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  1. Image via Wikipedia.Senator Elizabeth Warren's recent DNA test has been the source of a great deal of humor lately with one of my favorites, an allusion to an old Ivory Soap slogan, inspiring the title of this post. But something bothers me a little about the jokes. It's not that making a big deal out of one's ancestry isn't ridiculous in a nation founded on the idea that all individuals are equal. It is. And it's not that Warren's professed reason for taking the test -- to "rebuild trust in government" -- isn't also ridiculous. In a nation whose political system was designed to keep government in check, that's arguably more ridiculous. It's what the humor is allowing her opponents to hide from. Consider the following passage from a news story about why Warren took the test: [Republican challenger Geoff] Diehl shot back that the issue "is not about Sen. Warren's ancestry, it's about integrity in my mind, and I don't care whether you think you benefited or not from that claim, it's the fact that you tried to benefit from that claim that I think bothers a lot of people and it's something you haven't been able to put to rest since the 2012 campaign," when she first mentioned having Native American heritage that led President Donald Trump to start mocking her by calling her "Pocahontas." [bold added]Diehl is on the right track, but he is basically doing the same thing Republicans often do when they do not want to challenge something the Democrats advocate: Charge them with hypocrisy. Yes, Warren's negligible Amerindian ancestry makes her something of a hypocrite when she attempts to gain some kind of benefit from claiming it, even if it is simply political pandering. Not to downplay the importance of hypocrisy when judging a candidate, but there is a bigger issue here: The whole idea that an individual is entitled to something on the basis of ancestry is wrong. This is the idea that is not only going unchallenged here, but is even being tacitly accepted -- as if Warren should get some kind of advantage at the expense of others, but only if she were Amerindian enough. The fact is that the Republicans have been presented with a golden opportunity to challenge racial entitlements, but all they have been able to come up with is a bunch of jokes. And if the laughter sounds a little forced, maybe it's because it comes from a place of cowardice. -- CAV Link to Original
  2. Blog Roundup 1. In an "Open Letter to Tim Cook," Amy Peikoff of Don't Let It Go urges Apple CEO Tim Cook not to support federal privacy legislation: Most people reading this letter -- you included -- will probably now expect me to add Apple's support this week for "comprehensive federal privacy legislation" as another reason to applaud your company's efforts to protect our privacy interests. But the opposite is true. I believe that, in supporting federal privacy regulation, you are undermining the progress you've made putting control over privacy into the hands of us, your customers.If you find yourself wondering why such legislation is a bad idea, I urge you to read the whole thing. 2. Remember when I recently said I was about to eat my hat regarding something I'd said about Donald Trump's deregulation efforts? That was because I had just come across Keith Weiner's blog post regarding some Republican chicanery about deregulation: Anyways, for the purpose of this discussion, let's accept page count as a proxy for regulation. The dirty rotten trick is that the Federal Register is the publication of new regulations. If the 2017 edition had over 30 percent fewer pages, that does not mean that Trump removed 30 percent of existing regulations. It means Trump added over 60,000 pages of new regulations, which is 30 percent less than Obama's over 95,000 pages!It is worth considering why the Republicans would feel the need to resort to this easily-debunked trick. Yes. I have read this, and highly recommend it. (Image via Amazon)3. To call Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism radical is to point to the tip of an iceberg. Rand challenges the dominant philosophy of our culture from root to branch. And, as if that doesn't make it challenging enough to understand for oneself or explain to others, many common terms are badly and widely misunderstood. Understandably, some advocates might ask a question like, "Do we need a new word for selfishness?" Peter Schwartz, author of In Defense of Selfishness, explains why we don't. Here is what would happen were we to abandon selfishness in favor of something without the baggage: The common, package-deal meaning is "concern for one's own interests at the expense of others." If we were to accept and use that term as a reference to predatory behavior, we would be endorsing the underlying falsehood -- the falsehood that harming others is an essential element of selfishness.And there would still be a need to explain why predatory behavior is not part of whatever we called selfishness instead. 4. The blog of the Center for the Protection of Intellectual Property briefly reviews a law journal article about how widespread ignorance of technology standards and standards-setting organizations is becoming a threat to innovation -- because it "informs" government policy: The development and implementation of technology standards is a complex process, and it's one often misunderstood by commentators, courts, and government agencies. In an article detailing the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) misguided suit against Qualcomm for alleged unwillingness to license its patents on fair, reasonable, and nondiscriminatory (FRAND) terms, CPIP Senior Scholar Kristen Osenga exposes a pervasive ignorance of technology standards and the standard setting organizations (SSOs) that develop them. [links omitted]And, from the abstract: While there is plenty to criticize about the FTC's action, the lawsuit is evidence of a much larger and more fundamental problem. The FTC's allegations are not based on sound economic analysis nor are they supported by evidentiary findings. This is not due to haste or poor practices by the FTC; it is instead indicative of the FTC's ignorance. Put plainly, the FTC does not understand technology standards and the organizations that develop them. And the FTC is not alone in this lack of knowledge. Many courts and commentators have also demonstrated clear misunderstandings of standard setting organizations (SSOs). Unfortunately, this is not harmless error or mere academic diversion. Important legal, business, and policy decisions are being made based on these misunderstandings. These decisions have the potential to negatively impact the future of technology standards and, ultimately, innovation itself.I have sometimes noted that standards-setting bodies could and should be doing some of the (should be done, but not by government) things regulators are doing instead. This looks well worth a read. -- CAV Link to Original
  3. Writing about her decision to test-drive an affirmation-type technique for realizing goals, Jean Moroney of Thinking Directions speaks of a problem we all have from time to time: [H]is argument was not enough for me to try it. I never take advice like this unless I see for myself why I believe it should work. What is the causal factor here? After all, if I'm going to put in say 20 minutes a day doing these, that's over 100 hours a year. That's a serious commitment of time and energy. I need to be convinced it can work. [bold added]I use that filter a lot myself, and for exactly the reason that bad advice can waste lots of time and energy. But sometimes, that advice can, as it does here, come from someone you respect. It might work, but perhaps the reasons for its effectiveness haven't been worked out or communicated clearly. And one's own analysis might uncover good reasons for considering the advice. And so it seems here: No, I haven't read this myself. (Image via Amazon.)My reason for sharing this is not to convince you to try affirmations, but to show you the kind of reasoning process I use to consider advice from other people with whom I respectfully disagree. Though Alan and I share critically important values, we have very different philosophies. He's religious, I'm not. I'm an egoist. I believe he would say he is an altruist. In his book, he makes quite a few statements that I disagree with. But rather than dismissing his comments, or jumping into an argument with him, I take the time to identify the facts he is looking at. What is he seeing? What is a plausible explanation for his conclusion? Is there a context in which it make sense to me? [bold added]Whatever conclusion Moroney reaches about the technique Alan Zimmerman describes in The Payoff Principle, it is worthwhile to consider this example of what to do about advice one feels conflicted about. -- CAV Link to Original
  4. Image via Wikipedia.As yesteryear's Amazon files for bankruptcy, Jason Kottke posts on the ways the Sears catalog helped undermine bigotry and Jim Crow laws. This happened despite the fact that the company was hardly -- as evidenced by some of its catalog offerings -- on the forefront of the fight for racial equality. Kottke quotes from the blog Bitter Southerner regarding a policy that helped many poorly educated blacks improve their standard of living: One of [Sears historian Jerry] Hancock's discoveries was Sears' response to the needs of a rural South in which literacy was rare. For someone who could neither read nor write, placing orders and following written protocols were problematic. Richard Sears responded with a policy that his company would fill any order it received, no matter what the medium or format. So, country folks who were once too daunted to send requests to other purveyors could write in on a scrap of paper, asking humbly for a pair of overalls, size large. And even if it was written in broken English or nearly illegible, the overalls would be shipped.Other parts of this post note how the catalog helped break the power of the shopkeepers in the sharecropping system, and helped along the development of musical styles, such as the blues. The piece reminds me in an important way of the story of the end of commercial segregation in Houston, Texas (aka, The Strange Demise of Jim Crow). The fact is that treating a customer poorly or turning one away on the basis of race is detrimental to one's own best interest. This alone did not end the moral outrage that is racism, or the political scourge of JIm Crow, but it did (a) provide one way around some of the problems for blacks, and (b) demonstrate at least to some whites on some level that this foolishness was also harmful to themselves. It is indeed fortunate that, despite the high degree of repression in the Jim Crow South, there was enough freedom for Sears to send its catalog everywhere and sell its goods to everyone. -- CAV Link to Original
  5. (Or: FEE Offers Spending Advice to Looters) An article hosted at the Foundation for Economic Education illustrates perfectly something Ayn Rand once told its founder, Leonard Read, in a letter: I oppose UBI and welfare because of what happens before the money falls from the helicopters. (Image via Pixabay.)[D]on't think that any kind of law of self-preservation would work here -- that a man would want to produce merely in order to eat. He won't. For self-preservation to assert itself, there must be some reason for the self to wish to be preserved. Whatever a man has accepted, consciously or unconsciously, through routine or through choice as the purpose of his life -- that will determine his economic activity. And the same holds true of society and of men's convictions about the proper economics of society. That which society accepts as its purpose and ideal (or to be exact, that which men think society should accept as its purpose and ideal) determines the kind of economics men will advocate and attempt to practice; since economics are only the means to an end. When the social goal chosen is by its very nature impossible and unworkable (such as collectivism), it is useless to point out to people that the means they've chosen to achieve it are unworkable. Such means go with such a goal; there are no others. You cannot make men abandon the means until you have persuaded them to abandon the goal. [bold added] (Letters of Ayn Rand, pp. 257-258)With this in mind, and consider what a title like, "Universal Basic Income Has Been Tried Before. It Didn't Work." portends. The conclusion isn't pretty for anyone who values individual rights, including that to property: Supporting work through the earned income tax credit is consistent with American values of dignity and self-sufficiency. The Heritage Foundation has proposed ways to reform welfare programs to promote those goals. Evidence from the negative income tax experiment strongly suggests that a comprehensive universal basic income program would significantly reduce work and increase dependency. Perhaps advocates are hoping for a different result this time around. But if history is any indication, they are bound to be disappointed. [bold added]Of course giving money away reduces the desire for people to earn some of their own, but pardon me for disagreeing with the Heritage Foundation on what the proper goal of government is; my answer is that a proper government protects individual rights. Passing out loot for whatever alleged purpose does not alter (or sanctify) the fact that it is loot, and was ultimately stolen from someone who produced it (or received it freely from someone who did). As when conservatives sell the farm when they implicitly praise socialists or plead that they are "impractical" -- yet wonder why that thoroughly deadly and discredited creed remains popular -- so it is that the laudable desire to argue against "Universal Basic Income" (the latest repackaging of handed-out loot) degenerates into squabbling about how to reform welfare (the old name for the same thing). That is not what making a stand for freedom looks like, not at all. -- CAV Link to Original
  6. DC-area attorney Nick James and Brett Stephens of the New York Times write very different columns that each, in their own way, show how badly Americans crave a real alternative to the central planning of the Democratic Party and the central planning lite of the Republicans. First, we have James rightly arguing that it is not Kanye West who is nuts for supporting Donald Trump, but the black Americans who are piling abuse on tip of him for their decades of loyalty to the Democrats: Thanks to those policies, although only 22 percent of black children were raised in single-parent families in 1960, fifty years later more than 70 percent of black children experienced this sad fate. The truth is anyone who wants to know how well the Democratic Party has rewarded the black community for its loyalty only needs to look at Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, or Milwaukee to find an answer. In these cities, high rates of crime, poverty, academic failure, and racial inequality remain the norm after five or more decades of Democratic control. Indeed, as Jesse Jackson lamented in a 2016 article, "the injustice is worse in modern Milwaukee than it was in segregated Birmingham. Black poverty, unemployment, and impoverished neighborhoods are all worse." [links omitted] But what policies, Van Horn? you might ask. Well, one can support Trump without being nuts, and while I agree that school choice (which James mentions Democrats opposing) would be a very good step in the right direction, Trump's trade policies -- which James seems to support -- will actually have similar job-destroying effects to many Democratic policies, such as the minimum wage, and for the same reasons. But James is right to indicate that West should hardly take flack for seeking an alternative. It's just too bad that Donald Trump is failing to offer a real one, just like Reagan did. The Republicans see themselves as more "practical," but seem oblivious to the need for questioning the moral base they share with the Democrats -- and thus still sets their agenda. Moving on over to Bret Stephens, we see the Democrats failing to take the high ground in the mid-term elections, where, he indicates , they could have brought rational discussion back. He borrows an apt metaphor, of the left "piercing its own tongue," so it can "marginalize itself and then enjoy its own company." Image via Pixabay.And yet it is. Predictably. Once again, American liberalism has pierced its own tongue. It pierced its tongue on CNN this week, when Hillary Clinton told Christiane Amanpour that "you cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for, what you care about." And when former Attorney General Eric Holder said Sunday, "When they go low, we kick 'em." It pierced its tongue last week when New York's Representative Jerrold Nadler pledged to use a Democratic House majority to open an investigation into Kavanaugh's alleged perjury and the "whitewash" investigation by the F.B.I. A party that can't change its mind and won't change the subject meets the classic definition of a fanatic. [links omitted]Unlike the Republicans, who shy away from the collectivist political implications of the altruist morality they share with them, the Democrats embrace its ugliness to the point of alienating many people, and driving them into the arms of the Republicans. Too bad for now that we have a non-capitalist in the White House as the "alternative" to the party that so richly deserves irrelevance, and seems so hell-bent on achieving it. I hope he does not end up in the Hooveresque position of making them look like they deserve another chance in power. -- CAV Link to Original
  7. Notable Commentary I never thought I'd see this guy mentioned in an academic journal of philosophy."Watching a world in which such things are doable and done can energize a person’s own ambition, giving him reason to try and reason to want; it makes dreams sensible and can seed constructive action." -- Tara Smith, in "On a Pedestal -- Sport as an Arena for Admiration" at Sport, Ethics and Philosophy. "Conservatives should know that socialists know of their own destructive intent and should oppose them, instead of implicitly praising them." -- Richard Salsman, in "Socialism Worked in Venezuela" at The American Institute for Economic Research. "Capital churn is when perfectly good capital is rendered unprofitable, not by the innovation that occurs in a free market, but by the new malinvestment which renders the old investment submarginal." -- Keith Weiner, in "Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Avocado Toast" at SNB & CHF. "Apple Watch users who may be on the hook for medical bills related to false alarms might wish to keep this in mind." -- Paul Hsieh, in "The Promise and Perils of New Apple Watch Medical Technologies" at Forbes. -- CAV Link to Original
  8. Regarding the latest headlines proclaiming that we have only a few years to "save" the planet from "climate change," fossil fuels advocate Alex Epstein has pointed to a must-see video (viewing time: 15 minutes). To say this video has it all would be a vast understatement. Barely half way through Tony Heller's collection of time-debunked news clips and "experts" clinging to pet theories obviously at odds with reality, you may already be laughing. And then you'll see the same thing occurring with the global cooling scare that came before -- and the global warming scare that came before it. I don't think quoting from the last slide will spoil anything, so here goes: Three consecutive years of drought, while they have stimulated the inventive resources of practical agriculturalists, have had the natural effect of calling forth a plentiful crop of speculation from weather prophets, and projectors, and half-instructed meteorologists, and all the philosophic tribe of Laputa in general, to whom the periodical press now affords such fatal facilities. ...[E]very season is sure to be "extraordinary," almost every month one of the driest or wettest, or windiest, coldest or hottest, ever known. Much observation, which ought to correct a tendency to exaggeration, seems in some minds yo have rather a tendency to increase it... [bold added]The source? An Australian newspaper from 1871. -- CAV Link to Original
  9. George Will nails Donald Trump's self-contradictory economic policies to the wall, shortly after correctly stating that, "The descent of American capitalism into a racket is being greased by professed capitalists in government, in collaboration with professed capitalists in what is called, with decreasing accuracy, the private sector." Soybeans, in case George Will had you wondering. (Image via Pixabay.)Protectionism -- laws and administrative rulings by which government determines the prices and quantities of imported goods and services -- is government regulation. So, it is probable that the current administration, which lists deregulation as among its glistening achievements, is producing a substantial net increase in economic regulation. The American Action Forum, a center-right advocacy group, says the Trump administration's deregulatory efforts have saved Americans $1.3 billion this year. That, however, is only about one-ninth of the sum ($12 billion) of taxpayer dollars flowing to a small portion of taxpayers (those who are engaged in agriculture, less than 2 percent of the population) as recompense for injuries the government has done to them, and to all consumers, by protectionist policies that have provoked retaliatory tariffs against U.S. agricultural products. [bold added]Of course, that's just the measurable amount. We're not factoring in all the ramifications -- à la Frederic Bastiat -- for everyone who had to overpay, or will overpay due to such policies. So much for even that "bigly" 0.07% decrease in regulatory drag I was already getting ready to eat my hat over, tanks to Keith Weiner's analysis. -- CAV Link to Original
  10. Image via Pixabay.The President who wanted to remove two old regulations for every new one recently signed into law the FAA Reauthorization Act, which repeals an old statutory exemption from FAA rules for model aircraft, such as drones. The new law will take some time to take effect, but it raises some interesting questions for those of us who, unlike the President (See: tariffs.), oppose regulation of the economy on principle. The first might even be, where do we stand on this? Other countries already have drones delivering beer to concerts, for example, and the FAA has been a hindrance to commercial drone use here, for example. I haven't delved into this story, but in our crazy-quilt mixed economy, such a move could -- especially to a pragmatist -- look like a good way to free up the economy. It could even fit into a general scheme to de-regulate. I doubt this is the case with Trump or today's GOP, but its an interesting question to consider. Part of the problem is that our regulatory authorities combine several types of activities, ranging from the completely illegitimate; through those that need doing, but not by government; to providing a proper and necessary legal framework for a certain type of activity: (1) completely illegitimate central planning (such as the kind that makes "Uber for flight" illegal); (2) activity that standards bodies, watchdog groups or the like can and should be doing, instead of the government, such as establishing best practices for dealing with volcanic ash; and (3) adapting the law as necessary when new technology raises a question about, say the limits of property rights. Even in the last case, I doubt a full-blown regulatory agency would always (ever?) be necessary. Again, I just learned of the signing of this law and haven't had time to learn about its rationale, but the mixed nature of regulation conceivably means that a nominal increase in regulations can sometimes look in effect like a freeing-up of an economic sector, and could conceivably be a tool for eventually reducing and eliminating regulation while other law is corrected. The last link mentions that flight raised new questions about an old common law assumption about property rights, and reminds me a bit of Ayn Rand's essay on a related problem, "The Property Status of the Airwaves," in which she discussed how the government incorrectly solved the problem posed by radio in its early days. I have heard some cheer this regulatory expansion, citing the common stereotype of the individual as inherently irresponsible and in need of being kept from flying drones without heavy government supervision. But reckless piloting, say near airports, would already be illegal. Torts might, in a freer society, motivate manufacturers and sellers to educate their customers. And then there is the question of whether the limit to how high in the sky private property actually goes was settled correctly in the early days of flight. I don't know the answers to all of these questions, but these are good questions, and those of us who oppose regulation need to appreciate that they are good ones as we prepare to argue against regulation and think about how to get rid of it. -- CAV Link to Original
  11. ... but the More Important Battle Was Won The good news and the bad news is that Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court over the weekend. The very bad news is that the change in the composition of the court puts in danger continued federal protection of women's reproductive rights. The worst news is that the Democrats, who (I thought) favor continuing protecting those rights, abandoned the moral high ground that came with that position. Instead of articulating this concern and making a solid case to their Republican colleagues and the American people in favor of the right to an abortion, they chose the desperate tactics of character assassination and delay. As Robert Tracinski of The Federalist argued, this created a situation in which the hearings became about something even more fundamental than our government's inconsistent protection of all individual rights: Based on reason and evidence alone, you would have to conclude that we have gotten no farther in the case and are not likely to get any farther. What is an FBI investigation supposed to so, other than to serve as a delaying tactic? Federal investigators would simply go out and interview all the same people who have already testified or given sworn statements. Given that the claim against Kavanaugh remains uncorroborated, I think the Senate has no choice but to confirm him. Not to do so would eliminate any standard of evidence and invite politically motivated false accusations against future nominees. [bold added]This reminds me of the remarks Senator Susan Collins of Maine made -- a Republican who might have been persuaded to vote against Kavanaugh -- regarding her decision to cast a vote for confirmation. At least the GOP had enough backbone to not allow that very dangerous precedent to be set. That said, the Democrats not only made a major contribution to the serious recent deterioration of our political discourse, they even further set their own cause back with this display. What went missing when we needed it most. (Image via Pixabay.)When a setback to a just cause appears inevitable -- as when a Republican President gets to replace a more secular judge with a more religious one -- it is time to make a moral case for that cause in as clear a manner as possible. (Within the hearings opportunities to do this might be limited, but they aren't nonexistent.) This makes it clear to voters and any persuadable politicians that what is about to happen is wrong, and could perhaps cause defections. At worst, it makes it easier to appeal to voters, say in future elections, why they should not vote for theocrats. Or it can help build support for what we really need, which is a change in the law to make abortion legal. This was a very serious issue, and what did we get instead? Nonstop dissection of a frat boy's high school antics and a grasping-at-straws that was obvious to anyone on the other side of the nomination debate and, more important, to anyone who was undecided for any reason. I usually find myself appalled by the GOP's cowardice in standing up for those issues they should be proudly supporting, rather than trying to sneak in or even only pretending to support in order to get votes at election time. But this takes the cake. The Democrats' vicious attacks on Kavanaugh were simultaneously dangerous attacks on the very foundation of our republic -- and at a time when they should have been standing up for a woman's ownership of her own body. That the latter is now collateral damage of the first really says something. -- CAV Link to Original
  12. Four Things, Twice As I mentioned recently, the Van Horn Family will be moving to Florida soon. Today, I'll tick off four things I'll miss about Maryland and four things about the Old Line State I'm happy to put in the rear-view mirror. Sad to Leave Behind 1. Our Adult Friends The twin circumstances of moving every couple of years had having very young children meant (a) no established network of old friends once we left Boston, and (b) great difficulty meeting other adults. This got much better in Maryland. With the kids being older, birthday parties, play dates, and the like became fun for the adults, too, and we got to know several couples here we liked. We will miss them. The Charm City Gooners supporters' club even has its own room upstairs. I love the Arsenal cannon inside the Maryland crab.2. Being Close to Three Big Cities It was nice to be able to take the kids to the likes of the Smithsonian Natural History Museum in DC, catch an Arsenal game with fellow fans at the Abbey in Federal Hill, Baltimore, or spend the weekend at Sesame Place near Philadelphia, among many other things. 3. Seeing Wildlife Outside at Home All the Time We once counted fourteen deer from inside our house, which is in a wooded area. I spotted foxes now and then. I've seen hawks on our lawn furniture and, once, a beaver in the street. 4. Our Kids' Friends I have enjoyed seeing my kids make friends, and if there is anything I dislike about the move, it is going to be them missing their friends. Honorable Mention: The slick-looking state flag. Happy to Leave Behind 1. Snow, Every Winter My first winter here featured a three foot blizzard. That was the worst experience with winter weather until last winter, when I went a couple of months having my schedule ruined every week because it would snow just enough to cancel school -- but never enough to be worth playing in for the kids. I hate snow, and all the time it has caused me to waste over the years. The last snow where I'm heading was in 2010, and that was flurries. Good riddance! My wife has relatives up North. We can visit them over holidays for an occasional snow fix. Maybe I'll even start enjoying it again. 2. Being Between Two Big Cities The traffic in DC/Baltimore is hellish. I eventually found partial workarounds in the form of Waze and Parking Panda. But that was not before I got the following initiation: There was a networking event I wanted to attend in DC, which is only thirty miles away. I hired a baby sitter to start two hours before the event until two hours after the event, even though my wife would be home well before that. Thanks to an accident on the beltway and another on I-395 heading into DC, I got close to the location of the event with so little time left that just parking would have left me with fifteen minutes. I just turned around and went home, logging four and a half hours of non-stop driving and paying a baby sitter for that time and more. (I told this to a native once and he just laughed and said, "Everybody has a story like that.") 3. Living in the Trash Tree Forest I once missed getting gravely injured or killed by mere seconds on my way home during a storm, watching a branch the size of a young tree fall into my driveway as I approached. (Its diameter was about the length of my foot.) Once, seconds after I decided not to take a walk on the trail next to our house, I heard the now-familiar sound of a tree falling. It landed across the trail I would have walked. A few days later, another fell in almost the same spot. And those are just the highlights. 4. Blue Laws When I grew up in Mississippi, I remembered constantly hearing about how much more sophisticated the North was. I also remember when we did away with our blue laws, at least in Jackson. (There are still dry counties.) I was shocked, as a young man in Connecticut for naval training, to discover the beer section in the grocery store marked as off-limits on Sunday. Either Boston didn't have blue laws or the grocery I lived near was somehow exempt from them, and Missouri may have the least ridiculous restrictions on alcohol in the country. And then we moved to Maryland, where I have to go to a liquor store just to buy a beer. Ridiculous. Honorable Mention: The small, but very real prospect of encountering a freaking black bear in my own yard. -- CAV Link to Original
  13. In case anyone needs reminding that we do not actually have a pro-capitalist political party in the United States, the Washington Times has run an eye-opening editorial which took even me by surprise. The piece, by Gerard Scimeca of Consumer Action for a Strong Economy, critiques a Republican-sponsored, economy-wide carbon tax bill with automatic increases above the rate of inflation baked in. Scimeca is absolutely correct to point out that this measure is absolutely not "free market" despite disingenuous efforts by some Republicans to tout it as such: An unidentified Republican friend of the carbon tax (left) is seen sniffing around Lady Liberty. (Image via Wikimedia Commons.)Even Canada, which nobody will confuse with a red state, wants nothing to do with the idea. Canadians are in near revolt over Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's carbon tax, slated to take effect next year. Provincial ministers have called it a "job killer" and a "cash grab" by Ottawa they say will drive investment out of their region and depress their economy. Politicians there who have vowed to fight the carbon tax have surged in the polls. When Republican politicians find themselves to the left of foreign environmental ministers, perhaps that is a sign they've taken a detour off the free-market freeway. Still, Mr. Curbelo is not the only Republican promoting a carbon tax. The Climate Leadership Council (CLC) recently released its own plan to push for carbon tax legislation. Backed by big funders and well-known Republicans George Schultz and James Baker, the CLC is doing the heavy lifting in the orchestrated plan to rebrand the tax as "conservative" and "market-based," but a more thorough examination exposes it as the exact opposite. In fact, if you take a closer look, the Climate Leadership Council's proposed plan is just a repurposed version of legislation introduced earlier this year by Democrats, Sen. Chris Van Hollen and Rep. Don Beyer, two of the most liberal members of Congress.Please do read the whole thing, and spread the word. -- CAV Link to Original
  14. Image of Charles Babbage via Wikipedia.I have been extremely busy lately. Simultaneously preparing to move the family to Florida and dealing with legal fallout from a past Client From Hell -- those may fall on opposite ends of my good-bad spectrum, but they are gobbling up my time. I have nevertheless managed to squeeze in sporadic reading of Steven Johnson's fascinating book, Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World, which discusses the importance of the delight in novelty in motivating the people (at all levels) who drive historical change. Johnson has interesting and thought-provoking things to say, although I am pretty sure I don't agree with everything he seems to be saying so far. (I am only about a fifth of the way through.) But one passage reminded me a little of the following quote from Ayn Rand: Speak on any scale open to you, large or small -- to your friends, your associates, your professional organizations, or any legitimate public forum. You can never tell when your words will reach the right mind at the right time. You will see no immediate results -- but it is of such activities that public opinion is made. [bold added] ("What Can One Do?", in Philosophy: Who Needs It, p. 202)Rand is obviously not discussing the technological or commercial innovation Johnson has focused on so far, but thinking is common to both -- and that is both an individual effort and can sweep the world with change when others see the value of original thinking. So there will be common principles behind innovation (and its adoption) in different fields, and it can be instructive to compare and contrast. With that in mind, consider how a mere amusement sparked a great mind to make connections that have since improved countless lives: Conventional historical accounts are typically oriented around Great Events: battles fought, treaties signed, speeches delivered, elections won, leaders assassinated. Or the textbooks follow the long arc of incremental change: the rise of democracy or industrialization or civil rights. But sometimes history is shaped by chance encounters, far from the corridors of power, moments when an idea takes root in someone's head and lingers there for years until it makes its way onto the main stage of global change. One of those encounters happens in 1801, when a mother brings her precocious eight-year-old son to visit Merlin's museum. His name is Charles Babbage. The old showman senses something promising in the boy and offers to take him up to the attic to spark his curiosity even further. The boy is charmed by the walking lady. "The motions of her limbs were singularly graceful," he would recall many years later. But it is the dancer that seduces him. "This lady attitudinized in a most fascinating manner," he writes. "Her eyes were full of imagination and irresistible."(Wonderland, p. 8)The father of the modern computer would, one day, make his way to an estate sale to purchase the dancer which inspired him, and restore it for display in his home near his Difference Engine. Steven Johnson is, as far as I know, no proponent of Rand, but his book touches on the importance of values in motivating both the thinking that makes great things possible and the adoption of that thinking or its products. Regardless of Johnson's explicit views on those matters, his writing clearly embodies this broad lesson. I eagerly look forward to reading the rest of the book (when I can!) and improving my own thinking as a happy result. -- CAV Link to Original
  15. The USMCA trade deal -- President Trump's replacement for NAFTA -- seems to be on track to regulate international trade in most of North America. The good news, at least according to a couple of headlines I recall, was that it wasn't riddled with tariffs. The bad news is that it doesn't need tariffs to waste our money: Other government meddling will take care of that. For example: Image via Wikipedia.Nafta [sic] required automakers to produce 62.5 percent of a vehicle's content in North America to qualify for zero tariffs. The new agreement raises that threshold, over time, to 75 percent. That's meant to force automakers to source fewer parts for an "Assembled in Mexico" (or Canada) car from Germany, Japan, South Korea or China. For the first time, the new agreement also mandates that an escalating percentage of parts for any tariff-free vehicle -- topping out at 40 percent in 2023 -- must come from a so-called "high wage" factory. The agreement says those factories must pay a minimum of $16 an hour in average salaries for production workers. That's about triple the average wage in a Mexican factory right now, and administration officials hope the provision will force automakers to shift suppliers from Mexico to Canada or the United States.The above comes from the New York Times, which correctly points out in the next paragraph that this is likely to cause cars manufactured in this trade zone to cost more. But Trump did get one thing right: At least we won't be calling this meddlesome treaty a "free trade" agreement. -- CAV Link to Original
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