Donnerstag, Juli 19, 2007

Ouch ...

Been in London the last week, hence the paucity of posting.

To tide everyone over until I get back into the swing of things, there is this.

Global warming is now the official equivalent of discussing your gall bladder operation, which group is better and what your mileage is: you can do it, but it's best not done in polite company.

Rather devastating take-down of the True Believers. But I won't bore you with discussing it...

Sonntag, Juli 08, 2007

Tetzel Function

As an economist, I am always trying to understand human behavior as it applies to dealing with a world of limited goods and hard choices to be made about using them, which is fundamentally what economics is all about.

I've come up with a new function, and thought I'd put it up here:

The Tetzel Function

The Tetzel Function is named after Johann Tetzel. He's the monk who basically came up with the idea of selling foregiveness and salvation in order to pay for the construction of St. Paul's Cathedral in Rome. The basis for this concept came from the recognition of some aspects of human nature, that sin must be compensated for, and what better way to ensure that, for instance, your dead father's soul would enter heaven if you, basically, paid for that to happen. This is what is called an indulgence, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia:

The word indulgence (Latin indulgentia, from indulgeo, to be kind or tender) originally meant kindness or favor; in post-classic Latin it came to mean the remission of a tax or debt. In Roman law and in the Vulgate of the Old Testament (Isaiah 61:1) it was used to express release from captivity or punishment. In theological language also the word is sometimes employed in its primary sense to signify the kindness and mercy of God. But in the special sense in which it is here considered, an indulgence is a remission of the temporal punishment due to sin, the guilt of which has been forgiven. Among the equivalent terms used in antiquity were pax, remissio, donatio, condonatio.

Tetzel got into the business of selling indulgences, not merely for the living, but also for the dead. Indulgences remain, but are no longer for sale: they remain part of Catholic theology (note: I'm not Catholic, but Protestant, but have no quarrels with Catholics) and there is a clear rejection of the idea of selling them. Now while the Catholic church sees the historical role of indulgencies with a bit of bias - it was one of the major reasons for Luther to call for the Reformation and was thesis #82, if I remember correctly (I do) - indulgencies remain.

Now, I'm interested not in indulgencies as such, but much more the role that Tetzel played.

He basically offered the rich the ability to use their financial abilities to avoid going through actual penance and spiritual compensation for their sins: while this may or may not have started as a kind of indulgence on his part - in the sense of choosing a way for a sinner to make true spiritual recompense for his or her sins - it rapidly became corrupted and venal. It became wide-spread and was a major, major source of dissatisfaction of those who did actual spiritual recompense for their personal sins, as they saw the wealthy not only believe that they were able to buy their way into heaven, but the church being corrupted in doing so.

Hence my Tetzel Function: it describes the mechanism that a group uses to avoid facing unpleasant truths about themselves, buying compensation/indulgences for their sins. Tetzel was, at the end of the day, merely the one who took the practice to its logical, mortal, sinful conclusion.

Now, modern society remains heavily based on many conflicts that have their sources in the Middle Ages: the contradiction between public duties and private desires, for instance, is one of the driving forces behind the controversy, for instance, about homosexual marriages. The state and the church have a public duty to support the family and ensure that it has a protected status, as the best possible way of ensuring the continuation of the state and society. The private desire of homosexual couples to exchange vows as if they were not homosexuals is in direct conflict with this public duty, as the natural function of a homosexual relation is that there are no children and they do not, in this sense, ensure the continuation of state and society. I am not making any argument, simply stating that the nature of the conflict between public and private is not new, but rather ancient.

That said, what is the Tetzel Function exactly?

The Tetzel Function says that when economic conditions develop such that hard decisions must be made that will place large numbers of the members of the economy in jeopardy, that someone will find a way to monetarize the nature of these decisions in such a way that wealthy members of that economic group will avoid having to make those choices.

In other words, if it is necessary to massively reduce the emission of carbon dioxide from industrial societies, then someone will find a way of monetarizing contradictory behavior in such a manner that it appears to be non-contradictory. The larger the desire to not change behavior, the greater the willingness to spend money to avoid the change in behavior.

If we all were to take the purposed problem with carbon dioxide seriously, then massive changes in behavior are neccessary: airline flights would need to be heavily restricted, mass transit necessary and private transportation heavily controlled, industrial activity curbed, non-renewable energy use also heavily curbed, and past emissions of carbon dioxide compensated for via carbon sequestering.

This would me for many a severe change in life style: no major trips, inflexible transportation, reduced economic compensation and a life with few of the current creature comforts, all enforced by the State. This would mean quite a bit of suffering, of penance, as it were, for the sins of the fathers (and mothers) and an acceptance that humans have sinned against nature. I dare say that there are few outside of the environmental movement that would be prepared to voluntarily impose such a regime, but that is exactly what the environmental movement is actually largely all about.

Now not everyone will be willing to go along with that, and that is where the Tetzel Function comes into play: those with the means to do so will be able to purchase indulgencies so that they do not have to change their behavior. This, of course, will be explained as something good and proper.

Hence the current systems of "carbon compensation" fulfill the Tetzel Function for the environmental movement.

Let's parameterize the function:

Let F equal the Tetzel Function, x the amount of necessary privation (determined by legislation!), y the monetary amount available to compensate and z is the non-monetary compensation (i.e. the acceptance of privation). We then get a function like this:

F= x - (z + y)

In other words, the privation can be minimized by throwing money at it. Let's do a simple check:

Person A has $1'000 for carbon offsets, Person B has $200 and Person C has $5'000.

If we set the F to be 0 (i.e. neutral), then if x is legislated at, say, 1500, then

A: 1500 - (1300+200) for a F of 0
B: 1500 - (500+1000 for a F of 0
C: 1500 - (-3500+5000) for a F of 0

which means that those with the least ability to pay will suffer the greatest deprivation, and as long as the ability to pay for carbon offsets is greater than the cost of the carbon offsets, the impact of being able to purchase indulgencies in the form of carbon offsets is actually positive, i.e. those with the ability to pay will not only not suffer any deprivation, but rather they will enjoy additional benefits, such as reduced congestion, smaller or non-existent lines for airplanes, etc.

In other words, this is a regressive tax.

That's how the Tetzel Function works. Of course, this is very simplistic, tossed together on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Anyone wanting to do real work on it is welcome to, with one caveat: I "discovered" it, and the name remains the same... :-)

Mittwoch, Juli 04, 2007

Postmodernism, Dishonesty and Its Effects...

This is a very interesting article on the effects of postmodernism on history. The arguments therein are underscored by this commentary.

What really struck me is that postmodernism, which in this case clearly has become dishonest and unscholarly in its apparently deliberate misrepresentation of the past to fit its preconcieved notions of what must have happened, rather than what actually, empirically, happened, is the cause of much of the culture of deception that we see today (search on my blog for what I mean by that...).

You see, this is, for me, the telling quote:

I'll start with the postmodernist view of historical truth and quote one of its advocates, the Manning Clark Professor of History at the Australian National University, Anne Curthoys, who has written:

Many academics in the humanities and social sciences … now reject … the notion that one can objectively know the facts. The processes of knowing, and the production of an object that is known, are seen as intertwined. Many take this even further, and argue that knowledge is entirely an effect of power, that we can no longer have any concept of truth at all.

This is from the first link ut supra.

This boils post-modernism down to its fundamentals: that there is no longer any truth. I learned in my first semester of philosophy how fallacious this is, that the statement itself, if true, contradicts what it states, making it false. It is the result, at best, of wanting to avoid making students actually learn how to think, and, at worst (and it usually is at worst), it is a deliberate relativism out of intellectual dishonesty.

Now let's step away for a moment, and understand what at least one of the effects is. If we say, collectively as the West, that there are no truths, that everything is relative, then we are also saying that we have no beliefs, that our beliefs are not per se any better than any one else's. That is all very noble and high-minded, but it is also an intellectual attempt at dodging the bullet of doing the hard work and making judgements about others, be it societies, economic systems or belief structures. This is the sort of relativism, relativism perversely in the name of academic objectivity, that led during the cold war many to believe, truly believe, that the economic system of Communism was just as good as that of the West in meeting the needs of the population and that if it wasn't working, then it was because of external factors.

It is the same kind of thinking that sets the West up for being targeted by terrorists.

In one perverse sense, the West is responsible for the kind of terrorism that we have seen over the last years: we invite it, as it were, by failing to make it clear that we are not even capable of judging between right and wrong, and that if someone attacks us, it is because of something we did.

Which, when you place yourself, as Gedankenexperiment, in the mind of someone who fervently believes in what he or she does, then for someone to say that what they believe is no better or worse than what others believe is an invitation to force those to change their beliefs. After all, under the conditions of post-modernism, being a Muslim is no different, fundamentally, than being an Anglican or being a Catholic. Hence a radical Islamicist cannot be blamed for thinking that Europe, for instance, is a overly ripe fruit, there for the plucking, and that since the Europeans don't "believe" in anything, that they can damn well better become Muslims. All it should take is a little bit of violence, much like the tenet of Islam that if a wife becomes uppity, the husband is perfectly justified in slapping or beating her to bring her back to her place in society: I think that this is a decent metaphor for how the Islamicists view the West, as something that properly belongs to them, that shows no beliefs of its own, that should serve their interests and subjugate its own to those of the Islamicists.

Now do you see the absurdity of post-modernist thought, its fundamental dishonesty and its effects?

Post-modernist thought should be thoroughly debunked and disgraced. Post-modernist history, at least in Australia, has been shown to be fundamentally dishonest, falsifying the historical record or simply making it up. It can only be hoped that this can be changed and that the discipline can regain its objectivity, its historical accuracy.

Were that the effects could be so simply changed as well.

Dienstag, Juli 03, 2007

From the Horses' mouth...

So, for all of you who think that radical Islamists are blowback from US/UK/Western foreign policy: you're wrong.

How can I say that?

Because there is a radical Islamist who has abandoned his radicalism and talks about how they laugh in joy at Western media's gullibility in accepting the enemy's propaganda as "truth": it's here in the Daily Mail.

This is how it starts:

When I was still a member of what is probably best termed the British Jihadi Network - a series of British Muslim terrorist groups linked by a single ideology - I remember how we used to laugh in celebration whenever people on TV proclaimed that the sole cause for Islamic acts of terror like 9/11, the Madrid bombings and 7/7 was Western foreign policy.

By blaming the Government for our actions, those who pushed this "Blair's bombs" line did our propaganda work for us.

Now you can see how the gullibility, the hidden agendas, the stupidity and ignorance of the press are helping those dedicated to destroying Western civilization. The Press, the fifth estate, is doing the propaganda work of the enemy for them.

He also states clearly the real reason for the violence: radical Islamic theology that has divided the world into two parts, the believers, for whom Islamic justice is necessary world-wide, and the unbelievers, who if they do not convert must be subjugated or die.

It really is that simple: it really is black and white.

Sonntag, Juli 01, 2007


I've been reading one of the only independent journalists out in the field in Iraq, going to where the stories actually are, instead of being used as tool of the propagandists.

His name is Michael Yon and his web site is here.

This is his most recent post. It is not for the faint-hearted or those easily disturbed.

It's also reality. Welcome to it: let Iraq go, and it will be repeated like the Killing Fields.

Go read it. And dare then to say that it's all our fault: nothing like this is anything but sheer unmitigated brutality, the return of barbarism.

And go put something in his tip jar to enable him to keep on doing a righteous job. He's just about the only journalist out there that does credit and not shame to his profession.