Sobering Thoughts

Comments on politics, the culture, economics, and sports by Paul Tuns. I am editor-in-chief of "The Interim," Canada's life and family newspaper, and author of "Jean Chretien: A Legacy of Scandal" (2004) and "The Dauphin: The Truth about Justin Trudeau" (2015). I am some combination of conservative/libertarian, standing athwart history yelling "bullshit!" You can follow me on Twitter (@ptuns).

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Thursday, July 27, 2017
Heritage panel on occupational licensing
Yesterday the Heritage Foundation had a panel exploring occupational licensing, including opening remarks from Maureen Ohlhausen, acting chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, and economist Alex Tabarrok, among others. There is both video and audio, but the video isn't the complete talk. It's good to hear not just the statistics and theory, but from one of occupational licensing's victims, Dexter Price, Jr. (on the audio only, not the video, at about the 40th minute). Price wants to manage properties but in Washington DC, he needs to be a licensed realtor for five years and then get his own brokerage before he can apply for a property management license; but he doesn't want to be a real estate agent (to buy or sell houses) or pay the numerous fees to get and maintain his real estate license to maybe eventually qualify for the right to run properties in the nation's capital. Dexter's talk is less than five minutes but nicely illustrates how licensing reduces competition for current product/service providers and stands in the way a regular folks striving to support themselves or aspiring to fairly modest professional goals.

Life in prison, or at least 14 years
The Canadian Press reports, "A Manitoba woman who admitted her repeated abuse and neglect killed her 21-month-old daughter is facing a possible sentence of life in prison without parole for at least 14 years." Nothing wrong with the report. The story reflect a typical sentence for murder and manslaughter. It's pretty well routine. But many Canadians probably don't much like the whole life in prison for at least 14 years. Life might not always mean the rest of a convicted criminal's life, but I'd guess to most Canadians it should probably mean more than a decade-and-a-half.

Senator Kid Rock
Via Jim Geraghty, we learn about the 2018 Senate race in Michigan, as a Delphi Analytica poll found:
Of respondents who stated a preference between Debbie Stabenow and Robert Ritchie, 54% stated they would vote for Ritchie while 46% said they would vote for Debbie Stabenow. These results could indicate that Ritchie is a popular figure in Michigan, Debbie Stabenow is unpopular, or some combination of concurrent trends. The relatively large, 44%, number of undecided respondents may be due to the early stages of the campaign.
It's early. In many ways this poll captures the mood of voters and their attitudes about Democrats, Republicans, and Donald Trump than it does about the actual state of the senate race. With more than four in ten respondents not offering an opinion, there is a lot of room for one candidate or the other to build a huge lead. That Kid Rock -- identified in the polling question as Robert "Kid Rock" Ritchie -- is not behind also tells you that the idea of the hard rocker entering the world of elected politics is not as preposterous as it sounded when it was first floated; that 44% of undecideds perhaps also indicates more people are willing to consider the possibility of Senator Rock than many pundits might have expected -- they are not automatically dismissing the idea. It's likely this is all a publicity stunt, but whether or not it is the Delphi Analytica poll should tell you a few things: the stunt is not as crazy as it seems and Stabenow might be especially vulnerable considering she can't beat what appeared to many pundits as a not terribly serious potential political opponent.

The myth of the rational voter
A few weeks ago, the Peterson Institute for International Economics released a chart: "Disruptions to NAFTA Agricultural Trade Could Especially Hurt Trump-voting States." PIIE explains:
The Trump administration’s plan to renegotiate NAFTA could disproportionately harm states that voted for Trump in 2016 if agricultural exports are hampered. The maps above show the states with economies most reliant on agriculture exports to NAFTA countries, including Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa, Montana, and Kansas. Maine, which voted for Clinton, also gains greatly. Farm exports to Mexico and Canada have grown at a faster rate than exports to the rest of the world since NAFTA was enacted.
Economists have long known that voters don't really understand the benefits of trade (mostly as consumers) and in 2006 Bryan Caplan explained that voters often act against their own interests (especially when they don't trust the efficacy of free markets and international trade).

Reduce occupational licensing now
E21's Charles Henderson on occupational licensing:
Today almost one-third of Americans need an occupational license to work legally, a number that has increased fivefold since the mid-20th century. Occupations requiring licenses range from practicing physicians to shampooers to fortune tellers.
Uncle Sam appears to be taking notice. Maureen Ohlhaussen, acting chairman of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), has recently spearheaded an Economic Liberty Taskforce to address many of the issues caused by the current licensing landscape ...
Because licensing is controlled by the states, requirements for licenses are not uniform or systematic. The Institute for Justice analyzed the occupations that require licenses and highlighted how they vary by state. For instance, a barber’s license requires almost two and a half years of education and training in Nevada, but only 175 days of training in Wyoming. Moreover, a barber from Nevada could not cut hair in any other state, including the less stringent Wyoming.
Cities can further complicate matters by spawning unnecessary restrictions, such as New York City’s new ban on pet sitting without a kennel license. Another traditionally teen job is eliminated by the bureaucracy.
Research by Morris Kleiner from the University of Minnesota concludes that occupational licenses decrease interstate mobility, raise prices, and have no clear effect upon the quality of services provided. Using standard models, Kleiner estimates that licenses can result in 2.8 million fewer jobs with an aggregate cost of $203 billion to consumers annually.
Occupational licensing is a form of rent-seeking that protects product and service providers from competition, screws consumers, and hurts the economy generally. But existing service providers can organize (future barbers are not really a constituency) and consumers don't understand the harm that limiting competition causes them. Obviously some licensing requirements are defensible, but many are not. Many requirements should be eliminated, while others should be examined to ensure they are justified. Just as importantly, creating mechanisms so that licensed professionals can easily move to other jurisdictions to ply their trade is long overdue.

How to think about automation and jobs
Adam Thierer, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, at Tech Liberation on robots replacing human workers:
The reality is that we suffer from a serious poverty of imagination when it comes to thinking about the future, and future job opportunities in particular. “One thing automation alarmists sometimes miss is that the simplistic ‘machines steal jobs’ story tells an incomplete tale,” observes James Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute. “How machines can complement what humans do and create increased demand should not be overlooked when evaluating the rise of the robots. Yet it seems like it often is,” he notes.
Bank tellers are the paradigmatic example. With the rise of ATMs a few decades ago, many thought the days of bank tellers were numbered. But research by economist James Bessen of Boston University shows that we have more bank tellers today than we did 40 years ago. (See chart below). How’s that? Because once the ATMs could handle the menial tasks of counting and distributing money, the tellers were freed up to do other things.
This is a part of the story of technological change that is often ignored, as Pethokoukis suggests. Old jobs and skills are indeed often replaced by mechanization and new technological processes. But that in turn opens the door to people to take on new opportunities — often in new sectors and new firms, but sometimes even within the same industries and companies. And because human needs and wants are essentially infinite, this process just goes on and on and on as we search for new and better ways of doing things.
Historically this is true and it probably will be in the future. But just as techno-skeptics should enlarge their imagination to understand that new jobs are created, techno-enthusiasts should also ponder the possibility that the future is not like the past.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017
Government takes more property than burglars, and could increase the gap
Tony Lima, professor emeritus of economics at California State University, East Bay, writes in the Wall Street Journal:
There aren’t many things government can claim to do more efficiently than the private sector. Taking people’s property is one. In 2014 the federal government seized about $4.5 billion from people who hadn’t been charged with crimes. That exceeds the private-sector equivalent, burglary. According to an analysis by Armstrong Economics, perpetrators absconded with only $3.9 billion that year.
Since 2007 the Drug Enforcement Administration alone has seized more than $3 billion in currency from individuals in civil actions under which legal protections for criminal charges do not apply. Criminal asset forfeiture requires an indictment against both an individual and the property in question. With civil asset forfeiture only the property is charged before being seized.
Last week Attorney General Jeff Sessions stated his intention to increase the volume of these asset forfeitures.
Law professor Glenn Reynolds explained last week in USA Today how civil asset forfeiture works:
Under “civil forfeiture,” law enforcement can take property from people under the legal fiction that the property itself is guilty of a crime. (“Legal fiction” sounds better than “lie,” but in this case the two terms are near synonyms.) It was originally sold as a tool for going after the assets of drug kingpins, but nowadays it seems to be used against a lot of ordinary Americans who just have things that law enforcement wants. It’s also a way for law enforcement agencies to maintain off-budget slush funds, thus escaping scrutiny.
As Drug Enforcement Agency agent Sean Waite told the Albuquerque Journal, “We don’t have to prove that the person is guilty. … It’s that the money is presumed to be guilty.”
Ostensibly this is to get tough on crime, but it violates constitutional and historic protections for accused and is the very definition of big, intrusive government. And there is a societal cost to be paid. After relating several civil asset forfeiture horror stories that destroyed or nearly destroyed businesses, Lima writes:
Asset forfeiture imposes costs on the broader economy as well as individual businesses. Capital that is tied up in court proceedings or accounts payable is not available to finance productive enterprise.
Reason's J.D. Tuccille wrote earlier this week that civil asset forfeiture could incentivize police to make up crimes and plant evidence, which is obviously not a good idea. Both Lima and Tuccille acknowledge that Sessions brought in some limits to the practice although the thrust of his policy is to expand federal involvement in civil asset forfeiture (and Lima says that the policy was mischaracterized as Washington using the practice in states where it was banned). The point, however, is that small-government, liberty-loving Republicans should be massively scaling back civil asset forfeiture, not entrenching and enlarging its scope.

Vanity Fair on 'agony' and 'anxiety' at the New York Times
Vanity Fair reports:
The Times is clearly doing something right when it can register 130,000 new digital subscribers in a month and political reporter Glenn Thrush is being portrayed on Saturday Night Live by Bobby Moynihan.
And yet, in many corners of the Times’s Renzo Piano-designed building at 620 8th Avenue, the glory is hollow. As one editor put it, “The mood at the paper is poisonous in a way I’ve never seen it in the past 15 years.” The ostensible reason is that the Times is undergoing yet another round of buyouts, set to be finalized on Thursday. “Every buyout is tense,” the editor continued, “but there’s something really demoralizing about this one that’s been worse than any before.”
Unlike past buyouts, though, the human toll is now only part of the sinking mood. A major newsroom reorganization is upending a time-honored method of producing the Times’s signature journalism while simultaneously making an entire class of employees feel obsolete. Additionally, the Times’s midtown Manhattan headquarters is itself being upended, shrinking by eight floors and leaving all but the highest of editors without private offices. Open floor plans have long been increasingly popular among publishers, particularly given how important cross-desk collaboration has become in the social-media age, but this, too, amounts to a decisive and, for some, painful break with the news organization’s past.
At its core, the Times’s internal transformation focuses on upending the paper’s copy desk. And while this might seem like a rather small innovation, it is poignant and fraught in a distinctively Timesian manner. For decades, the copy desk has been an all-seeing, all-powerful enforcer of Times standards and verbal peculiarities. As much as the reporters, writers, and editors, it’s what makes the Times the Times. The traditional desk structure allowed for multiple eyes to be placed on every story—checking, tweaking, standardizing, changing “dads” to “fathers” and discouraging the use of “launch” unless it involved a rocket, or perhaps a boat. For reporters, the process could be agonizing. The system, after all, was conceived during a bygone pre-Internet age when so much copy hit the desk at a single time and certain standards and shortcuts needed to be applied. As executive editor Dean Baquet recently noted at Recode’s Code Conference, referencing the late David Halberstam, the system may have occasionally formalized the copy of more elegant stylists, but it undoubtedly elevated the prose of less lyrical reporters. And most reporters, aware of this trade-off, knew that it ensured the preternatural assiduousness, in matters factual and grammatical, that readers counted on. The copy desk was a deeply conservative, church-like institution at the core of the Times.
In the reorganization, the copy desk is being eliminated as a freestanding entity. A smaller number of copy editors will be absorbed by different departments such as culture, metro, sports, etc. The Times’s 109 copy editors were invited to re-apply for jobs under the new system, and those who didn’t make the cut were encouraged to apply for buyout packages that also were offered to reporters and other editors. “Our goal with these changes is to still have more than one set of eyes on a story, but not three or four,” Baquet wrote in a Q&A with readers earlier this month. “We have to streamline that system and move faster in the digital age.” (Despite the dozens of positions that are being eliminated, the paper’s headcount of around 1,300 won’t change much. The money saved will be used to create 100 new positions for reporters and visual journalists. Investigative reporters will be a priority, according to the Times.)
Only a New Yorker could believe Bobby Moynihan playing a reporter on SNL is a sign of vibrancy.
I want to say that conservatives should resist any schadenfreude, but I'm not sure why this isn't a gleeful time for critics of the paper of record.

Minimum wage law to cost Loblaw, Shoppers Drug Mart labour/consumers $190 million next
The CBC reports that Loblaw expects minimum wage increases in Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec to cost them $190 million next year. The grocery chain, which also owns Shoppers Drug Mart and PC Financial, made a second-quarter profit of $358 million, but there is little reason to believe that it will just eat the increased labour costs. Experience and theory teaches us that the costs of larger minimum wage increases will passed onto consumers in the form of higher prices or labour in the form of fewer hours or lost jobs. You can probably expect longer lineups when you pay for your more expensive groceries as cash register operators will be the first to lose shifts or jobs. Or you might spend more time at self-check out or lose the human touch at the cold cut counter or customer service; $190 million in additional costs (in one year), could be an incentive to automate more functions.

New York Times advocacy
I understand that the editorial pages are not held to the same journalistic standards of objectivity that the news section is, or should be, but today's opinion letter from New York Times editorial page editor David Leonhardt crosses a line to directing political advocacy. Leonhardt takes a hardline against the Republican healthcare bill, including the repeated charge that it was created in secret (fair comment) before saying:
Is there anything that concerned citizens can do? Yes, there is.
“The next 24 hours are critical. The public blowback must be immediate and overwhelming,” Topher Spiro, a former Congressional aide who opposes the various bills, wrote yesterday.
That link is to the website that lists Republican senators with their phone numbers and suggested tweets about the number of people who will supposedly lose health care coverage in their state. This is not merely suggesting that people vote one way or another for reasons stated in an editorial or column, but directing specific advocacy action. Journalists, including opinion writers, should eschew that sort of direction in daily newspaper and broadcasts. There used to be a saying that you can't march in the parade and cover it; journalists and newspapers shouldn't be covering issues in which they are taking part publicly as anything more than an observer.

What I'm reading
1. Tax, Order, and Good Government: A New Political History of Canada, 1867-1917 by E.A. Heaman. I was hoping to read this history of Canadian taxes in the first 50 years of Confederation by now. I don't think a perusal read will do. About 100 pages in its endlessly interesting, although it leans toward the theory that taxes are the price paid for civilization.
2. Awakening: How Gays and Lesbians Brought Marriage Equality to America by Nathaniel Frank
3. Deviate: The Science of Seeing Differently by Beau Lotto. Beautiful illustration help Lotto make his point that neuroscience explains why our perceptions of what we view our different from reality.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017
Where are MacLean's defenders?
CafeHayek's Donald Boudreaux has done a great job over the past month critiquing and linking/excerpting to critiques of Nancy MacLean's terrible work of alternative history Democracy in Chains (about James Buchanan). He notes today:
In a comment in a Facebook thread on why no notable left-leaning professional historian has yet weighed in to criticize the countless criticizable parts of Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains, David Bernstein (a GMU colleague from over in the Scalia School of Law) observes that no prominent historian has, as yet, come to MacLean’s defense (at least none that David is aware of; I, too, am unaware of any such defense).
David’s observation is a good one. Might the reason be that, while not wishing to criticize someone who criticizes the Kochs (however shabby and without evidence that criticism might be), any decent and self-respecting historian understands that he or she would imperil his or her own professional reputation by attempting to defend the intellectual merits of a book that has no such merits to defend?
Even MacLean isn't defending MacLean, as Boudreaux makes in another post today:
Gene Epstein, who runs the Soho Forum in New York City, offered to pay Nancy MacLean a generous fee to debate Mike Munger on the thesis of her book Democracy in Chains. MacLean has refused.
Of course, it’s possible that MacLean has a long-standing policy of not doing debates. (I myself do not like this form of wrestling with ideas. I rarely accept such invitations.) But because MacLean has yet, with one weak exception, to offer even in writing and in interviews any substantive defenses of her book, it’s fair to wonder if her refusal to debate Munger springs from her correct realization that she doesn’t really know what she’s talking about. My guess is that MacLean is simply afraid to debate someone such as Munger – someone who actually knows the material that MacLean, despite her writing a book about such material, obviously doesn’t know and appears to be incapable of grasping.

Rent-seeking chicken-farmer bastards
This Tim Worstall CapX article "We have nothing to fear from American chickens," is a very good essay on free trade. Everyone should read it, especially members of legislatures and governments. Worstall says that the United Kingdom shouldn't fear importing chlorine-washed chickens because 1) they are not a danger to the health of Brits and 2) the market, not the state should decide these matters. Worstall says the fear-mongering over unsafe chicken meat is a great example of the Baptists and Bootleggers coalition in which moralizers and self-interested stakeholders align to ban or restrict the competition. European and British chicken farmers have an interest in ginning up resistance to a potential competitor (American chicken producers). The modern Baptists (usually regulators and environmentalists) insist that local consumers don't want the product. Worstall responds:
We can’t go on banning them because people don’t want them because it wouldn’t make sense. If they don’t want them, they simply won’t buy them. And if we think they will buy them – the only justification for the banning – then why are we banning people from doing what they wish to do?
If people truly do not want chlorine-cleaned chicken, European producers have nothing to fear. But they do fear the competition (American chicken is typically 20% cheaper) thereby tellingly exposing their lie about what consumers want or don't want.
What policy-makers and the public must remember is that economies exist not to create jobs for workers or profits for companies, but to supply as much variety in products and services to consumers as possible. Producers will conspire to limit those choices. Government should not aid in their conspiracy by limiting trade.
Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg gets it. He says he trusts British consumers to decide: "Critics are saying we mustn’t let the British people to buy American chickens because it’s got chlorine in it. Well, why not let the British people decide for themselves."

Religious oddities
David French writes at National Review Online:
[A]s I grew older I noticed something odd. Many of the best-educated and least-religious people I knew weren’t all that reasonable. They held to downright irrational views about reality. I remember an elite-educated secular friend in Philadelphia who scoffed at my wife’s Christian faith; this friend was also convinced that her child had an “indigo aura” that imbued him with special gifts. I recall conversations with Harvard Law School classmates who laughed at the New Testament but thought reincarnation was “cool.” And how can I forget the strange sight of Harvard students walking in and out of the neighborhood witchcraft store?
When you get right down to it, every religion believes crazy stuff. My own tribe believes in a Virgin Birth as well as Transubstantiation, which I admit are weird things to believe are true. (That's one reason I can't get upset with supposedly irreverent comedy.) What is particularly amusing to watch, as David French does, is the scorn secular progressives reserve for Christians while simultaneously indulging various New Age or the traditional beliefs of other cultures. As French says, "You believe the Bible? How stupid. Pass me the tadpoles. I need them for my potion." A friend of mine has more than once remarked how open-minded secular liberals are when it comes to patently ridiculous native Indian customs. Identity politics trumps science.

For a new geopolitical filter
In his second brief First Things essay on how American conservatives view Vladimir Putin, Peter J. Leithart concludes:
My concern is with how Americans, and especially American Christians, process geopolitics. And on this point, I'm a Johnny One-Note: Our political analysis and viewpoint has to be ecclesial rather than primarily national. And that means that it can't be either globalist or nationalist in the sense that those terms are typically used. American Christians too easily leap onto the nationalism bandwagon. If we're going to resist Babel, we also need to resist the evils that often come with patriotism. And we can do that if we rigorously attempt to make the Church, rather than the nation-state, the heart of our geopolitics.
I think there is a lot of value in David Goodhart's Somewheres and Anywheres analysis of politics, but if there is an Anywhere view of the world that makes sense it is in the ecclesial vision of Christianity (and perhaps Judaism). I do think that the religiously minded should impose a religious point of view on their own political analysis and worldview, at least as a factor that informs how they look at the world.

Monday, July 24, 2017
Betting on Theresa May's replacement
The Sun reports:
According to Paddy Power, David Davis is the favourite to take over from Mrs May at 3/1.
Jacob Rees-Mogg and Philip Hammond are both given odds on 6/1 to take the keys to Number 10.
Boris Johnson is floundering on 8/1 while Home Secretary Amber Rudd has odds of 10/1.
I don't think these odds are correct. I would put Hammond's chances a little better (5:1) and Rees-Mogg and BoJo's lower (12:1 to 15:1 range) and Rudd further back (20:1). I'm not sure Davis is that much of a favourite over Hammond, but if you made Davis' odds 9:2, that would leave approximate odds of 7:2 for the rest of the field and I'd be very comfortable taking that. Theresa May was not among the frontrunners in the lead-up to the Brexit vote (Michael Gove, Boris Johnson and even George Osborne were thought to be candidates before David Cameron resigned). Of course, a lot can change if May survives until March 2019. On election night last month, Johnson's odds skyrocketed to 3:1 or 4:1 at some betting sites. Since then Davis has looked like the mature adult in the room Tories are looking for, but how Brexit negotiations proceed could change the Conservative caucus' and electorate's view of him significantly.
Over the weekend, The Observer reported on a Party Members Project poll that found that 21% of party members support Davis, 18% support Johnson, 6% for Rees-Mogg, 5% back Hammond, and just 4% want Rudd. More than a quarter (26%) did not name anyone and a majority want May to stick around.
Mogg-mentum may be a thing, but it is hard to believe the eccentric MP is really 6:1. And even if he's there, Mogg-mentum may have peaked.

Canada's 'Independent' senators
"Independent" senators Kim Pate (Ontario) and Wanda Thomas Bernard (Nova Scotia) have a letter in today's Hill Times: "Trudeau’s right on Khadr: we have to stand up for people’s rights when it’s difficult, unpopular." They conclude their letter:
We thank the prime minister for a decision that Canadians can take pride in as a step toward a more just society and we reiterate our willingness to assist the government in any way we can as it carries out its constitutional duty to uphold the human rights of Mr. Khadr and of all Canadians.

Newsworthy deaths
Alex Tabarrok points to a visualization of research that examines how many deaths must occur on average before there is major network news coverage. Volcanoes need just one death and earthquakes two. Storms require an average of 280 while epidemics need nearly 1700, droughts almost 2400, and food shortages nearly 40,000 fatalities. From 1968 to 2002, about one third of volcano eruptions and earthquakes were covered, but just 2% of epidemics, 3% of food shortages, and 4% of droughts. This might also have something to do with the (seeming) suddenness of volcano eruptions and earthquakes compared to the longer term nature of epidemics and famines. That said, earlier coverage of epidemics, food shortages, and droughts might muster the necessary political will to address emerging catastrophes.

Sunday, July 23, 2017
Douthat on medical care and tough cases
New York Times columnist Ross Douthat on the issues raised by the Charlie Gard case: who gets to make decisions on extraordinary health care and "when illness and death should be allowed to take their course." This might be the best column I've read about this issue -- not just the Gard case, but who and how nearly futile cases are decided.
There is an important philosophical point:
The rights of parents are essential to a free society’s architecture, and fathers and mothers are far more likely than any other party to have their child’s best interests close to heart. To intervene on behalf of experts against the family is sometimes necessary but always dangerous, fraught with totalitarian temptations to which the modern West is not immune.
We need to remember that even when it is necessary to put the decision in the hands of expert it is still dangerous to proscribe the rights of individuals (and families, churches, companies, or local communities). I don't mean we should go through some faux hand-wringing exercise when liberties are violated. It means the authorities and advocates should genuinely consider and acknowledge the harms done by their decisions.
The totalitarian temptation goes further:
The second institutional temptation is not toward active wickedness but toward sclerosis, groupthink and stagnation. Establish an iron triangle of doctors, insurers and government boards, tell them they must establish predictable standards for what treatments will be covered, and they will inevitably resist many of the experiments through which medical progress advances. In which case it will become more necessary than ever to allow families and individuals the freedom to refuse the consensus, and to pay for more radical options if they can.
None of this is to say that families -- or insurers or government -- must always choose extraordinary or experimental care. Costly overtreatment is also a problem in the west. There are certainly cases where families have chosen treatment that seems hopeless in which patients have been put through cruelty to sustain meager hopes of elongating a loved one's life.
Putting aside the moral and philosophical issues, Douthat says there is a pragmatic issue that arises from discouraging medical care moonshots:
And in this dark territory it is not expert confidence but a mix of hope and desperation that leads to breakthroughs and to cures.
An extra treatment for poor Charlie Gard will probably not lead anywhere. But if a cure is someday found for his condition, it may well happen because somebody, or a succession of somebodies, tried things that the experts said would never work.
It is for that future’s sake, as well as for the sake of their rights as Charlie’s parents, that the Gards should be allowed to try one last time to heal their baby son.
This is an excellent column. You should read and ponder it.

Musk's hyperloop announcement
A couple of days ago, Elon Musk went to Twitter to announce: "Just received verbal govt approval for The Boring Company to build an underground NY-Phil-Balt-DC Hyperloop. NY-DC in 29 mins." Sure. Government giving verbal approval isn't a thing. Tyler Cowen has a number of reactions, including this one:
There are some people who on Twitter will just “fuck with us.” Precisely because they have done a lot in the so-called “real world,” they just don’t take Twitter that seriously.
In other words, Musk is trolling the public, especially the science nerds.

Rent-seeking kennel-owning bastards
The New York Daily News reports that the Big Apple has banned pet sitting apps using existing bylaws that prevent anyone other than licensed kennels from caring for pets:
Health Department rules ban anyone from taking money to care for an animal outside a licensed kennel — and the department has warned a popular pet-sitting app that its users are breaking the law.
“The laws are antiquated,” said Chad Bacon, 29, a dog sitter in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, with the app Rover. “If you’re qualified and able to provide a service, I don’t think you should be penalized.” ...
The health code bans boarding, feeding and grooming animals for a fee without a kennel license — and says those licenses can’t be issued for private homes.
Bacon is a former zookeeper and animal researcher. He would probably know what he's doing. The ban on non-licensed kennels is ostensibly justified to protect animals, but it ultimately protects kennels from competition. Individuals caring for pets without a license in New York City face a minimum $1000 fine.

Saturday, July 22, 2017
Politics and friendship
The Washington Post: "Nearly half of liberals don’t even like to be around Trump supporters." The Pew Research Center's report found that liberal Democrats are more likely to have problems with friends who voted for Donald Trump:
Most of the public says learning that a friend voted for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton would not have any effect on their friendships. About one-in-five (19%) say that knowing a friend had voted for Trump would put a strain on their friendship; 7% say knowing a friend had voted for Clinton would strain their friendship.
About a third (35%) of Democrats and Democratic leaners say that, if a friend had voted for Trump, it would “put a strain on [the] friendship;” a smaller share of Republicans and Republican leaners (13%) say the same about learning a friend had voted for Clinton ...
There is a division on ideological lines among Democrats on whether a vote for Trump would strain a friendship. Liberal Democrats are about evenly divided between saying say their friendship would be strained (47%) if a friend said they voted for Trump and saying it would not have any effect (51%).
This survey didn't ask about whether or not Democrats and Republicans could be friends with supporters of the opposite party, but rather whether voting for a specific Republican or Democrat affected their friendships. With this in mind, I think there are several possible, non-exclusive explanations for Pew's findings.
1. Liberals and Democrats are less tolerant of other points of view than conservatives and Republicans more generally (sense of superiority, strong conviction they are right and others are wrong, repugnance of other views).
2. Conservatives and Republicans are more tolerant of other points of view because they feel they are persecuted for their own political views. Extending this courtesy is necessary for them to survive in today's predominantly progressive Left culture.
3. Liberals and Democrats find support for a particularly repugnant President (because of both his views and actions) a more disqualifying personality trait than conservatives and Republicans find support for Hillary Clinton.
4. The views on political friendships might have been reversed if Hillary Clinton won last November. Liberals and Democrats might be more embittered because their candidate lost to such an unworthy candidate, but conservatives and Republicans would probably have been similarly bitter if Trump had lost.
5. Conservatives and Republicans are lying and are just as intolerant.
6. Liberals and Democrats are lying as a form of virtue signaling, and politics haven't affected their personal relationships.
Also, Pew found:
A majority of the public finds talking with people who have a different opinion from their own about Donald Trump to be a stressful and frustrating experience: About six-in-ten (59%) say it is stressful and frustrating, while about a third (35%) say it is interesting and informative.
I think 35% are lying.
I'm anti-Trump and anti-anti-Trump. Nineteen out of 20 conversations I have about the US President frustrating and stressful, but informative about the the person with whom I'm having a discussion.

Friday, July 21, 2017
'9 ways Britain could stay in the European Union'
Politico Europe: "9 ways Britain could stay in the European Union." They include the highly unlikely (another UK election followed by a new referendum, or EU reform that convinces the UK to stay) and the merely improbable (Tory dissent scuttling negotiations). Even if staying had the "legitimacy" of a new referendum with a 55% victory (or whatever), imagine what that does to those voters who supported Brexit and had their wishes ignored. I agree that Brexit means Brexit (Theresa May) and that "either you are in the European Union or you out" (Jacob Rees-Mogg on whether the UK can leave the EU but stay in the common market or customs union). But there are (unsatisfactory) degrees of soft Brexit that would appear to take the concerns of Brexit voters seriously, and I'd guess that's where May and David Davis lead the country. Staying in as is would be a political disaster, and one that would embolden Brussels (and Berlin and Paris) in the bullying of member states.

Holding the line on euthanasia and assisted suicide
At SpikedOnline Kevin Yuill says that the United Kingdom's High Court should not strike down the 1961 Suicide Act because 1) Parliament overwhelmingly upheld the statute just two years ago, 2) the law works well, 3) the law reflects the value British society puts on human life, and 4) once any jurisdiction permits the medical killing of some people, it is almost impossible to put meaningful limits on that particular license. This last point is important and Yuill notes that Canada's law was no sooner passed than it was challenged as being insufficiently tolerant of killing more people; the government immediately announced it would review expanding the criteria for assisted-suicide and euthanasia and a number of individuals with various maladies that fell outside the requirements for "MAiD) launched legal challenges. This happens everywhere. Another name for a restriction on euthanasia is discrimination. What legislators or the (ill-informed) public consider a safeguard is, in fact, discrimination against some group of people from accessing what has been determined a legal right for others. Never mind that discrimination is another name for discerning, and that not everyone can enjoy all rights (we don't allow minor children to vote or the blind to drive). With euthanasia, once the principle that all human life should be protected is violated, the next "hard case" that falls outside the limits of the law will challenge our "compassion" and the restrictions will be relaxed. In the Netherlands, the list of those whose lives can be terminated has steadily been expanded since the practice became legal in 2002, and now authorities there are considering expanding euthanasia to those who have lived "full" or "complete" lives. That is, perfectly healthy individuals who are ready to "step out of life" because ... well, for whatever reason: they fear old age, don't want to be burden, think life will never again be as good as it is right now. This seems like a psychiatric condition requiring help, not a doctor rushing to exterminate a human life. But Yuill's point that it is hard to hold the line of euthanasia once it becomes permissible seems impossible to refute. Better to not concede the principle that human life is precious and deserves legal protection than allow the suggestion that some people are better off dead.

A news addict
Lionel Shriver writes about her addiction reading and watching the news -- needing not only to avoid missing out on an important story but knowing first -- for the newly launched Unherd (Tim Montgomerie's promising new site). Shriver describes the depths of her addiction:
My name is Lionel Shriver, and I am a news-aholic.
I begin my day in London loading The Daily Telegraph on a tablet. Eschewing the features, I knock back most of the hard news (which chimes chillingly with hard booze) and always treat myself to the letters (the best part). But that’s just the start. I move on to the New York Times app. Since America’s “paper of record” could occupy my entire day, chugging maybe fifteen articles, putting away a few shots of the Opinion pages, and gulping a goodly proportion of “Most Popular” passes for restraint. Frightening myself, before finally getting to work, I sneak a furtive sip of the Guardian webpage.
I’d like to claim that the above takes “only” a couple of hours. But we’re often talking three.
In the effectual oyster of my afternoon, I will often take nips of the New York Times webpage, just to make sure nothing big has happened.
I begin the evening by switching on the TV – incriminatingly, already tuned to Sky News, of which I take a bracing slug. After hitting Channel 4 News (55 minutes), I’ll down Newsnight (45 minutes) with my co-dependent husband (both shows on series record). Before bed, we’ll indulge in an informational nightcap: the CBS News from the US (30 minutes). Should Sky once more not have broadcast the programme in defiance of its schedule, rage ensues: the telltale tantrum of the addict denied her substance.
To come completely clean, I also keep on hand a six-pack of news-related documentaries. I subscribe to The Spectator, Standpoint, and The New Yorker; finally letting subscriptions to The Week and The Economist lapse last year constituted my quail-sized version of cold turkey. But even excluding these top-up sources of binge consumption, two hours of newspapers + 2.5 hours of broadcast news = 4.5 hours minimum of drinking in news, news, news every bloody weekday, and often a great deal more.
I get this. I don't watch much television news -- I PVR the evening Canadian political panel shows and fast forward to watch what I need and want. I stopped watching all American panel shows (daily and Sunday) long ago. As a teen I taped "Crossfire" and "This Week" and re-watched them, sometimes months later. But papers -- oh papers -- I read, it seems, ever more. I subscribe to the dead tree editions of all four Toronto papers. I often buy the Financial Times, especially on weekends. I subscribe to the twice weekly Hill Times that covers Canadian Parliament. I have online subscriptions to the New York Times, Washington Post, Daily Telegraph and the (London) Times. I check in on them multiple times a day. Same with the Guardian, Bloomberg, Reuters, Washington Times, and Washington Examiner. Politico, Politico Europe, Conservative Home, the Ottawa Citizen, Calgary Herald, and Montreal Gazette are acquaintances I like to drop by to see regularly. If something is happening locally or if I have time I check the Vancouver Sun and Edmonton Journal and the op-ed sections of the Waterloo Region Record and Winnipeg Free Press. I refresh the CBC politics page a couple times daily. If a story is breaking in Manitoba or Atlantic Canada, I'll check the regional CBC coverage. I try to start each morning dropping by National Review Online, the Weekly Standard, The Spectator (British version), Bloomberg View, and the New Statesman. If time permits, The Week and Prospect, too. UnHerd will join that routine. I drop by NRO and Bloomberg View again at noon and might see what's at Politics Home and Brexit Central. I make time for First Things and The Public Discourse. SpikedOnline and Commentary is visited regularly but not daily. I seldom check the New Yorker anymore except for their book reviews unless a blogger links to something that sounds interesting. I usually save LifeSiteNews until the evening. I check Instapundit, Hot Air, and various news aggregators (and Twitter) lest I miss anything. This doesn't take into account the opinion sites, better blogs, and book reviews. Nor does it account for sports news. August to October is particularly difficult with both baseball and football competing for my attention.
After reading a story on a topic, I quickly skim similar articles in other publications and websites. Quite often it is possible to skip the first half of a story to find slightly different takes and sources. I no longer need to know the editorial opinion of the Times and Post, and I'm becoming more selective about columnists. I no longer feel the need to see what's happening at The New Republic, Salon or Slate, and generally only peak at them when others are commenting on an article there. I've gotten out of the habit of reading Maclean's online and only briefly scan the monthly edition that arrives at my home. I let my Economist subscription lapse a few years ago. I would still often buy it at the newsstands but less so since they increased the cost to $9.99. I no longer auto-buy Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, The National Interest, and The American Interest, instead making my purchase based on what the articles are each issue. My regular newsstand buys are limited to Commentary and The Spectator. This is perhaps progress in addressing my news addiction.
I'd like to think that my own voracious consumption of news would be lessened if my professional obligations did not require it, but my intellectual curiosity would probably lead me to read more of some stuff (American political scandal) and less of other topics (some social and educational issues at the provincial and state level in Canada and abroad). The problem one might see it is that I don't see a problem. It's not the cost of the addiction, it's the time. My compromise with the world is that the news can wait between supper preparation and when we get the children to bed. But then I'm promptly back on my laptop.
For the most part, Shriver is not apologetic for her addiction and doesn't see it as a terribly bad thing, but does see a self-congratulatory, even vain, aspect to it:
I grew up in a liberal American household much invested in being “interested in the rest of the world,” if this lofty internationalism was sometimes priced at my parents’ diminished interest in the world closer to hand: their own kids. In my family, we’ve long used politics as filler and distraction. Affairs of state provide a range of happily inexhaustible default topics. Trading predictable, broadly unanimous opinions mercifully substitutes for raw interaction with one another. We thereby steer clear of real emotions, not all of which would be pretty. These days when I visit my elderly parents and discussion runs dry, we can always resort to Trump. Our convergence on the same dismay reinforces our joint sense of virtuous perspicacity, fortifying a clubby, self-congratulatory us-versus-them dynamic painfully standard in the United States. Mutual huffiness helps us to believe in the moment that we have more in common than we do.

Thursday, July 20, 2017
What I'm reading
1. Looking For Bootstraps:: Economic Development in the Maritimes by Donald Savoie. And "Revisiting the Minimum Wage in Atlantic Canada," an Atlantic Institute for Market Studies policy paper by Matthew Lau and Marco Navarro-Génie.
2. One Nation Under Baseball: How the 1960s Collided with the National Pastime by John Florio
3. "Reallocation and Secularization: The Economic Consequences of the Protestant Reformation," a paper by Davide Cantoni, Jeremiah Dittmar, and Noam Yuchtman
4. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office's "2016 Annual Human Rights Report"

Rent-seeking car dealership bastards
Reason's Alexis Garcia on state-level restrictions on buying a Tesla -- or any other car directly from manufacturers:
Unlike the big car companies, Tesla doesn't have a network of independent dealerships that sell its cars. The company runs its own showrooms, but in Texas—along with Connecticut, Michigan, Louisiana, Utah, and West Virginia—the government makes it illegal to walk into a Tesla store and buy a car.
Tesla employees at these showrooms aren't even allowed to give pricing information or to direct customers to the company's website. Test drives require a special permit from the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles.
Almost every state has some sort of restriction on directly purchasing cars from manufacturers. The purpose of these franchise laws, which date to the 1930s, is to prevent car buyers from cutting out the middlemen—a big political constituency. The Lone Star State has nearly 1,300 franchised car dealerships employing about 100,000 people.
The National Auto Dealers Association (NADA) has repeatedly argued that the current system of franchised dealers is necessary to protect consumers and ensure fair competition. In a speech before the Automotive Press Association last October, NADA chairman Jeff Carlson stated that consumers preferred the dealership sales model and that dealership networks were "the best, most efficient, and most pro-consumer way of selling new cars and trucks."
But if car buyers really preferred going through third-party dealers, why do they need government protection?
That's text taken from Garcia's short video on the topic.
Don't cry too much for Elon Musk; his car company benefits from government subsidies, payouts to predominantly wealthier individuals who can afford his brand of luxury electrically charged vehicles.

Jacob Rees-Mogg on Ali G
In 1999, before becoming an MP, Jacob Rees-Mogg was on Ali G talking about classes and how to be upper class. He describes himself as a commoner, and then proved he wasn't.
There is a precedent for appearing alongside Sacha Baron Cohen and then becoming leader of one's country:

Wednesday, July 19, 2017
GOP post-Obamacare repeal & replace debacle implosion
It always seems the Republican Party is in the middle of or on the verge of an existential crisis. This time, the reason du jour is the inability of the Republican Congress to fulfill the party leadership's campaign promise and seven-year political crusade of repealing Obamacare and replacing it with ... something.
The problem for the Republicans is that they are actually a big tent, a broad coalition of voters that don't naturally coalesce other than they are actively rejected by the bottom-left quadrant of hardcore progressive Democrat leadership and left-of-center professional opinionists. The Republican base of voters and its constituency parts (think tanks, magazines, opinion leaders) consist of libertarians, nationalists, free market enthusiasts, moderate conservatives, ideological conservatives, anti-elitists, the Religious Right, and more. It's hard getting things done when one's voters are all over the map. So is the Republican caucus. So are conservative intellectuals. Polling and survey data (from the Voters Study Group, for example) suggest that there are about an equal number of Democrat and Republican voters, but that there is more intellectual or values diversity among GOP voters. Whatever the Republicans do will upset some largish subset of their own constituency (largish being defined as an essential 5% of their base).
The Republican Party's coalition includes working class (white) voters that want a government safety net for their health care. It's hard to satisfy this group and, say, the libertarians, a point made in a somewhat harsh (and giddy) article by the Washington Post's Dan Balz. This is an electoral necessity for the GOP -- Republicans lose elections when large numbers of these voters either stay at home or migrate to the Democrats for an election or two. But it makes governing damn difficult. It doesn't help that Congressional Republicans generally want free market solutions and less government, while Donald Trump campaigned making sounds about universal coverage (while being silent in the the details about how). Repeal is one thing. Replace is another. Replace with what? Republicans are all over the map.
Again, this is arguably a reflection that the Republicans are better at attracting a wider array of voters. But viewpoint diversity within a party, while theoretically admirable, presents problems when it tries to govern. The Tories in Britain are finding out the same thing on Brexit, which is why Theresa May wanted a larger majority so losing a portion of her own caucus would be of no serious consequence. If the Republicans had five more senators, health care reform would be less problematic.
William Galston of the Brookings Institute is usually very perceptive. In this week's Wall Street Journal column, he is correct to say that Republicans are good at winning majorities but not good at governing. Sadly, he moralizes rather than analyzes. He castigates the GOP leadership for failing to "coalesce around a replacement" and wasting the last seven years. "Campaigning is one thing, governing another." Obviously. But rather than finger-wagging, he should look at why, especially for Republicans, governing is hard. There is something easy and even enjoyable about opposing and it can become habit-forming. But there is more to governing difficulties than that. Galston briefly acknowledges the "coalition disagrees on fundamentals." Galston says the GOP leadership should have worked on bipartisan solutions, but how likely was a Republican leadership unable to bridge the gap amongst Republican lawmakers to bring in Democrats to their solution?
New York Times house conservative Ross Douthat is exasperated with the Republicans and writes, "a party that offers nothing, whose ideological sclerosis and internal contradictions allow it to offer nothing, might as well just go pass a tax cut and call it a day." Fair enough, but not quite right. The GOP coalition -- again both voter and opinion-leaders -- doesn't agree on tax reform, either. But tax cuts might be the easiest and only thing the Republicans can agree on, so some modest reductions in rates and, if someone shows real leadership, some modest reform might be possible. But I wouldn't hold my breath.
The Republicans own policy right now and don't have many excuses. They are likely in tough electoral shape in the next few election cycles. But the implosion of the party some pundits are predicting (and some writers at the New York Times and Washington Post are cheering) is simply reflecting the cyclical ups and downs of political parties because it is always easier opposing and campaigning than governing. Always.

Robots in the classroom
Tyler Cowen had an interesting Bloomberg View column a couple days ago: "Let robots teach American schoolkids." It is worth reading in its entirety, but there are three points which stand out.
A big debate today is how we can teach ourselves to work with artificial intelligence, so as to prevent eventual widespread technological unemployment. Exposing children to robots early, and having them grow accustomed to human-machine interaction, is one path toward this important goal.
You might think we should not proceed with robot education until it is thoroughly tested and shown to cause no harm to any child. Yet we did not apply comparable standards to, say, the use of textbooks.
Human teachers sometimes feel the need to bully or put down their students. That’s a way of maintaining classroom control, but it also harms children and discourages learning. A robot in contrast need not resort to tactics of psychological intimidation.
The first two points are wise and true. Insisting on standards of absolute safety and beneficence is a standard reaction to new technologies (self-driving cars) that we do not apply to the status quo and we would do well to temper such demands. People should become more familiar with AI, and it might be more prudent to have schools do the introductions than the private sector (through toys, more example) if one is worried about oversight and sufficient study of the new technology. But the last point is debatable. I agree that teachers often resort to bullying and intimidation to exert their authority, but I see no reason why robots would be any different than humans.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017
You can't have gay rights and religious rights
The Daily Mirror reports:
GAY and lesbian couples should "bloody well" be able to get married in church, the Commons Speaker declared tonight.
John Bercow - whose role requires him to be politically neutral - voiced his passion for LGBT rights at a reception to mark 50 years since homosexuality was legalised.
Bercow needs to learn to shut the fuck up, but he is forcing Brits to confront a fact: gay rights and religious rights are at odds. If gays have a right to marry, why can't they marry in the church of their choosing even if that church opposes their nuptials? There are good reasons: private property rights (I can do or not do whatever I want on my property) and respecting religious freedom (churches get to set their own rules). But it was fanciful to believe that these rights were not on a collision course and that the courts would ultimately decide whose rights will win. I wouldn't bet on the churches and ministers. The libertarian principles of live and let live sounds fine in theory, but it doesn't work if someone wants to live with an Anglican or Catholic wedding and their local pastor won't sanction it. It will be interesting to see how a case involving a gay Muslim wanting a mosque wedding will be adjudicated.
I assume its only a matter of time until these conflicts arise in Canada and the United States, but in 2005 I assumed that it would take less than a decade. It's been 12 years. I doubt it will be another 12 years until courts are invited to decide the issue.

Turkish democracy
On Saturday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan wrote in The Guardian: "The thwarting of the coup marked a turning point in the history of democracy."
Today, Turkish authorities arrest six human rights activists including Amnesty International’s Turkey director Idil Eser. The pretense is that the activists were "committing crime in the name of a terrorist organization without being a member."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is a kumquat
In the Toronto Sun, Gerry Nicholls describes what he calls the "Kumquat Principle of Political Publicity":
This totally scientific principle (which I made up about five minutes ago) states: “If you want a brief mention in an obscure business journal, write a 500 page report on reforming infrastructure spending; if you want to make international headlines, take a selfie next to the world’s largest kumquat.”
In other words, what lures media attention isn’t boring policy, it’s interesting visuals.
And this in a nutshell explains why Trudeau is such a media darling.
It’s not because of some pro-Liberal bias in the media; it’s not because the media loves Trudeau’s ideas or ideology; it’s because when reporters and editors look at Trudeau they basically see the equivalent of a giant kumquat.
I think many in the media are unhappy with Justin Trudeau failing to live up to some of his political promises, but the PM is a glamorous kumquat, so all is forgiven.

Reynolds on longer, healthier lives
Glenn Harlan Reynolds writes in USA Today about how "although lifespan has increased, Americans’ 'healthspan' — the length of time you stay healthy — hasn’t kept pace." He says polls indicate people are not excited about the prospects of live longer and he wonders if "maybe they’re afraid that living longer just means an extended period of illness and decline." If healthspan begins to catch-up to lifespan, it could have a massive influence on public policy:
We’re probably a ways from curing aging but even modest progress in extending people’s healthy years could be enormously valuable to the United States — and many other nations — as we face a coming tsunami of pension obligations. The first social security program, invented by German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, set retirement at 70 (later lowered to 65) on the cynical assessment that far more people would expect to live that long than would actually collect benefits. Nowadays when someone dies at 70, we say “so young!” But people still retire then.
If we could extend healthspan by 20 years — so that 85 is the new 65 and 90 is the new 70 — people could retire that much later, and those pension obligations would pose a much less pressing problem. This "longevity dividend" would go a long way toward addressing fiscal problems.
I don't share Reynolds' optimism. I don't think people will want to work longer even if their productive years are increased. However, Reynolds' view challenges the idea that longer lifespans will necessarily exacerbate fiscal problems by increasing the state's pension obligations. Policy-makers should also consider the possible implications for the (declining) number of private pensions. With longer productive careers/working years, perhaps it would be possible to develop private pensions schemes without employer contributions.

US default?
The Washington Post reports on the most serious challenge facing the Trump administration:
[Treasury Secretary Steve] Mnuchin is hurtling toward his first fiasco, unable to get Congress, let alone his colleagues in the Trump administration, on board with a strategy to raise the federal limit on governmental borrowing ...
Unlike other issues facing the Trump administration — such as passing a health-care bill and overhauling the tax code — raising the debt limit comes with a hard deadline of late September, according to Mnuchin. Failure to do so could lead the U.S. government to miss paying its obligations, causing what analysts would consider a historic, market-rattling default on U.S. government debt.
Republicans are not going to let the U.S. government default when they control both halves of Congress and the White House.

Monday, July 17, 2017
What I'm reading
1. Energy and Civilization: A History by Vaclav Smil
2. Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why that is a Problem, and What to Do About It by Richard V. Reeves. Today, the Washington Post's Robert Samuelson refuted the argument that the upper middle class protects its privilege through public policy and private behaviour, using statistics to illustrate there is more income mobility and less entrenched educational advantage than Reeves says there is.
3. Regulation and Economic Growth: Applying Economic Theory to Public Policy by James Broughel
Dream Hoarders and Regulation and Economic Growth are very brief. Energy and Civilization is not.

Voluntarily paying higher taxes
The Cato Institute's Daniel J. Mitchell has some fun pointing to left-wingers who advocate higher taxes but do not voluntarily contribute to pay more. Norway and Massachusetts both have tax schemes that allow individual tax filers to contribute more than their allotted amount. Very few people tax advantage of the opportunity to be taken advantage of by the state. Norway's Labour politician Jonas Gahr Store and Massachusetts senators Elizabeth Warren and John Kerry call for the rich to pay more but given the chance to give, don't. In fact, Kerry, like other wealthy individuals, uses legal and legitimate tax shelters to avoid paying higher taxes. One might make the argument that the benefits to society of the higher taxes they are advocating are not felt when a handful of wealthy people contribute scraps but rather when a critical mass of new revenue can be used for public services. But that's not the argument that Store and Warren make; they make moralistic claims about the wealthy and fair share. If higher taxes are a moral necessity as they seem to claim, they should voluntarily hand over a larger share of their income. But they don't, and that's telling.

Sunday, July 16, 2017
Congress and military action abroad
George Will briefly examines and applauds a unanimous U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruling against declaring drone attacks against terrorists illegal, but says it is time the legislative branch begin to reauthorize the use and limit the scope of military force abroad:
Unfortunately, in this, as in so many other areas, Congress is in perpetual flight from responsibility. It should begin by revisiting the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, which was enacted while the World Trade Center and Pentagon still smoldered.
Too many conservatives conflate small government and limited government, with the latter being much more important (although the former makes the latter easier). Limited government means following the constitutional order and limiting the power of the executive. The AUMF should have expired and, if necessary, replaced long ago:
In her simultaneously witty and disturbing book How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything (2016), she notes that the AUMF does not authorize force “against anyone, anywhere, anytime” but only against those who “planned, authorized, committed or aided” 9/11. And it authorizes force for a specific purpose — to “prevent any future attacks” against this nation by such entities, “not to prevent all future bad acts committed by anyone, anywhere.”
Congress may have intended to hand President George W. Bush a blank cheque in 2001 but 16 years and two presidents later, it is time for Congress to authorize a military response that makes sense for the threats America faces in 2017.

Saturday, July 15, 2017
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in The Guardian
A year ago today, the failed military coup against the increasingly authoritarian Turkish regime failed. Not all coups are undemocratic; sometimes they are necessary to guard democratic and liberty ideals. It is unknowable which direction the Gülen Movement-associated coup would have taken Turkey but it appears that Muhammed Fethullah Gülen himself is more liberal than is the current Turkish president.
The Guardian has given Turkish Recep Tayyip Erdoğan space to peddle his propaganda:
The thwarting of the coup marked a turning point in the history of democracy; it will be a source of hope and inspiration for all peoples who live under dictators.
Nor is it possible to justify the criticism directed at Turkey for declaring a state of emergency at a time when several countries that face relatively minor national security threats have opted to do the same.
We remain committed to justice.
Cue the laugh track. Erdoğan, the man who says he wants to "chop off traitors' heads" and parade them around to discourage Kurdish activism. Just like ISIS does. And he's a NATO ally.
The Guardian gives equal time to Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of Turkey’s opposition Republican People’s party, who says:
The next day could have been the start of a new and democratic era in Turkey. Instead, in the year since, Turkish democracy has given way to a near-dictatorial regime. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the president, exploited the crisis to declare a state of emergency, led a purge against all oppositional voices and started ruling by decree.

Not-so-Golden State
Victor Davis Hanson begins his Investor's Business Weekly column:
There was more of the same old, same old California news recently. Some 62% of state roads have been rated poor or mediocre. There were more predictions of huge cost overruns and yearly losses on high-speed rail -- before the first mile of track has been laid. One-third of Bay Area residents were polled as hoping to leave the area soon.
Such pessimism is daily fare, and for good reason.
The basket of California state taxes -- sales, income and gasoline -- rates among the highest in the U.S. Yet California roads and K-12 education rank near the bottom.
VDH then lists a litany of statistics that shows California pays high taxes and gets poor services or outcomes in return. That's a bad deal. He then states:
Excessive state regulations and expanding government, massive illegal immigration from impoverished nations, and the rise of unimaginable wealth in the tech industry and coastal retirement communities created two antithetical Californias.
One is an elite, out-of-touch caste along the fashionable Pacific Ocean corridor that runs the state and has the money to escape the real-life consequences of its own unworkable agendas.
The other is a huge underclass in central, rural and foothill California that cannot flee to the coast and suffers the bulk of the fallout from Byzantine state regulations, poor schools and the failure to assimilate recent immigrants from some of the poorest areas in the world.
The state is a political Rorschach test test. The Right could point to California as an example that high taxes and Big Government doesn't work. The Left could argue that inequality is bad for society. Some might look at California at look at it as too big and too diverse to succeed. As Glenn Reynolds says, "it needs to be split up." My tongue-in-cheek theory is that God blessed the residents with beautiful views and nice weather but for a tradeoff: earthquakes, drought, and ineffective government.

On that Commonwealth Fund health care study
The Commonwealth Fund has a study of 11 countries --Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States -- on 72 health care indicators across five domains. One can be skeptical of why those 11 countries? It is possible that the 11th rated country is still the 11th best country when it comes to delivering health care although headlines would report they are last in an international comparison. (See for example the New Scientist's "US ranked worst healthcare system, while the NHS is the best," or the Globe and Mail's "Canada ranks third-last in study of health care in 11 rich countries.") The major takeaway that the Commonwealth Fund wants to have is that the U.S. is the most expensive health care system in the world but has both poor processes and poor outcomes. I wonder if the rest of the world free-rides, however, on U.S. health technologies and processes, although that wouldn't make up for the entire gap.
There is a larger problem with the Commonwealth Fund report. It states in its introduction:
We based our analysis on 72 indicators that measure performance in five domains important to policymakers, providers, patients, and the public: Care Process, Access, Administrative Efficiency, Equity, and Health Care Outcomes.
The domains of important to those various stakeholders could be in conflict and many do not measure what is ultimately the most important: health care outcomes. If outcomes are (comparatively) poor, perhaps administrative efficiency isn't important. One of the inputs the Fund's study takes into account is health care provider surveys, but doctors might want be looking at other factors (pay, less paperwork, more prestige) than are patients (treatment that makes them feel better). The UK's National Health Service is ranked the best among the 11 across the five domains but 10th out of the 11 on health care outcomes. What this tells me is that the rest of the measures the study examines might not be that important, unless a health care system is about goals other than improving the health of patients. At the very least, health outcomes should be weighed more heavily in such studies, rather than taking an average of the five rankings.

What I'm reading
1. Looking For Bootstraps: Economic Development in the Maritimes by Donald Savoie
2. The Breakup of Australia: the Real Agenda Behind Aboriginal Recognition by Keith Windschuttle. I am afraid that his argument that concessions on recognition of Australia's aboriginal population applies to so-called indigenous peoples in Canada.
3. Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic: Reggie, Rollie, Catfish, and Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s by Jason Turbow
4. "Populism and the Economics of Globalization," an NBER working paper by Dani Rodrik
5. "The International Civil Service Effectiveness (InCiSE) Index, 2017," a report by the Institute for Government
6. "Mirror, Mirror 2017: International Comparison Reflects Flaws and Opportunities for Better U.S. Health Care," a Commonwealth Fund study

Friday, July 14, 2017
Cruz on Liu Xiaobo
On the passing of Chinese Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, Senator Ted Cruz says Americans have a responsibility to fight for Chinese democracy and liberty, and to defend Liu'x widow:
Before his soul passed on from this world, Dr. Liu had one dying wish: to spend his final days with his wife Liu Xia in America. International physicians, including one from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, attested that Dr. Liu was fit to travel if released immediately. One man stood in the way of this final request: Xi Jinping. China has been known in select circumstances to release wrongfully imprisoned foreigners, and even the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un allowed Otto Warmbier to spend his final hours with his family. But something about Liu Xiaobo seemed particularly threatening to Xi and the apparatchiks in the Chinese Politburo. Perhaps it was his dignified commitment to speaking the truth about their regime in the face of every attempt on their part to silence him, something that Beijing has been so successful in doing with tens of millions of others since the founding of the PRC ...
As we grieve his loss, our immediate focus must be his widow Liu Xia. Because Xi Jinping refused their departure to America, their rightfully earned Nobel-prize money remains unclaimed, and Liu Xia is in danger. Although it is of no consolation regarding the death of her husband, I was pleased to hear yesterday from Liu Xiaobo’s counsel that the Norwegian Nobel Institute has now confirmed that it has found a legal way for Liu Xia to be able to inherit the $1.5 million monetary award for the Nobel Peace Prize that Liu Xiaobo was never able to collect. I intend to continue my longstanding effort to honor Liu Xiaobo and to secure Liu Xia’s livelihood, and I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, Republican and Democrat: If there is a cause that should unite us all, it is that the wife a Nobel Peace laureate speaking out for peace and democracy should not be kept hostage in Communist China.

Macron's racist foreign aid approach
Matthew Walther writes in The Week about Emmanuel Macron's "nasty neoliberalism" (which I would call progressivism):
The least woke leader of a major world power is not Theresa May in Britain or our own Donald Trump or even Russia's Vladimir Putin. It is President Emmanuel Macron of France, the infinitely meme-able, perfect hair-having enfant terrible who really, really wants women in Africa to stop having so many damn babies.
Speaking at last week's G20 conference in Hamburg, Germany, Macron suggested that increasing aid to African countries would be of no avail because the people of that continent, which he seems to conceive of in vague terms as a kind of homogenized mega-state, have "civilizational" problems — among them their seeming inability to stop having inconvenient offspring.
"When countries still have seven to eight children per woman, you can decide to spend billions of euros, but you will not stabilize anything," he said.
This is one of the oldest and nastiest tricks in the neoliberal playbook. Macron seems to be insinuating that Africa — not Niger or South Africa or Kenya, but this made-up mega-country that exists in the imaginations of people who don't read the "World" section of newspapers — is a nation of welfare queens. As belts tighten across the developed world, it is convenient to resort to racial stereotyping to justify reneging on our obligations to the poor abroad. The same thing happened in this country two decades ago as enthusiasm for the Great Society waned and our go-to examples of poverty shifted from images of deserving underfed white children in Appalachia to disgusting clichés about lazy oversexed African-American women in major cities.
Like "welfare queens," Macron's eight-children-having African women are a figment of the flushed racist imagination. Only Niger among African nations has a fertility rate of seven or more. Women in Botswana, Morocco, Libya, Tunisia, Namibia, the Seychelles, Mauritius, Cape Verde, and South Africa have two children on average — just like French women.
A century ago, G.K. Chesterton said those who talk about overpopulation always mean there are too many other people. Englishmen don't think there are too many Englishmen, doctors don't think there are too many doctors. But the French leader does think there are too many Africans. People in the West generally point to Africa and south Asia as examples of overpopulation and you have to wonder whether its because of supposedly unsustainable fertility rates ... or something else. When you look at foreign aid through the lens of eliminating other people, it makes the Justin Trudeau government's focus on global abortion and contraception not feminist but racist.

Thursday, July 13, 2017
Public broadcasting and identity politics: taxpayer money funds divisive programming
Howard Husock, research vice president at the Manhattan Institute and a member of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting board of directors, writes in the Wall Street Journal about how Washington gives the CPB $445 million to help pay for public television and radio, of which about $100 million goes to independent producers. Husock explains why this is a problem:
Much of this money goes to the children’s programming that makes PBS popular. But millions go to nonfiction documentary programming made by independent producers, and that’s where the focus on identity politics becomes clear. The corporation provides grant support to five so-called minority consortia, including African-American, Latino, Asian and Pacific Islander groups, as well as Alaska natives.
Additional support is directed toward the Independent Television Service, which funds independent film producers. ITVS maintains a “diversity development fund,” which has supported projects such as a feminist examination of cheerleading and a videogame that introduces players to the hardships and perils of crossing the Sonoran Desert as a migrant.
Current-affairs programming funded by the CPB can reflect a similar sensibility. “The Talk,” a PBS documentary, reduces the complexities of police-minority relations to advice minority parents are said to give their children about how to behave around cops. The program’s website advises that “one’s never too young to get woke about race.” Identity politics also pervade radio. NPR’s “Code Switch” deals with the “overlapping themes of race, ethnicity and culture” ...
Those who commission such programs are committed to a deeply embedded ideology. They see American history, politics and culture predominantly through a prism of race and gender. Millions of Americans share this view, but millions more look at the country’s past and present in an entirely different way.
Husock says identity politics is "an idea central to the modern Democratic Party" and yet completely unnecessary to ensure that minority views are seen on public broadcasting and minorities are seen and heard on television and radio.
More tellingly, when it's time for on-air fundraising, the identity politics and diversity programming that attracts "tiny audiences" disappear, replaced by "music specials aimed at baby boomers."

Physical looks are important to Donald Trump
Politico Europe reports:
U.S. President Donald Trump remarked on the physical appearance of French President Emmanuel Macron’s wife on Thursday, calling her “beautiful” and remarking that she is “in such good shape” while the French president and First Lady Melania Trump look on.
This is pathetic, not sexist.
Last week, Stuart Thomson wrote in the National Post that the American president has a "casting call way of looking at the world." This, Thomson wrote, is to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's advantage:
But in one crucial way, Trudeau is everything Trump looks for in a pal.
When Trump was choosing his cabinet in December, the Washington Post took notice of the parade of dapper men — it was almost exclusively men — who were filing in to Trump Tower. The former reality TV star was treating the exercise like a casting call ...
For Trudeau, his uncanny resemblance to Jared Kushner — Trump’s son-in-law who commands enormous responsibility in the Whitehouse — could be a clue his popularity with the president. Both Kushner and Trudeau are young, similarly handsome and come from famous families.
I find it puerile. It's an elementary lesson we give our kids: don't judge a book by its cover. To ascribe sexism to motivations that are more adolescent is to seriously misunderstand Trump. But this insight gives political rivals and foreign leaders a huge advantage: look like a leader and Trump is likely to treat them as an equal (almost).

Uncomfortable questions

Political prisoner Liu Xiaobo dies in custody
The Guardian reports:
China’s most famous political prisoner, the Nobel laureate and democracy icon Liu Xiaobo, has died at the age of 61.
The Chinese intellectual and activist, who championed non-violent resistance as a way of overcoming “forceful tyranny”, is the first Nobel peace prize winner to die in custody since German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky, the 1935 recipient, who died under surveillance after years confined to Nazi concentration camps.
Liu was diagnosed with late-stage liver cancer in May, while serving an 11-year sentence for his involvement in a pro-democracy manifesto called Charter 08 that called for an end to China’s one-party rule.
Last month he was granted medical parole and moved to a hospital in northeastern China, where he was reportedly treated in an isolated ward under armed guard.
World leaders, including the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, had urged China to allow the dying dissident to travel overseas to receive medical care that supporters claimed could have prolonged his life. But China refused, prompting criticism that its Communist party’s leaders were wilfully and intentionally shortening the dissident’s life in order to deny him one last opportunity to denounce their rule.
Charter 08 sought democracy and human rights in Red China, and it is as applicable today as it was eight years ago. Charter 08 is modeled on Czechoslovakia's Charter 77 which stated:
In cases of prosecution on political grounds the investigative and judicial organs violate the rights of those charged and those defending them, as guaranteed by Article 14 of the first covenant and indeed by Czechoslovak law. The prison treatment of those sentenced in such cases is an affront to their human dignity and a menace to their health, being aimed at breaking their morale.
Beijing was a menace to the health of Liu Xiaobo to the point of robbing him of not only his dignity but his life. His dream of a free and democratic China must not be allowed to die with him. Salil Shetty, secretary general of Amnesty International, said in a statement, "The greatest tribute we can now pay him is to continue the struggle for human rights in China and recognize the powerful legacy he leaves behind."