Tuesday, November 14, 2006

My Walk Towards the Light of Reason

My congratulations to everyone who throws off the shackles of religion. I applaud you on your journey. This is my story.

I was raised Catholic in a typical pragmatic religious family. We went to church on Sunday, and went about the rest of our lives the rest of the week. We never discussed, analyzed or mentioned religion. It was not verboten; it was simply taken as an uncontroversial given of life, as routine as getting up in the morning.

For me, all of that changed with two events. The first was the disappearance of my beloved cat when I was 7. For the first time in my life, I sincerely asked God for something, to get my cat back. I was taught in Sunday school that God only answered sincere prayers, and that you should only pray for something when it is really important. Well, getting my Tiger back was important, so I prayed. I prayed every night on my knees for a month. I prayed at least 15 minutes every night. I was sincere.

Nothing happened. I never prayed again. It wasn't a conscious decision. I simply know that I never prayed again.

The second event began when I picked Ayn Rand's Anthem off the shelf of a used book store when I was 13. At 13 I read Anthem. At 14 I read The Fountainhead and told myself I was an atheist. By 15, I demanded that my parents explain their adherence to a religion that demanded their sacrifice on the altar of altruism. When I announced to my father that I was an atheist that year, he declared that I must be insane and threatened to send me to an insane asylum.

Needless to say, after that I couldn't wait to get out of my parents' house, and went to college as soon as I could, even skipping my senior year of high school to go early.

The interesting thing about all of it was that throughout my youth (and continuing to this day), I took religion seriously. I listened to what the priest said at mass; I excelled at Sunday school where I was a top student. I was even an altar boy and relished the opportunity to be closer to the "body of Christ" than anyone else, other than the priest.

Taking religion -- i.e., ideas -- seriously appears to be the leitmotif of those who reject the religion under which they are raised.

I respect anyone who takes ideas seriously, even if they are wrong about the ideas they hold. Because if they do so, specifically if they are open to reason and respect evidence, they are open to the truth.

Many religious people take religious ideas seriously, but they base their beliefs on faith. You cannot reason with them. Many other religious people (most religious people I meet fall into this category) are pragmatists; they don't take any ideas seriously. You cannot reason with them either, because for them ideas are divorced from reality.

The bottom line is: very few people are independent thinkers who take ideas seriously. Those who are can find their way out of the torture chamber of religion, despite its horrors.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Anti-Life Movement

Check out this editorial on abortion.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Why I Will Keep Voting Democratic, Until...

In every major area, except for religious values, I cannot see a difference between the parties. Both parties spend our money with abandon. They redistribute wealth from rich to poor or from one pressure group to another. They purchase votes with earmarks and new welfare programs. They restrict the substances that can go into our body, whether it is food or drugs. Both parties fund mediocre and pacifying public education. Both parties use our money and military to aid unworthy peoples and countries abroad. Both parties compromise with dictators, give money to those dictators, and pay for the podium those dictators speak at. Both parties use the coercive power of government to enact rules that favor nature over man.

The Republicans differ from the Democrats in only one important way. In addition to doing all of the same things the Democrats do, the Republicans also seek to destroy the separation of church and state. For the Republicans, their paramount value is religion, and they seek to inject it into our life in sundry ways. They seek to ban abortion, to restrict "devilish" scientific research, to fund programs to teach anti-abortion and abstinence abroad, to use government money to fund religious charities at home, to ban pornography on the Internet and curse words on television, and to ban particular sexual practices, gambling, prostitution and drugs.

The only other difference between the parties is what they call their statist programs. The Republicans will often claim that their religious-statist program is enacted in the name of "freedom" or "liberty" or "free markets" or "American values" or even "capitalism". The Democrats also use these labels sometimes, but without conviction. They are far more animated when they demand "social justice", the reduction of "inequality of income" between the rich and poor or between CEOs and workers, and "environmental justice". The Democrats are more honest in calling their leftist program by its left-wing labels.

For their relative honesty, the Democrats deserved our vote. For their relative secularity, they deserved our vote. In terms of actions, it will be awful if the Democrats exercise their newly-found power. But one thing is for sure, it will not be worse than the actions of the Republicans. And when the Democrats get blamed for the failures of their policies, it will not be "free markets" or "American values" or "capitalism" that gets blamed, it will be the statist ideology those policies actually represent.

If the Republicans rediscover a secular approach to limited government, they will be worthy of my vote. Until then, I will continue to vote for the lesser of two evils: the Democrats.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Regulation Destroys

As an investment professional focused on the electric utility industry, the most regulated industry in the United States, I have accumulated numerous examples over the past 12 years of the inanity of regulation.

My experience, based on frequent personal interaction with both the regulators and the regulated, is that regulators, nearly to the person, are less competent than the people they regulate.

Imagine a 50-something highly educated and accomplished CEO of a $25 billion market capitalization company kowtowing to a 30-something attorney and political hack who happens to hold life-and-death regulatory power over his business. I've seen it, and variations of it, many times.

Executives of regulated companies have to flatter the regulators at conferences and meetings, spend countless hours educating the regulators on the simple basics of how their industry operates (so as to reduce the destructiveness of new regulations), and regularly second-guess their own actions for fear that a regulator or his political boss will be offended by them.

The results are several, the least of which is the many man-years of wasted time and unproductive employment at large corporations (e.g.: the full-time regulatory affairs teams at utilities and every other large corporation).

More ominously, innovations are delayed many years or never implemented at all. For example, in the utility world, numerous innovative technologies that could be deployed on the electric transmission infrastructure, such as high-speed Internet access, are never deployed because they require regulatory approval, and to get that the utilities must agree to "share" profits because, under the principle of regulation, the transmission lines really belong to the "utility ratepayers."

Even if the regulator is well-meaning (many of them actually are) and accomplished/intelligent (a rarity), by virtue of existing at the behest of politicians, they end up being destructive (which is why the only honest regulator would have to immediately quit his job). As an example, during the height of the California power crisis, a federal regulator appointed by Bush who publicly denounced price controls, imposed them anyway when he got a personal phone call from Bush. He knew the price controls would cause blackouts, and they did. He implemented them anyway.

A whole body of economic and philosophical literature provides good reasons why regulation is bad. Regulators are disinterested or "mis-interested" (corrupt), they are risk-averse, they cannot hold all the relevant information in their heads to regulate properly, etc.

I agree with all that, and add to it the image of a highly successful chief executive clapping with eager obsequiousness at the conclusion of a meaningless speech by a well-meaning but ignorant regulator who would never be hired by the utility she is regulating.

I hate to end on such a negative note, so I will add that quite a lot of innovation still gets pushed through eventually despite such regulation (even in the utility industry, thankfully). But the cost of the lost innovation and waste is enormous and growing.