Let’s not create the next Libya in Iran

‘Free’ Libya shamed by new torture claims

I would love to see the US government enact a more humble foreign policy. The urge to “do something” in the face of human rights abuses is natural, and in a sense admirable.

Yet time and again violating another country’s sovereignty to force regime change has unintended consequences.


When a foreign military deposes a leader, it creates a power vacuum, usually filled by the next-most-well-armed person. This person doesn’t have any legitimate claim to rule other than having the guns. He or she also has the added hindrance to perceived legitimacy of having been put into power by a foreign government. So to maintain control of a population that’s already riled up and not on board, he or she tortures and kills citizens into submission.

This is entirely predictable. Iran, Afghanistan and Rwanda are all examples of what happens when foreign governments create power vacuums.

There’s an event on February 4,  No War in Iran. Let’s stop making the same mistakes. Let’s stop believing the lies that these countries pose an imminent threat to our safety (Iraq). Let’s stop believing that the US has the power to replace despotic leaders with better ones (Libya). Let’s stop believing the US has the right to kill people in other countries without declaring war (Pakistan).

Photo by Crethi Plethi

Davos — I’m hoping the new path for capitalism is out of corporatism

Leaders in business and government are meeting in Davos, Switzerland this week for the World Economic Forum.

Global elite seek new path for capitalism in Davos

According to Klaus Schwab, the founder and organiser of Davos, this year’s meeting will focus on how to develop a new world model as “capitalism in its current form, has no place in the world around us.”

Of course capitalism in its current form (corporatism) has no place in the world around us.


Davos, Switzerland

“The danger for the world is that the political leadership is overwhelmed,” Schwab said on Tuesday evening as he welcomed delegates.

I guess completely fucking up a world economy must really take it out of you. I wish they’d get overwhelmed enough to quit.

Here’s a good Portfolio piece on the World Economic Forum. Sadly, there seems to be a whole lotta economic ignorance at a conference full of what Portfolio calls “leaders of finance and industry.”

The WEF’s Schwab says capitalism’s original distinction between the entrepreneur and the salaryman has been corrupted by excessive pay. He says top managers should not earn more than 20 times their lowest paid worker.


British Prime Minister David Cameron, who speaks at Davos on Thursday, says years of uncontrolled “turbo capitalism” have broken the link between risk and reward, giving some executives generous pay deals despite lackluster performance.

It’s the corporatism, people! What you’re describing isn’t any kind of capitalism, including “turbo capitalism.” You’re describing the result of collusion between government and business, with the goal of subverting the market to favor the politically connected business owners and shareholders at the expense of the worker and consumer.

You might be wondering where the occupiers are in all of this. Don’t worry, they’re there, occupying igloos.

Photo by World Economic Forum.

Iran has the right to close the Strait of Hormuz, amirite?

Iran ‘definitely’ closing Strait of Hormuz over EU oil embargo

The way I understand it:

1. Iran owns the Strait of Hormuz.

2. Iran is pissed about the EU’s embargo on Iranian oil.

3. So Iran is going to close the strait in retaliation, which will slow down or stop oil supplies and drive up oil prices.

So far everything makes sense. If a government doesn’t like what a country is doing, such as developing nuclear capabilities that may or may not be nuclear weapons, they can stop buying oil from that country. It’s their choice to pay more.

If Iran can’t sell much of their oil anyway and decides to incentivize other countries to buy their oil by closing a strait they own, that’s their prerogative.

Strait of Hormuz

Here’s where things get batshit insane.

Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman General Martin Dempsey said, “We’ve invested in capabilities to ensure that if that happens, we can defeat that.” That, or course, is Iran choosing, perfectly legally, to close their own strait.

And he’s not fucking around. As I type there are two U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups sit in the seas off the Iranian coast and there’s a new U.S. Commando team operating near Iran.

Governments are illegit, for sure. But as long as they exist, America is best served by respecting their sovereignty. Going around opening straits through brute force, violating Iran’s sovereignty, giving their people legit reasons to resent our violent military intervention into how they use their land and water will come back to bite us on the ass. And for what? So the EU can continue its embargo without much difficulty? Don’t you embargo in order to force a country to do your bidding without military involvement and national sovereignty violations? If you can’t run an embargo without violating national sovereignty, then just go ahead and go to war or give it up. But this chest-puffing bullshit has got to stop or shit’s going to get real on the playground and we’re going to be the ones at fault.

Image by eutrophication&hypoxia.

Trademarks: Supressing innovation, increasing costs, and creating crime since 1875

We are made to believe that trademarks are necessary to protect consumers from fraud and allow producers to differentiate their products as coming from an authenticated source. But are trademarks really all they’re cut out to be? What if I told you that there’s a hidden cost to trademarks, and that society is paying it in the form of a little bit of absurdity?

Case in point: Coach bags are over valued.

You can purchase some of the Madison Collection bags for just under $1000, while some of the more popular bags sell for between $200 and $300. This is rather astonishing for me, but people gladly buy these bags and accessorize themselves with these prominent status symbols in troves. And frankly, it makes sense. Although the material utility of the bag had long plateaued at the value of, say, $100, the bag plays a much more important signalling role in conveying the status of the wearer.

What are your status signals signalling about you?

People are always seeking out signals to market themselves. In particular, there is a lot of active discourse commentating on what your handbag says about you as a person; your style, your personality, you values, and, yes, your wallet.

There is unquestionable utility that is drawn by individuals from this, however, I contend that it is terribly over-valued. I submit to you, that without trademarks, you would have more utility for your handbag dollar.

Here is where the absurdity comes in. If you take a walk down Canal Street in Manhattan, you will be surrounded by a vibrant black market ecosystem of competing knock-offs of Coach bags for a fraction of the price. What you are really witnessing is the front line of a war of the prohibition of competition. Shop keepers and street vendors with smuggled wares constantly on the look out for cops.

Coach should not be competing to keep its brand from being mimicked, but instead competing to add-value to hand-bag buying crowd. But the current legal climate promotes the former. It is easier and more profitable to protect your brand at the expense of innovation, than to innovate.

This is not Coach’s fault. These are all the unintended consequences of trademark laws. Less innovation, higher costs, and more crime.

Knock offs provide downward pressure on price, and upward pressure on innovation.

If cheap knocks-offs were able to compete legally and not have to evade the law in order to come to market, then you can expect knock-offs to greatly increase in quality. Without trademark laws to quiet the competition, the big bag designers would be forced to compete by adding value and utility that competitor mimics cannot, or else “fade away into the dustbins of history”, as Trotsky might say.

The pace of hangbag innovation would surely accelerate, and would soon come souped up with features and designs not-yet-imagined. In this way, the knock-offs, free from trademark restriction, would create downward pressure on price, and upward pressure on value.

Status symbols for consumers would evolve to signalling true innovation and utility, rather than over-valued signals coming as a result of trademark monopoly.

How SOPA and PIPA violate property rights

Being the property rights lover I am, I can’t resist going through how SOPA and PIPA erode property rights and subvert our system of property rights enforcement.

Trials work

First, let’s remember that there already exists a pretty good system for prosecuting theft. Companies can bring charges against or sue thieves. The content industry sues thieves now. But the stealing is so widespread, and the winnings from the suits so small, that lawsuits alone can’t restore their pre-file-sharing levels of profit.

So now they want to shut down, without a trial, any site that any person uses to share protected content.

Property rights are good

The bills allow the content industry to deprive other sites of their ability to do business online. Stealing a site’s domain and shutting  it down is a clear violation of property rights. The system now dictates that you can’t deprive someone of their property without a trial.

Content has gotten less profitable

So to what end are we relieving each other of property without a trial? The content industry has said that so many people are stealing from them that they can’t profit within the existing system. Why give up due process to restore this business’ profit margin? Due process is essential to a functioning society. The content industry isn’t.

The solution to widespread theft within an industry isn’t to give up on due process. Theft is only part of the reason the content industry is having a hard time making a profit. Not only is content theft rampant, but competition in content is at unprecedented levels. Everyone with a computer is a content creator.

What’s next for the dying industry? Are they going to sue people for creating original, competitive content? A changing marketplace means industries adapt, move or die. Giving companies the ability to deprive each other of property rights creates more problems than it solves.

Image by boltron.