Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Assault of Thoughts - 8/11/2010

"Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assault of thoughts on the unthinking" - JMK

- Jeff Tucker, of the Mises Institute, has a great talk titled Bourbon for Breakfast. One of the many things he discusses is drinking in the morning, something he's written more extensively on in the past (and that I agree with him on). But this talk is broader than that - I suppose I would simply call it a discussion of the value of living a life uninhibited - or at least that is not unwillingly constrained - by the social construction of reality. Understand the oddness of the convention of our time and place that says we can't drink at breakfast. Understand the incongruity of the way we criminalize the mundane in this country. Read very old books. Appreciate the value of non-scarce resources, like ideas (I have some difference of opinion from him on this - reproducing and sharing ideas may be virtually costless, but producing them isn't). He frames it somewhat more narrowly and takes this as a libertarian way of living - and he's got a lot of challenges to state power in here (most of which are perfectly legitimate challenges that he makes in my mind). I think that's a somewhat narrow way for him to look at his own wisdom provided in his speech. It's more than just freedom from government coercion, and it's silly to pretend that coercion is the only potential quality of government action. Regardless of my disagreements with how he frames his points, the talk is excellent simply as a reflection on living deliberately, and living in a fulfilling and self-aware way.

- The Pentagon recently announced major budget cuts, much of which would fall on Virginia. In an effort not to sound like a parochial, pork-gobbling militant I didn't really say much about it. But this was an eye-opening post from Cowen on the issue. He writes: "Three years of 10 percent cuts to military contracting, as announced by Gates, could swallow up as much as half of the economic growth projected for Northern Virginia in coming years [I live in Northern Virginia and my wife works for a defense contractor as do a gazillion of our friends, btw]". Even if we can say objectively that we want to move away from this sort of military-industrial complex economy, the significance of that transition is still impressive. I don't know the details of what is being cut. I don't like to make vague pronouncements about dismantling the military-industrial complex or cutting military budgets because the fact is the military is very important and someone more knowledgable than I am about what is necessary and what isn't necessary should be making those pronouncements in the blogosphere rather than me. But it sure is eye-opening to take a step back and realize how important this is to your community.

- Maxine Udall, "girl economist", has an interesting post up on the "price of motherhood" (HT Mark Thoma). It brings up some very standard points about the non-market production of mothers. But it also has some interesting things to say about the fact that the productivity of future workers is dependent on the work and the costs incurred by mothers. In other words, another pervasive, systemic externality and where there are externalities we can expect that there is room for improvement over laissez-faire capitalism. Now, of course evolutionary instinct, social convention, etc. provide a pretty good emergent solution to this externality. But obviously not a perfect one either. This is a special type of externality I've been thinking a lot about in the last year (that I should really write something on) that I like to call "temporal autarky". It's an externality that occurs not because property rights don't exist necessarily, but because of the fact that we are constrained to contracting in uni-directional time. It's really an infinite transaction cost, I suppose - but that makes it act like an externality. Grown children enjoy benefits that they didn't have to pay for and mothers incur costs that they aren't compensated for. If we could contract across time and space these sorts of temporal autarky problems could be solved by the market. But we can't. So what you get is a sub-optimal investment in motherhood unless there is some other biological or cultural solution that improves on the situation to some extent.


  1. Well, you'll find that cuts in defense spending are one of the few areas where it is relatively easy (in comparison to other areas of the federal budget) to actually do some cutting.

    Anyway, it isn't that the $500 hammers have gone away, it is just easier to hide them due to all the measures in "efficiency" measures the government has taken over the past twenty years or so.

    Finally, the U.S. has far too many foreign commitments for its own good ... foreign commitments which if the chips are ever called in we will not be able to muster the resources to meet in the way we are expected to.

  2. And yes, Cato had a nice discussion of these issues back in March of 2009:

  3. "Grown children enjoy benefits that they didn't have to pay for..."

    You obviously didn't grow up in a household like I grew up in.

  4. You obviously didn't grow up in a household like I grew up in.

    We may be thinking of somewhat different things here. If you think about it, essentially all your earnings for your entire life are dependent on parental care. If we want to loosen the definitions somewhat, you can still attribute most of your earnings over poverty wages to the cognitive inheritances from nurturing parents. Unless you're sending a check worth the bulk of your earnings after taxes to your parents, I think we're talking about two different concepts.

    Mine is admittedly more abstract - but the implications are real. It's still an externality, albeit one that biology and culture has helped to surmount.

  5. Well, for most of human history most children grew up as units of production expected to add value to the family household. That's not all that they were, but it was a major component of their identity. So at best what you are talking about is a historical, well, novelty.

  6. What is a historical novelty? The biological and cultural solutions to the externality?

    Not really. Parents still cared for their children. The nurturing period was simply shorter. And in a sense child labor could be thought of as human capital development.

    The externality itself is hardly a historical novelty - that's based on the fact that time is experienced unidirectionally and babies are helpless. The partial solution to the externality isn't a historical novelty either - it's simply developed over time.

  7. "And in a sense child labor could be thought of as human capital development."

    Or social insurance. You're thinking of this as a one way process, etc.

    Given how younger people send lots and lots of their money to old people via all sorts of government transfers that sort of thing continues.

  8. Of course, much of that transfer can be viewed as being quite harmful ... given how wealthy as a class the elderly are. Then again, we don't means test in this area.

  9. Well, once again - it's from free gifts from the elderly that we derive much of the wealth we earn.

    Maybe you think they're too wealthy, but just try to imagine your life without their previous transfers to you.

    Which isn't to say I think we should just shovel over more transfers, of course.

  10. I don't disagree, but I don't think of them as "free gifts." Then again, I grew up in a rural area during much of my childhood where there different expectations of children than is true of most American children.

    They are gifts with all manner of expectations.


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