on individuals who were never even delinquent or did not have mortgages in the first place (see, for instance, here, here, and here). The violations of due process, private-property rights, and the rule of law have been astounding.

At this point, any solution that can reduce the number of foreclosures will be a welcome benefit to individual liberty, the US economy, and millions of Americans. Indeed, the concept of foreclosure – the expropriation of one’s home – resulting from a few late payments has always struck me as draconian. It disregards one fundamental fact: the homeowner has equity in his or home, even if he or she fails to make a few scheduled payments. So, suppose that a homeowner has a $150,000 outstanding mortgage loan on a home whose market value is $200,000. This means that the homeowner’s equity in the home is $50,000 – or one quarter of the home’s value. If the homeowner fails to make a $1000 hypothetical monthly payment on time, why is the bank entitled to appropriate the entire home and thereby deprive the homeowner of the entire $50,000 in equity? Suppose, as is often the case these days, that the foreclosure proceedings drag on for a year. A 5000% annual rate of interest for that one delinquent payment is quite steep indeed!

While delinquencies ought to be penalized, wholesale expropriation of a home is an unnecessary and disproportionate response in most cases. It would not have been possible on a truly free market, where roughly equal negotiating power would exist between lenders and borrowers. In today’s politicized financial environment, however, the large banks receive all of the privileges: bailouts, loan guarantees, access to “free money” from the Federal Reserve, barriers to entry for smaller competitors, the ability to “securitize” personal loans through means of dubious accountability, the ability to flout laws such as those pertaining to mortgage modifications, and a swiftly operating “revolving door” between bankers and politicians. Thus, homeowners are often left to acquiesce to terms that are far harsher than what they could have gotten for themselves in a truly free market.

A more equitable solution, that recognizes that the real value of the homeowner’s equity, is not to foreclose, but rather to reduce the homeowner’s equity for each delinquent payment. If the homeowner fails to make a scheduled payment, then the bank should be able to recoup its resulting losses – by seizing the portion of the homeowner’s equity corresponding to the amount of the delinquency, perhaps also incorporating an interest charge at the prevailing market rate. Only when all of the homeowner’s equity has been exhausted in this way should the bank have the right to foreclose. In today’s housing market, where many homes are “underwater” (i.e., the mortgage balance exceeds the market price, which has declined precipitously since the days of the housing bubble), this solution would still mean that some foreclosures would occur. But the number of foreclosures would be greatly reduced, and the majority of currently planned foreclosures would never occur. Furthermore, the “underwater” homeowners could still be helped by downward principal modifications that recognize the illusory and unsustainable nature of the inflated market prices that existed during the housing bubble and that were fueled by the expansionary monetary policy of the Federal Reserve. Homeowners should not be made to suffer for the Federal Reserve’s blunders.

Under my proposed approach, the mere involuntary loss of one’s job, or a catastrophic illness, would not put one’s place of shelter in immediate jeopardy. Rather, in the time that it takes for the homeowner’s equity to be exhausted, the homeowner would have the opportunity to attempt to regain his or her employment or health. Furthermore, with fewer foreclosures, the unsightly, wasteful, and dangerous effects of neighborhood blight would be greatly scaled back. A homeowner will still largely maintain his or her residence, even if he or she cannot make a regular mortgage payment. But once a home enters foreclosure, it suffers from deterioration and decrepitude at best – and outright vandalism and destruction at worst.

In rolling back the political privileges of the large banks, it is essential to compensate ordinary, law-abiding, innocent homeowners for the damage that these special privileges have wrought. The benefits of years of hard work and consistent mortgage payments should not be nullified overnight by a single delinquency. Over a year ago, in “Wrongful Foreclosures and the Free Market”, I advocated breaking up the bailed-out banks and declaring a temporary moratorium on foreclosures. Rewriting foreclosure law to require the exhaustion of the homeowner’s equity before a foreclosure can be initiated can be another step to wipe out most foreclosures at the stroke of a pen – while restoring an outcome more compatible with individual liberty, true market freedom, and natural justice.