Thursday, January 30, 2014

If you think unemployment is bad, look at this

I spent most of Wednesday driving to New Jersey and back with some friends from college. After all the reminiscing and sharing of what's going on in our life, the unemployment rate came up, along with President Obama's State of the Union address. One of my friends observed that we accidentally had a serious conversation.

Purely as a joke, I made an off-the-cuff argument against using the unemployment rate, because it only counts current job seekers. It does not count, I told them in the driest tone I could muster, people who go back to school, become homemakers or just drop out of the job market. I recommended the labor force participation rate as a better figure to follow.

The words I was saying to sound far too serious accidentally came from the heart, I realized, and the conversation got me curious about what's been happening with the labor force participation rate.

What I found, sadly, was this:

President Obama started this year's State of the Union by saying unemployment is at a 5 year low. I believe him, but it appears that some of those improvements came from Americans leaving the workforce. That problem is getting worse every year.

This is not a criticism of any of the president's policies, but a crucial revision on his framing of the issue. While the unemployment rate has fallen, it hasn't fallen to an acceptable level. We also have a big problem when potential workers are left idle, even if there are less idle workers then there were before.

I do have one caveat here: My idea of an ideal future does have a lower labor force participation rate. I share John Maynard Keynes' vision of people living like lilies of the field, who toil not, neither do they spin. I want people to work few hours and retire earlier in life. However, that future comes from technological innovation, not a recession.

As it stands now, we aren't seeing a short-term drop in labor force participation because of labor-saving breakthroughs. It's because of poverty. The current course points us towards a stagnant or falling standard of living when what we want is progress and rising standards of living to occur while more people get to retire.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Bankor makes money out of moral hazard

I know people like to throw around hyperbole such as "This is the greatest thing ever" or "Holy cow, this set the bar on parody." I won't say that, but I am saying this is the greatest thing I've seen this year.

Behold, The Kronies action figures webpage.

Here's a taste:

Kind of makes me want to play some Awesomenauts, only with a copy I bought using someone else's money.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Categorical hypocrisy is not actual hypocrisy

I draw a lot from the Robbers Cave Experiment when I write about political attitudes, where people see their political opponents as a monolithic group while seeing their own side as diverse and nuanced.

Far too often this takes the form of labeling a large loosely-associated group of people hypocrites because of two views that are both supposedly common within that group. These accusations of "categorical hypocrisy" include:

Feminists who supposedly don't care about women in poor nations,

Guns owners who don't see gay marriage as a personal right,

Pro-lifers who support the death penalty

Pro-choicers who oppose the death penalty

Critics of Obama's economic policies who tolerated Bush's big spending

Opponents of Bush's war mongering who give Obama a pass

In all of these cases, the problem stems from the assumption that everyone in the group holds the same position. Individuals can be hypocrites and hold two opposing view, but it doesn't make sense to take that example of hypocrisy and apply it to all other members of loosely-defined groups like "feminist," "gun owner" or "Democrat." Feminists who oppose female genital mutilation are easy to find, and gun-owning libertarians who support gay marriage are crawling out of the woodwork these days.

While it can be tempting to label groups or ones political opponents as contradicting themselves, its usually a cheap stunt that can reveals a low level of discourse. Categorical thinking is a crude way to form a world view and categorical hypocrisy is not really hypocrisy.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Blogger asks the world to stop sharing clickbait links. What happens next is completely unexpected and will change your life.

This link is exactly what you deserve for responding to that headline. It will change your life, and the world, and your life.


Thursday, January 23, 2014

"Fit perfectly into my political agenda"

With few exceptions, I consider indie film fest laurels to be the kiss of death for documentaries. The kind of thing those audiences respond to have little to do with critical thinking, honest presentation or reality.

Sometimes the feature films can be good, but too many of them take the form of Garden State - shallow, quirk-fests that rely on novelty instead of a solid plot or good writing. This is a great parody of the formula.


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

More rhino support

In writing positive things about the Texas hunting club's auction to hunt a black rhino in Namibia, I've felt like an endangered creature myself, wandering the plains without ever seeing another member of my own species.

Imagine my joy to see a piece by science writer Richard Conniff in the New York Times agreeing with all my major points. It's a magical moment:

Protecting wildlife is a complicated, expensive and morally imperfect enterprise, often facing insuperable odds... But so far nothing else matches trophy hunting for paying the bills. For people outraged by this hunt, here’s a better way to deal with it: Go to Namibia. Visit the conservancies, spend your money and have one of the great wildlife experiences of your life. You will see that this country is doing grand, ambitious things for conservation. And you may come away wondering whether Americans, who struggle to live with species as treacherous as, say, the prairie dog, should really be telling Namibians how to run their wildlife.

Despite what a recent UK Spectator column recently said, education is not the only way to save the black rhino. Incentives are doing a far better job.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Why pollution requires government intervention

Despite having views in both far right and far left camps, I always find myself more in line with the political right line of thinking.

I always wondered why that is, and my current theory is that my perspective is aligned with the libertarian and conservative political axes as suggested by Arnold Kling.

As a result of that, I find myself writing more spirited pieces about my more conservative views, and far less often about my left wing views. Unless they are social issues, they tend to only make appearances in personal conversations outside of the view.

I'm going to make an effort to change that while still being true to myself with my new "Quick admissions" tag. I try to avoid writing detailed posts about views that can be found elsewhere, but I also want to make sure this blog represents my views accurately. I had a similar motivation in 2012 when I wrote about the need for a government or my various posts against crony capitalism.

With that in mind, let's talking about pollution.

Pollution is a well-known negative externality, where the parties making a trade impose effects on others, and the free market fails to make up for the cost of that pollution on its own.

In English, John sells coal to Sarah and Sarah burns it, but the smoke pollutes the air that everyone breathes. Maybe she dumps the ashes in the river too.

The market does not have an automatic mechanism to account for that cost and externalities are known as market failures. Elinor Ostrom's work on the commons found ways that informal social forces can discourage people from certain actions, but that's not an absolute. We really need a system of laws to intervene here, and environmental regulation is part of the proper role of government.

There's a second question that should not be ignored: What form should that regulation take? I've written before about how pollution should be regulated by taxing polluters by volume, not by requiring specific pollution-reducing methods. Simply saying that we need pollution laws so we should support all proposed pollution laws is a mistake, as Milton Friedman reminds us, but the fact remains that we need environmental protection laws to intervene in the market.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Humanitarians don't make death theats

There's a sad update to the Texas rhino hunt story. The auction winner Corey Knowlton is being target with death threats. Ironically, the comment sections of the news stories about him receiving death threats are filled with calls for his death.

This isn't simply idiot hunting, as this is a genuine trend that can easily be witnessed by pointing ones browser to any mention of Knowlton.

A recent Megan McArdle piece about the vitriol women receive from critics online mentions how universal it is for people to make death threats and offensive remarks about groups the target was born into. It's not just one political side that does it.

Keep that in mind when seeing the glee people take in the idea of a stranger being murdered because he paid for the right to shoot an animal. Remember, in their minds, they are the good guys.

But in reality, they are just an angry, ignorant mob. As I said last time, Namibia's community-based natural resource management program uses trophy hunting as both a way to make money and a way to encourage community members to act as game wardens, and shame potential poachers. This program has been heralded by the World Wildlife Fund and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

There's nothing positive about mob violence. I think I stopped believing in vigilante justice about the same time I stopped reading Spiderman. There is no end to the harm who think they are a force for "justice" when they smash and scream at the things they hate; things they don't really understand most of the time. They always think they are the good guys when in reality, they are agents of chaos. One can't make the world a better place by killing strangers on the street.

Knowlton is the one doing something positive for rhino conservation efforts and his actions are helping the species recover. His critics are the ones whose actions could make the black rhino go extinct.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Who benefits from a minimum wage increase?

David Henderson has some solid numbers that show how little proposed minimum wage increases would actually target people in poverty.

. Only 11.3 percent of workers who would gain from the increase live in households officially defined as poor.
. A whopping 63.2 percent of workers who would gain were second or even third earners living in households with incomes equal to twice the poverty line or more.
. Some 42.3 percent of workers who would gain were second or even third earners who live in households that have incomes equal to three times the poverty line or more.

That's not even controlling for poor people who were priced out of the job market.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Taxi warfare

There's so many different ways I could write about this news story where French taxi drivers set up a roadblock to attack Uber transportation vehicles, which terrified and injured two passengers who were in a van that they smashed and may have tried to lynch. This has happened about a dozen times in France so far.

I could say this demonstrates how much for-profit industries can hate the free market, as taxi drivers have been trying to get the government to shut down the app-based transportation service for a long time simply because the taxi companies can't compete with its superior service and prices.

I could also use this as an example of the brutality of union violence. While union supporters like to highlight anti-union violence, which was certainly a real problem, they habitually gloss over the violence that follows when you get a bunch of blue-collar men fired up about perceived injustices and organize them into an angry mob. Most of the reports I've read failed to mention that the taxi drivers belong to a union.

More importantly, I could use this as an example about the proper role of government in a capitalist society
proper role of government. This attack occurred in sight of police who allegedly did not interfere. Businesses can't operate, and people can't leave fulfilling lives, without the promise of protection from highway brigands. 

There's also a lesson here about how shocking it is to see modern adults in a civilized country resort to violence when their livelihood is threatened. This is news worthy because it doesn't happen normally, and that tells us something positive about how commerce is normally carried out.

But mostly, I wanted to share that this story happened. Passengers were going about their lives innocently when their driver was stopped by thugs and brutes tried to smash their way in, injuring both passengers. That's a terrible thing and it deserves our attention as a step towards making sure it doesn't happen again.


Saturday, January 11, 2014

Rachel Maddow needs to fess up

I really thought Rachel Maddow was someone I could respect. Sure, I disagree with her on a lot of issues, but she has been courteous and fair to the other side. She also eagerly issues corrections when factual errors creep into her show, which will happen to the best of us.

Or so I thought.

Maddow reported that the Koch brothers were pushing a law to drug test welfare recipients in Florida. Her team screwed up when they asked the Koch legal team about it at the last minute and went ahead with the story anyways. The email exchange between them does not make the MSNBC host look good at all.

The weak connection is that the Koch brothers gave $40,000 over the course of several years to the State Policy Network, which is an organization of think tanks. That group gave some money at one point to a think tank that backed the drug tests. In her reporting, the Koch brothers were the masterminds of the drug tests.

What's funny is that, a Koch-connected site, was quick to point out that the Koch brothers have given $20 million to the ACLU which opposed the drug tests in court. Meanwhile MSNBC's parent company has also given money to the State Policy Network, making her just as involved as the Koch Brothers.

But that's the Koch side of the story, what does Maddow and her supporters say? Apparently, they say to double down, which is exactly what she did.

Media Matters did not even try to defend her and stayed silent on the push back, which is smart because Politifact rated her claim as Mostly False.

Does Maddow hope this will just go away? She made her criticism of the drug test laws, which have major flaws and are costly, all about Koch involvement when there is no evidence that the Koch brothers pushed them. This tells us a lot about her and the way she deals with her own mistakes.

By the way, this blog has never received any money from the Koch brothers. That's not by choice, however. Come on David and Charles, help a young man get ahead.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

How it feels to disagree with left wingers

While listening to today's broadcast of On Point with Tom Ashbrook on NPR I encountered that feeling libertarians and conservatives occasionally get when listening to members of the political left.

The show was on falling vaccine rates as a result of the anti-vacc movement. As the first guest reporter Michael Booth said, the anti-vacc movement is not contained within a single political group. It encompasses both drum circle dregs on the left and compound-dwelling crazies on the right.

Still, both the anti-vacc callers on the show were from the left. As Booth said, they tend to be considered "well-informed," which really means they read a lot of things online and went to college at some point.

Listening to them talk I realized that Alice and Kilea make perfect examples for my friends on the left to feel what it's like to listen to a silly progressive blowhard who has no idea what they're talking about, such as an English professor who speaks about Marxism or a women's studies major who talks about how to change tax rates.

It's not merely a case of the speakers being wrong, but that the speakers are so in love with their own irrelevant credentials while saying something grossly ignorant. They keep insisting they are right because they are smart.

If you want to see what that feeling is like, jump to 17:20 where Alice introduces herself as a "well-educated individual" then to 17:15 where she brags about her binder full of anti-vacc studies as if it means something.

Kilea startes out the same way, saying at 28:45 that "I'm well-educated" then describes herself as "well-informed and well-educated." This is just before she starts talking about her love of herbal supplements and homeopathy.

At 33:50 Kilea says that the solution is for everyone to get together and incorporate her phony beliefs into modern medicine, much the way anti-capitalists believe their mere existence warrants means their views need to be incorporated into changes to the financial system.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is exactly what it feels like.

By the way, before any conservative readers laugh to hard, this is also what its like to listen to anti-global warming advocates speak. That binder full of Internet research didn't help Alice, and it doesn't help you.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Stop repeating these political fables

Can this be the year that people stop sharing the same made-up, contrived stories to prove their political points?

How many more times will we read about how:

An economics professor at a local college made a statement that he had never failed a single student before but had recently failed an entire class. That class had insisted that Obama's socialism worked and that no one would be poor and no one would be rich, a great equalizer. 
The professor then said, "OK, we will have an experiment in this class on Obama's plan". All grades will be averaged and everyone will receive the same grade so no one will fail and no one will receive an “A”... 

Because nothing sets one up for credibility more than calling president Obama a socialist.

Who would write "at a local college" for something to be read on the Internet and what kind of callous professor would fail an entire class of students to get even with them for not understanding economics, the very subject they went to him to learn? I think the author chose to make it an economics class as a cheap trick to make the story more credible.

Then there's this gem: ‎

An anthropologist studying the habits and customs of an African tribe found himself surrounded by children most days. So he decided to play a little game with them. He managed to get candy from the nearest town and put it all in a decorated basket. at the foot of a tree.  
 Then he called the children and suggested they play the game. When the anthropologist said "now", the children had to run to the tree and the first one to get there could have all the candy to him/herself.

While conservatives try to use economics to strengthen their popular legend, progressives want to drape theirs in the wisdom of children and tribal cultures. Notice this is a generic "African tribe." Africa is 11.7 million square miles and divided into 54 countries with diverse cultures. There is both Egypt and South Africa, Ivory Coast and Ethiopia, but in the lazy writing of this fable all Africans are humble, simple-minded, shirtless villagers.

If you want to make an analogy to prove your point, do so, but do it honestly. For example:

This is a VERY simple way to understand the tax laws. Read on — it does make you think!! Let's put tax cuts in terms everyone can understand. Suppose that every day, ten men go out for dinner...

See the difference? No dishonest claims that this is a true story. It comes out and says its an analogy. It doesn't pretend to be anything that it's not.

The smug economic professor and the noncompetitive African children are two sides of the same coin. I think the only fitting response to either one is the other. Not because they prove any sort of point, but because their supporters may recognize the ghoulish reflection and reflect on what they have become.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

A victory with unwanted allies

I've been mulling over the reversal from A&E television, where Duck Dynasty host Phil Robertson will be returning to the show after all. He was initially pulled because he said obnoxious things about gays in a magazine interview, but the network gave in to widespread criticism from right wingers who said they overreacted by suspending him indefinitely. A few of them also (wrongly) said his free speech was being suppressed.

It's the exact outcome I wanted, but it puts me on the opposite side as those with my social views. From my limited observations, I've seen my fellow gay rights supporters resenting Robertson supporters and gay right opponents backing him up. I don't like clanging swords and bashing shields with my allies, but they've left me no choice

While this is not an actual free speech issue, it was an attempt to file down the sharp edges of our discourse by yanking the platform out from the people we don't like instead of responding with our own words.

Maybe it's from being a young conservative libertarian who has always had liberal friends, but I'm used to tolerating views I don't like on economic issues. Tolerating bad opinions on social issues doesn't feel any different.

I'm reminded of what Bill Maher said in defense of TV chef Paula Deen last summer, that people shouldn't have to "go away" from the spotlight because they said something stupid. Deen is an older southern woman who admitted to using a racial slur decades ago and Robertson stars in a white trash minstrel show. Do we really have to pretend to be shocked by what they said?

I don't like the direction these platform-yankers are taking our public messages, where zero tolerance policies are implemented when someone says what they really mean or said decades ago. It threatens to turn our media banquet into a vegan pot luck, where no one gets offended by what's on their plate but there's no zest, flavor or excitement.

From a game theory perspective, giving in to critics used to be the safest strategy. It looked like a whinocracy was around the corner, but then this summer something strange happened. The protests against Chick-Fil-A spawned a counter movement, and Chick-Fil-A supporters waited in long lines to prove a point.

The A&E reaction was the second act, and it's a good sign for people like me who choose to tolerate intolerant people. I just wish this was an issue I could be proud about, instead of the defense of an ignorance outdated message that dehumanizes innocent people.

Friday, January 3, 2014

This title is a complete sentence to ward off trolls

Can 2014 be the year we return to complete sentences?

It's a bit jarring to see my colleagues in the journalism world share links on social media with the cringe-inducing intro "This!" or lazily skip over explanations by writing "because, [word]," such as "Kim Jong Un killed his uncle because North Korea."

If this is too much to ask, can we stop pretending meme humor is funny?

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Not surprising - armed progressives also support the second amendment

I just read an article about The Liberal Gun Club, a left wing pro-firearm group with a notable California branch.

This quotation sums it all up:

"If I walk into a gun store with an Obama T-shirt - which I wouldn't wear, because he's too conservative - I don't fit," joked Eric Wooten, a longtime California Democratic Party activist and member of the Liberal Gun Club.

There's even local purchasing preference shout-outs in the group:

"I grow my own vegetables; I bake my own bread," Hoeber said. She makes her own ammunition "for the same reason ... cost savings, more control and higher quality."

What I find most interesting is that while the members are against the NRA, they hold all of the same political positions about guns and gun control. They mock the term "assault weapon," as everyone should, and oppose efforts to put restrictions on weapons, such as the number of rounds allowed in a magazine. They also oppose registration and increased background checks.

The group also views monetary disincentives to gun ownership, such as ammunition taxes, as "class barriers" blocking the poor from exercising their constitutional rights.

What we can all learn from this group is how universal the views on gun laws are from the people who actually own and use guns. Even though these members are hardcore progressives, they all recognize the second amendment as an individual right, not a collective one, and see gun control as a farce that only restricts the freedoms of law-abiding gun owners.

When experience causes people from radically different perspectives to arrive at the same conclusion, outsiders should sit back and take note.