Friday, March 30, 2012

Malum in se, Malum Prohibitum

When it comes to the proper role of government, most people seem to agree on a few basic issues; murder, rape, fraud, theft and vandalism (acts of aggression against individuals and their property) are almost universally accepted as violations that government should prevent or punish. Conflicts tend to arise only after we step beyond that common theme.

Two legal terms illustrate that fundamental split: malum in se and malum prohibitum.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Not Worth a Continental

In The Perils of Paper Money, I introduced David Wolman's article A Short History of American Money, From Fur to Fiat, which appeared in The Atlantic in early February.

In that essay, I explained briefly how money, once disconnected from any objective standard of value, has historically devalued over time. This is starkly illustrated by the story of the Continental Currency issued during the American Revolution. This tale, relegated to two brief paragraphs in The Atlantic article, is central to our understanding of the concept of money. It provides an important cautionary tale concerning our existing Federal Reserve System and the peril of money grounded in nothing but the full faith and credit of any government.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Open-Source Freedom

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
Robert A. Heinlein

Northwestern Localist asked an interesting question in response to the column Homebrew Production is Coming.
How many years are we from designing and building our own farm equipment, transportation, etc. etc.? This kind of technology makes massive centralized government control less viable.
I happened to know the answer is zero, which sent me searching for something I vaguely remembered, and that led me to the today's column. While Northwestern Localist won't be printing up a tractor on a RepRap machine any time soon, his question goes far beyond that, to the concept of shared knowledge.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Higher Education Bubble

With almost a trillion dollars in loans outstanding and an estimated 27% of those loans more than 30 days in arrears, it's getting easier every day to predict the next segment of the economy to collapse.

Those who understand how the bubble-blowing combination of the Federal Reserve and government policy destroyed the housing market, fueled the dot-com bubble of the early 2000s, and shares some level of responsibility for every nationwide recession since 1913 watched in trepidation when "college for all" replaced "home ownership for all" as the entitlement mantra. It's starting to look suspiciously like they were right once again.

Fitch Ratings notes that the "The Federal Reserve Bank of New York recently reported that as many as 27% of all student loan borrowers are more than 30 days past due. Recent estimates mark outstanding student loans at $900 billion- $1 trillion."

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Homebrew Production is Coming

Author's Note: The Homebrew Industrial Revolution, by Kevin Carson, goes into great detail about many of the concepts underlying this series of posts. A number of columns will focus on information gleaned from there. Well worth the time to read. Highly recommended.
In the first column in this series, The Apolitical Economic Superpower, we discussed the rapid growth of the untaxed, unregulated economy that currently provides 50% of the world's jobs, and is expected to provide two-thirds of the world's jobs by 2020, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

In The Rising Phoenix Society, we learned of David Obi, who brought electricity to the masses in Nigeria by working an underground distribution deal with a Chinese manufacturer. We looked at local and urban farming as an example of the growth of apolitical employment in the US, and touched on regulation and infrastructure costs as two reasons that smaller-scale production may prove increasingly more competitive with factory farming in the future.

We also noted the great changes in the creation and marketing of literature, music, photography and other arts over the last few years, thanks to the largely unregulated and tax-free internet. We mentioned the grassroots effort that arose in opposition to the corporate-driven attempt by government to squash that great blossoming of creativity. We also observed that education (as opposed to government managed and financed "schooling") is on the cusp of a similar great transformation.

However, there's one major element of society that has and always probably will remain within the Domain of the Dinosaurs; the holy trinity of mass production, mass marketing, and mass distribution. Like it or not, that model is a keystone of the modern economy. The current assumption is that centralized mass production, with its requirements for massive capital investments, high energy and transportation costs, reliance on nation-wide infrastructure, considerable administrative overhead, and reliance on a production-driven throwaway consumption model is the only viable model for production.

Can that model be challenged by one without all those drawbacks? By the process of negation, that model would include low capital requirements, low overhead, local distribution, and build-to-demand production of durable, repairable goods. Unless goods can be economically produced in much smaller batches on much less expensive equipment, that model is a non-starter. But innovations on the horizon suggest a strong possibility that those conditions will be met in the not-too-distant future.