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    The US should help give Mexico first world problems

    Posted by TM Lutas on 13th October 2015 (All posts by )

    The cheapest, most effective US southern border security measure available over the long haul is for Mexico to become a high income country that honors the rule of law. Dollar for dollar, nothing beats making somebody else the front line on handling third world immigration. Mexican illegal immigration dries up in a good way while Central Americans only target the US as much as they currently target Canada (which is hardly at all).


    Posted in Immigration, Latin America, Miscellaneous | 64 Comments »

    Beating Trump on Immigration, the Easy Way

    Posted by TM Lutas on 24th August 2015 (All posts by )

    From a common sense perspective, Donald Trump is weak on immigration. He is weak because he’s more focused on rabble rousing and being a blowhard rather than actually creating a humane solution consistent with American principles. A competing GOP candidate could easily get to the right of Trump while getting more of the Latino vote. All it takes is being an ordinary human being that looks at these people as equal to everybody else.

    A candidate can say the ugly truth that unaccompanied minors from Latin America are victims of child abuse by US standards. Cooperating with originating-country governments to open and manage a child abuse case would be a primarily federal responsibility due to the international nature of the case, though there would be room for a strong state role. Just think about it. If a mother from Miami, FL put her 12 year old on a freight train, destination, San Francisco, CA there is no question that child endangerment and abuse would be on the prosecutor’s menu when the kid’s caught. It would be unthinkable to have different treatment if the point of origin were Boston, MA. This is America and we believe in equal treatment under the law. So why is the legal treatment different when the kid’s from Guatamala, Mexico, or Panama? Their children are not inferior to ours and their treatment should be held to the same standards when they are within our borders. Trump’s plan doesn’t do this. That is weakness. For the general election, this line has the additional advantage of setting up Hillary Clinton as soft on child abuse.

    On the larger issue of immigration, the US civil war provides lessons. The destruction of slavery and the plantation system left an enormous pool of labor at loose ends and in desperate need and we mobilized to meet that emergency during the war. Today, the mitigation and end of several types of economic slavery has put the whole world in the same boat. The Deng reforms mitigated the Maoist economic slave system and unleashed hundreds of millions of people in search of jobs. The end of the Permit Raj in India released hundreds of millions more. The end of the Soviet system unleashed yet more within both Eastern Europe and all over the third world. As Republicans we rejoice in the mitigation and the ending of human bondage whether it’s outright slavery, serfdom, or goes under some modern label like communism. But the problems of how such recently liberated people are integrated into the world economy are just as daunting today as they were during our own civil war.

    While much of the adjustment to that tidal wave has already taken place, the global political class is failing to create enough work to occupy all those idle hands which will put pressure on wages so long as the failure continues. In desperation many seek to enter the US illegally and our system for welcoming and integrating newcomers is swamped, something that is as dangerous as swamping a boat, or overfilling a house to the point of collapse.

    We should not forget that for the vast majority of these economic migrants, plan A is getting a good job in their own society. Migration, especially illegal immigration is pretty far down on the list of preferred life plans for the vast majority of illegal immigrants.

    So long as large pools of unemployed and underemployed exist anywhere that connects with the global economy, wages will continue to have downward pressure and Americans will feel the economic pain. A wall on the border is a single layer of defense. It is not enough.

    The best defense is a defense in depth. While we build the wall, we need to significantly increase the number of jobs we create so that we drive unemployment down to its frictional rate of 3% and keep pressing on with job creation even after that so that jobs on the other side of the border increase and migrants stop there instead of here. The ideal is for people to have jobs in their own countries, in their own hometowns.

    This can only be accomplished by getting government out of the way in terms of job creation and encouraging people to become part time or full time capitalists where they can.

    Trump’s plan is weak because it is reactive and offers nothing in terms of reducing immigration pressure beyond our border where the first level of defense should be.

    Posted in Current Events, Elections, Immigration, Political Philosophy, Politics | 57 Comments »

    Is ISIS neo-Kharijite?

    Posted by TM Lutas on 21st February 2015 (All posts by )

    The Kharijites were a faction inside of early Islam that heavily invested in the concept of takfir (excommunication) and had other differences with both Sunni and Shia to the point where they were themselves considered no longer muslim and ended up mostly being killed off. ISIS, by its extreme actions, seems to have some significant points of congruence with the Kharijites. Foremost among them seems to be this shared belief in takfirism. It is not a perfect fit, ISIS’ ideology includes the idea that the Caliph should be a Quryash tribe member, something the ancient Kharijites rejected at the time.

    Not having a dividing line between those who want to kill us in the name of Islam and those who we can live with underneath the big tent of american tolerance makes war difficult. Is neo-kharjitism a dividing criteria that would work both within Islam and without? It’s something to keep an eye on and a great tool if it can be relied on.

    Posted in Islam, Middle East, Religion, War and Peace | 16 Comments »

    Fixing Gaza

    Posted by TM Lutas on 2nd February 2015 (All posts by )

    Israel, if it is farsighted and wise, has a grim opportunity in the emergence of Islamic State Sinai Province. It can sign a defense treaty with Egypt to ensure the territorial integrity of Egypt. Israel’s gain would be the undertaking of Egypt to grant palestinians on Egyptian territory Egyptian citizenship, removing the malign influence that the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) is having over the Palestinian situation the only sure way possible, by removing its reason for being in a decent, humanitarian way by settling Palestinian refugees into a normal status, in this case as citizens of Egypt.

    This line of thinking does assume that Egypt’s military will be unsuccessful in stopping IS Sinai Province from controlling territory, either part or all of Sinai. It further assumes that the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza/Hamas will be assisting ISSP in its efforts, justifying an Egyptian takeover of Gaza to root them out. Now is the time for the negotiations to start, if they haven’t already started.

    Without refugee status, and the unique UN agency to support Palestinians in their grievances, Palestinians will tend to disperse, tend to get jobs, and as they get more invested into the existing legal system, tend to reduce their jihad to lawfare seeking reparations for their losses in both properties and suffering. Eventually Israel will write a big check and be happy to end this chapter in their history.

    Posted in Islam, Israel, Middle East, Tradeoffs, War and Peace | 11 Comments »

    Black Lives Matter

    Posted by TM Lutas on 29th December 2014 (All posts by )

    It should be a bipartisan truism that black lives matter both in word and in deed. Unfortunately neither party gets it right. The Democrat sin is to not act as if black lives matter. The Republican sin is not to speak as if black lives matter. All in all, I find the GOP error less disgusting and wrong but it is wrong.

    In 2013, 14,196 people were murdered or became victims of non-negligent manislaughter. Not all law enforcement forces collect racial statistics so out of the 12,253 murders with race of victim attached, 6,261 were black victims. This is the largest racial grouping of all. The US population is 13.2% black. 77.7% of the country is white.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Civil Society, Crime and Punishment, Politics, USA | 26 Comments »

    US Military Lawyers Should Have Operational Responsibilities

    Posted by TM Lutas on 6th December 2014 (All posts by )

    The US, as a signatory to the major treaties on the laws of war has an obligation to enforce the customary and treaty norms of proper behavior in wartime not only within our own forces but by allied and opposing forces. This is not just a support task but in cases where opposing forces deliberately violate the laws of war, it is an operational responsibility that, when we fail to carry it out, cedes vital military advantage to law breaking enemies and increases the dangers that civilians face within war zones.

    It would be interesting to read the operational planning document that lays out how we are supposed to undertake such operations. So far as I can tell, nobody has written such a document. We just don’t view military lawyers as anything other than a support element that helps other units undertake other military operations.

    The operations documents are published by the Joint Chiefs, listed in the Joint Electronic Library. Classified planning documents have a link into the non-public JEL+ so the missing document can’t be put down to a problem of state secrets keeping the document out of public view.

    Until we reformulate our doctrine and start taking laws of war enforcement as a military operation against enemies that tend to violate these laws en masse, excess casualties will be an inevitability. Most of those casualties will be non-military civilians of whatever country we happen to be fighting in but a significant amount of them will wear US military uniforms.

    Posted in Military Affairs | 22 Comments »

    Air strike: interdiction vs close air support

    Posted by TM Lutas on 21st November 2014 (All posts by )

    The news media writes about air strikes in Iraq and Syria and those who are uneducated in military affairs read one thing. Those who are in the community read something different. The difference between the two means that the vast majority of the country thinks that we have ordered something to be done and is evaluating the action on that basis, even though it has little tie to reality. It would be important for the Pentagon to fix this misperception, however there seems to be little concentrated effort to do that work. If you are an interested civilian, as I have been, it’s possible to sort things out and get educated fairly quickly because the military does publish the necessary resources. They just don’t push them enough to actually create an educated public.

    When the military sends an aircraft out to conduct an airstrike, there are two subcategories of strikes that are relevant, close air support and interdiction strikes. The former is a much harder task than the latter because with very small errors, you end up killing men on your own side and not the enemy’s. Interdiction strikes lack this danger because they are conducted behind combat lines. They are designed to starve the front line of supplies, ammunition, and further military units to replace combat losses. Close air support effects are immediate, direct, and measurable. They require close coordination with someone on the ground to properly identify the targets. There is a checklist of bits of information that need to be provided to ensure a proper strike. The more holes or errors in the checklist, the more likely you are to kill your own instead of the enemy. There are courses to teach how to do this. The people we are aiding in Iraq include personnel who have taken these courses. The people we are aiding in Syria have not.

    Interdiction attacks take longer to matter and depending on how robust the enemy’s behind the front lines operation is, you have to do more to get any perceptible effect at all. If the enemy counts on you knocking out 3 trucks in 10 and your interdiction rate is only 2 in 10, the effect of your interdiction effort at the front line is negligible.

    We are providing both interdiction and close air support in Iraq but as a result of the lack of trained personnel, only interdiction missions in Syria. Confusing media stories make it clear that the distinction is not generally understood. Few seem to be asking the question of when or how the ability to do close air support missions in Syria will happen, what is the pace of operations needed to overcome ISIS’ logistics design margins, or much of anything else useful.

    Media on the left, center, and right are all guilty of this lack of discernment. In a US with a volunteer military with popular oversight of the government, civilians need to do better so we’re at least educated enough to ask the right questions and intelligently hold the politicians accountable.

    Posted in Media, Military Affairs | 7 Comments »

    What did those veterans do?

    Posted by TM Lutas on 11th November 2014 (All posts by )

    While we’re honoring America’s veterans, I thought it would be interesting to see what it is the were doing to earn that honored status.

    There is a site on the Internet called the Joint Electronic Library (and it’s slightly restricted cousin the JEL+). It’s where the American military officially plans what is to be done when the job’s big enough that sometimes different military services are going to be doing it next to each other.

    What military people do is essentially a task list. The military publishes an unclassified universal task list every three months. It currently has 1,285 tasks. They each have performance indicators. The whole list looks very little like how civilians discuss war or think of all the things that go into the military. Exploring this disconnect and how it makes the lives of our military harder and even increases casualties is a post for another time. This is Veterans Day, not Memorial day.

    Posted in Military Affairs, Systems Analysis | Comments Off on What did those veterans do?

    What’s most important?

    Posted by TM Lutas on 7th November 2014 (All posts by )

    If you had one thing, one piece of information that you could get out to the people of your town/county/state/country what would it be? Insofar as news goes, this is an interview question that gets at what is most important. I’ve come to the conclusion that if american journalism asked that question and compiled the answers of every influencer they interviewed, they would, at very little cost and effort, compile a pretty good reporting program.

    Recently, I had an opportunity to grab a data point. At a pre-election rally, there was Indiana’s Attorney General, Greg Zoeller, making his way through those seated and he wasn’t being mobbed. So I asked for, and got a little bit of time and he laid out the most important thing that he thinks people should pay attention to.

    In AG Zoeller’s case it was electoral turnout. He pretty eloquently made the case that without sufficient turnout, elections are not legitimate expressions of the will of the people and that we need to make sure that the government doesn’t lose legitimacy. It’s an interesting window into the mind of a pretty impressive politician. It’s also entirely counter to the media narrative of the GOP as the party interested in suppressing voter turnout. We’ll see in the next legislative session how that determination to improve turnout will turn into bills and hopefully a new law. I won’t steal the legislature’s thunder but if they execute, Indiana’s going to make some noise in 2015.

    Posted in Politics | 8 Comments »

    How many ebola cases before a travel ban is justified?

    Posted by TM Lutas on 17th October 2014 (All posts by )

    The usual formulation for discussing air travel bans is how many ebola cases making it to the US before President Obama is forced to stop air travel to and from west Africa. But there’s another variant of the question, how many ebola cases in the US before others will stop air or sea travel to and from the this country?

    I do not think it likely that we will reach such numbers in this outbreak but it’s an interesting change from the usual breathless journalistic speculation of the US imposing a ban. If we don’t keep our house in order, others will isolate us to keep themselves safe.

    Update: Since this post was written the arrival of travelers from the ebola hot zone have been restricted five airports where screening has been put in place and just now the CDC has announced that all arrivals will be under 21 day observation from entry in a sort of loose post entry disease defense regime. If they travel, they need to notify the CDC and they need to call in daily temperature readings and report any ebola-like symptoms. This might work, and considerably reduces the possibility that we will be under travel ban because we let ebola come in and get out of control.

    Posted in Health Care, Politics, Transportation | 6 Comments »

    Simple Question: Why are property taxes public but income taxes aren’t?

    Posted by TM Lutas on 9th October 2014 (All posts by )

    In the US, property taxes are public record. Income taxes are not. It’s viewed as an intrusive violation of one’s right to privacy to view a person’s 1040 without good cause but everybody can go over the property taxes without justification. After a bit of research there doesn’t seem to be a lot of discussion why that is. It’s like there’s deep consensus that this is the way that things should be but no justification laid out in living memory to keep things this way. I agree with the consensus, that property tax records should be public. I just don’t like the thought that I don’t know why and I don’t know why income taxes are categorically different.

    Posted in Politics, USA | 11 Comments »

    Open thread – simple questions

    Posted by TM Lutas on 20th September 2014 (All posts by )

    I’m finding that a lot of our assumed shared vocabulary isn’t as shared as we think it is. Whether it’s “ISIS is not Islamic”, what is “combat” or “war”, or even what is “equality”, we fight an awful lot about issues that depend on terms that we haven’t defined well at all or have tribally defined them and assign our tribal definition of the term to somebody who holds a different definition.

    Simple questions can clarify this sort of thing.
    What is Islamic
    What are the various categories of military action
    How do you assess equality

    So what simple questions have you found to be thought provoking or interesting? My current list will be in comments.

    Posted in Deep Thoughts | 14 Comments »

    How we should respond to the unaccompanied minor crisis

    Posted by TM Lutas on 31st July 2014 (All posts by )

    If your opponent expects you to pull, don’t pull; push.

    The whole unaccompanied minor federal operation is racist to the core. Were a parent in Illinois to put their kid on a freight car to California with the plan that the kid make his way to Los Angeles where a cousin would pick him up, CPS would put that kid in foster care and seek to terminate parental rights. So where are the cases? Why aren’t the state courts being flooded with cases? Why hasn’t there been a federal injunction filed to identify where these kids are being placed so that the state child protective services can start files? Why are we treating these kids differently than we would if they were american kids with a similar fact pattern.

    Why do we even need to go to court at all to assure that all levels of government are able to do their duty? Why is the Obama administration not only not taking care that these kids not fall between the cracks but are shoving them into the cracks as deep as they possibly can with their refusal to inform state authorities where these kids are?

    You can be assured that the termination of parental rights (and thus rights for the parents to get visas if these kids are ever legalized) will change the calculus that sends these children alone across the border, and quickly.

    The question I have is why isn’t Governor Jindal, Governor Perry, and all the other governors who are protesting these actions not activating their own bureaucracies to do their job and treat these kids exactly like they would treat any other kid in the like circumstance?

    Posted in Current Events, Immigration, Obama | 10 Comments »

    Vatican Awkward?

    Posted by TM Lutas on 14th July 2014 (All posts by )

    Germany beat Argentina in the world cup finals
    The next meeting of Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis should be interesting.

    Posted in Humor | 1 Comment »

    Picketty’s Introduction

    Posted by TM Lutas on 9th June 2014 (All posts by )

    Thomas Piketty has written a monster of a book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century. I find myself in strange agreement with Brad DeLong, that the collective conservative response is weak. I had a patch of time that left me twiddling my thumbs waiting for some pretty long database operations to finish over the past four days. So I went and decided to fisk the book. I just finished the introduction. It took four posts, Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV and overran the spare time I had available from a database import and indexing task by about 12 hours.

    Now I know why the criticism is so weak. Piketty is a target rich environment and doing a line by line analysis is simply exhausting. But it’s the only way to be sure.

    Posted in Book Notes, Business, Economics & Finance, Public Finance, Society, Taxes, USA | 18 Comments »

    43 years ago

    Posted by TM Lutas on 4th March 2014 (All posts by )

    Forty three years ago, my parents found out that even a babe-in-arms has to have a separate airline ticket paid for. That ticket was for me to get out of Romania. I was just 2 years old.

    My father’s sister, Sylvia had bought 3 tickets, one for each of them and third which my parents thought covered the two half fares for the both of us but was issued for my brother, George (who I miss very much but that’s a very different story). They had one day to get money they did not have to Sabena airlines, in a different country, and pay for that ticket, across the iron curtain that divided east from west in those days. All this was before the Internet had made things so easy. The Sabena clerk was absolutely positive my parents would never make it for the flight the next day. Such things were impossible in 1971.

    My father didn’t have the phone number of his sister and the US embassy didn’t have a phone book for that area of Jersey to look it up for him so my mother swung into action and called one of the few cousins she knew the Nazis had not killed. Katus Fishbein was my mother’s, father’s, brother’s, daughter (her cousin) and had been in my mother’s, parent’s wedding party. She was very religious, an ultra-Orthodox jew (which becomes relevant later). She wasn’t sure we’d be good for it. After all, we’d be penniless arrivals and who knows what sort of guy cousin Juliana had married. She had recently found out that cousin Juliana was alive just a year prior via a postcard her uncle Joseph had written to her brother and was somehow in her father’s papers. She wrote back to that address and even though the address had had its name changed (three times by then) the postmaster delivered the letter. All she knew was that Juliana’s husband was a christian. So she called another (mutual) cousin and that cousin, Clara Fein, vouched that we’d be good for it. My mother hadn’t a clue that cousin Clara had survived WW II. Cousin Clara hadn’t known that her uncle Joseph’s family had survived until that phone call.

    So the Sabena clerk in Bucharest opening up the office found my parents waiting for her at the doorstep and a telex from the home office saying that the fourth ticket was paid for twice. The Sabena home office apparently had my father’s sister’s number and had separately informed her. Aunt Sylvia came through without asking.

    Of course, the adventure wasn’t over. At customs, they inventoried our possessions to make sure we weren’t stealing from the socialist fatherland. My parents were allowed three hemp cloth diapers for me, for instance. My mother still uses one of those diapers to make sure that she doesn’t burn delicate clothes when she irons. They checked me for ear rings. No gold except simple wedding bands was allowed.

    We all missed our flight connection and got a flight for the next day. Unlike the previous flight which had been due to arrive at 5PM Friday, it arrived at noon on Saturday. Aunt Sylvia got notified about the day change but somehow missed the time change.

    When my parents finally arrived, it was the jewish sabbath and ultra-orthodox cousin Katus had asked cousin Clara to meet us at the airport. So there were my parents, two kids, two suitcases, and not a penny to their name. And here come a pair of people, absolute strangers shouting out my mother’s name and hugging and kissing and conducting them to their car. The last time Clara had seen her cousin she was seventeen and my mother was three years old.

    In the back, my father whispered to my mother “who are these people?” My mother whispered back “I don’t know.” Cousin Clara’s husband heard, laughed, and all was explained on the way to their apartment.

    Cross posted: Flit-TM

    Posted in History, Humor | 16 Comments »

    Obamacare, the Scrooging

    Posted by TM Lutas on 14th December 2013 (All posts by )

    People signing up for Obamacare are being robbed by the government. This time it’s not metaphorically, like when your perfectly satisfactory insurance plan is made illegal and all the compliant plans are more expensive and have worse terms but literally. People are having their accounts debited improperly during the Christmas season. And because it is being done by the government, there is little recourse to sue due to sovereign immunity and, of course, those most injured haven’t the money to hire representation anyway. I think Pope Francis calls it ‘despoliation of the poor’.

    Double debits, wrong day debits, wrong amount debits, these are all standard hazards with any sort of Electronic Funds Transfer (ETF) system. There’s nothing particularly new about these issues. It’s all part of the back end errors that those dastardly Republicans have been hyperventilating about and Democrats have been pooh poohing for weeks now.

    You never know when Tuttle will turn into Buttle in one of these systems. But what’s in a name?

    Merry Christmas

    Cross posted: Flit-TM

    Posted in Big Government, Health Care, Obama, Video | 20 Comments »

    LTC Robert Bateman ignores the law

    Posted by TM Lutas on 9th December 2013 (All posts by )

    It is alarming when a serving military man publicly ignores the law. It is doubly so when he is not only a Lieutenant Colonel but also a professor who has taught at the military academy at West Point. LTC Robert Bateman’s recent Esquire blog misstates the law and misunderstands the role guns play in US society.

    LTC Bateman asserts “As of 1903, the “militia” has been known as the National Guard” and links to an analysis of the act. The reality is quite different if you actually read the first paragraph of the act.

    That the militia shall consist of every able-bodied male citizen of the respective States, Territories, and the District of Columbia, and every able-bodied male of foreign birth who has declared his intention to become a citizen, who is more than eighteen and less than forty-five years of age, and shall be divided into two classes—the organized militia, to be known as the National Guard of the State, Territory, or District of Columbia, or by such other designations as may be given them by the laws of the respective States or Territories, and the remainder to be known as the Reserve Militia.

    In other words, the heart of his argument that the militia is not the whole of the people rests at the very beginning on a lie. In the case of an ignorant youth, this might be excused but not a high ranking military professional who has had the responsibility of teaching our future military leaders. It is inexcusable. Given further legislative developments since 1903 regarding discrimination based on sex, I doubt that even this definition of militia is supportable at present because it is too narrow but even this outdated definition is an ocean compared to the teacup that LTC Bateman wants to leave for 2nd amendment rights.

    Since it’s established that LTC Bateman doesn’t necessarily respect the truth, it’s important to check on the rest of his assertions. One of them is that “Weapons are there for the ‘well regulated militia.’ Their use, therefore, must be in defense of the nation.” The police are not in the national guard, does their use of arms defend the nation? Are they a well regulated militia? Is he calling for the disarmament of the police? Perhaps he does, perhaps he doesn’t. By the terms of his argument, they shouldn’t be armed but perhaps he did not want to completely embarrass himself. The alternative is that he is arguing that the police are a militia. This militarization of the police is an entirely different kind of problem, no less disconnected from the American tradition or problematic for our liberties but different than the question of their armament.

    LTC Bateman repeatedly says in this article “hunting is valid”. Then again he also says that weapons “must be in defense of the nation”. So why is hunting valid? I’m guessing because it polls well enough that gun controllers would earn permanent minority status if they were to be perceived as anti-hunting and he personally knows a few hunters who he’d like to continue to see socially.

    Another assertion is that “No 7-11 in history has ever been held up with” a black powder musket. That might be true though black powder firearms robbery is not exactly unheard of, though rare.

    A little investigation yields the possibility that the whole thing is part of a joke of a presidential run which includes such gems as the forced deportation of gun owners (unclear whether they can come back afterwards) and bringing back the draft. So one viable theory might be that he’s just kidding here.

    I’m inclined to a different one, that we should feel sorry for LTC Bateman and his recent stroke that has apparently affected his mental capacity. Our ire should be saved for Esquire magazine and its editorial staff that has encouraged this man to nationally embarrass himself.

    cross posted: Flit-TM

    Posted in Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, RKBA | 35 Comments »

    Totalitarian Capitalism

    Posted by TM Lutas on 4th December 2013 (All posts by )

    I’ve been pondering Pope Francis’ recent writings and have come to certain conclusions about some serious miscommunication regarding what the Pope is doing. Contrary to a lot of the Francis miscommunication corpus, I don’t think that this is the Pope’s fault.

    Capitalism is not, properly speaking, a totalitarian system. It requires a separate moral system, a guide to provide purpose to all the buying and selling. It can fit to a wide variety of moral systems which is a good reason that capitalism ends up being global.

    Capitalism’s limits to economic acts create a space for morality to survive and thrive and are natural fetters to the system. These are the fetters that would interest a churchman. Unfettered or unregulated capitalism is totalitarian. If you’re worshipping mammon. If you find value only in your bank account, if there is no other system that informs your purchases and your production, then you have a serious problem. The fetters of government regulation in the economic sphere are irrelevant to Pope Francis because he’s not a politician and not an economist. He has a different scope for his job and vocation.

    This is a virtue problem and one that has real world, practical effects. The difference in the education levels in virtue in the American colonies at the start of its revolution and Bourbon France at the start of its revolution are a major factor in why the former succeeded and the latter was ultimately a failure that died in the terror.

    Pope Francis’ gig is ultimately to inculcate virtue and prepare us for Heaven. Occasionally this means he falls into the jargon of his profession which, like all professional jargon, is sometimes confusing because in different professions, the terms have different meanings.

    cross post: Flit-TM

    Posted in Christianity, Civil Society, Religion | 25 Comments »

    Bitcoin deflation

    Posted by TM Lutas on 29th November 2013 (All posts by )

    Today, right this minute, we have a massive natural experiment in deflation going on. The demand for Bitcoin (BTC) is far outstripping any increase in supply. If this were a national currency, the central bankers would have been institutionalized for their nervous breakdowns quite some time ago. It would be front page news every day and panic would rule the airwaves.

    None of this is happening with Bitcoin. BTC insiders, movers and shakers seem pleased with the increase in value for their currency and the worry is the appreciation of the currency will go away, not that it will continue. Bitcoin pessimists like Paul Krugman, not surprisingly, believe that deflation will lead to transaction collapse and hoarding. Reality, so far, disagrees with them.

    I think that the problem is that nobody among the pessimists understands what BTC is for. It’s never going to be the legally mandated monopoly currency in any significant economic zone. The ethic of the BTC community works against that. This means that BTC is not competing against the US dollar, the euro, or even the renminbi.

    What bitcoin does very well is create a space for moving currency without the ability for it to be stopped. That challenges national currencies in crisis that want to impose currency controls to stop money leaving their borders. You can’t stop BTC transactions without draconian controls on communications.

    As a practical matter, you can’t stop a coin key from crossing borders. It also creates an incredibly small unit of currency. The smallest unit in the BTC world is the satoshi, or 0.00000001BTC. Is there any currency in the world that equals one satoshi? Until bitcoin reaches the point where its smallest transactions (looking at ads and other microtransactions) can no longer be done with single satoshis, BTC will not suffer transaction reduction to to value increase.

    Current pricing would seem to imply something of a damper on BTC transaction flow when BTC rises above $100,000 USD per coin. In other words, the cheapest, cheapskate ads are offering a hundred satoshis for a second of your attention in a world where 1BTC is approximately 1,000USD. We have a long way to go before those transactions cease to be denominated in BTC. And even then, there will be prestige associated with working in BTC which will keep interest in the currency relatively high and larger transactions flowing around the $100k level. Any reduction will bring back a number of the bottom feeders from other currencies.

    There are several wannabe BTC competitors waiting in the wings for the day that people want to conduct microtransactions smaller than 1 satoshi. They have established exchanges with national currencies and with BTC itself. when BTC grows in value sufficiently to give up the low end of its microtransaction market, the marketers will move on to alternatives until one of them gains enough advantage to be the next BTC.

    Ultimately, BTC is about mad money for a lot of people. As an experiment, I’ve mined BTC overnight and done micro-tasks using the thing in my spare time. Since April of this year, without any impact on my productivity, I’ve gotten the price of a fairly nice night out with my wife in BTC right now. It’s a piece, but only a piece, of an emerging 21st century wallet which diversifies currency use and manages transactions both online and offline. That wallet probably won’t fully emerge for a decade at the very least and more likely will take two to really standardize but it will be the death of the ability of national currencies to live on their past reputations. People will gain the ability to react to currency foolishness much more quickly. BTC will be an important part of that technology suite.

    cross posted: Flit-TM

    Posted in Economics & Finance | 9 Comments »

    Boehner should not honor Obama’s lawlessness

    Posted by TM Lutas on 17th November 2013 (All posts by )

    President Obama’s veto threat of the Upton bill to legally do what he is trying to do by illegal means, delay the individual mandate, has firmly established a sad fact. The United States has a lawless president. Impeachment would be a three ring circus and unlikely to be worth the effort. President Obama has indeed not let a crisis go to waste and is trying to legitimize presidential lawlessness by picking a test case where the he is doing lawlessly what the Congress wishes to do lawfully. It’s a threat of precedent, not a present threat to the lives and health of anyone today.

    A more appropriate response than impeachment would be to wake up America that there is an important and symbolic issue at stake. Speaker Boehner can do this simply by denying the President an honor. He can deny President Obama the use of the House chamber for the State of the Union address. A currently substanceless threat to our legal tradition is responded to by a substanceless slap of rebuke. Let the President write his address and let it be read from the well by a clerk.

    The idea that the President has so dishonored his office that he no longer can enter the House is a powerful image that alerts the people to a problem but does not stop us from carrying on with the serious task of government. Impeachment should not be our first resort. Who wants President Biden? This measure also has the advantage that it plays to Boehner’s strengths and requires no approval from anyone else. He can take this decision unilaterally. He should.

    Cross posted: Flit-TM

    Posted in Politics, USA | 21 Comments »

    Capitalism failure

    Posted by TM Lutas on 14th October 2013 (All posts by )

    From a system perspective, not a human perspective, compensation for work in capitalism is the system’s way of communicating to people that the system needs more or fewer people in a job. Not enough bricklayers means rising salaries and too many means lower salaries. The trend continues until the number of people doing the work roughly matches what is needed at the market clearing price and the people are generally satisfied with the compensation.

    So what does that tell us about the US distribution of population in the labor market? The distribution of compensation is highly skewed and madly demanding more people get into the job of running companies. It’s highly lucrative work that on balance tends to create labor demand. Our lack of labor demand and the resulting salary stagnation are not a harmless consequence.

    But people aren’t rushing into the CEO business anywhere near the numbers necessary to drive compensation down. It’s not like the current crop of CEOs is uniformly magnificent and we simply cannot do better. The wrecked companies littering the corporate landscape around the country are a testament to that. And failure at being a CEO would seem not to carry the same penalties as a spectacularly public malpractice for a doctor or lawyer.

    So why has CEO production not drawn attention of the same people addressing the “IT shortage”? Why doesn’t the CEO grooming process create more candidates that drive costs down? Why is shareholder value being squandered in so many cases in highly compensating a stream of short lived, not very good chief executives, who drive the company into disaster time and again?

    There’s something wrong with our CEO system.

    Cross posted Flit-TM

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Economics & Finance, Politics, Society | 18 Comments »

    Normal legislative practice vs tea party terrorism

    Posted by TM Lutas on 10th October 2013 (All posts by )

    Normal Legislative practice:
    Vote for this must pass bill even though we’ve loaded it with pork barrel spending and changed a few bits of unrelated legislation into it. You’ll hurt the country worse if it doesn’t pass.

    Tea Party terrorism:
    Vote for this continuing resolution to fund the government while we change/defund the Affordable Care Act.

    See the difference?

    Me neither.

    Cross posted on Flit-TM

    Posted in Big Government, Politics, Tea Party | 2 Comments »

    Reality lives in the details

    Posted by TM Lutas on 24th August 2013 (All posts by )

    Sometimes you come across a comment that passingly mentions a central truth that you just want to climb up on a roof and shout it out to the world. That! Pay attention to that!

    Trent Telenko comments on his own excellent post:

    Reality lives in the details.
    You have to know enough of the details to know what is vital and to be able to use good judgement as to which histories are worthwhile and which are regurgitated pap.
    No one has bothered to do that with MacArthur’s South West Pacific Area, especially as it relates to the proposed invasion of Japan.

    Yes, reality lives in the details and we are living in a world that both has more of those details available and has fewer of those details capturing our attention. We leave important details unexamined and fixate on the exciting but unimportant details of celebrity and titillation.

    What makes the situation supremely frustrating is that it doesn’t have to be that way. Computers are both becoming cheaper and more powerful. We’re deploying new technologies such as the Semantic Web to fix it but the progress is agonizingly slow.

    Faster please

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior | 11 Comments »

    How to stop the Executive from running out the scandal clock

    Posted by TM Lutas on 18th July 2013 (All posts by )

    This Politico story on Benghazi led me to consider the question of what would need to be in place to stop the “we need you to stop talking about this until everyone forgets” strategy.

    Early on while everybody is still upset in the first flush of outrage, the executive branch needs to give a time estimate of how long it is going to take to get to the bottom of it all and once they blow that deadline, a critical mass of ordinary people need to have that come up as sort of a reminder. The blowing of the deadline should be its own, separate scandal. Congress should organize hearings at the deadline so that when the administration blows it, they can get as much information as has been learned since then, monitor the resources and energy placed in the scandal to determine if they’re slow walking the thing, and get a better date.

    Posted in Politics | 6 Comments »