Thursday, May 31, 2012

Carol Tavris on how we justify our arbitrary decisions

I just learned that my absolute favorite talk from last summer's TAM 9 conference is now on YouTube.

Social Psychologist Carol Tavris spoke about how we rationalize our positions and decisions. It's worth watching the entire thing.

About halfway through she uses an example of a pyramid structure, where two people with nearly identical views arbitrarily take different positions on cheating. One person decides to cheat on a test, and the other person doesn't. After they have committed those actions, our two subjects will become polarized. One will become committed against cheating in general and the other one will become a defender.

This is an important lesson and inspired a personal policy where I will not blog about a subject I expect to write about as a neutral reporter, as spending time laying out my ideas will create a bias on the subject.


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Playing the party game

Dave Berri over at the Freakonomics blog has a great post about approval of political actions as a form of party tribalism.
The national debt seems to always trouble the party that isn’t in the White House. When Bush was President (pick your Bush), Democrats were very troubled by the rising national debt. Republicans, though, were relatively quiet. Now that Obama is President, Republicans are extremely worried about the national debt. However, Democrats don’t seem as alarmed.
Berri illustrates this further with an anecdote about how Democrat and Republican voters, as groups, reversed their positions when asked if the president is responsible for high gas prices, when the party in the White House switched.

President Barack Obama himself is guilty of this slight. As a Senator, he was quick to blame President George W. Bush for high gas prices, but now that he's in the oval office, he believes oil prices are determined by the global market

This is unfortunately, part of the human experience and we're all guilty of doing this. Our brains are very good telling us that what we want to believe is the truth, and are skilled at making excuses when a few pesky facts get in the way.


Sunday, May 27, 2012

You don't eat public goods

If I was going to pick the capital of fresh, plausible economic ideas, I would not pick Seattle and I fear its residents are on a quest to cement that position.

Local groups are spending six figures on the Beacon Food Forest. A food forest is a sort of garden. They are usually private, but in this case the public is supposed to walk in and gather free food, from pears to blueberries, right off the plant.

The obvious question is, how will they deal with the tragedy of the commons? According to NPR, their solution is wishful thinking.
Of course, any "free" food source begs the question of what to do with overzealous pickers. No definitive answer on how to handle that predicament has been established yet, though. According to Herlihy, the only solutions right now are to produce an abundance of fruit so there's enough for everyone and to embed "thieves' gardens" with extra plants in the park for those people eager to take more than their share.
Seattle has a population of about 609,000 people. This project is going to be on seven acres of land. There's going to be a supply issue, and I somehow doubt the locavores are willing to use genetically-modified plants or chemical fertilizers to increase the yield.

The major problem here is very simple. These groups are attempting to use public and private money to create a public good for everyone to enjoy. Public goods can be very helpful to society, but they always follow two basic characteristics: They must be non-excludable and non-rivalrous.

The Beacon Food Forest will not be excludable. Anyone can walk in and use it any time they want. This is how public projects are supposed to work.

However, eating food is always rivalrous, that is, when some people use it, other people can't. You can't have rivalrous items as public goods, there's no way around it.

You don't have to know the textbook definition of these terms to see how poorly this will end. Volunteers will need to tend the crops, and any tourist can take them away. They could always put up gates and limit who comes in, which would require ongoing labor and radically change the nature of the project, but there's no way to make food non-rivalrous. This is a real problem that needs to be addressed, and it doesn't look like they're taking it seriously.

There is, however, one possible solution that could tone down the problem. Following Elinor Ostrom's work on how informal groups can enforce property rights with social pressures, it's possible that Seattle will develop some kind of public shaming system to punish pilferers.

Here's my idea: Post signs saying the forest garden is public property and by entering you consent to being filmed and photographed. Establish a photo blog that captures everyone who leaves with food, as well as everyone who contributes work to the area, and let readers spot those who frequently take and never give.

Even if they do stumble across a systematic shaming technique, this still doesn't address the issue that food grows slowly and people eat often. Expect to see a lot of bare branches and trampled bushes once this thing gets going. 
I think there will be such a rush to take food before someone else does that a lot of people will end up eating unripened plants. I don't know if enthusiasm for the project can be sustained enough to get volunteers to maintain the place, but the biggest problem will always be volume. There's no way the supply will keep up with the demand.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Bloggers vs. bomber

I'll take any opportunity to put a boot in when a bully tries to thwart free speech and meets an organized resistance. Brett Kimberlin is the brute in question today, and this post is a mere trickle of a mass blogging wave about his violent past and loathsome treatment of critics.

Here's the skinny, Kimberlin is a political activist who is also a convicted domestic terrorist. Kimberlin was convicted for leaving explosive devices in Indiana in 1978. One of his victims was horribly maimed and as a result, took his own life. He did a lot more, but that's his biggest crime.

Kimberlin was paroled in 1994, went back to prison for refusing to pay a settlement to a victim's family, and was released again in 2001 and has since had success as a political activist. Besides being involved with the extremist VelvetRevolution website, he organizes the Justice Through Music Program out of Washington D.C.

Kimberlin was born into a wealthy family and has used those resources and his time in prison to develop a Max Cady style approach to using the legal system to harm his victims.When blogger Aaron Worthing wrote factual posts about Kimberlin's past, he was targeted with a lawsuit, among other things. Kimberlin has also filed legal actions against other people who merely wrote about the initial lawsuit.

It's called the Streisand Effect when a thug censor tries to keep something under wraps, but the attempt to censor ends up drawing more attention to the case. Ironically, the Barbara Streisand Foundation is a donor to Kimberlin's Justice Through Music Project, along with the Tides Foundation and the Heinz Family Foundation, which is managed by the spouse of U.S. Senator John Kerry.

I am not participating in this mass blogging event because Kimberlin's political activism runs contrary to my own (and boy does it). I am proud to join any fight to thwart a powerful opponent of free speech.

I am not presenting this information as my opinion, but as factual events. To be clear, I hope to join a group of people in overwhelming Kimberlin with too many targets to pursue. I hope that spreading this information will harm Kimberlin's reputation, make it difficult for him to find funding and cause him emotional harm.

Bring it on.


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Money illusion

Two years ago I wrote a theoretical framework on the self-defeating nature of a successful "buy local" community that voluntarily makes the majority of what it consumes, but has no trade barriers to enforce it.

A reader recently commented:
This part: "individuals may have more and more cash on hand, but it will buy less and less stuff." is not necessarily accurate without an analysis of the price elasticity of supply for the local goods. Without that information, you can't know for sure whether more money will in fact buy less goods, or more. 
 Also, your scenario conflicts with itself. The only way the money supply would increase in a certain local area ("...more and more cash on hand....") is for "outsiders" to be spending money on the "local" goods or services. However, if this were the case, the increase in money would correspond to an increase in real income in the "local" area, thus, by definition, cancelling your inflation scenario.
The reader proposes that we don't know exactly what would happen to purchasing power. The community would have higher prices, but the community members would also have more money.

We can see exactly what would happen to prices. One merely needs to shed the veil of money and look at the bare resources moving around to see what would go on. Resources would leave the community, no new resources would come in. Instead, green pieces of paper would come in. Inflation is an increase in green pieces of paper in proportion to the goods and resource they stand for, and that's exactly what is happening this scenario.

As for price increases, you have to perform work inefficiently and the residents/customers have artificial limits on where they can purchase goods from. That is a standard recipe for increases in prices.
"However, if this were the case, the increase in money would correspond to an increase in real income in the "local" area, thus, by definition, cancelling your inflation scenario.
The reader has confused real and nominal incomes. I agree nominal incomes will go up if they could keep finding customers outside the community, which will be increasingly harder as prices increase. However, since that money can only be spent within the community, and the community is inefficient, then customers will see their purchasing power drop. Keep your eye on the resources, not the money.

How could everyone's purchasing power go up when there's less to buy?

The increase in nominal income is an illusion, and without trade barriers, the community members will experience more and more temptation to break the pact and purchase cheap goods from the next town over. Only trade barriers between communities, which are unconstitutional in America, could keep the farce alive.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Bootleggers abandon Baptists

I've seen some pretty bad examples of jobs created for the sake of jobs, but this issue in North Carolina takes the cake. Politicians blocked a bill that would end inspections of new cars.

Usually the supporters mask their position with claims that creating these artificial jobs will benefit the larger society. They're not even trying here.
Sen. Jerry W. Tillman, a Randolph County Republican, protested that the measure would hurt garages, tire dealers and inspection stations – whose trade associations had lobbyists in attendance at the crowded meeting room.
 “I know a lot of people who do this, and they sell some gas on the side, but most of their profit comes from these inspections,” Tillman said. “We have 7,500 small businesses that do these inspections.”
Car owners statewide pay $13.60 for the annual safety inspection. The emissions inspection, required in 48 mostly urban counties, costs an additional $16.40. Studies have shown newer cars have fewer safety or emissions problems. State motor vehicle and air quality agencies have supported the proposal to end inspections for cars from the three most recent model years.
Mike Munger has some choice words.
So, the original bill would have saved taxpayers $30 million. Our legislature has decided that $20 million of that should be set aside as a subsidy to people who provide pointless inspections, apparently at an enormous profit. But we could eliminate the charade of the inspection, and just force car owners to fork over the cash directly, and save those car owners more than $10 million.  
Why don't we do this? Everyone is better off. Station owners get their cash, the mercantilist legislature can hoard their "jobs," and car owners save a lot of valuable time.  
 The answer is that the charade is the point. It's important. If we admit that most government "services" are actually just the new mercantilism of protecting zero-productivity jobs, then we would have to think about getting rid of the jobs. And then where would legislators get their campaign money? They'd have to talk to actual voters, instead of lobbyists. Ick. 
"Ick" is right. In July 2010 I wrote:

As I've said before, destroying jobs is progress. Imagine if instead of making legislation easier to read, we decided to make it harder, and Latin replaced English as the language of American law. Now all laws are written entirely in Latin. Law firms would be forced to hire Latin scholars to translate for the legal team. There would be some law and Latin experts, but you would expect a lot of two-man teams to do the job of one paralegal. This sounds really nice to window breakers, but the rest of us can see the price of legal services would jump and society would be made worse off.
How is making needless inspections anyone better off? The supporters don't even pretend it benefits anyone except the inspectors. It's a bad sign when the bootleggers can run free instead of hiding behind the Baptists.

Saturday, May 19, 2012


One of my first economics lessons came in the summer of 2000 when I was playing Diablo II.

Here's the basic idea: Your character wears armor and uses magical weapons to slay demons. Those demons drop gold coins and equipment, which you can use or sell. As you slay more demons, you get better equipment and your character becomes more powerful, allowing you to slay bigger demons, who drop larger amounts of gold and better equipment.

I wanted to gather as much gold as I could, so I would walk from town and slay everything in my path. I picked up every single item they dropped to sell in town. When my bag was full, I would walk back.

There were also one-use items that would create a portal directly from town to save me the walk. I never used them. Instead, I sold them for a tiny profit in town. There were also single-use identifying scrolls to determine the worth of magical items, but I never used either. I took all the magic items back to town where they could be identified for free, and sold the cheap scrolls.

All of this seemed like a good idea, I was stripping every piece of wealth I could from the countryside. How could there be a smarter path to wealth?

Then one evening my friend Patrick down the street and I started some fresh characters together and I quickly realized the fatal flaw in my strategy by watching him. Time was also a resource, and I was wasting it.

All that time I wasted walked back to town instead of using a cheap portal was time I wasn't slaying demons. It would be like a pizza delivery guy thinking he's saving money by walking everywhere.

Patrick was field-identifying magical equipment, and if they weren't worth enough, he would dump them right there. This seemed like sacrilege to me, as all of these items could be sold in town for a profit. He was also using precious inventory space for the identifying scrolls.

But again, time was a resource, and we were out there slaughtering demons when I would have been prancing around town. I didn't say anything for fear of looking like a fool and followed along.

When we finished the first level our gold supplies were indeed lower than my first playthrough, but our progress was considerably quicker. Since we were leveling up faster, we were able to fight bigger demons who dropped better stuff much sooner. Our gold earned per minute was actually improved by leaving resources behind.

I didn't know it at the time, but this was similar to the concept of diminishing returns. Diablo III came out this week and has a full-fledged economy. Stay tuned for more real-world economic lessons from the game.


Friday, May 18, 2012

Collage is a medium for the weak

NPR aired a good report yesterday on the lawsuit against artist Richard Prince, who cut photos out of a book, pasted them on a canvas with other images and sold them for millions of dollars. The photographer is suing Prince for profiting off his work without permission or compensation.

Prince has no qualms with taking other peoples work, and in his mind, he transforms their work into something new. There are cases where that falls under fair use. However, with Prince, a lot of his work is indistinguishable from simple theft.

He had a project where he took famous books and reprinted them with his name in place of the author. He called these pirated items "book sculptures."

How exactly did this transform the work into something new? He even inserted a line of text in the books that read “This is an artwork by Richard Prince. Any similarity to a book is coincidental and not intended by the artist.”

NPR printed a quote from him that was a lot more honest.
"I mean a lot of people would probably say, 'Well, wait a minute, you really can't do this. You can't go out and buy a book and sign it, call it yours and sell it.' But for me, that's very easy to do," he said.
I'm sure it is.

Elementary school students like to draw Batman or cartoon characters when they're learning how to draw. Some budding young writers make "Fan fiction" of the Harry Potter characters. This is acceptable for children and people with undeveloped skills, but it does not rise to greatness.

Using someone else's work as the backbone of your work is artistically lazy. That doesn't necessarily make it bad, but it limits the achievement of the artist and implies weak skills.

There is a relationship between the amount of transformation and the magnificence of the artist's achievement. The novel Ulysses comes to mind, which uses ancient mythology as a distant point of inspiration. Mod-games like Defense of the Ancients and Counterstrike used the engines of existing video games to completely transform the experience into something entirely different.

In my small vinyl record collection I have an album of Beastie Boys remixes from a college friend under his DJ name "Phonocoid." He said that remixing a song is a lot of work, which is true, but his finished product ends up relying on someone else's work. If you're going to put all the work into a project, why not make it stand on its own?

A few years ago I attended a New Media department presentation on the Creative Commons non-copyright option. There was a live video chat with a guy who made a splash on the web by staying indoors for a year and posted a video of himself waddling from the fridge to his computer. Users could log in so it will save their progress if they felt like viewing the entire 365 day stretch.

He made the case for Creative Commons by saying what he did was an "update" of a performance from artist Tehching Hsieh, where Hsieh put himself in a tight cage for a year.

Calling it an update, of course, implies improvement. This was not the case. While Hsieh's bit wasn't anything to write home about, the modern online video showed a fat basement dweller not leaving his house, something I doubt he does very often. If this is supposed to be a strong case for how Creative Commons will lead to more quality art, then it's time to scrap the idea.

Richard Prince is a hack. He takes things other artists put hard work into and makes minor changes and unfortunately, profits handsomely. It's one thing to take inspiration from someone else, it's entirely different to  tweak it slightly and demand full credit.


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Why I support Edwina Rogers

Edwina Rogers, a former Republican strategist has been named the Executive Director (and chief lobbyist) of the Secular Coalition of America. You can guess what happened next in the left-wing atheist blogosphere. Yeah, these clickable links say exactly what you expect.

To be fair, some people did say they will give her a chance. Rogers also submitted to two interviews with prominent secular bloggers, and the information from them is important.

The frustrating part is vocal members of the secular community expect Rogers to grovel before them and publicly beg forgiveness for aiding and abetting the Republican party. This is an unrealistic demand to ask someone who will be marching over to Capital Hill and knocking on red doors.

Rogers didn't handle the Greta Christina interview perfectly. She said she doesn't believe the majority of elected Republican officials support social conservative positions like opposing gay marriage, and thinks the jury is still out on that one. I'm a registered Republican too, and I don't buy that for a second.

She and Christina talked past each other for most of the interview. Christina wanted her to pay penance for being involved with the Republican party and Rogers wanted to show that she joined the party for economic reasons. American parties are so weak that members are not required to pass a strict litmus test, and Rogers wanted to emphasize that there are plenty of people who believe in the things secular people value who are also Republicans, so it's wrong to assume membership is an endorsement of everything the party stands for.

I think a lot of the misunderstanding here is that Rogers is going to be the head of a lobbyist group, not a spiritual leader for atheists and agnostics. With that in mind, her GOP credentials are an asset, as she will get in more doors than the usual Democratic gang who speak about secular values.

The unstated major premise here is that the Republicans have been bad on secular issues, so the Democrats must be good on them. I completely agree the Republicans have been an obstacle for secular values, but does that tell us anything about the state of the Democratic party?

Remember the election of 2008, when the Democrats took over Washington and quickly legalized gay marriage on the federal level? No, of course not. They won't even do that now. The black church plays a crucial role in Democratic politics. An embarrassing 38 percent of registered Democrats are creationists. That's not as bad as the Republican rate of 60 percent, but it's not something to stick on the fridge. Republicans gets low ratings from the SCA's own voting appraisal, but the Democrats didn't ace it.

Was Rogers predecessor, Sean Faircloth, ever asked to explain himself for his involvement with the Democratic party?

There's a lot of tribalism on display here, and Rogers should be seen as someone who can prove that the secular community isn't a generic liberal advocacy group. Surprisingly, I've been unable to find any mention of Edwina on the feminist blog, which is surprising as its been beating the drum to get more women in the secular and skeptical communities.

Lobbying is not perfect at changing minds, but effective or not, that's what the SCA is for. Unfortunatly, GOP officials often have leaders of the Christian right whispering in their ears. Someone needs to whisper some reason in the other ear, and Rogers is someone who can pull that off.


Friday, May 11, 2012

The stealth queer tax

In a popular post Wednesday, I wrote about President Barack Obama's new position in support of gay marriage and I touched upon his uncharacteristic state's rights position, where he said this is merely a personal position and he wants the issue to be decided in each state, not federally.
This is incredibly suspicious and points towards the "election year conversion" being motivated by politics. In effect, he's saying he won't actually do anything for gay marriage, but he'll give it a thumbs up from the tarmac.
That view was echoed yesterday during several interviews I conducted with women in gay marriages.

I avoid blogging about an issue I've written about in the newsroom in a nod towards impartiality, but I had already posted my blog entry when I was assigned the story. I spoke to a lawyer who was instrumental in legalizing gay marriage in Massachusetts. She said she welcomes the presidents support, but added it doesn't change any laws. After that, I found a woman who married her partner in 2004 and she taught me something important.

No states have gay marriage so far. Not really.

The couple is legally married in Massachusetts, but they have to file their federal taxes separately and pay more because federally, their marriage isn't legal. The couple is covered under a private health insurance plan through work, but because of the federal denial of gay marriage, they have to pay a special tax on the insurance that no straight couple has to pay.

Yet, they had to pay the same fee for their marriage license. Clearly, they are still not treated the same under the law.

I support state's rights, and my position on them is not "constantly evolving." What we are seeing here is really a lack of state's rights.

We will eventually get gay marriage in every state. By deciding it state by state, we already have it in some places, and the holdout states like Mississippi will have to come around eventually. Deciding it federally is an all-or-nothing position and we wouldn't have any gay marriages so far if we depended on it.

That being said, the federal government is assaulting states' abilities to govern themselves with the awful Defense of Marriage Act. In another weird position, the president has said his administration will not work to overturn DOMA, but will not defend it in court. This is not a legitimate way to treat any legislation, good or bad. If the president really believes states should decide for themselves, he should enable them to by working to overturn DOMA. This would actually defend marriages like those of the gay people I spoke to.

What this situation amounts to is a stealth queer tax, and unlike most things, taxing being gay won't make it smaller.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The president ruined my favorite talking point

The good news is President Obama announced today he has reversed one of his views and now supports gay marriage.

The bad news is I just lost my favorite talking point.

People fall into three major camps on this one: People who believe this is an honest change in position, people who think he's been a closeted supporter the whole time and is just now coming out and those who think this is a cheap political stunt and his opinion hasn't changed.

I'm not sure which one is correct, but I'm leaning towards "cheap political stunt." This is an election year, and while the president has a lead in polls over Mitt Romney, his failure to live up to his 2008 campaign promises has left a lot of supporters unhappy and this change in position could get them excited again.

That is, until they read the fine print. President Obama has uncharacteristically taken a "states rights" position and wants state to decide for themselves instead of using federal involvement. This is incredibly suspicious and points towards the "election year conversion" being motivated by politics. In effect, he's saying he won't actually do anything for gay marriage, but he'll give it a thumbs up from the tarmac.

In the past few years his position on gay marriage has been weird. After saying he believes marriage is between a man and a woman because of his religious upbringing, he tried to make the case for civil unions in hopes that would satisfy pro-gay voters. He's been walking around with a straight face ever since claiming his position is constantly evolving. I don't think he's capable of making a statement on this issue that doesn't try to appeal to both sides.

It's possible that he really did change his mind and saw this as a good time to share it. Even if he is timing this for political reasons, that doesn't prove he's being insincere about supporting gays. Regardless, I'm glad to see he's now publicly supporting a position I've held for years.

As for people who think the president has always supported gay marriage in secret and is just now coming clean, why would you ever support him?

They are saying President Obama felt deep in his heart that two adults in love shouldn't be kept apart over  words written in ancient texts, but was willing to turn his back on those people for political gain. They think he was willing to play a bigot to win votes, even while inside his heart he knew it was wrong. That is to say, they think Barack Obama is our generation's George Wallace.

I've been critical of the president before, but that is a bigger insult to his character than I have ever made.


Monday, May 7, 2012

YH&C is now a minority blog

I've decided to get more in touch with my proud heritage after reading Elizabeth Warren's inspiring success as a closeted visible minority member.

You see, like Warren, I too am more than just a white person who appears to be doing alright. I am, in fact, a mix of white and red, thanks to the Native American heritage of my Great-Great-Grandmother.

That's right, I am 1/16 American Indian. If you wish, you may call me by my ancient spiritual name, Runs-His-Mouth.

I wasn't native enough to get government wampum like free tuition at a state college in Maine or a monthly check in the mail, but Warren is a mere 1/32 Native American and look what she went through, as told by Mark Steyn:
How does she know she's a Cherokee maiden? Well, she cites her grandfather's "high cheekbones," and says the Indian stuff is part of her family "lore." Which was evidently good enough for Harvard Lore School when they were looking to rack up a few affirmative-action credits. The former Obama Special Advisor to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and former Chairperson of the Congressional Oversight Panel now says that "I listed myself in the directory in the hopes that it might mean that I would be invited to a luncheon, a group, something that might happen with people who are like I am," and certainly not for personal career advancement or anything like that. Like everyone else, she was shocked, shocked to discover that, as The Boston Herald reported, "Harvard Law School officials listed Warren as Native American in the '90s, when the school was under fierce fire for their faculty's lack of diversity."  So did the University of Texas, and the University of Pennsylvania.
I am twice the American Indian Warren is, and therefore, twice the victim. From now on, I can proudly use the important lesson I've learned from the last three years of American politics:

If you disagree with me, you're a racist.

You may think you're disagreeing with my support of free markets and limited government control, but in my heart and with no further proof offered, I can now confidently say you are motivated by a deep hatred for 1/16th of the way I was born.

Every negative reply I receive is a smallpox-infested blanket. Every insult is a broken treaty. From now on, know that your disagreements with any opinion I hold are blazing a new trail of tears.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

What recovery were you watching?

I've been looking through some of President Obama's various speeches and interviews, but I can't seem to find the one where he said  the country is too damaged for him to save, but he'll keep it from getting worse.

I hear the president's supporters speak about this concept all the time when they defend his first three years in office, but I can only find candidate Obama promising swift changes and improvements upon his election. They have even gone so far lately as to say the 2012 economy shows his policies have been a success.

Really? What nation are they talking about.

In all fairness, the president's role in determining the rate the economy chugs along is minor. President Obama did not ruin the economy, nor has he actively sabotaged it's recovery. But his defenders commit a fallacy when they point to any reduction in unemployment levels as proof that his policies work.

First of all, the improvements are incredibly modest when compared to what his administration projected with the stimulus bill. The Heritage Foundation was kind enough to plot the recorded unemployment rates on the most recent update of this famous chart:

We're doing nowhere near as well as President Obama said we would. We're actually doing worse than the projections for a hands-off approach. He also famously said that if the economy doesn't turn around in three years he will not expect voters to return him to office:

I am not saying his boast means voters are duty-bound to make his prophecy come true. I am simply showing that his policies were supposed to make big gains that never materialized.

There is a big Post Hoc fallacy in attributing the gains the economy has made over the last year to the president's policies. I don't think the average person understands that economists believe without Keynesian stimulus, an economy will still slowly recover. The public's view seems to be that once it falters, it stays there until someone can fix it with policy changes.

The economists' idea is that as people lose their jobs and buy less, raw materials will fall in price. They will be cheaper to purchase and you eventually get to a point (after a lot of misery) where they become cheap enough for people to start buying them and creating businesses. This is what solves recessions and depressions and the stimulus solution is a theoretical way to speed it up.

I am not arguing that the natural suffering model is a superior choice among two workable options. As someone who spent two years on unemployment during this crisis, I know exactly how miserable and hopeless it felt. Instead, I am saying a natural recovery is what's chipping away at unemployment, and the presidents supporters are making fools of themselves for trying to credit him with these minor gains.


Thursday, May 3, 2012

Langoliers author upset, liberals applaud

In his latest work of fiction, novelist Stephen King has penned an angsty insult-ladden screed asking that rich people like himself should pay higher taxes, such as an effective tax rate of 50 percent. Links to the piece are being passed around by lefties like herpes at a juggalo concert, but I find the piece fundamentally flawed.

Before launching on a protectionist tangent recommending businesses should choose to manufacture more cheap consumer goods in America out of blind nationalism, King tries to make the claim that rich people pay a lower percent of their taxes than anyone else, and criticizes people who suggest he shut up and write the IRS a bigger check.

Normally I disregard that suggestion. Clearly, the idea is to get all the rich people to pay more, not just him. It's like the bumper stickers that say "Don't like abortion? Don't have one!" in that it fails to address the larger issue.

However, since his premise is that the rich people pay a lower percentage than anyone else, and they should be forced to pay more, the facts reflect that his voluntary action to pay more would make a big difference.

Last November I showed that the group that pays the pays the highest tax rate in America is the fabled 1 percent the left is focusing on. They pay 33.8 percent when you include capital gains and dividends as income. King lists his own amount as roughly 28 percent, which is on par with the top quintile and above the CBO's estimate of 17.1 percent for the middle quintile.


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

We must never forget

Blogger Ilya Somin at the Volokh Conspiracy is on a quest to mark May Day as Victims of Communism Day, in the same vein as Holocaust Memorial Day. Why May 1?
 May Day began as a holiday for socialists and labor union activists, not just communists. But over time, the date was taken over by the Soviet Union and other communist regimes and used as a propaganda tool to prop up their regimes. I suggest that we instead use it as a day to commemorate those regimes’ millions of victims. The authoritative Black Book of Communism estimates the total at 80 to 100 million dead, greater than that caused by all other twentieth century tyrannies combined. We appropriately have a Holocaust Memorial Day. It is equally appropriate to commemorate the victims of the twentieth century’s other great totalitarian tyranny. And May Day is the most fitting day to do so. I suggest that May Day be turned into Victims of Communism Day…. 
The main alternative to May 1 is November 7, the anniversary of the communist coup in Russia. However, choosing that date might be interpreted as focusing exclusively on the Soviet Union, while ignoring the equally horrendous communist mass murders in China, Camobodia, and elsewhere. So May 1 is the best choice. 
The choice of date isn't the real issue here. People have a tendency to ignore the lessons the previous generations learned the hard way and make the same mistakes over again. We still live in a world where China, North Korea, Cuba, Laos and Vietnam are lumbering communist nations.