The political versus the economic

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Human values are individual and subjective, but in modern society, money is a used as a proxy of value, in both the market and the political system. We can speak of the aspirational, world-changing dreams of both entrepreneurs and politicians, but it is money which gives their values power to act. In this way, we can see the politics and the market as mirroring each other, driven by the same self-organizing principles of individual value maximization. Many people see the political and the economic spheres as collaborative, with each making up for the gaps of the other.

There is a fundamental difference between the market and the political process however:

The market system is driven by the pricing mechanism and therefore selects for maximization of consumer value. The political system is driven by the electoral-bureaucratic process, and therefore selects for the maximization of political influence.

To succeed in the market, entrepreneurs must reorganize labor and capital and delivery sufficient value to consumers to cover their expenses.

Politicians must reorganize labor and capital in a way that maximizes their power to redirect assets from those engaged in profit-making activity (which includes every market participant) to actions which maximize the support the support of their funding base. The crucial point is that this has nothing to with intention – the capitalist may be malicious and the politician benevolent, but to the extent that they are successful in their respective spheres, they must respond to incentives. The market process incentivizes the satisfaction of consumer values, whereas the political process incentivizes the redirection of values from the voluntary sphere or consumer choices, to the involuntary sphere of political authority.

Thus, though they are closely linked, the market and the political arena are linked directly in opposition to each other: politics feeds off the market, and cannot grow independently, as it has no capacity for independent existence. A society which forbids the market, or redirects too much market value towards the political realm quickly loses the power for political action as well. The firm exists solely for its own sake, but the State exists at the mercy of the market from which it gains its power.

Self-organization in markets and politics

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Most people take it for granted that the market system is a self-organizing entity.

We understand that no master plan is needed for the entire economy to work as an integrated whole, without the need for any one participant to know more than two sets of links: his suppliers and his customers.

Immensely complex structures develop to provide the most mundane and basic consumer goods, all driven by the decision making of individual entrepreneurs based on firsthand information.

The political process is also a self-organizing entity. Just as the market system, it is an immensely complex system in which any participant needs only to have a relationship with those who provide his funding and his authority. As with the market, large-scale events and patterns develop without the need for conspiracy, collaboration, or awareness.

Wars and other political atrocities happen not because of evil geniuses or secret conspiracies, but simply because the political process facilities the organization of evil activity on a large scale in the same way that the market facilitates the self-organization of value-producing activities on large scales.

The great butchers of history were not especially smart, ruthless, or capable – they just happened to be in the right time and use the political machine that their political-economic system generated.

12 months ago

There is a sick value inversion between the image of the capitalist ruthlessly seeking profits and the benevolent politician working for the betterment of society.

*The capitalist succeeds only to the extent that he can produce more consumer value than the resources he consumes.
*The politician succeeds only to the extent that he can steal from productive workers and redistribute the wealth to his power base.

*The capitalist is empowered by consumers voting directly with their dollars and receiving immediate rewards for their votes.
*The politician sells promises to votes, but is actually owned by the pressure groups who pay for his campaigns.

*The capitalist is the ultimate humanitarian, working tirelessly to create wealth and maximize consume value.
*The politician is the ultimate parasite, existing solely on wealth he steals from the productive and redistributes to those who offer the largest bribe or protection money.

Expanding the bureaucracy and the fallacy of the slippery slope

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Those who oppose minor and perhaps reasonable expansions to the power of the government on the grounds that that power will inevitably be expanded abused are not necessarily committing the fallacy of the slippery slope.  Extensive precedent has shown that once any task is institutionalized in a government agency, it will forever have a lobby which is dedicated to expanding its purview and budget. No matter how rigidly and narrowly the original mission is defined, the continuing employment and power of the bureaucrats responsible for it becomes an end in itself. Perhaps one of the simplest examples of this is the list of United States Federal Agencies.

Operating independently of market constraints, the bureaucrat has no obligation to prove his efficacy or any continuing need for his services, nor any need to balance the value of the service he provides against the cost. He works tirelessly to find new crises which must brought under his control or to worsen (usually by means of perverse economic incentives) the very problem he is tasked with solving.

In the aggregate, the mass of bureaucrats in any given society work subvert the energy of the remaining productive people until civilization disintegrates into hyperinflation and bankruptcy. Their intentions may initially be purely benign, but their work requires ever greater degrees of evasion and mass brainwashing as they search for victims and enemies in ever wider circles of society.

No matter how trivial the problem to the solved, once a political solution is attempted, the issue can only be expected to become worse and more expensive. Can you think of a single instance when a bureaucracy resolved the issue it was tasked with solving and fired itself?

It should be noted that this trend also manifests in large corporations, whenever it becomes so large and vertically integrated that individual departments are able to operate outside the pressure of the market and thus outside the pricing mechanism as a means of valuing services.   Fortunately, the wealth destruction of corporations in a free economy is limited by its revenue, and it need not exhaust the entire wealth of a society in order to it collapse.

Understanding and judgment in nature and society

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In the natural world, we can attempt understanding, but not judgement. We can ask why the lion hunts the antelope, but not whether it is right or wrong. We can feel pity for the prey, but we know that while the antelope must die for the lion to live, neither can be said to be more deserving of life. They act as they must to survive, and to judge their method of survival is as irrational as criticizing the earth for going around the sun.

But with human action, it is different. Humans have the power to choose their way of life, and so affect their existence for better of worse. As fellow humans, we can observe the choices of others, understand their consequences, and apply the lessons to guide our own actions. And so, every human action that we observe has the potential for judgement: does this choice improve or worsen the actor’s life, and how would affect mine?

Some people tend to judge without understanding, by following their emotions or someone else’s edicts. Others attempt to understand without judging, viewing other humans as another kind of wildlife, and themselves as the indifferent observer. Both habits lead to disaster if pursued consistently. As mortal animals, our time and resources are limited, and so we must learn from others actions which mistakes and people to avoid, and which habits and people to value. Understanding must come first; if we judge without understanding, we fail to use our primary means of survival (our mind) and enslave ourselves to whomever’s moral edicts we happen to hear first. We must attempt understanding far more often than we judge because obtaining the evidence needed to form a conclusion is never a certainty.

The person who refuses to judge is just as much a slave to the moral edits of others as he who judges without understanding, as neither develops the ability to form his own opinions, and so both fall victim to the first preacher of right and wrong. As mortal beings, our way of life requires that we understand both the facts of nature and the facts and consequences of human action. When it comes to human choices, we must keep in mind that every action and every man-made thing carries the possibility and responsibility of moral judgment.

Eight billion smartphone-enabled humans will change everything

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Mobile phone subscriptions now total 98% of the world’s population. Virtually the entire world’s population (87% of the total population) now has a cellphone.

What’s next?

Personal computers are a mind-expanding device for the world’s first wealthiest one billion people. But they are a very primitive, early adopter device in comparison to the smartphone. A smartphone is a personal computer which is tiny, wireless, and increasingly aware of its environment.

There are over one billion smartphone users now. In a few years, the entire population of cellphone users will be smartphone users. A few years after that, every cell phone will exceed the power of today’s high-end desktop.

In early 2014, we will see high-end smartphones with print-quality screens, 8 cores, and 4GB of memory, and the graphic power of today’s high end video game consoles. By 2016-2018 every cell phone will have the power of a modern desktop.

What happens then?

The speed of innovation for a technology is limited the size of its market. Personal computers have been rapidly growing in adoption, but hit a peak at one billion users. They are not feasible in much of the rest of the world, and soon they will become irrelevant in the developed world. Smartphones have a potential customer base of seven to eight billion users, which means even faster technological progress. Within a decade, personal computers will disappear from common experience, replaced by cloud-backed communication interfaces and sensory nets.

Most pundits assume that the non-elites of the world will standardize on cheap (sub $100) commodity smartphones. I think what is really revolutionary and exciting is that the entire world will standardize on the minimally-functional smartphone necessary to join the human community.

The smartphone used by the world’s other six billion people will offer the minimum functionality needed to participate in the persistent-connection-enabled marketplace. We cannot say now what that functionality will be.

For example, for current smartphones, the “base” functionality means capacitive touch, HTML5 web browser, HD video, 3D graphics, an app store, etc. Future devices will have their own minimum functionality that will serve as a gateway to full membership in society, in the same way that car or credit card ownership does in some parts of the USA. It may be immersive holographic headsets or quasi-AI-capable CPU’s.

Global smartphone adoption will universalize and democratize access to the marketplace in the same way that jeans have universalized and democratized fashion and Coca Cola and hamburgers have democratized diets. But unlike these trends of fashion, opening access to the marketplace is a transformative paradigm shift. It will enable new business models such as digital currency, distance learning, and many that we cannot now imagine.

Advice to photographers and videographers

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Unless you are taking photos for legal evidence, or to hand them off for processing to someone else, you are an artist, and should treat your work accordingly. Even if your goal is only to document an event, to take a photo, you must choose the subject, time, and composition of every shot. That means you are choosing the message you wish to convey, regardless of how the viewer may interpret it. Don’t shirk your responsibility as artist by dumping the raw footage onto your viewer. Ruthlessly eliminate and crop the redundant and unessential until only the kernel of the idea you had in your mind when you took the photo remains. Only you know why you found that moment in time and space interesting, so do your best to isolate and communicate that feeling in your work.

And another thing: when you wish to make something memorable, be authentic in your representation of the past. When you want to memorialize an event, don’t pose people and create an artificial situation with big fake grins. Convey real, true emotion with candid shoots. Don’t merely repeat the same pose with different backgrounds — as if to prove that you were there.
On the other hand, don’t always merely observe events: don’t hesitate to get in the action, and make something interesting happen. The fact that you are creating a situation does not make your subject’s reaction to it less authentic.

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A good photo has three elements: good composition, nice light, and an interesting subject.

A great photo transcends the present moment. It connects with the viewer emotionally and invites them to tell their own story about the subject.

Afgan Girl

picture shot by National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry. Sharbat Gula was one of the students in an informal school within the refugee camp; McCurry, rarely given the opportunity to photograph Afghan women, seized the opportunity and captured her image. She was approximately 12 years old at the time. She made it on the cover of National Geographic next year, and her identity was discovered in 1992.

Ultimate limits on computation

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1: The computer cannot be denser than that which would create a black hole (Bekenstein bound)
2: The temperature of the cosmic microwave background radiation sets the minimum operating temperature
3: Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, Planck’s constant,E = mc2 set a maximum on the energy processing per unit mass (2 x 1047 bits per second per gram of its mass)
4: Due to the second law of thermodynamics, there is a minimum to the energy consumption per computation (Landauer limit)

More: Wikipedia

Understanding biology

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In my opinion, biology is about just two things: the why and how. The why is evolution. The how is protein synthesis.

Evolution is basically just applied game theory. Protein synthesis is basically nanotechnology which is basically self-replicating information systems. Combine the two and you can explain just about everything about living systems.

You can learn these two relatively simple concepts in a few days. Everything you learn about biology afterwards will be filling in details. Most students who spend years in biology classes understand neither.

If you learn the game theory behind evolution, you will understand much more than biology. Human psychology and behavior, individual, social, economic, and political can be understood as a set of iterated game theory scenarios. You cannot truly understand history or society until you can see them in terms of game theory principles.

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