Monday, January 4, 2010

Getting AHCI to work with an IDE installation of windows

If anybody has tried to install windows XP (with SP3 or the 64-bit version) with SATA drives, they'll quickly find out the challenge of installing with AHCI enabled in BIOS. I was one of many who gave up trying, and simply set IDE compatibility mode in the BIOS, which ensures that your new SATA drive will work with older operating systems. For the longest time I had simply assumed that I was stuck with the slower IDE drivers, and would forgo the double data transfer rate of SATAII, as well as the lower wear-and-tear on my hard drive from the use of NCQ. Or I would have to spring the cash for a brand new install of Windows Vista or Windows 7. However, I came across a somewhat painless method for enabling AHCI in BIOS, using the following tutorial. (Since this link appears down at the moment, I will reproduce the text below)

Posted by Giulio in Computers

This is a topic I often googled for to have the definitive solution, but I never found a complete one.

Sometimes you install Windows on your PC while the disk controller is in IDE (compatible) mode, and you later realize you would like to switch to the newer AHCI mode.

Doing this after the install procedure is tricky, because Windows needs the disk driver to boot, and if it doesn’t have it, well, it will blue screen forever because it’s not able to mount the system volume.

I found a lot of articles regarding this topic, but often they were specific to some SATA controller, incomplete, and didn’t explain *why* this happens and how to define a generic solution.

So, here is my best effort to explain this.

In Windows, drivers are installed as services. You can find a pretty list of them in the registry, using the well known regedit.

Fire regedit up, and browse to the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\System\CurrentControlSet\Services key.

Every key here represents a service, which could be a driver or a service as you see them in the Services console.

CurrentControlSet is the current system configuration. Actually, this a link to one of those ControlSetXXXX keys you can see at the same level of CurrentControlSet.

Windows does this to keep track of different system configurations, so you can have a “last good configuration”, and so on.

You can tell which control set is the current one by having a look at the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\System\Select key. Here you can see four values : Current, Default, Failed, LastKnownGood. The value of each of these indicates which ControlSetXXXX is the corresponding one. Value names are pretty self explanatory, so I won’t detail them. Since you need to modify the current one, anyway, let’s stick to CurrentControlSet.

Now, before switching to AHCI (which can be done in the BIOS of your computer, and if you’re reading this you probably know how to do that), the proper driver must be manually installed.

Since the most common vendor for AHCI controllers is Intel, I will cover how to install the iaStor driver, which is the generic driver for all recent Intel SATA controllers.

First, download the drivers. A quick google search will point where to get them. The installer won’t work, because the controller now is in IDE mode, and has a different hardware ID. So, they must be manually installed.

The quickest way to have the actual driver files is to download the plain ZIP package from Intel’s website. The only file needed from the archive is iaStor.sys.

Throw this file in C:\Windows\System32\Drivers. Of course, if “Windows” is not where Windows is installed, replace with the correct folder name.

Now, a registry key for the driver must be created.

To speed things up, a .reg file can be created to quickly import new keys and values in the registry. Copy and paste the following in a text file and save it as ‘iastor.reg’, or whatever .reg name. Double click on the .reg file to import it.

Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00 [HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\iaStor] "Type"=dword:00000001 "Start"=dword:00000000 "Group"="SCSI miniport" "ErrorControl"=dword:00000001 "ImagePath"="system32\\drivers\\iaStor.sys" "tag"=dword:00000019 "DisplayName"="Intel AHCI Controller" [HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\iaStor\Parameters] "queuePriorityEnable"=dword:00000000 "BusType"=dword:00000003

Now, Windows knows of the iaStor driver. Windows also needs to know that your AHCI controller is a critical device, and the driver must be loaded early, before painfully crash with a bluescreen.

Another key in the registry must be created, in HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\CriticalDeviceDatabase. Here a key exists for each device which is critical for boot time. A new key with the hardware PCI ID of your specific AHCI controller. This PCI ID can be retrieved by having a look at the ‘iaStor.inf’ (for SATA RAID) or ‘iaAhci.inf’ (for plain AHCI) files which come with the drivers. Doing some text search (and of course knowing the name of your controller, like ICH8, ICH9, etc) will uncover some lines which match the controller name with its PCI ID. Here is an extract of iaAhci.inf.

PCI\VEN_8086&DEV_2653&CC_0106.DeviceDesc = "Intel(R) 82801FBM SATA AHCI Controller" PCI\VEN_8086&DEV_27C1&CC_0106.DeviceDesc = "Intel(R) 82801GR/GH SATA AHCI Controller" PCI\VEN_8086&DEV_27C5&CC_0106.DeviceDesc = "Intel(R) 82801GBM SATA AHCI Controller" PCI\VEN_8086&DEV_2681&CC_0106.DeviceDesc = "Intel(R) 631xESB/632xESB SATA AHCI Controller" PCI\VEN_8086&DEV_2821&CC_0106.DeviceDesc = "Intel(R) 82801HR/HH/HO SATA AHCI Controller" PCI\VEN_8086&DEV_2829&CC_0106.DeviceDesc = "Intel(R) 82801HEM/HBM SATA AHCI Controller" PCI\VEN_8086&DEV_2922&CC_0106.DeviceDesc = "Intel(R) ICH9 SATA AHCI Controller"

As for the iaStor key, the following text can be copied and pasted in a .reg text file for quick import, but be careful to substitute my PCI ID (the red string) with yours. You should change only the DEV_ value, since VEN and CC are the same for all controllers. Double click the file, just as for the previous one, to import it.

Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00 [HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\CriticalDeviceDatabase\pci#ven_8086&dev_2829&cc_0106] "Service"="iaStor" "ClassGUID"="{4D36E96A-E325-11CE-BFC1-08002BE10318}" "Security"=hex:01,00,04,90,00,00,00,00,00,00,00,00,00,00,00,00,14,00,00,00,02,\ 00,4c,00,03,00,00,00,00,00,14,00,ff,01,1f,00,01,01,00,00,00,00,00,05,12,00,\ 00,00,00,00,18,00,ff,01,1f,00,01,02,00,00,00,00,00,05,20,00,00,00,20,02,00,\ 00,00,00,18,00,9f,01,12,00,01,02,00,00,00,00,00,05,20,00,00,00,21,02,00,00

OK. Now, you can reboot, change the controller from IDE to AHCI in the BIOS, and hopefully everything will work. At least, it worked for me

If something went wrong, just switch back to IDE mode and verify that all steps have been done correctly.

These steps should be quite similar for other vendors/drivers, so feel free to improvise

Have fun!

I tried this method, and wasn't successful at enabling AHCI, but I *was* successful in enabling RAID in my BIOS. Don't worry, you don't need to mount a RAID volume, it will use your existing volumes without you needing to do anything, but if you want to use RAID in the future. Also, the RAID option encapsulates the ACHI option, so you'll benefit from the same features such as SATAII and NCQ. You can then install Intel's Matrix Storage Manager if you'd like. I recommend using a utility such as HD Tune to confirm that you're getting the faster transfer rates and features present with your SATA drive--the free version is sufficient in reporting this information.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Protester Envy

What happens when a political class ceases to have the monopoly of starting protests?

They sputter with rage, denigrate the protesters, and claim that the protest is a product of astroturfing.

Ladies and Gentlemen, let me present you world-class comedienne and left-wing pundit, Jeanine Garofalo:

OLBERMANN: Congratulations, Pensacola teabaggers. You got spunked. And despite the hatred on display, a few of you actually violated the penal code. But teabagging is now petered out, taint what it used to be. And when you co-opt the next holiday, Fourth of July, try to adopt a holiday food that does not invite the double entendres like, you know, franks and beans. On a more serious note, we're now joined by actor, activist Janeane Garofalo. Good to see you.

JANEANE GAROFALO: Thank you. You know, there's nothing more interesting than seeing a bunch of racists become confused and angry at a speech they're not quite certain what he's saying. It sounds right and then it doesn't make sense. Which, let's be very honest about what this is about. It's not about bashing Democrats, it's not about taxes, they have no idea what the Boston tea party was about, they don't know their history at all. This is about hating a black man in the White House. This is racism straight up. That is nothing but a bunch of teabagging rednecks. And there is no way around that. And you know, you can tell these type of right wingers anything and they'll believe it, except the truth. You tell them the truth and they become -- it's like showing Frankenstein's monster fire. They become confused, and angry and highly volatile. That guy, causing them feelings they don't know, because their limbic brain, we've discussed this before, the limbic brain inside a right-winger or Republican or conservative or your average white power activist, the limbic brain is much larger in their head space than in a reasonable person, and it's pushing against the frontal lobe. So their synapses are misfiring. Is Bernie Goldberg listening?


GAROFALO: Because Bernie might not have heard this when I said this the first time. So, Bernie, this is for you. It is a neurological problem we're dealing with.

OLBERMAN: Well, what do we do about it, though? I mean, our friend in Pensacola there who played them like a $3 fiddle and led them right down the garden path with nothing but facts and then they went, wait a minute, that doesn't sound like Rush Limbaugh. If you can't get them to make that last leap to what are we all doing here, Howard Johnson is wrong, how do you break through that?

GAROFALO: I don't think you do, for most of them. This is a -- it's almost pathological or elevated to a philosophy or lifestyle. And again, this is about racism. It could be any issue, any port in the storm. These guys hate that a black guy is in the White House. But they immigrant bash, they pretend taxes and tea bags, and like I said, most of them probably couldn't tell you thing one about taxation without representation, the Boston tea party, the British imperialism, whatever the history lesson has to be. But these people, all white for the most part, unless there's some people with Stockholm syndrome there.

OLBERMANN: And, I didn't see them, the fact that they weren't near the cameras which is bad strategy on the part of the people that were staging this at Fox.

GAROFALO: True, and Fox News loves to foment this anti-intellectualism because that's their bread and butter. If you have a cerebral electorate, Fox news goes down the toilet, very, very fast. But it is sick and sad to see Neil Cavuto doing that. They've been doing it for years, that's why Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch started this venture, is to disinform and to coarsen and dumb down a certain segment of the electorate. But what is really, I didn't know there were so many racists left. I didn't know that. I -- you know, because as I've said, the Republican hype and the conservative movement has now crystallized into the white power movement.

OLBERMANN: Is that not a bad, long-term political strategy because even though your point is terrifying that there are that many racists left, the flip side of it is there aren't that many racists left.

GAROFALO: They're the minority, but literally tens of people showed up to this thing across the country.

OLBERMANN: But if you spear your television network or your political party towards a bunch of guys looking who are just looking for a reason to yell at the black president, eventually you will marginalize yourself out of business, won't you?

GAROFALO: Here's what the right-wing has in, there's no shortage of the natural resources of ignorance, apathy, hate, fear. As long as those things are in the collective conscious and unconscious, the Republicans will have some votes. Fox News will have some viewers. But what else have they got? If they didn't do that, who is going to watch -- you know what I mean? They have tackled that elusive clam -- you know, the clam, the 18 to 35 clam -- klan. Klan. With a k demo. But, you know, who else is Fox talking to? I mean, what is it urban older white guys? And the girlfriend, and, you know, the women who suffer from Stockholm syndrome gain. There's a lot of Stockholm syndrome, is what I'm saying ultimately. What else do you want to know?

OLBERMANN: What happens if somebody who's at one of these things hurt somebody?

GAROFALO: That is an unfortunate byproduct since the dawn of time of a volatile group like this of the limbic brain. Violence unfortunately may or may not ensue. It always, it's like a, the Republican Party now depends upon immigrant bashing and hating the black guy in the White House. Will people act on that? It's not new. But, you know, Fox doesn't mind fomenting it. Michelle Bachmann doesn't mine fomenting it. Glenn Beck doesn't mind fomenting it.

The claims that the Tea Party protests were somehow orchestrated by corporations went unchallenged and without fact-checking. I've actually been to political protests, and it's typically made very obvious who runs them. In the case of the afore-linked Iraq War Protest I went to, it was made clear that the show was run by communists--literal, self-identified communists.

The Tea Party protests were different. They were spontaneous, and weren't linked by any single political party, PAC, or corporation. Glenn Beck wasn't in the shadows orchestrating the whole thing. I would love to claim that the Champaign-Urbana Tea Party was organized by the Libertarian Party, but the truth is that it just appeared out of nowhere, and aggregated supporters on its own. Most signs were hand-made. Nobody was turned away or made unwelcome. Given, nationally speaking, Glenn Beck, and a few Republican Politicians hopped onto the bandwagon pretty early, mugging for the camera, but why is this considered to be somehow surprising or underhanded? Leftist celibrities show up at political rallies all the time.

Then there's the accusation that the protesters had "no right" to complain on tax day, since Bush started the bailouts. Yes it's true that Bush started them, but it caught many conservatives by surprise--those that I've talked to were very upset by it. There was a sense of betrayal and of helplessness. I think it took the second round of stimulus to get them agitated enough to protest--I believe the word "trillion" was the tipping point. Culturally, since it's mostly the left who protest, some on the right view it with disdain. I think also leave-me-alone limited-government types typically would rather not draw attention to themselves.

I'm not sure where the accusation of racism came from, but it's easy to refute by simply looking at pictures of the protesters' signs--they seem uniformly of the anti-government variety. I thought dissent was patriotic?

I think it's really jealousy, and maybe fear of competition, that drives the former champions of protest to such lengths to smear the opposition.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Public Entrepreneurship

Just recently the Champaign County Libertarian Party had the opportunity to have a discussion with Joseph T. Mahoney on his collaborative paper (written with Peter Klein, Anita McGahan, Christos Pitelis) about “The Economic Organization of Public Entreprenership”.

I created a podcast of the discussion in AAC format that is available here (6.2 megs, one and a half hours), as well as a google video version which is viewable below:

Among topics discussed were Arrow's Impossibility Theorem, Coase's Theorem, and how the government's role can be to enhance the wealth of nations as opposed to destroying it through the harnessing of entrepreneurship in the public sphere. Some specific examples are thrown in, as well as how the topic related to local politics in Champaign-Urbana.

Some of the arguments were new to me, some of them being more from a utilitarian-libertarian point of view than a deontological-libertarian view. Also, the paper is based upon a minarchist view of the world--that is to say, it assumes that a government will exist. It is a pragmatist idea of how to improve government that could appeal to both conservatives and liberals I think.

For instance, the typical small-government view is that government inaction is better than government action. However, imagine the following hypothetical. A community is under imminent danger from an objectively demonstrable threat (a natural disaster, the collapse of a bridge, etc.). The private parties that make up this community cannot all agree on a plan to remedy the situation. In this case, the government stepping in doing something would be preferable to doing nothing, as a haphazard solution would be better than total disaster. If the government solution is unpleasant enough, or would take too long to implement, this would stimulate entrepreneurs to come together with a plan for the public good. More often then not this plan is more effective, faster, and more efficient than the government plan, and more appreciated by the public as it doesn't involve increased taxes or regulation.

There are surprisingly many instances of this happening, in light of the bungling done with the bridge collapse in Minnesota and Hurricane Katrina at the hands of the government. Just recently I was forwarded an email on how citizens and businesses built a bridge in Hawaii because the government was unable or unwilling to do it. Not only did it get done faster, but much cheaper than the projected cost. Not only that, the cost did not result in increased taxes or government debt--it was absorbed by the businesses who would benefit from the repaired bridge. The "free rider problem" in this case was averted. There are other examples of course, such as citizens volunteering to sandbag an overflowing river. Their efforts not only save their own property, but help save the property of their neighbors as well.

The only downside I can think of, is that while public entrepreneurship is better than a government solution due to government's use of force, is that it sometimes requires the threat of force. In other words, action is only taken because the government bureaucracy's solution is more feared. This of course is tied into legitimacy of the government's force (see: Arrow's Impossibility Theorem), which may be called into question if the democratic process is absent or easy to manipulate--the paper discusses this issue in some detail.

Overall it was a fascinating topic that I think will gain more traction as people realize that the government isn't very good at creating value or solving things--and we may have to rely on ourselves and our neighbors.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Inflation, manias, and gold, oh my!

On a rare hard money post on the Reason blog, a pointed question was asked of the commentariat, by domoarrigato:

I've never gotten a decent answer from Austrians on this site as to why they prefer the arbitrary inflations and deflations which would inevitably caused by fluctuations in the supply and industrial demand for soft yellow metal over those tied to the state of the economy. Or, how a metallic standard would cure the primary cause of bubbles and crashes (human psychology and extension of credit to dubious actors for uneconomic means.)

This latter isn't impacted one whit by being able to convert currency into specie.

I decided to man up to the task and offer my own response:

I think you're just setting up a straw man. It doesn't have to be gold, gold is merely a good candidate. The whole point is that one should be free to choose whatever means of exchange one desires.

Also, manias and panics cannot be solved other than through a totalitarian state which tells you what to buy and sell. People are sheep and will plow into retrospectively dumb "investments" like beanie babies. Reducing the scope of government will prevent many manias by taking away the easy credit punch bowl, and by removing fool-hardy government schemes and mandates. If you research manias throughout history, the worst ones initiated by the government sticking its phallus in the middle of private contracts (Tulips, Mississippi River Valley, Railroads, and finally, Real Estate). Government *could* quell some manias by pursuing cases of fraud, but since governments were making money hand over fist through real estate taxes, nothing happened.

...inflation and deflation aren't intrinsically bad (in moderation), they just benefit debtors in the former and savers in the latter. *Both* extreme deflation and inflation are bad because they distort people's rational expectations as to what their money is worth and aggravate herd like behavior ("Never put your money in banks, they can't be trusted!" or "Houses always go up in value!")

Well, apparently my reply was somewhat satisfactory as domoarrigato riposted:

If I've been effective enough in pointing out the difficulties of a gold standard that it is viewed as a strawman on a libertarian website, then I have been sucessful indeed. I put it out there, because I generally get a lot of flack for busting on the gold crowd. I see I've attracted the attention of the free banking crew instead today. I actually have a lot less of a problem with that concept than you might think. Free banking is a concept that I like a lot - in fact I support efforts like e-gold etc. I do take issue with the idea that USD are somehow a monopoly currency in this country. There are many counter examples that argue otherwise - mostly local barter arrangements. The big more visible ones tend to run afoul of the laws (like money laundering statues) but that doesn't stop people from saying it's because of "legal tender laws" - which it's not. In fact, we have free banking in the US, and these currencies exist peacably beside the dollar. It's just that money - like telephones - has a lot of network effects that determine it's success. You can only use wildcat currencies where they are accepted voluntarily.

Well put. I would only add that moderate deflation can much more easily turn into extreme deflation, and is always accompanied by much worse economic outcomes than moderate inflation. Which is why every mainstream economist that I am aware of views a couple of percents of inflation as "price stability"

Then he offered a concrete example of how a gold/silver standard is just as inflation prone as fiat currency. And soon we were off on another tangent:

I did an interesting calculation on the oft cited roman debasement and inflation example. Very good records exist, and I was able to compare the value of silver denari(common unit of money that were debased from being solid silver to solid bronze with just a silver wash) to that of solid gold aureus (corrected for weight and purity) which were commonly used as stores of wealth. Over the 200 odd year time period that I looked at, inflation averaged a remarkably un-remarkable 6%.

Also during this time period, the roman empire expanded enormously in size and citizenry and wealth/capita. The money supply increased many times faster than the 6% would indicate because of this. The romans inflated their currency through debasement because of the raw demand for more currency in an expanding economy.

Another poster name HAL-9000 offered his analysis of Rome's inflationary period, which put things into perspective:

What was the 200-year period you looked at? Most of what the Roman Empire was built during the least the big-money "acquisitions" if you will. Your time-frame sounds more like the late Republic than the Empire.

You know, sitting here thinking about it, there's another big caveat in looking at money and collective social behavior with ancient societies - especially the Roman transition from Republic to Empire - and that's slavery.

In the late Republic and especially the Empire, most people's participation in money transactions was as the commodity the monies were being exchanged for. That also would have a significant impact on "assets" in a society that practiced a high form of ledger accounting like the Romans did.

I wonder, what was inflation like when Rome was still a Republic, before rampant slavery set in, and a permanent underclass became dependent on socialism bread and circuses in Rome? Was there a monopoly on metallic currency, and was it subject to inflation?

Much ink has been spilled on the matter. Even if a government chooses gold over fiat currency, it could still debase it, though with much more difficulty. A recently written book attempts to analyze the use of money in that time period. It seems one problem the authors had, was trying to measure the amount of money floating around. Apparently, Roman coins were valued, but many other means of exchange were used during the Republic. Rural farmers used wheat and cattle, some used foreign coins, and still others just used unminted bullion. It becomes ambiguous as to what money is--and how does one measure the other means of exchange used? It seems the number of coins used simply met the demand for coin. It wasn't until the Roman empire spanned the whole mediterranean, and the grain shipments converged on the gargantuan city of Rome, that the emperors achieved a de facto monopoly on money. The larger the government, the more official coin it needed to pay its functionaries and military. Also, it's more convenient for the government to request payment for taxes in its own coin. Eventally everybody had to use coin, as governments needed to buy grain for the proletarians and the army--even though traders and farmers initially preferred not to use the official coinage. It seems Gresham's Law was already in effect.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

ZOMG: Wall Street Is War Street!

Those were the friendly words greeting me at my mailbox today, as apparently I was delivered the full catalogue of the AK Press. Two goons with black balaclavas, black gloves, and black slacks were pictured in stark black and white, carrying a minimalist placard with the pithy phrase "WALL ST. IS WAR ST."

"For me? You're too kind!" I thought to myself, but was much disappointed after I flipped over. It was addressed to the former tenant, a raging anarchist apparently. So started my trip down irony street for the evening.

First was the bold declaration on the back touting AK Press as a premier source of anarchist literature. "Oh really?" I wondered. "Surely they must have works by Murray Rothbard, or a little bit of Hans-Hermann Hoppe!". Alas, no. But they *did* have a full back-catalogue of Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, and Bill Ayers.

Of course, I knew better. The little red and black flag in the corner signifies that this publication was of the anarcho-syndicalist brand of anarchy. This is important because the publication touts itself as just plain anarchism, and it's only if you bother to read a dozen pages into their brochure that they mention "syndicalism". In other words, they arrogantly co-opt a whole entire movement of a wide variety of thinkers--such as, for example, Christian anarchists, or agorists. It is intellectual dishonesty. This isn't unexpected however: those on the left of the statist variety, the modern day liberals, did something similar when they co-opted the term "liberal", and warped to the point where it no longer resembles classical liberalism.

If you forgive the foray into deconstructionism, it's interesting to analyse the materials themselves. It is more or less a combination marketing brochure with full media catalogue: movies, music, books, and merchandise. The cover is simple, intriguing, and accurately summarizes the subject matter. Everything in this book is categorized, summarized, organized to benefit the consumer in the purchase collective-anarchist material. At the same time, it's printed with newsprint to cut costs. What I'm trying to say here is that AK Press has created an excellent market-based product. Whoever is working in their marketing department is no slouch. I would say that it's even a fine example of capitalism! It's also quite aware of its own hypocrisy. From the section entitled "Isn't an 'anarchist business' an oxymoron?":

There's definitely something strange and contradictory about the concept of an anarchist business. AK Press works hard to destroy and move beyond capitalism, toward a non-exploitative, sustainable, and just economy. However, like it or not, capitalism is the only game in town at the moment.

I couldn't agree more! It's the only game in town because well... it's the only game that works. The market has been in existence ever since Ogg traded a hunk of flint for Zugzug's dried fish. Eventually, Lothar of the Hill People discovered cowry shells were a good store of value when flint and fish were unavailable. Though I have to admit, Cave Clan's Collective Coop makes some wicked magic brownies.

Fortunately, the newsprint of AK Press makes good tinder for my fireplace. Reduce, re-use and recycle, I say! Though I think you can guess as to whether I'll be pulling off the shelf "A People's History of the United States" or "Road to Serfdom" to read next to a roaring fire.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Obama: More Clinton than Carter

There has been much ink spilled that Obama's upcoming presidency would be a repeat of Jimmy Carter's mediocre four years. The punditry notes several similarities. For instance, a presidency that starts with a crushing budget deficit and a stagnant economy. This would be accompanied by a weak foreign policy, and economic mismanagement that would prevent business from recovering. This comes from the assumption that Obama would stay true to his leftist roots, and his comments about wealth redistribution and fairness at any cost.

However, it starting to become clear that Obama is no Jimmy Carter, but more like his Democrat predecessor, Bill Clinton. This is because it appears that Obama associated with far left characters such as Bill Ayers and Rev. Jeremiah Wright for political expediency. In order to rise up quickly in Chicago politics, one cannot play to the center. He needed to ally himself with both the liberal, white, elite as well as stay true to the black community. It seems that to become a credible presidential candidate, he not only had to play to the center, he must stay firmly planted there.

I do not think this will be an easy-going libertarian type of centrism. This will be an authoritarian father-knows-best status quo kind of centrism.

The ideological left will be disappointed that he does not represent a true change in Washington. A number of libertarians decided to punt for Obama instead of McCain because of his anti-war views and increased support for civil liberties. They will soon have buyer's remorse.

My proof of this is his choice of Rahm Emanuel as Chief of Staff. He is a former Clinton staffer and political insider. He was a Wall Street financier. Some of his policy views are chilling, such as a mandatory three month civil service program (this is a newspeak, politically correct version of a draft). Due to his ties to banking lobby, he won't recommend roll back the horrendously expensive bailout of big business. Other cabinet positions are unconfirmed, but they appear to be from across the political spectrum.

The far left will be sorely dissapointed in his promised redistributionist schemes, for two reasons. First, due to the fact that our economy is slowing, and we're stuck with 2 trillion for the bailout (which Obama supports), there will be no money available for social projects. Second, since Obama at least pays lip service to the free market, his economic advisors will likely warn him that any further deficit spending will result in massive inflation. Also, any increase in tax rates beyond Clinton levels would merely accelerate the flight of industry and business to other countries, which would cause ever decreasing returns in tax revenue.

Libertarians who sought to punish the Republican party for the failures of the past 8 years by pulling the lever for Obama will soon discover that Obama is no civil libertarian. Not only did he vote for the USA PATRIOT Act, but he also voted for the retroactive telecom immunity. I expect Obama to close Guantanamo eventually because of its symbolic value, but he will no doubt simply expand on Bush's presidential powers. In terms of freedom of speech, Reason Magazine summarized Obama's willingness to violate it:

...the folks at places such as the Parents Television Council will continue thundering on about indecency on the public airwaves (and why the Federal Communications Commission ought to be regulating content on satellite and cable too). In this sort of jeremiad, they will find an ally in Obama and his puritanical friends on the left, who similarly like to run down market-based culture, especially video games. "Turn off the television," Obama is fond of saying, "turn off the video games." Like Bill Clinton, who along with First Lady Hillary Clinton hosted a seemingly endless series of White House events decrying vulgar culture, Obama hasn't been shy about pulling a Janet Reno when it comes to threatening industry to undertake "self-regulation": "Broadcasters and video game producers should take it upon themselves to improve this [rating] system to include easier to find and easier to understand descriptions of exactly what kind of content is included," Obama said in 2007. "But if the industry fails to act, then my administration would."

What I find amusing that there were still many anti-war activists shilling for Obama as the "anti-war" candidate. Obama will phase out troops merely in accordance to the timetable already proposed to the Bush administration, which will probably be hammered out before Obama is even sworn in. These troops will probably be transferred to Afghanistan, and possibly to peacekeeping missions in Darfur. I could make other idle predictions, but it seems that most foreign policy will remain unchanged between Obama and Bush.

While Obama will initially see some mandate for leftist policies, I foresee Republicans regaining majorities in either the House or the Senate, similar to what happened with Bill Clinton. This will be mostly due to what happens in the economy. Government intervention in the economy in the past year has not solved anything, and it will solve nothing in the next two years. The market will eventually recover on its own. Once the Republicans regain a foothold, like Bill Clinton, Obama will have to play towards the center.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

CATO Fuel Study: Giving Libertarians a Bad Name

I was browsing Drudge Report today and came across a new study today claiming that gas is as affordable today as the 1960's. A priori, the claim sounds ridiculous, as it seems completely out of touch with reality (my doubts were confirmed when going over the study's methodology). However, amusement quickly turned to dismay as it was apparently produced by the CATO institute, probably the publicly well-known libertarian think tank.

I was bothered by two reasons. First, that while CATO thinks that it may be making a reasoned argument (an argument that I'll deconstruct later), common experience by most people rejects the idea that gas prices are affordable. This disconnect caused a fury of comments to the article, claiming that CATO is out of touch with reality. Of course, what the commentariat does not know is that even many libertarians think that CATO is out of touch with reality, as a quick search of CATO on another popular libertarian site will reveal. CATO is merely reinforcing the stereotype that libertarians are out-of-touch moneyed elites (a false claim; if you drew a Venn diagram those two groups would hardly intersect).

This leads me to the second point, and that is that this CATO publication doesn't do anything to bring to light the core tenets of libertarianism: individualism and personal liberty. It almost seems like they are being polyannas for the current economic system (which isn't a free market, despite what the socialists claim). In fact, CATO's argument that standards of living have improved runs counter to an argument made on the Libertarian Party's website. Namely, that government intervention has caused standards of living to decline for a typical family:

Let's take a look at a median income family of four in the 1950s. At that time, the Federal income tax amounted to only 2% of the family budget. Americans enjoyed the highest standard of living in the world.

By contrast, in the 1990s, the Federal income tax takes 25% of income for the same family of four. Taxes at all levels -- federal, state, and local; hidden and visible -- take about 50% of a family's income. We must work from January to June just to pay taxes.

It now requires two paychecks to keep many families from going bankrupt. Typically, a working mother brings home 32% of a family's income.

So, whether she chooses to work -- or must work to make ends meet -- taxes have stolen her contribution to the family budget. In other words, one spouse now works all year just to pay taxes.

Admittedly, CATO is only specifically looking at gasoline prices as an element of income. However, what's defined as "income" here is very suspect. The statistician who created this report is playing fancy shell game with the numbers. Namely, the "income" being used in the study is "average disposable income". There is an important difference in the definition between median and average (arithmetic mean). The average value can be easily distorted by outliers in the data (for example: Bill Gates), who has literally billions of dollars of disposable income. Median is more meaningful in economic data. Another problem is the meaning of "disposable". What costs are subtracted that are not considered "disposable"? What was a necessity in 1960 may not be a necessity in 2008, and vice versa. A personal computer, car, and cell phone, are considered indispensable today. In 1960, a stay-at-home-wife was considered indispensable. What amount of income is disposable is subjective, and cannot possibly be objectively measured. Even the definition of "income" is suspect. For example, there was a unique occurrence in the past decade where people cashed out the equity in their homes, and this shows up as "disposable income" as people bought SUVs, family vacations, and other fancy toys. However, while some view equity as "untapped wealth", taking out money in your home is merely assuming more debt. Money that has to be paid back later is not income.

My proposal to this study is to simply use median household income, minus income taxes, without adjusting for inflation. This information is relatively easy to obtain. Same goes for gas prices. In estimating how much pain people are feeling at the pump, find the median number of miles driven per household and the median fuel economy each year (a more difficult task). Following this methodology you'll probably find a much different result than CATO, and probably more in line with a typical person's experience. What conclusions will you be able to formulate on libertarianism though? Probably none.