Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, June 22, 2018

Notable Commentary

"Achieving a truly robust, accountable, pro-growth financial system will take more work, but it's off to a good start, especially with the regulatory off-ramp option that puts banks more on the hook for their own risks while allowing them to serve their communities' needs." -- John Allison and Lydia Mashburn, in "Restoring Accountability to the Business of Banking" at The Washington Times.

"The plain truth is the Palestinian movement never renounced its goal of overthrowing Israel (nor did it ever give a damn about the individual Palestinians it claimed to be avenging)." -- Elan Journo, in "It's Past Time to Bury the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process" at The Times of Israel.

"Immersed in the 'free speech' culture, I identified a remarkable trait in common among those I admired most: they had both passionate convictions, and a warm, patient, respectful regard for the process by which an individual must acquire meaningful convictions of his own." -- Lisa VanDamme, in "A Lesson for the Classroom from Advocates for Free Speech" at Medium.

Image via Pixabay.
"Let's seek out alternatives instead of sitting in the government-created gridlock of a centrally-planned and regulated transportation system." -- Gus Van Horn, in "Government Shouldn't Be Suing Waze, It Should Emulate It" at RealClear Markets.

"In the last decade India and China have loosened controls on their citizens and 60 million people have become productive enough to escape from extreme poverty." -- Bob Stubblefield, in "Letter: Best Aid Is Ideas, Not Money" at The Aiken Standard.

From the Mailbag

Regarding my latest column, reader R.B. writes:
What you say about public transit is right on and needs to be said. Reyner Banham makes some useful comments in his book about Los Angeles, where the Pacific Electric Railway became regulated and inefficient to the point that it could not change according to changing conditions of population and traffic and such. It was a vicious circle; as service deteriorated, there was demand for more roads which produced more grade crossings that caused further deterioration of service. Eventually, the freeways were built on the PE right of way, and now they are deteriorated and near worthless, so I am told, and there are new demands for the light rail that was ruined by government. I haven't been in LA since 1973, when I left a job at Occidental College. In my part of the world there was an extensive network of light rail lines that connected practically every town in Illinois and Indiana from the late 19th century until after WWII. The electric utility was built primarily to power those railways, a few remnants of which are still visible if you know what to look for. All gone, with some people plaintively demanding a revival, by government, of course. Meanwhile, government roads deteriorate and maintenance falls ever further behind as union labor becomes ever more expensive and less productive, and ever more money from gasoline taxes is diverted to ever more worthless political purposes that produce no transportation.

Your article also put me in mind of the private streets in St. Louis, in the area west of Forest Park. I learned about them from a native of St. Louis who is an architectural historian. Most neighborhoods of that quality have long since deteriorated, as has most of St. Louis except for the private streets. I attribute their good state of preservation entirely to the fact that they are privately owned, and they are fitted with barriers that slow traffic without blocking it entirely.
Others with an interest in the "private places" of St. Louis and other examples of privately-provided infrastructure can learn more here (and from sources noted within).

-- CAV

Column: We Should Emulate, Not Regulate Waze

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Image via Wikipedia
Driving in DC used to be a nightmare for me until Waze replaced stand still traffic with pleasant drives through picturesque neighborhoods. Unfortunately, residents may not feel a similar delight when they see my car. They’re weary of speeders, noise, and rudeness; and they're fighting back. (I would too, if I couldn't even back out of my driveway) And so, there are rumblings about forcing companies to be "accountable", holding them liable for traffic problems, and even preventing them from reporting certain routes. Unfortunately, this is exactly what we should not be doing.

Southern California Radio recently asked their listeners, "[H]ow could Los Angeles actually hold Waze accountable? What types of regulations should be put in place?" That's no surprise: How many times have you heard someone say, "there ought to be a law?" In a country where the federal code of regulations alone takes up ten shelves of the Library of Congress, this seems to be the conventional wisdom -- even more today than in the time of widespread, privately-run public transit. Back then, anti-trust and interstate commerce regulations forced electric companies to sell their street car lines. This destroyed the profit margin of the lines...

To continue reading my latest column, please proceed to RealClearMarkets.

I would like to thank Steve D. and my wife for their comments on an earlier version of this piece.

-- CAV

Litigation vs. Free Speech?

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Over at Popehat, Ken White expresses grave concerns over the recent total, pre-litigation surrender of the Southern Poverty Law Center to a Moslem activist who had threatened to sue them over defamation, for including him on a list of anti-Moslem extremists:

Image of Maajid Nawaz via Wikipedia
[T]hough I celebrate an apology for wrongdoing, I can't celebrate a surrender at swordpoint that encourages censorious litigation. Bad opinions are, and ought to be -- must be -- absolutely protected. If the SPLC surrendered because we've got a broken judicial system that makes litigation ruinously expensive and fails to protect free speech, the result is bad, not good. The threatened lawsuit appears to be part of a trend of suing the SPLC for its opinions and characterizations. The settlement will embolden that trend. The trend will not stay confined to the SPLC -- that's not the way the law works. Especially in such bitterly divided times, suing over opinions is deeply censorious and corrosive of free speech. Nawaz -- who has himself been the target of attempted censorship -- should know that. [link in original, bold added]
White's difficulty is that, although the SPLC was being ridiculous, they looked like they were, in fact, engaging in protected speech. Furthermore there was nothing in the apology that came with the settlement to indicate that the SPLC had actually engaged in defamation (which is and should be illegal), rather than indulging opinion, as sophomoric as it might be. I recommend reading the whole thing.

-- CAV

GOP Saves Unreliable Green Energy

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Writing at the Washington Times, Stephen Moore of Freedom Works debunks the notion I keep seeing that unreliable "renewable" energy is successfully competing against fossil fuel. So much for the good news.

If only the general failure of wind turbines -- to provide the reliable power an advanced civilization needs -- were so fun to watch...

More interesting to me is that, along the way, he shows who the real savior of a parasitic industry is:
Consider how gargantuan the green energy subsidies are. First, wind and solar receive a tax credit that is basically a 35 percent-off coupon for the energy they supply with taxpayers picking up the tab. If coal or nuclear power got a 35 percent taxpayer subsidy [A tax break is being robbed less. It is not a subsidy. --ed] for every kilowatt of electricity they supplied, they would be basking in profits. I helped write and negotiate the just-passed Trump tax bill. When we tried to get rid of the renewable energy tax credit (i.e., create a "free market in energy"), the green lobby went ballistic and told Republicans this would put much of the industry out of business. [It speaks volumes that they passed on this opportunity. --ed]

The accompanying chart shows just how un-level the playing field is today. For every dollar that coal and nuclear power receive, wind power gets almost $5 of subsidy and solar receives about $20. This does not even include the biggest subsidy of all: About half the states have renewable energy standards requiring utilities to buy 20 percent to 30 percent of their power from wind and solar regardless of the price. What other industry in America has that kind of golden parachute?
The article is interesting for other reasons, too -- including the fact that Donald Trump is, unfortunately, on board with dictating to energy companies what sources of fuel they use to generate electricity.

-- CAV

P.S. On checking that this post, which was queued to auto-publish, had indeed auto-published, I noticed that my two editorial comments might make my opinion about green energy tax credits unclear. I oppose all taxation on the same grounds as Ayn Rand (linked at "tax" above), but realize we are politically far from the day that we will actually cease that barbaric practice. That said, the use of the tax code to purposely distort the economy -- by stealing more from individuals in industries out of favor with the government -- only compounds the injustice and makes a rational evaluation of alternatives (here, fossil fuel vs. wind) more difficult than it should be.


Today: Added a PS. 

Admin: Oh. So That's Where the Comments Went...

Image via Pexels.
A reader who had left a comment on a past post mentioned doing so yesterday. So I checked my email. Nothing. I have, for years, had comments that were awaiting moderation sent to the email account associated with this blog. For whatever reason, this hasn't been happening for the past three weeks, despite working largely trouble free all that time previously.

I am looking into the problem and, meanwhile, periodically checking for comments within the comment moderation queue of my blogging software. My apologies for the lateness in posting several recent comments.

-- CAV

Three Negotiation Tips

Monday, June 18, 2018

An FBI hostage negotiator recently offered three tips for "bargaining with anyone," along with his thoughts about why each is effective. I found all to be thought-provoking, but probably limited in usefulness without some independent thinking by the reader. A good example of this is his second tip, which might seem counterintuitive at first. After urging his readers to consider getting the other party "to say no," he explains in part:

Image via Pixabay.
"We're all taught that 'getting to yes' is the goal in negotiations, but 'yes' is always a trap," [Christopher] Voss said. Everyone knows they're being manipulated when someone tries to get them to say yes -- if you can get someone to agree to small things, you can probably get them to agree to bigger ones.
While the idea that attempts to win agreement are always manipulative sounds like hyperbole to me, enough people are manipulative that there can be a level of suspicion to overcome. This strategy can show respect for the intellectual sovereignty of the other party, ultimately helping them focus on the message more, and on wondering about your motives less.

-- CAV

Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, June 15, 2018

Four Things

1. We often joke that Little Man may look like my father-in-law, but he is all me inside. He often has a firm idea of what he likes and will make sure we all know. I have two examples.

First, before Christmas, Mrs. Van Horn wanted to get a real tree since we'd be home for the season, rather than going out of town. As we were getting ready to go out to buy one, my son piped up. "We already have a tree." Upon hearing that, Mrs. Van Horn decided to go along with the artificial tree. Every morning during the season, he'd go in and switch on the lights once he got up in the morning.

Second, we're moving out of state some time in the next six months. I told each kid as I picked them up the Friday we made our decision. My daughter was excited about meeting new people on the other end. But my son immediately said he was going to miss his school and his friends. This didn't sit well with him.

2. In light of the previous post, accuse me of self-flattery if you wish, but nothing gets by my son, who has just turned five. He has Spanish lessons once a week, but I was surprised one day when, glasses in our hands, he raised one and said, "¡Salud!" I didn't think he got that from class, so I asked him how he knew that. It turns out he remembered it from a scene in Coco.

Obviously domesticated. (Image via Pixabay.)
3. Pumpkin recently amused me with the following formulation, which I overheard her use while playing with her brother: wild shark.

Accept no substitutes.

4. My daughter, nearly seven, has finally learned to snap her fingers. Upon learning of her interest in picking up this valuable skill, I remembered how long it took her to pick up whistling. So I warned her that finger-snapping might be like whistling in terms of taking a long time to figure out.

But then I decided to see if I could teach her, and got her to do so successfully a couple of times. (It's a little harder to explain than you might think.) With some practice over a few days, she became able to snap reliably, so I guess I was wrong about that.

-- CAV

"Effective Altruism": A Contradiction in Terms

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Economist recently carried an article on "effective altruism" [sic], an explicitly utilitarian fad. (If you wonder why I describe it so dismissively, keep reading.) I was thinking about commenting on it -- until I realized that Ayn Rand had covered the topic quite thoroughly in 1946:

The phrase "human sacrifice" is redundant. (Image via Pixabay)
"The greatest good for the greatest number" is one of the most vicious slogans ever foisted on humanity.

This slogan has no concrete, specific meaning. There is no way to interpret it benevolently, but a great many ways in which it can be used to justify the most vicious actions.

What is the definition of "the good" in this slogan? None, except: whatever is good for the greatest number. Who, in any particular issue, decides what is good for the greatest number? Why, the greatest number.

If you consider this moral, you would have to approve of the following examples, which are exact applications of this slogan in practice: fifty-one percent of humanity enslaving the other forty-nine; nine hungry cannibals eating the tenth one; a lynching mob murdering a man whom they consider dangerous to the community.

There were seventy million Germans in Germany and six hundred thousand Jews. The greatest number (the Germans) supported the Nazi government which told them that their greatest good would be served by exterminating the smaller number (the Jews) and grabbing their property. This was the horror achieved in practice by a vicious slogan accepted in theory.

But, you might say, the majority in all these examples did not achieve any real good for itself either? No. It didn't. Because "the good" is not determined by counting numbers and is not achieved by the sacrifice of anyone to anyone. [bold added]
So much for "utility-maximising automatons" -- and no wonder "Effective altruism can be a hard sell, even [!] for the rationally minded."

There is one aspect of this movement that merits further comment: If one wishes to give money to a cause -- and there are many valid, selfish reasons to do so; altruism does not own charity -- one obviously wants more bang for the buck. Counting lives saved by one donation is a poor metric (even if one grants improving large numbers of lives as an imperfect metric, albeit better than the one proposed by utilitarianism). Anyone with an ounce of sense can see this by considering whether it would be better (on such grounds) to save a thousand indigents from malaria vs., say, educating a Jonas Salk (whose research could save magnitudes more) or an Aristotle (who would make countless great men and even civilizations possible, by improving their minds). Even then, quantifying the impact of a donation might be difficult, to say the least.

"Effective altruists" should spend less time quantifying their results and more time considering what those results should be. It's ridiculous to ask, "How well am I doing?" when one doesn't really know what one is supposed to do, or why.

-- CAV