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It\'s the %, not the 6

A friend of mine is looking to sell his pricey condo, and is sick about the 6% cut which real estate agents demand. The nonintuitive thing (unless you are an economist) is that the real problem is not the 6, it is the %. Steve Levitt described this and produced some empirical evidence in Freakonomics, but it's such a cute little lesson in incentives that it's worth a recap. Read more »

The Onion on Apathetic Anarchy

The headline story in this week's Onion is music to my ears. If only it were the real news:

New Poll Finds 86 Percent Of Americans Don't Want To Have A Country Anymore

WASHINGTON, DC—A Gallup/Harris Interactive poll released Monday indicates that nearly nine out of 10 Americans are "tired of having a country."


I just answered a telephone survey about consumer protection and consumer advocacy groups, where I got to answer many times that I thought consumer protection in various areas was "very good", and occasionally that it was not so good. I was asked which groups I had heard of, had given money to, or might join in the future. It was probably sponsored by those groups, seeking to increase regulation and the reach of the nanny state. Read more »

Is Satisficing Rational?

Background: A maximizer searches for the best option, a satisficer searches until they find a good option, then stops.

Five hundred and forty-eight graduating students from 11 universities were categorised as maximisers or satisficers based on their answers to questions like “When I am in the car listening to the radio, I often check other stations to see if something better is playing, even if I am relatively satisfied with what I’m listening to”.

Governments and Power Law Distributions

Popular Mechanics has a cover article on debunking Katrina myths, which includes under the heading of Government Subsidies Encourage Bad Planning the following information:

The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), administered by FEMA, was started in 1968 for homeowners who live in flood-prone areas considered too great a risk by private insurers. And for more than 30 years, the program was self-supporting.
Read more »

Structural changes strike at the root

I guess we're going to give Matt's piece double-billing here today, because I wanted to make some brief comments. It's about how we could make the US govt. work better via some structural changes. Read more »

Cheney\'s Got A Gun - MP3

Someone had to do it - and apparently, someone did. Cheney's Got A Gun - MP3

"Run away, run away, from the viiiice-president..."

Copenhagen Consensus

I've talked before about efficient giving, and now there's a Slate article on the best use for a dollar. (via Marginal Revolution). More interesting is the Copenhagen Consensus, where a group of economists attempted to rank proposed solutions to the world's greatest problems according to cost/benefit ratio. Read more »

Ivy League Selection

While I'm pitching Malcolm Gladwell, this piece on admissions policies in the Ivy League is also excellent. It discusses how the elite universities use their admissions policies to maintain their reputations, which is what they are selling.

Now I'm getting psyched to read Blink and Tipping Point, which are in my (gigantic) in pile...

Statistical distributions and social policy

This New Yorker piece by Malcolm Gladwell is fabulous: Read more »

Iran holding a contest to find best Holocaust cartoon

The great thing about being a libertarian is you can sneer at both sides of most debates. While the Muslim response to the comics is ridiculous and insane, I still maintain (as I posted earlier) that the Europeans are hypocrites by invoking free speech when they have special censorship laws to protect Jews. Iran is now taking that line: Read more »

European Hypocrisy

candid writes:

Incidentally, if the muslims were clever (which I suspect they are not) they would fight back against the forces of European "freedom of the press" and "freedom of speech" by publishing cartoons denying the Holocaust.

("Holocaust denial is currently a crime in Austria, France, Germany, Israel, Belgium, Poland, Lithuania and Switzerland.")

Challenging CLW: Is small government superior?

In my last post, I asked whether libertarians, like liberals, are holding on to some Conventional Wisdom that has been proven false. I became disillusioned with conventional libertarianism several years ago, and expressed the feelings in Mistakes of Libertarian Idealism:

This makes me wonder if I've uncovered an element of hypocrisy in the libertarian vision, or at least wishful thinking. Libertarians sneer at socialists for ignoring aspects of reality that don't fit their ideals, like the fact that people won't work very hard if decreased effort yields the same reward. Or that centrally planned economies are far less efficent than decentralized markets. And libertarians are right about these flaws in socialist visions. But don't libertarian visions ignore aspects of reality that don't fit their ideals too? How about all the theories about why governments spring up, grow, and flourish: rational ignorance, the problem of dispersed vs. concentrated interests, the free rider problem, public choice theory? How are these empirically observed and theoretically sensible effects any different than their socialist counterparts? What is the point in proposing systems that are efficient if they are unstable?


Libertarians don't just produce idealistic visions, they produce useful knowledge ... But it does seem to me that they waste a lot of time thinking about efficiency that would be better spent thinking about stability. On imagining great worlds that will never be, instead of figuring out how to improve this one.

We will not bring about a more efficient, libertarian world without finding ways to change societal equilibria and design systems that are efficient *and* stable. Making converts is not the solution, since even if we convince people to try a libertarian system, it will devolve like all the rest. We have to *admit* that big government is an equilibrium, *understand* why, and *figure out* if there are feasible equilibria that are better.

Here is an example: Many people believe that if we had a country with very free markets, it would be a great place. I believe this is about as true as saying that a pencil balanced on its point is really cool. It is really cool - for the microsecond that it lasts. The problem is that freedom is not stable: free markets are not an equilibrium point[1]. And a good government, unlike a party trick, needs to last to exert its beneficial effects. Calling an unstable system superior seems rather inaccurate, since its "superior" for at most a brief period (or never if there are some transition costs.)

Public choice economics offers us a simultaneously illuminating and depressing insight. Its explanation of why governments *do* suck serves equally well as an explanation of why they *must* suck. See also Bryan Caplan's upcoming book, which I hope to have time to review someday[2]. Many libertarians seem to focus on how to push the pencil closer towards balance on the point (government reform), and a few on how to keep it balanced there (constitutional protection), but I see this as futile[3]. Instead, I think pragmatic libertarians should focus on one of two paths for reform[4]. Read more »

What year are libertarians stuck in?

In Stuck on 1968, Arnold Kling describes a number of beliefs that liberals had in 1968 that turned out to be totally wrong:

The Conventional Wisdom among well-educated liberals in 1968 included the following:

* Anti-Communism was a greater menace than Communism.
* The planet could not possibly support the population increases that would take place by the end of the twentieth century.
* Conservatives stood in the way of progress for minorities.

I love this country

My final order from the Loompanics going out of business sale arrived yesterday:

Pictured are: