Amazon Reverses Decision On Disabling Device Encryption

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.

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

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.

The Black Market Prevails

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.

The Black Market Has You Covered

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.

An Agorist’s View On Closed Borders

Borders are a sticky issue within libertarian circles. A lot of libertarians favor tightly controlled borders. Hell, even well-respected anarcho-capitalist thinkers like Hans Hermann Hopped favor strongly controlled government borders. Any libertarian in support of controlled borders is, in my opinion, foolish. But what about the agorist view? Agorism is all about continually transitioning economic activity from the white to the black market. In the case of borders the white market consists of those preventing people from crossing government borders and the black market consists of smugglers helping people across those same borders. And black market actors have enjoyed a great deal of success in overcoming the white market.

Let’s look at a quintessential historical example of heavily secured borders: East Germany. The German Democratic Republic (GDR) erected the famous Berlin Wall in an effort to stop its people from accidentally exiting the utopia of communism. For reasons nobody quite understands there were people who were actually trying to leave. Seeing a market demand many enterprising entrepreneurs stepped up to the plate and created a black market for smuggling people out of the GDR. One of those smugglers was Rainer Schubert. Mr. Schubert operated his successful smuggling operation for three years before the Stasi finally caught him. According to the Glasgow Herald he smuggled more than 100 people across the heavily guarded border. And he wasn’t alone. It turns out that there was quite an enterprise in helping people cross the heavily secured border of the GDR.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall the demand for black market operations for crossing fortified borders hasn’t diminished, but has merely shifted elsewhere. The example most Americans are probably familiar with are Central Americans crossing the Mexican border into the United States. Smugglers who bring people from Central America into the United States are commonly referred to as coyotes and they have setup quite a black market business for themselves.

Agorism is necessarily opposed to government control over imaginary lines. By attempting to prevent people from crossing its borders a government creates a white market. As a philosophy based on moving white market activity into the black market agorism supports the efforts of smugglers helping people get across those borders illegally. Such efforts end up moving a lot of white market activity into the black market. People crossing a border illegally are not paying governments for visas, passports, or other travel documents. Because they’re in the country illegally they’re not going to declare any income, which keeps money out of the hands of the revenuers. In addition to that, most of their work will likely be done “under the table” since they won’t want to risk leaving a paper trail that could get them arrested and/or deported so it’ll be paid for with cash (or some other form of exchange that is difficult for the government to surveil).

The Decentralized Internet

“Internet provision is a natural monopoly!” How many times have you heard some economic illiterati say that? I’m sure you’ve heard it a few times even though the entire concept of natural monopoly is a myth. To demonstrate this I’m going to provide a couple of examples of decentralized Internet architectures. First we’re going to look at the corporate world where one Internet Service Provider (ISP) has decided centralized infrastructure isn’t fulfilling all of its needs:

Well T-Mobile wants to fix all that… by putting an LTE tower in your house. Yes, the unconventional carrier has announced a 4G LTE CellSpot that it says will offer 3,000 square feet of LTE coverage for your home or business. Plug it into the wall outlet, connect it to the internet, and your LTE connection will get a boost anywhere T-Mobile has spectrum. The CellSpot supports up to 16 calls at a time, and will work with any 3G, 4G, and LTE device on T-Mobile’s network.

T-Mobile’s biggest limitation is coverage. Improving coverage isn’t easy for a cell carrier because building towers is expensive and the bureaucracy between them and their customers is significant (my hometown kept denying AT&T permission to build a new tower simply because the city council didn’t want travelers to see an “ugly” tower when they passed through town). Being able to install a lot of microcells is a lot easier than building a tower simply because the carrier doesn’t have to buy land and get permission from local bureaucracies.

Two mistakes T-Mobile is making, in my opinion, is only allowing its customers to install these CellSpots and not paying people who choose to install them:

And the price is right too — eligible Simple Choice customers can get the LTE CellSpot for free (with a refundable $25 deposit), and keep it as long as they are customers of T-Mobile.

I bet T-Mobile would quickly find itself enjoying spectacular coverage if it paid anybody willing to install one of these in their home or business a little kickback (these microcells, after all, are consuming electricity and using bandwidth). For the right price (which means enough for me to make a little bit of profit) I’d be willing to install one of these in my home and I’m not even a T-Mobile customer.

Admittedly relying on a centralized ISP, even if they’re utilizing a decentralized architecture, isn’t exactly demonstrating that Internet provision isn’t a natural monopoly. Fear not! T-Mobile isn’t the only game in town:

When you live somewhere with slow and unreliable Internet access, it usually seems like there’s nothing to do but complain. And that’s exactly what residents of Orcas Island, one of the San Juan Islands in Washington state, were doing in late 2013. Faced with CenturyLink service that was slow and outage-prone, residents gathered at a community potluck and lamented their current connectivity.

“Everyone was asking, ‘what can we do?’” resident Chris Brems recalls. “Then [Chris] Sutton stands up and says, ‘Well, we can do it ourselves.’”

When somebody says, “Well, we can do it ourselves,” you know they’re on the right track:

Faced with a local ISP that couldn’t provide modern broadband, Orcas Island residents designed their own network and built it themselves. The nonprofit Doe Bay Internet Users Association (DBIUA), founded by Sutton, Brems, and a few friends, now provide Internet service to a portion of the island. It’s a wireless network with radios installed on trees and houses in the Doe Bay portion of Orcas Island. Those radios get signals from radios on top of a water tower, which in turn receive a signal from a microwave tower across the water in Mount Vernon, Washington.


Back in 2013, CenturyLink service was supposed to provide up to 1.5Mbps downloads speeds, but in reality we “had 700kbps sometimes, and nothing at others,” Brems told Ars. When everyone came home in the evening, “you would get 100kbps down and almost nothing up, and the whole thing would just collapse. It’s totally oversubscribed,” Sutton said.

That 10-day outage in November 2013 wasn’t a fluke. At various times, CenturyLink service would go out for a couple of days until the company sent someone out to fix it, Sutton said. But since equipping the island with DBIUA’s wireless Internet, outages have been less frequent and “there are times we’re doing 30Mbps down and 40Mbps up,” Brems said. “It’s never been below 20 or 25 unless we had a problem.”

A better, more reliable service for less. What more could one ask for? Anybody who lives in a rural area knows the struggle of getting fast, reliable Internet access. Unfortunately many people in rural areas turn their frustrations into political campaigns. By the time they’re done they have higher taxes and promises from the local, state, or federal government that go unfulfilled. Had they taken the money they invested in political shenanigans and instead built a network they would have fast, reliable Internet connectivity. This is why you should listen to the person who says, “Well, we can do it ourselves,” instead of the idiot who tries to start a political campaign.

Internet provision isn’t a natural monopoly. A community can come together and build their own network and attach it to the Internet. This is even easier now that wireless connectivity is no longer slow or outrageously expensive.

Volkswagen Gives Americans What They Want, Americans Buy Volkswagens, Statists Confused By Markets

A lot of electrons have been annoyed by people writing about the Volkswagen scandal. In an effort to give customers the performance they want while still passing the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) unrealistic tests Volkswagen wrote some clever software. It’s no surprisingly Volkswagen sales increased in the month of October. Well, it’s no surprise unless you’re a statist who doesn’t understand how markets work:

There is a world in which consumers swiftly punish Volkswagen where it counts — the coffers — for its massive, systematic deception of the Environmental Protection Agency in which it cheated its way around diesel emissions tests for half a decade.

This isn’t that world.

Volkswagen of America just reported its October sales, the first full month of reporting since the scandal broke, and guess what? Sales are up 0.24 percent year over year, likely thanks in part to enormous discounts being offered to prop up volume. Now, perhaps they would’ve been up more in the absence of the scandal. But if consumers haven’t outright rewarded VW for deceiving them, they certainly haven’t done much to punish the automaker, either.

I don’t really know what to do with this. Governments and law firms around the world are rearing to shake VW’s piggy bank, but it’s a little confusing to me that car buyers wouldn’t be looking elsewhere while this all plays out (and it is very much still playing out). Are these buyers just not following the news? Are they not concerned, because America is generally less excited about diesel engines than Europeans? (Note that Volkswagen has suspended sales of its 2016 diesels, pending approvals, so Americans have made up the sales difference versus October 2014 with additional gasoline and hybrid purchases.)

Consumers only punish manufacturers when they feel they’ve been wronged. Why should I, as a consumer, be angry if I know an automobile manufacturer can’t sell its product in the United States without passing random government tests that demonstrates nothing of value (more on this in a second) and find out the manufacturer cheated the test to give me a better product? On the other hand I, as a consumer, have ever right to be angry when the government attempts to interfere with my acquisition of a desired product. The EPA tests, as I mentioned above, aren’t even testing real-world conditions so there’s no reason for consumers, even those who are dyed in the wool environmentalists, to give two shits about them.

And don’t make the mistake of construing this increase in sales with consumers not caring about environmentalism. Most consumers care greatly about environmentalism, which is why fuel mileage is advertised to heavily these days. Generally consumers want a balance between performance and fuel efficiency (of course the EPA’s fuel efficiency tests, like its emissions tests, aren’t accurate but that’s a different can of worms). If a vehicle’s fuel efficiency is too low consumers face undesirable increases in their fuel bills. But market forces are something statists don’t understand so they become confused by situations like Volkswagen’s sales increase and come to the faulty conclusion that it means consumers don’t care about environmentalism (and use that conclusion to argue the necessity of the EPA).

What we’ve learned from this Volkswagen scandal is that producers, when faced with idiotic regulatory tests, will find creative ways to give consumers what they want and be rightly rewarded. If you want to be angry with somebody be angry with the EPA. It’s been feeding the public bad data for decades and using that data to restrict availability of goods, which has forced manufacturers to cheat in order to fulfill the wants of their customers.

Exposure Doesn’t Pay The Bills

The Oatmeal posted an excellent comic yesterday (at least I first saw it yesterday). It directly addresses the bullshit of people trying to sucker artists into doing work for exposure.

As I’ve said, if you’re good at something never do it for free. And guess what doing something for exposure is? Free. Because exposure doesn’t pay the bills.

I run into my fair share of people trying to sucker work out of me for free. My sister is an artist so she probably runs into it a hundred times more than me (good thing our dad raised us right and neither of us get suckered into such scams). Because art’s value is primarily derived from creativity it’s harder for people to understand it has value than to understand something physical like a car has value. But anything worth doing is worth getting paid for and art is no exception.

If you look at websites, book covers, magazines, comic books, or the packaging on almost any product you’ll notice they all have something in common: art. Art catches the eye and is often the thing that causes somebody to initially notice a product. It’s the reason novels tend to have art instead of just the title and author printed on the the cover. I shit you not, the reason I initially noticed and checked out Whitechapel Gods is because the cover art is fucking fantastic. It turns out to be a fun read but if it didn’t have that cover art I probably wouldn’t have noticed it. This is why almost every product, including food at the grocery store, is packaged in something covered in art.

Manufacturers know art is important, which is why they pay artists to create it. The fact manufacturers pay artists to create art demonstrates art has value. Unless the person offering exposure is a seriously big name that can actually get your work in front of well known buyers willing to pay (I can’t emphasize that part enough) you they’re swindlers offering you nothing of value and should be ignored. If somebody really wants your art they’ll pay you money and if they don’t you’re wasting your time talking to them.

Don’t fall for the exposure malarkey (unless, of course, the person offering has some big chops that you know will get you in front of paying customers). Fuck exposure. Get paid instead.

Fix Things, Make Money

Do you want to know a secret for making lots of money? Learn how to fix things! Seriously. Using this one weird trick you can actually save yourself a ton of cash in a short period of time.

As I noted yesterday, one of the hard drives in my server gave up the ghost. While I probably could have sent it into to Apple to have them charge me $300 to put a new drive in I opted to go the cheaper route and fix it myself. In fact that is always my strategy when something breaks and isn’t under warranty. This is why iFixit is one of my favorite companies.

In addition to creating excellent repair guides and selling a wide selection of tools, iFixit has been promoting the repair culture. Part of this promotion involves getting people over the mindset that they cannot fix things by posting articles about seemingly impossible or very difficult success stories.

But I promised a secret for making money, not saving it, and I should deliver. My fellow agorists are also looking for a way to make a few bucks under the table and knowing how to repair things is an easy way to do it. Compared to producing new products money gotten from repairing is easy to hide. Purchases of tools, spare parts, instruction manuals, schematics, and testing equipment can all be plausibly explained away as things you use to keeping your own equipment in running shape. In the case of personal electronics you don’t even need a place of business, you can either repair them in your home or your customer’s home. And when the job is finished there’s nothing left behind besides broken components that can be easily explained away.

Another benefit for an agorist repair business is it’s easy for an individual to beat their larger competitors. Consider the price Apple, Samsung, Dell, or any other electronics manufacturer charges to do a repair out of warranty. Can you honestly tell me you couldn’t beat their prices? Especially for repairs that involve little more than swapping a common component like a hard drive or RAM module. You can make a tidy profit and still beat their prices by a wide margin. This is why you see so many mobile phone screen repair businesses. The margins are still good when you’re undercutting the manufacturer and enough people drop phones to ensure a constant income flow.

Learn how to repair things. You’ll save yourself a lot of money and you can make a lot of hard to trace money with your knowledge.

Competition Is The Solution To Expensive Medication

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.