Tuesday, February 28, 2006
Happy Fat Tuesday
This whole celebratory season actually begins with Septuagesima!
Either way, get your fill before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent!
Meathead Economics, The 25 Fat Years, Always High Taxes, and Humanizing Eugenics.
In the order presented above: Mr. Reiner on taxes, Economics since Reagan, Wal-Mart woes, and good intentions and bad ideas.
Baseball's first female Hall of Famer.
Six words for you: Chocolate Linked to Lower Blood Pressure!!
Go, Go Cocoa Consumers.
So much for those VA obesity programs. Nothing a little rationing can't solve.
Think happy thoughts! Go optimists!
Where's the housing bubble? I am still waiting for the loud popping sound.
So long Barney.
Austrian Monetary Theory
When I say money is not "neutral" with respect to relative prices, I mean changes in the money supply cannot leave relative prices unchanged. This is mainly because an increase (or decrease) in the supply of money is never perfectly uniform. It is usually injected at one place (as in creating new money to be spent on government services) and takes time to run its course through the whole of the economy. Those who are first in this chain (and enjoy low prices before they rise fully) benefit at the expense of those who receive the new money last or not at all (people on a fixed income are hit hardest). Naturally, this wealth effect has a lasting impact on the structure of demand and, in turn, relative prices. So money is not neutral with respect to relative prices.
Austrians also grimace at the mention of the "price level." It should be clear from the last paragraph that the concept of the price level is meaningless if relative prices are affected by changes in the supply of money. But to get more fundamental, what is the price level supposed to capture? Changes in the purchasing power of money? As Murray Rothbard points out in "The Austrian Theory of Money":
What, then, is the purchasing power, or the price, of a dollar? It will be a vast array of all the goods and services that can be purchased for a dollar, that is, of all the goods and services in the economy. In our example, we would say that the purchasing power of a dollar equals one dozen eggs, or two pounds of butter, or one-tenth of a hat, and so on, for the entire economy. In short, the price, or purchasing power, of the money unit will be an array of the quantities of alternative goods and services that can be purchased for a dollar. Since the array is heterogeneous and specific, it cannot be summed up in some unitary price-level figure.
How can that fit into a "price level"? Why would that even be desirable, considering that money is not neutral w.r.t. relative prices? The followers of everyone from Keynes to Friedman have a lot of explaining to do.
P.S. Mises figured most of this out by 1912 when he published "The Theory of Money and Credit." My hat is off to the man.
Monday, February 27, 2006
Apparently, Fashion Designers Ignore the Shapes of Women’s Bodies!
Math and Science is Good!
NCSU wants to train leaders and add to students' ‘life skills toolbox’. Who would have thought?
Re: Obesity Wars
2. There is no way to objectively measure an individual's activity level, so insurers use weight as a proxy. But researchers and policy advocates have since forgotten that it's a proxy and focus entirely on weight.
3. Being heavy is not a health risk. It can carry benefits. Being underweight, which is the way some people make sure they are not 'too fat' is a health risk.
4. Health insurers now cover weight-loss surgery and other services aimed at those who are deemed too heavy but do not charge higher premiums for folks with higher body mass index scores. For activity, they have prizes for people who track their daily half hour of exercise.
5. As Jenna mentioned in her comment, as long as there is no cost for "bad" behavior, there is no incentive to change behavior, regardless what kind of re-education program veterans or others endure.
Additionally, here is some info:
The Marijuana Policy Project, the Drug Policy Alliance, and An Analysis of Marijuana Policy.
Sunday, February 26, 2006
The Obesity Wars
"I feel we have a responsibility to better educate our veterans."
Gotta love these sort of folks. How do they sleep at night, when we have this obesity epidemic? I know I can't....
Commentary on our epidemic: Center for Disease Control, Halting the Obesity Epidemic, Harvard on the Worldwide Obesity Epidemic
Friday, February 24, 2006
A Coasian approach to abortion. For me, it seems that this issue has to deal with property rights and the infringement of those rights. Obviously there are not zero transaction costs, but we are dealing with reality here. How would one come to an optimal decision and how does one negotiate terms of compensation, when one party is unconscious or incapacitated? I think I actually like Walter Block's approach to this subject as I stated a couple of posts ago, but it's the difficult topics that are the most interesting...
In the news: South Dakota to ban abortion and Birth Control without prescription.
The other is related to a topic Dallas brought up earlier. Is it a violation of the Libertarian ethic to cheat on your significant other? Since marriage is an explicit contract, I am mostly concerned with individuals who are dating. There would, at least in many cultures, be an implict contract involved with dating -- one implying fidelity or at least limiting any attempts as polyamorous activities. Since it is dating though, there are risks involved with this activity and should all infidelities on the part of a 'significant other' be considered an assumed risk? I suppose if this sort of issue is never talked about, there can only be limited expectations, but there likely still exists an implict contract -- even if it is one-directional. How do we resolve that and is one party deserving of restitution in the case of infidelity?
Any one want to take a stab at these?
Huckabee on Health
I appreciate the approach taken by the state of Arkansas -- in an attempt to correct the supposed 'asymmetric information' through marketing and differentiation rather than coercion. If there is such a thing as responsible government, I think folks should take a lesson from the Governor of Arkansas.
Are there other arguments, beyond paternalism and asymmetric information, for regulating restaurants, fast-foods, and ‘junk foods’?
On Civil Liberties
Despite the obvious merits, my Introduction to American Government Class was wholly unimpressed: with the definition and with the concept. Government interference, warranted or otherwise, seemed like a good idea to most of my 35 students. “After all,” they reasoned, “who would protect us, if not for government?”
Just to test the waters - and stir conversation a bit - I assigned my students to read two unapologetic tirades against government incursions into civil liberties in the United States. The first reading – brought to us by the ACLU – expounded Patriot Act abuses of six of the 10 amendments in the bill of rights, plus its further trampling of due process as defined by the 14th amendment. The second reading detailed the slow, deadly growth of the cancer we know as Federal Income Tax.
To UNC students of political science, “interference” is simply a matter of degree. Some government encroachment of rights is just fine, as long as it’s not too much. The “right” to private property only extends to about 70% of income; after that, the government can appropriate at will. Habeas corpus applies only to U.S. citizens, in peacetime and when detainees aren’t “dangerous;” some people ought to be locked up in the name of national security and the common good. Apparently, giving up a little liberty in exchange for security isn’t such a bad thing after all. So say my students.
I think what shocked me most was that my students didn’t seem to take sides, at least not traditional partisan ones. Doves on the left didn’t defend habeas corpus against Hawks on the Right. Conservatives didn’t denounce the federal income tax against tax-and-spend liberals. Instead, they immediately looked for common ground; the search for the minimally acceptable policies spanned nearly an hour of class time. Almost all were willing to compromise.
In the end, I got the impression that rights and liberties were really just conveniences; they’re nice things to have when government doesn’t think better of it. Government’s role as ultimate protector, arbiter and insurance agent precludes it from always honoring individual rights.
But should we really compromise our liberties? Aren’t there some absolutes? Individuals have a right to property all the time? Habeas Corpus applies to everyone, no matter what, unless Congress actually suspends it? Due process means that even the national government has to abide by rules?
Apparently not. The next generation of lawmakers bows to the gods of practicality and compromise. Even the Constitution has to make concessions sometimes. After all, the government couldn’t do its job if it had to worry about rights all the time.
Smoke and Mirrors
By Christopher Goff
Hugh Water’s study on the economic impact of secondhand smoke in Maryland is a gross exaggeration of the real costs associated with environmental tobacco smoke (ETS). Not only is his rate of population attributable risk (PAR) artificially high, but he includes all illnesses that show any correlation with ETS whatsoever – never mind the fact there is no evidence that these illnesses are actually caused by secondhand smoke. Additionally, he includes burn hospitalizations, outpatient services, and deaths, none of which could possibly be attributed to secondhand smoke. Further, the study never takes into account the length of exposure, concentration, or dispersion of the purportedly lethal effluence, thereby grossly elevating the reported “costs”. Lastly, the overt disregard for the costs to Maryland that would result from a ban on public smoking is academically criminal. As Robert Levy of the Cato Institute has pointed out in regard to this sort of statistical legerdemain, “responsible statisticians agree that it is impossible to attribute causation to a single variable, like tobacco, when there are multiple causal factors that are correlated with one another”. This study stands in blatant disregard for the reality of the issue and should therefore, itself be disregarded.
The public health argument that Waters attempts to bolster is itself a flawed hypothesis that gained unmerited credence. In 1993, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the purported “grand-daddy” of all smoking studies. It declared that ETS was a carcinogen that causes 3,000 deaths annually. Five years later the U.S. District Judge William Osteen threw out the study, criticizing the EPA for “cherry picking” the data and demonstrating “no association between ETS and cancer”. He further pointed out that the EPA withheld “significant portions of its findings and reasoning striving to confirm its a priori hypothesis”.
In 1996, American Heart Association’s journal, Circulation, reported no increase in coronary heart disease associated with secondhand smoke “at work or in other settings”. Just two years later, the World Health Organization reported “no association between childhood exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) and lung cancer”.
Additionally, a 1999 editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that, “we still do not know, with accuracy how much or even whether [ETS] increases the risk of coronary heart disease”. Furthermore, Robert A. Levy points out that, the American Council on Science and Health has stated that the results, as mentioned above, are “consistent” with studies by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
In May 2003, the researchers at the British Medical Journal found that environmental tobacco smoke or ‘secondhand smoke’ had “no significant connection with heart disease or lung cancer death at any level of exposure at any time”. Lastly, MIT professor of economics Jonathan Gruber, stated that “the size of the health costs of secondhand some are quite ambiguous and controversial”. He further stated that, “[W]hile controversy exists within the literature, there is a fairly strong consensus that the externalities that have been measured are small on net” and that “issues such as secondhand smoke may justify public policies such as clear air laws that restrict smoking in public places, but the limited evidence on the impacts of secondhand smoke also raises questions about the widespread nature of the restrictions”. In other words, the proposed ‘all-out ban’ lacks significant scientific, statistical, or economic proof as a good public policy and should not be pursued as it simply infringes on the rights of consumers, business owners, and workers to no practical purpose.
As a matter of the alleged social costs to the state of Maryland, in 1998, Jane Gravelle of the Congressional Research Service stated that, “smokers do not appear to currently impose net financial costs on the rest of society”. In fact, according to Gravelle, “smoking has apparently brought financial gain to both the federal and state governments”. Also, W. Kip Viscusi, Professor of Law and Economics at Harvard Law School, asserts that smoking either “pays for itself” or in fact, “generates revenues for the states”. He also claimed that “[A]ll states now earn a net financial profit from cigarettes rather than incurring a loss”.
So without significant scientific evidence for substantial costs incurred by secondhand smoke or “passive smoking”, how is it the Hugh Waters’ paper seems to lend so much credence to the proposed Maryland ban? It is simple: he only looks at the alleged savings (benefits) to Maryland citizens and not at any of the costs incurred by individuals and businesses. It is very easy to come out on top, when you neglect to mention costs in a cost-benefit analysis or a cost effectiveness ratio. And even with this flawed data in hand, many policy wonks are still pursuing this agenda of lowering consumer welfare, limiting labor choices and wage options and increasing business expenses. Any limit to choice reduces consumer welfare and business opportunities. Also, you could expect wages and employment opportunities to decline. Additionally, this will have the unintended consequences of creating new “winners” and “losers”, by forcing smaller businesses who can’t adapt to simply fail. In fact, as Arthur Foulkes pointed out in his July 2003 article in The Freeman, “…all the studies supporting smoking bans are based on aggregated restaurant sales data; they look at the “restaurant industry” in the smoke-free communities. They largely ignore what might be happening under the surface to individual businesses”.
There are also distributional concerns. As Jonathan Gruber points out, “the smoking rates of the lowest income quartile are roughly twice those of the highest quartile” and recognizing that, we have to acknowledge that this will serve as a welfare loss to the lower income groups and would have the same effect as a regressive tax. No amount of paternalistic fervor will make this reality disappear.
Whether or not they recognize the sheer absurdity of the proposition that public bans will impact public health, I implore the legislators of Maryland to recognize that this regulation can only cause more economic harm than benefit. Like U.S. District Judge William Osteen did in 1998, throw out this study and rely on the fact that numerous industries have adopted smoke-free work areas without coercion from above. Do not forget that these business owners are in business to please their customers and maximize worker productivity, and if they believe that banning smoking in their particular venue is profitable, they will choose to do it freely -- without the heavy hand of government.
Christopher Goff is a statistician and holds a masters degree in economics from North Carolina State University.
Thursday, February 23, 2006
Right here is Morrisville, North Carolina, you can find an example of this creeping automation.
Damn you productivity!!
His lecture can be found here.
Here are the questions:
If someone leaves trash on your front door steps, should you be expected to clean it up? Under the libertarian approach what are you expected to do? What if someone puts a baby on your front door step?
Also, if you see someone drowning, under the libertarian ethic, are you expected to assist them? What if you swim out to them and then change your mind?
I like what Block does here and I find his approach using an 'implicit contract' with the people on the shore interesting.
--Also check out his interview on Wal-Mart and Banking--
Most of the information I have read and collected implies that 'we' (media, general public, and legislators) grossly exaggerate the harm of secondhand smoke. Additionally, because of this, Water's rate of risk is artificially high and the diseases related are just that -- related. I have yet to see any definite connection (causation) between environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) and the numerous diseases that are cited in his study. There are many issues to the common perception of smoking and secondhand smoke. I am trying to finish up the Op-Ed and then I will link it in the next couple of days.
Here is a book by Kip Viscusi of Harvard on the costs of smoking.
Additionally the Congressional Research Service has put into question the notion that smokers don't pay their way.
Okay...this is a rights question as well. Since we do not have anything set up to perfectly internalize the effluence -- i.e. no property rights of air, what do we do? How should one group be compensated for damages and the other pay for those damages that they inflicted on another person. We can use a Coasian approach, but since property rights have little history of being allocated (except through pollution permits), how do we come to a decision on this? Surely an all out ban in public places (which also happen to be private property) is not the proper approach.
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Samuel L. Jackson.
In NewMark's Information Goods class we talked about this sort of thing. We specificially talked about and how Amazon chose to use price discrimination, but that when people found out about it they were really upset. That's how it goes.
Online companies have the ability to do these sorts of discriminating tactics and there are many, but when people find out they will have to deal with the fact that, in general consumers don't like to know that they paid a higher price than somebody else for the same thing.
Here is a website dedicated to the NetFlix analysis and another titled Hacking NetFlix.
Although I am not that familiar with the gentleman, Mr. David John Cawdell Irving, a prominent British World War II historian and researcher was convicted on 20 February 2006 for denying the Holocaust. Irving was sentenced to three years imprisonment in Austria.
On his arrest in Austria (Wiki):
Irving was arrested by the Austrian police in the southern province of Styria on 11 November 2005, under a warrant issued in 1989. Irving knew that he was banned from Austria, in the words of his partner, Bente Hogh: "He was not jailed just for his views but because he's banned from Austria and still went. David doesn't take advice from anyone. He thought it was a bit of fun, to provoke a little bit."
Within two weeks of his arrest, Irving asserted through his lawyer that he acknowledged the existence of Nazi-era gas chambers. On 20 February 2006 he pleaded guilty to the charge of denying the Holocaust from two speeches in 1989. He said this was what he believed, until he later saw the personal files of Adolf Eichmann, the chief organiser of the Holocaust. "I said that then based on my knowledge at the time, but by 1991 when I came across the Eichmann papers, I wasn't saying that anymore and I wouldn't say that now," Irving told the court. "The Nazis did murder millions of Jews." Irving declared himself shocked by the verdict. He reportedly had bought a plane ticket home to London, believing the court would "not be stupid enough" to lock him up.
Many feared that Irving could become a martyr for far-right activists and the issue also raised a debate on what grounds freedom of speech could be denied in democratic countries. Currently, Irving is incarcerated at the Graz-Karlau prison, awaiting appeal.
I think this is an interesting topic and although Austria denies it, his only crime was denying something that was popularly accepted. It is a matter of freedom of speech and press and the government's ability to infringe upon those rights. Now for the matter of libel and slander, does denying accepted historical documentation infringe on the rights of others? How exactly is it harmful to the Jews, in this case, and should they be compensated for their losses? The fact that he might be a fascist, racist, or bigot should not come into the decision making process! So what is his crime really?
And now it is time for a quote from Voltaire:
I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.
(Apparently Voltaire never actually said these words, but it was used to sum up his opinion. It first appeared in "The Friends of Voltaire", 1906, by S. G. Tallentyre (Evelyn Beatrice Hall)).
Here is some more information on David Irving:
The UK's Guardian, Wiki's Bio, Free Books by Irving, Info on his cases, and the Holocaust Deniers.
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
Good vs. Evil.... Here is a little on the match-up.
Here is my Gather.com article.
Additionally, here are two of my past postings (1 and 2).
Here are the news stories: Washington Post and Google News.
Here are some books on what Economists should do! And have you ever wondered what Economists contribute? Find out here.
How many economists does it take to change a light bulb?
None. If it really needed changing, market forces would have caused it to happen.
None. If the government would just leave it alone, it would screw itself in.
None. The invisible hand does it.
Two. One to assume the existence of ladder and one to change the bulb.
Eight. One to change it and seven to hold everything else constant.
One to prepare the proposal, an econometrician to run the model, one each MS and PhD students to write the theses and dissertations, two more to prepare the journal article (senior authorship not assigned), four to review it, and at least as many to refine the model and replicate the results.
More jokes here!
A Little Port and Sherry
For those unaware of the story, it has to deal with a company called Dubai Ports World and their purchase of London-based Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company. That London-based company runs commercial operations in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia. The issue is that Dubai Ports World is owned by the United Arab Emirates government, which is a league of Arab nations. Obviously you can see the problems people have with this sort of decision.
On the other hand, it would be interesting to see if the profit motive is a greater incentive than religious extremism. If I am not mistaken, that is the sort of approach that DeSoto recommended to rid the world of terrorism -- encouraging prosperity and profit. I hope we continue in this direction, so that we can find out a better approach to fighting terrorist activities and in the same steps, aid relations with other nations.
Monday, February 20, 2006
Praxeology rests on the fundamental axiom that individual human beings act, that is, on the primordial fact that individuals engage in conscious actions toward chosen goals. This concept of action contrasts to purely reflexive, or knee-jerk, behavior, which is not directed toward goals. The praxeological method spins out by verbal deduction the logical implications of that primordial fact. In short, praxeological economics is the structure of logical implications of the fact that individuals act.This "action axiom" is where it all starts. The Austrian school and mainstream (neoclassical) economics begin to split at this fundamental stage. Although neoclassical economics assumes "rationality" on behalf of economic actors, it is narrowly defined. Rational, in the textbook sense, means wealth-maximizing or utility-maximizing on some well-defined and known constraints.
This is not Austrian economics. What I've learned from Austrian economics is that nothing is that simple. There is no way to know what a person's indifference curve looks like at any moment, let alone what their utility maximization parameters are. The mathemtics of optimization (taught in economics graduate schools everywhere) is interesting and clean, but substitutes "economic man" for individuality and purposeful action.
Austrian economists dismiss both economic man and the mathematics that follow because they are untrue assumptions. Since men are all different, they can't be put in predictable equations. Even the same person does not have the same preferences in different situations or at different times. So any calculations based on these false assumptions are wrong. Even if they yield good predictions (do they ever?) they leave out the one component that is central to Austrian economics: purpose.
Perhaps the best way to define Austrian economics, then, is by its purpose. The goal of Austrian economics is to make the world intelligible in terms of human action and to trace the unintended consequences of such action (Hayek). Contrast that with the neoclassical approach: to study the allocation of resources. The first acknowledges the hearts and minds of human beings while the second remains on the surface.
He was a follower of the principles of William Lloyd Garrison and a frequent contributor to Garrison’s weekly journal “The Liberator”.
Additionally, Douglas conferred with presidents Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson over the treatment of black soldiers and the issues of black suffrage. Douglass was also an ordained minister of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
You can listen to his "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave" here.
Here's a bit more on him and some of his writings.
Is efficiency more important than righteousness? If, by being more efficient, we lose quality, character, meaningful jobs (it's awful how many people whose jobs are nothing more than making sure other people are doing their's), and likely consume a great deal more resources in the process, is it really worth it?
I earlier stated that Chesterton and Belloc's opinions on economics are misconstrued in the modern age. They both lived before things such as effective mobile refrigeration and food transportation, computers, the internet, and all sorts of modern marvels. As such, there were a great many more people involved in agriculture and a lot fewer people involved in business/techonology. There were also a lot fewer companies for whom you could work your entire life, and yet never meet The Man In Charge. As Chesterton once said, "One day we will have an army of grocer's assistants to no grocer at all." Walk into your local supermarket and you'll see it's true. You have stock boys and people in the bakery and at the deli counter and the registers, but instead of a grocer you'll find a manager who seldom deals with his products, except on paper. In fact, you can't even really call them his product, so much as products he sells for someone else.
Just how many local grocery stores are left? They're certainly more common in smaller towns, and in another fashion, crowded areas of cities where there is no room for new buildings. Are there any where I live, though? No. What about a general store? No... Toy stores? One, and I've no idea how it stays in business as I rarely see anyone in there.
Yes; there are 25 million small businesses in the country. But if you stop and think about it... that really isn't very many. There are approximately 300 million people in the United States. Even if you chop off 100 million for being retired or too young to work, you're still talking about 25 million small businesses in 50 states for 200 million people. While that means the majority still likely work for small businesses, well, the majority of a population can be healthy; but if 49% have the bubonic plague, it's still a calamnity.
If you're to ask me how I think we ought to go about bringing a distributist economy into a reality, I can't answer in a technical manner. I'm not an economist, and I'm not arguing this from a strictly economical point of view. I'm arguing it from a humanistic point of view.
However, it would seem to me that slowly and surely, large companies be broken down by region under the leadership of competent men, with gradually reduced accountability to a head figure.
Really, don't you get sick of seeing McDonalds and Wal-Mart everywhere you go? As someone said to me not that long ago, "it makes the country look boring."
I thought it would be easier to keep the discussion going if we proceeded like this. Read my comments and post some yourself.
Sunday, February 19, 2006
You won a free ticket to see an Eric Clapton concert (which has no resale value). Bob Dylan is performing on the same night and is your next-best alternative. Tickets to see Dylan cost $40. On any given day, you would be willing to pay up to $50 to see Dylan. Assume there are no other costs of seeing either performer. Based on this information, what is the opportunity cost of seeing Eric Clapton?
Click here for the answer.
Before you start to grieve for the economics profession, realize that the answers given to the question are almost randomly distributed between the 4 potential answers. IOW: We would have gotten close to the same results for the survey if each subject picked an answer at random. Personaly, I think they might have. What incentive do they have to do otherwise? I think scored would have been a lot higher if we paid the subjects for answering correctly (maybe impressing a grad student with a clipboard might not have been reward enough for them). Incentives matter even in test taking.
Thanks to Crooked Timber for the link.
I Now Pronounce You Contractual Partners
About a year ago, my then-fiancé and I were "pondering" the institution of marriage. The conversation found its focus when she rolled over and asked me "why do you think people get married, at all?" It was a good question. After all, anything you can do as a married couple you can do as a unmarried couple (ignoring social convention and taxes). So why go to the trouble of cementing things by getting married? Luckily, I already had an answer prepared, inspired by the Economics and Law course I was taking at the time. Here's how it went:
Two people "get together" for a variety of reasons, mainly to have kids, provide each other emotional support, and to take advantage of comparative advantages by specializing in various household tasks (maybe the wife cooks, the husband fixes the car or visa versa). In other words, they partner to start a "family". But one could create this "family" without a marriage license. So why bother?
After a while, the couple becomes very specialized to this particular relationship. "No one else knows me like my husband does." "No irons my shirts the way wife does." "No one else could be the mother of our children" etc. If one thought of the family as a firm, one could say the couple was acquiring "firm specific capital".
The fact that this capital is so specialized could allow one of the couple to threaten the other that they would leave the relationship if they were not compensated to stay. This hold-out problem is well known in economics, and one way of mitigating it is using long-term contracts. The relevant long term contract in this case, we call marriage.
Apparently, this wasn’t the answer she was looking for.
"So, you're just marrying me because you think I'm a blackmailing bitch?"
I think she wanted something more whimsical.
Three hours and three hundred apologies later, I was thankfully still engaged. Later it turned out my argument wasn't even novel. Talk about all pain and no gain. It's these types of conversations that me think I should have stuck with the history major.
Friday, February 17, 2006
Censors and Profit
I think so. Should we be worried about that? Probably...
Businesses exist only because the country where they live allows them to. Now I am not saying that this is appropriate, but when you live under my roof, you play by my rules. This is what China has done and the USA conveniently pursues as needed (Patriot Act).
Should we be worried about the corporatocracy's agenda of further censorhsip?
Cox & Forkum
Trade and the "Deficit"
Here is what I am talking about. It is an article from Gather.com
A "right", philosophically, must be something embedded in the nature of man and reality, something that can be preserved and maintained at any time and in any age. The "right" of self-ownership, of defending one's life and property, is clearly that sort of right: it can apply to Neanderthal cavemen, in modern Calcutta, or in the contemporary United States. Such a right is independent of time and place.
Putting some context to the quote above, this is Rothbard's response to the notion of a "right" to education, which he states is a fallacy. Additionally, these luxuries of modern society are not "rights" and should not be considered as such. "Rights" to food, guaranteed wages and work, profit, medicine, and just about everything else in modern parlance that is touted as a "right" are just modern entitlements having no real justification, other than a convenient public choice mechanism for the buying of votes.
Thursday, February 16, 2006
"According to distributism, the ownership of the means of production should be spread as widely as possible among the populace, rather than being centralized under the control of a few state bureaucrats (some forms of socialism) or a minority of resource-commanding individuals (capitalism). A summary of distributism is found in Chesterton's statement: "Too much capitalism does not mean too many capitalists, but too few capitalists" ("The Uses of Diversity", 1921)."
I suppose this comment means that you prefer the mom and pop shops or the guilds of the olden days, or perhaps like the communitarians, you would rather that more individuals be involved in the "production" because of the coercive tendencies of the corporate-government alignment.
Okay, well I suppose that makes sense, but how do we get there, other than through destructive means? I kind of get the feeling that this is something like the communitarian (like Daniel Quinn) or anarcho-primitivist approach where we “return to the wild” and everybody makes everything themselves. I am not really sure if Chesterton’s adage above is of any real value, since the largest groups of capitalists are individuals, independent contractors, and sole-proprietors. So how do we achieve distributivist nirvana?
Okay Brian, help me out. Thanks for joining.
An Introduction to Dissention
That being said, I am not what you would call a democrat, republican, liberal, moderate, conservative, socialist, or a capitalist. The only political or economic ideal with which I would associate myself with is distributism, a little known and even less understood philosophy advocated by the early 20th century writers Hillaire Belloc and G.K. Chesterton. If one is to look up the philosophy, I recommend only reliable sources, such as wikipedia, because most of the people who believe in it are a little crazy and take it out of modern context.
I am a devout Roman Catholic and this most certainly plays a role in my beliefs and the expression thereof, though you will come to learn that, while faith is my cornerstone, reason is my building block.
I am more of a responsive writer, so I will check this blog frequently and look for opportunities to argue amicably with you all.
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
A Lesson in Statistics
Always keep in mind that "correlation" does not mean "causation." Once you have that firmly planted in your scientific consciousness, take the following into consideration when assessing the weight of the medical accusations leveled at secondhand smoke and what can happen if you are exposed to it.
1. More than 98 percent of convicted felons are bread users.
2. Fully HALF of all children who grow up in bread-consuming households score below average on standardized tests.
3. In the 18th century, when virtually all bread was baked in the home, the average life expectancy was less than 50 years; infant mortality rates were unacceptably high; many women died in childbirth; and diseases such as typhoid, yellow fever, and influenza ravaged whole nations.
4. More than 90 percent of violent crimes are committed within 24 hours of eating bread.
5. Bread has been proven to be addictive. Subjects deprived of bread and given only water to eat, begged for bread after as little as two days.
6. Bread is often a "gateway" food item, leading the user to "harder" items such as butter, jelly, peanut butter, and even cream cheese.
7. Bread has been proven to absorb water. Since the human body is more than 90 percent water, it follows that eating bread could lead to your body being taken over by this absorptive food product, turning you into a soggy, gooey, bread-pudding person.
8. Newborn babies can choke on bread.
9. Bread is baked at temperatures as high as 450 degrees Fahrenheit! That kind of heat can kill an adult in less than two minutes.
10. Most American bread eaters are utterly unable to distinguish between significant scientific fact and meaningless statistical babbling...
Courtesy of NYCCLASH.
Although I enjoy watching the Olympics every two years (both summer and winter), I recognize that it serves nothing more than pitting Nations and their temporarily nationalized [patriotized] citizens at odds against their fellow global neighbors. The Olympics have never served their purpose of bringing the world together.
Wall Street Journal's Kyle Smith proposes we should end the Olympics all together.
Here's a little info about the Host City and Federal Funds for the Olympics in American cities.
A GAO report on the Funding.
A History of the Olympic games from Athens.
A propsal to stop the Olympics completely!
Lysander Spooner said that if someone else's rights were being infringed upon, then other individuals were well within their rights to assist them with force. I suppose that is an eye for an eye approach, which actually seems appropriate. It seems that this is the correct approach, but what about our own morals? Since most Americans have this Judeo-Christian cultural background, does morality play into this at all. Should it? What do you think?
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
The music of money
The other day, I flipped on the boob tube and saw a South Park episode, where the musicians were protesting because they weren't making enough money for their music. This is during the time of Napster, ShareBear, LimeWire, WinMX, Kazaa, and all the rest of the P-to-P options for file sharing and illegal or legal downloads.
Today, I saw on NewMark's Door and article giving the music industry, some advice on how to stay afloat in the modern age of music listening. The message: Make better music!
What do you think? I know most of us college students are desensitized to this and I know I have helped support sharing files and all that good stuff. Now, I wonder what is right. Do the property rights end with the purchase? Should the distribution be covered? What is your opinion of the subject?
Rights of Production
Now, I know that these sorts of issues have, for a long time, been important to advocates and politicians, but when did they become important to the common consumer of these goods?
Living wage is an arbitrary guarantee on the amount of wages given to an employee for a period of employment.
Labor rights are "rights" granted to employees to organize and petition their employer. These "rights" can encompass so much more that it could easily take up a few pages.
Sweatshops are the factories, usually overseas, where someone here deplores the conditions there. Other people have particular minimums, but most do not.
Whether they have knowledge of it or not, it is quite often that these altruistic beliefs only serve to worsen the conditions of labor. The notion of a guarantee on wages is absurd. The idea that someone should be paid not on their knowledge, ability, expertise, or experience is ridiculous. Moreover, the living wage only serves those who are employed and makes it more difficult for the unemployed or those individuals just starting out to enter the workforce. This is the same sort of issue with the increase of the minimum wage (pricing out the marginal labor).
Although, I have no particular problems with the organization of Labor, the use of force upon the employer to guarantee rights above and beyond those given via employment has many problems. Not only is there a loss of future productivity and investment on capital, but Big Labor advocates a great deal towards pricing out the competition. If a business consents to enter agreements with a Labor Union, then it should oblige by that choice. If it wasn't a voluntary contract, then there are of course some problems.
The measure of what is and what should be considered a "sweatshop" seems a bit arbitrary to me. Of course the working standards will be lower then they are here, because we can afford to have them higher. Even Paul Krugman, the champion of Left, pointed out the value of child labor. It follows through also to labor standards, work hours, and anything else you can think of, that impedes on growth and advancement by these people and their nations.
I like the notion that people want to know about the inputs used in the production of goods and services. It is a nice idea to want to make sure you are not forcing someone to have to work for fewer wage (of course that's not exactly how it works, but I think that is the opinion). It just seems that sometimes people are so easily misguided and "used" by the local and political demagogues that any opinion contrary to forcing 'help' on others becomes the work of capitalist pigs and the evil Right. The key is that we need to remember the unintended consequences and the long-run!
More: Sweatshops, John Edwards, Living Wages, Definition of a Living Wage, Worker's Rights, and Sweatshop Watch.
Monday, February 13, 2006
Negative rights are rights "against" coercion or force - i.e. the right protecting against another person's infringement on your person or property.
Positive rights is the freedom "to". It is an approach where an individual is entitled to a certain amount or standard.
Most modern philosophers contend that individuals are entitled to both negative and positive rights. They deserve a right against coercive powers on life and liberty, but they feel that it is not enough. More is needed to attain wealth and in essence "move-up" in the world. This stems from an opinion that seems rather static to me, as if individuals simply stand still and are not capable or even able to better themselves in any respect without the use of redistribution or assistance from above. Moreover, I think positive rights infringe on the most basic negative right - theft of personal property. And without protection from coercion, what does anyone truly have any rights to or protection from? Without that most basic of stabilizing rights in a society, private property rights, how will a society be able to earn enough funds to make redistibution and entitlement worthwhile?
Although, I think there are flaws with this argument, I think that these two approachs fit the majority opinions (left and right) of Americans, so it is worth discussing.
Tibor Machan's working paper titled Two Philsophers Skeptical of Negative Liberty spells out the difference between the two opinions and helps explain the general Libertarian opinion in the realm of human rights and ethics.
Here is some more information on Negative and Positive Rights and Human Rights.
The Dismal Duke
Tribute To the Philosopher's Weekend
René Descartes (March 31, 1596 – February 11, 1650)
Descartes was a French philosopher, scientist, and mathematician, and is sometimes called the father of modern philosophy. He is noted with introducing rational inductive methods of science into philosophy and mathematics. He is most well known for his adage: Cogito, ergo sum, “I think, therefore I am.”
Immanuel Kant (April 22, 1724 – February 12, 1804)
Kant was a German philosopher. He is considered by many the most influential thinker of modern times. The keystone of Kant's philosophy, sometimes called critical philosophy, is contained in his Critique of Pure Reason (1781), in which he examined the bases of human knowledge and created an individual epistemology. Kant held a belief in the fundamental freedom of the individual and this carried through to his ethics (Metaphysics of Ethics, 1797). In his ethics, he posed this categorical imperative: “Act as if the maxim of your action were to become through your will a general natural law.”
More writings of Descartes and Kant.
Also: The Monty Python Bruce's Philosophers Song.
Friday, February 10, 2006
He also made a stop in at NCSU for the grad students and faculty.
Here are some of the opinions on his talk and his recent articles:
NewMark's Door, BigArmWoman, Division of Labour, and Tim Worstall.
I guess you really never know what's best for you. Thank God for paternalism.
Thursday, February 09, 2006
Mythology and Conspiracy
But why is that? Do people just have too much time on their hands? Or is it simply that the marginal benefit of the labor as a theorist outweighs its marginal cost. Who knows for sure?
Now, the remaining question is how someone can take those theories and truly hold those opinions. There is a definite break in logic that separate conspiratorial theories and reality (historical accounts).
So why are there so many people that accept these seemingly false exaggerations of reality as fact? People like Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and former N.C. Wesleyan College professor Jane Christensen.
Here is a little more information on each: Jane and Mahmoud.
Here is a parody of each: Jane, Jane, and Mahmoud.
Social Policy for Equity, Equality, and Happiness
How should a centrally planned bureaucrat approach inequity, inequality, and unhappiness? Who is right? Are the economists, policy analysts, or statisticians right in their theory and applications? Personally, I don't think so. How appropriate is it to use tax dollars to pursue an arbitrary agenda based on little more than self-directed opinion? What do you think?
Arnold Kling on the Happiness Police. (NewMark's Door)
Malcolm Gladwell on Social Spending. (Catallarchy)
Brad DeLong's question and Arnold Kling's response on income inequality.
The Purpose of Taxation
Well here is a new approach taken by the folks of Oakland, CA.
The City Council of Oakland has decided to tax local businesses for litter. Yes, the litter that comes from fast food joints, liquor stores, and convenience markets will now be taxed. Does anyone else see this as a problem?
It is like taxing someone's possessions for the potentiality to become litter. Like taxing the water because it could become polluted. Shame on you water, you should be more socially reponsible.
Additionally, this taxation takes away all individual responsibility to not litter. Since individuals no longer have to pay the price(fines and penalties) to clean up after themselves, what incentive do they now have to not litter?
Who is responsible for the misusage of wrappers, cups, and other materials when the consumer of these goods/services choose not to dispose of the litter in the proper location. Is it the manufacturer? The consumer? The distributor? The seller?
Apparently, in Oakland it is the seller and not the consumer.
Why aren't they penalizing the actual criminal activity?
We wouldn't have this problem if it was private lands!
Here's the story in the Oakland Tribune.
Wednesday, February 08, 2006
Eminent Domain Revisited
If a non-government entity takes your property, it is settled with an injuction or property rule (it's criminal and you'll likely get arrested). But if the government takes your property, it is settled by compensating you for damages, i.e., with a liability rule. They pay you "just compensation" for your loss of property, but they have NOT committed a crime.
This has interesting (read: profoundly inconsistent) implications as some have recognized:
"I honestly don't see why I only get constitutional protection in the form of a property [rule] from a search of my home but not the tearing down of my home for the benefit of a private developer (as Justice Thomas observed in his dissent)"
This is not the country I signed up for. I want a new one.
P.S. I realize I've skimmed over some of the details like the process required for govt to take private property. I feel OK about this since the whole process seems arbitrary to me and since it hasn't proven to be a huge obstacle for determined local governments.
Here is what Murray Rothbard said in "For A New Liberty":
Most discussion of the issue bogs down in minutiae about when human life begins, when or if the fetus can be considered to be alive, etc. All this is really irrelevant to the issue of the legality (again, not necessarily morality) of abortion. The Catholic antiabortionist, for example declares that all that he wants for the fetus is the rights of any human being - i.e., and this is the crucial consideration. If we are to treat the fetus as having the same rights as humans, then let us ask: What human has the right to remain, unbidden, as an unwanted parasite within some other human being's body? This is the nub of the issue: the absolute right of every person, and hence every woman, to the ownership of her own body. What the mother is doing in an abortion is causing an unwanted entity within her body to be ejected from it: If the fetus dies, this does not rebut the point that no being has a right to live, unbidden, as a parasite within or upon some person's body.
The common retort that the mother either originally wanted or at least was responsible for placing the fetus within her body is, again, beside the point. Even in the stronger case where the mother orginally wanted the child, the mother, as the property owner in her own body, has the right to change her mind and eject it.
Although I do not agree with Rothbard's position, I can appreciate the logic of his argument and the respect for individual rights of property and person.
Here are other opinions on the subject: Here and Here and Here.
And a collection of arguments.
Here is Hammer of Truth's take on the subject.
Here is the Mad Biologist's approach.
Personally, I am not in favor of any law that creates a double standard based on an arbitrary demographic measure. That creates a double standard where certain individuals and victims are of a "greater value" than others.
Since the only equality in this world can be equality of justice under the law, this legislation seems like it can only truly create more inequality and social tension.
Person of the Day
Aldous Huxley is the author of one of my favorite books - Brave New World.
He was known for his literary and intellectual prowess. He was also famous for his dystopian novels and science fiction writings.
By the way, if you don't know what Soma is, you have to read Brave New World.
Tuesday, February 07, 2006
Topic of the Day
This concept of child-directed "at home" schooling was first proposed by John Holt. This is different from the traditional classroom or home schooling approach because the curriculum and time table is set by the child.
This CNN article describes it a bit more.
Here is a debate on the issue at David Friedman's Blog.
North Carolina actually has an Unschoolers Group.
Some info and resources can be found here and here.
Monday, February 06, 2006
What kinda Car are You?
I'm a Porsche 911!
You have a classic style, but you're up-to-date with the latest technology. You're ambitious, competitive, and you love to win. Performance, precision, and prestige - you're one of the elite,and you know it.
Take the Which Sports Car Are You? quiz.
Cartoons and Chaos
The real question is: where does freedom of speech end and defamation (libel and slander) begin? And if someone is offended what amount of compensation are they entitled to, to make them whole again? Do they deserve retribution? This is also an issue of freedom of speech and the press.
Here are some people's take on the subject:
A cartoon of their own, Iran following the lead, The Syrians, Michelle Malkin, Insults Unpunished, Little Green Footballs
Is it perhaps a bit too selective?
Here is something by a Kranky Konservative.
Big Labour Won
I am neither a Seattle nor a Pittsburgh fan, but it didn’t look very good.
Maybe they are Pro-Labour. Maybe they are just Anti-Big Business.
Then again, it makes sense.
Who would like Microsoft or any of those service industries? It’s not like they make anything…
Service vs. Manufacturing
Steel vs. Software
Blue Collar vs. White Collar
Friday, February 03, 2006
Chris is the Man
After today, his article can be found here.
Is Bastiat for Tariffs?
Person of the Day
He is Institute Professor Emeritus of linguistics at MIT. Although he has received numerous accolades for his work in linguistics and grammar and behavioral sciences, he is most well known for his political activism.
Wikipedia, I think, appropriately reports Chomsky's leanings below:
"Chomsky describes himself as a libertarian socialist, a sympathizer of anarcho-syndicalism, and is often considered to be a key intellectual figure within the left wing of American politics."
And although he is one of the many followers of the archaic LTV he is still an important voice for the American Left. Additionally, he had a cameo in the "documentary" The Corporation.
For a critique of LTV, read Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk's Capital and Interest.
Thursday, February 02, 2006
The Wage Slave
The Wagner-Taft-Hartley Act of 1935 and the Norris-LaGuardia Act of 1931 both give power to the executive branch to "obtain a court injunction forcing the suspension" of a strike for a period of time.
Rothbard said that (referring to the dockworkers and Nixon on October 4, 1971):
...the "solution" imposed was forced labor, pure and simple; the workers were coerced, against their will, into going back to work. There is no moral excuse, in a society claiming to be opposed to slavery and in a country which has outlawed involuntary servitude, for any legal or judicial action prohibiting strikes-or jailing union leaders who fail to comply. Slavery is all too often more convenient for the slave-masters
Conveniently, business uses government and government uses business to any desired ends. Is this "corporatocracy" really capitalism deformed, or is this the natural evolution of a free market in any society?
Like I said before:
"Capitalism is an economic system. Where Capitalism lives is the social system. Being an idealist, I say that they should not mix company. Being a realist, means that I too must recognize that they share the same bed, much too often. Since they share the same bed though, it is not really capitalism. So what you have many problems with is the current orgy of fascism."
Happy Groundhog Day
In 1887, in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania the first Groundhog Day was observed.
In 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed ending the Mexican-American War and in 1880 the first electric streetlight was installed in Wabash, Indiana. Also, on this day in 1979, Sid Vicious died of a heroin overdose.
Famous folks born on this day: Farrah Fawcett, Ayn Rand, Howard Johnson, and James Joyce.
Famous folks that died on this day: Gene Kelly, Betrand Russell, and Max Schmeling.
For more on what happened this day in history check out the NY Times and the BBC.
Oh, and by the way, expect six more weeks of winter!!
Wednesday, February 01, 2006
Continuing the Virtue of Capitalism
He has continued it from where we left , off.
Feel free to continue that by commenting here.
The State of the Leviathan
If no one else has a preferred topic, I'll suggest this one: Nuclear Power. Discuss.
Libertarians and the Size of Government
Here and Here
He also talks about the mistakes of libertarian idealism
Here is a discussion on "Social Equality"
Why is equality of outcome inappropriate?