URLs du Jour

2019-07-09

[Amazon Link]

  • Guilty confession: although I've dropped my Monday-Saturday subscription to the local newspaper, Foster's Daily Democrat, I still browse through the online version to see if I'm missing anything. And I occasionally get reminded that I made a good decision; for example, the front-page headline "news" story: "A Walk for democracy". Awww! Who could be against that? (Online headline not quite as gushy: "Group makes walk to rid big money from politics".) Lead paragraph:

    A 20th anniversary walk from Kittery to Market Square by members and supporters of NH Rebellion aimed to bring awareness to the need to remove big money from politics.

    The "reporter", Karen Dandurant, is a willing conduit for the views of "NH Rebellion". The group's goal is presented uncritically as a "need". Not a smidgen of criticism or (even) skepticism appears.

    And above all, the whole enterprise is covered with a thick layer of gauzy euphemism. Goodness forbid that anyone should come right out and say: we want the government to be in more control of what you can say about politicians and political issues, and how and when you can say it..

    Put that way, it doesn't, or at least shouldn't, sound like such a hot idea.

    So thanks to Karen and Foster's for reminding me why I no longer subscribe.


  • [Amazon Link]
    The "good news" side of Reason's current issue reviews a new book by Nicholas A. Christakis, Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society. (Which I have obtained via the ILL services of the University Near Here. I'll get to it once I wade through Victor Davis Hanson's analysis of World War II.) Prof Christakis's thesis: Our Big Brains Are Pre-Wired for Love, Friendship, Cooperation, and Learning.

    We finally have an answer to the nature/nurture debate, and it appears to be yes.

    It took billions of years of biological evolution for bacteria to morph into humanity, but the human ability to learn and to teach each other new tricks means that useful behaviors and ideas don't have to take biological time to spread through the species. Their emergence, the ways we spread them, and the ways they change over time amount to a kind of cultural evolution.

    A cultural discovery—our pre-human predecessors' capture of fire—externalized the digestive system that evolution had shaped for our variety of ape. That freed biological energy to grow a big brain. In Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of A Good Society, Nicholas Christakis argues that this coevolution has equipped us with a "social suite" of traits that arose through genetic evolution and that have been amplified by cultural evolution, which has in turn influenced our genetic evolution toward propensities that support the social suite. These include the "capacity to have and recognize individual identity," "love for partners and offspring," friendship, social networks, cooperation, "preference for one's own group ('in-group bias')," "mild hierarchy (that is, relative egalitarianism)," and "social learning and teaching."

    As people who have been following my reading habits know (and I hope there aren't a lot of you) this is a theme for which I've been a sucker over the last few years.


  • George Will writes: Democratic Presidential Candidates Imitating Trump Strategy. That's the column title from the HTML version; actual online headline: "How Can Presidential Candidates Be So Silly?" Which is another way of saying the same thing, I guess.

    If California senator Kamala Harris is elected president in 2020 and reelected in 2024, by the time she leaves office 114 months from now she might have a coherent answer to the question of whether Americans should be forbidden to have what 217 million of them currently have: private health insurance. Her 22 weeks of contradictory statements, and her Trumpian meretriciousness about her contradictions, reveal a frivolity about upending health care’s complex 18 percent of America’s economy. And her bumblings illustrate how many of the Democratic presidential aspirants, snug in their intellectual silos, have lost — if they ever had — an aptitude for talking like, and to, normal Americans.

    As I type, Kamala is the most likely Democrat to become Our Next President (as judged by online betting site Betfair). Mr. Will also mentions a less likely, but no less silly, candidate:

    The day the Supreme Court held that “partisan gerrymandering” is not a justiciable issue, Massachusetts representative Seth Moulton, yet another presidential candidate, tweeted: “Make no mistake: the partisan gerrymandering SCOTUS just allowed is also racial gerrymandering — modern-day Jim Crow. Just look at what happened with Stacey Abrams last cycle in Georgia.” Abrams lost a gubernatorial race. How can a statewide race be gerrymandered? How can presidential candidates be so silly?

    That's a challenge to which many candidates will step up: "You think Kamala and Seth are silly? Hold my beer."


  • Many ostensible free market types concerned about greenhouse gases have embraced a so-called "carbon tax". At AEI, Benjamin Zycher outlines The confusions of the ‘conservative’ carbon tax.

    Various news reports and self-serving political pronouncements would have us believe that imposition of a tax on “carbon” — emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) — now enjoys growing support among Republican policymakers and conservative observers, a political premise advertised at a decibel level vastly higher than actual political reality would support. That reality is straightforward: Any policy to reduce GHG emissions by definition must increase energy costs, and policymakers endorsing such policies would have to describe the benefits that supposedly would redound to the electorate.

    And that is a very serious political stumbling block: The most prominent “conservative” proposals for a carbon tax would reduce global temperatures in the year 2100 by about 0.015°C, as estimated by the EPA climate model under a set of assumptions exaggerating the temperature effect of GHG reductions. That effect would not be measurable, as it is an order of magnitude smaller than the standard deviation of the surface-temperature record. A complete elimination of US GHG emissions, envisioned by supporters of the Green New Deal, would yield a temperature reduction of 0.173°C under the same favorable assumptions. (An international policy vastly more aggressive than the Paris agreement, and thus utterly unachievable, would have an effect of about 0.5°C.)

    It's difficult to imagine that carbon tax proposals are anything more than a foot in the door for even more draconian measures.


  • A WSJ op-ed from Michael Saltsman wonders: How Many Jobs Would the $15 Minimum Wage Kill?. And presents the latest estimate from the CBO:

    This is one political promise it’s OK to break. Democrats pledged a $15-an-hour minimum wage while campaigning in 2018, and all but three of the party’s 2020 presidential candidates endorse the increase. But a new report from the Congressional Budget Office finds the policy could leave nearly four million workers without a job.

    This week’s analysis is an update of CBO’s 2014 analysis of a $10.10 minimum wage, which said one million workers would be pulled out of poverty at the cost of half a million jobs. That conclusion was enough to tank the proposal; a Bloomberg poll at the time found that 57% of Americans viewed the jobs trade-off as “unacceptable.”

    Democrats have responded to CBO’s wage warning by ignoring it. The Raise the Wage Act of 2019, introduced in January, would set a $15 minimum wage by 2024. The trade-offs from this legislation are even worse than in 2014. CBO finds a $15 minimum wage would pull 1.3 million workers out of poverty at the cost of 1.3 million jobs in the median scenario, and 3.7 million jobs in the worst-case scenario.

    It's not as if a minimum wage increase wouldn't benefit some workers. It's just that the people it would hurt are the ones at, or trying to get on, the bottom rungs of the economic ladder.

    People who pride themselves about "caring" should at least make an attempt at caring about that.