Free Markets, Free People

Miscellaneous

Painting the map… different.

Some of you have already seen this graphic.  It’s what the United States woud look like if all 50 had the same population, with a few extra factors taken into account so that the borders still make as much sense as they can.

Neil Freeman / fake is the new real

The extra factors include keeping almost all existing counties whole, aiming for compact shapes and not splitting up metro areas unless really necessary.  They also try to keep drainage basins together.  Click on the picture if you want to see the whole proposal.

The purpose of this exercise is to solve the perceived problem of unequal representation in the federal government. This way, not only do all U.S. senators represent the same number of people, but so do all members of the House of Representatives.  So each person has equal representation in the Electoral College as well, though of course some states would still be more competitive than others.  (Oh, and DC gets to drop the “Taxation Without Representation” license plates.)

This isn’t intended as a serious proposal, but it mixes two things that I love because they both tug the mind out of its usual grooves of thought:

  1. altered maps – When you first saw a simple “upside-down” map of the world, didn’t it just demand to be stared at for a while?
  2. visualizations of unusual political/social reform proposals – It’s easy to think of the status quo as natural, and easier yet not to think of why things are quite the way they are; illustrating the world in a way markedly different from reality challenges the mind to justify the current order.  I suspect this has something to do with my enjoyment of sci-fi and historical what-ifs; instinctually turning toward such questioning may be a common trait among libertarians.

I try not to be too hasty in throwing out the current order; Burke and Hayek had useful insights about the limits of knowledge and reason.  So I haven’t adopted this reform proposal, but it has been fun thinking about it.  I even spent part of today lightly crunching the county-level numbers from the U.S. Senate elections since 2008, just to see how it would affect the balance of power there.  (I still haven’t gotten around to checking how it would affect recent presidential elections.)

But beyond the electoral reform, you can spin your mind for hours about the economic and cultural consequences of following these simple and (each taken in isolation) sensible algorithms.  The artist who created the map asked people to “take it easy with the emails about the sacred soil of Texas” – though I do wonder whether the four senators from Dallas-Fort Worth and the greater Houston area would be very different from the senators Texas usually elects.  What else jumps to mind?

  • Just try to picture the kind of senators the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, New York City, and Chicago are likely to elect when they don’t have to appeal to a swath of suburban and rural voters.  Picture it!
    • The first three of those metro areas got more than 75% of the benefit of housing-related tax benefits like the mortgage-interest tax deduction, according to a 2001 study.
    • L.A. and NYC would have less influence on the sources of much of their drinking water; that could easily tip the balance and allow landowners upstate to open their land to energy development.
  • For that matter, imagine governing the Great State of People Who Commute to Chicago.  “Chicagoland Minus Chicago.”
  • Y’know, if you look at how Susan Collins and Kelly Ayotte did in Casco counties in 2008 and 2010, compared to Elizabeth Warren’s margins in her part of the new state, it’s not hard to imagine Republican senators representing Boston.  Just sayin’.
  • Chinati, the rather heavily Hispanic border state, narrowly voted more for Republican senators than Democratic ones in 2012.
  • The Black Belt in the South appears to prevent none of the new states from electing Republican senators, including Ozark, Tidewater, and even Atlanta, though it would have been close in 2008.
  • Right now, the heaviest dependence on direct government benefits is particularly concentrated in certain places, and mostly not in urban counties.
  • Specifically, the Coal Country patch from West Virginia into southern Ohio and eastern Kentucky would be split between more states, while the patch of heavy dependence in the Ozarks (southern Missouri into northern Arkansas) would be concentrated into… Ozark.  The most dependent part of Michigan is combined with the most dependent part of Wisconsin.  The most dependent parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado would be combined in Shiprock.
  • Would the big cities that were disconnected from poorer hinterlands become less tolerant of federal redistribution?  Would Boston, now sharing a much larger territory with more people dependent on benefits, take a dimmer view of state-level redistribution?
  • Meanwhile, the urban centers of today’s Colorado would get to be in the same state as the Bakken shale oil boom: Ogallala, which is also a great beneficiary of…
  • Agricultural subsidies!  You can already see the representatives of Nodaway wearing their Farm Bill buttons. Then there’s Ozark again, straddling both banks of the Mississippi River and getting another dose of federal money.  Another notable dependent: Tidewater.

This is going to a lot of trouble to ensure that a voter in Billings has the same level of representation as a voter in Cheyenne, and that a Californian has equal say in the Senate as a Rhode Islander.  But maybe all that trouble from such simple rules is why it’s so ripe for speculation.

So lift those heavy eyelids

What if people could easily function with much less sleep?

Jon M at Sociological Speculation asked that question after observing that “new drugs such as Modafinil appear to vastly reduce the need for sleep without significant side effects (at least so far).” At extremes, as Jon M noted in a follow-up post, modafinil allows a reduction to 2.5 hours a night, but “the more common experiences seem to be people who reduce their sleep by a few hours habitually and people who use the drugs to stay up for extended periods once in a while without suffering the drastic cognitive declines insomnia normally entails.”  In fact, alertness is not the only reported cognitive benefit of the drug.

The US brand of modafinil, Provigil, did over $1.1 billion in US sales last year, but for the moment let’s dispense with the question of whether modafinil is everything it’s cracked up to be.  We’re speculating about the consequences of cheaply reducing or even eliminating the need for sleep for the masses.

If I can add to what’s already been said by several fine bloggers – Garett Jones at EconLog on the likely effect on wages, then Matt Yglesias at Slate sounding somewhat dour about the prospect, and Megan McArdle at the Daily Beast having fun with the speculation – the bottom line is that widely reducing the need for sleep would be a revolutionary good, as artificial light was.

For a sense of scale, there are about 252 million Americans age 15+, and on average they’re each awake about 5,585 hours a year.  Giving them each two extra hours a night for a year would be equivalent to adding the activity of 33 million people, without having to shelter, clothe, and feed 33 million more people.

Whatever objections critics have, sleeping less will be popular to the extent that people think the costs are low.  For all the billions of dollars spent trying to add years to their older lives, obviously people would spend more to add life to their younger years.  Who ever said, “If only I’d had less time!”?

Consider that the average employed parent usually sleeps 7.6 hours each workday.  He spends 8.8 of his remaining hours on work and related activities, 1.2 hours caring for others, and 2.5 hours on leisure and sports.

If he spends more time working productively (i.e. serving others), that’s good for both him and society.  The time and effort invested in birthing, educating, and sorting people for jobs is tremendous, so getting more out of people who are already born, educated, and sorted is just multiplying the return on sunk costs.

That’s a godsend for any society undergoing a demographic transition after the typical fall in birthrates, because aside from hoping for faster productivity growth, the specific ways to address having fewer workers per retiree – higher taxes, lower benefits, more immigration, or somehow spurring more people to invest in babies for decades – are unpleasant or difficult or both.

And if he uses extra hours to pursue happiness in other ways, that’s generally fine too.  A lot of people may simply get more out of their cable subscription. Others will finally have time for building and maintaining their families, reading, exercising, or learning a skill.

Yes, once a substantial number of people are enhancing their performance, others will likely have to follow suit if they want to compete.  But then, that’s also true of artificial light and many other technologies.  If people naturally slept only four hours a night and felt rested and alert, who would support a law forcing everyone to sleep twice as long, cutting a fifth of their waking hours so that everyone would slow down to the speed that some people prefer to live their lives?

I don’t think most people have such a strong presumption in favor of sleep.  We like feeling rested, or dreaming, but not sleeping as such; a substantial minority of Americans sleep less than advised despite the known costs, and so reveal their preference for waking life over oblivion.

To give is to waste?

My friend George Scoville wrote a Black Friday-appropriate post on a problem with gift-giving, which touches on a broader point that libertarians should heed.

A microeconomics paper that’s bounced around econ-blogs for several years says gift-giving causes a huge deadweight loss: when someone else picks a gift for you, it may not be what you would have bought for yourself when you would have bought it, which normally implies that goods and services are being distributed inefficiently.

If that’s true, then Christmas is a tremendously wasteful institution, within an order of magnitude of the income tax, and we’d be better off giving each other cash gifts.

Humbug!

First, on a technical note, that paper was written in 1993, before Amazon wish lists and social media made it easier to detect people’s interests and needs, so perhaps we’re getting better at matching gifts with recipients.

More importantly, the paper fell short of meaningfully capturing deadweight loss, because it focused entirely on the value of the goods.  Gift economies mostly operate on another kind of supply and demand: the desire for social cohesion, meaning closer relationships with family, friends, and other peers.

This is no trivial matter: relationships with people we can count on make us happier, healthier, and more successful.  Anything that helps to build and cement those bonds is valuable, and while some academics and marketers try to quantify that value (it may be more than you’d think), the normal rule is that relationships of trust should not be fungible with cash.  All societies have some social taboo against trading off the sacred and the mundane, which sometimes leads to absurdly stupid conclusions, but also allows people to build trust without worrying that anything intimate or of an extremely hard-to-price value (what’s the rest of your life worth?) will be easily sold for any of the mundane things that can be bought with cash.

It’s awkward when people give each other cash as gifts even if the amount is equal, and gift exchanges in which only one side puts any thought into it show unequal empathy.  If you put a lot of thought into anticipating someone’s wants, and that person gives you a very generic gift, it’s like being put in the Friend Zone.

The point of gifts is to trip a hardwire in the brains of social mammals: cycles of giving and gratitude that go beyond simple reciprocity.  When you’re trading cash, everyone is acutely aware of the value of what’s been exchanged, and there’s no fudge factor in the brain for “the thought that counts.”

That’s something we disagreeable, rationalistic libertarians should keep in mind, because the gift economy is a powerful force in human relations that resists and resents the intrusion of market forces, even if markets efficiently bring us the gifts.

Musings

A couple of things have been on my mind recently, and this seeme like as good a time as any to get them off my chest. So, I’ll just skip from subject to subject until I get tired. But, I might as well start off with current events.

I guess most of you saw the debate between Eddie Munster and Smirky McAngry this week. Joe Biden’s ability to sit there and lie so magisterially and with such confident assurance really is something to behold. Like when he declared that he voted against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Both of which, of course, he voted for. He just boldly asserts this utter crap, and nobody ever calls him on it.

"You know, Joe, I got a copy of the Congressional Record lying around somewhere that says you did vote to approve the AUMF in both Afghanistan and Iraq. And you voted back in 98—during Operation Desert Fox—to make removing Saddam Hussein from power the policy of the United States Government. Oh, and by the way, not that it’s relevant at the moment, back in ’83, you voted to approve a constitutional amendment to overturn Roe v. Wade. You think you might want to backtrack on your last statement, there, Joe?"

Never happens.

During the debate, Joe’s smirk struck me as exactly the kind of condescending arrogance that, if it was coming at you from anyone else, you’d want to erase with an overhand right. His whole schtick was irritating. The constant interruptions, the yelling, and the condescending laughing were exactly the kinds of things that, if you pull ’em on some guy in a bar argument, will get your ass kicked.

The Left loved it, of course. They thought Good Ol’ Joe was finally sticking it to the wingnuts. And why shouldn’t they? Anytime anyone says anything nasty about them, their vaginas get all hurty, and they start moaning about "civility". But that’s not a rule they’re all that interested in, themselves. Some Lefty dolt on twitter thought that, considering Ryan’s position on abortion, his daughter should get "f*cked and pregnant when she’s 13".

Though, really, that’s pretty tame stuff compared to what comes over the transom at Michelle Malkin or Sister Toldjah.

It’s just amazing to me that these Lefties, who see themselves as the good guys, and the oh-so-compassionate defenders of the downtrodden, have these deep wells of rage that come spewing out at the first opportunity.

Amazing, but not surprising, really, because the political divide in this country really isn’t about politics anymore. It’s a battle of Good Vs. Evil. They are the forces of cosmic justice, and if you disagree with them, then you’re "the other", and not really as fully human as they are. Your disagreement is proof of your moral deficiency.

And, hey, there are people on the Right who feel the same way about lefties. I don’t think Lefties are bad people, necessarily. I do think they tend to be dumber than a bag of hammers, though.

Which is why I really don’t see us all living together in the same country much longer.

We don’t even speak the same language anymore. For instance, take the term "fairness". To me that refers to a process that is impartial, and predictable. If the process receives input X, then output Y tends to result. To a Progressive, fairness is a result. The process is immaterial, as long as it produces equal results. If it doesn’t, the process is flawed.

Those aren’t anything like the same thing. If we don’t even share concepts, there’s no way we’ll ever be satisfied with governing each other.

By the way, who was Biden thinking would be impressed by his debate performance, other than Obama fanboys? Who was he trying to convince?

I mean, usually, when you want to persuade people to join you in a cause, you don’t try to irritate the crap out of them.  You try to appeal to them through reason, good feeling, and moral persuasion. Smirky didn’t try to do much of that.

Maybe the whole point of Joe’s performance was to reassure the base that the Obama team was willing to fight hard. But if you’re four weeks out from an election and you’re still trying to motivate your base, then you’re probably in a fair amount of trouble.

The Lefties were just ecstatic that Joe was so Rude to Paul Ryan. They think that’s exactly what he deserves: rudeness, and arrogant condescension. Because, it’s not like he’s really a human being, or anything.

There were some big spikes in consumer confidence this week. Despite rising food and gas prices—the CPI rose 1.1% last month on those two items alone—and despite 20 million or so people not having jobs, folks seemed to have more confidence in the future.

The funny thing is that the consumer confidence surveys for this week were all taken after Obama got shelled by Romney in the first presidential debate. I wonder if that spike in consumer confidence popped up because people think there’s a better chance that Obama will be heading back to Chicago in January? Or, maybe even a leading indicator of that?

Baseball is designed to break your heart. I just watched the Cardinals come back from a 6-0 deficit to go ahead 9-7 in a 4-run 9th inning and beat the Nationals. Why won’t the Cardinals just die, for God’s sake?

I’ve spent my whole life hating the Cardinals. If I were to find an actual cardinal in the forest, twittering with happiness in the dappled sunlight, and I could get it to fly gently into my hand, I would squeeze it until I heard all its little bones break like tiny little twigs.

Then I would cackle with glee.

~
Dale Franks
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Saturday Link-O-Rama

Another week, another round of stories I just couldn’t get to in any detail:

-Uh, I don’t think this guy understands what “anti-bullying” really means.  And he certainly doesn’t help his case when he does precisely what he denounces.  Dope.

-I kind of think it has: “Has America Been Crippled By Intellectual Idiots?”

-Investors Business Daily talking about “journalists” (yes the scare quotes are intentional): “It’s Cool To Be In The Tank For Obama”.  But they’ll still want us to laud them for being “objective” and “hard nosed”, right?

-About time.  New professional behavioral guidelines have been issued for the Secret Service.  This only intensifies my belief that this sort of behavior was widespread and fairly common and that leadership was either clueless or did the ole “wink, wink, nudge, nudge”.  Either way, higher heads should roll.  And yeah, I’m a hard ass about stuff like this.

-An interesting exploration of the US labor participation rate.

-Students may love the idea of the redistribution of wealth (when it comes to paying their student loans), but when the example is redistribution of grades, not so much.

-The LA Times carries a story saying the US is signaling a major shift on the Iran nuclear program in which the Obama administration might support letting Iran continue enriching uranium up to 5% purity if it agrees to other U.N. restrictions.  Of course that begs the question as to why the administration has also sent a flock of F-22s, our most advanced air superiority fighter, to bases in the sandbox?

-Embattled Attorney General Eric Holder has declared there’s “more work to do” before his term is done.  Like what?  Scouting out country club jails for his future incarceration?  The guy has got to be the worst and most corrupt AG we’ve seen in quite some time.

-How to win friends and influence an industry – “crucify them”.  Remember, the government is a servant of the people … right?

-I know this will come as a complete shock, but did you know that Social Security and Medicare are going to go broke even sooner than we thought?  Who knew?  According to experts, each household owes $538,000 toward unfunded SS and Medicare liabilities.  Or, $63 trillion, with a “t”, dollars.  Anyone out there want to argue we’ve been well served by our political class?

-I don’t know if you’ve been keeping up with the Senate race in MA, but Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard professor and darling of the left is finding out that politics is a bit more hard ball than being in the academic in-group.  Especially when you can’t support your claims.

-Finally the Zimmerman narrative has begun to crumble completely.  The man who was portrayed initially by omission as a white man is apparently a man of very mixed race, to include African ancestry.  Also interesting is after you read this story, you’ll most likely have much the same thought as I did – I now know more about Zimmerman than I do about the President of the United States.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

Saturday Link-O-Rama

Got to tell you, my heart just goes out to the poor baby </sarc>

Booed at Fenway.  More unpopular than the Yankees.

And meanwhile, the big money just isn’t rolling in like it did.

But guess who is still bundling for Obama?

Here we go again.  Why don’t we just get it over with and make it $100 an hour. $500?  They just don’t get it do they?

Guess what industry is driving Ohio’s economic recovery and … jobs?

Is California becoming unaffordable for the majority of people?

Really?

Why blacks die younger.  Hint: It has nothing to do with race.

Why the middle class is doomed.

Is the left committed to “Social Creationism?”

The UN: A case study in failure.

What obstructs the “pursuit of happiness”?

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

Saturday Link-O-Rama

Hard to find the words to find the uh, “winning” in this quote:

“We were winning. We were winning in a very different way because we were touching hearts. We were raising issues that, well, frankly, a lot of people didn’t want to have raised”—Rick Santorum in his concession speech this week.

Um hmmm.

Is Crony Capitalism the reason your cell phone bill is 80% too high?

Factory farm raised beef is horrible, but organically raised beef?  It’s worse.  For what?  Well global warming of course:

Grass-grazing cows emit considerably more methane than grain-fed cows. Pastured organic chickens have a 20 percent greater impact on global warming. It requires 2 to 20 acres to raise a cow on grass. If we raised all the cows in the United States on grass (all 100 million of them), cattle would require (using the figure of 10 acres per cow) almost half the country’s land (and this figure excludes space needed for pastured chicken and pigs). A tract of land just larger than France has been carved out of the Brazilian rain forest and turned over to grazing cattle. Nothing about this is sustainable.

Is the Federal Government making a move to take more control of Natural Gas production in the states by Executive Order?

The federal government is concerned, since natural gas volumetric exploration in 2011 was so large, it eclipsed the all-time high production record of 1973, it must “ensure that we can successfully tap this critical resource for decades to come, we must develop it safely and responsibly.” Translation, we must control it and reduce its production so that our air and water are safe according to the EPA dictates. This is interesting because natural gas is one of the cleanest sources of energy.

Why Obama is no “Energy President”, or, perhaps, is the Anti-Energy President.

Rev. Jeremiah Wright makes the point that he’s never changed his preaching style and that Obama listened to that preaching for 20 years.  Who is lying here?

Secret Service agents misbehaving?

If you’re up for reading about one of the most absurd wastes of money it has been my misfortune to run across, hit the link.  In the big scheme of things, it’s not a lot of money, but when you read the whole story my guess is you’ll be seeing red … just like the financial red ink our country is drowning in precisely because of bureaucratic, wasteful and downright stupid spending like this.

The recent end of one man’s “white guilt”.  Mine died decades ago.

A pretty poor attempt to justify the healthcare mandate legally.

About those “green” jobs.

Farrakhan – Don’t breed with whites!  And get a load of this as well.  And finally, this.

DoJ has become a horrible joke.

Enjoy your Saturday.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

Saturday link-o-rama

Good for thee, but not for me – this administration is, well, just something.  Apparently, lowering taxes to spur economic growth only works in China.  If you suggest it here, well, you’re an extremist:

While making positive comments about the most recent five-year-plan developed by the Communist government of the People’s Republic of China, Undersecretary of State Robert Hormats specifically applauded China’s decision to lower taxes because it would spur economic growth.

Instead you’re going to hear the left double down on income inequality as a prelude to their tax the rich panacea.  When they do, keep this in mind:

“Any analysis of taxes paid in high tax-and-spend countries shows that the U.S. has the most progressive income tax system in the world.”

Speaking of taxes, the inevitable is about to happen in Germany.  Inevitable what?  The inevitable “solution” to an out of control welfare state.  Germany has been much more successful than some of the other European states in putting this off, but apparently the time has come.

GERMANY is proposing to levy extra taxes on the young to pay for the costs of the country’s growing numbers of old people, under government plans for a ”demographic reserve” levy.

The usual political over promise that’s been woefully underfunded.  Of course the same problem exists here as well.

I always say there are only a few polls to watch between elections.  One is the “right track/wrong track” polls that measure whether people think the country is on one or the other tracks .  Real Clear Politics presently has that at 60% wrong track and 33.7% wrong track.

Can anyone ever again consider NBC a news organization?

John Derbyshire hits bottom with this piece of garbage.

The Hill publishes a piece that just takes your breath away.  It is so poorly written and argued you have to wonder if they have been hacked by a 12 year old and just don’t know it yet.

Anti-Semite MJ Rosenberg, of Media Matters For America, resigns and hits the trail – sort of.

When you chum for sharks, what would you expect to show up?

Best first pitch ever.

Egypt (Arab Spring you know) continues to pursue pro-democracy American NGO workers.  The country has requested Interpol arrest them.  This while Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is welcomed in the White House.

Economic “recovery” is slow and weak due to Obama Administration policies.

The annual silliness surrounding membership at Augusta National is upon us.  In a free country you get to run your business the way you want too … and suffer the economic consequences of your decisions.  Forcing Augusta to allow women won’t empower them a bit.  Women starting their own “women’s only” golf club will.  And it certainly isn’t the business of politicians.

Global warming alarmists have almost become pathetic in their desperation.  James Hansen puts the cherry on top of that desperation.

Obama declares “women are not an interest group” although he and the Democrats clearly believe they are and have spun up this phony “war on women” with that in mind.

Finally – the real unemployment rate, as we’ve pointed out for quite some time, isn’t what is officially touted (8.2%).  Instead it is more like 10.9%.

Enjoy your weekend.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

Link-o-rama

Sometimes there are a lot of stories out there on a day but few that really spark a need for a lengthy discussion.  Today, at least to this point, is one of those.  Yes, all attention is focused on SCOTUS and the ObamaCare law, but that will be later in the day.

But there are some things I’d like to just hit with a short comment or two.

Such as the fact that Newt Gingrich simply doesn’t know when it’s over.  Hey Newt, it’s over and charging $50 bucks for a campaign photo isn’t going to endear you to those whose support you’re seeking.  And by the way, when the press pulls all their people from your campaign, it’s a sign that even most addle-brained politicians can usually figure out.

Anyone else as appalled at the “love fest” Dick Cheney sparked by having the audacity to accept a heart transplant.  And how about this “bioethicist” who weighed in saying Cheney was “too old” to qualify and shouldn’t have gotten one.  But remember, in the future, there will be no “death panels”.  Newsweek again proves why it’s not worth reading anymore.

Do you remember all the lefties hyperventilating over the rise of militias a while back?  And the Southern Poverty Law Center claiming the they were the internal threat of the future.  That was all driven by a group called the Hutaree militia group out of Michigan.  They were arrested by federal agents and charged with conspiring to commit sedition and conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction among other things.  Yesterday:

U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts granted defense requests for acquittal on all charges against five of the defendants and the most serious charges against two others: alleged ringleader David Stone Sr. and his son Joshua Stone.

Acting after prosecutors rested their case, Roberts ruled the government didn’t have enough evidence to back its claims.

Given this DoJ, is anyone surprised?

Under the category, “there is no cure for stupid”, we have some wannabe assassins, to include a former army officer and an active duty soldier, who’ve been plotting to do “wet work” with undercover DEA agents (thinking they were drug cartel members) for a year.  You’ve got to read the story to believe it.  My guess is there are way too many ninja movies in these bozo’s past.

Spike Lee is a dumb ass.

The real reason to push the global warming scare.

Astroturfing Allen West.  Hey, why not?  The professional protesters on the left are always looking for a new gig, especially now that OWS is winding down.

VIPER teams?  Did you know that TSA is now out on the highways and byways?

Zimmerman/Martin case – it has nothing to do with the FL “stand your ground” law.  In fact, it is “legally irrelevant”.

EPA slap down.  Nothing like missing a deadline to act by 3 years.  The court was not impressed.

Have we hit rock bottom on this little charade yet?

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO