Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Friday, September 30, 2011

Friedrich Hayek Took Government Benefits

Oh, this is beautiful. From Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism:

Mark Ames, who has been doggedly on the trail of the Koch brothers, found a delicious failure to live up to his oft-repeated standard of conduct by a god in the libertarian pantheon, Friedrich Hayek. And this fall from grace was encouraged one of the chief promoters of extreme right wing ideas in the US, Charles Koch.


On August 10, 1973, Koch wrote a letter appealing to Hayek to accept a shorter stay at the IHS, hard-selling Hayek on Social Security’s retirement benefits, which Koch encouraged Hayek to draw on even outside America.

This should put Hayek in some sort of libertarian circle of hell, along with Ayn Rand, who took Medicare and Social Security payments when she was diagnosed with lung cancer.

If Hayek didn't save enough money to pay for his own medical care, why didn't richer-than-God Koch pay for it instead of helping Hayek sponge off the taxpayer?

They took the government benefits because they needed them, just as people need them today. They could have refused out of principle; the writer Isabel Paterson, a friend of Rand, did just that. But it's a lot easier to tell others to give up something they need than to do it yourself, and people are very good at making up excuses for why everyone else must sacrifice but they cannot.

State-Sanctioned Murder

If one person can be assassinated--killed without due process of law--then anyone can be assassinated.

Less Measurable Megan

Another Shorter Megan McArdle: Paying for performance is too hard unless you're talking about teachers. And that science thing? Just a fad.

The Center Of The Universe

Shorter Megan McArdle: Screw the post office; I don't need it anyway.

If she doesn't need it, you don't need it. The world revolves around Miss Megan McArdle--it's her world and you just live in it.

Monday, September 26, 2011

*Some Commandments Optional

James 1:26 ESV
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless.

Via driftglass and TBogg, we see Ross Douthat has perpetrated another atrocity. It takes a brave man to say that we're doing people a favor by executing them, but Ross Douthat is that man. It is, quite possibly, the laziest argument I have ever heard in my life, and I read Megan McArdle every day.

Douthat is a graduate of a prep school and Harvard. He is the youngest ever op-ed columnist for the New York Times. He undoubtedly is paid six figures for his work. Yet the best he can come up with about the religious and political issue of capital punishment is an essay that would be failed by a high school teacher.

Douthat says that by holding executions we shine a spotlight on the criminal justice system and bad prison conditions and therefore holding executions is a good thing, even if we accidentally-on-purpose execute an innocent man. The argument seems to rest on his belief that it's perfectly okay to kill criminals, or innocent guys as long as they have already been born.

IT’S easy to see why the case of Troy Davis, the Georgia man executed last week for the 1989 killing of an off-duty police officer, became a cause célèbre for death penalty opponents. Davis was identified as the shooter by witnesses who later claimed to have been coerced by investigators. He was prosecuted and convicted based on the same dubious eyewitness testimony, rather than forensic evidence. And his appeals process managed to be ponderously slow without delivering anything like certainty: it took the courts 20 years to say a final no to the second trial that Davis may well have deserved.

For many observers, the lesson of this case is simple: We need to abolish the death penalty outright. The argument that capital punishment is inherently immoral has long been a losing one in American politics.

The argument that we should outlaw abortion has also long been a losing one, but Douthat doesn't care about that. He will use popularity when it helps him win an argument and morality when it will not. Hypocrite Act #1.

But in the age of DNA evidence and endless media excavations, the argument that courts and juries are just too fallible to be trusted with matters of life and death may prove more effective.

If capital punishment disappears in the United States, it won’t be because voters and politicians no longer want to execute the guilty. It will be because they’re afraid of executing the innocent.

Douthat ignores moral arguments against capital punishment; the Catholic Church is against capital punishment because "only God can take a life" but oddly Douthat ignores that basic directive. Hypocrisy #2.

This is a healthy fear for a society to have. But there’s a danger here for advocates of criminal justice reform. After all, in a world without the death penalty, Davis probably wouldn’t have been retried or exonerated. His appeals would still have been denied, he would have spent the rest of his life in prison, and far fewer people would have known or cared about his fate.

There is no way of knowing this and it wouldn't matter if it were true. The argument is ludicrous on its face. Reformers care about injustice and cruel living conditions as well as the death penalty, and the attention Davis received didn't do him any good in the end. Douthat doesn't care about the living conditions of poor minorities and others he has deemed guilty, and pretending he suddenly does is Hypocrisy #3.

Instead, he received a level of legal assistance, media attention and activist support that few convicts can ever hope for. And his case became an example of how the very finality of the death penalty can focus the public’s attention on issues that many Americans prefer to ignore: the overzealousness of cops and prosecutors, the limits of the appeals process and the ugly conditions faced by many of the more than two million Americans currently behind bars.
Or we could, you know, focus on these things without killing anyone. Focusing on them while killing people has not proven effective so far.

Simply throwing up our hands and eliminating executions entirely, by contrast, could prove to be a form of moral evasion — a way to console ourselves with the knowledge that no innocents are ever executed, even as more pervasive abuses go unchecked.

As long as anyone suffers we can execute prisoners. Funny how that works out.

We should want a judicial system that we can trust with matters of life and death, and that can stand up to the kind of public scrutiny that Davis’s case received. And gradually reforming the death penalty — imposing it in fewer situations and with more safeguards, which other defendants could benefit from as well — might do more than outright abolition to address the larger problems with crime and punishment in America.

This is also Ross Douthat's anti-abortion argument, by the way. Let's eliminate abortion so we can end those divisive abortion arguments and concentrate on how we can end abortion!

This point was made well last week by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, writing for The American Scene. In any penal system, he pointed out, but especially in our own — which can be brutal, overcrowded, rife with rape and other forms of violence — a lifelong prison sentence can prove more cruel and unusual than a speedy execution. And a society that supposedly values liberty as much or more than life itself hasn’t necessarily become more civilized if it preserves its convicts’ lives while consistently violating their rights and dignity. It’s just become better at self-deception about what’s really going on.

You tolerate prison rape, right? So why won't you tolerate executions too? Where is your consistency, Liberal America?!

Fundamentally, most Americans who support the death penalty do so because they want to believe that our justice system is just, and not merely a mechanism for quarantining the dangerous in order to keep the law-abiding safe. The case for executing murderers is a case for proportionality in punishment: for sentences that fit the crime, and penalties that close the circle.

And here we see the real Ross Douthat. Not the fake religious man--the real thing. Only God can take a life. Period. The Church does not make exceptions, not for dying parents or babies, not for unwanted children, not for criminals, not for anyone. Jesus was executed as a criminal, remember. When he said, "Whatsoever you do to the least of my brother, that you do unto me," he wasn't advocating for more public executions, you know. This is not a matter of opinion, a suggestion, or an interpretation. Jesus said turn the cheek, not turn the dial on the electric chair. Douthat's religion is fake. He may have plastered a Christian veneer over his bundle of neuroses and OCD disorders and say "God" a lot but he is not a godly man, and certainly not a Catholic.

Instead of dismissing this point of view as backward and barbaric, criminal justice reformers should try to harness it, by pointing out that too often our punishments don’t fit the crime — that sentences for many drug crimes are disproportionate to the offenses, for instance, or that rape and sexual assault have become an implicit part of many prison terms. Americans should be urged to support penal reform not in spite of their belief that some murderers deserve execution, in other words, but because of it — because both are attempts to ensure that accused criminals receive their just deserts.

Romans 12:16-19 ESV
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

Abolishing capital punishment in a kind of despair over its fallibility would send a very different message. It would tell the public that our laws and courts and juries are fundamentally incapable of delivering what most Americans consider genuine justice.

Yes, God forbid we should think our criminal system is unfair.

It could encourage a more cynical and utilitarian view of why police forces and prisons exist, and what moral standards we should hold them to.

Heaven forbid we should think that the powerful use the police and judicial system to keep the sheep in line.

And while it would put an end to wrongful executions, it might well lead to more overall injustice.
Because nothing would be more unfair that to stop executing innocent people.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

It's Delightful

Some writers are more fun than others. In fact, they might make you want to break out into song.

The night is young, the skies are clear
And if you want to go walkin', dear
It's delightful, it's delicious, it's de-lovely

The premise of [David Brooks'] piece was that he, Brooks, was a "sap" for believing Barack Obama when Obama pledged, after his election, to rise above partisanship and "move beyond the stale ideological debates that have paralyzed this country.

For Brooks, "rising above partisanship" always means "not criticizing the rich," so you can kind of guess where he's going with this article. He references the recent Obama speech that hinted at tax increases for the wealthy, always a no-no on planet Brooks, where such proposals are always interpreted as "class warfare" and "angry populism."

I understand the reason why
You're sentimental, 'cause so am I
It's delightful, it's delicious, it's de-lovely

Even Brooks wouldn't dare come out and try to justify [taxing millionaires less than poorer people]. Everyone knows things like hedge-fund exemption are morally indefensible. But the top-1-percenters and their slobbering wannabe acolytes like Brooks defend them anyway by avoiding specifics and retreating into words like "fairness" and "centrism," while deriding any call for changes to the tax code as insurrectionary populism/socialism.

You can tell at a glance what a swell night this is for romance
You can hear, dear Mother Nature murmuring low "Let yourself go"

I defy David Brooks to come out publicly and explain how it's fair that he should pay more than twice the tax rate that Paulson or George Soros pays. I think about this every April when I send my check off to the IRS, and it makes me want to go on a tri-state killing spree. But it apparently doesn't bother Brooks, who defends this system in the pages of the Times over and over again, showing everyone that he's actually not being sarcastic when he calls himself a sap.

So please be sweet, my chickadee
And when I kiss ya, just say to me
"It's delightful, it's delicious, it's delectable, it's delirious,

Brooks knows [Obama might just be campaigning], which is why he doesn't sound terribly worried about these reforms actually happening. He just objects to the tone of the debate, and to the very idea that we should even ask if everyone is paying his fair share. Brooks has many allies in the punditry world, who voice similar objections, which should tell you a lot about the chances for actual reforms. If we can't even get rich pundits to object to being personally screwed by the system, if we can't even get those people to talk about it, it'll be a long time before we get around to seriously considering making changes.

It's dilemma, it's de limit, it's deluxe, it's de-lovely"

Friday, September 23, 2011

Hide Your Sheep

Shorter Jonah Goldberg: Because some death row inmates are guilty, innocence or guilt doesn't matter when executing death row inmates. 

Bonus Goldberg quote:
[U]ntil they [liberals] can explain why we shouldn’t have a death penalty when uncertainty isn’t an issue — i.e., why McVeigh and Brewer should live — they’ll never win the real argument.

Yes, he actually says that if you leave out the question of whether or not a death row inmate is guilty, there is no reason not to execute inmates.

Say, this is kind of fun. If you leave out the question of whether or not Jonah Goldberg has sex with animals, there is no reason not to say that Jonah Goldberg has sex with animals.

Jonah, you're a genius.

Who has sex with animals.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Donate Now!

Jonah Goldberg appeals to the generosity of his readers, as NRO-Online has another pledge drive.

Every time I write one of these pitches I hear from readers who think this approach — what marketing experts and economists call “this PBS crap” — is un-conservative, even vaguely socialist. The argument seems to boil down to: If we can’t make it in the market without passing the collection plate among the congregation, we must be doing something wrong.

I just don’t get this. Churches and synagogues ask for donations; does that make them socialist or liberal? We know that conservatives are more generous with their money than liberals are. Are all those philanthropic rightwingers just saps, or crypto-socialists, or crypto-socialist saps? Are they secretly giving to liberal causes? NRO makes some money from advertising. The print magazine makes money from advertising, subscriptions, and cruises. But it doesn’t cover everything. In effect, NRO works for tips. And the tips, unfortunately, have to come from you, the reader.

Conservatives don't believe in tipping, as Dr. Helen told us.
NRO straddles two worlds.

Much like Larry Craig.

We are a for-profit organization that rarely makes any profit to speak of, and whatever profit we do make goes back into the mission.
Minus salaries, of course, salaries that ensure NRO writers can vacation in Paris.

I think at this point you can guess what the mission is: to make the case for conservative policies and ideas as best we can. Part of that business model requires asking the people who get value — however defined — from this site to pitch in as best they can.

[obligatory liberal bashing]

 If you can’t swing sending us a few bucks, don’t. If you don’t think we’re worth it, don’t.

Never give an authoritarian permission to do something he wants to do anyway. After decades of "keep your hands off my money," most people will refuse to part with one God-given dime.
But if you can afford it. And if you do think we’re worth it. If you think the message is right and the arguments are right and the cause is right. Then please help out as best you can. We need the money to keep doing what we do. That’s not socialism; it’s math, as the president might say.

Donate, folks, so Jonah can afford a main clause to go with all his subordinate clauses.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Always Wrong, Never In Doubt

Hahahahaha! Megan McArdle is so amusing.
The only way to actually ensure that no millionaire, anywhere, pays less than 20% on their annual income would be to essentially suspend the rule of law for wealthy people, and give the IRS power to seize income from rich people at will within some very broad guideline about fair shares. This strikes me (she said, with dramatic understatement) as a very bad idea.

Yeah, taxing the rich more would necessitate suspending the rule of law.

Let's take another look at a chart Barry Ritholtz put up a while ago.
Remember, we can't raise taxes on the rich because they would never pay them.

Megan McArdle Is A Very Special Person And Don't You Forget It

If you were to pin down Megan McArdle and get her to admit she lies, obfuscates or spins the truth to serve her corporate masters, your efforts would be a waste of time. McArdle still peddles her little lie that most drug company profits come from the US and therefore the US must overpay for drug prices or innovation will die. Facts are irrelevant, something to manipulate to earn a fat paycheck, and McArdle usually ignores corrections of facts. The one thing that McArdle can't ignore, however, is an attack on her image, her perception of herself. As it is almost wholly false it must be upheld at all costs or the universe will collapse.

jesse 19 hours ago

If real wages for low-end workers should be lower but aren't because of nominal wage stickiness, we might as well get the adjustment out of the way and address the underlying issues. Leveraging stickiness to prop up real wages makes about as much sense as implementing protectionist trade policies to safe manufacturing jobs that are no longer economically sensible.

Also, if you're really not sure about Yglesias's position on this issue, you really should read his blog more often. Agree with him or not, he knows how to blog--(mostly) short posts, makes points beyond smugly kicking dirt on other peoples' ideas, etc. You could learn a thing or two.

McMegan 19 hours ago in reply to jesse
Yglesias and I have different styles. I'm sorry mine doesn't appeal to you.

It's not a matter of intellectual standards or even bloggy standards--it's all about McArdle's style, which means McArdle's personality. McArdle attempts to convince her audience by smothering them with words, many many words loaded with emotion instead of facts and reasoned arguments. She pours her three-sizes-too-small heart into trying to convince her audience that her Randian fantasy life is everyone's reality. To attack her work is to attack her persona, the fake personality she has adapted to hide her insecurities and faults.
jesse 19 hours ago in reply to McMegan
You often vaguely claim to have policy preferences, but you seem to hide them, unless I'm missing something (and I admit I don't read the 5000 word posts). But here's a simple question, what rate of inflation in the US do think would be ideal?

McMegan 19 hours ago in reply to jesse
Not sure, but I tend to think that there are costs as well as benefits to higher inflation.
Mushy middle-of-the-aisle pap, designed to elevate McArdle above the common man and evade any chance of being caught in error. We all make mistakes but some of us can't admit it because our "mistakes" are deliberate attempts to lie to the public for personal gain. You can't defend a dishonest argument and McArdle doesn't try. McArdle's endless series of strawmen are an attempt to evade responsibility for her actions and maintain her facade of superiority.

jesse 19 hours ago in reply to McMegan
Since when do people claim that there are no costs associated with higher inflation? No policy--except maybe my demand that God to buy the world a diet Coke--comes without costs.

It's easy to be the guy on the sidelines throwing stones when you won't ever take a position, but that doesn't contribute much to the conversation. But like you said, it's your blog.

McMegan 19 hours ago in reply to jesse
You consider this "throwing stones"? I was simply pointing out a possible effect. Is that not allowed?

McArdle changes the subject to get the discussion farther away from the original point--her lack of due diligence and paucity of economic knowledge.

jesse 19 hours ago in reply to McMegan
Of course it's "allowed." I just wish you would grapple with the cost-benefit trade-offs, rather than just pointing out costs (which is what I perceive you to do most if not all of the time). Doing that is just as deficient as only talking about the benefits (which plenty of people do, of course).
But McArdle can't, because she is a propagandist. She isn't paid to make an honest, balanced assessment.
McMegan 19 hours ago in reply to jesse
And when was the last time you wrote a blog comment asking them to stop only talking about the benefits of various liberal-favored proposals and focus on the costs? Could you perhaps provide a link?

Oh yeaaaah? What about liberals, huh? Look over there at them! They're the guilty ones! Note that she does not actually name any liberal because if you do they tend to respond and tell you to justify your accusations with quotes and facts.

jesse 19 hours ago in reply to McMegan
I quit commenting at Yglesias because of the new login system, but I used to do that sometimes over there. (Though I don't think it's accurate to say he sits around trumpeting the adminstration's plans as unalloyed goods.) I don't read Drum. Sullivan doesn't allow comments. The other blogs I read don't touch on economic policy.

Anyway, what kind of response is that? Why not just say "I know you are but what am I?"

McMegan 19 hours ago in reply to jesse
I'm suggesting that your perceptions of my overcritical nature may be jaundiced by the current targets. I didn't notice you complaining when I was yelling at the Republicans for the debt ceiling nonsense, even though I hardly went out of my way to point out the potential upsides of their posturing.

You see, when McArdle supports the elite she doesn't care if it will help conservatives, liberals or libertarians, as long as the elite is happy. That means she's fair-n-balanced.

jesse 18 hours ago in reply to McMegan
Sure I'm biased. But a couple of points: First, the debt ceiling stuff was pure nuttery.* I'm not asking for mythical "balance"; I'm asking for better engagement with genuinely tough issues where the status quo and alternative proposals have costs and benefits. I want to know which trade-offs are better and which are worse, or a way of deciding which are better/worse. I know there are no clear answers, but we have to have actual policies.

Second, my posting patterns depend more on my mood and the vagaries of my schedule than anything else.

* The left is full of nutteriness, too. And I enjoy a good takedown of that stuff. I read fewer of them because there's no chance that we're going to move to Maxine Waters's fantasy land, but there was a real chance that the US was not going to raise its debt ceiling, to catastrophic effect. Thus, that issue was more salient to me, you and everybody else.

mmoskwa 2 hours ago in reply to jesse
I wish I could Like this a million times. Arguing over whether your partisan interpretation of something is the best thing, or simply very good, is beyond boring, hence my avoiding most lefty blogs. But seriously, a lot of these posts are simply headers on top of a bunch of "government is always the problem, QED" comments, and I think a lot of that is because a) she doesn't really moderate the threads for completely redundant crap like that, and b) posts like this wherein the whole point is to say "look what this liberal is saying now! it's wrong."
I'll go with Door Number 2.
Cue the ever-present sycophants in the comment section.

TreeJoe 18 hours ago in reply to jesse


I hope you realize how vague your comments are - you wish for something different to occur. If only it would be different, it'd be better!

She usually does grapple to some degree or another with trade-offs. I'm not saying she's a master at it, but I don't know what all goes into her average blog post versus other things in life. And I think, rightly or wrongly, Megan often uses her commenters to attack things - i.e. provide a degree of balance or other perspective.

Note that she pretty much never says, "Other people are idiots and my stance is right". She'll say, "I disagree and here's why".

There's a good amount of balance here, which is why I personally come back. In August, I actually felt the balance was shifting too much and started reading less....I mention that as a self-reflection on how much balance matters to me.

jesse 18 hours ago in reply to TreeJoe
I agree that there's good content here. That's why I read the blog. I wish it was better, though, and I've tried to outline ways that I think it could be improved. I think that my suggestions are fairly specific, though I understand that you think they're unclear. At any rate, McMegan is a big girl and can ignore me or ban me or whatever if she doesn't appreciate that kind of engagement.

But to re-raise my point from earlier, I think it's pretty remarkable that McMegan--the illustrious Atlantic's econ blogger--doesn't have a position on the appropriate level of inflation in the US. I think she'd add way more value by working out a position on that issue and discussing it.
Just as soon as someone tells her what to think she'll be right on it.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

She's Just Not Very Bright-Again

Let's watch Megan McArdle play dumb. She does it so well.
I confess that I'm flummoxed by the people who think that the only possible explanation for Rick Perry's decision to mandate Gardasil (HPV) vaccination--or the only likely one--has something to do with a minor campaign donation, or the fact that his former Chief of Staff ended up working for a pharmaceutical firm.
Perry's practice of trading favors for campaign donations is very well know. Nobody cares because this is Texas, where money is the only criteria for social acceptance and nobody cares how you made it. We already know politicians sell themselves out cheap and McArdle has always dismissed  the possibility of  ethical behavior in politics anyway. But if McArdle wants to embarrass herself by saying that she's shocked people would accuse the political process of corruption,  that's her prerogative.

I like me a good Public Choice horror story as much as anyone, but can we really categorically rule out the possibility that Rick Perry thought that mandating Gardasil was a good way to fight cervical cancer, which claims the life of around 4,000 women every year

Yes. The man has public prayer meetings and never met a fetus that he didn't clasp to his bosom and vow to protect from evil liberal abortionists. He just signed an abortion sonogram bill into law.

Why is someone who is so utterly, abysmally, comprehensively ignorant of political events think that everyone is dying to hear her baseless, vacuous opinions?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

This Is Not A Blog Post

This is not a post, it is just some thoughts on a very interesting and entertaining article.

Via Brad DeLong: David Graeber: On The Invention Of Money

Last week, Robert F. Murphy published a piece on the webpage of the Von Mises Institute responding to some points I made in a recent interview on Naked Capitalism, where I mentioned that the standard economic accounts of the emergence of money from barter appears to be wildly wrong. Since this contradicted a position taken by one of the gods of the Austrian pantheon, the 19th century economist Carl Menger, Murphy apparently felt honor-bound to respond.

In a way, Murphy’s essay barely merits response. In the interview I’m simply referring to arguments made in my book, ‘Debt: The First 5000 Years’. In his response, Murphy didn’t even consult the book; in fact he later admitted he was responding at least in part not even to the interview but to an inaccurate summary of my position someone had made in another blog!

We are not, in other words, dealing with a work of scholarship. However, in the blogsphere, the quality or even intention of an argument often doesn’t matter. I have to assume Murphy was aware that all he had to do was to write something—anything really—and claim it rebutted me, and the piece would be instantly snatched up by a right-wing echo chamber, mirrored on half a dozen websites and that followers of those websites would then dutifully begin appearing across the web declaring to everyone willing to listen that my work had been rebutted. The fact that I instantly appeared on the Von Mises web page to offer a detailed response, and that Murphy has since effectively conceded, writing an elaborate climb-down saying that he had no intention to cast doubt on my argument as a whole at all, only to note that I had not definitively disproved Menger’s, has done nothing to change this. Indeed, on both US and UK Amazon, I have seen fans of Austrian economics appear to inform potential buyers that I am an economic ignoramus whose work has been entirely discredited.
We've seen this a million times. We cannot fight every lie and the elite's stream of lies is infinite. Politicians and Megan McArdles are cheap, comparatively speaking.

At this point, it’s easier to understand why economists feel so defensive about challenges to the Myth of Barter, and why they keep telling the same old story even though most of them know it isn’t true. If what they are really describing is not how we ‘naturally’ behave but rather how we are taught to behave by the market—well who, nowadays, is doing most of the actual teaching? Primarily, economists. The question of barter cuts to the heart of not only what an economy is—most economists still insist that an economy is essentially a vast barter system, with money a mere tool (a position all the more peculiar now that the majority of economic transactions in the world have come to consist of playing around with money in one form or another) [10]—but also, the very status of economics: is it a science that describes of how humans actually behave, or prescriptive, a way of informing them how they should? (Remember, sciences generate hypothesis about the world that can be tested against the evidence and changed or abandoned if they don’t prove to predict what’s empirically there.)

Or is economics instead a technique of operating within a world that economists themselves have largely created? Or is it, as it appears for so many of the Austrians, a kind of faith, a revealed Truth embodied in the words of great prophets (such as Von Mises) who must, by definition be correct, and whose theories must be defended whatever empirical reality throws at them—even to the extent of generating imaginary unknown periods of history where something like what was originally described ‘must have’ taken place?

Authoritarians and anti-authoritarians have different goals. Authoritarians want to obey authority while anti-authoritarians must rely on facts. They cannot rationalize reality away because they know that they, not others, are responsible for their own decisions and they must accept the consequences of their actions. To create plausible excuses for this weak abdication of responsibility, authoritarians must make up lies. Creating a new reality, living a lie, makes you crazy, so here we are as a country--crazy, delusional and broke.

The persistence of the barter myth is curious. It originally goes back to Adam Smith. Other elements of Smith’s argument have long since been abandoned by mainstream economists—the labor theory of value being only the most famous example. Why in this one case are there so many desperately trying to concoct imaginary times and places where something like this must have happened, despite the overwhelming evidence that it did not?

It seems to me because it goes back precisely to this notion of rationality that Adam Smith too embraced: that human beings are rational, calculating exchangers seeking material advantage, and that therefore it is possible to construct a scientific field that studies such behavior. The problem is that the real world seems to contradict this assumption at every turn. Thus we find that in actual villages, rather than thinking only about getting the best deal in swapping one material good for another with their neighbors, people are much more interested in who they love, who they hate, who they want to bail out of difficulties, who they want to embarrass and humiliate, etc.—not to mention the need to head off feuds.
Even when strangers met and barter did ensue, people often had a lot more on their minds than getting the largest possible number of arrowheads in exchange for the smallest number of shells. Let me end, then, by giving a couple examples from the book, of actual, documented cases of ‘primitive barter’—one of the occasional, one of the more established fixed-equivalent type.
It's always personal. Holding up a facade at all times is exhausting and authoritarians want nothing more than to be able to let down the false front and let the real man or woman out: the unloved child who traded obedience for acceptance and who channels all his ensuing anger and resentment outward at safer targets. Authoritarians must obey authority, conservatives must conserve. Anything that does not conform to authoritarian dogma is disregarded or shouted down.

Monday, September 12, 2011


I am going on hiatus for a few weeks to catch up on work and give the brain a rest. I hear there is a whole world out there and now that it's no longer 100 billion degrees outside I want to check it out. I'll try to post a little but I need to get away from politics for a while and work on other projects.


Friday, September 9, 2011

Rationalizing and Ratiocination

Heh. Ms. "rules for thee but not for me" tells us that we mustn't succumb to the temptation of rationalizing when attempting to understand economic events.

Words to Live By
Business Sep 9 2011, 8:26 AM ET 22
Wise advice from Arnold Kling:

What I would suggest is that any time you get the urge to provide an economic interpretation of asset price movements, lie down until the feeling goes away.

The context:

Back to Krugman. He makes three points. One is that the profession should have recognized the housing bubble for what it was. The problem is that you are tempted to explain asset prices, not to cry "bubble." Just the other day, Krugman himself gave in to that temptation regarding gold. In fact, his rationale for high gold prices is the same as my rationale for high house prices--low real interest rates.
The problem is not in our economics stars--it is in ourselves. As Robert Heinlein once wrote, "Man is not a rational animal--he is a rationalizing animal." We are constantly trying to make the universe make sense. That facility leads us to come up with plausible explanations even when the actual correct response is a slack-jawed "WTF?"
Well, Megan McArdle has certainly mastered the slack-jawed ignorance and refusal to examine failure--which is rather odd as she is an official expert on failure. As always, McArdle cherry-picks her data to her support her theories, when she bothers using data at all. It does not seem to occur to her that you cannot form a theory without data because the theory is an explanation of that data. McArdle has always said that she makes theoretical, not practical, arguments but has no idea how to argue. She tries to substitute verbosity, anecdotal evidence and jargon for data, reason and and theorem but fails abysmally.

But McArdle has not been the only lazy thinker. All too often I use terms such as "talentless hack" or "tool of the ruling elite" without taking the time to elaborate the basis for my complaint in detail. I, too, should take the time to examine exactly what my words mean and justify them with facts.

Megan McArdle does not think. Her brains exist only to fill in the empty space between her ears and such automatic functions as breathing, eating, and swiping her credit card. She does not read or interpret data, she reads others' interpretation of data and assumes the interpretation and data are both correct if they match her preconceived notions.

my mother suggested something that I hadn't thought of: the only reason that she was raised in that picture-perfect specimen of Americana was that the Great Depression had prevented my grandfather from leaving. He was an ambitious man--he worked his way up from a poor dirt farm, through a five-year stint delivering groceries, and into the ownership of a successful gas station. In ordinary times, he would have left town to seek his fortunes somewhere bigger (like my great-grandmother's cousin, Frank Gannett, who left a nearby town to go to Cornell and eventually founded the eponymous newspaper chain.)

But you don't pick up and move to a distant city when unemployment is running at 25%; my grandfather, born in 1915, came of age during the deepest part of the Great Depression. He stayed home where he had family who could help him find a job, and take care of him if things didn't work out. By the time the Great Depression really ended, he had a fledgeling business and a family. He wasn't going anywhere. Neither were the other men of his generation, who had carved out spots for themselves in the local economy. They sustained the prosperity of the town for a couple of decades beyond where it should have lasted. And I suspect that outside of the Dust Bowl, that's a pretty common story.

McArdle does not start by saying, "Hmmm, it seems that the Depression kept people home who would have otherwise moved away. Let's find out if that's true." McArdle also does not try to think of any evidence that might contradict her "theory," such as the very well-know phenomenon of men riding the rails across the country looking for work. In McArdle's head, smart, ambitious people go to her hometown, New York, or some other big city. Her grandfather was smart and ambitious, therefore something must have prevented him from leaving, such as the Depression. At this point the obvious thing to do is to read some history.

Here's an article titled:

Migration: The Theme of the Great Depression.
By Judy Busk
People moved: to find jobs, sometimes to find food, and then they moved again, and sometimes again. Some returned home to live with relatives when the search for work ended with disappointment. Some moved because businesses went bankrupt, some moved because they couldn't pay their rent, some moved because they heard a rumor that it was better "there." The United States was a nation on the move, the automobile became the vehicle of migration. For some, remaining stationary was an option as they lived simply on their small farms, raising the food needed to sustain their families.

In his classic novel of the Great Depression, John Steinbeck described the highway leading to California:

66 is the path of a people in flight, refugees from dust and shrinking land, from the thunder of tractors and shrinking ownership, from the desert's slow northward invasion, from the twisting winds that howl up out of Texas, from the floods that bring no richness to the land and steal what little richness is there.

"From all of these the people are in flight, and they come into 66 from the tributary side roads, from the wagon tracks and the rutted country roads. 66 is the mother road, the road of flight."

There is, of course, a great deal more information on migration during the Depression, enough to make anyone pause to reassess her theory. If she had, it might have occurred to her that success might have different meanings for different people and her grandfather might have preferred to live a small town life, despite its lack of bistros and gastropubs. But McArdle doesn't think.

Others do, however, and a commenter swiftly pointed out how McArdle's post about her grandfather was an example of someone rationalizing economic events. McArdle responded:

McMegan 3 hours ago in reply to Tony Comstock

I think I was pretty open about the fact that this was a just so story, no?

Liberals seemed to have gotten miffed because it included an observation--common among my parents generation who worked for various agencies--that the quality of civil service lifers had gone down. Yet the people who made this observation were themselves liberals, and moreover, the same people who got mad at me would probably receive very well a complaint from, say, Mark Kleiman that investment banking and Big Law were siphoning away talent that should be in public service. Which is exactly the same observation. :)

At any rate, the decline is a stylized fact. The cause is what's in question. The consensus among the people who witnessed the changeover was that it was the Great Depression. Maybe that's not right, but my understanding is that they pretty much got it from the horse's mouth.

"The decline is a stylized fact." A stylized fact "is often a broad generalization that summarizes some complicated statistical calculations, which although essentially true may have inaccuracies in the detail." McArdle assumes her anecdote is a fact, thereby eliminating the necessity of doing all that boring fact-checking and reading. A stylized fact is not something that McArdle feels in her gut based on her personal experiences, but McArdle obviously disagrees about that small point, and so another internet tradition is born.

This is where and when, if not why, McArdle is so often wrong. The why is more complicated. Suffice it to say that McArdle has no journalism training, very little curiosity, and is not held to high standards and ethics. McArdle thinks her ideological opponents just disagree with her point of view and become irate when they cannot get their own way. She expects people to be unable to overcome bias. It does not occur to her that some people use facts and reason to make a decision because she does not use facts and reason to make decisions.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The National Pig Sty-Online

The mouth-breathers who lurk at National Review like to complain that they are called racist unjustly. Jonah Goldberg:

Of all the poisonous, ugly, and intellectually vapid controversies ginned up in my lifetime, the current breakout of St. Vitus' Dance over the "racist" opposition to Barack Obama may be the most egregious.

Al Sharpton tells CNN's Larry King that decent and racially sensitive Americans shouldn't let a small minority make health care into a "racial issue."

Someone in the control room surely yelled, "Cue the laugh track!"

In case you don't get the joke, this entire "debate" over whether opposition to Obama's health care reform is racist is totally, completely, and in every way conceivable an invention of the Left.

Oh, sure, there are some racists who oppose Obama. Shocking news, that.

And, yes, a tiny, tiny fraction of the signs at the Tea Party protests last weekend were racially insensitive. But if that's how we're going to score, then opposition to the Iraq War is anti-Semitic. After all, I saw a bunch of signs at antiwar protests that said bigoted things about Jews.

Meanwhile, no significant conservative politician, pundit, or intellectual has said that they object to Obama's agenda because he's black. Rather, they've said they oppose his agenda for precisely the same reasons they oppose Nancy Pelosi's and Harry Reid's and Barney Frank's agendas. They stand athwart Obama yelling "Stop!" just as they did with Clinton and Democratic presidents before him.

Such self-absolutions don't work quite as well when racist National Review writers helpfully prove to the world that they hate and despise African-Americans.

Dissolve the McDonald’s Workforce and Elect a New One

September 5, 2011 2:30 P.M. By Mark Krikorian
The cover story in Sunday’s WaPo magazine was a profile of a McDonald’s store just south of the House office buildings in Washington, one of the busiest in the whole metro area, focusing on the manager, Raul Reyes, and his rise from a teenager selling coconuts on buses in Guatemala to running a busy and successful fast-food restaurant.

How heartwarming. We suppose Mr. Krikorian is going to laud the glories of Capitalism while patting Hard Work on the head.

The guy seems like a real go-getter who delights in his job, though is it really possible that the manager of a $5.2 million business makes only $39,000 a year?

Yes, it is. Unfortunately workers sometimes get the short end of the stick in capitalism. They don't call it workism, you know. People can work hard for a living and achieve success and still not receive commensurate rewards. Those high corporate productivity levels didn't occur by paying people what they are worth.

So how will Krikorian process this discrepancy? Will he attempt to discover the reason? Will he be moved to empathize with the plight of the working man? Or will he deny and make up a bullshit reason to ignore facts?

It seems like there’d have to be bonuses and incentives and the like that the reporter was too incurious to ask about.
Denial it is. But denial isn't always enough. There must be someone to blame for the ills of the world, someone...different.

But in a profile of this particular dot on the fast-food map you have to read carefully to discern what happened when the store was purchased in 2003 by Cuban-born Carlos Mateos — namely, that the black Americans were fired and replaced with Hispanic immigrant workers, virtually of them originally illegal aliens now claiming to have temporary status[.]

[snipped quote]

[snipped boilerplate liberal sniping]

Finally, I know some readers will draw immigration-policy lessons from Reyes’s having to fire the American workers who were “giving away free food” and “taking money from the cash register” — namely, that we need the infusion of values that mass immigration brings because our own people (and let’s face it, it’s our black people everyone’s thinking of when they say this) are irredeemably indolent and depraved.

"Our" black people are "irredeemably indolent and depraved." Nice. You have wonder what kind of loathsome need is satisfied by such ugly hatred and contempt.

Mark Krikorian is a racist pig. He fits right in at The Corner as part of National Review's long, long history of blatant racist piggery.

"The central question that emerges . . . is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not prevail numerically? The sobering answer is Yes–the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race. It is not easy, and it is unpleasant, to adduce statistics evidencing the cultural superiority of White over Negro: but it is a fact that obtrudes, one that cannot be hidden by ever-so-busy egalitarians and anthropologists.
National Review is still publishing the work of racist pigs such as Krikorian and John Derbyshire, who said:

Our species separated into two parts 50, 60, or 70 thousand years ago, depending on which paleoanthropologist you ask. One part remained in Africa, the ancestral homeland. The other crossed into Southwest Asia, then split, and re-split, and re-split, until there were human populations living in near-total reproductive isolation from each other in all parts of the world. This went on for hundreds of generations, causing the divergences we see today. Different physical types, as well as differences in behavior, intelligence, and personality, are exactly what one would expect to observe when scrutinizing these divergent populations.

Now, the empirical grounds. We all notice the different physical specialties of the different races in the Olympic Games. There was a run of, I think, seven Olympics in which every one of the finalists in the men’s 100 meters sprint was of West African ancestry — 56 out of 56 finalists. You get less pronounced but similar patterns in other sports — East African distance runners, Northeast Asian divers, and so on. These differences even show up within sports, where a team sport calls for highly differentiated abilities in team members — football being the obvious example.


We see the same differences in traits that we don’t think of as directly physical, what evolutionary psychologists sometimes refer to as the “BIP” traits — behavior, intelligence, and personality. Two of the hardest-to-ignore manifestations here are the extraordinary differentials in criminality between white Americans and African Americans, and the persistent gaps in scores when tests of cognitive ability are given to large population samples.

The National Review is filled with the mentally indolent and the morally vacuous, all brought together to persuade the world that conservatism is a respectable political party instead of a grab-bag of losers united by their fantasies of racial and cultural superiority. They want total control over their fellow man because that is the only way to force everyone else to acknowledge their superiority and give them the extreme deference and respect that their thwarted souls crave.

From Wikipedia:

Krikorian frequently testifies before Congress and has published articles in The Washington Post, The New York Times, Commentary, National Review, and elsewhere.[vague] He has appeared on 60 Minutes, Nightline, the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, CNN, National Public Radio and many other television and radio programs.
Our liberal media, ladies and gentlemen.

spelling corrected

Monday, September 5, 2011

Reap, Sow

I, too, hope Conservative Daddy raises his son to be just like him. When the government is finished helping the financial elite bleed Social Security to death and C'Daddy needs to move in with his son, his son will probably tell Dad that he should have saved for his old age and he's on his own.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Wool Over Their Eyes

From GoComics

"For together we are strong." What are the sheep going to do, nibble him to death?

We don't need to find the right farmer, we need to find killer sheep.

See also