Sapere Aude

Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed subordination. Subordination is the inability to use one’s understanding without guidance from another. This subordination is self-imposed when its cause lies not in lack of understanding, but in lack of resolve and courage to use it without guidance from another. Sapere Aude! Have courage to use your own understanding! That is the motto of the Enlightenment. [Immanuel Kant (1784). What is Enlightenment?]

The Library of Babel

The Library of Babel is a short story written by Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges and was published in 1941. The library comprises a gigantic collection of books, each having 410 pages, with 40 lines on each page and 80 characters on each line. Thus, there are 410 x 40 x 80 = 1,312,000 characters in each book. The library contains every possible book of this form, that is, one book with each of the possible orderings of the characters. Borges used an alphabet of 25 letters, so the total number of books is 25 raised to the power 1,312,000. This corresponds approximately to two followed by 1.8 million zeros, an unfathomable number. Thus, it would contain every book that ever has been written, and every book that ever could be, including every play, every song, every scientific paper, every legal decision, every constitution, every piece of scripture, and so on.

Survivorship Bias

The Statistical Research Group, where Abraham Wald spent much of World War II, was a classified program that yoked the assembled might of American statisticians to the war effort:  something like the Manhattan Project, except the weapons being developed were equations, not explosives. The military came to the SRG with some data they thought might be useful. When American planes came back from engagements over Europe, they were covered in bullet holes. But the damage wasn’t uniformly distributed across the aircraft. There were more bullet holes in the fuselage, not so many in the engines. The officers saw an opportunity for efficiency; you can get the same protection with less armor if you concentrate the armor on the places with the greatest need, where the planes are getting hit the most. But exactly how much more armor belonged on those parts of the plane? That was the answer they came to Wald for. It wasn’t the answer they got.
The armor, said Wald, doesn’t go where the bullet holes are. It goes where the bullet holes aren’t: on the engines. Wald’s insight was simply to ask: where are the missing holes? The ones that would have been all over the engine casing, if the damage had been spread equally all over the plane? Wald was pretty sure he knew. The missing bullet holes were on the missing planes. The reason planes were coming back with fewer hits to the engine is that planes that got hit in the engine weren’t coming back. Whereas the large number of planes returning to base with a thoroughly Swiss-cheesed fuselage is pretty strong evidence that hits to the fuselage can (and therefore should) be tolerated. To a mathematician, the structure underlying the bullet hole problem is a phenomenon called survivorship bias.

Inspired by: Jordan Ellenberg (2015). How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking, Penguin Books.

A Futile Struggle

After more than 30 years of liberal and libertarian political activity, including personal contacts with federal ministers, the following became clear to me: my classic liberal/liberal convictions that freedom, self-determination but also personal responsibility are the values that enable a life of prosperity and satisfaction are not shared by the majority. Nowhere, in any system, not even in the USA or Switzerland. 

It is therefore a futile love struggle to convince democratic societies of the merits of these values. Those who promise free services, redistribution and extensive social security will always win the elections. Always and everywhere. Over time, this will lead to exploding national debt, over-regulation, incapacitation and infantilization of citizens. Such long-term considerations, however, do not usually play a role in election decisions. Liberal or libertarian parties must therefore also transform themselves into redistributive parties if they want to survive in democracies. After a certain period of time, they can hardly be distinguished from their competitors. 

So I was faced with the alternative of trying for the next 30 years of my life to continue convincing people of the “value of better ideas” (Mises), with the expected result. Or I could try something completely new. Then it became clear to me that our coexistence is also a market and that political systems are nothing but products. If you want to create a real alternative here, you have to take yourself completely out of the previous system and offer a niche product from the side, so to speak. If the thing works, the others will want it sooner or later. This is exactly what Free Private Cities are all about. Of course, it is not easy to convince governments to surrender some of their sovereignty. But it is still a hundred times easier than changing existing systems “from within” towards more freedom and less redistribution.

[Titus Gebel, CEO of Free Private Cities]

Institute for Nuclear Research, Kiev