Fuzzy little things that I find interesting.

Political musings from someone who thinks the S-D curve is more important to politics than politicians.

Category: Politics

The mind of a liberal demagogue often fascinates me.

Can Business Pay Taxes?

The elementary fact is that “business” does not and cannot pay taxes. Only people can pay taxes. Corporate officials may sign the check, but the money that they forward to Internal Revenue comes from the corporation’s employees, customers or stockholders. A corporation is a pure intermediary through which its employees, customers and stockholders cooperate for their mutual benefit.

Milton Friedman’s rather famous quote popped into mind recently when I received criticisms about my meme about tariffs and other corporate taxes. But then I’ve come to the opinion that for most people (right and left), politics is the art of justifying their emotional impulses, rather than being about thinking through the problems which face us today, and thinking those through from a firm underlying philosophical belief system.

To phrase this another way, using the emotional language of the Left:



Some thoughts on the “me too” campaign.

I managed to miss a good chunk of the feel-good hash-tag du’jour “#metoo”, where women are encouraged to share their stories of victimization in order to illustrate their victimhood status.

Okay, let’s make one thing very clear before I go into why all this makes me uncomfortable.

Sexual assault is bad.

That I even need to clarify this illustrates just how fucked up the public discussion on the abuse of women (which I would consider a superset of sexual assault rather than identical) has become. And that I need to clarify this illustrates just how fucked up the public discourse on generally abusive behavior (which again, I would consider a superset of misogyny rather than identical) has become.

It’s almost as if we’ve forgotten what it means to act with manners, treating each other with respect. We’ve forgotten what it means to seek the seven virtues for ourselves and hold them in our hearts as we interact with others: to practice chastity and temperance as we interact with strangers, to act with charity and patience, to show diligence, kindness and humility.

In some quarters, we have deliberately forgotten these virtues–dismissing them as something only religious zealots do. After all, these seven virtues (literally “a habitual and firm disposition to do good”) are a Christian teaching–and as we all know, in these modern post-religious times, anything religious is bad and deserving of being dumped as trash.

And once you dump religion (and its teachings on what it means to be a better person), what is left to govern our interactions with each other?


I mean, it’s not like leaving it in the hands of individuals works very well, especially when there is a power disparity.

But I’m not very comfortable with the #metoo thing, for two reasons.

First, we’ve had this conversation before.

We’ve done the whole “women, by show of hands, how many of you have been sexually assaulted?” Like #YesAllWomen, #WhenIWas, #ShePersisted, etc.

And have they helped do anything to actually reduce the instances of sexual assault? Have they done a damned thing other than to devolve into a pointless exercise of victimization reaffirmation?

I mean, shouldn’t we use a different strategy?

#MeToo named the victims. Now, let’s list the perpetrators

It’s true that telling our stories can help – it can help victims not feel quite so alone and make others understand the breadth and depth of the problem. But the truth is that nothing will really change in a lasting way until the social consequences for men are too great for them to risk hurting us.

Why have a list of victims when a list of perpetrators could be so much more useful?

But I suspect part of the problem with the newfound approach of women standing up to abusers, perhaps by getting the police involved, is related to my second reason why all this makes me uncomfortable.

Second, we can’t seem to agree on what sort of “abuse” qualifies one for the #MeToo campaign. And in the process it’s slowly devolving away from talking about physical assault, through loutish behavior, and ending at outright misandry.

Take, for example, this article which seems to conflate sexual assault, abusive behavior and loutish behavior–that is, behavior that is obnoxious but not necessarily abusive: #MeToo. To me there is a sharp distinction between “predator” and “creep”, between “sexist remark”, “rape jokes” and “rape”–yet the article uses them as interchangeable terms.

It’s not to say any of these behaviors are acceptable. But when we live in a world where a suggestive conversation is considered under the same umbrella as a violent rape, when some guy who was told “no” asks for a date a second time is considered under the same umbrella as Harvey Weinstein–haven’t we devolved the later by lumping them under the same umbrella as the former?

Don’t we do a disservice to rape victims by equating their violent rapes with the discomfort of being in the same room as two men share an inappropriate joke?

Can you imagine someone going in a hospital room where a woman, half beaten to death after her rape, lies in recovery and telling her “sister, I know exactly how you feel; once someone called me a ‘bitch'”?

I mean, it’s gotten so bad that the #MeToo campaign has spawned another campaign–from men: #HowIWillChange, which presumes men are guilty of sexual “abuse” until proven innocent.

Again, it’s not to dismiss loutish behavior. Remember my premise above: we have forgotten the seven virtues–and an inappropriate joke in the workplace is a violation of the principle of temperance, of voluntary self-restraint in the face of others.

But the Left, many of whom have latched onto the latest fad of claiming #MeToo (and worse, #HowIWillChange), want nothing to do with this religious mumbo-jumbo, having declared it obsolete.

So what is left? Unprincipled handwringing hasn’t worked; just look at the countless other hashtags going back decades which have done nothing to resolve issues of misogyny in the workplace. Neither has the misandrous attempts at forcing men to confess their sins (but without a framework for “sin” other than deconstructed feminism), which often turn into victim blaming when men point out that, in some instances, they’ve been on the receiving end of inappropriate behavior by women.

(Hell, I’ve been on the receiving end of workplace sexually inappropriate behavior; first, by an overly flirtatious woman when I was working at JBL who wanted to show me her boob job in private, second, by an overly flirtatious QA woman at Symantec at a Christmas Party who suggested we go find a room somewhere to have sex. When I pointed out I was married, she said “me too”; it gave us something in common.)

And it’s why, by the way, we won’t change tactics and provide a list of perpetrators: because doing something like that could backfire. Yes, Harvey Weinstein deeply deserved to be outed decades ago. But the poor sap who asks you out on a date at an inappropriate time: would including his name on a master list of “male predators” really solve anything?

Personally I believe the problem is that in our modern day and age we’ve been systematically dismantling all the cultural frameworks of what it means to be a better person.

The Left has engaged in a systematic war on religion–and while the bad parts of religion (such as tribalism and elitism) certainly deserve to be attacked, the aspects which teach “original sin” (that is, when we are all born we are all blank slates unknowing of what it means to be a good person) and how to be a better person (that is, how one can improve oneself morally and ethically) certainly did not deserve to be tossed in the trash heap.

Because without striving to make ourselves better–without the constant individual pursuit towards personal knowledge, self-discovery and self-improvement–what is left? People as cogs in a political machine? Piling up money and political connections? Claiming “#metoo” so you can feel good about your victimhood status and your position on the victimization totem pole?

By the way, the drive to understand what it means to be a better person is not exclusive to Christianity. All major religions address this problem, to help those find “salvation” of a sort. Islam teaches Zakaat, the responsibility we have to help others, including the poor, the destitute and travelers in need. Judaism teaches the mitzvahs, commandments which require avoidance of certain bad behaviors and the performance of certain good deeds. Buddhism provides tools to its followers designed to help find samadhi, oneness. All the major world religions have something to say about how to be a better person, from literal commandments to spiritual practices.

Even the seven virtues of Christianity have their roots in earlier pre-Christian teachings.

Do away with all this teaching–do away with the ancient question of what it means to become a better person–and what is left?

Certainly Karl Marx had nothing to say about justice or morality. Marx’s work, off of which progressive liberalism owes a hat tip to, was only descriptive of historic evolution and economic issues. He had nothing to say about the *morality* of capitalism or communism. Later writers certainly interpret his works this way–and clearly liberals, when talking about unjust wealth inequality, are making a moral proclamation. But all these moral proclamations are being made absent a consistent moral framework of any kind.

And without such a framework, all that is left is politics: we make moral proclamations not because we have any moral principles, but as a political tool to gin up outrage in order to force political change.

That’s what the #metoo campaign really is: a political attempt to gin up outrage to force political change.

But politics cannot affect morality when political believers do not believe in morality.

All politics can do is rearrange the deck chairs: to give more political power to one group, to take political power away from another group. And worse: politics can only provide the illusion of morality–which is why Harvey Weinstein was able to thrive so long. Because as a major donor to the Democratic Party he had the perfect fig leaf, in the form of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, to pursue his own sexually abusive appetites amongst the glitterati of Hollywood, all of whom knew for decades what sort of a predatory asshole Mr. Weinstein was.

Ultimately political attempts to fix morality without any sort of moral framework–which is where the Left currently sits–cannot work. Because there is no “there” there that can be fixed.

Which is why in the end, the “#metoo” campaign will join earlier attempts in the trash heap of history, having done nothing in the end beyond ginning up some outrage about how horrible men are.

You want my “#HowIWillChange”?

Here it is.

To better understand the idea of Original Sin.

To better understand the principles of the Seven Heavenly Virtues and to faithfully attempt to better represent these virtues when interacting with others or when working on my own meditations.

And to demand the cardinal virtue of Justice (that is, righteousness and fairness) in part, by pointing out the hypocrisy in the world around me. A practice which is exemplified in a very small way by this blog post.

And if you don’t see how the seven heavenly virtues leads to an eschewing of misandry and misogyny, to a demand for workplaces free of sexual abuse and sexual favoritism, to a call for women to stand up for themselves rather than to meekly hide in the face of injustice only later to share sad little stories about being offended by jokes told by loutish men who have been raised in a modern culture which teaches us to “feel good” about ourselves and to know no personal limits from that awful old-fashioned religious bullshit–then you are part of the problem.

In support of anti-elitism.

Periodically I see articles like this, and I’ve been meaning to respond.

To be clear, by the definitions of most articles like this, I would be considered part of the “elite”: I graduated from the California Institute of Technology with a degree in Mathematics, having studied abstract topological spaces and computational geometry. I work as a software developer, a field which requires a relatively high level of logic and intellectualism. I also spend a lot of time studying human interfaces and the limits of human cognition; this comes as part of my job. Economically my wife and I are not quite 1%ers by income, but we certainly are ahead of most of the population. I have a few political connections (though politics is something I’d rather comment on than participate in), and I have a respectably high IQ, meaning I’m good at seeing patterns others don’t see right away.

So when I respond to an article like this, I am not responding as a “populist”: as someone who is suspicious of the “privileged elites” and believes power needs to be given to the “common man” regardless of what station those privileged elites hold.

To be clear, while I am highly supportive of right of everyone to live their lives as they will (different strokes and all that), I am highly suspicious that “common wisdom” exists, and I am highly suspicious of the idea that the “common man” has the ability to process the highly technical aspects we see in some corners of our society. (On the other hand, I do believe it is the responsibility of those who understand to simplify and explain: for those in the know to prepare a “freshman lecture”, both to recognize if they understand, and to explain to others who are less learned than they are.)

So when I respond here, I’m hardly the stereotypical knuckle-dragging moron that most so-called “experts” think of who respond to stuff like this.

In Defense of Elitism

Why is it, then, that in intellectual spheres elitism is criticized and shunned? A comparable amount of talent and training may be necessary to a respected professor or scientist, and yet many people think their opinions are just as valuable with respect to their specific ares of expertise.

Because intellectual elitism is also intellectually narrow.

Take Stephen Hawking, for example, one of the most intellectually gifted theoretical physicists in the modern world. His research in the fields of black holes, general relativity and the like are absolutely cutting edge, and his knowledge in the fields of theoretical physics (and the frameworks which carry you there, such as calculus) is top-notch.

To suggest some random hacker like myself is equal to Stephen Hawking’s knowledge in theoretical physics is beyond absurd. I could spend the rest of my life trying to understand what Professor Hawking knows–and never understand it all.

Stephen Hawking is, thanks to his knowledge of the Universe, a well known celebrity.

And this is where it all goes haywire. Because lately Professor Hawking has been wading into the debate about Artificial Intelligence, a field that Professor Hawking has not studied to the same depth as his prior work on black holes and space-time. It’s not to suggest that his arguments aren’t worth listening to–that’s a logical fallacy–but to amplify his words given his celebrity status, when (in all humility) I’ve probably spent more time in the field of Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence–and at that point this whole “expertise” thing comes off the rails.

Why is it, then, that in intellectual spheres elitism is criticized and shunned?

Interestingly, Dr. Novella, the author of the article, answers his own question without realizing it:

Interestingly, the more physical and immediate the outcome, the more elitism is tolerated. Compare surgery to medicine. The skill and talent of the surgeon is unquestionably recognized, and no one sane would allow a self-trained and uncredentialed “surgeon” to perform major surgery on them. But I have news for you – many areas of medicine are just as hard and take as many years of training.

Though–having spent a lot of time in a medical setting recently (thanks to the passing of a couple of people I know), I wouldn’t use the word “tolerated” but “respected.”

And yet… notice that even in the medical setting, we don’t go to an ENT (Ear-Nose-Throat) specialist in order to do open heart surgery.

Expertise is narrow.

The cry of “elitism” has become a major component of anti-intellectualism, denying the value and legitimacy of intellectual pursuits. Everyone might be entitled to their own opinion, but that does not make all opinions are of equal value.

On this point I whole heartedly agree.

Where it goes wrong for me is how improperly this idea is applied in real life, ironically by so-called “experts.”

For example, take Neil deGrasse Tyson, whose Ph.D. is in astrophysics and cosmology. If we wanted to talk to an expert about astrophysics and cosmology, then clearly Dr. Tyson is your man. He’s also your man if you want to (say) talk about the wonders of astronomy.

He is, however, not an expert in Climatology or Philosophy. At best he is an intelligent celebrity–but then, would we also give the same credence to Queen rock guitarist Brian May? After all, Dr. May’s Ph.D. is also in astrophysics.

Where the rubber meets the road with the supposed “anti-intellectual” movement “decrying the value and legitimacy of intellectual pursuits” is when science and experts meets politics.

You can consider politics its own field of expertise–a sort of cross between the practical art of engineering solutions with the practical art of reaching compromises. In politics its all about framing problems and selling solutions, while considering the impact those solutions may have on people who are being affected.

And in this field of expertise, people like Dr. Tyson, Dr. Hawking, Dr. Novella or (to use more charged names here) Dr. Michael Mann or Dr. James Hansen, who supports a national carbon tax are all strangers in a strange land: non-expert intelligent celebrities like Dr. May (whose celebrity came by playing the guitar). To call them “elite” in this context does a massive disservice to the very sort of “expertise” Dr. Novella pretends to advocate for.

None of these people are “elite” in the field of politics. They are just well-connected, using a larger microphone than they deserve.

The problem is not that people are anti-intellectual–though undoubtedly you can find a lot of anti-intellectualism at the fringe of our society, or of any society for that matter. (There are always people who believe in the literal healing power of crystals or ancient alien astronauts building the pyramids.) By and large, as Dr. Novella noted, we do respect experts in their personal field of expertise.

But when so-called experts leverage their expertise to gain celebrity status, then use their celebrity status to opine on subjects not in their field of expertise–expect people to take their words with a grain of salt.

And rightfully so. Because a world where we cede political control to a small elite group of supposed “experts” operating outside of their narrow field of expertise is not “meritocracy”. It’s classical oligarchy, but where our high priests rulers proclaim the religion of scientism.

Perhaps a first step to improving the situation is to stop selectively demonizing intellectual elitism. We praise elite athletes, give our money and adulation to elite performers and artists, and trust in those with elite technical skills. We should also recognize the value of elite intellectual talent and skills.

I once had a doctor–an Ear-Nose-Throat expert I had gone to regarding my snoring–tell me to stop eating microwaved foods because (I shit you not) he told me “microwaves change the molecular structure of the food.” My wife (a Registered Dietitian) basically rolled her eyes when I told her that. Sure, microwaving “changes the molecular structure of the food”–but through a process called “cooking.”

So I suggest to Dr. Novella that perhaps as a first step to improving the situation, experts need to start recognizing the limits of their expertise.

Because the one thing Americans hate more than anything else is someone who clearly has no expertise in a particular topic (even if they have expertise elsewhere) talking down to us like we’re a bunch of fucking fools.

Now if I wanted an opinion in neurology and neuroscience–trust me Dr. Novella, you’re first on my list of people to call.

Anything else? Get in fucking line.

Because despite your apparent protestations to the contrary, outside of your narrow field of expertise–you’re not an elite. You just think you are.

Remember: we shoot revenuers.

ANALYSIS: TRUE. Trump Faces the Fury of a Scorned Ruling Class: The ‘threat’ that has elites quaking is his serious attempt to curb federal power and cut spending.

I don’t know why these people think that Trump voters will just stay home and sigh if the Establishment wins. It’s likely to be something much uglier.

To the protesters who are now protesting the inauguration of Donald Trump as President of the United States of America.

Do you want Donald Trump as President for 8 years? ‘Cause this is how you get Donald Trump for 8 years.

Why I left Facebook.

  1. It was fun to post short snippets and short comments about news articles I would come across. But it’s like eating potato chips: a bunch of empty calories which distracts from better fare.
  2. I had been thinking of leaving Facebook for a while, and I finally pulled the trigger realizing that Facebook was set up like a slot machine: you invest a lot of time and energy for the rare payoff, flashing of bells, interesting articles. I find that I’m more likely to find interesting stuff on my own using an RSS reader.
  3. Do I really need to spend two hours a day on average feeding Mark Zuckenberg’s wallet?
  4. Remember: you’re either the customer buying product or you are the pig being slaughtered. Which means at some point I may also leave this blog and move to a web hosting service I pay for and maintain. Just as I do with my current development blog.
  5. Political polarization has gotten absolutely horrible on the Internet in general, and Facebook magnifies this. It has been my experience (and yes, YMMV) that the worst offenders are those on the left who happily misinterpret my personal politics in order to paint me as a racist, sexist, homophobic pig. Those on the left undoubtedly feel justified; after all, many of those in college who are out protesting the horrors of a Republican administration were pre-teens the last time a Republican won the White House–so they have no reference except for the heated rhetoric comparing President-Elect Trump with Hitler.

    Me; I’m 51. I gained my political awareness in high school when Reagan was in the White House. I remember Reagan, Bush I, Bush II, McCain and Romney being compared to Hitler. At some point today’s college-age students will realize that what they perceive as a Real and Present Danger to Life As We Know It is simply excessive rhetoric by uncaring powerful people in both parties who are simply trying to stir the shit pot.

    But meanwhile I’m tired of the stirring of the shit pot, and Facebook seems to be Ground Zero for the shit.

    (For the record: I want less government regulatory burdens because I dislike the fact that nearly 30% of all workers in the United States need permission–in the form of a license–to work. And while that may make sense in certain life-and-death professions such as the medical profession, does a florist really need a license? You do if you’re in Louisiana. I honestly believe regulatory burdens (and that’s not the regulation, but the burden to demonstrate compliance with the regulation) hurts the economy, and in many ways is driven by regulatory capture: large businesses setting up the rules to stop smaller job-creating, wealth creating businesses from forming and competing with them. How this makes me a racist, sexist, homophobic pig is beyond me.)

So fuck it. Bye bye Facebook.

Comments on the supply/demand curve.

Generally when I read a discussion of the supply and demand curve I see something that goes like this:

If we plot price and quantity, supply is this vague curve sloping upwards, demand is this vague curve sloping downwards, and at some point where they meet that intersection point is the balance where supply and demand meet.

The thing that has always bothered me about this representation, however, is that the curves representing supply and demand are always these vague representations, arbitrarily drawn on the chalkboard. There is never an effort to quantify what those curves should look like before we launch into discussions of things like increasing demand for lower-priced goods or what happens when price controls are put into place.

But we can quantify these things to some extent.

In all of the graphs below, I preserve the convention of price along the Y axis and quantity along the X axis, so some of this may seem “sideways.”

First, let’s look at the demand curve.

Let’s suppose we’re selling a thing, and people want one of these things. The question we ask of that population of people is “how much should that thing cost?”

Of course the question is a complex one, but to first order we may expect that overall the answer to that question becomes a bell curve centered around the most expected price for that thing:

Bell Curve

Again, note the convention: price is along the Y axis, quantity is along the X axis. This is a bell curve centered around the price B with about 1/3rd of B being the standard deviation in the price people are willing to pay. The equation representing this curve is given by:

Bell Curve Equation

The demand curve would then be the integral from +∞ to y; that is, as the price declines more people buy–and the total amount of product sold would be the area under the curve from price y to infinity.

Demand Curve

(I’ve scaled the X axis to fit in our graph.)

What this graph represents is what we intuitively already know: that as the price gets cheaper–as we drop down on the Y axis–the amount of product we can sell–that is, the number of people who are willing to buy our product–increases. But also notice a few features at the extreme ends of the curve: there is a point where we won’t sell very much product at all: if our product is priced way out of our audience’s reach, dropping the price a little bit just won’t move stuff off the shelves. And at the other extreme, if we’ve reached market saturation, dropping our price more just won’t move more product–because we’ve reached market saturation.

The equation for this curve is given by:


Where the function erf is the error function.

Now let’s add the supply curve. We can use a similar argument as with the demand curve: if we have a whole bunch of suppliers and they believe they can bring in a price at a given price point, our supply bell curve looks very similar to the demand curve. However, the number of people who are willing to sell at a given price winds up being the integral above, except from -∞ to y. Plotting this on our graph:


There are some interesting things to note here.

First, let’s suppose that our suppliers are able to bring the cost of production down. We get the classic plot showing the supply curve shifting to stimulate demand:

Supply Stimulus

As prices fall because suppliers determine a cheaper way to make their products, demand rises, and in this case they rise considerably.

But, as was noted before, if we are at either extreme: if, for example, we’ve reached market saturation, then the curve simply does not bend that much. We’ve reached saturation–and the incremental effort to sell to the remaining few who haven’t purchased a product can be rather considerable.

The same thing happens at the other end of the curve: if a product is just too far out of the price range of the vast majority of people, dropping the price a little bit just isn’t going to move the needle. You’re not going to sell a lot more $300,000 Ferraris if you drop the price to $290,000.

We can also use this graph to describe price ceilings and price floors.

Suppose, for example, we’re describing raising minimum wages. In this case, “supply” are the workers who are willing to work a given job at a given price, and “demand” is the willingness of employers to employ people at a given price.

So what happens at a given minimum wage?

Well, that depends on if the minimum wage is raised above the natural price given by the supply/demand curve.

Suppose our proposed minimum wage is below the crossing point of our supply and demand curves:


Then our price floor–minimum wage–doesn’t affect things very much at all. If currently workers for a given job are being paid more than the proposed floor, everyone’s going to ignore that floor because already prevailing wages are above the floor.

This is, in fact, the situation in most areas of software development: for me personally you could raise minimum wage to $30/hour and it won’t make a significant impact on my own take-home pay. (It may make some change, because remember: the above graph really represents a narrow slice of the supply/demand curve in a particular profession for a particular market. And as the minimum wage is raised, the shape of the overall market changes, which then affects people’s budgets and that may make them reallocate where they spend money–just as if a sudden sale on steak may make you rethink buying chicken.)

It’s not to say that at this level the minimum wage doesn’t serve a useful social function. In fact, it does: there are undoubtedly employers who are assholes who are trying to convince people to work for nothing–and a minimum wage floor gives those employees another legal tool to prevent abuse. This social function, however, is not really relevant to the economic discussion.

Now, on the other hand, suppose the price floor is raised above the natural supply/demand curve. (I’ve taken the liberty to label the supply and demand curves for what they represent: the willingness of employers to hire at a given wage verses the willingness of people to work at a given wage.)


What happens is simple: as wages go up, more people want to make money at that given wage. However, as wages go up, employers are less likely to want to hire at that wage. And that leads to a gap–a gap between the number of people who want to work and the number of employers willing to hire.

And that is, by definition, unemployment.

Similar arguments can be said about price floors and price ceilings in other economic arenas. For example, the long lines and rationing that had to take place in the 1970’s during the gas shortage came from the government imposing price ceilings. A ceiling then creates a gap between the amount of stuff someone can sell, and the amount of stuff people want to buy–which creates shortages:


And people react to shortages by being willing to stand in long lines; the line becomes an added “price” people are willing to pay.

Now let’s do something completely different.

Suppose I’m a company which makes widgets. I mass manufacture those widgets.

Mass manufacturing is interesting in that it entails a setup cost and a per-product cost. Meaning that, for example, if I’m making chairs using plastic injected moulding, then I have to pay a large setup cost to set up the mould, and then I pay a per-chair charge for the plastic for each chair.

That is, the total price it costs me to make n chairs is:


where n is the number of chairs I’m making, s is my setup cost (such as the cost of the mould), and c is the per-chair cost (such as the cost of the plastic).

Now if I make x chairs and sell them at a price y, this means that I have xy amount of money to make chairs. Subtract out the setup price s, divide by the per-chair cost and this gives me the number of chairs I can make at a given price:


We can solve for the quantity x and the price y to give me the number of chairs I am, as a manufacturer, able to sell at a given price:


Plugging our final formula into our graph for given values of s and c, and we get a completely different curve than we’re used to seeing when drawing supply/demand curves:


Note that our supply curve, instead of sloping upwards from lower-left to upper-right, instead, curves downwards; as we ship more product we can lower our per-product price.

And notice our supply curve intersects our demand curve in two places–at a high price/low quantity point, and at a low price/high quantity point.

In many ways this models very well something many manufacturers do, when they take a high-price premium “luxury” item (at the upper-left) and move it downstream towards the low-price mass-produced point (at the lower-right). As the setup charge pays for itself in the luxury market arena, it becomes easier to then make the product in larger quantities for the mass market arena by reusing the same mould or jigs or manufacturing tools, and cranking the assembly line wide open for the mass market.

Of course, the problem with consumers is that if you sell too many luxury items as mass-manufactured items, it becomes tougher to sell upscale products.

You can tackle this problem one of two ways: either (a) through branding (by having a luxury brand and a mass-manufactured brand, such as Toyota and Lexus), or (b) by simply deciding to sell all your products at the upper-left corner (as Bang-Olufsen does) or the lower-right corner of the curve (as Apple does).

Now we can also use this to explain why certain technologies suddenly “appear”; that is, we can easily describe what happens when some technology waiting in the wings suddenly explodes on the scene:

Suppose we have a new technology, and our setup costs are high and our per-item charge is high–because it’s an all new technology. Perhaps tinkerers play with the technology or it’s something that floats around in the labs–but to get it out there would cost a lot of money.

Then we may see a supply curve that looks like this:


Note the curves never cross.

At no price point does the supply curve ever cross the demand curve, because the item simply cannot be made at a price that anyone would want it at.

This is far different than the traditional supply/demand curve we looked at where we model the supply of something as a gaussian curve; that gaussian assumed a large number of suppliers who could supply a good, and a few could create a handful of items at a high price point.


Using the old supply/demand curve, what happens when the price drops a little bit is what we would expect:


We get a tiny gain in the population willing to buy a product.

But if we use our equation describing the actual manufacturing costs we don’t just get an incremental number of adopters buying a luxury product. Instead, for a small drop in manufacturing price we get an explosion of demand:


This explains how we went from just a handful of mobile smart phones in 2006 to nearly everyone carrying an iPhone less than a decade later. As manufacturing costs dropped, it intersected the demand curve–and suddenly we went to a world were nearly everyone had one. And it wasn’t like the price to manufacture smart phones radically dropped in order to stimulate demand, as would be suggested if we used the traditional supply curve.

I really don’t have a point to all of the above, except to note that some rather interesting things come out of the traditional supply/demand curve if you attempt to actually model what the supply curve actually looks like and what the demand curve actually looks like, rather than just gesturing at the chalk board and drawing an upward and downward sloping line.

I’m sure if a more generalized treatment of the demand curve was done–for example, if we have a population where half are willing to jump on at one price, and the other at a second price, we’d see some other interesting things jump out of the graph. Just as I’m sure if we could model the additional dimensions behind the supply/demand curve, such as the different values different employees have for a corporation, or we could model businesses which use loss leaders to make a profit–we’d get a much deeper insight into how the economy works.

Big Cities, Rural Towns, and why I don’t get Obama’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood.

A Tale of Two Rivers

It is virtually a constant of history, so much so that we either forget or take for granted the fact, that one major fault line throughout politics is the politics of the metropolitan urban centers verses the politics of the outlying rural towns.

See, our politics is always informed by what we are used to and what we understand. If we grow up around Jesuits, around homosexuals, around Holy Rollers, around the Amish in rural Pennsylvania–that’s what we are used to and what we understand, and so we may take sides on certain issues depending on what we understand. Someone who grows up around homosexuals, for example, may be more inclined to support gay rights than someone who grew up in an isolated rural town where homosexuality is a sin practiced in the big city.

That gets us to a major political fault line: those who live in a large metropolitan area tend to be surrounded by a variety of folks. Life is made orderly through the intervention of governments and local agencies: governments become something ‘we all do together.’ And because urban centers expose us to a variety of people we become more understanding of different lifestyles and different cultures than our own–we’re constantly surrounded by it so it becomes rather normal to us. Here in Glendale, for example, I’m constantly surrounded by hispanics, by Armenians, by Koreans–it’s normal to be sitting at a sidewalk cafe with my wife and be the only english speakers.

In rural areas, however, things are radically different: you may not be exposed to as much variety of culture or of lifestyle choices. Uniformity of way of life helps to aid in survival: most of your neighbors are probably like you. Government is few and far in-between, so generally you turn to religion as the ordering factor: the Sunday sermons, the Saturday synagog, the daily prayers at the Mosque become the way problems between people are informally handled. You are probably distrustful of outsiders, because in a rural setting you don’t experience a lot of variety of culture–and in many places in the world and across the years of history being different creates friction that makes survival difficult.

Metropolitan areas encourage cultural liberalism: openness to others, reliance on large government agencies (because government becomes the only common factor shared by all residents), a tendency to mind your own business (because privacy is an implicit joint contract rather than a fence or a quarter mile of road between neighbors).

Rural areas encourage cultural conservatism: a drive for informal controls through religious institutions since government institutions are ineffective with low population densities. A tendency to be nosy about your neighbors but judgmental if they fail to live to the community standards. And above all some degree of conformity and voluntary cooperation–if only because rural areas tend to be poorer, closer to the knife’s edge of survival, and requiring mutual aid and assistance to keep from going under.

And all this was true during Roman times (compare the glory of the city of Rome compared to the Visigoths living on the outskirts in late Empire times), this was true at the end of the Dark Ages (note where the Enlightenment started: in urban centers), and it is true today in the United States (where Democrats tend to control urban centers while Republicans tend to be established in more rural districts).

Which brings us to the Muslim Brotherhood and to Egypt.

The Muslim Brotherhood started as a religious social organization, a rural organization which used the rural values of the Middle East (really, the rural values seen anywhere in the world) of voluntary mutual cooperation to provide support to places like Egypt. A socially conservative organization (like most rural organizations anywhere in the world), the Muslim Brotherhood is defined by it’s (rural) conservative Islamic roots–promoting voluntary religious obedience (as do all rural religious movements) to the basic Islamic principles of faithfulness and charity: all survival traits necessary if you are to survive in a rural setting isolated from your neighbors.

In Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood stands in political opposition to the Egyptian Military, which unlike any other military organization in the world, is as much a political and economic force as it is a military force. The Egyptian Armed Forces is an interesting organization: in addition to providing boots on the ground, the Egyptian Military since the 1970’s has had an expanding role in Egypt’s economy: the Egyptian Military is a major manufacturer of a variety of different civilian products, including washing machines, clothing pharmaceuticals and microscopes. The military is also heavily involved in agriculture and in maintaining Egypt’s national infrastructure.

So when we talk about the Egyptian military it’s important to remember its role as a social and economic entity as much as a military presence; Egypt’s military is as much an extension of the will of the people in urban centers as much as it is a military fighting force in the traditional sense.

And this brings me to President Obama’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood.

I just don’t get it.

In a very real sense, as much as analogies translate across international borders, the Muslim Brotherhood is the conservative rural element of Egypt; it stands in direct opposition of the more moderating elements of Egyptian society that comes from her urban centers.

Not that I necessarily have any problem with conservatism of any form; our politics tend to be informed by our own experiences, so to blanket negate someone’s political positions is akin to negating their life experiences. However, as the world tends towards urbanization, we are increasingly evolving into a more culturally liberal world which increasingly relies on government regulation rather than informal religious obedience to maintain social order.

And while there are elements of rural culture (such as self-reliance, voluntary mutual aid, and respect for traditions) which are important to preserve even in urban centers where nihilism tends to be the order of the day, rural conservatism is currently dying–and only a massive depopulation of the planet through a global catastrophe will change this trajectory.

President Obama’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood, in other words, would be akin to his supporting rural Democrats of the 1950’s or rural Republicans today: it just makes absolutely no sense for the consummate urban liberal-progressive politician to do this.

I have a theory, however.

The problem in Washington D.C. is that most modern liberal-progressive politicians today who learned at the knee of their liberal professors after the Left’s grand march through the institutions have been blinded by The Narrative.

And The Narrative is this: today’s modern world is defined by the world’s reaction to The West. That is, Western Civilization, in imposing colonialism in the 19th century and causing two World Wars (and their aftermath) in the 20th century, was the chime that rung the bell of history–and the entire world is still vibrating in reaction.

Take the Middle East, for example. A liberal professor may note that the Middle East was the fault of Western Powers who, around World War II, took a largely nomadic population and drew artificial lines in the sand. We created the modern Middle East and all of its disasters by imposing a western notion of country on a tribal nomadic people–and thus all the wars and disasters in the Middle East today is a direct result of this process.

The Middle East’s ringing, in other words, was because of the British chime.

And today, the United States as inheritor and de-facto guarantor of Western Civilization, is the force that is causing the rest of the world to react.

So look at the Middle East through this prism. Nine-eleven was not a result of 19 terrorists successfully hijacking 4 airplanes–it was triggered in reaction to a U.S. presence perpetuating a British and French-defined political order imposed on the Middle East, causing thousands to live in near poverty as Western imperialists confiscate badly needed oil and prop up puppet regimes in places like Saudi Arabia.

The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood was not because of local conditions on the ground in Egypt; it was in direct reaction to U.S. imperial efforts in that region, perpetuating a British imposed order on Egypt. And the fault-lines between the Egyptian Military and the Muslim Brotherhood is caused by the U.S. playing favorites, king-maker and arbiter to a world order that was imposed externally when that part of the world was drawn up around World War II.

So to the liberal-progressive raised on the tit of post-modernism, on deconstructionism and on modern multi-cultural studies, the answer to Middle East peace is clear.

First, apologize. Not for who we are as a nation, but for the blunders we’ve committed as an unwitting and de-facto successor to Western Civilization, and for our misunderstandings which cause us to impose an alien order on a people who may wish to organize their affairs differently.

Second, reach out to opposition organization, for the express purpose of bringing them to the table and giving them greater regional responsibility. In essence Obama’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood makes sense if you consider them to be akin to a more politically active Red Cross organization whose ties to terrorism is in direct reaction to a hundred years of Western blundering in that region.

Once you do this then eventually you can withdraw–well, not western support, but at least overtly western influence in the region, and allow the region to reach a more natural political equilibrium with all interested parties at the table.

Of course this forgets that the natural state of the world is warfare, destruction and death. Primitive man was not enlightened man living as one with Gaia; primitive man was poor, hungry, on the edge of survival, and at constant battle over necessary resources to survive.

And this worries me because Egypt is running out of food, it’s running out of money, unemployment is at a very high level, and it appears to be descending into civil war.

The real irony is that by believing the U.S. was imposing its will on Egypt, by taking the college-professor liberal-progressive approach of attempted reconciliation and appeasement, the United States runs the risk of triggering the very civil war it sought to prevent–all because Egypt’s civil war has nothing to do with the United States and everything to do with local cultural conditions on the ground, local cultural conditions that are a constant throughout the world–local cultural conditions which a liberal-progressive who studied at the feet of Heigel and Derrida and the like are utterly blind to.

And, ironically, I believe it placed Obama on the wrong side of history.

How Republicans can win Hispanics back

Second, we should echo the aspirations of these voters. The American immigrant experience is the most aspirational story ever told. Immigrants left all that was familiar to them to come here and make a better life for their families. That they believe this is possible only in America is the best expression of American exceptionalism I know.

I have always been personally a very firm believer that we need to reduce the time table and path to legal citizenship: as an immigrant you should be able to come to this country and qualify for citizenship within a year or two, not the current process when can take a decade or more.

Economic Thinking 101

Introduction to Basic Economics

So many of my friends, acquaintances and the folks I run into on the street don’t seem to know the first things about economics, why economics is interesting or important to understand, or the consequences of certain policies on economic behavior.

Heck, most don’t know what “economics” is, other than it involves money and some voodoo graphs or something.

But it really boils down to describing the behavior of a group of people in the face of the things they want, and the things they have to do to get what they want. And that doesn’t necessarily restrict itself to things like “food”, “shelter”, “toys” or whatnot; it can even be used to help shape one’s thinking about intangible things we want and what we have to do to get them: I want to be loved, I want sex, I want to be happy, and to get them I have to change to be more lovable, I have to seek a partner, I have to do things to make myself happy.

It’s why I believe the S-D curve is far more important to politics than politicians, even when dealing with Market Failures where there is a genuine need for government intervention.