Feed on
  1. Here is yet another paper computing “optimal” top marginal income tax rates. As I’ve said a zillion times, the term “optimal” implies a goal. And that goal is obviously not universally shared. Let me ask rhetorically, is the goal of a tax system to maximize revenues to the government? Now this paper actually comes up with a goal of maximizing social welfare, which is fancy econospeak for efficiency. Whether they are assuming magic political beans to get there I’ll leave for curious readers to decide.
  2. Traffic tickets DO seem to promote roadway safety. That one surprised me given my priors.
  3. Does gun ownership prevent violent crime? This is another paper to be added to the literature. Their answer: not only does it not prevent violent crime (among strangers) but it seems to make violence with non-strangers more likely. This one IS in alignment with my priors.
  4. This paper suggests that negative and smear political campaigning have NOT undermined public trust in government. That finding is all the more interesting given the general high levels of mistrust we DO have. So what is the reason? Who knows, I’m not interested in speculating now, but one consequence of that is that it seems people are far more resistant to public health initiatives than in the past, a perhaps frightening outcome? Or not? Again, I have my “theories” but they’re only worth discussing over beer.
  5. Here is another topic I am sympathetic with the left on: attempts to reduce voter fraud. As you know, there is a debate about voter ID laws and they are nominally instituted to make sure the people that DO vote are actually people that are eligible to vote. Now, as with much of the world today, the REAL arguments here are actually about something else. I personally do not have confidence that our elections are not rigged, nor do I really care that much at our current margins. However, THIS paper makes a VERY important point – that efforts to “do the right thing” and limit voter fraud inevitably have the unintended consequence of limiting access to voting by legitimate and eligible voters. Great! So now I look forward to the swarm of papers showing, conclusively, that doing something to regulate the environment or workplace or educational sectors MAY in fact promote more of the things you SAY you want, but also comes at a cost, perhaps even of a cleaner environment elsewhere, or safer or fairer workplace elsewhere. After all, this phenomenon can’t just ne limited to voting, right?
  6. You become less religious after your first experience with intercourse. I wish the same result applied to those experience bad economic policy for the first time. I think people become more “religious” after their preferred policies fail. Why the difference?

He writes today:

I learned a real lesson about politics from my brief involvement in this issue — which is, don’t ever become involved again.  I am still frankly reeling from the refusal of gay rights activists to work with our group because I and others involved did not hold other Left-wing opinions.  Until this time I had a fantasy that libertarians could make common cause with the Left on social issues and the Right on fiscal and commerce issues, but I saw how this was a pipe dream.

I think I still share the pipe dream but perhaps from the other direction. In other words, I think I can/have done a reasonably good job convincing some Team Reebok members that they should care about economics and how the economic way of thinking can help us all get more of what we want, and had always believed that building common ground about good economics and fiscal sanity might make them more amenable to thinking harder about issues that are important to me, such as the gay rights issue, increasing respect for immigrants, and a few others. But I sense that I should be equally depressed as Coyote, the only reason perhaps is that I’ve not yet gone out on a political limb like Coyote has.

What do you think?

Building off an earlier post, I want to continue to reemphasize my newfound support for banning fracking and anything that could be remotely as harmful as it. Why the reprise? Well, this past weekend our family spent a wonderful day touring around the Finger Lakes. The area is in our estimation one of the most underrated beautiful places east of the Mississippi, and it is getting better with the huge, and I mean huge, proliferation of wineries over the past 20 years since we have been part of the area.

That’s a vineyard overlooking Canandaigua Lake. There are hundreds and hundreds more spectacular scenes than this one. The area has gotten even better for us recently, with the rise of the small, local brewery – there must be 50 or more of them scattered around the lakes now, and when we were driving through Hector on the east side of Seneca Lake this weekend we even saw a new local distillery. And given the incredible fall weather we had, the crowds at every one of these places were impressive. In addition to the happy people and stunning views, we also saw tons and tons and tons of anti-fracking signs, and we saw tons of these signs too:

(my favorite part of the sign above is that a 2.0 earthquake is wholly insignificant, and does not damage and is felt by few if any people. Earthquakes of that scale are expected to occur about a million times per year around the globe. The earth has about 200 million square miles. My estimate of the size of the Finger Lakes region is that it runs from Rochester to just west of Oneida and is about 100 miles long and about 50 miles wide for a total 5,000 square miles in land area. Thus, the Finger Lakes make up 1/40,000th of the land area of the world. If earthquakes are evenly distributed around the planet (and they are not) then each parcel that is 200 square miles in area should experience one earthquake of this magnitude per year. And therefore the Finger Lakes should be experiencing TWO HUNDRED such occurrences like this per year. I am so sure that the bastions of sciency goodness made this clear to their supporters and when they say “we got a 2,0 earthquake right here in Seneca Lake, it is one MORE than we already should have expected given the natural occurrences of  such things, even as innocent as they are to begin with). Is there ANY place on earth, based on this data, where it’s “OK” to store anything underground? 

There is a proposal to build a gas storage facility in the Seneca Lake area, and the locals, particularly the wineries, seemed to have come out to strongly oppose the facility. I don’t actually want to weigh in on the specifics of “the debate.” Instead, I’d like to ask the paragons of sciency goodness for a little science. How much risk to human health and well-being is there from storing gas? I’m not even talking about the fracking itself, instead just storing it? OK, then move onto the fracking? What are the known risks to human health from escaped methane gas? What are the known risks to human health from fracking chemicals escalating from depths? What are the known risks from the micro-quakes that can be caused by parts of the fracking process? Indeed, you are going to spend a LOT of time looking for any real impacts on human health and well-being from any of that. What you WILL see are that there are risks from fracking because it is, like a lot of things, an industrial activity – requiring lots of trucks transporting people, water and chemicals, and of course the emissions that result from running generators particularly for the transport stations. Therefore, you can think of ANY industrial activity as generating the same concerns.

To make this more concrete, how are all of the people who visit wineries and breweries getting there? Are they flying on fairie wings that emit orange blossoms instead of CO2 and noxious emissions? How are all of the wine bottles shipped to distributors and restaurants and tasting rooms and liquor stores all over the Northeast? Are they shipped on huffalumps? If we want a “gas free Seneca” why are those forms of industrial activity OK but not the storage of gas in tunnels that are already there? Again, this is not to say that I want the storage to happen, this is merely to ask what is different about the industrial farming that the finger lakes have turned into and the arguments made about the gas?

Or what about the risks posed to the watershed? Turning the entire Finger Lakes into a hop farm, vineyard and corn farm obviously has serious implications for the water quality, and the more these areas are farmed, even if organically and sustainably, the greater the threats to soil erosion and agricultural runoff into our lakes. I am sure, yes sure, that the risks to water quality from those activities are far more serious than from gas. So why the different treatments? Is it simply because a grapevine is prettier than a salt-tunnel?

Finally, and most important, if we truly cared about the impact of our activities on human health and well-being, and I think we should, then it is stunning to me that we allow wineries and breweries not only to exist, but that we have tax dollars being used to support the “Finger Lakes Wine Trail” and the “Finger Lakes Beer Trail.” I’ll leave this as a little research exercise for all of my sciencey-good readers, but how many deaths occur in the United States each year as a result of over-consumption of alcohol? How many families are destroyed because one or both parents are abusers of alcohol? How many road traffic accidents each year are caused because a driver or pedestrian was intoxicated? How many billions of dollars of higher insurance fees and medical bills are required because people in America abuse alcohol? And how serious are those risks as compared to ANYTHING gas storage, or fracking, or just about ANY iudustrial activity has been demonstrated to cause? Go look at the data oh ye bastions and sciency-goodness and please do report back to me. I am quite familiar with it.

I am 100% on board with banning fracking and with not permitting the gas storage as long as you show me the known epidemiology of these things. And then, since we can agree that risks at the levels and magnitudes imposed by gas are truly unacceptable, I will march hand in hand, banner-in-banner, slogan-in-slogan with me comrades to make sure we eliminate ANY threat to the health and well-being of the people of the Finger Lakes and central and western New York that is as bad or worse than fracking and gas storage. It will be great fun setting fire to the thousands of acres of vineyards. It will be incredibly powerful and moving to watch the dismantling of the hundreds of tasting rooms, so that we can convert those into the schools and outpatient medical facilities that our communities have a right to. It will be truly inspiring to tear up the roads around the Finger Lakes so we can put an end to the scourge of the drunk driver and the emitting fuel vehicle so that people can enjoy the clean air and water that they truly have a right to. It will be a testament to human progress to remove the millions of tons of stainless steel embedded in fermentation tanks and brew kettles and hot liquor tanks and mash tuns and see them reforged into the mighty windmills that will end our need to have gas stored beneath our precious lakes. It will be a testament to human progress to  stop the hundreds of winemaking enthusiasts from their orgiastic travel to France and Germany and Italy where they learn about the stupid art of making people drunk and emit carbon ton after carbon ton from their journeys – they can now all be freed to be nurses and school-teachers. If only all of the people of the Finger Lakes were not blinded by their greed and the almightly dollar would they see the error of their ways and truly turn the area in the safe, bucolic, clean, free place that was god’s intention for it.

And don’t go starting to tell me that “wineries promote economic development!” After all, the clientele around the lake, and I’ve seen it for 20 years, is a wealthy one. Are you using the old dead voodoo idea of “trickle down” economics to argue that the expansion of the wine industry is good for everyone in the Finger Lakes? In whose pay are you? Are you cashing weekly paychecks from “Big Wine” to spout this propaganda? Do you really want to walk down this dreaded path? After all, no one likes cheap gas to warm a home. No one likes cheap gas to cook over. No one likes cheap gas to be used as a backup generating source to deal with the intermittency problems of wind and solar. After all, no one likes the cheap gas that helps us create the fertilizers that are vital for our successful agricultural system. Nope – it’s all bad, all the time.

So, what say ye?

What data would be sufficient to falsify your thesis? This question need be asked not just in the physical science, where observations about the world are where the theoretic rubber meetings the road, but also in the social sciences. When it comes to the hard sciences, you can imagine laying out conditions that would encourage you to rethink your thesis: for example, if at normal atmospheric pressures, water does not boil at 212 degrees Fahrenheit, you might begin to question your theory of the relationship between the states of water and its temperature. Now, the theory doesn’t have to be entirely wrong – it is certainly possible that your thermometer is not calibrated properly, it is certainly possible that in fact you are not at normal atmospheric pressures, and it is possible that the liquid in the pot is not entirely water – and these are all possible reasons why your observations do not match your theoretical predictions.

But, just arguing that the experimental design is a bit messed up is not sufficient to address the bigger point. Assuming that you have a perfect experimental design and perfect measuring implements, what data would you be required to see before you thought there were difficulties with your theory? Furthermore, in the presence of data that contradicts your theory, what do you do? Do you use your theory to construct models and simulations and argue that the simulation results are what matters and not the observations on the ground? Do you generalize your theory enough so that just about any outcome you observe would technically be consistent with it? That is not scientific behavior at all. To avoid being unscientific, in addition ex ante specifying what data would be sufficient to falsify your theory, you are also required to state what you would do should you encounter such observations? Is your theory sufficiently defined so that it actually can be subject to testing? And if not, can you admit that what we are doing is a little beyond the mantle of true science?

In the social sciences, you can see how this is important for questions like, “Is capitalism good for humanity?” Now, the word good has lots of possible meanings – but I tend to use it as, “raises the general material living standards of people.” In this case, I would be persuaded not just by the number of calories people have access to, or the amount of clothing in their closet – but with the indicators of well being such as overall health, longevity and cognitive capability. If you wished to persuade me that my thesis was wrong, I would offer up the data that shows me life expectancy falling, calories consumed falling and cognitive ability falling when we have private property and free exchange. We can agree to examine other data too – such as how much political violence there is under each system. But I imagine that even if the data seems to comport with my theory that this would not be sufficient for anti-capitalists, nor do I think that declining life expectancies under capitalism (it doesn’t happen by the way) would be sufficient to convince me that my theory is wrong.

This is insightful. First it tells me that if economics and the social sciences are a science, they are extremely complex and perhaps defy simple theorizing. Second, it’s that we probably are not a science, and that arguments about capitalism and socialism in fact are not about consequentialist outcomes but entirely about something else. Proponents slip easily from consequentialist concerns to rules-based concerns and this elusiveness again tells me that this is not at all scientific.

Which takes us to global warming. Again, since this is a modern university I am working at, we are not actually allowed to have real conversations, so buyer beware here. What data would the “global warming consensus” crowd require before they suggest their theories are false? Or at least to suggest their theories need to be augmented? I don’t think there is any. No need to recount the 17-18 year history of “the pause” here, it’s not persuasive to anyone – but CO2 concentrations are at an all time high and the climate theory would predict that the earth would have continued to warm right through this time, but it has not – and don’t go talking about the missing heat in the ocean, it’s not clear that it’s there. My point is simply that in the face of these observations I am not seeing much amended to the climate models in terms of their expectations of what the feedback effects are, and I certainly am not seeing any climate modeler say that “the observations are causing difficulties for us” … instead what I see is that when the observations are not in accordance to what scientisits are predicting, the climate community is telling us to INCREASE our reliance on models and not pay attention to what we see on the ground.

Again, none of this is to deny the “science” of global warming, whatever that happens to be. Rather, is it too much to ask folks who use their theory as a justification for ending the world as we know it, to present, ex ante, would sort of evidence they would like to see in order to encourage them to change their views and models, one way or the other? To see how unscientific we are being, just imagine instead of having global temps flatline for nearly two decades that they increased twice as fast as models predicted, what would the reaction of the scientific community have been? Would they then have admiitted that the science is complex, that their existing models were wrong and that we should pay attention to the hotter observations instead of their models?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Such a question is normally asked by me in an intermediate micro class to illustrate that basic economic tools can be useful for understanding the most pedestrian events of our everyday life. Indeed, I was all set to have my intro students grapple with this earth altering question as I wander into class today. But I won’t. Not today. Why? Two reasons. And both have to do with students taking the fun out of asking such questions.

(1) First, I like to ask questions like this not just because “economics is everywhere” but to paradoxically remind students that there is much more to life than applying rational benefit-cost thinking to every situation. Over the past few years, I have come to believe that my students now ONLY think of how to apply the rational benefit-cost idea to a situation and have totally ignored the countless hours of lectures and readings I try to give them on, “there’s more to life than that.” So, in thinking about holding open a door, sure it is a fun and useful exercise to ask what is “optimal” behavior if, for example, we are thinking about minimizing time spend in transport to and from places. You can even assume other goals. But the reason I wanted to talk about holding open doors is that I think this has very important insights for appreciating the complexity and challenges of economic development, and for how we live a good life. You see, I think it is important to live in a community where people at least share the sentiment that holding a door open is a decent gesture. It is a community that places the interests of others somewhere in your consideration. And even if door holding is not common, the sentiment is what I find to be important. I have argued and will continue to argue that unless we live in a place where metaphorical “door holding” is part of the culture, it is going to be preposterous to imagine that markets will work well there. It will be more preposterous to think that civil service and political representatives will actually work well too.

(2) But now students have layered quite a second reason to not ask the question. You see, by my sharing the sentiment that it is a decent thing to hold a door open for people, my sentiment and my act of doing so actually reveals an unconscious bias that I have. Now, I’ll remind you that I like to hold doors for men and women, boys and girls, old and young, but that doesn’t matter for the crowd of regular offendees. My gesture of holding a door is construed as a sign that I think some people are too weak or independent to open doors for themselves – in other words, my sentiment is actually belittling other people. I am not here to debate whether or not my act or sentiment in fact does this or whether it matters, only to state the obvious that this has also had a chilling effect on my behavior. I tend to hold far fewer doors on campus today than I did when I got here. And of course, I will not be asking my students about whether or not I should be holding doors open.

So, I do my best to avoid be sucked into the campus pity party. Sadly of course, I think I am going to be accused of committing additional acts of micro-aggression for not wanting to engage at all with any situation that may be construed as a micro-aggression. And please dear readers, do not feel any need to shower any pity on me, for neither am I deserving nor is it a useful sentiment. I merely state this as another reason why I am sitting on the sidelines.

Of course, NONE of this will persuade anyone, but I do think that they each lay out honestly and clearly what “the” debate is all about. Note that my posting does not equate to my sanctioning. And note, vis-a-vis the Sumner piece, that the word sanctioning has multiple meanings.

First, here are John Cochrane’s remarks at a memorial conference held for Gary Becker on the topic of inequality and why we care.

Second, here is Scott Sumner on Good Theft and Bad Theft.

This may come as a surprise to those who tend to hold diametric socio-political views than myself, but it’s pretty clear to me that the most fashionable young socialists that populate the college campus community are far closer to be anarchists than, say, someone like me. How can I say this? Well, a college campus is increasingly self-sufficient and separate from the community. Were it not, we would not have to see the efforts to improve “town-gown” relations like we do in so many places. Our campuses provide their own private security, have their own internal campus tribunals, have property that is exempt from taxation, conduct huge transactions that are exempt from taxation, are voluntary to enter and exit, are in hyper-aggressive competition with their peers, and more. Just think about the absolute disaster that is the “rape-culture” on campus. We are talking about horrific felonious behavior and we have a campus community that is wedded to the idea that these matters should be handled internally and not by the police. Call me a heretic, but I for one think it makes a hell of a lot more sense for any claims of rape to be brought immediately to the government authorities responsible for protecting and prosecuting us. But noooooo, not here on college campuses, these sons of anarchy need to handle rape allegations themselves (and no, I am not chiming in here about the rape culture – only to say that (1) I have never had the parent of a female student ask me anything about how safe their daughters were going to be here, and (2) if my son goes to college, I would be far more worried about him being prosecuted for something than I would my own daughter being assaulted while at college). We have our own alcohol policies on campus. Do you think that upon discovery of an underclassman with a beer or a bottle of booze that these kids are sent to the police? After all, underage drinking is clearly illegal? We have campus owned and operated private parking. When students park illegally do we refer them to the political authorities? Nope. And so it goes.

And given all of that, I would bet when surveyed that most students and administrators and parents find the college campus to be quite an orderly, safe, enjoyable and well-run place. And they are perhaps the most typical examples of anarchy we can get in a world where it’s hard to do anything outside the auspices of the state. Lest you disagree with that comment, please do go try to find a place in the United States and an institution within the United States that you can set up and be free from the direct control of existing state authorities. Certainly, owning your house free and clear doesn’t exempt you from property taxes and zoning restrictions and no matter what you do you are always going to have to be at the mercy of those – you cannot buy out your lifetime commitment to the state in that area or any other area. There’s too much to say here, but I wanted to point out another thing that made its way into my office yesterday.

Apparently the latest demand from the campus social justice victimization crowd is not only that the college “divest” from undesirable investments, but now the students themselves seem to want a say on how much financial aid is awarded, and I am pretty sure that by extension they have ideas as to who should be paying more and who paying less. I’m not at all interested in the issue itself, we’ve come to expect this kind of thing on a college campus, and no amount of talking about how a campus actually works would ever convince any of them of the potential folly of their ideas. It’s not about that for them anyway. In any case, their argument, as I am told (so I admit I may be wrong) is that the University has an endowment of over a BILLION dollars! A Billion!

They think this is large.

And they think this means that they should be required to “share” more of it with the undergraduates here.

Before we show you some fuzzy math that they seem to be doing, I’d like to offer up a solution. Just as this crowd of regularly outraged students seems to want to do with the “rich” and the “1%” I think that any large institution that has amassed such a fortune and which exerts such undue influence on their local and national political scenes ought to be diminished and neutralized. Think about how huge a role the U of R plays in local and state politics! It’s not fair to the regular citizens that they have billions of dollars and loads of famous scholars to wield influence while we meager middle classers have only a single vote with little income to sway outcomes into our favor. So where are the rallies demanding a huge wealth tax on the institution? After all, colleges definitely EVADE taxes and don’t do their duty at a clip that makes the tax inverters jealous! But no such calls are coming, I wonder why?

OK, onto the fuzzy math, and wholly ignoring that the U of R, in comparison to its peer institutions, is fantastically poor. According to the Chronicle, the U of R has an endowment of $1.7 billion. That sounds like a lot. But it’s not. Assume, for silliness sake, that the U of R just spends it down. If they spend $100 per year from that endowment, assuming no income growth, and stop adding to the endowment, that would last 20 years or so. How many students does the U of R enroll? Let’s assume we care only about undergraduates. According to the government (via IPEDS) we have about 6,600 full-time equivalent undergrads here.  We could give a scholarship of about $15,000 per student for every student who attends over the next two decades, and then at the end, no one would get any aid from the endowment. Of course, this says nothing about how costs would grow over time here, as they surely will. Furthermore, I’d remind our math challenged outraged students that the total cost of attending at Rochester is WELL over $60,000 per student (I think it is closer to $80,000 per FTE here). Indeed, a good portion of the endowment payout to the students today comes in the form of a general subsidy that is available to all. Even that “outrageous” sticker price that is of concern to so many people is discounted from the “real” cost of college and it is discounted for every student.

Of course, we can’t really kill our endowment that way, so what colleges do is payout a portion of the endowment so that the payout is smoothed over good and bad return years (so, we pay out x% of the moving average of Y years of endowment value). I don’t know our rate here, but a 5% rate is quite high, richer schools would pay out less. So, if we pay out 5% of the endowment each year, then we pay out 85 million per year. Our university budget, sans the hospital, has to be about $1 billion per year. So this endowment payout, while seemingly huge, represents about 8% of the annual expenditures of the university. Not chump change, but also nothing to write home about. I am sure our students have done these calculations and understand the implications of them. I am sure of it.

  1. How well did federal ARRA (i.e. stimulus) funds, sent through the states, for appliance efficiency do?  You be the judge. I am sure this will get wide press coverage and thoughtful conversation.Using transaction-level data on appliance sales, we show that most program participants were inframarginal due to important short-term intertemporal substitutions where consumers delayed their purchases by a few weeks. We find evidence that some consumers accelerated the replacement of their old appliances by a few years, but overall the impact of the program on long-term energy demand is likely to be very small. Our estimated measures of cost-effectiveness are an order of magnitude higher than estimated for other energy efficiency programs in the literature. We also show that designing subsidies that reflect, in part, underlying attribute-based regulatory mandates can result in perverse effects, such as upgrading to larger, less energy-efficient models.
  2. How does Small Business Administration (SBA) lending impact economic growth? It reduces growth. I am sure this will get wide press coverage and thoughtful conversation.We find evidence that a county’s SBA lending per capita is associated with direct negative effects on its income growth. We also find evidence of indirect negative effects on the growth rates of neighboring counties. Overall, a 10% increase in SBA loans per capita is associated with a cumulative decrease in income growth rates of about 2%.


  3. OK, so subsidies for energy efficiency and for small businesses don’t seem to be producing economic nirvana. How about subsidies for electronic medical records?In February 2009 the U.S. Congress unexpectedly passed the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH). HITECH provides up to $27 billion to promote adoption and appropriate use of Electronic Medical Records (EMR) by hospitals … We measure the extent to which HITECH incentive payments spurred EMR adoption by independent hospitals. Adoption rates for all independent hospitals grew from 48 percent in 2008 to 77 percent by 2011. Absent HITECH incentives, we estimate that the adoption rate would have instead been 67 percent in 2011. When we consider that HITECH funds were available for all hospitals and not just marginal adopters, we estimate that the cost of generating an additional adoption was $48 million. We also estimate that in the absence of HITECH incentives, the 77 percent adoption rate would have been realized by 2013, just 2 years after the date achieved due to HITECH.

    To be fair, if we are talking about this as “stimulus” and NOT as some way to get hospitals to use technology that they stubbornly refused to employ despite it being in their best interest. then the “pushing forward’ of this consumption by a couple of years passes the stimulus test. At a cost of $48 million per additional hospital adopting? Is that big or small? Who knows. Again, I am sure this will get wide press coverage and thoughtful conversation.

  4. Compulsory schooling reduces student superstitions and religiosity (in Europe) says this paper. You know my views on this – it just replaces one type of native superstition and religiosity for another.

    Using micro data from the European Social Survey, conducted in various years between 2002 and 2013, we find consistently large negative effects of schooling on self-reported religiosity, social religious acts (attending religious services), as well as solitary religious acts (the frequency of praying) … We find that more education, due to increased mandatory years of schooling, reduces individuals’ propensity to believe in the power of lucky charms and the tendency to take into account horoscopes in daily life

    If there is ANYTHING that I am sure of of high school and college education is that they are teaching kids that lucky charms, metaphorically speaking, do exist. And as for superstition, I just had students write me a simple essay on why “capitalism sucks.” I quite enjoy reading these sorts of things – but in every single essay the reason I was told it stinks is because of things like the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. Now, I’ve never defined capitalism nor do I employ the word in my intro class any more. No one I knew took economic history and no one I knew actually studied much economics. Yet the “evidence” of capitalism’s suckiness is a 100-year old episode that is probably printed in every AP History book about the greed and avarice unleashed in America by capitalists exploiting workers for their own gain. Whether that particular story is told properly or not is not my point of course.

Have a great week.

I’ve already been asked to do a half-dozen campus events, give a couple of interviews, and sit on a couple of committees. I’ve said no to all of them, and I will no longer be part of any of it for the foreseeable future. The same is true about what I talk about here for the most part. I’m done. What’s nice about being done is that it sort of puts my money where my mouth is – I’ve long argued with students that the world will progress despite our worst foibles, and given that this my belief anything I do or so is only adding to the din. Here is what got me today, courtesy of Alberto Mingiardi:

Libertarianism’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea
It’s called “spontaneous order.” And it’s eminently stupid.
I used to write page after page after page of posts, and take up hour after hour of lecture time engaging that kind of a piece. And wholly aside from going through the piece with a comb and engaging any actual real arguments that are made, I remember that the title says everything one wants to know about the state of “debate” and the kind of attitudes “smart people” have these days. Calling an idea “eminently stupid” is just really not an effective way to get thoughtful people to consider your argument, and the very early contamination of “libertarians” as being horrible because of a stupid idea is not exactly very sincere or charitable or reasonable for that matter. At this point one could attack the fact that he doesn’t actually understand the meaning of spontaneous order – or point out the weird use of a government promoted war on foreign soil as a refutation of a libertarian idea, or one could point out the the idea “spontaneous order” is not so much a proscription for laissez-faire inasmuch as it is a way to describe outcomes that are the result of human actions but not their grand design and that in fact invoking “spontaneous order” as a plan sort of invalidates the application of the term, or we could point out how scholar after scholar in the classical liberal tradition has taken pains to make it clear that not all spontaneous orders are good, and so on. But no one wants to discuss these sorts of nuances. No one wants to point out the value in an opponents insights, just as few actively seek out ways to challenge their own thinking. It’s all a giant nasty food fight where we are signaling what side we are on, for sure, but more than that, screaming out from the window about how much we hate other people. It’s rather nauseating. I am reminded of this every time I see some sanctimonious bumper sticker – I read them as people saying to me, “f you, I hate you” in as socially acceptable a way as possible.
So screw that. I am not getting drawn into hopelessly long futile back and forths about ideas that few people truly care about learning more about. I refuse to be drawn into some sort of intellectual charade. So don’t check here for the latest commentary on what is happening in the blogosphere or anything that is of much value. Again, go read the title of that piece again. And again. And again. That’s what people are broadcasting in public, what do you think it is like when it is out of view?
As they say, have a nice day.

It turns out that Californians have successfully made their lives less comfortable by banning plastic bags. As you surely know this is yet another feel good policy that will accomplish almost nothing in the way of real environmental benefits.  Now, I have no problem with people making poor choices especially with their own funds, and when we are fabulously wealthy we can do lots and lots of symbolic stuff that makes us feel good. But the problem with the bag banning is the meta-question, and it is a serious one. How can you expend so much political and emotional energy on trying to get “bag policy” right while your state suffers from unprecedented droughts and is also said to be in a precarious budget position?

Seriously, California is doing nothing serious to address its drought problem, and even making a cursory attempt to deal with that would do more good for the environment and for people than ANY possible method of getting optimal plastic bag policy. Figure out a way to make end users feel the real costs of their water consumption. Figure out a way to make people who are dipping into depleting aquifers to feel the external costs they are imposing on others. Even a rudimentary system that priced marginal water use at real scarcity rates would go a huge way to dealing with the problem. But when you are so obsessed with the symbolic feel good politics of plastic bags and other things that fit onto a nice bumper sticker or email tag line, you end up rearranging deck chairs, nicely perhaps, on the real Titanic.

So, I don’t give a crap about the ban. Fine. Have a nice time people. But I don’t want to see a single complaint, ever, about your water problem – which is entirely self-inflicted and simply solved. The drought has almost nothing to do with a lack of water, no different than the famines of the past had very little to do with lack of food.

Have a nice day.

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