URLs du Jour


  • As promised a few days ago, I'm linking to Stephanie Slade's short essay in the latest issue of Reason, which has just become freely available to all comers: Regulation and ‘the Right Ordering of Economic Life’. It's a review of Catholic teachings on economic freedom; some like to imagine the Church as irredeemably hostile to it, but Slade tells us it's a lot more subtle than that.

    The encyclicals paint a grim hypothetical picture in which our moral obligations are subordinated to, if not obliterated by, a dictum of wealth and power uber alles. Blessedly, that picture bears little resemblance to how modern market economies actually function. All around us, thousands of times a day, human beings act in ways that confound simple self-interest.

    Sometimes that involves charitable giving and other explicit do-goodery: When you drop a few dollars into the Salvation Army's red kettle, you're altering, however slightly, the level of poverty produced in the market. But consider as well the young father who turns down a promotion because it would involve weekend travel and he wants to spend that time with his kids. Consider the employer who accepts a lower salary for herself in order to afford more generous health insurance for her staff. Consider both the activists who organized a boycott of Chick-fil-A upon learning the company's owner had spoken out against same-sex marriage and the Colorado baker who turns away business if it would require him to decorate a cake with a message that runs against his religious convictions. Consider everyone who's ever paid extra for fair-trade coffee.

    In all these cases and countless others, individuals and groups make choices that reflect their values. But if unregulated capitalism is defined as a system in which men and women are profit-maximizing automata, then every time people depart from the Homo economicus script, they're behaving as a check on the system.

    A point being missed recently on both left (e.g., Elizabeth Warren) and right (e.g., Marco Rubio).

  • Kevin D. Wiliamson asks (in an "NRPLUS" article, I don't know what that means): Who’s in Charge Here?.

    The impeachment pageant being played out in Washington is entirely predictable. But it does raise some important questions beyond the near certainty of how the impeachment itself will proceed, i.e. with an emotionally overcharged vote in the House, an anticlimax in the Senate, a declaration of “moral victory” by the Democrats, and the Republicans’ immediate preparations for impeaching the next Democratic president, whoever that should be.

    Trump may be an agent of chaos, but he is not an agent of randomness. As some of the computer scientists among you will know, generating a string of truly random numbers is a real technical challenge. Patterns emerge in spite of the programmers’ best intentions. The same is true of quotidian human affairs. Consider the issue of media bias: It is to be expected that reporters and editors will make a certain number of errors in their coverage of a given issue, but when it comes to the gun-control debate, to take one obvious example, the errors pile up reliably on one side of the ideological divide, inflating the prevalence of certain weapons (e.g. Lydia Polgreen of the Huffington Post and a thousand other like-minded journalists conflating ordinary semiautomatic rifles and machine guns) or exaggerating the laxity of U.S. firearms laws. During his presidency, Donald Trump’s errors and abuses have not been random, either. They have in fact followed a fairly predictable pattern, or a couple of patterns: One of those is the pattern of obvious self-interest, as in his risible attempt to steer a G7 meeting to one of his ailing Florida resort properties; another is his habitual rolling over for the thuggish strongmen he takes as his model for authoritative leadership: deflecting from Vladimir Putin’s misadventures in the 2016 election and his invasion of Ukraine and subsequent annexation of Ukrainian territory, submitting to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and abandoning U.S. allies in Syria, etc.

    I'm not (quite) a computer scientist, but I appreciate the reference. It is tough to generate truly random data.

  • At AIER, Jeffrey A. Tucker writes on The Politicization of Taylor Swift. In case you haven't been following, Taylor Swift is a hugely popular musical artist. At some point in her past, she signed away the rights to her older music. Which she now sees as a mistake.

    There's a point to be made here, and Jeffrey's getting to it:

    We of the pro-market ideology like to talk about how markets are about cooperation, mutual agreement, and happiness all around. Why are the relationships between artist/performers and record labels so often fraught with difficulty?

    The heart of the matter here is copyright. Let us be clear: copyright is not based on a normal contract. It is a state-granted right of monopoly privilege. It is usually presumed to belong to the artist. This is a myth. “Copyright was never primarily about paying artists for their work,” explains QuestionCopyright.org; “far from being designed to support creators, copyright was designed by and for distributors — that is, publishers, which today includes record companies.”

    Copyright is one of those funny areas where I tend to agree with the last thing I read. That "QuestionCopyright.org" site could be interesting, but it's not working as I type.

  • Daniel J. Mitchell lets loose on Elizabeth Warren’s Reprehensible Hypocrisy.

    If I had to identify the most economically destructive part of Senator Elizabeth Warren’s agenda, I’d have a hard time picking between her confiscatory wealth tax and her so-called Medicare-for-All scheme.

    The former would dampen wages and hinder growth by penalizing saving and investment, while the latter would hasten America’s path to Greece.

    By contrast, it’s easy to identify the most ethically offensive part of her platform.

    Just like President Obama, she’s a hypocrite who wants to deny poor families any escape from bad government schools, even though her family has benefited from private education.

    And she lied about it.

  • And our Google LFOD News Alert rang for another comic celeb: Interview: Jay Leno is nostalgic for the past, and determined for the future.

    Being from New England, it always makes me laugh when I get to go back home, because people know exactly what you’re talking about. It’s just such an odd place. Massachusetts has always made me laugh. I’m obviously a great deal older than you, but I remember when Dukakis was running for president, and he was trying to institute the mandatory seat belt law in the state, and people protested that, by selling and wearing t-shirts with fake seat belts on them so it looked like you were wearing one while you were driving.

    It’s just the extent of that whole yankee mentality, of all that ‘live free or die’ kind of thing. It’s just a funny, quirky place. So many good comedians have come out of Massachusetts, whether it be Steven Wright or Lenny Clarke, and they just have that weird, funny New England sense of humor. Bill Burr is one of my favorites. It just makes me laugh whenever I get the chance to come back.

    Extending our Official State Motto to the entire New England area sounds a little odd. But let's give those other states a break: General Stark's most famed battles were Bunker Hill (MA) and Bennington (VT).

The Political Spectrum

The Tumultuous Liberation of Wireless Technology, from Herbert Hoover to the Smartphone

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

I seem to remember that Thomas Winslow Hazlett used to be a prolific contributor to Reason. He still shows up now and then. But fond memories of well-crafted arguments led me to put this book on the Interlibrary Loan queue. And I was not disappointed: for a scholarly tome published by Yale University Press, his prose is still punchy, and he tackles this topic with appropriate amounts of humor and bite.

And the topic is (roughly) the regulatory mess the US Government has made of the vast radio spectrum. The invention of the technology using electromagnetic waves to send data between transmitters and receivers is barely over a century old. (Thanks, Guglielmo!) But it had the bad fortune to take off just as the modern regulatory state was also taking wing, and people really had a mistaken faith in the benevolent state allocating resources wisely.

The primary villain: Herbert Hoover, who was Silent Cal's Secretary of Commerce. He wangled the Radio Act of 1927, essentially putting the spectrum under control of what would eventually become the FCC. As Hazlett shows, spectrum problems could have been resolved by common law, based on property rights sensibly defined.

But noooo… instead we got oppressive and intrusive state regulation, with all the well-known associated problems: protection of incumbents against upstarts, rent-seeking, corruption, squelching of innovation, censorship, lowest-common-denominator programming, inefficiencies galore.

Hazlett details all that, and the ongoing two-steps-forward-one-or-more-steps-back reform process. A particular hero is Nobelist Ronald Coase who first propoosed free market reforms in a 1959 essay. It was that classic story: "first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win”.

My only quibble: among all the flinging around of kHz, MHz, and GHz, the book really could have used some simple spectrum maps, showing the colonization of radio space over the past century. Analogous to those maps in US history books showing the westward spread.

Last Modified 2024-01-23 3:18 PM EDT