Friday, September 30, 2005

Prosecution by Popular Vote

From today's Globe and Mail:

British government prosecutors are advising police in their investigation of supermodel Kate Moss' alleged cocaine use, the Crown Prosecution Service said Friday. Scotland Yard sent case papers to prosecutors, asking for advice on whether there was enough evidence or sufficient public interest to charge Moss, said Russell Hayes, a spokesman with the Crown Prosecution Service. (emp. added)

"Or sufficient public interest?" if the public wants Kate Moss's blood, then they shall have it? Not even "and sufficient public interest". They're making it sound like public interest alone is all that's needed to move forward with criminal charges. Of course, this is probably the best use of the justice system and police that anyone can come up with. It's not like England has had any other major troubles with crime lately. Oh, wait...

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Call the Moving Truck

As a moderate western separatist and outspoken lover of mountains, Montana has long been a state of which I am a big fan. A friend of mine particularly likes the city of Bozeman - and today's NY Times has a great example of why it's got to be a pretty great town. They're proposing giving the money earmarked for Bozeman in the pork-laden federal trasporation bill back to the government, to be used as Katrina aid.

Which I suppose means I should get my resume together to apply for my dream job at PERC.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Professional (and Personal) Development

I'll be attending a book forum about biotechnology in Washington, D.C. tomorrow/today (Wednesday) at the Cato Institute. To be discussed: Ronald Bailey's new book, Liberation Biology. I'm also hoping to meet up with some of the reason crowd in the evening. I'll try and make a post on the proceedings from DC, or soon after I get back.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

End "Freebird" Now!

If I may delve into trivial cultural matters briefly: Something that has got to stop is people yelling "Freebird!" in between songs at live music shows. This must have stopped being funny in 1983, and yet you still see lame music "fans" congratulating themselves on their cleverness when they pull this little bit of pop culture comedy out of their bag of tricks. Or do they think they are impressing anyone with their sophisticated knowledge of music history? Either way, join me in denouncing the "Freebird!" yellers.

6 Words to Live By

The government thinks you're an idiot. (from the Agitator) And for those of you that think that some people are idiots, keep in mind that if the government thinks that some people are, they're going to apply the rules to everyone, whether you're an idiot or not. There can't be two sets of rules.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Desperately Seeking Doctors (Online Edition)

This is awesome. Via the 'Dredge Report comes an article from the NY Times (non-select edition) about increasing availablity of health care information being available to consumers (...also known as patients). Can you imagine being able to "shop" for doctors on-line, comparing reviews left by other patients and seeing what the costs are right up front? Almost like a real market! Crazy, I know. It's really, really exciting to think about individuals gaining empowerment over their health-care choices.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The View from Above

Here's the view from my new classroom. I won a coin toss.

Working, not blogging

Sorry I haven't posted in over a week. With the school year starting again, I've been swamped with preparing for classes and all my new responsibilites around here. And most of my blog work has been devoted towards the blog for my Economics course. I'll try and get some of the thoughtless news and opinions on here sometime soon, though.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Confirmation (of the Senate's Super-Awesomeness) Hearings

Dahlia Lithwick has a fantastic piece over at Slate on the confirmation hearings for the Dread Pirate Roberts. Which, as would be expected, serve mainly as a chance for senators to listen to themselves talk:

That's because today's hearings are not about the candidate. They are about the majesty and superiority of the Senate. Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., describes these proceedings as a "job interview with the American people." But in what solar system would a four-day job interview include a solid day in which the interviewer talks about himself?

The level of self-congratulation here today leaves the room airless: Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Penn., can't stop telling us how remarkably good his committee is about keeping to time limits. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., congratulates himself on the compromise agreement between the so-called Gang of 14—that "kept the Senate from blowing itself up." He shakes his head. "It was chaos. … We were at each other's throats. … We're doing better." Oh, huzzah. And Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., credits himself thusly: "I began to argue that a nominee's judicial ideology was crucial four years ago. Then, I was almost alone. Today, there is a growing and gathering consensus on the left and on the right that these questions are legitimate, important, and often crucial."

And they can't resist the oportunity to throw in a few digs at activists judges, the judicial system in general, the internet (!), only leaving out why picture framing costs so much:

The Senate Judiciary Committee has complaints about judges. For one thing, Republicans on the committee appear to think that "activist judges" are more dangerous to America than terrorism, hurricanes, and chemical weapons. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., vigorously condemns the "post-modern philosophy" of judicial activism, excoriating the "activist Supreme Court judges" who interpret the Constitution in light of "evolving standards of decency." (He offers no better constitutional test for interpreting the Eighth Amendment because, um, there isn’t one). Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, hurls contempt upon the "Internet Age," including those of us with the ability to download "thousands of documents" and read them—according to him—in "an inaccurate way." Damn readers. And John Cornyn, R-Texas, expresses serious doubt about the judgments of "nine judges isolated behind a monumental marble edifice, far removed from the life experienced daily by average Americans." So, just to recap, the Senate thinks judges are capricious, activist, postmodernists who are dangerously out of touch with the average American.

We'd be lost without you, dear Senate.

Questions for a judge

Confirmation hearings for Judge John Roberts have begun, and the NY Times has been running a series on 5 questions that various judicial observers and commenters would like to ask him. For the most part, they are fair and interesting questions. Ron Klain, however, has some ideology-fueled commentary disguised as questions - it's pretty clear he's not so much interested in answers as making accusations. Here's a couple of examples:

In a memo you wrote in 1981, you criticized affirmative action "preferences" based on race, calling them "objectionable." If preferences given to those born into families that have suffered past discrimination are objectionable, what is your view of preferences given to those born into the families of privilege - namely, the preferences that many universities give to the families of their alumni?

Well Ron, there’s actually a pretty big difference there – one is a government-sponsored program, while the other is (primarily, as far as I know) a system found at private universities. I personally don’t like the practice, but if they want to provide legacy admissions, that’s up to them.

Over the past 50 years, 20 different men and women have been appointed to the Supreme Court. Recognizing that political labels are of limited value, and generalizations are generalizations, I wonder if you can identify one of these 20 jurists - just one - who you think has a view of constitutional rights that is "to the right" of your view, as that label is commonly used by legal commentators?

This is bizarre: first admit that labels are of limited value, then, with one of only five questions you’re asking the potential Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, ask him to label himself. Seems a little off. And incidentally, the way “to the right” is used by many of the commentators that he’s talking about it could mean anyone who doesn’t think the government has complete power over every aspect of our lives.

John Tierney has a humorous op-ed today on the matter.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Lies, Damned Lies, and Poverty Statistics

An infamous, but oddly rarely-reported piece of recently released economic data indicated that the poverty rate in the United States has risen over the past 30 years - from 11.2% in 1974 to 12.7% in 2004 (cue sound of crowing from the left...this must be Bush's fault!). But does this sound right to you? Well, although the statistics are technically correct, it tells us almost nothing about poverty in America. Even worse, it completely misleads us into thinking that the poverty situation is getting worse, which isn't actually the case. Because what does the data on the living standards of today's poor tell us? Pretty much the complete opposite:

In 1972-73, for example, just 42 percent of the bottom fifth of American households owned a car; in 2003, almost three-quarters of "poverty households" had one. By 2001, only 6 percent of "poverty households" lived in "crowded" homes (more than one person per room) - down from 26 percent in 1970. By 2003, the fraction of poverty households with central air-conditioning (45 percent) was much higher than the 1980 level for the non-poor (29 percent).

While we classify many of today's poor as living below the poverty line, that is really a relative measure. In absolute terms, they're doing better than they ever have. Which isn't to say that we can do a better job of addressing the problems facing the poor in this country, but just to point out that official statistics about poverty only tell you a portion of the story. And often, it's a story out of a whole different book than what's really happening on the ground.

Hat tip: Russ Roberts at Cafe Hayek

Sunday, September 11, 2005


I watched "The Flight that Fought Back" tonight on Discovery Channel, which was an excellent account of the actions of the passengers of Flight 93 on 9-11. No matter how many times Bush says "Let's Roll", these people were real heroes in every sense of the word.

Poverty and Katrina

As I said, Jane Galt is on a bit of a roll the last couple of days. She has a great post about the immediate cultural influences that contribute to the difficult of pulling oneself out of poverty.

Sure, I go to work every day, pay my bills on time, don't run a credit card balance and don't have kids out of wedlock because I am planning for my future. But I also do these things because my parents spent twenty or so years drumming a fear of debt, unemployment, and illegitimacy into my head. And if I announce to my friends that I've just decided not to go to work because it's a drag, they will look at me funny--and if I do it repeatedly, they may well shun me as a loser. If I can't get a house because I've screwed up my credit, middle class society will look upon me with pity, which is painful to endure. If I have a baby with no father in sight, my grandmother will cry, my mother will yell, and my colleagues will act a little odd at the sight of my swelling belly.

In other words, middle class culture is such that bad long-term decision making also has painful short-term consequences. This does not, obviously, stop many middle class people from becoming addicted to drugs, flagrantly screwing up at work, having children they can't take care of, and so forth. But on the margin, it prevents a lot of people from taking steps that might lead to bankruptcy and deprivation. We like to think that it's just us being the intrinsically worthy humans that we are, but honestly, how many of my nice middle class readers had the courage to drop out of high school and steal cars for a living?

That said, what do we do about it?

That leaves us in a rather awkward place, because while I don't agree with conservatives that the poor are somehow worse people than we are, I also don't agree with liberals that money is the answer. Money buys material goods, which are not really the biggest problem that most poor people in America have. And I don't know how you go about providing the things they're missing: the robust social networks, the educational and occupational opportunity, the ability to construct a long-term life instead of one that is lived day-to-day. I think that we should remove the barriers, like poor schools, that block achievement from without, but I don't know what to do about the equally powerful barriers that block it from within.

As they say, read the whole thing.

Location, location, location

Jane Galt has a number of great posts up on Katrina-related items. In this one, she addresses a number of the myths surrounding what created the immense devestation in New Orleans and the surrounding area. In particular, she drowns the notion that the tragedy is primarily due to the powers that be not caring about the poor (while conceding that the screwed up pretty royally in many ways) and actually more a result of the particular geography, climate, and land use patterns of the United States. Which seems pretty obvious, but you see a lot of people smugly implying that Europeans would have done so much better. Read the whole thing to see why this isn't necessarily the case.

End War - Support Capitalism!

Via Division of Labor comes a report of a recent study by Eric Gartzke of Columbia University, part of which looked at the relationship between economic freedom and incidence of war across countries around the world. The findings? The greater the degree of economic freedom, the lower the risk of military conflict. Contrast this with the data that indicates no such relationship between level of democracy and the propensity for war. This is all part of the Economic Freedom of the World report, including the special chapter by Gartzke on Economic Freedom and Peace (pdf). It's pretty simple: if you're freely trading with someone, military force is an unneccesarily expensive way of getting things from them.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Satellite Radio A-OK

In an update to my previous post, the government has agreed with the CRTC and gives the go-ahead to satellite radio in Canada. A pleasing development.

The Federalism of Gasoline Regulations

The high gas prices that have resulted from Katrina have led to a number of people discussing the underlying causes of high gas prices. One criticism that often arises with respect to regulations is the fact that there are 18 different gasoline formulations that are required in various regions across the country (Here's a simple map showing where there is reformulated gasoline, but there is a much more detailed map of this out there somewhere on the internet- if you run across it, send me the link). Because this essentially creates different refining processes for fuel destined for different places, it ends up increasing costs and, more importantly at the moment, makes it more difficult to replace the refining capacity of those areas hit by the hurricane. Now, I agree with the fact that this type of mishmash of regulations causes higher prices and makes it more difficult to respond to catastrophes like this. But I have to offer some criticism of this argument, because it tends to come from small government libertarian-types (like myself) who, generally-speaking, point to increased federalism as something very desireable. If you're serious about the states (or perhaps even cities) having increased power over the regulatory regime in an area, rather than having this power usurped by the federal government, isn't this kind of asymmetry appealing? So...granted there are drawbacks to such a complex arrangement, but there are also some benefits - namely that states (in theory) have greater control over environmental indicators such as air quality within their immediate area, and it also enables the country as a whole to learn from the 'experiments' being conducted in the different regions.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Upper Class Cultural Welfare

The CBC (Canada's public broadcaster) is apparently on strike, and some MP's are questioning whether the corporation is worth the cost to taxpayers. I'm generally supportive of the CBC's programming (except for showing the British soap opera Coronation Street during prime time), but I definitely feel that forcing everyone to pay for a television station whether or not they watch it is rediculous. I can see the value of the Canadian content, but if Canadians really feel it's valuable then those people should pay for it just like any other broadcaster. And if you want to subsidize Canadian programming, I'm even (sort of) OK with that.

My main problem with the CBC's defenders is that they basically tend to be well-educated, upper-middle and upper class people. This is CBC's viewer demographic - and funding of the CBC therefore acts as a transfer from lower income people to higher income people. Upper class cultural welfare, if you will. I don't have data on this, but I'd be willing to bet that the average income of CBC viewers (or listeners, if you're talking radio) is higher than the national average. I think the average CBC viewer could "afford" to pay for it. Let's make them put their money where their mouths are, if they think the CBC is so valuable.

Impoverished Music Stars Forced to Download Their Own Music

Tacked on to an announcement about Apple's new iPod and cell phone with iTunes comes the report that Madonna would be making her music legally available for download for the first time:

All of the singers' songs will be offered through the iTunes library. ''I got tired of not being able to download my own music,'' Madonna said.

What an odd thing to say...Is she just insanely self-absorbed, endlessly searching the internet for her own music, or do artists rarely actually own copies of their own music? Wouldn't the record company give her a CD if she wanted one?

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Drunk with Fatigue

According to a new study, doctors who are sleep-deprived are as impaired as someone who is drunk. Which is of course, awful. And leads to the predictable response:

"...the findings also demonstrate that regulators, hospitals and medical schools need to do more to protect residents -- and by extension, the public -- from work-related fatigue."

I agree - there is no way a doctor who is severely overtired should be performing their duties. Now the only question is how long it is until somebody extends the principle to drivers and proposes a ban on driving with less than 8 hours of sleep, in the name of public health.

The Wal-Mart Response

Via Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution, comes this story in the Washington Post about the incredible action taken by Wal-Mart to aid victims of Hurricane Katrina:

In Brookhaven, Miss., for example, where Wal-Mart operates a vast distribution center, the company had 45 trucks full of goods loaded and ready for delivery before Katrina made landfall. (emphasis added)

Many will question their motives (i.e. corporate image, etc...), but isn't the end result what really matters in this case?

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Floating Bodies, Political Points

The MSM and the blogosphere is awash (sorry) with pundits trying to either place blame or absolve responsibility for the effects of Katrina. Granted, I think it's pretty clear that the response has been less than stellar. But what's got my back up today is the rash of (generally liberal) columnists that are accusing (mainly) the federal government of exacerbating to the devestation because of the ideological notions of the current administration. The thrust of the argument is that these "anti-government" conservatives have weakened the federal government to the point that it was unable to respond effectively to the catastrophe. There isn't a lot with which I see eye-to-eye with the current residents of the White House, and I'm certainly not going to spend any time defending them (there's enough people doing that). But first off, the problem of levee stregthening goes back far longer than just Bush. It's been something like 40 years that this has been de-prioritized by all levels of government. I don't think Bush helped at all (and the restructuring of FEMA within Homeland Security also likely slowed the response to the crisis), but it's more than just his fault. More broadly, though, I have to take exception to the idea that the Republican party as it is currently configured, has any notions of "small government" beyond some rehetoric to keep the libertarian side of the party happy and hoping. This administration is the exact anthisis of limited government. Bush has not vetoed one spending bill during his entire tenure. Government spending is way up over the past 5 years. They essentially believe that government can do anything and everything! For God's sake, they thought they could create a democratic government from the ground up, out of nothing! (If that's not faith in the power of government, I don't know what is). What I think these columnists are avoiding saying is that the "big government conservatism" that we have today just has different priorities than the "big government liberalism" they would prefer. But trying to pin the problem on an ideology of stripping away at the power of government just doesn't wash. The current administration might be able to be accussed of being "bad government" but they can't be accused of being "small government".

UPDATE: Tim Lee at the Bit Bucket has a good post on this same subject.

UPDATE II: Here's an even more severe condemmnation of the Bush administration. Greg Newburn isn't impressed.

UPDATE III: It just keeps coming...what's most offensive about this is that one, he's denouncing a "libertarianism" that, as stated above, isn't what Bush has been doing at all; and two, the insinuation that a "libertarian" sees no role for the government in the protection against natural disasters. Almost every libertarian I know would see that as one of the few essential jobs of government.

The Good Ol' Days of Prohibition

Among most sane, educated people, the misadventure known as prohibition is viewed as an unqualified failure. Right? Well, the DEA begs to differ. They've got a piece up on an agency web site that waxes nostalgic for the constitutional amendement that kept adults from being able to decide for themselves what they wanted to put into their bodies. How can they hold a view that is counter to almost every generally-accepted opinion about prohibition? Well, for one, they narrow the lens that classifies it as a "success" to be so small that you can't help but find some positive results:

"Prohibition did work. Alcohol consumption was reduced by almost 60% and incidents of liver cirrhosis and deaths from this disease dropped dramatically."

This may be very well be true (or perhaps not). But the problem with prohibition (and the main utilitarian (i.e. non-philisophical) problem I have with the current drug war) is not that it doesn't achieve anything, it's that the unintended costs (e.g. bootlegging, increased power to organized crime, deaths from bathtub gin, murders) are far worse than the costs of people drinking (or smoking pot or what have you). Trying to stop people from drinking or doing drugs creates more problems than it solves. Couple that with the fact that I think it's a pretty gross limit on freedom to have the government decide what can go in your own body, and it makes for law that's tough to justify.

Via the Agitator.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Katrina Aid

I haven't had much to say about Katrina - what is there to comment on, really? It's a huge tragedy, and although it appears that a number of government agencies have done a pretty miserable job with both prevention and response, I don't really feel up for scoring any political points about it just yet. Let's help these people out first. Please donate something, somewhere, if you can. Glenn Reynolds has an exhaustive list of places to send money, and Sean Stiefel, a student at the school where I teach, has also started a website with information on where to send non-monetary donations.