Not Relevant to Last Night's Debate, But It's Funny, So…

It's actually from last March. Brought to you by those scamps at Reason.

Also of note:

  • Speaking of Reason Eric Boehm gives some respect to Pun Salad's fave (still): Nikki Haley Burned Trump and Her Fellow Republicans for Blowing Up the Debt. She's Right.

    When it comes to runaway federal spending, unsustainable levels of borrowing, and the inflation that those first two things have helped unleash, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said Wednesday that Republicans better look in the mirror.

    "The truth is that Biden didn't do this to us, our Republicans did this to us too," Haley said during the early moments of Wednesday's Republican primary debate. She pointed specifically to Republican support in Congress for COVID stimulus bills and other recent spending packages. "They need to stop the spending, they need to stop the borrowing, they need to eliminate the earmarks that Republicans brought back in," she said.

    Then she delivered the hammer blow: "And Donald Trump added $8 trillion to our debt, and our kids are never going to forgive us for this," Haley said.

    To be fair, you can look at the closest thing Nikki has for an issues page, and not find a single thing about restoring fiscal sanity to the federal budget.

  • But she's tough on China! In fact, one of the things you'll see on that page linked above is that she's in favor of being tough on China! Megan McArdle says she's heard stuff like that before: The stories we’re telling about China today are déjà vu all over again.

    Early in Michael Crichton’s 1992 novel “Rising Sun,” a police captain turned Japan expert named John Connor, a thinly veiled stand-in for the author, marvels at the sight of people “calmly discussing the fact that their cities and states were sold to foreigners.”

    “Americans are eager to sell,” he continues. “It amazes the Japanese. They think we’re committing economic suicide. And of course they’re right.”

    In a scriptwriting class, they’d call that moment “the theme is stated,” a theme that Crichton hammered, remorselessly and without humor, for another 300 pages. I read his novel the summer after it came out, between my sophomore and junior years of college, and was for a time full of indignation at the thought of my passive, shortsighted elders allowing the Japanese to elbow America out of its preeminent place in the world economy. I recommended the book to others. I waxed voluble in coffee shop arguments.

    Several economics classes later, I ruefully repented. Crichton had the spectacular ill-fortune to publish just as Japan’s economic bubble was deflating and the country was sliding into its “lost decade” (which actually lasted for closer to two or three, depending on who is counting). The Japanese remain valuable trading partners and important geostrategic allies for the United States, but the idea that we’re going to become their economic vassal now seems as quaint as a tricorn hat.

    China is, of course, a nasty oppressive dictatorship, and Japan really wasn't. I think that would be to China's relative disadvantage, but I'm open-minded enough to not be absolutely certain about that.

  • But speaking of China… News like this makes me wonder if they're ahead of us. Specifically, ahead of us on the Road to Serfdom, experiencing the stuff we'll be seeing here in a few years. Today's example from Joe Lancaster: China's E.V. Graveyards Are an Indictment of Subsidies

    Last week, Bloomberg reported on China's electric vehicle (E.V.) "graveyards"—plots of land across the country where hundreds of vehicles have been abandoned.

    From the outset, the piece places blame on "the excess and waste that can happen when capital floods into a burgeoning industry." It closes by quoting a Shenzhen–based photographer who calls the graveyards "a result of unconstrained capitalism…. The waste of resources, the damage to the environment, the vanishing wealth, it's a natural consequence." Not only does this quote get cause and effect totally wrong, but it also ignores the fact that China poured tons of government money into the industry.

    China's government first implemented E.V. subsidies in 2009, spending nearly $30 billion by 2022. Buyers could receive rebates of as much as $8,400 per vehicle purchased. By the mid-'10s, Beijing disadvantaged the production of cars with poor fuel economy, and cities like Shijiazhuang and Hangzhou banned cars with internal combustion engines altogether.

    One of the early Star Trek episodes was "Where No Man Has Gone Before". The Enterprise discovers the trail of the long-lost SS Valiant, doomed by a disastrous encounter with a glowing energy field. And Captain Kirk's bright idea is to do exactly the same thing the Valiant's captain did.

    Even as a 15-year-old, I recognized that as a Bad Idea.

    I guess I'm trying to draw an analogy here. Maybe I should have left it at the Road to Serfdom reference.

  • Welcome to Applebee's. Scott Lincicome writes on The Chains That Bind Us.

    Among the handful of topics on which folks on the left and the right seem to agree is that large chain restaurants and “big box” stores are Bad, while small, local establishments are Good. Various polls reveal this preference (as does a lot of online snark), and politicians at all levels of government routinely push policies to aid “small businesses” or directly punish the big ones. Chief among the reasons for this preference is the widely accepted notion that small, independent businesses are manifestly good for local communities, boosting not just jobs and tax revenue but also a town’s identity, cohesion, and social capital. Chains, on the other hand, are American consumerism at its worst, basically doing the opposite of the great stuff that local shops do.

    As I wrote a couple years ago, the economic arguments against big box retail are weak—they pay relatively well (better than mom-and-pop competitors), boost local economic output, and are great for consumers. But that’s just heartless libertarian talk; maybe those communitarian arguments against big chains are important—important enough, in fact, to pay the cold, calculating economic costs of supporting them?

    Well, that doesn’t appear to be the case either—at least when it comes to encouraging social interactions among America’s rich, poor, and middle class. In fact, according to a fascinating new working paper, the establishments that do the most in this regard aren’t your local boutiques or gastropubs—or even our libraries and churches—but Applebee’s and other chains like it.

    Sigh. Now I'm hungry.

  • Democracy dies. Film at 11. A couple of Pun Salad faves are disrespecting Adam Grant's recent op-ed at the NYT, now titled The Worst People Run for Office. It’s Time for a Better Way. (Original headline: "To Improve Democracy, Get Rid of Elections". Provocative!)

    Since we were talking a bit ago about The Road to Serfdom, let me remind you that the title of Chapter 10 was "Why the Worst Get on Top".)

    James Freeman at the WSJ: History and the New York Times

    Why do so many media folk who constantly warn that our form of government is under attack also constantly promote misleading attacks on our form of government? This week the opinion editors of the New York Times, who seem to care more about particular, arbitrarily selected “democratic norms” than about democracy itself, published an ill-informed case against our constitutional republic and the entire concept of voting.

    The Times published contributor Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, who writes:

    On the eve of the first debate of the 2024 presidential race, trust in government is rivaling historic lows. Officials have been working hard to safeguard elections and assure citizens of their integrity. But if we want public office to have integrity, we might be better off eliminating elections altogether.

    Tristan Justice at the Federalist: New York Times Op-Ed Declares Elections 'Bad For Democracy', and he also excerpts:

    According to Grant, elections are counterproductive to democratic governance. Grant claimed that randomly chosen leaders would be more effective and cited ancient Greece as his prime example, as if ruling an ancient city-state were comparable to managing global affairs in the 21st century.

    If you think that sounds anti-democratic, think again. The ancient Greeks invented democracy, and in Athens many government officials were selected through sortition — a random lottery from a pool of candidates. In the United States, we already use a version of a lottery to select jurors. What if we did the same with mayors, governors, legislators, justices and even presidents?

    “When you know you’re picked at random, you don’t experience enough power to be corrupted by it,” Grant added. “Instead, you feel a heightened sense of responsibility: I did nothing to earn this, so I need to make sure I represent the group well.

    I read Adam Grant's recent book Think Again, and liked it OK. I'm not as critical of Grant's op-ed as Freeman and Justice are. "Democracy" is kind of a sacred cow, and (OK) maybe it doesn't deserve butchering, but maybe could use a rethink..

Recently on the book blog:

Last Modified 2024-01-11 2:59 PM EDT

Who is Maud Dixon?

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

Another book picked off the New York Times' Best Mystery Novels of 2021. Yes, I know we're well into 2023. I'm working on it.

It's unusually difficult to report on this book without spoilers. In fact, I self-spoiled. In order to use my Reading Schedule Generator, I needed to get the ending page number. I accidentally saw the last line on that last page! Well, crap. I should be more careful. If you're going to read it, I suggest you avoid looking at the last page, or back-cover blurbs, book flaps, reviews… just go to page one and start.

Who is Maud Dixon? Page 11 spoiler: it's the pseudonym of a reclusive author whose first novel, Mississippi Foxtrot, was a blockbuster a couple years back. It's unknown (even) what sex "Maud" is.

Another question while we're at it: why did the NYT consider this book to be a mystery? It takes a while for that to become clear.

In spite of the spoilage, I enjoyed the book quite a bit. It follows young Florence Darrow, working in a low-level job at a New York publishing company. After a mysterious prologue set in a foreign hospital, we're introduced to a woman who's insecure, lacking self-esteem, and kind of self-delusional. She wants to be a writer, but keeps making excuses as to why she's not actually writing anything. What's obvious to the reader is mystifying to Florence.

At first this is played for laughs. (At least I was amused.) But then it gets kind of creepy. And then it gets really creepy. And then (soon enough) it gets dangerous and murdery. Hang in there.

Last Modified 2024-01-11 2:59 PM EDT