06 Dec 2014

Am I Really This Unclear?

Humor 12 Comments

Imagine Andy Kaufman on Twitter. It would be a disaster.

Nuremberg Tweets

06 Dec 2014

NYPD = Teachers’ Union + Guns

Police, Shameless Self-Promotion 3 Comments

My column at Rare analyzes the police from a Public Choice perspective. “Reform” through conventional channels is not going to happen.

Now the NYPD officers involved in [the Abner Louima torture] case did get into serious trouble. In December 1999, Volpe was sentenced to 30 years in prison without the possibility of parole. In March 2000 three other officers were convicted of conspiracy to thwart the federal investigation into the torture, while Charles Schwarz was convicted on June 27, 2000 and sentenced to 15 years in prison, for helping Volpe assault Louima in the bathroom.

Note the proximity of these convictions to the Puerto Rican Day attacks of June 11, 2000. Although no one obviously came out and said it officially, at the time various sources within the NYPD made comments to the effect that they were “damned if you do, damned if you don’t”—as if the public was being unreasonable for not wanting police to sodomize suspects in precinct bathrooms, but also to want police to stand up when a terrified young woman explained that a gang of men were roaming around Central Park assaulting other women.

I was running out of space and wanted to keep this “mainstream” for Rare, but in a future article (maybe just here at Free Advice) I’ll explain why it’s not a contradiction for Rothbardians to be upset about the State throwing pot smokers in jail, but then failing to punish cops for killing unarmed suspects.

05 Dec 2014

The Fed and Falling Oil Prices

Oil, Shameless Self-Promotion 11 Comments

This seems like an obvious point, but I haven’t seen anyone else make this connection? Anyway at IER I talk about falling oil prices.

An excerpt (not having to do with the Fed angle):

Whenever oil prices shoot up sharply, causing gas prices at the pump to rise as well, people “in the know” talk matter-of-factly about the greedy speculators and Big Oil ripping motorists off. When the price rise is particularly steep and sustained, even Congress and regulators get involved, since nothing ensures efficiency and the consumer protection like a federal investigation.

So let’s all burn the present episode into our minds, to serve as a counterweight the next time global forces of supply and demand push up crude oil prices. In particular, U.S. gasoline prices have fallen along with crude

04 Dec 2014

Stephen Williamson Needs an Occam’s Razor for Christmas

Humor 8 Comments

Williamson discusses the recent paper talking about the hierarchy in the economics profession (HT2 MR):

Ultimately, Fourcade et al. think that our biggest problem is our self-regard. Of course, people with high self-regard are very visible, by definition, so outsiders are bound to get a distorted picture. We’re not all Larry Summers clones. But if we do, on average, have a high level of self-regard, maybe that’s just defensive. Economists typically get little sympathy from any direction. In universities, people in the humanities hate us, the other social scientists (like Fourcade et al.) think we’re a**holes, and if we have to live in business schools we’re thought to be impractical. Natural scientists seem to think we’re pretending to be physicists. In the St. Louis Fed, where I currently reside, I think the non-economists just think we’re weird. Oh well. It’s a dirty job. Someone has to do it.

I have a straightforward theory to explain these disparate perceptions of economists.

03 Dec 2014

I Read Aloud a Review of *The Three Lads and the Lizard King*

Children's Literature, Shameless Self-Promotion 3 Comments

Just play this in the background and try not to order my book. Go on, I dare you.

To order, click here.

03 Dec 2014

Self-Serve Registers

Economics 50 Comments

In a fit of self-loathing, I decided to walk to the Hardee’s near my office for dinner. I had heard some fast food restaurants were installing self-service registers, but this was my first time seeing them:

Self Serve


The really ingenious thing is that Hardee’s would knock 10% off the price if you used the screen. (The sign says that in the upper left of the picture.)

This trend is sweeping the country. The Post Office has machines that operate 24/7 to dispense postage, even for packages. The grocery store now gets by with one employee overseeing up to eight stations of customers bagging and paying for their groceries. Ostensibly “nice” restaurants like Panera rely on customers bussing their own tables. Car washes and (for a long time) gas stations operate largely through the customer’s labor.

Some of this reflects good old-fashioned capitalist innovation, and is a sign of progress. On the other hand, some of it also reflects the growing burden of labor regulations (of which the Affordable Care Act, aka ObamaCare, is the most notable example), plus actual and proposed hikes in the minimum wage.

In this post, I’m not going to pontificate on solutions. But over the coming decade, I think we are going to see a growing mass of unemployed and unemployable young people, who quite literally lack the skills to support themselves. If and when the economy crashes again, and especially if the federal government can’t or won’t continue with traditional welfare programs, things are going to get really ugly.

03 Dec 2014


Potpourri 19 Comments

==> Tom Woods has some great material (cribbed from Jeff Herbener) on the claim that the recovery from the 1920-21 depression was merely caused by loose monetary policy. Just to clarify, no Austrian is denying that the Fed inflated during the 1920s and that the “Roaring Twenties” was partially built on an unsustainable illusion. After all, the standard Austrian explanation for 1929 is that “the Fed did it.” But the conventional Keynesian and even monetarist explanations of the Great Depression (and the “lessons” they draw for our times) don’t fit the facts of 1920-21.


==> The Vox author thinks this article is cute and shows how unreasonable Republicans have always been, but I was actually outraged at FDR. Not only did he make up the price of gold on the spot, apparently he decided when Thanksgiving would be, year by year.


==> A good paper on the inequality stuff. It’s not just rabid right-wingers who think Piketty & Co. are overstepping; his results challenge what used to be the accepted paper in this literature, as of 2004 I believe.

03 Dec 2014

Two More Examples of Police-Inflicted Deaths With No Charges

Police 12 Comments

I understand how people could think Michael Brown is not a martyr. But check out the video of the choke-hold takedown of Eric Garner (no indictment even though coroner ruled it a homicide), and to be absolutely stunned, look at how slowly this 19-year-old woman was driving past (not at) a cop who decided to take out his gun and shoot her to death. The reason he was trying to stop her? Not because she had just robbed a bank, or planted a bomb. No, she was at a party where the cops thought underage drinking was occurring.

The crucial thing with these examples isn’t that the police  sometimes kill people while taking them into custody. With thousands of police, you might expect that to happen from time to time. No, the shocking thing as that nothing serious happens to them even when the deaths are clearly inexcusable, and caught on video.