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Gus Van Horn blog

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  1. Notable Commentary "Achieving a truly robust, accountable, pro-growth financial system will take more work, but it's off to a good start, especially with the regulatory off-ramp option that puts banks more on the hook for their own risks while allowing them to serve their communities' needs." -- John Allison and Lydia Mashburn, in "Restoring Accountability to the Business of Banking" at The Washington Times. "The plain truth is the Palestinian movement never renounced its goal of overthrowing Israel (nor did it ever give a damn about the individual Palestinians it claimed to be avenging)." -- Elan Journo, in "It's Past Time to Bury the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process" at The Times of Israel. "Immersed in the 'free speech' culture, I identified a remarkable trait in common among those I admired most: they had both passionate convictions, and a warm, patient, respectful regard for the process by which an individual must acquire meaningful convictions of his own." -- Lisa VanDamme, in "A Lesson for the Classroom from Advocates for Free Speech" at Medium. Image via Pixabay."Let's seek out alternatives instead of sitting in the government-created gridlock of a centrally-planned and regulated transportation system." -- Gus Van Horn, in "Government Shouldn't Be Suing Waze, It Should Emulate It" at RealClear Markets. "In the last decade India and China have loosened controls on their citizens and 60 million people have become productive enough to escape from extreme poverty." -- Bob Stubblefield, in "Letter: Best Aid Is Ideas, Not Money" at The Aiken Standard. From the Mailbag Regarding my latest column, reader R.B. writes: What you say about public transit is right on and needs to be said. Reyner Banham makes some useful comments in his book about Los Angeles, where the Pacific Electric Railway became regulated and inefficient to the point that it could not change according to changing conditions of population and traffic and such. It was a vicious circle; as service deteriorated, there was demand for more roads which produced more grade crossings that caused further deterioration of service. Eventually, the freeways were built on the PE right of way, and now they are deteriorated and near worthless, so I am told, and there are new demands for the light rail that was ruined by government. I haven't been in LA since 1973, when I left a job at Occidental College. In my part of the world there was an extensive network of light rail lines that connected practically every town in Illinois and Indiana from the late 19th century until after WWII. The electric utility was built primarily to power those railways, a few remnants of which are still visible if you know what to look for. All gone, with some people plaintively demanding a revival, by government, of course. Meanwhile, government roads deteriorate and maintenance falls ever further behind as union labor becomes ever more expensive and less productive, and ever more money from gasoline taxes is diverted to ever more worthless political purposes that produce no transportation. Your article also put me in mind of the private streets in St. Louis, in the area west of Forest Park. I learned about them from a native of St. Louis who is an architectural historian. Most neighborhoods of that quality have long since deteriorated, as has most of St. Louis except for the private streets. I attribute their good state of preservation entirely to the fact that they are privately owned, and they are fitted with barriers that slow traffic without blocking it entirely. Others with an interest in the "private places" of St. Louis and other examples of privately-provided infrastructure can learn more here (and from sources noted within). -- CAV Link to Original
  2. Image via Wikipedia Driving in DC used to be a nightmare for me until Waze replaced stand still traffic with pleasant drives through picturesque neighborhoods. Unfortunately, residents may not feel a similar delight when they see my car. They’re weary of speeders, noise, and rudeness; and they're fighting back. (I would too, if I couldn't even back out of my driveway) And so, there are rumblings about forcing companies to be "accountable", holding them liable for traffic problems, and even preventing them from reporting certain routes. Unfortunately, this is exactly what we should not be doing. Southern California Radio recently asked their listeners, "[H]ow could Los Angeles actually hold Waze accountable? What types of regulations should be put in place?" That's no surprise: How many times have you heard someone say, "there ought to be a law?" In a country where the federal code of regulations alone takes up ten shelves of the Library of Congress, this seems to be the conventional wisdom -- even more today than in the time of widespread, privately-run public transit. Back then, anti-trust and interstate commerce regulations forced electric companies to sell their street car lines. This destroyed the profit margin of the lines... To continue reading my latest column, please proceed to RealClearMarkets. I would like to thank Steve D. and my wife for their comments on an earlier version of this piece. -- CAV Link to Original
  3. Over at Popehat, Ken White expresses grave concerns over the recent total, pre-litigation surrender of the Southern Poverty Law Center to a Moslem activist who had threatened to sue them over defamation, for including him on a list of anti-Moslem extremists: Image of Maajid Nawaz via Wikipedia [T]hough I celebrate an apology for wrongdoing, I can't celebrate a surrender at swordpoint that encourages censorious litigation. Bad opinions are, and ought to be -- must be -- absolutely protected. If the SPLC surrendered because we've got a broken judicial system that makes litigation ruinously expensive and fails to protect free speech, the result is bad, not good. The threatened lawsuit appears to be part of a trend of suing the SPLC for its opinions and characterizations. The settlement will embolden that trend. The trend will not stay confined to the SPLC -- that's not the way the law works. Especially in such bitterly divided times, suing over opinions is deeply censorious and corrosive of free speech. Nawaz -- who has himself been the target of attempted censorship -- should know that. [link in original, bold added]White's difficulty is that, although the SPLC was being ridiculous, they looked like they were, in fact, engaging in protected speech. Furthermore there was nothing in the apology that came with the settlement to indicate that the SPLC had actually engaged in defamation (which is and should be illegal), rather than indulging opinion, as sophomoric as it might be. I recommend reading the whole thing. -- CAV Link to Original
  4. Writing at the Washington Times, Stephen Moore of Freedom Works debunks the notion I keep seeing that unreliable "renewable" energy is successfully competing against fossil fuel. So much for the good news. If only the general failure of wind turbines -- to provide the reliable power an advanced civilization needs -- were so fun to watch... More interesting to me is that, along the way, he shows who the real savior of a parasitic industry is: Consider how gargantuan the green energy subsidies are. First, wind and solar receive a tax credit that is basically a 35 percent-off coupon for the energy they supply with taxpayers picking up the tab. If coal or nuclear power got a 35 percent taxpayer subsidy [A tax break is being robbed less. It is not a subsidy. --ed] for every kilowatt of electricity they supplied, they would be basking in profits. I helped write and negotiate the just-passed Trump tax bill. When we tried to get rid of the renewable energy tax credit (i.e., create a "free market in energy"), the green lobby went ballistic and told Republicans this would put much of the industry out of business. [It speaks volumes that they passed on this opportunity. --ed] The accompanying chart shows just how un-level the playing field is today. For every dollar that coal and nuclear power receive, wind power gets almost $5 of subsidy and solar receives about $20. This does not even include the biggest subsidy of all: About half the states have renewable energy standards requiring utilities to buy 20 percent to 30 percent of their power from wind and solar regardless of the price. What other industry in America has that kind of golden parachute?The article is interesting for other reasons, too -- including the fact that Donald Trump is, unfortunately, on board with dictating to energy companies what sources of fuel they use to generate electricity. -- CAV P.S. On checking that this post, which was queued to auto-publish, had indeed auto-published, I noticed that my two editorial comments might make my opinion about green energy tax credits unclear. I oppose all taxation on the same grounds as Ayn Rand (lined at "tax" above), but realize we are politically far from the day that we will actually cease that barbaric practice. That said, the use of the tax code to purposely distort the economy -- by stealing more from individuals in industries out of favor with the government -- only compounds the injustice and makes a rational evaluation of alternatives (here, fossil fuel vs. wind) more difficult than it should be. Updates Today: Added a PS. Link to Original
  5. Image via Pexels.A reader who had left a comment on a past post mentioned doing so yesterday. So I checked my email. Nothing. I have, for years, had comments that were awaiting moderation sent to the email account associated with this blog. For whatever reason, this hasn't been happening for the past three weeks, despite working largely trouble free all that time. I am looking into the problem and, meanwhile, periodically checking for comments within the comment moderation queue of my blogging software. My apologies for the lateness in posting several recent comments. -- CAVLink to Original
  6. An FBI hostage negotiator recently offered three tips for "bargaining with anyone," along with his thoughts about why each is effective. I found all to be thought-provoking, but probably limited in usefulness without some independent thinking by the reader. A good example of this is his second tip, which might seem counterintuitive at first. After urging his readers to consider getting the other party "to say no," he explains in part: Image via Pixabay."We're all taught that 'getting to yes' is the goal in negotiations, but 'yes' is always a trap," [Christopher] Voss said. Everyone knows they're being manipulated when someone tries to get them to say yes -- if you can get someone to agree to small things, you can probably get them to agree to bigger ones.While the idea that attempts to win agreement are always manipulative sounds like hyperbole to me, enough people are manipulative that there can be a level of suspicion to overcome. This strategy can show respect for the intellectual sovereignty of the other party, ultimately helping them focus on the message more, and on wondering about your motives less. -- CAV Link to Original
  7. Four Things 1. We often joke that Little Man may look like my father-in-law, but he is all me inside. He often has a firm idea of what he likes and will make sure we all know. I have two examples. First, before Christmas, Mrs. Van Horn wanted to get a real tree since we'd be home for the season, rather than going out of town. As we were getting ready to go out to buy one, my son piped up. "We already have a tree." Upon hearing that, Mrs. Van Horn decided to go along with the artificial tree. Every morning during the season, he'd go in and switch on the lights once he got up in the morning. Second, we're moving out of state some time in the next six months. I told each kid as I picked them up the Friday we made our decision. My daughter was excited about meeting new people on the other end. But my son immediately said he was going to miss his school and his friends. This didn't sit well with him. 2. In light of the previous post, accuse me of self-flattery if you wish, but nothing gets by my son, who has just turned five. He has Spanish lessons once a week, but I was surprised one day when, glasses in our hands, he raised one and said, "¡Salud!" I didn't think he got that from class, so I asked him how he knew that. It turns out he remembered it from a scene in Coco. Obviously domesticated. (Image via Pixabay.)3. Pumpkin recently amused me with the following formulation, which I overheard her use while playing with her brother: wild shark. Accept no substitutes. 4. My daughter, nearly seven, has finally learned to snap her fingers. Upon learning of her interest in picking up this valuable skill, I remembered how long it took her to pick up whistling. So I warned her that finger-snapping might be like whistling in terms of taking a long time to figure out. But then I decided to see if I could teach her, and got her to do so successfully a couple of times. (It's a little harder to explain than you might think.) With some practice over a few days, she became able to snap reliably, so I guess I was wrong about that. -- CAV Link to Original
  8. The Economist recently carried an article on "effective altruism" [sic], an explicitly utilitarian fad. (If you wonder why I describe it so dismissively, keep reading.) I was thinking about commenting on it -- until I realized that Ayn Rand had covered the topic quite thoroughly in 1946: The phrase "human sacrifice" is redundant. (Image via Pixabay)"The greatest good for the greatest number" is one of the most vicious slogans ever foisted on humanity. This slogan has no concrete, specific meaning. There is no way to interpret it benevolently, but a great many ways in which it can be used to justify the most vicious actions. What is the definition of "the good" in this slogan? None, except: whatever is good for the greatest number. Who, in any particular issue, decides what is good for the greatest number? Why, the greatest number. If you consider this moral, you would have to approve of the following examples, which are exact applications of this slogan in practice: fifty-one percent of humanity enslaving the other forty-nine; nine hungry cannibals eating the tenth one; a lynching mob murdering a man whom they consider dangerous to the community. There were seventy million Germans in Germany and six hundred thousand Jews. The greatest number (the Germans) supported the Nazi government which told them that their greatest good would be served by exterminating the smaller number (the Jews) and grabbing their property. This was the horror achieved in practice by a vicious slogan accepted in theory. But, you might say, the majority in all these examples did not achieve any real good for itself either? No. It didn't. Because "the good" is not determined by counting numbers and is not achieved by the sacrifice of anyone to anyone. [bold added]So much for "utility-maximising automatons" -- and no wonder "Effective altruism can be a hard sell, even [!] for the rationally minded." There is one aspect of this movement that merits further comment: If one wishes to give money to a cause -- and there are many valid, selfish reasons to do so; altruism does not own charity -- one obviously wants more bang for the buck. Counting lives saved by one donation is a poor metric (even if one grants improving large numbers of lives as an imperfect metric, albeit better than the one proposed by utilitarianism). Anyone with an ounce of sense can see this by considering whether it would be better (on such grounds) to save a thousand indigents from malaria vs., say, educating a Jonas Salk (whose research could save magnitudes more) or an Aristotle (who would make countless great men and even civilizations possible, by improving their minds). Even then, quantifying the impact of a donation might be difficult, to say the least. "Effective altruists" should spend less time quantifying their results and more time considering what those results should be. It's ridiculous to ask, "How well am I doing?" when one doesn't really know what one is supposed to do, or why. -- CAV Link to Original
  9. We've all heard advice like "Don't feed the energy creature," regarding online forums. There are certain types of people who thrive on confrontation, and learning to recognize them and act accordingly is a good way to help keep a good discussion from getting derailed, not to mention saving time and emotional energy. Generally, the same goes for email. But what if circumstances -- like an email chain at work -- dictate answering one of what therapist and attorney Bill Eddy calls "High Conflict People?" That's when one crafts what he calls a BIFF response -- Brief, Informative, Friendly, and Firm. Eddy walks through why each element is necessary after helping the reader determine whether to reply at all. On that score, Eddy starts out with his reasoning: Image via Pixabay.Much of hostile e-communication does not need a response. Letters from (ex-) spouses, angry neighbors, irritating co-workers, or attorneys do not usually have legal significance. The letter itself has no power, unless you give it power. Often, it is emotional venting aimed at relieving the writer’s anxiety. If you respond with similar emotions and hostility, you will simply escalate things without satisfaction, and just get a new piece of hostile mail back. In most cases, you are better off not responding. However, some letters and emails develop power when copies are filed in a court or complaint process – or simply get sent to other people. In these cases, it may be important to respond to inaccurate statements with accurate statements of fact...The rest of this how-to explains why each element of the response is important, and gives examples. The twin goals in such situations are (1) making sure any rational readers learn the facts or know how to get them, and (2) minimizing the amount of time dealing with the hostile sender. -- CAV Link to Original
  10. The long-anticipated news of the Bayer-Monsanto merger has me concerned that innovation may suffer -- but for not for the reasons Jaana Woiceshyn ably debunks at How to Be Profitable and Moral. Rather, my concerns stem from the same hope she expresses in her closing paragraph: One can only hope that Bayer will continue to take the moral high ground and vigorously defend its right to produce and trade both agrochemicals and GMO seeds.While my background in academic science might make me a poor interpreter of corporate-speak, Bayer's plans to drop the venerable Monsanto name, coupled with the following statement, give me pause: Image via Pixabay."We aim to deepen our dialogue with society. We will listen to our critics and work together where we find common ground. Agriculture is too important to allow ideological differences to bring progress to a standstill," Bayer Chief Executive Werner Baumann said in the statement. Alone, dropping the Monsanto name -- although I wouldn't do it -- is understandable: Like Haliburton once was, it's a name leftists use to evoke all their stereotypes and misunderstandings about capitalism and progress. But dropping the name sounds weak to me, and it won't do Bayer any good if its enemies sense weakness come time to stand up for its intellectual property rights, or its freedom to market genetically-modified seeds. Baumann's conciliatory words, directed towards an audience ignorant of (or indifferent to) the great good genetically-modified organisms represent, do not instill confidence in me, a grateful consumer of same. Here's hoping that any dialogue Bayer has with society includes those of us among the general public who realize that capitalism is a win-win game. -- CAV Link to Original
  11. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Mary O'Grady argues against the notion that socialism doesn't deserve the blame for the dire situation in socialist Venezuela: Wars are the second greatest evil that human societies can perpetrate. (The first is dictatorship, the enslavement of their own citizens, which is the cause of wars.) -- Ayn Rand (Image via Wikipedia) If anything was more predictable than the mess created by Hugo Chávez's Marxist Bolivarian Revolution, it is the pathetic effort by socialists to deny responsibility. The Socialist Party of Great Britain tweeted recently that Venezuela's problem is that socialism has yet to be tried. It blamed the crisis on "a profit-driven capitalist economy under leftist state-control." Even more preposterous is the claim by some academics that economic liberalism in the 1980s spawned the socialism that has destroyed the country. Learning from history is impossible if the narrative is wrong. So let's clear the record: By the time Chávez was elected, Venezuela already had 40 years of socialism under its belt and precious little, if any, experience with free markets. [link omitted]O'Grady then walks through the attempts by various regimes over the years to run the economy, most notably starting with the suspension of Article 196 of the 1961 constitution by President Romulo Betancourt, an "avowed socialist." And what was that? All can freely engage in the profitable activity of their choice, without any limitations other than those provided for in this Constitution and those established by law for security, health or other reasons of social interest.Although hardly on a par with Judge Narragansett's pithier solution (near end) to the problem of central planning, this speaks volumes. But in case that's not enough, O'Grady's brief synopsis of how the predecessors of Hugo Chávez ran things should help anyone see that the current regime is a continuation rather than a change. -- CAV P.S. Related: Polio is making a comeback in Venezuela, which is hemmorhaging refugees. There have been cases in 17 of 23 states there this year, decades after it had been eradicated. Link to Original
  12. Blog Roundup 1. I, too, was disappointed for the same reasons as the folks at the Texas Institute for Property Rights, but they beat me to the punch. The recent Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling is indeed a travesty: If each individual has a right to associate with those of his choosing, then gays have a right to marry. And businesses have a right to refuse service to those they don't like. It is wrong to deny gays their rights as individuals. It is equally wrong to deny [Jack] Phillips his rights as an individual, and that includes his right to be irrational. The travesty of the Court's ruling is that it didn't defend these rights on principle.Or, as they would say -- before giving no credit -- in Naval Nuclear Power School: RAWR. 2. Ben Bayer of the Ayn Rand Institute writes a post that should be required reading for anyone interested in women continuing to enjoy control over the decision to reproduce: "I have mine" sounds like [Ruth Marcus] is describing, at best, a question of taste. At worst, it sounds like she's staking her claim as a matter of secular faith, backed up by a secular priesthood (the Supreme Court). If she had gone on to argue for her belief and against the opposing view, she might have cancelled this implication. But she does not.Bayer is absolutely correct that the more the left allows itself to sound like the right -- by evading the need to offer actual arguments in defense of a woman's right to have an abortion -- the less credibility they have. 3. "Manhattan Contrarian" Francis Menton reports on a Cato Institute study authored by a former government official who knows how the government computes poverty statistics and who provides good citations: [T]he government's data on poverty and income inequality are systematically fraudulent. For starters, they define "income," for purposes of determining both poverty and income inequality, in a way to arbitrarily exclude well over a trillion annual dollars of government transfers and benefits, leading to results that are entirely misleading. And then those intentionally misleading results are used to advocate for yet more government programs and transfers, all of which will again be excluded when measuring poverty and inequality in the next round...To this I'll make a couple of comments. First, I'd be curious as to Menton's take on the position taken by Yaron Brook of the Ayn Rand Institute that "the egalitarian notion of equality is inherently unjust." Second, the above causes me to remember seeing conservative arguments to the effect that the so-called War on Poverty has failed to move the needle in decades. (i.e., Someone could take this piece to mean that the programs are working.) This isn't to say that the "beneficiaries" of those programs are doing well, but one thing it does do is underscore the importance of making a moral argument against the government taking money from the productive in the first place. 4. Alex Epstein of the Center for Industrial Progress offers a new tool to use when seeking to clarify one's thoughts, and a video on the topic. The video is about twenty-five minutes long, and the template can be had by following Epstein's link to the 10X talk. -- CAV Link to Original
  13. Some time ago, I ran across a couple of blog posts by Haseeb Qureshi, whose job hunting exploits had gone viral. The topic of the two posts is negotiating a job offer, but I think they are valuable for negotiation in general. Here is an excerpt from the second regarding the value of having alternatives: Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash In negotiation literature, your best alternative is often referred to as your BATNA (Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement). Basically, it's what you'd do if you walked away. I like the term BATNA a lot, mostly because it sounds like a gadget Batman would lob at bad guys. So what's your BATNA if you don't have other offers? Do you even have one? Of course you do. Your best alternative might be "interview at more companies" or "go to grad school" or "stay at your current job" or "go on sabbatical in Morocco for a few months" (as it was for a friend of mine who was deliberating between joining a startup and gallivanting through North Africa). The point is, you don't need to have another offer to have a strong BATNA. Your BATNA's strength comes from 1) how strong the other side perceives it to be, and 2) how strong you perceive it to be. [emphasis in original]Qureshi's general approach to negotiation might best be encapsulated by the following, taken from earlier in that post: "[W]hen you think of negotiating a job offer, don't imagine haggling over a used car. Think more like negotiating dinner plans with a group of friends, and you'll fare much better." Throughout the piece, Qureshi helps the reader see things from each side of the negotiation, and realize that even when the process might seem like a zero-sum game, it really isn't. Most important, he provides solid reasons for his advice throughout, which will permit the reader to evaluate it and, in the process start building confidence as a negotiator right away. -- CAV Link to Original
  14. A conservative is sounding the alarm I did a few years ago about an Internet sales tax. An upcoming Supreme Court decision may effectively enact one, but Ken Blackwell, head of the National Taxpayers Union and the Club for Growth, warns of more danger down the pike: Absent a renewed appreciation for individual rights, we will continue to get "representation" like this from both parties -- and more taxation. (Image via Pixabay.) The coming court decision is not the only danger to small businesses. In recent years, many members of Congress, including Republicans who should oppose higher taxes, have tried to advance legislation that would allow such Internet taxes. During the omnibus spending bill debate, members tried to include this tax -- with the support of Speaker Ryan. Many believe there will be another attempt during a lame duck session. With Republicans having great success in cutting taxes, rolling back regulation and turning the economy around, the last thing we need to do is allow higher taxes and more intrusive government -- as an Internet sales tax would do. Polls have consistently shown that Americans overwhelmingly oppose an Internet sales tax.I applaud Blackwell's opposition to such a tax, as well as also bringing to light another problem it might usher in: [D]ismantling the physical presence protection for remote retail sales could throw open the floodgates for states to aggressively attempt enforcement of not just their states tax laws, but also business and individual income tax rules, and even activist regulatory obligations on out-of-state entities.That noted, there are several arguments Blackwell marshals that, although they might stop this attempt at enacting the tax, are no substitute for making a moral stand for individual rights (which would include ultimately phasing out taxation). To name a few: (1) Even if the tax were popular, it would be wrong to impose it; (2) Even if it were easy for businessmen to comply, it would remain wrong to take their money; and (3) It is wrong to "stick it" to any business whose profits have been earned honestly, regardless of its size or income. I appreciate many aspects of this piece, but if conservatives want to quit seeing their political efforts amounting only to temporary holding actions against an every-expanding entitlement state, they should start doing a few things differently. For starters, they should leave it to the left to praise unlimited majority rule, redistribution of income, and plundering the productive. -- CAV Link to Original
  15. Alexis Madrigal of the Atlantic, noting that, "No one picks up the phone anymore," considers the evolution of phone etiquette from the initial debate over how to answer up to the current time, when robocallers have rendered the old practice of answering immediately seem ridiculous. I'm old enough to remember this: He wanted us to answer with, "Ahoy-hoy!" (Image via Wikipedia)In the moment when a phone rang, there was an imperative. One had to pick up the phone. This thinking permeated the culture from adults to children. In a Hello Kitty segment designed to teach kids how the phone worked, Hello Kitty is playing when the phone starts to ring. "It's the phone. Yay!" she says. "Mama! Mama! The telephone is ringing. Hurry! They are gonna hang up." Before ubiquitous caller ID or even *69 (which allowed you to call back the last person who'd called you), if you didn't get to the phone in time, that was that. You'd have to wait until they called back. And what if the person calling had something really important to tell you or ask you? Missing a phone call was awful. Hurry! [italics and link in original]This reminds me of the advent of the answering machine, which I recall at first getting a chilly reception from some quarters -- until the value of not missing calls sunk in. But the early adopters had it right because the whole premise of that ritual was that there was often no alternative to the phone for an important communication. (For something urgent, there sometimes still isn't.) Now, there are several, as Madrigal indicates, and robocallers have abused the old convention, which effectively allows anyone "at their arbitrary whim, to anonymously activate your fire alarm inside your home." I welcome the change for the most part, but would like to adapt a tip from Miss Manners to hasten the demise of the randomly-activated home fire alarm. She once advised a reader to turn her ringer off whenever a relative was present, to keep him from answering her phone against her wishes. The problem is now that most calls are garbage, with the ringer providing an unwelcome distraction on top of the inconvenience of answering. Perhaps most people will soon not use ringers absent an appointment for a call, or at least only for a group of whitelisted numbers. For a time, some, like job-hunters or people with kids in daycare might have to keep an ear out by default, but perhaps prospective employers would start setting up a calling time over text or email, and daycare centers could use a small set of numbers (that could be whitelisted). (The final frontier will be emergencies, and I have to admit being stumped for the moment there.) Perhaps, in the long run, telemarketers will have done us a favor by killing off a convention whose time has passed in most contexts. Good riddance. -- CAV Link to Original
  16. But CarMax Amazes Q What can I do to get you into a car today? A Offer me a straightforward deal for something I actually want. (Image via Pexels.) There's an article at Jalopnik ostensibly about how used car chain CarMax makes more money than its competitors, but whose myopic, dollars-only focus might cause readers to miss the real story -- and lazy ones to find more cherry-picked "evidence" that capitalism is exploitative. Author Tom McParland claims, "The primary reason for this is simple -- most people are overpaying." This reminds me of something my father would say after hearing some crank complain about his house not fetching the price he was hoping for: "A house is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it." All MacParland's article really does is show that this works in both price directions -- and that the adage, "Let the buyer beware," remains fully in force, even in this day of free-flowing information and innovation in the used car market. And that's a shame, because while MacParland adroitly uses the Internet to cherry pick examples of CarMax charging more than competitors for comparable vehicles -- as if an astute car buyer wouldn't think to do that -- he gives short shrift to the strong points of CarMax. He does mention them in passing, though: [W]hat makes CarMax such a draw for used car buyers is excellent marketing that espouses a low-stress, hassle-free car buying experience. It also helps that it has tons of locations in major metro areas and customers have the ability to transfer most vehicles from one location to the next for a fee. This gives buyers access to a nationwide network of inventory. Of course, the crux of the CarMax strategy is the "no-haggle" pricing. The price you see is what you pay. [bold added]I recently had to buy a replacement for the family car after getting rear-ended and chose to buy certified pre-owned in part because we will soon need to replace our other car. So we looked for cars via CarFax and visited a couple of lots. I didn't ultimately use CarMax, but even so, I'm sure someone more knowledgeable about cars and more comfortable haggling would look at my purchase and think I was had. Whatever. Perhaps -- if I wasted a week driving around the countryside -- I could have found the same thing for a thousand bucks or so less. But I was able to locate, test-drive, and buy a fine automobile in less than a day. And it's under a warranty. The dealer I used deserves a profit, and I don't regret a dime I spent. I remember what a pain buying used cars once was: CarMax and other companies have taken much of that pain -- and the guesswork (or extra time and expense) -- out of finding, evaluating, and purchasing used cars. This is an amazing achievement, but MacParland is unimpressed simply because there are cheaper options in the marketplace. The real story is how they fixed this process, rather than what amounts to "look for bargains." Even if CarMax sold every car at a premium over the competition, that might reflect the added expense associated with making the purchase easy and convenient. But even if it didn't, the company can't make anyone buy from them. So, no, they aren't "overpaying," and I'd bet that many, if not most, of them are very happy with the reduced amounts of time and stress and greater assurance of quality they got for the price. -- CAV Link to Original
  17. Four Things 1. Some time ago, I mentioned the private road in England built by entrepreneur Mike Watts in response to the massive inconvenience the lengthy closure of a government road was causing. While looking for related information, I found a video (embedded below) posted by a past customer of his of a round trip he took while it was still open. He turns onto the Kelston Private Toll Road around the 3:35 mark. I don't know if he posted a similar video of the "diversion," but it would have to be something on the order of an hour and a half long. 2. Writing about his recent visit to the capital of Ethiopia, Tyler Cowen argues that travel guides could stand to report on such things as the quality of the sidewalks: I enjoy walking around cities, but it's not just the quality of the architecture or the vitality of the street life that matter. The quality of the sidewalks is a central consideration, especially in emerging economies. What good are the sights if you are looking down all the time to avoid a slip or a broken ankle because of gaping holes? Sometimes major thoroughfares have no sidewalks at all.On top of that idea, his column might make you want to visit Addis Ababa. 3. In case a title like "From Broke to Billionaire: How Fred Luddy Built the World's Most Innovative Company" doesn't draw you in, here's an excerpt: John Donahoe most certainly doesn't have an IT background: Before eBay, where he paid particular attention to PayPal, he was the CEO of the consulting giant Bain. But he has a grander vision of the same eureka moment that Luddy had 15 years ago: the need to make complex processes elegant and simple. "Millennials say, Why can I reset my PayPal password in 20 seconds, but to reset my work email takes 20 minutes and a phone call?" Donahoe says. "Consumers want one seamless experience, and employees are the same way."I say that, too. On top of providing inspiration, it's good to know that someone who thinks like that is doing well and poised to apply that thinking to other things. I really hate it when things that are obviously technologically feasible aren't so, and cause me to have to jump through hoops. 4. As you may know, I like hearing about such feats of gastronomic alchemy as the baby carrots, Buffalo wings, and tater tots. But what would you drink with those? Cascara tea, which is made from what used to be a waste product: Aida Batlle grows coffee on her family's farm in the hills surrounding El Salvador's Santa Ana Volcano. Like generations before her, she had little use for the skin that encases the beans, so she'd turn it into cheap fertilizer or, more frequently, trash it. Then one day, walking past some husks drying in the sun, a smell hit her, a good smell: hibiscus and other floral aromas. It dawned on her, she says, that some value might be extracted from what she had long considered refuse. So she steeped the husks in hot water and had a taste. "Immediately I started calling customers to try it," she says.I haven't had this, but have heard of it. Knowing of its creative origin* makes me want to try it, but it does help that I am a coffee fan already. -- CAV * I forgot to check on this when I wrote the post, but... It turns out that the above story does not describe the origin of cascara. It does record the (still creative) realization on the part of the coffee grower that there was opportunity going to waste. Updates Today: Added note on cascara tea. Link to Original
  18. The above title is a direct quote from the first commenter to a story, "Utah Governor Signs Law Legalizing 'Free-Range Parenting'," in the Deseret News. It's also essentially the same as my initial reaction upon first learning the news from "Free Range Mother" Lenore Skenazy's Let Grow blog. I can understand why many parents would want such a law -- as a solution to what Skenazy aptly calls the "weaponized busybody." I've blogged similar stories, of parents who land in legal trouble for doing ordinary things in public in front of a busybody with a cell phone, and even have my own tale of drive-by harassment. (I didn't know how lucky I was, then!) What? Neither a phalanx of adults nor even a drone? Call CPS! (Image via Pixabay)But a law? I am not an attorney, but this sounds like a band-aid for a much more serious set of problems, primarily cultural, but also political. I recall Skenazy, for example, discussing the origins of the now-widespread, gross exaggeration of the threat of child abductions. It's easy to see how this might prompt some people to call the police when they see children they deem too young walking somewhere alone. And perhaps law enforcement is still getting used to every Tom, Dick and Harry being able to record isolated events and use them rightly or wrongly as evidence of wrongdoing. But these alone don't account for the absurd amount of attention some of these stories get; or the precautionary mindset-cum-authoritarian impulse behind many of the people behind the cameras; or the lack of accountability they have vis-à-vis the parents they take it upon themselves to monitor. It also doesn't explain the myriad laws already on the books that place all adults on the same footing as the least responsible -- such as the one in my state that makes it illegal for me to leave one of my kids alone in the house or the car, regardless of context, period. Or such policies -- as permission forms for everything at our daycare -- that seem motivated by fear of being sued. My best first stab at this is that, culturally, too many of us are acting less and less like independent adults, and are using the government as a surrogate parent. Such people, to greater or lesser degrees, expect laws that protect people from themselves, and demand intrusions by government that would never have been tolerated even a generation ago. This leads to intrusive legislation and the "weaponization" of laws, such as those against neglect and abuse, for purposes never intended. Most people really just want to be left alone, but passively accept this state of affairs -- until, one day, as harried parents, they learn what this really means. Then, not having thought much before about politics, they do what everyone else does, and demand a law to protect their ability (Freedom isn't quite the right word here.) to perform the activity they understand not to be so dangerous. I can understand why many conscientious parents are excited about this law, but it gives me pause when our freedom to act isn't protected under the law by default. This law might stop "weaponized busybodies" -- in the short term, from making our lives as parents more difficult -- but it is part of a very alarming broader trend, of the government permitting us to do prescribed things, rather than protecting our freedom to act according to our best judgement. (See the way marijuana is being "legalized.") The real problem that needs addressing is that too many Americans both take freedom for granted on a daily basis and yet are intellectually inclined to be suspicious of freedom -- and this combination sets us up for those who hate and fear liberty to run roughshod over the rest of us. I am not convinced one way or the other whether laws like this are good or bad as holding actions, but the war in which this is just a battle is the one for liberty. Some say that a government that can give you everything can also take everything away. Perhaps, but when we have to petition the government to make the usual decisions and perform the normal actions of living our daily lives, it starts to feel very late in that game. -- CAV Link to Original
  19. Writing about Starbucks's recent, highly publicized diversity training in the wake of its 911 call debacle in Philadelphia, Patrice Onwuka of the Independent Women's Forum argues that the training will do nothing to improve how its employees will handle similar situations in the future. Among other things, she notes that: Image via Pixabay.Such training has also led to the unintended consequences of activating biases about others. Participants have reported leaving training confused, angry, or feeling more animosity toward differences and other groups. When groups of people such as managers are targeted for added training, they resist the message because they feel singled out as culprits for something they may not have done. [bold added]This is true, even if the "message" is (undistorted by multiculturalism) to be simply that we should be aware that our background and experience might get in the way of practicing an etiquette founded on benevolence towards other human beings viewed as individuals. That said, I agree with the closing: Rather than anti-bias training, Starbucks should formulate a clear policy that demands all guests be treated equally and ensures that its employees act consistently.Yes. It is presumptuous of an employer to imply that it needs to "fix" its employees; but it is well within an employer's rights to say, "This is how we expect our employees to treat customers and potential customers." The employer does not know what is inside the minds of its employees any more than its clientele. But it can let them know its expectations and potential stumbling blocks to meeting them. This would both (1) make it easier to remove problem employees and (2) help employees who might need further training become interested in seeking it out for reasons that would be their own. -- CAV Link to Original
  20. Writing at Inc., business columnist Suzanne Lucas speaks up for the NFL's recent decision to insist on players either standing for the National Anthem or remaining off the field before games. Lucas is not a football fan, but she "absolutely" supports freedom of speech and frames the issue in terms of the players being on their employers' clocks during the time in question. So far so good, but I have to part ways here: Stealing is wrong, no matter the excuse. (Image of Robin Hood via Pixabay.)Athletes who have a job. We don't say, "Jim isn't an employee--he's a CPA!" Yeah, he can be both, and most likely is. Football players aren't at-will employees (like almost all of us in the United States), as they do have contracts. But, that doesn't make the NFL completely impotent in their ability to enforce workplace rules. You certainly have more rights off the clock than on, but even those aren't completely absolute. [links omitted]Lucas is on the right track when she implies that the NFL has a right to demand a certain standard of conduct from its employees, but this is not because rights "aren't completely absolute." It's because rights -- including the property rights of the employers here -- are absolute. In this case, employees were using the time they sold to their employers -- and media exposure resulting from their employment -- to advocate a political agenda. This is no different than, say someone working for a political campaign, a charity, or a church, during work time and using some of his employer's other resources, such as phones, computers, or office supplies in the process. An employer may choose to allow this or not, but that's his prerogative because (1) he hired his worker to do a job, and (2) he doesn't owe his employee property beyond payment for his services. And -- although this is redundant, common confusion about freedom of speech (among other things) requires it -- an employer does not owe an employee a forum for expressing ideas he may or may not agree with. The NFL barring kneeling protests on its own dime does not in any way diminish the rights of its players: They are free (and can surely afford) to buy their own air time or support their own political causes on their own time. But commandeering the pre-game show to do this was presumptuous at best, and arguably was theft even without the owners having to make their wishes explicit. The kneeling protests are not a free speech issue. They are a property rights issue. -- CAV P.S. Lucas also mentions being opposed (as I am) to government subsidies for NFL stadiums. This weakens the moral position of the NFL owners, but that is an argument for ending such subsidies, not for further eroding property rights by, say, forcing the owners to allow these protests. Link to Original
  21. Image via Pixabay.We're home for the holiday, with some hope that the weather will cooperate long enough for me to clean out the grill and (finally) inaugurate the outdoor cooking season. I have always held that an important part of thanking and remembering those who have fought for our freedom is to enjoy the day. I still do, but I also agree with Alex Epstein that we should take a moment to recall the nature and proper purpose of military service. I recommend reading (or re-reading) his classic editorial on the subject in full, but I'll quote his conclusion here: To send soldiers into war without a clear self-defense purpose, and without providing them every possible protection, is a betrayal of their valor and a violation of their rights. This Memorial Day, we must call for a stop to the sacrifice of our soldiers and condemn all those who demand it. It is only by doing so that we can truly honor not only our dead, but also our living: American soldiers who have the courage to defend their freedom and ours.Given that we remain in the same undeclared and largely unacknowledged state of war that began with the atrocities of September 11, 2001, it is neither trite nor an overstatement to say that every day is, in a sense, Memorial Day. Our country is under attack on multiple fronts because of the idea that sacrifice is a moral ideal, and yet so many of us still proudly pursue our own happiness. Even if all you do to celebrate this day is to hold a small family barbecue, you will have ample opportunity at other times and places to fight back against the evil idea that we do not belong to ourselves. I think of this piece as both an opportunity for reflection and a means of advanced preparation to fight for justice for our military. -- CAV Link to Original
  22. Image of first page of United States Constitution via Wikimedia Commons.Notable Commentary "Rather than fighting against the separation of Church from State, Star Parker would better serve the ideas of Capitalism and the Constitution by noting that religion is merely one set of ideas that can be taken on faith and argue for a separation of State from all ideology." -- Bob Stubblefield, in "Letter: U.S. Is Not a Christian Nation" at The Aiken Standard. "The goodness of a legal system's efficacy -- goodness that would constitute that system's being an ideal -- is completely dependent upon the ends that it advances." -- Tara Smith, in "Neutrality Isn't Neutral: On the Value-Neutrality of the Rule of Law" in Washington University Jurisprudence Review, Vol. 4, No. 1, pp. 49-95. (PDF, 2011) "One of the bedrock principles of Western medicine is a respect for a patient's bodily autonomy." -- Paul Hsieh, in "Pelvic Exams on Anesthetized Women Without Consent: A Troubling and Outdated Practice" at Forbes. "I'm hoping that as people realize that she is deeper and more interesting than just politics and the way the Left (and sometimes the Right) presents her, ... [m]ore people then will be open to studying her ideas and discussing them." -- Yaron Brook (interviewed by Alex Baltzegar), in "Interview with Yaron Brook: Why Ayn Rand Still Matters" at Merion West. Vote for a Worthy Candidate in 2018 Impact Today recently pointed out an opportunity to help place the 1996 documentary, Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life, in the National Film Registry: Under the terms of the National Film Preservation Act, each year the Librarian of Congress scans the decades to select twenty-five motion pictures (at least ten years old) for posterity. The picks are made after the Librarian confers with the National Film Preservation Board but gives special attention to films that get numerous votes via their public voting form, which can be filled out online.You can find further details, including where and how to vote, here. Polls close in December. -- CAV Link to Original
  23. Writing in Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics about the intellectual demands of the virtue of pride, Tara Smith discusses the problem of evasion: Because the essence of morality is rationality and because evasion is rationality's basic rival, an ever-present threat, the person committed to moral perfection must exert special vigilance against this vice. He must look for the particular forms of evasion that he is most prone to -- particular methods of evasion, for instance, such as rushing decisions so as to avoid facing uncomfortable implications, or particular subjects on which he is most tempted to evade, such as decisions about spending or working. Perfection cannot be attained without candidly confronting all the lures that are liable to challenge one's resolve... (p. 233)Among the things this passage reminded me of is a very common lure: The Internet. This lure is particularly dangerous because using the world's biggest library is very often necessary for one's job. Fortunately, Cal Newport, author of Deep Work, offers advice on how to manage the temptation to give in to boredom it represents. Noting that many people suggest or use what they call an "Internet Sabbath" as a means of stepping back, Newport acknowledges the advantages these offer while noting a major drawback: Like a fad diet that effects no long-lasting or meaningful change in behavior, that measure does not really help on a daily basis. Instead, Newport devotes significant time arguing that one should turn this idea on its head and schedule breaks from concentration rather than breaks from such a distraction: You might need to take more than an occasional break from such a place. (Image of opium den via Wikipedia.)With these rough categorizations established, the strategy works as follows: Schedule in advance when you'll use the Internet, and then avoid it altogether outside these times. I suggest you keep a notepad near your computer at work. On this pad, record the next time you're allowed to use the Internet. Until you arrive at that time, absolutely no network connectivity is allowed -- no matter how tempting. The idea motivating this strategy is that the use of a distracting service does not, by itself, reduce your brain's ability to focus. It's instead the constant switching from low-stimuli/high-value activities, at the slightest hint of boredom or cognitive challenge, that teaches your mind to never tolerate an absence of novelty. This constant switching can be understood analogously as weakening the mental muscles responsible for organizing the many sources vying for your attention. By segregating Internet use (and therefore segregating distractions) you're minimizing the number of times you give in to distraction, and by doing so, you let these attention-selecting muscles strengthen. (pp. 161-162)Newport further addresses such matters as jobs that require lots of Internet use, and recommends also scheduling Internet use at home. Internet use is not, in and of itself, evasion, but it can easily lead to drift and using it is a kind of "spending decision" -- of time, which is precious and irreplaceable. It is worth noting that even if one is in control of his Internet use, Newport's approach can be applied to other instances in which one might want to make the vigilance Smith urges easier, by incorporating it into one's routine. Sabbaths from temptation worse than fail to do this. -- CAV Link to Original
  24. According to the Washington Examiner, the scheduled reduction of the individual mandate penalty tax to zero in 2019 is the final stick of dynamite Republicans too cowardly to repeal the ACA have been waiting for! If Republican spines didn't always rubberize whenever Democrats jerked their knees, we'd be much freer and more prosperous. (Image via Pixabay.)In fact, the only basis for the mandate's constitutionality, according to Roberts, is that it's a tax -- not a fine, penalty, or anything else. This is a vital point, because when Republicans passed their tax reform legislation in December 2017, they included a provision in the law that lowers the individual mandate penalty to $0 beginning in January 2019, effectively eliminating any hope the individual mandate could still be considered a "tax." If the tax-less individual mandate is now found to be unconstitutional, it could very likely result in the entire healthcare law being struck down. In their 2012 dissenting opinion, four Supreme Court judges argued the ACA could not survive absent the individual mandate. Although Roberts never addressed the question in his opinion, there are good reasons to believe he should agree to throw the entire law out.Just like there were good reasons to believe he wouldn't have pulled that "tax" rabbit out of his ... wherever he got that from. So for this tack to work, we have to hope that no one finds a creative way to avoid making a common-sense decision. And then there's this: This means all it would take to end Obamacare is a decision by the Trump administration not to enforce this illegal law by agreeing to settle the lawsuit brought by plaintiffs challenging the constitutionality of the individual mandate. Such a move would likely trigger lawsuits from left-leaning states and intense legal battles, but perhaps in the process, Congress would finally be motivated to repeal and replace Obamacare -- something it has failed to do despite its leadership having promised to do so for eight years. [bold added]And there's the rest of the problem. We should repeal -- full stop. There is no need to legislate freedom: That's what this unjust law abridges. But even when the GOP did sling around the word "repeal" in an effort to sound tough, they softened that with "replace," because they are not truly convinced of the righteousness of the causes of justice and protection of individual rights. I am not holding my breath for the contemplated Supreme Court ruling, nor am I particularly sanguine about the prospect of the GOP scrapping the ACA and introducing other reforms to transition the medical sector to a free market. This scenario does offer a sliver of hope, but the track record of the conservatives gives me doubts, to say the least. -- CAV Link to Original
  25. Among news stories covering the sham "reelection" of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela -- many of which broke with the practice established during the financial crisis of never using the word "socialist" -- were two short paragraphs in the Guardian that pretty much tell you all you need to know about that political system: Vote for us or starve. (Image of CLAP box via Wikimedia Commons.)At a campaign rally in the western city of Barquisimeto, Maduro put it this way: "The Fatherland protects you and gives you everything. And you must give the Fatherland political power." But just to make sure, the government has banned the two most popular opposition politicians -- Leopoldo López who is under house arrest for inciting violence and Henrique Capriles who faces trumped-up corruption charges -- from running. [link added for details on "incitement"]Don't be fooled by the lack of a substantial difference among Maduro and his opponents: This is socialism in a nutshell. That said, I still think American admirers of Bernie Sanders should pay a visit or seek employment there. The linked Wikitravel site contains the following warning from the U.S. State Department: WARNING: The US State Department advice [sic] to reconsider travel to Venezuela due to crime, civil unrest, poor health infrastructure, and arbitrary arrest and detention of U.S. citizens. Some areas have increased risk. Do not travel to certain neighborhoods of Caracas due to crime. The tourists areas are considered today relatively safe for tourists, however. Read the newest Travel Advisory here (January 10, 2018) Venezuela Travel Advisory[.]Many of these same people will dismiss this as imperialistic propaganda, while both (1) admitting there are problems, which they will blame on the United States and the "big" oil corporations that first developed Venezuela's resources; and (2) working overtime to continue broadening the role of our government well beyond its proper scope. Conservatives might chuckle at such hypocrisy (while often sharing it), but the naiveté worries me. Just for starters: The whole idea that an all-powerful government is a good thing rests on the foolish assumption that it will act in ways one deems beneficial. But what is beneficial and what is the best way to achieve a good goal? Has a supporter of socialism ever been in disagreement with another person about anything? And what happens when the person who disagrees with you has the gun? It is a sobering thought that large numbers of people who fail to ask such obvious questions can visit such horrible consequences on themselves and everyone around them. -- CAV Link to Original