URLs du Jour

2020-01-23

  • Ever get tired of hearing "the system is rigged"? Scott Sumner at the Library of Economics and Liberty has a good rejoinder: Yes, the system is rigged. But how? After providing examples of overpriced eyewear and multi-thousand-dollar bills for head colds…

    It’s not just health care.  Consumers buying cars are ripped off by a car dealer cartel, which prevents direct sales from manufacturers.  The fireman industry is a huge rip-off, with America having roughly twice as many fire stations as needed, as a huge cost to taxpayers.  Young homebuyers are ripped off by older homeowners who prevent new construction in towns like Reston, Virginia. There are similar examples in dozens of other industries, perhaps hundreds of others.

    Politicians often complain that middle-class Americans are lagging behind because the system is rigged against them.  They are right.  But the politicians don’t tell the entire story.  Only a modest portion of the rigging is done by big corporations like Facebook, Google, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan.  The biggest problem is various interest groups comprised of middle class people, who rip off the general public.

    Since I live in New Hampshire, I can't watch commercial TV these days without hearing a politician decrying Wall Street, etc. You won't notice (for example) Liz Warren go after optometrists. ("Big Lens"?)


  • Nick Gillespie at Reason: Trump’s Impeachment Trial Will Only Make Us Hate Washington Even More. (This is from 10:42am Tuesday; today, Thursday, we can confidently change the headline from future tense to present tense.)

    You can argue that Trump richly deserves to be the third president to face an impeachment trial, that we should be impeaching all the presidents all the time, or that Trump is actually the victim of a coup. You might even win those arguments. But none of that matters if you really care about restraining the size of government. Come the end of the Senate trial that starts today, Trump will almost certainly still be in office, Democrats and Republicans will hate each other even more, and trust and confidence in Washington will be even lower than it already is.

    And the spending of the federal government, what Milton Friedman said was the purest measure of its power, will continue to set new records. All impeachment will have done is add more fuel to the perpetual dumpster fire that is Washington and pushed the calendar back a month or so when it comes to the fiscal reckoning that awaits us in the new decade.

    I agree that hatred is a wasteful and self-destructive emotion, but I'm not sure that "lack of trust and confidence in Washington" isn't a perfectly valid attitude to hold.


  • Hey kids, what time is it? Well, according to Lawrence M. Krauss in the WSJ it's Time to Stop the ‘Doomsday Clock’.

    The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is resetting its “Doomsday Clock,” which has stood still since 2018 at two minutes to midnight. I was a member of the Bulletin’s Board of Sponsors for a dozen years and chaired it from 2009 through 2018, and I think it’s time to retire the clock.

    The Bulletin was founded by group of scientists who had participated in the Manhattan Project and wanted to inform the public about the dangers of nuclear weapons. The clock, set at seven minutes to midnight, appeared on the cover of its first issue in 1947. Albert Einstein and J. Robert Oppenheimer set up the Board of Sponsors in 1948 to help guide setting the clock’s time.

    Krauss notes that the clock was at 11:53pm in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, certainly a more nuclear-perilous time. And (as I've noted before) in 1973, during the Yom Kippur War: 11:48pm.

    And we're at 11:58pm now? Give me a break, Atomic Scientists.


  • Local sane person Andrew Cline writes at the Dispatch: The New Hampshire Primary Is a Total Tossup.

    With the New Hampshire primary less than three weeks away, no clear front-runner has emerged. Democratic party insiders, who confidently made predictions in years past, dare not project a winner. With polling sparse and inconsistent, well-connected Granite Staters are relying on their personal networks to get a sense of the race.

    Gray Chynoweth, a Democratic business executive in Manchester who ran for Executive Council in 2018 and recently endorsed Pete Buttigieg, described the Democratic primary contest as “fluid.”

    NH Democrats are famous for fluidity. Drew recalls 2008, where polls put Obama up by 8 percentage points over Hillary, but someone made her cry, and she eked out a win.


  • Going to Miami for the Superb Owl? Well, even if you're not, Dave Barry has you covered. Super Bowl 54: Dave Barry’s official guide to South Florida.

    Dear Super Bowl Visitor,

    Welcome to Miami! Or as we say down here in an expression that we use all the time because of our Latin culture: “¡Feliz Navidad!”

    That is our way of expressing how excited we are to once again be hosting the Super Bowl. The National Football League took it away from us for a few years, but we got it back by improving our stadium, upgrading our infrastructure and acquiring photographs of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell naked with a llama.

    Ha ha! We are joking. It was an ocelot. But the specific mammal doesn’t matter. What matters is, the Super Bowl is finally back in Miami where it belongs. Because this is a city that truly knows how to throw a party. We hosted 10 previous Super Bowls, and they were extremely festive events as measured by the number of arrests. And those were just the players!

    I never gamble, other than plunking down (by which I mean "throwing away") a few bucks now and then on the lottery. But sports betting was recently legalized in our fair state, so I put down $20 on… well, I forget who I bet for, to tell you the truth. But if I win, I'll take Mrs. Salad to a fancy restaurant, the kind without drive-through windows.

Great Society

A New History

[Amazon Link]

This is Amity Shlaes' big book about the social engineering schemes that Lyndon Baines Johnson sold as the "Great Society". The time scale she covers overlaps the LBJ administration, though: roughly 1960-1971. It's especially relevant in these days when socialism seems to be regaining respectability once again; Amity reports on what happened the last time that occurred.

Her method is to concentrate on (mostly) important non-Presidents during that time. To illustrate the cozy corporatism coming out of the 1950's, she looks at Lemuel Boulware, General Electric's man in charge of labor negotiations. Looking at the dawn of the "Great Society" programs, she focuses on Walter Reuther and Michael Harrington, two forthright socialists. During the Nixon era, it's Arthur Burns and Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

And (oh yeah) she's kind of obsessed with Bonanza, the great TV show that ran on CBS from 1959 until 1973. It's like a metaphor. And the closing episode of the final chapter has Nixon going on Sunday night TV to announce the US was abandoning the gold standard, and imposing wage/price controls… preempting Bonanza.

There's a lot of stuff going on, and Amity does a fine job of digging out obscure (but important and telling) details. (She spends less time discussing the things we thought were so important back then.)

Amity bends over backwards to be fair to the social engineers, granting their good intentions, even to praise them when she thinks they've succeeded (mainly in enacting civil rights legislation). But you can't help but notice the mindset: an overall hubris that dumping money into "programs" at the Washington end would result in progressive nirvana at the other end. Instead countless pols, bureaucrats, activists, and organizers held their buckets out for the cash. The activists and organizers (of course, being of socialist bent) made it their priority use their resources to "change the system" — instead of, y'know, helping poor people to enter the system.

So, it's a good, interesting book. Marred by some silly errors. On page 304, discussing the woes of the auto industry, we learn "Ford had distained variety". On page 133, Walter Reuther warns LBJ that they must not "report" the errors made at the 1964 Democratic convention. (She meant "repeat"). And on page 104, she says a 1964 Harris Poll predicted that LBJ would carry the state of California "by 65 to 35 delegates" over either Nelson Rockefeller or Barry Goldwater. Delegates? I don't think so.