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Saturday, August 29, 2015

Contemplating the Incomprehensible

[Yes, this is late to need, even by my dodgy standards. But shifting continents and going without teh intarwebz will do that.][Along with a desperate wish to avoid the subject entirely.]

When I first heard the circumstances of MH370's disappearance, I immediately saw it for what it was: a mass-murdering suicide.

The day Germanwings 3252 crashed, I was having dinner with some friends in Los Angeles. Aware that I have some expertise in the field, the very first topic of conversation was: What happened?

So I fired up the Speculamatator™. Based on the few known facts, I worked my way through each possibility: decompression, fire, hijacking, engine failure. Each ran into insuperable difficulties long before the airplane hit the ground.

Oddly, given that I was so quick to suss MH370, the idea that GW3252 was also a suicidal hijacking never crossed my mind.

After all, even leaving MH370 aside, it isn't the first time it has happened. (That article leaves out another case of pilot suicide, this time using an A-10 by a guy I happened to briefly meet a couple months before his fatal flight.)

The MSM have covered this story reasonably well, considering reporters have very little insight to a profession that is, in many respects, so unique as to defy more than passing comprehension. By that I mean the MSM got most of the basics right, but had nothing beyond that.

First, some perhaps dispiriting news. In contrast to what I have read in a few places, pilots are not subject to any systematic psychological testing. Some airlines make a stab at it during the hiring process. One I know of used the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory; having taken it, I doubt it would successfully diagnose a serial murderer caught in the act. However, at least at the major airline level, the interview process itself is very stressful. There is a great deal at stake, and every step along the way, of which there are a great many, is designed tighten the rack another notch. All of this makes sense. Pilots need to be cool under pressure, highly skilled, at least reasonably intelligent, and well adjusted enough to get along with other people for long periods in confined conditions.

Having passed that hurdle, though, there are no psychological examinations worthy of the name. I take a Class I flight physical from an FAA approved examiner twice a year. The joke is that there are two requirements to pass: be able to fog a mirror, and sign a credit card receipt.

So we are all just playing Russian roulette, then, right?

Well, yes, but mostly no. There have been aircraft suicides in the US, but aside from the A-10 I mentioned above, all have involved light aircraft. To merely hope to get an interview at a major American airline requires extensive, successful, experience: at least 2,000 hours as pilot in command of turbine powered aircraft. US airlines can hold that line because the civil aviation sector has not yet been taxed into a coma, and the military still produces a decent number of pilots.* This is also true of England and Australia.

Most of the world's airlines outside the Anglosphere do one of two things: hire pilots from the Anglosphere, or resort to ab initio flight training. In ab initio training, airlines hire people with little or no experience, run them through a training program that, in a year or so, puts butts into airliner first officer seats.

That is how GermanWings has a 630 hour A320 first officer; in the US, it takes 1,500 hours just to get an Airline Transport Pilot certificate.

Which could be why, while there have been pilot suicides in the US, none have yet involved airliners.** Profoundly disfunctional people can fake normalcy, but it is a real tough act to pull off for very long.

Then there are the pilots themselves. There is no more self-similar group anywhere. More than 94% male. In Western countries, about 98% white, 98% conservative, and roughly 130% own guns. To the extent my gaydar is correctly calibrated, virtually none are gay; in 37 years of flying, I know of two.

We all dress the same -- negligently -- have the same hobbies, and talk about the same stuff: a few words about the family, more about hobbies, toys, guns. Some shots at the circus act in the White House. Then mostly nothing, unless it is about flying.

I have no data, but I suspect that alcoholism is lower than the general population. Not because pilots are better somehow, but rather that the nature of getting the job filters out all but the most high functioning addicts. Which isn't to say we don't drink -- almost all of us do, and we make a point of it. But over 15 years in this job, I have only flown with one guy who drank too much, and his hangover, vicious though it surely was, didn't bleed over into the next flight.

Similarly with emotional issues. For the most part, unless sarcasm is counted as an emotion, pilots don't have any. The rate of expensive divorces is disturbingly high, as is the rate of marriages to flight attendants. The insufferable fundament rate is far less, although not invisible.

What I'm getting around to here is that where winnowing has a chance, the chaff will get left behind.

This is getting dangerously close to affirming that merit matters. Just as it is getting dangerously close to recognizing that protections we put in place for the vast majority of those with mental issues put as at the mercy of those whose issues are one more step beyond. We protect the rights of the Adam Lanzas, and the Andreas Lubitzes. Why? Because there are thousands of not quite, and, before the act, indistinguishable from, Lanzas and Lubitzes.

The problem is even more fiendish than mere numbers. Addiction is the perfect analogy. Until twenty or so years ago, admitting addiction, alcohol or otherwise, was a career death sentence for pilots. Finally, reason prevailed: the smart way to do things was not to punish admission, but rather subterfuge. Admit to addiction outside the flight deck, and your job is protected. You will have to undergo extensive addiction treatment and testing, true, but your livelihood isn't at risk.

The results speak for themselves.

Unfortunately, the model doesn't hold for the mentally ill. There is no test for that. Impressions are subjective. Germanwings (an airline I fly frequently these days) has absolutely no interest in retaining a pilot that has mental health issues. Unfortunately, the individual has every incentive to hide those issues from the company, and the system itself has nothing to offer. In Europe, there seems to be a greater tendency Not a lot.

The report with the recommendations, which has been presented to the European transportation commissioner, Violeta Bulc, for review, follows more than two months of discussions led by the regulator, the European Aviation Safety Agency, after the March 24 crash of a Germanwings airliner. The flight’s co-pilot had a history of severe depression and had shown suicidal tendencies.

The mind boggles.

If accepted by the European Commission officials, the changes could take effect within the next year. But the initial proposal has already been watered down, notably because of privacy concerns from Germany, and officials said they were prepared for delicate negotiations over the coming months with European pilots’ unions, which have until now resisted such monitoring as overly intrusive and only minimally effective in improving safety

There are some jobs, easily enough identified, that by their very nature put themselves beyond "privacy concerns". If you wish your privacy concerns to be paramount, find something else to do. Just as, in the US, the FAA doesn't give a damn about probable cause: if your number comes up for a random urinalysis, then a urinalysis you will do.

Aside from its new medical oversight proposals, the task force that issued the report said it would maintain its recommendation that two crew members be present in the cockpit at all times. The two-person rule, which was standard in the United States and other parts of the world after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, was not widely adopted in Europe before the Germanwings crash.

Well, duh. Flight attendants don't have a clue about how to fly the airplane, but they do know how to make a move to the door. The standard practice for FAs in the US is to sit in the vacant seat, which does no good whatsoever. If I was Head Dude What's in Charge, I would have them stand right at the flight deck door, ready to open it at the first sign of homocidal insanity.

So, where does that leave us?

Largely subject to fortune. There is no getting around that if a pilot wishes badly enough to kill everyone en route to his own suicide, he is likely to achieve his goal. MH270 has proved that***. Insisting upon a regime that treats all occurrences of depression as another mass murder will eliminate self-admission; yet, even self-admission is scarcely any better. Unlike alcohol, there is no blood-depression test.

For the US residents in the audience, your sleep will be less troubled in knowing that the experience requirements are high enough to have, so far, almost, provided a sufficient barrier to letting homicidal maniacs at the controls. As for everyone else, you can spend more time wondering just why it is that suicides occasionally insist upon including so many others in their desire for self destruction.



* Civil aviation costs in the US aren't at the prohibitive levels of Europe, but they have been heading skyward over the last 40 years (h/t !@#$%^& scum bag *&^%$#@! lawyers). At the end of the Cold War, the Navy and Air Force were producing about 3,000 fixed wing pilots per year. Now that number is below 900. A few weeks ago, I saw a presentation from our Chief Pilot. According to him, US airlines will run out of qualified candidates in three years.

** Some luck is involved here. FedEx 705 should have been an absolute horror show: the intent was to crash the plane into the Memphis hub.

*** The recent discovery of a piece from MH270 should shed some light. Having been through a mishap investigation course, I have some knowledge as to how much information metallurgists can get out of a piece of airplane: more than you would think possible. To my amateur eye, the piece separated without significant impact damage, which suggests that the attach points failed. Therefore, my guess is that the suicidal pilot ditched the airplane, which, in turn, makes the search area so large that we can confidently predict we will never find the wreckage.

Monday, August 24, 2015

In Defense of Planned Parenthood

I really like to eat rack of lamb. Yum.

On the other hand, I'm also really glad I don't have to slaughter and butcher the lamb to be able to eat it. It's very nice having that bloody and grisly activity hidden from me so I can just wander into a store and buy it all neat and packaged and then cook it up on the grill.

Life saving surgeries are a great thing.

On the other hand, have you ever watched videos of surgeries? Ewwww! I'm really glad someone else does that and not me. How about a knee replacement surgery? It looks to me like half of those tools came from Home Depot for use in carpentry. I have a bad knee so I shudder just thinking about it!

The point is that there are some really gruesome, but necessary, activities that most of us fortunately never have to perform or observe. And if it's performed on us, we get to be anesthetized so we remain blissfully unaware. In my opinion, it's wonderful to be sheltered from those sorts of things.

Some disturbing videos of Planned Parenthood activities are being released by an organization called The Center for Medical Progress. In these videos, they show various representatives of Planned Parenthood discussing the sale of fetal parts (organs, limbs, etc.) to buyers in the medical research community. There are apparently going to be future videos that will show the actual procedures (perhaps some such videos already exist).

Yeah, the concept is kinda gruesome.

However, once a fetus is aborted, it doesn't just magically disappear into thin air. It has to be disposed of and that's also rather gruesome.

Given that abortion is legal, that abortions happen in large numbers, that like medical procedures and butchering abortion is grisly, that the aborted fetuses are dead (or very soon to be), and that the dead fetuses have to somehow be disposed of or otherwise processed, why is it worse that the fetal tissues be used for research rather than being disposed of? Just because it's grisly? Isn't the whole thing already rather grisly? Doesn't it seem better to salvage something of value from the process?

I really don't get it.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Do They Make Pantsuits in Felony Orange?

It is now beyond denial, even by those with ideological tunnel vision, that Hillary Clinton prevarications about her email server are out and out lies.

That's bad enough. Worse is her demonstrable lack of judgment. Never mind the legalities, setting up her own email server for official SecState communications was foolish, and her assertions she that the server never contained any classified information are either stunningly obtuse, self defeating, or casually dismissive of the most obvious security requirments.

Perhaps unbeknownst to her, information itself isn't necessarily the reason for a security classification. Otherwise innocuous things can become classified because of the sources and methods involved: Al Splodeydope's shopping list can, no, will be classified because of how we came to know it.

Okay, let's leave that aside. She has maintained that none of her emails as SecState contained classified information. Let me put that in perspective. Back in the day, I was a staff officer at the Pentagon for a few years. My position was roughly five levels below hers; I was, relativey speaking, a peon. Yet even at my peonage, much of the things I dealt with were at least SECRET NOFORN [a middling grade of classification, NOFORN expands to No Foreign dissemination without clearance from someone far higher on the food chain than I.] The rest was TOP SECRET of various flavors.

The point here isn't to reminisce about the good old days, but rather to note that it is singularly curious that she maintains nothing she received, or sent, was as sensitive as a mere Lt Col dealt with everyday. Which kind of puts here smack dab between the devil and the deep blue sea: either she is expecting us to swallow a bald faced lie, or her job amounted to nothing more than this.

Perhaps our country would be better off if it were the latter, but let's give her the credit her ego demands.

Fine: she belongs in prison. How do I know? Because that is exactly where I would have ended up had I shown her brazen disregard for information security.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Truth-teller

Another giant passes from the scene, a polymath and most serious historian, Robert Conquest:

It is easy now to forget just how terrifying the Cold War seemed. Across the Western world, many doubted Communism could be defeated without unleashing nuclear Armageddon.

What is more, many Western intellectuals — from Marxists such as Communist historian Eric Hobsbawm and his friend Ralph Miliband (father of Ed and David, a political theorist at the London School of Economics, a devout follower of Marx and an unswerving believer in revolutionary socialism) to woolly, well-meaning Lefties in universities across the country — were quick to defend the regime whenever it was criticised.

Lenin and Stalin, these ‘useful idiots’ claimed, had been much misunderstood.
It was Conquest, more than any other writer of his generation, who did most to expose this deceitful drivel.

At a time when intellectual fashion was on the Left, he had the guts to lay out, in devastating detail, the truth about the blood-soaked Soviet experiment.

...

It was Conquest’s close attention to detail that made his expose of Communism so devastating. The Great Terror was based on hundreds of accounts by Soviet dissidents and work camp inmates. He showed that life under Stalin’s regime had been even worse than outsiders suspected.
...

Even today, The Great Terror is a chilling read and an unforgettable record of the bloody consequences of ideological utopianism. It is hard to read about the starving children in Ukraine or about the ordinary men and women frozen and tortured in the Siberian camps without a shudder of horror.

 Vladimir Tismaneanu posts his tribute at frontpagemag:

Robert Conquest (1917-2015) was a great intellectual, historian, and moral conscience. For the denizens of what used to be the Soviet Bloc, Robert Conquest’s name is truly legendary. I remember my own first experience with Conquest’s masterpiece The Great Terror.
...
Political Violence is much more than the traditional anthology of solemn, frequently hackneyed paeans to a great scholar. It is in fact an excellent collection of penetrating studies on the very concepts that did underlie Conquest’s lifelong endeavor: the centrality of violence in the Marxist revolutionary eschatology; the links between utopia, violence, ideology, and terror; the limits and relevance of comparisons between the Nazi and the Soviet totalitarian experiments. As Conquest put it himself in a seminal essay on history as a battleground:
“The huge catastrophes of our era have been inflicted by human beings driven by certain thoughts. And so history’s essential questions must be: How do we account for what has been called the ‘ideological frenzy’ of the twentieth century?  How did these mental aberrations gain a purchase?  What was the sort and condition of people affected?  Who were the Typhoid Marys who spread the infection?” (Reflections on a Ravaged Century , New York: Norton, 2000, p. 3)
 ...

From Lenin to Mao and Guevara, the apostles of utopian collectivism were possessed by revolutionary hubris. Leszek Kolakowski is therefore right: communist nihilism is related to Dostoyevski’s demons’ contempt for individual rights and their reckless exaltation of the cathartic virtues of violence. In his writings on the ravaged 20th century, Conquest highlighted precisely this enduring attraction of rebellious intellectuals to a closed universe of empirically non-demonstrable yet compellingly contagious certainties. Let me say that at a time when many were ready to close their eyes and endorse, implicitly or explicitly, the self-serving Leninist narratives about the ultimate goal somehow justifying the appalling methods used to attain it (the proverbial need to break eggs in order to make the revolutionary omelet), Robert Conquest defended the honor of Sovietology. For him, there was no doubt that millions, not only “hundred of thousands” perished in the vortex of the terrorist universe. He never doubted the uniqueness of the Holocaust as the ultimate horror of a horrific age, but insisted on the monstrously murderous features of Bolshevism in its various incarnations.

For Conquest, evil is not a category scholars should avoid if they wish to fathom the age of ideologically-generated cataclysms. May he rest in peace, he deserves all our gratitude and admiration.

There are some other tributes here and here.  I remember reading several works of Mr. Conquest.  They made quite an impression.  It is amazing how many intellectuals wanted to be deceived.  Some still can't come to terms with the reality of the matter, but what do you expect.

There is also a post which includes a video from a dinner in honor of Mr. Conquest from 1992. 

 Czeslaw Milosz (introduced ~18:00, speaks ~21:00-32:00) status, group think and self-deception

Aaron Wildavsky (~32:00-50:00) importance of telling truth, our greatest possession - liberty

John O'Sullivan (~50:00-1:02)

Yelena Bonner  (~1:02-1:20)

Robert Conquest (~1:22-1:46) struggle against oppression and lies, bad ideas: scientism, all is struggle, new human beings; education on these matters - overcoming impatience and laziness

Of particular interest are the remarks of Milosz, Wildavsky and Conquest.

Friday, August 07, 2015

Empire of Lies

As Hey Skipper has noted:
Every time I follow a link what I find is either ignorant, ideologically hammered, or outright mendacious. As in the knowingly lying kind of mendacious. It is symptomatic of progressivism's pervasive habit: elevation of narrative over reality. 


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The heart of the matter

Towards the end of a recent Ian Tuttle column on NRO about the Chattanooga shooter he writes:
What induces a person to shoot up a military recruiting center in middle America is surely a complex of factors. But the same network of politicians and media who absurdly attributed Dylann Roof’s murder to the presence of a flag on state property 120 miles away — that is, to the deep and abiding menace of structural racism, “interpersonal and structural . . . current and historical . . . explicit and implicit . . . articulated and silent,” in Charles Blow’s perfectly nebulous formulation — are hesitant to blame terrorism on any “structure” or “institution” not amenable to a stimulus package.
He concludes:
 The hold of religion is deep, and does not acquiesce to jobs programs or tax credits. Until our leaders acknowledge that squarely, we’ll continue to blame earned income for the problems of Islam — and continue to be surprised that we’re in the crosshairs.
Ed Driscoll has an interesting post on the hold of religion that includes the following:
Nietzsche killed God in 1883, but man is hardwired to believe in something. Which explains why much of the 20th century was a search for alternate religions: The State, environmentalism, feminism, hallucinogenic drugs, and virtually all other aspects of the left take on religious aspects as they become more and more radical. But then, as Tom Wolfe wrote in “The ‘Me’ Decade and the Third Great Awakening,” “It is entirely possible that in the long run historians will regard the entire New Left experience as not so much a political as a religious episode wrapped in semi military gear and guerrilla talk.”

All keen observations, but the penultimate paragraph really caught my attention:
 But, as the literary critic Irving Babbitt observed in his 1924 book Democracy and Leadership: “When studied with any degree of thoroughness, the economic problem will be found to run into the political problem, the political problem in the philosophical problem, and the philosophical problem itself to be almost indissolubly bound up at last with the religious problem.” Talk about lack of jobs, if you like — or rampant inflation, unaffordable housing, &c. — but eventually you have to go deeper. Marx was wrong. Men are not explained solely by their economic circumstances.
(emphasis mine)

An economics without consideration of people is not real world economics.  Studying the matter with enough depth and breadth in a "if you give a mouse a cookie" manner, purely material explanations are clearly insufficient.  My own intellectual experience is in accord with that of Irving Babbitt.


Returning to the hold of religion and non-material explanations of the world,  Law Professor David Skeel has written a book,  True Paradox.  He makes a case for what religion offers  people:
Skeel’s work is both philosophically weighty and engagingly brief. The essence of his case for Christianity (or at least monotheism) is that humans seem inexorably drawn to normative ideas about truth, beauty, and justice, all of which are better explained by a created order than by random materialistic chaos. As a lawyer, he especially notes how people – reformers, activists, and politicians – seem unable to get away from normative ideas of justice, and seek to implement just systems. Paradoxically (one of a number of paradoxes he notes), we have a strong sense of justice and yet seem unable to manifest and or even approximate justice in most societies. This speaks to our innate notions of morality and fairness, yet highlights our inability to overcome the debilitating effects of sin and the Fall.
 ...
 Skeel’s apologetics do perform a service for Christians, of course, as I walked away with greater assurance that my faith really is philosophically satisfying in the face of the toughest questions. But I hope, as Skeel (an elder at Philadelphia’s Tenth Presbyterian Church) hopes, that non-Christians will read this book, too. If they don’t find certainty, those with eyes to see and ears to hear will at least realize that Christianity has coherent, powerful answers to many of humanity’s enduring conundrums.

Another reviewer concludes:
“True Paradox” is written by a Christian in defense of Christianity, but most nonbelieving readers will not find it off-putting. Mr. Skeel expresses great respect for those with whom he disagrees—a good deal more respect, in fact, than some prominent materialists have accorded their believing interlocutors. Which may be precisely what this subject needs.

But it really depends upon whether or not one is willing to study matters with the intent of improved understanding or merely to support already held beliefs.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

It's not a matter of "if"

The reality based community claims to know what's best for all of us.

For instance, gun free zones:


Clearly a brilliant, totally genius idea, that works every time.

Except, of course, for when it doesn't.

As things stand, it is only a matter of "when" until we get to host our own entry into the ISISholes' pantheon of atrocities.

Of course, there's no need for things to stand as they are.

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

Emphasis added, obviously. Our reality based overlords are fond of torturing the second amendment, subjecting it to astonishing contortions ignoring both context and grammar. It's amazing how they can detect emanations, thereby finding the Constitution mandates murders of convenience and gay marriage, yet refuse to acknowledge that which is staring them in the face.

But one clear threat we face from the Religion of Death is also one that we can counter by noting that introductory clause. Pres Obama could, through a completely legal executive order, direct that the entire US will be "shall issue" for the concealed carry of handguns to those who complete a DOD approved program of weapons training.

And then eliminate the fantastical notion that gun free zones are anything other than places to herd victims.

Of course, as a progressive, Pres Obama would never entertain the notion. He'd far rather Americans be defenseless in their own country.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Quite the paradox

Over at Instapundit Ed Driscoll concludes a post by referring to Chesterton's fence:
"In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.” ... (It continues)
  
It reminds me of another observation by "he who shall not be named":
First, there is the question of how our knowledge really does arise.  Most knowledge - and I confess it took me some time to recognize this - is obtained not from immediate experience or observation, but in the continuous process of sifting a learnt tradition, which requires individual recognition and following of moral traditions that are not justifiable in terms of the canons of traditional theories of rationality. The tradition is the product of a process of selection from among irrational, or, rather, `unjustified' beliefs which, without anyone's knowing or intending it, assisted the proliferation of those who followed them (with no necessary relationship to the reasons - as for example religious reasons - for which they were followed). The process of selection that shaped customs and morality could take account of more factual circumstances than individuals could perceive, and in consequence tradition is in some respects superior to, or `wiser' than, human reason (see chapter one above). This decisive insight is one that only a very critical rationalist could recognize.

Such very critical rationalists are exceedingly rare.



Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Dignity

I was happy to hear that the Supreme Court ruled in favor of "same-sex marriage" in Obergefell v. Hodges. Not because I think same-sex marriage is a good idea. Not because I think there should be any sort of right at all to same-sex marriage. Not even because I will ever consider those of the same sex to be married (the word "marriage" has a specific meaning to me and it does not, nor will it ever, apply to non-heterosexual couples in my mind, and nothing the government does will ever change that).

Instead, I was happy because by itself, it's a non-issue. There aren't very many gay people (or people of the more than 50 other genders) and, based on every place same-sex marriage has been legal, very few of them actually want to get married. There almost certainly won't be an explosion of same-sex marriages so I figured that now that the whining gays have rammed their agenda down the throats of those of us who think the whole concept is absurd, maybe they'd STFU already.

Of course, nothing is ever easy. I see that religious conservative groups are mobilizing to turn this into a war. This is beyond foolish, in my opinion, not necessarily because they're wrong, but because there will be so few gay marriages that fighting it directly is going to be wildly counterproductive. If one must fight it, being subversive is a much easier and more effective way. For example, if you're a priest and don't want to do gay marriages, just don't show up and say you were sick with a last minute stomach flu. If you're a baker who's bothered by the profit potential of baking gay wedding cakes, deliver ugly cakes inconveniently late. There are plenty of other churches and bakers who will be perfectly happy to cater to same-sex couples and those couples will quickly learn to avoid your church or your bakery and go elsewhere.

I assumed that the Supremes would simply use the Equal Protection Clause and state that sexual orientation would be a new class that would have equal protection in order to arrive at their ruling. What could be simpler, more straightforward and more logical than that?

My assumption was wrong and now I'm dismayed beyond belief. Instead of using the Equal Protection Clause, the Supremes decided to create a right to dignity, kinda outta thin air (well, maybe thick air given that some prior cases sorta pointed this way, but still...).

I think that there are some serious problems with the concept of a right to dignity. For one, it's totally subjective, especially when needing to create priorities when there are conflicting dignities. For example, is it more or less of an indignity to be required to serve someone you consider to be reprehensible or to be refused service by someone?

For another, some people get themselves into states from which there simply is no dignified escape. Consider a drug addled homeless person in a soup line. Not much dignity there no matter how you slice it. Even if the food was delivered in a nice environment with servers in tuxedos, there would still be the core indignity of being so incompetent you need a handout to survive. Indeed, it could easily be argued that there's more dignity in starving than in accepting the handout and that soup kitchens should be shut down.

And how does this new right to dignity compare to other rights such as freedom of speech and freedom of religion. If dignity trumps freedom of religion, then clearly priests will have to perform same-sex marriages (though, as I noted above, nothing will prevent them from performing them very poorly). If dignity trumps freedom of speech, then everything I've written in this post (and in many others) will be illegal in the not too distant future; there's no dignity in debate.

Each of these questions, and many more, will have to be answered and will cause endless litigation, haranguing, and fighting and my bet is that it will further undermine the already thinning fabric tenuously holding our society and civilization together. Bummer!

Saturday, July 04, 2015

On this 4th of July

Myron Magnet on NRO:

What kind of nation did the Founders aim to create?


Men, not vast, impersonal forces — economic, technological, class struggle, what have you — make history, and they make it out of the ideals that they cherish in their hearts and the ideas they have in their minds. So what were the ideas and ideals that drove the Founding Fathers to take up arms and fashion a new kind of government, one formed by reflection and choice, as Alexander Hamilton said,
rather than by accident and force?

The worldview out of which America was born centered on three revolutionary ideas, of which the most powerful was a thirst for liberty. For the Founders, liberty was not some vague abstraction. They understood it concretely, as people do who have a keen knowledge of its opposite. They understood it in the same way as Eastern Europeans who have lived under Communist tyranny, for instance, or Jews who escaped the Holocaust.
...

 The Founders believed that the purpose of government was to protect life, liberty, and property from what they called the depravity of human nature — from man’s innate capacity to do the kinds of violence that slave-owners, to take just one example, did every day. But government, they recognized, is a double-edged sword.
...
 Even the democratic republic the Founders created had to be run by imperfect men, and thus even it could turn into what Richard Henry Lee called an elective despotism. So the second great Founding idea is this: The mere fact that you elect representatives to govern you is no sure-fire guarantee of liberty. Or, as Madison saw it in Federalist No. 10: Taxation with representation can be tyranny.
...

Washington was even more explicit about this, the third of the great Founding ideas: A democratic republic requires a special kind of culture, one that nurtures self-reliance and a love of liberty. Constitutions are all very well, the Founders often observed, but they are only “parchment barriers,” easily breached if demagogues subvert the “spirit and letter” of the document. They can do this dramatically, in one revolutionary putsch, or they can inflict a death by a thousand cuts, gradually persuading citizens that the Constitution doesn’t mean what it says but should be interpreted to mean something different, or even something opposite.

The ultimate safeguard against such usurpation is the vitality of America’s culture of liberty.
 ...

 The Founders well understood, as John Adams reminisced in 1818, that it was a change in the “principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections” of Americans that had sparked the Revolution. They considered that new culture of freedom that had arisen among them in the decades before Lexington and Concord, along with the new Constitution they created, to be the most precious inheritance they bequeathed to future generations of their fellow citizens. That vision offers us an instructive standard by which to gauge the present.


 Also, from David Goldman aka/Spengler (h/t Dinocrat):

Biblical Israel was America’s inspiration. Its successor, the State of Israel, yet may be America’s salvation, though usually the issue is put the other way around. America’s founders, to be sure, saw in their “new nation, conceived in liberty” a new Israel, and Lincoln dubbed Americans an “almost chosen people.” We long since put the notion of national election on the back shelf along with other memorabilia of the Revolution and Civil War. But Israel’s founding and fight for survival strike a chord in our national character that reminds of us what we were and still should be.

The notion of “national election,” to be sure, has scant purchase in a world where every identity group claims the right to the equality of its own narrative.
...
 All men are created equal, but not all nations. There are two nations and only two nations in the world that are “chosen,” because their inhabitants became citizens by choice rather than happenstance: the United States of America and the State of Israel. Every other nation in the world defines itself by common territory and heritage.
...
 This biblical vision of a free people assembled by choice that chooses God rather than a human monarch as its sovereign makes sense of the now-unimaginable courage of the American revolutionaries. They risked their lives, property, and social status because of their profound belief that the European political model was so prone to failure that an entirely different kind of polity was worth the risk of their lives and property. After the Napoleonic Wars and the two World Wars of the 20th century, it is hard to fault their judgment. What would the world be today if the United States were not there to sort out the ghastly mess that the Europeans made?
...

One does not have to view Israel’s accomplishments through a theological mirror to understand what the Jewish State tells us about statecraft. Freedom does not arise from the mere presence of democratic institutions, as we learned in Iraq, or from bursts of popular enthusiasm, as we learned in the Arab Spring, or from participation in elections, as we learned when Hamas swept the 2006 West Bank elections. It depends on the radical commitment to the premise that a higher power than human caprice is the ultimate arbiter in civic life. It requires willingness to take existential risk. That is the Jewish principle in politics, the civil content of the Sinai covenant, and the basis for the American Founding. To the extent we have forgotten this, the people who stood at Mount Sinai still are there to remind us. If we reject this reminder, we will un-choose ourselves as Americans.
 Just an important reminder.  I would advise any young person to be very careful not to squander such an inheritance.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Free Banking

With the Greek banking fiasco continuing, I think this is a good time to reintroduce the concept of completely unregulated banking, usually known as "free banking." The following excerpts are from the post Why free-banking (I've added emphasis here and there).
The need for and convenience of a central bank are usually taken for granted. To say that a central bank is a good institution and, therefore, needed, is not enough. Unfortunately, the assumption that central banks are necessary seems to weigh more heavily than the facts that suggest otherwise. [...]

Historical records, however, show that free banking outperforms central banks in most, if not all, of the cases.
Let's reiterate what free banking is:
A free banking regime is such where the market for money and banking is free of specific regulation (save, of course, illegal activities such as the violation of third party property rights.) Let me be clear. The absence of a central bank is not equivalent to free banking.  The absence of regulation is equivalent to free banking.
It's likely you're either completely unfamiliar or not particularly well-versed on the topic of free banking. However, there are more successful examples of free banking than you might guess and there are reasons they've worked well:
The literature on free banking is vast. Let me just give a brief description and comment on a couple of illustrative historical cases. First, under free banking, each bank is free to issue their own convertible banknotes. Convertible to what? To whatever functions as base money in the economy. Historically, this has been gold, but this does not need to be the case. It could be, like Selgin describes in his Theory of Free Banking, that the Federal Reserve shuts down the FOMC and that the USD becomes the base money to which private convertible banknotes are convertible. ... 
Second, because all banknotes are convertible to the same base money, there is no multiplicity of units of account. Under this regime, there should be no fear of confusion about the multiplicity of prices. If today you travel to Hong Kong, Ireland, or Scotland, you’ll see a strong presence of private money in circulation, but you won’t see multiplicity of units of account. ...
Third, the stability of the system comes from banks competing with each other for deposits and therefore for base money. ... Free banking shows a remarkably good performance...
Is free banking a viable possibility going forward? In the United States, I doubt it, but just considering how the concept works and its past successes give us the opportunity to incrementally improve the current system in order to avoid future problems such as Greece and Detroit:
If one looks at historical facts, rather than just let be guided by pre-conceived ideas, the need and superiority of central banking next to alternative monetary regimes is thrown into serious doubt. Surely, free banking is long gone and gold, which was used as base money under these cases, is not money anymore.
Why then look at free banking? I can mention at least two reasons: (1) To do away with the almost ideological position that a central bank is needed. This position, or assumption, needs to be questioned rather than taken as fact if we want to come up with innovative alternatives to our monetary regime. (2) Even if the old free banking system based on gold standard is not feasible, it certainly helps us to come up with reform that can improve the status-quo.
And improving the status-quo of a highly regulated world wide banking system with frequent failures would be a very good thing.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Lies, Damn Lies, and Government Statistics: Part III

The concept that a single inflation rate can describe how everybody feels the effects of price changes over decades in basically absurd. The economist Arnold Kling has an interesting example:
In 1965, the St. Louis Cardinals played their home games in Sportsman’s Park (aka Busch Stadium I). The most expensive seat in the ballpark, a box seat, cost $3.50. A blue-collar worker, who earned about $2 an hour at the time, could treat a family of four to a game in these most expensive seats for less than one day’s pay.
These days, the Cards play at the new stadium, Busch Stadium III. A typical blue-collar worker makes something like $20 an hour The cheapest seat in the stadium still costs less than an hour’s pay. But the most expensive seats cost somewhere north of $800. It would take a month for a blue collar worker to earn enough to treat a family of four to the best seats in the ballpark.
In 1965, my family would've thought nothing of buying the most expensive seats. Now, there's no way I could afford them.

What's really gotten expensive, and is too heavily weighted in the Consumer Price Index when considering how the middle and lower classes are faring, is the cost of exclusion: things like caviar, high-end wines, and exclusive seats at the stadium. Imitation crab, Two-buck Chuck (Charles Shaw wines), and general admission at the ballpark, have had a far, far lower inflation rate than exclusive items.

To me, wine inflation is the most interesting. The cheapest bottle of wine in the mid-1970s was made by Boone's Farm. It was $1.79 a bottle. It was really terrible, but hey, it got you drunk if you could choke it down. The Two-buck Chuck Chardonnay is $2.99 a bottle, 40 years later. We California wine snobs disparage it, but really, it compares quite favorably with the very best wines I had during the 1970s, and once in a great while, I happily drink it. According to CPI inflation calculators, $1.79 in 1975 is equivalent to $7.81 in 2015, so the quality is up and the relative price for good low end wines is down.

I'm not sure what the most expensive bottle of exclusive wine in 1975 was. But it doesn't matter, because we can be sure it was orders of magnitude less than the £122,380 (about $180,000) a bottle folks paid for Chateau Margaux 2009. And there's quite a number of wines that push $10,000 a bottle.

It's become really expensive to live the high life.

Friday, June 26, 2015

No more silly denials please!

Dan Hannan on the Socialism-Fascism Sisterhood




- by their own admission

- by placing the collective far above the individual

- even by iconography

...

Only by wearing blinders can this be denied.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Just like other radicalisms

Contrary to conventional notions...
Though the left continually points to lack of resources and education as the central cause of the rise of Islamic terrorism in the Middle East, Ullah said after living in Pakistan he found those two rationales to be demonstrably false. In Pakistan, he explains, he found "something much different than I expected. Poverty had little to do with who became an extremist; lack of education even less."
He found, instead, that many terrorists come from middle class families and have college educations. The draw to radicalism was not one of economic desperation or susceptibility due to a lack of education, it was a longing "for meaning and for order," a desire for "change" in "the old corrupt order," and a sense of "victimhood"

...
 Ullah argues that if the West really wants to address the true underlying problems fostering radicalism, we must ditch the "false narrative" about poverty and ignorance, expose the reality of the suffering promoted by radical ideology, stop portraying radicals as "freedom fighters," and stop blaming the West. Most importantly, he argues, Islamic religious leaders must stop looking the other way and glorifying the radical "martyrs."

 As in other radicalisms, the desire to make the world anew, only leads to destruction and dystopia.  Alternative approaches to improvement just aren't as intoxicating.  It's understandable that some groups are united in hate, in an unholy alliance.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Quote of the Day

"Well the fact that you are anti-Semitic, or racist, doesn’t preclude you from being interested in survival. It doesn’t preclude you from being rational about the need to keep your economy afloat;"

President Barack Obama, as reported in The Atlantic, May 21, 2015, defending interactions with Iran.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Education and Wealth

One of the mantras that I hear fairly frequently goes something like this: "if only we could provide better education for the children, it would lift them out of poverty and provide great economic benefits for the the whole country."

There's not a shred of evidence that this is true. In fact, there are some shreds against. One is the paper Human capital and long run economic growth: Evidence from the stock of human capital in England, 1300-1900 which has the following abstract:
Did human capital contribute to economic growth in England? In this paper the stock of total years of schooling present in the population between 1300 and 1900 is quantified. The stock incorporates extensive source material on literacy rates, the number of primary and secondary schools and enrolment figures. The trends in the data suggest that, whilst human capital facilitated pre-industrial economic development, it had no role to play during the Industrial Revolution itself: there was a strong decline in educational attainment between ca. 1750 and 1830. A time series analysis has been carried out that confirms this conclusion.
Education has "no role to play."

In more modern times, there's this:
But does that [education] really drive economic growth? 
In fact, the push for better education is an experiment that has already been carried out globally. And, as my Harvard colleague Lant Pritchett has pointed out, the long-term payoff has been surprisingly disappointing.
In the 50 years from 1960 to 2010, the global labor force’s average time in school essentially tripled, from 2.8 years to 8.3 years. This means that the average worker in a median country went from less than half a primary education to more than half a high school education. 
How much richer should these countries have expected to become? In 1965, France had a labor force that averaged less than five years of schooling and a per capita income of $14,000 (at 2005 prices). In 2010, countries with a similar level of education had a per capita income of less than $1,000.
In 1960, countries with an education level of 8.3 years of schooling were 5.5 times richer than those with 2.8 year of schooling. By contrast, countries that had increased their education from 2.8 years of schooling in 1960 to 8.3 years of schooling in 2010 were only 167% richer. Moreover, much of this increase cannot possibly be attributed to education, as workers in 2010 had the advantage of technologies that were 50 years more advanced than those in 1960. Clearly, something other than education is needed to generate prosperity.
As is often the case, the experience of individual countries is more revealing than the averages. China started with less education than Tunisia, Mexico, Kenya, or Iran in 1960, and had made less progress than them by 2010. And yet, in terms of economic growth, China blew all of them out of the water. The same can be said of Thailand and Indonesia vis-à-vis the Philippines, Cameroon, Ghana, or Panama. Again, the fast growers must be doing something in addition to providing education.
The experience within countries is also revealing. In Mexico, the average income of men aged 25-30 with a full primary education differs by more than a factor of three between poorer municipalities and richer ones. The difference cannot possibly be related to educational quality, because those who moved from poor municipalities to richer ones also earned more.
As far as education, jobs, and wealth creation is concerned, I think the key paragraph is this:
And there is more bad news for the “education, education, education” crowd: Most of the skills that a labor force possesses were acquired on the job. What a society knows how to do is known mainly in its firms, not in its schools. At most modern firms, fewer than 15% of the positions are open for entry-level workers, meaning that employers demand something that the education system cannot – and is not expected – to provide.
This is exactly what I've found. Several years ago, I started offering good summer interns a full-time permanent position toward the end of summer because I've found that there's almost nothing they're going to learn in the next 2-6 years that will be useful to me as an employer. Maybe some more statistics, maybe more matrix algebra, and maybe a few other things, but all of those things can be learned on the job and I'm happy to teach them. They'll have to learn the vast majority of the knowledge they'll need to be long-term productive employees on the job so it's pointless, from an economic and employment point-of-view, to bother finishing college (and even high-school) and waste all that time and money. The entrepreneur Peter Thiel agrees with me and has called college a "waste of time."

Humans can't help but learn. Schools only slow them down in my experience and very little of that school learning is economically useful.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

So, Sweden

For many decades, Sweden has been the poster child for socialism and there is no doubt in my mind that it is indeed a very nice place to live (except for the climate and depressing lack of sun in the winter).

On the one hand, I tire of talking about Sweden because it has about a thousandth of the world's population and less than a hundredth of the world's output. Consider the following thought experiment: let's say we took the world's population, divided it up into exactly 1,000 completely homogenous pieces, with the same culture, government, taxation structure, resource, etc., and turned these 1,000 "countries" loose for a century; what would the standard deviation of GDP per capita be across the countries? It wouldn't be zero and I have a hunch it would be quite large, on the order of 10% to 20% of the mean GDP per capita. If so, this would mean that the success of a tiny country like Sweden could be mostly sheer luck.

On the other hand, I do find many aspects of Sweden interesting and it is very successful, so I find it's always interesting enough to contemplate.

If countries with substantial income from oil and gas are ignored, the three most successful economies in the world are Singapore, Switzerland, and Sweden. At first glance, they have nothing in common other than they all beginning with the letter 'S'. Everything from geography to culture is substantially different.  Singapore is fairly low-tax, Sweden very high-tax, and Switzerland has tax rates in the middle.

They do have a few things in common. They all have small populations, have limited resources, were on the periphery of the big wars during the last century, have been very open to international trade, and have very strong property rights.

Overall, Sweden does have very high tax rates and government spending which leads most people to assume that it's a workers' socialist paradise. And that's certainly correct to at least some extent.

Paradoxically, Sweden is also one of the most capitalistic countries in the world. The basis of this can be found in the following statements:
Sweden's wealth Gini coefficient at 0.853 was the second highest in developed countries, and above European and North American averages, suggesting high wealth inequality. [...] 
The vast majority of Sweden's industry is privately controlled, unlike many other industrialised Western countries, and, in accordance with a historical standard, publicly owned enterprises are of minor importance.
In other words, the wealth and capital in Sweden has been and continues to be concentrated in the hands of relatively few people, and those people control the capital and the companies that use that capital. In addition, in 2005, Sweden abolished inheritance taxes, enabling this concentration of capital to continue unabated into the future. Since the traditional definition of socialism is a system where the government or collective owns the capital, Sweden is pretty much the exact opposite of that.

Has Sweden become more socialist/redistributionist/big-governmentist or less over the last few decades and how have they done? I've already mentioned abolishing the inheritance tax, which in clearly in the "less" category. Also:
According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), deregulation, globalisation, and technology sector growth have been key productivity drivers.
Note that "deregulation" is listed first in the above statement. Parts of the safety net are also private:
Sweden is a world leader in privatised pensions and pension funding problems are relatively small compared to many other Western European countries.
Minimize government involvement with pensions and the problems are reduced according to the Western European experience. Tax rates have also been coming down:
Total tax collected by Sweden as a percentage of its GDP peaked at 52.3% in 1990. The country faced a real estate and banking crisis in 1990-1991, and consequently passed tax reforms in 1991 to implement tax rate cuts and tax base broadening over time. Since 1990, taxes as a percentage of GDP collected by Sweden has been dropping, with total tax rates for the highest income earners dropping the most. In 2010 45.8% of the country's GDP was collected as taxes.
Since Sweden has deregulated, privatized and lowered taxes, how has it fared?
Overall, GDP growth has been fast since reforms—especially those in manufacturing—were enacted in the early 1990s. 
Sweden is the fourth-most competitive economy in the world, according to the World Economic Forum in its Global Competitiveness Report 2012–2013.
In other words, really good.

Sweden is an oddball. It's a pretty homogeneous and small population with a unique mix of "socialism" and "capitalism" with the control of the capital and economy in the hands of relatively few private individuals. Deregulation, privatization, and lowering taxes certainly haven't hurt and look like they might've helped boost growth (but there's certainly not enough data to be sure).

So, Sweden is not a very good poster child for either socialism or capitalism. It's an outlier for both, it works well for the Swedes, but it's far from clear to me that their successful mix of socialism and capitalism would work on the far larger scale required for a place like the United States.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Takin' Care of Business

Would you tell an accountant how to do their job if you had no accounting experience and limited knowledge of accounting? Would you second guess how a guitarist played a riff if you don't play the guitar, even if you know a little bit about music? Would you criticize a quarterback on how they played a game, especially if you've never played football?

Of course, we all do things like that, especially the last one which birthed the phrase "Monday Morning Quarterback." So the real question is whether the accountant or the guitarist or the quarterback would take you even vaguely seriously. The answer is: very likely NO. Partly because after the fact second guessing is very much different than making decisions in real-time under great uncertainty. But mostly because without the experience of setting up charts of accounts, fingering guitar riffs, or calling plays, realistically, your input isn't terribly useful. On the other hand, advice from another accountant, guitarist, or quarterback is much more likely to be of value since they've had similar experience and a great deal of knowledge.

Now I'd like to switch from accounting, guitar playing, and football and consider business. Of all of the things I've ever done, from recording rock music to robotics, starting and running a business is by far the hardest. Resources have to be constantly orchestrated and many of those resources need to be kept "happy" in order that they do the best job possible. Market trends have to be guessed, regulators complied with or dodged, suppliers (who have the same issues) have to be convinced to supply at an acceptable time and price, customers need to be found and product delivered, funding needs to be found, and on, and on, and on.

All of these ons and ons and ons have to be balanced in a web of hard to fathom tradeoffs. For example, perhaps there's yet another of the many cash crunches we've faced. Do I lay off a couple of employees now, hurting them, and if so which employees, or do I hold on and keep them because there's a reasonable possibility that one of two contracts will begin generating revenue in time, but if the revenue doesn't start in a timely fashion I won't be able to pay anybody next month and the whole company will unravel in an unpredictable way and possibly everybody will be out of a job? Every day, I have a hundred questions with that level of complexity.

So when non-business folk do the Monday Morning Quarterback thing regarding some business catastrophe, I mostly just laugh. Recently, I made the following comment along those lines:
"I rarely take criticism to entrepreneurs seriously except from other entrepreneurs because I'm convinced that those who haven't started and run businesses have no idea how hard it is since I certainly didn't before I did it."
That's not my friendliest comment ever and I apologize for the dismissive tone. I made that comment during a discussion about the 2013 Savar building collapse in which 1,129 people died and thousands more were injured. There were some comments that I found not credible and/or not relevant that went something like: "it pays for itself to implement basic safety standards."

Maybe. But the question is who has the incentive to take this safety action. Let's start in the middle of story. Let's say I'm one of the factory owners/managers. I don't own the building and I'm simply leasing space. The building is evacuated because there are large cracks in the building. But the next day:
It is also reported that Kabir Hossain Sardar, the upazila nirbahi officer visited the site, met with Sohel Rana, and declared the building safe. Sohel Rana said to the media that the building was safe and workers should return to work the next day. One manager of the factories in the Rana Plaza reported that Sohel Rana told them that the building was safe.
Assume I'm the manager mentioned. I see these huge cracks and I might well be skeptical that the building is safe even though I'm told that it is. I can make one of two choices:
  1. Not have my employees go in the factory and work. In this case, I'm nearly certainly bankrupt, which I'll bet is pretty damn unpleasant in Bangladesh. Not only is my family ruined and perhaps destined to be homeless on the streets, but my dozens or hundreds of employees aren't going to get paid which will seriously damage them as well. If the building doesn't collapse, I've badly hurt a lot of people, including my family, for no good reason in hindsight. If the building does collapse, I'm still ruined, but at least I've saved some people.
  2. Have my employees go in the factory and work. Hopefully, the building won't collapse, or if it does, perhaps there will be enough warning to get out.
The trade off is certain damage to a lot of people versus possibly catastrophic damage to a lot of people. In my experience, that would be an impossibly difficult choice to make in real-time. Now that we know the building collapsed, it's easier to make the choice as a Monday Morning Quarterback.

One thing that I've found is that many non-business owners think that all entrepreneurs and business owners are rich and have essentially infinite resources at their command. Nothing could be further from the truth:
...small business owners ... are receiving an average salary of $68,000 annually, down from $72,000 a year ago. In addition, nearly 15 percent of small business owners need to work a second job while running their business in order to make ends meet.
I'm in that 15 percent. Not all entrepreneurs are Bill Gates or Steve Jobs and even they were probably short on cash in the beginning. If I had to fix the building I'm in, I'd throw in the towel and walk away. There's no possible way I could afford to fix it.

Working backwards, where could've decisions been made to prevent the catastrophe. Clearly Kabir Hossain Sardar could've declined to declare the building safe. My bet is that some sort of corrupt deal between Sardar and Rana was made. However, let's assume not for a moment. Even without bribes Sardar would've been under immense pressure to say the building was "safe." Not only from Rana (possibly a mob thug), but also from the factory owners/managers and even the employees.  No factory equals no work equals no pay equals serious problem.

Working back from there, I could've not started the factory. But my opinion is that discouraging business in Bangladesh is wildly counterproductive. No businesses, no jobs, no work, no pay, no food.

Working back from there, Rana could've not built the building and/or not allowed the modifications to the building and/or made the building safer. My guess is that Rana simply wouldn't have bothered to build the building if he had to incur the extra cost of making it safer. In other words, the ROI wouldn't have penciled out. It's easy to Monday Morning Quarterback it and say that since the building collapsed, he would've been better off making it a safer building. Yes, but he might've been even better off not building it in the first place and investing elsewhere if it was going to be more expensive. Then, no building, no factories, no jobs, no work, no pay, no food.

Another choice is that the government could've done a better job enforcing building codes. Then Rana wouldn't have built the building. Then, no building, no factories, no jobs, no work, no pay, no food.

Another choice is that the government could've taxed the people more and built the buildings themselves using appropriate building codes. With $1,100 per year GDP, higher taxes pretty much means someone's not eating. And if you think the government is somehow going to tax people like Rana instead of the poor, think about how corrupt Bangladesh is.

Nobody had the incentive to prevent the catastrophe. Note that even the government wasn't going to bother doing anything about the collapse until Americans complained.

I want to end with a snippet about George McGovern.

Senator George McGovern was the Democrat's presidential nominee in 1972 and was possibly the most left wing candidate ever to run for president as part of a major party. As a Senator, he was involved in a great deal of legislation that directly affected business.

Later, he became a businessman (my guess is he thought it would be really easy) and reminisced about the experience:
In 1988, I invested most of the earnings from this lecture circuit acquiring the leasehold on Connecticut’s Stratford Inn. Hotels, inns and restaurants have always held a special fascination for me. The Stratford Inn promised the realization of a longtime dream to own a combination hotel, restaurant and public conference facility — complete with an experienced manager and staff.  
In retrospect, I wish I had known more about the hazards and difficulties of such a business, especially during a recession of the kind that hit New England just as I was acquiring the inn’s 43-year leasehold. I also wish that during the years I was in public office, I had had this firsthand experience about the difficulties business people face every day. That knowledge would have made me a better U.S. senator and a more understanding presidential contender. [emphasis added]
Everybody thinks business is easy, but most who try it, find it's not.

And now, one of my favorite songs:

a

Monday, May 11, 2015

I Feel So Guilty

Even as cynical and jaded as I am, every once in a while I read an article that makes me realize I'm not yet cynical and jaded enough. Linked indirectly from both instapundit and brothersjudd is an Australian Broadcasting Corporation article entitled "Is having a loving family an unfair advantage?" Note that the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is owned and funded (over $1 billion per year) by the Australian government so it's not a fringe news organization.

In the article, philosopher and Social Justice Warrior Adam Swift notes:
"The evidence shows that the difference between those who get bedtime stories and those who don’t—the difference in their life chances—is bigger than the difference between those who get elite private schooling and those that don’t"
For those who think that inequality is the great evil of the universe, this inherently leads to the following contemplation:
"One way philosophers might think about solving the social justice problem would be by simply abolishing the family. If the family is this source of unfairness in society then it looks plausible to think that if we abolished the family there would be a more level playing field."
I have to wonder if Adam Swift is related to satirist Jonathan Swift who also proposed that the state should raise children in Gulliver's Travels. Alas, Jonathan was kidding, though at least Adam admits it's not a perfect solution:
The break-up of the family is plausible maybe, he thinks, but even to the most hard-hearted there’s something off-key about it.
Hmmm, a bit off-key? Yeah, a bit. Progressives have been known to be a bit tone-deaf from time to time.

Asked if "parents snuggling up for one last story before lights out be even a little concerned about the advantage they might be conferring," Swift responds:
“I don’t think parents reading their children bedtime stories should constantly have in their minds the way that they are unfairly disadvantaging other people’s children, but I think they should have that thought occasionally.”
I'm guilty, oh-so-guilty for disadvantaging other people's children by all that bedtime reading I did. I managed to disadvantage hundreds of millions of children simply by reading bedtime stories.  Oh! The horrors! Guilty, I tell you, guilty guilty guilty!