Free Chemistry Lessons!

Hello readers,
I am currently in the midst of an A.P. Chemistry study session. I found that one of the most helpful ways to obtain a better understanding of any topic in any subject is to author a packet which, if read by a person unfamiliar with that topic, could give that person an adequate understanding of the topic you are trying to study. In addition to this, my little sister, who’s in seventh grade, wants me to teach her chemistry, so I’m writing a curriculum with which to teach her. My series of posts still has far to go, and is mostly unfinished, but when completed, it should cover topics that range from those topics that lay the foundations for a Chemistry A class, to those covered in the last few chapters of an A.P. Chemistry class. I figured that I would post this here before finishing to give me motivation to finish. Even if no one reads this — and who am I kidding; it isn’t like anyone actually does read this — it would bother me to have an uncompleted job. I’ll start later this month. For the completion of this project, you should expect a long, but finite, wait. I’ll cite some of the resources I’ll use to help me here: Chemistry, Sixth Edition by Steven S. Zumdahl and Susan A. Zumdahl; Chemistry For Dummies and Chemistry II For Dummies by John T. Moore, Ed.D.; and A.P. Chemistry by Neil D. Jespersen, Ph.D.

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My Conversion to Atheism

Thanks to newepicurean.com for the image

Epicurus

I usually don’t bring religion into this blog, but I feel it’s about time to write a post on the subject. I have recently been trying to find the right way to tell my parents I’m atheist. Now before I start, I just want to clarify that my parents are in no way fundamentalists: they believe in evolution and they’re pro-gay rights. For Christians they’re pretty liberal. They’re Republican, but they’re the ones that are Republican because they’re fiscally conservative, not socially conservative. They are anti-abortion, and they’re a bit iffy on drugs, but they can understand where those on the other side of the argument are coming from. My parents are, for the most part, very accepting. That said, they would be sad–or at least my mom would be sad–to hear that I did not believe in God. After thinking for a few days how I should come out–or whether I should–I had an idea: formulate a case for atheism so good that if they asked what caused my change in mind, I might possibly persuade them. That might not be a very realistic goal, but I can try.

Before I began to write this, I visited the /r/atheism subreddit; and one thing I noticed right away was all the hate towards those who did still believe in supernatural beings–especially the Judeo-Christian God, which makes sense most of Reddit being American. You can tell that many of them either are very recent converts, and therefore very zealous; or that they had a tough time reconciling their views with a fundamentalist family. To them the priest, reverend, or even just your average church lady was the personification of evilness, stupidity, or mental illness. There are enough people there who are reasonable if you look for them. But for the most part the religious are derided and held in contempt. But from my experience as a former theist, and one currently living with a family of theists, I have come to take a very different view of religion. It is, of course, not right to believe something that cannot be proved with reason, but most people are born into it. And when you grow up with everyone telling you something’s true, and that it’s wrong to believe it’s not true, and that you shouldn’t even consider it’s whether or not it’s true because it is true, it becomes so fundamental that it can be very hard to think clearly and rationally the way one normally might when considering any other philosophical argument. I know that this was the case for me.

It was more than a year ago when I actually  even started thinking about my faith and why it was the way it was. I had always be Catholic, went to parochial school, went to Mass every Saturday, was Irish-Italian (still am!), the whole deal. I thought once or twice about the existence of God; but I figured it was wrong to question it because if I came to the conclusion that God did exist, I already knew that; and if I came to the conclusion He didn’t–well . . . that was wrong.  Every year you would here the story of Jesus appearing to the apostles after he was resurrected, and the way Thomas doubted it was real. After which Jesus said, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29). We were taught that Thomas was wrong for wanting to have evidence–for wanting to observe–before believing. Rather than rationally and scientifically verifying what is truth and what is not, we were taught to just accept it.

My doubt all started in the summer before freshman year of high school. During this time I had shifted from enjoying watching TV to reading; up until then most of the books I had read were either assigned, or was recommended to read multiple times by my friends. I wanted to read a novel, so I went to the fiction shelves of the nearby library and picked up the biggest tome I could find. It just happened to be Atlas Shrugged. I had no idea what it was about. I heard it mentioned a number of times on TV–mostly in a negative light–and knew that it was a political or philosophical work, so I figured it would be pretty interesting. Anything they were so against must have something interesting in it.

Being a fairly slow reader–I like to take my time–reading an 1,168-page book, it was long overdue when I returned it. I would have regretted paying the fine if the book had not so much an effect on me. Just like any 14-year-old reading Ayn Rand, I was so swept up with her philosophy, believing everywhere should be like Galt’s Gulch. I have settled down now, and while I would not consider myself a die-hard objectivist, it has contributed a lot to both the political and economic views I hold today. I am more egoistic, capitalistic, and reasonable for having read it, but there are a number of her views I’d be less willing to embrace.

Ayn Rand portrait from back cover of Atlas Shrugged

The one thing that had a hard time changing after I read it: my religious views. All Rand’s protagonists were atheists, and there were a number of attacks on religion. I had become a victim of the Christian-Randian paradox that characterizes so many Tea Partiers. I have always had socially libertarian views on things such as sexual orientation, drugs, abortion, race, etc. Some of these were hard to reconcile with my Catholicism, but I had somehow found ways to lawyer my way out of the problems and through some form of mental gymnastics justify holding both views. With Atlas Shrugged, this was impossible to do. It had not converted me, but it was definitely the book that set the foundation for my shift in views.

Ironically, it was a Christmas gift that really caused the change. In addition to getting my very own sitar and a number of vinyl records–including a Piper at the Gates of Dawn record from 1967–I received an Amazon Kindle. I had some money to spare, so immediately upon setting it up I subscribed to two magazines: Fantasy and Science Fiction and Philosophy Now. The latter is the one of concern here. When you subscribe to a magazine on the kindle, you immediately get the most current issue, which on Christmas Day just happened to be Issue 99: “The God Issue.” It featured many different philosophers and theologians from all sides of the debate arguing for theism, agnosticism, atheism, and everything in between. By the end of the issue–which since I had really liked the publication came two days after–I had made it official to myself that I was an agnostic atheist. But just as my lesbian friend was closeted to her family about her sexual orientation, so was I with my beliefs. My parents are nice, as I mentioned above, and they wouldn’t kick me out of the house or punish me for my beliefs, or anything like that. But they still would be pretty unhappy. Whether I was Christian or atheist, however, I figured there was one thing I didn’t want to be: Catholic. Even before I had converted I had begun to distrust organized religion and I began to drift towards Protestantism. When I did convert, I chose to tell my parents I had become a Quaker. This was the Christian sect that I had had the least problems with. From my understanding, they were always very socially liberal and anti-authoritarian–not believing that one inherently higher than another. Since I have “become Quaker,” I have been trying to think of a way to tell my parents I do not believe in God. A few days ago, the idea popped into my mind to gather all the reasonable arguments against religion I could think of: some from atheist thinkers and some personal arguments from me. This is what I endeavor to do in this post.

First, I’d like to acknowledge the problem of evil, which is perhaps one of the most commonly cited arguments against the existence of god(s). The idea was first proposed by the Ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus sometime in the second or third century B.C. :

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.

Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.

Is he both willing and able? Then whence cometh evil?

Is he neither willing nor able? Then why call him God?

Also called the “Epicurean paradox,” this argument refutes the Abrahamic view of God as an omnipotent, benevolent being. A number of Christian apologists have countered that, “God gives humans free will, and humans do evil.” I have to agree with Christians here when they argue that in order for one to be good–or evil–they need free will. Otherwise we would just be, as Anthony Burgess puts it, “clockwork oranges”–programmed machines with the appearance of life. The argument of free will, however, does not cover every evil. Firstly, I believe many Christians would agree that it when an evil act is done, it is the act that is evil, and not the results of the act. God doesn’t need to stop someone from trying to murder someone, but if he’s omnipotent, then he can surely save the victim from the murder. If one disagrees with this, then one would have to believe that while murder is evil, attempted murder is all right. Secondly, all the people who are hurt or killed by natural occurrences, such as disease, storms, animals–these things do not have free will (well, most animals don’t). God might not stop the murderer from killing, but can he not stop the hurricanes from spinning, or disease from spreading?

One argument in support of the existence of God that you hear a lot is that “you can’t disprove God.” Even when I was religious, I never really liked this argument. It is a classic example of the argument from ignorance fallacy: something is true because it has not been proven false (or vice versa). There are two problems here. Firstly, according to many theists God transcends reason. This makes it impossible to use reason to argue against it. You could make any assertion and say it transcends reason, and there would be no way  to disprove it. Secondly, it is not always the case that something is true because it has or cannot be proven false. Bertrand Russell offered the well-known cosmic teapot analogy: if one claims that a teapot orbits the Sun somewhere in space between the Earth and Mars,  and that this teapot cannot be detected by our current technologies, he can’t expect others to believe him on the grounds he can’t be proven wrong. The burden of proof, Russell illustrates, lies upon the person making unfalsifiable claims.

And who could debate religion without mentioning St. Thomas of Aquinas? His most famous Christian apologies are known as the Five Proofs of God–the Argument of the Unmoved Mover, the Argument of the First Cause, the Argument of Contingency, the Argument from Degree, and the Teleological Argument. The first three are all cosmological arguments and are very related, so I’ll address the Argument of the First Cause–which is the most cohesive–as well as the last two arguments. The Argument of the First Cause goes as follows:

  • Some things are caused.
  • Everything that is caused is caused by something else.
  • An infinite regress of causation is impossible.
  • Therefore, there must be an uncaused cause.
  • The cause is what we call God.

Ever since the advent of quantum mechanics, it is unclear if St. Thomas Aquinas’s second premise is correct. On the quantum level, it has been observed that things come from nothing all the time. I, personally, am not quite sure how this works or if it is true; and if you don’t know something about the natural world, you should just accept that you don’t know and try to figure it out, for if you attribute what you don’t know to God then you know just as  little about God and you have not solved anything. Aquinas third premise is also debatable. Multiverse theory would allow for infinite regression. Another one of Aquinas’s proofs, the Argument of Contingency, asserts that it is impossible that everything in the universe is contingent, because that would mean that there was a time when there was nothing, which means that there would still be nothing, for there would be nothing to bring anything into existence. Therefore, there is something incontigent that caused it. But for all we know, existence might exist because nonexistence literally can’t exist! And if everything is caused by something else, than how can God be an uncaused cause?

Even if there were a supernatural being, uncaused cause, unmoved Mover, etc. and you were able to prove this being through reason, it is very unlikely that this would be the Judeo-Christian God. There is so much disagreement even between Jews and Christians about the characteristics of God and divinity, and when you add all the other faiths to the mix–worshipping the “right God” seems to be less probable than winning the lottery! I always used to think when I was Catholic that I worshipped the right God. It was obvious. But then I thought, ‘Hindus, Pagans, and Zoroastrians believe theirs is the right one just as much as I do. If they didn’t feel there’s was the right one, they wouldn’t be worshipping them in the first place!’ How can we even say that this uncaused cause is even a personal being? It could just as likely be, as in Russell’s analogy, a teapot that created everything, pouring everything into existence. This raises the question, “Who created the teapot?” The same question can be applied to God. I remember reading an article in Philosophy Now written by William Lane Craig where he jumps to the conclusion that whatever initially started the universe is personal, when this is certainly not the case. The best way to decide which God to believe in would be to take into mind Pascal’s Wager. Seventeenth-century philosopher, mathematician, and physicist Blaise Pascal states, rather honestly, that God cannot be proven. He continues, however, that God exists or he doesn’t. If he does exist, then the believer will gain infinite happiness when he dies and the nonbeliever will be punished forever. If he doesn’t exist, then the believer will suffer only a finite loss and the nonbeliever a finite gain. This means that nonbelievers, are either punished eternally or unaffected, whereas believers either gain infinite happiness or are unaffected. Therefore, the rational person should believe or learn to believe in God and not wager their life that he doesn’t exist.There are a few problems with this argument. Firstly, it presents a false dichotomy: either the Christian God or no god. As I stated above, the gods of Valhalla are just as probable as the Christian one. Therefore, if people accept Pascal’s Wager, they should join the religion possessing the best heaven and/or worst hell. In my opinion, this should converts Wagering Christian to Islam–a deep burning pit for hell, and 72 virgins in heaven.

I will include one more argument: the one from personal experience. Some people, including one’s I know, have said that they believe in God because they have personally experienced Him themselves. Whether or not that actually happened, such an experience can only offer substantial proof to the experiencer, and cannot be expected to persuade the nonbeliever–a fact acknowledged by some of those I know who claim to have had a spiritual experience. The only way to accept this argument then is to have an experience oneself, something I can say has never happened to me. I prayed everyday for more than 14 years, went to church every Sunday, I read the Bible, and I was an altar boy for a short time. I was a firm believer. I remember hearing about miracles, but I wondered why none affected anything in my life. Some people report different results, but none of my prayers were ever answered as far as I can remember. Even the smallest things I asked God for, even when I was really devoted, he never helped me in return.

But I’ve been ranting a while so I think it’s about time to wrap it up. I just believe what I can observe, and what I feel has enough supporting evidence. I concede that I don’t know everything about the universe; it’s as much a mystery to me as it is to believers. I don’t believe that the solution is to make things up. Even if there were a creator, I don’t believe we’d ever know enough to even basically characterize it. And if there is a God, well, in the words of Bertrand Russell when asked what he would say if he died and God were real:  

‘God,’ I shall say, ‘God, why did you make the evidence for your existence so insufficient?’

The great Bertrand Russell

_________________________

A few short articles and entries I’d suggest:

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Bill Gates, the Government, and Neo-Luddism

Last Thursday, Business Insider published an article about Bill Gates’s statement of the coming revolutionary economic and social changes we will face in the next 20 years: ‘Bots are taking away jobs!’ Mechanic laborers, Gates posits, will be the cause of drastic adjustments in many different industry in regards to labor demand that will put many out of work. This philosophy is known as Neo-Luddism– the opposition to modern technology. Among the various reasons for this technophobic outlook are the industrial effects machines can have on employment. The influence of these workers and their unions’ fear of advancement in production can be seen in the many labor laws and make-work practices made into law.  I never would’ve thought, however, that I would hear such aversion to technological improvement from the former CEO of Microsoft. But I would like to argue that all these are positive developments. I concede there will be some pains involved for certain workers in certain industries, which I will address later, and that jobs will initially be lost by some, but it will be worth it in the end. After all, where else have we heard the ‘stealing our jobs’ argument before: illegal immigrants. As I pointed out in this post,  however, accepting more workers into our nation will help expand and improve our economy. In a very non-racist way, the robots are just like the Mexicans in this case because they free up workers who can then be allocated to industries in which they are more efficient, the machines are more productive, and it will ultimately benefit both the producer and consumer.

The belief that machinery causes net unemployment and economic problems has been proven wrong time and time again. It all started back in one of my favorite eras of history: the Industrial Revolution, when the newly created labor-saving machinery of the time threatened the jobs of the textile workers, or so it seemed at the time. Sir Richard Arkwright had just created the spinning frame, which dramatically reduced the work needed to produce threads for yarn. The conventional spinning wheel needed one skilled operator to spin one thread. Arkwright’s new spinning frame, known as the water frame because it was water-powered, was so ingeniously invented in such a way that it took one unskilled operator to produce 128 threads at a time. Being right at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, this had never happened before on such a large scale, and was bound to have a great effect on the economy. This efficiency,  the workers believed, would cause massive unemployment. 128 people out of work for every one person kept– that’s more than 99% unemployment. To protest this horrifying turn of events, stocking frames and other new equipment were smashed (see the picture above), factories destroyed, and Arkwright received many a death threat. Fortunately for the working class, however, technology and its effect on unemployment did not and does not work the way they thought, for instead of the expected result, employment actually increased 4,400% from 7,900 to 320,000 people! And the standard of living increased, too. Why is this?

In his introduction to economics and most famous book Economics in One Lesson, Henry Hazlitt explains, in a chapter titled, “The Curse of Machinery”. Because of the scarcity of goods, people try to economize their resources to produce more efficiently and cost-effectively. They try to answer the question “How can I produce more for the same amount of labor?” To illustrate the effect of how a capitalist addresses this question, I shall artisan like the ones in the cotton-spinning industry mentioned above. A capitalist has, let’s say, 128 workers. Through his friend and business partner Sir Arkwright, he purchases a water frame, and drops all but one worker in his work force. Because of the new invention, both the 127 workers’ jobs and the capitalist’s investment in the old method of production and therefore the jobs of those workers are lost. This definitely look like unemployment in the short run, and it makes sense that the workers were scared of these new developments. Many of them had a hard time recovering financially. But to look at just the unemployment as permanent and a net loss is to be mistaken. Firstly, the very creation of the technology creates employment, or as George W. Bush so poetically put it, “When somebody makes a machine, it means there’s jobs at the machine-making place.”  And often, labor-saving machinery requires a person to operate it. Since exchanges are only made if one values what they’re purchasing more than what they’re giving up, it would mean that the water frame’s work was worth more than the work of the people laid off. Once the profit from the thread produced by the  water frame makes up its cost, that translates into profits. With the invention being more efficient than the workers’ labor, the capitalist gains more profits than he would before. Profits, with which he can do any or all of three things: use it to buy more machines to make more thread, invest, or consume, all of which increases employment in more industries. And the extra production and competition caused lead to lower prices, which passes the benefit unto the consumer. Because the consumers now have extra money they left over that they otherwise wouldn’t have had, they do the same three things the capitalist did, they invest in production, or they consume and invest in other aspects of the economy. This cycle continues, maximizing the production and profits of all involved and vitalizing the economy. Such innovation either increases production which increases wages, or lowers prices, increasing what one can buy with one’s wages. With all the government regulations and restrictions concerning labor and unions today, however, this becomes more difficult. Many relics of Franklin Roosevelt that damaged the economy and  infringed on the right of employers and employees to make voluntary contracts are still present today. Despite this, technological innovation will raise the standards of living for all of society.

So Mr. Gates, there’s no need to fear robotic labor. For when you follow that view to its conclusion, any piece of technology invented reduced employment, and caused economic stagnation. But this is not the case. When agriculture was pioneered and perfected, it freed up our ancestors from all needing to hunt and gather. It lead to and outburst in art, science, productivity, recreation, and higher quality of life. It lead to civilization. Imagine what the world will be like when labor is automated! Karl Marx’s vision where one can “do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, and rear cattle in the evening” can be realized, not through communism, but through the most capitalist process there is: production for a profit.

 

UPDATE: I’d like to refer you to this article about protectionist policies at work. It concerns the legislation passed to limit the sales of Tesla Cars. It really makes it evident that it’s special interests, not just economic ignorance, that is the cause. Hopefully, it will end on a happier note, however. Over 70 economists and law professors have signed a letter opposing the anti-Tesla direct automobile distribution ban.

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The Fall of Mt. Gox and Why to Buy Bitcoin

 It may seem odd, but at a time when every major news source was reporting the end of Bitcoin, I bought my first Bitcoin today using the Coinbase exchange. While I am new to Bitcoin itself, I have been following its community, primarily via /r/Bitcoin, and from the looks of it, this “crash” pales in comparison to previous ones. How I see it is that Mt. Gox needed to die, and now that’s it’s behind us the Bitcoin community can grow even bigger and better. I’ve never trusted that exchange very much, what with all the trading incidents and stories of being unable to withdraw one’s own money. Despite the recent events that stirred commotion in the world of cryptocurrency, I think that this is one of the best times to get started.

First off, assuming the BTC economy will strengthen, one can buy low right now. At the time this post was written, 1 BTC goes for $540.55 to $560 depending one which exchange. As we’ve witnessed in the past, Bitcoin is fully capable of surpassing $1,000. Secondly, and I’m I disappointed with the media for causing confusion about this, the problem lay in the Mt. Gox exchange specifically, and not the currency itself. Just as one may get scammed when using U.S. Dollars or the Euro or any currency, but you cannot get scammed by the currency itself, this was the case with Bitcoin. And with the paranoia of a “Bitcoin Scam,” came attention from the government, one of the very institutions whose lack of presence in this currency as made it so popular.

Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) has actually called for a complete ban on Bitcoin, just like China and Thailand (because of course that’s where we should get our policy from), writing that it is “disruptive to our economy. If one wants to read his complete letter, Business Insider did an article on it. I’d like to use this post to respond.

Here starts out with:

I write today to express my concerns about Bitcoin. This virtual currency is currently unregulated and has allowed users to participate in illicit activity, while also being highly unstable and disruptive to our economy.

Allowed user’s to participate in illicit activity? What does he think people usually buy illegal drugs with and is still used in such transactions today? The dollar! Why don’t we ban that too‽ Any currency can be used to buy anything so long as that vendor is willing to accept it in payment. A currency is a commodity just like any other. And as far as it being “disruptive”, it’s pretty clear just by looking at the Coin’s value that there’s pretty high demand for it, and that any government intervention would be many times more disruptive.

Bitcoin is a crypto-currency that has gained notoriety in recent months due to its rising exchange value and relation to illegal transactions . . . [which has made] Bitcoin attractive to some also attract criminals who are able to disguise their actions from law enforcement. Due to Bitcoin’s anonymity, the virtual market has been extremely susceptible to hackers and scam artists stealing millions from Bitcoins users.”

Once again, this brings us back to the argument for banning the dollar. And it’s plain to see that if people continue to trade BTC despite the “dangers” that it does not pose a sufficient threat enough to discourage its use.

It has been banned in two different countries—Thailand and China [and the European Union has] issued warnings to Bitcoin users as their respective governments consider options for regulating or banning its use entirely. I am most concerned that as Bitcoin is inevitably banned in other countries, Americans will be left holding the bag on a valueless currency.

Why can’t Manchin understand that that is the market’s issue to deal with? And Bitcoin’s ban is nowhere near inevitable. The Swiss Government has proposed treating it like any other foreign currency.

As of December 2013, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) shows 1.3% inflation, while a recent media report indicated Bitcoin CPI has 98% deflation. In other words, spending Bitcoin now will cost you many orders of wealth in the future. This flaw makes Bitcoin’s value to the U.S. economy suspect, if not outright detrimental.

Senator Manchin is correct in asserting that deflation discourages consuming in the present. But what it does do is encourage investment. The alternative to using Bitcoin is using the inflationary dollar. Just as deflation discourages present, consumer spending, inflation encourages it. But when that inflation is caused by a government or bank creating money or credit out of thin air and loaning it, it causes investment in places where there naturally would be no demand, and when the investment percolates down to the consumer, in the form of higher wages and incomes, the malinvestment is exposed and must be liquidated, these liquidations being known as depressions, which need only be fleeting as long as government does not try to keep wages, incomes, prices, and spending at pre-depression levels which, unfortunately, is usually the government’s way of “tackling” depressions. Inflations and deflations in the value of money are sustainable given the right demand, if it is in a free market setting, but this is not the case with the dollar

He  goes on to say that is dangerous and we should stop it before it “hurts hard-working Americans.” I don’t know about that; it didn’t seem to hurt people such as Jered Kenna, Charlie Shrem, or Roger Ver. The letter was addressed to various government officials and financial regulators, one of them being the Federal Reserve Chairwoman, Mrs. Janet Yellen. I have to admit that so far I have not been a very big fan of Yellen so far, due to her view on inflation. Nonetheless, I was glad to here yesterday that she responded to Senator Manchin that the Federal Reserve does not have the authority to regulate Bitcoin: “Bitcoin is a payment innovation that’s taking place outside the banking industry. To the best of my knowledge there’s no intersection at all, in any way, between Bitcoin and banks that the Federal Reserve has the ability to supervise and regulate. So the fed doesn’t have authority to supervise or regulate Bitcoin in anyway. One concern with Bitcoin is the potential for money laundering. [FinCen] has indicated their money laundering statutes are adequate to meet enforcement needs. The Fed doesn’t have authority with respect to Bitcoin, but certainly it would be appropriate for Congress to ask questions about what the right legal structure would be for digital currencies. My understanding is Bitcoin doesn’t touch [American] banks.” She finishes that even if they were to try, it would be difficult to regulate, saying, “It’s not so easy to regulate Bitcoin because there’s no central issuer or network operator. This is a decentralized, global [entity].”

So despite what they tell you, this is the best time to start using bitcoins. You can buy low, transaction fees are extremely low, it’s anonymous, allowing you to buy black market goods (and I’d like to point out here that the black market is not inherently evil. There’s the white market, which is the mainstream economy, the black market, which is the underground economy, and the red market, which is the violence-and-theft economy. There are overlaps between them in some cases, but anything black or white, and not red, is completely morally justified in my opinion. Sorry, this was a long parenthetical phrase; and I don’t think your supposed to have multiple sentences inside these), it’s peer-to-peer, so there’s no middleman, and it’s completely decentralized, so there is no central banks controlling it, so no government can control the currency. No more artificial booms followed by very real busts; booms and busts will still exist, only the market will solve its own problems. Let’s get Bitcoin back on track so it can go to the moon!

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The Road to Serfdom

After having read The Hobbit, I decided to pick up a text from a completely different genre: The Road to Serfdom by F. A. Hayek. This book was published in 1944 just as the catastrophe of World War II was winding down, and the threat of totalitarianism seemed to be defeated. “Something like that,” people would think when Germany or Italy were called to mind, “would never happen here.” Much to Europe’s chagrin, this was not the case; with Hayek calling attention to the concern that we too, in the England, the United States, and the rest of the free world, are in danger of becoming exactly the horror we just fought. Being written immediately after we defeated the Axis Powers with the help of the Soviets, The Road to Serfdom was published at a time when many turned to communist and socialist ideas. As Hayek demonstrates in his book, however, totalitarianism was not a reaction to the socialism and economic planning of our Soviet friends, but rather, it was a result of following these ideologies to their conclusions.

Photo Credits to Wikimedia

After beginning with observation on the then-current socialism-ization of political philosophy in society, Hayek goes onto to prove the liberal case for government amidst an ever-growing base of supporters of economic planning. The book describes how socialism, although seen as nothing more than a philosophy of equality and the common good, in order to achieve the common good, requires a systematic method applied by a government. In socialism, in order to reach this goal, all property in society must be unified, and the people must become a collective that will work towards this objective. In liberalism, on the other hand, there is no such common goal, as people are more individualist. Since different needs rank above or below others to different people in each’s definition of the common good, the problem with socialism is that since no universal ethical code exists, one must be forced on the people, and their needs will be ranked by the ethical code of  the government, even if said code is immoral. In liberal societies, where there is Rule of Law, i.e. restrictions on government, government is confined to only certain types of regulation, and within the laws that government can pass, the people may do as the please. The difference in planned societies is that, as their is no such Rule of Law (and can’t be one if full planning is to be allowed), the government may enforce arbitrary laws, and become a moral institution in the way I mentioned above. Because of this, planned societies are inherently dictatorial, and a man’s money is controlled by the government. And “where the sole employer is the state,”  objects Trotsky to Stalinist measures, “the old principle: who does not work shall not eat, has been replaced by a new one: who does not obey shall not eat.”

After giving an exhaustive argument for the dangers of a planned societies, Hayek traces the fascist Nazi movement to it’s socialist roots, explains why the worst become the leaders, and lays out his view for what must be done. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in political philosophy, libertarianism, or socialism. Because if there’s one thing I think most of us can agree with Hayek: “A policy of freedom for the individual,” he finishes, “is the only truly progressive policy.”

__________

My reading list

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Invisible (RED) by U2

Hello readers. You may have seen the Super Bowl advertisement for U2’s new song, “Invisible.” For every person that downloads it, Bank of America will donate $1 to (RED) to help fight HIV/AIDS. Oh, and I forgot to mention it’s free.

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February 3, 2014 · 1:12 pm

A Case For Open Borders

Photo Credits to Wikimedia

I was reading a Forbes article last year, and one line really struck me: “More people have died trying to cross over from Mexico in the past decade than were killed on Sept. 11.” As someone who has known both a victim of 9/11 and a few illegal immigrants, this really made me rethink my view on immigration. I realized that my view on how to handle the border with Mexico was inconsistent with my belief in the free market and the non-aggression principle. I viewed the flow of illegals (which is what I called them at that time; now I believe that  ‘undocumented’ is a better word) into this country as something to be stopped or prevented. I would now like to make a libertarian case for open borders. The United States, or any other country for that matter, should not restrict immigration because opening borders would be beneficial to the economy, and be consistent with the American ideals of liberty and freedom.

Immigrants should be let in because it would be a profitable, free-market solution for both us and the immigrants. Some conservatives would be among the first to object to protectionism in trade. Blocking goods from other nations or imposing tariffs, they will say, interferes with the free market in two negative ways. First, a tariff of $500 on a foreign good just taxes the consumer that $500, as Henry Hazlitt explains splendidly in Economics in One Lesson (skip to Chapter 11 or watch this video). It shifts the cost from the producer, who through government has put in place laws protecting their special interests, to the consumer. Second, it interferes with price signals. One major benefit of capitalism that even socialists will admit is that competition drives down cost and up quality. To outcompete one’s competitors, the obvious solution is to make better quality goods, or to lower the price. Protectionism makes both options, especially the second option, the one to lower the prices, more difficult, and this both makes it costlier for the consumer, and does not give incentive for the American companies to innovate. Protectionism is nothing other than a limiting to whom you can trade with, and the whole point of capitalism is that you trade with whoever has the lowest prices and best products. I wrote more about the detriments of protectionism in this earlier post. So if the free flow of goods and services across borders is viewed by conservatives as favorable, why then do they disagree with the logically following conclusion that the free flow of providers of services across borders is also beneficial?

The fact is that immigration and open borders are economically desirable. The common conservative response is that “they’re stealing the jobs of hard-working Americans.” But the one who should decide who gets the job is the employer, so that job was not stolen by the immigrant, rather,  the foreigner offered better prices or better quality work than the American would. As economist Bryan Caplan notes, “immigration restrictions are akin to forcibly preventing a potential competitor from appearing at a job interview in order to increase one’s chances of getting a job.” To this, our conservative may say something along the lines of, “Well, they are working for lower wages than Americans would work for.” What this overlooks is that a) this will incentivize Americans to work more productively, to innovate more and raise capital accumulation, as to raise their wages, and b) that even if the employer does hire the immigrant for lower wages, the money that the employer saves is reinvested in different sections of the economy. One only needs to apply the broken window fallacy’s premise from Frédéric Bastiat’s famous essay, “What is Seen, and What is Unseen” to this situation to see how breaking the window that is immigrant labor negatively affects the American economy. I’m sure most of you reading this are libertarian, and are familiar with this logical fallacy, but for those who are not I will provide the parable here, paraphrased, of course:

A baker is in his bakery when a rock comes flying through is window. Everyone gathers around. At first they feel bad for him, but then they think, “Well, if this never happened, what would become of the glazier. Destruction is a blessing. The baker will pay $250 to the glazier, who will then buy from the the tailor, for example, and then the tailor from the shoemaker, and so on, and it will help the whole economy.” They, however, fail to see that if you follow this premise to its logical conclusion, it would be profitable to destroy everything one could get one’s hands on. They fail to see that had the window not been destroyed, the baker would have used that $250 dollars for something else. He would have bought from the tailor, who then would have bought from the shoemaker, and so on, helping the whole economy. What they fail to see is that with the window broken, the economy is now one window’s worth worse off. Hence the title, “What is Seen, and What is Unseen.” The people believe destruction is a blessing because they can see the benefits of that, but cannot see the disadvantages, nor can they see the even greater benefits of the absence of the destruction.

If one applies this to the effect of  the restriction of immigrants on the economy, one will come to the same result:

Smith hires Julio, who produces $50 an hour. But along comes Senator ‘Murica McFreedom!!1!11!! who passes a law which deports Julio, since he did not wait the 131 years that some Mexicans must wait for citizenship before crossing the border for a job. Smith must now hire John, who only produces $30 an hour (if John had been more productive than Julio, he would have been hired before the law went into effect). An American might say that this is good. An American has a job and will produce $30 an hour, which will be used to buy from the American tailor, who will buy from the American shoemaker. What these Americans, just like the ones who gathered around the bakery, fail to understand is that the same effect would have manifested, but to a greater extent, with Julio being employed. They fail to see that America is now $20 an hour worse off. And this is not just me making some guess as to what might happen with open borders; this has already happened. The recent arrival of many new “foreign workers between 1990 and 2004 has raised native-born Americans’ wages by 2%” according to research by Gianmarco Ottaviano of Bologna University and  Giovanni Peri of University of California, Davis. And Texas, whose economy during this recession is doing better perhaps than any other state, also enjoys the second highest undocumented immigrant population of any state. There is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that freeing up the economy by opening borders would be a fantastic choice. It would double, that’s right, double, the world GDP. And for those that still don’t want immigrants, then open borders advocates have some (counterintuitively) good news. It betters both the receiving and the sending countries. Remember that the Mexican Government, too, wants tax money. In a kind of international, somewhat-capitalistic way, the loss of workers would incentivize the Mexican government to better their country, as to keep people at home and draw back the Mexican-Americans. I think I’ve illustrated pretty well how open immigration would be favorable. But that’s just gravy. The real reason to free us from the rule of these arbitrary lines on a map is the moral reason.

The American Dream: the long-held traditional ethos that through hard work, no matter the color of skin, nationality, sex, creed, etc., one can become prosperous and live a happy, peaceful life. Why then, do we deny this dream to our friends to the south? They may be born in Mexico, but to risk one’s life to earn an honest day’s work in a foreign land, in my opinion, makes one an honorary ‘Murican. People should be free to immigrate/emigrate between not just the U.S. and Mexico, but every nation, because no one, whether a politician or just your average criminal, has any right to restrict or infringe upon one’s life, liberty, property, or pursuit of happiness.

To prove this I must first digress to the subject of property (in a moral sense, not a legal one). In principle, there are only two ways to acquire property. The first is purchasing previously owned property in voluntary exchange. The second is to homestead, improve, or develop upon unowned property. Although the papers all say that the Federal Government of the U.S. owns thousands upon thousands of acres of forests and fields, it does not, in a moral or philosophical sense, own anything at all. “The government spends millions on improving the nation and providing helpful services,” one might retort. But those millions (or billions or trillions) of dollars are property too. Did the government acquire them through voluntary exchange? I don’t think so.

So getting back to the original topic, the government has no right to restrict movement between countries because a government does not own the land it occupies, and must initiate force in order to keep one in or outside of its borders. All a border is, anarcho-capitalist philosopher Stefan Molyneux declares, is “where one violent, homicidal, psychopathic warlord ran up against another violent, homicidal, psychopathic warlord.” While this is taken to an extreme in a way (not that that’s a bad thing) it shows that the lines on a map are completely arbitrary. The fundamental cornerstone of philosophy of liberty is the non-aggression principle: the axiom that it is immoral to initiate an act of force or fraud against someone else. Nothing about crossing an imaginary line to work for a more prosperous life pursuing your dream violates this at all. To put this kind of thing in the same category as theft, rape, and murder is appalling. On the contrary, the act of shooting those who cross these lines is in direct conflict with the NAP. The fact that people support these kinds of measures show how detached people are from the results of government actions. Your average American would never kill someone based on the knowledge that this person is not authorized to be here, and yet somehow it makes it okay that we elect government officials to do these heinous crimes for us. Before I sign off I want to offer one (admittedly cliché hypothetical). Imagine you live in the southern part of Texas. Due to some serious governmental screw-ups in the State Department, Mexico now hates us and begins an invasion. You were born and raised in America, and yet now the lines shifted somewhat north and suddenly your cut off. To not be able to go to the newly-defined America and trade and work in their economy, you would object, would be unfair. How then, is this any different if the borders are pre-defined?

In conclusion, of all the things government should not have power over, immigration is one of them. The reason the basic human right of movement between different different places must not be restricted is that it would interfere with both the economic perks and with liberty, among other basic American values. And if I have not convinced all of you conservatives and small-government types (I’m looking at you, Friedmanites and Tea Partiers!) and you want more evidence that it’s beneficial: Paul Krugman is against it! No one should be able to tell you where you can and cannot go. And if you really believe illegal immigration is wrong, then go back to Europe, because we weren’t always here.

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The Hobbit

It wasn’t easy, but I recently got rid of all the TV-watching in my life, and I am trying to do away with the useless things I do on the web (I’m looking at you, Reddit!). To fill the newly opened slots of time in my day, I have taken up reading books and practicing music. I started to jot down a grocery list-like catalog of books to check out next time I go to the bookstore, and it quickly spiraled into a back-logged lineup that will take a while to finish, (I will include what I have so far in this Google doc, and probably update it from there.

Image Credits to Wikimedia

Said list begins with none other than the magnificent J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, or There and Back Again. No true fantasy novel reader’s library would be complete with out this 1937 classic. The novel follows Bilbo Baggins, a reserved hobbit who never did anything out of the ordinary, until one day he meets the wizard Gandalf and a company of thirteen dwarves, who sing of reclaiming their treasure from the Lonely Mountain, which has been taken over by the dragon Smaug. Together they kindle the adventurous side of Bilbo, and embark on a journey through dark forests and raging storms, past goblins, and werewolves, and orcs. Although Bilbo starts off as little more than a burden on the others at the beginning of the story, he ends up being the possible most heroic and invaluable member of the team. It shows that there is some inner, if undeveloped, heroism that exists in everyone, whether one’s a mighty hero or even a simple hobbit.

The interesting thing about this book is that while it is a fictional fairy tale, some of the ideas and motifs it includes, such as warfare, mirror the authors life. Many believe that the Battle of Five Armies, the fight that ensued as soon as the dragon was slain– with elves, dwarves, and men on one side, and the Wargs and goblins on the other– was influenced by J.R.R. Tolkien’s own history as a World War I veteran.

Although it is labeled a children’s novel, one can never really grow out of it. It was extremely enjoyable to me in my first reading of it now at 15 years of age. I would suggest this to anyone who likes fantasy novels, adventure novels, fairy tales, Norse myths, or any other mythology for that matter. I would also urge anyone who liked the movie to read the book. I have not seen the movie myself, as of yet, and, unfortunately, I hear it is nowhere near as good as the book. So even if you didn’t like the movie, read the book; it’s great.

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The Pros a̶n̶d̶ ̶C̶o̶n̶s̶ of E-Readers

Photo Credits to Amazon.com

I just got my very own Kindle Paperwhite! Thank you, Amazon! It probably just surpassed my 3Ds as my favorite handheld device. I figured I should purchase such a gadget one day after an English class in which, in the few minutes between the quiz and the end of the period, we had a discussion on the subject of e-books. One thing that I found interesting in the class discussion was that my English teacher did, in fact, not like e-readers. I have heard this argument a number of times: real books are better than e-books. While I can’t disagree that it is always nice to be able to hold the physical copy in your hand, because of the smell and feeling of the paper, I do believe that there’s nothing not to like about e-readers.

I figure, whatever encourages people to read, that’s good! With all the vapid crap on TV and in the movies today (and I must admit that this is the problem in some books, but to a lesser extent), it is nice that people are turning to the written word, and if it’s an electronic medium that draws them, what difference does that make? In fact, according to a recent Forbes article by Jeremy Greenfield, more Americans than ever are reading e-books. “Some 28% of U.S. adults have read an e-book in the past year, up from 23% a year ago.”  and “two-thirds of children aged 2-13 are reading e-books [up from] 54%.” Some people might argue, though, that while the popularity of reading e-books is going up, that of reading physical books is down by the same amount. For instance, Amazon announced in 2010 that the sale of e-books had surpassed the sale of paperback books. This notion, however, is not the case. According to a Pew poll, 69% of adults are reading printed books this year, up from 65% last year. And if I may cite myself as evidence to back this up, I would like to add that I have probably purchased more print books as a direct result of my Kindle. This  year reading has just become overall more popular. It’s very easy to discover new books using the platform it does, that is, bringing the bookstore to you. Since getting it, within less then a month I have read 10 sic-fi novels (a genre that I have only got into through my Kindle), a Bitcoin buying, selling, and investment guide, and copies of both Reason and Philosophy Now magazines, as well as a daily subscription to the New York Times. Through my e-reader, I have become interested in new works, and have went on to buy the actual books in the actual bookstore. By reading my Kindle, I became interested in Leo Tolstoy, which is why just yesterday I purchased my own printed copy of War and Peace.

The e-book market will not kill the printed books market, as many believe. Rather, they will grow together, as a result of one another.

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Non-Interventionism ≠ Isolationism

This article was originally published on The Libertarian. If I may direct you back to my first post, where I explained why I started this blog in the first place, I wrote this:
Some months ago, while I was browsing reddit (which I do too much of– I must stop) I wrote a libertarian-leaning comment on a political thread. Another user, a writer for a libertarian blog, asked if I wanted to contribute weekly articles. I accepted and I got to work. Unfortunately however, I only lasted two articles until I got too busy, and starting procrastinating even while I was busy, and it was a hectic time as there was much testing going in school, so I stopped writing. While home from school over the weekend, I got bored and figured I wanted to do that writing thing again, so here it is.
This article was one of those two. 
 

Image Credits to fineartamerica.com

Many critics of the libertarian movement criticize our foreign policy as being “isolationist.” They say we believe in cutting ourselves off from the rest of the world. Meanwhile, they suggest we need hyper-interventionist policies, for we need to embrace our role as the greatest and most powerful nation on earth, as if the only way to demonstrate this is to invade foreign countries. But the myth that libertarianism is isolationist is as far as can be from the truth. A better word to describe our beliefs on how to deal with the rest of the globe would be “non-interventionist.” America should adopt a policy of non-interventionism, because it would eliminate negative reactions to our intervention from various nations without costing us a dime.

True isolationism violates the core beliefs of libertarianism because, among other things, it bars free trade. Isolationist doctrine consists of two policies. On one hand, it includes non-interventionism, the belief that governments should avoid alliances with other nations, as well as avoiding all wars, except in self-defense. This healthy policy, introduced into American politics by Thomas Paine, in his essay Common Sense,, prevents us from getting caught up with the complicated affairs of other countries. On the other hand, however, isolationism includes protectionism, the belief that there should be legal barriers controlling trade and cultural exchange. Protectionists support tariffs, embargoes, sanctions, and many other kinds of government meddling in the exchange of goods and wealth between countries.

Protectionism violates the principles of economic and social freedom. It should be a basic right of any American citizen to freely trade, travel, and peacefully interact with any country in any way he or she pleases.

At a more practical level, the problem with protectionism is that it just doesn’t protect. Take, for example, tariffs on imported goods. Say the government imposes a tariff on foreign automobiles, shielding American carmakers from foreign competition. If an American car is $30,000, and an otherwise comparable foreign car is $25,000, a tariff of $5,000 might be placed on foreign cars to even out prices. It could be argued that the government is protecting the American automobile industry by giving consumers an incentive to buy American.

However, America is not actually being benefited, nor is our economy being protected. The only thing this does is tax every U.S. citizen who wants to buy a foreign car an extra $5,000. The hypothetical foreign car is produced more efficiently; it is of equal quality yet produced more cheaply. Producers should, and otherwise would, be rewarded by the market for such achievements. Consumers would be able to recognize such an accomplishment simply by noticing the lower cost for essentially the same product. The more efficient producer would then attract more customers.

Such “price signals,” as they are known, create a vital incentive to improve efficiency, but the tariff would remove the appropriate price signal to consumers. By interfering with competition in this way, the government insures that American consumers will pay higher prices than necessary. Foreign companies will also receive less benefit from improving the efficiency of their production, and thus have less incentive to invest in such improvements. Domestic producers, then, will not need to compete with foreign producers on an equal footing. Without this competitive pressure, they too will be less likely to improve efficiency. The end result of any nation sheltering its industries from the competition of any other nation is less efficient industry and higher prices for the consumer.

Libertarian foreign policy is that of the Founding Fathers. In his first inaugural address, Thomas Jefferson called for “peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.” These early Americans’ support for such a method of interaction with other countries is often dismissed as irrelevant with the excuse, “They lived in much simpler times.” It is easy to denigrate the wisdom of the past in this way, but it is not as easy to actually justify the policies that we operate under today.

As a Christian Libertarian, I like to point out the opinion that the medieval theologian Saint Thomas Aquinas, arguably one of the greatest thinkers in the history of the Christian faith, had on foreign military intervention. As Ron Paul writes in The Revolution: A Manifesto, there were certain conditions that Aquinas believed were necessary for a just war. His theological predecessors during the Roman Empire, Saint Ambrose and Saint Augustine, agreed with these views. The war in Iraq, Paul writes, did not fulfill those criteria. First, there was no act of aggression on the part of Iraq. “We are 6,000 miles away from Iraq,” Paul writes, so they hardly posed a credible threat. The stories we were told about unmanned drones were, to say the least, not especially plausible. Secondly, diplomatic solutions had not been exhausted. “They had hardly been tried,” Paul goes on to write.

It should come as no surprise to Americans that negative consequences could arise as a result of disregarding these restrictions. Various other US interventions have produced terrible “blowback,” the CIA term for unintended negative consequences for the US caused by their covert interference in other countries. U.S. lawmakers should reconsider their actions and the reactions that result if they seriously wish to protect our nation.

 

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