16 Nov 2009

The Hope of Victory

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Inspired by true events, I wrote up this article for LRC. Lots of love/hate mail on this one so far. An excerpt:

[T]his clever answer doesn’t really solve the problem of evil. Is it really true that a secular humanist, armed with all the knowledge of economics, could convince a David Rockefeller or a Henry Paulson that his standard of living would be improved by abiding by the tenets of classical liberalism? If those examples leave the reader unsure, what about Kim Jong-il? If Ayn Rand were locked in a room with the North Korean leader, could she really convince him that the value of his own life would be enhanced by refraining from looting others?

16 Nov 2009


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* Is gold going to crash? EPJ says that Goldman was short gold mining stocks when outsiders last peeked. So do they know something we don’t, or were they just helping the Plunge Protection Team to slow down gold’s meteoric ascent? (And don’t meteors crash into the ground? Shouldn’t we call it gold’s carbon dioxidic ascent?)

* Dick Clark points out to me that there could be trouble with gold mines, even though gold itself continues to rise. I obviously know nothing about gold mining. However, my Julian Simonesque worldview (as well as some articles by Michael Lynch) led me to reject the peak oil theory, so I guess my instinct is to reject peak gold as well.

* A Christian (vs. Freudian…) slip by Landsburg’s copy editor.

* I met Taylor Conant at the Mises Circle this weekend. He mentioned his take on the usual dismissal of conspiracy theories, and I thought it was pretty neat.

* Bob Roddis alerts us to this Bruce Bartlett critique of Hayek. I couldn’t really find anything too objectionable in Bartlett’s piece except this weird argument: “At a minimum, I think it’s safe to say that Hayek was wrong about the inevitability of totalitarianism arising from growth in the size of government. The collapse of communism is proof enough of that.” Wow, I’ve gotten frustrated with eager Austrians who say the collapse of communism vindicated Mises’ calculation argument. But it never occurred to me that it refuted Hayek’s serfdom claim. How so, Bruce? Hayek didn’t call it The Road to Perpetual Serfdom. And I’m pretty sure Hayek was aware of the fall of the Roman Empire and other brutal governments. He must have been a serious idiot then to have thought that serfdom could never end!

* Oh boy. Steve Landsburg–a staunch believer in modern evolutionary theory–points out another absolutely ridiculous claim by Richard Dawkins. And instead of saying, “OK yeah, Dawkins and other evolutionists should stop claiming it is the most solid result in all of science, because it’s clearly not,” most of the commentators argue with Landsburg. (And yes yes, many Bible thumpers are just as over-the-top in their claims as Dawkins. Waaaa.)

* While at Landsburg’s blog, I followed his link to this neat brain teaser. Free Advice: If you click through and read it, I strongly urge you to try to figure it out first before reading the suggested solution. I was in an airport with time to kill and did just that, and really enjoyed it a lot more. It’s the kind of thing where it seems at first you can “prove” in 15 seconds that the answer goes one way, but if you think about it you realize you overlooked something crucial. Discuss.

15 Nov 2009

Is the Christian God a Tyrant?

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In last week’s post someone remarked:

Ultimately, I am anti-totalitarian. For various reasons, I view both the Judeo-Christian God and the State as ultimately striving for totalitarianism. Therefore, I am both anti-theist and anti-statist. And I feel that those who are one and not the other to be fundamentally saying, “there is no good case for an all-powerful state/god, but there is a good case for an all-powerful god/state.”

I have two quick responses:

(1) Supposing the Genesis account is true, then standard libertarian theory says God owns everything in the universe, including your body. You are his slave, but justly so. God is no more a tyrant than a magazine owner is a censor for refusing to publish your article submission.

(2) This has nothing to do with there being a “good case for” or against an all-powerful God. The God as described by the Christian Bible either exists or does not. If He does, and your political beliefs say you don’t like it, then tough. That has nothing to do with whether you should be an atheist or a theist. You can say you are an atheist and oppose the totalitarian motivations of (lying and/or insane) priests, but you can’t say, “I don’t believe in God because I don’t agree with totalitarianism.”

13 Nov 2009

Economists Say the Darndest Things

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I am reviewing this Institute for Policy Integrity survey [.pdf] of economists on climate change because we at IER are preparing a response. (They are all over the media saying, “Economists and scientists both have consensus: the government needs to act now.”) One of the survey questions asked the economists their estimate of the “social cost of carbon” (i.e. the external damage from emitting an extra ton of carbon). I found this analysis on page 18 funny:

The average estimated social cost of carbon was over $120,000, but that is highly sensitive to two outlier responses. One respondent answered $10,000, and another submitted $10,000,000. Those values are more than twenty times higher than the next highest estimates. It is possible that the respondents mistyped their entries, that they misunderstood the question, or that these answers represent protest responses….Perhaps the response that best captures the uncertainty regarding the damages generated by greenhouse gas emission was: “No one knows, including me.”

13 Nov 2009

Paul Krugman Solves My Family’s Financial Crunch

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I explain here. An excerpt:

…I am very surprised to confess that Krugman has convinced me of the virtues of currency debasement. As I was reading his blog post on the tragic fate of Ecuador, I applied Krugman’s lessons to my personal life, and suddenly everything became clear. In a flash, all of my household’s financial stresses were solved.

Please allow me to share Krugman’s tale — and my own personal salvation — so that you too may be freed from the bondage of creditors and scarcity.

13 Nov 2009

George W. Bush Warns Ivanka Trump of the Dangers of Nepotism

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OK I made that up to make sure you were paying attention. The real story is almost as good (HT2 Tony Garcia):

Bush warns of threats to freedom, economic growth

Former President George W. Bush, outlining plans for a new public policy institute, on Thursday said America must fight the temptation to allow the federal government to take control of the private sector, declaring that too much government intervention will squelch economic recovery and expansion.

With the Obama administration establishing far-reaching controls in the auto, real estate and financial sectors, Mr. Bush said that “the role of government is not to create wealth, but to create the conditions that allow entrepreneurs and innovators to thrive.”

“As the world recovers, we will face a temptation to replace the risk-and-reward model of the private sector with the blunt instruments of government spending and control. History shows that the greater threat to prosperity is not too little government involvement, but too much,” said Mr. Bush, who has remained largely out of the limelight since leaving office and rarely criticizes his successor.

“Trade has been one of the world’s most powerful engines of economic growth, and one of the most effective ways to lift people out of poverty. Yet a 60-year movement toward trade liberalization is under threat from creeping protectionism and isolationism,” Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Bush did not cite his successor by name, but many of his warnings seemed directed at policies Mr. Obama has embraced.

In one of his first major decisions on trade policy, Mr. Obama in September imposed a tariff on tire imports from China, making good on a campaign promise to the United Steelworkers union to “crack down” on imports that hurt American workers and industries.

Besides the obvious examples of hypocrisy, let’s not forget that even on the narrow issue of protectionism, Bush enacted steel tariffs in 2002. But they were temporary so it was all good.

12 Nov 2009

How the Fed’s Original Rules Were Relaxed to Allow It to Pay for World War I

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This is a really good article by John Paul Koning. At first I thought it was just going to be a standard “the government uses inflation to pay for wars because the public wouldn’t stand for the taxes and borrowing.” But it’s really specific. Koning goes over the safety mechanisms that were originally in place on Fed lending, and shows how they were systematically pulled back in order for the Fed to sop up the Treasury’s “war bonds” and make the world safe for democracy.

12 Nov 2009

Right-Wingers: "Gov’t Can’t Run the DMV or Health Care, But It Will Keep Us Safe From Terrorists"

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Much to my chagrin, I can remember when I was in junior high (or thereabouts) and had a heated argument with my aunt about drug legalization. She was trying to bring up compassion for the drug users etc., and I said, “What about compassion for the crack babies?!” (I was very good with indignant non sequiturs in those days, and perhaps I still am.)

One of the things that really made me rethink my views was when I learned that they couldn’t even keep drugs out of prisons. In other words, even when the government literally has people in cages and only state employees interact with them, and the “border” is truly protected, the government still can’t manage to keep people from using drugs. So if they can’t achieve their objections even in that environment, how in the world are they going to achieve a Drug Free America (TM)?

I think right-wingers who support the War On Terror (TM) and the Patriot Act–regrettable necessities but they keep us safe–should really think hard about this news story:

Army Wasn’t Told of Hasan’s Emails

The Pentagon said it was never notified by U.S. intelligence agencies that they had intercepted emails between the alleged Fort Hood shooter and an extremist imam until after last week’s bloody assaults, raising new questions about whether the government could have helped prevent the attack.

A top defense official said federal investigators didn’t tell the Pentagon they were looking into months of contacts between Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan and Anwar al-Awlaki. The imam knew three of the Sept. 11 hijackers and hailed Maj. Hasan as a “hero” after the shooting last week at Fort Hood that left 13 people dead.

“Based on what we know now, neither the United States Army nor any other organization within the Department of Defense knew of Maj. Hasan’s contacts with any Muslim extremists,” the official said.

The Pentagon comments fueled a growing dispute among various branches of the government about whether Maj. Hasan should have been more deeply investigated before he allegedly walked into a crowded soldier-readiness center at Fort Hood and opened fire.

A person familiar with the matter said a Pentagon worker on a terrorism task force overseen by the Federal Bureau of Investigation was told about the intercepted emails several months ago. But members of terror task forces aren’t allowed to share such information with their agencies, unless they get permission from the FBI, which leads the task forces.

In this case, the Pentagon worker, an employee from the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, helped make the assessment that Maj. Hasan wasn’t a threat, and the FBI’s “procedures for sharing the information were never used,” said the person familiar with the matter.

So the above suggests to me that even if we gave up enough civil liberties to transform the entire country into one big military barracks, we still couldn’t trust the government to protect us from obvious terrorist threats.

Since that’s the case, I vote that we don’t give up our civil liberties and test the theory.

Of course, what will happen is that they will “streamline agency cooperation” and implement other reforms, so that the above doesn’t happen again. Just like Fannie and Freddie and General Motors will keep revising their procedures every time they lose another few billion dollars.

“Just give us some more money and liberty, we’ll get it right eventually. We’re from the government and we’re here to help.”