Friday, January 27, 2012

Assault of Thoughts - 1/27/2012

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

- Noahpinion rightly praises Tabarrok's call for a more innovative economy. He's also right to explicitly raise the issue of public goods (although I'd rather call it "externalities" - a lot of these things aren't really public goods, they're private goods with crucial externalities). However, I'm not sure Tabarrok would be on the same page with him on that point. For me, this is an "all of the above" point. Noahpinion is exactly right that there are lots of things where simply increasing spending would be a very, very good idea. But Tabarrok is exactly right that this is about so much more than that - that a lot of it is about an environment that fosters entrepreneurialism and innovation. Previously, I've raised some concerns about the way Tabarrok talks about high skill immigration.

- Ron Paul proof-read and approved all the newsletters. Not exactly a surprise or a revelation. The guy vehemently defended them until the political winds turned. If this isn't enough to dissuade libertarians, I can understand that. But don't pretend this isn't something that we who are bothered by this should just brush off. And just admit how bad it all is like Steve Horwitz and Nick Gillespie. If the modern libertarian movement is nothing more than a Ron Paul lovefest it's hard to see how it differs from any other political personality cult with an idealistic ideology behind it.

- Troy Camplin claims that we ostracize and sneer at the commercial class. I call that bunk, and explain my position in the comment section. What do you all think? UPDATE: [More from Troy. He writes in response "I do think they are ostracized and sneered at in our literature and by many of our academics, who in turn teach college students to think of businessmen as inherently corrupt." I cannot think of a single professor I've had in my seven and half years of higher education that has said that businessmen are inherently corrupt (and I've had a couple humanities professors and a bunch of sociologists). But perhaps my case is still atypical. What about you all? Has anyone ever taught you that businessmen are inherently corrupt? He goes on: "One of the consequences is that those who go to college then go into business think that one has to be corrupt to be successful" I knew a lot of business majors (who often doubled-majored with economics at W&M), including two roommates. None of them thought this. I've never met anybody who went "into business" and thought this. But again - my case may be atypical. Can anyone confirm Troy's assertions here?]

- Happy EITC Day! Sometimes I feel like the people who whine about welfare and act as if government isn't an emergent order itself don't really understand the important landmarks in the history of our social democracy. U.S. government is a decentralized system with plenty of opportunity for information feedback and evolution. That makes for good government, and the evolution of the welfare state is an excellent example of that. Hooray for the EITC!


  1. Can you clarify a bit more on what you mean by government as an "emergent order"? Do you mean the system of rules governing the inner operations of government? Or do you mean the nexus of programs implemented by government? And what kind of information feedback and evolution do you have mind? Are you referring to the democratic process?

    And speaking of the great welfare state, I just got into the food stamp business myself - despite having an income well in excess (more than double) of the stated limit. In my state if you're a graduate assistant your income doesn't qualify, even if it's taxable! You know, sometimes I really do like bureaucracy.

  2. The flexibility of the democratic process is quite important because it provides a feedback loop, but another important characteristic is the decentralized nature of the American welfare state, which allows for experimentation and selection across jurisdictions. We see a lot of adaptation at the federal level precisely because it is responsive to this experimentaiton and to decentralized decision making at the state and local level.

    This is why certain elements of NCLB and Obamacare are somewhat disconcerting (which isn't to say there aren't good aspects of it). However, I may be too pessimistic on this count. These innovations are designed as a response to a lot of decentralized activity, which makes them a lot stronger than if we had just jumped into socialized medicine when Europe and Canada did. Moreover, the state of NCLB and Obamacare in 2012 isn't the end of the story. Both of these institutions will continue to evolve in response to their implementation in each state, interaction with markets (the mother of all emergent orders), and continued research (science is a well known example of emergent order, and since policy is now heavily informed by evidence based research, this bodes well for the sort of policies that are enacted).

    If you doubt the emergent order properties of democratic polities, just think about the recent events around the SOPA and PIPA legislation.

    Now, the market is a finely tuned emergent order - perhaps the single best example of emergent order that we have. Too often people take that fact and then turn around and discount emergent order elsewhere.

  3. On Troy Camplin's point:

    Daniel, what do you think about the fact that Mars mission proponent and engineer Robert Zubrin believes that many members of the American commercial class is responsible for weakening America's domestic energy sector and empowering anti-American terror groups (by doing business with Middle Eastern regimes)?

    I'd say that's a fairly strong vilification. Not one critic of his book called him out and said that it's a pretty bold stretch to accuse people of being complicit in terrorism. And a scientist well known in the popular science niche can make such statements with impunity.

  4. Like Daniel's point that some people write off emergent orders (like the EITC) in government because it's not "their" kind of emergent order, I think Prateek is indulging in some "vilification" while claiming that no one has criticized the book on such counts.

    I haven't read it (I assume Prateek is referring to "Energy Victory: Winning the War on Terror by Breaking Free of Oil"), but three possibilities spring to mind:

    1.) Maybe the book isn't well-known.
    2.) Maybe the author is (per my point above) actually being criticized heavily for saying it.
    3.) Maybe Zubrin can make the point with impunity because it is not controversial, or
    4.) Prateek has misconstrued Zubrin's argument.

    On point #2: Looking quickly at Amazon reviews, it appears that critics are mainly concerned with pushing for alternate energy sources or for efficiency, which they feel Zubrin ignores; or they are concerned that Zubrin is not reviewing all the options (one comment on such a review argues that Dr. George Olah, whose work Zubrin supposedly ignores according to the original reviewer, actually supports Zubrin's work).

    On point #3 and #4: Looking at the book's abstract and these other materials, it appears that Zubrin focuses on OPEC and energy markets. In the Wikipedia outline of the book, it is apparent that OPEC members "illegally colluding" must at some point require the efforts of domestic Western or international energy suppliers, as somebody has to receive the oil.

    Whether some members of the American commercial class know, and do not care, that doing business with OPEC nations can indirectly finance terrorism doesn't matter. Most of us know very well that these commercial interests would simply deny that it could be possible. What's more on point is whether or not it is true, and so I think this does not excuse Prateek from taking Zubrin's main point head-on.

  5. DK writes:"Ron Paul proof-read and approved all the newsletters."

    Wow! I followed your link, expecting to see a video confession from Ron Paul himself. Instead, what it had was quotes from former staffers (some anonymous) who actually didn't say what you just said.

    Coming from somebody who bends over backwards to see what Krugman might have meant, in contrast to the actual words he writes on his blog, this is odd. Why would you exaggerate what that article said?

    Oh, you tell us why in your next sentence: "Not exactly a surprise or a revelation."

    1. 1. I don't bend over backwards when I interpret Krugman. I've noted when I disagree with Krugman in the past. I have no reason to act like he said something else in order to avoid disagreeing with him again.

      2. I followed the link and saw a staffer saying that he proofed it. It's true there is no quote saying he approved it, but the article says he approved it, and I am assuming this is properly sourced. It doesn't seem like a stretch to me to assume that if a source says he proof reads it and he is the head of the campaign, that the source also provided information about him approving it. I have no idea what you are talking about. What have I exaggerated?

      I did not say he admitted to it. This seems to be what you're looking for. I said he proof-read it an approved it. As far as I know, Paul still hasn't admitted this. What's your point. He clearly has a habit of saying anything that will help him gain and maintain a position of power.

      Feel free to try this again when you see me inaccurately posting "Ron Paul admits to proof-reading and approving all newsletters". But I don't expect to write that until it actually happens.

    2. If you want to imply that the standard of evidence I rely on is not one that you'd agree with, feel free to do that. But that's very different from saying that I've exaggerated the article just because I don't have a signed confession.

      Most reasonable people would accept an eyewitness account over the account of man with an interest in lying to seek office. If you want to argue that we should trust politicians, be my guest. I'm not of that opinion. I think we should second guess politicians, and I think an account by a witness that makes a lot of sense should weigh a lot more heavily than an account by a presidential candidate that makes very little sense.

      If you disagree - make the case.

  6. Daniel, it's the "all the newsletters" part. There are people in there claiming he must have seen a bunch of them. I don't think a single person claimed "Ron Paul proofread and approved all the newsletters," which is how you described it.

    I'm imagining if I pounced on Krugman, getting the all/some distinction wrong, you would have been sensitive to it. And yet here, you didn't even know what I was talking about, such is the ease with which you fire off accusations at Ron Paul.

    (BTW I'm not saying anything in that article is wrong; I certainly wasn't there. My point is that you are casually summarizing the article with things that are stronger than the people said. Ron Paul traveled a lot. You don't think in the course of a few years, a *single* newsletter went out that he didn't personally proofread?)

  7. Daniel

    Business leaders are inherently corrupt. One in 20 in the corner office is a psychopath, for starters

  8. BTW Daniel to save us some time. Here is the strongest quote:

    “It was his newsletter, and it was under his name, so he always got to see the final product. . . . He would proof it,’’

    I don't think that reveals as much information as you thought it did. Of course he "got to see" the final product. But look, I'm a lot less busy than Ron Paul. I sign off on things that have my name on them a lot, without having looked at them very closely. Now the difference is, I don't have ghostwriters, so I'm referring to signing off on changes that editors would have made. So yeah, if someone were writing something from scratch with my name on it, and sending it to me for review, I would look more carefully than if someone just polished up the draft I had first sent him/her.

    But my point is, it sounds like this lady could be either saying: (A) On every newsletter, Ron Paul would send back his revisions before it went to print. Or (B) Ron Paul always had the right to review it, and as a practice they would send him the copy before each issue, and he would always tell them, "Go ahead." Option (B) doesn't mean he actually read them. Maybe he skimmed them once in a while.

    I'm not being coy, obviously he must have had some clue what was going on. My only point is that you casually summarized by saying, "Ron Paul proofread and approved all the newsletters," which was a surprisingly strong statement to make. I was dying to know what possible evidence there could be of that, and short of the (A) scenario I listed above (where someone in the office said, "Yeah I'd get RP's revisions every issue, without fail, and he even wrote "Good one!" next to the black jokes in the margin") we really couldn't even know something like that.

  9. "This is our national identity crisis in a nutshell: Do we want government spending half its money on redistribution and military, or re-dedicating itself to science, infrastructure, and health research?"

    I don't want either one. Well, I do want the federal government to a fair amount of its money its money on national defense, but I still think that amount could easily be cut by at least half (from $700 billion to less than $350 billion).

    I don't want the federal government to spend any money on "science and health research". Or "infrastructure" that is being done within a state or locality...which is where almost all "infrastructure" spending is occurring.

  10. Daniel,

    Are you familiar with the work of Gus diZerega on democracy as a spontaneous order?


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