Saturday, March 30, 2013

We told you so

Nearly 10 months in and French President Francois Hollande's promises to curb unemployment are backfiring. It is worse than before the crisis. From Der Spiegel:

Unemployment is 10.8 percent higher than last year -- a harsh blow to Hollande, who promised during his campaign to curb the crisis on the job market. Instead, the jobless rate has steadily risen, bringing to memory a statement made in 1993 by Hollande's predecessor and fellow Socialist, Francois Mitterrand: "Against unemployment, we've tried everything." 
In anticipation of catastrophic new reports on the labor market, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told the National Assembly on Tuesday that one "has never done enough against unemployment," calling for "a general mobilization" to create jobs in the public and private sectors. 
The government has taken a number of measures to combat youth unemployment, such as generous subsidies to companies that hire employees between 16 and 25 for at least one year. The plan was to create 100,000 "contracts for the future" in 2013, but so far only 15,000 people have benefited from the program.

I added the strike through to correct the article's misstatement. Unemployment is at 10.8 percent, higher than the 10.2 percent from when he was elected. Still, these numbers are nearing the record the nation set in 1997.

Unemployment was already climbing when Hollande took office, but the policy tricks he employed were sold to the public as ways to reverse course. They have failed and tricks like subsidizing small companies that hire young workers if they hold on to an old worker clearly aren't working.

The employment for young people in France is about one quarter and much of it can be attributed to worker protection policies. It's incredibly hard to fire a worker so people without prior job experience are a big risk. If they turn out to be terrible, the company is essentially stuck with them .

France also has one of the creepiest Marxist names for a tax ever called the Solidarity Tax on Wealth that annually taxes wealth, not income. Hollande also has been pushing for a 75 percent tax on wealth over €1 million, but the state council struck that down. He's still singing that the and trying to recast it as a corporate tax.

From the UK Telegraph:

Mr Hollande's soak-the-rich 75 per cent "supertax" was a key electoral promise that was initially supposed to target individuals earning over a million euros per year. It sparked the departure of a string of high-earning public figures – among them actor Gérard Depardieu - but this month the state council ruled anything above 66.6 per cent would be unfair. Yesterday, the president said: "Shareholders will be consulted on pay and when they go above a million euros, the company will have a levy that all things considered will reach 75 per cent." The tax would last two years.

There was never any reason to suspect these policies would work. Look, I'm not an anarchist and I believe taxes and government regulations are essential to running a successful nation, but there is a point where they become detrimental and France has clearly passed that line. They won't elect anyone who is willing or able to reel it back. Until they do, they shall be doomed to these preventable problems such as persistent unemployment and low growth.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Anthony Bourdain on slow food

There's a summary of celebrity chef Antony Bourdain's quip on the logistics of slow food (SOLE food, local food) that's been in my brain ever since I read it in The Locavore's Dilemma. The only way to get it out is to paste it here.

Bourdain is a food hedonist, and has little truck with those who want to load up our eating habits with moralism. Consider the way he wades into the so-called ‘Mother of Slow Food’ and the epitome of Californian organic, locally produced cuisine, Alice Waters. Bourdain notes that the labour-intensive, pastoral vision that Waters promotes means that either lots of the citizens of wealthy countries like America and Italy are going to have to take up farming again - unlikely - or ‘we’ll revert to the traditional method: importing huge numbers of poor brown people from elsewhere - to grow those tasty, crunchy vegetables for more comfortable white masters.

The paragraph is from a review by Rob Lyons of one of Bourdain's books.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

No limits on information

I never thought I'd be endorsing a political stance of Jeff Inglis, managing editor for the Portland Phoenix alternative weekly, but he nailed Chris Korzen today and got transparency and free speech exactly right.

Korzen is the founder of the generic left wing organization "Maine's Majority" that put out a press release this morning titled "Former Treasurer Bruce Poliquin abused Freedom of Access Act to obtain public list for personal use."

Poliquin used a state law that gave him access to a list of 10,000 email addresses, including mine, that he had previously used when he was state treasurer so he could send them political messages. Korzen's press release said this is not illegal, but an abuse of the system.

Then Inglis nailed him to a tree, as Korzen also filed a FOAA request to get email addresses of people to send political messages to, such as ones on this very issue. Here's just a taste, following after Korzen retreated and said Poliquin's abuse was to Constant Contact's anti-spam policy:

He may well have violated terms of a private agreement with a private company. That's not my beef - and it doesn't seem to be yours, either, from the release. 
You're claiming it's an "abuse" of open-government laws for a requester to get information from the government and use it for whatever the requester wants. 
Problem is, there's no other purpose of open-government laws - they exist so that people can ask questions of their government and get answers, and then publicize those answers, for whatever purpose the requester has. 
Go ahead and shout about him breaking the rules of Constant Contact. Nobody cares, and you know that - which is why you made the release sound like he had misused open-government laws, when he used them exactly properly. And so did you, in announcing to people that he did this. The issue comes when you call both of those things - which are procedurally, legally, and morally identical - "abuse."

Do read the entire thing. Inglis is exactly right that a government clamp-down on what one can do with the information they get from a FOAA request would defeat the purpose of the act.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

China has a shortage of free markets, not chopsticks

Oh China, there you go again.

The Chinese government is claiming that heavy consumption of wooden chopsticks is depleting the communist nations supply of wood and the public needs to stop burning through so many in the interest of the environment.

It reminds of a scene in the Karate Kid remake where Dre thinks the apartment is out of hot water and Mr. Han shows him how they heat just the water they use, then adds that it will "save the planet."

Oh come on, they aren't motivated by environmentalism. They just do it that way because they are poor.

Lumber is a renewable resource and if China truly embraced capitalism there would be no shortage of wood for chop sticks.

Friday, March 22, 2013

The fluid definition of rape

I've been meaning to link to a pair of op-ed pieces I wrote in my final month of college where I was critical of the flimsy definition of rape pushed on college students. I finally have an excuse because tonight I read a piece by Anna March that makes many of the same points and dared to say some things that will get ones head cut off today.

The outcry about the “Girls” episode truly startled me. I was surprised when several bright writers whose work I admire labeled the scene rape, because to me and to so many other bright writers whose work I admire, it so clearly was not rape. Categorizing it as such is an intellectually unsound discrediting of women’s power. Natalia was not raped and to call the sex she consented to rape is to demean actual victims of sexual assault and devalue the crime. Further, it is paternalistic in its approach to women, as though women are helpless beings incapable of voicing their wants, and, absent violence and/or threats of violence, can’t or won’t say no. If we want to argue that women are so limited by the patriarchy that they can’t say no, how do we counter the arguments that women can’t handle jobs in the military or working as police officers?

These attempts to water down the definition of rape to include insensitive or unclear sexual partners is misguided. It states that all sex is rape until proven otherwise and that rapists can be oblivious well-intentioned lovers who missed some subtle signals. It also abandons the reasonable person standard and blurs the line between regrettable decisions and force.

I predict March will become the straw man of the week in the feminist blogsphere for this peice. I don't agree with everything she wrote, but I give her a lot of credit for taking a brave stance on an important topic.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Holder's weasel reputation

I was thinking this morning about how different the American left would have perceived U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder's testimony on the Fast and Furious gunrunning operation if it had surfaced after Rand Paul's Filibuster instead of before it.

When Paul's old-school filibuster captured the public's attention Holder released an audacious statement where he gave his stance on the constitutionality of domestic drone strikes with a snarly opening line to make it sound like he had not been asked about the question before. We know better. We saw Holder's sophomoric attempts to weasel out of that same question when asked by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-TX, the day before.

This incident provided a platform to civil liberty warriors of all stripes to rain down on the Obama administration about drone strikes, including many leftists. Clearly, this episode had some impact on that way Holder is perceived by those people.

So imagine if Holder's testimony on Fast and Furious came out now instead of last summer. I expect the sides people fell on that issue would not have been split so evenly along partisanship lines if everyone knew what a weasel Holder is at the time.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Principals over personal interest

Jonathan Chait penned a great piece on what he calls a moral failing of U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-OH, for the reason he switched sides on gay marriage.

Clearly, Chait isn't upset that Portman now supports gay marriage. He's critical that Portman was unable to emphasize with gays until his own son came out as gay.

Here's the money quote at the end:

That Portman turns out to have a gay son is convenient for the gay-rights cause. But why should any of us come away from his conversion trusting that Portman is thinking on any issue about what’s good for all of us, rather than what’s good for himself and the people he knows?

Well said. I'm glad Portman came around, but I wish he had done so from an unbiased perspective.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The unlikely death of Rachel Corrie

The phrase "it's the exception that proves the rule" is often misused, but has a lot of wisdom when applied correctly. If something is seen as an exception or a fluke, that implies that the rest of the time things are different.

That is the unspoken significance of the death of Rachel Corrie 10 years ago today. Corrie was an anti-Israel protester who threw herself in front a a bulldozer that the Israeli government was using to demolish buildings in the Gaza strip. Anti-Israel protesters capitalized on her death and turned her into a martyr, claiming her death proves the evil disregard for human life held by Jews Israelis.

Her image has become a part of a large propaganda campaign. The anti-Israel force wants her to be remembered as a rich white carefree 20-something and use this photo:

They don't share the photos taken of her the day before she died when she burned a handmade paper American flag while screaming in a group of Palestinian children:

Her death is an example of the opportunistic nature of radical left groups and their willingness to lie in the name of a cause. Her fellow protesters claim that after two hours of throwing themselves in the way of the bulldozers one intentionally ran her - just her - over and then spared the others, then stopped everything so she could receive medical treatment. The driver said he couldn't see her, which is easy to imagine with a vehicle with a large block in the front. It is remotely possible that the protesters are telling the truth, in the same way it's possible the universe rests on the back of a giant turtle, but they have presented no evidence other than their own testimony.

I can't help but notice that the fringe groups that use human shield tactics always claim that they are targeting brutal, oppressive groups that are willing to use violence. If that were true why isn't every protester who purposely makes themselves easy to kill ground into dust the moment the cameras go away? Corrie and the other protesters were at the mercy of the Israeli government the entire time.

The most likely explanation is that with all these protesters throwing themselves in front of tanks, logging trucks and military bases it would be shocking if one of them doesn't slip up and get crushed by accident.

Corrie's death is a tragedy, but only in the sense that entries in the Darwin Awards are tragedies. Her death and subsequent following is not a reflection of the evil in the hearts of Jews Israelis, but shows what happened to her is the exception that proves the rule.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

What economists think of the minimum wage

Last month President Barack Obama rekindled political discussions about the impact of increasing the minimum wage. Unfortunately, those discussions draw very little wisdom from academic economists and are instead based on the whims and guesses of the public.

Here's a short history of the economist perspective on the minimum wage. There was a scientific consensus that the minimum wage harms low-skill workers by pricing them out of the labor market. These upstart workers lack soft skills and have trouble competing with experienced workers so their labor is not worth very much to employers. When the government tells employers they have to pay them more than what their labor is worth, some employers will opt to not hire them instead of raising their wages. That hurts the very people the law is supposed to help and most economists opposed it.

That consensus is now gone because of a 1992 study by David Card and Alan B. Krueger in New Jersey that compared fast food employment with and without a minimum wage. The study showed that the workers were able to receive higher wages without losses in employment. The Card and Krueger study has plenty of critics, but it clearly broke the consensus.

Economists are now divided on the issue, with about a third in support of the laws, a little more than a third in opposition and the rest unsure.

The way the issue is framed in the public realm is very different as well. The popular opposition claims that the problem with the minimum wage is that small businesses will be harmed. I'm tempted to dismiss this as a tactical approach, but claiming it harms the poor would seem to be an equally effective tactical approach and comes packaged with academic support. I think the real issue here is columnists and politicians who don't study economics are just spouting whatever pops into their head and sounds reasonable.

I never want to do that. Even though I fully oppose the existence of a minimum wage, for reasons described by Bryan Caplan and Don Boudreaux, honesty requires that I admit my perspective does not have a consensus and the issue is up for debate.

One footnote to that thought: The pro-minimum wage arguments assume the wage is set at a modest rate. If it went up to something absurdly high like $20 an hour then you would have a strong consensus about its harm to employment levels.


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Mitch tries to Switch

I didn't write anything before about Rep. Sen. Rand Paul's excellent Fillibuster last week because I had nothing to add that hasn't been written 1,000 times elsewhere.

What has also been written elsewhere, but I don't think enough, is the lame 11th hour attempt fellow Republican senator from Kentucky Mitch McConnell made to get on the bandwagon. This includes joining in on the filibuster after it had national attention and was nearly done and trying to frame it as a a partnership between himself and Paul.

For example, the above image is introduced on McConnell's official Facebook page with the line "Add your name to join Mitch & Rand's fight against Obama's drone policies" followed by a link to a useless online petition that declares one Stands with Mitch & Rand.

At least in his fundraising emails on the issue McConnell's staff had the decency to put Rand Paul's name first.

If it interests you, I spent the better part of an hour listening to the filibuster in one window and watching a Super Ghost 'n Ghouls legit speed run in another. It turns out there is time to defeat the penultimate boss with the bracelet if you get closer, and you can get Democrats to turn on the president if you keep at it long enough.


Sunday, March 10, 2013

Tropes vs. Women is needed

The first crowdfunded episode of Anita Sarkeesian's video game feminism video series is now available and I give it my nuanced support.

One of the biggest criticisms I've heard of Sarkeesian's Kickstarter fundraiser is that she somehow ripped off the public by accepting $158,917 to create this Internet video series. This argument is moronic. While it's true she was already making similar videos, she started a campaign for a mere $6,000 and people chose to exceed that amount. She now has enough money to quit her day job - assuming she wants to. Honestly, she can do whatever she wants with it. It's her money.

I do disagree with many of the conclusions she makes, such as any time she mentions "The patriarchy." Still, the video game world is a target-rich environment for gender issues, what with bikini armor, few female characters and a multiplayer community filled with trolls who repel and harass female players.

Now that I've started playing some games with my friend's 11 year old daughter I see one of the most basic thing she wants is to play as a female character. I'm glad to see more games are offering this, and failing to account for the default-status of male protagonists undermines some of Sarkeesian's conclusions on the problems with damsels in distress.

The plot in many video games is weak and forgettable. They often just need a MacGuffin for the hero to retrieve to keep the plot moving. Often times that MacGuffin is a damsel in distress because the writer was too lazy to think of something original or wanted the story to follow that classic trope.

So why would Sarkeesian be surprised that the male protagonist breaks himself out of jail instead of waiting to be rescued, or that the MacGuffin just sits there waiting to be retrieved instead of freeing itself? These are consequences of the male-dominated protagonist trend.

Still, I'm glad Sarkeesian is doing what she's doing. These issues need to be challenged and I hope she succeeds in starting more conversations on gender in video games.

As a footnote to piece, there's a new video of an edited version of Donkey Kong with Pauline the damsel as the protagonist and Mario as the MacGuffin. A father modified the game so his young daughter could play and enjoy it more. This is exactly the sort of thing we need to attract more female players and move the video game community forward.


Friday, March 8, 2013

By our powers combined

It's kind of like if someone found a way to combine a stuffed turkey with a hot fudge sundae.

Marginal Revolutionary University, the free registration-optional online class that started a development economics class last fall, now has a much shorter course on the economics of the media.

In a similar approach to how I read books, I will probably finish this course before returning to the development class.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Socialism's tolerance problem

There's been plenty of great write-ups about why the death of Hugo Chavez isn't a tragedy. My favorites are from Nick Gillespie at Reason.comMichael Moynihan at The Daily Beast, a Venezuelan citizen in a comment and, most surprising, Zack Beauchamp at ThinkProgress. I also rediscovered a great piece from Christopher Hitchens about his impressions from meeting a deranged Chavez and the shameless propaganda employed when Chavez declared himself the reincarnation of Simón Bolívar while desecrating his corpse.

Every one of them is a gem, and props to Beauchamp for revealing that much of the supposed success of Chavez's anti-poverty policies really come from an ongoing South American trend.

So with that out of the way, there is something important I want to express about the difference between socialist and capitalist nations. Only one tolerates the other when they are in charge.

In capitalist nations, you're allowed to speak in support of socialism. You can have stupid little coffee houses or dirty book stores devoted to the subject. You're even allowed to build your own little Marxist commune and count down the days until it falls apart.

In socialist nations, supporting capitalism is a criminal offense. Basic human rights like freedom of speech are stamped down and spreading unauthorized messages is a crime against the state. Trying to establish a capitalist subculture can mean execution.

If I was a Venezuelan Chavez would have had me destroyed. If he was an American he would have been mocked, just as he is being mocked now.

It's clear to see which system has the moral high ground.


Monday, March 4, 2013

Misleading left-wing viral video of the week

I've seen this video posted a few times over the weekend and I expect to see a lot more of it. A few minutes ago someone simply posted it as a reply in a discussion about corporate welfare. That didn't actually make sense, which is fitting because the premise of the video doesn't make sense.

The problem with these numbers is that they are the pre-tax income levels, as if America has a perfectly flat tax system and no welfare programs. The solution advocated by the narrator is to "fix" the current reality, but he fails to provide the reality. He never said he wanted to force board rooms and employers to pay different wages, he said he wants "redistribution."

So why does he act like we don't do that at all? Bruce Meyers argues that post-tax and post-welfare numbers do not show this rise in inequality. Don Boudreaux and Mark J. Perry show the flaws in the middle class stagnation canard, including the way non-monetary forms of compensation are left out.

In short, this video says we don't "redistribute" enough, but never tells us how much we "redistribute" already. If we followed every suggestion he makes, the numbers he shows to scare us would not change.

There is a brief mention of a poverty line in the video, but no actual claim that the poor have an unacceptable standard of living. Envy is not a virtue, and this video is not about carrying for the poor so much as hating the rich.


Saturday, March 2, 2013

Started making trouble in my neighborhood

A Pennsylvania teen was arrested because an out-of-touch school receptionist misheard his phone answering machine message.

The teen's voicemail greeting triggered a lockdown at his Pennsylvania school after a receptionist misheard his rendition of "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" theme song. While trying to confirm an appointment with 19-year-old Travis Clawson, the receptionist thought the message said "shooting people outside of the school." The line is actually "shooting some b-ball," a reference to basketball. 
 The receptionist called 911 and Economy police arrested Clawson a short time later at Ambridge Area High School, but released him once he explained the message. 
Acting police Chief James Mann says police acted "appropriately" out of concern for students' welfare.

I would love to hear that 911 call. What's that you say, he is announcing an ongoing shooting through an answering machine message in rhyming couplets?

Apparently, police had time to travel to the school to arrest him but no one in the department could be bothered to call his phone and hear the message while they carried out a lockdown.

This is the problems with treating anything that could be twisted into some kind of a threat as a serious matter worthy of a costly response. Panicing over false positives is the safety equivalent of shooting first and asking questions later. Too many authorities are so concerned that they will experience a major tragedy that they show no shame or remorse for moronic overreactions.