Monday, December 30, 2013

False equivalence can be special pleading

I've seen the following scenario played out again and again in online discussions: An observer notices a blatant contradiction in someone's worldview and calls them on it. Instead of being floored and addressing their own hypocrisy, the subject make a lazy deflection and declares a false equivalence is afoot.

False equivalence means the two things being compared are actually not comparable. Sometimes they come with an explanation, sometimes they don't. 

Click the following cartoon and be reminded that arguments are much easier to win when you write the script for both sides:

...And they're harder to win when a critic adds a zinger at the end.

Of course people really can make bad comparisons. Drone strikes are not the same as housing construction ordinances. Driving faster than the speed limit is not the same as breaking child pornography laws. Opposing the abortion of an unborn child is not the same as opposing the execution of a convicted killer.

Sorry guys, it's really not.

But when people want to hold on to a real contradiction, such as believing that female fitness models shame women while male fitness models don't shame men, they engage in a form of special pleading by declaring that the comparison is bogus because of some strained, trivial difference.

Be careful when one claims an opponent is making a logical fallacy; you could be making one of your own.


Saturday, December 28, 2013

I think we're going to win

Whenever I find myself worrying that mobs of the uninformed are going to pull down the edifices of our civilization and regress us to a feudal society, I'm going to dig out this video of Bono talking about what works in foreign aid.

Maybe, just maybe, careful study and research can defeat blind emotions. The future looks bright.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Rafi Sela doesn't have to be polite

An airport security expert from Israel wrote an article for a humor website about what's wrong with America's system, but the only joke is the TSA.

This is exactly what we need - more professionals saying exactly what they mean in a frank, direct manner. No apologies, no kind backpedaling to soften the blow.

The frustrating thing is that I have little expectation that he can get these problems resolved. The Washington machinery grinds slowly, and almost exclusively when there's a profit in it. That's one of the major differences I have with leftists - I have no illusions that the experts employed by the government will ignore other incentives and do what's best for the country.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Lajoie to the world

I know this song has been out for a year, but it's still funny and I've already listened it to a dozen time this week.



Sunday, December 22, 2013

The 6 hour workday is still a bad idea

I saw this posted as a serious argument today by an adult who should really know better.

The idea is to change the standard workday from eight hours to six. This is a pretty old, dead idea once championed by labor unions to "spread the work." The idea is to make people work 30 hours a week and hire more workers to fill the gap, and increase everyone's pay 33 percent so they don't lose any income.

Henry Hazlitt demolished this argument about 70 years ago, reminding people that if we increase the labor cost by that much, the products and services will get more expensive as well. Once again, there is no free lunch.

But this author tries to dazzle the reader with new scientific-sounding idea, but they all fall flat when one tries to take them serious. We're told that workers are the most productive two to four hours after they wake up, so starting the workday later will make them more productive.

I wonder if the author has ever interacted with college students. When you start later in the day, you tend to go to sleep later and wake up later. There goes that idea.

That wasn't the only productivity-increasing argument.

A shorter workday works particularly well for knowledge workers - people in creative or professional jobs - who can work productively for about six hours a day, compared to the eight hours manual laborers can churn out, according to Salon. Unlike machines, humans operate on a cyclical basis, which means our energy and motivation fluctuate in peaks and troughs. Cognitive workers tend to be more focused in the late morning, getting another energy boost in the late afternoon when lung efficiency peaks.

The unstated major premise here is that productivity will more than compensate the loss of one-quarter of the workday. There's no evidence that this difference in productivity per hour is particularly large. It would need to be 33 percent just to break even. The differences in productivity- if they actually exist - might be so small to the point that they are unnoticeable, and even then they only apply to a limited number of jobs. Productivity would fall, not rise, under this scheme.

Losses to productivity and/or higher prices equal a fall in real wages. That doesn't help anyone.

Another benefit of the shorter workday, Kellogg’s discovered, was that employees were happy to work less when they were paid 12.5% more per hour, meaning the company was able to offer more jobs. Maybe the six-hour workday could be a solution to the US’s current minimum wage debate.

Maybe not, as this last paragraph practically proves the scheme will make workers poorer. The union activists from a century ago had the good sense to demand a 33 percent increase in wages so their paychecks don't change. This scheme is asking for the same reduction in hours, but a pay increase of only 12.5 percent. That's nearly a third less.

Cutting supplies, increase the cost of goods and services and reducing how much each worker receives is not only a bad idea, it's an unoriginal one.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Will locovores consume these berries?

One of the neighboring towns from where I live has a large, struggling factory that makes the body for BlackBerry devices.

As most people are aware, BlackBerry dropped the ball on the smartphone battle and iPhones and Android devices crowded them out of the market. The company is practically dead.

However, BlackBerry is trying to hold on and win back a share of the market. It's not going well, as the iPhone is extremely popular and already had a loyal customer base.

Still, I can't help but notice the overlap between locovores and iPhone users. This brings me to my question:

Knowing that this factory, which is a major employer in the area, is at risk of shutting down because BlackBerry, its biggest client, has flagging sales, would locovores actually put their philosophy into practice and switch to BlackBerry?

It's one thing for spoiled hipsters to throw more of their plentiful dollars at a frowny farmer so they can feel better about themselves, but I doubt very many of them would purposely downgrade their smartphone. That's not the kind of sacrifice they are used to making.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

It's not a free speech issue. We get it.

During my workday today I heard three conservative talk radio show hosts defend Phil Robertson, the 60-plus conservative Christian who was fired from the show Duck Dynasty by A&E after he explained his opposition to the gay lifestyle in a magazine interview.

In all three cases, the radio hosts started off their defense of Robertson by saying this was not a free speech issue. That concept applies to the government punishing or restricting speech, and this was a case of a private company deciding it didn't want to be associated with Robertson and ending their agreement. After all, speech has consequences and A&E has that right. The hosts then proceeded to criticize A&E for the action they took.

You know, because criticism is a form of free speech.

The hosts in question were Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Pat and Stu, co-hosts of Glenn Beck. Beck himself had retired early for the day.

So imagine my surprise when I got home and every left winger online had written about how Robertson's defenders, and therefor all conservatives, are all claiming A&E violated his freedom of speech.

Truth be told, there were some real examples of folks who said that, including Sarah Palin and apparently, Glenn Beck. There were also some nobody-guests on Fox News at some point during the day and nobodies on Twitter and Facebook pages.

This post isn't about defending Robertson's anti-gay attitudes - a position I reject. It's not about the idea that people who say things we don't like need to go into exile immediately. It's about the categorical thinking involved today.

I'm glad to see people are standing up for the idea that private consequences are not a violation of free speech. They are absolutely correct when they say that and I wish more people understood it.

However, they paint with too wide a brush. There's no evidence to suggest that a majority of conservatives made that too-common error. Some people certainly did, but please don't tell me that an entire group did it. Even Rush Limbaugh dismissed the idea; that's not trivial.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Fake sign language dude signals all the real problems

Thamsanqa Jantjie, the infamous fake sign language interpreter at the Nelson Mandela service president Obama spoke at, represents everything that's wrong in South Africa we don't want to read about.

NPR has revealed that Jantjie was part of a lynch mob that murdered two people in 2003 using a local approach known as "necklacing," where a tire filled with gasoline is forced around the victims neck and lit on fire. He escaped legal punishment by being declared mentally unfit to stand trial.

Following the death of Mandela, South Africa has tried to stuff all of it's problems out of view, and the rest of the world has looked the other way. The high rates of violence, rape and unemployment aren't going away and the African National Congress political party that Mandela belonged to has a corruption problem.

Jantjie is part of that problem, just like he was part of at least one lynch mob. The ANC hired him before to wave his hands around pretending to interpret. It's essentially a no-show job, at least how he does it.

Tellingly, Jantjie tried the victim card when he was exposed. He wants us to believe that he really can perform sign language, but his schizophrenia made him unable to perform so he just waved a lot. There are at least three occasions where he has just waved his arms at an ANC event, so he is at best unfit for the job. That's assuming he does know sign language, which no one should believe.

South Africa has made tremendous strides with the end of the Apartheid government, but let's not fool ourselves. The country still has a long way to go.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

I, Nutella

That simple spread of hazelnut and cocoa that everyone loves has a cross-continental pedigree, as emphasized in a recent report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Nutella combines vanilla flavoring from France, hazelnuts from Turkey, palm oil from Malaysia, sugar from Brazil and cocoa from Nigeria. The OECD used it as an example in a recent report to demonstrate global supply chains and it's gathered a lot of attention.

Nutella would not be possible without globalization. Like a famous essay said about the pencil, each jar contains the labor of thousands of people across the globe. There's no single location on earth that could ever make it without outside help.

Unlike other foods with a lot of ingredients, such as sour cream and salsa pork rinds, Nutella has a highborn reputation. It's artsy to like Nutella. The spread is borderline pretentious. That's very different from the low-status products that are usually associated with globalization like McDonald's food.

Globalization needs a new symbol that can engage people, and Nutella is a perfect choice. Globalization simply means the extension of human cooperation over international lines, instead of restricting it to the immediate area. Violent mobs and fringe speakers have given the word an unpleasant edge to the general public and not enough people name "globalization" as something they support.

Only a gullible fool would balk at spreading delicious Nutella across their bread. Nutella is the beautiful child of international cooperation, and people need to appreciate and understand that origin along with its captivating taste.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Max Alper is an unconvincing liar

Just how long do you have to hold someone hostage before it's considered a crime?

There's a hidden gem inside this news article about anti-gentrification (ie anti-prosperity) activists who held a bus of Google workers captive for half an hour in San Francisco:

A man who screamed at protest organizer Erin McElroy, 31, was later identified as a union worker who was pretending to be a Google employee upset at being delayed by the protest.

Modern protesters love to emphasize that what they're doing is "nonviolent," as if that's the standard of decency. Tell me, does it cross over into violent territory when a mob of brigands holds a group of workers hostage?

Alper tipped his hand by pretending to be a too-convenient obnoxious tech worker, which makes me wonder if McElroy is legit as well. Who outside an Ayn Rand novel would revel in mediocrity with lines against successful companies like "It's creating a system where San Francisco is being flooded with capital, and creating a technology class where other people can't compete" ?

Hat tip to Tyler Cowen for the original link


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Give the O-man a break

President Barack Obama shook hands with Raul Castro at Nelson Mandela's funeral this week, which has brought fake outrage from his critics.

People are reading way too much in this non-incident. Raul Castro is a filthy brute partially responsible for major human rights violations, but his hand is not made of burning embers. Our president is considered the nation's top diplomat, and it does not serve America's interests for our top diplomat to snub someone at a state funeral like high school students at the homecoming dance. It would have be downright rude.

I'm not a supporter of our president and enjoy criticizing him, but this is a petty thing to get upset about. He walked up a set of stairs, Castro offered him his hands and he took it. They exchanged a few pleasantries and the O-man moved on to the next person. It was a simple, spontaneous exchange unworthy of deep analysis.

Our president is a man of empty words and shallow gestures. This is just another one of them.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Would you?

I've seen a few segments from ABC's What Would You Do passed around online. Most of them are good to watch. They're anecdotal examples, not hard data about human behavior, but they always make for great discussions.

This one is different. It's inspiring, and each one is better than the previous one.

I like to think I would have said something, but that's because I'm an opinionated loudmouth who enjoys conflict.

Friday, December 6, 2013

What is Nelson Mandela's legacy?

Too many people assume it's fun to be a contrarian.

I recommend they try wading through this week's inescapable sincere and heartfelt celebrations of the life of Nelson Mandela with a little voice in the back of their minds whispering that they've got it all wrong.

It's not the least bit fun.

When I was a kid our church had a viewing of the movie Sarafina! about South African activists who struggled against the Apartheid government using non-violent protests. This shaped my view on the struggle against Apartheid. I never learned many details about Mandela's life and I always just assumed he was a political prisoner who spent 27 years in prison for nonviolent activism against the clearly evil and racist government before an international campaign convinced them to free him.

I was wrong.

A dozen years ago I did a project for a college class about how South Africa was still plagued with violence, rape and poverty even after Mandela became president. I didn't understand economics at the time but I hit upon the idea that while Mandela was a great resistance leader in an important struggle, he didn't have the right skills to manage a country.

Fast forward to yesterday when after his death this picture surfaced online:

Oh boy.

I'm willing to cut Mandela some slack here. Although he dishonestly denied being a communist, Mandela was something of a Stalinst. However, he adopted these views decades before the fall of the Berlin Wall and wasn't presented with the same evidence we have today. He downgraded slightly over time and became a democratic socialist, and political interference prevented him from putting most of these views into practice when he was president.

He also allied himself with the USSR, China, Fidel Casto and even Muammar Gaddafi.
Yes, he was wrong, and he really should have known better, but having these terrible ideas can be overlooked when it's the man who ended Apartheid.

But that brings up a much more disturbing issue. Mandela's fight against the Apartheid government included terrorism. That's why he went to prison. Mandela tried non-violence and found it ineffective and was one of the founders of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the fighting force for African National Congress, which is the socialist political party that now dominates South Africa. Besides receiving combat training from communists, Umkhonto we Sizwe (which is abbreviated as MK) committed numerous acts of terrorism.

If MK restricted its activities to violence and bomb blasts at government soldiers and buildings I could understand comparing Mandela to America's Founding Fathers in the revolutionary war. However, they also bombed civilians and Mandela may have been part of the planning process, and it seems he continued to do so during his prison sentence.

While some MK operatives went rogue and bombed places without any guidance, such as Andrew Zondo when he bombed a shopping center because it was filled with white people, the group also planted antitank land mines on rural roads, killing at least a score of black laborers.

Did I mention Amnesty International refused to take his case because of his embrace of violence?

Details are murky on what MK actions were planned by Mandela and how many of them he gave his blessing from prison. This is all new to me and many of the sources linking Mandela to terrorist acts from MK are unknown to me and should be treated skeptically. One even has John Birch Society ads next to it. Because of this source quality, I don't feel comfortable labeling him a terrorist.

I asked some friends who studied international politics about this and I was told "I thought everyone knew Manedela was a terrorist." His story, they said, is one of redemption.

Contrast that to the left-wing search results that come up about Mandela and terrorism. There are numerous links out today trying to shame right wingers like Dick Cheney and Ronald Reagan for calling Mandela a terrorist in the past. None of them even mention MK or attempt to discuss the issue. They just want the reader to think it's a wild allegation.

Joan Walsh of Salon declared that Mandela renounced his violent past, but I've been unable to find any quotations where he did so.

This revelation of Mandela using violence to fight Apartheid undermines a lot of the inspirational quotes from Mandela people are passing around, such as "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." Clearly he didn't believe that when he was forming MK.

The Apartheid government was evil, and Mandela made a major contribution to the world in his pivotal role in dismantling it. However, the superficial and outright fanciful stories about his life floating around today are glossing over a lot of important information. It's an extremely lonely feeling to witness everyone else compare a man to Gandhi when you know he had grenades stuffed in his pockets.

Addendum: I'm surprised and impressed to see the most fair, positive, mature, warts-and-all obituary come from Breitbart. Some of the facts I came across are different than in here, such as its distancing him from terrorist planning, and I still endorse it. Please read.


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

At least the title is honest

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services' Healthy Young America video contest is over, which was a contest for someone to write a song encouraging young people to sign up for Obamacare, something they are legally required to do anways.

Announced this week, the winning song is titled "Forget About the Price Tag."

There's nothing I could add here that would be more scathing or humorous than that, so I'm going to say it again.

The winning song is titled Forget About the Price Tag.


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The White House and the economy

I've long held the belief that what party holds the presidency has little impact on the economy. Perhaps I'd hold this view less if the economy didn't do better on average when the Democrats are in the White House, but that's the nature of bias.

Still, there are plenty of people who claim that the economic policies of Democrats must be superior because of GDP performance during their terms as president. Here's what the GDP growth numbers look like from an analysis by Alan Blinder and Mark Watson of Princeton:

Notice that the numbers leave out FDR, who took office during the Great Depression, and start during Harry Truman's second term. However, if one starts with Nixon in 1969 the averages look a lot more even, although the Democrats still win the contest.

What Blinder and Watson set out to do was respond to that claim that a Democrat in the White House is the reason the economy got better.

The superiority of economic performance under Democrats rather than Republicans is nearly ubiquitous; it holds almost regardless of how you define success. By many measures, the performance gap is startlingly large--so large, in fact, that it strains credulity, given how little influence over the economy most economists (or the Constitution, for that matter) assign to the President of the United States.

My usual response has been that the president is a small factor and the party distribution in Congress also plays a role, such as the Republican led Congress during Clinton's time in office. But they found that on average, the party in Congress is not the deciding factor either. It's also not the conditions the president inherited when he came into office. Instead, it's a bit of luck:

Democrats would no doubt like to attribute the large D-R growth gap to better macroeconomic policies, but the data do not support such a claim….It seems we must look instead to several variables that are mostly “good luck.” Specifically, Democratic presidents have experienced, on average, better oil shocks than Republicans, a better legacy of (utilization-adjusted) productivity shocks, and more optimistic consumer expectations.

Please keep in mind that Blinder has been a high-profile economist for Democrats and the conclusion is not a love letter to those connections. Bravo to him.

It looks like we all need a reality check on our political positions now and then, myself included. Luck is a very unsatisfying answer, as I strongly believe that institutions matter and one would expect the policies we choose would play a larger role in growth.

Perhaps in a way they do. Are the macroeconomic policies of Republicans and Democrats really that different? We think of them as opposites, but both parties agree on a lot of issues. Our current president has an economic team filled with people who believe in markets; heavily regulated markets, but markets none the less. The GOP gets votes by saying it will shrink the size of the federal government, a promise it always breaks. Tax rates are a point of disagreement, but President Obama isn't seriously considering bringing a single bracket above the Clinton rate.

In a historic perspective, the policy differences are small and from a quarter that already has a limited impact on the economy. From the small sample size of the modern presidents, luck is a perfectly rational explanation.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Greg Mankiw takes on the Pope

Pope Francis's anti-capitalist remarks have received the attention of Greg Mankiw as well. He made two points that I made in my response, that it's well established that capitalism has made the world a better place, and the Pope's use of "trickle-down" was a pejorative and not the name of an actual theory.

But then Mankiw made a point I wish I had though of:

Third, as far as I know, the pope did not address the tax-exempt status of the church. I would be eager to hear his views on that issue. Maybe he thinks the tax benefits the church receives do some good when they trickle down.

In the Communist Manifesto Karl Marx wrote that capitalism has been an essential part of the world's progress, but that it is no longer useful. Specifically, he said:

It has accomplished wonders far surpassing Egyptian pyramids, Roman aqueducts, and Gothic cathedrals; it has conducted expeditions that put in the shade all former Exoduses of nations and crusades.

There is a thought being passed in some parts of the modern left that capitalism has never contributed to advances in civilization, and Pope Francis appears to subscribe to that view. It's troubling to think that there are people today, serious upright breathing people, that hold views to the left of Karl Marx.


Friday, November 29, 2013

Gay unprotected sex and the cycle of ignorance

The New Yorker has an interesting piece on a phenomena I call the cycle of ignorance and how its harming young gay men too young to have lived through the AIDS crisis of the 1980s.

Michael Specter writes:

I have covered wars, before the epidemic began and since. They are all ugly and painful and unjust, but for me, nothing has matched the dread I felt while walking through the Castro, the Village, or Dupont Circle at the height of the AIDS epidemic. It could seem as if a neutron bomb had exploded: the buildings stood; cars were parked along the roadside; there were newsstands and shops and planes flying overhead. But the people on the street were dying. The Castro was lined with thirty-year-old men who walked, when they could, with canes or by leaning on the arms of their slightly healthier lovers and friends. Wheelchairs filled the sidewalks. San Francisco had become a city of cadavers.

But today's young gay population never witnessed those horrors, and they're letting their guard down to the AIDS menance. Specter quotes Thomas R. Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where he lays out the dangers:

"Unprotected anal intercourse is in a league of its own as far as risk is concerned," he said. Three decades of data demonstrate the truth of that statement. If unprotected anal intercourse is rising among gay men—a trend noted not just in America but in much of the Western world—the rates of HIV infection will surely follow.

Just like with socialism, alternative medicine and vaccines, people living today need to learn about the past before they doom the rest of the world to relive it.


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The sheep of a different shepherd

I'm still trying to wrap my head around this.

For as long as I can remember, the left has been mocking the clout of the Pope, and lamented whenever he and other religious leaders weighed in on issues outside of their realm or understanding, such as family structures, evolution and the direction of society.

But suddenly, the new Pope makes some generic anti-capitalist proclamations and the liberal blogosphere breaks out its rosary beads.

Pope Francis wrote some liberal arts-style paragraphs filled with left-wing buzz words like "trickle-down" and "justice." For example:

...Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.
Even Yglesias got in on this, and less than a week after he wrote a great post blasting a self-described socialist loony. A real shame with that boy, sometimes.

Matt Welch completely closed the book on this issue, saving me from having to go through the monumental task of explaining to a potentially hostile audience why we should support capitalism, something that has unquestionably made the world a better place.


Monday, November 25, 2013

Bogus trade arguments are often made in America

Once again I am compelled to remind people that good graphics and snazzy background music are no substitute for proper academic research.

Someone sent Mike Munger a video entitle "Million American Jobs Project" that rehashes the old protectionist get-rich scheme of diverting consumer spending to domestic products while ignoring higher costs and the wealth destruction that follows.

The entire thing appears to be a rip off of ABC's Made in America political campaign from a few years ago, right down to the bogus claim that unnamed economists back up what they're saying.

If each of us spends just 5 percent more on things made in America, economists say we will create a minimum of a million new jobs for Americans.

That's a lie. You're a liar, Mr. nice sweater with rolled-up sleeves to express you devotion to hard work. Your "research" was also a complete farce, as American manufacturing jobs didn't leave so much as get replaced by labor-saving technologies. That's why production levels rose as employment levels fell.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Conspiracy theory reality check 101

I have a column printed today giving a hard introduction to the pitfalls of conspiracy theories. I used the anniversary of JFK's death as a leaping-off point. For example:

The most important thing to understand about conspiracy theorists is that they do not work to build a solid case to prove their conclusion. Instead, they hunt for anomalies -- little things that seem odd to someone who doesn't know much about the subject.

The piece will be old hat for anyone familiar with skeptical analyses of conspiracy theories, as I was writing for a general audience and I wanted them to walk away a little better prepared to combat the nonsense conspiracy theories lob at the world.

Friday, November 22, 2013

A lesson we never learned

It's very difficult to make it through this week without learning that today is the 50 year anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

There's a big misconception that JFK was an important civil rights leader, and that that may have cost him his life. This is very wrong for two important reasons.

Despite what folk songs tell you, Kennedy did not consider the civil rights of black Americans a priority and did little to help them. He was much more concerned with the future of the Democratic party and as a senator in 1957 he voted against civil rights legislation. In the words of the BBC's Nick Bryant, he was a bystander on civil rights for the first two and a half years of his three years in office. The only contributions he made were in words, not actions:

At times, however, his rhetoric was considered inadequate. James Meredith, whose determination to register as the first black student at University of Mississippi led to one of the climactic battles of the civil rights era, submitted his application in anger at Kennedy's failure during his inaugural address to denounce the evil of segregation... 
On civil rights, his early inaction as president led white segregationists to believe they could prolong segregation, and prompted black protesters to adopt more provocative tactics and make more radical demands.

The other big reason why Kennedy should not be considered a civil rights martyr is that we know what motivated his killer. For reasons I won't get into here, it's well established that Lee Harvery Oswald assassinated the president. Oswald was a communist and Kennedy focused a lot of his energy on fighting communism.

A recent New York Times piece about the political climate in Dallas in 1963 as compared to today tried to blame right-wing extremism on Kennedy's death, but it had to admit that Oswald was to the left of Bernie Sanders with this reluctant paragraph:

Lee Harvey Oswald was a Marxist and not a product of right-wing Dallas. But because the anti-Kennedy tenor came not so much from radical outcasts but from parts of mainstream Dallas, some say the anger seemed to come with the city’s informal blessing.

"Some say" being reporter lingo for "A point I wanted to make in the story but couldn't find anyone to say it for me."

Kennedy was behind the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, went through the tense Cuban Missile Crisis and was a friend and defender of Sen. Joseph McCarthy. His policy of containment and reversal for communist influence was called the Kennedy Doctrine.

In his book "Death of a President" William Manchester quoted JFK's wife Jackie as saying "He didn't even have the satisfaction of being killed for civil rights... It had to be some silly little communist."

Kennedy's murder is a tragedy, and a tragedy we should learn from, but we can't ever learn anything if we hide behind myths and stories. Something Steven Pinker said tells us exactly what that lesson is:

...there are ideologies, such as those of militant religions, nationalism, Nazism, and Communism, that justify vast outlays of violence by a Utopian cost-benefit analysis: if your belief system holds out the hope of a world that will be infinitely good forever, how much violence are you entitled to perpetrate in pursuit of this infinitely perfect world? 
Well, as much as much as you want, and you're always ahead of the game. The benefits always outweigh the costs. Moreover, imagine that there are people who hear about your scheme for a perfect world and just don't get with the program. They might oppose you in bringing heaven to earth. How evil are they? They're the only things standing in the way of an infinitely good Earth. Well, you do the math.

Kennedy was a martyr in the battle against communism, a battle that we may have to fight again one day. Let's make sure we learn before history repeats itself.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Real or fake?

There's an anti-gun website that is so off the wall that it's difficult to decide if it's sincere or genuine.

Trayvon's Amendment is supposedly written by Richard Cabeza, who is using the online moniker StabAGunNut to promote a web page supposedly showing his idea for "common sense gun reform."

Why is it that whenever someone invokes common sense they are unable to use hard evidence?

The 12-point "amendment" proposed by the author starts in a believable fashion, but then it begins to pile on specific policy measures and short-sighted contemporary references into what is supposed to be a timeless document.

The first point is to repeal the Second Amendment. No big surprise there, but the author keeps cobbling on bizarre, unrelated left-wing issues in an amusing fashion.

For example, provision four:

An income tax equal to 4% of an individual’s income will be assessed by all gun owners. In states which were at any point in time a part of the Confederate States of America, this tax shall be equal to 10% of an individual’s income. Taxes levied under this amendment shall be appropriated in equal portions to programs to expand Affirmative Action programs and begin to pay reparations to the descendants of African slaves.

Number seven isn't even possible:

All firearms must be retrofitted with both a global positioning transmitter as well as a fingerprint activated locking mechanism. Failure to comply with this provision will result in a fine, prison time, and forfeiture of the privilege of firearm ownership.

Number eight is just left-wing fury:

The National Rifle Association, Michigan Militia, and other “gun rights” groups shall be considered terrorist operations.

At first reading, it really does look like someone created this to mock liberals. The proposed amendment mentions president Barack Obama and the Affordable Care Act several times in a way no serious person could expect an actual Constitutional document to be written.

And yet, I believe it's 100 percent serious.

If not, the author is doing a remarkable job on Reddit playing the role of someone defending these ideas. The replies to serious criticism are just as over the top as the website

Some choice gems from the Reddit thread are when he was told gun manufacturers would just move to Canada, he responded with:

We can replace those minimum wage manufacturing jobs with high paying government enforcement jobs.

If a comedian wrote that it'd be brilliant.

When told that labeling pro-gun groups as terrorists and if he ever heard of McCarthyism, Cabeza responded:

Yes, I do remember McCarthyism, and I am still treated as a terrorist because I openly vote Socialist. Turnabout is fair play.

No one is this talented a satirist. No one. This website is absolutely real, and I will continue to say that until someone pries my keyboard from my cold, dead hands.


Monday, November 18, 2013

It's like rooting for the Washington Generals

Forgive C. Bradley Thompson for not having a wall of books in his office and being forced to record this short video in a library. He asks a very good question:

"Why do [people] become communists, despite everything we know about communism?"

The full video, with his answer, is here.


Saturday, November 16, 2013

Planned obsolescence doesn't exist

In 1992 my 4th grade public school teacher gave me a religious pamphlet.

It wasn't about Christ, the paper was cheap recycled newsprint and the sermon was about environmentalism and the depravity of capitalism, but it was very much a religious pamphlet. That's not to say that preserving the environment is an unworthy cause, but unexamined faith is required to believe the fable in this comic book-style magazine.

The pamphlet each student in my class received told about a fictional video game console that was hugely popular. Players needed to buy the system and its game cartridges, but the catch was they were designed to break and shut down after three months so parents would have to buy new ones. Which, of course, they did.

"Of course" meaning it's what people did in this flimsy narrative. In the real world they would switch to a competitor.

The strained hook at environmentalism was that these video game systems wasted resources when they were purchased over and over again and thrown away. The muted-color comic told us that real-life corporate executives are so evil that they actually do this and the toys we want so bad are tainted with their greed and must be shunned.

Even as a 10-year-old I knew this was a far-fetched and dishonest story, but sadly many adults fall for similar tales today.

For years I've heard anti-capitalists talk about a conspiracy theory called planned obsolescence, where companies design products to become outdated or useless in a short amount of time to force customers to buy replacements. A recent example is the idea that Apple is purposely using software updates to slow down older iPhone models so people will have to buy new ones.

But as New York Times economics columnist Catherine Rampell recently wrote there are perfectly rational explanations for these things:

Of course, lots of these signs of “planned obsolescence” have alternative and more benign explanations, related to design, efficiency and innovation. Sure, software upgrades may make older phones run more slowly, but that could be a side effect rather than the primary intention; newer software does more sophisticated stuff (3-D maps! Photo filters! AirDrop!) intended to take advantage of the hardware capabilities of the newest phones, and these more sophisticated features happen to be quite taxing on previous-generation hardware.

She went on to say that Apple knows its customers want to upgrade to the new models every few years anyways, so why bother making them more expensive just so they will last forever. Imagine if a 1970's tailor made leisure suits that would stay crisp for all eternity, and charged extra for them.

It's telling that when she spoke to people alleging planned obsolescence, their accusations always came without evidence:

I spoke with a lot of technology experts for the Magazine column, and their interpretations of Apple’s design decisions were all over the map. Some suggested that yes, Apple is deliberately limiting its technology’s lifespan to harvest more sales from its existing user base. Others said no — the brand hit that Apple would take for doing this would be too damaging, and Apple knows it. Since the column was published, I have likewise seen plenty of reader emails and technology blog posts insisting that Apple is either obviously engaging in planned obsolescence or obviously not.

Some of the accusations of planned obsolescence are downright stupid. For example, the ones in the poorly-researched "Story of Stuff" video.

After alleging that DVDs were introduced in 1995 with the intention of replacing them with Blu-ray discs, streaming video and digital downloads, but before she suggests that flat screen monitors were held back from production for several decade so consumers could purchase bulkier versions, narrator Annie Leonard says something so moronic about personal computers that an Amish minister would laugh.

I opened up a big desktop computer to see what was inside and I found out that the piece that changes each year is just a tiny little piece in the corner. But you can't change that one piece because each new version is a different shape so you gotta chuck the whole thing and buy a new one.

No one, absolutely no one, should believe such an outrageous tall tale about mysterious unnamed computer pieces that don't fit and don't have converter cables. She must live in a world where nerds don't build their own desktop computers or use expansion slots. Anyone competent enough to plug in a monitor knows what she's saying is an inexcusable lie. She flat-out made that up.

Her follow-up line "So I was reading industrial design journals from the 1950's" should be accompanied by a rimshot. No she wasn't. According to Lee Doren, those journals she claims were talking about making products break were really talking about weighing the cost of the expensive indestructible leisure suit from paragraph 10.

The most important thing to remember when considering planned obsolesce is Bertrand Russell's cosmic teapot analogy, where anyone can claim a China teapot is caught in orbit around the planet Mars and dare others to prove them wrong. The burden of proof lies on the claim-maker, otherwise buffoons can invent fanciful stories and proclaim them true until another person can muster the evidence the disprove it.

Planned obsolescence is a legend, and a far-fetched one at that. It is up to the claim-makers to present their evidence, and after decades of spinning stories they have failed to do so.


Thursday, November 14, 2013

SeaTac is the canary in the coalmine

It looks like we have a natural experiment on our hands, although not the best one.

Voters in Washington state approved a $15 minimum wage for SeaTac airport employees. Sort of.

This is being misreported as a minimum wage for all of Seattle or all airport employees. SeaTac is technically a city, but this is mostly about the airport. The wording for Proposition 1 is long and complex, and the exceptions are getting lost in the shuffle.

This new minimum wages does not affect restaurants outside of the airport, grocery stores, most small businesses and hotels with both less than 10 rooms and 30 rank-and-file employees. It doesn't even affect some small businesses inside the airport.

While I look forward to a natural experiment to show the effects of the minimum wage, such as pricing low-skilled workers out of the job market, this experiment has a lot of variables that will soften the damage.

It's bad enough that Seattle voters accepted a socialist economic instructor who supports rent control (this is like a Republican biology professor who supports creationism) but their golden opportunity at a natural experiment is bogged down in compromises. The harm from this policy will still be real, but it won't be as acute and jagged as an actual across-the-board $15 hourly wage would. I fear that more people will have to suffer when the experiment is inevitably repeated.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A political parallel

I think left-wing veterans fill the same role as black republicans. In both cases, political activists can display them as if to say, "See, he's one of them and he agrees with our politics."

Sunday, November 10, 2013

No more blacklists

This weekend I saw Ender's Game in a theater. I probably wouldn't have if I hadn't heard so many shallow protesters rallying against it.

The skinny is the book is based on a novel written by Orson Scott Card, who is an opponent of gay marriage. While that element makes no appearance in his work, lefties have been leading unsuccessful boycotts of anything vaguely related to him for years.

Which makes simply watching this movie a political act.

While I've been a firm defender of gay marriage for more than a decade, I am opposed to blacklisting art because of the personal beliefs of the creator, such as the ban on Wagner's music in Israel.

Now personally I won't watch a Roman Polanski film or listen to a Chris Brown song. I thought the University of Southern Maine was correct to pull an art show painted by a cop killer. So what's the difference? For one, those are actual illegal actions committed by people, not ideas. At this time, about 40 percent of Americans are opposed to gay marriage and while I reject their reasoning, I find it absurd to treat each and every one of them as history's greatest monster.

Meanwhile, as much as I loathe Marxism, I've never boycotted a movie because an actor in it supports socialism. If I did, I'd have very few movies I could see.

These boycotts of Card's work are a disproportionate response to a common view that is on it's way out. It is troubling that there is more organized opposition to card's film than there is to the ongoing work of an escaped child rapist.

These protests both drew my attention towards the Ender's Game movie and made it into a sort of forbidden fruit. I doubt I would have bothered to see it otherwise.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Sadly, it wasn't true

Remember that Reddit post about sous chefs stealing from someones garden? That thing I said was probably a hoax?

The author admitted it was a hoax on a podcast. Before doing that, had gone on a local TV news station to reiterate the story, adding more artful, unlikely details like finding beard nets and recipe cards left behind. This thing is faker than a socialist utopia.

Rereading my post about it, I'm glad to see that every single line I wrote about it was skeptical. However, I still feel kind of sheepish that I didn't hit home a firm conclusion. In my defense, I didn't grasp that all of the items he accused them of stealing were weeds. I thought there was a garden somewhere in there too.

That being said, the idea of food snobs going out of their way to eat weeds is very real.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

How not to save journalism

Lori Kilchermann, the editor of the Sentinel-Standard in Ionia, Michigan, has lost her defamation lawsuit against readers who accused her of "yellow journalism." A circuit court judge dismissed the case, saying those opinions were protected speech under the First Amendment.

Of course.

It's a complete travesty that this case made it to court, and the defendants will still have to pay for their legal defense. It's bad enough that a newspaper editor tried to silence her critics with a lawsuit, but where was the rest of the paper's employees? Why didn't the publisher or paper owner tell her to knock it off? Why were there no young reporters quitting out of protest in public displays? Why is there no known criticism from inside the paper that went public?

Newspapers already have enough problems today; we don't need nonsense like this added to the pile.

Monday, November 4, 2013

The superficiality of secular political cries

Why do I even bother clicking on links at anymore?

The title of CJ Werleman's new piece Atheists can't be Republicans caught my eye and I got my hopes up, expecting a good challenge to my views. I thought it would go along the lines of what I wrote about last year piggybacking Andrew Sullivan's calls for gays to avoid the Republican party. The GOP treats both groups poorly and Sullivan argued they don't deserve their votes, even if they agree on economic issues.

Instead, what I got from Werleman was a collection of left-wing talking points and a statement that secular people should support his solutions to them. In all cases, the political points were shallow and his solutions were left unexamined. Here's a typical example:

Atheists like to talk about building a better world, one that is absent of religiosity in the public square, but where are the atheist groups on helping tackle the single biggest tear in the fabric of our society — wealth disparity? They are nowhere. Its absence on the most pressing moral issue of our time makes it difficult for the movement to establish meaningful partnerships with other moral communities.

At several points Werleman calls income equality the biggest issue of today, a dubious and myopic position. At no time does he make a strong case for why left-wing solutions are the correct answer. Instead, he preaches to the choir and insists that people like me don't care about the suffering of others.

This isn't as bad as last month's Salon piece about a 10 year old Zelda game, but this is bigger than one cranky website. As a secular conservative I'm constantly berated with these perfunctory and glib recitals of left wing views. As Jonathan Haidt put it, there's a lot of locker room talk where everyone assumes they are on the same page.

I'm not demanding that secular people change their views or drift to the right, but I don't think they realize just how pig-headed they are being when political issues come up. Maybe if they bothered to learn what people like me actually think they wouldn't considered every political issue settled and resolved.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Why you're wrong about rhino hunting

Everyone is freaking out about a Texas hunting club's auction for a permit to bag an endangered black rhino in Namibia.

Don't worry, it's going to be OK. I realize it sounds crazy, but there's a program here most people haven't heard about that really is helping endangered rhinos, elephants and other species make a comeback in Namibia.

The knee-jerk response is that the members of the Dallas Safari Club are being insincere when they say the money will help save the black rhino herd. People assume this is Daenerys Targaryen selling one of her dragons to buy slave soldiers to take back the throne, a price that will mutilate the very body they are trying to save.

But really, this is about incentives. As longtime EconTalk listeners will remember, Karol Bourdreaux explained the idea behind Namibia's community based natural resources management program in 2008. In her words, they wanted to treat elephants more like chickens and less like whales.

Humans eat chickens, and instead of depleting the number of chickens in the world that has caused the world chicken population to rise to 50 billion. People take care of chickens because they are a source of food or profit.

Whales, on the other hand, are threatened and people in most parts of the world are not allowed to hunt them for blubber. Some still do. The only people that try to stop them are activists and authority figures, and neither of them are doing a particularly good job.

Namibia's program empowers the people of villages to sell a limited number of hunting permits for endangered animals. Yes, that should stir your belly in a bad way at first, but listen to the logic. The villagers all profit from the sales, and because there's money in those rhinos and elephants they step up and fight poachers as a community. They all have a financial incentive to protect the animals, and the ones that are shot tend to be old and no longer able to reproduce.

The Dallas Safari Club is simply auctioning off one of those permits on their own.

CNN spoke with Chris Weaver, head of World Wildlife Fund-Namibia, about the program and it's knee-jerk reaction from animal rights activists.

There are other effects of the conservancy program, some that don't follow strict principals of conservation. The practice of trophy hunting has proved controversial, invoking ire from various animal rights activists. Yet Weaver sees it as beneficial to preservation. 
"From my perspective, we're trying to conserve the species, not the individual animal, and this creates a benefit when it's done in a well-regulated fashion, and the benefits go to the local community," he says.

That's really all one needs to know about the program, which has been in place since 1996. The people of Namibia have a successful program to save endangered species that has the slight disadvantage of being morally repugnant to Americans who, at best, possess a superficial understanding of how it works. It's our turn to listen to them about how to save their own animals.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Local Kleptocracy

Are locavores really so entitled that they will steal from local gardens. A recent Reddit post from Portland, Ore. claims they are.

Homeowners: How do you keep local sous chefs from harvesting urban edibles on your property?
I have tried posting signs, yet they still seem to find a way into my yard to harvest everything from nettles and catmint to borage and grape leaves. I even built a six-foot tall fence, but they are still managing to get in. I have called the offending restaurants to ask them to tell their sous chefs to stop trespassing, but so far they seem undeterred. I have also offered to let them onto my property with my supervision, but they mostly seem to come out while I'm at work so everything can be prepped for their dinner service. It was fine when they were just harvesting pineapple weed and mallow from the alley and the parking strip, although it was admittedly a little off-putting. I'm also totally cool with them picking the crab apples because some of the branches are in the public right of way. But yesterday my neighbor called to let me know she had to help a sous chef who got stuck on top of my fence holding a baggie full of chicory leaves. I get that part of living in inner SE is dealing with locavore sous chefs and all the problems that follow them, but it is frustrating and kind of scary knowing that they are constantly combing my yard for garnishes while I'm away.

I'm skeptical about the authenticity of this post. The caller somehow knows which restaurants to call. The repeated name-dropping of herbs seems like a literary device. Most quizzical of all, there are plenty of dishonest people that sell to locavores by lying about the origins of their ingredients, so why wouldn't they simply lie to people instead of taking such strange risks?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Unmasked censorship

Students at one of the University of Colorado campuses have been forbidden to wear Halloween costumes that will upset the Easily Offended Community

University students in America have been told not to wear "offensive" Halloween costumes including cowboys, Indians and anything involving a sombrero. 
Students at the University of Colorado Boulder have also been told to avoid "white trash" costumes and anything that portrays a particular culture as "over-sexualised" - which the university says includes dressing up as a geisha or a "squaw" (indigenous woman).

Cowboys? Cowboys? They don't need your steeeeinking protection, senor. I thought this was just going to be a group of racial stereotypes, but its apparent institutionalized emotional weakness knows no bounds.

Do college students even realize when their freedom of expression is being trampled anymore? This bogus notion that people have a right not to be offended is taking root in their minds and it has to have come from somewhere. While colleges love to give shout-outs to free speech, their actions betray the hollowness of those statements.

Personally, I'm offended that male newpaper reporters were left off the list of overly-sexualized stereotypes. When will my personal suffering ever stop?


Sunday, October 27, 2013

Speech has consequence

While in traffic yesterday NPR stole nearly half an hour of my life with a polemic against Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

It wouldn't be so bad if NPR would just acknowledge that it has a slant in its coverage. That would be one thing. Instead, it pretends to be neutral while airing obviously biased pieces like yesterday's 28 minute one from Ben Calhoun. It starts at the 30 minute mark at this link.

More than 900,000 people signed a petition in 2011 and 2012 to hold a recall election intended to remove Walker from office when he took several measures against public unions. Walker ended up winning that election with 53.1 percent of the vote, higher than his 52.25 percent win in 2010 against the same opponent.

NPR followed the story of Josh Inglett, a college student who was vying for a seat on the state college's board of regents. There are 18 seats, two of which goes to students, and all are nominated by the governor's office and approved by the state senate. Board members appoint university administration members and give money to student groups collected from student activity fees.

After Inglett was nominated by one of Walker's cabinet members but before the senate confirmed him, conservative bloggers matched Inglett's name to one of the people who signed the recall petition. Walker's office took back the nomination.

Calhoun played interview clips from four other people in the piece: Inglett, a state senator who supported Inglett, a judge who lost an election after bloggers revealed that he also signed the petition and one of the conservative bloggers. In all cases, he selected clips to say that Walker was using the petition signatures as an "enemies list" and weaved a narrative that said the GOP is using that list to destroy people.

This is, of course, ridiculous. As demonstrated in Calhoun's own narrative, it was bloggers who combed through the list and put Walker on the spot asking why he nominated someone. It was only after that that the offer for a ceremonial position on a board was taken away.

Signing the recall position was a pretty extreme act, and while people have the right to do it, they need to remember that publicly stating political positions has consequences. That's Free Speech 101.

If I was so inclined I could write a foolish, angry post calling president Obama a socialist. I'm not going to do it, but technically, I could. If I chose to do that and was later set to appear in a White House photo op, shouldn't I expect trouble when the post comes to light?

Calhoun makes a big deal that Inglett is a registered Republican and says that he supports Walker, but only signed the petition on a whim because he thought it would save his mom from being fired from her substitute teaching job. He later added that he doesn't regret signing it. That's a major contradiction and I don't buy it. I also noticed that since Walker got what he wanted there was no mention about Inglett's mom losing her  job after all.

There was also a part where Calhoun said he spoke to Joe Voiland, the new judge who outed petition-signing Tom Wolfgram, but we never hear Voiland himself speak. I imagine it's because he made too many good points when he spoke and it might turn out like this:

When Voiland announced his candidacy in January and called Wolfgram out for signing the petition, the judge said his signature was "not a political statement" in opposition to the governor. 
Voiland described the explanation as "misleading hogwash." 

Wolfgram got to talk on the program, but was paraded out like his signature was meaningless. We're told that he is a loyal Republican who signed it because Walker's anti-union actions happened too fast for the public to weigh in.

"Misleading hogwash" sounds about right. Can't any of these people own their actions?

Speech has consequences, and despite this report's attempts to act like signing a recall petition is a trivial affair, no one here should be surprised what happened. People were held accountable for taking sides, nothing more.


Friday, October 25, 2013

Where do wages come from?

We've all heard the imaginative tales innocent children will concoct when they try to figure out where babies come from. Does the mother's belly open like a breadbox to deposit the child when it's ready? Do storks or pixies or ancestral spirits bring the child from another realm? Kids don't know so they make up the best answer they can, despite lacking important information.

That's a perfect parallel to what happens when many adults try to explain where wages come from. There are oodles of stories surfacing about how workers of major corporations often collect some kind of government assistance, and they make the claim that the company is costing the government money because its wages aren't high enough.

Here's a typical example, with its description of Domino's:

Domino’s has more than doubled its net income since 2008, when the company posted $54 million in earnings. Many of Domino's employees are likely enrolled in government programs. According to [the National Employment Law Project], the company could have raised employee wages rather than spend that money expanding aggressively overseas and investing heavily in technology aimed at easing the ordering and delivery process. The stock has surged over the last five years with the share price up more than 900%. Meanwhile, the compensation of J. Patrick Doyle, Domino’s CEO since 2010, amounted to more than $6 million in 2011 and more than $9 million in 2012.

Somewhere in America, a writer thinks that wages come from the stork.

How else could you explain this reckless assumption that Domino's would have dumped its investment money onto its low-skilled employees? To the economically-ignorant, wages are a gift employers give to employees because they are nice. To those with economic understanding, wages are determined by the market and will reach the dollar amount required to attract a competent workforce

I was a Domino's driver in college and it was best money I had made at that time. It paid more than the small businesses and large corporations I had worked at before. It also took little skill and there were tons of people qualified to do the same job. If wages were raised, I doubt I would have been able to keep my job, as adults with more work experience would leave their fields and take the positions away from people like me. Without these kinds of low-paying jobs, young workers can not get a break into the workforce.

Noticeably, the article's estimate for what the government gives in assistance to Domino's Workers ($126 million) is more than the companies annual profits ($112 million) and CEO compensation ($9.1 million) combined. The author insists that the company should have avoided expanding their business and making capital investments and instead give cash gifts to employees.

Does this person also believe in unicorns? What a downright idiotic thing to write.

By the way, since the writer is so bitter about the $3 million increase in the CEO's compensation package between 2011 and 2012, why not simply divide it between all the employees. I'm sure that annual increase of $40.58 per employee would go a long way.

Welfare programs that cut off benefits when workers find some work trap people in poverty. If someone has low skills and few offers, they can lose money if they take a job and sacrifice their government benefits. It's a positive thing that these people are working while on government assistance. The alternative these shallow activists seek would lead to higher government assistance costs and more people blocked from working.

By the way, anyone worried that Domino's pizza workers aren't making enough money can try giving a generous tip.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Silent snobs

The pretentiously-named New York City restaurant "Eat" serves all of its meals in total silence. No one, not even the waitstaff or diners, are allowed to speak once they enter.

Of course, it's also got a plan to save the world.

Our philosophy is simple: Local organic food is best for the community, the environment, and your body, and that is what we choose to serve.

The facts say otherwise about local and organic, of course, but let's set that aside for a moment. How could anyone possibly enjoy local, organic food if they can't spend half of the meal praising themselves for sacrificing excessive amounts of money on versions of food that are out of reach to common people? Are we to believe they simply gloat in silence?


Monday, October 21, 2013

The veil of money

One of the simplest ways to think of John Maynard Keynes revolutionary idea of increasing aggregate demand to end a recession is to forget about money and just think about people working and consuming.

Keynes rejected the classical idea that unwanted unemployment only came from two sources: Workers were unwilling to work for the wages offered and workers had trouble finding the jobs that were out there. He proposed the idea that there could be more unemployed workers than jobs available to them, and his solution was to have the government create more jobs for the unemployed.

That's the basics right there, with no calculations about money. I find this is an effective way to think about economics, as money brings needless complexity that confuses and intimidates people who are new to economics. Money is just a proxy for resources and my advice for novice economic thinkers is to strip away the veil of money and concentrate on the activities in the economy: What workers are doing, what technology is helping them along, how much they are consuming and how much they are producing.

I've long argued that Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel is a great place to start when thinking of how economies work. Diamond spoke of a primitive tribe where five people labor to feed five people and the tribe never advances. However, a tribe in a fertile land where four people can work to feed five people leaves that extra worker to build, research, invent or craft other things. Another society will have three people work to feed five people and see more advances. Our current society has gone very far on that same spectrum and needs two people to feed 100.

Sure, those 98 people who are not producing food need some way to get the other two to give them food. In modern times we recognize that that comes from money, credit, trade, sharing, charity and welfare payments, but those concepts are part of the veil that can be stripped away.

When trying to think about economies, try forgetting about money and many things will start to make sense. Conversely, needlessly including money can lead to many fallacies, such as the fabled free lunch myth.


Saturday, October 19, 2013

We're stuck with Marxism forever

Writing for Tablet magazine, Michelle Goldberg tells us that Marxism is gaining popularity with young people.

Of course it is. Marxism will always be with us.

It's like a remake of "No Exit" where human society's punishment for its frequent callowness and ignorance is to be trapped with Marxists for all eternity.

Like it or not, we will always have capitalism and Marxism in our social order, but for very different reasons.

Capitalism will always be with us because it works. It's not very popular, its imperfect and causes known problems, but still it works. Even if a group of people destroy it and forbid its return, the general public will secretly toil to bring it back simply because it works.

Marxism, in its many forms, will always come back because its general platitudes appeal to the uninformed. It makes great promises and forms a secular religion, where all the inequalities of society can be burned away in the casting of a great utopia.

Goldberg's piece tells us that the 20-somethings of today are too young to remember the Soviet Union but old enough to have their lives damaged by the 2007 financial crisis, and while the group as a whole isn't turning to Marxism, there is a large trend. She even referenced a 2011 Pew Research poll that showed 18-to-29-year-olds buck the trend and have a more favorable view of socialism than of capitalism.

What's going on here is the Cycle of Ignorance, where past generations have experienced the folly of things like Marxism, patent medicines and doomsday prophecies but the younger generation missed those lessons and have to learn the hard way. Eventually they become the older generation, but by then there are more young people who just won't listen.

Naturally, some of those who lived through the first iteration of these arguments—and the subsequent cultural disillusionment with left-wing radicalism—will find all this irritating, if not infuriating. There are, after all, good reasons that Marxist political economy fell out of fashion. And it’s true some of the leftmost communist revivalists are disturbingly blithe about the past; at times one senses a self-satisfied avant-garde delight in making outrageous pronouncements. In The Communist Horizon, part of Verso’s Pocket Communism series, the newly fashionable academic Jodi Dean, a professor of Political Science at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, airily dismisses the “circumscribed imaginary” in which “communism as Stalinism is linked to authoritarianism, prison camps, and the inadmissibility of criticism,” as if such links are a neoliberal fabrication.

There will be countless articles in the future about the return of Marxism. Long after the current generation of Marxists are dead and the mass graves of citizens subjected to a socialist revolution have been paved over, there will be other revivals. Each time, those enlightened by calamity will swear that they will never let it happen again, but after they die their books and essays will be shrugged aside by innocent little monsters who think they have stumbled onto something foolproof.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Piling on the Zelda piece

If you thought my post on Jon Hochschartner's article titled "'The Legend of Zelda' is classist, sexist and racist" was harsh - and it was - you need to see Matthew Julius's response.

Hochshartner’s article reads like something just the worst kind of English major would vomit up after two days of class. It’s a muddled mess of poorly developed points depending on overdetermined signifiers and false profundity; Hochshartner’s article is the equivalent of a high school AP Literature student writing about how everything in a book totally makes sense when you think about how trees are totally penises... 
Even the better argued parts of the article are completely flawed: the racism paragraph is oversimplified to the point where any actual analysis is impossible, and the sexism section is 100% lifted from someone else’s argument (which probably suggests there’s no coincidence why it’s considerably better than the rest of the article). 
Overall, Hochschartner’s article is attention-seeking, minimally-researched, and flimsily-argued drivel. It reads like an unfocused early draft, written the night before the deadline and passed off as a completed piece. It is excessive in its complete lack of content. It is Kaepora Gaebora, the much-reviled owl from Ocarina of Time, who blathers on and on and on, not saying anything of any value to anyone.

That burn is so intense it must have come from a fire arrow.


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Milton Friedman's opposition to corporations

This is a short clip of Milton Friedman where he both defends both the idea that corporate power needs to be held in check and a hands-off approach from the government.

This is an important concept in free-market economics that its critics have notoriously misunderstood. If this concept was widely understood, that opposition to corporate welfare is a central tenant of capitalism, then we would have a lot more libertarians in the world.


Sunday, October 13, 2013

Obamacare pulls in the wrong direction

There are two major issues with health insurance in America. One is that it is too expensive, and the other is that it doesn't cover enough treatments.

Point one is universally understood and the clear winner in national priorities. Point two is secondary, and while still important, parts of it are up for debate. Unfortunately, the president's actions as a whole have addressed point two while making point one worse.

There are plenty of articles out there about Obamacare "sticker shock" for those who have just seen their premiums go up dramatically. Some see them go down, but more people end up paying more. Instead of linking to one of those pieces, I will prove the same point in a stronger way by linking to a pro-Obamacare website's defense:

ObamaCare Insurance premiums are a sore subject with many readers; however, ObamaCare insurance premium increases are a response to the protections contained within the law, such as the mandate for insurers to cover people with pre-existing conditions.

We need health reform to make it affordable. Unfortunately, the health reform we have has made it more expensive. The real problem is worse.

Friday, October 11, 2013

NPR loves this stupid idea

I get a lot of my news NPR and it's blatantly clear that their reporters and producers want to give as much attention to the activists who are demanding that McDonald's pays their low-skill workers $15 an hour. That's more than many reporters make, but the good people at NPR like to present this lunacy like it should be taken seriously and considered.

Come on guys, don't you have friends from journalism school who are limping along in the low wages of the field who would jump for joy to receive $15 an hour? Do NPR reporters secretly plan to become fry-cooks to boost their income if this impossible suggestion is met?

One of the many forms of media bias is story selection and NPR has put a lot of resources into bringing this story up over and over again. The latest example is an activist crashed a corporate event and yelled a bunch
of slogans, saying she's worked there for a decade and makes $8.25 an hour and "that's just not fair."

Not fair? That's what a whiner says when they're out of compelling arguments. I imagine she has been a part-time employee for that decade, and seeing as how she couldn't get a raise or another job years before the recession hit I imagine that she's simply not a capable or reliable employee.

I've already written about how obnoxiously ignorant these mathematically-challenged arguments are, where we are told that the employees are paid little while the company itself is rich, so therefor the company can afford to pay limitless sums to more than a million employees. Tom Blumer has already done the math - something the activists skip over in their talking points.

Yelling and making public spectacles to demand that notoriously unskilled jobs should have some of the best starting wages is a fringe cause, and NPR's shallow coverage of these ridiculous idea reveals the organization has an agenda. That's more than fair to say.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

In defense of screen-gazing

A story just started making waves about a gunman who couldn't get the attention of commuters on a train because they were engrossed in their smart phones and tablets:

The man drew the gun several times on the crowded San Francisco commuter train, with surveillance video showing him pointing it across the aisle without anyone noticing and then putting it back against his side, according to authorities. 
The other passengers were so absorbed in their phones and tablets they didn't notice the gunman until he randomly shot and killed a university student, authorities said.

The reactions to this story are all about how awful it is that people are too engrossed in their electronic devices. The assumption here is that people only do fanciful things with them, like exchanging inane messages or make shallow social media posts.

That's because onlookers are looking at the back of the device and have no idea what is on the other side. If someone had viewed me on the airplane to Las Vegas this summer they would have seen me using my tablet for hours. Some of that time was playing video games, but most of it was reading an economics book.

Device users can also be going through work emails or coordinating family matters with their spouse. Lots of people aren't doing anything productive, but the important thing is outside observers don't know who is doing what and the assumption is always pessimistic.

How can a mobile device user signal that they are doing something important? Are commuters who want to read expected to downgrade and bring paperbacks with them? That solution has problems of its own. Are we supposed to go back to the dark ages where people who didn't bring fresh reading materials with them on public transportation are supposed to waste their time sitting quietly in boredom?

Personally, I think the best way to deal with judgmental people who don't approve of my public use of technology is to ignore them and go back to reading my e-book.


Monday, October 7, 2013

Who gets offended by medieval farming?

If you haven't seen it yet you need to check out Jon Hochschartner's piece at "The Legend of Zelda” is classist, sexist and racist. This is a great white shark in a sea of sheltered, oversensitive, grumpy, perpetually-grieving guppies.

The article's existence on a major news website obviously followed a horrible series of errors in the editorial process. Somehow, it even made it into the Salon Twitter feed.

To post a point by point response would be like debunking the plot of a dream. The writer aimlessly drifts from poorly cribbing Anita Sarkeesian's shtick to nonsensical pearl-clutching because the criticism of greedy rich people didn't cut deep enough to quoting Karl Marx to complaining when one of several non-white races is cast as villains to, well, this:

From the perspective of domesticated animals, agriculture of the past was a gentler prospect than the modern, factory-farm system. But for non-humans the pre-industrial farm, as symbolized by Lon Lon Ranch, was still a place of exploitation and violence, where their lives, in general, would be significantly shorter and more circumscribed than those of their nearest, wild cousins. 
But in the game, domestication is portrayed as a mutually beneficial, voluntary arrangement. The anthropomorphized cows of Hyrule speak to Link, literally saying, “Have some of my refreshing and nutritious milk!” Of course depicting a relationship as anything like symbiotic when one party kills and eats the other, as well as the latter’s children, would be laughable if it weren’t so appalling.

Not only is Hochschartner appalled, but he expects the reader to be as well. Hey guys, the happy cartoony cow upset you too, right? Right? Holstein solidarity!

It's obvious from the context that Hochschartner is upset that this go-lucky milk cow isn't plotting to overthrow the farm. I think he read the first three pages of Animal Farm, closed the book, and assumed everything turned out well and wishes Link could visit that perfect little place.

The entire article reads like a rushed essay from a C-average high school student, a student who didn't go to the prom or shower regularly.

We are fortunate that Hochschartner is cursed with an unusual name, as we can easily find his other writings, including grunt work at a regional newspaper, another whiny Salon piece complaining that Grand Theft Auto publisher Rockstar Games dared to portray corruption in a socialist revolution, Marxist drivel and Marxist drivel directed at vegans.

Probably the most disturbing thing here is not that Salon published a low-quality, sophomoric piece, but that the company presented the ramblings of a social misfit Marxist as if he possess a legitimate place in modern society.

Last week I came across a piece titled Datings tips for the feminist man that started with:

You’re a straight monogamous cismale who identifies as a leftie. Maybe you’re a Marxist or a socialist; maybe you’re an anarchist. You respect women. You would never act like a player. You fall in love with strong, smart, feminist women. You believe that our movements are stronger if they include everyone.

Excuse me people, this is the real world, not a university campus. What's with the lack of shame and ostracism for these fringe beliefs? What's with all the... acceptance. Mentally, being a Marxist in the 21st century is akin to being a Klansman, a flat-Earther, an AIDS denier or a Westboro Baptist Church member. These people need to be pushed into the shadows and ignored, not given a platform and treated with anything other than contempt.