Saturday, 16 October 2021

Punctuation matters!



From the 'Punctuation Matters' file comes this news from across the Tasman...
"Missing Apostrophe in Facebook Post Lands a Man in Defamation Court"
At issue is the word “employees” in the post, which read: “Oh Stuart Gan!! Selling multi million $ homes in Pearl Beach but can’t pay his employees superannuation,” referring to Australia’s retirement system, in which money is paid by employers into super accounts for employees. “Shame on you Stuart!!! 2 yrs and still waiting!!!”...
    On Thursday, a judge in New South Wales ruled that the lack of an apostrophe on the word “employees” could be read to suggest a “systematic pattern of conduct” by Mr. Gan’s agency rather than an accusation involving one employee. So she allowed the case to proceed...
    In matters of punctuation, social media is the Wild West. In some corners of the internet, careless grammar is highly tolerated — even a badge of honour. In legal matters, however, disputed punctuation can cost millions.
[Shamelessly stolen from Paul Hsieh's Geek Press blog, which always has interesting tech news and great snippets like this]

Friday, 15 October 2021

'Liberal Arts Education: What Is It and What Is It Good For?'


"The idea of the liberal arts goes back to the root concept of freedom — that the liberal arts are to free your mind. They’re both coming from the same root as liberty....
    "[Yet for many present-day students], a kind of credentialism seems to have replaced the idea of a liberal arts education....."

~ Stephen Hicks in conversation with Marsha Enright (from Great Connections) about 'Liberal Arts Education: What Is It and What Is It Good For?'


Thursday, 14 October 2021

'Mandatory Vaccines?'


"So no, there should be no mandatory vaccines for private citizens not employed by the state, nor mandatory vaccine passports to travel internally, but property owners and individuals have every right to impose their own rules on who they allow onto their property, who they hire, trade with and interact with.
    "You don't have a right to force someone to get vaccinated, but you also don't have the right to force someone to employ or trade with you if you choose not to."

          ~ Liberty Scott, from his post 'Mandatory Vaccines?'


Tuesday, 12 October 2021

'What is Capitalism?'

 


At the head of this page is the slogan "promoting capitalist acts between consenting adults."

But what are "capitalist acts"?

What is capitalism?

How accurately can you answer that question?

Fortunately, philosopher Stephen Hicks is about to start an online course ['The Capitalism Course' by Dr Stephen Hicks] in which the first lecture asks and answers that very question.

We will look at several influential definitions [he says], and I will argue my way to mine.
When: Wednesday, October 13, 7 p.m. Central Time. [That's Thursday October 14, 1pm NZT.]
Where: MyJunto. Registration is free and open to anyone interested.

While the course has no prerequisites, the expectation for participants is that they will have read or viewed the preparatory material for each session.

To register, go to MyJunto or visit this Facebook announcement page.

 

Modelling

 

"A recent article in Stuff does a good job of explaining the science behind mathematical modelling. But the article suffers from two glaring fallacies.
    "First, the article fails to recognise that these S.I.R. models [in which the population is assigned to compartments with the labels S, I, or R (Susceptible, Infectious, or Recovered)] are certainly a way of looking at disease propagation, but they are certainly not the only way; in fact, they are not even a very good way since they are highly stylised and based on restrictive assumptions....
    They may be useful in understanding the path of disease propagation in the early stages of a new disease. But beyond a point, the usefulness of such models is limited.... In the age of big data and rapid advances in data science, excessive reliance on 'toy' mathematical models is misguided.
    "The second problem plaguing this type of analysis in New Zealand is lack of peer review and quality assurance. This is something that NZ journalists just do not understand; the need to have research results validated by objective referees to have any faith in the conclusions. This lack of review is partly why, using the same modelling techniques, researchers at Auckland come up with numbers that are seriously at odds with those reported by people at the University of Otago....
    "You need objective assessors around the table to play devil’s advocate.
    "Unless we insist on better, evidence-based policy and quality assured research, our policy responses will continue to fall short."
          ~ Ananish Chaudhuri (Professor, Author, Commentator & Purveyor of Common Sense)
Further

"S.I.R. models in Covid are actually 1.5 years behind the current understanding of the consequences of Covid-19 policies, and half-century behind the macroeconomic understanding of human behaviour (the Lucas critique on ignoring human behaviour in macro). They are entirely obsolete for policymaking because they ignore human and government responses. 
    "This is daftly comical exactly because a) the governments impose restrictions and b) people do adjust behaviour (distancing, masks, work from home,... think the US or Sweden)... This is the nuance that is informing policymakers abroad! 
    "Here in SIR Hendyland, we [instead] lay sacrifices at the altar of a debunked model of zero behavioural responses, and the heretics are promptly stoned. There is an active suppression of informed discourse. In large part, this happened due to zero openness, zero scrutiny, hence zero accountability. And the media are to blame, I'm sorry to say."
          ~ Martin Berka (Professor of Macroeconomics at Massey University)


Monday, 11 October 2021

"...to trust, and to be trustworthy..."

 

"To recognise that it is to your own advantage to trust, and to be trustworthy in turn, is the key to living together in a market economy." 
           ~ Michael Munger, from his op-ed 'The Good, The Wise and The Just'

Friday, 8 October 2021

AUKUS: "NZ indeed is missing out on a guarantee of security, which given the limited firepower of its armed forces some would suggest leaves it without any protection."


"Thomas Nash, co-director of the independent think-tank, New Zealand Alternative ... says many of the opinion writers [decrying NZ's exclusion from AUKUS] appear to prioritise a militarist worldview but he contends if we are to enjoy a peaceful future, we should do the exact opposite 'and forge closer relations that share our anti-nuclear values.' NZ [he says] should resist pressure to fall into line with the military power of the US, the UK and Australia. Instead of focusing our diplomatic and security efforts on the Five Eyes, he argues, we should strengthen our relationships in Asean countries, Latin America, and in our neighbouring nuclear-free Pacific Islands.
    "Among those who might not agree with Nash are the NZ cricketers who stepped away from a potential terrorist threat in Pakistan, just weeks ago, thanks to a timely warning through a Five Eyes channel.
    "That incident underlined how valuable it is for NZ to belong to that particular arrangement and receive critical intelligence when it discloses threats to New Zealanders’ security....
    "In not being invited to even consider membership of AUKUS, NZ might have been written off, not just by the US, but by the countries which it fought alongside in the world wars of last century.
    "NZ indeed is missing out on a guarantee of security, which given the limited firepower of its armed forces some would suggest leaves it without any protection.
    "Additionally it is accepting being locked out from the agreement of the three countries to share their most sensitive technology. As The Economist noted in an editorial last week:
'The three countries’ co-operation promises to embrace cyber capabilities, artificial intelligence, quantum computing and more besides.... 
    '[AUKUS’ true significance however is] a step towards a new balance of power in the Pacific…. It is a decades long commitment and a deep one.... At least eight nuclear submarines suggests a contract value in the tens of billions of dollars. As a strategic shift it is even bigger. The pact is America’s most dramatic and determined move yet to counter what it and others in the Indo-Pacific region see as a growing threat from China.'
"As Point of Order noted earlier this week, no-one in Wellington yet grasps the full impact of the AUKUS deal."

~ Point of Order, from their post 'AUKUS – it’s all very well expressing our moral repugnance but that won’t halt China’s bullying'

 

Thursday, 7 October 2021

Polling Shows Persuasion Better than Mandates to Boost Vaccination


As New Zealand pivots belatedly from elimination to vaccination, with emerging from lockdown being made contingent on the rate of vaccination improving dramatically, it's worth looking at the evidence from overseas -- where they are months ahead of us -- in how to best increase vaccination rates. As Jeffrey Singer and Michael Cannon argue in this guest post, the best way to boost vaccination rates is not government mandates, but persuasion.

Polling Shows Persuasion Better than Mandates to Boost Vaccination

by Jeffrey Singer and Michael Cannon

Evidence shows vaccination is the safest way to contain Covid-19. A new American survey strongly suggests the best way to boost vaccination rates is not government mandates -- force -- but persuasion.

As July saw the Delta variant sweep across U.S. states with low vaccination numbers, President Biden expressed frustration at the slowdown in daily vaccination rates. His frustration reached a boiling point on September 9. Saying “Our patience is wearing thin,” Biden announced all federal government employees and health care workers in facilities receiving Medicare or Medicaid funds must vaccinate. He further mandated that all workers in private firms with 100 or more employees must either vaccinate or submit to weekly testing.

This is a problem. No doubt the federal government can legitimately set terms of employment for its own workers, and maybe even attach conditions to the expenditure of government funds. But mandating that private individuals vaccinate is another thing entirely, one that raises moral concerns.

A new survey backs up those concerns by suggesting mandates could ironically make many unvaccinated Americans less likely to vaccinate rather than more likely.

The Cato Institute and YouGov conducted an internet survey of 2,000 adults aged 18 and older from September 2 to September 13, 2021. Two thirds (67 percent) of respondents reported already having received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. Only 17 percent indicated they are not open to vaccinating.

In the middle were 16 percent of respondents who are open to vaccinating but have not yet done so. Of this group, four in five (i.e., 13 percent of all respondents) indicated they are either planning to vaccinate or taking a “wait and see” approach. The remaining fifth (3 percent of all respondents) indicated they would vaccinate only “if required.”

>>These results suggest the United States can achieve an 80 percent vaccination rate safely and without mandates by focusing on persuasion.

The survey next examined how the unvaccinated (again, 33 percent of respondents) would react to financial incentives in the form of higher health insurance premiums. A major airline recently announced that employees who choose to remain unvaccinated would have to pay an additional $200 per month for company-provided health insurance. (Charging the unvaccinated higher premiums makes sense because unvaccinated individuals increase the risk of hospitalisation claims.)

The survey results indicated that many of the unvaccinated oppose vaccine requirements even more than they oppose the vaccine. Roughly half (47 percent) of the unvaccinated had previously indicated they would be open to vaccinating in the future. Yet three quarters (74 percent) said not even a premium increase of $1,000 per month—an effective penalty of $12,000 per year—would impact their decision. An increase of $50 per month would lead 14 percent to vaccinate. Increasing the amount to $1,000 per month added only another 12 percent.

These results are consistent with the effects of a similar health insurance surcharge. ObamaCare allows health insurers to charge tobacco smokers 50 percent more than non-smokers. Research suggests those surcharges backfire by leading smokers to drop not smoking, but health insurance.

>> These survey results suggest vaccine mandates could likewise backfire by making many unvaccinated Americans less likely to vaccinate rather than more likely. 

A surge in sales of fake vaccination cards following Biden’s Sept 9 announcement suggests his mandate is already backfiring, and making it more difficult to know who truly has vaccinated.

If public health officials want to change behaviour, they need to stop shading the truth

They should stop using divisive rhetoric like President Biden did when he said, “We’re going to protect vaccinated workers from unvaccinated co-workers,” which demonised the unvaccinated.

They should stop undermining vaccination efforts by implying that vaccines do not protect recipients—as the Food and Drug Administration did when it paused the distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did when it recommended vaccinated people wear masks indoors, and as President Biden did with the above statement.

Instead, start treating unvaccinated Americans with respect.

Adopt consistent, transparent, respectful, and persuasive messaging. Give unvaccinated Americans the facts and let them choose for themselves.
* * * * 
  Jeffrey A. Singer is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute and works in the the Department of Health Policy Studies. He is principal and founder of Valley Surgical Clinics, Ltd., the largest and oldest group private surgical practice in Arizona. 
He received his B.A. from Brooklyn College (CUNY) and his M.D. from New York Medical College. He is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons.

   Michael F. Cannon is the Cato Institute’s director of health policy studies.
He holds a BA in American government from the University of Virginia, an MA in economics, and a JM in law and economics from George Mason University.
He is a member of the Board of Advisors of Harvard Health Policy Review.
Their post previously appeared at the American Institute for Economic Research.

Supply Chains


"The strongest supply chains in the world are illicit."
          ~ tweeted by @antiboomerparty 

Wednesday, 6 October 2021

Mad Punditry


"It's really hard to make a living with punditry without making everyone mad and/or preaching to the choir. The former is exhausting and the latter is boring."
          ~ Cathy Reisenwitz

Tuesday, 5 October 2021

The Political Hocus-Pocus They Call Modern Monetary Theory

 

Modern Monetary Theory claims to be both new and a theory of economics -- one that claims you really can get something for nothing as long as the bill is always sent to the government. But as Per Bylund explains inthius guest post, it is not a theory of how the economy works at all, and so does not concern itself with worldly things like production, innovation, entrepreneurship, scarcity (other than as potentially causing inflation), or time. It is instead a pseudoreligious conviction that anything is possible and that the one and only solution is always Glorious Government.

The Political Alchemy Called Modern Monetary Theory

by Per Bylund

The new kid on the economics block is something called modern monetary theory (MMT). The name is modern, but the "theory" is not. It comes from a time when folk still considered a perpetual-motion machine a scientific possibility. Like MMT however, it never was, or will be.

Proponents adamantly claim that it is both new and a theory of economics. To make it appear this way, they dress the ideas in unusual-sounding jargon and use rhetorical tricks. For example, instead of presenting actual arguments or responding to direct questions, they present a circular flow of deepities. To top it off, they, at least in my humble experience, usually lack fundamental economic literacy. This can make rebutting their nonsensical claims a challenge and, as a result, debates with this crowd typically go nowhere.

In order to figure out what exactly they are claiming—beyond the deepities—I decided to acquaint myself with the prominent proponents. I read "founder" Warren Mosler’s so-called white paper on MMT, but it’s not very helpful: there is little by way of theoretical explanation, other than redefining if not obscuring the meaning of common concepts in economics. Mosler also seems overly eager to move from explanation to instead argue for his preferred policies.

I hoped for (and got) more from listening to a TED Talk by Dr. Stephanie Kelton, an economist and professor at Stony Brook University who was the senior economic advisor to Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign and author of The Deficit Myth (reviewed by Bob Murphy here). TED Talks are only fifteen minutes long, but it turned out to be a very painful experience.

It’s All about Spending


Judging from Kelton’s presentation, MMT simply boils down to a description of how the fiat currency system works under a central bank, while ignoring many of the effects of that creation. Kelton explains:
MMT provides an accurate description of how a fiat currency like the US dollar or the British pound actually works. It reminds us that we are no longer on a gold standard, so finding the money to pay for the things we need is never an issue for countries like the US or the UK.
The implication of having a monetary monopoly is that the “[t]he federal government can never run out of money” (all quotes are from Kelton’s talk unless otherwise stated). This is obviously true, but only because Kelton (and MMT) does not distinguish between money in the real sense (the valued medium of exchange, i.e., purchasing power) and the currency issued by government and banks (the dollars or pounds, whether physical or digital). But that’s not always true. For example, the government of Venezuela was not running out of bolívars, but from this it did not follow that the currency would retain its purchasing power (as, obviously, it didn’t) or even retain its status as money (which it also didn’t). Venezuela is one recent example, but the claim is universal. (For more examples, see Zimbabwe/Zimbabwean dollar or the Weimar Republic/papiermark.)

So, in a strict sense, it is certainly true that the federal government “can afford to buy whatever is available or for sale in its own currency.” However, while proponents of MMT often emphasize and extrapolate from the word “afford” to make it appear as if there were no end to government spending, it is really “for sale in its own currency” that is key. This means there is indeed a limitation. Kelton realizes this but fails to mention it until the very end. Her point here is to delink government spending and taxation:
If you got a $1,400 check from the federal government earlier this year, or if your company received money to help cover payroll and other expenses, then you received some of the newly minted digital dollars that were created to support our economy. No taxpayers were involved in that process. It was all done using nothing more than a computer keyboard.
This too is not false; however it only tells one side of the story. It ignores what is unseen. Kelton simply observes that government need not worry about deficits, because they are paid in the government’s own currency. And the government can make as much of this counterfeit capital as it likes. Yes, we have heard this before; it is nothing new. The problem is that it is based on a fundamental mistake: confusing the unit for its meaning to users; or, if you will, thinking that a currency is money. By talking about one, and the creation of more of it, yet referring to the other, thus assuming it remains largely unaffected, Kelton can state the following about deficits:
Here's what I see. I see what's happening on the other side of the government's ledger. When the government spends more than it taxes away from us, it makes a financial contribution to some other part of the economy. Their red ink is our black ink.
Yes, you read it correctly: when government runs a deficit it is (somehow) a contribution to society. It literally creates something (prosperity) out of nothing (its IOU). Government creates new money for its IOU, out of which it purchases infrastructure, teacher salaries, electric vehicles, etc. Thus, private businesses get the new money as revenue—they (presumably) earn a profit—while the government provides society with "needed services." The result is, if we believe Kelton, more jobs and income for people while they get more services from government. We get something for nothing. 

No wonder apostles of big government love it.

What about Price Inflation?


With deficits being a nonissue, being waved away by this hocus-pocus, the political problem then is not to balance budgets. After all, according to MMT logic, a balanced budget would deprive society of the benefits that the deficits offer. Instead, policymakers have a moral duty to maximise the “contribution” to society as long as doing so does not have negative consequences for society. As Kelton puts it,
Congress should be focused on keeping inflation in check. That's the real limit on spending, and it's the thing to watch out for if you're thinking of spending trillions on things like infrastructure, healthcare, and free college.
Observe that this is basically the same scheme as monetarists argue for, that the money supply should be increased to lubricate and support the growing economy—but not so much that it affects the price level. MMT takes this idea and greatly inflates it (pun intended) by adding that government deficits are not harmful—they are instead, if used wisely, a double benefit. As long as the price level remains largely unchanged (or, I presume, price inflation is kept at a “low” level, such as “only” 2 percent per annum), more can be squeezed out of the economy.

Government can and should do this to the extent possible, but the deficits also offer a means for reform, if not restructuring of whole economy, that should not be wasted.
[E]very deficit is good for someone. The question is, for whom? And what are those deficits used to accomplish? It matters how the money is spent and who ends up with the resulting surplus.
Indeed, money is not neutral, so it benefits whoever happens to receive it first, before prices go up. This is another MMT twist that they use to their advantage. The argument does not rely on increasing the money supply helicopter-money style, so they need not assume it has no effect on the structure of the economy. On the contrary, MMT argues that the money should be used first by government on specific investments—typically infrastructure, healthcare, schools. Because the money is spent on those things, businesses (they assume) will be incentivised to create supply that facilitates those investments. As a result, the economy is forced nudged to do the “right” things. (We are at this point deep into normative territory, i.e., ideology; there is no semblance of positive theory left.)

What about the Economy?


So far, the MMT story does not seem to relate at all to the real economy. It is pure magic: more currency means more jobs, greater government services, a higher standard of living. Abracadabra! Does this mean MMT simply ignores the fact that the actual economy is a matter of allocating scarce resources toward valuable ends? Of creating real production out of real capital? Not quite. It simply downplays this by ignoring the many implications.

Kelton refers to the problem of Congress's directing the “contribution” of deficits as resourcing. Here comes the real economy:
Congress should be asking, how will we resource it? To answer that question, think of people, factories, equipment, and raw materials like wood and iron. If we're going to build high-speed rail, fix crumbling infrastructure, and green our economy, then we’ll need concrete, steel, and lumber; we’ll need construction workers, architects, and engineers; we’ll need companies that can fill thousands of orders for solar panels, EV charging stations, and electric school busses. If our economy has the productive capacity to quickly supply all of those things, then we can easily resource it. Or take healthcare or free college. Paying the bills to expand Medicare to include dental, vision, and hearing is easy. The challenge is making sure we have enough dentists, optometrists, and audiologists to treat everyone who needs care. And if you want to resource free college, then you need the faculty, the classrooms, the dormitories to teach and house more students. In a full employment economy, all of the resources you need are, well, fully employed. There is no spare capacity anywhere in the system.
So, finally, we get to the real issue and the reason why proponents of MMT believe they can get something for nothing: in a full economy, those resource are already being used and you'd need to bid them away (which means they would no longer be able to be available for those previous uses, and their price would rise); but all the MMTers see are are idle resources, assets that are not currently used in production processes. Because those resources are not productive, at the moment, government’s deficit investments will (they think) incentivise those sitting on the resources, whether individuals or businesses (or government agencies?), to surrender them to the productive efforts so that society can make productive use of them.

But this poses several problems that those arguing for MMT seem unaware of. 

First, that idle resources are not actually just sitting there, but are idle for a reason. They are idle because this is what their owners consider to be their highest-valued use. All capital is part of a production plan. It is a mistake to assume that an asset that is not right at this moment used in some production process is not part of a greater production plan. In fact, most production includes some degree of waiting, maturing, or search for the proper timing.

Consider a newly distilled whiskey that sits “idle” in a cask for a decade. This is not waste, but part of the production process of ten-year-old whiskey, which is a different good with much greater expected value to consumers. Production takes time, which means we cannot at any specific moment determine what would be the best use of resources. This includes resources that do not appear to be used at all but are in fact owned and therefore directed toward some end. Timing is an important aspect of production that proponents of MMT, in their urgency to maximize only the present, fail to realize. Much entrepreneurship fails not because there is no value in what they offer but because the timing is not right—they are either too early or too late.

It is also true that we want resources to be held in reserve for future uses. If we use everything to 100 percent in the present, there is no possibility of attempting new and more valuable productions. After all, government investments in infrastructure (or anything on the MMT wish list, for that matter) are not an effective way to generate innovations. Valuable innovations are created by entrepreneurs seeking new ways to satisfy consumers and thereby earn profits. MMT’s shifting of resources toward public works means we may not get the solutions to those grand challenges that we have no solutions for today. The quest to maximise the present, whether or not it turns out successful (and it likely will not), sacrifices both the near and distant future.

Joseph Schumpeter put this clearly in Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (p. 83):

[W]e are dealing with a process whose every element takes considerable time in revealing its true features and ultimate effects, [so] there is no point in appraising the performance of that process ex visu of a given point of time; we must judge its performance over time, as it unfolds through decades or centuries. A system—any system, economic or other—that at every given point of time fully utilises its possibilities to the best advantage may yet in the long run be inferior to a system that does so at no given point of time, because the latter’s failure to do so may be a condition for the level or speed of long-run performance.
I doubt Schumpeter’s genius will sway any proponent of MMT, however. To them, nobody is alive beyond the immediate present.

It Is Not about the Economy, but about Glorious Government


Kelton’s argument also, inevitably comes down to believing that whatever government does is right. Yes, she argues that it is important that the deficits end up in the "right" hands, but simply notes that this is the real task for Congress. Okay, but what if politicians do not invest in the “right” things? Or what if those things are right for some but wrong for others? Kelton doesn’t say, but I suppose she would refer to some vague notion of public good or what society “needs.” But this question cannot be avoided, because it strikes at the core of MMT’s failure.

The whole argument, as Kelton presents it, asserts that government needs to get idle resources into production. Whatever the reason they currently appear idle to Kelton and others is of no concern: government, they assume, will put those resources to better use. True to form, proponents of MMT tend to focus on only idle resources, which makes a cleaner point. But they overlook that changing the incentives will also shift resources from already productive uses to those productions that are on the MMT wish list. Which are things that, economically speaking, without the backing of this tidal wave of government largesse, are currently money-losing dogs. (Green jobs, green new deals, red and blue welfare projects...)

What they are really saying here, when you boil it right down, is that entrepreneurs, investing their own property for the chance of earning profits, but at the risk of losing everything if consumers dislike their offering, overall do a worse job allocating productive resources than politicians investing deficits that need not be paid off. This is a very problematic assumption. Just noting the different incentives for entrepreneurs and politicians is enough to fundamentally question what MMT proposes.

Add to this that government’s track record in creating public goods that are of actual value to people and that do not waste resources is nothing short of dismal. Then add the public choice aspect to the whole thing, that politicians have their own interests and therefore may not pursue the public good even if they know it. The assumption that government will fix the economy and increase our standard of living beyond what entrepreneurs can do is unbearably naïve.

I do not think these problems matter much to proponents of MMT, however. Because [like the proposed creation of a trillion-dollar coin] MMT is not actually a theory of how the economy works all, and so does not concern itself with worldly things like production, innovation, entrepreneurship, scarcity (other than as potentially causing inflation), or time. It is a pseudoreligious conviction that anything is possible and that the one and only solution is always Glorious Government.

* * * * 

Per Bylund is associate professor of entrepreneurship & Records-Johnston Professor of Free Enterprise in the School of Entrepreneurship at Oklahoma State University. His website is PerBylund.com. His post first appeared at the Mises Wire.

Monday, 4 October 2021

Futility


"It is usually futile to try to talk facts and analysis to people who are enjoying a sense of moral superiority in their ignorance." 
          ~ attrib. Thomas Sowell
[Hat tip Mark T.]

Friday, 1 October 2021

Friday

 

Yes, this is what you need on your Friday ...




"There is but one means available to improve the material conditions of mankind..."


"There is but one means available to improve the material conditions of mankind: to accelerate the growth of capital accumulated as against the growth in population. The greater the amount of capital invested per head of the worker, the more and the better goods can be produced and consumed. This is what capitalism, the much-abused profit system, has brought about and brings about daily anew. Yet, most present-day governments and political parties are eager to destroy this system."
          ~ Ludwig Von Mises, from The Anti-Capitalist Mentality
[Hat tip Wladimir Kraus]

Wednesday, 29 September 2021

Discrimination


Civil rights used to be about treating everyone the same. But today some people are so used to special treatment that equal treatment is considered to be discrimination."
          ~ a Random Thought of Thomas Sowell

[Hat tip Bob Jones



Tuesday, 28 September 2021

We're back to farming subsidies again ...

"The Government never foresaw the land-use forces they were unleashing with the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS)....
    "The bottom line is that [so-called] carbon forestry is now far more profitable than sheep and beef farming on nearly all classes of land. We are indeed on the cusp of the greatest rural land-use changes that New Zealand has seen in the last 100 years."
           ~ Keith Woodford, who says 'The ETS is both a gold mine and a minefield'
[Hat tip Ele Ludemann]

Monday, 27 September 2021

That’s None of Your Business, Actually



Today's political conflicts are dominated by one unspoken assumption on all sides -- one that that Joakim Book makes plain for us this guest post: Political arguments isn’t truly over specific policy proposals such as vaccine mandates, immigration or foreign policy -- about issues of health or eating habits, about sexuality or workout routines. Those are all downstream from the much bigger, and much deeper question: For what purposes may societies condone the use of violent force? 
    The answer, says Book, is many fewer than most people presently believe. Because most things are simply none of the government’s business.

That’s None of Your Business, Actually

by Joakim Book

At the basis of mainstream political economy lies the idea that government assemblies ought to meddle with the personal decisions made by individuals. If people don’t act, value, believe, transact, or uphold the values that hold sway among a government and its cronies at any given time, the awesome force vested in the power of politics will and should crack down on them.

That initial mistake causes a good percentage of all arguments about politics -- which too often amount to someone complaining that "my team" isn't it control. Yet it never seems to occur to these people that if we don’t have a bloated government administration over which others can wrestle control, then it doesn’t matter much who is in charge. The fight over central government involves the taxes and regulations we lobby and protest over; it’s the goodies we obtain from others and distribute as we see fit; it’s the money bags and subsidies we throw at things our experts in their lab coats have proposed; it’s the building codes and the zoning regulations, the travel restrictions and the health declarations.

If you object to the fight, you’re apathetic. If you protest the result, you’re anti-science. If you speak up, you’re offering hate speech. But the government doesn’t really work for the benefit of the majority, and it will not lead us to a land of milk and honey.

The Britons who led the world into the Industrial Revolution were not politicians but scientists and entrepreneurs who saw new ways to make new things work -- and to make them pay. The people who founded New Zealand were not the aristocrats who barely realised this Revolution was happening, but largely by small-time settlers who wanted the aristocracy and political class off their back so they could make a life for themselves here on the back of that Revolution's prosperity. But this was never made explicit. In the United States of America, it was: the U.S. was, to quote John Goodman’s character Frank in the movie The Gambler, “based on F-U.” Indeed, the explicit foundation of the United States of opportunity was that the rulers may not – indeed cannot – interfere in the squabbling between citizens, and their individual pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. 

On the back of that, the United States (and the other English-speaking places) were once governed by what anyone would now call a very minimal government. Those governments gave way long ago to the behemoths we now have.

Somewhere along the way, was it World War I, the creation of the Fed, the destruction of academia? – we all stood on its head the logic of liberty made plain in America's founding. If anybody anywhere offends, or otherwise causes harm, if anybody has access to something others don’t, if anybody holds a thought not in step with his fellows, the aggrieved must assemble as many cronies and allies as possible, and then snitch, fire, steal, mandate, imprison or ultimately kill those who have the nerve to disagree. There is intolerance in whichever side of the political aisle you look. There can be no mercy (says one team) for wrong thinkers, for the climate deniers or the anti-vaxxers. There can be no tolerance (says the other team) for those who don’t embrace tradition, unquestionably respect the life of an embryo, or see the impact of immigration as anything but frightening.

In short, we have a desire to rule, a desire to dominate others. The pandemic, says Michael Malice, has been the perfect setting for neurotic and low-status people to dominate – for any number of big fat hypocrites to take their chance to assert moral and physical force over the rest of us. Another pariah of the establishment, Joe Rogan, in a conversation with Heather Heying and Bret Weinstein (two ultra-pariahs of the ruling class) called the Karens and the wrath-seekers “the weakest minds, and the most cowardly amongst us.”

What prompted this reflection was, oddly and illustratively enough, Sarah O’Conner’s discussion in the Financial Times on Universal Basic Income, which is the idea that a government, out of general revenue, can and should afford every citizen a basic livelihood. She doesn’t like it, but for all the wrong reasons:
“If a UBI let employers off the hook entirely from the idea that a job should be something a person can live on, it could make it easier to hire people for fewer hours on a casual or fleeting basis. […] There is a danger in seeing job insecurity as an inevitability to which we must adapt, when in some cases it is simply a regulatory failure to which we should respond.”
There are three problems here that relate to the way we look at economic and political relations in the 2020s.

First, what other people do and the transactions they make are no one’s business but their own. Letting “employers off the hook,” or saying that “a job should be something a person can live on” is entirely detached from the way a liberal, free society orients itself. These things are the business of the people making those transactions,and no one else’s.

Second, “pay” isn’t something that employers, by virtue of being rich, entrepreneurial, or profit-seeking rightfully owe anyone. Pay is owed as a result of contracts made between employers and workers. These are an outcome of trade. Workers provide value for their employers, who in turn pay wages at an agreed-upon rate. That a third-party observer disagrees with the valuation made by either party is beside the point.

Third, the canards of “job insecurity,” of “we must adapt,” and “regulatory failure,” indicate an urge toward central-planning that is almost always unwarranted. Many libertarians correctly object that governments are in no position to make such determinations. Government functionaries have poor information and inadequate enforcement mechanisms to will their visions into reality. In the end, they tend to make matters worse everywhere they act.

While O’Connor misses this view in the narrow topic of UBI, the conflict isn’t over that specific policy proposal, or even about vaccine mandates. It’s not about the politics surrounding abortion or immigration or foreign policy. It’s not about issues of health or eating habits, about sexuality or workout routines. Those are all downstream from the much bigger, and much deeper question: For what purposes may societies condone the use of violent force?

The answer is many fewer than most people presently believe. Because most things are simply none of the government’s business.


  Joakim Book is a writer, researcher and editor on all things money, finance and financial history. He holds a masters degree from the University of Oxford and has been a visiting scholar at the American Institute for Economic Research in 2018 and 2019.

His work has been featured in the Financial Times, FT Alphaville, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Svenska Dagbladet, Zero Hedge, The Property Chronicle and many other outlets. He is a regular contributor and co-founder of the Swedish liberty site Cospaia.se, and a frequent writer at CapX, NotesOnLiberty, and HumanProgress.org. This post first appeared at AIER; it has been edited for local context.

Friday, 24 September 2021

Rights, in less than a minute each

"There are no economic miracles...."


"There are no economic miracles. Rather there are countries held far below their potential due to bad government policies. South Korea in the early 1960s was one example, while China under Mao was another. In the Korean case, economic success resulted from following the recommendation of US policymakers. In the German case, economic success came after domestic policymakers ignored the advice of US policymakers and freed up domestic prices (in 1948).
    "The common thread is that almost all economic 'miracles' involve some form of economic liberalisation. What looks like a 'miracle' is the rapid growth after the removal of growth constraints."
          ~ Scott Sumner, from 'Doug Irwin on the Korean miracle'

Thursday, 23 September 2021

"Society is nothing but the combination of individuals for cooperative effort."


"Individual man is born into a socially organised environment. In this sense alone we may accept the saying that society is--logically or historically--antecedent to the individual. In every other sense this dictum is either empty or nonsensical. The individual lives and acts within society. But society is nothing but the combination of individuals for cooperative effort. It exists nowhere else than in the actions of individual men. It is a delusion to search for it outside the actions of individuals. To speak of a society's autonomous and independent existence, of its life, its soul, and its actions is a metaphor which can easily lead to crass errors.
    "The questions whether society or the individual is to be considered as the ultimate end, and whether the interests of society should be subordinated to those of the individuals or the interests of the individuals to those of society are fruitless. Action is always action of individual men. The social or societal element is a certain orientation of the actions of individual men. The category end makes sense only when applied to action....
    "Within the frame of social cooperation there can emerge between members of society feelings of sympathy and friendship and a sense of belonging together. These feelings are the source of man's most delightful and most sublime experiences. They are the most precious adornment of life; they lift the animal species man to the heights of a really human existence. However, they are not, as some have asserted, the agents that have brought about social relationships. They are fruits of social cooperation, they thrive only within its frame; they did not precede the establishment of social relations and are not the seed from which they spring.
    "The fundamental facts that brought about cooperation, society, and civilisation and transformed the animal man into a human being are the facts that work performed under the division of labor is more productive than isolated work and that man's reason is capable of recognising this truth. But for these facts men would have forever remained deadly foes of one another, irreconcilable rivals in their endeavors to secure a portion of the scarce supply of means of sustenance provided by nature. Each man would have been forced to view all other men as his enemies; his craving for the satisfaction of his own appetites would have brought him into an implacable conflict with all his neighbors. No sympathy could possibly develop under such a state of affairs."
          ~ Ludwig Von Mises, from 'Human Cooperation,' in his book Human Action

Tuesday, 21 September 2021

"The purported conflict between property rights and human rights is a mirage—property rights *are* human rights."


"For decades social critics in the United States and throughout the Western world have complained that 'property' rights too often take precedence over 'human' rights, with the result that people are treated unequally and have unequal opportunities. Inequality exists in any society. But the purported conflict between property rights and human rights is a mirage—property rights are human rights."
          ~ Armen Alchian, from his entry on 'Property Rights' in The Concise Encyclopaedia of Economics
[Hat tip Stephen Hicks]

Monday, 20 September 2021

"Businesses have a huge interest in keeping their people safe from Covid and they can do it faster than governments..."


"We, and others, have operated in some of the most Covid-ravaged countries in the world and we have kept our Kiwi staff Covid-free for more than a year and a half because of the protocols that have been put in place by the businesses we work with. . .
    "What we have learned from our experience over the past year and a half is that businesses have a huge interest in keeping their people safe from Covid and they can do it faster than governments..."

          ~ Ian Taylor, from 'NZ needs business help to get ahead of virus'

[Hat tip Home Paddock]

Friday, 17 September 2021

No, CO2 does not drive disasters

 

There's something nasty in the way warmists gloat whenever there's a natural disaster -- a bushfire, a hurricane, a flood -- something evil in the glee which these disasters are reported, always with a link to 'global warming, almost alway revelling in the human tragedy as a 'payback' for our comfortable lifestyles driven by high energy use.

No surprise to hear that these ghouls are also fantasists. On top of similar studies elsewhere comes three from Australia, affirming ...

... there has been no significant change in natural disasters, precipitation, or bushfire across Australia for the last several decades.
    “Here we utilise an Australian natural disaster database of normalised insurance losses to show compound disasters are responsible for the highest seasonal financial losses. … There has been no temporal trend in their frequency since 1966.
    "The predominant and most predictable driver of climate-related disaster events is not anthropogenic global warming, or CO2 emissions, but the El Niño Southern Oscillation."

No wonder, really, because how could a one degree rise in 150 years possibly cause any such acceleration of disaster on the scale regularly claimed by warmists.

No, our planet is not totally safe. It has always delivered natural disasters, situations which are beyond our ability to cope. But rather than take this already unsafe planet and make it more unsafe, our abundant use of energy takes this unsafe planet and makes it safer. The more energy we have, the less we have to fear.

Especially comforting news when you know the rate of disasters aren't increasing. And won't be.

"Sacrificing progress makes people poorer, and ... puts them more at the mercy of natural disasters."


"As an indication of how much better wealthy countries are at resisting flood and tempest, look at July’s floods in the city of Zhenghou, which were reported by Western media as a kind of cataclysm – the sort of climate change-induced event from which the world must save itself. Those floods killed 219 people. By contrast, in the much-poorer China of 1975, 26,000 people were killed by a typhoon in the surrounding Henan province."
          ~ Ross Clark, from 'The West Has Doomed COP26 to Failure'
[Hat tip GWBF Newsletter]

Thursday, 16 September 2021

Tuesday, 14 September 2021

“It is plain that the Forgotten Man and the Forgotten Woman are the real productive strength of the country.”


"As soon as A observes something which seems to him to be wrong, from which X is suffering, A talks it over with B, and A and B then propose to get a law passed to remedy the evil and help X. Their law always proposes to determine what C shall do for X or, in the better case, what A, B and C shall do for X... What I want to do is to look up C. I want to show you what manner of man he is. I call him the Forgotten Man. Perhaps the appellation is not strictly correct. he is the man who never is thought of. He is the victim of the reformer, social speculator and philanthropist... He works, he votes, generally he prays—but he always pays..."
    “It is plain that the Forgotten Man and the Forgotten Woman are the real productive strength of the country.”

          ~ William Graham Sumner, from his The Forgotten Man + Other Essays

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Monday, 13 September 2021

Sam Spade takes on 9/11


Someone on Twitter was asking why everyone felt the need to tell the world where they were twenty years ago when terrorists destroyed the twin towers. Yes, it affected everybody -- it seems almost all of us around at the time have or had only one or two degrees of separation at most from those buildings -- but it did seem to smack a little more of self-indulgence than commemoration. 

So I did like Robert Tracinski's take on things.


PS: Pretty sure the 'Flitcraft Parable' appears in The Maltese Falcon not The Thin Man. But you should read both anyway just to make sure.


...no ordinary word


"Over time, some men trade their passion for domesticity."
          ~ from a review essay of Graham Parker's Struck by Lightning