URLs du Jour

Halloween 2021

[Halloween, the Biden Plan]

  • Alternate definition of "shambles": "a place where animals are brought to be slaughtered". And that's kind of appropriate for Andrew Stuttaford's column: The Omnishambles.

    Nevertheless, a term connoting a “situation of total disorder” seems appropriate for the situation in which the U.S. now finds itself as tax proposals come, and tax proposals go, and the administration gives every impression of just wanting to get something done. Although those somethings vary, they do have one thing in common: They are unlikely to be helpful to the operation of a free-market system.

    In the case of the (discarded) wealth tax on billionaires — and that is what it was, however much Janet Yellen attempted to dodge that constitutionally and politically tricky term by claiming, oh Janet, Janet, that it was merely “a tax on unrealized capital gains of exceptionally wealthy individuals”— the agenda was something more ambitious, a return to the premodern. As I have argued in the past:

    A wealth tax is a sophisticated, lighter touch derivative of feudalism, but the core of it is the same: The state (“the king”) has, theoretically, a call on everything you own.

    Progressives tend to believe that the arc of history moves in a certain (progressive, surprisingly) direction. The idea is nonsense (history is chaotic, to bowdlerize a famous line, “just one thing after another”), but it is bleakly entertaining to read that progressives now appear to believe that that arc is headed toward . . . feudalism, even if that’s not how they would describe it. Lenin, however, would have understood.

    So did Hayek.

    I was struck last week by how frantic the Democrats were to come up with "something". Preferably something they can shove through reconciliation before people can think too much about it.

  • Just 10?! At Cato, Chris Edwards presents 10 Downsides to the Democratic Spending Plan. Here's a couple:

    States Can Do It. Much of the proposed spending is for activities that states can fund themselves. Expanding subsidy programs is a bad idea, but such programs are even more inefficient when imposed top‐down by Washington. If West Virginia or Arizona want to subsidize housing, preschool, or renewable energy, they can do so with their own state revenues. There is no need for aid from the federal government, especially when it is running large budget deficits while West Virginia, Arizona, and other states have large surpluses. State and local tax revenues are currently up 11 percent over pre‐pandemic levels.

    Private Sector Can Do It. Some proposed spending is for activities that the private sector is already doing, so there is no need for new subsidies. The plan would increase subsidies for electric vehicles even though EV sales are already booming. In other cases, the plan would subsidize activities that the private sector would address by itself if governments got out of the way. The plan, for example, includes $150 billion in housing subsidies, but governments are causing the affordable housing problem by restricting supply with excessively tight zoning and building regulations.

    Eight, count 'em, eight more at the link.

  • I'm too tired to be outraged. Liz Wolfe notices something: If You Think Facebook Is Full of Dubious Outrage-Bait, Wait Til You See the Company's Critics.

    Imagine a business model where people's outrage is exploited for clicks, where emotions like affection and anger are valuable to tease out, and where, if people seem uninterested, you know you've done your job poorly.

    Of course, this describes both Facebook and the news media criticizing it. Journalists, foaming at the mouth from so-called whistleblower Frances Haugen's innocuous revelations, want you to believe that this model is unique to social media sites, gripped by the pursuit of the profit that accompanies expansion. The Washington Post, for example, published a report this week on how Facebook's algorithms classify "angry" react emojis as more valuable than regular old "likes." This pushes "more emotional and provocative content into users' news feeds":

    Starting in 2017, Facebook's ranking algorithm treated emoji reactions as five times more valuable than "likes," internal documents reveal. The theory was simple: Posts that prompted lots of reaction emoji tended to keep users more engaged, and keeping users engaged was the key to Facebook's business.

    But what the Post and others fail to emphasize is that Facebook algorithms also rank the "love" emoji as more important than the "like" emoji when determining which content other users see. "Love" reacts were used far more commonly than "angry" reacts (11 billion clicks per week vs. 429 million). The algorithm, which assigns each post in a given feed a score, translating to placement in the news feed, was built to value people expressing strong emotions and show that type of content to others.

    Again, I'm disappointed in the sainted Wall Street Journal for joining the bash-Facebook mob. But (good news) they don't seem to be in it for the outrage-bait.