“It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future,” says a proverb often attributed to Yogi Berra. Imagine the world of freedom, or lack of it. Who could foresee the technologies that make our lives so rewarding and convenient? The same technologies have us all under the government’s giant microscope. Thankfully, the brave have turned the microscope around.
In the months since Edward Snowden revealed the nature and extent of the spying that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been perpetrating upon Americans and foreigners, some of the NSA's most troublesome behavior has not been a part of the public debate.
The problem for NSA apologist is that when guys like Snowden disclose that the government conducts comprehensive surveillance in ways that would have made 1984’s O’Brien drool, it puts the entire progressive agenda in jeopardy.
The east coast and parts of the southern U.S. were to varying degrees paralyzed by blizzards a few weeks ago. The snow as expected rendered the roads treacherous, and in anticipation of slick streets, shoppers flocked to the grocery stores in advance.The rush into grocery stores, and its aftermath, offers worthwhile lessons in economics.First up, […]
The financial world is plodding along like a drunken sailor avoiding debt collectors by keeping no cash in his wallet. It’s not the kind of calm that’s going to last or end well. But the storm will have to wait until after the Olympics.What a game! We’ve never watched ice hockey closely before. But watching […]
In times of war and national emergency, it’s sometimes necessary to sacrifice civil liberties to secure vital gains in public safety. In those cases, we may have to accept a loss of privacy or freedom rather than invite mass slaughter of Americans.The National Security Agency’s domestic phone records collection is not one of those.Never have […]
Last year was quite the year for Bitcoin. We’ve seen exponential growth in Bitcoin’s exchange rate and extensive coverage in the media. Another phenomenon we have witnessed is the proliferation of alternative cryptocurrencies, five of which we’ve provided below.What all of these cryptocurrencies have in common is that they rely on a decentralized network to […]
Image: ShutterstockBitInstant CEO Charlie Shrem, along with alleged co-conspirator Robert Faiella, was arrested by federal authorities last week for allegedly laundering more than $1 million worth of Bitcoins. This is a tiny amount compared to the largest drug-and-terrorism money laundering case ever. Yet when British bank HSBC was found guilty in 2012 of laundering billions, […]
The exercise had an awesome name, inspired by the movies: “Quantum Dawn 2.”On July 18, scads of U.S. banks, stock exchanges and government agencies took part in a digital fire drill — a practice run in the event all of Wall Street came under massive cyberattack.This isn’t the first time banks have come under an […]
The faces of the Detroit bankruptcy are the thousands of pensioners whose promised benefits are suddenly part of the restructure negotiation. When Motown filed for Chapter 9 last July, the city had $11.5 billion in unsecured liabilities. The vast majority of this was pension and health care benefits owed to retired city employees.The images of […]
The New York Times published an interminable article on health care recently. Plenty of facts — how scrupulous are these journalists! — but the article displayed absolutely no comprehension of the basics of cause and effect. I was left wondering about the whole point.The article details how the health care system rewards specialists to an […]
We’ve pointed out in the past that President Obama’s views on the surveillance state shifted completely from when he was Senator to when he was President. As Senator, he supported a bunch of reforms that are very much like the ones his panel have suggested — and which he’s about to ignore. The NY Times […]
Bitcoins are largely considered digital currency (or “crypto currency”) so you’d expect it to be treated like currency on a retail web site. But the Internal Revenue Service might not think so.
The great inventors/businessmen of the First Industrial Revolution, such as James Watt and Matthew Boulton of steam-engine fame, were not just smart but privileged. Most were either born into the ruling class or lucky enough to be apprenticed to one of the elite. For most of history since then, entrepreneurship has meant either setting up […]
Both research and production look poised for a revolution as 3-D printing applies its high-tech charms to the business of creating chemical compounds and turns the production of medicine into a DIY project.
“Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.”When Capt. Jean-Luc Picard wants a steaming beverage in his ready room aboard the starship Enterprise, he just utters those words. The ship’s “replicator” then assembles the necessary atoms — including those for the cup — and produces it, ready for the drinking. Picard thinks nothing of it — it’s hardly more […]
The market has selected different things as money throughout history. Some of these items have served as money in isolated places for specific periods of time — for instance, cigarettes in prisoner-of-war camps. Cigarettes continue to be a currency in prisons if allowed, but if not, according to Wikipedia, “postage stamps have become a more […]
[Ed. Note: This article originally published on Jan. 24, 2013]Stocks up. Gold down. Bitcoin… waaay up.The S&P 500 busted through the 1,500 mark this morning. Stocks haven’t been this expensive since 2007… right before they got a whole lot cheaper… for a whole lot longer. Gold, meanwhile, dipped a tad. This, despite central bankers of […]
Before the housing market collapsed and the government pumped billions into the economy to save it, there was a programmer named Satoshi Nakamoto. And without much fanfare, he created an idea that’s in the process of changing the world. His idea was Bitcoin.Some background information is in order before I go any further.Think back to […]
Americans are still trying to get a handle on the full extent of the government’s domestic spying activities, including the recent revelation that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been collecting and storing the email address books of ordinary Americans using online messaging services. Many users of such services are looking to tech executives for […]
The online Internet exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act are up and running.OK, they’re up. Uhh, OK, some of them are sort of up.It has been almost a week since last Tuesday’s initial launch, and there have been more than a few problems.Website crashes, excessive response times and other problems have plagued the exchanges. […]
A growing consensus of IT experts, outside and inside the government, have figured out a principal reason why the website for Obamacare’s federally sponsored insurance exchange is crashing. Healthcare.gov forces you to create an account and enter detailed personal information before you can start shopping.This, in turn, creates a massive traffic bottleneck, as the government […]
As much as I love technology, part of me hates being so dependent on a live wall plug wherever I go. You find yourself trapped in some setting without accessible wall plugs and your phone is dying. You charge from you laptop, but that is dying too. You take recourse to your tablet, but that […]
U.S. and British intelligence agencies have successfully cracked much of the online encryption relied upon by hundreds of millions of people to protect the privacy of their personal data, online transactions and emails, according to top-secret documents revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden.The files show that the National Security Agency and its UK counterpart GCHQ […]
Today, like most days, I fired up my computer.I read freely available information on the latest developments in technology that would, in the not too distant past, have required a drive to a library to flip through journals too numerous for me to afford. I read the latest national and global news without having to […]
On a Sunday afternoon swim, a 6-year-old boy was bugging me in a sweet sort of way. He rode up and down the handrail on the stairs in the shallow end of the pool where I was trying to sit in peace. He was laughing and talking, but I couldn’t understand a word through the […]
I’ve just completed a heavy schedule of talks at the Agora Financial Investment Symposium in Vancouver. All my talks centered on information economics, Web startups, and the productivity of the Internet and its meaning. As usual, I learned as much from the attendees as (I hope) they learned from my talks. The research I did […]
The buzz on the next big thing: products and services that claim to make you smarter. Forbes says it is the next trillion-dollar industry. Get-smart video games are hitting the markets. Websites and apps that promise fast results are booming.
I’m a skeptic of the tools being promoted these days, but not of the overall idea. It makes complete sense. Maybe you can’t do anything about the core capacity you were born with, but you can surely improve the efficiency and functioning of the equipment you have.
Heaven knows we think enough about getting our bodies in shape. Maniacal energy goes into pumping up our bodies, losing weight, flattening our bellies and bulking up our chests and arms. Health clubs have remained a boom-time industry, and there’s no end to the diet books, strategies, theories and ambitions.
It’s all terribly superficial compared with a much more important matter of finding ways to strengthen our capacity to think. But as with health clubs and exercise machines for our bodies, we will quickly discover that there are no shortcuts for… hard work.
Why so little attention to the mind? We can easily fool ourselves into thinking we are intellectually fit. It’s hard to admit it to ourselves that we aren’t thinking very well, that we are relying too much on our biases, that we aren’t challenging ourselves, that we have a reduced capacity for creativity and absorbing new information.
Step one: Admit there’s a problem that needs to be addressed.
To shape up the body, and overcome our natural tendency to cut ourselves too much slack, people have various strategies. They hire personal trainers to push them further than they think they can go. They go to class so that they can exercise alongside others. They go to month-long camps that monitor eating and compel all-day exercise.
None of this works with intellectual life. It is just you and your brain, and if you lack the discipline to undertake the challenge, improvement is not going to happen. You need some framework to help, like the virtual path on a treadmill or stationary bike, something that keeps you on track and discourages you from cutting corners.
The best method I know is something taken from the world of digital journalism. When people attend live events like concerts or conferences, they tweet or blog the event as it happens. You see this during political debates, too. The journalist listens, reports and responds in real time.
It makes for exciting reading, and it is also a very challenging way to write. You have to pay careful attention and stay constantly engaged. You can’t suddenly flake out and skip some of the action. It is a challenge to extract information from the external world and convey its meaning in prose. It is also an excellent way to remember and learn from any event.
What if we treat a book like an event? It is an event, really. A great book can be just as interesting and invigorating — and even more evocative — than a live event in reality. This is obviously true of fiction, but it is also true of nonfiction, provided the book is well written and deals provocatively with a topic you find intriguing.
This task takes us away from our default use of our intellectual talents. Hey, I’m not putting down the tweet, the Facebook update, the email or the video game. All of these activities are better than what consumed the brains of several generations from the 1950s onward, namely sitting in a puffy chair and watching people on a screen talk to you.
But live blogging a book is far better still because of the sustained focus on one single subject that it requires. It is a seriously difficult task, one that requires a stream of daily concentration, creativity and a willingness to stick it out until the end. The results will be obvious to you at the end of the long road. You will have experienced an upgrade in your capacity to think, write, read and process ideas.
Live blogging a book is different from reviewing a book or writing a book report. The point is to process information and react to it as it comes to you in real time. The live blog doesn’t merely relate the contents. It reacts to the contents of the book and how it interacts with your own prior existing ideas and how it may or may not have changed your understanding.
If while you are reading you finding yourself reflecting on an example or remembering some debate you had with someone on the topic, this is perfect live blog fodder. Put it in there. The point is to make a literary chronicle of how some book has affected your thinking chapter by chapter, and to do so in the most intellectually honest way you can.
In other words, if you are buying what the author is selling, say so. If the author illuminates an experience or thought you already had, say that too. If the author has contradicted himself and you take note of that, put that in too. There’s no reason to try to anticipate what is in the next chapter. Write only what you have learned so far as the literary event proceeds.
Part of the challenge here is to make your own writing compelling, even apart from what you are reading. You will notice that you will probably start writing a bit like the prose in the book you are live blogging. That’s very good, because imitation of this sort is an important part of learning, too.
I would suggest a word goal for each live blog, perhaps 750 words per chapter. If the book is 20 chapters (never skip), you will end up with a pretty sizeable monograph on your hands. This is extremely satisfying!
Put a title on it and go back through it. You might be surprised at what you wrote at the outset. Then you will be in a position to see whether and what extent this book actually changed the way you think.
This much is for sure: Your capacity to recall the contents and use them in later conversations and thinking will be greatly enhanced. It teaches you to be thorough and not selective in your reading. Not only that, you will experience an upgrade in your capacity to notice things and ideas, think about them, process them and roll them into your existing thinking.
It’s like an intellectual boot camp that you initiate and manage entirely on your own.
It is not as hard as it may first appear. And the use of the live-blog model provides the disciplined framework that inspires you to push through all the way to the end.
What books? I might suggest the four that are part of the Economics in One Library. Start with Hazlitt’s own book on economics. Move to Hayek’s book. Cover Bastiat’s The Law next. End with Garrett’s A Bubble that Broke the World. These are all great choices, but there are millions more. The important thing is to choose great books that interest you.
One of the hopes I have for the Laissez Faire Club is that we can use the forums as a place to post these live blogs. It requires a certain humility to publicly post these things, but that is also a virtue that I hope the collegial atmosphere of the club can cultivate.
We can also learn from watching others learn. Mostly, we learn from possessing teachable spirits. The smartest people I’ve ever known are also the first people to admit that they do not know something.
Regardless, whether in the club or out, the live blogging is an effective literary tool that will do more than all the gizmos you might have over the next decade to enhance your ability to think and process information. It is something we should all require of ourselves just to try it out and see the results.
It is also a great activity for young students. It’s true that the spread of this approach will contribute nothing to the trillion-dollar industry, and certainly not give us an abdominal six-pack, but it could make a mighty contribution to making us all think more clearly.