Some Monday Links

Is taxation theft? (Aeon)

Who Controls What Books You Can Read? (Reason)

The Rule of Law, Firm Size, and Family Firms (FED St Luis)

20 Movies That’ll Remind You the Government Can’t Be Trusted (Life Hacker)

Some Monday Links

Science fiction, cont.

Jobs and Class of Main Characters in Science Fiction (Vector)

Steampunk: How this subgenre of science fiction challenges the beliefs of civilisational progress (Scroll)

Have yet to actually read a steampunk book, Mistborn notwithstanding. Was about to buy “The Difference Machine”, but last minute I opted for the history/ fiction hybrid of “Red Plenty” (one of the books I keep returning to, btw, very rewarding read).

Presidents as Economic Managers (National Affairs)

South Korea: Why so many struggle to sleep (BBC)

Monday’s literal fantasies

Sciences of “Dune”: An Introduction (LA Review of Books)

A symposium on Dune’s medicine, ethnography, eugenics and others.

Why Do We Love the Brutality of “Grimdark” Fantasy? (LitHub)

Have neither read ASoIaF nor watched GoT, but I will leave the root of word “grimdark” here: In the grim darkness of far future there is only war.

On Tolkien and Orwell (Darcy Moore)

More common points than just “being peculiarly English authors with evergreen book sales“.

Ursula K. Le Guin’s biography gets a publisher and a release date (Oregon Live)

Just finished The Dispossessed, the 1974 SF novel by Le Guin. A worthy, humane read, definitely. Apart from the beautiful prose, the setting is compelling. Two planets: Urras, complete with states, money and war, and Anarres, a former mining outpost turned to colony by settlers from Urras. Governments of Urras offered to people adhering to the teachings of a semi-legendary woman (“Laia Asieo Odo”) the colony, so that they could do their thing without disrupting “civil order”. Le Guin explains:

Odonianism is anarchism. Not the bomb-in-the-pocket stuff, which is terrorism, whatever name it tries to dignify itself with; not the social-Darwinist economic “libertarianism” of the far right; but anarchism as prefigured in early Taoist thought, and expounded by Shelley and Kropotkin, Goldman and Goodman. Anarchism’s principal target is the authoritarian State (capitalist or socialist); its principal moral-practical theme is cooperation (solidarity, mutual aid). It is the most idealistic, and to me the most interesting, of all political theories.


The book follows a scientist from the anarchist planet who travels to the old world. The chapters alternate between his interactions there and flashbacks from his homeland. The writer paints the capitalist state, that hosts the traveler, as funky, but sinister (she does not spare a neighboring socialist one, either), while she treats the anarchist world more generously. It even gives it some, let’s say, additional leeway, contrasting its arid, hostile landscape with the lush environment of Urras. The dichotomy is furthered by guarantees of isolation: The two worlds only do some limited communications and trade, no traveling in-between.

The outline of life in Anarres was the most interesting aspect, to me. Trust, mutuality and personal freedom are the basic elements in this anarchist society, which prides itself against those competitive, “archists”, “propertarians” of Urras. They also fear and loathe them (acknowledging that Anarres is practically defenseless at the face of tactical armies), and also need to trade with them ores for necessary goods.

The constructed language of Anarres expresses the core beliefs, for example, it uses “central” instead of “higher”, to denote significance in the absence of hierarchies. The word for “work” is the same as “play” (or was it “joy”?), and the really unpleasant tasks are shared on a rotating basis. This means that specialized and unspecialized individuals alike spend some considerable time laboring for society’s wellbeing. Professions are conducted through syndicates, which form and dissolve voluntarily. Individuals move freely across the planet’s communities. There is a unit that coordinates production, work postings and resources allocation (a Gosplan-lite, if you take away the imposing building and that 5-year fetish). It also has powers like emergency work postings in times of need (the closest thing to quasi-official “compulsion” in a society without the notion of it). Serial slackers deserve food and shelter, like anyone else, but at some point will probably get their asses kicked by their peers and/ or pressed to fuck-off to another location.

Only the original Gosplan deserved a fancy garage like this – source

Each individual is responsible to the others. This simple standard of meeting social expectations, benevolent as it is at first, in the novel is seen as gradually taking the shape of an “orthodoxy” placed, and finally encroaching, upon individual freedom. The writer is also keen to pinpoint the effects of creeping hierarchies, even in organizations open to participation. For example, an anarchist argues that the coordination unit has assumed the bureaucratic attitude (“no to everything”). Other institutions, like research centers, are seen festering with dug-in cliques and “seniors”, that fend-off outsiders and boss around among supposedly equals. I think that anyone who has experienced office life can relate to this.

There is more, about self, relations, gender (not The Left Hand of Darkness – not read, or Tehanu – read, level), constraints and science (the last I cannot judge). A final note, the people of Anarres describe themselves as anarchists, Odonians and, of course, libertarians.

Some Monday Links

Burning the witch (New Humanist)

Not as funny as it may sound.

Will nudge theory survive the pandemic? (UnHerd)

From an ex-member of the UK Nudge Unit:

[I]t may be worth reflecting on where we need to draw the line between the choice-maximizing nudges of libertarian paternalism, and the creeping acceptance among policy makers that the state should use its heft to influence our lives without the accountability of legislative and parliamentary scrutiny.

Why Do We Return to the Greek Myths Again and Again? (LitHub)

Olympus, Texas?

French Socialism Embraced Neoliberalism and Signed Its Death Warrant (Jacobin)

The usual disclaimers on the use of term neoliberalism apply.

The Periodic Table of Commodity Returns (2012-2021) (Visual Capitalist)

Book list triple threat

Neither new books, nor in any particular order. Hell, did not even read them all in 2021.


  • Mistborn trilogy – Gripping enough, long slog, well-thought magic system. (Brandon Sanderson)
  • The Alloy of Law, a sequel that became the 1st part of another Mistborn trilogy. Gritty steampunk setting, the mix & match of magic powers didn’t do it for me. Meh. (Brandon Sanderson)
  • Reckoners trilogy – Almost fine for YA. Forgettable. (Brandon Sanderson)
  • Earthsea Quartet – Rich and beautiful, seems a bit dated or familiar, since it set standards encountered in later works in the genre. (Ursula Le Guin)
  • Farseer trilogy – Intricate world building, the 1st person POV suits. Curiously, the 2nd book is the best of the series. (Robin Hobb)

Prose-wise, Le Guin and Hobb lead by a wide margin vs Sanderson. The two also go beyond the usual hack-n-slash and shed light to the more mundane labors of daily life in a largely medieval world. A documentary on castles/ forests/ ports could certainly use a few of Hobb’s descriptions and terms.

  • The Lacquer Screen – A detective novel set in Imperial China, of a particular subgenre called gong’an. I enjoyed the ambience of Tang period, while the whole read is quite old-fashioned. (Robert van Gulik)

Comic Books

  • Watchmen – Superb. (Moore/ Gibbons)
  • Batman: The Dark Knight Returns – I expected to like it more, I think. (Miller)
  • Blacksad (#1-5, integrated version) – Sublime artwork, storylines good but uneven. I had already read #1-3 some 15 years ago. (Canales/ Guarnido)

On the pile

  • The dispossessed (Ursula Le Guin)
  • Watership Down (Richard Adams)
  • Ship of Magic (Robin Hobb)
  • Superman: Red Son (Millar/ Johnson/ Robinson/ Wong/ Plunkett)
  • Batman: White Knight (Murphy)

And a sole non-fiction entrant to the pile:

  • The Body: A Guide for Occupants (Bill Bryson)

Second Nature

Michael Pollan gets me. Highly edumacated middle class white guy whose in to food and gardening. Last year I read Omnivore’s Dilemma and became convinced that Pollan occupies essentially the same position as me (challenging my preconceptions): the humble anarchist. Pollan has a sense of emergence, and skepticism of the beneficiaries of government policy. He might not take public positions as an anarchist, but that doesn’t mean I don’t see Ol’ Spooner’s ghost whispering in his ear.

This Christmakwanzakkah I read an older book of his. Second Nature is his record of the same experiences I’m currently going through as a gardener. This is from way back in 1991, and in it gives some evidence that he might be an epistemological anarchist:

As it happens, the etymology of the word true takes us back to the old English word for “tree”: a truth, to the Anglo-Saxons, was nothing more than a deeply rooted idea.

p. 159

Here he is appreciating emergent order in markets:

More than a work of art, I like to think of the garden as if it were a capitalist economy, inherently unstable, prone to cycles of boom and bust. Even the most prosperous times contain the seeds of future disaster. A flush year in the perennial border usually means lean times ahead; now spent, the perennial need dividing and won’t peak again for two years. Unless pruned in spring, my asters, phlox, and delphinium willput out way too many shoots, a form of herbaceous inflation that will cheapen all their blooms come summer. Wealth is constantly being created and destroyed in the garden, but the accounts never blanace for very long–a shortage of nutrients develops in this sector, a surplus in that one, the value of water fluctates wildly. Who could hope to orchestrate, much less master, so boisterous an assembly of the self-interested? The gardener’s lot is to try to get what he wants from his plants while they go heedlessly about getting what they want. …

The garden is an unhappy place for the perfectionist. Too much stands beyond our control here, and the only thing we can absolutely count on is eventual catastrophe. Success in the garden is the moment in time, that week in June when the perennials unanimously bloom and the border jells, or those clarion days in September when the reds riot in the tomato patch–just before the black frost hits. It’s easy to get discouraged, unless, like the green thumb, you are happier to garden in time than in space; unless, that is, your heart is in the verb. For the garden is never done–the weeds you pull today will return tomorrow, a new generation of aphids will step forward to avenge the ones you’ve slain, and everything you plant–everything–sooner or later will die. Among the many, many things the green thumb knows is the consolation of the compost pile, where nature, ever obliging, redeems this season’s deaths and disasters in the fresh promise of next spring.

p. 131-2

Pollan is showing as a great an ability to appreciate the market as a process as any Austrian economist.

Physical Goods, Immaterial Goods, and Public Goods

Public goods in economics have been a contentious theoretical issue since Paul Samuelson introduced the concept in 1954. The main sources of contention are what real world things are public goods, and who should provide them. In this post I propose a new way of looking at goods that will shed light on why public goods have posed such a problem. In particular, I propose that there is an important distinction between physical goods and immaterial goods; that public goods can only be immaterial goods; and that this unique feature of public goods does not preclude the market to provide the “socially optimal level.


Economists define a public good as something that is “non-rival” (meaning that one person’s consumption does not affect another person’s), and “non-excludable” (meaning that one person cannot stop another person from consuming the good.) Public goods are often contrasted with private goods, which are rival and excludable.

The implications are that public goods cannot be provided by a free market, because no one would have to pay for such a good, and so there would be so incentive to produce it. Therefore, the argument goes, the government ought to provide public goods.


An example of a private good is an apple. Imagine a world with just you, me, and an apple. If I take a bite out of the apple, there is now less apple for you to consume. That means it’s rival. If I put the apple in a locker to which only I know the combination, then again you are prevented from consuming the apple. This makes it excludable.  Continue reading