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Monday, May 02, 2016

Political Considerations of Free Trade

by Peter

I think Bret has done a super job with his analysis, particularly in raising questions of diminishing returns and challenging the article of faith among free-marketers that if one trade agreement is good, two must be better and so on. But I'm really not qualified to critique his analysis and I wonder whether it's even possible to disprove or prove his points empirically, because the trade economy doesn't stand in isolation from general economic issues. However, the political zeitgeist is not favourable and it strikes me that the poobahs of both parties are scrambling to defend it and not very successfully.

It's pretty clear from the primaries that we're seeing a revolt of both protectionism and nativism that is blowing up the GOP and fracturing the Dems. A lot of it is based on nostalgia and romantic thinking, but there is no doubt it is born of economic turbulence, distress and pessimism in the bottom half. I don't buy the leftist argument that the general public yearns for economic equality, but I do believe it is essential to maintain equality of opportunity, a level playing field, etc. When the promise of free markets becomes associated with Wall Street corruption (too big to fail and too big to indict), factories fleeing to Mexico and Asia, massive unpayable student debt, an inexplicable decline in investment and a ho-hum response to job losses and other economic distress, there is going to be a political reaction that won't be assuaged by economic theory, dreamy fantasies of 19th century limited government or appeals to what the Founders thought.

Obviously Trump is rocking the GOP with his heresies, but the Dem establishment is in tough straits too. In some ways, Trump and Sanders have more in common than they do with their opponents (starting with bases of angry white men). Thomas Frank's criticisms of the Dems as the party of wealthy liberal urban professionals who have abandoned working people and become preoccupied with environmental and identity issues ("Sorry you lost your job. Maybe you and your family should move to Idaho. Now let's talk about degendered bathrooms.") are worth reading, even if his prescriptions aren't.

It's always worried me how easy it is for doctrinaire free-marketers and libertarians to wash their hands of responsibility for the losers in their winners and losers game. Even the perception of who they are is malleable. Earlier this winter, pundits across the spectrum expressed some degree of sympathy for Trump's supporters, characterizing them as honest working people trying to juggle two low paying jobs while covering medical and educational expenses for their families. The American Dream was leaving them behind. As Trump rolled on and the GOP panicked, that changed. Kevin Williamson for the National Review, who I normally like, led the reaction with a mean-spirited depiction of the typical Trump supporter as an Oxycontin-addled trailer park racist living on a fraudulent disability claim. He kicked the American dream in the privates and wasn't worth defending. If that's the best the GOP can do, no wonder Trump's winning.

So, free trade raises the cui bono question and whether an American worker is entitled to priority over foreign workers. But that question is being asked in a broader context of to what degree we are our brothers' keepers. If conservatives don't get their act together to come up with an appealing answer, we may face a very destructive period of leftist inspired protectionism and autarchy, and it won't matter much to the electorate that those have almost always been recipes for economic stagnation.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

When Grasp exceeds Reach

Imagine my amazement when, through yet another unrepeatable sequence of searches and clicked links, I found my name in the New York Times.

Since any explanation couldn't possibly replace reading the thing, go ahead, and while doing so decide for yourselves:

- The quality of this specifid NYT Op-Ed response.

- Whether there is an associated "meta"-grade.


Sunday, April 24, 2016

Rough Draft: Questions About Free Trade to Don Boudreaux

Dear Don,

I've been following your blog posts regarding free (international) trade for a decade and I'm wondering what your thoughts are regarding a number of free trade subtopics. If you had time to blog about them, I'd find that interesting and think some of your other readers would too.

Definition of  Free Trade

One thing I've never been quite sure of is your definition of free trade. Here's what I get by typing "Free Trade Definition" into Google[google]:
free trade noun
noun: free trade; modifier noun: free-trade 
1. international trade left to its natural course without tariffs, quotas, or other restrictions.

Is that the definition you have in mind when discussing free trade? The rest of this letter assumes so.

Efficiency of Tariffs

According to the definition above, Free Trade and tariffs (where a tariff is a tax) are mutually exclusive. Yet domestic economic transactions are subjected a huge number and wide variety of taxes such as sales taxes, earned income taxes, real estate taxes, estate taxes, capital gains taxes, corporate taxes, health taxes, transportation taxes, and so forth. It doesn’t appear to me that tariffs are any less legitimate than any of the other myriad types of taxes.

In addition, tariffs are a fairly efficient tax in that there are a limited number of ports where goods worth a great deal can enter the country. Compare this to an income tax where a large percentage of more than 300,000,000 individuals in the United States have to file. I’m under the impression that efficiency is why the tariff was historically used to help keep the kingdom’s coffers complete.

Given that libertarians believe that at least a minarchist government is required and even a minarchist government requires some revenue, to the extent that revenues from tariffs can replace the need for other taxes, I don't see why tariffs are any more onerous for an economy and society than any of those other taxes. To me, tariffs seem at least as legitimate and at least as efficient as of the other forms of taxation.

If a majority of the American people and its resultant bureacracy prefer tariffs to other forms of tax, is that really so bad from an economic efficiency point of view?

Efficiency Versus Resilience

As a roboticist, I have almost a fetish for electric motors and actuators and the production thereof. While I’ve never visited their factory in China (Hong Kong area), some colleagues that have visited it describe Johnson Electric[johnson] as one of the most awesomely efficient motor production facilities in the world; in one end goes copper ore and other raw materials and out the other end comes millions of motors per day. It’s a shining example of economies of scale and efficiency. Their specialty is automotive electric motors (for power windows, for example) and they produce a significant fraction of all motors worldwide in that niche. If trade restrictions and tariffs were further reduced, no doubt they would have even a larger share of the market and be even more efficient and be able to produce and sell the motors at a somewhat lower cost.

I imagine that part of the appeal of free trade is that there would be many extremely efficient companies like Johnson Electric, each thriving in a specific niche with tremendous volumes, yet with enough competition from a handful of other companies to drive relentless innovation, quality improvement, and cost reduction.
However, there’s potentially a downside to such a scenario. What happens if something happens to Johnson Electric? What happens if there’s political unrest (war), a fire, or a natural disaster?

I find the answer to these questions disconcerting. Examples indicate to me that moderate natural disasters cause significant supply chain disruptions. For example, the 2007 Niigata earthquake [niigata] caused a significant supply chain disruption [farber]:

By now everyone has heard of the M6.8 earthquake up in Niigata last week, a couple of hours north of Tokyo by shinkansen.  [...]

One small company in Niigata, Riken (no relation to the research lab with a similar English name, I'm sure) makes 60% of the piston O rings used by *all* of the car manufacturers in Japan.  Their plant was badly damaged.

Japan's auto makers, of course, are famed for their "just in time" supply chain management. [...]

Toyota was forced to idle at least 27 plants, Daihatsu four, Honda and other manufacturers several each.  Toyota is still shut down, as of this writing (Monday, a week after the quake), and has an output loss of 46,000 cars or more.

A 6.8 magnitude earthquake is not a huge natural disaster, especially not for Japan. In fact, this was merely the warm up for the Tohoku quake four years later which caused the tsunami that in turn caused the well publicized Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster [fukushima]. What was less publicized was that “[l]ocated in the disaster region and adversely affected by these forces are a number of manufacturing facilities which are integral to the global motor vehicle supply chain” [canis] and that “it took three months for Toyota to recover to its pre-earthquake production level.” [matsuo]

You’d think that Toyota would learn to second source most or all of their supply chain and they do for the most part. But even those companies that are using second sources may be fooling themselves. Second sources might possibly mitigate supply chain disruptions if something catastrophic should happen to Johnson Electric, currently supplying approximately 15% of their niche. But if freer international trade enabled Johnson Electric to double their market share of their niche, it would take months for other suppliers to ramp up to cover for the shortfall due to Johnson Electric’s hypothetical absence.

In most dynamic systems, efficiency is in conflict with resilience and robustness. Redundancy leads to resilience and robustness but is antithetical to efficiency. Those economic ecosystems that utilize Johnson Electric are probably quite efficient, but there’s potentially fragility as well.

Is the fragility worth the little bit of extra efficiency? How much extra efficiency is there or would there be if trade restrictions were further reduced?

Scale and Free Trade

Clearly, trade has many benefits and limiting it too much can have serious downsides. As your co-blogger Russ Roberts seems to fond of pointing out, “[s]elf-sufficiency is the road to poverty.” [roberts]

However, it seems to me that the incremental advantages of trade diminish as the scale increases. Two people trading with each other are much better off than each doing everything for himself, 100 people are better off trading together rather than just 2 at time, a million are better off than 100, etc., but it seems that the incremental gains slow down with each increase in order of magnitude of people trading and it may even break down at some point. Sure, perhaps it's better to have 160 different brands of shampoo rather than the current 80 most popular brands [brandes], but it doesn't seem like those sorts of advantages are overwhelmingly important.

Consider the approximately half billion people in the North America Free Trade Area (NAFTA). It contains labor from first and third world countries, at least some of nearly all natural resources required for any economy, and extensive diversity of people and geography. I think that NAFTA and the trade that occurs within it is a good thing and very beneficial for the countries that are members. 


How beneficial is the additional trade with countries outside of NAFTA for those within NAFTA? Is that even quantifiable?

Chaos and Trade

As we expand beyond NAFTA, I wonder if the adverse effects of the chaotic nature of trade begin to overwhelm the benefits of specialization and economies of scale provided by trade. The chaotic nature seems to me like a waterbed with baffling: without baffling, I jump in and the waves eject my wife onto the floor; yet with baffling, the bed still readily adapts without disturbing my wife's sleep.



A description of the chaotic nature of markets is provided by Professor David Ruelle in his book Chance and Chaos[ruelle]:

A standard piece of economics wisdom is that suppressing economic barriers and establishing a free market makes everybody better off.  Suppose that country A and country B both produce toothbrushes and toothpaste for local use.  Suppose also that the climate of country A allows toothbrushes to be grown and harvested more profitably than in country B, but that country B has rich mines of excellent toothpaste.  Then, if a free market is established, country A will produce cheap toothbrushes, and country B cheap toothpaste, which they will sell to each other for everybody's benefit.  More generally, the economists show (under certain assumptions) that a free market economy will provide the producers of various commodities with an equilibrium that will somehow optimize their well-being.  But, as we have seen, the complicated system obtained by coupling together various local economies is not unlikely to have a complicated, chaotic time evolution rather than settling down to a convenient equilibrium.  (Technically, the economists allow an equilibrium to be a time-dependent state, but not to have an unpredictable future.) Coming back to countries A and B, we see that linking their economies together, and with those of countries C, D, etc., may produce wild economic oscillations that will damage the toothbrush and toothpaste industry.  And thus be responsible for countless cavities.  
A graphical example of "tipping" points in a chaotic system is shown by the bifurcations in the following graph:
The system is perfect stable for r < 3, enabling a false sense of security and ability to predict the system response for other values.  By r = 3.6, the system has become completely unstable and unpredictable with rapid further increases in instability as r increases from there.

There are many real-world physical examples of this such as turbulent versus laminar flow of a fluid in a pipe where linear increases of pump pressure lead to more-or-less linear increases in flow rate until a certain flow rate is hit, after which the flow becomes turbulent and massive increases in pump pressure give little or no increase in flow rate. Eventually the pipe will burst from the pressure.

In the economy, chaotic effects are manifested in things like shifting comparative advantages between regions leading to the collapse of whole industries and sub-economies.  Examples include: steel shifting to Asia, gutting the U.S. steel industry and leaving the badly damaged rust-belt in its wake; and accelerated devastation of Appalachia from the changing economic viability of coal and farming.  Each of these examples were exacerbated by rent-seeking unions, government and environmental regulations, less than optimal management, technological innovation, and foreign subsidies, but the chaotic nature of markets still played a significant role and these other factors are an inherent part of the chaotic global political economy.


What are the effects of chaos and complexity on Patterns of Sustainable Specialization and Trade [kling] as scale increases?

Winners and Losers From Free Trade

In the previous sections I have questioned whether or not free trade is even beneficial in aggregate, especially when considering resilience and mitigating the risk of huge supply chain bottlenecks. There is no doubt that some people are better positioned to take advantage of, or at least weather, the effects of free trade. This subtopic is more political than economic, in fact it's a hugely contentious area in the political arena, but whatever light economics can shed on this would still be helpful.

Because it's such a contentious topic, I could compile a list of a thousand references of various politicians, bureaucrats, and even economists who lament the damage to various groups due to free trade. I'll just list a couple of recent ones.

Charles Murray describes the damage to working class men during the last half century[murray]:
During the same half-century, American corporations exported millions of manufacturing jobs, which were among the best-paying working-class jobs. They were and are predominantly men’s jobs. In both 1968 and 2015, 70% of manufacturing jobs were held by males. 
During the same half-century, the federal government allowed the immigration, legal and illegal, of tens of millions of competitors for the remaining working-class jobs. Apart from agriculture, many of those jobs involve the construction trades or crafts. They too were and are predominantly men’s jobs: 77% in 1968 and 84% in 2015.
A recent paper by Autor, Dorn, and Hanson examines the effect of large changes in trade, focusing on trade with China. Here are some excerpts [dorn]
“Employment has certainly fallen in U.S. industries more exposed to import competition. But so too has overall employment in the local labor markets in which these industries were concentrated.”

“Without question, a worker’s position in the wage distribution is indicative of her exposure to import competition. In response to a given trade shock, a lower-wage employee experiences larger proportionate reductions in annual and lifetime earnings, a diminished ability to exit a job before an adverse shock hits, and a greater likelihood of exiting the labor market, relative to her higher-wage coworker. Yet the intensity of action along other margins of adjustment means that we will misrepresent the welfare impacts of trade shocks unless we also account for a worker’s local labor market, initial industry of employment, and starting employer.”

“Labor-market adjustment to trade shocks is stunningly slow, with local labor-force participation rates remaining depressed and local unemployment rates remaining elevated for a full decade or more after a shock commences.” While damage to various people in various groups in various regions is not necessarily enough to call for restrictions on free trade, it's also not possible to ignore the political unrest, social ramifications, and potential violence caused by these effects."
There is little more dangerous to a societal order than substantial groups of people who feel that they have little left to lose. How does one trade of the aggregate economic gains (if any) of free trade with the (alleged) fact that regions and groups have been and will remain devasted? Is any of this quantifiable? In other words, can I know that the likelihood of me losing my job is at least offset by my children being better off due to free trade?

Knowledge and Free Trade

The local knowledge problem is described as follows[hayek]:

Today it is almost heresy to suggest that scientific knowledge is not the sum of all knowledge. But a little reflection will show that there is beyond question a body of very important but unorganized knowledge which cannot possibly be called scientific in the sense of knowledge of general rules: the knowledge of the particular circumstances of time and place. It is with respect to this that practically every individual has some advantage over all others because he possesses unique information of which beneficial use might be made, but of which use can be made only if the decisions depending on it are left to him or are made with his active coöperation. We need to remember only how much we have to learn in any occupation after we have completed our theoretical training, how big a part of our working life we spend learning particular jobs, and how valuable an asset in all walks of life is knowledge of people, of local conditions, and of special circumstances. To know of and put to use a machine not fully employed, or somebody's skill which could be better utilized, or to be aware of a surplus stock which can be drawn upon during an interruption of supplies, is socially quite as useful as the knowledge of better alternative techniques. And the shipper who earns his living from using otherwise empty or half-filled journeys of tramp-steamers, or the estate agent whose whole knowledge is almost exclusively one of temporary opportunities, or the arbitrageur who gains from local differences of commodity prices, are all performing eminently useful functions based on special knowledge of circumstances of the fleeting moment not known to others.
At least some of the argument about need for dispersed knowledge and action thereon has to do with actual local conditions, the “place” part of “time and place.” When a great deal of production has to do with agricultural, extracting energy from the earth, mining, and even manufacturing to some extent, local knowledge is critical for both efficiency and innovation. For example, I work with lettuce growers, and they plant a different lettuce hybrid seed each week to best match the expected weather conditions for that specific 12-week growing period for that batch of lettuce in that specific field. You can't get much more "time and place" specific than that.

But with much of the United States ecomomy having evolved to services, information, and knowledge, a great deal of the “place” part has been eliminated. Knowledge can move anywhere, often not requiring people to move with it, and often nearly instantaneous.

It often seems to me that this globalization of knowledge has almost turned Hayek's knowledge problem on its head. Instead of having an advantage of local knowledge, no individual or local group is able to have an adequate grasp of the competing activities of everyone else around the world, even in a relatively small niche. As a result, no individual or small group can compete without investment risk that's enormous compared with a few decades ago.

I have personally experienced this sort of effect. I may have a high degree of confidence that I'm the only one working on a certain innovation in robotics in a given region, but I'm unable to predict the status of this innovation world wide. Investors, however, want to know if there's a chance they'll be blindsided by some competing group in India, or Israel, or Ireland, or Italy, etc. and if so, will be far less likely to invest. This is exacerbated by the fact that if I'm even nanosecond later than other groups in filing relevant patents, my investors can be out of millions of dollars with no chance to be able to recover from their losses.

As the chaotic effects due to scale increase, investment risk also increases. It's easier to get investment for a venture that can provide a positive ROI and an exit strategy in a short time frame than for ventures that have a longer time horizon. This is partly inherent in the risk assessment and its effect on the subjective discount rate used in Net Present Value calculations which penalize longer time horizons. However, a substantial part of the risk analysis takes the chaotic nature of markets into account coupled with the limited visibility into global activities.

I think that part of slowing of worldwide investment and your colleague Tyler Cowen's Great Stagnation [cowen] are partly due to this sort of phenomenon. There's a lot money sitting, doing nothing, with nobody willing to pull the trigger to invest that money, because that money will be wasted if competing entities are working on the same thing. There are a huge and unlimited number of ventures that can be undertaken, but the risk of doing so due to globalization is astronomical relative to a few decades ago.

Might this new version of the knowledge problem be mitigated by reducing free trade?

Simple Alternative to Free Trade

I'm well aware that putting any sort of trade in the hands of governments and bureaucrats is not without substantial risk due to forces explained by Public Choice Theory[pct] and other factors. Nonetheless, international trade is already in the hands of governments and I think that simplifying government involvement, yet not completely freeing trade, is potentially a tenable approach.

As a result, I would propose an across the board tariff regime for goods and services coming into NAFTA. I'm not sure what the tariff rate would be and a horde of economists would need to figure that out, but for sake of argument, assume 15%. There would be no other regulations beyond security and military necessity (not allowing importation of nuclear weapons, for example).

This tariff would provide the "baffling" to dampen chaotic behavior of trade. At the same time, any area that truly has a local competitive advantage would still be able to trade with other areas and that would keep trading channels open. Industries would have companies in each of the areas to provide resilience against war and disaster. Knowledge and innovations could still be shared.

Even if none of the benefits above are true, there's not really a large economic downside. The revenue from tariffs would simply offset the revenues from other taxes and those lower other taxes would themselves lead to additional investment and innovation.

Are there other major downsides from an economic perspective? If so, what are those downsides and how big are they?

Summary

There are a number of issues in various subtopics of free trade that leave me far from convinced that global free trade is a great idea. I understand that "But Freedom!!!!" is a reply that you might respond with to any of the questions above regarding free trade, and I'm not unsympathetic to that response, but that is not an economic argument.

The main purpose of this email is to hopefully stimulate you to write about these subtopics on your blog in the future from an economic perspective. I would find it interesting and I think some of your other readers will as well.

Thanks,
Bret


References


[canis] http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R41831.pdf

[cowen] http://www.amazon.com/Great-Stagnation-Low-Hanging-Eventually-eSpecial-ebook/dp/B004H0M8QS/ref=sr_1_3?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1461494631&sr=1-3&keywords=tyler+cowen

[dorn] http://www.ddorn.net/papers/Autor-Dorn-Hanson-ChinaShock.pdf

[farber] http://seclists.org/interesting-people/2007/Jul/123

[fukushima] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fukushima_Daiichi_nuclear_disaster

[google] https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=free+trade+definition

[hayek] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Local_knowledge_problem

Friedrich A. Hayek, "The Use of Knowledge", American Economic Review. XXXV, No. 4. pp. 519-30 (1945).

[johnson] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnson_Electric

[kling] http://arnoldkling.com/essays/papers/PSSTCap.pdf

[matsuo] http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0925527314002278

[niigata] http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2007/07/17/national/powerful-earthquake-slams-niigata

[pct] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_choice

[roberts] http://cafehayek.com/2009/04/gifted-in-nepal.html

[ruelle] http://www.amazon.com/Chance-Chaos-David-Ruelle/dp/0691021007/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1397157389&sr=8-1&keywords=chance+and+chaos+ruelle

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Yes, he went there!

Rick Moran has the following observation on the blog at AmericanThinker:
Even the left realized the value of studying our roots as a civilization – at least the left of 45 years ago.  But the creatures who call themselves leftists today carry no such intellectual baggage.  It has been drummed into their tiny brains that Western civilization – a civilization that created the modern world with all its grevious faults and stupendous successes – isn't worth examining.

So say the overwhelming majority of students at Stanford University, who voted down a proposal to require two semesters studying our roots by a 6-1 margin.


The Barrister has his own take on the same matter at Maggie's Farm:
Well, you have to laugh. Socrates would have laughed, because these children are 100% immersed in Enlightenment Western Civ, and don't even want to know what it is or where it came from. I have seen plenty of willful ignorance in my life, but this has to take the cake. SAT-bright students, voting for ignorance of Homer,  Plato, the Old Testament, Paul, Beowulf, Augustine, Aquinas, Lorenzo de Medici, Michelangelo, Rousseau, Shakespeare, Newton, Adam Smith, Martin Luther, Locke. Wow.  They won't know bupkus and will not be worth a serious conversation.

And since all of modern physics, chemistry, medicine, and engineering are aspects and products of Western Civ too, perhaps they might consider eliminating those oppressive white male patriarchal things.

Ignorant kids, standing on the shoulders of giants while denying it. Fascinating phenomenon, the hubris of ignorance.

The fruit of this Western Civilization, a free and open society, is enjoyed but not understood by many people.  The best kind of inclusiveness makes these benefits available to everyone in these societies.  Talk of both white privilege and cultural appropriation are on the other hand an attempt to undermine cultural confidence as a precursor to Marxist indoctrination.  Bill Whittle is having none of that in a presentation titled appropriate this:
Well, “Cultural Appropriation” is the latest form of combat used by Social Justice Warriors: a term used by crybullies to describe themselves as fighters against prejudice and privilege. They are the first warriors in history to burst into tears and require weeks of therapy at the mere sight of an actual weapon.

There is only one area where these progressive milliennials are not only allowed but encouraged to compete, and that is the struggle to see who can be the biggest victim and win the Virtue Signaling Silver Cup by being most sensitive to racial and gender injustice.

Cultural Appropriation is the idea that White Males have stolen various elements of minority and female culture and used them for their own benefit without acknowledging or appreciating the suffering of the offended party.

As I was watching the accompanying video I envisioned another narrative and Bill went there...Oh he did.  
As a Straight White Male, I see these feminists and students of color appropriating my White Male culture every day. When I think of them walking around in blue jeans, using electricity to light their dorm rooms, or to run their microwave ovens so they can eat non-Anglo-Saxon food… well, frankly, it makes me sick. They sit there using their smart phones to write about Social Injustice and then use the internet to post it on Facebook and Twitter, and as a white male I find this incredibly offensive.

Do these racists ever give a thought to fact that they are not dying in their twenties and thirties because of immunization, pasteurization, antiseptics and antibiotics? When they go to the hospital, do they think about the suffering and back-breaking work by White Males in order to bring them laser surgery, MRI scans, artificial ventilators and all the rest? Do they give an instant’s thought to why none of them developed polio, or scores of other infectious diseases? Nope. They just culturally appropriate these things and use them inauthentically.

And he wasn't done:
And of all the things that Social Justice Warriors have culturally appropriated from White Men, the one thing I demand full recognition of is Rap.
Check it out, the whole thing.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Skins weren't always so thin

When humor goes, there goes civilization. Erma Bombeck
Read more at: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/e/ermabombec131317.html
When humor goes, there goes civilization. Erma Bombeck
Read more at: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/e/ermabombec131317.html
When humor goes, there goes civilization. Erma Bombeck
Read more at: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/e/ermabombec131317.html
 
 
When humor goes, there goes civilization.  - Erma Bombeck

Instapundit linked to an interesting post at brothersjuddblog:
Sales of 'Caucasians' shirts, depicting the Cleveland Indians' team mascot as a caricature of a white person, skyrocketed one day after ESPN's Bomani Jones wore one on a show, the shirt's creator said Friday.


The conclusion at  newsbusters:
So, in other words, Bomani Jones’ stunt backfired. He wore the shirt to provoke anger on the part of white people by flipping the tables and exposing them as hypocrites for being offended by ‘Caucasians,’ while they cheer for the Redskins, Chief Wahoo, the Braves, and so on.
Except very few, if any, white people are offended by the shirt. Proving the opposite of Jones’ point. And that maybe, just maybe, it’s time for race hucksters like Bomani Jones to get a life.
As the Erma Bombeck insight makes clear, humor make life bearable...

The way to make a pluralist multiculturalism workable is demonstrated by  Sultan Knish:
When the Yankees play baseball in the Bronx and the Knicks hit the court at Madison Square Garden, the two teams may belong to different sports, but they're both part of an exchange of taunts and slurs that no one remembers or cares about anymore.


The Knicks are short for the Knickerbockers, one of the derogatory names that English New Yorkers called the Dutch New Yorkers whom they had seized the city from. And the Dutch returned the favor by calling the Anglo newcomers, John Cheese or Jan Kees, which eventually became Yankee.

The English mocked the Dutch and the Dutch mocked English and then both terms became part of the city's cultural heritage and even a point of pride. Yankee may still have a derogatory meaning in the South and in Europe, but in New York, it's on every other baseball cap and the Knicks are on every other jersey; including some of the shorts that resemble the Knickerbockers of the Dutch.

This sort of thing happens a lot in a multicultural society. What used to be a point of insult, blends into the common cultural heritage. The minority teenagers wearing Knicks shorts and Yankees caps care as little about the Dutch and English slurs that got the whole thing started as they do about the Redskins, a term that is as equally out of date and nearly as obscure. 

...
The firemen of tolerance are also the arsonists of intolerance. They start the fires and then put them out. The debate over the Redskins is a classic example of setting a fire and then declaring that they should be able to do whatever it takes to put it out.
...
Liberals nurtured on Orientalism and worries about cultural appropriation are uncomfortable with that; but that's their problem. It's perfectly normal for the old wounds to become the bonds of a new society. It's part of the healing process. It's post-racial and post-everything in a good way.
...
The common American identity was based on the integration of the good and the bad, the loves and the hates, the resentments and the joys, it combines the high and low points of culture, it mixed together aspirations and slurs, baked it together into something strange and wonderful.
...
Liberal political correctness is obsessively consumed with the destruction of any common culture not mediated by their commissars. Their divisive efforts seem calculated to break down any areas where co-existence occurs because the great threat to their political power would come from the revelation that they are not the firemen of tolerance, they are the arsonists of intolerance, setting groups at each other and then stepping in to referee the results.

Promoting the taking of offense at nearly any possible slight is very unhealthy.  Yes, we can get along if our elites stop trying to divide us for their convenience.

Living the Bern

Last month I was on a swing through the US, and stopped for a couple days at my brother's house in Palm Springs.

He is on board with Bernie.

Perhaps a little background is in order here. Until a few years ago, my brother, now 57, did CAD work, converting specifications into plans and diagrams for a company that specialized in building refineries. The company decided to move its design operation from Southern California to Texas. If he had moved, my brother could have kept his job.

Instead, he decided to retire.

He sold his condo in Monrovia, and bought a house in Palm Springs.

Then he went on unemployment, got a "free" phone, state aid for his utility bills, food stamps, and a nearly complete cessation of any tax burdens, among other things.

As it happens, my brother is gay, and therefore has none of those things -- children -- that take such great whacks at the bank account. Combined with more than decent monetary discipline, along with making a killing on his condo, my brother has plenty of money. The challenge he faces, with his financial counselor's help, is to budget his expenses so that his withdrawals to cover them don't jeopardize the flow of free stuff.

So it should come as no surprise he hates Republicans with the kind of loathing that would leave Harry speechless with admiration.

Chief among his reasons is that Republicans voted to end the perpetual extension of unemployment benefits. Not only did that reduce his flow of "free" stuff, it significantly increased the complication of funding his lifestyle while not imperiling the rest of his "free" stuff.

(Since Antonin Scalia had just died, my brother also saved some venom for him -- after all Scalia made corporations into people, and companies to not buy contraceptives for their employees. My brother is equally at home with both concepts and facts.)

Interestingly, Palm Springs is the gayest city in America. And, at least based upon my admittedly somewhat superficial experience of the place, I think there is a reason for this. The gay demographic is decidedly tilted towards the mid-fifties and up. All of whom have plenty of disposable money, do not work, and get lots of "free" stuff.

There is secondary evidence to back this up. Palm Springs is a resort community with -- unusually for a resort community -- lots of year round residents healthy and young enough to work. There is no industry to speak of. No rush hour. No traffic jams. Lots of restaurants and gyms.

My brother and his fiancee, and very likely most of the rest of the people I saw while there, are driving down the work force participation rate, while increasing "inequality", all as part of Living the Bern.

When I mentioned that other's were working to provide his "free" stuff, his response was: "Tough. I paid taxes, now it's my turn." He is certainly very personally generous with others' money.

So I guess the rest of us are feeling the Living of the Bern, too.

Monday, April 04, 2016

Right Place, Right Time

My main task yesterday was reaching the end of our national nightmare: getting rear fog lights on our car so we can register the da ... uh, thing, here in Germany.

To recap the state of play, internet research had yielded things that weren't completely true, and two dealers, the BMW mothership, and BMW North America collectively looked at me as if I was asking them to add a teleportation option to the da ... uh, thing.

I suspected the laws of physics had not, in fact, been suspended on our car. Having perused schematics and parts diagrams, the glaring lack of differences meant that it just couldn't be that hard. Fortified with this knowledge, I continued working my best Google-fu, and following a chain of searches I couldn't possibly reconstruct got from computer codes to this:


Cursory inspection immediately proved internet wisdom: it would have been easier to turn the car into a teleportation device than to have the rear fogs -- which we will almost certainly never need -- work without a damn wire.

Which is how I got to my main task yesterday. Armed with wire and connector pins, and diagrams and procedures, I headed off to our garage to finally slay a monster far more wily than St. George's dragon.

And save someone's life.

In journo-speak, I think this is called "burying the lede". Ordinarily, this is an editorial no-no, but, I hope, this will make sense later.

The garage where we park our car is difficult to describe, especially to Americans. It is down the street and around the corner from our apartment, and is really more of a closet than a garage. This picture will help:


Apartment buildings are built around the perimeter of the block, while parking facilities occupy most of the area in the center. Ours is shaped something like a two story donut, with the ramp to the second story and the exit to the street are on one side, and the admin building is in the center. Our car cubby is on the other, far less traveled, side:


As I was rooting around under the dashboard to get access to the lighting computer -- yes, really, that is a thing -- so I could add the missing wire to the light switch no one at BMW could be fussed to learn about, another guy in the third white door to my right pulled out his minivan, and drove it onto some service ramps, pretty much like these:


For those who aren't gear heads, these things are an easy, fast, and safe way to get some clearance under the car. Drive up on them, stop before going off the end, and you are good to go.

Having done that, he grabbed some wrenches and crawled underneath to do something or other, and I returned to dealing with my task at hand.

Then I heard scraping, and looked over just in time to see the ramps squirt out from under the front wheels and the minivan fall onto the guy.

He smacked the bumper with his right hand in a completely redundant effort to get my attention, then pretty much stopped moving.

That right there qualifies as an "oh shit" moment.

Having an adequate grasp on the obvious, I ran over and tried to lift the car off him.

As if.

I'm like almost every one else. I think of the thing I should have said, or done, minutes, hours, days or years after the fact. If I was as Johnny on the spot as I am in my reconstructed recollections, I'd be making a heck of a lot more money for writing than Great Guys pays me, that's for sure.

But just this once, the right thing showed up exactly when I needed it: grab one of the squirted ramps, slide it under the bumper, and use it as a lever to lift the car. It didn't get me much, only several inches, but that was enough for him to get out from under the car, breathless and face a bit banged up, but otherwise not particularly worse for wear.

Physically, anyway. I'll bet that will be a nightmare gift that will never stop giving.

I don't speak German, he doesn't speak English, so a crushing bear hug -- he out heighted and weighed me by five inches and fifty pounds -- got the message across.

A few minutes later, shaking from the adrenalin surge and practically sobbing (which I thought a strange reaction, but my wife the nurse assures me otherwise), I couldn't help but think how contingent all this was. Never mind the convoluted path that got me to Düsseldorf in the first place, had my trivial fog light solution not been so hard to find, and the dealers so incurious, and the manufacturer so ignorant about how they build their cars and even more unwilling to find out, and I wasn't on a trip that day, I wouldn't have been there to see the car fall on him.

And no one else would have, either. It could well have been many hours before someone passed that way (in the time I've spent working on the car to get it ready for inspection, I've never seen someone in that area).

It wasn't that I did anything heroic; that's a foolish thought, but rather that I was standing there, instead of all the other places I could have been, with just enough presence of mind to see a lever in a ramp.

Clarification: Nothing Copyrighted at Great Guys

Just to be clear, nothing written at Great Guys, posts or comments, no matter how amazing or erudite, is either property or copyrightable. If you wanna think you own it or a copyright of it, please don't post it here.

If you do grab writing from here, it would be nice (and I would say courteous) to give attribution and/or a link, but, as far as I'm concerned, even that's not necessary.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Facts of Life

I've been on the road for the last five weeks. Not work on the road, where I have lots of time in hotels, but rather vacation on the road, where I had to be all social and stuff. It was agony, but sometimes, a man has to do what a man has to do.

Among that doing was this.

(I'm the gray haired guy.)

Over the course of several hours, we went through about $300 of ammunition. Unlike my friend, I'm not particularly a gun guy. I owned a revolver when we lived in Alaska, and carried it when Rusty the Alaskan Wilderness Adventure Dog took me on walks, because up there predators were never very far away. Get crossways with a grizzly, there's no way the State will get there in time.*

Despite my relative lack of enthusiasm, I get it. Guys like mechanical stuff, especially when gadgets are involved. There is no female equivalent of the Sears Tool Center, or Project Binky. Many men like stuff that explodes, or hurtles into the sky while almost but not quite exploding. Hopefully.

Beyond the gadgetry and things that go bang, properly using a gun isn't nearly as easy as it looks. It takes a surprising amount of muscle control, hand eye coordination, and practice to be any good at it. It should come as no surprise that men can be just as enthusiastic about the skill aspect of shooting as they are about the mechanics and gadgets.

Then there is the mindset, practically inarguable, that self defense is an inalienable right that no legitimate government can ever take away. As I noted above, there are some situations where the only help that will arrive in time is that which you provide yourself. That much should be self evident, just as self evident as the existence of people who take that very, very seriously.

To me, it is interesting how these things cleave politically. Progressives are fond of citing self-fluffing studies; all the ones I've seen produce tendentious pre-ordained conclusions to show how wonderful they are, and how not wonderful everyone else is. Perhaps less naval-gazing would allow discovering something rather more fundamental going on. I work in a gadget intensive occupation that requires mechanical knowledge, as well as significant skill and practice. Almost all the guys I work with have hobbies that have the same characteristics. Almost all of them own guns. And almost all of them are anti-Progressive. And I'd bet that goes for every similar occupation. Pilots and mechanics are gun owning individualists. Progressives don't work with their hands, and are collectivists.

I have no idea why these seemingly disparate things should overlap, but in my experience, such as it is, their correlation is almost ironclad.

Which appears to be something confiscationists simply do not get. Even if their arguments have some validity at the margins -- and that is debatable -- their crusade is totalitarian at its heart. It doesn't matter how much other people enjoy their gun hobby, or how intrinsic they view gun ownership to be in a free society, confiscationists will have none of it. They, in their lack of awareness, and inability to leave well enough alone, send gun sales through the roof, and will have started a civil war should they attempt to impose what they cannot get voluntarily.



Last August, my across the street neighbor probably got between a sow and her cubs -- that was his best guess. Regardless, without the gun he was carrying, his family would have been without a husband and a father.



Sunday, March 20, 2016

Why RWR is such a fun topic for me

The recent passing of Nancy Reagan was for me, an interesting reminder of the past.  I was at the time still what the late Andrew Breitbart would call a default liberal.  Left leaning, not the classical kind, but without being a true believer.  Some time during Reagan's second term, I started to think that he got many things right in comparison to his critics.  I had already been looking beyond conventional notions about many things for over ten years by then even though I wasn't yet 30 years old.  Even media and pop culture sources begrudgingly changed from portraying him as an amiable dunce to a bit of an over the top version the other way as in the SNL mastermind skit.

First, thinking of that time and how the media  treated her:
Mrs. Reagan was hated because President Reagan was hated. There wasn’t a great deal to hate about Nancy, and so such vices and foibles as she had — quaint, in retrospect — were exaggerated to unrecognizable proportions. Spend any time around politics, and you’ll quickly understand that the lie lives forever...
Yes, she was likely far more decent and intelligent...

In an interview with Larry Elder Nancy shared these thoughts:

Reagan: Well, I think his legacy was making the country feel good about itself again, making people feel good. There was a whole optimism that he exuded.

Elder: And is that the quality about Ron Reagan that you most admire -- his optimism?

Reagan: Well, that's one of the things that I admire. There are lots of things that I admire about him. That's one of them.

Elder: Tell us what some of the others are, his qualities.

Reagan: Oh, his kindness, his ability to be a great communicator, to communicate with people -- all kinds of people, all different ages, it didn't make any difference. He just connected with them. He was a very romantic man, as those letters he wrote show. A wise man. I could go on and on. How long have we got? (Laughter)

Elder: The thing that people most misunderstand about Ron Reagan.

Reagan: Well, I don't think it's true any more, since they've published the speeches that he wrote, the letters that he wrote, but it used to be that people thought, well, he didn't know anything -- they just handed him things -- but he didn't know anything. Now, with the publication of all the speeches that he wrote, I mean, it shows that way, way back, he had his philosophy firmly in place. He knew what he was doing.
If you doubt the he knew much, I would simply direct you to read  Reagan, In His Own Hand.
He clearly demonstrates a solid understanding of important ideas about the world:
Scrupulously edited and presented, this book assembles and excerpts scores of his handwritten works, mostly from radio commentaries Reagan wrote in the late 1970s. The collection recovers the most powerful elements of Reagan and Reaganism, such as the depth and clarity of Reagan's principles and his fundamental optimism.
More than 50 years from the time of choosing speech, it is still quite a solid exposition of principles of liberty. (transcript)

A source for some of the material that Reagan studied in refining the explanations of what he believed was FEE, The Foundation for Economic Education:
Another person who got hooked on FEE’s materials was a middle-aged actor named Ronald Reagan. The story is fascinating, as detailed in the 2006 book The Education of Ronald Reagan, by Thomas Evans.

From 1954 to 1962, Reagan worked as the host of CBS’s top-rated General Electric Theater and served as General Electric’s official spokesman. For weeks at a time he would tour GE’s 139 plants, eventually meeting most of the 250,000 employees in them. Reagan himself estimated that he spent 4,000 hours before GE microphones giving talks that started out with Hollywood patter but ended up as full-throated warnings about Big Government. “GE tours became almost a post-graduate course in political science for me,” he later wrote. “By 1960, I had completed the process of self-conversion.”
Aside from having formulated his views with real diligence, Reagan was a successful two term governor of California.  Yet, far more often than not the media referred to him as a B level actor.

The blind partisanship demonstrated by demonizing opponents as well as forgetfulness of admirers in not remembering how hard he battled the establishment in getting elected and pursuing his agenda also come to mind.  The U.S. with leadership and vision provided by RWR liberalized economic policy and led the way amongst developed economies in the economic resurgence of the 1980s.  If you want an appreciation for what that was like:
...the presidency that was by far the most analogous to Barack Obama's in terms of the miserable economic conditions inherited was that of Ronald Reagan. And comparing the Gipper's 1986 address to Obama's 2014 was a startling exercise in contrast, illustrating the wide gulf between their competing economic recoveries.

Beyond being open minded enough to appreciate what I was observing, I took the opportunity to read the works of several authors who were instrumental to providing ideas relevant to this great resurgence.  Jude WanniskiArt Laffer, Robert Mundell, George Gilder and John Rutledge all had valuable insights to contribute.  Anyone can learn a tremendous amount by reading their papers and books.

As a reminder, the four pillars of Reaganomics that were so effective in revitalizing the economy were: sound money, reduced taxation, limited regulation and freer trade.  Yes, it really did work.

(As an aside, David Goldman who worked with the late Jude Wanniski at his firm Polyconomics  has an interesting observation:  Ted Cruz is intellectually arrogant, like Ronald Reagan)


I think you can see why Ronald Wilson Reagan is a fun topic for me.  But Reagan being Reagan with a terrific sense of humor, I think the best way to end this post is with a joke:



UPDATE:

Just to make clear - I did not vote for him.  Although far from perfect, he got a lot right.

Jonah Goldberg has some thoughts:
In terms of personal character and ideological seriousness, Trump and Reagan could not be more different. Reagan was one of the most dignified politicians of the 20th century, one who turned his cheek to vicious attacks, refused to use profanity, and rarely showed an angry side. Meanwhile, Trump’s crude and vengeful streaks virtually define the man.




Reagan’s ideological principles were derived from decades of reading, speaking, and debating. Trump, meanwhile, is winging it.

“I don’t think he has an ideology,” Pat Buchanan told the Washington Post. “He very much is responding to the realities that he has encountered and his natural reactions to them. It’s not some intellectual construct.”

Here lies both the irony and farce of the cult-like effort to anoint Trump as the second coming of Reagan. The one meaningful similarity between the two men is that they can both be seen as authentic responses to their times. The difference? Reagan was the right response.
A book review titled: The Gipper Wins Another One 
Remarkably, Weisberg dispenses with the ideological bias that has afflicted the authors in this series, and presidency scholars in general, for he has produced a genuinely fair and somewhat admiring book about Ronald Reagan’s presidency.

This is a nuanced account, detailing Reagan’s hatred of nuclear weapons and his somewhat unique assessment that the Soviet Union was doomed.
...
Weisberg’s assessment of Reagan’s effort to trim the size and reach of the welfare state is also quite balanced. He argues, contrary to the hysterical rhetoric of Reagan’s critics then and now, that “Reagan didn’t succeed in eliminating a single major program, which illustrates the truth of his adage about eternal life and government bureaus.” He does note that Reagan’s deregulatory drive “halved the thickness of the Federal Register, which complies new regulations.”
...
And speaking of evil, American liberals hated Ronald Reagan when he was President, although it has become gospel among some of them that Reagan was liked on both sides of the aisle. He wasn’t. Tip O’Neill, arguably the most partisan House Speaker of the 20th century, declared that Reagan, not the Soviet Union, was the focus of evil in the modern world.
...
Weisberg rejects this vicious and vacuous assessment, for Reagan was one of the few public figures to embody “the idealized national character,” with his elements of “simplicity, innocence, and personal modesty.” These qualities are, as Weisberg rightly notes, rare in public life and hard to fake. This book is a rarity as well, and one that hopefully portends more balance in the future from the American Presidents Series.

Like I said, a fun topic for me.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Patent is the Property

Being a roboticist, a song writer, and someone interested in economics and politics means that I almost never go a week without running into the term "Intellectual Property" at least once. The first thing that's interesting about that is that it's a relatively new term that was coined in the 1960s, the decade when the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) was founded, and even then wasn't in widespread use for another couple of decades.



Before that, it seems, it was commonly agreed that one could own a patent, and therefore a patent was a type of property. On the other hand, it wasn't generally thought that the intellectual creation that formed the knowledge on which the patent was based was property. Nowadays, the phrase Intellectual Property has distorted the language sufficiently such that many people believe that intellectual creations are indeed property and are double-plus good.

My belief is that intellectual creations and knowledge are not usually property without completely distorting the meaning of the word 'property.' In order to argue this point, I'm going to focus on just one aspect of intellectual creations as an example: the creation of knowledge that forms the "meat" of method patents. I'm also going to focus on a single attribute of property: that it can be stolen. If something cannot be stolen, as defined by law, then it's not property.

Let's say Joe invents a method. Let's say it's only in his brain and notes and that he hasn't disclosed it to anyone else. Does he, at that moment, own the invention? Not really, I would say. First, Jack, John, Jill and June might have already also invented the method independently or will soon. Indeed, most inventions are not patentable because they fail the non-obviousness criterion. Even the ones that are deemed adequately non-obvious still are, or would be, invented independently by multiple people or entities.

If the invention is ever property, it is at that moment when it is a trade secret, and if and only if nobody else has also come up with the same invention and disclosed it. At the moment, the undisclosed knowledge can be stolen and therefore it can potentially be thought of as property. Someone could torture Joe until he discloses the invention (very unlikely); someone could break into his office and steal his notes and learn of the invention that way (pretty unlikely - have you ever tried to read an inventor's notes?); or someone could bug his office and eavesdrop on him discussing the invention with someone else (rather unlikely). However, trade secrets are typically lost when a rogue employee distributes them without permission and that does happen once in a while. At the moment, if Joe is really the only one to have come up with the invention and if Joe has not disclosed it publicly, then it can potentially be stolen and I'll concede that it is, at that moment, plausibly a type of property. Even so, a trade secret is just a type of secret, and I'm not sure that secrets, while perhaps quite dear to the originator, are really property.

They say Necessity is Mother of Invention. I say Progress is the Father of Necessity in that as new knowledge and products are created so are new needs (part of the process of Creative Destruction). Supporting Technology is the Father of Invention. Engineers and Scientists (and others) are the Siblings of Invention and we all live in the same great big happy and competitive family and are nearly simultaneously exposed to the same Necessity, state of Progress, and Supporting Technology. In other words, many of us are driven to invent more or less the same thing more or less at the same time. I've never seen an invention that nobody else would have ever invented if the particular inventor who first figured it out had not. Of course, I haven't looked through all of the many millions of patents worldwide or considered the far larger body of non-patented inventions, but I've seen quite a few and that's my impression.

Most of the time, it makes no sense to patent an invention. For example, I've invented hundreds of methods in the realm of robotics but have only patented between ten and twenty of them. Perhaps the invention is too obvious so you can't get a patent; perhaps it's so non-obvious that disclosing it in a patent is counterproductive because the disclosure would give the competition a step up that it wouldn't otherwise have; perhaps the value of the invention is less than the cost to file, maintain, and enforce the patent; perhaps the inventor or company just doesn't have enough money or other resources to pursue a patent even if it would be well worth the cost; and so forth.

Are these non-patented inventions property and if so, whose property is it? If Joe's non-patented invention is disclosed, either because he uses it in a commercially available product and the invention is readily deduced from looking at the product or he otherwise causes its disclosure, then everyone learns about it and can use it for any purpose. We don't consider this dissemination and use to be theft or to be illegal, unethical, or immoral in any sense, so I find it hard to consider Joe's invention to be property of any kind. Again, the principle is: if you can't steal it, it isn't property.

Let's say Joe's invention is sufficiently non-obvious and novel to qualify for a patent and he writes the patent and files it and he is the first of the inventors to file (even though the others may have invented it first). Is the invention property now? No. It's the same deal. Until the patent issues (and it might never issue for a variety of reasons), anyone can use the disclosed invention for any purpose. In addition, it's likely that the patent will publish and disclose the invention well before the patent is issued. Again, anybody can use the disclosed invention for any purpose until the patent issues. Again, it's not stealing, therefore it's not property.

Let's say Joe's patent finally issues today. Yesterday, the invention wasn't property. Is it property now that the patent has issued? No. The patent is the property. The patent is a type of Government Originated Legally Enforced Monopoly (GOLEM) (and a GOLEM, in turn, is a type of Government Originated Legally Enforced Restriction on Trade (GOLERT)). The patent is what's sold, licensed, or bartered. The invention is still disclosed and known by many people. They can still build on the knowledge or work to circumvent the knowledge. They can still even use the knowledge for certain non-commercial purposes. The thing of value is the GOLEM and that was created by the government out of thin air. You still can't steal the invention since it's been freely disclosed, therefore the invention is still not property. It's the GOLEM that's property and that property restricts others from using the publicly disclosed invention.

Eventually Joe's patent expires. One day Joe has the right, via the GOLEM, to control most uses of the invention. The next day he doesn't. The invention, which wasn't property one day is definitely not property the day after the patent/GOLEM expired. Now it definitely can't be stolen.

In summary, the only time the invention is plausibly property is prior to when the first inventor discloses it (either intentionally or accidentally). After that, the invention, the intellectual creation, the method, is not property.

The patent is the property.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

It's not the differences that concern me the most

Last summer when Trump started to rise in the polls I gave it very little thought.  Because electoral politics and especially primaries can be so volatile, I usually don't try to make sense of things until a number of states have voted.  Having grownup in New York, Trump's exploits and style are easily ignored.  Now the matter deserves some attention:

Many Americans shook their heads in 2008 wondering how in the world President Obama was elected when he had told us plainly that he wanted to “fundamentally transform” our country. Then, the perplexity increased when he was reelected in 2012 long after his radical policies and disdain for the Constitution were abundantly evident. Unbelievably, after suffering through the effrontery of the Obama Administration’s arrogance and his flaunting of executive actions instead of bipartisanship, the nation is now enthralled with Donald Trump’s bombastic, flamboyant, but empty promises – based solely on his ability to capitalize on the public’s anger and to manipulate people’s fears, rather than specific policy proposals or potential for effective constitutional governance -- to come in and liberate us from the overweening government bureaucrats with their endless thirst for control and restore America’s greatness. The Washington Post summarized the situation by claiming that Donald Trump is giving the establishment (on both Capitol Hill and K Street) the “middle finger” and “his supporters love it.” One analyst likened Trump to a parasite eating up the host; another called him America’s “Fatal Attraction.”
...
So how did we get to the point that it was possible for Obama to be elected and for Trump to be a serious contender for the presidency?
Obviously, things are complicated, but generally root causes are fairly simple and foundational. I can think of three things that are fundamental problems that are endemic in our society.

Nebulous Faith: Despite President Obama’s claims to the contrary, America was founded on Judeo-Christian principles. It was founded to allow freedom of religion (as the saying goes, it was not founded to be free from religion).

PC Education:  Emotions and feelings are important and hard thinking is rarely taught or experienced. Politically Correct language is the norm; nothing can be allowed that offends the proliferating collection of victims on the Left.

Cultural Disintegration: There is no way to overstate the influence of the media and entertainment industries in shaping attitudes and values. In many respects both Obama and Trump are products of the media. President and Mrs. Obama have been media darlings since their earliest days on the national scene. With his ability to play to the crowd, Trump is always good for headlines. Neither man sees a distinction between politics and entertainment.
Ed Driscoll had some thoughts over at Instapundit:

The rise of Trump and the fall of free speech in academia are equal signs that we are losing the intellectual sturdiness and honesty without which a republic cannot thrive.


As with Obama in 2008, whatever his many transgressions, it’s tough to complain about Trump intuitively understanding that today’s pop culture was built for him to exploit to the fullest. “Years from now they’ll say: the center didn’t hold. The tree was hollow. All it took was one hard push from a virtuoso demagogue,” Terry Teachout of the Wall Street Journal writes on Twitter. Ah, but which one?

obama_trump_logos_8-2-15-1


Angelo Codevilla is concerned that Trump would be another Obama:
Obama has been our first emperor. A Donald Trump presidency, far from reversing the ruling class’s unaccountable hold over American life, would seal it. Because Trump would act as our second emperor, he would render well-nigh impossible our return to republicanism.
...
 For two centuries, the government’s main decisions have happened through open congressional proceedings and recorded votes. That’s the republic we used to have.
...
Neither Obama nor Trump seem to know or care that cycles of reciprocal resentment, of insults and injuries paid back with ever more interest and ever less concern for consequences, are the natural fuel of revolutions—easy to start and soon impossible to stop. America’s founders, steeped in history as few of our contemporaries are, were acutely aware of how easily factional enmities deliver free peoples into the hands of emperors. America is already advanced in this vicious cycle. The only possible chance of returning it to republicanism lies in not taking the next turn, and in not following one imperial ruler with another.

Contrary to that perspective, this author explains that Trump has experienced healthy humiliations  which have had beneficial effect:
My guess is that Trump was a badly spoiled brat, a kind of would-be narcissist. His father sent him to a military academy, where every cadet is humiliated over and over again, and then built up by earning respect for meeting tough challenges every day, like Marine Corps training. 
The only thing that can cure NPD is a long diet of bloody noses. They don’t respond to talking therapy, but let them run into the same brick wall over and over again, and they can learn to grow up. Trump entered the military academy as a snot-nosed troublemaker, and four years later emerged as the head of the cadet corps. It took a lot of bloody noses to get there. 
...
 
The difference from Obama is that long history of painful setbacks and comebacks. Obama has always been surrounded by adoring fans, and still has genuine trouble dealing with setbacks. What Freud called the Reality Principle is the key to responsible adulthood. 
Hard to know for sure, but certainly interesting.  It's also interesting to watch foreigners  ignoring the obvious:
“Europeans are trying to wrap their heads around Trump’s popularity…with little success.”

Other than their version of the MSM completely failing them (which is always a possibility when dealing with old media), I don’t understand why not.

obama_trump_napoleon_10-25-15-1