The Air Minute Standard

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Economics tidbit of the day, from an article about cell phones in Africa:

Prepaid air minutes are the preferred means of usage and have created their own $2 billion-a-year industry of small-time vendors, the Celtel chief says. Air minutes have even become a form of currency, transactable from phone to phone by text message, he says.

This is particularly useful in Africa, where transferring small amounts of money through banks is costly.

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  1. Next we’ll read about George Soros making a few more billions by leveraging air minutes.

  2. What happens if air minutes are allowed to float on the international markets?

  3. are we here actually glorifying barter in societies on the fringe of barbarism as an example to be emulated?

  4. GREETINGS.
    I AM A FORMER TOP OFFICIAL AT A MAJOR WIRELESS CARRIER AND HAVE MILLIONS OF AIR MINUTES LOCKED IN A PHONE IN MY COUNTRY…

  5. Hell, I don’t even know how to program a phone number into the cell phone I rarely use.

    And Marius, isn’t barter the sort of glorious social interaction that helps to enrich the fabric of the community, or somesuch blather? (I’m anxiously awaiting Biggus Dickus’ opinion on the matter)

  6. this actually reminds me of that bit put up here after katrina which derided any civic institutional efforts (which were, of course, much deserving of derision, as typically sterile as they were) while glorifying what sprung up in the absence of any social response:

    spontaneous savage tribes banding together to steal what they could.

    i’m somehow unsurprised to find reason (so called) an cheerleader of civil regression to a hobbesian state of savage lawlessness.

    mr walker, civilization in decadence and collapse is not admirable, i agree — but that hardly makes primitive barbarism appealing.

  7. Mbutu, you made me laugh out loud.

    So did Gaius, but in a different way.

  8. Gaius Marius,

    From my “liberal” point of view, I’d say that Libertarianism has a strong element of Rosseauian noble savage mythology. There are many Libertarians who believe that the past was totally awesome, and that God created the Market on the 8th day. But I believe in civilization.

    Mainstream Libertarianism asserts that anything the government does is bad. Hence anarchy is awesome. And if life in anarchic Africa sucks, it’s not because it’s a bad system, no, it’s axiomatically the best system possible – you have to blame the native Black farmers and herders for their low technological prowess and productivity. You can’t ever say barbarism is BAD if you’re a solid Libertarian.

    I really did like Libertarian Larry’s rant about how the voters like, for example, strip clubs. But don’t like, for example, some guy who won’t pay income tax or obtain a drivers license. “Puke on them shoes!” We’ll miss you, Libertarian Larry.

  9. I think the positive thing here is the fact that people spontaneously find efficient ways to conduct commerce without any big central bank or government telling them how to do it.
    How are Air Minutes any different from a money system? It isn’t really barter.

  10. This story just shows why people are poor. These countries have such corrupt and incompetent legal and financial systems that it is virtually impossible to accumulate wealth. Can you imagine living a world where you couldn’t write a check or keep your money in a bank? Its very sad that people have to resort to “alternative means of currency” to survive. In one sense, God love the Africans for their abilites to adapt and overcome. At the same time, its sad to think that so much of the world is so poorly governed.

  11. I think the positive thing here is the fact that people spontaneously find efficient ways to conduct commerce without any big central bank or government telling them how to do it.

    is that actually positive, mr persnickety? or simply the best that can be done in the absence of law and civil organization? i (unbelievably)agree with mr john:

    Its very sad that people have to resort to “alternative means of currency” to survive. … its sad to think that so much of the world is so poorly governed.

  12. Gives new meaning to a 30 minute blow job.

  13. Poorly governed absence of law and civil organization. Right?
    The point is that there were barriers to trade that were overcome. How is that barbaric?

  14. argh insert “Does not necessarily equate to” for >

  15. Do air minute transfers have to be reported to the IRS? Maybe I can have my employers pay me in air minutes.

  16. This strikes me more of an example of how free market economics can help people to rise above barbarism than as an endorsement of the barbarity it seeks to circumvent.

  17. I neglected to answer Gaius’ original question:

    are we here actually glorifying barter in societies on the fringe of barbarism as an example to be emulated?

    No, we aren’t. I’m not sure how you read this post as a suggestion that the U.S. back up its currency with phone minutes, but I can assure you that that wasn’t my intention.

  18. gaius,

    If we celebrate people helping each other after a tragedy like Katrina, do you think we are celebrating the tragedy that made helping each other necessary? I think you’ve got your anti-civilization alert antenna tuned a little too sensitively.

  19. One need not glamorize barter economies to admire resourcefulness.

  20. Mainstream Libertarianism asserts that anything the government does is bad. Hence anarchy is awesome.

    Wrong, wrong, wrong. God I get sick of people intentionally misrepresenting what libertarians (who are not anarchists, got that, trollumination? NOT NOT NOT anarchists) actually believe and endorse.

    An anarchist believes that there should be no state.

    A libertarian believes there should be a night watchman state, the minimum necessary to prevent force and fraud, enforce contracts, protect property rights, and generally defend civil society against the forces of barbarism.

  21. One need not glamorize barter economies to admire resourcefulness.

    Exactly. But don’t tell gaius that.

    Although, I see a parallel with the original intent of PayPal (according to the book review in reason), which was to create an alternative currency. Air-minutes seem as good of a substitute as anything else. Furthermore, I don’t see it as barter at all, unless there’s a definition I’m missing.

  22. “And if life in anarchic Africa sucks, it’s not because it’s a bad system, no, it’s axiomatically the best system possible – you have to blame the native Black farmers and herders for their low technological prowess and productivity.”

    trollumination,
    As the anarchist on duty here, anarchy ain’t pretty, but it allows order and progress, if not utopia, to spontaneously emerge faster. (And nobody here is yearning for any “system.”)

  23. RC,

    You’re responding to a guy posting as “trollumination”. Easy, there.

  24. An anarchist believes that there should be no state.

    A libertarian believes there should be a night watchman state

    not to speak for mr trollumination, but most competent historians can tell you that the only difference between the “night watchman” and anarchy is only a very short amount of time. that’s the fundamental problem with libertarianism, imo — it’s an ideology of total individual emancipation and social disengagement that refuses to address the harshest consequences of the ideas it elevates by pretending they don’t exist, that there isn’t a considerable threshold of hard-won social cohesion which must be maintained with great care and effort in order to allow civility to be durably perpetuating.

  25. One need not glamorize barter economies to admire resourcefulness

    agreed, mr thoreau — but i think we should take care as beneficiaries of civility to color our admiration with great pity. that’s my only point.

  26. “by pretending they don’t exist, that there isn’t a considerable threshold of hard-won social cohesion which must be maintained with great care and effort in order to allow civility to be durably perpetuating”

    gaius marius,
    Even a night watchman is anti-family and anti-cohesion, plus he doesn’t take care at all.

    The sweetest bloom of civility emerges spontaneously.

  27. “I think you’ve got your anti-civilization alert antenna tuned a little too sensitively.”

    I’m guessing it blew down in a storm at some point, and is probably leaning against a high-tension line.

  28. …that’s the fundamental problem with libertarianism, imo — it’s an ideology of total individual emancipation and social disengagement…

    Apologies if this is taken out of context, but are you intimating that people who don’t wish to fully engage in society should be forced to?

  29. …most competent historians can tell you that the only difference between the “night watchman” and anarchy is only a very short amount of time.

    The same charge could also be quite effectively made of the difference between a Republic and an empire.

    Apologies for the Hakesque multiple posts.

  30. The sweetest bloom of civility emerges spontaneously.

    civility is law, mr ruthless — and the sweetest bloom comes under a law that is moral, as opposed to managerial.

    spontaneity was the bagaudae, the collapse of rome into the dark ages. the rise of the west out of the morass was characterized by two events: the establishment of feudalism under the carolingians of the 8th c and over it the 7th c gregorian papacy — neither spontaneous nor the result of anything but much effort under desperately chaotic circumstances.

  31. the only difference between the “night watchman” and anarchy is only a very short amount of time.

    Blimey. I didn’t think there have ever been any truly libertarian states in history, and now you’re telling me that history shows that libertarian states invariably turn into anarchy? A short list would be enlightening.

  32. are you intimating that people who don’t wish to fully engage in society should be forced to?

    i would intimate, mr mediageek, that in a healthy society the vast majority (leaders and led alike) see virtue in common responsibility, in both its limitations and rewards.

    it’s only in the breakdown of society that people in any significant numbers (ie, the development of proletariats) begin to believe that being irresponsible could be or is desirable on any level — or that the leading few in that society feel a need to force a uniformity that is no longer perpetuated on merit.

  33. truly libertarian states in history

    mr fyodor, i’d submit that democracy is as close as libertarian idealism can approach to practice — where the masses control government (usually by abdicating their responsibilities to it). as such, i’d submit democracies and their bloody histories as that of the most libertarian states in the record.

    The same charge could also be quite effectively made of the difference between a Republic and an empire.

    mr mediageek, change that to “democracy and despotism”, and i agree. but a lawful institutional republic can be an enduring thing.

  34. i’d submit that democracy is as close as libertarian idealism can approach to practice

    Ha-ha, well that’s a pretty low bar for libertarianism!!!

    So I guess the point of all your jibberish is that democracies don’t work? What is it you prefer, dare I ask? Besides rule by King Gaius, of course? 🙂

  35. Democracies are most libertarian when the masses abdicate their responsibilities to government? I knew I was missing something.

  36. “spontaneity was the bagaudae, the collapse of rome into the dark ages. the rise of the west out of the morass was characterized by two events: the establishment of feudalism under the carolingians of the 8th c and over it the 7th c gregorian papacy — neither spontaneous nor the result of anything but much effort under desperately chaotic circumstances.”

    gaius marius,
    I admit history will not be a guide to what I envision, but you describe two additional forms of “archy.” I’m an anarchist.

  37. So, gaius, what you’re saying is that California is Libertopia?

    As I think of it, though, the most democratic country on earth is arguably Switzerland. Yet they also have a strong tradition of federalism, strong privacy protections, gold-backed currency, a strictly neutral foreign policy, and many other things that libertarians tend to talk about.

    And yes, I know, the foreign policy part is a bone of contention among some libertarians. And yes, I know, those who want to can most assuredly find all sorts of reasons why Switzerland is not really Libertopia. Well, I never said it was.

    I’m not agreeing with gaius’s assessment that democracy is as close as we can get to Libertopia, but it is interesting that the most democratic nation on earth has a lot going for it…

  38. Oh, and the Swiss make excellent handguns!

    (And yes, I know, the Sig that I bought was manufactured in Germany, due to Swiss restrictions on small arms exports. I realize that they aren’t perfect libertarians.)

  39. thoreau

    They do have a lot going for them, though. I especially like the tacit link they make between the right to vote and the duty to bear arms (although this mindset did have the unfortunate effect of denying women’s suffrage until shockingly recently).

  40. Besides rule by King Gaius, of course? 🙂

    which would be best, naturally. 🙂

    the best government, mr fyodor, is that which is simultaneously institutional, creative, lawful, moral, meritorious and consensual — and, in the western context, this kind of government began in the 6th-8th c and ended in the 14-15th c under the auspices of the respublica christiana. but i don’t get to choose.

  41. and consensual — and, in the western context, this kind of government began in the 6th-8th c and ended in the 14-15th c

    Without conceding any of your other points, I’d like to focus on this one. Are you seriously suggesting that the rule of kings, dukes, barons, etc. was in any way “consensual”? Consent of whom?

  42. Find the contradiction:

    Libertarianism quickly devolves into anarchy.
    Democracy is closest to libertarianism.
    Democracy quickly devolves to totalitarianism.

  43. Holy crap, gaius!

    Been watching too many King Arthur movies?

  44. gaius, you could perhaps make an argument for some kind of Lords/Commons power sharing. Not saying I’d agree with it, but I could see the argument. Indeed, some libertarians might actually go for a system where suffrage is based in part on wealth and/or land. However, to argue that systems without universal suffrage are in any way “consensual” is ridiculous.

  45. gaius,

    A. thoreau is right.

    B. So, no “bloody history” of such states as you attribute to democracies?

    C. Sounds like you think your ideal is impossible in the modern world. So why should we listen to you?

  46. i would intimate, mr mediageek, that in a healthy society the vast majority (leaders and led alike) see virtue in common responsibility, in both its limitations and rewards.

    Before I go off blasting you with both barrels, I have to say, I’m not quite sure I understand what you’re getting at.

    To what is everyone commonly responsible?

    What are it’s limitations?

    And what are the rewards?

  47. gaius,

    So the point of all your fact free maundering here is that you’re pining for a return to feudalism?

    You could save yourself a lot of time and energy by just shaking your fist and muttering “these kids today!” like everyone else does.

  48. Consent of whom?

    mr thoreau, you surely aren’t totally ignorant of western medieval history, of its literature and art. western man in the height of the flowering of respublica christiana was quite different from the anxious, distraught, disaffected and shiftless man of postmodernity. the joy of living resonates in the documentation of the middle age — read chaucer and its everywhere. where do you find that now in the western arts? in ‘a clockwork orange’? in ‘gravity’s rainbow’? more worrying still — can you even find the arts?

    and that fundamental joie d’vivre was the result of a studied and philosophical lack of hubris in the age — the christian western man understood the concepts of humility in a way totally foreign to a man who believes his species, his society, his technology and his self to be the ultimate godlike example of each type. that humility allowed him to engage his society completely, fulfillingly, rewardingly — noble, cleric and vassal alike, all under god.

    i’d recommend c.s. lewis’ “the discarded image” — which is a short but intensely scholarly work of vast literary erudition with very little in common with his christian-apologist writings — as an overview of the spirit of the age and the art which, of course, has served as its reflected image through time.

    in any case, for all that seems wrong about medieval christendom to the postmodern sensibility — and much of that due to the four centuries of dissembling and rewriting that sits between us and the truth — for all its poverty and primitivism, it was indeed a vastly happier time to be alive. and there’s nothing unique about it: the birth and flowering of every civilization that ever existed is characterized by such a period. it is perhaps unfortunate for us that we were born instead into our grasping age of decline.

  49. Democracy quickly devolves to totalitarianism.

    you missed a step, mr awesome. democracy devolves into anarchy, which is ended by a shriek for order at any price — the tyrant.

  50. JDM – that’s exactly what gaius is trying to say in each of his very verbose posts.

    gaius – it’s been said before, but obviously it cannot be said enough: you’re nuts…

  51. To what is everyone commonly responsible?

    to a loving god and therefore each other.

    What are it’s limitations?

    you can’t do everything you might if you were left to indulge yourself alone.

    And what are the rewards?

    you are preserved from doing everything you might if you were left to indulge yourself alone.

    as bertrand russell sagely explained in his “conquest of happiness” — an imperfect ode to humility written in a stellar but failed attempt to cure western man of that faceless anxiety that permeates postmodernity — “to be without some of the things you want is an indispensable part of happiness.”

    “these kids today!”

    lol — if that were the small extent of our problems, mr jdm, they wouldn’t be worth discussing.

  52. In maybe a little less than a thousand years, I wonder if there will be this guy who goes by the alias “Bill Joy”, perhaps, and makes speeches, posts, or interactive full-sensory arguments in a forum somewhere, arguing about how right around 2000 AD was the height of Earth civilization and the peak of sentient happiness. Maybe he would talk about how much more meaning those people had in their lives, because they were short, painful, and prone to unexpected end. How wonderful that everyone knew their place in the society, having fixed race, gender, and physical abilities and only the slowest of ability to learn new skills.

    Perhaps he’d ruminate on how unequaled are the writings of that day! How simple and human the music. How inspired the religions, and how beautiful, yet humble the philosophy. How much fundamental joy people had in life because they lived under powerful governments that imposed order on their day-to-day lives and expected their dutiful service in return.

    “Bill Joy” might well dismiss the scoffing of his contemporaries. “However unpleasant, restrictive, or barbaric the early nuclear-age West appears to modern sensibilities, it was a civilized time where people worked in hope that they might achieve a better world – not for themselves, but for their fellow-man.”

    Perhaps right as he makes this argument, he stands out on his property, looking at the sky. His house, itself formed in the shape of a variation on one of the ancient builder Gehry’s designs, maintains an exacting replica of a “lawn” under his feet, complete with the more innocuous insects common to them. Maybe, having long ago adopted a human-like body with a few of those important limitations so important to his favorite historical period, he happens to squint as he peers at his sun. As the modest little red dwarf he lives near compacts, brightens, and yellows, bringing the light of terrestrial noon to his home, he harrumphs lazily. Stellar engineering – the people of the early 21st century would have never bothered with such showiness.

  53. (Sorry for the length, but I just thought two cranks should be able to chuckle at each other…)

  54. I love it when someone uses science fictional means to make a point about perspectives! Bravo, Mr. .5b.

  55. “for all its poverty and primitivism, it was indeed a vastly happier time to be alive”

    unless, of course, you were part of the chattel.

    it was, no doubt, far happier for the 5% who were not chattel.

  56. Ah, so it’s “god” [sic].

    Maybe they were really happier then. Maybe the art of the time lied. Maybe only the artists were happy. Or only the aristocracy. We’ll never know for sure. Well, I guess you think you know for sure. Doesn’t mean we have to believe you. But as I said at first, it could be true. I’m just not convinced from the type of evidence you give. But of course there’s an appeal to religion, that’s why it’s been so popular, and continues to be. But it’s craziness, too.

    Well, there’s no real arguing about that. But at last I finally understand what the friggin’ hell you’re about. Thanks.

  57. Y’know gaius, one intriguing thing about your philosophy is that it’s so smug about the superiority of this bygone era of wholesome joyfulness and so supposedly critical of today’s cynicism; yet what can be more cynical than an attitude that condemns the whole of several centuries and paints such a bleak and hopeless picture of today’s world’s prospects?

  58. Actually, Gaius, Hoppe made a very convincing argument that propertied monarchies are the closest thing to a libertopian state.

    And anarcho-capitalism is merely the recognition that if people value order and peace, they will not revert to barbarism. Note the fact that despite the lack of any meaningful sovereign ruling them, the vast majority of states in the world aren’t invading their neighbors.

    Why don’t we (the U.S.) invade Mexico? An AC purports that it is the same reason that security providers wouldn’t go to war with each other over disputes in the absence of a state.

  59. gaius, you’re welcome to forgo modern conveniences and plow somebody else’s field for him, in exchange for a subsistence living.

  60. As I think about it, there could be some minimum wage and building code issues associated with bare subsistence living on somebody else’s land. Well, tell ya what: joe will find a way for you to get the necessary permits to live in a modest hovel, and you can tithe anything above subsistence level to the Church.

  61. Sorry for the 3 posts in a row (I swear this is the last one), but I just thought of two more things that may be relevant:

    1) joe might decide that gaius’s hovel is blighted and invoke ED. No good.

    2) gaius is perhaps the only person out there who thought it was a good thing when the guy in “Pulp Fiction” said “I’m going to get medieval on your ass.”

  62. “yet what can be more cynical than an attitude that condemns the whole of several centuries”

    And what can be more hubristic than pretending to be able to predict the future? Or to know the minds of entire generations, past present and future.

  63. “Bill Joy”

    lol — chuckle i did, mr .5b. but i think you make the mistake of assuming that oor social mindset is the same at all points on the timescale and in all places. it clearly isn’t. human nature is unchanging, but allows for a wide set of outlooks to be adopted with changing circumstance.

    i think the joie d’vivre of the middle ages is a well-established concept in the study of history, literature and the arts. i won’t bother to defend it further. but i would note that i am not so admiring of all literature simply on the basis of its antiquity — as a mere archaist, that which you would ostensibly paint me to be, would. the literature, art and philosophy of the roman imperial period is devoid of most of the medieval virtues i discussed, and is similarly frought with angst, gloom and irony in a manner that is disturbingly postmodern. and there are other examples beyond that from other civilizations in collapse.

  64. yet what can be more cynical than an attitude that condemns the whole of several centuries and paints such a bleak and hopeless picture of today’s world’s prospects?

    i don’t think the world’s prospects are bleak, mr fyodor — i’m simply saying that western civilization is nearing its end. it will be succeeded by other civilizations, which will create from the aftermath of our collapse that sense of joy for its participants again.

    the end of our civilization is not The End.

    And what can be more hubristic than pretending to be able to predict the future? Or to know the minds of entire generations, past present and future

    the historians i’ve learned from could be wrong, i suppose, mr jdm. we could be that elusive Special Case, a Utopia to conquer the ages. but i will doubt it until shown why we would be — until then, if babylon fell, so can and will we. that isn’t a prediction of any future, it seems to me, as a humble acknowledgement of our connection to our history.

  65. lol — chuckle i did, mr .5b. but i think you make the mistake of assuming that oor social mindset is the same at all points on the timescale and in all places.

    No, but there are analogies. As someone said, history doesn’t repeat, but it often rhymes.

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