A Battle Not Yet Fought

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Writing for Bloomberg, Cass Sunstein gives us the bad news and the good news regarding Donald Trump's effort to reduce the number of regulations. (Yes. We are setting aside for a moment (1) the premise that a lower number of regulations is necessarily a step in the direction of economic freedom, and (2) for that matter, the whole question of why, exactly, Trump wants to do this, although I think his heart's in the right place.)

If the agency gets its act together and moves quickly, the process of finalizing a repeal of a rule is likely to take an additional two months. It can take as much as a year or more. From start to finish, repealing a regulation can occupy the better part of a first presidential term.

And that's not the end of the matter. The agency's decision might be challenged in court. If it defies the law or the evidence, it's going to be struck down. [bold added]
The bad news is obvious to anyone who, like me, wishes to remove the enormous threat to our prosperity regulations represent.

The good news is less obvious, but it's there. The slowness of the process, which includes the opportunity for public input, is due to rule of law -- the thing we must really change to achieve any meaningful or lasting reduction of regulations, anyway.

Sunstein and other paternalists may be relieved, or even secretly gleeful when they realize that Trump won't make meaningful progress, even at his stated goal. But their opponents must remember two things: (1) Trump will probably at least not represent great forward progress in the enactment of new regulations, and (2) We should remember why his efforts will likely fail, as well as why it was the wrong goal in the first place. Better yet, we can take the time Trump is buying us to make a positive case for freedom rather than allowing the need to remove regulations to reduce us to being merely against regulations, or otherwise limit the scope of our advocacy for freedom.

As slow as turning the tide may be, the American people are ultimately still in charge. Enough people can still be persuaded, eventually, that, say, the EPA is a threat to the environment of political freedom they need -- and when they do, we won't be squabbling over a regulation or two. (And we won't necessarily be talking about striking them from the books using the procedures Sunstein alludes to, either.) But persuasion requires ideas and arguments, the very things Trump isn't deploying right now. His defeat should point us in the direction of fighting better, rather than serve as an example of what will be alleged to be the futility of ever unshackling the American economy.

-- CAV

Warming Hysteria and Grenfell

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Over at Spiked is a piece titled, "Grenfell: Don't Let the State Off the Hook." Although there are several aspects of the analysis I don't agree with, I'm glad I'm not the only person to have noticed how eager the left has been to pin the blame for the Grenfell fire on (their misconception of) capitalism.

The most poignant example of how little regard is given to social-housing tenants can be seen in the reason why cladding was installed in the first place. [The Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO)] said the refurbishment at Grenfell was an attempt to 'enhance energy efficiency and help reduce residents' living costs'. As James Heartfield has pointed out previously on [Spiked], KCTMO was in fact following the orders of the government's committee on climate change -- the refurbishment was not requested by residents. Many blocks in the area were fitted with insulating cladding, new boilers and double-glazed windows, and tenants often complained about overheating. Day-to-day life for people was made more uncomfortable in the name of achieving government-set energy targets. Tenants were effectively used as fodder in the pursuit of environmentalist goals, ordered from on-high by the state. [link omitted, bold added]
Such contempt for individuals -- and not just those for whom government housing is intended -- goes hand-in-hand with that for the truth shown time and time again by the enemies of the one social system to have lifted so many from destitution to prosperity in so short a time.

-- CAV

Interviewing: More Than Just Words

Monday, July 24, 2017

Business advice columnist Allison Green exemplifies why I am a fan in her answer to a question regarding how a company should follow up with a job candidate who fails to show up for an interview.

What I find interesting is not so much her answer to the question, which is straightforward and reasonable, but the larger lesson she sees and expands upon. Green, aware that some companies send reminder emails to interviewing applicants, goes on to say why that is a bad idea:

[A]bsolutely do not send reminder emails the morning of the interview. You do not want to hire anyone who needs a reminder email for something as important as an interview--not unless you also want to send reminder emails about work each day while they're working for you. People are on their best behavior during hiring processes and they're not likely to get more responsible once they have the job.

If someone would forget the interview without a reminder, that's hugely important information that you want to have about them--possibly more important than anything you'd learn in the interview. So please tell your business development manager that you want to screen out people who aren't reliable and can't manage their own appointments.

Remember, there are all kinds of ways to learn valuable information about candidates during your entire hiring process--it's not just about their cover letter, rèsumè, and references...
Although Green doesn't explicitly say, "Remember what the purpose of a job interview is, and apply it to all aspects of the process," it is easy to start thinking in that vein when reading the answer to her question because she demonstrates what that looks like. On top of that, I am sure I am not alone among her readers to realize that much of her advice, on top of being sound for business, is not that difficult to apply to other areas in one's life.

-- CAV

Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, July 21, 2017

Notable Commentary

"Notice there is not one grievance against the king for not providing for the 'needs of the people.'" -- Talbot Manvel, in "Declaration of Independence Joined Morality and Law" at The Capital Gazette.

"[I]f you want a condensed version of events ..." -- Paul Hsieh, in "Charlie Gard Case, Summarized in 30 Words" at Forbes.

"[I]n Pennsylvania[,] a bill being considered in the state legislature seeks to force insurance companies to pay for [unproven and ineffective] therapies [for post-Lyme disease syndrome] -- against [their] scientific and business judgement." -- Amesh Adalja, in "Will Pennsylvania Proposal Sanction Improper Treatment of Lyme Disease?" (June) at Contagion Live.

"Key behaviors of investors today show eerie parallels: a desire to bid on dollars with their assets, a refusal to support the gold standard, and even a belief that the dollar is money." -- Keith Weiner, in "Stockholm Syndrome -- Precious Metals Supply and Demand" at SNB & CHF.

"Beyond these similarities between patents and estate interests, there are other doctrines that define the boundaries of an estate without reference to either fences or the physical invasion that constitutes a trespass." -- Adam Mossoff, in "The Trespass Fallacy in Patent Law" (PDF, 2012) in The Florida Law Review, vol. 65, no. 6.

-- CAV

Being Positive, vs. Anti-Negative

Thursday, July 20, 2017

From a recent reading of Marshall Rosenberg's Nonviolent Communication comes the following amusing lesson about using positive language to make requests (be they of others or oneself). The author, disappointed in himself for failing to use his own communication techniques during a televised debate, had vowed never to repeat his mistakes again:

A chance to redeem myself came the very next week when I was invited to continue the debate on the same program. All the way to the studio, I repeated to myself all the things I didn't want to do. As soon as the program started, the man launched off in exactly the same way he had a week earlier. For about ten seconds after he'd finished talking, I managed not to communicate in the ways I had been reminding myself. In fact, I said nothing. I just sat there. As soon as I opened my mouth, however, I found words tumbling out in all the ways I had been so determined to avoid! It was a painful lesson about what can happen when I only identify what I don't want to do, without clarifying what I do want to do. (loc. 1468)
This reminded me of advice I received early in my stint in the Navy: When filling out your preferences for Permanent Change of Station Orders, only list where you'd prefer to go. Why? Because if you said where you didn't want to go, whatever that place was, is what would be in the mind of whoever later processed the form.

Rosenberg's anecdote, amusing and instructive on its own merits, is so in another way, but unintentionally: The author clearly failed to follow his own advice when naming his book. I blame his altruistic moral philosophy for that oversight, along with many other shortcomings of his nevertheless valuable book. The influence of altruism on Rosenberg's thinking was so pervasive that at every level, it was often necessary to think carefully about what made a given point good or bad. This is on top of the fact that the author never defines what he regards as "violent": The closest he ever got was, towards the end of the book, was when he referred to the way most people communicate as, "life-alienating communication" (loc. 3646). So communication is supposed to further "life", but since Rosenberg is an altruist, he skirts around lots of points that would really hit home if expressed in egoistic terms. (Instead, he either misses or evades lots of connections that someone familiar with Ayn Rand's ideas will often make without much effort.) It is somewhat fitting, then, that the author also misses out on a positive title, which might have been something like, Mutually Beneficial Communication.

-- CAV

P.S. For anyone familiar with Nonviolent Communication or interested in Marshall Rosenberg's work, I am passing along, with permission, the following announcement from the Thinking Directions Weekly newsletter:
II. Free Webinar

Rationally Connected Conversations
Sunday, July 23, 2017
3:00 - 4:00 p.m. Eastern

(12 noon PT, 1:00 p.m. MT, 2:00 p.m. CT)

Defensiveness on either side of a conversation kills the connection and dooms communication. In this talk, Jean Moroney will introduce a method for unilaterally eliminating defensiveness from both sides of a conversation. The method is egoistic interpretation of the work of Marshall Rosenberg. When one person uses it, it brings out the rational best in both people.

Register here: https://www.mcssl.com/WebForms/WebForm.aspx?wid=0293f3c6-88ad-4cb9-9b8b-796fe2c04bf7
Do note the even more egoistic title than I came up with in the post above.

I first heard about Nonviolent Communication from someone who had learned about it from the Thinking Directions site. After benefiting from other books I'd heard about there, I knew it would be worthwhile and am glad to have read it. This should be an interesting and valuable webinar.

Best Buy, Amazon Converge

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Los Angeles Times carries a story about why Best Buy, which looked like it would succumb to Amazon only a few years ago, has returned to profitability. The strategy looks like an interesting mix of (1) better exploiting any advantages they already had over Amazon, (2) eliminating any advantage Amazon had that they could do something about, (3) learning new ways to serve customers from Amazon, and (4) devising new ways to outdo Amazon.

One of the first moves by Hubert Joly, appointed CEO in 2012, was to match Amazon's pricing. This both eliminated one of Amazon's advantages and turned "showrooming" into an advantage for electronics customers: They could look at potential purchases and even get advice from a human being -- and then not have to wait for delivery. But Joly very wisely didn't stop there:

"We don't see ourselves as a brick-and-mortar retailer, we're a multichannel retailer" that combines the stores, Best Buy's website and its phone app to boost sales, Joly said in an interview. And he's planning to expand Best Buy's services, including its Geek Squad support arm, to generate more product sales.
Joly makes Amazon sound one-dimensional to me, here, and it is clear that I'm hardly the only one to have noticed. The article later mentions something I'd already been hearing about off and on lately: Amazon's forays into brick-and-mortar stores and customer service. Like Sears before it, Amazon is hardly killing retail: It and its successful competitors are revolutionizing it.

-- CAV

Winners and Losers

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

A Wall Street Journal story about an estimated "subsidy" of $1.46 per Amazon box delivered by the U.S. Postal Service brings up the common conservative lament about the government "picking winners and losers" when it meddles in the economy:

I do not know which stores in my neighborhood will be gone five years from now, but I am certain my household will continue to receive numerous boxes from Amazon. I also believe that society would be better off if competing retailers, online or brick-and-mortar, continue to thrive. Congress should demand the enforcement of the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, and the Postal Service needs to stop picking winners and losers in the retail world. The federal government has had its thumb on the competitive scale for far too long. [bold added]
I agree that the government should stop "picking winners and losers," but simply enforcing a rule about the operation of an agency that shouldn't even exist isn't the way to do this. Why? Because anything the government does outside its proper purpose of protecting individual rights constitutes "picking winners and losers." When the government, in violation of the right to contract, establishes a monopoly in some enterprise, the principle that adults should be free to exercise their best judgment loses. Consequently, those who might innovate in that industry are impeded or thwarted along with their potential customers -- and those who fear competition on merit win. When government subsidizes an enterprise (like the post office), it compounds the same sins with theft at the expense of the productive -- leaving the unproductive as winners. Do note that, due to the nature of principles, there are always more losers than meet the eye (and, thanks to precedent and the fact that controls breed controls, vast potential for more losers). This pool of losers often includes the "winners," whose gains may be illusory and, in any event, are not protected by the now-violated principles. Furthermore, any material gains are wholly dependent on the continued prosperity of those now hobbled by legal parasitism. For example, I can't help but wonder, in this story, about whether this "gift card from Uncle Sam" even begins to make up for all the taxes Amazon, the "winner" in this story, is paying. (Clearly, if the author gets his wish, even that wouldn't be for long.)

It does not matter whether Amazon lobbied in some way to continue getting this "gift card" or it is simply taking advantage of a dumb state of affairs not of its own making: Anyone truly serious about the government getting out of the business of "picking winners and losers" should question the whole premise of the government entanglement with the economy. The problem isn't that (at worst) a company that would get along fine without a "subsidy" is getting one, it's that we are being ordered around, and having our pockets picked for the privilege. Those subsidies come from somewhere, and, since money doesn't grow on trees, that means they come from someone.

I'd happily pay a little more for the convenience of shopping at Amazon, but I suspect that shipping might actually be a lot cheaper without (for example) the government forcing us to support the Post Office or strangling new technologies, such as commercial drones, with the uncertainty of bureaucratic regulatory whim.

-- CAV

P.S.: For yet another equally ridiculous conservative effort to "level the playing field", please refer to my old column on "efairness". Oddly enough, Amazon is the persecuted minority there, too.