growing stages

WANTED: Liberty entrepreneurs

Money is a dirty word in the liberty movement.  Ironic, for a pro-free-market and free trade ideology.  But when theory becomes reality, many recoil at the idea of bloggers doing sales or advertising.  Why?

Spending time to make content or technology means taking time away from other activities, whether business or leisure.  That time has to be compensated.  Yet some act like entitled socialists, expecting this work to be provided for free!

To be fair, some monetization strategies are obnoxious or spammy.  But all that means is we need better monetization options.  Better technologies.  Better feedback and suggestion from audiences of what works and what doesn’t.

For the liberty movement to survive, much less thrive and change the world, it must be economically self-sufficient.  If you can’t feed yourself, you can’t change the world.  If our activities in pursuit of liberty are not profitable, but only financial drains, we will never grow and advance.

We need more business models around advancing liberty.  We need more content, more media platforms, more technologies.  With the fake news media collapsing before our eyes, there has never been a better opportunity than now.  There is so much pent up demand and very little supply.

We need more liberty entrepreneurs.

Not just from an economic perspective, but from a psychological one as well.  It can get depressing focusing only on what the poweful are doing to us.  Who wants to be on a constantly losing team, with a victim mentality?  It’s time we recognize our own power, take responsibility, and become agents of change.

I am working on several media technology projects with a group of liberty-minded developers and creators.  Want to join the effort?  Email me at apollo at apolloslater dot com and let’s get to work!

Costs vs benefits of patents

Is intellectual property really property? (Part 3)

Continuing on part 1 and part 2 in our series on intellectual property, today we look at why the social value of patents is greatly overestimated.

Patents not necessary for innovation

Most patents are not litigated.  That would be insanely expensive.  What ends up is a policy of mutually-assured destruction, where big companies build up patent portfolios as a defensive measure.  But this could be accomplished with a voluntarist patent system, where you lose protection of your patents, if you violate anyone else’s.

Trade secretsMost intellectual property is not patented.  It is squirrelled away as trade secrets.  It lies in the particular operations and tradecraft of millions of businesses.  That means most of the innovative power of the economy is not dependent on the government-run patent system.  Then we have to question whether the patent system itself is necessary.

Huge costs of patents

The supposed benefits of patents to innovators are the justification for the system.  But the costs to innovators and startup businesses are overlooked.

patent_troll_chartPatent trolls build up massive patent portfolios and litigate against any startup in a particular field, even without merit, as the cost of defending is extremely high.  This creates huge uncertainty in entrepreneurship and requires a lot of capital to start up.  It is another example of government-mandated capital concentration.

Innovators are more likely to get hammered by a lawsuit, than to benefit from a patent that takes millions to grant and to defend.  This means patents are not necessary for innovation and they actively discourage it.  This obviates the very reason patents were created in the first place.

The costs greatly outweigh the benefits of the current patent system.  And it certainly is not any better than a voluntarist system, that does not rely on violence for enforcement, but only mutal respect of participants’ intellectual property.

 

South Park - La Resistance

“Fake news” hysteria is a huge opportunity

It is an auspicious time for independent media.  The Fake Media’s “fake news” hysteria has capped off this year’s apotheosis of undisguised propaganda.  Now we learn that the US government will directly fund domestic pro-government propaganda in the press and on social media, with $160 million.  Let me explain why this is amazing news for independent media.

The media world has supply and demand, just like any other market.  There is a demand out there for real information and it is up to the media to satisfy that demand.  The more the media avoid this, and publish lies and hoaxes instead, the more business opportunity there is to fill the void.  This is how Fox News became such a cable news powerhouse.  Due to the “fake news” hysteria, the big platforms Facebook, Google, and Twitter are censoring alternative voices.  This creates an opportunity for a Fox News of social media (perhaps many!).

The government’s funding of propaganda reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of media.  It is treating the internet as an “enemy weapons system“.  But media consumption is not a win-lose, zero-sum game.  All this does is crowd out existing journalism and reduces the supply of real information.  But the demand remains the same.  That means there is now an even greater business opportunity for free speech advocates than before.

We have a real, tangible, action plan to dismantle the establishment’s hold on power: Start new media platforms and especially new media technologies.  Let us create independent media content, independent social networks, independent ad networks, independent video sharing, … independent everything!  The opportunities are boundless.  I myself am working with a group on such a project in the media tech space.  If you are interested in learning more about our effort, please email me at apollo at apolloslater dot com.

Vive la resistance!

Steemit logo

Steemit, a fresh breath of hot air

This post is an edited collection of my responses to James Corbett’s presentation on the social bookmarking site Steemit.

A new social bookmarking site, Steemit, has been taking off recently, in libertarian and anarchist circles, promising decentralized, uncontrolled publishing via blockchain technology.  However, on closer analysis, Steemit does not look decentralized at all. It looks like a standard social bookmarking site, with the added feature of paying for tokens to increase your post/comment ranking. It seems like interest groups with deep pockets could easily game the ranking system, moreso than other sites. In fact, this operation seems more like a scheme to sell digital currency than a publishing platform.

As for the blockchain, besides the nice buzzword, I’m not sure what it solves in terms of preventing censorship, besides providing a public cache. This function is performed now by image-hosting sites, private websites, archive.org, as well as the social network platforms themselves. The big problem is discovery and ranking, how people actually communicate and find out about stuff, which Steemit is still very vulnerable to.

It’s very odd that Steemit requires a Facebook or Reddit account to function, with plans to add SMS verification, but no stated plans to remove these restrictions. I’m not sure what permissions they ask for, since I haven’t signed up, but it certainly opens the possibility of those social networks reading your Steemit posts and punishing you on their platform. In any case, it’s a big hint that this is not a decentralized system and is doubly strange because most platforms do not have such a restrictive requirement. A truly decentralized system would not have a spam/fake account problem, except as DDoS, since it would not rely on a central index.

Steemit does not look like any better of a solution than Facebook or Twitter at this point, except to the extent that you trust the people running it more. The links to the User Agreement and Privacy Policy are broken and there is no ownership information about the company on their website. Caution!

Facebook groups by political group

Is Facebook censoring right-wing groups?

There’s been a lot of talk recently about Facebook and Twitter censoring conservative and libertarian groups and personalities, such as Milo Yiannopoulos and Lauren Southern.  While this is undoubtedly true in many specific instances, how big of an issue is this overall?

One thing we can look at is the number of left- or right-leaning groups.  I did a quick search for Facebook groups containing popular political keywords.  It seems that the right-wing is much more active, at least measured by number of groups:

Republican 141 Democrat 108
Conservative 178 Progressive 112
Libertarian 103 Socialist 93

Caveats:

  • I used Facebook’s Graph API to conduct searches. You may get different results using the browser or app search.
  • These are only the most popular keywords, but there are many more specific keywords, with more groups.
  • These numbers do not reflect group membership counts or engagement levels. Perhaps that’s a future post!
Bitcoin broken

Bitcoin is a ponzi scheme

All “cryptocurrencies” based on artificial limits are inherently pump-and-dump schemes.  If they were true free market currencies, the money supply would grow with demand. Instead, they are artificially restricted.  Why?  To create the illusion of limited supply and therefore expectation of future scarcity and speculative profit.

Bitcoin price chart 2017They are fiat currencies, based on nothing but this speculation.  The Bitcoin price chart shows this.  Bitcoin fanboys point to the skyrocketing price as a badge of honor, but all it shows is that it is a speculation, not a store of value.  It has no price stability, and cannot be considered a “currency”.

In the short term, the price will keep going up for various reasons.  Mining is getting more expensive and less profitable, driving out miners and restricting supply.  Use as a pseudo-anonymous money transfer scheme is increasing on the dark web.  A method of circumventing Chinese capital controls.  An investment vehicle for Chinese with not enough local investment options.

But eventually, people will realize NOTHING holds up the value of Bitcoin.  No petrodollar, no USG taxation.  And it will collapse, as will the rest of the currencies that will inevitably fork off this one.  This is even ignoring the major security and regulatory issues that plague Bitcoin.

Currency is a form of social credit.  It’s an implied debt, that someone will pay off with goods & services in the future.  This should be the basis of any cryptocurrency, not arbitrary and artificial limits on supply, and fancy math for its issuance.

South Park - La Resistance

“Fake news” hysteria is a huge opportunity

It is an auspicious time for independent media.  The Fake Media’s “fake news” hysteria has capped off this year’s apotheosis of undisguised propaganda.  Now we learn that the US government will directly fund domestic pro-government propaganda in the press and on social media, with $160 million.  Let me explain why this is amazing news for independent media.

The media world has supply and demand, just like any other market.  There is a demand out there for real information and it is up to the media to satisfy that demand.  The more the media avoid this, and publish lies and hoaxes instead, the more business opportunity there is to fill the void.  This is how Fox News became such a cable news powerhouse.  Due to the “fake news” hysteria, the big platforms Facebook, Google, and Twitter are censoring alternative voices.  This creates an opportunity for a Fox News of social media (perhaps many!).

The government’s funding of propaganda reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of media.  It is treating the internet as an “enemy weapons system“.  But media consumption is not a win-lose, zero-sum game.  All this does is crowd out existing journalism and reduces the supply of real information.  But the demand remains the same.  That means there is now an even greater business opportunity for free speech advocates than before.

We have a real, tangible, action plan to dismantle the establishment’s hold on power: Start new media platforms and especially new media technologies.  Let us create independent media content, independent social networks, independent ad networks, independent video sharing, … independent everything!  The opportunities are boundless.  I myself am working with a group on such a project in the media tech space.  If you are interested in learning more about our effort, please email me at apollo at apolloslater dot com.

Vive la resistance!

Open Building Institute: building under construction

A man, a plan, a red flag: examining the claims of the Open Building Institute

This post is an edited collection of my responses to James Corbett’s interview of Marcin Jakubowski and Catarina Mota of the Open Building Institute.

“You wouldn’t download a house, would you?”  So goes the tongue-in-cheek rhetorical question from James Corbett in his recent interview of Marcin Jakubowski and Catarina Mota of the Open Building Institute (OBI).  The couple’s organization aims to provide free construction plans for modular homes, available on their website.  They claim substantially reduced costs versus traditional construction methods.  Marcin previously headed Open Source Ecology (OSE), a compendium of open-source plans for various construction machines, which has now been merged with the OBI project.

Too good to be true

I like the idea of do-it-yourself and open-source, but we have to be careful about people seeking to capitalize on this trend just by uttering the right buzzwords. Some big red flags stuck out to me about this couple’s presentation:

Open Building Institute: construction workers

Open Building Institute: the secret is free labor

1. Free labor – a large part of construction cost is labor, yet they are getting it for free or even charging people for “immersion” workshops – in other words, trainees build their houses. This doesn’t sound sustainable or scalable at all. It also strikes me as a bit like a cult, where a bunch of people put in free work to build up assets for the dear leader. Marcin owns Factor e Farm, which is the site for these model structures.  At the very least, it is a misrepresentation to the consumers of the real costs of this process, since presumably the people paying for this “immersion” training expect to eventually be paid for their labor.

2. Asking for funding for a large, ambitious, complex project with ill-defined scope. To fund the OBI goals of an economically transformative construction methodology, Marcin and Catarina held a Kickstarter, raising over $115,000.  Unfortunately, this overly-broad goal is a recipe for misaligned expectations and failure to deliver. Every project faces risks, yet their approach multiplies the risk factors of a typical project by orders of magnitude. Better to start small and grow incrementally, before attempting a world-changing goal all at once.

Open Source Ecology: brick press

Open Source Ecology brick press: $5K to build, worth $50K. Only 10 built worldwide.

3. Unexplained failure of previous project. Failure is part of business and is a necessary component of learning about market demand, that ultimately can lead to success. However, they do not give an adequate explanation for why their previous project, the brick-making machine, which was the OSE flagship machine, did not get any adoption. The ostensible reason is that they need to build houses in order to make the machines useful. But, they also mentioned that the market price for these devices is $50k and they are producing them for $5k. If this is true, they should have been able to sell them like hotcakes. It doesn’t add up and is not a good sign for pursuing an even bigger project when the smaller project was not completed to expectations.

I’m very wary about these people, their business model doesn’t make sense to me, there are too many unanswered questions, and not enough critical questions posed to them in this interview at least. This modular home / eco home / tiny home fad is a magnet for hucksters spewing the right words.

A history of deception

Open Source Ecology: workers with machine

Snapshot of life on Factor e Farm

I have researched Marcin Jakubowski and his organization seems to be a scam under cover of a utopian cult.  So far, OSE / OBI seems plagued by failure to deliver, low quality, high turnover of staff, dictatorial management style, and outright fraud. I’ve included the links below, in which these issues are discussed by former volunteers and P2P community members.

“Is there a crisis in Open Source Ecology?”

“Problems with Open Source Ecology: A Perspective” (Google Group discussion thread)

“Open Source Predator: Marcin Jakubowski” (Facebook Group discussion thread)

“Tripping Over Our Bootstraps: Open Source Ecology and the Promise of Liberational Technology”

Marcin Jakubowski trademark registration for “Open Source Ecology”, in his own name – very odd for a supposed “open source” organization.

The ideas of P2P, open-source, DIY, etc. are all good and valuable ideas that should be explored. However, scam artists can also use those buzzwords to take advantage of people.  I am very skeptical of these people and will do further research on their project – I feel like I have only scratched the surface.

Bitcoin electronic currency

The Bitcoin mirage

This post is an edited collection of my responses to James Corbett’s interview of Ken Shishido on Bitcoin.

Bitcoin was an interesting experiment in digital currency, and there will be many more, with improvements. It is definitely not a real currency though. The recent Bitfinex hack, wiping out 36% of account balances, on top of many previous hacks, show it’s less safe than even a fiat bank account.

Ken Shishido’s recommendation to put into Bitcoin “what you can afford to lose” is a reminder that it’s a speculation, not money. Still, it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on developments with blockchain technology and new Bitcoin-like instruments that perhaps address the past issues with Bitcoin.

Bitcoin, exchanges, and security

Hacker in hoodieSome make the distinction that hacks have targeted exchanges or warehouses, not Bitcoin itself.  While the distinction between Bitcoin itself and exchanges or warehousers is important, the average person trying it out won’t necessarily understand this or its security implications. To them, the end-to-end process constitutes the solution, and most likely that will include an exchange.

You can get Bitcoin either by mining or by buying them on an exchange. Since mining is now incredibly expensive and technically challenging, the vast majority will buy on exchanges, which is a security risk, even if you don’t warehouse your bitcoin. In addition, most retail merchants accepting Bitcoin immediately liquidate receipts into dollars, making much of the market value of Bitcoin dependent on exchanges.

Even if you avoid exchanges altogether, you are still affected by these hacks. Since Bitcoin’s value depends so heavily on exchanges, a loss of confidence leads to a massive loss of value in the currency itself. This indeed happened after the Bitfinex hack.

There are also issues with the security of storing Bitcoin yourself, of transmitting them, the questionable privacy of a public transaction ledger (blockchain), and many other issues that the average person frankly will not understand or have the time to study. For the average person, the most secure currency is paper dollars, or gold/silver as a small inflation hedge.

There’s a lot of potential in cryptocurrency, both on the central bank side and the peer to peer side. I just don’t think Bitcoin is a particularly good solution, except maybe in certain use cases like international money transfers, that are plagued by high fees. But it’s a lot less than its hype.

Inflation Hedge vs Paper Money

One hundred billion mark note, Weimar Republic

One hundred billion mark note, Weimar Republic

In comparing Bitcoin to fiat or paper currency, Bitcoin advocates point to the inflationary history of paper money and its control by central banks. However, most modern currencies do not hyperinflate. Zimbabwe, Venezuela, the Weimar Republic, etc. are outliers due to unique political circumstances. Of course, that may change and eventually the US dollar will hyperinflate and collapse. But the key word is “eventually” – it may not happen for a very long time (or it may happen next year).

There are three things working against a dollar collapse, no matter how much they try to destroy it: 1. the oil market is priced in dollars, 2. it is required to pay US gov’t, fed./state/local taxes, 3. it is legal tender for the private US economy. So we’re talking about a backstop of many trillions of (current) dollars in value, something no other currency or country can match. So it’s unlikely to “collapse” anytime soon.

If we talk about collapse, Bitcoin lost 80% of its value in 2015, then recovered a bit, then recently lost 25% of its value. That’s a much bigger loss of value than is likely in the dollar, whose deprecitation is pretty stable over time. Bitcoin’s price may stabilize later on, but it’s not ready for prime time and definitely not a stable store of value.

Anyway, let’s be real. For most people these currency hedges don’t matter, because they don’t have much money to begin with. Liquidity is more important, to pay the bills, so dollars (or your local currency) are best. If you do have a lot of money, then sure, have some small hedges with precious metals, a little with Bitcoin, maybe some art, etc. They all carry their own risks. There is no such thing as a risk-free store of value.

UPDATE 08/19/2016: Bitcoin.org has warned that the code for Bitcoin itself may be hacked by government agents.  Not even the currency itself is entirely secure!

Blood and Soil

“Blood and Soil” Libertarianism: A Response to Jeff Deist

Jeff Deist, president of the Mises Institute, gave a talk this week, pushing libertarians into alt-right nationalism.  His talk is a confused mess and is a reminder that statism will always threaten to infect the liberty movement.

First, he sets up the necessity for political action by attacking technology development as a means of liberation.  He says technology doesn’t advance liberty on balance.  According to Jeff, only political power can result in libertarianism.  Peaceful development of technology, and its voluntary adoption, is politically useless, because it will end up being used by governments to oppress people.

Of course, this is contradicted by hundreds of years of technological progress.  Capital markets didn’t arise from a political process.  They were a technological innovation, that promoted social liberty regardless of the understanding of the participants.  Jeff actually says that the printing press had no net liberating effect on humanity!  Do I really need to spell out the massive liberating effect from thousands of years of ignorance and lies, the massive new opportunities available to commoners?  But, because it didn’t eliminate government altogether, it doesn’t count.  Yet later he says “Better, not perfect, ought to be our motto.”  Confused!

This isn’t his only confusion.  He poo poos technological optimism as “historical determinism”.  Yet in the same paragraph he says technology is useless because globalism is inevitable!  Which is it Jeff?   Are we to believe we can thwart determinism with politics, but not technology?  Talk about naive.  Then he calls libertarians “utopian” – confused!

Let’s take a look at Jeff’s mess of confusion and translate it into plain English.

“libertarians have a bad tendency to fall into utopianism”
“[Libertarians want to] give up their outdated ethnic or nationalist or cultural alliances.”

Translation: Libertarians are so silly to believe freedom is the highest political ideal.  Actually, it is about “nationalist or cultural alliances”.

“liberty as a deeply pragmatic approach to organizing society”

Translation: Society needs to be “organized” (centrally planned).  We need to be “pragmatic”, not principled, meaning we should use state power to achieve our desired ends.

“Better, not perfect, ought to be our motto.”

Translation: Dump liberty principles in the trash so we can use the state to defend “muh culture”.

“Human beings want to be part of something larger than themselves. Why do libertarians fail to grasp this?”
“There is a word for people who believe in nothing: not government, family, God, society, morality, or civilization. And that word is nihilist, not libertarian.”

Translation: Libertarianism isn’t about freedom from coercion.  It’s about being part of a collective and believing specific things about society and theology.

“My final point is about the stubborn tendency of libertarians to advocate some of sort of universal political arrangement.”
“Universalism provides the philosophical underpinnings for globalism, but globalism is not liberty: instead it threatens to create whole new levels of government. And universalism is not natural law; in fact it is often directly at odds with human nature and (true) human diversity.”

Translation: Libertarianism doesn’t apply to all humans.  It isn’t derived from human nature.  It is only suited to white Europeans in the United States.

“Nationalism is on the rise throughout Europe,”
“We should seize on this.”

Translation: Nationalist collectivism is en vogue right now, let’s abandon libertarian principles to ride this momentary popularity.  [Wait, I thought the world is moving inevitably towards globalism??]

“Mecca is not Paris, an Irishman is not an Aboriginal, a Buddhist is not a Rastafarian, a soccer mom is not a Russian.”

Translation: Humans are defined by their birthplace and race, as units of a collective identity.  Humans are not self-interested individuals who strive to pursue their own happiness.

“self-determination is the ultimate political goal.”

Translation: Self-determination of a national collective, not of the individual.  Remember, libertarianism is not accessible to other races or cultures, only white European America.

Note: The breakup of large superstates can be cheered without resorting to national collectivism.  The bureaucratization and monopolization of these superstates act to diminish individual freedom.  We want competing tax rates and regulatory environments, to allow people alternatives.

But just as technology is not a panacea, neither are national governments.   A national breakaway state may impose protectionist tarrifs, whereas a superstate guarantees free trade.  A smaller state may also be more tyrannical than the superstate it broke away from, reducing its citizens’ liberty.  The sword cuts both ways.

“In other words, blood and soil and God and nation still matter to people. Libertarians ignore this at the risk of irrelevance.”

This one takes the cake.  Jeff goes with an unambiguous Nazi reference “Blood and Soil” (“Blut und Boden”) to describe his new libertarian values.  Not sure if he’s trolling, or just careless, but ultimately it means collectivism, whether based on genetics or the geography of one’s birth.  Apparently, libertarian ideas about individual freedom are not as important as we thought.  We should not strive to live and promote these values, no matter how difficult.  What matters is political “relevance” (power).  Sorry Jeff, I’m not interested in this version of “libertarianism”.

Climbing a mountain

The 4 steps to political freedom

1. Philosophy – Your foundational ideology should be coherent and correspond to political reality; these are contradictory aims.  Yet the dialectical process between these two requirements is what produces your reason for acting, your reason for being.  Acting without it leaves you to the mercy of “some defunct economist“.

2. Education – This is not just the propagation of your ideology to others.  It is the application of it to the particular backgrounds and historical circumstances of your target audience.  Communication is a task in itself, yet the act of it also affects the thing being communicated.

3. Economy – You cannot change the world if you are scraping by.  To effect change, your community of ideology must be economically vibrant.  It must not only get by, but it must have a surplus of resources, time, and energy.  It must also do so in a way that retains independence from the very power structure it is attempting to subvert.

4. Power – A self-sufficient and well-organized group is unstoppable, regardless of numbers.  The challenge for a group propounding liberty is overcoming the history of such groups creating a tyranny, often worse than the one they replaced.  For the old revolutionaries, the end justifies the means, for the end is the revolution, and it justifies all.  The new revolutionaries must overturn the cycle between tyranny and revolution; therefore, the means can only be justified by their ideological ethics; therefore, the means is the revolution; therefore, the means is the end.