You Can’t Fool Economics — And She IS A “Mother”

Pardon me, if this post seems to go near politics.  I don’t mean it, except that it’s impossible to talk economics without talking politics – or at least implying them.  It’s also impossible to build believable worlds without being aware of the basic facts of economics (which is why so many of the acclaimed science fiction books get thrown against the wall repeatedly and at least two have gotten tossed in the trash can with the requisite “pfui”.)  Bad economics – or what I would call economics dreams – are at the basis of most bad policy and coincidentally at the basis of most personal and business economic woes.

First of all, in the interest of full disclosure, I failed economics in ninth grade.  Oh, okay, not failed – I never failed a course – but I had a c which to my family was the moral equivalent of failing.  (Actually it was the moral equivalent of grand larceny.  I got told if I was going to be a c student and squander my parents’ resources, I’d have to move out and work for a living.  To be honest this was only because they’d graduated from threatening to send me to reform school.)  However I want to point out it’s a good thing I almost failed that economics class, because it wasn’t economics – it was a Marxist fairytale, complete with a finite economic pie and making business decisions on the basis of what was fair.  (I’d like to say it made no impression on me, but in fact that c was for giving battle to the teacher on every single beachhead from “mixed economy” being the best to the concept of social justice.  Never mind.  He was also a LITTLE man, and I liked to stand and watch his bald spot as I argued.  Yes, it IS somewhat of a miracle I lived to be here.  I attribute it to the fact that, abstracting the enhancements, I fought like Athena. 😉 )

Second, let’s establish economics is a science.  What this means is that it studies naturally occurring forces and tries to devise their principles.  It is actually a hard science, though no one treats like that.  It would occur to no one to legislate the law of gravity, but people seem to think that it’s perfectly all right to legislate minimum wage or – still in Europe – price points.  It works about as well as legislating the law of gravity of course.

But Sarah, you say, economics is not at all the same thing as the law of gravity.  It affects individual humans.  Your writing is devoted to the notion that humans are individuals and you can neither control their behavior completely nor change them into what you’d like them to be.

Right you are.  But while humans in the individual are indeed unfathomable, the rules by which humans enter into voluntary exchanges of value aren’t.  And those are the rules of economics.

Here it is, in short, everything you need to unlock the wonderful world of economics: Everything has a cost.  Everything has a value.  These are rarely the same.  The cost is what the object, good or service took to produce: human labor, usage of natural resources, negative impact on the other things that could have been done with those.  The law of cost can be translated to There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.  Everything has a value too.  The value of something is what someone is willing to pay for it.

The essential revolutionary nature of Marxism was confusing cost and value and saying that something had the same value as its cost.  It doesn’t work.  Why doesn’t it work?  Because I can spend ten years building a miniature castle out of dog turds, but it’s unlikely anyone will pay me ten years worth of writing money for it.  (Unless they’re mental patients, but do you know how hard it is to find a moneyed mental patient.)

These inflexible laws of economics apply to everything, including jobs (we don’t have an illegal immigration problem, we have a legislated minimum wage problem* and an onerous paperwork boondoogle problem.  This makes it impossible for many marginal businesses and services to run, which means they HAVE to hire illegal immigrants – no paperwork, no deductions, pay them what their labor is worth to you – or die.  When faced with death, both people and businesses resort to the black market.  And no, you don’t want me to describe each of these steps.  But for the record, as a barely making it writer, I COULD hire an assistant.  Hiring an assistant would probably double my production, which means it’s worth the risk of paying 5k a year for a part time worker.  What I can’t afford is to pay this person social security and to do all the paperwork.  And if you just said “Good, then you can’t afford to hire someone!” you must think nothing is better than something.  I live in a college town, where five thousand could make a marked difference in some student lifestyle and debt, and oh, yeah, this way they’re just accumulating debt, and they’re also not getting social security.)

They also apply to artistic endeavors.  They even apply to your hobbies.  For instance, I’ve mentioned I have a basement full of half-started money making endeavors.  A lot of them fall under the “Hobby” category.  I grew up with a mother who sewed, so I learned to sew as soon as I was old enough to hold a needle – and this summer I need to teach the boys to do it.  Their emergency patches on pants when out of the house are… argh – the same way my sons learned to sling story as soon as they could talk.  When I was first married, I did a lot of clothing-sewing and I sewed my first maternity wardrobe, from scratch.  (This for two reasons – first, because I had a TON of free fabric and vintage buttons from Dan’s grandmother.  Second, because we were broke.  Oh, yeah, and third, because I could style them as I wanted to, which ended up sort of like the twenties meets fairyland.  Unfortunately we accidentally donated the box, in the very mixed up move.)  I enjoy sewing.  This opens up a whole series of projects, like sewing cloth dragons, which I tried to do for sale way back.  So, why don’t I do it?  Simple.  Because writing right now has the potential to pay me more.  So the negative-value applies to my hobbies.  I write, I read, and I do art (which serves often to fix up a story.  Feeds from the same impulse.)  If tomorrow clothing went through the roof (don’t discount it, look at North Korea) it might be worth my time to make the family clothing, again.

And right now you’re saying “So, cost and price.  You think all the complex transactions of the world hinge on this?”  Yep.  Same way that most of the world’s biological complexity hinges on the fact that one atom of carbon binds with two atoms of hydrogen.  Yes, things can get incredibly complex down the line – or up the line – but if you pull back the curtain, moving the levers will be those same two little men, cost and price.

“But Sarah, what about social justice?”  What about it?  What about the Easter Bunny, while we’re at it?

Yeah, you can pout, but there ain’t no such creature as social justice.  Justice is always individual.  You can’t apply justice to an entire group (and if you bring up Nazi soldiers, or even brownshirts, a) you’re violating Goodwin’s and b) we can’t be friends anymore.  Think of the worst people you can – say the students who engaged enthusiastically in China’s cultural revolution.  Then read some bios.  Some were fully-cognizant evil doers.  BUT a good number were also duped, confused or scared.  Even in that extreme you can’t judge collective.)  Mostly social justice screams are the equivalent of “It isn’t fair.”  Economics isn’t fair or not fair.  It just is.  Attempts to change it are like attempts to change hydrogen and oxygen bonds.  At best unavailing, at worst harmful.  At their very worst they result in things like WWII and North Korea.

There is also individual justice, of course.  I’m not going to deny some businesses exploit their workers or their suppliers (at a bar, sometime, I’ll tell you about the last ten years of my life.)  On the other hand, the thing is, if people are truly exploiting others, they’re already abusing economics, and there’s usually an extra-economic reason things got that bad.  (And in most cases the others can move to another job or another industry.  Yeah, I chose not to.)  Usually things get that bad because of attempts to influence economics to be more “just” or “fair” (which almost always results in misery for all) or alternatively because politicians like to get rich too.

This means in most cases individual justice has about as much to do with economics as a gnu has to do with extra solar physics.  Yes, you can strenuously work to find a connection, but your attempt will only distort reality.  So, if you want to work for justice do, one on one and on your own time – heaven knows I try – but leave economics and trying to regulate economic laws alone, okay?

So, what does this have to do with our life?  And with writing in particular?

Well, lately I’ve been open-mouth astonished by the number of established writers throwing fits that the new model of publishing doesn’t allow them to make the money they were used to.  I confess right now I couldn’t live from indie alone, but at least I understand the solution is not to throw fits and demand fairness and certainly not to try to regulate ebook price, by legal or extra legal means.  I’m not making as much as I’d like from Indie, because I only have short stories out under my own press.  I must finish novels for it.  Right now I’m writing them for Baen and a couple other presses, which pays me money up front.  Yeah, it over all probably pays me less, but I get the money this year when I’m about to have two kids in college.  It is what it is, fairness has nothing to do with it.  Once this crunch is past, I’ll write for myself, (and always for Baen, lest you fear) and I think I’ll do okay.  Oh, it will require two-three years ramp up and a lot of work, which I’d prefer not to do, when I should be “established” – life is a b*tch all over, isn’t it?  (Shrug.)

The other thing getting under my skin is this jobs fund or whachmacallit.  People are supposed to contribute five dollars and then they use this to give loans to small business startups.  (Rolls eyes.)  This intruded on my consciousness twice yesterday.  First, because the newly-rented (I’m betting I’ll get more done.  It’s why I’ll be unavailable during the day.  Office-ish is out of bounds right now, and my production plummeted, so this is worth it at least to try) office doesn’t yet have a coffee maker, but is a block from Starbucks (yes, I know, but it was time-saving) and second because I happened to sit with husband through The Voice (okay, I was reading a mystery.  But we could cuddle.)

I might be wronging the jobs fund, but I don’t think I am.  It seems like one of those things people do with other people’s money, which means it will make bad economic decisions.  Look, for instance, suppose I ask for contributions to a fund and from that fund I’m going to give advances to a hundred indie writers.  At best – supposing I screen – I’m going to screen those books according to MY tastes, which are not necessarily the PUBLIC tastes.  Will it result in bestsellers?  Uh… Only by accident.  Because you see, if all the hundred books fail, it means nothing to me.  So my guess is that this is what the jobs fund will do.  New businesses, even funded by people with a vested interest, fail by the score.  With this… I’d guess there will be no survivors and the money will be squandered.  But hey, donors get to feel good.

And this brings me to the book business as I’ve known it.  Dave at Mad Genius Club in comments mentioned something about most publishers/editors being no more evil than anyone else.  This is absolutely true.  BUT they were put in a situation that encourages and fosters evil, because the economics of publishing are screwy.  They’re screwy for several reasons, one of them the fiction that there is no money in books (go look at the publishing houses offices.  Those weren’t bought with bottle tops); the other is that it is something people do “for the love.”  People do a lot of things for the love, but even sex has a cost, even if it doesn’t have a price.

HOWEVER the capstone of screwing up publishing was the ability to play with other people’s (most the company and its many, anonymous investors) money AND to divorce results from actions.

Over the last thirty years, increasingly, publishing houses have discovered that they could exert control over what got shelved, which means what got seen, which means what got sold.  At the same time, they held on full throttle to the convenient fiction that EVERY failure of every book is because it is a bad book, and therefore the author’s fault.  (This wouldn’t stand logical analysis, because, how are you going to sell a million books, if no one knows your book exists – and yes, their answer is that the author should publicize it… because the author has a publicity department, of course.)  This fuzzy uncoupling of cost and price allowed the publishers/editors/whoever to choose books that pushed their world view and to feel virtuous about it.  Part of the reason Baen is different, is that it is a family business and it still needed to mind the bottom line.  So they took care what they bought was likely to sell.

And that’s also an illustration, btw, of “economics always wins.”  The publishers thought they could control both supply and demand, and therefore totally defeat the market.  (They probably took the same economics class I took in ninth grade.  The teacher would have adored that idea.)

Instead, as always when the market is regulated in a way that violates economic laws, it is flowing around them and finding another pathway.  You can see this with illegal immigration, with illegal narcotics sales, with illegal toilet sales (with the larger tank), with the black market that appears around every regulated good or service.  And you are seeing it in publishing with the ebook revolution.  It is entirely possible ebooks would have gone nowhere, if traditional publishing still had a functioning market that minded supply AND demand.  But it didn’t.

Like everyone else who thinks they can abolish economic laws, they are finding economic laws abolish them.

* I am not proposing that people should starve if they have no economic value.  I’m proposing that’s what charity is for.  Confusing charity and economics only leads to everyone needing charity because the economy – or a part of it – collapses.  Is this ideal?  Isn’t it demeaning for people to get charity?  (Rolls eyes.)  What about economics says it has to be ideal?  We’d probably all do better at slightly less than 1g, particularly as we age.  Does that mean we should legislate gravity?  Because it works about as well.  “Whaaa! Unfair!” is a preschooler’s cry, not an economic argument.

164 responses to “You Can’t Fool Economics — And She IS A “Mother”

  1. Brilliant! Again! Well done, Sarah!

  2. Yes.

    Economics is a statistical science, like much of physics. You can’t predict what one person will do, but statistical statements about a whole lot of people make some sense. What’s more, as the theory of complex systems has grown, it’s become more clear that even if you can’t predict in detail, it’s a fact that you can’t predict in detail, which itself destroys a lot of “political economics.”

  3. Sarah, you do realize, right, that it’s impossible to talk about _anything_ anymore, of any importance whatsoever, without implicating politics? It’s unavoidable when there’s a large…mmmm….tendency, shall we say, that wants the state to do pretty much everything. To them, you are talking politics even when you think you’re not.

    • Ric’s Rule #2: Markets happen anyway. You can’t destroy a market, but you can distort or divert it — and the most valuable thing to any given individual is the attention and goodwill of the people who control their destiny, in small ways or large. If you can’t get a car without satisfying the requirements of the Office of the People’s Commissioner for Light Vehicles, the bureaucrats in that office can sell their services for whatever the traffic will bear.

  4. ppaulshoward

    Tom’s right. A “certain class of people” see politics in everything and have the tendency of thinking “if you’re not for them, you’re against them”. [Sad Smile]

    • Paul, that class of people are right; their politics requires such a manichean view because it is based on faulty premises. Like the Emperor with his new robes, it only works if EVERYBODY adheres to that view.

      • Not sure precisely what you mean, but once some significant group arises that wants the state to do everything then everything is politics, because politics is where they try to advance their agenda and politics is where they must be fought.

        • I’ve heard it said more often lately that we’re at the awkward stage: too late for politics, too early for pitchforks and torches.

          Though I note that pitchfork handles are suddenly in short supply…

        • Clarification: When a class of people asserts a condition, situation, circumstance that is not supportable by evidence, facts or reason and yet is essential to their happiness, that group will suppress views at odds with their asserted condition. Thus the “fer us or agin us” perspective. Politics is a very effective means of achieving that suppression, making certain propositions (I’m talkin’ ’bout choo, Charles Murray) thought crimes.

          Positions based on valid premise do not require the State for their enforcement or recruiting.

          • Require? Probably not. Though one notes the state can be mighty useful, at least in theory, in getting rid of false premises. The difficulty is, of course, in agreeing on just which ones are false.

        • True because once something is brought into the political arena it becomes political wether you are fer it or agin it. We have to fight for what we believe in the political arena, because if we refuse to fight political fights all they have to do to win is to make something political.

  5. You may find these videos interesting:

    • Ayup – Bill Whittle’s What We Believe videos are a clear, concise, informative and entertaining exegesis of the argument. Good linking, Dgarsys.

  6. Thank you for this. I have nearly come to blows in arguments over the economics of Star Trek: The Next Generation. (They may not have money in the future, but… I just can’t imagine how they could eliminate cost and value.)

    As a side note, I think it does matter that you delve into these topics. I am so sick of being preached to and smirked at by today’s authors… it really is refreshing to find someone that can be “real”. (The second season of Heroes was the worst for this… although Battlestar Galactica was nearly as bad. Doctor Who walks a very fine line.)

    • More bad Star Trek science: ok, you got replicators, and you have dilithium crystals to provide massive amounts of energy — but there was still a certain kind of scotch only available in limited supply which Scotty treasured.

      (Obviously some things must not have been replicable – and therefore, because of its rarity held greater value. The Laws of Economics still rule.)

      • Remember the Season 1 Star Trek episode when Kirk got split in two by the transporter? It wasn’t a malfunction, it was an Easter Egg subroutine. That particular feature is used to “create” industrial workers through mass replication. The docile become assembly line workers, restaurant staff and paper shufflers; the aggressive become bureaucrats, tax collectors and professional wrestlers. Oh, and Rock Stars.

        • There’s a story idea for you.

        • Don’t forget goons. There appears to be an endless supply of goons.

          I’ve said for years that the old quiz about what to do with a single-use time machine and a gun with one bullet can be answered easily: Blow away Robert Peel. The [profane derogation] made being a goon respectable.

    • I firmly set aside any considerations of the economics of Star Trek: TNG whenever I watched. I saw something recently on a cable show that indicated that Roddenberry was a closet collectivist all along, but when he wrote the original Star Trek, he modified what he wanted to do so that it wouldn’t be thrown out.

      • Also, since I have only in the past few years become a cynic, I never thought about it at the time, but I now wonder if the Ferengi weren’t created as a backhanded insult to capitalism in general.

        • No “backhanded” about it. Deliberate, and with malice aforethought.

          And they still couldn’t make it come out less credible than the main story line.

          • Did you notice that all the “money grubbing, nasty, big-nosed” Ferengi were played by people with tradtionally *Jewish* last names? Either they’re part of the 10 Lost Tribes of Israel, or that was a very anti-Semitic undertone.

            • They could hardly have been more obviously antisemitic if the character appearance had been derived from Nazi cartoons. Given the effect of their bald heads and the shaping of their “lobes” I suspect an argument could be made (you buy the drinks, I make the argument) that the Ferengi are crafted to look like circumcised penises.

              And after that, the jokes just write themselves, don’t they?

          • One of the things I like about ST is that bad guys can’t stay bad guys,. You eventually learn about their motivations, and the bad guys become just … guys.

            • Which is why I quit watching it.

              PICCARD: This fellow captured a billion people, sold them down the Spiral Arm to be slaves in the thorium mines, then tried to cover his tracks by blowing the planet and the other six billion people into thumb-sized bits.
              TROY: Yes, Captain, but you see he was traumatized at an early age. His mama wouldn’t let him at her teats as often as his brother got.
              PICCARD: O, my, the poor fellow, it’s certainly understandable that such an unfortunate might lash out. Let’s have tea…

              Balls. I propose another semi-rule for Human Wave: Bad guys get scragged. Their motivations get ridiculed.

              • Propose away. Me, I’d rather understand how Adolf Hitler grew up to be Adolf Hitler, in hopes we can keep it from happening again.

                UNDERSTANDING someone doesn’t mean AGREEING with them or excusing them.

                • What makes a Hitler was understood millennia before there was a Hitler to exemplify it.

                  People who tell you otherwise are the ones who are really, really hoping the latest candidate is on the up-and-up, because what he’s saying sounds so nice.

                  • Ric, in a word, bullshit. What people thought millennia ago was that a Hitler was possessed by demons. And I’m not sure we’ve gotten much beyond that.

                    • We aren’t beyond it at all. We have the word “insane”, which simply begs the question. There is no practical difference.

                      Insane or possessed, a Hitler is only one, generally rather ineffectual man in his own person. He only gains power because people agree that what he says sounds good. Adolf Hitler never killed a Jew with his own hands; that was done by his followers — and his followers were people who thought his program worthwhile and desirable.

                    • It might equally have been said that he was the result of cumulative bad causes playing out within society.

                      Or in other places it might have been said that the gods were angry.

                      Hitler could not have done what he did without support of a great many people who desired such a leader. You might check out Robert Gellately’s Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler: The Age of Social Catastrophe for a chilling, but informative read.

                    • Desired or were too scared to talk — afraid of seeming out of step. I mean, the whole eugenics mess was around before Hitler, and is still around under other names. Watch for “Quality of life” “Useless eaters” is never far behind.

                    • It strikes me as sort of silly to say that Hitler was just some ineffectual guy, except for the people who followed him. You might as well say Babe Ruth was just a fat kid from Baltimore, except when he played baseball.

                    • Bah. Babe Ruth actually hit baseballs with the bat and ran around bases. Adolph Hitler never killed a Jew with his own hands, never dropped a bomb on England, never shot a Frenchman, never crunched a boot through the snow of Ukraine. Hitler gave orders that those things should be done, and people followed those orders because it suited them to do so. And if people hadn’t heard something in those speeches that made them agree to take orders, none of those things would have happened. Without people to follow orders, Hitler was, yes, just a silly little man who liked to shout and make speeches.

                      What makes Hitlers is followers, people who like what they hear and set out to implement it.

                • I just don’t see how we can ‘keep it happening again,’ although I wish we could. Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Jean-Bedel Bocassa (and whatever other horror du jour you wish to name) all may have had personal issues, but not one of them operated in a vacuum. There are just too many factors involving time, place, opportunity and zeitgeist involved.

                  • And a lot of it is the “occasion” — at any other time in history Hitler might have been only a sh*tty little man who destroyed his family or his village — but he came at a time of catastrophic change and between wars. And that’s what terrifies me about the current times. We’re at catastrophic change point again, and I don’t know ANY in history that passed without rivers of blood. And see, I’d like to live, I’d like my friends to live and I’d like my kids to live. It worries me.

        • Yes, absolutely they were – evil villain capitalists. Just as ST: TNG has a lot of progessive elements (evolved humans with no conflict, no money). And, as Ric says, they still had to make the Ferengi utterly stupid in order to beat them.

          One of the things I love most about ST:DS9 is that they made the Ferengi the heroes. ^_^

        • No — it’s painfully apparent what the Ferengi were supposed to represent: Short; bad teeth; big noses; strange headwear; distinct outfits; weird accents; obsessed with money. All in accordance with the Laws for the Protection of Science-Fiction Blood and Honor….

      • The worst was when they were setting up DS9 by introducing the Bajorans as refugees on TNG. To help the poor refugees, they REPLICATED blankets. That’s just too damn economically ignorant to be ignored. Give them a *!@% replicator, for Federation’s sake!

        • ppaulshoward

          Give them replicators? Why not give them a world and help them build cities, farms, etc. Refugee Camps? Those exist only for short times or when nobody wants the refugees. The Great and Glorious Federation of Plants keeps those people in refugee camps????

          • Well, yeah, but that was even accepting the whole Trek, something from nothing economic nonsense. I like the Federation of Plants though.

          • Sentient plants? Walking? They’re after us… ahhhhhh. (Yes, I know it’s a typo, but it’s hilarious. Sigh. what if humans are the only intelligent animals, and the rest are walking plants. Imagine convincing them we’re intelligent and shouldn’t be mulched.)

        • Would you give a bunch of refugees you don’t completely trust the ability to create weapons that may be use against you?

          • So don’t leave the programs for weapons in the replicators! Sheesh, this is elementary Player Character stuff. Sure, they may be able to replicate clubs and knives, but, c’mon, you’ve got stunners and blasters (in the same weapon, even!). And forcefields.

            Simple PC rules. Don’t give people weapons you can’t trump, and steal anything that gets used against you. Improve it if possible. (Which is how the hypnogogic projector became, instead of a backpack hypno-beam, a ship-mounted weapon…)

            • OMG. I LOVE you guys.

              • Wayne Borean aka The Mad Hatter

                And then Wesley Crusher comes along and reprograms the Replicators…


                • Or else they just go buy patterns for weapons off the black market.

                  • If they can buy patterns for weapons off the black market, they can buy replicators off the black market as well, I figure. Or steal them. But if one is that paranoid, make sure that one knows the “maintenance passwords” to the replicators you give them, and check up now and then to see what else is there.

                    …What? What? Don’t all SF tabletop roleplaying game groups include the Extremely Good And Paranoid Programmer? Am I going to have to write this stuff myself?

                    • If they can buy one phaser on the black market, they can have as many phasers as they want. If they have dirt, they have all the raw materials they need.

                      The replicator and transporter, as they played out, were horrible mistakes dramatically.

                • Which would actually be more realistic than some plots. I had a friend who quit trying to put limiting controls on the family computers and television, it was only training her two sons to become better hackers.

                  • Your friend made a mistake. Hacking is a valuable job skill – she should have continued.

                    • Knowing those two boys I doubt that they needed the incentive anymore, nor could the parents have provided them much further challenge.

                      I do recall explaining to the younger on a school trip that, while I might agree with the sentiment, I could not let him moon Pennsylvania Ave on my watch.

                  • Wayne Borean aka The Mad Hatter

                    She should put the controls back on. Training your kids to be better hackers is a worthwhile goal.


        • The Replicator must use some assemblage of raw material — be it a mass of various elements, from with to ‘create’ what it is set to replicate. Therefore, while you may not have a trade in finished goods you would still have trade in materials.

          In Star Trek both the Transporter and the Replicator are means to an end. You are not supposed to think about how they work, do you ask how your TV works. (OK some of us do.) This is the bright and promised future. (Lie back and think of the Empire?) The problem is that when the stories push the wall some of us can’t help noticing that there are holes you could drive the Millennium Falcon through.

          • The Replicator may be a energy:matter convertor. Remember, the Enterprise is running off a matter/anti-matter engine; they may have more problems with excess than insufficient energy.

            I can just hear Scotty: Cap’n, the engines er drowning in energy, we mus’ issues banana splits to all ther crew!

    • I loved the TOS as a kid and was rather excited when The Next Generation started showing in Finnish tv. But I didn’t watch faithfully for very long, the characters kept acting in ways I just couldn’t comprehend. But I couldn’t quite decide whether the reason was that I wasn’t smart enough to figure out the reasons, or whether the decisions by the characters really were sometimes as stupid as they seemed to me.

      For one thing, that whole Prime Directive thing – it does seem right that you perhaps shouldn’t go and try to drag some more primitive culture to modernity by force, but these ‘oh no, they are about to blow themselves up’, ‘but the Prime Directive’ , ‘well, let’s see if we can figure out a way to stop that without violating the Prime Directive, but if we can’t too bad’ story lines, well… of course they usually did find a way to weasel around it, but there was always this idea that it really was untouchable in that universe and that was The Right Thing, no matter what.

  7. A lot of fiction has a “just so” feel to economics and ecosystems. Okay, the Elves have beautiful ethereal buildings of stone with skybridges, pleasure domes, etc. Where are the Elven Construction companies, eh? Were the buildings created at the same time the world was? What about the Elven Zoning Commission? And don’t get me started on Giant Space Amoebas. What the hell do they live on? You can’t count on spaceships full of yummy humans showing up on a regular basis to keep something that large alive. Feh.

    • _LotR_: The Return of the King_ does in fact show Elven forge-workers (the reforging of Narsil into Anduril — two movies late, but still… 🙂 ).

  8. *happy smile* I just love that people are talking real economics these days! I’ve met some who thought Marx was economics (no, it’s social science, and pretty poor at that).

    Big yes on economic problems meaning there’s been an economic abuse. Low mobility means an employer can have a monopoly on jobs, and abuse the employees. The historic answer was a union; a better one is make it easier for people to find another employer. Competition works.

    And I’ve been railing against the minimum wage for years. I remember hearing about a California tourist town that wanted to raise its minimum wage for hotel porters to $10 an hour. My thought: you’ve just put a whole lot of porters out of work – the hotel can hire a college grad for that. This idea that people are cookie-cutter units of productivity, all the same – I find it vile. People are different, and some people’s labor is worth more than others. There are people who make way way more than I do, and good for them, because they work a lot harder than I do.

    Sabrina, I’ve wondered the same things about elves. I always wanted to see the Vulcan version of Archie Bunker (you know all Vulcans can’t be brilliant scientists), or Klingon accountants (wouldn’t THAT be scary? ^_^)

    • I don’t know about Klingon accountants, but there’s a fairly constant undercurrent regarding Klingon software developers.

      Klingon software isn’t released. It’s imposed.

    • There are people who make way way more than I do, and good for them, because they work a lot harder than I do.

      Or they possess a rare skill, or levels of training that people are willing to pay to obtain.

      AS to Klingon accountants – while I wouldn’t want to be audited by one, I would love to send one in to represent me at an audit. Take no prisioners, give no ground, yeild no deduction.

  9. There are way too many people (and way too many of them write laws at the federal or state level) who seem to think that good intentions are an adequate substitute for thinking about the entirely foreseeable consequences of bills being discussed. Or who think that by merely feeling passionately enough about a subject, that they can rewrite reality. But I’ve got news for them: reality doesn’t care what you feel or think; reality is what it is. And you can either adapt to the way the world really is, or live your life in a state of denial — until reality finally smacks you across the face. And when you do get that smack in the face, 1) it ain’t gonna be pretty, and 2) you’re going to pull a lot of people down with you.

    If it weren’t for #2, it would be safe to leave these people alone. But because of their positions at the controls of the ship of state, their failure to understand reality is going to hurt thousands/millions/billions of other people (depending on how high a political position they’ve managed to reach). And those of us who can see the iceberg ahead are yelling and screaming at them to stop, but their only response is to plug their ears and go “Lalalala, I can’t heeeeeear youuuu…”

    I want off this boat. The tickets were way overpriced, anyway.

    • Politics is the ultimate in “spending other people’s money”. Politicians don’t own their jobs. They are elected by busy, uninformed voters.

    • Susan Shepherd

      California, where I live, is unfortunately a pretty bad example of this. I believe it was last year that the state legislature passed a law that (probably illegally) let the state tax Internet sales. Amazon purchases, Ebay purchases, Barnes & Noble purchases, that sort of thing.

      And then a number of legislators appeared shocked, just shocked that a large number of small companies immediately made plans to leave. And Amazon (temporarily) cancelled its Affiliates program, because that would sever the necessary link that California was trying to use to justify taxing a transaction between a man in Louisiana selling teacups and the lady in Maine who bought ’em.

      In the end, the legislature ended up making some deal so Amazon wouldn’t leave the state entirely, but a bunch of companies still left or are in the middle of arranging to leave. I still have no idea how this was a “surprise” to the legislators. I mean, did they think there wouldn’t be consequences? That people wouldn’t see the ridiculousness of hiking up taxes on a highly mobile business model in a state that’s already unfriendly to business? *rolls eyes*

      • Colorado passed a law like that. The Amazon Affiliates program has been shut down since, IIRC, early in 2009. The Court here just struck down the tax. I hope Amazon reinstates the Affiliates program for Colorado – for one thing, Sarah would make *some* money selling her books from her website and this blog site!

        • North Carolina has the silly idea that, if you are a resident, they have the right to collect sales taxes on anything you purchase anywhere at anytime.

      • Susan, that is the sad truth, I do not think that they even consider if their legislation is going to make businesses move. Most of them have not run a business.

        One of Newt Gingrich’s daughters ran two used bookstore/coffee shops in a city in Greensboro, North Carolina — the feedback he got from her on the effects of the federal paper demands that were laid on small businesses!

  10. C. S. Lewis’s definition of the difference between children’s fantasy and adult fantasy and science fiction was, the economics of children’s fantasy didn’t have to make sense. We don’t know how badger and rat earn their keep, they just own their houses and the food just shows up. Lewis didn’t live long enough to see SF with really bad, nonsensical economics!

  11. I live in a college town, where five thousand could make a marked difference in some student lifestyle and debt, and oh, yeah, this way they’re just accumulating debt, and they’re also not getting social security.)

    And they are not gaining particular work place experience for their future resume.

    (Well, they may be learning to turn up on time and ask things, ‘You want fries with that?’ or ‘Would you like desert today?’ — but those, while better than nothing aren’t the same.)

  12. Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel that has such a screwed-up view of economics as “They Walked Like Men” by Clifford D. Simak, but it’s just too funny and entertaining to object to. It’s like objecting to the fact that no one in the book ever drives sober.

  13. Howcome every Thursday you put up Instalanche bait? Do you WANT the obsessive/compulsive among your readership to die of exhaustion? Do you not realize that such people are EXACTLY the people who can be counted upon to BUY every-demmed-thing you write? And how do you treat those poor, sad, exhausted fans? By putting up posts bound to draw Glenn Reynolds’ gaze, inundating this board with new and interesting (and, to be sure, some trollish) voices?

    Sure, as a corporate accountant tutored by Heinlein I could probably add numerous interesting points (for example, your employer does NOT contribute to Socialist Ponzi, he reduces your wages to cover that tax … but you already know that, howabout: Do you realize that, over the last 50 years the cost of admission to a movie has remained constant when expressed as a multiple of the minimum wage?) but what’s the point. I ain’t a member of the effing choir, I’m pumping the organ, sewing the frickin’ robes and sweeping up the bleedin’ loft.

    Sorry – my computer is cranky, tending to freeze at unpredictable intervals and I don’t have the $$$ for a new one (translation: I ain’t willing to spend MY money, if we’re talking your money …) and it has my rant subroutine on a hair trigger. Nevermind. Carry on. Little point to it anyway.

    Marxism is to Economics as Alchemy is to Chemistry. Which is probably an insult to alchemy. Look, it is hard to find a suitable analogy — I can mount a better defense of Creationism than for Marxism (Look, it’s simple: postulate a Creator existent external to Space/Time, who creates something simultaneously throughout Time…) sigh. Its Opening Day for MY baseball team, time to prepare myself for 162 (plus, please dear god, 162+) games of excit … whatever it is we fans get from watching those games.

    • callanprimer

      “Marxism is to Economics as Alchemy is to Chemistry. Which is probably an insult to alchemy.”

      Stealing this!

  14. While I might kibitz at the edges of your argument, the essence is right-on. Some things cannot be legislated, economic behavior for one.

    I came up with the following formulation as a freshman in high school:

    To eliminate racism you can pass a law stating that as of a certain date everyone will wake up pink with purple polka-dots. Problem is that on morning of the certain date we will still wake up black, white, yellow, brown, what have you … (ok, the pink with purple polka-dots was a bit weird)

    The same would happen if you past a law saying we all will become altruistic, or everyone will really give a good days work for a good days pay. People will continue to behave in a manner that they believe will best serves their interests. Unfortunately people don’t always have a very good idea of what this is, hence such things as the problems with the publishing industry.

  15. I think it was Asimov who postulated the three waves of SF.

    First Wave: Tom Swift develops an electric motorcar.

    Second Wave, Tom Swift finishes his electric motorcar in time to save Polly Pureheart from her runaway horse & cart.

    Third Wave: Tom Swift, tycoon, has amassed a vast fortune through production of his electric motorcar, looks out upon a society vastly changed by his production. Housing is far more dispersed, with people living in suburbs rather than high-rise tenements, vast swaths of arable land are covered over with macadam for the convenience of electric motorcars, secondary industries servicing the electric motorcar have replaced the smith, the farrier and the knacker. Vast regulatory bureaucracies have grown up to license and supervise the construction and use of the electric motorcar and its support structure.

    New Wave: the increased alienation and bureaucratization of society foster rebellion. Repent, Harlequin, there’s a Back to the Earth movement, an Occupy movement, an Authenticity movement and a lot of other crap movements.

    Human Wave: ?

    • Human Wave: people ignore movements and invent atomic-powered electric flying motorcars that cost less, last a hundred years, and let people live where they like — whereupon people still bitch about commuting.

  16. Sarah, “Everything has a cost. Everything has a value,” and of course we all make money off the difference. Perfect!

    Also I agree the term social justice is an evil lie. There is no social justice. Only justice. “Social justice” is injustice by definition.

  17. This is about what I’ve been trying to explain to people too. Do I *want* a perfect, ideal, everyone-is-nice world? Yes. Do I believe in one? Oh Hades, no.

    I’m a pragmatic idealist: when idealism conflicts with pragmatism, I’ll go with the pragmatic route. It’s far less likely to fail, and might even accomplish something. It may take patience and time, but that’s better than folding just because the first hand was bad.

    • Yes. I will not turn away the needy — I can’t, anyway. Broken or something. Tom in the Shifters series has my issue. BUT I don’t think mucking up the economy is the best way to help them. I also don’t like the idea of taking money from people by force — taxes — to give to other people. However, the world being what it is, I’d prefer a semi-welfare, salary-supplementing program to a minimum wage law. Less mess.

      • One proposal to mitigating the pernicious effects of minimum wage laws is for the government mandating the minimum wage to grant employer tax credits to compensate for the difference between the wage and the actual economic contribution. Subject to fraud and abuse, but ultimately less harmful.

      • I’d prefer a semi-welfare, salary-supplementing program to a minimum wage law.

        I believe something quite like that was proposed by George McGovern when he ran for President. I think that once you were to receive a base hand out, and once started making more than a certain amount a percentage would be reduced from the hand out. The idea was that the more you made the more you would have, so you did not completely loose the incentive to work.

        • I’ve thought the same thing – if you’re going to have a government-based monetary support system (whether we should or not is a separate issue), then make it one that is easy to get off, rather than hard: Set a baseline value, then for each dollar earned, subtract a half dollar from their assistance. Once they make twice the baseline amount, they have weaned themselves from the assistance, and done it at whatever pace they could.

          The specifics can be tweaked as more information comes in.

          • Wing and a Whim

            That would be a fine idea if everybody wanted to get off welfare, and was willing to work hard enough to do so. However this program penalizes everyone at the start; it means you get paid the same whether you work really hard or you don’t. It also punishes the person who gets a raise by taking away from their fixed paycheck for doing nothing from the government.

            Fixed weight scales for variable effort haven’t worked in the union shots I don’t think the work on welfare

            • Which program is “this program”? The one I outlined? I don’t see how. Perhaps I should have specified that earning money meant that it was earned in a regular job, but I thought that was implicit.

              Let’s put some concrete numbers in it:
              If your baseline is $12,000, you get that if you don’t work.
              If you go out and get a job, and you make, say, $6,000, then your assistance gets reduced by $3,000, leaving you with a total of $15000 ($12,000 base – $3,000 reduction = $9,000
              $9,000 assistance + $6,000 employment = $15,000)

              Thus, the more you earn, the more you have, IN TOTAL, but the more you earn, the less you get from the assistance program. In the case above, it wouldn’t be totally gone until you earned $24,000

              • That sounds to be a good start — one would probably next have to add kids to the equation, though, as they’re the most common complication for poverty-level-and-below, I suspect. And very complicated they can be!

                • And very complicated they can be!

                  Yup! You can say that again. And they can be complicated in so many different ways.

              • Wing and a Whim

                Ah, I misunderstood your program as a dollar-in dollar-reduced… Which means I utterly failed reading comprehension. My apologies! Next, I’ll criticize the way you handle polka-dotted people discrimination, or something else that isn’t even there.

                Your program, as you clearly laid out and I failed to understand, is a far better one than our current system. Then again, not only does the current system have perverse incentives for the individuals to not get off welfare, it also has incentives for the bureaucrats to encourage that barrier, as greater enrollment and retention means a bigger budget and more power.

                • And please do not forget all those good hearted people with social sciences degrees who have employed by the government to interpret, develop, plain, implement and oversee the actual workings of the legislation that the government has past to care for the needy. If they have nobody on the roles to care for how would they justify their existence in the government, working on the taxpayers dime (or is it quarter now?). You wouldn’t want all those people put out of work, do you? 😉

                • Hey, that’s fine. I’m used to people misunderstanding things I say. Sometimes I leave things out, sometimes I assume something that’s not completely certain. So I’m used to having to explain myself. Heh. 🙂

                  I asked which you meant, because *I* wasn’t sure if you meant mine or the current system.

          • pohjalainen

            I’m having bit of that type of a problem with the support system we have in Finland right now. I recently got issued the right to receive a semi-retirement pay after having been on extended sick leave for nearly two years because while I’m still able to work what I can do now is a bit limited (osteoarthritis, and most of the jobs I have been doing during the last decades have been the physical labor, or needs to be able to do physical labor, types). And I also just got a part time job, but one which pays very close to the maximum amount I’m now allowed to earn in a month before I lose that retirement pay.

            So I’m in the process of trying to get some stories for sale on Amazon. I’m also sort of screwed if they start selling enough that I will start getting close to about a hundred dollars per month for them. After that I’m losing money unless I manage to get close to about 600 dollars per month.

            Nice. I’ll do this anyway, I’d much prefer to be able to support myself completely by myself but I guess if I do earn money from my stories, but it seems the sum will stay stuck to something like under a couple hundred dollars per month and there seem to be no hints it might start to move over that I’ll have to quit this experiment at some point. The money I’ll get from working is going to be barely enough to live on, so unless I can either sell enough or find some other way to supplement my wage (and finding another job is highly unlikely, even well-educated and healthy over 50 year olds have problems finding jobs here now and I’m neither, I was lucky to get that part time one) in some way so I’d get at least close to the same amount I’m afraid that in the long run I’m going to need that damn semi-retirement pay. Things really would be easier to deal with if it was reduced it in stages once I start earning over that cut off sum instead of just being stopped then.

            • pohjalainen

              And by the way, one of the reasons why age discrimination in companies can be rather bad in Finland may have something to do with the fact that our government has been worried about youth unemployment for a long time, and the solutions they have tried to implement have included a lot of gimmicks which make the younger workers with little work history hell of a lot cheaper for firms than old ones. So now many firms do use any excuse they can find to get rid of the more expensive people, those getting close to their retirement ages, so they can hire those cheaper younger ones, who then are often also hired as temporary workers – ones with a permanent contract are also more expensive workers, and hard to get rid of too.

        • “Negative income tax” and actually Nixon was a proponent.

          The problem was that the government then gave up control — they couldn’t tell you not to spend your NIT on booze.

          • Seriously limits the opportunities for graft and skimming on the functionaries part too. Yeah, well, seriously, though — YOU CAN’T MAKE EVERYONE RICH. I have friends that if I gave them my entire net worth (not that it’s insane, but it’s better than theirs) tomorrow, they’d be back broke by next month. Two months tops. However, give ME their net worth (we’ve taken ourselves there at least twice through boneheaded decisions) and we’ll be about where we are in a couple of years. Why? Because we hate being broke and we work like hell. My friends don’t care or perhaps don’t feel comfortable owning more, or perhaps don’t want to make the effort. whichever. It’s their decision and it should be respected. I’m all for emergency services in-extremis — I’m soft hearted — but I’ll point out there has never been a human society without some form of charity, unless the government intervened to discourage it, and even then. My question is not “what is better — that everyone have as much chocolate ice cream as they wish, or should they have a warm brownie with it?” I’m afraid the question, given the limits of human resources often is “Should we leave the hindmost to struggle and depend on private charity (which again is rarely known to fail, though it has limits) or should the devil take EVERYONE?” And when you look at it that way… well.

  18. derekchamberlain

    As someone almost completely ignorant of economics (they didn’t teach economics at my school), I’m wondering if what you are positing is removing all market regulation and returning to the Roman “caveat emptor”?

    • Derek, there are plenty of eminently readable economic texts for the general public. Thomas Sowell has a superb 2-volume work as well as a very good book on Economic Facts and Fallacies. Walter Williams, author of More Liberty Means Less Government: Our Founders Knew This Well is the former head of the Dept. of Economics at George Mason University, and if you don’t like reading search Youtube for Milton Friedman.

      As to your strawman, be aware that even the most earnest Libertarians support a role for government regulation in areas such as protection of property rights and enforcement of contracts.

      • derekchamberlain

        RES, thanks for the sources, I’ll look into them.
        My comment wasn’t intended to be a ‘strawman’, I’m genuinely interested in what everyone has to say about this as it seemed to me, from the comments, that everyone seemed to be advocating a return to Darwinian economics and social welfare.

        • Well, you see, you’re wrong, you know. Your school did teach you economics. They just didn’t call it that; they called it “fair play” or “fairness” or “social justice”, or, when they knew you wouldn’t see them exchanging ironic smirks, “compassion”.

          Anybody who has anything beyond a “fair share” could only get it in one of two ways: finding it by luck, or stealing it from somebody. A person who finds treasure is expected to share with others; if not, he’s a criminal who must be punished at least to the extent of having the excess taken away. The thief, of course, is a criminal from the get-go, and (equally of course) anybody who excuses the greedy or the thieves is also a criminal to be punished — and certainly not to be listened to.

          That’s what you learned, and that’s economics. It’s wrong economics; it is, in my mind, flatly evil economics; it’s destructive of the lives and fortunes of everybody except the ones appointed to punish the criminals; but it’s economics.

          And since that’s what you learned, I advise you not to waste your time with Sowell or Friedman. You won’t see anything in either one’s work that isn’t either criminality or excuses for criminality, and as a Good Person you don’t want to fall in with criminals. In fact, you shouldn’t be here except to collect anecdotes to share with your friends. “Oh boy,” you can say, shaking your head in amazement, “those guys are just vile.”

          • I find what most people learn about economics is Keynesian economics (which Keynes himself was about to denounce, but he died too soon) – that is, FDR and the New Deal and WWII government spending got this country out of the Great Depression. Wrong, wrong, wrong, but that’s the narrative that gets taught, that people are helpless and must look to the government to fix things.

            The truth is that the New Deal and other government spending programs kept the US in poverty and misery for 20 years, just like any other socialist system, and it was pure socialism. Government controlled everything. The US didn’t come out of the Great Depression until the late 40s, early 50s, years after WWII was over, even longer after FDR was dead. When the government plows huge amounts of money into the private sector, it has to take it from the private sector to begin with, after all. Money is a resource, just like a raw material or labor. Government shouldn’t tie it up in useless crap.

            What did get the US out of the Depression? Losing the New Deal and the government stranglehold on all aspects of business, letting the market back in. Cutting taxes (yes, the tax rates in the 50s were high, but there were millions of loopholes, so the effective tax rate was actually quite low). (Reducing taxes can do wonders – Ireland slashed its tax rates recently and doubled its GDP – thus actually increasing tax revenues.) The 50s were one of the most innovative and prosperous boom times of the 20th century. So were the 20s and the 80s, which did the same kinds of things.

            If you look through history, recessions are a norm in the business cycle – people over-expand and a contraction follows. The answer is not more government involvement, the answer is to leave it alone, reduce excessive government control, and the market will recover within a year. It’s only when the government intervenes that you get these long recessions/depressions, plus inflation.

            In our current case, with the mortgage meltdown and all, that was pretty much the result of government intervention – flooding a particular market with too much money (to people who could never re-pay) which sent prices soaring, followed by the inevitable crash. Or as I say, it takes a government to screw things up that badly.

            When you hear things like “people working for their own self-interest,” too many people get a knee-jerk negative reaction. Think instead, that you are the captain of your own ship. No one but you can make the best decisions for your own life, no one but you SHOULD make those decisions. No one is wise enough to run anyone else’s life, certainly not a government bureaucrat. (Yes, there are a very tiny minority who truly cannot take care of themselves without help, and if we stopped wasting money on useless programs, we’d have more money for those who actually need aid.) Your own innovation will be more creative and more effective than anything dictated to you by a civil servant.

        • Acknowledging Ric’s point that you have much to unlearn (and unlearning things is harder than learning them), I will observe that Thomas Sowell & Walter Williams both write quite readable and widely (hmm, almost let slip a typo of them writing wisely — equally suitable … ah well, the moving finger types and having typoed spaces back) disseminated newspaper columns. Both are available at [ ] so you can sample their styles without investing in tree-icide.

          Also informative are John Stossel’s columns, books and TV programs (he is weekly on Fox Business.)

        • everyone seemed to be advocating a return to Darwinian economics and social welfare

          OK, it appears that we may be talking about slightly different things. Most of the people here are talking about the science of Economics, which is based on an analysis of patterns which can be observed time and again world over in society after society.

          Social Darwinism and Marxism are philosophies, not sciences. They may try to pretend otherwise, but it is not so. They each may appeal to aspects of the science of Economics, but it does not make them a science.

          • derekchamberlain

            Sorry, I think I misspoke there. What I meant by Darwinian economics was evolutionary economics — survival of the fittest, death to the hindmost — in a very social context. People were suggesting, if I’m recalling this correctly, the abolition of publicly funded health coverage and what we in Australia call the Dole — unemployment benefits — along with a lot of other government funded social welfare.
            There is, and can, abuse of these systems, but they do a lot of good for a lot of people, or so I always thought. From what people have been saying, however, that isn’t necessarily the case in America.
            I checked out Milton Friedman and agree with a lot of what he had to say about government. I do wonder, however, if the rights he talks about shouldn’t also be counterbalanced by duties the individual has to the society that grants him or her those rights.

            • Ah, see, I don’t think society grants rights. The American Constitution goes more along the lines that everyone has all these rights innately and we grant a very few things to the state, not the other way round.

              Of course we have responsibilities to our fellow man. But how far do they go and how best to be carried out? Government is the worst way to do anything; sometimes there just isn’t anything better. But I find people are innately good and naturally very generous – America has more charities than any other country on the planet (one of the big upsides of being prosperous). But I don’t think that should be imposed. That has the be the free choice of the individual.

            • All economics is is the science of how society allocates scarce resources (which is why politics gets into it, eh?) Survival of the fittest is merely agitspeak for rewarding the most efficient user of scarce resources, the person who leaves the most on the table for others. “Death to the hindmost” is agitspeak for “let those who can’t find more useful work.”

              As Laurie says, we hold certain rights to be inalienable and government is established to protect these rights, not grant them. If the government grants a right, then that right can’t be inherent in us and we must be slaves (politically correct term: subjects), not citizens, of the government.

              As for social welfare, it too typically traps people in its “safety” net – remember the gladiatorial retiarius, which entangles its victims. The funds for those come from the private sector — meaning they are a reallocation of resources through political means. Unemployment Insurance derives its primary funding from a tax on employment, a tax which reduces the wages of the employed.

              The fundamental problem of Free Market Economics (what Marx called Capitalism) is that, in operation it appears quite messy: its costs are glaringly obvious and its benefits are mostly hidden. Managed Economies (aka, Socialism, Communism) have very visible benefits but hide the costs extremely well. Personally, I think society overall rather benefits from an accurate understanding of what things cost … and cannot help but note that, in managed economies, the managers do very well indeed.

              • Just to make one point exceedingly clear: Society does not grant rights, it recognises them.

                Put in a different context: Men do not grant women the right to “say no”, they recognise a woman’s right to so say. Society is established to keep men mindful of this and protect that right.

                “Grants Rights” is a fingernail on chalkboard phrase for the many of us who’ve thought about the matter rather than parroting what teacher taught us.

                • derekchamberlain

                  I think we’re getting way off the topic of this blog post here, but it’s an interesting conversation, so until Sarah kicks us off….

                  Laurie, RES, you are both under the misapprehension that Rights are innate and inalienable. They’re not. RES, your example of men ‘recognising’ women’s right to say no is a perfect example of society ‘granting’ a right. Before society made that choice, women could say no all they liked but society didn’t care. There were no penalties enacted against a person who infringed that right, except those that a husband, father, or other relative might bring against the perpetrator on their own account.

                  I specifically said ‘society’ not government. Because government doesn’t grant rights, society does, government just legislates the penalties for infringing those rights. Every right that you hold dear was granted to you, or won for you, by the society in which you live. This may be fingernails on the chalkboard for those of you who feel that you’ve given it some thought, but, if you give it just a little more thought, re-read the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Declaration of Human Rights, you’ll see that, in reality, what they’re doing, is stating which rights society has granted its members, and which rights their authors believed society should be granting its members.

                  The definition of inalienable is: not subject to being taken away from or given away by the possessor. (Oxford English Dictionary)

                  There is no Right that cannot be taken away from or given away by the possessor, and no right that cannot be taken back once given away (except the right to life). That’s why we have laws to punish people who infringe on our rights. If our Rights truly were inalienable, there would be no way in which they could be infringed upon. The fact is, however, that our rights are infringed upon all the time. We constantly enter into situations in which we give up all or part of our rights to certain things in order to guarantee our possession of other things. Marriage is a perfect example of this. [smile]

                  I am not suggesting, in any Hobbesian sense, that we should, or have, given up all our rights to the ‘ruler’. I believe, with Milton Friedman, that government should be as limited as possible. What I am suggesting is that the only rights we have, as members of society, are the ones that we, as members of society, grant to each other.

                  America was founded on just this point, that ‘rights’ and ‘liberties’ that the founders couldn’t get in the Old Country would be available to those who made the pilgrimage to America’s shores — freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from tyranny. Freedom, however, is a fragile thing, and Rights are neither inherent nor inalienable, and government, often from the best of intentions, often slides into tyranny. All the rules and regulations that it imposes ‘to protect the citizen’ make this slide easier.

                  Given, however, that all our rights come from society, don’t we also have a duty to society to support it, and not just some nebulous idea of society, but the reality of societies members?

                  There is a fallacy at the heart of the Declaration of Independence — “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights”. There are no inalienable rights, and no, not all men were created equal. This is patently false (even if we assume that the writers meant both men and women by their use of the word ‘men’ here, which is debatable). Some people are stronger than others, some faster, some smarter, some have better manual skills, some have better imaginations. None of us are ‘equal’ in any of those senses, for which I am eternally grateful. If we were all ‘equal’ in that sense, we would be automatons.

                  What they meant to say, as I’m sure you’ll agree, was that all people should be treated equally and that society should recognise that all people have the same Rights, that people should not be discriminated either for or against because of a unique set of genes that gave them greater strength, speed, stamina, intellect, resistance to sunburn, ability to bear children, or same gender sexual preferences.

                  The only way to ensure one’s own access to rights is to recognise other peoples’ access to those rights also. The Rights debate today is much more about what can I get for me and mine in this zero-sum-game than it is about ensuring a peaceful society in which those rights could actually be used.

                  Rights are granted by every individual in society every day. When you walk down the street and don’t take your neighbours newspaper, you are granting him the right of property. When you walk down the street and don’t force yourself upon the attractive girl or boy you see there, you are granting them the right to sovereignty over their body. When you walk down the street and don’t start shooting people who look at you ‘strangely’ you are granting them the right to life, but they, too, by not doing any of those things, are granting you the same rights.

                  Society is a house of cards built on this foundation of mutual exchange of rights. This is why society punishes those people who infringe on these rights, because they are undermining that foundation, and if the foundation of mutual exchange of rights crumbles, then society falls, and in the chaos that ensues all those inequalities of strength, speed, and intellect come to the fore to ensure our individual survival. We are returned to a state of nature in which might is right as played out on the level of the individual.

                  • Bravo! Such a cleverly worded paraphrase of the current Narrative I rarely see. Why, you even got in the obligatory dig at the intelligence of people who disagree with you without using the phrase “false consciousness” at all. Full marks!

                    The only criticism (and it’s a mild one) is that you got just a little too heavy on the “society grants rights” bit. I understand why — it’s a fundamental principle on the Left, because you want the extension to “society can grant any right it chooses” — but for this audience it sort of gives the game away.

                    It’s still bullbleep. The inalienable rights are just that; they aren’t granted by Society, still less by the upstart assholes of Government posing as the emblem or distillation of society. You can deter me from speaking by promising punishment if I do, but you can’t prevent it in any meaningful sense. You can stop me from living at a point in time you select, but you can’t prevent it.

                    You want it put that way because it allows you to define “positive rights” (that phrase is one of the biggest triumphs of propaganda ever) as being guaranteed by Society, and therefore enforceable by Government as the representative of Society. You have the Right to Nutrition; if the farmer, without whose labor and intelligence the food would not exist, disagrees, why, he is Violating a Right and subject to penalty. Send in the goons!

                    The inalienable rights work as a basis because there are a limited number of them, and violations are plain. “Positive” rights have no such limit. In fact, you soon get into competitions to define more and more of them — and to call on the goons to enforce them. There is a right to nutrition; if the farmer disagrees, send in the goons. There is a right to adequate housing; if the landlord or the house-builder disagree, send in the goons. Before it goes on very long it becomes patent that the real point of the exercise isn’t “rights” at all; it’s the power to send in the goons to enforce your concepts, trusting all the while that the goons don’t figure it out and start going off on their own — a trust that is inevitably misplaced.

                    • derekchamberlain

                      Locke, you seem to think that I’m an American Democrat or something, I’m not. I’m not American, I don’t live in America, and I don’t subscribe to American party politics. My point of view was not formed in the fires of your party disputes. I have no political bones to pick with either party and no knee-jerk reactions to being called a liberal lackey or to having slave mentality. If it helps, think of me as a moderate independent libertarian.

                      What I am is a writer and a linguist, and a pedant when it comes to the correct use of words and language. An inalienable right, by definition, is a right that cannot be taken away, and therefore also, cannot be reduced or limited. If I can stop you from using your right, that is the same as preventing you from exercising it, and the same as limiting it. If I can limit your right, then it is not inalienable, just as a matter of definition.

                      If you had bothered to read the entire post, you would know that I am not pro-government, that I never mentioned “positive rights” such as a right to housing or nutrition. I can only assume that your reference to me calling people stupid came from the fact that I recommended re-reading the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Declaration of Human Rights. If you want to take it that way, feel free, but that wasn’t the meaning I was intending for you to take from it. I assumed that you had read them and thought about them carefully, just as I had. Being a teacher, I also assumed that friendly discussion would lead to a greater level of understanding, but that only works if there is a friendly discussion. It seems that your assumptions about me have gotten in the way of that, which is a pity.

                    • Well, Chamberlain, first of all I reserve the right to respond with the naked patronymic when assaulted by it. Second, it can be moderately difficult to have a friendly discussion leading to better understanding — a proper goal, even if it’s only better understanding of one another — when one is flying a false flag.
                      As a writer and linguist, you are certainly aware that words have meaning, that those meanings sometimes have nuances not immediately apparent, and that it isn’t unheard of for a person’s nuanced understanding of a particular word to be revealing of their attitudes.
                      So it is with “inalienable”. Jefferson used the word; others agreed with it. Shall we assume that a man whose other writings reveal deep sophistication in the use of at least two languages selected precisely the word whose denotation supported the point he wanted to make? I think so.
                      It follows that when he said certain rights cannot be taken away, he meant precisely that. Shall we assume, then, that Jefferson and the others did not realize that men could be killed? Shall we take it for granted that a slaveowner was unaware that men’s liberty could be curtailed? No and no. We are then left with a conundrum. If a man can be killed, what does an “inalienable right to life” mean?
                      You have selected one possible solution: that the rest of the Declaration demostrates that he was using the word as hyperbole, recognizing that rights are limited every day by ordinary circumstance and calling for Government, as proxy for Society, that would enforce certain rights.
                      I select the other: That Jefferson knew what he was saying, and that certain rights cannot be taken away or limited. The man who is killed retains the right to life — but that right has been transgressed upon. An inalienable right, then, is a right that may be exercised so long as it is not violated by another party. The only thing that need be done to secure such a right is to see to it that it is not violated.
                      My interpretation is individualistic and extensible. Jefferson and his contemporaries did not regard women, black people, and some others as “people” — “men” — but all we had to do, as a later and more liberal society, was to begin regarding them as such to secure their inalienable rights. We didn’t have to start doing something new to accomplish that. We had (and have) to stop doing something old, viz., violating those rights. At least in pure theory, no goons, police, or other enforcers are necessary.
                      Your interpretation is communitarian and expandable. By it, when a later and more liberal society decides that some group deserves to enjoy a right, Society must then call up enforcers to secure it; even in the purest of Theory a new right, or a newly extended right, calls for more effort, not less.
                      Under my interpretation, a perfectly anarchic society cannot violate inalienable rights; individuals within it may do so, but they neither act nor claim to act under color of “society”. By your lights, a right does not exist at all unless it has been granted by the society and a mechanism for securing it set up. That mechanism, according to Jefferson himself (if we accept your definitions), is Government.
                      For a person whose basic orientation is communitarian, necessitating common action from all the members of a society in order to grant or refute rights, to present himself as a liberty-lover is risible.
                      I know whence it comes, though; the acceptance of Property as the touchstone of libertarian thought. You and your fellows are beginning to see what I saw long ago, viz., that Property is, in fact, a communitarian “right” granted (or not) by Society, and feel that you must destroy the edifice of inalienable rights in order to place your Holy Grail upon the table. That is a subject requiring much more debate than is possible in this limited space. I will comment only that my preference for the individualistic interpretation is why I have not, for a long time now, called myself “libertarian”.

                    • derekchamberlain

                      Sorry Ric, had no intention of assaulting you with the naked patronymic. Locke was only name I noticed on the post, and in Japan, where I live, the patronymic is the name most commonly used. Never meant to cause offence by it. I’m also not aware of any flying of false flags. That post was the first time I’ve ever used Libertarian as a reference to myself and I offered it only as a guide to some of my opinions about government rather than as a political statement. I don’t do political ideology.

                      You make some very interesting points. There is, of course, the meaning of the word, and then there is the intended nuance. I think I have been a little too pedantic about the meaning and a little too careless of the nuance. [grin] You are right, of course, that Jefferson would have been aware of the ability for a individual to lose both his life and liberty, and your interpretation of the nuance is one I hadn’t thought of before. I’m beginning to think that actually we are talking about the same idea from different standpoints.

                      Rights are not, and cannot be, communitarian, I agree. They cannot devolve from society, but society is the guarantor for them. I don’t believe that goons need to take any part in the recognition of rights, new or old, and never have. The expansion of a right should follow on from the recognition of the other’s humanity, and thus their previous possession of that right, rather than as an acquisition newly attained.

                      A perfectly anarchic society might not violate inalienable rights, but a non-anarchic society can and will. Laws constantly impinge upon the individual’s rights. Individuals too, impinge upon each other’s rights.

                      Property is the touchstone of Libertarian thought?
                      I think I’ve just been showing my ignorance of American political definitions here. I was under the impression that libertarians, as Milton Friedman said, “want the smallest, least intrusive government consistent with the maximum freedom for each individual to follow his own values as long as he doesn’t interfere with anybody else doing the same.” That was the definition I was using when I made my statement aligning myself with libertarian thought. Having said that, I’m still not a member of any party. I don’t do parties as I haven’t found one yet that didn’t get upset at me for asking questions.

                    • Well, then, Derek, I’ll take you at your word. It’s a little hard, because as I said in my first reply to you, your essay was as good a paraphrase of the position of the “liberal” Left as I have seen.

                      The goal of the liberal Left is the same as that of the rest of the Left, viz., to re-order society along Leftist lines, and some of the more intelligent ones have done a beautiful job of re-interpreting the concept(s) of “rights” (and other ideals) along lines that seem, upon a superficial analysis, to conform to non-Leftist liberal notions, but are subtly altered so as to lead to affirmation of Leftist concepts.

                      One of the main such alterations is the plausible, but wildly wrong, notion that rights are communitarian, that they arise from the workings of Society along the lines you describe. If you build the system up logically from that sound [note: obscure SF reference] you inevitably arrive at the Leftist ideal, of Government as proxy for society, defining and enforcing rights. Your arguments in the post(s) I first replied to are identical to those subtle alterations, thus awakening my deep suspicion.

                      To understand my, and Right-liberal, concept of rights, consider a man alone in a forest, meaning by “forest” a zone inhabited only by insensate plants and beasts. What he may do constitutes the full list of “inalienable” or inherent rights, and also illustrates that those rights are not infinite — he has the right to life, to survive, right up to the point where he is attacked by a tiger, and he has the right to self-defense should that happen. He does not have a right to food, although he does have the right to seek it out. It is then instructive to consider adding another man, another self-willed individual, to the system. Human beings are much more effective in groups than solitary; might not the two form a cooperative, a proto-Government, in which one remains on watch for tigers while the other forages, thus securing (to the extent possible in their situation) their right to life? It is in that sense that I read the Declaration, or at least its introduction. Further elaboration is left as an exercise for the student 🙂

                      As for Libertarians — if you use the capital letter, it implies (in Western custom) those self-identified as such, considered as an association of mutual interest, a “party”. Libertarians have become so obsessed with defining property as an inherent or inalienable right that they have become, for all practical purposes, negative Marxists, and one of my rules is that polarity is unimportant. A thousand volts will kill you, whether it is positive, negative, or alternating; an error is an error, whichever direction it goes.

                      It is, however, useful to consider how the error was made. The lesson of history is clear: those societies which define and enforce property rights are always more prosperous than those that do not. Property is thus an important pragmatic concept, even though it does infringe upon inherent or inalienable rights — the man in the forest may not seek food or shelter upon another’s property.

                      Those Libertarians who try to enshrine property as a right are doing so because of the pragmatic advantages of the system, which they consider so important as to require a philosophical basis on the same level as (e.g.) self defense or other inalienable rights. That weakens their argument against the communitarians, who can and do argue that property is an evil concept precisely because it infringes upon other rights.

                      Note that seeing property as a pragmatic advantage for those societies which employ the concept opens the way for arguments in favor of at least some “positive rights”. You suggest that universal education is a pragmatic good for society; you may well be right, but you’d do better arguing on that basis than trying to enshrine it as a “right”, thus making the same error the Libertarians and Marxists do.


                  • Derek, may I try to explain why the idea of society granted rights is such anathema for us?

                    In practical terms, society is granting rights. My right to life in the presence of Mike Maybe Murderer depends on George Gun-maker, and the deterrence exercised by Carl Cop, Jenny Judge, and Eve Executioner.

                    However, if we believe that rights ultimately come from society, that means that:

                    1. Society can decide to grant additional rights, for example the right to free contraception.

                    2. Society can decide to withhold previously granted rights, such as the right to life.

                    Therefore, while society might attempt to guarantee our rights, we have to believe they come from something stronger than society and with a prior claim on human fealty, such as God.

                    As for “all men are created equal”, I think Chesterton explained it correctly. It is the same as saying “all pennies are of equal worth”, including the old faded ones and the new shiny ones.

                    • all men are equal under the law. 🙂

                    • derekchamberlain

                      Ori, thanks for your comment.
                      From your comment though, I’d point out that society is already doing number two, courtesy of Eve Executioner and Jack Jailer.
                      For number one, society granting extra rights, I think this comes back to the original question I asked, what duties does the citizen owe to the society in which he or she lives? The Right to Education, for me, seems to be one that, properly done, would benefit society as a whole. An educated society makes, on the whole, better decisions than an uneducated one. But whether this is something that the government should be enforcing, or something that private citizens should be dealing with on their own is debatable.

                    • There are two questions here:

                      1. What are the morally required duties of citizenship, which society can enforce by non-violent means (shunning, mocking, etc.)?

                      2. What are the legally required duties of citizenship, which a government can enforce by violent means (pay your taxes, come when drafted, or go to jail)?

                  • Sorry, Derek, you need to knock that slave thinking out of your head. You’ve completely missed the point of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. People are created equal under the law and all have these inalienable rights; that doesn’t mean that they are equivalent units, only that they have equal rights. And the individual may go against society as long as he/she doesn’t interfere with any other individual’s inalienable rights. I heard one person describe the entire Constitution as a way of accommodating the minority within the majority.

                    That’s why, in the US, even if our legislature and president pass a law, if it contradicts the revealed inalienable rights, that law is illegal. And one of those revealed rights is a vaguely written one that says, we’ve got some rights listed here, but that doesn’t mean these are the only ones out there.

                    Now, in practice, we have fallen short of the ideal (we’re human), but we keep the ideal in mind.

                    • Thank you, Laurie. Positive rights granted by society — i.e. having the right to the labor or goods of others ALWAYS equals slavery. How else can you secure rights that require the labor of others?

                    • derekchamberlain

                      Sorry Laurie, I never was a slave and never thought like one.
                      The Declaration makes no mention of ‘under law’ in its statement about the equality of men and their rights. It does, however, say that it is only for the purpose of securing these rights that governments are instituted. If these rights are inalienable, then there would be no need of governments to ‘secure’ them.

                      I stated that each individual grants rights to every other individual he or she meets, simply by not acting against those rights. That doesn’t make me a slave, that makes me truly free. I choose to grant rights to others, and to assume responsibility for the consequences of my own actions if I choose to act against the rights society sees as belonging to each of its members.

                    • Derek, a Right is inalienable if its holder may exercise it absent the obstruction of another. Society is created to prevent others infringing on Rights, it is for protection of those Rights, Rights which are not granted by society.

                      They are inalienable because they are inherent. That does not mean they cannot be denied, but a just society can only deny those rights for cause and through due process.

                      We do not have a right to demand from others that which is theirs. We can earn an education, by study. Others may grant us an education through charity or self-interest (some of the most educational evenings of my life involved cards, statistics and interpretation of body language.) But we do not have a Right to An Education, only the Right that nobody prevent our learning.

                      Not is there a Right to Health Care, because such a Right infringes upon a provider’s Right to be undisturbed, to be compensated for effort, to not be forced into involuntary servitude. For that is what all “positive” Rights entail: the enslavement of others to provide for us.

                      You do not “grant Rights to others”, you recognise their Rights. Entirely different things.

                    • derekchamberlain

                      Thanks for this RES.
                      I agree with almost everything you said. I think the point I’d quibble on would be the right to an education, but I think that just stems from the way in which we usually state ‘rights’. I think the better way to put it would be the right to equal opportunity, rather than the right to a particular object or service. Meaning, I think, Freedom from Discrimination, as the inherent right. But, to try and bring this back to the topic of economics, if society as a whole provides equal opportunity for every individual to gain an education (which I think would be a win-win for everyone, but I could be wrong) that would entail either the taxing of all members of society or obliging its members to charitable giving. Are there any instances in which the over all benefits to society as a whole would warrant such an imposition?

                    • It WOULD be wrong, Derek. State education ALWAYS becomes manipulated by the state. And that we don’t need. People will seek education if it is useful. Training in this and that. I don’t know more can be expected. “forming a common purpose” and all that, scares me a little.

  19. Suuuuure, Derek. Also slavery, and lead pipes.

    And quinquiremes. Quinquiremes are cool.

    Although to be honest, given free choice between EPADOENHTSANCLBEIEIO and “go for it, Devil take the hindmost”, I might well pick the second option. History records that it doesn’t kill anywhere near as many people.

    • Derek – who said anything about caveat emptor? Nothing wrong with laws about fraud or contract enforcement – in fact, these have been crucial to the past success of US business.

      US government regulations, on the other hand, have gone insane and are destroying business. Franken-Dodd is going to force my company to hire half a floor full of people to take care of new regulations that will achieve nothing and only serve to waste more money and resources, just like Sarbanes-Oxley. It wasn’t lack of regulation that brought down Enron, the laws were already there, they just failed to obey them. You can’t regulate that, you can only punish it afterward.

      Given a choice between crippling regulations, or no regulations, but laws and the ability to sue in court, I’ll take the latter any day. But no, I don’t want no regulation, I just want a lot less, and I want industry self-regulation and standards to be at the forefront, because they do a better job of it.

  20. Wayne Borean aka The Mad Hatter

    Right you are. But while humans in the individual are indeed unfathomable, the rules by which humans enter into voluntary exchanges of value aren’t. And those are the rules of economics.

    You assume that all exchanges are voluntary. The problem is that a large number of exchanges are involuntary. Try switching Cable TV companies. In most places you won’t be able to, because there is no second choice. You’ll find the same problem with a lot of goods. Did you know that one company has an effective monopoly on the production of chickens in the United States?

    As to your comments on Minimum Wages and Illegal Immigration, Canada has higher minimum wages across the country than the United States, but less of an illegal immigration problem, which would tend to call into question your conclusions about this.

    I agree that a truly free system would work that way. The problem is that the Fascists and the Marxists have no interest in a truly free system, and will do their best to take control.

    That’s one of the reasons that I write lots of political articles. I’m a romantic. I want a Free Society.


    • The reason your cable TV is a monopoly is very simple: the city won’t let anybody else run wires. Why is that? –well, the existing cable company pays them not to, backed up by the real estate agents, who are worried that the extra wires will be unsightly enough to Reduce Property Values (which is also why you can’t have a satellite dish as an alternative).

      Canada doesn’t have an illegal immigration problem on the scale of ours because (1) they don’t have 3,000 miles of unguarded border with a third-world (well, second-and-a-half world) country and (2) they are absolutely ruthless with the ones that do get past.

      As for chickens — my mother went to high school with the ex-president of the last surviving competitor. Bo (everybody calls him that, including the janitors) made a lot of mistakes, some of them stupid, but the bottom line was that FDA decided that having to inspect only one company meant the inspectors would have more time for guitar lessons. That’s not how they put it in the reports, of course.

      All of which is anecdotes designed to take eyes off the ball: the only thing that maintains and increases wealth is free transactions. As long as there are plenty of free transactions going on, the society may throw off enough wealth to afford the losses inherent in constraining some transactions — but when a high percentage of transactions are constrained that wealth is no longer available, and the society gets poor. Which is where we’re headed at an ever-increasing rate.

    • The exchange remains voluntary: pay their price or do without. Enough people refuse to pay their price and their business model collapses.

      In early 20th Century Richmond VA the trolley system folded when Negroes (as they were then quaintly known) responded to instructions to “ride in the back” by saying, “I’d rather walk.”

  21. Bad economics – or what I would call economics dreams – are at the basis of most bad policy and coincidentally at the basis of most personal and business economic woes.

    I’ve long said we need business fiction. Tom Kratman writes military fiction that serves as Military Theory 101 wrapped in entertainment. We need something similar for business. Wish I had the skills to write it.

    • I might argue Heinlein did, in The Man Who Sold The Moon, but that probably is not the argument we want to make?

      • I read The Man Who Sold The Moon decades ago. But I don’t think it gives sensible business advice. Making a big splash works for things that happen once, like the first moon landing. It is very different from a sustainable, long term business model.

    • Get thee to Project Gutenberg and download George Lorimer’s “Letters from a Self Made Merchant To His Son” and the sequel, “Old Gorgan Graham” (they’re also on Amazon, which is easier but don’t have the illustrations). These are collections of short stories written for the Saturday Evening Post around 1900 – a kind of benevolent Screwtape Letters, except it’s a wise American business man giving advice and fun anecdotes. Absolutely delightful read and some of the best advice, for business, and for life, I’ve ever come across. My family has kept copies since the days of my grandfather, though the books have been in and out of print for a century – my father has loaned his copies to more than one CEO (one of whom had them xeroxed, in the days before book searches).

      • Thank you, I got them and put them in my reading queue.

      • Wayne Borean aka The Mad Hatter

        Thank you. I’ve downloaded the complete George Lorimer collection including False Gods. Looking forward to reading them (I’d provide a link but Gutenberg doesn’t have a George Lorimer author page for some reason).


    • You need to read Nathan Lowell’s Solar Clipper stuff, or Ric’s Temporary Duty.

  22. It occurred to me the other day: I have just engaged in an live demonstration of why the Friendly Local Gaming Store is Dying Out.

    Catalyst Game Labs produced a set of five hardback 8.5×11 rules compilations for the game _BattleTech_. The books’ total retail price: $259.95 (4x $49.99; 1x $59.99). I have bought all five; my total cost, *including shipping for those books not available near me*, is somewhere south of $180. Of the five, I paid retail for exactly one of them; and that after discovering there were no cheaper options.

    FLGSs inevitably sell for Retail, or Retail Plus — and then wonder why, in the modern era of Teh Intertoobz, they are being handed their balls on platters, with wasabi. (Then add PDFs….)

    Goethe once said: “Theory is grey; Reality is green”; perhaps he should have said “Reality is *gold*”….

    • That’s because the FLGS has to bear the cost of maintaining and manning a physical store, and they aren’t going to sell near the volume of Amazon – high volume is what discount places count on to make their profits. Same with the FLBookstore.

      My FLBookstore has been trying to attract business through other means – they have signings every week from name authors, they have bookclubs, a knowledgeable staff who are huge fans of their stock, which is all genre fic (ie. books people actually want to read). They order anything, they sell used books, they sell book-related stuff. It’s worth it to me to buy some things there, even if it’s full price. I hope they’re able to make it, but I worry about them.

    • Friendly Local Game Stores can thrive as long as they stay Friendly — doing special orders (i.e. selling stuff), recommending other products to their customers (selling more stuff), maintaining a gaming space (selling more stuff plus snacks and drinks), promoting new products, etc.

      In short, competing on factors other than price. Adding value, in other words. If your FLGS doesn’t add any value, then why should people buy there?

      • FLGS has something Amazon can’t match: the opportunity to provide a games room for locals to interact with one another (okay, some gamers won’t play well with others; let them buy Amazon) and test drive new games.

  23. Scott Harrison

    Sarah, excelent post. I would quibble on your concept of value though. A thing does not have a value, it has as many values as there are people. When its value to its owner is less than its value to someone else, it tends to get a new owner and the old owner gets an amount of cash (or other valuable consideration) somewhere between the two values. This is the miracle of markets.

    • well, that’s what I meant by “its value is what someone is willing to pay for it” — of course, various someones have different ideas. For instance, I can’t imagine my paying a lot for a good deep-sea-diving suit, but Dave Freer would. (I don’t dive) So… It’s not so much that I’m wrong as I didn’t specify that yes, of course, different people put different values on things. My favorite editor says I tend to assume things are obvious when they aren’t. Guilty as charged.

      • Ooh! Ooh! I do that, too!

        “I thought that it was obvious from the context, but maybe it’s just me.”

    • The value can vary over time as well. Three word (and one conjunction) example: Home Garden and Zucchini. Do NOT make me have to explain. You wouldn’t like me when I explain.

  24. Grief and rage rose in him and he realized, in shock, that part of his anger came from Peter Farewell’s denying Kitwana’s father’s lifelong belief that the individual was everything.

    Every sense, trained from childhood, told Kitwana that anyone who believed the individual counted for nothing must die. But then, Peter Farewell was an individual also. A misguided one… …Kitwana understood him. And understanding how could he kill this tormented man?

    Just thought after all the bunny trails we have been following that this was somehow quite appropriate. It’s from a book (published the old way) I am presently reading. The title is Heart of Light. 😉

    We all have reasons. We have all principles. We all have to live with ourselves tomorrow. Yet some of us come up with solutions to which others simply cannot agree. I, among others in these posts, adhere to the idea that the individual has inherent rights and an inherent dignity. It was a rather novel idea that the Second Continental Congress came up with when it told the crown that it was subject to the consent of the people to be governed. (See the Declaration of Independence.)

    This blog addressed certain Economic facts. Sometimes facts are uncomfortable, like the effect of gravity on older joints. Right now the combination of modern communications developments and Economic facts are not comfortable to the established printing industry. Right now it looks like the industry is cutting off its own nose to spite their face. Does this mean that a savvy author should not take advantage of new ways to reach their potential audience? I hope not. Does this mean that a reader who has wearied of what has been available should simply accept what the publishers want to offer? I for one am not.