Archive for November, 2010

Completing the Circle

November 21, 2010 1 comment

Jump to 15:00 into this video to see what Dorothy Rabinowitz has to say about airport security.  This makes my flesh crawl.  The first sign that somebody either hasn’t thought out or doesn’t even believe their own argument is that they never finish making a point.

This is not a question I can answer, I can only say they always have come up with the notion;  hey, it doesn’t work anyway.  What we’re really dealing with is a kind of psychological outrage and that’s the thing we’ve been accustomed to, it’s an indulgence, and the fact that one can say “this is a violation of my rights,” what has this to do with the general danger that people face?  We are not a garrison state the way the Israelis are [we look worse than them now…] the way everyone puts up with, you know that sort of thing, and it is an extreme example of the kind of entitlement that American citizens have to say “hey don’t touch my–” what is that loathsome phrase “don’t touch my junk” that has now been elevated to a heroic moment? 

What is she talking about?  The reason people drone on like this without making a coherent statement is that they know on some level that their argument makes no sense and they don’t want to give you something solid to think about.  They just want to create a general impression in your mind by using words like “indulgence,” “entitlement,” “loathsome.”  But since she doesn’t really want to tell you what she thinks, I will tell you for her.  She thinks we are spoiled in our liberties.  The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures is an indulgence. 

She’s right about one thing.  We are spoiled.  But the way in which we are spoiled is in our expectation of absolute safety and security at all times.  We have lived in a world where we have been able to take both safety and liberty for granted.  We now believe that we will always have our liberty and we don’t need to worry about it so when something shakes our confidence in our safety, we are willing to do whatever it takes to feel safe again.  But life is dangerous.  There is nothing the government can do to keep you completely safe at all times.  And more importantly, liberty is an anomaly on the Earth.  There are all kinds of things the government can do to destroy your liberty and those who have it have the responsibility to defend it against the government at all times if they want to keep it. 

The worst part of this though, is that they are making another leap in their rhetoric here that I have not seen until now.  Progressives have been referring to entitlements as “rights” for decades.  Now they have completed the circle.  They are referring to actual rights as entitlements.  Obviously this is a necessary step if you are going to masquerade as a champion of people’s rights at the same time that you are stripping them away.  Pleas don’t fall for it.


Privatize it: TSA

November 20, 2010 Leave a comment

Here is a Republican congressman calling for the TSA to be “privatized.”

We should privatize the TSA, but what he is talking about is not privatization.  He’s basically saying we should create an oppressive and invasive (and by the way, unconstitutional) set of restrictions, impose them on the entire market, and then hire a “private” firm to do the imposing.  It’s possible that doing this might be slightly more efficient but in this case even that is pretty questionable since it’s hard to see how you would make the revenue of such a firm dependent on their performance which is what leads to these increases in efficiency. 

So what would privatization really mean?  It would mean the government does nothing regarding airline security.  “Privatizing the TSA” means eliminating the TSA.  That’s it.  We don’t need a nationwide security apparatus.  “So you think we should just do nothing and let terrorists blow up planes at will!?” I can hear the left (and let’s face it, the right too) gasping.  First of all I sort of do think that.  If somebody wants to blow people up there is no shortage of ways to do it, it seems ridiculous to me to be so paranoid about airplanes.  But that being said, this would not be the case.

The premise behind that statement is that if government doesn’t do something it won’t get done.  But does the government produce milk and ship it to your local supermarket?  No.  And yet there is milk there.  Go ahead take a look.  I have no idea where you live or at what time you are reading this and I can guarantee you that if you go to the nearest supermarket there will be milk there even though there is no law saying there must be or government agency in charge of providing milk.  Probably there will in fact be a wide variety of milk to choose from: whole milk, fat-free, 1%, 2%, soy milk, vanilla soy, etc. and several brands of each.  How does this happen?

Obviously, there is milk there because people are willing to pay for it.  And things that people are willing to pay for get provided.  So what would a world with “privatized” airport security look like?  Well, if people want to get groped in exchange for a slightly smaller chance of being blown up by a terrorist, then some airline would no doubt offer them that service.  If someone else, like me, preferred not to get groped, then another airline would most likely give them that option.  If you think profiling (or any other technique) is more effective, you could choose the airline that does that.  We could all get what we want. 

Personally, I would start an airline called “Bring it on Airlines.”  I would have no security, you could just show up a few minutes before takeoff and get on.  I would paint a big target on the sides of the planes.  Also I would charge for bags.  In order to get on all you would have to do is sign the following statement.

The goal of terrorists is to cause terror.  I refuse to live in terror.  If anyone tries to hijack this flight, I will fight them to the death.  If they kill me, I will die free.

It would be a real tough-guy airline.  And all of you people who are concerned about terrorists would be even more safe since the occasional terrorist that did come along wanting to blow up a plane would certainly go after mine instead of  the ones with all the drastic security measures and the passengers–you know, the ones who are willing to sacrifice their privacy and dignity and live in fear of the miniscule chance of being blown up by a terrorist.  Yeah, I’m sure they will leave those people alone and go after my airline.  So what’s the problem people?  Privatize it!

Update: After I wrote this today, I went to the supermarket to get milk and they didn’t have it!  I broke down laughing right there in the isle.  People probably thought I was crazy.  But actually they still had like 20 varieties of milk they were just out of the one I wanted.  And they actually had exactly what I wanted but in a different (more expensive) brand.  And then someone came by and asked if I was finding everything and I told her what I wanted and she went in the back and got me one.  So the free market works after all!

Liberty for Security

November 19, 2010 1 comment

Here is a nice quote.

Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.

– Benjamin Franklin

I thought the quote included the phrase “and will lose both” but apparently this is a misconception.  At any rate, I think the addition is apt.

Now here is another nice quote.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probably cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

-4th amendment to the Constitution of the United States

And then there’s this.

So I’m asking you America: what is the point of the Constitution?  I was under the impression that the Constitution was an explicit declaration of “essential rights” which must not be given up for the risk of losing both our liberty and safety.  Who doesn’t get it?  Is it me or is it the government?  Decide.  And if it’s the government, and the confusion is so widespread that this is happening and nobody at any level of government is inclined to stop it, do we have a serious problem on our hands?  Before you decide on that one here are some more facts.

1. Historically speaking, your odds of dying in a terrorist attack are 1 in 9.3 million.  That’s all terrorist attacks, not just planes.

2.  The chance of winning a million dollars in Mega Millions is 1 in 3.9 million.  In Powerball it’s 1 in 5 million.

3.  The odds of being struck by lightning in your lifetime: 1/6250

3. According to this page, 3,194 Americans have died as a result of terrorist attacks on airplanes and airports, 2992 of them were on Sept. 11.

4.  In the year 2000 (that’s 1 year!) 43,000 Americans died in automobile accidents. 400,000 Americans had their deaths attributed to “poor diet and physical inactivity.”

5. Prescription drugs are 16,400% more likely to kill you than terrorist attack.

Obviously I could go on and on like this.  Here is a hypothetical.

According to a professor named Michael L. Rothschild:

“…let us assume that each week one commercial aircraft were hijacked and crashed. What are the odds that a person who goes on one trip per month would be in that plane? There are currently about 18,000 commercial flights a day, and if that person’s trip has four flights associated with it, the odds against that person’s being on a crashed plane are about 135,000 to 1. If there were only one hijacked plane per month, the odds would be about 540,000 to 1.”

If I came up to you and said “I have a magic pebble which will prevent you from being struck by lightning” (assuming you believed me) what would you give me for it?  $10?  $100?  $1,000?  Would you give up your essential liberties?  How about your children’s?  Being struck by lightning is 1,488 times more likely than dying in a terrorist attack.  Come on people, this is insanity!  Why would we be doing this?

According to Brian Michael Jenkins:


“Psychologists have learned that we rank fatal events by roughly squaring the death toll per event. An automobile accident with one fatality is seen as one fatality. One hundred accidents with one fatality apiece are still seen as 100 deaths. But a single event with ten fatalities has the same psychological impact as 100 individual fatalities, and an event with 100 deaths has the impact of 10,000 deaths. This is why we pay more attention to increasingly rare airline crashes, which usually involve many fatalities, than we do to the much larger national death toll from automobile accidents. The terrorist attack on 9/11, with nearly 3,000 dead, had the psychological impact of millions dying.”


Hmmmmm, this sounds kind of like something Obama said one time.

People out there are still hurting very badly, and they are still scared. And so part of the reason that our politics seems so tough right now, and facts and science and argument does not seem to be winning the day all the time, is because we’re hard-wired not to always think clearly when we’re scared And the country is scared, and they have good reason to be.

Shouldn’t our wise leader step in now to save us from ourselves when we’re not thinking clearly because of fear?  And what about the courts?  Remember when they discovered a “right to privacy” in the “penumbras and emanations” of the constitution even though it says nothing directly about a general right to privacy?  Well where are they now that the government is doing the exact thing specifically prohibited in the actual language of the document?  Where are you “liberals?”  Where are you ACLU?  Is it OK to take away our liberties as long as we take them from everyone equally?

It’s easy to proclaim “we should do whatever it takes to keep Americans safe.”  But we need to actually start considering whether we believe things like this.  And when you’re considering it keep in mind that a terrorist could strike anywhere–on the bus, on the road, in the workplace, your apartment building, etc.  Oh and remember all those things which are way more likely to kill you than terrorism?  What’s stopping the government from taking away your cheeseburger as well?  So if we’re OK with this at the airport where is the line?  Decide America.



November 11, 2010 Leave a comment

Here are a few stylized facts:

1. Most Americans don’t like the healthcare bill.

2. Most Americans “like” social security and medicare.

3.  Democrats claim that once Americans learn what is in the healthcare bill they will like it.

They are right about this.  Well that’s not exactly accurate.  What they mean when they say people “like” social security is that people don’t want to end it.  And this is what they really mean about healthcare as well.  But this doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.  Every time I see a Democrat on tv saying to a conservative/Republican “so you don’t think we should have social security?” and see the Republican squirm and back down I want to scream at my TV.  “Yes!  Social security was  terrible idea!  Medicare was a terrible idea!” 

These programs are one of the main sources of our current calamity.  One way or another they are going to collapse, either because we phase them out or because they (along with many other problems) collapse the whole government around them.  But people “like” them because these programs send them a check every month.  It’s not rocket science!  It’s not that over the last 40 years everyone underwent a deep intellectual consideration of the issue and decided that it’s a good idea for the government to take your money by force for your entire life and give it to someone else on the promise of taking someone else’s money and giving it to you when/if you get old enough.  It’s not a good idea.  It’s not efficient, it’s not sustainable, it violates the fundamental tenants of individual liberty and responsibility, it’s not a good idea!

But by now, people have planned their lives around social security and medicare.  We have a generation of seniors who have paid into it their whole lives and believed that they would get a certain amount of benefits back.  They were told that this was a perfectly stable system and it was fair and everything would be fine.  These were lies.  But now they have planned their retirement based on the expectation of that money.  If you take it away they will be screwed.  Of course they don’t want to end it.

It would seem like a crime to take away social security benefits from people who have paid into it their entire lives.  And it is a crime.  But the crime has already happened.  The crime was taking that money in the first place and giving it away to someone else (much of it has gone to other programs).  Now the question is not “should we rob the public of their social security money?” it is “since we have already robbed the public of their social security money, who should end up paying for it?”  I am not proposing an answer to this question here I just want to point out that the crime occurred when we instituted the program in the first place not when it eventually collapses.

The exact same thing is happening with the healthcare bill.  It’s not that people will decide it’s a good idea once it’s been in effect for a few years, it’s that it will distort the whole healthcare industry to the point where people will not want to go back to a system that makes sense because it will imply some short-term disruption to their lives (given the nature of the issue, for some it will be long-term) which they will not want to bear.

Here is an example.  Since you cannot be denied care for having a preexisting condition (the part of the bill which is simultaneously the most destructive part and the part which everyone supposedly agrees on) people will go without health insurance (and potentially pay a fine) because when they get sick they can just go get insurance and insurers will be forced to take them (and the price will be regulated).  As I have pointed out before, this is a complete distortion of the meaning of insurance.  But once it is instituted, if you try to go back to a free insurance market it will yank the rug out from under these people.  They would have to pay a fair price for insurance which, if they had a preexisting condition, may be exceptionally high.  That’s why you get insurance before you get sick.  That’s the point of insurance.  But once they distort the system, they make going back to something that makes sense extremely disruptive.

This is what they mean when they say that people will learn to like it.  They will become dependent on it.  This is, in fact, what they mean by “progressive.”  And this is why it is of the utmost importance to repeal it now before this happens.  Unfortunately, it’s difficult for me to imagine that happening….


November 9, 2010 Leave a comment

Everybody’s talking about rebalancing lately.  See yesterday’s WSJ headline, and below the fold.  Meanwhile the Fed is monetizing the debt driving the dollar down.  So what is the big picture here?  It’s actually quite simple.  We’re (America) consuming too much and producing too little.  What they mean by “rebalancing” is a global arrangement that will get you to work more and send the produce of your labor to some other country. 

Now I’m not saying we don’t need that we probably do.  But the reason we need it is because they used managed trade and currency manipulation to create a world economy where the rest of the world works to produce things for our consumption without receiving something of equal value in return.  Instead, our main export is debt which is the promise to supply something of real value in the future.  But this system can’t go on forever, eventually we have to make up the deficit.  So now they’re trying to use managed trade and currency manipulation to achieve the opposite. 

But the real head scratcher in all of this is not what they’re doing, it’s the way that they act like this is going to be great for America and require everyone else to sacrifice.  It seems to be every country’s goal to produce as much as possible for someone else’s benefit and they’re fighting over who will have to suck it up and consume it all.  We have created a global economic system which has turned our logic completely upside down.  It’s turned us into altruists without us even realizing it!

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November 8, 2010 Leave a comment
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November 3, 2010 2 comments

Here is Sumner (essentially a monetarist) saying kind of the same thing I have been saying but in less alarmist language. 

It’s hard for me to tell the Fed what to do, because I don’t know where they are trying to go.  Go back to the ship analogy.  Suppose the captain is rather secretive, and will only indicate that he is aiming for a large port in the northeastern US.   He also says that due to wind and current he expects to end up somewhere around Charleston SC.  What sort of advice should we give him?  First, at a minimum he should turn the wheel to the right, to nudge the ship onto a more northerly course.  And second, he should pick an explicit target, and let his crew know which city he is aiming for.  Then his crew could help him decide how to set the steering mechanism at a position expected to produce on target sailing (accounting for wind and currents.)

Right now the Fed has two problems.  They won’t tell us their goal, and they won’t set policy at position expected to reach their (secret) goal.  We know they’d like inflation and employment to be a bit higher, but we don’t know how much higher.  We know they have set their policy levers at a position where they expect to fail, i.e. they hope NGDP grows a bit faster than their forecasting unit expects, not a bit slower.  But we don’t know how much faster.  If I knew their goal I could give advice on how to achieve the goal.  Instead, all I can recommend is “more.”

The difference is that he just thinks they should stop behaving this way.  I think we shouldn’t give them the power to behave this way.

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