URLs du Jour

2020-02-01

Happy February to all! Just a couple things in the hopper today.

  • First off, Chris Edwards of Cato is not lulled by the Federal Budget Outlook: Worse than CBO.

    The Congressional Budget Office has released new projections for federal spending and revenues through to 2030.

    Federal budget policy is a disaster. The government will spend $4.6 trillion this year, raise $3.6 trillion in tax revenues, and fill the gap with $1 trillion in fresh borrowing. That is like a worker earning $36,000 in income but spending $46,000 and putting $10,000 on credit cards. Maybe he can get away with the excess spending for a while, but eventually his finances will crash.

    The CBO’s baseline projections show spending rising faster than revenues in coming years, with the result that annual deficits by 2030 are expected to hit $1.74 trillion. Spending in 2030 at $7.49 trillion will be 30 percent higher than revenues of $5.75 trillion, as shown in the chart below.

    Bottom line: "We are marching into a fiscal crisis and our elected leaders seem to have no idea how to tackle it and do not even seem to care."

    Just hold off until after I see the new James Bond movie, OK?


  • Veronique de Rugy's column has perhaps 2020's least surprising headline ever: Trump's Derivative Tariffs Continue Faulty Narrative.

    The Tariff Man has done it again. President Donald Trump recently announced that he will expand import taxes on American consumers of auto parts, nails and other goods made in the United States with steel and aluminum. Apparently, untaxed imports of these metals put our national security at risk.

    Under the latest proclamation, some imports of products made with aluminum will be subject to an additional 10% tax, while some steel products will be hit with a 25% one. The decision comes two years after the first round of steel and aluminum tariffs, a little over a month following the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement's approval by the U.S. Congress, two weeks after Trump signed a phase one trade deal with China and while the U.S. government is in the middle of some trade negotiations with the Europeans.

    Veronique predicts "sour results".

Snow Crash

[Amazon Link]

Continuing on reread-Stephenson project. This was his first "big" book; at his website he says it "changed my life." It appears on Time magazines list of the "100 best English-language novels published since 1923".

So, yeah, it's pretty good.

There are a lot of things going on. It's set in the near future, where America is more or less anarchic, the Federal government dwindled to a small office complex somewhere in the L. A. area, relegated to mostly writing software for nefarious purposes (uh, it turns out). The CIA is now the CIC, Central Intelligence Corporation, and it's taken over the Library of Congress, now simply the cyberspaced "Library", with a natural language, avatared AI librarian to assist you in finding out just about anything.

The main guy is (I am not making this up) Hiro Protagonist, a gifted coder, expert swordsman, and now … ace pizza deliveryman for the Mafia's pies, thanks to his bitchin' high-tech motorcycle. Only problem is: if you don't fulfill Uncle Enzo's 30-minute delivery promise, the repercussions are unpleasant. And one fateful night, a series of mishaps puts him and his bike into a swimming pool, wrecked, with only four minutes and 43 seconds left.

But he's unexpectedly saved when Y. T., a fifteen-going-on-thirty girl "Kourier" on a very high-tech skateboard takes over the delivery, saving him from Enzo's termination procedures.

After that harrowing experience, Hiro and Y. T. form a partnership of sorts. It turns out there's the previously-mentioned nefarious plot. It involves "Snow Crash", a virtual designer drug that does nasty things to programmer's minds. You don't snort it, shoot it, smoke it, or otherwise ingest it: all you have to do is see it on your computer screen, and it infects your brain like a computer virus, bricking your higher cognitive functions.

Man, I hate it when that happens.

There's much more, involving a virtual-reality version of sorta-Facebook (the code for which Hiro wrote long ago). A Heinleinesque discovery involving the Babel myth, ancient Sumerian linguistics, …

And, just sayin': if you read the book, pay close attention to Chapter 32, especially the end. Dog lovers will nod in understanding, and it makes the end of the book very poignant.

Why Liberalism Works

How True Liberal Values Produce a Freer, More Equal, Prosperous World for All

[Amazon Link]

After seeing Deirdre Nansen McCloskey's book quoted numerous times at Don Boudreaux's blog, Cafe Hayek, I finally wangled a copy through Interlibrary Loan at the University Near Here. It appears that nobody at Williams College was interested in reading it, more fools they.

It's a collection of 50 short chapters/essays/articles, which I decided to read at a rate of two per day. Many first appeared in magazines, lightly adapted and updated for the book. Many are independent, a few link together. (For example, a fifty-page review of Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century is sliced up into seven chapters.)

Deirdre's overall purpose here is to update and defend her thesis about the cause and nature of "The Great Enrichment", started in northwest Europe in the 18th century: it was due to a newfound and unique respect for the tools of the marketplace, bourgeois moral values, and individual liberty. Hence what most people call "free market capitalism" was born, and proceeded to make the parts of the world that adopted it very very prosperous.

I should mention that Deirdre doesn't really care for the term "capitalism". She patiently explains that "capital" always existed, roughly since horse-traders traded horses. She prefers terms like "trade-tested betterment" (for the process) and "innovism" (for the attitude). And of course "liberalism" for the overall philosophy.

Deirdre is funny and insightful, and her unique prose style is something you have to read to appreciate. In my case, she was pushing on an unlocked door; I don't know her approach works on people more skeptical to her ideas.

I should mention one sore spot, Chapter 45, titled "Liberalism is Good For Queers". That's almost certainly true, but Deirdre goes into the jihad she and associates mounted against J. Michael Bailey, a Northwestern U psych prof. Wikipedia's article on Bailey has an overall description of the hubbub. Don't want to get into it here, but it seems that Deirdre's actions toward Bailey were reprehensible. And here she goes full Orwell, when she deems the National Academy of Science's publication of Bailey's work to be a (G. W.) Bush Administration homophobic plot. And falls into that great trap of equating "hate speech" with "speech I hate":

That's censorship, the encouragement of hate speech and then hate action by government-funded entities.

Well, no. Sorry, Deirdre, your lapse into illiberalism here mars your otherwise fine book.