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Gus Van Horn blog

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  1. The Foundation for Economic Education recently published an article about millionaire Bernie Sanders with the title, "Bernie Is a Capitalist, Whether He Likes It or Not." Although this may be true of the first of the following dictionary definitions of the term, it is patently false about the second: 1. a person who has capital, especially extensive capital, invested in business enterprises. 2. an advocate of capitalism. 3. a very wealthy person. I would emphatically add that it's debatable, to say the very least, that "he deserves that money." It is his property, under capitalism, and he did gain it by trade. To that extent, it is proper that he has the money. But he did so while advocating an immoral and impractical -- a vile and deadly -- ideology. In that sense, he "deserves" that money in the same sense that a chiropractor or a fortune teller deserve whatever they receive from others, and he should thank his lucky stars for the remnants of capitalism that are allowing him to get away with it. I do, believe it or not, for reasons analogous to criminals sometimes walking free in our justice system: It's the price we pay for the protection of the rights of the individual being the default in our government. Or which, like private property ought to be default, but which Sanders and his ilk want to finish turning into "51 percent of people choos[ing] something, and the other 49 percent have to go along." This article, sadly and tellingly, does not convey outrage or even alarm that this is an increasingly accurate description. The piece does contain other interesting information -- such as a link to the instructions Sanders could follow to volunteer for income equality, were he sincere about his advocacy of the same; and it does indicate that socialism calls for government coercion. But it misses a big opportunity to make a case against Sanders that would really hurt: a moral one. As Ayn Rand once pointed out to FEE founder Leonard Read: Image via Wikipedia, public domain.The mistake is in the very name of the organization. You call it The Foundation for Economic Education. You state that economic education is to be your sole purpose. You imply that the cause of the world's troubles lies solely in people's ignorance of economics and that the way to cure the world is to teach it the proper economic knowledge. This is not true -- therefore your program will not work. You cannot hope to effect a cure by starting with a wrong diagnosis. The root of the whole modern disaster is philosophical and moral. People are not embracing collectivism because they have accepted bad economics. They are accepting bad economics because they have embraced collectivism. You cannot reverse cause and effect. And you cannot destroy the cause by fighting the effect. That is as futile as trying to eliminate the symptoms of a disease without attacking its germs. [bold added] (Letters of Ayn Rand, pp. 256-257)FEE would have done better to point out that Sanders, like many others who have become the first kind of capitalist -- including many who truly deserved their fortunes, like Bill Gates -- are far from being the second kind. More broadly, they could have noted that unless more of us become the second kind of capitalist, there won't be any of the first kind for much longer. -- CAVLink to Original
  2. Weighing the idea of a column on Earth Day, I learned the following amusing and thought-provoking coincidence: Image via Wikimedia, public domain.Unbeknownst to [Earth Day founder Gaylord] Nelson, April 22, 1970, was coincidentally the 100th anniversary of the birth of Vladimir Lenin, when translated to the Gregorian calendar (which the Soviets adopted in 1918). Time reported that some suspected the date was not a coincidence, but a clue that the event was "a Communist trick", and quoted a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution as saying, "subversive elements plan to make American children live in an environment that is good for them." J. Edgar Hoover, director of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, may have found the Lenin connection intriguing; it was alleged the FBI conducted surveillance at the 1970 demonstrations. The idea that the date was chosen to celebrate Lenin's centenary still persists in some quarters, an idea borne out by the similarity with the subbotnik instituted by Lenin in 1920 as days on which people would have to do community service, which typically consisted in removing rubbish from public property and collecting recyclable material. Subbotniks were also imposed on other countries within the compass of Soviet power, including Eastern Europe, and at the height of its power the Soviet Union established a nationwide subbotnik to be celebrated on Lenin's birthday, April 22, which had been proclaimed a national holiday celebrating communism by Nikita Khrushchev in 1955. [links and notes omitted, bold added]The pronoucements and proposals of leftists routinely demonstrate massive evasion or ignorance of well-known facts of history of their own civilization: It's no stretch to imagine even more ignorance of the actual history of the nation so many of them idealized at the time. At the same time, the coincidence should give us pause for the same reason the famous image of the first subbotnik (pictured) should. How valuable and to whom is unpaid manual labor? Setting aside making a show on his part, Lenin serving as a human cog on a log-moving machine is ironic even under communism: Otherwise, why have government planners at all? Shouldn't he be reviewing a five year plan or something? (This is not to endorse central planning on moral or practical grounds.) Likewise, why spend your time this way, only to take paying work away from groundskeepers, landscapers, and the like? You are a human being with but one life to live. Let the termites recycle, and consider using your mind and your capacity for enjoyment on this day, particularly if you have it off. That's the most natural and proper thing for a sentient being to do, anyway. -- CAVLink to Original
  3. Notable Commentary Before the fire had even been extinguished, close to $1 billion was pledged to rebuild Notre-Dame de Paris. The overwhelming majority of these funds came from non-government sources. (Image by LeLaisserPasserA38, via Wikipedia, license.)"Using taxes to preserve history is a violation of the rights of those who don't want to be forced to pay for that preservation." -- Bob Stubblefield, in "Letter: Preserving History Is Not a Function of Government" at The Aiken Standard. "Unfortunately, warning only that socialism is impractical has proved ... impractical ... as its advocates rely on moral grounds." -- Gus Van Horn, in "Why Is the American Right So Reluctant to Defend Capitalism?" at RealClear Markets. "As politicians start to debate the merits of 'Medicare for all,' Americans would be wise to remember how things turned out the last time the government attempted to transform the US health system." -- Paul Hsieh, in "How Government Policies Created the Current Disaster of Electronic Health Records" at Forbes. "[M]ore and more debt is required to add what looks like less and less profit..." -- Keith Weiner, in "Debt and Profit in Russell 2000 Firms" at SNB & CHF. -- CAV Link to Original
  4. Yet another article that never mentions the s-word -- this one by Reuters -- chronicles the already long-incredible yet ever-increasing misery that socialism is causing for Venezuelans. This article details the predicament of refugees who flee into Brazil, but can't afford bus fare to travel any further to find employment. Specifically, some are working as scavengers in the dump of a border town, and the following quote comes from one of these unfortunate souls: "He is so wrong. Look at us here in this dump," [23-year-old mother Rosemary Tovar] said. "If Maduro does not leave Venezuela, I will never return there."The problem, socialism -- the system that makes a Maduro possible in the first place -- is bigger than one man, but think about the rest of the above statement, too. This clip, from inside Venezuela, recently went viral. The fact that a mother would rather toil away in a dump than return to her home should give fans of Bernie Sanders and his ilk pause, at least based on the questionable assumption they value their own well-being. -- CAV Link to Original
  5. ... So Reluctant to Defend Capitalism? Image by wdreblow0, via Pixabay, license.Which "political belief are you scared to share with friends?" So asks a March survey at FiveThirtyEight. What a strange question -- particularly in a prosperous nation born out of coffeehouse debates and political pamphleteering. I can't imagine why any thoughtful adult would be reluctant to share their politics with a true friend. Furthermore, since opinion shapes politics through voting, we should want to discuss our opinions. However, that poll question doesn't hold a candle to the reluctance of many pundits and political figures on the right to speak up for capitalism on moral grounds. With socialism en vogue on the American left even as its latest iteration is obliterating Venezuela, this is an ideal time to make the case for the only system that justly rewards creativity and hard work, while simultaneously making us richer. Granted, Trump said, "We will never be a socialist country," during his State of the Union; and Mitch McConnell defeated the Green New Deal 57-0 in the Senate. But how persuasive was Trump's taunt, or the Senate debate? Mike Lee's (R-UT) remarks were possibly the best. He rightly noted that the Green New Deal is unserious, but ... To continue reading my latest column, please proceed to RealClear Markets. I would like to thank my wife and Steve D. for their comments on earlier versions of this piece. -- CAV Link to Original
  6. "You say industry can regulate itself? Prove it," thunders the title of a recent editorial in the New York Times, before making great hay of a implied failure of a government pilot program to change how hogs are inspected in slaughterhouses. So, for starters, we aren't actually talking about industrial self-policing, aka deregulation. Now, let's look at the standard of proof we are to adopt before we change or jettison an inspection regime the Grey Lady admits is "out of date:" Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images, via Pixabay, license. The system of slaughterhouse regulation is out of date. The industry has succeeded over time in sharply reducing the kinds of problems visible from the slaughterhouse floor -- the government says its health inspectors increasingly are policing aesthetic issues -- but the incidence of some illnesses caused by pork consumption has stopped falling. ... The Clinton administration agreed in 1997 to let five hog plants adopt the inspection system that the Trump administration wants to embrace for the whole industry. In 2013, the Agriculture Department's inspector general reported that the pilot program had not demonstrably improved food safety. In response, the government defended the new system as no worse than the old one. [links omitted, bold added]But there is "some evidence of increased risk:" During a span of four years, the five processing plants in the program were cited 22 times in total for failing to remove caracasses from production that could cause food poisoning. That averages out to just over one hog per plant per year. The piece does not cite a comparable statistic for the rest of the industry for the reader to gauge for himself whether there is truly an "increased risk," due to expanding the pilot program; or, if so, whether it is an acceptable increase; or of the nature of the risk. Certainly, some federal inspectors are at "risk" of losing government jobs and having to seek employment in the private sector, if the pilot program is expanded. In any event, there is no information for the reader to use to determine if the end of the decrease in instances of foodborne illness is due to a technological limit or some other factor. Instead, we are left to assume that even more federal inspectors would surely lead us to the nirvana of zero instances of illness due to bad carcasses. But I favor eventually getting the government completely out of the business of quality control, given that there are great incentives for keeping customers alive so they can keep buying sausage. That said, it will not necessarily be a simple matter to back out of regulation. For one thing, as this piece shows, there is, in some quarters, a great failure to appreciate the power of the profit motive. This failure is both due to a suspicion of selfishness and to the idea, part assumption and part self-fulfilling prophecy, that businessmen are out to make a quick killing, and so don't think long-range. Decreased vigilance by the public, based on the assumption that the government is watching everything accounts for that second factor. On top of the hand-waving arguments against the small reduction in personnel Trump inspecting the meat industry, this article does a great disservice regarding the whole debate about regulation, with a big assist from the President: It is using a small, unprincipled step towards apparently less regulation as a convenient straw man to ensure that people remain ignorant of what actual deregulation is, and whether it might do a better job than the government is doing of ensuring the safety of our food supply. -- CAVLink to Original
  7. A while back, when commenting on the Jussie Smollett hate crime hoax, Walter Williams took note of the following good news en route to his main point: Image by Dominick D, via Wikipedia, license.Here's the good news about the racial hoaxes on the nation's college campuses: Left-wing college students have a difficult time finding the actual racism they claim permeates college campuses. Thus, they have to invent it. Though it has not been proved yet, these students may have support for their racial hoaxes by diversity-crazed administrators, who nationwide spend billions of dollars on diversity and a multiculturalist agenda. Racial discord and other kinds of strife are their meal tickets. [bold added]This is a very good thing and I agree that charges should have been pursued. The fact that the charges were hastily dropped is wrong, and it threatens those hard-won gains. We should never be complacent about racism or equality before the law, even in times in which we seem closer to the latter ideal than at any other time in our history. Part of that vigilance is acknowledging the progress made culturally and politically. -- CAV Link to Original
  8. Blog Roundup 1. Peter Schwartz offers a short movie review of Apollo 11 at his blog. Here is the opening paragraph: You wouldn't think that a movie about the Apollo 11 mission that consists simply of footage shot at the time of the event could present a compelling, inspiring story. Yet this film does just that.Already curious about this movie before seeing this review, I now intend to see it. Unfortunately, it is not clear to me that I will be able to do so in a theater. I think it's gone from mainstream theaters here, but possibly scheduled to show in an independent one. I am not sure. 2. The blog of the Center for Industrial Progress presents an analysis of the true cost of solar energy: Solar power is at least predictable for this application... (Image via Wikimedia, public domain.)How do we quickly convey that the alleged price of unreliable energy has nothing to do with the price of reliable energy? One question I find helpful to cut through the noise is: "What is the cost of self-sufficient solar?" Just like a nuclear plant or a coal plant can produce reliable power, and we can assess that cost, I want to know the cost per unit of energy of producing abundant, reliable power just using solar and storage. The answer, actually, is that we don't know since no industrial location uses self-sufficient solar -- which is not a good sign in terms of the affordability of solar. [emphasis in original]This is a very timely point, given that I am constantly seeing solar energy proclaimed -- solely on the basis of cost per unit of energy used -- as insanely cheap, and thus on the fast track to dominance. 3. The blog for the Texas Institute for Property Rights notes a problem with the rationale for one group's opposition to a bullet train between Dallas and Houston: f the bullet train doesn't meet the standards set by this coalition, [it holds that] government officials should prevent the line from being built. While the coalition purports to support property rights, their stance is a direct assault on property rights. They want to dictate how a private business operates, and they want to use the coercive power of government to impose their views. The post goes on further to note two important further considerations: (1) The use of eminent domain (which is proposed for this project) should be opposed; and (2) principled respect for the property rights of others demands that we respect the right of others to make business decisions we don't agree with. 4. Over at Value for Value, Harry Binswanger asks, "What is national sovereignty?" According to the Cato scholar, immigrants have a lower proportion of criminals than do native Americans. Philosophically, though, it doesn't matter. Suppose the crime rate for immigrants were triple that of native Americans. Since justice is not collective, that fact would not justify any interference with the flow of immigrants across our borders. You think it does? Would you then advocate that the police go to a poor neighborhood, where the crime rate is triple the average, and eject or imprison everyone? Would you even advocate "extreme vetting" of the entire population of that crime-ridden neighborhood? I hope not. [emphasis in original] I further agree that ending the "War on Drugs" would help solve many of the problems many people associate with immigration. And I would add that ending the welfare state would also help. -- CAV Link to Original
  9. A piece in the Economist provides the following salt to take with the next habits of highly effective people article you encounter: The danger of copying chief executives is that what makes their habits fashionable is usually strong profit growth and share price performance, and those can be ephemeral. Quirks that look daring and groundbreaking in good times seem more of a liability in testing times. Just ask shareholders in Tesla. Image by Free-Photos, via Pixabay, license. Yes. Think of how Elon Musk runs conference calls, or his tweeting habits. Or maybe look for another person to emulate. Regardless of your opinion on that last question, the fact remains that some people can be wildly successful in spite of some of their habits. A similar type of article, which I dub health advice from centenarians gives us more examples: No. I don't think I need a to sip whiskey daily -- or, for that matter, to be cavalier about smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. When pursuing success, it can pay to study examples, but sometimes, it could be worth asking, "What other factors or habits might account for this person's success?" Some of those may well be worth adopting indeed. -- CAV Link to Original
  10. Image by RISE, via Wikipedia, license.Over at Reason Magazine is a thought-provoking piece on home organization guru Marie Kondo. I have to admit that I have not paid much attention to Kondo, despite having heard of her something like a year ago. This is in part because her question about things sparking joy sounded corny to me. Coupled with the nonessential of how, exactly, to fold socks, her enormous popularity screamed "Fad! Waste of time!" to my contrarian disposition. But one's snap judgements need not be etched in stone, and I am grateful to reader Steve D for bringing the piece to my attention. Aside from the remarkable similarities (and shallowness) of the thoughts of Tucker Carlson and Bernie Sanders regarding the accumulated junk so many Americans are mired in -- and more important -- is that one can see that Kondo is trying to get people more in touch with what they value when she asks her question: Kondo's life's work is to help people sort their belongings, toss a bunch of them, and put the rest away neatly. She calls it The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. She asks her clients to hold each object they possess one at a time to decide if it "sparks joy." If it doesn't, one thanks the object and discards it. Sound anti-consumerist? It's not: The insight that undergirds her entire system is that stuff can, in fact, make you happy.I disagree that stuff -- any more than money -- can make you happy. But, yes, as the saying about money goes, it sure helps. (Or it can, anyway.) The piece gets to that later: At the core of Kondo's project is an idea more revolutionary than and in opposition to the prevailing anti-materialist moral consensus. By asking you to pay attention to how you feel about things, she hopes to help you become more sensitive to stuff-induced euphoria. Kondo taps into the strong feelings people have about their belongings rather than asking them to minimize those impulses, as the practitioners of both left- and right-wing variants of anti-consumerist austerity demand. ... When Sanders scoffs at a wide deodorant selection and Carlson sneers at cheap iPhones, both men exhibit astonishing failures of imagination. Of course an affordable iPhone brings joy, by enabling better communication with the people we love, if nothing else. And for some hard-working, sweaty people, a good deodorant arsenal is absolutely crucial to day-to-day well-being. [bold added]Kondo's approach reminds me of the following insight Ayn Rand had about the nature of emotions: Just as the pleasure-pain mechanism of man's body is an automatic indicator of his body's welfare or injury, a barometer of its basic alternative, life or death -- so the emotional mechanism of man's consciousness is geared to perform the same function, as a barometer that registers the same alternative by means of two basic emotions: joy or suffering. Emotions are the automatic results of man's value judgments integrated by his subconscious; emotions are estimates of that which furthers man's values or threatens them, that which is for him or against him -- lightning calculators giving him the sum of his profit or loss. [bold added]This shows that Kondo's question is a very good one, at least for providing a lead to figuring out what one needs. Elsewhere, Rand helps us see the limits of what our emotions can tell us -- and thus the potential as well as how to get there: An emotion as such tells you nothing about reality, beyond the fact that something makes you feel something. Without a ruthlessly honest commitment to introspection -- to the conceptual identification of your inner states -- you will not discover what you feel, what arouses the feeling, and whether your feeling is an appropriate response to the facts of reality, or a mistaken response, or a vicious illusion produced by years of self-deception... In the field of introspection, the two guiding questions are: "What do I feel?" and "Why do I feel it?"Knowing this, someone, say, unhappy working as a programmer, would thus not chuck his computer -- at least not yet -- knowing he needs it to survive. But the question could still help him make bigger changes that would enable him to eventually do so (or keep it, but only for uses he does enjoy). So I see Kondo's question in a new light. Far from trite, it can be very useful for cleaning up house, and in more than just the literal sense. -- CAVLink to Original
  11. A story about a long-running survey of American religious affiliations in the Daily Mail asks, "Is America Becoming Godless?" This question is understandable: Image via Wikimedia, public domain.The number of Americans who identify as having no religion has risen 266 percent since 1991, to now tie statistically with the number of Catholics and Evangelicals, according to a new survey. People with no religion -- known as "nones" among statisticians -- account for 23.1 percent of the U.S. population, while Catholics make up 23 percent and Evangelicals account for 22.5 percent, according to the General Social Survey.Having just moved back to the South and having seen a few holy roller tee shirts, bumper stickers, and license plates (!) too many, I might be inclined to be skeptical of such a finding. But the following sounds like a very good explanation, based on my own personal experience: Ryan Burge, a political science professor at Eastern Illinois University who analyzed the data, said that experts have several theories about why the number of "nones" has risen so dramatically in recent decades. "One of them is that many people used to lie about what they were," he told DailyMail.com. "Many people were (always) atheist or non-religious, but it was previously culturally unacceptable to not have a religion in America."This comports with what I know of my paternal grandfather, my father, and his brother. My father was Catholic while I grew up, but knew an atheist from the police force. My father, although he mentioned he was a bit afraid of this atheist at first, would eventually become one himself. (He confided these things to me after I told him I was no longer religious during college. None of the rest of my family believes me, indicating that he did not advertise this.) My Dad's father was nominally Baptist, but I have zero recollection of him ever attending a church service that wasn't a funeral or a marriage. My uncle, at least when he was younger, was definitely nonreligious, and occasionally caught flack for it. Once, upon moving to a small town in Mississippi, he was approached, out of the blue, while doing yard work one day some time after he'd settled. An adult male told him the locations of the churches of three different denominations and ended his brief monologue with, "Go to one of them." He didn't, but his story -- along with the disparaging rumors of my favorite high school teacher as an atheist -- indicates that there was social pressure to be religious only a few decades ago. And some of that came from suspicion, even from otherwise decent people. So, yes, in addition to our country getting past the scourge of racism, it may well be getting over the need to hear lip-service to religion. This is a somewhat encouraging development. That said, "nonreligious" is a catch-all term, and says little about what a person actively holds to be true. -- CAV Link to Original
  12. These days, the American dream is more apt to be realized in South America, in places such as Ecuador, Venezuela and Argentina, where incomes are actually more equal today than they are in the land of Horatio Alger. Who's the banana republic now? -- Bernie Sanders (2011) *** Should medical care be run by the government? Two clues remain hidden in plain sight after a pack of American Journalists -- a scent-blind breed of bloodhound -- chased down stories about an aging rock musician and a humanitarian catastrophe. First, it wasn't until I read a John Hinderaker post on Mick Jagger at Power Line that I learned the following: Wow, you might think. That's impressive! We keep hearing about long delays and antiquated care in the National Health Service, and here Jagger is able to get cutting-edge surgery in a matter of days! Oops, never mind. Jagger flew to New York for the operation, a fact that his press representatives don't seem eager to emphasize. [links omitted]To be fair, I don't consume as much news as you might think: I scan headlines from a computer-generated list aggregated from a couple of handfuls of sites most mornings. But still, I have no trouble believing such information would be missing from or buried in most reports. To wit, live (if you can call it that) from Venezuela, comes the following tidbit about the latest Bolivarian Circle of socialist hell: Things are so bad that, according to the report and other sources, patients who go to the hospital need to bring not only their own food but also medical supplies like syringes and scalpels as well as their own soap and water.The word "crisis" occurs thirteen times in this article, while the word count for terms starting with social -- like socialist and socialism -- is zero.You'll have to bring your own in socialist Venezuela. (Image by geudki, via Pixabay, license.) (Access, a favorite buzzword of American leftists discussing medicine, occurs twice, but with the obvious question of whether Venezuelans have "access to medical care" left unasked.) Instead, you get a peppering of quotes treating the cause like some kind of mystery: "The health crisis began in 2012, two years after the economic crisis began in 2010. But it took a drastic turn for the worse in 2017, and the situation now is even more dismal than researchers expected," and "Despite all the headlines about Venezuela's collapse, researchers were still surprised by the scope of the crisis." With journalists resolutely not connecting the dots of all these mysterious crises, I guess I wouldn't blame the researchers for being surprised. It is unconscionable for socialism to get the pass it is getting now when conditions have deteriorated in the latest pet project so quickly that even many teenagers should be able to remember when Venezuela was touted as a paradise. -- CAV Link to Original
  13. I find the following items handy when traveling. 1. In part because we don't live especially close to family, the Van Horns travel quite a bit. One of the things this has caused me to notice over the years is how many poorly-designed bathrooms there are out there. After wondering Is this the first time the builder ever attempted a bathroom? one time too many -- because I had nowhere to put my shampoo or soap that didn't involve picking it up from the tub or floor mid-shower -- I decided to do something about it. That something was to buy a shower caddy bag somewhat like this one that I could just throw into a suitcase and use on the other end as needed. It's on my evolving packing list and I just hang it on the piping for the shower head. 2. I have many more keys than I want to always carry around, and there are things I sometimes want with me that can fit onto a keychain. I can't find my particular key organizer (pictured) for sale any more, but this one is very similar. On one recent road trip, I needed everything here but the pocket knife. (I already keep a similar one in my car's glove box.) It was all on there while I drove, but the house keys and pen drive went to the hotel room safe most of the time. When I'm not traveling, it's nice to be able to separate the house key on those many occasions when everyone is already in the car and someone remembers leaving something in the house. I can leave the engine (and AC!) running for Mrs. Van Horn and the kids while I dash inside. Oh. That thing? It's a pill fob. It's nice to know you have some ibuprofen on hand when you walk into the gate of an amusement park with two kids in the morning... 3. For solo trips or running errands, I often like to listen to podcasts. Unfortunately, I gather these from different providers and dislike the interfaces for most of these, anyway. Enter pCloud, with 10 GB of cloud storage. This freemium service is like adding that amount of storage to any device and is multi-platform. I can gather and organize what I want to listen to on a computer with a real keyboard and then very easily listen to what I want when I want, all with a uniform interface. A nice bonus is that it is stupid simple to transfer photos with it. 4. For picnics and trips to the beach, I appreciate being able to leave my usual watch behind and, of course, open beer. Both are a snap with a bottle-opening watch, similar to this one, that my father-in-law gave me years ago. Its battery recently died, so I effected the temporary repair of setting it to 5:01. -- CAVLink to Original
  14. A Hacker News thread regarding a BBC article about the sunk cost fallacy starts off with what I think is a valuable comment: An interesting twist: sometimes [a project] may be worth finishing purely for the psychological boost of confidence, or other similar meta, 2nd order effects. I don't have a good algorithm for knowing when this is the case, but especially for smaller individual-level projects, I think it is probably not that uncommon. It also seems highly context dependent -- e.g. if one hasn't had a win in a while, it should be a larger consideration. Framed another way: first learn how to finish projects, then learn how to finish the right project. ... The sunk-cost fallacy is a useful tool, but it isn't always easy to apply in practice. This is a great point, and I have even done this in the past -- albeit on a hunch rather than explicitly deciding something like, I want a win, or I want the experience that will come with plowing ahead, anyway. This old Berlitz commercial suddenly seems relevant to me in a new way... Sometimes, one can realize a profit in unexpected ways from something that might be a loss in terms of the original goal. It is good to know that this needn't always occur in retrospect, but can also happen when we don't rush ourselves to cut losses. -- CAV Link to Original
  15. Statistician John Cook describes a phenomenon he often encounters in his consulting practice. He calls it missing information anxiety: He couldn't see the forest -- or the way out -- for the trees. (Image by DarkWorkX, via Pixabay, license.)I often tell clients they don't need information that they think they need. That news may come as a relief, or it may cause anxiety. I may tell a client, for instance, that missing data cannot change a conclusion, so it's not worth waiting for. Whether that brings relief or anxiety depends on whether they believe me. There's a physics demonstration where you have a heavy ball on a long cable. You pull back the ball like a pendulum and let it touch your chin. Then let the ball go and stand still. If you're convinced of the physical laws governing the motion of the ball, you can stand there without flinching. You know that just as it left your chin with zero velocity, it will return with zero velocity... [bold added]This is a valuable point. Mathematics is highly abstract, and the contention that no more data is needed might sound ridiculous to a non-mathematician. (This problem is not restricted to mathematics, but it is surely common among similarly abstract disciplines.) Cook speaks of putting "your own own face on the line before asking them to do the same," which is a good metaphor for tying one's abstractions to reality. Or, as one so often hears in communication advice: "Show, don't tell." -- CAVLink to Original
  16. Over at Quillette is a short piece by economist Kristian Niemietz, author of the newly-published Socialism: The Failed Idea That Never Dies. It is unclear to me from this article alone that Niemietz has anything other than practical objections to the idea of socialism. (For the sake of argument, I am assuming he doesn't.) Even so, his piece should give young socialists pause for two reasons. First, Niemietz provides a short history lesson on how these movements take off, develop, and disappoint: On the one hand, there were (typically older) socialists who still felt varying degrees of attachment to the former German Democratic Republic (the GDR, i.e., East Germany) and its "big brother," the Soviet Union. They did not want to reanimate the GDR, and they condemned the Stasi and the Berlin Wall. But they could not completely let the dream go. Image by Pezibear, via Pixabay, license.On the other hand, there were (typically younger) socialists, who felt no such attachment. They saw themselves as the vanguard of a different kind of socialism -- less rigid, less dogmatic, less ideological. They saw GDR nostalgists as die-hard reactionaries. And when they looked around the world for a place where socialism was evolving in a way that was new, exciting, flexible and democratic, that place turned out to be Venezuela. ... Back then, it was the Chavistas who would look down on nostalgic comrades who still retained an attachment to earlier, discredited socialist projects. Now, suddenly, they find themselves in that same unfashionable role. [bold added]Niemietz is trying to help this generation's socialists see that they are heading down the same path. And he offers the following as to why he argues that they are: But the truth is that mass participation and radical democratization always had been idealized by socialists, including by socialist leaders who led successful national movements. But these dreams never survived, because it simply isn't feasible to run a large society and a complex economy in this kind of participatory way. Democratic socialism works perfectly fine in small, self-selecting and homogeneous high-trust communities with relatively simple economies, the prime example being the Israeli Kibbutz. But that model is not scalable (and hasn't even aged particularly well in Israel itself). There is a reason that, even at the height of the Kibbutz movement, Kibbutzim never grew beyond a certain size. There seems to be an upper limit of around 1,500 people, and even that is rare: Most Kibbutzim have fewer than 500 members. Regardless of what socialists say they want to build, socialism can only mean a society run by large, hierarchical government bureaucracies. It can only mean a command-and-control economy directed by a distant, technocratic elite. The reason it always turns out that way isn't because revolutions are "betrayed" by selfish or undisciplined actors, but because no other path is possible... [bold added]This is probably the "best" example of the "noble but impractical" argument I have ever seen, and it can very easily serve as a starting point for making the argument -- that socialism is immoral -- that needs making: (1) Define what "works" means. Many, if not most non-socialists and many young idealists regard furthering human prosperity as "working." (Movement leaders almost certainly don't, although they will never openly admit it.) Doing this can pave the way towards explaining why it is actual capitalism (as opposed to our current mixed economy), that is life-promoting. (2) Explain more clearly why socialism does not "scale". Most people can understand wanting to keep what they earn and can understand from thought experiments that socialism will make many (including themselves) "unwilling to work." What they need to see more clearly is that socialism relies on the use of government force to "scale" and what that means, namely the poverty and repression that always follow. (3) Discuss why initiation of force against individuals, including by the government, is wrong, because it prevents that person from doing what he judges necessary to prosper. This is hardly an exhaustive list, but a better historic understanding of the failures (and limited "successes") of socialism can aid in making the argument that it is immoral. This is a fascinating article and can be useful, via the tactic of "steel manning", to understand how best to fight socialism as the immoral system that it actually is. -- CAVLink to Original
  17. Image by infopaul70, via Pixabay, license.A Hot Air blog post by John Sexton is making the rounds, but for the wrong reason. Of course Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez turned right around and made a bigoted remark after being compared to a group she disdains: All of "identity" politics is collectivism and bigotry. This is not news. Sexton's identification of the Green New Deal and its author as fundamentally anti-capitalist is much closer to the mark, but even that isn't what I find significant. Rather, let's look at the following aside, after briefly noting for clarity that our current economic system is not actually capitalist -- which gives her some credibility to many eyes: She's really not being shy about what she wants here. The current economic system is, in her view, unfair and is taking something from the working and middle class. This is the analysis you would expect from Democratic Socialism. The underlying idea is that the state can and should arrange these things better than private interests are currently doing. It's a very old delusion at this point but one that keeps cropping up every generation. [bold added]A question that too often goes unasked is this: Why do we have to keep having this conversation every generation, with each being less free -- and so less able to appreciate what is at stake -- than the one before? It is in large part because very few people consistently and on principle question the propriety of the state "arranging things" other than the defense of individual rights. If conservatives want the moral high ground, they must, for example, stop seeking public funding for religious schools, and instead work to privatize all education. Why? Because all such "arrangements" involve the government violating the right to property as a starting point. (This is never the only right that gets violated, but that is almost beside the point.) It is wrong for the government to take things from one individual and give them to another, and right for the government to let each individual keep and use the fruits of his own labor. We own ourselves and it is the government's job to enforce that ownership -- not to violate us in any way. Until more opponents of the left understand and argue based on this premise, we will keep bickering about what orders the government will execute and with whose money and lives -- while our society continues circling the drain. -- CAVLink to Original
  18. Blog Roundup 1. As if it weren't bad enough that this was the first time a "MARS" candidate has won an election, the Trump Presidency has caused lots of collateral damage: [Trump's] core constituency supports him unquestioningly. He calls them "my followers," and they attend his rallies, vote for the candidates he endorses and give him the adulation he desperately seeks. They have helped him co-opt the right. The better Republicans have been driven out and the worst ones entrenched. The few, isolated defenders of a free market have nowhere to turn for political support. There is no significant faction fighting against Trump's war on trade. Today, the right -- the intellectual leaders and the mass followers -- consists predominantly of nativists, who want to "make America great" by expanding the power of the state and regressing to the tribalism of centuries past.For more, please read the rest of "Has the Right Been Eviscerated by Trump?" by Peter Schwartz. 2. In case you've ever wondered, Jason Crawford has you covered in "Why AC Won the Electricity Wars" at The Roots of Progress: I recently finished the book Empires of Light, by Jill Jonnes, about the "War of the Electric Currents" -- AC vs DC -- that took place as the electricity industry was getting established in the late 1800s. It is a common story in technology: two competing standards, with ardent proponents of each. But DC was doomed from the start -- not for lack of backers, since it was favored by the world-renowned Thomas Edison, but by physics and economics. [link in original]I usually quote the most important or essential passage when I do roundups, but it would be a spoiler if I did that in this case. Enjoy. 3. At New Ideal we learn that the idea of civility is being used in a "package deal" to attack freedom of speech: [W]e see the language of civility used to blur the difference between speech and coercion. It is simply obfuscation to claim, as [Atlantic writer Vann] Newkirk does, that appealing to “nonviolent activism” precludes using “shame and confrontation as tools.” One can shame and confront without initiating force, as [proprietress Stephanie] Wilkinson did at the Red Hen restaurant. Would a demand for nonviolent activism serve to scold her? No. But for Newkirk, “confrontation” is code for threats, intimidation, and coercion, which is what he is trying to legitimize.This is hardly surprising: Back in suburban Baltimore, where I used to live, I recall seeing "Choose Civility" bumper stickers and thinking, "What a polite-sounding way to say, Shut up!" the 4. At the blog of the Center for Industrial Progress, Alex Epstein posts links to a video in which he explains a persuasion technique he calls arguing to 100: I've mentioned this concept on past episodes of Power Hour, but this is the most in-depth explanation of the concept and how to apply it I've ever shared publicly.Said video is embedded above. -- CAV Link to Original
  19. I am not sure whether the author, who was a socialist when he was young, has questioned the ideology or has simply turned against the current regime in Venezuela. (To the best of my limited knowledge, he supports Juan Guaido, who is also a socialist. But then again, so do many American officials who whould know better.) That said, Clifton Ross has posted an interesting analysis at Quillette of six minutes of a Noam Chomsky appearance on Ralph Nader's radio program. Chomsky was apparently channeling the spirit of creationist Duane Gish in the service of the socialist regime in Venezuela. Among other things is the below passage about a kind of error Chomsky makes: Noam Chomsky, the Duane Gish of the Left. (Image by Σ, via Wikipedia, license.)Chomsky begins promisingly by conceding that "there were many problems during the Chávez years." But he reminds his listeners that during those same years "poverty was very sharply reduced and educational opportunities were very greatly expanded." This is one of the most common manoeuvers adopted by pro-Chavistas when challenged about the regime's dismal record of governance: I call this rhetorical move an appeal to The Golden Moment As The Eternal Now. Sure, during the first years of the decade-long oil boom, poverty was reduced and educational opportunities expanded. When billions of dollars flood an economy, there is always a "trickle-down effect" as all boats rise on even the reddest of tides. But a moment is not a permanent reality, and the aftermath of Venezuela's Golden Moment is comparable to the miserable hangover that follows an excessive party. A responsible intellectual might wonder at the wisdom of that party, not insist that it is emblematic of the whole Chavista project. [bold added]We set adide the fact that any group of people will seem more prosperous during the short time they can devour a pile of loot. Intentionally or not, the bolded phrase very aptly reminds me of the title of the movie, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, in which a procedure to eradicate painful memories is a major plot device. Only here, the procedure works before memories can even form, because, combined with the rest of the overwhelming blather Ross teases apart, it can sow doubt or even blast away cognition in the first place. Ross offers the charitable interpretation of Chomsky's approach as possibly being an ideology-imposed blindness. (Perhaps Chomsky, master comprachico that he is, has at least crippled his own mind over time.) But that is understandable coming from someone who is or at least was a former fellow traveler. Charity is hardly warranted from anyone else, however. -- CAVLink to Original
  20. En route to other things, I encountered a 2015 National Journal article attempting to make sense of a voting demographic that has at various times backed the likes of George Wallace, Ross Perot, Pat Buchanan, and now Donald Trump. I disagree with the contention that there is a coherent ideology at play, but I do think the author makes a few good points. Among these is the following: ... They were also the group most distrustful of the national government. And in a stand that wasn't really liberal or conservative (and that appeared, at least on the surface, to be in tension with their dislike of the national government), MARS ["Middle American Radicals" --ed] were more likely than any other group to favor strong leadership in Washington -- to advocate for a situation "when one person is in charge."And, a bit later: The final major element of the Wallace-Perot-Buchanan-Trump worldview has to do with leadership and government -- and like other parts of their agenda, it's complicated. All four, like many conservative politicians of the past 50 years, harshly criticized Washington. Wallace charged that the federal government "was run by pointy-headed bureaucrats who can't park a bicycle straight." Buchanan called for dismantling four Cabinet departments. Perot popularized the term "gridlock" in describing Washington politics. Echoing his predecessors, Trump has denounced the "total gridlock" inside the Beltway. "Our leaders are stupid, our politicians are stupid," he said during the first debate, adding later that evening: "We have people in Washington who don't know what they are doing."Apart from the many contradictions of the "ideology" the author imputes to these voters and the those of the political figures they gravitated to, I recalled that many had switched to Trump from previously supporting Bernie Sanders. What's going on here? I had a hunch, but... Admiring Ayn Rand as I do and recalling that she commented on at least one of these previous elections, I naturally wondered what she might have said about such voters. I was not disappointed. Observe the clarity with which she writes: George Wallace, a "MARS" candidate. (Image via Wikipedia, public domain.)Lacking any intellectual or ideological program, Wallace is not the representative of a positive movement, but of a negative: he is not for anything, he is merely against the rule of the "liberals." This is the root of his popular appeal: he is attracting people who are desperately, legitimately frustrated, bewildered and angered by the dismal bankruptcy of the "liberals'" policies, people who sense that something is terribly wrong in this country and that something should be done about it, but who have no idea of what to do. Neither has Wallace -- which is the root of the danger he represents: a leader without ideology cannot save a country collapsing from lack of ideology. It is enormously significant that in many sections of the country (as indicated by a number of polls) former followers of the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy are switching their support to George Wallace. At a superficial glance, this may appear to be a contradiction, since these two figures seem to represent exact opposites in their political views. But, in fact, it is not a contradiction: in terms of fundamentals, both Robert Kennedy and George Wallace are "activists" -- i.e., men who propose (and clearly project the intention) to take direct action, action by the use of physical force, to solve problems or to achieve (unspecified) goals. In this sense, both these leaders are symptomatic of a country's intellectual and cultural disintegration, of the ugly despair which seizes people when -- disillusioned in the power of ideas, abandoning reason -- they seek physical force as their last resort. [emphasis in original]The above comes from a 1968 piece in The Objectivist titled, "The Presidential Candidates." Replace Kennedy with Sanders and Wallace with Trump in the above passage, and you would not go far wrong. I have said before that Trump probably buys time compared to the alternative. But given the disease of the body politic of which the last election is a symptom, we don't have a lot of time: Trump is the first such candidate -- correctly likened to a caudillo in the MARS article -- to actually win. -- CAVLink to Original
  21. Mark Steyn writes at length on the recently-ended investigation of the 2016 presidential election, and concludes that the affair was a worrisome domestic attempt to subvert said election. After reading his case, I am inclined to agree. He concludes as follows: What did he know, and when did he know it? (Image via Wikipedia, public domain.)[T]his is a story not of foreign subversion of the election, but of domestic subversion of the election, by powerful figures able to reach out and entrap its marks at Cambridge conferences and London wine bars. In old-school banana republics, the coup happens quickly: "The rebels have seized control of the radio station," as the BBC's Africa bureaus used to announce every fortnight through the Sixties, and next thing you know this week's president-for-life is being carried out by the handles. But in America everything's more protracted and expensive. That, however, should not blind us to what happened: a cabal of Deep State bigwigs reverse-engineered a foreign cover for their own interference in self-government by the people. Show me the man and I'll show you the crime, boasted Beria. America's Berias aren't quite that good yet, but they're getting there... ... Trump Tweeted his way out of the Deep State's grip. I doubt any other Republican president would have proved so wily: It's not difficult to imagine President Jeb deciding to do the right thing and resign for the good of the country -- without ever being able to figure what it was he'd done wrong. We have witnessed an extraordinary sustained attempted coup in which senior officials of the "justice" department shoot the breeze about wearing a wire to get the goods on the elected chief executive. If there are no consequences to that, it will happen again. [bold and link added]I have seen other calls to "investigate the investigators," including Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. I am inclined to agree that this needs doing. -- CAVLink to Original
  22. Not to pick on Geraldo Rivera, but the Mueller Report -- much-anticipated by "millions" according to NBC (I was not one of them.) -- is done and dusted. And? Exactly. I will admit not closely following this, but I was jaded by countless other similar stories from the past: I strongly suspected there was nothing to this and, in any event, wasn't privy to all the information the investigators found and combed through. I am glad I did not waste much time on this, but that does not make me unconcerned. The tone and obvious purpose behind much of the coverage of this manufactured scandal are disturbing to say the least: Image via Wikipedia, fair use.The Mueller Report has been issued. At this moment, no one has actually yet seen it, other than a few top guys at the Justice Department -- Barr, Rosenstein, maybe a handful of others. Nobody knows what's in it, except for one thing: according to a "top Justice Department official" (probably Barr or Rosenstein), there are going to be no more indictments, whether relating to Russian "collusion" or anything else. Oh, wait a minute. Before today, there also had been zero indictments for anything having to do with "collusion" with the Russians by Trump or his campaign. So that one little thing that we know means that, after almost two years of investigation by Mueller and his team, and after another year plus of investigation by the FBI before that, the vast and awesome armies of our Justice apparatus have found exactly nothing in the way of criminal "collusion" between Trump or his campaign and the Russians. The conservative commentator I quote above does not say as much, but NBC admitted (link above) just ahead of the weekend that the contents of the report are secret by law. But just wait for a big outcry from some quarters that the report has not been published. (Or not. I bet that's in full swing.) The real scandal is that we have a far less than ideal President and the best his alleged opponents can do is weave conspiracy theories like this or fantasies like the Green New Deal. (I regard Trump as practically a Democrat, although perhaps a bit old-fashioned, and wonder a little why he doesn't enjoy more support from the media.) And, on top of that, his supporters -- who are supposedly in favor of limited government -- are now rallying behind him "bigly." Some of that is understandable and I am sympathetic: This was another disgraceful Kavanaugh-type attack, Trump did not deserve it, and he weathered the storm. But the fact remains that Trump is no champion of liberty, and his "vindication" does not change that. At best, the media and the Democrats have discredited themselves enough that they will fail to make significant headway for another four years. But that leaves the door open for Trump to further entrench xenophobia and bad trade policy among the Republicans, who should know better. So there are no winners here. Indeed, liberty is the biggest loser, having been starved of oxygen first by desperate opponents and now by (among others) her bungling would-be friends. -- CAVLink to Original
  23. Not sufficient for freedom. (Image by Open-Clipart Vectors, via Pixabay, license.)Notable Commentary "Eliminate government's ability to hand out benefits and burdens, and you eliminate the incentive to try to influence it." -- Talbot Manvel, in "Limits on Campaign Contributions Would Be a Limit on Free Speech" at The (Annapolis) Capital. "When people realize that voting is essential to a free society but not its essence, they will stop praising democracy." -- Bob Stubblefield, in "LTE: Voting and Freedom Go Hand in Hand" at The Aiken Standard. "Who needs more paper money that becomes worth less each year?" -- Richard Salsman, in "The Production of Money Isn't (Necessarily) the Production of Wealth" at The American Institute for Economic Research. "[Keynes] gave us the recipe for 'overturning the existing basis of society.'" -- Keith Weiner, in "Keynes Was a Vicious Bastard" at SNB & CHF. -- CAVLink to Original
  24. Some time after we moved to Florida, the moment the kids were waiting for had come: Their new bunk beds arrived! Even "manual labor" requires thinking and good communication. (Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images, via Pixabay, license.)Unfortunately for me, they arrived an hour early on a Saturday morning, while I was driving home from the pub after watching an Arsenal game live from England. Annoyingly, I found myself having to pull over to take or make phone calls with (a) my wife, (b) the delivery driver, and (c) the (useless!) dispatcher. I had chosen the delivery time window in the belief that I could get home in plenty of time to clear out my daughter's old bed before the delivery, so her bunk bed could be assembled. Since the bed was still there and it was against company policy to remove it for us, I ended up telling the driver to leave the boxes for her bed in our hallway: I'd put it together myself. Aside from the waste of an hour, that turned out fine, but I was very annoyed by the assumption -- wrong, but not too unreasonable, I'll grant -- that earlier is better. But the fact is, I chose the time window I did for a reason and I planned the rest of my morning around it. Yes, probably ninety percent of the time, a customer (myself included) would appreciate getting a delivery out of the way early, but earlier is not necessarily better. Should anyone involved in scheduling engagements with customers happen by, I would ask that they keep in mind that the timing of an appointment happens within two contexts: that of the business and that of the customer. I am sure I would have gotten an apology for a late delivery, but I did not receive one for the early one. Worse, I wasn't even given the courtesy of a warning, much less a choice in the matter, regarding the timing of this delivery -- which was so far out of an already-generous window. There no such thing as an intrinsically good action, including being early, as this example shows. The standard of virtue absolutely depends on context. Here, the standard would have been: Does this fit in with what the customer has been told to expect? The inconvenience was not all on my end, although perhaps the deliverymen failed to realize it: One of my morning errands was to withdraw cash for tipping. The delivery was over by the time I made it home. -- CAV Link to Original
  25. Statistician John Cook recalls the following from his graduate school coursework under a mathematician who recently won a prestigious award: Passing a test on something is like having a bulb. Understanding something is like having it plugged in. (Image by TeroVesalainen, via Pixabay, license.)I had a course from Karen Uhlenbeck in graduate school. She was obviously brilliant, but what I remember most from the class was her candor about things she didn't understand. She was already famous at the time, having won a MacArthur genius award and other honors, so she didn't have to prove herself. When she presented the definition of a manifold, she made an offhand comment that it took her a month to really understand that definition when she was a student. She obviously understands manifolds now, having spent her career working with them. I found her comment ... extremely encouraging. It shows it's possible to become an expert in something you don't immediately grasp, even if it takes you weeks to grok its most fundamental concept. [bold added]That's a good point, and I think it works the other way around, too: Respect this material, and you can succeed. But that can be tricky if one does not appreciate what it means to understand something. For example, my weak point during my college education was physics, for which I partially blame the way it was taught. To this day, I find myself finally, actually understanding things from physics that I aced tests on decades ago without real understanding. This usually happens when I have to focus on some matter dealing with physics, such as recently, when I was helping my daughter prepare for a simple classroom demonstration about electricity from batteries. (Oh! That's why this works. I'll think, apparently from nowhere, at some connection my subconscious will make.) That's a very simple example, but there can be a wide gulf between being able to pass an exam and knowing what one is talking about. Although tests can be helpful for the purpose of measuring progress in younger students, it would be a good thing if they could be improved or repurposed in some way to help older students gauge whether they have achieved understanding. Or better yet, educators could focus more on helping students realize what it actually means to understand something at an appropriate point in the transition from childhood to adulthood. -- CAV Link to Original
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