How to Fix the Toilet Paper Shortage Next Week

toilet paper shortage

The U.S. is morphing into Venezuela.

And no, I’m not writing about the multi trillion dollar bailout, the authoritarian quarantine measures, or our President’s jaw boning the private sector. Many of these measures are warranted in a time of emergency. There will be a price to be paid, but so be it.

No, I’m writing about the shortage of paper goods. This is unpleasant, unsanitary and utterly stupid.

We could fix the problem in short order.

But you are not going to like the solution. Your knee will jerk. Your spleen will squirm. Your sense of rightness will be deeply offended.

We need to tolerate some price gouging.

The Paper is Out There

The paper products we need have already been produced. They are collecting dust in closets all around the country.

The paper is in the closets of the hoarders who correctly anticipated a shortage.

The paper is in the janitorial closets of the schools, stadiums, and restaurants which were forced to close.

LET THEM SELL THEIR SURPLUS!

Yes, this means rewarding the hoarders. Deal with it, or doo doo without.

Compared to myriad other corruptions in our society, this is some seriously low grade naughtiness.

Your government does worse on an hourly basis. Does that mean anarchy is preferable to government?

Let’s have some open air paper goods markets tomorrow.

In Store Prices Need to Rise as Well

If gray market paper goods cost way more than what’s in the local Food Lion, then someone is going to arbitrage. We don’t want that. We want merchandise to be available on the shelves so people make a minimum number of trips to the store. Lives are at stake.

Double the price.

Maybe even triple the price.

The shelves will have product. People will buy just what they need.

There is a danger to merchants. Those squirming spleens cranking out the red bile might cost some big corporations some serious good will.

There is a solution: those annoying discount cards you have to present to get the sale prices. Jack up the regular price for toilet paper to gouging levels, but offer non emergency prices for those with the discount card.

Limit the number per customer at the sale price.

Stores are already rationing, but that rationing is not enforceable! Without requiring the discount card, people can get more than one rationed item by checking out more than once at different lines, or going to multiple stores, etc.

I hate those customer discount cards, but I admit that they could be useful in today’s emergency.

Yes, This is Important

Shortages can last a long time. When the government fought against Evil Oil Millionaires Making Evil Profits, the United States went through years of gasoline shortages.

When the U.S. price controls were lifted, the shortages disappeared, and soon oil prices dropped.

We can have a brief spike in prices and a quick end to shortages. Or we can drag this out.

If we listen to our spleens, we can have plenty of other shortages as well. The Fed is firing up the printing presses to spread the pain of the current crisis. The bill for such generosity is likely to be future inflation. If we fight that inflation with price controls, it’s going to be a sh***y decade.

Literally.

Looking for the Leverage Points

Politics is a long slog. So is this extended meditation on political strategy. Let’s see if we can extract any useful action items out of this extended analysis. First, quick recap of the story so far:

  • Most political actions are intermediate; they do not yield any changes in law or regulations. By themselves they have no value.
  • Setting a value on intermediate milestones is very difficult.
  • You need to change some minds to change a policy – or you can go all in to implement policies where the minds have already been [mostly] changed.
  • Radicals, reactionaries, and creative political types need allies. Either that, or they need to take over a small country or state, or live on a floating island.
  • Government is being pushed ever upwards to the central level. This makes creative politics very difficult.
  • Those who love liberty and family need to play defense, and wins some soon.

You might notice a problem: these bullet points conflict with one another!

Fortunately, there are shortcuts: single issue organizations, lobbying, and special interest politics.

It is much easier to build an effective coalition around a single issue than for a complete political platform. Organizations such as The Marijuana Policy Project, The Virginia Citizens Defense League, and the Institute for Justice have a far better track record than the Libertarian Party for actually affecting public policy.

Getting incumbent legislators out of office is extremely difficult. Threatening their office is an order order of magnitude easier. Incumbents cling to their seats by listening to active voters. Demonstrate that you have enough motivated voters in an incumbent’s district to swing the next election, and you get an incumbent who changes his mind.

If you want some Big Boy money to play with, get some special interests on your side. Special interest money saved us from HillaryCare. Alas, it is extremely difficult to get special interest money to lobby for that which is positively good. We do need some type of medical reform, and the insurance industry isn’t going to be for it! Special interest money is like the One Ring of Power – useful but very dangerous. So we need to be careful here.

So, what are the best options for single issue lobbying for those who love liberty and think that Mayberry and Lake Woebegone would be nice places to live?

Diagnosing Our Social Breakdown

What do Occupy Wall St., Black Lives Matter, the opioid epidemic, Millenial socialists, calls for free college and student loan forgiveness, strident calls for legal abortion, the decline of marriage, the trashing of the Bill of Rights, and even the decline of Christianity all have in common?

The answer:

Young adults who cannot get a decent job!

Markets are supposed to match people with useful skills with those who want to buy the products of those skills. For young adults the markets aren’t working. This makes socialism look good.

The promise of capitalism (and college) is that if you work hard, you will get paid more. Inequality is acceptable when there is economic mobility. The young are not seeing economic mobility; they see a caste system forming.

Marriage is expensive. Having children more so. Young adults want to have sex. When the economy postpones the age of affordable marriage too long, premarital sex become the norm. This makes legal abortion very important.

And when Christian moralists decry the situation, they young are increasingly replying “Fsck you, hypocrite!” with some good reason.

Unmarried young men are dangerous. Ambitious unmarried young men without a legal path for advancement are doubly so. This leads to high crime rates in our core cities.

High crime in the core cities leads to loss of civil liberties as the government strives to contain the problem.

High crime in poorer neighborhoods leads people who want to start a family to buy excessively expensive housing to get away from the crime.

It all ties together. To turn the tide we need to find a few viable reforms that allow young people to be the happy squares that their ancestors were in the 1950s. Let’s look at a few possibilities.

Fix the Schools?

Me: “Why do we need to learn this?”

The answer in high school: “You will need this for college.”

The answer in college: “We don’t teach job skills. We teach EDUCATION! You will get your [slimy] job skills when you get a job.”

This mindset was all well and good for educating the nobility back in the day. And it worked for teaching future clerics and bureaucrats. But putting the masses through this scam has been a disaster!

The purpose of an education is create good citizens who lead the Good Life. This requires teaching job skills!

People who don’t know how to thrive in a capitalist economy become socialists. To be a socialist is to be a bad citizen. Very very double plus bad citizen in the case of full on Marxist socialists.

A free society needs to be filled with people trained to be free. This means people who understand how their society works, and how to operate independently within it.

The core curriculum should include enough accounting, business law, and whatnot to make starting a business a realistic option for a very large fraction of the populace. Wage serfdom should be optional.

And even white collar types should understand the technology which surrounds them. Technology education should not be limited to tradesmen and engineers. The words artist and artisan have the same root…

I could write reams on what’s wrong with our education system. And I might.

Education reform can be done without national consensus. Those interested in an idea can Just Do It: start a private school, implement it as part of homeschool, etc. And we still have elected school boards in this country. Some local control remains…

Those who act can profit. They can give their kids a leg up in life. They can also give with effect: every student helped is a win.

For these reasons the education issue is one where conservatives and libertarians already see some victories. But the road is still very long.

Meanwhile the universities are still cranking out Marxists, and we have millions already ripped off by the current corrupted system. Education reform is not enough.

A Universal Inheritance?

The Cultural Marxists on campus and the Social Justice Warriors in general disgust me greatly. They have destroyed what value there was in a humanities education, and they are attacking free speech. And they are trying to stir up a race war for good measure. The dream of Charles Manson lives on.

I have a cunning plan to steal their thunder and take their jobs: a Universal Inheritance.

White Privilege used to be a real thing. And how! But we did have something called the Civil Rights Act back over a half century ago. And we were making great strides back in the 70s getting used to treating each other as equals. So what’s with all the White Privilege talk today?

Part of the problem is our injustice system. We still have a White Privilege (and a Class Privilege) problem when it comes to drug law enforcement. (I was fighting against this problem well before black lives started mattering.)

But that’s not the only problem. The effects of past injustice can linger for generations. It shows up in the sizes of one’s inheritance, and the value of one’s social network. It also affects attitude towards education – especially the overly long winding path that is traditional liberal arts education.

In one respect I am a bit woke: there should have been reparations. The governments of the U.S. had been mistreating African Americans for a very long time – for an entire century after slavery was outlawed. Repealing these injustices was not enough. Compensation was in order.

Unfortunately, we have run up against a statute of limitations problem. It’s rather too late for direct reparations. To do so would just stir up bad memories and make racism great again.

Indirect reparations is another matter. In order to reduce the inheritance gap, just give every citizen a lump sum upon reaching the age of maturity. For those born into privilege, it’s a tax rebate. For the rest it is a leg up that can be used as they see fit:

  • Money for college
  • Capital to start a business
  • A down payment for a house
  • A bitchin sports car

Yes, some people will blow their inheritance. So be it. Even a blown inheritance can be useful: it is educational. It eliminates excuses.

Note that this universal inheritance would be instead of government aid for college. No more grants or guaranteed student loans. Colleges would have to compete for students’ cash.

Expect a return of honest tuition rates. Less price discrimination.

And fewer bogus “Studies” departments.

We could fight the Social Justice Warriors – with [indirect] reparations!

And, by the way, this would also make earlier marriage more affordable for those who don’t go the college route.

But what about when the inheritance runs out? And what about those who have already passed the age of maturity?

A Citizen Dividend?

Here is another idea that is potentially transpartisan: a Citizen Dividend. I could make a case for such to factions ranging from leftists to tax reformers to the nativist right.

  • A Citizen Dividend can turn a market compatible minimum wage into a living wage.
  • A Citizen Dividend can be a bridge from welfare to work.
  • A Citizen Dividend can be used to make the income tax flat for 99% of the population while keeping the system progressive on the net.
  • A Citizen Dividend restricts the benefits of the welfare state to citizens. No more paying people to come here. (And fewer calls for a Wall.)

Note that I use the term Citizen Dividend instead of Universal Basic Income. The latter term conjures up images of people living entirely off the dole. The former does not. Plenty of Republicans collect dividends and still go to work.

The idea is potentially faction spanning and many effects would be immediate. But this is clearly a national issue, and a hard sell given the already huge budget deficits we are now experiencing. (I can rightfully claim that this would not be that expensive, if we used it to replace parts of the welfare entitlements and tax deductions. But, this is a hard case to make nationally. It requires numbers…)

Balance the Budget?

The plight of young adults trying to enter the workforce is part of a much bigger problem:

We have a system which subsidizes capital owners at the expense of workers in general.

Deficit spending subsidizes those who have money to lend at the expense of those on the borrowing end.

Skeptics ask, however: Why aren’t interest rates higher given the enormous deficits? Possible answers:

  • Budget deficits are offset in part by foreign investors parking their money here. The U.S. is like Switzerland – with nukes.
  • Baby boomers saving for retirement (including pension funds) provided a monster pool of capital. This pool will start leaking as boomers retire.
  • The banking/financial system is kiting checks. Short term funds are used to make long term investments. This leads to periodic crashes and bailouts.
  • Capital is taxed at a much lower rate than labor to ensure enough capital. (A double subsidy!)

If modern liberals could grok this one lesson, much could be fixed.

But Keynesian Economics is too much fun. Stimulus Packages! Whee!

Meanwhile, Republicans indulge in their own form of Santa Claus Economics, by abusing the logic of the Laffer Curve.

So, if I had the money of an H. Ross Perot, I’d make this my issue. Perot almost won the presidency on the deficit issue.

For an unfunded outsider, this is too difficult an issue for near term success. Any talk of deficit reduction has to be coupled by talk of tax increases and credible spending cuts. Otherwise we’re talking Feel Good Fluff.

So how about going straight to the tax increases?

Higher Tariffs, Anyone?

What is the difference between federal taxes on imports and federal taxes on domestically produced items?

About a factor of ten.

10!

We don’t have Free Trade. We have Subsidized Outsourcing. Subsidized guttng of the American working class. Subsidized National Suicide.

Yes libertarians, tariffs are taxes. But deficit spending takes wealth out of the economy as well.

Yes, tariffs would make consumer goods more expensive. But I’d rather pay a bit more at Walmart than pay taxes for laid off workers on welfare and angry young men in jail.

This is a transpartisan issue. Dick Gephart and the WTO protesters of not long ago were on the Left. H. Ross Perot came from the Center. Donald Trump is approaching this issue from the Right.

But unlike Trump, I don’t want a “Better Deal.” I want taxes on imports comparable to those on domestic products – with an exception for products from truly poor nations that need a hand.

The academic argument for our extremely low tariff rates is based on an artificial use case, a scenario radically different from the modern welfare state in which we live. Common sense is already on the side of higher tariffs. It might be possible to win this one by simply giving ordinary folks the talking points to use against the Intellectuals Yet Idiots.

A 25% pay raise for Working Class America with respect to medical expenses would dampen calls for single payer medicine as well.

I’m contemplating another book…

Rules for Reasonable Radicals

So, you have some fresh outside-the-box political ideas that you think are wonderful – and some of them are. Or maybe you want to restore some excellent ideas from the past that have fallen out of favor. How do you get your ideas implemented?

And how do you get them implemented before you are too old to enjoy the benefits?

Well, let us start with what not to do.

  • Do not expect to get far with “education” alone. Most people aren’t theorists, and most of those who are will take your theorizing as a challenge for debate. (When I say “aren’t theorists,” I am include many who have the brain power for serious philosophizing but just plain aren’t interested of using up brainpower on ideas with no plan for application.)
  • Do not rely overmuch on woo woo, flim flam and/or positive thinking. Yes, mind games can persuade and motivate, but they can also lead to delusions and dead ends. Appeal to Reasonableness – a mix of Reason, empathy, and common sense based on observation.
  • Do not wait for society to collapse and then come knee walking to you and your party for a solution. Bad systems can last for a very long time. Rome did not fall in a day. Britain has yet to recover from William the Conqueror. Russia has yet to recover from the Mongols.
  • Do not resort to violent revolution. The benefits of your ideas are uncertain. The death and destruction of civil war are a certainty. And most revolutions fail.
  • Do not point at the Man Behind the Curtain. Conspiracy theories are for losers – even when the conspiracies are real. Trying to get the public to pay attention to hidden power centers rarely pays off, and can make you look like a crank. Take positive action instead. If you are effective the, hidden powers will come out from behind the curtain to fight you.

So what should you do?

Recognize Your Constraints and Work Around Them

Fresh ideas are by definition unpopular. New ideas are by definition untested. Reactionary wisdom is tainted by the associated errors and injustices of the past. You have uphill battle ahead of you. Be willing to drop down into low gear.

Theoretical persuasion will require large blocks of attention: speculative fiction, documentaries, college courses, seminars, meetings, religious sermons, etc. And you will only reach a minority by these channels.

Most people will require a demonstration. This is true for both new ideas and for old ideas which have long fallen out of favor. You have a Catch-22 situation!

And the bigger the change you propose, the more people will require a demo.

Incrementalate!

Even a great journey begins with small steps. The members of the Fabian Society understood this and were shockingly successful. Britain went from being the birthplace of modern capitalism to a borderline socialist basket case thanks to the Fabians. The followers of Antonio Gramsci and other cultural Marxists have been worming their way into into our cultural institutions for decades with great success. Our humanities departments have gone from being developers of character and preservers of wisdom to being festering pools on nonsense and envy.

I implore you to incrementalate better causes!

Selling your entire programme to a political majority is hard. Selling the appropriate pieces as reforms to handle the Crisis of the Day is feasible.

Key word there: appropriate. By using it I have earned the Wrath of Rothbard via his followers. To limit action to those which are currently appropriate is to be Unprincipled, to admit that the concerns of those outside your ideology might have merit.

So what ideas are appropriate?

Atomic Reforms

Recall from earlier in this series that the probability of success has two factors:

If an idea is wildly unpopular, it has a low probability of being implemented.

Worse is an idea which is implemented but doesn’t work under the current environment. Back when I was running the Libertarian Reform Caucus, I wrote an essay entitled “Atomic Libertarianism.” In it I made the case that we should make cuts in government which stand on their own merits, even if no other cuts are made.

For example, tax cuts are a bad idea by themselves. Federal deficits were huge then and are astronomical today. Any tax cuts need to be preceded by huge spending cuts and paydown of the federal debt, else they would make things worse.

Ditto for going to a gold standard. Inflation is a major bother. It makes contracts uncertain, creates an entire spurious industry of guessing what the Fed will do next, and gives workers automatic pay cuts. But our debt laden financial system has already factored in future inflation. To go to a hard money currency without first paying down trillions of both public and private debt is a prescription for Great Depression II.

The constraint applies to other ideologies as well. Medicare for All requires a massive tax increase to pay for it. Using deficit spending to pay for a gigantic new entitlement is not only national suicide, it’s regressive. Deficit spending is a subsidy for the investor class at the expense of the working class.

Environmentalists violated this constraint when they pushed automobile mileage standards beyond what technology is available. They basically outlawed the family sedan. So families drive vans, SUVs, and crew cab pickup trucks instead.

Create Coalitions

By definition, you are a political minority. You need to work with and serve larger groups, including some that are boringly mainstream. A purist political party is pointless in the U.S.

For ideas on possible coalitions, see the main site.

Note especially the political niches I identify in the New Party Manual. You can insert some radical or reactionary ideas into a creative mix of mainstream ideas used to triangulate in three way races, or move to the local center in Gerrymandered districts.

Deploy Your Lunatic Fringe Effectively

Every political movement has its enthusiastic ideologues who will not heed most of the ideas in this article. Let them write your party platform and you will lose elections. Shun them and your movement loses vigor.

Recognize that some of your ideas are ready for a vote, and some need to be mulled over by the masses. Indeed, some ideas are so Out There that the masses won’t even think about them rationally until quite a few repeated exposures to desensitize kneejerk reactions.

Create separate organizations to do those exposures, to widen the Overton Window. Make them fun or profitable, for they won’t bear fruit for years.

Consider PETA as a model. PETA wins no votes. But PETA gets huge amounts of press coverage on the cheap. Dressing super models in lettuce gets attention. And its a hell of a lot more fun than gathering ballot access signatures or debating a political platform.

Such separate organizations make your more sober proposals seem moderate. And if your unruly enthusiasts get to let it all hang out at times, you might channel their energy for more dignified efforts – such as getting those petitions signatures.

Federalism is Your Friend

Some people want to live in Bernietopia. Others prefer Galt’s Gulch.

Why not place them side by side and let the rest of us compare the result? We could use a couple of small states, such as Vermont and New Hampshire. Or we could let the libertarians have some floating islands instead of a gulch…

Such is closer to my current dream. While my ideal level of government is neither of the above, I really want to see more experiments done. I want socialists to have their communes and coops. I want environmentalists to have their hobbitats and heirloom organic vegetables. I want anarcho capitalists to give competing protection services + personal machine guns a chance.

But I’m getting too old and family oriented to participate myself. I dislike cold weather too much to move to New Hampshire.

To make these experiments possible, however, there also needs someone to play more mainstream politics to keep the central government out of the way of such experiments.

Powerful forces want to move all power to the central government. Nearly as powerful forces want to go further: on to world government. These forces I oppose, even if it makes me look Trumpy to some.

Were I to get back in the game and launch a party, core elements would include a restoration of federalism within the US., and sovereignty to other nations – including those experimental islands.

The good news about federalism and sovereignty is that it is compatible with many ideologies. This is a big coalition opportunity.

Experiment Outside of Government

Some ideas can be tested without taking over a government.

You don’t need worldwide revolution to start a commune or worker coop.

Ditto for many ideas within the libertarian playbook. Keep in mind that both Uber and Lyft are implementations of ideas proposed in David Friedman’s The Machinery of Freedom as an alternative to public transportation. The Koch Brothers became astoundingly rich applying libertarian ideas to the internal rules of their mega corporation.

Given how Gramsciites and Social Justice Warriors have ruined the value of a liberal arts education, opportunities abound for Christians and conservatives to get back into the business of founding universities.

The opportunities for environmentalists are truly enormous: better energy storage, more efficient internal combustion engines, quieter generators, carbon sequestration from farming techniques… Bill Gates is even investing in eco friendly nuclear energy. Much of this can be done without any changes in law or regulation. (I wish I had the capital to engage in such efforts myself. Eco tech tinkering is fun.)

I am particularly excited by the idea of testing alternative voting systems and parliamentary procedures within non governmental organizations: social clubs, churches, corporate boards, communes, unions, etc. Getting governments to adapt those reforms that prove successful after testing.

Don’t Forget to Play Defense!

To make things better, make them better.

Corollary: if they are getting worse, do something about it, pronto!

The environmental movement started out playing defense. It worked. On many fronts the environment has gotten better – at least in the US.

Libertarians have focused on offense, and they have made progress against the Drug War and on sexual liberties.

But on many other fronts liberty is dying. The paranoid predictions of Ron Paul and others have come true. Using cash for major transactions is virtually illegal. Financial transactions all the way down to grocery purchases are recorded in computer databases thanks to discount cards, credit cards, and Amazon. Televisions are morphing into the telescreens of Orwell’s 1984. Your cell phone is your portable KGB agent. The Bill of Rights is becoming an archaic relic. The 9th and 10th Amendments have been inverted by the courts. The Fifth Amendment has been rendered moot by plea bargaining. Judges don’t even know what the 7th Amendment means (I asked). The police steal more than common crooks via Civil Asset Forfeiture. No knock searches in the middle of the night were once a nightmare ascribed to totalitarian societies; they are routine in the US. today. The Ugly Left is now going after the 1st and 2nd Amendments and winning. Republicans attack the right to vote with Gerrymandering and trumped up felony convictions; Democrats have gone full in for voter fraud. (Voting is one of the few acts that don’t require ID!)

Likewise, traditional, Christian, and family values are under viscous attack. The Leave it to Beaver lifestyle is an option only for the few. The safe neighborhoods in most cities are too expensive for most single income families. Rural America has been devastated to a large degree. To get a career started is so ridiculously long that celibacy before marriage is an unreasonable expectation. The Welfare State and the Prison State work hand in hand to break up black families (and many not so black families as well. Progress!). While crime is down from its peak, it took an archipelago of prisons and near abolition of the Bill of Rights to get there. The country is becoming Post Christian, and sincere Christianity is becoming illegal in Silicon Valley and other blue areas.

For me, and many others like me, defense now trumps distant utopian dreams. It’s long past time to win some victories, even if small.

Now is the time for freedom loving radicals and reactionaries to get reasonable, and start winning.

The Value of Intermediate Milestones

This is the third article in a series on the Simple Formula for Success. See Part 1 and Part 2.

Politics is a long slog. Ditto for many other useful endeavors, from building a business, getting an education, to getting in shape. The next step often has no intrinsic value by itself.

And thus flame wars, cat pics, and casino gambling all compete successfully for our attentions over more useful projects.

In creative politics just what is the value of convert won, a petition drive finished, or an ad campaign launched? None of these milestones by themselves change the laws and regulations of the land at all.

Let’s try breaking the Simple Formula for Success into pieces, to apply it to a multi step project which does have intrinsic value when completed. To keep the algebra manageable, we’ll make a a two step project. (This is more general than it looks if we think of the first step being our next step, and the second being all the remaining steps lumped together.)

The estimated costs simply add together:

The probability of success is the product of the probabilities of success for the two steps.

Now suppose we have completed the first step. We now know the expected value of completing the second step:

Let’s subtract off the expected value of our project before completing Step 1 to see how much things have improved:

By completing Step 1 we still have no intrinsic benefit yet, but we do have a better opportunity ahead of us. Our opportunity has gained value for two reasons:

  1. The probability of success has gone up, since P1 is now 1.0.
  2. The estimated cost has gone down by the amount we estimated for Step 1.

The new opportunity is definitely better than the old one. But we had to expend time/energy/money to get there. Are we better off? If so, by how much?

Suppose Step 1 is a deterministic step, such as filing for office. And suppose everything went according to plan so that the actual cost for Step 1 matches our original estimate.

By finishing up Step 1 we have a new opportunity whose expected value is better by exactly the same amount that we expended to get there. If we value the opportunity by its net expected value when done, we are not better off. Our gain is exactly equal to what we spent to get there.

Ouch!

Back to the drawing board! Value of an opportunity is not the same as the value when finished. Don’t count your chickens before they hatch!

The Value of an Opportunity

Suppose you were given a $10 coupon. And that coupon was for a store that you shop at frequently: your usual grocery store, Amazon, Walmart… Such a coupon would be virtually as valuable as $10 in cash.

But suppose that coupon was “Buy $10 of merchandise and get another $10 worth for free.” The coupon would be almost worth $10, but not quite.

Let’s go further: “Buy $100 of merchandise and get another $10 worth for free.” Now the coupon is getting noticeably less convenient than the equivalent cash. But it is still a valuable coupon.

Another factor of ten: “Buy $1000 worth of merchandise and get $10 more for free.” For me, such a coupon from Food Lion would be utterly worthless. I might be able to use it on Amazon with great effort, but even there I would not value the coupon nearly as much as $10 in cash.

Back to Politics

The net expected value of a project function much like the nominal value of such a coupon above. The buying requirement functions like the remaining expected cost.

Bang/buck needs to be part of the function for valuing an opportunity, but exactly what function is still beyond me.

Let’s put some numbers into a somewhat realistic political scenario to make it easier to visualize. A small city council race has an expected remaining cost of $10,000 (of time, money, unpleasantness,…). The expected net value of the project is $20,000. That is, if you (plural) expect to be $20,000 better off after the race if you slog on to the end. The overall bang/buck ratio is 2.0.

Your next step has an estimated cost of $1000 and a 90% chance of success.

You succeed, but it turned out the effort was a harder than expected. You expended $1500 of timemoney. Are you better or worse off? Should you continue?

Well, our original first term in the Simple Formula was $30,000 of expected value, since we expected a net improvement of $20,000. Our expected cost drops by our original estimate for Step 1, not by what we actually spent. So our expected net value for continuing becomes:

The net expected value has gone up by over $4,000. Not too bad for spending $1,500 of effort, even though we had a cost overrun.

Our windfall comes from the reduction in uncertainty. Take note!

The bang/buck ratio has improved as well. It’s now 2.7. If your group is not burned out, do continue!

Even though I still don’t have a decent formula for valuing intermediate stages, there are some lessons here.

Do the Uncertain Steps First

Suppose you have some choice over which steps to do first. The lesson above teaches that you should do the most uncertain steps first whenever possible. Bonus points for those steps that are both cheap and uncertain.

Why?

For starters if you fail early you can quit before sinking too much costs. (Software startup gurus talk of Failing Fast.)

Secondly, the expected value function goes up nicely as the uncertain stages are crossed. This provides motivation to continue after the initial energy has been used up.

NOTE: here I mean uncertain steps of a project, not do uncertain projects first!!

Use Your Hardcore Activists for the Early Stages

When the going is uncertain, your borderline activists will sit on the sidelines. Deal with it. Don’t try to hype them into action with wishful thinking.

Use your hardcore activists, you true believers, to prove an uncertain strategy. If the results are good, then send out the screaming fundraising/recruitment letters to activate your dormant followers.

Pro tip: be honest with your hardcore base when pitching an uncertain project. Prepare them for possible failure. Complement them for being willing to take a risk. Don’t work too hard to motivate at this stage. If the mo isn’t there when the prospects are deeply uncertain, don’t do it.

(Case study: look up the history of the Free State Project. The original plan was to verify that enough people would move to the Free State before asking anyone to do so. Jason Sorens intended the project to shut down since they did not meet the original deadline. But the project refused to die and eventually they met the required 20,000 people commitment and 4,400 people have moved.)

Some Steps are General

Some early steps are prerequisites for many possible projects. For example, when you successfully educate people on the virtue of your programme, you increase the pool of volunteers, donors, petition signers, and voters – for a wide variety of projects.

This includes the project of starting a political party. There is much to be said for doing some kind of education effort first. There are cheaper ways to spread ideas and build mailing lists than direct politics.

Think Small

Are there projects that are intrinsically worthwhile that you can complete using existing resources? Do them! Even if the victories aren’t glorious, it is good have some actual victories.

Winning is a good habit.

Keep the Early Costs Low

But since so much power has been moved to the state and federal level, you do need to think big to have a real impact. That means long slogs, with many steps before policies get changed.

Since there is no political return until the endgame, keep the early net costs as low as possible. Don’t burn out.

Political activism can be a way to make friends, useful contacts, and build social skills. It can even be fun at times.

Postpone the annoying overhead tasks as long as possible.

Have fun.

Woo Woo and Political Cults — the Simple Formula for Success Part 2

In Part 1 I presented a very simple strategic planning formula to compare possible courses of action. (Some might say simplistic formula, and they would be correct, but I’m trying to keep the math friendly.) I then applied the formula retroactively to my own political career as an illustration.

There is a major problem with this formula: it doesn’t really apply to the individual steps needed to carry out any meaningful political action.

Just what is the value of a clipboard of petition signatures? Or even ballot access? Of a congressional campaign that gets 3% of the vote? Or getting a candidate into a televised debates? Or even for winning a legislative office?

NONE!

That is, there is no intrinsic value in these accomplishments by themselves. There is no payoff in politics until you positively affect a law or a regulation. (Unless you are corrupt…) But to get to the point of actually affecting how the government actions requires hundreds of steps, many of which are costly and uncertain.

Politics is a long slog.

This makes motivation difficult. Too much rational strategic planning can make the problem worse! The return on effort on the myriad small steps needed to achieve big goals can be vanishingly small until the endgame is reached. And the math needed to even attempt to calculate the value of the early stages is apt to frighten off your followers.

Why Woo Woo Sells

The problem is not limited to politics. Launching a successful business, getting in shape, mastering a complicated subject, and other long slogs all suffer from this problem. What is the value of the next step?

In all cases the value is minuscule and conditional. One healthy meal won’t make you healthy. One problem solved won’t make you a master of physics. One lesson won’t make you a decent pianist.

This is why we have a woo woo industry. This is why stores have bookshelves filled with books on how to suspend rationality: Positive Thinking, Affirmations, Visualization, Habits, Self Hypnosis, Ready Fire Aim…

This is also why we have colleges. Many subjects can be mastered by simply reading books and working some problems. Classroom time could be replaced by watching online videos. But people spend huge amounts on college regardless, and part of the reason is valid: college create artificial near term returns on effort. That single homework set won’t make you an engineer by itself, but it will avoid a bad grade and a stern look from Professor Crusty.

Irrationality works!

Our Built in Irrationality

Is Man a rational animal? Psychology says no! We are equipped with a host of cognitive biases. It’s enough to make one question both Natural Selection and Intelligent Design.

Except, as I just pointed out, irrationality works. Let’s examine a view biases in light of this insight.

The Planning Fallacy leads people to make wildly optimistic schedules and cost estimates. This leads to gigantic cost overruns, projects which don’t pay for themselves, and worse.

But it also allows us to embark upon audacious goals, where uncertainty is great. This can be useful at times.

The Sunk Cost Fallacy leads people to persist on a project long after evidence shows that the project should be abandoned. Once again, this is a source of wasted effort.

But it also motivates people to persist on long projects where the marginal value of each step is tiny, but the eventual benefits can be huge.

Herd Mentality. Staying motivated when you have control of all decisions can be hard enough. They problem magnifies hugely when multiple people need to be motivated. Motivation affects the probability of success, after all.

Assorted herd mentality biases can come to the rescue. Persist because others are doing their share. Go to a rally and get psyched up. Follow the charismatic leader.

It works!

It can also lead to disaster, like lemmings marching over a cliff.

The Power and Danger of Political Cults

For large groups especially, motivation and morale effect probability of success. We have wild nonlinearity. It can take mass quantities of woo woo, cognitive biases, and herd mentality to hold a political movement together long enough to get something done.

Irrationality is power!

Such magical thinking can also lead to repeated defeats, wasted efforts, and/or outright disaster.

In my case it led me to sticking with a non viable course of action for over two decades.

Let’s take a look at a couple of political cults in the light of the Simple Formula for Success: the Karl Marx’s version of socialism and Murray Rothbard’s version of libertarianism. We’ll look at how the irrational elements of both movements affect the various terms in the Formula.

First, review the Formula:

Where:

The Cult of Karl Marx

Karl Marx can be hard to read. His ideas are based heavily on the crazy ideas of Hegel and some long discredited components of classical economics — the Labor Theory of Value, especially. When tried, his ideas have usually led to mass starvation, reigns of terror, and cults of personality that would make a Pharaoh envious.

Yet his cult persists, and it is growing among the younger generation in the U.S.

Why?

Let’s look at some components of Marxism and how they relate to the equation terms above.

A magically beautiful utopian vision. Marx promised to do away with inequality, poverty, and even government — paradise on Earth! He cranked Vs up to eleven!

Historical inevitability. Through the authority of hard to read pseudoscience, Marx claimed inevitable victory. True Believers can thus estimate Pi to be 1.0. The only uncertainty is when.

Defer all science. Marx claimed to have developed scientific socialism. Yet his theories are by design untestable until after worldwide implementation. This protects Pw from dangerous questions. It also provides built in excuses for the enormous failures of Marxist states to date. The experiments weren’t big enough! The capitalist U.S. made the Soviet experiment fail!

Go full on negative. Marx focused the bulk of his writings on the shortcomings of Capitalism. Exactly what the Dictatorship of the Proletariat was supposed to do was kept intentionally vague. I have spent many an hour arguing with Marxists and they always dodged and weaved when I try to get them to define true Marxism. Always they move the subject to picking apart either my ideas or the status quo. The closest thing I could get to an answer was “Read this book…” Such dodging protects Pw from even theoretical examination.

Dismiss all objections as bourgeois. Only capitalist pigs object to a bit of totalitarianism and mass murder on the way to Paradise. So much for the cost term (C).

Marx’s followers added a few innovations to strengthen the cult.

Forget democracy, build a revolutionary cadre. Convincing an electoral majority to adopt radical ideas is hard. So start a violent revolution instead! Build a cadre of fanatics willing to do whatever it takes. Insert them into society’s true power centers. Why wait for the Proletariat to revolt? “We” can force the issue. Near term Pi is thus boosted.

Kill the doubters and dissidents. Nothing like a good reign of terror to boost herd mentality in your favor.

Deconstruct and deny objective reality. “Everything is Illusion, Consensus Reality, blah, blah, blah..Therefore your arguments are wrong, or excuses for Patriarchy, or whatnot.” Welcome to the Marxist rot that has ruined the value of a liberal arts education. Turn young minds into mush and you can brainwash at will.

The Murray Rothbard Cult

The libertarian movement is composed of multiple factions: leftover classical liberals, isolationist conservatives who tolerate hippies, hippies who like capitalism, Objectivists, radical capitalists who believe that Public Choice theory shows that anarchism can work better than democracy, and the cult of Murray Rothbard.

Here I focus on the cultish elements of Rothbard’s writings, and how they prevent many Libertarian activists from thinking rationally when it comes to electoral strategy.

Rothbard’s writings are not as cult inducing as Marx. His writings are a mix of cult induction and often legitimate economics. Unlike Marx, Rothbard’s writings are readable; his prose sparkles at times. Unlike Marx, Rothbard presented a clear vision for his not-quite-utopian future. There is something there to pick apart, and detractors do.

But the cultish elements of Rothbard’s writings are powerful for those of us who love liberty. I was caught up in his spell for about a decade. Like Marx, he encouraged an Us/Them mindset, and he erected shields against scientific scrutiny of his theories and political strategies.

Rothbard went negative…a lot. At times he promoted his ideas in the positive and gave legitimate critiques of the alternatives. But such writings were also peppered with hand waving and ad hominem attacks. This tradition persists at the Mises Institute. (Rothbard was Ludwig von Mises’ student.)

Rothbard avoided experimental testing of his ideas. He argued that economics should be a priori theorizing, much like Euclidean geometry. To question this approach or his axioms of human action is to be guilty of SCIENTISM!! (I have been on the receiving end of such venom.)

All critics of pure libertarianism are thieves and worse. Taxation is theft, therefore if you advocate taxation you are a thief. With such a framing in mind, it is thus easy to dismiss critics of pure libertarianism.

Rothbard ruled out realistic electoral politics. Which is worse: slavery or the income tax? According to Rothbard’s axiomatic economics there is no way to tell! All we know is that initiating force is bad, and that there is a social welfare maximum if all force initiation is eliminated. The only moral system is complete and immediate anarcho capitalism. Anyone who argues for incremental measures is just as bad as the socialists.

The Libertarian Party persists despite a half century of electoral failure. The persistence, and possibly the failure, stem in large part from the cultish aspects of Rothbard’s writings. (I cannot know without experiment whether a more moderate Libertarian Party could have won elections. I can safely say that the extremism demanded by the Rothbard School repels the typical voter.)

Motivation without the Woo Woo?

Irrationality works…except when it doesn’t.

And those failures can be far worse than doing nothing.

Without Marx, the socialists would not have been nearly as effective at taking over countries.

On the other hand, we might well be seeing more successful communes and worker owned coops if communists did some actual science.

Likewise, if more libertarians respected political reality, we’d see either a broader libertarian themed third party or libertarians trying to influence larger movements.

Fortunately there are some radical libertarians who do respect reality and scientific scrutiny. The Free State Project, Charter Cities movement, and the Seasteading movement all focus on creating demos of various libertarian ideas. Scientific experiments! None of them require worldwide revolution or majority vote to allow testing.

In the next post I’ll look at some other ways to do creative politics without resorting to irrationality.