URLs du Jour

2022-09-25

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • My initial take on billionaires: we need more of them. But I could be wrong. And the place to go for my reality check would be Astral Codex Ten. He recently wrote on Billionaires, Surplus, And Replaceability.

    The typical neoliberal defense of self-made billionaires goes: entrepreneurs and other businesspeople create a lot of value. EG an entrepreneur who invents/produces/markets a better car has helped people get where they’re going faster, more safely, with less pollution, etc. People value that some amount, represented by them being willing to spend money on the car. The entrepreneur should get to keep some of that value, both because it’s only fair, and because it incentivizes people to keep creating value in the future.

    How much should they keep? The usual answer is that the surplus gets distributed between the company and the customers. So suppose that this new type of car makes the world $200 billion better off. We could have the company charge exactly the same price as the old car, in which case customers get a better car for free. We could have the company charge enough extra to make a $200 billion profit, in which case customers are no better off than before (they have a bit less money, and a bit better car). Or they could split it down the middle, and customers would end up better off than before and the company would make some money. Which of these distributions happens depends on competition; if there’s no competition, the company will be able to take the whole surplus; if there’s a lot of competition, all the companies will compete to lower prices until they’ve handed most of the surplus to the customers. Then once the company has some portion of the surplus, it divides it among capital and labor in an abstractly similar way, although with lots of extra complications based on whether the labor is unionized, etc.

    This seems to me pretty hard to argue with - if someone creates a surplus, who doesn’t want them getting to keep some large fraction of it as a reward?

    But he goes on from there, making some pretty sound arguments.

    And when you're done with that, ACT goes on to curate a number of thoughtful comments (yes, thoughtful commenters do exist): Highlights From The Comments On Billionaire Replaceability. Here's a good point in response to a guy on my side:

    The strongest force in the universe is leftists’ tendency to spot that some part of business can potentially benefit from something other than pure grit and talent and say “Aha! So all the rightists who say it’s 100% pure merit ability are wrong and therefore it’s 100% pure privilege and luck, zero way ability can ever possibly matter”

    But the second strongest force in the universe is rightists’ willingness to spot that some part of business can potentially benefit from something beyond pure random dumb luck and say “Aha! So all the leftists who say it’s 100% luck are wrong and it must be 100% merit!”

    Come on! It’s obviously a combination of talent and luck! We can debate the relative proportions of each, but it has to be this! And the most successful people must have had both lots of talent and lots of luck, otherwise they wouldn’t have outdone tens of millions of their peers to become the most successful people.

    My guess is that [Amazon founder Jeff] Bezos was something like a one-in-a-million business talent - which still means there are eight thousand other people as talented as him in the world who got less lucky. I could be totally wrong about this, but I think this is a more honest way to think about things than “it’s all luck” or “it’s all talent”.


  • Aiiee! It's alive! The hoariest horror movie cliché: the monster we thought was safely dead dispatched turns out to be back in the sequel. Ryan Bourne and Rachel Chiu note the inevitable: The Dangerous Journalism Competition and Preservation Act Returns.

    Yesterday, the Senate Committee on the Judiciary voted 15–7 to advance the worrying Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA).

    This bill would carve out an antitrust exemption for news media, enabling journalistic groups to band together as “joint negotiation entities” to demand payment from major digital platforms (such as Meta and Google) for links to and previews of their publications. If the joint negotiation entity cannot reach an agreement with the platform, the journalists would be able to force independent arbitration to set the payment level.

    Last month, we explained why this amounted to a government‐sanctioned local newspaper industrial policy. Big tech platforms would be forced to pay to subsidize journalists, with arbitrators compelled to ignore any value that digital platforms granted news outlets for sharing their content.

    Also commenting in the same vein is Mike Masnick at Techdirt: Klobuchar’s Link Tax Is Back… And Somehow Even Worse? Helps Trumpist Grifters Get Free Money & No Moderation From Google.

    So, we’ve talked quite a bit about the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA), Senator Amy Klobuchar’s attempt to do Rupert Murdoch’s bidding and force successful internet companies to send cash to media companies for… linking to them. Yes, not only do the news orgs want the traffic from Google, but they also want to get paid for it. This whole scheme was dreamed up by Rupert Murdoch, who after decades of pretending to be about free markets, started demanding the government force internet companies to subsidize him for his own failures to innovate.

    The nature of the JCPA is that it allows news organizations to band together into a cartel to “negotiate” with big internet companies to force them to “pay” for “access” where access really means “linking to us and sending us the traffic we crave, and already use search engine optimization tactics to try to increase.” If the big internet companies don’t agree to pay for this thing that does not require payment (on the internet, linking is and must remain fundamentally free), then the cartel can submit an amount they think they should get paid to an arbitrator. The internet company can submit their own alternative, but the arbitrator has to chose, baseball-style, between one of the two submissions, and can’t pick anything else.

    We dump on antitrust legislation, but this is an idea to explicitly allow collusive behavior that will make consumers worse off. Y'know, the kind of thing that people said antitrust was supposed to prevent.


  • It says we've got some work to do. Once you get used to The Way Things Are, it's difficult to imagine things could be any different. Suppose, reader, that you had to buy your lawn mower from an independent Toro dealership instead of directly from Toro. (Or, if you wanted a John Deere, an independent John Deere dealership, or…)

    Pierre Lemieux takes a look at What Selling Cars Suggests About a Free Society.

    In America, the laws of 27 states generally prohibit car manufacturers to sell their vehicles directly to the public from company-owned stores, forcing them to use independent dealerships. (Selling online is not forbidden, but many customers apparently like a physical place where they can see the thing and obtain more information.) The situation looks better than half a dozen years ago, when all 50 states had come, over the previous 25 years, to forbid all sales in manufacturers’ stores. It is, however, doubtful that the state of public opinion has much improved as opposed to becoming infatuated with electric vehicles (EVs).

    Tesla obtained the privilege of selling cares [sic] through its own stores in a few of the restrictive states, but the resistance of independent dealerships and political orthodoxy are now difficult to crack. What is the political orthodoxy justifying these bans?

    Don Hall, president of the Virginia Automobile Dealers Association, puts it bluntly:

    When you have one person who controls all the marbles, you get marbles when they want to give it to you.

    The new electric vehicle manufacturers, following Tesla's lead, are fighting back against this cronyism.


  • And for some reason the IRS is uninterested. Kimberley A. Strassel takes a look at something pretty shady: Democrats ‘Charity’ Voter-Registration Scheme.

    Senate Democrats plan to pass the Disclose Act, a bill they claim would force “dark money” groups into the light. Never mind the darkness that envelops their own epic voter-registration scam.

    A New York Times article this week confirmed a political reality that Republicans have been slow to publicize: Democrats are openly abusing charities to stack voter rolls in their favor. The Times story was ostensibly about “voter registration” groups worried that donors weren’t giving enough to “democracy-related” programs this midterm cycle. Read closely and you notice the story is entirely about Democrats, confirming a longstanding scheme by which foundations and private donors funnel tax-exempt dollars into “charities” that microtarget and register Democratic voters.

    As 501(c)(3) charities, these folks are not supposed to be (wink, wink) partisan. But they aren't really trying to hide their leanings.


  • Why isn't this stupid Memory Hole working? The Free Beacon reports on the latest effort to shift the language to adopt to a new reality: Planned Parenthood Changes Website To Match Stacey Abrams’s Heartbeat Comments.

    Planned Parenthood quietly made changes to its website to reflect Democratic Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams’s claim that babies do not have detectable heartbeats at six weeks gestation, the Washington Examiner reported.

    "There is no such thing as a heartbeat at six weeks," Abrams said at an event at the Ray Charles Performing Arts Center in Atlanta on Wednesday. "It is a manufactured sound designed to convince people that men have the right to take control of a woman's body."

    Abrams, who is trailing her opponent Gov. Brian Kemp (R.) by 6.6 points in the polls, was speaking against Georgia’s "heartbeat" bill, which went into effect in July and bans most abortions once a heartbeat is detected, usually around six weeks.

    On Friday, Planned Parenthood changed its website, without any notice, to say that at five to six weeks of pregnancy "a part of the embryo starts to show cardiac activity. It sounds like a heartbeat on an ultrasound, but it's not a fully-formed heart—it's the earliest stage of the heart developing."

    In other news, Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia.

Shadows Reel

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

The title is inspired by William Butler Yeats' poem "The Second Coming" (quoted throughout the book). Specifically his vision of:

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.

Creepy! And both our series heroes, Joe Pickett and Nate Romanowski, have creepazoids to deal with in this dual-plot entry.

In plot one, Joe is dealing with a charred corpse found on Lorne Trumley's ranch. A brief investigation reveals that it's Bert Kizer, a loner scraping a meager living out of being a decent fishing guide. And also that he's been tortured before being murdered. It turns out that just that morning, Joe's wife Marybeth had caught a strange figure dropping off a package at her town library. And it turns out to be a photo album from a World War II bad guy.

Could these things be connected? Well, sure.

In plot two, Nate is on the trail of a different bad guy, Axel Soledad, who in the previous book had assaulted Nate's wife, scared Nate's daughter, and swiped Nates prized falcons. Soledad is (as Yeats would put it) full of passionate intensity. His plan, to be financed by the sale of Nate's falcons, is to sow chaos and anarchy by manipulating Antifa dimwits (who are rioting anyway) into triggering an unstoppable race war.

It's not the best Box book. It's low on outdoorsiness, Box's strong point in my eyes. The ending seems kind of rushed, and people who read this book without reading the previous entry might be a tad confused.

But I'm all caught up with Box's books now!

Well, until two days from now, when a new one is coming out. A throwaway comment in this book might signal a connection between the Pickett series and Box's other series. We'll (eventually) see.