Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

Economic Statistics for 25 Mar 15

The MBA reports that mortgage applications rose 9.5% last week, with purchases up 5.0% and refis up 12.0%, on lower interest rates.

Durable goods orders fell -1.4% in February, while orders less transportation fell -0.4%. On a year-over-year basis, orders are up only 0.6%, while ex-transportation orders are up just 2.3%.


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What are we enabling in our colleges? Part II

This is actually quite amusing to me because it is the left getting caught up in a trap of their own making.  Via Powerline we learn of Laura Kipnes, a Northwestern University feminist film professor (no, really, that’s what she is) who penned a piece entitled “Sexual Paranoia Strikes Academe” for the Chronical of Higher Education in which she had the temerity to say:

If this is feminism, it’s feminism hijacked by melodrama . . .

But what do we expect will become of students, successfully cocooned from uncomfortable feelings, once they leave the sanctuary of academe for the boorish badlands of real life? What becomes of students so committed to their own vulnerability, conditioned to imagine they have no agency, and protected from unequal power arrangements in romantic life? I can’t help asking, because there’s a distressing little fact about the discomfort of vulnerability, which is that it’s pretty much a daily experience in the world, and every sentient being has to learn how to somehow negotiate the consequences and fallout, or go through life flummoxed at every turn. . .

The question, then, is what kind of education prepares people to deal with the inevitably messy gray areas of life? Personally I’d start by promoting a less vulnerable sense of self than the one our new campus codes are peddling. Maybe I see it this way because I wasn’t educated to think that holders of institutional power were quite so fearsome, nor did the institutions themselves seem so mighty. Of course, they didn’t aspire to reach quite as deeply into our lives back then. What no one’s much saying about the efflorescence of these new policies is the degree to which they expand the power of the institutions themselves. . .

The feminism I identified with as a student stressed independence and resilience. In the intervening years, the climate of sanctimony about student vulnerability has grown too thick to penetrate; no one dares question it lest you’re labeled antifeminist. . . The new codes sweeping American campuses aren’t just a striking abridgment of everyone’s freedom, they’re also intellectually embarrassing. Sexual paranoia reigns; students are trauma cases waiting to happen. If you wanted to produce a pacified, cowering citizenry, this would be the method. And in that sense, we’re all the victims.

Seems pretty tame to me, even though it also seems a pretty accurate description of the problem that now exists on any number of college and university campuses.

As you might imagine, to the feminist left at the college, that’s heresy.  And, as if she were an Islamic apostate, she was immediately attacked. Protests erupted on the Northwestern campus, “complete with feminists aping the mattress-carrying stunt of Emma Sulkowicz at Columbia University.” How dare she say what she said?!

Interestingly enough, the publication which came to Kipnes defense was none other than the bedrock of the far left – “The Nation”.  It too seems to realize that enough is enough when it comes to stifling free thought:

As the protesters wrote on a Facebook page for their event, they wanted the administration to do something about “the violence expressed by Kipnis’ message.” Their petition called for “swift, official condemnation of the sentiments expressed by Professor Kipnis in her inflammatory article,” and demanded “that in the future, this sort of response comes automatically.” (University President Morton Schapiro told The Daily Northwestern, a student newspaper, that he would consider it, and the students will soon be meeting with the school’s Vice President for Student Affairs to further press their case.) Jazz Stephens, one of the march’s organizers, described Kipnis’s ideas as “terrifying.” Another student told The Daily Northwestern that she was considering bringing a formal complaint because she believes that Kipnis was mocking her concerns about being triggered in a film class, concerns she’d confided privately. “I would like to see some sort of repercussions just so she understands the effect something like this has on her students and her class,” said the student, who Kipnis hadn’t named.

Kipnis could hardly have invented a response that so neatly proved her argument. . .

This atmosphere is intellectually stifling. “Every professor’s affected by the current climate, unless they’re oblivious,” Kipnis told me via e-mail. “I got many dozens of emails from professors (and administrators and deans and one ex college president) describing how fearful they are of speaking honestly or dissenting on any of these issues. Someone on my campus—tenured—wrote me about literally lying awake at night worrying about causing trauma to a student, becoming a national story, losing her job, and not being able to support her kid. It seemed completely probable to her that a triggered student could take down a tenured professor with a snowball of social media.” . . .

“It’s the infantilization of women fused with identity politics, so that being vulnerable, a potential victim—or survivor, in the new parlance—becomes a form of identity,” Kipnis told me. “I wrote a chapter on the politics of vulnerability in The Female Thing from 2006, and since then it strikes me that vulnerability has an ever more aggressive edge to it, which is part of what makes the sexual culture of the moment so incoherent.”

As a quick aside, this statement had me laughing out loud – “Every professor’s affected by the current climate, unless they’re oblivious.” Yes, Ms. Kipnis, we agree – we dealt with Professor Oblivious yesterday.

Moving on though, it appears that the left is eating its own.  The Nation realizes that what has happened has become “intellectually stifling”.  It was a natural end state to the creeping oppression of speech codes, the “right” not to be offended and the idea that colleges should be “safe spaces” removed from the reality of the world where nasty things (and ideas apparently) can hurt you.  If you don’t agree or if you wander outside the bright lines of approved speech and thought, they think nothing of subjecting the violator to everything they’re trying to avoid. Heresy is, after all, a serious matter when speaking of “religion”, and that certainly is how the devotees treat their ideology.

Steve Hayward wonders that if these attacks will actually cause the administrators at Northwestern to grow a spine and “tell the mob to sod off”.  My guess?  No, not yet.  Don’t forget it was these university administrations that put this structure in place as well as aiding and abetting its growth.  They’re hardly about to now say they were wrong to let this intellectual fascism bloom.

Another interesting perspective was found on Tumblr by Hayward.  Another professor confessing his or her fears:

Personally, liberal students scare the sh*t out of me. I know how to get conservative students to question their beliefs and confront awful truths, and I know that, should one of these conservative students make a facebook page calling me a communist or else seek to formally protest my liberal lies, the university would have my back. I would not get fired for pissing off a Republican, so long as I did so respectfully, and so long as it happened in the course of legitimate classroom instruction.

The same cannot be said of liberal students. All it takes is one slip—not even an outright challenging of their beliefs, but even momentarily exposing them to any uncomfortable thought or imagery—and that’s it, your classroom is triggering, you are insensitive, kids are bringing mattresses to your office hours and there’s a twitter petition out demanding you chop off your hand in repentance.

Paranoid? Yes, of course. But paranoia isn’t uncalled for within the current academic job climate. Jobs are really, really, really, really hard to get. And since no reasonable person wants to put their livelihood in danger, we reasonably do not take any risks vis-a-vis momentarily upsetting liberal students. And so we leave upsetting truths unspoken, uncomfortable texts unread.

The fact that this problem is now a monster that devours its own is probably considered an “unintended consequence”.  The fact that they didn’t take into consideration that limiting speech they found “unacceptable” would come back to bite them seems to be a result of some very sloppy thinking, doesn’t it?  Or was there any real thinking going on at all when they began to impose their will?  And then, of course, there’s the problem of the inmates essentially running the asylum.  Hayward’s hope that a spine will somehow grow among the administrators of that school is a fairly farfetched hope.  There is no prior history of that so why would we expect this instance to be any different?  Until the administration does act in such a manner that tells the students to “sod off”, we shouldn’t expect it at all.

In the meantime, pop some popcorn, pull up a chair and enjoy the show.

~McQ

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Economic Statistics for 24 Mar 15

Consumer prices rose 0.2% in February at both the headline and core levels, as energy prices made a bit of a comeback. On a year-over-year basis, the CPI is still down -0.1% overall, but is up 1.7% less food and energy.

Redbook reports that last week’s retail sales rose to a moderate 2.8% on a year-ago basis, from the previous week’s 2.7%.

The FHFA House Price Index rose a lower-than-expected 0.3% in January. On a year-over-year basis, the index is up 5.1%.

The Markit PMI manufacturing index flash for March rose 0.9 points from the February final to 55.3.

New home sales picked up sharply in February to a 539,000 annual rate from January’s 481,000. The median price still fell a sharp 4.8% to $275,500, despite a tightening of supply from 5.1 months to 4.7 months.

The Richmond Fed Manufacturing Index fell sharply from 0 to -8 in March, as both new orders and backlogs declined.


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Economic Statistics for 23 Mar 15

The Atlanta Fed reports that the year-ahead inflation expectations of businesses were 1.7% in March.

Existing home sales rose 1.2% in February to a still-lackluster 4.88 million annual pace, though the year-on-year rise of 4.7% shows some strength.

The Chicago Fed National Activity index was -0.11 in February, while the January reading has been revised down to -0.10 from 0.13. The 3-month average is now negative, at -0.08.


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What are we enabling in our colleges?

Jonathan Adler points to a NY Times piece by Judith Shulevitz about the “infantilizing” of college students, enabled, of course, by the administrations of various colleges and universities.  Shulevitz:

Safe spaces are an expression of the conviction, increasingly prevalent among college students, that their schools should keep them from being “bombarded” by discomfiting or distressing viewpoints. Think of the safe space as the live-action version of the better-known trigger warning, a notice put on top of a syllabus or an assigned reading to alert students to the presence of potentially disturbing material. . . . the notion that ticklish conversations must be scrubbed clean of controversy has a way of leaking out and spreading. Once you designate some spaces as safe, you imply that the rest are unsafe. It follows that they should be made safer. . . . while keeping college-level discussions “safe” may feel good to the hypersensitive, it’s bad for them and for everyone else. People ought to go to college to sharpen their wits and broaden their field of vision. Shield them from unfamiliar ideas, and they’ll never learn the discipline of seeing the world as other people see it. They’ll be unprepared for the social and intellectual headwinds that will hit them as soon as they step off the campuses whose climates they have so carefully controlled. What will they do when they hear opinions they’ve learned to shrink from? If they want to change the world, how will they learn to persuade people to join them?

We’ve talked about this in the past – this escape from reality which, in many cases, is simply an extension of many students life to that point. That has been enabled most times by parents who see their role as protectors rather than teachers. And they hand that responsibility off to college administrations who seem eager to continue the escape from reality.

What that has begotten is, ironically, a huge dollop of intolerance. These children don’t feels safe unless everyone “conforms” to a comfortable set of norms and beliefs. Those norms and beliefs are never to be challenged or argued because somewhere along the line they were graced with a pseudo right to never be offended or “uncomfortable” about anything.

Wow … a completely different world than I grew up in.

Addler adds these comments that I think are both appropriate and pertinant:

Three comments:

1) It’s not entirely clear how prevalent this phenomenon is. The demand for insulating students from potentially upsetting ideas does, for the moment, appears to come from a vocal minority and does not appear to have widespread support. Yet isn’t that always how these sorts of things start? And isn’t it well established that a vocal and highly motivated minority interest group can have an outsized influence on institutional policies?

2) Efforts to insulate students from challenging and even potentially offensive ideas cuts them off from the world and compromises much of the value of a traditional “liberal” education. It’s like some want to turn universities into the secular equivalents of Ave Maria Town.

3) One of the benefits of having been right-of-center in college was that my political and philosophical views were constantly challenged. There was no “safe space” — and I was better for it. I often felt that I received a better education than many of my peers precisely because I was not able to hold unchallenged assumptions or adopt unquestioned premises.

Point number one is important. We know it goes on, you just have to read Tanya Cohen’s piece to understand that was incubated somewhere and if you bother looking her up, she has connected with a good number of people who agree with her screed on “hate speech”. That sort of intolerance to other ideas came from somewhere. But as Addler points out, she’s hardly a majority, but certainly a part of a vocal minority. Here’s the difference though – while we may point and laugh at her premise, in the society we prefer, she has every right to express her absurd opinion. However, if she were in charge, we’d be in jail … or worse.

Point two is what it is all about. How does one become educated when any “offensive ideas” are excluded from the learning. How does one compare and contrast? How does one learn to reason? Well, “one” doesn’t. They learn only what they’re comfortable with and of course, that will be whatever plays well to their biases and preconceptions. Then they step out into the real world and reality flattens them like a freight train. Naturally they’re totally unprepared for the event.

Finally, point three makes the case for ignoring this “vocal minority” and welcoming dissenting and potentially offensive and upsetting ideas on campus.  It goes back to the two questions I asked in the paragraph above.  The marketplace of ideas is a powerful place and it winnows away ideas and premises that can’t stand the light of true scrutiny.  But if you’re never exposed to it, you have no way to test your premise or challenge your assumptions.  And if that is the case at a college or university, you’re not being educated, you’re being indoctrinated.

~McQ

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Authoritarian “science”

Yesterday, I pointed to an Orwellian piece that was simply a treatise on totalitarianism dressed up for the Freedom Ball.

Here’s another example in our world today as explained by an eminent scientist as he addresses the junk science that masquerades as “climate change”:

Dr. Christopher Essex, professor of Applied Mathematics at the University of Western Ontario, told Breitbart Executive Chairman, Stephen K. Bannon, that political activists, who undermine scientists for not embracing climate change theology, have crossed a line by making direct political attacks on regular scientists, like Willie Soon.

Appearing on Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM, Patriot radio, channel 125, Essex explained that on Sunday he and a group of scientists published a paper which methodically critiqued the Royal Society’s position on climate change, emphasizing areas that were “weak, limited, and flimsy.”

Essex said that there seems to be a cultural shift and that scientific arguments have deteriorated. Individuals in society have moved away from “civilized dialogues in which people have a collegial attitude and work together to try to find the truth.”  Essex characterized  the pro-climate change philosophy as a form of sophistry, catering to popular opinion rather than being concerned with the truth.

The climate change proponents, according to Dr. Essex, are using an old form of Eristic argument–Eris was ancient goddess of chaos. “They are using this very old, but high profile tactic, in the modern world, under the heading or rediscovered by Saul Alinsky’s work,” he contends.

What drew Essex to science was that “it is the ultimate expression of democracy. It gives you the freedom to think as an individual person,” he explained. The Royal Society “has now taken kind of an authoritarian approach, rather than a authoritative approach… and are now taking an official position on climate change,” the mathematician states. Essex doesn’t believe that  they are considering the science.

“In previous generations the scientific organizations knew that they should not do that. The rough and tumble of scientific debate and dialogue should not be suppressed or overcome by some official position on the part of these organizations,” he insisted.

“When they started to write letters from congress to employers telling them that they should expose the people that they don’ like, I think that they crossed a line. Now it’s necessary for us to respond in a way that we as scientists know how to respond, that is scientifically. And that is what we did,” Essex said.

Note his observation of what science used to be and what it is now.  And like the totalitarian/authoritarian left, it will brook no dissent.  Instead of welcoming dissent and different theories, it tries to shut down the other side, making personal attacks and calling for punitive action if their opinion or theory doesn’t conform to the approved “consensus”.

What that does of course, is strip any authority from science as it becomes obvious it is nothing but another political tool.  Science in the service of authoritarian ideology.

Orwell would be amazed today … or maybe not.  I love the line “Orwell wrote “1984” as a warning, not a guide book”.  All too much anymore, it seems more and more of a guide book for a certain segment of the political spectrum.

~McQ

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Economic Statistics for 19 Mar 15

Initial weekly jobless claims 1,000 to 291,000. The 4-week average rose 2,250 to 304,750. Continuing claims fell 11,000 to 2.417 million.

The nation’s current account gap widened sharply by $-14 billion in the 4th quarter, to $-113.5 billion. Relative to GDP, the current account deficit rose 0.4% to 2.6%.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index rose 0.9 points to 44.2 in the latest week.

The general business conditions index of the Philadelphia Fed Survey was little changed in March, down -0.2 points to 5.0.

The Conference Board’s index of leading indicators in February rose 0.2%, with the yield spread as the biggest positive indicator.

The Fed’s balance sheet rose $6.6 billion last week, with total assets of $4.496 trillion. Reserve bank credit rose $10.7 billion.

The Fed reports that M2 money supply fell by $-28.1 billion in the latest week.


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The face of creeping totalitarianism

Someone named Tanya Cohen penned a paragraph that, if you understand the difference between a right and a privilege, will make you cringe in horror:

One of the most admirable things about Europe is that most (if not all) of the right-wing rhetoric that you hear in the US is explicitly against the law there.  For example, attempting to link Islam with terrorism, saying that gay marriage isn’t really marriage, or saying that trans women aren’t really women would get you charged with discrimination and/or incitement to hatred.  Numerous European public figures have been charged with hate crimes for implying that large-scale immigration is connected to higher crime.  In fact, a politician in Sweden was prosecuted for hate crimes for posting statistics about immigrant crime on Facebook.  Assaults on the human dignity of Muslims are simply not tolerated in Europe, and Europe cracks down hard on any attempts to incite hatred against Muslims.  In a notable example, a woman in Austria was convicted of a hate crime for suggesting that the Islamic Prophet Muhammed was a pedophile.  Recently, a man in Sweden was charged with incitement to ethnic hatred for wearing a T-shirt saying “Islam is the devil.”  Nobody in Europe believes that these laws interfere with their sacred, guaranteed right to freedom of speech.  Rather, these laws protect freedom of speech by ensuring that it is used responsibly and for the purposes of good.

There are so many awful things about this paragraph it is hard to know where to start.  First, however, a right is something you have to ask no one’s permission to exercise.  It would be fairly synonymous with “freedom”.  So when you say “freedom of speech” it is something you exercise without permission.

A privilege, however, is something which is granted by some authority which defines what is or isn’t acceptable.  It is something which can be withdrawn, basically by whim. What she lauds Europe for is “privilege of speech”, and she just happens to agree the speech they’re punishing is “hateful”.  You have to wonder if she’d feel the same way if her opinions were labeled as hate speech (and frankly, to any freedom loving person, it is hate speech).

That’s the other thing about what she notes here – every one of her cites involves someone’s opinion.  What she celebrates isn’t freedom but conformity of opinion decided by some authority. Her.  And she’s fine with using the coercive power of the state to punish opinion which she and those in authority decide constitutes “hate”.  Remember Hayek’s definition of freedom?  “Freedom is the absence of coercion.”

“Freedom of speech” as a right means that while we may “abhor what someone says”, we will “defend unto death their right to say it”.   Her interpretation of “freedom of speech” is we may “abhor what someone says” and we reserve the right to “punish them for it” if it conflicts with “proper thought” on the subject.  How screwed up is that?

I can’t imagine a more dangerous idea than what this woman is presenting.  It is the germ seed of totalitarianism.  It is what has infested our institutions of higher learning thanks to leftist infiltration.  These aren’t “progressive” ideas she’s presenting.  They are as old as slavery. They are as old as dictatorship.  Cohen then goes on to attempt the redefinition of “repressive”:

Consider the case of Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson.  In a civilized country with basic human rights, Phil Robertson would have been taken before a government Human Rights Tribunal or Human Rights Commission and given a fine or prison sentence for the hateful and bigoted comments that he made about LGBT people.  In the US, however, he was given no legal punishment, even though his comments easily had the potential to incite acts of violence against LGBT people, who already face widespread violence in the deeply homophobic American society – and his comments probably DID incite acts of violence against LGBT people.

Most countries have freedom of speech, but only in the US is “freedom of speech” so restrictive and repressive.  Not only is the US the only country without any laws against hateful or offensive speech, but it’s also the only country where the government cannot ban any movies, books, or video games, no matter how dangerous, demeaning to human dignity, or harmful to society they may be.

So, says Cohen, “civilized” countries have restrictive speech codes that define what is or isn’t acceptable speech and jail those who violate them.  A country in which you have the right to state your opinion without censure or fear of punishment is “restrictive and repressive”.  Black is white, up is down.

Apparently what she doesn’t understand about our “freedom of speech” is it is specifically identified as a ban against government doing precisely what she wants.  It bans government from abridging free speech.  It protects everyone from government interference and oppression.  She calls specifically for government to be the instrument of punishment of speech she doesn’t like.  Given her freedom hating rhetoric, we can then assume that “civilized” can be interpreted to mean “totalitarian.”

She then makes an absolutely incorrect assertion:

In Europe and Australia and the rest of the civilized world, the ultra-libertarian, free speech absolutist position is that not all offensive speech should be illegal, but that incitement to hatred should always be illegal.

No, Ms. Cohen, that is absolutely incorrect.  Wrong.  No.

Libertarians agree that incitement to violence isn’t a part of your right to free speech.  Because, you see, libertarians believe you are free to exercise your rights as long as they don’t violate the rights of others. It is that difference that separates the free from you. Incitement to violence against another is indeed a violation of the right to free speech.  Other than that, a person gets to say what they want – it is the price of freedom, a price you are unwilling to pay.  Your path is the road to serfdom.  Stating your own beliefs without the fear of censure or punishment, as long as you don’t try to incite violence by doing so, even though others vehemently disagree with you, is freedom of speech.  There are plenty of ways for society to punish what it considers to be hate speech – just ask Westboro Baptist Church.  That’s how a free country takes out its trash.

Finally:

Before moving to the US to work with human rights organizations here, I grew up in Australia, which is a much more civilized and progressive country than the comparatively backwards United States, with a much deeper respect for basic human rights.

Condescending and wrong.

Qantas is ready when your are, Ms. Cohen.

~McQ

 

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Economic Statistics for 18 Mar 15

The MBA reports that mortgage applications fell -3.9% last week, with purchases down -2.0% and refis down -5.0%.

The Federal Open Markets Committee left short-term interest rates unchanged today, at 0% to 0.25% for the Fed Funds rate target.

In today’s economic forecast, the Fed lowered it’s forecasts for both unemployment and economic growth, noting that growth is “moderating”. The Fed’s forecasts:

GDP
2015: 2.3 to 2.7%
2016: 2.3 to 2.7%
2017: 2.0 to 2.4%
longer run: 2.0 to 2.3%

Inflation
2015: 0.6 to 0.8%
2016: 1.7 to 1.9%
2017: 1.9 to 2.0%
longer run: 2.0 %

Unemployment
2015: 5.8%
2015: 52 to 5.3%
2016: 4.9 to 5.1%
2017: 4.8 to 5.1%
longer run: 5.0 to 5.2%

Essentially, the sub-par economic growth we’ve experienced since 2009 will continue for the foreseeable future.


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