Author: Jordan Zino

Jordan Zino works in investment research in Boston. His undergraduate studies were in finance and economics. He is a believer in the power of markets, ideas, and coffee.

Secession lagniappe

Claiming a 2.7 square-mile spot of land between Croatia and Serbia, a Czech libertarian has declared the Republic of Liberland as a sovereign micronation.  Croatia controls access to the disputed area but apparently does not formally claim it.  Straight from Liberland’s snazzy web presence:

Liberland came into existence due to a border dispute between Croatia and Serbia. This area along the west bank of the Danube river is not claimed by Croatia, Serbia or any other country. It was therefore terra nullius, a no man’s land, until Vít Jedlička seized the opportunity and on 13 April 2015 formed a new state in this territory – Liberland. The boundary was defined so as not to interfere with the territory of Croatia or Serbia. Its total area of approximately 7 km² is now the third smallest sovereign state, after the Vatican and Monaco.  The motto of Liberland is “To live and let live” because Liberland prides itself on personal and economic freedom of its people, which is guaranteed by the Constitution, which significantly limits the power of politicians so they could not interfere too much in the freedoms of the Liberland nation.

Chris Roth’s piece is a good overview but closes with a warning:

Of all these past attempts, President Jedlička might do well to note the fate of the Republic of Minerva.  He chose the Minerva Reefs because they were pieces of “land” that had fallen between the cracks of two established states, Fiji and Tonga, which were not claiming them.  But then as soon as the project got rolling, the neighbors changed their minds and wanted in on the project.  That ended badly.  Imagine how much uglier it could get if Jedlička not only lost his utopia invaded but found himself literally in the middle of a renewed territorial battle between Serbs and Croats.  Liberland might be in a pretty spot, but it’s one of the most volatile borders in recent history.

Vice and Quartz also have decent articles out.  The story is getting tons of play, with over 300,000 people applying for physical or digital residence.  It is getting enough play that perhaps a whole lot of people who have never before really thought about initial land acquisition, homesteading rights, the determinants of a state, the legitimacy of state power, the concept of national exit, and micronations… just did so.    No matter what, if anything, comes of Liberland, there is at least that positive.  Overall, I was struck by how seriously many outlets took the premise in their articles.

Why decentralism?

Mark Lutter’s Freeman piece on Google-run cities is up on Newsweek.  More Lutter & private cities.

Migrant deaths as Europe’s biggest challenge

More (see last lagniappe) on shared space roads from TAC

Quiz! Name all the six-letter countries.  (Who can beat 23?)

The blue-city model

Twelve “absurd” communist buildings still standing

Foreign policy hawk biases

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China is not loosening its electoral grip on Hong Kong.

Even more on Chinese island-building, micronations, history, & geopolitics all in one short article.

The chances of progress in Tibet.  I’m not very optimistic.

Big news: Largest party in Republika Srpska threatens a referendum on leaving Bosnia.

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Republika Srpska’s position within Bosnia

The Catalan (anti-independence) Ciudadanos party, highlighted on this blog before, might have a silver lining for fans of the market.

48% of Brits (vs. 34% against) think Scotland will be independent in the next twenty years.  Related: Is the Union doomed?

Lots of good comments on this Crooked Timber post on the U.K. and the SNP.

Hunger strikes for Corsican autonomy

More on Grexit.  Cowen on Grexit.

Novorossiya flags at UEFA qualifying matches

Losing their religion in Crimea

Headwinds in Kurdistan

Yemen then and now: The sad chronicle of a failed state

Very good deep-dive on where Somaliland stands

They’ve built their state now. 24 years and counting, and it’s got everything it should have: rule of law, elections, a basic respect for human rights. But far from being impressed, the international community shows little sign of noticing, let alone caring. Somalilanders are getting the message. And although they’re not yet willing to admit it, they are beginning to lose faith.

Mozambique’s parliament threw out the opposition party’s autonomy proposal, as expected.

Burundi could implode if things continue to go wrong.  It, unfortunately, does have all the ingredients.

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The State of Jefferson’s newest enemy:  The Keep It California PAC

Caribou, ME is postponing a public hearing on a split

Secessionist billboards in Arkansas

What would the demographics of a South Florida state look like?

Puerto Rican bankruptcy

(Image sources 1 & 2)

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Secession lagniappe

The Economist thinks Kurdistan draws near and defends their right to secede while recognizing their already near-independent status.  Here is the bottom-line:

Iraqi Kurdistan exists, in whatever form, in dangerous and shifting surroundings. But that has been the case since 1991, when it first got extreme autonomy, thanks to the no-fly zone imposed by America and its allies. Since then, it has steadily entrenched itself as the rest of Iraq has fallen apart, especially after IS grabbed a chunk of it. Never before has Turkey been so friendly to Iraq’s Kurds. Never before has the government in Baghdad needed the co-operation of the Kurds in Erbil so badly. Now, surely, is the Kurdish moment.

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The Kurdish distribution

“If we don’t decentralize, the country will disintegrate.”  Iraq.

Quotes from Artur Mas on Catalan independence.

Poroshenko thinks federalism for Ukraine is a terrible idea, but willing to put it to a vote.  Decentralize or perish.

SNP not ruling out a second referendum.  Cameron says no-go.  Is the SNP now trying to turn Brits against the Union?

The U.K., Spain, and Gibraltar

Do immigration and demographics put a time limit on Quebec separatism?

Secession talk in Western Australia is picking up.

Fantastic satellite photos of China’s continued island-building and Foreign Policy reports their airstrip is almost completed.

More Chinese warnings to Taiwan to stay put

Top Chinese official in Tibet wants temples and monasteries to spout propaganda, raise Chinese flag.

Vice with a great piece on the Yemeni conflict and with a focus on the southern secessionist role to-boot.  Recommended.  A piece:

This version of events fits into a popular narrative of a war in Yemen made up of two neat coalitions: on one side the Houthis, an Iranian proxy backed by Saleh, who hopes he can use the current conflict to restore his family to power. On the other, Sunni Yemenis from the north and south rallying around Hadi who are backed by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states and intent on restoring Hadi to the presidency. It’s a story that helps make a complex country easier to understand. The problem for the Saudis is that many of those doing the fighting in the south have long shared a single goal — one that Hadi has said, explicitly and repeatedly, he does not endorse: independence from the north.

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Mike Gibson thinks technology will render governance models optional in the future:

The next 15 years will not pit the Washington Consensus against the Beijing Consensus — or other authoritarian models — but both of these against the Nakamoto Consensus. The diffusion of the smartphone, strong crytpography, and peer-to-peer decentralized public ledgers will weld individuals, networks and voluntary hierarchies into single units of sovereign power capable of opt-out and opt-in governance without precedent

Mark Lutter disagrees.  He is, however, bullish on competitive governance: The age of exit has arrived.  Some qualifying comments here

Thiel’s comments on peaking globalization from his conversation with Tyler Cowen:

If you want a long/short blue-state trade you want to be long California, short New York.  The long/short red-state trade by the way is you want to be long Texas and short Virginia…   Both Texas and California are actually sort of very inward-focused places.  California, both the Hollywood version and the Silicon Valley version are sort of very focused in on themselves and Texas is also a very inward-focused place.  And what D.C. and New York City have in common is they are centers of globalization.  Finance is sort of an industry that is fundamentally leveraged to globalization and D.C. is fundamentally leveraged to international geopolitics.  I would bet on globalization sort of slowly being in abeyance.  With the benefit of hindsight I think we will realize that 2007 was not just the peak year of the finance boom but also the peak year of globalization.

Arnold Kling on Thiel.  The Economist weighed in last December.  Trade as a % of world GDP has indeed stalled at 60% the last five years or so, although this has occurred a few other times in the post-war era.  Here is a chart I made using World Bank data.

Capture

Charles Murray’s new book thinks rolling back federal power through traditional means is futile and advocates civil disobedience and legal defense funds to litigate legislation to death.

Speculative thoughts on shareholder cities

Check out the Voice & Exit conference in Austin, TX in June

Musings on nations and national identity

Spontaneous order and traffic lights.  Video on the town of Poynton implementing a shared space intersection, as mentioned in the article:

How socialist were the Incas?

Anti-immigrant attacks are spreading in South Africa.

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Newsflash:  The Southern states are still distinct.

Libertarian defenses of Confederate secession are incoherent.

Liberty Cities” in Texas

Tiny Caribou, Maine is making progress on a split

Independence or statehood for Puerto Rico?

(Image source)

Market nudges and discrimination

When it comes to the corporate version of systematic discrimination, the type based on preference for gender, sexual orientation, race, or some other generalized variable, businesses can employ the practice in two main ways.  Labor discrimination refers to employment preferences on said grounds.  On the other side of the spectrum, discrimination can also manifest in barring potential customers from transacting.

Markets, in all their unplanned, decentralized glory, inherently punish those who choose to discriminate.  Those skeptical of the efficiency and utility of the market routinely gloss over this point, yet its logical truth is as sound as they come in the sphere of economics.

On the employment side, routinely discriminating against a certain group or demographic has the effect of shrinking the potential pool of labor.  A smaller labor pool is a more expensive labor pool.  If you really needed to fill a key position and there were only 2 or 3 candidates qualified to take on this important role, their bargaining power, and thus negotiated salary, would be quite high.  Now imagine the same role, with the same crucial nature attached to it, yet picture 10 or 100 or 1,000 qualified candidates interested.  The wage really only has one direction to go.

Categorically refusing to hire competent labor, for whatever non-economic reason, results in a financial hit relative to the counter-factual alternative.  As a firm moves away from precisely zero discrimination to some positive amount, this will almost always be the case.

Similarly, slicing off discriminatory chunks of would-be customers has the obvious effect of shrinking one’s market opportunity.  Less customers means less sales and therefore less profit.  For unprofitable companies, discrimination means less time treading water and covering fixed costs and therefore quicker financial distress and bankruptcy.

From both angles, discriminators see their bottom lines lessen compared to what they otherwise would have been.  This is very much a good thing, assuming that you believe discrimination on the aforementioned arbitrary grounds is not a nice thing to partake in.

Not to be missed here are a few key characteristics of the procedural market mechanism that “punishes” discrimination and “rewards” its inverse on any number of corporate axes.  First of all, this perpetual nudge or disincentive is not designed by anyone.  The only preconditions here are a few key tenets of private property, such as the institution itself as well as a reasonable and stable rule of law.  No matter what might be consciously drawn-up to fix business discrimination, such proposals are not competing against an alternative that rewards or even allows these practices.  In fact, it is the opposite.

Second, the market mechanism requires no acknowledgment of its existence on behalf of the person responsible for the discrimination.  The process operates impersonally and in the background, constantly pushing back against discriminatory behavior.  While this system doesn’t thrust the prejudice or shortcomings into the face of those harboring them, such a process has its benefits.  It should, all else equal, result in less discriminatory active businesspeople, rather than a legally-enforced anti-discrimination regime which may remove some of the behavior from its midst but not the persons themselves, whose tendencies will tend to pop up in other areas, even if they might have to hire you or sell you goods (e.g. customer service, hostile workplace environment, promotions, reviews, etc…)

Moreover, confronting people about their politically incorrect and widely condemned behavior is often a good strategy for causing the confronted to double-down and retrench rather than the opposite.  Now you might say they deserve that, but it’s not clear if this is a benefit from a results perspective.  So the impersonal market nudges have their advantages.

This is not to say that a legislated approach to abolishing discrimination is not an effective or even preferred way of going about the issue; it certainly can be on various grounds.  In societies or areas with large amounts of deeply-rooted prejudice or skepticism of out-groups, such behavior may go on for long periods of time and can, indeed, be rewarded instead of punished, temporarily reversing the laws of economics where this behavior is praised or intentionally reinforced.

Nevertheless, government is a blunt tool and legislating problems away never quite goes as planned.  Imagine, for instance, the pendulum swinging too far to the one side, where salaries and wages are mandated to always be equal regardless of race or gender or even age.  Such a policy would be disastrous for economic efficiency and corresponding standards of living.  Women, as a whole and thus on average, make different educational choices and still shoulder different burdens in terms of household responsibilities like child-rearing (although this gap is closing).  They enter into less-risky professions, usually work less hours, and have career trajectories punctuated by maternity leave.  These things affect productivity: when you control for as many variables as possible and really isolate gender in econometric studies looking at wages, the large pay gap shrinks from those CNN-headline figures of 25-30% to almost nothing.

A comparable dynamic goes for minority groups and different races that are disproportionately concentrated in urban areas, such as blacks.  Policy failures including terrible public schools, the war on drugs, minimum wages, restrictive market regulations, and prejudiced law enforcement can disadvantage groups in many ways and job skills and productivity aren’t going up as a result.

Pure unfettered markets allow for the pricing of different productivity levels without fear of government fines or lawsuits.  If different groups display different relevant characteristics on average, regardless of why, monolithic legislative impositions will do more harm then good.  Meanwhile, the impersonal nature of the market helps ensure that what should be priced differently is, while simultaneously guarding against and nudging away true discriminatory, non-productivity based screening.

The left would have you believe that discrimination runs rampant in business today, parading around with impunity.  There is no corner of American capitalism untouched by it.  The truth is that it exists, yet it’s not all that common or meaningful.  If it was a widespread practice, on either the employee or customer front, then bloodthirsty capitalists have one of the largest pieces of low-hanging competitive advantage fruits floating before their very noses: don’t discriminate.

Bigger pools of labor and customers mean lower expenses and more sales and profits.  If women or homosexuals or Latinos were systematically under-compensated today in the U.S. economy, a surefire way to get a leg up on the competition would be to exclusively hire only these groups.  How, exactly, do the critics reconcile their market-skeptic indictment of the profit motive and greedy property owners with these big free lunches persisting all over the place?  I have yet to see a good explanation.  We are supposed to believe that all profit opportunities are exploited to the utmost in capitalist society, except, of course, for those that conveniently fit the ideological narrative of people who are just so certain they exist.

Until a better explanation (send me them if you’ve seen ’em!) emerges, don’t forget that markets provide a real incentive to avoid discrimination.  It might not be the best that can be done, but it is something after all, and no one had to think it up or continually maintain it.

The business person who acts on their racist, sexist, or homophobic views generally won’t do as well as they could have, they won’t escape unscathed, especially in today’s America.  The ballot box, however, offers no such impersonal push-back.  And that, if nothing else, is a distinction worth remembering.

Secession lagniappe

Yemen has been home to secessionist sentiment ever since its reunification following the Cold War in 1990.  See Chris Roth for more background here and here.  Now it is deteriorating. The Shia Houthi rebels of the north have made large gains in the last few weeks, claiming most of Taiz, the country’s third largest city.  Saudi Arabia has entered the fray, leading a sizable coalition of states and raining airstrikes down all over the place in an effort to slow the Houthis and their Iranian influence.  The U.S, a Saudi ally and supporter of the besieged Yemeni government is contributing logistics and surveillance for the strikes, so perhaps it’s not surprising that the civilian death toll is spiking.  Houthi rebels have nonetheless seized the presidential palace in Aden despite this.  The Saudis are now airdropping in weapons to anti-Houthi forces, which may or may not turn them back from Yemen’s second-largest hub.  Speculation on Saudi ground troops is running rampant.  Plus, the NYT is debating if “Yemen is America’s Fight“, so you know things have gotten bad enough that we can start to contemplate another unwinnable drawn out world-police war.

It’s worth noting that the Islamic State, previously thought to be inactive here, also came into the picture when suicide bombings that killed over 140 people in Houthi-dominated areas were claimed by an I.S. loyal group.  So to the extent the U.S. gets involved in Yemen, it will be cooperating with Saudi Arabia (explicitly) and Islamic State (implicitly) against Houthi rebels (explicitly) and Iran (implicitly) while simultaneously  cooperating with Iran against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.  Do I have that right?  A confusing region is getting more confusing.   Cue all the updated “The Middle East Explained in XYZ # of Chart” infographics.  Better yet, don’t.

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Southern Yemen separatists

Iraq is claiming victory in Tikrit over Islamic State

Catalonia round-up:  Podemos: friend or foe?  /  Agreement on an independence roadmap / On the Catalan and Irish languages

Did the promise of more power to Scotland affect their referendum?

Moldova’s autonomous region elected a pro-Russian governor.

Brief look at Novorossiya’s role in Ukraine

The Chechen proxy war in Ukraine

Trouble between Armenia and Azerbaijan over a disputed separatist region

Young Kosovars are leaving; police are arresting their smugglers.

Devolution (and murder) in Mozambique.  Details on the bill here

Singapore‘s independence “accident.”

Xi Jinping:  “The separatist forces of ‘Taiwan independence’ and their activities threaten national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”  The Economist on the countries’ relationship.

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Data visualization: % of global population living under various polities over time

The time New England colonized Kansas

The internet’s first anarchist:

Barlow’s 846-word text, published online in February 1996, begins with a bold rebuke of traditional sovereign powers: “Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.”

Micronations in pictures

Arctic private cities & implications for other-planet colonization

During their chat, Tyler Cowen and Peter Thiel were asked about private cities.

Thiel:  If you could give me a convincing way it could work for $50 million instead of $50 billion, I’d be interested.   & Cowen:  I tend to favor larger political units and to think that human freedom will be found by the wealth and diversity within larger political units, giving people pockets.  I’m not sure we will ever have a bottom-down creation of a lot of micro-units which compete very intensely and, through exit, give people true liberty.  I’m more optimistic about the larger political unit vision.

Georgism and proprietary cities

Decentralization as free-market federalism

NYT Magazine article for open borders

PanAm Post roundup:  iNation founders on bringing competition to government services / Against a gold standard for bitcoin / On the U.S. – Mexico border

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Should Alberta ditch Canada for the U.S.?

Alberta as an independent country doesn’t solve a huge number of problems. If it left Canada, its currency goes through the roof because all it has is oil exports, and that would drive agriculture out of business. It would be a one-horse economy in a very short time.

Seceding to the U.S. becomes the only political and economic option. If you do that, the inflation issue goes away, the tax problem goes away, the security problem goes away. Alberta gets everything it says it wants out of Canada within the first year of joining the U.S.

On Hawaiian sovereignty.

L.A. Times overview of the Southern Tier N.Y. secession threat over fracking: “It’s hard for them to accept that the line on the map makes such a huge difference

Short and sweet: The time has come for 51

(Image sources 1 & 2)

Secession lagniappe

Bruce Thornton over at The Hoover Institution says the European Union’s days are numbered.  Among the culprits are demographics, excessive regulation, monolithic monetary policy, welfare statism, secularism, multiculturalism, and rising nationalism, some of which are certainly intertwined.  As he correctly points out, this list is mostly well understood – but perhaps the “perfect storm” view of it all is not.  Pat Buchanan summarizes the piece as well.  Here’s Thornton:

Nor over the last century have the various substitutes for Christianity managed to fill the void. Political religions like communism and fascism failed bloodily, leaving behind mountains of corpses. Nor has secular social democracy, with its utopian ideals, provided people with a transcendent principle that justifies sacrifice for the greater good, or even gives people a reason to reproduce. A shared commitment to leisure, a short workweek, and a generous social safety net is nothing worth killing or dying for. Neither is the vague idea of a transnational E.U. ruled by unaccountable Eurocrats in Brussels and Strasbourg.

More important, from its beginning, the idea of the E.U. depended on the denigration of patriotism and national pride, for these were seen as the road to the exclusionary, blood-and-soil nationalism that fed Nazism and fascism. Yet all peoples are the product of a particular culture, language, mores, histories, traditions, and landscapes. The “postmodern” abstract E.U. ideal of transcending such parochial identities was destined to collide with the real cultural differences between European nations.

Don’t miss Chris Roth’s 10 separatist movements to watch in 2015.  It’s quite good.  A few excerpts below.  On Catalonia (#9):

Don’t let last month’s anticlimactic referendum fool you: Spain is fragmenting, and disappointment over what happened—and especially what didn’t—in November will only deepen the cracks.  Catalans are just looking for the next vehicle for their frustration and impatience.

And East Turkestan (#8):

Uyghurs do, if they play it right, have the capacity to make Xinjiang ungovernable.  It’s possible a truly general uprising would result in a bloodbath that would make the Tiananmen Square massacre look like nothing.  But if it happens in the context of a general unraveling of Chinese unity—with separatist sentiment on the rise in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Tibet as well—then anything can happen.

Go read his Kurdistan (#1) comments for yourself – not to be missed.

Cleanest data yet proving Crimeans are very happy with Russian annexation via the Christian Science Monitor.  Putin celebrated the 1-year anniversary by more extensively integrating the separatist South Ossetia region of Georgia.  Russia beat back Georgia in 2008 in their defense, recognizes it as an independent state, and shovels it plenty of cash.  None of this is lost on their President:

Mr. Tibilov remarked that Wednesday marked a year since Russia annexed Crimea. “We welcomed that step from the first day. South Ossetia welcomes all political steps that Russia’s leadership makes.” (WSJ)

Georgia’s other separatist region, Abkhazia, signed a treaty with Russia a few months ago as well, which this blog linked to at the time.  Both come in at #4 in Roth’s 2015 list, where he calls them “puppet states” and says they have both “openly asked to be annexed by Russia.”

Despite its geographic size, South Ossetia only holds about 50,000 people.  Here is the wikipedia entry and below is a map of the region as well as their coat of arms.

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Related: how nervous does Putin make Estonia?

Why countries that recognize Palestine turn their back on Kosovo. (Hint: It’s America). Interesting read, although I’m not sure how the parties in question don’t also make use of “righteous indignation” in various ways.  Anyways, the gist:

This ultimately renders humanitarian appeals for recognition in Kosovo and Palestine (and Abkhazia, and eastern Ukraine, and Kurdistan) rather dishonest. The nations in question, the actual people vying for self-determination, are championed by their respective supporters as suffering nobly under the yoke of amoral oppressors. To the pro-Kosovo faction, big-bad Russia and little-bad Serbia impede international recognition for the sake of being bad. To the pro-Palestine crowd, big-bad America and little-bad Israel deny Palestinian sovereignty within the same, moralistic, black-and-white framework.

All parties seem to use righteous indignation to their political advantage; except, of course, the parties with the most tangible stakes: the Kosovars and Palestinians. They are minimized to little more than chess pieces—pawns, in fact, the most disposable of chess pieces—buffeted between elite players in the great game of 21st century realpolitik. A game that, for these would-be states, offers no discernible prize.

A Robin Hanson reading of this might conclude secession isn’t (always) about independence.  Related: Iranian propaganda in Kosovo and Netanyahu backs off his pre-election vow of no Palestinian statehood

A majority (52%) of Germans now want Greece out of the Eurozone.  That’s 11 points higher than two weeks earlier.

Is a Scottish exit inevitable?

Icelandic President: “Independence in itself can never be a negative.”

The Dutch government must compensate the families of Indonesian men it summarily executed in that country’s war for independence in the 1940s

Good stats are hard to come by, but violence in Xinjiang / East Turkestan seems to be on the rise.

Hong Kong in disarray

China defending its South China Sea activity

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Both Lake and Lassen Counties voted 3-2 to place the State of Jefferson on their general ballots. A dissenting Lassen county supervisor prefers to take aim at a 1964 Supreme Court Decision instead.

Lew Rockwell invokes Lysander Spooner and Frank Chodorov to beat back anti-secessionist “regime libertarians”, and closes with this:

 Secession is not a popular idea among the political and media classes in America, to be sure, and regime libertarians may roll their eyes at it, but a recent poll found about a quarter of Americans sympathetic to the idea, despite the ceaseless barrage of nationalist propaganda emitted from all sides. A result like this confirms what we already suspected: that a substantial chunk of the public is willing to entertain unconventional thoughts. And that’s all to the good. Conventional American thoughts are war, centralization, redistribution, and inflation. The most unconventional thought in America today is liberty.

Lengthy City Journal piece on California’s founding that opens with a bang:

The founding of California was an adventure, an epic, a tragicomedy, a conquest, and a window into America’s soul. It was a creation ex nihilo that reveals the roots of society, the establishment of justice, and the very nature of man. “All our brutal passions were here to have full sweep, and all our moral strength, all our courage, our patience, our docility, and our social skill were to contend with these passions,” native son Josiah Royce wrote of his motherland in 1886.  Philosophers have long extrapolated from existing states, of whose origins the precise details are lost, just how political life comes into being. In California, there is no need to speculate. It happened only yesterday, every noble act and sordid deed alike recorded.

Came across a recent internet poll asking if Upstate NY should secede.  Comment # 8 is worth a look, highlighting the usual rural / urban policy mismatch.

South Miami is looking for help splitting Florida up.

Crying secession in Maine

The Republic of Oregon – 1840-1870

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Assimilation is an issue of scale and polycentrism can help.  (very relevant to Thornton’s EU piece.)

Alex Tabarrok and in the NYT with an op-ed on private cities.  See also his chat with Russ Roberts on this topic.

Viewing_Skyline_at_Jamshedpur_City

Jamshedpur, a private city in India

The Economist is optimistic on the American Latino demographic.

For an open Mexican border, sans citizenship

The marginal cases argument for open immigration

March 16th was Open Borders Day and an Open Borders Manifesto was written up.  Here is their link round-up from the day.

Small countries in need of cash are selling rights to citizenship. Programs in Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Malta will have EU-wide ramifications.

Anarcho-capitalists in Cuba

Seasteading might get its own reality show.

(Image sources 1, 2, 3 and 4)

Kant on reason and happiness

Lately I have been, ever so slowly, churning my way through some of the philosophical classics one tends to have never read if one studies finance and economics in school.  Naturally, I crossed paths with Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals. The German philosopher had just begun to dive into the function of human reason in general when his subsequent passage stunned me:

In actual fact too we find that the more a cultivated reason concerns itself with the aim of enjoying life and happiness, the farther does man get away from true contentment.  This is why there arises in many, and that too in those who have made most trial of this use of reason, if they are only candid enough to admit it, a certain degree of misologythat is, a hatred of reason; for when they balance all the advantage they draw, I will not say from thinking out all the arts of ordinary indulgence, but even from science (which in the last resort seems to them to be also an indulgence of the mind), they discover that they have in fact only brought more trouble on their heads than they have gained in the way of happiness.  On this account they come to envy, rather than to despise, the more common run of men, who are closer to the guidance of mere natural instinct, and who do not allow their reason to have much influence on their conduct.  So far we must admit that the judgement of those who seek to moderate – and even to reduce below zero – the conceited glorification of such advantages as reason is supposed to provide in the way of happiness and contentment with life is in no way soured or ungrateful to the goodness which the world is governed.

Kant had captured the spirit of what had nagged me plenty of times over the past handful of years.  Was deeper philosophical and scientific pondering counterproductive to contentment?  Is ignorance, in fact, bliss?

While I very much enjoyed giving critical thought to large, fundamental questions I had only paid mental lip-service to before, the possibility of unsettling conclusions unsettled me.  If my priors on the efficacy of the minimum wage or the desirability of liberal immigration turn out to be dead-wrong, I’ll get over it.  On the other hand, if human consciousness is a mere illusion and the universe evolved along a deterministic, meaningless path, well, that one’s a bit tougher to swallow. Forget the challenge of defending a libertarian political worldview in a world where no one is ever responsible for any action; entertaining the thought that oneself is a robot for the first time isn’t a lot of fun.  Existential crises are accurately named.  Besides, who can blame you for supporting a particular viewpoint anyways, if you don’t actually choose to support it?  And how can any of the criticisms that I levy, in turn, be legitimate if free will is a myth?  And so on, and so forth.

Or perhaps human agency does exist but occupies a much smaller role in explaining action than I initially attributed it.  If intuition fills that newly created void, then the potential implications are troubling.  Intuition may be somewhat malleable to the human will, but nobody gets to pick their genes (at least up until now) and Kant awards you no points for intuition, concluding that an action’s “authentic moral worth” is driven by an inviolable sense of duty and not “inclinations” or utilitarian calculations alone.  Since a lot of beneficial acts, in my opinion, do not stem from a sense of duty, deeply reasoned or otherwise, “good” people suddenly look a lot less good.  But it gets worse.  If conformance to duty is the only source of moral worth than are people who do not act from duty yet are gifted “good” inclinations on precisely the same moral standing as those who got the short end of the stick with “bad” ones?

I went down similar logical rabbit holes elsewhere but never really reached any hard conclusions on most of the “big” questions, just very weakly held beliefs.  To a certain degree, I have come to accept a transition from taking metaphysical and religious priors for granted to answering “I don’t know” and “yeah, maybe” a lot more.  Still, coming out the other side without clear answers didn’t feel much better than some of the anxiety on the way in.

David Bazan has some pithy lyrics that come to mind from an album chronicling his fallout with religion.

digging up the root of my confusion / if no one planted it how does it grow / and why are some hell-bent on there being an answer / while some are quite content to answer I don’t know

I can’t fully arrive at Bazan’s latter group, and that bothers me.  Most of the big questions still bother me.  Employing reason where intuition and untested assumptions once toiled didn’t advance my position on any axis of happiness and incremental peace from such exploration didn’t materialize in the end.  While some emerge from such a journey with greater or equal conviction, blissful ignorance and blind acceptance can seem very peaceful if that conviction fades instead.  This is the nagging thought that gave initial weight to the quoted excerpt above.  I had suppressed it on a few occasions and reluctantly half-recognized its presence on others, yet never fully addressed it until Kant stuck it in my face.  Maybe the answers are unsettling, and reason is the only way to find them, and therefore ignorance is bliss and reason torture.  If you didn’t know a question existed, it’s impossible to let potential answers bother you.  Reason is responsible for discovering not only the answers, but the questions as well.

As for now, I don’t regret thinking some of the bigger issues through as they seem to have left me no worse off.  Reason can still be a very powerful tool for good, even if that doesn’t perfectly translate to happiness and even if liberals overestimate its importance.  I can’t sign on to the “ignorance is bliss” mantra in this context, but the possibility still lurks, re-surfacing every time I catch myself wondering about determinism or spooky physics and getting a bit unnerved.  But perhaps my reading of Kant is much too negative, after all, the gift of reason as a means to developing a good and pure will seems in line with what a divine being might impart to agents also given free will.  Should that be my reading of it?

I don’t know. Add it to the list I suppose.