Free Speech Isn’t Free

There’s a common misconception that China does not afford its citizens the protections of free speech. Totally false! Chinese citizens can say whatever they want, they just need to find a licensed publisher or licensed Internet Content Provider (aka, a website) to distribute their words.

The Speech is Free, but it can’t be too subversive, because licensed publishers won’t print material that speaks unfavorably of the government. Hey, private companies are allowed to make their own rules. Don’t like Weibo’s content moderation policies? Go start your own social media platform!

Perhaps you’ve heard of Gab. It’s a Twitter-ish platform that was created as a free (as in speech) alternative to BigTech social media. But the site keeps getting banished by service providers — Apple, Google, Amazon AWS, Microsoft Azure, Paypal, Stripe, Coinbase, Square, CashApp, have all deplatformed Gab. Private companies are allowed to enforce private rules, but it’s odd how independent tech companies dutifully fall in line with the establishment.

We hear stories about Chinese dissidents who get “disappeared” and sold for parts, but those cases are not the norm. It’s far more common for the government to employ a softer form of power. These days, those who publish subversive material might be “taken in for questioning”. Maybe their family members will get “taken in for questioning” too. A long night of “questioning” is usually enough to intimidate the critics.

Here in the US, law enforcement issues a subpoena. To receive a subpoena does not indicate guilt of a crime; it’s just the government’s way of “asking questions”. The questions typically demand multiple years’ worth of written communication and metadata, in a structured format prepared for Concordance, Bates numbered, with a searchable index. Failure to comply is a criminal offense.

That compliance is burdensome and expensive is one of the best features of our legal system. For the government, that is. If the government wants to shut down a nonconformist, just mire them in legal sludge. For example, here’s multiple attorneys general demanding a decade’s worth of communications, emails, and financial statements from those who have published climate change skepticism. Here’s that time a federal grand jury issued a subpoena to Reason.com after site commenters posted offensive remarks about the judge who sentenced Ross Ulbricht. Here’s the professional shakedown racket known as SPLC gloating about “massive legal fees” Gab will incur as a result of a subpoena issued by the Pennsylvania Attorney General.

The government is basically doing what Peter Thiel did to Gawker — dragging them through litigation until they run out of money and give up. Thiel incurred significant capital expenditure to subdue his opponent, but our government can do it For Free.

On the bright side, we do have something China doesn’t have: Capitalism. Our Department of Justice doesn’t choose its investigation targets in a vacuum. It has partnerships with nonprofits like the ADL, the NAACP, the SPLC, and other advocacy groups, who help inform law enforcement decisions in a totally unbiased way. Tech companies lavish donations on these groups to keep legal attention at bay. Or they simply put these advocacy groups on payroll as Trusted Flaggers and consultants, along with a cushy salary.

Consider it a form of tithe. After all, freedom isn’t free.

Addendum.

Another example. Operation Chokepoint was a DoJ initiative to investigate banks who did business with firearm dealers, payday lenders, and other politically incorrect companies. As a result, many financial institutions terminated service to legitimate businesses to avoid the hassle of investigation.

Bitcoin and Inflation

Bitcoin has an odd meme where people who lose significant amounts of money are praised for their contribution to scarcity. The world is a zero sum game, and if you burn your bitcoins then my own coins are worth more!

The greatest tragedy for any Bitcoin HODLer is to outlive his bitcoins. But you know what’s even more tragic? Having your bitcoins outlive YOU.

In the late Middle Ages, material wealth had a way of outliving its HODLers. The bubonic plague wiped out at least a third of the European population, with the death toll as high as 80% in places like Tuscany. As people died off, gold and silver consolidated into fewer hands and per capita wealth increased. At the same time, lack of farm labor led to poor harvests and higher prices. Mass inflation ensued.

Human labor was the biggest source of capital in the Middle Ages; today fiat is the biggest source of capital. Bitcoin-as-a-deflationary-asset assumes the continued growth of the economy, but this assumption is already false. Labor productivity hasn’t grown in a decade, and our ongoing asset price inflation has been largely the result of financialization.

The impending fiat collapse won’t directly kill off any humans, but huge amounts capital will vaporize. People won’t be fleeing into bitcoin; they’ll have nothing to flee *from*.

After the Black Death, it took a couple generations for demographic restructuring to lead to new economic growth. People shifted from agriculture to pastoralism, which was a less labor-intensive use of land. And the Bitcoin carnivory rabbit hole is endless.

Bitcoin is for Stackers

There’s a common myth that Bitcoin allows anyone to spend money anywhere. That’s incorrect — Very few merchants accept bitcoin. Bitcoin is useful because anyone can receive money, anywhere.

As consumers, we don’t often think about what it takes to receive payments from strangers on the internet. Wanna sell firearms, fireworks, pharmaceuticals, tobacco, vapes, or any other target of Operation Choke Point? Good luck finding a payment processor. That’s where Bitcoin comes in.

The distinction between spenders and receivers may seem trivial, but it’s literally how the protocol gets decided (see also: Economic Nodes). Bitcoin’s value comes from those willing to offer things in exchange for bitcoin. That’s true of any money: The US dollar is valuable because the government accepts it in exchange for a promise not to imprison you this fiscal year. Value comes from acceptance for value.

Americans sometimes have trouble with the idea of acceptance value. As the world’s biggest consumers, we believe that others value whatever we have to spend.

Nope, it took a lot of work for the USD to become the world’s reserve currency. After Bretton Woods, nobody wanted our unbacked dollars. With his brilliant negotiation skills, Henry Kissinger convinced Saudi Arabia to accept dollars for oil, and in return we would grant them billions worth of arms deals, our undying military support, and the souls of our children. Iraq tried to sell their oil for euros, but we set them straight with a good ol’ fashioned dose of Freedom and Democracy. They’re back to taking dollars only now.

Under ordinary circumstances, Gresham’s Law dictates that bad money drives out good — spenders always dump their most worthless asset. Americans don’t spend their bitcoins, or even their actual dollars. We pay for everything with credit, most often the credit card that gives us airline miles while sticking it to the merchant. Or maybe we spend that Starbucks gift card we got for filling out surveys on the internet. That’s why spenders don’t determine the value of money.

The lack of Bitcoin-Only services is perhaps the biggest obstacle to broader adoption. No one voluntarily spends bitcoin. As long as services still accept credit cards, bad money will always drive out good.

Our Glorious Banana Republic

In the early 19th century, David Ricardo developed a model to explain how countries could increase their overall wealth by exporting the goods for which they have a comparative advantage, and importing the goods for which they don’t.

Honduras, for example. The Central American republic could devote their arable land to self-sufficient agriculture, as they did in the days of Mayan civilization, but instead they specialize in banana exports and import all their other food from the US. Division of labour ftw!

Well, it was a win for us, anyway, cuz the banana plantations were owned by Americans.

The American fruit companies, to their credit, reinvested their profits in local infrastructure. They built ports, highways, railroads, and funded a private army. So boundless was their civic involvement, that they eventually overthrew the Honduran government and installed their own banana business-friendly regime.

Back to the US. Somewhere along the line, the US decided that it would be Good for the Economy if we were to specialize in soybean production and let China do all the manufacturing. Labor costs are cheaper there, and they have millions of people willing to toil on an assembly line for lack of better opportunity. That’s how comparative advantage works – Americans have high opportunity costs, and by sending manufacturing jobs to China, we free up tons of labor that can be put to work on Something More Productive.

Specialization according to comparative advantage leads to an increase in overall wealth, but the wealth is not evenly distributed. Today, soybean exports make nary a dent in our $500 billion trade deficit with China. That’s okay; Chinese people make up for the deficit by buying other American things. Things like real estate, Reddit, Starwood Hotels, Smithfield Foods, AMC, 15% of Uber, Airbnb, Goldman Sachs, Tesla… I’m not even counting the investments made through shell companies.

The good news is, we don’t have to worry about foreign interests funding mercenary armies to execute regime change. Cuz that’s what lobbyists are for.

Chinese Cancel Culture

Every time the anti-Sinitic Sinophobes start frothing over some horrible China thing, I’m reminded of this meme:

This week, censorious commies suspended NBA broadcasts over an impolitic tweet, then banned South Park for making fun of said events. We act like China has some top-down centralized control over speech and politics, but that’s not how things work over there. Americans can’t fathom that Chinese citizens are capable of any sort of agency or independent thought.

You think our SJWs are bad? China has them in spades. Social justice is, after all, rooted in communism. China’s morally righteous warriors are legitimately offended that the Houston Rockets would express support for (what they believe to be) violent extremists in Hong Kong. No it doesn’t have to be sane or rational; SJWs never are.

So a few crybullies threw a stink and got the NBA canceled. It’s no different from that time Chinese financial institutions threatened to cut ties with UBS after one of their staffers inadvertently said something about “Chinese pigs”.

Cancel culture is great. The government claims neutrality while the brainwashed youth stamp out politically inconvenient opinions. We should be friends with China; we’re more alike than different.

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