Tuesday, August 18, 2009


The basic argument for free trade, based on the idea of comparative advantage, is quite easy to understand. Let's say that farmer Alice can grow 20 pounds of wheat on the amount of land that it takes her to grow one pound of hop flowers. Let's say farmer bob can only grow 10 pounds of wheat on the amount of land that it would take him to grow one pound of hop flowers. Then if Alice trades her wheat for Bob's hops, each ends up with more beer than if both had try to remain self-sufficient. This result is extremely powerful:the conclusion trade is beneficial only requires that the relative "costs" of production (in this case use of land) are different. It doesn't matter why (it could be something about the land, or something about Alice's or Bob's skill, or anything) and it doesn't matter whether one or the other has an absolute advantage.

It stands to reason that consensual trades usually leave both parties in a sense better off. Why only "in a sense?" Because if each party benefits from the trade, then it is likely that in principle each could have gotten a better trade. This is true even with only two participants, but if there exists such a thing as a "market price", someone who makes a trade unaware of this market price and getting significantly less than the market price will, with some justification, feel "ripped off".

Attempts to fix prices will generally lead to bad results, as the market price will change over time, sometimes quite quickly, and a mandated price will either prevent mutually beneficially trades, or will be circumvented, with the costs of circumvention being pure waste. But it doesn't follow from this that all consensual trades are good ones. I think the strongest conclusion one can come to is that for a responsible adult it is disadvantageous for there to be a coercive entity with the power to restrict one's trades.

Saturday, August 8, 2009


I think the "meme" concept, the idea that ideas themselves act as replicators in human minds,reproducing like yeast in a barley malt solution, is fundamentally wrong in the worst way an idea can be: it often seems to lead to plausible conclusions, but it can often lead to wrong conclusions, and even when the conclusions it leads to turn out to be correct, they generally could have been arrived at as easily and more rigorously some other way.

It is true that people learn lot from observing each other, but I think people try to copy general methods more than to precisely imitage. More to the point, they learn as much from observing each others;' mistakes as their successes, and the observer must decide for himself which is which.

I started but didn't finish Susan Blackmoore's Meme Machine book. I gave up on it shortly after she theorized that people talk more than is practical because a statement along the lines of "I think people should be babbling babbling babbling all the fucking time whether or not they have anything to say that could possibly of any interest to anyone on earth, let alone to whomever they happen to be talking at" is likely to be frequently repeated, whereas one on the lines of "those who have nothing relevant to say ought to remain silent" is much less likely to be repeated since in most contexts it would be itself irrelevant (this is paraphrased of course). But to suggest an idea is also to suggest its opposite. A claim that yapping for the sake of yapping is good is so obviosuly stupid that if anyone believes it, it makes a better argument for silence than a direct request for silence ever could.

Viruses can infect cells because the virus is similar to the cell's own information storage mechanism on a nuts and bolts sense that is not and could never be true for suggested ideas. A virus consists of a chain of amino acids, just like RNA and DNA. An idea in the human brain takes the form of the map on neural pathways and transmission spikes among them. A suggested idea is physically nothing like that.

The point is that ideas cannot slip past the mind's evaluation mechanism. The shape of a virus may explain why it can slip into a cell despite being harmful to the cell. There is no analogous "shape" of an idea.

Why then do people believe, or purport to believe, things which are clearly untrue? The only kind of ideas that are slavishly adopted are those that serve as group or status markers. That is, accepting the "beliefs" or a group may be a condition of joining or remaining within the group, and lower status members of a group may attempt to emulate the higher status members. The point is that these cases the success of the ideas has very little to do with the ideas themselves and a great deal to do with the perceived qualities of the individuals attempting to advance them.

Of course, people will not continue to act in accordance with beliefs, whether or not they claim to believe them, if there are clear and significant consequences to themselves for doing so. But whether or not this is true for an individual will depend on his specific situation. Most people today could be flat earthers without suffering any direct harm from their beliefs.