“You think minimum height restrictions make children taller?”
- Luke McCormick, who I think has finally found the minimal summary of minimum wage laws.
“You think minimum height restrictions make children taller?”
- Luke McCormick, who I think has finally found the minimal summary of minimum wage laws.
Recently I’ve been getting emails from the Cato Institute plugging their new website, HumanProgress.org.
Personally, I find the way that this website works to be annoying and confusing and just generally off-putting in a way I can’t quite pin down. I can find stuff, but every time I try to make progress through it, I am assaulted by what feels to me like mild-to-severe waves of user hostility. The screen, for instance, frequently covers itself in grey, in a manner which feels to me like it’s not working properly. But it could easily be that it is just me that is now semi-permanently annoyed, confused and hostile. I’d be slightly interested in whether anyone else shares my annoyed, confused and hostile reaction to the way this website works.
But I am really far more interested in the message that the website is trying to put across. It could be that there is just so much good news about human progress to be navigated through, such an abundance of data choice when it comes to learning about how well the human species is doing just now, that any website devoted to such matters is bound to overwhelm and confuse someone like me, whose brain is rooted in the twentieth century, when news like this was so much harder to come by and when websites were only being dreamed of. (The multiplication of genuinely useful websites seems to be a story that HumanProgress.org doesn’t seem to provide data about, but maybe they do and I just haven’t spotted it yet.)
This message, of relentless human betterment, will surely remind many readers of Steven Pinker’s recent book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, which I wrote about here (where there are links to other and earlier postings on the same subject).
The headline above Allister Heath’s latest over at City A.M. reads as follows:
By “spending” Heath, or Heath’s headline writer in the event that it’s not Heath, means government spending.
We’ll know we’re really winning when headlines like that one replace the “but” with an “and”.
Although I am only posting this at midday, I wrote most of it at three o’clock this morning.
I did this because I am now suffering from severe Ashes Lag (The Horror! The Horror!), and also because it is in the spirit of the news I am passing on, which is that soon, London will be experiencing (no doubt some would prefer to make that “enduring”) all night underground train service at weekends:
Not the District Line, though. That’s one of the lines I often use late at night, and I would have liked that one also to be going round the clock. The other line I use, but less often late at night, is the Victoria, which will be all round the clock at the weekend.
But this is only a start. And it is only at the weekend. What has long puzzled me is why London has not, for the last several decades, been a city that never sleeps, but is instead only groping slowly towards one day becoming such a city. London always comes near the top of those lists of the world’s greatest cities, yet for much of the time London is almost entirely asleep, unlike one, in particular, of its most famous rivals (immediate music warning – don’t click on that if you wish to go on listening to something else). All that frighteningly expensive office space, basically doing nothing for about a third to a half of every day, and nothing at all at the weekends, since for ever. Why? Modern electronics means that there is always someone wide awake to be doing business with, somewhere in the world. So, why no big night shift activity in the City? It can’t take all night just to keep those places clean.
Maybe there is lots of City of London night shifting going on already, and I merely haven’t been told about it. After all, night shifters mostly only need transport when they start and when they finish, which they already have. I can see why they are starting this at the weekend, for people for whom the difference between getting home at 4 am rather than at 8 am is all the difference.
Talking of London staying awake all night, there was a time, in about 1941, when a lot of it did just that, for quite a while. This was when London Pride got itself written. Take that, Sinatra. Someone (can’t find who – anyone know?) once said something like: there are many more tunes to be written in C major. I don’t know the key of London Pride, but it is one of my favourite tunes ever, and it always makes me think of that remark.
Ivory is valuable and this leads to poaching (which is another way of saying ‘seeking more supplies of rare ivory’).
The US government had decided to reduce the global supply of ivory by destroying six tonnes of the stuff.
And when supply is reduced, what happens to prices and therefore the motive to secure new supplies?
Surely if they wanted to reduce the incentive to poach ivory, rather than crushing their stockpile, they should have flooded the market with it. But of course Dan Ashe and his ilk work for governments and thus know nothing of this ‘economics’ malarkey.
Back in the early 1980s at Auburn University, Roger Garrison (now retired from teaching there) had to give an undergraduate student an “A” grade for an answer to a test question about minimum-wage legislation. The student endorsed the legislation precisely because the legislation prices many blacks out of the labour market – and that southern-boy student believed that consequence to be just dandy. The kid, like Unz, has values that I (and Roger Garrison) abhor. But that kid, like Unz, got the economics right.
Regulars here will know my interest in the phenomenon of Custom Built Headquarters Syndrome.
…), and this new Apple HQ building that now has the go-ahead:
… are somehow connected.
It seems that Steve Jobs himself was responsible for setting this particular architectural wheel in motion.
Instapundit reckons Apple only did their shambolic software launch just now to make Obamacare look better, arf arf. But there is a more serious point to be made about this comparison. The difference between the public sector and the private sector is not that the private sector never screws up, as this Apple screw-up illustrates. And it is most certainly not that the public sector never builds itself dysfunctionally lavish buildings. The difference is that as and when the private sector screws up, it suffers. Money is lost. In this case, Apple market share is being lost even as I blog this. Apple will either sort this iWork mess out quick, or watch a lot of people move over to Microsoft.
If a custom built headquarters causes a private sector screw-up, as I surmise may just have happened to Apple, the building may then get sold on to other more capable people, or be partly rented out, to cut costs.
When the government screws up, taxpayers will foot the bill both for the screw-up and for all the money they then throw at it to unscrew the screw-up, and as likely as not the people who presided over the screw-up will end up with even bigger buildings to luxuriate in.
To escape Obamacare, your only hope is kayak.com. I watched the whole of that Saturday Night Live skit last night on Youtube, but now, Youtube refuses to play it to me, what with me not living in the USA. But trust me, it’s very funny. Will the BBC ever show it, I wonder?
Christopher Booker writes in The Telegraph:
So are the likes of David Davis plotting to remove the catastrophic Cameron? And if Nigel Farage is not intending to make hay out of this I would be very surprised. But then regular readers of Samizdata has long known we regard Cameron’s Tories, the LibDems and Labour as pretty much interchangeable.
Very little. A plethora of integrated assessment models (IAMs) have been constructed and used to estimate the social cost of carbon (SCC) and evaluate alternative abatement policies. These models have crucial flaws that make them close to useless as tools for policy analysis: certain inputs (e.g. the discount rate) are arbitrary, but have huge effects on the SCC estimates the models produce; the models’ descriptions of the impact of climate change are completely ad hoc, with no theoretical or empirical foundation; and the models can tell us nothing about the most important driver of the SCC, the possibility of a catastrophic climate outcome. IAM-based analyses of climate policy create a perception of knowledge and precision, but that perception is illusory and misleading.
- Robert S Pindyck in a new paper. And this comes from someone who supports taxing carbon emissions.
There is some controversy at present about the moves by the UK government (and not just the UK, the government of little Malta is at it) to let Chinese-owned (ie, state-owned) businesses invest in the UK, buy shares of local firms, and the like. Iain Martin more or less says we should only let the Chinese do so if they accord equal freedoms to UK firms. At present, any non-domestic organisation wishing to do business in Mainland China (it is different in Hong Kong) is required to set up a joint venture with a local Chinese partner. In practice, it means making nice to the local, often corrupt, representatives of the Chinese communist party. The comment thread on Martin’s article contains its usual share of foreigner-hating buffoons but there are some intelligent observations as well.
A difficulty presents itself. First, the UK is already one in which the state owns a fairly large share of the economy, not just through the overtly public sector bit, but by national controls and regulations over all kinds of sectors, such as transport and energy. True, the UK is a democratic polity, but given the imperfections of democracy, and Britain’s membership of the EU, the accountability of politicians for what happens in the UK is, to say the least, limited. And so does it really make sense for Britons to get in a rage about sinister foreigners buying bits of the UK? It is not as if we are operating in a world of unfettered capitalism. (Those who remember the late 80s when Japanese firms were buying Western assets will feel a sense of deja vu coming on when reading about another supposed menace from overseas.)
Then there are the exploits of what are called Sovereign Wealth Funds. Such funds, mostly run by energy-rich jurisdictions in the Middle East and Asia, are politically and legally opaque. We have seen how the heads of these large gobs of wealth have bought such “trophy assets” as football teams (Manchester City) and so on. State-owned EDF, the French energy conglomerate, is a big player in the UK energy market. (I note that one Samizdata commenter on a previous post about energy policy seems rather upset about this. The accursed French!.)
In fact, if we are going to ban investment into a jurisdiction such as the UK from entities deemed to be opaque, or the arms of oppressive regimes of various kinds, that is going to create quite a headache. These folks have a lot of the money. They may not, of course, have it forever. China’s property market is, shall we say, an unknown quantity. If the US fracking revolution continues, and the price of energy falls a bit, some of the prowess of the SWFs might decline. It might also be a smart idea if Western governments learned to live within their means rather than go begging for such sources of money to make up the deficit gaps, which is what is really going on here.
But then again, these issues might not be all that new. In the past, politicians of various hues have tried to reinstate protectionist controls on foreign trade by objecting to things such as “dumping”, for instance (evil foreigners selling us subsidised cheap stuff). If China wants to sell us cheap things, and we can save money by paying less for such things than we would otherwise, and invest/spend what we have saved on something else, I don’t really see the problem in that.
We should remember that China needs the West to grow to sustain the value of what it wants to buy abroad. Ironically, one of the best ways to keep pushing China down the path to real capitalism rather than the odd hybrid it has now is to expose its people to doing as much business abroad as possible. So long as Western leaders play their hands intelligently and push for more penetration of China’s markets as part of that process, that surely is in everyone’s long term interests.
The current lead story for the Daily Telegraph highlights the mixture of hauteur, obduracy and paternalism of an administration which has enacted policies designed to force up energy bills (for those dubious CAGW reasons) and is now trying to advise the public on the results:
The last sentence belongs in the “no shit, Sherlock” category.
Heating bills are as high as they are in large part because energy is produced not, by and large, under unfettered laissez faire capitalism – as it should be – but in rigged and heavily taxed conditions. The details are complex, but as far as the UK goes, it has been a Conservative/Labour/Liberal Democrat consensus that certain types of energy (carbon-based) should be heavily taxed. Taxes are costs and as the simplest businessman will know, such costs will either manifest themselves in higher prices, or lower output of services/products, or weaker returns on investment, or some combination of all three. There are, of course, other reasons for high energy bills, such geopolitics and our reliance on sources of oil, for example, from the Middle East.
We have an electricity industry that is now very close to not being able to cope with a harsh winter, according to various press reports. The government, unable or unwilling to be honest with itself about the issue, or face up to the mounting evidence about the dubious science on which anti-carbon ideas are based, is reduced to lecturing the public about wearing more clothes.
The former US president, Jimmy Carter, is remembered for some lamentable things in American life (although in fairness he did at least appoint Paul Volcker to the Fed and some industries got deregulated under Carter’s term). And one thing this man is remembered for is how he wore a woolly jumper in the White House to save on heating bills. He wasn’t doing that out of frugal fiscal policy, which might have been admirable, but because of the-then energy crisis to which his own policies contributed. (Price controls, etc).
David Cameron had better realise that a repeat of an energy crunch in the next year or so (blackouts, freezing weather, people dying of cold), will finish him off and his style of politics for some time to come. As for the rest of us, the demise of his brand of Toryism cannot come a moment too soon. A couple of years ago, when he and his finance minister were making nasty noises about the need to tax low-cost flights, I was reminded of that remark that the Duke of Wellington is said to have made about the-then new railways – he disliked trains as they encouraged the masses to move about. I cannot help but notice a certain parallel with how Cameron views the public – except that Wellington won a lot of battles.
There was no hope once the politicians and media were fully on board with the “default” meme. There was never any possibility of a debt default. The government has plenty of money to cover debt service, which requires less than 10% of average monthly tax revenues. It could also have rolled over any bonds which came due. The only thing it could not have done was issue new debt in excess of the limit. True default was never a risk (not that it would have been the end of the world, anyway; the US has defaulted before). But when even the Wall Street Journal adopted that language (their article today about the congressional deal on “reopening” the government and increasing the debt ceiling began with “A potentially crippling U.S. debt default was averted late Wednesday…” there was no hope left. We all knew that the Republicans would cave. They always do. But they were not able to extract a single concession from Obama and Reid. Truly pitiful.
Coincidentally, this afternoon I attended a speech given by Robert Guest, US editor for The Economist magazine. Before launching into what was actually a rather interesting talk he treated us to a diatribe about the pending “default”, comparing the Congress to a bunch of petulant teenagers (OK, that’s actually not too far off the mark). Nothing he said was correct. Quelle surprise.
- Samizdata commenter ‘Laird’
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