Tuesday, April 29, 2014


I have one more thing to say about Cliven Bundy before I let him fall into obscurity.

Bundy's entire case was about being able to graze his cattle on public land. The federal government wanted to restrict grazing on their land for conservation efforts.

This case is so close to the hypothetical example in the tragedy of the commons that it sounds almost made-up. The entire lesson, which libertarians and capitalists should understand, is why it matters that we have private property and the ability to exclude the use of resources by the public.

I know it's now the default to oppose Bundy because he said some obnoxious racially-insensitive things, but can't we also call him out for being something of a socialist?

Sunday, April 27, 2014


I'm a little late to the Cliven Bundy party, but I want to give credit to two different entities for their handling of the Cliven Bundy situation with the Bureau of Land Management.

The first one is to Glenn Beck for being the voice of reason. Like Beck, I have a big concern with our ever-expanding federal government, and going into this story it looked like a federal agency was over responding with a thuggish display of force. Beck unraveled that narrative and revealed Bundy as a violence-monger who the government treated with patience for years.

Beck was confronted with someone who agreed with many of his politics, but had disturbing violent desires. To his credit, Beck did exactly what the socialist George Orwell did when he encountered Joseph Stalin: He dedicated himself to destroying him as an enemy.

Beck's framing of the split among liberty-seekers over Bundy is the definitive way to look at this situation, as the peaceful Martin Luther King, Jr. approach versus the violence Malcom X approach.

I like Beck, but he makes himself a whipping boy of the left with his support for the gold standard, declaring America a Christian nation and general  alarmism. It's risky to embrace Beck, but I don't care. Adults can see that Beck has been brilliant on this issue and it reflects well on his character and intelligence.

The other entity that needs credit here is the federal government and President Obama.

Bundy and his militia supporters probably don't want to die, but if they do die they want to become martyrs. The strategy they chose was to put the women in the front so if either side starts a shootout, the cameras will show the women being shot. That's some Occupy Wall Street-style propagandizing, and sadly fools fall for it.

I don't like seeing police forces back down from protesters who are essentially holding themselves hostage, but it was a smart move the government played here by ending the standoff and slinking away. Bundy was trying to make another Ruby Ridge or Waco here, and the Obama administration denied him that play.


Friday, April 25, 2014

The trouble with historical tax bracket comparisons

It seems like an absurdly small amount of people understand how marginal tax brackets work. The basic idea is that one's income is placed into multiple tax brackets, and different sections of that income are taxed at different rates.

What too many people mistakenly believe is that an American taxpayers puts their entire income into one bracket, and their entire income is taxed at that rate. That idea is flat-out wrong, and there are a lot of political arguments that depend on that misconception.

One of the most common ones is to lament or cheer that the top marginal tax rate in 1963 was 91 percent. Yes, it was, but so what? There were also 26 different brackets to get through first. The top bracket only kicked in after $400,000 for a married couple or $300,000 for a single person.

Adjusted for inflation, that's above $3.1 million for a married couple, or above $2.3 million for a single person. That's pretty much automatic earnings at that point, and very different from the 2013 tax bracket, where the 7th and final bracket kicks in at $450,000 or $400,000 to get a rate of 39.6 percent. There is no way to compare them in a way that is not arbitrary.

It is completely nonsensical to try to summarize how much the rich pay in taxes in a given year by dragging up the top marginal tax rate. I hear it from the left, and I hear it from the right, and it's wrong every time. The top rate tells us very little to the point of being nearly useless.

It doesn't even tell us what the rich paid in taxes.

Reject all political arguments that use the top rate as a shorthand way of identifying what people paid in taxes at that time.


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Frozen trade policy blunder

I'm fully aware of how incredibly nerdy it is too pick apart a small, semi-obscure detail in a movie - in this case an animated Disney movie - but I just saw Frozen and something didn't sit right with me.

The queen hurt a lot of innocent people - including her own - to get back at one minor villain.

The introduction for the Duke of Weselton showed him plotting to open up trade with the Kingdom of n Arendelle, which would somehow exploit Arendelle and make Wezelton richer - which is nonsensical, but minor.

What's much more troubling is that after the Duke is found to have tried to kill the queen, she punishes him by cutting off all trade.

Don Boudreaux compared punitive trade restrictions to fighting a war by shooting ones own citizens. What the queen did was make the citizens of Wezelton poorer, as well as make the citizens of her own kingdom poorer as well. She hurt a lot of people to get back at one guy. That's cold.


Monday, April 21, 2014

Why I am not part of the men's rights movement

I care a lot about men's rights issues, including domestic violence against men, male disposability, the male suicide problem, asymmetrical attention for men's health issues, false rape accusations, discrimination against men and attempts to vilify masculinity in modern society.

Unfortunately, the movement that is drawing attention to these important issues tolerates too many scumbags in its ranks.

In college I read The Myth of Male Power and became a huge Warren Farrell fan. I also became a male domestic violence victim and felt I had no where to turn - not the police, who would have probably arrested me instead of my abusive girlfriend - and not the local domestic violence shelter, the same one I had given money to at a fundraiser earlier that year.

It's not that I thought they would turn me away; they probably would have given me a safe place to stay for the night. It's that they never presented themselves as an organization that welcomes male victims, so in my time of crisis it never occurred to me that I could call them for help.

There's one major aspect of my views on men's rights that most people misunderstand, and I have this view because Warren Farrell made a very good argument for it. Our society is bisexist - that is, it is sexist against men and sexist against women at the same time but in different ways. That doesn't mean they automatically balance out - I consider that magical thinking - and I'm open to the idea that women have it worse overall, but they are both there.

Caring about men's issues does not mean that we have to ignore, mock or diminish women's issues. It's a big world and we can care about all of them.

I lost my friend Mark to suicide in college. I didn't think of it as a men's issue at the time, but now that I'm more familiar with the subject I recognize it as one. While women attempt suicide more often, men die from it four times as often.

This winter when I cheered on a friend at a polar dip for a gay men's domestic violence group in Boston, my heart sang when the founder told his story. In 1993 he fled for his life from a partner, but was turned away from domestic violence shelters because of his sexuality and his gender. Even as a straight man I could relate to that feeling of isolation and abandonment and I realized I want to be around more people who care about these issues.

But it's not going to be the men's rights movement. They have too many monsters that are allowed to move about the ranks. There are extremely vocal people in it that hate western, independent women and dismiss all claims of anti-female sexism out of hand. Even beyond them, there are many members who are rude, vulgar and childish.

Two years ago I wrote about how absurd it was for the Southern Poverty Law Center to label the men's rights movement as a hate group. I stand by what I wrote, that they were cherry-picking and ignoring the Warren Farrell's of the group. There are the legitimate sexists, and then there are people just like me who want to address legitimate problems men have in our society.

The problem is, every time I try to read men's rights webpages, I end up finding the trolls within a few clicks. They are there, and there are a lot of them.

Of course, the critics paint them all with one brush and often sprinkle in  messages from comments sections to pad the numbers of jerks. In fact, feminists have dug up obscure passages that Farrell wrote and misrepresented what he said about consent laws to dismiss him. This is a crude tactic to avoid addressing his real concerns, and unfortunately it has worked on many young impressionable minds.

I hate acronyms so I'm not going to call anyone an "MRA," and feminists have done a good job of using that three-letter term to associate men's rights activists with negative connotations. That have, in fact, poisoned the movement in the public's eye.

Which is ironic, because every single problem I have with the men's rights movement is a problem I have with modern feminism. Look at the tone of this vulgar piece on A Voice For Men. It's like I'm reading another foul-mouthed social justice warrior rage blog. Perhaps that's because it is just another social justice warrior rage blog. Feminist circles have their obnoxious extremists who say monumentally stupid or crass things, and many of them get propped up as legitimate leaders in the movement. The more I learn about the men' rights movement, the more I believe they do it too.

The two movements mirror each other in ways that supporters from both don't like to think about. While I love people like Farrell are care about these issues, I have no interest in being associated with the troll fest.

I've also owned a grey fedora since college and would like to be able to wear it again on formal occasions, but the men's rights stereotype destroyed that for me.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

A quick lesson on political realities

The major political ideologies in America are often presented as stark opposites that hold opposite views on most issues and only overlap in superficial, no-brainer ways.

That's extremely short-sighted and wrong, and the Boko Haram abductions in Nigeria illustrate just how wrong that view is. These are Islamic fundamentalists who violently kidnapped 100 schoolgirls as part of an ongoing campaign to end the formal education of women. They don't want women to go to school, and they are willing to kill to make that happen.

I'm sure you could find a couple lunatics in America that will believe any crazy view, but for all intents and purposes, no one in America agrees with this view. The same can be said for all kinds of older opinions that our society has burned away over the course of civilization. Think of slavery, genocide, formal stratification of society into castes and torture as a form amusement.

Those ideas were accepted as the norm for a long time, and as the savage actions of Boko Haram are showing us now, there are plenty of people in other parts of the world who still reject ideas that we consider beyond debate.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

My philosophy of writing

I highly recommend Strunk & White to anyone interested in writing, because it gets to the heart of what I believe good writing is: Sharp, well-placed words and as few of them as possible. Clunky phrasing and show-off SAT words are signs of weak writers, and attempts to impress the reader only water-down the message.

But for people who can't be bothered to read an entire book, there's George Orwell's famous essay, Politics and the English Language. Orwell carves out the same message but in a smaller space.

Well now I've seen this Calvin and Hobbes comic and I have a new alternative to people who can't sit still enough for Orwell.

It's from 1993, but the message is timeless.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The worst argument against anything

People don't like to change their views, even when confronted with good evidence or arguments against their positions. Our minds are skilled at using various tricks to comfort us when we resist the urge to change with new information.

Of course, it's extremely aggravating when other people use those tricks in front of us to shrug off our brilliant opinions. The one I find most frustrating is the idea that yes, my complaint is legitimate, but I shouldn't bother talking about it because there's another issue that is more important.

For example, I recently wrote about a false story that Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson was trying to block fracking near his home, or block water extraction intended for fracking near his home, and a far-left friend responded on social media that I should ignore this topic and only talk about Exxon receiving tax breaks.

So pointing out lies and disproving bad arguments is only something we should do when it hurts things we care about? Does anyone actually believe that?

I hear it when someone criticizes police and prosecutors for letting false rape accusers escape criminal charges (We should be talking about real rapes!) or wants to stop welfare abuse (Corporate Welfare is a bigger issue so let's not talk about that!)

This isn't a liberal vs. conservative thing; it's a universal bogus tactic. One could be arguing against the abuse of American prisoners and be told that that they should instead focus on the treatment of crime victims. We can care about feminist issues in America and the treatment of women in backwards poor countries, and not pick one over another.

Talk is cheap, and having a conversation about a topic doesn't have to pass a cost-benefit analysis. We can all make an infinite number of complaints. Prioritizing is for solutions, and when you want to actually focus resources on solving a problem that's when the cost-benefit analysis comes into play.

Until then, gripe away.


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Stop calling it that

Whenever I hear someone utter the term "reverse discrimination" I cringe.

The prime example is that affirmative action is a "reverse discrimination" policy against whites and Asians because it tells employers to pass over people because of their race.

No, Sparky. The term you are thinking of is simply "discrimination." There's nothing reverse about it - it's actual discrimination, based on race.

Friday, April 11, 2014

The luxury of not starving

Here's an image that is being spread along social media. There are many like it, and this one is perfectly representational of the genre.

There are so many things I could stay in response, as all of these so-called problems are shallow nonsense, but one stands out above the others.

There is no food crisis in America.

We have an abundance of cheap, healthy food, and that's because of forces like technology, international trade and capitalism. It is not because of agricultural subsidies, drum circles or the natural gifts of Mother Earth. It is because of human innovation and cooperation. Thank globalization, not food activists.

There is no lack of safe, nutritious and affordable food. Some people choose to eat unhealthy alternatives, but that's out of preference and no necessity.

Having to depend on local food is a recipe for mass starvation and poverty, and the people who want to return to those primitive days are coming from a place of ignorance.

We have all the good food we need. There is no food crisis here.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

White House caught being purposely misleading

Betsey Stevenson, economic adviser to the president, was in the middle of a press call promoting "Equal Pay Day" when a reporter pressed her and Stevenson unraveled the very myth she was there to promote.

The Obama administration has bullhorned the old idea that women make 79 or 77 cents for every dollar men make and has presented it as the result of discrimination. The actual explanation, that this is mostly because men and women work different jobs, act differently as employees and have different qualifications, is becoming more and more mainstream.

A reporter called her out on this explanation and Stevenson said:

If I said 77 cents was equal pay for equal work, then I completely misspoke... So let me just apologize and say that I certainly wouldn’t have meant to say that.

Case closed. A member of the Obama administration has admitted that the way people are interpreting this message is wrong. People who speak about this issue appear to be Michael Mooreing the Hell out of it - they make a statement that is technically true, but designed in a way to misinform the listener.

And of course, some of the speakers blatantly declare the false version to be true.

What's interesting here is that Stevenson did indeed say that the 77 cent figure is for equal work. Specifically she said:

They’re stuck at 77 cents on the dollar, and that gender wage gap is seen very persistently across the income distribution, within occupations, across occupations, and we see it when men and women are working side by side doing identical work.

Those two statements were from the same interview. The only way I can read that without seeing Stevenson as a liar is to say she meant there is some gender wage gap for identical work that persists when controlling for some factors and not others, such as not controlling for education, but that's being unreasonably generous it's still cutting it pretty close.

What's happening here is that Stevenson is trying to walk a fine line. She's been tasked with spreading a message that she knows isn't accurate, but she has to make supporting statements that won't get her called out. She fell off the tightrope, and climbing back on required her to admit the whole thing is a sham.


Monday, April 7, 2014

Should soldiers play by different rules?

That's the only conclusion I can reach after seeing this story pop up about Motel 6 turning away a 20-year-old soldier because he didn't meet the age minimum to book a room.

Here's the angry message that resonated with people enough for them to share it online:

Dear Motel 6. Just wanted applaud your patriotism. My son, who is an active duty soldier in the Army had to fly out today from Atlanta to Anchorage Alaska to report in to his new duty station. He drove down to Atlanta yesterday from Fredericksburg a day early so he wouldn't miss his flight. Of course he needed a place to stay and chose Motel 6 because of your low rates. He thought he was set because he made a reservation in advance. Low and behold he was turned away at midnight when he arrived because he is only 20 years old. Even after showing his military ID he was sent packing. Only place he could find at that late hour was hotel that charged the young Private $150. Way to go Motel 6. He is old enough to defend your freedom but not old enough to rent one of your stellar rooms. Leave this on your time line. I dare you. Motel 6

I added the bold text to highlight the parts that assumed that military members should be exempt from age rules because of the sacrifices and dangers associated with their jobs. It's not saying that military members are more responsible or stable than other people their age (which I find plausible), but that the rules shouldn't apply to them.

Snopes reported that some Motel 6 locations do indeed have policies requiring a minimum age of 21 to book a room, which means the company was simply being consistent when they turned the young soldier away

Since then, the company has issued this statement:

We have spoken directly with this guest and we are reimbursing him for both the cost of the Motel 6 room and the costs incurred while staying at the other hotel. Furthermore, we have re-communicated to all Motel 6 properties our check-in policy; we welcome military personnel of all ages.

So in the end Motel 6 will treat soldiers differently than everyone else. They didn't lower the registration age for everyone, just members of the military.

Will other age restrictions be waived for military members in the future? I agree with the argument that it's nonsensical to let an 18 year old fight in a war, but not drink a beer with his friends when he's being deployed, but what do we do about it? Should military members have their own drinking age?

What about other age restrictions, like the 25-minimum to run for congress? Doesn't that "old enough to fight in a war" line apply here too? What about the minimum age companies require to rent a car, will there be a future campaign against the car company that wouldn't rent to a young Marine?

Why not just lower every age restriction to 18, for everyone?

That's what we did with the 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age to 18 for everyone. The idea was that 18 year old were fighting in wars, with many of them forced into it through male-only conscription, but couldn't vote for the representatives who decide when the country goes to war. The country lowered the voting age for everyone in response, not just military members or the young men who were at risk of being drafted.

I'm reminded of the social structure in Starship Troopers, where people are born as civilians and have to earn the right for full citizenship, often through enlisting in the military. Only citizens can vote and raise children. It's not something to aspire to.

We already have an abundance of programs that are only open to current and former military members, including health care for life, special job training and employment assistance, loans for buying a home and tons of other benefits added piecemeal over the years. Some of their benefits are clearly compensation for enlisting and serving, such as money towards college, and medical services to help them recover from physical and mental trauma they experienced in war are a no-brainer, but many others are programs added after their service was completed.

Giving veterans special rights and services is politically popular. It starts with the notion that those who died  or risked their lives can never be fully repaid for their sacrifices. That is true in terms of gratitude, but that doesn't stop politicians and voters from trying to repay them with taxpayer money through an endless march of military-exclusive programs to pay an open-ended debt.

Non-veterans are on their way to becoming second-class citizens, and America is headed towards becoming an on-the-books caste system. It's not there yet, and there's nothing to scream and shout about yet. I don't think civilians will lose any rights but I still don't like where this is headed.


Saturday, April 5, 2014

Don't forget Target

Blogger Ryan Long penned a breakdown of recent gay rights-motivated boycotts to separate the reasonable (Salvation Army) from the unreasonable (Stoli Vodka). It's a good assessment, and with the ongoing flood of calls for boycotts, its important to set up a system like Long has.

...Boycotts are all the rage these days, it seems. It's weird how many of my fellow liberals and/or gays just expect me to hop on board these bandwagons, and seem surprised when I question them. Let me explain my very simple formula for whether we should boycott a business for being anti-gay. Does the company discriminate against LGBT employees or customers? Are company funds being used to promote anti-LGBT legislation? No? Then I don't feel the need to boycott.

I'm going to humbly add one example from 2011 Long forgot to include, which is understandable because there have been so many. The 2011 boycott and attempted extortion of Target for giving money to a pro-business political action committee that gave money to a pro-business politician who happened to oppose gay marriage.

Target has been a gay ally as an employer, and funds pro-gay events. The relationship to anti-LBGT legislation was strained and was never suggested to be intentional, and using Long's method I believe one should have opted not to boycott.


Thursday, April 3, 2014

Charles Koch is a man of virtue

There's no other way to describe it. In a Wall Street Journal essay about his continued promotion of a free society, Koch once again wrote about his opposition to corporate welfare and cronyism.

As a rich businessman, Koch could easily make more money by playing "the game" and getting favors from Washington. It's his belief in fairness and the free market that prevents him from doing so, and his very un-greedy stance on corporate welfare is most definitely a virtue.

Far from trying to rig the system, I have spent decades opposing cronyism and all political favors, including mandates, subsidies and protective tariffs—even when we benefit from them. I believe that cronyism is nothing more than welfare for the rich and powerful, and should be abolished.

His numerous left-wing critics are eager to disprove this notion, drafting numerous articles accusing Koch of being one of the biggest pigs at the federal trough. Here's a prime example from last month, with the headline Koch Brothers Takes $88 Million in Corporate Welfare.

The article is simply a link to a left-wing groups report on total corporate welfare in America. The actual report never mentions Koch industries or any of its subsidiaries because they ranked too low to list. Koch Industries didn't even make the top 100. One has to go through their raw data to find the Koch figures, which took less than half of the number 100 cutoff corporation, Bank of America, which had $180 million.

The report looked at corporate handouts, mostly in the form of tax breaks and enterprise zones, between 1990 and 2014. During that period Koch subsidiaries took a total of $88 million. That's $88 million over a period of 24 years, for a company with current annual revenue of $115 billion.

Compare that to the ($182 billion in revenue in 2013) Berkshire Hathaway firm owned and operated by left wing darling George Soros, that was ranked number 15 in the nation in the same report and took in over a billion in corporate welfare.

Let's make that comparison simple to read. Koch had $88 million, and Soros had $1,064 million.

Now granted, that $88 million is not zero, and I'm trying to make the claim that Charles Koch is a man of virtue. Don't these 139 subsidies mean he's a little bit dirty here?

Well yes and no. While I doubt Koch had much decision making over the $925 workforce training reimbursement accepted by Georgia-Pacific in Arkansas, surely the $10 million tax credit to Flint Hills Resources in Iowa should have been on his radar.

Letting that happen is a grave error Charles Koch should have fixed, but I'm not nominating him for sainthood. I'm saying that he has shown great restraint in resisting easy stolen money from the government.

As Timothy P. Carney wrote about Koch's decision to pay him to be a speaker against corporate welfare and bailouts:

If the Kochs were really just greedy billionaires funding front groups to boost their profits, their nonprofits would probably support subsidies and protective regulations. And if the Kochs' movement really is "pro-corporate," somebody made a big mistake in picking me to speak.


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The flawed mind of Richard Horton

Tyler Cowen talked a big game when he recently shared a link to an editorial by Richard Horton with the introduction "The editor of Lancet is anti-scientific and full of mood affiliation"

Big words, and after reading what Horton wrote, I see Cowen is entirely right.

Pick up any economics textbook, and you will see the priority given to markets and efficiency, price and utility, profit and competition. These words have chilling effects on our quest for better health. They seem to marginalise those qualities of our lives that we value most of all—not our self-interest, but our humanity; not the costs and benefits of monetary exchange, but vision and ideals that guide our decisions.

What Horton is saying is that he does not have the stomach for pragmatism, and believes surface-level emotions are more important than thwarting actual hardships.

To take what he wrote seriously, one would have to believe that Horton opposes using triage in a crisis.

The simple triage model I'm familiar with pictures a hospital overwhelmed with victims of a massive event. Say there are a few dozen staff members on hand, but hundreds of victims in various conditions. Instead of trying to treat everyone, the medical workers divide the patients into three groups: Those with minor injuries that are probably not life-threatening, those with life-threatening that can probably be saved and those with life-threatening injuries that will most likely die or that require a massive amount of work to save.

The first group is set aside to be worked on later, the second group is treated and the third group is left to die.

That's the reality of the situation, unfortunately, and triage isn't simply about coldly letting patients die. It is about saving as many lives as possible, and attempting to set aside emotions that would cloud judgment and end up hurting more people.

Economics gives us a path to make life better for everyone, especially the poor and sick, and that path is made up of markets, efficiency, prices, utility profits and competition.

Keep in mind that the American health care system is racked with economics problems, and going forward with Horton's mindset of trying to provide health care like a cruise ship buffet has made it unaffordable for many people, and has leeched a lot of money out of the hands of ordinary citizens.

How many people have to die needlessly so that Horton can be emotionally satisfied?

Horton went on in his essay to quote left wing critics of mainstream economics. Here's a sample:

Clare Chandler, a medical anthropologist (also from the London School), took a different view. She asked, what has neoliberal economics ever done for global health? Her answer, in one word, was “inequality”. Neoliberal economics frames the way we think and act. Her argument suggested that any economic philosophy that put a premium on free trade, privatisation, minimal government, and reduced public spending on social and health sectors is a philosophy bereft of human virtue... 
A year or so ago, I perhaps rashly suggested (on twitter) that economics was the biggest fraud ever perpetrated on the world. Many economists, understandably, disagreed profoundly with that view. But, please, think again.

This is just political claptrap. Chandler doesn't like bottom-up approaches politically, so therefor approaches that use bottom-up methods must not really want to make the world a better place. Free trade and a constrained role for government are methods for making like better for eveyone, especially the poor. There has never been a greater tool for eliminating poverty than capitalism and the free enterprise system, but Horton doesn't find it emotionally satisfying so he opposes it.

To pile on with Cowen's anti-science accusation, Horton has been the head honcho of the Lancet since the 1990's, and was editor in chief when the famous Andrew Wakefield vaccine-autisim study was published in 1998. I can give Horton a pass for publishing a study that was only later revealed to be a fraud, but with all the attention it got, it shouldn't have taken 12 years to issue a retraction.

A few years ago Bill Easterly specifically called out The Lancet out for publishing multiple medical studies with flawed economic analysis. All of these studies were published while Horton was in place.

As Horton reminded us in the essay, eliminating poverty promotes the general health of the public. Economics gives us the best methods to do that, and it doesn't not involve the snowflakes and rainbow approach Horton finds emotionally satisfying.