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Schools continue to decline, now blame Wikipedia, newspaper goes along

Schools fail key measure, blame somebody else. Blame new media, find a sympathetic ear in old media.

WIKIPEDIA and other online research sources were yesterday blamed for Scotland's falling exam pass rates.

The Scottish Parent Teacher Council (SPTC) said pupils are turning to websites and internet resources that contain inaccurate or deliberately misleading information before passing it off as their own work.

The article is a long rehash of the imperfections of Wikipedia. Missing from the article is any serious investigation of whether the schools themselves were in any way to blame for the failure of their own students to pass standardized exams, whose purpose is typically in part to assess the quality of the schools. [edit: admittedly the schools do blame themselves for failing sufficiently to warn students against using Wikipedia/second edit: I might be faulted for conflating the SPTC with "the schools"] Also missing from the article is any serious investigation of whether the quality of information available from Wikipedia has improved or declined in the past year (the year in which the pass rates fell). Also missing is any attempt to discover whether the particular bad answers that students gave this year were actually a result of getting bad information from Wikipedia. Nor was the obvious question asked: why were students left to learn this information while researching their essays, rather than learning it from the teacher in class - since, presumably, students don't all write identical essays and therefore if this knowledge was indeed supposed to be learned from researching, at best a small fraction of the students could be expected by chance to have written their essays about that particular information and therefore at best a small fraction could be expected to get the question right, even if they all used the infallible Encyclopaedia Britannica.

These gaps in the article are understandable, as they would require actual effort to fill in, and furthermore would run the risk of proving the accusations against Wikipedia to be spurious.

Did Anyone Else Catch This?

I was watching one of the CSPAN channels last week when a member of the ACLU said, straight faced (and there were no chuckles from the audience nor did he crack a smile or give much of a pause), that more rich white people should be falsely indicted (a la the Duke case) to help expose prosecutorial misconduct. I was pretty stunned, but everyone on stage with the guy didn't seem phased at all.

Getting crapped on by the government sucks for all involved. If prosecutorial misconduct is given greater scruitiny as a result of the Duke case, I'm very glad such a silver lining exists, but yikes, man. I don't even wish that kind of stuff on Scott Scheule.

I tried googling to find out the name of the ACLU employee, but there is so much with Duke case and ALCU I didn't get far.

Demand for Petroleum is Not Perfectly Elastic

Apparently 50% of liberal voters think the demand curve for petroleum is perfectly elastic. Here are the depressing results of a Rasmussen poll:

Sixty-four percent (64%) of voters believe it is at least somewhat likely that gas prices will go down if offshore oil drilling is allowed, although 27% don’t believe it. Seventy-eight percent (78%) of conservatives say offshore drilling is at least somewhat likely to drive prices down. That view is shared by 57% of moderates and 50% of liberal voters.

This makes no sense. The demand for gasoline is quite inelastic, so that relatively small changes in supply can lead to large price changes. Drilling offshore and in ANWR is no panacea, but it wouldn't take much of an increase in supply to have a noticable impact on prices. This shouldn't be a left-right issue. Now, you might plausibly say "Yes, prices would be lower, but CO2 emissions would be higher, so we shouldn't drill." But believing that prices aren't impacted by supply in a market with inelastic demand?

And what do voters think will lower gas prices? Ah yes, seizing the profits from developing alternative fuels:

Voters also believe 61% to 22% that oil companies should be required to reinvest at least a portion of their profits into alternative energy research. On this question, liberal and moderate voters are strongly supportive of the proposal while conservatives are more evenly divided (47% of conservatives in favor, 35% opposed)

Data released yesterday showed that Americans believe developing new energy sources is the best long-term solution to the nation’s energy problem. Forty-seven percent (47%) said private companies were more likely to solve the nation’s energy problem than government research programs. But, at the same time, only 52% said companies should be allowed to keep the profits from the discovery of any alternative fuel sources.

Yep, that's the ticket.

Gastronomic lessons from a two-armed bandit

The two-armed bandit is a nice theoretical framework for a large class of problems we encounter in everyday life. You face a strange slot machine with two (or more) arms. You can play for free by pulling a lever... you know each lever will pay you a random amount following a fixed - but unknown - distribution. You start pulling levers, but you realize that unfortunately, you only have an hour to squeeze the most money out of this machine... how should you play?

The exact answer depends on your prior on the payoff distribution of each arm, on your risk aversion, and on your time preference. Finding the optimal solution is rarely doable, however, most solutions follow the same pattern... you start by pulling both arms alternatively - to gather information about the distribution of each arm - then you start pulling mostly the arm that provides you with the best risk/reward return.

Unfortunately, your time is scarce... you have to allocate your hour between two tasks: information gathering and money making, it's called the exploration / exploitation trade-off.

This trade-off is very common.

  • Should patients be given new experimental treatments or more mature treatments?
  • What should you study in college?
  • Should you stay with your girlfriend?
  • Should you quit your job?

All of these involve the decision to forgo a known payoff to discover a potentially greater unknown payoff.
I was recently surprised to realize I was playing this game very poorly when it comes to picking a restaurants or picking a dish on a menu. There are easily more than 10,000 restaurants in Manhattan, yet I found myself going to the same places over and over to order the same dishes over and over. I am not the only one. I observed many people displaying this behavior. The way people pick restaurants is generally reminiscent of a meta-heuristic called stochastic diffusion search. Everyone picks a few restaurants at random and from there discover new restaurants when they are invited by friends who made a different initial pick. This method doesn't work so well since people tend to have lunch/dinner with the same other people.

Generally speaking, the dish-picking or restaurant-picking behavior of most people seem to imply a ridiculously high risk aversion (I want a guaranteed lunch experience) or time preference (the benefits or discovering a better restaurant will mostly extend in the future where I will make more informed choices).

Why is this? I think we have a strong conservative bias when it comes to food. Most food is marketed as "old-fashioned", using "traditional recipes". Menus from Chinese restaurants feature Pagodas, not the Shanghai skyline, and menus from pizzerias often come with Renaissance illustration. You don't see Intel marketing it's CPU's as made in the time tested tradition of silicon wafer artisans.

One possible reason is that food conservatism used to be required for survival. Maybe the red berries are slightly tastier than the black berries; maybe they'll kill me... I think I'll stick with the black berries. This form of conservatism is still alive today, when people favor organic food for example. That may or may not be a rational thing to do; however, when it extends to picking a specific dish on a menu, I'm pretty sure it's an undesirable bias.

Picking dish is always a difficult experience for me. I am tempted by many dishes, but I always fear I will make a wrong decision and forgo the opportunity to have the most delicious dish. Of course, I could always go back to the restaurant, and I often do, but every time feels like it is the last opportunity for me to have the most likely best dish on the menu.

In the multi-armed bandit setting, it means I am always favoring exploitation over exploration. I recently decided to strongly favor exploration. I decided to pick restaurants solely based on customer ratings, not on previous experience. Should I go back to a restaurant I knew, I committed to always try a dish I didn't try before. While I had a few disappointments, I did discover that many of my previous restaurant choices and dish choices were sub-optimal. I have experienced a lot of new restaurants, and very often have I had the feeling "this place is great, I should come back here!", only to realize this is the kind of thinking that led me to avoid the place in the first place. So whenever I like a place, I make a commitment not to come back there for some time.

Can you think of activities where you strongly favor exploitation vs. exploration or the opposite?

America's Trade Surplus in Bad Alcohol Policy

Via Chris Dillow, here's a proposed Scottish policy to combat "binge drinking":

The age for buying alcohol from supermarkets and off-licences in Scotland could rise from 18 to 21.

Scottish ministers said it was time for radical action in the fight against Scotland's binge-drinking culture.

But retailers and student leaders said the plan, which would see 18-year-olds still being served in pubs, was "confusing" and a "blunt instrument".

So Scots would be allowed to drink in pubs at 18, but not allowed to buy booze in stores until 21. How this is supposed to combat binge drinking is a total mystery to me. To the extent that the binging takes place in bars[1], this change clearly won't lower it.

And for the drinking that takes place in private homes, I don't see how this will decrease binging either. Alcohol is of course easy to acquire when underage, and if it's more cumbersome to do so (having to go through friends), people are more likely to just go with liquor rather than beer (easier to transport $50 of bootlegged whiskey than beer) and binge even more.

For the most part, I'm skeptical of claims made by some libertarians that drug legalization will lower usage (though I still support it). I see no reason to think that drugs aren't a normal good whose usage increases with lower prices, which would seem to be an inevitable consequence of legalization. But the substitution of hard liquor for beer is easy (virtually everyone I know did it as an underage student). If anything, I suspect this policy change will increase binge drinking.

Of course, if the Aussies have their way, three glasses of wine will now be defined as a binge, so the next step is probably a return of America's most successful alcohol policy: Prohibition.

[1] A problem in the UK that was for years exacerbated by, you guessed it, stupid laws.


About a week ago the story broke in Texas that around 20 Texans (40 people nationwide) had gotten salmonella. The source of the salmonella outbreak had been linked by the center for disease control to raw large and raw roma tomatoes.

Within about 2 days most of the large chain restaurants in my area had stopped serving fresh tomatoes. This included Olive Garden, Chillis, Mcdonalds, Subway, and even Burger King. Several large grocery stores also pulled fresh tomatoes off of their shelves including Wal-Mart, and Whole foods, and everybody was telling everybody else about how you really shouldn't eat raw tomatoes.

I on the other hand have found myself a lone voice in trying to convince friends and coworkers that 40 cases of salmonella poisoning (or 400 or even 4000 cases) out of millions and millions of pounds of fresh tomatoes that would have been served during the affected period (April 24th - May 27th) is not statistically significant, and is also two weeks past relevance.

As of yesterday the Subways in my area had started serving them again on account of the fact that all of their tomatoes came from inside Texas, and Texas tomatoes were ruled out as the source of the salmonella over a week ago (or to be more specific several days before everyone started freaking out).

Meanwhile CNN who was reporting 38 cases nationwide a week ago, was suddenly reporting that number as "under 200" reported salmonella cases as of yesterday with "no new cases having been reported in the past 2 weeks." This came mysteriously on the heels of another story about how no one pulled their tomatoes during the 2006 salmonella-tomato outbreak inspite of the fact that there were 183 reported cases and more states affected.

Theories abound in our local Austin papers about why so many people and business are reacting differently this time. Most of these theories point to the idea of "greater consumer concern" and a "stronger sense of responsibility" among food vendors. Having heard nothing of the 2006 salmonella outbreak until yesterday I have my own theory. I suspect when the story broke in 2006 it didn't happen to be a slow news day.

Still I am amazed at how many times I have heard people get upset in the last few days with the few restaurants still serving tomatoes. A local radio show I was listening to the other day went off on a tirade about how irresponsible it was for any restaurant to serve them, and a woman in front of me in line at the Potato Club was going off on the owner of said business about how dangerous it was to serve them to anyone. My unshared thought towards this concerned consumer was "I am pregnant and I want my very safe, low-risk, fresh tomatoes ::insert expletive name-calling here::."

My husband tried to inform the distraught lady that it took all of 15 seconds at 145 degrees to kill salmonella (which in case your curious is approximately the temperature of the inside of my car when not air conditioned these days), not to mention the fact that her chances of catching it are 1 in many millions and probably less than that since the outbreak subsided before the story broke.

For those of you still concerned, the next time you go out to eat contemplate this: what do you think the chances are of the person behind the counter/grill making a random mistake or oversight that causes you to get sick... like forgetting to wash hands after handling raw meat, using the wrong knife, leaving the tartar sauce out too long, coming to work sick, etc.?

I suspect that unless you are an extremely paranoid individual this threat does not generally keep you from eating the food. Yet 40 people catching a not very serious illness out of the millions of pounds of tomatoes served in this country in a month gives you pause... Why?

Open Source Wealth

One thing about homesteading farms--it really gives you a feel for the exponential nature of accumulating wealth.

When you start out with an empty piece of land and no infrastructure, it takes you most of the day just to feed and clean yourself. But if you manage to spend an hour or so working on fencing, or digging a septic tank, or building a house, or putting in a windmill, you gradually develop some infrastructure that makes your life easier. Suddenly, you have not just one hour a day to devote to getting ahead, but two, and your projects get done even more quickly. This leads to four hours of productive time, with even bigger payoffs, and so on. Eventually, you find that it takes very little time to actually keep yourself alive and most of your day is spent on either leisure or wealth creation.

Every now and then I'm struck again at the actual wealth of information that has been accumulated and is now freely available to human culture. Communication technology, medicine, philosophy of science--pick your field--even if you exclude the body of copyright protected works, the remainder would allow you to bootstrap your own little corner of civilization fairly rapidly.

Today's reminder was this project to develop an open source tractor (H/T Global Guerrillas).

You say yes, I say no

Looks like Amit and his near miss in yesterday's primary election is the subject of some more cosmo-/paleo- libertarian bickering. The cosmos seem to take the higher ground this time; I get the feeling that Lew just had to vent his disappointment without thinking too carefully about which "side" Amit was supposed to be on.

There must be a numerical term that measures how large a social group gets before it splits into warring factions. I would have thought that with all the discussion of polycentric market solutions that libertarianism would have a much larger number. Guess not.

What Can be Done About the Knife Culture?

A phenomenon first reported in the British Isles is now gaining in strength in Japan. What can the government do? The Brits have launched a massive education program and started sentencing people caught carrying knives over 3 in. in length to up to four years in prison after having 16 knife deaths.
Google Link

In Japan a 25 year old anime watching, Internet using mad man killed seven with a large sports knife. One legislator called for banning sports knives with long blades. These weapons which might be labeled assault knives include knives with blades over five inches in length.

A quick check of the kitchen shows ten knives that would be affected by the ban, some with blades up to 10 inches in length. Some of them were owned by my dear mother. Oh well ,I guess we are already all felons anyway.


Yes,The links work,now get ready to rummble!

Copenhagen Consensus

Global Warming is one of the biggest threats to the world, right? Wrong!

Bjorn Lomborg and friends tried to prioritize the problems of the world in the Copenhagen Consensus. Global warming ranked at the bottom. What was at the top? Vitamins and free trade.

It's amazing the kind of returns there are from free trade.

The benefits of freer trade were estimated in a paper presented by Professors Kym Anderson and Alan Winters. They found that a successful Doha Round could generate up to $113 trillion in new wealth during the 21st century, at a cost of $420 billion or less from inefficient industries going bust. If you like ratios, that's a return of $269 for every $1 of cost. A less conservative projection puts the gains three times higher. More than 80% of this global windfall would go to the world's poorest countries.

Good, Evil and the Lulz

Tyler thinks Roissy is evil, but Scott wins the game (from the comments under Tyler's post):

Come on, people. A big chunk of this blog's readership is already profoundly evil. I certainly am.
-Scott Scheule

If I were God for a day, the first thing I'd do is set the homepage of everyone Tyler's age who likes Lolcats and ICanHasCheezburger to /b/. (Back to the source with ye!)

One of my favorite posts by Roissy:

But before I could stop putting women on a pedestal I had to first kick them off. So I had an asshole phase. I think every man who was not born with his dick in a girl’s mouth needs to go through an asshole phase in order to seduce women in a healthy way. It’s important to experience for oneself what the power of assholery can do to a girl’s attraction buttons — press them like an epileptic on coke and E playing whack-a-mole.

It’s also important to stay in touch with your asshole side in case you ever find yourself slipping into bad beta habits. This way you can play the asshole card when the moment calls for it. Believe me, it’s much more efficient than groveling your way back into her good graces with expensive dinners, flattery, and engagement rings.

Have you ever said “Fuck you” in anger to a girl you were seeing? Have you ever told a girl “Enough of your shit”? Have you ever let a girl argue for 20 minutes then look her in the eye and say “You done?” and walk off? If you haven’t done any of these things you don’t know just how much is possible in your dealings with women.

It’s easy to dismantle the pedestal when you read this:

Scott Peterson, the man who was convicted of murdering his wife and unborn child, had been on Death Row barely an hour when the first proposal arrived from a woman who wants to be the new Mrs. Scott Peterson.

Three dozen phone calls came in to the warden’s office on Peterson’s first day at his new home in San Quentin State Prison — women were pleading for his mailing address, and one smitten 18-year-old said she wanted to marry him.

18 years old. Scott Peterson was twice her age. So much for the theory that chicks get creeped out by older (murderers) men. Heh.

So think about that the next time you find yourself romanticizing the woman of your dreams. There are women who would take their chances with a sociopathic death row inmate over law-abiding nonmurderous free men they know.

I say nuts to Frank Sinatra and the lessons learned by Red Fox. You can work the big rooms with blue material, at least on the net. I feel like I need to drink in all the off-color laughs I can before I can't anymore. But am I being paranoid?

What do French author Michael Houellebecq, a fifteen year-old British teenager, and Canadian columnist Mark Steyn have in common? They have all been, in the eyes of different Western governments, criminally offensive. Nevermind being offended is a choice and no matter what you do someone, somewhere will always find it offensive, or at the very least claim to be offended if they disagree with you (and I can't imagine this getting better if it becomes apparent that doing so will effectively censor your opponents).

There have certainly been calls for censorship in our recent past. But, it seems like there has been a change. I don't see the far-out ACLU defending "hate speech." It is now the left, and not the right, that is trying to do the censoring. The thin skinned have moved beyond going after rap music and porno mags on behalf of "THE CHILDREN!!!" and are now trying to enforce, with the guns of the state, the "right" for all to never be upset by something they read, see or hear, ever.

I think we are in for rougher seas. And I'm going to get all the lulz in that I can before the party van arrives.

Dept. of Jokes I Wish I'd Thought Of

Because I can't not pass on a joke that combines neurology, politics, and bad taste all in one shot:

Did you hear about Senator Kennedy's left-parietal glioma? Apparently it was giving him such a bad case of hemineglect that he couldn't perceive the right side of the political spectrum.

Just for Will: Defining Legitimacy

I'm sure you've all seen Crispin Sartwell's challenge by now. DR even has it's own post on it, chock full of comments. Over at fly bottle, Will Wilkinson has even commented on it, writing, among other things:

I may agree with Sartwell about legitimacy, depending on what he means by it.

Well, the marketing ploy worked. I bought the book and it arrived today, just in time for me to bring it on the plane to DC for the KSFP (for any fellow... uh... fellows reading, I'm the skinny guy with the big ears, say hi). I probably won't be reading it until I'm on the plane tomorrow, but I flipped through and managed to come across something just for Will- Crispin's definition of legitimacy:

I regard the assertion that the state is legitimate as equivalent to the claim that we have at least a conditional duty to obey the laws and other requirements imposed by the state, and to obey the officials of the state operating in their official capacities.

pg. 37

I've managed to hold back my comments this long, so I'll wait until I read the book before I make a substantive post about it. In any case, for everyone else out there debating the topic, maybe this little definition will fan the flames. If we are lucky, Will will* confirm or deny his agreement with Crispin now that he knows what Crispin means, with explanation.

* redundant words twice in one post... I'm not much of a wordsmith, am I?

edit: fixed a typo - 'anarchy' is now 'legitimacy' in the sentence just before the second quote

Poor Arguments for Immigration

Via econlog's blogroll, I've been reading the new and excellent Growthology. Tim Kane, one of the proprietors, had this to say about immigration:

America needs more unskilled immigrants, too. Let's face it, without unskilled immigration to North America, I wouldn't exist. Neither would you, in all probability (if you're an American). And that whole existence thing hasn't turned out so bad, has it?

As a policy matter, I hold a firm conviction, based in empirical data, that the American experiment since 1789 has been an economic success. And one of the core principles of Americanism is openness to immigration.

The first claim, that we wouldn't exist without immigration, is true but irrelevant. We wouldn't exist if virtually anything in history had been different. If a brewery in North Carolina hadn't been built, my parents never would have met there. This is hardly an argument for, say, government subsidizing the brewing industry.

The second, more subtle argument is that open immigration has worked in the past, so there's no reason for it not to work out fine today. Well, what's changed in America since open immigration ended? For starters the population has increased from 125 million or so to in excess of 300 million. Government spending was under 10% of GDP in 1920. The percent of the workforce with college degrees in skilled professions was a fraction of what it is today. The transportation costs of reaching the United States has fallen drastically. Etc.

None of which, by the way, says that open immigration couldn't work. What it does say is mechanistically saying it worked alright in the past, therefore it must be fine today, isn't very persuasive.

Our own Micha says here :

If we take your claim on its own terms, and assume that immigrants make conditions in the U.S. less attractive and not more, then it is preposterous to assume that 25% or more (i.e. “billions”) of the world’s population would immigrate here, unless we first ignore the dynamic effects of immigration itself. The more people arrive - assuming as you do that immigration is a net harm - the less attractive immigration becomes to potential immigrants, and thus immigration tapers off at an equilibrium.

Now, I realize what he's trying to do, point out a glaring inconsistency in TLB's argument (not exactly a task worthy of someone as smart as Micha). But this isn't exactly a reassuring case to make to skeptics of immigration. If anything, that would strengthen to restrictionist case, that you don't need as many immigrants as feared to cause damage. (I'm aware Micha was granting the premise that immigration damages living standards, a proposition with which he does not agree. But I simply don't see how this is a case for open borders.)

Obligatory Hansononian disclaimer : Just because I believe A is a poor argument for B does not mean I oppose B.

Piling it on: Why the Division of Labor is More Important than Comparative Advantage

In a comment thread over at Fly Bottle, Muriego has already inspired two posts by our very own Micha Ghertner. Well, here's a third. Muriego writes:

Ricardo has 3 requirements for comparative advantage to be successful.

1) No flow of capital across borders
2) Full employment and freedom of labor to move from job to job
3) Trade is equal.

None of these requirements is met by our current trade policies. I would argue that I am more “Ricardian” in principle then those claiming our current policies fit the bill.

Micha does a good job of responding to this point in the two posts linked to above, but there is another line of attack worth pursuing. Comparative advantage is only one of two logics of trade that need to be taken into account. The division of labor, which comes from Adam Smith, is probably more important. Incidently, I seem to recall Austrians completely missing the concept of the division of labor, though they do use the term to refer to Ricardian comparative advantage from time to time.

Under comparative advantage, each party to a trade has a fixed set of endowments which affects their ability to produce different types of goods. For example France has it's climate which is conducive to producing wine, China has it's ability to produce silk, etc. For any two goods, there is a ratio between the production of them. This ratio doesn't have to be constant over all levels of production. For example, France might be able to produce 2 gallons of wine for every yard of silk it produces. The benefits of trade from comparative advantage come from the fact that it is extremely improbable that the ratios of production between every set of two goods for one party (whether it be a country, person, or something else), is equal to that of another party. So each party can specialize in producing what they have the most favorable ratio for, relative to everyone else, and trade with everyone else, resulting in increased total production and increased consumption for all.

Note that everything was held constant in the comparative advantage scenario except what was produced. Comparative advantage tells you how to optimize given your constraints. Under the division of labor, things are quite different. By allowing individuals to specialize and trade, the division of labor increases production through very different channels. First, specialization allows everyone to get better at their job, given whatever constraints are in place. Second, specialization saves the time everyone would spend switching from task A to task B to task C. Instead of being wasted, it is spent on producing more, or perhaps more leisure.

Third, and most importantly, specialization directly increases the rate of technological growth. The more familiar someone gets with a production process, the more likely that person can find a way to improve the production process. This can be anything from finding a more efficient way to line up the machines in a factory to a technological breakthrough in the literal sense.

This all comes straight from chapter 1 of Smith's Wealth of Nations. Smith is credited with the principle of absolute advantage when it comes to international trade. For some reason he didn't see the applicability of the division of labor. Well, we do now. Increased international trade means increased specialization which leads to growth for the reasons mentioned above. The borders simply don't matter for the analysis. As long as more people are involved in the specialization and trade process, the benefits accrue. (Note that this is one argument against population doomsayers.) So in essence, if comparative advantage tells you how to optimize given your constraints, the division of labor tells you how to change the constraints in a favorable way. If we take growth theory seriously, it is just this changing of technological constraints which fuels long term growth, which suggests that we should pay more attention to the division of labor than to comparative advantage.

For much more detail, see this econlib podcast.

Why I'm not (quite) a formalist.

Or a neocameralist. Or a Jacobite. Or whatever Mencius is calling his political philosophy these days. What follows is my comment on his latest post:

In any case: not only do we not live in a world of good government, we live in a world of disastrously bad government. If the 20th century does not go down in history as the golden age of awful government, it is only because the future holds some fresher hell for us.

Whoa...slipping into the nirvana fallacy there. Our governments are disastrously bad relative to what? Perfection? Sure, but who cares. Considering the level of prosperity that Western civilization is achieving now relative to other periods, our governments look pretty good, if imperfect.

Like Kling, I have a problem with formalizing all governments into corporations. I think you are attacking the symptom rather than the disease. If we imagine a world full of formalized governments, it isn't difficult to imagine heinous dictatorships where the CEO finds it profitable to (quite literally) wall everyone in, increase taxes to a very high level, and then use force to guard the wall and collect taxes. Dead people don't pay taxes, sure, but a few examples go a long way toward quelling dissent.

The actual problem is a lack of competition in which the consumer of government services can leave the jurisdiction of their respective government quickly, cheaply, and easily. Solve that problem and government structures will improve. Note that Dubai, one of your favorite examples, is a city state attempting to be the financial capital of the world. Competition seems to be the driving force there.

The excesses of political correctness

Responding to Micha.

But seriously, do you really think any actual attempts to support liberty were hobbled when people criticized politicians for using Southern strategy-type language? Is it really that hard for a politician to say: I won't take away your guns or raise your taxes to pay for welfare without resorting to Us vs. Them ingroup outgroup squabbles regarding how hard someone works and how many laws they choose to abide? Seriously?

You seem to be missing a point that advocates of regulation frequently miss. While it is inexpensive for a company that happens to already be doing the allowed thing to do the allowed thing - and this is all you have pointed out here - it is somewhat more expensive for a company that would have done the prohibited thing to switch and train itself to do the allowed thing, and it is even more expensive for a company to constantly police its practices to make sure that it never does the prohibited thing and always does the allowed thing. Regulations impose the significant burden on business of discovering and remembering those regulations, in addition to the burden of evolving its business practices around those regulations and vigilantly policing its own activities.

Furthermore is the objection only to these words? From previous comments, it seems concepts were prohibited. Rad Geek wrote:

Try thinking about it in reverse, if that helps. "Hard-working" and "law-abiding" are deliberate contrast terms for "lazy," "shiftless," and "criminal." These terms were all deployed with pretty clear racial dimensions during the political debates in question.

The relationship between "hard-working" and "lazy" is conceptual, not terminological. Conceptual links being important, then suddenly the very idea of a hard worker, if it enters into your speech, becomes a potential liability. The chilling effect on speech can potentially be broad and deep.

Chilling speech is of course not necessarily what happens. Non-leftists are apt to ignore the lunatic ravings of leftists, and therefore to go ahead and speak however they feel like speaking, and in doing so constantly step on one left wing land mine after another. While the repercussions exist mainly in the mind of leftists, they do at least in that respect prevent leftists from legitimately dealing with the actual arguments presented. It's scary when leftists lust after prohibiting speech (which they do). It's funny when leftists are shell-shocked by the explosions that go off in their own echo chambers.

I forgot to mention previously that the point I raised also goes toward doubting the story independently of any motivation of the story tellers. As I pointed out, these are important ideas. Criminality? Very important. Earning a living? Yes, extremely important. Therefore it is likely that they were in fact used to mean exactly what they seem to mean rather than as code for racism. Furthermore, even if some people used them as racial code, and even if some audience took them that way, we're talking about large populations here. Not everybody was a member of the secret society. Not everybody had the decoder ring. It seems likely that a lot of people both heard, and made, speech with those terms meaning exactly what they literally meant. In all likelihood the speeches, even if they could be interpreted racially, were in fact sometimes, maybe usually, entirely valid and persuasive points when understood completely literally. To summarize my reasoning: if people have a propensity to do something (e.g. be concerned about criminality), then chances are good that that's what they did. If some leftist comes along and says that when Southerners talk about criminality they're really talking about blacks, I find that impossible to believe as a blanket statement about all or even most Southern talk about criminality and the law. And even if a leftist manages to present evidence that somebody at some time used it as a code, well, it takes a lot more evidence than that to convince me that Southerners didn't care about criminality but only cared about blacks.

If the case for liberty rests or falls on a politician's ability to sort his or her supporters into law-abidin', hard-workin' 'mericans rallied against that "other" group of undesirables, the case for liberty is already lost.

Thanks for adding the twang. That really underlines the contemptibility of the statements you are portraying. If it's said with a Southern twang, then it must really be contemptible. Because, you see, Southerners are that other group of undesirables.

Meanwhile, on the matter of whether "the case" is "already lost" - how? The distinctions are neither invalid nor unpopular. Granted, they are unpopular among the left. As Evan Sayet has pointed out (the Youtube version is best):

There's a brilliant book out there called The Closing of the American Mind by Professor Allan Bloom. Professor Bloom was trying to figure out in the 1980s why his students were suddenly so stupid, and what he came to was the realization, the recognition, that they'd been raised to believe that indis­criminateness is a moral imperative because its opposite is the evil of having discriminated. I para phrase this in my own works: "In order to eliminate discrimination, the Modern Liberal has opted to become utterly indiscriminate."

I'll give you an example. At the airports, in order not to discriminate, we have to intentionally make ourselves stupid. We have to pretend we don't know things we do know, and we have to pretend that the next person who is likely to blow up an airplane is as much the 87-year-old Swedish great-great-grand mother as those four 27-year-old imams newly arrived from Syria screaming "Allahu Akbar!" just before they board the plane. In order to eliminate discrimination, the Modern Liberal has opted to become utterly indiscriminate.

The problem is, of course, that the ability to dis criminate, to thoughtfully choose the better of the available options--as in "she's a discriminating shopper"--is the essence of rational thought; thus, the whole of Western Europe and today's Democrat ic Party, dominated as it is by this philosophy, rejects rational thought as a hate crime.

Granted, distinctions such as the distinction between black and white, between foreigner and American, are often abused, leading to injustices. However, what we can see among leftists is a tendency to broaden the fight against discrimination. Now it is not enough that we refuse to discriminate between black and white, between American and foreigner. Now we must refuse to discriminate even between criminals and non-criminals!

What at first seems a reasonable idea (that we should not, e.g., discriminate by race), quickly balloons into a sickness (the refusal to discriminate even between criminals and non-criminals).

Ronald Reagan's Farewell Address

I was 12 when Reagan left office, old enough to remember the excitement of having met him the previous year, but not yet interested enough in politics to understand why he was special. Via TSI board member Joe Lonsdale's blog post, I just came across the text of his farewell address, and finally got, on an emotional level, what an unusual friend to liberty Reagan was.

For example, this passage is something we could use to remember in these dark days for America's reputation:

It was back in the early '80s, at the height of the boat people. And the sailor was hard at work on the carrier Midway, which was patrolling the South China Sea. The sailor, like most American servicemen, was young, smart, and fiercely observant. The crew spied on the horizon a leaky little boat. And crammed inside were refugees from Indochina hoping to get to America. The Midway sent a small launch to bring them to the ship and safety. As the refugees made their way through the choppy seas, one spied the sailor on deck and stood up and called out to him. He yelled, "Hello, American sailor. Hello, freedom man."

A small moment with a big meaning, a moment the sailor, who wrote it in a letter, couldn't get out of his mind. And when I saw it, neither could I. Because that's what it was to be an American in the 1980s. We stood, again, for freedom. I know we always have, but in the past few years the world again, and in a way, we ourselves rediscovered it.

On convincing by example:

Once you begin a great movement, there's no telling where it will end. We meant to change a nation, and instead, we changed a world.

Countries across the globe are turning to free markets and free speech and turning away from ideologies of the past. For them, the great rediscovery of the 1980s has been that, lo and behold, the moral way of government is the practical way of government: Democracy, the profoundly good, is also the profoundly productive.

A prediction that was vindicated by history:

Nothing is less free than pure communism, and yet we have, the past few years, forged a satisfying new closeness with the Soviet Union. I've been asked if this isn't a gamble, and my answer is no because we're basing our actions not on words but deeds. The detente of the 1970s was based not on actions but promises. They'd promise to treat their own people and the people of the world better. But the gulag was still the gulag, and the state was still expansionist, and they still waged proxy wars in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Well, this time, so far, it's different. President Gorbachev has brought about some internal democratic reforms and begun the withdrawal from Afghanistan. He has also freed prisoners whose names I've given him every time we've met.
My view is that President Gorbachev is different from previous Soviet leaders. I think he knows some of the things wrong with his society and is trying to fix them.

Good advice for people, as well as nations:

We'll continue to work to make sure that the Soviet Union that eventually emerges from this process is a less threatening one. What it all boils down to is this. I want the new closeness to continue. And it will, as long as we make it clear that we will continue to act in a certain way as long as they continue to act in a helpful manner. If and when they don't, at first pull your punches. If they persist, pull the plug. It's still trust but verify. It's still play, but cut the cards. It's still watch closely. And don't be afraid to see what you see.

On America's frontier origins and Seasteading:

The past few days when I've been at that window upstairs, I've thought a bit of the "shining city upon a hill." The phrase comes from John Winthrop, who wrote it to describe the America he imagined. What he imagined was important because he was an early Pilgrim, an early freedom man. He journeyed here on what today we'd call a little wooden boat; and like the other Pilgrims, he was looking for a home that would be free.

I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it and see it still.

Thanks for the vision Ron. America's lost its way a bit, but we're working to build your shining city on the high seas.

UPDATE: You can watch or listen to the whole thing here.

Definition of Sabotage

The Cato blog linked here and the following caught my eye:

The Cato Institute will present this student, Yon Goicoechea, with the "2008 Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty" at a dinner costing $500 per person.
The student movement against the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela has been receiving money from different agencies of the United States, such as the National Endowment for Democracy, USAID, and other U.S. and international agencies.

Yon Goicoechea has made it clear that the $500,000 from the Cato Institute will be used for further attempts to sabotage the Bolivarian Revolution.

Emphasis mine. My guess (and it is just a guess, I know nothing about Goicoechea)is that sabotage in this context means to hold a contrary opinion and speak out on it.

Note to the New York City Independent Media Center: The Venezuelan government's price controls will take care of the sabotage of the Bolivarian Revolution. If that is the goal of Goicoechea and Cato, either would be better off keeping the cash.

Small Picture Thinking and the Left

As best I can tell Hillary’s greatest passion is to develop government programs to help women and children who are not wealthy. You would think all the left would love her.

It is interesting to examine the cognitive dissonance in leftist minds. Here are some quotes from commenters reacting to Ampersands post on Alas. It is all about the pervasive racism theme and they are not about to let up.

Here is what Hillary actually said. “Well, Kathy you know there was just an AP article posted, uhh, that … found how … Senator Obama’s …uh… support…among, um…, working…uh hard working Americans, uh, white Americans, is, um…weakening again, uhh and how, uhh … the … whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me and, in independents, umm, I was running even with him, and…doing even better with Democratic-leaning independents. I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on.”

So evidently it was just an off the cuff remark, just the kind certain sports announcers and TV personalities have made to their everlasting regret. She appears to have just been commenting on some AP article. Translated and condensed by the press it comes out sounding like a prepared statement pandering to white racists.

It is interesting that some on the leftist are as intolerant of her gaffe as they were of Don Imus and other unfortunates. Examples of negative reactions include-- “this is part of a larger pattern and an apparent strategy to use race as a weapon against Obama. At this point, it doesn’t matter how much she hems and haws or “didn’t mean it” as she says it, any whiff of racist tactics from her will now appear to be part of that strategy.”

“--- many working-class people that I know who support Obama but don’t count because they’re for the most part not White. And it’s not like the White working class people are all gravitating to Hillary.” They are mostly republicans.

“Clinton is still a fool though: whether or not she meant A or B, she’s supposed to be smart enough to avoid insults. Accidental insults are still insults.”

“But Clinton’s running a campaign that for the most part has been implemented by White male Republicans.
It’s crap like this that makes me question feminists willingness to dismantle patriarchy or simply change who’s in charge of it and why “patriarchy” itself is a problematic term for many women.”

“It’s not just one off-the-cuff statement that’s being misunderstood; it’s like her entire campaign. And if appealing to White Americans as if they’re the only votes that matter is necessary to “win” an election or a nomination, then our country’s in an even sadder state than I thought.” So sorry, but Blacks are a minority and have placed themselves in the Democrat’s pocket already.

“I agree that it is entirely possible that Clinton was not intentionally trying to connect “hard-working Americans” with “white Americans”. However, if she wasn’t that almost makes it worse. She either revealed an implicit association between “hard-working” and “white” or she made a cynical statement designed to appeal to racists.”

“Look, racism is not just personal prejudice. If you encourage racist views, it does not matter whether you personally believe what you are pushing or not. It is racist either way.”

The message seems to be that intentions don’t matter. Words have a life of their own for which you will be held infinitely responsible. Is it any wonder that we will never reach the desired level of linguistic and moral purity so that these fanatics will someday say “Mission accomplished; now let’s move on to something more interesting and fun.” That goal has been placed perpetually out of reach meaning that the left must just enjoy being tiresome, scolds.