Free market and democracy

8/11/2005

This post is about people “saving time” doing the wrong things. The whole ‘life hacks’ area has become much more visible since the presentation by Danny O’Brien on 11 February 2004, visit this
who presented results of interviews with highly productive hackers (notes of the presentation taken by Cory Doctorow). There was a second presentation (notes by Cory again). This has spawned a number of sites treating more or less seriously; for example, Sildenafil
43 folders and Life Hacker.

Originally, the idea was very simple. These ‘high achievers’ all use mainly one application (and one file to keep EVERYTHING). This can be a combination of text file + editor, a private blog or wiki, etc. There are a few scripts using data from that file (if text) or RSS feed (if blog or wiki) to keep things synchronised. Now, how come that this concept has been expanded to cover such a diverse array of approaches?

First, different things work for different people—fair enough. However, the main problem seems to be that people have been developing all sorts of hacks for the wrong reasons. An example of the first approach is the Hipster PDA. Why bother with big electronic files if there is a simpler, low-tech approach (more about this later). Another example would be this article on dealing with email overload. The second approach, however, implies just a simple waste of time. Some examples:

  • Why do you need to worry about how to organise thousands of RSS feeds? That is clearly too much information, unless your job description is ‘to summarise thousands of feeds per day’.
  • The last few weeks there have been plenty of people worried about watching too much TV, so there are ‘life hacks’ to reduce time seating watching TV, movies, Tivo, etc. Just turn off the bloody box! Easy. There are some people clearly using too much disposable income for getting more ways to be distracted.
  • And anything iPod (in its many incarnations) related.

Let’s go back to simple and important problems and drop the fluff. Talking about fluff, I put in that category most online approaches to keep your life sane (e.g., Backpack). They imply constant connection to internet, which at least for now it is not possible, unless you are a completely urban-being with your rear permanently glued to a chair in front of a computer.

After a false start, health system
I am again putting some of my bookmarks in del.icio.us. I will probably add the tags (newish term for old-fashion keywords) to blog posts too.

Playing with cream

Paul Ford’s comments on Amish computing certainly hit a soft spot on me. I do miss Wordperfect 5.1! It was back to simpler times when using computers was certainly much more productive for me. Multitasking is a nice feature to have when strictly necessary, for sale but not all the time.

Next year I need to spend a fair amount of time writing lectures and I am certainly tempted to ‘going back to basics’. Most of the text that I need to prepare is not highly complex, generic
so I am thinking of writing at least the first drafts in text files with a simple markup. The most humanly readable markup is probably Markdown. Once the text is in Markdown it can be easily converted into html (e.g. using the Markdown dingus, and adding the ‘html’ and ‘body’ tags to get a complete page) and from there to other formats like LaTeX or MSWord. If I decide to go for a longer document probably LaTeX would be the way to go.

I have been playing with Cream, the VIM mode for dumb users like me (another distraction). I hope to slowly learn a few tricks at a time to become a more proficient VIM user, but that is not a real priority. It is a really nice editor mode!

I installed the vim-latex suite, which seems to add pretty good latex support to VIM/Cream, but it seems to override some of the Cream configurations (e.g., F9 is not code folfing/unfolding anymore). It seems to be a matter of getting used to that though. Anyway, I will not need it for the first version of the documents.

Making more changes to Tim’s site

We have had a few problems to have the PDF file of Tim’s book indexed by search engines. My theory is that engines aren’t very happy with Textpattern’s internal links (of type http://mysite.com/file_downloads/2) for a PDF file. Today we changed it to something more explicit like http://mysite.com/bookfiles/file.pdf. Actually, the story was not as simple as that. When first trying to use the new code we ran into a ‘missing page’ problem, which I traced back to a problem with the .htaccess file. I dropped a <IfModule mod_rewrite.c> condition from the file, leaving it like below and it just works.


RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} -f [OR]
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} -d
RewriteRule ^(.+) - [PT,L]
RewriteRule ^(.*) index.php

A few years ago I obtained my Australian citizenship and simultaneously—at least in theory—I lost my Chilean one. Last September the Chilean congress approved law No 20050 (PDF version in Spanish) reforming 54 aspects of the constitution including:

  • Recovery of citizenship and accepting the principle of ‘ius sanguinis’ (acquisition of citizenship through descent—textually, bronchitis
    by right of blood). This would give my son access to Chilean citizenship.
  • Elimination of designated (non-elected) and lifetime senators.
  • Reduction of the presidential period from six to four years.
  • The president can now remove commanders in chief of the military and security forces, approved
    without requiring the consent of any external authorities.
  • The National Security Council (Consejo de Seguridad Nacional) has its role greatly reduced, Myocarditis
    minimising its interference in public affairs.

Finally, after fifteen years of recovering democracy (year and a half after a famous plebiscite), there are substantial changes to the political system eliminating several of the vestiges (but not all) of a dictatorial system.

I got you! This post is not about the end of forestry activity in Tasmania, viagra 60mg
but about the end of the Forestry in Tasmania web pages. After two years compiling materials and hand formatting HTML I have decided to stop updating the sub domain. The fact that I am leaving Tasmania at the end of the year—so I will not have time to keep up to date with what is going on—is just the straw that broke… you know.

I still need to decide what to do with the site; either I will leave it unchanged for posterity’s sake or pull the plug and delete the whole thing. Over these last two years I have received a fair amount of abuse and a few examples of praise for keeping the site and trying to present a ‘fair view’ of environmental discussion in Tasmania. However, ailment whatever tries to pass as debate is so low quality that it is easy to get disheartened with what one reads in the media.

Will I start a ‘forestry in New Zealand’ page? I doubt it; my role will be completely different and forestry activity over there is much less contentious. I rather spend some time learning Maori—I am quite keen about this—and practicing the haka with Orlando.

This post started as a question to myself: Why did it take me so long to start caring about economics? Only last year, resuscitator
at age 37, sales I felt the urge to start reading about economics and its relationship with society. Before that, anaemia
I used to have this primordial (to use H.P. Lovecraft’s language) reaction towards economics, particularly its free market variants.

I think that one of the major ‘whack on the head’ moments was realising that claiming an admirable objective is completely different from achieving it. That, in addition to the realisation that many good intentioned policies actually achieved opposite effects was enough to decide start reading about economics and ‘classical liberal’ approaches. The last part of my excuse is that I was first exposed to free market principles under Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship.

I still believe that imposing economic change without political freedom is wrong, and costed me years of rejecting open economies. The problem is this: an unelected government (a dictatorship to be honest) pushes for economic reform. Because I disagree in principle with a dictatorship and the lack of freedom, I will tend to oppose most policies, even reasonable ones. At some point this includes supporting the opposite of economic freedom, well, sort of. Chile represents a funny free market, an economic system that for many years lacked transparency.

An interesting feature of this dicothomy between ‘market freedom’ and ‘political freedom’ is the attitude towards democracy in Latin America. The Economist published the results of The Latinobarómetro poll, and even in countries like Chile—that has had major economic growth—around 50% of people are still ‘not very satisfied’ or ‘not at all satisfied’ with the way democracy works (see Figure 3 in the linked document). So, why are people still struggling to come to terms with a freer system? I would venture that there are at least two important reasons:

  • The extreme level of inequality1 still present in society. By the way, I do not believe that one of the reasons for this is the presence of a capitalist system but that the system is not truly capitalist2 yet. The major issues would be: the existence of a small number of people restricting a proper access to a market economy for the rest of the population, and lack of property rights, with a substantial proportion of transactions in an informal economy3; namely Hernando de Soto’s dead capital argument.
  • The feeling that there is a ‘restricted version’ of democracy, where there are still groups of people (e.g., higher ranks of the military, very rich people) who are beyond the reach of the legal system. That is, a feeling of lack of justice and unfairness, which I think is being corrected, albeit very slowly.

Is a future of free market and democracy possible for developing countries? I believe so, particularly if we are talking about ‘real capitalism’, with more responsible politicians and business people, as well as a preoccupation for the unintended consequences of electoral promises. May be there are too many ‘ifs’ in the previous sentence, but the experience of countries like Venezuela4—devastated by demagogy and government/business inbreeding—may be a good reminder for personal and social responsibility.

Footnotes

1 I do not think that the mere existence of inequality is in itself an issue (I do not mind about the existence of multimillionaires). The problem is when there is still a large proportion of people that has little hope for the future, as is still the case in many Latin American countries.

2 This is well put by Johan Norberg in his In defence of global capitalism book. By capitalism he means (PDF 112KB):

…the liberal market economy, with its free competition based on the right of using one’s property, the freedom to negotiate, to conclude agreements and to start up business activities. What I am defending, then, is individual liberty in the economy. Capitalists are dangerous when, instead of capitalist ownership, they join forces with the government. If the state is a dictatorship the enterprises can actually be a party to human rights violations, as for example in the case of a number of western oil companies in African states. By the same token, capitalists frequenting the corridors of political power in search of benefits and privileges are not capitalists either. On the contrary, they are a threat to the free market and as such must be criticised and counteracted. It often happens that businessmen want to play politics and politicians want to play at being businessmen. This is not a market economy, it is a mixed economy in which entrepreneurs and politicians have confused their roles. Free capitalism exists when politicians pursue liberal policies and entrepreneurs do business.

3 This problem is also linked to environmental degradation.

4 I am not ‘just picking’ on Venezuela. I lived five years in the country and have very good memories of its people and landscape.

P.S. 2005-11-10: Johan Norberg emailed me saying that ‘I’m sure I would also have shared your attitude had I experienced that’.

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