Wednesday, March 8, 2017


Government’s attempts at oversight serve primarily to facilitate rent-seeking, which offers greater profit without greater productivity.--Mahoney

Discussing Obama's apparent belief that the Syrian civil war could be negotiated to an end, a columnist wrote: Although neither the English nor the American nor the Russian nor the Spanish nor the Chinese civil war was ended by negotiations, Obama thought the especially vicious and complex civil war in Syrian's sectarian and tribal society could be ended diplomatically. Russian President Vladimir Putin picked a side and helped it win.

According to the Institute for International Finance, total global debt as of Q3 2016  increased by $11 trillion in the first 9 months of the year, hitting a new all time high of $217 trillion. As a result, late in 2016, global debt levels are now roughly 325% of the world's gross domestic product. Not to worry.

"When I was young, just got out of college, I had to buy auto insurance. I had a beat-up old car. And I won't name the name of the insurance company, but there was a company -- let's call it Acme Insurance in Illinois. And I was paying my premiums every month. After about six months I got rear-ended and I called up Acme and said, I'd like to see if I can get my car repaired, and they laughed at me over the phone because really this was set up not to actually provide insurance; what it was set up was to meet the legal requirements. But it really wasn't serious insurance." This is Obama talking about insurance generally in a discussion about the ACA specifically. He seems not to understand the basic point here: You buy the coverage you want. In order to drive you need basic insurance to cover basic costs in an accident but that does not include collision insurance. That is extra. He may not have understood that then, when he was young, but he should now.

Who is...Knecker?

Radicals had long seen government as the problem, not the solution: that to enrich the masses required liberating people from kings and priests. So, a hundred fifty years ago, they invented communism.

"As American society grows less literate and the state of its moral education declines, the American people grow less able to engage their government as intellectually and morally prepared citizens." Williamson wrote that in the National Review. Is it true? Are we really less "literate?" I would think we are the most literate, educated culture in history. Is he simple comparing the people of the mass culture of today to well educated elites of older times? Galton thought the more people in the decision-making process, the more accurate the decision; does that include government policy as well as a dead ox's weight? Or is our collective genius less technical?

A new book on Madame de Staël (by Biancamaria Fontana) has some interesting observations apropos this question.
de Staël was a towering personality (and Knecker's daughter) who, in addition to her loud and tumultuous life, was a keen and prolific political and social commentator. She wrote before the French Revolution until after the Napoleon government. Beyond partisan politics and poor leadership, what had gone wrong in France in the 1790s? Fontana argues that for Staël one answer lay in the abstraction that had so engrossed Necker: public opinion. She addressed the topic in her first published political intervention in 1791 when she asked how the opinion of the majority of the nation could be ascertained and, when known, judged as based on fear or reason. Convinced that most people were moderate and wanted stability, she argued that this majority should be kept at the center of representative government. So, how did it happen that a small radical faction had led it by the nose? By the end of the revolutionary decade she had to conclude that the French public had been simply too uneducated and badly informed to assume political responsibility. And de Staël usefully reminds the present that nothing in politics is inevitable or fated, that everything must be analyzed, and that politicians should always be held accountable.

President Trump complains that trade with China is “one-sided.” Does he speak English or what? One-sided trade is like one-sided triangle: you can say it, but you can’t mean (think) it.--Richman

Golden oldie:

In what security experts are calling an unprecedented move, Trump has continued to employ a private security and intelligence team at his post-election "thank you" rallies around the country and is expected to keep at least some members of the team after his inauguration, according to Politico. He's said to be the first president or president-elect in modern history to do so, as all others have relied solely on the Secret Service for personal security and local law enforcement for event security. What is this? Does he not trust the Secret Service? Some libertarians smell elitist "loyalty to the man, not the nation" here. I spoke to an old CIA guy this week and he says these people are really upset over Trump's threatened override of existing security systems. Former Central Intelligence Agency director James Woolsey appears to have left Trump's transition team, another bad sign. I guess when you ask for disruption, you get total disruption.

And, from the party of business, a Republican proposal aimed at cutting tax rates and keeping jobs in the U.S. risks whacking the earnings of big U.S. retailers by driving up the cost of imported clothes, furniture and other goods.

Medicare spending on end-of-life care is dropping rapidly,  down from 19% to 13% of the Medicare  budget since 2000. Living to a ripe old age isn't a problem. It's a bargain. Someone who lives to 97 needs only about half as much end-of-life care as someone who dies at 68. So getting old is good for the economy! Pass it on.

In 1883 the painter-writer-mystic Kahlil Gibran was born in Lebanon. His best-known work, The Prophet, was first published in 1923; it remains at or near the top of the all-time best-seller lists in both the Arab world and the West, apparently providing the comfort and inspiration intended: "The whole Prophet is saying one thing," he summarized, "'you are far greater than you know -- and all is well.'" It was required reading in the '60s.

Turkey currently holds some 140 journalists and dozens of academics in prison; their visitors are forbidden from giving them paper or pens to write with in their cells. For years now, these women and men have been quietly arrested under the government headed by President Erdoğan, often on oblique anti-terrorism charges, with the result that they languish in prison for years without standing trial. Their numbers have dramatically increased since July’s failed coup, which precipitated a sweeping purge of those deemed a threat to the state. In Turkey, it has become dangerous to be associated with any books, opinions or newspaper articles that are not expressly supportive of Erdoğan’s government. People inform on their neighbours, and burn their own books for fear of being caught.

Bordeaux has a good line: "Law – unlike legislation – is never made.  It emerges as the result of human action but not of human design."
This distinction between what occurs and what is actually "made" is important. Laws, culture, societies all looked to be a battlefield between what people think they can create versus what the system will allow. So the imposition of America's concept of individual rights from the top down works in post-war Japan but fails in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is the fact that it sometimes works that is difficult for us.

From Johan Norberg's book Progress comes this startling opinion: "The economist William Easterly has shown that the correlation between a country’s health indicators and its own growth rate is not as strong as the correlation between its health indicators and global growth.  In this era of globalization, the most important factor behind a country’s success is the success of other countries."
There are a number of obvious footnotes one could apply but it is an interesting observation.

A U.S. Navy destroyer fired three warning shots at four Iranian fast-attack vessels after they closed in at a high rate of speed near the Strait of Hormuz, two U.S. defense officials told Reuters on Monday. If you were looking for metaphors
for the risk of complex systems, this would be one. And this: U.S. and Russian jets have crowded into the same airspace over Syria fighting parallel wars.

James Buchanan wrote that Adam Smith, rather than explaining an economic phenomenon, was a revolutionary.  ".....Smith was offering an alternative vision of how an economy might work.  It was necessary to provide this alternative vision before the mercantilist blinders could be removed.  Smith’s effort was, in this quite literal sense, subversive of the existing order and of the set of attitudes that supported this order.  I see no reason why our task is 1976 is any different from that in 1776."
Trump is in some ways a return to that mercantilist thinking.

And, as if things weren't bad enough, a genetics firm in Reykjavik, Iceland found that groups of genes that predispose people to spend more years in education became a little rarer in the country from 1910 to 1975. The sample size was more than 100,000 Icelanders. They found a slight decline over the 65-year period... "The cumulative effect over time means this is going to have a dramatic effect on the genetic predisposition to educational attainment."
So, we're getting dumber.

Economists have shown that the cost to get one drug to market successfully is now more than $2.8 billion. This cost has been growing at 7.5 percent per year, more than doubling every ten years. Most of this cost is due to FDA regulation. Some potentially helpful drugs don't ever make it to market because the cost the company must bear is too high.

Last year the official federal auditors at the Government Accountability Office reported more than $150 billion a year in fraudulent and/or erroneous entitlement spending through Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps and other benefit programs.

One big problem with Trump is how offensive he can be. Strangely, the celebrities at the Womens March protest was remarkably offensive in response. Perhaps fighting fire with fire. The celebrities, who clearly thought of themselves as the point of the event, were remarkably embarrassing. A real opportunity was missed, I think, as much as Trump missed an opportunity in his speech.

"Turkey currently holds some 140 journalists and dozens of academics in prison. No trial.  In Turkey, it has become dangerous to be associated with any books, opinions or newspaper articles that are not expressly supportive of Erdoğan’s government. People inform on their neighbours, and burn their own books for fear of being caught. "(scott)

In 1901, a drilling derrick at Spindletop Hill near Beaumont, Texas, produced an enormous gusher of crude oil, coating the landscape for hundreds of feet and signaling the advent of the American oil industry. The geyser was discovered at a depth of over 1,000 feet, flowed at an initial rate of approximately 100,000 barrels a day and took nine days to cap. This started the world's first trillion dollar industry but also created a source of cheap power that fueled the century. Only now, that we are rich as a result, can we afford to regret it.

According to the National Weather Service, Lake Tahoe has gained about 33.6 billion gallons of water this month and the lake has risen about one foot.

AAAAAaaaaannnnnnddddddd......a portrait:
Madame de Staël as Corinne, 1807, by Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun

No comments: