Updating Niemöller

(A Pun Salad Rerun)

[Hey, that was some eclipse, right? What do you think about that Big Booming Voice threatening America with imminent destruction, unless… Oh, that didn't happen where you were? … What, that was just me hearing it? Never mind.

Anyway, we are still in Pun Salad rerun season. I originally wrote this masterpiece before Trump's inauguration. I've added a few stanzas since.]

In honor of the upcoming Trump Administration, some overly dramatic friends have been posting the famous poem by anti-Nazi German Pastor Martin Niemöller:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Because Trump is Hitler, you see.

But it got me thinking about what a more honest, updated version would look like. And so:

First the FEC came for Citizens United , and I did not speak out—
Because I did not want to defend an anti-Hillary movie.

Then the IRS came for Tea Party groups, and I did not speak out—
Because those teabaggers irritated me.

Then the authorities came for Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, and I did not speak out—
Because he was a convenient scapegoat for Benghazi.

Then the DOJ came for a Fox News correspondent, and I did not speak out—
Because, hey, Fox News.

Then the social network mob came after Brendan Eich, and I did not speak out—
Because I did not agree with him.

Then the HHS came for the Little Sisters of the Poor, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a nun.

Then the State of Washington came for a florist, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a florist.

Then Berkeley thugs came for Ann Coulter, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not Ann Coulter.

Then Google came for James Damore, and I did not speak out—
Because … well, who wants to get on Google's bad side?

Then Donald Trump got elected, and I'm now really concerned about arbitrary abuses of power—
And all these people are just laughing at me!

Obviously, I could have added more verses. Disclaimer: despite the "then"s, I didn't bother to put things in chronological order.

A Dishonest and Stupid Change

(A Pun Salad Rerun)

[Hey, how about that eclipse! It's today, right? Pun Salad has nothing to say about that once-in-a-lifetime event except: don't look at the uneclipsed sun with your naked eyeballs. And also: enjoy this crotchety July 2016 response to a silly column from a local retired pol.]

Judd Gregg, one of our state's former Senators, recently took to the op-ed page of my local newspaper, Foster's Daily Democrat, to advocate a Big Idea, that will… well, let him tell you:

In the parlance of Congressional budgeting, if you have an idea that scores positively — in other words, if it raises money without raising taxes — you have struck gold.

In the words of Kenny Bania: "That's gold, Jerry! Gold!".

Such an item allows you, should your colleagues accept it, to either reduce the deficit or spend money on some program that has general support but no funds to pay for it.

Expressed another way, if something scores positively, it creates opportunities for action by the Congress. And this is particularly appealing because Congress is generally wedged into a straitjacket of inaction when it comes to new initiatives or reducing the deficit because it has no way to pay for either effort.

The subtext: Judd's ex-colleagues are demonstrably inept at making difficult fiscal choices, and would much prefer to discover a gaggle of gold-egg-laying geese, or maybe lay claim to whatever loose change they can find in the US Capitol seat cushions.

So what's Judd's Big Idea? Sell the Post Office? Terminate the Small Business Administration? Well, sorry. None of that for Judd. Instead, the loose-change thing turns out to be close.

Here is an idea that involves small change but translates into budgeting gold.

It is currency modernization.

Warning to the reader: "Modernization" will turn out to be a marketing euphemism.

Our present currency system is illogical. We produce coins that cost more than they are worth. Yet, at the same time, we rely far more excessively than other industrialized nations on paper currency. We simply have not modernized our approach to managing our currency to catch up with a 21st century market society.

Judd's argument contains a smidgen of fact: it's probably true that pennies and nickels cost more to make than they're worth. (He elides the "to make" part.)

[It's also worth pointing out that penny and nickel face values are still greater their melt-value. When that stops being true, they will immediately vanish from general circulation.]

But in absolute terms, the amounts involved are capital-T Trivial. The GAO estimated (for FY2014) a yearly loss of $91 million for making pennies and nickels. But making dimes and quarters more than made up for that; the US Mint realized a total profit ("seignorage") of $315 million from its overall coin production.

So "we" (actually: the Mint) could at best save about $91 million a year by not producing pennies and nickels. With Your Federal Government spending $3.8 trillion per year, this represents about 13 minutes of spending.

We'll look at the paper currency argument later. Back to Judd:

It is a bit embarrassing to have the world’s largest and most important economy but yet be so far behind our competition in the simple act of managing our physical money.

What can Judd possibly mean here? There's close to zero "competition" for US currency in the domestic economy. (Although that could change.) In recent years, the US dollar has been the most commonly used currency worldwide, the Euro coming in a distant second. It's the most widely held currency, period. It's hard to find any symptoms whatsoever of a "competition" problem.

So there's no need for Judd to be embarrassed. But let him ramble for a while, he'll eventually get around to what he's actually talking about:

On the bright side, some moves are being made toward addressing this problem. If those moves translate into real action, we stand to realize benefits both from making day-to-day economic activity more efficient and rational, and from saving the taxpayers considerable sums.

The Treasury has announced sweeping changes to our paper currency. The Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Congressional audit group, has supported major modernization 10 times in the last 25 years. Most importantly, a group of thoughtful and respected legislators led by Sens. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., and John McCain, R-Ariz., and Reps. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Robert Pittenger, R-N.C., have made fixing our currency system a priority.

They are pushing for a dollar coin to be included in a package of GAO-recommended savings measures with their bill, the United Savings and Accountability Act (USA Act).

Enzi, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, has also pushed to make sure that savings generated from this modernization will be able to be scored in the budget process.

Ah, there it is: the dollar coin.

A majority of the American people likes this reasonable approach. Sixty-one percent of Americans support going to a more coin-dominated system when they are told of the savings it would generate.

But in actual fact, US dollar coins have proven to be dreadfully unpopular. "The American people" have had the option to use them, on and off, for decades, and the lack of acceptance has been spectacular. Simply, when given a choice, "the American people" prefer the paper dollar. This strongly suggests that there are hidden costs to dollar coin usage (primarily convenience, I would suspect), and those unremunerated costs would be borne by the citizenry.

Gregg's Big Idea: remove the choice. "We tried to be nice, but you didn't behave as you were supposed to. So now we're going to do this for your own good."

How much would this currency reform save us?

Yeah, how much would it save "us"?

It is estimated that switching from the one-dollar note to a one-dollar coin could save the country up to $13.5 billion. Additional savings could be made from suspending the production of the penny and redesigning the nickel. This is a lot of money that could go to reducing the deficit or to funding programs that have broad bipartisan support.

Note the bullshit signifiers here: "could" and "up to". And (most important) no mention of the timeframe for those savings.

And, in any relevant context, despite Judd's dishonest claims otherwise, it turns out to be not a "lot of money". The recent GAO study is easy to find. They have a more conservative estimate of the savings to the federal government: not $13.5 billion, but ("potentially") $4.4 billion. (I don't know where the $13.5 billion number comes from. I suspect it's fantasy.)

And how long would it take for those "potential" savings to be realized? 30 years.

That averages to about $147 million per year. In the same ballpark as the savings from penny/nickel abolition. And in terms of a $3.8 trillion yearly budget, that works out to about 20 minutes worth of spending.

Also note: it's not as if the government loses money printing dollar bills. That would be hard to do; they take at best a few cents worth of paper, ink, and labor and turn it into something "worth" a dollar by fiat. It's just that they could make more money with coins instead, due to their longer lifespan. (Again: "seignorage", a word worth knowing.)

Canada, our neighbor to the north and a good place to try out ideas like this, has successfully made this switch. Canadians experienced cost savings 10 times higher then their initial estimates.

Judd demonstrates, again, his telling aversion to meaningful numbers. According to the GAO, the Canadian government saved $450 million over 5 years in its switchover. So an average of $90 million/year, about 0.028% of their current yearly spending. Given Canada's smaller budget, that's a slightly bigger deal than we'd see in the US: A whole 2.5 hours out of the year!

In an election year like this, big things are not going to happen in Congress. But positive, incremental initiatives that can help pave the way for broader reforms of budget and governance should be doable.

Actually, big things will never happen in Congress as long as they are distracted by time-wasting penny (heh!)-ante schemes like this.

Currency modernization is an opportunity to get real savings that can be used by this Congress as it wrestles with paying for government and reducing the debt.

As shown above, the savings are at best trivial and the debt will continue growing.

It is a small change, in small change. But it does score positively, so it is actually a fairly big deal for a Congress that urgently needs some change.

Change, change, change. Get it? This clever play on words will no doubt convince dozens.

Now, in the grand scheme of things, this is probably not a huge deal. I could learn to live without pennies, nickels, and dollar bills. I am simply tired of pols like Judd Gregg making stupid and dishonest arguments for decreasing Americans' currency choices.

Zika (and Carsey) Skepticism

(A Pun Salad Rerun)

[Pun Salad is running out of euphemisms for "rerun". But enjoy this post from last March. Back with new stuff soon!]

I was moved to comment on this Granite Geek post from David Brooks ("No, the other one") of the Concord Monitor: Mistrust of scientists can hinder fight against Zika, says UNH study. I'll expand on my comment here.

Brooks begins:

As a confirmed skeptic, I agree that it’s a good take to not blanket accept the statements of others but to consider them and weigh evidence when it exists. That is not the same thing as saying “I never believe X, period” – that’s a stupidly superficial response.

Excellent attitude. Except then Brooks immediately proceeds to uncritically echo a new study emitted from the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University Near Here.

What do you have to say about that, John Arnold?

Before we look at the study, let's note that the "Carsey School of Public Policy" is hardly an imprimatur of unbiased policy analysis. As we discussed back in November, the school's director, Michael Ettinger, sent (Wikileaked) mail to the Hillary Clinton campaign, offering to "be helpful from my perch" as director, and offered to connect the campaign with the "large population of influential and well-off progressives" in Portsmouth. [I'd speculate Ettinger had his eyes peeled for a plum job in the Hillary Clinton Administration, but such positions turned out to be only available in an alternative-fact universe.]

The Carsey school's benefactor, Marcy Carsey, is a reliably heavy contributor to Democratic Party causes and candidates. As is (to an appropriately smaller dollar figure) one of the study's authors, Lawrence Hamilton. Not that that necessarily means anything with respect to the study itself. But political bias has certainly been known to tilt what researchers, especially in social science, choose to study and the results they expect to get.

Maybe not in this case. But also: maybe.

Now that our skepticism detectors have been calibrated, lets move on to the "new study": The Zika Virus Threat. Subtitle: "How Concerns About Scientists May Undermine Efforts to Combat the Pandemic".

Well, there's another problem right there. A "pandemic" is something pretty dire. And (sure enough) you can find a lot of Google hits claiming that Zika might become a pandemic. They are notably, entirely from 2016. You'll find precious few claiming that Zika was (let alone is) a pandemic. The notable exception is a New England Journal of Medicine article from February 2016 from Drs. Anthony Fauci and David M. Morens of NIH, asserting "pandemic" status for Zika. The Carsey study treats this as definitive, and reflects the current state of affairs. But that's dubious.

Although definitions are fuzzy, the relevant Wikipedia article on Zika deems Zika an epidemic. Which is bad, but not as bad as a pandemic. Even more relevant, in the lead paragraph of the article, these two sentences are adjacent:

In January 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) said the virus was likely to spread throughout most of the Americas by the end of the year. In November 2016 WHO announced the end of the Zika epidemic.

Um. It's difficult to read that and avoid thinking that most of the fear-mongering and heavy breathing about Zika was, at best, overblown. And it doesn't inspire a lot of confidence in pronouncements from "science".

That's not to say there are no reasons to be concerned and vigilant. Obviously it's a good idea to stomp on Zika until its danger to humans is minimized, assuming that's the most efficient use of scarce epidemiological resources. But how much trust can we put in the Carsey study when the headline recycles the panic-inciting yarns from last year as fact?

Moving on, because it gets worse. The Carsey study is entirely based on an October 2016 Granite State Poll, carried out by the UNH Survey Center. Around the same time, the Survey Center was also doing election polls. Their final polling, published two days before the election, contrasted poorly with reality:

  • In the Presidential race, the Survey Center predicted "51% for Clinton, 40% for Trump, 6% for Johnson, 1% for Stein and 2% for other candidates." The actual percentages were 48/47/4/1. They overestimated Hillary's winning margin by 10 percentage points.

  • In the Senate race, the prediction was "52% for [Democrat] Hassan, 47% for [Republican] Ayotte, and 1% for other candidates". Actual percentages: 48/48/4. An overstatement of the winning margin for the Democrat by 5 percentage points.

  • In the Governor's race, the prediction was "55% for [Democrat] Van Ostern, 44% for [Republican] Sununu, and 2% for other candidates" Actual percentages: 47/49/4, Sununu winning. A 13 percentage point miss here.

So there's every reason to take the roughly-contemporaneous polling here with more than a grain of salt.

Let's look at one of the polling questions:

Do you agree or disagree that scientists adjust their findings to get the answers they want? If agree or disagree: Is that strongly or just somewhat?

The results:

Strongly agree 17%
Agree 26%
Neutral/Don't Know 13%
Disagree 20%
Strongly disagree 24%

How did the researchers report this?

Nearly one-half of New Hampshire residents agreed with the statement, “scientists adjust their findings to get the answers they want.” These individuals were significantly less likely to trust the CDC as a source of information about Zika.

"Nearly one-half" is actually 43%. "Adjusted findings", indeed.

I think if I were asked this question, I'd respond something like this:

It's not that simple.

Scientists are human beings, and are therefore subject to bias, both conscious and unconscious. They have strong incentives to be seen as "productive", because that is the pathway to their professional success. There might be some saintly automatons out there that rise above these human failings, but it's a sight less than 100%.

So I would have to be a damn fool to think that these factors cannot sometimes cause some scientists to report "answers" that don't reflect reality and can't be reproduced. In fact, there have been studies done that show this is a huge issue in psychological research.

I'm not sure how that extends to other fields, but I'm relatively certain it does. Nor am I sure what you mean when you say "adjust their findings", but I think it skews what gets published.

I wonder how the Survey Center would pigeonhole that response? Probably as "Agree". Shoot me.

The study further concludes:

These results suggest that the erosion of trust in scientists not only affects highly politicized issues but may also undermine efforts to curb the spread of infectious disease and protect public health.

I'm pretty sure the Carsey researchers mean this to imply that the public should be less skeptical of "scientists". I'd argue that it indicates that scientists should make efforts toward being more trustworthy.

UNH Censors Again

(A Pun Salad Rerun)

[Pun Salad is in "encore presentation" status for a few more days. Until our regularly scheduled programming returns, enjoy last April's tale of thwarted outrage at the University Near Here.]

Or, to quote Buck Murdock: "Irony can be pretty ironic sometimes."

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has the story: University of New Hampshire’s removal of anti-sexual harassment exhibit undermines free speech.

FIRE and others are asking questions about the University of New Hampshire’s decision to remove a student-led exhibit criticizing street harassment and allow it to be re-posted only after making changes apparently acceptable to administrators’ tastes about what language is sufficiently inoffensive to be shared on a university campus.

"Street harassment" is a thing now. It refers to guys making sexually suggestive remarks (of varying degrees of offensiveness) to women in public. The exhibit in question (there's a picture of it at the FIRE link) contains somewhere around three dozen examples, all allegedly based on survey results gathered by UNH's Sexual Harassment & Rape Prevention Program (SHARPP), where students were invited to submit things they actually heard said to them on the street. The exhibit appeared in the primary hallway of the Memorial Union Building (MUB).

To state the obvious: a college town like Durham is an overflowing petri dish of young-person hormones combined with varying degrees of desperation, insecurity, and general stupidity.

And the latter is enhanced via copious amounts of cheap beer and weed.

And finally, on the "street", especially on Thursday-Saturday nights, an additional factor comes into play: the notion that everyone's on the prowl, "looking for a good time".

So it's not very surprising that "street harassment" happens in Durham. In fact, SHARPP's Director, Amy Culp, is completely believable when she claims that the display was restricted to some of the "milder" comments submitted.

"I understand that some found them to be concerning; however, it’s important to note that these were far less vile than the other list of comments that were reported,” [Culp] said.

The FIRE article is pretty brutal in describing the censorship imposed by UNH Administration. FIRE reports the student newspaper's quote from Dean of Students Ted Kirkpatrick:

Additionally, open house season for admitted students and their families began last week and, according to Kirkpatrick, some of the “language used on the MUB wall placards was not suitable for young children or for those members of our publics and our campus community who have strong personal convictions that may originate from religious, spiritual or ethnic roots.”

Something FIRE missed in the above is the "open house season" factor. Specifically: prospective college applicants and their families flock to UNH at this time of year, and a lot of them traipse through that MUB hallway.

Now, Dean Kirkpatrick's claimed concern for "young children" etc., is fine, but I can't help but think he had a bigger, unstated, worry: that moms and dads would see the display and think that just maybe they didn't want to plonk their daughter into such a self-admitted sexually-besotted environment. Which, in turn would impact the UNH pocketbook. Can't have that!

Of course, when it comes to the UNH Administration vs. SHARPP, there's a certain "isn't there some way they could both lose" schadenfreude involved. SHARPP has long been a force for stupidity at UNH, subordinating the worthy goal of a less-sexually-toxic environment to the more important goal of tediously hectoring the student body against "sexism, racism, heterosexism, classism, able-bodyism, ageism and other oppressions."

The "brains" behind the street harassment display is Jordyn Haime, described as "a freshman journalism major and SHARPP community educator". If you have the time and inclination, you can read her student-newspaper op-eds here and here. She is a living example of George F. Will's aphorism: when colleges and universities "make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate."

But I was struck by this bit in the (sympathetic, of course) Huffington Post story about the controversy:

“I think I started carrying a pocketknife with me when I was 16, I bought myself a can of pepper spray for my 18th birthday, and my mom bought me a new container of mace before I went off to college,” Haime told [the author] via email. “So I think that speaks a lot to what young people are expected to deal with on college campuses or just walking down the street.”

Hey, Jordyn? I'd like to draw your attention to the rules:

The University of New Hampshire is a weapon free campus. This applies to all residence halls and apartments. Weapons include but are not limited to, firearms, simulated firearms, dangerous chemicals, any explosive device, nunchucks, brass knuckles, butterfly knives, paintball guns/equipment and any other materials that can be used to intimidate, threaten or endanger others, are prohibited on campus. Any knife, including a butter knife, used as a weapon shall be considered a violation of this policy.

So you better hope that the dorm cops don't read the HuffPo.

Pun Salad Crackpot Proposal: Congressional "Fairness" Reform

(A Pun Salad Rerun)

[Pun Salad is in "Greatest Hits" mode for a few days. I'm kind of proud of this crackpot idea from last April. Unfortunately, there's been no interest from anyone who might actually have enough pull to put it on the table for discussion.]

Awhile back, this article in Quanta caught my eye: How to Quantify (and Fight) Gerrymandering. Specifically, this bit (emphasis added):

Partisan gerrymandering — the practice of drawing voting districts to give one political party an unfair edge — is one of the few political issues that voters of all stripes find common cause in condemning. Voters should choose their elected officials, the thinking goes, rather than elected officials choosing their voters. The Supreme Court agrees, at least in theory: In 1986 it ruled that partisan gerrymandering, if extreme enough, is unconstitutional.

My gut reaction: Unfair?! Hey, I'll tell you about unfair!

I live in New Hampshire Congressional District 1. The November election results were:

Candidate Party Votes Percent
Carol Shea-Porter Democrat 161,828 44.2%
Frank C. Guinta Republican 157,011 42.9%
Shawn O'Connor Independent 34,612 9.4%
Robert Lombardo Libertarian 6,842 1.9%
Brendan Kelly Independent 6.046 1.7%

At least for the purposes of this post, I don't want to get into the details, personalities, and parties of my oddball district. Instead, let's concentrate on fairness, and what it means to have a "representative democracy", at least for the purposes of the US House of Representatives.

To wit: Carol Shea-Porter now sits in the 115th United States Congress, with one whole vote therein. But it's clear from the table: she only "represents" a minority of voters in her district. A large minority, but still.

Specifically: she does not represent me, in any meaningful sense. (I voted Libertarian, if that matters.) I don't bother to write her about my views on the issues, because she doesn't have any interest in representing me. I'm alienated from the political process, and everyone tells me that's a bad thing!

I submit to you, reader, that this is the great unfairness of our current system, far greater than the kvetching about gerrymandering. It's winner-take-all, and everyone else can just go hang.

So here's my crackpot notion, which would require some Constitutional tinkering: Any candidate for the US House of Representatives who receives greater than 1% of the popular vote in the general election shall be entitled to a vote in the House equal to the fraction of the vote he or she receives.

So, if the 2016 election had been held under that system, and the same result obtained: instead of Carol Shea-Porter casting 1.00 vote, she would instead be entitled to cast a mere 0.442 votes on the House floor. Guinta would have 0.429 votes. O'Connor, Lombardo, and Kelly would submit 0.094, 0.019, and 0.017 votes respectively.

Let's also assume that Congresscritter salaries are also in proportion to their votes.

Yes, this would greatly expand the size of the House, probably by a factor of between 2 and 3. This is more of an infrastructure issue than anything else, and arrangements could be made for secure remote voting.

Members not happy with their fractional vote and salaries can quit. Or just not show up for work. This isn't Russia, after all. But don't bother wasting the voters' time in the next election.

Advantages:

  • As long as their candidate got above that 1% threshold, people would have someone in office they thought of as "their representative", decreasing political alienation.

  • Conversely, the elected representatives would have a greater incentive to pay attention to (i.e., actually represent) the people who voted for them.

  • Citizens residing in overwhelmingly "blue" or "red" districts are probably marginally discouraged from voting under the current system. Why bother, when the outcome is foreordained? Under this proposal, they'd have more incentive to get to the voting booth. Maybe even more of an incentive to get informed on issues of interest.

  • Gerrymandering becomes much less of an issue (and my guess it would be negligible), since just about everyone gets "represented".

Note: this scheme wouldn't apply to the Presidency. We can only have one President, not (say) a mixture of half-Trump and half-Hillary. (That would be scary, though.)

Nor would it apply well, I think, to the US Senate: Senators represent states, not people.

And I don't have any smart ideas how this would play out in House procedures, like committee assignments and the like. My hand-waving impulse would be to treat a district's representatives as a unit for the purpose of committees. So instead of having Shea-Porter with 1.00 vote in the House Armed Services Committee, it would be (again) Shea-Porter, Guinta, O'Connor,... with 0.442, 0.429, 0.094, ... votes respectively.

The natural question: how would that have worked out in the 2016 election? I found a handy spreadsheet that had election results for all 435 Congressional districts. Unfortunately, it only shows Democrat, Republican, and "Other" percentages, and I'm not sure how accurate it is. (It shows Shea-Porter with 45.8%, Guinta with 44.4%, "Other" with 9.8%, which doesn't exactly match the official totals.) But if we add up the fractions, it's bad news for Republicans. Under the Pun Salad proposal:

Party Vote
Democrat 212.810
Republican 209.439
"Other" 12.736

I.e., the Democrats have a slight edge over Republicans in this alternate-fact universe, but not a majority. (Totals don't quite add to 435.00 because of rounding.)

But I hasten to say: if the election had been held under this scheme, the voting incentives would have looked a lot different, so too the results.

The Seen and Unseen at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard

(A Pun Salad Rerun)

[Pun Salad is on reruns for a few days. For less time than the TV networks, promise! In the meantime, please enjoy this Bastiat-inspired commentary from last May on the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.]

It has been almost a month since this article appeared in local media with the headline "Shipyard accounts for $756 million in economic activity". "Shipyard" is our local Portsmouth Naval Shipyard (PNSY), just down the street in Kittery, Maine. And this is an exercise performed annually by the Seacoast Shipyard Association (SSA), an association of "individuals, businesses and communities dedicated to the continued existence of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard".

But the article stuck in my craw a bit, because I've also read the masterful 1850 essay by Frédéric Bastiat "What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen". The classic example Bastiat provided was the activities of the "incorrigable son" of James Goodfellow who breaks a pane of glass, giving rise to Goodfellow's fury. But:

If you have been present at this spectacle, certainly you must also have observed that the onlookers, even if there are as many as thirty of them, seem with one accord to offer the unfortunate owner the selfsame consolation: "It's an ill wind that blows nobody some good. Such accidents keep industry going. Everybody has to make a living. What would become of the glaziers if no one ever broke a window?"

Yes, it's good for the glazier, Bastiat admits.

The glazier will come, do his job, receive six francs, congratulate himself, and bless in his heart the careless child. That is what is seen.

It is a nasty fallacy to stop at considering with "what is seen", because one might conclude that it's "good to break windows." Bastiat demands we consider…

It is not seen that, since our citizen has spent six francs for one thing, he will not be able to spend them for another. It is not seen that if he had not had a windowpane to replace, he would have replaced, for example, his worn-out shoes or added another book to his library. In brief, he would have put his six francs to some use or other for which he will not now have them.

So, 167 years later, Bastiat's crowd of onlookers has moved across the ocean, organized itself into the SSA, and aligned itself with complaisant pols. And our Bastiat-ignorant media uncritically showers its customers with its "seen" factoids like …

The shipyard accounted for $756,068,941 in total economic activity in 2016, according to the report. Total civilian payroll of nearly $500 million represents an increase of more than $14 million from 2015, which allowed more than 200 new employees to be hired, according to the report.

That might draw a snort of French contempt-mixed-with-amusement from Bastiat. "Oui! That is what is seen, mes amis! Tell me what is unseen?"

As it happens, Bastiat considers an even more pertinent example in his essay, involving the military. He's no peacenik, but he realizes that defense expenditures are costs, spending money that can't be devoted to other items:

A nation is in the same case as a man. When a man wishes to give himself a satisfaction, he has to see whether it is worth what it costs. For a nation, security is the greatest of blessings. If, to acquire it, a hundred thousand men must be mobilized, and a hundred million francs spent, I have nothing to say. It is an enjoyment bought at the price of a sacrifice.

He offers a concrete example:

A legislator proposes to discharge a hundred thousand men, which will relieve the taxpayers of a hundred million francs in taxes.

Suppose we confine ourselves to replying to him: "These one hundred thousand men and these one hundred million francs are indispensable to our national security. It is a sacrifice; but without this sacrifice France would be torn by internal factions or invaded from without." I have no objection here to this argument, which may be true or false as the case may be, but which theoretically does not constitute any economic heresy. The heresy begins when the sacrifice itself is represented as an advantage, because it brings profit to someone.

The SSA, its co-dependent politicians, and the media don't ignore this heresy. Instead, they embrace it with inane anecdotes like…

Loco Coco’s Tacos on Walker Street in Kittery, Maine, started as a small takeout taco stand in a parking lot.

Over the years more and more Portsmouth Naval Shipyard workers grabbed lunch at the stand, providing so much business, Loco Coco’s eventually expanded into the sit-down restaurant it is today, according to Ginny Griffith, a member of the Seacoast Shipyard Association’s board of directors.

“To see what that has turned into from this small business to what it is today is one example of the impact the shipyard has,” Griffith said during the SSA’s annual presentation of its economic impact report.

Yes, PNSY "brings profit to someone". Loco Coco’s Tacos. Duh. Bastiat imagines the SSA representative of his own day:

"Discharge a hundred thousand men! What are you thinking of? What will become of them? What will they live on? On their earnings? But do you not know that there is unemployment everywhere? That all occupations are oversupplied? Do you wish to throw them on the market to increase the competition and to depress wage rates? Just at the moment when it is difficult to earn a meager living, is it not fortunate that the state is giving bread to a hundred thousand individuals? Consider further that the army consumes wine, clothes, and weapons, that it thus spreads business to the factories and the garrison towns, and that it is nothing less than a godsend to its innumerable suppliers. Do you not tremble at the idea of bringing this immense industrial activity to an end?"

As a contemporary of Bastiat's observed: plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. Again, Bastiat says, consider the unseen:

But here is what you do not see. You do not see that to send home a hundred thousand soldiers is not to do away with a hundred million francs, but to return that money to the taxpayers. You do not see that to throw a hundred thousand workers on the market in this way is to throw in at the same time the hundred million francs destined to pay for their labor; that, as a consequence, the same measure that increases the supply of workers also increases the demand; from which it follows that your lowering of wages is illusory. You do not see that before, as well as after, the demobilization there are a hundred million francs corresponding to the hundred thousand men; that the whole difference consists in this: that before, the country gives the hundred million francs to the hundred thousand men for doing nothing; afterwards, it gives them the money for working. Finally, you do not see that when a taxpayer gives his money, whether to a soldier in exchange for nothing or to a worker in exchange for something, all the more remote consequences of the circulation of this money are the same in both cases: only, in the second case the taxpayer receives something; in the first he receives nothing. Result: a dead loss for the nation.

And he observes [paraphrasing]: if defense spending is by its nature so economically beneficial, why don't we put the entire nation to work in it, and get rid of all these fripperies produced by the private economy?

Our local politicians are huge fans of "what is seen", of course. They vociferously oppose any effort that might consider any base closures whatsoever. PNSY was on the chopping block in 2005, but was saved after intense politicking.

Since then, they've done mostly good work, but a civilian employee managed to destroy a sub there too. That's a "seen" cost, but the SSA doesn't like to mention such things.

Some Book Recs

Pun Salad is going into rerun season for a few days. But before we do that, I thought I'd mention some good non-fiction books I've read over the past few months. You can click on the book image to go to the relevant Amazon page (assuming your ad blocker lets you see them, which it should, they're very tasteful), or click on the title to go to my take on the work.

Usually people do a "Top 10" list. As Nigel Tufnel might say, this one goes to 11. In no particular order:

[Amazon Img] Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. An interesting book by a Nobel Prize winner. Although he's a psychologist, he got the Econ prize. Read the book to find out why.
[Amazon Img] The Undoing ProjectA Friendship That Changed Our Minds by Michael Lewis. Might well be read before or after you read the one above. This is the "outside" view on the research of Kahneman and his late longtime partner, Amos Tversky.
[Amazon Img] The Three Languages of PoliticsTalking Across the Political Divides by Arnold Kling. His simple explanation of why our various political tribes are so mutually incomprehensible, and why that matters.
[Amazon Img] One Nation UndecidedClear Thinking about Five Hard Issues That Divide Us by Peter H. Schuck. A masterful analysis of five "hard" issues facing America today. Schuck's purpose is to not just provide the facts and arguments behind those issues; he also provides an example of what civilized debate could look like about these issues. But doesn't.
[Amazon Img] Hillbilly ElegyA Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance. Mr. Vance grew up hillbilly, and provides an unsentimental look about that culture's strengths and flaws. A longtime best-seller, and deservedly so.
[Amazon Img] The Death of ExpertiseThe Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters by Tom Nichols. A very readable, and a tad cranky, book about the decline in respect for the American Expert. Some wounds are self-inflicted, but not all of them,
[Amazon Img] WonderlandHow Play Made the Modern World by Steven Johnson. A very entertaining and readable book about unexpected connections between yesterday's pursuit of the seemingly frivolous and the shape of the modern world.
[Amazon Img] The Boys in the BoatNine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown. Another deserved best-seller. I didn't think a book about young men engaging in competitive rowing could be so captivating. Wrong again.
[Amazon Img] Against Democracy by Jason Brennan. Brennan doesn't quite slay the sacred cow of "democracy", but does a pretty good job of desacralizing it. But if you want an impetus for reading this book, take a cold hard look at the people "we" elected to have power over us.
[Amazon Img] The Secret of Our SuccessHow Culture Is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our Species, and Making Us Smarter by Joseph Henrich. A "big idea" book (I've been a sucker for those lately) which examines the concept of "cultural evolution". Or: why didn't humans become tiger chow millions of years ago?

The linked post has an inexplicable slam at Mr. Craig Kimbrel. I assume he must have had a poor outing at the time of writing. I apologize.

[Amazon Img] Unwanted AdvancesSexual Paranoia Comes to Campus by Laura Kipnis. A clearly-written take on the epidemic of kangraroo courts in our nation's colleges and universities, adjudicating and punishing alleged sex-related misbehavior with little respect for due process, or, too often, truth.

URLs du Jour

2017-08-15

Mission plan

■ Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Proverbs 21:5:

5 The plans of the diligent lead to profit
    as surely as haste leads to poverty.

… or "How to Get Rich the Bible Way".


■ Patterico points out the devious scheme of Economic Trumpism: Kurt Schlichter’s Plan to Regulate Google Into Submission.

At Townhall.com, Kurt Schlichter has a piece titled Conservatives Must Regulate Google And All of Silicon Valley Into Submission. The piece captures the spirit of Trumpism admirably, by turning a company’s ability to engage in free enterprise into a privilege that can and should be withheld when the company does something to tick off someone in power.

There's a possibility that Schlichter's is a satirical "modest proposal". But even if so, it's too similar to what I've seen here and there over the past few years from some ostensibly conservative minds, roughly: "let's play as dirty as the left does."

That's not a path to anything worth winning.


■ John Daniel Davidson writes at the Federalist: Charlottesville Was A Fight Between The Tribal Right And Tribal Left, Intended To Polarize America.

Let’s get something out of the way: Charlottesville is not about Confederate statues or Robert E. Lee or the Civil War or American history. What happened on Friday night and Saturday is about power, specifically about forcing the great mass of Americans to choose sides in a zero-sum clash between contemporary American versions of Weimar gangs.

The moral is the same as with Patterico's Schlicter rebuttal: whether violence is involved or not, don't choose sides in a game of loser vs. loser.


■ Let me also embed a recent Facebook post from …

O'Neil is another sense-maker.


■ My Google LFOD alert clanged for a recent op-ed in my local paper: Jeff Chidester on the Very Man Himself, Gen. Stark’s legend of American heroism.

A casual look at history confirms that Gen. Stark most likely was not the first person to use the term “Live Free or Die,” but that doesn’t matter. By most accounts, the addition to that phrase (“Death is not the worst of evils”) was original to Stark. Stark never claimed to be the author of “Live free or die,” which was offered as a written toast in honor of the men who fought at the Battle of Bennington. Stark knew the patriots who fought alongside him Aug. 16, 1777, earned every one of those words. Live free or die is more than just a state motto; it is a eulogy, a testament to those that believed in the promise of this country that they were willing to lay down their lives for an ideal greater than themselves.

Something to be forgotten at our peril.


■ But on a more modern note, a Vermont paper bemoans a troublesome trend: For Some, Seat Belt Use Not Clicking.

With 80 percent of drivers and passengers using their seat belts, Vermont was 10 percentage points below the national average. Georgia ranked No. 1 at 97.2 percent.

Care to guess which state brought up the rear, at 70.2 percent? Yes, the Live Free or Die state, and it’s probably no coincidence that New Hampshire is the only state that doesn’t require adults to buckle up and it ranks last in seat belt use.

I, for one, want to see draconian legislation mandating crash helmets for vehicle drivers. If it saves just one life, wouldn't that be worth it?

For the record, it's hard to see the lack of a mandatory seat belt law making a huge difference in people being killed. Some 2015 stats, copied from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety:

  • The US as a whole experienced 10.8 auto-accident fatalities per 100,000 population, and 1.13 deaths per 100 million miles traveled.

  • New Hampshire fell below that average: 8.6 deaths per 100,000 population, 0.87 per 100 million miles.

  • Vermont, with its mandatory seat belt laws: 9.1 deaths per 100,000 population (slightly above NH), 0.78 per 100 million miles (slightly below NH).

  • Amusingly, Massachusetts sort of defies its stereotype of the Mecca of bad drivers: 4.5 deaths per 100,000 population, 0.52 deaths per 100 million miles.

We also have pull-off state liquor stores on our Interstates.

URLs du Jour

2017-08-14

Haughty Monkey

■ Does Proverbs 21:4 say anything of relevance to our troubled times?

4 Haughty eyes and a proud heart—
    the unplowed field of the wicked—produce sin.

Well … maybe. I'm stuck on whatever the Proverbialist is trying to evoke with the "unplowed field of the wicked" imagery.

Our Flickr embed du jour: a haughty monkey. No doubt pondering an unplowed field of the wicked.


■ Roger L. Simon asks the musical question: Is Charlottesville What's Really Going On in the USA? Spoiler: not really.

[…] For the next week or two -- assuming we're not at war with North Korea -- we will hear non-stop geschreiing from our media about what a racist nation we are, how we have to come together, rend our shirts, investigate this and that and endlessly discuss how bad we are until we're finally forgiven at some undetermined point in an ever vanishing future that seems never to arrive.

Don't play that game. What happened in Charlottesville isn't us. It's just a small group of real bad people. Indict them, convict them, and lock them up for a long as possible. The rest of us should move on. We have a lot better things to do.

Can't wait until the next atrocity causes people to … continue to behave exactly the same way they always have.


■ At Power Line, Scott Johnson writes on the Evil Losers on Parade.

What a sickening display of racism, anti-Semitism and all the rest the “white nationalists” served up in their demonstration over the decision to remove the statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville. According to the New York Times, the planned rally was promoted as “Unite the Right,” attracting groups like the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis and movement leaders like David Duke and Richard Spencer.

One would only hope these folks could somehow drown in the poison in their hearts.


■ Jay Nordlinger, an extraordinarily decent fellow, writes at NR About Yesterday, and Today (and Tomorrow). And he notes what a lot of ostensible conservatives shy away from: President Trump's lack of "truth, decency, and honor."

When pro-Trump conservatives asked other conservatives to look away from the question of truth, decency, and honor, they asked a lot — more than they might have known. It was too much to ask, too much to accept.

If I had my way, the Republican party — starting with Trump — and the conservative movement would tell the alt-Right, or whatever it should be called, to take their frog and their torches and their buzzwords — “globalist” and all the rest – and stuff it.

I think that, if conservatism gets associated in the public mind with nationalism, populism, demagoguery, grievance, race-consciousness, and tribalism, we are cooked. And the country too.

Call that "moral preening" if you like. But consider why you need to need to resort to that: could it be that you're unwilling to look honestly at Trump's deeply flawed character?


■ At Reason, Cathy Young scores An Interview With James Damore. Example:

CY: A lot of the criticism has focused on charges that you were essentially telling the women in tech jobs at Google they're not as good or well-suited to those jobs as the men. What's your response?

JD: The purpose of my document was mainly to discuss the ideological echo chamber. As for the gender things, I was trying to explain why we might not expect 50/50 representation in tech largely due to differing interests, and I don't say anything about individual women, especially those in tech.

Damore sounds pretty reasonable. Google should be ashamed.


■ Mark Steyn's Song of the Week Wichita Lineman, and it's a glorious yarn with Glen Campbell, Jimmy Webb, and others. (And a side appearance by Frank Sinatra, asking "Who's that faggot on guitar?" He'd find out.)

[…] in theory it should have been a tough sell: "I've got this song about an employee of the electric company..." Yet, unbeknown to Webb, [Glen Campbell's producer and arranger] Al De Lory's uncle was an actual lineman for the county, in California, in Kern County. "As soon as I heard that opening line," De Lory recalled, "I could visualize my uncle up a pole in the middle of nowhere." What do they think about, those guys up on those poles? Love? Dinner? Hunting season? "I wanted it to be about an ordinary fellow," said Jimmy Webb. "Billy Joel came pretty close one time when he said 'Wichita Lineman' is 'a simple song about an ordinary man thinking extraordinary thoughts.' That got to me; it actually brought tears to my eyes. I had never really told anybody how close to the truth that was.

Also mentioned: Carol Kaye's extraordinary opening bass line.

URLs du Jour

2017-08-13

Sacrifice

Proverbs 21:3 claims to know the mind of the Lord:

3 To do what is right and just
    is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.

I suppose that's good news for people who prefer not to sacrifice. Just do what's right and just. Didn't anyone tell Jesus this?


■ At NR, Michael Brendan Dougherty points out the disparity in Trump's condemnations. Specifically, when it comes to the Charlottesville slimeballs, Trump should have said the same thing he said about the Ariana Grande terrorists: These Guys Are Losers Too.

Even if you believe as I do, that Spencer’s form of white nationalism is a marginal movement granted far too much attention, the sight of hundreds of unmasked young men marching through Charlottesville with torches and chanting racist slogans inspires genuine fear in many Americans. Trump was given a chance to speak to that fear today, and to offer the same moral condemnation and deflation he’s given others. Instead he essentially repeated his disgraceful half-disavowal of Duke. He refused to call out these white supremacists by name, and condemn them. He merely condemned “all sides.” An energetic law and order president who had any sense of the divisions in his country would have announced today that he was instructing his Justice Department to look into the people in these groups, and zealously ferret out and prosecute any crimes they turned up.

To use a phrase from a few years past: too many times, Trump is stuck on stupid.


■ Not that "stuck on stupid" is a criticism confined to Trump. Keith Ellison Saying Kim Is “More Responsible” Than Trump Is Part Of A Disturbing Pattern Of Moral Equivalence. Ellison is a solid Democrat, US House member from Minnesota, Deputy Chair of the Democratic National Committee. And he said:

North Korea is a serious thing. You have [President Trump] making bellicose threats against somebody else who has very little to lose over there.

Kim Jong-un, the world always thought he was not a responsible leader, well he’s acting more responsible than [President Trump] is.

Ellison has since "retracted" this statement. Take it away, Patterico:

Even if we’re just talking rhetoric, Ellison is full of it. You don’t have to agree with Trump’s rhetoric (I don’t) to recognize that Kim’s rhetoric is far less responsible. At Hot Air, the always thorough John Sexton gives several examples of Kim’s explicit threats of aggressive nuclear first strikes against the United States. The threats have been going on for years, and most sentient beings are familiar with them.

But to me, the outrageousness of Ellison’s statement goes deeper than a mere comparison of the rhetoric.Look: Trump may display all of the Seven Deadly Sins. He may be a personally awful human being all the way around. (OK, forget “may.” He does, and he is.) But Kim is evil. His regime is evil. He starves his people, runs secretive prison camps for political opponents, and engages in murder, rape, and torture as a matter of government policy. There is zero free press. The entire nation is one giant personality cult. As cultish as some Trumpers can be, there is no comparison between the two countries. Anyone who says there is — or that Trump is worse — is giving aid and comfort to one of the most purely malevolent regimes on the planet.

Our "leaders" are not to be looked up to.


■ Arnold Kling asks the musical question: Is the economy illegible? For example, is it possible to aggregate fundamentally different "goods and services" and disparate labors of "workers" (L) to come up with an economy's "total output" (Y)? Especially when making comparisons over time?

Once you look at differences across decades, adjusting for price changes becomes important but impossible. For example, Bret Swanson says that the computing power in his iPhone would have cost $12 million in 1991. If for the purpose of comparing Y/L today to Y/L in 1991 you valued every iPhone at $12 million, you would report an enormous increase in real GDP and hence in productivity.

"Important but impossible." Hm. Kling, as always, gives even us non-econ-profs something to munch on thoughtfully.


■ Ah, the Google LFOD alert rang for this Chicago Tribune editorial: Illinois' abortion notification law harms free speech. At issue is the Illinois law that requires doctors who decline to perform abortions must, on request, provide patients referrals or information on where to get an abortion.

One essential component of freedom of speech is the freedom not to speak. In 1943, the Supreme Court ruled that public school students could not be forced to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. In 1977, it said the state of New Hampshire could not require motorists to display its "Live Free or Die" motto on their license plates. The First Amendment, it said in that case, protects the right of all people "to refuse to foster ... an idea they find morally objectionable."

Observation: There are a lot of license plate holders on sale whose upper frame is big enough to obliterate LFOD.


■ And LFOD sprang up again in a publication called the Daily Meal: Adventure Travel for Women: Spend the Weekend With REI Outessa. It's straining a bit to call this "news" or "journalism", but:

If you’re an adventurous woman who likes to try new things and step out of your comfort zone — or if you want to be that kind of gal — then REI Outessa is for you. This weekend-long women-only trip will expose you to new activities and sports. Are you new to trail running? Have you always wanted to attempt rock climbing, mountain biking, kayaking, or stand-up paddleboarding? Maybe you’d like to brush up on your backpacking and outdoor survival skills or learn how to wield a Leather(wo)man tool? REI Outessa has brought in the best guides and adventure women — seriously, they’re incredibly supportive, understanding and knowledgeable — to lead you through these exhilarating experiences that you can take at your own pace and skill level.

That's the kind of gritty outdoorsmanship you just don't get from Field & Stream! But where's LFOD? Ah, there 'tis:

Whether you’re a mom traveling with your daughter, a newly divorced woman traveling solo, a young twenty-something between careers, a wild, live-free-or-die adventurer, or a cancer survivor with a new lease on life, you will get something out of a weekend spent in the outdoors.

Note: if you are a wild live-free-or-die adventurer in New Hampshire, you'll have to drive down to Reading MA for the nearest REI store. (Real New Englanders, of course, just go to L. L. Bean.) But one of the "Outessa" events is in Waterville Valley in September, and it's a mere $799 per person for the event, plus $199 to reserve your own tent spot. (Pricier options are sold out as I type.) Hope you have some money left over from your treatments, cancer survivor!


■ From Mental Floss, one for the "What Would We Do Without Experts" category: Experts Say Trying to Force Yourself to Be Happy Doesn't Work. Or perhaps it's the "News You Can Use" category:

A new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology finds that people who accept their difficult emotions are better off in the long run than those who try to force their way into a better mood.

Gosh, psychology sure has made a lot of progress over the centuries. Glad they finally got around to checking that out.