Archive for April 2013

Can't Anyone be Consistent?

I am just floored that Conservatives, who very very recently argued that the act of one bad guy at Newtown should not be used to limit the rights of tens of millions of legal gun owners, are now arguing that the acts of two bad guys (Tsarnaev's) SHOULD be used to limit the rights of tens of millions of peaceful immigrants.

Blaming Excessive Taxation on .... Capitalism?

Megan McArdle has a lot more patience than I explaining to a writer at Crooked Timber why artists don't get special tax deductions that aren't available to anyone else.

But what I thought was amazing, was the fact that they seem to blame an overbearing and over-reaching IRS on .... markets and capitalism. I'll give one example of the general tone:

One of the days, I’ll get around to reading the copy of Sandel’s ‘What Money Can’t Buy; The Moral Limits of Markets’. It’s even made the exquisitely painful cut of being one of only two dozen books brought on our three-month sojourn on the south coast of England. When I do read Sandel, I hope to acquire a greater appreciation for exactly how market thinking has permeated and corrupted so many aspects of human life.

One surprising place a weirdly attenuated and manically zealous form of market thinking has popped up is in the Minnesota tax office. (via BoingBoing) They’re running a quite unhinged vendetta against Lynette Reini-Grandell and Venus DeMars, a married couple who make music, art, poetry and teach English. The taxman running their audit says Reini-Grandell and DeMars’ creative activities don’t make enough money, and haven’t for years, thus proving the artists are mere hobbyists who shouldn’t get a tax break. Either they should turn a consistent profit by now, or have given up already and gone back to being good little consumers.

I am exhausted with people with people equating free markets and capitalism with the crony corporate state we have today.

By the way, I am the first to acknowledge that the government does not consider non-monetary benefits in many parts of their legislation.  Just one example is minimum wage legislation. For a teenager without work experience, being able to have an internship where they can prove they are reliable and learn how to work in an organization has tremendous value.  But these huge non-monetary benefits (so large many teens and low-skilled workers might take a job for free, at least to prove themselves initially) cannot be counted in the minimum wage calculation.

Classic Partisan Thinking

Kevin Drum writes

On the right, both climate change and questions about global limits on oil production have exited the realm of empirical debate and become full-blown fronts in the culture wars. You're required to mock them regardless of whether it makes any sense. And it's weird as hell. I mean, why would you disparage development of renewable energy? If humans are the ultimate creators, why not create innovative new sources of renewable energy instead of digging up every last fluid ounce of oil on the planet?

I am sure it is perfectly true that there are Conservatives who knee-jerk oppose every government renewable energy and recycling and green jobs idea that comes along without reference to the science.  But you know what, there are plenty of Liberals who knee-jerk support all these same things, again without any understanding of the underlying science.  Mr. Drum, for example, only recently came around to opposing corn ethanol, despite the fact that the weight of the science was against ethanol being any kind of environmental positive years and years ago.  In fact, not until it was no longer cool and caring to support ethanol (a moment I would set at when Rolling Stone wrote a fabulous ethanol expose) did Drum finally turn against it.  Is this science, or social signalling?   How many folks still run around touting electric cars without understanding what the marginal fuels are in the electricity grid, or without understanding the true well-to-wheels efficiency?  How many folks still run around touting wind power without understanding the huge percentage of this power that must be backed up with hot backup power fueled by fossil fuels?

Why is his almost blind support of renewable energy without any reference to science or the specifics of the technologies involved any saner than blind opposition?  If anything, blind opposition at least has the numbers on their side, given past performance of investments in all sorts of wonder-solutions to future energy production.

The reason there is a disconnect is because statists like Drum equate supporting government subsidies and interventions with supporting renewables.  Few people, even Conservatives, oppose renewables per se.  This is a straw man.  What they oppose are subsidies and government mandates for renewables.  Drum says he has almost limitless confidence in  man's ability to innovate.  I agree -- but I, unlike he apparently, have limitless confidence in man's ability to innovate absent government coercion.  It was not a government program that replaced whale oil as an illuminant right when we were approaching peak whale, it was the genius of John D. Rockefeller.  As fossil fuels get short, prices rise, and people naturally innovate on substitutes.  If Drum believes that private individuals are missing an opportunity, rather than root for government coercion, he should go take up the challenge.  He can be the Rockefeller of renewable energy.

Postscript:  By the way, it is absurd and disingenuous to equate opposition to what have been a series of boneheaded government investments in questionable ventures and technologies with some sort of a-scientific hatred of fossil fuel alternatives.  I have written for a decade that I long for the day, and expect it to be here within 20 years, that sheets of solar cells are cranked from factories like carpet out of Dalton, Georgia.

More Washington Hypocrisy

When an election was in the offing and 60 Minutes was paying attention, Congress voted a couple of years ago to finally remove the exemption that protected Congress and its staff from insider trading laws that apply to everyone else.

Now that the election is over and no one is looking, Congress has reversed itself 

So... with very little fanfare, Congress quietly rolled back a big part of the law late last week. Specifically the part that required staffers to post disclosures about their financial transactions, so that the public could make sure there was no insider trading going on. Congress tried to cover up this fairly significant change because they, themselves, claimed that it would pose a "national risk" to have this information public. A national risk to their bank accounts.

It was such a national risk that Congress did the whole thing quietly, with no debate. The bill was introduced in the Senate on Thursday and quickly voted on late that night when no one was paying attention. Friday afternoon (the best time to sneak through news), the House picked it up byunanimous consent. The House ignored its own promise to give Congress three days to read a bill before holding a vote, because this kind of thing is too important to let anyone read the bill before Congress had to pass it.

Why Is Apple Planning a Huge Bond Issue?

Apple has tens of billions of dollars of cash.  So why is it considering a $10 billion bond issue?

Despite its huge cash stockpile, Apple plans to issue debt to help fund dividend payments and stock buybacks in part because much of its cash is overseas. Raising money in the debt market would help Apple avoid the big tax bill that would come from bringing the cash back to the U.S

The US is the only major company I know of that double taxes foreign income of its corporations.  Outside the US, the general principle is that a company pays taxes locally in the country in which income is earned, and then can repatriate that money freely.  Apple has already paid taxes on this money locally (granted, at relatively low rates, but country's corporate tax rates are lower than ours).  But it must pay something like 35% to repatriate that money to the US.  This is sort of a negative stimulus, a multi-billion dollar incentive for Apple to find some way to spend this money overseas rather than in the US.

I will reiterate my tax plan.  Eliminate the hugely distortive corporate income tax altogether.  Instead, tax all individual capital gains and dividends at regular income rates - no special low rates.  Corporate earnings are thus taxed when they flow through to individuals either as higher equity prices or as dividends.

The savings and benefits would be huge --

  • an order of magnitude less room for special interst lobbying
  • the elimination of crony tax breaks for favored industries
  • the elimination of the tax preference for debt  (this is the other game Apple is playing - take on tax-favored debt to boost your stock price)
  • the elimination of all sorts of bizarre and unnatural corporate tax schemes and vehicles
  • the elimination of all that corporate legal tax expense
  • the elimination of two sets of books for every company (every major corporation has two sets of books, one for investors and one for the IRS, differing in many ways including depreciation methodology)

CO2 Leads to Prostitution

You may have noticed that I have not blogged a lot on climate of late.  This is mainly because nothing substantial has really changed in four years or so.  The skeptic argument has not changed and really has not been refuted.  In fact, published estimates for climate sensivity continue to move down towards my estimates.

But I could not resist linking to this

Several House Democrats are calling on Congress to recognize that climate change is hurting women more than men, and could even drive poor women to "transactional sex" for survival.

Licensing is Anti-Consumer

From a reader, comes this story of St. Louis so far refusing to grant a license to a woman who wants to operate a clothing sales truck (in a parallel to the growing food truck business).  What is the official explanation for denying her a license?  These government folks are refreshingly honest, not even bothering with the BS about consumer protection and jumping right to the real reason - incumbent businesses don't want new forms of competition.

NewsChannel 5 received this written explanation from Maggie Crane, the communications director for Mayor Francis Slay:

"We like the idea of fashion trucks a lot, but we still need to find out if there is a way to license mobile boutiques that does not put brick and mortar stores, who have already made substantial investments in their neighborhoods, at a disadvantage. We will also need to identify neighborhoods that will welcome them.

"We went through that process with food trucks a few years ago. Food trucks, for example, must abide by an enforceable set of rules outlining everything from safety regulations to where and for how long they can park.

"Our prediction is that the region's first legal fashion trucks will be here in the City. But, for now, they are pirates."

Note by this same logic Amazon should have been banned by St. Louis, as certainly bookstores in St. Louis had made substantial investments in their neighborhoods.  In fact, one of my favorite book stores used to be in Clayton, near St. Louis, though I fear it has died  (anyone know, I can't remember the name, was a large independent).  In fact, that is an advantage of the Internet I had never considered -- it allows new businesses to challenge old ones without harassment by local licensing and zoning authorities.

Short Memories

I just heard a radio commercial today urging listeners to learn how to flip houses to great profit with absolutely no capital or down payment required.  What a great idea.

A Guide for the Left: Using Abortion to Understand the Passion of 2nd Amendment Advocates

My new Forbes column is up, and discusses the incredible similarity, in my experience, between gun and abortion advocates.  I find this particularly interesting because, in many cases, the occupants of each camp hate each other.

The most important common trait they share is that they both tend to feel (and act) like they are standing on shifting sands.  They both feel that their Constitutional rights (for guns as written in the 2nd Amendment, and for abortion as clarified in Roe v. Wade) are under constant attack by a powerful and vocal minority.  They share almost the exact same sense of paranoia (I don’t mean any negative connotation to that word — as a libertarian, I am paranoid about a lot of things).  As a result, they feel the need to hold the line against every regulation or incursion, no matter how seemingly reasonable, fearing the narrow edge of the wedge that will eventually threaten their core rights.  They know in their hearts that the true intent of regulators is to work towards outright bans, so even seemingly “reasonable” and narrow limits are treated as a Trojan Horse and opposed with an energy and vehemence that seems over-the-top to people outside of the debate or on the opposing side.

Corporate Welfare Feedback Loop

John Ross discusses the absurd tax exemption enjoyed by major sports leagues like the NFL

I was particularly struck by this

as a tax-exempt entity, [the NFL] doesn’t pay taxes on the income that it earns. The NFL has managed to keep its income earnings a little on a low side by paying its top executives corporate-level salaries—eight NFL execs took home compensation of $51.5 million in 2010. The teams get to write off their NFL membership dues, roughly $6 million per team, for the privilege of belonging to this unusual trade association, and that money is put into a stadium fund that provides interest-free loans to teams so long as they get taxpayer financing on stadium construction and improvement costs.

So NFL teams pay dues to the NFL, and get to write the cost of those dues off on their taxes.  But the NFL pays not taxes on the dues it receives   It then puts these dues in a fund that the teams can use, but ONLY if they go out and extort further taxpayer gifts for their stadiums.  Ugh.

Never Miss A Good Opportunity to Shut Up

It strikes me that a service business model that relies on frequently suing your customers is not really sustainable.

My folks out in the field operating campground face far greater problems with customers than any of these petty complaints that Suburban Express is taking to court.  My folks have drunks in their face almost every weekend screaming obscenities at them.  We have people do crazy things to avoid paying small entry fees.  We get mostly positive reviews online but from time to time we inevitably get a negative review with which we disagree (e.g. from the aforementioned drunk who was ticked off we made him stop driving).

And you know how many of these folks we have taken to court in 10 years?  Zero.  Because unless your customer is reneging on some contractual obligation that amounts to a measurable percentage of your net worth, you don't take them to court.

Yes, it is satisfying from an ego perspective to contemplate taking action against some of them.  There are always "bad customers" who don't act in civilized and honorable ways.   But I  tell my folks that 1)  You are never going to teach a bad customer a lesson, because by definition these same folks totally lack self-awareness or else they would not have reached the age of fifty and still been such assholes.  And 2) you are just risking escalating the situation into something we don't want.  As did Suburban Express in the linked article.

The first thing one has to do in the customer service business is check one's ego at the door.  I have front-line employees that simply refuse to defuse things with customers (such as apologize for the customer's bad experience even if we were not reasonably the cause).  They will tell me that they refuse to apologize, that it was a "bad customer".   This is all ego.  I tell them, "you know what happens if you don't apologize and calm the customer down?  The customer calls me and I apologize, and probably give him a free night of camping to boot."  In the future, if this dispute goes public, no one is going to know how much of a jerk that customer was at the time.  Just as no one knows about these students in the Suburban Express example - some may have been  (likely were) drunken assholes.  But now the company looks like a dick for not just moving on.

This is all not to say I am perfect.  It is freaking amazingly easy to forget my own rule about checking one's ego at the door.  I sometimes forget it when dealing with some of the public agencies with which I am under contract.  One of the things you learn early about government agencies is that long-time government employees have never been inculcated with a respect for contract we might have in the private world.  If internal budget or rules changes make adhering to our contract terms difficult, they will sometimes ignore or unilaterally change the terms of our written contract.

And then I will get really pissed off.  Sometimes, I have to -- the changes are substantial and costly enough to matter.  But a lot of the time it is just ego.  The changes are small and de minimis from our financial point of view but I get all worked up, writing strings of eloquent and argumentative emails and letters, to show those guys at the agency just how wrong they are.  And you know what?  Just like I tell my folks, the guys on the other end are not going to change.  They are not bad people, but they have grown up all their lives in government work and have been taught to believe that contract language is secondary to complying with their internal bureaucratic rules.  They are never going to change.  All I am doing is ticking them off with my letters that are trying to count intellectual coup on them.

To this end, I think I am going to tape these two lines from Ken White's post on the wall in front of my desk

  • First, never miss a good opportunity to shut up.
  • Second, take some time to get a grip. You will not encounter a situation where waiting 48 hours to open your mouth will destroy your brand.

On The Creativity of Hollywood

Congrats to Overlawyered, as it Moves to Cato

The Overlawyered blog is one of the blogs I read every day, and is one of the grand old blogs of the Internet, dating back to when AOL was relevant, Pets.com was still paying for Superbowl ads, and I was still using Netscape to browse.

The move to Cato is described here.

The "They Will Not Assimilate" Argument Rising Yet Again From the Grave

How many times does an argument have to be wrong, and for how long, before it finally loses credibility?  I suppose the answer must be nearly infinite, because the "they will not assimilate" argument is rising again, despite being about 0 for 19 on the groups to which it has been applied.  Germans, Irish, Italians, Eastern Europeans, Chinese, Mexicans and now Chechnyans.   This argument always seems to be treated seriously in real time and then looks stupid 20 or 30 years later.  As an extreme example, here is Benjamin Franklin writing about Germans in 1751:

why should the Palatine Boors [ie Germans] be suffered to swarm into our Settlements, and by herding together establish their Language and Manners to the Exclusion of ours? Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion.

(By the way, if you want to retain an unadulterated rosy image of Franklin, who was a great man for many reasons, do not read the last paragraph at that link.  People are complicated and sometimes even great men could not shed all the prejudices of their day.)

The only good news is that the circle of those acceptable to the xenophobic keeps getting larger.  It used to be just the English, then it was Northern Europeans, then much later it was all Europe and today I would say it is Europe and parts of Asia.  So that's progress, I suppose.

Fun fact:  Ironically, the English King at the time Franklin wrote the quote above was George II.  He was actually a German immigrant, born in Germany before his father came to England as King George I, jumping over numerous better claimants who were Catholic.  His son actually assimilated very well, as George III spoke English as a first language, and his granddaughter Victoria practically defined English-ness.  By the way, Victoria would marry another German immigrant.

Government Agencies Run For the Benefit of Their Employees

I have written before that the single best framework for explaining the actions of most government agencies is to assume they are run for the benefit of their employees.  This certainly seems to be the case at the FAA, which can't over 10+ years complete a modernization of its computer system or match free, private Internet tools for flight tracking, but it was able to very quickly publish a web application to promote the danger of the sequester.  Public service is not even on these guys radar screens, as they have shown themselves completely willing to screw the public in a game of chicken to get more funding back for their agency

But after Mr. Coburn published his letter on his website, FAA regional employees wrote to blow the whistle on their bosses. As one email put it, "the FAA management has stated in meetings that they need to make the furloughs as hard as possible for the public so that they understand how serious it is."

Strategies include encouraging union workers to take the same furlough day to increase congestion. "I am disgusted with everything that I see since the sequester took place," another FAA employee wrote. "Whether in HQ or at the field level it is clear that our management has no intention of managing anything. The only effort that I see is geared towards generating fear and demonstrating failure." Just so.

Moms with Ivy League Educations

Apparently it is somewhat unethical in the feminist world for women to go to the Ivy League and then become a full-time mom.   I know several women who have Ivy League undergrad or graduate degrees and have, for at least part of their lives, been full time moms.  I am married to one, for example.  I have a few thoughts on this:

  1. People change plans.  Life is path-dependent.  Many women who ended up being full time moms out of the Ivy League will tell you that it still surprises them they made that choice.
  2. Why is education suddenly only about work?  I thought liberal arts education was all about making you a better person, for pursuits that go far beyond just one's work life.  I, for example, get far more use of my Princeton education in my hobbies (e.g. blogging) than in my job.   The author uses law school as an example, and I suppose since law school is just a highbrow trade school one might argue it is an exception.  But what is wrong with salting the "civilian" population with non-lawyers who are expert on the law?
  3. Type A Ivy League-trained full-time moms do a lot more that just be a mom, making numerous contributions in their community.  I am always amazed what a stereotyped view of moms that feminists have.
  4. If spots in the Ivy League, as implied by this article, should only be held by people seriously wanting to use the degree for a meaningful lifetime career, then maybe the Ivy League needs to rethink what degrees it offers.  Ask both of my sisters about the value of their Princeton comparative literature degrees in the marketplace.  By this logic, should Princeton be giving valuable spots to poetry majors?
  5. I can say from experience that the one thing a liberal arts education, particularly at Princeton which emphasized being well rounded, prepared me for was being a parent.  I can help my kids develop and pursue interests in all different directions.  One's love of learning and comfort (rather than distrust) of all these intellectual rubs off on kids almost by osmosis.  In other words, what is wrong with applying an Ivy League education to raising fabulous and creative kids?
  6. The author steps back from the brink, but this comes perilously close to the feminist tendency to replace one set of confining expectations for women with a different set.

Oh and by the way, to the author's conclusion:

Perhaps instead of bickering over whether or not colleges and universities should ask us to check boxes declaring our racial identity, the next frontier of the admissions should revolve around asking people to declare what they actually plan to do with their degrees. There's nothing wrong with someone saying that her dream is to become a full-time mother by 30. That is an admirable goal. What is not admirable is for her to take a slot at Yale Law School that could have gone to a young woman whose dream is to be in the Senate by age 40 and in the White House by age 50.

I would argue the opposite -- the fewer people of both sexes who go to law school to be in the Senate by 40 and the White House by 50, the better.

Update:  My wife added two other thoughts

  • Decades ago, when her mom was considering whether she wanted to go to graduate school, her dad told her mom that even if she wanted to be a stay at home mom, a good graduate degree was the best life insurance she could have in case he died young.
  • Women with good degrees with good earning potential have far more power in any divorce.  How many women do you know who are trapped in a bad marriage because they don't feel like they have the skills to thrive in the workplace alone?

On The Minimum Wage

I got an email today from some group telling me that the majority of small business owners support annual increases to the minimum wage.  I found that odd, so I clicked through to the study.   I will save you the time looking for it, the study had no discussion of how it identified a representative group of small business owners, or even how it validated the respondents were business owners in the first place.  All it says is that it was an "internet survey".

It turns out the second question of the poll answers the first.  The people in the poll overwhelmingly supported raising the minimum wage because the businesses polled overwhelmingly did not hire minimum wage workers.

In fact, the most lost fact in the minimum wage debate is the percentage of the work force that actually earns the minimum wage.  According to the Department of Labor, in 2011 only about 3% of all employed wage and salary workers were making minimum wage or less.  However, about half of these folks are people who mainly work for tips (which are not included in the base wage number).  When you exclude the folks whose tips presumably take them over the minimum wage, just 1.5% of American workers make minimum wage.

Minimum wage work is a niche, generally confined to special situations and to low-skilled young people entering the work force.

Sure, a minimum wage hike would help many of those 1.5%  (at least those who did not lose their jobs when the higher wage rates priced out their work).  But what about the group five times larger than this, the unemployed?  Are they really better off when the bar they have to clear to find their first work keeps getting raised?  If no one will currently hire 30% of teens at $7.25 an hour, how many will get hired at $10 an hour?

Here is the question the group should have asked:  For those of you who currently pay some workers minimum wage, would you expect to employ more, the less, or about the same after an increase in the minimum wage?

The Road to Totalitarianism is Paved with Good Intentions

The first three times I read this, I was sure it was supposed to be ironic and sarcastic.  I am increasingly convinced that this was written for real

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ban on sugary drinks is good for you, New York, and for the rest of the country, too.

And here’s something else, a guaranteed wager: Winston Smith, the suffering protagonist in George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eight-Four,” would trade every aspect of the society dreamed up for him by the sadistic totalitarian government in place of a ban on sugary drinks in 16-ounce cups any day.

There I said it. I know the sentiment is unpopular. I know people will fear the ramifications of a ban on that black bubbling cola in their plastic Big Gulps because they believe it is the road to bigger restrictions on more of their choices. It won’t.

We are a nation of fatties. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, more than one-third of United States adults -- 35.7 percent -- are obese. And obesity is expensive.

Medical costs associated with obesity were estimated at $147 billion in 2008, the CDCnoted. And for people who are obese were $1,429 higher than those of normal weight. While sugary drinks like soda and fruit drinks are not the only culprit here, it is a fact that people are consuming these beverages at an alarming rate. Something needs to be done.

I am sure long-time Coyote Blog readers will not the Health Care Trojan Horse (TM) -- using the socialization of health care costs to justify coercive interventions in individual choices that used to be considered personal.

I have been studying HG Wells of late.  One thing I didn't know about him before is that for all his skepticism about the future in many of his books, and all his prescience about the worst impulses of man, he believed it was possible to create an ideal government that would a dictatorship of the elite, scientific, and enlightened.  Historians called that view "naive", and at the time it may have been. But to hold this sort of view today, as this author does, given history, is simply insane.  Power begets more power.  Coercion begets more coercion.

There really is a very simple test for this - simply imagine the coercive power you advocate in the hands of your worst political enemy.  Still happy with it?  I bet not.

That Whole "Banality of Evil" Thing

I can't help thinking of Adolf Eichmann when I look at 1) our Elvis-impersonating terrorist who thinks the local hospital is hoarding body parts and 2) the Chechnyan Beavis and Butthead who managed to kill and maim scores of people despite being bigger screwups than the entire Reservoir Dogs gang.

Don't let your freedoms be taken away by people who say such and such a place or event is vulnerable or open to attack.  If these guys can successfully terrorize people, there can't be any way to stop serious threats short of a North Korean police state.  Every occasion and location is theoretically vulnerable.  Our best protection is to build a society that eschews violence.  And, when someone does go off the farm, we want a society where there is no general toleration for the act.  In Chechnya or Syria or Iraq, these two boneheads would likely have found help and protection from some percentage of the population.  Not so in Boston, or anywhere else in America.

PS-  Today must have been CNN's wet dream.  This was like a real-life version of the Running Man (the enjoyable Richard Bachman aka Steven King book, not the awful movie), with similarly high ratings.

Lurching From One Emotionally-Driven Piece of Legislation to the Next

The Left is worried that Conservatives will jump on the fact that the Boston killers were immigrants to slow down immigration reform:

the anti-immigration right has jumped on this morning's news to argue that this is not the time to loosen our immigration laws. After all, the two guys who set off bombs at the Boston Marathon have turned out to be a pair of immigrants. As radio host Bryan Fischer says, "Time to tighten, not loosen, immigration policy." Greg Sargent comments:

It’s unclear thus far how widespread the effort among conservatives will be to connect the Boston bombing suspects to the immigration reform debate. But it’s certainly something that bears watching. If this argument picks up steam, it will be

another indication of how ferocious the resistance on the right to immigration reform is going to get.

I think it's safe to say that this argument will pick up steam. Why wouldn't it, after all? It's a gut punch to the idea that immigrants are no more dangerous than natives, and it doesn't matter which side logic is on. It's a strong appeal to emotions, and it's probably an effective one.

Wow, it would not have occurred to me to justify immigration restrictions (in a nation where we are basically all immigrants) based on the bad actions of a couple of individuals.  But since the Left recently tried to do exactly this with gun control, to justify restrictions on millions of law-abiding people based on the actions of one person, I guess they know what they are talking about.  The whole demagogic tendency is sickening.  While I would love to see radical immigration reform, including the right of most anyone to be legally present and working in this country (though not necessarily in line for citizenship or safety net benefits), I have pretty low expectations.

Drum gives a good answer, but the question he is asked reflects this pathetic kind of political opportunism

A few days ago, someone asked: Who are you secretly hoping the bombers turn out to be? My answer was, whatever kind of person is least likely to have any effect whatsoever on public policy.

A Couple of Thoughts About Reinhart & Rogoff

As quick background, R&R had a study that found that higher government debt levels correlated to lower, even negative, economic growth.  More recently, others have found computational errors that exaggerated this result, and have criticized their methodology, particularly their approach to weighting data from different countries and years.

A few thoughts:

  1. A major reasons the errors were found is that R&R actually made their data available for replication.  This is apparently rare - certainly it is rare in the climate world.  I am glad they are getting kudos for this and hope the academic world can find a way to incentivize / force more data sharing
  2. I would not have expected a direct relationship between country debt levels and economic growth.  What I would expect is that growth can still be good at higher debt levels, but the risk of hitting a tipping point starts to rise dangerously with debt levels.  Eventually levels get so high that an interest rate shock or liquidity shock is almost inevitable
  3. More than a relation between GDP growth and absolute debt levels, I would have expected a relationship between GDP growth and changes in debt level.  Absolute government debt levels may represent resources removed from the productive economy years and decades earlier.  Increases in government debt represent recent decreases in capital available for productive use.

Struggling with Global Warming

The campgrounds we operate for the US Forest Service in Wisconsin does not seem quite ready to open

two lakes

Probably an Accurate Prediction

Unfortunately, Kevin Drum's prediction is probably dead on

a fellow with the Twitter handle @FootyTube_ quickly changed his handle last night to @Dzhokhar_ and swapped out his avatar for a thumbnail of the suspect in the Boston bombings. That's hilarious!

Or not. But I predict a growth industry in this kind of thing. FootyTube's idiocy was easy enough to see through, but someone out there now has the bright idea of creating a Twitter/Facebook/Tumblr/etc. account and populating it over time with grievances of some kind. Islamic, gun nut, anti-tax, libertarian, PETA, whatever. Just create a nice long chain of posts and then wait for the next terrorist attack. As soon as pics and names are available, switch the account name, make it public, and wait to be discovered.

Some Friday Bastiat

There are people who think that plunder loses all its immorality as soon as it becomes legal. Personally, I cannot imagine a more alarming situation. However that may be, one thing is certain, and that is that the economic results are the same...

Moral: To use force is not to produce, but to destroy.

Selected essays on a political economy.  I love how Bastiat writes, and 165 years has done absolutely nothing to harm his relevance.  Its amazing that we hare having the exact same economic battles today.

Shredding the Fourth Amendment to Protect Little Mermaid Royalties

CISPA passes the House.  Here's hoping for gridlock in the Senate because, whatever he might promise, there is no way Obama is going to veto legislation that helps Hollywood while simultaneously expanding the Administration's warrant-less search power.