URLs du Jour

2022-03-10

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  • Both sides now. David Henderson considers Joel Kotkin's Criticism of Libertarians and the Cato Institute. I looked at that criticism here, and noted that "pushback" was likely. So it was. Henderson considers Kotkin's specific criticism of Cato for its anti-zoning stance, seeing it as an unholy alliance with "monopoly capital and social engineers (also known as city planners)."

    […] Normally, when one criticizes zoning for restricting the supply of housing, one would be seen as being against “monopoly capital.” But Kotkin sees the Cato Institute’s opposition to zoning as being part of an alliance with monopoly capitalists. He’s pretty vague about how that works.

    If you read the link [in Kotkin's excerpted article], you learn that developers are taking advantage of the new California law that allows more building on land zoned for single-family housing and that they are making lots of money doing so. What he seems not to confront is what this means for housing prices: they will fall or at least not rise as much as they would have. Increases in supply, all else equal, bring prices down. I would have thought that that would be a great way to help normal people.

    Kotkin is right that more building on a given amount of land leads to denser housing. What he doesn’t successfully do is explain why this is bad.

    I instinctively lean against zoning, so I'm slightly more sympathetic to Henderson's argument. But see what you think.


  • Worst European import ever. C. Bradley Thompson continues his argument for separation of schools and state: Why Government Schooling Came to America. Original sin:

    America’s experiment with universal compulsory education (i.e., government schooling), which began in earnest in the years immediately before the Civil War and picked up steam in the postbellum period, was created with different purposes in mind than just teaching children the Three R’s and a body of historical, moral, and literary knowledge to help them live productive, self-governing lives.

    The early proponents of government schooling in nineteenth-century America imagined new and different goals for educating children. The advocates for forced schooling took the highly authoritarian, nineteenth-century Prussian model as their beau idéal.

    The leading proponent of government schooling in Prussia and the man from whom the Americans learned the most was the philosopher Johann Fichte (1762-1814), who, in his Addresses to the German Nation (1807), called for “a total change of the existing system of education” in order to preserve “the existence of the German nation.” The goal of this new education system was to “mould the Germans into a corporate body, which shall be stimulated and animated in all its individual members by the same interest.” This new national system of education, Fichte argued, must apply “to every German without exception” and every child must be taken from parents and “separated altogether from the community.” Fichte recommended that the German schools “must fashion [the student], and fashion him in such a way that he simply cannot will otherwise than you wish him to will,” so that the pupil might go “forth at the proper time as a fixed and unchangeable machine.” Children should therefore be taught “a love of order” and the “system of government must be arranged in such a way that the individual must . . . work and act, for the sake of the community.”

    Related for us Granite Staters:: [Democratic State] Rep. [Marjorie] Porter Is Upset at What's Happening to Public Schools. It's an entertaining red-yarn-thumbtacked-to-bulletin-board explanation of how [Ll]ibertarians are diligently… well, see our Amazon Product du Jour above. She's aghast when people (accurately) call public schools "government schools".

    Rep. Porter claims that "New Hampshire has one of the best public-school systems in the country." And only a few paragraphs above, she was waxing indignant about how popular the state's school choice program is, exceeding even its backers' expectations. She never answers the seeming contradiction there: if the "free" schools are so hot, why are so many people betting their kids' futures otherwise? Some sort of hypnotic false consciousness induced by emanations from the Kochtopus, I suppose.


  • I volunteer to pull the switch, if they decide to go that way. Jeff Jacoby says it's well beyond time to enforce the law: Execute Tsarnaev.

    In a 6-3 decision last week, the US Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Reversing a First Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that had voided the sentence, the justices concluded that Tsarnaev had been fairly tried by an impartial jury and that the punishment imposed by the trial court was appropriate.

    Now that the highest court in the land has disposed of the last legal objections in the case, there is no reason to delay Tsarnaev’s punishment any further. For his role in committing one of the worst horrors in Boston’s history, the federal government is duty-bound to put Tsarnaev to death. It should proceed to do so, and bring this awful chapter to a close.

    At every step of the way, to its great credit, the federal government has been unflagging in its resolve to make Tsarnaev pay the ultimate price for his crimes.

    I'm with Jeff: Just do it.


  • No surprise: no matter the problem, Elizabeth Warren's solution is always "higher taxes". Ronald Bailey writes on this specific instance, though: Elizabeth Warren Says the Solution to High Gas Prices Is Higher Taxes on Oil Companies

    "Putin's war is causing gas prices to rise, but this is no excuse for large oil companies to pad their bottom line with war-fueled profits," tweeted Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) along with an MSNBC video of her explaining her stance. "Senate Democrats are watching closely—and already working on a windfall profits tax." Warren also said that she gets "supply and demand—that prices go up" but that "profit margins should not go up, that's just oil companies gouging."

    What she calls "gouging" is actually demand adjusting to supply. She also forgets that higher profit margins strongly incentivize entrepreneurs to supply more of a good to the market thus eventually driving down prices through competition.

    Leaving aside the fact that the senator has evidently never met a corporate tax she didn't want to hike, history shows that imposing a windfall profits tax on oil is particularly shortsighted. As part his administration's response to the Iran oil shock that tripled the price of petroleum in 1979, President Jimmy Carter championed the Crude Oil Windfall Profit Tax of 1980.

    RB notes that the 1980 tax failed to meet revenue expectations, and it also managed to reduce domestic oil supply. How about let's not do that again.


  • I've never set foot in a Whole Foods. Sarah Isgur's Sweep column is always pretty good. But I especially liked this bit of (dated) data-excavation:

    In fact, Wasserman’s data got even more interesting when he excluded counties that have both: Biden won 95 percent of counties with only a Whole Foods and just 18 percent of counties with only a Cracker Barrel.

    My county (Strafford, New Hampshire) has neither.

    Further fun facts: Rockingham County has both: a Cracker Barrel in Londonderry, a Whole Foods in Portsmouth. Hillsborough County has two Whole Foods, one in Nashua, one in Bedford. No Cracker Barrels.

Time and Chance

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I don't remember why I put this book on my get-at-library list. (I really should keep notes.) And (as it happens) my current mode of library-interaction (as it were) is to check a book's availability online (or get it through Interlibrary Loan), and my physical presence onsite (as it were) is a quick in-and-out. Browsing (as I might have done pre-Covid) is discouraged.

The above paragraph apes the style of the author of Time and Chance, David Z. Albert. Lots of random parenthetical asides that don't add much information, lots of random italics. The book reads as if it were a transcript of chatty oral presentations of a particularly animated and eccentric sort. And it can get pretty impenetrable at times, by which I mean nearly always. Here's a sample paragraph from page 62:

I’ve been talking about the postulate about statistics up to now as if it more or less amounted to a stipulation that what you ought to suppose, for purposes of predicting a system's future behavior, if you are given only the information that the system initially satisfies X, is that the system is as likely to be in any one of the microconditions compatible with X at the initial time in question as it is to be in any other one of the microconditions compatible with X at the initial time in question. That’s more or less what the postulate amounts to (I think) in the imaginations of most physicists. And that (to be sure) has a supremely innocent ring to it. It sounds very much—when you first hear it—as it is instructing you to do nothing more than attend very carefully to what you mean, to what you are saying, when you say that all you know of the system at the time in question is X. It sounds very much as if it is doing nothing more than reminding you that what you are saying when you say something like that is that X is the case at the time in question, and (moreover) that you have no more reason for believing that the system is in any particular one of` the microconditions compatible with X at the time in question than you have for believing that it is in any other particular one of the microconditions compatible with X at the time in question, that (insofar as you know, at the time in question) nothing favors any particular one of those microconditions over any particular other one of them, that (in other words) the probability of any particular one of those microconditions obtaining at the time in question, given the information you have, is equal to the probability of any particular other one of them obtaining at the time in question.
Five sentences, and that last one is a doozy. And to make matters worse, the very next paragraph begins: "This is all wrong, however." Darn!

I was very much in "I looked at every page" mode for large swaths of the book. I would flunk badly if quizzed on its details. It's a slim book, I tried to tackle a mere ten pages/day, but…

Anyway: Albert has his Ph.D. in theoretical physics but moved over to the philosophy department at Columbia. The book deals with time's arrow, or: exactly how do we distinguish the past from the future?

The problem being that many (but not all) of the physical laws of the universe are invariant under time-reversal. For example, if you had a movie of the planets revolving around the sun, then played that movie backward, the planets would still seem to be obeying, blissfully, the same Newtonian laws of motion. Similarly for gas molecules in a box: they bounce off each other, and the walls of the box, elastically, and they would appear to do the same thing in a time-reversed movie. You couldn't really tell whether you were watching the movie backwards or forwards.

Fine, but that's completely at odds with our everyday experience. We can nearly always tell when a movie's running backward: when we dominoes spontaneously rising into a complex pattern instead of falling, gases collapsing into a corner of a box instead of expanding to fill the available volume, stars sucking up light, instead of emitting it, etc. "That ain't right."

So the book immediately gets into matters of thermodynamics, entropy, and statistical mechanics. But Albert notes that the underpinnings of those fields and concepts are epistemologically shaky, and attempts to firm them up. And he may do so, but don't ask me.

In the latter parts of the book, he brings in quantum mechanics, which may help things. He discusses several interpretations, and holds up one for special attention: the Ghirardi–Rimini–Weber (GRW) theory. I think that's pretty obscure, but not obscure enough to lack a Wikipedia entry.

So: my bad. If I ever had the physics chops to follow Albert's argument, they're gone now. And in the future, I'll try to have a solid Plan B in place when getting a library book.


Last Modified 2022-03-11 12:42 PM EDT