Study their behaviors. Observe their territorial boundaries. Leave their habitat as you found it. Report any signs of intelligence.

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Monday, September 19, 2011

4 Extra Quizzes Hidden At

The Political Compass quiz buries the analytic elegance of the 2-D Nolan Chart under the creaking weight of at least four other political dimensions.  The Nolan Chart diagnoses the left/right spectrum as a diagonal slice across a 2-D space defined by dimensions of economic self-governance and personal self-governance.  It reveals that libertarianism and authoritarianism are neither left nor right, and that left-authoritarians are similar to right-authoritarians.

Political Compass has 30 questions that are almost evenly divided between measuring economic self-governance and personal self-governance. These 30 questions would make a reasonably good Nolan quiz -- if the Compass designers hadn't tilted the chart 45 degrees when they mistakenly labeled the two ends of the economic axis as "left" and "right".  Compounding their errors, they add 32 other questions that don't measure either of the two Nolan dimensions, but instead measure four other attitudes that the quiz designers seem to think correlate with the labels they want to examine.  Here they are:


  1. I'd always support my country, whether it was right or wrong.
  2. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
  3. Military action that defies international law is sometimes justified.
  4. No one chooses his or her country of birth, so it's foolish to be proud of it.
  5. Our race has many superior qualities, compared with other races.
  6. There are no savage and civilised peoples; there are only different cultures.
  7. People are ultimately divided more by class than by nationality.
  8. All people have their rights, but it is better for all of us that different sorts of people should keep to their own kind.
  9. First-generation immigrants can never be fully integrated within their new country.
  1. All authority should be questioned.
  2. Good parents sometimes have to spank their children.
  3. The most important thing for children to learn is to accept discipline.
  4. Making peace with the establishment is an important aspect of maturity.
  5. It's natural for children to keep some secrets from their parents.
  6. In a civilised society, one must always have people above to be obeyed and people below to be commanded.
  1. The prime function of schooling should be to equip the future generation to find jobs.
  2. What's good for the most successful corporations is always, ultimately, good for all of us.
  3. Abstract art that doesn't represent anything shouldn't be considered art at all.
  4. The businessperson and the manufacturer are more important than the writer and the artist.
  5. If economic globalisation is inevitable, it should primarily serve humanity rather than the interests of trans-national corporations.
  6. It is regrettable that many personal fortunes are made by people who simply manipulate money and contribute nothing to their society.
  7. There is now a worrying fusion of information and entertainment.
  8. It's a sad reflection on our society that something as basic as drinking water is now a bottled, branded consumer product.
  1. Mothers may have careers, but their first duty is to be homemakers.
  2. You cannot be moral without being religious.
  3. It is important that my child's school instills religious values.
  4. Sex outside marriage is usually immoral.
  5. No one can feel naturally homosexual.
  6. It's fine for society to be open about sex, but these days it's going too far.
None of the above 29 questions addresses whether one thinks politics should govern ones personal or economic choices.  The remaining 3 of the 32 non-germane questions are simply bizarre:
  1. When you are troubled, it's better not to think about it, but to keep busy with more cheerful things.
  2. Some people are naturally unlucky.
  3. Astrology accurately explains many things.
The Compass doubles down on its silliness by then precisely plotting quiz results for Ghandi and the Dalai Lama and two dozen classical music composers.  And in its eagerness to diagnose so many kinds of political incorrectness, the 60+ questions of the quiz fail to cover the following issues:

  • Personal
    • Freedom of speech
    • Freedom of religion
    • Personal risk-taking
    • Self-defense
    • Drugs other than marijuana
  • Economic
    • Corporate & farm subsidies
    • Retirement
    • Education
    • Health care
    • Financial risk-taking
    • Freedom of contract
Fortunately, there is a high-precision Nolan quiz that covers a full menu of policy questions without extraneous questions trying to measure political correctness.  For an interactive version of the quiz, click this image:

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Rivalry, Copyright, and Patents

For those who think that free copying will lead to the underproduction of new information, please explain why we don’t seem to have a dearth of architectural styles, jokes, riddles, hairstyles, perfume scents, tattoo designs, fashion designs, flower arrangements, landscape designs, furniture designs, bumper stickers, web site layouts, children’s names, mottoes, neologisms, definitions, playlists, dance moves, and recipes.

Why doesn’t the person who originally created that value own it and so own the ability to control it? For the same reason that the standup comic you saw at the comedy club shouldn’t be allowed to charge you for another ticket you every time you remember one of his jokes. If you create information that is valuable, what you own is not the information, but rather an option to disclose it (or not) through your freedom of association. You’re free to try to profit from that option through some combination of contract, insurance, bonding, watermarking, accrued reputation, tipping, etc. But you’re not free to impose your own price on someone who has never contracted with you about it and who isn’t putting his own price tag on it.

What is completely non-rivalrous cannot be property. So while you can’t own information per se, you should be able to own the reputational and commercial advantage of being the original creator of information, because those advantages are rivalrous. Therefore copyright should at most protect you from people selling the information you created, or from claiming they created it.

How to apply this logic to patents? Through a patent value tax.

Communities may for a limited fixed term grant exclusive rights in their jurisdiction to profit from an invention, in exchange for an annual tax to the community that is a fraction of the inventor's declared value for it, with that fraction increasing linearly to unity by the end of the patent's term. Anyone may buy the patent by paying the current owner more than owner's declared value, as long as the buyer also pays the incremental patent value tax. Patent applicants must publish a precise description of the problem being solved. For that problem anyone may then publicly register prior art, any subsequent use of which is not considered infringing. If other inventors file patents for the same solution before that solution's first patent is issued, then none of them may enforce their patents until they all agree on how to share ownership.

The term of a patent should ideally be the time it would take for the invention to become obvious to other practitioners. It would be nice to have a market mechanism to set the term of an patent at the time of its filing or issue. The mechanism would need to punish inventors who overestimate the non-obviousness of their invention. I haven't been able to think up such a mechanism.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Rescuing Robin Hanson's Inner Libertarian

Robin Hanson may very well be the clearest and deepest thinker on the planet, so it's no small problem when he blogs "Why I'm Not Libertarian".  Let's see if we can rescue his inner libertarian.

Public goods: intellectual property.  Hanson claims: "You have no fundamental right to enjoy the innovations produced by others without compensating them."  A libertarian would counter: you have no fundamental right to give innovations away and then demand compensation from those who chose to enjoy them at your initial offering price. If you can use contracts or technology to propagate your innovations without actually giving them away, libertarians should not call you a force initiator. Your only problem will be when someone breaks your contract and shows the innovation to a third party not bound by the contract. This problem smells like it could be solved through some combination of insurance, bonding, and watermarking. If (like many libertarians) Hanson worries that such a solution might not be efficient, then he should at most support the patent value tax and copyright that exempts non-commercial use.

Common goods: natural resources.  Hanson writes "It is probably sometimes efficient to initially allocate property in other ways than via the usual 'making'", and links to his interesting article about orbits and sunlight. We geolibertarians can only shout "amen" to his point about the unjustness and inefficiency of the "royal libertarian" notion that first use/control of a space (land, orbit, spectrum, air corridor) creates the same sort of property right as in an object. As for the general case of non-excludable goods (a.k.a. common goods a.k.a. natural resources), the Lockean mandate to leave "as much and as good" translates quite naturally into pollution/congestion taxes and exclusivity auctions. The same sort of analysis when applied to land yields a land value "tax".

Creation of persons. Hanson writes "It is probably efficient to endow parents with partial ownership of their children."  Maybe, but you don't need formal legal title over an agent you can program, and that's effectively what we already do to our kids through genes, mammalian bonding, and acculturation. This should be all the more true in Hanson's future filled with artificial persons mass-produced via emulations of very-carefully-chosen template brains. Hanson doesn't make the case that libertarian principles are necessarily inefficient here.

Social contracts.  The most unlibertarian statement Hanson makes is almost an afterthought: "And it is probably efficient to enforce non-explicit contracts, such as among very large groups."  One could take this as a placeholder for all the usual debates between anarcholibertarianism and minarcholibertarianism. I prefer instead to cut this Gordian Knot with the magic of radical Foldvarian federalism, where the leaf nodes are essentially homeowners' associations, and secessionists are dared to fully opt out of the services and protections of their community. As far as I can tell, Foldvary's geolibertarian vision could deliver all of the efficiencies Hanson might desire from social contracts.

Harm vs offense.  Hanson writes "people can hurt each other 'non-physically' via info in so many ways". Hanson doesn't seem to recognize how slippery a slope he's on here.  He wants to talk about information (gossip, blackmail, etc.) as being dangerous/harmful, but any "info harm" here is fundamentally a case of not liking how somebody else has used his freedom of association. If you can claim a "harm" just because other people are associating in a way that is suboptimal for your utility, then every act (and omission) is "harmful" to pretty nearly everyone. Freedom of association is efficient, and I don't see Hanson carving out a coherent set of "info harm" exceptions.

Conclusion. Hanson is right to demur from Bryan Caplan's allodial anarcholibertarianism.  Most of Hanson's complaints can be addressed by the principles and prescriptions of geolibertarianism. However, he might only call himself "geolibertarian-leaning", since he has made it very clear that his root value is economic efficiency rather than personal liberty.  That's OK -- we don't need to debate whether geolibertarianism is good because it works, or works because it's good.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Geolibertarian Tax Policy

As a geolibertarian, I advocate equal taxes on all income: zero.

Geolibertarians oppose all taxes on things that aren’t aggression: honest income (wages, interest, dividends, profits, gifts, and inheritance), clean production (including value added), consensual transactions (e.g. the sale, import, or export of goods and services), and fairly-acquired wealth (e.g. real estate improvements, capital, or other produced assets).

Geolibertarians favor taxes/fines only on aggression — e.g. polluting, depleting, congesting, or monopolizing the commons. In practical terms, this means
  • policing negative externalities through green pricing (e.g. pollution taxes)
  • protecting unowned natural resources with severance fees
  • financing club goods (e.g. highways, bridges, pipes, wires) through usage/congestion fees
  • financing public goods (e.g. streets, flood control, national defense) by taxing the extra land value they create