The Half-Life of Policy Rationales

How New Technology Affects Old Policy Issues

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Another recommendation from Adam Thierer's bookshelf collection of the works having "the greatest influence on my thinking about technological innovation / progress." It's a publication from Cato, a collection of articles on a common theme: do the old, well-known arguments for governmental provision/heavy regulation of (some) goods and services still apply in the modern age (if they ever did)? As you might expect, from Cato, the answer is "mostly not". We might not have our flying cars, but we do have a vast array of innovative tools at hand that our forefathers lacked.

The articles are mostly written for a policy-wonk audience, somewhat advanced at times for a dilettante like me. I may have skimmed over, for example, the section discussing the use of anaerobic digestion in dealing with water impurities. But overall, there are a lot of observations and ideas here.

One downside: the book is twenty years old. A generation of technology had yet to be developed, and it shows in some of the discussions.

One chapter deals with the classic public-good example: lighthouses. As it turns out, lighthouses were never the pure public good their publicity implied. Tolls were often successfully collected by their non-government owners. Yet the general provision of navigational aids for watercraft (and aircraft, for that matter) is still mostly a government-owned and operated service. Does it have to be? No.

Other public-good-related chapters discuss fishery management, protection of the "airshed", handling of automotive traffic, and urban parking.

There's the "government must regulate X" argument; that's examined in chapters discussing free banking, medical licensing, and general "consumer protection" agencies. The article on banking really shows its age, since it was written pre-bitcoin. And (by the way) the case for medical licensing was never very good. It was criticized harshly back in 1962 in Milton Friedman's Capitalism and Freedom.

There's also the "natural monopoly" argument. This is examined, and found wanting, in three areas: electricity generation and distribution, provision of water to homes and businesses, and (everyone's favorite) the United States Postal Service.

And a couple chapters deal with other topics: protecting endangered species and an (oddball but interesting) argument for providing housing development as leased land, instead of ownership. (The lessee is more like a shopowner in a mall than a feudal lord.)

All in all, interesting, but I'd maybe recommend perusing more recent back issues of Reason or the Cato website for more recent developments.

Last Modified 2024-01-11 3:00 PM EDT

Underestimate Her. That'll Be Fun.

Look who's back!

Candidate EBO Win
Joe Biden 35.8% -0.8%
Donald Trump 27.7% +1.6%
Gavin Newsom 5.6% +0.2%
Ron DeSantis 5.5% +1.2%
Vivek Ramaswamy 4.8% -3.0%
Robert Kennedy Jr 4.6% +0.3%
Michelle Obama 3.2% -0.6%
Nikki Haley 2.4% ---
Kamala Harris 2.2% +0.2%
Other 8.2% -1.5%

Yes, it's Nikki Haley, back above the 2% win-probability threshold at Election Betting Odds. I admit, those odds are minuscule. (Less than Michelle Obama's?!)

Still, she's being talked about. And as Wilde observed: : “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”

The big loser compared to last week: Vivek Ramaswamy. Let's take a look at some commentary. It's not pretty:

  • Let's go, Brandon. Brandon Weichert opines at the 1945 blog. He seems to be a DeSantis fan. Nothing wrong with that! But he was very unimpressed with the "skinny guy with a funny last name": Vivek Ramaswamy Is a Scam

    Vivek Ramaswamy comes across as a fast-talking charlatan who is highly skilled at sprinkling Republican voters desperate for the genuine thing with just enough glitter to distract them from the fact that they are merely being given the political equivalent of chickenfeed.

    Brandon also highlight's Vivek's 2007 NYT op-ed, discussing the ethics of experimental human-animal "chimeras" created via genetic tinkering. Brandon says that Vivek is a "proponent of some of the most unethical, ghoulish experiments in modern biotechnology." I think the actual column is somewhat more nuanced.

  • Who will dare call out Vivek's brazenness? George Will. Here you go: Ramaswamy brings a Trumpian brazenness to denying the undeniable

    Interminable presidential campaigns, unlike the migraines they induce, are useful, as Vivek Ramaswamy is demonstrating. They provide ample opportunities for candidates to reveal whether they have sufficient seasoning for the daunting challenges of the office.

    Except Ramaswamy is serenely undaunted. His only puzzlement seems to be that the nation’s problems puzzle others.

    The problem of unsustainable Social Security and Medicare trajectories? Simple, says Ramaswamy: Just achieve sustained 5 percent economic growth, and the problem will disappear. (Average annual economic growth from 1947 to 2022 was 3.1 percent, according to Cato Institute fiscal analyst Norbert Michel; only once was it more than 5 percent for three consecutive years.)

    The problem of China’s threat to Taiwan? Not a problem, Ramaswamy says, if we dare to embrace ruthlessness: “Xi Jinping should not mess with Taiwan” — until 2029. Ramaswamy says that at the end of his first term, the United States would have “semiconductor independence” and no further use for Taiwan. Announcing a date when Xi can launch a risk-free invasion of Taiwan is one way to reduce uncertainties.

    That's just a couple things. GFW goes on. Turn off Javascript and check it out.

  • And not in a good way. Elizabeth Stauffer says that Debate performance changed my mind on Ramaswamy

    While the candidates were responding to a question about climate change, Ramaswamy chimed in: “Let us be honest as Republicans. I’m the only person on the stage who isn’t bought and paid for.”

    Ramaswamy’s rivals, naturally, did not take kindly to this insult and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was the first to pounce. Christie said: “Hold on, hold on. I’ve had enough already tonight of a guy who sounds like ChatGPT, standing up here. And the last person in one of these debates who stood in the middle of the stage and said, ‘What’s a skinny guy with an odd last name doing up here?’ was Barack Obama. And I’m afraid we’re dealing with the same type of amateur tendencies tonight.”

    Elizabeth's bottom line: "I’ve left the Vivek is an 'interesting, provocative candidate' camp and joined the Vivek is a 'complete jerk' category." Ouch.

  • Since when has incoherence been a barrier to political success? Matt Welch wonders: Why Is Vivek Ramaswamy's Incoherence So Popular?

    Vivek Ramaswamy, who four months ago most voters could not pick out of a police lineup, successfully made the first 2024 Republican presidential primary debate all about his own outrageous-seeming statements, including the claim that all of his competitors were "super PAC puppets" interested in making "pilgrimages" to Ukraine to see their "pope," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

    "If you have a broken car, you don't turn over the keys to the people who broke it again. You hand it over to the new generation," the 38-year-old tech entrepreneur said early in the broadcast. "The reality is, you have a bunch of people, professional politicians, super PAC puppets, following slogans handed off to them by their 400-page super PACs last week. The real choice we face in this primary is this: Do you want a super PAC puppet, or do you want a patriot who speaks the truth? Do you want incremental reform, which is what you're hearing about, or do you want revolution?"

    The crowd and the assembled 2024 aspirants erupted in outrage. The Fox News moderators ripped up their questions and asked sardonically if Ramaswamy's opponents were indeed puppets. The edgelord smiled, victorious.

    One example (of many) of Vivek's incoherent inconsistency:

    "In June," [Washington Examiner reporter Gabe] Kaminsky reported, in one of several similar examples, "Ramaswamy posted a video on Twitter about the federal holiday Juneteenth, which aims to commemorate the end of slavery in the U.S., calling it 'a celebration of the American dream itself.'…Just two months later, in August, Ramaswamy told voters in Iowa that Juneteenth was 'useless.'" (The campaign responded to the piece by suggesting that Kaminsky was working on behalf of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.)

    (And here I was expecting that making Juneteenh a federal holiday would usher in a golden age of racial harmony. Guess not.)

  • Ben Mathis-Lilley, a "senior writer" at Slate, which is still around, observes: Vivek Ramaswamy was the GOP debate’s Pete Buttigieg, in that the other candidates clearly hate him.

    [Nikki opines on Vivek nononverbally]

    On Wednesday night in Milwaukee, eight Republicans trailing Donald Trump in the 2024 presidential primary gathered for the cycle’s first debate and, with a clear and united voice, denounced one man: Vivek Ramaswamy.

    You read that right. With Trump running away with the race and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis behind him in a clear (if tenuous) second, it was somehow the 38-year-old Ramaswamy who took the most direct hits. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s was likely the most memorable: After two of Ramaswamy’s high-energy, relentlessly loquacious answers, Christie described him as “a guy who sounds like ChatGPT.” Former Vice President Mike Pence made a glaringly condescending reference to Ramaswamy “learning on the job,” to which the crowd responded with a deserved oooooh. The super PAC that supports DeSantis called Ramaswamy a fraud on Twitter, and you can see former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s opinion of him expressed nonverbally above. (“You have talked down everyone on this stage,” Haley told Ramaswamy later, during a segment about Ukraine. “You have no foreign policy experience, and it shows.”)

    "Hate" is a pretty strong word. How about "despise"?

Last Modified 2024-01-30 5:30 AM EDT