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Aristotle and Rand vs Hume: Causation and Induction

Ayn Rand and many scholars blame Kant for killing the Enlightenment.  Kant is the founder of what I call the Germany anti-Enlightenment movement.  It seems to me that David Hume may be as responsible for killing the Enlightenment or more so than Kant partly because his arguments are more understandable.  Hume is part of what I call the Scottish anti-Enlightenment.  Francis Hutcheson is usually considered the father of the Scottish anti-Enlightenment, but Hume is its most powerful advocate.

Hume provides three arguments that attack the core of the Enlightenment:

1) His skepticism of causation

2) His skepticism of induction

3) His “is-ought” attack on ethics.

Rand concentrated her attention on the third problem.  She explained, “The fact that a living entity is, determines what it ought to do.”

The first two arguments are actually interrelated for Hume.  He was grappling with the problem that for deductive syllogisms to be true the premise statements must be true, but how do we arrive at the premise concepts?  The classical example is:

 

All men are mortal.

Socrates is a man.

Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

 

For Hume this syllogism raises the issue of how do we know that all men are mortal?  We have not met all men and all men who have lived have not died and how do we know that the future will be like the past?  Hume realized that all abstract statements, indeed all concepts must be start with humeindividual perceptions or instances, unless god or someone gives us a tablet with all the abstractions.  But how do we go from particular instances to an abstraction?  For example, all the people I know are mortal, to “all men are mortal”?  This is a question of induction and Hume realized for induction to be true, we must assume that cause and effect exists and is knowable.  However Hume did not see any justification for our confidence that cause and effect exists or is knowable.  Hume saw cause and effect as a physiological pattern recognition that at best has a probabilistic certainty.  Thus to Hume his skepticism about induction and causal relationships are intimately interconnected.

Hume ignores the law of identity in his arguments, which is at least in part how I think Rand and Aristotle would respond to Hume.  A thing is what it is and therefore it has certain properties.  If a thing changes then we know that something caused it to change.  Otherwise it would violate the law of identity.  Perhaps Hume’s response would be to attack the law of identity, however this would be an extraordinary claim and therefore require extraordinary evidence.[1]

Hume illustrates his ideas on the lack of causality with billiard balls.  This is how Wikipedia explains it:

For example, when one thinks of “a billiard ball moving in a straight line toward another”, one can conceive that the first ball bounces back with the second ball remaining at rest, the first ball stops and the second ball moves, or the first ball jumps over the second, etc. There is no reason to conclude any of these possibilities over the others.

This example shows that Hume is ignoring the law of identity.[2]  For instance, the first ball cannot jump over the second ball without violating the law of identity.[3]  Billiard balls do not jump for no reason.  The same is true of the first ball bouncing back and the second ball staying in place.  A billiard ball when struck moves.

A famous example to illustrate Hume’s attack on induction is the black swan scenario.  In this scenario you observe one hundred swans and they are all white.  Thus you infer (induction) that all swans are white.  The next day you see a black swan.  This is essentially what Hume thinks scientists are doing.  Hume is making this argument about 50 years after Isaac Newton’s Principia.  I think this shows that Hume had an agenda to attack the Enlightenment.  Newton’s laws of mechanics and gravity had overwhelming shown the power of science and reason and therefore induction, but Hume chose to reject them.  Hume did not even come close to meeting his burden of proof in this argument.

The swan example shows another flaw in Hume’s argument.  Hume has made an inference based on an accidental cause.  I consider this and intellectual dishonest argument.  Eggs are white, clouds are white, paper is white, some flowers are white, and so are some other birds.  Drawing the conclusion that all swans are white is to focus on an accidental cause of relations, Aristotle would point out.  Most humans are within a certain height range, but that would be no reason to define humans as being above 4.5 feet or below 6.5 feet.  Hume in this example ignores what is an important or causal feature of swans for a trivial feature.  This is worthy of a side show magician not serious philosophy or science.  His excuse would be that there is no causation.

 

Perfect knowledge.

This is another error that people who argue along the lines of Hume make.  An example of this argument was used to attack Newton’s ideas on gravity.  People argued that Newton had failed to explain why masses have gravity or how gravity works at a distance and therefore they rejected all of Newton’s ideas on gravity.  The criticism is fair, but the conclusion is not.  In fact, Newton acknowledged this was a problem, but that did not mean that he had not contributed enormously to the understanding of gravity.

 

The perfect knowledge argument is that if you do not know everything with perfect precision, then you do not anything.  The only way to you can meet this definition of knowledge is to be omniscient, which is metaphysically impossible.  Thus they setup a false argument by setting a standard for knowledge that can never be met.

Rand’s response would be that perfect knowledge proponents are using the wrong definition of knowledge.

“Knowledge” is . . . a mental grasp of a fact(s) of reality, reached either by perceptual observation or by a process of reason based on perceptual observation.[4]

A related attack on knowledge is to ignore its context and then show it does not work outside of that context.

Knowledge is contextual . . . By “context” we mean the sum of cognitive elements conditioning the acquisition, validity or application of any item of human knowledge.[5]

In the case of Newton his mechanics are correct within the context in which the knowledge was developed.  There are areas (context) where Newtonian mechanics is not correct.  All this proves is that Newton was not omniscient, not that “he got it all wrong.”

 

Probabilistic knowledge

One of the proposed solutions to Hume and suggested by Hume himself is that knowledge is probabilistic.[6]  Karl Popper is probably the best known advocate of this idea.  This idea as applied to the black swan case above would be that the more swans we see the more certain we are that all swans are white, however we never know for sure.  Thus we never know anything and scientific theories are never true, they have just not been proven incorrect yet.

This idea has become quite popular in the scientific community.  However, probabilistic knowledge ignores the law of identity.  Probability is built on the law of identity.[7]  Probability theory was developed to understand the odds in games of chance.  For instance, what is the probability that a die when rolled will land on a six.  If we rolled a die and the position of the numbers could change without cause {that is the die could violate the law of identity) then probability theory would not work.  In order to determine the probability of the die being six when rolled we determine all the possible outcomes (law of identity) and then we determined how many of these are a six.  Probability also does not defy causation, it assumes that we do not know the initial conditions and the initial conditions are random.  If we know the initial conditions then we can use Newtonian mechanics to determine exactly which number will appear on the die when we roll it.

Now some people will counter that is not true since we don’t know if a fly will land on the die or an asteroid will land on us just as the die is thrown.  This is context dropping of knowledge and this was discussed above.

The probabilistic hypothesis of knowledge shows a lack of understanding of the law of identity.

 

Conclusion: Why Does This Matter?

David Hume is still highly influential today.  For instance, his “is-ought” argument underpins the moral and cultural relativism arguments of today.  His attack on causality shows up in Karl Popper’s ideas that knowledge is probabilistic and we can never know anything.  This leads to today’s modern cynicism.  It also is the basis of the environmentalists so called “precautionary principle.”  Hume’s attack on causation allows Keynesians to maintain that consumption is more important than production, modern economics to maintain that production is more important than invention. or that capital causes inventions ,or Obama’s “you didn’t build that”

Confusing cause and effect is the source of numerous errors that lead to real problems in the real world.  For instance, are increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere the cause of increasing temperatures on Earth or is it the result of increasing temperatures.

What is amazing to me is that Hume wrote these ideas after Locke, Bacon, Newton, Galileo, Robert Boyle, etc.  In my opinion, Hume and his non-continental followers have not been given the scrutiny they deserve.

Hume deserves equal billing with Kant for the ignominy of killing the Enlightenment and the resulting human suffering.

 

[1] Thomas Paine

[2] To some extent Hume’s “is-ought” argument also ignores the law of identity.

[3] This is true not withstanding the nonsense of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics.

[4] Ayn Rand Lexicon, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology “Concepts of Consciousness,” Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, 35

[5] Ayn Rand Lexicon, Leonard Peikoff, The Philosophy of Objectivism lecture series, Lecture 5

[6] This is an easy trap to fall into and one that the author has made.

[7] This is true notwithstanding the nonsense of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics.

February 6, 2016 Posted by | philosophy | , , , , | Leave a comment

Intellectual Capitalism: Fundamentals Part 1

This post is part of series on Intellectual Capitalism.  The first post in the series is Intellectual Capitalism: Philosophy.

 

 

Every science is defined by the questions it asks.  According to a sampling of websites three of the major questions economics asks are:

1) What goods will be produced?

2) How will the goods be produced?

3) For whom are the goods produced?

Under free market capitalism (the system of economics that occurs when peoples’ natural rights are protected by the government ) the answers are: 1) those goods that produce a profit, 2) by the people who want to make a profit by producing them, and 3) for those people willing to pay for them.  When I say pay for them, I mean by their own productive effort in producing other goods.  Under any other political system the answer is the government and then economics boils down to the psychology of those people in power – in other words it is arbitrary.

These questions and answers are pretty boring and provide no great insight into the world.  We could explore in more depth how the goods will be produced, but this is really a question of engineering and management.  We could ask why those goods produce a profit and eventually we will start studying supply and demand, and pricing.  These are the standard discussions of economics, however I still don’t think the questions being asked are very interesting.

The most important question in all of economics is:

What is the source of real per capita increases in wealth?

The second most important question in economics is:

What is the cause(s) of the Industrial Revolution?

The second question is important, because it is the first time in history that large groups of people escape the Malthusian Trap (living on the edge of starvation) and their incomes start to grow.

The answer to the first question is by increasing one’s level of technology, which can only be accomplished for the world as whole by inventions (human creations with objective results) the answer to the second question is Patents (property rights for inventions).

In my book Source of Economic Growth I provide copious evidence and logic for these answers and I will not repeat those here.  In this article I want to layout some of the fundamental principles of my system of economics, which I call Intellectual Capitalism.  These questions are much more profound than the ones posed by mainstream economics and more relevant to most people.

These questions and answers lead to a system of economics that is consistent with man’s unique nature; his ability to reason.  When man applies his reason to the problems of survival he invents.  Production, which is really about reproduction or replication, is not the driver in economics as the questions from mainstream economics imply.  In economics the chain of cause and effect is:

Invention comes first, then production, and then trade or consumption.

Keynesian economics focuses on consumption, so it is on the far wrong side of the cause and effect chain and as a result, almost everything taught by Keynesian economics is nonsense.  Keynesians will make the argument that you will not produce the hamburger until I order it, so consumers are as important as producers.  As I will explain in more detail below, try that living on a deserted island (Robinson Crusoe economics).  Most of economics focuses on production, which is better than the Keynesians but is an intermediate step and not what causes economic growth.  Generally, this branch of economics focuses on capital as the source of economic growth.  This has been shown over and over to be a mistake.  The paper that is given the most credit for showing capital is not the source of economic growth is Robert Solow’s “Technical Change and the Aggregate Production Function.” As econgrowth.smallI show in my book, Source of Economic Growth, the capital theory of economic growth does not explain the Industrial Revolution.  Some libertarians, such as Matt Ridley, have proposed that trade is the key to economic growth.  This is almost as bad as the Keynesians on the scale of cause and effect.  Other economists focus on monetary issues, such as central bank policies and financial markets.  Money is a way of facilitating trade or a way of transferring capital and is not the source of economic growth.  Now there have been inventions in finance that have contributed to economic growth including: fractional reserve banks, stock and bond markets, and limited liability corporations, among others.

 

Definition of Economics

With this background we can now define what the study of economics is: it is the study of how man obtains those things necessary to live.  There is no rational distinction between living and thriving from an economic point of view as I explain in detail in my book Source of Economic Growth.  Some people have objected that this definition is too broad.  For instance, they argue that this might include the study of engineering.  However, there is no reason to repeat other subjects and the various branches of engineering are not about the study of how people obtain the things they need, they are about how to apply science to solve various problems of invention, production, or distribution.  However the study of invention is definitely part of the study of economics.  Very little work has been done on the study of the process and principles of inventing.  I have discovered six laws of invention and a short preview of these can be found here.  A more detailed explanation can be found in my book, Source of Economic Growth.

An important point of this definition is that it makes it clear that Robinson Crusoe economics (a solitary man) applies.  The cause and effect of economics is probably most clear in the case of Robinson Crusoe economics, it can also be useful for analyzing many other situations.  For some reason when trade or money is added to economic discussions people think that magic happens.  As a result, when you are analyzing a problem in economics and you get stuck, remove money (or trade) from the equation and most of the  time this will make the situation clear.

 

Ethics in Economics

Many economists subscribe to the idea that if economics is going to be a science it needs to be value free.  There is no such thing as a value free science.  All sciences are built on an ethics and a philosophy.  At a minimum this includes a commitment to the idea that there are not any supernatural forces as the cause of what we observe, a commitment to the existence of cause and effect, and the ethics to honestly report the data (evidence) and to follow the evidence to its logical conclusion.  Some people may argue that this is not ethics or philosophy because these things are logical, however a short sampling of history shows that this ethics is incredibly unique in the history of humans and even today.

Different sciences may have other philosophical/ethical foundations.  For instance, medicine has the ethical limitation that doctors are not just studying the effect of disease, injuries, poisons, etc. on the human body.  Ethically doctors must use their knowledge to heal and save lives.  In various tyrannical regimes there have been doctors who have studied the effects of poisons or injuries or even the lack of love/affection on babies and these doctors have all been universally condemned.

Bad economic policies can induce more death and suffering than any doctor or group of doctors.  One only need look at the hundreds of millions of deaths that have been caused by economic policies that promote the various forms of socialism.  Economics is the study of how man obtains those things necessary to live.  Just as it would be unethical for a doctor to purposely cause injury to a patient in order to study the effects on the human body, it is unethical for economists to prescribe economic poison for their personal gain, or just because they think if would make an interesting experiment.  Thus the study of economics requires the ethical responsibility of searching for and prescribing policies that promote life.

 

Property Rights and Patents

This dispenses with the nonsense in economics for a need to define property rights in non-ethical terms.  Defining property rights in utilitarian terms is actually going backwards in history to the time when property “rights” were arbitrary grants by the King (government).  Property rights are an ethical concept and are earned by people when they create something useful for humans (or a single human).  The scope of these property rights is limited by the value the person has created.  The law may standardize some of these rights for practical reasons that are beyond the scope of this post.

Some people get confused about how this applies to employees or people who trade (buy) property.  For instance, I buy a house and the associated land, how does this give me property rights in the house since I did not build it?  The reason I have property rights in the house, is that I created something else of value, for instance let’s say a novel.  I trade my novel which I have property rights in for gold (money, currency) and I trade this for the house.  Part of my property rights include the ability to trade what I create for what someone else created.  So I have obtained property rights in the house because I created value.

In the case of an employee he creates value, but has agreed to trade the property rights he would have in the thing he created, let’s say part of an automobile, for a pay check (gold, money, etc.).  Some people are confused that there is no way the employee could have any property rights in the car he helped build because he did not own any of the parts going into the car.  That would be incorrect.  The employee would have a partial ownership in the car.  It is quite common for many people to have property rights in a single object.  For instance, multiple people may own a farm or thousands of people may own a corporation.  In the case of the employee he does not want (or the company is not willing) to have a situation with multiple owners, he wants to contract for immediately payment and relinquishs his property rights.

Now that we have a proper understanding of property rights we can determine if something is a real property right.  Is a taxi medallion a property right?  The question is whether the owner created value for the “rights” obtained with the medallion?  The government sold the medallion to the taxi company.  However, what did the government do to create the taxi medallion?  It limited other people from starting a taxi service.  That is not creating value and the money the taxi company paid to the city does not create value.  When someone trades a value for a non-value it destroys or at best just transfers the value from a producer to a non-producer.  The most common case of this is a swindler who takes value from the victim and provides nothing in return and this is what a thief also does.

A new invention is creating value and therefore a person obtains a property right in their invention.  Academics, Libertarian, Socialists, and Austrian Economists have filled the ether with numerous nonsensical arguments against patents.  I deal with these in depth in my books The Decline and Fall of the American Entrepreneur and The Source of Economic Growth as well as other posts on my blog and will not repeat them hear.

A property right can never be a monopoly.  Economist attempt to show patents or other property rights are monopolies based on perfect competition.  In fact they base their anti-trust analysis on perfect competition.  (I explain this in more detail in my book The Source of Economic Growth)  However, perfect competition is a recipe for the destruction of wealth and therefore human life.  Perfect competion is a value laden concept whose value is not the man’s life, but the destruction and sacrifice of mens’ lives and their productive efforts.

Intellectual Capitalism specifically rejects the concept of perfect competition as a valid economic concept or ideal and also as being useful to analyze any real life economic situations.  As a result, Intellectual Capitalism rejects the whole anti-trust and rent seeking analysis based on perfect competition, and as a result rejects all anti-trust laws (as formulated in the United States, but not the original Statute of Monopolies) as wealth destroying economic policies.

A monopoly is an abrogation of proper property rights and is created by government decrees that impinge of proper property rights  When the government does this and creates laws that give a single company (person) the right to a market say for salt or telephone services then it creates a monopoly.  When the government’s laws just limit access to a market by impinging on valid property rights then the company or companies (people) who are the beneficiaries are rent seeking.  The proper response when one of these situations is found is to restore people’s valid property rights.  The analysis of monopoies or rent seeking starts with and ends with an analysis of property rights.  As should be apparent Intellectual Capitalism rejects the whole idea of natural monopolies, which are abrogations of peoples’ property rights.

 

Supply and Demand and Spontaneous Order

Supply and demand is one of the most fendamental concepts/tools in economics.  The price of an item is set where the supply curve and the demand curve overlap.  Note that these curves are conceptual not quantitative.  The whole analysis is based on the idea that markets will drive towards this equalibrium point.  Unfortunately, this whole analysis is based on a technologically stagnant economy.  In addition, it can give the incorrect impression that demand or consumption is just as important in economics as production.

The requirement of supply and demand that the economy be technologically stagnant means that supply and demand only applies in the most unimportant part of the economy.  Supply and demand curves do not tell us how wealth is created or how to create wealth.  Some people see supply and demand plus the pricing information as ordering the economy.  This in fact is Hayek’s spontaneous order argument.  Again this is only true of a technologically stagnant market (and one with essentially free trade).  However, prices plus supply and demand rules do not tell people what to invent.  Now it is true that people, who live in a country with property rights for inventions, tend to invent in the largest markets, however there is no way to create or even postualte a supply and demand curve for such a situation.  Most experts saw no need for a device that transmitted voice.  What the experts (people with the money) wanted was a way to send telegraph signals faster or more of them over the same wire.  So the demand was almost nil for an invention that transmit voice signals before it was invented and for sometime there after.  No price could have been determined for an invention that could send voice signals.  Hayek’s spontaneous order did not direct the economy to invent telephones or any other major inventions.  Hayek’s spontaneous order is interesting, but hardly earth shattering and limited to the most uninteresting, low value areas of the economy.

Supply and demand curves are useful as long as there limitations are properly recognized.  As a result, they are part of Intellectual Capitalism, but only of minor import.

 

 

January 18, 2016 Posted by | -Economics, Innovation, Intellectual Capitalism | , | Leave a comment

Adam Mossoff on Property Rights: A Must Read for Capitalists and Patent Attorneys

Why Intellectual Property Rights? A Lockean Justification, by Professor Adam Mossoff, is probably one of the most important papers written on property rights in over a century.  The point of the paper is to show Locke’s labor (physical and especially mental) theory of property rights provides the moral justification for intellectual property (copyrights and patents).

One of the strengths of the Lockean property theory is that it recognizes that IP rights are fundamentally the same as all property rights in all types of assets—from personal goods to water to land to air to inventions to books.

The paper clearly shows that Locke understood that it takes both mental and physical effort to obtain those things man needs to live.  Anything that man makes valuable through his efforts, he obtains a property right in.

Locke himself expressly justifies copyright as “property” and approvingly refers to “Inventions and arts” in his summation of his theory that property arises from value-creating, productive labor that supports the “conveniences of life” in § 44 of the Second Treatise. In 1690, the legal concept of patents (property rights in inventions) did not exist yet,[10] and so this is an explicit indication of Locke’s willingness to include what would later become the legal concept of patents within his property theory.

Locke explains that the world exists for “the use of the Industrious and Rational.”

Interestingly Locke distinguishes between copyrights (and patents by extension) and monopolies something that many modern critics of patents are unable to do.

In an essay on the statutory printing monopoly granted to the Stationers Company by Parliament, Locke condemns such monopolies as violating the “property” in creative works that “authors” rightly claim for themselves. In what might be a further surprising claim for many today who think copyright terms are too long, Locke writes in this 1695 essay that authors should have their property rights secured to them for their lifetimes or after first publication plus “50 or 70 years.”

I have argued that the term of a patent should be 35-40 years for the same reason.  As I have explained here, no property right is eternally.  Dead people do not have property rights.

Another misconception about property rights is that they are the same for every object or value created by man.  As Mossoff explains Locke did not make this mistake.

As Locke first explained, property is fundamentally justified and defined by the nature of the value created and secured to its owner … To wit, different types of property rights are defined and secured differently under the law.

This naturally leads to a final observation: Given differences in produced values in the world, such as a water well, domesticated animals, a fecund farm, the desert sand used to make silicon for computer chips, air, broadcast spectrum, corporations, stock, credit, future interests, inventions, business plans, books, paintings, songs, and the myriad others, the specific legal doctrines that protect these values will vary.

It is amazing how many people miss this point, which leads to all sorts of erroneous ideas about what property rights are.  This is perhaps the most important point in the whole article.

Property rights are highly misunderstood in today’s world by both lay people and academics.  They are even misunderstood by many supporter of capitalism, particularly libertarians and supporters of Austrian Economics, but also by Objectivists and supporters of Ayn Rand.

Libertarians and the economics profession in general have accepted the utilitarian justification for property rights, which is a misnomer and turns property “rights” into arbitrary government grants.  In addition, it fails to explain how property rights are acquired, who they belong to and why, among other problems.

Ayn Rand appears to be in basic agreement with Locke.  She states:

Any material element or resource which, in order to become of use or value to men, requires the application of human knowledge and effort, should be private property—by the right of those who apply the knowledge and effort.

Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal “The Property Status of the Airwaves,” Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, 122

Rand also discusses property rights in the chapter Patents and Copyrights in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal.  While she has some keen insights, she never developed a fully articulated theory of property rights.

mossoffIn my limited research into the history of property rights theory there was excellent research and work starting around Locke and the Enlightenment.  Before that property rights were derived from the King (government).  In many ways the economics profession, particularly the Austrians have gone backwards to the idea that property “rights” are whatever the government says they are.  Scholarship continued on property rights particularly in the United States at least until the first Homestead Act, which showed a clear understanding of property rights.  However, that research had died by the time the FCC was created in 1934.

Locke, the Founders, and Ayn Rand understood that property rights are the cornerstone of freedom.  Modern libertarians often think property rights can be replaced with contracts.  This is confusing cause with effect.  Contracts rely on property rights not the other way around.  Some Objectivists undermine property rights by rejecting Locke, the Founders, and Rand’s understanding that each individual has a property right in themselves (Self Ownership or Self Sovereignty).  This is also based on a misunderstanding of what property rights are and how they are derived.

Let’s hope that Adam Mossoff will continue his excellent work in this important area.

December 18, 2015 Posted by | -Philosophy, Patents, philosophy | , , , | Leave a comment

Is Capitalism a game of the Survival of the Fittest?

It is quite common to be in a discussion about economics and proposing a capitalist solution when someone pipes-in “that’s just survival of the fittest.” What they are talking about is “Social Darwinism” and the image they mean to conjure up is that capitalism is like a bunch of gladiators fighting it out to the death until there is just one winner. Unfortunately, this tends to trip many of us because we often say that capitalism is about competition and that competition is what makes America great. In fact some economists (e.g. University of Chicago– see Pure and Perfection Competition: By What Standard?) have gone so far as to say the very definition of capitalism is ‘perfect competition.’ George Reisman has shown that perfect competition is really collectivism in the article Platonic Competition. The idea of unrestrained competition also is used by Libertarians and others to attack the property rights of inventor (patents).

econgrowth.smallSocial Darwinism refers to a group of ideas that relate to sociology, economics, and eugenics that are supposedly extensions of Charles Darwin’s ideas on evolution. Herbert Spencer is considered the father of Social Darwinism and he was the one, not Darwin, who coined the term ‘survival of the fittest.’ Spencer defended capitalism based on Social Darwinism. However, plenty of socialists including the National Socialist Party in Germany also used the ideas of Social Darwinism to support their version of eugenics.

Is Social Darwinism, especially as portrayed by the image of gladiators slugging it out, good biology or good economics? If evolution were a process in which the ‘goal’ was to destroy other species and then destroy all competitors within the species, life would have burned out long ago. The ‘goal’ of life and evolution is to convert as much energy into life as possible. By ‘goal’ here I mean the logical end result of the natural process of evolution, not that there is a conscious objective of individuals. Evolution is an optimizing system that selects those life forms that are best at converting energy in life in a variety of different environments. This results in a variety of different life forms. Even within a relatively uniform environment, the way to optimize the total amount of life is to have a variety of organisms that can exploit different sources of energy.

In economics the goal is not to have 500 firms creating model Ts, it is to have 500 firms all creating unique high value items (If everyone produced the same thing, what would be the point of trade?).  Human life, and then wealth, as we escape the Malthusian Trap, increases as we create more inventions that allow us to live in different climates for instance, or exploit new resources, just as different species maximize the amount of life. I do not want to make the same thing as my neighbor. I want him to make something that is of incredibly high value to me and I want to make something that is of incredibly high value to him.  We want competition to flourish because we don’t want to allow someone to become lazy (rent seeking), and freeride on the efforts of others. But competition is not what makes us wealthy.  We also need property rights to ensure that people do not free ride on the work of inventors.

I think the 100 meter dash is a good example of what competition (pure competition or competition for the same product) can accomplish. In 1891 the world record was 10.8 seconds. Today it is 9.57 or about a 13% gain. This kind of gain would not support the quadrupling of human population over the same period of time.

The goal of an economy is to increase the total wealth. A person’s wealth is not increased by destroying other people’s productive capacity. In fact, the wealthiest countries are those in which people are engaged in a wide variety of high-value activities and the poorest countries are those in which people are competing in a small number of industries. The way these high-value positions are created is by inventions that create whole new industries and can only exist in a legal environment in which inventor’s rights to their creations are protected by property rights (patents).

Interestingly, AvidGamerRants has shown that a number of games that appear to be setup with a ‘winner take all’ goal can often be ‘won’ most successfully, by rational cooperation rather than by eliminating other players  Game theory seems to support this  as this article, New take on game theory offers clues on why we cooperate, explains. For instance, in both Minecraft and Monopoly your chances of being successful increase, if instead of trying to kill off your fellow players, you collaborate with other players.

Social Darwinism as encapsulated in the statement ‘survival of the fittest’ is bad biology and bad economics; it’s even a poor gaming strategy in competitive games.

December 8, 2015 Posted by | -Economics, Patents, philosophy | , , , | Leave a comment

Libertarians vs Classical Liberals on Patents and Inventors

The libertarian crowd has been at the forefront of the anti-patent crusade.  It is important to understand that libertarians are not consistent with classical liberals, such as the founding fathers and Locke.  I have been looking for a way to illustrate this.  Then I ran across a Wall Street Journal article by Matt Ridley, a darling of the libertarian crowd, which illustrated the differences perfectly. The article ostensibly was about government funding of science. I am sympathetic to the thrust of the article, however, in the second paragraph he states:

“Suppose Thomas Edison had died of an electric shock before thinking up the light bulb. Would history have been radically different? Of course not. No fewer than 23 people deserve the credit for inventing some version of the incandescent bulb before Edison, according to a history of the invention written by Robert Friedel, Paul Israel and Bernard Finn.”

This struck me as a very odd paragraph in an article on government funding of science. Edison was not funded by the government. Mr. Ridley and the people he cites may have never worked in fundamental research or with inventors. This may result in a misunderstanding of the differences between various inventions that lay people group together, which is the case with the paper cited in the article.

mostpowerfulideaRidley’s sole argument about Edison rests on the idea that other people were working on the problem. Thousands of people have tried to solve Fermat’s last theorem since 1637. Does that mean Andrew Wiles proof in 1994 was inevitable? Alternatively, only Edwin Armstrong worked on and invented FM (frequency modulation). Does that mean FM was not inevitable?

The article does stop there however, it goes on to denigrate the work of almost every great inventor and scientist since the Enlightenment, concluding with the statement:

“Simultaneous discovery and invention mean that both patents and Nobel Prizes are fundamentally unfair things. And indeed, it is rare for a Nobel Prize not to leave in its wake a train of bitterly disappointed individuals with very good cause to be bitterly disappointed.”

Ridley is not just attacking government funding of science, he is contending that discoveries and inventions are equally likely, given a range of researchers. If you take the statement above literally, it means that everyone working in technology and science are robots.

However, Ridley provides no evidence for his position and ignores the large variations in the rate of science advancement and inventions in both time and geography. This is not surprising, as Mr. Ridley did the same thing in his book The Rational Optimist, where he claims that most inventions were never patented, however a simple fact check showed that every invention he mentions is the subject of numerous patents.

The excellent book, The Most Powerful Idea in the World by William Rosen, shows that the Industrial Revolution, which was really an explosion in new inventions, was the result of property rights for inventions, i.e., patents, as does my book Source of Economic Growth.

One of the differences between classical liberals and libertarians is that classical liberalism celebrates great people, particularly those who used reason in the areas of science and technology. The Enlightenment was about celebrating the power of reason and rejecting faith and determinism. Thomas Jefferson said the two of the greatest people in the history of the world were Isaac Newton and John Locke.

Perhaps Ridley’s position is not shared by most libertarians. Yet, a recent panel discussion on Reason TV, part of the libertarian magazine Reason, shows Ridley’s position is widely shared. One panelist compared patents to slavery and taxi medallions. Another panelist made Ridley’s point that most inventions were never patented. But, if you eliminated everything in your house that was subject to a patent or made by a process that was once patented, your house would not exist. Most people will quickly understand that all the electronics would be gone, but so would the refrigerator, the electrical power, and even the glass in your windows was subject to patents extending back to Venice.

It would be easy to brand such an anti-intellectual property as arising from jealousy or self-aggrandizement, however, I think that would be a mistake. These libertarians are pushing a version of F. A. Hayek’s cultural evolution. Hayek’s ideas on cultural evolution are based on the impotence of reason. Hayek argues, that the demand for rational, conscious (“political”) control of the concrete particulars of social life is based upon a misunderstanding of the process of cultural evolution and on a hubristic and dangerous overestimation of the capacity of the conscious reasoning intellect.”[1]

Ridley is just applying Hayek’s ideas on cultural evolution to science and technology. He is not the only one; the libertarian/Austrian economist Peter Lewin from University of Texas at Dallas, sadly my alma mater, makes a similar point. He emphasizes that most technical knowledge is tacit knowledge which is something we know but cannot prove or of which we are not conscious. In other places Lewin discusses “social knowledge” which appears to be tacit knowledge we hold collectively. Both Lewin and Hayek are fans of David Hume, who said causation does not exist (or cannot be proved) and induction is invalid or could not be proven valid. For many libertarians the anti-induction, anti-reason David Hume, is a hero.

Classical liberals know that causation exists, that Induction as a methodology, is not only valid, but the source of all knowledge. The most important value to a classical liberal is Reason. They understand that there is no such thing as social knowledge or knowledge of which we are not conscious. Classical liberals understand each person’s mind functions independently and therefore they celebrate great inventors and scientists. They know that without these great people, it is entirely possible that we would still be living in the Dark Ages. One only need look at North Korea, Cuba, or the Middle East to understand that technological progress is not inevitable and is not the result of some determinist spontaneous order.

What is interesting if you look closely at the arguments of Ridley, Hayek, and Lewin is that they are collectivist at an epistemological or cultural level. Their argument against a centralized government appears to be that it distorts this collectivist acquisition of knowledge.

Classical liberals and libertarians both appear to support free markets or capitalism. Beyond this they diverge, especially for the modern beltway libertarians. Classical liberals base their support of capitalism in reason and natural rights, which are discovered by reason. Libertarians base their arguments for free markets based on collective acquisition of knowledge that is disrupted by government interference.

Libertarians often align themselves with Ayn Rand, and claim her as one of their own, however, their ideas are incompatible with Rand’s. Rand herself was highly critical of the creed of Libertarianism, calling them “hippies of the Right.” If Matt Ridley had written Atlas Shrugged, the economy would have hummed along based on spontaneous order and John Galt would not be a genius inventor.

 

 

 

 

[1] http://www.firstprinciplesjournal.com/articles.aspx?article=1513&theme=home&page=3, Hayek on the Role of Reason in Human Affairs, Linda C. Raeder, Palm Beach Atlantic University

December 1, 2015 Posted by | -Philosophy, News, Patents | , , , | 5 Comments

Source of Economic Growth Reviews

Here a couple of amazon reviews of my Book Source of Economic Growth, which examines the two most important questions in economics: 1) What is the source of real per capita economic growth, and 2) What caused the industrial revolution? The industrial revolution is important, because it is the econgrowth.smallfirst time any large group of people escape subsistence living (Malthusian Trap) and their incomes start to grow. By examining these questions, the book devises a science of economics that is consistent with natural rights, the founding of the United States, and is tied to the biological reality of life.

 

The Importance of Invention

Dale Halling has authored a well-written and clearly-argued treatise on the importance of “invention” in economic growth. He begins with an accurate summary of ideas from Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, Ludwig von Mises, Joseph Schumpeter, and John Locke who are viewed as having had good ideas that were not exactly correct, and an accurate summary of ideas of Karl Marx, Thomas Malthus, and John Maynard Keyes as having had bad ideas that were completely incorrect. Then he continues with arguments that recognition and proper valuation and protection of intellectual property has been essential to economic development in various countries. The final chapter is a fictional interview with a patent lawyer from the Midwest (which he is himself) talking about the prosperous future that would occur if government behaves wisely. In that future, laws are based on reason and Wall Street and Washington power are a thing of the past. I highly recommend this book to everyone interested in the subject matter.

John Christmas, author of “Democracy Society”

 

 

A Great Place to Start.

The first book on economics that is based on sound reasoning. Economist want be viewed as scientists, but until they incorporate the sound principles of human reason like those found in this book it will forever be a “dismal science” This is a great start in the right direction. It is exciting to think of the human potential once we grasp the proper formulas and processes.

by Tony Stonecypher

November 23, 2015 Posted by | Press Release | , | Leave a comment

Carl Menger: Principles of Economics

This is a review of Carl Menger’s book Principles of Economics published in 1871[1].  I will be judging this book on three criteria: 1) Is it adhering to the philosophy of science? 2) Does it address the question of what is the cause of real per capita increases in wealth? and 3) Does it address the Mengerquestion of what was the cause of the industrial revolution?  These last two questions are the most important in all of economics and it is impossible to write something that is profound if it does not address a profound question.  I will also be analyzing Menger’s “subjective” theory of value and prices.

 

Philosophy of Science

Menger addresses this issue in the Preface.  He discusses the remarkable advances of the hard sciences and the high regard in which they are held.  He also laments that economics is held in very low regard.

This method of research, attaining universal acceptance in the natural sciences, led to very great results, and on this account came mistakenly to be called the natural-scientific method. It is, in reality, a method common to all fields of empirical knowledge, and should properly be called the empirical method. The distinction is important because every method of investigation acquires its own specific character from the nature of the field of knowledge to which it is applied. It would be improper, accordingly, to attempt a natural-scientific orientation of our science.  (P.47)

Menger however never states why it would be improper to use the philosophy of natural sciences.  He implies that he is using the “empirical method” however he never explains what he means by that.  The rest of the book has almost no empirical evidence in support of Menger’s positions.  Menger’s lack of clarity on this point is consistent with much of the rest of the book.  This means that it is often possible to argue that Menger held two contrary positions and find support for both in this book.  This in and of itself is support that Menger did not follow the philosophy of science, however it is a useful rhetorical tool.  In addition, his major protégé, Ludwig Von Mises, explicitly rejects the philosophy of science, in favor of philosophical rationalism.

Menger’s major intellectual influence was Franz Brentano, an Austrian philosopher best known for his works related to psychology.[2]  Brentano wrote a book entitled Perception is Misception, in which he claims that perception is erroneous.  “In fact he maintained that external, sensory perception could not tell us anything about the de facto existence of the perceived world, which could simply be illusion.”[3]  Since Menger considered Brentano a friend and intellectual influence and Menger did not refute this position, it is reasonable to assume that Menger was sympathetic to Brentano’s anti-perception idea.  This anti-perception point of view is very reminiscent of Plato.  Plato’s ideas are not consistent with science.

The overwhelming evidence is that Menger did not follow the philosophy of science.  This means that none of the major Austrian economists, Menger, Von Mises, or Hayek based economics on the philosophy science.  Austrian economics is not a science.

 

Source of Economic Growth

This section, The Causes of Progress in Human Welfare p. 71, is the part of Menger’s book I consider most important.  It also appears to be the payoff for pages of description of first, second, third, etc. order goods.  Even Menger admits that his definition of these is a bit vague, however first order goods appear to be consumables or consumer goods.  Menger argues that economic growth is the result of creating more second or high order goods.  This is just a long winded way of saying increasing capital goods causes economic growth, which had already been said by many other economists.  Not only has this already been said by other economists, but it is wrong.  He also has one throw-away line about human knowledge.

“Nothing is more certain than that the degree of economic progress of mankind will still, in future epochs, be commensurate with the degree of progress of human knowledge.”

He never builds on this, he does not explore how human knowledge is created, how it results in increases in economic wealth, or what knowledge is important to economic growth.  His followers, such as Mises also do not build on this, they all focus on increases in savings and capital as the cause of growth in the economy.

In a technologically stagnant economy adding more capital at best can lead to some sort of optimum output, but can never exceed this level.  (I describe and provide evidence for this in much more detail in my book Source of Economic Growth).  As a simple example, imagine Robinson Crusoe fishing with a spear.  The spear is a second order good or higher under Menger’s approach.  Now if Crusoe creates more spears will he have more fish?  No, since he can only use one spear at a time.  At best having more spears will allow him to replace his spear more quickly if he breaks or loses a spear.  Another example is that if every farmer that can use a tractor has one, then giving them more tractors will not increase the production of first order goods.  This has been shown empirically and Robert Solow’s paper (Solow, Robert M, Technical Change and the Aggregate Production Function, The Review of Economics and Statistics, Vol. 39, No. 3 (Aug., 1957), pp. 312-320) is just one of many that prove this.

Menger fails to answer the question of what causes real per capita increases in wealth.

 

Industrial Revolution

Menger never mentions the industrial revolution in this book.  The Industrial Revolution is the first time that people escape subsistence living (the Malthusian Trap) in large numbers.  It is the most significant event in the economic history of the world and Menger shows no interest in it.  By the time Menger wrote Principle of Economics the Industrial Revolution was at least seventy years old and had exploded in the United States.  This shows a profound disinterest in the empirical side of economics.  It would be like an astronomer ignoring and eschewing the telescope or biologist who refuses to do or even explore the results of dissections.

Menger does not compare the economies of different countries or the economy of a country at different times, despite the profound differences in the economies of countries around the world.  This is not how a scientist thinks or works.  Instead Menger examines propositions in his own head, like the monks of the middle ages arguing over how many angels can dance on a pin head.  Menger’s style is completely consistent with Mises praxeology – philosophical rationalism.

The cause of real per capita increases in wealth is increasing levels of technology (new inventions) and the cause of the Industrial Revolution is legally enforceable property rights for inventions (patents) as William Rosen, shows in his excellent book The Most Powerful Idea in the World and I show in my book Source of Economic Growth.

Menger does not discuss inventions, technology, knowledge, patents or their importance in economics.  Menger fails to add anything useful to the two most important questions in all of economics.

 

Subjective Value

Menger is generally credited with the idea of subjective value in economics.  This is described as a reaction to the labor theory of value described in classical economics, which is an intrinsic theory of value.  Despite this many people have argued that Menger was not advocating a subjective theory of value.  Note that when modern Austrians use the term subjective value they mean that values are disconnected from reality – they are peoples’ arbitrary decisions.  The interesting thing is that in his Principles of Economics you can find support for both positions.  For instance, if you want to argue that Menger was advocating an objective theory of valuation you can provide the following quotes:

Value is thus the importance that individual goods or quantities of goods attain for us because we are conscious of being dependent on command of them for the satisfaction of our needs. p. 115

Value is therefore nothing inherent in goods, no property of them, but merely the importance that we first attribute to the satisfaction of our needs, that is, to our lives and well-being, and in consequence carry over to economic goods as the exclusive causes of the satisfaction of our needs. p 116

Menger also makes this distinction between real and imaginary goods.  He appears to be making a point about objective values, however he never does anything with these concepts once he introduces them.

Note that Menger never defines what he means by needs.  Are needs anything someone wants?  Menger never says.  Then he talks about the satisfaction of needs.  Is this a personally, subjective decision?  Menger never says.

On the other hand if you want to say Menger was advocating the modern value subjectivism of Austrians, then you can find these quotes.

It is a judgment economizing men make about the importance of the goods at their disposal for the maintenance of their lives and well-being. Hence value does not exist outside the consciousness of men. It is, therefore, also quite erroneous to call a good that has value to economizing individuals a “value,” or for economists to speak of “values” as of independent real things, and to objectify value in this way. P. 121

The measure of value is entirely subjective in nature, and for this reason a good can have great value to one economizing individual, little value to another, and no value at all to a third, depending upon the differences in their requirements and available amounts. What one person disdains or values lightly is appreciated by another, and what one person abandons is often picked up by another. P. 146

Hence not only the nature but also the measure of value is subjective. Goods always have value to certain economizing individuals and this value is also determined only by these individuals. P.146

Another factor favoring the subjective theory of values is that Menger is clear that ethics and morality are outside the study of economics.

But it seems to me that the question of the legal or moral character of these facts is beyond the sphere of our science. P. 173

Here he is talking about the morality of charging interest, however it is clear that this statement is a more general statement about economics.  This suggests that Menger’s ethics, like most Austrians, is some version of Utilitarianism, which means he rejects Locke’s and Rand’s Natural Rights.  Another quote that supports this point of view is Menger’s ideas of property.

The entire sum of goods at an economizing individual’s command for the satisfaction of his needs, we call his property. His property is not, however, an arbitrarily combined quantity of goods, but a direct reflection of his needs, an integrated whole, no essential part of which can be diminished or increased without affecting realization of the end it serves. P.76

Property, therefore, like human economy, is not an arbitrary invention but rather the only practically possible solution of the problem that is, in the nature of things, imposed upon us by the disparity between requirements for, and available quantities of, all economic goods.  P. 97

The first quote is really Menger’s definition of property.  Note that this over 200 years after Locke.  It is a clear rejection of Locke and Natural Rights.

The second quote is a forerunner of the inane idea that property “rights” are socially useful tools for allocating scarce resources adhered to by Austrians.

Menger’s position on subjective value is confused.  Note that this is not the work of scientist, which shows once again that Menger’s ideas are not based on the philosophy of science.  Despite this Menger’s rejection Natural Rights, rejection of ethics in economics, and the direction his students took suggests that on balance Menger was an advocate of the radical subjective theory of value.

 

Conclusion

I undertook this task because a number of people I have respect for argued that Menger was not the same as Hayek or Von Mises.  In addition, a number of well-known Objectivists have tried to reconcile Austrian Economics with Objectivism.  I have analyzed in depth the irrational roots of the two main branches of Austrian Economics: 1) Hayek and 2) Von Mises.  I have shown that the positions of Austrians on a number of positions are absolutely flawed including their position on property “rights”, the Austrian Business Cycle, their position on fractional reserve banking, and their position on intellectual property.  Carl Menger has not proven to be the savior of this fall from grace.  This is not to say that other schools of economics are better or that there is nothing useful in Austrian economics.  For instance, Menger’s marginal utility is a useful concept, but hardly profound.

I found Principle of Economics boring, repetitive, and written in the pseudo-scientific style of many pop management books or psychological self-help books.  This is consistent with other books I have read by Austrians.  The best writer among the major Austrians is Hayek.

I did not force myself to read every word of Principle of Economics because it is boring, repetitive, and non-scientific.  I will not apologize for not reading all of a book that is clearly not based on science.  I also will not waste my time reading anymore books by Austrians.  I know more about the underlying tenants of Austrian economics than many of its proponents, just as I know more about the underlying tenants of christianity than many of its proponents.

Objectivism and Austrian economics are incompatible.  I think many Objectivists are fooled into supporting Austrian economics because they talk about free markets.  Austrian economics is not the product of reason, the Enlightenment, and the philosophy of science.  It is best described as a branch of the Scottish “Enlightenment”, which really was a counter enlightenment movement.  If Objectivism wants to make progress in economic science it needs to wall itself off from Austrian economics.

 

[1] https://mises.org/sites/default/files/Principles%20of%20Economics_5.pdf,

[2] https://mises.org/library/philosophical-origins-austrian-economics, The Philosophical Origins of Austrian Economics, Mises Institute, by David Gordon, June 17, 2006.

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franz_Brentano, accessed November 11, 2015, Wikipedia, Franz Brentano

November 16, 2015 Posted by | -Economics, -Philosophy, Innovation, Patents, philosophy | , , | Leave a comment

Pendulum of Justice (1st Hank Rangar Thriller) on Sale 99¢

Hank Rangar

This weekend the ebook version of Pendulum of Justice, the first Hank Rangar Thriller, is on sale for $0.99.  The sale starts Thursday, November 12 and lasts through Sunday, November 15, 2015, just in time for your Thanksgiving weekend reading.

Pendulum.fin

Here is what people are saying about Pendulum of Justice:

“Convert this to a movie script and sell it to Hollywood. Excellent theme and plot.”

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WOW! I feel like I just watched a movie in my head.

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Absolutely brilliant – that was my first thought after I finished reading this compelling novel.

Lit Amri for Readers’ Favorite

Click here to get your copy of Pendulum of Justice.

Don’t miss Hank in Trails of Justice, the second Hank Rangar Thriller.  A global conspiracy to eliminate the 2nd Amendment results in the deaths of 1000s and Hank Rangar knows too much.

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November 12, 2015 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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