Thursday, August 26, 2010

On the Fed

Lately I've noticed the competing critiques of the Federal Reserve, and how they do and don't match up.  Almost everyone agrees that the Fed is not politically (or democratically) controlled to the correct degree, though there is no consensus as to whether there is too much politics or too little democracy.

One of the oddities of the Fed is that the term "the Fed" doesn't always seem to mean the same thing.  Sometimes it means the Federal Reserve System, sometimes it means the Board of Governors, and I've often suspected that sometimes it means the Open Market Committee.

This of course provides fertile soil for confusion, and confusion in turn is fertile soil for conspiracy theories.  Righty critics who loathe inflation can point out that "the Fed" consists entirely of political appointees.  Lefty critics who hate interest can point out that "the Fed" is mostly private moneyed interests.  "Private moneyed interests" is the lefty term for what the rightys call the free market; "political appointees" is the righty term for what the leftys call democracy.

Both sides are correct in pointing out that the public is largely ignorant of the important matters of monetary policy.  From that it does not follow the critics are not themselves ignorant, or guilty of causing ignorance.
Here is a multipage article on the Federal Reserve which does not mention the Board of Governors a single time.  Sort of like listing all the important people on a baseball time without mentioning the manager, or even noting that the job of manager exists.

Is that a surprise?  It was to me, because I'm used to reading Austrian-school (anti-politics, anti-inflation) critiques of the monetary status quo.  The linked article is quite the opposite - it is an anti-interest critique, and it wouldn't grind the proper axe to point out that the President's political appointees can effectively raise taxes at any time simply by expanding the money supply.  The article also laments the lack of Congressional control, without noting of course that when the Presidential appointees forming a majority on the Open Market Committee vote to expand the money supply, it is Congress whose spending power increases.

What the article is essentially saying is that it would be better to have a system in which the entity that controls the money supply also benefits directly if the money supply expands drastically.  While I hope it's clear that I don't agree, I am not sure that the entire slate of reforms the Austrian school proposes is necessary.  I'm not sure why it is necessary to abolish the Fed entirely, instead of simply repealing the legal tender laws and banning government seizures of precious metals.  It seems like that would provide quite enough "free banking" without eliminating the important networks maintained by the Federal Reserve System.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Legacy of Hypersectarianism

Meet Rachel.  She is 15-year-old girl who wears heavy black eye makeup, slogan-spangled t-shirts, and skinny jeans.  She has a 13-year-old punk boyfriend whom she snuggles mutely on the couch at family gatherings.  She hardly ever addresses adults, although she is not unpleasant.

There is no singing or music at any family gathering if it happens on a Saturday, because the strictures of Rachel's sect forbid music on the Sabbath.

Or consider Krista.  She is the youngest person in the office, and the older ladies are all keenly interested in her romantic exploits.  However, they cannot talk about this when a certain other coworker is around - that coworker and Krista belong to the same church, which does not allow dating outsiders.  Krista wants to keep belonging to the sect, and to keep dating outsiders.

We're all worried our teenage children are going to opt out of decorum, study, and community involvement in favor of being cool, with all of the hazards that entails.  Religion used to be a safeguard against the tragedy of eternal adolescence.  It wasn't just the rules that were important but also religious passion and spirit, and the tendency to get communities "all on the same page", behavior-wise.

When I first heard Dr. Laura railing against interfaith marriages, I didn't really get it.  I didn't (and still don't) belong to a church so I couldn't really tell why it was a big deal.  Now it seems obvious that mixing up different moral codes into the nuclear-family melting pot yields, not a random mix of religious codes so much as the most permissive mix possible.  Similarly, mixed neighborhoods, schools, and institutions all put pressures on the individual to fit in, morally and otherwise.

The rituals to be observed are the ones that are the most fun.  The rules to be obeyed are the ones that are the least inconvenient.  It's not too bad to avoid eating poultry on Tuesday, but if I can't date all the Cathars, Copts, Sikhs, Scientologists, and Jeffersonian deists that I want, I'm leaving the church!  It's been long noted that it is hard for church leaders to shepherd their flocks with so many distractions.  It's only getting harder.

Yet few people are willing to resettle and form single-sect communities, and Communities are more complex than they've ever been - can a small sect guarantee that its town will include the requisite number of policemen, bookkeepers, dishwasher repairmen, and dogcatchers?  What if the sect attracts mainly artists and philosophers?  Are they going to contract out to non-members for vital services?  If so, they are not a town at all, but a mere bedroom community.  There's nothing wrong with that, per se, but your kids will still grow up hearing songs about suicide, group sex, and mass murder.

Moreoever, with no constitutional guarantee for freedom of association, single-sect businesses are probably illegal, and run into the same problems with today's complex workforce that the single-sect towns would.  The problem of desiccating morals and civic life may not be solvable through religion - not in as thoroughly splintered an environment as the United States.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Revolt Against the Teenage World

Proclaim your immunity all you want, but this is not a consultation and I am not spitting on you.  You change your world whether you want to or not; trying is irrelevant.  But youdo need to grow up and you do need to grow out of it.  That you protest these truths in heavy rotation makes you look good only to the foolish and the puerile.
P.S.  The concept of “tracing time” is nonsensical.

Open Thread: Survival on the Cheap

This is a thread where we are discussing how a highly cash-strapped and none-too-knowledgeable individual can plan to keep the wolves at bay should the Keynesians turn out to be wrong about the economy.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Equality and Autonomy

Conservatives have longed decried the corruption of the word "equality".  "It used to mean equality of opportunity", they say, "and now it means equality of result."  I would add to that.  It used to mean equality of opportunity, equality of responsibility, procedural equality, an equal right to plead one's case.  It meant an equal right to ask for things, not an absolute right to get them.  It did not mean equality of result or equality of starting conditions.

It's hard to say where a longing for equality came from.  What I sense, when I look at a psychological need for old-fashioned equality, is a profound resemblance to the longing for autonomy.  A community of completely autonomous individuals would be hard or impossible to create, but it's easy to conceive.

What jumps out at us when we visualize a community of completely autonomous people?  Total equality, in the old-fashioned sense.  If you're annoyed by your neighbors, chafing under the serfdom imposed by feudal overlord, burdened by taxes, whatever, you feel the root of that desire for autonomy.  Then reality returns and you see that a person who needs firewood, food, shoes, and health care cannot live on his own because no one can create the skills and capital need to simultaneously be a lumberjack, farmer, baker, butcher, shoemaker, and physician.  Whether or not it is The Way the World Should Be, absolute autonomy is only a dream.

Yet as with any dream we carry something with us back into the waking world.  Perhaps the classical liberal's idea of equality is a nod to the dream.

Thus, I believe there is even more separating the old-fashioned idea of equality from the corrupted leftist idea.  They don't have the same psychological root.  Classical liberals wanted autonomy and settled for equality.  Leftist resentment is close to the opposite of autonomy.  Leftists want to punish those more diligent, responsible, and talented than themselves.  They stole the term "equality" to use as a weapon against their betters.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Why Passwords Don't Work

... or at least, why I can't imagine how they could work.  I'm talking about passwords in the workplace, as used by the typical American technoprole.  You have half a dozen different things to log into, minimum.  They all require different password formats, and they make you change your password on different cycles. So don't even think about happening upon some total abstraction that you can reliably memorize - it'll change soon enough and not be applicable to more than one ap over the long term.  You'll have to make up passwords on a pattern.  And don't even think about using similar passwords to meet different needs - does the payroll software require numbers (so I should use password123)?  Or does it require "special" (shift-number) characters (so I should use password!@#)?  By the time you figure it out you'll be locked out of the ap, on phone with tech support in a different city, watching your company's productivity bleed out.

It goes without saying that it is harder for an individual to remember password!@#1 than it is to remember Jenny57EvergreenPlaceSpringfieldIL.  But let's imagine the latter doesn't refer to the user's current home address, but rather, their ex-girlfriend's address from 1997.

Hard for the hacker to guess, right?  Yes, much harder than password!@#1, but that would be allowed anywhere.  A name-and-address would be rejected due to its lack of shift-number characters.  Putting an ampersand in there would make it harder to remember - best to just write the password down somewhere.

That's right, we have a system which makes your password invisible when you enter it, to protect it from being seen by a coworker watching over your shoulder when you enter it.  Writing it down, which the system encourages even though it may be banned, allows your password to be stolen by a coworker looking over your shoulder at any time, or visiting your desk when you're not there.

Computer security - starting with case-sensitive passwords - is ultimately self-defeating.  The key would have been to make up a single all-ap regimen for passwords: case-insensitive, with at least two numbers and a non-word alpha string of at least three characters.  Require everyone to change all passwords once a month on their hire date.  Allow no software to depart from this protocol, and punish an employee for writing down their password.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Problem with the Right Half of the Blogosphere

The blogosphere gives conservatives an unprecedented way to communicate on the issues, but it's not perfect.  The central problem out here on the right can be summed up in two truisms:
  1. Birds of a feather flock together.
  2. You tend to argue with the people who are around you.
Since people get bored with "preaching to the choir", and not many bloggers share my focus of creating heavily detailed, exhaustive constitutional reform proposals, arguments tend to crop up on the issues rightists disagree with one another one - not necessarily the most important issues.  

Hence the inordinate focus on Israel, anti-semitism, World War II, monetary policy, and, to a lesser degree, abortion and the south-Asian wars.  These are the wedge issues that threaten the right the most, yet we don't need leftists to put a floodlight on them.  We seem quite willing to do it ourselves.  

My fervent hope is that, at least in the few months leading up to the election, rightists will uncircle the firing squad and start putting the floodlight on leftists who threaten to keep delaying the border fence, protect affirmative action, and generally keep rocking the foundations of European civilization in America.