Atlas Tugged

Eight years ago, every sophisticated critic had the same sophisticated criticism to make of (the admittedly terrible) Atlas Shrugged movie: how absurdly anachronistic it was to think that a modern economy could depend on something as coarsely physical as railroads. OMG. SMH. According to the wisdom du jour, then as now, the future is digital–a condition that renders the world of crudely physical things dispensable.

Here we are, eight years later:

Union Pacific, a major rail carrier, also expressed relief at the deal. “We look forward to the unions ratifying these agreements and working with employees as we focus on restoring supply chain fluidity,” the company said in a statement.

Mr. Walsh wrote on Twitter that the agreement “balances the needs of workers, businesses, and our nation’s economy.”

“Our rail system is integral to our supply chain,” he said in a follow-up tweet, “and a disruption would have had catastrophic impacts on industries, travelers and families across the country.”

An Exponential Corporate Tax Based on Market Share

Apologies that my posts are much shorter than Irfan’s. But sometimes I have only the nugget of an idea that still seems worth developing enough to warrant sharing at a preliminary stage. I’ve done a lot of reflecting in recent years on the growing problems of oligopoly and monopoly in American commerce — having taught about this in an interdisciplinary course on Market Failures and Public Goods. It is not a ‘sexy’ issue that draws a lot of attention like culture wars material. And that’s a shame, because it is a far bigger part of “structural injustice” than many of the things discussed in the culture wars (imho). And, because most people finish high school without even 10 minutes on what public goods are and what kinds of problems prevent markets from working optimally, less than maybe 2% of Americans understand why big tech companies like Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook etc. now have so much power and are driving up economic inequality by buying up every competitor or driving them out of business via unfair advantages. The root cause is what’s known as a network externality in which the goods being sold are not merely non-rival, but even anti-rival: because they become a “standard,” the more people use them, the more valuable they become. They are also get a critical edge in visibility, and no competitors can get over the threshold to compete well enough with them. The result is a so-called “long tail” distribution in which one company in a sector may get 50% of the profits, the next-strongest getting 10%, the third strongest getting 3%, and so on down through thousands each getting much less than 1%.

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Poet of the Sociopath

Rand “is the cold, stony advocate of self-interest, the poet of the sociopath.” That quotation is from the book AYN RAND AND THE RUSSIAN INTELLIGENTSIA (2022) by Derek Offord. He goes straight to Rand’s various representations and condemnations of altruism and collectivism and to her holding high ethical egoism and attendant inversions of traditional virtues, such as the displacement of humility with pride. He sees the audacity of Rand’s vision of a guilt-free human life.

The author sticks to the clashes between Rand’s ethics and the traditional, altruistic ones, secular or religious. He takes no notice of continuities of the old and the new and ways in which the latter took up the old with redefinition and placement in an orderly account of value per se. By sticking to only the stark clashes and by ignoring facets of the psychology of Rand’s protagonists—indeed conjecturing that such things as empathy and concern for others are entirely absent in those characters (and in their creator)— Offord makes it easy on himself to slide from Rand being the poet for personalities asocial, to antisocial, to sociopathical. Even the asocial is in full truth not fitting of Rand’s protagonists.

This book is another distortion and smear of Rand’s philosophy. It is a smart one, by someone who actually has read Rand’s novels and The Virtue of Selfishness. He is of independent mind, not one repeating old critical reviews by others.

https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/ayn-rand-and-the-russian-intelligentsia-9781350283947/

a thought or two prompted by reading chapter one of Gaus’ “The Tyranny of the Ideal”

Suppose that, for a certain type of cooperative endeavor in a certain type of circumstance, the only appropriate fairness-pattern (in the distribution of benefits and burdens) is equal shares of what is produced (as long as a certain minimum effort, of a certain minimal quality, is put forth). So, we do the thing, everyone crosses the effort/quality threshold, and we distribute the fruits of our labor equally. Is the distribution perfectly or completely fair or just?

Not necessarily. Maybe my contribution involved my unfairly acquiring something (say, wood for a fire that needed to be fed) from someone. Or maybe, though I traded fairly to get my wood, the person I got it from obtained it from some other person unfairly. The general pattern here (that need not involve anything like a chain of transactions a la Nozickian procedural justice) is: (social state of affairs) that-P is just only relative to the justice of (relevant social circumstance) that-Q; but it might be that, if that-Q is just, it is just only relative to the justice of (further relevant social circumstance) that-R; etc. Though there is no reason why this explanatory chain has to be super-long or super-complicated in all scenarios, at the level of evaluating whole societies and the complex interactions, norms and institutions that compose them, some considerable number of salient justice-evaluable circumstances and some considerable complexity should be expected. But that pushes us toward the idea that ideals of perfect or complete justice are unmanageable and quixotic. 

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Stephen Bannon’s Day in Court

I have zero sympathy or respect for Stephen Bannon, and am gratified that he was found guilty the other day of contempt of Congress in the Capitol Riot inquiry. But if the mainstream media is ever going to dispel the notion that it’s biased against the Right, it’s going to have to do a better job than it has of getting the facts straight in legal cases like this. Consider this brief, passing claim from a New York Times article on the Bannon verdict:

Like many defendants, Mr. Bannon did not mount a defense case for the jury, deciding instead to rely on cross-examining the prosecution’s two witnesses: a lawyer for the committee and an F.B.I. agent who had worked on the case.

This passage conflates testifying in one’s defense in court with mounting a defense in court. It then infers that because Bannon didn’t testify in his own defense, he didn’t mount a defense. Continue reading

Davenport on Guns: The “Endless Arms Race”

John Davenport has a piece on gun violence and gun regulation in Salon, “An endless arms race: How to fight the NRA’s absurd solution to mass shootings.”

As we celebrated Independence Day, there was no independence from the scourge of gun violence and the toll it is taking on the American psyche. The shooter who attacked a parade in Highland Park, Illinois, killing six people and wounding at least 38 others, used a “high-powered rifle,” according to authorities. Survivors report a rain of bullets at the height of the attack.

This attack is bound to renew calls for more “red flag” laws that would help identify and disarm emotionally or mentally unstable persons who are making threats of gun violence or praising mass murderers. But would the Highland Park shooter’s online record of participating in “death fetish” culture sites and making art featuring mass killing have been enough for a judge to order seizure of his guns?