The Way You Change Things

Yes, I’ve talked about this before.  And I’ll talk about it again because it’s important.

Adam Smith, in “The Wealth of Nations” said:

“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest. We address ourselves not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities, but of their advantages”

Indeed, each of these people, and many others, serving their own self-interest, doing what is economically profitable for them, in competition with others, and in so doing creating wealth (the sum total of goods and services) raising everyone’s standard of living.  It need be no part of the various manufacturer’s, merchant’s, and tradesmen’s intent that I have a nice house that would have been the envy of my parents, let alone my grandparents, a car (two, in fact) that carries me in more comfort and convenience than what my reasonably well off parents had when I was a child, and the time and resources to spend on ice skating and dance lessons for my daughter, skating lessons for me, and even the occasional trip. It’s nice if they do have that intent, but it’s hardly necessary.  That providing those things at prices more and more people can afford is simply profitable to them is all the incentive they need to do so.

The same principle applies in politics.  The late Milton Friedman expressed it well:

I do not believe that the solution to our problem is simply to elect the right people. The important thing is to establish a political climate of opinion which will make it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing. Unless it is politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing, the right people will not do the right thing either, or it they try, they will shortly be out of office.

Politicians, after all, are in business.  They are in the business of “buying” your vote.  They’re in competition with each other to get elected.  The same politician will support and vote for a completely different thing if he or she thinks it is politically profitable to do so.

The politicians in office and the candidates in the major parties are not the problem.  They are a symptom of the problem.  The problem is the political climate of opinion that makes what those candidates espouse politically profitable for them.  It’s that climate of opinion we need to change.

This means we need to get out there and convince individuals that individual Liberty is something to be desired.  That the risks and dangers might be scary, but the rewards are well worth it.  As John Paul Jones said (his less famous quote): “He who will not risk, cannot win.” We need to help more people to understand basic economics and I cannot recommend Sowell’s book by that very title enough so that policies with short term “benefits” yet disastrous longer term effects that are politically profitable now can become less so.

We need, in the words of Samuel Adams: “an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of men.”

So hide not your light under a basket, but raise it high, to shine on all who can see.

Humans are omnivores

I keep running into people who–not satisfied with their own dietary choices and the need to declare them as the true, correct, path with all others being wrong–claim that humans are “natural herbivores.” As one person put it, “our ancestors were herbivores.  Meat eating was a mistake that came much later.”

Put simply, that’s ridiculous.

Let’s take that “our ancestors were herbivores.” Really?  When?  As far back as anthropologists have been able to find, humans and proto-humans have included meat in their diet.  Early finds include such things as stone tools used for cracking open bones to extract the marrow (said bones also being found at the same site).

For that matter, our nearest relatives, chimpanzees (pan troglodytes) and bonobos (pan paniscus), eat meat when it’s available.  They will, when they can, kill other animals for the meat.  The “our ancestors were herbivores” require our ancestors to, sometime after the split from our common ancestor with chimps and bonobos (the “pan” group) have stopped eating meat, become completely herbivorous, and then, by the time the fossil record picks up with australopithecines, they started eating meat again.  Alternately, perhaps the common ancestor was a pure or nearly pure herbivore (gorillas are much closer to herbivores than our closer relatives–or perhaps not) and chimpanzees, bonobos, and he ancestors to humans made the same “mistake” of adding meat to their diet.

As an aside, the truth is, many herbivores will eat meat when it’s available:

Even if either of those scenarios held, and even leaving aside the herbivores do eat meat when available factor, the fact remains that the ancestors of humans were eating meat and using tools to help them with the eating of meat, more than 3 million years ago and over a period where we went from Australopithecus afarensis through (possibly) Kenyanthropus platyops, other australopithecines, through homo habilis, homo erectus, and finally to homo sapiens.  Evolution through multiple species and even genuses?  Is that not enough to consider it “normal”for homo sapiens sapiens? It certainly took far less for pandas to go the other way.

It certainly seems that humans are adapted to eating meat as part of their diet.  There are a number of nutrients that are difficult to impossible for humans to get from a purely plant based diet.  Some particular ones to note are Vitamin B-12, required for producing red-blood cells and for nerve and brain function, and DHA–docosahexanoic acid.

DHA, an important Omega 3 fatty acid, is particularly important in that it’s critical for brain function and development.  About 18% of the brain is DHA.  It participates in the formation of myelin, the “white matter” that insulates brain circuits.  It serves in the blood-brain barrier to help protect the brain from undesirable outside influences.  And it is vital for the development of the cortex–the part of the brain involved in “thinking.”

DHA only comes form animal fat.  Why, after all, would plants have it?  None of the functions it provides exist in plants.  They don’t need it.  Humans, however, are a different matter.  We need it.  And you know who especially needs it?  Young children whose brains are still growing.

Plants do have ALA, Alpha Lineolic Acid which is a precursor that can, in principle be converted into the fatty acids the body need including DHA.  However, the conversion rate is extremely low.  Studies show a conversion rate of less than 10% between ALA and DHA.  Some studies report the conversion rate as zero. So to meet the body’s needs of DHA you would have to eat, at best, foods containing ten times as much ALA.  And it may well be that no amount of plant-based foods will provide the required DHA.

This is part of why some scientists are coming to the conclusion that an omnivorous diet allowed proto-humans to grow the large brains that led to the evolution of homo sapiens sapiens.  The brain uses a remarkably large fraction of the human bodies energy expenditures, and in particular its development relies on having sufficient fat in the diet, animal fat.

If a person chooses to saddle themselves with the handicaps of an all-plant diet, carefully balancing various plant foods one against the other to ensure they get a complete protein (another factor which I haven’t gone into here), supplement things like vitamin B12, accept the lesser utility of plant sourced vitamin D2 instead of animal-sourced d3, and so on then more power to them.  I applaud them in their perseverance in their whimsy.  But if they claim that this is “natural” and what is the “really, truly best diet for humans”?  Well…

I laugh in their general direction.

A snippet

“Shillond,” Marek asked, “can you give me a wind from the west?”

Shillond raised a hand and peered into the distance.

“I can,” Shillond said, “but there’s a storm brewing in that direction.  Changing the wind will bring it here sooner.”

Marek frowned. “And we have to go in slowly to avoid… Can you not…”

“My Liege, there is only so much that weather witching can do.  A wind from the west will bring the storm. I can divert it away, but that would mean a wind from the east.”

Marek nodded.  He looked back at Keven still sitting by the tiller then to the front of the boat.  He then looked at Kreg and Kaila and shook his head.

“So be it.  With a trained crew perhaps, but…” He shook his head again. “We have what we have.  The wind, if you will, good Shillond.”

Shillond nodded and stretched his hands toward the sky.  Pale blue light limned him at the boat’s prow. The wind shifted.  Marek directed Kreg and Kaila to adjust the angle of the sail while Keven leaned on the tiller.  As the boat turned, Marek had Kreg and Kaila trim the sail until finally the wind blew from behind them pushing the boat before them.

“Watch me,” Marek said to Keven. “When I raise my right arm, or my left, turn the tiller in that direction.”

Keven nodded. “Yes, father.”

Marek indicated the ropes holding the sail in place. “Pay heed to these sheets,” he said to Kreg and Kaila. “On my command, haul in this one to spill the sail.”

“Aye, Sire,” Kaila said. “This we will do.”

Marek returned to the front of the boat.

“Light, Shillond.  As before, like a half-hooded lantern”.

As the boat progressed in the darkness, the only sound was the slap of the waves on the sides of the boat, the creaking of the ropes and sail.

The wind picked up.  The boat’s rocking increased as the waves grew in size.  Kreg glanced up.  Behind them, to the west, the approaching mass of clouds blotted the stars from the skies.

The ropes continued to creak, growing louder as the winds increased.  Kreg frowned and stood up, looking back. A different creaking, from their right, their starboard, side.

A deeper shadow loomed out of the darkness.  A ship, far larger than their boat.

“Your Majesty!” Kreg called.

Marek looked back. “Port, Keven, port now!”

A shout in a language Kreg did not know came from the approaching ship.  More shouts.

The fishing boat started turning to port, the ship to starboard, but not enough.  The side of the prow of the ship rammed the starboard leeboard of the fishing boat.  The impact hurled Kreg off his feet. Wood splintered. Seawater gushed through the ruptured side of the boat.  Kreg staggered upright, already ankle deep in water.

The ship continued its turn, tearing out a section of the side of the boat as it did so.  Kreg tumbled over the side, plunging into the sea.

The water closed over Kreg’s head, leaving him in pitch blackness.  He struggled for a moment, his lungs burning, then forced himself to stillness.  Bubbles foamed around him, invisible in the dark, but that he could feel. Air trapped within his clothes, caused them to bulge away from his back.

With those hints, he turned in the direction of the surface and began to swim.

When Kreg’s head broke the water, Kreg drew in a great lungful of air, half choked with salt spray.  He coughed as he tread water, drawing in more air and less water.  He struggled to remain afloat in the churning sea until his choking coughs subsided enough for him to look around.

The sea was dark around him.  Shouts in the distance gave him his first hint of direction.  Looking up, he could see the stars and the blackness that marked the line of clouds.

Someone on the ship lit lanterns.  Kreg could see it, already more than a hundred yards away.

“Hey!” Kreg shouted. “Help!”

The ship continued to recede.  Kreg could not see the remains of the fishing boat, nor any of his companions.

In the dimming light of the receding boat’s lanterns Kreg spotted some floating wreckage.  He swam toward it. A plank, probably remains of their boat. He hauled himself onto it, pushing the plank under the surface.  Still, it provided enough buoyancy that he could keep his head up despite the rising chop.

A blue light glowed on the ship.  Kreg shouted, hoping the wind would carry his voice to whoever was on that ship.

The ship continued into the distance, leaving Kreg alone in darkness.  The first drops of rain fell as Kreg clung to the section of planking.

Interest and Risk

As I discussed in previous posts (here and here) when someone provides means of production (capital) to someone else, they are foregoing any current benefit they could obtain from that capital (whether actual capital goods as was the plane in the original example or money as a stand-in for such goods).  If they are not compensated for that loss of use then, generally speaking, they will not make the goods available.  If John merely got the plane back at the end of a year, even if the plane was in perfect condition (George had made sure that any damage was perfectly repaired), he’s lost what he could have made from using the plane himself to improve his carpentry.  Likewise, if I loan somebody fifty bucks, I could have used it myself to have a really nice dinner at a restaurant tonight instead.  That same dinner six weeks from now is less valuable to me.  The difference between the value of having something now (present value) vs. having it at some future date (future value) is the interest.

However, all of the above assumes that the loan will be repaid, that there’s no risk.  Risk, however, is a very important part of actual calculations on such things.  Suppose, for instance that the difference between present value and value is five percent.  That is, someone would be indifferent as to whether they received $100 today or $105 one year from today.  But suppose that one time in ten when someone forwent the $100 today they would receive nothing in a year instead.  Nine times out of ten, it would be fine, but that tenth…

In that case, the person who was indifferent to $100 today vs. the certainty $105 in a year is going to be a lot more hesitant to make that deal.  Only by “sweetening” the deal would the person be willing to make it.  So on an average of ten such deals, the person making the loans would spend $1000 and would want to get at least $1050 back from it.  But one of those ten won’t pay pack (on average).  To get that $1050 back, he has to get it from the other nine deals, or $116.67 for each of them.  One person in ten not paying back the loan costs everyone else $11.67.

This, simply, is why some loans, even in the same economy, charge higher interest rates than others.  The person loaning at the “usurious” rate of 16.67% isn’t cheating.  It’s simply necessary to charge that much to cover the costs of defaults while still paying enough for the loan to happen at all.  The lender is only making 5%. The rest covers defaults.

When certain politicians complain about the high interest rates of student loans compared to mortgages they are ignoring the concept of risk.  Mortgages are generally offered where the lender is financially stable and even if the borrower defaults, the lender isn’t completely out because the building and land retain some value which the lender can use to get some return.  When it comes to student loans, half of students who enter college drop out within six years.  Then there’s the question of whether the student, even if they do graduate, will obtain a job that pays sufficient to pay off the loan.  The risk Of course government has long been involved in those loans, first with federal guarantees (assuring the lender that they would be paid something even if the student defaults) then taking over the program entirely.

The concept of risk is one of the reasons why stocks tend to pay higher returns than bonds.  Bonds are loans.  They have a set term and a set amount.  If the company goes bankrupt (as most do–2/3 of new businesses failing within the first 10 years and even large and well established companies can end in bankruptcy) the bond owner can generally get something, even if it’s pennies on the dollar, as they are creditors to be paid out of the liquidation of the businesses assets.  Stock holders, however, can end up with nothing but the paper their certificates are printed on.  Only the promise of greater returns from those companies that do succeed induces them to invest at all.

Look up above at how much extra has to be charged on a five percent loan to cover a default rate of even one in ten.  Now look at new business failures.  Two thirds within ten years.  The same source reports thirty percent failing within two years and fifty percent within five.  Let’s look at that in numbers.  That investment of $100, over two years would mean it would have to return $110.25 to make five percent annually.  One hundred such investments, then would have to return $11025.00 to be “worth it” (again presuming 5% per annum represents the difference between future and present value).  If thirty percent of the businesses fail (thirty out of one hundred) the remaining 70 have to return that entire $11025.00 between them or $157.60 each on that $100 investment.  That works out to a 25.6% annual rate of return average among the surviving businesses.  Twenty point six percent simply covers the risk, the loss due to the businesses that fail, so that the investor can get an overall five percent rate of return on his total investment.  Risk.

When people complain about the “unfairness” of returns people get from highly successful investments they are looking only at the successful investments in hindsight.  People generally did not know in advance which investments were going to be successful.  When Ronald Wayne sold his 10% share in Apple for $800 after a mere twelve days, he was not acting irrationally.  It was an entirely rational decision given what he knew at the time.  In Sam Walton’s early days few, if any people realized what an international giant his modest chain of stores would become.

Those complaining about people getting large returns from investments are not seeing that those people are both willing and able to manage the risk inherent in the process.  There are a number of reasons why those people might be able to do so.  They may have accumulated (by forgoing immediate benefit in favor of future benefit) sufficient resources either individually or by aggregating from many others (mutual funds are an example of this) so as to be able to invest widely thus spreading the risk so that successes outweigh failures.  They may be able to judge individual risks more closely so that more of the entities in which they invest succeed and fewer fail than the average.  In both cases, resources are made available to produce goods and services to the betterment of the economy as a whole, resources that would not be made available if the returns were insufficient to cover the cost of risk.

Ignoring risk, and the ability and willingness to manage it, is behind most, if not all, criticisms of the “unfairness” of capitalism.  In the words of John Paul Jones (not that expression, his other one): “He who will not risk, cannot win.”

You just have to do it intelligently, and make sure the reward is worth the risk.

“You owe to society” A Blast from the Past

Saw somebody making that claim.  Yep.  Here we go again.

There is a certain element that uses the “you owe to society” or worse the “social contract” to claim obligations on you that you had no say in.

One might argue that there are certain responsibilities.  Most of those responsibilities are negative in nature:  Don’t hurt other people.  Don’t take what other people own.  Essentially, don’t infringe on other people’s rights.

And even a pretty strongly libertarian leaning individual such as myself can recognize that a certain amount of “law and order” actually improves my liberty.  As I have noted elsewhere, being able to get up on my roof with a rifle to defend my home from ruffians is liberty.  Having to spend all my time on that roof because the ruffians are so ubiquitous that I don’t dare do anything else is not.  So having a police force that through deterrence and administering at least theoretically impartial justice to keep those ruffians in check improves my liberty.  I can come down from the roof and go shopping, or playing in the park with my children.

And nobody has been able to demonstrate a scalable method of creating that “law and order”, one that will work on any but the tiniest of societies for long, without the use of coercive force.  The problem, of course, is that once you start using coercive force in a society for the purpose of increasing the net liberty of that society, there’s always the temptation to increase the use of that force.  And there are plenty who are more than willing to give in to that temptation.  It’s a constant battle to prune back the uses, one that is generally unpopular and so doomed to ultimate failure.  So the use of force increases from liberty to overstructure to tyranny until something happens to light a fire under people to make the efforts necessary to prune back government and restore at least a semblance of liberty.

So even when one accepts that ironically some use of coercive force is necessary to maintain a civilized, and free, society, (and, yes, I know that some argue that it’s not–that’s a discussion for another day) one nevertheless must cast a jaundiced eye at increases of that force.

That’s where the advocates of “social contract”and “you owe society…” come in.  They say that because we have police helping to keep crime down so I can come down from that roof, that we have fire departments so that I have less worry that a fire at my neighbor’s house will also burn down my property, that we have courts so that interpersonal disputes don’t turn into generations long blood feuds with the collateral damage they bring, that we have roads so that travel and trade are easier, that we have a military so some foreign power cannot come and take it all away…that because we have all that I have an obligation, a contractual one, to provide whatever it is that person wants provided.

The fact that I pay for that police and fire service, that I pay for those courts, that I pay for those roads and that military isn’t enough to fulfill the contract.  Oh, no.  It’s not enough.

It’s never enough.

The problem with “social contract” and “you owe society” is that they’re open ended.  No matter how much stuff you decide to “pay” on that contract, there’s always something else.

No, I am not obligated to pay for your social program because I use roads.  I paid for the roads in the first place.  That is the sole extent of my “obligation” for use of the roads.  Yes, it’s nice to have police keeping at least a partial check on crime.  I paid for those police.  Obligation for that ends there.  The same for the other.

The fact that I “make use of” or benefit from something that I. paid. for. (or a portion of according to law as it was written) does not obligate me to anything else.

If you want to sell me on why I should pay for something you want, sell it on its own merits.  Don’t hand me a line about “social contract” or “owing” because of things I’ve already paid for.

On This Day: First Hot Air Balloon

As I’ve mentioned before, I grew up on comic books.  And out of all the powers the various super-heroes in those books had, the one I wanted more than anything has been the power of flight.

Human flight has been a dream of mankind since its earliest history.  We have the story of Daedalus and Icarus from Classical Mythology of Wayland/Völund the smith from Norse.  Pictures of winged humans have been found in cave paintings dating back thousands of years.

There are accounts of people attempting to don wings and fly dating back to about 850 BC. (Hart, Clive. “The Prehistory of Flight.” University of California Press. September 1985.) None of these, so far as we know, were ever successful, at least so far as we know.  It is, perhaps, not impossible that some early Lilienthal managed a set of fixed, glider wings that carried him through the air for a while but who has been lost to history (perhaps after suffering Lilienthal’s fate).

Leonardo Da Vinci drew several concepts for flying machines.  In retrospect, none were at all functional.

And so, the dream of leaving the surface of the Earth and travelling in the skies remained just a dream until…

One of the two Montgolfier brothers was watching laundry drying by a fire.  Pockets of the damp cloth would occasionally billow upwards.  He made later experiments trapping the smoke from a fire which he thought contained something which he called “Mongolfier gas” which he believed possessed a property he named “levity” causing it to rise.  He built a box-like chamber of thin wood covered on the sides and top with taffeta cloth.  Underneath, he lit some crumpled paper.  The box quickly rose and collided with the ceiling.

Joseph recruited his brother into the balloon making endeavor and began making larger balloons with more carrying capacity.  Indeed, one of their experiments had sufficient lift so that they lost control of it and it came down two kilometers away where it was, unfortunately, destroyed “by the indiscretion of a passerby.”

Eventually, the brothers were ready for their first public demonstration.  For this demonstration they constructed a globular balloon of sackcloth lined with three thin layers of paper.  Fishnet over the outside reinforced it.

They took their balloon to Annonay, in Southern France and, on June 4, 1783, in front of a group of dignitaries filled the balloon with “Mongolfier gas” (smokey hot air to us) and let it rise in front of a group of French dignitaries.  Like their earlier, lost balloon, this one traveled about 2 km in a flight lasting about 10 minutes.  It rose an estimated 1.6 to 2 km into the air.

The dream of flight had taken its first real step.

A few months later, on September 19 1783, a balloon first carried living cargo, a sheep, a duck, and a rooster.  And, still later, probably on October 15, a much larger balloon carried the first human passenger, Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier on a short, tethered flight.

Other flights, including the first free flight (on November 21 carrying Pilâtre de Rozier, and the marquis d’Arlandes) quickly followed.

Humanity had taken its first steps beyond the surface of the Earth.  It would be more than a century before Otto Lilienthal became the first known person to successfully pilot a heavier than air flying vehicle and another decade after that before the first heavier than air powered flight.  But the first steps had been taken.

High Flight
John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air . . .

Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

Processes and Intentions

All too often people define institutions in terms of their intentions (or at least their stated intentions), their hoped for goals.  However, the hoped for goals may have little to do with the actual results.

Consider “profit making enterprise” or “for-profit business.” The hoped for goal is to make a profit.  However, two thirds of start-up businesses fail within the first ten years.  And three quarters within 15.  And while one might consider that small, start-up businesses might be particularly vulnerable, even giant corporations are not immune.  Consider some of these giants that eventually went out of business:

  • Compaq (computer manufacturer)
  • E. F. Hutton (broker and investment advisor: “When E. F. Hutton talks, people listen.”)
  • MCI Worldcom (long distance carrier)
  • Eastern Airlines
  • Pan Am Airlines
  • TWA (another airline)

So, while the intention may be to make a profit, the actual processes involved in operating a business is no guarantee of doing so.

So it is with other institutions.  Consider the following proposition of a process (courtesy of Thomas Sowell in “Knowedge and Decisions”)

Once the legal authorities have defined, combined, and assigned property rights the subsequent recombination or interchange of those rights at the discretion of individuals shall be illegal.

Do you think that would be something most people would support, would even fight for at great risk to themselves?

How about instead, if we take that same proposition and put it in terms of the hoped for goals that is commonly used instead of the process:

The means of production must be controlled for the good of society as a whole and not for the enrichment of a few wealthy one percenters.  We must end the exploitation of the working class and share the wealth of society more fairly.

That’s socialism.  In the first case, stripped of obfuscatory rhetoric, is the process.  The second is the usually stated hoped-for goals.  History has shown that a lot of people have been willing, even to risking imprisonment or death, to support the hoped-for goals as stated by the proponents.  The problem is that there is nothing in the process that necessarily leads to those goals.  And, indeed, there’s nothing in the process, once established, that creates incentives to further those goals.

Historically, once established, socialism has been captured by people seeking not the good of the people, but instead by people seeking personal power and aggrandizement:  Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Castro, Hitler.  The list goes on and on.

The reason for that becomes clear once you look at the process itself.  That process is going to be extremely attractive to folk desirous of power for its own sake.  Historically, such folk have always taken over that process because there’s nothing in the process itself to stop them.  There’s no correction mechanism.

If a private “profit making” business fails in its goal, the profit and loss statement provides a clear proof that something is wrong (if only that some other business is more efficient at providing commodities to the customers than they are).  If losses mount, they either have to change or they’ll be forced out of business, making room for someone else.  When it’s a government institution feedback mechanisms are much weaker.  Most people are usually unable to associate negative repercussions to a particular policy which was often instituted years before the repercussions became noticeable.  Even more rare is to associate the policies with particular policy makers, particularly when those policymakers have gone on to different or higher office.  As a result, there is little incentive for the policymakers to consider the longer term, second or third order effects of their policies.  So long as they are popular “now” (for any given “now”), the rest can be left for others (hopefully the opposing party) to deal with.

Intentions, hoped-for goals, make fine rhetoric.  But policies aren’t actually made up of intentions.  They are made up of processes.  It’s the processes, and the incentives that those processes create, that need to be considered when judging policies.

After all, we know what road is paved with those good intentions.

My LibertyCon 2019 Schedule

LibertyCon at the Chattanooga Marriot, June 28-30.  I’ll be at these programming events:

Day Time Name of Event
Fri 04:00PM Ask A Scientist – Kids Edition

Dr. Robert E. Hampson moderates this Q&A for kids across a broad array of sciences.

Fri 05:00PM Opening Ceremonies

Take advantage of the opportunity to meet the LibertyCon Guests and Staff and listen to our Guests of Honor speak!

CC: Meeting Rooms 4 & 5
(90 min)
Fri 06:00PM Author’s Alley (Burkhead, K & K Evans, J. & HP Holo, Lowery, Schantz)

Come by the Author’s/Artist’s Alley to chat, buy a book or get an autograph!

Author’s Alley (M: Plaza Ballroom Mezzanine)
(60 min)
Sat 02:00PM Author’s Alley (Burkhead, Carpenter, C. Kennedy, Tinney, James Ward)

Come by the Author’s / Artist’s Alley to chat, buy a book or get an autograph!

Author’s Alley (M: Plaza Ballroom Mezzanine)
(60 min)
Sat 03:00PM Autograph Session (D. Burkhead, W. Webb)

Autograph sessions will be located in the Dealer’s Room. Authors will cycle through hourly, except for the author’s that have their own tables who will be available when they are not scheduled in the program. Limit 5 books (if you bring more, get 5 signed and go to the back of the line.)

Dealer’s Room (M: Plaza A/B/C Ballroom)
(60 min)
Sat 06:00PM 500 Vampires, No Waiting

500 Vampires, No Waiting: How many vampire types are out there? Do you prefer the supernatural? The aliens? The Wesley Snipes movies? Declan Finn moderates this panel on the many varieties of Nosferatu.

Sat 09:00PM Nuclear Weapons 101

Ken Roy moderates this panel discussion on Nuclear Weaponry, Radiation and nuclear effects.

Sat 11:00PM Mad Scientist Roundtable

Roundtable discussion of various and timely science topics moderated by Les Johnson. This is a remarkable panel dating back to the earliest LibertyCons. Everyone gets a say but no one gets to say too much.

Sun 10:00AM Kaffeeklatsch

Have coffee / continental breakfast and chat with the pros.

M: Tennessee River Room
Michael J. Allen
Quincy J. Allen
Arlan Andrews
Griffin Barber
Jim Beall
J. D. Beckwith
Rick Boatright
David Bogen
Karen Bogen
Scott Bragg
Robert Buettner
Douglas Burbey
David L. Burkhead
Daniel Allen Butler
David (D.J.) Butler
Anna Grace Carpenter
David Carrico
Julie Cochrane
David B. Coe / D. B. Jackson
Jason Cordova
Jim Curtis
Doug Dandridge
Dr. Ben Davis
Jonathan Del Arroz
Jeff Duntemann
Karen Evans
Kevin Evans
Robert S. Evans
Kacey Ezell
C.S. Ferguson
Declan Finn
Stephen Fleming
Marina Fontaine
Monalisa Foster
A. M. Freeman
Karl Gallagher
Melissa Gay
Amie Gibbons
Jeff Greason
Valerie Hampton
Michael H. Hanson
John Hartness
Jonna Hayden
Louise Herring-Jones
Taylor S Hoch
Dan Hollifield
H.P. Holo
Jacob Holo
Teresa Howard
Daniel M. Hoyt
Sarah A. Hoyt
Daniel Humphreys
James Hunter
Jamie Ibson
Kevin Ikenberry
Steve Jackson
Les Johnson
Bryan Jones
Paula S. Jordan
Chris Kennedy
Tom Kratman
R. J. Ladon
D. Alan Lewis
Doug Loss
Tamara Lowery
Terry Maggert
Amanda Makepeace
Ian J. Malone
T.C. McCarthy
Edward McKeown
Joseph Meany
Anita Moore
Morgon Newquist
Russell Newquist
Chris Oakley
Jon R. Osborne
David E. Pascoe
Gray Rinehart
William Joseph Roberts
Natalie Rodgers
Cedar Sanderson
Hans G. Schantz
James Schardt
Dave Schroeder
Julia Morgan Scott
Lydia Sherrer
Martin Shoemaker
Stephen J. Simmons
Benjamin Tyler Smith
Chris Smith
Kal Spriggs
Tom Tinney
Melisa Todd
Tiffany Toland-Scott
John Van Stry
Mark Wandrey
James Ward
Justin Watson
William Alan Webb
Rich Weyand
Benjamin Wheeler
Marisa Wolf
Chris Woods
Matt Wyers
James Young
(60 min)
Sun 11:00AM Reading: Tamara Lowery & David L. Burkhead

Come out and have a seat as our author guests reads passages of their works

M: Lookout Mountain Room
(60 min)
Sun 02:00PM Author’s Alley (Burkhead, J. Hunter, T. Lowery, J. Osborne, William Webb)

Come by the Author’s / Artist’s Alley to chat, buy a book or get an autograph!

Author’s Alley (M: Plaza Ballroom Mezzanine)
(60 min)

“There has to be a better way.”

You hear that a lot.  Explain scarcity, that wants (often called “need” even when “wants” is the correct term) will always outstrip availability and someone comes back with “there has to be a better way.” Explain that while it’s “reasonable” to believe that peaceful trade is far more beneficial economically and in every other way than war and conquest, not everybody in every nation is “reasonable” and so it is necessary to maintain a strong military to cause those unreasonable folk to at least hesitate and “there has to be a better way.” Explain that this same principle applies on the personal level and that, furthermore, no matter how much the police might want to protect you (if they want to protect you) they can’t–they can’t be everywhere–so you have to be responsible for your own protection and, sure enough, “there has to be a better way.”

No.  There doesn’t.

Oh, you might want there to be a better way.  I might want there to be a better way.  But nowhere is it writ that the Universe must, or even can, conform itself to what we want.

This is not to say that there is never a better way.  After all, that’s what progress is all about:  finding the ways that are better (for sufficient values of “better”).  Mind you, not everyone agrees whether these new ways are actually better.  I find the speed and convenience of email a vast improvement over handwritten letters.  There are some who bemoan letters written in neat script on thick, textured paper becoming largely a lost art.

There is a passage from an old novel set in the late twenties (1920’s), where one character, stopped at the side of the road with car trouble, bemoans the change from horse and buggy to the motor car.  Before, you see, he could have just taken a nap. “The horse knows his way home.”

So, yes, often there is a “better way” for many things.  But, that is no guarantee that there must be for any particular problem.  And while the search for better ways is a worthwhile pursuit, the thinking that there must be one, particularly when it comes to social institutions and the human condition, is fraught with danger.

When one insists that there must be a better way, there’s a dangerous tendency to dismiss current ways as bad, and to ignore what has been learned from long experience.  And so the old is tossed out in favor of the “new” without sufficient consideration about whether this new thing will work at all, let alone whether it will be better.  And sometimes people cling to these “new things” long after any newness remains.

An example of this is centrally controlled, planned economies.  They were “sold” on the idea that they would be more efficient than voluntary exchanges in a free market.  And time and time again, they have been demonstrated to simply not work.  And yet people remain so enamored of the idea of planning to reduce waste, increase “fairness” (as they see it), and eliminate the chaos and uncertainty that comes with freedom, that they keep trying to sell it again.

Another example is the repeated effort that if we just “understood” folk who mean us harm, if we just “extend the hand of peace” to them, if we were just nicer to them they would be nice to us or, at least, leave us alone.

Well, Rudyard Kipling put well where that thinking leads:

When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “Stick to the Devil you know.”

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “If you don’t work you die.”
“Gods of the Copybook Headings” 
Rudyard Kipling

So while it remains worthwhile to look for better ways, one needs to take care not to throw out the proverbial baby with the proverbial bath water.

And remember that not all “better ways” are actually better.