Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Target Customers, not producers

SFO Officials Make Citizen Arrests Of Internet Rideshare Drivers « CBS San Francisco: "Dean Clark, a former taxi driver for nearly a decade, said authorities should be targeting the companies rather than the rideshare drivers.

He said the drivers are simply offering rides to people for a donation, and that unlike what the taxi industry claims, many of the drivers are working students, semi-retired people and single parents."

This is another reason that we should write laws to target the customers, not the providers, of services we make illegal. Targeting the customers and the drivers rather than the companies (the equivalent of 'drug kingpins') makes us face the fact that we are punishing people for engaging in an innocent and mutually beneficial transaction. Making ordinary citizens pay the cost of government's support of rent-seeking schemes makes those schemes more politically costly. If you just concentrated on the companies there would be little political cost.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Government always benefits the insiders

Medicare Whac-A-Mole - "The other problem is that any payment system inevitably ends up being manipulated by savvy payees. “You price on the basis of one thing, but then people optimize their behavior to that thing,” says Kling. In a sense this is the primary job of health care administrators: to understand payment systems and squeeze every possible dollar out of them."

Zach Galifianakis

I was watching the DVD of Zach Galifianakis's stand up routine and he mentioned that he hates 'the right' because of what happened to his uncle when he ran against Jesse Helms in 1984. His uncle was ahead until Helms ran an add with the tag-line, "he is one of us." To Galifianakis this was a reference to his uncle's foreign name and that his uncle lost the race because of Helms' appeal to xenophobia and bigotry among ordinary Americans.

I think there is an alternative interpretation. I think that part of what Helms was appealing to was the resentment that many Americans feel towards elites who have contempt for traditional virtues such as patriotism. Just after watching the DVD I ran across this item which provides a convincing example of the kind of contempt our elites have for ordinary Americans and their sentiments.

Fight at WTC Memorial over iconic flag-raising photo being overly patriotic -

"This iconic picture of firefighters raising the stars and stripes in the rubble of Ground Zero was nearly excluded from the 9/11 Memorial Museum — because it was “rah-rah” American, a new book says.

Michael Shulan, the museum’s creative director, was among staffers who considered the Tom Franklin photograph too kitschy and “rah-rah America,” according to “Battle for Ground Zero” (St. Martin’s Press) by Elizabeth Greenspan, out next month.
“I really believe that the way America will look best, the way we can really do best, is to not be Americans so vigilantly and so vehemently,” Shulan said." 
Here is a moment that makes most Americans swell with pride and patriotism. And yet, to a museum director charged with using public funds to commemorate our history and this terrible event in our history, it is a cause for embarrassment. And his sentiment came close to carrying the committee of elites charged with making this decision on behalf of those ordinary, "rah-rah" Americans. It is typical of our elites that what ordinary Americans see as a source of pride is, to them, a source of embarrassment. 
I suspect that it was this attitude on the part of our elites rather than a distrust of people with 'funny sounding names,' which explains the effectiveness of Helms' appeal. 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Story of the Gideon Bible

Why There Are Bibles in Hotel Rooms: Now there are similar organizations placing Korans and the Book of Mormon in Hotels as well. A quintessentially American story.

Smartest President in the History of Everything Update

President Obama calls the United States and Europe ‘developing countries’ in latest embarrassing gaffe – Telegraph Blogs: Seriously, people make these mistakes all the time when they are speaking impromptu, but when a conservative populist makes them they are taken as evidence of general mental deficiency, when a member of the government party makes them they are written off the sorts of mistakes that everyone makes when speaking off the cuff.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Cool Chart

File:Federal Spending - Cause of Change 2001 to 2009.png - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

They must be racists? How Else Could They Not Love Him?

Chris Matthews: When Will The Obama Haters Stop Hating? | RealClearPolitics: The interesting thing here is that Matthew's case for why Republicans should love Obama is so glaringly weak. He has essentially four points:

Obama made a great speech in 2004--well, so what? The rap on Obama from the beginning is that he is great at making speeches and nothing else. Pointing to a great speech is hardly an effective counter to that.

Obama killed bin Laden--indeed he did. But would any other president have done otherwise? Was the rap on Bush that he was not willing to kill people?

He saved the economy in 2009, the stock market having doubled since then--The bailout of the banks written by Bush and voted for by both Obama and McCain pulled the economy out of the financial crisis. What has been prominent since then is how anemic the recovery has been since then compared to other recessions. Does Obama get the blame for that? The one bright spot has been the stock market. But what does it say when the only part of your economy that is thriving is the financial market? Might that not be because of Obama's spending and Bernanke's printing press? To paraphrase Vice-Presidential candidate LLoyd Bensten in response to a question about the Reagan recovery that he and Mike Dukakis had to contend with in 1988, "You let me write a few trillion dollars in hot checks and I'll throw a hell of a party, too." The difference is not in the severity of the recessions from which they were recovering but in the size of the parties that their deficits bought.

Finally, Obama's personal qualities, his marriage and how hard he worked and how much he achieved in school--I have nothing to say against Obama as a parent and husband, but this is hardly a guarantee of popularity. Ask Truman, and Nixon and Carter and, oh well, you get the picture. To say that the fact that an exemplary family life does not insulate one from political opposition is proof that the opposition is based on race is just bizarre.

But what is most odd is the use of Obama's school record as a reason we should like him. It is a strange thing to say in defense of a president in the first place. Did anyone care in 1992 that H. W. Bush had graduated from Yale in three years Magna Cum Laude? It is in general a strange thing to be brought up in evaluating a president. But it is especially strange in the case of Obama, who is the one president whose school records are not public. If it is so important and such a cause for us to love him, why not put them out there? How can you use his academic record from 25 years ago to defend him and not mention that he is the only occupant of the Oval Office in modern times to have kept his academic records secret?

Is there nothing the ruling class won't attribute to government?

Ezra Klein gives credit to the government:

Will Obamacare Kickstart Health-Care Revolution? - Bloomberg: "In New York City, one of those insurers will be Oscar. That’s the name Kushner and his co-founders chose, hoping it would help humanize their company. “I don’t think we could do this without Obamacare,” Schlosser said. “You’d have to break into a market that’s been pretty ‘oligopolized’ with big insurers catering to brokers, agency houses and big employers. But now we have a direct connection to the consumer.”
Breeding Familiarity
The idea behind Oscar is that using your insurance should be as easy and intuitive as using your Facebook account or your Tumblr page. As Nazemi puts it, “We have a responsibility to take the friction and pain of engagement out of the process.” The experience is familiar to anyone who uses today’s leading social networks (the former head of engineering at Tumblr now works for Oscar). But for anyone who’s used the websites of Aetna or Cigna or Blue Cross Blue Shield, it’s something of a revelation."

This is absurd and sad because many people will believe this. Are Facebook and your Tumblr page easy to use and understandable because the government wrote a law making them so? No, they are user friendly because the market has selected for that trait. If they were not, they would lose business. Why is the health care market different? Why is it so complicated and user unfriendly? Because government has made it so. They have forced everyone to be in third-party payer systems and allowed states to create balkanized state markets and masses of regulation that keep new comers out of the market.

It is truly incredible that they are taking credit for bringing the convenience and clarity of most internet transactions to the health care market when they are the reason that the health care market--in contrast to all the other free markets--was prevented from having these things in the first place.

Oh, and will they succeed in bringing transparency and convenience to the health care market? Well, the fact that they have had to suspend parts of the law, including the requirement to have exchanges up and running, for another year on top of the four year lead time they had already written into the law, suggests that they will not. Of course, any problems in the implementation of the health care law will only be an argument for the even greater expansion of the government's power rather than an argument for getting the government out of the way in the first place.

War, What is it Good For?

Darwinian Conservatism by Larry Arnhart: The MPS in the Galapagos (11): Wrangham on the Evolution of War: The reviewer points out that much of the evidence against the theory that making war is a part of our evolutionary nature depends on the definition of war. But the most interesting and compelling argument the reviewer makes is about the implications of the thesis that our propensity to make war is a result of evolution. Believing that humans evolved with a propensity to engage in war is not a justification of war but a necessary first step towards its eradication.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Gender differences

Why Do Women Disapprove of Drone Strikes So Much More Than Men Do? - Alexis C. Madrigal - The Atlantic: Women are consistently more anti-war than men across national boundaries, but the difference is bigger with Drones.

It Explains Everything--Except Prisoners!

They Finally Tested The 'Prisoner's Dilemma' On Actual Prisoners — And The Results Were Not What You Would Expect | Business Insider Australia: So it turns out that prisoners are more trusting and have more 'social capital' than college undergraduates?

Of course, like any good social scientist, I will not allow a few inconvenient facts to get in the way of such an elegant theory. Perhaps criminal enterprises, which by their nature have to rely on informal enforcement of contracts without recourse to formal, publicly enforced rules, develops or selects for personal loyalty in a way that more above board enterprises do not. Perhaps pre-modern, non-bureaucratic man is more trustworthy on an individual level because he has to be in order to function in his world. In a way, that is consistent with the Prisoner's Dilemma.

If it were anyone else

Christian Tragedy in the Muslim World | Hoover Institution: "Unfortunately, as Ibrahim writes, the century-long flourishing of Middle Eastern Christians “has created chronological confusions and intellectual pitfalls for Westerners” who take the “hundred-year lull in persecution” as the norm. In fact, that century was an anomaly, and after World War I, traditional Islamic attitudes and doctrines began to reassert themselves, a movement that accelerated in the 1970s. The result is the disappearance of Christianity in the land of its birth. In 1900, twenty percent of the Middle East was Christian. Today, less than two percent is."

The review of Ibrahim's book goes on to discuss the many examples of contemporary persecution of Christians in Muslim countries. If the review is any indication the book is light on good statistics but good on lurid examples. Still, the books main argument, that the widespread persecution of Christians across a wide range of countries that have little in common except their Muslim majorities indicates that the problem is, in fact, Islam, deserves to be taken seriously.

But the fact that it is Christians that are suffering means the international human rights establishment largely ignores the problem or treats it as something other than the religious persecution it is. Their world-view tells them that all real evil is done by the Western World against the non-Western World and violence in the other direction is somehow doesn't register.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Less Regulation, more capitalism

The Signal and the Silence by Adam White, City Journal Spring 2013: "“Skin in the game is the only true mitigator of fragility.” The surest way to reduce the threat that unforeseeable risk poses is to make sure that those who create the risk also bear its potential costs."

This is the flaw in regulatory thinking. Instead of writing rules that will prevent people from taking bad risks but allow them to escape the consequences of taking bad risks by saying, "Hey, I followed all the rules," we should see that those who take decisions bear the consequences of those decisions. There is a name for the system that does that: Capitalism. All of the government interventions that are made in the name of protecting capitalism from itself have the perverse effect of protecting decision makers from bad decisions, leading to...more bad decisions.

The Origins of Michigan's 'Stand Your Ground' law

Detroit’s Future Could Depend on Stand Your Ground: "In adopting the provision, lawmakers cited the recent increase in home invasions, and also a case from 1925, in which the home of a black doctor named Ossian Sweet was surrounded by angry white men, one of whom was killed by shots fired from the house. A jury found the doctor innocent, since he was defending his home. You likely won’t hear much about that precedent in today’s overheated debate."

This is one of many pieces of evidence that the people with the most to lose from a successful repeal of state stand-your-ground laws would be blacks.

Mass Murder and Homelessness

A New Moral Treatment by James Panero, City Journal Spring 2013: How much of our mass murder, homelessness and general mayhem in the streets can be traced to the de-institutionalization movement that began in the 1960s? Consider that as much as 90% of the people that would in 1960 have been confined to a mental institution are now living 'freely', if by 'freely' you mean endlessly cycling through homeless shelters, emergency rooms, jails and the streets.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Libertarians Beware: Your True Enemy has yet to reveal himself

Don't Blame Big Cable. It's Local Governments That Choke Broadband Competition | Wired Opinion | I think that the conservative/libertarian impulse to reduce the power of the federal government and send power back to the states could end up empowering rent seekers even more.

Libertarians Beware: Your True Enemy has yet to reveal himself

Don't Blame Big Cable. It's Local Governments That Choke Broadband Competition | Wired Opinion | I think that the conservative/libertarian impulse to reduce the power of the federal government and send power back to the states could end up empowering rent seekers even more.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Hitler shows the way

Egypt Calls for New Look at Morsi Prison Escape in 2011 - "While tensions between the Christian minority and extremist elements in the Muslim majority are not new, attacks have been reported across the country — in the northern Sinai Peninsula, in a resort town on the Mediterranean Coast, in Port Said along the Suez Canal and in isolated villages in upper Egypt.

A priest has been shot dead in the street, Islamists have painted black X’s on Christian shops to mark them for arson and mobs have attacked churches and besieged Christians in their homes. Four Christians were reported killed with knives and machetes in one village last week."

The tactic of marking shops owned by the targeted group is one that was pioneered by the Nazis in pre-war Germany. Just one more reason for believing that the term 'Islamo-fascism' has never gained the wide currency it merits.

Monday, July 08, 2013

War on Terror as an excuse

“Why did you shoot me? I was reading a book”: The new warrior cop is out of control - One of the consequences of the focus on anti-terror functions of the police was the increase in the flow of military weapons to the police. It is odd that there is no great outcry about this from gun control advocates. A disarmed citizenry and a hyper-armed police force and state: The exact opposite of the system bequeathed to us by the founding Fathers. As a conservative I must confess that I have in the past been a little too ready to defer to the police authorities in their efforts to combat domestic crime, but we should always remember that a power once given to government for one purpose (in this case combating terrorism) will soon be turned toward another purpose (breaking up poker games? Seriously?).

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Someone who hates Derrida even more than I do

John Searle on Foucault and the Obscurantism in French Philosophy | Open Culture: "Foucault said that Derrida practiced the method of obscurantisme terroriste (terrorism of obscurantism). We were speaking in French. And I said, “What the hell do you mean by that?” And he said, “He writes so obscurely you can’t tell what he’s saying. That’s the obscurantism part. And then when you criticize him, he can always say, ‘You didn’t understand me; you’re an idiot.’ That’s the terrorism part.” And I like that. So I wrote an article about Derrida. I asked Michel if it was OK if I quoted that passage, and he said yes.


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