29 September 2011

Book Review

Life Without Lawyers by Philip K. Howard

Howard’s first claim to fame was the best-selling Death of Common Sense.  Since then, his careful observations on the role and rule of law in America have become more refined and incisive.  Life Without Lawyers is a remarkably brilliant book, concisely diagnosing the problem and prescribing a remedy.

Howard starts off by noting how dysfunctional American society has become, particularly in the public realm.  Schools are falling apart and students are falling behind.  Parents are frustrated with teachers, teachers are frustrated with students, everyone’s frustrated with the principals, and students are frustrated with everyone.  Public playgrounds have been gutted:  monkey bars and merry-go-rounds have been taken down and sterile plastic facilities erected in their place.  Public parks have closed access to beloved features.

The problem, in each case, is that the law has stifled human behavior.  Teachers aren’t allowed to meaningfully discipline students (and, in some cases, grade students too harshly) because the parents might sue said teachers on behalf of the children.  And principals are also too encumbered by law and regulation to serve as anything more than a glorified referee when it comes to resolving problems between parents and teachers or students and teachers.  Park and playground managers also fear lawsuits, so they shut down or remove any “unnecessarily” risky part of a park or playground.  The reason this state of affairs has persisted for some time now is due, in part, to a shift in the view of rights and, in part, a shift in the view of personal authority.

In the case of the former, rights are now viewed positively instead of negatively.  Instead of saying that no body (whether a business, government, or individual) has the authority to interfere with any other person’s exercise of their rights, the law now says that one has the unrelenting right to a certain outcome (e.g. the right to not be offended, the right to an education, the right to a job, etc.).  Of course, this is a problematic change because this line of reasoning effectively justifies a large amount of outside interference into the lives of individuals, under the guise of ensuring equality.

In the case of the latter, people, not even those generally deemed wise or trustworthy, are no longer allowed to have any authority for themselves in the event that they make a bad decision.  Ironically, this policy has led to more problems than it has solved because the law cannot perfectly anticipate the sort of messes humans can make for themselves, nor can the law suggest which guiding principles take precedence in the event of legal conflict.  The law, then, serves as a scapegoat for bad decisions.  Administrators cannot be blamed for not calling emergency when a child goes into anaphylactic shock if they are unable to contact the child’s parents to get permission to seek medical service on the child’s behalf.

Perhaps there is something comforting in the idea that the law is impersonal and objective, but often it seems cold and heartless, and places the lives of innocent people at risk simply because humans cannot be trusted to make a proper decision.  Of course, laws are made and enforced by humans and, as such, take on all the attributes of humanity:  imperfection, short-sightedness, ignorance, and a host of other biases.

Ultimately, human life is a human endeavor, and will always be filled with failures.  Law cannot fix this; it can only hope to mitigate this to a limited extent.  As Howard points out, though, this is rarely the case.  Laws are choking out human initiative, leaving American society to slowly die out because it is too afraid to take a chance and trust human authority.

Having made his diagnosis and supported it with plenty of evidence, Howard then proceeds to prescribe a solution to the problem:  more freedom.  Specifically, Howard recommends eliminating laws that discourage risk-taking, judgment, and fairness.

In regards to taking risk, Howard notes that the law often encourages people to pursue stultifyingly safe behavior and strategies.  People are afraid to allow anything approaching risky on their property, or on public property, out of fear that they might be sued.  For example, the mere threat of a child allergic to nuts walking on a street lined with oak trees is sufficient grounds to have those trees chopped down.  The law encourages this sort of thing, which is why it must be changed.  There are always risks in life, but that doesn’t mean the government should order other people around simply to give on child a slight temporary convenience.

In regards to judgment, Howard notes that judgment is inevitable in life, and it is thus unfair to ask people to be able to defend their judgment with in great detail.  Of course, “great detail” usually implies an exorbitantly wasteful amount of paperwork detailing just what behaviors are unacceptable.  Worse yet, unacceptable behaviors are held to an objective standard in court, and that standard tend to be pretty low (“well, he may have showed to work late every day for the past six months, but at least he’s not a rapist…”).  Unfortunately, unacceptability is often a subjective judgment.  Sometimes an employee, for example, should be let go because his personality clashes with other employees’ personalities.  How do you document that?

Finally, Howard notes, in regards to fairness, that the concept of fairness is both subjective and situational in a large number of instances.  Static legal code is simply not flexible enough to deal with the myriad judgments that must be made by all those in positions of authority every single day.  The law is neither omniscient nor wise; it isn’t even as knowledgeable or wise as the people that are currently subject to it.  Yet the current mindset is that the law is more trustworthy than human judgment (although, truth be told, the law is more trustworthy than human judgment even though the law fails more often because the law has the benefit of failing predictably, making it the superior scapegoat in the event of failure).

Overall, this book is a very clear and compelling read.  Philip Howard states his case simply and elegantly, and his assessment of the problem and its solution is straightforward and thought-provoking.

28 September 2011

Overpopulation

I do not understand how anyone takes seriously the claim that the world is overpopulated.  The current estimated world population is roughly 6.8 billion people.  If you gave each person 5 square feet of space for standing room, you could stand the entire population of the world within the boundaries of Rhode Island, the smallest state in the United States of America (Rhode Island is 1,214 square miles in size, which works out to 33,844,377,600 square feet).

If you broke the current population of the world down into families of four, you would have approximately 1.7 billion “families.”  If each “family” were given 1.4 acres of land upon which to live, you could fit the entire population of the world in Canada with room left over (there are 43,560 feet in an acre, Canada’s area is 3,854,085 square miles, which works out to 2,466,614,400 acres).  Incidentally, if this were to happen, six and a half continents would be completely devoid of human life.

The conclusion to be drawn from this is that the world is not anywhere near over-populated, in terms of crowding.  In fact, the world can support a much larger population than most people can fathom.

27 September 2011

The Reason for Low Speed Limits


The speed limit on Route 3 is 55. The speed limit used to be 60. It was raised to 60 over 40 years ago when a study found 55 was too slow. There was never an engineering study supporting a reduction back to 55. It was reduced by executive order in 1973 to comply with the national speed limit. When the national speed limit was repealed in 1995 the highway commissioner ordered the low limit retained because he was afraid the state would be sued or otherwise embarrassed. So the speed limit is known to the transportation department not to be about safety.
It gets better. Route 3 was completely rebuilt a decade ago. The design speed for the project was 110 km/h (68 mph). The design speed is like a warranty: nothing in the road design requires a driver to go slower than 68 mph, not even on a wet road at night (the design conditions).
The average speed is not far from the design speed. The 85th percentile speed, which is supposed to be used for setting speed limits, is around 75 mph. A little over by my measurement, which found 1% compliance with the speed limit.
Eventually the absurdity of the 55 mph speed limit sunk in and in 2006 MassHighway traffic engineers recommended a speed limit increase. State Police vetoed the change, preferring the 99% violation rate that let them write tickets at will. Police have no legal role in setting speed limits. Somebody in the Romney administration weighed the risk of losing ticket revenue against the risk of being blamed for accidents. Police won. [Emphasis added.]

In this day and age, anyone who claims that the absurdly low speed limits generally found across America are about safety is either ignorant, stupid, or lying.  Most highways are designed to be traveled safely at high speeds (and even most roads and streets have unnecessarily low speed limits), and cars made in the last 20 years or so are quite capable of handling well at high speeds, even under adverse conditions.

So, if you want to know why speed limits seem artificially slow, all you have to do is follow the money.

26 September 2011

What’s That Terrible Smell?

Is it just me, or does this story smell vaguely of bovine fecal matter:
The Food and Drug Administration said Thursday patients who use the epinephrine inhalers to treat mild asthma will need to switch by Dec. 31 to other types that do not contain chlorofluorocarbons, an aerosol substance once found in a variety of spray products.
The action is part of an agreement signed by the U.S. and other nations to stop using substances that deplete the ozone layer, a region in the atmosphere that helps block harmful ultraviolet rays from the Sun.
But the switch to a greener inhaler will cost consumers more. Epinephrine inhalers are available via online retailers for around $20, whereas the alternatives, which contain the drug albuterol, range from $30 to $60.
If CFCs are so terrible, why isn’t the government banning the dominant sources of CFCs?  It seems to me that the current policy of banning inhalers is remarkably pointless in that the government’s new policy will only address an irrelevantly small amount of the problem.  Seriously, how big an impact will banning inhalers have in reducing the presence of CFCs?

This story shows, once again, that environmentalism is more of a religion than a science-based policy stance.  Environmentalists believe that humanity’s greatest sin is damaging Mother Earth, and that all humans must do penance by living their lives as inconveniently as possible.

This story also shows that liberals are neurotic, when it comes to policy. Liberals, in general, tend to support protecting the environment as well as universal health care.  Yet, their real-world policy prescriptions, as seen here, help neither the environment (at least in a meaningful way) nor sick/unhealthy people.  Frankly, their policy prescriptions are downright schizoid.

But, what else could you expect from liberals?  Their alleged compassion for others and the environment is simply an excuse to indulge in narcissistic god-complexes in order to feel better about themselves.  No wonder they feel the need to do penance.

With Nothing to Live For

Ferdinand has a post about the very real effects of hopelessness, and how a lack of hope can destroy an entire generation (warning:  the pictures in the post are very depressing and not for the faint of heart).  The people humans adolescents things in the photos find it ridiculously easy to satisfy any animalistic desire they might possibly have.  Hungry?  There’s plenty of fast food available for convenient consumption.  Tired?  Pass out in the street.  Sick?  Just lean over and puke; no one cares.  Want sex?  Dress like a slut and wait for some random guy to make love to you use you as his masturbation aid.

These kids have no purpose in life.  They’ve been told God is dead, their country is evil, and life is an accident.  What higher cause can they strive for?  Their parents were too self-absorbed to teach them any meaningful values.  As such, this generation’s lives are empty, hollow, and directionless.  And so they follow their base urges, taking no thought for the morrow.  Ferdinand sums up the situation pretty well:

The unifying theme I see in these pictures is hopelessness. Even with all the freedom in the world to live it up, these kids look lost, aimless and profoundly unhappy. This is a portrait of a lost generation, a generation with nothing to believe in and no reason to live. They soak themselves in booze and boobs every Saturday night because that’s all they have. I have no clue how you could bring these people back from the abyss – God is dead and His secular replacements have all been failures. 

There’s little point in killing God if you’re not going to provide an adequate replacement, a lesson many atheists and their sycophants in the media and pop culture failed to grasp.  Religion, for its many faults, is considerably superior to the unrestrained nihilist hedonism of today.  People always want to believe in something, and the choices have tended to be God or Self.  And Self is a terrible choice, as evidenced by Ferdinand’s post.  When the highest cause in your life is Self, the only logical thing to do is seek out the easiest pleasures that exist, and wallow in them until you’re sick. Rinse and repeat every night.

Ferdinand’s observation also begs another question:  Why is it that God is a better alternative than Self?  The simple answer is that God exists, created humans, and, as such, knows what’s best for him.  Ironically, this also segues into the more complex answer:  God, through religion, can serve as a concrete representation of abstract, long-term policy.

By this I mean that obeying the dictates of God do not require prolonged rational abstract thought.  Don’t murder, don’t lie, honor your father and mother, etc. are all simple enough to understand and obey.  You don’t have to know why it’s bad to murder someone, or why it’s bad to lie, or why it’s bad to dishonor one’s parents; you need only know those things are wrong and act accordingly.  In a sense, then, God has done the heavy lifting.  He knows, presumably, what is in man’s long-term best interest, and so man does not have to experiment, through trial and error, to discover the best course of action.

Thus, killing God is a good way to kill a generation because without any guiding force in their lives, most young people, who are generally incapable or unwilling to take a long-term view of the consequences of their current decisions, will simply only have themselves to ask for advice, which is based on how they feel in a particular moment.  As such, this generation is simply following its base instincts, and the results are not promising at all:  this generation doesn’t know how to think or work; only feel and act.  God help them.

23 September 2011

Alpha Music

The other day, my youngest brother asked me if there was any music that was particularly alpha.  More specifically, he wondered if it was possible to use music as a way of peacocking.  I didn’t have a particularly satisfying answer at the time, but after giving it some thought I think I have an answer.

In one sense, some genres and artists can be considered more alpha than others, at least in terms of lyrics and mood.  Metal tends to be highly alpha, lyrically, and rap tends to be highly alpha in terms of mood.  And even within certain genres (say, post-hardcore), some artists are more alpha than others.  Obviously, then, one can listen to alpha music and possibly demonstrate his alphaness in that manner, although I don’t know if girls who hear a guy blasting Ludacris automatically think that guy is going to be good genetic material.

In another sense, though, alphaness is demonstrated in how one reacts to music.  In this case, the specific music being listened to is irrelevant because what matters is how the guy in question acts towards music.

The most beta reaction to music would be to simply listen passively and talk about how awesome one’s favorite artists are.  Devoted fandom seems to be very beta because one doesn’t contribute to the music scene, and one readily cedes to being the artists inferior.  In essence, male fans that listen passively act as weak wing men.

A more alpha way of reacting to music would be obsessing over an artist and becoming an authority on said artist.  Knowing as much about an artist as the artist itself, though slightly creepy, is impressive because it enables one to demonstrate higher value by being an expert.

Music criticism is another way to show alphaness in relation to music.  In this case, you have to operate from the mindset that you are superior to the artist, and that he has to impress you.  I’ve found that telling girls I meet at concerts that I’m a music critic is a good way to spark interest and occasionally get some phone numbers.

Ultimately, though, the ultimate alpha way of reacting to music is to learn guitar and start writing songs that you perform in front of a crowd of fans.  In this case, it doesn’t matter at all what you sing about or how you look.  Simply performing in front of a crowd of fans is often all it takes to spark a girl’s interest.  Thus, my advice to my brother is to learn how to play rock songs on guitar.  That should ensure that he gets plenty of girls’ attention.

Fixing American Unemployment

"Of jobs created in Texas since 2007, 81 percent were taken by newly arrived immigrant workers (legal and illegal)," says the report from the Center for Immigration Studies, a group that advocates reduced levels of both legal and illegal immigration.  The report estimates that about 40 percent of the new jobs were taken by illegal immigrants, while 40 percent were taken by legal immigrants.  The vast majority of both groups, legal and illegal, were not American citizens.
Native-born Americans filled just 20 percent of the new jobs in Texas, the report says, even though "the native born accounted for 69 percent of the growth in Texas' working-age population." "Thus, even though natives made up most of the growth in potential workers, most of the job growth went to immigrants," the report concludes. (Hat tip: Vox Day.)

If you want to fix the unemployment mess America currently faces, do four things:

One, round up all illegal immigrants and guest workers and deport them.  I am unable to comprehend how a government that claims to represent the interests of its people even tolerates any foreign workers when the unemployment rate is hovering around 16%.  Why is this allowed when citizens are jobless and looking for work?  Citizens should be given preference when it comes to domestic policy, and labor is no exception.

Two, deregulate labor.  Get rid of the minimum wage, the minimum age, and mandatory overtime pay laws.  Price floors always, without fail, create a surplus.  Again, labor is no exception.

Three, get rid of government-sponsored welfare, unemployment compensation, and all other forms of paying people to not work.  This will give the currently unemployed a very powerful incentive to find and/or create a job.  Note, however, that one should not end the dole without first having eliminated minimum wage.

Four, get rid of payroll taxes.  Milton Friedman’s monstrously stupid idea to have taxes withheld from one’s paycheck places compliance costs on businesses that they do not face when hiring illegal workers.  This, in turn, makes it more difficult for legal workers to compete with illegal workers.  As such, ending payroll taxes will reduce the costs of employment, and make it easier for citizens to compete for jobs.

Logical Conclusions

Sometimes economists can be complete idiots:

What is the biggest single drag on the beleaguered global economy? Opponents of globalisation might point to the current crisis, which shrank the world economy by about 5%. Proponents of globalisation might point to the remaining barriers to international flows of goods and capital, which also serve to shrink the world economy by approximately 5%. That sounds like a lot.
But the truly big fish are swimming elsewhere. The world impoverishes itself much more through blocking international migration than any other single class of international policy. A modest relaxation of barriers to human mobility between countries would bring more global economic prosperity than the total elimination of all remaining policy barriers to goods trade - every tariff, every quota - plus the elimination of every last restriction on the free movement of capital. [Emphasis added.]

Now, this conclusion is necessitated by a belief in free trade.  If goods and services can move about freely then it stands to reason that labor must also be allowed to move about freely.  If the free trade of goods and services increases wealth by virtue of lower prices then the same must be true of free labor.

I’ve addressed the stupidity of the “free trade” advocates before, so I won’t do it again here.  However, I will address the problems with the concept of free labor.

First, the economic models used to demonstrate the wisdom of free labor often ignore the simple fact that the conditions facilitating trade in the first place are predicated on culture, and that allowing people from one culture to interact with the trade-oriented culture will diminish the support for the very conditions that allow for trade in the first place.  In other words, all cultures are different.  Some are pro-trade, others are not, and some are only pro-trade when the benefits are staggeringly obvious.  Expecting radically different cultures to interact with one another without also expecting a change in the cultural institutions that harbored that interaction in the first place is astonishingly stupid, and, indeed, ignorant of basic human nature.

This mindset, that the free market will be enough to ensure that all people from all cultures will behave rationally and interact peacefully with one another, is predicated on the wholly fallacious assumptions that people are inherently rational, that all cultures are equivalent, and that cultural biases and prejudices are easily overcome.  Of course, the real world differs significantly from this model.  People are not rational creatures; they are rationalizing creatures.  And, shockingly, people still hate people from other countries simply because they’re from other countries!

Economic growth is rarely (perfectly) linear and never guaranteed.  Furthermore, the conditions for growth are vast and complex, and so it is the height of arrogance to think that models that inaccurately measure a few irrelevant variables are going to make for a compelling argument.  Yet, this is precisely what economists are doing when they argue for free labor.

Second, free labor (and, come to think of it, free trade) advocates tend to ignore the very simple fact that wealth is not based on being able to buy things at lower prices.  Lower prices are the effect, not the cause.  Quite simply, economists ignore fundamental microeconomic principles, leading to this wacky macroeconomic theory.

Wealth, fundamentally, comes from producing something of value, whether for yourself or someone else.  As long as you value that which you’ve created in the quantity in which you’ve supplied it, you have created wealth.  If you create something that someone else values in the quantity in which they value it, you have created wealth.

The standard macroeconomic theory posits that people are effectively wealthier when they can consume more products at identical or lower prices.  Of course, this thinking extends to labor, with the argument being that cheaper labor enables one to produce more with less (in essence, the decreased cost of inputs means that cheaper labor translates to greater economic activity).

This argument is technically true, but irrelevant.  Lower prices as a result of cheap labor does not make consumers wealthier because consumption is, by definition, destructive since one is using up a resource.  What makes consumers wealthier is their own personal production, not lower prices.  Lower prices, in a sense, give the illusion of wealth because they make it easier for poor people to have the things that rich people once exclusively enjoyed.  Note that this is not to condemn lower prices in and of themselves, but rather to clarify that lower prices are no substitute for production.

And so, the argument made by free trade and free labor apologists is largely irrelevant.  Lower prices do not make people inherently wealthier.  Instead, they reveal how other people have become wealthier by improving their means and methods of production.  Confusing cause and effect is a fundamental error, and one that is often overlooked in this debate.

In sum, the argument for free movement of labor completely ignores human nature, as well as basic economic principles.  As such, it does not merit any further discussion, nor should it be taken seriously.

21 September 2011

Paragraphs to Ponder


Too much of anything is just as much a misallocation of resources as it is too little, and that applies to higher education just as it applies to everything else. A recent study from The Center for College Affordability and Productivity titled "From Wall Street to Wal-Mart," by Richard Vedder, Christopher Denhart, Matthew Denhart, Christopher Matgouranis and Jonathan Robe, explains that college education for many is a waste of time and money. More than one-third of currently working college graduates are in jobs that do not require a degree. An essay by Vedder that complements the CCAP study reports that there are "one-third of a million waiters and waitresses with college degrees." The study says Vedder – distinguished professor of economics at Ohio University, an adjunct scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and director of CCAP – "was startled a year ago when the person he hired to cut down a tree had a master's degree in history, the fellow who fixed his furnace was a mathematics graduate, and, more recently, a TSA airport inspector (whose job it was to ensure that we took our shoes off while going through security) was a recent college graduate."
The nation's college problem is far deeper than the fact that people simply are overqualified for particular jobs. Citing the research of AEI scholar Charles Murray's book Real Education (2008), Vedder says: "The number going to college exceeds the number capable of mastering higher levels of intellectual inquiry. This leads colleges to alter their mission, watering down the intellectual content of what they do." In other words, colleges dumb down courses so that the students they admit can pass them. Murray argues that only a modest proportion of our population has the cognitive skills, work discipline, drive, maturity and integrity to master truly higher education. He says that educated people should be able to read and understand classic works, such as John Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding or William Shakespeare's King Lear. These works are "insightful in many ways," he says, but a person of average intelligence "typically lacks both the motivation and ability to do so." Mastering complex forms of mathematics is challenging but necessary to develop rigorous thinking and is critical in some areas of science and engineering.

The facts are this: We do not need a lot of rocket scientists.  Oh sure, we need some, just as we need some engineers, doctors, physicists and computer programmers.
But we also need lots of people who work with their hands and we must have an economy that favors producing things.  Outsourcing the building of things to places where labor is $5/day does not produce a strong middle class.  The fact of the matter is that whether we like it or not intelligence is a bell curve and the average is 100.  The average person is not the award-winning rocket scientists of tomorrow, nor the innovator in high-tech design.  That's the guy or gal who's two, three, or even four standard deviations beyond "normal" intelligence.
All economies need those people, but those people are not the norm.  The norm is the guy or gal who builds cars, nails on roofs, repairs plumbing and fixes your AC when it breaks.  He or she needs a trade making and maintaining things, and those things need to be produced here.
Pull your head out of your ass America.  We can neither send everyone to college to be a rocket scientist nor should we.  The majority of people are in fact average - that's what average means.  The brightest and best should indeed be given every opportunity to excel, but for everyone else we need an economy that provides real work that rewards them for their ability and effort, and provides a path forward for those individuals.

Anyone who denies that there’s an education bubble is an idiot.  American businesses don’t need a ton of geniuses in order to operate effectively.  As such, there is no point in trying to provide everyone in America with a college education, at least in order to ensure that everyone can have better jobs.  Furthermore, there is no point in training people to push paper if there is no one left to manufacture it.

Book Review

The Long Tail by Chris Anderson 

“Niche is the future” would be an adequate way of summarizing The Long Tail.  Chris Anderson runs with this idea for over two hundred pages, which is about 150 pages more than necessary.

His argument can be summed up as follows:  the cost of production is decreasing radically (cf. print-on-demand), the cost of distribution is diminishing radically (cf. MP3 downloads), and people have very niche desires (cf. the sheer variety of music genres, film genres, book genres, etc.).  As such, it will become easier and cheaper for people to satisfy their niche desires, which means that there is plenty of money to made in serving niche desires.

Anderson dubs this phenomenon the “long tail” because the distribution of goods and services tends to be heavily concentrated among a few giants and a ton of “little players.”  In essence, the distribution of goods and services tend to follow normal power law distributions.  But, as technology decreases the cost of production and distribution, power will shift away from the head of the power curve to the tail, making servicing niche markets more lucrative.

In all, the book is intriguing read, and should provide a decent guide to the near future.  However, the book drags in parts and is, for the most part, overlong.  The best thing to do would be to skim the book and study the charts.  The Long Tail just doesn’t merit the time it demands.

The Fallacy of Stimulus Plans

I’d like to revisit and expound upon a thought I had in yesterday’s post on forgiving student loans:

Can we get rid of this whole nonsensical stimulus thinking?  All money circulates.  Ceteris parabis, the money will be spent at some point.

I wanted to explain this more thoroughly yesterday, but I was pressed for time so I couldn’t explain, to the degree necessary, what I meant by this.  Fortunately, Dom Armentano has already done this for me:
Can government spending create jobs? Governments can certainly create jobs in the public sector; they do it all the time and Obama's bill will do more of it. Governments can hire school teachers, social workers, and millions of other bureaucrats to administer its thousands of programs and regulations. Importantly, however, the funds for these jobs must be provided by either taxation or by borrowing from the private sector. Thus as almost all economists recognize, public sector employment comes (in some real sense) at the expense of opportunities for private sector employment.
To see why this is so, assume that $1million dollars is raised by taxation to, say, fund new staffing at the Environmental Protection Agency. No debate; public sector jobs get created. But note that the very same $1million cannot be spent by taxpayers on new washing machines or trips to Las Vegas or newspaper subscriptions. Thus for every job created by government spending there must be a tradeoff of jobs NOT created (or maintained) in the private sector of the economy. In economics, there is no free lunch.
Private sector jobs, on the other hand, are created in an entirely different manner; if they are sustainable, they are self-financing. Private employees are hired with the expectation that their wages will be paid by the additional revenue or value that they generate for the employer. Individuals that work for washing machine retailers or for a travel agency or for a newspaper must generate a stream of benefits for the company that compensates for the wages they are paid (or they will be fired). In short, private firms can hire workers – that is create jobs – if and only if it is profitable for them to do so.

In essence, the unspoken assumption of all arguments for government-provided stimulus is that money can only circulate if it goes through the government, and that money will fail to circulate if it does not go through the government.  Ultimately, the problem is that too many economists ignore Bastiat's warning and focus on that which is seen while ignoring that which is unseen.

Social Security Thy Name is Ponzi

I’m not sure why so many are upset with Rick Perry calling Social Security a Ponzi scheme.  I said the same thing way back in March, but the media hardly seemed to care.  Many economists have weighed in on this debate, and Walter Williams provides a decent summary of their sentiments:

Aside from these lies, Social Security is a Ponzi scheme. The major difference between Social Security and Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme is his was illegal. Three Nobel laureate economists have testified that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme. Dr. Paul Samuelson called it "the greatest Ponzi game ever contrived." Dr. Milton Friedman said it was "the biggest Ponzi scheme on earth." Dr. Paul Krugman predicted that "the Ponzi game will soon be over."

The media and government need to take a hint here.  When two Nobel-prize-winning Keynesians say that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme, it’s safe that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme.  (Because if there’s anyone who knows Ponzi schemes, it’s going to be a Keynesian.)

Incidentally, I was also ahead of the game in demonstrating that Social Security is a lie, at least in terms of guaranteed benefits.  While I only focused on Flemming v. Nestor, it is important to also look at Helvering V. Davis:
Another lie in the Social Security pamphlet is: "Beginning November 24, 1936, the United States government will set up a Social Security account for you. ... The checks will come to you as a right." Therefore, Americans were sold on the belief that Social Security is like a retirement account and money placed in it is our property. The fact of the matter is you have no property right whatsoever to your Social Security "contributions."
You say, "Williams, you're wrong! We have a right to Social Security payments." In a U.S. Supreme Court case, Helvering v. Davis (1937), the court held that Social Security is not an insurance program, saying, "The proceeds of both (employee and employer) taxes are to be paid into the Treasury like internal revenue taxes generally, and are not earmarked in any way." In a later Supreme Court case, Flemming v. Nestor (1960), the court said, "To engraft upon the Social Security system a concept of 'accrued property rights' would deprive it of the flexibility and boldness in adjustment to ever-changing conditions which it demands."  [Emphasis added.]

Of course, Social Security is not technically a Ponzi scheme because one is not forced to pay taxes contribute to a true Ponzi scheme:

It's true that Ponzi engaged in fraud; his victims never would have "invested" with him, had he accurately explained the business model. Libertarians therefore agree with everybody else that Charles Ponzi was a criminal and would have to face legal consequences in any just legal order.
However, so far as we know Ponzi never threatened anybody. He didn't tell struggling young workers, "Give me 15 percent of your paycheck every week, so that I can make you a fantastic return — or else I'll send goons to kidnap you."
In this respect, Social Security isn't a Ponzi scheme after all. It's more analogous to mobsters shaking down people for protection money, because otherwise "bad things could happen."

20 September 2011

E-Verify: The Wrong Solution

John Hawkins has a very good article on addressing illegal immigration.  However, the idea of an E-Verify system seems misguided:
1) E-verify: This is the single most important thing we can do to combat illegal immigration because it gets to the root of why most illegals are coming here and staying here: jobs. If we mandate E-Verify -- which is really just a way to check the validity of Social Security numbers -- and the government puts the resources into the program, it will lock illegal aliens out of the overwhelming majority of jobs in America. Once we get to that point, there's no reason for most illegals to come here or for most of the illegals that are already here to stay here. So, if the flow of illegals into the country dramatically slows and the illegals that are already here begin to self-deport because they have no work, the biggest part of the problem is solved.
I’m not opposed to E-Verify as a consequence of prior actions.  If the government formally and informally institutes policies that encourage businesses to hire illegal immigrants to work off-the-record, then some sort of worker verification is a rational response to correcting the market imbalance brought about by government interference.  That said, I think it better for the government to end the interference that brought about the current labor situation instead of trying to correct for it with more legislation and enforcement.

This means that the government needs to do at least two things:

First, the federal government must completely deregulate domestic labor.  No more minimum wage, no more minimum age, no more mandatory overtime pay, no more payroll taxes that an employer must match (e.g. FICA), etc.  Americans are prevented, by their own government, from competing with illegal aliens in the labor market.  Americans cannot freely compete on price or availability, which is why illegals are popular choices for cheap and/or demanding labor.

Second, in conjunction with the first step, the federal government must end any and all forms of poverty assistance.  The constitution does not authorize the federal government to help impoverished citizens.  This is, properly, the duty of individuals, or their respective states’ governments if they so wish to defer.  In no way can it be argued that the federal government should be involved in helping poor people.

Furthermore, federal assistance effectively discourages poor people from taking low-wage jobs.  Proponents of open borders and illegal labor often say that there are jobs Americans just won’t do.  And this is true:  Why should a poor person work a demanding, low-wage job when he can sit on his couch all day and receive a check from the government?  But if you take away the security blanket of federal funds, poor people will be more inclined to take terrible jobs because a low-pay job is better than starving to death in the street.

There are more instances of deregulation that are necessary, mostly because regulations work effectively as taxes, and tend to increase the cost of living, which impacts marginal workers (read: poor people).  As such, it would be helpful to deregulate the things that people need in order to live, like housing and food services.  But this needn’t be done upfront as poor people taking the crap jobs once held by illegals would not feel the effects instantly.  But it should be done sometime, in relatively short order.

At any rate, this proposal is unlikely to ever come to fruition because the government never relinquishes power.  It only asks for more and more, unceasingly and unwaveringly.  As such, the E-Verify program should come to pass, unless the federal government really hates its citizens.  However, it would be much nicer if the government would relinquish control over its citizens and simply let the market revert to its natural state.

On Patent Reform

The Smith Patent Reform Bill has become law:

President Obama today signed into law the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (H.R. 1249) a bipartisan, bicameral bill that updates our patent system to encourage innovation, job creation and economic growth.  Both Houses of Congress overwhelmingly supported the proposal, which was sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas).  The House of Representatives passed H.R. 1249 by a vote of 304-117 earlier this year. The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 89-9.  Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) partnered with Chairman Smith on the legislation.  Congressman Smith led the House efforts on patent reform for more than six years.
Much-needed reforms to our patent system are long overdue.  The last major patent reform was nearly 60 years ago. The House patent reform bill implements a first-inventor-to-file standard for patent approval, creates a post-grant review system to weed out bad patents, and helps the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) address the backlog of patent applications. This bill is supported by local companies as well as many national organizations and businesses.

I’m not sure what to think of this.

On the one hand, this streamlines the patent system, which I begrudgingly support.  The first-to-file standard makes resolving multiple claims dead simple:  Who got to the patent office first.  And weeding out bad patents is also good, especially in light of the standards (distinct, non-obvious, etc.).

However, this legislation could very well increase the occurrences of patent-trolling.  This would actually discourage invention and innovation in the long run because inventors would more than likely seek to avoid paying royalties to produce their own inventions, so they would have to create modifications to their own product in order to sell them.  I imagine this effect would be more prominent among large corporations than among individual inventors because corporations tend to be more susceptible to industrial/commercial espionage.

At the end of the day, though, the simplest and most effective reform is to simply abolish the patent system altogether.  There’s little evidence that the costs of the patent system outweigh the benefits thereof.

Jubilee?

Freakonomics asked if forgiving student loans en masse was a good idea.  Here was their conclusion:
1. Distribution: If we are going to give money away, why on earth would we give it to college grads? This is the one group who we know typically have high incomes, and who have enjoyed income growth over the past four decades.  The group who has been hurt over the past few decades is high school dropouts.
I guess it would help to define “high income.”  Everything I’ve seen suggests that college grads generally start with relatively income when joining the workforce and that it eventually increases over time.  And, once you adjust for inflation, grads today are earning less than grads of, say, thirty years ago, on the average.  The only way the above claim is true is if one compares the college grads to those with less education.  Also note that income growth, though a trend, is not promised to continue indefinitely.  Also note that going to college is the recommended course of action, while dropping out of high school is not.  In essence, those who have played by the rules, so to speak, are in a tough bind because they have played by the rules.  It is cruel to argue that they don’t deserve consideration because they are still better off than those who didn’t follow the rules.
2. Macroeconomics: This is the worst macro policy I’ve ever heard of. If you want stimulus, you get more bang-for-your-buck if you give extra dollars to folks who are most likely to spend each dollar. Imagine what would happen if you forgave $50,000 in debt. How much of that would get spent in the next month or year? Probably just a couple of grand (if that). Much of it would go into the bank. But give $1,000 to each of 50 poor people, and nearly all of it will get spent, yielding a larger stimulus. Moreover, it’s not likely that college grads are the ones who are liquidity-constrained. Most of ‘em could spend more if they wanted to; after all, they are the folks who could get a credit card or a car loan fairly easily. It’s the hand-to-mouth consumers—those who can’t get easy access to credit—who are most likely to raise their spending if they get the extra dollars.
Can we get rid of this whole nonsensical stimulus thinking?  All money circulates.  Ceteris parabis, the money will be spent at some point.  The only concern is over timing, not necessarily net effect.  And there is no objective reason to prefer immediate results to delayed results.  This point, though technically true, is irrelevant.
3. Education Policy: Perhaps folks think that forgiving educational loans will lead more people to get an education. No, it won’t. This is a proposal to forgive the debt of folks who already have an education. Want to increase access to education? Make loans more widely available, or subsidize those who are yet to choose whether to go to school. But this proposal is just a lump-sum transfer that won’t increase education attainment. So why transfer to these folks?
This is simply asinine.  No one thinks that forgiving loans makes education more desirable.  People think that the student loan system is fraudulent (i.e. people were talked into loans under false pretenses).  The reason most people support loan forgiveness is because they see it as a reasonable redress to the outrages of the system.  Also, note that the current system does a remarkable job of subsidizing marginal students, which is the problem in the first place.
4. Political Economy: This is a bunch of kids who don’t want to pay their loans back. And worse: Do this once, and what will happen in the next recession? More lobbying for free money, rather than doing something socially constructive.  Moreover, if these guys succeed, others will try, too. And we’ll just get more spending in the least socially productive part of our economy—the lobbying industry.
Don’t or can’t?  How many grads have to take on subpar jobs because they can’t afford to wait for better jobs or undertake risky ventures?  These kids have been sold a lie, and many they have no recourse (and I mean this literally as they can’t even default out of their loans).  The government guaranteed repayment of student loans, and, in order to prevent getting hit in the shorts, has made it impossible to discharge this debt through bankruptcy.  As such, banks have little incentive to ensure the loan’s recipient’s ability to repay.  In short, the government has created the mess, under the guise of helping the underprivileged.  They have turned the underprivileged into slaves.  Shouldn’t the slaves be able to lobby their master?  Or is that too much to ask?
5. Politics: Notice the political rhetoric?  Give free money to us, rather than “corporations, millionaires and billionaires.”  Opportunity cost is one of the key principles of economics. And that principle says to compare your choice with the next best alternative.  Instead, they’re comparing it with the worst alternative.  So my question for the proponents: Why give money to college grads rather than the 15% of the population in poverty?
This is simply stupid.  The 15% of the population in poverty already receives money.  To the tune of billions of dollars per year.  How much more do they need?  You’d think hundreds of billions of dollars would be enough to cure poverty, but apparently the federal government sucks worse at charity than it does at disaster relief in a chocolate city after a hurricane.

This is nothing more than a grossly ignorant appeal to emotion.  The poor already get money from the federal government.  And why are corporations more deserving of billions of dollars?  The government has already lined the pockets of their Wall Street cronies through student loans.  Shouldn’t this be redressed?
Conclusion: Worst. Idea. Ever.
More like: Worst. Rebuttal. Ever.
However, I don’t find the idea of student loan forgiveness all that appealing, in part because students still deserve to face the consequences of their (admittedly stupid) decision to go to college instead of getting a real job.  In order for a lie to work, one party must tell it and another party must believe it.  If you believe a lie, you need to live with the consequences.  But if you take advantage of those who have believed a lie, then you deserve the consequences thereof as well.

My proposal, then, is very simple:  allow grads to default on their student loans.  Grads’ credit scores will take a hit, which is a reasonable consequence to their decision to essentially waste four years of their life.  And banks would be forced to write off a bunch of bad loans, killing their profits, which is a reasonable consequence to their decision to loan money to people that didn’t deserve it.

The current system is broken and remarkably unfair to those it purports to help.  Correcting this problem doesn’t require forgiving all students of their loans.  Allowing grads who find that a college degree is worthless to default on their loans should be sufficient to clear the market.

13 September 2011

Book Review

The Winner’s Curse by Richard Thaler

Maybe my discipline for reading has been waning in recent weeks, because this is the second consecutive book that I’ve been unable to read in its entirety before quitting.  The problem with The Winner’s Curse is that it is a highly technical way of saying “duh.”  By this I mean that Thaler addresses issues that are only problems for economists that apparently have no experience with actual human beings.

Economists have long assumed that humans are, fundamentally, rational creatures.  Even von Mises assumed as such, although it should be noted that his usage of “rational” was tautological, and based solely on economic actor’s behavior (instead of, say, the economic actor’s stated goal) and bound by the limits of human knowledge.  Basically, Mises argued that one’s “true” desires were shown by one’s behavior, and that all humans pursued the most efficient course of action to attain the desired ends.

However, mainstream economists generally tend to define “rationality” as one’s tendency to act in one’s best long-term interest.  Whether this definition accounts for the constraints of humanity (i.e. imperfect knowledge, the constraint of time, etc.) varies by economist.  At any rate, the assumption is that humans have a tendency and desire to act in their long-term best interest, and, furthermore, derive only (or mostly) direct utility from consumption.

These assumptions are wholly fallacious, and contradict observable reality, which creates quite a problem for economists who try to make detailed policy prescriptions, since doing so generally requires the ability to correctly predict micro-level behavior.  Obviously, economists have largely been unable to do so, in part because they bought into the myth of the average person, and in part because the average person does not resemble an actual human as much as it resembles a watered-down version of what economists think an ideal human being would look like.

Thus, much of what has been written about theoretical human behavior from an economist’s standpoint has been largely irrelevant and useless to those who live in reality because economists desire a reality that does not exist.  One example of this is what’s known as the Ultimatum Game.  The game is played by taking two people, giving one of them a sum of money, and telling him to split it however he chooses with the other player.  If the other player accepts, they split the money accordingly and go on their merry way.  If, however, the other player declines the offer, neither player gets anything and they go on their unmerry way.  Theory dictates that the most rational course of action is for Player A to offer Player B one penny and for Player B to accept, with the idea being that one penny is better than nothing.

But when put into practice, as Thaler details quite extensively in his book, the offer is rarely a penny.  It is usually substantially more than that (close to 50% in many cases).

It turns out that humans are more complex than economists would lead you to believe.  Many humans, it appears, have more than a direct pecuniary interest in monetary offers.  This shouldn’t be surprising, since humans are social creatures with a rather common need to show off.  Non-economists tend to recognize this, and therefore make a point of making an offer that is not perceived as insulting.  If an offer were too low, the recipient would decline it because the recipient would perceive the value of the money to be lower than the value of the social communication that declining the offer would bring (i.e. the recipient would find it more useful to say he’s insulted than to accept the money).  This is, without a doubt, an economic judgment.  Yet it is one that economists seem incapable of accounting for because it makes no sense to them.

But, without becoming too dryly analytical, humans are not hardwired to think solely in terms of direct utility.  Products can serve multiple functions; some direct, some indirect.  Polo shirts, for example, have a direct function of keeping one’s upper body shielded from the elements.  But certain polo shirts, such as those made by, say, Ralph Lauren, have an indirect function as a status symbol.  And there are people in this world, apparently, who find the added, indirect value to be worth the cost.  Economists have failed to account for this sort of thinking, and have thus neglected to consider the full range of value that decisions can provide, which is why there is such a divergence between reality and theory when it comes to things like Ultimatum Game.

The rest of the book, or at least the parts I read, seemed to bear this sort of thing out as well.  Why is there such a difference between reality and theory in economics?  The answer is, for the most part, quite simple:  Economic theory doesn’t actually account for the behavior of real people.

Thaler, in making this decidedly simple point, feels compelled to dress it up in fancy mathematics.  There is, of course, nothing inherently wrong with doing this, but it does make for a very dry read.  Also, it seems to be a very complicated way of stating the obvious.

However, this degree of precision and insight makes the Winner’s Curse a necessary read for any aspiring economist.  Economics, as a method of study, is not particularly useful if one neither knows nor corrects for the fundamental mistaken assumptions upon which the intellectual edifice is built.  Economics does have plenty to offer, as a method of analysis, but it is only useful if its axioms are realistic.  The Winner’s Curse, then, is useful because it questions the basics of theory.  Not only that, it provides the answers as well.

11 September 2011

Quick Links: 9/11 Edition

LCC on why "they" hate us.  This is a rather sobering read, and should indicate just how perversely imperialistic American foreign policy has become.  America is not the world's policemen, Israel does not deserve special protection, and there is simply no reason for continued involvement in the governance of foreign countries, particularly Middle Eastern ones.

Karl Denninger reflects on 9/11.  This is perhaps the most thought-provoking piece I've read this weekend.  It is simply astonishing to see how much power the federal government has wrested for itself in the name of national security.  Even more astonishing is how unnecessary this power grab has been, at least in light of its purpose.  The only question that remains is:  how long will Americans tolerate the deprivation of their rights in light of its unnecessity?

09 September 2011

It’s About Literacy


And what a message!  [Referring to Thomas Paine’s Common Sense.]  Can you imagine a book with such a complex style today selling 60 million copies in one year? To ask the question is to answer it. To make the comparison concrete, here are data from the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL), which measures the English literacy of adults across the United States. Prose literacy, defined in the study as the ability to “search, comprehend, and use information from continuous texts,” is categorized into four levels: below basic, basic, intermediate, and proficient. Proficient, the highest level, is defined as “reading lengthy, complex, abstract prose texts as well as synthesizing information and making complex inferences.” As an example of this level of performance, they cite comparing the viewpoints in two texts. This level seems to be roughly the level required to read Common Sense.
In the extensive NAAL survey, only 13% of adults attained this level. Thus, the proportion of Americans today who are able to understand Common Sense (13%) is smaller than the proportion that bought Common Sense in 1776 (20%). Are we a nation in decline?

While I’m inclined to argue that we are, in fact, a nation in decline, I don’t think the argument that few adults can comprehend a 235-year-old book is a sign of said decline.  After all, how many of the Founding Fathers would be able to decipher IM and text message shorthand?  Trying to compare the English of today to the English of yesterday is an exercise in futility.

For example, the King James Version of 1611 is nigh unreadable today.  Not because the Bible is, in itself, difficult to understand, but because this specific version of the Bible was written in 1611, and the English of that day is remarkably different from the English of today.

Words change meaning over time.  Concepts that once required entire books for explanation now exist as self-representing shorthand.  That’s simply nature of language.  Thus, arguing that we are less literate today because we are less capable of comprehending something that was written over two hundred years ago in what is arguably a different language (yes, it’s English, but it did have different rules and structure back then, as well as different words and words with different meanings).

A better case for social decline can be made by noting the prevalence of aliteracy (wherein one is capable of reading but chooses not to), which can be demonstrated by declining book sales, the amount of television watched by the average American, etc.  Of course, this assumes that non-text mediums are provably inferior to textual mediums.  And one must also account for the sheer presence of text in the average person’s daily life.  And one must demonstrate a causal link between illiteracy and social decline.

At any rate, the attempt to demonstrate societal decline by seeing how many adults are capable of comprehending the writings of Thomas Paine strikes me as rather futile.

Christian Feminism

I’ve been meaning to comment on this excellent post by Laura Grace Robins for a while now, but it’s taken me some time to compose my thoughts:
Conservative feminists of the time and also today, perhaps even more so than the radical/liberal feminists, are responsible for the current superior women mentality. It is easy to see how the adherents of the cult of domesticity could easily become full of themselves and transform what should be the humble, self-denying sphere of motherhood, tending the home, and being a virtuous wife into a weapon of 'women know best' and in turn create the cult of women's superiority. Pride simply overcame them. They took the God given gifts of feminine character, made them their own, and continue to use those gifts as leverage over men and society in general to be the world's moral gatekeepers and saviors of society.
In my own experience, it’s generally male leaders in the church that view women as the superior sex.  I have heard many different male leaders on far too many occasions talk about how dependent the church is on women in general and mothers in specific.  Now, I do not mean to detract from Godly women that actually labor on behalf of Christ and his church, nor do I want to ignore the efforts that many women have made in rearing their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, but it seems to me that this continual praise and validation of women is largely unnecessary.  Furthermore, I have yet to understand why women continually receive praise from for their work but men do not.

(Again, from my own experience, the only time I’ve ever heard men validated from the pulpit of the congregation I attend was on Father’s day; in contrast, the women of the congregation receive praise from the pulpit on a monthly basis.  Of course, there is a considerable selection bias in this case because the gender ratio of the congregation skews female and a good portion of the men of the congregation are quite apathetic towards their Christian duties.  However, the same attitude is found in most of the women as well, but I digress.)

What’s interesting in this case is that pride that Laura speaks of is quite subtle in its application.  When one thinks of pride being displayed in one’s life, one usually equates it with ostentatiousness.  But Satan, being the deceiver he is, is quite capable of tricking one into thinking that one is humble when one is actually completely riddled with pride (as an aside, I would highly recommend G. Campbell Morgan’s sermon on King Saul and the sin of false humility).  I think this is what has happened with women in the church, albeit to a limited extent, in my own experience.  It’s easy to believe that women are morally superior to men when they generally refrain from outwardly expressing the evil desires in their heart.  By this I simply mean that women are less likely to act violently and/or brutally. However, as Christ said, sin begins in the heart.  To say that unrealized sinful desires aren’t sinful, or are less sinful than realized sinful desires, is a rather pharisaical belief, and is not in accordance with God’s word.  And so, because women are less inclined to demonstrate whatever evil desires they may have, they are praised as being less sinful or morally superior to man, and in so doing succumb to the sin of pride, via the mechanism of false humility.
The Christianity of today is largely variations of this new experimental Christianity that appeals to "feelings and emotion", which is what instinctively convicts women, not sin. To some women, Christianity is still "a religion of duty" as long as they are telling and overseeing what the duties are and who should be doing what duty, especially as it relates to men and their duty to marry, provide, etc. The transformation of the cult of domesticity into the cult of women's superiority has placed women as the authority for morals and duty. The authority to claim what is moral, what/who is true/real, what is good, can also go the other way with the authority to claim no morals or everything is relative, as the liberal feminists tend to do.
Thankfully, I rarely see this attitude on display at the congregation which I attend.  Even though he has many shortcomings, one thing the preacher did manage to do was eliminate women from their de facto positions of leadership.  Prior to his arrival, the women of the congregation were basically running the show from behind the scenes; now, proper male leadership is back in place, and the congregation is better able to focus on serving Christ.

However, I have seen this attitude in other congregations, and among other members of the church.  It’s frightening to see how sin has disappeared from conversations.  In fact, this paragraph reminded of a conversation I had with a friend a while back, and he noted that the main criteria for baptizing children was maturity, and not sin.  This reminded of another conversation I had with a mother from church who was defending her son’s baptism (he was eight or nine at the time) on the grounds that he was mature for his age.  The purpose of baptism is not to demonstrate one’s maturity; the purpose of Baptism is to put to death the old man of sin.  The only reason anyone should be baptized is because they realize that they are a sinner and, as such, are no longer in fellowship with God.

In fact, baptism is often seems to be sold as an entrance to the church or a ticket to heaven.  No one seems to mention that the only reason one needs baptized is because they have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. But beyond this, there is a striking tendency to shy away from using the word “sin” in any context.  We don’t sin, we make mistakes.  We don’t sin, we slip up.  And if we don’t sin, then we never need to repent, only apologize.  The church has become increasingly focused on being inoffensive, on not hurting anyone’s feelings, which is why it no longer focuses on addressing sin.  Dealing with sin is often painful, and (when done right) makes one feel terrible.  As Laura noted, this is largely due to the effect of feminism in the church.

Calvinistic tendencies aside, I think Laura’s observation is a fitting conclusion:
Christianity and the culture in general has gone from viewing woman as temptress and capable of sin, to women who are innocent victims, free of sin, and can do no wrong. What keeping women viewed as temptress' did was give a healthy dose of reality and humility in suggesting that all women, just like all of humanity are sinful and fall short of the glory of God. Take away that 'harsh' reminder, and women can have a field day of relishing in their pride as God's morally superior beings. With the new "Sentimental Love Religion" and the push for emphasis on feelings, its only natural that Eve as temptress did not make the women feel good, therefore that image was done away with; to be replaced with "innocent victim", which does make women feel good because it creates one big umbrella to bring her morally superior claims under. As an "innocent victim" the sky is the limit to how she can wield her power and authority.

A Rare Moment of Lucidity


Canalis [the woman George Clooney dumped for Stacey Keibler] hinted at her side of the story in her freewheeling chat with Chi.
"I'm a bit of a tomboy, but when it comes to love I am a doormat," she said. "I'm looking for men who can give me security."
The beauty added that she might have bad, unhealthy taste in guys. "I have always seen cold and controlled men as the right ones for me," she sniffed. "You have to accept that Prince Charming who is coming to save you is not going to happen -- it works against you." [Emphasis added.]

You don’t say.  Beautiful women find narcissistic assholes endearing?  Quelle surprise, non?  It turns out that Roissy Heartiste has been right all along, and now, in a rare moment of lucidity, a beautiful model confirms the truth that has heretofore only been taught in the shadowy corners of the internet:  chicks dig jerks.

As you were.

08 September 2011

Book Review

Pop Internationalism by Paul Krugman

I give up.

I have tried reading Krugman for several years but I just can’t do it.  I picked up Return of Depression Economics when I was a junior in high school, but I couldn’t finish it.  I use to subscribe to his blog, but I simply found him impossible to read on a daily basis.  I couldn’t even finish Pop Internationalism.

The biggest problem I have with Krugman is that he gets too caught up in his own perceived brilliance, and he has a tendency to become quite smug and condescending.  This usually becomes a problem because he isn’t often right, so reading him just makes me want to find him and then punch him dead in the face.  Arrogance is only amusing when you’re right.

Anyhow, Pop Internationalism isn’t all bad; Krugman manages to make a couple of good points.  They’re mostly contained in the first four chapters, so if you do eventually feel like reading this book, you needn’t bother reading beyond chapter five.

In the first place, Krugman is correct in noting that countries are not corporations, nor are they comparable to corporations, at least in terms of competiveness.  The idea that the United States “competes” with Japan (or Germany or Britain or etc.) is a rather strange notion, and a fallacious one to boot.   Trade is not necessarily win-lose, which, come to think of it, sounds quite strange coming from Krugman.  As such, trading with Japan isn’t an inherently destructive behavior.  However, it is possible that trade can have negative consequences.  It should simply be noted that trade is neither inherently good nor inherently bad.  It can be either.

In the second place, Krugman correctly notes that, accepting the concept of competiveness for sake of argument, a nation’s ability to compete in the global market is more closely tied to domestic production policy instead of foreign trade policy.  Stated more clearly, taxes and regulations play a larger role in international competitiveness than do tariffs and trade agreements.  As such, the proper policy prescription for encouraging competitiveness in the global marketplace is deregulation and corporate tax cuts.

Overall, Pop Internationalism starts with a bit of a bang, then dissolves into self-congratulatory mental masturbation.  The first couple of chapters are thoughtful and thought-provoking, but everything after that is nauseatingly narcissistic.  Read at your own peril.

Scott Adams on Government

I'm wondering if supporters of a strict interpretation of States Rights in the U.S. are anti-science. In other words, if you believe a state can make better decisions for its residents than the federal government, what evidence do you have to support that view? Is it possible to compare the performance of a state against the performance of the federal government for the topics that are relevant to the issue of States Rights? Probably not. In that case, how does a rational person form an opinion on States Rights?
The fundamental problem with Scott’s argument is that “better” is an entirely subjective term.  Because all choices in life demand tradeoffs, answering the question of what tradeoffs to make is inherently subjective.

Take, for example, the general tradeoff between freedom and security.  How much freedom should people have, and how much security should citizens enjoy?  What is the optimal ratio?

The simple answer is:  it depends on who is being asked.  Some people prefer to have more freedom at the expense of security.  Others prefer the opposite.  The optimal outcome is entirely dependent on the person being asked, which indicates that the optimal outcome is inherently subjective.

The whole purpose of states’ rights, then, was to allow for a wide variance of governmental policy at a local level under the assumption that localized political systems would more accurately reflect citizens’ desires (and, given the low approval ratings of both congress and the president, it does not seem like much of a stretch to say that states and municipalities do a better job than the federal government at representing voters’ interests).

I think that Adams’ confusion arises because he doesn’t understand that states’ rights proponents aren’t using “experimentation” in a strictly scientific sense.  Quite simply, states should be allowed to form whatever laws and systems of governance they desire in order to satisfy as many of their citizens as possible.  This should ensure maximal amounts of individual happiness, as people will generally be free to choose to live in a state that most closely represents their personal values.