The Essential Hayek: REVIEW

Hayek, by far my favorite economist, gets overlooked by a vast majority of those engaging in political discourse or those studying economics. Too often he is dismissed as a “free market shill”, a “greedy capitalist”, or another form of right wing pundit. For certain figures I admire, this very well may be true, but Hayek is profoundly different.

Hayek’s break from other libertarians is in that he doesn’t rest his argument on a particular case for natural rights to homesteaded property, or on the efficient allocation of resources that come from markets. Hayek’s argument rests on first the infallibility of government to centralize economic or social knowledge, and second in the ability of liberty to open up previously unopened paths that manifest themselves in spontaneous order.

Image result for hayek quotesIf that seemed complicated don’t worry! Because there is a book for you! The Essential Hayek by George Mason Economist Donald Boudreaux. In less than 80 succinct pages you will understand basic concepts that underlie Hayek’s work. To me what was most interesting was the point that people believe they can apply small scale planning structures like the family to the nation. An idea that might seem intuitive to some, but is woefully misguided.

I recommend for absolutely everyone.

8.5 out of 10

“But nobody can be a great economist who is only an economist – and I am even tempted to add that the economist who is only an economist is likely to become a nuisance if not a positive danger.”

Please follow and like us:
5

How to be Human* *Though an Economist: REVIEW

I can’t seem to get enough of the writing style of Deirdre McCloskey. I’m not sure if it’s the comfortable sarcastic tone of her prose or the fact that I’m able to relate as an economist. And by sheer luck, I was able to obtain a signed copy of How to be Human (Though an Economist). The signature is addressed to Cynthia, so I hope Cynthia whoever you enjoyed the book enough to sell your signed copy (apparently the exchange value was greater than the use value).

This book is a collection of essays written mostly for various journals and newspapers. They are grouped into 15 sections, each being a rule for economists to follow in order to achieve humanity. Well not precisely. They are more of a much-needed ethics handbook for economists. A Hippocratic Oath for economists if you will.

Some essays focus on the life and attitude of a particular economist to follow among whom are Armen Alchian, Friedrich Hayek, and James Buchanan. Others cover particular issues McCloskey sees in the attitude of modern day academic economists. Some are as simple as how to properly run a seminar.

The central piece of advice, running through all the chapters, is to avoid an attitude of sneering at other disciplines as “less scientific” or “inefficient”, and in fact trying to incorporate these ideas into our own discipline may be useful. McCloskey’s critique of economics as a whole is that we have left our roots as primarily storytellers about the way that people act in the world and try to gain a sense of intellectual security in mathematical equations. She often goes back to Adam Smith to remind us of his oft-neglected other book The Theory of Moral Sentiments. After all, he thought of himself first as a moral philosopher who accidentally sprung to life the discipline of economics on the side.

I recommend this book mostly for those who are in the economics world themselves. Those from outside our sphere will enjoy some of the stories and can still take much of the advice, but some examples may not be as directly applicable. One complaint stems from the fact that these are a collection of essays not written with the intention to bind together so a lot of the ideas overlap and it can feel quite redundant at times. However, what is repeated is so important that it really can’t hurt that much.

8.5 out of 10.

 

Edit: I didn’t know the definition of pedantic.

Please follow and like us:
5

The History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell: REVIEW

It’s undeniable that Bertrand Russell has had an intense influence on a very large portion of Western thought since his heyday.   In some ways, he is the quintessential dogmatic academic.  His ideas about logic, ethics, and philosophy at large have lasted as the vast library of analytic philosophy over the last century.  He and his colleagues constructed a system via logical positivism that seemed at the time to close many of the gaps in philosophy.  Russell himself calls it the answer to all the inconsistencies in Kant in closing the gap between a priori knowledge and a posteriori knowledge.  From this perspective, he is able to look back at the entire Western canon of philosophy and make judgments about each and every philosophical position.

The book is written not with an emphasis on who Russell thinks was right, but on who was influential.  Three chapters are written on Locke though his inconsistencies are persistently pointed out.  It is split into three books.  The first on Ancient Philosophy, the second on Catholic Philosophy (which he more or less equates with the Dark Ages), and the third on Modern Philosophy up to and including himself (that is concluding with himself).  

A majority of the book feels not as if Russell wanted to provide his readers with a wealth of historical information, but as a stage upon which he makes fun of and pokes at everyone else’s ideas.  This attitude seems to be justified by his occasional assertion that everyone else isn’t scientific enough and they are religiously holding on to ancient dogmas which he is lucky to be enlightened enough to let go of.  He describes other philosophies as inferior to his own in that they are not on an “indifferent quest for truth”.  His attitude is reminiscent of (and likely informed) popular contemporary intellectuals like Bill Nye, Sam Harris, or Neil DeGrasse Tyson.  It seems as if he does a disservice in writing the book by interjecting every few pages to include his own opinions, and gets especially worse by the end of the book.  Especially his chapters on Hegel, Nietzsche, Marx, and the pragmatists he shows great dislike and contempt for their philosophies (not to mention that he wholly emits existentialists like Kierkegaard and Heidegger).  I can’t help but think that his vitriol is leftover from arguments he had in graduate school.  

Economist Deirdre McCloskey calls Bertrand Russell a paragon of our current phase of modernism or a dogmatism that claims we have finally found the correct way of doing things.  His chapter on Hume brings up many contentions to the foundation of his own reason, and he even mentions that many of Hume’s problems haven’t yet been solved.  However, he conveniently forgets these when he reaches his own philosophy.  

In spite, of my complaints, I think that the book is well worth reading by any interested in a general picture of Western Philosophy.  Though be warned that what you are reading is nowhere near a consensus, no matter how it is presented.

Ultimately, I give it a 6.5 out of 10 with a big Bias sticker.

 

 

Please follow and like us:
5

Game Over? – The Economics of Video Game Death

My father, being a casual video game player, will occasionally spectate my endeavors into virtual realms.  Being interested in game design he will on occasion comment on my game, usually ridiculing it and very rarely praising it.  One particular gripe that he has had with many games is in the respawn function in which your character can die and then continue the game.  Compared to the arcade games that he would have played back in the 80s, the consequences of failure or death in a video game is no longer a simple and blunt GAME OVER.  Players are just slapped on the wrist with a loading screen and then plopped back perhaps a few steps.  Essentially, games with narratives are just models of plots in which the players provide some of the exogenous variables as I discussed in my article on Economics and Plot Vol 3.  Various models of death have significant impacts of both artistic importance and in the construction of a solid game without plot holes.  

 

To start we could categorize game death models into two categories.  The first being permadeath, and the second being some sort of respawn.  Permadeath would entail that once the game has decided that you have died, then the game ends and you must start over from the beginning.  This would be similar to the arcade games of my father’s era.  A respawn would not make the player begin the game again, but would bring the player back at some checkpoint or when they last saved.  Most games today function this way.  Perhaps because most games are in the home rather than a quarter a play.  Respawns can be brought down to two additional categories as well.  One being the in-game universe respawn and the other being the out of universe respawn.  In-universe respawns give an explanation in the story of why the player can continue playing after death.  Out of universe respawns merely let the player continue from a checkpoint or their last save.  There are of course some games that fall in between these respawns and permadeath, so they are not all-encompassing.  Some examples would be Super Mario Bros. and Contra where they have a respawn model until the player runs out of lives.  The permadeath model is fairly self-explanatory and now mostly out of date so I will focus on the respawn model.  

One of the most important features of any game is the separation of knowledge between the player and the character they are meant to represent.  Both Skyrim and Diablo have respawn models.  In Skyrim, the player respawns at the last save.  In Diablo, the player respawns at the last town (checkpoint).  If a player is in a Skyrim dungeon and dies, they will now replay the area on the path to their quest between the save and the location of death.  Since the path will be the exact same that was just experienced, the player then has knowledge that the character does not lead them to make decisions that would disrupt the coherence of the plot, damaging both the player’s experience and the artistic integrity of the game.  In Diablo (or my preferred clone, Path of Exile) each dungeon or area is randomly generated every time that the player goes through.  If the player dies and re-enters the zone, the player and character have the same amount of information with roughly the same difficulty.  If the player is meant to represent the choices of the character then their knowledge must match to allow the game to maintain a coherent series of events.  

 

Subsequently, it becomes quite difficult for the game designer to construct a story that surrounds their death model.  The Skyrim or “Last Save” model can be copied into most stories quite easily, but the Diablo model might be quite difficult.  A game I have found to have a quite good integration of the death model and the lore is the MOBA SMITE.  In Smite, you play as one of the gods of ancient mythology battling it out over various eternal battlegrounds.  When you die, there is a penalty period depending on the strength of your character, and then you respawn at your team’s base.  This makes total sense in the context of deities fighting with one another as they are presumed to be immortal.  The epic saga Bioshock respawns the character in a nearby Vita-Chamber which were apparently reincarnation tools used by the crazed residents of Rapture. However, you still lose the bullets that you used before you died, so there really is no complete do-overs.  The popular FPS Counterstrike also takes a hard line as opposed to its
counterpart Call of Duty in that a death is a death.  There are no respawns until the next round.  This has led to Counterstrike having a much more respected competitive community than COD, but that might have to do with the target demographic for both games.

 

In conclusion, video games, like any other narrative art form, is to some degree subject to economic law.  The player-character dichotomy can likely be further studied and the split is almost reminiscent of the classic problem of mind-body interaction that plagued the modern philosophers.  However, in this case, it becomes a problem that the mind knows more than the body ever experienced, and can reincarnate itself after the body has already died.  Spooky.  The death problem and other player-character problems hopefully will inspire game designers in the future to get ever more creative with their stories and break new ground in the art form of the future.

Photo Credit: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/votpmwC25Ek/hqdefault.jpg

Please follow and like us:
5

Jean Baptiste Colbert: The Rise and Fall of Mercantilism

This is a short video that I did for my AP Euro class last year. Again thanks to Mr. McCauley.  It’s on the topic of mercantilism and particularly the policies and ideology of Jean-Baptiste Colbert.  This is the first upload to theeconplayground youtube channel so be sure to subscribe to that as well.

Please follow and like us:
5

A Rough Outline of the Modular Theory

The following is a rough outline of a philosophical theory that I’ve constructed.  It follows a pragmatist vein that I’ve been reading into after getting into t
he work of University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson.  Also a bit of Wittgenstein influence in there.  The italicized sections are my father’s comments.  Anyone with additional insights on either of our
comments is highly encouraged to comment below.

I.The fundamentally undeniable is the existence of reality
(Descartes: I think, therefore I am.)
II. The second undeniable is that reality does not and likely cannot match our perceptions and thoughts perfectly. (more the reverse, our perceptions are limited, we cannot comprehend reality perfectly. The ideal is to understand reality, not for reality to conform to our concept of it.)
III. Reality can never be known but truths can be known.
IV. A truth is a reference for guiding action in reality.
A. They are typically manifested in thoughts which are constructed             with words, but can be manifested in artistic representations.
B. For example time is a truth that we behave by, but can’t prove that it      is a part of reality as the only clue we have to it’s existence is in our            memories and predictions.
V. A truth is judged based on its claims about reality when put into                  practice.
A. In other words when you live by correct truths you will never trip.
B. Truths are correct if they are useful.
C. If you were to behave as if time is not a part of reality you could                 achieve nothing, but if you believed in time you could use it towards           goals.
In summary, a truth can be classified as useful or not useful
Can something that isn’t true be useful? A “Convenient fiction”, like property rights.
VI. One particularly useful way of organizing truth is the module.
A. A module groups truths together as either describing a codified                   section of reality or as a pathway to a certain goal.
1. The module that we call economics is a grouping of truths                            about the section of reality that we call action and choice                             relative to scarcity.
2. The module of parenting is a grouping of truths that relate to                      the goal of raising children.
B.Something can be modularly true, but not have a particular guide to             action.
1. This is the use of the correspondence theory of truth.
Something is true if it corresponds to the module properly.                          This is very useful in the temporal, spatial, and physical                                modules.

What do you mean modularly true. True only within the module, but not outside?
The something is usually called an “assertion” or a “statement”. My hat is black.
VII.  We construct modules of truths to guide us to a position from which we need take no more action.
A. This can be called the position of eternal peace and is the goal and               meaning of our existence as we understand it.
B. The position of eternal peace does not mean motionless and can                 exist in the module of time as a vector of some sort. (See                               Wittgenstein’s quote in the quote page on the sidebar)
But for many, taking action is worth it in itself. Eternal peace is dull and boring.
VIII. The ultimate module is one which claims to group all truths of reality.
A. Traditionally the ultimate module was the religious module.
B. Also the philosophy module.
C. When the module of physics took over as the ultimate module the                “Death of God” occurred.
D. It did not work as truth because it could not guide action towards                eternal peace as it is constructed for. Science alone does not explain            the world enough, yet.

It took a while, most physicists saw themselves as exploring God’s creation.
Bertrand Russell thought: all reality can be written down as mathematical formulas
Goedel proved: it can never be written down completely, there are always statements that cannot be judged true or false.
IX. What I call for is a reconstruction and revival of the religious module as the ultimate module.
That’s pretty strong. You may want to hold off on calling for something. May want to flesh this theory out a bit first. Get feedback.

Please follow and like us:
5

RE: Does Technology Lead to an Existential Crisis?

I recently ran across a post on /r/philosophy by /u/_pseudointellectual that I couldn’t help but respond to.

The thread has since been removed, but you can read the original posters thoughts here.

There has been a lot of buzz in the tech community for some time now about the impending robotic revolution. This, for the most part, hasn’t bothered me, progress is progress. But I recently stumbled across this video on r/all and near the end, Elon Musk raises an extremely interesting question about meaning in life.

Now, this isn’t a post in which I want to start a discussion on our meaning (or lack of) in life. I’m interested in exploring the soon to be realities of those who don’t bother to even question existence but merely ‘get on with it‘ as if it’s a chore. Because this is a place we’ve gotten to in our modern capitalist society. Living, for a lot of people, has become almost a burdensome routine which main focus is situated on employment. So, what happens when those people lose their jobs?

Assuming Musk is right, that a Universal income is implemented and we end up having an almost socialist-like society; the majority of humanity being supported by a Government of some kind. Will this push people into an existential crisis? And possibly even be the cause of many suicides? A situation like this brings us all back to that wonderful -and albeit overused- Camus quote “there is but only one serious philosophical question and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy”.

Of course, as someone with a keen interest in philosophy, this prospect does in some ways delight me, I’m also struck with a chord of sadness for those that simply do not want to confront this reality yet.

What happens when people don’t know what to do with themselves?


EDIT: Also, what would this do to educational institutions? Will people bother getting an education anymore? How about business ventures, if the majority of the world has the same individual amount of wealth and that will suffice, does that entail mass apathy?

My response:

I can speak from an economic lens as that’s what I study, but it does have philosophical importance.

In the past, the economic importance of human labor was mostly the physical aspect and we were all employed with physical labor. i.e. farming, hunting, building

As those got pushed away due to technology, we shifted to a service economy. Most people today are employed providing some sort of often mental service to others. Financial advice, medical advice, being a philosopher, being an economist, writing, and organizing various aspects of society.

Some of these will be replaced by technology again if technology can produce as good or greater output at the same or lower cost. If we employ technology to it’s utmost peak we will be left doing things that robots can never do. Theoretically these things will be those concerned with what is unique to human experience manifesting themselves in art and creativity. This leads to a creativity economy instead of the manual labor economy or the service economy. Kevin Kelly said on an episode of the freakonomics podcast that the last job that robots will take from us is comedy.

As to your question on educational institutions, there are two perspectives on their utility relative to production. One that they grant us skills that we can use, and second that the fact that we have a degree or any form of educational accreditation is information for others to use in deciding if they want to hire us or relate their own choices to us in some way. However, education may also be consumed in the sense that if education is a value on its own, it will be pursued regardless of productive utility. Both this consumption use and possibly the second productive use of education will still exist post-AI totality.

How’d I do? Other thoughts? Thoughts on basic income?

 

Photo Credit to http://www.chilloutpoint.com/featured/human-and-robots-visions-of-the-future.html

Please follow and like us:
5

Economics and Plot: Vol 3, Genres

If you have not yet read Vols 1 and 2, do so before reading this article.  

This volume will cover multiple different genres or approaches to writing a narrative, and how the
applications of economic theory can be understood within and complement each style of storytelling.

 

Historical Accounts & Non-Fiction

It is difficult to think of historical accounts as being an art form, but in fact if plot has real artistic value than what is history, but a series of events, characters, and actions that took place in the real world.  It is quite harder for one to come up with a plot hole when writing a piece of nonfiction, because there are no plot holes in history.  Because we are so confident of the economic integrity of historical accounts these stories can also be used in the greater discipline of economic theory and the study of choice.  Historical examples are used to support or refute theories as long as the sources can be trusted because it can be held that those past events follow true economic laws.

Fiction

The realm of fiction is where a lot of the skill of an artist comes in formulating a plot.  Anything can be made up to fit the story that the author wants to portray.  This comes as a freedom for the writer but also a trap with which they can easily make mistakes in.  Historical accounts are almost by necessity relatable to the real world because of both the economic laws found in them and the real events that relate to the present world.  For fiction writers, the author must be incredibly careful to have the plot follow proper economic reasoning or else the connection and meaning of the work will have little effect.  The only limit of a fiction writer is their imagination meaning that they can create any premise from which to start their plot.  This gives them an incredible range with which to create plots that convey a meaning and is likely why most works that are considered with artistic or literary merit do not limit themselves to non-fiction.  This may also have to with the fact that many facts in history are unknown while a fictitious story can have every single detail filled in by an ambitious writer.  

Allegory

Allegory may be a somewhat synthesis between the real world non-fiction plot and that of a fictional story.  In an allegory, the author creates a fictional story with a plot that includes many plot events, characters, and actions that exist in the real world as well.  It is a way that an author can write the non-fiction story while being able to fill in all necessary plot gaps, and also use their freedom of fiction to accentuate scenarios that they see as important or want to emphasize.  Allegory uses the plot to not only bring in connotations from the possibility of those choices within it’s own plot, but also to raise connotations from the non-fictitious plot of the real world.  After those connections are established the author may further their own plot into how they believe real choices and their consequences will be within their own fictitious model of non-fiction.

Fantasy & Science-Fiction

It may seem initially inane that the problem that a knight has while battling a dragon can have any relevance to attributing meaning to any problems in the real world, but often fantasy and science fiction are cited as some of the greatest works of literary achievement.  It is easy for a creative writer to design a dragon or a spaceship that does not exist in reality, but it is very difficult for an author to create a plot that does not follow economic law.  Even wizards evaluate means and ends, and in one way or another try to maximize their utility.  Markets still function in the same way even if they are for space widgets rather than earth widgets.  Fantasy and Science Fiction are used often with allegory to create a fictional world in which fantastical creatures and aliens are exaggerations of the real world things which they represent.  It is difficult to use other scientific possibilities to represent reality, and the use of fantasy and science fiction are an incredibly powerful shortcut for writers to use in connecting their fantastical fictitious world to the real one.

Games

A game is typically not thought of as a plot, but in fact might be the best example of one.  In a game the rules and setting are the economic environment, the players are the characters, and the various choices they have throughout the game are the determinants of the plot.  This may not apply to certain abstract games such as puzzles.  The only thing that game designers choose are the rules and the design of the game pieces.  The rest is left up to the choices of the players, and the rolling of dice.  A game designer may use the theme of a game to allow players to realize the connection between the choices they are making, and what they are valuing to a real world example of someone in that situation.  

 

The goal of these posts was to synthesize the understanding of what makes a plot work and how choices are made in the real world.  The validity or relevance of a plot being based on the having its plot points connected to economic law is the same as the validity of a painting having its colors be within the range of the light spectrum that can be seen by the human eye.  Different genres function similarly to different strokes of a brush.  Games are analogous to the painter being able to draw themselves and others into their painting.  If we can consider a painting beautiful because of the connotations that it draws the viewer to because of its masterful combination of color, then we can consider a plot beautiful because of the connotations that it draws the reader to because of its masterful combination of economics.

Picture credit to http://www.holyworlds.org/blog/?p=1494

Please follow and like us:
5

Two Christmases and a Birthday Worth

There is a lot of economics in Christmas, and I’ve been waiting to post this article since I first saw a recent episode of South Park.  South Park just recently finished up its 20th season in which they commented on a wide range of topics as they usually do.  However, one particular joke in one particular scene stuck out to me.  

Did you catch it?  When Cartman’s laptop, iPad, and iPhone are being destroyed he pleads to the boys by saying “This is like two Christmases and a birthday worth of stuff!”  Imagine if Cartman had been perhaps a 30 year old man.  He very likely would have cried out, “This is like 3000$ worth of stuff!”.  Kids, especially before they’re teenagers, are in a very different economic situation than most people, but they still function alongside many of the same basic rules.

Money is used for many different purposes, one of which is that it functions as a unit of account.  This means that when we try to measure value between items we refer to how much money we would be willing to spend on it to give our desire a numerical value.  Since money is divisible, transferable, and valuable it lends itself to this use.  However, it is only useful to this purpose from a perspective where you are actually using money regularly.  

Children rarely buy a majority of their own needs with money, but they still spend something.  When an adult spends money on something their cost is an opportunity cost.  They lose the opportunity to buy the next best thing for the same amount of money.  Kids often make a list of things that they want for Christmas, and they also often order their list.  When children ask for the top present for Christmas or their Birthday they lose the opportunity to ask for the second thing on their list.  Thus to children, Christmases and birthdays function like a unit of account allowing Cartman to say that his electronics are worth to him Two Christmases and a birthday.  Gift-giving occasions are still not money as they can’t be exchanged, spent on anything, or saved up over time, but they offer a route for children to receive one of the many societal benefits that we gain from a currency system.  

Please follow and like us:
5