Amazon and Austin

Austin is on the list of 20 finalists for the site of Amazon’s second headquarters (HQ2). I have a strong interest in the outcome of the competition because I live in Austin, and I hope that Amazon puts HQ2 somewhere else.

Why? Because the Austin area — which already has terrible traffic, rapidly rising real-estate prices, and high property taxes — will just get worse with the addition of 50,000 employees (i.e., perhaps 100,000 more residents) and a $5 billion investment in HQ2.

It is de rigeur for persons who have lived in Austin for a long time to bemoan its changed character. And they should. Thanks to growth-oriented politicians who have governed Austin for the past few decades, its character and quality of life are as faded as Warren Beatty’s looks.

What was once a rather laid-back “town”, dominated by the government of Texas and the University of Texas (before it became UT-Austin), has become part of the 31st largest metropolitan statistical area in the U.S., as of 2016. The population of the city proper has quintupled from 200,000 to 1 million since I first came to the city as a visitor in the 1960s. It has been only in the last decade or so that Austin’s skyline has sprouted a flock of towers as high as 80 stories. Until then, it had been a low-lying city, with only a few 15-story buildings, which weren’t even tall enough to challenge the dominance of the State Capitol, perched atop a modest hill. Austin’s hippies, who are still around but rather the worse for wear, are almost invisible among the vast army of yuppies which has come to Austin from other locales — California being a leading supplier of the rude, SUV-driving jerks who clutter roads, stores, and restaurants.

Several locales among the 20 finalists are less populous than the Austin area. Raleigh, the smallest of the lot, would seem to be an ideal choice. Any of them would be ideal from the point of view of most of Austin’s current residents, who need more traffic and higher property taxes like a hole in the head. It is mainly Austin’s lame-brained “progressive” politicos who seem to want HQ2 in Austin, as if a bigger (more crowded, more expensive) city would somehow make them more manly, womanly, or it-ly (as the case may be).

In case you have some influence over Amazon’s decision about where to locate HQ2, I would like to point out some things about Austin — in addition to traffic, real-estate prices, and property taxes — that ought to push you in an another direction:

Austin’s summers, which last from April to November, are very hot. In 2011, for example, there were 90 100-degree days, 27 of them consecutive. And when there’s a prevailing wind from the Gulf of Mexico (as there often is), Austin is also quite humid. Not as humid as Houston or Washington, D.C., but the combination of heat and humidity is “challenging”.

Only a hardy few bicyclists will be seen doing something stupid, like bicycling, in the the heat of the day. And in most of Austin they will not be using bicycle lanes that take up valuable road space for naught.

Austin has some attractive areas, including a traditional downtown on the 10 blocks of Congress Avenue south of the Capitol, and some parks and hike-and-bike trails along and near the wide spot in the Colorado River called Lady Bird Lake, which is geographically in the center of Austin. The rest of the city is a mixed bag, which ranges from mostly flat and ugly (east of Loop 1) to somewhat attractive and hilly (west of Loop 1). But Austin isn’t in a truly scenic area like Pittsburgh (which is among the 20 finalists).

Those Amazonians who aren’t in the higher echelons will end up in the ugly parts of the city and surrounding area because they won’t be able to afford to live in the nicer parts. In fact they may not be able to afford to live in the ugly parts of the city proper. Pittsburgh is much more affordable, and it’s hard to find an ugly area in and around the city.

Loop 1, mentioned above, isn’t a loop. It’s one of Austin’s two, limited-access, north-south highways. There are no limited-access, east-west highways, and nothing resembling a loop around Austin. All of which is why Austin’s traffic is incurably terrible.

Austin has no “culture”, unless you think of bars with live music as culture. Its orchestra is third-rate; whatever passes for opera and ballet is almost unnoticeable; and its museums and art galleries are fourth-rate. It is decidedly philistine for a university town. Many of the 20 finalists, including Pittsburgh, are culturally superior to Austin. The prevalence of burnt orange (the color worn by UT athletes) should tell you all you need to know about the level of culture in Austin.

And about those live-music bars — and theaters and upscale restaurants: They’re mostly downtown, which has become practically inaccessible except to people who already live downtown. That’s Austin’s traffic for you. There’s no subway, and the dinky commuter rail line is about as useful as a table-top model, so the alternative to driving and searching in vain for a parking place is to hire a cab or ride-sharing service. But the ride won’t be cheap, and it will still take quite a while to travel a few miles (or more) to your downtown destination.

A p.r. person dubbed Austin the “Live-Music Capital of the World” — an accolade that I dispute. A more authentic title would be “Allergy Capital of the Word”. As a life-long allergy sufferer, I can tell you that Austin has more allergens in its environment than any other place I have encountered. And there’s something going on year-around. Mold spores are almost always in abundance, thanks to southerly winds from the Gulf of Mexico. But the granddaddy of them all is the pollen of the so-called mountain cedar tree (really the Ashe juniper), which grows profusely in central Texas. Pollen outbursts begin in December and peak in January. And when you’ve lived in Austin for more than a few years, you’ll probably come down with an attack of what’s called cedar fever — an extreme allergic reaction to the pollen that reduces you to a wheezing, sneezing, lethargic puddle of humanity. It’s like a cross between flu and pneumonia. Enjoy!

I would leave Austin in a trice, but house-selling, house-hunting, and moving are daunting tasks at my age. Luckily, I am long-retired, so commuting isn’t a problem for me. As for the rest of it, I patronize only those restaurants that are easy to get to, shop online for everything but groceries, avoid bars and theaters altogether, and give thanks that I enjoyed Austin’s few nice parks in the years immediately after I arrived here.

What else can I tell you about Austin? Perhaps some readers who know the place will comment. For now, I’ll leave you with links to some related posts:

Driving and Politics (1)
Life in Austin (1)
Life in Austin (2)
Life in Austin (3)
Driving and Politics (2)
AGW in Austin?
Democracy in Austin
AGW in Austin? (II)
The Hypocrisy of “Local Control”

On Government Shutdowns

The great pity is that Congress doesn’t shut itself down. The other great pity is that a government shutdown doesn’t really put a stop to government spending and regulation.

It’s just a kabuki dance.

The Conscience of a Conservative

My heart bleeds for the people of s***hole countries, cities, and neighborhoods. God knows there are enough of the latter two in the U.S. Why is that? Certainly, there are cultural and genetic factors at work. But those have been encouraged and reinforced by governmental acts.

Government — the central government especially — has long been a silent killer of economic opportunity. Jobs are killed by regulation that hinders business formation and expansion and every government program that diverts resources from the private sector.

How bad is it? This bad:

Because of increases in the rate of government spending and the issuance of regulations, the real rate of GDP growth has been halved since the end of World War II.

If GDP had continued to grow at an annual rate of 4 percent from its 1946 level of $1.9 trillion (in chained 2009 dollars), it would have reached $30 trillion in 2016 instead of $17 trillion.

Given the relationship between employment and real GDP, the cost of government policies is huge. There could now be as many as 207 million employed Americans instead of the current number of 156 million*, were it not for the “helpful” big-government policies foisted on hapless Americans by “compassionate” leftist do-gooders (and not a few dupes in center and on the right).

My heart bleeds.


* The relationship between employment and real GDP is as follows:

E = 1204.8Y0.4991

where
E = employment in thousands
Y = real GDP in billions of chained 2009 dollars.

This estimate is based on employment and GDP values for 1948 through 2016, which are available here and here.

An increase in employment from 156 million to 207 million would raise the employment-population ratio from 60 percent to 80 percent, which is well above the post-World War II peak of 65 percent. The real limit is undoubtedly higher than 65 percent, but probably less than 80 percent. In any event, the impoverishing effect of big government is real and huge.

In the Non-News Department

Relentless California wildfires are followed by heavy rains and mudslides.

Massive hurricanes batter Florida [and other States, too], causing billions of dollars in property damage and the loss of many lives.

Ferocious winter storms pound the Northeast [or the Upper Midwest].

Terrible twisters devastate [the usual places in the Midwest and South]; whole communities are leveled and many are killed.

The mighty Mississippi [or another large river] overflows its banks, flooding millions of acres and driving thousands of people from their homes.

I don’t mean to make light of such events. But they are not news. They are as predictable as the sunrise. And they are proof (if any were needed) of the irrationality of human beings (or at least those who return to disaster-prone areas), and of the political corruption that subsidizes irrationality by rewarding it with taxpayers’ money.

For the media, events such as those listed above are just a means to an end: If it bleeds, it leads, and it leads because it attracts eyes or ears and therefore sells advertising (the end).

This Is a Test

Scott McKay writes:

Thursday saw a media firestorm erupt over a Washington Post report that amid a White House meeting with several members of Congress working on a compromise having to do with the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, President Trump asked why America should have to take in so many immigrants from “s***hole countries” rather than people from places like Norway.

The Post article isn’t exactly the finest example of American journalism, identifying as its source no one actually in the room to confirm what Trump supposedly said but instead naming two anonymous people who were “briefed on the meeting.”

I won’t get into the truth or falsity of the reporting. I suspect that it’s true. And it doesn’t bother me in the least if President Trump characterized some countries as s***holes. They are, and for two very good reasons: the low intelligence of their populations and their anti-libertarian governments (which make the U.S. seem like an anarcho-capitalist’s paradise).

Why are so many people (leftists, that is) upset? Because calling a s***hole a s***hole is a sin against cant and hypocrisy, in which the left specializes.

Here’s the test: If you were forced to live in another country, would you choose Norway or Haiti? Any sensible person — and perhaps even a leftist — would choose Norway.


Related posts:
Ruminations on the Left in America
The Euphemism Conquers All
Superiority
Non-Judgmentalism as Leftist Condescension
Leftist Condescension

Today in Googledom

Monica Showalter of American Thinker writes:

The Daily Caller reports that Google has taken to throwing shade on almost exclusively conservative websites through its search engine mechanism, using a sort of ‘fact-checking’ system to discredit certain news providers so that no one will want to click on them….

According to the Daily Caller:

And not only is Google’s fact-checking highly partisan — perhaps reflecting the sentiments of its leaders — it is also blatantly wrong, asserting sites made “claims” they demonstrably never made.

When searching for a media outlet that leans right, like The Daily Caller (TheDC), Google gives users details on the sidebar, including what topics the site typically writes about, as well as a section titled “Reviewed Claims.”

Vox, and other left-wing outlets and blogs like Gizmodo, are not given the same fact-check treatment.

The Daily Caller has a photo of what it is talking about on its story here.

It seems downright suicidal for the company to be doing this, given that it’s been caught repeatedly under this kind of fire, there’s a hostile Republican Congress out there, and there’s lots of talk of breaking up the monolith under anti-trust laws….

I had a look myself at the supposed phenomenon described by the Caller … and found nothing there. I stripped off my name from the Google search to make sure the system wasn’t manipulating results … and still, on doing a search of Daily Caller, and other conservative sites, I found nothing there. I tried nutbag sites such as Occupy Democrats and Daily Stormer, and still found nothing there….

I doubt the Daily Caller’s reportage was wrong in this case. What may have happened is that Google’s bigs got wind of the Daily Caller’s story and ordered the staff leftists to cut it out immediately, ending the dubious practice of ‘fact-checking’ and the disguised censorship that practice can and has become. Or, there may be other versions of Google in other parts of the country or out there by other criteria that I can’t see.

Politics & Prosperity is a small fish in the vast sea of internet reportage and opinioneering. But I often use Google to find posts in which I’ve written about a particular subject. And Google usually comes up with useful results, so it’s evident that Google has thoroughly indexed P&P, and undoubtedly has flagged it as a conservative site.

Given that, I was heartened by the results of a side-by-side-by-side comparison of searches on “Politics and Propserity”, using Google and two alternative search engines: StartPage and DuckDuckGo:

  • Google’s number 1 hit was a link to this blog’s front page, with no adverse commentary about P&P. My Google search settings include an instruction not to save my search results.
  • StartPage produced the same result. StartPage claims not to track users or remember their search results.
  • This blog’s home page came up number 1 in DuckDuckGo’s list, and the “About” page came up number 2. DuckDuckGo, which isn’t Google-based, also claims not to track users or remember their search results.

What do I make of this? Not much. Google’s behavior toward this blog seems even-handed, but I can’t draw a conclusion about its treatment of conservative sites based on a single datum.

That said, on the evidence of its prevailing ethos and treatment of conservative employees, Google has long since violated its mottoes “Don’t be evil” and (later) “Do the right thing”. Google’s de facto mottoes are “Be evil” and “Do the left thing”.

Should Google be regulated or broken up, as some conservatives urge? I am loath to recommend such action. Google, like Microsoft and many others before it (e.g., the Big Three American auto-makers) will be tamed by market forces. I hope.


Related posts and pages:
Leftism As Crypto-Fascism: The Google Paradigm
“Liberalism” and Leftism
Leftism
Leftism: A Bibliograpy

A Glimmer of Hope on the Education Front

Gregory Cochran (West Hunter) points to an item from 2014 that gives the annual distribution of bachelor’s degrees by field of study for 1970-2011. (I would say “major”, but many of the categories encompass several related majors.) I extracted the values for 1970, 1990, and 2011, and assigned a “hardness” value to each field of study:

The distribution of degrees seems to have been shifting away from “soft” fields to “middling” and “hard” ones:

The number of graduates has increased with time, of course, so there are still more soft bachelor’s degrees being granted now than in 1970. But the shift toward harder fields is comforting because soft fields seem to attract squishy-minded leftists in disproportionate numbers.

The graph suggests that the college-educated workforce of the future will be somewhat less dominated by squishy-minded leftists than it has been since 1970. It was around then that many of the flower-children and radicals of the 1960s graduated and went on to positions of power and prominence in the media, the academy, and politics.

It’s faint hope for a future that’s less dominated by leftists than the recent past and present — but it is hope.

CAVEATS:

1. The results shown in the graph are sensitive to my designation of each field’s level of “hardness”. If you disagree with any of those assignments, let me know and I’ll change the inputs and see what difference they make. The table and graph are in a spreadsheet, and changes in the table will instantly show up as changes in the graph.

2. The decline of “soft” fields is due mainly to the sharp decline of Education as a percentage of all bachelor’s degrees, which occurred between 1971 and 1985. To the extent that some Education majors migrated to STEM fields, the overall shift toward “hard” fields is overstated. A prospective teacher who happens to major in math is probably of less-squishy stock than a prospective teacher who happens to major in English, History, or similar “soft” fields — but he is likely to be more squishy than the math major who intends to pursue an advanced degree in his field, and to “do” rather than teach at any level.

Some Favorite Blogs

My blogroll in the sidebar includes all of the several dozen blogs that I follow through NewsBlur, which is the best RSS reader I’ve found to date. I follow many of the blogs because they report on and opine about politics from a conservative angle — a refreshing change of pace from the port-side slants of The New York Times and The Washington Post.

But there are many other blogs that I follow because of their originality, incisiveness, sparkling prose, humor, and libertarian-conservative positions (not mutually exclusive traits). Here are some of my favorites, by category:

Americana and Humor

The bluebird of bitterness has a magic touch when it comes to  finding and packaging funny, touching, and zany material from around the internet. The bob was an indispensable source of comic relief during the runup to the presidential elections of 2008 and 2012, but the elimination of political coverage after 2012 (though lamented by me) has given the bob more space for outright funny and nostalgic material.

Climate Science

There are several blogs and websites that counter-balance the anti-scientific dogmatism of warmists. The two that I prefer are Roy Spencer, Ph.D. and Watts Up With That?.

Dr. Spencer, a bona fide climate scientist, acknowledges a relationship between CO2 and temperature, but is properly skeptical about the effect of CO2 and warmists’ emphasis on CO2 to the exclusion of other factors (like the drunk who searches for his missing car keys under a street lamp because that’s where the light is).

WUWT, founded and moderated by meteorologist Anthony Watts, offers a range of data-laden posts by Watts and several guest bloggers. WUWT‘s feistiness sometimes extends to internecine squabbles, which is a refreshing change from the monolithic pose adopted by the band of warmist zealots.

Economics

It’s hard to turn around on the web without running into an economics blog. There are some big names (among economists) out there competing for eyeballs. A less well-known name is that of Arnold Kling, who flies solo at askblog. Kling, who seems to consider himself a libertarian, comes across more often than not as a conservative. He is rightly scornful of mathematical economics, rightly skeptical about economists’ understanding of how the economy actually functions, and just plain right in his understanding of the sociological and psychological factors that influence economic activity. He delivers his insights moderately, but not without the force of conviction.

E-zine

Quillette is my e-zine of choice.  I don’t always agree with the views expressed by the varied cast of writers who deliver analyses and opinions on a broad range of topics. But the pieces at Quillette are generally lucid and provocative. It’s like reading The New York Times Magazine without having to constantly filter out the left-wing-propaganda.

Instant Punditry

If the fire-hose of web-bits emitted by Instatpundit is too intense for you (as it is for me), try Dyspepsia Generation and The Right Coast. The former offering comes from Tim of Angle (a.k.a. Timothy D’Angle, I believe see first comment), the latter from University of San Diego lawprof Tom Smith. Both serve up an engaging mixture of political, economic, and cultural samplings from around the web, seasoned with their own humorous and biting commentary, and issued at a digestible rate. In a just world, the traffic count for both sites would exceed that of Instapundit, with its relatively bland commentary. Spread the word.

Law

The Volokh Conspiracy may be the oldest law blog, or nearly so. It deserves its longevity and immense following because of its literate, authoritative, commentary on a wide range of legal, political, social, and economic issues. (An admixture of science, math, and other subjects adds to its sparkle.) The dominant theme is constitutional law, and the prevailing stance is libertarian to conservative (i.e., originalist).

Life Observed

My go-to guy for realistic (i.e., conservative) insights into the human condition is Theodore Dalrymple (Anthony Daniels in real life). His pieces appear in various places, but he’s a regular at Taki’s Magazine. (The link is to Dalrymple’s column; the rest of Taki’s Magazine is a very mixed bag.) Dalrymple/Daniels is a retired English prison doctor and psychiatrist. His observations about the debilitating effects of the welfare state are unerringly correct and delivered with sardonic humour, as are his observations about the vicissitudes of life in general.

Philosophy and Religion

Bill Vallicella is a professional philosopher, and a rare conservative member of the tribe. At his blog, Maverick Philosopher, he writes on a broad range of topics, and spares no one in his insistence on rigorous logic, sound evidence, and clarity of expression. His range includes philosophy, of course, but he gives much of his attention to politics. The left is squarely in his sights, and he scores hit after hit.

The author of Imlac’s Journal chooses to remain anonymous, which is no mark against him in this age of leftist witch-hunting. His range is broad, but given mainly to literature and philosophy. His style is erudite and meditative, rather than combative, and all the more refreshing for it.

Big Government and Disguised Unemployment

The “jobs report” to the contrary notwithstanding, by the measure of real unemployment the Great Recession is still with us. Nor is it likely to end anytime soon, given the anti-business and anti-growth policies that are still embedded in statutes and regulations. (Trump is making a start on rolling back those policies, but he will need a lot of help from Congress and the regulatory agencies — both centers of “resistance”. Most State and local edicts are beyond his reach.)

Officially, the unemployment rate stands at 4.1 percent, as of December 2017. Unofficially — but in reality — the unemployment rate stands 6.5 percentage points higher at 10.6 percent, where it stood 9 months earlier. While the official unemployment rate has dropped by 5.9 percentage points from its peak in 2009, the real unemployment rate has dropped by only 2.9 percentage points since then.

How can I say that the real unemployment rate is 6.5 percentage points above the real rate? Easily. Just follow this trail of definitions, provided by the official purveyor of unemployment statistics, the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

Unemployed persons (Current Population Survey)
Persons aged 16 years and older who had no employment during the reference week, were available for work, except for temporary illness, and had made specific efforts to find employment sometime during the 4-week period ending with the reference week. Persons who were waiting to be recalled to a job from which they had been laid off need not have been looking for work to be classified as unemployed.

Unemployment rate
The unemployment rate represents the number unemployed as a percent of the labor force.

Labor force (Current Population Survey)
The labor force includes all persons classified as employed or unemployed in accordance with the definitions contained in this glossary.

Labor force participation rate
The labor force as a percent of the civilian noninstitutional population.

Civilian noninstitutional population (Current Population Survey)
Included are persons 16 years of age and older residing in the 50 States and the District of Columbia who are not inmates of institutions (for example, penal and mental facilities, homes for the aged), and who are not on active duty in the Armed Forces.

In short, if you are 16 years of age and older, not confined to an institution or on active duty in the armed forces, but have not recently made specific efforts to find employment, you are not (officially) a member of the labor force. And if you are not (officially) a member of the labor force because you have given up looking for work, you are not (officially) unemployed — according to the BLS. Of course, you are really unemployed, but your unemployment is well disguised by the BLS’s contorted definition of unemployment.

What has happened is this: Since the first four months of 2000, when the labor-force participation rate peaked at 67.3 percent, it has declined to 62.7 percent:


Source: See next graph.

Why the decline, which had came to a halt during G.W. Bush’s second term but resumed in late 2008? The slowdown of 2000 (coincident with the bursting of the dot-com bubble) and the shock of 9/11 can account for the decline from 2000 to 2004, as workers chose to withdraw from the labor force when faced with dimmer employment prospects. But what about the sharper decline that began near the end of Bush’s second term?

There we see not only the demoralizing effects of the Great Recession but also the lure of incentives to refrain from work, namely, extended unemployment benefits, easier access to disability benefits, the aggressive distribution of food stamps, and “free” healthcare” for an expanded Medicaid enrollment base and 20-somethings who live in their parents’ basements.*

Need I add that both the prolongation of the Great Recession and the enticements to refrain from work were Obama’s doing? That’s all on the supply side. On the demand side, of course, there were the phony and even negative effects of “stimulus” spending, the chilling effects of regime uncertainty, which persisted beyond the official end of the Great Recession, and the expansion of government spending and regulation. It remains to be seen whether and to what extent Mr. Trump can undo the great damage done by Obama.

If the labor-force participation rate had remained at its peak of 67.3 percent, so that the disguised unemployed was no longer disguised, the official unemployment rate would have reached 13.5 percent in December 2009, as against the nominal peak of 10 percent in October 2009. Further, instead of declining to the phony rate of 4.1 percent in December 2017, the official unemployment rate would have dropped only to 10.6 percent.

The growing disparity between the real and nominal unemployment rates is evident in this graph:


Derived from Series LNS12000000, Seasonally Adjusted Employment Level; Series LNS11000000, Seasonally Adjusted Civilian Labor Force Level; and Series LNS11300000, Seasonally Adjusted Civilian labor force participation rate. All are available at BLS, Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey.

_________
* Contrary to some speculation, the labor-force participation rate did not decline because older workers are retiring earlier. The participation rate among workers 55 and older rose steadily from 1994 to 2014. The decline is concentrated among workers under the age of 55, and especially workers in the 16-24 age bracket. (See this table at BLS.gov.) Why? My conjecture: The Great Recession caused a shakeout of marginal (low-skill) workers, many of whom simply dropped out of the labor market. And it became easier for them to drop out for the reasons adduced above.


Related reading:

Randall Holcombe, “Long-Term Unemployment Benefits Expire; Long-Term Unemployment Falls,” Mises Economics Blog, September 10, 2014

Arnold Kling, “The State of the Economy,” askblog, October 12, 2014

Stephen Moore, “Why Are So Many Employers Unable to Fill Jobs?The Daily Signal, April 6, 2015

Related posts: Start here. See especially “The Rahn Curve Revisited“.

Planning for the Last War

I am in the midst of an exchange with a former colleague. He is a retired political scientist who decades ago belonged to a small but hardy band analysts who questioned the conventional wisdom about Soviet naval strategy. It turns out that he and his comrades-in-arms were right, and the conventional wisdom was wrong. He worries, with good reason, that history might repeat itself, and is working on a paper to document the events of 40 years ago and the possibility that history is repeating itself.

I have no doubt that history is repeating itself. This is from a recent message from me to him:

It seems as if the Pentagon [of the 1970s] was planning to fight the last war (or two), just because that’s the way things are usually done. Fast forward to 2018: What war(s) is the Pentagon planning to fight now? I’m not au courant with the defense budget, but I believe that it’s considerably smaller (in constant dollars) than it was in the 1980s [after adjusting for the cost of America’s present wars]. Which means, rhetoric aside, that the Pentagon is actually planning to refight the wars of the past 28 years, with a side-helping of skirmishes of other kinds. In any event, it can’t be on the scale of the two-major/one-minor war strategy of the McNamara era, which (de facto) animated the Reagan buildup after the post-Vietnam let-down. The point of this ramble is to suggest that the U.S. is in a position (once again) to be “surprised” by the not-so-sudden emergence of an aggressive power or axis of them. You may not subscribe to this view, but if you do, some discussion of it in your paper would underline the essential point: The dire consequences of [the] persistent misreading of a potential enemy’s intentions and capabilities. It’s an old refrain, which begins (at least) with Pearl Harbor and extends through North Korea’s invasion of the South, the Tet Offensive (and some later reruns), 9/11, and the emergence of IS.


Related posts:
Delusions of Preparedness
A Grand Strategy for the United States
The Folly of Pacifism
Why We Should (and Should Not) Fight
Rating America’s Wars
Transnationalism and National Defense
The Folly of Pacifism, Again
Patience as a Tool of Strategy
The War on Terror, As It Should Have Been Fought
Preemptive War
Some Thoughts and Questions about Preemptive War
Defense as an Investment in Liberty and Prosperity
Defense Spending: One More Time
Pacifism
Today’s Lesson in Economics: How to Think about War
Much Ado about Civilian Control of the Military
Presidents and War
LBJ’s Dereliction of Duty
Terrorism Isn’t an Accident
The Ken Burns Apology Tour Continues

Freespace and Me

This is the introduction to “Freespace and Me”, one of the pages listed at the top of this blog. It gives a place of prominence to two subjects about which I’ve often blogged: “natural rights” (the quotation marks connote their fictional status) and the connection between race and intelligence.

Late in 2004, I was asked by Timothy Sandefur to guest-blog for a week at Freespace. By combing the archives of Mr. Sandefur’s blog and using The Wayback Machine, I have reconstructed that week and its sequel, in which Sandefur and I continue an exchange that began during my guest-blogging stint. I reproduce the entire sequence of posts here.

Some of my posts are culled from my old blog, Liberty Corner, where I had cross-posted from Freespace, My name appears as Fritz at the bottom of those posts because I was using it as my handle when I culled the posts.

The attentive and determined reader who slogs through the posts reproduced here will note that Sandefur didn’t thank me for guest-blogging at Freespace. It is my view that Sandefur regretted having asked me to guest-blog because of my less-than-pure view of rights — which I take to be social constructs, not timeless entities — and my candid and accurate (but negative) take on the relative intelligence of blacks. For more on that, see “Race and Reason: The Victims of Affirmative Action“, “Race and Reason: The Achievement Gap — Causes and Implications“, “Evolution and Race“, ““Wading” into Race, Culture, and IQ“, “The Harmful Myth of Inherent Equality“, “Let’s Have That “Conversation” about Race“, “Non-Judgmentalism as Leftist Condescension“, “Affirmative Action Comes Home to Roost“, “The IQ of Nations“, “Race and Social Engineering“, “More about Intelligence“, “Leftist Condescension“, “Who’s Obsessing, Professor McWhorter?“, and “Racism on Parade“.

Among the posts reproduced below are some early ones in a prolonged exchange between Sandefur and me on the question of “natural rights”. I answered him definitively in “Evolution, Human Nature, and ‘Natural Rights’“, and he never responded, as far as I am able to tell. He has addressed “natural rights” only once since I wrote “Evolution…”, but persists in error; thus:

Of course, philosophy probably knows no more complicated word than “natural,” but when used in the context of rights, the word is meant to signify that rights are not merely conventional—they are not privileges accorded to people by the state. Instead, their origin is in something real about them: in the objective characteristics of human beings qua human beings. I know of no better word for that than “natural.” Rand contends that “[t]he source of man’s rights is not divine law or congressional law, but the law of identity, A is A—and Man is Man. Rights are conditions of existence required by nature for his proper survival…. If life on earth is his purpose, he has a right to live as a rational being: nature forbids him the irrational.” (Emphasis altered).

To understand the error –a common one among doctrinaire leftists, who justify all kinds of coercion and theft in the name of “natural rights” — read “Evolution, Human Nature, and ‘Natural Rights’“, “The Futile Search for Natural Rights’“, “Natural Law, Natural Rights, and the Real World“, and “Natural Law and Natural Rights Revisited“.

“Capitalism” Is a Dirty Word

Dyspepsia Generation points to a piece at reason.com, which explains that capitalism is a Marxist coinage. In fact, capitalism

is what the Dutch call a geuzennaam—a word assigned by one’s sneering enemies, such as Quaker or Tory or Whig, but later adopted proudly by the victims themselves.

I have long viewed it that way. Capitalism conjures the greedy, coupon-clipping, fat-cat of Monopoly:

Thus did a board-game that vaulted to popularity during the Great Depression signify the identification of capitalism with another “bad thing”: monopoly. And, more recently, capitalism has been conjoined with yet another “bad thing”: income inequality.

 

In fact, capitalism

is a misnomer for the system of free markets that could deliver abundant prosperity and happiness, were markets left free. Free does not mean unfettered; competition for the favor of consumers exerts strong discipline on markets. And laws against theft, deception, and fraud would serve amply to keep markets honest, the worrying classes to the contrary notwithstanding.

What the defenders of capitalism are defending — or should be — is voluntary, market-based exchange. It doesn’t roll off the tongue, but that’s no excuse for continuing to use a Marxist smear-word for the best of all possible economic systems.


Related posts:
More Commandments of Economics (#13 and #19)
Monopoly and the General Welfare
Monopoly: Private Is Better than Public
Some Inconvenient Facts about Income Inequality
Mass (Economic) Hysteria: Income Inequality and Related Themes
Income Inequality and Economic Growth
A Case for Redistribution, Not Made
McCloskey on Piketty
Nature, Nurture, and Inequality
Diminishing Marginal Utility and the Redistributive Urge
Capitalism, Competition, Prosperity, and Happiness
Economic Mobility Is Alive and Well in America
The Essence of Economics
“Rent” Is Indispensable

“Rent” Is Indispensable

Economic rent, which economists simply call “rent”, has nothing to do with the monthly fee that you might pay a landlord in exchange for the use of a dwelling owned by him. Economic rent

means the payment to a factor of production in excess of what is required to keep that factor in its present use. So, for example, if I am paid $150,000 in my current job but I would stay in that job for any salary over $130,000, I am making $20,000 in rent.

The quotation comes from David Henderson’s article on rent-seeking. Henderson continues:

What is wrong with rent seeking? Absolutely nothing. I would be rent seeking if I asked for a raise. My employer would then be free to decide if my services are worth it. Even though I am seeking rents by asking for a raise, this is not what economists mean by “rent seeking.” They use the term to describe people’s lobbying of government to give them special privileges. A much better term is “privilege seeking.”

With that crucial distinction in mind, consider the firm that makes millions of dollars in “rent” because it was the first (and still only or dominant) producer of a gee-whiz widget. The prospect of making “rent” is one of the things that causes inventors, innovators, and entrepreneurs to risk their time and money in devising and bringing to market new and improved products and processes.

The role of “rent” in economic progress has been long understood. The Framers of the Constitution clearly understood it. This is one of the enumerated powers of Congress, from Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution:

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries

The extension of the life of patents and copyrights over the years, and the misuse of patents to block competition, are examples of “privilege-seeking”. It is probably the case that patent and copyright protections have been extended well beyond what is needed to incentivize invention, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

But let us not throw out the baby with the bath water. The prospect of “rent” is a vital to economic progress. “Rent” is good; “privilege” is bad. The trick is to reduce or eliminate the latter without sacrificing the former.

“Conservative” Collabos

Collabo is French slang for collaborateur, or collaborator. I occasionally drop in in The American Conservative (TAC) just to see what the collabos there are up to.

They’re up to their old tricks:

Trying to discredit conservatives who (correctly) identify “liberalism” with fascism by cherry-picking some (alleged) mistakes in their writings. This is on a par with acquitting O.J. Simpson because he made a good show of “proving” that the gloves (shrunken with disuse) didn’t easily fit his hands.

Attacking Nikki Haley for (God forbid) taking firm, pro-U.S. and pro-Israeli stands at the UN.

Proclaiming that Trump’s “weakness” explains the harshness of his foreign-policy rhetoric. This is a classic case of psychological projection. Trump is simply the anti-Obama who refuses to allow second- and third-rate powers to push the U.S. around. But being pushed around is exactly what the wusses at TAC seem to enjoy.

Celebrating the UN’s “repudiation” of the Trump administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. In fact, it was Trump who repudiated the UN by daring to do what his feckless predecessors were too weak to do.

If TAC is good for anything, it’s a good test of the effectiveness of my blood-pressure medication.

Immigration Blues

Enemies of big government and high taxes are right to fear the long-run consequences of massive immigration. The record of the last five presidential elections (2000-2016) is rather clear: Democrats prosper as the vote-count rises.

The following graph shows what happened in the 50 States and D.C. between 2000 and 2016. The percentage-point change in the GOP presidential candidate’s share of the two-party popular vote is on the vertical axis; the percentage change in the number of votes case for all candidates is on the horizontal axis.

And it happens not just in States that vote Democrat; it happens in GOP-leaning States, too:

Immigration isn’t the only explanation for the relationship, of course. It’s long been observed that people in big cities tend to vote for more government, whereas people in rural areas tend to vote against it. Population growth means bigger and bigger cities, and therefore a greater tendency to turn to the party of big government.

Who knows whether the relationship between population and voting is due to the “need” for more government as people are crowded together, contagion by the acolytes of big government (e.g., schoolteachers and “civic leaders”), or a mix of the two? Whatever the case, it can’t be denied that more voters means a bigger share of votes for the party of big government.

Conservatives are right to resist massive immigration, and the bestowal of voting privileges that surely follows it.

What Blue Wave?

Are Democrat spinmeisters or the mainstream media (pardon the redundancy) correct in believing that Roy Moore’s loss in Alabama means that 2018 will see a “Blue Wave”, in which Democrats retake one or both houses of Congress? Wasn’t Moore’s loss a continuation of the Dems’ “stunning” sweep of statewide offices in Virginia? Doesn’t all of that portend a repudiation of Trump in 2020?

The answers are “no”, “no”, and “no”. Moore’s loss was a one-off event that had everything to do with Roy Moore and nothing to do with the political leanings of Alabamans. It is ludicrous to believe that Alabama has suddenly become a Purple State when Trump’s 64-percent share of the two-party vote surpassed the share received by any GOP candidate since Richard Nixon in 1972.

It is similarly ludicrous to believe anything about the elections in Virginia other than their consistency with that State’s burgeoning blueness. Bush II, for example, took 54 percent of Virginia’s two-party vote in 2000 and 2004, but McCain, Romney, and Trump won only 47-48 percent in 2008-2016. The Old Dominion is increasingly dominated by the rapidly growing cities and counties of Northern Virginia that are political appendages to Washington DC. (The same is true of Maryland and its rapidly growing appendages to DC.)

The 2018 elections will hinge manly on how voters feel about what the GOP-controlled Congress has done for them. And by election day 2018, most of them will be feeling a lot better because the government is taking a lot less from their paychecks. Continued revival of the economy will also help to buoy voters’ spirits. Unless something very bad happens between now and election day, a pro-incumbent mood will sweep most of the land. There will be exceptions, of course, as this or that Representative or Senator is exposed as a philanderer, swindler, or something else unseemly. But those exceptions tend to affect Democrats just as much as Republicans.

What is actually happening, in the grand scheme of things?

A naive forecast of the 2016 presidential election, based on State-by-State trends between 2008 and 2012, produces 245 electoral votes for Trump. The naive forecast doesn’t predict a Trump win in any State that he lost. Moreover, it under-predicts the extent of the pro-GOP movement in Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania — States that Trump won, and the electoral votes of which put Trump over the top.

A naive forecast of the 2020 outcome,  based on State-by-State trends from 2008 through 2016, produces 329 electoral votes for the GOP candidate. Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania will be joined by Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, and New Hampshire as Red States.

As an old saying (of mine) goes, trends are made to be broken. But the betting here is that the 2018 and 2020 elections are the Republicans’ to lose.

Speaking of trends, here are some relevant graphs:

The first graph covers 10 States that were Red in 2000 and have led the way in becoming Redder since then. Note that all 10 have rebounded from the Obama effect in 2008, which was the occasion of temporary insanity among many voters who usually pull the lever for GOP candidates.

The second graph covers the 10 States that have led the way in turning Blue or Bluer since 2000. You will note that even among some of these States Obama-mania shows signs of wearing off. Only California and DC seem determined to plunge deeper into political madness.

California, by the way, more than accounts for Clinton’s popular-vote “victory” over Trump. (Clinton won California by 4.3 million votes, as against her meaningless nationwide margin of 2.9 million votes.) This is further proof, if proof were needed, of the Framers’ wisdom in creating the Electoral College. It is also a big point in favor of my fearless forecast for 2020.


Related posts:
“Blue Wall” Hype
Polarization and De-facto Partition
The Midwest Is a State of Mind

Trump Catches Obama

GRAPH UPDATED FOR POLLING THROUGH 01/04/2018

For many years, Rasmussen Reports has published a daily poll of likely voters’ views of the incumbent president. Respondents are asked if they approve or disapprove the performance of the incumbent, and whether their approval or disapproval is strong. Rasmussen derives a presidential approval rating for each polling day by subtracting the percentage of respondents who strongly disapprove from the percentage who strongly approve. The complete polling history for Obama is here; the polling history for Trump, to date, is here.

The following graph shows, by day of presidency, the approval ratings for Obama (blue line) and Trump (red line). The difference between the two — Obama’s rating minus Trump’s rating — is plotted as a black line. Obama was well ahead of Trump for about 200 days. Trump has since closed the gap, and is now slightly more popular (or less unpopular) than Obama was at this stage (the 336th  350th day).