2007-12-31

Doofuses against Ron Paul

Idiots like Chris Petrilli think that this is an "articulate deconstruction of why Ron Paul is dangerous".

Chris conveniently disables comments on posts with which people might disagree, so I reply here.

The "article" is not so much a deconstruction as an emotional roller-coaster ride through what Ron Paul has said about a few arcane topics that are of disproportional importance to the author of the "article".

The facts are that, yes, Ron Paul is not as well-educated on science as we would like. Yes, he has been recorded stating that evolution is "just a theory".

But there is a greater moral principle that scientists shouldn't get to run other people's lives just because they think they're right. The FDA shouldn't be able to prevent you from taking human growth hormone, or taking steroids, or smoke pot, or take useless nutritional supplements, because it thinks those things are bad for you.

The U.S. presidency is a supremely powerful position. The U.S. president has more or less direct control over some 1/3 of all things done in the United States. This makes most candidates personal beliefs suspect and dangerous, because given this power, they will try to use it in accordance with their personal beliefs.

But the purpose of Ron Paul's candidacy is to reduce this power. He is not running for office on the premise that he will enforce his moral views. He is running on the premise that he will increase everyone's freedom, including the freedom of those with whom he agrees, as well as those with whom he does not.

Ron Paul is in favor of devolving the U.S. federal government. He is in favor of reducing it in size by factors of magnitude, and letting the states govern themselves.

Yes, the ensuing deregulation might make your life slightly more dangerous to the extent that people trying to sell you cherries or pomegranates might find it easier to dupe you into believing that the fruit protects against Alzheimer's. But it is not the role of the government to protect you from this. People got along without an FDA just fine before Fascist. D. Roosevelt came along. And we can get along without an FDA again.

The role of scientists is to do research and publish results. It is not their role to intrude on people's lives and prevent them from doping up on human growth hormone if they want to. Nor to lock up grandmas if they are found growing marijuana for medicinal use. Or for whoever's use!

The current U.S. government is fascist. So are most social democracies abroad. Ron Paul is pretty much your only hope to live in a country that might once again be as free as that of its founding fathers.

2007-12-28

Non-conformity and groups

Eliezer Yudkowsky writes brilliantly about the substantial difference between joining a rebellion and founding one. The difference is that if you join "Standard Rebellion #37", you are merely joining an existing group of people who are going to think you are cool. Joining an existing rebellion is just switching sides.

But being the first one to think original thoughts, stepping outside of the box, saying "No!" to what everyone around you accepts for a "fact" - that takes a willingness to separate from the group and replace it with nothing, a willingness to put a higher value on correctness than on being part of some kind of group. To paraphrase Eliezer, it's the difference between going to school dressed in black, and going to school in a clown suit.

I did go to school in the clown suit. I did get the non-understanding, the quizzical looks, the "you're weird", the shrugs. Even so, I never considered conforming an option. It would mean relinquishing my essence for the dubious benefit of getting acceptance and approval from people who I know have much lower potential. It would mean stooping down and joining the ranks of the stupid.

Why would I do that?

I persevered, and it was tough, and it was challenging, but over the years I found the woman who is now my wife, I found other people who are on a similar wavelength, and now my life is not so isolated intellectually at all.

Meanwhile, I learned the value of being the first to speak out against the popular consensus, which makes it easier for others to speak out as well. If you know the consensus is wrong, and you're the first one to say it, others who are not so sure will come out of the woodwork as well. If no one says it - chances are, they won't.

Other people in similar situations have done other things. My wife felt there was something very much wrong with the popular consensus, but she didn't have enough self-confidence to assert her disagreement until she met me and I started encouraging her. Before, she was letting herself be remolded as others saw fit, and she suffered.

Another person I know has no problem at all copying the way an average person thinks, impersonating your regular Jane or Joe, in order to gain the benefits of group membership, while in fact being radically different from the group.

Me, I just can't stand that duplicity. If I'm going to join a group, it'll be a group that is on my wavelength. I'm not going to make myself agree with a group just to join, and I won't pretend I agree in order to join a group. It's not worth it for me. Conforming is tortuous; the benefits of pretending are vacuous. But when you are able to join with people you're truly compatible with, the benefits of that are deep, valuable, and sincere.

2007-12-27

The ethics of patent trolling

I would have no problem whatsoever if Dr. Michael David Doyle, as a form of just return for his major contributions to humanity - those contributions being negative - were run over tomorrow by a train.

I would similarly have no qualms if David E. Stout and others benefitting from the Blackberry ripoff met with the very same fate.

The U.S. patent system is thoroughly broken. It needs to be changed. But when a system is broken, people who abuse it for their benefit - at the expense of other individuals; at expense of humanity at large - are evil. Just because a system is broken, and abusing it is legal, doesn't mean that you should feel free to abuse it at will.

And if you do, you are a scumbag, deserving of the worst fates that scumbags should meet.

Suppose a quirk in the law meant that in some particular circumstances, you could legally get away with what was plainly murder. Would you not be a scumbag deserving of punishment if you did so, even if the law did not see it that way?

The law needs to be fixed. But the fact that these scumbags can get away with extortion through the legal system... doesn't make them scumbags any less.

2007-12-24

The free market at work: outsourcing surgery

Comparative cost of medical procedures in the U.S., compared to the same procedures at hospitals targeted at foreign medical tourists in India, Thailand and Singapore, from this 2006 article in TIME Magazine:

2007-12-21

Totally not like a corrupt, tyrannical empire

This is totally not like something a corrupt "police force" of a 17th century autocratic European monarch might do.

Thank noodle that the federal government is there to protect Mr. Ricks from ruthless exploitation by the monopolistic practices of Bill Gates.

Like I wrote before:
No Bill Gates has even 1/100 of the economic power as the person on whom you depend to protect you from Bill Gates.

Who protects you from the person who protects you from Bill Gates?

The truth about giving

A recent holiday-themed 'charity' post over on Freakonomics prompted me to express the following thoughts. This is a deeply felt, and I believe deeply true, conviction that I've held for quite some time, but have never expressed quite so clearly, largely for fear of being perceived as a bad, bad, contemptible person.

All too often, fear of how we will be perceived prevents us from speaking what we know is the truth, when that truth is of a cynical nature; and this allows the spreading of naive, nice and rosy false beliefs. But we should not have a bias in favor of naive, nice and rosy beliefs. We should not speak the truth only when it is nice. We should speak it always, or else people will act on false premises, and do damage because they believe in nice falsehoods instead of doing good on the basis of sound, real truth.

So here it is. The truth about giving.

To give without reservation is to spoil. To give is to bleed in order to allow someone else to consume resources. To give with a complete lack of selfishness is to be, rationally speaking, stupid.

The only sensible form of giving is that which is calculated expecting more in return. Lending with interest is a sensible and healthy form of giving which benefits the giver as well as the givee.

Smile Train is an apparently nice and effectively run charity that helps children with cleft lips. By donating $250, you can fix the cleft lip of one kid.

But if the parents of children with cleft lips aren't willing or able to invest $250 in a better life for their offspring, why should you help promote their genes?

You might be able to justify the gift if you expect the kid to repay you as an adult; either directly, if you give them the gift as a loan; or indirectly, by your gift increasing their ability to contribute in the economy in such a way that you yourself will benefit substantially from their increased contribution.

But more often than not, gifts tend to hurt their recipients. See the Spiegel interview with James Shikwati, an African economist: "For god's sake, please stop the aid!"

For the most part, gifts with no strings attached only serve to perpetuate a parasitic rather than a symbiotic relationship. Loans encourage symbiosis; you can take in a time of need, but when you can, you need to give a bit more in return.

Unrestricted giving, however, encourages parasitism. You can take; and you can take. And you can take. See the pattern?

For the most part, uncalculated altruistic giving is not only stupid, because it hurts you; it's evil, because it allows a parasitic pattern to proliferate, allowing it to hurt others.

Think hard before you give. Don't think only about someone's urgent need. Think about how your gift reduces their risks for doing something damaging, and increases their incentive for repeating it, or increases the incentive for others to do it in the future. Think whether your gift is really one-time, or whether it perpetuates a destructive pattern.

If in doubt - do not give.

Update. Here's an example of a Whole Foods store apparently unselfishly giving away groceries while experiencing a technical glitch. This sort of behavior makes sense. But there's a thin line between smart giving and stupid giving in cases like these. Notice that there was no announcement of the freebies, and the situation lasted only a short while. This makes sure that the free groceries were given only to unsuspecting customers - people who didn't come with the intention of taking advantage, and are likely to reward the store for its largesse by shopping there in the future more frequently. Imagine now that the store announced that groceries are free, or that the situation lasted long enough for people to alert their friends to take advantage. What would be the consequences for the store then?

Now, knowing this, answer the rhetorical question posed somewhat stupidly by the article's author: "Imagine the kind of world we would live in if all corporations were run like Whole Foods." Indeed? Stores consistently giving away stuff below market price - what would that lead to?

Overconsumption? Queues? Shortages? Black markets?

2007-12-19

What men are really looking for

In October, Steven Levitt posted this amusing article on the Freakonomics blog. Go read it. It's about this personal ad posted by someone claiming to be a "spectacularly beautiful" 25-year old woman, asking for advice on how to marry a man who makes $500,000 a year or more. She's frustrated that she can't seem to get a guy that makes more than $250,000, while these millionaires walk around with wives that are just plain. What is she missing? What is it that these men are looking for?

Before I tell you my response, let me first draw attention to this comment under the same article:
The few guys who marry smart, beautiful women don’t seem to be very happy either. They also keep mistresses. Perhaps the decision to marry is based more on hormonal attraction than to cerebral considerations. [...] Strangely, the guys who marry Asian women seem to be the happiest and don’t have anything on the side. Why? I have no idea.
Let me tell you why the guys who marry Asian women (or Russian, or East European, one might reasonably substitute) are happiest and don't tend to have mistresses, as this commenter observed. Because these women aren't hostile.

All relationships are personal. Regardless of the type of relationship - business or marriage - it is much easier to get along with people who aren't out to benefit on your expense based on every damn weakness you have. It is much easier to get along with people who are happy to share the pie with you, rather than people who always want to maximize their share. People who are out for a happy relationship will be concerned that they get enough to satisfy their needs. They will contribute their share, but so long as their needs are met, they won't dwell on every turn whether they're getting the maximum share they can.

On the other hand, people who always want to maximize their share are hostile. Being in a relationship - any kind of relationship - with such people is like sleeping with the devil: you always have to be careful around them, because any opportunity you give them, you will get stiffed.

On the other hand, Asian women, and Russian women, and Eastern European women, they grew up in different cultures than the empowered American females. They were taught to respect their men, to support them, to serve them. To a significant extent this is bad for them, because when such women marry men who are exploitative, the women get stiffed, and get to carry the burden of a bad relationship that benefits their men but harms them.

But when a woman like that meets a man that treats her well, the result is a great outcome for both. The man gets a wife who he gets along with well and who is not out to take advantage of him at every turn; and the wife gets a man who truly respects the qualities she's bringing into the relationship.

A man who will marry the gold digger from the Freakonomics post will be a stupid, and soon miserable, man. The woman thinks that looks are the only thing she needs to bring into a relationship. Well yes, looks are important. But there's more to it. Being a beautiful but bitchy and self-centered wife is a mix of qualities that makes few husbands happy. Beauty is important. But compared to loyalty, kindness, understanding, it is merely a nice perk.

I'm guessing that most people would prefer to work for a company that offers nice, luxurious offices. But would you still want that job if the boss was horrible and the coworkers sucked? For the same reasons, there's no sensible cause why anyone would want a stunningly beautiful, yet disloyal, self-involved and unpleasant wife. You want your partner to be your angel; you want to be able to trust them to have your best interests in mind. You don't want them to be a selfish prick out to get the "most" out of being with you that they can.

Once you have a partner who really gives you their best; and you give them your best in return; then their physical beauty becomes just a perk; one that makes you that much more grateful for the joy that you can be with them.

2007-12-17

Victims on Trial: The Everyday Business of Courts

This is your well-functioning state.

And here it is in another instance.

2007-12-15

The "liberal" (= socialist) worldview

No Bill Gates has even 1/100 of the economic power as the person on whom you depend to protect you from Bill Gates.

Who protects you from the person who protects you from Bill Gates?
I wrote a longish comment concluding with the above thought in response to this statement on reddit.

This is my response:

It is sad how your interpretation of reality is wrong and misleading on nearly every count.

There are some claims I can easily dismiss offhand. Before there was the FDA, there were private organizations, similar to Consumer Reports today, which served the function of keeping food manufacturers to high standards. Furthermore, before there was an FDA, it was possible for there to be competition among providers of such supervision; depending on their selectivity when buying, consumers could choose to hold their food providers accountable to some or all of them.

Furthermore, if some food producer in a privately supervised system does prove negligent to the point of causing harm, there is the legal system and there's the option of lawsuits, individual or class action, to serve as a deterrent to keep companies in line.

What the current government-controlled system does is, it provides an inferior one-size-fits-all supervision approach which provides a single point of failure due to its monopolistic nature. Such failure is happening as we speak. One possible reason why the FDA does not ban potentially harmful artificial food coloring is because the FDA gets paid per quantity of color additives actually used. So instead, people who find that they are especially sensitive to such colorings, rely on private supervision providers, like the Feingold Association, to provide them with means to protect their health that are superior to what the FDA provides.

Most of the other claims made are similar distortions and fallacies. I can point out one which I know is particularly preposterous; no unscrupulous bankers ruined the banking system in the Great Depression. Neither capitalism nor bankers brought on the depression; the Federal Reserve itself did, by employed monetary policies that were counterproductive, without knowing it at the time. Subsequently, neither capitalism nor bankers prolonged the Great Depression, which could have been a short one, had Hoover not tried to "fix" it by encouraging employers to keep wages high and even raise them - which they, in what in hindsight could be seen as foolish patriotism, followed and did. When this didn't help the economy but actually made the problem worse, Hoover and associated congressmen further tried to "fix" things by imposing the isolationist Smoot-Hawley tariffs, which practically cut off the United States from foreign trade. This was done against petitions of thousands of economists warning that the tariff would lead to a disaster. It did.

Then FDR came to power and pretty much tried to do in the U.S. what Mussolini did in Italy. That, too, didn't work. Then came the war, bringing with it a central command economy, and that didn't help the economy either, despite continuing fallacies that WWII is what cured the Depression. It did not. A true recovery came after WWII.

What you're writing here, this is populist shit taught in schools across the USA by people to which the ex-Soviet leadership would privately refer as useful idiots.

What your story does accurately demonstrate is the vast extent to which government is present in (or interfering with) everyone's lives. The erroneous conclusion you make is that the mere fact that this vast interference exists means that its absence - or indeed, any reduction! - would cause harm. But this is not the case. The situation would be different, but just because a void would appear in market needs that is currently being filled by government, doesn't mean that private individuals would not step in to fulfill it, and it doesn't mean that they would do a worse job. In fact, libertarians argue convincingly that private individuals would do a better job, because they are responsible to people voting on a micro level every day with their wallets, while government is "responsible" only to people voting every few years, on a macro level distanced from the smaller levels that actually have problems, and given few realistic choices that don't even allow the voters to exercise control over anything.

Indeed, you exercise less control over what happens economically when you vote for a new Führer - um, President - every few years, than you exercise when you vote with your wallet and switch from one provider of a service to another.

There's another fallacy that seems to be deeply ingrained in your collective "liberal" minds: everyone involved in business is by default an unscrupulous, egotistic, megalomaniacal, profiteering, untrustworthy person, whereas people involved in politics and government are somehow better and less corrupt.

Don't you find it a bit strange that everyone who's corrupt would automatically be attracted to business, and few "good" people would be attracted to business; while everyone who's "good" would automatically be attracted to government, and few corrupt people would be attracted to government? Do you really think that's a realistic assessment of fact?

And if so, do you really think that the token elections you are allowed to participate in every now and then, in which each time you are given a wonderful and nuanced choice of two persons to vote for, one Democan and one Republicrat, and where your vote, if properly counted, means less than your contribution in revenue when you buy from your local store - do you really think that this system somehow gives you control, somehow allows you to "reign in the bastards"?

If so, then man, you've already been reigned in by the bastards, and they're the bastards you are voting for - the people who taught you that business is evil; the people who taught you that their contribution to society, keeping the bad businessmen in line, is something so valuable that you can't live without; people who obviously have no self-interest, whatsoever, in collecting a good 30% of your annual pay check, and spending it on whatever they currently consider worthy...

No, no, they are your protectors, you need them, because you see, if it wasn't for them, the boogey man would come, and the only reason the boogey man doesn't come is because they protect you. Just as long as you keep paying them.

So go on. Continue paying.

No private company takes out of your pocket even closely as much as the government does. Every year.

No private organization's revenue is $2.5 trillion per year. And growing.

No Bill Gates has even 1/100 of the economic power as the person on whom you depend to protect you from Bill Gates.

Who protects you from the person who protects you from Bill Gates?

2007-12-14

The doghouse: Opera files antitrust complaint against Microsoft

Following to the EU court's disastrous judgement against Microsoft in September, it looks like the EU is going to become a preferred playground for niche vendors who aren't satisfied with the smallness of their chosen niches, and harbor ingenius ideas that the government can help them carve out larger niches than the market would otherwise provide on its own.

What prevents you from installing Opera's browser on your Windows system? Nothing. You aim your browser to Opera's website, download, and run. A minute later, Opera is installed and running.

But Opera thinks that users merely having the ability to run their software on Windows is not enough. No, Microsoft should bundle Opera's software with Windows, because, er... Opera wants a bigger slice of the search engine revenue that comes from that "Google" search field in your browser.

How is it that people understand that the mere fact that Microsoft is allowing third party software on their platform is a blessing? Why don't we hear of antitrust lawsuits against those vendors whose platforms are closed altogether? Why does Opera not sue Apple because Apple is not giving Opera's browser equal, er, opportunity for search engine revenue on their iPhones?

Meanwhile, the real reason why the EU is happy to be acting against Microsoft probably has nothing to do with these actions being fair. It has more to do with strategic planning. The EU commissioners probably don't want the European economy entirely reliant on software provided exclusively by an American company, which has probably cooperated with intelligence agencies to allow the planting of all kinds of backdoors into the system. Whatever actions lead to the market becoming more diverse and less dependent on a single source of software, make the European economy more resilient in the event of a conflict, and less prone to industrial (and political) espionage.

2007-12-13

Amazon strikes with low prices; the French strike back!

Just in case you had any doubts that the French were mad, here is their latest affirmation:
Amazon.com may not offer free delivery on books in France, the high court in Versailles has ruled.

The action, brought in January 2004 by the French Booksellers' Union (Syndicat de la librairie française), accused Amazon of offering illegal discounts on books and even of selling some books below cost.

[...]

Retail prices, particularly of books, are tightly regulated in France.

Using "loss-leaders," or selling products below cost to attract customers, is illegal. Other restrictions apply to books retailers must not offer discounts of more than 5 percent on the publisher's recommended price.

[...]

But the free delivery offered by Amazon exceeded the legal limit in the case of cheaper books, the union charged.

The union said it was pleased with the court's ruling, which would help protect vulnerable small bookshops from predatory pricing practices.
Yes, predatory pricing practices!

In reasonable countries, if a company is able to increase the efficiency of its processes in order to provide a product at a cheaper price than other companies before it, that would be called progress. This is the sort of thing that increases people's purchasing power, which means economic growth, which is the process that makes everyone less poor in the long run.

But in France, these are predatory pricing practices, you see. Because France will have nothing to do with progress. The French invented civilization, as they see it, and they're determined to be forever stuck in the time period when they did so.

2007-12-12

The cost of secure software

Software that needs to be secure against a motivated attacker - say, a hacker - costs a factor of magnitude more to produce than software that only needs to protect against incidental abuse. The security panel at the Embedded Software Summit estimated the total cost at less than $1,000, but more than $100 per line.

That tells you why all versions of Windows prior to 2003 and Vista, and all existing releases of Linux and OS X, are hackable crap.

Sadly, though, security does not seem to be something the median user makes a purchase decision on. The big new feature of Windows Vista is significantly increased security. For me personally, this was important enough that I went out and bought a new machine specifically to run Vista. It works great.

Yet, most other people keep dwelling on things like: "My buggy Windows XP drivers do not work."

Granted, for every day users, the security is not nearly there yet. Microsoft has improved greatly in recent years, largely as a response to negative PR about how Windows is "hackable". But other companies have not experienced the flak, and writing secure software is expensive. So they don't.

It will take a while before secure software becomes an industry-wide standard. And to some extent, insecurity will probably always be present. When most people start out programming, they aren't experienced enough to write secure code.

A small first step to WikiLaws?

Police wiki lets you write the law:
Due to a new wiki launched by New Zealand police, members of the public can now contribute to the drafting of the new policing act. [...] "It's a novel move but when it comes to the principles that go into policing, the person on the street has a good idea ... as they are a customer," [NZ Police Superintendent Hamish McCardle] said. [...] The wiki version of the Policing Act will be viewed by New Zealand parliamentarians, before an official bill is introduced into Parliament, Superintendent McCardle said.
Via Amos.

See also my proposal for a technological upgrade of democracy into a wiki-inspired form, doing away with elected representatives and their ample opportunities for abuse, reducing oppression and cleaning up unreasonable laws.

Guys, politicians benefit from the current system. Even if WikiLaws were so great as to cure AIDS, the common cold and cancer, the current crop of politicians aren't the ones who are going to propose that it be tried. One of us is going to have to design it, develop it, mount an experiment to show whether it does or does not work. Then, if it works, to promote it, to convince the people, and to slowly start to get it adopted...

Justly acquired endowments

A common reasoning applied to justify disproportional taxation on the income of successful people is that they are "lucky" in the sense that they have talent and drive, whereas other people are "less lucky" and have neither. The "less lucky" ones (less talented, less attracted to hard work) should obviously be compensated, because humanity is a big brotherhood, you see, and everyone should be equal.

This is as opposed to the animal kingdom at large: it would be "silly", you see, to extend the same benefits obtained through coercive taxation to elevate the standard of living for other "less lucky" creatures like gorillas, chimpanzees, or vervet monkeys. The big brotherhood of humanity only extends as far as the human race, you see, it does not extend to an arbitrary number of other creatures that might be even "less lucky", however similar to humans they may be. Besides, we can't subsidize all creatures, where would the limits to that be?

This digression aside, Robin Hanson at Overcoming Bias linked to a New York Times article covering Greg Mankiw's & Matthew Weinzierl's tongue-in-cheek (but seriously analyzed) proposal that, based on the same logic which mandates that successful people should be taxed because of their apparent unfairly acquired talent, tall people should be taxed because on average tall people are paid more than short, simply by virtue of towering over others and thus attracting more confidence:
Should we tax tall workers at a higher rate than their shorter peers? The answer - yes - "follows inexorably" from reigning academic theories of taxation, argues Greg Mankiw. ... Using optimal-taxation formulas, Mankiw and Weinzierl crunch the numbers and come up with a "tall tax" amounting to 7 percent of a tall person's income. Short people would receive a 13 percent rebate.

Do Mankiw and Weinzierl actually endorse such a system? Far from it. Rather, they argue, the proposed tax clarifies our thinking about taxation in general. They say that height is a "justly acquired endowment" ... By the same logic, they imply ... the government has no right to force someone with the "justly acquired endowment" of entrepreneurial genius to pay a higher tax rate.

How big should a minimal state be?

Amos and I have recently conducted a conversation over on his blog, which segued into what fundamental framework should be provided by the state, and what should be left to the market. This is a topic of many worthy and important academic discussions, but here is my take.

Amos: "What is considered 'fundamental'?"

The minimum that works well.

More generally, a law is beneficial to the extent that its benefits outweigh its costs. I think we can agree on that because it's a very general statement.

I am in favor of those laws where benefits to all clearly outweigh the costs to all by factors of magnitude.

Because laws are inherently a burden, I am against those laws where clear and great benefit cannot be unambiguously shown. Laws aren't free, every law that is passed is additional complexity and burden. So each law that is passed should undergo rigorous tests to make sure it is actually necessary and has substantial benefits that vastly outweigh its costs. Existing laws should also be subject to such review periodically.

Ostensibly, exactly this should be the job of congresspeople, but our practical experience is that the congresspeople are extremely bad at performing this very job. They pass laws not because they are beneficial, but because they are popular, or because they get compensated for it. And they do not periodically review old laws to make sure that they are still relevant.

These are critical faults of the current system - faults that must be addressed. Furthermore, human nature makes it difficult to address this. Merely requiring congresspeople to behave will not make them so. After all, the U.S. government is bound by constitution to be limited, and yet over time it has managed to free itself of all restraint.

The answer would be a system that does not yet exist, but which would in and of itself provide a balance. I described an idea for such a system under WikiLaws. At the very least, I think it's worth a shot.

Our current systems have no balance and are full of dishonesty and abuse. It is entirely possible that the cynicism of the leaders has gone so far that they actually engineered 9/11 so that Iraq could be invaded. At the same time, privileged minorities such as in France obstruct positive and necessary reforms because, well, competition would make them let go of their unfair privileges. Farmers get unfair subsidies and when you threaten to take them away, they block the roads with tractors.

This has got to stop. We need a system that has balance. We can't just keep repeating Churchill's old saw about democracy being "the worst form of government, except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." We need to try new things. We need to find a better system.

2007-12-11

Taxing investment to spend it on consumption

Tim Bray recently wrote this in passing:
[L]ike most Canadians, I have long loathed Mr. Black for his lecturing tone, towering arrogance, and unbearably-pompous writing style. I’ve also loathed his wife Barbara Amiel for over twenty years, since she was an newspaper writer in Toronto, reciting the dogma: we should slash social benefits and labour laws to motivate the poor to work harder, and simultaneously slash taxes and otherwise send money to the rich to motivate them to work harder.
This was essentially about Conrad Black's prison sentence, about which I also commented on Tim's blog. But here is my response to the economic and moral assertions that Tim makes:

[...]

As for the lower-taxes-for-the-rich and less-benefits-for-the-poor jibe: this is obviously unpopular, but it has a point. Motivation requires both a carrot attracting to desired behavior, and a stick warning to stay away from undesired behavior. Aside from Paris Hilton, most rich do not get rich by sitting idly on their asses. Work and sacrifice is required to get there, and the sacrifice typically involves producing economic benefits for everyone else that exceed whatever the rewards are. The "progressive" tax policies remove the "carrot" which stimulates people to strive for achievement, by reducing the rewards. Meanwhile, the social benefits for people who are "down on their luck" remove incentives to stay away from economically unproductive behavior.

It gets worse. The rich do not stay rich by spending all their money on consumption. The majority of a rich person's income must be reinvested, or else they will not remain rich. Investment is what drives productivity growth, and productivity growth is what makes it possible for everyone, including the poor, to live in relative luxury today compared to what there was 200 years ago. Most poor households today have air conditioning. Everyone has cell phones, and obesity is a problem that affects poor people. This was not the case 200 years ago, and it was not because the food back then was more healthy!

Now, what income taxes do is, they take away much of the money that would be spent by the rich on investment, and it also takes some of the money they would have spent on their own personal consumption, too. Now this money is given to people and projects where it is spent on immediate consumption. The consequence is less investment in the economy overall, and the consequence of that is less productivity growth. As a result, instead of the real wages of the median worker growing like this:

Year 1: 1.04
Year 2: 1.08
Year 5: 1.22
Year 10: 1.48
Year 15: 1.80
Year 20: 2.19

they grow like this:

Year 1: 1.02
Year 2: 1.04
Year 5: 1.10
Year 10: 1.22
Year 15: 1.35
Year 20: 1.49

While the median worker may benefit to some extent from redistribution of income in the short run, in the long run, the exponential effects of reduced economic growth make things worse not just for the rich, but for everyone.

WTC: the controlled demolition hypothesis

This is a recording of Steven E. Jones, physicist, talking about 9/11 to an audience at Brigham Young University.

I started out watching this video thinking I would learn more about Steven's investigation into the suspicious collapse of World Trade Center building 7. This was a 47-story building that was not hit by any plane, was 100 meters away from the nearest tower, endured only minor structural damage, and yet collapsed, ostensibly from "fire", some 7 hours after the two towers, in a way suspiciously akin to what a professional demolition would look like.

Steven's lecture talks about that, convincingly, but then he goes on to talk about more, also convincingly.

Some highlights - partly from Steve's talk, with some additional quotes from this crackpot's page:
  • G. W. Bush has a brother, Marvin, who was director of a company, then named Securacom, that used to be in charge of security at WTC. (Zack)
  • The owner/leaseowner of WTC took out an insurance policy protecting against terrorist attacks some 2 months before they happened. They got over $4 billion, while tax money was used for the cleanup. (Steven)
  • WTC had lots of asbestos in it and there was supposedly a serious problem about how to get all that asbestos out. (Steven)
  • The weekend before 9/11, the buildings were closed for "an extremely unusual 36-hour power down. According to Scott Forbes [...] only on floors 47 to 50, and men in maintenance suits were seen entering the building that weekend, ostensibly to do a network 'recabling'. [...] 5 days before 9/11, bomb-sniffing dogs were removed from the site." (Zack)
There's more. Do watch the video.

You can read more about Steven E. Jones here. Excerpt:
Jones has been interviewed by mainstream news sources and has made a number of public appearances. While Jones has urged caution in drawing conclusions,[32] his public comments have suggested a considerable degree of certainty about both the controlled demolition of the World Trade Center and the culpability of rogue agents working within the U.S. government.[33] In one interview, he asserted that the attacks were "an 'inside job', puppeteered by the neoconservatives in the White House to justify the occupation of oil-rich Arab countries, inflate military spending, and expand Israel."[34] His name is often mentioned in reporting about 9/11 conspiracy theories.[35]
More links:
  • Scholars for 9/11 Truth and Justice - Jones's group: "This is the new home for a restructured scholars group that welcomes scholars and all persons interested in exposing the truths of the 9/11/01 attack. Care is being taken to present the strongest, most credible research available, some of which is published on our sister site, the Journal of 9/11 Studies. [...] Scholars for 9/11 Truth and Justice is committed to effecting change through non-violence."
  • PilotsFor911Truth.org: "We are committed to seeking the truth surrounding the events of the 11th of September 2001. Our main focus concentrates on the four flights, maneuvers performed and the reported pilots. We do not offer theory or point blame at this point in time. However, we are focused on determining the truth of that fateful day based on solid data and facts -- since 9/11/2001 is the catalyst for many of the events shaping our world today -- and the United States Government doesn't seem to be very forthcoming with answers or facts."
  • WTC7.net: "Building 7 was the third skyscraper to be reduced to rubble on September 11, 2001. According to the government, fires, primarily, leveled this building, but fires have never before or since destroyed a steel skyscraper."
  • Wikipedia has - as of this time - an interesting and detailed article - it does recognize the undisputed holiness of the official view, but it still describes the demolition hypothesis in fair detail.
Finally, take a look also at Zack Smith's page. This looks like a crackpot's site - it has credible stuff comingled with distortions and unfounded hypotheses. I get the impression that Zack is a bit like a spider's web in that he catches and publishes everything. His conclusions are overreaching, but you can find stuff here that you probably can't find in a single place anywhere else.

2007-12-10

Ticket scalpers

Bruce Schneier draws attention to the CAPTCHA-breaking aspect of this article by Jeff Atwood, which discusses how ticket brokers are circumventing Ticketmaster's CAPTCHAs in order to buy tickets for concerts in bulk, and then resell them at a higher price.

I would like to draw attention to another, more boneheaded aspect of Jeff Atwood's otherwise great article. I quote the boneheadedness:
scalpers are evil, profiteering bastards, to be sure. They deserve all the pain we can send their way.
Jeff Atwood might not be a communist, and the communistness of this statement might not be obvious to you. But this is a communist statement.

The economy is all about the distribution of scarce resources. If resources weren't scarce - for example, if we mechanized agricultural production to the point where it literally took 0.000% of the workforce to produce all the food we need, rather than some 2% that it takes today - well, if food could eventually be produced like that, then it won't be scarce, and all the kinds of food we know today would be free. Bread and butter would be essentially open source, like Linux, and people would instead be paying, if they choose to, for fancier designer foods that would taste better because they require special designer input.

But we are not yet there. As it is, food is cheap, compared to what it used to cost. Some 100 years ago, it used to take the efforts of most of the workforce to provide the food that everyone needed. So food today is less scarce than it was, so it is cheaper. But different foods still remain scarce to an extent, so they aren't free.

Now, The Economist recently published predictions that food is going to become scarcer in future years, at least in part because some U.S. agriculture is going to be diverted (somewhat foolishly) to ethanol production.

Now, suppose that food prices are currently such that they clear the market. If the prices were drastically higher, food would not be sold and would be sitting around to spoil, because people could not afford to buy as much as is produced. On the other hand, if prices were drastically lower, people might want more of it than production capacity allows, so there would be shortages.

Suppose that food was free, or drastically cheaper than production allows. This is the situation that used to exist in communist countries. People wanted food to be cheap, but productivity was low, mostly because of the inefficient communist systems. So there was not sufficient food for everyone. Yet, the Party dictated that prices must be low, because this is what people require. So what happened? People started queueing up in front of shops at 4 AM on the day when food would be received. The first people in the queue got the food, at the cheap prices. If you arrived too late and were at the end of the queue, the food would run out and you would get nothing. You would then have to buy your food on the black market, paying a much larger price.

This actually did happen for decades, not just with bread and milk, but also with shoes, cars and most other consumer items.

So, what are we to do if The Economist's prediction becomes true and food becomes scarcer? Well, because we live in partially sensible - i.e., partly free - economies, prices are going to rise until they cause demand to fall in accordance with decreased production. Because demand will fall at higher prices, shops will remain stocked and no one will have to queue around for anything. We'll just have to pay higher prices.

But if the same production decrease happened in a communist economy, food prices might remain the same, because raising prices would give people the impression that the communist system is failing, and this would threaten support for the Party. But with prices remaining constant, demand would also remain the same while production falls, shops would begin to run out of food, and people would have to stand in queues or buy their food at higher prices in the black market.

So how does this relate to Ticketmaster?

Concert seats are scarce; there are only so many of them. If scalpers are able to buy tickets in bulk and make a profit reselling them online at much higher prices, then this indicates that people are willing to pay much more for the tickets than the price charged by Ticketmaster. Tickets are too cheap. If the people selling them had any economic brains, they would raise ticket prices to the point where the difference between the ticket price and what the market will bear is too small to provide a profit for the scalper.

As long as tickets remain underpriced, scalpers perform the economically useful function of ensuring that tickets go to those buyers to whom they are most valuable. If I am willing to pay $250 for a show that has sold out at $60, why should I not be able to buy it at that price from a scalper? The scalper has performed an economically useful role of reserving a ticket for me. If there were no scalpers, I would not get my ticket, because I wouldn't know in time that I had to queue in advance in order to get it.

Yes, someone else is now missing out on not seeing the show for $60. But if I'm willing to pay $250 for that ticket, and he's not, then seeing the show has more value to me than it has for him, and the overall benefit is greater if the ticket is reserved for me, and I see it.

2007-12-09

The Economist misrepresents, butchers FairTax

My respect for The Economist has just decreased significantly after reading their assessment of "Mike Huckabee's tax plan". Here's what they write:
Mr. Huckabee's tax plan is as radical as it is ill-thought out. To achieve a populist goal - abolishing income tax - he proposes a federal sales tax. To make up for lost revenue, it would have to be a stiff one, and levied on practically everything. Mr Huckabee says a rate of 23% would suffice, but this is a sleight of hand. Calculated the way sales taxes usually are, the rate would have to be at least 30% and possibly much higher. This would be horribly regressive. Mr Huckabee says he can solve that problem by giving monthly rebate cheques to those who need them. But to track Americans' income month by month would require a bureaucracy nearly as intrusive as the one Mr Huckabee hopes to abolish by repealing the income tax. The plan is a non-starter.
Whoa. This is shoddy reporting. There is no mention that Mike Huckabee's tax plan is, in fact, the FairTax, and this summary is an awful misrepresentation of it.

The 23% FairTax rate is correct if you compare the FairTax to an income tax. Income taxes are inclusive: you get 100%, the fed takes 23%, you are left with 77%. Sales taxes are exclusive: you pay 100%, on top of that you pay the fed 30%, and your total payment is 130%. But both reflect the same reality. In the income tax case, the government takes 23% of your total income. In the sales tax case, the government takes 23% of your total spending. This is the correct way to compare an income and a sales tax.

Second, the refund mentioned in the article is given to all taxpayers, not just poor ones, and requires no tracking of anyone's income. All it requires is keeping track of what the poverty level is, which does not require tracking people's incomes, and does not at all require a bureaucracy even nearly as intrusive as the IRS.

The essential difference between FairTax and an income tax is that it doesn't tax that part of your income which you use for investment. Investment is crucial to economic growth, and economic growth is crucial to prosperity. Income taxes are levied on the principle of "let us take from those who have"; the more they have, the more progressively let's take from them. But income taxation ignores that most rich people's income is used on investment, not on spending. A rich person cannot stay rich if they immediately spend most of their income!

The strongest impact that income taxes have is that they take money which would have been used on investment, which would have increased productivity growth, which would have caused greater prosperity for everyone in the future, and they take that money and give it to people who spend it for their immediate consumption. This is literally stealing a lot from the future to enjoy a little today. It retards economic growth significantly, which has a huge impact on the purchasing power of poor people in a couple of decades. Simultaneously it is sold as a measure that "helps the poor", which it does a little, today, but whom it actually hurts in the long run.

The FairTax, although being a 30% sales tax, is equal to a nation-wide income tax of 23%, except that all income that's (re)invested is untaxed; and furthermore, because of the FairTax refund, all poor people are taxed at 0%, and the effective tax percentage gradually approaches 23% as a person's spending grows larger.

The Economist published a correction in the following issue, which ends: "There are plenty of good reasons to oppose this plan, but none to misrepresent it." Good work, guys. Recognizing your error, but not your bias. Why don't you actually spend a minute educating yourselves first, and then tell us about all those supposed good reasons to oppose FairTax?

2007-12-06

Ekonomija po slovensko

Note: most of my blog posts are in English. This one is in Slovene because it is a reproduction of a comment thread on a friend's blog.

Na prijateljičinem blogu je uporabnik s psevdonimom Maj napisal tale komentar, iz katerega se je razvilo nekaj, kar spominja na dialog, ampak kar iz razlogov, ki bodo kmalu postali očitni, ni čisto:

Maj pravi:
1.12.2007 ob 10:45

Enotna davčna stopnja je čista katastrofa.

Od nje imajo velike koristi le bogataši, srednji sloj ostane približno tam kjer je, revni pa najebejo.

Razslojevanje je šlo že danes predaleč in zelo hitro se še nadaljuje in upam, da bo naslednja vlada poskrbela, da bo tega spet manj, ker ne želim živeti v tako zelo razslojeni družbi.
Ne želim nobenih “getov” za revne in bogataških sosesk, čeprav je tega žal vedno več tudi pri nas.

Prav se mi zdi, da sposobnejši, pametnejši, iznajdljivejši,… plačujejo več in s tem nekaj prispevajo tudi tistim, ki jih narava ni obdarila s takimi danostmi.

Ne smemo dovoliti, da bodo revni začeli crkavati od lakote zato, da si bo par bogatašev lahko privoščilo kakšno potovanje več.
Večina revežev sploh ni lenuhov ampak jih poznam kar nekaj, ki garajo po cele dneve pa imajo kljub temu komaj za sproti.
To se mi zdi sramotno in vlada bi morala najprej poskrbeti, da bodo ti lahko dostojno živeli in recimo oprostiti plačila davka vse, ki imajo manj kot 5 ali pa recimo 10.000€. V Avstriji so menda oproščeni davka celo do 15.000€ pri nas so pa naredili ravno obratno in bogatašem znižali davek za 10% revnim pa ga dvignili.

Sicer pa ne vem kaj stokate saj je enotna davčna stopnja uvedena že na marsikaterem področju.

Recimo davek od kapitalskih dobičkov, dividend,…. je 20% in to za revne in za tajkune kar se mi zdi zelo žalostno in na tak način ne bodo revni nikoli prišli niti do skromnega stanovanja zase, medtem ko bodo imeli bogataši kmalu po pet vikendov.

Dejstvo pa je, da je država krepko predraga in bi morala začeti krepko varčevati in posledično maksimalno znižati davke za vse.
Idealno bi bilo recimo do 10.000€ nič davka, do 20.000€ 10%, do 30.000€ 20% in nad 30.000€ 30%.

Lp


denis bider pravi:
1.12.2007 ob 17:28

Joj, še eden.

Kar vi kratkovidneži ne razumete je, da obdavčevanje prihodkov ni obdavčevanje denarja, ki ga bogati porabijo! Če hočete progresivno obdavčevati porabo, potem dajmo progresivno obdavčevati porabo. Bogati pa večine svojih prihodkov ne uporabijo za svoje lastne potrebe, temveč jih investirajo, kar pomeni, da z njimi omogočijo gospodarsko aktivnost, vzpodbujajo inovativnost in povečujejo gospodarsko rast. Ta gospodarska rast pa je čez nekaj 10 let tisto, kar “revnim” gospodinjstvom v ZDA danes omogoča, imajo večinoma vsa klimo, digitalne fotoaparate in razne druge pripomočke, ki jih leta 1950 ni bilo.

Po drugi strani: če obdavčiš prihodke bogatih, potem se ne bo zmanjšala le njihova osebna poraba, ki je majhen del njihovih prihodkov, temveč se bo zmanjšalo tudi njihovo investiranje, ker bodo imeli manj denarja za investicijo. Ker bo manj investicij, bo manj napredka; ker bo manj napredka, se bo produktivnost manj povečevala; in ker bo produktivnost manjša, bomo morali za naše vsakdanje nujnosti vsi več in bolj trdo delati.

Še posebej revni!

Da je vse to res, je bilo dokazano že ničkolikokrat. Nižja obremenitev gospodarstva z obdavčitvijo vodi do višje gospodarske rasti, kar ima čez desetletja bistvene posledice, in to ne samo za bogate! Že ničkolikokrat je bilo dokazano tudi, da države poberejo več davkov, če so ti manjši. Kaj misliš, da smo premožni ljudje neumni, da ne razumemo teh dejstev in se pustimo kar tako opuliti? Valda da bo šlo naše premoženje tja, kjer ne bo ogroženo s strani neumnih razmislekov, kakor je tvoje!

Taki, kot si ti, vidite samo sedanjost in nujno potrebo, da bi takoj olajšali življenje revnim, tudi če to pomeni, da bodo njihovi otroci zato še vedno trpeli isto revščino, ker ne bo nobene gospodarske rasti!

Prosperiteto, ki jo imamo danes, imamo zaradi višanja produktivnosti. Višanje produktivnosti nam je sploh omogočilo, da ima danes država z davki sploh kaj prerazdeljevat (in s tem napredek bremzat). Ti bi pa najraje ustavil višanje produktivnosti zato da bi imeli revni takoj nekaj odstotkov več dohodka, namesto čez par desetletjih 3x več.

To je tragično!


Maj pravi:
6.12.2007 ob 06:29

Škoda razlagat, ker ste nekateri itak že prepričani v svoj prav.

Profite, ki bi jih bogataši imeli z EDS bodo v 99% znosili izven Slovenije in Slovenija od tega ne bi imela prav nič .

Misel, ki jo zagovarjate bi privedla do katastrofalne razslojenosti in bogataši bodo morali precej več plačevati za razno razna zavarovanja pa za varnostnike svojih otrok in podobno kar jih bo stalo več kot pa sedaj zgubijo zaradi “nepravičnega” progresivnega sistema, ki tudi nesposobnim omogoča vsaj preživetje.

Itak pa jim je ta vlada, ki dela samo za bogataše in tajkune(čeprav govori drugače) že naredila EDS pri vseh kapitalskih dobičkih, ki so jim običajno glavni vir dohodkov. Povrhu so pa namazani z vsemi žavbami in kar precej davka tudi utajijo…

Škoda časa itak sta prepričana v svoj prav, zračunala sta, da bi po EDS imela par sto evrov več in zato bosta to zagovarjala.
Malo mislite tudi na kvaliteto življenja pa varnost in ne samo na denar.

Čez kakšno desetletje bosta najbrž razumela sedaj itak mislita samo na kratkoročni dobiček, ki bi ga imela z EDS na dolgoročne posledice pa niti ne pomislita….

Lp


denis bider pravi:
6.12.2007 ob 07:22

Maj: “Škoda razlagat, ker ste nekateri itak že prepričani v svoj prav.”

S to izjavo kažeš precejšnje pomanjkanje samokritičnosti. Najmanj, kar bi lahko, je da bi opazil, da si ti vsaj toliko prepričan v svoj prav kot jaz, in vsaj toliko zaprt argumentom, za katere jaz mislim, da so utemeljeni, kot sem jaz zaprt argumentom, za katere ti misliš, da so utemeljeni.

Sicer pa jaz sploh nisem zaprt tvojim argumentom, temveč imam nanje dobre odgovore. Vprašanje je, ali imaš na moje argumente odgovore ti.


Maj: “Profite, ki bi jih bogataši imeli z EDS bodo v 99% znosili izven Slovenije in Slovenija od tega ne bi imela prav nič.”

Tvojo izjavo se da razgraditi na dve trditvi. (1) Bogataši bodo denar, zaslužen v Sloveniji, porabili drugje. (2) Bogataši bodo denar, zaslužen v Sloveniji, investirali drugje.

Katera od teh komponent ti je pravzaprav problematična?

Če zastopaš prvo komponento - bogataši bodo denar, zaslužen v Sloveniji, porabili drugje - naj še enkrat spomnim, da zapravljanje za osebne potrebe predstavlja zgolj majhen del dohodka bogatašev. Bogataš, ki velik delež svojega dohodka porabi, kmalu ne bo več bogataš, in ne bo imel več s čim razpolagati.

Druga komponenta je zato bistveno pomembnejša. Ampak če zastopaš to drugo komponento - da bodo bogataši denar, zaslužen v Sloveniji, investirali drugje - potem si implicitno priznal, da je investicija dobra stvar, ki jo je treba vzpodbujati. Že samo s tem si prišel v nasprotje sam s sabo, ker če je investiranje v redu, zakaj ga je treba s progresivno davčno stopnjo zavirati?

Drugič, če hočejo bogataši v Sloveniji kaj zaslužiti, potem so morali vanjo najprej investirati. Če so na slovensko tržišče investirali, potem so s tem že pokazali, da jim je bila v prvi rundi Slovenija kot tržišče všeč. Če so s svojo investicijo zaslužili, zakaj misliš, da bi se zdaj v drugi rundi izogibali Slovenije in investirali ves svoj dobiček zdaj nekam drugam?

Tretjič, in kar je najpomembnejše, v Slovenijo bi ljudje investirali, če bi se investirati na slovensko tržišče splačalo. Da se investirati na slovensko tržišče ne splača, je več razlogov, ampak en od najpomembnejših je obdavčitev in birokracija. Ekonomske reforme, še posebej EDS, bi poskrbele za to, da bi bilo investicijsko okolje bistveno privlačnejše. To pa bi ne samo vzpodbudilo slovenske “bogataše”, da bi investirali v slovensko gospodarstvo, temveč bi vzpodbudilo v to tudi tujce.

Rezultat bi bil visoka gospodarska rast, ki bi že v nekaj letih pomagala revnim, za katere te bojda skrbi, bistveno bolj, kakor pa progresivna obdavčitev z velikimi socialnimi transferji.

Še drugače povedano: česar ni, se ne da prerazporejati. Ti bi rad revežem dal takoj, tisto kar je. S tem preprečuješ, da bi se ustvarilo več. Rezultat je, da boš v nedogled lahko dal revežem samo del tistega, kar je, in nikoli ne bodo dobili tistega, kar bi lahko bilo - kar je bistveno več.


Maj: “Misel, ki jo zagovarjate bi privedla do katastrofalne razslojenosti in bogataši bodo morali precej več plačevati za razno razna zavarovanja pa za varnostnike svojih otrok in podobno kar jih bo stalo več kot pa sedaj zgubijo zaradi “nepravičnega” progresivnega sistema, ki tudi nesposobnim omogoča vsaj preživetje.”

Čakaj. Prej si rekel, da zastopaš progresivno obdavčitev, ker da ti je mar za revne. Tukaj pa zdaj praviš, da je razslojenost slaba, ker bodo morali bogataši več plačevati za zavarovanja in varnostnike?

Zagotavljam ti, da če bo večja razslojenost vodila v povečanje kriminala, katerega žrtev so bogati, bodo bogataši z veseljem plačali za zavarovanja in varnostnike, in ti za njihove potrebe ni treba skrbeti.

Po drugi strani pa precej dvomim, da bo večja razslojenost dejansko vodila v povečanje kriminala. Zakaj bi bil problem, če so nekateri zelo bogati, če so zaradi tega vsi bogatejši, kakor pa bi bili sicer?

Recimo, da zaradi gospodarske rasti nekateri, ki so sposobni, v nekaj letih zaslužijo 100x več kot zdaj zasluži najbogatejši Slovenec. Po drugi strani pa običajen Slovenec zaradi tega zasluži 20% več.

Zakaj pravzaprav bi običajen Slovenec šel na cesto in krast od bogataša, če je zaradi spremembe sistema 20% na boljšem?

Ignoriraš tudi dejstvo, da EDS sploh ne bi spremenila sistema prerazporejevanja - samo sistem obdavčenja. Prejemniki socialnih transferjev bi te še vedno prejemali, in ne bi bili zaradi tega nič manj ogroženi.

Da bi bilo treba socialne transferje nasploh ukiniti, ker so sami po sebi kontraproduktivni in v večini primerov nepotrebni, je druga stvar in je nepovezano z EDS, o kateri govoriva.


Maj: “Itak pa jim je ta vlada, ki dela samo za bogataše in tajkune(čeprav govori drugače) že naredila EDS pri vseh kapitalskih dobičkih, ki so jim običajno glavni vir dohodkov. Povrhu so pa namazani z vsemi žavbami in kar precej davka tudi utajijo…”

To je pa čisto res. V svetu, kjer je večina ljudi neinformiranih in razmišlja tako, kot ti razmišljaš, je težko postaviti pravila tako, kakor je prav in kakor bi vsem koristilo. Ampak če bi pravila dejansko in zares učinkovito postavili tako, kakor ti hočeš, potem bi bila gospodarska katastrofa popolna. Politiki se tega vsaj za silo zavedajo - če že ne konsistentno in splošno, potem vsaj včasih, kadar je treba odločati o posameznih stvareh - in se včasih odločijo tako, kakor gospodarstvu dejansko koristi. Edino temu se je zahvaliti, da slovensko gospodarstvo ni v popolnem propadu.

V času socializma je bila praktično vsa ekonomija črno-siva. Ker so bila pravila tako v nasprotju z logiko, gospodarstvo drugače ni moglo funkcionirati. Danes so pravila še vedno v nasprotju z logiko, ampak manj, kot so bila v času socializma. Zato je slovensko gospodarstvo danes bolj sivo kakor pa je bilo včasih črno-sivo. Več se dela po pravilih in goljufanja pravil je manj.

Ampak da, dokler bo sistem postavljen proti logiki, tako dolgo bodo vsi, ki hočejo v gospodarstvu karkoli pametnega narediti, morali biti “namazani z vsemi žavbami”. Temu se imaš zahvaliti za precejšen del dobrin, ki jih uživaš. In kar je zate še bolj bistveno, tudi reveži, za katere te bojda skrbi, se imajo temu obnašanju zahvaliti, da so bolj prehranjeni in bolj oblečeni, kakor pa bi sicer bili.

BTW, ti reveži, o katerih govoriš, so pretežno poleg socialnih transferjev, ki jih prejemajo, zraven zaposleni še v črno-sivi ekonomiji. Mnogi so “brezposelni” in se ukvarjajo s “hobiji”, s katerimi dejansko služijo denar. Ti hobiji so OK. To je dejansko delo. Kar je narobe, je, da vseeno dobivajo socialne transferje od drugih.


Maj: “Škoda časa itak sta prepričana v svoj prav, zračunala sta, da bi po EDS imela par sto evrov več in zato bosta to zagovarjala. Malo mislite tudi na kvaliteto življenja pa varnost in ne samo na denar.”

Denar predstavlja kvaliteto življenja in varnost. Denar je enota, s katero merimo gospodarsko produkcijo, ta pa zajema vse, kar človek naredi in kar v življenju uživamo.

Če je gospodarska rast visoka, to pomeni, da družba vsako leto proizvede toliko več dobrin, v katerih lahko uživamo. To je pomemben del kvalitete življenja.

Tudi varnost je nekaj, kar izhaja neposredno iz gospodarske rasti. Če ne bi bilo gospodarske rasti, bi danes živeli v iz lesa skupaj zbitih kolibah, ki bi se ob potresih in nevihtah podrle na nas. Pozimi bi tvegali lakoto, bolezen in smrt. Ker ne bi bilo medicine, bi vsaka poškodba pomenila precejšnjo nevarnost, da boš umrl, ali zaradi infekcije, ki je ne bi mogel pozdraviti, ali pa zato, ker si ne bi mogel najti hrane.

So tudi druge komponente kvalitete življenja, ki jih ni naredil človek - recimo uživanje v naravi - in te kvalitete je pomembno ohraniti. Vendar pa gospodarska rast ne ogroža ohranjanja teh kvalitet - prej nasprotno. Umazana proizvodnja in poraba energije sta zgolj prehodno obdobje, iz katerega pa se ne bomo rešili tako, da gremo nazaj - tega nihče noče, tudi ti ne, če ti je res mar za reveže in tiste, ki si sami ne morejo pomagati! Rešitev je v še več investicije in še več gospodarske rasti. To pa EDS vzpodbuja in progresivna davčna stopnja zavira.

Se pravi, ti si proti povečevanju kvalitete življenja, mi smo pa za.


Maj: “Čez kakšno desetletje bosta najbrž razumela sedaj itak mislita samo na kratkoročni dobiček, ki bi ga imela z EDS na dolgoročne posledice pa niti ne pomislita…”

Ravno nasprotno, Maj. Ti si tisti, ki misli samo kratkoročno. To, kar ti razlagam, je rast neskončno v prihodnost, ki na dolgi rok koristi prav vsem. To, kar ti zastopaš, je pa zaviranje rasti in podaljševanje človeškega trpljenja.

Pri tem sploh ne gre zame in za mojih 100 evrov. Meni za moje lastne ekonomske potrebe približno dol visi za to, kako se Slovenja odloči. Dosti pomembnejša trga zame sta ZDA in širša Evropska Unija. Tele stvari pišem, ker me dejansko briga za ljudi, ne pa zato, ker bi upal na kratkoročne pozitivne posledice v moji denarnici. Če karkoli, bodo kakršnekoli otipljive pozitivne posledice tegale pisanja daleč v prihodnosti, na kratki rok pa imam samo finančno izgubo (ker tole pišem, namesto da bi delal), ampak duhovno korist - ker upam, da s svojim prispevkom vsaj infinitezimalno malo pomagam komu, ki to bere - če že tebi ne.

Lep pozdrav.


Maj pravi:
6.12.2007 ob 07:54

Ne da se mi prepričevati prepričanih.
Samo to.
Če z EDS manj vzameš bogatašem moraš potem več vzeti srednjemu sloju in tudi revežem.

Torej EDS bi prej znižala gospodarsko rast kot zvišala.

Pri EDS bo imelo koristi nekaj 10.000 ljudi in ti bodo zapravljali in investirali v tujino in tujini prinašali višjo gospodarsko rast ostali pa bodo še naprej v Sloveniji in ker bodo morali nadomestiti izpad denarja od bogatašev bo srednji sloj in tudi reveži imeli še manjše neto zaslužke in zato bodo še precej manj doma zapravljali in tako bo gospodarska rast vedno nižja.

Torej EDS je pogubna in hvala bogu je še vsaj 10 let ne bomo imeli. Že ta, ki jo imamo pri kapitalskih dobičkih dela izjemno veliko škodo.

Strinjam pa se, da so za vse najbolj pogubni visoki davki ampak tukaj ni rešitev EDS, ampak državno varčevanje in predvsem manj korupcije pa bi lahko vsem krepko zmanjšali davke.
Recimo(všteti ponovno tudi kap. dobički, dividende) do 10.000€ nič davka, do 20.000€ 10%, do 30.000€ 20% in nad 30.000€ 30%.

Lp


denis bider pravi:
6.12.2007 ob 17:43

Maj: “Ne da se mi prepričevati prepričanih.”

Maj, upam, da se ti to ne sliši preveč arogantno, ampak tukaj gre tok informacij nedvomno v nasprotno smer. Ti prepričati mene ne moreš, ker ne veš več, temveč veš striktno manj, pravzaprav bistveno manj, kot vem jaz. Največ, kar se tukaj lahko zgodi, je, da ti pokažeš področja svojega neznanja, jaz pa ti na teh področjih pokažem začetke odgovorov. Tebi lahko to služi kot podlaga za nadaljnje izobraževanje in mogoče tekom let izoblikuješ boljšo predstavo o tem, kako gospodarstvo funkcionira, in kako ne. Če ne tebi, pa lahko služi kot takšna podlaga komu drugemu. Edini razlog, zakaj to pišem, je, ker želim širiti razumevanje.

Tok informacij bo lahko šel v nasprotno smer - od tebe proti meni - takrat, ko bo najin pogovor zašel na področja, ki jih ti razumeš bolje, kakor jaz. Ampak zaenkrat še nisva tam.


Maj: “Če z EDS manj vzameš bogatašem moraš potem več vzeti srednjemu sloju in tudi revežem.”

Res je. Če nekomu znižaš davke, moraš nekomu znižati prejemke, ki jih dobi iz davčnih virov, ali pa moraš nekomu drugemu povišati davke.

Ampak bogatašev je malo. Izračunano je bilo, da bi uvedba EDS zmanjšala dohodke manj premožnim samo za 1%. To je v prvem letu. Mogoče se 1% sliši malo, ampak to je denar, ki bi zdaj šel “bogatašem”, in kot sem prej zapisal, bogataši ne ostanejo bogataši, če večine svojega denarja ne investirajo. Ta 1% je torej denar, ki bi namesto v takojšnjo porabo šel v investicije, investicije pa ustvarjajo nova delovna mesta, povečujejo produktivnost in povečujejo gospodarsko rast.

Ob investicijsko ugodnih reformah, katerih del bi bila EDS, bi se zanimanje za investiranje na slovenski trg takoj povečalo, rezultati povečanih investicij pa bi bili merljivi najkasneje v nekaj letih. Če bi že torej mogoče v prvem letu dohodki manj premožnih padli za 1%, bi se v vseh prihodnjih letih povečevali bistveno bolj, kakor se povečujejo sedaj, in ta razlika bi bila večja kot 1% na leto.

To pomeni, da bi že na kratek rok tudi najrevnejši zaslužili več z EDS, ker več investicij pomeni večjo produktivnost, večja produktivnost pomeni več ustvarjenih dobrin, več ustvarjenih dobrin pa pomeni manj dela za vsako posamezno dobrino. To je gonilo gospodarske rasti, ki nam je prinesla ne le obilje raznovrstne hrane v trgovinah, avtomobile, medicino in žepne računalnike, ki nas brezžično povežejo na internet, temveč nam lahko prinese še več vsakovrstnih dobrin za čedalje nižjo ceno - če ji le pustimo.


Maj: “Torej EDS bi prej znižala gospodarsko rast kot zvišala.”

Ne, ker takojšnja poraba ni gonilo gospodarske rasti. Manj premožni porabijo večino svojih dohodkov za svoje takojšnje potrebe, medtem ko bogati porabijo večino svojih dohodkov za investicije. Tisti 1% denarja, ki bi ga v prvem letu zmanjkalo manj premožnim, bi bil preusmerjen pretežno v investicije, kar bi vzpodbudilo gospodarsko rast.

Če je ta denar porabljen v trgovinah, kjer ga potem država spet vzame od profita trgovine in ga spet da manj premožnim, ki ga spet porabijo v trgovinah, in tako naprej v neskončnem ciklu, potem pa gre proporcionalno manj tega denarja v investicije, temveč gre zgolj za kritje sprotnih stroškov, in s tem prispeva k gospodarski rasti manj.


Maj: “Pri EDS bo imelo koristi nekaj 10.000 ljudi in ti bodo zapravljali in investirali v tujino in tujini prinašali višjo gospodarsko rast ostali pa bodo še naprej v Sloveniji in ker bodo morali nadomestiti izpad denarja od bogatašev bo srednji sloj in tudi reveži imeli še manjše neto zaslužke in zato bodo še precej manj doma zapravljali in tako bo gospodarska rast vedno nižja.”

Maj, prosim preberi si odgovor, ki sem ti ga napisal točno na tvojo identično izjavo pred tem. Napisal si: “Profite, ki bi jih bogataši imeli z EDS bodo v 99% znosili izven Slovenije in Slovenija od tega ne bi imela prav nič.”

Na to sem ti že odgovoril v osmih odstavkih. Če te kaj v mojih argumentih ni prepričalo, potem izpostavi tisto, kar te ni prepričalo. Zdaj pa si samo na daljši način ponovil, kar si napisal že prej, in na kar sem ti že na dolgo odgovoril.


Maj: “Torej EDS je pogubna in hvala bogu je še vsaj 10 let ne bomo imeli. Že ta, ki jo imamo pri kapitalskih dobičkih dela izjemno veliko škodo.”

Tudi to tvojo trditev sem že ovrgel. V prejšnjem sporočilu si napisal: “Itak pa jim je ta vlada, ki dela samo za bogataše in tajkune(čeprav govori drugače) že naredila EDS pri vseh kapitalskih dobičkih, ki so jim običajno glavni vir dohodkov. Povrhu so pa namazani z vsemi žavbami in kar precej davka tudi utajijo…”

Na to sem ti v štirih odstavkih odgovoril, da so politike, kot je nizek davek na kapitalski dobiček, ena od redkih stvari, ki slovensko gospodarstvo sploh rešuje pred pogubo.


Maj: “Strinjam pa se, da so za vse najbolj pogubni visoki davki ampak tukaj ni rešitev EDS, ampak državno varčevanje in predvsem manj korupcije pa bi lahko vsem krepko zmanjšali davke.”

Glede tega se pa strinjam. Državna poraba bi morala biti bistveno manjša, nakar bi tudi davki lahko bili nižji.

Ampak najbolj pravična, konstruktivna in učinkovita oblika davka ni davek na dohodke, temveč je davek na porabo. To bi lahko bil davek, ki se zaračuna ob prodaji novega izdelka ali storitve, kot ga opisuje stran FairTax. Tudi DDV z enotno stopnjo za vse dobrine bi verjetno dobro deloval.

Če bi se državna poraba znižala za polovico - kar bi bilo čisto prav - bi lahko celotno državno porabo financirali z DDV, brez davka na dohodke. Posledična gospodarska rast bi bila približno 2x višja, kot je sedaj, in v nekaj desetletjih bi Slovenija ne le dohitela najrazvitejše države EU, temveč bi jih celo začela prehitevati.

In ob vsem tem se tudi najrevnejšemu sloju sploh ne bi godilo slabo.


Če ob branju teh sporočil dobite vtis, da je uporabnik Maj neizmerno odporen na razum, niste edini, ki se vam porodi ta misel. Ob ponovnem branja celega, umm, dialoga dobim občutek, da je opremljen kar z nekakšnim ščitom, ki ga uspešno varuje pred vsakršnim inteligentnim utrinkom.

In tako, dragi bralci in bralke, misli večidel Slovencev. Na te iste načine, pravzaprav, misli velika večina ljudi. Slovenija ima pač to nesrečo, da je obljudena z ljudmi, ki imajo takšno imunost na razum pri predmetu ekonomije, ker v šolah ni izobrazbe in/ali ker so bili masovno okuženi s socializmom. Nekatere druge dežele imajo te nesreče manj, in jim zato gre v gospodarstvu bolje - četudi vsaj deležu te nesreče nobena država ni ušla. Spet druge dežele so polne ljudi, ki so cepljeni proti razumu, kar se tiče vere.

Ljudi, ki so cepljeni proti razumu, je mnogo. Pravzaprav jih je več kot pol. In vsi imajo volilno pravico.

Takšna so pravila igre: zmaga tisti, ki jih indoktrinira največ in najbolj uspešno.

2007-11-21

The four anti-economic biases

My previous attempt at satire about boycotting Santa was inspired by this article on reason, which excerpts Bryan Caplan's book The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies. The article talks about how there are four basic biases with which most people are burdened:
  • the anti-market bias - people believe that prices are set by the whims of CEOs rather than by market mechanisms of supply and demand; people don't believe that prices set by the market are fair; people believe that profits are an "unjust reward";
  • the anti-foreign bias - trade between individuals is a non-zero-sum game and is good, trade among towns is a non-zero-sum game and is good, trade among regions is a non-zero-sum game and is good - but trade among countries is a zero-sum game and is dangerous;
  • the make-work bias - people believe that there are a finite amount of "jobs" that need to be "preserved" and "protected"; and
  • the pessimistic bias - people believe that the past used to be better and the future is going to be worse, despite empirical evidence to the contrary.
The Santa article illustrates the make-work bias in particular. If Santa brings us goods for free, everyone benefits; people who are laid off in the toy industry can always find more work elsewhere; the supply of work that can be done is infinite, if only people are left free to find that work.

No one needs to be protected from receiving gifts from Santa, or from getting Chinese goods on the cheap. As long as we can rely on Santa to bring us an annual infusion of free toys, or on the Chinese to keep delivering their goods in exchange for a small quantity of ours, that's great - we can make better use of our workforce in other industries. Like the reason article quotes Steven Landsburg from his book The Armchair Economist:
There are two technologies for producing automobiles in America. One is to manufacture them in Detroit, and the other is to grow them in Iowa. Everybody knows about the first technology; let me tell you about the second. First you plant seeds, which are the raw materials from which automobiles are constructed. You wait a few months until wheat appears. Then you harvest the wheat, load it onto ships, and sail the ships westward into the Pacific Ocean. After a few months, the ships reappear with Toyotas on them.

Boycott Santa! Free the elves! Support your local toy store

The festive season is upon us, and with this time every year comes the night when Santa Claus, St. Nicholas, Father Frost or Father Christmas, whatever name depending on the culture he may be referred with, makes his silent visits under the cover of darkness to bestow prized gifts on children who have behaved well during the past year.

As every year, the majority of children who have been good have all the reasons to look forward to this magical night when rewards for their past good behavior will come into fruition. Yet, in our focus on Santa and his bounty, we tend to ignore the lives of those who do not stand to benefit from Santa's benevolence. In all our festive joyfulness, we tend to ignore that Santa's bringing gifts to children is not equitable to everybody - and by that, I do not mean the naughty children who do not receive his gifts. No. Dear reader, let us turn our minds and hearts towards the poor people who are truly and materially disadvantaged by Santa's annual act of giving: our toy workers.

As is commonly known, Santa does not buy toys at the local market, but instead has them manufactured in his own extensive residence at the North Pole. Presumably, this is to ruthlessly drive down the cost of manufacture. The toys are manufactured in sweatshop-like conditions by toiling elves, who are compensated little or nothing for the fruits of their labor. Another advantage (but only to Santa!) is that, come the day of distribution, he can collect the toys all at once from elvish factories at his doorstep. If he had to instead gather toys from local shops all over the planet, this would support the organic growth of local economies - but his work would perhaps be marginally harder. This is yet another clear example of brutal capitalist logic, red in tooth and claw, aiming to conserve another penny even if that means employing slave labor and depriving the local toy store worker of her rightfully earned income.

It gets worse. Santa gives away all his toys for free; but although that's a boon to the children who receive them, imagine the consequences it must have on legitimate toy manufacturers everywhere. How many toy workshops are driven out of business because they can't match Santa's dumping prices? If the average child expects to get a new toy every month, then Santa's toy dumping is responsible for the destruction of one twelfth of the legitimate economy-based toy market, and thus for the disappearance of some 8% of jobs in the sector of toy manufacture. We all know the good and happy side of Santa, the side that is visible to children; but how about the side that's visible to toy workers who are being laid off? What does Santa say to them? "Ho ho ho - your job will go?"

So, next time Santa visits to bring gifts to your children, think about the other poor children - not the naughty ones who did not receive any gifts, but the poor children of toy workers who've been laid off due to Santa's toy manufacture and dumping practices. Why do you think there are so many hungry children in Africa?

That's the real legacy of Santa's gifts. That's the cost at which your children receive them.

If you object - as you rightly should - there is still time. Santa may try to bring your children toys. But you can let him know he isn't welcome. Send him mail to his opulent rich capitalist abode at the North Pole. Post a sign on your roof telling him he is not welcome. Block your chimney so that Santa can't come in.

Then support your local toy workers and buy your children's toys in the nearby shop. Poor children of the laid off toy workers will be thankful. Their hard working parents may yet get their jobs back, and there may be a bright day for their families after all.

(See follow-up: The four anti-economic biases)

2007-11-20

Passive-aggressive economics

I watched my first two episodes of The Office today. It was hilarious... if in a painful way. It was somewhat like watching a train wreck: you know it's awful, yet you can't look away.

I don't know if real people actually have to live out their work lives in such offices. Some people say they do. Some people compare their workplace with the Dilbert comic, and say it's exactly like that. I can't say. I only worked in an office for something like 18 months of my life; it wasn't like that.

But is it possible that a great number of people are experiencing that kind of workplace? That they have a stupid bumbling boss like Michael from The Office, or a pointy-haired one like in Dilbert? And above these half-competent bosses are people who you hardly ever see, people who sometimes come and give you stupid trendy "motivational" pep talks, but who you feel don't really give a rat's ass about you? They pay you as low as they can, and if the going gets tough, whether you've done a good job or not, they'll fire you?

Every caricature probably has a real-life inspiration, or worse. What I'm really asking here is then not so much whether a workplace like that exists - I'm sure there are some - but whether such workplace experience is prevalent. Do most people work in environments like this?

Because if this is prevalent, then I can imagine how progressive taxation and minimum wages and weekly work limits and all that socialist nonsense get their support. Is it possible that people are bitter about their experiences in the workplace, but they feel they are helpless about it, so they imagine themselves taking it out on their bosses in the voting booths? You can tread on me all you like in the workplace, pal, but I have a vote just like you do, and you'll see, I'm gonna vote for the Democrats, I'm gonna stiff you! Go gettem, those overcompensated bastards! If my boss won't provide me with decent working terms, hell, I'm gonna vote for the politician that's gonna force him to, and take away his money, too!

Except that it doesn't work. Voting for politicians who "squeeze the rich" and who set a minimum wage and who limit maximum work hours has impacts of all sorts - it decreases investment, it gets people fired, it reduces the growth of the economy, it increases unemployment - and perhaps most importantly of all: it doesn't remove the bitterness in the workplace. It doesn't change the fact that your boss is a tool; or that they treat you unfairly; or that the company doesn't give a rat's ass about you. It bogs down the economy, and it doesn't change any of what you really care for.

But you got back at the Man. You squeezed your boss. Every day, he's the one squeezing you. The policies you voted for are counter-productive; but it sure feels warm to know that, even if in a small way, you've made the boss feel some of the pain too.

2007-11-19

Amazon's "Kindle" book reading device

I want one. Awesome. It's too bad it only works in the States. If only Amazon would consider a version with WiFi in place of, or in addition to, the Sprint network's EVDO, so that you could use it worldwide, wherever there's internet access...

Link thanks to Larry O'Brien, who's already emailing publishers to ask about their support.

All hail the Flying Spaghetti Monster!

It is serious:
The appearance of the Flying Spaghetti Monster on the agenda of the American Academy of Religion's annual meeting gives a kind of scholarly imprimatur to a phenomenon that first emerged in 2005, during the debate in Kansas over whether intelligent design should be taught in public school sciences classes.

Supporters of intelligent design hold that the order and complexity of the universe is so great that science alone cannot explain it. The concept's critics see it as faith masquerading as science.

An Oregon State physics graduate named Bobby Henderson stepped into the debate by sending a letter to the Kansas School Board. With tongue in cheek, he purported to speak for 10 million followers of a being called the Flying Spaghetti Monster -- and demanded equal time for their views.

"We have evidence that a Flying Spaghetti Monster created the universe. None of us, of course, were around to see it, but we have written accounts of it," Henderson wrote. As for scientific evidence to the contrary, "what our scientist does not realize is that every time he makes a measurement, the Flying Spaghetti Monster is there changing the results with His Noodly Appendage."

...

The presenters' titles seem almost a parody themselves of academic jargon. Snyder will speak about "Holy Pasta and Authentic Sauce: The Flying Spaghetti Monster's Messy Implications for Theorizing Religion," while Gavin Van Horn's presentation is titled "Noodling around with Religion: Carnival Play, Monstrous Humor, and the Noodly Master."

...

Lucas Johnston, the third Florida student, argues the Flying Spaghetti Monsterism exhibits at least some of the traits of a traditional religion -- including, perhaps, that deep human need to feel like there's something bigger than oneself out there.

He recognized the point when his neighbor, a militant atheist who sports a pro-Darwin bumper sticker on her car, tried recently to start her car on a dying battery.

As she turned the key, she murmured under her breath: "Come on Spaghetti Monster!"
Via reason.com. Take a look at the image accompanying the article. :-)

The pitfalls of harnessing evolution

Eliezer Yudkowsky has been writing fascinating articles on various aspects of evolution. Here's the latest:
Sounds logical, right? If you take the hens who lay the most eggs in each generation, and breed from them, you should get hens who lay more and more eggs.

...

Selecting the hen who lays the most eggs doesn't necessarily get you the most efficient egg-laying metabolism. It may get you the most dominant hen, that pecked its way to the top of the pecking order at the expense of other hens. Individual selection doesn't necessarily work to the benefit of the group, but a farm's productivity is determined by group outputs.

Indeed, for some strange reason, the individual breeding programs which had been so successful at increasing egg production now required hens to have their beaks clipped, or be housed in individual cages, or they would peck each other to death.

...

And the fall of Enron? Jeff Skilling fancied himself an evolution-conjurer, it seems. (Not that he, like, knew any evolutionary math or anything.) Every year, every Enron employee's performance would be evaluated, and the bottom 10% would get fired, and the top performers would get huge raises and bonuses. Unfortunately, as GreyThumb points out:

...

"So Enron was applying selection at the individual level according to metrics like individual trading performance to a group system whose performance was, like the henhouses, an emergent property of group dynamics as well as a result of individual fitness. The result was more or less the same. Instead of increasing overall productivity, they got mean chickens and actual productivity declined. They were selecting for traits like aggressiveness, sociopathic tendencies, and dishonesty."

Idiot politicians - how the U.S. trade deficit is no catastrophe

The Economist's Free Exchange blog calls attention to Russel Roberts' short essay Why We Trade:
To hear most politicians talk, you’d think that exports are the key to a country’s prosperity and that imports are a threat to its way of life. Trade deficits—importing more than we export—are portrayed as the road to ruin. U.S. presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama want to get tough with China because of “unfair” trading practices that help China sell products cheaply. Republican candidate Mitt Romney argues that trade is good because exports benefit the average American. Politicians are always talking about the necessity of other countries’ opening their markets to American products. They never mention the virtues of opening U.S. markets to foreign products.

...

We don’t export to create jobs. We export so we can have money to buy the stuff that’s hard for us to make—or at least hard for us to make as cheaply. We export because that’s the only way to get imports. If people would just give us stuff, then we wouldn’t have to export. But the world doesn’t work that way.

It’s the same in our daily lives. It’s great when people give us presents—a banana bread or a few tomatoes from the garden. But a new car would be better. Or even just a cheaper car. But the people who bring us cars and clothes and watches and shoes expect something in return. That’s OK. That’s the way the world works. But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking the goal of life is to turn away bargains from outside our house or outside our country because we’d rather make everything ourselves. Self-sufficiency is the road to poverty.

And imports don’t destroy jobs. They destroy jobs in certain industries. But because trade allows us to buy goods more cheaply than we otherwise could, resources are freed up to expand existing opportunities and to create new ones. That’s why we trade—to leverage the skills of others who can produce things more effectively than we can, freeing us to make things we otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford.
Read the whole thing.

Incidentally, one of the people responsible for this fear-mongering (probably stemming from genuine beliefs) on behalf of the politicians is the distinguished idiot economist, Lester C. Thurow. His 1995 book, The Future of Capitalism, well nigh predicted a global catastrophic meltdown of capitalism imminent 'any day now', with the U.S. trade deficit being one of a number of causes. He's the same guy who wrote in 1989, just before the Soviet Union imploded:
Can economic command significantly... accelerate the growth process? The remarkable performance of the Soviet Union suggests that it can... Today the Soviet Union is a country whose economic achievements bear comparison with those of the United States.

2007-11-18

Photos from a helicopter tour of St. Kitts

A company (Leeward Islands Helicopters, apparently no website yet) just started offering helicopter tours of St. Kitts & Nevis this month, so about a week ago, my wife and I went for their 25 minute helicopter tour of St. Kitts. It was just awesome. We've been around the island several times by car, and there are nice vistas from several vantage points, but you just can't beat the view from a chopper. Here are some of the photos from our tour.

Golfview Estates with Half Moon Bay Villas in the background
St. Christopher Club with the Atlantic beach in the foreground and the Caribbean beach in the background
St. Christopher Club with Ocean's Edge Resort construction in the background
Frigate Bay
A view towards Conaree Bay, leaving Marriott
Golf course with the Marriott building on the left and Half Moon Bay Villas on the right
Floating above the rainforest
Neighboring St. Eustatius from above Brimstone Hill
Brimstone Hill Fortress with an outline of Nevis in the background
A view down the west side of St. Kitts with an outline of Nevis
A view down the west side of St. Kitts with a glimpse of Basseterre, upper left; the southern peninsula of St. Kitts merges with an outline of Nevis, top right
Basseterre and Port Zante
Bird Rock with Frigate Bay behind the hill
Calypso Bay development on the left, Horizons on the right
Horizons development with the Marriott and the golf course in upper right background
Frigate Bay with the Atlantic in the background: Marriott in far left, St. Christopher Club and Ocean's Edge construction on the right, Timothy Beach Resort in front right
A view of St. Kitts from its southern peninsula