Friday, September 06, 2013

Government: The Left Wing Noise Machine

I want to go back to the similarity between information and randomness, and how both appear different from order. Again, it's a tricky concept, but important to understand.

Gilder gives the example of a normal heartbeat on a monitor, which is ordered but carries little information; it is a low-entropy carrier, basically telling you that the person is alive.

Conversely, a hi-entropy message contains so much information -- i.e., so much surprise -- "that it will actually appear as random noise to any recipient unequipped with the proper decoding device."

The first thing I thought of was jazz -- in particular, its more abstract variants -- which has been called "the sound of surprise." And how could 15 modern jazz fans be wrong?

Yet, to most people -- to the uninitiated or unpretentious -- it will just be the sound of... random noise. This is in contrast to, say, a marching band, which conveys no surprise but lots of order.

But real noise is truly "defined by its randomness. Each sound or signal, independent of previous signals, is utterly unpredictable; each bit is unexpected."

That being the case, it is "impossible to differentiate such random noise from a series of unrelated creative surprises," because "both are gauged by their entropy or surprisal." Thus, constant surprise looks a lot like complete randomness -- that is, unless you know how to decode the message.

Finnegans Wake: creative surprise or just random noise? Most people will take one look at it and conclude the latter. Others will say it is the most dense with information -- or novelty -- of any "novel" ever written. But it's impossible to unlock the information without a Skeleton Key.

Obama's foreign policy: full of creative surprisal, or just random squawking?

His economic policies are certainly flooding the world with noise. Gilder: "When government either neglects its role as guardian or, worse, tries to help by becoming a transmitter and turning up the power on certain favored signals, the noise can be deafening.... governmental interventions in the economy are distractions -- 'noise on the line' -- that nearly always retard expansion."

For example, the current artificially low interest rates are destroying information, because interest rates are supposed to convey information about real-world conditions.

As such, "if the government manipulates them, they will issue false signals," resulting in a serious misallocation of resources.

The housing collapse of 2008 was a direct consequence of such government-based noise, what with the combustible mix of artificially suppressed interest rates and state-mandated loans to unqualified borrowers. What resulted was not a "surprise" but an inevitability. You can drive out economic reality with a pitchfork, but she always comes roaring back, usually pissed off.

In his terrific The End is Near, Williamson talks about the extraordinary distortions caused by the Fed's monetary polices, and how these naturally redound to the benefit of the state -- specifically, a state that simply cannot stop spending.

This hides the true impact of the debt, for if -- okay, when -- "the cost of financing the federal debt" reverts "to its historical average," it will result in interest payments the size of the Pentagon budget. (And this is leaving aside future commitments to the tune of 222 trillion, on top of the "official" -- i.e. admitted -- debt of 16 trillion. That's more money than there is in the world.)

Should interest rates go higher than the historical average -- and who's to say they won't? -- "then interest on the debt would be the single largest item in the federal budget by a long ways, equal to about twice all current discretionary spending." Yeah, you might say the End is Near.

Imagine a compulsive shopper who has the power to command the interest rate of his credit card to be zero. That's the federal government.

Worse yet, the compulsive spender with the magical credit card knows the interest rate is eventually going to rise. He's just hoping it won't happen until the next generation is on the hook for the bill.

To which I say: no taxation without incarnation.

Or, maybe we can ban abortion on grounds of pre-emptive tax evasion.

Bottom line: the state cannot force creativity or plan for upside surprisal. It can only be a parasite on, or beneficiary of, those. But what it's really good at is being an economic, educational, and environmental noise machine.

And that's just the e's.

Oh, and don't be *surprised* that the most enthusiastic supporters of the noise machine are themselves characterized by *low information*.

(Great piece by Ace on why liberal minds are so devoid of surprisal.)

Thursday, September 05, 2013

The Left Talks About Evolution. Why Not Put it into Practice?

I mentioned yesterday that Gilder -- although he doesn't describe it as such -- implicitly presents what amounts to scientific basis for modern conservative liberalism.

In information theory there is the message -- i.e., the information -- and the medium or channel through which the message is encoded, transmitted, and decoded at the other end.

In order for this sequence to happen, the channel must be ordered and regular; or in other words, it must be low entropy, not full of surprises. Thus, "A stream of uncoded chaotic noise conveys no information." But at the other end, "A stream of predictable bits contains no information" either.

The main point is that "the success of the transmission depends on the existence of a channel that does not change substantially during the course of the communication, either in space or time."

The implications are obvious for, say, biology, where evolution depends upon the underlying stability of the genome. If that weren't the case, then there would be no information about the past encoded in the species, and each animal would have to start from scratch.

Applied to the plane of economics, we see how "technology can radically change," even while "the characteristics of the basic channel for free entrepreneurial creativity cannot change substantially."

In short, the conservative understands that the low entropy economic channel is what needs to be conserved, in order to make change and progress possible. Tamper with that stable foundation, and information is deprived of its medium. Surprises will still happen, mostly nasty.

In the classical liberal (i.e., modern conservative) view, the purpose of government -- insofar as it touches on the economy -- is to be the guardian of the low-entropy channel, leaving it as free as possible of noise, manipulation, or destruction (or in a word, to render it as transparent as possible).

When government instead attempts to dominate the channel -- as in leftist economics -- the result is a decrease in information, as we see in Obamacare, where the state acts unpredictably, based upon the needs of power. Again, for the state, power is a substitute for knowledge, since it is impossible in principle for any actor or group of actors to gain a fraction of the information dispersed throughout the system. The leftist doesn't know that what he doesn't know dwarfs what he does know, thus provoking the omnipotent ignorance of an Obama.

So, what are the most important attributes of the channel that government must preserve? Property rights free from the reach of the state, obviously. To which Gilder adds "free trade, sound currency, and modest taxation." These apply to the hardware, so to speak, but there are also important conditions for the software -- i.e., the human capital -- such as trust, shared cultural values, and education.

Conservatives are very much interested in conserving all these things, on both the systemic and human levels. To cite one particularly glaring example, we know what causes the vast majority of poverty in the U.S. and it isn't due to the government failing to fill the channel with more noise, i.e., direct cash payments and other valuable prizes. That seriously distorts the market, as when welfare payments exceed the minimum wage, and creates a perverse incentive that ends up draining the system of information.

Rather, the nearly failsafe way to avoid poverty is to shore up the channel by not having children out of wedlock, getting married, staying in school, not taking drugs, etc. If one fails to create the stable channel, then no amount of cash poured into the system will change anything. That's why the War on Poverty, which was supposed to last about a decade, has no exit strategy in sight.

It turns out that what goes by the name of "family values" touches directly on this question of a stable information channel. I prefer the term "tradition," because "values" sounds too transient and relativistic. But tradition essentially embodies all that human beings have learned and internalized about real world conditions, over multiple generations.

And this all dovetails nicely with another recent book on the first conservative, Big Eddie Burke. His insights are quite amazing, especially considering that he arrived at them in the latter half of the 18th century. For the left, he was wrong then and wrong today. Which is about as ringing an endorsement as one could imagine.

One of Burke's most famous wisecracks is that "A state without the means of some change is without the means of conservation."

An implicit corollary is that a state with no means of conservation is without the means of meaningful change. Again, the conservation at one level leads to change at the other. Which means that -- and I suppose a fully indoctrinated leftist would consider this *ironic* -- nothing brings about more meaningful change than adherence to unchanging conservative principles.

Just consider the profound unleashing of entrepreneurial creativity brought about by the "Reagan Revolution" -- which wasn't actually a revolution at all, but rather, a reversion to first principles that pertain to the economic information channel, e.g., lower taxes, less regulation, and sound money -- while at the same time championing the private values that maintain the channel. This led to an unprecedented quarter century of economic growth.

Conversely, what are we getting by Obama filling the channel with noise? Through the magic of the famous Keynesian multiplier effect, we are getting less than zero.

Referring back to the software side of the equation, the fundamental error of illiberal leftism is the insane -- and deeply unscientific -- doctrine of liberal individualism whereby human beings are analogous to isolated atoms. But the truth of the matter is that we are intersubjective to the core, which is what Aristotle meant vis-a-vis being "political animals."

To say that we are political animals is another way of saying that we are members of one another, which goes back the question of the family which makes this possible. The left's devaluation of, and attack on, the traditional family is just a corollary of the self-centered and atomistic individualism at its foundation.

Well, at least we can be consoled by the fact that the people who most support Obama are the very people most harmed by his policies.

Since I am out of time, I think I'll just end by saying that the left loves to talk about their belief in evolution. Why then don't they practice it -- i.e., celebrate the principles that make it possible -- as do conservatives?

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Our Low-Entropy President

I don't want to poison the well, but this cold has moved north from the throat to the head, which has compromised my usual powers of synthesis just when I need them most. So if any of the following is murky, I'm sure it will be clarified in subsequent posts.

In Knowledge and Power, Gilder lays out something like a scientific basis for contemporary conservative liberalism. It is rooted in the new science of information theory, which is "postmodern" in a non-pathological sense.

That is to say, literary postmodernism makes a mockery of what came before, whereas postmodern science builds upon but transcends (without negating) what preceded it -- e.g., as Einstein to Newton in physics, or Gödel to Aristotle in logic.

Classical science works at the elimination of surprise. In a closed and deterministic system -- say, the solar system -- we know in advance what it is going to do.

But even then, the solar system isn't really closed; rather, that's just an abstraction. If the solar system were literally closed, then it would be devoid of surprise -- you know, little surprises like life, mind, and spirit. Or, at the other end, just ask a dinosaur if our solar system is closed to surprise.

Now, this is not to say that determinism is somehow a bad thing. Rather, we rely upon determinism at a lower level in order to allow for the emergence of freedom -- which is another word for surprise -- at a higher level.

For example, the rigid laws of grammar allow us to say anything we want, even while adherence to the laws alone doesn't "say" anything, i.e., contains little to no information. Likewise, you cannot create a hit song out of the rules of music; well, maybe Miley Cyrus can. But if you want to make an aesthetic statement, you need the rules, obviously, but there is an x-factor, a vertical ingression that enlists the rules for a higher purpose.

Similarly, Gilder writes that "the miracles forbidden in deterministic physics are not only routine in economics" but "constitute the most important economic events." Very little of what we take for granted in life can be extrapolated from the laws of classical economics, because such laws necessarily ignore free will and human creativity.

In fact, Marx elevated this to a doctrine, converting economic history into a closed system of class warfare, thus eliminating freedom entirely. For the Marxist, freedom is just "noise," whereas for the conservative it is everything -- both the ground and goal.

Now, the modern illiberal leftist also vaunts a kind of freedom, but as we shall see, it is an entirely self-defeating one. Referring back to the examples given above, it is as if the leftist wants all the benefits of high-entropy musical freedom without the boundary conditions of low-entropy musical rules. The result is moral, or intellectual, or spiritual chaos, which can resemble freedom, since it is difficult to discern low- from high-entropy.

This is because a high-entropy message is so loaded with information that it appears random. For example, a sky in which each star is placed purposefully will be indistinguishable from one in which the stars are strewn randomly, and both will appear quite different from the one that is merely ordered. This can be a tricky concept to wrap your mind around, but you have to think of order -- which is another word for predictability -- as the opposite of information -- which is surprise.

This is why political power is at antipodes to knowledge and information. It "originates in top-down processes" that attempt "to quell human diversity and impose order."

Political correctness, for example, is a typical sort of low-entropy stupid power that imposes its toxic bromides from on high in order to suppress not just spontaneity, but even the perception of reality. You might say that it is a low-entropy mechanism for maintaining a low entropy intellectual environment, e.g., university life or the media matrix.

To bring the discussion down to street level, consider the results of Obama's "smart diplomacy." This is synonymous with "low-entropy diplomacy," since it is rooted in a simplistic, abstract ideology that ignores the complexity of the real world. The result, predictably, is global chaos.

Physics, in all its predictability, is a wonderful thing. But it cannot in principle account for life, let alone mind, for the same reason that the most complete knowledge of hydrogen and oxygen tells one nothing about this very surprising thing called water -- let alone of the beauty of this waterfall that now flows outside my slackatoreum window. Why should molecules be beautiful, either alone or in combination?

To quote a high-entropy aphorism or two from Don Colacho, The laws of biology alone do not have fingers delicate enough to fashion the beauty of a face. And To be stupid is to believe that it is possible to take a photograph of the place about which a poet sang.

To be extra stupid -- not to mention evil -- is to believe it laudible to impose the low-entropy tyranny Pete Seeger sang about.

Gilder: The "transcendence of the physical by the informational, of matter by idea, has powered all economic development through all of history, and before."

Stay tuned to find out how!