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Ask yourself, when you see an individual or collective entity fail to overcome a challenge, what your reaction is. I suspect a good many folks ask questions like, “what went wrong?” or “what obstacles got in the way?” I suggest that this is not a fruitful way to proceed. A far richer method of inquiry is to ask what ideas prevented individuals or groups from being able to address (perhaps solve) the problem. This sounds like a subtle difference, but it is in fact Grand Canyonesque in reality. We’ll explore this difference, I hope, soon.

Thought of the Day

No legal document can save a society from appointing its own slave masters if enough people are determined to do so. Laws alone are not enough.

- Perry de Havilland

HT: Samizdat

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness – That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed – That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

Sure the founders were flawed, so are we. Two thoughts for the day.

(1) I’m not much a part of the “libertarian” movement, ad hominem attacks notwithstanding. Maybe a future post on that is worthwhile. Among many pieces that the movement is missing is a principled and independent stand to push for the end of the Administrative state. One reason I think that has happened is that many “libertarians” are focused on simpler and less important civil issues like smoking weed and legalizing all kinds of untoward behavior. While I agree with that, I think any focus on it pushes people in general away from the movement and diverts attention from the more material issues which plague is.

(2) Not to conflate capitalism with liberty too much, but I still have the hardest time respecting the progressive/socialist movement given that the moment cannot allow peaceful private markets to exist. That is quite the opposite of markets and capitalism. If folks want to have a giant socialist hot tub experiment under capitalism, go have a fine day. Nothing in markets prohibits or even discourages it. The converse is not at all true, which in my view means that progressive and socialist doctrine is not only incoherent but also immoral. I’ve never seen a coherent response to this.

Finally, here is some prescience from Adam Smith:

“From shopkeepers, tradesmen, and attornies, they are become statesmen and legislators, and are employed in contriving a new form of government for an extensive empire, which, they flatter themselves, will become, and which, indeed, seems very likely to become, one of the greatest and most formidable that ever was in the world.”

Happy 4th.

World Cup Comedown

It seems to me that we’re all a little zany about the performance of the US at this World Cup. I’d call it close to being below par, which is certainly a far cry from how many others seem to be reacting.

The team won 1 game out of the 4 it played, which means it won 25% of its games. I know, I know, they should not have advanced out of the Group of Death, so doing so was quite the accomplishment.

But really, was it?

They beat a Ghana team that they arguably were favored against. Portugal, a favorite, thoroughly dominated the US the whole game and the late theatrics cover that fact up. Germany was in a different league than us and of course the millions who watched the Belgium game saw an arse-whooping that was only close because, well, … I don’t know.

As I see it, they were totally dominated by any team that was remotely World Class and the reason they advanced was that Portugal laid a stinker against Germany.

Maybe the future of US soccer is bright (I think it is), but that surely can’t be gleaned from the team’s performance this past month.

Sorry to be a party pooper.

Flavorless Farming

Corporations have (sometimes rightly) been accused of all sorts of things. Among the charges include the (over)use of advertising not merely to make us aware of their products but to make us want products we didn’t ever imagine ourselves wanting. Among the most hated corporations these days would be those involved in monocropping, pesticide, fungicide, herbicide, GMO-using megafarming across the US. No need to defend them now, though I believe they are worth defending. What I’d like to know is this: if corporations produce all kinds of tantalizingly tasty things for us like Big Macs and Hershey bars all the way to the more refined versions of each, how come a charge levied against huge corporate farms is that their food is bland, flat and far inferior in taste to non-GMO crops and to other more “sustainable” crop methods? This makes absolutely no sense to me, none at all. Corporations are supposed to be luring us with all kinds of things these days – so how come the corporations and corporate scientists and academic researchers in the pay of Big Farms are not developing very tasty versions of all of their crops? It seems that with all of the chemical and genetic enhancements we could be getting a Saturnalia of flavor from our mega-farms.

So how come they are not doing it?

Is every corporation ever, everywhere, guilty of alluring us with unhealthy but SUPER tasty stuff except the corporations that provide much of our meat, grains, fruits and vegetables?

Since all of you at least had parents, and many of you may be parents yourselves, or plan to be them, please indulge me the following bit of advice that I am sure you’ve heard a million times:

Just because “everyone else” (or ANYONE else for that matter) is doing something says NOTHING about whether YOU should be doing it.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming. In case you are wondering why the advice is forthcoming, this piece from Vox, like many others, claims we should make contraceptives over the counter because everyone else does. Now, I agree with the conclusion but not the reason. That is one of the better written Vox pieces I’ve come across this week. Here, for example, is an incredibly infantile and unsophisticated piece. I know it attracts who they want it to attract, but that’s not exactly what I had expected from “very serious policy wonks.” When we are playing fun reindeer games, I suppose it is too much to ask the fine folks at Vox if they believe, that once they and their colleagues freely associate, that they should lose any and all individual rights they have? Does Vox have no employees? Or is it asking too much for brilliant policy wonks to at least include a citation to an article, even theirs, on things like the causes of the gender pay gap.

Except when “we” preach it:

 It’s better for the economy. When you buy local, a large percentage of the money stays in your community. The farmer can  afford to have the local mechanic fix his truck, the mechanic can afford to hire a local accountant to do his taxes, and the accountant can afford dinner out at a local restaurant. The wait staff makes decent tips, and the restaurant can afford to buy more fresh, local food to serve. Money also trickles into the local infrastructure - improvements to the public park, funding for academic enrichment, and so on. Everyone wins.

By the way, I would really appreciate it if you could find me a good economics textbook or popular treatment (such as this or this) that actually uses the term “trickle down economics” in any way other than describing the term as it is used popularly. In other words, I attended 9 years of college and graduate school, and have taught for nearly a decade, and in all of that time I have never once encountered the term “trickle down economics” in any reading or at any seminar I have attended.

UPDATE: this just hit my inbox

OK, back to more important things…


Marcy from Skylight

Nuclear Navel Gazing

I very much enjoyed this article on the possibility of molten-salt nuclear reactors becoming operational in the near future. They are safe, and they can use spent uranium to fuel. For those who know me, I was a physics major back in the day, and badly wanted to go into the field of nuclear power research. I had plans of developing home-based or small community-based portable nuclear reactors that would be cheap and clean. But oil prices hit about $10 per barrel, and I was actually not smart enough to remain in physics, so here I am.

One quick observation about nuclear, particularly given the last post here at TUW – “we” all should be embracing it. Yes, be cognizant of risks and costs, but it is comparatively clean and safe, has very little collateral impact on land use and animal-life, and has better prospects, in my view, for being long-term cost-effective than many other technologies. It is almost startling to see how fast nuclear is dismissed and ignored in climate or just plain ol’ energy conversations. I say almost, until one remembers that very little of the conversation about climate and energy is actually about climate and energy – hence my general malaise. It took me almost six full years to own up to this reality.

Maybe we will take such a principle seriously when it is consistently applied – such as to when the government regulates market activity, or in how much power to entrust to the politicos in the first place. But of course as Obama Administration official Cass Sunstein smartly recognizes:

The precautionary principle has been highly influential in legal systems all over the world. In its strongest and most distinctive forms, the principle imposes a burden of proof on those who create potential risks, and it requires regulation of activities even if it cannot be shown that those activities are likely to produce significant harms. Taken in this strong form, the precautionary principle should be rejected, not because it leads in bad directions, but because it leads in no directions at all. The principle is literally paralyzing – forbidding inaction, stringent regulation, and everything in between. The reason is that in the relevant cases, every step, including inaction, creates a risk to health, the environment, or both. This point raises a further puzzle. Why is the precautionary principle widely seen to offer real guidance? The answer lies in identifiable cognitive mechanisms emphasized by behavioral economists.

And speaking of the topic: here’s our government throwing (pre)caution into the wind.

US Congress prevents Norwegian Airline from flying in America. My favorite part:

 because of concerns the low-cost carrier will dodge international labor rules.

That’s pretty darn laughable seeing as the Scandinavians are held out as the most socially just and fair countries on Earth. If not them, whom?

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