Saturday, September 28, 2013

In Praise Of Walter Williams

I was looking through WikiQuote this morning when I stumbled across the Walter Williams collection of outstanding utterances

Lord have mercy, what a man.  I've always admired his economic statements, but knew nothing of his background until this morning.  Here's some more Wiki-stuff, interspersed with some of my favorite Williams quotes.

Walter Edward Williams (born March 31, 1936) is an American economist, commentator, and academic. He is the John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics at George Mason University, as well as a syndicated columnist and author known for his libertarian views.

Williams's family during childhood consisted of himself, his mother, and his sister. His father played no role in raising either child.  He grew up in Philadelphia. The family initially lived in West Philadelphia, moving to North Philadelphia and the Richard Allen housing projects when Williams was ten. His neighbors included a young Bill Cosby. Williams knew many of the individuals that Cosby speaks of from his childhood, including Weird Harold and Fat Albert.

Williams was a talented high school student who displayed a very inconsistent performance in his studies. Following high school he came out to stay with his father in California, and attended one semester at Los Angeles City College, in regard to which he would later state that he was not ready yet to be a serious student. 

In 1959 he was drafted into the military, and served as a Private in the United States Army.  While stationed in the south, he "waged a one man battle against Jim Crow from inside the army. He challenged the racial order with provocative statements to his fellow soldiers. This resulted in an overseeing officer filing a court-martial proceeding against Williams. Williams argued his own case, and was found not guilty.  While considering filing countercharges against the officer that had brought him up for court martial, Williams found himself transferred to Korea. Upon arriving there, Williams marked "Caucasian" for race on his personnel form. When challenged on this, Williams replied wryly if he had marked "Black", he would end up getting all the worst jobs. From Korea Williams wrote a letter to President John F. Kennedy denouncing the pervasive racism in the American government and military, and questioning the actions black Americans should take given the state of affairs, writing:

“Should Negroes be relieved of their service obligation or continue defending and dying for empty promises of freedom and equality? Or should we demand human rights as our Founding Fathers did at the risk of being called extremists ... I contend that we relieve ourselves of oppression in a manner that is in keeping with the great heritage of our nation.”

He received a reply from the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, Alfred B. Fitt, a response which he termed "the most reasonable response that I received from any official."


Following his military service, he re-entered college as a far more motivated student. Williams earned a Bachelor's Degree (1965) in economics from California State University, Los Angeles. He earned both his Masters Degree (1967) and his Ph.D. (1972) in economics from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Speaking of his early college days, Williams says "I was more than anything a radical. I was more sympathetic to Malcolm X than Martin Luther King because Malcolm X was more of a radical who was willing to confront discrimination in ways that I thought it should be confronted, including perhaps the use of violence. But I really just wanted to be left alone. I thought some laws, like minimum-wage laws, helped poor people and poor black people and protected workers from exploitation. I thought they were a good thing until I was pressed by professors to look at the evidence."

While at UCLA Williams came into contact with economists such as Armen Alchian, James M. Buchanan, and Axel Leijonhufvud who challenged his assumptions. Never one to be over-awed by others, Williams regularly challenged his professors as well. But on examining the evidence of actual outcomes he came to believe such programs were abject failures. "I learned that you have to evaluate the effects of public policy as opposed to intentions."

While at UCLA, Thomas Sowell arrived on campus in 1969 as a visiting professor. Though he never took a class from Dr. Sowell, the two met and began a friendship that has lasted to this day. In the summer of 1972 Sowell was hired as director of the Urban Institutes Ethnic Minorities Project, which Williams joined shortly thereafter.  Correspondence between Sowell and Williams appears in the 2007 "A Man of Letters" by Sowell.


Long-time readers of this blog know that I believe Thomas Sowell is the smartest man alive, now that Milton Friedman is dead. 

I hope you'll check out the Williams Wikiquote page.  Pure, undiluted greatness.  Here's a taste:

"...there's the claim that this or that price is unreasonable. I used to have conversations about this claim with Mrs. Williams early on in our 44-year marriage. She'd return from shopping complaining that stores were charging unreasonable prices. Having aired her complaints, she'd ask me to go out and unload a car trunk loaded with groceries and other items. Having completed the chore, I'd resume our conversation, saying, "Honey, I thought you said the prices were unreasonable. Are you an unreasonable person? Only an unreasonable person would pay unreasonable prices." The long and short of it is that the conversation never went over well, and we both ceased discussions of reasonable or unreasonable prices. The point is that whatever price a transaction is transacted at represents a meeting of the mind of both buyer and seller. Both viewed themselves as being better off than the next alternative -- not making the transaction. That's not to say that the seller wouldn't have found a higher price more pleasing or the buyer wouldn't have been pleased with a lower price."

 And another:
What human motivation is responsible for getting the most wonderful things done? I would say greed. When I use the term greed, I do not mean cheating, stealing, fraud and other acts of dishonesty, I mean people seeking to get the most for themselves. One might be tempted to use “enlightened self interest” but I like greed better. Unfortunately, many people are naive enough to believe that it is compassion, concern, and "feeling another's pain" that's the superior human motivation. As such we fall easy prey to charlatans, quacks and hustlers.

Walter Williams - A life well-lived. 


Friday, September 27, 2013

On "discriminatory, inflammatory, lewd, and racial remarks in public"

For the first time ever, the Tarrant County Libertarian Party is going to participate in the Fort Worth Gay Pride Week parade. 
It's going to be a good time at a great event.  Go here to see our Meetup page about building the float, parade details, and the like. 

Last night, my friend Ken Stanford and I went to the gay/lesbian church where they held the organizational meeting.  (I believe that one lady thought we were romantic partners....not that there's anything wrong with that.)  It was a good group of people. 

The organizers spent a lot of time explaining how we should all behave.  There have been some Baptist preacher-types protesting at past events.  One of these Witch Doctors even went so far as to stick a bullhorn in the face of the mayor of Fort Worth.  They try to get a negative reaction from the gays and lesbians so they can post the pics and videos online and show their congregations how they're defending All Things Holy from the gay folks.  A few arrests were made, and some of the protesters did jail time, which they probably see as a badge of honor. 

Joel Burns, one of our City Councilmen, happens to be of the gay persuasion, and Joel usually rides in this parade.  After the bad incidents with the preachers a few years ago, Joel and the mayor (and I'm probably getting a few of the details wrong here) introduced a Zero Tolerance Ordinance that includes "protection from discriminatory, inflammatory, lewd, and racial remarks in public."  Also, "the use of bullhorns will not be permitted in the downtown area".  The Thought Police police department will be enforcing all of these regulations on the day of the parade.  (All of that is from the parade organizer info.) 

Dammit, I've got two bullhorns. 

I was planning on making good use of them to support the Marriage Equality cause.  Now I can't. 

IMHO, this is what usually happens when you try to protect people from opinions.  Dissent gets stifled. 
Yeah, I cannot stand fundamentalist nimrods who try to force everyone to live by the rules in their magic books. 
No, people shouldn't be allowed to stick bullhorns in your face, violate your space, or physically threaten you. 
But asking government to protect you from opposing points of view, like "discriminatory remarks" doesn't help your cause.  Never, ever, ever. 

If you've read this far and disagree, do you think I should have the right to call some people "fundamentalist nimrods", like I did a few sentences ago?  If you think that Barack Obama isn't very smart, should you be allowed to say so?  What about Rick Perry?  Where does it end? 

Anyway, we're going to have a good time at this thing.  Anybody who wants to marry another adult should be allowed to do so, and I really don't care if I've offended you with that statement, or if you think it's inflammatory. 

 Saturday, October 5th.  Hit this link if you want to help out. 


Thursday, September 26, 2013

I want, I want, I want.....YOU to stop greed.

Why many people believe that government leaves them alone

Bryan Caplan at EconLog has been phenomenal for the last few weeks. 

Here's something on why so many people see government as a force for good, and with the same set of eyes see McDonald's, Mobil, Wal-Mart (or whoever you sell your labor to) as being vaguely evil. 

Good stuff.  Go here to read the whole thing. 

The government very rarely tells me to do anything.  Once per year, the IRS orders me to pay federal income taxes.  Once per year, the state of Virginia forces me to pay state income taxes and get my car inspected.  Once per year, Fairfax County makes me pay property taxes.  Traffic laws aside, the government leaves me alone more than 350 days per year.

How is this possible when the government regulates almost every aspect of American life, and takes 40% of GDP?  The government controls the labor market (especially for foreign workers).  The government decides what products I can and can't buy.  The government runs a massive retirement system that I can't escape without leaving the country.  How can the government control me so thoroughly yet so rarely boss me around?

The answer is simple yet shocking: Government controls me by controlling my trading partners.  Government doesn't tell me to pay sales taxes; it just forces every business in Virginia to collect sales taxes as a condition of sale.  Government doesn't tell me who I can and can't hire; it just tells every business I deal with who they can and can't hire.  Government doesn't even tell me I have to contribute to Social Security; it just requires my employer to make contributions on my behalf as a condition of employing me.

Why is government coercion so predominantly indirect?  Most economists would cite transactions costs.  Bossing CostCo around is far easier than bossing all of CostCo's customers around.  But this explanation is unsatisfying.  Government eschews many cheap ways to directly bully private individuals into submission.  For example, if government really wanted to crack down on scofflaws, it could pay cash bounties to whistleblowers of every description.  Anyone who hired an illegal nanny or failed to pay use tax on out-of-state Internet purchases would have to look over their shoulders day and night.  (Think about how many bounties a garbageman could collect!)  As long as the scofflaws were liable for the fines, an army of whistleblowers wouldn't cost the government a dime.

If this sounds draconian to you, you're in sight of my preferred story.  Governments rely on indirect coercion because direct coercion seems brutal, unfair, and wrong.  If the typical American saw the police bust down a stranger's door to arrest an undocumented nanny and the parents who hired her, the typical American would morally side with the strangers.  If the typical American saw regulators confiscate a stranger's expired milk, he'd side with the strangers.  If the typical American found out his neighbor narced on a stranger for failing to pay use tax on an out-of-state Internet purchase, he'd damn his neighbor, not the stranger.  Why?  Because each of these cases activates the common-sense moral intuition that people have a duty to leave nonviolent people alone.

Switching to indirect coercion is a shrewd way for government to sedate our moral intuition.  When government forces CostCo to collect Social Security taxes, the typical American doesn't see some people violating their duty to leave other people alone.  Why?  Because they picture CostCo as an inhuman "organization," not a very human "bunch of people working together."  Government's trick, in short, is to redirect its coercion toward crucial dehumanized actors like business (and foreigners, but don't get me started).  Then government can coerce business into denying individuals a vast array of peaceful options, without looking like a bully or a busy-body.

Well, I have thought of them as bullies and busy-bodies for about the last ten years.  But I couldn't articulate it as well as Kaplan.  Well said, sir. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Why Economic Nationalism is a philosophy of war

Here's some Ludwig Von Mises, explaining why Economic Nationalism is a philosophy of war. 

I've long believed that Economic Nationalism (quotas, tariffs, price supports), like most other forms of tribalism, was outright racist but I couldn't quite articulate it. 

You've gotta love this quote:
 Imagine a world in which the principle of private ownership of the means of production is fully realized, in which there are no institutions hindering the mobility of capital, labor, and commodities, in which the laws, the courts, and the administrative officers do not discriminate against any individual or group of individuals, whether native or alien. Imagine a state of affairs in which governments are devoted exclusively to the task of protecting the individual's life, health, and property against violent and fraudulent aggression. In such a world the frontiers are drawn on the maps, but they do not hinder anybody from the pursuit of what he thinks will make him more prosperous. No individual is interested in the expansion of the size of his nation's territory, as he cannot derive any gain from such an aggrandizement. Conquest does not pay and war becomes obsolete.
Go here to read the whole thing.  It's hard to declare war when your soldiers (and their money) and the citizens in "enemy" territory (and their money) are free to move elsewhere. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

ObamaCare in two charts

Here's your first chart, explaining how much your premiums will likely rise.  It was put together by the Society of Actuaries.  (You can go here to read what the sent to the Wall Street Journal editors about our upcoming healthcare debacle.  Good stuff.) 

Here's the 2nd chart, explaining WHY your premiums are likely to rise.  It was put together by some Republican Congressman's staff.  And I bet they had a great time doing it. 

I hope these help.  Don't get sick. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Nancy Pelosi thinks her cupboard is bare

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who by most accounts is stark, raving mad, is concerned that her budget is going to be cut
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi says that while deficit reduction is a laudable goal, there are precious few spending cuts left to negotiate in exchange for raising the debt ceiling.
"The cupboard is bare," the California Democrat said in an interview aired Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union." "There's no more cuts to make."
"We all want to reduce the deficit," she added. "Put everything on the table, review it, but you cannot have any more cuts just for the sake of cuts. Right now you’re taking trophies."
In the words of the prophet Isaiah: "Bullshit".

No cuts would be "cuts just for the sake of cuts".  They would be for the sake of keeping this Statist harridan from putting more of her luxuries on my daughter's bar tab. 

Here are the easy cuts.  These are the ones that a Martian would instantly suggest after looking at our expenses for a few minutes.  This is about enough to balance the budget.  We could save even more by going to a 100% voucher system for education, shutting down the money printing facilities and bulldozing the Federal Reserve.  For the sake of convenience I've ripped these numbers off from John Stossel's site.  The accompanying snarkiness is from my own research, reading, and fantasies. 

Defense cut by 2/3: $475 billion.  Seriously.  We almost spend as much on military waste as the rest of the world combined.  And we consider most of the world to be our allies.  (Federal Budget, pg. 58)
Medicare/Medicaid*: $441 billion - Healthcare is expensive because of government regulations and subsidies.  Where are the incentives to lower costs if Medicare/Medicaid will pay x-amount 100% of the time?  (Cato Institute)
Social Security Means Testing: $170 billion - Social Security started going broke when LBJ raided the fund to pay for Viet Nam.  It's gone.  Let's stop pretending.  Honor existing entitlements with funny money, and left everyone else opt-out.  (Heritage Foundation)
Eliminate Dept. of Education (includes Pell Grants): $106.9 billion - The Department Of Education has been an absolute, total disaster.  A stupendous waste of money.  Give it back to the states and be done with it.   (Cato Institute)
Social Security*: $85.7 billion - See above.  (Cato Institute)
Eliminate Dept. of Transportation: $84.8 billion - The Department of Transportation has made the Department of Education look downright efficient.  It's a venture capital firm for political cronies.  Kill that bastard !   (And when it's time to run a bulldozer through the DOT building, please, please, please let me drive it for just 30 minutes.  That's all I ask.)  (Cato Institute)
Tax Amnesty: $80 billion  - Forget Tax Amnesty.  What would be so bad about a Flat Tax?  Calculated on a postcard?  With no exemptions for green energy expenditures for saving medical devices for gay whales?  (Rep. Jared Polis D-Co.)
Eliminate Dept. of Labor*: $78.6 billion  - We don't have a department of hamburgers, but somehow, hamburgers are still brought to market.  Disputes between McDonald's and customers still get resolved somehow.  (Department of Labor and White House)
Eliminate HUD: $60.8 billion  - Christ almighty, this is an easy one.  Anyone remember the Pruitt Iago housing debacle?  (Cato Institute)
Eliminate Dept. of Agriculture*: $33 billion - But if we didn't give money to millionaire farmers, how would the farmers become millionaires?   (Cato Institute)
Cut civilian employee compensation: $30 billion - Cut the pay and retirement and bennies to be in line with the private sector.  (Cato Institute)
Stop maintaining vacant federal property: $25 billion  - ALLRIGHT, GENTLEMEN, ALL PROPERTY WILL BE SOLD AS-IS, WHERE-IS, WITH ALL FAULTS DULY NOTED!  Who'll give me $900 an acre for this federal wasteland?  YES!! YOU IN THE BACK !!  Do I hear a thousand?  Auction it off.  Put it to work.  (Heritage Foundation)
Eliminate Foreign Aid: $21.2 billion - Foreign aid is notorious for staying in the pockets of the foreign politicians whose policies made the foreign aid necessary.   (Cato Institute)
Eliminate Dept. of Energy*: $20.8 billion  - God, what a waste that has been. (Cato Institute)
Eliminate NASA: $19.6 billion Privatize it!!  If the U.S.'s westward expansion and exploration had been left to NASA, we might have made it to St. Louis by now.  (Cato Institute)
Federal Drug War: $15 billion - Let's not just end it, let's prosecute the assholes who are currently fighting it.   (White House)
Earmark moratorium: $16 billion  - We almost have that one going on.  Nancy, you win this one.  (Heritage Foundation)
Eliminate Fannie/Freddie Subsidies: $14 billion - But.....they've worked out so well !!  How will we re-inflate the next real estate bubble?  (Federal Housing Finance Agency (p. 10))
Eliminate Dept. of Commerce: $13.9 billion  - no more junkets to other nations to increase commerce, only to have the Department Of Labor slap tariffs and quotas on the commerce, negating the savings from the additional commerce.  (Department of Commerce)
Eliminate Dept. of Interior: $12 billion - Privatize, privatize, privatize.   (White House)
Legalize Pot, Online gambling, Immigrants: $12 billion  - Pot is nobody's business but pot-smokers.  Ditto for online gambling.  And illegal immigrants?  People with that kind of drive and ambition are exactly the kind of immigrants we want.  Anyone who will wait patiently in line for 17 years to live in Abbott Tx is probably going to be a drain on society.  (Rep. Jared Polis D-Co.)
Privatize Army Corps of Engineers: $10.6 billion - I don't see how their engineers are better tha anyone else's.  (Cato Institute)
Cut federal employee travel budget: $10 billion - No, let's END it.  Most of our policy problems have Condi, Hillary and Kerry as their cause.  Keep their butts at home.   (Heritage Foundation)
Eliminate National Science Foundation: $7.4 billion  - Oh yes....  Totally cut it from the University system.  Watch the cost of both areas drop like a stone.  And scientific breakthroughs just might increase.  Just a gut feeling.  (National Science Foundation)
End EPA’s State and Local grants: $6.5 billion  - Yeah.  It's 90% political. (Cato Institute)
Repeal Davis-Bacon: $6 billion - We would have to learn to deal with increased labor competition from black people, but it's the right thing to do.  It's a racist law (See: Davis Bacon Acts) that has consistently produced racist results.   (Republican Study Committee)
Privatize TSA: $5.7 billion - Yep.  The current system is an illegal violation of the 4th Amendment.   (Federal Budget)
Cut Dept. of Justice’s State and Local grants: $5 billion  - As much as the cops in Waco, Tx might want a tank and a SWAT team, I bet we could be just as safe without that expense.  (Heritage Foundation)
Privatize Post Office: $4 billion  - FedEx and UPS are already doing it, and doing it better.  (White House)
Eliminate Small Business Administration: $1.8 billion  - The SBA works like this:  Behave like we want you to, and we'll give you someone else's money.  Let's end this one.  (Small Business Administration)
Lease coastal plain of ANWR: $1.5 billion - Hell, there's nothing there but ice and snow.  Let's put it to work. (Heritage Foundation)
Eliminate Federal Flood Insurance: $1.3 billion  - If the private sector won't insure you're multi-million dollar McMansion on the beach in hurricane alley, you shouldn't build it there.  (CBO, pg. 3)
Abolish SEC: $1.3 billion  - Can anyone name a scandal that these guys caught before it became huge? (SEC)
Eliminate Corporation for National Community Service: $1 billion - McDonald's, Home Depot, Barnes and Noble, and Gold's Gym serve their communities without the CNCS.  We don't need it.   (Cato Institute)
Suspend acquisition of federal office space: $1 billion  - Let there be cubicles !! (Heritage Foundation)
End subsidies for public broadcasting: $500 million  - Yes!  If you love NPR that much, you can pay for it!  Yes ! Yes ! Yes !  (Cato Institute)
Eliminate the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corp: $480 million - This one's an easy layup.   (Heritage Foundation)
Eliminate the FCC: $439 million  -  We've got 900 channels showing infomercials and reality show crap.  Deregulate.  If you don't like what's on the channel, change the channel.  (FCC)
Eliminate the Endowments for Arts/Humanities: $332 million - Another easy one.  Ken Burns is now a millionaire.  If he wants to do more documentaries on the role of Black People in the development of Black People's study of Black People, he should try to raise private funding.  It's not that difficult to put a voiceover on Powerpoint.  (NEA/NEH)
Total Cut: $1,882,619,000,000
Current deficit: $1,645,000,000,000
Surplus Achieved: $237,619,000,000
A few footnotes:
Department of Energy is eliminated except for Nuclear arms maintenance
Department of Agriculture is eliminated, except for food programs for the needy
Department of Labor is eliminated, except for 26-week unemployment benefits
Defense budget would still be $243 billion, more than twice what the next highest country (China) spends
Medicare and Medicaid savings breakdown:
Block grant Medicaid and freeze spending (226)
Repeal 2010 healthcare law (87)
Increase Medicare premiums (39.8)
Cut non-Medicare premiums (37.7)
Cut Medicare payment error rate by 50% (28.6)
Increase Medicare deductibles (12.6)
Tort Reform (10)
Social Security savings breakdown:
Price index initial benefits** 41.1
Raise the normal retirement age** 31.4
Cut Social Security disability program by 10% 13.2
There ya go, Nancy.  I fixed it for you.  And you'll still have plenty of pork in your cupboard.