Block Size Political Economy Follow-Up 1: Software Choice, Market Differentiation, and Term Selection

An interview with me on the Bitcoin block size limit appeared on 4 May 2016 on Below, I develop additional clarifications and examples partly inspired by a range of comments and reactions to it. This is meant to build on and develop ideas in the original interview. For ease of reference, here is a PDF version of that interview.

This is a three-part series. Part 1 below covers a range of issues including the need to differentiate the market that was discussed in the interview from other distinct markets and non-market choice phenomena such as free software selection. It also begins to discuss the use of the term market intervention in this context. Part 2 will then continue by arguing that neither the voluntary nature of cryptocurrency participation nor the subjective nature of user preferences nor any alleged motivations on the part of the various actors involved alters my analysis. Finally, Part 3 will focus on economic distinctions between the 21-million bitcoin production schedule and the block size limit, arguing that these are different in kind and thus poor objects for analogy.

Chicago Board of Trade: People buying and selling form a market. Prices are key artifacts that market processes leave behind.

Chicago Board of Trade: People buying and selling form a market. Prices are key artifacts that market processes leave behind.

Two markets and a non-market choice sphere

One idea that showed up in comments was that I had expressed some view as to which Bitcoin software one ought to run. However, I did not address this at all. I have only published one previous preliminary article on the block size limit, on 20 June 2015, and this also did not mention implementation choice. Various views on this topic do not alter my analysis of the topics that I did address.

A related idea is that the current dominant software implementation already reflects “the choice of the market.” Therefore, any discussion of differences between a cryptocurrency having or not having a given block size limit is moot: the “market” has already spoken and this is evident in implementation share statistics.

It should be cautioned, however, that software choice reflects many considerations. Interpreting it as a proxy for a single issue is imprecise. Such choices may well reflect a generalized confidence in perceived quality and reliability. A user could therefore make a particular software choice either: 1) because of one specific code issue, 2) despite that same particular issue, or 3) regardless of it.

Such imprecision and ambiguity are among the reasons I did not discuss this matter at all. A more fundamental reason, however, is that it has no bearing on my analysis. Whether some percentage of a given population prefers Pepsi or Earl Grey tea does not alter the composition of the respective beverages in the slightest way, nor their respective effects on metabolism. Such things can be studied and assessed independently of the current statistical shape of user preferences.

In addition, choice of which free software to run does not really constitute a market, except in a metaphorical sense. Developers offer software products and users select and run such products. In a free software context, nothing is bought or sold between these groups. No price signals exist directly between users and developers.

In contrast, the central topic I addressed—the market for the inclusion of transactions on the Bitcoin blockchain—is indeed a market, one that involves quite different roles and actions than producing or running one version or another of free software. This is a market in which bidders send transactions, which takers (miners) either include or not in each respective candidate block. This market involves specific senders of specific transactions (not senders in general of transactions in general). At the other end, specific miners build each of their respective candidate blocks. In deciding whether to include any, all, or some transactions, fee/byte (bid) is salient. Node operators act as key intermediaries, like referring brokers, currently uncompensated. On-chain and off-chain transacting options, both existing and potential, coexist in this context in a complex blend of competition and synergy.

There are therefore at least several phenomena to differentiate. First, the buying and selling of bitcoin forms textbook markets on the order of commodities and forex markets. Those effectively controlling given bitcoin units can sell such control in exchange for some other money unit, product, or service, or give them away as gifts. Second, bidding for on-chain transaction inclusion and miner decisions to include or not include transactions in candidate blocks forms a distinct open-bid market for on-chain inclusion priority. Third, developers offering free software and users making decisions on which implementations to run for their various purposes does not constitute a market in the sense of a complex of buying and selling behavior.

Whatever one may choose to call these three phenomena, each is meaningfully distinct from the other, describing different sets of actions and roles. To claim that “the market has spoken” in the context of software choice is therefore far less informative that it might at first appear to be. Making such a claim requires specifying what exactly has allegedly spoken (it isn’t a market) and the content of this purportedly speaking thing’s alleged message (ambiguously mixed with considerations such as general perception of code reliability).

The term “market intervention”

Several commenters took issue with my use of the term market intervention in this context. It is true that market intervention has a negative connotation for many readers, though not all. Indeed, a great many persons eagerly advocate some form of governmental intervention in economic affairs as part of their ordinary political opinions. Still, one interpretation would be that I had set out to create negative connotations and thus arrived at my word choice using rhetorical criteria.

A different interpretation would be that I set out to select the most accurate available technical term to describe the phenomenon under consideration. I then specified what I meant in using this term and excluded certain inapplicable historical and institutional associations. This is my own first-hand interpretation of what I did in selecting this language. That it still has negative connotations for some may be natural in that what it describes has negative effects. However, word choice one way or another does not alter such effects.

Another related but more substantive criticism that appeared in several variants argues that a block size limit is just a qualitative characteristic of a cryptocurrency as a good. A given limit is baked into what the good is. As such, it cannot be construed using the model of economic intervention. If a characteristic is already in the product, how could it possibly be construed as intervention (from outside)?

However, I had already stressed in the interview how novel and unprecedented this situation is. My argument was that even though the legal and practical contexts of traditional interventionism conducted by state agencies are completely different, nevertheless, the economic effects are on this transaction-inclusion market as a government enforced industrywide output ceiling would be. This will be addressed further in Part 2.

A commenter suggested that I was arguing from history that the current block size limit was not part of “consensus.” Consensus, in this debate, often seems to transcend a mere computer science fact to also encompass an allusion to a hard Bitcoin Realpolitik. Any other considerations, such as the documented history of the block size limit, are irrelevant to this current reality.

However, I did not reference or use any concept of consensus at all. Nor did I question the reality of any given state of consensus on the network at any given time. What I did was analyze differences between possible states of code and then describe economic and social implications of such differences.

A loosely related idea was that my analysis was tantamount to advocating that cryptocurrencies should not maintain any limits or standards. If calling into question one sort of limit, such as the current Bitcoin block size limit, why not just question all limits? Why not just also advocate raising the maximum coin count? That, after all, is also a “limit,” so why not call keeping that in place an “intervention” too? This will be addressed in greater detail in Part 3.

The interview itself concerned one such limit and not any others. Why? I could have branched off to discuss the sociology of decision-making or described a software preference. But I did no such things. I could have discussed any other protocol characteristic or issue. Why did I discuss only this one? The answer is that I think this limit has unique economic features that are both important and poorly understood. Explaining this was therefore the focus.

Continues with Part 2.

"On the origins of Bitcoin," my new work on Bitcoin and monetary theory

Linked below is a new work I have just written on Bitcoin and monetary theory. It addresses in a more systematic way than I have before issues relating to the interpretation of the origins of Bitcoin in terms of the monetary regression theorem and the application of some central integral-theory principles to monetary theory.

Bitcoin has arisen as an entirely new and unexpected market phenomenon deserving of fresh treatments. Its arrival also provides opportunities to dig deeper into theoretical fundamentals themselves. While this work can be viewed as part of a much larger project in progress, I also have the sense that it can stand alone.

The title, On the origins of Bitcoin: Stages of monetary evolution, acknowledges the inspiration of the classic 1892 work, On the origins of money by Carl Menger, a landmark in the development of the market-evolution account of the origins of media of exchange and money. This “Austrian school” or “Vienna school” approach contrasts with what I dub the state-creatationism theory of the origin of money. It also contrasts with the tempting but unsatisfactory view that money is merely a “social illusion.”

In a nod to the software world out of which Bitcoin has arisen, I call it a first public beta, meaning that, while refinements are always possible and likely, I think the central intended functionality has been implemented. Revised versions and formats may follow.


Link updated from 23.10.2103 version to revised and expanded 03.11.2013 version

Download PDF:On the origins of Bitcoin: Stages of monetary evolution (03.11.2013)

Bitcoin and social theory reflections: A review essay between Amsterdam and Atlanta

The German word Nachklang denotes what resonates after a sound has passed. It is the tune that still plays in one’s head after external sounds have faded. I have been listening to what stays with me in the few days after attending the Bitcoin Europe conference in Amsterdam September 26–28, prior to setting out toward the Crypto-Currency Conference in Atlanta, October 4–5.

Many conferences have a “keynote address.” I think Bitcoin Europe had more of a keynote moment on the final day that reflected the heart of the whole affair. This came when Bitcoin Magazine editor and software developer Mihai Alisie punctuated his moving presentation with, “Bitcoin is here to serve humanity, not to rule it.”

Now that resonates.

Takeaway themes included 1) the need to keep developing more intuitive client software, 2) the desperate need to help improve the global remittance market, which Bitcoin is technically capable of revolutionizing rather quickly, and 3) the need to implement multiple-signature transactions in client software. While that last item may seem obscure, we will return below to its potentially immense long-term implications.

The conference was heavy on entrepreneurs and programmers, often combined into the same persons. Bitcoinj developer and smart contracts enthusiast Mike Hearn could usually be spotted in the lobby talking with someone while looking over a screenful of code on his laptop. Massive effort, energy, and ingenuity is in play, with untold separate projects underway. One person after another I talked to, or who was presenting, was working on some project to develop new wallets, improve existing wallets, develop new exchanges, develop new ways to do exchanging, offer new ways to do remittances and loans, incubate startups, and generally make payments easier and more accessible and secure for wider audiences. That most definitely includes all those underserved, mis-served, or not served at all by the world’s existing constellation of financial institutions.

The tragedy of international remittances

A key concept was that Bitcoin is likely to start meeting needs and expanding most quickly right where existing “points of pain” are most intense. Sure, Bitcoin is better for online payments than credit cards in almost every way, but the epitome of a global point of pain is international remittances.

Immigrants working in wealthier countries trying to send some of their hard-earned wealth back home to relatives in poorer countries face truly dismal options. For every dollar, euro, or yen earned, some portion ends up making its way back home, but conventional remittance services charge shockingly high fees, trimming large percentages off of the fruits of labors undertaken mainly for families elsewhere.

One could call this a scandal, but the scandal is not so much the practices of the visible companies that do manage to provide this service at all, but the Byzantine regulatory mesh behind the scenes that makes it so difficult to do so efficiently. This regulatory overgrowth chokes off this market to the authentically open competition that could lead to lower costs and improved services rather quickly.

Into this fray, Bitcoin technically already enables international remittances with basically no charge for those few (for now) who are able to use it directly at both ends. “Send value anywhere in the world instantly in any amount and essentially for free” is a bold claim. No company can make it, but the decentralized Bitcoin network can and does deliver on it already.

Still, companies still have many roles yet to fill by leveraging the Bitcoin network and connecting people to it in ways they are not yet able to do for themselves. For almost all those who want to do international remittances today, some additional services are required. A remittance provider leveraging Bitcoin in the back office for transfers, while providing cash or local bank integration at one or both ends could offer the same or better service as Western Union’s or MoneyGram’s current offerings at vastly lower fees.

End users need not even necessarily know anything about Bitcoin or realize that it is involved in aspects of international transfers between local offices. They only need recognize that a much higher percentage of their purchasing power actually makes it back home, faster.

To illustrate, Daumantas Dvilinskas, CEO of TransferGo, based in Lithuania, talked about how his company is working to provide faster and less expensive international transfers. He quipped, “It takes three days to send money from the UK to Lithuania. People went to the moon in three days.” I live-tweeted this and Twitter user Jacob Norup Pedersen added, “it takes two weeks from Denmark to Morocco.”

The ecosystem metaphor

In reflecting on the sheer number of business ideas and variations being developed—even just those visible at this conference—I had the image of an exploding Cambrian ecosystem with a large number of candidates for longer-term survival. Many seem promising. In the end, only a few will multiply and advance toward wider adoption. Knowing which ones will be which is an extraordinary challenge. Complicating this further, the “DNA” from one project can easily hop to another in this primordial open-source soup, remixing again and again until successful combinations are found and then built on further. An abundance of candidate code segments and strategies is right there in the open to be borrowed. It is only the process of doing, trying, and offering that will end up delivering the many new conveniences that even today’s skeptics will most likely be taking for granted in daily life in the near future.

BitPay CEO Toni Gallippi, whom I met for the first time on the last day, was on hand representing what a wildly successful Bitcoin business can already look like, having gone from a thousand merchant accounts to 10,000 in the past year. Not coincidentally, his presentation and informal comments off-stage were positive and constructive and showed how his company makes life easier for both merchants and buyers compared to conventional payment options.

This goes right down to the details. Even the Bitcoin to fiat-money exchange rate that pops up when a customer pays a merchant through BitPay is likely to be more favorable than the rate they would get by selling Bitcoin on an exchange for cash. This is due to the company’s use of a custom bid and ask book that integrates live data from across the major exchanges.[1]

Regulation is a much broader social problem

The conference was a microcosm of the true market spirit. On balance, this crowd seemed to view existing regulatory structures—always beloved of industry incumbents as a way to protect themselves against disruptive start-ups at the general expense of consumers—as fairly pointless obstacles, unfavorable environmental features that would-be surviving organisms must simply be able to deal with.

Bitcoin core developer Jeff Garzik, who joined the “Borderless Solutions” panel on the final day, commented that Bitcoin just is a borderless solution by nature. The only need for “borderless solutions” per se, is for particular Bitcoin-related entrepreneurs to try to function amid the various and mixed obstacles left in place by legacy nation-state barriers.

Still, the official presence at the conference went a long way toward confirming an impression I have had for some time. Most governmental officials around the world want to figure out how to perform their various jobs, which mostly consist of applying existing legislation and administrative codes to rapidly evolving market phenomena. They are not generally out to make up additional onerous regulations just for the sake of being troublesome.

There is no need for them to do so. This is because shelves of thick volumes of legislation, administrative code, and case interpretation are already available to guide the obstruction of hapless innovators. Such things already exist and are not being conjured up anew just to harass Bitcoin enthusiasts. Ambiguity about which regulations are to apply in particular cases is also already part of the structural problematic of the legislative law approach itself. Whether this approach is just or helpful to society is a much larger topic (hint: I think it is clearly neither just nor helpful to society). Bitcoin just provides some fresh (and perhaps embarrassing) contrasts with existing systems and practices that work especially poorly.

Wieske Ebben, from the Dutch central bank, joined the panel on regulation. She (being among the approximately 2% of conference attendees who were female) clarified several times that one of the bank’s central concerns in its role as national financial regulator is to make sure new payment systems are trustworthy in the interest of consumers.

Although somewhat at the expense of Ms. Ebben, who seemed a little taken aback, Berlin’s iconic Bitcoin-kiez promoter Jörg Platzer drew a round of applause with a comment made from the seat next to her on the panel. He pointed out that word on the street has it that the public does not now consider central banks and large commercial banks themselves as icons and worthy arbiters of trustworthiness in society.

Yet this understandable focus on assuring trustworthiness is potentially quite a positive sign in light of the reality of Bitcoin (as opposed to the typical media hype). As Toni Gallippi pointed out later, many Bitcoin users believe it is among the most trustworthy and secure payment systems ever devised.

First of all, Bitcoin is immune to certain inherent weaknesses in credit cards that give rise to massive ongoing fraud and identity theft (even after decades of expensive efforts to combat such problems). A Bitcoin payment is pushed by the user, not pulled by the receiver using sensitive information. Receiver-pull methods require the transmission of sensitive financial data, making such data vulnerable to interception or hacking right out of company databases. With Bitcoin, only a cryptographically signed transaction is sent, and, unlike with credit cards, this contains no data that can be used to create additional fraudulent transactions later. With Bitcoin, identity theft cannot be used as a basis for spending other people’s money.

Moreover, Bitcoin cannot be counterfeited, a problem that continues to plague physical cash, despite a centuries-long technical battle between official money printers and counterfeit money printers, a battle that has led up to the most advanced modern papers, inks, plates, and embedded features on one side—and ongoing successful counterfeiting on the other. And as for the real traditionalists, it should be noted that metallic coins and bars, especially gold ones, were ever plagued by reductions and dilutions to weight or purity from both criminals and kings. In contrast, Bitcoin cannot be clipped, sweated, embedded with tungsten, or mixed with just a tad more copper or silver with each new minting.

Niels Ploeger, from the Amsterdam police department, was also on the regulatory panel and attended much of the rest of the conference as well. He explained that he was tasked with researching and better understanding Bitcoin to provide insights that could be useful in informing criminal investigation procedures.

One key point for investigators is that Bitcoin leaves a permanent and unforgeable record of all transactions, with amounts, accounts and time stamps down to the second. This should, in principle, be much more useful and easier to track than cash in the course of specific criminal investigations. Each bitcoin unit has a permanent, public trail behind it. Even if it does go through a mixing service at some point, this fact too can be surmised to some degree, along with the timing of the mixing.

It is true that particular addresses are not directly linked to particular human or organizational identities within the Bitcoin block chain. This is a critical feature, as the presence of such linkages on a public ledger would obviously eliminate the possibility of any user privacy for anyone for any purpose (btw, destroying all privacy is ever the dream of totalitarians).

Still, for those legitimately investigating specific crimes, block chain clues combined with other evidence can lead investigators to insights unavailable from cash. In addition, conventional banking and accounting systems, despite untold piles of regulatory paperwork, should also not simply be assumed to be immune from all manner of forgeries, frauds, and misrepresentations. Comparing one real system against the imagined perfections sometimes tacitly assumed of incumbent systems should be studiously avoided.

A point raised at another time during the conference was that for Bitcoin to succeed in an enterprise context, it will be important for organizations to be able to keep sensitive information private (for example, from competitors) and to make other information publicly verifiable (raising confidence that, for example, reserves or bonding funds are actually present in a specified account). This means that the entire range of user-defined privacy options Bitcoin offers, from 1) high anonymity (possible but somewhat difficult to actually achieve in practice) to 2) pseudonymity (traceable with some specific investigative effort; the most common case) to 3) globally public auditability (for charities or public agencies, for example), are all important, just in different applications.

A quick interlude on privacy, anonymity, and today’s DPR arrest

Just as I was about to finalize this essay, the arrest of Silk Road operator Dread Pirate Roberts was announced. While the complaint seems generally reasonable-looking in terms of the chain of evidence presented, it repeats the usual dubious claim that Bitcoin “was designed to be anonymous.” It was actually designed, which is a matter of public record, to enable people to transact securely, relatively free of fraud or censorship, at any distance, and without the need to rely on (and pay) third parties that may or may not be trustworthy (see Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System (2008) by Sataoshi Nakamoto).

It should be noted that assessment of the complaint’s merits on its own terms, which must, given its nature as a positive law document, tacitly assume that the existing state of laws is as it should be, must be separated from normative views on the logic or net value of drug criminalization. For example, relevant to such assessment would be evidence that prohibition laws have a dramatic, consistent, and well-documented role in increasing violence in society, including precisely that sort of blackmail and retaliatory violence also alluded to in the complaint, violence that is typical of the operations of any market that is forced underground, such as the gang activity during alcohol prohibition in an earlier phase of US history.

Despite repeating the usual false claim that Bitcoin is inherently anonymous, the complaint then surprisingly goes into several details, each of which contradicts this claim. It discusses the public nature of the block chain and cites detailed sales data obtained from examining specific addresses. It then explains all the additional measures that the site’s operator put into place—beyond simply specifying Bitcoin as a payment method—to try to make the transactions anonymous (which they already would have been to begin with if the misleading claim of inherent anonymity were true). In the event, the arrest was made largely on non-monetary lines of evidence, specifically items such as server trails and linkages among user names.

With all the repeated media-hype that the “main use” of Bitcoin is for illicit purchases (also a highly dubious and factually unsupported claim), it should be interesting to see how much the exchange value of Bitcoin reacts over the coming weeks and months—beyond the obvious short-term panic selling followed by opportunistic buying on the dip—to the shut down of the oft-referenced black marketplace.

To serve and to secure

The overwhelming spirit I sensed at the Bitcoin Europe conference was one of service to those who can benefit from these innovations next. Now that the relevant classes of geeks and early entrepreneurs get it, how can these new possibilities be brought rapidly to everyone else, starting with some of those who could benefit most?

While several speakers reiterated the lingering difficulties of “mom and dad” or “grandma” understanding and using Bitcoin, Willem van Rooyen of SC2BTC, who is working to integrate Bitcoin into eSports (high-skill online gaming matches as spectator entertainment), reported that his target customer demographic has no difficulty at all understanding and starting to use Bitcoin with existing solutions.

Yet the question remains: How can services be made that are easier for more people to benefit from and that will be more resilient and secure with minimal reliance on user savvy?

In this spirit, early entrepreneurs are working, each from slightly different angles, to bring the current and potential benefits of Bitcoin to more and more users around the world. They will do this no matter what obstacles may or may not be placed in their paths, because this is their dream, their vision, their mission, and their rightful role.

Bitcoin as foundation layer for new possibilities

I noticed a strong confluence between my most recent reading and some of the services and technologies featured at the conference. I have been researching and thinking about legal and economic theory and how they relate for some 25 years. It was in this context that I first began to take note of Bitcoin in mid-February of this year. Since then, I have been learning the essentials of the relevant principles in computer science and cryptography as fast as possible in order to make sense of Bitcoin by combining social theory and technical theory in appropriate ways. When it comes to Bitcoin, taking a strongly multi-disciplinary approach is not optional.

Bitcoin was a major breakthrough in the advancement of several much broader sets of ideas. It has created an infrastructure layer that can now greatly facilitate further developments based on those feed-in concepts. These include smart contracts, triple-entry bookkeeping, and additional applications for decentralized unforgeable ledgers such as securely recording titles to other kinds of property.

Michael Goldstein got me started recently going back and reading key works by Nick Szabo that substantially predate Bitcoin, but also contributed greatly to the intellectual milieu out of which it emerged. Michael, along with Daniel Krawisz, will be going into these concepts on October 5 in Atlanta on the “Cryptography and Contracts” panel, and I am greatly looking forward to hearing and discussing more.

As it was, next up in my queue prior to Bitcoin Europe was the seminal article, “Formalizing and Securing Relationships on Public Networks” (1997), which I assigned myself for the relevant flights. At the conference, then, it was striking when several different developers pleaded on stage for more end-user wallet software makers to add support for multi-signature transactions. The convergence is that it is just such transactions, already supported in the Bitcoin protocol, that can make possible not only increased layers of security, but also the next evolutions in smart contracting, including escrow and assurance contracts and the likes of decentralized peer-to-peer loans and verifiable-balance safe-keeping services.

Bitcoin’s functions as information-age payment method and unit of trade may only be the beginning. Deep transformations may also come in the fundamental ways that contracts and agreements come to be implemented, recorded, and performed.

As Szabo showed, the first phases of taking traditional accounting, fiscal controls, and contracting into the digital world mostly just copied traditional paper systems and digitized and networked them. That change had both advantages (speed and accuracy) and disadvantages (privacy and security) compared to the original paper-based systems. However, new technologies could also lead to new methods that were not possible at all on paper, but are enabled for the first time ever by advances in cryptography and related developments.

To get a better image for this distinction, imagine that when powered flight was first developed, pilots had only flown routes right above existing roads. This is better and faster than surface travel, but still not great. It is only when they start to do something that only the new technology allows at all—flying straight from point A to point B, that the more interesting possibilities actually begin to emerge.

Computerized accounting has, in this view, been using the new airplane simply to move much more quickly along above the same old surface routes. In contrast, brand new options built on decentralized financial cryptography, unforgeable hashed transaction chains, triple-entry accounting, and multi-signature and other smart contracting modalities—bigger idea sets that predated and contributed to the invention of Bitcoin—look a lot more like the beginnings of leaving the old surface routes and starting to fly as birds do.

The role of social theorists

It was a pleasure at this conference to finally meet Peter Šurda, a long-time Bitcoin researcher also influenced by the Austrian school approach to economics that began taking its modern forms at the University of Vienna in the 1870s. When I started researching Bitcoin, his was among the first names that began rising toward the top of the discussion forum soup as I began to think about the monetary nature of Bitcoin. He quickly made it into my initial “knows what he is talking about” short-list. Even better, it was a bit of a relief and encouragement to me working in early March to notice that he had independently arrived at some interpretations of the relationship between Bitcoin and traditional monetary classifications that were quite similar to the ones I was initially entertaining.

Peter also told a story about our meeting in his quick post of highlights from the conference. One of my favorite short books on monetary theory is The Ethics of Money Production (2008) by Jörg Guido Hülsmann. When I asked Peter if he had read it, he said, “yes, twice.” I laughed and said that I had also read it twice. What an unusual moment! The global population of people who have done this and attended a Bitcoin conference must still be rather small indeed.[2]

Another time, Peter and I were (half) joking about the proper role of economists in the cryptocurrency revolution. He said the first response of many economists to Bitcoin seems to be denial: Bitcoin is not real and it will fail shortly, just like other hair-brained funny-money schemes throughout history. We have seen plenty of that denial phase, mainly from people who do not seem to have investigated the technology all that much.

My informal empirical generalization is that knowledge of Bitcoin and fascination with or enthusiasm about Bitcoin tend to correlate strongly, as do technical ignorance of the subject and easy categorical dismissal. Notice that we expect matters to be exactly opposite to this when it comes to unsound schemes. In such cases, the more one investigates, the less there is to like, whereas most of the enthusiasts seem to have been swayed by hyped surface appearances, and may even be unwilling to actually look more deeply.

Opposite to denial, the main role of economists, and legal and other social theorists more generally, should be to carefully observe what is happening in the real world and seek to provide systematic theoretical interpretations. It is the entrepreneurs who rule (in service of consumers, who really rule through their buying choices). It is the economists who should be running along either behind or at best next to these real actors and trying to figure out what is happening in a theoretical or more systematic way, adding some insights when and if they can.

This is especially so when an economy is in the midst of an epoch-scale revolution (as in agricultural, industrial, informational). The Spanish late scholastics, observing economic transformations in trade and money, became among the first to start writing insightfully about specifically economic-theory and monetary-theory concepts some 500 years ago. Later, first-hand observers of, and participants in, the industrial revolution—most famously Smith, and more promisingly Say, Turgot, Bastiat, and others—began to make further advances (or sometimes regresses, but still) on top of their observations of new developments.

Economists do have their rightful places. This was evident during the conference, thankfully only a few times, when specialists in other fields edged over into the proper territory of economic theory and the average quality of their causal claims then declined precipitously compared to when they were discussing, say, business, contemporary positive law, or software. This is not a call to leave everything to specialists, but a call for everyone to take steps to advance and improve their own literacy in real economics. As Ludwig von Mises wrote near the end of his landmark Human Action: A Treatise on Economics ([1949] 1998, 875):

Economics cannot remain an esoteric branch of knowledge accessible only to small groups of scholars and specialists. Economics deals with society’s fundamental problems; it concerns everyone and belongs to all. It is the main and proper study of every citizen.

Let theorists theorize and doers do

The world is upside-down to the extent that so-called economists occupy positions of administrative power and influence over their fellows to “guide economies,” a euphemism for micromanaging and telling entrepreneurs and consumers what to do and what not to do. The result is the mixed(-up) economy world we inhabit, a world that is perhaps most mixed up of all when it comes to conventional financial systems.

The world becomes reoriented when economists are positioned as observers and theoreticians, helping people understand how it is that the uniquely human capabilities of voluntary social cooperation and mutual service make society possible. Economists can help clarify the puzzle of the world in unique ways. They should observe and bring clarity to what is otherwise a mysterious chaos of real-world progress as it unfolds at the hands of consumers, investors, and entrepreneurs. Economics is supposed to be a science, not a presumptive license to micromanage and direct those who are busy doing the actual work.

For those who do chose to specialize in economics and other aspects of social theory, today offers some amazing opportunities to occupy front-row seats to epoch-scale transformations of the technologies of market exchange. Previous epochal economic revolutions happened over centuries and decades, recognizable mostly only in retrospect. This one appears to be happening over a few years, with increments measured in months, weeks, and even days.

At Bitcoin Europe, the entrepreneurs and developers were the stars. This is the world as it should be. In roles as theorists, a few of us were observing in awe, wonder, and curiosity, following a major social evolution live as it unfolds. In that particular role (playing other roles in addition might double as good research), we operate first from curiosity—to understand for ourselves—and only then to see if we can help make it easier for others to do the same.

Atlanta promises to offer a slightly different mix, still with discussions of entrepreneurship and concrete innovations, but with a little more direct material on economic and contract theory in addition. Some of the original visions that helped give rise to Bitcoin have much more unrealized promise to bring for the benefit of us all.

For all the signs put up in gloomy dismay at the course of the conventional financial world, which effectively say, “the end is near,” we who track promising new innovations need to keep putting up other signs, in different places, that add a counterpoint: “the beginning is here.”


[1] For a recent theoretical discussion on the respective roles of unit of pricing and medium of payment, see my 14 September 2013 article: “Bitcoin as medium of exchange now and unit of account later: The inverse of Koning’s medieval coins.”

[2] For those interested, my article, “The sound of one Bitcoin: Tangibility, scarcity, and a ‘hard-money’ checklist” (19 March 2013), makes a step-by-step theoretical case as to why a hard-money position is fully compatible with a strange new currency that has no physical existence! If that seems impossibly counter-intuitive, you might understand why I spent about 9,000 words taking an initial shot at doing this. I have made a few refinements since then, not yet published, but the fundamentals remain the same.

Recommended: Provocative and important new article on Bitcoin and altcoins

Daniel Krawisz has taken the time to do the cryptocurrency community a service and come down systematically, hard and at times hilariously on the many weak arguments in favor of various altcoins. In the process, his article reveals Bitcoin itself to be even stronger than it is often presented. He argues that the actual alleged threats to Bitcoin from the likes of double-spend attacks, 51% attacks and mining centralization are each much less realistic and significant in the real world than they are sometimes made out to be (although mining centralization is still something to keep an eye on).

His displayed combination of solid technical knowledge of the field with consistently sound economic reasoning is refreshing and valuable. This is more than a thorough critique of altcoins. It also functions as a fresh defense of Bitcoin against a number of typical technical and economic objections and concerns.

I had previously come to the working impression that if altcoins did gain any useful function, it would have to be in a niche application, or would simply be as a research platform to feed into Bitcoin development. Reading this article reinforced that view, and even suggests perhaps taking it further.

So go and read The Problem with Altcoins.

Bitcoins per gold ounce weekly close YTD

With the dramatic movements of both gold and Bitcoin this year, I wondered how they would look directly in terms of one another. Not finding just what I was looking for online, I built a simple spreadsheet to chart the cost of an ounce of gold in terms of Bitcoin.

For the sake of simplification, I artificially assumed that the US dollar functioned as a neutral intermediary between the two during this timeframe. Because I pieced together existing data from two sources and then combined them, I also simplified by using just a simple weekly close for each. The Bitcoin data comes from and the gold data from This is what emerged:

The number of Bitcoins per gold ounce fell rapidly and steadily for 14 weeks from over 120 Bitcoins per ounce at the start of the year, hit hard ground at the beginning of April at 13 Bitcoins per ounce, and then trended at an average weekly close of 13 Bitcoins per ounce (with 10.6–16.0 extremes) in the 12 weeks since then. It might be interesting to try put together a similar chart with more detailed data than a simple weekly close. As usual, the past cannot predict the future, but from the standpoint of economic history, this seems like an interesting sequence of events.

Here is a closeup of just since April 1:


Short-term Bitcoin exchange trends as Rorschach tests of economic views

What might Hermann Rorscach (8 November 1884 – 1 April 1922) see in all this?Whatever the current excitement on any given day about short-term Bitcoin price charts, what stands out for me as a watcher of the theoretical underpinnings of discourse on these events is how they bring various economic-theory concepts out into view as the people who have them in mind use them to interpret current events. As Keynes famously put it: “even the most practical man of affairs is usually in the thrall of the ideas of some long-dead economist.”

I try to stay at least 98% positive in general; critique can be more tempting than contribution. That said, sometimes understanding can be advanced by considering contrasting examples. Here are three.

Realized/unrealized gains/losses

First, it appears that the distinction between realized and unrealized gains and losses could be kept more firmly in mind by most. The take-home point is that for all those Bitcoin market participants (whether bull or bear) who did not actually trade today or recently, nothing much actually happened during the rapid headline price changes on the exchanges (of course, the changes might lead some to adjust their future plans according to their various forward-looking judgments). What these exchange prices actually indicate is merely the current record of transactions that are occurring on those exchanges. It is only the collection of such discrete “real time” recorded exchange events that provide the data for the construction of the lines on the trend graphs.

At times of temporary disruption of access to websites, low visibility prevails. Pre-placed automated orders execute and panicking short-termers flee. The price graphs (as they become accessible after the disruption) show the actual trades and volumes at particular times during this course of events. The price graph on a given exchange indicates actual marginal activity, at given moments, on that exchange. These exchange services are specific businesses; not magical, instant oracles of “price” in general or “value” in general. In the event, the top two exchanges, it appears from preliminary reports, were most likely under active manipulation in a possibly partly orchestrated move (and do not forget that this may well have included both upward and downward elements).

What a difference a few days can make.

A spiral into absurdity

Second, the good old “deflationary spiral” fallacy (maybe market observers will get a couple days off from hearing that one now?) apparently misses the significance of the fact that BOTH a buyer and a seller are required to form any given data input for market price graphs. With no transactions occurring, which is what is posited in this imaginary world of “no one will sell when it is so valuable,” there is no “price” at all. Thus, the market “price” could not be too high, because it would be non-existent under the stated assumption that no transactions were occurring. Reductio ad absurdum. These exchange prices form an up-to-date historical record at a given time of actual recent buying and selling on a given exchange.

Look for the verb

Finally, it has been a little surprising just how many Bitcoin critics employ the concept of “intrinsic value” in making the claim that Bitcoin does not have any. It was members of the Austrian school of economics, with the so-called subjectivist marginal revolution, that had seemingly put the final nail in the coffin of this ancient economic fallacy. Beginning in the 1870s, Austrian school scholars began to re-emphasize the view that value is ultimately the result of valuation, in reference to the verb to value, which is an act that can only be performed by living people (We now understand that some of the Late Scholastics of Salamanca also had this point reasonably clear several centuries earlier). After Carl Menger, this view gained steam with Eugen Böhm-Bawerk and unmistakable clarity with Ludwig von Mises’s 1912 Theory of Money and Credit and later works. This further application of the subjective theory of value clarified that the concept of “intrinsic value” is ultimately incoherent, not only with regard to goods in general, but to media of exchange as well. Mises was rather strict on this point in TMC, pp. 61–62:

Our terminology should [help to overcome] the naive and confused popular conception of value that sees in the precious metals something “intrinsically” valuable and in paper credit money something necessarily anomalous. Scientifically, this terminology is perfectly useless and a source of endless misunderstanding and misrepresentation.


Note: I discuss value theory in simple terms with illustrative examples in Resolving the paradox of value. For a more detailed discussion, see IN-DEPTH | The sound of one bitcoin: Tangibility, scarcity, and a “hard-money” checklist.


For additional articles on this topic, visit my Bitcoin Theory page on this site.


Hyper-monetization: Questioning the "Bitcoin bubble" bubble

What is the opposite of this? Sweeping up in 1946 after the hyperinflation of the Hungarian pengő. Source: Wikimedia Commons, Magyar Nemzeti Múzeum Történeti Fényképtára, Budapest.

What is the opposite of this? Sweeping up in 1946 after the hyperinflation of the Hungarian pengő. Source: Wikimedia Commons, Magyar Nemzeti Múzeum Történeti Fényképtára, Budapest.

Many observers have likened the rise of Bitcoin to an asset bubble. It is so customary today to use the “bubble” word in articles about Bitcoin that there may in fact be a sort of “bubble” bubble.

Another less common word introduced in this context is hyper-deflation. Some say such a thing is horrible, others that it is great. I suggest a quite different possible interpretation of these events and a word to label them: hyper-monetization.

I first heard the term “hyper-deflation” (used in a positive sense) when Bitcoin was rising rapidly from the low thirties to the high thirties over a few days in early March (Yes, this was only a month ago). While a few specialists of a certain persuasion understand “deflation” to be a great thing for ordinary people (see, for example, my 30 March 2013 post, “A short Bitcoin commentary on Deflation and Liberty”), the word still has a public-relations problem. Along with some technical issues from its several possible definitions (price level changes versus quantity of money changes, for example), and negative interpretations in conventional economics circles, it just sounds depressing, regardless of the stated technical sense in which one attempts to use it.

The word “hyper-monetization” first occurred to me around that time as a more positive term, and perhaps a more accurate antonym for the catastrophic hyperinflations that have repeatedly killed off fiat paper monies throughout their history. A related term, “de-monetization,” denotes the process of a widely used medium of exchange ceasing to function as such.

A total hyperinflationary collapse is one way de-monetization can happen. Another type of historical example of de-monetization is “bimetallist” legal tender price-fixing schemes driving one precious metal, say silver, out of circulation in favor of another metal, say gold. Yet another historical example is when a pure fiat paper standard is created after monetary authorities permanently “suspend redemption” of their legal tender notes into the precious metals they had promised to deliver.

The opposite process of “monetization” denotes something that was not a money beginning to function as one. When euros took over the respective jobs of various European national currencies, euros monetized and the previous national currencies de-monetized. Now they are historical paper relics, but no longer function as monies.

In contrast to such a legal tender conversion/transition, however, something that gains exchange value from scratch on the open market (rather than taking up exchange value through a conversion)—and does so at a logarithmic pace—might then reasonably be described as being in a process of “hyper-monetization.”

The trouble with the “bubble” bubble

Bitcoin’s high historical and current price volatility is unquestioned. However, one problem with the “bubble” analysis is that in an asset bubble, certain fundamental matters are quite different. In a business cycle mania phase, prices of the most popular asset classes for that particular cycle are bid up as people pile their freshly printed fiat money and freshly produced fiat bank account digits into booming fields. Each party in this rush competes with all the others to acquire some of the bubbling assets. These people are misled by artificially low interest rates to bid up certain asset prices unsustainably, and this all eventually collapses, as described in Austrian business cycle theory.

However high the prices of bubble assets go, they do remain the same goods. In the case of a monetization event, though, the practical use-value of the trading unit (not only its price in terms of other goods or monies) actually does rise with the number of people using it and the depth of the market. To imagine how different this is from a classic asset bubble, it would be as if not only the price of bubble-era houses were rising, but also that their actual sought-after qualities as houses were improving spontaneously at the same time. Such houses might sprout new rooms with no one building them, with new paint jobs appearing mysteriously overnight without any painters having visited.

In this way, quite unlike the case of an asset bubble, the more people “pile into” a medium of exchange, the more valuable it actually is in its function as a medium of exchange from the point of view of its users. This is a separate matter from its price, as a few astute observers out there have so far already been noting.

This type of value has been likened to the use-value of a language rising the more people there are who can speak it. Another analogy would be to the use-value, from the point of view of each user, of a given social networking site rising the more people join it and the more they use it.

These are called network effects. In this case, the exchange value of the unit for each holder is directly related to each holder’s expectations of being able to use the unit in future exchanges (much like the value of knowing a language relates to one’s expectation of being able to communicate with it). This is in turn related to how many people accept the unit, how readily, and for what. It is important here to note, due to long-standing and common economic misconceptions, that the “future” in this sense is any future time—from five seconds from now to however many vaguely numbered years into the future a particular acting person might happen to have in mind.

When it comes to network-effect growth, the more the merrier. An analogy can be made not only to the rising stock price of a growing social networking site, but also, and more importantly, to the number of users of that site and how much it is used.

Check this box for a perspective shift

Yesterday, I saw a tweet from the insightful Bitcoin watcher Jonathan Waller. He wrote (enthusiastically, I think) that, “The bitcoin all-time chart is not even slightly sensible,” and linked to a chart [showing logorithmic growth shown on a linear scale].

This tweet got me thinking (yes, this is also a possible function of tweets). How can we make sense of this trend? Might taking some other perspective help?

This chart struck me as looking quite similar to a hyperinflation. However, instead of the exchange value of a trading unit plummeting toward the abyss as in an archetypal fiat paper-money collapse, Bitcoin has been doing the opposite.

Checking the log-scale box on the bitcoin price chart reveals a different picture. It shows a (so far) intuitively ascertainable long-term historical course with a large bump or two and some curves in the road. In this longer-term view, the exchange rate has been growing, not so much from one to two to three to four, as on a linear scale, but from 0.1 to 1 to 10 to 100. It has grown by several orders of magnitude during these couple of years.

Of course, the usual caveats must be quickly noted. “If present trends continue” can and often is infamously followed by them not doing so. But what might nevertheless be observed about this trend?

If one were somehow witnessing a phase in the first “hyper-monetization” in history, is this not more or less what one would expect to see?

Mark my words

The value of a paper money at the tail end of a hyperinflationary event is mainly the direct value of the physical paper (burning, wall-paper, etc.), but there is a more gradual build-up before the final collapse. The following chart is the price of Goldmarks in terms of Papiermarks from 1918–1923 in the Weimar Republic. This includes a steady logarithmic trend from 1918 to mid-1922. The exchange rate also moves from roughly 1 to 100 during those few years.

After that, however, the 1923 portion looks incomprehensible even on a log scale. As monetary authorities run the presses full speed and add new zeroes to denominations, a point is reached toward the end when the primary objective of market participants is to rid themselves of paper as quickly as possible before the last shred of exchange value evaporates.

The USD/BTC trend shows the price of Bitcoin against (also steadily depreciating) US dollars. This bears a certain similarity to the pre-1923 phases of the Weimar Papiermark/Goldmark chart. One difference is that the trend for Bitcoin from autumn-2010 to spring 2013 is the inverse of the trend for the ill-fated Papiermark from 1918 to mid-1922. In other words, for the years in question, the rise of Bitcoin’s relative exchange value shows a statistical pattern with similarities to the decline of the exchange value of the paper mark. Of course, the specific factors behind these events are quite different. In one case, the destruction was driven by ever increasing, arbitrary production of more units. In the other, the growth appears to be driven by voluntary adoption (with all its various motivations) and network effects.

If we were now actually witnessing early stages of an unprecedented hyper-monetization event, what might the top of such an event look like eventually? This is a fantastic and entirely speculative question and certainly invites the ever risky “if present trends continue” types of thinking. Looking toward the future should never be confused with looking into the past.

That said, during such a singularity-like event, were such a thing to be occurring, one might at some fairly early stage expect to see an Epic Rap Battles of History installment called, “Bitcoin vs. Fiat Money.” The key question would then soon become:

“Who won? You decide.”


For additional articles on this topic, visit my Bitcoin Theory page on this site.

[UPDATE: Seven months later, a new article including revised highlights of this article along with new material appeared: Hyper-monetization reloaded: Another round of bubble talk (7 November 2013).]

IN-DEPTH | Bitcoins, the regression theorem, and that curious but unthreatening empirical world

I attempt to account for the emergence of bitcoins in terms of the monetary regression theorem. In doing so, I argue that 1) the existence of bitcoins does not and could not challenge the regression theorem and 2) the regression theorem does not constitute any particular problem for bitcoins in terms of economic theory. That said, 3) the investment analysis of bitcoins is a separate matter from the economic-theory analysis and is a good (but separate) topic for vigorous debate.
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Resolving the paradox of value

Philosophers struggled for centuries to understand the paradox of value, the mystery of why certain luxuries such as diamonds and gold are considered more valuable than certain essentials such as water and food.

Everyone must have water, yet it is usually not that hard to get. We can buy a bottle or it comes out of the tap. Diamonds are rare and expensive, but optional. Men, at least, seem to be able to get along well enough without them. It seems counterintuitive that something essential to everyone’s life could be less valuable than something that seems so much more optional.

Many thinkers tried to understand value as a property of things. They thought that a table, for example, has the property of being flat, having legs, being made of wood, and having a certain value or usefulness. Such approaches are called objective theories of value, because value is seen as a property of the object.

This idea is found in our everyday language when we say that “diamonds are valuable.” But this is also the kind of thinking that produced the paradox of value so it is unlikely to resolve it.

The breakthrough came with two of the greatest ideas in the history of economic thought: the subjective theory of value and the concept of marginal utility. Carl Menger, a professor at the University of Vienna, played a key role in formulating and spreading these two ideas in his 1871 book, Grundsätze der Volkswirtschaftslehre, translated as The Principles of Economics.

Menger is considered the founder of what came to be known as the Austrian School of economics. The name started as a way to distinguish this approach from that of the German Historical School, and the name stuck. Ludwig von Mises, in his 1949 treatise, Human Action, further clarified and extended subjectivism and marginalism, and even insisted that these are among the foundations of any sound economic reasoning.

The subjective revolution clarified that the key to value is valuation. Valuing is an action; it is something that people do. The concept of value makes sense as a relationship between an acting person and the means they select in pursuit of the ends they seek. The object of valuation can be tangible or intangible, base or sublime. It can be anything whatsoever that a person chooses as an end or means as demonstrated in what they actually do. In this view, the value of a thing derives from people valuing it.

Different people have different priorities. The same person has different priorities at different times. A person might buy a bottle of water, but after reading an article on possible risk from plastic bottles, that same person the next day might disvalue and avoid an identical bottle of water. When this same person a year later flies to an anti-plastics conference and crashes in the desert, a plastic bottle of water might suddenly become one of the most valuable things in the universe—to that person, at that time, and in that place.

The marginal revolution built on this insight into the subjectivity of value. No one is actually ever in a position to make a choice between “water in general” and “diamonds in general,” or between all water and all diamonds.

Let’s say I want a drink of water. I go to the kitchen, pour a glass, and drink it. What I chose was not “water in general” but “a glass of water right now.” I didn’t choose two liters of water and I didn’t choose a glass of water tomorrow instead.

This leads to another important concept. If I have one apple, I might just eat it. If I have a second apple, I might give that one to someone else. If I have a third apple, I might keep it for later. In this example, there are three different uses to which I have put each of the three apples.

This has a key implication hiding just below the surface. I showed my priorities with these three uses of each apple. We know this because this is the actual order of uses to which I assigned each additional apple. We know in this example, that I valued eating an apple over giving an apple away because I ate the first apple and gave away the second one. Saving an apple for later was only my third priority for using apples. I only met that priority when I had the third apple and not before. If I had no third apple, my third use for apples would just be left unmet.

So each additional apple I obtained I put to a lower priority use than the apple that came before it. This means that each additional unit of the same good has a lower value to me than that of the unit I used before it. This is the Austrian, or subjectivist, version of what economists call the law of diminishing marginal utility.

All of this has important implications for the idea that value could be measured. To measure distance, we need a unit that is always the same, such as an inch. But with value, things are quite different. In our apple example, each additional apple had a different value than each of the others. Imagine trying to measure a distance if each inch you used was different from every other inch!

The Austrian theory of money and prices builds on this insight. Units of money can be analyzed just like units of apples. Money also has important additional properties and uses, but the theory of money and pricing in the Austrian approach is built on this theory of value and cannot contradict it. It can only elaborate on money as a special case. In other words, money too cannot correctly be described as a measure of value in the same way an inch is a measure of length.

This means that value cannot be measured as we measure things in the natural sciences using length, time, or volume. That kind of measurement uses cardinal numbers such as one, two, and three. What we can use with value is the concept of ranking using ordinal numbers such a first, second, and third. An acting person shows a preference for one thing over another, demonstrates a ranking and ordering of values with every choice and every action.

The dual insights that value is the result of people valuing and that people do not value things in general, but things in particular, resolves the ancient paradox of value. While there were some precursors of these ideas in the history of economic thought, their clear modern formulations originated at the University of Vienna starting in the 1870s and they remain central concepts in the foundations of what is still called the Austrian School of economics today around the world.

On more robust theoretical foundations for legal philosophy

My article, “Action-Based Jurisprudence: Praxeological Legal Theory in Relation to Economic Theory, Ethics, and Legal Practice” was published in Libertarian Papers 3, 19 (2011).

"An interesting, provocative analysis...” —Stephan Kinsella, legal theorist, editor of Libertarian Papers, Senior Scholar at the Mises Institute, and director for the Center for the Study of Innovative Freedom

"This piece is striking...” —Allen Mendenhall, editor of the The Literary Lawyer

IN-DEPTH | President Obama's inaugural address—analysis and commentary


First impression: This is an outstanding example of a speech, with many inspiring messages and positive statements. The negatives consist almost entirely of eloquent repetitions of popular fallacies of economic theory and history. We will be forced, then, to leave the overall good feelings aside and examine the content.


I will begin with a summary of key positives and negatives. When I use the words “standard” and “conventional,” below it indicates my impression that these are errors that are not particular to Mr. Obama, but rather ones he shares with a vastly misguided contemporary intellectual consensus.


  • General tone of friendship and cooperation with other nations
  • Inspiring references to values of honesty, responsibility, and hard work
  • References to positive values illustrated by standard images of US history
  • Tone and style appeared to match content; no obvious contradictions between content and presentation


  • Standard failure to understand the meaning of large sections of the Constitution
  • Confusion between values as expressed in private, voluntary, or entrepreneurial actions with the values of collective state action expressed through coercively orchestrated government programs.
  • The use of the bait-and-switch to rhetorically draw on the good name of the former, and then quickly shift to advocating the latter.
  • Standard failure to understand the inherent self-defeating effects of government programs (the hubris that government programs actually can accomplish whatever technocrats decide they want to see)
  • Implication that those who “sacrificed” in the past thereby justified all of the causes for which they killed and were killed in military adventures, the pure justice of which should in no cases be questioned.

Next, I reproduce the full text of the speech and comment on particular passages. In the course of this discussion, I offer links to relevant books.

My fellow citizens:


I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and co-operation he has shown throughout this transition.

The 10th word of the speech is "us". This subtly begins to establish the discourse of collective action orchestrated through coercive bureaucracy, and starts establishing the mythology that whatever the administration does in the future will be somehow what you and I “do” ourselves.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.

While one wants to sympathize with and be inspired by the young President at this point in the speech, this last statement is almost physically painful to people who are able to understand what the Constitution actually says. The founding document has been so thoroughly violated by the Federal Government, the “interpretations” of the Supreme Court, and the outright usurpations of the Office of the President as to be in force virtually in name only.


Antidotes to such delusions include Restoring the Lost Constitution: The Presumption of Liberty and Who Killed the Constitution? The Fate of American Liberty from World War I to George W. Bush.

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.


That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are all great examples of what is wrong. The solutions to these issues are clear. However, the solutions the administration plans to implement do not address the actual causes of these problems and the proposed programs are likely to make each problem worse than it otherwise might have been.


The root of the economic problem is the system of fractional reserve banking, government-orchestrated central planning of money and credit, and cartelization of the banking system. The definitive treatment of this issue is Money, Bank Credit, and Economic Cycles. Shorter treatments include What Has Government Done to Our Money?/Case for a 100 Percent Gold Dollar and The Ethics of Money Production.

As for war, the United States has spent decades, in stark violation of the Constitution and its principles, occupying and otherwise meddling with the countries in which these networks mentioned have developed. See The Revolution: A Manifesto on this issue (as well as good comments on healthcare and many other issues). For educational issues, a good foundation is the classic Education and the State.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land - a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.

This is a well-founded fear in view of the state of contemporary economic literacy and the direction of most policy trends. The only question is whether people can manage to continue to prosper in some measure even in the face of massive taxation, inflation, war, strangling regulation, and all the rest that the state does to keep us down.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America - they will be met.


On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

Worn-out dogmas is a perfect description of the absurd and ancient economic theories underlying the entire economic program being proposed by the new administration, which is in large part a continuation of the policies of the previous administration with some tweaking. This starts with the idea that “spending” can in any way create prosperity. This is probably one of the oldest and most enduring pieces of non-sense in the history of economic thought. Incredibly, even today, you can read plenty of such material in newspapers each week from prominent "economists."

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.


In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted - for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame.

Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things - some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

These are nice references. Interestingly, however, when eliciting emotional images of positive values, the speaker refers to people operating on their own initiative in the private sector. We see repeated use of such images in the bait-and-switch style rhetoric that ensues.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and travelled across oceans in search of a new life.


For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and ploughed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.

Notice the smooth switch from positive, private-sector, individual values and actions to government-orchestrated wars. We start with people migrating to a new country—a country where, at the time, government was far less intrusive and the tax burden far lower than in those countries from which the immigrants left. We end with instances of mass warfare and destruction by military machines that were in all cases staffed at least partly through blatantly unconstitutional programs of involuntary servitude (the draft and much more), and financed through involuntary collection of wealth through taxation, debt, and inflation.

Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

Did they see America this way? Is that why they worked hard? The speaker makes a massive empirical historical claim about the motivations of millions of people with the apparent aim of eliciting a certain type of emotion—a collective pride. But is the actual claim true or misleading? What did great, great granddad actually think about what he was doing?


Most migrants migrate because in their opinion at the time, they expect their life and sometimes the lives of their offspring to be better than would have been the case in the country from which they depart. They can leave for any blend of reasons, including perceived income potential, greater religious freedom, ease of starting a business, more space, lower taxes, fewer regulations to hamper productive business, and even better climate. These are all personal reasons, which have little to do with the various collectivist schemes and visions of politicians. See for example the fascinating and sweeping global historical work of Thomas Sowell in Migrations and Cultures: A World View and the four other volumes by him in the series of which it is a part.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year.


Our capacity remains undiminished.

These are very nice statements, and true. The “real economy” is not, indeed, the main issue. The issue is the fractional reserve banking system with central planning of money supply and interest rates. It is this system that undermines the efforts of all of us to plan and save. Our savings are depleted by constant currency depreciation due to inflationism. Our long-term business plans are thwarted due to malinvestments made during bubble periods on the basis of false economic signals created by government manipulations of money and credit and the fractional-reserve practices of the government-cartelized banking system.


There is no cause of major recurring economic cycles of boom and bust other than artificial credit expansion unbacked by real savings. The cause is always the same and the result is always the same, even though mainstream economists, like befuddled witch doctors during a plague, seem entirely unable to explain what is happening.

But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions - that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.


For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act - not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together.

Here is some nice inspiration. Notice that it is based on images of personal work and dedication and metaphors of the bold business venture. But then the bait-and-switch comes through: it soon becomes clear that “we” is not you and I working productively to generate goods and services that other people may value enough to buy, but rather "we" is the coercively financed bureaucratic administration of the state and whatever it will actually do with the money it extracts from hapless citizens.

We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost.

I can see a positive note here, in that we are rebelling a bit against a certain primitive anti-scientific irrationalism in the previous administration. However, the negatives quickly prevail. This statement represents the classic hubris of the technocrat, which is to imagine that the state can “do things” with technology through "policy" that will prove economically advantageous for real people as a whole.


However, the only power and capability the state has is to take wealth from some people and give to others. It cannot produce anything. It can only distort and redistribute. It can only advantage some at the expense of others. The issue is always economics; technology is secondary. There is no mechanism by which the state can make economically intelligent decisions about what technologies to adopt, or how, when, where, and to what extend to employ them. This is precisely the error of central planning exposed by Ludwig von Mises most thoroughly in his classic book Socialism.

We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.


Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions - who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short.

For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

Yet again comes the ever more striking bait-and-switch. Just as before, this method raises positive emotive pictures of what are fundamentally private, individual and entrepreneurial values of hard work, innovation, and creation of better ways of doing things. It switches imperceptibly to the false implication that such values can somehow by applied collectively or encouraged through bureaucratically orchestrated and coercively financed activities. This is sheer delusion.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them - that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works - whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified.

Well put. Unfortunately, in almost every case, government programs harm us, and this emphatically includes harming the very groups that the policies are advertised to help. Perhaps here would be the place to read Henry Hazlitt’s wonderfully accessible classic Economics in One Lesson. This little book demolishes in clear and simple terms one interventionist fallacy after another by showing how government interventions billed has helping people actually harm the very people targeted for “help,” while certainly also harming the rest of us at the same time.

Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account - to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day - because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

This is just an outstanding sentiment. If only reality were not so unforgiving. Unfortunately, such assessments of "success" are often made by the same bureaucrats and special interests who run these programs. They do not tend to produce reports advocating the termination of their own departments and pet programs. As history has repeatedly shown, this leads to no end of intellectual deception to produce indications of “policy success” and to suppress or systematically ignore evidence of “failure” or of costs outweighing benefits (to the iffy extent that costs and benefits can be calculated at all in the context of bureaucratic operations).


Humans do not tend to do well when they are institutionally the judges in their own cases. This is one reason why the most reliable mechanism for weeding out what works from what doesn’t is to allow people who want to use services to purchase them (including purchasing them voluntarily on behalf of others), and preserving for each the freedom to choose not to pay for any service or product. What kind of a system is that? The freedom to buy or not to buy things with your own money? What shall we call this most effective mechanism for promoting the truly useful and helpful and discouraging the less useful and the less helpful?

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control - and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous.

Ah, the market. However, this "spinning out of control" is not what the market has done. It is rather precisely what the government-cartelized fractional reserve banking system with central planning of money supply and interest rates has done. It is this latter decidedly non-market system that is responsible for economic crises, and which must be eliminated. One of the few fields in which there has emphatically been no semblance of a pure market system is the field of money and banking, which kings and emperors started taking over and manipulating for their own profit centuries ago. Recurring economic booms and crises are due directly to this entire category of inherently corrupt practices and institutions. It is therefore by no means the “market” that has spun out of control; it is precisely the state’s self-financing interventions in money and banking that are the source of both economic cycles and the permanent ongoing devaluation of currencies.

The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart - not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.


As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

Outstanding statements and messages—setting a positive and firm tone.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.


We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort - even greater co-operation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan.

With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

Nicely put in general. However, as for the warming planet: anthropogenic (man-made) global warming is for the most part a hoax from top to bottom. It is not coincidentally a hoax that is largely fueled by government-funded research. Any research supporting the expansion of state power is naturally quite popular with state institutions and attracts funding and fame, and research that does not support expansions of state power—not so much. Many, many climate scientists do not support the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis and argue that the evidence is much stronger for other interpretations of the evidence. This rarely makes headlines, though.


A nice solid antidote to conventional global warming theology in one book is a review of the scientific evidence regarding climate change research, Unstoppable Global Warming: Every 1,500 Years. In a nutshell, 1) many claims of global warming are systematically exaggerated through biased selection and exclusion of evidence and other flawed data-gathering mechanisms, 2) computerized climate prediction models are largely bogus and fail repeatedly and utterly to predict reality, 3) extremely strong physical geological evidence of numerous overlapping types going back millions of years show a solar-induced warming and cooling cycle of approximately 1,500 years, the continuation of which on trend explains the modest actual global warming that has been scientifically observed, and 4) on balance, global warming is better for the environment of living organisms, including weather stability, than global cooling is.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus - and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

Nice sentiments; well expressed.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West - know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.


To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

The leading changeable causes of poverty are the absence of secure property rights and legal predictability, combined with stifling economic regulations that render productive entrepreneurial activity and trade virtually impossible. Addressing these conditions is the best way to help. Creating them in the advanced countries is the best way to hobble them, as we are seeing. Extracting money from (still) rich-country citizens through taxation and shipping it to prop up corrupt regimes, helping them buy weapons with which to kill their political opponents (so-called foreign aid) is counterproductive. The most helpful policy for developed countries to take with regard to emerging and poor economies is to lift any and all tariffs and all restrictions on trade, in particular, and possibly also on migration. Free trade and interchange with all; entangling alliances with none is the foundational foreign policy of the United States (though one that was not long practiced due to the influence of Hamiltonians, et. al. See Hamilton's Curse: How Jefferson's Archenemy Betrayed the American Revolution--and what it Means for America Today).

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment - a moment that will define a generation - it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

This is an emotional and hallowed topic, rendering it virtually immune to intelligent discussion and honest historical analysis. Many of these people were inducted involuntarily into foreign military adventures that did not actually further the interests and security of the United States. The country’s deceitfully engineered and propaganda-fueled entry into World War I prolonged and worsened a classic European war that was almost over at the time of the US intervention. This widening and extension of the war set up the conditions for a dishonest one-sided post-war economic exploitation of Germany, principally by Britain, which helped set up the disastrous economic conditions and hyperinflation that formed the desperate backdrop to the democratic election of Hitler and the delayed continuation of World War I, which we call World War II.


Read, for example, the collection of essays, The Costs of War: America's Pyrrhic Victories, to get started on the long road to understanding just how deeply we are deceived by glorifying histories of the state’s wars.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job, which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

Here we go again with the bait-and-switch. These inspiring images are mainly of privately conducted, voluntary actions that the state did not coerce out of its citizens. It is indeed a tribute to the people that they are able to function and succeed at all in the face of all the destruction, distortion, and unfathomably massive taxation and micromanagement that the state inflicts.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new.

The challenges are in no way new. The largest one is just the latest manifestation of ancient problems that date in protean form from the early flirting with fractional reserve banking practices in 14th century Florence. As for the "instruments" now proposed, they are merely the latest variations of policies based on ancient economic superstitions—fallacies that owe their survivability not to their truth, but to their utility in promoting the interests of the state, its favored special interests, and its lapdog “economists” and journalists, at the expense of everyone else.

But those values upon which our success depends - honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old. These things are true.

This was a nice moment of the speech in emotional terms. There was some honest recognition of real values from the past—a legacy. If we could only include on this list of values: not taking other people’s money (taxation) and not micromanaging what they can do on threat of imprisonment (regulation), we would be much further along. These latter items don’t fit with the values of fair play, tolerance, or honesty.

They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.


This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

Notice the non-specificity of the “duties” now. I assume that the duties may include continuing to hand over more or less half of our incomes to the state or go to jail. Other duties may include facing additional strangling regulations on workplaces and the operation of productive enterprises, living with the criminalization of the production of incandescent light bulbs, going off to the next state-aggrandizing and new-enemy-manufacturing war of the week, or watching our sons, daughters, and friends do so. What “we” the citizens will actually do is fund a multitude of programs, transfers, and invasions, almost all of which are deeply misguided, wasteful, and blatantly unconstitutional.

This is the source of our confidence - the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.


This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed - why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

This definitely represents concrete progress. This was a cultural transformation conducted over years. It would have happened much sooner without the state and its enforcement of legally mandated discrimination, and to this day laws that enable bigoted employers to practice arbitrary discrimination without themselves suffering what would otherwise be the natural economic losses that would stem from it. See Walter Block’s new Labor Economics from a Free Market Perspective.

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:


"Let it be told to the future world ... that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive ... that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it]."

The American revolutionaries fought against the imposition of various piddly taxes of a few percent on a few selected items! They fought against the arbitrary power of an unchecked executive (who was, at the time, called a "King" rather than a "President").


The modern American executive branch, headed now by Mr. Obama himself, has unimaginably vaster powers to tax, regulate, imprison, and kill than King George III would ever have begun to imagine or fathom. The Declaration of Independence provides a list of grievances that are truly small-time whining compared to the comparable modern list of the usurpations and abuses of the United States Federal government.

The only responsible course for a holder of this office who wishes to protect the Constitution and the ideals of the American revolutionaries would be to immediately begin issuing executive orders reversing virtually all assumptions of power taken by past presidents and dismantling most executive branch departments. Congressman Ron Paul laid out precisely such a course in his 2008 campaign for president.

America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.



I found this speech honestly inspiring on a personal level. My role, what I can do, is contribute to economic and historical education in this world. False economic ideas lead well-meaning people to do harm that they do not understand they are doing through their fanciful reliance on the coercive instrument of the state to attempt to “manage” the rest of us.


Open letter to Bloomberg reporters on "economists of all stripes" claim

Since the following letter to two Bloomberg reporters concerning a statement in their article has elicited no response for about two weeks, I will publish a slightly condensed version here as an open letter. I note that the article has gone through two updates since I wrote to these reporters, but the unsupportable claim I pointed out to them remains unaltered.

Dear Ms. Goldman and Mr. Miller,

I sometimes read Bloomberg news articles and come across statements that leave me scratching my head. A few such statements, though, strike me as sufficiently incorrect that I feel an obligation to take a moment to bring them to the attention of their authors.

In your article, "Obama Warns of Prolonged Crisis Without Stimulus Plan," you wrote, "... economists of all stripes agree that aggressive government action is needed."

This is problematic because an entire school of professional economists argue that such government actions as "stimulus" programs will clearly worsen conditions, prolong and deepen the recession, and generate further impoverishment of our society. Many of these same economists also predicted the coming of the financial collapse years in advance of its arrival, and explained why it would occur.

Thus, I suggest amending statements such as the one I quoted to, for example, "most economists, with the notable exception of those of the Austrian school, agree that aggressive government action is needed."

In addition, if you sought comments and opinions directly from economists of "stripes" who do not hold the view you suggest they do, it would offer your readers a more critical and balanced understanding of the issues. From my own studies in political economy, I could recommend many scholars, but two come to mind right now for the combination of the depth of their scholarship in economic history and theory and the incisiveness of their analyses of current issues based on this foundation. They are:

Robert Higgs, senior fellow in political economy at the Independent Institute, and author of many important academic books on economic history, with a particular emphasis on the relationship between government policy and recurring crises.

Joseph Salerno, a senior fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute, professor of economics at Pace University, and editor of the Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics.

I find both of these economists clear communicators with a strong grasp of the relationship between government policy and economic cycles. Beyond them stretches a long and growing list of economists who would be very unlikely to "agree that aggressive government action is needed," certainly not the types of actions now being proposed.

Best regards,

Konrad Graf

My year by the numbers

While the application of false but popular economic theories continues to wreak havoc on civilization, it is comforting at least to know that there are a lot of people out there who have better ideas than the ideas that have led directly to the need for the current depression (a depression, by the way, which is essential to correct all the damage that was already done during the boom).

I'm trying to do my bit to learn and eventually make a contribution. Just for fun, I thought a short quantitative performance review of my year might be good for New Years' Eve, especially since so much of my work is highly qualitative in nature. So I put together some numbers.

Review of 2008 profession-related achievements by the numbers

Number of English words of investment research reports translated out of Japanese (this is my "day job," read: the one that generates a current cash flow). This equates to roughly 800 pages of text.

Number of words of notes, ideas, and observations added to my New Ideas file for future project development.

Number of non-fiction books read

Number of blog posts published

Number of fiction books read (on paper)

Number of fiction books listened to (thanks Audible)

[43: Book total]

One of the problems today is people not reading enough books. Even reading a lot of Web pages and blogs on a regular basis, which I also do, cannot equal the systematic development of knowledge and understanding available in books. Blogs are also good for connecting ideas with current events and for discussing new ideas, but systematic understanding is essential, and it is this that is most lacking today. It takes time to read a book. It is an investment. It pays off. Especially if you choose the titles wisely.

2009 Goal
To greatly increase the number of non-fiction books read!

The gutting of economics as an anti-state force by fear of offending the powers

Why has economics, the most potent potential political force in history, become to most people an incomprehensible and seemingly pointless exercise, or the mysterious incantations of an anointed priesthood conversing with one another in their own secret language?

The following quotes from a recent biography of economist Ludwig Von Mises shed light on this question and also helped me more clearly understand why I chose not to continue in the academic economics track in the early 90s, and not to enter graduate school, but instead to continue studying on my own.

Even as an undergraduate, I was politely “guided” toward “more practical” directions than my study of classic treatises in Austrian economics in the Mengerian tradition onward, a discipline that is eminently comprehensible and offers clear policy prescriptions. Fortunately, the college culture was “free thinking” enough that I was able to continue on my course and still complete my degree (that’s why I had chosen the college to begin with, in fact).

The discussion below is about the 1920s (emphasis mine).

“Because of this ostracism of genuine economists, those who held (or hoped to hold) academic positions in political economy became eager to avoid any behavior that could offend the powers that be. The most innocent strategy was to understate one’s findings when they risked upsetting certain powerful social groups.”

“In a similar vein, an increasing number of young economists turned their attention to abstract and technical problems that did not have any political implications unwelcome to their employers. This helps explain the success of mathematical economics, econometrics, Keynesian economics, and game theory after WWII.”

The transformation of economics into a self-absorbed technical discipline made it politically toothless. A mere ‘theory’ based on fictitious stipulations and therefore without scientifically valid implications for public policy was no threat to vested interests, and the champions of this theory did not have to fear reprisals. Clearly, this state of affairs suited the majority in the economics profession, both employers and employees. But it was disastrous for science, human liberty, and economic progress.”

Hülsmann (2007), Mises: The Last Knight of Liberalism, pp. 549-552.