Archive for the 'Outrage' Category

Interventionists


       

Fox News reports that senior Republicans, including Reince Preibus, Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuiiani, are planning an “intervention” to try to talk Donald Trump down from putting his psychopathy quite so visibly on display. The psychopathy itself is presumably intervention-proof.

Which raises the question: Why intervene? Presumably the answer is: To get this man elected as President of the United States, from which venue the psychopathy will have free reign. The very necessity of the intervention implies that if the intervention is successful, it must be disastrous. We intervene with drunkards to begin the slow process of returning them to a normal life. We do not intervene with drunkards to get them to hide their drinking so they can be hired as jet pilots in three months’ time.

I realize that there are still a few scattered people who think (or at least hope) that Trump’s whole idiot-manchild schtick is just some kind of an act, and that there is some substance beneath the lunacy. Presumably those who believe that an intervention is necessary are not among those scattered few. This makes it their responsibility, at a minimum, to stop trying to elect him.

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Poison Apple

poisonappleThere are about a million reasons why I hate my iPhone, but this one pretty much sums it all up.

On my phone, I’ve got quite a few files that were not downloaded from any of my other devices. These include pictures I’ve taken with the phone itself, pdfs I’ve downloaded through the phone’s browser, etc.

Of course, I’d like to have backups of all these files. And of course Apple makes this as difficult as possible by pushing me to use its abysmal iTunes software for creating the backup.

Now here is what iTunes does: I have photo files with names like IMG_0840.jpg — which, if not terribly descriptive, is at least immediately recognizable as a photo. I have pdfs with names like Dirac.QuantumMechanics.pdf, which is a nice, easily recognizable name. I download everything to my computer via iTunes, and here is a partial directory listing of what I get:

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Bad Planning

ppIn a bid for ongoing taxpayer support, Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards will be appearing before Congress today. It’s reported that as part of her testimony, she will admit that only 1 percent of Planned Parenthood’s affiliates currently harvest fetal tissue, and that even those affiliates charge only modest fees of $60 per tissue specimen.

Which raises the question: Why should we give money to an organization that has access to a valuable resource but can’t be bothered to sell it to the highest bidder?

When your brother-in-law is out of work, you might be inclined to help him out. When your brother-in-law is out of work, deluged with job offers, and refusing even to consider them, you’ll probably be less inclined. Planned Parenthood is that brother-in-law.

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Ask Not What the Church Can Do For You; Ask What You Can Do For the Church

Pope Francis is coming to New York, and Cardinal Timothy Dolan is disturbed about ticket-scalping:

“Tickets for events with Pope Francis are distributed free [via lottery] for a reason — to enable as many New Yorkers as possible, including those of modest means, to be able to participate in the Holy Father’s visit to New York,” Cardinal Dolan, the archbishop of New York, said in a statement. “To attempt to resell the tickets and profit from his time in New York goes against everything Pope Francis stands for.”

So according to Cardinal Dolan, “everything Pope Francis stands for” consists of the proposition that for New Yorkers of modest means, nothing should take precedence over turning out to see Pope Francis — not groceries, not medicine, not car repairs, not any of the other things that people can buy with the proceeds from selling their tickets.

I doubt that Pope Francis is quite as egomaniacal as the Cardinal paints him. But apparently the Cardinal himself would rather see poor people cheering for the Pope than improving their lives.

Block Heads

walterblockThe righteously irrepressible Walter Block has made it his mission to defend the undefendable, but there are limits. Chattel slavery, for example, will get no defense from Walter, and he recently explained why: The central problem with slavery is that you can’t walk away from it. If it were voluntary, it wouldn’t be so bad. In Walter’s words:

The slaves could not quit. They were forced to ‘associate’ with their masters when they would have vastly preferred not to do so. Otherwise, slavery wasn’t so bad. You could pick cotton, sing songs, be fed nice gruel, etc. The only real problem was that this relationship was compulsory.

A group of Walter’s colleagues at Loyola university (who, for brevity, I will henceforth refer to as “the gang of angry yahoos”) appears to concur:

Traders in human flesh kidnapped men, women and children from the interior of the African continent and marched them in stocks to the coast. Snatched from their families, these individuals awaited an unknown but decidedly terrible future. Often for as long as three months enslaved people sailed west, shackled and mired in the feces, urine, blood and vomit of the other wretched souls on the boat….The violation of human dignity, the radical exploitation of people’s labor, the brutal violence that slaveholders utilized to maintain power, the disenfranchisement of American citizens, the destruction of familial bonds, the pervasive sexual assault and the systematic attempts to dehumanize an entire race all mark slavery as an intellectually, economically, politically and socially condemnable institution no matter how, where, or when it is practiced.

So everybody’s on the same side, here, right? Surely nobody believes the slaves were voluntarily snatched from their families, shackled and mired in waste, sexually assaulted and all the rest. All the bad stuff was involuntary and — this being the whole point — was possible only because it was involuntary. That’s a concept with broad applicability. One could, for example, say the same about Auschwitz. Nobody would have much minded the torture and the gas chambers if there had been an opt-out provision. And this is a useful observation, if one is attempting to argue that involuntary associations are the root of much evil.

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State of the Union

I’m leaving this one up to my readers. What was the most egregious moment?

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Lying Low

Faithful readers of this blog might remember the despicable antics of Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who, in a televised hearing last June, spent eight excruciating minutes impugning the honesty of a young economist named Salim Furth — because Furth had presented actual data that contradicted a bunch of numbers Whitehouse had made up out of whole cloth. For those who need a refreseher, the entire sordid story — including Paul Krugman’s reprehensible piling-on to Whitehouse’s McCarthyite smear — is here with a follow-up here.

Well, it turns out that Senator Whitehouse is no more interested in understanding the numbers today than he was last June. Last week, the Heritage Foundation held a symposium on the effects of austerity and what the data actually show — the precise data that Whitehouse disputed. In addition to Furth, who has continued his meticulous research on the subject the speakers included illustrious scholars such as Harvard Professor Alberto Alesina. Heritage sent personal invitations to Senator Whitehouse’s staff and to the various journalists who screwed up this story by reporting Whitehouse’s made-up numbers as accurate and his smears as justified.

The result? None of them showed. Apparently Senator Whitehouse’s passionate interest in the austerity numbers tends to cool off when he can’t hog the spotlight, or might risk learning something.

Meanwhile, if you care more about this subject than Senator Whitehouse does, you might want to look at Furth’s most recent report on the subject, or at the data set he’s posted online, or at his most recent blog post calling Paul Krugman to account for misinterpreting some of these numbers.

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Double Standards


Remember last January, when the President said he wouldn’t negotiate with hostage-takers—like the Republican representatives who demanded spending cuts in exchange for raising the debt ceiling? His argument, as I understood it, was that:

  1. A failure to raise the debt ceiling would be unambiguously bad policy.
  2. It is irresponsible to threaten to implement a bad policy just to gain concessions on the spending front.

It’s an argument I expect we’ll hear again, next time the debt ceiling comes up.

And what’s the President up to in the meantime? He’s demanding a new round of spending increases in exchange for corporate tax reform. Now, since pretty much every sentient being in the Universe agrees that we’re long overdue for corporate tax reform (and in particular for lower rates), I think it’s fair to characterize the President’s position as a threat to retain a bad corporate tax policy just to gain concessions on the spending front.

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The Road Not Taken

Paul Krugman, having apparently received another of his divine revelations, proclaims that if we demand (somewhat) better working conditions in Third World countries (backed up, presumably, with boycott threats), “we can achieve an improvement in workers’ lives … And we should go ahead and do it.”

Don’t ask how he knows; the ways of the Oracle are mysterious and beyond human ken.

Look. A well designed policy of boycotts and boycott threats can certainly improve working conditions in the Third World. It can also lower either wages, employment or both. Whether or not that package amounts to “an improvement in worker’s lives”, as Krugman puts it, is an interesting and important question, and well worth thinking about. But apparently the last thing Krugman wants you to do is think about it, since he’s already told you the answer, and seems to presume you won’t have the slightest interest in where it came from.

Now, among the many differences between me and Paul Krugman, there are probably some that redound to his credit. But his propensity to hide all of his reasoning (if any) is not one of them. Compare, for example, my blog post of a few years ago on working conditions in 1911 New York City, when the Triangle Shirtwaist fire claimed 146 lives, most of them young women, partly because the fire exits were blocked to prevent pilfering. Would workers in 1911 have wanted safer working conditions (including unblocked fire exits)? This was my answer:

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The Story Darkens


It turns out that last week’s tag-team smear of a young Heritage Foundation economist, executed by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and his lackey Paul Krugman of the New York Times, was even worse than we knew.

As you’ll recall, Salim Furth of the Heritage Foundation testified before the Senate Budget Committee, accurately presenting data on economic policy changes in various countries for the years 2007-2012. Then Senator Whitehouse, cheered on by Paul Krugman, spent eight minutes excoriating Furth for inventing those numbers — the sort of accusation which, if it were taken seriously, would surely destroy Furth’s career. (As well it ought to, if it had contained a grain of truth.)

And what was Senator Whitehouse’s evidence for Furth’s “meretriciousness”, as he put it? Well, it was the fact that Whitehouse had gone to Furth’s source, looked for the numbers, and found them to be entirely different.

What Senator Whitehouse didn’t tell you was that he was “refuting” Furth’s accurate report of the historical record with projected numbers, which is to say pie-in-the-sky promises by politicians about what they’re going to do in the year 2016. It was, as I said last week, as if I’d announced plans to lose 30 pounds and then promptly gained 10. When Furth accurately reports my recent weight gain, Whitehouse calls him a liar because a 10 pound gain is not a 30 pound loss.

Paul Krugman, who must know better, cheered on this mendacity when he wrote:

a Heritage Foundation economist has been accused of presenting false, deliberately misleading data and analysis to the Senate Budget Committee.

What’s so shocking? Not the false, misleading data and analysis — that’s SOP at Heritage. … What’s shocking is that they got called on it, in real time.

Now it turns out that Senator Whitehouse’s numbers were even farther off base. Not only was were the numbers invented to begin with; he took those numbers for various years and added them up, even though they were already cumulative. It’s as if I’d announced plans to lose 30 pounds in 2013 and another 20 in 2014 — a total of 50 over two years. What Senator Whitehouse did was the equivalent of adding the initial 30 to the total of 50, and then announcing that my projected weight loss is 80 pounds. And then calling Furth a 90-pound liar for accurately reporting my 10 pound weight gain.

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Lies and Lying Liars

When a politician misleads the public with distorted or flat-out fictional data, or uses eight minutes of national TV time to smear the character of the careful scholar who dared to report an inconvenient set of facts, you can always count on Paul Krugman of the New York Times to leap to the defense of truth and honesty — or, alternatively, to jump on the bandwagon if the politician happens to be a Democrat.

Here, you see, is what happened this week: Salim Furth, an economist at the Heritage Foundation (and a graduate of the University of Rochester, where I knew him to be a thoughtful and honest researcher) testified before the Senate budget committee, where he presented data from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) showing that most European governments have recently increased their spending. (This isn’t surprising for several reasons, one of which is that governments often spend more in recessionary times.)

Enter Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, who spent eight excruciating televised minutes lambasting Furth and questioning his honesty, by reading out OECD numbers that differed dramatically from what Furth had reported. Some choice comments:

Dr. Furth, I am very concerned about your testimony….

When I look at the graph, for instance, which you source to the OECD — did you actually look at what the OECD says?….

They’ve actually written what the numbers are. And here’s what the numbers actually are, according to the OECD….

I am concerned that your testimony to this committee has been meretricious…I am contesting whether you have given us fair and accurate information.

And then there’s another eight minutes of reading out numbers that are, Senator Whitehouse keeps reminding us actually from the OECD, as opposed to these other numbers reported by Furth, which Furth claims are from the OECD, but obviously can’t be, because Whitehouse has the actual OECD numbers right here, and look how different they are — all of this interspersed with a barrage of attacks on Furth’s character and integrity. (See the video below, if you have the stomach for it.)

Now here’s the thing: There are a couple of legitimate reasons why Furth’s and Whitehouse’s numbers don’t agree. The first is that they’re for different time periods. Furth’s are for the years 2007-2012, while Senator Whitehouse’s are for the years 2009-2016. That’s right, 2016. Which brings us to the other reason these numbers differ: Furth’s come from the historical record, while Senator Whitehouse’s come from somebody’s ass.

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Never Give Your Credit Card to the Wall Street Journal

Having just discovered a staggering $910 (!!!!) in unexplained and unauthorized charges to my MasterCard by the Wall Street Journal (no, these were not legit renewal fees), I have just spent what seems like the better part of four days telling my story on the phone to one customer service rep after another, each of whom has found a new way to lie to me. (“We’ll call you back by the end of the day” was the most frequent lie, followed by “we’re putting through a half-refund now and someone with higher authority will call you shortly to arrange the rest” — which turned out to be two lies in one). Finally, I decided to send an email with the whole sad story, asking for a refund and mentioning that I sure hope there won’t be any resulting confusion that interrupts my delivery service. I got an email back saying “Per your request, we’re cancelling your delivery service”. Today I had no newspaper — and still no refund.

Think of the top three worst customer service stories you’ve ever heard. Chances are excellent that versions of all three have cropped up along the way in this sordid saga, the details of which I will suppress because I’m sure they’re less interesting to you than they are to me.

But I will mention this: Aside from the lying, and the lying and the lying, there’s also the fact that absolutely nobody appears to keep any record of these conversations, so that each time I call, I’m starting from scratch, explaining the whole story to a customer service rep who won’t put me through to a supervisor until I rehash the whole thing, then waiting on hold ten minutes for said supervisor, who needs the entire story told from scratch again before connecting me to the department that’s really equipped to deal with this, where I wait on hold for another ten minutes before telling my story yet again and, 50% of the time, getting disconnected. When I call back, it’s back to Square One.

Oh, yes….and they’ve also studiously ignored my repeated requests/demands that they expunge my credit card number from their records, and refused to acknowledge my repeated notifications that they do not have my authorization to charge my credit card for anything ever again.

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Rush to Judgment

rushRush Limbaugh is under fire for responding in trademark fashion to the congressional testimony of Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke, who wants you to pay for her contraception. If the rest of us are to share in the costs of Ms. Fluke’s sex life, says Rush, we should also share in the benefits, via the magic of online video. For this, Rush is accused of denying Ms. Fluke her due respect.

But while Ms. Fluke herself deserves the same basic respect we owe to any human being, her position — which is what’s at issue here — deserves none whatseover. It deserves only to be ridiculed, mocked and jeered. To treat it with respect would be a travesty. I expect there are respectable arguments for subsidizing contraception (though I am skeptical that there are arguments sufficiently respectable to win me over), but Ms. Fluke made no such argument. All she said, in effect, was that she and others want contraception and they don’t want to pay for it.

To his credit, Rush stepped in to provide the requisite mockery. To his far greater credit, he did so with a spot-on analogy: If I can reasonably be required to pay for someone else’s sex life (absent any argument about externalities or other market failures), then I can reasonably demand to share in the benefits. His dense and humorless critics notwithstanding, I am 99% sure that Rush doesn’t actually advocate mandatory on-line sex videos. What he advocates is logical consistency and an appreciation for ethical symmetry. So do I. Color me jealous for not having thought of this analogy myself.

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Why Not Bob Dole?

So Mitt Romney wants to exempt capital gains from taxation — but only for taxpayers who earn less than $200,000 a year. In Tuesday night’s debate, Newt Gingrich asked him (I’m paraphrasing) “Why the cap?”. Romney’s answer — that he’s looking out for the middle class because “the rich can take care of themselves” — was as incoherent as anything I’ve heard this election year.

Here’s why:

I interpret Romney’s answer to mean that he wants to cut capital gains rates not on efficiency grounds, not on supply side grounds, and not on philosophical grounds, but on redistributionist grounds. Well, okay, I myself don’t think very much of redistribution as a primary driver of tax policy, but Romney and I can disagree on that one. But where the incoherence comes in is this: If your goal is to redistribute from the rich to the middle class, why on earth would you do it by cutting the capital gains tax, as opposed to lowering income tax rates in the middle and raising them at the top?

To put this another way: If you care about efficiency, you’ll want to cut the capital gains rate to zero for everyone. If you care about fairness, and if you believe fairness mitigates against double/triple/quadruple taxation, you’ll still want to cut the capital gains rate to zero for everyone. If you care about redistribution, you’ll want to juggle the tax brackets. But I can’t think of a single thing you could care about that would lead you to laser in on cutting capital gains rates for middle income taxpayers only.

Now it might be that somewhere in Romney’s 59 point economic plan there’s an answer to this. If so, Herman Cain was surely right when he intimated that Romney himself can’t be terribly familiar with the contents of that plan. Because, when asked a simple question about the justification, Romney wasn’t able to come anywhere close to making sense.

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Compassion Play

One thing I like about the study of economics is that it fosters compassion. When part of your job is to predict human behavior, you quickly learn the value of understanding other people’s problems. When the other part of your job is ferreting out the unseen global consequences of our choices, you’ve taken the first step toward caring about those consequences.

For example: Suppose a guy with no health insurance and no assets shows up at a hospital emergency room with an urgent life-threatening condition. Should you let him die? Ordinary compassion says no. The heightened compassion of the economist says, at the very least, maybe.

First, a policy of providing emergency health care to everyone is pretty much the same thing as a policy of providing emergency health insurance to everyone. It was specified here that this was a guy who didn’t want health insurance. So let’s recognize for starters that such a policy runs counter to — I am tempted to say runs roughshod over — the guy’s own revealed preference. It’s an odd sort of compassion that forces people to buy things they don’t want.

Now you might object that nobody’s forcing this guy to buy emergency health care; we’re trying to give him emergency health care. Not so fast. Here’s the first place where a little economic training goes to hone one’s sense of compassion: The emergency health insurance we’re foisting on this guy has a cost. We can spend that money on emergency rooms or we can spend it on a myriad of other things the guy might prefer. How is it compassionate to give him one thing when he prefers another?

This is particularly true if the guy happens to be very poor. Poor people have a lot of problems, and emergency health care is only one of them. They need better education, they need better transportation, and they need a little help buying groceries.

There is room for lots of debate and lots of disagreement about how much we as a society should be spending to help poor people. That’s not the issue here. The issue here is: Given that you’ve decided to spend an extra such-and-such many dollars a year helping poor people, why would you spend it in this particular way rather than one of the many other ways they could use it? For God’s sake, why not at least ask them if they’d rather have the cash?

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In a Fit of Pique

For God’s sake, don’t let your children subscribe to Sirius/XM.

Since May 4, when Sirius rearranged all its channel numbers, my radio has been badly confused. If I punch in station 23, it goes to the station that’s currently 23 for a while, then jumps to the station that used to be 23, etc. And certain stations, which according to the Sirius website are part of my standard package, are completely inaccessible.

Given my past experience with XM customer service, I knew this was not going to be an easy fix, so I’ve been putting off making the call. Today I had some spare time. Sure enough, I’ve spent over TWO HOURS on the phone with these people being alternately put on hold, lied to, put on hold, lied to some more, and put on hold again.

They claim the missing channels are missing because they’re “premium” channels not included in my package. Except that their website clearly identifies these channels as standard channels that *are* part of my package. They tell me that they’re instituting a fix at their end which requires me to leave my radio on for fifteen minutes before it takes effect; this gives them a convenient excuse to hang up and not be there fifteen minutes down the line when nothing has changed. When I complain about how long I’ve been on hold (the automated system always says the wait time is “about eight minutes” before stranding you for half an hour), they give me a direct number to call to bypass the queue. I call that number and am told that no, this number is only for radios installed on airlines or boats. I complain that I’ve just waited twenty minutes to get this message. They give me a *different* number to call, promising me that there is currently no wait at that number. Thirty five minutes later, I’m still waiting.

Ah, but what about just using the form on their web site? Well, you see, that form will not allow me to submit a query unless I give it the serial number of my radio — a serial number that it insists is wrong, even though I have *copied and pasted* it from the “My Account” section of their own damned website. Therefore my query cannot be submitted.

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Dakota Winds

thune ethanol

Here is Senator John Thune (R-SD), speaking on the floor of the United States Senate:

Ethanol producers have been ripping us off for a long time, and they’ve come to rely on that for a source of income. So it’s only fair to let them rip us off a little longer.

I’m quoting from memory, so I might have the wording slightly off, but that was the gist of it. Oh, wait, here’s the exact quote:

We have a lot of folks who made investments, you have people across the country whose livelihoods depend upon this. I think it makes sense, when we put policy in place and we say it is going to be in place for a certain period of time, that it be honored.

As you can see, my parapharase was accurate.

Senator Thune speaks in the great tradition of his institution. Back in 1848, senators by the score made exactly the same argument for preserving slavery. A lot of folks had invested in slaves, you know. And their livelihoods depended on it.

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Who Owes Whom?

Under the headline “Ultimatum Holding Up Trade Deals”, the New York Times reports that:

The Obama administration said on Monday that it would not seek Congressional approval of free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea until Republicans agree to expand assistance for American workers who might lose jobs as a result.

I have said this before and I will say it again: Anybody who loses his job because of a free trade agreement was overpaid to begin with. The $20-an-hour American who loses his job to a $5-an-hour Colombian is an American who has spent the past few years charging his countrymen twenty dollars for something they ought to have been able to buy for five.

So if I were writing this article it would have read something like this:

The Obama administration said on Monday that it would not seek Congressional approval of free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea until Republicans agree to extort additional money from American consumer/taxpayers who might stop being overcharged as a result.

I guess that’s why I never got that call from the New York Times.

Sins of Omission

The Smithsonian Magazine asks its readers to vote on who had the best Civil War facial hair. Burnside wins, as well he should. But how is Longstreet not even among the candidates?

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Senator B.S.

faceofevilA lot of people think of janitors as a group that’s not particularly well paid. Those people might be surprised to learn that in the last five years alone, American janitors earned over $250 billion! That’s billion! With a B!

Despite that enormous income, janitors pay no taxes whatsoever — or at least no taxes whatsoever over and above the taxes that are paid by you, me and other ordinary Americans. And shockingly, it appears that the U.S. Congress would rather cut spending than institute a new tax on janitorial income.

If the above strikes you as insane, congratulations. You are smarter than the intended audience of Senator Bernie Sanders, who observes in his new book “The Speech” that General Electric’s shareholders collectively earned a staggering $26 billion over the past five years, and paid absolutely no tax on that amount.

Of course $26 billion is only a tenth of what janitors earned over the same time period, but I guess it does look mighty big if you don’t bother dividing by the number of shareholders. Without having all the numbers in front of me, my best guess is that we’re talking maybe a few hundred bucks per shareholder, though of course (as with janitors) some earn more and others earn less.

And as for the shareholders paying absolutely no tax, perhaps they didn’t, as long as you don’t count taxes on dividends, capital gains and wages. To wit:

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The Protection Racket

Say you run a restaurant. And say a competitor announces plans to set up shop just across the street. What can you do to minimize the impact on your business?

Well, you could lower your prices. Or you could work on providing better service. Or you could send over a couple of guys who are really good at convincing people it’s not in their interest to compete with you.

Or say you run a personnel company that brings foreign workers into the United States. And say you’re worried about competitors who cross the border without your help. One option is to try doing a better job. Another is to send over about 1500 guys with unmanned aerial vehicles, new forwarding operating bases and $14 million in new communications equipment to tamp down the flow.

President Obama, with support from both sides of the political aisle, will be signing a bill today that allocates $600 million for “border security”. According to CNN, “The bill is funded in part by higher fees on personnel companies that bring foreign workers into the United States”.

I imagine the personnel companies will consider it money well spent. Let’s not lose sight of how ugly this is.

Teachers and Councilors

S030409JB-0043.JPGThe White House has dispatched Christy Romer, a distinguished economist and chair of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors, to rustle up support for emergency spending to keep teachers employed. Her piece in the Washington Post is remarkable for a complete absence of arguments in favor of spending this money on teachers as opposed to say, plumbers or cab drivers or pharmaceutical researchers or computer programmers or minor league ballplayers. (See for yourself.)

So why the singular focus on teachers? The answer, of course, is that unlike plumbers or cab drivers or pharmaceutical workers or computer programmers, teachers, through their unions, were major contributors to the Obama campaign.

All victorious politicians engage in the unsavory practice of diverting spoils to their most vigorous supporters at everyone else’s expense. In this, the current administration may be no more blameworthy than any other. But I’m pretty sure that sending out the chair of the Council of Economic Advisors to defend these political payoffs marks a new sort of low. Traditionally, the Council is composed of first-rate academics whose job is to give good counsel and remain above the political fray. Shame on the President for debasing that noble mission, and shame on Christy Romer for going along with it.

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Missing the Big Picture

Writing in the New York Times, law professor Kris Kobach promises to rebut all the major objections to Arizona’s new anti-immigration law and proceeds to ignore all the major objections. Professor Kobach’s idea of a major objection is “It’s unfair to demand that aliens carry their documents with them”, whereas my idea of a major objection is “It’s idiotic, hateful and destructive to put obstacles in the way of productive activity.”

The number of “unauthorized aliens” in Arizona at any given moment is estimated as just under a half million—about the same as the number of Jews in New Jersey. Over half the text of the Arizona law is devoted to penalizing employers who hire these people. Now suppose for a moment that the New Jersey legislature were to pass a bill penalizing anyone who hires a Jew. Would Professor Kobach defend this law, as he does Arizona’s, by pointing out that it doesn’t require anyone to carry a driver’s license?

The anti-immigration hysterics keep warning us that foreigners want to come over here and exploit our welfare system. The insincerity of that stance is exposed whenever, as in Arizona, its proponents set out to prevent those very same foreigners from coming here and working.

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Tipping Points

tippingMario Rizzo has a post on why he gives small tips to cab drivers and Brad DeLong concludes that Rizzo is a liar, a cheat and a psychopath-in-the-making.

You’d never know it from DeLong’s selective summary, but Rizzo’s post is dense with interesting (if elementary) economics. A key point is that when you think you’re tipping a New York cab driver, you’re really tipping the medallion owner. (A medallion is a license to drive a cab; medallions are in fixed supply and currently trade for a price of about three quarters of a million dollars. Your driver is probably leasing his medallion from its owner.) If we all started tipping, say, an extra $2 per ride, then medallion owners would demand another $2 per ride in rental fares—effectively claiming all the additional tips for themselves. (Click here for a slightly longer explanation.)

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Krugman versus Krugman

I don’t usually post on Sundays, but this letter to the New York Times from the indispensable Don Boudreaux is too priceless to pass up.

Edited to add: I don’t always read Krugman’s column, but since Don’s link sent me there today, I can’t resist noting one more outrage: Krugman thinks that extending estate tax relief to the top .25% of estates is a policy “on behalf of” that .25% of the population, as opposed to a policy on behalf of everyone who benefits from capital accumulation, higher wages and economic growth.

Or more precisesly, he doesn’t think that. But he says it.

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Criminal Law

cagedOn June 25, 2010, Professor Joseph Weiler, editor of the European Journal of International Law, will stand trial in a French criminal court for running a mildly negative book review on a journal-associated website.

The book in question is The Trial Proceedings of the International Criminal Court by the Israeli law professor Dr. Karin N. Calvo-Goller. According to the reviewer the main part of the book “simply restates the…relevant parts of the ICC Statute.” This rehashing, he adds, is particularly unproductive since a large part of the volume consists of a reprint of the Statute itself.

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Ethics by Pronouncement

14ethicist_190In this week’s insult to his readers’ intelligence, Randy Cohen, the designated “Ethicist” at the New York Times, responds to two reader inquiries: May I refuse to hire someone because I don’t like his politics? (Answer: “No you may not”.) And: May I, as a doctor, refuse to treat someone because I don’t like his occupation? (Answer, in essence: “Yes you may”.)

More striking even than Cohen’s characteristic “ethics by pronouncement”, refusing to acknowledge, let alone address, the underlying issues, is that he doesn’t even seem to notice that these questions have something in common. He treats them as two separate reader inquiries, from two separate and non-overlapping universes. Thus it’s okay for the doctor to turn away a patient because “You cannot be forced to practice medicine” and because the patient can always find another doctor. One might wonder, then, in the case of the employer, why it’s not true/relevant/dispositive that “You cannot be forced to provide employment” and/or that the candidate can always find another job.

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The Oracle of Eighth Avenue

Randy Cohen, the house ethicist at the New York Times, frequently strikes me as disappointingly shallow. Take, for example, his latest column, posing this ethical quandary:

You’re redesigning a website and you want to include a photo of a generic customer. The client does not want the generic customer to be African-American, partly because he has never had an African-American customer and thinks it unlikely that he ever will. Is this okay?

My objection is not to Cohen’s answer (which is “no”) but to the way it’s dispensed, as if from an oracle, with no attempt at a derivation from clearly stated principles.

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