Posts tagged ‘Jordan’

Can We Please End the Drug War Now

Recently small town Grantville, Georgia police chief Doug Jordan flew out to meet with our very own Sheriff Joe.

Following their meeting, Jordan expressed his hopes to establish Grantville’s own drug team. He also planned to have some of his officers travel to Arizona for training.

Seriously?  A dedicated drug team?  Grantville has a population of 3,096 in 2011.  Here it is in all its metropolitan glory:



Next, they will be wanting a tank.

Government Mal-Investment

A reader sends me this editorial from Jerry Jordan at IBD.  It discusses a topic that is one of my favorites - government mal-investment.  By a thousand different mechanisms, from direct investment (Solyndra) to artificial interest rates to monkeying with price signals to economic rule-making (e.g. community banking, ethanol mandates) the government is shifting capital and resources from the allocations a well-funcitoning market would make to optimize returns and productivity to allocations based on political calculation.  We rightly worry about deficits and taxes, but in the long run this redistribution of investment from the productive to the sexy or politically expedient may have the largest long-term negative implications -- just look at what the management of the Japanese economy by MITI (touted at the time as fabulous by statists everywhere) did to that country, with the lost decade becoming the the lost two decades.

It is hard to excerpt but here is how it begins

It usually surfaces with an entrepreneurial adolescent deciding it would be a good idea to sell lemonade at the curbside to passersby

Parents, wanting to encourage the idea that working and making money is a good idea, drive around to buy the lemon, sugar, designer bottled water, cups, spoons, napkins, a sign or two, and probably a paper table cloth.

Aside from time and gas, the outing adds up to something north of $10. At the opening of business the next day, the kids find business is slow to nonexistent at $1 per cup. So, they start to learn about market demand and find that business becomes so brisk at only 10 cents per cup that they are sold out by noon, having served 70 cups of lemonade and hauled in $7.

The excited lunch-time conversation is about expanding the business. A stand across the street to catch traffic going the opposite direction; maybe one around the corner for the cross-street traffic. The kids see growing revenue; the "investors" see mounting losses.

There is a strand of economics, we'll call it the K-brand, that sees all this as worthwhile. They add together the $10 spent by the parents to back the venture and the $7 spent by the customers and conclude that an additional $17 of spending is clearly a good thing. Surely, the neighborhood economy has been stimulated.

To the family it is a loss, chalked up as a form of consumption. If this were a business enterprise it would be a write-off. In classical economics it is a "mal-investment."


Trial By Ordeal

Peter Leeson has an article on Medieval trial by ordeal that is getting a lot of attention.

Modern observers have roundly condemned ordeals for being cruel and arbitrary. Ordeals seem to reflect everything that was wrong with the Dark Ages. They're an icon of medieval barbarism and backwardness.

But a closer look suggests something very different: The ordeal system worked surprisingly well. It accurately determined who was guilty and who was innocent, sorting genuine criminals from those who had been wrongly accused. Stranger still, the ordeal system suggests that pervasive superstition can be good for society. Medieval legal systems leveraged citizens' superstitious beliefs through ordeals, making it possible to secure criminal justice where it would have otherwise been impossible to do so. Some superstitions, at least, may evolve and persist for a good reason: They help us accomplish goals we couldn't otherwise accomplish, or accomplish them more cheaply.

I guess I agree with the proposition that pervasive shared superstitions allow the populace to be more easily governed, or more rightly, make it easier for rulers to exercise power over the masses through leverage of shared superstition.  Whether it improves our well-being is an entirely different matter, but for a certain type of intellectual (I have no idea if Leeson is among them) more government power = well-being.  The author cites oath-swearing as a modern superstition that allows us to be governed more easily, but I am not sure that is correct as I think the power of oaths today are driven by peer-pressure and mass response to publicly broken oaths as well as perjury laws.  A better example of modern superstitions that allow easier exercise of power include things like global warming catastrophism.

I am not a medievelist, except as a hobby, but I would offer a couple of rebuttals to specific points he makes:

  • I think he overstates the cost savings of ordeals.  There were prominent folks in the Catholic Church that had doubts about ordeals long before they were banned, and ordeals were typically used as a last result when fact-finding and other methods didn't work.  We have to be careful comparing costs.  One lord gathering evidence for a few days might be, as a percentage of the government's resources, as costly then as a 1-year OJ trial is today.
  • Trials were not broken because they were too costly, they were broken because the law was bad.  There was no such thing as a state prosecutor, so all criminal actions were basically private actions, and they tended to have a rough version of loser pays.  For example, if one accused his neighbor of a capital offense, and the neighbor was acquitted, then the accuser suffered the punishment - ie death.   As a result, the state was left without an effective tool to prosecute crime, and in fact most justice was private justice (ie vengeance of family and friends) and never saw a court, ordeal or other sort.
  • I had a great Medievalist professor at Princeton that I am totally blanking on his name right now [update:  William Jordan, now apparently department head at Princeton].  He used to argue, I think compellingly, that all ordeals had an element of discretion.  Sure, you had to grab the rock in the boiling water, but the real test was that your wounds would be bound and then several days later inspected by the clergy to see if it was festering or not.   This is obviously a judgment call, and thus 1. gave the priests the power to be the effective jury for these actions and 2.  gave the priests a substantial amount of power  (as well as money, since they made good coin charging for ordeals).  [update:  A better summary of Leeson's work says that Leeson is arguing the same thing.  See here]

Update: Intriguingly, from a review of Jordan's book  "the Great Famine," a story I also discuss in my climate videos

The early 1300s must have seemed like the end of the world to the unfortunate inhabitants of Europe: brutally severe winters gave way to lightning storms and torrential, crop-destroying rains in spring, followed by cold summers and then bitter winters again. "The whole world was troubled," wrote one Austrian chronicler; yet that was only the beginning. Princeton University historian William Chester Jordan reconstructs the terrible decades when climatological change led to famine, disease, rampant inflation, and social breakdown across the European continent, a time when every prayer for relief was met by even crueler turns of fate.

Damn those 14th century oil companies!

Absolutely Predictable

Apparently, even before the first train starts carrying passengers (sometime in December), Phoenix's new light rail system is already forcing bus fares up.  (via a reader)

Before the Valley's light-rail service ever begins, the cost to ride the train and city buses may be headed up.

The issue of raising the Valley's regional fare policy has been brewing for several months as transit officials have struggled to cover
rising gas prices and other increased operation costs, said Greg Jordan, Tempe's transit administrator. Transit and light-rail costs are covered by a half-cent sales tax, which has fallen over the past year.

The real issue is that transit agencies are generally given a fixed pot of money for operating subsidies (in this case the proceeds of a half-cent sales tax) and rail tends to take a hugely disproportionate share of that money, starving out less sexy but more practical and cost-effective bus systems.  Even in the that wet dream of rail planners, Portland:

In fact, 9.8 percent of Portland-area commuters took transit to work before the region build light rail. Today it is just 7.6 percent. In a story repeated in numerous cities that have built rail lines, rail cost overruns forced the city to raise bus fares and reduce bus service. That's a success?

This is even more likely in Phoenix, where buses make far more financial sense than rail, given our very low densities, lack of a real downtown area, and numerous commuting routes.  In fact, not only is it predictable, but I predicted it:

Rail makes zero sense in a city like Phoenix.  All this will do is create a financial black hole into which we shift all of our bus money, so the city will inevitably end up with a worse transportation system, not a better one.  Cities that build light rail almost always experience a reduction in total transit use (even the great God of planners Portland) for just this reason - budgets are limited, so since rail costs so much more per passenger, other transit is cut back.   But the pictures of the train will look pretty in the visitor's guide.

My New Favorites

I went to see Santana with my son last Saturday night, and I can tell you that 67-year-old Carlos Santana is still the man on the guitar.  2-3/4 hours of straight guitar and percussion goodness.

But my new guitar fav's are probably Rodrigo y Gabriela, Mexican guitarists who went from street musicians to stars in Ireland.  Here is Diablo Rojo

And while we are on guitarists, I can't help but give a shout out to fellow Princetonian Stanley Jordan, still the most amazing thing, technically, I have ever seen on guitar.  If it looks like he is playing piano rather than the guitar, that's because his original training was on the piano.  When playing piano, all one is doing is causing strings to get hit.  He wondered why he couldn't just do it directly.  Skip to about a minute in if you are impatient:

Or watch him playing two guitars at the same time in Stairway to Heaven around the 4:00 mark (Jimmy Page had his two-neck guitar but never played them at the same time!)

I Don't Understand "Off the Record"

I haven't blogged at all about the whole Eason Jordan thing, partially because blogging on it would be like adding one extra reporter to the Superbowl, and partially because his comments, while way out of line for head of a journalism organization, didn't seem to be much worse than all the other things he has said over time.

Anyway, I mention it here because whether his comments were "off the record" seems to be an important part of the controversy.  I can't think of any ethical justification for this distinction.  I can understand when comments are "private" (say with my family around my house) or "confidential" (say with my managers about what we are paying someone) or even "anonymous" (such as when a source might be blowing the whistle on their boss).  What, though, does it mean if public comments in a public forum are "off the record"?

The only practical, rather than ethical, justification I can come up with is that someone wants their remarks to be "off the record" when they are telling one audience something different than another audience.  Such as when a politician speaks radically to his/her hard left or right base, but doesn't want moderate voters to hear the extreme positions they are advocating.  Or such as when a US news director makes anti-American comments to an anti-American audience and doesn't want his US viewers to hear.  There is nothing very pretty about either of these situations - why does the media continue to enable this behavior?

The only other argument I can come up with is that the media tends to be so incompetent that they can seldom summarize a speaker's remarks correctly or quote them in context, and speakers know this, so they use "off the record" to protect themselves from the media's incompetence.  But if this is the true justification for "off the record", it is ironic and funny to see the head of CNN news using it.  He is basically saying that "I know in advance that my own organization will get my remarks wrong so I won't allow them to quote me".

UPDATE and PREDICTION:  I resisted the call by a number of web sites at the beginning of the year to make predictions for 2005.  However, now I will make one:  We will soon see calls, from media insiders, to bring a tighter licensing or credentialing system for journalists, similar to what we see for lawyers, doctors, teachers, and, god help us, for beauticians.  The proposals will be nominally justified by improving ethics or similar laudable things, but, like most credentialing systems, will be aimed not at those on the inside but those on the outside.  At one time or another, teachers, massage therapists, and hairdressers have all used licensing or credentialing as a way to fight competition from upstart competitors, often ones with new business models who don't have the same trade-specific educational degrees the insiders have.  As Milton Friedman said:

The justification offered [for licensing] is always the same: to protect the consumer. However, the reason is demonstrated by observing who lobbies at the state legislature for the imposition or strengthening of licensure. The lobbyists are invariably representatives of the occupation in question rather than of the customers. True enough, plumbers presumably know better than anyone else what their customers need to be protected against. However, it is hard to regard altruistic concern for their customers as the primary motive behind their determined efforts to get legal power to decide who may be a plumber.

Such credentialing can provide a powerful comeback for industry insiders under attack.  Teachers, for example, use it every chance they get to attack home schooling and private schools, despite the fact that uncertified teachers in both these latter environments do better than the average certified teacher (for example, kids home schooled by moms who dropped out of high school performed at the 83rd percentile).  So, next time the MSM is under attack from the blogosphere, rather than address the issues, they can say that that guy in Tennessee is just a college professor and isn't even a licensed journalist.

Fortunately, this effort will fail, in part because it is fighting the tide of history and in part because constitutional speech protections would probably invalidate any strong form of licensing (I wish there were similarly strong commerce protections in the Constitution).  Be careful, though, not to argue that this proposal will fail because the idea is stupid, because it can't be any more stupid than this form of licensing (or this one;  or this one).  Here are the various trade-specific licenses you need here in Scottsdale - I would hate to see the list for some place like Santa Monica.  My favorite is the one that says "An additional license is required for those firms which are going out of business."