Posts tagged ‘ayn rand’

Dear Americans: You Are All Rich

I have made the point a number of times that the bottom 20th percentile (in term of income) of US families would actually be in the 80th percentile in many nations.  In fact, it turns out that the 20th percentile person in the US would not just be relatively rich in many other countries, but on a global scale sits around the 85th percentile of world income.  Virtually no one in the US would even be in the bottom half of world income. This chart from a recent study was shared by David Henderson:

fig2_0

 

The axes are not well labelled here.  How to read this is the X axis is the income percentile of a person in their home country.  Then one reads up, and the Y axis is the income percentile that person would be at for the whole world.  So a person who is at the 20th percentile in the USA is around the 85th percentile worldwide.  It is interesting that by hugging the 45 degree line, China mirrors the world average.  If you want to envision the distribution of absolute incomes around the world, think of China.

This raises a certain question for American redistributionists.  Ayn Rand used to point out that redistributionists always love the idea because they feel like they got to pick the pocket of the guy wealthier than them, forgetting that someone poorer gets to pick their pocket.  Essentially, in a truly global redistribution scheme, everyone in the US would be paying rather than receiving.

A better way to achieve global income equality would be to have more countries emulate the American rule of law, property rights regime, and relatively free markets.  Ironically, most American redistributionists support the opposite, arguing that in many was the USA should emulate the authoritarianism of these poorer countries.  Which I suppose will achieve global income equality as well, though in a much less attractive way.

My One and Only Thought on Harper Lee's "Go Set a Watchman"

I have not read the book "Go Set a Watchman" nor will I likely.  But it seems like a lot of folks are disappointed that the characters and themes in this book are different from Lee's later "To Kill a Mockingbird."  Which causes me to ask a question that surprisingly has not been asked in anything I have read, which is:  "Maybe Harper Lee didn't publish the novel for a reason."  I mean, Lee had decades in which to do so and apparently chose not to.  Should we really be surprised that a novel does not represent a writer in the way we expected when the writer themselves chose not to sanction the work by trying to publish it?

Which reminds me of this unrelated bit in a discussion of a recently re-published early work by Ayn Rand

This spectacular claim—that Ayn Rand’s impassioned idealism is a species of murderous fanaticism—comes a bit out of the blue, but Heller hangs it on a rather selective discussion of notes Ayn Rand made in her journals in 1928 about a murderer named William Hickman. Hickman’s defiance after his capture, and the reaction against him—a reaction she saw as being less about the evil of his crime than about his refusal to conform to social convention—caught her attention and caused her to work on a fictionalized version called The Little Street, a project she worked on for a while and then dropped.

Hickman has been long forgotten everywhere else, but he will live forever in the minds of Ayn Rand’s detractors, because they can now cite her notes on his case as proof that she was an admirer of serial killers and probably a psychopath herself, which means that they can now safely ignore every argument she ever made. Isn’t that convenient?

In fact, this is only proof that writers should burn their notes before they die, because inevitably some idiot is going to come along and use your half-though-out ramblings as proof of what you really believed, in contradiction to the thousands of pages of meticulously edited work that you actually published.

Update:  This is a really good article sent to me by a reader about the editorial process that led from "Go Set a Watchman" to "To Kill a Mockingbird" which essentially calls them draft 1.0 and draft 2.0 of the same, yet very different, novel.

Since Watchman was written before Mockingbird (even though the time period in the book is later), Harper Lee did not “change” Atticus. The characterization in Watchmanwas the original. It was her first shot. It was Atticus 1.0.

The real story, if you ask me, is that Harper Lee rethought, reconceived, and reconfigured the Atticus of Watchman into the icon of honorableness that he became in To Kill A Mockingbird.

Think of that for a minute from a writer’s point of view. How hard is that to do? I can think of few things that are harder, not just from a practical point of view (the work, the recasting, the reimagining) but from a psychological perspective. How do you manage your emotions? How do you submerge your ego? How do you let go of expectations?

Somehow Harper Lee, God bless her, was able to do all that.

She set aside the manuscript of Watchman (the product of more than two years’ labor) when her editor Tay Hohoff declared it not ready for prime time—and went back to the drawing board.

I would give a lot of money to see Ms. Hohoff’s notes, or the correspondence between her and Ms. Lee, or to listen to a tape of their conversations over the two-plus years it took Ms. Lee to revamp the original story and turn it into To Kill A Mockingbird.

This much we know. Ms. Hohoff advised Ms. Lee to re-set the world of Watchman twenty years earlier. Take the character of Scout from a grown woman and wind her back to a little girl. Tell us the story, not through the eyes of a bitterly disillusioned daughter who had left Maycomb, Alabama and moved to New York City, but from the perspective of an innocent but whip-smart six- to nine-year-old tomboy, still at home, still in awe of her father.

Imagine doing that yourself. Could you? I’m not sure I could.

At the risk of summarizing a manuscript I have not read, it sounds like she shifted the book from a dreary story of what the South was, to a more optimistic story of what it was but also what it could be.

My Five Causes of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

Rocochet asks this question over the weekend:  What are your top 5 causes of the fall of the Roman Empire.  OK, I will take a shot at this from my decidedly amateur perspective:

  1. Demographic collapse, caused by a series of plagues (perhaps even an Ur version of the black death) and possibly climate change (colder) that depopulated the western half of the empire
  2. A variety of policies (e.g. grain dole) that shifted population from productive farms to the cities.  In the 19th century, this shift was to be growth-inducing as farm labor was moving into growing factories, but no such productivity revolution existed in Roman cities.  The combination of #2 with #1 left huge swaths of farmland abandoned, and the Romans dependent on grain ships from North Africa to feed the unproductive mouths in large Italian cities.  It also gutted the traditional Roman military model, which depended strongly on these local farmers for the backbone of the army.
  3. The Romans lost their ability to be innovative in including new peoples in their Empire.  The Romans had a bewildering array of citizenship and tax statuses for different peoples who joined or were conquered by the empire.  For hundreds of years, this innovation was hugely successful.   But by the 4th and 5th centuries they seemed to have lost the trick.  The evidence for this is that they could have solved multiple problems -- the barbarians at the gates and the abandonment of farm land and the need for more soldiers -- by finding a way to settle barbarians on empty farm land.  This is in fact exactly what the barbarians wanted.  That is why I do not include the barbarian invasions as one of my five, because it did not have to be barbarian invasions, it could have been barbarian immigration.  Gibson's thesis was that Christianity killed the Roman Empire by making it "soft".  I don't buy that, but it may have been that substituting the Romans' earlier incredible tolerance for other religions in their Pagan period with a more intolerant version of Christianity contributed to this loss of flexibility.
  4. Hand in hand with #3, the Roman economy became sclerotic.  This was the legacy of Diocletian and Constantine, who restructured the empire to survive several centuries more but at the cost of at least an order of magnitude more state control in every aspect of society.  Diocletian's edict of maximum prices is the best known such regulation, but in fact he fixed most every family into their then-current trades and insisted the family perform the same economic functions in all future generations.  Essentially, it was Ayn Rand's directive 10-289 for the ancient world, and the only reason these laws were not more destructive is that the information and communication technologies of the time did not allow for very careful enforcement.
  5. Splits in the governance of the empire between west and east (again going back to Diocletian) reduced the ability to fund priorities on one side of the empire with resources from the other side.  More specifically, the wealthy eastern empire had always subsidized defense of the west, and that subsidy became much harder, and effectively ended, in the century after Diocletian.

I will add, as a reminder, that to some extent this is all a trick question, because the Roman Empire really did not totally fall until the capture of Constantinople in 1453.  So I should have stated at the outset that all of the above refers to the fall of the western empire in the late 5th century, which in part explains why #5 is there in the list.

And, if you were in a room of historians of this era, you could quickly get into an argument over whether the western Roman empire really fell in the late 5th century.  For example, the Visigothic Kingdom in the area of modern southern France and Spain retained a lot of Roman practices and law.  But I have gone with tradition here and dated the "fall" of the empire to 476 when the Roman Emperor was deposed and not replaced.

Two DVD Reviews of Poorly Rated Movies That Had Some Redeeming Characteristics

I had pretty good experiences this week with not one but two movies rated 6 and under (which is pretty low) on IMDB

Atlas Shrugged, Part II:  A mixed bag, but generally better than the first.  The first episode had incredibly lush, beautiful settings, particularly for a low budget indie movie.  But the acting was stilted and sub-par.  Or perhaps the directing was sub par, with poor timing in the editing and dialog.  Whatever.  It was not always easy to watch.

The second movie is not as visually interesting, but it tossed out most of the actors from the first movie (a nearly unprecedented step for a sequel) and started over.  As a result, the actors were much better.  Though I perhaps could wish Dagny was younger and a bit hotter, she and the actor who played Rearden really did a much better job (though there is very little romantic spark between them).  And, as a first in any Ayn Rand movie I have ever seen, there were actually protagonists I might hang out with in a bar.

The one failure of both movies is that, perhaps in my own unique interpretation of Atlas Shrugged, I have always viewed the world at large, and its pain and downfall, as the real protagonist of the book.  We won't get into the well-discussed flatness of Rand's characters, but what she does really well -- in fact the whole point of the book to me -- is tracing socialism to its logical ends.  For me, the climactic moment of the book is Jeff Allen's story of the fate of 20th Century Motors.  Little of this world-wilting-under-creeping-socialism really comes out well in the movie -- its more about Hank and Dagny being harassed personally.  Also, the movie makes the mistake of trying to touch many bases in the book but ends up giving them short shrift - e.g. Jeff Allen's story, D'Anconia's great money speech, Reardon's trial, etc.

I would rate this as worth seeing for the Ayn Rand fan - it falls short but certainly does not induce any cringes  (if only one could say that about the Star Wars prequels).

Lockout:  This is a remake of "Escape from New York", with a space prison substituting for Manhattan and the President's daughter standing in for the President.  The movie lacks the basic awesomeness of converting Manhattan to a prison.  In fact, only one thing in the whole movie works, and that is the protagonist played by Guy Pierce (who also starred in two of my favorite movies, LA Confidential and Memento).

The movie is a total loss when he is not on screen.  The basic plot is stupid, the supporting characters are predictable and irritating, the physics are absurd, and the special effects are weak.  The movie is full of action movie cliche's -- the hero throwing out humorous quips (ala Die Hard or any Governator movie), the unlikely buddy angle, the reluctant romantic plot.  But Pierce is very funny, and is thoroughly entertaining when onscreen.  I think he does the best  job at playing the wisecracking, cynical hero that I have seen in years.

Because They Are Humanitarians

I used to scoff at how Ayn Rand turned the word "humanitarian" in the Fountainhead into a term of derision.  I didn't think it was justified to assume anyone adopting the humanitarian title had to be evil.  Surely, for example, Andrew Carnegie with his philanthropy and opposition to war could be considered a positive humanitarian?

But maybe she was on to something.  At least as far as Greenpeace is concerned:

According to the World Health Organization between 250,000 to 500,000 children become blind every year due to vitamin A deficiency, half of whom die within a year of becoming blind. Millions of other people suffer from various debilitating conditions due to the lack of this essential nutrient.[2]

Golden Rice is a genetically modified form of rice that, unlike conventional rice, contains beta-Carotene in the rice kernel. Beta-Carotene is converted to vitamin A in humans and is important for eyesight, the immune system, and general good health.[3] Swiss scientist and humanitarian Dr. Ingo Potrykus and his colleagues developed Golden Rice in 1998. It has been demonstrated in numerous studies that golden rice can eliminate vitamin A deficiency.[4]

Greenpeace and its allies have successfully blocked the introduction of golden rice for over a decade, claiming it may have “environmental and health risks” without ever elaborating on what those risks might be. After years of effort the Golden Rice Humanitarian Project, led by Dr. Potrykus, The Rockefeller Foundation and others were unable to break through the political opposition to golden rice that was generated directly by Greenpeace and its followers.[5]

To their credit, Bill and Melinda Gates are giving it another try.

Go Gary Johnson

I decided today to volunteer for Gary Johnson's independent libertarian run for President.  I have always been a Johnson supporter, and was disappointed that he did not get more attention in the debates and nomination process.

Yes, I know folks will be saying that if Gary Johnson does well, it will just be guaranteeing an Obama victory.  You know what?  Given the choices, I don't care.  My other choices seem to be the guy who pilot-tested Obamacare and Rick Santorum, perhaps the only person the Republicans could have found with a deeper authoritarian streak than Obama.  You know those 2x2 matrices where one leg is "government intervention in social issues" and the other is "government intervention in economic issues?"  Where libertarians are low-low and Republicans and Democrats are each in one of the low-high boxes?  Did you ever wonder who was in the high-high box?  Well, Obama has moved pretty strongly into that space.  But Santorum staked it out years ago.   He is right out of the John McCain, I-am-nominally-for-small-governemnt-but-support-authoritarian-solutions-for-a-range-of-random-issues school.

In fact, I might argue that freedom and small government would be better served by an Obama second term that the yahoos likely to gain the Republic nomination.  First, there is nothing worse than having statism and crony capitalism sold by someone who is nominally pro-market (see either of the Bushes as an example).  Second, Republicans are much feistier about limiting spending and regulation in Congress when in opposition.  They tend to roll over for expansions of state power when they have a fellow Republican in the White House -- just compare spending of the Republican Congress under Clinton vs. Bush.  Medicare Part D, anyone?

As I heard Ayn Rand say in a public speech in 1981, there is only so far I can go choosing the lesser of two evils.  I am now all in for Gary Johnson.

A Guide to the Global Warming Debate

My new column at Forbes is a post I have been thinking about and working on for quite a while, trying to refine over time a simple explanation of what is and is not understood in climate science.  This is how it begins, but I hope you will read it all

Likely you have heard the sound bite that “97% of climate scientists” accept the global warming “consensus”.  Which is what gives global warming advocates the confidence to call climate skeptics “deniers,” hoping to evoke a parallel with “Holocaust Deniers,” a case where most of us would agree that a small group are denying a well-accepted reality.  So why do these “deniers” stand athwart of the 97%?  Is it just politics?  Oil money? Perversity? Ignorance?

We are going to cover a lot of ground, but let me start with a hint.

In the early 1980′s I saw Ayn Rand speak at Northeastern University.  In the Q&A period afterwards, a woman asked Ms. Rand, “Why don’t you believe in housewives?”  And Ms. Rand responded, “I did not know housewives were a matter of belief.”  In this snarky way, Ms. Rand was telling the questioner that she had not been given a valid proposition to which she could agree or disagree.  What the questioner likely should have asked was, “Do you believe that being a housewife is a morally valid pursuit for a woman.”  That would have been an interesting question (and one that Rand wrote about a number of times).

In a similar way, we need to ask ourselves what actual proposition do the 97% of climate scientists agree with.  And, we need to understand what it is, exactly,  that the deniers are denying.   (I personally have fun echoing Ms. Rand’s answer every time someone calls me a climate denier — is the climate really a matter of belief?)

It turns out that the propositions that are “settled” and the propositions to which some like me are skeptical are NOT the same propositions.  Understanding that mismatch will help explain a lot of the climate debate.

Subsidy Magnets

From AutoGreenBlog

Output of cellulosic ethanol will surge starting in 2013, according to the U.S.' largest corn-based biofuel production firm, Poet LLC.

Poet says 2013 marks the start of commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol production in the U.S. and predicts its lone facility will "open the floodgates" for the advanced biofuel....

As Poet exec Greg Hartgraves points out, production of cellulosic ethanol is expensive and that means those floodgates need to be helped open with federal monies. Without an energy policy mandating its production, U.S. firms are likely to shy away from the cellulosic biofuel, he said.

Duh.  It's a substitute that is both less effective (lower btu per gallon) and more expensive that what it is supposedly substituting.   I am just floored at the number of investors who are putting money up on the come with an expectation that somewhere down the road they can convince the government to subsidize them.  Poet knows this plant is uneconomic but has built it anyway, probably hoping to extract promises of support from candidates in the Iowa caucuses.  Kleiner Perkins did the same think with Fisker Automotive, making early stage investments that could only be bailed out by future political largess.  As Ayn Rand would say,the aristocrats of pull.

The Fountainhead and Credentialism

This seems like good news -- there were over 30,000 essay submissions by high school juniors and seniors into the Ayn Rand essay contest, this year on the Fountainhead.  My son entered an essay, pondering his college choices in the context of Howard Roark and the Dean.  He has it online at his blog, follow the link.

New Year's Resolution

In my column this week at Forbes, I discuss my New Year's Resolution, which has not changed over several decades, and how it helped me this year to solve some difficult philosophical issues regarding my business.

Almost exactly thirty years ago, I read Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, probably the single most influential book I have read in my lifetime.  Before I read it, I was on a path to becoming a traditional Conservative in the mold of my parents, and in retrospect my thinking on a lot of issues was quite muddled.

I am no longer the exclusive Rand fanboy I was back in college, if for no other reason than I have since found many authors who come at the topic of capitalism and freedom from many different angles, but Rand was certainly my gateway drug to liberty.

Like many people, around the new year I set various goals for myself over the coming year.  Some I have achieved (e.g. getting myself out of corporate America and into my own business) and on some I have fallen short (e.g. learning to play the guitar).  But every year I have renewed just one resolution, which I took from Atlas Shrugged.  It is

I swear"“by my life and my love of it"“that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.

I then discuss this resolution in the context of approaches my business has had this year from lobbyists.  I discuss how lobbyists have approached me about an effort to make some tweaks to the health care law (it is particularly punitive to our labor model where we hire seniors part time and seasonally) as well as efforts to promote privatization of recreation (my business) and to help me obtain new contracts.    The article has much more discussion about details, but my resolution for a lobbying policy turned out as follows, in a rough parallel to the resolution above:

"We will use lobbyists to defend ourselves when the government is trying to gut us like a fish, but we will attempt to do so with generic amendments rather than through special exemptions for our company alone.  We will not use lobbyists to create new business opportunities, even when the legislation to do so is consistent with our principals."

By the way, I actually sent notes to several readers out there (you know who you are) asking them their opinions on some of the ethical issues I saw in these issues, and I appreciate the feedback from all of you.

Happy new year to all of you.

Starnesville, Greece

One of the things that Ayn Rand did particularly well in Atlas Shrugged was to set the rules of collectivism in motion and see them carried to their logical extreme.  To this end,  I have always considered the hobo's tale to Dagny on the train about 20th Century Motors to be the climax of the book.  It pulls a lot of plot threads in the book together, and the story represents the ultimate expression of how a true socialist society would evolve.  "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need" is taken to its extremes, and rather than brotherhood, everyone ends up hating and resenting their fellow workers.  In retrospect, it seems dead-on prescient of this bit about Greece:

The Greek state was not just corrupt but also corrupting. Once you saw how it worked you could understand a phenomenon which otherwise made no sense at all: the difficulty Greek people have saying a kind word about one another. Individual Greeks are delightful: funny, warm, smart, and good company. I left two dozen interviews saying to myself, "What great people!" They do not share the sentiment about one another: the hardest thing to do in Greece is to get one Greek to compliment another behind his back. No success of any kind is regarded without suspicion. Everyone is pretty sure everyone is cheating on his taxes, or bribing politicians, or taking bribes, or lying about the value of his real estate. And this total absence of faith in one another is self-reinforcing. The epidemic of lying and cheating and stealing makes any sort of civic life impossible; the collapse of civic life only encourages more lying, cheating, and stealing. Lacking faith in one another, they fall back on themselves and their families.

The structure of the Greek economy is collectivist, but the country, in spirit, is the opposite of a collective. Its real structure is every man for himself. Into this system investors had poured hundreds of billions of dollars. And the credit boom had pushed the country over the edge, into total moral collapse.

"Rights": I Do Not Think That Word Means What You Think It Means

I wish I had the book in front of me, but in one of the collections of Ayn Rand's essays (either the Virtue of Selfishness or Capitalism:  The Unknown Ideal) she quoted a bit of the 1968 Democratic Party platform, which called for all kinds of fake rights, the most hilarious being the right to vacation or leisure.

Well it turns out that absurd corruptions of the concept of individual liberty are never unthinkable, just ahead of their time:

Brussels has declared that tourism is a human right and pensioners, youths and those too poor to afford it should have their travel subsidised by the taxpayer

"Travelling for tourism today is a right. The way we spend our holidays is a formidable indicator of our quality of life," [European Union commissioner for enterprise and industry Antonio Tajani], said

Tajani's programme will be piloted until 2013 and then put into full operation it is expected the EU will subsidise about 30% of the cost.

The Anti-Industrial Revolution

I stole this post title from Ayn Rand, but it seems appropriate to this story by James Delingpole.  Apparently James Hansen, leader of NASA's GISS, which does most of its climate research, wants to turn back the clock on industrialized civilization.    A new book by Keith Farnish writes:

The only way to prevent global ecological collapse and thus ensure the survival of humanity is to rid the world of Industrial Civilization.

And continues:

I'm rarely afraid of stating the truth, but some truths are far harder to give than others; one of them is that people will die in huge numbers when civilization collapses. Step outside of civilization and you stand a pretty good chance of surviving the inevitable; stay inside and when the crash happens there may be nothing at all you can do to save yourself. The speed and intensity of the crash will depend an awful lot on the number of people who are caught up in it: greater numbers of people have more structural needs "“ such as food production, power generation and healthcare "“ which need to be provided by the collapsing civilization; greater numbers of people create more social tension and more opportunity for extremism and violence; greater numbers of people create more sewage, more waste, more bodies "“ all of which cause further illness and death.

I wonder what Mr. Farnish thinks the average life expectancy was before the industrial revolution, or even "civilization?"  But my intention here is not to shoot fish in Mr. Farnish's barrel.  What is interesting is who approached Farnish and offered, unsolicited, to blurb his book:  James Hansen.  Here is Hansen's endorsement:

Keith Farnish has it right: time has practically run out, and the 'system' is the problem. Governments are under the thumb of fossil fuel special interests "“ they will not look after our and the planet's well-being until we force them to do so, and that is going to require enormous effort.

Does anyone believe that a person who believes this wouldn't misrepresent the science or fudge his temperature metrics to support his cause.  If he expects civilization to crash, why do we expect him to operate by the rules of civilized society?

*Sigh* Something Else I Will Have to Subsidize

Via TJIC:

It took decades and, at times, antagonistic battles, but Harvard's gay community says it has finally cemented its academic legitimacy at the nation's oldest university. College officials will announce today that they will establish an endowed chair in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender studies, in what is believed to be the first professorship of its kind in the country.

Can the adults among us agree that a degree in LGBT studies has about zero economic value?  Even a history degree has more economic value, as history studies tend to still be accompanied by some academic rigor.  But the pathetic scholarship standards and non-existant statistical rigor with which most social sciences, and various [fill in the blank with oppressed group] studies departments in particular, are taught make the economic value of such a degree at best zero and at worst a negative.

I have no problem with anyone studying whatever they wish using their own resources.  This is one place I diverge with Ayn Rand -- she might say that pursuing non-productive activity is inherently immoral.  I would say that pursuing your own goals, whatever they be and however valuable or valueless they might be to others, is just fine as long as you don't demand that everyone else to support you.

The problem is that a degree at Harvard probably requires a $200,000 investment to complete.  Given that, beyond a few career spots in academia, a LGBT studies degree is unlikely to ever recover enough (versus having no degree)  to pay for such an investment, problems are inevitable.  Either someone (read: taxpayers) will likely foot the bill, or else some student is going to find herself with tens of thousands of dollars of student debt and no realistic way to pay it back.

In fact, this latter situation is a common leitmotif of recent media stories, the college grad unable to handle his or her shocking debt load.  Somehow, stories all seem to blame the capitalist system as a failure point.  Michelle Obama, who similarly pursued [historically oppressed group] studies at Princeton, has expressed just this point of view.

Despite their Ivy League pedigrees and good salaries, Michelle Obama often says the fact that she and her husband are out of debt is due to sheer luck, because they could not have predicted that his two books would become bestsellers. "It was like, 'Let's put all our money on red!' " she told a crowd at Ohio State University on Friday. "It wasn't a financial plan! We were lucky! And it shouldn't have been based on luck, because we worked hard."

Is this problem really so hard to diagnose, or have we gotten so politically correct we cannot state a fact out loud that everyone understands -- that is, some degrees have more economic power than others.  LGBT studies degrees likely have very little economic utility.  So it is fine to pursue such a degree, but don't be surprised when you are not offered a six-figure income at graduation, and don't come to me expecting that I pay for your choice.

Welcome to the Emergency Room. Can I See Your Insurance Card and Polling Numbers, Please?

From Mickey Kaus:

Democratic blogger Ezra Klein appears to be positioning Dem health care reforms as a way to cut costs, on the grounds that a reformed system will be able to make "hard choices" and "rational" coverage decisions, by which Klein seems to mean "not providing" treatments that are unproven or too expensive--when "a person's life, or health, is not worth the price." Matthew Yglesias' recent post seems to be saying the same thing, though clarity isn't its strong suit. (He must have left it on Journolist.)

...

The "rational," cost-cutting, "hard-choices" pitch isn't just awful marketing--I don't even think it's accurate. Put it this way: I'm for universal health care in large part precisely because I think the government will be less tough-minded and cost-conscious when it comes to the inevitable rationing of care than for-profit insurance companies will be. Take Arnold Kling's example of a young patient with cancer, where "the best hope is a treatment that costs $100,000 and offers a chance of success of 1 in 200." No "rational bureaucracy" would spend $20 million to save a life, Kling argues. I doubt any private insurance company is going to write a policy that spends $20 million to save a life.  But I think the government--faced with demands from patient groups and disease lobbies and treatment providers and Oprah and run, ultimately, by politicians as terrified of being held responsible for denying treatment as they are quick to pander to the public's sentimental bias toward life--is less likely to be "rational" than the private sector.

That is to say, the government's more likely to pay for the treatment (assuming a doctor recommends it). So it's government for me.

He comes oh-so-close to getting it right, but then falls short.

Klein is right that the pressure will be to ration care -- we already see such rationing being seriously considered in Massachusetts (the model of choice for Democrats) under the weight of massive expenditures.

But Kaus is correct that if some high-powered and well-funded interest group gets behind a certain procedure, cost-effective or not, the government overlords of the program will likely approve it.   As a result, for example, no potential treatment for breast cancer will ever be denied given the proven strength of women's groups lobbying for breast cancer treatment (already, breast cancer research is hugely over-funded vs. other diseases given its mortality, due in large part to this powerful lobbying).

But it is not one dynamic or the other.  Both will exist.  There will be huge pressures to cut back somewhere, as costs skyrocket.  And there will be huge pressure from certain interest groups to fund treatment for certain diseases in unlimited amounts.  The result will not be, as Kaus posits,  that everything will be funded more than it is today -- the result will be that certain procedures and conditions with strong lobbying and political muscle will get funded more, with the difference being made up from cutting funding for conditions and procedures without a well-organized lobby.

Access to care will no longer be determined by money, but by political pull.  (Yeah, I know, it's Ayn Rand's world and we all just live in it).

Surprise of the Week, Wherein I Give Kudos to Kevin Drum on a Tax Post

This post from Kevin Drum didn't start auspiciously, repeating the leftish meme that the tax day protests were all Astroturf events.  But I must admit I had a real double-take on his last paragraph, wherein he points out something about tax polls that most people seem to be missing:

With Tax Day coming up, and astroturf tea parties being organized around the country, a lot of people have been linking to polls showing that most Americans aren't, in fact, actually unhappy with the amount of income tax they have to pay.  Gallup, for example, reports that 61% of Americans think the amount they're paying this year is fair. Or there's this one, also from Gallup, that asks directly whether the amount you're paying is too high or not:

Not bad!  49% think their income taxes are just fine or even a bit low.  Except for one thing: this chart shows exactly the opposite of what it seems.  Consider this: about 40-50% of Americans pay no federal income tax at all1.  That's zero dollars.  I think we can safely assume that these are the people who think that their taxes are about right.  What this means, then, is that virtually every American who pays any income tax at all thinks they're paying too much. There are various reasons why this might be so (a sense of unfairness regardless of amount paid, a fuzzy sense of how much they're paying in the first place, simple bloody-mindedness, etc.) but overall it's not exactly a testament to our collective willingness to fund the machinery of state.

Outstanding.  Which only leads me to wonder why, if he realizes this, does he believe that people might not spontaneously organize protests, rather than it having to be a Rove-Fox News plot.  I think the answer to that is the Left just can't shake their own perception that protest marches belong to them in the same way the Right feels that AM Radio is their media to rule.  (What, by the way, does that leave for libertarians, other than Rush, Ayn Rand, and Firefly reruns?)

Getting Out Ahead of the Recovery

Ayn Rand had an image in Atlas Shrugged that has always stuck with me.  The government looter-weenies were likened to a guy standing on the roof of a boxcar on a speeding train, claiming to be in charge of the train's motion.  To extend the analogy further, a guy on top of a freight car (in Rand's day) only had the power to slow the train down (via the brake wheel on the car) but obviously had no ability to accelerate the train and had no relationship to the real motive force that drove the train.

The analogy has always been a powerful one for me in viewing Congresses and Presidents when they talk about the economy.  Claiming to be in charge of the economy, they have little power except to impede its progress.  And they have so little connection to the true motive force behind the economy, that it is clear they don't even comprehend its operation.

Which all leads me to wonder, is the rush to pass the stimulus bill based on a true perception of emergency, or is it driven more by the need to do something before the economy heals itself (which is the only way the economy every recovers).  Via Carpe Diem, the NY Fed model based upon year-ahead yield curves is predicting that we will be out of recession by the latter half of this year:

fed1

The home page for the NY fed model, including data, explanations, and its history is here.

Update: Here is a longer history of the metric.

fed_long

Atlas Shrugged at 50

Apparently Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged is turning 50, a fact I know only because my fairly libertarian-tilted feed reading list has been deluged of late with retrospectives. 

One of the oddities of posts on Ayn Rand is that every author seems to feel required to say something like "I like her work but I am not in total agreement with everything she says."  Uh, OK.  I'm not clear why this proviso seems so necessary.  I have never heard someone saying "I am a big fan of Mozart" and then following up with "but I don't like all of his works."  I am sure that is true, but they don't bother saying so.   I am a big fan of Ayn Rand, in particular with her non-fiction essays, but of course there are parts of her writing I don't agree with.  For example, I would be less likely to take her advice on managing my love life than I would to eat out of Hannibal Lecter's cookbook.

What Rand did so well in Atlas Shrugged was to take collectivist and anti-rational philosophy and play it forward in practice in a very compelling way. She demonstrated with almost mathematical precision the end results of collectivist philosophy.   The entropic United States in Atlas Shrugged, running down under the weight of socialism, has turned out to be repeatedly prescient.  For this reason, I find her anti-heros to be more memorable.  I see analog's to the Jim Taggerts and Lee Hunsackers and Starnes children nearly every day in the news.  Through these analogs, Rand still helps me place current events in their philosophical context. 

By the way, if you enjoyed her novels but have never read her essays, I encourage you to do so.  The Virtue of Selfishness is a reasonable place to start.  She was not the first person to voice many of these messages (Hayek and others were saying many of the same things) but because of her novels, I, like many others, heard them first from her.

Communism, West Virginia Style

Cyd Malone shares a historical story with which I was not familiar, Eleanor Roosevelt's attempt to create a government-supported back-to-the-earth commune in West Virginia.  It's quite a fascinating tale, with several elements that seem stolen right out of an Ayn Rand novel.  Her goal seems to have been to reverse the division of labor:

As projected, Arthurdale was to be immune from the ups and downs of the
business cycle, with its citizens farming their five-acre plots part
time and working part time in a local factory; a perfect combination of
town and country floating through life as just the happiest little
autarkic bubble you ever did see.

I will let you read the whole story if you are interested, which is pretty interesting.  I suppose you can guess how it all turned out:

Sadly, despite all the money, tough love, removal of their "mental
and physical impediments," and grafting on of "the things that help,"
the people of Arthurdale weren't displaying the attributes of the New
American Man, or at least not the type the planners planned for.
Instead, they behaved like dirt-poor coal miners and part-time farmers
who had become accustomed to living off of other peoples' money.

They displayed what we now call "dependency." Nancy Hoffman writes
that "there were times they depended too much on her [Mrs. Roosevelt's]
help and not enough on their own resources," leading Eleanor to lament
that "they seemed to feel that the solution to all their problems was
to turn to government" (Hoffman 2001, p. 85). In one defining moment,
the town's school bus broke down and the good people of Arthurdale,
rather than fixing it themselves, had it towed over two hundred miles
to the White House garage for repairs.[16]

Sanction of the Victim

This has been an incredible week in the ongoing culture clash between the western democracies and radical Islam.  In a series of events right out of the Onion or Monty Python, radical Muslims around the world protested the Pope calling them violent with ... waves of violence.  Once his remarks were proven right in such an obvious and public way the Pope reacted by ... apologizing for his remarks.**   

I am tired of apologizing to radical Islam (for some silly, bland cartoons, for god sakes!)  I am tired of bending over backwards into pretzels to give them the benefit of the doubt.  I am extremely tired of being told these folks are just aggrieved and in reality they share my values, because it is very very clear that they don't share my values.  I am tired of being told most Muslims are peaceful --  when these peaceful folks give their sanction and support to the violent ones and accept the most radical as their leaders. 

Radical Islam is, with the downfall of soviet communism and the painfully gradual opening up of China, the most illiberal force in the modern world. By a long shot.  It treats individual life with contempt, has no concept of rights, and in particular treats women far worse than apartheid South Africa ever treated blacks.  The theocracy we fear from certain Republican 700 Club folks is like 3.2 beer compared to full 200 proof Islamic theocratic fascism. 

I don't know why the left in this country has been hesitant to call out illiberal practices in the Middle East as vociferously as they have in other circumstances.  A part of this hesitation is probably opposition to the Iraq war, and fear that denouncing radical Islam for its faults might somehow give the administration a stronger mandate for more military adventures.  A less charitable explanation is that the hesitation is an extension of political correctness and cultural relativism run wild).

Well, I opposed the Iraq war:  The Augean stables are just too dirty to clean up by sending the military from dictator to dictator. I will go further and say I actually think the terrorist threat is exaggerated (and yes I do remember 9/11) in order to keep giving the FBI more powers and help politicians get elected.  Get tough on terrorism is sort of the new get tough on crime election speak.

But I don't think the threat to liberal values posed by Islamic fundamentalism is exaggerated.  And the first step in fighting it is to not give it, as Ayn Rand would say, the sanction of the victim.  People sometimes email me and say "who are we to talk -- America is not clean."  I will agree we have our warts - and much of this blog is taken up with pointing some of them out.  But what I always tell people, and still believe, is the following:

The US does harm when we fail to live up to our values.  Radical Islam does harm when they successfully pursue what they value.

**Postscript:   I don't pretend to understand all the 13th century quotations in the Pope's speech.  I don't think it matters.  If he had simply said "radical Islam preaches too much violence and it has to stop" he would have gotten the same reaction.  By the way, every person in the world seems to say bad things about the US, many of these comments are untrue or apply only to a minority of our leaders and not to myself. I can't remember anyone ever apologizing to me.   This story  that Muslims will do more violence unless the Pope apologizes some more reminds me of Sir Robin in the Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  "Perhaps if we run away more..."

And here is my message to the right -- I acknowledge that radical Islamic leaders treat apologies, backing-down, etc. as weakness to be exploited rather than preludes to reasonable compromise.   For this reason, I thought the invasion of Afghanistan was a necessity.  However, this general fact does NOT automatically justify the Iraq war.  If it did, it would also justify invading any Islamic country we want.  I still don't understand the strategic sense of Iraq and now we are stuck there, because I agree that once in, backing off will only embolden the radicals in the area to further hi-jinx.

New Year's Resolution

I think I will just repeat last year's, courtesy of Ayn Rand:

I swear--by my life and my love of it--that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.

The
only exception to this is my immediate family, which is really not an
exception - I think the very definition of family is those people you
move under the umbrella of your own self, to join you as part of your
"I".

Happy New Year!

125th Carnival of the Vanities

Welcome to the 125th edition of the Carnival of the Vanities.  Many thanks to Silflay Hraka for starting the Carnival to showcase smaller blogs to a wider readership.  Look for future Carnivals at these sites:

February 16th - Soccer Dad
February 23rd - Pundit Guy
March 2nd - Belief Seeking Understanding
March 9th - Solomonia
March 16th - Bird's Eye View
March 23rd - CodeBlueBlog
March 30th - Eric Berlin
April 6th - Incite
April 13th - Yea, Whatever

Future dates are open to anyone interested in hosting.  While you're here, feel free to look around -- this post will tell you more about what I do here.

OK, enough of the introduction, on with the show.  As is traditional, we have taken all comers regardless of their point of view.  I have exercised my editorial license only in selecting the first post:

Continue reading ‘125th Carnival of the Vanities’ »

Be Careful Forwarding those Emails!: II

OK, today I got an email from yet another associate that claims that the US Government is making up the story that the Pentagon was attacked on 9/11. Again, please Google these things and check Snopes or urban legends or FactCheck.org before you send them to me. The Snopes article on this one is here.

Presumably, since it is ludicrous to think that the feds could gen this event up within minutes of the WTC attacks, the proponents of this theory must also believe the WTC attack was faked or staged or created by the US Government. Beyond fever-swamp conspiracy theory lovers and rabid America-haters, I guess this also appeals to the reality avoiders who would like to believe that there are not islamo-fascists out there trying to kill us.

UPDATE

The Washington Post had an article on Internet conspiracy theories, including the Pentagon one mentioned above. The article also mentions this conspiracy was spread in part by a guy on his "libertarian web site". I have got to find some other name to call myself. Ayn Rand, who many libertarians (including myself) admire, always hated being called a libertarian. I start to understand why. There is a difference between wanting smaller government and living in constant X-files type paranoia about what vile plots the government is hatching.