Urban life

From Anthony Tao in a post he titled, “Beijing Subway Can Get A Wee Crowded In The Mornings” via Instapundit. I’m not sure there is anything that can be done to change this, certainly not in anything like a realistic time frame. Yet I suspect that the price of a ticket is well below the cost covering price but what do I know? And it is possible that thirty minutes either side of this moment and things have calmed down quite a lot. Still, quite incredible and not beyond possibility here without proper planning and capital investment.

My 450th post

It is still less than a year and I have posted 450 of these comments. That’s a lot of time and a lot of thought to be drawn into what is really an aimless bit of froth. But since aimless froth is really what life tends to be this is as good as anything and it’s nice to communicate with my son. Hi Joshi. Hope you’re still reading.

Hey everybody, look over there

Last night, in a fit of jet lag, I posted on the IRS issue focusing on the much noted article by Peggy Noonan which she titled, “A Bombshell in the IRS Scandal”. Some bombshell. This morning the distractor-in-chief has set the hares running in an entirely different direction. These were the stories at Drudge, with the main story titled, “TIME TO ACT ON TRAYVON”, and it was no different at any of the other American sites I typically read. In case you can’t tell, it’s Zimmerman wall to wall.

President calls for ‘soul-searching’ and ‘national conversation’ — but warns politicians to butt out…
Recalls suffering racial profiling…
History of racism ‘doesn’t go away’…
Could Trayvon have ‘stood his ground on that sidewalk?’
FANNING THE FLAMES: If teen had been white, ‘outcome and aftermath might have been different’…
100 cities set to rally…

A nothing issue of no importance beaten up to be the only story worth a comment. I can only conclude that every commentator on the right has received a notice from the IRS that it wants to review their tax returns for the past ten years.

So what? Who cares?

This is the evolution of the IRS scandal, the latest issue the media are running dead on to protect the most dangerous president in American history. From The Wall Street Journal‘s Peggy Noonan in a story with with the heading, “A Bombshell in the IRS Scandal”:

Rep. Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican, finally woke the proceedings up with what he called “the evolution of the defense” since the scandal began. First, Ms. Lerner planted a question at a conference. Then she said the Cincinnati office did it—a narrative that was advanced by the president’s spokesman, Jay Carney. Then came the suggestion the IRS was too badly managed to pull off a sophisticated conspiracy. Then the charge that liberal groups were targeted too—”we did it against both ends of the political spectrum.” When the inspector general of the IRS said no, it was conservative groups that were targeted, he came under attack. Now the defense is that the White House wasn’t involved, so case closed.

And now the White House is involved with the line of descent coming from one of the two Obama political appointees at the IRS, its Chief Counsel. But I’ve just been to the US and the idea that this story will gather momentum in the American media has as close to a zero probability as it is possible to have. It will not happen but the dangers to us all are there all the same.

A kinder, gentler fascism

George Orwell’s 1984 has just been removed in secret from Amazon’s Kindle. It’s not an attempt at censorship as such, merely a problem with copyright. But as this article points out, there is a problem all the same:

Thousands of people last week discovered that Amazon had quietly removed electronic copies of George Orwell’s 1984 from their Kindle e-book readers. In the process, Amazon revealed how easy censorship will be in the Kindle age.

It will be a kinder, gentler fascism but we’ll get used to it assuming we are not used to it already.

From Catallaxy on 18 July 2013.

You should get to Freedomfest if you can

I’ve made it back from the right side’s great carnival of ideas and good sense which is the essential nature of Freedomfest. They’re run by Mark Skousen who is an organisational genius not to mention the author of some of the finest books on economics from a libertarian/conservative perspective available anywhere. If you are thinking of going, they are always in mid-July and they are always in Las Vegas. And if you would like to see just about everybody who is anybody on the right side of the political divide in the United States, that is the place to go. There were 2200 who showed up but almost all were from America. I met only one other couple from Australia, from Penguin Tasmania to be exact. But to listen to and even get to meet some of the finest speakers on libertarian and conservative views in the world is an unbelievable treat. If you would like to chat about something, you can find them having coffee with the rest of us. Most of the sessions revolve around economic issues but the compass is well beyond the purely economic.

The debate on global warming, just to take one example, was between Michael Shermer, the editor of Skeptic, and one James Taylor a lawyer who edits a magazine of his own, Environment & Climate News. I had, after many years, become a subscriber to Skeptic, in 2006 I think it was, but cancelled after the first issue when the magazine was devoted to arguing that global warming was settled science and that debate was over (some skeptic he was). But there he was, extraordinarily articulate and filled with argument and facts, discussing the certainty of global warming and the need to take immediate action. And as you would expect, he made the case as well as it could possibly be made.

But Taylor took him apart (and that was my wife’s view). As Taylor said, he was seldom in a room where the majority were on his side, but how expertly he carved Shermer up. But unfortunately I missed the very end of the Q&A since we had to go off to watch “The Republican Party on Trial” with Steve Moore, the main editorial writer of the Wall Street Journal prosecuting and Dinesh D’Souza the defence attorney. The jury, for what it’s worth, split six to six but if you understand that the point was entirely serious within a framework of fun and good vibes, you will see the kind of event that Freedomfest is.

From Catallaxy 16 July 2013.

Is Kevin Rudd the anti-Labor candidate?

Watching the election from this distance is quite a disorienting experience. My lens is Catallaxy, Andrew Bolt, Tim Blair and The Australian Online. And it seems, if I have this right, that the ALP and the Coalition are now level pegging mainly because K. Rudd promises to remove all of the unpopular legislation passed by the same mob of people he originally led to victory in ’07. If this really is the case, the American version of the low information voter has nothing on the Australian variety.

The most remarkable part about being here is to watch the news on the spot and in real time. The US is not refracted through the usual websites – Drudge, Instapundit, Lucianne, etc – but right there in the newspapers and on the news. Scandals, what scandals? It’s been Zimmerman first and foremost along with quite a bit about the travel plans of Edward Snowden. IRS, Benghazi, reading our mail, economic decline? Forget it.

The theme of Freedomfest has been, “Are We Rome?” as in the decline and fall of. The parallels are there, all right. But let’s face it, if you are part of the political and financial elites here or in Australia, there will be some delay before the decline is going to affect you. But the likelihood that larger proportions of our populations will be living poorer more restricted lives as time passes seems inevitable. And with the government’s power to monitor and control growing, the convergence of the American and Chinese ways of life is not as farfetched as it once might have been.

The last session I went to at Freedomfest was a debate on Intelligent Design (which is not creationism – ie no one disputes the planet is 4.5 billion years old give or take a billion, and there is no disputing that evolution has taken place, only the mechanism). Anyway, a Chinese scientist was quoted as putting an anti-Darwinian position which surprised someone else who pointed out how difficult it would be to say the same in America. Yes, said the Chinese. You can criticise your government but not Darwin. I can criticise Darwin but not the government. It was a funny line but with our ability to criticise the government under various kinds of threat, not really so funny after all.

From Catallaxy 15 July 2013.

A judicious presentation

I am at Mark Skousen’s Freedomfest in Las Vegas which brings together all the groupings on the right in the US. With a core that is solidly libertarian, it ranges across most of the various other groupings. Economically it is solidly Austrian. Not being a libertarian and not being an Austrian makes me decidedly on the left so far as present company is concerned but it could not be more congenial. It’s Catallaxy writ large with 2200 attending. Every casual conversation over a cup of morning coffee is a revelation. I tend not to know who’s who here in the States so the pleasures of getting to know such people is ongoing.

Today, however, there was an experience of a different kind. The award for best book of the year was given to George Gilder’s Knowledge and Power which has only just been published. I didn’t even know it existed but thought I would have a word with the author since we have a number of interests in common, one in particular and long standing. So I joined the knot of people around him when he turned to me out of the blue and said, “You’re Steve Kates. Your book is all over the bibliography.” I have now bought his book and while my name is not all over, he did write this in an endnote in relation to the General Glut debate:

A judicious presentation of the debate appears in Steven Kates, Say’s Law and the Keynesian Revolution: How Macroeconomic Theory Lost its Way.

Since he has been writing on Say’s Law even longer than I have, I could hardly ask for anything more. I’m only at the start of his book but it ought to surprise no one that he and I see pretty well eye to eye on most of the basic issues of economic theory. The conversation will be continued in the morning.

From Catallaxy 12 July 2013.

There are none blinder than those who will not see

Now in Washington and have been for the past two days. Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal ran an article by Alan Blinder which led me to write a letter in response. Blinder’s article was titled, “The Economy Needs More Spending Now” which drew this comment from me:

I have a double barreled worry when I read articles such as Alan Blinder’s “The Economy Needs More Spending Now” in The Wall Street Journal. I worry because of the argument which is wrong but I also worry because you have published it which suggests an editorial policy in its support. There are plenty of other places one can go to for arguments supporting a continuation of public spending as a stimulus aimed at encouraging employment. What worries me is that there is virtually nowhere to go if one wishes to hear and understand the other side.

The distinction Blinder makes is between the need to encourage public spending in the short run which will eventually become unnecessary in the long run. The trouble is, he does not address the true nature of the problem which is that public spending – especially on the list of items that are considered as part of a stimulus package – are never value adding. They drain the economy rather than building it up and therefore make employment more tenuous, not less. Blinder is 100% right to note that long-run growth is supply-determined. If he would only recognise that short-run growth is identically supply-determined. All employment is based on entrepreneurial expectations that what employees are producing can be sold at a profit. To think there is some distinction over the nature of employment that makes the short run different from the long run is the very kind of muddled thinking he criticises others for having.

Blinder actually wrote an almost perfect para explaining the nature of economic activity in its relation to employment near the very start of his article:

Long-run growth is supply-determined; it depends on an economy’s ability to produce more goods and services from one year to the next. To accomplish that, you need four basic ingredients: more labor, more capital, better technology, and—if you can manage it—a better-functioning economy that utilizes inputs more efficiently. These four ingredients constitute the essential core of supply-side economics, and deficit reduction helps boost growth via the second: more capital.

Where he goes wrong in a way that every classical economist could see is that the short run is just the same. All production short or long is forward looking. Entrepreneurs will not produce unless they believe the particular goods and services they are producing will be bought so all of the concerns Blinder thinks of as long-run concerns are actually the immediate concern of every business at all moments in time. Anyway, while they didn’t publish my letter, they published the letter of my mate Jimmy Adams, the author of the wonderful Waffle Street. And what he wrote also went right to the point with this the key passage in his letter.

Mr Blinder errs in failing to recognize that demand has one, and only one, source, the production of those goods and services that can be sold at cost-covering prices. . . . This principle – Say’s Law of Markets – was broadly accepted by economists from the mid-19th century until John Maynard Keynes attacked a straw-man version in his General Theory in 1936.

I could not have said it better myself and very nice to have seen it in the WSJ.

From Catallaxy 10 July 2013.

A parallel sporting universe

I just watched the rugby in a very hostile environment (for an Australian) and very depressing it was. Meanwhile, the whole week of Wimbledon has followed Andy Murray into the finals tomorrow with not an Australian making it into the second week. Even one of their women made it to the fourth round. And then there’s the Ashes which start in a few days about which the locals are showing the kind of confidence once reserved for us.

I blame Labor.

From Catallaxy 6 July 2013.