Catallaxy Files

polymathic pontification, bleeding heart economic rationalism and liberal secularist contrarianism

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    Saturday, May 31, 2003
    Geek attack
    So it turns out that the head job who tried to hijack a Qantas flight was a devout Christian and computer geek from England. I'm sure this has surprised a lot of people including the two knobs on Tim Blair's comments facility who were speculating tastelessly about the hijacker's religion on the same day the story broke.

    PS Another bunch of knobs on Timbo's comments facility are also laying it into Salam Pax who has apparently scored a job for the Guardian. Good for him!. They are merely picking up on the blog-geist in the Chickenhawk Axis which asserts that Salam Pax must be a Baathist spy because if he wasn't he would be toeing the neocon party line on everything. How many of these pricks would even have to courage to blog from Iraq before the fall of Saddam?
    Personality and aesthetics
    The dynamic Ms Postrel links to this online survey by Erich Stein who is researching whether there are any systematic correlations between personality types and aesthetic preferences. Certainly an interesting idea and one worthy of exploration but whatever you think of it, the quiz is fun.

    Friday, May 30, 2003
    The US wanted in to Iraq because it needs out of Saud

    There have been acres of wood pulp darkened, global air-waves saturated and information superhighways traffic-jammed with speculation over the real rationale behind the US invasion of Iraq. Now the SMH reports that Paul Wolfowitz, intellectual architect of the Iraq's Regime Change (RC), has admitted that "bureaucratic reasons" were behind the US admins use of Iraq's alleged posession of WMD's as a primary rationale for invasion. He acknowledged that:
    we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one reason everyone could agree on

    There is evidence that not everyone in the admin believed their own rationale. The Pentagon's neo-connish Office of Special Plans was set up as an alternative to the CIA to pad out the US's rather flat WMD dossier. That's why the WMD rationale was so strained and awkward, it was the legal equivalent of the proverbial drawn-by-a-committee camel-like horse. Faithful Catallaxy File visitors already knew the Coalition of the Willing's (CoW) WMD rationale was bogus well before the first shot was fired. Way back on March 17, this C-filer, inspired by a late 2002 kava-inspired brain-storming session with Mark Davis, posted his War-blogging Credo on this site, which included the following scathing articles dismissing the US's flimsy WMD rationale:
    ...the US's stated justification [for forceful regime change] is false. Saddie does not have any:

    • substantial or effective caches of WMDs

    • significant links to fundamentalist terrorists

    ...the UN disarmament process was always a complement, not a substitute, for US military action...weapons inspection was cover for US agents to prep the battlefield

    The non-use and non-discovery of WMDs reinforced this C-Filer's suspicion that the WMD rationale was dodgy. And the Wolfowitzian horse's-mouth admission that the WMD rationale was a bureaucratic compromise is the smoking gun that WMD-skeptics have been looking for.
    But that does not mean that the CoW did not have good reasons for RC-ing Iraq. They fell back on a humanitarian rationale for RC, to rescue the Iraqis from SH's despotism. That could have been a sufficient moral justification for RC in a perfect world, and was good enough to convince many Nice People in the West. But hegemonial geo-politics is not a universal morality play. Otherwise the CoW would be obliged to spend the rest of History invading the despotic third of the world's states, something that citizens and tax-payers alike would object to.
    What was the necessary strategic causation of Iraq's RC? Wolfowitz lets the cat come screeching out of the bag. An "almost unnoticed but huge" reason for RC was that it:
    would allow the United States to remove its troops from Saudi Arabia, where their presence had long been a major al-Qaeda grievance. [Wolfowitz said that] "lifting that burden from the Saudis is itself going to open the door" to a more peaceful Middle East

    But avid C-File readers already knew this, didn't you? For in the same post mentioned above this C-Filer hypothesised that the real political strategic rationale for RC was a one-for-one swap to:
    ditch the Saudis/hitch the Iraqis as US military clients

    Sure enough, as soon as the smoke had cleared from the Baghdad battlefield the Washington Post reported that the U.S. Military Will Leave Saudi Arabia This Year.
    The Saudis have been ditched.
    Why didn't the US just come right out and declare the Saudi Arabia a founding member of the axis of evil, after all most Saudis don't want US bases defiling the Holy Land and most of the 911 terrorists were Saudi citizens? Well there is a Bush II admin taboo on locating the evil-axis hub in Saudi Arabia, on account of the fact that the key members of the Bush I admin, including Pappy Bush himself, were employed by the Washington-based Carlyle Group to act as financial advisors to the Saudi Royal family. One of their clients was none other than Mohammed Awad bin Bin Laden, Ossie's Dad. Condemning the Saudi Royal Family (net worth ~ $US 700 billion) would not only be a financial disaster for the US, it would finger Pappy Bush as an witless accessory before the fact in the financing of 911. That's no way to ingratiate yourself towards your future benefactor. So Wolfie kept stum.
    Just to show that the "ditch Saudi" theory was not a lucky guess, as a special C-File bonus I predict that the US will "hitch the Iraqis" in more ways than one - the Iraqis will replace the Saudis as the US's new:

    • lynch pin for it's re-located system of Gulf military bases

    • supply point for it's re-composed portfolio of Gulf oil reserves

    There is already, conflicting, evidence that the military Switch is being considered. The Pentagon has canvassed and a little hastily denied it's intention to place up to four permanent bases in Iraq. My bet is that the US will preposition air bases, ordinance and skeleton staff in Kurdish Iraq, within striking distance of Saudi Arabia, Iran or Southern Iraq, should the need arise to crush any fundamentalist uprisings in the Gulf region.
    There is evidence accumulating that the oil Switch process is underway already. Der Spiegel reports an end to Saudi dominance as the :
    future regime in Baghdad is intended to replace unreliable Saudi Arabia as the US' most important ally in the region"

    The report quotes Fadhil Chalabi, an Iraqi expatriate and Director of the London Centre for Global Energy Studies as saying that:
    Only Iraq has the long-term capacity to free the global market from Saudi Arabian dominance.

    It goes on to show how the US proposes to shift the geo-economic balance of power in the Gulf region away from Saudi Arabia. The Chief of Planning at the Iraqi Oil Ministry, Thamir Ghadhban, is reported as saying that in a few years time Iraq's daily production of oil could be up to 6 million barrels. The Spiegel reporter empahsised the dramatic significance of this number:
    Six million barrels of crude oil per day: This number has a magical ring to Western oil experts, since it is the critical mark needed to break Saudi Arabia's dominant position on the world market and, with it, the power of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

    If the US is successful in "hitching the Iraqis" it would break OPEC's power to hike oil prices which would:

    • enrich the US captains of industry

    • impoverish the Arab financiers of militarism and terrorism

    You have to admit, moral qualms aside, the sheer Machiavellian perfection of the "guns & oil" Switch, from Saudi to Iraq, is breathtaking.
    If Bush can pull the Switch off it would mean both Wall Street and the Pentagon would be laughing, which wouldn't harm the job prospects of the current inhabitants of a certain Pennsylvania Avenue mansion one little bit.

    Now even uber-hawk Rumsfeld is admitting that the that Iraq's WMD threat was exaggerated. According to Rummie, Saddie:
    didn't have time to...use chemical weapons...They may have had time to destroy them

    It is not well known that the US formally withdrew the accusation that Saddie had a hand in 911 attacks well before the invasion, although it was not averse to letting the public believe that Saddie had a hand in them. In September of 2002 the Washington Post reported that the U.S. was not claiming Iraqi link to terror.
    "Is there any confirmed evidence of Iraq's links to terrorism? No," said Vincent M. Cannistraro, former head of the CIA's counterterrorism office.

    Thursday, May 29, 2003
    Busy at work but thought I'd get out some quick thoughts on the proposed ban on Hezbollah.

    I'd really like to understand what banning Hezbolah actually means before jumping on the bandwagon. Hezbollah has done lots of nasty things (so has the PLO, so has the ANC) and it adheres to a theocratic ideology which I'm generally pretty hostile regardless of which religious tradition it emanates from. But does that automatically make anyone who distributes Hezbollah literature or holds fundraising events for its religious leaders complicit in a criminal activity? Are both these examples implied by the ban or only the latter? If the latter, I think I might be more comfortable with a ban - if all it means in freezing funds with a high propensity of being involved in terrorist activity. However the first strikes me as leading to a slippery slope. Lots of Nazi organisation favour some sort of race based revolution but as long as they're just advocating it in some sort of fuzzy way saying 'Change your consciousness. Then rise up' I think they should be free to do that.

    Similarly with Hezbollah. If any of their acts comes within the scope of instigation to commit violence - sure, they should be cracked down on with the fullest force of the law, but if it's just along the lines of 'resist! resist!' and documenting various complaints against their enemies (in this case Israel) and so on, well, how is that different from what all these loony socialist sects and neo Nazi sects do? I'm a strong believer in free speech and in the belief that bad, stupid ideas exposed to the cold glare of publicity are also exposed to the cold glare of reason will wither away and die. I'm not prepared to compromise that for addressing a possible security threat without more careful debate and carefully documented evidence of this threat.

    Wednesday, May 28, 2003
    Sharon consulting the Road Map to Peace is like Nixon recognising Red China

    Has Ariel Sharon has done a Nixon and turned the tables on the peaceniks?
    His historicly unprecedented references to a Paletinian state and Occupied Territories (OT) have dropped like a bomb shell on Palestinian Intifadians and Israeli hard liners alike.
    "Always protect your right flank" is good advice these days, given the weakness of the political Left and the resurgence of militarism in Israel and the US.
    Only Ariel "Bulldozer" Sharon has the right wing credentials to negotiate peace with Palestinians, having been the officer in charge of numerous attacks on Palestinian soldiers, civilians and property and the founder of the hated settler movement
    Thus Sharon has protected his Right wing flank from the judaic fundamentalist settlers, who have acted violently in the past to sabotage peace.
    "Always deal from a position of strength" is a good negotiating advice in any circumstances.
    His peace overtures been sounded from the recently acquired "Zionist-Crusader" position of military strength:

    • The US military's occupation of Iraq has enhanced the US power position in the Gulf

    • The IDF's re-occupation of Palestinian cities has enhanced Israel's power position in the OT's.

    Perhaps this was part of Wolfowitz's grand strategy all along.
    More likely the Likud sees that it has no choice, it is in it's own interest to make small concessions now whilst Israel can get the best possible deal before Palestinian demography, terrorist WMD technology and a more dovish US president will mean that the Israel will have to concede rather than bargain.
    If Sharon's tentative step on the Road Map is taken further, the fundamentalist settlers neutralised and the Palestinians civilised then this will vindicate the neo-con's regional geo-political strategy of War-War, rather than Jaw-Jaw, to make Law-Law. Blair in particular will be able to stick it right up a certain dubious member of his party's Left wing.

    Tuesday, May 27, 2003
    New in Policy
    Lots of good stuff in the current issue of CIS's Policy including-
    Peter Saunders (the right one) on lessons from US welfare reform, a critique of the war on Terror by Chris Leithner, a lukewarm review of The Blank Slate by Catallaxy blogger Andrew Norton and a short review of the Cato Institute's CopyFights anthology (rather dated now) by me.

    Monday, May 26, 2003
    More on economics and evolution
    As regular readers know my latest pet obsession (though it has been brewing for a while) is the relationship between economics and evolution. The latest issue of Policy has a good piece by Jason Potts on Evolutionary economics and its links with classical liberalism. Some on the money quotes will have to do for the time being but it's worth reading the whole thing:

    Evolution is an algorithmic process of how knowledge grows.6 It works like this. Begin with a population of candidate solutions to a problem. Define a selection mechanism to test these solutions against the original problem and evaluate how well they solve that problem. Eliminate the worst solutions and replicate the better solutions. These two mechanisms alone will produce statistical convergence upon a set of good solutions, but because they are limited by the set of starting candidates, they will not necessarily be the best solutions. In nature, as in society, sometimes you need to think differently in order to progress.

    By adding a third mechanism, variation, we arrive at the minimum necessary conditions for an evolutionary process. A mechanism of variation takes the good solutions and modifies them (randomly or conjecturally) to generate new candidate solutions, beginning the process again. This, in abstract, is an evolutionary process: selection tests solutions against problems; replication carries solutions and updates problems; and variation generates new solutions.

    Note that this definition of evolution does not turn on what is actually evolving beyond reference to ongoing solutions to ongoing problems. This is how it is in biology (the concept of an analytic gene), and also in economics (the concept of a rule). Nevertheless, the question of the proper units of selection, replication and variation is a source of much argument and debate in evolutionary theory.7 In economic evolution, there are many possible units that these three mechanisms might operate upon. Examples include commodities in markets or the characteristics they embody, the preferences of agents, the skills and routines of agents, the competences and capabilities of firms, or indeed of entire firms and industries, or technologies or institutions.8 These are all examples of structures of knowledge ...

    Humans are all biologically similar, but economically different, and that is what matters. We do not all carry the same knowledge, and this is why our economies can grow. Indeed, if we were all the same there would be no need to interact, to access the web of knowledge, because there would be no gains from specialisation and trade. Each economic agent is a specialised component of knowledge, and the central economic problem is how to coordinate this specialised knowledge. Provided interaction is preserved and remains open, both production and growth are possible. The upshot is a society of knowledge into which agents fit (in both the biological sense of ‘fitness’) and within which agents can move around by acquiring new specialisations and making new connections.

    This is market capitalism. Entrepreneurs propose, institutions facilitate, markets decide, and knowledge grows. And when knowledge grows, societies progress.
    Negation: the new paradigm of US space dominance
    Republican's declare war on everybody in space

    Sometimes you read an article about US defence policy and you have to rub your eyes and blink, is this for real or is it a syndicated article from the Onion?
    This article courtesy of Calpundit reports on Space Command, the US's latest military arm, and it's new policy ocalled Negation, "the new paradigm of space dominance" which aims to deny the use the use of "low-earth, geosynchronous and polar orbital planes" to enemies and allies.
    Even traditional allies are a little wary of the US total dominance of the high ground. Robert Lawson, some professional peacnik in the Canadian DFAT threw a little Canucky hissy fit:
    "Negation implies treating allies poorly,"..." It implies treaty busting."

    Whoa I am all broken up. Hey Bobbie didn't you know that international treaties exist just for conservative Republicans to bust 'em?
    If the RoW doesn't like the US's total space dominance then "they'll just have to learn to accept it" according to Air Force secretary James Roche.
    Maj. Gen. Judd Blaisdell, director of the Air Force Space Operations Office, went further and sounded an ominous note of triumphalism:
    "We are so dominant in space that I pity a country that would come up against us."

    Let's see the UN try and stop that.
    Go Rummy.
    Clive Hamilton gets into bed with Fred Nile again
    A reader on my comments facility called me a 'postmodern relativist'. Given Clive Hamilton's recent move into communitarian fascism and the people he attacks in his latest piece, I find myself in good company. Don't have time to write a proper response but Heath wrote a good extended response to his last piece here. Warning: Contains naughty graphic. Do not click in a public place.

    c8to has a good response to Hamilton's latest whinge:

    in this smh article' some old whinger (clive hamilton), is horrified that a fourteen year old might see disgusting pictures on the internet, and not just the cute girlie porn that the media has come to know and love.

    run for the hills! the 14 year old would probably just be a little disgusted by the images they see, but unless they have some other severe mental disorder, its not going to turn them into evil little 14 year olds.

    he rightfully makes fun of post modernism, and who wouldnt, but true libertarians only care whether the government can restrict acts between consenting adults. and if you want to look at pictures of people pooing in other peoples mouths then the state shouldnt be able to say you cant.

    On a personal note I read Fear of flying when I was 11 years old - sneaked it right out of my father's bookshelves. To date, no one has dug any sex slaves out of my cellar. So it's a book you say - much different from looking at a graphic but how? Imagination is a much more vivid theatre than any picture on a screen.

    Sunday, May 25, 2003
    Stove vs Popper: Stove KO'ed
    While we're on matters Popperian. Gummo Trotsky is a usually annoying and smug leftie but one capable of writing quite sharp and cerebral commentary - he has a good fisking of Keith Windshuttle's attack on Popper, among other philosophers of science (unfortunately permalinks are bloggered but go to his post of May 15. Windshuttle's views in turn are formed from the unfortunate influence of one David Stove who wrote a book accusing Popper of being culpable for the views of later philosophers like Feyerabend and Kuhn and contributing to 'irrationalism' in the philosophy of science. Why? Probably because of the fallibilistic elements of Popper's philosophy (this probably speaks volumes for Stove and Stove followers). Anyway, Rafe Champion goes one better than Gummo and fisks the direct source of muddle in this critique of Stove's book Anything Goes wherein the charges against Popper are made. Once you're through reading Rafe's critique you have to come to the conclusion that either Stove was intellectually dishonest in representing Popper's views or he was just very muddled in his reading of Popper. And since the essence of debate is not to question the intentions of one's opponents, we'll have to assume the latter. Here is an example of what Rafe unearths

    David Stove wrote (p 44)
    "With failure-words as success words, it was Popper who showed the way ahead. For he laboured long to persuade scientists that no professional stigma attaches to their being refuted. Nor did he labour in vain, but rather to such effect that he succeeded in persuading some of the sadder Popperian scientists [Monod, Eccles, Medawar, Einstein] that to be refuted was actually the goal of all their endeavours. (They appear to have had rather successful careers) [which outside the upside-down world of David Stove would appear to lend credibility to Popper's ideas]. Yet Popper had only a Pisgah-view of this matter, because he never neutralised the implications of falsity in saying, not of a scientist but of a proposition, that it 'is refuted' or 'has been falsified'."

    Popper was crystal clear as to what counts as success, and David Stove has radically misrepresented Popper's talk about testing if he thinks that successful testing somehow neutralises the success of science or the growth of knowledge.

    How does David Stove reach the conclusion that "to be refuted was the goal of all (scientific) endeavours"?

    For Popper the aim of science was the pursuit of truth.

    How do we pursue truth? By conjecture and (attempted) refutation.

    What is the role of empirical evidence in this venture? Testing.

    When we are about to climb a ladder to a great height, why do we try our weight on the rungs before we begin to climb (or test the rung before applying our full weight as we climb?)

    To see if the rungs of the ladder will bear our weight.

    Is the goal of our endeavours to break the ladder? No, it is to climb the ladder safely.

    If you understand the larger objective of the exercise you can understand the reasons for the constituent activities.

    David Stove has simply lifted the activity of testing out of its context in the hypothetico-deductive method and lampooned Popper to inflate his reputation as a comedian.

    As for eliminating the stigmata of being refuted, what on earth is the point of attaching stigmata to intellectual error? That is one of the disasters that flow from the "manifest truth" theory of knowledge which Popper subjected to criticism in his paper on the sources of knowledge. By all means seek to correct errors, but attaching stigmata?

    Attaching stigmata to genuine error - hmm, what is that reminiscent of?
    Popper and the Austrians
    My friend Rafe Champion has now made publicly available the paper he presented at the 2002 Popper Centenary Conference. It's titled The Austrian School of Economics as a Popperian Research Programme. Without endorsing all the contents therein (for instance I'm not as antagonistic towards neoclassical economics as Rafe) here are some money quotes to give you a flavour of his conclusions but go read the whole thing to understand the full context:

    Popper supports the Austrian school of economics in three ways. First, his theory of metaphysical research programs legitimates the use of untestable principles to provide the framework for a research program. The basic principles of Austrian economics can be regarded as working assumptions, either methodological or metaphysical postulates, of the kind that occur in all sciences. These need to stand up to criticism but they do not have to be testable or falsifiable.

    The term "metaphysical" may antagonize people who have taken on board the strong positivist prejudice against metaphysics, however in this context it simply means that many basic principles and methodological conventions cannot (and need not) be subjected to empirical tests as the positivists would demand. The most obvious example for the Austrian program is so-called axiom of purposeful action. This is usually (unhelpfully) described as "self-evidently true" but it is more usefully depicted as a methodological assumption. It does not need to be directly testable, it is tested by the capacity of the program to produce robust explanations for the phenomena under investigation, such as money, the Great Depression, unemployment, inflation and trade cycles. This may resolve the clash between Popper and Mises on the matter of falsifiability.

    The Popperian or "critical rationalist" rejoinder to positivists, naïve falsificationists and instrumentalists who lampoon the Austrian approach is to explain that it is not a departure from acceptable scientific practice to make use of untestable propositions for some purposes. The critical rationalist does not insist that all the premises and presuppositions in scientific discourse should be verified, merely that they stand up to criticism. Empirical tests are a particular kind of criticism, but they are not appropriate for all assumption, especially those of methodology and metaphysics, which have to prove themselves at one step removed - by the power of the testable explanatory theories that they generate.

    The second way that Popper supported the Austrians was in his advocacy of situational analysis and the rationality principle for the explanation of events in the social sciences. This is practically identical to the Austrian approach, by way of praxiology, the logic of human action, with the basic principle that human beings act purposefully. Popper followed the Austrians in other ways, in methodological individualism, in the theory that most institutions arise as the unintended consequences of actions, in the uncertainty of knowledge.

    Thirdly, in addition to supporting the use of a metaphysical framework for analysis, and following the Austrian methodology for the human sciences, Popper propagated a particular set of metaphysical theories which happen to provide a congenial framework for the Austrian approach. These theories are realism, especially the reality of "the arrow of time", non-determinism, and non-reductionism (the emergence of novelties in evolving systems). Popper's objectivism may appear to conflict with the Austrian subjective theory of value, however Popper's three-world theory contains a world 2 of subjective mental states. This provides a space, indeed a whole "world" for the Austrian subjective theory of value, for mental acts of judgement about the possible uses of various goods and factors of production.




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