Thursday, July 24, 2014

Peter T. Leeson is at it again

A few months ago the economics world observed the passing of Gary Becker, the academic economics pioneer who brought the profession into new areas of human interaction, such as crime, families and drug addiction. While he is gone, his influence lives on and it's clearly made a big impact on economist Peter T. Leeson who just wrote a book on anarchy and self governance.

In 2009 I read Leeson's previous book on pirates, The Invisible Hook, and since then have followed his academic papers when he writes about the economics of football hooligans, medieval ordeals, and gypsies. The new book is titled Anarchy Unbound: Why Self-Governance Works Better Than You Think.

Tyler Cowen has shared a paragraph from the book:

Twenty-two of thirty-seven street gangs Jankowski (1991: 78-82) studied have written constitutions. Sicilian Mafiosi follow a largely unwritten code of rules, and recently police found a written set of “ten commandments” outlining the Mafia’s core laws…Kaminski (2004) identifies extensive (yet unwritten) rules dictating nearly every aspect of Polish prisoners’ lives, from what words are acceptable to use in greeting a stranger to how and when to use the bathroom. And the National Gang Crime Research Center considers constitutions so central to criminal societies that the use of a constitution is one of the defining characteristics it uses when classifying gangs…

I'm not an anarchist and I don't want a society without a government, but I support most efforts to limit the scope and reach of government. Leeson's writing is always clear and intriguing and I recommend anyone in economics check him out.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A signpost in the semantics struggle

I'm intrigued by Daniel B. Klein's semantics project Lost Language, Lost Liberalism.

The basic idea is that what is now called classic liberalism or libertarianism was once called "liberalism" but progressives have stolen and redefined key words that make it difficult for us to discuss important ideas. The page contrasts the modern usage of those key words with classical uses.

For example, my ongoing struggle with hearing the term "justice" brandied about by redistributionists who think people are entitled to the fruit of someone else's labor:

I like Klein's intentions here, but I'm not sure if anyone will read it except people like me who already agree with him. The writing style is blocky and could use some exposure to George Orwell's rules of writing, which will scare away some people.

It's still interesting. I'm especially fond of his use of Google tools to track the usage of certain phrases, such as how "The United States" was used as a plural until 1880, and has since become a singular.

I think this is a great start here, but Klein has more work to do to make this project shine.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Are left wingers prepared to choose?

I'm a supporter of an open borders immigration policy. I'd like to see anyone come to America and be able to become a citizen in short order, although I want screenings for medical conditions and criminal background checks to avoid a Scarface scenario where another nation can dump its prisoners on us.

That view is embraced by most progressives, or at least a more moderate version that wants much more immigration than we currently have. But what's contradictory is that those some people also want a generous welfare state.

Here's Paul Krugman on that very issue:

Democrats are torn individually (a state I share). On one side, they favor helping those in need, which inclines them to look sympathetically on immigrants; plus they’re relatively open to a multicultural, multiracial society. I know that when I look at today’s Mexicans and Central Americans, they seem to me fundamentally the same as my grandparents seeking a better life in America. 
On the other side, however, open immigration can’t coexist with a strong social safety net; if you’re going to assure health care and a decent income to everyone, you can’t make that offer global. 
So Democrats have mixed feelings about immigration; in fact, it’s an agonizing issue.

My concern here is that this is in fact not an agonizing issue for Democratic voters, while it is most likely on the radar for Democratic politicians. To often, I see rank and file Democratic voters speaking about the legend of infinite wealth, where the government should be strengthening the social safety net with no consideration on costs because America is "rich."

Perhaps I'm wrong, maybe this is something they really do agonize over in private and don't like to talk about in public.

What I find most frustrating about this is the way immigrants are often portrayed as a burden when they should really be considered an asset. Bryan Caplan's analysis of the data tells us that most studies show immigrants pay more in taxes than they use in benefits, and the ones that show a net loss only show a small one.

Our borders need to be open for everyone, even the uneducated and the poor. Maybe we'd make some progress on this issue and pass immigration reform is everyone stopped talking about poor people as victims in need of saving and instead as untapped resources that can help us if given better incentives.

Friday, July 18, 2014

"The trouble is now the thought-experimenters are creating policy"

Thorium nuclear power advocate John Kutsch just narrated the perfect anecdote to the overly-enthusiastic renewable energy crowd.

Not hiding his frustration in the least, Kutsch went at this from a pro-science perspective. That's what made this video really sing. Sadly, too many critics of solar and wind power destroy their own credibility by denying the reality of man-made global warming. Instead, Kutsch took that issue head on and the video maker backed up what he said with more arguments for why our current crop of renewables won't help the environment and won't scale.

He even made a dig 19 minutes in at the local power source crowd. A subsection of the buy local crowd, these people thing power should be produced locally, even if it's incredibly expensive and wasteful.

Kutsch does a great job of reeling in nonsense. Every moment is worth watching.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Derringer crime is serious business

I try to avoid piling on when mobs on the Internet poke fun at the same fool, but this one is so off the wall I couldn't resist.

Kristen Gwynne's article-like list, formatted to splash across six different pages and maximize page views, is titled The 5 Most Dangerous Guns in America. The folly of the piece isn't outrageous claims; besides the sneering tone it doesn't really make any. It's not the clueless writing about firearms; those are so common today that it's hard to get worked up about another "assault weapon" mistake. It's not even the conclusions.

That's because it had none. Reading it was like eating a salad made entirely out of lettuce with no dressing. It stated nothing. It's like opening the front door to a house, stepping through, and finding oneself in the backyard. It's groping in the wrong spot for the pull switch of a ceiling light.

The piece promises the reader that Gwynne combed FBI and ATF data to find out which kinds of guns are used in crimes. A reasonable person would expect specific models or even brands to be the result.

Nope. Instead, Gwyenne told us that pistols, revolvers, rifles, shotguns and, wait for it, derringers are the types of guns most commonly used in crimes or found at crime scenes.


That's like asking advice for what kind of car to get and being told "sedan."

The actual entries read like a lazy 6th grader who copied the encyclopedia word for word. This is from the "revolver" entry:

Some grenade launchers, shotguns, and rifles also have rotating barrels, but the term "revolver" is generally used to describe handguns. Revolver types include single and double-action firing mechanisms, the latter of which does not require a cocking action separate from the trigger pull.

Yeah, that's true, but was there a point here? There is no one in the world who knows about revolver shotguns who fails to understand what an "assault rifle" it, yet she started off this absurdity with the lede:

Contrary to what those who defend the right to own high-powered assault rifles believe, not all guns are created equal. Due to a combination of availability, portability and criminal usage the following five types of guns are the country's most dangerous.

Look, I appreciate how hard it can be to come up with a good lede, but that was phoned-in. If we thought all guns are equally useful in all situations why would we care about efforts to ban or restrict AR-15s?

I know entertainment media like Rolling Stone dip left and will print progressive claptrap with little thought, but this article's real problems are quality-control, not politics. Sure, Gwynne is a lazy hack who rewrote a few technical descriptions and likes to pretend she can do data analysis, but she had to submit her work to an editor who approved it. They even got stock photos to flesh it out. This is a total catastrophe on a quality level and it's frankly embarrassing to see a national media company publish something that isn't even suitable for LiveJournal.


Monday, July 14, 2014

Carol Tarvis is ready for war

Social psychologist Carol Tarvis apparently stole the show at this year's Amazing Meeting scientific skepticism conference by taking the feminist branch head-on with her talk about apply skepticism to rape allegations.

From my perspective, the skepticism community has developed a social justice tumor that is trying to turn skepticism into a generic left wing group. Their efforts include trying to get skeptic groups to advocate for abortion rights and using affirmative action in organizations and conferences.

For example, members of that camp have taken the stance that accusations of sexual assault or sexual harassment are exempt from evidence and the accused should be assumed guilty. In February Tarvis wrote an essay about why that is wrong and how accusers can lie, be manipulated into lying or obtain false memories of abuse.

Tarvis continued that theme in her talk, which I have not heard. However, conference organizers have promised to post Tarvis's talk. Until then, one of her targets says she is aware of the talk and is waiting to see it for herself, but did make a collection of Twitter remarks about the talk that gives us a glimpse.

Tarvis cited an Occidental College case where two drunk students willingly had sex, and text messages show both were into it, but afterwards the female student changed her mind and the school is charging the male student with rape. She also criticized modern feminism and rape statistics that claim their is a crisis on college campuses.

I am patiently waiting to see the video of the talk for myself, but it's clear in the meantime that Tarvis has declared war on the social justice faction of skepticism.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Farmers' Market franchisee

I was talking to a baker at a farmers' market yesterday. My girlfriend bought the loaf of break pictured to the left and I asked about where the recipe came from for the sold-out apple pie bread.

I turned out it came from another baker within the corporation.

As loyal shills of this blog will remember, I do not think there is anything wrong with going to a farmers' market or buying from a local company; I just don't see it as a virtue or a way to make the local economy wealthier.

However, the activists that do may feel bamboozled when they learn that Great Harvest Bread Company packages its food and surrounds itself in the veneer of what appears to be a locally-owned independent company but is actually a national franchise - one that costs $55,000 to $90,000 to join and charges royalties that start at 7 percent.

So much for that silly "keep the money in the community" nonsense.

Now, there is nothing wrong with Great Harvest Bread Co., they have been around a lot longer then the snobby local food movement and the bread I had from them was great. They make a product people clearly enjoy at prices they are willing to pay. This is not a criticism of their business, but a nod to their ingenuity.

It only makes sense that large corporations would tap into the locavore movement and the farmers' market game, such as Sprouts Farmers Market. What's clever here is that Great Harvest Bread Company is slipping seamlessly into the markets instead of trying to organize an entire market on its own.