Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Bungee Bachelor!

The poor guy.  His "friends" convince him that marriage is like a blind bungee jump.  So, to prepare him for that metaphor, it just makes sense to do that really:  A blinded bungee jump into a ravine.

And that's what he thinks he's doing.  It takes him awhile to be willing to give it a shot.

I guess this is a tradition in Norway.  A little odd....
But then, we have dealt with the oddity of Norway before in this space, in the butter crisis.

Jurassic Nest

A video about a truly gigantic (and very dangerous) yellowjacket nest....hive....metropolis.  Ugh.

More of the

Nod to Prof. Newmark.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

This week's sign of the apocalypse

People, if crap like this can happen IN AMERICA, why do we even have a government at all?

Actually, Not That Hard to Figure Out

This person is confused about why the sign below would have been put up.

I can help out by explaining, ma'am.  There is essentially no economic justification for wind power in most of the places it is being "used."  It is expensive, noisy, and inefficient.  It uses, if you account for the costs of placing, repairing, and decommissioning the wind "farms," and putting out fires, FAR more energy than it produces.  There were questions from the outset, as here.   If you actually wanted relatively safe, clean energy, you'd favor nuclear power, as here.  Wind power is actually dangerous, in addition to being a waste of money.

Thus, the only reason that states and counties get all tarted up in red lipstick and short skirts to attract those wind-sailors is the federal and state subsidies, which are enormous distortions of actual investment incentives.  That is, you can "make money," but only by pimping out your land to create noise, fire, and environmental damage.  There is no energy payoff, so you are just doing it for the quick subsidy cash.  I hope that clears it up, ma'am, and perhaps you should read something other than Daily Kos-titute.

(Nod to RWA)

Sydney Waterfront

Okay, yes, pretty touristy.  But the Opera House and the skyline/bridge are quite pretty at night.  So here you go.

The opera I saw was Don Pasquale.  They guy who played Ernesto was Korean, which seemed strange at first.  But, gosh, what a voice. 

Monday, July 29, 2013

Monday's Child

1.  Black boxes for cars?  It's likely to protect better drivers.  And privacy is long gone, in transport.

2.  Nice move by Dad here.  "Honey, this completely realistic, virtual-functional 737 cockpit I'm building is for the kid!  I just have to check it out first, to see if it's safe.  Vroom!  Vroom!"

3.  Batman and Superman, together again for the first time.  That sounds pretty awful.

4. Norm Macdonald's monologue from the 1998 ESPYs.   A hard-to-find classic bit from the ancient past of ESPN.  And they will never, ever, ever, get back together. Very NSFW.

5.  Clearly, my own megalomania would enjoy this.  I have to find a way to make it happen, though not soon.
MUCH...MUCH MORE after the jump...

Sunday, July 28, 2013

A Heavenly Convergence

Two of my favorite web sites are:

SMBC by certified nut (and I mean that in a loving way) Zach Weiner

Popehat by the legal equivalent of the "Island of Misfit Toys"

Those two sites, each in its own way, are pretty much the coolest things on the interwebs, for linking extreme bitterness and cynicism with a strong sense of indignant outrage.

And, mirabile dictu, there is an awesomely awesome post by Clark of Popehat, riffing on SMBC.  Of course, both posts themselves are deeply depressing.  But the convergence is most excellent.

Nod to Angry Alex, who--if there were an Island of Misfit Toys--would be Mayor.

A member of the Freude family: Meet my friend Schaden

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences is big on pushing this pet project: “the Alternative Energy Future."  It's certainly true that it's easier to imagine different energy sources when you aren't bound by physics or chemistry.

Amusingly, it turns out that the longtime director has been big on pushing her own pet project, "the Alternative Resume Past."   It's certainly true that it's easier to make up degrees and accomplishments instead of actually graduating or accomplishing.

A nod to WH.

Fed Fatigue

The Econ blogosphere has erupted over the apparently heinously inconceivable idea that Larry Summers might be the next Fed chair.

Here's Ezra on the situation:

As far as I can tell, there’s almost no one in the economics blogosphere who wants to see Larry Summers named as Ben Bernanke’s replacement. The bulk of opinion ranges from relative indifference between the two candidates (“as we know there’s no real daylight between Yellen and Summers“) to extremely strong anti-Summers opinions (“Larry Summers will destroy the economy“) — with much of the latter being driven by Summers’s record on financial regulation. Tyler Cowen is almost alone in holding up the pro-Summers end of the argument.

Personally, I'm a Bernanke guy. I think he did an amazing job in the height of the crisis and would love to see him take another term. But I'd be fine with Larry Summers (I'm sure Larry is breathing a sigh of relief now that he knows) as Chair. I'd be fine with Yellen too, though I worry that she thinks the Fed can do more than it actually can (at least such a belief is not likely to be very harmful in the near term at least).

But, all the commotion about who's going to be the next Chair is way overblown. It's just not that important, for two reasons. First, the Fed is not independent of politics and without big political change there is not going to be big monetary policy change. Second, the ability of monetary policy to reliably guide the real economy is much more limited than most people want to believe.

On the Fed and politics, you can start here, or here.

As a quick example, consider the "Volcker disinflation" in the early 1980s. Big Paul took office in 1979 and announced in October that the Fed would focus on monetary aggregates and lower their growth rates. However, the actual policy of lower money growth didn't happen until after the election in 1980, which installed a conservative Republican president and a Republican majority in the Senate. In the year between the announcement and the election, monetary growth was unchanged from the previous two years. In the year after the election, monetary growth was only half as fast.

On the limited power of monetary policy to control the real economy, you can start with Adam Posen's recent review essay. Here's a good bit:

Indeed, central bankers should be far humbler today than they were in recent decades, when some claimed credit for the so-called great moderation, the period of reduced economic volatility that lasted from the late 1980s to the early years of this century. It is now clear that the prosperity and stability much of the world enjoyed during those years were largely the result of good luck.

In my view, Posen, if anything is overstating the power of monetary policy over the real economy.

Consider post 2007 US monetary history. The Fed promptly took the policy rate to zero. We still had big problems. So the Fed started QE. We still had big problems. So the Fed did further rounds. We still had big problems. So the Fed tried forward guidance. We still had big problems. So the Fed tried outcome-based as opposed to calendar-based forward guidance. Guess what? We still have big problems (I know, counterfactuals are a b**ch, but the Fed clearly didn't fix things).

You may say, "but recoveries after financial crises are always slow". But people, that's just another way of saying that Central Banking is not that powerful when it's most needed!

You may say, "but they should have done more and that would have fixed things".

That's borderline epistemic closure. "The right monetary policy can do anything. The economy is not fixed, so the right monetary policy was not employed", is going to be pretty hard to ever disprove.

I think some of the Summers backlash is because Larry understands that the power of monetary policy for the real economy is rather limited.

Percy Bysshe Shelley, "On Liberty."  I had never seen that before. Kudos to my good friend David Hart, for this and all the great work he does at OLL

 7. The rights of man in the present state of society,
are only to be secured by some degree of coercion to
be exercised on their violator. The sufferer has a right
that the degree of coercion employed be as slight as
8. It may be considered as a plain proof of the
hollowness of any proposition, if power be used to
enforce instead of reason to persuade its admission.
Government is never supported by fraud until it cannot
be supported by reason.

But it's all good.  ATSRTWT.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Oklahoma: cradle of songwriters

Wow. JJ Cale passed away. Mostly known as a writer of hits for other performers, Mr. Cale was from Oklahoma.

Which for such a small state has a strong musical pantheon.

Start of course with Woody Guthrie.

Then consider that Lee Hazlewood was an Okie too. Who? You know, the "these boots were made for walkin'" guy.  His music was covered by Rowland S. Howard,  Vanilla Fudge, Lydia Lunch, Primal Scream,  Einstürzende Neubauten, Nick Cave, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Beck, The Tubes, Thin White Rope and Slowdive.

How 'bout if we hop over to Hoyt Axton next. Yep, he was an Okie. Wrote songs that were hits for Three dog night and Steppenwolf. "Jeremiah was a bullfrog Okie"!

Heck, Wallis Willis, who wrote "swing low sweet chariot" was an Okie.

Not impressed yet? OK, let's kick it up a notch

Jimmy Webb? Okie! You know, the "by the time i get to Phoenix" guy. His songs were covered by
Glen Campbell, The 5th Dimension, Thelma Houston, The Supremes, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Isaac Hayes, Art Garfunkel, Amy Grant, America, Linda Ronstadt, R.E.M.,  Donna Summer, Barbra Streisand, and Carly Simon among others.

Then there is the great Leon Russell. I love this guy.

St. Vincent (Annie Clark) is an Okie. I just assumed she was (gasp) Canadian!

So is Dwight Tilley!

Was disappointed to find out that Wayne Coyne, the frontman of the amazing Oklahoma band Flaming lips was born in Pittsburgh! We'll still count him as an honorary Okie though (just like me).

And people I'm not even getting into the slew of modern country "artists" from here (Vince Gill, Toby Keith, Carrie Underwood, Garth Brooks, et. al).

That is a very strong line up.


As a kid, I was never big into cartoons. I loved rasslin'.  You know, old school, with these guys:

The WWF boom of the 80's was terrible for me because the rasslin' was so terrible. Hulk Hogan couldn't/wouldn't work. It was all gimmicks and 'roids.

But here's a  human interest story about two really bad wrestlers from the 80's; Jake Roberts and Dallas Page.

Turns out that yoga is not just for sissies anymore!

Nice to see these two old farts can still get over on gullible internet scribes.

Friday, July 26, 2013


In homage to the great, masterful, Mungovian Monday's Childs, here's a Friday Angus link-o-rama

1. Will we ever learn to separate skill from luck? Not in Spain apparently.

2. Japan is winning the war against deflation. Or are they?

3. Chris Christie embraces the police state. Nice touch to blame libertarians in advance for the next terrorist attack.

4. The eternal sunshine of the spotless president. Obama's "protect whistleblowers" policy disappears from the web.

5. Have we discovered the origins of the friends and family discount? Wrong! Zap!

6. A petition against the MOOC. Sadly, this is not a satire. "Tenured professors are people too".

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Would you rather get bit by a Pit Bull or a Shih Tzu?

Easy one, right?

Well after reading this story, you might want to think again.

A poor lady ended up in a medically induced coma and losing 3 limbs because of a friendly nip from her Shih Tzu.

Imagine what the dog could do if it was mad!

Of course this story comes from Canada, so maybe Shih Tzu is Canadian for Great White Shark?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Crime Pays: example # 10305

People, I give you the Ryan Braun (can his nickname really be the Hebrew Hammer? really?) guide to making it filthy rich in falling baseball.

1. Juice like a mother

2. Sign a lucrative contract extension based on your juiced performance

3. Serve your time right away when finally nailed so as to minimize your salary loss

4. Enjoy your $21 million a year for 5 years thereafter

All the other stuff, "betting his life" he never juiced, going after the poor sample collector, that was just for grins. Don't let it distract you from the master plan, which has worked to a T.

As I was man'splainin' this to Mrs. Angus, she asked me how in the world the Brew Crew would be obligated to make good on the extension when the HH was caught juicing.

Good question.

I guess that "caught juicing" is not part of the morals clause of MLB contracts.

But it should be.

Can we at least put Lil Ryan's 2011 MVP award in a closet somewhere with Reggie Bush's Heisman?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Code in Aviation

An email from a frequent reader/listener, and really smart person, provoked by the recent Roberts-Munger podcast on "The Code" in sports

What follows is a LONG post, with a lot of links and videos.  But it is remarkable (remember, I didn't write it; I'm just reproducing it, redacted a bit).  Save it for sometime when you have 20 minutes to really think about it.  Fascinating.  And quite a commentary on how air travel is much less planned, and much more of a spontaneous order, than many people think.  I am most grateful to the anonymous person who sent the email; great stuff.

[Your] show made me think about aviation. It's a profession THICK with your conception of how law, legislation, equipment, and code interplay. There is much I could say about this. Thought you might be interested in just a little bit since there are connections to both your podcast topic and (possibly) the Asiana accident that's in the headlines these days. The evolution of aviation provides an example where
1) "The code" proved faulty
2) Intervention was required to change it, and
3) Change was successfully adopted/embraced with measurably better results.

Much more after the jump...

Monday, July 22, 2013

Monday's Child

1.  Hooking Up:  A cost benefit analysis.  From a woman's perspective.  Once you don't need to marry up, you can hook up.  At that point, men are really just an elaborate life support system to keep a penis alive.

2.  I posted about this before.  I will likely post about this again.

3.  Pwning P-Kroog....

4.  STOP frying those eggs, dag-nabbit!

5.  Long.  Funny how that is now usually followed by "but," as in "Long, but worth reading."  Anyway, this is quite long, AND it's worth reading.

SO....much more after the jump!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

It's enough to make you want to break your arm

You might want to break your arm, just to get aholt of some of these drugs.  Apparently.

Now we know what Angry Alex does on weekends...

Creation vs. Diversion

I used to think AirBNB was cool, but now that Thomas Friedman has slurped it in the Times, I'm not so sure. One interesting thing in the piece was how the AirBNB founder confuses his company's revenue with new economic activity.

Surely most of AIRBNB's revenues are actually just diversion, no? I'd guess that at least 75% of their revenue is just diverted from hotel/motel revenue.

This is a common mistake. "look how much NAFTA increased trade", "Look how much the new stadium will boost the local economy" are examples of this kind of erroneous thinking.

Creation vs. diversion is an important and often overlooked distinction.

I just had a great stay in an AirBNB property in Brooklyn, but the Staten Island Hilton Garden Inn lost the revenue that AirBNB generated.


Friday, July 19, 2013

School Daze: MIT vs. Stanford Culture

MIT has a video to help the geeks figure out how to talk to non-geeks.  An actual video.  Maybe a spoof, maybe not, pretty funny either way.

Stanford, on the other hand, is famous for its band.  And the band has its "Dollies."  They are....well, they are here.

Where would YOU want to go to school, if you were a young man?  I think the answer is....MIT.  There would be no competition.  Of course, you'd have to hack that video, to prevent that valuable info from getting out.

Nod, but no blame, to Kevin Lewis.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Left in NC Discovers Anew An Ancient Truth

It's fun to watch when the little kids discover something on their own.  They remember it better that way, that's a rule of teaching.  So, even though all the grown-ups knew this all along, it's better to let the younglings figure it out.

It appears that the Progressives, the Left, whatever you want to call them, in North Carolina have "discovered" that regulation, even regulation that the regulator says is benign, can be harmful.  It's intrusive, it makes everything more expensive, and it has a chilling effect on people being willing to use your product.

Now, the Prog-Left has discovered this truth about abortion clinics in NC.  Regulating abortion clinics is going to make it much more difficult, more scary, and more expensive to get an abortion, or even to get counseling.  Abortions are legal, but regulations will make it harder for customers to obtain them, and it will be impossible for businesses to provide this otherwise legal service.  It's like someone is saying, "Oh, you can do this, but we are just going to regulate it," as a way of actually outlawing the activity.

Let's hope they take this deep insight and apply to other kinds of small businesses.   The same thing, THE SAME THING, is true for all the regulations, from petty to draconian, that you folks want to impose on businesses of all kinds. Because the Prog-Left has always pretended (until now, when they actually care about the business) that regulations are a benefit, rather than a harm.  Sauce for the goose...

Timur Kuran on Islam and Economics

The political consequences of Islam’s economic legacy 

Timur Kuran 
Philosophy & Social Criticism, 
May 2013, Pages 395-405 

Abstract: Several of the Middle East’s traditional economic institutions hampered its political development by limiting checks on executive power, preventing the formation of organized and durable opposition movements, and keeping civil society weak. They include Islam’s original tax system, which failed to protect property rights; the waqf, whose rigidity hampered the development of civil society; and private commercial enterprises, whose small scales and short lives blocked the development of private coalitions able to bargain with the state. These institutions contributed to features that sustain autocracies and keep democracies unstable: high corruption, low trust, widespread nepotism and high tolerance for law-breaking.

Business class 777

Got upgraded--not sure why--on flight from LAX to Sydney, Australia.

Looks like this, like some futurisitic rocket ship.  All the seats lay down completely, flat, with walls between you and the person next to you.  Only 4 across, whereas back in coach it's 9 across.

And the controls....they look like this.  All sorts of ways you can make the bed / seat move.

The only one I couldn't figure out is the bottom right.  "Too Many Burritos"? Looks bad.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

My new axe

Man, I have been getting better on the guitar and Mrs. Angus hooked me up with an awesome new instrument.

Feast your eyes people:

It's a Epiphone Sheraton II semi-hollowbody with alnico humbuckers.

John Lee Hooker, Noel Gallagher, Aaron Dessner, Randy Randall, and now EZ Angus!

Alright people, what do you play? Tell me in the comments.

This time they'll nail that owl for sure

Oh, man. This is big. Mike Peterson is getting a new trial! Supposedly because some forensic expert was squirrelly, but we all know why. To clear the way to go after the real killer, the barred owl.

Maybe they can bring back Mike Nifong to try the case.

If only the coke-toting clueless UNC physics professor could be called as a witness from his house arrest in Argentina, my life would be complete.

Maybe he could sing through a vocodor: "it was the owl, people, it's always the owl".

Racial Profiling

Let me come out and say it:  I know I do it.  I try to be aware of it.  But I do it. The way I react to people depends on several factors, but race is one of them.  Knowing that can help you avoid sticking to that view, and one can overcome it by being aware.

This video is interesting, in this regard.  I'm thinking of the Zimmerman trial, in particular.  Zimmerman may have thought what many people would think, using race as a sign of suspicion.  But you don't get to act that way.

(Yes, I blogged about this before.  The stuff I wrote in the second half is still where I stand.  It's not just statistical discrimination.  It's UNjust statistical discrimination).

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Atlas Shrugged Live!

Remember how near the end of the middle part of Atlas Shrugged, where all the trains are breaking down and no one actually knows how to make things work?

Asiana Airlines had a plane crash because of pilot error.  They didn't actually know how to fly the plane.  You can imagine them sitting there, thinking, "Damn!  We're low.  But I don't want to embarrass anyone, because I'm not really sure how this thing works, without the autopilot engaged."   (Landing beacon at SFO was down that day).

That likely damaged their reputation.  That whole "pilots who can't land a plane, and who couldn't figure out what that loud "STALL! STALL!" warning meant.

But Asiana found someone to blame.  Someone who damaged Asiana's reputation.  The TV station that credulously went with a report on the names of the pilots.  (Check the pilot names, and listen to the report).

The NTSB, wanting its share of the "we don't know what we are doing, either!" blamed an intern.  It's like a bad Dilbert, where poor Asok takes it in the shorts again.

Asiana is suing...the TV station!  Yep, that's what harmed your rep, guys, not the "fly the plane into the ground tail first" thing.

Nod to Anonyman and Angry Alex

Monday, July 15, 2013

Monday's Child

1.  Holy fiscal smoke and mirrors, Batman!  The US is actually in a spot of trouble.  It's not that our taxes are too high (they aren't).  It's not that our discretionary spending is too high (it may be, but that's not the problem).  We are going to take it in the shorts unless we (1) get a lot more young immigrants with jobs, or (2) reform entitlements right away.  As CATO puts it:  Deep Doo-Doo.

2.  The folks with their boxes all wadded up about GM food are just useful innocents for a cynical corporate play that's about protecting profits.  Stop doing that.

3.  Firstie Club!  A nice Jon Stewart story.

4.  That's not price-gouging, that's sustainable pricing!  And why it should be legal....

5.  Who is racist?

More after the jump...

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Spectacular: Lake Wobegonomics Research from the New School

This is from the New York Times.  It was written by Teresa Ghilarducci, the Bernard L. and Irene Schwartz chair of economic policy analysis at the New School for Social Research

Six months ago, I visited North Carolina's state treasurer, Janet Cowell – the only Democrat in the administration now – and met with citizen advocates.. Our trip had impact, on us at least. On the plane coming home my colleague turned to me shell shocked, "How can it be legal to have so much poverty in such a wealthy state?" 

Ask two questions: How rich is the state? And what percentage of its children live in poverty? That's a working definition of good fiscal policy…. Let’s look at North Carolina. It is the 39th richest state, and yet it ranks 12th for the percentage of children living in poverty – only 11 states fare worse. 

Um, ma’am….if it is the 39th richest state, that means it's the 12th poorest state.  That means there are 11 states that are poorer. And if it is the 12th for percentage of children living in poverty….then again there are 11 states that are poorer. It’s exactly the same proportion, not out of line at all.  What's with this "And yet..." thing you got going?

Perhaps you believe that ALL of the states should have fewer children in poverty than adults in poverty, as a percentage, COMPARED TO OTHER STATES, but I’m a trained economist and I can assure you that averages don’t actually work that way. If some states rank higher for child poverty than overall wealth, then some state will rank lower. It’s just the way numbers work.

So, on to your question, "How can it be legal to have so much poverty in such a wealthy state?" 
(And putting aside the fact that NC has exactly as much poverty as our wealth would suggest).
That "illegal poverty" thing you bring up seems like a pretty radical solution.  I mean, we could make it illegal, and arrest poor people, or shoot them.  But I think that's a terrible idea.  Here's the thing: in any group of states, unless they are all identical, won't it be true that some are richer than others?  If you have a purely relative measure of poverty, then it will always be true that half the states are poor, because they are below median income.  We could increase income by 10 times, across the board, and half the people would still be below the median. 

Of course, this is fine, given that your answer to the question, "How much money should we give away?" is simply, "More."  It could never be enough.  And that's why those relative measures of poverty are so useful.  What has your knickers knotted, ma'am, is not poverty. It's inequality.  Let me assure that that is quite a different problem.  Most real solutions to poverty actually increase inequality.  Likewise, most solutions to inequality sharply increase objective (not relative) poverty.

I wanted to check to see where she got her PhD, because it had to be Berkeley.  Yup... Berkeley.

A kind reader suggested this is an appropriate illustration.

Nod to Joel R., for sending me the NYTimes piece in the first place.

I don't want to cause no fuss ....

....but can I drive your magic desert bus?

People, meet "Desert Bus", designed by Penn & Teller and widely considered the worst video game ever made.

How so, you ask?

The drive from Tucson, Arizona, to Las Vegas, Nevada, takes approximately eight hours when travelling in a vehicle whose top speed is forty-five miles per hour. In Desert Bus, an unreleased video game from 1995 conceived by the American illusionists and entertainers Penn Jillette and Teller, players must complete that journey in real time. Finishing a single leg of the trip requires considerable stamina and concentration in the face of arch boredom: the vehicle constantly lists to the right, so players cannot take their hands off the virtual wheel; swerving from the road will cause the bus’s engine to stall, forcing the player to be towed back to the beginning. The game cannot be paused. The bus carries no virtual passengers to add human interest, and there is no traffic to negotiate. The only scenery is the odd sand-pocked rock or road sign. Players earn a single point for each eight-hour trip completed between the two cities, making a Desert Bus high score perhaps the most costly in gaming.

 The game was never released (somehow the company that owned it went bankrupt), but it is available today, and is used as the basis of a "desert bus for hope" charity that has raised over $400,000  by taking pledges from people for playing the game a certain length of time. 

If you want to play this game, you can.

I personally live a version of this game multiple times each year. The drive from Norman OK to Santa Fe NM is 8 hours (at around 80 mph) on a flat boring road. My 2003 Honda Element doesn't pull to the right, but the only way I can fend off the frequent spousal demands for bathroom breaks is to let her play the same cuts off a Jim Gaffigan CD. Over......and over.......and over............

Alpha-Bet: A Better Ordering for Mankind



The order of the letters we use, starting with A, is arbitrary. 

With thanks to @cool_pond

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Since No Taxpayer $$ is Involved....

Since No Taxpayer $$ is Involved....why not buy the really NICE police cars?  Anonyman sends this suggestion (note the Lamborghini on the wall, to save space).

You remember, I hope, that if the police finance their purchases from money they seized because it was "related" to a drug bust (distant cousin, by adoption, in many cases), then "no taxpayer money was involved."  Lamborghinis all around!  They gots 'em in Dubai, why not Wendell?

Friday, July 12, 2013

Yikes! I married a free-market nut

Mrs. Angus goes full libertarian in her interview with the American Institute for Economic Research.

Here's one bit to whet your appetites:

Q: What’s the most important economic concept for the average person to understand?
A: Just because the market isn’t doing a great job at something doesn’t mean the government can do it better.

Amen, sweetheart, amen.

Democracy: C.S. Lewis

Wow.  A very cool post on C.S. Lewis and democracy.  An excerpt:

And in a letter to Dan Tucker of the Chicago American dated December 8, 1959, he has biting words on democracy, in general. 

"A hundred years ago we all thought that Democracy was it. Neither you nor I probably think so now. It neither allows the ordinary man to control legislation nor qualifies him to do so. The real questions are imaginary issues. And this is all the easier because democracy always in the end destroys education."

A nod to J.C.  Nice catch!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

What is the case for progressive taxation?

I am aware of two general arguments.

The first relies on inter-personal utility comparisons and goes like this: The marginal utility of a dollar is much higher for poor people than rich people, so in a utilitarian spirit, we can justify taking more marginal dollars away from the rich and giving them to lower income people.

Note that

(1) interpersonal utility comparisons are at best tricky and more likely impossible. We cannot rule out the case that the Sultan of Brunei gets more utility from another dollar than a slum dweller in Mumbai, and that in a utilitarian spirit, we should tax the slum dweller and give it to the Sultan!

(2) This is a case for redistribution, not for progressive taxes just to fund government generally.

(3) There is no reason for the argument to apply only inside national borders. Under the assumption of uniform diminishing marginal utility of money, we should be taxing poor Americans and giving it to the slum dwellers of Mumbai (or if we really have a utils machine, perhaps to the Sultan of Brunei).

The second argument is Rawlsian, and it goes like this: If we got together to set the rules of the game, without knowing what our socio-economic positions would be when the game was played (i.e. behind the veil of ignorance), we would all agree that rich people should be taxed at a higher rate and the money be redistributed to the poor.

Note that the same 3 notes above to argument #1 also apply equally here. We are taking uniform diminishing marginal utility of money as given, it's an argument for redistribution, not general funding, and, here even more than ever, it's a argument that should be applied globally.

Behind the veil, we don't know whether we'll be living in Norman Oklahoma, a slum in Mumbai or a palace in Brunei. The Rawlsian veil argues for higher taxes on most Americans with redistribution done on a global scale.

Now there's also the "you didn't build that" argument, but that seems more of a case that the rich should pay more taxes than the poor, which, certain extreme cases to the contrary notwithstanding, they generally do, and not a case for higher tax rates on the rich.

Are there other ways to make the case? Let me know in the comments

No Tagbacks: Political Theater In Raleigh

My good friend Agent Pierce offers some commentary on the staged events in Raleigh.  Yes, he's way over the top here, and out of line, but that's why he's charming.

As far as I can tell, "Moral Monday" is Rocky Horror Picture Show for Progressives.  They dress up, they recite lines, they shriek at all their favorite parts of the show.

I can see why people are disappointed with the Republican General Ass., and I can see why people who had hoped that Gov. Pat would actually behave like a centrist are pissed.  But the problem is that we are all stuck in this "elections have consequences" thing.  President Obama didn't start it, but he raised it to whole new level.

Thomas Jefferson said it best:  “Great innovations should not be forced on slender majorities.” When our current President announced that "Elections have consequences" and "I won!", that ushered in a whole new era of no-tagback politics, in keeping with what Congressional Dems had been saying.  When you are IT, you are IT, and that's IT. Just do what you want, because you won't be the majority for long. This op-ed from the WaPo has proved prophetic:  BHO just completely misunderstood what politics is like.  Our own President Obamorsi is not in danger of a military replacement, but given his total lack of experience in ever doing...well, anything, other than giving speeches, it is not surprising that he has not been able to create majorities to do anything.  Prez. Morsi tried to please the Muslim Brotherhood with that kind of "elections have consequences, and we won!" stuff.  It makes no sense.

Are the Republicans to blame also?  Of course.  It takes two parties to ruin a republic.  And our two parties are ruining us with real gusto.

Rent-Seeking: Examples 457 and 458

Amazing.  Also totally unsurprising.

Imagine filing your income taxes in five minutes — and for free. You'd open up a pre-filled return, see what the government thinks you owe, make any needed changes and be done. The miserable annual IRS shuffle, gone. 

It's already a reality in Denmark, Sweden and Spain. The government-prepared return would estimate your taxes using information your employer and bank already send it. Advocates say tens of millions of taxpayers could use such a system each year, saving them a collective $2 billion and 225 million hours in prep costs and time, according to one estimate. 

The idea, known as "return-free filing," would be a voluntary alternative to hiring a tax preparer or using commercial tax software. The concept has been around for decades and has been endorsed by both President Ronald Reagan and a campaigning President Obama. "This is not some pie-in-the-sky that's never been done before," said William Gale, co-director of the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. "It's doable, feasible, implementable, and at a relatively low cost." 

 So why hasn't it become a reality? Well, for one thing, it doesn't help that it's been opposed for years by the company behind the most popular consumer tax software — Intuit, maker of TurboTax. Conservative tax activist Grover Norquist and an influential computer industry group also have fought return-free filing. Intuit has spent about $11.5 million on federal lobbying in the past five years — more than Apple or Amazon. Although the lobbying spans a range of issues, Intuit's disclosures pointedly note that the company "opposes IRS government tax preparation."

"Government tax preparation"?  Seriously?  That's absolutely breathtaking.  In Chile, they send you a bill.  You pay the bill, or you can figure it out yourself and appeal it.  Either way, it takes about 20 minutes.


Example 458:  A nanny "bill of rights."  The effect of which will be to make it impossible to hire nannies, forcing people to use much more expensive means of child care, all of which benefit unions and the health care cartel.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Paco to the rescue!

By (semi) popular demand, Ecce Paco (behold the Paco)! Clic the pics for even moar cuter images.

A Cry for More Paco

The world wants more Paco.  But we are suffering a Paco shortage. To try to prime the pump, a poor substitute:  Skippy the Wonderdog!

First, Skip was most unhappy that this little dog would not back down from his wonderfulness.  Of course, the dog is actually a stone statue, so perhaps Skippy should cut the little guy some slack.  (Photo credit:  A.G.)

Second, this is Skippy in a thunderstorm.  He tries to crawl inside the desk, and looks very unhappy while thunder happens.  (This picture makes his head look enormous, but then, it is.)

Peak Oil is Peak Idiocy

Oil may get more expensive.  Oil may cause pollution, depending on how it's used.  We may at some point find a way to use something else.

But we are not going to run out of oil.  That handsome Mark Perry has some facts for us.

It Could Have Been Love: The Turing Test Solution

US Priority Number 1: Hassle Young Adults For Something Legal in Civilized Countries

So, a young woman buys some ice cream and some flavored sparkling water. Outside the store, two guys try to hassle her.  She takes off in her car.

Turns out they were cops, or at least they were Alcohol Bev Control wanna-be cops.  Of course, she had no way of knowing that, since their car was not marked, they were in street clothes, and they did not identify themselves.  The story is here.  Maybe it's not the cops' fault; there are too many laws.

Problem:  it IS the cops' fault.  They are using money from forfeitures and seizures to buy SWAT equipment, and this new command postRemember, these are NOT REAL COPS, not even the ones buying SWAT equipment.  They are just the guys who are still trying to enforce the 18th Amendment.  Does anyone think this is actually worth all the money we spend on it?  (You gotta like the part where it says "no taxpayer money, all from seizures."  Nice.  Police are self-financing now, from assets they steal from people who may, or may not have committed a crime.  Interesting reading:  Those right-wing nuts at ACLU have some good documentation.)

All you lefties, why don't you mention Europe now?  You love Germany and France, etc for all those policies you admire.  What about their drinking age?  Europeans think we are a crazy, repressive, prudish society. And they are right.

Nod to Radley Balko...and thanks to Tommy the Infuriated Brit.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Alien? No, Sea Pig

This is disturbing.  Just a sea pig, out for a walk and a snack.

More about sea pigs.

If you are wondering if I am pleased with this pair of videos, the answer is, "Yes, ridiculously so. The second video, in particular, will be something I will never forget. 'Seeeeea Pig! Seeeeeea Pig!"

Yowser! Michael Lind sure took a lousy Econ 101 class.

Lind has a piece in Salon called Econ 101 is killing America (not making this up). Well, I just got done teaching Econ 101 this summer. Let's see how I did.

Here are some of Lind's claims of the country-killing myths that are taught in Econ 101:

1. All profitable activities are good for the economy.

Not guilty.

We spent a lot of time on externalities and how private and social incentives do not always coincide. We also talked about rent-seeking, lobbying, and the mess our financial sector had become by the 2007 crisis.

2. Monopolies & Oligopolies are always bad because they distort prices.

Not guilty.

We discussed how economies of scale can make monopolies more efficient than a bunch of smaller firms. We had a chapter about Network goods and how the competition is for the market rather than in the market. We talked about how monopolies are often transient and about contestable markets.

3. Low wages are good for the economy.

Not guilty.

We discussed cross-country wage differentials pointing out how productivity differences (from differing amounts of physical and human capital) cause wage differentials on similar-seeming jobs. I pointed out how Mexico should be humiliated instead of bragging about how their wages were becoming lower than China's.

4. Trade is always win-win.

Not guilty.

We talked about the shortcomings of simple models which assume workers are homogeneous, have no preference over job type or location, and don't suffer unemployment or relocation costs when production patterns change.

5. Economics is a science.

Not guilty. Never discussed it one way or the other. Don't see any reason to in principles class.

There are 5 others, but I'ma call it quits for now.

All I can say is Mr. Lind should ask for his money back. Any econ 101 class which argued for the points discussed above is a misleading class that does not well-serve the students.

The Cowen and Tabarrok micro text  I used is really good overall and excellent at dispelling myths 1-3 above, but I must confess a tinge of disappointment on its coverage of trade.

ACA and the Script

What an idiot.  I am likely the last person in America to realize that the Obama administration never intended for actual private companies to write insurance for health care under ACA.

But it is now clear.  The strategy is breathtaking simple, and effective.  Lump on a bunch of requirements that make it impossible--not difficult, IMPOSSIBLE--for companies to break even writing insurance.  These include, but are not limited to, prohibiting rejection for pre-existing conditions, requiring companies to cover children who are middle-aged, and ending lifetime totals.  Far from making insurance cheaper, these things obviously make insurance much more expensive, because the companies have to pay out much more.  But they can't raise premiums.  The only alternative is for private insurers to give up.

Of course, when companies bail out, one after another, ObamaCo will blame the "greed" of private enterprise.

And then write new "NINJA" requirements, just like what was forced on banks during the explosion in mortgage "access" in the mid 00's.  No income, no job, no assets required.  All are welcome.  After all, it's not OUR money! 

It's rare that you see something so clearly scripted.  It's like one of these scenes in an Ayn Rand novel, where you say, "Naw.  Nothing could be that patently cynical.  It's just not realistic."

Monday, July 08, 2013

Monday's Child

1.  NPR Planet Money:  Rhino horns and clean water....

2.  Division of labor:  A mouse, a bird, and a sausage walked into a house....

3.  Will Wilkinson on social norms.  (Via LeBron)

4.  Nice "deer fence."  Watch til the end, when they all come back.  They are extremely destructive, beautiful, delicious creatures.  (UPDATE: Note, link repaired)

5.  Risking one's life for ethnography.  I'm pretty sure Angus got a paper cut once, from some computer output.   I've never actually gotten hurt that way.
(more after the jump)

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Full Auto Gatling Slingshot

At least once a month, I realize anew how glad I am that Mr. Overwater invented the internet.

This month:  an insane German man standing outside in the snow, wearing a t-shirt, firing a homemade full auto Gatling slingshot.  The craftsmanship is beautiful.  A genuine work of art.

Clearly, you'll want to watch this also, the artillery version.  As he says, "the most amazing rubber-based weapon I have ever made."

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Those Wacky French Folks

Some French are very upset about people choosing to marry a person of the same sex.

But they are quite OK, in the know-it-all sophisticated Euro way, with a woman marrying a giant block of concrete.  You can see for yourself...

Excerpt:  "An Australian woman has taken her desire for the ‘strong and silent’-type to a new extreme when she married a bridge. Jodi Rose married Le Pont du Diable Bridge in Céret, southern France after falling head over heels for the ‘sensual’ 14th century stone structure."

Conservatives can presumably be appeased by the fact that she at least took the bridge's name.

(Adapted from an email from the indispensable M.K.)

Friday, July 05, 2013

Hypocritical racist derp goes viral. Now it's David Brooks' turn before the lash

Man oh man. What is it with right-wingers and hypocritical racist derp? It's truly amazing. Fresh off of Bret Stephens' salvo in the WSJ comes copy-cat racist David Brooks in the NY Times:

"It’s not that Egypt doesn’t have a recipe for a democratic transition. It seems to lack even the basic mental ingredients."

People, this is what used to be said about African-Americans in the US. About women in the US as well. They didn't have the "mental capacity" or "mental ingredients" to be allowed to participate in self-governance.

It's pure bigoted, racist, right-wing derp.

Rupert Murdoch and Carlos Slim better get their shops in order.

Not only is this derpy and racist, but, as I noted in the Stephens case, highly hypocritical.

We underwrote and supported 30 years of Mubarak destroying civil society and opposition politics. We underwrote and supported the Egyptian military for longer than that.

Any problems Egypt is having with self-governance are partly our fault. And that part is not tiny.

The Economics of Slut-Shaming

An interesting and provocative piece. Excerpt:

The economic way of thinking prompts us to consider the preferences, endowments, and trade-offs that shape our decisions in the face of our unlimited wants and limited means. Decisions about sex—in all of its pleasure, danger, and emotion—are no less subject to these constraints. Although rarely framed as such, in many ways, the euvoluntary exchange of semen and security for womb space and childcare constitutes one of humanity’s earliest, and perhaps most essential, economic spheres. 

Sex is a female resource. While both genders certainly enjoy and depend on the act, natural constraints on female sexuality create scarcity—and value. The high costs of female fertility—in terms of time, mental and physical health, and opportunities forgone—impel women to act as suppliers in the sexual market. Male sexuality, on the other hand, is ubiquitous and cheap. What’s more, men tend to place a higher value on sexual gratification than do women. Men, therefore, comprise the demand for sex. 

ATSRTWT, with thanks to SL Wilson

Asked and Answered

So, LeBron asks (as always) a good question, in this post.  "How might democracy disappear?"

But I think there may be an answer, here, from my guy W.E. English.

What do YOU think?

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Happy Fourth!

Click for an even more invasive image.  Nod to the LMM.

Best 4th of July song ever!

New MCM Home Page

I have for years taken (fully justified) abuse on how crappy my web site was. So, I found a guy (or rather he found me, saying, "Man, your web site is crappy!  Can I fix it for you?").

And now it's much, much better.  If you are interested:

And if you are interested in the web services of the maker, I want to give him some props:  His name is Mark Cunningham, and his portfolio of web sites is here....

It has been a real pleasure working with him.  And that silence you hear is the end of the giant sucking sound my old web site was making.

Grand Game: Libertarian Alamo Edition

This is a truly remarkable article.  Apparently Ami has not only never actually read anything written by a libertarian, he appears not even to be able to define the word.

In particular, it appears that he believes that Oklahoma is ideologically the apotheosis of libertarian thinking.  Oklahoma is many things, and I admire some of those things.  But Libertarian?  Ami, please.

Anyway, have a read, and then Grand Game it up, folks.

I See You!

The Ergonomics of Dishonesty: The Effect of Incidental Posture on Stealing, Cheating, and Traffic Violations 

Andy Yap et al. Psychological Science, forthcoming 

Abstract: Research in environmental sciences has found that the ergonomic design of human-made environments influences thought, feeling and action. Here, we examine the impact of physical environments on dishonest behavior. Four studies tested whether certain bodily configurations — or postures — incidentally imposed by our environment lead to increases in dishonest behavior. The first three experiments found that individuals who engaged in expansive postures (either explicitly or inadvertently) were more likely to steal money, cheat on a test, and commit traffic violations in a driving simulation. Results suggested that participants’ self-reported sense of power mediated the link between postural expansiveness and dishonesty. Study 4 revealed that automobiles with more expansive drivers’ seats were more likely to be illegally parked on New York City streets. Taken together, results suggest that: (1) environments that expand the body can inadvertently lead us to feel more powerful, and (2) these feelings of power can cause dishonest behavior. 

Nod to Kevin Lewis

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

A stealthy welfare system, where those with minor conditions feather their nests at expense of taxpayers and truly disabled veterans

"For a sense of how the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is coping with an unprecedented number of disability claims, consider that nationwide nearly 900,000 disability claims are backlogged or sitting in the processing queue...[T]he biggest issue by far is how the current system defines 'disability.'...The reality is that the majority of veterans' disability claims are for post-traumatic stress disorder, depression or minor physical conditions, including common age-related ailments such as hearing loss, lower-back pain and arthritis...By categorizing minor conditions as disabilities, the process threatens to become a kind of stealthy welfare system, where those with minor conditions might feather their nests at the expense of both taxpayers and truly disabled veterans trapped behind them in a line that stretches over the horizon." Daniel Gade, WSJ

As someone said, it's really hard to give away money.  Why would this cluster-firetruck surprise anyone?

Nod to Kevin Lewis

Liberty Matters! Bastiat!

I am fortunate to be included in the set of folks responding the interesting lead essay posted by Robert Leroux.

Here is the line-up:

The Debate Summary: Frédéric Bastiat’s intellectual legacy has been the subject of much debate since the mid-19th century. His thinking has given rise to the most divergent interpretations. We may say in general terms that his work has evoked two interpretations that are in constant conflict: The first treats Bastiat as a significant theorist, an instigator of new and original theories, with a well-earned place in the history of political economy; the other sees him primarily as simply a journalist or a polemicist. 

Robert Leroux argues that, in spite of resistance to his ideas and the neglect which he suffered in the late 19th and early 20th century, Bastiat was one of the most important liberal theorists of his time. He went far beyond what he was most famous for in his own day, namely campaigning for free trade in France, and made significant contributions to our understanding of the state, the law, freedom of the press and, more broadly yet, human nature. 

Lead Essay: Robert Leroux, "Bastiat and Political Economy"

Responses and Critiques
Response by Donald J. Boudreaux
Response by David M. Hart
Response by Michael C. Munger

Joe Bob says, "Check it out!"

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Magnets in Your Ears

I was trying to think if I knew anyone who would do this.  The answer is "Yes."

Nod to Angry Alex, who is one of the people who is now going to do it.

Ah, Fickleness, Thy Name Is Germany

So, back in 2007-9, think back (especially when Prez O won the Nobel Peace Prize.  Don't forget, BHO won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.")  They lined up to hear his genius, even before he was elected. 

The Germans loved the guy.  He gave great speeches, got 'em all riled up and ready to go fight somebody.  You'd think the Germans would have recognized that the whole "gives great speeches, gets us all riled up, makes us want to go fight somebody" thing is actually NOT the sort of leader they should admire, given their history.  But maybe it's just a cultural thing I don't understand.  That BHO-flavored Kool-Aid never tasted that great to me.

Anyway, now the Germans are hatin' on BHO, and seem to believe that they were the ones who invented the criticism.  The fact that anyone paying attention, even if you were once a supporter, has been criticizing BHO for at least three years has escaped German attention.  The indignation is impressive.  The only reason you should be indignant is that you actually once believed BHO's crap.  Why would you do that?

In any case, welcome (though belatedly) to the side of truth and justice, my German friends!  I'll get on my knees and pray, you don't get fooled again.  Just watch the Daily Show.  And be "happy."

 Nod to the LMM for the Daily Show clip!

More hypocritical racist derp from the WSJ

This time from Bret Stephens:

"For the rest of us, the lesson from Egypt is that democracy is a blessing for people capable of self-government, but it's a curse for those who are not. There is a reason that Egypt has been governed by pharaohs, caliphs, pashas, and strongmen for 6000 years."

As Mungo might say, Sweet Fancy Moses!

Hey Bret: what people were "self-governed" 6000 years ago? How about 1000 years ago? Heck how about 500 years ago?

Follow up question for Bret: When the age of self-governance took off, what did the great self-governing powers do? Oh, that's right, they ran Egypt as their colony.

One last question for Bret: Who allowed Hose-head Mubarak to "rule" Egypt for 30 years and destroy any and all civil institutions and civil society? Don't tell me, let me think, it's right on the tip of my tongue... Oh yeah! IT WAS US. THE GOOD OLD SELF-GOVERNED USA.

The WSJ: where racism, hypocrisy, and derp are not bugs, but rather features.

Rory Vs. The Machine

Via LeBron's twittering at @tylercowen

Monday, July 01, 2013

So Cool: When HOLLYWOOD even starts hatin' on you....

Even those squishy mooks in Hollywood have decided to start hating on the federal surveillance-industrial complex.  Nicely done.  Thanks to WH.

UPDATE: This is interesting.

Russ Roberts and I talk about sports "codes"

Michael Munger of Duke University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the role of formal rules and informal rules in sports. Many sports restrain violence and retaliation through formal rules while in others, protective equipment is used to reduce injury. In all sports, codes of conduct emerge to deal with violence and unobserved violations of formal rules. Munger explores the interaction of these forces across different sports and how they relate to insights of Coase and Hayek.  ATSRTWT!

UPDATE:  A.R. comments over at the podcast about the "greatest scandal in the history of cricket."  Just being able to type that phrase made my whole day.  "Cricket scandal" is an excellent start to any paragraph.  And then the scandal does in fact turn out to be extremely interesting.  Reading the first paragraph of this, I realized that I am painfully ignorant of cricket.  But this is a bit easier to understandThis is more serious.  And very interesting.  Thanks, Aswin!

UPDATE II:  Ghostbusters!  "More like a guideline than a rule..."  at 0:14.  WARNING:  NSFW!  Her request is rather indelicate.  (Nod to WH)

Monday's Child

1.  Nuclear power, arise?

2.  The first mass school shooting.  In Germany, no less. In 1913.

3.  Peak Oil is peak idiocy.  A good discussion of why.

4.  How social Darwinism made modern China...

5. Bill Gates on "giving up using the government."

MUCH more after the jump...