A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for the ‘Miraculous Markets’ tag

The Dark Web’s Fight Against Gun Control

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The Dark Web, which is a sinister sounding label given to hidden services usually available through Tor or I2P, has become a major thorn in the side of the State. By combining technologies that allow users to interact anonymously with cryptocurrencies that allow transactions to be complete anonymously, the Dark Web has established a peaceful marketplace for goods and services declared illegal by the State. For example, a recent study, which is likely bullshit but I digress, found that the Dark Web has allowed people in repressive countries to acquire firearms:

Another revelation is that the weapons available are far newer, and are of a far higher quality, than would have been available on the analog black market. As New Scientist points out, “lax gun laws in the US are undermining stricter rules elsewhere,” especially in Europe. In addition to guns and ammunition, people can buy tutorials explaining how to make bombs or convert or reactivate replica and deactivated firearms.

What they really should have said is that lax gun laws in the US are undermining efforts to more thoroughly disarm serfs elsewhere. And, of course, the article should point out that those tutorials explaining how to make bombs can be found in even basic chemistry books (fun fact, making bombs is little more than combining chemistry with a small amount of mechanical or electronic engineering).

Of course, the article tries to drum up fear of the Dark Web by saying that, queue the sinister music, terrorists are using it to acquire weapons. They can only point to a single incident of this happening but facts are unimportant when writing propaganda. The point is that you’re supposed to be scared of the Dark Web and be thankful to your government for defending you against it even though, at least if you live in the United States, your government is one of the biggest arms dealers to terrorist organizations in the world. Moreover, the effectiveness of terrorist attacks is reduced if the population they’re targeted at is able to defend itself. Since the Dark Web enables people living in repressive regimes, such as many of the countries in Europe, to arm themselves in spite of the law it is actually offers to increase the cost of perpetrating terrorist attacks against civilian populations.

We should all take a moment to thank the Dark Web for its effectiveness against gun control and for offering a mechanism to make it costlier for terrorists to perpetrate attacks against civilian populations.

Bypassing Taxes

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One of the most heroic things any company can do is find exploits in the State’s tax code that allow it to provide a product to consumers for less. This both benefits the consumers and is detrimental to the government. I recently came across an article discussing how Converse, the maker of sneakers, bypasses an idiotic tax (a redundant term, I know) to bring its customers a more affordable product:

Have you ever noticed that thin layer of felt on the bottom of a pair of Converse sneakers? It gets torn up almost immediately, of course, as you walk on the shoes. So, why is it there in the first place? It turns out that that felt is there not for functional reasons, but for economic ones—shoes with fuzzy soles are taxed less when imported than those with rubber ones.

Jeff Steck writes on Gazetc that the difference between importing a fuzzy shoe—like a house slipper—and a rubber one—like a sneaker—can be huge. Changing the shoe material can decrease the tariff from 37.5 percent down to just 3 percent. Steck writes:

To benefit from a lower tariff, it isn’t necessary to cover the entire sole with fabric. According to the inventors, “a classification may be based on the type of material that is present on 50% or more of the bottom surface.” (6,471,491) This explains why the “fabric” fuzz extends mostly around the edges of my shoes, where it can take up a lot of area without interfering too much with the traction of the bare-rubber centers.

Why would the United States government put a 37.5 percent tariff on sneakers? Because doing so both enriches it and provides protection to local producers by artificially increasing the price of foreign sneakers. Of course, the tax code is ridiculously complex so any company willing to fund a decent accountant is usually able to find creative ways to either avoid tariffs completely or at least reduce the amount of tariff they have to pay.

While I’ve never had an interest in Converse sneakers, or sneakers in general, I almost want to buy a pair just to support this company’s actions. It’s always nice when a producer is willing to go to bat for consumers living in cesspools of socialist economic policy.

Written by Christopher Burg

July 20th, 2017 at 10:30 am

Your Internet Sucks Because of Government

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When it comes to Internet access parts of the United States often feel like a third world country. If you live in a small town you may be lucky if you can even get digital subscriber line (DSL) service. Those living in larger cities often have access to high speed cable Internet but that is far from the blazing fast fiber connections that people in other parts of the world and a handful of lucky denizens in the United States enjoy. But why does Internet access in the United States suck? Is it due to a failure of capitalism or market forces? No. As it turns out, the reason Internet access sucks in the United States is the same reason so many things suck, government:

Deploying broadband infrastructure isn’t as simple as merely laying wires underground: that’s the easy part. The hard part — and the reason it often doesn’t happen — is the pre-deployment barriers, which local governments and public utilities make unnecessarily expensive and difficult.

Before building out new networks, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) must negotiate with local governments for access to publicly owned “rights of way” so they can place their wires above and below both public and private property. ISPs also need “pole attachment” contracts with public utilities so they can rent space on utility poles for above-ground wires, or in ducts and conduits for wires laid underground.

The problem? Local governments and their public utilities charge ISPs far more than these things actually cost. For example, rights of way and pole attachments fees can double the cost of network construction.

So the real bottleneck isn’t incumbent providers of broadband, but incumbent providers of rights-of-way. These incumbents — the real monopolists — also have the final say on whether an ISP can build a network. They determine what hoops an ISP must jump through to get approval.

Starting an Internet service provider (ISP) or expanding an existing one normally wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg. Digging trenches and laying cable isn’t exactly rocket science nor is it exorbitant expensive. But receiving permission from municipal governments and their utility companies doesn’t come cheap because they have a monopoly.

If a free market existed in utility provision, ISPs would be able to negotiate cheaper right-of-way agreements when they were needed because most companies would be happy to receive a little extra for letting an ISP utilize already existing infrastructure. And if one utility company didn’t want to lease the use of its infrastructure, an ISP could negotiate a contract with one of that company’s competitors. Another possibility under a free market would be utility companies not even bothering to build infrastructure but leasing the use of infrastructure built by companies that specialize in building and leasing it to utility providers, including ISPs.

However, many municipal governments have granted themselves a monopoly on both utilities and the infrastructure. Without any competition these municipal governments can charge ISPs whatever they want for access to their infrastructure. This ends up hurting the people living in the municipality but municipal governments, like all governments, don’t care about the people they claim dominion over.

If Americans want better Internet they need to either take control of their municipal governments’ infrastructure (which was built with money stolen from taxpayers anyways) or bypass it entirely.

Written by Christopher Burg

July 18th, 2017 at 11:00 am

Violence is the Result of Prohibition

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Supporters of the war on drugs love to talk about the violence inherent in the drug trade. However, as this article posted by the Cato Institute points out, the violence we see in the drug trade today is the result of prohibition, not the drug trade itself:

Violence isn’t any more inherent to the distribution of marijuana or cocaine than it was to the distribution of alcohol in the 1920s. A resident of Chicago in 1929 could be forgiven for wondering whether all the violence on the front page of the Chicago Tribune represented something inherently dangerous in alcohol distribution, but we now know that it didn’t. Prohibition-era alcohol distribution was violent because it was illegal, not the other way around.

Today, the executives of Anheuser-Busch might laugh at the suggestion that alcohol distributors can’t settle disputes without resort to gunfire massacres. So might the members of America’s pharmaceutical industry, who manage to distribute billions of dollars in legal drugs without cutting anyone’s throat.

Unfortunately, Sessions’ logic seems to be seeping into other areas of the administration as well. President Trump, who once favored the legalization of all drugs, recently tweeted that drug violence in Mexico is a reason to further separate our two countries rather than acknowledging the immense role that U.S. drug policy has in stimulating Mexican violence.

Drug prohibition, not a porous border or anything inherent in Mexican society, is what has turned the Mexican drug war into an actual war.

Markets, the voluntary trade amongst consenting individuals, is the opposite of violence. Were it not for the prohibition against certain drugs the market for those drugs would be no more violent than the markets for alcohol and over the counter medication. We’re seeing this today in states like Colorado and Washington that have legalized cannabis. Violence in Colorado and Washington has actually decreased since the violence wrought against otherwise peaceful actors in the cannabis market are no longer being kidnapped by law enforcers.

Every law passed that creates a victimless crime also initiates violence. If, for example, a law was passed against gun ownership there would be a major increase in violence, not from gun owners, but from law enforcers brining violence against peaceful gun owners.

If people like Jeff Sessions actually want to address this issue of violence in the drug market then they need to start demanding the complete appeal of the laws that prohibit that market. Advocating for more stringent enforcement of those laws will only lead to more violence.

Written by Christopher Burg

July 12th, 2017 at 10:30 am

Automation is Wonderful

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Have your parents ever reminded you that your life is easier than theirs were? Most of us probably have. But try not to hold it against them. They heard the same thing from their parents who heard the same thing from their parents. And you will most likely tell your children the same thing. Each generation lives an easier life than the last thanks to automation.

Automation improves each and every one of our lives by making previously expensive, inaccessible technology affordable and accessible. This is why my blood pressure goes up when I read nonsense like this:

Fifty percent of the jobs will be gone in ~20 years. Not from the great sucking sound of jobs to Mexico that can be stopped with a wall. Not from moving offshore to China. From automation that is moving quickly from blue collar manufacturing to white collar information work. Second only to climate change, this is the greatest disruption of our time, and I don’t mean that word in a good way.

The article is yet another in a seemingly ceaseless stream of attempts to give legitimacy to an economic fallacy. The fallacy of machines taking our jobs is so absurd that Henry Hazlitt was able to thoroughly put it down in a single chapter of Economics in One Lesson.

What Ross Mayfield, the author of that wreck of an article, is advocating is that each and every one of us should suffer so that a handful of people don’t have to find a new line of work. Ironically, it was the evil of automation that allowed him to even publish that article. Were it not for computers, the Internet, and the availability of free (to publish and read, but as we know TANSTAAFL) publishing platforms like LinkedIn, Mayfield never would have been able to get his article published to such a wide audience. But I digress.

Let’s consider Mr. Mayfield’s world by taking a look at a fairly modern piece of automation, personal assistants like the Amazon Echo and Google Home. Through voice commands the Echo and Home are able to perform many of the tasks that once required a secretary. Paying a full time secretary was something only somebody with a decent amount of wealth could afford. Now, thanks to automation, the average American has access to many of the functions of a secretary for a fraction of the cost.

As I type this I am looking at a flat panel monitor. It’s much lighter than a smaller cathode ray tube (CRT) monitor, displays a superior image, consumes a lot less electricity, and cost less than what I could get a similar sized CRT for when CRTs were still a thing. How is this possible? For the same reason CRTs from a decade ago were both superior in every way and cheaper than the first CRT televisions, automation. Through automation resources once dedicated to hiring human labor are freed up for other activities such as research and development. When more resources are available for research and development superior technologies can be created.

We enjoy our current lifestyle because of automation. Imagine if the world had listened to Mr. Mayfield’s plea when electricity was invented. I’d be writing this post on a piece of paper with a fountain pen by candlelight… assuming I had enough free time to do so since I’d probably have to bust my ass 12 hours a day just to afford a place to live and food to eat. And when I finished writing it I would have to send it to a publisher in the hope that they would find it worthwhile enough to have their laborers configure their moveable type printing press to print off a few thousand copies for circulation. Oh, and you’d have to pay for it so that the publisher could recoup their costs and make a profit.

Does automation suck for the people who lose their jobs? Absolutely. But they can get new jobs just as candlestick makers did once the electric lightbulb became prolific. The loss of a few thousand or million jobs isn’t justification for hindering qualify of life improvements for everybody else in the world.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 6th, 2017 at 11:00 am

You Can’t Stop the Market

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The federal government put a lot of resources into shutting down the Silk Road. Was it worth it? Has the online drug trade stopped or at least been reduced? Of course not! People want access to recreational drugs and the market always provides. Since the death of Silk Road the online drug trade has actually flourished:

The successors to Silk Road, the darknet drug market shut down by the FBI in 2013, are raking in tens of millions of pounds in total revenue every month, according to a new report.

British dealers apparently have a serious finger in the pie, taking home roughly 16 percent of the global revenues, or around £1.75 million, between an estimated 338 vendors.

The State, however, can never admit failure. Through the magic of statistics it has declared itself victorious over the online drug trade:

The report, commissioned by the Dutch government to gauge the growth of darknet markets in the years following the demise of Silk Road, found some good news for beleaguered law enforcement: “cryptomarkets have grown substantially in the past few years, but not explosively,” though the numbers of vendors and hosting sites have grown. In fact, researchers found around 50 of these markets in total, however, the total volume of listings is now only six times larger than in 2013.

The volume of listings has only grown six times larger! It would have obviously grown even more if it wasn’t for the State’s efforts! This reminds me of the national debt, specifically when a politician claims that they have shrunk the debt because their efforts ensured it only grew twice as fast as it would have otherwise. If you’re very careful with your statistical definitions you can make any defeat appear to be a victory.

What’s the lesson here? Easy, the State is powerless against the forces of the market. While the State does win temporary victories it is always defeated in the long run. After all, how can a handful of people ever hope to defeat the entirety of humanity? When seven billion people are thinking of new and interesting ways to get their fellows the goods and services they want there’s nothing a handful of people wearing suits and sitting in marble buildings can do.

Written by Christopher Burg

August 17th, 2016 at 10:30 am

The Glories of Central Planning

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Socialists often criticize the market for allowing people to starve. They often say it’s unfair that somebody with surplus food is allowed to keep it while others starve to death. They also lambast the idea of property rights because the concept allows a person with a surplus of food to defend it against a starving thief. These are valid criticisms, mind you. But they also ignore an important fact. Markets and private property rights may allow some people to starve but you really need a centrally planned economy if you want to starve everybody:

The fight for food has begun in Venezuela. On any day, in cities across this increasingly desperate nation, crowds form to sack supermarkets. Protesters take to the streets to decry the skyrocketing prices and dwindling supplies of basic goods. The wealthy improvise, some shopping online for food that arrives from Miami. Middle-class families make do with less: coffee without milk, sardines instead of beef, two daily meals instead of three. The poor are stripping mangoes off the trees and struggling to survive.

Venezuela is an epitome of centrally planned economics. Much of the market has been “nationalized” (a fancy word for stolen by the State) and the Venezuelan government dictates a great deal regarding production and prices. Like the Soviet Union, Venezuela’s economy has collapsed and now people are starving.

In what must seem a twist of irony to proponents of central planning, there is hope for salvation. When the economy of the Soviet Union collapsed the thing that saved countless lives was the black market:

Everyday survival here requires of everyone – from childhood to old age – a street savvy that makes life in the inner cities of the West seem innocent by comparison. Many older Soviet people say the situation is much like it was after World War II. Survival is a degraded art form requiring such skills as knowing under which bridge the black-market gasoline dealers operate on Tuesdays and what sort of Western chocolates to give a schoolteacher on a state holiday so that a child can get decent treatment in the coming semester.

Anatoli Golovkov, the resident expert on economics at Ogonyok magazine, said, “There is nothing to buy through ordinary channels, but you can get anything you need if you are willing to play the game and pay big money. The whole process makes all of us cynical about the law and ourselves. It degrades us. But what’s the choice?

“For example, say I have guests coming, and I need a cut of meat, a couple of bottles of booze and a carton of good cigarettes. There’s really just one option. With a fistful of money, you go to one of the city markets. The state-run stalls are nearly empty. But you explain what you need to someone. He nods, and never saying a word, he writes down a price on a slip of paper and says, `Come back in an hour.’ When you come back, the package is all wrapped up in a copy of Pravda and off you go.”

When central planning begins starving everybody the market is there to save lives. It happened in the Soviet Union and it’s happening in Venezuela:

But in Maracaibo, the black market is an actual place. The contrabando, as sellers call it, sits on tables out in the open.

The odd part, to an American, is that this contrabando is available every day at Aisle 3 in my local Safeway: flour, rice, coffee, Tylenol. I went in with fixer/translator Yesman Utrera and photographer Jorge Galindo, on a specific mission: to find infant formula for our driver’s baby. By the time we found two cans to compare prices, both were sold.

The very thing that socialists accuse of starving people is the only thing that keeps people fed when socialism starts to starve them.

There are no perfect solutions. Every solution has pros and cons. The cons of the market and private property rights is that some people do indeed starve. But that is far less of a con in my book than the con socialism, which means everybody starves when the State can no longer keep the centrally planned economy propped up. When a centrally planned economy begins the collapse a major pro of the market comes into play: the incentive of personal gain spurs market actors to provide the goods people desperately need. Many will point out the high prices of dealing with these black market actors as a con of the market but they fail to understand that the high prices exist because the risks are so high. When a centrally planned economy begins to collapse it’s not unusual for the State to blame the very thing keeping people alive: the black market. In the hopes of keeping the economy propped up just a little bit longer the State sends agents to hunt, assault, kidnap, and/or kill black market actors. So the high prices aren’t the fault of the black market actors but the State that is trying to maintain its control over the ashes of the civilization it burned.

Written by Christopher Burg

June 29th, 2016 at 10:30 am

No Matter Who You Are, No Matter Where You Are, The Black Market Has Your Back

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What is the enemy of tyranny? Is it the ballot box? Is it the bullet box? No! It’s the black market:

North Korea’s isolation from most of the world is not just economic and diplomatic, but technological too. Only about 3 million of its people have access to its domestic telecommunications network, which does not permit access to outside countries. Its internet, meanwhile, is accessible only to the nation’s elites.

But some North Koreans have been able to circumvent these restrictions, thanks to the spread of illegal black market phones into the country. A new report from Amnesty International explains that these smuggled devices—referred to as “Chinese mobile phones,” even if they’re not actually from China—have become an important tool for North Koreans looking to connect with loved ones who have left the country and want to stay in touch.

If their relatives or friends at home don’t already have a “Chinese mobile phone,” the report explains, “often the person who has left will try to send them a phone, for example one bought in South Korea, Japan, or China.”

North Koreans who obtain one of these smartphones can connect with people outside the country by installing a Chinese SIM card in their device. They then must go to a part of the country close to the Chinese border, where they might pick up signal from a neighboring Chinese network.

No matter how repressive of a regime you suffer under the black market is there to provide you the goods you want. Are your overlords preventing you from communicating with the outside world? Never fear! The black market is here to provide you unrestricted telecommunications. Do your overlords prohibit you from owning the most effective means of self-defense? The black market is here to provide you with guns and ammo. Is there some government agency that artificially restricts your access to medication? The black market is here to provide you the medications you need.

The black market has been and continues to be the single greatest enemy to tyranny. By flagrantly providing illicit goods the black market shows that the emperor wears no clothes.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 17th, 2016 at 10:00 am

TANSTAAFL

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Everything should be free is the attitude a lot of people hold towards software. If you charge $9.99 for an application you spent months writing and will spend years maintaining you’ll probably receive at least some backlash for having the audacity to charge for it. But the universal principle of TANSTAAFL, there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch, >applies even to software.

The developers of Caddy, a web server that I’ve admittedly never used, wrote an explaining why they’re asking for money. As it turns out, in spite of what many people who don’t develop software believe, creating and providing open source software involves some notable expenses:

Today you will notice an addition to the Download page: a “Payment” section. Is Caddy no longer free software?

The truth is, it never was. There’s no such thing as free software. The question is, “Who pays the price?”

In the case of Caddy, it has been the developers. The obvious problem with this is that it’s not sustainable in our economy.

[…]

In less than a year, Caddy has well over 20,000 downloads — many of which aren’t counted as the project is cloned and built locally and deployed to both development and production environments. We’ve accrued over 4,500 stars on GitHub, processed hundreds of pull requests, and have dozens of participants in our chat rooms. I can’t speak for other Caddy developers because donations are private, but thanks to very generous donors last year, our web hosting is paid (for now) and I’ve received a little over $150 for my time.

[…]

Keep in mind that commercial offerings for similar web servers cost anywhere from $80 one-time to $1900/yr. (And none of them do what Caddy does.) My text editor costs $70, even just your domain name probably costs ~$12/yr. (If you support us well enough, we’ll send you swag!)

Too many people, typically those who don’t develop software, have the attitude that all software should be free (as in price, but the ambiguity of the term free is why I refer to software with unburdened source code as open source software instead of free software). The app economy is a perfect example of this. It’s why many developers have moved towards nickel and diming customers with in-app purchases or selling a subscription service. When they tried to charge reasonable fees for their software up front people bitched. And now people are bitching because software developers are relying on in-app purchases and subscription services.

Too many people have gotten it into their heads that software should be free (again, as in price). Don’t fall into that trap. Software development incurs a lot of expenses. Time, computers, electricity, and web hosting are just a handful of things needed for software development and none of them are free.

As I said, I haven’t used Caddy. But it does seem to be popular so I’m going to assume it’s a quality product. That being the case, I do hope enough users begin paying for it to keep the developers afloat. It’s always sad to see a good software product fall into obscurity because the developers weren’t being compensated and had to abandon the project for something that actually paid the bills.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 11th, 2016 at 11:00 am

Amazon Reverses Decision On Disabling Device Encryption

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As an update to last weeks’s story about Amazon disabling device encryption in Fire OS 5, the company has since reversed its decision:

Amazon will restore optional full disk encryption to Fire OS 5 in a software update “coming this spring,” according to a statement released by the company on Friday evening.

This is a good announcement but I wouldn’t buy a Fire OS device until the firmware update reenabling device encryption has been rolled out. You never know when Amazon will decide to declare backsies.

As an aside, did you notice how quickly Amazon changed its mind? If this would have been a government decision we would be sitting through years of court cases, congressional hearings, congressional votes, and other such bureaucratic nonsense. But in the market it took less than a week for customer outrage to get things changing. The market gets shit done.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 7th, 2016 at 10:30 am