Monday, July 25, 2011

The Pathetic Nature of Terrorism

If, as the word implies, the goal of terrorists is to inspire terror, especially terror of such a proportion that it actually causes us to change our behavior, then they have failed, and failed dismally.

A person can only be said to be committing terrorism if they are able to embody this ideal, that is to participate in some sort of campaign against civilians that is of such a magnitude that it actually does cause them to live in terror and to change their way of life as a result. If this is the case, then we should not be so eager to use the word "terrorist" because it implies the existence of such a campaign. In reality, these campaigns are sad, weak, and ineffective. Their participants are all similarly deluded, whether they are blowing themselves up, opening fire on civilians, or doing some other sort of stupid activity. Thus, we should not be calling these participants "terrorists" but rather "wanna be terrorists".

The reality of effective terrorism is that it must arise through a power vacuum that rarely exists in the developed world. Terrorism is really a story of radical groups operating in failed states, oppressive dictators, and of course western corporate sponsorship of violent groups that oppose the peaceful organization of labor. Therefore, our response to and use of the term "Terrorism" shows the lack of understanding that the Average westerner has of conditions outside of the West.

Following the 9/11/2001 "terrorist" attack in New York, President Bush and other western political leaders exploited this lack of knowledge to create the modern ideological "war on terror". This is nothing but a meaningless show, a quixotic pursuit of only the small and insignificant outgrowths of (manifestly ineffective) anti-western violence amid the sea of power struggle in underdeveloped regions where terrorism of all types actually occurs. The objective of preventing terror in these regions is, in fact, a noble goal, but it will only prevent violence against the West if it is true that a properly organized and empowered government in such a region would be a western ally - something that is not likely considering the history of western involvement in such regions. In this context, the western policy goal of promoting democracy in these regions is not itself misguided, but the stated political goal of preventing attacks against the West is certainly a lie.

Of course, the means by which democracy is allegedly being promoted in these regions is not a means of bringing about democracy at all. Here, a mix of sinister motive and pure ignorance reigns. The motive is sinister in the sense that wherever popular sentiment is anti-western, a true democratic process cannot be allowed to occur, because then anti-western leaders will be elected. The motive is ignorant in the sense that the western leaders are generally ignorant of the actual economic, legal, and social conditions that must be cultivated in order to bring about a prosperous society. President Bush was the exemplar of both the sinister motive and pure ignorance.

Rhetorically, the language that terrorism is wrong is a pointless endeavor because terrorism arises from a political conflict. The very nature of political conflicts is for individuals to hide factual disagreements behind ideological positions. These ideological positions involve accusations of injustice. Thus, arbitrary ideological disagreements prevent, in general, the comparison of ethical positions in a way that allows disputes to be resolved.

The only meaningful way to fight terrorism with rhetoric is to characterize it as pathetic and ineffective. This will dissuade individuals from participating because they will feel it is an inefficient use of resources, and seek alternative means of bringing about their policy goals. Conversely, the more wildly overstated the magnitude of a terrorist incident is, the more media attention it receives, and the more disproportionate the western response, the greater the likelihood that some other idiot will take up arms against the West.

Friday, July 1, 2011

A little sketch of the beginnings of proper philosophic thought

From a distance, the playground sounds reach the ear as an ecstatic whispering. As the person approaches, these sounds flow apart to become the shouts of children, myriad shuffles of motion, wind blowing across grass, and the low, deep hum of adult conversation.

Distributed in their respective zones, the denizens have segregated themselves by activity. About the very perimeter there can be found dogs. One is squatting down to shit while its owner waits with a scowl, no doubt uncomfortable with being observed. Another runs in J shaped intercept patterns, zealously retrieving the ball that is thrown by its patient master. In a sunny but secluded space, just inside this perimeter, one finds alluringly toned men and women sunbathing. They are young, old, nearly naked, fully clothed, happy to be seen, unhappy to be seen, indifferent. Moving now toward the heart of the space, here are the games and the children. Some play on the equipment. Others buzz in endless squiggles as they pursue the soccer ball. Little groups of children quietly or boisterously discuss their plans in the shade of the great fur trees. One solitary boy sits against a concrete wall, whining to his mother who listens with concern that may or may not be genuine. Here one finds that encircling these groups of children and sprinkled throughout are adults: parents and caregivers of various types, older siblings and babysitters.

Categories puff into being as the mind searches for eloquent words. The truth is there but it can never be anywhere but where it is, it can never have a form other than itself. Those particulars which become the exemplars on which we base categories can never be identical to ideas in the mind, words on the lip, or the abstract workings of a step-wise mechanical process.

The observer speaks from memory, but those who listen must then speak from their imaginations. Deep in the consciousness there are these little things - impressions of the world - that are a more primordial form of imagination which springs up in the moment of observation. But for the reader there are no impressions of the particular moment at the particular place that I have observed. And so even if by some luck every detail he contemplates is filled in exactly as it was, the reader will only have recreated those things which he has contemplated. But contemplation itself is limited in ways that experience is not, and it extends in dimensions that have never yet been experienced.

Philosophy can now be considered. If description, prediction, and all the other measurable ways of analyzing the narratives of people are to be refined, all such refinement must be based on the comparison of the narratives of observers with those of listeners. Because this is a question of the quality of the imagination itself, Philosophy is an effort to improve imagination. But this means that we must define improvement, and so we must have some sentimental agreement as to what ways of imagining are superior. Thus it will never be possible to proceed from first principles in the way that the philosophers of old have done. It should be obvious, in any event, that philosophy cannot exist outside of the particular cultural tradition from which the consciousnesses of its practitioners are constructed. To note: consciousness can only be constructed from things which are not consciousness, or it cannot be constructed at all.

Monday, May 9, 2011

An entitlement model of unemployment

When some of the pool of desiring laborers stands idle this can only be due to inadequacy of available employment opportunities for those laborers. This is, in turn, due to a persistent decline in total jobs required for production to meet the current level of consumption, which is identical to the total consumption motivation generated by the wages paid in those jobs.

The model cannot approximate consumption as a function only of total earnings, because savings equate with spending only so far as capital accumulation occurs; further savings have no stimulative value. Capital accumulation stops at a certain threshold determined by existing available technology and the cost of labor inputs, ie wages. Further savings has no real effect on the economy.

Another possible factor in the relationship between wages and consumption is total imports and exports. Imported goods replace goods that would be produced domestically and slightly reduce price levels. Exported goods are additional produced goods that are not then consumed locally, and so represent a slight increase in the price level. The issue of currency exchange appears here, and since the value of accumulated currency depends on goods available in that currency, exports also tend to decrease the cost of imports, while imports decrease the value of exports.

Taking these elements together, we have:

Consumption = Wages * (1 - wage saving rate - wage deduction rate) + Profits * (1 - profit saving rate - profit deduction rate) + min(Capital replacement + New capital accumulation, Wages * wage saving rate + Profits * profit saving rate)

Total economic payments are as follows:

Payments = wages + profits = Consumption + Domestic Government Spending - Imports + Exports

Assume that all employed people receive wages. For this purpose, and elsewhere in the model, count self-employment profits from small enterprises as wages. Then people employed can be calculated as follows:

Employment = wages / average wage

We can now start plugging the model around and we get:

wages = Consumption + Domestic Government Spending - Imports + Exports - profits <=>
wages = Wages * (1 - wage saving rate - wage deduction rate) + Profits * (1 - profit saving rate - profit deduction rate) + min(Capital replacement + New capital accumulation, Wages * wage saving rate + Profits * profit saving rate) + Domestic Government Spending - Imports + Exports - profits

Which has two cases based on the minimum condition:

A. Excess savings exist:
Wages = [Capital replacement + New capital accumulation + Domestic Government Spending - Imports + Exports - Profits * (Profit saving rate + Profit deduction rate)] / (wage saving rate + wage deduction rate)

B. Savings shortage:
Wages = [Domestic Government Spending - Imports + Exports - Profits * Profit deduction rate] / wage deduction rate

Since Employment * Average wage = wages, we can stop here and use as our data the statistics that comprise the relationship with wages, then transform them into the final employment estimates. This can then be modeled econometrically.

We will analyze the range 2001-2009 in the United States, and assume that all years fall into category A. First, a two variable model that compares just the most significant 2 variables, Government Spending and Private saved or deducted profits, which I call "profit holdings".

This is a decent result. The R-squared value is 0.946, but the degrees of freedom is only 6. Government Spending is very strongly positively correlated with wages, and profit holdings are strongly discorrelated: as corporate profits increase, ceteris paribus, one can expect wages to decrease.

One can note the oscillation of the estimator above and below the trend lines for employment and wages. That is because employment and wages actually endogenously affect each other in a mutually moderating fashion: worker layoffs compete with wage cuts and worker hirings compete with wage increases in the marketplace. The estimators do not incorporate this trade off and so tend to over-estimate economic changes. That is, however, a good thing. It shows that even as growth occurs, an underlying dynamic can develop that is destructive. Autocorrelation is not controlled for here.

An estimate was also run with imports and exports included, to examine the claim that trade policies have had a detrimental effect on employment levels. This model is unable to establish a significant effect from either of those factors. It can be argued, though, that a larger range of dates is necessary, and different variable transformations utilized in order to allow perception of the worker replacement dynamic that is hypothesized. This regression did not make those transformations and is based on only 9 data points. Since the alternative, 4 variable model leaves only 4 degrees of freedom while increasing the R-squared value to 0.97, the 2 variable model is preferable from the perspective of statistical robustness.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

An ethical assessment of occupational hazard level agreements in hero class operations

First, what is a hero class? Well, there are specific job functions that allow a person to be viewed as heroic by virtue of their daily activities within that job function. Typically, these are privileged classes in the sense that workers within them are viewed as being better, in some way, than the typical member of the society. In western societies these classes are the Firefighters, Police, Paramedics, Doctors, and Military Personnel.

Why these classes are viewed as being particularly heroic is largely a narrative question. We have narratives throughout our social experience that enforce the heroism of these types of worker. These narratives contain the logic that these individuals are engaged in professions where they contribute to the good of the society in some way. However, this logic applies to a far greater class of worker than just these classes, so there must be additional, less manifest criteria. In any event, these categories of worker comprise a class that will from here be called the hero class.

A note on the analysis that appears below: The terminology used may appear to be imprecise. It is not explicitly connected to any particular ethical theory. It is my view that the terms used can be internalized to a given ethical system such that they make sense within that system. This will work for a large number of ethical systems. Whereas my language often suggests a consequentialist framework, it may be recast as deontological analysis by agreed upon replacement mechanisms that replace object values with rule arrangements.

How much greater is the value of the life of a hero than that of other classes of person? Certainly, the value of a hero is treated as being much greater than that of a criminal. For instance, if a law enforcement official suspects any degree of danger to his person, he can usually justify the summary execution of a criminal. This is the basis of the ethical justification for killing of criminals extrajudicially.

Foreign nationals are valued depending on their occupation and nationality. Generally speaking, Foreign military personnel and police officers are not given heroic distinction at all. Additionally, peasants, blue collar workers, the unemployed, day laborers, and non-professional white collar workers (basic civilians) are viewed as less valuable than professionals, businessmen, capitalists, and academics (prestige civilians). Peoples from countries outside of the United States, Europe, or the British Commonwealth (western) are also generally viewed as less valuable.

Thus, in order to preserve the life of a single hero, as many as one hundred civilians can be killed or allowed to die, provided that they are basic civilians from non-western countries. In this scheme, a prestige civilian is probably worth about 10 basic civilians, and a western civilian is probably worth about 10 non-western civilians. An empirical study could elucidate this ratio.

How did this arrangement come about? There are three aspects to it: first, the power of unions bargaining for occupational safety standards for these classes of peoples leads to restrictions on activities in times of crisis. Secondly, political leaders often perceive that allowing deaths of many heroes will be politically unprofitable, so they will make decisions that prioritize the lives of heroes. Third, the casualties among less valuable classes of people are heavily discounted in various ways.

On the first point, unions are successful in their attempts to secure benefits for the worker classes they represent largely as a result of the political dynamic in place. Hero classes generally receive a favorable political dynamic, so the interests of their unions become more successfully advanced than that of other workers represented under collective bargaining. Safety is typically a highly valued concern for these classes. Thus, the result is the establishment of procedures that reduce hazard levels. While not a deliberate trade off between the lives of non-heroes and heroes, it is this in effect because efficacy, and therefore net life-savings, becomes a secondary criterion to safety at least some of the time.

On the second point, Political leaders recognize the importance of preserving the lives of heroes, in part because some of the blame for hero deaths ultimately falls upon them. When heroes die, it carries extra poignancy to a society that idolizes them. Additionally, politicians seek to appease their unions, lobbyists, and advocates. Specifically, in the industrial supply for these industries, it is more profitable to utilize advanced technology, often on the basis of preserving hero life, and politicians will follow the money in this regard. Additionally, popular sentiment is more likely to follow stories of individuals or small numbers of people than large, statistical quantities. Popular sentiment also views the lives of typical people as being nearly worthless - this is the basis of our attitude toward strangers.

Regarding the third point, while the death of many people might carry a larger absolute number, people do not register these deaths in the same way because of various discounting mechanisms. First, media is often not present in the decision making of heroes. Thus, information on what actually happens is frequently unavailable. Secondly, people have a tendency to deny that heroes' decision making or operational pattern of action can actually be anything but ideal. Thus, the view that heroes (not necessarily at the individual level but through their institutions) can make a calculation that puts their lives above those of who they are saving is a source of cognitive dissonance for the average person, who will therefore avoid conscious consideration of the problem.

Turning now to the question of what hero institutions should strive to achieve, consider that as an alternative to this actual, unequal value arrangement, there was an ideal in which all human life is treated as being of equal value.

Under such an arrangement, one must consider relative effects on human action. Thus, the policy of police to less often shoot criminals might encourage them to become more confrontational on average, or less likely to flee from police. However, much sociological work suggests that this is of limited effect. Similarly, military interventions would probably not suffer from significantly increased resistance if military actions were made less brutal. In this regard, it is important to count accurately, since some of the changed effect comes from differences in immediate conditions, which should not be included, as the question is whether the net quantity of such decisions increases, not how they individually pay out.

Within a given operation, there are logistical constraints. The death of a hero prevents their presence at a later time in the operation. In this regard, two types of operation can be distinguished.

In an emergency operation, attrition is important because replacement cannot occur within a sufficiently brief scope, so that each death hinders efforts through to the remainder of the operation. Thus, in this case, the initial assessment of operation length and frequency of life-saving trade-off should help determine the degree of risk that the hero should initially undertake. As the operation approaches its conclusion, the hero should gradually be exposed to greater risk, until such point that the expected value is maximized with no risk avoidance premium at the termination of the operation.

In an operation that is planned in advance, arrangements can be made to replace any hero that is killed. Thus, the expected value should be maximized throughout, with no risk avoidance premium at all.

Expected value is maximized in terms of net human life. Thus, for the hero that has no risk avoidance premium, operational possibilities should be ranked based on expected lives saved - expected lives lost. A hero must be indifferent between his own death and that of another person. The risk premium is simply an additional value that is placed on the life of the hero, thus the calculation when there is a risk premium takes the form of expected lives saved - expected lives lost - risk premium * risk of hero death.

In conclusion, let an operation that has a net gain of human lives be considered good. Let an operation that has a net loss of human lives be considered evil. When the perspective is set such that the status quo is the current operational framework, operations are then defined as changes to policies and corresponding changes to lives saved or lost.

It is clear that policies that allow police to shoot people with near impunity, or allow militaries to bomb civilians in pursuit of political goals are evil. The resistance, even by unions (such as police unions) to policies aimed at increasing accountability of heroes, are policies that enforce the unequal valuation of lives between heroes and non-heroes. The honoring of military personnel who have committed atrocities in foreign states similarly enforces this inequality. Even the use of the term "hero" to describe activities that in any other light would be horrific is testament to the relativity and self-serving nature of our popular thinking regarding good and evil.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Good Business, Bad Business

Denote the concept of a rule as a general term for everything from guidelines to laws, encompassing all of our sentiments regarding morality.

In a system where the rules are set by an outside (divine) authority, the rules themselves define the totality of goodness or badness. This can be proven by contradiction; suppose that someone did something bad (or good). If there was no rule to determine that it was bad, how could it be bad?

In a system where the rules are set by a human process that is internal to the society in which the rules exist, the rule set cannot be entirely stipulated or communicated throughout the society; regardless of whether it is agreed upon, individuals are only given a part of it and forced to infer the remainder. If we take this inference to be the basis of individual differences in ethics, we are, in a sense, arguing against the individual proclivity to have ethical originality. Nevertheless, this seems to manifestly be the case. Those who have more dissident ethical views are typically those who for some reason formed strong completions based on small subsets and then came to conclude that the remainder of society's opinion of the rules were invalid due to the resultant discrepancies. Typically this happens early in life.

The above description posits that rules begin at the level of the whole society and are disseminated to individuals through acculturation. Then it cannot be that the rules are merely the confluence or agreements, mediated by political processes, of individual ethical positions; rather they are the expression, by the politically dominant, of a mixture between their own vision of the complete rule set and modifications, including intentional omission of those rules which are in some way disadvantageous to them. For example, money talks in politics.

The concerned intellectual responds by pointing out these flaws and omissions, ideally by demonstrating clear and simple contradictions or recalcitrant data. The politically dominant, often having hired unscrupulous intellectuals of their own, seek to undermine, in whatever way is most effective, the potency of the concerned intellectual's message.

There is also an important function served by rules, namely that of the just social order. Under a rule set that is ideal, the basic physiological, social and emotional needs of the people are best fulfilled. Many arguments support this idea but it would be onerous to argue for it here; a detailed argument is given by Rawls in A Theory of Justice. There may be no single ideal, but within a single ideal the utility of stability typically makes movement to a different ideal undesirable.

Define a business as a collection of individuals that is marked by internal political relations that lead it to have coherent profit-seeking behavior and a hierarchical command structure. Typically the business has political interests insofar as proposed and existing rules have a significant effect on either the business itself or some political faction within the business. Since it has a hierarchical command structure, only certain factions within the business are able to express their political views through the business. Thus, the business organizes the labor of many political factions toward the ends of its leadership.

This political participation has its ethical expression in ubiquitous and blatant manipulations of the rules. Having not experienced more than a tiny portion of the unfairness within a given rule set firsthand, the typical member of the society will object to only a tiny portion of the behavior of businesses and a tiny portion of the rules. However, the many tacitly accepted modifications of the rules will, over time, create a divergence from the just social order. The individual whose interests are not coincident with those of business will not necessarily realize that the rules have become increasingly unfair to him. Instead he may perceive an arbitrary aspect of the rule set as vulgar or oppressive due to the interaction of his many rule completions, some of which involve the acceptance of manipulations or omissions.

Within a typical society, the lions' share of profit and corresponding sinister political manipulation come not from each business in an equal share, but from a small portion of businesses. These businesses are not necessarily the largest (so long as profit is not used as the yardstick). What makes these businesses different is the modus operandi of subversion through rule manipulation. Not always is the conduct of such businesses illegal, but typically there are many illegal activities taking place within these businesses, hidden behind a veil of secrecy and plausible deniability. Typically these businesses are monopolies or parts of cartels; or they control majority market shares within consumer and/or supply chain markets. In part, it is the freedom from the persistent pressure of competition that allows the accumulation of profits in sufficient quantity to corrupt the political process. However, perfect competition is an unbearable state for the typical business, and so it is no wonder that it is so rare.

Because of the power of business that result from their profits, and the myriad incentives to manipulate rules to jeopardize society in general, the political goals of businesses should be viewed with extreme skepticism. Within the political structure, the vast majority must be united against the small factions who control businesses. Great care must be taken, in particular, to ensure the fairness of competition between businesses, because it is often arguments related to this unfairness that become the basis for profound regulatory blunders.

If, on the other hand, the political effort to maintain skepticism toward the political goals of businesses fails, the political environment rapidly deteriorates. Instead of having a system in which the rules are more or less fair and a small amount of effort is needed to maintain that fairness, the system becomes one in which the rules are more or less unfair and those seeking to restore fairness must resort to extreme philosophic extrapolation in order to even visualize what a fair rule set might be. In such a situation, social reformers become pitted against each other because the proper ideal is unclear.

In order to resolve this conflict among social reformers, a robust traditional character must be cultivated within societies. This character must combine expressions that appeal to each relevant political faction. Within the traditional character, artistic and philosophic expressions, particularly hero stories read to children, must be developed that serve as a common language of ethical discussion. Small ethical fragments, enforced by celebrated art, become the basis for effective political discourse by the masses.

Businesses will seek to disrupt this character. However, it is not difficult at all to engender a persistent cultural belief that businesses are not cool.

I think that this musing has some relevance to present day America.