Showing posts from September, 2007

Poor hungry children in Africa don't want your help

James Shikwati of Kenya argues convincingly how western attempts to aid Africa are causing devastating economic damage, keeping African economies from developing and keeping them dependent on foreign aid. (Link thanks to Ron Garret .)

"The Truth About The Drug Companies"

Scott Aaronson discusses the book The Truth About The Drug Companies: How They Deceive Us and What To Do About It , by Marcia Angell: Like many in the US, I once “knew” that drug companies have to charge such absurd prices here because otherwise they wouldn’t be able to fund their R&D. This book reveals the hilarious truth about what drug company R&D actually consists of. My favorite examples: coloring Prozac pink instead of green, marketing it for “premenstrual dysphoric disorder” instead of depression, and charging three times as much for it. Inventing new drugs for high blood pressure that are less effective than diuretics available since the 1950’s, but have the advantage of being patentable. Proving in clinical trials that a new drug works better than an old one, as long as you compare 40mg of the one to 20mg of the other. The book paints a picture of the pharmaceutical industry as, basically, an organized crime syndicate that’s been successful in co-opting the governmen

How Bolsheviks ran the economy

Here's another excerpt from Amity Shlaes's book . This follows a paragraph that tells about how Herbert Hoover, then a mining engineer and not yet president of the U.S., was working on a mining estate in Kyshtim, Russia, which provided a livelihood for 100,000 and was rich in copper and other metals. Page 30: The events in Russia had strengthened Hoover's conviction about the need for firm leadership in Europe and even the United States. In 1916 Bolsheviks began agitations at his own Kyshtim plants. In 1917 the Communists took power, throwing out the ownership and management at Kyshtim and giving themselves a 100 percent raise. The Americans on the project were sent off on trains to Vladivostok, but the Russian experts were brutalized or even killed. What made it worse was that without the experts the delicate Kyshtim furnaces broke down within a week; the Communists could not read the blueprints left behind that would have told them how to do repair work. "In a week t

The Forgotten Man: A new history of the great depression

Thanks to internet bookstores and courier delivery, my existence on this beautiful little tropical island has today been enriched by three brand new books not otherwise available in local bookstores. I just opened Amity Shlaes's The Forgotten Man: A new history of the great depression , which begins with the following quote: As soon as A observes something which seems to him to be wrong, from which X is suffering, A talks it over with B, and A and B then propose to get a law passed to remedy the evil and help X. Their law always proposes to determine what C shall do for X, or in the better case, what A, B, and C shall do for X. - William Graham Sumner, Yale University, 1881 C, not X, is the 'forgotten man' in the book's title. I'll see what the rest of the book brings.

U.S. withholding Iraq chlorine in cholera outbreak

The death toll of 100,000 to a million not having been enough, the consequences of the U.S.-led invasion now also include a major cholera outbreak that has reached Baghdad. Previously, about 7,000 were infected in the Kurdish provinces. Mortality of cholera is 25-50% of cases moderate or worse if untreated . Untreated seems to be the likelihood given the current state of disarray in Iraq. The twist? Iraq is now in dire need of chlorine to disinfect water, but the U.S. is holding up 100,000 tons at the border with Jordan. It seems like it was detected in some bombs where it was used as a booster - though apparently a not very effective one . But now Iraq does not get to use chlorine to disinfect its water.

Democracy, the tale of the slave

Rok Spruk recently posted this article about fundamental negative aspects of democracy as currently practiced: majority coercion, interest groups and governmental creep. At the end, Rok links to Robert Nozick's The Tale of the Slave , which illustrates with striking clarity how group coercion (as in democracy) is coercion nevertheless, and as such, how it is questionably justified.

Deceased parrot had IQ of bushmen?

For those who find it convenient to cling onto beliefs that there's a magical distinction between the consciousness of an animal and that of a human - probably because this makes it easy to ignore the plight to which we subject animals - The Economist presents this obituary of Alex, a parrot, aged 31: By the end, said Dr Pepperberg, Alex had the intelligence of a five-year-old child and had not reached his full potential. He had a vocabulary of 150 words. He knew the names of 50 objects and could, in addition, describe their colours, shapes and the materials they were made from. He could answer questions about objects' properties, even when he had not seen that particular combination of properties before. He could ask for things—and would reject a proffered item and ask again if it was not what he wanted. He understood, and could discuss, the concepts of “bigger”, “smaller”, “same” and “different”. And he could count up to six, including the number zero (and was grappling with

Studies find teaching abstinence ineffective

And now for something obvious that religious policymakers don't get: studies and trials done on thousands of young people in the U.S. show that teaching teenagers abstinence is as effective in reducing their chances of unwanted pregnancies and disease as not at all talking about it: Last month Dr Underhill published a review of 13 trials involving 16,000 young people in America. The trials compared the sexual behaviour of those given an abstinence-only education with that of those who were provided with no information at all or with whatever their schools normally taught. Pregnancies were as numerous in both groups. Sexually transmitted diseases were as widespread. The number of sexual partners was equally high and unprotected sex just as common. In contrast, teaching kids about abstinence and condom use did have some impact: This tuition—compared, as before, with whatever biology classes and playgrounds provide—reduced the number of pregnancies in three out of seven trials (the

UK study finds: Internet has not increased problem gambling

A UK Gambling Commission study found that, contrary to their expectations, the internet has not led to an increase in the proportion of people gambling from the previous study in 1999. Problem gambling remained at the same level as found in 1999, at about 0.6%, or about 250,000 people in the UK. I wrote earlier about the absurdity of USA-style prohibitions of online gambling: You cannot gamble online either. You used to be able to - but then, a Las Vegas representative introduced legislation that cracked down on online gambling. And playing poker, too. Ostensible reason? Poor children who gamble online and get their parents into enormous debt. That's what the TV said. Real reason? Las Vegas casinos feeling competition from the online gambling industry. So they lobby the federal government to prohibit you , and everyone else, from doing what you want with your money. And it considerably hurts freedom on the internet, because now, all of a sudden, it becomes more difficult to ma

EU court quashes Microsoft appeal

Sadly predictably, the EU's Court of First Instance ruled against Microsoft today in the company's appeal against an EUR 497 million fine imposed by the European Commission. The fine was imposed in 2004 ostensibly for two reasons: for Microsoft having increased the value of Windows by including Windows Media Player freely in the operating system, thus undercutting the malwarish, ad-ridden, privacy invading Real Player; for Microsoft refusing to "disclose to competitors interoperability information which would allow non-Microsoft work group servers to achieve full interoperability with Windows PCs and servers" - i.e., for refusing to work with competitors to implement their own domain controllers for Windows domains. In April's The Commission for Unfair Trade , I already wrote about how including the Windows Media Player with the operating system is a non-issue that calls for anything other than government punishment. If the Windows Media Player is free and is g

The doghouse: Hindu believers protest canal between India and Sri Lanka

As if to show that pointless and hurtful religious traditions are not solely the domain of Christians and Muslims, Hindu hardliners blocked roads in Delhi and elsewhere to protest a proposed canal project that would reduce travel time for ships and boost local economies by providing a navigable sea route between India and Sri Lanka. The object of dispute is Adam's Bridge , a 48-km long geological formation which Hindus believe was built by god Ram and an army of monkeys to enable him to cross into Sri Lanka. I would understand a protest based on environmental grounds; a unique landmark like this may warrant preservation. But to block roads because the bridge was built by Lord Ram and his army of monkeys - that's another issue altogether.

The doghouse: Italian consumer associations protest pasta prices

I have recently picked on the follies committed by the United States, Venezuela and Slovenia. Today, however, a new target presented itself: Italian consumer associations protesting recent increases in pasta prices . Unless you've been living under a rock, you might have noticed that wheat has become more expensive this year. This is because, as a result of droughts in Australia and Canada , world stockpiles of wheat have reached a 26-year low . When this sort of thing happens - when resource X is less available than there are people interested in consuming it - then two things can be done: One, resource X can be distributed to those people who are willing to trade the most other resources for it. In other words, each resource goes to people who most appreciate it, and are willing to demonstrate that by paying the most. This principle forms the foundation of our market economies and is the source of our economic well-being. Two, resource X can be distributed to people according to

TIME Magazine champions communist youth programme

If you did not yet believe that Time, Inc. were a communist news outlet (see TIME Magazine publishes socialist hate speech ), you can now be reassured that they are. The September 10 issue of TIME Magazine sports a cover and illustrations reminiscent of socialist propaganda, accompanied with the following cover text: The case for national service Millions of Americans want to help their community, their country, their world. Here's a plan to put those ideals into action The article on page 48 starts out by abusively evoking the image of Benjamin Franklin ("Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?" - Franklin: "A republic, if you can keep it") - to suggest that the way to improve the health of the American republic (see Happy independence day! for more on that topic) is not to, say, introduce more political competition by devolving the power of the federal government back to the states, but by yet more strengthening of the federal government

Robert J. Barro's Democracy & Growth

Thanks to Rok Spruk for providing this link to Robert J. Barro's paper on Democracy and Growth : Growth and democracy (subjective indexes of political freedom) are analyzed for a panel of about 100 countries from 1960 to 1990. The favorable effects on growth include maintenance of the rule of law, free markets, small government consumption, and high human capital. Once these kinds of variables and the initial level of real per-capita GDP are held constant, the overall effect of democracy on growth is weakly negative. There is a suggestion of a nonlinear relationship in which democracy enhances growth at low levels of political freedom but depresses growth when a moderate level of freedom has already been attained. Improvements in the standard of living - measured by GDP, life expectancy, and education - substantially raise the probability that political freedoms will grow. These results allow for predictions about which countries will become more or less democratic in the future.

Chavez bulldozing over Venezuelan economy

If you're into schadenfreude, this article reads like a comedy. President Chavez seems to be effectively demolishing the Venezuelan economy and replacing it with a system where the only thing being produced in Venezuela is going to be the oil, most of which will be exported abroad, and all the other goods are going to be imported and distributed to citizens based on a voucher principle. With oil prices now around their all-time highs, he needs them still to grow in order to fund his government's deficit. The deficit is incurred because he's massively importing basic consumer goods from abroad, and the reason he's doing that is because he's already crippled the local economy to the extent that it cannot any more provide all of its citizens with the most basic local goods. By the time he's done, Venezuela will have been sent back to the stone age economically. It seems like the nation is going to rely entirely on its oil revenues as the only means of its surviva

U.S. media fails to report Iran nuclear news?

Quoting (via Ron Garret ): The mainstream media has failed to report the agreement reached between the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Iranian government in regards to the Iranian nuclear energy program. An understanding has been reached between the two. The IAEA has given Iran's nuclear program a clean bill of health. Why is the U.S. media not reporting on this matter? Why do the U.S. and its Western allies continue to threaten Iran with punitive bombings for its alleged non-compliance, when everything indicates that Iran has a bona fide nuclear energy program and does not have the capabilities of developing nuclear weapons?