URLs du Jour


Mr. Ramirez updates The Shining for the upcoming 2024 horror season:

[Horror show]

It's a tribute to Kubrick that you and I can make the connection to a forty-two year old movie from this single image, and know exactly what Ramirez is getting at. (See also: HAL's big red eye.)

  • I, Pun Salad. At the Foundation for Economic Education, Benjamin R. Dierker has a sequel to the famed essay "I, Pencil": I(nflation), Pencil: What a Simple Pencil Can Teach Us about Energy Prices and Inflation.

    You may already know me. I am a simple yellow wood pencil. I have already recounted to you the wonder and amazement of my genealogy. From the mines of Sri Lanka to the forests of California, my lineage is anything but linear – it is instead a complex global collaboration to bring my constituent parts together. I trust you know this tale well and do not need me to restate it here today.

    But I have been thinking about another lesson that may interest you. As I look back on all the hands that passed along my components, I could not help but recognize how much energy it took to bring me about.

    Yes, even me, a small wooden pencil, required millions of barrels of crude oil, billions of cubic feet of natural gas, thousands of tons of coal, and even nuclear fission to be brought into existence. I want to take you through my journey just one more time to instruct you on the importance of energy and how it can lead to insidious price increases on everything you use – from me, a friendly desk implement, to the baked chicken you had for dinner last night.

    Recommended, except you're likely to pop a few blood vessels the next time Biden shows up on your TV claiming his schemes are all about "lowering costs for the average family in America".

  • Demand to see the work. Arnold Kling has some interesting observations on The Carbon Calculation Problem.

    Also fifty years ago, there was a concern that we would soon run out of fossil fuels. This motivated President Carter and Congress to create the Department of Energy, tasked with developing alternative energy sources in what Mr. Carter called a “moral equivalent of war.”

    The global warming issue shifted the rationale for opposing gasoline and “smokestack” industries. The concern that fossil fuels were subject to scarcity was replaced by a worry that they are too abundant. When people arrive at the same policy recommendations but shift to the opposite rationale, it seems fair to doubt their objectivity.

    Regardless of the rationale for hating fossil fuels, people have intuitively felt that all-electric vehicles, along with solar and wind power are cleaner. Consider this IGM Forum poll of leading economists, who are willing to support government provision of more charging stations for electric cars without doing anything like a Show Your Work calculation of whether this would, in the end, reduce carbon emissions. They go with simple intuition, but simple intuition is a poor guide for assessing complex processes.

    Similarly, when politicians demand increased taxes, increased spending, increased regulation, and increased subsidies, no matter what the current state of the economy is… "it seems fair to doubt their objectivity."

  • And let's not forget increased spending on bureaucrats. Liz Wolfe is dubious about another feature of a recently-resuscitated legislative proposal: Supersizing the IRS Will Hurt the Working Rich, Not Fat-Cat Tax Evaders.

    After months of acrimonious infighting, Sen. Joe Manchin (D–W.Va.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D–N.Y.) have reached a deal on a spending bill, portrayed as a means of fighting inflation, that will devote federal money to climate change initiatives, clean energy, and reducing the deficit. The spending bill, called the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, will pay for its ambitious proposals in part by doubling the size of the IRS, empowering the agency to reach its grubby little hands into ever more people's pocketbooks.


    But the bill also beefs up IRS enforcement capabilities, allowing our tax cops to audit far more people than before—including many working-professional high earners, while the richest continue to employ teams of accountants to take advantage of every possible loophole (as they darn well should). Is this really what Biden thinks the American people have been waiting for?

    "Our major concern is that the IRS provisions of the bill contain no accountability provisions for the agency, no sort of significant oversight of its efforts to reform and improve its processes, not a ton of robust protections for taxpayers who have seen their privacy or the security of their information threatened," Andrew Lautz, director of federal policy at the nonpartisan National Taxpayers Union, tells Reason.

    Drastically simplifying the tax code apparently wasn't on the table.

  • Not that the GOP will actually learn anything. Luther Ray Abel crafts a parable for Republican voters: What the GOP Can Learn from Mozzarella.

    Republicans have a dazzling opportunity in November to win back the Senate and House, not to mention dominance in state legislatures and governors’ mansions: Joe Biden is polling below Earth’s mantle, Democrats are gleefully collaborating to send billions of dollars to climate interest groups during a recession (or recession-adjacent economic situation of sudden indecipherability), and Anthony Fauci has re-emerged like an uninvited bespectacled groundhog to announce he’d like to see kids back in masks.

    And yet, I cannot shake the feeling that Republicans are going to screw this up — perhaps it’s attributable to whiffs of Eau de KDW–brand curmudgeon-ism wafting from Texas to Wisconsin — but the more likely explanation for my anhedonia is the multitude of close races between solid conservatives and loons — loons who will lose general elections and, even if they should win the odd race, will be useless as legislators.

    But I’m a young guy and should stick to what he knows. Being a good Wisconsin lad, I know cheese, so allow me to offer an object lesson, arising from a kitchen mishap I once experienced.

    (1) It appears to be a free link, so click over for some good, funny writing. (2) Glad to see I'm not the only one who refers to "KDW", assuming readers will get the reference.

  • [Amazon Link]
    (paid link)
    Except, of course, for Klingons. Astronomy magazine explores the Rare Earth hypothesis: Why we might really be alone in the universe. The leading proponents are Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee, who published Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe back in 2003, Amazon link at your right.

    The Rare Earth hypothesis focuses on numerous aspects of Earth and its environment that played a role in allowing complex life to develop. Some of the key factors Ward and Brownlee felt were critical to the formation of complex life included:

    • A planet that exists in a favorable part of the right kind of galaxy, where significant amounts of heavy elements are available and sterilizing radiation sources are located far away.
    • An orbit around a star that has a long lifetime (billions of years) but does not give off too much ultraviolet radiation.
    • An orbital distance that allows liquid water to exist at or near the planet’s surface.
    • An orbital distance that is far enough away to prevent the planet from becoming tidally locked to its host star.
    • An orbit that is stable around its host star over cosmic timescales.
    • A planetary tilt that allows for seasonal atmospheric changes to be mild, not severe.
    • A solar system that includes gas giants capable of preventing debris from polluting the inner solar system, reducing the odds of major cosmic impacts and subsequent mass extinctions.
    • A planetary mass large enough to both retain an atmosphere and allow for liquid oceans.
    • A moon large enough to help stabilize the tilt of the planet’s axis.
    • A molten planetary core that generates a significant global magnetic field, largely protecting the surface from solar radiation.
    • The presence of oxygen, and the right amount of oxygen, at the right time for complex life to utilize it.
    • The presence of plate tectonics, which build up land masses, create diverse ecosystems, cycle carbon into and out of the atmosphere, prevent a runaway greenhouse effect, and help stabilize the surface temperature worldwide.

    With respect to that oxygen thing: the O2 level is due to the evolutionary invention of photosynthesis, aided by an enzyme that's not very smart or fast. But it helped put Earth into the Goldilocks Zone; what are the chances?

    As far as I know, Ward and Brownlee stay away from the It-was-God Explanation.

    But I note that a lot of scientists and science-popularizers really want life to exist elsewhere. As a matter of fact, they sometimes seem to have faith that life must exist elsewhere, despite lack of any positive evidence. That doesn't seem very scientific to me.

Last Modified 2024-01-30 7:37 AM EDT

Seven Deadly Economic Sins

Obstacles to Prosperity and Happiness Every Citizen Should Know

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

This book was one of the nominees for the 2022 Hayek Book Prize, so I thought it might be a good choice to obtain via the Interlibrary Loan services of the University Near Here Library. Soon enough, it arrived from the good people at Michigan State.

I had previously read the winning book, Joseph Henrich's The WEIRDest People in the World, which I liked; and Gerald Gaus's The Open Society and Its Complexities, which (I admit) was way too advanced for me. This one's good but a tad on the too-simple side.

And the title's a little misleading. The author, James R. Otteson, doesn't really organize his book around those seven "sins"; the title might have been an eye-grabbing effort by the publisher. (Those wild and crazy folks at Cambridge University Press!) Instead, Otteson details seven economic and philosophical principles underlying progress and prosperity, showing how those principles contradict corresponding popular fallacies.

Those principles: (1) Voluntary economic transactions are positive-sum, adding to wealth, in contrast to "extractive" coerced transactions, which are often zero-sum at best, and usually negative-sum. (2) A rational economic order requires attention to opportunity costs. (3) Economic decision-making involves local knowledge unavailable to would-be central planners; (4) Economic progress relies on a supporting foundation of public processes and institutions that should not be taken for granted. (5) Another vital foundation of prosperity is recognizing the virtue inherent in lightly-regulated markets. (6) The only "equality" worth defending is the equal moral worth of individuals. And finally, (7) markets are great, but inapplicable in numerous settings.

I've simplified Otteson's points considerably. He draws on the wisdom of Adam Smith, Frédéric Bastiat, Hayek, McCloskey, and numerous others in support.

The book can seem a little repetitious at times, and this was apparent right from Chapter One. Forty-nine pages to hammer home, belabor, dwell on, and emphasize the nature of wealth-creating economic transactions? Certainly in my case he was preaching to the choir and pushing on an already wide-open door, but …

However, I think Otteson's overall approach is valuable, providing an overall moral case for the free market. I'd recommend this for any bright high schooler or undergrad who's economics-curious.

Last Modified 2024-01-17 9:33 AM EDT