RIP James M. Buchanan (October 3, 1919 – January 9, 2013)

Nobel laureate and Classical Liberal economist James M. Buchanan has died today.  He was one of the most important economist of the 20th. Century and will be long remembered for his work on the principles of economic self-interest and their use to understand why politicians do what they do.

He received a Doctor Honoris Causa Degree from my home university at Universidad Francisco Marroquin in 2001 (link to video of his visit to UFM) and his books were some of the most important ones in my education during my college years.  At UFM I learned about Buchanan with Carrol Rios de Rodriguez.  Prof. Rodriguez is one of my favorite teachers and she was the former Director of the a Center for the Study of Public Choice, where the ideas of Buchanan and Tullock first were taught to me.

Here are some interviews to remember the work of this great man and I invite you all to read his books and continue learning!

Hayek and Buchanan: Rawls, Egalitarianism and Social Justice

James Buchanan on Chicago School Thinking: Old and New

James M. Buchanan on Economists and the Great Recession

James M. Buchanan on “Institutional Sources of America’s Fiscal Tragedy”

buchanan521

Rest in Peace James M. Buchanan

(October 3, 1919 – January 9, 2013)

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Hayek’s Spontaneous Order Goes Global with Instagram

Instagram user diegotrial

Several months ago when I heard the news about Facebook paying $1 Billion for Instagram I thought ‘the world was going crazy’.  My first impression was to think that the ruling scale of values was mistaken.  That people was giving value to unimportant things while the rest of the world was still trying to manage to survive the day.  I couldn’t understand Why would a company pay such a huge amount of money for a software application for smartphones and iPhone that is only used for procrastination and doesn’t create any value for the world? Last week’s volcanic eruption of Fuego Volcano in Guatemala made me change my mind.

The entrepreneurs behind Instagram,  Kevin Systrom and Michel “Mike” Krieger, created an application that was not only user-friendly but that enabled users to share images from anywhere in the world immediately.  Such an application was created (maybe unintentionally) to become one of the fastest image reservoirs of instant news and global interconnection.  When Facebook bought this photo-sharing app and paid $1 Billion they had not only bought the access to an essential function in millions of smartphones around the world but also connected visually the planet as we had never seen before.  Last week’s event in Guatemala was the first time in my life when I could see through my phone in Denmark high quality images of events that were taking place in real-time more than 5,843 miles.  Indeed, Hayek’s ideas of how an spontaneous order works was going global!

“Spontaneous order is what happens when you leave people alone—when entrepreneurs… see the desires of people… and then provide for them. They respond to market signals, to prices. Prices tell them what’s needed and how urgently and where. And it’s infinitely better and more productive than relying on a handful of elites in some distant bureaucracy.” Leonard Reed

To say that the world is interconnected and interdependent means to say that we are able now able of bypassing normal newsbroadcasters around the world.  No longer will be that easy for anyone to control what  the world would see and what the world wouldn’t see (as critized when News corporations around the world have been used to show a biased reservoir of images and videos during the Gulf War, or in the war in Iraq to mention some examples).  Now, with access to photo-sharing applications such as Instagram the world not only has access to interconnection of real-time events but also has what Hayek explained as “a more efficient allocation of societal resources than any design could achieve.”  Instagram is one more societal tool that enables us to achieve the best of humanity if used for the right purposes.  Because of this reasons the founders of Instagram earned  that billion dollars and the world is wealthier today.

Travel Diary: Prices, Unions and Freedom in one of the richest countries of the World

Prices in a capitalist economy reflect the relative scarcity of a good or service as well as the amount and intensity of consumer demand. Free-market prices are the only viable means of rational economic calculation. If a good or service becomes in shorter supply, for whatever reason, its price will rise, all other things being equal. The higher price will give consumers the proper incentive to do what is needed whenever anything becomes scarcer: conserve, or cut back on consumption. DiLorenzo in “How Capitalism Saved America

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending the Oslo Objectivist Conference 2012 in Oslo, Norway in which I enjoyed a weekend of Philosophy, Objectivity and a celebration of Individual Rights.  On Monday before returning to my base in Leipzig, I decided to spend the day enjoying the parks and streets of the city (one of my favorites) and during lunch I went to eat buffalo wings in front of the City Hall Park.

That noon I was reading the last pages of the book “How Capitalism Saved America” by Thomas DiLorenzo and was writing extensive notes in my notebook criticizing many of his arguments in favor of capitalism due to lack of consistency and integration.  Leaving those morality issues aside, I was very interested in his historical explanation on the role that Unions (and privileged groups of interest) have had in destroying the foundations (principles) of capitalism in the United States since the foundation of the country.  Curiously, that same day the Farmers Union of Norway gathered in front of the park to do a countrywide protest (news).

As DiLorenzo writes, Unions have claimed for decades to be representatives of the “interests” of society, workers, middle class, proletarians and et. al. However, it has been actually only in the interests of the Union’s leadership and their pursuit of cronyism that they have actually worked by being concerned only in “their own membership rolls and dues revenues”. Examples from the Unions intervention in the destruction of the most successful industries of the  United States are explained by DiLorenzo’s book.

On Monday, the disgruntled Norwegian farmers decided to take the streets against the recent decisions of the government in April, 2012 to subsidy of Agriculture by granting only 625 million Norwegian Kroner instead of the 2.2 billion they asked.  The Norwegian Farmers’ Union (NFU) decided to take their trucks and cows and occupy the doors of the City Hall in Oslo; in other cities and towns the mayors were even kidnapped by the unionists.

This protest arise after the Parliament decided that that food prices should rise 20 percent in the next 20 years in line with expected population growth, providing sufficient income to both achieve this and ensure continued recruitment to farming (this reminds me of Hayek’s ideas on the Fatal Conceit). The NFU doesn’t agree.  They consider that the average annual incomes are under 300,000 kroner per man-labour year, whilst it is 469,000 on average in other sectors.  They also claim to represent the “interests” of 100,000 jobs in agriculture and food industry and not only to be seeking for more money for farmers (yeah, right).

Norway is one of the richest countries in the world and its society lives in very comfortable conditions.  The Leviathan in government charges immense amounts of taxes and inflation is incredible.  Just to illustrate the size of Leviathan: The buffalo wings and a beer cost me the high price of 250 krone (aprox. 33 euro or US$41.00 in T.G.I. Friday’s) That same meal would have cost me much less if bought in the U.S. or anywhere else in the world .

How can they afford it? The population earns artificial higher incomes due to the government interventions in the economy and disrupts the economy of the country.  How did the country reached such a condition can only be understood by taking a close and detailed attention to the role interventionism has in a country’s economy.  The effect: high prices, unstoppable high taxes and widespread limitation of liberties behind the power that Unions, groups of interests, politicians and bureacrats have had in the economy for decades.

Slowly but consistently, the Unions and crony capitalists in the bureaucracy of the Norwegian country have made it impossible to be free to exchange products in the country without any type of government intervention.  While Norwegians seem to be free, their daily lives are unconsciously been managed and controlled by a gigantic government that regulated every instant of their lives.

As DiLorenzo described, “Ludwig von Mises initially explained back in the 50s in this theory of government interventionism: one intervention (such as subsidies for railroads) leads to market distortions, which create problems for which the public “demands” solutions. Government responds with even more interventions, usually in the form of more regulation of business activities, which cause even more problems, which lead to more intervention, and on and on. The end result is that free-market capitalism is more and more heavily stifled by regulation. And on top of that, usually the free market, not government intervention, gets the blame.”

I would love to go back to Oslo and if possibilities arise to settle and live there for a couple years. I wish that my passion for buffalo wings will bring me to experience a story to write about and meditate again.  As for now, I return to write about Capitalism while sitting in a desk in Leipzig, Germany.

Protect IP Act and Internet

A copyright protects a men’s mind contribution in The purest form: ie. in the the origination of ideas. This protection allows for men to freely decide what to do with his creation: give it for free, authorize some uses of it (Creative Commons), prohibit any use of it, sell the rights to the use of the idea.

Now, this recognition of Intellectual Property automatically gives to the owner a value that he can exchange for a specific amount of money and/or recognition. To the owner, this may be the stimulus for which he made the effort of creating and innovating. Also, there are many other retributions and stimulus for men to create. F.A. Hayek mentions that it is for the sake of creation that some intellectuals work and not only for the $. He made a valid point and usually this creator give for free or with some free of charge rights the use of their ideas (via CC like in this blog).

I was shared a video that claims that,

“PROTECT-IP is a bill that has been introduced in the Senate and the House and is moving quickly through Congress. It gives the government and corporations the ability to censor the net, in the name of protecting “creativity”. The law would let the government or corporations censor entire sites– they just have to convince a judge that the site is “dedicated to copyright infringement.”

The government has already wrongly shut down sites without any recourse to the site owner. Under this bill, sharing a video with anything copyrighted in it, or what sites like Youtube and Twitter do, would be considered illegal behavior according to this bill.”

Now, censorship is “the suppression of speech or other public communication which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or inconvenient to the general body of people as determined by a government, media outlet, or other controlling body.” You could argue that it is censorship what government officials do when they put fines or take to jail those who are violating copyright rights. But also, you can argue in a higher hierarchy that yes, the officials are taking your right to “disseminate” speech and knowledge because you are violating the rights to property of other members of society. (Remember that private property is stil one of the rights that Americans haven’t managed to completely destroy… but after Patriot Act passed, anything is now possible and the socialization of Property is soon to happen there if nothing changes.)

Now the fallacious error of this video and of the claim of those who consider that Acts like this are violating men’s right to Speech can be found in the initial argument: “PROTECT IP Act is breaking internet”

Why is this fallacious?

It is a false argument because it starts by considering “Property as a non essential characteristic of the entity “Internet“. ie. They start by giving for granted that Internet lacks property rights and that it is only “Internet” when access is collective and a so called public good”. Now, the property rights or non property rights of internet are accessorial characteristics that are determined in context. For example, a chair could have different colors and still be a chair; internet could have private rights in some things and lack property rights in others but still be Internet.

Just as in radio-telecommunication spectrum legislation; If someone (a company) pays the rights of use of internet from other company or government grant and this company decides to restricts the access to the network, connections, websites, etc they have acquired a right to do so.

This private right to do whatever you please in your website enables you to do anything except violating other people’s rights. Since we still consider IP to be an inalienable right, those websites that violate it should be held responsible. That would not be censorship but the recognition of a violation of rights done by a website. That is what the PROTECT IP Act aims to do.

Video: Larry H. White talks about his upcoming book “The Clash of Economic Ideas”

 

Lawrence H. White is professor of economics at George Mason University and the F. A. Hayek Professor of Economic History in the department of economics at University of Missouri — St. Louis. His teaching and research areas include economic history, monetary theory, money and banking, and history of economic thought. White holds a PhD and a MA in economics from University of California at Los Angeles; he also received his AB in the same area from Harvard University. He is visiting professor at Universidad Francisco Marroquín.

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