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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Batman Is Not George Bush

I explain here. There are spoilers in this article so please don't read it until you've seen the (fantastic) movie.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Man Who Made Up Crap Relating to Columbus Aims to Do Same with da Vinci

Or, as Reuters would shockingly have it, Columbus debunker sets sights on Leonardo da Vinci. It's amazing -- every scholar who has looked at Gavin Menzies's work, which claims, for instance, that the Chinese circumnavigated Greenland in 1421 -- think 'ice', folks -- has demonstrated this work is utter rubbish. Menzies is posing as an expert on Chinese history, and yet he can't read any Chinese. The guy has even been shown to lie about his own history. But this writer from Reuters presents the story as if there is a serious controversy about Menzies's claims, based, seemingly, on the fact that Menzies has "gained an international following among readers." The Reuters dolt does present some academic criticism, but here's his idea of a scholarly response to that criticism: "Menzies brushes off the criticism, pointing to shelves of files in the rooms of his basement study filled with material he says supports his theories."

See, he pointed to some full shelves! So his research must be OK after all!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Who's That Guy?

Twice now at FEE, I've been introduced to someone who has said to me, "I loved your book on the Great Depression."

Of course, I've written no such book, but who are they mistaking me for? Murray Rothbard? Bob Higgs? John Maynard Keynes? Any ideas?

Where Do I Get Those Sheets?

In a hotel room, watching movies, I noticed how, whatever way a naked woman moves about in bed, the bedsheets manage to stay plastered to her chest just an inch or so above her nipples. Where can I get sheets like that? (I've had a problem with peeping Jens lately.)

Monday, July 28, 2008

Sorry!

I haven't been able to blog much -- threw a big BBQ last weekend, and then talked at FEE tonight. But I just saw some of my earlier talks at FEE are online here.

Once

Once upon a time before the sun went Boom
Lived a dirty little rat in a filthy little room.
"Eeek" cried the rodent,
"Wa-oom" went the room,
And so did they live while awaiting doom.

ANWR Drilling Would Provide Quick Relief

People have been ridiculing Bush and McCain for the "psychological" benefits of offshore drilling, perhaps correctly. But I explain in this piece that opening up more US federal lands to drilling would provide tangible relief right away, because producers with excess capacity would pump more in the present (expecting lower future prices).

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Mises University 2008

It's an all-star cast this year, folks, featuring such giants of Rothbardian thought as Hans Hoppe, Joe Salerno, and Guido Hulsmann. There are also big tent wussies like Roderick Long, Roger Garrison, and yours truly.

Seriously, this is the most heavily attended Mises U yet; I think they said there are 190+ students here. And even though I'm getting over a cold, I hope on Monday night to initiate the first annual Mises University Karaoke Outing at the bar down the street.

Who will win the coveted $2,500 Doug French scholarship at the end of the week? I expect that my former student* Gennady Stolyarov II will at least place.


*Mises U faculty don't judge their former students. I.e. we make sure that students who opt for the competition get evaluated (at least in the early rounds when it is possible) by other professors who don't know them. This is serious stuff here. You don't administer the Mündliche Prüfung casually. (And yes I just copied and pasted that. I tried to say it once but it brought up too much phlegm.)

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Can the Feds Save the Housing Market?

Of course not. Unfortunately this was (obviously) written before the current "rescue" had been solidified, so it's not as topical as one might have hoped. Oh well, the current bailout is a bad idea too.

"Don't Talk to the Police--Ever!"

So says a very glib law professor (video), and then the cop he calls up afterwards (video) says the same thing. These are each 20 minutes but they are really interesting; you would be surprised at how even someone who is totally innocent, makes truthful statements, and even has the interview videotaped, can end up incriminating himself by talking with the police.*

I was surprised that nobody brought up the fact that police need to rely on civilians to gather information in order to solve crimes. I don't know if the professor meant, "Don't talk to the police when you are a suspect" or if he really meant, "Don't ever talk to the police when they are gathering info about a crime." Either way, it just shows why shady police tactics are self-defeating. Lying to a suspect may get him behind bars, and if the police are "sure" he's guilty you might think that's fine, but as more people become aware of these practices, it makes it harder to catch true criminals in the long run.


* Let me give the news you can use for those without 20 minutes to spare: Suppose the police bring you in for questioning, and in the patrol car you hear them discussing how witnesses heard 4 shots fired. Then they get you into the interview room and start rolling the tape. You say, "I had nothing to do with this shooting. In fact, I was 10 miles away when it happened."

Even if that is true, what happens when the DA puts that cop on the stand, plays your statement for the jury, and then says, "Officer Smith, did anything strike you as odd about his response?"

"Why yes something did."

"And what was it, Officer Smith?"

"We had never told him there had been a shooting. We just said we were investigating the murder of Mary Adams."

Then your attorney tries to do damage control by putting you on the stand, and you say the cops in the patrol car mentioned a shooting. They put both those cops up on the stand, and they deny ever having said that in your presence.

So now the jury thinks you have been caught with knowledge of the murder beforehand, and now lying on the stand. Oops.

Newly Maid Math

Two weeks ago our maid asked for a $15 raise to her $75 weekly fee. She told my wife that she needed the money because of the high price of gasoline. In this economic climate the request was audacious, and of course it was denied.

Our maid has been working with us about a year. She drives a compact car that should get at least 25 miles per gallon in the city, and she lives approximately 15 miles away. I suggested to my wife that we generously offer her $2 a week fuel stipend, which would be rescinded when gasoline returned to mid-2007 prices. My wife has more social intelligence than I, so she did not pursue this.

When our maid started working with us she put in five hours for her fee. After a few weeks, with greater efficiency, she reduced her hours to four, and maintained four hours for almost a year. Yesterday, she left after 3 hours. Me thinks she thinks she has found another way to get a big raise.

We’re looking for a new maid.

Hard Hitting Climate Analysis, Part 2

In a previous post, I quoted Al Gore from his recent speech:

And by the way, our weather sure is getting strange, isn't it? There seem to be more tornadoes than in living memory, longer droughts, bigger downpours and record floods.

At that time, I put up the tornado graph (shown below), and now I've found a relevant drought graph (shown even further below). I tried finding a chart of average annual US precipitation--which you think would be easy to get--but the government's weather sites are harder to navigate than the Bureau of Labor Statistics, if that is possible. Anybody who can point me to graphs (or tables, if necessary) on the "bigger downpours" and "record floods" would be very cool, in my book. And if Gore is right on those, I will also post the update here. But so far, he is 0 for 2, unless that "seem to be" caveat is taken to excuse anything that follows in his sentence. I suppose you could also have fun with the "in living memory" caveat.



Friday, July 25, 2008

Murphy Testimony to Ron Paul et al.

Actually the government does have our written testimonies available; here is mine (pdf). (You can access everybody else's, as well as Ron Paul's opening statement, here.)

Ron Paul's staffer tells me at some point the podcast will be available but it isn't yet. I imagine they have "Balance Federal Budget" higher up on the To Do list...

How the $^@#@*(*&^%$#@!&^%

How the $^@#@*(*&^%$#@!&^% do you get Crash Landing to email you whenever some half-brained looney adds a comment to your post? I'm sure I remember that it's possible. Please give your excellent advice in a comment, which Crash Landing will then dutifully not announce.

New Math

From Painters & Allied Trades Journal (IUPAT), April-June 2008, p.39: "Did you know slowing down can save on fuel during your RV vacation? Don't let high gas prices stop you from enjoying the open road with your family. First slow down--each 5mph you go over 60mph, you add about $0.10 more per gallon of fuel."

I Draw With Barney Frank

Well I had my testimony today at the Financial Services Committee. (BTW, I had bad information; I would've warned all 6 of my fans that there was a live webcast, had I known. I also wouldn't have worn a white shirt with a black suit. Seriously, it could be on CSPAN at 4 am so if anybody captures it, please let me know.)

Anyway, Barney Frank opened the session but then kept leaving the room. (He claimed he had to go vote on something--I guess that's a decent excuse.) It just so happened that he was never in the room when I was talking. I was mad because the other witnesses were going long, and he actually had to bang the gavel. It was really awkward; he wasn't being a jerk, they were. He said something like, "Gentlemen, I don't mean to be rude, but I can't manufacture minutes. You really have to limit your remarks to 5 minutes." (These guys weren't even close.)

So anyway I thought I'd have a good opening joke along the lines of, "Thank you Mr. Chairman, I'll keep my remarks brief, because frankly you scared me with that gavel." Yeah it doesn't sound very funny, but believe me, the room would've thought I was Eddie Murphy after hearing the other guys read from their notes for 20 minutes about the current account deficit.

But alas, Mr. Frank left before it was my turn.

I don't really have any great stories to tell. I shook Ron Paul's hand; I will be auctioning my right hand on e-bay, the bidding starts at midnight on Guy Fawkes Day.

There was one Democrat from California--Sherman--and he was pretty annoying. But even there, I couldn't get too mad at him because he was pretty smug and knew he was putting on a show. But it really was absurd. He was saying stuff like, "Now free trade sounds good in theory, but those pesky facts keep getting in the way. They told us if we had free trade and a balanced budget, we'd have no trade deficit. Yet that didn't happen. And even with free trade, Japanese tourists still keep coming to my home district and spending money. Again, we just have to ignore these facts."

I am not making this stuff up. Granted, I was thinking about my own remarks when this guy was talking, but I'm pretty sure he said that free traders didn't think Japanese tourists would visit California.

I actually managed to get a half chuckle from Sherman. During the Q&A he opened up with something like this: "Last week Chairman Bernanke told us that a 1 percent increase in the supply of oil would lead to a 10 percent price reduction. Now I realize this is an unfair question, but if you had to give me a number--what do you say, for a 1 percent increase in the supply of oil?"

(The context was opening up ANWR and offshore drilling.)

So the other three guys give their non-answer answers, basically agreeing with Bernanke. Obviously no one actually said a number.

When it was my turn I said something like, "I echo the remarks of the other three witnesses, that oil has low elasticity, and so even a small increase in supply can have a large impact on price, especially in the short run. You asked for a number--10.378 percent."

A few people chuckled behind me, and even Sherman said, "Ah, I like the precision in your answer, 10.387 percent." (And that's a big sic--he repeated back the wrong number.) But we had sort of a "Boba Fett nod" moment. (See here at ~2:25 for the Star Wars reference if you're really bored.)

The only real tete-a-tete occurred when one of the Democrats chastised us (the other guy called by the Republicans, Walter Williams of Shadowstats fame, not the black economist) for focusing on supply, and not on conservation. She asked us what we thought of lowering the federal speed limit down to 55 again or something like that. So I said it was fine to educate motorists about ways to save gas, whether driving more slowly or inflating tires properly, but that there are tradeoffs and the government shouldn't force consumers to have longer commutes if they're willing to pay more for the speed.

She said something like, "Well how can you praise a lack of regulation after Bear Stearns?" But I wasn't sure if I was supposed to answer, and plus I was there in my capacity as IER economist, so I didn't say anything. It was awkward, and then she said, "That was rhetorical." I don't know if she was saving herself or me.

But here again, the lady wasn't really attacking me, we were all putting on a show. Speaking of which, there were some people in the crowd who were clearly there to see Ron Paul. I should have brought some books to hawk. Live and learn.

Anyway, below is a shot that I obviously didn't know was occurring. And keep in mind, the baldest guy at the table is the one who worries the most about government policies.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Oil Speculation: WSJ Bluffs, Govt Shines

Now that I am a big mover and shaker, I am always on the lookout for my transformation into a giant sellout. (Some of you have aided me in this vigilant effort.) Well, today I found myself rolling my eyes at the Wall Street Journal's editorial on speculation, and nodding my head in morbid excitement while reading the CFTC's report (pdf).

If you have a half hour and really want to get up to speed on the nuts and bolts of futures trading in the oil market, I highly recommend the CFTC report. Now then, let's make fun of the guys bluffing at the WSJ. (And by the way, it takes one to know one. What I mean by "bluffing" is taking a confident position on something where, it turns out, one doesn't quite have the subject's nuances pinned down. It is unavoidable, I think, unless you stick to mathematical proofs. But the only way to keep the incentives right is to rip people when they get caught bluffing.)

Anyway in the July 22, 2008 editorial page (A18), they write:

Even the title of the Senate's bill--the "Stop Excessive Energy Speculation Act"--is idiotic. True, the volume of trading has increased by about sixfold since 2000, but it can't be "excessive." The inviolable law of futures markets is that someone has to take the other side of any option. That is, the value of contracts agreed to by sellers anticipating that prices will fall must equal the value of contracts agreed to by buyers anticipating prices will rise. The overall size of the market is irrelevant.

OK, first bluff: They seem to be classifying a futures contract as an option, when in fact it's a derivative. (An option is a derivative, but a derivative is not necessarily an option.) You don't have any option in a futures contract; if you haven't sold it by the delivery date, you are obligated to buy/deliver the underlying (or settle up in cash). With an actual option, you have the option of doing nothing (hence the name).

OK, but more important: It's not crystal clear, but it seems that the editorialists are arguing that by definition, speculators can't ever drive a price up. Because after all, for every long position there is a corresponding short.

But if this were true, then the futures market would lose one of its virtues; it wouldn't allow experts to communicate their insider knowledge to other people in the market. For example, if people knew that Israel were going to launch an airstrike on Iran next Tuesday, we want them to be "traitors" and start massively buying oil futures. (At least, that's good from the point of view of the oil market. If it tipped of Iran and they beefed up their air defenses, the Israeli pilots could understandably be furious.)

The way I've been thinking about it lately, is to make it analogous to international trade. Imagine that the physical producers and users (what are called the commercial users or "hedgers") have established their own equilibrium futures prices for various months out over the next 5 years. Now enter a bunch of outside investors who also (among themselves) take long and short positions, based on their expectations. They aren't hedging, they are pure speculators.

If the futures price in each closed system is the same, then there are no gains from trade and nothing happens. However, if the speculators end up on an equilibrium futures price higher than the hedgers, then once the two groups can trade, naturally what will happen is you'll end up with a unified futures price in between the two original ones. At the higher futures price, the oil producers will be short more contracts than they were before, the commercial users (airlines, refiners, etc.) will be long fewer contracts than they were before, and so as a group they will be net short.

On the other hand, the speculators as a group will have to be net long, to counterbalance the "international trade" with the nation of hedgers.

Now because the oil producers have sold more promises to deliver oil in the future than originally, they will cut back on current output (probably). Or, depending on the specifics, people might stockpile oil in order to fulfill these additional delivery orders. Either way, the spot price of oil goes up because of the influx of net long speculators.

Now, is this a good thing? It depends. If the speculators are right, and oil prices go up, then yes. If the speculators were wrong, and oil prices go down, then their interference was a bad thing.

So it's the same as with other entrepreneurial actions: Profitable actions coincide with correcting mispricings, while losses coincide with screwups.

Within that context, if you reread the WSJ editorial, you'll see that they probably don't really know what they're talking about. It's true, you could bend over backwards and say they were just harping on that word "excessive," but I think they were saying speculators can't move prices.

If nothing else, I heard Rush Limbaugh explicitly say that a couple of weeks ago. He went through and explicitly said that a futures contract is a zero-sum game, and that since one party is long and the other short, speculators can't move prices. But at least he had the sense to say, "Now I'm sure some economists are going to email me and complain..." when he basically said futures contracts were gambling and had no real effect on the economy.

Soaking the Rich Won't Solve [California's] Boom-and-Bust Cycles

They chopped it up for space, but some good factoids in this op ed on state Democrats' proposed tax hikes in California. If you have a high income, don't move to California.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

That's Not a Bad*ss Actor, This Is a Bad*ss Actor

I was asking my legal correspondent, Dick Clark, what the story was with Wesley Snipes. Was he cool for not paying his taxes, or just D-U-M dumb? Dick wasn't sure, but thought probably he had been given bad advice.

On the other hand, he pointed out this story on Paul Hogan (aka Mick Dundee). I need to throw back a few Fosters with this guy!

(BTW if the post title is vaguely familiar but you can't quite place it, here ya go.)

Nutmeg Marketing

I heard an ad on the radio today being run by Connecticut Tourism, which consisted of two kids talking about how fun their CT vacation was. One of them remarks, "Did you know potato salad can go bad in the sun?"

Apparently, some marketing genius in the state government thinks it's a good idea to associate the state with food poisoning and the stench of bad mayonnaise.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Onion Explains Austrian Businss Cycle Theory

"A panel of top business leaders testified before Congress about the worsening recession Monday, demanding the government provide Americans with a new irresponsible and largely illusory economic bubble in which to invest.

"What America needs right now is not more talk and long-term strategy, but a concrete way to create more imaginary wealth in the very immediate future," said Thomas Jenkins, CFO of the Boston-area Jenkins Financial Group, a bubble-based investment firm. "We are in a crisis, and that crisis demands an unviable short-term solution."

Read the rest.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Can I Get a Witness?

Unless something changes, I will be testifying this Thursday before the Committee on Financial Services about the dollar and oil prices. Let's give them a few weeks to process my remarks, then another month to implement my recommendations...we're looking at a stable dollar and falling oil prices by November, I figure.

Now, when it's my turn to speak, would it be inappropriate if I looked at Barney Frank and said, "General, would you care to step outside?"

Making Sure Tyler Cowen Doesn't Give Me a Kidney

I will probably regret this in the morning, but I had to share my thoughts after reading Tyler Cowen arguing with other central planners over the best way to spend trillions of dollars running health care. There were nine comments when I saw the thread, and no one had raised a peep about this apparent discrepancy from a libertarian. (He's a libertarian, right? If he never said he was then I feel bad.)

If nothing else, the experience gives me patience with obvious trolls on other websites (or this one, in fact).

The Universe and "Not"

Just as there are precious few actual scientific experiments in psychology capable of giving a straight yes-or-no answer to a real question, there is not much in philosophy or metaphysics that can be similarly tested. I recently met with an instance.

You may have encountered this instance in a New Age context called "The Secret," or "The Law of Attraction," or other names I haven't heard, being a novice. The basic idea--forgive me, believers--is that what you think, visualize, or otherwise make real in your internal life, you will attract from the Universe and thus experience. So if you consistently imagine yourself rolling in money, you will become rich (if you are not already rich). This idea is not new.

The clause that arrested me was expressed by one friend ( no doubt quoting): The Universe doesn't hear "not." Thus if you constantly obsess, "No, I will not, not, not get cancer like my mother did," guess what?

I find this claim fascinating. It raises two distinct questions:

a) How to prove or disprove--in the sense of physical scince?

b) If so, why?

A Modest Proposal

My friend Carol von Haden (whom I credit here for the second time) proposed to me one of those bogglesome ideas that initially provoke disaffection and laughter, but which might make sense. Have you encountered it (before now--jeez, do I need to microprogram everything?), and have you any comments?

In California, at least, she says, 25% drop out of high school, and it then costs $40,000 per annum for their support in prison, the destiny of many of them, since there are ever fewer alternatives for them. Why not pay them, say, $100./week to stay in school? Less crime to fill out their budgets, a better work force, more youngsters going on to college and, again, a better work force, etc.

Carol claims that it would more than pencil out eventually (although most of the benefits other than less crime would be quite eventual).

Carol did not discuss any fine points, in particular: Who would get the stipend--everyone, or only those likely to be swayed (which would reward the bad, usually a bad idea), or what?

So what do youse animadvert? If anything.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Superfriends Spoofs to Waste Your Time

OK after 20 minutes I just had to say, "Bob, put the YouTube down!" Apparently there is a whole industry of spoofs of the old Superfriends cartoons. The best two I found are below. I suggest watching them in the order I list them.



Police Fraternity Worried They Can No Longer Punch Guys Handcuffed to Wheelchairs

Update below.

So yet another of America's finest is caught on video punching someone--this time, a drunk stabbing victim in a hospital, handcuffed to a wheelchair. Note that the cop hasn't even been fired (though the department wanted to, the civilian review board overruled it), and his suspension was due to end in April. But before he could return to defending the public at taxpayer expense, a civil rights suit was filed in federal court, so now he's still out of work:

At the time, [Chicago Police Superintendent] Weis called the officer's actions "deplorable" and vowed to "review the facts of the case before taking further action." He wound up contacting federal authorities, who obtained a civil rights indictment against [the police officer] Cozzi the day before he was supposed to return to duty in April.

Cozzi remains on an unpaid suspension because of the federal case. In court papers, Cozzi is calling the federal case a "vindictive prosecution" because he already had been convicted of state charges.

The federal prosecution angered many officers, said Mark Donahue, president of the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police.

"It drastically impacted morale," Donahue said. "The feeling was, 'if he [Weis] could do this to one individual based on the limited knowledge that he had, what do the rest of us have to look forward to in the future?'"


Aww, poor guys! I guess you'll just have to be careful not to punch guys in wheelchairs while a camera is rolling. Every job has its pros and cons.

BTW, the crucial thing about the video in the story linked above, is how the other cops just stand around while their colleague is punching the guy in the wheelchair. Nothing to see here, we do this all the time, folks.

Another ridiculous aspect of this story is the defense, that this cop had a "stellar" 13-year record until this one minor incident. Right, and judging from all the cops standing around while he punched the guy in the wheelchair, and the fact that it took a newspaper using the Freedom of Information Act to get its hands on this video, I'm sure that his lack of other disciplinary action is proof that he has been a hero thus far.

HT2LRC on this one.

Update: One of the readers at the newspaper site was upset at the bias against the officer. So as to prevent a similar misunderstanding here: The guy in the wheelchair can walk. He was in the hospital, and had apparently been treated for a stabbing, and also was drunk and unruly. So that's why they were moving him around in a wheelchair. My purpose in emphasizing that wasn't to say, "Hey, cop hit a cripple!!" but rather, "Hey, cop hit a guy who is strapped to a chair!"

Hard Hitting Climate Analysis

I am really surprised Gore's partners in crime* at Env-Econ or Aguanomics haven't talked about his big speech on Thursday. IER should have our response posted on Monday, which of course I will link.

Until then, here's a sneak peak. Gore said:

And by the way, our weather sure is getting strange, isn't it? There seem to be more tornadoes than in living memory, longer droughts, bigger downpours and record floods.

Well, I guess that phrase "seem to be" can exonerate him of any ridiculous statement that follows, but the claim about tornadoes is totally wrong--at least according to NOAA (see graphic below). I didn't bother researching the other claims, but I bet the last five years aren't unprecedented for them either. Keep in mind, we're talking physical measurements here. Obviously there is more economic harm if there are more people and more property on coastlines, etc. That by itself doesn't prove that nature is getting angry at our coal-fired power plants.





* Because all three support a carbon tax, and taxes are theft in my book. Get it?

I Hope None of You Can Answer This Monster Truck Question...

What is the deal with Grave Digger? My son is obsessed with monster trucks; his favorite fix is below. I am getting pretty sick of that collage (though it is cool); I think over the last year we have generated 20% of its total views. But I notice that looking around at other clips, everybody features Grave Digger. Is he/it like the Michael Jordan of monster truck rallies?

Call me old school, but I think Big Foot's jumping of a 727 (opening clip below) is cooler than Grave Digger crunching some cars. But mainly, I just think Grave Digger is an ugly vehicle.

The Lawnmower Men

The WSJ is being a bit naive/dishonest in discussing the "standard interagency review process" but I think the take-away message from this article is: Be afraid, be very afraid.*

* Oh wait, the real lesson here is the government finally putting into place libertarian property rights. Phew! All of those pesky missing markets in cow and lawnmower emissions.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Dumb Question on the Gold Standard

OK it's late, I finally got the toddler down (my wife is out of town so I'm on full-time Daddy Day Care mode), and I just cracked open a cool one. So maybe this is D-U-M dumb. But...

I think most Austro-libertarians believe that with a sound money, let's say 100% gold standard, prices should fall gently over time.

So does that mean gold gets more expensive year after year, compared to CPI basket? Doesn't that violate Julian Simon's general view of the world? What about industrial operations that require gold as an input? Would they do better under a silver standard?

I imagine I'm making some elementary mistake here; obviously Julian Simon wasn't saying that the relative prices of all goods goes down year after year, since that is impossible.

But on the other hand, something isn't quite clicking here.

Reynolds Not Worried About Inflation

Alan Reynolds of Cato is annoyed at the hysterics over June's humongous CPI jump. I dunno, kids, I still think we could see double-digit price increases in 2009 and 2010. If I had any money lying around, I'd buy gold. As Gene would say, we have a unique opportunity here.

Falsification "Falsified"

"Every established proposition of science enters into the current premises of science and affects the scientist's decision to accept an observation as a fact or to disregard it as probably unsound... this material (I present) refutes the widely held view that scientists necessarily abandon a scientific proposition if a new observation conflicts with it."

-- Michael Polanyi, Science, Faith, and Society

Folks, "Popperian" "falsificationsism" has been "falsified" by the works of Polanyi, Toulmin, Lakatos, Kuhn, and many others. It is currently only embraced by amateurs in the philosophy of science who are unwilling to engage with the extensive literature refuting Popper's views. My libertarian friends who continue to endorse this well-refuted understanding of science risk discrediting libertarianism by unnecessarily linking it to antiquated views.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Theory-Laden Facts, Part II

Robert took great exception to my recent post that all facts are "theory laden." He claimed that, when his senses are working properly, if he says "I see an apple," he sees an apple, and that's that.

Scenario: Robert and I are walking in the forest. He says, "Do you see that slug there?" I, an accomplished naturalist, say, "That's not a slug."

"Well," he responds, "it certainly is a very slug-like creature."

"No," I inform him, "that's not even a creature. In fact, it's a collection of slime mold cells, which, generally speaking, live on their own as single-celled organisms, but, when nutrients run short where they are, gather together and crawl to a better place in a slug-like shape." (In fact, they then form something that looks just like a mushroom, a thing that Robert would say "plainly" was a mushroom!)

What we "see" is determined by our theories of what we might see and by our theories of what categories to put those things into. Even Robert's apple judgment could be wrong: It could be a very realistic wax apple, or a new peach genetically engineered to look like an apple. His judgment (for it is a judgment, and not any sort of "direct perception") "that is an apple" is based on a theory that anything that looks like "that" must be an apple.

A Professor and Karate Expert Analyzes Batman

This is one of the cooler articles I've read in a while. At first you're thinking, "Like I want to hear some pointy head talk about Batman throwing down with people!" but it's cool. (HT2MR.)

Unscientific Kooks, Part 17

"As a man who has devoted his whole life to the most clear-headed science, to the study of matter, I can tell you as the result of my research about atoms this much: All matters originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particle of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter."

-- Max Planck, from his Nobel Prize acceptance speech

Austrian Realists

I realized it had been over a month since I criticized other free market economists, and hence wrote this article.

Note that the picture for the article is a reference to Gene's book. I imagine some people here would have assumed the so-and-so's down at the Mises Institute would be far too petty to promote Gene's book after all the goings-on. Maybe Gene will sing us some lines from a Les Mis song:

Damned if I'll live in the debt of a bigot!
Damned if I'll yield at the end of the chase.
I am the blog and the blog is not mocked
I'll spit his pity right back in his face
Oh how on earth can this be?
It is either Ron Paul or Gene C.!

How can I now allow this man
To hold dominion over me?
This desperate man whom I have baited
He gave me my book. He gave me sales.
I should have perished by his hand
It was his right.
It was my right to mock as well
Instead I live... but live in hell.

And my thoughts fly apart
Can this man be believed?
Shall his sins be forgiven?
Shall his crimes be reprieved?

And must I now begin to doubt,
Who never doubted all these months?
My heart is stone and still it trembles
The world I have known is lost in shadow.
Is he from heaven or from hell?
And does he know
That granting me my book today
This man has killed me even so?


BTW if you have no idea what I am alluding to, you really need to see Les Mis. Far be it from me to criticize any movie involving Liam Neeson, but it doesn't hold a candle to the stage production.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Answer to the Mystery Quote

Sorry to leave everyone hanging, but the answer to the mystery quote from before was Ludwig von Mises. I wasn't trying to mislead when I truthfully said that he spoke German; I actually thought you guys were kidding when you didn't know who it was.

Now if someone had helped me with my other inquiry, this delay wouldn't have happened. I would have realized you guys were posting on that thread. Don't you feel ashamed of yourselves.

Plugging Puck

At some point I am planning on re-reading it and then writing up an official review. In the meantime, I keep forgetting to mention that I highly recommend Gene's novel Puck to anybody who visits this blog. It showcases Gene's traits that we've come to love: computer-savvy, adventurous, scatterbrained, deep, and basically pucked up.

An Old Favorite

Yes, I admit it: I used to read National Review regularly. And there were some good bits in it now and then. I think my favorite was from Florence King, who wrote (I quote from memory): "To all of those Catholics who disagree with the Church's teachings on birth control: Congratulations, you're Protestants!"

Democracy: Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

Tyler Cowen linked to this NYT reader poll about how to stimulate the economy. I had to stop reading after the first five. Go ahead and try it. In just two minutes you can ruin your whole day.

After Further Review, Gary North 0, Punk Kid 1

Remember a while ago when I took Gary North to task for dressing down some punk kid* about inflation? Well apparently consumer prices didn't hear the news about shrinking M1.

In his cocky tour de force, recall that North had said:

If he [North's punk kid target] chooses to continue this debate, he has two options: (1) include a link to this article, which will cost him greatly; (2) try to debate without linking to it, which will be an admission that he got in way over his head and cannot get out. ("When you're in a hole, stop digging.")

Either is fine with me.

Of course, he can wait until gold rebounds above $1,000 and the CPI goes back to 4% a year. Then he can try to refute me. But, until then, he would be wise to remain discreetly silent. Too bad for him that his attempted refutation is already all over the Web.


Well, gold was $979 last I checked, and we just had the biggest monthly CPI jump since 1982--over a 14% annualized rate. Get those warm-ups off, junior, you're going back in the game!


* The "punk kid" might be older than me, for all I know. This is purely a functional term.

David Zetland: "It's hard work being so pretty."

OK I am a tad jealous that Zetland's Forbes commentary gets a nod from MR and my misguided friends at Env-Econ. But check out Zetland's photo. Doesn't he know economists are supposed to look like tools? He looks more like a photo journalist back from the Serengeti.

I bet his female students write "LOVE YOU" on their eyelids a la Indiana Jones.

Monday, July 14, 2008

From a Hotel in Greenville, SC

I drove out here today because we have a fun-filled day tomorrow edu-macating people about the dangers of senators running oil companies. If there are any radio or TV clips available, I will post them here in my narcissistic fashion.

Anyway, I just wanted to pop in and complain about the "Fair Trade" coffee packet in my room. Should I call the front desk and ask for a cheaper free trade packet, and state that I will split the savings with the hotel?

The Further Adventures of Nick Danger, Third Eye










Rocky Rococo and Nick Danger pose for the camera.

Photo Day!

Click for a larger image:


Brooklyn sunset. (That's the New York Harbor and New Jersey in the distance.)


Brooklyn kids makin' movies of themselves.


Yes, in case you were wondering, they do have those pole things with the multi-coloured lights on them in Cardiff.


Cardiff garden.


The market along the River Taff.


These things will pop out of the ground in Wales nearly anywhere.


Looking north up the Taff.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Humor Never Works on the Internet

At least, not if it's tongue-in-cheek. In this thread I try to lightly provide constructive criticism to the only other free market guy who posts on the site, and then some environmentalist gets huffy with me.

Note to self: Defending Bryan Caplan only leads to trouble.

A Crude Thought

Ha ha I tricked you--I'm not discussing anything risque here, just oil stuff. As readers of Crash Landing know, I have been pontificating at Hayekian-like length on the oil markets, and in particular whether speculators are driving up prices. My general answer has been that it is theoretically possible they are doing so, but I don't think in fact that they are.

Now the one thing that has really been worrying me in my stance is this: With war brewing with Iran--where they might mine the Strait of Hormuz etc.--shouldn't speculators be driving oil prices way up? Shouldn't there be massive contango (or something more exotic involving the prices of options) in the oil market, giving people the incentive to buy oil today and stockpile it? As I speculated (ha ha) earlier, I think one of the reasons the Bush Administration was so reluctant to cease filling the SPR, is that we are going to need that oil if Israel bombs Iran.

But I need to take the (un)friendly criticism of emailers to heart, when after my articles on futures markets they blast me with, "We don't have a free market in oil!!"

Let's say you are a refiner and so you actually know how to stockpile thousands of barrels of oil. (Most people, especially me, would have no freaking idea how to do this.) Further suppose that you are really convinced there will be war with Iran before Bush leaves office.

OK, so are you really going to pay $1.4 million to buy 10,000 barrels of oil, then shell out another $?? to warehouse them for six months, buy insurance in case someone robs you or starts a fire, etc., and then try to sell them for a total of $4.2 million when oil triples? Do you really think when oil is selling for $420 per barrel, and we realize we've got about 2 months' worth of net imports in the SPR, that the politicians are going to say, "Good job, Mr. Speculator! Like a wise squirrel, you hoarded 10,000 barrels. In this country, such foresight is rewarded with entrepreneurial profits! Ah, don't forget to pay a low capital gains tax on that profit. Our small government needs its funding too, don't ya know" ?

Of course that wouldn't happen. Your oil would be seized and you'd be lucky if you didn't get shot as an example.

So this explains to my satisfaction why no US citizens, at least, are stockpiling oil like crazy. It doesn't, by itself, explain why speculators aren't driving up prices, but I wonder if there is something similar going on.

I Have a T-Boone to Pick, Too

A good friend of mine is from one of those Caribbean islands where there is a rough balance of Europeans and non-Europeans -- thus, the accent from that island is ambiguous. Furthermore, my friend got a lot of Western education -- so his "West Indian" accent is very mild. He got a job at an investment bank, where he became T. Boone Pickens favorite broker -- totally over the phone. At some point, Pickens asked to have my friend come to a (meeting/conference/road show) Pickens was going to be at. My friend tried to opt out, sensing what would occur. But his bosses insisted he come, and, when Pickens saw my friend was black, he immediately declared he would never do business with him again. (And note -- my friend had been doing such a good job for Pickens that, not knowing my friend's skin color, he had chosen him as his main broker!)

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Even Mises Could Be Conned by Governments

He says so himself on page 780 of the Scholar's Edition of Human Action:

In dealing with the problems of the gold exchange standard all economists--including the author of this book--failed to realize the fact that it places in the hands of governments the power to manipulate their nations' currency easily.

An Uncanny Prediction

Hat tip to Robert Wenzel for pointing this out... I don't want to draw anymore undue attention to myself, but just click on the below links and pay attention to the dates. Freaky deaky Dutch.

Link 1: A typical off-the-wall Crash Landing post.

Link 2: A news story. (It's OK to skim, but make sure you read the last line of the article--it's crucial.)

I Have a T-Bone to Pick...

(I had worried about the cheesiness of the title, but c'mon, it employs all three aspects of his name. Good enough for blogging work, I say.)

Most people with access to media have by now heard about T. Boone Pickens' "Plan to Escape the Grip of Foreign Oil." He has rightly been excoriated; my peeps at IER do so here. But like the adversaries of the father in Firestarter, I have had a phrase bouncing around in my head that will soon cause it to explode. I hope that this blog post relieves the pressure.

Anyway, here is the claim that is driving me crazy:

As imports grow and world prices rise, the amount of money we send to foreign nations every year is soaring. At current oil prices, we will send $700 billion dollars out of the country this year alone — that's four times the annual cost of the Iraq war. Projected over the next 10 years the cost will be $10 trillion — it will be the greatest transfer of wealth in the history of mankind.

I have seen people point out that the US federal government will take more than $10 trillion from US taxpayers over the next decade, and that's certainly correct. But I think the mistake in Pickens' argument is even deeper than its lack of imagination.

The fundamental flaw is this: Importing oil doesn't represent a wealth transfer. In exchange for our $10 trillion in cash, the rest of the world is giving us oil. And how much oil, you ask? Why, $10 trillion worth. Ain't that grand!

To see how ludicrous Pickens' claim is, we could easily imagine T. Buhn Piqenz in Saudi Arabia telling his brothers: "Why are we going to send the infidels $10 trillion of our oil over the next decade! That is the biggest transfer of wealth since the Six-Day War!"

The Murphy Manor?

Lately I have been growing more anxious about the deteriorating economy. Don't get me wrong, I think I'm pretty well hedged as far as my occupation goes: Defender of Big Oil, and plus I will definitely earn more on the speaking circuit if Obama wins.

Even so, I worry about stuff and this is one of them. Then I was looking out my window at my neighbor doing yard work, and I thought, "Why don't I chill out? Life goes on, regardless of what 'the economy' is doing. As long as I don't miss a mortgage payment, it's all good..."

But no, not really. The only reason it's so pleasant to live in our house is that we can drive the SUV to Costco etc. and stock up on supplies, visit gas stations to power this magical ship, and also because we have electricity coming into the house to power our internet connection and central air conditioning.

So although it's true that worrying never helps, it's also true that the state of 'the economy' affects us all when we have such a highly specialized division of labor. And although he may be better in terms of not starting another war (though maybe not), I think President Obama, with a Democratic Congress, would really screw up the US economy.

Hey guys, come help me whitewash the fence, it'll be fun!

So the other day I asked Gene if he could change the blog so that it shows you (in the right margin) what the most recent 5 or 10 comments were. This way, if you're throwing down with a few different clowns on three different threads, you don't have to scroll down and remember the total post count just to check if that idiot has come back with a lame response to your crushing argument.

Now you would think that Gene, a professional programmer in a previous life, would have asked me some questions about my preferences for the feature, and then banged it out in 8 minutes flat.

Instead, he said, "You have administrative rights, see what you can figure out."

Is this tough love, or laziness? In any event, I found the Template switch in Blogger, and I see the html for the site. But I would just as soon try to give myself double bypass surgery than try to insert a box with the 5 previous comments.

Can anybody give me some code to paste in? I'm not dumb, just ignorant, when it comes to this stuff.

Friday, July 11, 2008

I Report, You Decide

All right kids, I have work to do so I will leave this as an exercise for the class. At least one person here is being a moron. In response to someone saying that the government ought to tax bads (like carbon emissions) rather than goods (like income), a cynic says:

I know there's plenty of tongue in cheek going on here, but this is truly the reductio ad absurdum that disproves the Pigou Club. The Government is put in charge of deciding what is good and what is bad. I do not trust them that far.

Then Mike Moffatt says:

What the writer fails to realize is the deciding what is good and bad is exactly what government does. Every government decision naturally involves some subjective ethical decision. What the author is advocating here is not some limited government libertarian fantasy - he is advocating for anarchy. (emphasis original)

And then Moffatt trots out the murder example: "If you object to governments deciding what is right and wrong, how can you possibly support laws against murder?"

This of course is just a response to the more general maxim, "You can't legislate morality," which often comes up in drug legalization debates. The pro-prohibition person then says, "Sure we legislate morality all the time."

My gut reaction is that Moffatt is dead wrong; even if you are a minarchist, your theory of government certainly is NOT, "We let politicians decide what is right and wrong." It's wrong to swear at your grandma or cheat on your spouse; that doesn't mean the government should levy a Pigovian tax on such behavior.

But is the other side wrong too? I don't think so, but since I agree with them in the specific issue maybe I'm biased. I.e., since presumably the cynic I quoted above is not an anarchist, and since he thinks the government ought to ban some things that are wrong, is he overstepping when he says he doesn't trust the politicians to pick what is right and wrong?

(HT2EE. Incidentally, you might want to check the link out. Lots of libertarian bashing going on over there. Speaking of which, is Crash Landing the Pakistani training camp for libertarian Net warriors? Is Gene the Osama...oh wait, Osama was financially successful.)

My History of Thought Lectures Actually Become Useful

See here for details. The issue is the problems with Pigovian taxes. Notice that now Gene too is wasting time at the sites I frequent.

Getting Coase Wrong

I'm shocked by how often economists misinterpret the Coase theorem. I first found this in Winners, Losers, and Microsoft, when I was editing a pre-release copy. The text had read something along the lines that Coase had shown that in the presence of clear property rights people can negotiate there way to the most efficient outcome, whatever the initial distribution of rights was.

But that is wrong! What he said was, in the presence of clear property rights and low transaction costs people can negotiate there way to the most efficient outcome, whatever the initial distribution of rights was. And Coase himself felt that the Coase theorem rarely applied -- usually transaction costs were too high to get to the efficient solution! (I think the way he put it was that "we live in a non-Cosean world.")

Murphy Interview on Energy Issues

Here is the mp3 to the Raubin and Megan show, out of WIBW AM 580 from Topeka, Kansas. It occurred on June 24.

Let me confess that I sound way more knowledgeable in this interview than I actually am. The host just happened to ask me about 4 things that I know pretty well.

If you are pressed for time, at least listen to her intro. I use it instead of buying self-affirmation tapes.

"Do computers save time?"

Update below.

This was a flippant question posed by Pepe back in the day. At the time I thought he was exaggerating, but now I'm not so sure...

Anyway, check this out. I have a table in Excel that I reproduce below. Someone vetting my work pointed out that for the average 2006 data, if you take the averages of the percentage column, you get 1.4%, whereas if you directly take the percentage growth of the two average figures, you get 1.0%.

This is not a truncating problem; even if I do this right in Excel, you get a different answer depending which way you do it. So you might say, "Yes Bob, if I do it with my calculator with the numbers you've listed below, you get different answers, but it's because of rounding." But no, I don't think that's it, unless Excel does calculations based on the "shown" value rather than the embedded value with 5 decimal places.

So what the frick? Now do I have to check to make sure Excel does it percentage and averaging operations correctly? I've run into crazy problems before where the Vista version generates graphs that would appall Mandelbrot, if you try to change the domain of the x-axis. So I learned not to mess with that; you just highlight and construct the graph on the data you want, end of story.

But now I have to double check to make sure Excel is correctly doing percentages on a column of 8 numbers? Are you kidding me? Someone please save my sanity.

(BTW, the columns line up nicely in my screen as I pasted them in and lined them up, but when I hit "preview" they are squished together. I'm not going to bother fixing it. I hope you get the idea.)

Oil Consumption
(thous bbls/day) 2006
Region/Country 2005 P2006 Growth
========================================
United States 20802.2 20687.4 -0.6%
China 6720.0 7201.3 +7.2%
Japan 5305.1 5159.4 -2.7%
Russia 2757.0 2810.8 +1.9%
Germany 2647.1 2664.9 +0.7%
India 2438.0 2571.9 +5.5%
Canada 2296.9 2264.0 -1.4%
Brazil 2166.0 2216.8 +2.3%
Korea, South 2191.3 2173.8 -0.8%
Saudi Arabia 2000.0 2139.4 +7.0%
Mexico 2045.2 1996.7 -2.4%
France 1988.3 1961.2 -1.4%
United Kingdom 1834.3 1824.9 -0.5%
Italy 1754.8 1732.3 -1.3%
Iran 1572.0 1685.8 +7.2%
AVERAGE 3901.2 3939.4 +1.4%

Update: Turns out Silas is right--I am an idiot. Obviously the weights matter, and so there is no reason that the average of the growth rates will be the same as the growth rate in the average. Duh. Excel is still prone to weird mistakes that will embarrass you, but this was not one of them.

Smaller Gov't is Only Solution to [California] Budget Crisis

Nothing too radical here, but hey maybe you don't want to start your work and need an excuse...

Thursday, July 10, 2008

I'm No Mac Daddy

I don't care what you people say... My wife got an iMac a few years ago, and I have never liked it. It freezes up more than my computer, and that's saying a lot. And my wife gets frustrated all the time by it, too. It's true, you don't have to crash the iMac as much as my Vista piece of garbage, but it freezes up a lot. Mercy upon you, if you actually are trying to do something that involves the internet and, say, Excel. Bring a good book because you're going to do a lot of waiting around.

Water Boy

Oh man, Clark was sick today and voided his stomach three times. He kept requesting baths (I guess they soothed him) and I kid you not, he took 8 from me, and I think 1 from my wife, during an 18-hour period. On top of that, I had to throw his clothes and the bath mat into the washing machine at least 3 times because of vomit.

I don't know how much water the machine uses, but I wouldn't be surprised if Clark blew threw 200 gallons today. Don't tell David Zetland!

All Facts Are Theory Laden

As Popper put it.

One commentator objected strongly to this notion in a previous post, so I'm going to give some examples of how important this principle is. In everyday life I think it's true, but we can "bracket" it (i.e., set the problem aside). But in science we do so at great risk. Here are a few "plain" facts as seen by late-nineteenth century science:

1) Motion occurs over a continuum.
2) Energy increases or decreases smoothly with no discontinuities.
3) Objects do not gain or lose mass except that the mass comes from or goes to somewhere else.
4) Measurements of length are stable -- a meter is a meter is a meter, in whatever circumstances we do the measurement.

Well, folks, every single one of these "facts" turned out to be false. That is, they turned out to be theories.

The End of Anderson's Credibility

The silliest proposal I've seen this millenium.

I guess that's why Anderson is a magazine editor and not a scientist!

(Hat tip to Andy Stow.)

Mistakes: A Mark of Agency

Following up on a recent post on agency: Today I'm reading Susanne Langer, and I found this passage: "The misinterpretation of signs is the simplest form of mistake... Where we find the simplest form of error, we may expext to find also, as its correlate, the simplest form of knowledge. This is, indeed, the interpretation of signs.It is the most elementary and most tangible form of intellection; the kind of knowledge that we share with animals..."

To be mistaken, I contend, is a sign of agency. The deep-sea fish that bites on one of those head lures the deep-sea predators sport has made a mistake; what he took for a sign of prey was, in fact, a sign of predator. It is the fact that what the fish took as the means to achieve his end was not, in fact, such a means that we deem him mistaken. We never say of an electron, hydrochloric acid, a vein of iron, an ocean current, a volcano, the planet Neptune, or the Andromeda Galaxy that it made a mistake -- we take them all to have no ends at which they can (mis)direct their aim.

Langer posits animals as interpreters of signs; I think, given recent research, she would include plants as well. It took us a long time to recognize the actions of plants, because they act on a time scale and through media different to us. But when a plant detects an insect infestation on a branch, it directs a surge of insecticides to that area; we make sense of this by positing that it occurs with the aim of ridding the plant of the parasites.

A Night Owl, or Just an Owl?

Oooh look at me, I'm posting at 1:32 am my time, I'm a baaaad man. I'm tempted to say this makes me a night owl, but is there such a thing as a day owl? If not, why not just call me an owl?

Feel free to suggest alternative animals that describe me in the comments.

Ed Stringham: Scholar, Creator, Drinker

On one of those serious blogs, Pete Leeson gives props to Ed Stringham. I never went to school with Ed, and we were the same age, so our relationship was different from the one Leeson describes.

Even so, just as Ed encouraged Leeson to write his first journal article, so too did Ed push me to do things for the first time. But they all involved alcohol.

On a related note, it seems that part of the professional success of the GMU crowd is their mafia-like support for each other. Perhaps if Gene and I started complimenting each other all the time, I would be in a tenure track spot, and he wouldn't be teaching a weird class.

So let me list all the things I like about Gene.

...

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Heard on the Radio

From a gold huckster: "2008 represents a unique opportunity to buy gold."

Yes, you may not have the chance to buy $1000/ounce gold again for decades!

The Solution to My Back Taxes...

...if I am willing to move to India. (HT2MR.)

Who Said It?

Today's mystery quote:

The peoples who have developed the system of market economy and cling to it are in every respect superior to all other peoples. The fact that they are eager to preserve peace is not a mark of their weakness and inability to wage war.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The Geo-Engineering Solution

I think people are unfairly dismissing the "geo-engineering" solution to climate change. On Aguanomics I am arguing with--can you guess?--Silas, as well as the site's founder, on this issue. My latest salvo:


==============

David [Zetland],

You said:

I *will* say that geo-engineering is stupid.

Wow, you guys are really confident in what the world will be like in 30 years. Are you really that sure?

I wasn't there myself, but I've read that people in 1900 were really concerned about the problem of horse manure in growing cities. People conducted exptrapolations and showed that with the rate of growth thus far established, Manhattan would be buried in horse dung by the year 19xx.

If someone had said, "I'm not going to worry about it, I think someone will mass produce oil-burning automobiles within 40 years," what would the cautious scientists have told him?

We don't have a clue what the technological situation, and the understanding of climate change, will be like in 30 years.

If you want to say, "geoengineering is a very risky strategy and I can't support it," OK fine. But to casually dismiss it as "stupid"?

It would be pretty tragic if the world "spent" $10 trillion on mitigation efforts, and then in 2027 somebody perfected a way of cheaply using microbes to condense immense quantities of atmospheric CO2 back into a storable liquid fuel, such that individual companies in this new industry could reduce CO2 by 1ppm each year starting in 2028. (Sorry for the long sentence.)

Incidentally Silas, this kind of thing shows how you are mishandling the geo-engineering suggstion. You are assuming it would cost the same as mitigation efforts, but no, that's the whole point: It might cost $2 billion to put enough solar panels into space to both (a) generate power for space stations and (b) reduce sunlight hitting the earth. And it's self-financing. So private industry might do that, even though the market couldn't coordinate $2000 payments from 6 billion people on the planet in order to pay trillions emitters to switch to low-carbon techniques.

Monday, July 07, 2008

The Market Works Just in Time

Another article on speculation in oil markets. BTW I'm going to have another one or two articles on this topic over the next few months, but each will make different (though overlapping) points, tailored to the specific outlet.

Huh-huh-huh-huh-huh...

must post faster... keep up with Bob... huh-huh-huh-huh-huh... wheez... must post faster... keep up with Bob... huh-huh-huh-huh-huh... wheez... must post faster... keep up with Bob... hack-hack-hack... falling farther behind... must keep going... huh-huh-huh-huh-huh... must post faster... keep up with Bob... huh-huh-huh-huh-huh... wheez...

[THIS POST UPLOADED IN BACKGROUND BY MAC OSX ACTIVITY MONITOR WHILST OBSERVING CPU ACTIVITIES OF USER MODULE CALLAHAN-EUGENE-J-2345234 ON 232307072008.]

Can Someone Tell Me What Word Is Doing?

My (old) computer was running REALLY slowly tonight -- it takes up to 10 seconds for a letter I type to appear on screen! So I ran Activity Monitor (ps). The main culprit was Firefox, which must have been stuck running some background Javascript in an infinite loop or something. But what was more surprising was that Microsoft Word was sucking up 20% of my CPU -- while not in use! Yes, it was running -- I had loaded, changed, and saved a doc in Word four hours earlier -- but I had not touched it since. So what was Word up to? Searching for extraterrestrial intelligence? Cracking al Qaeda cyphers? Any ideas?

Why Did God Make Such a Big Empty Universe?

One of the odder (more odd?) objections to theism I've seen goes like this: If the universe were really designed by an intelligent being, why would it have left so much empty space? Why focus all the important stuff on one planet, and have an unbelievable amount of relatively eventless space otherwise?

I don't know how well other faiths can handle this question, but it seems pretty simple for Christians. I can think of three good reasons:

(1) It is more beautiful. When we made science fair projects, they kept stressing to us that empty space (in the space you had for your project on the big table) was an important part of your presentation, or something like that. The point was, don't clutter up the display with superfluous stuff. Everything should be geared to getting across your point to the observer.

(2) It gives us a sense of awe. Gets us to think of ourselves as tiny specks in the presence of God's majesty, but at the same time we don't despise ourselves because we get the sense we're very special and important.

(3) It is very useful to humans. Not only are the stars and other objects in the night sky useful for navigation, agriculture, and timekeeping in general, but astronomy was also a very obvious way for God to get people to learn physics.

The more I think of it, the more I am grateful and amazed at such a cool flourish in the margins that God added to what would have been a very complicated solar system.

Why Christians Should Constantly Reread the Gospels

The more you read these accounts, the more details you notice, and the less you focus on the main plot and instead consider tangential things--like why did God (through Gabriel) make Zachariah mute but not Mary the mother of Jesus?

Now, the more you are actually picturing Jesus walking around and doing that stuff--not only healing people, but rebuking the storm and blowing up the Pharisees on the Law--the more you realize how cool it must have been to be an apostle. You would have been totally relaxed (knowing what you now know) if you were literally walking around following Jesus all day. Even if something terrible did happen to you, with Him standing right next to you and watching you (die of leprosy, get a Roman sword in your gut, etc.), it wouldn't be scary to you right now. You would know that it's unlikely He would really stand there and not comfort you in some way, but also that whatever He did, He would have a really good reason for it. And of course, it would be less than what He did Himself, in pursuit of His grand plan.

I'm sure you see where this is going. If you call yourself a Christian (or at least, a Bible-believing Christian), then you believe that He really is standing next to you all day, and that you ought to be following Him around all day. So you should be just as confident and thrilled with life as you would have been, had you gotten to be James.

Steal This Blog Post

...because I don't subscribe to "intellectual property."

But when it comes to tangible property, I'm a big stickler for the rules. I think it is fair to say that I have thought about a pure market economy more than most people on the planet. I also think it is fair to say that I am not a dumb guy. Finally, I think it also fair to say that I am not crazy or incapable of considering alternate viewpoints.

With the above credentials, I declare that the world would be an unimaginably fairer, richer, nicer, more peaceful, just place--under the value systems of 99.5% of the world's population--if we all just followed a simple rule: Don't steal other people's stuff, and don't encourage others to do so either.

That's it. You do that, and most of today's pressing "social problems" fall away. Now maybe the worrywarts and crusaders in that new world would convince everyone that it was an outrage to humanity that Starbucks wanted to charge 2 seconds worth of work time for a gallon of coffee for the workplace, instead of the 1.75 seconds they charge last year. Such a massive increase in prices--that kind of volatility is very rare, since financial markets are unbelievably deep and intricate--is relatively unheard of. And man, that's expensive! To have to work for 2 whole seconds in order to get coffee for the office?! The unarmed female agents who enforce voluntary judges rulings on cases--what used to be called "the police"--should do something to Starbucks! This cannot stand!

Computer Simulation of the Economy?

OK I posted this to a listserv but (as usual with those things) most people are answering a question that is only 70 - 86% related to my initial inquiry. I reprint it here, so that you people too may choose to talk about matters that don't really answer my question.

==================

Lately I have been thinking that the best way to get across
spontaneous order, as well as illustrate the Austrian Business Cycle
Theory, would be to have a computer simulation of the economy. E.g.,
it would illustrate the planning problem by showing a sphere (with
farmland, ore deposits, trees, etc. distributed on it) and then slowly
adding more people and more production processes. It would get across
the Mengerian structure of production because the animation would slow
way down and zoom in one a farmer (or coal miner), and explain how
this was the highest stage. Then the camera would follow the piece of
coal around and see its life history.

(But actually it would start out with a Crusoe economy. Only when you
were way into the simulation would you be ready to have the computer
add a production process that involved coal.)

So if it were done well, I think it could be a fascinating
presentation / tutorial. It could point out to the reader how each
new process draws on the outputs of some of the pre-existing ones.
E.g. once the automobile is introduced, then we see the impacts on the
oil extracting people in later elapsed time.

And throughout the whole thing, maybe in the corner there would be a
tally of how many people were now in the simulation, and how many
different products were being produced, and how many resources (in
their various natural units) were being used each period.

The point would be to keep economics totally out of it in the
beginning. You wouldn't be watching "trade flows" and estimating
"total GDP." You would just be watching an amazing construction of an
incredibly complicated operation involving (ultimately) billions of
people, and literally tons of resources getting extracted and then
altered by millions of different people as they are transformed into
everyday products like toothbrushes and DVDs.

Only after the viewer is blown away by how tremendously complex and
fragile this arrangement is, does the narrator then drop the bomb that
a market economy coordinates all this (and deals with tsunamis, deaths
of key personnel, etc.) so rapidly that we don't even notice it
happening.

Any thoughts on (a) whether this would be useful and (b) how much it
would cost to develop?

WALL-E

I was nonplussed by this movie. Granted, I missed the last 10 minutes because Clark wisely decided it was time to go. (This is a great way to beat traffic, by the way: Just skip the last 10 minutes of the movie. Few others think of this clever strategy.)

Notwithstanding my incomplete viewing, I don't understand why Tyler Cowen likes this movie so much. (Then again, he has a crush on Will Wilkinson; if I knew Latin I'd put in that famous phrase about no accounting for tastes.)

Don't get me wrong, Pixar is awesome; within 10 minutes you are rooting for the little guy. But other than that, I think the message was wrong. Sure, Westerners are lazy and overweight and there are problems with commercialism. (Incidentally, why does Tyler Cowen of all people like this movie?!) But I really don't think we are destroying the earth. I don't endorse his unmerciful tone, but I think my former student makes some good points--especially at the end when he says that he's seen firsthand what a lack of capitalism looks like.

Also, just a minor quibble, but there's no sound in space! Only the people involved in 2001 and 2010 had the courage to do this right.

Aargh!

Philosophers of science have known for decades that there are no such thing as "the plain facts" apart from theories. But the naive view that, say evolution is "just a theory" and not a fact (or the opposite view that it is now a fact and therefore no longer a theory!) p-ersist. One place they do is in detective fiction. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle famously had Sherlock Holmes resist "theorizing in advance of the facts." Maybe OK in 1890, but there is no excuse for P.D. James, writing in 2005 (The Lighthouse) to say something like "You were supposed to be giving the facts. You've strayed into supposition." Facts are just suppositions we believe in very strongly, while suppositions are just tentative candidates to be facts. The idea that a detetive (or a scientist) could wander around collecting the "facts" about a case in the absence of any theory is absurd. The very decision as to what a "fact about the case" is is a theoretical decision -- otherwise, the detective would have to just collect every fact about everything -- Carl Yastremski's lifetime batting average, the height of the Washington Monument, the effective dosage of LSD, the name of Jefferson's children, the number of traffic lights in New York City, etc. -- and hope a theory just pops out of the jumble.

This Goes Out to the Little Hulksters

Which is the real Hogan, and which is my brother? I can hardly tell myself.



Tell Me About It

Think you're a citizen? Think again -- you soon could become an illegal immigrant! (Hat tip to Roderick Long.)

I have just one thing to add: The author of the first post may be right that the problem is of greatest concern for minorities, but it sure doesn't apply only to minorities. The circular nature of governmental requests for documents is maddening and hits everyone. My wife and I bought a house in Pennsylvania and wanted to move our driver's licenses here. Well, we needed a valid Pennsylvania mailing address -- but our house is not on a mail route. So, we'll get a PO Box! The Post Office asked for proof of residency. What would serve? Well, how about a PA driver's license!

A couple of years later, I still haven't been able to get a PA license. My last sojourn to the DMV appeared to be going well, until the clerk compared the date of birth on my old driver's license and my passport. "Yes, I said, US Customs and Immigration made a mistake and copied my birth date incorrectly. But it's a valid passport, a valid driver's license, and what in the world does this difference in my date of birth have to do with whether or not I'm eligible for a PA license?" (Both documents listed me as being over 16!) She called in the manager du jour who would not be budged, so where things stand now, I have to get my birth certificate, send a copy to Customs and Immigration, wait for a corrected passport, and go back to DMV.

Do We Need to Cut Consumption?

Find out here.

The Long War

I was perusing the history shelves of the Waterstones in Cardiff the other day and was struck by the composition of the section on German history. Now the Germans emerge into the written historical record at least by 102 BCE, when Gaius Marius defeated two German tribes at the Battle of Aquae Sextiae. In 9 CE "Hermann the German" defeated another Roman army at the Battle of Teutoberg Forest. The Germans, of course, took over Western Europe as the Western Roman Empire collapsed in the 5th century CE. (Westerncentrism note: The Roman Empire lived on until 1453 in Constantinople, the residents of whom, right until the end, addressed each other as "Romanii.") Germans have been a leading factor in most of European history since then.

As far as I could tell from the contents of the shelves of Waterstones, through those 21 centuries of German history, the Germans were fighting in World War II during about 95% of that period.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Mind Regained III

Los also argues -- I'd say demonstrates -- that the only reason we can successfully reason with each other and be persuasive is that every being with a mind partakes in a universal rationality transcending their particular mind. That is why all mathematicians generally accept a convincing proof, why scientists will en masse replace one theory with one they judge to be superior, why every person schooled in art recognizes that Monet was a far superior "painter of light" than Thomas Kincaid, and why certain crusaders were able to convince most of the world that slavery is wrong. And, in the West, that universal rationality has a name. Hint: In the beginning, the logos (i.e., universal rational principle) was with...

UPDATE: Los writes: "the One that is intrinsic to each particular being that possesses ontic causality is also the transcendent One. It is often taken for granted that the notion of transcendence belongs with religion rather than philosophy or science, so it is important to remind you that the transcendent One is also acknowledged by science, although under a different name. The belief in the unity of the laws of nature is a belief in a transcendent One..."

More Mind Regained

Another point Los makes (see post below if you don't know what I'm talking about here!) is that the sense of satisfaction we get from realizing some truth is good justification for asserting it. Of course, as he points out, that sense is not infallible -- but we can only judge those instances where we get it wrong in light of a general ability to get it right. (As Wittgenstein noted, in order to be wrong about snakes in some sense we must be right about them in most ways!)

This is relevant in light of a recent book I saw on the shelves at Barnes and Noble, which contended that our sense of "getting it right" is meaningless in light of the many occasions upon which it fails us. (I forget the name of the book, and when I went back to B&N to buy it, it was off the shelf -- anyone who knows the name, please post it in a comment!) But how in the world does this fellow "know" he's gotten this conclusion right?! He may try to claim, "Ha, well, I have lots of evidence." But how has he decided the evidence is for his claim, other than his own judgment?

That is the same problem faced by efforts to reduce all epistemology by "formal epistemology." The models may be relevant and relevatory, but there is no way that the model itself can tell us that -- to decide "this model really says something important!" one has to turn to one's unformalized judgment.

Mind Regained

I'm reading a great book r8ight now called Mind Regained by the philosopher Edward Los. He makes several great points, one of which is that reductionist materialists have no basis for asserting their own metaphysics. That is because they assert that all that "really" happens in the world can be explained by the motions and interactions of elementary particles, and that all apparent entities or causal powers at higher levels can be reduced to the lowest level. In particular, there is no such thing as "mind" as an actually effective force in the world, able to have a particular causal efficacy of its own.

Through this reduction, however, materialist have left themselves with nothing capable of recognizing that materialism is true! The "conclusions" reached by a bunch of atoms may be "successful" in the Darwinian sense, but there is no reason to think that means they are accurate. (In some or even many cases, wrong conclusions might be more helpful to survival than correct ones. Indeed, that is the very point many Darwinian reductionists make vis-a-vis morality and religion!)

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Location, Location, Location

(For the post title, we also would have accepted, "My Place in This World.")

The other day it occurred to me that perhaps not everyone occasionally pictures himself standing on a rotating oblong spheroid, which is revolving around a flaming ball. I do.

But then this evening I was walking, gazing at the stars, and in my deep philosophical mood it struck me that I have no clue about direction. So I don't point myself in the right direction, when I picture myself on the globe.

Do any of you take it that far?

Going the other way, do any of you (the materialists, perhaps?) ever view yourself as a collection of cells, or even a collection of atoms? If so, "What's it like?"

Politicians Tell Big Oil How to Make Billions

I explain here. Kids: There is a glaring inconsistency in my article; can you spot it? (I didn't realize it obviously until after I sent it in.)

Friday, July 04, 2008

Tyler Cowen Extracts Money From Victor Niederhoffer

At least, I'm just assuming money changed hands at the latest Junto.

Oh, if only one or more Crash Landing readers had attended! Then we could rival Marginal Revolution in our coolness, just this once!

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Th-th-th-that's indoctrination!

I got this from a colleague as sort of a "ahh, simpler times" mass email. Given the people who frequent this blog, I don't think I need to comment much on it. (I only watched the first and last thirds, by the way.) Be sure to listen for the Indian music when the Ghost of Freedom Past tells Porky about the westward expansion into the unexplored wilderness.

Cultural Blinders

Yes, yes, educated people know that we all wear them, but that doesn't mean that we remember to peak around them. I was talking with someone here (the UK) about words that are different in American and British. He mentioned how funny it is that we call the devices in buildings 'elevators', when after all they go down as well as up. I responded, 'You do realize that you call them "lifts", don't you?'

He looked stunned for a second, and then said, 'Oh, we do, don't we?'

A similar item: what we consider 'breakfast food'. People have very strong ideas about this, different from culture to culture, and with little seeming basis in the character of 'good' and 'bad' breakfast foods. For instance, I've had people tell me they couldn't eat a hanmburger at breakfast -- 'too heavy' -- but will happily eat several slices of bacon and a sausage or two. They see or hear that the Irish eat plaice -- a mild whitefish -- at breakfast, and declare 'I could never have fish for breakfast' -- but hungrily devour smoked salmon, a much stronger fish, on their bagels.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Why Doesn't Clinton Have Obama Killed?

If only to assure Crash Landing's readers that we're not naive wusses on this cutting edge blog, I feel compelled to ask: Why doesn't Hillary Clinton arrange to have Obama killed? Is it that she can't?

With all of her and her husband's connections, can't they cut a deal with the Chinese government to have some dissident on death row come to an Obama rally, in exchange for favorable treatment of the guy's family back home?

So what's holding her back?

(1) It's certainly not moral qualms. If she genuinely believes she will save millions of lives around the world with her superior policies, and she clearly has no respect for abstract ethical principles, then why not sacrifice one person for the greater good?

(2) She wouldn't get hurt politically. It would be so brazen and obvious that "serious" media analysts wouldn't be speculating, "Do you think Clinton was behind the assassination?" The fact that Clinton had basically predicted it would be taken as further proof that she couldn't possibly be behind it. Her fellow Democratic politicians would suspect her, of course, but they wouldn't made a public scene with only months before the general election. Instead, they'd blame it on racist Americans who couldn't stand the thought of a black man in the White House, and use the public emotion to ensure a "deserved" Democratic win in November. Then maybe behind the scenes they'd deal with Clinton, to the extent they could. But they would probably be impressed/intimidated more than repulsed by her bold move.

(3) Maybe Clinton figures it is more prudent to wait another 4 to 8 years. If McCain wins, she's golden for the nomination in 4.

(4) My personal favorite: Suppose when you're at that level of power and intrigue, you have to get permission for a hit like that? I don't pretend to know exactly whose blessing you need, but I do know it's not the president of the United States.

The Pitfalls of Hostility

Libertarians already understand the negative consequences of aggression, and pacifists understand the negative consequences of even lawful violence against other human beings. But we can push it even further: For the average person's goals, hostility against others can be quite counterproductive, even if "justified" by some ethical standard.

For example, a lot of people are pointing out that we're now seeing Obama's "true colors" come out, and that all of his early rhetoric about a different kind of politics, was just a lie. Well, yes and no. I think it is entirely possible that Obama really would have continued to sound so fresh and different, but he (thought) he had to adopt a different stance because of the incredible tactics employed by the Clinton campaign.

By the same token, the unimaginable scope of investigations into his and his family's background, and the rumors etc. that will be employed by supporters of McCain, will embitter him and his advisers. He will be much more receptive when his aides tell him to not bargain with the dastardly Republicans on taxes or health care, because "they can't be trusted."

We can push the analysis back even further. Given how horrible presidential campaigns have become, what kind of person even contemplates running for the spot? Only someone who (a) believes he has nothing embarrassing in his past, (b) is willing to endure public humiliation and scrutiny because s/he so desperately desires power, and/or (c) genuinely believes s/he has the answers to make the world a better place, and so is willing to endure these trials.

Generally speaking, I don't want someone matching any of those traits in power. It would be better if presidents were chosen randomly.

So yes, the Republican detractors of Obama will be "correct" in much of their character attacks (though not all; I'm still waiting for the alleged video of Michelle talking about "whitey"), but it's like giving ever harsher penalties for drug dealers: You won't stamp out the problem (in this case, awful Democratic candidates), and in fact just ensure that the survivors in the new equilibrium are even worse, by your own standards.

I Am in Physical Pain After Reading This Attack on Big Oil

My buddy at IER likes to ruin my day by sending me ridiculous op eds castigating oil companies. This one is pretty good. It concludes:

Left to their own devices, Big Oil companies will take every step necessary to funnel all the wealth that Lady Luck and American taxpayers have funneled into their bank accounts. It's time now to treat every American as a fiduciary to strike a just balance between private profit and public interest.

(Actually, rereading it now for this blog post, the first sentence above doesn't even make sense. Lady Luck and American taxpayers funnel wealth into the bank accounts of Big Oil, and then Big Oil is going to funnel it again? Why do that? And suppose they wrote checks out to every American citizen. Wouldn't this ostensibly responsible move still qualify as taking "every step necessary to funnel all the wealth that Lady Luck and..."?)

More Evidence Against Cato

Maybe I'm missing something obvious, but when I go to look up past issues of the Cato Journal, it is unnecessarily difficult. Suppose you want to go find Rothbard's 1982 article on pollution. Are the past issues listed by year? No, they're listed by volume number. Like I freaking know what the volume number is. Now I have to go clicking on issues randomly and use triangulation to find it.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Where's that Razor When You Need It?

I was browsing some books at a bookshop the other day and came across one arguing how the discovery of a world governed by scientific laws refuted the proposition that there was a supernatural deity involved in any way. This struck me as funny because, basically to a man, the people discovering those laws, from about 1600 until well into the 19th century, saw the laws they were finding as testimony to the glory of God (and, as such, evidence for His existence).

There is a problem for materialist here, of course -- why should the universe be a place that supports creatures like us and is governed by laws we are capable of grasping? One of the latest materialist attempts to explain this posits that a multitude of universes of all different characters exist, and we just happen to be in a law-governed, life-supporting instance. So let me see: In place of explaining these things by means of a single, unobservable entity, we are going to explain them by billions and billions of unobservable entities!

Calling Occam, calling Occam!

The "68 million acres" claim about oil companies.

OK I didn't post this until I had had a chance to read the offending document, but yeah, it really looks like these claims (pdf) about the oil companies--and the federal lands that they have leased but are stubbornly refusing to develop--are as ignorant as they first sound.

Here IER (not me writing this time) blows them apart. This actually gets pretty funny (for these types of things) in the bullet points, so I encourage you to actually read it.

Now that I have assured myself that these accusations against evil Big Oil are patently absurd, the question becomes: Is Obama truly this ignorant of how business works, or is he making such ridiculous charges just to get elected?

I'm not sure which outcome I prefer. It's comparable to: Does George Bush actually think he's patching things up over there in the Middle East, or...?