Posts tagged ‘New Yorker’

How Different Is Trump From Other Politicians?

This was an interesting profile of Trump featuring his ghostwriter on Art of the Deal.  Frequent readers will know that even years before he came on the Presidential stage, I was never taken in by the Trump-is-a-great-businessman meme  (most recently here).

In the New Yorker article, Trump's ghost says that Trump is not nearly as smart as he is made out to be, he is petty and childish and vain and self-absorbed.  He apparently makes promises he never keeps and has made a mess of a number of his businesses.  He has a short attention span and a shallow understanding of most issues.

Which all leads me to ask -- how does this make him any different from most other politicians, including the one he is running against for President?  Is he unique in these qualities or merely unique in his inability or unwillingness to hide them?  Does he have more skeletons in his closet, or does he just engender less personal loyalty so that more of his insiders speak out?

Don Boudreaux quoted a great bit from H.L Mencken the other day:

The state – or, to make the matter more concrete, the government – consists of a gang of men exactly like you and me.  They have, taking one with another, no special talent for the business of government; they have only a talent for getting and holding office.  Their principal device to that end is to search out groups who pant and pine for something they can’t get, and to promise to give it to them.  Nine times out of ten that promise is worth nothing.  The tenth time it is made good by looting A to satisfy B.  In other words, government is a broker in pillage, and every election is a sort of advance auction sale of stolen goods.

Do We Care About Income Inequality, or Absolute Well-Being?

I have a new column up at Forbes.com, and it addresses an issue that has bothered me for a while, specifically:

Do we really care about income inequality, or do we care about absolute well-being of our citizens?  Because as I will show today, these are not necessarily the same thing.

What has always frustrated me about income inequality arguments is that no one ever seems to compare the actual income numbers of the poor between countries.  Sure, the US is more unequal, and I suppose from this we are supposed to infer that the poor in the US are worse off than in “more equal” countries, but is this so?  Why do we almost never see a comparison across countries of absolute well-being?

I have never been able to find a good data source to do this analysis, though I must admit I probably did not look that hard.  But then Kevin Drum (in a post titled “America is the stingiest rich country in the world”) and John Cassidy in the New Yorker pointed me to something called the LIS database, which has cross-country income and demographic data.  I can't vouch for the data quality, but it has the income distribution data and it struck me as appropriate to respond to Drum and Cassidy with their own data.

In short, Cassidy made the point that the Gini coefficient (a statistical measure of income inequality) was higher in the US than for most other wealthy western countries.  Drum made the further point that the US is "stingy" because we do the least to coercively alter this pattern through forced redistribution.

But all we ever see are Gini's are ratios.  We never, ever see a direct comparison of income levels between countries.  So I did that with the data.  I won't reiterate the whole article here, but here is a sample of the analysis, in this case for Sweden which has one of the lowest Gini ratios of western nations and which Drum ranks as among the least "stingy".  This is the model to which the Left wants us to aspire:

click to enlarge

 

I argue that the purchasing power parity(ppp) numbers are the right way to look at this since we are comparing well-being, and on this basis Sweden may be more equal, but more than 90% of the people in the US are better off.  Sweden does not have a lower Gini because their poor are better off (in fact, if you consider the bottom quartile, the poor are better off in the US).

We are going to see months of obsession by the Left and Obama over income inequality -- but which country would you rather live in, even if you were poor?

Read the whole thing, there are lots of other interesting charts.

Life in the Corporate State

A European-style corporate state is typically ruled by a troika of large favored corporations, industrial and public employee unions, and long-time political insiders.  Most definitely excluded from power are consumers, entrepreneurs, small businesses, younger workers without seniority, and taxpayers.

I have argued that Obama is not a socialist, but is building a European-style corporate state.  Here is a great indicator, from my Princeton classmate Henry Payne:

For the first time in more than two years, SUV sales account for more than half of the U.S. auto market. ...

The trend comes even as Washington issued a new edict that vehicles average an absurd 62 mpg by 2025. The current absurd standard -- 35 mpg by 2015 -- has forced manufacturers to invest billions in new small-car development.

Today, manufacturers are in defiance of their own customers -- their marketing departments churning out small-car ads touting their new green products. This puts automakers in a tough spot: Continue to make cars for the government, or listen to their customers.

For now, manufacturers are sticking with the government, telling the Detroit News that "with a slew of new cars coming out, such as the Chevrolet Cruze, the Ford Fiesta and a new Ford Focus early next year, car sales are likely to outpace truck sales in the coming months."

If you want a deeper look at how legislation is made in the corporate state, read this fascinating (but very long) New Yorker report on the efforts to pass a climate bill this past year.  The author writes it in the spirit of lamenting lost opportunities, but I read it as a great inside view of the sausage factor.  Do we really want to give these guys more power?

In the same spirit, I commented thus on Kevin Drum's post discussing the growth of campaign spending this year, and lamenting that it is going to the nasty old Coke team instead of the Pepsi team:

There is a really simple solution to this -- reduce the coercive power of government to break individuals or corporations or to hand them windfalls, and all this spending goes away.

The spending has not gone up because the rules changed, because the Supreme Court rules did not substantially affect this kind of campaign spending (there is a ton of sloppiness in the media on this point).

The spending has gone up because Obama & the Democratic Congress has put more of the US economy in play in their attempts to form a European-style corporate state. When Obama and Pelosi engage in populist public speeches vilifying whole sectors of the economy, groups are going to try to defend themselves from the onslaught, either by throwing the current office holders out or buying the favor of those they can't unseat.

From the Archives: Eliot Spitzer and the Antarctic Liberation Front

I posted this in 2004, but it seems relevant today:

OK, but what is this Antarctica thing?  Back when I was an undergrad
at Princeton, one of my fondest memories was of a bizarre Student Body
Governing Council (USG) election.  The previous USG administration,
headed by none other than fellow Princetonian Eliot Spitzer, had so
irritated the student body that, for the first time in memory, the
usually apathetic voting population who generally couldn't care less
who their class president was actually produced an energetic opposition
party.  Even in his formative years, Spitzer was expert in using his
office to generate publicity, in this case frequent mentions in the
student newspaper that finally drove several students over the edge.

The result was the incredibly funny and entertaining Antarctic
Liberation Front.  I wish I had saved their brochures, but their
proposals included things like imposing a dawn to dusk curfew on the
school and funding school parties by annexing the mineral rights
between the double yellow lines of the US highways.  All of this was
under the banner of starting jihad to free Antarctica.  The ALF swept
the USG election.  This immensely annoyed Spitzer and other USG
stalwarts, who decried the trivialization of such an august body.  The
pained and pompous wailing from the traditional student council weenies
(sounding actually a lot like liberals after the last presidential
election) only amused the general student population even further.
After a few student-council-meetings-as-performance-art, the ALF
resigned en mass and life went back to being just a little bit more
boring.

If you think I am exaggerating in saying that the Spitzer-led
student council types had a whiny reaction to this bit of fun, you
should know that Spitzer was still whining about it 20 years later to the New Yorker magazine.  Virginia Postrel, also a Princetonian at the time, had a similar reaction to mine here, and fisks the New Yorker article.

Safety Requires Honest Discussions Which Torts Punish

I have written several times that one of the perverse effects of lawsuits aimed at unsafe products is that they generally punish any company that has an open, honest internal debate on safety.  However, as I wrote here, that honest internal debate is critical to selling safe products and services.

Today, Marginal Revolution links a New Yorker article that points out the same deadly paradox:

Merck would seem to have one big thing in its favor: the company voluntarily withdrew Vioxx from the market. But while Merck executives may have hoped to persuade people that they were acting responsibly, plaintiffs' attorneys have taken the withdrawal as an admission of guilt...internal company documents show that Merck employees were debating the safety of the drug for years before the recall.

From a scientific perspective, this is hardly damning. The internal debates about the drug's safety were just that"”debates, with different scientists arguing for and against the drug....While that kind of weighing of risk and benefit may be medically rational, in the legal arena it's poison. Nothing infuriates juries like finding out that companies knew about dangers and then "balanced" them away. In fact, any kind of risk-benefit analysis, honest or not, is likely to get you in trouble with juries....Viscusi has shown that people are inclined to award heftier punitive damages against a company that had performed a risk analysis before selling a product than a company that didn't bother to. Even if the company puts a very high value on each life, the fact that it has weighed costs against benefits is, in itself, reprehensible. "We're just numbers, I feel, to them" is how a juror in the G.M. case put it. "Statistics. That's something that is wrong."...

Before a jury, then, a firm is better off being ignorant than informed.

Eliot Spitzer and the Antarctic Liberation Front

The "news" today is that Eliot Spitzer has announced he is running for governor of New York.  This is about as surprising as the "revelation" that Barry Bonds took steroids.  Duh.  The "AG" job is not nicknamed "Aspiring Governor" for nothing.  Also, Spitzer represents the worst of a new trend of AG's using their prosecutor role to engage in lawsuits more for their media and publicity value rather than an sense of public service.  Why else would Spitzer involve himself and the AG office in a compensation dispute between two private parties, except for the fact that the two private parties are very high profile in NY.

OK, but what is this Antarctica thing?  Back when I was an undergrad at Princeton, one of my fondest memories was of a bizarre Student Body Governing Council (USG) election.  The previous USG administration, headed by none other than fellow Princetonian Eliot Spitzer, had so irritated the student body that, for the first time in memory, the usually apathetic voting population who generally couldn't care less who their class president was actually produced an energetic opposition party.  Even in his formative years, Spitzer was expert in using his office to generate publicity, in this case frequent mentions in the student newspaper that finally drove several students over the edge.

The result was the incredibly funny and entertaining Antarctic Liberation Front.  I wish I had saved their brochures, but their proposals included things like imposing a dawn to dusk curfew on the school and funding school parties by annexing the mineral rights between the double yellow lines of the US highways.  All of this was under the banner of starting jihad to free Antarctica.  The ALF swept the USG election.  This immensely annoyed Spitzer and other USG stalwarts, who decried the trivialization of such an august body.  The pained and pompous wailing from the traditional student council weenies (sounding actually a lot like liberals after the last presidential election) only amused the general student population even further.  After a few student-council-meetings-as-performance-art, the ALF resigned en mass and life went back to being just a little bit more boring.

If you think I am exaggerating in saying that the Spitzer-led student council types had a whiny reaction to this bit of fun, you should know that Spitzer was still whining about it 20 years later to the New Yorker magazine.  Virginia Postrel, also a Princetonian at the time, had a similar reaction to mine here, and fisks the New Yorker article.

Coyote v. ACME

Two of my blogging interests in one - ACME and litigation. This is a reprint of an article by Ian Frazier years ago in the New Yorker, but it is still funny. The complaint in the case of Wile E. Coyote v. ACME. ACME's response is here.