Monday, July 13, 2015

Three Interesting POVs on Greece Worth Watching

Nigel Farage, EU MP
Raising legitimate concerns about the EU dream since its conception.

Peter Schiff, CEO Euro Pacific Capital Inc.
Many orthodox economists laughed back when he constantly warned of the US 07-08 recession.

Ron Paul, Former US congressman
Leading proponent of th Audit the Fed movement, the most consistent in principles of defending liberty, globally popularized libertarianism and the Austrian School.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Why We Should Care About CCTVs in Our Private Subdivisions

On my way home, I saw a CCTV from a lamp post above a key intersection in my subdivision. "Was there a referendum?" I unconsciously asked out loud. My friend laughed. It is quite funny. As if  the gravity of the camera in question is as big news as the Greek bailouts.

You're probably expecting a blog post about how my village has now become an Orwellian Big Brother State and that placing CCTVs in different places of my village is unconstitutional. I'm not. I actually all for it.

Intruders got into our house several years ago and got some valuables. Thankfully, we're alive to tell the story. Something like placing CCTVs in a village is definitely a deterrent to crime and could help in arbitrating minor vehicle accidents, etc.

To be honest, I'd rather put more budget in security than making sure the basketball court is painted well, etc.

But support does not mean I do not question. Why should we care? 

Photo by Nolifebeforecoffee under CC by 2.0 (author claims stencil is by Bansky)

Homeowners pay monthly dues (the same way we pay taxes to government) and if there can't be participation and transparency in a private homeowners association level, it makes sense why we can't have it on a national level (and, yes, I'm being a somewhat of a hypocrite here cos I'm just writing about it after the fact).

My concerns:
  • Policy: Was there a forum where everyone was invited to discuss the proposal, terms, conditions, and limitations of those who will have access to it? Were there even drafts? If yes, were they mailed to every household? Even if we're all busy, an email of a draft wouldn't hurt.
  • Access: Is it publicly available or is there a criteria for you to claim video footage for viewing/copying? What are the privacy clauses put in place? Is there a guard watching 24-hours? Do the elected officials have access? Should they?  How long is the footage kept/archived per camera?
    •  I've mentioned this in this blog but the "you don't need privacy if you have nothing to hide" argument reverses the role of rights to begin with, if that's on your mind.
  • Suppliers/Costs: Who are the suppliers and what are the costs? Was there a bidding process?
  • Effectiveness: Are the specs of these CCTVs cost-effective in terms of making us safe? How detailed are night shots? Would a thermal camera be more effective at night? What are best practices and equipment in other subdivisions?
  • Referendum/plebiscite:  Once there is a final draft, let the people decide. Again, I'm not questioning the CCTV intent or their role as a deterrent to crime. The referendum just makes sure that there is a check and balance with where the money is going if it will really work and that the above concerns are addressed.
Well, they might say people are too busy to participate. We have day jobs and businesses to run and we're just happy to see something is up there on a lamp post that makes us feel safer. There's a basketball court. Speed bumps are always newly painted. I was just reflecting and realized that if we can't demand for transparency on this type of micro-level, what more national? I am reminded of my old blog posts of how I believed so much that a proper FOI bill could lead to good governance.  

Side story: a few years ago, funds were raised to build a small Catholic church. I think this is a great venue where people can express freedom of assembly and worship as a community. It's just the opportunity cost I'm concerned about. And, again, the concerns above as well.

The funds raised could have been used, instead, to build a mini fire-station so we won't have to rely on slow government services. If it's traffic outside, government firetrucks will take a really long time. Or, again, beef up security. Thermal cameras could help spot criminals at night or better guard training. I don't know the feasibility of these but I hope I'm just able to emphasize the point on the opportunity cost here.

Again, hypocritical. I, myself, don't participate or propose such things.

When writing about things I feel I have no solutions to or don't really act on, it's easy to be trapped in cynicism, especially in the state of politics in our country. It gets very existential: what am I blogging for, really? If I get lucky, I'll get a handful of views on this. I guess the goal is not immediate action. It's really injecting ideologies in simple analogies in everyday life like the ones above in the hopes that one reader would rethink, not necessarily act, but just rethink what he/she has known about politics and governance.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Disconnect of Poverty and Smartphone Penetration in Developing Worlds

Voice & Exit is very similar to TED Talks, an online video distribution model where prominent people from different fields are given a venue to talk about their ideas that are worth sharing. These videos are accessible to almost every one with an internet connection, except of course for countries like China where websites like YouTube are subject to censorship.

Both are very amazing sources of information and inspiration but lately I've been more keen on consuming media from Voice & Exit because one small iteration in their communication -- their content, they claim, is focused on ideas worth implementing. They are actionable and concrete whether it be in policy reform or technological advancement. This website was shared on the local libertarian Facebook group by my friend and I've been enjoying it since.

While watching one of the presentations on Voice & Exit  with speaker Zachary Caceres, Executive Director of the Startup Cities Institute, I was so surprised that it was very similar to a TED talk by economist Paul Romer that I've actually blogged about before. What's striking is that their insights both came from something so contradictory and confusing: why is it that most people are suffering in poverty-stricken places yet have ubquituous access to a technology like a smartphone?

On the video above, Zachary tells the story of a woman who risks her life just to get plastic from a dump site and yet has access to a mobile device.

This is very true even here in our country. I don't have the exact figures but given that we've been dubbed as the SMS or selfie capitals of the world, penetration is definitely in volume making it not limited to the upper A or B market. With mobile devices getting cheaper and cheaper, free Facebook access, and mobile data becoming very affordable, many are able to own smartphones and be globally connected -- and yet bare basics like food, shelter, education, jobs are a struggle for many to attain.

On the video above, Paul Romer starts with the story of children studying under lamp posts
because they don't have electricity in their homes and yet have access to mobile devices.

I admire both proposed ideas from creating competing small cities with autonomy from national policies to giving the developing world new “social technologies” that can be imported just like a mobile device.

I see the smartphone becoming the strongest touchpoint in empowering and informing the people. Just look at social media's role in the Arab Spring: even the foulest and most feared of tyrants won't live to tell the story of how they underestimated 140 characters.

And look at other disruptive tech that has so much potential., a homegrown remittance service that uses Bitcoin, was recently mentioned by  The Wall Street Journal as "[disrupting] traditional cash-transfer firms by offering nearly instantaneous, zero-cost services." This helps OFWs send money to the Philippines, fast and free. 

This rate of smartphone penetration is an opportunity for policymakers, cause advocates, NGOs, and civil society to help improve people's lives and standards of living.

It's always been inevitable for technology to be the catalyst in creating a freer and more prosperous society. That being said, it's something we should allow to flourish and not be stomped by red tapes, special interests, or age-old laws that no longer apply today. 

Remember when bureaucrats tried to fight Uber or Tripid? The State and its bureaucracies are designed to be self-preserving and to protect their monopoly on industries. They will always challenge disruptive technology that seeks to reclaim power from them and bring it back to the people.

And we, those who they govern only at our consent, must always be mindful and vigilant in protecting and supporting disruptive technologies that seek to improve the life of the Filipino.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

That's Too Idealistic

"That's too idealistic," most people say when I raise principles and concrete policies that I believe in. This implies, I presume, that they agree with them but have doubts in terms of feasibility and execution. But how "idealistic" are they, really?
In the current industry I work in right now, we always look at best practices in other markets just as a benchmark or a source of thought-starters for executions that could be locally contextualized. It's always best practice to look into what works and what doesn't work and then mix and match those that could work in our local context. That being said, before we judge something as "too idealistic" -- why don't we look for data and research successful case studies on what other countries do to address social issues similar to ours?

The photo above is an extensive research by The Heritage Foundation about economic freedom rankings of different countries in the world. The beauty of this is that these are already real-world demonstrations. They are empirical data based on how pro-market economic policies and civil liberties strongly contribute to a country's peace and prosperity.

To avoid bias, there are more sources you can contrast the data to such as the International Property Rights Index. You can check and validate the methodologies used in their research. You can disagree if you wish. What's important is that we take a step back and base our policy positions on data before we discredit principles or ideas.

Yes, there are contentions with Lee Kuan Yew's Singapore or Pinochet's Chile (as seen on photo of top 10 most economically free countries above) when it comes to authoritarian leadership. The point, though, is that their economic policies favor less government meddling and economic freedom allowing the market to flourish thus increasing prosperity and people's standards of living.

My main objective for this specific post, I guess, is not exactly to push my own principles but to push back on people who easily jump the gun and say that something is "too idealistic".

This pessimism has existed throughout history. There are those who tend to find profound and forward-thinking ideas as "too idealistic". This was true when there were skeptics and opponents of the abolitionists who pushed to get rid of slavery. This was true when patriarchal society shrugged off women's struggle for their right to suffrage. This was true when Rizal envisioned to use fictional novels to open people's eyes to the oppression of colonialism. 

Ideas will always be too idealistic until there are results, of course, but with sound and logical principles that're already backed by real-world demonstrations, I don't see the merit in being cynical or hopeless.

If you are reading this right now and you reached this part, the next time you feel strongly that something is too idealistic and cannot be implemented, I hope you could push back on the cynicism. For a few seconds, just grab your smartphone and take note of the proposal so that you could look it up when you have the time. 

My only hope is that a few seconds of typing some keywords on Google and skimming through some case studies and success stories from other countries could maybe spark hope in us and relinquish this "too idealistic" mentality. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Reflections on Healthcare in the Philippines

Even as a libertarian who embraces voluntary trade and competitive markets, healthcare is a very tempting issue that from time to time skews my principles to lean left. On paper, a program like Medicare (a US public program) seems noble and fair -- healthcare for all senior citizens.

And hey, why not push it up a notch -- universal healthcare. My cousin in Canada says she didn't spend a single cent on her thyroid operation. In fact, they spent only for the hospital parking fee. They even spend more when they bring their dog to the vet.

The same with anti-trust. In a country where some of the premiere hospitals like Asian Hospital, Makati Med, Cardinal Santos are owned by just one man (who happens to also own companies in media, telecom, mining, and other industries), it is tempting to be optimistic that there could be a benevolent governing body, even guided by civil society or NGOs, that could be a watchdog against these kinds of monopolies.

It's the same with pharma. It's the same with health insurance.

(SEE ALSO: The Tragedy of Money As We Know It)

I care very little about other issues, they cannot skew me. But healthcare talks directly about human life, specifically the life of my loved ones. And isn't this aligned with John Locke's natural rights to life, liberty, and property? Specifically, the right to be alive and to have access to just and fair healthcare and medication. Healthcare and medication that is not owned solely by the cronies and the oligarchs. Healthcare and medication prices fairly dictated by a competitive market, in a marketplace where wages do not depreciate over time due to inflation.

But you see, I'm not really endorsing being all a Michael Moore here. There are simple libertarian solutions that could instantly decrease the price of healthcare and medication.

Did you know that we place tariffs on hospital equipment and machines that could save lives? Did you know that we place tariffs on imported medication that could compete with local pharma to lower prices? Did you know that so many healthcare and pharma companies want to invest here but they can't because of our constitution? And the appointed czars at customs call this "protectionism." So who are they really protecting? And how much is the cost of this protection? Is it worth a human life?

And VAT -- don't you think we can give those who are in need of healthcare or medication a 12% discount? They're not out there buying a burger or having their car repaired. This 12% discount could save their lives.

And big pharma? Should they really be given rights to monopolize a molecule over an arbitrary amount of time? For instance, if you had the molecule to cure cancer, should you be granted copyright and not allow other pharma to reverse engineer and compete?

I see merits in the Nordic Welfare Model -- why not explore and find compromise? I'm not endorsing a full government monopolization. I'm just throwing questions out there to spark discussions all with the objective of having a freer and more prosperous society.

Full disclosure: apologies for any typos or factual errors, my secret santa got me a bottle of Jack D and I decided to enjoy some of it myself for an above-average nightcap.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Tragedy of "Money" As We Know It

My aunt gave me 100 US dollars yesterday. Christmas present, I presumed and cause she's always been nice to me.

This sparked a discussion between my father and I.

"The [US] dollar is the world's reserve; wag mo papalitan." he replied after I expresed intentions to convert it to Bitcoin or bullion (kahit maliit lang ang value).

I showed him Geithner's signature on the paper note (former US Sec of Treasury). "You really trust this guy?" He chuckled and filled his glass with wine.

We continue to talk about Goldman-Sachs, bailouts, inflation, and the 07-08 recession.

You see, in 1971, during the Bretton-Woods agreement, most, if not all, of the world's monies were stripped of its equivalent or representation in gold reserves. Its worth now comes from the sheer edict of government (fiat currency).

This means that markets do not dictate the value of money or of interest rates. This discretion now resides among a group of a select few -- merely appointed and never elected; often times having ties with the administration and its cronies' companies. For the PH, it's the people over at BSP.

They are the esteemed 'expert' econometricians whose job is to plan and fix economies. This arrogance is partly what F.A. Hayek referred to as The Pretense of Knowledge.

I ended our conversation with my favorite ender for these kinds of arguments: "What is money?"

It remains mysterious and baffling, even to me, but he replied with a textbook answer: "it is a medium of exchange. Without central control [of the US, EU, local governments, etc.], that would mean chaos."

But could it really be that simple? If we look at history and if we try to define money and its qualifiers, we're bound to be taken aback. [recommended readings: The Politically Incorrect Guide to The Great Depression by Robert Murphy, How an Economy Grows and Why it Crashes by Peter Schiff]

It's appalling, really, especially for those who are not part of the oligarchy; for those who have nothing to eat or have no 'money' for education and whatnot.

I had the US paper note exchanged this morning and the long line made me reflect. 

Just my two cents.