Misc USA

Capitalism and freedom explained in one minute

The following is a comment made by Gabe at Engadget. I like the incisive insights, so I gleefully copied it here:

Constant conflicts (economic or warfare) is necessary to maintain stability in our society. Capitalism necessarily expands to avoid collapse. It’s what Joseph Tainter called a “runaway train”.

The amount of attention given to, dogmatization of, and religious adherence to the idea of “freedom” might as well be philosophical slavery – anything that does not conform to an arbitrary set of criteria that defines “freedom” is automatically “evil” and rejected, regardless of any practical benefits it may have.

Knowing half of the truth and thinking you know the whole is far worse than knowing nothing at all. We can at least acknowledge and deal with our ignorance in the second case, whereas in the first case we become so secure in our biased perception of the truth it “becomes” the truth.

Who is Joseph Tainter

From wikipedia:

A professor in anthropology. His best-known work is The Collapse of Complex Societies. This 1988 book examines the collapse of Maya and Chacoan civilizations, and the Roman Empire, in terms of network theory, energy economics and complexity theory. Tainter argues that societies collapse when their investments in social complexity reach a point of diminishing marginal returns.

My take

Hope I can know more about Dr. Tainter’s theory. I would question his theory by asking this question: can a study of three civilizations be enough to prove the correlation between the burden of complexities and the collapse of a society? How would this theory be applied to the longest sustained civilization in China?

13 replies on “Capitalism and freedom explained in one minute”

Thank you for pasting the Aesop story… It’s especially useful when Wikipedia was blocked in China.

I got your idea, but I think I was gravely misunderstood — I am not against freedom. After all, it’s a holy word that even most dictators try to use to legitimize their rules.

What I am against, as the quote suggests, is that the word freedom is abused to the point it demands conformity rather than diversity. Do you agree I have my freedom to doubt what freedom actually is?

Just because my idea of freedom does not agree with yours, I am turned into a fox?

In sum:
1) I do hold grudges against capitalism and I believe there can be a better form of society, for example, socialism.
2) The very essence of freedom is freedom to think and doubt. I don’t see anything wrong in this aspect.

“One hot summer’s day a Fox was strolling through an orchard till
he came to a bunch of Grapes just ripening on a vine which had
been trained over a lofty branch. “Just the thing to quench my
thirst,” quoth he. Drawing back a few paces, he took a run and
a jump, and just missed the bunch. Turning round again with a
One, Two, Three, he jumped up, but with no greater success.
Again and again he tried after the tempting morsel, but at last
had to give it up, and walked away with his nose in the air,
saying: “I am sure they are sour.””

I let you reach your own.

This is totally misunderstanding. Suppose I say Spain or U.S. has some problems, I am not necessarily saying China is better.

Democracy does have its defects — just look at the war in Iraq — but so far it is still the best way to distribute wealth and power in a relative fair way.

My reply may sounds a little tense, but actually I want say Gracias for sharing your opinions. We just need to clear our misunderstandings.

“Suppose I say Spain or U.S. has some problems, I am not necessarily saying China is better.”
I can assure you that we do have some problems!
And for most part of history China was not a bad place to live. A more rational form of government than in the west for long periods of time.

“Democracy does have its defects”
The worst form of government, except for all those others that has been tried. Some politician said.
My opinion. A system designed no to put to best, but to take out the worst out of power. Still, not a few, times the system could be thwarted.
And it is not something that should be pushed down people’s throats.
Just see what happen in Iraq……

“My reply may sounds a little tense, ”
It is difficult to show the right nuances in email, blog posts and/or Messages. Only emoticons can help. 😉

“but actually I want say Gracias for sharing your opinions.”
Hhhhmmm…. No sabía que hablases algo de Español. I thank you too 🙂
Es siempre agradable oir ir el idioma materno de alguien de tierras tan lejanas.
By the way. Your countrymen here learn spanish very fast. Cannot say the same ourselves about Chinese language.

Also, I follow your technical posts with great interest. Few in quantity but good in quality.

Saludos desde el Noroeste de España
(Greetings from Northwest Spain) 😉

Some random answers in irrelevant order

“….I am turned into a fox?”
Not turned into a fox, just behaving like the fox in the fable. At least from my point of view.

“…I believe there can be a better form of society, for example, socialism.”
And I believe I live in a more socialist society than all of them that preach to be one. I remember one English class in Vietnam, where I was helping the local teacher and her students. There was a funny moment during the class
The teacher told her students.
“Mr Ecodelta here lives in a capitalist country and we live in a socialist country”
I answered
“No. That is incorrect. You are capitalist. We are socialist”
She asked “why?”
I answered: “Well… I have never seen so many capitalist per square meter. Here everywhere I go I meet someone is trying to sell me something, barter about it, or just trying to make some business with me.”
“On the social services. You have to pay fees for your children to go to school. I helped some NGO to provide families enough support to being able to send their kids to school. In my country we paid none.
You have to pay for right medical assistance, be it with fees + money under the desk to get right treatment and right medicines. Form personal local friends I was made aware of the problem.
Sometimes even paying, quite a bit, you get not the right treatment or medicine.
I pay nothing for treatment and just symbolic quantities for medicine.
Etc, etc, etc.”

Well, to tell the truth, I do pay throug my taxes, more than 50% of my earnings go to the state in one way or the other: VAT, Income, property, etc. That is quite socialist to me, and quite happy with the services I am being provided and help to provide.

“It’s especially useful when Wikipedia was blocked in China.”
All of it?
Not only the Chinese version or just the most sensitive parts?
That is grievous indeed. And a great disservice to the country.
I believe the next revolution, which already started, is just in information. All about the new social internet is just about, creating, sharing, providing access and mining information.
By constant blocking China risk falling behind just another technical revolution.

“The very essence of freedom is freedom to think and doubt. I don’t see anything wrong in this aspect.”
Freedom to think and doubt, not only oneself but also allow others to think and doubt, and express their thinks and doubts without risking retribution, nor muffling mouths nor choking throats.
I have no rights to silence others, and the others has not rights to force me to hear just their opinions.

Reading through your comments, I can’t find any of your points that I disagree with. Just want to let you know that I am doing a Ph.D in political science, and I would be so lame if I didn’t know the basic concepts.

Wikipedia was blocked before, but it has been working fine during the past year or two. Last year was temporarily blocked. I can’t access twitter and youtube now — there are simply too much ‘harmful’ information.

Do you code in Python? I always want to learn a programming language, but I really doubt if I have the right brain cells to learn it. By the way, do you know something about Information Management? I am gonna start getting a degree in this area, and hope you know about this area by chance.

By the way, I am here:

My major was computer science not Information management.

I do not know if I would be able to help much with it.

I see from your post that you have read something about GTD (Get Thinks Done) from David Allen.

I use some of the Technics there for managing the flood of information I have to manage at my work.

I use evernote to register of the disparate information I have to manage.
Also use Personalbrain when I need the different information items to be networked, in some cases I use it as a browser bookmark repository.
For task management and tracking I use VIP Organizer. Sometimes I think is a little overkill, but the I find its database capabilities quite useful to find and arrange task to be done.
For finding things stored somewhere in my computer I use Google Desktop.

I do program in Python. I program not complex software, just sophisticated enough. I use it to write my own tools with it.

I was a heavy C programmer, also quite experience with C++ but eventually decided to migrate to garbage collection equipped languages. Too many memory leaks and corruption even with after executing the code with Purify.

I loved Lisp when I studied in at MIT ( the Scheme variation)
I tried to find something similar with better support and popularity. I Tried PLT Scheme, TCL and finally settle down with Python.

Very simple and clean syntax, good expressiveness power and good libraries. Close enough to Lisp in some respects, but without the parentheses.

I prefer it to Java and C#. I plan to learn some C# someday, more by the tools that Microsoft offers than for the language itself.
Each time I try to do something in other language than Python, I find myself forced to use less elegant coding.
If you decide to give Python a try, you may like it.

I also liked Perl when it appeared, but I consider it to be a bash shell+unix tools on steroids. It has its uses, but for just script programming I prefer python.

Heard quite a bit about Ruby and Haskell, but never get into it beyond language introduction.

Next week I will be in Hue (Vietnam). Not too far from China. I have never been in China but I plan to visit one time.

Have you arrived in Hue already? I heard about the name of the city from the title of a book called The Cat from Hue, but I haven’t read it.

Thank you for the tips about GTD tools and programming language. I only heard about evernote but not other tools. It seems these tools are heavily java based, but somehow I don’t like Java programs. I use Mind Manager for personal project management, and I use a Firefox plugin Zotero to collect and organize information. For online bookmarking, I guess Diggo should do the job.

You appear to be a programming wizard for all the programming language you have used. I do have a few questions to concerning how to learn programming as a newbie:

Since I am switching my career to the field of information management, I guess I should at least learn one programming language. I know about the reknowned Python long ago, and even tried to learn it. But self-teaching is diffcult.

How do I learn a programming language? How to learn Python? Where shall I start?

Vietnam is now a new supplier of cheap labor in the international market. Bygone the commie ideology, globalization brought capitalism and sweatshops to Vietnam.

I just searched Google blogs about how to learn Python, and it came up with a few good writings on the topic.

However, the ideas of strings, loops, stacks and classes dazzles me. I hope I can handle them.

Start with the basics.

numbers, strings, and lists (lists very important)

then go through loops.


Recursive functions.

dont worry about classes until later.

Don’t try to drink too much in one try.

Starts with a basic tutorial, do some exercises, when feel comfortable with new concepts move forward to new ones.

If you can get a copy, this is a good book
Learning Python, 2nd Edition
by Mark Lutz; David Asche

This seems daunting, but I’ll try. I think the only two languages I want to learn is bash script and Python.

Thank you for the advice.

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