Capitalism with a smiley face


This is my blog. Welcome. Feel free to comment, but please play nice. Its name is an affectionate spoof of this book.

It’ll mostly be about politics and economics. Maybe a bit of math. But it won’t be very technical and anyone reasonably interested in the world should be able to follow it. There might also be some hip hop or rugby chat. Let’s see.

About me: I’m a PhD student in computer science, working on what could be called computational economics. Basically I program simulations of social interactions to learn about how they arise and interact with each other. In particular my work is focused on realistic models of financial markets and their regulation.

I used to be a journalist at a financial trade journal, and still occasionally write freelance. I hold degrees in mathematics and finance. I’m British-American, my parents hailing from the southwest of England and the northwest of the US.

And so to my positions, or biases, if you like. I consider myself a dull, orthodox liberal. The world seems to disagree – I’m regularly accused of being extremely left or right wing at various times. But I’m not either, really. I don’t think those labels are a consistent philosophical distinction, or anything like a complete categorisation of human thought.

I care about human happiness. In particular I think people tend to like to decide things that affect themselves for themselves. So coercion is basically bad. All state action is coercive (or it’s pointless). If you’re going to use it, you have to justify it by being sure of generating enough happiness to offset the unhappiness caused by the coercion. Even if you are sure of its effects – and you almost never are – that is a tough, subjective question.

I believe that liberal capitalism – private property rights, free markets, and limits on state action – is basically a force for good. It is responsible for an absolutely unprecedented rise in wealth and living standards, and I think that’s intrinsic. I also think that many of the criticisms leveled at it are, well, stupid.

So I’m kind of making a case for its defence. I might also make jokes. That said, I’m not closed-minded. There are many weird ways in which people can interact, and I try to be aware of the limits of what I can know about them. I try not to prejudge.

But I have a process when considering a policy question about how a state should act. Where is the coercion? What is its effect, and how sure am I about that? Do I think the benefits to those it helps outweigh the costs to those it hurts?

Once I’ve made my decision I argue it forcefully. Sometimes with pizza.