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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Monday, January 29, 2018
Styling will lead to profiling
The Independent reports:
Police in the Dutch city of Rotterdam have launched a new pilot programme which will see them confiscating expensive clothing and jewellery from young people if they look too poor to own them.
Officers say the scheme will see them target younger men in designer clothes they seem unlikely to be able to afford legally – if it is not clear how the person paid for it, it will be confiscated.
The idea is to deter criminality by sending a signal that the men will not be able to hang onto their ill-gotten gains.
Rotterdam police chief Frank Paauw told Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf: “They are often young men who consider themselves untouchable. We're going to undress them on the street."
The city ombudsman worries this will lead to profiling. Obviously, this is profiling. The question is whether it is racial profiling. Or are police just looking for some designer wear for themselves?

Grammy ratings way down
Hollywood Reporter says that Grammy ratings are down 24% compared to last year, with less than 20 million viewers after it attracted about 28 million viewers last year. There might be several reasons for this, with Hollywood Reporter suggesting CBS running the show earlier in the calendar year than usual could be the big problem. Do two weeks make that much of a difference? Conservatives tend to think its the entertainment industry's left-wing politics being foisted upon audiences. Maybe. How about audiences becoming fed up with the entertainment industry in general in the wake of revelations of endemic sexual harassment post-Harvey Weinstein? Perhaps. I think it is something more fundamental: the very idea of a music awards show is dated and doesn't reflect the changing way audiences listen to music today (albums? people choose individual songs or have the songs chosen for them by a service's algorithm) and the increasingly meaningless idea of pop music in an evermore fragmented market with numerous niches. Or perhaps the Grammys have a terrible track record picking deserving winners. In all likelihood its a combination of factors but the nearly drop of quarter of the audience suggests something fundamentally wrong with what the Grammys is doing.

Sunday, January 28, 2018
May doesn't have a Brexit problem. She has a clarity problem.
The Guardian reports:
Theresa May is under growing pressure from both wings of her own party to offer more clarity in public about what Brexit deal Britain wants, or face the mounting risk of a no-confidence vote ...
With pro-Brexit MPs in open revolt, senior Conservatives are warning that unless the prime minister exerts firmer leadership over the issue she could be deposed.
“She’s as vulnerable as she’s ever been,” one backbencher told the Guardian. “She’s got to make a decision.”
Pro-EU MPs were alarmed by the show of strength by Eurosceptics last week, which saw Downing Street disown remarks by Philip Hammond that the UK and EU economies should diverge only “very modestly” after Brexit.
Brexit supporters threw their weight behind the prime minister in the wake of last year’s general election, fearing that any alternative candidate might abandon her pledges to ditch the single market and the customs union.
But they have become increasingly vocal in recent weeks amid fears that the government’s approach is softening. Both sides are frustrated with the prime minister’s apparent unwillingness to set out her stance in more detail.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, chair of the European research group of pro-Brexit backbenchers, told ITV that Chancellor of the Exchequer Phillip Hammond "is real trouble for the government" because "he seems to be disagreeing with government policy, the Conservative party manifesto and Mrs May’s speeches," on Brexit.
Backlash against an effort to clamp down on handsy or harassing MPs seems to be a danger to May's grip on the leadership of the party and office of Prime Minister. Tim Shipman reports in the Sunday Times:
Under party rules a vote is triggered if 48 MPs, 15% of the 316 Tories in the Commons, write to the committee chairman saying they no longer have confidence in their leader. Plans drawn up by Andrea Leadsom, the leader of the Commons, to tackle sex pests, have been watered down after complaints by backbenchers that they would lead to “vexatious” claims against MPs.
Rebecca Lowe writes at Conservative Home that many of those who want to depose May are party malcontents upset for being overlooked for some senior (or seniorish) post. To some degree this is probably true, but if May was in a stronger position on Brexit negotiations with Europe, she would not be vulnerable to the threat of malcontents and sex-pests. After all, MPs can't cite personal ambition or wanting to avoid allegations of sexual harassment as a reason to depose their leader. Brexit is both a legitimate and handy excuse to find a new Conservative leader and prime minister.

Saturday, January 27, 2018
The self-inflicted harm of protectionism
George Will has a very good column on the vile practice of rent-seeking corporations asking for protection from foreign imports. I get companies wanting to be protected from competition, as despicable as it is; I don't get why Washington hurts not only American consumers by forcing them to pay higher prices, but why it chooses to harm itself by reducing how far it can stretch a procurement dollar. Will writes:
The coming steel tariffs/taxes will mean that defense dollars will buy fewer ships, tanks, and armored vehicles, just as the trillion infrastructure dollars the administration talks about will buy fewer bridges and other steel-using projects. As Henry George said, with protectionism a nation does to itself in peacetime what an enemy tries to do to it in war.
Will also makes the argument that tariffs are taxes, industrial policy, redistribution, and crony capitalism, all ideas that Republicans (supposedly) oppose.

Progressive trade's misbegotten politics
The Globe and Mail has a very good editorial on why the Trudeau Liberals are wrong to pursue a progressive trade agenda. They correctly say it has more to do with domestic politics than trade policy, and surmise that it is designed to win over support for (freer) trade by obtaining something for the (relatively few) losers in the trade equation. The problem, the editorial writers correctly point out, is that the focus on the usual Liberal favourite demographics misses the mark:
The whole concept has become too baggy to have force. Per the government's various statements on the subject, its position is that progressive trade protects and benefits women, Indigenous people, youth, the environment, small businesses, and the middle class and those trying to join it.
That kitchen-sink approach risks draining the phrase of all meaning. It also risks convincing countries like China and the U.S. that Canada is using the "progressive" tag opportunistically, to cloak whatever concessions we're hoping for in the mantle of Liberal virtue.
A coherent progressive-trade agenda would focus on those who have suffered the most as a result of international trade. It would be more accurate to say that middle-aged white men in the industrial regions of wealthy countries are the people who need protection. Only it wouldn't play very well.
And regardless of who is losing out because of freer trade, the trade agreement is not the way to address the problem:
In any case, the way to dull the pain of free trade is through domestic policy. The traditional progressive response to the disruptions of capitalism has been to compensate its casualties on the back end, with a generous social safety net to soften their fall.
That's still the right answer. Where global trade is concerned, the compensation may need to be more creative or more comprehensive (income support during retraining, a moving stipend to help families leave dead-end towns, a universal basic income, even).
The Prime Minister is a capable speaker who should be able to provide Canadians with an argument for free trade without relying on gimmicks like calling an agreement "progressive" and hurting the chances of obtaining these agreements in the first place by insisting that they do the job of domestic policy.

Phillip Hammond must go
Mark Wallace in Conservative Home:
The Chancellor is doing that thing again. Speaking in Davos yesterday on a CBI platform, Philip Hammond argued for only “very modest” changes in the relationship between the UK and the EU after Brexit. If that didn’t raise enough doubts about his commitment to a proper Brexit, he also went out of his way to praise the CBI Director General’s recent call for what the Chancellor called “the closest possible future relationship” – a speech in which she explicitly argued for the UK to enter into a customs union with the EU, to start from a presumption of mirroring EU regulation, and to opt for something far closer to Norway than to Canada.
Hammond’s choice of the place, the host, and the things he said was not accidental. He knew exactly what message he was putting across. Notably, his comments on Twitter after the fact played the game of sounding like a correction without actually correcting anything. Yes, his speech noted that Britain will leave the EU, and its Customs Union and Single Market, but that recognition is no rebuttal of the wider implications of his speech – not least on the UK’s future freedom to strike trade deals and set our own regulations as we choose ...
His non-correction also notably didn’t address the phrase in his speech which grabbed the most attention: the idea that Brexit will involve “very modest” change. Hammond’s critics argue that he is timid and unambitious about the liberating opportunities of leaving the EU, both on the domestic economy and international trade, and that he still does not really understand why so many people voted Leave in the referendum. These two words – “very modest” – sum up that critique. The Chancellor is openly talking of Brexit as something to be mitigated, not something to make the most of. That peeves his colleagues, jars with the many millions of people who voted to take back control, not for “very modest” change, and, if he were to succeed, threatens to limit the opportunities available to the UK.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer has presented a position, tone, and posture that is unhelpful for the May government by appearing to undermine her (stated) determination that Brexit mean Brexit. That may undermine the negotiations for the UK. Most importantly, it hinders the ability of the United Kingdom to make the most of Brexit. Yet, as Wallace suggests, May has only herself to blame for the continuing problem of Phillip Hammond:
To a certain extent, one could argue that he is simply making the case in which he and his department both believe. It’s been clear for a long time that on the sliding scale (not binary choice) between a Canada-ish and Norway-ish relationship, Hammond is far closer to the latter. Indeed, that’s one reason why we argued in October that May would need a new Chancellor in order to be able to finally and clearly choose something closer to the former – as her policy, the politics, and the national interest demands.
The fact that she did not replace Hammond in the reshuffle does not necessarily point to her shifting position to agree with him on the post-Brexit relationship, though many Brexiteers understandably fear that it might. Instead it points to something almost as bad: the fact that the Prime Minister still refuses to formally determine a full and final position on the end-goal.
Wallace also makes the valid point that May's inability (or dithering) to clearly articulate 10 Downing's end game -- at least beyond the slogans the Prime Minister seems to use as a substitute for thought and argument -- makes the problem of Hammond worse. The Prime Minister should make her stance on what the final Brexit should look like as soon as possible.

Non-online shopping
The Economist (via Tyler Cowen) reports "Over the last five years a new Dollar General opened every four-and-a-half hours." People are looking for a deal and the profits on inexpensive items don't make it worthwhile to ship, which might be several times the cost of the item being purchased. According to Cowen, The Economist says that the key to Dollar General's success is location, location, location. Some things never change.

Friday, January 26, 2018
What I'm reading
1. 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan B. Peterson
2. The Case against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money by Bryan Caplan
3. The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow's World by Charles C. Mann
My reading experience can only go down from here in 2018.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018
Tyler Cowen's 12 rules for life
Here are Tyler Cowen's 12 rules for life, including multiple rules not to take rules too seriously; true, up to a point, but of course a rule to not take rules too seriously is a paradox. Sort of like prioritizing tolerance too highly. "Marry well" might be the most important rule; at least the very least don't marry poorly. In typical Cowenian fashion, he suggests "Heed Cowen's three laws" and "Don't heed Cowen's three laws" as separate rules. It is never too late to heed rule #7: "Learn how to learn from those who offend you." Jordan Peterson's 12 rules are better.

The glass is half full
NRO's Michael Brendan Dougherty makes an exotic argument that the Supreme Court, and specifically the swing justice Anthony Kennedy, is the only hope for a normal and stable politics in the near-future in the United States. It's worth reading. This is certainly an exaggeration on multiple levels but worth pointing out nonetheless:
With self-sorting populations and a strong country–city divide, our current partisan conflicts are intensifying. But I doubt that our partisan camps are ready to descend into open civil war. The United States population is probably too old for that.
The United States being hopelessly divided and therefore governing is nearly impossible is true up to a point, but it is often over-made and assumed to be inevitable and permanent. Wrong. If things continue in this direction, some people believe, the inevitable result (or corrective) is civil war. Wrong. My thesis is that the appearance of strong emotion and deep division is an illusion, or at least it is for a critical mass of the population, and that apathy will ultimately win. The appearance of division in partisan politics is itself the healthy release-valve. But as MBD suggests, even if I'm wrong, the increasingly geriatric population makes civil war an unlikely outcome of political division.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Comparative advantage at work
The New York Times looks at jeans, bacon, and beer in light of NAFTA. It's worth a read. Here's a snippet about the pork trade:
Many farmers in central and western Canada specialize in “feeder pigs” — piglets that are born in Canada and shipped to American farms when they are just a few months old. Farmers in Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois then “finish” the pigs by raising them to their final slaughter weight.
In 2016, Canada shipped nearly five million baby pigs into the United States — about 15 percent of those born north of the border. And much of the pork the United States produces is ultimately exported to Canada or Mexico.
That means a pork cutlet served in Toronto may have started out as a piglet on an Ontario farm before being exported to the United States, and then reimported as meat, said Cullen Hendrix, an associate professor at the University of Denver.
The system exists largely because the Midwest has more slaughterhouses than Canada, as well as millions of acres of cheap corn and soybeans to feed the pigs. Given Canada’s vast size and sparse population, farms in Saskatchewan and Manitoba are closer to Midwestern cities than those in Canada.
“There is an ongoing pressure to keep the cost of consumer products low, so it becomes a question of who can do it efficiently,” said Ron Bennett, the president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture.
This exchange sounds a lot like the baseball was player who was traded for a player to be named later only for that player to be himself. But it is something much more beautiful: comparative advantage, the idea (popularized by David Ricardo but probably discovered by James Mill) that goods and services are produced by economic actors who have can produce them at lower comparative costs -- or as Donald Boudreaux explains, "what matters is not absolute production ability but ability in producing one good relative to another."

Obvious, under-appreciated point
Tyler Cowen briefly considers the most important public intellectuals (Jordan Peterson tops the list, followed by Catherine Mackinnon), but he observes an obvious but barely conscious truth: "The mainstream, by definition, is highly influential!" We tend to over-value the influence of out-of-the-box thinkers, who may or may not be important, but corporate leaders and pundits who reinforce conventional wisdom are, of course, influential in other, very often under-appreciated, ways.

Monday, January 22, 2018
Oxfam hates the rich more than it cares about the poor
Jamie Whyte, research director of the Institute of Economic Affairs, writes in the (London) Times:
In 1980, 40 per cent of the world’s population lived in abject poverty, surviving on less than $2 a day. Today, only 8 per cent do. The past 40 years have seen the most dramatic reduction in poverty in the history of mankind. Wild cheering and cries of “more of the same!” are what you might expect from anti-poverty campaigners.
You would expect wrong. Oxfam is a prominent anti-poverty charity. In late January every year, it calls for less of the same. It denounces the neoliberal or Washington Consensus economic model that has prevailed since the early 1980s ...
Nevertheless, Oxfam opposes neoliberalism and the globalisation that it promotes. It may have lifted billions from poverty, but it has also had an effect that Oxfam deems so terrible as to outweigh this gain. It has allowed some people to become multibillionaires ...
To see the perversity of Oxfam’s complaint, suppose I told you that I know a magic spell that will all but eliminate poverty over a 50-year period. You ask if it will affect the incomes of anyone else. Yes, I answer, it will also increase the number of billionaires.
You should like my spell even more, since even more people benefit from it. But, given its objection to neoliberalism, Oxfam would only see this as a defect in my spell. Don’t cast it! Don’t lift billions from poverty! ...
By prioritising statistical ratios, Oxfam has become the enemy of real flesh-and-blood people — especially the poor, who have benefited so much from the economic policies Oxfam opposes.
This is idiocy -- or at least ideological. Class warfare doesn't help the poor and harming the world's wealthiest doesn't do anything to raise the living standards of the poor, and quite possibly does harm their well-being (by disincenvitizing goods and services that could help the worst off).
Oxfam fundraises peddling this non-sense, so there's that. What excuse do journalists have uncritically reporting their junk reports (available in English, Danish, Italian, and Vietnamese).
Daniel Hannan and Ian Birrell tweet responses to Oxfam, the former along the lines above, the latter about their hypocrisy.

Being a police officer has its benefits
The New York Post reports:
The city’s police-officers union is cracking down on the number of “get out of jail free” courtesy cards distributed to cops to give to family and friends.
Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association boss Pat Lynch slashed the maximum number of cards that could be issued to current cops from 30 to 20, and to retirees from 20 to 10, sources told The Post.
The cards are often used to wiggle out of minor trouble such as speeding tickets, the theory being that presenting one suggests you know someone in the NYPD.
The idea of police handing out business cards that entitle family members and others to avoid facing the consequences of breaking minor laws is gross. Of course, the police union is making this out to be an anti-cop initiative. Economist and libertarian Alex Tabarrok takes issue with these cards and finds another article that says there are tiered silver and gold cards that are handed out, often for public relations purposes, including to judges, journalists, and politicians. How is this not open to tremendous abuse (it looks like bribery), not to mention the injustice of two tiers of justice: one for regular folk and another for those who are family and friends of police officers. Tabarrok notes that some of these cards are available for purchase online -- are cops making some extra coin on the side in a way this program was certainly not intended or are friends and beneficiaries of these kind officers selling them? The real issue, however, as Tabarrok points out, is this: "It’s one rule for the ruler and another for the ruled." Or as his colleague colleague Mark Koyama: "Sometimes you find out something about the country you live in that makes it appear little better than a corrupt, tinpot, banana republi

Sunday, January 21, 2018
Championship Sunday
AFC Championship
Jacksonville Jaguars (3) at New England Patriots (1), 3:05 pm: As a Steelers fan, I'm disappointed that this the AFC Championship. Pundits seem to be underwhelmed by the contest. But as a football fan, this is a great match-up. Perhaps the Jags have the defense that can limit Tom Brady (assuming that hand injury doesn't limit him). The Jags have not only earned their Sacksonville monicker -- they had 55 sacks this season, second overall -- but were second in the league in pressure rate (40.4% of opponent dropbacks resulted in a sack, quarterback hit, or hurry, well above the league average of 34.7% and just behind the Eagles rate of 40.8%). Importantly, they did this while having the lowest blitz rate (18%). Interesting but meaningless stat: in both seasons the Giants beat the Patriots for Super Bowl, their blitz rate was about 18%. Tom Brady punishes opponents when they blitz, but if the Jags get pressure on the New England quarterback while maintaining quality man coverage against all of Brady's potential targets. A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey are legit shutdown cornerbacks -- Bouye didn't allow a touchdown on nearly 100 targets this season until the divisional playoff game last week when Pittsburgh Steeler's WR Antonio Brown finally beat him. The key will be stopping Rob Gronkowski and the Jags have option. Ramsey played inside in his rookie year but not so much this season, but he's an option. I expect they'll start with free safety Tashaun Gipson covering Gronkowski when the tight end is not lined up on the outside (where a cornerback will cover) and providing help or changing it up if Gipson doesn't get the job done. The Patriots play an up-tempo game that tires opposing defenses, but Jax situationally rotates five strong players in their front four (Calais Campbell, Yannick Ngakoue, Malik Jackson, Marcell Dareus, and Dante Fowler). Campbell is one of the few people who is a beast getting to the quarterback's blind side and up-the-middle, and Brady is notoriously a lesser QB when pressured up the middle. Expect Campbell lined up to blow past Pats center David Andrews. This is a great strength vs strength contest; according to Football Outsiders, New England had the best offense and Jacksonville had the best defense. Pats had the best pass offense, while Jax had the best pass defense. According to ColdHardFootbalFacts, the Jags D allows a 58.58 Real Quarterback Rating, which effectively turns opposing quarterbacks into the Cleveland Browns' QBs. However, a look at the Jags schedule shows that they mostly faced subpar quarterbacks, with just four in the top half of the league: Jared Goff and Jimmy Jimmy Garoppolo beat them, Russell Wilson kept Seattle close in a 30-24 loss, and Ben Roethlisberger put 42 points on them last week. Brady is better than each of them so perhaps the Jags won't be able to stop the Pats offense. There's another fact that mitigates against the Jags superior defense. While Jacksonville was second in interceptions (21, one behind the Ravens) and tied for third in fumble recoveries (12, two behind league-leader Chicago), the Patriots were tied for second for fewest interceptions allowed and tied for second least fumbles lost. The Patriots simply don't giveaway the ball, taking away the ability of the Jags to give their often mediocre offense a needed short field. Still, I'm betting that the Jags D is good enough to slow down the Pats and force a few more field goals than New England usually settles for. The reason the Pats will move the ball is that their rushing offense is ranked third according to Football Outsiders while the Jags run defense is ranked 26th, although by traditional metrics (116.2 yards per game), they are 21st. That said, speedy Jags linebackers Telvin Smith and Myles Jack might stop the big gains that Dion Lewis makes he finds open space. But the reason Jax won't win is that they are inconsistent on offense. Jags QB Blake Bortles's weekly performance varies every week and he's had more average games than very good or great games. Rookie RB Leonard Fournette injured his right ankle last week so the Jags running game might not be what it could be. This game will be fun to watch in terms of the chess match between a sometimes aggressive Doug Marrone who has a quality and deep defense and a Bill Belichcik-led offense that makes great in-game adjustments. Assuming Brady is 80% of Tom Brady can be, this game should be close with New England coming out on top. Patriots 23, Jaguars 17.
NFC Championship
Minnesota Vikings (2) at Philadelphia Eagles (1), 6:40 pm: I simply haven't given this game as much thought. It's hard to know what the Philly offense is with Nick Foles is their quarterback and team leader in Carson Wentz's stead. They beat an Atlanta Falcons team that was favoured to win in Philly last week, but they did so despite scoring just one touchdown and a total of 15 points. That won't be good enough against the Minnesota Vikings. Scoring seems to be a problem for the Eagles lately, as they're averaging just 11.3 points per game over their past three outings. They face a Minnesota Vikings D that ranks second overall according to Football Outsiders, and which is in the top five against both the pass and the run. I just don't see the Eagles scoring against Minnesota. I might have a little more faith in Foles being able to do something if left tackle Lane Johnson hadn't got hurt during the season but his replacement, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, is no match for defensive end Everson Griffen, who is tied for fourth in sacks (14). The Eagles defense is pretty good but part of that is built upon takeaways (fourth overall), especially interceptions (19, tied for fourth). The Vikings have the third fewest giveaways, and tied for the second fewest interceptions (8). Maybe if the front seven get more pressure on Case Keenum, they can hurry him and he'll make more mistakes, but he's throwing to a great trio of receivers, WRs Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs and TE Kyle Rudolph, who win more than their share of 50-50 balls. Minnesota's is the stingiest defense (16.2 ppg) in the NFL and they are comfortably first overall in CHFF's Quality Stats. Foles will need some short fields to score against this Vikings team and I don't think it'll happen. Vikings win by double digits to become the first team in NFL history to play a home Super Bowl game. Vikings 20, Eagles 10.
I highly recommend the Football Outsiders AFC and NFC Championship analyses. The Bleacher Report's coverage of the conference championship games is also worth checking out.

Friday, January 19, 2018
Homeopathic BS doesn't deserve NHS funding
Oliver Kamm in the (London) Times:
The NHS is facing a legal challenge because it has resolved to stop funding the bogus remedy of homeopathy. Anyone concerned with public health and the interests of taxpayers should wish the British Homeopathic Association ill in its application for judicial review of this decision. The proper response to such pseudoscientific beliefs as astrology, creationism, ley lines and the healing power of crystals is that they are bilge.
In the case of homeopathic “medicine”, however, it is literally true that there is nothing in it. The NHS is right to ditch and denounce this fakery.
Prince Charles is a fan of homeopathy. Kamm writes:
If Prince Charles wishes to argue his case for bad ideas, he should be mercilessly scrutinised for it. The homeopathic fantasies that he improperly lobbies for can be judged only on the basis of evidence, and on this criterion they lamentably fail.

Deconstructing the administrative state
The New York Times reports:
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s acting director, Mick Mulvaney, intensified his efforts this week to curb an agency he has denounced as a regulator run amok. His latest tactic: starve it of cash.
The consumer bureau is funded directly by the Federal Reserve and sends the central bank a request each quarter for money for its operations. On Wednesday, Mr. Mulvaney sent a letter requesting $0 for the current quarter, which runs through March.
The bureau has been sitting on a $177.1 million reserve fund, Mr. Mulvaney said in his letter. He plans to use that to cover the bureau’s projected quarterly expenses of $145 million.
“I see no practical reason for such a large reserve,” Mr. Mulvaney wrote. “It is my intent to spend down the reserve until it is of a much smaller size.”
There is no reporting by the Times what the quarterly costs of running bureau might be, but the paper reports there are enough reserves to cover it. Why should an agency in government get more money when they have cash on hand? While the story paints Mulvaney as a critic of the work that the CFPB does -- and he justifiably should be -- this tactic could also change the culture of the bureaucracy and the way government operates. It's about time.

Thursday, January 18, 2018
No Lord George
The (London) Times reports:
The prime minister is expected to announce around ten new peers by the end of this month but she is not expected to follow the 50-year tradition of extending the offer to George Osborne.
Mrs May, 61, sacked Mr Osborne, 46, in 2016 after she entered No 10, telling him to get to know the party better if he hoped to become prime minister himself one day.
The relationship soured further after Mr Osborne became editor of the London Evening Standard. He is alleged to have told staff that he would not rest until Mrs May was “chopped up in bags in my freezer” and has used the newspaper to attack her.
Some observations.
1. Good. I can't think of any high level British politician less deserving of this honour.
2. Whatever you might think of peerages, Theresa May is enough of a traditionalist (even if she's skeptical of the prime minister awarding peerages) that this break with custom is noteworthy. Or is it enough of a tradition? The Sun reports that three other chancellors were not made lords. I don't think Kenneth Clarke was and Iain Macleod died while he held the position in 1970.
3. A future Conservative prime minister could still give him this honour.
4. This story severely truncates the list of slights in this long-running feud that began with Osborne's public dressing down of May when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer and she was Home Secretary. She had one of his friends arrested (and rightly so) and he demeaned her for doing her job. The Sun and Daily Mail stories also ignore the animosity between these two before May entered 10 Downing.
4. Maybe George Osborne shouldn't have been such a dick. This snub -- which Osborne confidants told the Sun is something that doesn't bother the former chancellor (sure) -- should be reminder of Osborne's behaviour than any supposed problem with May at this time of her premiership.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Trudeau then and now
Three years ago, then Liberal leader Justin Trudeau gave a speech on "Canadian liberty and the politics of fear," at the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada (March 9, 2015). In that speech he praised abortion as one of Canada's greatest achievements. But he also said:
As my second favourite Prime Minister, Wilfrid Laurier, once said: “Canada is free, and freedom is its nationality.” That is why efforts of one group to restrict the liberty of another are so very dangerous to this country, especially when the agencies of the state are used to do it.
Today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is using an agency of state (the Canada Summer Jobs Program) to restrict the liberty of others (freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, freedom of speech) by insisting that employers sign an attestation that they support abortion, which the government is wrongly claiming is a Charter right.
Three years is a long time, especially when one gains the levers of power and can use the agencies of state to restrict the liberty of those with whom he disagrees.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018
On the 0.7% foreign aid target
Ian Birrell is tougher than I am on foreign aid, but in a scathing column in the (London) Times he takes issue with the 0.7% foreign aid target that is considered sacrosanct amongst NGOs, the United Nations, and many academics and politicians: "a random aid target that rises with national income at a time when poverty is declining worldwide thanks to capitalism, scientific advance and technological change." Lester Pearson advised the World Bank that countries be encouraged to set aside 0.7% of GNI (gross national income) for foreign aid in 1969. As Birrell observes, poverty has been drastically reduced while technology and trade have improved standards of living for hundreds of millions of people over the past four decades. The artificial 0.7% goal, which only six countries abide (the UK, Netherlands, several Scandinavian countries, and Luxembourg, but not Canada), should be relegated to the dustbin of history -- much like most of the developing world's poverty.

CNN uses profanity nearly 200 times in outrage-fest over President's profanity
News Busters reports:
In the contest for Most Offended News Network after President Trump reportedly referred to African nations as “s***hole” countries, CNN wins hands down. NewsBusters staff combed through CNN transcripts on Nexis for the S-hole word in the 24 hours of January 12 – the first full day after The Washington Post reported the controversy – and found CNN staffers and CNN guests uncorked the profanity 195 times in one day.
That doesn’t count Saturday, Sunday or Monday. They could be headed for 1,000 by now. It also doesn’t count the amount of time they put the S-word on screen (sometimes twice, as you can see on Cuomo’s temporary prime time show.)
Compare that to Fox News Channel. Their curse count was zero. FNC told staff and guests not to say it.
Then again, CNN allowed the term teabaggers to be used on air.
I'm not some moralist when it comes to profanity. I employ it a lot (too much?) in my everyday speech, including the word shithole (although probably less in the past few days that usual), but I wouldn't use it on TV.

Monday, January 15, 2018
Was Pauline Kael invited to Samantha Power's party, too?
The Free Beacon reports on Barack Obama's UN ambassador's 2016 election night party:
Samantha Power threw a 2016 election-night party for the other 37 female United Nations ambassadors expecting to see Hillary Clinton elected the first female U.S. president, only for the bash to end in despair, she revealed in a new interview.
"I’ve had a lot of bad ideas in my life, but none as immortalized as this one," Power told Politico‘s Susan Glasser in a joint interview with former top Barack Obama aide Ben Rhodes.
HBO captured the party's evolution from glee to sadness as part of its new documentary from Greg Barker, "The Final Year." Rhodes and Power are two of the stars of the film's behind-the-scenes access to Obama's last year in office.
Power, who served as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations from 2013 to 2017, said she made the invitation to her fellow ambassadors fully expecting the "glass ceiling" to be shattered by Clinton. She was picked by most political experts to easily defeat Donald Trump.
"I thought what an amazing night for them. I mean, that’s what America represents to the world, when a glass ceiling is shattered in our country, it creates a whole new sense of possibility for people everywhere," she said.
Among the invitees were also feminist writer Gloria Steinem and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. So confident was Power, she said she was afraid Clinton's victory would be called too early in the night.
"As the host, I was kind of hoping it wouldn’t be quite the blowout that it was anticipated to be, because I wanted to make sure that people had a chance to interact with Gloria Steinem, and one of—" she said.
"So, your concern was that actually that the evening was going to be over early," Glasser said.
"Too soon," Power said. "I wanted to milk the soft power dividend of this moment, and instead, and HBO was there, I guess unfortunately or fortunately, to capture it all, but instead, you really see what so many people went through, which was all of that sense of promise and excitement, and frankly, a dose of complacency. And then, it slowly dawning on us that not only was this going to be much closer than anybody anticipated, but that it was not going to end well."
And, yes, I understand that Kael is often misquoted.

China's 'basic dictatorship' and environmental policy
Yanzhong Huang, professor at Seton Hall University’s School of Diplomacy and International Relations and an adjunct senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, has a column in today's New York Times about "Why China’s Good Environmental Policies Have Gone Wrong." We can debate whether they are, indeed, good environmental policies, but the politics of green policy in Red China -- so admired by Justin Trudeau -- raises serious issues about its implementation (which is what then-candidate Trudeau so admired):
To reduce the levels of hazardous particles known as PM2.5, the Chinese authorities started a major campaign in 2013 to convert coal-generated heating to gas or electric heating. But in the northern province of Hebei, for example, as overzealous local officials put the changes in place, exceeding government targets, demand for the new fuels suddenly surged — creating shortages that left millions without proper heating in freezing temperatures.
This is but one example of the ways in which China’s air-pollution policy may have been a bit too successful. The Chinese government deserves credit for its resolve in tackling the problem. Yet the rapid concentration of power under President Xi Jinping — helped along by the steady purging of officials suspected of corruption — has put apparatchiks and bureaucrats on edge. And their rush to please has unexpectedly distorted how environmental policy is made and implemented, sometimes with unwanted consequences.
In 2013, after decades of single-mindedly pursuing economic growth, often to the detriment of the environment and public health, the Chinese government changed course. That year, as smog blanketed much of the country, it declared all-out war against air pollution ...
These measures appear to be paying off: By the end of last year, according to government sources, China seemed to have met all the major targets in its 2013 action plan.
Yet the rush to set them and then meet them has had perverse effects ...
[I]n order to quickly meet these sometimes questionable goals, some local officials with an eye on career advancement — or simply fearful of being sacked — have overshot or been heavy-handed with enforcement.
One of the objectives of the clean-air campaign was to regulate and remove businesses deemed to be san luan wu — scattered, messy and dirty. Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan, initially identified 539 such companies. But after local leaders learned that they would be sanctioned if inspectors found any additional san luan wu firms, they expanded their lists to included many very small businesses, like auto repair shops or stalls selling steamed buns. Within three months, the number exceeded 10,000, putting at risk mom-and-pop operations that actually pollute very little ...
Centralized, authoritarian power is sometimes credited with allowing quick policy changes that would be difficult to contemplate in democracies, where checks and balances and political jostling can delay reform. But under Mr. Xi, political power has become so centralized and so authoritarian that it has perverted the incentive structure that drives environmental policy and its execution. In such a system, even good policies can have bad effects.
The author also criticizes the targets for being arbitrary and Beijing for not consulting experts, including health experts, to determine safe levels of pathogens.

Saturday, January 13, 2018
Divisional round playoffs preview
Atlanta Falcons (6) at Philadelphia Eagles (1), 4:35 pm Saturday: The Falcons are two point favourites playing on the road against the number one seed in the NFC. That has almost everything to do with the fact that Philly is without erstwhile MVP candidate Carson Wentz. Yet, the Eagles are one of the most complete teams -- good O-line, solid receivers, good tight end, and useful running backs -- so even with Nick Foles quarterbacking, they are a very good team. The Eagles D is capable of stopping Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and the dynamic running back duo Devonta Freeman or Tevin Coleman. Interesting fact: the Falcons put their QB under center less than any other team other than the Los Angeles Rams (just 43% of the time), while the Eagles D dominates offenses when the quarterback is under center according to Football Outsiders' defensive DVOA. However, if Ryan is in the shotgun completing short passes or trying to find Jones for a deep play, they aren't utilizing their backs. The front seven should be able to shut down the Falcons running game, be a nuisance to the short passing game, and get pressure on Ryan. Jones can change the game on his own with historically great days, but he also disappears (we all remember his 12-catch, 253 yard game against Tampa Bay in November, but forget his three games in which he caught fewer than three passes for a total of 30 (Buffalo), 24 (Minnesota), and 54 yards (Tampa Bay)). The Eagles have the best defense according to Football Outsiders, so the diverse and dangerous Falcons offense will be challenged to move the ball, convert third downs, and score. Atlanta is an under-rated good team and they don't get the credit they deserve for their defense. The Falcons rank eighth in total offensive yards (362.3 ypg) and ninth in total yards allowed (320.9 ypg). That might pose problems for Foles and Philadelphia. I'm not a fan of red zone stats because of the smaller sample size but the Eagles dominant defense is slightly below average within their own 20, while Atlanta's usually potent offense is 22nd in DVOA in the red zone. On the season, Philly has the best red zone offense (mostly with Wentz) while Atlanta was sixth in red zone defensive DVOA. It will probably come down to red zone opportunities, more than red zone performance; Ryan is more likely to get there than Foles. Falcons make it back to the NFC Championship.
Tennessee Titans (5) at New England Patriots (1), 8:15 pm Saturday: I don't want to complicate this one: the Patriots are the Super Bowl favourites and the Titans are the worst team left in the playoffs. Tom Brady vs Marcus Mariota, Bill Belichick vs Mike Mularkey. Pats by at least two scores.
Jacksonville Jaguars (3) at Pittsburgh Steelers (2), 1 pm Sunday: The Jags traveled to Pittsburgh in October and won 30-9. Yet it was a close game for two-and-a-half quarters as the Steelers were leading 9-7 halfway through the third quarter. Ben Roethlisberger threw five interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns. Jax QB Blake Bortles threw for just 95 yards and one touchdown, while rookie running back Leonard Fournette ran for 181 yards (including a 90-yard TD play). Only one team has beaten the Steelers in Pittsburgh twice in one season: the Jacksonville Jaguars more than a decade ago. Will history repeat? The Steelers aren't the same team from early October. The offense was inconsistent with RB Le'Veon Bell just hitting his stride and there was controversy around WR Martavis Bryant was a distraction. Since then, the Steelers have looked like the best team in the league. In recent weeks, Pittsburgh has been without their best player on offense (WR Antonio Brown) and best player on defense (linebacker Ryan Shazier). Shazier may never play football again, while Brown will play but we don't know how effective he will be after suffering a partially torn calf muscle last month and a mysterious illness during practice this week. The Steelers have a deep, diverse, and dangerous offense. According to Football Outsiders, the Steelers have the third-ranked offense, being fourth in passing and sixth in rushing. Jax has the most efficient defense, but they were first against the pass and only 26th against the run. The Jags pass rush might be a nuisance for Big Ben and the secondary might be able to stop Brown, Bryant, and JuJu Schuster-Smith, but the defensive line might not be able to stop Bell, who averages 86.1 ypg, third overall. Pittsburgh's offense vs. Jacksonville's defense might be the best unit versus unit match-up of the weekend. At home and seeking revenge, I expect the Steelers to move the ball (Bell averages 4.0 yards per rush) enough to score on several early possessions, forcing Jacksonville to play catch-up. Jax is coming off a lackluster 10-3 victory over the Buffalo Bills in the wild card game last week, with Bortles throwing for just 87 yards in the win. Jacksonville won't be able to beat Pittsburgh on the road if they don't score some points and the Jags will have to move the ball against a Steelers defense that allowed just 306.9 yards per game (fifth overall) and 19.2 ppg (seventh). Pittsburgh is susceptible to big plays and they are terrible at tackling runners if they get open. I can't imagine Pittsburgh losing, but their margin of victory is almost entirely dependent on minimizing errors. I think they play disciplined, smart ball and the Steelers win by double digits.
New Orleans Saints (4) at Minnesota Vikings (2), 4:40 pm Sunday: Game of the weekend, with the winner probably heading to the Super Bowl. According to Cold Hard Football Facts, Minnesota and New Orleans are first and second in their Quality Stats index. These teams have great lines on both sides of the ball so watch the battle in the trenches. The Vikes are a complete team and the Saints don't have a lot of weaknesses. According to Football Outsiders, the Saints have the second best offense (top six in both the pass and the run) while Minnesota has the second best defense (top five in both the pass and the run). The Vikings have the fifth best offense, while the Saints have eighth best defense. The Vikings won their season opener against the Saints 29-19 but this is not the same New Orleans team. Seven of their starters in that game are injured, were traded, or no longer starting. The Saints had the Adrian Peterson distraction and hadn't discovered that they had the best running back tandem, Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara (between them averaging more than 115 ypg, plus more than 77 receiving yards per game collectively). Since week three, the Saints D has become one of the league's better defenses, with nine of 14 opponents failing to score more than 20 points. According to Football Outsiders, the Saints defense was third overall after week three (behind Jacksonville and Minnesota). The Saints beat teams with their defense, with their run game, and, when necessary, Drew Brees. All Pro Vikings CB Xavier Rhodes should shut down Saints top receiving threat Michael Thomas. The Saints will have to score on the road against the stingiest D in the NFL (15.8 ppg). Vikings QB Case Keenum doesn't turn over the ball (seven interceptions in 15 games) and much of the Saints D is predicated on takeaways (20 picks, third overall). He has one of the best receivers this season Adam Thielen (1276 yards) but if rookie CB Marshon Lattimore limits his effectiveness, Keenum still has WR Stefon Diggs and TE Kyle Rudolph to catch the ball. The top two backs average just under four yards per rush, so its effective even if the running game isn't dangerous. These teams are closely matched and while the Vikings have homefield advantage I'm going with the veteran experience of quarterback Drew Brees and coach Sean Payton. Saints eke out a late victory on the road to head back to the NFC Championship.

Friday, January 12, 2018
Corporate lobbying doesn't work
Tyler Cowen is a typically counter-intuitive Bloomberg View column based on new research:
The numbers instead indicate that lobbying hurts the underlying capital values of the corporations. Lobbying doesn’t increase the chance that favored bills are passed by Congress, and it isn’t associated with the company receiving more government contracts.
Those are the key results from a new study by Zhiyan Cao, Guy D. Fernando, Arindam Tripathy and Arun Upadhyay, published in the Journal of Corporate Finance and considering 1,500 S&P companies over the period 1998 to 2016. Neither spending money at all on lobbying nor spending more money on lobbying over those years seem to help companies, and for that matter contributions to political action committees don’t work either.
Lobbying is more likely to damage corporate performance when the company is more complex and diversified. A large conglomerate may find it hard to come up with simple, to-the-point political requests that can much help the bottom line. Lobbying is most likely to help high-growth companies. If those companies do reap political favors, it will benefit them more over a bright and long-lasting future.
If corporate lobbying is an unprofitable use of money, why does it happen? One possibility is that corporate leaders are using company resources to indulge their own ideological preferences. Other researchers have found that companies with weaker governance and more entrenched management are those more likely to spend on lobbying. This study finds that lobbying expenditures are higher when the percentage of CEO perks is higher and when the board of the company is larger.
It’s also possible lobbyists are ripping off companies with slick sales pitches, or that incompetent CEOs are spending money on lobbying so they seem to be doing something constructive. In any case, it seems shareholders would be better off if managers were less interested in politics.
It's one paper, so we shouldn't just assume that businesses are self-sabotaging their bottom line or that executives are indulging in politics with other people's money. But it does suggest that corporate boards might want to take a closer look at their lobbying activities.

Thursday, January 11, 2018
Anti-anti toxic masculinity
Psychoanalyst Bruce Scott has a good essay at Spiked-Online about toxic masculinity, the last stigmatizing stereotype permitted today. The idea of toxic masculinity assumes that an identifiable group -- males, mostly of the white variety -- are in need of re-education and reprogramming. Scott says that "pathologising" an entire group is morally cretinous and psychoanalytically erroneous. Many of the supposedly male traits that make men, feminists say, desperately in need of immediate fixing to fall into accordance with (newly redefined) social norms and expectations -- the norms and expectations of the the left-wing worldview, are neither male nor toxic. Some so-called male character traits (stoicism, for example) are displayed by women but more importantly they are necessary for many people (male and female) in "coping with the vicissitudes of life." More fundamental, this anti-male view is anti-liberty in demanding a conformity to officially sanctioned attitudes. The attacks on so-called toxic masculinity, Scott argues, is a modern witch-hunt and is itself a "toxic idea."

Sunday, January 07, 2018
I probably won't be blogging until midweek. See y'all soon.

Saturday, January 06, 2018
Paying for the wall
Donald Boudreaux writes to the Washington Post:
A headline of yours today reads “Trump seeks $18 billion from lawmakers for border wall.” A more accurate description is this: “Trump seeks $18 billion from American citizens for border wall.”
Boudreaux claims that American citizens, who are going to be made poorer from the limits on free movement caused by the wall (debatable), are the ones who are going to be paying for the wall through taxes.
I thought candidate Donald Trump vowed Mexico would be paying for the wall.

NFL wild card weekend
Tennessee Titans (5) at Kansas City Chiefs (4), 4:35 Saturday: This seems like the least interesting game of the four this weekend, but I'd bet it's going to be fun to watch with a playoff atmosphere at Arrowhead. I'm anxious to see what the fans do if the Titans pull ahead or Alex Smith makes a rare turnover. Heck, these are football fans, so if Smith passes for 200 yards in the first half but a receiver deflects a pass for interception or a runner fumbles away the ball so the Titans lead 6-3 at half-time, the Kansas City faithful will be chanting for Pat Mahomes. After famously starting 5-0 followed by a 1-6 stretch, the Chiefs finished the season winning their last four. KC still plays good ball control (just 11 giveaways, lowest in the NFL) and Alex Smith has a diverse offense that excels in big plays (both running and passing), although some of those stats reflect the strong start. The Chiefs defense is a little suspect but they face a third-year QB, Marcus Mariota, who threw more interceptions (15) than touchdowns (13). That's not good. There'd be a poetry in this game if the Chiefs seal the win with a Marcus Peters pick of Marcus Mariota. The Chiefs have a highly efficient offense to go with one of the league's worst defenses (thanks to injuries), but Tennessee is about average or worse in every element of the game (except when running the ball). While quite a lot has been made of DeMarcus Murray being a scratch, RB Derrick Henry is actually a better runner (4.2 yards per rush compared to 3.6), although Murray is a slightly better receiver. The Chiefs win a close-scoring game that won't seem that close when watching.
Atlanta Falcons (6) at Los Angeles Rams (3), 8:30, Saturday: Wild card weekend upsets aren't that rare and as good as the Rams are (top six in all three phases of the game according to Football Outsiders, and they are not top five only because they rested starters for the final game and got blown out by the Niners), Atlanta has the sort of still-dangerous offense that can win playoff games. Atlanta is averaging almost 365 yards per game, but at 5.9 yards per play they are third in offensive efficiency; if they can sustain drives -- a problem in a number of games this season -- they can keep pace with the top scoring offense of the NFL. LA should score because the Falcons D is not good (22nd according to Football Outsiders). It should be fun to watch what Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and company do against LA's strong D. I'm not a fan of the Super Bowl fiasco redemption story-line, but the fact that Atlanta has playoff experience and they are facing a Rams team whose major players are all playoff virgins (just six Rams players have playoff experience), goes some way to evening out the home-field advantage LA might have. The Falcons have about a one-third chance of pulling the upset according to ESPN's FPI, but with left guard Andy Levitre out injured, the Rams front-seven should get to Ryan (the team was fourth in QB pressure rate). Rams Interior lineman Aaron Donald vs Falcons center Alex Mack is a great match-within-the-match. I'm also looking forward to the game plan that Rams' coach (and offensive play caller) Sean McVay and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips will draw up for the Falcons: those are two great football minds. Julio Jones is capable of taking control of a game and if it happens, it happens. The Rams front seven will pester Ryan and the Falcons have some secondary defensive players on injured reserve so the starters might get tired as the game goes on. Rams QB Jared Goff finds his receivers for enough chain-moving plays to compliment LA riding running back Todd Gurley to victory.
Buffalo Bills (6) at Jacksonville Jaguars (3), 1 pm, Sunday: I'm going to be at the airport bar in Buffalo for most of this game. It should be fun, even if superficially this doesn't look close on paper: the Jaguars have the top ranked defense according to Football Outsiders, and the Bills have the 26th ranked offense; the Bills defense is about average while the Jags offense is inconsistent varying between average with a few too many turnovers and pretty good when they are protecting the ball. That would suggest that this is Jacksonville's game to lose, but that might be a tad misleading. The Jags D has (rightly) got a lot of play in recent days, but much of that is their pass defense (22 interceptions, second overall, and 169.9 passing yards per game, good for first overall). The Bills had 16 giveaways on the season, but six were in one game against the Chargers (the lone game not started by Tyrod Taylor). That means the Taylor-led offense only gave the ball away 10 times in 15 games. The ball hawks on Jax's D will be challenged to make game-changing plays because the Bills offense doesn't turn the ball over much as a run-first team. The Jax D is below average against the run. The Bills are sixth in running (126.1 yards per game), but LeSean McCoy is a game-time decision and if does suit up, he'll be playing with an ankle injury. This game has the potential to be closer than some pundits are predicting. Anyone can win a low-scoring contest, but I'd bet on the Jags winning at home with Bortles playing just good enough to help the Jags eke out the victory.
Carolina Panthers (5) at New Orleans Saints (4), 4:40 Sunday: Considered by many to be the marquis game of wild card weekend, I can't as excited about this one as I do for the Falcons-Rams tilt, but it should be good. The Saints are the best team according to Football Outsiders' metric of DVOA, with a second-ranked offense and eighth-ranked defense. I said at the beginning of the season that with the Drew Brees-led offense, all the Saints need is a merely bad rather than league-worst defense to be highly competitive; with a top-ten D, it's a tough team to beat. Furthermore, the Saints can win games on the ground (RB duo of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram), through the air (Brees), and defense (a rebuilt secondary led by rookie CB Marshon Lattimore). Vincent Verhei of Football Outsiders does a marvelous job explaining why the Saints was a "total team effort" on defense with no player with stats that indicate they busting up the league on his own. (That said, one reason Lattimore doesn't have better counting stats is that he was injured and when he's healthy teams avoid throwing his way). This means the Panthers can't avoid the strong defender and must cope with the entire defensive 11. The Saints have won both games against the Panthers this year (19- and 10-point victories in week 3 and 13 respectively, without Lattimore), and that could indicate New Orleans has Carolina's number. However, it's hard to beat another team three times in one year. That said, it's hard imagining the Panthers defeating the Saints in New Orleans when Sean Payton's team has so many weapons and wins games in myriad ways and Ron Rivera's side can only seem to win when Cam Newton lifts the team upon his massive shoulders to carry them to victory. There are only so many (super)heroics Newton can have in him. I'm not only picking the Saints to win this game, but to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Saints get their third double-digit victory against their division rival this season.

Friday, January 05, 2018
Americans are voting with their feet
The American Enterprise Institute's Mark Perry looks at the North American Moving Services' annual US Migration Report for 2017 and correlates economic data to the top inbound and top outbound states:
What significant differences are there, if any, between the top five inbound and top five outbound states when they are compared on a variety of measures of economic performance, business climate, business, and individual taxes, fiscal health, labor market dynamism, etc.? Assuming that many Americans “move/vote with their feet” when they relocate from one state to another, is there any empirical evidence to suggest that Americans are moving to states that are relatively more economically vibrant, dynamic and business-friendly, with lower tax and regulatory burdens and more economic and job opportunities, from states that are relatively more economically stagnant with higher taxes and more regulations and with fewer economic and job opportunities?
The table above summarizes a comparison between the two groups of US states (top five inbound and outbound) on nine different measures of economic performance, labor market dynamism, business climate, tax climate and fiscal health for those ten states. And on each of those nine measures, it does appear that the top five inbound states are on average out-performing the top five outbound states, suggesting that migration patterns in the US do reflect Americans “voting/moving with their feet” from high-tax, business-unfriendly, economically stagnant states to lower-tax, business-friendly, economically vibrant states.
Averages sometimes distort the picture -- for example, Connecticut's negative GDP growth brings down the average of the other four outbound states -- but the overall picture is that Americans are moving to lower-tax, higher-freedom, economically vibrant parts of the country (the Carolinas, Arizona, Idaho, and Tennessee), and fleeing high-tax, lower-freedom, economically stagnant parts of the country (Illinois, New Jersey, California, Michigan, and Connecticut).

The new normal
Matthew Continetti, editor in Chief of the Washington Free Beacon, on his quickly thwarted hope that the politics of 2018 would return to normal and be more edifying than it was in 2017:
I realize now my assumption that things might return to normal in 2018 was incorrect because there is no normal to return to. What is happening is far larger than Steve Bannon and even Donald Trump. The world of globalization and social media is a world where politics is essentially negative. We find ourselves in a continuous cycle of revolt, where the only things that change are the names of the protesters on the march ... elections are a sideshow to the parade of networked crowds outraged at whichever elite temporarily finds itself in power.
I'm not sure this is as revolutionary as Continetti seems to think it is. The last few years seems to be the culmination of a project that began in the so-called Enlightenment as we are now fully the Age of Feelings (thanks, Jean Jacques Rousseau). Combine that with globalization and technology and the fact that political tribes are more united in opposition than agreement (outrage works), and politics becomes much uglier than it was in the past. Not that it has often been great or good.

Thursday, January 04, 2018
The Prophet and the Wizard, and other highly anticipated books
Tyler Cowen has some thoughts about forthcoming The Prophet and the Wizard: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow’s World by Charles C. Mann. It's about William Vogt and Norman Borlaug and is one of the three or four books I most look forward to reading this year. Cowen describes the book's frame:
[T]he dispute between Wizards and Prophets has, if anything, become more vehement. Wizards view the Prophets’ emphasis on cutting back as intellectually dishonest, indifferent to the poor, even racist (because most of the world’s hungry are non-Caucasian). Following Vogt, they say, is a path toward regression, narrowness, and global poverty. Prophets sneer that the Wizards’ faith in human resourcefulness is unthinking, scientifically ignorant, even driven by greed…Following Borlaug, they say, at best postpones an inevitable day of reckoning — it is a recipe for what activists have come to describe as “ecocide.”
The book comes out January 24, which is not soon enough.
The top tier of books I'm looking forward to in 2018: The Case against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money by Bryan Caplan; 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan B. Peterson; The Ideal of Culture: Essays by Joseph Epstein; To Change the Church: Pope Francis and the Future of Catholicism by Ross Douthat; Prioritizing Development: A Cost-Benefit Analysis of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals by Bjorn Lomborg; At the Centre of Government: The Prime Minister and the Limits of Political Power by Ian Brodie; Gimson's Prime Ministers: Brief Lives from Walpole to May by Andrew Gimson; Cognitive Gadgets: The Cultural Evolution of Thinking by Cecilia Heyes; Guardian Angel: My Journey from Leftism to Sanity by Melanie Phillips.

It's awards season
PJ Media reports: "President Trump was not joking when he tweeted that the White House would be handing out fake news awards to select members of the media this coming Monday." Trump tweeted: "I will be announcing THE MOST DISHONEST & CORRUPT MEDIA AWARDS OF THE YEAR on Monday at 5:00 o’clock. Subjects will cover Dishonesty & Bad Reporting in various categories from the Fake News Media. Stay tuned!" Two sources (Kellyanne Conway and Sarah Huckabee Sanders) have confirmed this is happening. Stephen Green says: "Uncouth? Possibly. But still more entertaining and honest than Jimmy Kimmel hosting the Oscars." I'd suggest golden middle fingers. The New York Times and CNN can proudly display them alongside their Pulitzers.

Drill, baby, drill
Bloomberg reports:
The Trump administration is proposing to open almost all U.S. coastal waters to oil drilling, including those off California and Florida where activists have fought for decades to spare delicate ecosystems from oil spills.
The proposal being released Thursday will go far beyond President Donald Trump’s April order directing the Interior Department to consider auctioning oil and gas leases in the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans as well as the Gulf of Mexico.
Instead, the Interior Department is proposing 47 possible auctions of drilling rights in more than 90 percent of the U.S. outer continental shelf, including Pacific waters near California and Atlantic waters near Maine. The draft plan opens the door to selling leases in 25 of the nation’s 26 offshore planning areas.
As Glenn Reynolds pointedly asks (and answers): "would a Putin stooge do this ... it's terrible news for Russia, Iran, and Saudi Arabia."

Movies are only 'based on a true story'
Tyler Cowen on Steven Spielberg's new movie, The Post:
I usually don’t mind when movies play fast and loose with the truth, as is done in almost every biopic or history. (They didn’t actually blow up that Death Star, they merely damaged it.) But this case is different. The whole theme of this film is about standing up for the truth even when commercial considerations dictate otherwise. It then feels dishonest to give Katherine Graham (Meryl Streep) a wildly overblown role, as this portrait does. But it does make for a better story and presumably a higher-grossing movie.
I'm of the view that movies are primarily about entertainment and escape. Anything "based on a true story" still has a lot of made up stuff -- almost all dialogue is scripted because in almost all cases there was no one around to record or transcribe what was said and we don't really precisely recall what has been said. But the irony of a movie about truth taking liberties with historical facts is delicious.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018
Research in the internet era is not hard
Cafe Hayek's Donald Boudreaux sends a letter to the New York Times:
Mr. Bernstein’s denial that evidence exists of a negative relationship between regulation and economic growth is startlingly mistaken. Here are just two (of many) instances of what Mr. Bernstein describes as “virtually impossible.”
In a 2003 paper, Alberto Alesina, Silvia Ardagna, Giuseppe Nicoletti, and Fabio Schiantarelli found that “various measures of product market regulation are negatively related to investment, which is, of course, an important engine of growth.” And in a 2016 study, Bentley Coffey, Patrick McLaughlin, and Pietro Peretto reported the following: “Using a 22-industry dataset that covers 1977 through 2012, the study finds that regulation – by distorting the investment choices that lead to innovation – has created a considerable drag on the economy, amounting to an average reduction in the annual growth rate of the US gross domestic product (GDP) of 0.8 percent.”
One can dispute the methods and conclusions of these and other such studies. But googling “deregulation” and “economic growth” makes it virtually impossible to take Mr. Bernstein’s assertion seriously.
One of the first Google finds is this VoxEu article, "How deregulation and globalisation interact to boost economic growth," which is worth reading. Sean Dougherty, an OECD researcher, and Sarra Ben Yahmed of the Centre of European Economic Research, write:
Enthusiasm for reducing domestic regulation, or ‘red tape’, has been gaining momentum in some OECD countries, and there are many reasons to think that reducing such red tape – including at local levels – could be beneficial for productivity growth by encouraging firm entry, competition, and efficiency gains. Evidence from an analysis of firms and industries in panels across OECD countries suggests that this is indeed the case (OECD 2017). Easing the strictness of regulation in network industries (e.g. energy, telecommunications, and transport) especially, as well as in retail and professional services, would improve productivity and competitiveness in downstream sectors, not least manufacturing, which use services from these upstream industries as inputs for their own production.
The latest OECD Going for Growth report finds evidence that deregulation leads to economic growth. Or does the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development not pass Bernstein's muster for a legitimate source?

Monday, January 01, 2018
Why the Buffalo Sabres are the home team against the New York Rangers in NYC
Last May, Reason's Eric Boehm explained the tax laws affecting today's Winter Classic outdoor NHL game between the Buffalo Sabres and New York Rangers:
[T]hat game will be an intra-state battle between the New York Rangers and the Buffalo Sabres, and the contest will be played at Citi Field, home of baseball's New York Mets. The stadium is located in Queens, less than 10 miles from Madison Square Garden, where the Rangers' normally play, but the Sabres will be the "home" team for the game, despite the fact that they hail from a city more than 350 miles away.
The reason, as the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle uncovered this week: tax breaks.
Specifically, one very peculiar tax break that applies only to Madison Square Garden.
Thanks to state lawmakers in New York, the "most famous arena in the world" is also one of the least taxed. Madison Square Garden has a full exemption from property taxes, but the exemption is contingent on having both the National Basketball Association's New York Knicks and the NHL's Rangers remain full-time residents of the building. Playing even one home game somewhere else could cost the arena's owners—who also happen to own both teams—as much as $42 million annually.
The special exemption was written into state law in 1982 in an effort to keep the Knicks and Rangers from following through on threats to leave Manhattan for a new stadium. It certainly accomplished that, but it's hard to justify such a narrowly tailored giveaway that benefits just a single business at the expense of all other New Yorkers.
The Madison Square Garden Company, which owns the arena and the two teams, certainly doesn't need the corporate welfare. According to the D&C, the publicly traded company has a market value of more than $4.8 billion. New York City's Independent Budget Office—basically the city's number-crunching equivalent to the Congressional Budget Office—says the Madison Square Garden tax exemption is worth an estimated $42 million for the city's upcoming fiscal year (up from just $17 million in 2013, before a $1 billion renovation of the arena).
Efforts to get rid of the tax break for the billion-dollar sports conglomerate have failed. I don't really want New York City politicians to have $42 million more to spend, but this is a tax break that desperately needs repealing. Considering that NYC collects $24 billion in property taxes (about four-tenths of city revenues), $42 million wouldn't provide that much relief for other property owners, either. This is all about the principle that MSGC doesn't need or deserve the tax break or the (slight) competitive advantage of a "road" game in their own backyard.