Content Provider


There's an Art to It

The role of the publisher... has changed from seller of a product to consumers, to gatherer of consumer for advertisers... 
The role of the reader changes from sovereign consumer to advertiser bait.

- Vincent P Norris

The copy of an ad is merely a punning gag to distract the critical faculties while the image of the product goes to work on the hypnotized viewer.
Those who have spent their lives protesting about "false and misleading ad copy" are godsends to advertisers,
as teetotalers are to brewers, and moral censors are to books and films.
The protesters are the best acclaimers and accelerators.
Since the advent of pictures, the job of the ad copy is as incidental and latent
as the "meaning" of a poem is to a poem, or the words of a song are to a song.

- Marshall McLuhan

by Richard Stengel

We now live in the first entirely service-oriented economy on earth where salesmanship, advertising and money clearly triumph over artistry, craftsmanship, integrity and individual style.  We are no longer making things.  We are vending or mending them.

Shallowness is required for selling, not substance.  Jingles are needed, not literature.  Pop culture is important, not art.  I don't need to be brilliant but only to please advertisers.

Don't call me a critic - call me a content provider.

Source: The Art of Sucking Up by Richard Stengel as quoted in the Anderson Valley Advertiser 30 August 2000

Why do the rich have all the money?  This may sound like a silly question, but it's not.  In every society, most wealth falls into the hands of a select few.  People often view this as an unavoidable fact of life - but economists struggle to explain why the wealthy take such a big bite of the sandwich.

If Jean-Philippe Bouchaud and Marc Mézard are right, it is more than a fact of life: it's a law of nature.  These scientists have discovered a link between the physics of materials and the movements of money, a link explaining why wealth is distributed similarly in all modern economies.  Mass behaviour is mass behaviour, whether your tired, poor, and huddled masses (and your fat cat rich ones) are made up of humans, bacteria, or water molecules.  The same equations that describe the behaviour of "ill-condensed" societies of molecules describe the human social flow we call economics.  In fact, the equations governing ill-condensed glasses, alloys, and polymers describe the flow of goods and services between humans far better than the traditional equations of economists...

Wealth Distribution Is a Law of Nature

For richer, for poorer...

by the Institute for Social Inventions

Jean-Philippe Bouchaud and Marc Mézard, two French econophysicists, believe that wealth falling into the hands of a minority is not just a fact of life, but a law of nature.  They have discovered a connection between the physics of materials and the movements of money, a link that could revolutionise the way we think about the distribution of wealth in society.  It could also provide a mathematical basis to theories of free trade and competition.

That wealth is unevenly distributed is now widely accepted: in the US, 20% of the people own 80% of the wealth; similar figures apply throughout western Europe.  Economists have always struggled to explain this seemingly universal trend, with most simply putting it down to the distribution of people's abilities.  Bouchaud and Mézard started their analysis from the simplest possible basis, ignoring any economic theories and assumptions of previous years.  Their one assumption was that life is unpredictable: returns on investments are random, trading is haphazard, profit and loss could come at any moment.

While investigating the simple equations that make up an economy (of which there are millions, because there are millions of people), Bouchaud and Mézard discovered that they could bring their knowledge of "condensed matter" physics into play.  For there is a model used in this area of physics concerned with "ill-condensed" matter which is called a directed polymer.  This model involves the imagining of a long wire lying on a landscape that undulates at random.  The wire, which represents the polymer, is tethered at one end.  Two forces then compete with one another: gravity wishing to pull the wire into the valleys of the landscape and the wire's desire to stay straight.  The resultant path that the wire takes is a compromise between the two, and there is no "best path" for it to take.  Added in to this model is a third key factor of temperature: the hotter the temperature, the more the wire is buffeted by air molecules.  The level of the temperature (and therefore the level of the buffeting) determines exactly how the wire manages its compromise between going straight across the landscape and staying in the valleys below.

Bouchaud and Mézard have now discovered that this physics model corresponds exactly to their economic model.  The wire now represents the path of a quantity of money as it moves from person to person (with the number of wires crossing over a particular point representing the wealth of a particular person at that point).  The irregularity of returns from investments is represented in the landscape: deep valleys correspond to places of more money, while peaks are where investors lose money and fare badly.  And temperature is analogous to the vigour of trade, or how easily money moves between people.

This shows, for example, that when trading is easy the economy is "hot" and is not very strongly affected by the landscape below.  Thus vigorous trading enables wealth to flow easily from person to person which tends to spread money more easily.  By contrast, if an economy is "cold", by which is meant restricted trading and highly irregular returns, then wealth flows far less easily between people as it follows a path dictated almost entirely by the landscape.  Wealth becomes even less fairly distributed, as its natural diffusion is overcome by the disparities of the economic landscape.

It follows, therefore, that a more equal society can not only be achieved through taxation and redistribution, but through the encouragement of freer and fairer trade, competition and exchange.  The hotter the temperature of an economy, the more vigorous the rate and number of people trading, the more equal a society will become.  This fits with most economists' experiences and expectations, but has now been given a mathematical basis.  Also, the econophysicists' theory should mean that internet trading proves to be an enemy of inequality, as more and more people take part in the random flows and movements of wealth.

For related articles and economic papers, see the website of the econophysicists:

Source: (an interesting website!) summarised from an article by Mark Buchanan, entitled "That's The Way Money Goes", New Scientist 19 August 2000

Quasimodo, Property and Sanctuary

by Alexander Volokh

Is private property good or bad?  Americans are confused on the issue.  They value the right to use their property as they please but don't trust their neighbours to do the right thing.  The environmental movement is ambivalent toward property rights, even where relying on property rights instead of regulation would lead to environmental improvements.

Disney, the embodiment of all things American, is similarly confused.  While Pocahontas delivers an environmentalist anti-property message, The Lion King portrays property as a necessary condition for stability, prosperity and environmental protection.  The most recent addition to the debate, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, goes further and shows property to be a bulwark against tyranny and intolerance.

The song Colours of the Wind is Pocahontas' environmental manifesto.  Spiritualistic Native American culture, good; land-and-money-grubbing, imperialistic English culture, bad.

"You think you own whatever land you land on;
The earth is just a dead thing you can claim -
But I know every rock and tree and creature
Has a life, has a spirit, has a name."

For Pocahontas, the inherent life of the thing itself is what's important, not who owns it (if anyone).  Overall, though, private ownership is more destructive than creative.

And if we actually lived in Pocahontas' animate universe of talking trees, property ownership may indeed be tantamount to slavery.  But The Lion King sings a different tune.  The first lesson that the lion king Mufasa teaches his son Simba is that everything they can see from their hill is their property and that someday that property will pass to Simba.  (The second is that they must never go onto other people's property, the shadowy land of the hyenas.)  With property comes the awesome duty to be responsible stewards of the land and protect the "Circle of Life."

Original sin occurs when Mufasa's brother, Scar, steals the kingdom, disrupting the bonds of ownership and overrunning the land with scavenger hyenas.  While Mufasa treated his property with the reverence of a property owner, Scar treats his stolen land with the contempt of a dictator.  The hyenas are portrayed as goose-stepping soldiers; they themselves own nothing and live off other animals' discarded remains.  Unlike Mufasa, they have no tradition of stewardship or property, and the "Circle of Life" - which environmental analysts today call "sustainable development" - means nothing to them.

When Simba returns to claim his kingdom, the results of Scar's rule have become apparent.  Mufasa, the rightful owner, took care not to deplete his natural resources; Scar, who never worked a day in his life and never acquired the responsible habits of ownership, carried waste, misery, and environmental degradation with him, turning the land into a desert.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame elaborates on the role of property beyond the environmental context.  The plight of the gypsies - dark-skinned, persecuted, reviled as lazy thieves and pursued in the dead of night as they try to illegally enter Paris - is a thinly veiled allegory for the plight of illegal immigrants today.  In this parable, the forces of the evil Claude Frollo play the part of the Immigration and Naturalisation Service.  Frollo's soldiers harass and arrest otherwise law-abiding gypsies, whose only crime was to seek safe haven within the city, disrupting the lives of countless ordinary citizens in the process.

Frollo's ultimate dream is to stamp out the immigrants, even if it means burning down every house in Paris.  But his power has limits.  Outside their own secret community, gypsies can escape the heavy hand of oppressive government on church property.  When Quasimodo triumphantly shouts "Sanctuary!", he is declaring that there are privately controlled spaces where not even government can go.  Whether sectarian or secular, private ownership implies private control.

Private property, in Hunchback, is shown to be the only way for individuals to pursue unpopular agendas like protecting gypsy immigrants.  In a world of unrestrained government power, personal safety depends on the whim of the ruler; in a world of separate, inviolate spheres of private property, all it takes is one property owner to protect the unprotected.  And in a world where despots doesn't respect the rights of property owners, it helps if one's property has walls strong enough to withstand a battering ram.  Good fences make good neighbours.

Most Americans are oblivious to the Disney private-property debate, but it is going on in front of our very eyes.  Pocahontas' view is that "You can own the earth and still, / All you'll own is [] Earth until / You can paint with all the colours of the wind."  Who owns the land is at best irrelevant and at worst spiritually deadening.  But as The Lion King shows, secure possession makes possible the very conditions in which Pocahontas' rocks, trees and creatures can thrive.  Erosion, deforestation, desertification, resource depletion, pollution - environmental problems both in reality and in The Lion King - are attributes of Scar's world, not of Mufasa's.  Mufasa, who respected property rights, knew that he and his successors would bear the consequences of shortsighted management; Scar didn't care.  Like in reality, the rightful owner has the greatest incentive to watch out for his own.  Property promotes safety, stability, and prosperity.

And just as importantly, as The Hunchback of Notre Dame illustrates, property is the last line of defense against an unjust, intolerant, and tyrannical government. Own the earth and you own sanctuary.

Alexander Volokh is an assistant policy analyst at the Reason Foundation, a public policy think tank in Los Angeles.

This article also appeared in the Miami (Oklahoma) News-Record, 30 July 1996; Oshkosh (Wisconsin) Northwestern, 4 August 1996; Niagara (New York) Gazette, 13 August 1996; San Mateo (California) County Times, 8 August 1996; Daily Review (Hayward, California), 12 August 1996; Tri-Valley Herald (Pleasanton and Danville, California), 12 August 1996; Argus (Fremont, California), 12 August 1996; Texas City (Texas) Sun, 18 August 1996; Culpepper (Virginia) Star-Exponent, 19 August 1996; Valley Morning Star (Harlingen, Texas), 25 August 1996

Source: from Middletown (Ohio) Journal, 8 August 1996

The Secret to the Wealth of the United States

Most people probably think the wealth of the United States and its strong and growing economy is due to having free markets.  There is some truth in this.  However, other countries have tried free markets and had much less success.  Why?

The Institute for Liberty and Democracy (ILD) is located in Lima, Peru.  Peruvian economist and writer Hernando de Soto and his group have traveled the world, looking for answers as to why free markets work so well for the US but not for many other countries.  One result of that research is De Soto's recent book, The Mystery Of Capital.  The primary difference they found over and over is that most other countries do not have established property laws that are as conducive to wealth creation.  This, and not free markets, is the crucial distinction.  An example: Most entrepreneurial activity in this country is financed in part from home equity, either directly or indirectly.  (Indirectly could be, for example, with credit cards whose balances are rolled into a home mortgage consolidation loan.)  This does not happen in very many other countries.  Why?  Because the law that make it hard for a person to lose their property.  The ease with which Americans can be separated from their property is an economic strength.

If it is easy for a bank to take a house when the owner does not pay on his mortgage loan, then it is willing to make the loan.  Titles are much clearer there, too.  In Ecuador, in comparison, titles are not quite as clear; a home owner can leave a house to another in his will only to have his son sue for possession by virtue of familial rights.  A bank is less willing to get involved in lending on property if they are not absolutely certain it can repossess the collateral.

In many countries it is difficult to sell property outside of the family.  It is difficult even to get a title in some cases, as one owns property by virtue of living on it and possessing it.  The owner cannot then tap into the equity for business purposes.  In the US, in comparison, one can almost always get clear title and do anything he wants with his property, including letting the bank take it if he does not pay on his loan.  Easy assignment of property, and well developed and defended property rights in other areas (patents, trademarks, copyrights, airwaves, mineral rights, et cetera) are crucial elements to the economic success of the US.  It is not just being able to sell things freely that has caused US wealth...


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