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Take That, Cancer!

After climbing steadily for decades, the absolute number of cancer deaths in the US fell for the second straight year in 2004. The New York Times has the story here. Here's the press release from the American Cancer Society, and the full report is here (pdf). Read more »

Efficiency and the Minimum Wage

One of the bloggers at The Economist has some comments on the argument that a higher minimum wage will cause minimum-wage workers to work harder, thus mitigating or eliminating the adverse effects on employment: Read more »

Thoughts on Thoughts on Mere Christianity

Scott, who needs to stop bogarting content and post it here, is reading C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity. Why he'd want to read a book that doesn't prominently feature a talking lion isn't entirely clear to me, but there's a lot about Scott (NSFW) that's not entirely clear to any of us.

Some thoughts on Lewis's arguments, and on Scott's analysis. Lewis's first premise---that we can perceive the existence of an objective morality through intuition---strikes me as questionable, for a couple of reasons. First, it's not clear that intuition is a valid tool of cognition, even for morality. An obvious example of the failure of moral intuition is the conflict between the liberal and redistributionist ethics. My intuition suggests that people should be free to keep the fruits of their labor, and that charity should be voluntary. Others intuitively feel that we have the right and obligation to take money from the successful and give it to the needy. We can't all be right, ergo moral intuition is fallible.

Equally importantly, I can't conceive of a coherent interpretation for what it might mean to say that objective morality exists, with or without a god. I'll grant for the sake of argument that Lewis could be right on this point, but he fails to make an adequate case. Read more »

Scratch Product---Let\'s Try Happiness.

Commenter Tex informs us that Bhutan is the only nation in the world that officially uses Gross National Happiness as a substitute for Gross Domestic Product. They may be on to something. If I ran a country with a GDP of $1400 per capita (or $4000---apparently Bhutanis are really hard to count), I'd start exploring alternative metrics, too.


Speaking of Jacob Hacker, the good Captain Arbyte is to be commended for his valiant but clearly futile attempt to compile an exhaustive catalog of the errors and misrepresentations in The Great Risk Shift. Read more »

Citizen Kanedragupta

This reminds me of a description of Indian films that I once heard from a friend of a friend: If you saw Citizen Kane and thought, "Throw in a couple of song and dance numbers, and you've got yourself a damned fine piece of cinema!" then you might like Bollywood.

Global Warming: Worst-Case Scenario?

Disclaimer: I don't know what I'm talking about.

There's something I've been wondering about, global-warming-wise, that I haven't heard discussed elsewhere. These things that we're burning---oil, coal, natural gas and whatnot---are called fossil fuels for a reason, namely that they're made up of long-dead plants and animals. And these plants and animals were made up of, among other things, carbon absorbed from the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide. Read more »

News from Venezuela

In response to my recent post on the situation in Venezuela, a commenter named Adam offers a firsthand account of his recent trip:

I happened to be in Venezuela on vacation for this little speech. My hostess’s grandfather, 80 years old, had his head in his hands after the speech, and echoed the sentiment above: “Aye caramba!”

Sadly, I had already changed all of my US$. After his speech, the black market exchange rate bounced from 3,000 Bolivares for every $1 to 4,000 VEBs for US$1.

Exaggerations at All-Time Highs

The Dow Jones Industrial Average once again hit a record high today: 12,514.98. I would find this much more interesting if the Dow were adjusted for inflation, but it's not. The dollar has lost about 17% of its purchasing power in the last seven years, which puts the Dow well below its January 2000 peak of 11,750, or over 14,200 in 2007 dollars. Like all the major stock indices and averages, the Dow is biased upwards by inflation, the real story is not that the Dow has hit a record high, but that it failed to do so for eighty months. Read more »

Here\'s Your Chance

For thirty years, the left has been claiming that if only the US hadn't (allegedly) intervened in Chile and installed Pinochet in Santiago, Allende would have shown the world what a democratically elected socialist could do when given the chance. A generation later, their day has come round once more:

Regarding Happiness Research

I imagine Will Wilkinson has already beaten me to this, but I had an amusing thought about happiness research. Apparently it suggests that average self-reported happiness does not increase with per-capita GDP beyond a level already exceeded by most industrialized nations. Proponents of expanding the welfare state argue that this means that we should favor redistributionist policies even at the expense of future economic growth. Read more »

The Ethics of Killing Commies

The libertarian consensus on Pinochet seems to be that, while he may have done some good by turning Chile away from the path down which it was headed under Allende, killing 3,000 people and torturing many more was inexcusable. I'm not entirely sure I agree with this.

I'm not going to offer a defense of Pinochet or his regime, largely because I don't really know the details of what he did or the circumstances he faced. Maybe he really was an unprincipled thug. Probably. But it is my understanding that the vast majority of his victims were targeted for their involvement in revolutionary socialist movements, and I can imagine circumstances under which state-sponsored persecution of revolutionary socialists would be justified. Read more »

Domestic Policy as Prisoner\'s Dilemma?

The recent kerfuffle over the long-term costs of the European-style welfare state got me to thinking about the validity of the central premise: Is it likely that a small difference in growth rates between countries will persist over the several decades required to compound into major differences in standard of living? Read more »

Is a Consumption Tax Regressive?

One common objection to replacing the income tax with a consumption tax is that the latter is regressive. People with low incomes spend a higher percentage of their incomes than do people with higher incomes (unless, as is frequently the case, the former are retirees living off of their savings and the latter are young workers saving for retirement), ergo those with low incomes will pay a higher percentage of their income as taxes under a consumption tax scheme. This objection is fairly easily answered by, for example, exempting the first $X of each person's consumption from taxation. Read more »

A Tribute to Milton Friedman

The first half of the twentieth century was a dark time for lovers of liberty. In the United States alone, it saw the establishment of the Federal Reserve, an income tax with marginal rates as high as 90%, the New Deal and Social Security, and the reinstatement of the draft. While Liberty is still not given all the respect she deserves, there have been some improvements. The Federal Reserve is still around, but it hasn't caused a depression in 70 years. The marginal federal income tax rate has fallen to about a third. Read more »