A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for the ‘Markets’ Category

There The Market Goes Again, Solving Problems Without Threats Of Force

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Humans aren’t very good drivers. We’re unable to watch everything that’s going on around us at all times, we’re easily distracted, and many of us seem utterly incapable of putting the cell phone down even when we’re driving. Not surprisingly, especially when you consider the number of vehicles on the road, a lot of collisions happen every day. The State benefits from this because it has create numerous laws that allow it to rake in cash when people crash into one another but do fuck all for safety. Fortunately the market is here to help and it doesn’t even need a gang of armed agents to shoot our pets:

In what may not come as a surprise, vehicles with automatic braking systems are involved in rear-end crashes (that is, accidents in which a vehicle hits a car directly in front of them) at lower rates than vehicles not equipped with the systems, says the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, or IIHS.

The research focused on Forward Collision Warning (FCW) and Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB), as well as the suite of systems made by Volvo called City Safety, which includes advanced versions of those two technologies. The research examined vehicles from a number of different automakers including Acura, Honda, Mercedes-Benz, Subaru and Volvo, which were equipped with FCW and AEB, as well as vehicles that included just FCW or no crash prevention tech at all.

According to the IIHS research, equipping vehicles with both warning and autobraking systems reduced the rate of rear-end crashes by 39 percent and rear end crashes with injuries by 42 percent. That’s an overall reduction in crashes by 12 percent and a reduction in injury crashes by 15 percent.

Machines can be far better drivers than humans. With the right sensors they can watch everything that’s going on around them, they don’t get distracted, and they can multitask so sending information over a cellular connection doesn’t hinder their ability to drive. Adding automation to automobiles has been improving safety since, at least, power brakes became a thing. As the amount of tasks an automobile can do itself increases we will likely continue to see a correlating increase in safety.

What’s beautiful about these safety systems is that they don’t require the threat of violence to create. I’m sure the State will take credit for these automated breaking systems by making them mandatory but the State didn’t invent them, the market did. Automobile manufacturers have voluntarily developed these systems to make their vehicles safer and therefore, they hope, more appealing to customers.

Meanwhile the State will continue passing laws to needlessly change the roadways and highways, make more things a finable offense, and other such nonsense under the false claims of increasing safety while really increasing its revenue.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 29th, 2016 at 11:00 am

The Black Market Prevails

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Anybody familiar with the Soviet Union probably knows black market trading was pervasive even though the communist government tried tirelessly to ruthlessly crush it. Black markets spring up anywhere a government is trying to restrict trade. Even the totalitarian government of North Korea can’t shutdown black market trading:

Although short, this video echoes a lot of ideas expressed by agorists. Namely that market forces are capable of undermining government regimes. The new generation in North Korea doesn’t remember the founding of the current regime. As is common in such situations they a proving to be less loyal than the previous generations.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 26th, 2016 at 10:30 am

The Black Market Has You Covered

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One of my favorite fairytales is the one about government regulations being able to restrict the proliferation of technology.

IMSI catchers are widely used by government law enforcers for surveillance. The devices, for those of you unfamiliar, act as cell towers and by so doing get local cell phones to connect to it instead of the legitimate cell towers. It’s a man in the middle attack that allows law enforcers to snoop any unencrypted data transmitted or received by a victim’s cell phone.

In the United States the use of such device by non-law enforcers is sternly frowned upon. With the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) restrictions on the civilian use of IMSI catchers you might be lead to think the devices are hard to acquire. Not so. There is one thing that always renders government restrictions on technology impotent: the black market:

Across a tinny Skype connection, a Hong Kong tech company is trying to sell us state surveillance equipment.

“I switched it on already,” says Edward Tian, holding up a backpack containing a box and wires. “This is the antenna. This is the battery […] Everything is this simple.”

It’s a $15,000 IMSI catcher operated via an Android app. Tian shows us the user interface in a grainy video. He hits a button on the app and information on a bunch of cellphones in the area trickles down the screen. He has their IMSI (International Mobile Subscriber Identity, a unique identifier for their SIM card), IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity—the same for their device), and even full phone numbers.

Any perceived control over a technology is nothing more than an illusion.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 21st, 2016 at 10:00 am

Competition Is The Solution To Expensive Medication

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Government regulation of the medical industry, particularly making buying health insurance mandatory and granting monopolies on ideas, have made medication unaffordable. People in need of medication are justifiably pissed about this, especially since many pharmaceutical companies feel the market is regulated enough to make it safe for them to continuously jack prices up. Unfortunately their anger is only resulting in more price increases because they believe more government regulatory power is the solution.

But more government regulatory power only exacerbates the problem because it further pushes competition out of the market and competition is the solution to high medication prices:

Turing Pharmaceuticals, the company that last month raised the price of the decades-old drug Daraprim from $13.50 a pill to $750, now has a competitor.

Imprimis Pharmaceuticals, Inc., a specialty pharmaceutical company based in San Diego, announced today that it has made an alternative to Daraprim that costs about a buck a pill—or $99 for a 100-pill supply.

“While we respect Turing’s right to charge patients and insurance companies whatever it believes is appropriate, there may be more cost-effective compounded options for medications, such as Daraprim,” Mark L. Baum, CEO of Imprimis, said in a news release.

What government enabled to run up to $750 per pill a single competitor brought down to $1.00 per pill. In a free market this is the norm. Absent of monopolies on ideas, mandatory purchasing of services, absurdly high testing costs designed to favor politically connected established manufacturers, and other forms of regulation on medical products there is actually a very large pie. And if anything can be said about markets if there is pie everybody wants a piece. Different providers attempt to grab a piece in different ways.

Some sell a premium good or service, some will provide the most inexpensive option possible, and many others will fall somewhere in between. Rolex continues to thrive by providing a premium wristwatch to its target market just as Timex continues to thrive providing very affordable wristwatches.

The medical market is no different. Some medication providers will charge a premium while others will provide an inexpensive option because the two portions of the market ensure enough pie is available for both and enough pie being available for both ensures both portions of the market are served.

If you become outraged when medical companies jack their prices up don’t beg the government to do more of the same. Instead do whatever you can to help expand a free market.

Written by Christopher Burg

October 23rd, 2015 at 11:00 am

The People Who Make The World Better

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I have several especially statist friends who constantly claim they’re making the world a better place because of their involvement in politics. It’s the most pathetic ego stroking I’ve ever seen and there isn’t even a kernel of truth to it. Running for office, sucking off political candidates, and constantly telling other people how they should live their lives doesn’t improve the world in any way. Do you know what does improve people’s lives? Markets. Providing people the goods and services they need will actually benefit them. Consider the prosthetics market. Prosthetics are leaping ahead at a fantastic pace. We’ve gone from hooks on pulleys to replace missing arms to prosthetics attached to the nervous system capable of mimicking a lot of what natural limbs can do:

Hastened by advances in neurology and robotics — and tragically by the spike in U.S. soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan without limbs — a new era of prosthetics has emerged, using signals from the brain to evoke an increasing variety of movements from bionic limbs.

Jorgenson is one of about 50 patients worldwide — and the youngest, so far — to undergo a surgery called targeted muscle reinnervation, in which severed nerve endings in her arm were reassigned to control muscles that would trigger sensors in the bionic arm. With the surgery, which was performed last year at the Mayo Clinic, she also became the first to have six nerves rewired, giving her the ability at will to move the robotic elbow up and down, rotate the wrist, and open and close the hand.

[…]

Learning how to signal the proper muscles to trigger movements from the bionic arm happened quickly, Jorgenson said, but mastering it is taking time.

“Sometimes when I raise my arm up,” she said, “the hand will start twisting around.”

When it closes, the hand can create a grip-crushing 22 pounds of force, but it can also be delicate enough to hold a paper cup. So developing control has proved crucial. After daring her older brother to let her squeeze his nose, she tried it on herself. She squeezed too tightly and found herself unable to release the hand because the shock caused her muscles to tense up.

But on Wednesday, she transplanted the plant, filled the pot with soil, and cleaned the mess with a dustpan — all with little to no delay between the time she wanted her prosthetic to move and when it did.

“It’s pretty amazing how intuitive she has become,” her father said.

Her next step will be triggering two motions at once — such as moving the elbow while closing the hand — but she is comfortable enough to start wearing the bionic arm to school. The eighth-grader had delayed until now, because her school lacks air conditioning and the prosthetic can become uncomfortable in high heat.

The people involved in the development of this girl’s prosthetic limb have done more to improve the world than anybody who has invested their time in politics. And they’re not done. Unlike politicians who accomplish a minor goal and declare complete victory, people involved in the prosthetics market aren’t satisfied with replicating only a few features of natural limbs. They want to replicate everything:

DARPA promised prosthetic limbs that produce realistic sensations, and it’s making good on its word. The agency’s researchers have successfully tested an artificial hand that gave a man a “near-natural” level of touch. The patient could tell when scientists were pressing against specific fingers, even when they tried to ‘trick’ the man by touching two digits at once. The key was to augment the thought-controlled hand with a set of pressure-sensitive torque motors wired directly to the brain — any time the hand touched something, it sent electrical signals that felt much like flesh-and-bone contact.

If you want to make the world a better place learns skills that allow you to make new goods and services for consumers. You don’t have to work in the medical field but that’s certainly a great market to consider. Something as simple as a restaurant will provide more people more good than any politicking.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 18th, 2015 at 10:00 am

Giving Versus Exchanging

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“What do you do for a living?” “Me? Oh, I’m a programmer.” “You know computers? Can you help me fix mine?” How many of you have had this exact conversation? Judging by conversations with my computer savvy friends there is a 100% correlation between having computer knowledge and being asked to fix computers. The same applies to having any skill set. When I was working as a mechanic people would ask me to look at their cars when I wasn’t at work. The issue isn’t people asking me to fix their computers or vehicles but the expectation that I will do it for free.

Whenever somebody asks me to fix their computer or vehicles I have a standard response: “Absolutely! Let’s discuss prices.” Usually the person asking seems to be offended by that response. It’s as if they believe my time and knowledge, which they have admitted to wanting, are somehow worthless.

This may be the only time you’ll see my reference Atlas Shrugged. Although it’s dreck any novel that’s 1,000,000,000 pages long is likely to make at least one valid point if for no other reason than by accident. There is a scene where Objectivst Jesus is going to take Dangy on a tour of his holy land. Since he’s the messiah he has no need for worldly possessions or something and needs to borrow a car. When he calls up his disciple to ask to borrow the car a price in gold is negotiated. That scene stuck with me because both characters expected an exchange, not for one to give to the other (in fact Objectivist Jesus then made a quip about “give” being some kind of dirty work in his valley). Thinking back on it I think I understand why the novel is so popular with high school students who have been indoctrinated to “share” (really to give something of theirs up without compensation) for most of their lives. But I digress.

The difference between most people who ask me to fix their computers or vehicles and the scene I just described in Atlas Shrugged is that the former expects me to give while the latter expects an exchange. Giving dictates that somebody who has something should allow other people to have it without expecting any compensation. Exchanging dictates that goods and services have value and therefore are deserving of compensation.

When you ask somebody to borrow or do something for free you’re being hypocritical. First you’re implying you don’t believe the thing you’re requesting has any real value by not offering anything for it while also necessarily implying the thing has value by wanting it.

It’s a bit offensive to have somebody imply my skills are worthless and then ask to benefit from them. That’s not to say I expect everybody to offer me the usual market value of my time. Even a token offering is appreciated. For example, the cost of the time needed to fix a computer is usually higher than the cost of a box of cookies. But I’m still willing to fix a computer for people I know if they offer to bake me some cookies. Usually I’ll turn down the offer (then they’ll insist and bake them anyways) because it’s not about the payment, it’s about the acknowledgement that my skills are worth something to them (a token of appreciation if you will).

The idea behind an exchange is that two people are in possession of something the other wants. Both people feel as though they’ll be better off in the end if they exchange their thing for the other person’s thing. Exchanges are the foundation of markets so in a way markets are a mechanism for people to compliment one another. When you offer to make an exchange you’re complimenting the other person’s effort by saying effort is worth more than something you have.

If you’re one of those people who reflexively asks, “Will you fix my computer,” every time somebody says they make a living off of computers please stop. Instead ask something like, “What would you charge me to fix my computer?” At the very least please don’t get offended when the computer person asks for something in exchange. Their time, like your time, is worth money. Acknowledge that mutual worth.

Written by Christopher Burg

August 25th, 2015 at 11:00 am

The “Black” Market Has Your Back

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When people hear the term “black” market their thoughts usually jump to human trafficking, violent drug gangs, and other violent endeavors. In reality those aren’t even examples of markets because markets are based on the voluntary exchange of goods and services between individuals. The real “black” market is nothing more than the exchange of goods and services the state has declared illegal. Oftentimes this involves drugs like cannabis and cocaine but other times it involves goods or services that are extremely expensive in “legitimate” markets due to regulations. Healthcare is one of those markets where regulations have made almost everything prohibitively expensive. Fortunately there’s the “black” market ready to provide healthcare goods for far less:

Several months ago, Jackie found that her maintenance inhaler was running low. We had just obtained health insurance through Kentucky’s health care exchange and, while it wasn’t the most expensive plan, it certainly wasn’t cheap. Our monthly bill was high, but we thought the coverage was worth it.

I should mention that Jackie specifically picked a plan with low prescription co-pays.

Imagine our surprise when the total for her inhaler, with insurance applied, turned out to be around $300.

Money was very tight at that time; we just couldn’t afford the inhaler without falling behind on other necessities like utilities and groceries.

It was Jackie’s idea to check on the dark net.

[…]

It hadn’t occurred to me to look for an inhaler on the dark net until Jackie suggested it. She doesn’t really know much about the markets beyond things I’ve told her, but she asked me one night if you could buy inhalers on them. I got online, opened the Tor browser that is the gateway to the darknet, and pretty soon I found exactly the same maintenance inhaler—same brand, completely identical—that we needed to replace. The price was $30 with shipping.

The exact same inhaler for one tenth the price was made possible by the “black” market. And thanks to the greatly reduced price Jackie didn’t have to suffer from foregoing other necessities due to lack of finances. This isn’t an isolated case either. Similar illegal trade exists for other medical necessities such as diabetes test strips.

“Black” markets are necessary in any society that suffers from a government that places regulations on free trade. Regulations always raise the costs of goods and services because they push out small providers place a barrier to entry for new providers. Fortunately there are many people out there willing to ignore the law and provide goods and services to those who want them. Instead of seeing them as dirty criminals we should acknowledge that they’re no different than individuals who provide goods and services in the “legitimate” market. If it wasn’t for them many people would have to make do without basic necessities.

Written by Christopher Burg

July 15th, 2015 at 10:30 am

Verboten Drugs are Cheaper Than Ever

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When I point out the failure of the war on drugs to stop drug usages a fairly common rebuttal is that the prohibition keeps the costs of drugs high and therefore prevents many people who would be using them from using them. My observations have indicated that claim is bullshit because I know dirt poor people who use cannabis. But now there’s research refuting that claim:

Cocaine, heroin and marijuana have become cheaper and stronger over the past two decades, despite increases in drug seizures by authorities fighting the global illegal drug market, a new study found.

The researchers looked at seven international drug surveillance databases to examine how the purity and price of illegal drugs changed between 1990 and 2009.

In the United States, the average purity of heroin, cocaine and marijuana increased by 60, 11, and 160 percent respectively, between 1990 and 2007, while the prices of these drugs, adjusted for inflation and purity, fell about 80 percent.

How can this be? Those drugs are illegal! Here we see another conflict between political dreams and reality. Political dreamers like to believe legally prohibiting something will make it go away. Reality dictates that people have wants and will seek to fulfill those wants. Creating prohibitions just makes people adjust their behavior in order to fulfill their wants.

For example, the severity of many drugs laws are based on the volume or weight of drugs a person possesses. A small amount of cannabis can net you a fine whereas a large amount can land your ass in prison on charges of intent to distribute. Drug consumers don’t want to end up in prison and drug producers don’t want their customers lock up in prison. To that end drug producers have been busy making a more potent products so their customers can enjoy the same effects in a small package. Instead of risking charges of intent to distribute cannabis users can now face a fine and still have the same potency as before.

Reducing costs makes sense. If you’re a drug producer you want as wide of a customer base as possible. Poorer people are often unable to enjoy more expensive forms of entertainment so they opt for cheaper forms. By making drugs cheaper the producers are able to access the poorer markets and therefore enjoy a larger customer base.

Once again we see markets overcoming state hurdles. The continuous pattern of markets triumphing over statism is why I firmly believe agorism, which utilizes markets, is the most tactic most likely to bring us real freedom.

Written by Christopher Burg

June 3rd, 2015 at 10:30 am

Markets Versus the State

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States throughout the world try to restrict markets. These attempts never succeed because the handful of individuals that comprise the state are up against the creativity of very person living under it. This is what so-called “black” markets exist.

Russia decided to place an embargo on foods from the European Union and United States in response to sanctions created against it by those regions. The embargo hasn’t stopped the importation of food from either region. But the embargo makes it risky for importers of these now illicit goods to openly advertise. In the past “black” market actors have relied on limited forms of advertising such as word of mouth. One advertisement agency has come up with a solution that allows “black” market providers to advertise their goods more widely and protects them from state agents:

Last summer, Russia imposed a full embargo on food imports from the European Union (as well as the U.S.) in retaliation for sanctions over Ukraine. This left authentic European food merchants in Moscow in a bit of a bind.

But one Italian grocery store there, Don Giulio Salumeria, kept selling its real Italian food—and came up with a bizarre out-of-home stunt to advertise to consumers without tipping off the police.

With help from agency The 23, the store developed a unique outdoor ad that could recognize police uniforms. Whenever the cops would appear, the ad would cycle out of its rotating display—in essence, physically hiding from the authorities.

Here’s a video showing the sign in action:

Obviously this solution isn’t perfect. Since it relies on recognizing police uniforms it won’t hide the advertisement from off-duty officers walking around in their regular clothes. However it is a demonstration of market innovation and could easily be expanded. In the next iteration they should have the sign store a facial picture of anybody recognized as an officer. Then have it compare faces of anybody passing by with known police officers and hide the advertisement if there’s a match. That way the sign would be able to hide its advertisement from off-duty and on-duty officers.

Innovative ideas such as this one are why the state will always fail when it attempts to restrict markets.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 28th, 2015 at 11:00 am

Markets Have Not Ruined Video Games

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According to Lorne Lanning capitalism is destroying the gaming industry. In his eyes the for-profit game development model has lead to a world where creativity is stifled by large developers. The Foundation for Economic Education has a good rebuttal by pointing out that the video game industry wouldn’t even be a thing without markets. I want to take it a step further though.

Lanning believes the solution to capitalism in video gaming is independent developers:

In today’s marketplace, Lanning pointed to the indie victories we’ve witnessed with titles like Octodad or Monument Valley. Yes, it takes money to make money, but it doesn’t have to take tens of millions.

What he doesn’t stop to consider is that independent developers are enjoying a great deal of success thanks, in part, to the major game developers that he seems to despise. There has never been a better time to be an independent game developer. This is because the development tools have become cheaper (often free) and more capable and getting titles in front of customers is dead simple.

Consider Microsoft. As much as I dislike Windows I can’t fault Microsoft for how it treats developers. Over the years it has created excellent development tools, streamlined game development with its DirectX framework, and created a distribution platform that every Xbox and Windows gamer has access to. If I want to release a game for the Xbox Microsoft is very much interested in helping me see my dream come true because it stands to profit from my success. And Microsoft isn’t the only game in town. Valve has given independent developers an amazing distribution platform for PCs with Steam. It has also given game developers a great engine called Source. I haven’t even mentioned Sony, with its PlayStation store, Google with its Play Store, or Apple with development tools and App Stores for both OS X and iOS.

It was only a few years ago when independent developers had to front the expense of developing, advertising, and distributing titles. This often resulted in a hodgepodge of a million online stores, product keys you had to keep track of, and other assorted headaches. Now an independent developer can download excellent, free developer tools and publish the completed title to the Xbox Games Store, the PlayStation Store, Google Play, Steam, and the Apple App Stores. From there users can click a few buttons and have the game downloaded to their system with minimal hassle.

Markets gave rise to today’s large developers. These large developers then created development tools and platforms that helped give rise to independent developers. Someday the independent developers will become large themselves and likely create new tools and platforms to give rise to new independent developers.

Video games have gone from a geeky hobby you got beat up for enjoying to a multi-billion dollar industry. The only reason we have capable gaming hardware, quality development tools, and easy distribution platforms is because developers of old satisfied customer wants enough to acquire the capital necessary to build these things. Had the Nintendo Entertainment System or Sega Genesis flopped it’s possible that video games would still be a niche industry. Dedicated gaming hardware such as consoles and graphics cards would likely be much less capable than they are today. Development tools would probably still be primitive due to the lack of investment in improving them. Distribution would almost certainly still rely on a hodgepodge of disparate websites and produce keys. After all, why would a large developed like Microsoft put any money into the growing the gaming industry if it didn’t stand to profit? How would Valve have acquired the capital necessary to build Steam if Half-Life hadn’t raked in so much money?

I think Lanning’s real objection to today’s gaming industry is that the best selling titles aren’t the titles he enjoys. As somebody who doesn’t enjoy today’s most popular series, such as the titular Call of Duty, I can relate. But the success of those blockbuster series hasn’t hampered the games I enjoy. Series I enjoy, such as MegaMan and Armored Core, have seen releases in recent times. Inafune, one of the creators of the MegaMan series, has even branched out on his own to release a spiritual successor. Igarashi, one of the masterminds behind Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, has also branched out to release a spiritual successor. Capitalism hasn’t destroyed the gaming industry, it has propelled it forward. All of the capital acquired by releasing blockbuster titles has given way to tools that help independent game developers. Hell it’s unlikely Oddworld, Lanning’s most well-known title, would have never seen the light of day if it wasn’t for blockbuster titles from the 8-bit and 16-bit console days creating a major gaming industry.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 27th, 2015 at 11:00 am