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Dear Economist

If you haven't seen Tim Harford's Dear Economist column in the FT, in which he "answers readers' personal problems with the tools of Adam Smith", you are in for a delight. While subscriptions are required for his full columns, the excerpts always have enough to be interesting. In his most recent column, for example, a reader asks what to do when their friends like sharing dishes at restaraunts and they prefer their own dish. Read more »

Unrelated! I assure you!

While its a bummer to share a last name with such an incompetent hack, I'm happy that Thomas Friedman has written The World Is Flat. See, I don't have to read it, but I have read multiple hilarious fiskings, reviews which twist his tortured prose into a spectacle for our amusement. This one is particularly good. Read more »

Mother Jones says: America is Rich

So I say, Hooray!

Well, OK, I don't think that's quite what this article meant to convey. But I find it (mostly) an inspiring sign of progress:

  • Since 1950, the average new house has increased by 1,247 sq. ft. Meanwhile, the average household has shrunk by 1 person.
  • The National Association of Home Builders’ “showcase home” for 2005 is 5,950 sq. ft. That’s 15% bigger than last year’s model.
Read more »

An Arbitrage Parable

From the introduction to The Arbitrage Principle in Financial Economics comes this amusing and illustrative joke:

An econ professor and a farmer were waiting for a bus. To pass the time, the farmer suggested they play a game. "What kind of game?" asked the professor, who loved games.

"Well," said the farmer, "how about I ask a question, and if you can't answer, I'll give you a buck. Then you ask me a question, and if I can't answer, I'll give you a buck." Read more »

Bloggers always have something to say

Blogging is great for source material. While in Boulder to give a talk at CU, I was also invited to talk about seasteading for a luncheon club. Not having prepared any material, I just started with yesterday's post and went from there. (I'd actually thought about doing that one as an audioblog, but didn't feel up to the technological challenges while on the road.) Read more »

Governmental Innovation and the Wisdom of Crowds

I've been reading James Surowiecki's The Wisdom of Crowds, and I think it must be really good, because I've already encountered a section supporting my political ideas. Discussing the early automobile industry, he writes: Read more »

Seasteading talk Monday at CU Boulder.

If any of y'all live near Boulder, CO, I'm giving a talk there about seasteading on Monday:

Mission Possible: Creating New Countries in Ocean Waters
by Patri Friedman
Read more »

David Brin on Pragmatic Libertarianism

Its always nice when a talented writer beats one of your favorite drums, since then you can quote him and give your arms a rest. In the April issue of _Liberty_, David Brin writes: Read more »

Consequentalism vs. Morality

While I should perhaps avoid the eternal debate, I shan't. Frequent commenter Thea writes, in response to You Are Not The Marginal Case:

I don’t think that laws should be made based on moral consequences, but on rights. I believe that marriage and intact families have social benefits, but even if it could be proven that homosexual marriage had a negative effect on these, I don’t think that it would be sufficient reason to outlaw it.

Just like with Galt’s other point, birth control. I think that the introduction of birth control has had several negative ramifications on society, and am morally opposed to it. This means that I would never use birth control, not that I would ever support a law against it or to regulate its use by consenting adults.

I think that an argument of this nature could only convince someone not to engage or to encourage others engage in homosexual marriage, not convince someone that force should or could legitimately be used against someone who would like to engage in homosexual marriage.

I'm sure that Thea means well in boldly stating and being willing to follow her principles of non-agression - principles which I find noble and inspiring. But I also believe that this sort of attitude greatly reduces the relevance of the holder's opinions to actual society. Since irrelevant ideas get ignored, and I very much want libertarian ideas to be listened to, I will reiterate the arguments for the consequentalist position.

While Thea may care more about rights and not consequences, not everyone does. For example, many people have beliefs about what is right which include what the consequences of doing what's right are. And I'm not so sure that Thea isn't one of those people. Is there really no point at which the negative consequences from gay marriage would be so bad that she would decide it is worth violating freedom to outlaw? Read more »

You are not the marginal case

Jane Galt has a great post about gay marriage. She refuses to pick a side, but makes some analysis that is well worth considering for anyone considering the feedback between legal and cultural institutions: Read more »

Americans displeasure with the government

Does a democratically elected government follow the people's wishes? Around here we tend to argue that politicians follow their own wishes instead - and here's some evidence:

Schiavo Case Unexpectedly Unites Americans

on human transportation

Have gotten a ride home last night with my sweetie, I had no car this morning. So I decided to try to bike to work, rather than waiting for her to get home and give me a ride. Now, I'm not much of a bicyclist. My "newer" bike hadn't been ridden for years, and the tires were dead, so I had to take the older one, which had full tires only because we take it to Burning Man every year. Read more »

The Evolution of Economics

A common criticism of neoclassical economics is its assumption of human rationality, an assumption which is clearly at odds with the behavior we see around us. The usual defence is that irrational behavior may average out, as people mostly make good decisions, and that we have a theory of rational behavior but not irrational. While these are excellent defenses of rationality as a simplifying assumption, it is important to remember that the result of reasoning with such assumptions is merely an approximation, and does not perfectly reflect reality. Read more »

CotC Roundup

This weeks Carnival of the Capitalists is up at Beyond the Brand. Some of the posts I found interesting: Read more »

Economics In Short Lessons: If You\'re Paying, I\'ll Have Top Sirloin

Don Boudreaux today linked to an old but excellent WSJ article by Russell Roberts. The article is a simple, classic example of how "splitting the bill" is a disastrous way to pay for things: Read more »