Openness to Creative Destruction

Sustaining Innovative Dynamism

[Amazon Link]

This book has a clunky title. And somewhat misleading. The actual subject is in the subtitle: what the author, Arthur M. Diamond, Jr., calls "innovative dynamism" (which I'll just call "ID" from here on out.)

As Schumpeter observed, modern entrepreneurial capitalism involves both ID and "creative destruction". Can't have one without the other, as new ways of doing things leapfrog and obsolete the status quo. Diamond gives a full-throated defense of this process. Or, actually, celebration. Because, of course, we're unimaginably richer thanks to a few centuries of ID. And we should fervently hope for more in the future.

The book concentrates strictly on economic/business dynamism. (Appropriate, since Diamond is an econ prof at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.) Culture is the tail wagged by the economic dog here. I think that might be a slight problem, but it's a minor one at best. Diamond tells a rich and interesting story with lots of examples, both recent and historical. Colorful tales, for example, dying Steve Jobs demanding a more esthetically designed oxygen mask.

In my case, I didn't need a lot of persuading, but his thesis is pretty convincing: a healthy level of ID benefits society generally and nearly all individuals.

Problems: stifling regulations, onerous taxation both hold back ID. He makes a pretty good defense of patents (although he advocates reforms that would quash overly broad ones).

Although the book is published by Oxford University Press, there's nothing in here that would challenge a bright high schooler or an interested undergrad. Highly recommended.

The Rule of Nobody

Saving America from Dead Laws and Broken Government

[Amazon Link]

This sat in my "get at library" queue for a long time, and my newly-acquired Portsmouth Library card allowed me to get it, and so… sorry, I was kind of disappointed.

The author, Philip K. Howard, is unhappy, nay, disconsolate, with the state of American governance. In a phrase, we have become "rule happy", ever-increasing layers of detailed regulations that impede or prevent all sorts of worthy endeavors. Lots of anecdotes, like about the Bayonne Bridge road-raising project; it was delayed (but not successfully) by seemingly endless (but not actually endless) environmental review and litigation (probably frivolous).

Howard's argument is weak. He laments America's inability to "make public choices". But: one of the things he bemoans (page 41) is New Jersey's then-Governor Chris Christie's call to kill a plan to build a "much-needed train tunnel under the Hudson River".

But I wanted to protest to the author: that was a public decision made by an accountable official. In other words, the sort of thing you said you wanted to happen! And as near as I can tell, there's been no effort to revive this fantastically expensive project now that Christie's out of office.

Howard conveniently sums up his thesis in 18 "propositions", developed throughout the book. (Example, number 7: "Official authority requires an open area of choice defined by legal boundaries". Fine.)

His solution? Five (count 'em, five) constitutional amendments; he calls them collectively the "Bill of Responsibilities".

They aren't awful. There are even theoretically good ideas in there, like giving the President a line-item veto of spending items. But amendments are devilishly difficult to enact. My objection is the same as it is to a "balanced budget" amendment. If there's sufficient public agreement and sentiment for an amendment to do accomplish goal G, there's enough agreement to accomplish G legislatively. (I.e., just balance the freakin' budget, Congress; it only takes a majority vote.)

Simple Dreams

A Musical Memoir

[Amazon Link]

Linda Ronstadt's "musical memoir" is not great, but somewhat interesting to this longtime fan. She's a much better singer than she is a writer. (In fact, after reading some painful passages, I thought: "this is what a bad writer thinks a good writer writes like".)

One interesting observation is the stuff she leaves out. For example, back in the eighties, she played Sun City, in South Africa, during apartheid. For $500,000. In the face of an active boycott. And people were pissed.

There is nothing about Sun City in this book.

Also she had a relationship with George Lucas. Yes, the Star Wars guy. But… nothing about George here. (She only mentions that her great album Cry Like a Rainstorm was recorded at the Skywalker Sound studios.)

So it's incomplete. Linda just talks about what she wants to talk about. It's a real contrast to some of the other musician memoirs I've read, which get down into serial sexual infidelities, substance abuse details, scrapes with the law, etc. There's some of that here, like Linda claiming that the only time she tried cocaine and wound up having her nose cauterized. Ouch! And she got arrested once because her manager bought stolen airplane tickets for a trip to Hawaii.

So she mostly concentrates on the music. And I was impressed with her hands-on direction of her career; she could have just been a rock/pop goddess the entire time. But she followed her muse instead: Mexican music from her childhood, singing with her friends Dolly and Emmylou, American songbook classics, opera. Fine, but geez, I would have liked a few more rock/pop albums. Selfish, I know.

She's mostly complimentary to everyone. The only person she really slags is Jack Nitzsche, and only then because he was a very mean drunk. (This gets tedious after a while, say about the fiftieth time she compliments an acquaintance's amazing musicianship.)

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

[1.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

I liked the first one just fine. But this one could not hold my interest.

Disclaimer: maybe the parts I dozed through were great.

But for the parts I saw: Newt Scaramander has lost most of the charming quirkiness he had in the first movie. Jacob Kowalski not as goofily clueless. Johnny Depp is "Grindelwald", and he's seemingly somnambulistic. Everything's dark. (I guess it's cheaper to do CGI in the dark.)

So, no movies 3, 4, or 5 for me, Ms. Rowling. Unless Mrs. Salad insists.

URLs du Jour

2019-09-05

  • We start today with a Tweet from Justin O'Donnell, Libertarian candidate for the New Hampshire seat in the US Senate currently occupied by Jeanne Shaheen:

    This is not an endorsement or a prediction that I'll be voting for Justin next November. But I like that meme.


  • David Harsanyi suggests Democrats use more honest language in their "gun control" proposals. To wit:

    The media should stop using absurdly lazy phrases like “mandatory gun buybacks.” Unless the politician they’re talking about is in the business of selling firearms, it’s impossible for him to “buy back” anything. No government official—not Joe Biden, not Beto O’Rourke, not any of the candidates who now support “buyback” programs—has ever sold firearms.

    What Democrats propose can be more accurately described as “the first American gun confiscation effort since Lexington and Concord,” or some variation on that theme. Although tax dollars will be meted out in an effort to incentivize volunteers, the policy is to confiscate AR-15s, the vast majority of which have been legally purchased by Americans who have undergone background checks and never used a gun for a criminal purpose.

    It's sad that this proposal polls as well as it does even with the euphemized rhetorical fog in which pollsters present it. But I guess the original Prohibition polled well at the time too, and we had to see it in practice before dumping it.


  • Jeff Jacoby suggests: We've had enough arrogant presidents. We need a humble one.

    Humility is out of fashion these days, particularly in the presidential realm. The current occupant of the White House is a pathological braggart, who boasts about everything from the size of his brain to the size of his crowds to the size of his fortune. Donald Trump claims to have "the world's greatest memory" and to "know more about ISIS than the generals." He even declares himself "much more humble" than anyone realizes.

    Trump's immodesty is plainly off the charts, but his predecessor was also possessed of a severely swollen ego.

    "I'm a better speechwriter than my speechwriters," Barack Obama told aides as a candidate for the White House. "I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I'll tell you right now that ... I'm a better political director than my political director." His accomplishments, he informed an interviewer in December 2011, superseded those of every other president, with the "possible exceptions" of Lincoln, FDR, and Lyndon Johnson.

    Politicians' personalities are probably several sigmas off the mean on any number of traits. Humility would be nice for a change, but I'm not sure non-humility is a dealbreaker.

    Probably I'm saying that because I listened to this week's Econtalk podcast between Russ Roberts and David Deppner. Among one of the least humble politicians: Winston Churchill. I can't argue that was a bad thing for Britain to have in a leader at that time.


  • Jacob Sullum writes at Reason, indicating that 1984 was probably 35 years too early: Defending ‘Reasoned Debate About Public Safety,’ San Francisco Supervisors Declare the NRA a ‘Domestic Terrorist Organization’.

    Yesterday the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously declared that the National Rifle Association is a "domestic terrorist organization," because words no longer have any meaning.

    Jacob supplies the text of the resolution so you can make your own call. Furthermore:

    The resolution does not mention any evidence that the NRA "incite[s] gun owners to acts of violence." But this quote from Supervisor Catherine Stefani, who introduced the resolution, gives you an idea of what she and her colleagues may have had in mind: "When they use phrases like, 'I'll give you my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands' on bumper stickers, they are saying reasoned debate about public safety should be met with violence."

    That is not what they are saying. Even on a literal level, the slogan means that the person affixing it to his bumper is ready to forcibly resist any attempt to forcibly deprive him of his fundamental right to armed self-defense. More realistically, it is a hyperbolic way of saying the Second Amendment is really important to that person. It does not mean he is ready to shoot Catherine Stefani for advocating gun control. Nor should Stefani interpret the Gadsden Flag as a threat to sic rattlesnakes on her, or New Hampshire's state motto as an incitement to violent revolution.

    Hey, LFOD made it into Reason again!

    But we are long on despair today. Because you know that organization that prides itself on free and open discussion of all ideas, even ones you find hateful? Well…


  • Michael Graham of Inside Sources reveals The Anti-Biden Flier The New Hampshire ACLU Doesn't Want You To See.

    The national ACLU has some serious questions for former Vice President Joe Biden about his record on civil rights. They’ve paid for and sent out 100,000 copies of a flier pressuring him to answer those questions to Democratic-leaning households in South Carolina.

    But zero in New Hampshire.  Why?

    Here's a clue: African-American voters make up more than 60 percent of the electorate in the Democratic primary in South Carolina. And in New Hampshire the fraction is … somewhat less than that.