Posts tagged ‘Virginia Postrel’

It May Be Hard to Go Back To Full-Time Work

Back in April of 2013 I wrote about how Obamacare was increasing incentives for offering part-time rather than full-time work.   I warned at the time that once employers got used to scheduling based on part-time shifts, they might never want to go back because it could actually be cheaper and easier than using full-time workers

The service industry generally does not operate 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, so its labor needs do not match traditional full-time shifts.  Those of us who run service companies already have to piece together multiple employees and shifts to cover our operating hours.  In this environment, there is no reason one can’t stitch together employees making 29 hours a week (that don’t have to be given expensive health care policies) nearly as easily as one can stitch together 40 hours a week employees.   In fact, it can be easier — a store that needs to cover 10AM to 9PM can cover with two 5.5 hour a day employees.   If they work 5 days a week, that is 27.5 hours a week, safely part-time.  Three people working such hours with staggered days off can cover the store’s hours for 7 days.

Based on the numbers above, a store might actually prefer to only have sub-30 hour shifts, but may have, until recently, provided full-time 40 hours work because good employees expect it and other employers were offering it.  In other words, they had to offer full-time work because competition in the labor market demanded it.  But if everyone in the service business stops offering full-time work, the competitive pressure to offer anything but part-time jobs will be gone.  The service business may never go back.

The future American service worker will likely be faced with stitching together multiple part-time shifts.  Companies may partner to coordinate shifts so that workers split time between the companies, and third-party clearing houses may emerge in a new value-added role of helping employers and employees stitch together part-time shifts.

Today Virginia Postrel sees this effect in action

The worst thing about being on jury duty isn’t actually serving on a jury. It’s having to check in every day -- possibly several times a day, depending on your local system -- to see whether you’ll be needed. You can’t plan either your work or your personal life. Your schedule is unpredictable and completely out of your control.

For many part-time workers in the post-crash economy, life has become like endless jury duty. Scheduling software now lets employers constantly optimize who’s working, better balancing labor costs and likely demand. The process demands enormous flexibilityfrom part-time workers, sometimes requiring them to be on call all the time without knowing when they’ll work or how much they’ll earn. That puts the kibosh on the age-old strategy of working two or more part-time jobs to make ends meet. As my colleague Megan McArdle writes, “No matter how hard you are willing to work, stringing together anything approaching a minimum income becomes impossible.”

Land Use Regulation and Income Inequality

I don't have time to comment or peruse the study in depth, but this looks interesting.  From Randal O'Toole:

Harvard economists have proven one of the major theses of American Nightmare, which is that land-use regulation is a major cause of growing income inequality in the United States. By restricting labor mobility, the economists say, such regulation has played a “central role” in income disparities.

When measured on a state-by-state basis, American income inequality declined at a steady rate of 1.8 percent per year from 1880 to 1980. The slowing and reversal of this long-term trend after 1980 is startling. Not by coincidence, the states with the strongest land-use regulations–those on the Pacific Coast and in New England–began such regulation in the 1970s and 1980s.

Forty to 75 percent of the decline in inequality before 1880, the Harvard economists say, was due to migration of workers from low-income states to high-income states. The freedom to easily move faded after 1980 as many of the highest-income states used land-use regulation to make housing unaffordable to low-income workers. Average incomes in those states grew, leading them to congratulate themselves for attracting high-paid workers when what they were really doing is driving out low- and (in California, at least) middle-income workers.

As Virginia Postrel puts it, “the best-educated, most-affluent, most politically influential Americans like th[e] result” of economic segregation, because it “keeps out fat people with bad taste.” Postrel refers to these well-educated people as “elites,” but I simply call them “middle class.”

I have not read the study, but I think the word "proven" in the first sentence likely goes to far.  Economic systems are way too complex to absolutely show one variable among millions causes another.  I am convinced that the way we have regulated the housing market and promoted home ownership has reduced labor mobility.

The Myth of Past Cultural Integration

Virginia Postrel had the same reaction to Charles Murray's recent book that I had -- it's a myth to think that there was some sort of greater cultural integration in the 1950's than there is today.  Because, you know, Wally and the Beav had so many black kids at their school.

But I Was Not One of Them

I liked this bit from Megan McArdle on Elena Kagan because it fit so well with a category of people I saw all the time at Princeton (Kagan and I overlapped somewhat though I did not know her).

But I do think that David Brooks is onto something when he notes that her relentless careerism, her pitch-perfect blandness, are a little creepy. Not in themselves, but because they're a symptom of a culture that increasingly values what Brooks calls Organization Kids: the driven, hyperachieving spawn of the Ivy League meritocracy who began practicing Supreme Court nomination acceptances and CEO profile photo poses long before they took notice of the opposite sex.

The discussion of late is whether these Ivy Leaguers really are representative of the broader country, but I would add that these folks really were not liked even within Princeton.  A great example is Eliot Spitzer.  His treatment of Princeton and its student government as a sort of minor league tryout for future political ambitions drove everyone nuts, to the point that he even triggered an outlandish opposition party, the Antarctic Liberation Front.

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.

(Don't miss Virginia Postrel's take on the whole episode, occasioned by Spitzer whining about the episode 20 years later in the New Yorker.)

One other data point:  Two years later, after drinking a few adult beverages, it came into my head that it would be a really good idea to moon the USG meeting being held nearby.  I asked for volunteers, expecting a handful, and got over 40.  The episode saddens me only because I did not think of it soon enough to have mooned Spitzer.

Update: Hilarious

Fixing What Already Exists Before Adding More

Virginia Postrel has what seems to be a perfectly reasonable suggestion:

Think about this for a moment. Medicare is a huge, single-payer, government-run program. It ought to provide the perfect environment for experimentation. If more-efficient government management can slash health-care costs by addressing all these problems, why not start with Medicare? Let's see what "better management" looks like applied to Medicare before we roll it out to the rest of the country.

This is not a completely cynical suggestion. Medicare is, for instance, a logical place to start to design better electronic records systems and the incentives to use them. But you do have to wonder why a report that claims that Medicare is wasting 30 percent of its spending thinks it's making a case for making the rest of the health care system more like Medicare.

Of course, I think both Obama and Congress know that either 1) such savings are impossible and/or 2) such savings would require steps painful enough to have millions of users squealing.

Cost of "the Right to Build"

Virginia Postrel has a really interesting article in the Atlantic.com.  Often, home construction costs are disaggregated into the cost of land and the cost of the home.  She adds a third piece -- "the right to build" related to regulation and land use restrictions.  She cites a study that most of the cost of new homes in expensive markets like California are not building costs or even land acquisition costs, but the enormous costs involved in getting the government to let you build the house you want on your own land.

In a 2003 article, Glaeser and Gyourko calculated the two different
land values for 26 cities (using data from 1999). They found wide
disparities. In Los Angeles, an extra quarter acre cost about
$28,000"”the pure price of land. But the cost of empty land isn't the
whole story, or even most of it. A quarter- acre lot minus the cost of
the house came out to about $331,000"”nearly 12 times as much as the
extra quarter acre. The difference between the first and second prices,
around $303,000, was what L.A. home buyers paid for local land-use
controls in bureaucratic delays, density restrictions, fees, political
contributions. That's the cost of the right to build.

And that right costs much less in Dallas. There, adding an extra
quarter acre ran about $2,300"”raw land really is much cheaper"”and a
quarter acre minus the cost of construction was about $59,000. The
right to build was nearly a quarter million dollars less than in L.A.
Hence the huge difference in housing prices. Land is indeed more
expensive in superstar cities. But getting permission to build is way,
way more expensive. These cities, says Gyourko, "just control the heck
out of land use."

These differences cascade into a number of areas:

Dallas and Los Angeles represent two distinct models for successful
American cities, which both reflect and reinforce different cultural
and political attitudes. One model fosters a family-oriented,
middle-class lifestyle"”the proverbial home-centered "balanced life."
The other rewards highly productive, work-driven people with a yen for
stimulating public activities, for arts venues, world-class
universities, luxury shopping, restaurants that aren't kid-friendly.
One makes room for a wide range of incomes, offering most working
people a comfortable life. The other, over time, becomes an enclave for
the rich. Since day-to-day experience shapes people's sense of what is
typical and normal, these differences in turn lead to contrasting
perceptions of economic and social reality. It's easy to believe the
middle class is vanishing when you live in Los Angeles, much harder in
Dallas. These differences also reinforce different norms and
values"”different ideas of what it means to live a good life. Real
estate may be as important as religion in explaining the infamous gap
between red and blue states.

The Dallas model, prominent in the South and Southwest, sees a
growing population as a sign of urban health. Cities liberally permit
housing construction to accommodate new residents. The Los Angeles
model, common on the West Coast and in the Northeast Corridor,
discourages growth by limiting new housing. Instead of inviting
newcomers, this approach rewards longtime residents with big capital
gains and the political clout to block projects they don't like.

Hey Southerners, Join Arizona on the "Dark" Side

Congress is probably going to extend Daylight Savings Time, despite complaints from airlines that their rescheduling and reprogramming costs will be exorbitant. Virginia Postrel points out that while a boon for the Northeast, southerners are not amused:

The source of this bright idea is, not surprisingly, the ever-meddlesome Ed Markey, who calls the bill
"a huge victory for sunshine lovers." As a certified sunshine lover, I'd say it
looks more like Massachusetts's revenge on Texas (and the rest of the Sunbelt)
for George Bush's victory over John Kerry. There are some places--and Dallas is
definitely one of them--that need just the opposite: shorter sunny evening
hours. Once the sun goes down and the temperature falls to the high 80s, you can
actually enjoy sitting outside.

The ostensible goal of the bill is energy saving, but the evidence
is weak
.... 

Oddly missed even in fairly
thorough
 accounts is
any consideration of the extension's most obvious cost: More demand for
energy-eating air conditioning in the fast-growing, very hot Sunbelt. A lot more
people live down here than did back during the Nixon administration.

Southerners, come join Arizona on the "dark" side of this issue.  Arizona decided long ago that it had plenty of daylight, did not need to save it, and therefore was not going to play with the other kids.  We sometimes catch some grief for being out of step, but you don't see any of us scrambling around the house twice a year looking for our VCR manual to figure out how to change the clock.

 

More on School Choice

A while back, I made a plea to the left to "come to the dark side" and consider school choice.  In this post, I didn't argue about quality or efficiency improvements, but about diversity:

At the end of the day, one-size-fits-all public schools are never
going to be able to satisfy everyone on this type thing, as it is
impossible to educate kids in a values-neutral way.  Statist parents
object to too much positive material on the founding fathers and the
Constitution.  Secular parents object to mentions of God and
overly-positive descriptions of religion in history.  Religious parents
object to secularized science and sex education.  Free market parents
object to enforced environmental activism and statist economics.   Some
parents want no grades and an emphasis on feeling good and self-esteem,
while others want tough grading and tough feedback when kids aren't
learning what they are supposed to.

I have always thought that these "softer" issues, rather than just
test scores and class sizes, were the real "killer-app" that might one
day drive acceptance of school choice in this country.  Certainly
increases in home-schooling rates have been driven as much by these
softer values-related issues (mainly to date from the Right) than by
just the three R's.

So here is my invitation to the Left: come over to the dark side.
Reconsider your historic opposition to school choice.  I'm not talking
about rolling back government spending or government commitment to
funding education for all.  I am talking about allowing parents to use
that money that government spends on their behalf at the school of
their choice.  Parents want their kids to learn creationism - fine,
they can find a school for that.  Parents want a strict, secular focus
on basic skills - fine, another school for that.  Parents want their
kids to spend time learning the three R's while also learning to love
nature and protect the environment - fine, do it...

Today, Jeff Jacoby, via Cafe Hayek, is making much the same argument:

From issues of sexuality and religion to the broad themes of US history and
politics, public opinion is fractured. Secular parents square off against
believers, supporters of homosexual marriage against traditionalists, those
stressing ''safe sex" against those who emphasize abstinence. Each wants its
views reflected in the classroom. No longer is there a common understanding of
the mission of public education. To the extent that one camp's vision prevails,
parents in the opposing camp are embittered. And there is no prospect that this
will change -- not as long as the government remains in charge of educating
American children....

Imagine how diverse and lively American education would be if it were
liberated from government control. There would be schools of every description
-- just as there are restaurants, websites, and clothing styles of every
description. Parents who wanted their children to be taught Darwinian evolution
unsullied by leaps of faith about an Intelligent Designer would be able to
choose schools in which religious notions would play no role. Those who wanted
their children to see God's hand in the miraculous tapestry of life all around
them would send them to schools in which faith played a prominent role.

Sounds good?  Well, unfortunately, as Cafe Hayek points out, Stacy Schiff in the NY Times recently went off on an anti-choice screed.  Not just anti-school-choice, but anti-all-choice, and readers were writing in in droves to agree!  Jeez, do people really want less choice? And just because you are too lazy to handle responsible decision-making, do you really want to limit my choice as well?  And by the way, who is going to be the official cull-er of choice, and what guarantees do you have that those officials will make the same decisions as you in culling choice?  Virginia Postrel has more thoughts on choice.

The bottom line of choice is that many of those in power do not trust you to make your own choices.  I wrote on distrust of individual decision-making here.  In my article on school choice, I ended with this caution:

Of course, there is one caveat that trips up both the Left and the
Right:  To accept school choice, you have to be willing to accept that
some parents will choose to educate their kids in a way you do not
agree with, with science you do not necessarily accept, and with values
that you do not hold.  If your response is, fine, as long as my kids
can get the kind of education I want them to, then consider school
choice.  However, if your response is that this is not just about your
kids, this is about other people choosing to teach their
kids in ways you don't agree with, then you are in truth seeking a
collectivist (or fascist I guess, depending on your side of the aisle)
indoctrination system.  Often I find that phrases like "shared public
school experience" in the choice debate really are code words for
retaining such indoctrination.

Update: I feel compelled to include this quote from Radley Balko:

Critics of capitalism once predicted that free markets would wreak mass
starvation, depletion of resources, pollution, and death.

They're now reduced to bitching about too many flavors of mustard.

We've won the debate.

Best of Coyote IV

Well, it worked for Johnny Carson, why not for me?  Instead of
leaving you with dead air (photons?) while I am knocking the rust off
my beer pong skills back at Princeton, I will share with you a few of
my favorite posts from my early days of blogging.  Since most of these
posts were viewed by about 5 people, there is a certain temptation to
just recycle them without attribution, given the unlikelihood of
getting caught.  Instead, though, I will share them as my best of
Coyote...


This
post was also from early December, and was my first step in writing about the roots of modern statism.  The post is called "progressives are too conservative to like capitalism".

Many in the left to far-left eschew the liberal title nowadays
(since they consider liberals now to be wimps and too moderate, like
that Clinton guy) in favor of the term "progressive".  This term has
gone in and out of favor for over a century, from the populists of the
early 1900's to the socialists of the more modern era.

Most "progressives" (meaning those on the left to far left who
prefer that term) would freak if they were called conservative, but
what I mean by conservative in this context is not
donate-to-Jesse-Helms capital-C Conservative but fearful of change and
uncomfortable with uncertainty conservative. 

OK, most of you are looking at this askance - aren't progressives
always trying to overthrow the government or something?  Aren't they
out starting riots at G7 talks?  The answer is yes, sure, but what
motivates many of them, at least where it comes to capitalism, is a
deep-seated conservatism. 

Before I continue to support this argument, I must say that on a
number of issues, particularly related to civil liberties and social
issues, I call progressives my allies.  On social issues, progressives,
like I do, generally support an individual's right to make decisions
for themselves, as long as those decisions don't harm others. 

However, when we move to fields such as commerce, progressives stop
trusting individual decision-making.  Progressives who support the
right to a person making unfettered choices in sexual partners don't
trust people to make their own choice on seat belt use.  Progressives
who support the right of fifteen year old girls to make decisions about
abortion without parental notification do not trust these same girls
later in life to make their own investment choices with their Social
Security funds.  And, Progressives who support the right of third
worlders to strap on a backpack of TNT and explode themselves in the
public market don't trust these same third worlders to make the right
decision in choosing to work in the local Nike shoe plant.

Beyond just the concept of individual decision-making, progressives
are hugely uncomfortable with capitalism.  Ironically, though
progressives want to posture as being "dynamic", the fact is that
capitalism is in fact too dynamic for them.  Industries rise and fall,
jobs are won and lost, recessions give way to booms.  Progressives want
comfort and certainty.  They want to lock things down the way they are.
They want to know that such and such job will be there tomorrow and
next decade, and will always pay at least X amount.  That is why, in
the end, progressives are all statists, because, to paraphrase Hayek,
only a government with totalitarian powers can bring the order and
certainty and control of individual decision-making that they crave.

Progressive elements in this country have always tried to freeze
commerce, to lock this country's economy down in its then-current
patterns.  Progressives in the late 19th century were terrified the
American economy was shifting from agriculture to industry.  They
wanted to stop this, to cement in place patterns where 80-90% of
Americans worked on farms.  I, for one, am glad they failed, since for
all of the soft glow we have in this country around our description of
the family farmer, farming was and can still be a brutal, dawn to dusk
endeavor that never really rewards the work people put into it. 

This story of progressives trying to stop history has continued to
repeat itself through the generations.  In the seventies and eighties,
progressives tried to maintain the traditional dominance of heavy
industry like steel and automotive, and to prevent the shift of these
industries overseas in favor of more service-oriented industries.  Just
like the passing of agriculture to industry a century ago inflamed
progressives, so too does the current passing of heavy industry to
services.

In fact, here is a sure fire test for a progressive.  If given a choice between two worlds:

  1. A capitalist society where the overall levels of wealth and
    technology continue to increase, though in a pattern that is dynamic,
    chaotic, generally unpredictable, and whose rewards are unevenly
    distributed, or...
  2. A "progressive" society where everyone is poorer, but income is
    generally more evenly distributed.  In this society, jobs and pay and
    industries change only very slowly, and people have good assurances
    that they will continue to have what they have today, with little
    downside but also with very little upside.

Progressives will choose #2.  Even if it means everyone is poorer.
Even if it cuts off any future improvements we might gain in technology
or wealth or lifespan or whatever.  They want to take what we have
today, divide it up more equally, and then live to eternity with just
that.   Progressives want #2 today, and they wanted it just as much in
1900 (just think about if they had been successful -- as just one
example, if you are over 44, you would have a 50/50 chance of being
dead now). 

Don't believe that this is what they would answer?  Well, first,
this question has been asked and answered a number of times in surveys,
and it always comes out this way.  Second, just look at any policy
issue today.  Take prescription drugs in the US - isn't it pretty clear
that the progressive position is that they would be willing to pretty
much gut incentives for any future drug innovations in trade for having
a system in place that guaranteed everyone minimum access to what
exists today?  Or take the welfare state in Continental Europe -- isn't
it clear that a generation of workers/voters chose certainty over
growth and improvement?  That workers 30 years ago voted themselves
jobs for life, but at the cost of tremendous unemployment amongst the
succeeding generations?

More recently, progressives have turned their economic attention to
lesser developed nations.  Progressives go nuts on the topic of
Globalization.  Without tight security, G7 and IMF conferences have and
would devolve into riots and destruction at the hands of progressives,
as happened famously in Seattle.  Analyzing the Globalization movement
is a bit hard, as rational discourse is not always a huge part of the
"scene", and what is said is not always logical or internally
consistent.  The one thing I can make of this is that progressives
intensely dislike the change that is occurring rapidly in
third world economies, particularly since these changes are often
driven by commerce and capitalists.

Progressives do not like American factories appearing in third world
countries, paying locals wages progressives feel are too low, and
disrupting agrarian economies with which progressives were more
comfortable.  But these changes are all the sum of actions by
individuals, so it is illustrative to think about what is going on in
these countries at the individual level. 

One morning, a rice farmer in southeast Asia might faces a choice.
He can continue a life of brutal, back-breaking labor from dawn to dusk
for what is essentially subsistence earnings.  He can continue to see a
large number of his children die young from malnutrition and disease.
He can continue a lifestyle so static, so devoid of opportunity for
advancement, that it is nearly identical to the life led by his
ancestors in the same spot a thousand years ago.

Or, he can go to the local Nike factory, work long hours (but
certainly no longer than he worked in the field) for low pay (but
certainly more than he was making subsistence farming) and take a shot
at changing his life.  And you know what, many men (and women) in his
position choose the Nike factory.  And progressives hate this.  They
distrust this choice.  They distrust the change.  And, at its heart,
that is what globalization is all about - a deep seated conservatism
that distrusts the decision-making of individuals and fears change,
change that ironically might finally pull people out of untold
generations of utter poverty.

In fact, over the last 20 or so years, progressives have become
surprisingly mute on repression and totalitarianism the world over.  In
the 1970's, progressives criticized the US (rightly, I think) for not
doing more to challenge the totalitarian impulses of its allies (the
Shah of Iran comes to mind in particular) and not doing enough to end
totalitarianism and repression in other nations (e.g. South Africa,
Guatemala, El Salvador, etc etc) 

Today, progressives have become oddly conservative about challenging
totalitarian nations.  By embracing the "peace at any cost" mantra,
they have essentially said that they can live with anything, reconcile
anything, as long as things remain nominally peaceful (ie, no battles
show up on the network news).  Beyond just a strong anti-Americanism,
the peace movement today reflects a strong conservatism -- they want to
just leave everyone alone, no matter how horrible or repressive, and
hope that they will in turn leave us alone.  They fear any change that
would stir things up.

There are any number of other examples of the strong conservative
streak in the progressive movement.  Here are a few more that come to
mind:

  • Despite at least 40 years of failure in the public schools,
    progressives vociferously oppose any radical changes to the public
    education system.  In particular, they resist any program involving
    school choice, as they are totally condescending in their utter lack of
    faith in the average parent's ability to make the right choice for
    their family.
  • Progressives refuse to even consider the possibility that
    individuals should be trusted to make their own decisions regarding
    some portion of their Social Security retirement funds.  They can couch
    their opposition in a lot of fear talk about benefit cuts, but at the
    end of the day (and take this from someone who has had this argument
    with numerous liberals and progressives)  the argument always boils
    down to "we don't trust people to make investment decisions that are as
    good as the ones we would make for them".

Well, I have again written too long, and I'm tired.  If you are not
ready to rush to defend the barricades of capitalism, you might read my
post from last week called "60 Second Refutation of Socialism, while Sitting at the Beach".  Most of what I have written here has been said far more eloquently by others.  Of recent writers, Virginia Postrel, in the Future and its Enemies,
has written a whole book on not just capitalism but dynamism and
progress in general, and why people of all political persuasions tend
to be scared by it.  Brink Lindsey addressed many of these same issues
as well in his book Against the Dead Hand.  Of course, the Godfather of individual choice and societal dynamism is Friedrich Hayek.

As a final note, my ultimate statement on this topic is here, called Respecting Individual Decision-Making.

Selective Libertarianism

When it comes to defending abortion, women's groups are great libertarians. They will point out that abortion is about the right to choose and about protecting the "fundamental civil and human right of women to make the most intimate decisions about their bodies and their lives".  Its about not letting the government interfere with individual decision-making or a "woman's right to privacy".  Its about assuming women are grown-up enough to make difficult choices about their fetus and their own health and safety.  Opponents of such choice are "ultra-conservatives trying to deny women control over their own bodies".  (all quotes from the NOW web site).

So, women's groups seem to be good libertarians concerned with the primacy of women's decision-making over their own body.  Except when they're not.  NOW has been feverishly campaigning to get the government to limit a women's right to choose breast augmentation, despite the fact that the science is overwhelmingly behind the safety of implants.  Sure, as in any medical procedure, there are some risks, but I defy anyone to tell me that the risks associated with breast implants are greater than the risks associated with abortion.  Abortion is a much weightier and more difficult decision, and, unlike breast implants, it is irreversible.  If women are mature enough to make abortion decisions, they certainly are mature enough to weigh the risks of breast implants.  Or take the birth control pill -- the impact to a woman's body of silicone sacks in their boobs is far less than that of trashing their entire hormone balance.  Sure, the pill makes sense for a lot of people and its great that the option exists, but don't tell me that the the changes the pill engenders in the body are OK but bags of silicone are not.

The real issue, as pointed out early and often by Virginia Postrel, is that feminists consider breast implants as at best frivolous, and at worst a demeaning surrender to male objectification of the female's body.  They don't think women who choose these implants are making the right choice, so they, in their elite holier-than-thou wisdom, want to take the decision away from women.  Hmmm.  Freedom for me but not for thee.  More along the line of distrusting individual decision-making here.

Update:  My main point of this post was on breast implants, and comparing feminist retoric on that issue vs. their retoric on abortion.  I feel the need, though, to mention that I don't accept that abortion is necesarily a pure individual choice situation.  Individual decision-making should be trusted when individuals make choices that affect only themselves, without coersion or fraud.  The problem in the case of abortion is whether the fetus is a piece of tissue that is a part of a woman's body, or an independent life.  In the former case, its removal is subject to individual decision making, but not in the latter.  As I have written before, I think the fetus is protoplasm at 1 week and a baby at 8 months.  At some point in between we draw an arbitrary line between part-of-the-mom and independent life.

Many abortion supporters, unwilling to risk that society might draw this line earlier in the pregnancy than they might want it, take the extra step of arguing that the very determination of whether the fetus is a life or not at 2 or 5 or 7 months should be up to individual taste, and that the government should have no say in that determination.  That strikes even me as the hardcore libertarian as going too far.  Certainly in its limited role of protecting individual rights, the government has a role in determining just who is an individual with rights subject to protection.  Determining if a fetus is an individual with independent rights and at what point in the pregnancy it is treated as such are reasonable roles for government legislation.

Interview with Bill James

If you were to make a list of 10 people in the 20th Century who had the ability to rethink whole industries, you might come up with names like Sam Walton or Herb Kelleher.  One guy you might not think of, but who should make the list, is Bill James.  James has helped to single-handedly rethink the game of baseball, one of the great bastions of not-invented-here thinking.  Here is an interview of James that is pretty interesting.  Hat Tip to Cafe Hayek, who also has some thoughts on James the economist.

James sounds a lot like Hayek, and more recent authors like Virginia Postrel, when he says things like this:

If I were in politics and presented myself as a Republican, I would be
admired by Democrats by despised by my fellow Republicans. If I
presented myself as a Democrat, I would popular with Republicans but
jeered and hooted by the Democrats.
        I believe in a universe that is too complex for any of us to
really understand. Each of us has an organized way of thinking about
the world"”a paradigm, if you will"”and we need those, of course; you
can't get through the day unless you have some organized way of
thinking about the world. But the problem is that the real world is
vastly more complicated than the image of it that we carry around in
our heads. Many things are real and important that are not explained by
our theories"”no matter who we are, no matter how intelligent we are.
        As in politics we have left and right"”neither of which explains
the world or explains how to live successfully in the world"”in baseball
we have the analytical camp and the traditional camp, or the
sabermetricians against the scouts, however you want to characterize
it. I created a good part of the analytical paradigm that the
statistical analysts advocate, and certainly I believe in that paradigm
and I advocate it within the Red Sox front office. But at the same
time, the real world is too complicated to be explained by that
paradigm.

Or this, closer to the sports world:

Honestly, major league baseball"”and all sports"”would be far better off
if they would permit teams to do more to make one park distinctive from
another"”even so far as making the bases 85 feet apart in one park and
95 in another. Standardization is an evil idea. Let's pound everybody
flat, so that nobody has any unfair advantage. Diversity enriches us,
almost without exception. Who would want to live in a world in which
all women looked the same, or all restaurants were the same, or all TV
shows used the same format?
        People forget that into the 1960s, NBA basketball courts were
not all the same size--and the NBA would be a far better game today if
they had never standardized the courts. What has happened to the NBA
is, the players have gotten too large for the court. If they hadn't
standardized the courts, they would have eventually noticed that a
larger court makes a better game"”a more open, active game. And the same
in baseball. We would have a better game, ultimately, if the teams were
more free to experiment with different options.
        The only reason baseball didn't standardize its park
dimensions, honestly, is that at the time that standardization was a
dominant idea, they just couldn't. Because of Fenway and a few other
parks, baseball couldn't standardize its field dimensions in the
1960s"”and thus dodged a mistake that they would otherwise quite
certainly have made.
         Standardization destroys the ability to adapt. Take the high
mounds of the 1960s. We "standardized" that by enforcing the rules, and
I'm in favor of enforcing the rules, but suppose that the rules allowed
some reasonable variation in the height of the pitching mound? What
would have happened then would have been that, in the mid-1990s, when
the hitting numbers began to explode, teams would have begun to push
their pitching mounds up higher in order to offset the hitting
explosion. The game would have adapted naturally to prevent the home
run hitters from entirely having their own way. Standardization leads
to rigidity, and rigidity causes things to break.

I love it.  Maybe those guys who want to use baseball as a paradigm for life had something after all.

Kate Groves Handbags Featured in the Newspaper!

Kate Groves Handbags

Hey, look!  We are fashion-blogging here at Coyote Blog today (fellow Princetonian Virginia Postrel would be proud)

We are having fun today as my wife, Kate Groves, had her handmade handbags and purses featured in the weekend style section of the Arizona Republic today!

Of course, being the MSM, they forgot to put her web site in the article, but they have the article and a link to her site here.  Since they only keep the articles online for a week (server disk space must be expensive over there) we have cached the article on Kate Groves handbags here. Kate's website with all of her purse designs are here.

Free Trade Rules

Free trade, despite it enormous benefits, is constantly under attack.  Yesterday I heard a radio ad, with the sound of a toilet flushing, and the a voice over saying something like "that is the sound of 3 million jobs being lost due to NAFTA".  Since the US unemployment rate when NAFTA was passed was over 7% and is currently under 5.5%, its hard to figure out just how they did their math.  The problem is that it is relatively easy to spot job losses due to foreign competition (cars, apparel, memory chips) and much harder to find the jobs that were created due to lower cost materials supplies and increased exports.

Virginia Postrel has a really nice article in the NY Times (yes, reg required) on how industries and jobs have prospered due to NAFTA.

Economists argue for free trade. They have two centuries of theory and experience to back them up. And they have recent empirical studies of how the liberalization of trade has increased productivity in less-developed countries like Chile and India. Lowering trade barriers, they maintain, not only cuts costs for consumers but aids economic growth and makes the general public better off. 

Even so, free trade is a tough sell. "The truth of the matter is that we have one heck of a time explaining these benefits to the larger public, a public gripped by free trade fatigue," the economist Daniel Trefler wrote in an article last fall in The American Economic Review.

If you don't want to register, she has a longer excerpt at her site here.

Fighting Campus Speech Codes

It has always been ironic to me that those who started the "free speech" movement of the 60's have been in the forefront of clamping down on campus speech via speech codes.  The answer to this paradox was that the free speech movement was never about free speech, but about advancing a mostly Marxist point of view to the exclusion of all others.

FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, has a nice roundup of work they have done to defend free speech on campuses in 2004.  Hat tip to Virginia Postrel.

Progressives are too Conservative to Like Capitalism

Many in the left to far-left eschew the liberal title nowadays (since they consider liberals now to be wimps and too moderate, like that Clinton guy) in favor of the term "progressive".  This term has gone in and out of favor for over a century, from the populists of the early 1900's to the socialists of the more modern era.

Most "progressives" (meaning those on the left to far left who prefer that term) would freak if they were called conservative, but what I mean by conservative in this context is not donate-to-Jesse-Helms capital-C Conservative but fearful of change and uncomfortable with uncertainty conservative. 

OK, most of you are looking at this askance - aren't progressives always trying to overthrow the government or something?  Aren't they out starting riots at G7 talks?  The answer is yes, sure, but what motivates many of them, at least where it comes to capitalism, is a deep-seated conservatism. 

Before I continue to support this argument, I must say that on a number of issues, particularly related to civil liberties and social issues, I call progressives my allies.  On social issues, progressives, like I do, generally support an individual's right to make decisions for themselves, as long as those decisions don't harm others. 

However, when we move to fields such as commerce, progressives stop trusting individual decision-making.  Progressives who support the right to a person making unfettered choices in sexual partners don't trust people to make their own choice on seat belt use.  Progressives who support the right of fifteen year old girls to make decisions about abortion without parental notification do not trust these same girls later in life to make their own investment choices with their Social Security funds.  And, Progressives who support the right of third worlders to strap on a backpack of TNT and explode themselves in the public market don't trust these same third worlders to make the right decision in choosing to work in the local Nike shoe plant.

Beyond just the concept of individual decision-making, progressives are hugely uncomfortable with capitalism.  Ironically, though progressives want to posture as being "dynamic", the fact is that capitalism is in fact too dynamic for them.  Industries rise and fall, jobs are won and lost, recessions give way to booms.  Progressives want comfort and certainty.  They want to lock things down the way they are. They want to know that such and such job will be there tomorrow and next decade, and will always pay at least X amount.  That is why, in the end, progressives are all statists, because, to paraphrase Hayek, only a government with totalitarian powers can bring the order and certainty and control of individual decision-making that they crave.

Progressive elements in this country have always tried to freeze commerce, to lock this country's economy down in its then-current patterns.  Progressives in the late 19th century were terrified the American economy was shifting from agriculture to industry.  They wanted to stop this, to cement in place patterns where 80-90% of Americans worked on farms.  I, for one, am glad they failed, since for all of the soft glow we have in this country around our description of the family farmer, farming was and can still be a brutal, dawn to dusk endeavor that never really rewards the work people put into it. 

This story of progressives trying to stop history has continued to repeat itself through the generations.  In the seventies and eighties, progressives tried to maintain the traditional dominance of heavy industry like steel and automotive, and to prevent the shift of these industries overseas in favor of more service-oriented industries.  Just like the passing of agriculture to industry a century ago inflamed progressives, so too does the current passing of heavy industry to services.

In fact, here is a sure fire test for a progressive.  If given a choice between two worlds:

  1. A capitalist society where the overall levels of wealth and technology continue to increase, though in a pattern that is dynamic, chaotic, generally unpredictable, and whose rewards are unevenly distributed, or...
  2. A "progressive" society where everyone is poorer, but income is generally more evenly distributed.  In this society, jobs and pay and industries change only very slowly, and people have good assurances that they will continue to have what they have today, with little downside but also with very little upside.

Progressives will choose #2.  Even if it means everyone is poorer.  Even if it cuts off any future improvements we might gain in technology or wealth or lifespan or whatever.  They want to take what we have today, divide it up more equally, and then live to eternity with just that.   Progressives want #2 today, and they wanted it just as much in 1900 (just think about if they had been successful -- as just one example, if you are over 44, you would have a 50/50 chance of being dead now). 

Don't believe that this is what they would answer?  Well, first, this question has been asked and answered a number of times in surveys, and it always comes out this way.  Second, just look at any policy issue today.  Take prescription drugs in the US - isn't it pretty clear that the progressive position is that they would be willing to pretty much gut incentives for any future drug innovations in trade for having a system in place that guaranteed everyone minimum access to what exists today?  Or take the welfare state in Continental Europe -- isn't it clear that a generation of workers/voters chose certainty over growth and improvement?  That workers 30 years ago voted themselves jobs for life, but at the cost of tremendous unemployment amongst the succeeding generations?

More recently, progressives have turned their economic attention to lesser developed nations.  Progressives go nuts on the topic of Globalization.  Without tight security, G7 and IMF conferences have and would devolve into riots and destruction at the hands of progressives, as happened famously in Seattle.  Analyzing the Globalization movement is a bit hard, as rational discourse is not always a huge part of the "scene", and what is said is not always logical or internally consistent.  The one thing I can make of this is that progressives intensely dislike the change that is occurring rapidly in third world economies, particularly since these changes are often driven by commerce and capitalists.

Progressives do not like American factories appearing in third world countries, paying locals wages progressives feel are too low, and disrupting agrarian economies with which progressives were more comfortable.  But these changes are all the sum of actions by individuals, so it is illustrative to think about what is going on in these countries at the individual level. 

One morning, a rice farmer in southeast Asia might faces a choice.  He can continue a life of brutal, back-breaking labor from dawn to dusk for what is essentially subsistence earnings.  He can continue to see a large number of his children die young from malnutrition and disease.  He can continue a lifestyle so static, so devoid of opportunity for advancement, that it is nearly identical to the life led by his ancestors in the same spot a thousand years ago.

Or, he can go to the local Nike factory, work long hours (but certainly no longer than he worked in the field) for low pay (but certainly more than he was making subsistence farming) and take a shot at changing his life.  And you know what, many men (and women) in his position choose the Nike factory.  And progressives hate this.  They distrust this choice.  They distrust the change.  And, at its heart, that is what the opposition to globalization is all about - a deep seated conservatism that distrusts the decision-making of individuals and fears change, change that ironically might finally pull people out of untold generations of utter poverty.

In fact, over the last 20 or so years, progressives have become surprisingly mute on repression and totalitarianism the world over.  In the 1970's, progressives criticized the US (rightly, I think) for not doing more to challenge the totalitarian impulses of its allies (the Shah of Iran comes to mind in particular) and not doing enough to end totalitarianism and repression in other nations (e.g. South Africa, Guatemala, El Salvador, etc etc) 

Today, progressives have become oddly conservative about challenging totalitarian nations.  By embracing the "peace at any cost" mantra, they have essentially said that they can live with anything, reconcile anything, as long as things remain nominally peaceful (ie, no battles show up on the network news).  Beyond just a strong anti-Americanism, the peace movement today reflects a strong conservatism -- they want to just leave everyone alone, no matter how horrible or repressive, and hope that they will in turn leave us alone.  They fear any change that would stir things up.

There are any number of other examples of the strong conservative streak in the progressive movement.  Here are a few more that come to mind:

  • Despite at least 40 years of failure in the public schools, progressives vociferously oppose any radical changes to the public education system.  In particular, they resist any program involving school choice, as they are totally condescending in their utter lack of faith in the average parent's ability to make the right choice for their family.
  • Progressives refuse to even consider the possibility that individuals should be trusted to make their own decisions regarding some portion of their Social Security retirement funds.  They can couch their opposition in a lot of fear talk about benefit cuts, but at the end of the day (and take this from someone who has had this argument with numerous liberals and progressives)  the argument always boils down to "we don't trust people to make investment decisions that are as good as the ones we would make for them".

Well, I have again written too long, and I'm tired.  If you are not ready to rush to defend the barricades of capitalism, you might read my post from last week called "60 Second Refutation of Socialism, while Sitting at the Beach".  Most of what I have written here has been said far more eloquently by others.  Of recent writers, Virginia Postrel, in the Future and its Enemies, has written a whole book on not just capitalism but dynamism and progress in general, and why people of all political persuasions tend to be scared by it.  Brink Lindsey addressed many of these same issues as well in his book Against the Dead Hand.  Of course, the Godfather of individual choice and societal dynamism is Friedrich Hayek.

The Wright Amendment

Virginia Postrel has an article begging for repeal of the Wright Amendment.

What is this law?  Years ago, when they built the D/FW airport, they wanted to make sure they routed all local traffic through that airport and strangled all the competitive airports.  The Wright Amendment says that other local airports, particularly Dallas Love Field, can only have flights to Texas and adjoining states.

Well, this sounds just like a bit of municipal priority setting, until one other fact is thrown in.  Love Field is Southwest Airlines home field.  By placing this limitation on Love field, and keeping it that way, American Airlines and Delta get an effective subsidy, ensuring that they have no low-cost competition on their longer routes. 

I lived in Dallas for years and trevelled far and wide by air.  The Wright Ammendment cost me and my company at least $10,000 over that time in higher air fares.

Hey, Another Arizona-based Blog

Hello to Arizona Watch, which seems to focus on politics and news here in AZ.  Anyone with links all over their site to Cato, Eugene Volokh, Virginia Postrel, and Assymetrical Information can't be all bad!

Arizonaflag

Libertarianism, the Environment, and Kyoto: Part 1

As a libertarian and strong believer of individual rights and free markets, I often get "accosted" by folks saying that I must want the environment just to go to hell. Actually, no. Beyond my personal enjoyment of the outdoors, having "the environment go to hell" would be a disaster for my business, which depends on outdoor recreation.

This confusion about libertarianism and the environment falls in the category of what I call being pro-property-rights-and-markets and being pro-business. Many politicians, particularly traditional conservatives, who say they are the former and are in fact the latter. "Pro-business" politicians often support many things (subsidies, using eminent domain to help developers, building publicly funded stadiums) that bear little resemblance to libertarianism or truly free markets. This confusion also stems from differences in how much people trust individual action and incentives rather than command and control government programs. The Commons is a good site dedicated to market solutions to environmental issues, as is the environment section at Cato Institute. Virginia Postrel frequantly writes on the more general topic, beyond just the environment, of bottom up systems driven by individual choices vs. top down command and control.

In fact, environmental laws are as critical to a nation with strong property rights as is contract law. Why? Imagine a world without any environmental legislation but with strong property rights. What happens when the first molecule of smoke from my iron furnace or from my farm tractor crosses over on to your land. I have violated your property rights, have I not, by sending unwanted substances onto your land, into your water, or into your airspace. To stop me, you might sue me. And so might the next guy downwind, etc. We would end up in an economic gridlock with everyone slapping injunctions on each other. Since economic activity is almost impossible without impacting surrounding property owners, at least in small ways, we need a framework for setting out maximums for this impact - e.g., environmental legislation.

But I do disagree with a lot of environmentalists today. The conflict between free market supporters and environmentalists usually come in four flavors:

1. Disagreement over standards. The discussion above implies that environmental laws create a framework for setting out the maximum impact one property owner can have on others. But what is that maximum? Rational people can disagree, and do. This is a normal part of the political process and won't go away, as different people value different things. I generally don't have any problem with people who disagree with me on these standards, except perhaps for folks that want to argue for "zero" -- these people usually have anti-technology and anti-capitalism goals that go way beyond concern for the environment.

2. Disagreement over methods. Consistent with the framework I presented above, I believe that the government should as much as possible set overall emission standards, and allow individuals to make choices as to how those standards are reached. A good example of this are emissions trading schemes. Statists are uncomfortable with these approaches, and prefer to micro-manage compliance, down to the government making detailed choices about technologies used.

3. Use of One's Own Property. By the reasoning for environmental regulation above, the regulation is to limit the impact of one property owner on others. But the flip side is that property owners should be able to do whatever they damn well please with their own property if it does not affect others. Environmentalists will disagree with this vociferously. I have had literally twenty different people give me the exact same response to this: "If you let people do whatever they want, they would all trash their own land and dump toxic waste all over it". Huh? I swear I get this response constantly and it makes no sense. Why would they do this? We have no regulations that people should keep their house looking nice and shouldn't trash it, but most people keep their house up anyway. Why? Because it is in their own obvious self-interest to do so. If other people don't want you building on a piece of property or want it saved for some specific use (or non-use), then they should buy it. That's why I support the Nature Conservancy -- I personally value having some wide open pristine lands and preserving some habitats, but unlike others, I don't expect other people to pay for my wishes, usually in the form of some luckless landholder who suddenly can't use his property the way he wants. Through the Nature Conservancy, private donors who value having certain lands set aside from development pay to achieve that goal privately. This is similar to environmental groups buying up emisions credits. If all the money spent on whining about and lobbying over the Brazilian rainforest had instead been spent buying tracts of it, it would probably be a big park by now.

4. Priority of Man. This is the up and comer in the world of environmentalism. In its extreme form, proponents argue that animals have the same rights as man (though in practice it seems it is just the cute animals like dolphins and harp seals that get the attention). I don't buy it. While there is no defensible reason to allow cruelty when it can easily be avoided, taking the step to put animals on the same level as man, if followed to its logical extreme, will not bring animals up to our level (how could they?) but will knock man back down to the level of animals (see Rush song here).

In my second post on this topic, I will move on to a more specific topic, with a brief roundup on Global Warming and the Kyoto treaty.