This seems just a bit out-of-line with the Constitution: the DOJ’s Operation “Choke Point”. “… the DOJ and its allies are going after legal but subjectively undesirable business ventures by pressuring banks to terminate their bank accounts or refuse their business. The very premise is clearly chilling—the DOJ is coercing private businesses in an attempt to centrally engineer the American marketplace based on it’s own politically biased moral judgements.”
A White House email shows the administration knew the Benghazi “talking points” were BS. The email and 40 other documents were made public by Judicial Watch, which obtained them via an FOIA lawsuit. The documents bring the events surrounding Benghazi into much sharper focus. There was clearly a set of intelligence available in the immediate aftermath of 9/11/12 indicating that the compound had been attacked (four Americans died), and that there had been no “demonstration” preceding the attack. Well after that time (but before Susan Rice spoke to Meet The Press the following Sunday), the White House communications team was still in spin mode, as the email makes clear. Obama’s election campaign was too important to allow anyone to think there had been a “policy failure.”
Bravo to Daniel Craviotto for penning A Doctor’s Declaration of Independence, appearing today on wsj.com. It’s a condemnation of Obamacare from a man who understands sound medicine. Like many physicians, he’s had it with mindless regulations that take time away from patients and and interfere with the application of medical expertise. And he’s had it with the distortions that are typical of price regulation. “So when do we say damn the mandates and requirements from bureaucrats who are not in the healing profession? When do we stand up and say we are not going to take it any more?”
The widespread belief that the U.S. is mired in an era of reduced economic mobility is a myth. Some prominent research cited at the link says as much. There are several kinds of mobility, of course — cultural mobility, social mobility, physical mobility, and they all bear relationships to economic mobility in one way or another. The article points out that physical mobility has increased dramatically, yet today it is less important than ever in the sense that we can accomplish so much from the comfort of a living room couch. “Today, most Americans have access to resources that were once inconceivable, and that access lets us cover more cultural and social ground than humans had ever previously been able to manage.”
I always enjoy discussions of the inadequacies of economic yardsticks (the author mistakenly refers to such measures as “econometrics”), especially measures of output like GDP. The article uses a little humor to illustrate some of these measurement problems (e.g., “What’s the value of being able to track Alec Baldwin’s meltdowns in real-time?”), but the measurement problems contribute to the fallacy of immobility.
“… in the midst of all these developments, our reigning preoccupation is a false narrative about dwindling economic mobility. Apparently the breakthroughs and benefits accrue in such dizzying but routine fashion now that even our most fervent potentates of hope and change have trouble keeping track of our progress.”
… said the Dodo to Alice. That philosophy is harmless enough when the subject is party favors. It is extremely unwise when applied to the larger distribution of rewards in society, as it all but guarantees that the total rewards produced by society will diminish over time. Thomas Piketty is preoccupied with the notion that future growth of the capital stock will exacerbate the unequal distribution of rewards in society. He believes the ensuing instability could be the ultimate undoing of capitalism. Piketty has gone to some effort to create a sort of intellectual foundation for this point of view. The egalitarian left is infatuated with his new book, “Capital In The Twenty-First Century.” But Piketty’s analysis is more like a series of assertions, with little in the way of solid empirical and analytical support. Here are two insightful reviews: Garrett Jones in Reason and Ryan Decker on his “Updated Priors” blog.
Matt Ridley has an nice essay emphasizing that The World’s Resources Aren’t Running Out. They won’t, and the reason is innovation. There is a phenomenon that strikes the environmental left as such an impossible paradox that they cannot see their way clear to understanding how the environmental problem has been and will be solved: economic growth brings wealth that allows us to afford the development of new, cleaner technologies, and those technologies in turn encourage more economic growth. To add a qualifier, it will be solved unless governments prevent markets from doing the work.
The Commerce Department is now releasing quarterly estimates of Gross Output along with GDP. This will contribute to a better understanding of the economy because it gives a more comprehensive view of economic decisions. GDP measures the value of a country’s “final” output in a given time period, which is the same as the income earned in producing that output. Gross Output (GO) measures the total value of all transactions that occur in the process of generating final output and income.
This is an important distinction, as economists have traditionally focused on “aggregate demand” for final goods and services, a convenience made possible by the traditional measurement of GDP. However, this construct understates the breadth and complexity of economic activity. There are myriad decisions made along the way to producing any product, which take time to play out, even in the “short-run” when some inputs are fixed. The GO measure will help to shed light on the economy’s dynamics, such as its responses to shocks and various policy changes. It may also contribute to a better understanding of the relationship between monetary aggregates and economic activity.
Welcome to the Paradise of the Real, by Kevin Williamson, offers a few simple thought experiments to demonstrate some economic fallacies to which progressives desperately cling. Putting such fallacies into action as policies often inures to the detriment of the presumed beneficiaries. Williamson does a nice job of covering the huge contributions of capitalism to human well-being. He also contrasts the “money” and the physical economies, and while I agree with many of his points, he seems confused about how to use the parlance of economics in this context. And he emphasizes differences in the economic philosophies of conservatives and progressives without recognizing that the intellectual development of noninterventionist governing philosophy owes a great deal to libertarians and very little to conservatives. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this essay. Here is a brief excerpt:
“Measured by practically any physical metric, from the quality of the food we eat to the health care we receive to the cars we drive and the houses we live in, Americans are not only wildly rich, but radically richer than we were 30 years ago, to say nothing of 50 or 75 years ago. And so is much of the rest of the world. That such progress is largely invisible to us is part of the genius of capitalism….”
Cats are very uncooperative subjects for behavioral research. Some interesting if sparse evidence is discussed in What Are Cats Thinking? Cats have performed as well as dogs on the “pointing test,” which demonstrates “an ability to understand what another animal is thinking.” I’ve had some pretty smart cats over the years, but it’s hard to appreciate a cat’s mind without living with it. My cat Diego is very sociable and he often tries to initiate games with me. Among other signs, he gives me an upward jerk of his head, as if to say, “Come on, gimme your best shot!” Still, as the article notes, there is no denying that cats are often simply “surfing other channels….”
We can be thankful for The Limits of Social Engineering. The world would be a drab place if extensive data collection, or “reality mining,” was used to “optimize society,” continuously tracking our actions and manipulating our decisions. This is to say nothing about its real feasibility, but if it were feasible on the scale imagined by advocates, “social control” would be a more apt description.
I know first-hand that data and computing power can improve many processes. However, social-engineering fanatics promote far-reaching and intrusive use of such technologies. They seem to lack an appreciation for the efficiency, flexibility, diversity of experience, and personal freedom made possible by voluntary social cooperation through markets. More than anything else, “big data” social engineering is all too compatible with statism. It is a prescription for stasis and ultimately a pathway to a less affluent society. My favorite quote from the article: a data-driven society would “encourage us to optimize the status quo rather than challenge it.” Uh-huh…