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Double Standard

It's an article of faith on the left that big government is less dangerous than big business because while both have power, government power is accountable to the people via the ballot box. There are a number of strong counterarguments to this, with which I'm sure most of our readers are already familiar.

It recently occurred to me that there seems to be a large overlap between the people who make this claim and those who believe that the reason some CEOs have what they consider to be excessive compensation packages is that they've wrested control of the boards of directors from shareholders.

These two beliefs strike me as inconsistent. In any large corporation, the average shareholder, weighted by percentage of ownership, is far more sophisticated and owns a far greater share of the company than the average voter. If shareholders can't even keep the management of their firms from raiding the company coffers, then how can voters possibly be expected to do any better at holding politicians accountable?

Growing Slums for Fun and Profit

Commenting over in TJICistan, Jered tells a delightful anecdote:

Here’s an interesting “gaming the system” that I heard about last week: A [friend of a friend] lives in Hawaii. Property there is, as you can imagine, at quite a premium. There’s a nice neighborhood of upper-middle-class homes with small yards and fences that a developer would really like to buy, bulldoze, and build on. How to go about it?

Apparently he first bought one house at market value when it was for sale. He then tore down all the fences and rented it at far below market rates to what might be called “white trash” in other parts of the country — to tenants who don’t have the lawn mowed, leave rusted, disabled cars in the yard, etc. This upsets the neighbors and lowers their property values until the point where some of them sell to the developer at a lower price, which he then rents the new properties at below market value...

It’s a clever concept and I can’t see anything illegal about it, but it sure is slimy.

When I'm rich, I'm going to do this in the most left-wing neighborhood of whatever city I happen to be living in at the time, just for the sheer joy of watching lefties twist their tongues in knots trying to find a PC way to say that their new, less-fortunate neighbors are a blight upon the community.

Of course, for extra cognitive dissonance, and because I'm an equal-opportunity slumlord, I will not rent exclusively to white trash.

If I can make some extra money on the deal through regentrifying after I've had my fun, so much the better. Coinvestors welcome.

Simple Indeed, or The Audacity of Cluelessness

The International Herald Tribune showcases the astonishing cluelessness of people who are presumably among the best and brightest of Obama's supporters:

When a dozen consumers gathered over the weekend to discuss health care at the behest of President-elect Barack Obama, they quickly agreed on one point: they despise health insurance companies.

They also agreed that health care was a right; that insurance should cover "everything," not just some services; and that coverage should be readily available from the government, as well as from employers.

"We have to keep the momentum going," said Hijane, 34, who was a volunteer in the Obama campaign and is active in women's health advocacy. "We are not lobbyists. We are simple citizens."

Truer words were never spoken. For example:

Li said she and her husband "had a few surprises" when they started shopping for a better health insurance policy on their own. "If we wanted a baby," Li said, "insurers would not cover the maternity care if conception occurred within six months after we purchased the insurance. We were shocked."

In many cases, the standard individual insurance policy does not cover maternity care, though such coverage can be bought for an additional premium. Even then, some insurers stipulate that maternity benefits will be available only if a woman waits for a certain amount of time before becoming pregnant.

The purpose of insurance is to pool risk. Consumers pay a modest premium in exchange for a promise by the insurer to cover unexpected catastrophic expenses. Pregnancy, as a condition which is typically induced voluntarily, is not an insurable condition. Granted, an abnormal pregnancy or birth which entails unusual expenses is insurable, but this is presumably not what Li is talking about. I'd be surprised if insurers refused to cover any non-preexisting complications of pregnancy, except due to unintended consequences of government regulations.

That Li and her husband were "shocked" at the fact that insurance companies were not jumping at the chance to give them free money can only be explained by a failure to put any thought whatsoever into the economics of insurance and health care. This is certainly not a personal failing on their part—no one can be an expert on everything—but they are clearly unqualified to design a health care system, and their attempt to force their ill-conceived vision on the rest of us is grossly irresponsible.

Almasri said that when his infant daughter had severe eczema, she had to wait several months to see a dermatologist in their HMO network. By then, he said, "the symptoms were all cleared up."

I find that hard to believe, but granting for the sake of argument that it's true, I'm perplexed by the implication that this is a problem that would be remedied by socialized medicine. Prompt treatment of non-emergency conditions is not one of its strong point.

Hijane said she had gone from doctor to doctor for more than a year before she got correct diagnoses for premature ovarian failure and celiac disease, a digestive disorder.

A shame, to be sure, but I'm not sure I see how the revolution will improve doctors' diagnostic skills. And under a socialized system, it's unlikely that she would have been able to see as many doctors as she did. The fact that the status quo is not perfect does not in any way imply that what she's proposing will be an improvement.

The Obama transition team did not ask people how a new health care system should be financed, but several people here said that individuals and businesses should have to pay a small health care tax — some preferred to call it a "contribution" — so that everyone could be covered.

Note the inability to call a spade a spade.

"This is warfare for the health care of our country," Chatman said. "The question is, Will money win, or will the people win? If we lose, we'll be a second-class country."

I have been meaning for some time to compile a lexicon of words and slogans that signal a worldview divorced from reality. When I do, "People, not profits" will be the first entry.

Leading the Charge

The nice thing about leftists is that they're willing to be first to experience the impoverishment they're so eager to bring down upon the rest of us:

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how I was giving up on academia and searching for a nonprofit job. I’ll be honest - I didn’t work that hard at the job search. I sent out maybe five resumes, had one interview. If I really set my mind to it, I could probably have found something in a few months. But due to the nature of part-time work, which forces you to constantly cycle through job after job (most of us TAs and adjuncts pick up side jobs like private tutoring whenever we find out that a section has been cut or an offer has fallen through), I’d already spent the past year and a half sending out resumes on a semi-regular basis, and I was tired. Plus, a funny thing happened when I emailed the department chair at my other campus to tell him I couldn’t keep the class I was teaching: he offered me another one.

I sat on the offer for a few days. Another class meant $1,300 a month instead of $650. It meant I could make rent and buy groceries. I emailed him to accept it, and then slumped in my chair and cried for an hour.

You know, it's funny how, working for an evil, exploitative private-sector employer, I make more in a week than someone with more education makes in a month working for benevolent employers like universities and non-profit organizations.

Just grow up and go to work in the private sector already, or quit whining about the wages.

Climate and Bias

Megan McArdle points to this post by Matthew Yglesias:

It’s worth going back to first principles on markets, property rights, and air pollution. To have a functioning market, you need to have property rights. And property rights need to be defined in some way or other.


A third way is a find a middle ground. You’re allowed to emit some sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere so that industrial production can continue, but an unlimited amount so as to prevent the acid rain situation from getting out of control. The “green” proposal for carbon dioxide is essentially similar to this. It’s important, economically, that we allow there to be some carbon emissions. But it’s also important that we not have unlimited levels of greenhouse gases making the world hotter and hotter and hotter and hotter with all sorts of deleterious consequences for people’s lives.

I think that for most thoughtful people on both sides, this basic principle is not in dispute. No one worth taking seriously thinks that people should be free to pollute the environmental commons with impunity, or, at the other extreme, that it should be prohibited altogether. The disagreement is largely over empirical and speculative questions about marginal costs and benefits. That is, stuff like:

1. What are the environmental consequences of various levels of atmospheric CO2, and how will they affect our future standard of living?

2. What are the economic consequences of reducing CO2 emissions to various levels by various means?

3. What are the costs and benefits of other mitigation strategies?

4. How are 1-3 likely to change in the future due to technological and economic progress?

5. How will the policies actually produced by the political process differ from the policies we come up with from our armchairs and ivory towers?

Unfortunately, beliefs with respect to these questions are highly correlated with ideology, and that really only makes sense for #5. There's no logical reason why there should be a strong correlation between one's position on the expansion of the welfare state and one's beliefs regarding catastrophic anthropogenic global warning, and the fact that there is suggests that there's some cognitive bias at work (or, less charitably, outright dishonesty).

I strongly suspect that there's some bias on both sides, though not necessarily an equal amount. Which side is more biased, and where exactly the truth lies, I honestly don't know, but ultimately I think the debate over global warming and mitigation strategies stems from cognitive bias with respect to empirical questions, rather than to any serious dispute over basic principles.

Comment Bug

FYI, our site has a bug when it comes to posts with more than 50 comments. It will only display 50 comments per page, but the links in the Recent Comments box on the right sidebar will always take you to the first page of comments. To see additional comments, you need to scroll down to the very bottom of the page and click the "next <" link (or, if there are more than 2 pages of comments, the number of the page you want to see).

I've looked into this before, but wasn't able to come up with a good solution. It doesn't come up often, so I haven't been worrying about it much, but if we start to get posts with this many comments on a regular basis, I'll take another look at the problem and see what I can do.

Speaking of posts with many comments, what do you all think of threading? It seemed like a good idea at first, but I've realized that it's kind of a pain keeping up when the comments aren't posted in strict chronological order, and it's even worse when the comments span multiple pages, so I'm not so sure anymore.

Hey, Where the Atheist Women At?

In a recent post, Micha blames the modal libertarian's lack of sympathy with feminism for women's rejection of libertarianism:

It always amuses me when white male libertarians wonder why there are so few non-white non-male libertarians out there. This is why.

The problem with this hypothesis, at least with respect to women, is that it doesn't fit the data. According to the General Social Survey*, men are more than twice as likely as women to be atheists (3.6% vs. 1.6%) or agnostics (6.2% vs. 2.5%). I assume that those who agree with Micha's hypothesis would also agree with the proposition that atheists are, in general, much more feminist and/or "pro-woman" than the religious. By the same logic, we would expect women to be less religious than men; in fact the opposite is true.

My suspicion is that women tend towards different political beliefs than men do for the same reason they tend towards different religious beliefs—i.e., that there are differences in the way men and women think, and that these differences are rooted in biology. I can't prove this, and I'm not 100% sure of it, but it fits the available data better than the hypothesis Micha offers.

*I can't find a way to link to my data tabulation, so you'll have to reproduce the results yourself, but it's pretty simple if you can figure out how to use the software.

Addendum: To clarify, I'm not saying that the evidence I cite proves that there are biologically-rooted differences in the way men and women think—lower rates of atheism amoung women could plausibly have cultural roots. I'm just pointing out that Micha's explanation for why women reject libertarianism—that it's dominated by anti-feminists—is inconsistent with their tendency to embrace religion, which is similarly dominated by anti-feminists. The last paragraph is just me stating my personal conjecture based on a variety of things.

Vote-Buying Tips

A quick clarification for those perplexed by the subtleties of election law: Spending your own money to bribe people to vote for the candidate of their choice is illegal. The legally-prescribed way of buying votes is to promise to spend other people's money on people who vote for you.

Improving Language

I have decided that the hammer-and-sickle emblem should henceforth be referred to as the Soviet swastika. Go forth and make it so.

Rational Voters

Bryan Caplan links to a brilliant clip from Howard Stern's show of interviews with Obama supporters asking them what they like best about him.

Fun with Polynomials

When I started writing this post, it was to ask for help in solving a problem I'd been working on. I hit upon a solution halfway through, so I don't need help anymore, but I figured others might find it interesting, so I've outlined the problem and solution below. I do have one follow-up question, though. Details below the fold. Read more »

The Lesser of Two Evils

I've been seeing a lot of libertarians reluctantly endorsing Barack Obama on the grounds that they really don't like John McCain. I think it's important to keep in mind that the relevant question is not whether John McCain or Barack Obama is the better person, or even who would make a better dictator, but rather who would do the least long-term damage given the current political context. It grieves me that it's comes to this, but damage control is really the best we can hope for right now.

With that in mind, I think that John McCain is the least-bad choice. A Democratic Congress—which we are likely to have for at least the next few years—with a cooperative president is almost guaranteed to raise taxes and spending significantly, and Obama is likely to nominate left-wing judges who will fail to oppose further expansion of the power of the Federal government to regulate the economy. McCain is likely to put up at least some resistance to the Congressional agenda, if not nearly as much as I would like.

Furthermore, Half Sigma once made what I think is a valid and important point: The damage done by Republicans tends not to last as long as the damage done by Democrats (That's a link to the front page—I can't find the specific post). Generations later, we're still paying for the folly of electing Roosevelt and Johnson, but the damage done by Nixon has mostly been rolled back by now.

I could be wrong. Clinton was voted in with a cooperative Democratic Congress, which prompted a backlash that led to 12 years of Republican domination of Congress and a golden age of fiscal restraint, which ended abruptly when Bush took office. Speaking of which, Bush may be an exception to Half Sigma's Law, as I don't see Medicare Part D going away. It is worth noting, though, that he did this with a same-party Congress.

So it's a tough call, but I believe that John McCain clears the very low bar of having slightly less potential than Barack Obama to do permanent damage, given the givens.

Score One for the Troglodytes

Via Ampersand, a study (summary by the Washington Post, full text as PDF) finding that men with traditional views about gender roles made much more money than men with nontraditional views after controlling for type of work, educational attainment, and hours worked per week*. There was an opposite but weaker effect for women---women with gender-egalitarian views earned more than women with traditional views.

Naturally, some of the lefty commenters immediately suspect discrimination against insufficiently masculine men. I guess it's possible, but wouldn't there also be discrimination against women who don't fit into traditional gender roles? Yet they make more money than those who do. Note also this delightfully self-congratulatory comment from nojojojo:

I think men with egalitarian attitudes are probably men who have made themselves see the inequity of the world, and committed themselves to doing something about it....So you’ll see egalitarian men in fields like education and health care, where *nobody* makes much money (even though they should, considering their contribution to society).

Really? Nobody makes much money in health care? Anyway, as Les points out in the following comment, this explanation is ruled out by the fact that the study controlled for field of work. Robert, a traditionalist himself, proposes an explanation based on the idea that traditional parental division of labor is more efficient.

Being the mercenary bastard that I am, my mind went straight to incentives. Here are some hypotheses I haven't seen anyone else mention:

  • People are more likely to hold traditional views when the cost of doing so is low. At the margin, a man is more likely to hold traditional views when his income is high and he can easily afford to support a stay-at-home wife. Conversely, a woman is more likely to hold traditional views when she doesn't make much money and the cost of giving up her job is low.
  • A man is more likely to get used to the idea of women working outside the home if his wife has to work outside the home for financial reasons. Likewise women.
  • If a man has a stay-at-home wife, or wants to have one someday, this spurs him to work harder. To a traditionalist, to be unable to support a family single-handedly is to be less of a man. He works harder because he has to. Conversely, a woman expecting to leave the job market in 5 years or so doesn't really have any good reason to knock herself out.

I haven't completely read the study, so some or all of these may be ruled out on closer inspection.

Note that in the chart of raw correlations, earnings correlated most strongly (.38) with cognitive ability as measured by the ASVAB.

*However, this doesn't mean that traditionalist men actually make more than men with nontraditional views; only that they make more when you add these controls. I'm not sure what the raw correlation is—the chart gives it as -.11, but there's a footnote saying that this isn't meaningful because of the way the variables were averaged over time. So the title of this post may not be correct, strictly speaking. But I like it, and you can't make me change it.

Commodity Markets in Everything

A question for readers who frequent the black markets: Has the commodity boom had any appreciable effect on the price of recreational drugs? I'm of two minds on this. On the one hand, if the price of wheat and corn have skyrocketed, why not weed? On the other hand, maybe it doesn't use the same inputs as other crops (oil for machinery, fertilizer, etc.), or maybe the prohibition premium dominates the commodity inputs in the final price. Also, if speculation is what's driving the commodity boom, then drugs may be unaffected. Is there a speculative market in recreational drugs?

While we normally discourage anonymous comments, this post is an exception to that rule.

Econ 101

A note to those who are fond of using the term "Econ 101" in a pejorative sense: You only get to do this if you've actually taken an intermediate or advanced economics course and learned something from it that refutes the specific Econ-101 argument being made. That is all.