Doing Less Would Be Better

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Walter Williams succinctly demolishes a host of myths about the causes of African poverty, most notably the idea that it is a legacy of colonialism:

Poverty is not a cause but a result of Africa's problems. What African countries need the West cannot provide. They need personal liberty. That means a political system in which there are guarantees of private property rights, free markets, honest government and the rule of law. Africa's poverty is, for the most part, self-inflicted. Some people might disagree because their college professors taught them that the legacy of colonialism explains Third World poverty. That's nonsense. Canada was a colony. So were Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong. In fact, the richest country in the world, the United States, was once a colony. By contrast, Third World countries such as Ethiopia, Liberia, Nepal and Bhutan were never colonies, yet they are home to some of the world's poorest people.
Williams, not content merely with a tearing-down by counterexample, cites several lines of strong evidence in favor of his view that the continent needs freedom. Furthermore, our usual response of sending foreign aid is actually making it more difficult for Africans to win freedom for themselves by empowering despots.

-- CAV

How a GOP Senate Majority Could Help

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Dick Morris writes an interesting column about how Republicans could best use a Senate majority, should they win one in the upcoming elections. One area of  focus is on how the GOP could pass a budget that, while slowing down or stopping parts of Obama's agenda, would be unlikely to draw a veto. Morris lists the following possibilities:

  • Use the Immigration and Customs Enforcement appropriation to overturn Obama's executive order, expected right after Election Day, to end deportations;
  • Use the Health and Human Services line to defund the Independent Payment Advisory Board, dubbed the "death panel" by Sarah Palin;
  • Repeal the medical device tax;
  • Require release of IRS emails by appending a requirement to the budget for that wayward agency;
  • Stop the Federal Election Commission from regulating Internet blogs;
  • Block the Federal Communications Commission from its attempts at Internet regulation. [link dropped]
Some of these, like a repeal of the innovation-destroying medical device tax, look like unequivocal wins. Others, like blocking the FEC from regulating blogs, look more like temporary solutions to problems that will come roaring back without further action in the future. (And I frankly don't see how defunding the "death panels" is anything other than a dubious, symbolic win: Any scheme of government payment for anything will ultimately call for limits to spending, so that threat will simply arise in another form unless ObamaCare is repealed.)

Morris and others, like Thomas Sowell, have commented before on other ways a GOP Senate majority could thwart the President, such as by killing bad treaties or preventing particularly bad judicial appointments. As I elaborated then, I regard a GOP win as a holding action at best. That said, it could be a crucial one, and I support voting for such a majority.

-- CAV

A Little Goes a Long Way

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Over at Unclutterer, Jacki Hollywood Brown gives good, general advice on uncluttering that I found inspirational when I first encountered it. Her advice is given as a series of bullets, such as this one:

A detour does not mean you're losing! There will be setbacks. You may have a day where you're just too tired or ill to unclutter. Don't let it stop you -- just start again as soon as possible. [bold in original]
Although I value uncluttering advice, what was really interesting to me when I first encountered this post was the following question: Why do I find this inspirational?

Briefly introspecting, I see that the answer is twofold: First, the general approach, of breaking down a huge task into smaller, easy steps towards a goal, is applicable to almost any major project. Second, I had been thinking about (and feeling a little overwhelmed about) a few major projects of my own. Brown's article is so successful because she understands both the general approach and many aspects of the kind of project. Her example shows that if one understands the approach, and yet still feels overwhelmed, then part of the project is finding out how to break it down, and make it manageable.

It wasn't cleaning my house that was bothering me, but Brown helped me realize the source of my stress: I didn't truly understand how to break down the projects that were making me feel overwhelmed.

-- CAV

To Whom Are "Third Rails" Really Dangerous?

Monday, October 27, 2014

Writing at RealClear Politics, James Harrigan and Antony Davies observe that, as of October 26, the federal government has already exhausted this year's revenues towards this year's expenses. They call it "Deficit Day", and elaborate further:

When politicians talk about the debt, they invariably refer to the debt-to-GDP ratio, which is presently around 106%. That measure is fine for comparing debt levels across countries (it is noteworthy that the Greek and Cypriot economies imploded when their ratios reached 120%), but it doesn't tell us much about a government's ability to make good on what it owes. To measure the government's ability to repay its debt, we need to look at the debt-to-income ratio. That is 600%.
The last ratio, they note, is approaching the point at which it would become mathematically impossible, all things remaining the same, for the government to repay its debt. And then the authors drop the real hammer: They hadn't even included so-called "unfunded liabilities", such as Social Security, in that calculation. When those are included, the ratio becomes 3,000 per cent -- already well past that point. I guess they had to leave out the "unfunded liabilities" to even be able to have a "deficit day".

I agree with the authors that this is cause for alarm, but disagree with their contention that "our financial problems begin with deficits". No: Those deficits had to come from somewhere, and that "somewhere" is spending on programs which enjoy significant political support. We aren't going to even start solving these problems until the sense in which these programs are known as "third rails" changes from "dangerous to attack" to "dangerous to continue", and that's going to take cultural change on a historic scale.

-- CAV

10-25-14 Hodgepodge

Saturday, October 25, 2014

A Decade Ago...

... I started this blog.

It is hard to believe I have been doing this on most days for ten years, particularly over the past three and change, with my very young children eating into my writing time and usually interrupting what has been left of it. About halfway through this post, for example, I had to start holding Little Man, badly congested from a cold, on my chest so he could sleep.

Almost fittingly, this anniversary sees me at home, alone with the kids, while my wife is away at a medical conference. It is possible she will make connections with her first post-training employer there, ultimately leading to a permanent position for her and making our next move, if there is one, permanent.

I have found blogging to be a good, although not wholly satisfying, outlet for my desire to write about politics, culture, thinking, and a little about everything else. I am somewhat optimistic that I shall soon be better able to write more demanding pieces again.

I'll keep the rest of the introspection that such an anniversary prompts to myself: It's for my sole benefit and is incomplete anyway. I'll make the following exception, though: I'd like to thank the readers, supporters, and friends who have come my way due to this activity: Your companionship has been a rich reward and, for someone inclined towards introversion (to put it mildly), a very pleasant surprise.

Last, but not least, I'd like to thank my wife for putting up with her "bitchy blogger" for so long, and with such good humor.

Weekend Reading

"[A]ll good advice should have an 'if/then' component." -- Michael Hurd, in "The Advantages and Perils of Advice-Taking" at The Delaware Wave

"[I]f one uses [alcohol] to stop thinking, or to distort reality in order to act in counterproductive ways, then I consider that abuse, even if it involves only a single drink." -- Michael Hurd, in "Alcohol Use and Abuse" at The Delaware Coast Press

"Keynesianism is a theory about what kind of orders the state should issue to its serfs." -- Harry Binswanger, in "Keynesianism Is Government Force Blocking Reality" at RealClear Markets

"Overall, I think Dan Diamond strikes the right balance in his piece, 'It's OK To Worry About Ebola In NYC. But You Shouldn't Panic.'" -- Paul Hsieh, in "Why You Should Be Concerned but Not Fearful About Ebola in NYC" at Forbes

My Two Cents

It is amazing how succesfully moral intrincism stunts thinking about alcohol. I suspect that few, if any,  of the critics Michael Hurd brought up in his column about the subject would have thought of the case (quoted above) of a single drink constituting abuse.

From Here to Agloe and Back

If you liked the story of how a raccoon "became" an aardvark through a prank at Wikipedia, you'll appreciate this similar one by NPR: "An Imaginary Town Becomes Real, Then Not. True Story "


Friday Four

Friday, October 24, 2014

1. I sometimes post beer recommendations here, but it is always only after rigorous testing and careful study.

But, if by "rigorous study", you mean "more than one tasting", I will have made an exception today by mentioning Black Albert, brewed by De Struise of Belgium. Depending on whom you believe at Beer Advocate, this one is either "world class" or merely "outstanding". I lean towards the former description, for this is a truly memorable beer.

Click to enlarge.

The label notes (above) say it all.

2. At $1799.00 it's ... out of my price range, but if I had money to burn, I couldn't think of a better kitchen gadget than one that would allow me to brew whatever I want in only four hours. An excerpt from a USA Today review of the "PicoBrew" reads in part:
Hit "brew" and walk away. The Internet-connected PicoBrew adds the ingredients based on the chosen recipe...
And lest the folks at Unclutterer cluck, this is no mere "unitasker". Apparently, it is "also great for Sous-Vide [sic] cooking".

3. He's making the country more like Soviet Russia every day, so I can't think of a people better-suited to poke fun at Barack Obama than the Russians.

And boy, do they nail him!

4. I don't condone vandalism, but the story about how a raccoon became an aardvark nevertheless makes interesting reading:
This kind of feedback loop--wherein an error that appears on Wikipedia then trickles to sources that Wikipedia considers authoritative, which are in turn used as evidence for the original falsehood--is a documented phenomenon. There's even a Wikipedia article describing it. Some of the most well-known examples involve Wikipedia entries for famous people, such as when users edited the article on the British actor Sacha Baron Cohen to say he had worked at Goldman Sachs. When a Wikipedia editor tried to remove the apocryphal detail, it took some convincing. Because it had since appeared in several articles on Cohen in the British press, the burden was on Wikipedians to disprove the myth. [link in original, minor format edits]
Amusingly, the next paragraph of the article mentions that the Internet encyclopedia had, for a long time, erroneously reported the birth date of its own founder. I love Wikipedia, but I love being sure of the truth more. For important matters, it is wise to seek multiple sources for factual information.

-- CAV

Tossed out with the Bags: Freedom and Life

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The California legislature has just done advocates of limited government a favor by passing a law that is a poster-child of everything wrong with unlimited government power: It will ban plastic shopping bags statewide beginning in 2015. Stephen DeMaura notes at Forbes that the law enriches some at the expense of others, actually achieves the opposite of its stated purpose of solid waste reduction (not, let me add, that this is a proper role of government), and actually presents a public health threat in the form of an arbitrary incentive to use a certain type of shopping bag:

[R]eusable bags ... pose a growing public health risk, as demonstrated by a particularly disturbing vignette from Oregon, where a girls soccer team was stricken by the Norovirus traced to a reusable tote.

In the seven years since San Francisco became the first American municipality to ban plastic bags in 2007, researchers have tracked a 5-percent increase in death from food-borne illness. That increase isn't simply coincidental, but causal: According to a 2011 white paper by the International Association for Food Protection, a majority of reusable bags contain coliform bacteria.

These are genuine facts that California's lawmakers and governor willfully ignored. But they won't be ignored by voters--either their pockets will be hurting from a new regressive tax or their bellies from the forced transition to bacteria-riddled totes--when considering a referendum in 2016. [links dropped, bold added]
Also noteworthy are the jobs that this move will cost Californians. People involved in the manufacture of the economical plastic bags will lose their jobs, as well as those in the enterprise (ironically created in the first place by government regulations) of recycling them. At every step of this process, note the displacement of rational thought by government force. Starting with a complete disregard for what government is actually supposed to be doing -- opening the floodgates for it to meddle with everything -- we have the government proceeding to:
  • Declare itself puppetmaster of the people whose rights it is supposed to be protecting. (This is the whole premise behind prescriptive law.)
  • Declare itself instead as guardian of "the environment". (This is a concession to any lingering power the people might have: They must be shamed into supporting such measures. All other communication with those whom it regards as subjects will be in the form of orders.)
  • Dictate to everyone that "the environment" must be protected, and how to do so.
  • Unilaterally declare something unfit for the purpose it has decided.
  • Force anyone who uses paper bags to pay bribe money to shut up any potential opponents.
  • Present anyone who doesn't want to pay the bribe to choose between the following: (a) waste irreplaceable time by washing reusable bags, or (b) risk sickening themselves and others by not washing such bags.
Consider this law a microcosm of how our unbounded government operates today. It might also be worth contemplating how such an entity -- that can't and won't even get the matter of which bag to use for shopping right -- is supposed to micromanage much more important things, like your personal health and the entire economy.

As I said, this law is a favor, but there is a catch: It is not enough to call this law "impractical", because that merely leaves unanswered the question, "For what?" It obviously succeeds at quite a few things, and it is these things which hold the key to questioning its moral basis. Until we do that, the gang in power will continue to hide behind the fuzzy notion of "the common good", and we will merely squabble over implementation of bad laws.

-- CAV