Friday, August 28, 2009

Russell Roberts on The Unimaginable

Several years ago, Russell Roberts, half of the George Mason University Economics blogging duo Cafe Hayek, wrote a parable called "The Choice: A Fable Of Free Trade And Protectionism".

(I found it at Half Price Books in Dallas a few years ago. Good stuff.)

At one point in the book, Perfesser Roberts needed to come up with the most idiotic Straw Man argument he could think of to illustrate that destroying things so you could make them again doesn't improve the economy.

He had to think for a long time. He wanted something so bizarre, so unlikely, and so... so.... so.... freakin' dumb that anyone reading his book would get his point and be forced to agree.

So what scenario did he think of, waaaaay back in 2005, to show that cleaning up after vandalism doesn't create wealth? Here goes....

"Let's flip it around. Suppose you wake up in the morning, and there's no new car in the driveway - just the same one you've been driving. But the president makes a similar speech. A government official will be coming to get your car and drive it off a cliff, where the remains will be buried. Sure, you're going to have to buy a new car but employment in the U.S. auto industry will increase, and prosperity will follow, won't it? Or will it? Will that policy make America richer or poorer?"
"It would make Detroit richer."

"That's right. The auto industry would expand. But the country as a whole would be poorer for it. You don't get rich destroying things. You get poorer."

There you have it, written in 2005. Irony is now dead. Irony has achieved room temperature, and is pushing up daisies. You can put a morgue tag on its toe.

Russell Roberts sat down with his doctorate in economics, and tried to imagine a government program so dumb that no one would dare try it.

He failed.

If you didn't hit the link at the top, after giving us the excerpt from his book Perfesser Roberts goes on to write "Cash for Clunkers has ended for now. It was an intellectual travesty. I am grateful that it was poorly administered. It might have done even more damage."

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Obligatory Post About Ted Kennedy

I'm a huge fan on the movie "Shattered Glass", a film in which journalist Michael Kelly is portrayed as a brilliant editor for The New Republic magazine. After leaving TNR, Kelly went on to edit several other news and opinion journals and was eventually killed while covering the war in Iraq.
I immediately bought a copy of "Things Worth Fighting For", a collection of Kelly's collected journalism pieces. One of my favorites in the book is this gem, which was originally published in GQ. The link is much shorter than the original. I hope you'll go there and get back to me. It's pure, undiluted greatness.

Next, imagine if GW Bush had done this....

But, as Shakespeare said (or maybe it was Christopher Marlowe), the evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones. Here's Nick Gillespie, of Reason magazine on Kennedy's major accomplishment:

There is, buried deep within Kennedy's legislative legacy, a different set of policies worth exhuming and examining, precisely because they were truly a break with the normal way of doing business in Washington. During the 1970s, Kennedy was instrumental in deregulating the interstate trucking industry and airline ticket prices, two innovations that have vastly improved the quality of life in America even as—or more precisely, because—they pushed power out of D.C. and into the pocketbooks of everyday Americans. We are incalculably richer and better off because something like actual prices replaced regulatory fiat in trucking and flying. Because they do not fit the Ted Kennedy narrative preferred by his admirers and detractors alike, these accomplishments rarely get mentioned in stories about the late senator. But they are exactly the sort of legislation that we should be celebrating in his honor, and using as a model in today's debates about health care, education, and virtually every aspect of government action.

So at least he deregulated the trucking industry. I owe him a big one.

Here's a picture of him coming out of the swimming pool, shortly after killing somebody.

Multiple coats of high gloss Whitening to Instapundit for the collections of links.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Seen and Unseen 101, by Don Boudreaux

Here's a letter that Don Boudreaux, of George Mason University, sent to The Wall Street Journal:

Fred Hochberg, President of the Export-Import Bank of the U.S., says proudly that “the mandate of the Export-Import Bank of the U.S. (Ex-Im Bank) is to help create and sustain U.S. jobs by financing U.S. exports” (Letters, August 21). I’ve some questions – and answers – for Mr. Hochberg.

From where does the Ex-Im Bank get the dollars it spends to subsidize U.S. exports? (Answer: taxpayers.)

Would taxpayers not spend or invest these dollars if these dollars were not taxed away? (Answer: of course they would.)

Would not this spending and investing by less-onerously-taxed Americans not “help create and sustain U.S. jobs”? (Answer: of course it would.)

Is there anything particularly desirable about a job producing and selling output for export as opposed to a job producing and selling output for domestic consumption? (Answer: nope.)

Can you spend money more wisely than it can be spent by the taxpayers from whom it is confiscated? (Answer: no; you almost surely spend it less wisely.)

So at best the Ex-Im Bank creates jobs in export industries by destroying jobs in non-export industries.

Final question, then: Why does the Ex-Im exist?

Sincerely,Donald J. Boudreaux

(Answer to the final question: to transfer wealth from unsuspecting taxpayers and consumers to politically powerful corporations; the Ex-Im Bank exists only to supply corporate welfare.)


Picture of Frederic Bastiat, author of "Things Seen And Unseen" came from here. The picture of the leadup to the Karate Kid Crane Kick came from here.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Yet another call for a new Biblical Canon

I'm fascinated by what made it into various Bibles, and what didn't. I'm equally fascinated by the committee process that elevated these books to the category of "inspired", and why some of us blindly accept some of the decisions of those committees, and reject other decisions by the same committees.

The Council Of Hippo, for instance, solidified the basic Christian canon in 393 A.D. They also voted in favor of clerical celibacy. 1600 years later, Protestants will take up arms if you try to remove the Gospel Of John from the bible, but they would do the same if you suggest that preachers shouldn't marry. Why do we trust The Council Of Hippo on some issues but not others?
Plus, there's a lot of disagreement over what is inspired and what isn't. There were a multitude of gospels, epistles, apocalypses and such being passed around in the early days of the church.

(For the best layperson's guide to everything I've said so far, see Bart Ehrman's Jesus, Interrupted. You really must hit that link. It's an excellent interview.)

Here's a handy chart that shows what the many branches of Christianity accept as "Bible". Click on the chart, and it will take you to an interactive site that explains who deleted what, added what, and why. "God's Word", as you sometimes hear it called, is open for a lot of debate.

What's in Your Bible? Find out at

Which gets me to my point.... This afternoon, a friend of mine named Gene Elliott sent me and several other folks an interesting email. (Hit the Gene Elliot label below to read some of his outstanding political rants)
Here goes:

Let's edit and update the bible. Our bible is frozen in a time warp ranging from 1,900 to 2,700 years. Since then there has been immense progress in science and morals. For example, we now know the earth is not flat and that the sun does not revolve around it. We no longer accept slavery as the norm and do not accept repression of women, both of which were previously accepted.

If we dared to use our minds with current knowledge, what would we edit out of the bible? What would we add. Sunday, in a conversation with (deleted) on this subject, he enlightened me by suggesting that some of Martin Luther King's sermons might make positive contribution to our new, imaginary bible.

As John Spong has suggested, some of the things in the bible that we now know are ridiculous are what drives away educated, intelligent people from Christianity. What would you edit out of the bible if you could do so? Even though we can not literally edit and reprint the bible, we can think about and discuss what we think would advance the cause of Christianity and improve lives if things were removed or added.

If any of you are offended by this, I accept whatever criticism you wish to direct my way. I have never been accused of being a diplomat.


Well, this is what happens when the Southern Baptists kick people out of their convention.

What would I delete? Well, the book of Revelation doesn't make a lick of sense. The Gospels would do well to kick out John and add Thomas. If the Old Testament book of Numbers was inspired, it was inspired by Nyquil. I could go on and on, but what would be the point?

In the meantime, let me suggest one addition. This is from novelist Tom Robbins, Skinny Legs And All, page 167.

"Early religions were like muddy ponds with lots of foliage. Concealed there, the fish of the soul could splash and feed. Eventually, however, religions became aquariums. Then, hatcheries. from farm fingerling to frozen fish stick is a short swim.

....If one yearns to see the face of the Divine, one must break out of the aquarium, escape the fish farm, to go swim up the wild cataracts, dive in deep fjords. One must explore the labyrinth of the reef, the shadows of lily pads. How limiting, how insulting to think of God as a benevolent warden, an absentee hatchery manager who imprisons us in the "comfort" of artificial pools, where intermediaries sprinkle our restrictive waters with sanitized flakes of processed nutriment.

A longing for the Divine is intrinsic in Homo sapiens. (For all we know, it is innate in squirrels, dandelions, and diamond rings, as well.) We approach the Divine by enlarging our souls and lighting up our brains. To expedite those two things may be the mission of our existence.
Well and good. But such activity runs counter to the aspirations of commerce and politics. Politics is the science of domination, and persons in the process of enlargement and illumination are notoriously difficult to control. Therefore, to protect its vested interests, politics usurped religion a very long time ago. Kings bought off priests with land and adornments. Together, they drained the shady ponds and replaced them with fish tanks. The walls of the tanks were constructed of ignorance and superstition, held together with fear. They called the tanks "synagogues" or "churches" or "mosques". After the tanks were in place, nobody talked much about soul anymore. Instead, they talked about spirit. Soul is hot and heavy. Spirit is cool, abstract, detached. Soul is connected to the earth and its waters. Spirit is connected to the sky and its gases. Out of the gases springs fire. Firepower. It has been observed that the logical extension of all politics is war. Once religion became political, the exercise of it, too, could be said to lead sooner or later to war. "War is hell." Thus, religious belief propels us straight to hell. History unwaveringly supports this view. (Each modern religion has boasted that it and it alone is on speaking terms with the Deity, and its adherents have been quite willing to die - or kill - to support its presumptuous claims.)

Not every silty bayou could be drained, of course. The soulfish that bubbled and snapped in the few remaining ponds were tagged "mystics". they were regarded as mavericks, exotic and inferior. If they splashed too high, they were thought to be threatening and in need of extermination. The fearful flounders in the tanks, now psychologically dependent upon addictive spirit flakes, had forgotten that once upon a time they, too, had been mystical.

Religion is nothing but institutionalized mysticism. The catch is, mysticism does not lend itself to institutionalization. The moment we attempt to organize mysticism, we destroy its essence. Religion, then, is mysticism in which the mystical has been killed. Or, at least diminished."

That's the great Tom Robbins.

Infallible? No.
Inerrant? No.
Inspired by God? No.

Better than, say, Leviticus? Definitely.

Picture of the Human Aquarium came from here.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Thomas Sowell on Global Cooling, Barack Obama, and Velcro

Please stand for this month's reading from The Gospel According To Saint Thomas....

Economist Thomas Sowell, the smartest man in the world now that Milton Friedman is dead, has given us an assortment of new scriptures to ponder.
As Saint Thomas has grown old, his offerings to his disciples have become shorter, but no less pithy. We should treasure them, ponder them, and hold them in our hearts. I'll begin with his observations on the weather:

New York and Chicago have both recently had their coldest June in generations. If they had had their hottest month, it would have been trumpeted from the media 24/7 by global warming zealots. But the average surface temperature of the earth has not changed in more than a decade, according to the Cato Institute.

This, of course, is true. But as we have often said from this very pulpit, "What profiteth a man from cooling, when the fear of warming hath been shouted from the rooftops?"
Let us continue with the next verse:

Different people have very different reactions to President Barack Obama. Those who listen to his rhetoric are often inspired, while those who follow what he actually does are often appalled.

And yet The False Prophet Of Change still has the support of those who would close the abomination of Gitmo, those who would have us beat our swords into plowshares, and those who would preach marriage to the sodomites (not that there's anything wrong with that).
Saint Thomas continues with another verse:

With Velcro and other modern adhesives available, can't someone design a boxing glove that doesn't require fights to be stopped in the middle of a round so that loose tape can be repaired? Often the break in the action changes the whole tempo of the fight and can affect the outcome.

We must remember that Saint Thomas's ways are not our ways. If he says we need Velcro inside boxing gloves, let us develop Velcro boxing gloves. He's been right about everything else.

The man has spoken.

Thus endeth the reading from The Gospel According To Saint Thomas.

You may be seated.

Those of you interested in other lessons from this sermon series from the writings of Saint Thomas may go here.

Read This

Go here.
Read it.
Answer all questions.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Libertarians and The 9-12 Project

Being a member of the Libertarian Party puts one in an interesting situation.

We share a few values and beliefs with the stated goals and values of many Republicans - smaller government, 2nd amendment rights, property rights, a desire for lower taxes, and a distrust of the Obama administration. I've helped staff the Libertarian booth at many a Fort Worth Gun Show, and a couple of the Tea Party protests.

We also have some overlap with the stated goals and values of many Democrats - the right to privacy, a general suspicion of military adventures overseas, a desire for separation of church and state. We also see a need to reform drug laws. Like many Democrats, we distrust the Obama administration, but are free to be more vocal about it. I wasn't able to participate last year, but the Libertarians always sponsor a float in the Dallas Gay/Lesbian rights parade.

Then there's the 9-12 Project. This group was started by talk show host Glenn Beck, in an effort to get America back to the values we supposedly shared on the day after 9-11.

The Tarrant County Libertarians have been asked to participate in a 9-12 parade (to be held on, you guessed it, 9-12) in downtown Fort Worth. Since our enemy's enemy is our friend, we've agreed to participate. Here's how I see our points of agreement and disagreement on their 9 Principles and 12 Values, and I'm sure that other local Libertarians will give us their opinions soon:

The Nine Principles

1. America Is Good. I'm reminded of Mark Twain's quip about the phrase "My Country, right or wrong". Twain said "My Country, right or wrong" was like saying "My Mother, drunk or sober". If institutions or committees or countries can be good or bad, yeah, America is pretty good. But no country is always good. Not ours. Not yours. Not even neutral Switzerland. Not even the Vatican. This is, at best, a meaningless statement thrown in to dare the other side to deny it.

2. I believe in God and He is the Center of my Life. Which God, or Gods? The 9-12'ers like to talk about the Judeo-Christian God, a being who went through some severe personality changes over the last 6,000 years, and whose Jewish and Christian devotees have some mutually exclusive claims about the afterlife. Do they mean Yahweh? Jesus? Allah? Zeus? The Flying Spaghetti Monster? And what does believing in God(s) have to do with opposition to The Teleprompter Jesus?
There's one other difficulty....I've never known anyone who had God as the center of their life. Not one.

3. I must always try to be a more honest person than I was yesterday. Ok. A worthy goal.

4. The family is sacred. My spouse and I are the ultimate authority, not the government. One small problem here, and that's Glen Beck's divorce. But I like the idea of the family unit being the ultimate authority.

5. If you break the law you pay the penalty. Justice is blind and no one is above it.
I disagree with this one. People could once make the claim that "Ignorance of the law is no excuse". But when laws are passed that have nothing to do with fairness, rights, or morality, but to provide benefits to contributors and cronies, then one can longer have an instintive knowledge of the law. (See section IIA of this link.) For instance, I should have the right to import whatever I want into this country, as long as it doesn't do physical harm to others. I should be able to break the regulations that prevent me from doing so. I'm above those laws because they were written by whores.

6. I have a right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, but there is no guarantee of equal results. Yep. Well said.

7. I work hard for what I have and I will share it with who I want to. Government cannot force me to be charitable. Agreed. I'm still waiting on somebody, anybody, to tell me what giving part of my income to a gang of Chicago Machine Politicians has to do with Christian Charity.

8. It is not un-American for me to disagree with authority or to share my personal opinion. Agreed. Hence the existence of this site.

9. The government works for me. I do not answer to them, they answer to me. Yep. If it really matters to you who is elected President? Then the government has gotten too big. It should be no more important than choosing a lawn care service.

The 12 Values
* Honesty - No problem there.
* Reverence - Why should we automatically be reverent toward anything or anybody? It's like when Bush Jr. kept saying he had respect for Islam. If you have respect for Islam, you bow toward Mecca a few times every day, you abstain from eating pork, and you believe that The Prophet flew to Medina on a winged horse that had the face of a man. That's what it means to "respect" Islam. I don't respect it. You probably don't either. It's a belief system that isn't worthy of reverence.
* Hope - I wish they would replace Hope with Effort. Anyone can sit on the couch and hope.
* Thrift - Ok.
* Humility - Have you ever met a blogger with an excess of humility? I haven't either. Humble people usually don't ride in parades. Nix this one.
* Charity - Ok.
* Sincerity - Ties in with honesty, and is therefore redundant.
* Moderation - This one is ok, as long as I don't have to be excessive about it.
* Hard Work - Ok. Although some of the best work isn't that hard.
* Courage - Ok.
* Personal Responsibility - Ok.
* Gratitude - Ok.

I dunno how all the other Libertarians feel about it, but that's enough overlap for me to help with the 9-12 parade.
I still prefer the Libertarian 5 to the Beck 9-12. It's much more elegant and easy to remember.

Another modest wager

Here's Jonathan Adler, in National Review's "The Corner" blog:

Time to Change the Subject?
Let's see now. Deficit projections are once again on the rise as Obama's approval rating falls. Health-care reform is faltering, climate-change legislation is stalled, and David Axlerod is under fire for his conflicts of interest.
Seems like a good time to change the subject.
Contents of the CIA inspector general's report on harsh interrogation methods have already leaked, so it won't do the trick.
If I were a betting man, I'd expect something else to drop Monday or Tuesday.

I agree. I visit Talking Points Memo almost every day (they're one of the biggest Democrat clearinghouses for leftover Bush scandals), and they've had the same headline for about 48 hours. I'll bet a scandal from the Bush boom is exposed sometime before lunch on Monday.

Would you buy aluminum siding from these people?

A stranger calls you on the phone, trying to sell aluminum siding for your home. You don't want any aluminum siding. He's very persistent, and gives you the addresses of other homes in the neighborhood where he's done some work. He hints that aluminum siding will soon be a neighborhood requirement, and that you might as well buy the stuff now.

You tell him you'll get back with him later. On your way to work the next day, you check out the houses the salesman mentioned. They look horrible. Panels are flapping in the breeze. The colors don't match. Some panels are already missing.

One homeowner is mowing his yard, and you ask him about the siding. He says he hates it.

Now, imagine your motivations for not wanting to purchase any aluminum siding from those clowns. Then imagine reading this analysis of why you didn't want to make the purchase:

"Racial anxiety," guessed New York Times columnist Paul Krugman.
"Nihilism," theorized Time's Joe Klein.
"The crazy tree blooms in every moment of liberal ascendancy," historian Rick Perlstein proclaimed in the Washington Post.

No, there's a much simpler explanation. This is what I see when I look across the landscape....

I interview kids with diplomas from public high schools who can't fill out a job application or read a tape measure.
I read about the V.A. hospitals.
The U.S. Post Office can't deliver Sports Illustrated to my home when the Dallas Cowboys are on the cover. They seem to have a theft problem.
The Department Of Energy.
The Department Of Agriculture.
The Middle East Military Money Pit.
More than a BILLION dollars has been spent on Fort Worth's Trinity River project, and as best I can tell, they haven't moved a shovel of dirt yet.
Barney Frank.
Senator Charles Grassley (Ethanol, Iowa)
49-year old government retirees.
The 3-month Cash For Clunkers program ran out of money in 5 days. The website keeps crashing. They're bringing people in from the FAA to help, 7 days a week. Auto dealers are in a blind freakin' panic.
Social Security is as broke as the 10 Commandments.

The Town Hall meeting protests aren't about racial anxiety, nihilism, or the fruit of the Crazy Tree. They're about track records, incompetence, and fiscal sanity.

Plus, Barack Obama isn't the only person who can read Saul Alinsky. Check out Alinsky's Rules For Radicals when you get a chance.