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About gweilgi

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    Sydney, NSW
  • Interests
    cigars, wine, good food, pocket watches, music

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  1. So there I was at the Livingstone International Airport in Zambia, leaving the Victoria Falls for Kenya and passing through the security check ... when my carry-on bag was pulled aside and opened. The object of their curiosity? My travel tupperdore of cigars. No, they were not interested in the 3-inch pocket knife (so much for security), the nail-clippers, the cigar cutter or the tubes. What they were curios about were the cigars themselves. Two officials (carrying AK-47s) kept taking out cigars and looking at them, handling them, examining them from every conceivable angle .... turns out they had never even SEEN a cigar, had no idea what it was. My entire stash was on the verge of being confiscated until another traveller piped up and explained to them that these were "just like cigarettes, but bigger and more expensive". With some reluctance, they let me go through to my flight.... Anyone else who has had a similar experience? I know that cigars are an elite pursuit these days, but this was plain ridiculous! Surely they must know of the existence of cigars???
  2. Right now ... cigars: binging on H Upmann -- Connoisseur, A, 46, 50 ... they are all good. Music: binging on Deep Purple. Had a hankering, and am working my way through the entire list. Reading: "Tea, a History of the Drink that Changed the World" by John Griffiths TV: binging on The Wire -- missed it first time round, can't stop watching it now. Beverage: working my way through my birthday present -- a sample box of a dozen different craft IPAs. Beer is good.... Hobby: no time, too busy binging.
  3. Hmmm ... that might be worth a study. Of course, there is always a disadvantage when one prefers incompetent relatives in positions of power over competent outsiders. But on the other hand, there is also value to be had in having people one can trust absolutely, people who can be relied upon to be both loyal and beholden to the great oompah. So where would you class something like public transport? People do value it but typically are not willing to pay actual market prices for the service to cover the cost, let alone turn a profit. This means that public transport companies always run at a loss. On the other hand, such a service creates huge benefits for society and the local economy: it reduces pollution, it reduces pressure on the road network (another scarce resource), it creates hugely concentrated economic spheres by allowing the movement of very large numbers of workers at negligible cost. In other words, as a standalone business, a municipal transport company is a non-starter ... but in wider economic terms, it is a definite boon. Equality of opportunity ... a concept that is as hard to define and agree on as fairness or equality (surely two of the most over-used, mis-used and abused terms int eh English language). Fundamentally, though, I would argue that equality of opportunity would in many areas require some form of redistribution, Take education, for example. Pure market forces would mean that only those whose parents can afford the tuition fees would attend college, regardless of their abilities or aptitude. Is it equality of opportunity if a kid's chances of college depend on the luck of the draw to be born to parents wth money? Or secondary education: where is the equality of opportunity to be growing up in a school district with crappy property prices and resultantly low funding levels for schools? Basically, I would not disagree with your argument that growing wealth is ultimately good for all of us, and that those who do so should be rewarded for it. But I would argue that we do need to take a wider approach to profit and wealth than the narrow look at personal gain or corporate profits. Public transport, as I outlined above, is a good case in point: a bad business model in the narrow sense, but it delivers massive value for the wider society and economy. Or universal education: it costs the state around $12,000 a year per child per year up throughout K-12 and is funded through taxation rather than by straight-up fees, and those costs are never directly recouped. But in the long term, it is a clear winner as most of those kids grow up to be productive, wealth-creators, consumers and tax payers (the average tax paid by American households is very roughly $20,000 a year). So for me, this means that what we need to look at is not merely the reward for those who organize scarce natural resources in the fashion most valued by the most people, but the overall economic impact of their actions. Very true in a political sense.... The big difference, I suppose, is whether one is altruistic with other people's money or with one's own resources. A guy who dedicates his life to helping others for the betterment of Mankind gives up his own labour and time and resources, a politician or lobby group likes to do so with everybody's resources. "Governments control all supplies of money and interest rates" -- interesting point. We have seen a rise in cryptocurrencies, and so far, governments have not really acted to defend that monopoly. On interest rates, I would argue that aside from laws concerning usury, we are relatively free to set interest rates. Sure, governments set official rates but they are not directly binding, and IMO their influence is directly related to the size of government debt and hence on their impact on the markets rather than on regulatory compulsion.
  4. Found my red wine!

    That's what they like you to think....
  5. Cape Town

    Thanks! I shall have to investigate outdoor bars then, for sundowners and smokes...
  6. The very concept of slavery is utterly repugnant to me, whatever form it takes (in this context, we tend to think of the version practised in the Americas, but there were others). A thought does occur to me, though. I freely admit that I haven't read up on this to the depth I would want to, so it may well have escaped my notice, but did states not bill owners for the services rendered? In other words, if Ohio caught and returned a fugitive slave to his owner in Georgia, did they not make the owner pay? And if not, why not? After all, we all routinely pay a fee for all manner of government services above and beyond our taxes. You have to bear in mind that Marx wrote at a time when democratic principles and practices in Europe were still comparatively new and being developed. Class-based rights and privileges were still very much in existence at the time, even enshrined in law. This means that there has been some drift in the meaning of the term in the last 150 years, and as you quite rightly point out, today there are no class differences under the law. But equality under the law does not mean that class does not exist in a social or economic context. These days, class is generally assigned by two criteria: profession/education, and money. Thus, a long-distance truck driver may well earn rather more than a tenured college professor, but he would not be considered middle class ... but a Wall Street investment banker making eight figures every year is never working class whatever his background. The difference to the past, it would seem to me, is that class these days tends to be an individual and lifetime thing, not automatically inherited or passed on. We rise and fall on our own achievements. Having parents of a certain socioeconomic class may confer some (dis)advantages in our way through life, but in the end it is our own actions that define our membership of a certain class. In principle, yes. In practice, I don't think so. Even if you retrench the state to its basic functions ("simply protecting life and limb and enforcing private contracts"), wealth and class still confer relative advantages. Education and money will always give you better access, will always improve your ability to manipulate the system to your advantage. In any dispute over property rights, who will be better off: the poor person without resources or education to understand the system and enforce his rights, or the college-educated individual with money in the bank to hire a good lawyer? As for rent-seeking, did you consider the example of the railways? It was financial clout influencing the government that led to the transfer of something like 200 million acres of government (public) land to the private operators through political allocation rather than free market sales. Now that's one hell of an incentive, IMO. Altogether, the US government during the 19th century transferred almost 900 million acres of public land to private and corporate ownership, and with it all the mineral and exploitation rights... The main problem with unskilled labour finding jobs is not availability or even wages. It's regulatory and legal impediments. In the US, a firm can hire a ditch-digger in the clear knowledge that he can be fired again when there is no more need for his labour. Job protection legislation in Europe means that not only are the secondary costs extremely high -- the employer's share of payroll taxes for any worker may well add 60-80% to the gross wages paid to the worker -- but also make it very much harder (and again more costly) to fire them when the work is done. The system can and does work -- places like the Netherlands or Germany are not exactly on the verge of economic collapse -- but it does impose a clear cost in terms of tax burden and higher systemic unemployment. I have no trouble with exchanging money for something I value. What I commented on was your argument that such exchanges create *wealth* for all parties concerned. In this example, what I gained was an experience, a memory -- I may treasure it, but it does not constitute wealth. And in our current system at our general levels of wealth, a great many exchanges do not create wealth because we do have the disposable income to exchange material wealth for intangibles. We indulge in conspicuous consumption. We buy consumer goods that decrease in value from the moment of purchase. We exchange the results of our productivity for immaterial things that enrich our lives in non-commercial ways that do nothing for our wealth. Utilities are not naturally monopolies, but they may be. A national power distribution grid, for example, carries huge capital and start-up costs that deter multiple entrants: it is simply easier and cheaper for power generating companies to accept such monopoly and pay usage fees. Particularly if the market is small: the US might be large enough to support more than one national grid, but a small nation probably does not. The same obtains in transport: while it may be technically feasible to construct a second (or third, or fourth) set of Interstate highways, it would be so prohibitively costly that an effective natural monopoly exists. The same goes for railways, both long-distance and local: could you imagine the cost and hassle it would mean to try and construct a second track on the North-East Corridor? What kills natural monopolies is changes in technology and law. Telephone or broadband services were a natural monopoly for a time ... and then technology changed to side-step the existing copper network while legislators forced monopolistic operators to open their networks to competitors. If internal combustion had not been invented, would the railways have lost their natural monopoly over long-distance transport of people and freight? I think not -- at best, legislators would have stepped in (as they indeed did) to artificially introduce competition. If we can tie one specific pollutant to specific damages in health and property, we can sue. But if I have that asthma attack because 1,298 cars drive past my house every day, who do I sue? When all the manufacturers of spray cans and refrigerators cause a hole in the ozone layer and give me skin cancer, who can I sue? When all the pollution from factories and private homes meet an inversion layer over LA in a thick layer of smog, who can we hold legally responsible? The Cuyahoga River in Ohio was so polluted that it was dead -- no life in it at all -- and actually caught fire at least 13 times, with the largest fire in 1952 causing at least $1 million in damages (in 1952 dollars when they were still worth something). No-one was ever sued -- because it was quite impossible to identify culpable parties.
  7. Checks and balances are of course essential -- a show of hands alone cannot work in larger polities. Even in Switzerland where such direct democracy is still practised, it is only at the local level and is mitigated and edited by its federal structure and over-arching constitutional framework. And of course I write this as a loyal subject of Her Majesty, in the firm knowledge that a constitutional monarch is, when all is said and done, yet another check and balance on both government and the people... As I understand it, the state was the reason why slavery existed because slaves were deemed to be property, and enforcement of property rights was (and remains) a prime function of the state. So did the state really have a choice in the matter, given the constitutional mandate? Beg to differ. Societies will have different definitions and classifications of class, whether we are talking aristocracy or caste or race or any other criteria. But in a capitalist system, class would be defined by wealth and purchasing power. When a rich person goes broke, he drops in the class structure -- and the poor chap who makes good rises in class. The response to which is the response to the incentive problem: stop getting ripped off by the state by not working hard enough to make it worthwhile getting ripped off.... Would you really? A poor person in the EU can rely on job protection that means they cannot be fired without several months' notice. Healthcare is typically free, or almost free (at point of use, of course). If unemployment does strike, this poor person can expect between 60-90% of their salary in dole payments for the first year, with a minimum payment to ensure their income stays above absolute poverty levels. Maternity leave is generally guaranteed, in several EU countries at full pay. The commute to work may be subsidised with tax credits. At the very bottom end of the labour market, rent and essentials are typically subsidised even for social housing. Now, I do find some merit in the notion that such generosity does not offer the best incentive for job-seekers, but not he other hand, it does mean that all things being equal, being poor in the EU is rather less miserable than in the US. What makes you think that voluntary exchange always creates value for all the parties to the transaction? I may willingly enter into an exchange of money for entry into a concert -- but the value I place on the experience of seeing Led Zeppelin live does not create wealth for me. If you obtain 1,000 shares in Acme Inc and the share price subsequently drops by half, this voluntary exchange will in fact result in a destruction of wealth. So what would you propose to do about natural monopolies? If I get an asthma attack caused by air pollution, who should I sue? Who COULD I sue? How could I even begin to enforce private property rights -- my lungs -- when pollution is a general issue affecting a common resource?
  8. The above comment is a genuine cause of perplexity for me. Why do many Americans insist that your form of democracy is not a democracy? A republic is one form of this political system of government; there are others. But they are all variations on the same theme... As for the original approach of only permitting property owners to vote, I do consider that an extremely bad idea. Anything that disenfranchises citizens is BAD. It undermines the entire system, hollows out the consent of the governed and the legitimacy of any government an the very rule of law. Much better, IMHO, to go the other way: give everyone the vote and then give certain people with certain qualifications -- such as property, levels of education, or a special interest in a particular ballot -- a second or third vote to cast. Case in point: having recently relocated to Sydney (Australia, not Nova Scotia), I discovered that in municipal elections, every resident gets a vote but business owners get a second vote regardless of where they actually live. This, I would suggest, avoids disenfranchisement while offering more opportunity to those who have more at stake. What about universal suffrage, or the emancipation of slaves?
  9. On literacy, I would disagree strenuously. Literacy is the very foundation. Without it, there is nothing, and no opportunity to improve. Literacy skills are absolutely fundamental to informed decision-making, personal empowerment, participation in the community and economy (both local and global), everything right down to navigating city streets and using a smartphone. It is the essential first step to education which in turn is essential for standard of living -- both for the individual and for the nation. See also Tito in Yugoslavia who really did not like the Soviets, or the decades-long feud between the USSR and Red China -- Mao did not get along with the leaders in the Kreml at all. When Western pharmaceutical companies insisted on their property rights (aka patent protection) for their HIV/AIDS drugs, the direct result was literally millions of deaths a year. If we go back in history, colonial empires existed for the exploitation and profit of the home nations, directly causing millions of deaths on all continents (bar Antarctica). A case could be made that the Western refusal to relinquish property rights over surplus agricultural produce even in the face of massive famines could also be counted in that column: when we choose to stockpile grain, butter, meat, wine and other produce because market prices are not to our living rather than feeding the starving millions, we are at the very least partly culpable. No direct reason, no. But when one looks at studies on social mobility, one starts to wonder ... Of course, these figures are always open to interpretation and debate ("lies, damn lies, and statistics"), but there appears to be a moderately general consensus that today it is harder for an American to improve their lot in life than for various Europeans. IOW, it appears that it is harder for a competent person in the US to move from one income quintile to the next one up the ladder than for their cousin in Denmark or France. Only if you exclude Europe, Canada, Japan and certain other tier two nations such as South Korea.... One can always argue about "the welfare state" (hell, we are doing it right now ) but do not forget that such services can and do amount to a significant in-kind benefit to the recipients. The standard range of benefits in Europe would include unemployment, rent, schooling, pension, healthcare -- all paid for from payroll taxes and general taxation, and most people receive far more than they pay in. This should all count towards standard of living, and possibly even household income. Very few people? Hmmm ... other than riots, social upset, the rampant rise of labour organisations and left-wing political parties, and in response to that the introduction of welfare systems in all industrialising nations bar the US? Industrialisation in the first instance led to a *decrease* in living standards: people moved to the cities where the jobs were, and their lives became shorter. Marx and Engels did not write their tomes and id not develop their ideology because things were improving. As for "the most deadly system of organising society ever devised", that, too, is debatable. I offer up for your consideration one word: religion. The incentive problem is indeed a fatal flaw. Never mind dangerous and highly skilled work: if there is no reward, why bother doing any job at all competently and give it your best effort? At the same time, we should also acknowledge that the capitalist incentives are not without drawbacks, either. If the profit motive is paramount, we are encouraged to do that which is profitable and neglect that which may be beneficial. IOW, if I can get rich(er) developing a cure for male pattern baldness -- which, speaking personally, cannot come fast enough! -- than finding a cure for malaria, then the profit incentive dictates that his is where I allocate my resources and efforts, and never mind the 700,000+ deaths a year. What about negative externalities?
  10. I would not care to disagree with your assessment. What I disagreed with was your characterisation of fascism as socialism, in particular as it applied in the Third Reich. How would you go about that? Your freedom ends where another's freedom begins -- and vice versa. This means that society *always* determines how free you are. Moreover, the concept and interpretation of natural and human rights both as general principles and specifically as civil liberties is not in and of itself absolute. There are many ways to skin this particular cat, and the American way is but one of them. Your way may suit you, but that does not invalidate different choices made by other societies. This applies both to the rights as they are defined, and to the priority given to any one of them. And finally, we get back to my point: how to define freedom. For one person, freedom is not to be part of a nationwide healthcare scheme, to be free to make such decisions for himself and his family uncoerced by government or law. For another person, it is freedom not to face personal ruin because of random illness and not to be constrained in his job by the shackles of an employer's healthcare plan. Some societies deem it a natural right and freedom that everybody should be free to enter into a marriage whatever their DNA ... others chose differently and deny that such a right exists. Who is right, who is wrong? As a side note, I consider the US constitution to be an amazing document, wise and far-seeing and entirely admirable in its vision and ambitions ... but I do believe that one shortcoming is that in its enthusiasm for enshrining and protecting individual rights, it does neglect the "social responsibility" you mention. IMO, rights always come with a duty to exercise them responsibly. They always come with commensurate responsibilities. Thus, the right to freedom of speech comes with the responsibility not to shout "FIRE" in a crowded theatre. Adult humans as individuals, absolutely. Adult humans in the aggregate, as larger social groups -- tribes, religious/cultural/ethnic affiliations, electorates ... mobs -- not so much. Individuals may firmly believe in the rule of law, in "innocent until proven guilty", in giving everyone a fair hearing ... but a mob of them is entirely capable of stringing an untried unconnected alleged malefactor from the nearest tree, and go home afterwards feeling entirely good about it. And let's not forget elections throughout history and the world over when otherwise quite capable adult human beings decided that it would be a very good idea to vote idiots, crooks or worse into power -- Hitler came to power entirely legally and with the support of very large portions of the mob that we call "electorate". Dunbar's Number also feeds into this: if we are only capable of having genuine and meaningful social relationships with a couple of hundred others, how can we possibly make good decisions on the wider social good affecting millions of others? Leaving all such groups to decide for themselves can't work, either, because we are bound by larger jurisdictions and laws of our nations. Governments winning "wars" ... fair point. Although I would argue that universal education as introduced and enforced on a nationwide scale probably was an unmitigated good (however much we whinge about the current and obvious shortcomings)..... Pure collectivism, certainly. So the problem facing societies and governments is to decide what degree of "socialism" is sustainable.
  11. Hmm ... historically speaking, not quite correct, I'm afraid. Hitler himself moved away form the Socialism aspect quite early on, in the 20's. What confuses the issue is that the Nazis did implement a number of policies that are recognisably Socialist: price and wage controls, forced labour schemes, monopolistic worker organisations run by the state, holiday camps built and run by the state (they even sent deserving workers on Mediterranean cruises on state-owned cruise ships), grand four-year plans for the entire economy, state direction of industry production, etc. On the other hand, Hitler very much approved of private enterprise for its ability to increase productivity and bring benefits to the people, which is why he never nationalised firms or entire industries. Private property, whether homes or farms or businesses, remained untouched. Taxation of capital and high incomes was not punitive or even excessively redistributive. Socialism has never actually existed on a large scale. There are examples where it is practised, but only ever in small communities (monasteries, for example). What we do tend to get is systems that try to combine the best of both worlds, tempering the benefits of private endeavour and the profit motive with policies and institutions that benefit all the people. Such systems are by their very nature unstable and require endless adjustments and tinkering, of course.... The problem, IMHO, is that most Socialist experiments began as a direct response not to inequality per se but to rampant and extreme forms of inequality, to de facto feudalism by a tiny elite of the entire rest of the population. Cuba before Castro did not merely have levels of inequality, it was sheer unadulterated misery for the vast majority of the people ... and the initial consequence of the revolution was an uplifting and improvement of their lives. In short, Socialism is a response to the absence of a middle class. It is the bulge in the demographic middle that proves stability and equality, that mediate between the extremes of poverty and wealth. Any country/society that loses its middle classes is in genuine and serious trouble.... As for "freedom", that is a question which each society and country has to answer for itself. There is no one-size-fits-all answer. Is it better to be free from forced participation in social service programmes operated by the state, or is it better to share these burdens and to be free from the worries of having to organise and fund these safety nets on an individual basis? A Leftpondian from the Lower 49 (plus Alaska) may consider it freedom to be able to make those choices on an individual or family basis. A Rightpondian from Britain or Europe may firmly believe that it is freedom to have all such security provided by society through the state. Personally, I do not think there is a "right way", only preferences.
  12. Congratulations Mus.....

    Congratulations and felicitations! God bless you, and may He send blessings upon you, and may He unite you both in good.
  13. The workaround is working ... but I still get problems on my MacBook, including the dreaded spinning beachball of doom...
  14. Tastes Different ?

    Absolutely so, yes. The entirely subjective vagaries of mood and company aside, I reckon that external factors do matter. Ambient humidity, temperature, altitude ... IMO, these can all play into the taste. For example, when I go skiing, I regularly find that the same marca/vitola from the same box fired up on the same day will offer up a different taste experience depending on whether I smoke them up on the mountain at 10,000 feet or down in the valley at 6,000 feet. For a start, those cigars will have travelled and aged in the time between smoking them in Cuba and back home. Both of those factors will affect the taste.

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