Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Joel Salatin on innovation

From Chapter 9, "Best Management Practices," in Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal:
"You see, the government can never be creative, because by definition it must satisfy 51 percent of the population. And the majority is never on the cutting edge of innovation. Any study of innovation reveals a common thread: it's really lonely out there at the breakthrough point. The early discoverers do not have majority backing; they receive sneers and catcalls from the majority."
I wish I had time to discuss this whole chapter tonight, but it cannot be.

Every chapter in this book seems to leave me with that feeling. So I'll just give a quick recommendation: read this book.

I mean it. Read this book.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Biological facts upheld in court. Also, more on Unnatural Selection.

It's been a big day so far for pro-life news. For one thing, a federal judge upheld an Indiana law requiring that patients for an abortion be informed of the basic biological fact that a fetus is a member of the species Homo Sapiens:
The court also disagreed with Planned Parenthood’s argument that the statement is “misleading.”

“Here, the mandated statement states only a biological fact relating to the development of the living organism; therefore, it may be reasonably read to provide accurate, non-misleading information to the patient,” the court wrote. “Under Indiana law, a physician must disclose the facts and risks of a treatment which a reasonably prudent physician would be expected to disclose under like circumstances, and which a reasonable person would want to know.”
In other news, Ross Douthat has a review of Unnatural Selection, which I mentioned recently. The review highlights Western culpability in the moral perversions of population control.
From the 1950s onward, Asian countries that legalized and then promoted abortion did so with vocal, deep-pocketed American support. Digging into the archives of groups like the Rockefeller Foundation and the International Planned Parenthood Federation, Hvistendahl depicts an unlikely alliance between Republican cold warriors worried that population growth would fuel the spread of Communism and left-wing scientists and activists who believed that abortion was necessary for both “the needs of women” and “the future prosperity — or maybe survival — of mankind,” as the Planned Parenthood federation’s medical director put it in 1976.
I can't say I'm surprised by this ironic alliance, but it is disgusting, all the same.

Douthat finds one thing lacking in Hvistendahl's book. Although he praises her for the "sense of moral urgency" with which the book is written, he points out the gaping hole in the basic moral argument: what enormous crime has been committed, exactly? Hvistendahl herself remains "agnostic" about when life begins. What then is the moral outrage? Douthat answers his own question:
Here the anti-abortion side has it easier. We can say outright what’s implied on every page of “Unnatural Selection,” even if the author can’t quite bring herself around.

The tragedy of the world’s 160 million missing girls isn’t that they’re “missing.” The tragedy is that they’re dead.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Regulating away small businesses

In his chapter on "Bacon," Joel Salatin explores how government regulations hurt small businesses and favor big ones. His own story is that government regulations have forbidden him from curing bacon on his farm. He outlines the infrastructure needed to cure bacon:
We needed an inspected curing facility. The meat needed to be transported in an approved container. ... Must be a refrigerated vehicle. Let's say we spring the thousands of dollars necessary for a refrigerated vehicle so we can legally transport the meat home. Now it goes into a permitted facility on the farm for curing. One little problem: processing facilities are illegal in agriculturally zoned areas, because this procedure is not considered farming; it's considered industrial or commercial use.

This curing facility needs bathrooms and an office for the bureaucrats to do their paperwork. It needs impermeable walls and washable floors, so many lumens of light per square foot, and handicapped access. It needs temperature control, with 24-hour monitoring disks. And we need to calibrate all the thermometers monthly--that only takes a few hours a month. And each calibration must be duly noted on a form with the non-transferrable thermometer delineation in order to insure efficacy.
"The important thing to remember here," Salatin says, "is that competency does not require any of this infrastructure. Folks around here have been curing pork for centuries, safely, in crude on-farm cabins and outbuildings." He goes on to say:
The problem with all these infrastructure and paperwork requirements is that they are non scalable. They discriminate against the small operator because the big outfits have enough volume to spread the high cost over additional product.
For instance, a neighbor of his who makes old-fashioned pickles using five-gallon stock pots needs to use several stock pots for a single batch of product to increase her efficiency. But the FDA won't let her call that one batch; each individual pot is considered a batch! "A large outfit cooking in a 1,000 gallon pot," on the other hand, "has the same paperwork as she does using a five gallon pot." The absurdity of these regulations is painfully obvious to the average person, but not to the government.

One of the things that the government does to make markets less free, less efficient, and most of all less just is by artificially creating a higher cost of entry into a market. That is what Salatin is complaining about here. Large, established businesses have an inherent advantage over small, start-up businesses when the latter are subject to the same, non-scalable regulations. For instance, in the case of the woman making old-fashioned pickles, "The labor to hire a full-time paper-filler-outer for the small outfit is 20 percent of the labor force. For the big outfit, it's less than 5 percent." This is anything but a "level playing field." Laws should apply equally to all people; here they clearly do not. They only appear so, because everyone must purchase the same infrastructure. But arguing that this counts as equal treatment is like arguing that income tax should be the same dollar amount per person, instead of paying in proportion to income earned!

Our culture is far too accepting of a system which favors big business, and then expects the strong arm of government to control those businesses for us. The whole thing works on a system of favoritism in which government and big business collude. Salatin illustrates:
I had an interesting attorney visit recently who represents the alrgest fast food chain in the world. He is part of that famous revolving door between Congressional staff and large corporate offices. He said the reality is that the large processor has problems with over-zealous bureaucrats too. Bu they have attorneys like him, on retainer, who simply fix it. His job is to contact the appropriate supervisors at Food Safety and Inspection Service and call of the dogs, so to speak.

He said bureaucrats are bureaucrats and don't really care whether they are dealing with big operators or small ones (at least that's his perspective). But it looks like they give the big guys a pass because the big guys can afford to hire go-betweens that use their ability to entertain, buy, bargain, or cajole to garner concessions as necessary. The small processors can't afford to hire a full-time attorney to do this work because they can't spread the cost across millions of pounds. As a result, when the small outfit feels the brunt of bureaucratic unreasonableness, the only recourse is to capitulate, repent in sackcloth and ashes, ask, "What must I do to be saved?" and try to placate the officials.

According to him, it's not really a discriminatory application of the law; it only appears to be so. If the little guys would become big guys and hire people like him, they could enjoy the benefits of retained insiders to run interference too. In other words, the solution for small businesses is to become big businesses and all will be well. He probably votes Republican.
The rest of the chapter tells just how bad it gets through personal anecdotes of lobbying the Virginia legislature concerning these ridiculous regulations. Needless to say, it's depressing.

Those of us who care about liberty ought to be outraged by this in general. And then again, those of us who care about people buying local food should be equally concerned.

Especially if you like bacon.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

From mathematics to theology

[T]heology is, for all its modesty, in an exemplary way a free science. This means it is a science which joyfully respects the mystery of the freedom of its object and which, in turn, is again and again freed by its object from any dependence on subordinate presuppositions.

--Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology: An Introduction
In modern usage, science is the study of a particular object or range of objects. Physics takes as its objects the most basic or "fundamental" objects of the empirical world, e.g. particles, energy, forces. Biology takes as its objects all living things, though it is not at all times clear what this means. Economics may take as its object particular markets, e.g. the housing market or the automobile industry, or it may take that grand object which Hayek liked to call the "catallaxy." In all cases, the amount of knowledge we can obtain about something is often inversely proportional to the level of complexity with which we are dealing. This is how it is usually described: physics studies the most simple objects, chemistry studies one level of complexity higher (i.e. compounds of the most basic materials), biology studies another level, psychology and neuroscience perhaps another level higher, environmental science and ecology another level still, and finally the social sciences: sociology, economics, and political science.

If we can classify mathematics as a science, it precedes even physics on this staircase of complexity. As John von Neumann said, "If people do not believe that mathematics is simple, it is only because they do not realize how complicated life is." Mathematicians study the very simplest objects of all: those which can be defined precisely and axiomatically, and which therefore can be understood with absolute certainty.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Another Invisible Hand...

Lakoff and Johnson's Philosophy in the Flesh opens with a couple of chapters pummeling the traditional philosophical notion that pure conscious reflection is the way to discovering truth, particularly epistemological truth. In Chapter 2, on "The Cognitive Unconscious," they write (with some emphasis added),
Conscious thought is the tip of an enormous iceberg. It is the rule of thumb among cognitive scientists that unconscious thought is 95 percent of all thought--and that may be a serious underestimate. Moreover, the 95 percent below the surface of conscious awareness shapes and structures all conscious thought. If the cognitive unconscious were not there doing this shaping, there could be no conscious thought.


Our unconscious conceptual system functions like a "hidden hand" that shapes how we conceptualize all aspects of our experience. This hidden hand gives form to the metaphysics that is built into our ordinary conceptual systems. It creates the entities that inhabit the cognitive unconscious--abstract entitites like friendships, bargains, failures, and lies--that we use in ordinary unconscious reasoning. It thus shapes how we automatically and unconsciously comprehend what we experience. It constitutes our unreflective common sense.
The more we learn about the world, the more we realize how little we consciously control--even in ourselves.

Unnatural Selection

Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men, by Mara Hvistendahl is a book about the sex selection problem, particularly in Asia. I ran into this book via Tyler Cowen, who has a good excerpt from the book. Here's a review on the page:
“Unnatural Selection is an important book and a fascinating read. Mara Hvistendahl is a delightful writer: witty, engaging, and acute. But the tale she tells is deeply disturbing. Asia alone is missing 160 million women and girls, a number equal to the entire female population of the United States. According to Hvistendahl, the culprit is less deeply rooted cultural gender bias than rising wealth, elite attitudes, and Western influence and technology. Development, at least for the coming decades, will produce not only fewer children overall, but also many fewer girls. The result is a future for many parts of the world, from India to China, Azerbaijan to Albania, where brides are much more likely to be bought, women are much more likely to be trafficked, and men are much more likely to be frustrated. For the present, women who are pro-choice must confront the stark reality that the availability of ultrasound and ready abortion are sharply reducing the number of women in the world.” —Anne-Marie Slaughter, Bert G. Kerstetter University Professor of Politics and International Affairs, Princeton University
So how about it? If abortion is acceptable, and we can identify the sex of a fetus, what's the moral problem with aborting based on gender bias?

Or any other bias, for that matter?

Friday, June 24, 2011

Therapy, homosexuality, religiosity, hypocrisy

That's the theme of a recent New York Times maganize article entitled, "Living the Good Lie." I think the title belies (ironically) the article's profundity in dealing with extraordinarily complex issues. Read flippantly, the title sounds like nothing more than a cynical statement about homosexuals who have trouble coming out of the closet due to religious beliefs. In reality, the article deals with these problems in a very open-minded, truth-seeking, non-judgmental way (sorry to string together all those hyphenated phrases). Both homosexual activists on the Left and religious activists on the Right have had to learn that when it comes to religious people dealing with homosexual impulses, there is no simple answer. In particular, the conclusion of the American Psychological Association is rather fascinating:
In the final document, the A.P.A. clearly stated its opposition to conversion therapy and unequivocally described homosexuality as normal. But it also offered a nuanced view of religious gay people who did not want to come out. The A.P.A. considered the kind of identity therapy proposed by Throckmorton and Yarhouse to be a viable option. No effort needed to be expended trying to change a client’s religion or sexual orientation. Therapy, in fact, was to have no particular outcome either way, other than to guide the client closer to self-acceptance, whatever the client believed that to be. The difference between sexual orientation and sexual identity was microscopically parsed. “Acceptance of same-sex sexual attractions and sexual orientation may not mean the formation of an L.G.B. sexual-orientation identity,” the report stated. “Alternate identities may develop instead.” It further stated that acting on same-sex attractions might not be a fulfilling solution for everyone. ...

The chairwoman of the task force, Judith Glassgold, remains pleased with the outcome. “People might want to adopt an identity that fits with what their religion proscribes,” she explained. “Or they might want to be celibate rather than identify as a gay person. Some people prioritize their religion over their sexuality, like priests and nuns. That’s an identity.” The goal was to help the client come up with an identity that worked for them. “The dialogue has changed in the last decade,” she continued. “Among therapists — both among gay activists and the religious — we can have a discussion. We all agree that arousal and orientation are not under someone’s volition. What we can work on is self-acceptance, integration identity and reducing stigma.”
Perhaps the dominant factor here is a common acceptance of pragmatic virtues: let's all just agree to be moderates on the issue. But I think the naysayers on both sides of the issue should seriously consider what I think is the principle virtue underlying this position of A.P.A.: personal responsibility. It's easy to see therapists as just blithely affirming whatever preferences their clients may have--and perhaps that is a constant danger--but surely the struggle to establish a sense of personal identity is about more than mere preference. It's about conscience, after all. For some, the words of Scripture are too important to ignore, no matter how impossible it seems to live without acting on certain sexual impulses. For others, the fact of one's own sexual orientation is too important to keep hidden. And we shouldn't be surprised if many seek out more nuanced identities, as they do their best to make sense of the world.

This new position of the A.P.A., in my opinion, expresses a good and proper kind of individualism, which sees the individual not as merely entitled to personal preferences, but in fact obligated to his own conscience and to seeking the truth. It contrasts both with the conformism of the religious Right, which tends to be exclusive towards homosexuals, and with the hyper-individualism of the Left, which sees affirmation of personal preferences as paramount. Maybe this will create some room for dialog on this important issue. Facts being what they are, it's probably not going to just go away.

Joel Salatin on Republicans and Democrats

Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal: War Stories from the Local Food Front is a perfect case study in how government intervention is making our lives worse. Joel Salatin documents the ways in which bureaucrats have terrorized the efforts of perfectly honest farmers trying to sell what is ultimately (a) friendlier to the environment and (b) higher in quality than anything bought in supermarkets. Local food, suggests Salatin, is one issue which may be able to bring folks of both progressive and conservative mindsets together. For instance, there is this interesting passage in Chapter 4:
Without exception, we have found that these issues excited both sides of the aisle. To the Republicans, this is small business and entrepreneurship held back by meaningless regulations.

To the Democrats, this is about environmental farming and chemical-free food accessing the marketplace. As the alternative food movement continues to gain steam, I enjoy watching the liberals squirm when they find their freedom of food choice arbitrarily quashed by their partners in the government. Those folks that are supposed to insure fairness and equality for all the citizens.

And it's equally interesting to watch the Republicans squirm when they realize the collusion between the bureaucracy and Wall Street. The coziness between tax breaks and the seats of power. Corporate welfare. When tax-free bonds are handed out like candy to big players but little players get whacked on the nose if they have one "NOT FOR SALE" package on an invoice.
The reason both the Left and the Right fail to properly understand these issues is that Americans still tend to view politics in primarily democratic terms. But make no mistake, Salatin and his farm have not been hindered primarily by Republicans or Democrats, but by bureaucrats, that is, full time government employees. The problem is not simply that there are too many laws on the books. The problem is that our laws hand over an inordinate amount of discretionary power to permanent--and unelected--members of the government. This is no longer a problem that can be dealt with democratically, at least not directly.

And it's also worth echoing Salatin on one point which can't be stressed enough: powerful people tend to collude. Letting big corporations get their way is hardly "libertarian;" just the same, handing over more and more power to government bureaucrats seems hardly "liberal."

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Beating Leftists at their own game

Over at Mother Jones, they're wondering whether pro-life activists are finally succeeding at making Kansas the "first abortion free state" (since Roe v Wade, of course). The article is here. What's interesting is how they're doing it. How do you get a business to shut down without actually making it illegal? Regulate it, of course:
Back in April, the state legislature passed a law directing the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to author new facility standards for abortion clinics, which the staunchly anti-abortion GOP governor, Sam Brownback, signed into law on May 16. The law also requires the health department to issue new licenses each year, and it grants additional authority to health department inspectors to conduct unannounced inspections, and to fine or shut down clinics.


The new requirements require facilities to add extra bathrooms, drastically expand waiting and recovery areas, and even add larger janitor's closets, as one clinic employee told me—changes that clinics will have a heck of a time pulling off by the deadline. Under the new rule, clinics must also aquire state certification to admit patients, a process that takes 90 to 120 days, the staffer explained. Which makes it impossible for clinics to comply. And clinics that don't comply with the rules will face fines or possible closure.
There's a sort of poetic justice here, in that the one business for which the Left will offer up a libertarian defense feels the crushing grip of government intervention.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Coming out undocumented

Essentially, that's what Jose Antonio Vargas did today on the New York Times--confessed he is, and has been since the age of 12, an illegal immigrant. The story is here, and the moralist in me thinks everyone should be required to read it before having an opinion on immigration reform.

I decided then that I could never give anyone reason to doubt I was an American. I convinced myself that if I worked enough, if I achieved enough, I would be rewarded with citizenship. I felt I could earn it.

I’ve tried. Over the past 14 years, I’ve graduated from high school and college and built a career as a journalist, interviewing some of the most famous people in the country. On the surface, I’ve created a good life. I’ve lived the American dream.

But I am still an undocumented immigrant. And that means living a different kind of reality. It means going about my day in fear of being found out. It means rarely trusting people, even those closest to me, with who I really am. It means keeping my family photos in a shoebox rather than displaying them on shelves in my home, so friends don’t ask about them. It means reluctantly, even painfully, doing things I know are wrong and unlawful. And it has meant relying on a sort of 21st-century underground railroad of supporters, people who took an interest in my future and took risks for me.


I’m done running. I’m exhausted. I don’t want that life anymore.

So I’ve decided to come forward, own up to what I’ve done, and tell my story to the best of my recollection. I’ve reached out to former bosses­ and employers and apologized for misleading them — a mix of humiliation and liberation coming with each disclosure. All the people mentioned in this article gave me permission to use their names. I’ve also talked to family and friends about my situation and am working with legal counsel to review my options. I don’t know what the consequences will be of telling my story.
I find it hard to swallow any conclusion other than that current immigration policy is morally outrageous. Twelve year-olds who grow up to be Pulitzer Prize winning journalists are not the sort of people we need to be deporting based on lack of documentation. Neither is anyone else who comes here to obtain an honest living, for that matter.

The issue gets tricky (I suppose) when you start talking about people sneaking across the Mexican border to sell drugs. And possibly there's reason to fear a massive influx of unskilled labor into our ever-expanding welfare state (ahem). But when it comes to honest, productive, and particularly educated people, the issue really isn't that complicated. How is it possible that such a person can go for eighteen years of his life living in constant fear of being caught for something which isn't a crime in any moral sense?

As an added bonus, Peter Leithart has a deliciously thought-provoking little post on immigration from today.

Accidental Entitlements

From the Boston Globe:
President Obama’s health care law would let several million middle-class people get nearly free insurance meant for the poor, a twist government number crunchers say they discovered only after the complex bill was signed.
Well, wasn't that the idea all along? Hurry up and sign it, then figure out what it actually says!

Oh, the joys of "progressive" legislation.

HT: the Freeman online

"Our brains have just one scale, and we resize our experieces to fit."

Today's XKCD comic is absolutely brilliant:

The permalink is

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Florensky on Eternal Punishment

I'm reading a second time through The Pillar and Ground of the Truth by Pavel Florensky. I usually don't reread books. This one just happens to have a certain draw for me, which may have something to do with the fact that Florensky is such an interesting yet completely unknown character.

Apparently it's all the rage these days to talk about hell. Rob Bell's book, Love Wins, provoked a lot of discussion among mainstream evangelicals, and has already produced a response book, Christ Alone. The Splintered Light Bookstore here in Charlottesville is now featuring on display no less than four books on the subject, including the two mentioned above, a book called Hell on Trial: the Case for Eternal Punishment, and (my personal favorite title), Hell Under Fire.

So what does Florensky have to say on the topic? In order to understand, one has to understand his underlying philosophy of doctrine. Religious doctrine is antinomic, meaning it contains contradictions within itself. Rather than being a sign of its weakness, this is precisely its strength: the thesis and antithesis strengthen one another, rather than diminishing or destroying each other.

With that in mind, here is an extended quote from TPGT, Letter Eight, which is entitled "Gehenna," summarizing Florensky's remarkable views on eternal punishment and carefully distinguishing them from other more prevalent views:

And so, we have described two series of progressively refined views. It is easy to remark that they hav eone and the same deficiency: they both rationalize the mystical process of punishment and purification, so that, according to the law of identity, sin is represented as either the very substance of the soul (the first series of views is of the "Protestantizing" variety) or as purely external in relation to the soul (the second series is of the "Catholicizing" variety). But neither view can be accepted. A man with evil will can in no wise be forced to change this will. But as long as he does not change it, he will not be reformed. Sin cannot be removed from a man without touching his inner essence (contrary to the second series). But, on the other hand, we cannot imagine a man who is absolutely and thoroughly corrupt, for this would mean that God's creation has not succeeded. The image of God cannot perish (contrary to the first series). Only one conclusion is possible from this, a conclusion which was drawn by us before, i.e. antinomy.

Thus, if you ask me, "Will there in fact be eternal torments?" I would answer "Yes." But if you were also to ask me, "Will there be universal restoration in bliss?" I would again say "Yes." The two are thesis and antithesis. I think that only the view expounded here satisfies both the spirit and the letter of the Holy Scripture as well as the spirit of patristic writing. But, being inwardly antinomic, this view requires faith and absolutely does not fit into the plane of rationality. It is both "yes" and "no." It is an antinomy. This indeed is the best proof of its religious validity.
Of course, I may be doing the reader a disservice, since by this point he should have already read through Florensky's lengthy discourse on the separation of the soul from the body, the separation of the self from the soul, and the utterly demonic nature of evil. It is only after one has plunged deep into the depths of his spiritual explorations that one can truly appreciate this man's rather simple, if intentionally contradictory, view of judgment. But alas, there is no time or space here to treat the entire letter.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Liberty and Self-interest

Defenders of liberty often make the case that people acting separately in their own "self-interest" can somehow produce the kind of advanced civilization that we now see. One argues that this goes at least back to Adam Smith, arguing in Wealth of Nations that men are guided by an "invisible hand" to maximize the efficiency of the market. This is of course a very lovely critique of the misplaced confidence of authorities in power to keep our business in order. On the other hand, it very easily degenerates into something which, I am fairly certain, Adam Smith was not saying. I am convinced he was not saying that men ought to seek only their own interests.

Yet defenders of liberty cling to this expression, and it seems the effect can be one of two things. One is that the phrase "self-interest" simply loses all meaning. That is, if I choose to give freely to charity, invest time mentoring a young teenager, become an activist on behalf of a persecuted group of people, these are all somehow said to be in my self-interest. I do not believe I am exaggerating; some libertarians really talk this way. If "self-interest" merely means "unforced behavior," I'd prefer to keep the latter expression and reject the former.

There is a second possible effect of clinging to the expression "self-interest" which is much worse, in my opinion. Sometimes it results in self-interest actually being lauded as a virtue, or, what is perhaps even worse, it may result in all charitable behavior or altruism being cynically treated as a myth. Though I must add the caveat that I have never read Ayn Rand, from what I understand this more or less describes her philosophy. Provocative, indeed, but ultimately immoral. If we exist only for ourselves, then we are hollow creatures. If altruism is a myth, then so is all morality.

A new blog I'm reading

It's called "the undocumented," and it talks about the need for immigration reform from a Christian perspective, informed by the blogger's first-hand experience with Hispanic immigrants. The link is here.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Markets, Immigration, and Education

A friend pointed me to this story about foreign teachers being forced to leave the country, which really ties together well three very important issues.
Gelmer Suganob has been teaching special education classes for four years in Prince Georges County, a suburban district near Washington, DC. The Filipino teacher started an autism program in a local middle school and received glowing job reports.

He’s one of thousands of foreign teachers who have been filling the ranks of US classrooms for the past few years, spurred by a shortage of American teachers and new testing requirements for math, science and special education. Like Suganob, many of these teachers come from the Philippines. They’re hired by recruiting companies in their home country and pay big fees to land lucrative jobs in the US.

But despite his stellar reviews, Suganob recently got a double dose of bad news. He received a call telling him that he had overstayed his visa, and that he no longer had a job.
Some of the comments on this story were amusing. "Teaching shortage?" people ask. How can there be a teaching shortage with some teachers losing their jobs? Note the specializations mentioned: "math, science and special education." Surely Americans aren't naive enough to think we have plenty of those to go around. Seriously, do people even know why our public education is so notoriously bad?

Let me break this down. There are three key issues at stake here:
  1. A man who's done nothing wrong is now being forced to leave our country and work somewhere else because of an ineffective system of paperwork. In short, a man's right to his own labor is being violated.
  2. Our irrational fear of immigration, based almost entirely on issues which have absolutely nothing to do with teachers arriving from the Philippines, has created an environment in which our laws prohibit the market from working to resolve important issues, such as the education of our children (particularly disadvantaged ones). In short, immigration policy is economic policy.
  3. Did I mention this hurts our school system?
And this is why, whenever I hear some ridiculous conservative speech designed to arouse anti-immigrant sentiment, I just cringe and wonder how people who profess faith in the "free market" can be so profoundly ignorant about these important issues. I can't say it any clearer than this: belief in the free market demands belief in an open immigration system. I'm not saying have no borders. I'm simply saying, in general our tendency should be to let people in and do what they want. Everyone benefits from this. No one is "stealing jobs." Quite the opposite, if you look at the whole. Greater efficiency in one area of the market means greater efficiency for everyone.

This is why, when we think about the issue of immigration, these are the types of cases we need to keep in mind, not some fear-mongering about drug dealers on the Mexican border.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Save the Hamsters

Sarah Zielinski at the Smithsonian Magazine blog reports on an attempt by the European Union to force France into securing their hamster population:
Last week the Court of Justice in Luxembourg, the European Union’s version of our Supreme Court, ruled that France had not done enough to protect the Great Hamster of Alsace (a.k.a. the European or common hamster) and that if France did not institute sufficient protections for the species, the country could be fined more than $24 million.
According to the New York Times article,
Farmers have generally considered the hamster to be a farmyard pest, and before it was protected they flooded its burrows and used poison and traps to kill it.

Jean-Paul Burget, president of Sauvegarde Faune Sauvage, or Safeguard Wildlife, in Wittenheim, in Alsace, said in a telephone interview that “we are very happy,” and that “European rules must be followed.” France “now must work to raise the population of hamsters up to 1,500,” which would be enough to preserve the species, he said, and the prefecture of Alsace “must stop some urbanization projects and restore” older agreements to grow certain cereals that hamsters eat.
That's right, France. Rules must be followed.
What would we do if the hamsters were gone?

Let's spell it "boades" and call it a day

The thing you have to appreciate about Dinosaur Comics is the ability to put history into proper perspective.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Logic, empathy, and public reasoning on abortion

Kelsey Hazzard has a great blog going over at Secular Pro-life, and I'm not sure how I missed it this long. I caught a glimpse of this post refuting the message of this picture:
The pro-life response to this picture is sound, but how do you combat pictures in general? As we are but young idealists, we are oh so tempted to believe that logic will win the day. In reality, logic seems to determine but a small portion of human behavior.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Airline economics

For flying from Charlottesville, VA to Dallas-Forth Worth the cheapest round trip I have found has a listed price of $268 (with taxes it's $310). I can get this two ways, according to Kayak. I can either fly Delta Airlines and connect through Atlanta, or I can fly United Airlines and connect through Dulles (Washington, D.C.). Now here's the kicker: if I fly directly to DFW from Dulles, the round trip now costs $100 more. So I'm actually paying less money to take more flights, and not only that, I'm paying less money to take the same flight as I otherwise would have, simply by starting in a different location.

The only explanation seems to be competition: the price United is offering is set by the price Delta has offered. It would be even cheaper to fly to DFW directly from Atlanta, but of course that's not cheaper for me, since I can't drive that far. On the other hand, if you live in D.C. and need to fly to DFW, and if you have any friends near Charlottesville, you might consider hitching a ride down here only so you can fly back to D.C. before going to DFW: you'll be saving money in the process!

By the way, if anyone is free to give me a ride to the Charlottesville airport on July 28...I'd appreciate it.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Bottom-up development: a case study from India

Via Alex Tabarrok: there is an interesting story at the NYT about India's city of Gurgaon, a city with more or less no local government.

Gurgaon was widely regarded as an economic wasteland. In 1979, the state of Haryana created Gurgaon by dividing a longstanding political district on the outskirts of New Delhi. One half would revolve around the city of Faridabad, which had an active municipal government, direct rail access to the capital, fertile farmland and a strong industrial base. The other half, Gurgaon, had rocky soil, no local government, no railway link and almost no industrial base.

As an economic competition, it seemed an unfair fight. And it has been: Gurgaon has won, easily. Faridabad has struggled to catch India’s modernization wave, while Gurgaon’s disadvantages turned out to be advantages, none more important, initially, than the absence of a districtwide government, which meant less red tape capable of choking development.

Gurgaon has no publicly provided “functioning citywide sewer or drainage system; reliable electricity or water; public sidewalks, adequate parking, decent roads or any citywide system of public transportation.” Yet Gurgaon is a magnet for “India’s best-educated, English-speaking young professionals,” it has 26 shopping malls, seven golf courses, apartment towers, a sports stadium, five-star hotels and “a futuristic commercial hub called Cyber City [that] houses many of the world’s most respected corporations.” According to one survey, Gurgaon is India’s best city to work and live. So how does Gurgaon thrive? It thrives because in the absence of government the private sector has stepped in to provide transportation, utilities, security and more:
Read the rest of Tabarrok's post here. Read the NYT article here. Whatever your assessment, this makes a great modern day case study in unplanned economic development.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

OK, so I just have to post another one...

This guy is great.

This would be a great video for discussion among Christian intellectuals. Can stories be dangerous? Should we be suspicious of stories? Are we comfortable with being "agnostic"? Are we OK with messes? All these questions seems to get right at the heart of the relationship between faith and reason.

It's good to pay attention to economists.

Tyler Cowen's TEDx talk

I found this really fascinating. Also, I confess I enjoyed the end. "We need a greater reverence for science." I just wish I knew a way to actually make that happen.

Planning and competition

Kevin Drum makes what in my mind is a very basic error regarding economics. In critiquing David Brooks' assessment of health care, he says the following:
Top-down control has never worked in all of human history? Seriously? Is the Catholic Church a successful endeavor? How about the U.S. Army? Or the interstate highway system? Or every corporation in America?
Even as large as the U. S. Army or any major corporation may be, each comprises a relatively small group of people relative to the society at large. As many different objectives as a large corporation may have, it doesn't even come close to the vast number of goals and desires distributed among a whole country. In terms of economic theory, is a very basic distinction. A large corporation may be structured in a top-down manner--and it probably should be--but it is a gross non sequitur to infer that an entire industry, e.g. health care, should be forced into a single top-down enterprise.

What about the interstate highway system? Or the Catholic Church? In both of these cases, all we can say is that a top-down approach has resulted in something massive; I think it's far from evident that the result in either case has been optimal. And if Drum wants to use a religious example like the authority of the pope, I dare him to apply his principles equally and recommend we have a State-sponsored Church. Those who recommend we nationalize health care (or even health insurance) are saying nothing less presumptuous than those who advocate a State-sponsored religion (which would, I wager, be too European even for liberals).

Planning plus competition equals unfair competition. As long as the government has certain arbitrary powers over the allotment of resources, those who have the ear of government will be able to secure their own well-being without playing according to the rules. It might sound reasonable to suggest that "somewhere in between" is the wisest approach. But when we strip the word "planning" of its outward form and call it what it is--arbitrary power--we see that no amount of it is justified.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Killer Regulations

Government regulations apparently required police to abstain from saving a man's life in California:

Most astonishing quote: "Well, if I was off duty I know what I would do, but...[if I were on duty] I'd have to stay within the policies and procedures..." This is a police officer's response to what he would do if a child were drowning off shore.

The fear of litigation is a deadly poison to society.