Put Your 20th-Century Employment Laws Where Your Mouth Is

Via Russ Roberts comes this op-ed from the President of MIT saying we need to increase our presence in manufacturing.

Here’s what I never get about this concern. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the Manufacturophiles are correct that we need to up our Manufacturing game. Well why then don’t they follow through, go the whole nine yards, and advocate for: no minimum wage, no child labor laws, no subsidies for paying-people-in-Health-Plan, no payroll tax, no enshrinement of unions with official status in law, no work-safety laws, no unemployment insurance, no litigation risk for ‘sexual harrassment’, or for ‘racial discrimination’, etc. etc. etc.

You know, why don’t they agitate for changes in the law that would make it, like, actually economical for companies to hire the median American citizen to do the oh-so-vaunted-and-desired ‘manufacturing’ work currently being done abroad? Because it’s really just not. And the preceding are part and parcel of why it’s not. But if firms could hire Americans for as cheaply as they can hire, say, Burmese to manufacture stuff – then maybe they would! Finally, we could pack factories with Americans again.

And that’d be great! Right, Susan Hockfield president of MIT? That is what you want isn’t it?

Experts, Left, And Right

Matthew Yglesias catches Jonah Goldberg making a bad argument for why the left is enamored of ‘Experts’:

The left needs to believe in the authority of experts because without that authority, almost no economic intervention can be justified.

Yeah, no. This isn’t really why the left needs to believe in the authority of experts. First, the left is about more than ‘economic intervention’ and their harnessing of Experts isn’t really focused on, or even limited to, ‘economic intervention’ as such in the first place.

So why do they worship at the altar of Expertopia then? Perhaps Yglesias’s rebuttal will provide some hint:

One way to think about conservative ideology formation in America is that many prominent conservative writers, such as National Review’s Jonah Goldberg, are kind of dim-witted and thus need to come up with principles that allow them to write about diverse issues without having any insight into anything.

See what he did there? He, Matthew Yglesias, paid pundit who “blogs” for a living, called Jonah Goldberg a dummy. And by comparison, implicitly and breezily elevated himself to the status of a smarty, based on no evidence, background, training or experience whatsoever. (Having read thousands of words from both, I have yet to see one iota of evidence that Matthew Yglesias is one iota smarter than Jonah Goldberg.) Yet Yglesias speaks as if his smartness, his intellectual superiority to Jonah Goldberg just goes without saying. This is quintessential lefty behavior in their wild, pristine environment. I find it fascinating myself.

Because, you see, one way to think about lefty ideology formation in America is that many prominent lefty writers, such as Think Progress’s Matthew Yglesias, are kind of dim-witted and thus need to hitch their views onto ‘Expert’ opinions that will allow them to write about diverse issues without having any insight into anything. Oops, okay I did the same thing there. But the point is, it’s self-flattery to think that you can always locate yourself on the side of ‘Experts’, and why people such as Matthew Yglesias do it doesn’t really require any deep psychological explanation.

But that’s not really why I think the left is in thrall to ‘Experts’. I think it flows from a very real and genuine divide between the lefty and righty worldviews. The righty worldview is characterized by a desire for limited government and greater individual autonomy. This desire is obviously in natural tension with anyone’s attempt to put ‘Experts’ or their purported findings centrally in charge of anything. In stating this desire the right would emphasize the ‘knowledge problem’, i.e. that no central group of people, no matter how ‘Expert’, could have sufficient knowledge to solve the things that government tries to solve. (Those who have memorized my Primer will recognize echoes of All Large Calculations Are Wrong.)

The left, meanwhile, is almost by definition engaged in a denial of the existence of the knowledge problem. Their implicit pitch is that given enough time/resources/[power], ‘Experts’ can too solve those problems, so we should put them in charge (or, more accurately, put the left in charge, because they promise to listen to more Experts, appoint Experts to high positions, etc).

The latter attitude is obviously quite flattering to Experts (and, perhaps more so, to posers who think of themselves as Experts, or ‘technocrats’, or what have you). So, it’s no surprise that a goodly portion of Experts are happy to go along with the flattery and Expert status-elevation the left peddles.

My explanation would also predict that the more arrogant and egotistical the Expert – and the more his self-image is pathetically tied to him being such a big-shot smartypants Expert – the more likely he is to be attracted to the lefty rather than the righty worldview. While we are still gathering data, this prediction does appear to be borne out by the real-world political distribution of Experts that one can observe on the web.

Anyway, the point is that the lefty-righty divide on ‘Experts’ doesn’t arise for some trivial reason such as one side having dumber pundits than the other. And it isn’t some inexplicable esoteric mystery or random statistical fluctuation either. It stems directly from a genuine, sincere, real, and deep-seated difference between the two worldviews. Righties had better get comfort with that and come up with better explanations for it than Jonah Goldberg just did. Otherwise, the likes of Matthew Yglesias will come along and call them dumby dummy-heads, and that really hurts, because Matthew Yglesias is a frickin’ polymath GENIUS. Know how I know? Because he name-drops Experts.

Okay, It’s A Slow-Motion Ponzi Scheme

Ezra Klein takes up the Social-Security-is-not-a-Ponzi-scheme mantle. Seems to be piggybacking off this guy’s argument, which – as far as I can tell – rests entirely on Social Security not being a fraud, but rather, out in the open.

Obviously if the government itself is doing it, according to laws it wrote, it can’t quite be a ‘fraud’ (frauds are illegal). So by that definition no government action can be a Ponzi scheme period. But what have we learned from this? That Social Security is, at worst, an overt and legal Ponzi-esque scheme? Is that better?

Here’s what Wiki calls a Ponzi scheme:

A Ponzi scheme is a fraudulent investment operation that pays returns to separate investors, not from any actual profit earned by the organization, but from their own money or money paid by subsequent investors.

Bernstein’s (and, therefore, Klein’s) defense against the Ponzi charge says that it’s not a Ponzi scheme because it’s ‘a promise to a group of people that their children will be taxed for that group’s benefit…it’s a promise that could be broken (because anything can change in the future), but it isn’t dependent on an ever-increasing group of investors hoping to earn a profit’. I must not be wearing the right goggles to notice the huge gulf of difference between (1) paying returns from money paid by subsequent investors and (2) paying returns from money paid by subsequent investors. (The ‘investors’ in Social Security are, of course, taxpayers.) At the very least there does seem to be a resemblance in the structure of the two; Bernstein’s claim that Social Security has “essentially nothing in common with such a plan” is quite a head-scratcher. Does someone need to explain it slower?

Which to me is the key. The real distinction, if there is one, between Social Security and a Ponzi scheme is the timescale. Nobody is promised high/immediate ‘returns’ in Social Security after all; they’re promised they’ll get something way down the road (when they’re old). But does the fulfillment of that promise require signing up new ‘investors’ (taxpayers)? Of course it does, by Bernstein/Klein’s own telling. The nation needs to have enough citizens N and/or tax the average citizen enough X such that N * X (plus whatever interest the government pays itself in the name of Social Security) is enough to pay Social Security recipients…er, something. So it’s a plan, one might loosely call it a ‘scheme’, in which the promise of returns to current ‘investors’ depends crucially on signing up (taxing) a sufficient number of future ‘investors’.

Um, wait. Sorry, in my book that’s a Ponzi scheme. I know it’s not technically ‘fraudulent’, but the way people abuse language to talk about and proselytize for it (e.g. ‘trust fund’), perhaps it should be.

The real defense (if there is one) of Social Security is not that it’s ‘not a Ponzi scheme’, but that it’s a slow-motion Ponzi scheme. After all, what’s so bad about Ponzi schemes anyway? What’s so bad about them is that they inevitably crash and burn and swindle people out of their money. But if a Ponzi scheme is out in the open and can be run/managed in slow motion, so that the crash and burn isn’t inevitable (for example, because new people/immigrants will be born/immigrate into the population at a high enough rate), then I’m not sure what’s wrong with Ponzi schemes. As long as the financing appears to be on sound footing.

And isn’t this exactly what Klein thinks? That Social Security’s financing will be fine, because of demographics and actuarial tables and whatnot? If Social Security’s defenders truly think the financing is sound, then the ‘Ponzi’ charge should hold no teeth and they needn’t waste their breath fighting it. If they do waste their breath fighting it (and in the process resort to hyperbole such as SS having ‘nothing in common’ with a Ponzi scheme), I start to wonder whether they really believe the financing is so sound after all; they ‘protest too much’.

In a way, by pointing out that Social Security is a slow-motion Ponzi scheme, I’m expressing more confidence in its soundness than those who are franctically denying its Ponzi nature. I’m explicitly saying it’s a Ponzi scheme but, perhaps, a sustainable one. The anti-Ponzi contingent is talking like they don’t think any Ponzi scheme can possibly be sustainable; if true, this spells trouble for Social Security.

After all, the one thing we do agree on about Social Security is that it pays current recipients out of taxing the new-additions. Ponzi or not, either this arrangement is sustainable or it isn’t. You tell me.

Teenage Kross

Something I didn’t know existed: Redd Kross covering Teenage Fanclub.

What The Scientific Method Means To Our ‘Progressive’ Defenders Of Science

Science = “winning the conversation” and likening people to racists if they disagree with you.

He blindsided me with science.


*Apologies to Thomas Dolby.

UPDATE: By the way, I realize that ‘he’s not running for anything anymore’, but he was at one point, not even all that long ago, and he was the darling of those who self-report as Defenders Of Science. In light of the reckless, embarrassing, unscientific things (including this thing) that the creepy zealot Al Gore has been quoted as saying since then, if you are one of these people who view yourself as ‘pro-science’, you have a responsibility to distance yourself from and denounce his idiotic remarks. And if you won’t or can’t, I don’t want to hear a FUCKING THING from you about Rick Perry or Michelle Bachmann or anyone who says almost-as-dumb things (while having (R) after their name), because you clearly have no credibility or valid claim to speak for ‘Science’ whatsoever in the first place, and instead are just a partisan cheerleader in ‘science’ drag.

So, y’know, ball, your court. Haven’t seen anyone on the left say anything about this loon though; still waiting.

My ‘Healthcare’ [sic] Proposal

Since I criticize Obamacare and related ‘healthcare’ [sic] approaches all the time, surely I should put forth my own ‘healthcare’ [sic] idea, you cry out. Okay then:

Individuals who desire this or that health care good or service be provided ought to communicate that desire to other individuals in a position to provide it, via some appropriately-liquid medium of exchange. In particular, they could use money as that medium of exchange.

Why don’t we try this?

Regime Uncertainty: Help Disprove Me

I’m starting to see the idea bubble back up in the ‘sphere that regime uncertainty is a serious part of what’s holding the economy back. Since this is something I started freaking out and whining about (as could be easily verified in my archives, but I already link to myself too much as it is) in late ’08-early ’09, I thought I’d revisit it for a brief round of told-you-so.

But maybe I was wrong then and I’m still wrong that regime uncertainty is a significant part of what’s damaging the economy. It seems to me that a naysayer can adopt one of these two positions:

  1. There’s no regime uncertainty, or it’s not important to the economy. The economy’s bad for other reasons.
  2. The economy’s not bad, so the regime-uncertainty complaint lacked merit, evidently it didn’t hold back the economy at all.

By the way, I include all things related to ‘Obamacare’ under the category of regime uncertainty.

Anyway, I’d like to know if there’s anyone out there to defend 1 or 2. I think very few people would defend 2 at this time. So my naysayers presumably have to rally around 1. But then they have to supply an alternative explanation for why the economy is so bad. What, pray tell?

I reckon this is why ‘progressives’ and others motivated to downplay the negatives of the Obama administration are so attracted to ‘Keynesian’ explanations of everything. The economy is bad ‘because everyone is hoarding too much cash and there’s not enough Aggregate Demand’ or some such bullshit. (Seriously, I feel like I lose brain cells every time I think or say or type ‘Aggregate Demand’.)

It’s no mystery why ‘progressives’ would prefer this explanation to one involving, among other things, something like Obamacare seriously fucking up the economy. But to give this rebuttal credibility they then have to do the follow-through, which means pretending to actually believe in this ‘Aggregate Demand’ bullshit, and putting forth supposed solutions explicitly aimed at ‘increasing Aggregate Demand’ with as straight a face as they can muster. So the problem was not enough stimulus, and the answer is more stimulus!

It’s like a suspect, having come up with a lame-brained alibi, digging himself in even further by expanding on the web of lies and half-truths to the point where it becomes comical. Or a gambler on a losing streak doubling down. More stimulus, ever more. It’s pathetic.

By the way, looking at my ’08/’09 whining I see another idea I had hit upon was that regime uncertainty explicitly in politics was part of what did the damage. I was talking about the lame-duck Bush Presidency at the time, but it seems to me subsequent events have still fit this pattern. Since ’08 we have had:

  • A new President coming in promising to change everything (’08-09)
  • A gigantic health care bill nobody read and whose effects nobody can honestly claim to understand being passed by obsessive ideologues who didn’t know what they were voting for (’09-10)
  • A new party swept into power in Congress (’10-11)
  • That party being unpopular, casting doubt whether they’d hold the House, and the split government raising the spectre of default (’11)
  • The President becoming increasingly unpopular, casting doubt whether he’d win re-election (’11)

In other words nobody looking at the political situation has had any respite from the possibility/danger that the governance would change hands soon (and with it, the rules and bureaucracy that affect the business landscape). We have had at least three years running of solid instability and ambiguity in what the shape of our political governing regime is going to look like going forward.

And, three solid years running of recession (or at least, a bad economy).

Did the former cause the latter? Vice versa? Coincidence? I don’t know, but if I’m looking for counterevidence to my theory that political instability harms the economy, I’m not finding any from the past few years.

Am I wrong?

MEGASTORM 2011 After-Report

Boy, there sure were quite a few twigs on the ground when I mowed the lawn today.

The Control Room

I’ve wasted a lot of pixels and photons ladling thick, rich, savory sarcasm over the notion that a President of the United States (any President) sits at the center of some sort of ‘control room’, pulling levers and flipping switches and turning dials as he ‘runs the country’.

Well, I have to eat my words, don’t I? Apparently there is a control room, and here it is:

In this video, we see President Obama managing and controlling the Hurricane Irene (or as I like to call it, MEGASTORM 2011) from a conference table. It’s really very impressive. I really just had no idea. He’s even in a shirt (not a coat and tie), to illustrate how hard he’s working at this.

So, I stand corrected.

Keep up it, President Obama. Please be sure to get enough fluids & elecrolytes as you run the hurricane. We can’t afford to let you not be sitting at that table in the control room. The country needs you!

Counterfeit Consensus

When it comes to anthropogenic global warming we all know that a ‘consensus’ of Scientists believe the science is settled. So one thing the evil, know-nothing Deniers (such as myself) regularly face is that the AGW believers can regularly point to gigantic numbers of The Scientists who (they say) are on their side.

Are they right? I have no idea! And neither do you! And neither do they! What to do with a claim such as “97% of scientists agree with me”? Is it right? Wrong? Provable? Disprovable? None of the above?

I believe I’ve pointed out that part of the problem with such claims is that they tend to be inflated/padded by the participation of scientists who are not climate scientists but (nevertheless) add their name to various Consensus Lists in a show of what, I guess, is a sort of misguided academic solidarity. To find an example for this post, I dug around for one of those Open Letters of The Scientists demonstrating Consensus we’re always hearing about, and I found this one. 255 scientists! Impressive!

Dudes. Are there even 255 working qualified climate modelers in the entire world?

Let’s take a closer look shall we? I clicked on the first 10 names to get a sense of what those guys actually research. In order: anthropology, biochemistry/plants, geology, biology, page not found, geography/urban planning, plants, paleoanthropology/geography, evolutionary genetics, and NMR. Not to take anything away from any of those fields, and not to deny that some/many of them may touch on and influence (and be influenced by) climate projections, but literally none of these people are climate modelers and (lacking further information about their qualifications/background) their a priori claim to any sort of expertise or credentials for opining on global warming is precisely zilch. If the rest of that 255-long list is anything like the first 10 (a cursory glance will find some actual climate-model researchers, but lots and lots of apparent biologists and people who work for this or that ‘school of medicine’), it may as well be a list of random names out of the phone book as far as I’m concerned.

Someone please explain to me why such a ‘consensus’ about global warming is not counterfeit. I’m all ears.

The problem is that such lists are still very impressive to most people in more or less direct proportion to their length. The page on which I found this letter asks, in response, “Can 255 scientists be wrong?” Well to answer that in two parts: (1) Yes. Humans can be wrong! And it is unscientific to believe otherwise. (2) Hell yes, when they’re not speaking about their actual field of expertise.

I think people just have very little idea how balkanized and fragmented and specialized scientific research actually is. Even within my own field (mathematics), people have only the foggiest idea what people with a different focus are working on. If I had gone around the department I studied in and point to everyone there and say “their research is correct! Believe them! I stand by them!” such a statement would have and should have counted for diddly-squat. (And not just because I was a subpar researcher…) For most people around me, I simply didn’t know either way! I wasn’t working on the same stuff!

Such counterfeit consensus seems to plague the global warming debate. Why are non-climate-specialist scientists lending their names and credentials to these counterfeit consensus declarations? It’s irresponsible and misleading. This seems to be a case where what these scientists are really bolstering is not the consensus view on global warming per se, but the consensus view on Scientist Credentialism: ‘Laypeople, don’t ever question those with scientific credentials!’, is what they are really saying. After all, while only a small subset of scientists are qualified to speak about climate-change, they all seem to have a vested interest in making sure society elevates Scientists to unquestioned-high-priest status – and they clearly know it.

This is an unhealthy development in science, because it foreshadows orthodoxy and stagnation. What these scientists are primarily trying to cultivate is an environment of deference to scientists, of obeisance to credentials. One understands why they are doing this, but it is not conducive to actual scientific progress. In general, there needs to be a lack of deference between the various scientific fields, there needs to be constant questioning and skepticism of the claims of scientists working in one field by scientists working in other, unrelated fields. That’s what I’d like to see in a healthy scientific establishment and I think it is a failing of academics in general that there’s not more of it.

For Pete’s Sake Give The Man Somewhere To Drink

This Yglesias post is a nice, clean entry in the genre of Political-Views-Based-On-SWPL-Lifestyle-Enhancement of which he seems to have become a master. Essentially, Yglesias is sad that there aren’t enough uncrowded bars for him to trawl in downtown DC, and so wishes more could open, to hire some more plebes, to serve him margaritas.

Obviously in the actual post as written this concern is couched more as being motivated by increasing employment (of the plebes) and one does not doubt his sincerity on that particular point, but I nevertheless find it somehow charming and touching how frequently and consistently he seems to think of these things (see also: photographing cracks in downtown sidewalks) when he’s out for a SWPL evening somewhere.

The greatest thing about this Put-The-Plebes-To-Work-To-Make-My-Life-More-Pleasant genre however lies in appreciating those instances when it causes SWPLs to abandon their ‘progressive’ trappings altogether. The zoning and regulations Yglesias cites as a needless barrier to useful downtown bars were not exactly the product of small-government conservatives, after all. Similarly, Yglesias is fond of complaining about zoning and licensing in general (and takes some heat for it from his more-orthodox-progressive commenters). I probably sound like I’m complaining about his hypocrisy here and I want to make it clear I’m really not. I take this as a pleasant and welcome sign of his humanity and non-slavish devotion to ‘progressive’ orthodoxy. The guy just wants a nice evening out!

He’s Quite A Guy

Will you still love me when I don’t love you? I sure hope you do. It would be an ego boost. When I leave you, will you still be true, phone me up every night, ask me if I’m eating right? Cause I can’t stay with you, I’ve got other things to do, but while I’m away it sure would be great if you would wait for me cherish my memory keep my picture by your bed remember all the things I said. And you know if you would it would make me look good and everyone would say he’s quite a guy. I hate working it’s so stupid. I’d much rather not have to do it. If you really love me honey get another job and send me the money. If people knew that I could make you do that then everyone would say he’s quite a guy.

–The Mr. T Experience, “Will You Still Love Me When I Don’t Love You?”

Google Reader Flush

Cleaning out my Google Reader. Boy was it getting clogged.

Something For The Girl With Everything

Are Sparks geniuses?


Dear Blogosphere,

If you don’t want Rick Perry to be inaugurated President in January ’13, you don’t necessarily have to hate the state of Texas. If you don’t want Barack Obama to be re-inaugurated President in January ’13, you don’t necessarily have to love the state of Texas.

It’s quite possible in fact to form and convey opinions on this matter without taking a stand on Texas, or even knowing very much about it, one way or another. Indeed I plan to do just that.

Just saying, since you don’t seem to know this.

Dumb Stuff I Think People Think III

This one I’ll just summarize in one word: “Keynesianism”.

The best and most accurate statement of which ever created, I don’t mind saying, is below:

UPDATE: Admittedly, it may be that the reason I think “Keynesianism” is so mind-blowingly stupid is that I just haven’t had it condescendingly explained enough times to me via simplistic, cartoonish metaphors by people whose perpetual background assumption is that they are orders of magnitude smarter than I am. Maybe if I just read one more Paul Krugman column or Matthew Yglesias blog post something will click in my head. I may never get the opportunity to test out this theory however; chronic, inexplicable nauseau upon trying to slog through a full Paul Krugman column or Matthew Yglesias blog post seems to prevent it. How tragic, for me.

Our Science Authorities

Earlier this afternoon, I needed to figure out the answer to a Science question. Long story short, I got some of the answers I needed from Nancy Pelosi. A couple very helpful comments came from Barney Frank. And (of course – I should have known) the ultimate answer to the Science question I was struggling with, I was able to get by locating some choice quotes from President Obama.

Because when in need of knowledge and insight about Science, naturally I turn to politicians, the first people we look to for knowledge about Science.

Actually that’s a slight fib. The first person we look to for knowledge about Science is, as everyone knows, writer Jonathan Chait of the New Republic, since he knows even more about Science “than Rick Perry does”, which is important, relevant, and informative for us all to know. So aside from him, politicians know the most Science – that’s what I meant.

For those wondering what the Science question was, it had to do with Compton scattering angles. It really was a pretty simple Science issue for me to have forgotten and in retrospect I should have just immediately scoured Chait’s archives for the answer. That would have been the most efficient way. But it really isn’t hard to find useful President Obama quotes about Compton scattering either, because after all, like all Presidential candidates of all political parties, Barack Obama was heavily and energetically screened by the Fourth Estate for his Science knowledge before being allowed to become President.

Thank goodness we live in a society whose politicians are all, by Constitutional edict and general tacit agreement, experts on Science! I shudder to think what would happen if…

Well you get the point.

The Sneering Arrogance Of The Lazy Simpletons

As I alluded to over on this EconLog post, economic discussions often reduce to two camps:

  • People who think of the economy in a very simplistic (essentailly cartoonish) way, abstracting away all details and likening it to a machine you can control and tune – tweaking dials, pulling levers, opening valves, priming pumps.
  • People who don’t, and who instead think the economy is pretty complicated, and details matter.

Now, fine. Two approaches, to each his own, right? But here’s what I find astonishing:

The former group thinks they are Smart and they look down with sneering contempt on the intelligence of the latter group.

This is quite inexplicable. I am at a loss to understand it. Trying to explain this curious role-reversal phenomenon almost belongs neither to economics nor even to the study of politics. I am convinced it belongs to the realm of psychology.

Bleg From Keynesians

Has The Multiplier™ moved during this volatile period? Where is it now since last I checked? Are we long or short Multiplier gamma? Do we need to rebalance anything?

Just figured I’d ask you guys. Maybe could you post the answers on your blog, or Facebook wall? Since you know so much about this number which is so well-established and well-defined, and all.

The Fourth One

So last week, the leaders of Germany and France jointly announced intention to form an ‘economic union’ to save the Eurozone and try to put a lid on the sovereign-debt / PIGS crisis that’s been brewing for some time. This was seen as a timid but necessary first step paving the way for some sort of ‘Eurobond’ issuance, as well as a recognition that common currency without common fiscal policy has always been an unstable situation.

The reason I was moved to write this post is that I, for one, totally welcome the forthcoming unification of Germany and France. In fact I think it’s about time! Naysayers may scoff but I don’t see what can possibly go wrong. It’s not like this is new ground being broken either; it’s a little known fact that such a unification was attempted at least 3 times before, one of them coming within the last 75 years. Why the previous attempts all failed is now lost to the mists of history, but no matter, those days are gone, and I am fairly confident that the Fourth one will be a stunning success.

So to the forthcoming union to save all of Europe, all I can say is: Hail!


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 318 other followers