Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, October 19, 2018

Blog Roundup

1. In an "Open Letter to Tim Cook," Amy Peikoff of Don't Let It Go urges Apple CEO Tim Cook not to support federal privacy legislation:

Most people reading this letter -- you included -- will probably now expect me to add Apple's support this week for "comprehensive federal privacy legislation" as another reason to applaud your company's efforts to protect our privacy interests. But the opposite is true. I believe that, in supporting federal privacy regulation, you are undermining the progress you've made putting control over privacy into the hands of us, your customers.
If you find yourself wondering why such legislation is a bad idea, I urge you to read the whole thing.

2. Remember when I recently said I was about to eat my hat regarding something I'd said about Donald Trump's deregulation efforts?

That was because I had just come across Keith Weiner's blog post regarding some Republican chicanery about deregulation:
Anyways, for the purpose of this discussion, let's accept page count as a proxy for regulation. The dirty rotten trick is that the Federal Register is the publication of new regulations. If the 2017 edition had over 30 percent fewer pages, that does not mean that Trump removed 30 percent of existing regulations.

It means Trump added over 60,000 pages of new regulations, which is 30 percent less than Obama's over 95,000 pages!
It is worth considering why the Republicans would feel the need to resort to this easily-debunked trick.

Yes. I have read this, and highly recommend it. (Image via Amazon)
3. To call Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism radical is to point to the tip of an iceberg. Rand challenges the dominant philosophy of our culture from root to branch. And, as if that doesn't make it challenging enough to understand for oneself or explain to others, many common terms are badly and widely misunderstood. Understandably, some advocates might ask a question like, "Do we need a new word for selfishness?" Peter Schwartz, author of In Defense of Selfishness, explains why we don't. Here is what would happen were we to abandon selfishness in favor of something without the baggage:
The common, package-deal meaning is "concern for one's own interests at the expense of others." If we were to accept and use that term as a reference to predatory behavior, we would be endorsing the underlying falsehood -- the falsehood that harming others is an essential element of selfishness.
And there would still be a need to explain why predatory behavior is not part of whatever we called selfishness instead.

4. The blog of the Center for the Protection of Intellectual Property briefly reviews a law journal article about how widespread ignorance of technology standards and standards-setting organizations is becoming a threat to innovation -- because it "informs" government policy:
The development and implementation of technology standards is a complex process, and it's one often misunderstood by commentators, courts, and government agencies. In an article detailing the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) misguided suit against Qualcomm for alleged unwillingness to license its patents on fair, reasonable, and nondiscriminatory (FRAND) terms, CPIP Senior Scholar Kristen Osenga exposes a pervasive ignorance of technology standards and the standard setting organizations (SSOs) that develop them. [links omitted]
And, from the abstract:
While there is plenty to criticize about the FTC's action, the lawsuit is evidence of a much larger and more fundamental problem. The FTC's allegations are not based on sound economic analysis nor are they supported by evidentiary findings. This is not due to haste or poor practices by the FTC; it is instead indicative of the FTC's ignorance. Put plainly, the FTC does not understand technology standards and the organizations that develop them. And the FTC is not alone in this lack of knowledge. Many courts and commentators have also demonstrated clear misunderstandings of standard setting organizations (SSOs). Unfortunately, this is not harmless error or mere academic diversion. Important legal, business, and policy decisions are being made based on these misunderstandings. These decisions have the potential to negatively impact the future of technology standards and, ultimately, innovation itself.
I have sometimes noted that standards-setting bodies could and should be doing some of the (should be done, but not by government) things regulators are doing instead. This looks well worth a read.

-- CAV

Moroney On Evaluating Advice

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Writing about her decision to test-drive an affirmation-type technique for realizing goals, Jean Moroney of Thinking Directions speaks of a problem we all have from time to time:

[H]is argument was not enough for me to try it. I never take advice like this unless I see for myself why I believe it should work. What is the causal factor here? After all, if I'm going to put in say 20 minutes a day doing these, that's over 100 hours a year. That's a serious commitment of time and energy. I need to be convinced it can work. [bold added]
I use that filter a lot myself, and for exactly the reason that bad advice can waste lots of time and energy.

But sometimes, that advice can, as it does here, come from someone you respect. It might work, but perhaps the reasons for its effectiveness haven't been worked out or communicated clearly. And one's own analysis might uncover good reasons for considering the advice. And so it seems here:
No, I haven't read this myself. (Image via Amazon.)
My reason for sharing this is not to convince you to try affirmations, but to show you the kind of reasoning process I use to consider advice from other people with whom I respectfully disagree.

Though Alan and I share critically important values, we have very different philosophies. He's religious, I'm not. I'm an egoist. I believe he would say he is an altruist. In his book, he makes quite a few statements that I disagree with. But rather than dismissing his comments, or jumping into an argument with him, I take the time to identify the facts he is looking at. What is he seeing? What is a plausible explanation for his conclusion? Is there a context in which it make sense to me? [bold added]
Whatever conclusion Moroney reaches about the technique Alan Zimmerman describes in The Payoff Principle, it is worthwhile to consider this example of what to do about advice one feels conflicted about.

-- CAV

Sears: Capitalism vs. Jim Crow

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Image via Wikipedia.
As yesteryear's Amazon files for bankruptcy, Jason Kottke posts on the ways the Sears catalog helped undermine bigotry and Jim Crow laws. This happened despite the fact that the company was hardly -- as evidenced by some of its catalog offerings -- on the forefront of the fight for racial equality. Kottke quotes from the blog Bitter Southerner regarding a policy that helped many poorly educated blacks improve their standard of living:
One of [Sears historian Jerry] Hancock's discoveries was Sears' response to the needs of a rural South in which literacy was rare. For someone who could neither read nor write, placing orders and following written protocols were problematic. Richard Sears responded with a policy that his company would fill any order it received, no matter what the medium or format. So, country folks who were once too daunted to send requests to other purveyors could write in on a scrap of paper, asking humbly for a pair of overalls, size large. And even if it was written in broken English or nearly illegible, the overalls would be shipped.
Other parts of this post note how the catalog helped break the power of the shopkeepers in the sharecropping system, and helped along the development of musical styles, such as the blues.

The piece reminds me in an important way of the story of the end of commercial segregation in Houston, Texas (aka, The Strange Demise of Jim Crow). The fact is that treating a customer poorly or turning one away on the basis of race is detrimental to one's own best interest. This alone did not end the moral outrage that is racism, or the political scourge of JIm Crow, but it did (a) provide one way around some of the problems for blacks, and (b) demonstrate at least to some whites on some level that this foolishness was also harmful to themselves. It is indeed fortunate that, despite the high degree of repression in the Jim Crow South, there was enough freedom for Sears to send its catalog everywhere and sell its goods to everyone.

-- CAV

To Oppose UBI, Oppose All Government Looting

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

(Or: FEE Offers Spending Advice to Looters)

An article hosted at the Foundation for Economic Education illustrates perfectly something Ayn Rand once told its founder, Leonard Read, in a letter:

I oppose UBI and welfare because of what happens before the money falls from the helicopters. (Image via Pixabay.)
[D]on't think that any kind of law of self-preservation would work here -- that a man would want to produce merely in order to eat. He won't. For self-preservation to assert itself, there must be some reason for the self to wish to be preserved. Whatever a man has accepted, consciously or unconsciously, through routine or through choice as the purpose of his life -- that will determine his economic activity.

And the same holds true of society and of men's convictions about the proper economics of society. That which society accepts as its purpose and ideal (or to be exact, that which men think society should accept as its purpose and ideal) determines the kind of economics men will advocate and attempt to practice; since economics are only the means to an end.

When the social goal chosen is by its very nature impossible and unworkable (such as collectivism), it is useless to point out to people that the means they've chosen to achieve it are unworkable. Such means go with such a goal; there are no others. You cannot make men abandon the means until you have persuaded them to abandon the goal. [bold added] (Letters of Ayn Rand, pp. 257-258)
With this in mind, consider what a title like, "Universal Basic Income Has Been Tried Before. It Didn't Work." portends. The conclusion isn't pretty for anyone who values individual rights, including that to property:
Supporting work through the earned income tax credit is consistent with American values of dignity and self-sufficiency. The Heritage Foundation has proposed ways to reform welfare programs to promote those goals.

Evidence from the negative income tax experiment strongly suggests that a comprehensive universal basic income program would significantly reduce work and increase dependency.

Perhaps advocates are hoping for a different result this time around. But if history is any indication, they are bound to be disappointed. [bold added]
Of course giving money away reduces the desire for people to earn some of their own, but pardon me for disagreeing with the Heritage Foundation on what the proper goal of government is; my answer is that a proper government protects individual rights. Passing out loot for whatever alleged purpose does not alter (or sanctify) the fact that it is loot, and was ultimately stolen from someone who produced it (or received it freely from someone who did). As when conservatives sell the farm when they implicitly praise socialists or plead that they are "impractical" -- yet wonder why that thoroughly deadly and discredited creed remains popular -- so it is that the laudable desire to argue against "Universal Basic Income" (the latest repackaging of handed-out loot) degenerates into squabbling about how to reform welfare (the old name for the same thing).

That is not what making a stand for freedom looks like, not at all.

-- CAV

Parties Take Turns Blowing Opportunities

Monday, October 15, 2018

DC-area attorney Nick James and Brett Stephens of the New York Times write very different columns that each, in their own way, show how badly Americans crave a real alternative to the central planning of the Democratic Party and the central planning lite of the Republicans. First, we have James rightly arguing that it is not Kanye West who is nuts for supporting Donald Trump, but the black Americans who are piling abuse on top of him -- for their decades of loyalty to the Democrats:

Thanks to those policies, although only 22 percent of black children were raised in single-parent families in 1960, fifty years later more than 70 percent of black children experienced this sad fate.

The truth is anyone who wants to know how well the Democratic Party has rewarded the black community for its loyalty only needs to look at Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, or Milwaukee to find an answer. In these cities, high rates of crime, poverty, academic failure, and racial inequality remain the norm after five or more decades of Democratic control.

Indeed, as Jesse Jackson lamented in a 2016 article, "the injustice is worse in modern Milwaukee than it was in segregated Birmingham. Black poverty, unemployment, and impoverished neighborhoods are all worse." [links omitted]
But what policies, Van Horn? you might ask. Well, one can support Trump without being nuts, and while I agree that school choice (which James mentions Democrats opposing) would be a very good step in the right direction, Trump's trade policies -- which James seems to support -- will actually have similar job-destroying effects to many Democratic policies, such as the minimum wage, and for the same reasons. But James is right to indicate that West should hardly take flack for seeking an alternative. It's just too bad that Donald Trump is failing to offer a real one, just as Reagan failed to do. The Republicans see themselves as more "practical," but seem oblivious to the need for questioning the moral base they share with the Democrats -- and thus still sets their agenda.

Moving on over to Bret Stephens, we see the Democrats failing to take the high ground in the mid-term elections, where, he indicates, they could have brought rational discussion back. He borrows an apt metaphor, of the left "piercing its own tongue," so it can "marginalize itself and then enjoy its own company."
Image via Pixabay.
And yet it is. Predictably. Once again, American liberalism has pierced its own tongue.

It pierced its tongue on CNN this week, when Hillary Clinton told Christiane Amanpour that "you cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for, what you care about." And when former Attorney General Eric Holder said Sunday, "When they go low, we kick 'em."

It pierced its tongue last week when New York's Representative Jerrold Nadler pledged to use a Democratic House majority to open an investigation into Kavanaugh's alleged perjury and the "whitewash" investigation by the F.B.I. A party that can't change its mind and won't change the subject meets the classic definition of a fanatic. [links omitted]
Unlike the Republicans, who shy away from the collectivist political implications of the altruist morality they share with them, the Democrats embrace its ugliness to the point of alienating many people, and driving them into the arms of the Republicans.

Too bad for now that we have a non-capitalist in the White House as the "alternative" to the party that so richly deserves irrelevance, and seems so hell-bent on achieving it. I hope he does not end up in the Hooveresque position of making them look like they deserve another chance in power.

-- CAV

Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, October 12, 2018

Notable Commentary

I never thought I'd see this guy mentioned in an academic journal of philosophy. (Image via Wikimedia Commons.)
"Watching a world in which such things are doable and done can energize a person’s own ambition, giving him reason to try and reason to want; it makes dreams sensible and can seed constructive action." -- Tara Smith, in "On a Pedestal -- Sport as an Arena for Admiration" at Sport, Ethics and Philosophy.

"Conservatives should know that socialists know of their own destructive intent and should oppose them, instead of implicitly praising them." -- Richard Salsman, in "Socialism Worked in Venezuela" at The American Institute for Economic Research.

"Capital churn is when perfectly good capital is rendered unprofitable, not by the innovation that occurs in a free market, but by the new malinvestment which renders the old investment submarginal." -- Keith Weiner, in "Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Avocado Toast" at SNB & CHF.

"Apple Watch users who may be on the hook for medical bills related to false alarms might wish to keep this in mind." -- Paul Hsieh, in "The Promise and Perils of New Apple Watch Medical Technologies" at Forbes.

-- CAV


Today: (1) Added source information and link to image caption. (2) Corrected typos.

Our Latest Climate Deadline

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Regarding the latest headlines proclaiming that we have only a few years to "save" the planet from "climate change," fossil fuels advocate Alex Epstein  has pointed to a must-see video (viewing time: 15 minutes).

To say this video has it all would be a vast understatement. Barely half way through Tony Heller's collection of time-debunked news clips and "experts" clinging to pet theories obviously at odds with reality, you may already be laughing. And then you'll see the same thing occurring with the global cooling scare that came before -- and the global warming scare that came before it. I don't think quoting from the last slide will spoil anything, so here goes:
Three consecutive years of drought, while they have stimulated the inventive resources of practical agriculturalists, have had the natural effect of calling forth a plentiful crop of speculation from weather prophets, and projectors, and half-instructed meteorologists, and all the philosophic tribe of Laputa in general, to whom the periodical press now affords such fatal facilities. ...[E]very season is sure to be "extraordinary," almost every month one of the driest or wettest, or windiest, coldest or hottest, ever known. Much observation, which ought to correct a tendency to exaggeration, seems in some minds to have rather a tendency to increase it... [bold added]
The source? An Australian newspaper from 1871.

-- CAV


Today: Corrected a typo.