Government CBA

Monday, May 09, 2011

I read a lengthy but absorbing article by Victor Davis Hanson -- "Thoughts on a Surreal Depression" -- that I can only describe as a whirlwind tour of some of the more bizarre manifestations of the effects of central planning on daily life in the depressed part of California he calls home.

One effect in particular caught my eye, though. I've noted many times, as have countless conservative commentators by now, that there's a pernicious positive feedback loop taking place between the nanny state and the culture wherein government handouts of loot encourage dependency on more of the same. The same thing happens regarding improper government regulations and individuals who choose to profit from them (rather than by relying on their own creativity and initiative), and so end up supporting regulations they should oppose. Hanson gives us another positive feedback loop in his essay:

[W]e in California have become the most and least free of peoples -- the law-biding stifled by red tape, the non-law-biding considered exempt from accountability on the basis of simple cost-to-benefit logic. A speeder on the freeway will pay a $300 ticket for going 75mph and justifies the legions of highway patrol officers now on the road; going after an unlicensed peddler or rural dumper is a money-losing proposition for government.
Set aside for the moment the propriety of the government committing acts of petty highway robbery, or of meddling in the affairs of anyone who wants to sell anything: This perverse cost-benefit analysis goes a long way towards explaining, from the government's perspective, a phenomenon that has been called "anarcho-tyranny." This example also points us to the ultimate cause, however: People who merely reflexively obey the law, but do not understand the value of a legal system as a protector of individual rights. The kind of indignation one needs for a revolution at the ballot box won't come from such people.

Until people learn to become incensed about the government using, for example, arbitrarily low speed limits as an excuse to randomly take money from some drivers, that practice will continue to look like a worthwhile expenditure of manpower to law enforcement. And until we demand that the law cease being about prescribing behavior, and become once again a means of protecting individuals from each other, we will live in the increasingly bizarre world Hanson describes (at least until the inane system collapses under its own weight). The law will nominally regulate practically everything, but since it's impossible to control everything everyone does, enforcement will be selective, and it will be directed towards those who offer the least resistance and the most loot. Culturally, this will further erode respect for the law, all other things being equal.

-- CAV

----- In Other News -----

Michael Walsh attempts to draw a parallel between the United States' recent killing of Osama bin Laden and the British defeat of "Mahdi" Muhammad Ahmad ibn as-Sayyid Abd Allah in the nineteenth century. A major difference between the two is how each disposed of the refuse. "[General Horatio] Kitchener destroyed the Mahdi's ornate tomb, exhumed the body, cut off the head, threw the bones into the Nile and ... for a time kept the skull as a souvenir."

My disgust at treating the carcass of Osama bin Laden with anything remotely resembling respect aside, Myrhaf sees a silver lining: "The disposal of that corpse would become a battleground in itself, and we would surely lose that battle." Maybe so, at this point. But that's the sort of battle that we will eventually have to fight and win. Just as we can't go on pretending we're not at war, we can't go on pretending that there is a genteel way to fight a war.

If you subscribe to the Wall Street Journal or can get around its paywall, there was an outstanding editorial there last week by Donald Boudreaux titled, "If Supermarkets Were Like Public Schools." I am told that the WSJ allows direct links that work from high-traffic sites.

The Internet Genie Redux: I'm writing a paper and want to make a few Matlab graphs for one of the figures. I have VMWare, an Internet connection, and a twelve year old installation CD for Matlab 5.3. This weekend, I found on the Internet a version of Red Hat Linux old enough to run that version of Matlab -- and yet new enough to be supported by VMWare 6.5. The result is ugly, but I got it to work well enough for my purpose. I also saved five hundred smackers and got a good chuckle out of succeeding at the challenge.


Peter said...

Re saving the cost of Matlab: I have had excellent results using Octave.

Gus Van Horn said...

Yeah, and someone else wrote in that I should try Octave, too.

For what I'm doing, it's much easier to avoid the hassle of small compatibility issues by sticking with Matlab, given that I had already written code for the purpose and this is a one-shot deal. (Were I to need something like Matlab over the long haul, I'd think seriously about switching.)

That said, I'll have to admit that there were other ways to get around paying the licensing fee.

I was about to say something like, "Maybe it's not right to say I saved $500.00," but that's not quite right, either. I needed the functionality and I did dodge the license fee by squeezing more value out of my old license.

So I guess I saved the fee in a way that was different from yours (or, say, getting a guest account with my old employer that would let me use Matlab through them), but better suited to my own circumstances. It wasn't straightforward, so I guess I'd really have to subtract the value of the time I spent getting it to work to arrive at my actual savings. Conceivably, I could have saved more by some other means.