Monday, December 30, 2013

Functions of government

In a news story about unemployment benefits, Dean Heller, R-Nevada, was quoted: "providing a safety net for those in need is one of the most important functions of the federal government"

Dean Heller is wrong. Providing for people in need is the function of charities, not the government. 

The government does have a useful role to play in coordinating efforts to help people in need, especially during a crisis such as natural disaster or violence. Paying people to do nothing is something our government has a long history of doing but is not something that should be a function of any government.

Among the most important functions of government are:

Protecting each citizen's right to life, liberty, justice, property, and equal opportunity. 

Organizing the national defense - which supports protecting citizen rights.

Engaging other nations with diplomacy to protect citizens traveling abroad and to resolve disputes with other nations peacefully.

Coordinating public efforts such as building infrastructure for transportation, communications, water and electricity distribution, education, recycling, and waste disposal; and controlling the use or preservation of natural resources.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Anonymous Corporations

If a corporation can hide the personal involvement of its true owners - the people who control it and benefit most from its existence - what else can it hide?

Unethical behavior? Illegal activity? It's certain that shell corporations have been used to hide these things.

I'm not saying that a person should be unable to maintain some anonymity. But I am saying that corporations should pay taxes on their income, and being entities formed specifically for certain legal standing they should not have the same right to privacy that individuals have.

So if one wants to be anonymous in one's personal activities, one should not form a corporation to conduct them. 

And if one wants to be anonymous in one's business activities, one should move to another country that is more supportive of organized crime.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Thoughts and Policies

A person's thoughts are private. If that person is an elected official, then his official thoughts are private too. This means anyone employed or appointed by the elected official has a duty to keep their internal discussions private and not to leak any information. This provides the official room to think and to discuss issues with other smart people in the room without fear of being judged prematurely. Elected officials are people and it is unreasonable to expect them to think and speak perfectly all the time.

An elected official therefore needs a means to express thoughts to the public in a way that invites discussion and criticism. That means should be the written word, in the form of speeches, policies, and policy drafts. Speeches are usually a public reading of a written essay. Policies should be the product of a lot of thought, reason, discussion, criticism, and editing to clarify, mitigate, explain, emphasize, and revise. Policy drafts should be the product of some initial thought and discussion with some problems remaining for which the elected official is soliciting debate and criticism from the public in order to identify points or issues that need clarification, mitigation, explanation, emphasis, or revision.

Policy drafts are requests for comments. However, to be helpful those comments must be constructive. For example, a comment like "this is the dumbest idea I've ever seen" should be immediately discarded by a clerk and replaced with a single tick in a count of opposing viewpoints. Similar constructive comments should be grouped together, rephrased if necessary to capture the point clearly, and tallied.


Thoughtful people who are concerned with survival in a dangerous world recognize that chances of survival are better when they cooperate with other people. This leads to bands, caravans, villages, and larger organizations.

When an organization already exists for mutual benefit, it's natural for some people to view it as a resource to be exploited. They want to enjoy its advantages without contributing their share. They may not be complete freeloaders but simply trying to maximize their own benefit and minimize their costs. To counteract this natural tendency, societies have for centuries designated judges and police to enforce their rules.

I think that anarchists, especially those living in cities, have an irrational desire for total disorder. If lack of government is what they want, there are plenty of places inside and outside the country where they can go and not be bothered by any authorities. They are free to choose one and go there.

Yet many anarchists stay in cities. Why do anarchists choose to live within the confines of the most successful social organizations in history? Why do anarchists choose to stay in cities - places that have so many rules? If freedom from authority is what they wish for, why don't they venture out of the cities and make the wilderness their home? Or at least rural areas where there are fewer people and fewer rules?

Cities are convenient places to find shelter, food, and social experience. In the wilderness, the anarchist would have to work much harder to obtain these.

If government were abolished and everyone lived in anarchy, then people who who would invest their assets to build something of value would always incur an additional cost for security. Anything that is built would need to be secured against other people. For example, a farmer who plants crops needs to protect them from looters; a blacksmith who creates tools needs to protect them from looters; a performer needs to protect the stage from drunks and violent critics. These security tasks require cooperation among people. It would be tedious to negotiate the terms of the cooperation every day, so the cooperation will naturally lead to a standing agreement among the parties, thereby creating an organizational structure and associated rules.

Societies emerge naturally out of the mutual cooperation and agreement of their founders because they are beneficial. Children born into societies learn the rules and are expected to follow them as long as they are part of those societies.

I think in a free country it is critical for people to be able to move freely so they can choose to live in a society that is a good fit for them, or choose to eschew society and live alone somewhere rural or wild and avoid contact with other people.

It's alright to talk about revolution against a government that oppresses its people, because as the Founders of the United States wrote, the government exists to uphold individual rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. But any anarchist who advocates revolution for the sake of eliminating government altogether is a hypocrite, because that would be taking away choice from other people who want a government to uphold their rights. For that reason, people who understand the value of government will always be opposed to the anarchists.

The anarchist has only one rational move: relocate to an area where contact with other people would be rare, and thus achieve a very high degree of personal freedom. Even the anarchist can rely on government to uphold his or her rights, because without a government to monopolize violence anyone with a weapon can attempt to become a little dictator, which makes for a dangerous wilderness.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Keeping the legislative branch accountable

Does the executive branch need to participate in keeping track of who voted for or against specific bills in the legislature?

If you're paranoid you may say that such record keeping could lead to harassment of legislators.

On the other hand, a president who needs to persuade legislators to take his cause seriously needs to be able to embarrass them if they have voted for nonsense in the past, or publicly acknowledge contributions to rational lawmaking by others.

Can the president rely on the legislative branch to keep those records? I think so. Also the legislative branch is the authority on those records so it makes sense for them to be provided by the legislative branch for all public and private use.

Those records should be easily accessible to any American.

Democracy can be unfair

Democracy is not inherently fair.

Take hypothetical candidates for some office. The people will vote for the candidate of their choice, but how do the people know which candidate is the best choice for the office? Their perception of each candidate depends on what they know about that candidate. Because there are so many people and they are spread across a large amount of land, it's not possible for the candidates to speak to each person directly. What each candidate tells the people about themselves is limited by how that candidate can reach the people. Television, radio, billboards, pamphlets, internet sites, and word of mouth are some common ways to reach people and they all incur costs for the candidate. So how much each candidate can tell people about him or her self depends on money. Not all candidates have the same amount of money so candidates with more money are more likely to reach more people and be able to tell them more about themselves (or tell them negative things about other candidates). Because people are more comfortable with people with whom they are more familiar, even if the messages from two identical candidates are essentially the same, the candidate with more public exposure is likely to receive more votes. This may be unfair. Furthermore, people don't necessarily vote for what is best for the county, state, or country. Some people may conscientiously vote for what is best for everyone but most people just vote for what they think is best for themselves first and then for everyone else. So the votes are naturally subjective and playing to people's selfish subjectivity is an old play for politicians running for an office. Once in office, politicians are under no obligation to fulfill their campaign promises. There is no law requiring any effort towards fulfilling campaign promises. There is no penalty for not fulfilling them and even though theoretically the punishment for not fulfilling them is to be voted out of office the next election, historically politicians continue to be re-elected even after failing to fulfill their most important promises.

In a state with millions of people, not all people drive the same roads. But is the road improvement budget apportioned according to the number of people in each area and the taxes they paid towards the road improvement budget? Or do people in rural areas pay the same amount towards road improvement but see a fraction of the benefit relative to tax payers in other areas because the money from all over the state tends to be spent in more highly populated areas?  Do people in some areas wait an unreasonable amount of time for improvements to occur because the state published the entire work as one offer and the winning company can't do it all at once, so it focuses on highly monitored areas first? Maybe work should be published as multiple offers according to geographical areas and the work contracted to multiple companies who will execute simultaneously.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Claude Vorhilhorn's Fraud

I recently discovered a really fantastic atheistic cult called the Raelian Movement, started by Claude Vorhilhorn in the 1970's.  He wrote a book in which he describes an encounter with an alien (Mr. President) who revealed to him the true origins of life on our planet and human civilization. Here are some of his claims (not in any particular order):

1. the same alien (Mr. President) is a scientist who has lived for over 25,000 years and together with a team of similarly long-lived scientists created all the forms of plant and animal life on this planet, and that the diversity of human races and of all life reflects the creativity of different teams of scientists and artists who were the creators.

2. the team of alien scientists created the single continent that existed before breaking up and becoming the separate continents we know today

3. the aliens are waiting to see how humanity turns out, to see if we're intelligent and peaceful enough to deserve receiving our inheritance - the sum of all knowledge acquired by our alien creators

4. the aliens have intervened in human affairs throughout our early history and some of these incidents are documented in the Bible, and have been misinterpreted by subsequent generations

5. the aliens are afraid that humans will be dangerous to them when we catch up to their technological achievements, which is why they're watching us, but also they want to hurry things along so that's why they've allowed themselves to be seen (UFO sightings)

6. the aliens achieved immortality through cloning, and it's possible to clone a person and all his personality and knowledge from a single cell of any part of the body. Also, that it's possible to transfer knowledge from one person to another by extracting brain fluid from the brain of one and injecting it into the brain of the other - and that's how the aliens teach their young.

7. the resurrection of the righteous that is predicted in the Bible will be done by the aliens using their cloning techniques

What's really interesting to me is that, when I was reading his book this week, I found myself really unsurprised by many of his alien biblical interpretations because I have seen some of the episodes of Ancient Aliens and I believe that the artifacts we have from ancient civilizations combined with religious histories from around the world certainly make a pretty good case that it's possible that aliens have visited our planet in the past.

However, I was disappointed that Claude didn't research the science better before writing his book, because some of what we know today about the world is seated very strongly in physical evidence that doesn't match the story Claude tells.

For example, the theory of continental drift is based on pretty good evidence that the continents drift a tiny amount every year and that over the 4.5 billion years that the earth has existed they have drifted together and and part several times, and the last time they were together was from approximately 300 million years ago to 200 million years ago when they started their drift from the last single continent into their current positions.  This contrasts greatly with Claude's story that the aliens found our planet covered completely by water 25,000 years ago and created a single continent by setting explosions everywhere and piling the earth into a single mass... which then drifted apart into our current continents sometime between 22,000 years ago and now.  That's enough time for the sea levels to change in many places but not for the continental drift.

Another problem with Claude's story is that we know quite a lot about how the body works and there isn't any evidence at all that any part of a person's knowledge lies outside of their brain. Even "muscle memory" is stored in the brain.  The genetic material in our cells is a blueprint for the body, it's not a copy of our memory. Furthermore, what we know of how the brain works also doesn't include any evidence that brain fluid stores any of a person's knowledge. So even if Claude's aliens can clone themselves and transfer their own memory to their clones using such a pair of techniques, which I'll assume is possible although not in the way Claude describes, they still wouldn't be able to resurrect righteous people who died generations ago because first, it's not possible to know by looking at a grave who was righteous and who wasn't (unless the aliens have tracked every single person's life and their burial site); and second, even if aliens recover genetic material from a person's grave they are not likely to find any brain fluid remaining from which to recover the personality. So this seems like quite a bit of fiction.

Finally, Claude claims that the alien intentionally didn't give him any evidence to show the world as a test of our intelligence - if we are intelligent enough then we will know Claude's story is true without any evidence. Well... that's absurd. An intelligent person who seeks the truth prefers to find it from evidence and observations.  And if we arrive at the conclusion that aliens have already visited our planet in the past independently of Claude, it will be using evidence that we find in our environment.

We'll be forced to conclude that although Claude is one of many authors who have postulated the existence of aliens, Claude is also one of the many phonies who invented incredible stories, and a creator of yet another cult.

I think that a beautiful idea isn't a good enough reason to lie to people.  Assuming Claude's story of alien encounter is a hoax, I would say to Claude that he had a fantastic idea and that if he had simply published it as a "what if", then if evidence is later discovered that shows he was in the ballpark of the truth he could have been honored as a visionary.