Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Why housing costs so much (Hint: We're selfish)

None of this delay has cost the members of the Planning Commission a dime. That is why the delay is still continuing... Part of the reason [this situation comes about and continues] is that it is newcomers who have to pay outrageous prices for houses, while it is existing homeowners who vote for laws and policies that drive up housing costs by obstructing the building of new homes.

Those who already own their own homes are not hurt by soaring housing prices. In fact, they benefit when the value of their homes becomes several times what they originally paid for them.

Given this situation and these incentives, it is easy to understand why such things as planning commissions, "open space" laws and "historical preservation" policies proliferate. These roadblocks to building are eseentially idealistic-sounding ways of being completely selfish. Despite much liberal rhetoric about compassion for the poor, it is precisely in such overwhelmingly liberal enclaves as those in California where high housing costs resulting from restrictive laws have the heaviest burden on lower-income people....

All sorts of lofty talk about "open space" or "saving the green foothills" is used to disguise the plain fact that those who already have theirs want to keep other people out, especially other people not as upscale as themselves.

Ugly as such selfishness may be, it is no worse than the zeolotry of the nature cultists who join with them to make life miserable for thousands of other people in order to give themselves a cheap sense of importance that some confuse with idealism.
--Thomas Sowell, 'Time and Money and Housing," August 30, 2005

Boo Hoo! Media Corporate 'Giant' Sinclair is SO UNFAIR!

The organization NOW sent an 'Action Alert' urging us to 'STOP' "media giant" Sinclair from "forcing" the stations they own to broadcast an anti-Kerry "documentary" on the grounds it is a fake "news event" that is "bashing presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry." It urges us to contact our Congresscritters and urge them to challenge Sinclair's license.

"Remember, broadcast television stations are required to serve the public interest. It serves only George W. Bush and big business when the public airwaves are used to tip a national election. Thanks for taking action to protect our democracy and your rights. "


I'm sure if media "giant" Sinclair, with its enormous network of 82 stations, were trying to force a showing of, say, Far.911 down their stations' throats and influence the election *against* GWB -- NOW would be on that too, with as much enthusiasm. As they were with the recent CBS screwup--after all, fair's fair.

And the bastards are telling the stations they own what to broadcast! The perfidy!

Imagine -- a media organization with an opinion about politics, wanting to influence the election! Shocking! No media organization should try to influence the electorate in such a partisan way, everybody knows that! After all, it's the "public" airwaves..... ha ha ha.

What a crock.

Yours truly,

A Libertarian who doesn't think either of these knuckleheads is a bargain, but I know self-serving partisan 'outrage' when I see it....

--Michael McCarthy

followup, this from the Cato Institute Oct 22 2004:

“Sinclair Broadcast Group's decision this week not to air ‘Stolen Honor,’ a documentary on John Kerry's post-Vietnam antiwar activities, is being cheered by liberals as a victory for truth, honor and the Democratic Party,” according to a Wall Street Journal editorial. In “First Amendment on Sinclair's Side,” [,94mv,949,9m8l,ffs3,mda8,g6zl] John Samples, director of the Center for Representative Government, writes: “Free speech is in the public interest. Voters benefit from having more information rather than less in the weeks prior to an election. Candidates and political parties see free speech in a more self-interested light. Free speech can cost them the presidency or control of Congress. Everyone -- Democrats, Republicans, and third parties -- striving for power at one time or another wants to suppress free speech."

My point exactly, but more succinctly put.

Fixing Social Security and Medical Care

[Back during the 2004 election, my Uncle Hugh sent me someone's tirade about the misleading elements in the attacks by Democrats against Bush. My reply is still relevant, I am sorry to say.]

Doesn't it just make you *crazy*?

I'm a Libertarian, and no big fan of Republican conservatives or Democrat liberals--but the completely addle-headed way the Demo politicians attack Republicans is so offensive and against reason that I find myself *defending* Bush and his colleagues even though I had plenty of criticisms of him myself. But my reservations about Bush are of no comfort to Democrat politicians, since they do pretty much the same wrong or wrong-headed things themselves when they get into office.

The other big lie being thrown around just recently is about Social Security -- Bush supposedly said he was going to privatize it. Instead of singing Bush's praises for having the guts and vision to try to fix this broken system, The Demo Candidate instantly uses it to scare the elderly--again. He knows perfectly well that *any* scheme to privatize SS by *anybody* even a radical Libertarian wouldn't dream of harming a hair on the elderly's heads -- they'd be nuts, for one thing, and it's completely unnecessary anyway. And The Demo Candidate would have to deal with the problem himself one fine day. Oh, I forgot! Kerry will be out of office by the time we run out of money, won't he? Good ol' short-term "me-me-me" thinking comes to his rescue again!

(And why are the elderly so damned stupid that they can be rattled by this nonsense, anyway?)

I tell you, I'm going on SS one fine day soon and there's no way I'm going to be able to get my kids to fork over for it for more than ten or fifteen years. Then it will be crippled, unless some smart brave politician (how those words have trouble going together!) tackles the problem with a>mixture of privatization, means testing, and a heavy, heavy dose of "let's talk about this like adults, reasoning together." Kerry doesn't care, he's not the one who has to worry about being out on the street, does he? (Congress isn't IN the Social Security system! They ain't that stupid!)

Buncha jerks.
Hugh replied:
I believe that if the Congress would stop issuing IOU's to the SS fund we would be in fine shape. They have been robbing it to balance the budget since the days of LBJ. If the money was returned to the fund it would becompletely solvent.
Poor dear! He actually believes that!

My reponse:
Problem is, there is no "fund" and as far as I know, never was one. What would the fund do? Sit on a billion $20 bills in the treasury department safe? No, it would be invested - just what you would do. What do they "invest" in? Savings bonds and such. They lend the money to the rest of the government. The rest of the government owes the SS fund all the money they have been getting all these years. They can't pay that back ever. They haven't even kept track. It's all just taking out of one pocket and putting it in another pocket. The underlying SYSTEM is misconceived!

That's part of the reasoning behind private social security. If *you* had the retirement money, you'd invest it in something--the bank, the stock market, the bond market, a house. You'd have an asset in return. The asset may lose value, of course, but at least you started with an asset. The government takes your money and spends it, and puts an IOU in the till. This is not an asset. If you think it's risky to put your money in the stock market, you've been pouring it down a hole with a promissory note backed by a bunch of politicians. You'd have to have no history to your name to think that's a better bet.

It's all of a piece -- we don't say we'll protect the unfortunate from starvation when they retire; we say we'll give *everybody* enough to retire on, so don't worry about it. Pols do this because it makes everybody beholden to them. Look what happens when Kerry says "Social Security!" Everybody panics. They *love* that. Which is why they don't want to privatize--there would be lots of citizens who wouldn't owe their next meal to John Kerry and his kind.

Same thing with medical care. We don't say "we'll help make sure everyone is protected against catastrophic illness, so it doesn't wipe you out if it happens" -- no, we say "we'll pay for *everything* -- doctor visits, dentist teeth cleaning, medicines of every kind, the whole nine yards. Which is absolutely the dumbest thing we could do -- for one thing, it guarantees rising prices because somebody else is paying for everything. Someone once said this would be like buying an insurance policy that paid for regular maintence, gas, oil, and the car wash. Could we afford that? What would happen to the prices of stuff if somebody else was paying your gas bill? Of course!

And they love it! But it's idiocy. And we'll never get out of it because we're on the downward path--not a politician will save us, and since the pols won't support any solution, the newspapers, who get all their news from politicians ("Let's quote a Democrat and a Republican politician! That way we'll have fair coverage of all possible sides of the issue! Yeah!"), will treat real reform effort--of any kind, not just my ideas--as dangerous insanity.

I despair.

"But what will a Kerry victory buy you?..."

[This was first published in 2004, but it applies generally to politics at all times, so I am republishing here in this blog. This despite the fact that Bush has turned out to be one of our worst presidents on many levels.]

My liberal cousin from Back East responded: "And I am reading this email from La La Land who elected the Terminator for Governor?? Your points are all well taken, I just cannot stand another 4 years of Bush.. the puppet to Doctor Evil (VP)."
Da Terminator actually vetoed a bunch of bills -- as he said he would -- to the astonishment of the political and chattering classes up and down the Left Coast. I figure, if politicians can't do any good (and wouldn't know how if they fell over it), at least they can veto things and provide entertainment value while we watch the pols have fits about how civilization is coming to an end. Vastly amusing.

You can't stand Bush continuing, but what will a Kerry victory buy you? Clinton was going to be the great white hope for the Dems after 8 years of Reagan and the first Bush, and he turned out to raise spending less than Reagan, didn't raise taxes much, didn't fund many new budget-buster entitlement programs -- he was a better Republican than a Republican. Bush comes in all full of small-government values and raises spending faster than any Dem in the past 40 years, adds the biggest new entitlement programs since the first Bush--heck, he's the closest thing to a Democrat you've had in the White House since Jimmy Carter! What are you complaining about?

How does Kerry differ? He won't withdraw from Iraq, he's already said that. He can't possibly increase government spending on non-defense projects faster than Bush already has, so it's a wash there. He can raise taxes and crush the economy even more than Bush and not even bring in more revenues, but where's the fun in that? He'll pontificate as much as Bush, but about different things. That's all.

You are under the illusion that there is a huge difference between these two men: There isn't. Despite propaganda on both sides to the contrary, they are both fairly centrist representatives of their political parties. The world hasn't come to an end under four years with Bush, and won't do so in the next four years, nor will it under Kerry. The rhetoric, the passion, the garment-rending are florid far in excess of the realities of either candidate, or for that matter of their parties. If you really don't like having Bush around some more, you won't get much relief with Kerry--just different stylistic flourishes.

There is no comfort or relief in voting Dem or Repub. They're both just fighting over who gets to wear the jackboots, and who gets to have the boots on his neck--that's all. Each party wants to force America to Do The Right Thing, as they interpret it. Neither can actually accomplish that. And neither will give up the effort. And we all suffer because we've got the whole idea of what the government is supposed to be doing for us -- instead of to us -- completely wrong.

Well, it doesn't matter, the heck with it -- neither is the demon, neither is the christ, so I don't care who gets the most votes, or how those votes are counted. I worry more about the extremist arguments, the intense polarization that used to be the special province of the political junkies, but is not so harmless when the general populace takes up the cry. We don't need at-any-cost extremists in our midst, and that's what it's coming to. We all need to have a drink and cool our jets.

Response to my 'Stopping Offshoring--Merchantilism Is Back!'

Russell, author of the Offshoring editorial, sent me a response to my criticism of his anti-offshoring editorial on in 2004.

If you know anything about merchantilism, economics, classic liberalism, Adam Smith, protectionism, or any related subject, the following comeback from Russell will absolutely drive you crazy! How do you argue with this kind of logic?

My attempt to do so follows below...


Russell replies: (Oct 21/04)


I do think intelligent people have learned something--they've learned to be liberals.

My position is moral because, as you might try to remember from your high-school civics classes, the government in America is supposed to be us. Those politicians and bureaucrats that you seem to hate so much are the doctors, lawyers, moms, police, former students, editors, businesspeople, and teachers who formerly worked elsewhere in America.They are of us, not some amorphous faceless mass arrayed against and dedicated to defeating capitalism. In this country, we are our own masters. That's what democracy is.

Your argument that the government is currently run by unions is simply laughable. Worker unionization in this country has dropped precipitously over the past forty years. At the height of union power, in the 1940's and '50s, it consisted of over 30% of the workforce; today, it's down to about 9%.

If you reread the editorial, you'll find that I'm not calling for an end to competition--American workers are more than equal to the competition--when it's offered on a level playing field. The problem is that the playing field's not level, not that people are afraid of competition.

And you're correct that it's not society's duty to defend individuals' jobs against cheaper labor elsewhere *in America*--but it *is* in society's interest--and thus society's duty--to ensure that its workforce remains productively employed so that they can continue toprovide innovation that will ensure the future competitiveness of that society against others.

As for Smith, he was writing in the 1700's, when *location* played a much larger part in determining the value of goods, and holds far less value today, when location is becoming increasingly irrelevant, and the value of labor is measured not against Smith's idea that "There is in every society or neighborhood an ordinary or average rate both of wages and profit in every different employment of labor and stock." but by the global value of labor, which, as we've seen, now varies according to which country (not which neighborhood) has the greatest number of potential workers willing to work for the lowest price. The availabilityof labor has changed. In Smith's time, the "society or neighborhood"wasn't global. America's population isn't high enough to win *that* race; therefore we have to change the rules.

If you want to continue this discussion logically, I'll pose two problems for you.

1. As you're against "government interference" of all kinds, you obviously think that's a better model for civilization, so: show me a single successful society where their government doesn't interfere with business or labor. Tell you what, I'll give you all of recorded human history to search in.

2. Tell me what jobs you would counsel today's children to prepare for. Give me *specific* jobs, not some nebulous "prepare-yourself-for-everything" advice. Bear in mind that I'm talking about *all* the upcoming workers in America - either we have to employ them, or we have to support them, or we have to watch them starve.


Notice the nicely pseudosophisticated recasting of the old Marxist argument that labor competition will inevitably drive all workers down to poverty in a vicious cycle of competition.

Notice the failure to grasp the fundamental principle that competition MEANS one has an advantage over the rival -- to the rival, it's terribly terribly unfair. If you'd only fight fair--pay the same, impose the same burdens on yourself, do things the same old way--why, we'd be able to compete just fine! Yes indeed you would.

Oh, by the way, I *can* propose a nation that has had minimal government interference in labor, the economy, or corporations: Hong Kong from the end of WWII until 1999. Ptht!

NOLA observations - 2 - Who will pay?

Regarding the New Orleans hurricane disaster of 2005:

I'm a Libertarian, yet I *still* let myself get suckered into believing the same knuckleheaded politicized bureaucracy that screws up everything will, somehow, come through in a *real* emergency. Dumb, dumb, dubm.
They have some kind of emergency plan but, like NOLA, they are just as likely to panic and not follow fundamental parts of it when the earthquake comes. Or, rather, we can't count on them to follow it.

Of course, *we* aren't prepared either, as individuals.
Some are angrily declaring, "A lot of people will pay for this debacle in the next election."

You're kidding yourself. A lot of people will be campaigning on this disaster, and a lot of people will be making excuses for this disaster--but the Democrats will still vote for Democrats, and the Republicans will still vote for Republicans, and those without a strong party affiliation will still vote for whichever one does the best job of pulling the wool over their eyes.

Which is the definition of normalcy in electoral politics.

NOLA Disaster - Observations - 1

1. A reporter on the news today said something astonishing: Today (Saturday!) is the first time he's seen any Red Cross! Or any Salvation Army!

I assume I know why the state and federal relief efforts took so long to marshall -- I assume they are all idiots, and it;s when the s--t really hits the fan that they are completely useless. But the Red Cross? The S.A.? Now I'm *really* curious -- what was going on that kept *them* from responding more quickly! I think the answer to that will be far more interesting--and more useful for future action--than the high-noise/low-info political cross-bashing that has already started.

2. There was warning; the vast majority left; remaining were a small number of idiot stubborn folk; and poor people with nowhere to go and no money to go there. That we weren't able to help them afterwards faster is embarrassing in the extreme. I wonder, too, how those who left are fairing--you leave with a day's notice, take what you can, lose everything else, live with relatives or friends or in a hotel for -- what? months? -- your job is probably gone for a long time or for good -- there's more misery still to come out of this.

3. The one big pol who actually asked the entirely sensible question, "Should we in fact be rebuilding NOLA--or rebuilding it just the way it was? It's going to happen again! Does this make sense?", was cruicified and of course is backing down as fast as he can. But the rest of us shouldn't let them off the hook: The answer is NOT obviously "yes." It's a serious issue. If nothing else, consider the morality of paying to rebuild so that, at some future point, another few hundred people will die--and refusing to seriously question what you're doing.

The governor of La. of course said they will certainly rebuild, and it's "worth every nickle." Of *my* money, she means. Always easy to make demands of other people's hard-earned treasure. I think in *this* debate, while we can certainly understand why the people there would really like the rest of us to pay to rebuild the town, they really don't have a say in the matter -- we who will pay (this time and past times and all the next times) should do some serious thinking. And if we decide to go a different path than usual in these matters, we should think about what that means for rebuilding in other threatened areas like Florida.

We may decide to rebuild anyway; maybe it's worth it to those who pay. But at least let's think about it, instead of simply letting every politician who benefits drive debate into the ground.

4. The lesson we learn from this, especially those of us on the West Coast, is: When *our* time comes--when The Big One hits -- the same thing will happen--we can expect no help for a week or more. So we'd better be ready to camp in our back yards, put out our own fires, defend our own property, and maybe walk a hundred miles with our paltry treasures on our backs, and not know where we'll end up or what will happen to us. I spent this afternoon going through my emergency supplies and updating them (I've got canned goods there from 1995 -- time to replace!)

5. I am fed up with the instant political partisanship that showed up before the troops did: Bush declared an emergency on Sunday, before the storm even hit, which should have been all he really needed to do as President, because it activates all the emergency services at every level. If nothing happened, what do you expect? That he'd get on the phone and call each department and direct their action in detail? If he was a fool, it was for assuming FEMA and the national guard and the governors and mayors had a plan in place, knew what to do, and were likely to act. Exactly what the President of the US should have done further--other than firing every person below him (not a bad idea), is a mystery. But partisan politics is about symbolism--and effective action is a nonissue: He should have cut his vacation short, for example. He should have showed up in New Orleans earlier and disrupted things even more, so he could be accused of grandstanding and photo-opping. Pah! There is some serious failure here, and I'm sure Bush has plenty to answer for -- but half the government is Democrat, and the states affected are mostly Democrat-majority, and the government organizations aren't supposed to be partisan at all. But I forget, we're talking about politicians--what do they care? This is about partisan advantage, grandstanding, and getting headlines.

A pox on all of them, in both parties.

OLA disaster -- Observations of an Expert: "It's a Bottom-up Response Mechanism"

A colleague involved in the field of emergency response made these observations at the time of the New Orleans hurricane disaster, which for their insights and sensibleness you are unlikely to see widely reported, so as a favor to YOU, I present them:

[Curtis Franklin]
One of the largest problems is that all the disaster plans are bottom-up response mechanisms; when a city or county asks for help, the request goes to the state--when the state asks for help, the request is made to the federal government. A Federal Disaster declaration was made last Saturday (a week ago), which opened things up on the federal side to make things faster. The requests didn't come. As of yesterday, the governor of Louisiana had still not declared a state of emergency, and they didn't reach as far as their multi-state mutual aid compact until Wednesday.

EVERY federal disaster plan says that the state should be prepared to be the primary responder for 72-96 hours. By that measure, the federal response was just about on time.

There are mechanisms in place to deal with things if a government is destroyed--but in this case the mayor of New Orleans and the governor of Louisiana were still obviously present and apparently still holding the authority of their relative offices. One of the many questions that will have to be asked later is how the federal government should deal with a situation in which the local governments are not effective in dealing with the local situation AND unwilling or unable to ask for help.

In all the questions relating this to terrorist attacks, we should keep in mind that this isn't just about New Orleans; there are approximately 91,000 square miles that were dealt a catastrophic blow. The federal response has been into those areas as well and has been, in many cases, earlier and more effective because it was requested sooner and with much greater local cooperation.

You can bet that all the local and state emergency operations folks (at least in the gulf coast states) will be studying what went wrong in this response and making adjustments.

There will be a time for a careful examination of what the various elected and appointed officials did and didn't do and, perhaps, for some (many?) heads to roll. Now isn't that time. We've got what we've got, and we have too much to do for too many people to take time with that now.

"Liberals have no useful ideas about education...."

Peretz notices that liberals have no useful ideas about education. That overstates the case, but most reform ideas have come from the right, while most Democrats have focused on throwing more money at the teacher unions.

--Michael Barone, "Democrats are Out of Gas"

And yet, somehow, the left acts as if, in this as in all things, it is morally superior to those who are actually trying to solve a problem and make progress, instead of scoring points on a PC scale....

Levee Failure: Yes It can Happen Here (In California)

Just in case you think it's only the stupid bureaucrats in Louisiana who don't bother maintaining levees, here is Dan Walters' Sacramento Bee column this week about the levees in the California Central Valley that protect our water supply, our farmlands, and increasingly, new developments put there despite warnings "about the dangers of building homes behind levees designed to protect farmland."
(requires free registration)

Dan goes on:
"But [State Reclamation Board] warnings are largely ignored by local officials who are eager to approve new subdivisions and know that they won't be held liable should levees fail. It exemplifies the disconnnect between authority and accountability that permeats California's state and local governments on dozens of specific issues."

Not only California, Dan. The world over.

Critical satellites are overpriced "Battlestar Galactica's"

"Because of the legacy that arose, in our rush to conquer space, by building our first launch vehicles from expendable ballistic missiles, launch costs remain high. This in turn results in expensive satellites, because they have to be simultaneously very lightweight and extremely reliable. Many of the most critical satellites are multi-billion-dollar "battlestar galacticas" that take years to buld and launch (and, unfortunately, many of these are low-earth-orbit satellites). They are the carrier battle groups of the space-related military services. If they're taken out, it would take years and billions of dollars to replace their capability, and even if the money were an affordable luxury in wartime, the replacement time is not."

--TCS Daily January 2007

"Does It Matter Whether We Vote?" Maybe not...

Then there is the biennial carping about how democracy suffers because so few Americans bother to go to the polls. I live in Belgium, where election turnout is always 100 percent; citizens are required by law to vote. Well, the electorial system here produces just as many nincompoops as the American one -- and the most successful political party has its roots in the SS. So be careful how much turnout you wish for...."

--TCS Daily, Nov 2006, MARTIN FRIDSON, TCS Contributing Writer

"A Pox on Both Their Houses"

Back in 2004, a cousin, who is a liberal activist, sent a mass email snidely predicting Kerry would "cream" Bush. My reply:


... As a Libertarian, I am happy to be able to be able to say: The heck with the both of them!

The choice as to who will get to boss us around for the next four years isn't that interesting. Kerry's only objection to Bush is that *he,* Kerry, wants to be the one to engage in foreign adventurism, raise government spending, add to the bureaucracy, meddle in more fresh new areas of our lives, claim credit for everything good that happens including the sunsets, blame his opponents for everything bad that happens including hurricanes, and pass more laws and spend more money pretending to cure what ails us, while standing in the way of any progress that might interfer with one or the other special interests he owes his political life to.

A pox on both their houses.

(Since her message was to her list, I replied to her list, and was delighted to get a response from one: "I like the way you think!" -- It's always good to remember that when you're fighting the presumptuous pontificators, there may be others present who, though silent, are equally uncomfortable and wish someone would speak up.....)

Kill the Electoral College?

The last time this issue arose -- when the second President Bush won reelection on a narrow margin of popular votes -- a friend, Tiffany Schlain, needless to say a Democrat, sent a note around to all her friends urging an amendment to the Constitution to end the Electoral College, to which I responded:

....Actually, Tiffany, and for a number of good reasons including my belief that the original reasoning in favor of it is more sound now than ever before--I approve of the Electoral College system.

Instead of abolishing it, I'd like it to form the basis for an educational campaign to help people understand why it's there. We pay a price for having moved so far afield from the original concepts that we actually belief that this form of "republicanism" is "archaic" because it's not "direct" democracy.

As if there was once a time when such concepts were all right, back in the Old Days, but we're Modern now and we've risen to a level of sophistication that demands direct democracy.

But this is actually a naive belief, and an unsophisticated failure to appreciate the tradeoffs between direct democracy and individual rights, and the risks of mob rule, which this structure was intended to forestall. Alas.

I know I'm wasting my breath, but it is really a bad idea to promote major changes like this mainly to address an inconvenience of the moment--in this case, for example, because Our Guy lost out in a statistical dead heat because of the peculiarities of the Electoral College. It will perhaps be easier to see when the next wave of populist enthusiasm for changing the rules to address a situational inconvenience sweeps over us in the form of a push for a constitutional amendment to let Big Arnie run for president. After all, direct popular democracy trumps whatever lame, archaic nonsense the Founders might have been thinking a couple hundred years ago. Right?

A Self-Destructive Press

My friend Steve Drace wanted to know why the US media doesn't publish the kinds of deeply analytical, wise backgrounders you see in the Economist regularly. My response:

First of all, the US press in general has a perversely self-destructive, self-regarding, bootless view of its role and appropriate strategies regarding political, partisan, and social issues that make it impossible for reporters and their editors to even think in this clear way about the different partisan arguments.

Secondly, the newspapers occasionally publish a "backgrounder" type analysis piece, which they put on page 14 of the front section, don't promote, and then consider their duty done -- where upon they go back to their front-page partisan garbled horse-race mentality--and of course the analysis piece's insights, if any, are ignored by the reporters in subsequent writings.

Without a healthy press, the US is doomed, and I despair of them ever grasping that.

"Parties to a Sense of Entitlement"

A friend sent me an excerpt from a July 2004 column by George Will (see "Parties to a Sense of Entitlement," :

"The tone-setting activists of both parties exemplify an unpleasant product of modern government: the entitlement mentality. They believe not merely that their party deserves to govern because of the superior wisdom of its policies but that they are entitled to govern because of their moral and intellectual superiority."

My reaction:

Wow. What a surpassingly wise column!

Rush Limbaugh,of all people, on the radio the other day made a tangentially similar point: Bush, he said, has increased federal spending more in his term than Clinton did in two terms. He has rolled back no meaningful part of the federal scope. Why, he wanted to know, are the Democrats so mad at him? He's a better Democrat than the Democrats! Why are Republicans so mad at Clinton? He proved a better Republican than Bush has so far!

As for myself, I've often pointed out that the stated difference between governmental nirvana and the end of the world as we know it hinges each budget year, rhetorically, on the difference between the Democrats' budget proposals, and the Republicans' counterproposals, which historically and traditionally differ by a few percentage points.

The real difference: A Republican candidate *promises* to eliminate the Department of Education, and a Democratic candidate doesn't. A Democratic candiate *pledges* his stout opposition to war in every form; his rival doesn't.

Once in office, they each do much the same as the other--and the Republican doesn't eliminate the department, at most merely trimming its budget--for the first year only--by one or two percent; while the Democrat initiates (or continues) whatever warlike conflicts seem advisable to his pollsters--different wars, differently fought, perhaps, but wars nonetheless. (The two Bushes in Iraq, for example, the two-term Clinton in Yugoslavia and East Africa, for example.Truman and Eisenhower in Korea; Kennedy and Nixon in Vietnam.)

And I again remark on the role of the press: They *love* this kind of overblown rhetoric, and since they *never* follow through (unless a politician remarks on it), there is no sense that you have to deliver on your statements.

"Stopping Offshoring"--Uh oh, Merchantilism Is Back!

A colleague at DevX posted an editorial back in 2004, "Offshoring: It's Not Too Late To Change," arguing that we should, basically, outlaw offshoring on the grounds that it was hurting US programmers, and the Indians weren't competing "fairly" because their salaries were lower and they didn't have all the governmental obligations we imposed (that would be news to the Permit Raj, wouldn't it?). Americans, he asserted, can compete with anybody--but not if they are charging a fifth the price! (See

An astounding set of assertions; medieval merchantilism returned almost unphased by the intervening 300 years of prosperity. I'm afraid I ranted a bit:

This is just standard liberal balderdash, justifying action because we are hurt, seeing in the market and human forces some conspiracy that must be stopped at any price, justifying special interest pleading, a harkening back to protectionist rhetoric that crops up at every crisis since the Middle Ages.

Citing the numerous past and current infringements by government on the market and on liberty is not justification for more such infringements. The idea that government politicians and bureaucrats (for God's sake!) are the forces of goodness and social justice who will protect poor us from the evil corporate masters--well, that's just willful naivete. When you castigate corporations for not being good, for not considering the consequences of their actions, for not bearing in mind societal costs--well of course they are guilty of all these things. That's not the question -- the question is, WHO will you nominate as the masters to manage these societal goodnesses -- the effing government, for all that's holy? What a joke! Have you learned nothing?

This is about getting the power of government to side with you, instead of someone else. A hundred years ago companies lorded it over employees because when the employees tried to organize and take advantage of the forces of the marketplace, the government sided with the corporations and sent out the cops to shoot the union organizers, and passed laws attempting to stop the market in its march toward improved working conditions. Fifty years later, the government didn't suddenly come to its senses and become a neutral arbiter, a societal force for good that ensured that nobody was hitting anybody but things would be decided peacefully-- no, the government *changed sides*! Now it's the union bullies who hurt people and the cops who stand by and do nothing to protect people and property and the peace while they do it. And the laws are used to create sinecures for favored groups of workers--harming not only their companies, but other workers and the customers, not to mention the marketplace.

But you aren't calling for the government to stop meddling and handing favors to special interests when you complain of, for example, the agricultural subsidies which of COURSE go to gigantic corporate farmers -- you don't want them to stop doing that obvious inanity-- no, you just want to use it to justify you're getting some -- you just want them to do the same thing for *your* special interest. And for the same reason: You'd rather the government protect you from your customers, clients, and employers, than have to deal with them yourself. Well of course you would! So would everybody! That's understandable. What I don't understand is why that makes your position so moral?

Where is it written--and who wrote it, and when did they write it, and who the hell do they think they are--that once you've established yourself in an enterprise or a field of study or a specialty--that the government guarantees you won't have to compete for that against anybody ever again? That society *owes you* that job, that salary, that good living, that life direction? Or if you are a company making, let's say, RAM chips, that nobody can compete with you so well that they threaten your business? Where the hell is that written? If a developer is losing a job to some Indian who will do roughly the same job for a fifth the price--why is it suddenly society's role to intervene and prevent this guy from having to defend his job? Prevent a situation in which this developer is going to have to go into a new profession? Why? Because he's an American and the other guy is Indian? How about if somebody in New Jersey is willing to work for less than somebody from California--shall we stop that inconvenience to the California developer? Oh yes--we should! There are regular attempts to prevent companies from moving themselves and their jobs out of state!

So now the government becomes, in the eyes of the great liberals, those who launched the great revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries against the dead hand of government--that government becomes the guarantor of No Change! You find a profession you like? Fine--register with Washington and nobody can take it away from you!

Think I'm kidding? France and Germany have nearly that situation right now. Booming economies, too, I notice!

Once you put that notion into action, it's everybody's ballgame. People line up to get protection, make-goods, stop their bosses and then their neighbors from inconveniencing them. Corporations are right at the front of the trough, too -- and why not? You've established the rules of the game: The government is there to prevent anybody from getting in your way, competing "unfairly" for your job, moving your job, painting their house a color you don't like (as happened in my town recently), and there's no end to it. The government is the arm of society for forcing people to Do The Right Thing. Which is fine--as long as they properly understand what The Right Thing is.... or until they foolishly elect a Republican into office... or a Hitler, or a Taliban.

Welcome to the bullying society.

(And then try to take away from the government that power you conceded to them for your own interests. Hah.)

I have an alternative suggestion (for dealing with poor countries). If other countries are poor, let's end our tariffs and other unfair blockages that prevent them from selling us stuff and improving their condition. We've got more of those than almost anybody, GATT notwithstanding. Let's stop subsidizing sugar beet farmers in New Orleans so Jamaicans can sell us sugar and get off the dole. Let's stop subsidizing tobacco farmers and let them go find another kind of job. Let's stop subsidizing rich companies and engaging in "unfair competition lawsuit" farces that are nothing but opportunities for politicians to sell votes. Let's stop sending foreign aid billions to the governments who run such oppressive countries that the poor can never rise up because the rich there own the government. Really own the government, not this mere shadow of the thing we like to tease ourselves with here.

And for God's sake please stop to think that every time you suggest empowering the government to do another wonderful good, there are those awful companies you disdain so much with their lobbyists lining up in Washington to pervert your intentions and turn them against you, and against smaller competitors--and the pols are happy to let them. And when, as surely you must, you suggest using the government to attack evil corporations, please bear in mind that rich people and rich corporations know how to defend themselves in the long run, but an empowered government is empowered forever--even when it has corrupted itself and turned its attentions to you. Remember that this good thing can be bad too --the Jim Crow laws were designed to prevent black people from offering their services cheaper than white laborers and through employer *greed* undermining segregation. I remind you that Smith's great insight into markets is that they do not create good from the intentions of the actors.

Jeez, I can't believe I'm reading this kind of self-righteous drivel from you. You'd think that a hundred years of liberal nostrums turned to dust in our mouths would have taught intelligent people something. Apparently not.

The Editor in Chief of DevX, Lori Piquet, urged me to post the remarks as a reply to his essay, and I responded:

That's all i need--a discussion. Russell did respond, taking the standard liberal positions. Our problem is that we disagree at the most fundamental level - what is the role of government in a free society? He thinks it's to do whatever is convenient and helpful; whatever, as he puts it, is in "our" interests. The entire history of self-interested government moves him not a whit. Such naive faith in activist government simply depresses me--it was against this exact notion of the role and duty of the ruling classes that the US government was set up with an entirely different approach -- one that Russell and everybody who believes as he does -- and that's nearly everybody, because it's so wonderful to be able to have the government force goodness on everyone and fix everything and pay for everything -- have completely abandoned. Which is fine -- except they don't even *know* they have abandoned it. They aren't aware of it in the first place. They don't know that this exact same argument went on for the entire 18th century, with yards of books and tracts written arguing all sides.

It just makes me tired. There is always a fresh generation eager to put its hands on the efficacious levers of a powerful government--and there always will be--fanatically attentive to the shortcomings of every private individual, yet completely oblivious to the endless horrors of activist government, they are on every school board, every zoning commission, every condominium association, every high school student government, bright-eyed, intelligent, and as ignorant as newborn babes. But by God, they know power when they see it, and they have plans for it. Yes, they have plans.

The Founders did an amazing job of wrenching our ancestral society 180 degrees around from the notions of paternalistic government that had ruled for ten thousand years, and the respect for the individual and suspicion of government overreaching they inculcated lasted a hundred years. How can we ever reclaim that heritage? I don't know. I wish I knew.

But forums on topics like this are just a tiresome raging of ignoramuses, and you can't be writing corrective essays every day. I'm sorry I bothered to respond to him -- plainly, judging from his response, he is immovable in his righteous view.

Thin end of the wedge (taxes, Social Security)

A friend sent a blurb about how when Social Security started, there was all manner of representations made of how little it would cost, how modest it all was, etc. My reply:

Now *here's* something i'd like to have engraved on the foreheads of all

(Interestingly--or not--the exact same kinds of promises were made when the
income tax was introduced: It would only be 1%, and only on the richest 1%
of Americans--those earning over $10,000 a year (when the average worker
earned less than $1000, so that sounded safe).

The Brits talk about "the thin end of the wedge," and mock it. But maybe
it's actually an insight, eh?

Things To Remember Before Supporting Some Bright Idea to Have The Government
Help You:

1. They just want your money. Period. Because you have it -- not your fair
share, not for future generations, not because you owe society--because
you've got it--and they want it. Every new opportunity you give them, they
will turn the proverb about giving an inch and taking a mile into a painful
object lesson. Every time. Never fails. Never has and never will.

2. They can promise anything they want and the next Congress can do anything
it wants. Therefore remember Fulbright's remark in another context: Don't
vote on what you think THIS congress or THIS president (or governor or town
council) will do with the power you concede to them -- vote on what ANY
FUTURE Congress or President WILL BE ABLE to do with it--especially if the
future ones aren't as Wise and Kindly and Feeling Your Pain as the current

3. Notice carefully that there is never an Out clause built into any new,
big, expensive project or tax: If the promises and projections don't work
out, they won't cancel it, they won't reform it (and reformers will be
denounced shamelessly), they will just pile another tax or program or
bureaucracy on it.

4. Whenever a new program is proposed, or a tax to pay for something
wonderful, force yourself to remind yourself who will be running the
program/spending the money: the same knuckleheads who run--pick your
most-hated arm of the government: the Pentagon? (for you liberals) the HUD
(or whatever they are calling the housing and urban dev business these
days), the Post Office, the Social Security Administration, the Foreign
Service, the State Department, the FBI, the CIA, the Congress for that
matter, the Education Department, the Ag Department, the ha ha Small Bus
Administration, the Treasury? Or your local parking tickets admistrator.
THESE are the SAME kinds of people who will run your new favorite bright
idea--they don't import a busload of GOOD people -- they hire from the same
pool that populates the bureaucracies you hate! THINK about that for a
minute. Then remember item 3 above.

A little checklist can be a big help when you go to the polls.

michael mccarthy

"Were America Still A Republic...."

"Were America still a republic, liberty would be guaranteed regardless ofwhom is elected on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November: the shifty-eyed Ewok (Bush) or the Wizard of Oz Scarecrow (Kerry). In democratic America, however, either of these demiurges will enjoy almost unlimited power. Marriage, marijuana, Microsoft, you name it--there is hardly an aspect of life from which these meddlers are barred. All are subject to the whims of the national majority, or, r ather, of its ostensible representatives.
from the Mises Institute's weekly newsletter....

A friend, Michael Miller, with whom I had discussed these issues a few days earlier, responded (Sept 17):
I'm still enough of an optimist to believe we do have a republic, despite my skepticism of many of the policies of the two men in question.However, liberty is still worth fighting for, as is reminding people where the government is moving towards restricting it.--Michael

My reply:
We are on the same page on that!It';s not so much that I'm a pessimist, as that I haven't yet been able to put my finger on the strategy, or factor, or trendline, that can counteract the worrisome features of governance today. I don't believe that there is no such strategy--to the contrary. It's just that I don't want to be whistling past the graveyard--to move society in the right direction will I think indeed require some "fighting" (not literally) but that requires both being roused to the battle, and a sense of a winning strategy. The analogy might be the U.S. and Britain pre-WWII, where a lack of clear sense of the full measure of the danger, and a complete lack of a strategy for dealing with it, led many to simply cross their fingers and hope for the best. When things finally reached their crisis time, we roused ourself to a response and came up with a winning strategy--but many suffered and many died before we won.The architects of this country came to one fundamental conclusion: That a government self-empowered to do what it will, even when restricted in specific areas by a Magna Carta, was a longterm threat to the liberties of the people. Their strategy was to turn the concept of governance on its head and create a government of enumerated powers rather than enumerated rights, with the aim of severely restricting government powers at the fundament.

But the other fundamental insight is that people in general, not just governmental bureaucrats and politicians, savor the opportunity to force others to do their will, to make others Do The Right Thing (as *they* define it, always), to yield to the temptation of a self-righteousness that justifies all manner of horrors, to insist on winning every battle and viewing compromise, the risk of loss, and the delays of dealing with other people as insufferable. This tendency of most people to lean towards supporting tyranny for their own specific purposes is the greatest risk to the general welfare that there is. For it is not only the politicians and bureaucrats who desire power, it is evenmore so their factions and self-interested supporters who demand they seize such power over others and exercise it for the benefit of the faction. For the bureaucrat or politician or political leader who refuses to seize and use power on behalf of his supporting factions will quickly find himself out of a job.

In the long, long term, finding a counter to this tribal mindset is critical to human happiness. I read once an essay that argued that people have a tribal view of the world that is appropriate in hunter-gatherer society, perhaps, but clashes with the very non-tribal nature of a free society. As you know, counteracting genetic predispositions is no easy trick (my diet, for example)--thus my fretting.mac

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

If State Agencies Can't Offshore Some Work, That Means the Taxpayers Get Nailed!

On Monday, August 23rd, 2004, the California Senate passed a bill that would ban state agencies from contracting services to companies that use overseas labor.

Oh terrific -- Now only the state *taxpayers* can't benefit from lower costs. We've passed a law *requiring* higher costs, and therefore higher taxes -- thanks, guys! Legalized inefficiency!

Why do so many laws act to protect vendors from their customers?

In this case the vendor is the provider of computing services--whether it be a software vendor or consultant, or an individual programmer. The customer is the government entity, and by extension their taxpayer-masters.

Software has become increasingly critical to the efficient operation of modern business and government. Programming services have become more expensive, and the number of programmer students has declined in the United States. The programmer community has dragged its feet in instituting engineering disciplines that would create greater efficiencies in architecting, developing, evolving, and maintaining code, thus keeping costs high.

The customer reacts rationally by trying to find some way to reduce costs--not just so they can spend less on software, but in most cases so they can devote some of their limited resources to more software projects, for which there is an apparently unending need. Getting more programming benefits and results from the same investment is the way it is, and specifically the way it *ought* to be -- without such ongoing efforts to increase efficiency--increase output per unit of work or capital invested--the economy wouldn't grow and nobody would ever get a raise again.

So they try to figure out a way to break up their computing systems into chunks, some of which might be outsourced easily, so they can save money and use that money for something else. But programmers don't want to have to compete for their jobs -- who would? -- nor do they want to change their work disciplines, nor do they want to change their career paths, nor do they want to be pushed into doing all these things on a regular basis the rest of their life. Like most people, they'd really like to just settle into whatever job and discipline and employer and career path they find that they like, and never have to change a thing.

Of course. Me too. The difference comes when they get it into their heads that somebody, somewhere, under some mysterious color of authority, *guaranteed* them the *right* to live this life, and to have that right defended against the outside world. So they go to their congress-critters to demand their rights.

And the congresspeople, or state senators, or whichever politician is in the line of fire, of course has never in history declined to assume the mantle of power thrust upon him by a constituent.

The steel workers played this game in the 1960s and 70s. The auto factory workers pulled this stunt in the 1950s--we were *told* that all you had to do was get a job on the line, and you were good for life--increasingly easy work, growing paychecks, lifetime employment! When that got shaken up by competition from the efficiency-obsessed Japanese, the auto workers were outraged. And the Congress tried to respond as best it could. Resulting in pain for consumers while not staunching the pain felt by workers or their employers.

During all that debate back in those days, at no point did the press report on any regular basis any argument made by anybody involved that Things Change, and You Gotta Change With 'Em. It Ain't the 1800s Any More, Buddy--and Who *Was* That Who Gave You That Guarantee, Anyway? Go Yell At Him!

Nobody ever argued that protecting the company against its customers is not the job of government, and if it were, it would be a bad job and a bad idea. And protecting the worker against the customer is equally wrong, and equally leads to evil results.

Nor will you hear that argument made today.

The frightened programmers want what they want, and the hell with the longterm consequences. Well, this whole argument is the longterm consequence of not dealing with this wrong-headed position when it first came up in the 1950s and 1960s, and again in the 1970s.

Let us repeat the mistakes of the past, once again. And pay for it, but good, once again. Politicians never learn. Worse, newspaper editors and reporters never learn either.

Some Quotes about Political

1. Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.
--Mark Twain

2. We contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle.
--Winston Churchill

3. A government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.
--George Bernard Shaw

4. A liberal is someone who feels a great debt to his fellow man, which debt he proposes to pay off with your money.
-- G. Gordon Liddy

5. Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.
--James Bovard, Civil Libertarian (1994)

6. Foreign aid might be defined as a transfer from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries.
--Douglas Casey, Classmate of W.J.Clinton at Georgetown U. (1992)

7. Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.
--P.J. O'Rourke, Civil Libertarian

8. Government is the great fiction, through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.
--Frederic Bastiat, French Economist (1801-1850)

9. Government's view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.
-- Ronald Reagan (1986)

10. I don't make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.
--Will Rogers

11. If you think health care is expensive now, wait until you see what it costs when it's free.
--P.J. O'Rourke

12. If you want government to intervene domestically, you're a liberal. If you want government to intervene overseas, you're a conservative. If you want government to intervene everywhere, you're a moderate. If you don't want government to intervene anywhere, you're an extremist.
--Joseph Sobran, Editor of the National Review at one time (1995)

13. In general, the art of government consists in taking as much money as possible from one party of the citizens to give to the other.
--Voltaire (1764)

14. Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn't mean politics won't take an interest in you.
--Pericles (430 B.C.)

15. No man's life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session.
--Mark Twain (1866)

16. Talk is cheap-except when Congress does it.

17. The government is like a baby's alimentary canal, with a healthy appetite at one end and no responsibility at the other.
--Ronald Reagan

18. The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of the blessings. The inherent blessing of socialism is the equal sharing of misery.
--Winston Churchill

19. The only difference between a tax man and a taxidermist is that the taxidermist leaves the skin.
--Mark Twain

20. The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools.
--Herbert Spencer, English Philosopher (1820-1903)

21. There is no distinctly native American criminal class save Congress.
--Mark Twain

22. What this country needs are more unemployed politicians.
-- Edward Langley, Artist 1928-1995

Posted by Donald Luskin at 2/27/2004 09:07:27 AM

Overinterpreting local weather as signs of global warming...

Yet climate scientists say they can't look at any one year and tell whether the odd weather reflects a signal of global warming. "It's just climate variability all over again," said Daniel Cayan, director of the climate research division of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla.....

Frank Gehrke, chief of snow surveys for the California Dept of Water Resources, said each year can be very different from the previous year and the following years. "We'll always have a year where things could be radically different irrespective of global warming. It's not like we're going to be suddenly uniform," Gehrke said....

--The San Francisco Chronicle, "Lack of Rain no Biggie Yet, Say Scientists," Jan 23, 2007

Watch for too-easy attributions of warm weather incidents to global warming -- notice also that only WARM weather gets this notation -- unusually cold weather goes by without the editorial tip o' the hat -- there seems to be no compulsion to "explain" "why" it's so cold in spite of global warming.... This is a good ongoing example of Ignorant Bigoted Journalism that isn't even aware when it's acting that way!

Are we in the West really weak? [quote]

The jihadists claim that we ar weak spiritually, but our past global ideolocial enemies -- Nazism, fascism, militarism, and communism -- ar failed. And so will they.

--Victor Davis Hanson, columnist, Hoover Institute, Jan2, 2007

"Let's control the Capital first...."

There is something intuitively plausible and honest about the statement [by US military commanders in Iraq] that if a government can't control its own capital, it cannot control the rest of the country.

In fact, I propose that the same approach be used domestically. Before the federal government makes any more attempts to bring their proposed utopia to the rest of the country, let them eliminate poverty, crime, gang war, hate, despair, abuse, corruption, and injustice in Washington, D.C. Once that city is cleared of all such vice, we can talk about movig on to other parts of the country.

I think we can safely predict a quagmire.

--Lew Rockwell, Mises Institute, Oct 06

Why Kennedy's "Ask Not" was wrong...

In 1962, Mr. Friedman took on President John F. Kenney's popular inaugural exhortation, "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country." In an introduction to his classic book, "Capitalism and Freedom," a collection of his writings and lectures, he said "President Kennedy] had got it wrong: You should ask neither.

"What your country can do for you," Mr. Friedman said, implies that the governnment is the patron, the citizen the ward; and "what you can do for your country" assumes that the government is the master, the citizen the servant. Rather, he said, you should ask, "What I and my compatriots can do through government to help discharge our individual responsiblities, to achieve our several goals and purposes, and above all, to protect our freedom."

--Cato Institute, on death of Friedman in October 2006

"So how's Arnold doing?"

A friend writes, "It's been some time since Arnold S. became the governator of California. How's he doing? Is he any good or is he just a novelty?"

He's doing 'good.' Meaning he's managed to remain politically effective.

He started out charging hard after a bunch of things that are really, really good ideas, and would have transformed the California political landscape and done the state more good than any governor since Hiram Johnson a hundred years ago -- but his political and ideological rivals managed to block that effort so effectively that he lost all his public approval over the course of the first year.

He made an improbable comeback by scaling his ambitions for reform way, way down (to my utter disappointment) but finding a nifty trick for getting at least some reform-like items thru the legislature: He spent a lot of time & trouble forming "alliances" with the Democrats whom he had been publically scorning. He figured out, and pointed out to them, that their pushback on his reforms, while effective, were causing the legislatures' public image to take a big dive too -- a do-nothing legislature, good only at blocking action but not offering any reforms or results themselves. So he made sort of a deal: They would come up with fixes for variouis problems together, and he would praise the Democrats as Democrats in public, in such a way that it wouldn't be just Arnold's legislative victory, but one of the Democratic legislators too.

They bought it; he delivered; they signed a bunch of fairly decent middle-of-the-road legislation; and the blush is still not off the rose a year later. In fact, it's worked so well he's made friends with Bloomberg, who is trying the same trick in New York. And now they are talkign about the post-partisan era of governorships - a new period of getting things done instead of just using their offices for partisan battling.

It would be nice to think that will really last, but partisanship is a powerful force. It has, at least, resulted in at least one article I saw in passing that talked about how much the Founders *hated* partisanship, which they termed "factionalism," because it puts party above country; they blamed it for all England's ills of the day. Their descriptions of the horrors of factionalism sound exactly like the ills of partisanship today, so I think they were on to something.

So that's the news from California as best I can describe it without getting into my libertarian take on it all.


The "Name a Star" Scam

This from Forbes:
"A Star Is Named"

At least half a dozen companies will sell you the rights to name a star, along with a handsome "official" certificate and a sky chart that shows your star's location. Prices range from $25.95 to $139. The catch: The International Astronomical Union is the only organization with authority to name celestial bodies. Most stars get numbers and coordinates, not names--less poetic, perhaps, but a good deal easier to locate.
One of my kids heard the radio ad you've all heard--"Name a star after someone you love!"--and planned to do that for her boyfriend's birthday. I had to burst her bubble. She really thought she was having a star named after him.

It really irritates me that they fool regular people like her with this pretense--and the radio stations, always ready to be the conscience of public figures, play these ads without any conscience of their own, or sense of obligation to the listeners...

The especial sticking point for me is the breathless assertion that "your star name will be recorded in a book and registered with the Library of Congress!" This is done specifically to give listeners the impression that this somehow makes it "official," whereas anyone in the publishing business knows that every single book published in the United States has to be "registered" with the Library of Congress by law, and a free copy sent to the Library of Congress -- which ends up throwing away most of its copies as not worth putting in the Library. (In fact, one problem they have it people who self-publish a dozen copies of their autobiography--which doesn't qualify as "publishing" for registratin purposes - but who insist on registering with the Library of Congress - and send a useless copy of the book in to D.C.)

Now if you KNOW this is just a scam, you can go ahead and spend your hundred bucks so you can get the cute certificate and the nifty sky chart and, as long as you and your loved one know it's not official, enjoy the *thought* -- which is that as far as you are concerned, your loved one SHOULD be in the stars, forever and eternally. Which is worth far more than any official organization could ever offer!

But that's not what they're doing, and they know it. Just my opinion, but my opinion is pissed off.....!

"Dead Men Farming" by John Stossel--Great rant against US farming subsidies! (9/2007)

In his usual outraged yet commensensical way, ABC's John Stossel rips a big hole in arguments favoring govt subsidies of farmers and farming. As long as we cannot reform this ripoff, we can't reform our government at any fundamental level.

(Warning: The link goes to, a conservative/Republican site; I'm a Libertarian, not a conservative or a Republican, but that's just where Stossel's columns happen to be published--though he himself is also libertarian, not conservative or partisan in his reporting. So if you're not a conservative or Republican either, just put up with it.)

Another hoax: Perfume Sniffing Muggers!

Got another alarming email from a relative telling me to WARN EVERYBODY! Seems you get approached by a stranger who asks you what kind of perfume you are wearing, then offers to let you smell a bottle of perfume they are holding -- one whiff and you are knocked out cold, then robbed and who knows what else. Danger danger danger Will Robinson!

Except it's not true. I looked it up on SNOPES.COM, the Urban Legend site, which is remarkably good at helping figure out if a warning is real or a hoax (some *are* real -- not very many, but some).

Here's the link to the perfume scam:

Consider bookmarking so you can check claims like this. Just type in something like "smell perfume" in the search box to get a list of related rumors. They do a remarkable job.

We've got lots to be really scared of; we don't need to scare people over nothing. A relativ used to circulate these kinds of internet hoaxes regularly to his large mailing list, until he got tired of me just taking two minutes out to look them up on and findt that, surprise surprise, 99% were hoaxes. People invent these things and delight in the fact that they make fools of people who circulate them around the internet like wildfire, without bothering to check. If you like making an ass of yourself, go ahead. If not, check.

Why 5 Fingers? and 5 Toes? Proves single source of all life? (Nov 07)

One interesting puzzle being pursued by scientists is the question of whether life is more-or-less inevitable given the right circumstances, or whether it is a fluke.

The answer impacts, for example, our educated guesses as to how probable life may be on other planets -- if life is inevitable, or common, or easy, then all we have to do is find evidence of enough planets and we can think it likely life exists elsewhere in the universe. If life is unlikely, then we are less confident and must rely more heavily on the mathematics of large numbers.

If life is inevitable, then one would think it would have arisen on Earth more than once; several times, really. It is clear that life is relentless once established -- it reaches into every nook and cranny of the world, no matter how improbable. But the evidence seems to favor the idea that all the life we know of on Earth is genetically related, and therefor of a single origin -- of a single instance of the kick-starting of life on Earth, from which we all descend.

Casual, hobbyist sorts of observations can help us think of this problem. For example, why does everything have five fingers and five toes? (First, why five in particular? It's a strange number; we are bilaterally symmetical creatures, and five doesn't bilateral. I like to joke that God's intelligent design is improbable on this basis: Five fingers is excessive, even cartoon creatures manage to get by just fine with only four fingers; three arms and three hands would have been much more useful...)

But my point is that it's not just us, but every land animal has five digits. Only octupii and starfish have limbs of a different order. This suggests a single, or at least limited number, of life originations.

Scientists are following up on this by taking more pains to check the genetics of the odder sorts of creatures closely. (See "Are There Aliens Among Us?" in Scientific American, Dec. 2007) One notion is that life may have arisen several or even many times, but some life forms died out, and others were pushed aside by the current dominant form. To check this, scientists are looking into the remotest and most hostile areas of the planet--seafloor volcano vents, subAntarctic lakes--seeking genetically distinct creatures, on the speculation that if prior forms of the arts of living survived, they would likely do so in the remoter Icelands and Tierra del Fuegos and Pyrannees of life's world.

Senate Panel Passes Bill to Limit Greenhouse Gas

[From Cato Institute, a free-market thinktank in D.C., in a press release today]

A Senate committee approved a broad bill on Wednesday night to address climate change, a major step toward passage of a measure that would for the first time slow and then reverse emissions of the gases that scientists blame for the warming of the planet," reports The New York Times. "The Environment and Public Works Committee split largely along party lines on the bill, which calls for a roughly 70 percent cut from 2005 levels by 2050 in the production of carbon dioxide and other climate-altering pollutants. The legislation would limit emissions for virtually all sectors of the economy, but would allow swapping of pollution permits among carbon emitters."

Jerry Taylor, Cato senior fellow, comments on this bill:

"The promise to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 70% by 2050 is no more serious than a promise to reduce my weight and get into fighting shape within the next year, decade, or half-century. There is a long history of ambitious environmental promises that have been made in air and water law that, nonetheless, have had zero impact on actual behavior.

"A good rule of thumb is to ignore legislative promises. They are not self enforcing and courts have proven incapable of holding government to the same. Instead, we should primarily pay attention to actual policy being adopted in the here-and-now.

"If we do that in this case, we can conclude three things. First, this bill would have very little impact on total global greenhouse gas emissions. Second, this bill would result in a drop in global temperatures that would be far too small to measure even if promises were kept. And third, it would impose not insubstantial costs. How great those costs might be, however, depends upon whether the promised reductions occur, how they are carried out, and technological innovations that are impossible to foresee. Regardless, any serious attempt to quantify benefits (that is, the benefits associated with no significant change in global temperature) would conclude that the benefits are essentially zero. Any serious attempt to quantify costs would find that they are non-zero and positive. Hence, this bill represents bad public policy."

Cato senior fellow Patrick J. Michaels adds:

"There is no known suite of technologies that could possibly result in a 70% reduction of U.S. emissions. However, this legislation will attempt to do so by limiting the supply of carbon-based fuels ultimately via pricing mechanisms. The result is a true environmental tragedy. Capital that could have been used by individuals for investment in corporations that produce efficient things or produce things efficiently is instead squandered in a futile attempt to reduce emissions. This bill will have an effect opposite to its intent -- it will delay the development of technologies that could actually bring about meaningful carbon dioxide reductions."

Mac's Libertarian Rants on Everything

I am a libertarian, and also a Libertarian, although the Libertarian Party is mostly useless, through no fault of its own. I've been studying economics from the free-market perspective for three decades, ever since I read Free to Choose by Milton Friedman.

So from time to time I get wound up about some current issue and post here my reaction. Or (even more often) I quote or note and link to some really well said piece of polemic.

Come along for the ride. There's a lot of good stuff out there! I'll point it out!