Lecturas interesantes 25 de febrero de 2011 (y II)

China's Secret Weakness by Paul Johnson.

This is nonsense. So long as America retains its freedom and thus its unique powers of innovation, it will continue to lead. Besides, China's elite is too scared to follow in the path of freedom because to do so would risk unity, threatening disintegration and a return to the terrible days of warlords and civil war, as in the 1920s.

Moreover, China has secret weaknesses. Its most serious: gambling and drug addiction. China's new prosperity is already producing a rapid expansion of the country's international gambling class, not to mention an appreciable increase in the number of drug addicts.


Agnostics for Pacifism by Bryan Caplan.

Bryan CaplanAre they right to claim credit? I don't know - and neither do they. The hard truth is that predicting the effects of war is extremely difficult. If one man's suicide can topple multiple Middle Eastern governments, Ghassan might be right about Iraq. In foreign policy, sometimes you sit back and problems solve themselves. Sometimes you act and create a massive domino effect. And sometimes the dominoes fall the wrong way.

By itself, I freely admit, extreme uncertainty is a double-edged sword. The consequences of war might be worse than you thought; they might be even better. But as I've argued in my common-sense case for pacifism, pacifists just need to add the weak moral premise that "before you kill innocent people, you should be reasonably sure that your action will have very good consequences." This plausible premise, combined with the uncertainty of foreign affairs, creates an almost insurmountable presumption against war.


William Kristol argues that “American principles” require Uncle Sam to intervene more vigorously – with force, if necessary – in the revolutions now sweeping through the Middle East (“Obama’s moment in the Middle East – and at home,” Feb. 23).

I disagree. While we should cheer for liberalization to grow and spread throughout the Middle East, American principles counsel our government not to interfere. One of these principles, after all, is that government (even our own) is an inherently dangerous agent best kept on as short a leash as possible. Another of these principles is that top-down social engineering is bound to have undesirable unintended consequences – a fact that is no less true when the social engineers are headquartered in the Pentagon and the State department as when they are headquartered in the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education. The same government that Mr. Kristol so often, and rightly, criticizes for making a mess of matters here at home is unlikely to become a shining example of efficiency, rectitude, and Solomaic wisdom in foreign lands.


The Ultimate Resource: You by McGlothlin Andrew.

If you’ve spent any time in class with Dr. Gillette, you most likely have heard of the concept of knowledge-value. This idea, from Taichi Sakaiya’s book The Knowledge Value Revolution: or a History of the Future, reminded me very much of a discussion I had heard about Julian Simon’s idea of the ultimate resource, human ingenuity. The similarity between these ideas seemed striking, and I think this twist on the familiar concept of knowledge-value gives us an interesting way to understand its fundamental importance.

First, I would like to start by defining Knowledge-Value for anyone who is not familiar with the concept. On pages 235-236 of his book, Sakaiya says that “knowledge-value means both ‘the price of wisdom’ and ‘the value created by wisdom.’ A more strict definition might be, ‘the worth or price a society gives to that which the society acknowledges to be creative wisdom.’ …The truly large-scale production of knowledge-value will take the form of concrete goods and services in which it is embedded, or to which it can be added, and its distribution will be either synonymous with or conducted in concert with those goods and services,” (1991). From this definition and description, we can start to see that knowledge-value is something which has its formative roots in creativity and ingenuity and then becomes embedded in products and services giving them value for which society is willing to pay a price. As we will see in the next paragraphs, this sort of concept has been described very similarly in Economics as the Ultimate Resource.

My initial contact with the concept of the ultimate resource was in a podcast from EconTalk, in which the host, Russ Roberts, was discussing the economics of buying local with Don Boudreaux, Chairman of the Department of Economics at George Mason University. In this, Boudreaux gives his explanation of the concepts originally put forth by Julian Simon in his book The Ultimate Resource. Boudreaux discusses the idea that people consider resources to be materials that are “out there.” However, using an impromptu example, he imagines that Native Americans hundreds of years ago would have found oil bubbling up in a stream to detract from the quality of the drinking water and therefore to have been a problem rather than a resource. He says that it is the application of human creativity that changes oil into something useful (Boudreaux, 2007). Figuring out how to use potential resources productively and economically to make human life better is the act which creates value, not the potential resources themselves. This explanation interprets the thesis of The Ultimate Resource in a way that I think makes it very easy to see the connection between the ultimate resource and knowledge-value. However, looking into Julian Simon’s central argument can help us see what other ideas can be inferred from these concepts.

The thesis of the Ultimate Resource II (a revision of the original, rather than a sequel) can be summed up like this: Shortages of resources will occur due to population and income growth, and this will cause prices to go up. As prices go up, the incentive to find other alternatives to the resource or to find new ways to use less of the resource will motivate people to find ingenuitive ways to fill the shortage. Simon argues that the end result is that we find ourselves better off than if the shortage had never happened, with lower prices due to lower demand and more efficient use (Simon, 1996). The conclusions to be drawn from this are that progress is made through the efforts of intelligent and creative people, and to limit the number of such people involved in that progress is to limit the supply of ingenuity, and therefore to limit progress itself. The true resource that adds value is the trained workforce that is the source of creativity.

To tie this in with our Leadership seminar, adding knowledge-value to everything we touch is something that we talk about doing, and it seems worthwhile, even if we were to assume it was only supplemental to the other valuable parts of an operation. What Julian Simon and Don Boudreaux show us is that adding knowledge-value isn’t one of the resources we can use to make our lives better, it is the ONLY resource we have to make our lives better. Understanding this in a leadership position is extremely important. A leader must recognize and appreciate the people that they are leading (along with themselves) as the ultimate and only true resource which they have, and instill in those people the same value for their own ingenuity and that of their peers. In order to thrive, an organization must have a strong group of creative people designing systems to fulfill needs in ways that are valuable to society. The more sources of ingenuity an organization has, the more knowledge-value it will be able to generate. That’s why every member of a team needs to be able contribute their own creativity freely. A leader who limits the creative input of the people they are leading is limiting the knowledge-value that will then be embedded in their final product or service. This will lower the value, and therefore the price, that society will attribute to it, and will limit the success of the organization.


As a Share of Income, Americans Have the Most Affordable Food in World & It's Never Been Better by Mark J. Perry.


Economic Growth Happens When Labor Becomes More (Not Less) Productive by Don Boudreaux.

I enjoyed Timothy Noah’s review of my colleague Tyler Cowen’s book The Great Stagnation (“Don’t Worry, Be unhappy,” Feb. 21). But Mr. Noah oversimplifies Cowen’s thesis by suggesting that Cowen measures an innovation’s merit by how much employment it creates.

It’s true that Cowen notes that (as Mr. Noah reports with dismay) “the iPod has created fewer than 14,000 jobs in the U.S.” But immediately after noting this fact, Cowen rightly observes that “we should applaud the iPod for creating so much value with so little human labor” [original emphasis].

Mr. Noah is wrong to suppose that the value of innovations is found in the number of workers they employ. Consider agriculture: the many innovations in that arena over the years – such as mechanized harvesters, chemical fertilizers, and bio-engineering to increase crop yields – have dramatically reduced the number of people employed in agriculture. Would we be remotely as wealthy as we are today if it still took nine of us to feed every ten of us?

Economic growth is overwhelmingly the proximate result of innovations that allow fewer workers to produce more output – thereby releasing that most precious of all resources, human labor, for use in producing goods and services that earlier were too costly to produce.


Why Do We Take These People Seriously?; Exhibit #34,577 by Don Boudreaux.

Yes, the Social Security “trust fund” is indeed filled with ample quantities of interest-bearing U.S. treasuries. But the same organization (Uncle Sam) that is the creditor on these treasuries is also the debtor on them. Ask: when Uncle Sam cashes in these treasuries to get funds to pay promised Social Security benefits, who pays Uncle Sam the principal and interest on these treasuries? Answer: Uncle Sam – who must, of course, raise taxes on flesh-and-blood people to get the dollars that he pays to himself so that he can then pay out promised Social Security benefits.

I.O.U.s written to one’s self are not assets. They are, instead, pathetic reminders of one’s gross financial irresponsibility.

Bernie Madoff is in jail – rightly so – for duping people with the same sort of financial flim-flammery that the White House budget director today peddles in your pages.


Joaquín Soler Serrano [España, 1919-2010] por EQDLM.

Lecturas interesantes 25 de febrero de 2011

Al contrario que el iPod Touch, el Ipad parecía hecho a la medida de Leo y sus dedos. En tan solo un día descubrió la infinidad de posibilidades que tenía con el dispositivo y como se desenvolvía con él.

Tareas tan básicas como las de escribir o dibujar habían sido complicadas hasta aquel momento, mientras que con el iPad realizaba sencillos dibujos utilizando su dedo sobre la pantalla táctil. Programas de aprendizaje para niños pequeños eran de una gran utilidad y en pocos días los dominaba a la perfección.

El hecho de poder realizar todo a través de la pantalla y no tener que utilizar un teclado o lápiz hicieron que Leo desarrollase rápidamente nuevos intereses por aprender, quedando en muchos momentos absorto en su distracción con el dispositivo.


Correspondencia con Arcadi Espada. Sobre la tecnología y la educación.


Arcadi Espada describe perfectamente la labor del periodista, tan lejos de lo que nos dan.

No hay periodistas especialistas en ciencia, política, economía, etcétera. O en cualquier caso se trata de una especialización secundaria. La especialización del periodista sólo consiste en su capacidad de construir relatos globales sobre cualquier materia. De traducir al común las especialidades de los gremios. Y luego de relacionarlas, seleccionarlas y jerarquizarlas. El ciudadano se cree que por presenciar casualmente un hecho ya es un periodista. No. Cualquier hecho requiere un técnico. El periodista es un técnico en hechos. Alguien que sabe hacer las preguntas, alguien que sabe escribir las respuestas.


Cursos de Física Teórica de Leonard Susskind en la Universidad de Stanford gratis en youtube.

El twiter de Jordi Pérez Colomé. Para estar siempre al día sobre la situación internacional.


Otro tipo de periodismo: cómo se tuitea una revolución por Jordi Pérez Colomé en Obamaworld. Blog inprescindible.

El trabajo de un periodista es también hacer comprensible lo que ocurre.

Hay uno que destaca: Al Jazeera en inglés. Este año he visto ya más horas de Al Jazeera por internet que cualquier canal español. Tienen buenos periodistas en todas partes y entrevistan a expertos locales y solventes, no al típico columnista.

Pero siempre ha sido así: los grandes medios están ahí. La única diferencia es que ahora las noticias circulan más rápido. Pero hay una variante indispensable para cubrir estas revoluciones por twitter: los ciudadanos. Los ciudadanos no hacen periodismo, pero sí que producen información.

El papel de facebook y twitter en estas revueltas no es solo importante por cómo facilita la relación entre ciudadanos locales: ha tenido más peso antes del inicio de las protestas para hacer correr el enfado y la solidaridad, que durante las manifestaciones, en las que todos estaban ya en la calle. Pero a mí me interesa otro papel de las redes, que uso en mi trabajo: la información que envían al exterior.

Dejo también aquí uno de los vídeos más impresionantes de estos días. El primero de CNN desde la ciudad de Bengasi, en Libia.