My Ego Surrendered Years Ago…

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I think it was around the time when a computer program I wrote beat me soundly at Reversi (aka "Othello").

Anyway, I could have used our Amazon Product du Jour at the time, putting up some signs around my desk to cheer me up.

There's plenty more ego-bruising going on these days, thanks to AI. Dylan Allman has thoughts at the Foundation for Economic Education: The Ego vs. The Machine.

The insistence that human intelligence is sacred while AI intelligence is profane is not just naive; it’s fundamentally hypocritical. The difference between human and artificial intelligence is not a matter of kind but of degree—of processing speed, of efficiency, and, ironically enough, of impartiality.

AI is not the enemy of human creativity; it’s the next chapter in its evolution. What’s threatened by AI is not our purpose or our ability to create but our ego. And in the grand scheme of things, that’s a small price to pay for a world enriched by higher quality, more innovative, and more efficient creative works.

Not to toot my own horn, but here is my commentary last month about an anti-Machine rant from a local faculty member with an outsized ego.

Also of note:

  • The GOP could use some Artificial Intelligence; they seem to be running short of the natural kind. Kevin D. Williamson looks at the Elephant's current attitudes: Do the Wrong Thing.

    The Republicans have become the party of self-harm. This kind of self-harm isn’t really about harming oneself—people who are very serious about that just kill themselves quietly and deliberately—it is, instead, about theater. Self-harm as a form of political theater has a long and sometimes proud tradition, from Mohandas K. Gandhi’s self-starvation to Thich Quang Duc’s self-immolation. I admire Cato the Younger’s resolve to die with dignity by his own hand rather than live under Julius Caesar’s tyranny, though I generally do not approve of suicide. Cato’s was a good death, a concept increasingly difficult to hold on to in a society that values prestige over honor and pleasure above all.

    Republicans took up self-harm as an ethos in the matter of COVID-19 vaccines (to take one example) not because they suddenly had an interest in mRNA technology—it was purely a case of what we would call, if we were talking about a surly teenager, “acting out.” The people Republicans hate (urban progressives, “elites,” etc.) made enthusiastic adherence to COVID-19 protocols (much of that was theater and hysteria, too) into a kind of moral test, one of the few situations in our national life that genuinely demands the much-abused term “virtue-signaling.” Rather than responding to pandemic safety excesses in a mature way—for example, by talking reasonably about the trade-offs involved in vaccinations and vaccine mandates or by dealing patiently but firmly with masking hysteria—Republicans just did what Republicans now do, i.e., they took up the opposite course of whatever the hated cultural enemy was doing. And so the kind of New Age health quackery that once was mainly associated with macrobiotic loonies in Park Slope became a shibboleth for right-wing populists and the cynical radio and cable-news entertainers who milk them for profit. Hence the ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine and such, and the paranoid disdain for vaccines. Republicans are “doing their own research,” but that “research” is the dumbest kind: Look at what they’re saying on MSNBC and stamp their feet and insist on the opposite. They are the bleach boys. Thank goodness the so-called elites didn’t get all huffy about hand-washing or we’d have every nut-cutlet Trump voter in the country running around looking like Michèle Lamy

    Unpleasant image at that last link. You were warned.

  • The answer, my friends, is blowin' in the wind. Unfortunately, Eric Boehm's rhetorical question doesn't fit the meter of the song, but here it is anyway: If Semiconductor Chip Demand Is High, Why Do We Need More Subsidies?

    The Biden administration has yet to announce how it plans to spend the $52 billion in semiconductor manufacturing subsidies that Congress approved more than 18 months ago.

    But the administration is already laying the groundwork for another round of taxpayer-funded subsidies for advanced computer chips—with an argument that reveals how economically illiterate the whole effort has been all along.

    "I suspect there will have to be—whether you call it Chips Two or something else—continued investment if we want to lead the world," Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said this week while speaking at an Intel corporate event, Bloomberg reported. "Chips Two" is a reference to the CHIPS and Science Act, that 2022 bill that authorized $52 billion in subsidies, a sizable chuck of which is expected to find its way into Intel's pockets when the White House announces its funding plans in the coming weeks.

    Perhaps nothing better illustrates the way the government approaches issues than throwing an arbitrary amount of money at a perceived problem, and then declaring that more money will be needed to solve that problem even before the first pile of money has been distributed or the usefulness of the spending measured.

    For the record, this is the way I get some of my tax money back. Nvidia stock makes up a small slice of my portfolio, but I've made a decent amount of money from it.

    Which Uncle Stupid will want his share of, I guess. Gee whillikers.

  • Not a sequel to Godzilla vs. Kong, unfortunately. David R. Henderson imagines a pretty good contest though: Piketty Vs. Taylor Swift.

    Contrary to what I used to believe before I researched this article, 19th-century French novelist Honoré de Balzac did not say, “Behind every great fortune lies a great crime.” Yet he is often thought to have said it and certainly a fair number of people, especially on the left, seem to believe it. Indeed, although my father, a public school teacher, never said it explicitly, he seemed to attribute even small fortunes to some kind of crime. He was suspicious of businessmen who earned just 20 percent more than he did. I picked up some of his views on this. Thank goodness I studied economics.

    I thought of all this when watching this year’s Super Bowl. I had bet on a friend’s Facebook site that we would see Taylor Swift eleven times. Midway through the fourth quarter, I lost track at eight because the game was so exciting. But the presence of Taylor Swift got me thinking about what I had thought Balzac had said and about what French economist Thomas Piketty came close to saying. Although Piketty references Balzac many times in his magnum opus, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Piketty comes closer than Balzac to casting aspersions on people who get rich. So the question I want to address, and then widen to other successful people, is “Did Taylor Swift become a billionaire illegitimately?”

    Spoiler: She did not.

Recently on the book blog:

Crack-Up Capitalism

Market Radicals and the Dream of a World Without Democracy

(paid link)

Another attempt to keep myself honest, and read something that won't simply reinforce my biases toward free-market capitalism and personal liberty. The author, Quinn Slobodian, is a professor at Wellesley. His book-flap thesis is alarming: "the most notorious radical libertarians—from Milton Friedman to Peter Thiel" plot to subvert and eliminate "democracy" by setting up "different legal spaces: free ports, tax havens, special economic zones." Examples are many: the author endorses the so-called Open Zone Map to demonstrate their ubiquity. There's almost certainly one near you.

There is one near me, although the map's description differs somewhat from the description provided by the New Hampshire Department of Business and Economic Affairs. All, or parts of, 9 NH counties are considered "Foreign Trade Zones"; as the page explains: "For the purpose of assessment and collection of import duties, foreign imported merchandise entered into a zone is considered not to have entered the commerce of the United States, so duties are not paid while the merchandise remains at the site." Granite State democracy does not seem to have been seriously threatened. As yet.

The author presents a number of case studies, from historical to present-day: Hong Kong, London, Singapore, South Africa, Lichtenstein, Somalia, Dubai, Silicon Valley, and "the cloud". These are interspersed with profiles of some of those "radical libertarians": not only Milton Friedman, but also son David, and grandson Patri. And a host of others in addition to Thiel: Murray Rothbard, Hans-Hermann Hoppe, James Dale Davidson, Hayek, Mises, etc.

Let's get some stipulations out of the way:

(1) The interactions between governments and businesses are well-known to be rife with rent-seeking, corporate welfare, and corruption. Slobodian does a fine job pointing this out.

(2) Libertarians generally do not hold "democracy" up as an ultimate good. For example, Cato's Human Freedom Index notes a strong international correlation between freedom and democracy. But it cautions "Unrestrained democracy can be inconsistent with freedom." And it sends you off to Isaiah Berlin's "Two Concepts of Liberty" for explication, if necessary.

(3) There's an awful lot of libertarian thought devoted to imagining utopian liberty-maximizing social structures. This is blue-sky stuff, and it's full of possible models and guesswork. And (see above) "democracy" might show up in them, and it might not.

(4) There's also an awful lot of libertarian criticism of current systems, nation-states running their fiat currencies. Some of that can get overwrought and apocalyptic, because that sells books. (I have a number of those on my bookshelves from previous decades predicting many imminent economic/social disasters that never happened.)

(5) There are a number of grifters and crackpots in the libertarian movement.

Slobodian tries to gather all these messy features into a coherent whole. It's far from a perfect fit, and at times his thesis resembles one of those dot-connecting conspiracies, corkboards with ragtag newspaper clippings, pushpins, and connections in red yarn. He imputes way too much importance and influence to libertarians, especially the ones outside (say) the Reason magazine-mainstream.

Slobodian never really engages with libertarian worries about "democracy" and its possible threats to liberty and prosperity; he just treats those worries as self-evidently misguided.

("And, yes, David Friedman is a longtime member of the Society for Creative Anachronism. Your point being?")

Occasionally, Slobodian lets some level-headedness creep into his discussion: he grants that nation-states are a relatively recent development, and they could well be replaced by "something else". He treats that as obviously bad; I think it might be inevitable. As that process unfolds, you really want people thinking about the best ways to preserve human freedom and well-being along the way.