The long battle

Also via ChicagoBoyz, a Veronique de Rugy plea for patience in fighting the battle for big ideas.

Viking revival

From ChicagoBoyz, news of a "Late Varangian/Kievan Rus/Viking" revival in the Ukraine.


Financial tracheotomy

"Operation Choke Point" is an FDIC program that identifies certain industries as "high risk" for banks. I'm not sure of the details, but the claim is that it has influenced a lot of banks to cut off customers in the gun or ammunition sale business.  The program is supposed to have something to do with fraud, but the customers complaining of being cut off don't appear to have been accused of fraud, only of being in the gun-and-ammo business.  They're losing access to things like credit-card processing and PayPal.

The first thing this makes me think of is the crying need for alternative banking providers to spring up, so I was pretty happy to read that new companies, such as one called Payment Alliance, are stepping into the breach.  That's why it's nice to have lots of private institutions competing with federal ones, or even ones that have drifted into accepting too much federal control in return for goodies like FDIC insurance.

In other good news, the new Congress may be taking steps to get the regulators under control, too.  So hurray for elections.


That appears to be the consensus word.

"I'm not your dad, but . . . ."

Great weather forecast.

C.S.S. Hunley

They've started to look at it after pulling it out of Charleston's harbor, for those interested in such things.

Apropos of Last

Also, it's Friday.

Drink deep, killers.

UPDATE: For those who like jokes more than drinks, or jokes with your drinks.

That's Harsh

Kevin Williamson, again.
Dr. Ron Chapman, director of the California Department of Public Health, says that vaping should be treated like “other important outbreaks or epidemics.”
But epidemics of what? Prole tastes?

Progressivism, especially in its well-heeled coastal expressions, is not a philosophy — it’s a lifestyle. Specifically, it is a brand of conspicuous consumption, which in a land of plenty such as ours as often as not takes the form of conspicuous non-consumption: no gluten, no bleached flour, no Budweiser, no Walmart, no SUVs, no Toby Keith, etc.
One could say without offense that the philosophy entails a lifestyle. The claim here is that there's no coherent philosophy at all. True?

These Are Good Movies

I was moved especially by the first one, but perhaps you'll like the others better.

UPDATE: Based on the picture he put with it, though, I can see that Bill Whittle doesn't know any bikers.

Not going to have Mitt to kick around this time

NBC is reporting that Mitt Romney is about to announce he will not run.  They observed that this "clears the Republican field for Jeb Bush."  They never give up.

I Hate Public Transportation

Buses are always noiser, smellier, and disrupt traffic far more than guys in cars -- to say nothing of guys on motorcycles! But some want public transit to take over how you go anywhere, and they think it would be helpful if it were free.

Now, if you hate buses like I do, that doesn't seem like a good road. But I find it amusing that the first thing they did was to set up a free-market style insurance scheme, whereby you're indemnified against the cost of getting caught breaking the law by jumping turnstiles.
The group calls itself (rough translation: "dodge the fare now"), and they’ve banded together because getting caught free-riding comes with a steep $120 penalty. Here's how it works: Each member pays about $12 in monthly dues—which beats paying for a $35 weekly pass—and the resulting pool of cash more than covers any fines members incur.
So what if nobody pays for the buses? Don't they go away? No, of course, because the use fees aimed at the poor can never cover the cost of their operation. They always depend on taxes on people who never use the damn things.

So what about the other people? I've drunk beer in Zamboanga in daylight during Ramadan, and traveled in rural Tawi-Tawi and Sanga-Sanga, where gasoline is sold in little plastic baggies because a gallon is far too great a sum, and nobody can buy an underground tank's worth.

People still had motorcycles. Trucks, even, sometimes.

A Moment of Steinbeck

A thing going around right now is a John Steinbeck quote from The Grapes of Wrath:
If he needs a million acres to make him feel rich, seems to me he needs it 'cause he feels awful poor inside hisself, and if he's poor inside hisself, there aint no million acres gonna make him feel rich.
This goes with a second quote allegedly from Steinbeck.
"Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires."
This is followed by a rant against the Koch brothers, etc.

But consider: if the American people think of themselves as 'temporarily embarrassed millionaires,' then they are a people who are on Steinbeck's terms rich inside.

How are you going to make them feel poor?

NASCAR: Where Everyone Gets A Trophy

" long as..."

Bringing the Hammer

The payoff comes two minutes, twenty-eight seconds in.

That guy might have been President, these last six years.

"Meanwhile, in Norway..."

About 27 tonnes of caramelised brown goat cheese - a delicacy known as Brunost - caught light as it was being driven through the Brattli Tunnel at Tysfjord, northern Norway, last week.

The fire raged for five days and smouldering toxic gases were slowing the recovery operation, officials said.

Overture in Slide

The Viking Guide to an Evening Out

Legitimate advice from the Havamal is made accessible for the current generation.

Wait, What?

Via Hot Air:
Let me ask you this: In the workplace of America today when we have a high number of unemployed, we’ve had declining wages for many years, we have the lowest of Americans working, who has more right to a job in this country? A lawful immigrant who’s here, a green-card holder or a citizen, or a person who entered the country unlawfully?

Well, Senator, I believe that the right and the obligation to work is one that’s shared by everyone in this country regardless of how they came here. And certainly, if someone here, regardless of status, I would prefer that they be participating in the workplace than not participating in the workplace…
The part of that statement Allahpundit is interested in is the part where people who are illegally in this country have a "right" to work.

The part that I want to hear more about is how the obligation to work is shared by everyone.

Really? Where is that coming from? How is this obligation grounded? What should be done to those who don't meet this obligation?

Interesting Analogs

How about a former US Assistant Treasury Secretary and working economist who proposes we think of Iranian nuclear issue in the model of The Lord of the Rings? Picture that in your mind for a minute.

Did it look like this?
If we use J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings as a metaphor for the West, the West is Mordor and Washington is Sauron.

It is pointless for Iran to negotiate with the West in hopes of gaining acceptance. Iran is on the same list as Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi, and Assad. The only way Iran can be accepted by the West is to consent to being an American puppet state. Suspicion about Iran’s nuclear energy program is a contrived issue. If it were not the nuclear issue, it would be some other contrived issue, such as weapons of mass destruction, use of chemical weapons, terrorism, and so forth. Iran’s leaders should understand that the real problem is Iran’s independence of Washington’s foreign and economic policies.

Now There's A Headline I Never Expected to See

"Chemists find a way to unboil eggs."
“This method … could transform industrial and research production of proteins,” the researchers write in ChemBioChem.

For example, pharmaceutical companies currently create cancer antibodies in expensive hamster ovary cells that do not often misfold proteins. The ability to quickly and cheaply re-form common proteins from yeast or E. coli bacteria could potentially streamline protein manufacturing and make cancer treatments more affordable. Industrial cheese makers, farmers and others who use recombinant proteins could also achieve more bang for their buck.

When everything you know is wrong.

The WSJ editorial board wants the President to have a Seinfeld moment:
Mr. Obama is now taking credit for 2014’s job gains that his policies inhibited, much as he is for the boom in oil and gas drilling that his Administration resisted. Thus comes the opportunity for a late-term “Seinfeld” economic epiphany. Imagine the possibilities if the President realized that everything he thought about economics is wrong.
A President Costanza would cut the tax rate on capital, not raise it; reduce the incentives to go on disability, not increase them; and reduce regulatory costs on business, not add to them. Whatever economic instincts you have, Mr. President, do the opposite.

"How We Won the War on Dungeons & Dragons"

The "we" in this sense is the folks who enjoyed playing Dungeons & Dragons back when there was a huge uproar against it. Apropos of Tex's posts about nerd culture. They may feel oppressed, but sometimes they win!

We used to play D&D when I was a teenager too, and I think it's very helpful for kids. That kind of role-playing is one way of working out who you really want to be, and what's important to you. You can't actually be a barbarian king or a wizard, but you can explore what it might be like to have the virtues of courage or knowledge, and decide where you want to focus your own efforts to develop those virtues in yourself.

Of course, at some point, it's time to 'put away childish things,' and get on with the business of developing real virtue (although you can probably get back to it, as with other childish things, once you get old enough). At a certain age, when you aren't sure yet who you are or what you want, the games are helpful things.

PC Nonsense

Jonathan Chait tries to take on the whole internet, at least according to the weaklings at Gawker.
I am white and male, a fact that is certainly worth bearing in mind. I was also a student at the University of Michigan during the Jacobsen incident, and was attacked for writing an article for the campus paper defending the exhibit. If you consider this background and demographic information the very essence of my point of view, then there’s not much point in reading any further. But this pointlessness is exactly the point: Political correctness makes debate irrelevant and frequently impossible.
I doubt Chait and I have agreed about ten things in ten years. That's why PC is nonsense. These categories are just analogies. I doubt we have ten things in common, including 'being white' and 'being male.' He's a New York writer from a Jewish family -- which is fine, and I in no way mean to suggest otherwise, but it's almost totally different from my own Scots-Irish heritage in Appalachia.

And as for what it means to be a man, I doubt he and I agree at all. He'll answer to God for his conscience, and I for mine, but don't think they're similar -- let alone the same.

Good for You, Lady

I checked the history, and most mentions of Michelle Obama here at the Hall are from Tex or Cassandra (who has posting privileges she may have forgotten). I think the American tendency to pay attention to the First Lady and families of Presidents is a mistake, probably JFK's fault, that only hurts their ability to carry on with family life during a difficult few years. Best to ignore them and what they do, almost all the time, for the sake of the President's mental health and the individual good of each family member.

However, I'll break tradition this once. It's not mandatory for women from outside Saudi Arabia to go veiled, but it's good for an American not to. She may not have felt she had much choice, given the constant rumors that her husband is a secret Muslim, but all the same it's a healthy signal of independence. It's good for us, and it's good for the women of Saudi Arabia.

Fascists Have The Best Uniforms

"The Front National now has the support of a quarter of Paris’s gay voters – and only 16 per cent of the straight ones."
The Front National now offers a welcoming home to gay people who feel judged by Muslims and share wider concerns about immigration and the loss of French identity... Marine has worked hard to expand the FN’s membership beyond obvious bigots, racists and skinheads. She has publicly condemned anti-Semitism and insists that, far from being racist, her party is the only one that defends secularity and democracy against Islamisation. A key part of this strategy is using the Islamist threat to court the sort of people that the far right has traditionally persecuted. It’s working.
That's not just 'working,' that's amazing. It sounds like a leading indicator.

"Control Your Thoughts."

Apropos of a story about a Christian blogress who decided to quit wearing Yoga pants in public so as to avoid tempting other men into violating the commandment against coveting another man's wife, some advice:
Meanwhile, others criticised the entry for feeding into the idea that what a women chooses to wear dictates how men behave. “How about you learn to control your thoughts?” said one commenter.
That's great advice! Let's try it. Don't think of a pink elephant.

Snow and School Cancellations

A visual guide, with commentary.

Structural oppression

Grim linked to two very interesting articles on the subject of the War Between Nerds and Feminists.  In the first, Scot Alexander expounds on a number of topics, such as how useless it is to define human relations in terms of relative oppression, so that every identification of unjust behavior becomes a competition to determine which of us has it the worst: "You couldn't go to college? Well, I had to be subject to the draft! Top that!" He calls it the "one-dimensional model of privilege." Then he really grabs me with this:
And this is why it’s distressing to see the same things people have always said about Jews get applied to nerds. They’re this weird separate group with their own culture who don’t join in the reindeer games of normal society. They dress weird and talk weird. They’re conventionally unattractive and have too much facial hair. But worst of all, they have the chutzpah to do all that and also be successful. Having been excluded from all of the popular jobs, they end up in the unpopular but lucrative jobs, for which they get called greedy parasites in the Jews’ case, and “the most useless and deficient individuals in society” in the case of the feminist article on nerds I referenced earlier.
. . .
I am saying that whatever structural oppression means, it should be about structure. And the structure society uses to marginalize and belittle nerds is very similar to a multi-purpose structure society has used to belittle weird groups in the past with catastrophic results.
Of course it's also true that, for instance, a group of guys with some terrible habits about treating women as sex dolls might simultaneously be the target of crippling society hatred and the beneficiaries of lavish societal rewards of a different sort. It's even true that their distressing sex-doll mentality might be rooted in an oppressive social gender structure, even though they continue to suffer from some gender-based social structures and to benefit from others. It's not always about who's getting the short end of the stick in every possible walk of life. Sometimes it's just about treating people as individual human beings rather than as either objects or rigid categories. I'd really just as soon never read another article explaining that the "real" oppression is the plight of guys who would like to have sex with someone who doesn't happen to agree with the program, and therefore it follows as the night the day that all talk of oppression in the form of treating women as something less than human is illegitimate. I'm also all done listening to how a particular behavior couldn't possible be unjust or reprehensible, because the perpetrator also feels genuine pain about his life.  That's just suffering one-up-man-ship, and it's not shedding light on how we can treat each other decently.

Alexander continues explaining how little help oppression-talk can be:
If we’ve learned anything from the Star Wars prequels, it’s that Anakin Skywalker is unbearably annoying. But if we’ve learned two things from the Star Wars prequels, it’s that the easiest way to marginalize the legitimate concerns of anyone who stands in your way is to declare them oppressors loud enough to scare everyone who listens.
And if the people in the Star Wars universe had seen the Star Wars movies, I have no doubt whatsoever that Chancellor Palpatine would have discredited his opponents by saying they were the Empire.
(seriously, you wanted to throw the gauntlet down to lonely male nerds, and the turf you chose was Star Wars metaphors? HOW COULD THAT POSSIBLY SEEM LIKE A GOOD IDEA?)
He really dismantles theories of how Silicon Valley cleverly excludes women from lucrative STEM jobs while allowing women so to swamp the medical field these days that people are starting to worry who'll see all the patients when they start taking pregnancy leave.

Then there's this spot-on summary of the social atmosphere in a STEM-dominated office:
Any space with a four-to-one male:female ratio is going to end up with some pretty desperate people and a whole lot of unwanted attention. Add into this mix the fact that nerds usually have poor social skills (explaining exactly why would take a literature review to put that last one to shame, but hopefully everyone can agree this is true), and you get people who are pretty sure they are supposed to do something but have no idea what. Err to one side and you get the overly-chivalrous people saying m’lady because it pattern matches to the most courtly and least sexual way of presenting themselves they can think of. Err to the other, and you get people hollowly imitating the behavior they see in famous seducers and playboys, which when done without the very finely-tuned social graces and body-language-reading-ability of famous seducers and playboys is pretty much just “being extremely creepy”.
The second article grabs me just as hard with a nerd woman's paean to perseveration:
What I’ve got, and what I wish the rest of the “women in tech” community who rage against the misogyny they see everywhere they look could also have, is a blazingly single-minded focus on whatever topic I happen to be perseverating on at the moment. It has kept me awake for days puzzling out novel algorithms and it has thwarted a wannabe PUA at a conference completely by accident. It is also apparently the most crashingly successful defense against attempts to make me feel inferior that has ever been devised. When I’m someplace that says on the label that it’s all about the tech, so am I. I may have come by it naturally, but it is a teachable skill. Not only that, it’s a skill that transforms the places where it’s exercised.
The fact that Shanley Kane dismisses experiences like mine as “denial,” and regards them as “colluding in my own oppression,” both saddens and baffles me.
The author is perfectly describing the dreadful "Uncle Tom" or "Oreo Cookie" criticism. She's found a home in the STEM world, she knows why it works for her, and she's not interested in apologizing because it doesn't work for people not like her, whether anyone thinks the necessary qualities sort themselves out along gender lines or not.

The more I read about this, the more it seems like a war between people on opposite ends of the autism spectrum.

When privileges collide

Who's more aggrieved, feminists or nerds?
“I was terrified that one of my female classmates would somehow find out that I sexually desired her, and that the instant she did, I would be scorned, laughed at, called a creep and a weirdo, maybe even expelled from school or sent to prison,” Aaronson said.
The feminist response was swift and harsh, with controversial blogger Amanda Marcotte calling Aaronson’s mini-memoir “a yalp of entitlement combined with an aggressive unwillingness to accept that women are human beings just like men.” His essay boils down to a belief that women are “a robot army put here for sexual service and housework,” she said.
I assume the article omitted the intervening comments that formed some kind of rational bridge between the nerd's cri de coeur and the feminist backlash.  These two groups don't seem to be communicating well.  I've always been fond of nerds, myself, especially since I are one.

Gandhi Takes a Yoga Class

UPDATE: The Onion on a similar topic.

Landings you can swim away from

I had no idea such a thing existed:

Speaking of the 1st Amendment

Sometimes when a seemingly disgraceful story hits the right-wing news outlets, I like to check to see whether any mainstream sources have picked it up.  For one thing, if the news needs to be spread, experience suggests that the message can be heard more widely and without so much static if it comes in a more soothing wrapper than the Fox News banner.  Also, the rightosphere has been known occasionally to push a story for political purposes, shocking as that may be.  (I understand the leftosphere and the MSM occasionally err in this fashion as well.)

Anyway, when I heard that Bowe Bergdahl is to be charged with desertion but the White House is trying furiously to bury the story, my first reaction was to un-bury it as vigorously as one puny individual can.  My second was to see whether I might get some confirmation.  Naturally, confirmation in a case like this is tricky; if the White House really is squelching the news, can I trust the New York Times to carry it?  The question answers itself.

The upshot is that I'm getting hits on all kinds of sites like the Daily Mail, with The Washington Times perhaps being the closest to a traditional news outlet, but nothing in any sources like Reuters or the AP. Duffleblog is on the job, though:
For his own personal safety Bergdahl has gone into hiding in Idaho, a rugged mountainous area far from civilization, where he is being guarded by several of the local hill tribes.
The Taliban have asked the U.S. to immediately extradite Bergdahl back to Afghanistan to face criminal charges. The U.S. Department of Justice has vowed to work overtime to fulfill their request.

Thank you, Mr. Moore, Mr. Rogen

When Michael Moore and Seth Rogen exercise their First Amendment right to criticize "American Sniper," it's a tribute to everyone who served in uniform.


Glen Reynolds today:
HIGHER EDUCATION BUBBLE UPDATE: U.C. Berkeley Students Complain About Having To Read Aristotle, Plato, Hobbes, Locke, Hegel, Marx, Weber and Foucault. In course on classic social theory. And if that makes it hard for you to focus on the course material, cupcakes, you don’t belong in college.
I thought that sounded like a pretty good syllabus, really. You could quibble a bit -- I'm not sure Hegel's comments on social theory are at all useful except as a prelude to Marx, and I might substitute out Foucault for Rousseau (since allegedly this is about "classic" social theory). So what could be the problem?

Well, of course, I should have known.
...a standardized canon of theory that began with Plato and Aristotle, then jumped to modern philosophers: Hobbes, Locke, Hegel, Marx, Weber and Foucault, all of whom are white men. The syllabus did not include a single woman or person of color. We have major concerns about social theory courses in which white men are the only authors assigned.
I am glad that the students didn't try to rope Plato and Aristotle into the category of "white men." That's a category that wouldn't have made sense to them, and which they would have rejected once it was explained to them. All those "white men" are from the category they would have referred to as "barbarians."

This reminds me of an attempt by Georgia State University, a couple of years back, to introduce a quota of 20% female authors in philosophy courses. If you're teaching a course on contemporary philosophy, that's not at all hard to do. If you're teaching a course on "classic social theory," it's pretty hard. You could grab something from Christine de Pizan, who had some social commentary. But it's more commentary than theory, as she was accepting a Christian framework and challenging members of society to live up to it better than they did.

So that's probably what you'd do here: grab works by contemporary women who are commenting on the classical authors. You could fold them in side-by-side with the original authors as a kind of running critique by contemporary female thinkers of what the classical tradition has to say. Maybe that would be interesting to do.

It would be done at the expense of at least some of the classical authors, though. That means students will be less prepared to do novel work of their own, as they will be less aware of and engaged in the great questions. That's where I finished when talking about the 20% experiment:
I would think the way to draw women into philosophy would be to engage them with the great problems, and get them excited about wrestling with them. (It might not hurt to suggest, which is actually true, that any university will be especially considerate of a female philosopher who wants a job -- you can be sure the academy is aware of the disparity, and will bend over backwards to help ensure their numbers reflect a devotion to doing something about it.) Engaging them is what will really qualify them to do the work, as it is only someone genuinely engaged with the questions who will perform at the level at which real contributions are made -- the kind of contributions that would justify your inclusion in a class reading list.

That's also the way you'd do best by your female students as students, which is the right way for you to relate to them if you are a professor or a teaching assistant. It is, perhaps, the only way you ought to engage them.
I wonder how that 20% experiment worked out? Looking around Google, I only find the fanfare that accompanied its beginning, and no further comment on whether it has been continued or what the results were.

UPDATE: In terms of "people of color," Charles Mills has a thoroughgoing criticism of this whole tradition. Of course, he's a man, so if you read him you'd have to also separately include female critiques. The more of these things you do, the less of the tradition itself you can read.

My Support for Walker Solidifies ...

Walker '16

Good Luck, Yankees

Sometimes making history isn't much fun.

Good Topic

A good reflection on how you can be wrong about the most important things. I like the comments section especially, because it shows people reflecting on the question in their own lives.

I think I was wrong about isolationism in the 1990s. I was really against intervening in Somalia, and then in Bosnia, Serbia, etc. I thought that was none of our affair, and that we should let these people kill each other if they wanted to do so. I agreed with Otto von Bismark's opinion that the "whole of the Balkans is not worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier." If you'd have suggested to me that, just a few years later, I would support an American invasion of Afghanistan I'd have laughed out loud.

"The Greeks defeated the Persians because of Aeschylus"

I completely agree with the claim about intelligence and strategy being made here, ably defended by Jakub Grygiel.

Unemployment benefits vs. unemployment

The National Review tries to make sense of data about unemployment rates in areas with greater and lesser unemployment benefits.  It's a notoriously difficult subject to examine, and would be so even if the trigger points about callousness toward the jobless weren't always being pulled.  Ends and means, intentions and results:  there's just no guarantee they'll match up.

The skills needed for unskilled work

Again via Maggie's Farm, the experience of a California employer with a business model built on unskilled labor.
I am not an economist, I am a business school grad. We don't worry about explaining structural imbalances so much as look for the profitable opportunities they might present. So a question we business folks might ask instead is: If there are so many under-employed unskilled workers rattling around in the economy, why aren't entrepreneurs crafting business models to exploit this fact?
. . . .
The reason for my despair comes from a single source: the government is making it increasingly difficult and costly to hire unskilled workers, while simultaneously creating a culture among new workers that short-circuits their ability to make progress.
It would be nice to say that the things "government" is doing along these lines are confined to California, and they're certainly at the absurd end of the spectrum there, but the rot has spread.

Neurotypicality and Tolstoy

Via Maggie's Farm:  Interesting findings about connectivity patterns between right and left brains in most people and in people on the autism spectrum:  people without autism symptoms generally share a typical left-right connection pattern, but autistic people show patterns that not only different from the ordinary, but each from all the others.

The King of Jordan and al-Sisi

The quest to deal with radicalism in Islam expands. The two regional leaders are going to hold a conference aimed at finding ways to "modernize" Islam in the hope of constraining groups like Daesh.
Although their voices may be stifled by tightened anti-terrorism laws, many of his subjects are dubious. In a country where some 90% of the population is Sunni Muslim, many wonder why their monarch has joined the American-led coalition against jihadists from Islamic State (IS). “We don’t understand why the king has joined the alliance against Syria’s Sunnis in IS and is helping to prop up Bashar al-Assad, who has far more blood on his hands,” says a Jordanian writer. After the capture by IS of a Jordanian pilot whose plane came down in Syria in December, a group of retired army officers issued statements arguing that Jordan should not be involved.

The king’s appearance at a march in Paris alongside world leaders after the attack on Charlie Hebdo caused further unhappiness. Shortly after the king returned home, a protest gathering against the magazine and its cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad drew thousands of people.

The Wisconsin way

Scott Walker's name is surprisingly unfamiliar to American voters, even Republican ones.  I hope they'll soon get a little more familiar with him.  A good link here to a recent 22-minute speech.

Wealth redistribution

Glenn Reynolds goes right to the Willie Sutton explanation, too:
The truth is, in our redistributionist system politicians make their careers mostly by taking money from one group of citizens that won't vote for them and giving it to another that will. If they run short of money from traditional sources, they'll look for new revenue wherever they can find it. And if that's the homes and savings of the middle class, then that's what they'll target.
For the moment, Americans are safe. With both houses of Congress controlled by the GOP, Obama's proposals are DOA. But over the long term, the appetite for government spending is effectively endless, while the sources of revenue are limited. Keep that in mind as you think about where to invest your money ... and your votes.

The life-cycle of a tariff

Suppose you're a virtuous person in California. You are troubled by the plight of egg-laying hens in large, crowded commercial farms. You go to D.C. and try to persuade Congress to require all American farmers to give their hens twice as much room, but you fail. You then try the same thing in the California legislature, and succeed.

But wait. California consumes more eggs than it produces, so it's a big importer from other states. What's more, requiring California farmers to give their hens twice as much room will put them at a competitive disadvantage with out-of-state egg producers. You could rely on the innate chicken-empathy of your fellow California citizens, but you worry that some of them lack ideological purity and will buy cheap, unenlightened out-of-state "conflict" eggs.

The obvious next step is to ban the transportation across the California state line of conflict eggs. This prevents your fellow Californians from making the incorrect ethical choice, and protects the local farms from unfair competition. It's arguably a violation of the Interstate Commerce Cause, but that will take a long time to work out in the courts. In the meantime, eggs were $1.18 in California a dozen a couple of years ago but have risen to between $3.16 and $5.00 now. Can price caps be far behind?

Over the holidays I noticed that our local grocery store was having trouble keeping eggs in stock--lots of empty shelves. I thought it was just an outbreak of holiday baking enthusiasm, but maybe not! It may be a ripple effect from the growers in the Midwest who want to maintain access to California markets, and had either to invest $40 a chicken in larger cages or to slaughter half their chickens to make room. In any case, my neighbors who sell fresh eggs may find that their free-range prices are starting to look pretty competitive.  Maybe the next law needs to prohibit all municipal anti-noise poultry-raising regulations and promote "victory" chicken gardens.


Freeman Dyson's patience is admirable but limited.


My father sent me this.

Knowledge Problems

Since we're doing Kevin Williamson (and markets) today, his piece on Davos has a very strong middle. It begins and ends in easy mockery, but in the center he makes a well-crafted argument.
There exists in every human being, in every human organization, and every human system a sort of epistemic horizon, a real and meaningful boundary on the amount of knowledge and cognitive firepower that that person or agency can bring to any given problem. This is a fact that is at some level known and understood across the political spectrum: It is the cornerstone of the progressives’ case for diversity, in that people with different knowledge inventories, different experiences, and different perspectives are more likely to discover effective solutions to complex problems than are groups that are more intellectually homogeneous. For conservatives of a Hayekian bent, this is the familiar “knowledge problem,” the understanding that markets will allocate resources more productively than political agencies will because markets are the only effective means of aggregating usable information about specific economic situations.

We understand the problem of the epistemic horizon, but we do not apply that understanding nearly broadly enough. Progressives believe that “diversity” increases when an organization dominated by white men who are overwhelmingly graduates of the same five law schools, who have read the same books, watch the same television shows, and hold the same relatively narrow range of political opinions adds to its personnel a white woman or a black man who is also a graduate of one of those same five law schools, who has read the same books, watches the same television shows, and holds political views within that same relatively narrow range. Conservatives, to their credit, generally understand that intellectual homogeneity is different from ethnic or sexual homogeneity, but they, too, are generally too unwilling to carry through the more radical implications of that knowledge.

The intellectual homogeneity of policymaking elites is a serious and underestimated problem. To take an obvious example: The American policymaking class includes both progressives and conservatives, but it is overwhelmingly dominated by college graduates and people in occupations that are largely open only to college graduates. Unsurprisingly, our educational-policy debate is almost exclusively focused on how to get more people prepared for college, how to get more people through college, and how to help college graduates deal with financial obligations incurred in the course of a college education. Even a celebrity like John Ratzenberger (Cliff Clavin of Cheers), whose background is in carpentry and whose interest is in cultivating skilled labor, has a difficult time influencing that debate. This is not a result of ill will, selfishness, or malfeasance on the part of elites; it is just that it seems natural to them that the sorts of problems people like them tend to have are the ones that we need to focus on, and that what worked in their lives will work for everybody else....

People whose profession is the crafting of legislation or the application of regulation reflexively (and understandably) assume that if you want more of something, then the thing to do is to pass a law mandating it, and that if you want less of something, then the thing to do is to pass a law punishing it. The bigger picture — that laws and regulations and other aspects of policy interact with one another in unexpected ways — is generally invisible to them. If you are a lawyer, then you understand most social questions as a matter of law; if you are an economist, you understand them as questions of economics; if you are a teacher, you think that the answer to many social problems is better schools. This habit is only natural.

Conservatives are generally inclined to make a moral case for limited government... but the more important argument is the problem of ignorance. Even if Congress were populated exclusively by saintly super-geniuses, there is only so much that 535 human beings can know and understand. The more that decision-making is centralized in political agencies, or even in elites outside of formal government, the more intensively those decisions will be distorted by ignorance. This is true of market-oriented institutions, too, in the sense that big businesses make big mistakes. One of the lessons of the 2007 financial crisis is that the guys who run the banks do not actually know that much about how banks work, even if they know 100 times what the banking regulators know. Free markets offer a critical, if imperfect and partial, corrective to that in the form of financial losses and business failures, which is why things like cars and computers consistently improve while schools and welfare programs don’t. Big markets with lots of competing buyers and sellers are the biggest thinking machines we have, offering the broadest epistemic horizon that our species has figured out how to achieve.

There is a deep philosophical challenge for progressives in that: Progressives say that they want inclusive social decision-making, but the most radically inclusive process we have for social decision-making is the thing that they generally distrust and often hate: capitalism — or, as our left-leaning friends so often put it, “unfettered” capitalism.
I think progressives would be happier with the market if it came with a guaranteed income: the idea of inclusively deciding what we value by individually deciding what we'll spend money on would be more persuasive to them if people reliably had money to spend. This also may be a privilege problem for them more than it's a capitalism problem.


Kevin Williamson really, really dislikes Jon Stewart:
The Left has been losing the Big Idea debate for a generation or more, in no small part because its last Big Idea killed 100 million people, give or take, and not in Mr. Klein’s projecting-abstractly-from-a-CBO-study way but in the concentration-camps-and-hunger-terror way. Marxism was the Left’s Big Idea for the better part of a century, and its collapse — which was moral, economic, political, and complete — left a howling void in the Left’s intellectual universe. Nothing has quite managed to fill it: In the immediate wake of the collapse of Communism, the anticapitalists sought shelter in a variety of movements, few of which grew to be of any real consequence, with the exception of the environmentalist movement. But the lenten self-mortification implied by a consistent environmentalist ethic has limited that movement’s appeal as a governing philosophy and an individual ethic both, hence its fragmentation into a motley sprawl of mini-crusades. It is easy to be anti-fracking when that does not require you to give up anything, easy to oppose the expansion of the Keystone pipeline network when you can be confident that the gas pumps in your hometown will always be full, easy for well-off Whole Foods shoppers to abominate varieties of grain that are possessed by evil spirits or cooties or whatever it is this week.
I don't think the proposed replacement of the Left's failed Big Idea is only a series of mini-environmental crusades. I think it's an attempt to achieve redistribution and a command-and-control economy by force, without thinking through where the force will lead when free people resist.

The cure

Victor Davis Hanson on the strategies that do and do not work for Islamic extremism:
[I]f Islamic-inspired violence abroad does not directly and negatively affect the Middle East, or if it creates a sense of fear of radical Islam among Westerners that does not translate into hardship for the Muslim world — or that perhaps even succeeds in winning a sort of warped prestige — then there is no reason to expect the Islamic community will take the necessary measures to curb it.
The sense of perceived persecution in the Middle East is real — analogous to Germany’s lamentations after the Versailles Treaty. The retreat into Islamic-inspired terror reflects a larger, complex stew of anger at the reach of Western globalization into traditional and conservative Islamic societies and of envy of the wealth and influence of the Western world, combined with an inability to offer self-critical analyses about the role of tribalism, statism, gender apartheid, religious fundamentalism, intolerance, autocracy, and anti-Semitism in institutionalizing poverty and instability.
For a sizable minority of Muslim immigrants to the West, a sense of inferiority is sometimes enhanced rather than diminished by contact with Western liberal society. The longer and further immigrants are away from the mess of the Middle East that caused them to flee or at least stay away, the more they are able under the aegis of Western freedom, prosperity, and security to romanticize what provides them with the sense of self that they have not earned in their adopted countries.
In the Middle East, when modern societies reach such a point, they prefer to blame “Jews” or “the decadent West” rather than their own pathologies for a perceived descent from the glories of a past — and religiously pure — age. . . .
When the nihilism of radical Islam manifests itself not just in the bombings in Paris or Boston, but right at home with the rise of the murderous Islamic State, or when the Arab Spring is hijacked by Islamists who typically leave Somalias in their wake, or when Middle Eastern Muslims find it hard to emigrate to and reside in Western countries or to freely import Western goods, or when the leaders of Middle Eastern appeasing states are ostracized from international gatherings, or when states that behead and stone are shunned by the West, then support for the terrorists and what produced them will begin slowly to fade.

Market talk

Thomas Sowell is the man for me.  ConservativeBlog is featuring a series of interviews with him:
[Interviewer] DH: Let’s move on to the next chapter, “Myths about Markets.” Let’s start with the phrase “dictates of the market.” What’s wrong with that phrase?
TS [Thomas Sowell]: The market is in no position to dictate. You can write a whole book on the misuse of the word “power” as it regards markets. The left likes to say Wal-Mart is a powerful force. There are people who have never set foot in Wal-Mart, who never will set foot in Wal-Mart, and there isn’t a thing Wal-Mart can do about it. Insofar as there are voluntary transactions, there are no dictates. People who use that phrase often want to create a situation whereby they, through the government, can dictate to the market.
DH: Let’s talk next about prices. You write about the concept of reasonable or affordable prices, and, here’s a direct quote, “It is completely unreasonable to expect reasonable prices.” Explain.
TS: Reasonable prices are prices that adjust to our budget. Prices, of course, are determined in part by what it costs to produce things and get them distributed and so on, and so there is no reason whatsoever to expect reasonable prices. There is no reason in the world to expect costs to conform to what you are willing to pay. There is no reason to expect the Hope Diamond to be affordable.
. . . .
DH: I think most people hear the term “non-profit” and think of a group that is selfless, works for the public good and not private gain, and embodies just about everything that is good about human nature. You don’t quite see it that way. You write, “What are called ‘non-profit organizations’ can be better understood when they are seen as institutions which are insulated, to varying degrees, from a need to respond to feedback from those who use their goods and services, or those whose money enabled them to be founded and continue operating.” Can you expand on that?
TS: The difference is that a profit-seeking organization has to please simultaneously the customers and the investors. A non-profit organization doesn’t have to do that with either one—particularly if it is a long-lived organization. Many of the people who have invested in it are already dead. Among those that are still alive it is very hard for them to monitor what is going on inside the organization.
There is overlap in the things that for-profit and non-profit organizations do, like publishing magazines and stuff like that. And so they compete. Over time, if it was true that non-profits didn’t have the problem of generating profits and had better people, the non-profits would be taking away market share from the profit sector. In point of fact, just the opposite happens. For example, it is very common for college bookstores to be taken over by a Barnes & Noble or cafeterias to be taken over by profit-seeking companies. The test of market share is usually won by the profit-seekers.

A Truly Effective Strategy

Talk about getting chewed up.