Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, April 19, 2019

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


A Dump Beats Venezuela as Livable

Thursday, April 18, 2019

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


Column: Why Is the American Right ...

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

... 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


A Sham Argument Against "Deregulation"

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

"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.

-- CAV


Seeing the Good

Monday, April 15, 2019

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


Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, April 12, 2019

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:
[I]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


Leading by Counterexample?

Thursday, April 11, 2019

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 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

Updates

Today: Corrected a typo.