Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A question for Gallup 

Ann Althouse posts an online poll with a very powerful question. The elicited answers point to one, and only one, presidential candidate.

Not the be-all and end-all, but worth pondering.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

SMBC Theater - Thomas Jefferson 

Some bad words. Still really funny though.

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Monday, February 27, 2012

Regarding Barack Obama and high gasoline prices 

When our president brags about an accomplishment, pay careful attention to the details.

Like most politicians, Barack Obama wants it both ways, in this case to blunt attacks that he is behind high gas prices, while simultaneously appeasing the greenies in his base who want high gas prices. His great advantage is a media with essentially no interest in bringing such inconsistencies to light.

Of course, oil and gasoline prices soared under George W. Bush, too, even as the global economy was sinking hard (see this useful graph), with oil prices surging to almost $150/bbl in the spring of 2008 before plummeting to below $60 in Bush's final weeks in office (run your cursor over the "5Y" to see the longer term):

The surge then could not have been because of Barack Obama's anti-oil environmental policies. More likely, loose monetary policy around the globe drove surplus crash from asset to asset, and commodities, including particularly oil, was one of the places all that money went before the bubble burst in the fall of 2008. See this graph of the Commodity Price Index over the last five years. Based on the 2008 experience, one is forced to wonder whether the recent increases in the prices of oil and other commodities might not primarily be the result of the very loose fiscal and monetary policies championed by the Obama administration. That would make high gasoline prices Obama's fault, if not for the reason conservatives claim.

Anyway, oil and gasoline prices plummeted in the second half of 2008, along with virtually all other asset values, and that left Barack Obama with perhaps unrealistically low prices at the pump at the beginning of his administration. It was a fairly safe bet on January 20, 2009 that rising gasoline prices would be a Republican issue in Obama's re-election campaign.

The other point to remember is that oil prices reflect global supply and demand, but because they are priced in dollars the relative strength of our currency makes a difference for us and others. For Europeans, the price of oil has returned to 2008 levels, but not for us:

With the WTI oil price at around $105 per barrel still well below the July 2008 peak of $147 per barrel it would seem that things aren't that bad. However, that is misleading for two reasons. First of all, despite being misleadingly touted by the financial media as "the oil price", the WTI price has only a limited real world relevance and the more important Brent crude price is at $120 per barrel a lot closer to the 2008 peak.

Secondly, the dollar was much weaker in July 2008 than it is now. At that time, the dollar was trading at $1.60/€, now it is trading at $1.32/€. Thus, while oil is still cheaper to Americans than it was in July 2008, for Europeans it has returned to the roughly €90 per barrel level that we last saw in July 2008.

Point is, I suppose, that all attempts to claim that recent policy decisions have significantly influenced the highly volatile current price of gasoline one way or the other are at best intellectually dishonest, and probably flat-out wrong (which is quite different than supporting the development of domestic oil and natural gas geopolitical reasons, which I do).

Release the hounds. MORE: A reader supplied this useful link on the subject, blaming a decline in refining capacity on the east coast.

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Rick Santorum Quote or Megadeth Quote? 

A pretty funny quiz. I only got 3/10, you can probably do better.

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Friday, February 24, 2012

War gamers 

Unfortunately, I am in a position to confirm that this is entirely true...

War gamers

Except maybe the spouse part -- I am not sure I ever played war games whilst I had a spouse. We did, however, move several cartons of them from house to house, and I have them still. Anybody for Third Reich, Panzer Blitz, or Sniper?

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Richard Epstein, on volunteerism in health care 

Interesting, and definitely worth a moment of your precious time...

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"Do it and dream it" 

Governor Awesome on the American dream.

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Her majesty's tax collectors are confused 

Death, taxes, and rational responses to the prospects of both are inevitable: "50p tax rate 'failing to boost revenues’".

Of course, setting aside the ignorant or the easily fooled, nobody who supports high marginal rates does so because they expect to increase revenues. Rather, liberals want higher rates because they promote a certain conception of "fairness" that reflects what such people believe to be a major purpose of government.

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Monday, February 20, 2012

Progressive fuddy-duddies waxing authoritarian 

Barry Schwartz almost never sounds logical or scientific to me. I'm suprised the New York Times gives him prime space, apart from the fact that he tends to support statist solutions with his non-science. OK, maybe I'm not surprised. At the time they fell in love with him, any argument against privatizing social security, even one as thin and paternalistic as Schwartz, passed uncritically into their pages as received wisdom.

Anyway, his latest suggests that the pursuit of efficiency tends to leave some people in the dust, and we should slow it down with regulations. Despite the word count, that's really all he says.

Given the examples he cites - private equity, subprime mortgages, credit cards and derivatives, I'm astounded he came up with "efficiency" as the problem. How about leverage? Well, perhaps because that would limit the applied scope of his work. Defining the growth of these phenomena as "efficiency" provides an all-purpose argument to slow down..whatever can be cost-justified but Barry Schwartz doesn't like. At heart, Schwartz is a kind of social conservative. Nowhere does Schwartz consider the costs or magnitude of inefficiency (its not good, he says, helpfully). He's writing about economics and has left out deadweight loss, let alone comparing it to any of the theoretical social costs of efficiency. After all, those freed up resources from our mindless pursuit of efficiency just end up invested in additional choices to make us miserable.

Some of Schwartz claims are just wrong. For instance:

bundling mortgages into securities reduces the time-consuming, unproductive friction involved in checking the creditworthiness of each mortgage applicant. You can just let the mortgages of the many work to indemnify the defaults of the few.

No, that was never the purpose of securitization, it was capital relief and leverage. Every originator represented they had done the individual credit work. Diversification simply served to deal with the aspects of creditworthiness that can't be predicted by credit history and loan-to-value. Is there some special feature that makes a large bank-held portfolio of mortgages different from a securitized one? Yes, but it isn't lack of diversification or inefficiency, its better execution caused by retention of risk. Anyway, this howler leads into his primary contention:

..but the financial crisis, along with the activities of the Occupy movement and the criticism being leveled at Mr. Romney, suggests that maybe there can be too much of a good thing. If loans weren’t securitized, bankers might have taken the time to assess the creditworthiness of each applicant. If homeowners had to apply for loans to improve their houses or buy new cars, instead of writing checks against home equity, they might have thought harder before making weighty financial commitments. If people actually had to go into a bank and stand in line to withdraw cash, they might spend a little less and save a little more. If credit card companies weren’t allowed to charge outrageous interest, perhaps not everyone with a pulse would be offered credit cards. And if people had to pay with cash, rather than plastic, they might keep their hands in their pockets just a little bit longer.

Credit cards charge a lot because there are limits to the predictive ability of what they can measure. And if there is "peanut-buttering" of different credit quality, we typically have government price controls to thank for that - they mark some credit techniques and charges off-limits. But more to the point - there are certainly self-help types who prescribe cutting up the credit cards and paying with cash. Well and good. Does this mean the government should step up and restrain people's access to their own assets? That's quite statist and short-sighted. I suspect outlawing ATM access would have some unintended consequences, including *growth* of plastic credit and a black market in cash access at ridiculously high prices.

Finally, does he really believe that the Occupy movement is demonstrating for LESS access to credit? Citations please!

All of this reminds me of Virginia Postrel's excellent discussion of the anti-consumer choice movement for which Schwartz carries the flag. He knows what's good for you and he's going to give it to you good and hard. Don't fall for the laid-back casual contemplative looks and the soft-sounding psychology talk, this is a very old argument for state power.

UPDATE/RESPONSE: "anon attorney" tries to claim I've never heard of low-doc or no-doc loans. I'm afraid I have. I supervise the management of billions of dollars of structured products as well as bank (and other) bonds and I'm quite aware of low-doc, no doc, NINJA and neg-am loans. But their existence is not evidence of Schwarz' point. There are already plenty of regs and disclosures intended to 'slow-down' the issuance proces, such as the 3-day rule in NJ, HUD forms, etc. These loans were designed to extend more credit to more dubious borrowers. "Efficiency" has nothing to do with it, nor, really, does speed. A principal-agent problem is not an "efficiency" problem or an all-purpose excuse to throw sand in our economic gears.

Another commenter says "Still, the credit card companies seem to have *awfully* nice houses because although individual card risk is difficult to measure, when you lump a few million together it gets much easier. "

Again - true, much like making many small bets if the odds are slightly in your favor. The central tendency is likely to win through multiple small bets. But again, this is not somehow unique to securitization or bad securitization. Capital One, BofA and lots of other banks keep substantial credit card receivables on their books. Securitization is driven by the capital requirements and funding costs of retention vs. securitization. I didn't know the credit card companies had houses :).

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Virginia snow on President's Day morning 

Given the warmth of the winter and the much higher temperatures 300 miles north, look at our morning here...

Virginia snow

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Sunday, February 19, 2012

A sudden Virgina snow 

The TH Daughter and I have moved on to Fluvanna County, Virginia, home of the TH Mom. A sudden and intense snow shower hit the Charlottesville area only about an hour ago, changing the landscape very quickly.

Sudden Virginia snow

Pretty on the trees, and after the virtually snow-free winter thus far, not even annoying.

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It's free, but the employees are paying for it 

Following up on my earlier post, Instapundit provides this story from the Hill, wherein two conflicting assertions are made:

"Health plans will be able to offer contraceptive coverage for free because, according to studies cited by the government, contraceptives cost substantially less than pregnancies," [lawyer Tim] Jost writes. "The free coverage is not, therefore, an 'accounting gimmick' under which employers in fact pay for coverage against their beliefs, but coverage will in fact be paid for by the insurers out of savings that they realize by offering contraceptive coverage."

My prior post already lays out my strong doubts of this assertion. But here's another proponent of forced coverage:

To complicate things further, some critics of the special treatment for religiously-affiliated institutions have argued that employers aren't really spending their own money on healthcare benefits in the first place. Because employees must accept lower wages than they otherwise would, the idea that employers are spending their own money on employee coverage is "rubbish" according to Gary Puckrein, Founder and President of the National Minority Quality Forum, a nonprofit group dedicated to eliminating health disparities among racial groups.

"Employers do negotiate benefit design with insurers on behalf of workers, but the benefit does not exist until the employee's wages are transferred to the insurer's account," Puckrein writes in the Huffington Post. "Religious employers are no exception; they are not using their own money to buy medical products and services for their employees. It is their employees who are purchasing the benefit with their own money."

Hopefully I do not need to point out that both of these people cannot be right. Even if Puckrein believes it is a *negative cost* that is shifted to the employee, that directly undermines his argument.

Finally, courtesy of another comment, we have this study from Michigan which at least suggests that the marginal tendency to forego birth control among college women is aorund 2-4%, with some substituting abstinence. This is a very small effect compared to subsidizing an entire population. This is a point in favor of my prior arguments.

Unfortunately, the opposing study (claiming, presumably, a strong effect avoiding the expense of unwanted pregnancy), cited in the Hill article, leads to a non-study, which in turn offers an official-looking but dead link. So I can't evaluate that clam.

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After church discussion topic of the day 

Liberals tend to believe there are a lot of dependent people and that we cannot distinguish dependent people from independent people, so we have to subsidize *everybody* in order to help the dependent. Conservatives tend to believe "dependent" and "independent" are code for "competent" and "incompetent," that there are not that many inherently incompetent people, and that subsidizing incompetence creates more incompetence, which hurts us all. I respectfully suggest that the argument over free birth control for all women exactly embodies these differences.


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DuPont Circle musings and rants, with linkage 

Sitting in the Starbucks on DuPont Circle, Washington, DC, waiting for the TH Daughter to complete her night's sleep in the hotel above. Naturally I have items worthy of some small attention.

The first is a small bit of news, sadly with no documentation. As I walked out of the DuPont Circle Hotel this morning, there was a huge white BMW sedan with big air dams and other accouterments designed to enhance its, well, hugeness. A well-dressed couple were climbing in, obviously having just retrieved it from the valet. The vanity plates said "FEDBIZ." Perhaps jumping to an unfair conclusion, I believe I just saw some serious looters, in the Ayn Rand sense of the word.

Speaking of which, on the math, the United States tax system is substantially more progressive than its European counterparts. We also redistribute less. Which suggests to me, perhaps incorrectly, that looters of the FEDBIZ variety are making off with a fair amount of it.

Which reminds me of a Facebook moment a couple of days ago. A fairly centrist friend of mine posted a picture of the pitted and crumbling underside of a bridge in a northeastern city, prompting a slew of comments from her more statist friends that we really needed to rebuild the nation's infrastructure. I swung the conversation sharply to the right with this observation:

After almost $900 *billion* in allegedly shovel-ready stimulus spending, it is hard to believe that our public infrastructure is not in massively better shape than just three years ago. And if it is not, then I respectfully suggest that our government has become wholly ineffective at maintenance of its public assets. If *that* is true, then more spending without a wholesale restructuring of government operating mechanisms is just sheer waste.
Various people did indeed wonder where the money went. Now we know: To Germany to pay for FEDBIZ's car.

On a lighter note, the questions that Thomas Edison asked in job interviews. I'm going to start using some of them.

Two links on the current crappy economy. First, it is different this time. Second, no it isn't. It is, at least by the reckoning of my lifetime, for two reasons. It takes a long time to clean up bad debt, which you need to do before people are ready to get rocking again. But, sadly, our elected and unelected officials have extended that period by various means, primarily to (i) postpone the pain until after the next election, again and again, and (ii) enacted regulatory policies in one industry after another that work against the expansive fiscal and monetary policy.

An interesting article about economic friction and how to think about efficiency when considering the social usefulness of private and equity investors and so forth. The descriptive part is more interesting than the squishy argument at the end about "too much efficiency," to wit:

For an individual company and its shareholders, there is no such thing as too much efficiency. The price of too much efficiency is not paid by the company. It is what economists call a negative externality, paid by the people who lose their jobs and the communities that suffer from job loss. Thus, we can’t expect the free market to find the level of efficiency that keeps firms competitive, provides quality goods at affordable prices and sustains workers and their communities. If we are to find the balance, we must consider stakeholders and not just shareholders. Companies by themselves won’t do this. Sensible regulation might...

Perhaps we can use the criticism of Bain Capital as an opportunity to bring a little friction back into our lives. One way to do this is to use regulation to rekindle certain social norms that serve to slow us down. For example, if people thought about their homes less as investments and more as places to live, full of the friction of kids, dogs, friends, neighbors and community organizations attached, there might be less speculation with an eye toward house-flipping. And if companies thought of themselves, at least partly, as caretakers of their communities, they might look differently at streamlining their operations.

All very nice, and at this point it will not surprise you that the author is a professor of psychology, rather than an economist. And, indeed, who can object to cherishing the simple things in life like hearth and home and more time with friends? The problem, of course, is hoping that regulation is the path to that future. It is not, and cannot be in our democracy. Why? Because there is no advocate in government for those homespun values. Our government -- which contemplates a country of continental size and almost unbelievable social and economic complexity -- responds to interests. Regulations benefit some people, and hurt others, and those people fight to shape those regulations to help them the most or hurt them less. The constituency for homespun has no seat at the table. Finally, because any regulatory proposal or enacted regime requires vast resources in its development and subsequent compliance, it inherently favors large organizations over small ones. Only big companies can afford to hire Mr. FEDBIZ. Dodd-Frank is a competitive advantage for huge banks compared to small ones. The FDA's new aggressiveness is a competitive barrier for start-ups, and tends to entrench the large multinational device companies. And so on. No, the path to homespun values lies at home, with people choosing to live their lives differently, perhaps by spending far less money and working less hard. Government cannot deliver that, without making us all a lot poorer.

Finally, just to piss you off, the HuffPo leads with an election year perennial fave, "Intelligence Study Links Low I.Q. To Prejudice, Racism, Conservatism," followed by a picture of the Klan. We note that the authors of the "study" are not only professors, but Canadian professors. TTYL.

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Saturday, February 18, 2012

In which I actually agree with Client Number Nine 

Eliot Spitzer annoys his fellow liberals by arguing that Citizens United was correctly decided. He is, of course, right that the First Amendment does not qualify its prohibition on abridgment of "speech" by reference to the speaker.

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Middle America 

The TH Sister is wandering around Iowa City, the town we grew up in, and she posted this picture of our childhood home. See those two windows along the bottom, in the brick wall? I shared that room with my brother. The Herbert Hoover elementary school is right over the back yard fence.

Your blogger's childhood home

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Price, Quantity, Marginal Benefit, and FREE STUFF! 

I think when people fantasize about all the free stuff insurance companies (and governments) can easily give them, they forget to think about both price AND quantity AND behavior on the margin. Case in point: I recently posted this (funny, I thought) comment from Coyote Blog on Facebook.
It is insane that “insurance” covers routine birth control in the first place. It makes as much sense as your home insurance covering air filter replacements

Which prompted this response

actually home insurance covering air filter replacements would save a lot of money for them. planned pregnancy lowers costs for insurance companies. and same with air filter replacement: A dirty air filter is the #1 reason for HVAC system failure. A dirty filter restricts the air flow into your HVAC systems air handler. This restricted air flow places additional strain on the air handler fan motor and could, over time, burn out the motor and cause your system to overheat and ultimately fail. Filter replacement is a small price to pay to extend to life of one of the biggest financial investments in your home....not an exact analogy but close enuf. let me know if i need to spell out what is good about planned pregnancies.

So, snark about planned pregnancies aside, this is a great example of incomplete business thinking plus wishful assumption, and it's why Coyote and I find the analogy funny, while my commenter thinks Coyote may be on to something.

This falls under the "If everyone else is an idiot, how come I'm not rich" category. In other words, these casual ideas about contraception or filter maintenance just might not cause insurance executives around the country to suddenly slap their hands to their fat foreheads and say "why didn't we think of that?". The fact of the matter is that if you can reliably take a few percent out of the loss and expense costs of homeowners policies without reducing coverage, you should go forth and make A LOT of money putting State Farm and Chubb out of business. If you don't believe me, I'd be happy to bore you about combined ratios.

You have to think about the total cost of providing the additional coverage against the marginal cost savings available. If everyone simply used birth control or replaced their air filters regularly, it would certainly lower the total societal costs of unwanted pregnancies and HVAC failures. The real question for the insurance company, however, is depressingly complex and conditional: Is the price X quantity of all the air filters/birth control PLUS the costs of administering all those small claims greater than the probability-weighted (insured) savings from fewer unwanted HVAC failures/unwanted pregnancies ALLOWING for the fact that the insured population is likely to replace filters/use birth controls even if the insurer doesn't pay for it AND some of the events we are preventing may not be covered? Will the total costs of millions of air filters or birth control pills outweigh the marginal cost of the handful of insured HVAC events or the covered expenses of an unplanned birth?

This is the more business-like way to think about it as you design your world-dominating insurance empire. First of all, air filters make for very small claims. Frequent, small-dollar claims are what insurers call "working layers" and they are very expensive. It costs nearly the same to handle a large claim as a small claim (this is, in fact, the reason that Medicare appears to be more efficient than private care, but actually is not). The claims handling is a much larger percentage of the total cost of paying claims. In fact the insistence on making insurance companies/the government go deeper into working layers, where incentives actually work, is one of the huge problems with the healthcare reform plan. Government should offer catastrophe protection, where markets truly do fail, and leave the working layers to the marketplace. Anyway, air filters are arguably even worse than working layers, because all insureds would use them. The further you go below the working layers, the more you are talking about a benefit plan, paying for frequent or ubiquitous expenses.

In addition to adding up all the costs of regular air filter replacement through the insured population, considering the cost of handling the thousands of air filter claims and weighing that against the small number of additional HVAC-related insurable events we might prevent, we must consider whether our insureds WANT to have their HVAC blow up or, for instance, have allergies. So the insureds may have other motivations to replace filters without the inducement of paid insurance. They may replace the filters TOO often once they are free (supply and demand, of course). Basic HVAC failures (such as the fan failure suggested by my commenter) are not even generally covered by homeowners insurance policies, or fit under the deductible. The fact that my HVAC lasts longer may be good for me, but it isn't helpful to my insurer.

The actuaries at Wishful Statist Steamboiler Inc. are realizing their filter program may be a good way to go out of business rapidly.

Now most people don't want unwanted pregnancies, by...definition. Many will, therefore use birth control, although we know many will not. Three questions:

1) How many of these people will fail to use birth control because it wasn't subsidized? Before you answer, remember that the law in question covers the EMPLOYED population at larger organizations. So these are people who can plan ahead enough to hold down a job at an organization that screens their background and they are adults earning an income.

2)How many of these adult, earning individuals will not use birth control ONLY because their insurer didn't give it to them (as opposed to they didn't have any in the back of the car after the office party)?

3)How many covered workers would take advantage of free birth control if they could get it? (I know this one -almost everyone, so count on high quantity). Won't the cost of this benefit be the cost of the contraception for the insured population plus expenses?

We may have an actuary in our readership who can provide some of the probabilities. There are hundreds of them working on problems exactly like this. But in general, requiring an insurer to pick up these routine maintenace costs rarely results in a net gain in total claim costs. So the company will increase premium. If we tell them they can't do that, they'll reduce or, ultimately, withdraw coverage. Insurance margins aren't great as it is.

If you keep adding this stuff to coverage and instituting price controls, a shortage will arise. I know my commenter remembers gas lines. It seems to me our desire for free stuff often tempts us into avoiding the hard work of estimating cost vs. marginal benefit, or even adding up the costs of what we propose. Especially around election time.

UPDATE: consider this widely cited article from the New England Journal of Medicine on the potential savings from preventive care and John Cochrane's excellent Op-Ed covering many of the above points.

UPDATE: Aegon says "So basically the only moral incentive is that it'd be awfully nice of companies to cover it. " Right, but they don't cover it because they think it would cost more, which means mandated coverage would come back as a premium increase. Since there is high use of the pill through the insured population, the premium increase would be the cost of the pills plus the expense of handling pill claims. Updated above to clarify.

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A short note regarding sea level 

In the category of climate predictions not coming true, sea level data continues to confound the forecasts. At least it appears to be.

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Governor Awesome and the gay marriage problem 

My favorite governor, New Jersey's Chris Christie, has promised to veto the bill heading to desk that would authorize marriage among gays in the Garden State. Kirk Petersen ably describes the political problem this poses for Christie, whose position on gay marriage is barely distinguishable from President Obama's. The big difference is that most people -- both supporters and critics of the president -- assume Obama is lying, and that Christie is telling the truth. It is of course up for you to decide whether you want a president who is assumed to be lying with regard to a moral question of interest to a huge proportion of Americans, or not.

As Kirk points out, the bill does put Christie in a damned-if-he-does, or doesn't, position, which makes me wonder whether the surge in support for the law among Democrats in New Jersey's state legislature does not have something to do with payback.

In any case, my longstanding point of view is that I support gay marriage by democratic means, and oppose it by judicial fiat. Accordingly, I respectfully request Governor Christie to change his mind and sign the bill in to law. I think he owes me that much, if for no other reason than I may well have invented the "Governor Awesome" moniker.

And while I'm at it, Guv, wrong call on this one, too.

No worries -- I still love you, man -- just wishing you had played these differently.

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The history of my disappointment 

This post has stood up quite well, as either one of the most prescient I have written, or one of my most naive. Be sure to click through the underlying links before you complete your assessment, which you should feel free to discuss in the comments.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Schadenfreude moment 

Few things delight me more than terrorists blowing themselves up. This one is especially good:

A bungling Iranian bomber blew off his own legs when he hurled a grenade at Thai police outside a Bangkok school - which bounced off a tree and then exploded at his feet.

A bizarre sequence of explosions in the capital of Bangkok started this morning when a stash of explosives blew off the roof of a house occupied by three Iranians.

Two of the men quickly ran away while Saeid Moradi, who was seriously wounded, staggered out and tried to wave down a taxi.

Covered in blood, the driver refused to take him, and so he hurled a grenade at the vehicle. When police arrived on the scene he then tried to throw another at officers - but it bounced off a tree, landed at his feet, and blew off his legs.

Bwahahaha! Bastards.

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Important lifestyle news 

Item: Beer in moderation benefits health.

Item: The cover of the SI swimsuit issue.

Both remind us that life is good.

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Judge Napolitano Got Cancelled Yesterday 

Sad. He spoke the truth. He IS a huge Ron Paul fan and that detracts a little bit, but he knows what he's talking about.

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Sunday, February 12, 2012

A rare non-tiger cat-blogging moment 

From one of our regular readers on the morning Facebook feed, a cat loaf...


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Young people have to work in jobs they do not like "just to pay the bills"? Can you believe that sorry shit?

Until now, I did not understand what they were complaining about.

CWCID: Maggie's.

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Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Climate scientists are "stunned" 

Even though the warmists claim the science is "settled," they keep getting surprised:

The world's greatest snow-capped peaks, which run in a chain from the Himalayas to Tian Shan on the border of China and Kyrgyzstan, have lost no ice over the last decade, new research shows.

The discovery has stunned scientists, who had believed that around 50bn tonnes of meltwater were being shed each year and not being replaced by new snowfall.


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Tuesday, February 07, 2012

A word for our times: "Squoob" 

You are never too old to boost your vocabulary. Today's word: "Squoob." Prolly should not click the link from your quoob.

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Bismarck speaks 

Way cool: In a cabinet in Thomas Edison's laboratory, the only known recordings of Chancellor Otto von Bismarck and Helmuth von Moltke, taken in 1889. Von Moltke was born in 1800, so in addition to whipping the French in 1871 he is probably the first-born human being to have been recorded.

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Sunday, February 05, 2012

"It's halftime in America" 

I suppose it is too late for Clint to win the Republican nomination...

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The budget mess, in a few paragraphs 

The Big Four accounting firm Deloitte has produced a politically neutral summary of the Congressional Budget Office's latest forecast for revenues and spending over the next decade. It is not pretty, and it does not take much reading between the lines to see the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of both our political parties.

The "baseline scenario" includes the fairly unrealistic assumption that all the "Bush tax cuts" expire at the end of 2012 and other politically untenable results. The alternative scenario is the more realistic political answer, assuming entitlements remain where they are.

We do not need lower taxes (unless the Bush tax cuts do indeed expire). We do, however, need different taxes. In a big way. And we need to tell people that we will no longer subsidize retirement for otherwise healthy and productive workers. We should insure against disability, and only disability, whether brought on by geriatrics or otherwise. Everybody else should either work, or save enough money so that they do not have to work. Neither party's leaders will say that, and therefore neither party is even remotely honest. They are all betraying us.

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How the Obama administration has hammered an industry, in charts 

A graphical look at how the regulatory policies of the Obama administration have hammered away at America's medical device industry, which creates jobs, is a net exporter, and adds immeasurably to the quality and length of lives of literally billions of people. And the rifle-shot excise tax aimed at the industry has not even kicked in yet!

Think of it: The Obama administration has, through both regulation and an industry-specific tax, intended as a policy preference to lower the rate of return of an industry that that supports a huge number of high paying jobs, exports billions of dollars of manufactures to other countries, and improves and lengthens the lives of countless people around the world. Why? Because it believes that capital ought to flow to some different use, such as clean energy. Seriously. This is what the White House believes. This is what lefty health policy wonks say in conversation.

It is unbelievable to the point of crazy.

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Super Bowl Sunday morning linkage 

Some accumulated tabs to amp up your morning spin through the internets...

At the Atlantic, an interesting post about the long-term unemployed. The post includes a regional map with rates of long-term unemployment. One thing is clear: The rate of long-term unemployment is far lower if you live in a state that includes the western bank of the Mississippi river, or the next state to the west from there. The central core of the country is doing far better than either coast or the old Northwest Territory.

Conor Friedersdorf, also at the Atlantic, takes a long hard look at Newt's concession speech in Nevada. It is not pretty, and, while Friedersdorf is a liberal, it exposes the side of Mr. Gingrich that is least likely to play well in, say, suburban Akron. And if you do not believe Friedersdorf, here is a similar take from the right. Victor Davis Hanson calls him a "caricature of petulance." Indeed. Newt's compulsive requirement actually to express his anger at every affront to his ego is perhaps his least appealing trait.

Any conservative will like Dierks Bentley's newest hit, "Home." As will many liberals.

The Onion takes on the Huffington Post with, er, its usual gusto.

An interesting video about the parenting techniques of the French, by an attractive American woman who damages her credibility by wearing a beret. It sounds a lot like the way Americans raised their kids until the Baby Boomers and their wake lost their mind.

A CNN anchor lets his tongue slip: "Governor Morman"?!? Really, now. Get that guy a job at the New York Times!

A nice video explanation of the European debt crisis. Long on Keynes, however, and not really dealing with the thoughtful conservative critique: That the only way to make people confident now is to cure the long-term debt problem by reforming entitlements. Making fun of Apple fans. Nice PSA, scheduled to run during the Super Bowl:

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Tiger picture of the day 

My cousin Tim, who writes the award-winning history blog Walking the Berkshires, visited the Bronx Zoo today. He took some pictures of the tigers and posted them on Facebook, ripe for the plucking.

Tiger in repose

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Saturday, February 04, 2012

Previewing the ads: "Not that complicated" 

At least one Super Bowl advertiser is promoting the quid pro quo theory of relations between the sexes.

People who worry about the influence of advertising on popular culture -- whether of the right or left -- are going to hate this ad. Which is probably the point.

Note that I am not one of those people.

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James Stewart is just figuring something out... 

James Stewarts' series on taxes are valuable, but his naivete is staggering. What's happening here is that sometimes business income and deductions appear on a separate corporate return and sometimes they flow through to an individual return. If you measure taxes as a percent of taxable income, they will be all over the map. If you measure them by personal AGI, you may not recognize expenses incurred to generate the income. In general, much more corporate AGI is flowing through to personal tax returns, (falsely*) adding to perceived inequality and making one person's taxes very hard to compare to another. Complexity in service of little.

* I should clarify that I don't think ALL the growth in inequality of income is due to the increase in flow-through business income from S-Corps, LLCs, etc., but it is clear that this number is a)large and b) has grown rapidly over the periods where income inequality has grown. So it is definitely a contributor, and a misleading one at that, since that income and tax accrued to individuals in the past but did not appear on individual tax returns.

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Subsidies always discriminate 

I agree with Mayor Booker's sentiments here, and I really like his forthright way of discussing it.

Since I'm a contrarian by nature, I'll point out my reservations:

1. He's absolutely right that we've created two classes of citizens. Does everyone realize how we did that? we subsidize a particular type of relationship (one man one woman, more so with kids). Subsidies discriminate inherently. Sometimes we like the discrimination, sometimes we don't. In this case I find it revolting. But we could get rid of them and let people decide what sort of relationships they want.

2. Off the marriage topic, he talks about the state "creating millionaires" with tax revenues. There's only one way a government creates millionaires with any realistic hope of success. Some call it crony capitalism. Let's stop pretending there's another way.

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Thursday, February 02, 2012

SMBC: People are Citizens on the Internet Too 


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Pigs Fly and a Professor Teaches Why Socialism is Doomed to Fail 

Mostly the second one.

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Wednesday, February 01, 2012

The real vote-buying scandal 

An entirely different -- and essentially nonpartisan -- way to think about the buying of votes in our democracy.

Help the helpless, but do not help the clueless. That simple rule would (i) save us trillions, and (ii) give those people with choices to make a powerful incentive to decide against cluelessness.

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Cultural hara kiri 

There are aspects of Japanese culture that most Westerners find surprising. None may be more surprising than this.

What would cause a significant percentage of young people to lose interest in sex? Or are they just lying for some other cultural reason we are unlikely to understand?

No arguing with the birth rate, though.

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Governor Awesome: "Spend less" 

Sometimes, one must repeat the obvious to the point of tedium. Apparently, so it is with the need for smaller government.

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Wikipedia entry of the day: "Paregoric" 

How many of you know what paregoric is? I had gone my entire 50 years without ever having heard of it (other than, perhaps, in a passing reference in some old novel), until the THGF mentioned that it is a very effective symptomatic treatment for, well, vomiting. Too bad the gummint banned it. Must have been the opium.

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