Saturday, December 30, 2006

Some of the things I believe, but cannot prove: regarding risk 

It is the end of a year in which I've read and seen a great deal by my lame suburban corporate-tool standard. It is my lot in life to wrestle with the facts and opinions that come my way, and a lot of my opinions have either strengthened or weakened considerably in the last couple of years. You get the credit for some of this; we have some very smart people who comment here. Whether left or right, they are a long sight more intelligent and reasonable than most people who comment on blogs.

I thought this morning that I would begin a new occasional series, "Things I believe, but cannot prove." It is mostly for my benefit in that the writing of an idea helps to clarify it, but I hope that you join in with your own observations.

Today, regarding risk:

1. The biggest questions that democratic governments in reasonably wealthy and well-functioning countries face revolve around the management of risk, particularly to individuals. What sort of risks should the government allow individuals to take, how much should government insulate people from the consequences of a risk gone bad, and how much of the benefits of a risk gone well should the government let us keep?

2. The problem, of course, is that if you indemnify people for the adverse consequences of a risk, you also have to take away the benefits. Otherwise, you create a "moral hazard," which is the condition which prevails when you let somebody keep the benefits of a risk while sloughing off its adverse consequences. Heads I win, tails the government loses. Famous examples include the insuring of bank deposits (if insured, depositors have no incentive to prefer sound banks over speculative banks, so they deposit their money with the bank that pays the most interest), government disaster relief (people who choose to live in dangerous places -- think flood zones, tropical coasts, and fault lines -- do not buy adequate insurance because they expect the government to bail them out if the big one hits), and unlimited free health benefits.

3. So what is wrong with living in a society that takes away the benefits and the burdens of risk? Four things.

3.1 First, who wants to live in such a place? Humans love risk. That's why we gamble in casinos, start businesses, quit jobs to pursue our dreams, take mood-altering substances, fall in love, have sex with people we sholdn't, play with matches, climb mountains, commit crimes, set off illegal fireworks, ride motorcycles, drive on the Garden State Parkway, and eat donuts. You might be able to persuade a few more than half the people to eliminate any particular risk because we all have different tastes, but people will be less happy in the end. That is why I believe that countries that try to legislate away risk, whether communist or socialist, invariably have less happy and optimistic citizenry than the United States.

3.2 Second, risk is the means by which we create wealth. How do I know this? Because if wealth could be created without taking risk, everybody would do it. So if you take away the opportunities for risk, you take away the opportunities for wealth. That may be fine by you -- perhaps you don't like risk or you have enough wealth for yourself already -- but there is no doubt that is what you are doing. (Certainly some regulation of risk promotes the creation of wealth. Clear rules regarding the ownership of property and the enforcement of contracts take medieval caprice out of business, and seem to be fundamental to economic opportunity. There are a few other examples.)

3.3 Third, the imperfect mechanisms we use to transfer the burdens and benefits of risk create vast amounts of diffuse unhappiness. "Sticky" European labor markets are the example with which I am most familiar. European labor laws (especially in Germany and France) make it so difficult and expensive to fire people that employers will go to great lengths not to hire them in the first place. Yes, this is bad for the overall level of employment in the economy, but there is a much worse problem: employees all over Europe are essentially stuck in jobs they hate, and they are either unwilling to leave (because they will give up the 12-24 months of salary that they will be paid if only they can contrive to get fired) or unable (because their preferred employer is also doing everything possible not to take on new employees that he cannot easily shed if makes a hiring mistake). That creates a vast quantum of unhappiness that Europeans cannot relieve, but attempt to salve with incredibly short work weeks and six weeks vacation. Americans are far happier in their job, in no small part because they know they can leave to do something else if it doesn't work out. That gives American workers a fundamental power that all of Europe's protective legislation cannot endow. Americans do not work harder than Europeans because it is in our culture. We work harder because, in general, we have vastly greater ability to choose the work that we will do.

3.4 Fourth, real challenges, real struggles, and real risks may be quite literally essential to the future of humanity. I do not believe that it is coincidental that the societies that have done the most to eliminate risk -- communist and social democratic welfare states -- have fertility rates that put them far below the level necessary to replace their population or sustain their welfare state over the long run. The populations of most European countries and Japan are literally plunging, and will quickly reach the point that the benefits which two post-war generations have taken for granted will probably not survive. Is this apparent correlation between social "security" and infertility because (i) the state has taken over some of the supportive functions previously the province of large families, (ii) we have removed so many threats from our lives that we have unwittingly tampered with the will to reproduce, (iii) life is so fun now for people in social democratic welfare states that they do not want to interrupt the good times with children, (iv) the decline in economic opportunity that escorts the heavy regulation of risk has sucked the optimism out of the most paradisical countries on the planet, or (v) some other reason? I believe that (i)-(iv) all play a role, plus the increasing professional opportunities for women in such countries.

4. Item 3.4 assumes the answer (based on belief, as I said) to the biggest "meta question" that social democratic welfare states face today: Does the welfare state contain the seeds of its own destruction by destroying the desire of its citizenry to reproduce at rates sufficient to sustain the state's financial commitments? Unfortunately, there will be no government money available to study the question, and very few professors in our universities who are both qualified to do the study and willing to live with the social and professional fallout if the answer turned out to be "yes."

5. So why do we vote to diffuse risk away from individuals? Several reasons, I believe. First, the social democratic welfare state is a relatively new device, and we are just beginning to understand its shortcomings. For more than a generation, it seemed as though we could have fast economic growth and exciting lives and security. As the flaws in the system become more apparent, latecomers are less likely to follow. The United States will probably never adopt a single-payer healthcare scheme, having made it through the 1970s without enacting one, because most countries that have them are struggling with their internal tensions. Second, legislation and regulation occurs incrementally, so it is tough to say that any particular shifting of risk will be the tipping point that sucks the energy out of a country. Without knowing that the tipping point has been reached, it is easier for people to support a law or program that seems to reduce hardship, or spread it around.

6. In addition to the reasons in Item 5, we support protective social welfare legislation because of an unfortunate bias in our measurement of social progress. We tend to look at the elimination of problems as the best indicators for the health of the society. Is the illiteracy rating declining? What about malnourishment, childhood disease, injuries in the workplace, unemployment, infant mortality, unemployment? You get the idea. Supporters of an expanded welfare and regulatory state cite these figures and compare the United States unfavorably to the allegedly more enlightened democracies of Western Europe (how many times have we heard the claim that we are the "only" rich country that does not guarantee health care to all its residents, as if that were a priori proof that we are immoral because we do not).

If we had the tools, we might do well to measure other things that could be indicators of social optimism and economic and individual energy. Is the fertility rate rising, or declining? Is the true rate of new business formation rising or falling? Were it possible to calculate a "rate of innovation," is it accelerating or decelerating? How much are individuals spending on education for themselves and their children? Do people think the future will be better, or worse? Do people say they enjoy their work? Do people say they expect to have a second career, or a third? Are employees looking for a better job, or even just a different one? Do people say that change scares them, or motivates them? When people save and invest their money, what motivates them to do so? How frequently do people move from one income "decile" to another, whether up or down? Do young people want to build things more often than they want to protest against things?

I'm sure there are many more such indicators which may well serve as better measures of social and economic vitality. The point is, in our natural tendency to track and monitor and alleviate specific problems, we are, perhaps, failing to think about the energy of our civilization, and whether the solutions to the specific problems are cumulatively destroying the challenges that we -- freeborn humans -- need to thrive.

Flip off the safeties and fire at will.


By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Sat Dec 30, 01:58:00 PM:

My superficial opening response.

Nearly all of what we believe we have not proved, and much of it we cannot prove. The Logical Positivist, attempting to put us on solid ground, removes most of what we need to get through the day. Subjecting ideas to scrutiny is a powerful thing, but the idea of "evidence" rather than "proof" is needed for almost all of life's important activities.  

By Blogger Purple Avenger, at Sat Dec 30, 02:54:00 PM:

Risk unrewarded should be rewarded with oblivion. To do anything else encourages repetition of failure.

Those who believe social structures ultimately don't need to follow the hard principles of natural selection and evolution(on at least some level), have historically been doomed to short reigns.  

By Blogger D.E. Cloutier, at Sat Dec 30, 03:51:00 PM:

Subj: Risk

"I don't throw darts at a board. I bet on sure things. Read Sun Tzu, 'The Art of War.' Every battle is won before it is ever fought." -- Gordon Gekko in the movie "Wall Street"  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Dec 30, 04:31:00 PM:

I have had a few conversations about risk recently. I retired this month, in part due to the lessening of risk in the workplace that reduces productivity. I don’t know what the balance should be because risk entails possible economic loss and/or employee injury. An example: I was at a regional safety meeting and I asked a question about why we would now have a cherry picker (small motorized crane) pick up a length of small bore pipe while the two craft, who used to just carry it, walk along the side of the pick to stabilize the pipe during movement. The answer was that the there were on the average 3 back injuries reported when craft carried the pipe, so it was cheaper, all costs considered, to have the load picked. The cost of the rental and operator was less than the increase in insurance costs, workmen’s comp and lost time. I have since read that some contracts are awarded on safety records when all other things are relatively equal. Along with this is the increase in paperwork, meetings and the like to make sure that every possible combination/permutation has been considered before a job is performed. This slows down the start of a job when it moves to the extreme, as it did on my last job. When accidents occur, it is easier to increase the supervision/paperwork burden rather than discipline those involved for disregarding the established safety rules. Another risk avoided; litigation.

I somewhat seriously blame the increase in MBAs as a cause for concern for our economy in our attempt to have a risk free society. Their analysis zeros in on the cost benefit of what is in question; minimize the risk. History, in my view, is replete with examples where individuals and companies expanded much time and monies to develop products where they was no demand but once produced caused a demand for the product and improved lives. I wonder if in our present corporate environment much innovation is generally possible. Likewise, the most economically, environmentally and employee risk filled is heavy industry. American has little heavy industry; it has been moved off-shore; too risky for the US? I know where an American company was building a facility in China and needed large I beams. They were not being produced in the US and had to be purchased from foreign suppliers.

We have moved mostly to a service industry country. One of our best services has been to supply expertise to overseas projects. While labor costs on average are considerably less than US wages overseas, work forces in other cultures have very narrow capabilities or work responsibilities. For example a field test engineer in Chile does not perform any physical labor so one or more technicians must be available to assist, however the tech doesn’t make decisions. An American test engineer will perform both functions. In the Peoples Republic of China test engineers would test motors with, say, 100 – 200 horsepower, another for 50-100 hp and so on. For a system test many engineers would be required for the different equipment and models within each type of equipment. 1 or 2 American engineers would be needed to do the same testing. Unfortunately we are losing even this advantage; the young engineers don’t want to do this type of work because it offers somewhat limited job security and one ends up seemly living to work not working to live. The expected quality of life is just not there.

So, in my opinion, as we moved along this line we will continue to reduce our exports of finished goods and services, have to purchase our goods from foreign sources which impacts our national security and has have us thus end up servicing ourselves. That is a double-entendre, but I believe it fits.  

By Blogger Dan Trabue, at Sat Dec 30, 06:30:00 PM:

Interesting set of propositions and thoughts. My initial thought:

You said:
"how much should government insulate people from the consequences of a risk gone bad, and how much of the benefits of a risk gone well should the government let us keep?"

Did I miss the part where you addressed "risk to whom?"

I'm leery of gov't intervening when people choose to place themselves at risk. I'm much more supportive of gov't intervention when someone's actions (or a group's actions) are placing others at risk.

An example: I'm okay with a person riding their motorcycle without a helmet if they assume all financial risks associated with any wrecks they may have. I'm a little hesitant if they're assuming that risk with the further assumption that I will help pay for his wreck.

Another: When we drive, we're saying that we realize that given our system, x number of people will die, be maimed, be poisoned by our driving. We are saying "That's a risk I'm willing to accept." But the driver is willing to take that risk not only on his behalf, but society's behalf.

I'm not sure that's wise. If we take away the individual's right to risk his life, health or money, that may be interrupting in his liberty. If we take away (or regulate) the individual's right to risk MY life, health or money - that seems legitimate.

What say ye?  

By Blogger noprisoners, at Sat Dec 30, 07:20:00 PM:

Keep this thread going. I am learning a lot from the post and the comments. I hope to have a worthwhile comment shortly.


By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Sat Dec 30, 09:04:00 PM:

I would like to go in the "some risk is necessary for optimism and happiness" direction, but I admit Dan's distracting issues are excellent ones which go to the heart of the practical rather than theoretical issues.

If only it were true that we could let people take what risks they would if they bore the responsibility themselves. That is not ever going to happen. If you get a head injury from a motorcycle accident, the taxpayers will eventually support you. Disability is granted on the basis of impairment, not fault. (This is part of what I do for a living)

Once your head is injured, of course, your ability to learn from the experience is limited, so the only teaching that will go on is what the rest of us learn from someone else's stupidity. Whenever we kindly move in the direction of rescuing someone from their own actions, we reduce the cost and increase the behavior.

I wish there were a sharp division between putting others at risk and putting oneself at risk, Dan, because I think your distinction is a wise one. But we are so intertwined that the knot cannot always be untied. An unmarried teen mom punishes not only herself but her child. We find we can only endure a certain amount of this before we rescue the child.  

By Blogger D.E. Cloutier, at Sat Dec 30, 10:44:00 PM:

Amr: "History, in my view, is replete with examples where individuals and companies expanded much time and monies to develop products where they was no demand but once produced caused a demand for the product and improved lives."

Two sides of the same coin:

Walt Disney said, "Lick 'em with product."

Oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller said, "Pioneering don't pay."  

By Blogger Purple Avenger, at Sun Dec 31, 12:40:00 AM:

I bet on sure things.

A skydiver friend of mine, the notorious UNLV and horse race fixer, always says don't bet on anything that ain't rigged.

I love the guy, lots of fun to hang with, he just has this thing about unlevel playing fields ;->  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Sun Dec 31, 07:25:00 AM:


The question of negative externalities -- others having to bear the burdens of your risks -- is an important question but not dispositive. Yes, if you are completely non-paternalistic, you are all for letting people live with their own mistakes, and will only step in when the mistakes hurt somebody else. The problem is, it is possible to construct an argument that virtually any activity has negative externalities, and people who want to spread a risk or outlaw an activity make those arguments. We spread the risks of health care costs through hosptial accounting, so any action that impacts health is subject to regulation. We worry about children to an absurd degree, and so it is possible to argue that any action hurts children. Even when the risk is comparatively slight, as it is with casual contact with second-hand smoke, we use that small burden as the basis for regulation of the risk. Our command of social science and statistics is now such that there is virtually no human activity that can't be said to create some risk for other people. Living with risks created by other people is just a function of living in a community.

So I think that the argument over the riskiness of a society by its nature involves the imposition of risks at some level. Since the imposition of risks is unavoidable, that gets us back in a discussion about the kind of society we want to have.  

By Blogger Country Squire, at Sun Dec 31, 08:45:00 AM:


I really enjoyed your post and look forward to reading others in this series as they become available. I agree that the writing of an idea helps to clarify it and you have offered some very interesting “big picture” ideas. I agree with your premise that those that risk much should be the main beneficiaries of that risk and that government should have very little or no involvement in the process. This is the “entrepreneurial spirit” without which, we as a nation would be in dire straits.

Your ideas tend to play out better in the economic as opposed to the social realm. “No man is an island” as the motorcycle scenario commentators have pointed out. Even on the social side of the equation though, we can all agree that government should be marginally, not intrusively, involved. To quote Ronald Reagan “I don't believe in a government that protects us from ourselves.”

“In our natural tendency to track and monitor and alleviate specific problems, we are, perhaps, failing to think about the energy of our civilization, and whether the solutions to the specific problems are cumulatively destroying the challenges that we -- freeborn humans -- need to thrive.” Well said. Herein lies the problem with intrusive forms of government; they tend to throttle individual initiative and, as a consequence, individual achievement as well.

I believe our Libertarian stripes are beginning to show!  

By Blogger Dan Trabue, at Sun Dec 31, 08:48:00 AM:

Out of curiosity, do you support your next-door-neighbor's "right" to play loud music all night long - rap music so loud it hurts your ears (and offends your sensibilities) and keeps you awake? There's not even any real risk in that activity, and yet I would suppose most of us would appreciate noise regulations to prevent that.

What if you depended upon well-water: Would you support your neighbor's "right" to dump oil in the backyard?

Some - many - folk believe that having a society (and globe) dependent upon fossil fuels is extremely risky in that it could cause the collapse of civiliation if the oil peaks so quickly that we have no replacement for it. Societally, though, there is not a large enough concensus or will to change that. We're willing to risk the death of hundreds of thousands - milliions.

To what degree do we act prudently (in that grand conservative tradition) and not take actions that potentially (but not definitely) pose a risk of that scale?  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Sun Dec 31, 08:57:00 AM:


Obviously, I think that all of these questions are merely a question of degree, not absolutes (I'm not big on absolutism). The challenge is to figure out where to draw the line. Also, I was not making an argument for unfettered social interaction -- I think that even libertarians understand the need for some regulation of social interaction (whether that regulation is best achieved through laws or the informal enforcement of cultural norms is a separate question).

My main point was to argue that in our tendency to look at discrete indicators -- measures of social "problems" -- we may be moving toward a level of social control that is harmful to the long-term success of humanity, even if beneficial to certain presently living humans.

I note that leftists make this point all the time, but with regard to the environment. They say (correctly, in some cases) that we must think about the world in the long term, even if that means sacrifices for specific individuals today (as any aggressive program to curtail greenhouse emmissions would entail). So at one level I'm arguing the same thing: Perhaps we should assess social programs and economic regulation against their impact on indicators for long-term civilizational success, not just as solutions for specific problems.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Dec 31, 09:18:00 AM:

Seems to me both the stereo blaring neighbor and the oil dumping neighbor are engaging in rather risky behavior, as we all retain the right to sue. And deliberately tilting the playing field away from oneself is not only risky, it's dumb. The stereo is a pain, but here on my own rural land, I guess I have the right to practice shotgunning off my porch at all hours of the day and night, too, which I note has a dampening effect on blaring stereo playing, at least out here in the country! And the oil dumper? For that, clearly, there are courts. The costs associated with cleaning up someone else's ground water (and paying for putting in a clean water system to replace the contaminated water, especially since I use my water for livestock and other income generating agricultural enterprises, and thus the damages include that side as well as just bad water for people) will pretty much beggar someone, and I rather doubt their homeowners policy would cover such flagrant disregard for safe, sanitary and ecologically sound practice. I think I could come up with a long list of attorneys who would be more than glad to take that case on, and so could anyone else reading this.

Risk is, well, risky. And as John Wayne famously said: "Life is hard, but it's harder if you're stupid." Doing dumb things which entail risk can in fact lead on to oblivion, or at the very least, be quite costly. A risk inherent system favors the prudent, the prepared and the pensive. It tends to select against the stupid, the silly and the selfish, all of whom frequently engage in behaviors which in the long run tend to be pruned by the consequences of risk.  

By Blogger GreenmanTim, at Sun Dec 31, 09:27:00 AM:

At the risk of heading in a discredited social Darwinist direction, it may be instructive to see how risk plays out in nature. I offer a few evolutionary tenets for your consideration:

Over long periods of time, the evolutionary tendancy is not toward extreme variety but functional averages. This is particularly true of large, intact systems rather than restricted environments such as islands and places with limited habitat niches, and of species rather than of individuals. Most mutations fail, unless by circmstance they provide a competative advantage )think Darwin's finches)or competition has been all but eliminated (think recolonization of North America after the extinction event 67 million years ago).

In the latter case, a single genus of river dwelling plants constitutes the entire fossil record for vascular plants over large parts of North America a million years after the great impact. It apparently thrived in habitats where it otherwise would have been unsuited because it had no other competitors. It took another 4 million years for those less suitable niches to be reoccuupied by other flora.

To offer another example: a long ranging eastern timber rattlesnake almost always freezes before it can return to its customary den, yet some miniscule but ultimately significant percentage of the time, an individual must have found new habitat and expanded the species range. Otherwise, the only other (implausible) explanation for their presence east of the Hudson is that they survived for millenia under the ice sheets. In this example, risk is almost always bad for the individual but necessary for the survival of the species.

In each of these cases, evolutionary risk is predicated by environmental considerations in which individuals and species interract. In the short turn, risk is overwhelmingly bad for the individual but when conditions are favorable, can be beneficial to the species and is the driver of all evolutionary change.

That's as far as I am willing to take this argument before returning to the social realm. TH discusses both individual and societal benefits of risk (birth rates caught my eye) and other commentors have raised the question of individual rights over the impacts they have on those of others.

The overwhelming difference between human society and other natural systems is that our laws are limitations we intentionally place on our freedom of action to ensure collective survival of our societies, while we are also subject, however much we try to insulate ourselves from them, to environmental laws as well. It's just that these play out over longer time spans than species enjoy.

If deep geologic time and the history of North America are of interest to any of you (besides Dan, who will be reading along with me next month at another site), may I suggest Tim Flannery's The Eternal Frontier. You'll never want for a few good bits of evolutionary trivia to drop at your next conctail party.  

By Blogger tm, at Sun Dec 31, 12:33:00 PM:

The Logical Positivist, attempting to put us on solid ground, removes most of what we need to get through the day.

You're looking to rumble, aren't you? Logical positivism does nothing of the sort, and you're just engaging the caricature of LP that the rationalists want you to. LP is, first and foremost, a philosophy of humility and of limits. It doesn't deprive of us ground, as if that ground were pre-existing: it forces us to realize that epistemological foundations were never there to begin with. Accordingly, we can carry on with the business of marshalling evidence w/o having to worry about pseudoproblems about proof.

- the last of the doctrinaire logical positivists.  

By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Sun Dec 31, 12:48:00 PM:

Dan's negative externalities are more similar than he would like, I fear. A physically risk-taking person in effect "pollutes" the health care and tax systems - far more than CO2 emitters, actually. Negative externalities should be under consideration, of course. 17th C town records in Dedham, MA record disputes and consequences of upstream pollution. But the actual risks and actual harms should drive this, not the "I can imagine a bad outcome," or "that scares the bejeebers out of me" risks. The PR value of climate catastrophizing pushes out environmental concerns that deserve more of our attention, such as overfishing, or aquifer and topsoil loss.

Back to the focus of the OP. If actual accomplishment, or at least perceived accomplishment, is required for happiness and optimism, is this not a "wealth" we should pay more attention to? Wouldn't the poor be better off if we could find them some of this? Wouldn't public education that requires experience with risk and accomplishment actually be a kinder method?

Accomplishment can admit of ten-thousand definitions, including showing up at work in bad weather, making someone laugh, raising decent children, or fixing a roof. Our kind socialist friends, by focusing on income, actually undermine the value of other accomplishments. They accomplish the opposite of what they hoped.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Dec 31, 01:54:00 PM:

American corporate executives nowadays often (maybe usually) eliminate all risk that involves them personally. No matter how the company does, they wind up rich, maybe superrich. Under your logic, Tigerhawk, this is highly undesirable. Would you favor, in principle, regulations that prohibited this kind of behavior?

Such regulations might be difficult to enforce, but that's a separate issue: difficult is not impossible.

This (slightly demagogic) point brings me to a broader point. People generally will act to reduce risk if they can. Since in a democracy, ordinary people have a lot of influence, there is a tension between your idea and the principle of democratic governance.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Dec 31, 02:27:00 PM:

I'm surprised no one has brought up the example of the war on drugs in the context of this discussion. It would seem exceptionally relevant.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Dec 31, 04:47:00 PM:

Tigerhawk, you say "That creates a vast quantum of unhappiness that Europeans cannot relieve, but attempt to salve with incredibly short work weeks and six weeks vacation. Americans are far happier in their job ..."I don't know where you are getting your facts. Based on a quick web search, there's not much difference in job satisfaction between Europeans and Americans. America does relatively well, but not enough IMHO to justify your claim that Americans are "far happier." It varies a lot by country for reasons that I suspect have more to do with culture than governmental policies. For example, Denmark, a classic social welfare state, does better than the US. Take a look at http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/economics/staff/faculty/oswald/1997internationaljobsatisfaction.pdf  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Dec 31, 07:20:00 PM:

Great post ... risk is part of life ... it cannot be extracted without extinction.

As for the terrrible quote "Every battle is won before it is ever fought" from the Art of War, it is false as is much of what is uttered throughout the book. Please do not confuse trite sayings with logical truth. I recommend those commited to the book study logic and then assess the advice. I fear you will be in for a rude awakening.  

By Blogger D.E. Cloutier, at Sun Dec 31, 07:31:00 PM:

Anonymous, "The Art of War" helped Mao conquer China. "The Art of War" helped the North Vietnamese to gain control of Vietnam. "The Art of War" helped to make me rich.

I am sorry it failed to help you.  

By Blogger Armed Liberal, at Mon Jan 01, 01:53:00 AM:

Go grab a copy of Schumpeter's "Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy" - it's a good read, and talk about these issues darn intelligently.

It's an issue close to home for me as well...


By Blogger Dan Trabue, at Mon Jan 01, 02:23:00 AM:

"The Art of War" helped Mao conquer China. "The Art of War" helped the North Vietnamese to gain control of Vietnam. "The Art of War" helped to make me rich.

I am sorry it failed to help you."

Perhaps Anonymous had no desire to conquer China, North Korea or get rich, or at least at those costs?  

By Blogger D.E. Cloutier, at Mon Jan 01, 08:42:00 AM:

I have no idea, Dan. I try to avoid making assumptions about people. Erroneous assumptions increase risk and lead to bad decisions. Ask President Bush. He learned that lesson the hard way.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Jan 02, 06:51:00 PM:

Adherents to Sowells "unconstrained vision" often deny that tradeoffs and risks are necessary. I think that that is where a lot of the aversion comes from. After all, how stupid and evil would it be to EVER pursue, say, military action, if it were true that we REALLY could acomplish the same ends without ANYONE getting killed, essensially by means of paperwork?  

By Blogger Georg Felis, at Wed Jan 03, 10:54:00 AM:

I think you may be confusing the concepts of Risk/Benefit and Cost/Benefit. If I build a rocket and launch a satellite, I’m taking a Risk in anticipation of a Benefit. If I build a thousand rockets and launch a thousand satellites, I expect X number of them to fail and I write that off as a Cost.

If I am not ready to take the whole Risk of a single launch, I go out and buy Insurance to convert some of that Risk to Cost. The Insurance company has thousands of policies out there, out of which they expect X number to have to be paid on.

This is the same reason I buy mutual funds, I spread out my Risk among a thousand companies to make it more a Cost than if I had invested my whole portfolio into K-Mart a few years ago. (For non-stock market followers: K-Mart stock imploded a few years ago. One of my co-workers is still a co-worker because he had taken a Large Risk and invested heavily there, and now needs to work a few more years.)

The forklift and two guys carrying pipe is an example of Cost. Over the course of a few years it will cost X to use a forklift, and X+1 to have guys carry the pipe. So you use a forklift. A great deal of business is the process of minimizing Risk as you well know, or converting it to Cost thru management, insurance, diversification, or contingency planning.

Reduced Risk is a Good Thing, provided you are not biting into your Benefits. I have an airbag in my car. It saved me from having my face go into the steering wheel at 50mph once. I consider that Good. A national speed limit of 40mph would save a huge amount of fossil fuels and lives. But nobody would be willing to make that kind of cut in Benefits. Federal Student Loans got me thru college. But they ran out after six years and I had to get a real job to pay them back. It would have been a great amount of Risk for me to get a signature loan to go to school and have to pay it back regardless of my outcome. The Feds reduced my Risk, and I paid for it by repaying the loan and paying taxes in my new high bracket. Congress has determined the Student Loan program is a Cost which returns a Benefit of more educated people who make more money and pay more taxes (and vote for them).  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Apr 21, 06:12:00 PM:

Generic Phentermine medication is used in combination with diet and exercise to help

you lose weight. It works by decreasing your appetite.

Generic Acomplia Rimonabant Zimulti drug is the new weight loss medication breakthrough

from Sanofi-Aventis , exceeding Phentermine in it’s ability to help you lose the weight! It is a CB1 cannabinoid receptor antagonist ,and Its main avenue of

effect is reduction in appetite. Acomplia acts by obstructing the receptors, which control the food intake and energy expenditure - Thus resulting in reduced

appetite. Brand Acomplia weight loss drug also has an added characteristic effect as a

smoking cessation aid.

Brand Duromine Ionamin weight loss drug is a popular brand name timed-release resin

version for the weight loss diet pill phentermine, and is used in combination with diet and exercise,to help you lose weight. It works by decreasing your


Generic Meridia/Reductil SIBUTRAMINE HCI drug is a prescription medication thats used to

help people lose weight by acting on the appetite control centers in the brain. Studies have shown that using Meridia helps patients lose weight and maintain

weight loss for up to 2 years.

Xenical Orlistat weight loss drug blocks some of the fat that you eat from being absorbed

by your body. Orlistat is used in the management of obesity including weight loss and weight maintenance when used with a reduced-calorie diet.  

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