Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Cab Thoughts 11/16/16

"Gas is compared implicitly to a mythical perfect alternative that none of us use." --John Hanger

In the grand palace of Catherine I, the second wife of Peter the Great and Empress of Russia, there once existed a magnificent golden room adorned from floor to ceiling with precious amber, gold and other semi-precious stones. For nearly two hundred years the Amber Room dazzled visitors to the Catherine Palace near St. Petersburg. The Russians installed the Amber Room in the Winter House in St. Petersburg before Peter’s daughter, Czarina Elizabeth, decided to move the Room to the Catherine Palace in 1755. The room was restored and enlarged throughout the 18th century. It became Catherine the Great’s private meditation chamber and a gathering room for her intimate circle, and later Alexander II (1818-1881) used the Room as a trophy room for his amber collection. But then the Nazis invaded, and the Amber Room, with its 6 tons of amber valued between $140–500 million, vanished without a trace. It presumably was destroyed in Germany by Russian bombing at the end of the war.
Chimerical: adj: 1. wildly fanciful; highly unrealistic: a chimerical plan. 2. unreal; imaginary; visionary: a chimerical terrestrial paradise. quote: I don't need to tell you that writers sometimes get ideas which practical-minded individuals regard as chimerical.-- Henry Miller, Nexus, 1960 ety: Chimerical is formed from Chimera, the name of a fire-breathing creature from Greek mythology that is part goat, part lion, and part serpent. The Greek term chímaira means "she-goat." Chimerical entered English in the 1630s. This has led, of course, to a real life entity described by the noun, chimera. In biology a chimera is  an organism containing a mixture of genetically different tissues, formed by processes such as fusion of early embryos, grafting, or mutation or, in genetics, a DNA molecule with sequences derived from two or more different organisms, formed by laboratory manipulation.
In-Q-Tel is a nonprofit venture-capital firm that invests taxpayer money in startups developing technology useful to the CIA It provides only limited information about its investments, and some of its trustees have ties to funded companies. Huh?
"The main point is very simple.  It is that comprehensive economic planning, which is regarded as necessary to organize economic activity on more rational and efficient lines, presupposes a much more complete agreement on the relative importance of the different social ends than actually exists, and that in consequence, in order to be able to plan, the planning authority must be able to impose upon the people detailed code of values that is lacking." This is Hayek on the difficulties of legislating social ends. Has anyone heard a modern champion of foolishness, or inequality or unfairness? The reason is that these are all subjective; forced sterilization sounded very sensible and modern early in 20th Century America--until the Nazis showed it wasn't. Legislating methods to reach endpoints is tough when the endpoints are aspirations, and vague at that.
Brave new world alert: Fifteen years ago, it cost $3B to sequence a human genome. Today, the cost is about a thousand dollars and continues to drop. Genetic sequencing will soon be a routine part of medicine.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has found breaches in Illinois and Arizona's voter registration databases and is urging states to increase computer security ahead of the Nov. 8 presidential election, according to a U.S. official familiar with the probe.
Who is.....Rielle Hunter?
A review by Caplan  of "Captain Fantastic;" (It's actually long and I clipped these two as summary. You know things are getting strange when economists are reviewing movie comedies.)
1. On the surface, Captain Fantastic is a leftist cliche: not just a socialist living off the grid, but a cultish Chomsky fan.  But I’ve never met a socialist remotely like him.  He’s not just amazingly open to reasoned argument; his intellectual style is perfectly calm and genuinely friendly.
2. Captain Fantastic is a full-blown economic illiterate.  When he looks at stores, all he can see is capitalists gutting American democracy.  The idea that stores make life easier, freeing up time for more worthwhile pursuits, is alien to him.  So is the idea that modern technology makes primitive survival skills obsolete.
The Harvard College's fourth most popular course, Economics 1017: "A Libertarian Perspective on Economic and Social Policy," saw a significant jump in enrollment to 497 undergraduates from 251 undergraduates last year.
Golden oldie:
From O'Rourke's Eat the Rich:  "Why do some places prosper and thrive while others just suck?...It's not a matter of brains. No part of the earth (with the possible exception of Brentwood) is dumber than Beverly Hills, and the residents are wading in gravy. In Russia, meanwhile, where chess is a spectator sport, they're boiling stones for soup. Nor can education be the reason. Fourth graders in the American school system know what a condom is but aren't sure about 9 x 7" O'Rourke quotes famous MIT economist Paul Samuelson: "Marx was wrong about many things.. .but that does not diminish his stature as an important economist." Asks O'Rourke: "Well, what would? If Marx was wrong about many things and screwed the baby-sitter?" (Actually, he did. On June 23, 1851 Helene Demuth, the family housekeeper, gave birth to a boy believed by most scholars to have been sired by Karl Marx. Presumably in an effort to preserve the Marxes' marriage, Karl Marx's closest personal friend, Frederick Engels, a bachelor living in Manchester, claimed fatherhood of the boy, who was given his name. Didn't Andrew Young claim  paternity of Rielle Hunter's daughter by John Edwards? There must be some handbook that these public figures use and go by.)
Black and white portrait on a mature woman wearing a dress.
Ms. Demuth

Bryan Caplan points out the interesting fact that in totalitarian countries the press consistently reports that ordinary citizens there live materially much better than those citizens actually live, while in free countries (that are at least reasonably market oriented), the press consistently reports that ordinary citizens there live materially worse than those citizens actually live. Since "....Western media is manifestly competitive, ... you have to ask, "Why hasn't competition stopped the brainwashing?"  The only credible response is that media consumers like hearing about a world of terror, hate, fear, brutality, and poverty."  

It's not possible to do fiscal stimulus in both good times and bad. Years when the national debt is rising as a share of GDP need to be offset by years where the national debt is falling as a share of GDP. If the fiscal policymakers do more stimulus at a time when unemployment is 4.8%, they will not be able to do as much the next time it is 8% or 10%. This is a basic economic notion; it's even a principle for Keynes.
Hillary Clinton raised $143 million dollars in one month.
The Apple tax question in Ireland is going to be provocative. A multinational company knows well that any state where it operates can challenge the way it is filing for taxes. But this is not the case in Apple's instance. Here the European Union is challenging both Apple and the Irish government. A third party has come in uninvited with an opinion. Very interesting.
At $26 trillion America’s housing stock is the largest asset class in the world, worth a little more than the country’s stockmarket. America’s mortgage-finance system, with $11 trillion of debt, is probably the biggest concentration of financial risk to be found anywhere. It is still closely linked to the global financial system, with $1 trillion of mortgage debt owned abroad.  Just think about that.
Documents, stolen from George Soros’s Open Society Foundations, were altered by hackers to create the false impression that Russian anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny was funded by Soros. A pro-Russian hacking group, CyberBerkut, had inserted Navalny’s name, bogus dollar amounts and fabricated wording. Or so it is said. One might be suspicious of released and "liberated" documents, especially hacked ones. The disinformation program in Russia is quite fantastic; they will do anything. The highest-level KGB defector in history, Romanian Lt. Gen. Ion Pacepa, wrote a book called Disinformation about the Soviet lies-into-truth campaign and it is hair-raising.

Aaaaaaaaaannnnnnddddddd.......Hand-colored photograph of the original Amber Room, 1931.
Hand-colored photograph of the original Amber Room, 1931. Photo credit: public domain

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