March 1, 2015

Review Corner

Their calculations are at odds with those of businessmen, their market counterparts . Whereas the latter asks how much people want something, the equivalent of asking what they are willing to pay, the politician asks how many people want something. [...] Legislating tax policy is a process of give and take, but those being taken from are seldom part of the conversation.
Public Choice Theory marries the consequentialist and rights-based argument for libertarianism. And Randy T. Simmons's Beyond Politics: The Roots of Government Failure bakes the cake and puts the handsome couple on top.

Simmons uses just enough economics to ensure a factual underpinning. I don't think any interested reader would feel overwhelmed with theory and charts. Yet there is enough for a serious reader to see the projected and actual effects of previous policies. And it raises the work above polemics.

Despite the importance of individual preferences in democracies, a number of otherwise attractive political features have the unhappy facility of violating Paretian efficiency. The two most prominent involve redistribution of income. Redistributive gains dominate efficiency considerations in policy discussions, and democratic institutions encourage this redistributive propensity. In addition, democracy has an unfortunate but a distinct penchant for enacting inefficient proposals-- proposals that make some better off but at the expense of others or even worse, making everyone worse off in the long run.

Ruminations on Pareto efficiency always gets you invited back to the best cocktail parties. But for a non-strident, non-polemical book, Beyond Politics advocates for a vastly limited government. All the popular arguments for government interdiction for labor, safety, alleviation of poverty, and imposition of medical code standards are comprehensively dismantled. Society as a whole will be worse off and the solutions will be less innovative and less effective than those subject to the trial of market competition.
The great accomplishment of modern public choice has been to demonstrate the pernicious workings of the visible hand of politics. The same decision makers operating under market and political rules produce quite different results.
Judges force the redesign of everyday tools and airplanes. They decide if surgeons in operating rooms were acting appropriately or if CEOs ran their financial firms appropriately. They are the most powerful regulators in the American system. And with each new , groundbreaking decision a judge's status in the legal , media, and academic communities increases.

Simons does not come up with many public goods better provided by government. Protect property rights, adjudicate disagreements and let free exchange handle the rest. He quotes both Coase and Bryan Caplan extensively. You cannot compensate for thee failures by invoking democracy or popular consent -- the system has many misplaced incentives built into it.
In Latin "votum" or vote means "ardent wish." But obviously many American voters are not terribly ardent and are, in fact, highly frustrated, which explains why the right to vote is not regularly exploited by many citizens.

Accessible but serious: five stars.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:31 AM | Comments (0)

February 22, 2015

Review Corner

Near the end of his life, [John Singleton] Mosby was visited by a well-meaning clergyman who wanted to inquire about his spiritual future. Students of Mosby know that he rarely attended church even though he married Pauline Clarke, "a faithful Roman Catholic." Their conversation was overheard by Mosby's grandson, Beverly, who would one day become an attorney and Navy rear admiral. At one point, the clergyman asked, "Colonel, do you believe in hell?" Mosby, according to the story, simply replied, "Oh, yes. Hell is being a Republican in Virginia." It was a true and honest statement, spoken by a man whose moral compass always steered him toward Truth.
I spilled upon the author, David Goetz, touting his book in a Q & A on CSPAN on Sunday Night. (Yes, dweeby even for me.) It plays into a storyline for which I am ever the sucker: former enemies/opponents united for a common cause. David Boies and Ted Olsen coming together for gay rights always cheered me, and my favorite photo of all times is likely this one of Keith Plessy and Phoebe Furguson, grandchildren of the famed litigants.

Hell is being Republican in Virginia tells the tale of Ulysses S. Grant and John Singleton Mosby. Both men shared a warrior ethos and an officer's love of country. But they did not share the same side in the War Between the States. (heh -- I'll abjure the term "Civil War" but not quite join Brother Keith in referring to "The War of Northern Aggression").

After the war, Mosby petitioned President Grant for better treatment for the men in his company and provided a southern view of reconstruction. Grant complied and the two men who had spent years trying to kill the other become lifelong friends. Each was criticized for the friendship -- but Grant was President of the United States and the "victor'd" hero. Mosby lost it all for supporting Grant's reelection against Horace Greeley.

Mosby's name evoked a certain toxicity in the air. His law practice fell off by more than 80 percent, from $6,000 in 1871 to $1,100 in 1876. People who knew Mosby crossed the street to avoid having to speak to him; and his children were frequently harassed by other children. By the third week of November, he had moved his law office to Washington and shut up the house, taking the children to live with his mother. On court days, he returned to Warrenton by train, armed with a revolver in a holster on his hip.
He had commented that, during his first term, Grant had shown a certain benevolence toward the South; and now in 1872, he seemed the lesser of two evils. When questioned as to how he arrived at this conclusion, Mosby replied that the South had been fighting Greeley for forty years, while Grant had tormented it for only four.

Mosby had correctly identified General Grant's hand in the final terms.
At a later point in the debate, Mosby remarked that he supported Grant because of his terms to Gen. Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865: "Surely no conqueror ever bore himself more magnanimously to a vanquished foe than did Grant when he returned his sword to Lee and bade him go in peace, Mosby observed. "The covenant made that day has been sacredly kept . . . (Grant) was no Achilles to drag the body of his enemy around the walls of the conquered city."

When things get impossible for Mosby in the States, Grant gets him an ambassadorship to Hong Kong. Mosby brings some rare honor to the Asian foreign service.
The opium monopoly was openly sold by the governor of Hong Kong from time to time and the "Opium Farm," as it was known, had recently been outbid by a rival. Rather than abandon their business, they simply moved their boilers from Hong Kong to Macao, a Portuguese colony to the west, and continued producing opium. Bailey had been charging $10,000 a year to sign the opium invoices, and Mosby was offered the same. Instead, he signed for the required $2.50.

The book is told in anecdotes and incidents. Most of the chapters are just a few pages, but the integral of the stories is a solid understanding of two American Heroes. There are appendices with more traditional biographies. The main part of the book is well worth having on a Kindle to read when you have a few minutes. Four stars.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:19 AM | Comments (0)

February 15, 2015

Review Corner

27. The world's most precious resource is the persistent and passionate human mind.
Number 27 of Peter [H. Diamandis]'s Laws as recounted in Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World, which Diamandis coauthored with Steven Kotler.

I enjoyed the same Authors' "Abundance" [Review Corner] a few years ago. I pre-ordered this and eagerly awaited its release. This Review Corner was going to mention the difficulty in a sophomore work. While Bold is good, I was going to suggest that a reader would probably be better with the first book.

I'll stick by that. But I looked up the old review and was surprised how qualified it was. Abundance, remembered so fondly, received four stars (pretty much "panned" on the jk scale) and I closed with "I would still recommend it -- just have some pain killing medication available."

Ow. Medication? I don't remember saying that. But I did and both books share the same gifts and the same flaws. The gifts include an unabashed embrace of modernity. Diamandis has started a company to mine asteroids. He sees exponential Moore's Law style power curves in many applications. As such, it is a great book to share with your favorite neo-Malthusian: "Hey, we run outta stuff, we'll just go mine it from asteroids!"

It is a great positive vision and one that is powered with reason and human capacity. Much to love.

What helps [Google panjandrum Larry] Page imagine the impossible is a fervent belief in rational optimism. 38 The term, borrowed from author Matt Ridley, refers to the exact kind of optimism we advocated for in Abundance. It does not mean pie-in-the-sky daydreaming. It means rather a sober review of the facts, which include the fact that technology is accelerating exponentially and transforming scarcity into abundance, that the tools of tomorrow are giving us ever-increasing problem-solving leverage, that the world--based on dozens of metrics (see the Abundance appendix)-- is also getting exponentially better, and finally, as a result, that small teams are now more empowered to solve grand challenges than ever before. And it's these reasons that make rational optimism such an important strategy for thinking at scale.

Ridley, check. Optimism, check. Human potential, check. He includes micro-biographies of several of our time's great visionaries with very inspirational methods for motivation and behavior. Just as a self help book, it gets three stars.
As Burt Rutan, winner of the Ansari XPRIZE, once taught me: "The day before something is truly a breakthrough, it's a crazy idea."
At Facebook , there is a sign hanging in the main stairwell that reads: "Move fast, break things." This kind of attitude is critical. If you're not incentivizing risk, you're denying access to flow-- which is the only way to keep pace in a breakneck world.

One of the great visionaries -- of course -- is wunderkind Elon Musk. On this hill I will plan my critical flag. Diamandis's progress is Muskian progress. "Let's change the world with 'lectric cars!" Never mind the WSJ Editorial this week that wondered about building what Musk purports will be a $700 Bllion company someday on subsidies and cheap government loans.

Diamandis spends a decade fighting bureaucrats to offer his sub-orbital space flights; then he has a new fight to offer one to a famous passenger.

I decided that the world's foremost expert on gravity deserved the opportunity to experience zero gravity, so I offered professor Stephen Hawking a parabolic flight. He accepted, and we issued a press release. This is when our friends at the FAA-- whose unofficial motto is clearly "we're not happy until you're not happy"-- reminded us that our operating license permitted us to fly only "able-bodied" passengers, and Hawking, being totally paralyzed and wheelchair bound, did not qualify.

Spoiler alert: Hawking gets his ride. But government intrusion does not get another mention in this shiny new world we are going to create. My review from 2012 stands. So buy the family size bottle of pain-killers and read both Abundance (four stars) and Bold (three-point-five).

Posted by John Kranz at 10:08 AM | Comments (0)

February 8, 2015

Review Corner

What about the wrenching social changes brought on by capitalism and the Industrial Revolution? Is it your conviction that small-town life, centered on church, tradition, and fear of God, is our best bulwark against murder and mayhem? Well, think again. As Europe became more urban, cosmopolitan, commercial, industrialized, and secular, it got safer and safer.
I had always considered Steven Pinker to be a pointy-head Harvard Professor, but his Wikipedia entry says "He is a Harvard College Professor and the Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University, and is known for his advocacy of evolutionary psychology and the computational theory of mind." Remarkably devoid of phrenology.

But his The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined is a masterful work. He collects, analyzes, and communicates voluminous amounts of data from wide-ranging sources and varying disciplines to assemble a comprehensive look at violence from cavemen to 21st Century city dwellers. It does the whole concept of scholarship proud.

The graph stunned almost everyone who saw it (including me-- as I mentioned in the preface, it was the seed that grew into this book). The discovery confounds every stereotype about the idyllic past and the degenerate present. When I surveyed perceptions of violence in an Internet questionnaire, people guessed that 20th-century England was about 14 percent more violent than 14th-century England. In fact it was 95 percent less violent.

It ranges broadly through history, anthropology, economics, genetics, and philosophy -- but there is always a foundation of supporting data. The first and longest portion on the book is dedicated to convincing the skeptical that the world you see on CNN every night (every night you're stuck in a n airport anyway) is less violent than the pastoral settings of indigenous peoples or pre-industrial country life. He describes an illustration from "the 15th -century German manuscript The Medieval Housebook, a depiction of daily life as seen through the eyes of a knight."
In the detail shown in figure 3-5, a peasant disembowels a horse as a pig sniffs his exposed buttocks. In a nearby cave a man and a woman sit in the stocks. Above them a man is being led to the gallows, where a corpse is already hanging, and next to it is a man who has been broken on the wheel, his shattered body pecked by a crow. The wheel and gibbet are not the focal point of the drawing, but a part of the landscape, like the trees and hills.

Ah, the good old days. And this was a huge step up from the hunter-gather societies. The city of Boulder is thick with those who wish we could return to those peaceful days when indigenous Americans roamed an unspoiled land to hunt buffalo and worship mother Gaia. Trouble is they had 100x the murder rate. In some pre-historical societies studied a member had a 50-50 chance of meeting death at the hands of another human as from natural causes -- all before discoveries in hygiene and medicine reduced natural causes.
The same kind of long division has deflated the peaceful reputation of the !Kung, the subject of a book called The Harmless People, and of the Central Arctic Inuit (Eskimos), who inspired a book called Never in Anger. 72 Not only do these harmless, nonviolent, anger-free people murder each other at rates far greater than Americans or Europeans do, but the murder rate among the !Kung went down by a third after their territory had been brought under the control of the Botswana government, as the Leviathan theory would predict. 73

In the concluding chapters, Pinker offers several reasons for the downward slope of the violence curve. I think most ThreeSourcers would agree with most of the reasons; enlightenment values score highly.

The largest reduction comes from Hobbs's Leviathan and is bad news for our Anarchist friends. The Sheriff and courts clean up Dodge. Murder rates fall by magnitudes, but not without cost.

When it came to violence, then, the first Leviathans solved one problem but created another. People were less likely to become victims of homicide or casualties of war, but they were now under the thumbs of tyrants, clerics, and kleptocrats.

The book is not political. Prof. Pinker takes a couple gratuitous swipes at President Bush, but I assume that is in his contract at Harvard.

Pinker does not spike the football, but one could easily use this as a celebration of Progressivism. The greatest gains have been made in Western Europe. The U.S. South (and West) were slower to drop and still lag behind. The sphere of protection and empathy was expanded from tribe to race to all races to homosexuals to animals. Are we all heading to Denmark and just at different locations on the path?

The North is an extension of Europe and continued the court- and commerce-driven Civilizing Process that had been gathering momentum since the Middle Ages. The South and West preserved the culture of honor that sprang up in the anarchic parts of the growing country, balanced by their own civilizing forces of churches, families, and temperance.

That is a difficult consideration for me but I want to repeat that that is not an explicit thesis. Halfway through, I read a Denver Post article on coyote-killing competition. You don't have to be on the PETA board to be discomfited by that. Is there an optimal level of civilization (and homicide?) Most accept liberty's requiring trade-offs in safety. Perhaps that is part.

More appreciated 'round these parts, the second act of the Civilizing and Pacifying process was what the economist Samuel Ricard called "Gentle Commerce."

You have an incentive, moreover, to anticipate what he wants, the better to supply it to him in exchange for what you want. Though many intellectuals, following in the footsteps of Saints Augustine and Jerome, hold businesspeople in contempt for their selfishness and greed, in fact a free market puts a premium on empathy. 38 A good businessperson has to keep the customers satisfied or a competitor will woo them away, and the more customers he attracts, the richer he will be.

Pinker is a Psychologist, and the last chapters evaluate his theories experimentally. Many of the studies make very interesting reading: student/paid guinea pigs who were told to skip a meal given two radishes and having to sit in front of a plate of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies and try solve unsolvable puzzles. Sadism has just moved from the fields to the Ivory Tower.

The data in the final chapter comes mostly from studies like these and fMRI scans. I found it interesting but am skeptical of both processes. There's a bit of Jonathan Haidt style, more real world data (and Pinker quotes Haidt extensively). But my skepticism led me to find that a weak finish to a strong -- and important book.

Five stars -- its small flaws are overwhelmed by its important contributions.

UPDATE: Pinker has the lead story on Cato Letters. Hat-tip Facebook friend Brad.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:17 AM | Comments (11)
But johngalt thinks:

I'm willing to take that trade too, but I posit it is a false dichotomy. Restore urbanites' freedom to armed self-defense and then let's see how many murders there are.

Posted by: johngalt at February 10, 2015 4:21 PM
But jk thinks:

I'm in. And End the Drug War. But I still suspect we don't get to the Western Europe 1/100,000.

Posted by: jk at February 11, 2015 10:37 AM
But dagny thinks:

"An armed society is a polite society." R.A.H.

Posted by: dagny at February 11, 2015 12:15 PM
But johngalt thinks:

4.7/100000 today. Not too bad. Others not reaching the magical standard of western Europe:

Canada 1.6
Finland 1.6
Belgium 1.6
Norway 2.2
Cuba 4.2

We could strive to be at least as non-homicidal as the communist dictatorship of Cuba I suppose. The global average in 2012 was 6.2/100000.

And the most homicidal places on Earth? Honduras at 90.4 and Venezuela at 53.7/100000. Central America has 4 of the bottom 6.

Posted by: johngalt at February 11, 2015 2:54 PM
But jk thinks:

3.1 for the Centennial State. I thought the difference was greater. Thought those crazy Republicans in Texas were in double digits, nut your link has them about 5.

Screw it, that's close enough to Europe.

Posted by: jk at February 11, 2015 7:36 PM
But johngalt thinks:

Texas was 5.9 in 2000, but down to 4.4 in 2012. I'd like to see a breakdown within the state data. Where are the "hot spots" I wonder? Houston? Dallas?

Side note: In a taped address to open the Grammys President Obama claimed that "nearly one in five women in America has been the victim of rape or attempted rape." That must depend on your definition of "attempted rape" because the FBI data on "forcible rape" is much lower:

California - 20.6/100,000 (0.0206%, or 1 in 4854)
Texas - 29.6/100,000 (0.0296%, or 1 in 3378)
Colorado - 40.7/100,000 (0.0407%, or 1 in 2457)

(Shame on you, Colorado.)

Posted by: johngalt at February 12, 2015 11:52 AM

January 25, 2015

Review Corner

To be dishonest is to be disconnected from reality, which is a very unhealthy place to be.
I promised some kinder words for Objectivism. Cato CEO and BB&T Hoss John Allison is on the Yaron Brook level of describing the ideas of Ayn Rand. And in the follow-up to his impressive "The Financial Crisis and the Free Market Cure: Why Pure Capitalism is the World Economy's Only Hope" [Review Corner], He shares the principles -- heavily derived from Rand -- that he used to build a large and profitable bank that navigated the stormy seas of the Panic of '08 without even a quarterly loss.

The Leadership Crisis and the Free Market Cure: Why the Future of Business Depends on the Return to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness can sit on the shelf with all the pop business management books, but it adds quite a bit to the formula: wait for it . . . a philosophy and moral foundation. I have enjoyed many books in this genre, recently Bob Lutz's [Review Corner], but the implicit message is always "be a greater person ---be like me;" Allison gives a template that can be adapted to any organization or used by an individual for personal improvement.

Many people view integrity as some form of duty. Integrity is not a duty. It is a means to improve the probability of being successful and happy. The concept is to develop your principles outside the "heat of battle" and then to consistently apply those principles in the heat of battle because you know that living these principles improves the probability of being successful and happy. Therefore, it is important to not view integrity as a duty or some kind of ill-defined obligation. This perception encourages you to "cheat" on the very principles that are fundamental to your success and happiness.


Because there is a proper method for judging individuals and because individuals must be evaluated as individuals (because they are individuals), collectivism and all its ugly variations should be rejected. Collectivists judge individuals by their membership in groups. Since all the individuals in the group are different and therefore should be judged differently, collectivists have a 100 percent error rate.

My management days are well behind me but I enjoy business books and think we all our own managers and leaders in all but the most non-autonomous organizations. Allison's "core values" are valuable at any level.
We have now reviewed the 10 core values used at BB& T and my personal values: reality, reason, independent thinking, productivity, honesty, integrity, justice, pride, self-esteem, and teamwork. Upon reflection, one can see that not only are these values not contradictory but that they are integrated. Failure to execute on one value will make it impossible for you to execute on another value.

I deducted 0.5 stars last week to Alex Epstein for inserting philosophy where I felt in extraneous. It's central -- primary -- to Allison's book (though both are excellent proponents). Allison gets five stars.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:45 AM | Comments (0)

January 24, 2015

"A Truly Persuasive Work"

The previous post dealing with the "compatibility" of capitalism and Catholicism prompted dagny in a comment, and me in my thoughts, to consider the morality of capitalism.

Those thoughts included a recent review corner entry where it was suggested that a flourishing humanity progressing toward ever more prosperity and justice can be achieved by convincing people it is, a) a good thing and, b) achievable through free trade, i.e. capitalism. (More specifically, through the unfettered use of "fossil" fuel energy sources.) And that, c) presenting a moral basis for the primacy of humanity is "a new vulnerability to defend, not reinforcement."

I believed I had found an author who gave a moral basis for humanity to dominate nature in this Michael Shermer book whose "exploration of science and morality ... demonstrates how the scientific way of thinking has made people, and society as a whole, more moral" and did so without resting his case upon a foundation of Objectivism. It appeared that his justification was rooted in widely accepted principles of science and morality, and not a new vulnerability. The book is 439 pages and I've not read it but this reviewer was left wanting.

The reader is constantly reminded that it is Shermer who is driving this bus, authoring this heavy tome. When he fails to wrangle with hard issues, there is nothing the reader can do about it beyond reading on and hoping for something better in a later chapter. But that something better never came for me. I was not satisfied with the author’s overbroad reach, his irrelevant details, his glossing over the toughest issues, his very human but unfortunate tendency not to see the fallacies in his own reasoning and the failure of his own assertion of the facts. The book seemed not so much scientific and rational to me as opinionated. Perhaps the author has been too successful for too long and has become complacent. But I did not see in him a consistent ability to question his own thinking and hone his argument in order to achieve a truly persuasive work.

This illustrates my point that people long for a moral basis to justify their beliefs, and ultimately their actions. (No great leap of insight there, for this is the chief factor in the historic success of man's many theistic traditions.) Failure to justify the moral basis for human flourishing will, eventually and always, crumble in the face of some unchallenged moral basis to the contrary.

Posted by JohnGalt at 11:35 AM | Comments (3)
But Jk thinks:

You can rat on me. The author was in Denver last night, and I could not be persuaded to enter the big city on Friday night.

I read the Kindle sample thus morning both of "The Moral Arc" and Steven Pinkers Better Angels of Our Nature upon which it is built.Both are very good and I struggle to decide which to complete. Both provide generous samples (both are generous books, Pinker's weighs in at 851 pages, Shermers 550).

Shermer seems borderline Objectivist to except that he extends -- I hope you're sitting down -- the sphere of protections to all sentient beings. Reading the first couple chapters it does not seem unmoored from principles.

And, just counting stars, there were many many more complimentary reviews.

Posted by: Jk at January 24, 2015 5:01 PM
But jk thinks:

Incentives matter. Shermer's is ($16.99/560) = 0.03/page. Pinker is ($10.99/832) = $0.013. That Harvard value that everyone speaks of....

The trouble with both -- and where I might push back on your reviewer -- is that both are writing to somebody who watches CNN every night and says "no way things are less violent! Planes are disappearing into the ocean!" Both are speaking to incredulous audiences and carefully piecing together documentation. I accept the premise wholeheartedly and am ready to move along.

I have to ask if Mister Three Stars is truly missing a foundational moral premise or if he just does not accept that we've left behind barbarism at an alarming rate.

(Srsly -- everyone with a Kindle should get the sample of Pinker's at least. He academically lays out the premise he plans to prove with anecdotes about the violence in Virgil, The Bible, Shakespeare, Grimm Brothers, &c. It's a powerful read and you get a nice hunk of the book for nothin'.)

Posted by: jk at January 24, 2015 5:54 PM
But johngalt thinks:

I agree with you on the "hey, it's way more violent than it used to be" mythology. The population is many times larger, and we require cable news to find violence in our culture most of the time. (True, none of us live in Chicago.)

Posted by: johngalt at January 25, 2015 2:59 AM

January 18, 2015

Review Corner

All the way up to Topanga, the radio cranked out a Super Surfin' Marathon, all commercial -free-- which seemed peculiar until Doc realized that nobody who would sit through this music-teacher's nightmare of doubled-up blues lines, moronic one-chord "tunes," and desperate vocal effects could possibly belong to any consumer demographic known to the ad business.
With apologies to Thomas Wolfe, this week's review corner is more about whether I can go home again than literary merit. If you've stumbled on the review by search engine, you might wish to try one on the next page.

Thomas Pynchon remains my favorite novelist but there is an element of inertia. I don't read many novels anymore, and our ability to be touched declines with age. The idea of making a movie out of a Pynchon book seemed laughable (though I'd try an arty three hour Sundance-bait version of "Mason & Dixon" if somebody knows where we can obtain financing). Yet, a good friend and more-serious-Pynchon-addict-than-me emailed me in December. He said they've made a movie of Inherent Vice. Let's go.

Turns out the movie didn't come out until January 9, but I started seeing commercials. It had Joachim Phoenix in it and an ad budget. Wow. That gave me time to score the book on Kindle and, unlike typical Pynchon fare, it is an easy read. You had better set a month or three aside to tackle Gravity's Rainbow or V. I generally steer newbies toward Mason & Dixon. It's complex enough to see the man's genius without the screaming inaccessibility of his earlier works. It's a very good book.

I reviewed "Bleeding Edge" in November 2013, and I see the review is interchangeable with this one. (Actually, Bleeding Edge would have made a good movie.) Ah well, give me a few stars for consistency.

I would not chase anybody away from Inherent Vice. It's a fun story, and the prose sparkles. Our hero, Larry "Doc" Sportello is a low rent PI in Los Angeles. Doc is more stoner and surfer than tough guy, more baked than hard boiled as it were.

There was an ancient superstition at the beach, something like the surfer belief that burning your board will bring awesome waves, and it went like this-- take a Zig-Zag paper and write on it your dearest wish, and then use it to roll a joint of the best dope you can find, and smoke it all up, and your wish would be granted. Attention and concentration were also said to be important, but most of the dopers Doc knew tended to ignore that part.

Pynchon teases the hippies like a friend makes fun of his sister. He'll expose foibles but you'd better not as he is clearly still on their side. I'm sure that makes for a good movie but this reader is more ready to move on.
By this point in California history, enough hippie metaphysics had oozed in among surfing folk that even the regulars here at Wavos, some of them, seeing where this was headed, began to shift their feet and look around for other things to do.

I'm going to hand out 3.5 stars, and unless my friend calls me back I suspect I'll wait for the movie to be released on Amazon (it got a "meh" review form Kurt Loder at Reason).

Posted by John Kranz at 9:44 AM | Comments (0)

January 16, 2015

Reason Does Review Corner

Ronald Bailey provides an interesting and valuable review of Alex Epstein's The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels [Review Corner].

As my world revolves around me, I was of course interested in whether Bailey shared my concerns. While he did not use the locution "too much Objectivism," I'm going to claim we're on the same side.

There is another problem with Epstein's book, one more substantial than the possibility that he has unduly pessimistic about nuclear's political prospects. Is the energy and climate debate really an argument about morality, pitting those whose standard is a flourishing humanity against those whose standard is a burgeoning natural world?

Like me, he is very fond of the book's great points and serious foundation.

Posted by John Kranz at 2:22 PM | Comments (8)
But johngalt thinks:

I'm so obtuse sometimes.


Posted by: johngalt at January 17, 2015 9:28 AM
But jk thinks:

Fair question. And take comfort knowing next week's Review Corner of the explicitly Objectivist The Leadership Cure by John Allison will do quite well.

Epstein sees it as supporting his position -- also fair -- but I see it as a new argument "whoa, wait. You mean even if global warming kills all the polar bears you're cool?" Without it, his arguments are bulletproof and objectively (see what I did there?) verifiable. Bringing in the standard of value is a new vulnerability to defend, not reinforcement.

Posted by: jk at January 18, 2015 9:42 AM
But johngalt thinks:

Okay, I just read your rebuttal comment over on the Review Corner. I do see where you are going with this. It is not as clear cut as I or Epstein have portrayed it.

The problem with removing the "new argument" of the moral primacy of humanity above the rest of the natural world is that it removes the answer to "why" human prosperity is more important than protecting every species from extinction. If nobody asks you that question, you're good - your argument is bulletproof. But someone will.

You imagine that a lefty or moderate friend might take away that, "Species extinction is fine as long as Man comes out okay." But this is a false choice. Can you name the species that was wiped out or even threatened as a direct result of human existence?

By drawing tendentious connections, the new left has convinced folks that this is true. Our job is to pull the leg out from under that argument. At present, it consists of "a consensus of people smarter than you states unequivocally that using our most economical energy sources will eventually wipe out several species, and worse." People who ask "how" or "why" are never given an answer, but instead are called "deniers." At the same time, nobody ever asks, "Who prevented species extinction before man?" Or, "How can man prevent species extinction without massive expenditures of labor or capital?"

Let me ask this: Are you comfortable with Epstein's moral position? Or do you believe that human prosperity necessitates the sacrifice of the rest of the natural world?

As you ponder those questions, consider two of many excellent quotes from the excellent 'Return of the Primative: The Anti-Industrial Revolution' by Ayn Rand:

City smog and filthy rivers are not good for men (though they are not the kind of danger that the ecological panic-mongers proclaim them to be). This is a scientific, technological problem - not a political one - and it can be solved only by technology. Even if smog were a risk to human life, we must remember that life in nature, without technology, is wholesale death. (Page 282)

If, after the failure of such accusations as "Capitalism leads you to the poorhouse" and "Capitalism leads you to war," the New Left is left with nothing better than: "Capitalism defiles the beauty of your countryside," one may justifiably conclude that, as an intellectual power, the collectivist movement is through. (Page 170)

Posted by: johngalt at January 18, 2015 10:39 AM
But jk thinks:

Like Andrew Luck, I wish to congratulate you: "that was a good hit!" Your positions are sound. Let me start in the middle and work out.

I'm not at all certain I am comfortable with Epstein's position. So often -- and the way I framed this -- I agree but think the Objectivist position a tougher "sell." This one is a tough sell to me. Let me spin up the Tendentious Machine™: "Can we disallow dog fighting?" Some humans like it; they can breed or buy their own dogs; I don't have to watch it. I am rather fine proscribing it, though that is technically sacrificing human needs to nature.

I concede to having never considered that big ugly homo sapiens did not extinctify a lot of species with our rapacious growth. I suspect you're right that it is far fewer, but I suspect is non-zero. Not as in "we wiped 'em all out," but surely there were occasions where a small remaining number met their final demise at the hand of development.

I guess I'll argue that protecting the snail-darter is not worth leaving half a state with no electricity without arguing that it bears no consideration. And with that, I'll say I've said my peace. The beauty of Epstein's book is its cost-benefit analysis: how much do we want to sacrifice to protect a small fish? To say that is a priori zero because "we come first" seems as weak an argument as it is infinite because "we cannot harm nature."

Posted by: jk at January 19, 2015 9:56 AM
But johngalt thinks:

You answered my question, and I am pleased. You still rely on anecdote, however, that human development "surely" wiped out more than one specie. If that were true there should be claims, evidence and proof. Because: internet. For that I think we're all guilty of believing what we're led to believe.

Let me leave a little more food for thought on your final point. The problem is not in the analysis, or the sacrifice, or the protection - it is in the replacement of "I" with "we." (And this relates directly to the second of the two quotes above: "as an intellectual power, the collectivist movement is through."

Posted by: johngalt at January 19, 2015 11:13 AM
But jk thinks:

I hope I am not out of place sharing a Facebook IM, but I thought you'd enjoy some support:

Obviously I [Brother Bryan] never got around to responding to your review of Epstein's book, but I just popped over to 3Sources and saw that [Brother Johngalt] said exactly what I was going to. So I suppose there is no need now.

I replied: "doing jobs Americans won't do..."

Posted by: jk at January 19, 2015 1:31 PM

January 11, 2015

Review Corner

Imagine if we had followed the advice of some of our leading advisers then, many of whom are some of our leading advisers now, to severely restrict the energy source that billions of people used to lift themselves out of poverty in the last thirty years? We would have caused billions of premature deaths--deaths that were prevented by our increasing use of fossil fuels.

What happens if today's predictions and prescriptions are just as wrong? That would mean billions of premature deaths over the next thirty years and beyond. And the loss of a potentially amazing future.

Review Corner, it has ben noted, is frequently too generous with stars. Today's stinginess for a great book will seem cruel by comparison

I had elected not to read Alex Epstein's The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels. I read a great review in the Objective Standard, and the topic was certainly of interest, but it was clear that Epstein grounded the book on Objectivist principles and I had trepidation.

A recommendation from both Blog Brother Bryan and a mutual LOTR-F friend pulled me back in the fold. "Is it 'too Objectivist?'" I asked Bryan. He replied "How can something be 'too Objectivist?'"

I succumbed to peer pressure, picked it up on Kindle, and enjoyed it immensely. It is a powerful, well documented, and comprehensive book. It sounds some common themes we've discussed on ThreeSources, but adds great depth, clarity, and corroborating data.

This is a microcosm of the central idea of this book-- that more energy means more ability to improve our lives; less energy means less ability-- more helplessness, more suffering, and more death. Of course, this book is focused on fossil fuel energy-- but only, as you'll see, because I believe that it is the most essential technology for producing energy for 7 billion people to improve their lives, at least over the next several decades. If there was a better form of energy and it was under attack in a way that wildly exaggerated its negatives and undervalued its positives, I'd be writing the moral case for that form of energy.

Epstein shows that all the negative externalities for fossil fuels are highlighted if not wildly exaggerated, but all the bird-slicing, rare-earth mining, habitat-destructing side effects of renewables are conveniently ignored. Likewise, the safety, reliability, and portability of oil, gas, and coal are rarely compared to against their suggested replacements.
Why do our thought leaders never talk about this part of the fossil fuel- energy equation, which we can call the energy effect? It's all around us. While in Minnesota over New Year's 2014 visiting some dear friends (they would have to be dear for me to brave that weather ), I realized, upon walking from my car to the bed-and-breakfast about forty feet away, that I couldn't find my key. I was in the natural climate. As I searched for my key at -10 degrees Fahrenheit, my fingers getting very cold very fast, it occurred to me that, were I stuck outside, I could easily die within the hour.

That's "natural" for you. Natural farming cannot feed us, natural climate will kill us. No amount of human flourishing is possible without expending significant amounts of energy. Therefore, it is natural to bring in the primacy of survival and importance of human adaptation.
I hold human life as the standard of value, and you can see that in my earlier arguments: I think that our fossil fuel use so far has been a moral choice because it has enabled billions of people to live longer and more fulfilling lives, and I think that the cuts proposed by the environmentalists of the 1970s were wrong because of all the death and suffering they would have inflicted on human beings.

I risk lapsing into a familiar internecine argument here. But I think the case is compelling -- devastating -- without "human life as the standard of value."
Not everyone holds human life as their standard of value, and people often argue that things are right or wrong for reasons other than the ways they benefit or harm human beings. For example, many religious people think that it is wrong to eat certain foods or to engage in certain sexual acts, not because there is any evidence that these foods or acts are unhealthy or otherwise harmful to human beings but simply because they believe God forbids them. Their standard of value is not human life but (what they take to be) God’s will.

Oh buddy! I think you just turned down a side road there. Can we get back on the highway? I charged the Leaf overnight, but I still have range anxiety...
You might wonder how holding human life as your standard of value applies to preserving nature. It applies simply: preserve nature when doing so will benefit human life (such as a beautiful park to enjoy) and develop it when it will benefit human life. By contrast, if nonimpact , not human life, is the standard, the moral thing to do is always leave nature alone.

Again, well trod arguments, but: I see where Epstein is coming from. I don't object to his including a human life as your standard of value (HLAYSOV); it does not scare me off his thesis. But it impedes my sharing his book and propagating his arguments. If I lend this to somebody (well, if I had lefty or moderate friends who'd actually read a book and I lent it...) I imagine they'd take away that "species extinction is fine as long as Man comes out okay."

That argument is neither completely unfair nor completely false. But but but -- that's not the argument I want to have. I want to talk about billions of people killed if we listen to the Paul Erlichs of the world. I want to talk about bringing billions out of poverty and privation. I want to talk about the clinic in Nambia where babies die because the generator only runs four hours a day. Instead, we'll discuss HLATSOV.

So, it's a five star book if you could rip the Objectivism out. As it stands it's 4.5.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:12 AM | Comments (2)
But johngalt thinks:

I set this review aside for later, since it was so long. I still haven't read it all, but let me at least point out one thing:

"I want to talk about billions of people killed if we listen to the Paul Erlichs of the world."

"I want to talk about bringing billions [of people] out of poverty and privation."

"I want to talk about the clinic in Nambia where [human] babies die because the generator only runs four hours a day."

So really, you want to talk about the primacy of human life without first establishing that human life is your standard of value. That's fine by the way, just don't be surprised when all of your interlocutor's objections take the form of "who died and made humans the boss?"

Posted by: johngalt at January 16, 2015 4:14 PM
But jk thinks:

I just assumed that you agreed with every word.

Yes, the Saganists will not be moved. We wicked humans are a cancerous blight on a perfect world, blah, blah, blah. But I contend that they are beyond reach.

A moderate environmentalist would find much food for thought in this book; the things which matter to him or her are frequently better in the prosperous society with high energy use. Looking to capture that person at the philosophical margin, I worry about the equally strident example I provided of species extinction. My new invention improves human life but wipes out many species. We do not really need all those for human flourishing per se, but their protection is worthwhile.

Posted by: jk at January 16, 2015 6:24 PM

January 7, 2015

Book "threatens to tear the very fabric of civilized life"

And it gets five stars and an Editor's Choice Award!

It seems not everyone enjoyed "Overruled: The Long War for Control of the U.S. Supreme Court" as much as Review Corner. The Washington Monthly's legal pundit Michael O'Donnell says:

"Like most libertarians, Root cares more about principle than orthodoxy; hence his book is no partisan screed. Yet he is representative of libertarians in another way as well. His positions sound reasonable until you begin thinking through their implications, at which point you realize just how radical they are."

From there it devolves into "threatens to tear the very fabric of civilized life" and "no more sunsets: just toxins and smog." Those wacky, toxin loving libertarians...

Posted by John Kranz at 11:06 AM | Comments (2)
But nanobrewer thinks:

It's an uncontrolled literary singularity! (Sorry, couldn't resist).

Posted by: nanobrewer at January 8, 2015 11:23 AM
But johngalt thinks:

For my part, I wondered how a mere Shepherd could be so powerful. And a fictional one at that!

Posted by: johngalt at January 8, 2015 3:04 PM

January 4, 2015

Review Corner

The story of his first paying job would appear frequently in Frederick Douglass's writings and speeches over the years, and with good reason. At the center of his lifelong struggle for liberty and equality stood the principle of self-ownership, a concept that necessarily included both the freedom to compete in the economic marketplace and the right to enjoy the fruits of those labors. Slavery, as Douglass understood all too well, obliterated such things, robbing its victims not only of the products of their toil, but of their control over their own bodies. Earning that "first free dollar" was therefore a milestone in his life. As he described the event in My Bondage and My Freedom, the second of his three autobiographies, "I was now my own master--a tremendous fact."
So Damon Root's Overruled: The Long War for Control of the U.S. Supreme Court begins to weave a fundamental theory of rights into a comprehensive but accessible treatment of liberty based jurisprudence.

The long war referenced in the title is between a libertarian view of the judicial branch's purpose in protecting our rights from majoritarianism. Rather than the straight libertarian vs. progressive split, however, Root shows that the Conservatives are in league with the Progressives under the mantle of "judicial restraint." Much as I admire Judge Robert Bork and Justice Antonin Scalia, both are committed to the idea that the court is not there to protect us from ourselves in a democracy.

Justice Thomas and a litany of 19th Century legends like Justice Stephen Field and Justice Rufus Peckham, conversely, see no problem with "activism" if that activism protects our liberty.

It curiously chronicles an intellectual journey I have made over the last decade, moving from Robert Bork's view of Lochner v. New York to David Bernsteins's [Review Corner] and from Justice Scalia's unenumerated rights [Review Corner] to Clark Neily's [Review Corner]. Clearly, I could have saved myself a lot of time had I just waited for "Overruled." That would have left me leisure hours to watch "American Idol" and that show where you get kicked off the island.

But enough about me. The split traces back to The Slaughter House Cases, challenging a foul, racist perversion of property rights in Louisiana which disallowed independent butchers from enjoying the ownership of self and self-production that Frederick Douglass enjoyed. The law was challenged under the shiny-new 14th Amendment: "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States." Against Justice Stephen Field's objection and brilliant dissent, the Court ruled that -- not to put too fine a point on it -- "Any State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States whenever they feel like it."

In essence, the Progressives had declared war on the Fourteenth Amendment. And their brazen assault did not go unnoticed. Among the sharpest critics of their approach was the journalist H. L. Mencken, who took aim at Progressive legal thinking while reviewing a book-length collection of Justice [Oliver Wendell] Holmes's dissenting opinions. "Over and over again, in these opinions," Mencken observed, Holmes "advocated giving the legislature full head-room, and over and over again he pro-tested against using the Fourteenth Amendment to upset novel and oppressive laws, aimed frankly at helpless minorities." That's not responsible judging, Mencken argued, it's a gross dereliction of basic judicial duty. "If this is Liberalism," he declared, "then all I can say is that Liberalism is not what it was when I was young."

I remember tension when McDonald v Chicago was argued. Justice Thomas wanted to revisit Slaughterhouse and reinstate the P & I clause. Justice Scalia caustically belittled that theory in oral argument, signaling that he was not onboard the freedom train this week. (Thomas's concurrence is lonely but brilliant.)

Even where Root trods on ground known to ThreeSourcers, there is enough extra detail from anecdotes in oral argument or commentary to make the book profoundly interesting and readable. And where it is new, it sparkles: most notably the thread from Justice Holmes, who lost all his idealism in courageous and unimaginably grisly combat.

The Civil War had a profound impact on the young man who would later become one of America's most famous and influential jurists, and it was not a pretty one. As it does for many young soldiers, the experience of combat obliterated Holmes's youthful idealism. "I am not the same man," he informed his parents in May 1864. But the disillusion went far deeper than that. As the historian Louis Menand memorably put it, "The war did more than make him lose those beliefs. It made him lose his belief in beliefs." Gone forever was the young abolitionist who left Harvard two months before graduation in order to enlist on behalf of a grand cause. In his place was a man who scorned all mention of lofty principle. "I don't talk much of rights," Holmes would declare, "as I see no meaning in the rights of man except what the crowd will fight for."

I'll wait if you want to read that again. A leading light in American Jurisprudence comes out of the shoulder-deep pile of bodies at Sharpsburg as a badly wounded Captain who believes "might makes right."

Holmes's theory of deference provides wins in the progressive era, finally flips the court to allow New Deal legislation in Laughlin Steel v US and ThreeSourcers' fave Wickard v. Filburn. Then it reappears in Bork's treatment of Lochner, Conservative critiques of Griswold v. Connecticut (including a previous release of me), Scalia on Raich, and ultimately Chief Justice Roberts's saving construction in NFIB v. Sibelius.

I'll pass out five stars and the first "Editor's Choice" book award of 2015. I do have a hardcopy thanks to Reason Foundation's fundraising machine -- holler if you'd like to take this superb book for a spin.

Posted by John Kranz at 11:41 AM | Comments (0)

October 26, 2014

Review Corner Hiatus

Review Corner will be going dark for a few weeks. ThreeSources apologizes for any inconvenience, but reminds readers that "Two and a Half Men" will be returning to TV, so they are not entirely out of intellectual stimulation.

I'm going to tackle four books at once. Charles Murray recently posted what Prof. Greg Mankiw called A great and balanced essay on Ayn Rand which was well received on these pages. The same Murray wrote The Curmudgeon's Guide for Getting Ahead [Review Corner] which recommended that agnostic and atheist study some religious materials and try to come to terms with adult and intellectual religious concepts.

I've publicly opined that my eleven years of Catholic education included very little intellectual rigor. Two friends studied with Jesuits, who are known to be more demanding that way than the diocesan priests and laity I encountered. I took the liberty of asking one of these friends for a book (I think I distinctly said "a" as in "one" but I do not have access to the tape) to catch up a little. He asked two friends, added one of his own, and showed up with three books comprising 1400 pages. No pit'churs. No "for Dummies" concatenated to any of the titles.

Then, in what I consider to be a completely secular coincidence, a fourth book found its way onto the pile. My sister, cleaning out her late husband's bookshelf found a book my father's Aunt Mattie had inscribed to him on his birthday in 1949. I had never heard of it, but The Seven Storey Mountain was a surprise hit of that year. I started it the day after Dad's birthday (He'd have been 101) and have been surprised to hear it referenced in two of the other three books. (This is probably the liberty equivalent of "There's this fellow called Hayek..." But I was unaware.)

I am not certain what the plan is. I've now read a couple chapters of each -- and they are all quite good in their own way. I may continue to cycle through them. I know ThreeSourcers will suggest that it is just like one's first day in prison: that I should grab the 800 page, 17-lb. monster with the microscopic type and "kick its ass" first. I'll take that under advisement... It calls for Mortimer Adler's "syntopical reading" of digesting multiple books on the same topic without perhaps a sequential read through all the sources.


But, whatever happens, I am going to be busy. I may post some quotes along the way (I am furiously flagging both things I like and things with which I seriously disagree.) In "The Seven Story Mountain. Thomas Merton ends up in a Trappist Monastery. If that happens to me, I hope they have good WiFi.

Posted by John Kranz at 6:10 PM | Comments (3)
But johngalt thinks:

And an excellent brewing program, no doubt.

I had independently decided to "study some religious materials and try to come to terms with adult and intellectual religious concepts" so I will share here the title I have selected. It was actually recommended by my father, from whom I willingly borrowed it. 'The Pagan Christ' is, as has been summarized to me, the story of the authoritarian highjacking of the Christian religion by the Romans. Before that it was a more personal and individualistic belief system. Now you can see why my interest was piqued.

While the author has been called names by some displeased reviewers and has had his scholarship questioned, I thought I should read it and form my own opinions. Can I read 200 pages in the time it takes jk to read 1400? Probably not, but I'll give it the ol' college try.

Posted by: johngalt at October 27, 2014 2:29 PM
But jk thinks:

Bloody Romans. What have they ever done for us?

Posted by: jk at October 27, 2014 3:36 PM
But johngalt thinks:

"Always look on the briiiight, side of life!"

Posted by: johngalt at October 27, 2014 7:20 PM

October 19, 2014

Review Corner

Smith helped me understand why Whitney Houston and Marilyn Monroe were so unhappy and why their deaths made so many people so sad. He helped me understand my affection for my iPad and my iPhone, why talking to strangers about your troubles can calm the soul, and why people can think monstrous thoughts but rarely act upon them. He helped me understand why people adore politicians and how morality is built into the fabric of the world.
Not bad for an 18th Century bureaucrat.

Russ Roberts has been treated well on these pages. His The Price of Everything somehow escaped Review Corner, but in searching I found several recommendations to buy it -- once to buy two copies. His latest is How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life: An Unexpected Guide to Human Nature and Happiness.

While everyone thinks of Adam Smith as the author of Wealth of Nations, Roberts plumbs the depths of his first book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments. I actually read Wealth of Nations. My first economics course assigned several sections and I just read the whole thing. His prose is indeed a bit dense for the modern reader but I enjoyed it. I went back recently to read Theory of Moral Sentiments and stopped a third of the way through. I don't know if I have lost my appreciation for turgid or whether the subject was less interesting, but I quit. I'm not proud of it but, like Spike, I'm man enough to admit it.

Roberts's book on the book (P.J. O'Rourke did a pretty good one on Wealth of Nations), conversely, enraptured me. Why didn't I get this out of it? Some authors are better read about than read. Even my hero Karl Popper falls into this class: Richard Dawkins, Michael Oakeshott -- perhaps I'll just put Smith on this list. Yet I would love to connect with ToMS as Roberts did.

Wealth of Nations is about economics; Theory of Moral Sentiments is about personal choices and structuring your life for optimal satisfaction. That's the conventional wisdom and Roberts does a great job comparing and contrasting the two works. But he asks first whether they are different as they appear. He tries to explain the heart of economics to casual contacts who think he can grace them with a hot stock pick:

Alas, I am not an accountant or a stockbroker, I explain. But one very useful thing I've learned from economics is to be skeptical of advice from stockbrokers about the latest stock that's sure to skyrocket. Saving you from losses isn’t as exciting as promising you millions, but it's still pretty valuable.

But the real point is that economics is about something more important than money. Economics helps you understand that money isn’t the only thing that matters in life. Economics teaches you that making a choice means giving up something. And economics can help you appreciate complexity and how seemingly unrelated actions and people can become entangled .

Smith's suggestions for complexities and actions and personal choices are not about optimizing capital. Smith's suggestion to which Roberts keeps returning is the twelve words "Man naturally desires, not only to be loved, but to be lovely." To be worthy of esteem, to be admired and admirable. Roberts then mines some superb advice on achieving this

Knowing Roberts from his Café Hayek work and The Price of Everything, he is a great champion of liberty and free markets and limited government and I suspect the Infield Fly Rule. Channeling Smith's temperance and prudence, this is not a strident or pugnacious book. One can almost hear Smith telling me and my Facebook friends to tone it down a bit. The developer of the invisible hand is dubious about excesses of ambition, the great sage of free trade (who ended his career employed as a tariff collector) cautions about excesses in desiring and acquiring the latest gadgets, conveniences and contrivances. The new watch you covet, he cautions, is not likely to make you more punctual.

There are a few shots across the bow -- from Smith and Roberts that will fall harshly on certain ears 'around these parts. Sorry Randians:

This seems to confirm a commonly held view that Smith sees the world as driven by selfishness. Smith is often caricatured as a Scottish forerunner of Ayn Rand, who in addition to Atlas Shrugged wrote a book titled The Virtue of Selfishness. Smith spends a lot of time in The Theory of Moral Sentiments talking about various virtues. Selfishness does not make the cut.

And Prosperitarians:
My point is that the best case Smith can make for material prosperity and commercial life within the pages of The Theory of Moral Sentiments is pretty thin. He is saying that we have within us great drive and ambition, which serves us poorly as individuals but ultimately has led us out of caves and into the sunlight of civilization. It's a compliment, I suppose, but it's pretty backhanded.
Smith couldn't imagine a twenty-first-century machine -- a robot on an assembly line , or an electric razor. But his insights into technology are surprisingly prescient. He understood the human desire to make life easier, better, faster. And he also understood the seductive appeal of machines, and that ear pickers and nail clippers may not always deliver on their promise of excitement and novelty. But we want them anyway, and we look for ways to make them more effective and more elegant.

Roberts points out that the wealthy of his day were noblemen and assorted leeches. Perhaps a McCloskeyesque bourgeoisie would have been more pleasing to his temperament. But I would not bet the proce of a new iEarPicker S6 on it. Smith is the anti-firebrand, though his name comes up frequently in fiery arguments. A longer look shows that he offers wisdom and sagacity -- some better ways to "be lovely."

Smith in his book and with his life is telling us how to live. Seek wisdom and virtue. Behave as if an impartial spectator is watching you. Use the idea of an impartial spectator to step outside yourself and see yourself as others see you. Use that vision to know yourself. Avoid the seductions of money and fame, for they will never satisfy.

This is a superb and charming book. Five stars.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:38 AM | Comments (1)
But johngalt thinks:

"See yourself as others see you." Know yourself, seek wisdom and virtue, avoid false virtues. This is truly selfishness, is it not?

The "selfishness" that "does not make the cut" is a package deal comprised of other, shall we say, attributes, that are commonly viewed as benefitting the self but, in fact, are harmful. But your closing quote is quite an elegant description of how to make oneself a priority for one's thoughts and actions.

Posted by: johngalt at October 20, 2014 2:15 PM

October 12, 2014

Review Corner

It is customary that Review Corner, reviewing a work of fiction, considers both style and underlying philosophy. Is it good art? Does it speak to the values we cherish 'round these parts?

It is also customary that those distinct considerations might be blurred in general rankings. Today's will be distinct. I heartily recommend Steinbeck, Stephen King, Kurt Vonnegut and a host of authors who create great art but whose philosophical values are orthogonal to mine.

I use the word "orthogonal" a lot to describe contrary views. I did not totally understand it until I took MIT's free MOOC Linear Algebra course. But I stole that phrase, years before, from the author in today's Review Corner. Michael Glaviano is an off-the-charts brilliant Physicist, an incredible guitar player, a gifted author, and I am proud to call him a friend. He was finishing his PhD when I stumbled into New Mexico Tech as a freshman, making him quite a bit mentor.

We went many moons without contact, and when I did find him, he told me he had written a novel, The Locust Queen's Feast which I enjoyed immensely. It is a great story and I was not too surprised at its elegant prose, knowing the intelligence and artistic breadth of the author.

But his latest, Edge Station, blew me away.

Edge Station is a great work of science fiction. It adjusts reality enough to explore complex interpersonal concepts, but the characters are realistic and engaging. The AI systems, starships, and medical augmentations described may not match our daily experience, but the people navigating life in the trans-galactic corporation are instantly recognizable.

It's a great story with rich, descriptive prose -- but I was most attracted to the pacing of the novel. Though cerebral in parts, it moves with a summer-blockbuster pace and tightness. Try to not read "one more chapter" before you set it down to pursue quotidian tasks -- it's impossible. I am an old grouch who is reading less fiction these days and very little of this genre, but I was instantly hooked.

As soon as you finish the last page, you wonder "when does the movie come out?" It begs for a screenplay because it already has an ensemble-cast feel with several endearing and interesting characters. The pages move more with intrigue than shoot-'em-up action, but there is a lot going on, much to be resolved.

It's a fun and interesting read which I gladly give five stars.

The last four paragraphs comprise my Amazon review. Five stars well earned for artistic merit. No slack for friendship. I think all ThreeSourcers would enjoy it (and you can snag a Kindle copy for $2.99). But . . . my buddy is from California and has an academic beckground -- poor guy cannot help it! It's rather Firefly-ish in that the "Edge Station" is on the boundary of explored space and slightly outside the reach of -- not a governmental entity like the Alliance -- but a mean old corporation (sigh). The ending might be a little unfulfilling to some who hold humanity at Randian esteem levels.

But it's a rockin' good story. On that, I am not lyin'.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:01 AM | Comments (0)

October 5, 2014

Review Corner

Yet in the long run absolutism did not prevail. Out of one corner of Europe, in the British Isles, an alternative emerged, constitutional monarchy with limits on government, guaranteed rights, relatively benign religious toleration, and free market global capitalism. After the Glorious Revolution the merchant class as well as the nobility successful cabined in the power of king and prince. The nobility did not totally dominate the life of society, and merchants and entrepreneurs were left free to trade and innovate.
Amazon informs me that I purchased Michael Barone's Our First Revolution: The Remarkable British Upheaval That Inspired America's Founding Fathers on July 9, 2007. While that predated Review Corner, I did post a recommendation. I praise Barone as a public intellectual and praise his lack of partisanship. In seven years, I fear the Fox news vs. everybody else may have hardened his edges, but his gifted smarts have not dissipated.

I pulled The First Revolution (Hardcover) off the shelf because I am patching plentiful lacunae in my 17th Century European history. One of these years, I will review Rev. Samuel Rutherford's "Lex Rex," the Kindle version having been released in 1644. Rutherford references biblical stories and 17th Century British politics and latin and season one of American Idol which leaves me lost. I remembered Barone's book and, while the bulk of it happens long after #LexRex, it grounded me somewhat. I thought I'd do the 17th Century right and reread Locke's Two Treatises, Barone and Rutherford. Locke is not a central character in The Glorious Revolution, but he makes several appearances.

Shaftesbury is a problem: he was a supporter of habeas corpus and of religious toleration for many, yet he was an unscrupulous prosecutor of baseless charges against others. He was also the patron of John Locke, whom he met when Locke was studying medicine at Oxford and who advised him to have surgery for an abscess, which saved his life.47 Locke lived in Shaftesbury's London household from 1667;48 he wrote a constitution for the Carolina colony of which Shaftesbury was a proprietor, and was closely involved in all of Shaftesbury's political dealings.

While I enjoyed Barone's book twice now, I'll stand by my seven year old concern that liberty is an afterthought or unintended consequence of expelling an -- egads -- Popish King! I guess you take your liberty where you get it, but fans of the American Revolution, like fans of Star Wars, will find they prefer the original to the prequel.
The 1689 Bill of Rights was from our point of view a limited and grudging document: nothing about freedom of religion, freedom of expression, freedom of the press. It did not prohibit the king from appointing judges or removing them at pleasure, as Charles II and James II had done; but the Act of Succession of 1701 did prohibit monarchs after 1714 from doing so, and William and Anne never did.25 Yet as an affirmative statement of individual rights, however limited, the Bill of Rights broke new ground, ground that would be extended in the New World.

Opposition to Catholicism is central to Rutherford and drove King James II's opponents far more than liberty. I know it purely from history books, President Kennedy was elected shortly after I was born. Blog friend SC reminded me of the strong Klan presence in Denver and problems his parents had. You don't have to go back to Rutherford, but growing up when and where I did, I honestly never encountered it.

Personal anecdotes aside, the Glorious Revolution is a good advertisement for a country's not establishing a national religion. Jeepers, having your King head the church is a recipe for bad things. As the Glorious Revolution feared Hobbesian anarchy in the shadow of the Civil War, clearly the American colonists were not to get tangled up in that.

If the foundation of liberty is not apparent, much of modern politics is. Prince William of Orange [Spoiler Alert: he becomes King William] is a master of pamphlet production and The Netherlands boasts the most numerous and productive printing presses.

The most persuasive mass medium of the day was the pamphlet, and the Dutch were the masters of the pamphlet. They had the freest press in Europe, and the most printing presses, capable of printing in English, French, Czech, Hebrew, and Armenian, as well as Dutch; the most type foundries and paper factories; and, as a small and prosperous nation, they had a fine appreciation of the power of ideas to shape men's acts.
"[Wle have the Coffee-House Tables continually spread with the noisome Excrements of diseased and laxative Scribblers."76 In response the government began printing publications of its own.77

Colorado TV viewers are pretty familiar with "noisome Excrements of diseased and laxative Scribblers" these days. As well as campaign literature, the basis of political parties as we know them can be traced to that period.
Shaftesbury's determination and Charles's stubbornness combined to produce the first political parties in English history, the Whigs and the Tories.84 Both names were insults. Whig was a Scottish term used for horse thieves and applied to Presbyterians. Tory was an Irish term used for outlaws and applied to Catholics.85 Whigs tended to favor toleration of Dissenters as well as the exclusion of James from the throne; Tories strongly favored the primacy of the Church of England and advocated passive obedience to the king.

Did I say take your liberty where you can get it? The combined fears of anarchy, popery, and France made a strengthened Parliament an attractive option. Accepting a monarch from outside direct succession was made palatable with some division of powers.

BUT THE REVOLUTIONARY settlement did endure. It changed England from a nation in which representative government was threatened to one where it was ingrained, from a nation in which liberties were based on tradition to one where they were based in part on positive law, from a nation where the place of religion was a matter of continued political dispute and even armed struggle to one where it became settled in a way that generally respected individual choice, from a nation that mostly kept apart from the wars of continental Europe to one that saw its duty as maintaining a balance of power there and around the world. These were momentous changes -- momentous not just for England and Britain, but for the American colonies and later the United States and the entire world. It was the English and British example of representative government that inspired the Founding Fathers of the United States of America and was copied, with minor variations, in British colonies, many of which have become major nations -- Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India. This improbable revolution did much to shape the world in which we live today.

Excellent book, five stars.

Posted by John Kranz at 11:01 AM | Comments (0)

September 28, 2014

Review Corner

My great-grandfather was born in 1900 in a village called Qiu, which is located in Shandong Province on the east coast of China. Shandong Province is renowned for two seemingly contradictory things: philosophy and banditry.
Not to us, Ms. Raleigh, not to us. I always felt for Ayn Rand (because that's the kind of selfless guy I am). Collectivism destroyed her productive family in Russia. She immigrates to America, then has to watch Rex Tugwell and the New Dealers bring the same economics here.

In Confucius Never Said, Helen Raleigh stays in China until college, witnessing liberalization but experiencing the unconscionable and barely imaginable limitations of Communism. Her family was prosperous until Mao brought that special brand of fairness.

My grandfather was eager to help because he was tired of decades of war, violence, and uncertainty. He craved a peaceful life. Like most people in China, he didn't know what communism stood for, but he figured that he would give his support if the communists delivered the peace and prosperity they promised. He didn't realize that would be the last time he saw his boat.

Raleigh's father and grandfather have a front row seat for the redistribution she is witnessing today. Their close-knit community is ripped apart when her family, though popular, is cast as villainous oppressors.
Initially, some poor farmers were hesitant to identify their neighbors as rich. However, the work team brainwashed the poor farmers into believing that disproportionate property ownership was the main cause of social injustice and that landowners were evil class enemies and exploiters of the poor. With a certain amount of coercion, some poor farmers turned their old grievances or frustrations into hatred for their well -to-do neighbors . Since my great-grandfather owned land, he was classified as a landlord even though he wasn't the richest man in the village.

Once identified as "rich," life becomes unbearably hard for the family, and Raleigh chronicles the difficulties. We know the horrors of the famine (though many Chinese do not), but one is struck by the small things. There are a few train trips to seek education, better opportunities, and finally the author's chance to study in America. We complain about travel, but there is a "papers, please" mentality that makes every stop suspenseful. Communism will starve you if you stay put and administer the death of a thousand cuts if you seek life elsewhere.

The book is outstanding as a close up look at Communism and intriguing biography of the woman who escapes it. The best of Raleigh's book, however, is Raleigh's interest in philosophy and the power of ideas. The title refers to "All men are created equal." Confucius never said that. Confucianism accepts the caste system and a hierarchical society that was overturned in The Enlightenment.

A good friend of mine, Bryan, likes to say "Ideas matter ." Knowing what makes America great also helps explain why civilizations like China, despite their thousands of years' of history, fell so behind in the last two hundred years.

The ideas a society is built upon matter a great deal . For 2000 years, Chinese people followed the moral principles and social orders established by Confucian teaching. Confucius believed that people live their lives within parameters preset by fate. Men should be compassionate towards one another, but there is very little a man can do to change his fate. Peace and harmony in society can only be achieved when every man performs his own social responsibility within the preset social orders. Confucius believed people should obey and respect their rulers just as they obey and respect their fathers, while a ruler should love and care for his subjects as if they were his children. Confucius said many good things, but he never said "All men are created equal," because he believed some men were born to be rulers and some men were born to be subjects.

And yes, that happens to be Brother Bryan quoted. Also quoted are Hayek, Milton Friedman, and William Easterly. In a couple decades here, she has absorbed the philosophical foundations of liberty and prosperity. In "Confucius Never Said" she shares those with us.

Five stars.

UPDATE: Helen Raleigh's talk at LOTR-F"

Posted by John Kranz at 10:13 AM | Comments (7)
But jk thinks:

Umm, yeah, we went through this a little.

I am aware of your discomfort with that phrase. While I will not admit to using it just to make you angry, I do not share you aversion.

I am plodding, turbo-Porsche in the mud speed through Rev Samuel Rutherford's "Lex Rex." It scored a spot in Brother Keith's Top Ten and he called The Rev, a precursor ad foundation to John Locke.

Tough sledding for me (and it's biblical foundation might do you physical harm), but Locke, Rutherford and Jefferson all address "is one man born to be the slave of another." I don't hear Harrison Bergeron in the phrase, I hear birthright liberty. "Qua Liberty" if you will allow.

Posted by: jk at September 29, 2014 7:34 PM
But jk thinks:

Raleigh is a friend of some friends, and a fan of Ms. Rand. We could quite possibly get further clarification from the author.

Posted by: jk at September 29, 2014 7:43 PM
But T. Greer thinks:

Nah, Confucius is fine with the idea that everybody is created equal. Both Confucius and the eventual Confucian tradition that developed around his purported teachings were completely comfortable with the idea that a no one could become a someone---indeed, they hated hereditary nobility. They were meritocrats from the start, believing that gentlemen were defined by their virtue, righteousness,filial piety and ritual propriety, not their birth or station. The Confucian examination system--which hypothetically allowed a peasant to reach the heights of power if he was virtuous and smart enough--is a good example of this.

On the other hand, China had no conception of 'inalienable rights' until Western ideas and works entered the country in the 1800s.

Posted by: T. Greer at September 30, 2014 1:38 AM
But johngalt thinks:

Would TG agree that "all men are created equal" was the ideological weapon to fight the aristocratic caste system and, once that dragon was slain, individual unalienable rights heralded the true renaissance? I see them as distinct, but complementary, stages of liberty.

This is not criticism of Raleigh's message as much as sharpening it to a finer point.

Posted by: johngalt at September 30, 2014 11:26 AM
But jk thinks:

I don't know that the author's thesis is under scrutiny (though it does not align with tg's assertion). The thing at risk is my expansion. And, to be fair, if you scroll toward the end of the video (47:35), I ask a direct question and she demurs.

Posted by: jk at September 30, 2014 1:14 PM
But johngalt thinks:

Demurred on the Confucius connection perhaps, but not on the idea that "all men are created equal" is the foundational principle of the United States. She later explains that it guides the relationship between the people and their government, which got me thinking about another local activist, Laura Carno, and her "I Am Created Equal" advocacy. She joins Raleigh in saying, "that free people doing what they want with their own property is the foundation of our country and our culture."

So I will cop to philosophic pedantry, as the "created equal" message is more visceral to more folks than "individual unalienable rights." (Wait, wait... in, duh, video, what was that again?)

Posted by: johngalt at October 1, 2014 2:54 PM

September 21, 2014

Review Corner

In addition, public consumption took place in illegal taverns knows as "speakeasies," and frequenting these places of businesses became a trendy activity during Prohibition , even for women, who formerly were less likely to frequent saloons. In this way, the law had the truly perverse effect of helping cause a rise in alcohol consumption by women, the very group that had been a major driving force in getting the Eighteenth Amendment ratified in the first place.
It will not come as a stunning shock to ThreeSourcers that government programs create unintended consequences. Or, in the vernacular, "I'll wait while you put your shocked face on."

Yet I'll still recommend Aftermath: The Unintended Consequences of Public Policies by Thomas E. Hall. Its factual underpinnings are valuable when one encounters a voter less enlightened than ThreeSourcers and its depth and clarity will entertain those who already accept its premise.

Instead of a laundry list of bad policy, Hall takes four issues in depth: Income tax /16th Amendment, cigarette taxes, alcohol prohibition, and the minimum wage. Each gets a historical legislative perspective -- who was for it, who against, how and by what margins it passed. Beyond the "Baptists and Bootleggers" coalitions, there are frequently unexpected advocates.

The data in Table 4.2 also help explain why increases in the minimum wage were supported by many northern politicians and business organizations, but generally opposed by southerners. Companies operating in high-wage cities compete with firms located in low-wage cities. For example, suppose that in 1955, a company operating in the South paid unskilled workers $ 0.75 per hour, while a company in the North that produced the same product paid its unskilled workers $ 1.00 per hour. The northern company could pay its workers more because they were more productive because of a higher level of mechanization. An increase in the federal minimum wage from $ 0.75 to $ 1.00 would have no impact on the wage paid to unskilled workers employed by the northern company, but it would cause a $ 0.25 increase in the wage paid by the firm operating in the South.
During the 1950s, labor unions became strong advocates of federal price-support programs that maintain farm prices above equilibrium levels. U.S. labor leaders believed that keeping food prices artificially high would provide an incentive for farmers to continue farming instead of moving to cities where they would compete with existing workers and push down wages.

Many of the unintended consequences of course are desirable for government. Hall paints a picture of a government that was truly surprised at how much revenue could be raised from progressive taxation. A gift that never stopped taking.
The personal income tax instituted in 1913 was originally designed to shift the burden from the working class to the upper class by taxing the top U.S. income earners and using those funds to make the federal government less dependent on customs duties and excise taxes on alcohol and tobacco. The income tax accomplished its goal, but it also created the major unintended consequence of allowing the creation of our modern big-government welfare state by generating a flood of revenue for vote-seeking politicians to spend.

I did not know that prohibition featured a medicinal exemption (I know, I should get out more). Just as many states allowed "medicinal marijuana" and Colorado still waives the 20% excise tax to prescription holders, the government kept huge warehouses of top notch spirits throughout prohibition, with a complex schedule of rates for various uses. Some saw an opportunity.
When Prohibition went into effect, Remus was earning his living as a criminal defense lawyer in Chicago, and he soon found himself defending bootleggers being prosecuted for violating the Volstead Act. Remus realized that the profits in the illegal alcohol business were larger than what he was earning as a lawyer, so he began to consider changing to a more lucrative career.
His business employed 3,000 people, operated in eight states, handled about 3 million gallons of booze, and grossed somewhere between $ 60 million and $ 75 million, from which he paid around $ 20 million in bribes to a large number of police and U.S. Treasury agents (Lindsay 1974). These activities earned him the title King of the Bootleggers.

All this product was from government warehouse -- not bathtubs or private stills.
One of his better-known transactions (because it resulted in a criminal trial) involved spending $ 125,000 to purchase 891 barrels of whiskey at the Jack Daniel's distillery in Missouri, which works out to about $ 3.30 per gallon. He sold the whiskey for $ 25-$ 30 per gallon (Asbury 1950, 221). Over the course of his criminal career, Remus is estimated to have amassed a personal fortune of $ 20 million.

Prohibition, of course, lives on though alcohol is exempted. The other segments are alive and well in their original form: government that spends $1.17 for each new dollar raised in taxes, huge disparities in cigarette taxes as nannies attempt prohibition through excessive taxation fund smuggling operations (the 9/11 hijackers had fake New York cigarette stamps). And, the minimum wage debate rages on in the 2014 midterms and on my Facebook feed. Many could learn from this book.

Five stars.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:40 AM | Comments (0)

September 14, 2014

Review Corner

The sanctuary had looked good two hours ago, from the other end of Denver. It had looked like sweet respite wrapped up in what the doctor ordered. Here, up close and personal, from the corner of Colfax and oblivion, it didn't seem like such a sure bet.
That one hits home. Our band had a house gig on Colfax and Oblivion and my apartment was nearby. Sarah Hoyt is a Coloradan, but even more familiarly, she is a fixture in the liberty movement, blogging community, and social media. I believe our own blog brother Keith is her Facebook friend.

And yet, Mr. nonfiction guy had not read any of her work. A couple months ago, Instapundit highlighted a chance to get Wings for 99 cents on Kindle (I paid full price -- now her mother can get that operation...) I finally got to it a few weeks ago and I was enthralled.

The short story is underrated to begin with, but Hoyt's imagination takes it to new heights. You never know if you'll be in ancient Carthage (Carthago Delenda Est), or on another planet, or if characters will end up being robots or gods or humans or vampires or one of her fans' favorites Nnnnnuuuuuunnnnnnns in Ssspaaaaacccceee! The unifying theme is that they are damn good stories and the prose is brilliant.

What if Marlowe weren't the one who wrote Marlowe's plays? What if they were the work of some noblewoman, some female scholar that Marlowe kept in his room, writing plays for Marlowe's credit and profit?

The other great opportunity for a book of short stories is that one of them might touch you very deeply. And so it is with the title cut as it were, Wings. MS had reduced my faculties to play guitar and completely taken my ability to climb onstage with one. My lovely bride lost much art and music with her stroke. Yet I play on the world's smallest stage and she has adapted some crafts and learned new ones. Wings speaks to the indomitable inner spirit of art.
In the darkness it was hard to tell, nor did I care. I, Kimon, was in no state to help the dying or bury the dead. I, Kimon, was but a man walking in the land of the living by mistake, an animated corpse that moved still, that moved, invariably, towards his certain end.

I suspect all the Heinlein fans 'round these parts would enjoy her work. I enjoyed Wings greatly -- five stars.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:17 AM | Comments (0)

September 13, 2014

Atlas Shrugged Part III - From the other side

And then there is the predictable movie critic review, included in fairness and objectivity, and to illustrate that, yes, the movie has flaws. But then, not every movie has the production values of 'Gone With the Wind' or "Titanic.'

From two scenes about the ultimate destiny of Dagny's sister-in-law, which seem to have been awkwardly shoehorned into the movie after the fact, to a love scene in L.A.'s Union Station destined to enter the Bad Movie Sex Scene Hall of Fame, “ASIII” feels like the most scattershot entry in the trilogy, despite a relative rally toward competence with the second movie.

Ayn Rand's books remain in print and, for better or worse, continue to shape minds and win converts. For all the lasting impact of her literature, it's difficult to imagine anyone not already on board with her ideas being swayed by these singularly awful screen adaptations.

Not just awful. SINGULARLY awful. As in, "The worst movies of all time" awful. This gratuitous ending, to me, betrays a feeling that as much as the reviewer tried to besmirch the creative product of other's efforts with the smug "anyone could have done better than this" attitude of one who has never attempted to do anything himself, he still needed to take one last parting shot.

Thus ends my review of his review.

Posted by JohnGalt at 1:09 PM | Comments (0)

September 7, 2014

Review Corner

For a long while Madison's perspective seemed to prevail. In 1796, for example, a relief bill for victims of a Savannah fire was soundly defeated. Virginia's William B. Giles stated bluntly that members of Congress "should not attend to what... generosity and humanity required, but what the Constitution and their duty required."6
In Helvering, the Court rejected James Madison's advice. He had argued that the General Welfare Clause was not a grant of added power to Congress but simply a convenient shorthand for all the powers enumerated in Article I, section 8, of the Constitution--which were designed, individually and collectively, to "provide for the common Defence and general Welfare."
In a perfect world, Robert Levy and William Mellor would not need to write The Dirty Dozen: How Twelve Supreme Court Cases Radically Expanded Government and Eroded Freedom. In a just world, the publishers at Cato would have them revise the 2009 work every five years. Perhaps like the S&P 500 moving new cases in. Not that I would replace any they've chosen, but it would be great to hear their take on the Roberts Court. I am such a target audience for this, I was rather surprised to find that it was not dedicated personally to me.

David Kopel has a great riff. When he is "pinned down" by an interviewer asking "is Social Security constitutional?" or such, the DU Law Professor and all around HOSS says that there are two constitutions: one as he would read it were it just ratified in which it would not be constitutional, but one accounting for 200+ years of stare decisis and our current acceptance of government power. By the second, Social Security is clearly constitutional.

As one who regrets the bifurcation, this book does a superb job of documenting how we got from Madison's "I cannot lay my finger on that part of the Constitution..." to NFIB v Sibelius. The authors take twelve cases, the dirty dozen, and for each lay out the story behind it, the legal and constitutional principles involved, the Justices on either side, key points of majority opinions, concurrences, and dissents -- and the ramifications of precedent. In the cases I knew, I learned additional details, and there several I did not know.

One also gets a better feel for many Justices. Chief Charles Evans Hughes was something of a hero of mine because he resigned his Associate seat on the court to run against President Wilson's reelection in 1916. A few thousand votes' changing in California could have saved our country one of the worst terms and some of the greatest stretches of the Constitution. Yet as a Justice, he consistently appears on the wrong side. In Home Building & Loan Association v. Blaisdell, the right of contract was under assault by the Minnesota Mortgage Moratorium Law in 1933. Debt forgiveness was growing in popularity in a New Deal world.

The resultant moral and legal dilemma had been crystallized pithily by Marcus Tullius Cicero nearly two thousand years earlier. What is the meaning, Cicero had asked, of an "abolition of debts, except that you buy a farm with my money; that you have the farm, and I have not my money?"

Hughes (so hard to watch a hero fall) thought it okay to have state legislatures rewrite contracts, because there was an emergency -- and besides, they were just corporations.
The Court had little sympathy for Home Building. As chief justice Hughes explained: "Official reports" showed that lenders "are predominantly corporations, such as insurance companies, banks, and investment and mortgage companies. [They] are not seeking homes or the opportunity to engage in farming. Their chief concern is the reasonable protection of their investment security."21 There you have it, a new hierarchy of rights based on class and found nowhere in the Constitution: Corporate shareholders and employees are second-class citizens whose rights can be sacrificed to protect homeowners and farmers.

Chrysler bondholders, anybody? We can take their preferred position in liquidation -- which they have paid a premium for -- and instead give the Unions first redemption. It is, after all, an emergency.
"Emergency does not create power," Hughes conceded, but "emergency may furnish the occasion for the exercise of power. Although an emergency may not call into life a power which has never lived, nevertheless emergency may afford a reason for the exertion of a living power already enjoyed."

[Justice George] Sutherland dismissed that notion as mumbo-jumbo: I can only interpret what is said on that subject as meaning that, while an emergency does not diminish a restriction upon [government] power, it furnishes an occasion for diminishing it, and this, it seems to me, is merely to say the same thing by the use of another set of words, with the effect of affirming that which has just been denied.

Way back then, of course, it was totally different than today. Why, Congress delegated authority on complex and technical issues to bureaucrats in the Executive Branch (I know, you're shocked!)
Of course, even if our senators and representatives are unqualified or too busy to handle the job assigned to them by the Constitution, the answer cannot be to pretend that parts of the Constitution do not exist.

Yet in Whitman v. American Trucking Associations, Inc., that is basically what the Supreme Court did.6 For all practical purposes the Court removed the nondelegation doctrine from the Constitution. That doctrine, which holds that Congress may not freely delegate its legislative powers, traces its roots to John Locke, the distinguished political philosopher whose writings were influential in crafting both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. In 1690, Locke stated that "[t]he legislative cannot transfer the power of making laws to any other hands; for it being but a delegated power from the people, they who have it cannot pass it over to others"; the legislative power is "to make laws, and not to make legislators."

Each of these cases is germane today -- most more so after President Obama and his signature legislation.

We look for the ideal structure of government at ThreeSources. Randy Barnett makes compelling case that interest and power will erode any structural protection of individual rights. Jefferson's "The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground" holds true. And yet, but not for these 12 decisions, the Judicial Branch could have preserved Constitutional liberty. In spite of bozos in Congress and rapacious presidents, and progressive nannyism and fiat currency. We could have survived all that with Justices who understood and subscribed to the Constitution's protections.

After reading [a modern Commerce Clause decision], you wonder why anyone would make the mistake of calling it the Commerce Clause instead of the "Hey, you-can-do-whatever-you-feel-like Clause?" --Alex Kozinski, "Introduction to Volume Nineteen," Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy 19 (1995):

Awesome! Five stars.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:05 AM | Comments (0)

August 31, 2014

Review Corner

Muddy used to say that there were two kinds of players: those who are born to it, and those you can "build with a hammer and nails." I’m sure Muddy was the first kind, and though I may have a little talent and much desire, I’m the second kind. I am indebted to the carpenter.
Muddy is, of course, Muddy Waters (McKinley Morganfield), and the author is his long-time guitarist, Bob Margolin. Margolin picks and writes. He has a degree in Public Relations from Boston University about which he says "now a 41-year-old virgin because it’s never screwed anyone." He wrote regular columns in blues magazines and dabbled in "blues fiction" creating characters and situations around players who died too soon, imagining their being alive today.

In Steady Rollin', he assembles these columns and stories into an eBook with updates where needed and a conversational, bloggy banter to tie them together. "I'm just sharing my thoughts on my musical experiences in a conversational, friendly way."

The in-depth look at Muddy Waters and Pinetop Perkins is worth the price of admission ($6.99 on Kindle as I type). I've read a bit on Muddy but did not know much about Pinetop. Margolin contrasts the two with Muddy's being the serious, punctual, professional bandleader and Pinetop's taking life as it comes. He shows up to the gig on time, but he doesn't sweat it.

Margolin credits this for Perkins's longevity. Muddy, Pinetop, (and my Dad) were all born in 1913. Pinetop lived to be 97 and Muddy only 70. Muddy really takes Bob Margolin under his wing and teaches him Chicago Blues -- sometimes quite sternly "That note made my dick hurt, don't ever play it like that again."

The band somewhat famously breaks up and Margolin goes on to other things. I don't think he lives like Mick Jagger, but every blues guitarist knows him well. He's on Facebook and is a regular guy. Just a regular guy who has played with all my heroes. A regular guy who was in The Last Waltz that I watched 50 times when I was 17. A guy I saw tour with Muddy when I was 18.

Margolin and I share a love of dogs, and he shares a great story of when Hubert Sumlin came to his house.

But our porch jam was a revelation for my "faithful" dogs. As soon as they heard Hubert play, they knelt at his feet, as attentive to the exquisite nuances in his picking as a gaggle of Blues guitar worshippers, but with sharper hearing. They raised their eyebrows and told me coldly to let Hubert take all the solos. They cocked their heads and asked why I don’t sound as good as Hubert. They looked down their noses at me and told me pointedly that they’d never love me like they love him. Now whenever he sees me, Hubert asks, "How are my dogs?"

The book is full of good stories and deep affection for Muddy, Pinetop, Hubert, BB King. In a grimy, grisly industry, Margolin finds and shares the love of some very good people.
His 97-years-long life was a blessing for his music and his sweet personality as well as a miracle of improbable survival. Pinetop smoked since 1922 and ate at McDonald's every day. He hung out in Blues bars every night. He drank until he was eighty-five. If he sat in with a band at Antone's in Austin on a Monday night, he gave the same show that he might be paid $10,000 for, headlining a festival in Europe the next weekend. He looked great in what he called his "Daniel Boone pimp" sharp clothes, flirted boldly with five generations of women, and was quick to make a silly or clever pun or laugh at himself.

I used the word bloggy because the book is unedited, it is available in eBook only, and the presentation can be a little rough. If that scares you away, so be it. If not, belly up and I think you'll dig it. Four stars.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:13 AM | Comments (0)

August 24, 2014

Review Corner

While our enterprise lay all in theory, we had pleased ourselves with delectable visions of the spiritualization of labor. It was to be our form of prayer and ceremonial of worship. Each stroke of the hoe was to uncover some aromatic root of wisdom, heretofore hidden from the sun. Pausing in the field, to let the wind exhale the moisture from our foreheads, we were to look upward, and catch glimpses into the far-off soul of truth. In this point of view, matters did not turn out quite so well as we anticipated.
On a tip from Nick Gillespie, of all folks, I purchased Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Blithedale Romance. Though a free one was available, I plunked down 99 cents for the Illustrated edition. That's just how I roll. It's rather like a night out on the town with Jay-Z.

Gillespie reviews the 1852 novel for Barron's and blogs about it on Reason:

If you're looking for a summer beach read, this is one worth checking out; it's funny, sexy, and sad. And if you're a progressive or neo-con reformer, put down down your slide rule or whatever instrument you're using to create the parameters of your nouveau Great Society and pick this up immediately.

Our protagonist joins a socialist commune in 19th Century New England, and telegraphs immediately that things are not going to end well. I cannot get past Rupert's phalanx of a pay wall to read the full review, but the exceprts imply that the work is a bit autobiographical and that Hawthorne, like protagonist Miles Coverdale, did sign up for a back to nature community to escape writers' block.

Whether it is based on fact or not, Hawthorne makes its outlandish characters extremely real. And -- as Gillespie asserts -- spins a great yarn that is funny and engaging. It is one of those "one more chapter before I put it down" books that will destroy your productivity until complete. It is not very long, so that is a temporary flaw.

Each of the main characters has a good deal of mystery that is slowly revealed over the course of the book. The two served straight up from the start are the narrator-protagonist and Mr. Hollingsworth. Hollingsworth, like Mrs. Jellyby from Dickens's Bleak House, is consumed by philanthropy to the ruin of people and things nearer.

But by and by you missed the tenderness of yesterday, and grew drearily conscious that Hollingsworth had a closer friend than ever you could be; and this friend was the cold, spectral monster which he had himself conjured up, and on which he was wasting all the warmth of his heart, and of which, at last,--as these men of a mighty purpose so invariably do,—he had grown to be the bond-slave. It was his philanthropic theory.

Hollingsworth is friendly and helpful, but he is involved in the Blithedale commune more to recruit members, raise funds, and scout locations for his planned home to reform criminals.
On this foundation he purposed to devote himself and a few disciples to the reform and mental culture of our criminal brethren. His visionary edifice was Hollingsworth's one castle in the air; it was the material type in which his philanthropic dream strove to embody itself; and he made the scheme more definite, and caught hold of it the more strongly, and kept his clutch the more pertinaciously, by rendering it visible to the bodily eye. I have seen him, a hundred times, with a pencil and sheet of paper, sketching the facade, the side-view, or the rear of the structure, or planning the internal arrangements, as lovingly as another man might plan those of the projected home where he meant to be happy with his wife and children.

In recent persiflage on these hallowed pages, I reflected on the surfeit of fictional works that celebrate philanthropy. Bleak House and The Blithedale Romance stand out for presenting philanthropy non-heroically. Mrs. Jellyby fails to bathe her children or attend a daughter's wedding for her singular devotion to the poor in Africa. She is a minor enough character to be presented comically. Hollingsworth is the second male lead here and is much more complex. But he struggles to connect with love, friendship, and purpose for an idea that is as abstract as Africa is to Mrs. Jellyby.

The sweet joy of labor, the simplicity of returning to the earth and the old ways and the fairness of communal living all take serious blows in Mister Hawthorne's able hands.

The truth was, the hot-house warmth of a town residence, and the luxurious life in which I indulged myself, had taken much of the pith out of my physical system; and the wintry blast of the preceding day, together with the general chill of our airy old farmhouse, had got fairly into my heart and the marrow of my bones. In this predicament, I seriously wished--selfish as it may appear--that the reformation of society had been postponed about half a century, or, at all events, to such a date as should have put my intermeddling with it entirely out of the question.
And, first of all, we had divorced ourselves from pride, and were striving to supply its place with familiar love. We meant to lessen the laboring man's great burden of toil, by performing our due share of it at the cost of our own thews and sinews. We sought our profit by mutual aid, instead of wresting it by the strong hand from an enemy, or filching it craftily from those less shrewd than ourselves (if, indeed, there were any such in New England), or winning it by selfish competition with a neighbor; in one or another of which fashions every son of woman both perpetrates and suffers his share of the common evil, whether he chooses it or no.

So there is no spoiler alert required that they did not establish a munificent arcadia and live there happily ever after. But the mysterious Zenobia and young Priscilla delight the reader with Coverdale's quest to discern their backgrounds. Who are they? Will they become entangled with either Coverdale or Hollingsworth? Will Blithedale survive? I'll leave each of these delights to the reader.

Four stars. Even if you buy the expensive Illustrated version, that is less than 0.25/star. Pretty damned good value.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:12 AM | Comments (0)

August 17, 2014

Review Corner

This is an idea that goes right back to Aristode, who said that the 'concept' of a chicken is implicit in an egg, or that an acorn was literally 'informed' by the plan of an oak tree. When Aristode's dim perception of information theory, buried under generations of chemistry and physics, re-emerged amid the discoveries of modern genetics, Max Delbruck joked that the Greek sage should be given a posthumous Nobel prize for the discovery of DNA.
Matt Ridley's "The Rational Optimist" received five stars and among the first Editor's Choice Award. [Review Corner]. When a friend of a friend on Facebook listed his Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters as being a formative book, I rushed to pick it up on Kindle.

I had recently finished Dennis Bray's Wetware [Review Corner], so I was as up on genetics and cell biology as any time in my life (my tastes run towards Physics and Math, but one cannot help being intrigued). Ridley's takes the genome past genetics and actually does limn a history of life by reading changes in genes and comparing them across species and geography.

If the human genome can tell us things about what happened in the primeval soup, how much more can it tell us about what else happened during the succeeding four million millennia . It is a record of our history written in the code for a working machine.
I was born just five years after the moment when, and just two hundred miles from the place where, two members of my own species discovered the structure of DNA and hence uncovered the greatest, simplest and most surprising secret in the universe .

Mock my zeal if you wish; consider me a ridiculous materialist for investing such enthusiasm in an acronym. But follow me on a journey back to the very origin of life, and I hope I can convince you of the immense fascination of the word.

Well, yeah, Matt. Sign me up. To expand the concepts from genetics to other, superseding concepts, Ridley deftly explains evolution, politics, science, and even economics.
The habit acquired through the sexual division of labour had spread to other aspects of life. We had become compulsively good at sharing things, which had the new benefit of allowing each individual to specialise. It was this division of labour among specialists, unique to our species, that was the key to our ecological success, because it allowed the growth of technology. Today we live in societies that express the division of labour in ever more inventive and global ways.

Pardon the British spellings, but it recalls an interesting section where genetic similarity was compared to language which allowed the comparison of human migration with people bringing their language with them against the flow of ideas and languages among people who stayed put. That's as good an example as I can come up with to show how Ridley expands the genome beyond genetics

Not that there is not plenty of genetics. He ridicules books that "blame" genes for disease. He lists several genetic ailments but reiterates IN ALL CAPS AT ONE POINT that genes are not there to cause diseases anymore than the transmission in your car is there just to malfunction and cause an expensive repair. There is a chapter for each chromosome (with a small twist) and an example sequence to launch a discussion on History (Chromosome 3), Self-interest (Chromosome 8), Sex Memory, Death, Politics, Immortality, Eugenics, Free Will...

From The Rational Optimist, one can expect that when the subject matter drifts into the philosophical/political realm, the ThreeSourcer will not be left behind.

Indeed , the definition of the perfect meritocracy, ironically, is a society in which people's achievements depend on their genes because their environments are equal.
To think otherwise, to believe in innate human behaviour, is to fall into the trap of determinism, and to condemn individual people to a heartless fate written in their genes before they were born. No matter that the social sciences set about reinventing much more alarming forms of determinism to take the place of the genetic form: the parental determinism of Freud; the socio-economic determinism of Marx; the political determinism of Lenin; the peer-pressure cultural determinism of Franz Boas and Margaret Mead; the stimulus- response determinism of John Watson and B. F . Skinner; the linguistic determinism of Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf. In one of the great diversions of all time, for nearly a century social scientists managed to persuade thinkers of many kinds that biological causality was determinism while environmental causality preserved free will; and that animals had instincts, but human beings did not.

It is a wondrous work. He completed it before the Genome Project but was aware that its completion was immanent. In a later revision, he updates this. But nothing in the sequencing alters or contradicts anything Ridley has written, it just underscores the wonder and paves the way for a bright future.
For we, this lucky generation, will be the first to read the book that is the genome. Being able to read the genome will tell us more about our origins, our evolution, our nature and our minds than all the efforts of science to date. It will revolutionise anthropology, psychology, medicine, palaeontology and virtually every other science .

Five stars and a fulsome recommendation.

Posted by John Kranz at 11:09 AM | Comments (2)
But dagny thinks:

Oh Man!! I've got to find time for this! JK says, "my tastes run towards Physics and Math, but one cannot help being intrigued." I, on the other hand, can manage physics and math as necessary but biology was always what fascinated me.

P.S. It is one chapter per chromosome pair. Humans actually have 46 chromosomes.

Posted by: dagny at August 18, 2014 12:02 PM
But jk thinks:

I think you'd dig it. (The twist is that the first last Chapter is Chapter 22.)

Posted by: jk at August 18, 2014 1:36 PM

August 10, 2014

Review Corner

What you are doing as an enzyme is analogous to what a transistor in an electronic circuit does (or a vacuum tube in one of Grey Walter's tortoises). The electrical current through the device can be thought of as the pipeline conversion by the enzyme. The controlling voltage, typically applied to the base terminal of the transistor, is like the small molecule that binds to the enzyme and regulates its activity. Small fluctuations in the concentration of B control the rate of A' production. And the quantitative relationship between the two need not be simple. Depending on the details of protein structure, the chemical output of the enzyme may be a highly amplified version of its input, as it often is for a transistor.
Dennis Bray has an entire book to provide nuance in Wetware: A Computer in Every Living Cell. I have bad typing skills and a distracted readership. Please set your "infer" dial on one or two. Bray is careful to ensure that readers are not taking leaps with his suggestions.

But you see what I did there? I made an analogy of the human brain to a computer. Bray is not suggesting amoebic sentience, but his rich portrayal of cell structure and processes shows these tiny life units to be far more complex than we imagine. Even more interestingly, the tasks they need to perform for survival require what is at least analogous to memory and cognition.

Now I can give bacterial memory a molecular explanation. Bacteria store a running record of the attractants they encounter. This tells them whether things are better or worse: whether the quantity of food molecules in their vicinity is higher or lower than it was a few seconds ago. It's a pragmatic strategy: if conditions are improving, continue swimming; if not, tumble and try another direction.

I may have mentioned that biology was not my strong suit in school. Bray describes the chemical processes in detail -- the book seems accessible yet comprehensive. He provides sufficient detail on what is going on, then draws his analogies and asks deeper questions. Bray's mechanical analogies to cells is bold and unexpected -- but when it comes to the inevitable mind-computer comparison he backs off.
A neuronal synapse reveals most clearly the distinction between living and nonliving computers. Since it carries information from one nerve cell to another, you might be tempted to represent it as a single transistor in a printed circuit-as a single bit of information. But this would be to miss the point. Far from performing in a rigid, stereotypical, predictable fashion, synapses are richly, almost infinitely, variable in their input-output relationships.

My start-up was attempting to commercialize cutting-edge AI research -- basically trying to provide a limited-domain "Siri" ten years earlier. Moore's Law or Cole's Law notwithstanding, computers look pretty simplistic compared to biology.
It is impossible, I think, for us to envision the richness and diversity of cell chemistry. The level of detail is atomic in dimensions but astronomical in variety. Every structure inside a cell is covered with a mosaic of chemical groups, positioned and maintained by the mechanisms just mentioned. Every protein molecule is subtly different, carrying not only the imprint of history, shaped by evolution over millennia, but also an echo of recent events.
The processes I've collected in this book under the term wetware include most of the chemical reactions inside cells. They include the transformations of small molecules familiar in energy metabolism and the synthetic reactions used to make large molecules; the modifications in structure of proteins by addition of phosphate and methyl groups; the assembly of proteins into large complexes; the turning on and off of genes; the transport of ions and small molecules across membranes; the generation of mechanical force and directed motion.

Wetware is informative and thought-provoking. By sheer accident, I moved from it to Matt Ridley's Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters. Both are accessible, but I was glad to have the primer in proteins and cell chemistry from Wetware.

Four stars.

Posted by John Kranz at 9:48 AM | Comments (0)

August 3, 2014

Review Corner

We have reached another key moment in this book. Today's emphasis on material development --focusing on "what must we do to end global poverty?" while neglecting the unequal rights for blacks and whites and the unequal rights in the West and the Rest--goes back to this moment and other similar moments in the history of the development idea. Development at moments like this accepted the bargain of the autocrat. The autocrats and their expert advisers asked us to give up our concerns about rights in return for a promise by autocrats to alleviate poverty faster than free societies would.
William Easterly's "The White Man's Burden" received a glowing, five star Review Corner a couple weeks ago. To set forward The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor, I will need to bestow a well-deserved Editor's Choice award.

Similar to Taleb's Antifragility and Black Swan, the newer book is a more general case that includes the earlier work. White Man's Burden describes the benefits of Hayekian, bottom up ("searchers" to Easterly) development solutions versus top-down ("planners.") Tyranny of Experts continues the Hayek and adds some Adam Smith to suggest that The West grew prosperous by respecting individual property rights, but that its development plans to lift up The Rest never include rights. Easterly asks about "the debate that never happened," citing prominent experts who respected rights, the many who did not, and why -- without debate or examination -- the authoritarian plans were accepted.

This section of the book (Chapters Three through Five) seeks to understand why and how the illiberal version of development had already defeated the liberal version by January 20, 1949. Our journey will take us from the early years in China to crucial years during and immediately after World War II in West Africa to the final triumph of official development in Colombia in 1948 through 1951.

From my fanboy prose and serial allusions to Hayek and Smith, you'd be forgiven for inferring Easterly as a champion of free markets. He saves plenty of criticism for benevolent autocrats who seek to impose markets. These top down planners of bottom-up solutions can be just as insensitive to rights and to the target people's history. It can be just another "blank slate" solution to recreate a society in the air-conditioned offices of a think-tank. At the same time, ThreeSourcers will find little to disagree with; the elevation of rights over markets does not fall harshly on 3src ears.

The entire work is well crafted, tying different times, places, and plans to a common theme of a blank-slate creation of society, and showing that the different motives of racism, national interest, and misplaced benevolence result in the same, rights-depriving, patronizing, authoritarian control. Development plans use the passive voice exclusively. "Standards will be raised," "production will be coordinated" &c. This allows them to omit the state as controller and enforcer.

[Dr. T.D.] Fong's development plan would appeal to the authoritarian Chiang Kai-shek. "Rationalization" of an industry sounds apolitical. Choosing conscious direction over spontaneous solutions does not say who is doing the conscious directing. Yet in practice, there was only one possibility --the national state-- which would need a lot of power to achieve comprehensive economic control. This sounded like a great approach to an aspiring autocrat like Chiang.
Fong in his new position again highlighted the "need for centralized, coordinated economic planning and control." His models for development in the late 1930s were "Germany and Soviet Russia," which "have attempted industrialization in a new manner which China . . . may simulate with profit." At the time, Fong could not have fully anticipated the awful realities we now know characterized his two models.
Gunnar Myrdal in 1955 cited a 1953 ECAFE Survey written by Fong in support of Myrdal's position that "the state will almost inevitably have to take the initiative." Fong had won the argument for authoritarian development on China. He never commented on how Mao's even more extreme authoritarianism had exiled Fong from his home country.

Got to break some eggs to make Egg Foo Yung, I suppose...
Authoritarian nationalism contributed to two world wars, which left it discredited in the rich countries. Yet authoritarian nationalism got a new lease on life from development in the poor countries. The rich countries' emphasis on the nation as the sole object of development efforts, born out of their own foreign policy needs as discussed in Part Two, coincided with national authorities' efforts to make national identity trump all other identities.

If White Man's Burden is a great intro to Hayek (and it is), Tyranny of Experts is as good an introduction to Adam Smith, the invisible hand, and the advantages of specialization
Suppose Roger Federer was too busy assembling his own iPad to play tennis, Beyoncé was too busy playing tennis for her own family to sing and dance, while Steve Jobs was too busy singing and dancing for his friends to make iPads. I think we are all grateful these three could instead specialize in their best area, what is usually called their "comparative advantage."

Easterly describes the invisible hand as a huge network of problem solvers which all free people can access. The founder of Hyundai was born on a small Korean farm with poor soil and poor irrigation. He found problem solvers who grew food for his family and he solved others' problems by using his exceptional mechanical skills to repair their automobiles.
Suppose I walked out of a building into a pouring rain and realized I had no umbrella, I then asked a stranger to give me his umbrella, which he quickly agreed to give me. Could this really happen? Surely the stranger would likely not agree: he is more likely to be surprised and offended at my bizarre behavior. Yet this did happen to me in downtown New York, and a stranger did give me his umbrella. The only additional details necessary to make it comprehensible is that I gave the stranger $5, and he was a street merchant. The market enlists a vast array of strangers in solving our individual problems.
Let's see how often these basic principles of economics are neglected in development today, starting with the idea beloved by Bill Gates, Jim Yong Kim, and the United Nations Millennium Development Goals: setting goals and then finding evidence-based ways to reach them.

Economics, Development and History. Yet, Easterly always returns to the foundation of rights. Deidre McClosky -- call your office:
But the population story is of no help in explaining why the Western edge of Eurasia would pull ahead beginning in the late eighteenth century and leave the Eastern edge far behind. Why did the West invent the steam engine and railroad, and not the East? We need something else. That something else is already on the table: the Western idea of the individual that emerged from the Enlightenment. That miraculous year 1776 is again the key symbol: Jefferson declares all men equal, Adam Smith declares all men free to choose, and James Watt installs his first steam engine. There are two key mechanisms by which the new Western idea of the individual helped innovation: the challenge to authority and the private return to innovation.

There is a virally popular video on Facebook these days which shows an African cocoa farmer tasting chocolate for the first time. This brings to mind a superb story of African farmers' discovering value and comparative advantage in growing cocoa -- not because of, but in spite of top-down autocracy.
Even after local farmers had introduced cocoa into the Gold Coast (Ghana), the British almost succeeded in killing it. The colonial government had an incentive to make the Gold Coast pay off for the colonizers. They thought cocoa should be grown on "modern" plantations on a large scale. They could not believe that primitive local farmers had already found the most efficient farm size. After six different attempts at plantations failed, with large losses for the colonial budget, colonial officials finally gave up. What the Akwapim knew, and the British did not, was that small holders could mix cocoa with food crops, making small plots preferable.

Another great device of the book is its historic look at Greene Street. A single block in what is now the SoHo section of Manhattan is traced from colonial times to the present. Farmland to sweatshops to bordello row to factories to skid row to art district to gentrified urban lofts. All the changes are Hayekian -- it miraculously escapes Robert Moses Development Aid -- I mean Urban renewal -- which would have precluded its modern successes.
Urban planning in the United States marked the last manifestation of the most enthusiastic New Dealers' wish to see experts plan the US economy. It also exemplified faith in technocrats who were appointed public officials, like Robert Moses in New York, with few checks on their power. The US Housing Act of 1949 endorsing "slum clearance" would give a technocrat like Moses the power to tear down whole neighborhoods and replace them with public housing. But the technocrat Moses would face some fierce democrats on Greene Street.

The 1946 plan recommended all of what is now SoHo for "clearance and redevelopment." In a phrase that sounds familiar from development, the plan said "the depreciation is so widespread that improvement cannot take place except by concerted action." The planners suggested coercion, using eminent domain "to prevent obstruction through holdouts."

But the lovingly documented changes on Greene and the economic and cultural forces which drove them are fascinating. I'd call it the best real-world example of spontaneous order. [Spoiler Alert:] The factories that escaped Moses' bulldozers were perfect for the art studios of Pollock, Warhol and contemporaries who needed to create and display exceptionally large paintings and sculptures. A loft the size of le condo d"amour on Greene Street sells for ~$2.5 million today.
The problem with technocrats is not only that they make the wrong predictions. Their even bigger problem is their confidence in their own predictions. In a seemingly unrelated event in 1947, the artist Jackson Pollock painted Cathedral. It was one of the first works in what would be a successful New York-based art movement called Abstract Expressionism. For the Greene Street block, what was important about Pollock's painting was not its content but its measurements: six feet by three feet. Large canvasses of this kind were common in the new movement, and both the artists and galleries had trouble displaying them in Manhattan's cramped spaces.

I weep to not share additional quotes (I might dribble them out this week as QOTDs) but we must all get to other things. This is a magnificent book. I happily bequeath five stars and an Editor's Choice Award upon it. Run, do not walk to Amazon to buy it.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:32 AM | Comments (1)
But T. Greer thinks:

The Ivory Coast coca story is an interesting one.

Posted by: T. Greer at August 3, 2014 5:32 PM

July 27, 2014

Review Corner

[Milton] Friedman titled his column "Steady as You Go," giving due credit to [George] Shultz, and explained that Nixon had begun to reverse the harmful interventionist policy of the Johnson administration, which Friedman called "fine-tuning with a sledge hammer!" He was looking forward to a more stable and prosperous decade. But that decade didn't come to pass, because Nixon soon gave up on "steady as you go" for political reasons before it could yield positive results.
In practice , the wage and price controls brought interventionism beyond what anyone could have imagined when they thought about the idea in principle . To administer the freeze, government bureaucrats had to consider the intricate details of production and product definition. At a meeting on August 17, 1971, in the Roosevelt Room in the West Wing of the White House, Nixon’s advisers were debating such things as whether chicken broilers were a raw agricultural product and thereby exempt from the price freeze, or a processed product and thereby subject to the freeze.
Yes, I think Madison mentioned in Federalist #10 something about an energetic executive's classifying goods for price controls. Or maybe that was #69, I get them mixed up.

John Taylor believes in predictable and consistent rules for both fiscal and monetary policy. his eponymous rule could replace the Fed with a twenty year old HP Calculator and we'd all be better off. In First Principles: Five Keys to Restoring America's Prosperity, Taylor correlates periods of predictable principled policy with economic growth and dynamism. He also shows how the interventionism of the 1930s, 1970s and present relate to extended periods of negative or slow growth.

As these principles developed over the years, we can see periods when careful attention was paid to them and alternating periods when they were neglected. And we can draw clear conclusions from this history: When policymakers stuck to the principles, economic performance was good. When they ignored or compromised on the principles, economic performance deteriorated.

The 30s have been better plowed of late and Taylor gives props to Amity Shlaes's The Forgotten Man [Review Corner]. Taylor looks at it more econometrically. Taylor gives equal treatment to the 70s, in which we saw interventionist fiscal policy and mad monetary policy after President Nixon pulled us out of Bretton Woods. George Shultz, Milton Friedman, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford retrospectively seemed an unlikely group to unleash a bold era of interventionism, but we know how the story ends. As it happens, I was there in a powder blue leisure suit.
There went the principles. The 1975 decision represented a compromise in which some principles were sacrificed in exchange for others, such as holding down the growth of spending as Greenspan recommended in his memo. Despite his own misgivings about such interventions, Greenspan compromised, thinking that no bill (or a worse bill) would be more harmful to the economy than the bill with the rebate. Moreover, with both the House and the Senate controlled by the opposition party, the veto would likely be overridden anyway.

Then President Carter rode in to save the day, and ... no, wait ...
It's difficult to recall now the seriousness of the U.S. economic slump by the end of the 1970s. Economic growth was weakening, unemployment was rising, and the dollar was sinking. Confidence in U.S. economic leadership was plunging at home and abroad. Sound familiar? But then the winds of economic freedom started blowing again, starting with very strong gusts at the start of the incoming Reagan administration. No more short-term actions and interventions. Temporary was out. Permanent was in. Reagan proposed and the Congress passed long-term reforms such as the tax rate reductions, which reduced income tax rates by 25 percent across the board.

Out with temporary, in with permanent. While we have many improvements over the 1970s -- beyond the leisure suit -- in predictability and consistency, it is much worse. "Temporary" tax cuts, fiscal cliff legislation, and phased tax expenditures seem part of every piece of legislation lately.
After being largely out of use and out of favor for over two decades , Keynesian activism arose from the dead in the 2000s. It started in the George W. Bush administration and reached unprecedented heights in the Barack Obama administration. In retrospect, it started with a whimper rather than a bang when a temporary stimulus was added, as part of the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001, to the permanent reduction in personal income tax rates that President Bush proposed during the 2000 campaign.

Monetary policy has also become interventionist. He relates a great story in which Ben Bernanke published a paper using the Taylor Rule ["the Fed should set the interest rate equal to 1 ½ times the inflation rate, plus ½ times the percentage amount by which the GDP differs from its long-run growth path, plus 1"]. Taylor thought things would be okay until he got a call from Milton Friedman: "John, this is exactly what I mean. In this paper you see a policymaker with an activist bent making use of your curve to justify that activism." Again, we know how the story ends.
The annual meeting of the world's financial leaders in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, each August illustrates how radically things had changed since Volcker wrestled monetary policy back from the brink in the early 1980s. I attended the first monetary policy symposium in August 1982 and was there for the thirtieth meeting in August 2011. The Tetons were still there, but virtually everything else was different. Volcker attended the meeting in 1982; Bernanke, in 2011.

Taylor is no fan of Dodd-Frank or the PPACA. "While the Dodd-Frank bill neglects many of the principles of economic freedom, the 2010 health care law recklessly ignores and violates them all." The heart of Taylorism is rules: rule by law not by men -- monetary policy by function and not be discretion.
Government regulation should rely more on the rule of law and less on the rule of men. Any plan to restore American prosperity must remove the regulatory drag on the economy and the crony capitalism and regulatory capture that magnify it. Consistent with principles of economic freedom and proposals in the two previous chapters, which would roll back recent excesses in fiscal and monetary policy, the 2010 financial legislation and the 2010 health care legislation should be scaled back or amended and replaced with legislation based on market incentives and the rule of law, not on the discretion of government bureaucracies.

Much needs doing, but Taylor remains optimistic that a return to principles will return us to prosperity. I think he does well to examine long periods of prosperity and stagnation. Too many political economists try to relate a recession in a congressional or presidential term; there is too much latency and too many exogenous events to make sense. But Taylor looks at extended periods of prosperity under sound principles in the 80s and 90s against extended problems in the 30's, 70s and the present malaise.

It's a great book that any ThreeSourcer would enjoy -- enough detail to present a substantive argument, but not enough to bog down the reader and cloud the message. Five stars.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:46 AM | Comments (0)

July 20, 2014

Review Corner

A rare early dissenter was the Hungarian-British economist Peter Bauer, who four decades ago presciently predicted the failure of planning "development" through foreign aid. The fallacy is to assume that because I have studied and lived in a society that somehow wound up with prosperity and peace, I know enough to plan for other societies to have prosperity and peace. As my friend April once said, this is like thinking the racehorses can be put in charge of building the racetracks.
William Easterly won a well-deserved Hayek Book Award from the Manhattan Institute for The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good. The title and excerpt above set the book up pretty well. We're constantly told "twelve cents' malaria vaccine can save a child's life;" Easterly has the temerity to point out that -- after $2.4 Trillion of foreign aid -- they still have not provided that 0.12 dose. There clearly going to need Three Trillion!

The other giveaway to the book's content is the Hayek Prize. It's all planners and plans and ten year development strategies. Again, Bullwinkle? That trick never works. Seriously, none of the wealthy countries got that way because of a development plan; they got there through individual rights, incremental improvement, and Hayekian spontaneous order. All of these are impeded by the benevolence of the Gates Foundation, Oxfam, Save the Children, UK's DFID, USAID, and the UN.

The title of course alludes to Kipling. And the subtext of this book is that all the aid workers and donors (and Live 8 viewers) are aghast to share a species with the likes of Kipling and Macaulay with their patronizing and blatantly racist Colonialism.

Cameroonian lawyer and journalist Jean-Claude Shanda Tonme protested in a July 2005 New York Times Op-Ed column about the Live 8 concert organizers that "they still believe us to be like children that they must save," with "their willingness to propose solutions on our behalf."

The common and oft-repeated theme from Kipling's buddies in India in the 1890's to The Rockefeller Foundation in China in the 1930's to The Gates Foundation in Africa in the '00's is "The Blank Slate." What's a few hundred or thousand years of history, local culture and tribal influence? We're going to teach these coolies what works. And yet, time after time it does not.

The author is not a right winger or radical libertarian, though he accepts the superiority of Hayek's bottom-up versus experts' top-down solutions. But like James Tooley's The Beautiful Tree [Review Corner] he starts out as an idealist young man out to save the world. In Easterly's case it is multi-generational.

The bungalow has only one bedroom; the rest of us make do with sofas or chairs pushed together. We are skittish after sighting a few insects and even bats in the bungalow. We go to sleep anyway, to the rhythms of drums in nearby villages and surf on the nearby coast. My father is a biology professor at the University College of Cape Coast, Ghana, part of the American program to lend knowledge to the development of Africa. We are a family of five from Bowling Green, Ohio. We are white people and we have come to save you. I am twelve years old.

Nor has he abandoned hope for aid or helping -- just the methods generally employed and the mistakes frequently made.
The quest for helping the poor gets more complex the more you study it, but please don’t give up! There is hope once you give up the Planner’s ambition of universally imposing a free market from the top down. I point out in this chapter some of the universal problems with markets for poor countries, but the solutions are as varied as the countries and their complex histories.

When I was shopping for this book in the Kindle Store, I was not certain whether this one or his new "Tyranny of Experts" was the Hayek Prize winner. I got the sample for both and both looked good. After finishing this, I immediately bought "Tyranny of Experts" and am halfway through it. It develops similar themes and is also quite good. Forgive me if I conflate points and anecdotes between the two. Both whack the top down aid agencies pretty severely. Both criticize bad governments in the target countries and the ill-effects of aid to prop them up and fund them.
It may be true that poor-country governments are bad, and it may be just as true that Western attempts to change them have been fruitless. Continuing my subliminal quest for the most politically unappealing truths, this chapter considers what to do if both statements are true.
The Achilles' heel is that any government that is powerful enough to protect citizens against predators is also powerful enough to be a predator itself. There is an old Latin saying that goes, "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?"--which translates freely as "Why would you trust a government official any more than you would a shoplifting serial killer?"
Today's system of foreign aid coddles (and probably worsens) bad governments. The long-standing dictator in Cameroon, Paul Biya, gets 41 percent of his government revenue from foreign aid. Under current proposals to sharply increase aid to Africa, that figure would increase to 55 percent.84

And yet, like Colorado Schools the solution is always more money.

His newer book better develops the similarity with "Nation Building." I can't laugh at the follies of Bono and Bill and Melinda without accepting that much of the Neoconservative agenda I supported last decade was built on the same faulty premise -- there wasn't a lot of Hayek in the Afghan and Iraqi rebuilding efforts.

If it were not for the U.S. Army trying to promote economic development, it would seem presumptuous for me as an economist to comment on military interventions. Yet even without recent rhetoric, military intervention is too perfect an example of what this book argues you should not do--have the West operate on other societies with virtually no feedback or accountability.

IMF and USAID money to bad guys was a weapon and blunt foreign policy instrument through The Cold War and now the War on Terror.
In one of the most bizarre episodes of the cold war, the Reagan administration sponsored an organization called Democratic International, which brought together the Contras in Nicaragua, UNITA in Angola, the Islamic mujahedin in Afghanistan, and anti-government rebels in Cambodia.36
Reagan said of the Democratic International in 1988: "there is something in our spirit and history that makes us say these are our own battles and that those who resist are our brothers and sisters." Savimbi was to democracy what Paris Hilton is to chastity.

Whether the invader is the US Army or the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the occupied are pawns. Easterly returns to the theme of "Searchers" who solve a specific problem in an entrepreneurial manner, versus the "Planners" who come in with a blank slate and ideas to remake the whole society.
The sad part is the poor have had so little power to hold agencies accountable that the aid agencies have not had enough incentive to find out what works and what the poor actually want. The most important suggestion is to search for small improvements, then brutally scrutinize and test whether the poor got what they wanted and were better off, and then repeat the process.

Five stars. Like my excursion, I am hard pressed to recommend one book over the other. They are both very good. [UPDATE: Buy The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor But be warned: you may want to go back and read this one....]

Posted by John Kranz at 9:46 AM | Comments (0)

July 13, 2014

Review Corner

With the exception of Medicaid, subsidies flowing to the unemployed and to financially distressed households in the forms of consumer loan forgiveness and government transfers almost tripled after 2007. A minority of that increase is due to an increase in the number of people who would have been eligible for subsidies under prerecession rules, and a majority is the result of more than a dozen changes in benefit rules made possible by several new federal and state government statutes.
THE NEXT STEP is to trace out the possible consequences of the safety net expansions for the major macroeconomic variables--including GDP, consumption, investment, and labor hours. Chapter Five simultaneously estimates dynamic safety net impacts on all four variables using the neoclassical growth model, which embeds the reservation wage and labor productivity schedules from Chapter Two into a dynamic economic model with capital accumulation.
Want a book list? Manhattan Institute has a Hayek Book Award and past recipients include some of my favorite books. So I purchased this year's winner (and a couple other recent ones you'll be hearing about shortly).

Casey Mulligan might be freedom's Thomas Piketty (without the dirigisme and factual errors). The Redistribution Recession: How Labor Market Distortions Contracted the Economy is a serious work. Mulligan isolates economic data to attribute exact causation. Those who enjoy the joke "I was told there would be no math" will utter the phrase sub-rosa at least a few times between the covers of this. I would not advise buying this one in Kindle -- it is $24 on Kindle, lay out the $35 for the hardback. It is dense with formulae and tables; a proper reading would include a desk, scratch paper and the hardcover.

Reading just the text is satisfactory -- it's rather like going to the beach and not getting wet. Your reviewer stayed quite dry but enjoyed the sun and gathered a few important points.

One of the unremarked tragedies of 9/11 was that President Bush's domestic agenda of destroying "tollbooths to the middle class" was discarded to pursue the War on Terror. And sadly, to leave a legacy of additional tollbooths.

Mulligan enumerates the aid dispensed during the recession and sums the marginal tax rate created. Want to get a job? Swell. You do know you'll give up unemployment insurance. Of course. You'll also not qualify for Medicaid, and probably lose SNAP (The Program Formerly Known As food stamps) and TANF (TPFKA welfare). Of course! You're getting off the dole and good for you! Oh, that mortgage refinance deal. Well, you're going to have to drop out of that.

And. You'll have to pay taxes to pay for those programs for everybody not so motivated. The resulting marginal rate is well over 100% for most recipients. The miracle and savior of humanity is that people do work for less than they could make watching Judge Judy. Or, as Mulligan would say:

I leave it to Chetty et al. (2011) to survey and synthesize the micro-econometric evidence and properly adapt it for aggregate analysis. They conclude that the Frisch elasticity of aggregate hours is particularly pertinent for aggregate business cycle analysis and that "Micro estimates imply a Frisch elasticity of aggregate hours of 0.78" (2011, 3) and "it would be reasonable to calibrate representative agent macro models to match a Frisch elasticity of aggregate hours of 0.75" (recall that my slope parameter η can be interpreted as the Frisch elasticity of aggregate hours). 12

Just kidding (not really kidding, that was an actual quote) but Mulligan concludes:
This chapter completes a significant part of the book's affirmative case that the 2008–09 recession and lack of labor market recovery has a lot to do with labor supply distortions. I conclude that at least half, and probably more, of the change in aggregate hours between the end of 2007 and the end of 2009 would not have occurred if safety net program rules had been constant. The expanding social safety net may well be the largest single factor reducing labor during the 2008– 09 recession.

I think most ThreeSources instinctively believe Mulligan. He presents a serious and quantitative proof for the qualitative belief. Other important points that can be grasped without computing the Frisch elasticity coefficient include the relation to marginal tax rates: giving up the cheap refi because you get a raise is a high marginal tax rate.

Another non-intuitive argument is the sum of these programs. Each can be defended as compassion by Robert Reich on Kudlow, but the sum of myriad legislation is a huge expansion of the safety net. Mulligan leans libertarian, but he would prefer a single transparent and quantifiable benefit to the alphabet soup model we have, in which nobody really knows what benefits are available and what they cost. These new programs sit atop a foundation of aid that is not easily measured by itself:

Admittedly, the principle of comparative advantage says that the aggregate losses from a subsidy that reduces labor per adult by, say, 6 percent are significantly less than 6 percent of the nation’s labor income because, among other things, the subsidy primarily changes behavior for the 6 percent of the workforce with the least comparative advantage . On the other hand, we must recognize that the safety net expansion's deadweight loss (that is, the amount that losers from the safety net expansion, such as taxpayers , lose in excess of what the "winners" gain) also depends on the magnitude of preexisting labor market distortions, such as the preexisting safety net, income taxes, payroll taxes , sales taxes, and distortions created by imperfect competition in product or labor markets (Galí, Gertler and Lopez-Salido 2007). Appendix 4.3 estimates the deadweight loss in fiscal year 2010 to be almost $ 200 billion, minus any insurance benefits of the expansion.

When Review Corner calls a book serious or important, you can read that as "challenging." There are several good reviews, synopses, and interviews with Mulligan. If you want some technical, quantitative economics and do not mind getting your hands dirty, this is a great book. As a Pop Economics or political book, I cannot recommend it to a casual reader. But that does not mean it is unimportant:
The purpose of this chapter is to carefully examine the economically substantive differences between the stimulus approaches and mine, and to indicate how to judge and quantify those differences with the help of empirical analysis. The next chapter presents results of three tests of the slack market assumption, which, surprisingly, has not yet been the subject of much empirical testing.

Hooray for Mulligan for that empirical testing.
For one, the evidence found here and in prior labor market studies helps dispel the notion, embodied in many Keynesian models, that the safety net is a free lunch, that it can help the poor and vulnerable without preventing many people from working.

Three and a half stars.

Posted by John Kranz at 12:11 PM | Comments (1)
But johngalt thinks:

Being "challenging" or, for whatever other reason, not read, has not stopped the left from trumpeting Pinketty [Freudian spelling error left in place.] May I suggest #EconomicMulligan ? Let's make Casey Mulligan a household name too.

As for your amazement over "the miracle and savior of humanity is that people do work for less than they could make watching Judge Judy" I suggest, "Dagny Taggart, call your office."

Posted by: johngalt at July 14, 2014 12:21 PM

July 6, 2014

Review Corner

In April 1865, one hundred years before [President Lyndon] Johnson addressed Howard University graduates, the abolitionist Frederick Douglass spoke at a Boston gathering of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society on a similar theme . "Everybody has asked the question, and they learned to ask it early of the abolitionists, 'What should we do with the Negro?'" said Douglass. "I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us!
Another Review Corner trilogy looms. Having finished "Great Minds of the 20th Century: Chesterton, Popper, and Orwell," another accidental triumvirate has landed on Kindle. Don't worry. this is not a trend -- I rarely find myself +2 on reading versus Review Corners; this is a six week aberration at best.

But the next three, near and dear to ThreeSourcers, concern redistribution. Next week, Casey Mulligan's The Redistribution Recession: How Labor Market Distortions Contracted the Economy shows -- in grueling technical detail -- how the sum of all these benefit programs is equivalent to a huge marginal tax rate increase which both exacerbated the panic and impeded the recovery. After that, cornerites can look forward to John Taylor's First Principles: Five Keys to Restoring America's Prosperity where he of "Taylor Rule" fame shows that our nation's deviations from principles of economic liberty have given rise to inflation, recession and unemployment.

But I'll review in the order read and the most devastating attack on the redistribution might be Jason Riley's assertion that it hurts those intends to help.

Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed is a well constructed data-driven look at the failure of the #WarOnPoverty. But it is also a deeply personal book. Regular viewers of the Journal Editorial Report on FOX may have noticed that Riley is himself, African American (shh, don't tell Naomi...) Riley looks deep into culture for problems in black communities and accuses government policies -- specifically those championed by black "leaders" -- of enabling and exacerbating illegitimacy, education failures, and crime.

An interesting and original subordinate point is the tension between W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington. Du Bois sought political power to right the wrongs of oppression and Washington sought economic power. Modern leaders chose political power, which is surely defensible after slavery and Jim Crow, but Riley suggests that they should not have abandoned Washington. He highlights minority groups in America that have little or no political power yet do extraordinarily well. Asians, Italians, Scandinavians acquired economic power first, then they entered the political realm. African Americans and Irish turned first to politics and were both poorly served.

Between 1940 and 1960-- that is, before the major civil rights victories, and at a time when black political power was nearly nonexistent-- the black poverty rate fell from 87 percent to 47 percent. Yet between 1972 and 2011-- that is, after major civil rights gains, as well as the implementation of Great Society programs-- it barely declined, from 32 percent to 28 percent, and remained three times the white rate, which is about what it was in 1972.
Whatever else the election of Barack Obama represented-- some have called it redemption, others have called it the triumph of style over substance-- it was the ultimate victory for people who believe that black political gains are of utmost importance to black progress in America. C. T. Vivian, a close associate of Martin Luther King Jr., told Obama biographer David Remnick that "Martin Luther King was our prophet--in biblical terms, the prophet of our age. The politician of our age, who comes along to follow that prophet, is Barack Obama.

It would be bad enough if politics were a diversion, but the political class undermines the economic interests of the people.
For years, black political leaders in New York City aligned themselves with labor unions to block the construction of a Walmart in a low-income community with persistently high unemployment. According to a Marist poll taken in 2011, 69 percent of blacks in New York would welcome a Walmart in their neighborhood. Yet these black leaders put the interests of Big Labor, which doesn’t like the retailer's stance toward unions, ahead of the interests of struggling black people who could use the jobs and low-priced goods.

I mentioned the personal part, which I found the most disheartening. I knew some Jason Rileys in my lily-white catholic schooling. Riley's parents whisked him off to what they saw as better neighborhoods. Friends who were just as smart and whose parents were in the same class made the choice to stay. It may be anecdotal that Riley achieved what he did and that his friends succumbed to crime, dependence, and illegitimacy. But it is hard to read the book and think so,
I very much enjoyed school. I was outgoing , athletic, made friends easily. But it wasn’t just the social life that attracted me. I also liked learning. I liked books. I was curious about the world. I wanted to be smart, not because I associated it with being white but because I associated it with my father. Dad was smart, and I wanted to be like Dad.[...] The reality was that if you were a bookish black kid who placed shared sensibilities above shared skin color, you probably had a lot of white friends.
The kind of ribbing that I experienced as a child would follow me into adulthood, where my older sister's children would take to deriding my diction. "Why you talk white, Uncle Jason?" my niece, all of nine years old at the time, once asked me during a visit. Turning to her friend, she continued, "Don't my uncle sound white? Why he trying to sound so smart?" They shared a chuckle at my expense, and I was reminded of how early these self-defeating attitudes take hold.

I don't care how many members of Congress share your pigmentation, you're not going to prosper if you think like that. The triumph of rap culture over education and the sorry state of union public education are well covered. He quotes Bill Cosby as saying "What the hell good is Brown v. Board of Education if nobody wants it?"
The AFT and its larger sister organization, the National Education Association, have some 4.5 million dues-paying members and thousands of state and local affiliates. And it is on behalf of these members that unions fight to keep open the most violent and poorest-performing schools; block efforts to send the best teachers to the neediest students; insist that teachers be laid off based on seniority instead of performance; oppose teacher evaluation systems and merit pay structures that could ferret out bad teachers; back tenure rules that offer instructors lifetime sinecures after only a few years on the job; and make it nearly impossible to fire the system's worst actors, from teachers who are chronically absent or incompetent to those who have criminal records. None of these positions make sense if your goal is to improve public education and help children learn. But they make perfect sense if the job security of adults is your main objective.

Riley (And Cosby, and Thomas Sowell) face a politically powerful and well funded machine that exists for its institutional interest -- not those for whom it purports to advocate.
The left's sentimental support has turned underprivileged blacks into playthings for liberal intellectuals and politicians who care more about clearing their conscience or winning votes than advocating behaviors and attitudes that have allowed other groups to get ahead. Meanwhile, the civil rights movement of King has become an industry that does little more than monetize white guilt. King and his contemporaries demanded black self-improvement despite the abundant and overt racism of his day. King’s successors, living in an era when public policy bends over backward to accommodate blacks, nevertheless insist that blacks cannot be held responsible for their plight so long as someone somewhere in white America is still using the n-word.

I hope Review Corner cheered you up today. Actually the book is not nearly as depressing as this review. But the underlying and unavoidable truths are. Four stars (and no, he would not have received five if he were white...)

Posted by John Kranz at 10:03 AM | Comments (1)
But johngalt thinks:

Awesome. The barrier to solving this problem is indeed high. Who is going to tell 9 year old girls they are wrong? At the same time, changing government policy to encourage rather than discourage 2-parent households would not only be a huge improvement, I daresay it is imperative.

Posted by: johngalt at July 6, 2014 11:46 AM

June 29, 2014

Review Corner

A generation of students has gone to school on the banal truth that all literature is "constructed," and learned to scoff at the notion that words on the page might express something essentially authentic about the writer. The usefulness of this insight runs up against its limits when you pick up Orwell's essays. Open these books anywhere and you encounter the same voice. Orwell always sounds like Orwell: readier to fight than most writers, toughened but also deepened by hard, largely self -inflicted experience, able to zero in on what's essential about a poem or a politician or a memory, unsurprised without being cynical, principled without being priggish, direct and yet slightly reserved.
Yup. That is Keith Gessen introducing a superb collection of Orwell essays in All Art Is Propaganda. The essays are literary criticism from the 1940s and, while each is striking in depth and style, the collection shows Orwell developing his philosophy and his voice.

The book is the essays. Gessen gives the world a gift in their collection, and provides a well crafted introduction. He snuck in one biographical detail I did not know:

It's interesting that Orwell didn’t go to college. He went to Eton, the most prestigious of the English boarding schools, but he loafed around there and, afterward, went off to Burma as a police officer. College is where you sometimes get loaded up with fancy terms whose meaning you’re not quite sure of. Orwell was an intellectual and a highbrow who thought Joyce, Eliot, and Lawrence were the greatest writers of his age, but he never uses fancy terms.

He does not use "fancy terms," but he has an intellect that is deep and broad. He sounds just as professorial to me as Eliot. When he discusses Dickens, Tolstoy, and Shakespeare he wraps his understandings around a deep familiarity. He has directed me to back to each (although, for the moment I find myself on Tolstoy's side that "King Lear" is wanting). For a dropout, ex-Burmese policeman, and Spanish Civil War vet, let's say he was pretty well read.

The first essay is on Charles Dickens. ThreeSourcers, if you do not want to commit to reading the entire thing, please accept my assurance that ponying up the $9.99 on Kindle and reading just the Dickens essay is worthwhile.

Dickens is one of those writers who are well worth stealing. Even the burial of his body in Westminster Abbey was a species of theft, if you come to think of it.

When Chesterton wrote his introductions to the Everyman Edition of Dickens's works, it seemed quite natural to him to credit Dickens with his own highly individual brand of medievalism, and more recently a Marxist writer, Mr. T. A. Jackson, has made spirited efforts to turn Dickens into a bloodthirsty revolutionary. The Marxist claims him as "almost" a Marxist, the Catholic claims him as "almost" a Catholic, and both claim him as a champion of the proletariat (or "the poor," as Chesterton would have put it).
It seems that in every attack Dickens makes upon society he is always pointing to a change of spirit rather than a change of structure. It is hopeless to try and pin him down to any definite remedy , still more to any political doctrine. His approach is always along the moral plane, and his attitude is sufficiently summed up in that remark about Strong’s school being as different from Creakle's "as good is from evil ." Two things can be very much alike and yet abysmally different. Heaven and Hell are in the same place. Useless to change institutions without a "change of heart"--that, essentially, is what he is always saying.
There are whole worlds which he either knows nothing about or does not wish to mention. Except in a rather roundabout way, one cannot learn very much from Dickens. And to say this is to think almost immediately of the great Russian novelists of the nineteenth century. Why is it that Tolstoy's grasp seems to be so much larger than Dickens's-- why is it that he seems able to tell you so much more about yourself ? It is not that he is more gifted , or even, in the last analysis, more intelligent. It is because he is writing about people who are growing. His characters are struggling to make their souls, whereas Dickens's are already finished and perfect.

If we've a modern Orwell, I suggest it might be Penn Jillette. Both are driven by foundational honesty which supersedes their beliefs in a way I cannot muster. I can explain away President Bush's push for Faith Based Initiatives or Speaker Hastert's hardball tactics passing Medicare Part D. Orwell takes sides but questions them better than most. Perhaps Hemmingway in "For Whom the Bell Tolls" also questions the purity of the cause -- but Hemmingway comes off cynical and Orwell comes off completely honest.
Technically, by the standards of the time when it was made, Chapaiev is a first-rate film, but mentally, in spite of the unfamiliar Russian background, it is not so very remote from Hollywood.
The film is in fact a fairly ordinary one, except that its tendency is "left." In a Hollywood film of the Russian Civil War the Whites would probably be angels and the Reds demons. In the Russian version the Reds are angels and the Whites demons. That also is a lie, but, taking the long view, it is a less pernicious lie than the other.

As literary critic, Orwell could be devastating; my extensive excerpts from the Dickens essay make him sound like a fanboy compared to the entire piece. But, what many lack -- even my hero, Eliot, sometimes -- is a joyful appreciation.
Unfortunately I cannot quote; unprintable words occur almost everywhere. But get hold of [Henry Miller's] Tropic of Cancer, get hold of Black Spring and read especially the first hundred pages. They give you an idea of what can still be done, even at this late date, with English prose. In them, English is treated as a spoken language, but spoken without fear, i.e., without fear of rhetoric or of the unusual or poetical word. The adjective has come back, after its ten years' exile. It is a flowing, swelling prose, a prose with rhythms in it, something quite different from the flat cautious statements and snackbar dialects that are now in fashion.

The man who says "all art Is propaganda" does not shy away from political observations. Over the writings, one sees his transformation from socialist to social democrat (half a step, right?)
But there is something rather curious in being Whitman in the nineteen-thirties. It is not certain that if Whitman himself were alive at this moment he would write anything in the least degree resembling Leaves of Grass. For what he is saying , after all , is "I accept," and there is a radical difference between acceptance now and acceptance then. Whitman was writing in a time of unexampled prosperity, but more than that , he was writing in a country where freedom was something more than a word. The democracy, equality and comradeship that he is always talking about are not remote ideals, but something that existed in front of his eyes. In mid-nineteenth-century America men felt themselves free and equal, were free and equal, so far as that is possible outside a society of pure communism.

I have acres more highlighted quotes, but as the late, great trombonist Alan Frederickson used to yell from the bandstand "You're not here to enjoy yourself! You're here to get well!"

This completes three review corners about great intellects of the 20th Century. Chesterton, Popper, and Orwell each exist to have their powerful ideas coopted, just as Orwell complained about Dickens's. Orwell saw truth, Popper saw reason, Chesterton saw beauty. Each is a part of me.

But none were of my philosophy. Reading Hayek, or Mises, or Bastiat, or even Ayn Rand, I think that person was one "of us." I must come to terms with Chesterton/Popper/Orwell. Orwell was a socialist, Chesterton a Catholic who would clearly side with Pope Francis before Michael Novak, and the Popper page shared this two days after my review.

The sight of hopeless men, women, and children on the city streets, suffering hunger and cold, touched him deeply and left indelible impressions on his memory. Eliminating poverty would be the major goal of his future proposed reforms, and he would see disappearance of poverty from much of the Western Hemisphere as one of humanity's greatest achievements. The libertarian's lesser concern for poverty, and their willingness to trust the market to relieve it, he would regard as mistaken, if not callous. -- Malachi Haim Hacohen, "Karl Popper – The Formative Years – 1902-1945"

All these men wrote under the shadow of Nazism, Depression, and the Spanish Civil War. Freedom was in retreat. I posit that they could not envision liberty's triumph, forcing each to seek compromises to preserve liberty's ember. But that is of course unbridled arrogance on the order of "If alive today, surely Jesus would be a Bronco Fan." Ludwig von Mises saw all the horror up close and personal yet still predicted liberty's triumph. We're told Willie Nelson's heroes have always been cowboys, perhaps all mine are Democratic Socialists.

Reviewing the reviewer, this is as good as it gets. Buy this book and open it to a random page. Five Stars.

When you return to these essays, the mystery evaporates. You would probably not be able to write this way now, even if you learned the craft: The voice would seem put -on, after Orwell; it would seem deliberately "hard-boiled." But there is nothing put-on about it here, and it seems to speak, despite the specificity of the issues discussed, directly to the present. In Orwell’s clear, strong voice we hear a warning. Because we, too, live in a time when truth is disappearing from the world, and doing so in just the way Orwell worried it would: through language.

Posted by John Kranz at 9:14 AM | Comments (1)
But T. Greer thinks:

Orwell is every liberal's favorite conservative and every conservative's favorite liberal.

Posted by: T. Greer at July 2, 2014 9:52 AM

June 22, 2014

Review Corner

What Popper aims to do, and at his best does do, is to seek out and attack an opponent's case at its strongest. Indeed, before attacking it he tries to strengthen it still further. He sees if any of its weaknesses can be removed and any of its formulations improved on, gives it the benefit of every doubt, passes over any obvious loopholes; and then, having got it into the best-argued form he can, attacks it at its most powerful and appealing. This method, the most intellectually serious possible, is thrilling
I mentioned Popper once in front of an Oxford-edumacated economics friend of mine. He said that Dr. P was spoken of in hushed tones because "his was the only intellect that John Maynard Keynes feared in debate."

To place my intellect on this particular scale, well I subscribe to the Karl Popper Facebook Page and recommend it highly. Popper is eminently readable, but his prose is the antithesis of Twitter. Single paragraphs span multiple pages. Not turgid, but could you give us mortals a chance to come up for air now and then? For this reason, I'll admit that I enjoy reading about Popper more than I enjoy reading Popper.

I had seen him and read some quotes, but I "discovered" Popper as Popperian epistemology was one of the four threads in David Deutsch's Fabric of Reality. Deutsch explains Popper better than Popper and explains Richard Dawkins way better than Richard Dawkins. But Deutsch takes only a slice of the man's work and there is quite a bit more to be had.

The Popper FB Page recommended Philosophy and the Real World: An Introduction to Karl Popper by Bryan Magee as the definitive introduction. First released in 1973 and last updated in 1985, the short book is not available on Kindle. And, why do I need an Introduction? I've read both volumes of Open Society and its Enemies. And the footnotes. And the footnotes of the footnotes.

The friend who turned me onto Deutsch and I have traded Popper books. They are not easy to find and he had a leg up living in the UK for a few years. We have a running disagreement that he likes "the science stuff" and I like "the philosophy stuff." The best thing about Philosophy and the Real World is that it unifies these concepts better than the Dude's rug. It was not just science that was advanced by reason and intellectual criticism. To Popper it was thought. And, being a good Aristotelian, science and philosophy were not distinct. Popper codifies the scientific method -- then applies it to Philosophy.

Related to this is another, much slighter obstacle between Popper and possible readers. He believes that philosophy is a necessary activity because we, all of us, take a great number of things for granted, and many of these assumptions are of a philosophical character; we act on them in private life, in politics, in our work, and in every other sphere of our lives--but while some of these assumptions are no doubt true, it is likely that more are false and some are harmful. So the critical examination of our presuppositions--which is a philosophical activity--is morally as well as intellectually important. This view is of philosophy as something lived and important for all of us, not an academic activity or a specialism, and certainly not as consisting primarily in the study of the writings of professional philosophers. Nevertheless it does mean that most of Popper's work consists of the critical examination of theories, and in consequence there is a great deal of discussion of 'isms', and a great many allusions to thinkers of the past, especially in the first works he wrote in English when he was still under the influence of the German academic tradition.

Popper codifies the scientific method, then builds a philosophy on it . . . all in a days work. But then he applies intellectual rigor to Marx, Engels, and the political descendants of Kant and Hegel and puts a political philosophy on top.
Popper's paradoxes, which he calls 'the paradox of sovereignty'. If, say, power is put in the hands of the wisest man, he may from the depths of his wisdom adjudge: 'Not I but the morally good should be the ruler'. If the morally good has power he may say, being saintly: 'It is wrong for me to impose my will on others. Not I but the majority should rule'. The majority, having power, may say: 'We want a strong man to impose order and tell us what to do'. A second objection is that the question: 'Where should sovereignty lie?' rests on the assumption that ultimate power must be somewhere, which is not the case. In most societies there are different and to some extent conflicting power centres, not one of which can get everything its own way. In some societies power is quite widely diffused. The question 'Yes, but where does it ultimately lie?' eliminates before it is raised the possibility of control over rulers, when this is the most important of all things to establish. The vital question is not 'Who should rule?' but 'How can we minimize misrule--both the likelihood of its occurring and, when it does occur, its consequences?'

After presenting two well reasoned volumes on the individual empowerment, freedom from totalitarianism and the most vicious debunking of Marxism you will ever encounter, Popper suggests -- in a less wealthy period than today -- that it is unconscionable to allow poverty in a wealthy society. He joins Chesterton (last week) and Orwell (next week) in championing the kind of Social Democrat, mixed economy that ThreeSourcers exist to oppose.

It remains a frustrating obstacle to my desire to coopt all there of these preternatural intelligences to service of my beliefs. But we have a hundred years of history on them and America's ascension to superpowerdom on classic liberal concepts. I'd think all of them could be moved at least into the Reagan camp of freedom with a safety net for the truly needy.

Philosophy in the Real World is a great introduction to Popper, whether an introduction is required or not. Five Stars.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:07 AM | Comments (2)
But T. Greer thinks:

This is a good review.

Nicholas Nassim Talen speaks well of Popper as well. One of the few philosophers the guy actually likes.

Posted by: T. Greer at June 22, 2014 10:31 PM
But jk thinks:

Thanks for the kind words. I'm a huge Taleb fab as well.

Although he's a modern example of someone who assembles a brilliant foundation but I'm not certain puts the correct over-arching worldview atop.

Posted by: jk at June 23, 2014 10:59 AM

June 15, 2014

Review Corner

Gilbert Keith.

Someday, you'll win a trivia contest with "What is G.K. Chesterton's full name?" If you are on Jeopardy, be sure to phrase the answer as a question.

I reviewed Gilbert Keith's What's Wrong with the World last May. He is difficult to read on Kindle because one wants to underline every other line of his magnificent prose.

Some time ago I wrote a little book of this type and shape on St. Francis of Assisi; and some time after (I know not when or how, as the song says, and certainly not why) I promised to write a book of the same size, or the same smallness on St. Thomas Aquinas. The promise was Franciscan only in its rashness ; and the parallel was very far from being Thomistic in its logic. You can make a sketch of St. Francis: you could only make a plan of St. Thomas, like the plan of a labyrinthine city.

I'm not a man of envy. Payton Manning's new little bungalow in Cherry Hills is a fine structure; his rival Tom Brady's wife is extremely attractive, blog friend sugarchuck has some cool guitars. I'm fine with that. Mazel tov! But two good friends took some of their Catholic education at the firm hand of the Jesuits: one in high school, one in grad school. And I am green that the entire, substantive, intellectual aspect of Catholicism was never shared with me. Eleven years of parochial school theology got me a succession of deconstructionist, feel good hooey.

The Charles Murray book reviewed last April suggested that its young reader cough, cough engage in serious religious thought and study. Randy Barnett's masterful Structure of Liberty [Review Corner] used natural law and St. Thomas Aquinas as a foundation. So, I ponied up $1.99 for a Kindle version of Chesterton's St. Thomas Aquinas (illustrated and annotated).

He opens with a lengthy (well, not too lengthy -- it is a very short book) comparison of St. Francis because, again, he had written a similar book on St. Francis. But as an introduction, it is helpful to compare something new to something known.

Perhaps it would sound too paradoxical to say that these two saints saved us from Spirituality; a dreadful doom. Perhaps it may be misunderstood if I say that St. Francis, for all his love of animals, saved us from being Buddhists; and that St. Thomas, for all his love of Greek philosophy , saved us from being Platonists.

It would be rich of your review corner author to compare himself to any saint, but I was certainly drawn to Aquinas. Chesterton says that he "baptized Aristotle," bringing him into a church completely in the clutches of Platonic spirituality and mysticism. I have blasted the current pontiff, once or twice, for his irrational economics. I hope nobody missed Kevin Williamson's superb essay pushing back against an Honduran Cardinal's anti-Capitalism. Dare I mention Michael Novak?

Aquinas stands for reason and in the middle ages says that there is no conflict between religion and science. Both seek the same truth.

He practically said that if they could really prove their practical discoveries, the traditional interpretation of Scripture must give way before those discoveries. He could hardly, as the common phrase goes, say fairer than that. If the matter had been left to him, and men like him, there never would have been any quarrel between Science and Religion.

Aquinas takes on the Platonists of his own church as well as the encroachment of Islam, and "The Manichees." But his crusades are fought with reason and philosophy.
For the Augustinians derived only from Augustine, and Augustine derived partly from Plato, and Plato was right, but not quite right. It is a mathematical fact that if a line be not perfectly directed towards a point , it will actually go further away from it as it comes nearer to it. After a thousand years of extension, the miscalculation of Platonism had come very near to Manicheanism.
Hence, we may say broadly of the Moslem philosophers, that those who became good philosophers became bad Moslems. It is not altogether unnatural that many bishops and doctors feared that the Thomists might become good philosophers and bad Christians. But there were also many, of the strict school of Plato and Augustine, who stoutly denied that they were even good philosophers. Between those rather incongruous passions, the love of Plato and the fear of Mahomet, there was a moment when the prospects of any Aristotelian culture in Christendom looked very dark indeed. Anathema after anathema was thundered from high places; and under the shadow of the persecution, as so often happens, it seemed for a moment that barely one or two figures stood alone in the storm-swept area. They were both in the black and white of the Dominicans; for Albertus and Aquinas stood firm.

Aquinas was high-borne and chose the life of a friar. He was accepted into society, lectured at Colleges but was not subsumed by anything but thought and philosophy. Chesterton says "But he had all the unconscious contempt which the really intelligent have for an intelligentsia."
There may be many who do not understand the nature even of this sort of abstraction. But then, unfortunately, there are many who do not understand the nature of any sort of argument. Indeed, I think there are fewer people now alive who understand argument than there were twenty or thirty years ago; and St . Thomas might have preferred the society of the atheists of the early nineteenth century to that of the blank sceptics of the early twentieth.

But, to a 13th century friar, "A is A."
Against all this the philosophy of St. Thomas stands founded on the universal common conviction that eggs are eggs. The Hegelian may say that an egg is really a hen, because it is a part of an endless process of Becoming; the Berkeleian may hold that poached eggs only exist as a dream exists; since it is quite as easy to call the dream the cause of the eggs as the eggs the cause of the dream; the Pragmatist may believe that we get the best out of scrambled eggs by forgetting that they ever were eggs, and only remembering the scramble. But no pupil of St. Thomas needs to addle his brains in order adequately to addle his eggs; to put his head at any peculiar angle in looking at eggs, or squinting at eggs, or winking the other eye in order to see a new simplification of eggs.
According to St. Thomas, the mind acts freely of itself, but its freedom exactly consists in finding a way out to liberty and the light of day; to reality and the land of the living. In the subjectivist, the pressure of the world forces the imagination inwards. In the Thomist, the energy of the mind forces the imagination outwards, but because the images it seeks are real things. All their romance and glamour, so to speak, lies in the fact that they are real things; things not to be found by staring inwards at the mind. The flower is a vision because it is not only a vision. Or, if you will , it is a vision because it is not a dream.

And yet, the book ends a little sourly. This long-review-of-a-short-book is the first of three: today GK Chesterton, next week Karl Popper, then George Orwell. I posit that each of these three brilliant sons of liberty made economic and political errors because of the dark times in which they lived. Liberalism was in its death throes to each and each tried to posit a world with liberty in a post-Liberal universe. My man Mises saw the eventual victory of Liberalism, but Chesterton, Popper, and Orwell saw the need to make the best of a crueler world post Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin.

I can forgive the Middle Ages Friar for not cheering on free market economics. He predated Menger, Bastiat, Adam Smith, and Ludwig von Mises -- and his cable package did not include CNBC, so he never saw Kudlow. But Chesterton, sadly, piles on:

He foresaw from the first the peril of that mere reliance on trade and exchange, which was beginning about his time; and which has culminated in a universal commercial collapse in our time. He did not merely assert that Usury is unnatural, though in saying that he only followed Aristotle and obvious common sense, which was never contradicted by anybody until the time of the commercialists, who have involved us in the collapse. The modern world began by Bentham writing the Defence of Usury, and it has ended after a hundred years in even the vulgar newspaper opinion finding Finance indefensible. But St. Thomas struck much deeper than that. He even mentioned the truth, ignored during the long idolatry of trade, that things which men produce only to sell are likely to be worse in quality than the things they produce in order to consume.

Something of our difficulty about the fine shades of Latin will be felt when we come to his statement that there is always a certain inhonestas about trade. For inhonestas does not exactly mean dishonesty. It means approximately "something unworthy," or, more nearly perhaps, "something not quite handsome." And he was right; for trade, in the modern sense, does mean selling something for a little more than it is worth, nor would the nineteenth century economists have denied it.

Usury -- and "less than handsome" goods for trade. I weep. But at the end of my triumvirate review, I intend to bring Chesterton, Popper, Orwell, and maybe Aquinas to 2014. I will ask them to use their preternatural intellects to update the economic side of their philosophies.

Chesterton's book? Five starts, of course!

Posted by John Kranz at 11:18 AM | Comments (1)
But johngalt thinks:
Between those rather incongruous passions, the love of Plato and the fear of Mahomet, there was a moment when the prospects of any Aristotelian culture in Christendom looked very dark indeed.

History repeats, does it not?

GKC's myopia on trade was a fairly simple one: He ignores the reality that, while a thing is itself, it can have different value to different folk. The object is invariable - its value is not. (How much more would you pay for a bottle opener before your beer is opened than after?) And that example doesn't even account for the difference between bottle or can aficionados. Or sots and teetotalers. Or Blutarsky and Flounder.

Posted by: johngalt at June 17, 2014 5:51 PM

June 8, 2014

Review Corner

We call our species homo sapiens--wise man--but we are, in fact, homo faber, man the creator. We have changed the face of this planet with our tools and structures, and we will continue doing so. Assuring future prosperity requires that we continue exploring the atom and exploring deep space.
This describes Karl Popper's "World 3" (coming soon to a Review Corner near you) but it captures Robert Bryce's anti-Malthusian Smaller Faster Lighter Denser Cheaper: How Innovation Keeps Proving the Catastrophists Wrong.

Moore's Law applies to and is well-accepted in the microprocessor sector. A newer faster smaller cheaper computer is almost as predictable as a user's story of the older, bigger, slower, and more expensive equipment he or she began using. (Having a brother who worked on mainframes, I have learned not to get into one-upsmanship in that area...)

But Bryce expands it to all fields of human endeavor: Smaller Faster Lighter Denser Cheaper energy, agriculture, transportation, music -- everything where innovation is allowed, and sometimes, even where it isn't.

The trend toward Smaller Faster is not dependent on a single country, company , or technology. Nor is it dependent on ideology. Smaller Faster Lighter Denser Cheaper has flourished despite Marxism, Communism, Socialism, Confucianism, and authoritarian dictatorships. It might even survive the Republicans and the Democrats.

Leo Fender gets a shout out for empowering the individual in music with the tools to be heard in the theatre, and then the same technology's allowing The Beatles to be heard around the world on the Ed Sullivan Show.
The vacuum tube allowed musicians to be heard as individuals, and in doing so liberated millions of people. Lee De Forest, the Alabama-born inventor who perfected the vacuum tube, would eventually win more than three hundred patents. But none of his other inventions would ever be as important as the vacuum tube.

The book is great for a modernist like me. I'd put it beside Matt Ridley's The Rational Optimist [Review Corner] or David Deutsch's The Beginning of Infinity [Review Corner]. Those are sacred texts to a technocrat like me, but what Bryce may do better is to directly take on and negate the neo-Malthusians, who -- if I may borrow from Popper again -- would "take us back to the caves."
Collapse anxiety pervades the rhetoric of many of the world's most prominent environmentalists as well as some of the biggest environmental groups. They abhor modern energy sources as despoilers of earth's beauty and natural order and cling to the idea that we humans have inappropriately sought to subdue nature for our own shortsighted, materialistic, and short-term benefit. In their view, we humans have sinned so much against Mother Earth that even the weather has turned against us.
The facts are simply indisputable: never have so many lived so well, or so free. Yet despite this astounding progress, there remains an entrenched and powerful interest group that believes we humans are doing too much, that we must reduce our consumption of everything, return to our agrarian past and employ what one prominent catastrophist calls "a new civilizational paradigm." Following such a path would be disastrous.
McKibben and his fellow travelers believe that salvation lies in pursuing low density in both energy production and food production. But the precise opposite is true. Density is green. It's only by increasing the density of our energy and food production that we will be able to meet the demands of our growing population. And yet, the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, and many other groups want to pave the world with low-density wind turbines.

ThreeSourcers will also enjoy the quantitative nature of the book advances are measured and compared to what they replaced and back to what was used in antiquity.
The original Model T was equipped with a 2.9 liter engine that produced 22 horsepower (about 16,400 watts) and weighed about 300 pounds (136 kg). The result: gravimetric power density of nearly 121 watts per kilogram. That power density was 73 times that of a horse, 12 times that of the Boulton & Watt design and about six times that of the engine Corliss had introduced in Philadelphia three decades earlier.

The energy section will warm the hearts of ThreeSourcers, if read on Kindle, at 0.44°C/µW -- energy density, near and dear to all.
That Obama and Kennedy, both of whom went to Harvard, claim that a super-high-energy density substance that can be deployed for innumerable purposes, from pumping well water in Kenya to emergency generation of electricity in Lower Manhattan, is somehow bad or even yet, tyrannical, is nonsense on stilts. Rather than talk about the tyranny of oil, the two Harvard grads might as well complain about the tyranny of physics-- or better yet, the tyranny of density.

Detailed Appendices describe the units used and data sources for the quantitative sections. For all its factual content, the book is an easy and enjoyable read. Five Stars, easy.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:04 AM | Comments (0)

June 1, 2014

Review Corner

John Considine is an economist . You might remember him from articles such as "The Simpsons: Public Choice in the Tradition of Swift and Orwell" and "Yes Minister : Invaluable Material for Teaching the Public Choice for Bureaucracy" or from teaching economics to students at University College Cork, Ireland.
Even the endnotes are fun in Homer Economicus: The Simpsons and Economics.

Joshua Hall, Associate Professor of Economics at West Virginia University, likes to use Simpsons and Springfield references in his lectures. He mentioned the title to Professor and HOSSess Deirdre McClosky who said "that should be a book." I don't know if Hall has a low utility for work or a keen sense of Comparative Advantage, but he elected to solicit essays from other instructors rather than write the book himself.

He collected 16, covering "The Economic Way of Thinking," "Money, Markets, and Government," and "Applied Microeconomics." Each appreciates The Simpsons and the result is a very enjoyable read.

The invisible hand, as well as the four-fingered invisible "yellow" hands of the Simpsons, applies to more than what people usually consider to be the narrow scope of economic activity.
Unfortunately for Homer, he won't be creating new money any time soon. For that matter , he won't be multiplying existing money either. Homer finds himself in the same situation as Bart in "I Don't Wanna Know Why the Caged Bird Sings." That episode begins with Bart writing over and over again on the chalkboard that he is not an FDIC-insured bank. D'oh!

Economics is one area where one is not too surprised to find 16 academics who are sympathetic to liberty and distrustful of government and central planning. Where the discussion wends its way into politics. most ThreeSourcers would be sympathetic to the arguments.
If we start with the assumption that government is run by socially benevolent and well-informed central planners, then we would be rather indifferent between Pigouvian taxation , regulation, and the assignment of property rights as policy alternatives to correcting externalities. In reality, politicians and bureaucrats are every bit as self- interested as the rest of us human beings, and our judicial system might handle certain industries even more poorly than regulators. This requires us to consider the case-specific practical difficulties of implementing policies. On The Simpsons, "Mr. Spitz Goes to Washington" provides one such case study of the difficulties involved.
For over a half a century government failure scholars believed that there was a bias in favor of government intervention as a solution to market failure. The Simpsons addresses this bias-- even if the show is possibly biased in the other direction. Even if we do not accept the perspective of The Simpsons on government, there is no getting away from the way in which it invites us to consider the alternative to any proposed government intervention in the economy.

I am pretty familiar with this genre, as I read similar compendia of literary criticism or philosophy discussions around Buffy and Angel; I read those by the schooner. Like this, some submissions are better than others. Andrew T. Young of West Virginia University has one of the longer and better articles on money. Building on the line in the "Trilogy of Error," where Milhouse pleades, "I can’t go to juvey! They use guys like me as currency!" Young asks "Could Milhouse actually become money in the juvenile hall?" with a serious discussion of the functions of money and whether our bespeckled friend meets those requirements.

I've enjoyed The Simpsons over the years. I would not call myself a die hard fan, but when I come across it, I always laugh -- and I appreciate Groening's ability to scratch pretty deep with an animated comedy.

In general, the fascinating part about the members of the Springfield community is that, despite being fictional characters created for entertainment purposes, their biases correspond quite well to those observed by behavioral economists in real people. Lisa even notes in the first episode of the show that Homer has the same frailties as all human beings, and this theme is certainly exemplified throughout the show, perhaps even to a larger degree than the writers realized.

Informative and enjoyable -- four stars easy.

Posted by John Kranz at 9:59 AM | Comments (0)

May 25, 2014

Review Corner

But, as we have seen in Chapters 13 and 14 , some libertarians offer ways to confine the coercive power needed for individual sovereignty to its only proper function of protecting individual sovereignty. Having observed the continued decline of respect for the limits on state and federal power contained in the U.S. Constitution, some libertarians favor a more radical alternative. They would see law enforcement and adjudication be handled competitively rather than by monopolistic government agencies. They favor a polycentric legal order in which consumer choice and competition would provide a better check on the abuse of the powers of law enforcement.
Randy Barnett is a HOSS of the highest order, and a go-to guy on the Supreme Court and Constitutional issues concerning liberty [Review Corner, A Conspiracy Against Obamacare: The Volokh Conspiracy and the Health Care Case]. He argued Raich in front of the Supreme Court.

His The Structure of Liberty: Justice and the Rule of Law is an ambitious book that would be enjoyed by all ThreeSourcers. He begins with a philosophical look at natural rights as the foundation of his structure.

If adherence to natural rights is indeed essential for the maintenance of social life, as natural rights theorists maintain and as I shall try to explain in the balance of this book, then laws are obligatory only if they are consistent with natural rights. By this account, a command may be a "law" in the descriptive sense that it is issued by a recognized law-maker, but it is only law in the normative sense of a command that binds in conscience on the citizenry if it does not violate the background rights of persons. Thus, for human laws to be obligatory, they should not violate natural rights.

This review may run long, but I hope you have time for a great quote from St. Thomas Aquinas?
Now human law is framed for a number of human beings, the majority of which are not perfect in virtue. Therefore human laws do not forbid all vices, from which the virtuous abstain, but only the more grievous vices, from which it is possible for the majority to abstain, and chiefly those that are to the hurt of others, without the prohibition of which human society could not be maintained ; thus human law prohibits murder, theft and the like.

The next layer is economics: chiefly Hayek's knowledge problem and Mises's Praxeology.
Prices are by far the most neglected form of knowledge we have. Although some economic literature stresses the importance of prices, the knowledge-disseminating function of prices is largely unknown-- or, if known , then widely ignored-- in political and legal theory.

In Barnett's view of liberty (and mine) individuals have bounded-domain jurisdiction over property. And consensual transfer, based on prices, best reflects local knowledge of property's value and the best use of the resource.
In light of the analysis presented in Chapter 3 , the rights of several property and freedom of contract can be seen as enabling us to deal with the problem of knowledge in society. By delegating discretion to make choices concerning the uses of resources, several property rights enable persons and associations to act on the basis of their personal and local knowledge. The right of freedom to contract enables persons to exchange their several property rights on the basis of their knowledge that other rights would better serve their purposes;

Nothing earth-shattering just yet, but a majestic, rights-based explanation and defense of liberty which most ThreeSourcers would recognize. I posit that it has a consistency, clarity and comprehensive scope to rival Ayn Rand, with some hooks that are more familiar and accessible to me. I'm hoping one or more of our devotees of Ms. Rand takes on the task of comparison, It's one of the few works that demand it.

The next piece of the structure is Law, which was my only expectation seeing Barnett's name on the cover. Having established these rights and the best means to transfer them, how do we defend them form those with Interest and Power to suborn them.

When liberties are naked, a person may be free to do as he wishes, but others are similarly free to interfere with his actions. As Hillel Steiner has observed: "Like other naked things, unvested liberties are exposed to the numbing effects of cold fronts: in the case of liberties, to the obstructive impact of others' exercise of their powers and liberties." Liberty (capital L) requires the protection of liberties (small l), but given that the world is one of subjective scarcity, not all liberties or freedom can be protected, however nice that would be.

"That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men." Barnett, the Constitutional Hoss, asks how this can be done, and how respect for rights and the rule of law can survive the conflicts of Interest and Power. To my sadness, the Constitutional scholar does not choose the Constitution. The author of "Restoring the Lost Constitution" seeks a liberal order that will not someday succumb to 16th, 17th Amendments and decisions like The Slaughterhouse Cases, WIckard, Raich, and Kelo.

I have already weakened the first section by over-synopsis. I'll save you and the author a summary of his prospective solution: the "Structure of Liberty" he proposes. I'll tease that it is built on private property, criminal and civil law based on restitution and not retribution, and distributed ("polycentric") enforcement and adjudication.

This book makes clear that "liberty" for a libertarian, then, is not the Hobbesian freedom to do whatever you will. Instead , it is the Lockean freedom to do whatever you will with what is yours. There is simply no libertarianism without jurisdictional limits on one's freedom of action; the concept of property defines these limits and is what differentiates liberty from license.

Am I one of those "some libertarians" in the opening quote? I still consider myself more in line with a preceding paragraph: a guy who wishes we were still honoring the original limitations imposed by the Constitution.
In short, these libertarians favor something very much like, if not identical to, the original meaning of the Constitution of the United States-- the whole Constitution, including those parts that protect the unenumerated "rights ... retained by the people" and "the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States." In this, however, they are today opposed to their left by "progressives" who wish to achieve their vision of social justice at the national level by "interpreting" federal power broadly enough to address any problem they deem to be "national" in scope-- which is to say every problem.

But this is the first truly compelling suggestion for privatized justice that I have encountered. I like Rothbard some -- and I like Hoppe a lot, but I read them and appreciate their arguments without accepting their underlying beliefs.

This is not "oh, we'll just let private business do it and it will be swell!" This is thoughtful and carefully assembled. Not an afternoon-by-the-pool read, but readable and comprehensible. The high density of ideas dictates serious contemplation.

I give it five stars and the coveted Review Corner Editor's Choice Award. Masterful.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:08 AM | Comments (2)
But johngalt thinks:

Superb. I do aspire to your challenge, not merely to compare to Rand but to learn more about a rights-based Liberty-securing government that purports superiority to the one we were given by the Framers. Without revealing any spoilers, I wonder if Review Corner may divulge whether Barnett solves, in whole or in part, the social justice, egalitarian socialist, Progressive "interpretation" problem?

And in connection with the "rights of nature" topic (not to be confused with natural rights) I can only imagine the wonder of Thomas Aquinas hearing, some centuries after writing that the law rightly forbids "only the more grievous vices," that serious consideration is given a law that would accord inalienable rights to "all Natural Beings" including humans, plants, animals and algae. Is the act of a man destroying the ecosystem of and "Being" we call mold, moss or pond scum, particularly when present on land that he owns, even remotely a "vice?" Not to mention a grievous one.

I sorta hope Boulder implements this, and sends jackbooted thugs to enforce it. I relish the image of Boulder yuppies waving Gadsden flags.

Posted by: johngalt at May 25, 2014 12:41 PM
But jk thinks:

I am less worried about spoilers than trivialization by "over-synopsification." To draw the Rand parallel again, I don't wish to be the guy who says "I read this great book that says we'll all be great if we stop helping the poor!"

With that caveat, I honor all requests on stage, let me try to flesh it out a bit -- but please accept that I am not doing his justice justice.

It is a world of far more private ownership. We fight to give some of the 70% of Nevada back to Nevada Barnett sees all but universal private ownership. The parks, the streets, the airport are all in private hands. And those owners can enforce their property rights by excluding whomever they wish. People aren't in jail unless they working to pay restitution, but most people live in the sphere of private property and there are fewer threats in Disneyland than Central Park (my comparison, not his).

As all justice is restitution-based, victimless crimes are no more. Will progressives trade private ownership and market control for the liberation of millions from incarceration? I dunno, but they do not have the "monocentric" legal order that they can coopt and enforce their will on others. On their bright side, nor can Rick Santorum do that to them.

Private property (he calls it "several property," borrowing the term from Mises but explaining in the afterword to the second edition that he would use the less specific but more recognizable term "private property" if he had it to do over) is the foundation and the first tenet:

The right of several property specifies a right to acquire , possess, use, and dispose of scarce physical resources--including their own bodies. Resources may be used in any way that does not physically interfere with other persons' use and enjoyment of their resources. While most property rights are freely alienable, the right to one's person is inalienable.

Barnett, Randy E. (2014-01-30). The Structure of Liberty: Justice and the Rule of Law (p. 83). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

Right to contract and right to not contract follow. There is not a lot of room for Progressives to take over. But of course, they can set up their own courts and enforcement and anybody who wishes to use them may. (As their ideas are so much better than ours, as Jon Stewart inveighs five nights per week, surely that's a good deal.)

Getting into some funky stuff without laying the intellectual foundation Barnett does - please remember the caveat.

I'll share one great idea that I missed in the review that I have not really seen: Rights as Necessary Evil.

Therefore, far from being unmitigated goods, rights are a necessary evil. Because each right legitimates violence, the fewer we can manage with the better. I have contended here that the background rights of several property, freedom of contract , first possession, and restitution are rights that we cannot do without if we are to address the problems of knowledge, interest, and power, problems we must address somehow. We should strive to limit the number and types of background rights that are legally enforced by violent means to those which handle pervasive social problems that cannot be handled any other way.

Your "right to healthcare" inspires a SWAT team of healthcare cops to prevent doctors' taking too much vacation, too long a lunch, or retiring early.

Posted by: jk at May 25, 2014 2:00 PM

May 18, 2014

Review Corner

Michael sighed happily He loved the story and was never tired of hearing it. " "And it's all quite true, isn’t it?" he said, just as he always did. "No," said Mary Poppins, who always said "No.""Yes," said Jane, who always knew everything...

Travers, P. L. (1997-09-15). Mary Poppins (Odyssey Classics) (p. 112). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

This is a special, catch-up segue Review Corner. I saw the trailer for Saving Mr. Banks at the theatre, I'm guessing while waiting to see "Atlas Shrugged Part 2." I told myself and my lovely bride that I wanted to see that.

And I did. It just took me six months or so. I am guessing everybody else on this blog saw it last Christmas and that this Review Corner is like the college student who has come home and "discovered" philosophy.

It's a fair cop, guv'nor, but I was enthralled. We rented it (on the new Kindle FireTV -- five stars!) and the terms included three days for four of five dollars. The lovely bride and I watched it three times. It is a great story very well told. It includes a loving portrayal of a hero of mine, Mister Walt Disney, and it is much about a favorite topic: the business of art.

Fitting that I found it in a preview to Atlas Shrugged, because there is a great bit of The Fountainhead in it. "Missus" Travers is Howard Roark, but Disney is no Toohey. Disney is an artist himself, but of a different stripe -- and the unfolding saga is a tale of property rights in conflict. Like the battle between the Hatfields and McCoys [Review Corner], what remains is told by one side. The only business that Disney can seem to portray positively is The Walt Disney Corporation -- and the victor was able to write the history.

I don't hide from commercialization and had no trouble choosing Walt's side (Tom Hanks, America and booze over stuffy Brits and tea -- even with Emma Thompson -- is an easy choice). But it occurred to me that I was unusually uniformed: I had never read any Mary Poppins books and I saw the movie when very little (I was four or five when it came out). My sister played the record (a lot) and I remember thinking "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" was foolish. Ever the pedant, that wasn't a real word. Harrumph!

So I bought the first Mary Poppins ($3.74 on Kindle) and was yet again enthralled. The stories are magical and wondrous. The lovely bride has bought the subsequent books and a biography of Traverse that she recommends.

After finishing the book, we rented the Disney Classic. It's great in a lot of ways, but damned if Mrs. Traverse was not right. Watching it after seeing "Saving Mr. Banks" and reading "Mary Poppins" many of the joyful little tunes and flourishes are daggers to the heart of the author's vision. Again, I love Disney, but had she read The Fountainhead, I think there might have been explosions in Southern California.

A great preponderance of ThreeSourcers have daughters and this is likely old news. But if you have not read the original Mary Poppins books, you are missing something. Five Stars indeed -- and five for Disney's movie -- no, not that one -- "Saving Mr. Banks."

All round her flew the birds, circling and leaping and swooping and rising. Mary Poppins always called them "sparrers," because, she said conceitedly, all birds were alike to her. But Jane and Michael knew that they were not sparrows, but doves and pigeons. There were fussy and chatty grey doves like Grandmothers; and brown, rough-voiced pigeons like Uncles; and greeny, cackling, no-I've-no-money-today pigeons like Fathers. And the silly, anxious, soft blue doves were like Mothers. That's what Jane and Michael thought, anyway.

Posted by John Kranz at 11:17 AM | Comments (0)

May 4, 2014

Review Corner

Despite what we so often hear about being a tool for self-rule, [Democracy] is more often a mechanism to impose a way of life on others. Americans love to wear those "I voted" stickers on their coats . What are they telling us? That if enough of them agree they can lord it over the rest of us. We celebrate democracy even as it slowly corrodes our foundational ideals.
Greetings, and welcome to a special "All Hail Harsanyi" edition of Review Corner.I first encountered David Harsanyi when I read his superb "Nanny State: How Food Fascists, Teetotaling Do-Gooders, Priggish Moralists, and other Boneheaded Bureaucrats are Turning America into a Nation of Children." Still one of the great titles of all time. He wrote on liberty for The Denver Post, which is like being the options & derivatives editor for Mother Jones. Then he took his pragmatic libertarianism to Reason, from where he has been extensively followed and quoted at ThreeSources.

His latest was undoubtedly written to be provocative; The People Have Spoken (and They Are Wrong): The Case Against Democracy would raise eyebrows outside of ThreeSources. Whaaa? Does he hate Apple Pie and Baseball too?

ThreeSourcers will enjoy his serious case against encroaching majoritarianism as well as his witty and pointed style.

Most people actually value anti-democratic aspects of government, yet they recoil from the principle behind them. It was the early-twentieth-century progressives, the precursors of today's leftists, who were responsible for the Seventeenth Amendment. It is no mere coincidence that an exponential growth of federal spending followed the adoption of that amendment. And the Founders believed that state governments were better equipped than the national government to understand and deal with the desires of their citizens.

A blog founded on Sharanskyism has t accept his stunning rebuke of the value of spreading Democracy:
Egypt simply isn't prepared to deal with open elections because many of the participants will use elections to consolidate theocracy or tyranny. Little seems to have changed in that country since ten biblical plagues failed to win pharaoh's respect for minority rights. A recent Pew poll finds that 54 percent of Egyptians believe that women and men should be segregated in the workplace, 82 percent believe that adulterers should be stoned, 84 percent believe that apostates from Islam should face the death penalty, and 77 percent believe thieves should be flogged or have their hands cut off . An environment like that makes Chicago politics look like a garden party.

In a favorite passage he extolls the value of gridlock, but suggests we're not doing it right:
Since the election of Barack Obama, the Democrats, supposedly powerless to face America's "big challenges," had passed a nearly trillion -dollar stimulus, a restructuring of the entire healthcare system, far-reaching immigration legislation that would create tens of millions of new citizens, and a tangled overhaul of financial regulation. The president had also appointed two fervently liberal Supreme Court justices with no meaningful opposition. It is a record of political accomplishment unequaled since the Johnson administration. Republicans must be the most inept obstructionists of all time.

Far cop, guv. But the worst violations of liberty on that litany were accomplished with a Democratic supermajority. And here is where I must present the book's tragic flaw and throw a "Libertario Delenda Est" flag.

The "Conclusion" chapter suggests not voting. It begins with an honest appraisal of voting drives, vote-rocking, shaming, and all efforts to persuade the uninformed to share their ignorance with the nation at large. He smacks down suggestions for mandatory voting (a horrid idea, but something of a strawman in the US, I'd hope). All good all good, I'm in.

But then he asks the person who has made it through the other 13 chapters not to vote. Holy Cow, that's the person I do want counted. Yet the author counsels: stay home or discard your vote on a fringe candidate.

Constitutional freedoms survived for well over a hundred years. I don't know that they can be reclaimed at the ballot box or not, but the other choices are unpleasant to say the least. The NRA has bucked the trend. As mentioned in the book, the USA did not melt all it's firearms after Newtown to make a statue of Mayor Bloomberg. A correct and effective demonstration of the importance of liberty and its consequential effects is worth a try.

Harrumph. Damnëd libertoids! But it is a great book that all ThreeSourcers would dig. Four stars.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:37 AM | Comments (5)
But johngalt thinks:

This Review Corner and the preceding 'Theft of Growth' are good partners. One does not achieve freedom from a democratic system by ignoring it. Instead, one gets "all the obstacles" that Leviathan can dream up. Does HRH Harsanyi actually come out and SAY he is advocating for armed revolt? The producer class versus the voter class? Or does he just whistle past that graveyard?

Posted by: johngalt at May 5, 2014 3:21 PM
But jk thinks:

With all respect, I'm going to go with "whistle:"

Then again, I didn't lose much sleep over it. Even if I were inclined to vote, I would rarely find a candidate worthy of support. This isn't because I hold the ballot sacred. Quite the opposite. When voting for president, I may vote for the lesser evil, but generally I throw my support behind some quixotic third-party candidate as a futile gesture of protest. I waste my vote on purpose. And any votes I happen to take on local elections matter even less. I've lived nearly my entire adult life in iron-clad liberal districts that offer almost no competition past the primary stages of an election. And there's nothing wrong with people clustering into ideologically congenial locales. We have the space. We used to have the federalism. Do Americans want to live with like-minded neighbors and vote for officials who represent the worldviews of those communities ? God bless them. But they don't have the right to force others to live as they do.

Or else, they'll face a strongly worded denunciation.... ???

Again, the book has great value in defining the problem and providing cogent arguments to coax people from "Rock the Vote" to where most ThreeSourcers live. I'm not going to burn my Kindle because he fails to provide a solution. But I did find the conclusion less than compelling.

Posted by: jk at May 5, 2014 4:14 PM
But T. Greer thinks:

What kind of government system does he advocate, by chance?

Posted by: T. Greer at May 6, 2014 2:42 AM
But jk thinks:

I'd say he favors semi-aristocratic tempered democratic governments such as pre-17th amendment America or Britain's peculiar (to us) bicameralism.

His point is to not fetishize Democracy. We use it as a synonym for all that is good; we propagate the untruth that "Democracies do not go to war with each other." And, unfortunately, we ruin a perfectly good government in America by making it more democratic. How long will the electoral college last?

Maybe I am wishcasting my own beliefs onto an author I revere, but I always say what separates me from friends on the right and left is accepting that government is hard. Not likely to find a brighter group than America's founders. Their long, laborious work has been generally undone in 200 years. He offers no magic bullets moving forward, but educating people on the perils of majoritarianism is pretty good for $14.

Posted by: jk at May 6, 2014 10:33 AM
But johngalt thinks:

I will say there's something of a Going Galt theme to just refusing to vote, but until one can take his earnings and his prosperity out of the confiscation zone it's not really going to work. At least not until there are hundreds more Cliven Bundy-type standoffs.

But if I criticize it is only because HRH Harsanyi went too far in his writing - a mistake I often make as well. If he had stopped with "Democracy bad, not good" I would have no quarrel. One should not expect a prescription for the ideal government in a single book. (Unless it was written by Ayn Rand.)

Posted by: johngalt at May 6, 2014 4:06 PM

April 27, 2014

Review Corner

I could work for a Curmudgeon. I do not think I am actually one myself, though I do have some curmudgeonly qualities. All the same, I did enjoy Charles Murray's The Curmudgeon's Guide to Getting Ahead: Dos and Don'ts of Right Behavior, Tough Thinking, Clear Writing, and Living a Good Life Being betwixt the curmudgeon and the go getter, I can sit back and enjoy his life's suggestions as a spectator (though there is probably some good advise about not using "betwixt...") I mentioned that today's Review Corner would address income inequality. Let's fire the big guns.
Here's the secret you should remember whenever you hear someone lamenting how tough it is to get ahead in the postindustrial global economy: Few people work nearly as hard as they could. The few who do have it made.
I'm not one to write off the millennials as slackers; I know too many of tem that are hard-working and ambitious. But they have been a ill-served by many of their teachers and parents. Not everybody gets a trophy when you leave school. Those who are prepared to look for the field in which they can compete and toil to get the trophy will thrive even in the Obama economy An improving, dynamic and growing economy will always provide greater opportunity for the talented, intelligent and hard-working. That will distance them from those who lack those traits. Instead of government solutions, the career tips in Murray's book would go a lot further (not farther, Charles, I'm in) to keep up. The book provides a reality check, plus some great practical advice. Your pedantic blog brother could not keep up with his writing and grammar. He provides a page of "know the difference between these words." I hope he is grading on a (Bell) Curve because they were difficult -- and I'm giving myself full credit for further/farther. Here's a random tasting:
attain/ obtain celibate/ chaste
avocation/ vocationceremonial/ ceremonious
conflicted/ conflicting luxuriant/ luxurious
convince/ persuade majority/ plurality
credible/ credulous nauseous/ nauseated
crescendo/ climax obdurate/ stubborn
critique/ criticizeoblige/ obligate
degrade / denigrate obsolescent/ obsolete
derisory/ derisive occupy/ preoccupy
differ/ vary oppress/ repress
diplomatic/ tactfuloral/ verbal
dispose/ dispose of peruse/ skim
dissemble/ lie perverse/ perverted
dogma/ doctrine practicable/ practical
duress/ stress precipitate/ precipitous
empathy/ sympathy emulate/ imitate
endemic/ epidemic presently/ currently
Which one do you use for "give up in abject humiliation," Charles? The target is a young person just starting in the workplace. As it is AEI, writing is emphasized. The entire project started out as a web reference for new hires and interns to check for writing and style questions -- he added the body-piercing bits to fill it out to book length. Curmudgeons are key players in meritocracy and one suspects Murray may be the "Devil Wears Prada" of AEI:
Furthermore, you should keep in mind that the people who are most likely to recognize superior performance are successful curmudgeons. Suppose you are stuck with a job as an administrative assistant and want to break out into a managerial career track. If that's your ambition, you don't want to be assigned to a friendly, sympathetic boss who forgives his assistant's mistakes. You want to be assigned to a successful curmudgeon, the more demanding the better. He is more likely to have a gimlet eye for mistakes --and by the same token is more likely to notice when they don't occur. Being successful himself, he is likely to be in love with excellent performance and to be impressed when he detects it.
The part of the book that is career advice I figured out most on my own, and am too late for the rest. But there is a considerable emphasis on happiness or a life well lived.
You don't need to be an Aristotelian to be good. For two millennia, the world's other most influential ethical system was Confucianism. The central virtue in Confucianism is ren, the summation of all subsidiary virtues. Ren translates as humaneness or benevolence, but the Confucian conception of ren is richer than either word conveys. Ren incorporates the idea of reciprocity (a form of the Golden Rule), which overlaps with Aristotle's concept of justice. Ren incorporates courage. Confucianism is emphatic about the need for temperance.
As long as it does not apply to coffee, I could try me some temperance. You get the idea. It's an engaging and interesting book of practical advice.
In any case, I'm not discouraging you from going for the big bucks and the spotlight. I wish you luck. But suppose you arrive at age forty and you enjoy your work, have found your soul mate, and are raising a couple of terrific kids, but must recognize that you will probably never become either rich or famous. At that point, it's important to supplement your youthful ambition with mature understanding. That's where the clichés come in-- the ones about money not buying happiness and fame being empty.
And a last one, I may not be too old for. Murray channels somebody else I know:
Taking religion seriously means homework. If you're waiting for a road-to-Damascus experience, you're kidding yourself. Taking one of the great religions seriously, getting inside its rich body of thought, doesn't happen by sitting on beaches, watching sunsets, and waiting for enlightenment. It can easily require as much intellectual effort as a law degree. Even dabbling at the edges has demonstrated the truth of that statement to me for Judaism, Buddhism, and Taoism. I assume it's true of Islam and Hinduism as well. In the case of Christianity, with which I'm most familiar, the church has produced profound religious thinkers for two thousand years. You don't have to go back to Thomas Aquinas (though that wouldn't be a bad idea). Just the last century has produced excellent and accessible work. But whomever you read, Christianity considered seriously bears little resemblance to your Sunday school lessons. You've got to grapple with the real thing.
Sounds like work. I'll give the book four fulsome (or does he mean emphatic?) stars and a hearty recommendation.

UPDATE: Murray is interviewed by Marry Kissel at OpinionJournal. The second section is about this book.
Posted by John Kranz at 11:47 AM | Comments (2)
But dagny thinks:

affect/ effect

Posted by: dagny at April 29, 2014 12:40 PM
But jk thinks:

Gets its own page:

Confusing affect with effect. Do you immediately know the differences in what the following four sentences mean?

-- Her action affected the decision.
-- Her action effected the decision.
-- She told me she loved me without effect.
-- She told me she loved me without affect.

If the answer is no, you have some work to do. The rule of thumb is that for the great majority of times you want to use these words, effect is the noun and affect (to have an effect on) is the verb. Only rarely will you have occasion to use effect as a verb or affect as a noun, but you need to know the different meanings of effect and affect lest you blot your copybook.

Murray, Charles (2014-04-08). The Curmudgeon's Guide to Getting Ahead: Dos and Don'ts of Right Behavior, Tough Thinking, Clear Writing, and Living a Good Life (pp. 61-62). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Posted by: jk at April 29, 2014 1:38 PM

April 20, 2014

Review Corner

Things at Thasos thus turned out just the contrary to what the oligarchical conspirators at Athens expected; and the same in my opinion was the case in many of the other dependencies; as the cities no sooner got a moderate government and liberty of action, than they went on to absolute freedom without being at all seduced by the show of reform offered by the Athenians.
Thus spake Thucydides in the nineteenth year of the war in which Thucydides was the historian. The first person acknowledgment is unusual from the Athenian General and author of The Peloponnesian War.

Much scholarship has been devoted to Thucydides; while I rarely lack self-esteem, it is not my intention to add to it. I will tell instead of what happens when a regular Joe--er John lands in its pages and how it speaks to politics today, for it is a deeply political book.

"This we cannot have unless we have a more moderate form of government, and put the offices into fewer hands, and so gain the King's confidence, and forthwith restore Alcibiades, who is the only man living that can bring this about. The safety of the state, not the form of its government, is for the moment the most pressing question, as we can always change afterwards whatever we do not like."

The people were at first highly irritated at the mention of an oligarchy, but upon understanding clearly from Pisander that this was the only resource left, they took counsel of their fears , and promised themselves some day to change the government again, and gave way. They accordingly voted that Pisander should sail with ten others and make the best arrangement that they could with Tissaphernes and Alcibiades.

It seems Democracies struggled long before ObamaCare, but the primary takeaway for me is the brutality of life. As Hemmingway would offer two thousand years later "Que Puta es la Guerra" but to your basic Fifth Century BC hoplite, Thomas Hobbes's subjects' life would seen neither nasty, brutish nor short.

This underscores to your humble reviewer the impracticality of anarcho-capitalism. Pass around the Deepak Lal books, lads; your plunder-free libertarian utopia will be invaded by a neighboring power or undermined by your grandchildren's love of bread and circuses. The Founders were well versed in the Classics, and that "to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men" must have been obvious. Scores of independent city states are less than pawns in the struggle between Sparta and Athens.

But enough of that -- let's talk about me. I applaud blog friend tg for his suggestion of The Landmark Edition. True to Professor Adler, I eschewed its explanations, maps, and the perspicuity of its commentary for a naked run through the Richard Crawley translation completed in 1874. Then, less true to Adler, I turned immediately to the Landmark Edition to fill the substantial lacunae in my comprehension.

I was not cut out for a scholar. I think we can say it aloud. But a few weeks were very enjoyable. The text is eminently readable. Even if you lose track of where you are, when it is, and who is whom, it is full of keen insights. And the plot moves along by way of 141 orations. (Real) scholars question his sources of these exact quoted orations in pre-Google Greece, but they are a masterful literary device to relate the beliefs and goals of different factions.

The great blunder of Athens was the invasion of Sicily. They pulled defeat from the jaws of victory by overextending into a different theatre. Young commanders desiring glory speak to an easy campaign where they will be greeted as liberators. Nicias thinks this foolhardy. But to avoid sounding cowardly or unpatriotic delivers a speech instead reciting the great requirements for success. Instead of dissuading the assembled, they become enraptured in glory. Yes, you're right Nicias -- we should raise a huge army and navy and fill ships with food and supplies. This is going to be awesome!

[Spoiler Alert] The entrenched Syracusians dismantle the navy which has outdistanced supply lines and no Sicilian towns are keen on joining an outside alliance and providing harbor. When news reaches home that this massive force has been crushed, culpability is assessed, democracy-style:

When the conviction was forced upon them, they were angry with the orators who had joined in promoting the expedition, just as if they had not themselves voted it, and were enraged also with the reciters of oracles and soothsayers, and all other omen-mongers of the time who had encouraged them to hope that they should conquer Sicily.

For 20+ years of strategy, bravado, tactics, skullduggery and politics. It is finally settled (post Thucydides) more by Persian capital -- after they enjoyed their two largest rivals beating the crap out of each other. There might be a lesson in there as well, if you're looking.

No sir, I am no scholar, but both Virgil's Works and The Peloponnesian War were enjoyable and add to inner pedantry (the word "laconic" comes from the inhabitants of Laconia who were spartan in speech and Spartan in politics. The names of the musical modes "Ionian," "Dorian," "Phrygian," &c. all come from areas in the book. "Eponymous" refers to the one archon after whom the assembly was named (think "The Roberts Court.")

It seems untoward to award stars. It is a treasure.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:41 AM | Comments (6)
But dagny thinks:

The idea that jk, "was not cut out for a scholar," is laughable. If jk's review corners don't qualify as scholarly, then you better send me back to kindergarten for Green Eggs and Ham.

Posted by: dagny at April 21, 2014 11:54 AM
But jk thinks:

I thank my blog sister for her kind words. And though I am by no means above posting a self-deprecating comment in an attempt to fish for compliments, that was not my intent this time.

I enjoy the pursuit of knowledge and do take pride in the reading I have done since Nassim Taleb challenged me, in "The Black Swan," to read more books and consume less news and political magazines.

I thought Mortimer Adler's call might be the same; he calls me out almost by name: the-guy-who-thinks-he's-so-smart-because-he-reads-a-lot-but-it's-neitehr-deep-not-important-enough...

But the scholar enjoys digging a little deeper into the data -- let's look up that word in the original Greek and see if he meant to say "sad" or "forlorn..."

Fuhgettaboutit! I'd rather read something else. I appreciate rigor and mastery and salute the scholarship of VDH and the other Hosses who contribute commentary to the Landmark Edition. Folks who look up the Greek so I don't have to.

I don't play guitar as well as Joe Pass but I feel I am attempting the same things. My six weeks' fumbling through classics is not similarly comparable to VDH's life work.

We are privileged to have some real scholars around here. I think of two to whom I'd be very uncomfortable comparing myself. One is too aw shucks to be named, but for another, I invite you to compare a typical "Review Corner" to a random one by blog friend tgreer who claims -- far less convincingly -- that "He is not a scholar."

Posted by: jk at April 21, 2014 1:01 PM
But johngalt thinks:

And now back to the subject at hand - human political economy.

I was never much impressed by anarcho-capitalism as the optimum of human social order. It's analogous to a middle-school without a paddle-wielding assistant principal. Even if I get to have whatever weapons I want and nobody gets to make a claim on my property, it still promises to be nasty, brutish and, for some, short.

A constitutional republic enshrining individual liberty and properly restraining democratic impulses remains the ideal. But a prerequisite will always be, in addition to ever growing prosperity with each generation, ever growing education.

Today's generation is taught a fraction of what my public school curriculum entailed in the seventies, and I was awestruck to learn that my father's coursework included Latin, once again, in public school. Heck, he may even have studied Virgil and Thucydides. I'll leave aside whether the dumbing down is intentional or an unintended consequence of do-gooderism. Either way, American citizens are learning less and being told they know more. Unless things change, this can't end well.

Posted by: johngalt at April 21, 2014 2:22 PM
But jk thinks:

Well, I'll turn the Internet Segue Machine™ up to 11 and suggest this is a substantive portion of income inequality.

I don't think the dumbing down is more nefarious than the Unions wanting to protect inferior teachers and the warm-hearted if soft-headed desire to eschew rigor so that everybody gets a trophy.

But it is unmistakable -- my elder brothers attended the same schools I did but received far more rigorous education. (I call mine "post-deconstruction Catholic schooling.") My favorite education anecdote is from David McCullough's biography of John Adams. John Quincy Adams (#6) at 15 knew his Thucydides quite well as he had read it in Greek and Vigil in Latin. In addition, he spoke French and Russian fluently. He wrote Dad (#2), presumably in his native English, to tell of his disappointment at his not being accepted into Harvard. How many are graduated from Harvard today with that level of erudition?

As scholarship of any sort becomes more optional, that sets up a chasm between those who graduate today with good grades and those who force themselves to acquire those skills their contemporaries don't know they're missing.

All of which places into next Sunday's Review Corner: Charles Murray's The Curmudgeon's Guide to Getting Ahead: Dos and Don'ts of Right Behavior, Tough Thinking, Clear Writing, and Living a Good Life.

Now you have something to look forward to.

Posted by: jk at April 21, 2014 3:39 PM
But jk thinks:

I hear via email that I have just sold a copy of Mr. Murray's latest.

I didn't say it was going to be a good review...

Posted by: jk at April 21, 2014 6:14 PM
But T. Greer thinks:

Incidentally, Hobbes was the first guy to ever translate Thucydides into English. His dim political views reflected this, I am sure.

I do try and go for that scholarly thing every once and a while. But I insist on using the Landmark edition regardless of how smart I think I am. It is too helpful to do without.

Good review.

Posted by: T. Greer at April 22, 2014 5:48 AM

March 30, 2014


Like Bono, who as he ages seems to salute the machinery of capitalism that made him wealthy. In mixed company no less. But his social conscience couldn’t be better established if he were Bishop Tutu doing an anti-fracking interpretive dance. With Tina Fey. On an Indian reservation.
I was quite ill last weekend. In my weakened state, I could not really dive into The Peloponnesian War. I had just seen Greg Gutfeld on "The Independents" and his new book, Not Cool: The Hipster Elite and Their War on You, looked interesting. So, I left the siege of Pylos (they're not really going anywhere...) for the hipsters' siege on all that is good and true.

I never have occasion to watch Gutfeld shows, their being early and late, but when he is a guest I do enjoy his humor. The book reflects this; if you can traverse its covers without LOL-ing several times, you are a humorless scold who is unlikely to be reading "Review Corner."

I bother, because we're now watching a false morality replacing a real one. I'm not a religious person. I’m half atheist , half agnostic (and all sexy). Meaning, in the daytime , I don't believe in God . But at night, alone with my thoughts, facing that gaping, terrifying maw without a rail to hold on to, I drift toward something less certain than nothing . Especially in a contract year.

And the book makes a valid and important point. We elected the cool guy to be president last couple (or dozen) times, we pay attention to Hollywood several standard deviations above its mean IQ, the faux rebellion of academia holds sway -- life is high school, claims Gutfeld, and we're letting the cool kids run things to our peril.
For cool to exist, it must ignore all the boring stuff that made cool possible. We forget all the hard work that made our leisure time possible. We forget that our ability to go places, buy things, and listen to cool stuff is predicated on a population’s ability to produce, to create , and to sell cool stuff. To gain that ability takes years of studying and hours spent not doing ecstasy at clubs or sucking on bongs in a basement, but alone, thinking, building, and working. Sometimes its boring, sometimes fruitless.
If you didn’t understand how far superior it was to mountain-bike in really expensive clothes and munch on organic buckwheat flapjacks with artisanal pomegranate syrup instead of scrambled eggs, then you weren't one of us. And that’s the essence of organic cool , really: exclusion. The organic health movement really is about excluding you and saying, "I am better than you because I care." And can afford to care. The cool are united by their hidden bank accounts and the rhythmic regularity of their colons.

Between the depths of philosophy and the mindless shallowness of politics, I think it easy to overlook both the power of "cool" and its record for steering humanity off course. There's a lengthy section on the Boston Bomber's Rolling Stone cover: a Che for our time, the soft brown eyes that placed a bomb next to an eight year old.

For his love of death-metal and comfort with explicit language, the Fox News libertarian (I think I am correct with that characterization but will accept advice) is surprisingly (or not) conservative. There's little of Penn Jillette's libertine-libertarianism. His list of "Free Radicals" in the last chapter includes a fine homage to Penn, but also to Governor Mike Huckabee. He sees the social conservative lifestyle as the antidote to government dependency. I'm not criticizing or completely disagreeing, just remarking. I am taking substantive blows from libertarian Facebook friends of late for being insufficiently purist and too conservative. They might want to stay away.

But its a great time reading, laugh out loud funny book. If it is not new territory it is a new spin. I think any ThreeSourcer would dig it, Four stars.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:21 AM | Comments (2)
But johngalt thinks:

Wow, what a really COOL review! Seriously, I'm a Gutfeld fan and am now even more inclined to read his new title.

This notion of "cool" as a perverting motivation upon our culture is reinforced by a line I read in a story on the Colorado Obamacare Exchange today:

"We still have lots of people who are uninsured. We know that," [Connect for Health Colorado executive director Patty] Fontneau said. "We'll reach them over time - through cultural influence, through peer pressure and, ultimately, though penalties."
Posted by: johngalt at April 1, 2014 3:40 PM
But jk thinks:

Just reading it because all the cool kids are . . .

Posted by: jk at April 1, 2014 3:53 PM

March 16, 2014

Classics Corner

"Let neither winds o'erset, nor waves intomb The floating forests of the sacred pine; But let it be their safety to be mine." Then thus replied her awful son, who rolls The radiant stars, and heav'n and earth controls: "How dare you, mother, endless date demand For vessels molded by a mortal hand? What then is fate? Shall bold Aeneas ride, Of safety certain, on th' uncertain tide?"

Virgil (2013-04-22). Works of Virgil (Kindle Locations 7467-7474). The Perfect Library. Kindle Edition.

Well, I am glad somebody noticed. I will finish the Aeneid after I finish up here. But Book X (they hadn't invented chapters back then, or Arabic Numerals) disturbed me a bit. Mortimer Adler did challenge me to read more difficult books, but I cruised through books I - IX pretty well. The names are difficult and I suggest a modern translation with the characters named Bob, Joe and Steve would help a modern reader who struggles to remember Lagus, Anchises, and Anchemolus.

Book X moves back and forth between the Gods' Polytheistic Committee Roundtable meeting and the mortals' massacring each other on the Latian fields below. Not knowing all the names, I spent much of the section in Purgatory. I'll be suspected of Penn Jillette or Richard Dawkins -ism, but all the earthly valors seem to be for naught as the gods tilt the table capriciously. The entire navy is penned in by a brilliant tactical martial stroke. But some god who feels kinship with the lumber turns the ships into nymphs so they can swim to safety.

Man, don't you just hate it when that happens?

It's a ripping good yarn, and Mister Virgil can expect some stars in spite of my quibble. There's love and yeaning, lots of blood and gore, and -- nobody tell George Takei but:

Then wretched Cydon had receiv'd his doom, Who courted Clytius in his beardless bloom, And sought with lust obscene polluted joys: The Trojan sword had curd his love of boys,

Huh? What was that again?

Posted by John Kranz at 12:11 PM | Comments (1)
But T. Greer thinks:

I am always rather amazed with folks who can translate works like the Iliad and the Aeneid into rhyming verse. Translating both meter and meaning is very, very hard.

Posted by: T. Greer at March 20, 2014 3:22 PM

February 23, 2014

Review Corner

Thucydides? Virgil? What great masterful work have you mastered, jk? Well.... I still plan to read capital-G Great books, but a friend recommended something that sounded little-g great. And it was.

M. Night Shyamalan, enjoying considerable box office success, tries his hand at philanthropy, directing his wealth at education in his hometown of Philadelphia. He's a Hollywood guy so he writes some checks and schedules some fancy dinners. Y'know, philanthropy.

As they shook our hands politely and left, Bhavna looked at me and saw I was shaken. I was looking to be inspired. These children needed saving, but our money wasn't going to do the trick. The system had beaten them badly enough that no amount of money could undo the scars.

I applaud his noticing that outcomes are important. Too many celebrities, and most all legislators, total up the checks and take a victory lap. Shyamalan saw on the first outing that more was needed, and resolved to try and fix the problem, not just finance it. He starts a foundation and hires a researcher to "follow the data" and take a cold hard look at what works and what does not.

I Got Schooled: The Unlikely Story of How a Moonlighting Movie Maker Learned the Five Keys to Closing America’s Education Gap is the story of his considerable involvement with experts of all backgrounds and ideologies, plus time visiting schools that are performing. Shyamalan is a storyteller, and the book is crafted like one of his screenplays. The "five keys" are withheld to where I won't provide them as a spoiler "I see the five keys, Mister Willis . . ."

The book is no less serious than The New School [Review Corner] or The Beautiful Tree [Review Corner], but it is told with a screenwriter's deft touch. He travels to Palo Alto, meets the great education professor Eric Hanushek, the Paul and Jean Hanna Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. The professor's thoughts are recorded, but so is the author's menu choice. He asks the waiter whether he should have the cheeseburger or the Stanford Club:

I do this to every waiter or waitress. I make them complicit in my bad choices. My wife finds this habit completely annoying. The professor was amused by my culinary vacillations. I settled on the club and said no to the fries reluctantly. I had told the professor about the health tenet model on the walk over, so he gave me the fist of solidarity for not choosing the fries. I dove right in with the questions. I asked him about classroom size.

Shyamalan has a doctor friend who suggests that there are five keys to good health: get enough sleep, eat well, exercise, avoid stress, drink coffee (I may have forgotten #5...) But that if one is out of whack, the others do not do that much good. He takes this insight for himself and finds five keys to education reform. When one of these is missing in a middle or upper class student, the lifestyle ameliorates. But at risk or disadvantaged students stuck with a bad teacher suffer.
Children from affluent, educated families get just as many ineffective teachers as everyone else. They just don't pay for it. Kids from poor families do.

One of the keys is more time in school, and their research suggests that the bulk of the achievement gap between races and classes happens over summer vacations. In school they remain close, but Missy and Brad summer with library and museum visits while their peers lose ground. (Curiously, both lose math, he suggests that home algebra sessions are not big in most any culture).

I applaud his objective, data-driven solutions. He quickly rejects canards like class size in opposition to "everybody knows" solutions. He is bone-crunchingly non-ideological. He mentions that he is of Hollywood and has imbued progressive politics but is not driven by them. So, ten points.

But I have to remove one and a half (points, he'll still do well in stars) because he does not follow through. He correctly shows that charter schools, statistically compared en masse to conventional schooling, show small effect. Fair cop, guv, but the same statistical ambiguity for pre-K maddeningly gets a hall pass. Well, the effect is not pronounced but we should anyway... Huh? What about the rest of the book?

And, while he turns off his ideology, I cannot (Ahem, I call mine principles). While he adds a lot to the debate, in the end he trusts the same outfit that got us where we are to implement his five keys. Four out of five are clearly at odds with the teachers' unions objectives. Charter schools are soft pedaled, but I suggest that no other structure would enable any of them.

Then -- and I am not selling the book to ThreeSourcers, am I? -- he closes with a call for more federal control of curricula and spending. Yeah, these same guys who created the planet's most dysfunctional institution will fix it when I give them the plan.

So, M Night Shayalaman provides a shocking ending. Unlike "The Sixth Sense," I didn't dig it.
But this book is a serious contribution to the education debate. His willingness to go where data leads gives credibility to those many places where we do agree. And it is entertaining and charming. Four-point-five stars.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:13 AM | Comments (4)
But johngalt thinks:

Always be suspicious when someone denies or defends without prompting:

He mentions that he is of Hollywood and has imbued progressive politics but is not driven by them.

Just because he says he is not driven by them does not mean he is not driven by them. It only means he knows either, he should not be driven by them or, it damages his credibility to admit he's a Progressive.

It does seem he is so committed to the status quo that the only solutions he can consider are evolutionary, not revolutionary. The foxes must be left in charge of the hen house because, well, just because.

Posted by: johngalt at February 24, 2014 6:46 PM
But jk thinks:

Not leaping to his defense, but my rereading of this review finds it wanting and I am compelled to at least clarify. I agree with 90% of what he says and, of course, spend the bulk of my review arguing with the other ten.

He is pretty courageous, say, in the smaller classroom debate. Neither data nor history support it. And he is certainly not a shovel-money-at-it guy. Had he a simpler, Matt Damon outlook, I would be far less disappointed.

He wants them to change their stripes, and he supplies some very non-union-friendly changes: fire more teachers, get principals more active at leading and coaching, longer days and more of them. None of these is going to win over the union teachers in my family.

Yet, at the end. you are correct that he trusts the same folks to fix it. He spent time with Michelle Rhee and speaks well of her. He must have heard of "the blob:" the immovable confluence of union and bureaucracy: uncharacteristically naive.

Posted by: jk at February 24, 2014 7:24 PM
But johngalt thinks:

Yes but agreement is so boring! LOL

Props on expecting kids to learn when there are others in the room. The changes you named - they would improve things at the DMV too, non? I was there this morning. 9:30 am. Took #54 from the friendly ticket dispenser as I watched the big red numbers click from 29 to 30. Sat down, sent a text message, went across the hall and phoned a friend to arrange a lunch appointment, came back to hear "thirty-three?"

The problem here is there is no competition. They get the same number of customers no matter how slow or rude they are. (And the same compensation.) I've only thought of one way to motivate them - I plan to return 30 minutes before quitting time. I'm transferring a title and renewing plates for FOUR other vehicles. Hey, they brought this upon themselves.

Posted by: johngalt at February 25, 2014 12:48 PM
But johngalt thinks:

Arrived at 4:15. 15 customers ahead of me. Left with my renewal tags 45 minutes later... 1 minute before closin' time.

Dagny suggested a scientific study of DMV service speed by time of day. Thinking about it now, I'd rather keep it a secret. (Except for sharing it with the few thousand readers of Three Sources dot com.)

Posted by: johngalt at February 26, 2014 12:40 PM

February 16, 2014

Review Corner

Too often, there are things we have to read that are not really worth spending a lot of time reading; if we cannot read them quickly, it will be a terrible waste of time. It is true enough that many people read some things too slowly, and that they ought to read them faster. But many people also read some things too fast, and they ought to read those things more slowly.
Serious words from Mortimer J. Adler. Blog brother Bryan recommended How to Read a Book. While I had ne'er heard of it, it was a big deal both in 1940, and in 1970 when it was extensively revised and re-released. I recall that "speedreading" was a big deal. The opening quote is directed at that craze, but hit me a bit where I live

In Black Swan, Nicholas Nassim Taleb redirected my reading from magazines and blogs toward books. After several years, I appreciate that. Adler comes along and calls me to read some better and more challenging books -- and to take the time to completely digest them.

The title is a bit provocative: have I been doing it wrong? Do I need to start with Dick & Jane and read everything correctly? I would self-confidently assert that I probably have picked up 80-90% of what he says on my own, learning to read in the mean streets and dark alleys of literature and exposition as it were. But there are a few good easy tips, and a few very difficult suggestions. Easy stuff first.

When I read a novel, I like to know as little as possible. I don't read the blurbs or reviews unless I am on the fence whether I want to buy or read it. A book I know I want I will start, tabula rasa, at page one. But for an expository work, or perhaps a more serious novel, Adler suggests a comprehensive look at the table of contents. "It is astonishing how many people never even glance at a book’s table of contents unless they wish to look something up in it. In fact, many authors spend a considerable amount of time in creating the table of contents, and it is sad to think their efforts are often wasted." Ergo, rule three of analytical reading:


The reason for this rule should be obvious. If a work of art were absolutely simple, it would, of course, have no parts. But that is never the case. None of the sensible, physical things man knows is simple in this absolute way, nor is any human production. They are all complex unities. You have not grasped a complex unity if all you know about it is how it is one. You must also know how it is many, not a many that consists of a lot of separate things, but an organized many. If the parts were not organically related, the whole that they composed would not be one.

Again I've chosen this particular rule because it is something I never do. Many of his suggestions codify tasks I intrinsically perform, but could be more structured: "coming to terms" with an author, discerning the questions he asks, and finding whether he answers them adequately. Yeah, I do that. Right?

Curiously, Review Corners -- though terse for a distracted readership and a lazy writer -- have forced me to adopt some of the methods of categorizing, coming to terms, analyzing and criticizing. Who knew? I thank a kind readership for its part.

The highest level of reading, "syntopical reading" is what I'd call by the less glamorous name "research," viz., aligning the terms, structures, and information from multiple sources on the same topic. I do wish I had read this before I did my chronological tour of presidential biographies. My goals matched his, but his methods would have been more effective. I might have read more books but not all the way through. And a written, structured relationship of the different viewpoints I encountered, with additional research for clarification would have left me with a deeper understanding.

But the real takeaway for me is to seek more challenge. I have long enjoyed complex books; I like complexity in general. And yet, my recent lists have not reflected this. I plan to return to the more challenging works and try out Adler's techniques. One more slog through Gravity's Rainbow is in order, and a second run at Shin Tung Yau's Inner Space [Pre-Review Corner]. Plus I vow to trade in some current events and polemical works in exchange for more great works.

Good books are over your head; they would not be good for you if they were not. And books that are over your head weary you unless you can reach up to them and pull yourself up to their level.

Wish me luck. I've started the Aenid (John Dryden's 1917 Translation) and Thucydides's The History of the Peloponnesian War." I would not advise readers to hold their breath for Review Corners next week. But:
The body is limited in ways that the mind is not. One sign of this is that the body does not continue indefinitely to grow in strength and develop in skill and grace. By the time most people are thirty years old, their bodies are as good as they will ever be; in fact, many persons' bodies have begun to deteriorate by that time. But there is no limit to the amount of growth and development that the mind can sustain. The mind does not stop growing at any particular age; only when the brain itself loses its vigor, in senescence, does the mind lose its power to increase in skill and understanding.

Both of my selections are from Appendix A, subtitled, "books you should feel very stupid because you have not read."

I'll give the book five stars. Adler is such a hoss. I remember as a lad that he was all over TV: a true "public intellectual." Another sad sign of what have we lost going from Johnny Carson to Jon Stewart and as Brother Keith has mentioned from Rod Serling to whatever. I still hold that there has been a lot of quality programming. But I cannot think of a modern equivalent to Mortimer Adler.

Posted by John Kranz at 11:28 AM | Comments (2)
But dagny thinks:

Does it count as reading something good for me if I just read jk's review corners since they are often over my head?

Posted by: dagny at February 17, 2014 6:24 PM
But T. Greer thinks:

I also like Mortimer Adler.

Funny you mention Thucydided 'cuz one of my most recent posts is built around one of his more famous' phrases. I was reading an essay about what kind of role he thought 'honor' should play in great power politics just today.

Unlike a lot of the old classics, Thucydides still shapes the way people talk and think about war today. An entire academic branch of international relations says he was the first to articulate their theories. Strategic and war studies folks reference him left and right.

I strongly recommend the Landmark Edition. Even if you have already started reading it, is worth it to go get the Landmark edition to use its maps and chronology for reference.

Posted by: T. Greer at February 21, 2014 1:31 AM

February 2, 2014

Review Corner

Next to the second coming of Christ and the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series, the end of capitalism may be the most predicted and expected event of humankind.
If the Prospertarians have their own economist, I nominate Brian Wesbury. He's a smart guy, frequent Kudlow guest, and author of many insightful editorials.

In a recent Kudlow appearance, they mentioned he was the author of It's Not as Bad as You Think. Why Capitalism will Trump Fear and the Economy Will Thrive. I dutifully ordered it on Kindle; it sounded right up my street.

While I enjoyed it right out if the shoot, it soon became obvious that he had written it a few years ago. I thought perhaps it had taken some time to be released, but now I see Amazon lists a publication date of November 3, 2009. Caveat Emptor.

All the same, it was well worth a read. Wesbury predicts economic growth and a triumph of Capitalism in 2K9 and I daresay if you had followed his lead and loaded up on equities, life would be pretty good today. His predictions have, en masse, come true. More importantly, his optimism and his point about the durability of Capitalism hold. I did not look up the date until I had finished. There were some tells. The Healthcare law was a discussion and uncertainty and not a fact.

Yet it is still an uncertainty, non? And, while the "permabears" have a warm spot on CNBC every time the DJIA goes down, Wesbury's point -- a Prospertarian point is that trade will find a way through most nonsense we can use to impede it.

In a July 9, 2009, column, Nouriel Roubini wrote, ". . . the outlook for the U.S. and global economy remains extremely weak ahead. The recent rally in global equities, commodities and credit may soon fizzle out. . . ." For reference, Roubini had predicted a recession would follow Hurricane Katrina, too. He has been bearish for a very long time.

This is half bug and half feature. It is not completely millenarian to wish that the signals from bad policy were more obvious.
Nonetheless, capitalism has brought so much good over such a long period of time that people have begun to take it for granted. They have forgotten that capitalism is the end and the means. The fruits of capitalism are so overwhelmingly delicious that we forget that the best part of the system is that it provides personal dignity. It allows men and women to find their most productive place in the world, while it lifts living standards to new heights. Nonetheless, many "conservative" columnists have joined with many politicians to make an argument that this crisis is so severe that the government must intervene. Even if we don't like what government is doing, it must be done.

Which brings me to a third reason to enjoy a topical current events book from when Kyle Orton and Chris Simms were fighting for the Broncos' starting QB position. I've read a bucketful of "post-mortem" books on the Panic of '08, with many different policy prescriptions. Wesbury's adds insight with some immediacy because he is not looking that far back. Wesbury lays the blame at Mark-to-Mark accounting and considers all the government badinage that followed as, not only unnecessary, but also as failed attempts to compensate for the bad accounting rules.
Private capital did not trust banks that owned significant amounts of toxic assets, not because actual losses from those securities would lead to bankruptcy, but because accounting rules threatened to destroy capital, and possibly the banks themselves, as long as the markets were illiquid. Private capital went on strike. And when that happened, the money dried up. No one will ever know what would have happened if the government had changed mark-to-market accounting earlier, but it is not out of the realm of possibility that Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, Washington Mutual, and Wachovia may not have failed.

We discussed that on these pages in 2008. And Wesbury says "I will go to my grave believing that if the government had just done the right thing--suspend mark-to-market accounting and avoid interfering in the system--the United States could have avoided a recession in 2008. But because the government did not do this, and decided that it must interfere in the financial system, the recession became inevitable."
After many false starts, the FASB was finally forced to alter fair value accounting rules in 2009. The congressional hearing that changed everything took place on March 12, 2009, but was announced about a week before. This, as it turns out, coincides perfectly with the bottom of the stock market decline. On March 9, 2009 with the Dow at 6,547 and the S&P 500 trading at 667, the rally started.

Another Wesbury nugget is not to fight the Fed and I'm certain he would credit hyperliquidity with a piece of the move from 6,547 to 17,000. But you could have bought your Dow ETF based on 10,000 the day Wesbury's book was released. Had you followed Noriel Roubini's advice?

The book contains timeless truths about capitalism and supply-side economics, plus some valuable insights to the Panic of '08. All and all, a good Prosperitarian Primer. Five stars (and those are five 2009 stars, before the ravages of review corner inflation...)


Posted by John Kranz at 10:04 AM | Comments (0)

January 26, 2014

Review Corner Tease...

The engine check light is on and the HOA newsletter which I edit is past due. Quick, somebody call a Waaaahmbulance!

I'm fine, but you're going to have to wait a week to find out how totally awesome Brian Wesbury's It's Not As Bad As You Think Why Capitalism Trumps Fear and the Economy Will Thrive is. Unless you do the right thing and order it right now.

Posted by John Kranz at 11:44 AM | Comments (0)

January 19, 2014

Review Corner

As a history "newbie," I don't claim the rich depth of knowledge I find in those who read it all their lives and paid attention in Mister King's 3rd Period class. I've tried to catch up, but have a serious lacuna: WWI.

I know the grisly depictions. I even have my great uncle's scrapbook. Uncle Willis was a decorated hero and had PTSD before PTSD was cool. I've watched "Blackadder Goes Forth" for insights, but still do not grasp the "why?" or the "what was it all about?"

I spilled upon Paul Ham's 1913: The Eve of War, on Kindle and when I went to buy, I had the option of borrowing it thanks to Amazon Prime. (It's a short "Single" and available for a whopping $0.99 to non-Prime members.)

I enjoyed the book. It is both well researched and well written. Ham attempts to reject hindsight and really look at the mood of the future antagonists, both the leaders and citizenry. The pre-war distribution of power and borders sound archaic today; it was the end of the Peace of Westphalia regimes (not known for a lot of peace). The modern super states known today came out of the postwar carving.

I highlighted several great passages to share with ThreeSourcers, but I see that my frugality cost me the feature of having those available on my other devices. So all you get is a spoiler alert: Ham's work underscores a needlessness and futility. A few crazies in mid-level government draw up war plans, others catch wind and plan preemptive engagements. Soon war in "inevitable."

Enough think it will be short and beneficial (wrong and wrong). Young Eton lads will prove their mettle and come home as heroes -- you think I've fallen back to Hugh Laurie's character in Blackadder, but that is in the book as well. Though Britain did not lose the complete generation like many on the Continent, her casualties were disproportionately from the officer corps and she lost a generation of leaders.

I'd recommend this highly, though more for a "buff" that wants to see other viewpoints and try on some other ideas. I need a more comprehensive piece to catch up. But I'll not hold Ham responsible for my lack of depth and happily award four stars.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:53 AM | Comments (0)

January 12, 2014

Review Corner

The incident as abstracted in The Raven is much prettified. Were I to begin it today, I would write it as a report rather than a romance; for though I have spent most of my life reading and much of my life writing fiction, I do not know whether the costs of such entertainments may not be too dear.

Perhaps these fictions are, as the more stringently religious suggest, the tool of the Devil. For they do, indeed, cloud the senses, which is, after all, their purpose; and we may understand the phrase to mean "inducing a euphoria in the enjoyment of unreality." We speak of novels as a "distraction"-- that is, as a salutary lack of occupation. Perhaps the cost of this euphoria is an enervation of the power to discriminate.

Penn Jillette relates the story that he hated magic as a kid.

He abhorred the idea of deception as lying. A mentor told him that the artistry was to use the lie to tell a deeper truth. Umm, jk, where were you going with this? It seems that Mister Nonfiction guy has been touched by a work of fiction.

David Mamet got a glowing review for his nonfiction, The Secret Knowledge. When I saw this superb interview, about his "conversion" to conservatism documented in Secret Knowledge, I purchased the e-book-only Three War Stories that he mentioned as his latest work. It sat on my Kindle for several weeks as I enjoyed recent review corner selections.

The prose from the famed, award-winning writer -- you'll not be surprised to hear -- is excellent. He has a perfect pitch for not only dialogue but narrative. Each of the three novellas is from a different war and from a different perspective. But the stories are well told and the language lush. (My new Kindle Paperwhite has a feature I have long desired -- each word you look up in the dictionary is added to your word list that you can go back and review. My list quintupled reading Mamet.)

For years I had fantasized a return to the Islands. The constellations of the Southern Heavens, to one raised in the North, are a lesson in reversion. In the observation of this new sky, one may become anew like the child, or the Primitive-- touched with gratitude and awe. "Yes, that is the Cross; and Musca and Centaurus will always hold their positions relative to it, and one may steer by them."

These new Stars are a second language, which, when mastered, gives one, if not "a second soul," then some insight, perhaps, into the nature of the first. In a natural state we live to learn.

I rediscovered Mamet through politics. His newfound philosophy is on display as he takes a whack at politicians, or underscores man's right to live and defend his life. Yet I cannot say, even for me, that this is the draw of this work. It is about the stories. Nice that the grace notes please my ear for a change, contra , say , Stephen King. But I am fascinated that the great "steak knives" speech from "Glengarry Glen Ross" seems to be quoted as approbationally from the right and the left. This was written by Mamet in his "liberal days." Does it matter?

The second story is recounted by one who fought both in the Civil War "to broaden the definition of those who were created equal" and then in the Plains War "to narrow it." The short novella contains many ideas that I'd be unlikely to encounter in a history book. "The late Rebellion, in fact, may be understood, inter alia, as a continuation of the strife between those lands settled by the English, the American North, and by the Celts, our South."

The question of slavery becomes here, secondary. Few in the South owned slaves, and fewer among its warriors. For the Celts, who were the greatest portion of the Rebel Army, were of the Mountains, where slavery was impracticable. And their parents or grandparents had in many cases themselves been slaves, or virtual slaves, to the English rule.[ 4] I believe the war may not only be seen, but be primarily seen-- from the battlefield-- as a conflict between Briton and Celt, here played out as part of the endless strife between the Mountains and the Plain, between the country and the town, the sown and the wild[...]

How could it be otherwise? The British North-- the Protestant North, if I may-- was dedicated to thrift, which thrift produced that surplus of capital sufficient for invention, experimentation, and mechanization; thus, for Victory.

I have a dozen more highlights -- have you the time? This is a beautiful and thoughtful work that any ThreeSourcer would enjoy. Five stars.

Posted by John Kranz at 11:08 AM | Comments (0)

January 9, 2014

Real Book Software: Awful, Awful, Awful!

I bought a product so startlingly bad I need to post a review, both for catharsis and to perhaps prevent another from buying it. I did find a forum where people have been complaining about this for a few years. Spread the word.

I saw a banner ad for Real Book Software. The Real Book is a popular and famous book of charts for Jazz songs. It is a play on the term "Fake Books" which provide rudimentary enough chords to let you "fake it." The Real Book had meatier arrangements and actual transcriptions of solos. It is pretty interesting story [Wikipedia].

The Real Book Software was a good idea: put the book on tour computer, allow search and sort of the charts by genre, composer, title, performer, yadda yadda. They even package mp3s of the tunes so you can listen, and -- big draw for me -- versions of each in Band-in-the-box, a popular software I use to print charts but it also plays the songs for you to play along.

The ads and docs looked funky; that should have been a warning. But it fit into a new educational direction of mine and I was intrigued enough to PayPal $127 (Oww!) Wish I had searched online before paying. If you find this, I strongly advise you to steer clear.

The worst thing about Real Book Software:
The piracy protection -- moving beyond the ironic for somebody selling a compilation of likely pirated material -- is so unforgiving that it will not run on my computer without freshly installing it each time. I got a key from their support that allows me to reinstall beyond the 14 day period.

Second worst thing about Real Book Software:
Support is not very sympathetic. I was good natured and asked them to swap it for one of their products without the protection mechanism. "No, buddy, we have your money and you don't. That is how software works. Maybe you should buy a new computer that it will run on." I do software for a living and that is not really how it works.

A very bad thing about Real Book Software:
When it is installed and licensed, it works. But the GUI is very cheesy and the workflow is uninviting. You can sort, listen and view/print the charts (well, I can until I turn my computer off) but it doesn't feel like much value is added.

They were denigrated in the Band-in-a-Box forum, but I enjoy the band-in-the-box files. Those are just sitting in a directory. They don't connect or index to the program at all -- of course, this is good for me because the program does not work. Saved me some typing -- I'm not pleased that I paid $127 for it but it's keeping me from finding and burning down the dingy studio apartment where this business is surely headquartered.

Please feel free to link and share. I see from the forum that they have been defrauding naive players like me for a few years. Knowledge might be power.

Posted by John Kranz at 4:37 PM | Comments (0)

January 5, 2014

Review Corner

Heh. A blogger known for his brevity produces a substantive view of both K-12 and higher education -- in 103 pages.

I had read [and] [reviewed] both of his Broadside books. Between that and reading Instapundit, many of the ideas in The New School are familiar. But I would still highly recommend buying a copy for yourself and one to pass around to parents you know and any open minded teachers.

Reynolds is an expert on the topic as he is Beauchamp Brogan Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of Tennessee, married to PhD Psychologist Dr. Helen Smith. Yet the perspective of New School is much more about his role as a consumer of education for their daughter and for the bloggers' desire to assemble elements into social and political patterns. The joy of the book is its academic cred without the academics' diffidence (or turgid prose...)

I don't think I need post a spoiler alert that there are problems in education. But it is a huge, complicated, interconnected system with the distortions of more than a hundred years of government involvement. It is easy to choose one failed facet (for me it is Teachers' Unions) to hang all the deficiencies upon. New School broadens the concerns and adds significant new concepts.

Reynolds's Instapundit writings cherish modernity, and the "New" part of the "The New School" is to rescue 21st Century students from a 19th Century Prussian model which was imported to train good 20th Century factory workers.

On his return, [Horace] Mann extolled the Prussian model in his seventh annual report. This met with some resistance, as "critics accused him of wanting to establish a 'Prussian-style tyranny' in the schools, arguing that the Prussian model was based on a presumption that the government was wiser than the citizenry, while in America the presumption was the reverse. There was considerable basis for this complaint. Prussian theorists regarded public education, and higher education as well, as an institution of 'police' and a way of making students 'useful as future tools,'" — but Mann's idea ultimately caught on for the most part. Mann wanted to remake society, and he wanted to start with children. In his turn of phrase, "men are cast-iron, but children are wax." Just as the Prussian model had as much to do with political and social ordering as with teaching and learning, so it was with Mann's Americanized Prussian model.

Reynolds helpfully points out the Mann's children were homeschooled. But sitting still, forming orderly lines, and moving with bells prepared students for factory work. How much of that transfers to your job?

Another key insight is the comparison to a financial bubble. Consumers are so certain of a return that they use easy credit to pay ever escalating prices without carefully assessing the future value of the asset. Sound like anything? A story you heard? Bueller?

The escalating prices are never spent on instruction. Climbing walls, fancy dining halls take a bite, but the real culprit is administration which is more likely to impede instruction with paperwork and regulation. As the crown jewel California University system faces severe cuts, it seems "diversity" is untouchable:

University of California system slashes programs and raises tuition, it has created a new systemwide "vice chancellor for equity, diversity, and inclusion." This is on top of the already enormous University of California diversity machine, which, as Heather Mac Donald notes, "includes the Chancellor's Diversity Office, the associate vice chancellor for faculty equity, the assistant vice chancellor for diversity, the faculty equity advisors, the graduate diversity coordinators, the staff diversity liaison, the undergraduate student diversity liaison, the graduate student diversity liaison, the chief diversity officer, the director of development for diversity initiatives, the Office of Academic Diversity and Equal Opportunity, the Committee on Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Issues, the Committee on the Status of Women, the Campus Council on Climate, Culture and Inclusion, the Diversity Council, and the directors of the Cross-Cultural Center, the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Center, and the Women's Center."

Not that my personal bête-noir comes out well:
For a long time, the providers of education at all levels have enjoyed a sort of guildlike monopoly. And as economist John Hicks notes, as quoted earlier, "The best of all monopoly profits is a quiet life." Alas, the lives of education providers are likely to be less quiet and comfortable than they have been. When education was in the hands of guilds made up of educators, as it has largely been for over a century, educators unsurprisingly took advantage of their control to arrange things to their liking. That will change significantly in the years to come.

Neither higher education nor K-12 schooling will remain in the hands of the guilds in the future, though we can expect a significant rear-guard action on their part. But the vulnerability they face is that it will become easier and easier for people to avoid the guilds entirely thanks to the new alternatives that technology (and other changes -- but mostly technology) has made possible.

Here's hoping! The New School is full of hope without discarding a serious look at difficult issues. Five Stars.

UPDATE: Good interview of Reynolds by Ed Driscoll.

Posted by John Kranz at 11:08 AM | Comments (0)

December 29, 2013

Review Corner

All the issues are simply the battles of the day in a much larger struggle. What is ultimately at stake is the same question that precipitated the American Revolution: whether the American people are the sovereigns in their own country or whether they should be ruled from above, for their own good, according to the supposedly benevolent commands of the elitist rulers of a top-down, European-style society.
Searching the magical Kindle Store for last week's selection, I saw that David Kopel had a Broadsides book out: The Truth About Gun Control.

Around these parts, he has been associated with Health Care because of his Constitutional opposition to ObamaCare. He spoke at LOTR--Flatirons on NFIB v. Sebelius and played important roles as documented last week. But Kopel is best known for his scholarship on guns and gun rights.

And "Truth" is the principled and well reasoned stance one would expect from Kopel. He ties gun rights to both history and philosophy, always drawing a bigger and more vivid picture than the shorter-sighted confiscators.

The right and duty of self-defense applied to a householder protecting her children and to militiamen protecting their communities from foreign enemies or from tyranny. Self-defense was a seamless web; the difference between self-defense against a criminal invader in the home, against a gang of highway robbers, or against a criminal tyrant with his standing army was only one of scale. The tyrant's gang was just bigger than the other ones.
Second Amendment guarantees that all persons can possess arms, no person in the United States, therefore, can be a slave. "The right of a man 'to keep and bear arms,' is a right palpably inconsistent with the idea of his being a slave," [Lysander] Spooner wrote.

Kopel is a regular panelist on "Colorado Inside Out" Friday night on PBS Channel 12 right before Independence Institute colleague's Jon Caldera's "Devil's Advocate." The panelists -- respectful but never on the same page as Kopel -- bow to his superior knowledge of history. Last week Eric Soderman said "I'd expect David to know the Louisiana Governor 100 years ago," when Kopel alone on the panel came up with Kathleen Blanco as the governor during Katrina.

The ties to history are the magic of this work. There is a bit on stats and crime. But the historical use of guns against British occupation, genocide, and Jim Crow is well documented --as are the historical roots of the NRA

National alcohol prohibition, enacted in 1920, spurred national violence, which resulted in the conservative Eastern business establishment -- along with some religious pacifists -- demanding handgun prohibition. In their view, the solution to the failure of alcohol prohibition was more prohibition.

The handgun-prohibition campaign of the 1920s drew the National Rifle Association into the political arena, where it has remained ever since.The NRA had been founded by Union Army officers in 1871 to promote citizen marksmanship and civic virtue. Among its early presidents were Ulysses S. Grant (former president of the United States) and (“ the hero of Gettysburg” and the 1880 Democratic presidential nominee).

In the 1920s, as today, the NRA’s main political strength was its ability to mobilize its ever growing membership to contact government officials and express opposition to constricting the rights of law-abiding citizens.

[If you read nothing else today, follow that link and read about Winfield Scott Hancock.]

Kopel slices the gun rights crowd from their opposition more precisely than most. It is not so cleanly left-right:

The great Democratic Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey embodied liberalism's optimistic faith in the federal government and the federal Constitution. He believed that "one of the chief guarantees of freedom under any government, no matter how popular and respected, is the right of citizens to keep and bear arms. ... The right of citizens to bear arms is just one more guarantee against arbitrary government, one more safeguard against the tyranny which now appears remote in America, but which historically has proved to be always possible."

You can rightly say that HHH was an "old liberal" or "old Democrat" and that that species is extinct. But I'm always troubled by my eastern-elitist peeps like Larry Kudlow or the WSJ Ed Page staff, NR, Weekly Standard, &c. who don't really get it. They should read Kopel:
While some nations consider law to be the vehicle of the state, the American tradition views the law as the servant of the people. As a federal district court put it, "the people, not the government, possess the sovereignty" (Mandel v. Mitchell, 1971).

Four stars -- five if it were longer...

Posted by John Kranz at 11:31 AM | Comments (0)

December 22, 2013

What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been...

Reliving -- and relitigating -- the PPACAo2010 could be tedious and disappointing. Spoiler Alert: it passes and Chief Justice Roberts applies "a saving construction" to uphold its constitutionality under the taxing power.

Despite the disappointing ending (you might wait for the Disney movie to rewrite it), the intellectual voyage of the constitutional challenges, seen through the keen minds of Volkh Conspiracy (VC) bloggers is a fascinating read. The conspirators have assembled it into a very good book: A Conspiracy Against Obamacare: The Volokh Conspiracy and the Health Care Case by Randy Barnett, Jonathan Adler, Jonathan H.; David Bernstein, Orin Kerr, David Kopel, and Ilya Somin.

It is targeted at a "guy like me." I am very interested in Constitutional law, theory, and philosophy but have no special training or deep knowledge. I suspect most ThreeSourcers, be they guys or not, fall into or near that camp. The book is detailed and substantive, you don't feel you're getting a watered down version. But any bright and interested person can get it (for a couple of weekend afternoons, I could click the Kindle on and pretend to be much smarter than I really am).

In addition to theory, you also come away with some inside information about how these challenges progress, a rough feel for timelines, and insiders' perspectives on what is important and what is not. This goes beyond the civics-book explanation of judicial review as Robert Caro's Master of the Senate goes beyond the stock description of Article I.

Supreme Court advocates know what academics sometimes seem to forget: you simply cannot "mandate" a justice go where he or she does not want to go with a clever argument. All you can do is present your strongest case in the most compelling way. Mike, Greg, and Paul did that during oral argument in which the pressure could not have been more intense. I was supremely grateful it was them and not me who had to bear up under the strain of oral argument. Along with Karen Harned, director of the NFIB Small Business Legal Center, win or lose, I believe we fielded the "A Team" on behalf of the majority of the American people who objected to the Affordable Care Act and believed it to be unconstitutional.

Perhaps the best part of the book -- from a blog lover's perspective -- is VC's contributions to the debate. As bloggers once busted Dan Rather and reached above the monopoly of three-network journalism, bloggers [asterisk] reached above the Ivy League Professoriate, all of whom thought that only right wing goofballs would see any Constitutional problems with Obamacare.
Twenty years ago, the virtual consensus among law professors at elite schools very well may have been the end of serious debate in the academic world. The venues for law professors getting their ideas out on controversial issues of the day were few and dominated by law professors at the top schools: the mainstream media, either through op-eds or interviews with reporters, both heavily skewed toward famous professors at places like Harvard and Yale; publications at the top law reviews, which are not reviewed blindly and therefore heavily favor the already renowned; and presentations at elite law schools, to which the overwhelming majority of invitees are professors at peer institutions.

[Asterisk] These folks are not bloggers in the "pajamas" sense. These are law professors who have argued before the Supreme Court (Barnett was the attorney for Angel Raich) and file amicus briefs for big league think tanks. But there is a telling section in David Bernstien's summation.
In 2011, a law professor at Yale, defending Obamacare from constitutional challenge, claimed that only one "constitutional scholar that I know at a top 20 law school" thinks that Obamacare is "constitutionally problematic." A year later, just before oral argument in NFIB, the same professor stated that only one law professor at a top ten law school agreed that the Obamacare was unconstitutional.

The professor's math was almost certainly somewhat off, but he was right that the overwhelming majority of constitutional law scholars at elite law schools thought that the constitutional challenge to Obamacare was not just wrong, but obviously so. But there is a reason for this. The faculties at elite law schools have been able to define what was "mainstream" in constitutional law simply by who they hired to join them. And Yale, to take just one example, has not hired a conservative or libertarian professor to teach constitutional law in my lifetime.

So these poor professors, laboring away at top 14-17 law schools, yet believing in Constitutional limits to government power, were able to present, refine, share, and disseminate their ideas at blog speed. And many of these ideas start showing up in SCOTUS oral arguments and opinions.
Perhaps one contribution of our brief, and the case, to constitutional law is renewed attention to the full opinion in McCulloch v. Maryland rather than the expurgated versions in many law school textbooks. In Randy Barnett's Constitutional Law text, students can see John Marshall working his way through doctrine of principals and incidents, as he elucidates that Necessary and Proper Clause is for inferior, less "worthy" powers-- and not for a "great, substantive and independent power." Roberts's application of this long-standing rule took some of the pro-mandate professoriate by surprise, and the professors who were not surprised were dismayed.

The power of ideas and the power of new media take the challenge from then-Speaker Pelosi's "are you serious?" through a sweeping midterm election, to a nail-biting decision that, while it didn't give ThreeSourcers everything they wanted . . .
While our failure to prevent the egregious Affordable Care Act from taking effect remains a bitter pill, this should not be allowed to detract from what we accomplished legally. We prevailed in preserving and even strengthening the enumerated powers scheme of Article I, Section 8 as a protection of individual liberty. From a constitutional perspective, this is what we were fighting so hard to achieve.

But, but, but taxing power!
For those who may still not see the difference between the legal theories we defeated and that which was adopted by Chief Justice John Roberts, imagine that all the federal drug laws were enforced by the nonpunitive tax he allowed rather than as Commerce Clause regulations, which is how the prohibitions of the Controlled Substances Act are now justified. Under Chief Justice Roberts's tax power theory, the government would have to open the jails and release tens of thousands of prisoners. And any of you reading this could legally smoke marijuana under federal law, provided you were willing to pay a small noncoercive federal tax on this activity. Such is the difference between the Commerce Clause power Congress claimed justified the Affordable Care Act, and the new limited tax power the chief justice allowed it to exercise. That is a big difference.

Losing 5-4 on the mandate -- even with the de-fanging -- has also caused us to lose sight of the 7-2 win against coerced Medicaid expansion. These and the fear, uncertainty and doubt placed in thinking citizens' minds make this exercise heroic and successful.

The Colorado Avalanche lost a hockey game in LA yesterday. The Kings were up 2-0 late in the second period. The Kings are a great team; they are tough at home; they are a defensive powerhouse who rarely give up two goals in a game. They were the Harvard professors of hockey yesterday afternoon. The Avs came back, tied (gives them one point in the standings) and took the game through overtime to a shootout. Sadly for me they lost, but the announcers at the end all agreed this was a win. I agree.

Five stars. Duh.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:17 AM | Comments (0)

December 15, 2013

Review Corner

I've enjoyed the TV show "Sleepy Hollow" and recommend it without hesitation. I could not recall whether I had the classic by Washington Irving. Perhaps I read it in my youth or, just as likely, I merely absorbed a few details.

Ninety-nine cents, however, scores the Kindle book plus a couple of interesting criticisms: George Woodberry's in 1903 and Leon Vincent's in 1906. According to those august scholars, Irving was not only the first American man of letters, but the cornerstone of American fiction as entertainment. Let the Old World have their Sartres, Tolstoys and Hugos -- the road to Pirates of the Caribbean movies seems to start at Irving. Here's Woodberry:

BUT a broad difference is marked by the contrast of "The Scarlet Letter" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"; the absence of the moral element is felt in the latter; and a grosser habit of life, creature comfort, a harmless but unspiritual superstition, a human warmth, a social comradery, are prominent in Irving's lucubrations, and these are traits of the community ripened and sweetened in him.

Ah, yes, Hawthorne. That was pretty serious. "Sleepy Hollow" is a (very) short bit of PG-13 fun. The language is clear with just enough archaic terms to provide flavor.
From the moment Ichabod laid his eyes upon these regions of delight, the peace of his mind was at an end, and his only study was how to gain the affections of the peerless daughter of Van Tassel. In this enterprise, however, he had more real difficulties than generally fell to the lot of a knight-errant of yore, who seldom had any thing but giants, enchanters, fiery dragons, and such like easily-conquered adversaries, to contend with; and had to make his way merely through gates of iron and brass, and walls of adamant, to the castle keep, where the lady of his heart was confined; all which he achieved as easily as a man would carve his way to the centre of a Christmas pie; and then the lady gave him her hand as a matter of course. Ichabod, on the contrary, had to win his way to the heart of a country coquette, beset with a labyrinth of whims and caprices, which were forever presenting new difficulties and impediments; and he had to encounter a host of fearful adversaries of real flesh and blood, the numerous rustic admirers, who beset every portal to her heart; keeping a watchful and angry eye upon each other, but ready to fly out in the common

Watchers of the FOX series will find some tasty homages to the book; the peerless daughter of Van Tassel is named Katrina. There are witches and Hessians and of course a headless horsemen. Beyond this there is no relation to the show -- except the establishment of an American literary tradition of casual entertainment and expansive storytelling.
He who wins a thousand common hearts is therefore entitled to some renown; but he who keeps undisputed sway over the heart of a coquette, is indeed a hero.

Four stars.

Posted by John Kranz at 11:15 AM | Comments (0)

December 8, 2013


Then, about fifteen years into my law practice, I noticed a shift in the federal courts. More and more of my clients (physicians, bankers, academics, scientists, investors, newspaper reporters, accountants, artists, and photographers) were being investigated and prosecuted for conduct that neither they nor I instinctively viewed as criminal. As I prepared to defend against the charges, I could not rid myself of the unsettling notion that the federal criminal laws were becoming vaguer and harder to understand with the passage of time.

Silverglate, Harvey (2011-06-07). Three Felonies A Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent (Kindle Locations 539-543). Encounter Books. Kindle Edition.

This book caused a bit of a stir when it came out a couple of years ago. I was interested but distracted and did not get around to buying it until a few weeks ago.

I thought from the title that it was about abstruse regulations like the poor guy John Stossel featured who went to jail -- in the US -- for importing lobster in plastic packages (as he had done for years and as Honduran law permits). Such stories are sad and anger me, but one hopes that they are as rare as ObamaCare success stories and can be similarly discounted.

Three Felonies a Day is darker and more serious. Silverglate documents prosecutorial overreach. Endemic overreach. Federal prosecutors can, Alice in Wonderland style, pick a person and put them away. Some of the cases documented have been discussed around here: Martha Stewart gets exonerated though the author will not join me in rehabilitating Sam Waxsal. Michael Milken, I think we all (we ThreeSourcers, kimosabe) accept got a raw deal.

Silverglate also goes to bat for the Enron folks. We as a nation had to have heads on a platter after that debacle -- and a host of bad, pointless legislation. But contra the 5th and 14th, people's liberty was taken without due process.

I posted a very entertaining video of Silverglate last week. As I mentioned, almost all of the villains in the book are Republicans. Hizzoner Rudy Giuliani -- whom I have praised at length on these pages -- established himself as a tough on crime, mob-busting, prosecutor. But like most, he relied some tools that are not conducive to the idea of free people. Patriot Act and terrorism prosecutions in the Bush Administration are put in harsh light.

We just saw the shakedown of Jamie Dimon and Chase. It is now in a corporation's best interest to just shovel money at the DOJ whenever they ask. The Feds have this great tool of "you're not going to win" and they can destroy (cf. Arthur Andersen) a company any time they'd like. So the corporations capitulate because it is in their best interest. But this leaves individuals with the implication of guilt and often without the corporation's resources to mount a vigorous defense. Those who fight and win tend to end up ruined.

The emptiness of the prosecutors' dramatic allegations was later hinted at when a judge dismissed the murder charges and lowered bail after a 21-day preliminary hearing. Four more years passed before the remaining felony charges were dismissed, and it was not until May 2004 that a jury acquitted Dr. Fisher of the remaining misdemeanor charges. By then, the damage had been done. Besides spending five months in jail, the financial burden of fighting for his reputation drained the 50-year-old Harvard alum's assets. After the acquittal, he had no choice but to live with his elderly parents. Not only are doctors vulnerable to the threat of such prosecutions, but, just as important, chronic pain sufferers cannot obtain relief.

I avoid the fever swamps of conspiracy theories and over-the-top accusations of impending fascism in favor of the self-interest of misguided people and bad ideas. But it is hard to stay upbeat after reading "Three Felonies a Day." The maw of government is there and it is invincible. I don't think it likely that they'll come after a humble blogger/software developer [Wait a miute, there's a knock at the door...]

No, seriously, this continues because it is something most can avoid. But I naively hold to the idea of a nation of laws. When you do not trust the current administration, it is frightful to imagine that they have these tools at their disposal. It can be directed at political enemies, eeevil bankers and anybody else not in the public's top ten this week, physicians (the section on pain medication is heartbreaking), pharmaceutical companies, &c.

Dark reading and I dare anybody to contradict it. I traded some email with a blog friend in the middle and he reminded me of Gibson guitar's Fish & Game SWAT team raid. Land of the free, huh?

The book is great, I am sorry I waited two years -- five stars.

Posted by John Kranz at 11:02 AM | Comments (4)
But Keith Arnold thinks:

"... But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security..."

Posted by: Keith Arnold at December 9, 2013 12:16 PM
But jk thinks:

I hear you, Brother. I'm quite the fan of marginal fixes and working within the system, but this is a complete abdication of rule of law replaced by rule of men. That's harder to fix.

A new Congress might tinker with the Cap-Gains tax, but how do you fix this? I suppose a sea change on the Supreme Court might rein these lads in, but as Clark Neily III points out in Terms of Engagement, they are "on the government's side" as well. Perhaps President Rand Paul appoints Ted Cruz as AG and these practices are extirpated? Fairy Dust? Unicorn DAs?

Posted by: jk at December 9, 2013 12:36 PM
But Keith Arnold thinks:

In the 18th Century BC, Hammurabi had a pretty good idea: all laws should be on public display, and written simply enough that the town drunk could understand them and know what was required of him. Good times, good times. We've drifted a little bit from that notion, it seems.

I guess those were days when you didn't have to pass a law to find out what was in it. If someone runs for office and says he'll go back to that, he'll get my vote.

Posted by: Keith Arnold at December 9, 2013 1:03 PM
But johngalt thinks:


Perverted Law Causes Conflict

As long as it is admitted that the law may be diverted from its true purpose — that it may violate property instead of protecting it — then everyone will want to participate in making the law, either to protect himself against plunder or to use it for plunder. Political questions will always be prejudicial, dominant, and all-absorbing. There will be fighting at the door of the Legislative Palace, and the struggle within will be no less furious. To know this, it is hardly necessary to examine what transpires in the French and English legislatures; merely to understand the issue is to know the answer.

Is there any need to offer proof that this odious perversion of the law is a perpetual source of hatred and discord; that it tends to destroy society itself? If such proof is needed, look at the United States [in 1850]. There is no country in the world where the law is kept more within its proper domain: the protection of every person's liberty and property. As a consequence of this, there appears to be no country in the world where the social order rests on a firmer foundation. But even in the United States, there are two issues — and only two — that have always endangered the public peace.

Slavery and Tariffs Are Plunder

What are these two issues? They are slavery and tariffs. These are the only two issues where, contrary to the general spirit of the republic of the United States, law has assumed the character of a plunderer.

Slavery is a violation, by law, of liberty. The protective tariff is a violation, by law, of property.

It is a most remarkable fact that this double legal crime — a sorrowful inheritance from the Old World — should be the only issue which can, and perhaps will, lead to the ruin of the Union. It is indeed impossible to imagine, at the very heart of a society, a more astounding fact than this: The law has come to be an instrument of injustice. And if this fact brings terrible consequences to the United States — where the proper purpose of the law has been perverted only in the instances of slavery and tariffs — what must be the consequences in Europe, where the perversion of the law is a principle; a system?

Posted by: johngalt at December 10, 2013 2:44 AM

December 1, 2013

Review Corner

Hmm. Now that I have possibly facilitated the enrollment of a human being in Medicare, what better time to review Avik Roy's How Medicaid Fails the Poor?

We should make one thing clear: while Medicaid costs too much, its principal problem is that it doesn't make Medicaid patients healthier. It's not wrong to spend a large sum of money on health care for the poor. It is wrong to waste large sums of money on health care for the poor. There are so many market-based alternatives to Medicaid, alternatives that would offer uninsured, low-income Americans the opportunity to see the doctor of their choice and gain access to high-quality, private-sector health care.
That's the dirty secret of Medicaid. You might have heard the rumor that uninsured people are clogging emergency rooms because the law allows them to get free care there. But the unreported story is that it is Medicaid patients who clog the emergency rooms because they can't persuade regular doctors to see them.

Roy (people in Montreal and Denver struggle to pronounce it like Mr. Rogers's first name and not Evelyn Waugh's last -- to compound it, the author's first name is pronounced OH-vick) highlights studies that show Medicaid patients' outcomes statistically below those of the uninsured. While it would be easy to think that anomalistic, Roy details several good reasons why this could be.

The book opens with the heartbreaking story of Deamonte Driver, a seventh grader in Maryland who died of a toothache. His indigent mother was unable to find a dentist to accepted a new Medicaid patient, and over time -- government programs excel at eating time -- the infection spread to his brain. Much as I rail against government, I hesitate to pin this single tragedy on them. But we are -- courtesy of ObamaCare and my facilitatorship -- adding to the Medicaid rolls without addressing the physician shortage on the other side.

Medicaid was a statistically significant predictor of death three years after transplantation, even after controlling for other clinical factors. Overall, Medicaid patients faced a 29 percent greater risk of death. You'd think that Medicaid’s poor health outcomes would be a scandal on the left. You'd be wrong. After all, Obamacare puts 17 million more Americans into the Medicaid program.

The difference between insurance and care matters not to the left. The difference between a card and a doctor seem to elude them as well. An Oregon program to expand membership held a lottery where the lucky winners could enroll under relaxed qualifications.
Finally, on May 1, 2013 -- 10 months late -- the New England Journal of Medicine published the second-year findings. Did Medicaid save lives? No. It "generated no significant improvement in measured physical health outcomes," including death, diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. What's almost as striking as this nonresult is how few Oregonians felt the need to sign up for this allegedly lifesaving program. The authors report that of the 35,169 individuals who "won" the lottery to enroll in Medicaid, only 60 percent actually bothered to fill out the application. In the end, only half of those who applied ended up enrolling.

But, what about the security of coverage?
Nonetheless, Medicaid's cheerleaders seized on this qualified bit of good news. "This is an astounding finding ... a huge improvement in mental health," said economist Gruber. To which conservative blogger Ben Domenech responded, "I wonder whether we'd be better off replacing the [Medicaid] expansion with a program that hands out $ 500 in cold hard cash and a free puppy."

Roy suggests a replacement, not with the puppy, but with a catastrophic plan and a voucher for concierge medicine. We could provide the poor with coverage chosen by many well-off Americans (well, until ObamaCare makes it illegal) for the same amount, and get more predictable and controlled spending rates as well.

This is a "Broadside" (very short book by Encounter Books). Five bucks on your Kindle and an hour before Kickoff. Five stars.

Posted by John Kranz at 11:49 AM | Comments (1)
But T. Greer thinks:

I like his plan.

I would think it is a good model for getting rid of most all ss type benefits.

Posted by: T. Greer at December 2, 2013 6:11 PM

November 24, 2013

Editor's Choice Award

I am four years late to the party. If everyone else has already read The Beautiful Tree, just giggle at my late indulgence. But I cannot remember a book I enjoyed more.

I will be buying a few copies and recommending it until I become tiresome. While the book is not political or economic per se, it encapsulates and exemplifies much of what I believe. My buddy, Brad, at Liberty on the Rocks -- Flatirons always encourages liberty folk to appeal to the heart as well as the brain. This masterpiece does both.

Author James Tooley gets "first class BSc honours in Logic and Mathematics from the University of Sussex" and goes to teach math in Zimbabwe. His hope of, repeat after me, making a difference to the rural poor is shunted as the prize is kept for the children of government and NGOs in the city. A trip into the slums reveals a vibrant marketplace for private education. Big, beautiful, well equipped, western buildings staffed by accredited teachers are routinely eschewed for village schools in crumbling slums. By parents who, in absolute privation, devote money to pay private tuition instead of utilizing free government schools.

He devotes his life to finding out that this is true and then proving it to arrogant government officials and snot-nosed charity organizers from DfID, Oxfam, Save the Children, &c.

Curiously-- at least to me-- this was not a conclusion reached by any of the development experts. The Oxfam Education Report was typical. Let me repeat: it was quite explicit that private schools for the poor were emerging in huge numbers and that these schools were more accountable to parents than government schools for the poor. Notwithstanding any of this, its position was that "there is no alternative" but blanket public provision to reach education for all.

Universal, free, education for all! What kind of sick bastard would oppose that? I am told that Judaism holds the giver responsible not just for intention but also for outcome of charity. The outcome of "free, universal education for all" is startlingly -- even grading on the NGO efficacy curve -- poor. It seems that there are incentives in the private schools to please paying parents and fire non-performing teachers.
"We don't have that power in the government schools." He told me the story of a public school principal whom they found last year sleeping at school at 9: 00 a.m. on a classroom bench; he was drunk and no other teachers were present. "Eventually, we managed to get him transferred. That's all. There was nothing else we could do." It's always the same story, he says, "If teachers or principals are caught in child abuse or alcoholism, then all we can do is transfer them elsewhere. And then they continue with their abuse."

This story is repeated again and again. They visit the local government school and the children are playing in the yard. Very few of the teachers bother to show up and many of those that do do other work. It's the incentive model of the DMV plus the rampant corruption of post-Colonial government graft. Yet, Bill and Melinda Gates, Bono, the UN, and all the big-name global philanthropic NGOs will not admit that there is another game in town.
He told me that DfID didn't put much into education, just $80 million or so over the past five years, all of which had gone to the government for improving primary schools-- much of that was for improving their buildings. (I saw it as I traveled around later, plush new government primary school buildings proudly sporting the DfID logo. There were also European Union logos and logos for various other European government aid agencies.) But he was openly dismayed at the lack of accountability for how the DfID funds were spent.
The day after the conference, I met him at noon, and he took me from the plush DfID offices, in one of DfID's chauffeur-driven, brand-new air-conditioned Toyota four-by-fours, to lunch at the Ivy, a tony air-conditioned café, frequented mainly by Europeans-- possibly aid workers and the like. One could almost imagine oneself not in West Africa at all. He had a brie-and-tomato sandwich; I had chicken and rice. The odd thing about meeting government aid representatives in countries like Ghana is that they're not at all afraid to criticize the waste and inefficiency of their host government. Indeed, it seems that nothing is more important to share with you. But then as soon as you press them on the alternatives, like a greater role for private education, it's as if all they've said is irrelevant. There is no alternative, they repeat, to what the government is doing. It only has to be done better, with more aid. Don, it appears, was no exception.

The problem with private education to all these people is profit. A school cannot be "pro-poor" if a proprietor seeks profit. But a bunch of corrupt Ministry of Education officials driving to five-star lunches with aid workers in limousines is fine. The few that admit that these schools exist then suggest that the answer is to regulate them -- give the corrupt government officials the power to close them down! That'll help.

I think ThreeSourcers are beginning to see what I like (I've highlighted probably 100 quotes). It is about education, incentives, and actually helping through -- mirabile dictu -- prvate enterprise. The author is not some crazed libertarian but a chattering class brit IMF worker who took the time to discover reality. The same situation existed in India, Nigeria, and rural China. At each place he was greeted with a laughable "no, there are no private schools for poor people." Everyone knows the schools for the poor come from Save the Children and Oxfam and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and DfID and other wealthy white people writing checks to government bureaucrats.

In the closing sections Tooley explains the title and makes the greatest pattern comparison of all time. Gandhi accused the British of damaging the soil and killing "The Beautiful Tree" because they destroyed the indigenous institutions in favor of transplanted western replacements that were less appropriate and effective. Eighty years later, check writing Brits repeat the performance: demanding schools that look like theirs whether they will educate the poor or not. I am amused to no end that the funders who would be offended most by the charge of "Colonialist" are the ones most fiercely pressing ahead.

What I see this means now is that, when Gandhi said that he wished to return to the status quo ante, he was saying he wanted to return to a system of private schools for the poor, funded in the main by fees and a little philanthropy. Not only has my journey into Indian history provided unexpected evidence of private education for the poor in India before the British took over, it has also provided me with an even more unexpected ally.
Development experts today, academics, aid agency officials, and the pop stars and actors who encourage them are modern-day Macaulays. They are well intentioned, as was Macaulay. They believe in the fundamental importance of education, as did Macaulay. But they believe that the poor need their help educationally, and can't be trusted to do anything on their own, as did Macaulay.

It is a masterpiece of heart and mind that promotes everything I believe (well, there's nothing about the crime of the AL's Designated Hitter...) so softly and subtly as to be almost by accident. It has returned to the news in the wake of Malala, the brave young woman shot by the Taliban for going to school. I saw it referenced in this Cato article and bought it. Better late than never.

Five Stars and the Editor's Choice Award.

Posted by John Kranz at 11:41 AM | Comments (0)

November 18, 2013

The Review Corner that didn't Bark

It is no secret that the average Review Corner score is likely well above four stars. Am I just another pawn of "Big Book," getting checks from Shuster's sons to inflate scores? Why don't I write rebarbative reviews to show off my classic wit? Or am I so cheap that I only buy books I like?

Well, I am cheap enough that I rarely take the Tyler Cowan option. Cowan rails poignantly against our desire to "finish" a book or movie we don't like. Time is your most valued asset -- Cowan thinks we should walk out of theaters and leave books unread. I rarely do that. I watch bad movies to see what happens and I read bad books to see if they get better.

But I doubt that I'll return to The Why Axis: Hidden Motives and the Undiscovered Economics of Everyday Life

The Why Axis is meant to follow Steven Levitt's popular "Freakonomics:" using hard data to answer softer questions on behavior, preference, and social science outcomes. I enjoyed Freakonomics. While I had some concerns, it was a net gain for the corpus. Levitt is an advisor in some capacity to "The Why Axis" but not an author.

Let's enjoy a sample of The Why Axis's prose:

[Businessman-turned-superintendent of Chicago Heights District 170, Tom] Amadio is a passionate, straight-talking guy with good business instincts. He may be the only school superintendent in the country who, in a previous life, was a stock trader making a good living. Unlike stereotypical Wall Street traders, though, Amadio cares deeply about the plight of the underprivileged.

Houston? We may have a problem... Freakonomics leaned left in an academic proclivity, but it had other virtues. This book starts out proving faculty lounge pieties. It seems that gender really is a social construct. Because there is a matriarchal tribe somewhere in which females exhibit risk traits associated with males in the West.

The team does quite a bit of research around this and presents hard data from experiments they have devised -- my paraphrase sells them short. Yet, at the end of world travels and exhaustive studies, and loads of money shelled out to do game theory on people, there seems to be quite a leap. And -- surprise of all surprises in this most surprising of worlds -- hard data supports the faculty lounge belief! Are you as shocked as I am?

They moved on to explain racism, and I moved along to two other books on my Kindle that are a lot more serious in tone and structure.

I thought of writing (this very nasty) review yesterday and thought it unfair. If I do not finish a book, I will not review it.

Then, I saw this on Facebook: "Nature vs. Nurture: New study shows we knew morality as babies." There's a juicy altruism angle that could be fun.

Is it correct to say that Mike's actions were "moral"? Where does morality come from? Are human beings born with an innate moral sense, something like a conscience that helps us tell right from wrong? Or are we born as blank slates and learn morality as we make our way through life from infancy to childhood and beyond? If morality is innate, are we born good and corrupted by society, as Jean-Jacques Rousseau thought? Or are we born as brutes and civilized by culture, as "Darwin's bulldog" T.H. Huxley thought?

Well, click on through to the Atlantic and "a new study" has solved that oft concerned question. This brought up "Why Axis." We're going to get a grant and busy 100 grad students to prove something we think. In the hard sciences, I'd say that's how it is done. I think the softer sciences should show a little more humility. Over the years, they have earned it.

Posted by John Kranz at 12:50 PM | Comments (1)
But johngalt thinks:

"It [morality] does not deny self-interest, yet curbs its pursuit so as to promote a cooperative society."

"It would be absurd to speak of these instincts [the origins of morality] as having been developed from selfishness."

Taking selfishness as the equivalent of self-interest, as do I, reveals some difficulty in squaring these two statements.

Why must morality not deny selfishness if selfishness has no part in the origin of morality?

I find both statements lacking. The latter actually came first, from Charles Darwin. Selfish aims can clearly be shown as causes for sympathy, affection, and helping others. The former statement, by primatologist Frans de Waal, still has not quite learned that selfishness and morality are not opposites. He has, though, at least learned that selfishness is undeniable. This we may call progress.

Posted by: johngalt at November 18, 2013 2:51 PM

November 10, 2013

Review Corner

The idea of the countermajoritarian difficulty rests on the premise that laws enacted by legislatures reflect the will of electoral majorities, which in turn relies on the assumption that the latter possess sufficient political knowledge to control what their representatives do. Yet most of the vast literature on this subject ignores the relevance of political ignorance.

Somin, Ilya (2013-10-02). Democracy and Political Ignorance: Why Smaller Government Is Smarter (p. 156). Stanford University Press. Kindle Edition.

I recommend Bryan Caplan's Myth of the Rational Voter so frequently, it is something of a verbal tic. ThreeSourcers have plenty of philosophical or pragmatic concerns with plebiscitary democracy, but I think any thinking person could look at the intelligence level of modern campaigns and not wonder "is this any way to run a railroad -- or our lives?"

I don't know the geography or organizational structure of George Mason University. But Law Professor Ilya Somin has built on his Economics colleague's important work. Where Caplan is forced to conclude with "sucks to be us," Somin integrates it into a thoughtful critique of over-expansive government. Still sucks to be us, but there are several new ideas along the way.

Starting with a look at the irrationality of being an informed voter, Somin visits many of Caplan's ideas. Factoring the likelihood or your vote being decisive, devoting time to understanding the candidates and issue of the day is idiotic from a self-interest perspective. "Well, the final vote came down to me, and I just wasn't sure if ObamaCare was going to be good or not, but the President promised..."

Somin also has a healthy dose of data showing just how disconnected the "average" voter is. Some of his tables are a little better than Jay Leno's "Man on the Street" interviews. But not by much.

So. Considering that voters do not know what's up and have no rational reason to learn, Somin asks, what is the best structure of government? I referred to this in a comment last week, but one particularly interesting section was a look at different democratic theories and their demands on their respective polities:

To demonstrate this point, we must compare the actual level of political knowledge to that demanded by four prominent theories of representation. In ascending order of their knowledge requirements, the four are retrospective voting, Burkean trusteeship, representation of popular preferences on specific issues, and deliberative democracy. All four theories require substantial levels of political knowledge in the electorate to ensure majoritarian control of the legislative process.

Somin has no magic bullets for fixing voter ignorance and he takes the time to shoot down some popular suggestions. The American culture will not accept diminution of the franchise and it is difficult to imagine that the level of knowledge can be brought up to an acceptable level.

The real solution Somin offers is Federalism. Before I pack up my family to move to Detroit, I might do a little research; my "foot-voting" is 100% decisive.

THE STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES of constitutional federalism have been debated for centuries. We have also had centuries of debate over the extent to which there should be constitutional constraints on the scope of government power more generally. But one major possible advantage of decentralization and limited government has often been ignored in the debate so far: its potential for reducing the costs of widespread political ignorance.
The informational advantages of foot voting over ballot box voting suggest that decentralized federalism can increase both citizen welfare and democratic accountability relative to policymaking in a centralized unitary state.

It is a good argument for limited government and a great book -- five stars, no question. If there is a flaw to ThreeSourcers, it would be the soft-pedaling of coherent philosophy:
The second salient aspect of ignorance is that most voters lack an "ideological" view of politics capable of integrating multiple issues into a single analytical framework derived from a few basic principles; ordinary voters rarely exhibit the kind of ideological consistency in issue stances that are evident in surveys of political elites.

I think most folks 'round these parts recognize themselves in that group. I need study an issue only long enough to fit it into a measure of its Constitutional principles and individual liberty. And if I am wrong, I will get knocked around around here. If I ever get the opportunity to enjoy a beer with Professor Somin, I'd ask him more about that. I do not present it as a flaw in the book because I do not expect more voters to develop a coherent philosophy than learn the issues in depth. It's a statistically meaningless difference.

UPDATE: CATO Video Forum on the book.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:12 AM | Comments (0)

November 3, 2013

How About a Little Fiction, Scarecrow?

And who, really, is so fancy-schmancy they can't appreciate "Volare," arguably among the greatest pop tunes ever written? Young man dreams he's flying in the sky, above it all, defying gravity and time, like having midlife early, in the second verse he wakes up, back on earth, first thing he sees is the big blue eyes of the woman he loves. And that will turn out to be sky enough for him. All men should grow up so gracefully.
I don't know that I have grown up or grown gracefully. But the novels of Thomas Pynchon have been the signposts along the way. His impenetrable "Gravity's Rainbow" remains my favorite novel of all time. And, as he chunks them out only a little better than once a decade, you can remember the span just as well from the Pynchon release as the hair style, fashion or dance moves.

Non-fiction guy missed the last two (Jeeburz, your favorite only writes nine books and you miss two? Some fanboy.). But I enjoyed the latest, Bleeding Edge. Many of his tend to be challenging. Bleeding Edge is downright accessible for Pynchon. I don't know that I'd pass a graduate level Lit test on it, but you won't get the swimming lost feeling that creeps up in Gravity's or V.

The reason to read Pynchon is to experience the inside of his preternatural intellect. He is quite the polymath. Whatever oases of knowledge you have on specific topics, he'll seem informed when he discusses them and you have to assume he sounds just as credible to the expert on ancient French literature, the NY sewer system, plastics, banana farming or the Zulu wars. Bleeding Edge discusses computers and the hacker community right at the burst of the dotcom bubble through 9/11. Unsurprisingly, he nails it.

The other reason is plain old style. A good friend of this blog once complimented an author (not Pynchon) with the line "he makes words dance." So does Pynchon:

Aah, God help us, how sleazy is it, and how has it come to this? a rented palace, a denial of the passage of time, a mogul on the black-diamond slopes of the IT sector thinks he's a rock star. It isn’t so much that Maxine can't be fooled, it's more that she hates to be, and when she finds anybody trying too hard to fool her, she reaches for her revolver.
The shot enters a dirt road lined with shacks and trailers, and approaches what at first seems like a roadhouse because every window is pouring light, people are wandering around in and out of the place, sounds of jollification and a music track including Motor City psychobilly Elvis Hitler, at the moment singing the Green Acres theme to the tune of "Purple Haze" and providing Maxine an unmeasured moment of nostalgia so unlikely that she begins to feel targeted personally.

I would not call it his best work. If one wants to start Pynchon, I'd suggest "Mason & Dixon" to those who don't like pain or "Gravity's Rainbow" to those who do. But it is enjoyable and smart. Four Stars.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:58 AM | Comments (0)

October 27, 2013

Review Corner

The Framers believed that the most effective way to protect liberty was not to create a list of specific rights that the government could not infringe, but instead to create a finite list of powers that the government could exercise. We call these "enumerated powers," and the ones delegated to the federal government are specifically set forth in the Constitution, mostly in Article I, Section 8. The Framers' intent to maximize the amount of space for liberty while minimizing the space for government is unmistakable. Put yourself in a shark cage and you have only a few inches of room to swim around. Put the shark in the cage and the rest of the ocean is yours.
That's from the beginning of Clark M. Neily III's Terms of Engagement: How Our Courts Should Enforce the Constitution's Promise of Limited Government. I like the shark cage metaphor on many levels. And the book opens up as a good choir sermon, highlighting the Supreme Court cases we talk about on ThreeSources

If that were all the book did, it would be well worth the 11 bucks. Neily is an Institute for Justice lawyer and he lucidly covers the history of important decisions concerning liberty and draws the line all the way to the cases that IJ takes on.

That brings us to the granddaddy of all economic liberty cases, Lochner v. New York. If unbridled government were a vampire, Lochner would be sunlight, holy water, a crucifix, and garlic all rolled into one. Little wonder it is scorned by the establishment and taught to law students as one of the worst Supreme Court decisions of all time. And for people with great faith in the political process--those who believe that government rarely acts for improper purposes like suppressing competition for the benefit of entrenched interests--Lochner may well be anathema. But those of us who see government differently tend to see Lochner differently as well. We admire its candor.

A few chapters in, my nodding head bumped against a two-by-four of an idea I have long opposed. And I have had to rethink my position of the Ninth Amendment, unenumerated rights, and even [duh duh duuuuuuh!] Griswold v Connecticut.

The only way out of the pro-government bias of the Judiciary is to keep the cage tightly around the shark. If that prevents majoritarian legislation -- well that is not a bug, it's a feature. And I take one more step away from Judge Bork.

Throughout history, including the history of this country, political majorities have embraced profoundly immoral policies, from slavery and eugenics to the racial apartheid of Jim Crow. Accordingly, even in those "wide areas of life" not specifically addressed by the Constitution--which include everything from getting married and having a family to putting food on your table and how to spend your free time--the Supreme Court nevertheless requires that there be a rational relationship between the regulation and a legitimate governmental purpose. The problem, as discussed in Chapter 3, is how much wiggle room the courts find in the word "rational." So much, it turns out, that the constitutionality of a given law often depends on the government's willingness to misrepresent its true ends in court.

In addition to the challenge, it also cleared up something that I have struggled to understand. The Constitution is so clear that you need no legal training nor abstruse theoretical instruction to understand it. That is, until you get to Amendment 14 and the idea of (selective) Incorporation of the Bill of Rights. Suddenly six dimensional Calibi-Yau geometry seems pedestrian.

Neily presents it as a failed workaround to proper resect for the Privileges and Immunities Clause. Had P&I not been eviscerated in The Slaughter House Cases, we would have an understandable and defendable protection for our rights. Without that (and Neily compares it to epicycles' place in non-Copernican astronomy) we have several convoluted mechanisms to enable courts to protect our 14th amendment rights . . . when they feel like it.

A great book. Five stars.

UPDATE: With a little different style than "Review Corner," Nick Sebilla at Buzzfeed presents 9 Unbelievable Facts You Didn't Know About Federal Courts

Posted by John Kranz at 12:02 PM | Comments (0)

October 13, 2013

Review Corner

Introspection can be overdone, 'tis true. Navel gazers can be tiresome. But a little self discovery now and then is powerful.

The little company I work for, well known by a few ThreeSourcers, is now a mid-size company; we hit $101Million in top line last year. With that comes great opportunity albeit with more bureaucracy than I like, and the unfortunate swap of joie de vivre for politics. All worth it for success.

Creeping up at the edges is the mission statement, vision committee and obligatorily perky full-time trainer to explore you and your team's leadership style. As grisly as it sounds, I participated with enthusiasm because the department I work for could do with some clarity. I faced some disconnects around my not being in leadership or management anymore as my health issues suggest a different level of contribution.

Coincidentally I think, I picked up a psychology book of sorts: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain. Cain sees an "it takes all kinds to make a world" world, but her studies take her to Tony Robbins seminars, Harvard Business School, and many examples of a society that overvalues extroversion.

Contrary to the Harvard Business School model of vocal leadership, the ranks of effective CEOs turn out to be filled with introverts, including Charles Schwab; Bill Gates; Brenda Barnes, CEO of Sara Lee; and James Copeland, former CEO of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu.

Tony [Robbins] seems to have anticipated such questions. "But I'm not an extrovert, you say!" he told us at the start of the seminar. "So? You don't have to be an extrovert to feel alive!" True enough. But it seems, according to Tony, that you'd better act like one if you don't want to flub the sales call and watch your family die like pigs in hell.

Cain opens with the story of Rosa Parks, whose quiet strength predicated her heroics in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Parks could never have filled Martin Luther King's shoes but nor could he hers.

Cain is not out to convert Tony Robbins to quiet contemplation, but she defends workers and children who practice it. Of particular interest to ThreeSourcers might be her destruction of the contemporary business and education focus on collective participation versus individual discovery.

The cooperative approach has politically progressive roots-- the theory is that students take ownership of their education when they learn from one another-- but according to elementary school teachers I interviewed at public and private schools in New York, Michigan, and Georgia, it also trains kids to express themselves in the team culture of corporate America.
"It's an elitism based on something other than merit. Today the world of business works in groups, so now the kids do it in school," a third-grade teacher in Decatur, Georgia, explained. "Cooperative learning enables skills in working as teams-- skills that are in dire demand in the workplace," writes the educational consultant Bruce Williams.

She champions Steve Wozinak and the great inventors, engineers and artists who looked inside for their discoveries. And she hilariously takes down the popular "brainstorming" culture with studies that show more and better ideas from individuals.

Don't get too excited, she's not a closet Randian. One whole chapter is devoted to a certain brilliant, introverted Vice President who -- gosh darn it -- has tried to warn us about the coming catastrophe of climate change. But the extroverts in Congress cannot see the importance of a small crack in a glacier thousands of miles away and . . . (no, the Kindle version does not include a barf bag, you must furnish your own for this section).

But it is a serious book and an interesting read. I even contacted our perky trainer and ponied up $20 to take the Briggs-Meyers personality test. According to which, I am an introvert (this may surprise ThreeSourcers less than those who interact with me corporally; I happen to be a VERY LOUD introvert). Yet I agree with the score.

Four-point-five stars. Interesting enough for five, but I cannot let the VP Gore section pass without subtraction.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:37 AM | Comments (1)
But johngalt thinks:

Nice story. Of particular interest to me is how, in my experience, those of the individual discovery clan can coexist, albeit superficially, with the collective participatation crowd but the latter, particularly when in a management role, often have distrustful feelings toward the former. Perhaps this is because the introvert is passive agressive or, more typically, because he can succeed at his job without the collective and, most importantly, without the manager.

The most successful managers can get the most out of both types of subordinate. To do so they must have good communication skills and a healthy self-image of their own, such as not to be threatened by the knowledge of the introvert, whether used in a hostile manner or not.

Hey, there's some lint in here.

Posted by: johngalt at October 14, 2013 2:48 PM

October 6, 2013

Review Corner

Some guys like mysteries, some thrillers, some tend towards erotica and pornography. Me, I have a problem. I enjoy reading about "The Panic of Oh-Eight."

It may not have the verve of porn, but this is a significant -- nay, huge, event in our lives. It ushered in a toleration for dirigisme in the financial sector, swept in our century's Roosevelts (Senator Elizabeth Warren, line one...) I read last week that our best and brightest students are now not choosing Wall Street careers. Even ThreeSourcers might find it hard to engender lachrymal secretions on that news, but financial innovation has been a huge gift to modernity, prosperity and property rights.

Insert obligatory Santayana quote here as almost everyone -- right and left -- are willing to settle for simplistic explanations and, concomitantly, simplistic and dangerous remedies. So I enjoy books like Arnold Kling's Not What They Had in Mind: A History of Policies that Produced the Financial Crisis of 2008 too much. Better than meth.

Kling finds roots of the crisis in the regulations that "fixed" the S&L crisis. What awaits us after a decade of Dodd-Frank?

However, much of what is now called “shadow banking” emerged in response to capital regulations. The consequent fragility of the financial system reflected above all the risk allocation created by the structured transactions and the leverage at individual institutions, rather than new relationships between institutions of different types. If we could conduct an alternate history with capital regulations that did not favor securitization and off-balance-sheet entities, then the shadow banking system would not have been an issue, and no crisis would have occurred.

Conversely, consider an alternate history where institutions had to maintain a strict, Glass-Steagall separation of commercial from investment banking, yet continued to operate under capital regulations that blessed securitization, off-balance-sheet financing, and other complex transactions. In that case, I believe that the crisis would have unfolded pretty much as it did.

Some generally right-leaning and liberty appreciating economists have questioned Bliley-Leach, which undid Glass-Steagall, but I am firmly in Kling's camp. It seems allegorical to gun control that we're going to indiscriminately tamp down innovation and participation in capital markets because the effects are sometimes deleterious, rather than nurture the good and impede the bad.

Another divergence from others I've read is that Kling questions mortgage securitization in toto:

The phenomenon of mortgage securitization is still viewed as beneficial, with a need to curb its excesses. However, I would question the rationale for securitization. Given that the government created and supported mortgage securitization, without government support or the distortion of capital regulations perhaps the market would choose a different, safer method of mortgage finance. Perhaps old-fashioned "originate-to-hold" mortgages would make a comeback if the regulatory playing field were level.

Put me down as a yes for level playing field; regulations forcing securitization over servicing should go. But I don't see securitization qua securitization as bad. It is a tool to get risk in the hands of those that can best accept it, and without the ratings issues, GSE backing, and the biases Kling opposes, I still think them a valuable tool. I'll concede a point:
However, credit risk is unlike interest-rate risk or currency risk in that it is highly asymmetric. Currencies and interest rates move up or down with approximately equal probability. Taking a position on currencies or interest rates is a bit like betting on a coin flip. In contrast, mortgages and corporate bonds default with a very low probability, but the severity of loss is high. The seller of credit default swaps is positioned like a property insurance company with a lot of exposure along the Gulf Coast. Most of the time, the seller just collects premium income. However, if a severe hurricane strikes, the losses could be very large.

This gives them a Taleb, Black Swan, Mandelbrotian risk profile -- but we let craftsmen take the guard of the blade sometimes. I think more instruments to shape the risk curve, with proper disclosure and capitalization are better than fewer. (Hey, that could be an ATT commercial: "Hey kids, what's better? More instruments to shape the risk curve with proper disclosure and capitalization or fewer?")

I'm a big Kling fan (he does pretty well on these pages) and none will be surprised that I enjoyed the book. It was released in 2009 but I somehow missed one of my favorite author's writing on my favorite topic. If you've got the '08 jones half as much as I do, you'll dig it as well. I think all ThreeSourcers will agree on unintended consequences:

Given this contrast between hindsight and the real-time perspective, the government needs to display some humility in promising to prevent future financial crises. The history of past regulatory mistakes suggests that we will not come up with a foolproof system going forward. In fact, there is a risk of creating a financial system even more dependent on centralized regulation, which could leave it at least as vulnerable to catastrophic failure.

Five stars.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:41 AM | Comments (0)

September 29, 2013

Review Corner

As hinted, today's Review Corner may be equal parts self-analysis and review. For openers, I didn't even read the assignment. Brother Bryan recommended Neoconservatism: An Obituary for an Idea by C. Bradley Thompson and Yaron Brook. Sounds easy enough.

I went shopping on the Kindle and found The Rise and Fall of Neoconservatism (Cato Unbound). The actual book is not -- alas and alak -- available on Kindle. And the CATO book is 99 cents. It opens with Thompson's synopsis. No doubt it lacks some nuance and the supporting text sounds quite interesting. But one gets the idea:

The neoconservative vision of a good America is one in which ordinary people work hard, read the Bible, go to church, recite the Pledge of Allegiance, practice homespun virtues, sacrifice themselves to the "common good," obey the commands of the government, fight wars, and die for the state.
The neoconservatives are the advocates of a new managerial state--a state controlled and regulated by a mandarin class of conservative virtucrats who think the American people are incapable of governing themselves without the help of the neocons' special, a priori wisdom. They are the conservative version of FDR's brain trust: they want to regulate virtually all areas of human thought and action.

(We'll put you down as a "no" then...)
The author and the three essayists selected to comment share an appreciation for Lockeian liberty. It's a bit ThreeSources-esque to watch them quibble over finer points in various levels of grouchiness.
polis. This term fuses together the notions of society and state. So, when Aristotle claims the human beings are political and cannot live without the polis, he is more plausibly understood as noting the social character of human beings and not that humans are naturally creatures of the state. Thus, as Fred D. Miller has noted, Aristotle's claim that the aim of the polis is to achieve the virtuous and happy life is correct in one sense and not in another:

Talk of the common good of the political community can be understood in both senses of polis, but insofar as one is concerned with explaining the aim of the state (or the political/legal order) in terms of the common good of the community, there is a sense in which classical liberalism can too speak of the common good. This good is not some determinate end that can be used to direct human conduct, but it can be understood as context-setting.Interestingly, this sense of the common good for the political community was noted by Ayn Rand: It is only with abstract principles that a social system may properly be concerned. A social system cannot force a particular good on a man nor can it force him to seek the good: it can only maintain conditions of existence which leave him free to seek it. A government cannot live a man's life, it can only protect his freedom. It cannot prescribe concretes, it cannot tell a man how to work, what to produce, what to buy, what to say, what to write, what values to seek, what form of happiness to pursue—it can only uphold the principle of his right to make such choices . . . . It is in this sense that "the common good". . . lies not in what men do when they are free, but in the fact that they are free.

In the end none of the essayists are ready to accept the assertion that the Straussian roots of neoconservatism make it as dangerous as other -isms in opposition to individual liberty.

I find much to agree with in Thompson's critique. President George W. Bush (who gets surprisingly little mention) wanted to use the tools of government to advance "conservative" ideals. Nobody ever mistook him for a libertarian. There is immense antipathy directed at Senator John McCain of late, from the Tea Party and these pages. I celebrate ten years of cracking on the man whose signature issue was removing our first amendment right of free speech in the name of campaign finance reform. The day after he debated Senator Barack Obama on "the economy," The Boulder Refugee and I wept that "one of these guys is going to be president next year."

But I am not amping up my dismay. Senator McCain is the same guy. I don't regret my vote for him in 2008. Nor am I going to regret my two votes for President Bush or, gasp!, my support for the Iraq War. It did not turn out as I had hoped and I will accept serious commentary that it was a mistake, yet I will stand by my thoughts at the time with the information I had.

Like Taranto eloquently said, however, I will let it inform my future decisions. I have no taste for Syria. I'm glad that President Bush did not succeed more with "Faith Based Initiatives" and wish he might have lost on "No Child Left Behind." We need to reclaim the GOP toward liberty roots.

And yet, Mr. Thompson, many of the voices of liberty and actual achievements in recent years have come from those driven by either neoconservatism or national greatness conservatism. I don't find myself pining for the swellness of a Gore or Kerry Administration and I cannot reject the intellectual contributions of William Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, et al.

The CATO Unbound is a great read: four stars (that's less than 0.25/star -- great value!) And I may break down and buy the actual book someday.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:20 AM | Comments (0)

September 15, 2013

Review Corner

Something short today. At least one blog brother has some underwater property and we have one more day of predicted rain plus the mountain floods hitting the plains in earnest (Earnest is about 20 miles south of the county line...)

Niall Ferguson already has two entries in Review Corner: The Great Degeneration and Civilization. Both scored highly (averaging 4.875 stars including revisions).

Always Right is a Kindle Single ($0.99 -- ThreeSources takes care of its readers in the Obama economy). In this short but serious work, Ferguson, rightfully gives props to PM Margaret Thatcher, her governing philosophy, and its results.

While President Reagan's reputation has been reformed on this side of the pond (lefties can get verklempt over dead Republicans), I suggest that the even more stark success of PM Thatcher has received less recognition in Old Blighty. My previous line of work had me cavorting with members of the "Chattering Class" and they were positively gobsmacked that I thought highly of The Iron Lady. It is just accepted by all thinking people that she was an idiot. Ferguson details the incredible turnaround:

For the British stock market, the Eighties were comfortably the best decade of the twentieth century. Naive economists look at the wrong indicators when trying to assess the Thatcher achievement. They fail to see what the project to restore British capitalism should be measured by capitalist, not socialist standards.

Ferguson was a punk in more ways than one during her tenure but he saw where the revolution was heading and got on board. Glad he is around to document her achievements.

American Republicans do come off as silly waiting, Beckett-Style, for "the next Reagan." But reading this and Sagebrush Rebel [Review Corner] one is reminded that ideas need a champion.

Historians of my generation were taught to despise the "great man theory of history". The Reformation had not been the work of Luther, Calvin or Henry VIII, but of great social forces -- the rising gentry, I seem to remember. The English Civil War was not Oliver Cromwell's triumph but the defeat of a declining aristocracy. The reductio ad absurdum of this approach was the erudite German professor who set out to write a history of the Third Reich without mentioning Hitler.

Would Governor Romney had benefitted more from better ideas or from a better capacity for explaining them and dealing with the Candy Crawleys along the way? We all love ideas here, but it is fantastic to read about Reagan and Thatcher and their capacity to advance their ideas. And this is a great piece of it. Five Stars (bringing Ferguson asymptotically toward five).

Bonus: shortly after finishing the book, I ran across ThreeSources's favorite Yaron Brook answering "How did someone like Margaret Thatcher get elected?"

Posted by John Kranz at 10:54 AM | Comments (0)

September 8, 2013

Review Corner

Ahh, epistemology. There are so few things that we know with absolute conviction. The Moon orbits the Earth, VP J. Danforth Quayle was stoopid. Global Warming is real, man-made and catastrophic. Warren Gamaliel Harding was a terrible president. James Watt was a crazy man who wanted to pave the West.

Wait -- that last one might not actually be true. In Sagebrush Rebel, William Perry Pendley takes on the task of defending President Reagan's environmental policy and concomitantly rehabilitating the reputation of Interior Secretary James Watt. Those Augean Stables were a light dusting job in comparison.

Younger readers may not appreciate the enmity directed at Watt. Even being a Reagan guy I bought in. I left a copy of Atlas Shrugged out once at blog friend Sugarchuck's house. His New Dealer father read it in one sitting (still impresses me) and greeted me with "Who wrote this? James Watt's Mother?" The popular bumper sticker of the time showed the Colorado license plate mountains -- but leveled flat with a bulldozer and "James Watt's America" or some such caption.

Pendley tells the story that was never told. Watt understood exactly what Reagan wanted and was tough enough to take the heat for it. Coming out of the Carter years, where environmentalists had tied up energy production and economic development, America lacked the economic footing to defeat Communism.

Stop me if you've heard this, but by opening energy production, the entire economy was, ahem, fueled. And that was the same economy that crumbled the Soviet Union with a few harsh glares. No energy and none of the other Reagan initiatives worked. Cut taxes. swell. Negotiate firmly, nice. But the world knows what strength lies behind an American leader. Thanks to Watt's carrying out the shared vision, the strength was undeniable.

If ThreeSourcers are all picturing President Obama right now instead of President Carter, that's easily forgiven. Pendley brings the context around to today at the end of several chapters -- and ties it up in a bow toward the end:

In 2013, America's situation is similar to that of 1980--an economy in distress, vast natural resources locked up with no plans to put them to use, and a regulatory regime that inhibits the development of resources and the creation of jobs. What lessons can we take from President Reagan's policies and the responses to them?

But, jk, my Facebook friends intone gravely, "at what cost to the environment?" And "Would you like to play Candy Crush?"

None. And no.

Reagan and his Interior Department acted like grown-ups in that they made choices. Many many square miles were set aside for wilderness. The National Parks were upgraded for use. But the Feds own 1/3 of the nation's land mass and it is not all pristine wilderness. Reagan rejected the idea that man is not part of nature or ecology. Carter's folks -- and I fear Obama's -- do not sort, strategize, and allot. They see every acre of Federal land as something to be regulated and removed from economic use. That not only damages an energy hungry economy, but also reduces the efficacy of the actual lands that should be protected.

Reagan adhered to what one social scientist called the "human exemptionalism paradigm," according to which "human technological ingenuity can continue infinitely to improve the human situation." Carter, the Earth Day organizers, and the environmental groups embraced a neo-Malthusian "ecological paradigm," which posits environmental limits on economic growth.

Pendley doesn't say it, but I'd suggest that defeating Soviet Communism was probably the best thing that's happened to the environment in modern times. Look at the state of stewardship in Romania in the documentary Mine Your Own Business.

The other thing that makes it so relevant to today is the successful battle against bureaucracy and elite opinion. From its onset, the Interior Department was so squishily defined as to promise runaway scope and bureaucracy.

Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina had opposed creation of the Department of the Interior, fearing, "Everything upon the face of God's earth will go into the Home Department." He was prophetic. Soon the department was called the "Great Miscellany," "[a] slop bucket for executive fragments," and a "hydra-headed monster," or, more kindly, "Mother of Departments," for the tendency of agencies it adopted as orphans to become grown-up, stand-alone agencies,

Score one for the Gentleman from South Carolina. But Watt's courage and Reagan's righteousness prevailed if but for a short time. There's a lesson

There are, in fact, many lessons in "Sagebrush Rebel." As we discuss urban vs. rural, Democrat vs. Republican, Libertoid vs, Randian &c., Pendley details the very real War against the West. The title comes from the Californian's willingness to choose sides with the West. Democratic Western governors are pitted against Carter's policies, and most -- some more begrudgingly than others -- end up conceding agreement with the 'R' in the White House.

Environmental extremists had another reason for their rage toward Ronald Reagan; he was an unabashed Sagebrush Rebel who pledged to put an end to Carter's War on the West. He had made common cause with Westerners who were fed up with an arrogant environmental movement that was entrenched in positions of power in San Francisco, New York, and especially in Washington, where the federal bureaucracy was filled with environmental activists.

Side note: my growing nostalgia for the free-trading, cost-cutting, President Clinton is truncated by his enthusiastic escalation of the W on the W.

ThreeSourcers will love everything about this book: dedication to ideas, and the success of that dedication. Good fights, good choices, good victories. And a very good book: five stars.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:53 AM | Comments (2)
But johngalt thinks:

Cool review. I'll add my own anecdotal recollection of the Watt era. I was "informed" that Watt disregarded any protection of any natural resources because, "when Christ returns to take all of the believers to heaven there will no longer be any use for planet Earth." I think it was a high school classmate who parroted this nugget of propaganda and yes, I took her to be completely serious. So much so I actually believed he had said it.

Also related to domestic oil production, I heard KT McFarland explain how we could flood the world petroleum market and drive the price of oil down, effectively starving Iran of petrodollars so critical to fueling their nuclear ambitions. We supposedly can't "drill our way to prosperity" but can we "drill our way to peace?" Isn't it worth a try?

All we are SAAAY-ing,
Is give oil a chaaaance.

Posted by: johngalt at September 9, 2013 3:04 PM
But jk thinks:


The line you reference is documented in the book. It was actually said by an interviewer, attributed to Watt mistakenly, and followed him around his entire career.

What, were they going to assess and rebut his ideas?

Posted by: jk at September 9, 2013 4:47 PM

September 1, 2013

Review Corner

It's a floor wax! It's a Review Corner! No -- it's a social conservative rant from jk! I don't know that today's Review Corner will bring back the luster to your laminate, but it is all of the others.

I've read Nick Schulz for a long time in several different forums. And like me, he is not one to push a social agenda or tell private individuals how to behave.

I come to this project as someone who writes primarily about economics and not primarily about social and cultural issues, but I also have found it impossible to write about economic topics without reference to some dramatic social shifts.

And so, more in sorrow than anger, does the liberty loving economist leap into Home Economics: The Consequences of Changing Family Structure.
This book will advance a few related arguments. First, the collapse of the intact family is one of the most significant economic facts of our time. The discussion of the family is often tied up in culture war politics-- debates about feminism, gay marriage, birth control, abortion, and the like. Those are important and interesting topics. But because the debate about family structure is so thoroughly tied up in the culture war, those who think of themselves as primarily interested in economic topics-- business media, corporate leaders, Treasury and Commerce secretaries, macroeconomists, and so on-- often avoid this subject.

Right with you, Nick. I am one of those of whom you speak: preferring to stay silent rather than firing first shots in culture wars. But you read this book, or Charles Murray or Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and you realize that the topic cannot be ignored.

In an ideal world with only private charity, the topic could be ignored. But in the meantime, I believe there is plenty of time for a tortured segue. The conservo-libertario-sphere went to Defcon Five last week over Allison Benedikt's "You're a bad person." ThreeSources participated enthusiastically. Reading Home Ec right after, it struck me that -- not even for linkbait -- would anyone dare dish disapprobation on the behaviors that actually cause poverty. Schulz doesn't and I do not intend to.

McLanahan and Sandefur are careful researchers and point out that "growing up with a single parent is just one of many factors that put children at risk of failure." But there is little doubt that the economic problems created by single motherhood are sizable.

We all, Schulz discloses, know innumerable examples of great success from poor situations and no smaller number of ne'er do wells from great situations. But there is this thing called statistics.
My own research and writings in recent years have primarily focused on technology and entrepreneur-led growth. Like many people who think about the economy, I considered the debates over family structure a cultural issue distinct from economic issues. But over time this bifurcated view became untenable.

I found it became impossible to speak intelligently about, say, income inequality without discussing changing family structure (as well as technology and trade). It became difficult to discuss depressed wages for low-skilled workers without also bringing out-of-wedlock birth rates among lower-class white Americans into the picture. It was challenging to talk about entrepreneur-led growth and not include the rates of entrepreneurial risk-taking among those raised in intact families and those who were not.

Nor is Schulz the only right-wing crazy to address this:
For example, Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, who has spent years investigating the lives and material conditions of poor people around the world, writes, “Liberals sometimes feel that it is narrow-minded to favor traditional marriage. Over time, my reporting on poverty has led me to disagree: Solid marriages have a huge beneficial impact on the lives of the poor (more so than in the lives of the middle class, who have more cushion when things go wrong).” 58

You know the end from here. The poverty rates among those who finish high school, get a job, and wait to have kids is miniscule. Shultz asks if that's such a high bar. Not an MBA, not getting a cartoon published in The New Yorker, not a platinum album.
At the start of this book I argued that when Americans talk about economic problems today-- poverty, income inequality, wealth disparities, unemployment, and the like-- they rarely bring the enormous changes in family structure over a half century into the discussion. They are far more likely to focus on things like trade and globalization, tax policy, deregulation, immigration, "Wall Street greed," and more.

ThreeSourcers know the story, but I still recommend you buy ($1 on Kindle!) and read (one afternoon sitting) this. He goes deeper than you're expecting by examining the effects on human capital and the foundations for entrepreneurship. That he is not Dana Carvey's Church Lady but rather a reluctant economic warrior makes it all the more potent.

Five stars.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:36 AM | Comments (0)

August 25, 2013

Review Corner

If you want to sell a book to jk, there is no better line than "Everything you know about x is wrong." I'm a sucker for that if x is of any interest. In this case, x = the Scopes trial. Click "purchase."

Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion by Edward J. Larson was written for people (like me) who know about the Scopes trial from watching Spencer Tracy in "Inherit the Wind." The mishandling of the trial's legacy gets an entire chapter at the end, but the play was written by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee to combat McCartyism. Mister Brady is a caricature of William Jennings Bryan, and the origins of the trial are completely rewritten to portray the nefarious backwards forces that so frightened the authors. ("Tailgunner Joe" has spawned a lot of Hollywood agitprop, that's a big subject for another day.)

Not that "Summer" or Mr. Larson debunk the central point: Clarence Darrow, the nation's premier litigator and William Jennings Bryan, its premier orator, descend on a small town in Tennessee.

Darrow had gone to tiny Dayton, Tennessee, for precisely this purpose, with Bryan as his target. Bryan had come to defend the power of local majorities to enact a law--his law--to ban teaching about human evolution in public schools. Two hundred reporters had followed to record the epic encounter. They billed it as "the trial of the century" before it even began. No one cared about the defendant, John Scopes, who had volunteered to test the nation's first antievolution statute. The aged warriors had sparred at a distance for over a week without delivering any decisive blows. Now they went head to head, when Bryan vainly accepted Darrow's challenge to testify to his faith on the witness stand as a Bible expert.

The movie shows the youthful Scopes wrestled from his classroom. Actually, it was an ACLU test case and they actively recruited a defendant. He was treated fairly well except in the appeal when they started the trial not noticing that the defendant was not present. Bryan had worked with the legislature on the law but suggested there be no penalty. He even offered to pay Scopes's $100 fine.

It was about ideas to Bryan and Darrow. For that I will always respect the Nebraska populist. His politics was left wing, his social policy was authoritarian, his monetary policy was inflationary. My philosophy is completely orthogonal to the man Larson calls "The Commoner." But his lifelong friendship with VP Charles Dawes put him in high esteem. In this book, I completely disagree with Bryan but cannot escape his honesty and integrity.

I have a bad habit of liking my intellectual opponents in history. Researching a project, I came to like Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney and thought that Justice Curtis, who dissented in Dred Scott, and bravely resigned, was something of a prig. Likewise, Clarence Darrow is the white knight of reason and enlightenment in this tale, but I'd rather quaff a lemonade with Bryan that a cold beer with Darrow.

Choose sides however you wish, but the brain trust in this trial is impressive. Two of Wilson's Secretaries of State participate on different sides, Bryan won the Democratic nomination three times (nit: Larson says "subsequent;" it was not: 1896, 1900 and 1908). Charles Evans Hughes, 1916 GOP nominee and future Secretary of State, was consulted and was in line to take over for Darrow if it went to the US Supreme Court.

It was a show to some. The city fathers of Dayton thought it would put their small berg on the map while urbane Tennesseans deplored the association fundamentalism. But to many -- certainly Bryan, Darrow, and the ALCU -- it was a war of ideas.

By 1925, the warfare model of science and religion had become ingrained into the received wisdom of many secular Americans. Clarence Darrow imbibed it as a child in Kinsman, Ohio, where his fiercely anticlerical father eagerly read Draper, Huxley, and Darwin, and made sure that his son did too. As a Chicago lawyer and politician in the 1890s, Darrow quoted Draper and White in his public addresses and denounced Christianity as a "slave religion" that "sought to strangle heresy by building fires around heretics."

Bryan resigned his position as SecState in opposition to WWI. Popular books at the time drew a line to evolution as a keystone of German/Prussian philosophy. I'm a close descendant of Charles Darwin and quite convinced that his theory holds up well. But one can see Bryan taking this crusade up in the wake of the war.

And that's why this book gets five stars. It provides a factual narrative of events (contra Inherit the Wind) and it provides a nuanced look at the dramatis personae.

Posted by John Kranz at 9:56 AM | Comments (3)
But dagny thinks:

@ JK,

I'm a little confused, what is the factual narrative that differs from the movie? Just that Scopes volunteered to be a test case? That is one of my favorite movies BTW.

Posted by: dagny at August 26, 2013 12:03 PM
But jk thinks:

Mine too. I have not seen it in forever, but it made quite an impression on me as a young man.

Much of it might be a matter of degree, though the playwrights open instructions by asserting that the record is not factual in time, setting, or facts. It is a trial and facts matter. I doubt you'd enjoy Gov. Huckabee and Sen. Santorum making an "edutainment" film about Roe v. Wade.

I don't know that you're going to applaud the cleaned-up, actual William Jennings Bryan, but he was portrayed cartoonishly. Bryan was at heart always a populist and he was fighting for the majority of a community that was paying the bills for the school and Mister Scopes's salary to exercise control over the curricula.

This all precedes (perhaps paves) the incorporation of the 14th Amendment in the Warren Court which has been a mixed bag for the liberty lover. While Darrow perhaps saw it in the "Inherit the Wind" Science and reason versus religion terms, Bryan fought for majority rule and local control of schools.

Again, I don't see you or me switching sides, but the Bryan who implored the legislators not to enact a penalty and offered to pay Scopes's fine presents a different picture than the brownshirts' ripping the guy out of the classroom so that "Mr. Brady" could heap some hell-fire preachin' on him.

(Do you also like Paul Newman in "The Verdict?")

Posted by: jk at August 26, 2013 12:35 PM
But jk thinks:

And: Bryan's failure to handle Darrow was accentuated. He did allow for a non-literal interpretation of creation days, which enflamed many of his supporters.

Bryan (really the Orator Ezra Klein thinks Obama is) had closing arguments prepared. He agreed to take the stand believing that Darrow would have his way in cross-examination, but that Bryan would make his point in closing arguments. Darrow suggested a guilty plea after destroying Bryan on the stand, precluding his arguments. They were later published, but the world lost a chance at a second Cross of Gold speech.

Posted by: jk at August 26, 2013 12:49 PM

August 18, 2013

Review Corner

Father gestured agreement. "It's a bitter joke, but you're right," he said. "I suppose a species that all got along perfectly with each other would never make it to the stars, because they'd never argue enough to make their ideas work. And a species that thought everything through first wouldn't get there because they'd never get around to it. So the galaxy will eventually be ruled by impetuous bickerers."
It's Fiction Day at Review Corner. A book by Buzz Aldrin was too tempting. While Encounter with Tiber by Aldrin and John Barnes was not as thrilling as a 100-year-old Economics book, I enjoyed it and would recommend.

I'll spoil the first great laugh: the protagonist is known as "the second person born on Mars" as if Aldrin has some connection somehow. The first part of the novel is set on the Moon, and it is wondrous to read the descriptions of the light, the dust, and the gravity and realize that the author is not making this up or relating the story of somebody he interviewed.

Another recurring theme is the galactic and interspecies existence of politicians and bureaucrats. One senses Aldrin might have met one or two of these in his career. The following happens -- if you'll pardon my saying -- a long time ago and far, far away:

The image of Fereg on the screen smiled and said, "I have examined budgets and plans exhaustively for the last half-year, and what I have found is that we have considerable room for the improvement of life here on Nisu, for this generation. I call this the Planetary Improvement Program, and what I propose is …" It was a long list. Public parks, beaches free to everyone, two extra eightdays of paid vacation each year, retirement two years early for most people, a complete reequipping of the Imperial Guard with more modern aircraft and ships, two new legions of Imperial Guard to be raised in Shulath ...

"Something for everybody," Osepok muttered. "Right. Now just what do you suppose he plans to use to pay for it?"

The money was to come out of the space program, of course. Allegorically to Aldrin and literally to the characters hearing that speech, it is a biological imperative to spread the species to other planets.

The story is interesting and the book is well structured. I am not familiar with John Barnes, but suspect that his experience might have brought much of this plotline integrity. Whatever its provenance, it is a good yarn, with much to say and I'm happy to bestow 4.5 stars.

End review begin rant -- er political discussion. I find myself fixated on "the inter-generational compact" and it figures heavily in this book. I read of the hundreds of workers giving their lives to build the Panama Canal or the Brooklyn Bridge (OMG if he recommends David McCullough's "Brave Companions" one more time, I swear I'll scream...) Or I think of "The Boys of Point Du Hoc" or the Marines at Iwo Jima. They all gave more than they should have or needed to, so things would be better for future generations.

If I can be forgiven a Rachel Maddow moment, the Hoover Dam might be an environmental Armageddon, but it was a foundation of generations of prosperity and innovation. Now we can't frack, we can't force a retired teacher to buy the store brand ice-cream. And we cannot allow capitalism's "animal spirits" to fuel the innovation that will make our grandchildren wealthy.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:01 AM | Comments (3)
But johngalt thinks:

RAH, also from HS-WT: "Die trying' is the proudest human thing."

I'm a fan of space travel but also a fan of private enterprise. I can't say that scaling back the government space program is a terrible decision. I only wish it had been done prior to the rise and reign of Dr. James Hansen.

Posted by: johngalt at August 19, 2013 3:23 PM
But jk thinks:

You and me, brah. In the book, Earth's space program is driven by private enterprise's leveraging of NASA artifacts.

Posted by: jk at August 19, 2013 4:51 PM
But jk thinks:

And, great RAH quote. He has a bucket of superb ones out there ("...bad luck"), but "'Die trying' is the proudest human thing." is all that.

Posted by: jk at August 19, 2013 7:36 PM

August 11, 2013

Review Corner

An unusual book for today's Review Corner: Carrol D. Kilgore's Restoring the Constitution: Why? Is it possible? How?

The title and topic will appeal to all ThreeSourcers. And I have no doubt that all would enjoy the book. Amazon Prime® members can borrow it free on Kindle. The Kindle edition lacks polish: no table of contents and it shows as being written by "Louis Brandeis." I'm guessing that Brandeis was not the author's favorite Justice.

Kilgore presents several interesting Supreme Court cases in which he feels the majority failed to correctly interpret the Constitution. His writing is clear but its opinionated nature, combined with odd formatting made me curious about the author and the book's provenance. A brief Internet search shows an obituary for Kilgore in March, 2013. Amazon tells:

Carrol D. Kilgore was 86 years at the time of publication of this book, which was written early in his retirement after 59 years' law practice. This included 5 years as Assistant U. S. Attorney (2 years as First Assistant U. S. Attorney) in Nashville during the Kennedy Administration. Received a number of commendations from official sources for prosecutions during that time, then went into private law practice as a member of a respected law firm in Nashville. Graduated from Vanderbilt Law School in 1950. In 1977, Kilgore published "Judicial Tyranny, An Inquiry into the Integrity of the Federal Judiciary" (Thomas Nelson Publishing), of which the U. S. Supreme Court Historical Society opined that the book was accurate, but the author biased. To this, the author always replies that his bias is his insistence that every judge should honor his oath to support the Constitution in all his decisions

Whether it's its "library book" status or the unusual ebook aspects, I cannot bring in pull quotes.

I was not surprised to read of Kilgore's experience and legal chops; it was obvious that he knew what he was talking about. His explanations were clear to the "interested layman" that was his target, but deep enough to demonstrate his knowledge and provide substantive examples of the problems he saw.

It is easy to become exasperated after a decision like NFIB v Sibelius or Kelo v New London, but I still see SCOTUS as the best defender of our rights. No, that is not the way it is supposed to be. No, it is not reliable enough. BUT: we could never have seen a legislative or executive equivalent of Heller, McDonald or even Citizens' United. I hate to have all my freedom eggs in a basket watched over by Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagen, Kennedy, and Ginsberg but it is the best we have got.

The book could have used a bit more polish, but I will give a gentleman's de mortuis nil nisi bonum four stars. Especially if you have Prime® and a Kindle, I'd heartily recommend it.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:40 AM | Comments (0)

August 4, 2013

Review Corner

Congress passed an act granting 10 million acres of public land to be used on behalf of the mentally ill. President Franklin Pierce vetoed the act, noting that while he sympathized with the cause of aiding the mentally ill, I can not find any authority in the Constitution for making the Federal Government the great almoner of public charity throughout the United States. To do so would, in my judgment, be contrary to the letter and spirit of the Constitution and subversive of the whole theory upon which the Union of these States is founded.
Number fourteen had a good grasp of the Constitution and his job defending it. Sadly -- and of zero surprise to ThreeSourcers -- most of the participants in Steven Hayward's The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Presidents: From Wilson to Obama: not so much.

A few weeks ago, I deducted a star from Charles Johnson's excellent "Why Coolidge Matters: Leadership Lessons from America's Most Underrated President" for partisanship and inclusion of material that spoke too much of the year it was released instead of the years covered. That Review Corner foreordained possible hypocrisy as I am kinder to Hayward.

Johnson was adding to the Scholarship of President Coolidge and I found barbs about the current President or Congress out of bounds. The "Politically Incorrect Guide..." with the "p I g" graphic over every chapter head advertises itself as what it is: a brief vignette of each Chief Executive and the author's rating.

I enjoy Presidential Biographies but tire quickly of the "Schlesinger Industrial Complex." Every academic historian thinks the exact same things. One cannot avoid or ignore the corpora; the scholarship is important. At the same time, one must recalibrate from time to time against the community's belief in executive power and activist government. There are a bunch of anti-Schlesingers, but Hayward's book is a great place to start.

Hayward ranks the Presidents on their following their Constitutional roles. Overstepping and arrogating gains you stars in Schlesingerworld, but Hayward likes a Chief Magistrate (Gene Healy, call your office!). He delivers an important point early: modern Presdents talk too much!

The Strong, Silent Type "Madison took the country into war, the British burned down his house, and he still didn’t give a speech." --George Will
At one appearance on tour in New York, President Benjamin Harrison begged off commenting on current issues before Congress, saying, "You ask for a speech. It is not very easy to know what one can talk about on such an occasion as this. Those topics which are most familiar to me, because I am brought in daily contact with them, namely public affairs, are in some measure forbidden to me. . ."

President Obama, and to be fair all of his predecessors that anybody alive remembers, will opine at length about local crime stories, policy, legislation, the infield fly rule...

It is a quick read and a very fun book full of great quotes and illustrative anecdotes, with each section ending with the author's Constitutional grade. It contains a great mix of amusing and more serious illustrations.

Wilson wrote, "Leadership does not always wear the harness of compromise. . . . Resistance is left to the minority, and such as will not be convinced are crushed." This sounds awfully close to what liberals today, such as Paul Krugman, decry as "eliminationist rhetoric." (It turns out that this passage in Wilson’s essay is taken almost verbatim from Hegel's Philosophy of History, where Hegel celebrates the leader "so mighty in form" that he will "crush to pieces many an object in his path.") Throughout "Leaders of Men" and other writings, Wilson envisions the modern president as a leader who not only sees the future, but sees it as his duty to force the pace toward that future. The president should use his "persuasion and conviction--the control of other minds by a strange personal influence and power."

I'll quibble with a few of his grades -- but it is his book. Harding and Coolidge get a great and welcome rehabilitation from the Schlesinger school, for their upholding Constitutional separation of powers and behavior in office.
Harding's good constitutional judgment can be seen in his four appointments to the Supreme Court: William Howard Taft (the former president), George Sutherland, Pierce Butler, and Edward T. Sanford. John Dean says, "By any historical criteria, Harding's selections to the U.S. Supreme Court were quite strong." While Taft is the best known of Harding's appointments, Sutherland was arguably the best, as he was a stalwart champion of the Founders' constitutional philosophy and defender of individual economic rights against arbitrary government regulation.

Liberal historians have reviled and belittled Calvin Coolidge even more than Warren Harding and Herbert Hoover, chiefly because Coolidge is a more formidable figure who presents the most serious challenge to the pretentions of Progressivism. Coolidge was the anti-Wilson in every way--except that he was just as interested as Wilson in theoretical questions about the applicability of the Constitution to modern America. To Harding's reverence for our Founding documents and restrained conduct in the presidential office, Coolidge added a principled and intellectually sophisticated defense of constitutional government against the Progressives' attack on it.

Eisenhower gets points for his view on executive power -- keeping a Congressional majority of his own party in check. But the General is rightly savaged for his Supreme Court picks.
FDR and LBJ get about the treatment you'd expect.
Between FDR's radical Progressive views about the principles of the American founding, his court packing scheme, and his left-leaning Supreme Court appointments, it is a shame that he can’t be awarded a constitutional grade lower than F. His counterproductive economic policies and hyper-partisanship are just extra credit.
"He couldn’t pour piss out of a boot if the instructions were printed on the heel." a mild (actually printable) example of the kind of language LBJ was known for

I'd have been mirabile dictu! a bit kinder to President Clinton and a bit harsher on President Bush #43. But it is his book. Good clean fun. Laugh a lot, learn a bunch. Four and a quarter stars.

Posted by John Kranz at 12:46 PM | Comments (0)

July 28, 2013

Review Corner

A leader is a person who can create change and bring about a new state that, in his or her conviction, is superior.
It's time for a change of pace 'round these parts and Review Corner has your next summer read: Bob Lutz's Icons and Idiots: Straight Talk on Leadership.

Lutz is a regular guest on Larry Kudlow's show. He is a garrulous, opinionated "car guy" who can field questions on politics, free markets, business and finance with equal aplomb. When I saw that he was hawking a book, I grabbed the iPad and bought it as he was speaking.

Lutz tiptoes into politics on occasion, but the book is about leadership, with most of the examples coming from his business career (though a High School teacher and Marine Corps Drill Sargent get the first two chapters). He has worked for some Icons and some Idiots in his long tenure in the automotive industry, as well as Barons and Bureaucrats -- and one of the first impressions is his ability to learn from all of them. It is neither a kiss and tell nor settling of scores book. It honestly assesses different styles, qualities and foci of leaders (and a rating system in the Afterword).

After the fact, [CFO of Ford of Europe, Harold A. "Red"] Poling had his "analysis," but it was never again discussed. What was evident to me then, like so many times in my career before and since, was that, once again, the bean counter religion, of which Red Poling was the high priest, living as it does in a world of spreadsheets and budget "timing," hopelessly removed from the unquantifiable reactions of the real world, had cost the company millions of dollars in profit.
Sure, a certain amount of bobbing and weaving-- call it tactical maneuvering-- is always required, but the core strategic priorities, the "what I want this organization to be, to stand for," can't change. With Rick Wagoner, it was the consistent thrust, the growth of the Chinese operation, a huge source of GM prosperity today. With Phil Caldwell, the unchanging strategic priority was quality and reliability. In my case, it was product excellence, an unwavering commitment to vehicles that customers would actually desire rather than be willing to settle for.

Lee Iacocca appears in the book, and a male my age cannot avoid comparisons. I devoured Iacocca's book when it came out and became one of his millions of young executive fanboys. While still respecting the mustang developer and Chrysler Chief, I am tempted to call Lutz a "thinking man's Iococca." I'd hire either one to run my car company, but there is a lot more nuance and strategic thought to Bob Lutz. My favorite section is his first day working for Iacocca, who assures that "Those potato cars (Taurus and Sable) are gonna bomb."
"We put a couple in a product clinic against our own upcoming Dodge Dynasty and Chrysler Fifth Avenue (elongated versions of the K-car, equally boxy, with "Greek temple" grilles, stand-up hood ornaments, padded vinyl roofs, and every dated styling cliché' that was driving American buyers to imports), and we killed 'em. Our average score was 7.5 on a 10-point scale. Theirs was a 5.0. It's gonna be the flop of the century. I hope you didn't have anything to do with it."

Lutz had just left Ford and knew that the 5.0 average was the arithmetic mean of those who hated the new look and gave it a one or two and those who loved it and gave eights and nines. Lutz didn't want to make cars that were people's "second choice" and that's what the K cars were, taking $3000 or more in incentives to move them off the lot.

When he dabbles in politics it will be to the favor of ThreeSourcers, but I'd pick up this book to get away a little. This is a book about cars and people and business and leadership. Five Stars.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:39 AM | Comments (0)

July 21, 2013

Review Corner

I owe these and the other scholars acknowledged in the notes a deep intellectual debt. However, they would be the first to agree that much more attention has been paid to the question of why poor nations stay poor, as opposed to the question of why rich nations revert to poverty, a somewhat less common phenomenon. My concern here is not with economic development but rather with the opposite process of institutional degeneration. My over-arching question is: what exactly has gone wrong in the Western world in our time?
The promised polemical review of Steven Hayward's "Politically Incorrect Guide to the President's" is postponed. ThreeSources apologizes for the inconvenience. But catching up with reviews, I have a more serious book that did not get a Review Corner.

Niall Ferguson's The Great Degeneration: How Institutions Decay and Economies Die hits most all of the ThreeSources sweet spots; had it a Buffy reference, it would be perfect.

I discovered Ferguson because an Amazon reviewer responded to my Deirdre McCloskey review with the suggestion that I read his "Civilization" [Review Corner]. That scored Ferguson 4.75 stars (I'm tough but I'm fair) and he is back for more with "The Great Degeneration."

As "Civilization" discussed the innovations and institutions that built a prosperous society, "Degeneration" concerns itself with the injuries to those which produce stagnation and decay. Adam Smith noted China as a "stationary state."

In Smith's day, of course, it was China that had been "long stationary": a once "opulent" country that had simply ceased to grow. Smith blamed China's defective "laws and institutions" -- including its bureaucracy -- for the stasis. More free trade, more encouragement for small business, less bureaucracy and less crony capitalism: these were Smith's prescriptions to cure Chinese stasis. He was a witness to what such reforms were doing in the late eighteenth century to galvanize the economy of the British Isles and its American colonies.
Writing in the 1770s, it seemed obvious to Adam Smith that the reasons for China's puzzling 'stationary state' of economic stagnation lay in its 'laws and institutions'. Could it be, by the same token, that the economic, social and political difficulties of the Western world today reflect a degeneration of our once world-beating institutions? There certainly seems little doubt that the West is experiencing a relative decline unlike anything we have seen in half a millennium.

As Insty might say, glad that could never happen to us!
To demonstrate that Western institutions have indeed degenerated, I am going to have to open up some long-sealed black boxes. The first is the one labelled 'democracy'. The second is labelled 'capitalism'. The third is 'the rule of law'. And the fourth is 'civil society'. Together, they are the key components of our civilization.

As Heinlein noted, it is not guaranteed that a wealthy country stay prosperous, For all the great books that highlight the causes of prosperity -- and Review Corner readers will know that is a favorite genre of mine -- Ferguson finds the other side underserved.

A large section is devoted to debt, which Ferguson sees a symptom and signpost of degeneration. More than the absolute albeit serious problem, he sees a breakdown in the contract between the generations.

In his Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), Edmund Burke wrote that the real social contract is not Jean-Jacques Rousseau's contract between the sovereign and the people or 'general will', but the 'partnership' between the generations. In his words:
one of the first and most leading principles on which the commonwealth and the laws are consecrated is, lest the temporary possessors and life-renters in it, unmindful of what they have received from their ancestors or of what is due to their posterity,
SOCIETY is indeed a contract . . . the state . . . is . . . a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.

It is my hope that the "green-eyeshades" branch of the GOP positions the debt in this manner -- this is far more compelling than accounting and China-bashing.

Regulation gets the same treatment

Why is it now a hundred times more expensive to bring a new medicine to market than it was sixty years ago -- a phenomenon Juan Enriquez has called 'Moore's Law* in reverse'? Why would the Food and Drug Administration probably prohibit the sale of table salt if it were put forward as a new pharmacological product (it is after all toxic in large doses)? Why, to give another suggestive example, did it take an American journalist sixty-five days to get official permission (including, after a wait of up to five weeks, a Food Protection Certificate) to open a lemonade stand in New York City? This is the kind of debilitating red tape that development economists often blame for poverty in Africa or Latin America.
In my next I shall ask if excessively complex government regulation of markets is in fact the disease of which it purports to be the cure. The rule of law has many enemies, as we shall see. But among its most dangerous foes are the authors of very long and convoluted laws.
Lurking inside every such regulation is the universal law of unintended consequences. What if the net effect of all this regulation is to make the [Systemically Important Financial Institutions] more rather than less systemically risky? One of many new features of Basel III is a requirement for banks to build up capital in good times, so as to have a buffer in bad times. This innovation was widely hailed some years ago when it was introduced by Spanish bank regulators. Enough said.

Were the author American, he'd certainly end with some bold policy suggestions and point to an awaiting new millennia of awesomeness. But the Brits gave us "One Foot in the Grave," and Ferguson, while not moping about it, is pointing out what is so. He ends with a disapprobational look at President Obama's "You Didn't Build That."
This surely is the authentic voice of the stationary state: the chief mandarin, addressing distant subjects in the provinces. It is not that the implied interdependence of the private sector and the state is wrong. It is the overstatement of the case that is disquieting, as if it took government to build every small business or, indeed, to 'create the middle class'. Also striking is the conspicuous absence from the speech of any future project comparable with those cited from the past.

The Second Inaugural gets no better treatment:
[T]he appropriate yardstick for an effective government was 'whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified'. By contrast, 'without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control'. The words 'debt' and 'deficit' were not mentioned. The dangers of excessive regulation and litigation were ignored. And civil society scarcely featured at all, as if the hallowed phrase 'we the people' is now synonymous with 'the government'. It is bad enough to see state capitalism touted as an economic model by the Chinese Communist Party. But to hear it deployed by the President of the United States as a rhetorical trope nearly devoid of practical content makes this writer, for one, pine for the glad, confident morning of 1989 -- when it really seemed the West had won, and a great regeneration had begun.

Ferguson's style and wit make it less depressing than this review corner suggests. Four-point-seven-five stars, and an update to Civilization giving it the full five.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:08 AM | Comments (4)
But johngalt thinks:

Good stuff! The bashing of Obama's overt socialism wins my full agreement, as does the rest of what you've excerpted save one - debt, and the "contract between the generations."

Is that not how Obamacare (R) was sold? The healthy young have a contractual duty to pay for the health care of the failing aged, and will be supported similarly in turn?

I see nothing wrong with debt, so long as it is repaid by those who incurred it. But with government debt this can never be so. It is and always will be repaid by those who are able, to the benefit of those who are in need.

My father-in-law, Macho Duck, related a story during after dinner conversation last night that was told to him by his elderly cousin who has long resided in South Africa. As I understood it, a particular individual had raised a farm animal to maturity and chose to make a feast for the village of it. The cousin could not impress upon him the folly of this, rather than husbanding the animal to produce a larger herd. Instead he traded future wealth creation for present approbation of his neighbors.

As the west has become more prosperous it has also become more concerned with the approbations of others, be they neighbors of individuals or the governments of the other nations of the world. Rather than working toward the "greedy" creation of wealth, the west is ever more devoted to the "virtous" and "just" actions of giving away more and more wealth to others. Even if we don't have it. Even if we have to borrow to do so. The blame for this falls squarely on the shoulders of the "A-word."

Posted by: johngalt at July 21, 2013 12:55 PM
But Steve D thinks:

'first is the one labelled 'democracy'. The second is labelled 'capitalism'. The third is 'the rule of law'. And the fourth is 'civil society'.'

Nope, the key component is freedom.

Posted by: Steve D at July 21, 2013 4:52 PM
But Jk thinks:

Yeah, but...

The institutions are generally guide rails to freedom, not anarchical freedom.

Legitimate, consent of the governed, government takes money from others who may be in your generation or another. WWII debt is not the moral crime that ObamaCare is.

Posted by: Jk at July 21, 2013 10:50 PM
But johngalt thinks:

True. And Operation Iraqi Freedom debt is not the moral crime that TARP and the Stimulus Act were.

Posted by: johngalt at July 22, 2013 11:47 AM

July 14, 2013

Review Corner

I'll need to defend myself from hypocrisy next week. For next week I will be more generous to a more polemical work. Yet this week, I will subtract stars for the author's including opinions. What gives?

Charles Johnson's Why Coolidge Matters: Leadership Lessons from America's Most Underrated President is a great and important book. It is a superb addition to the Harding-Coolidge rehabilitation corpus.

And yet too few are heeding Coolidge's words. Pro-New Deal historians promulgated a myth that continues today of Coolidge as taciturn and passive. Coolidge's recent defenders seem to be swinging to the opposite end of the spectrum, attempting to replace the myth with a Coolidge cult of their own. Led by, among others, talk-show host Glenn Beck; Amity Shlaes of the George W. Bush Foundation; Gene Healy, a fellow at the Cato Institute; and Larry Kudlow, a Reaganite turned CNBC host, well-meaning fans of Coolidge claim him as the "last liberal president" and thus as the antidote to the near-imperial presidency that we suffer today.
It is my contention that Coolidge is ignored (in some cases even hated) not because he was ineffective as an executive, but because he was spectacularly effective at helping the common man while defeating attempts to socialize America. Coolidge steered the country through what Jay Lovestone, a Communist union leader, called the "eve of giant class conflicts."

Johnson's look at Coolidge is rooted in Coolidge's appreciation for the Declaration of Independence. Johnson considers Lincoln and Coolidge the two presidents who took their principles from the Declaration.
Coolidge, then, had rechristened the Declaration's central premise -- that men institute government to protect their rights against both tyranny and mob rule -- to illuminate the politics of his day, much as Lincoln had understood the Declaration as a Rosetta stone to his own.

Why Coolidge Matters is not a biography. The biographical information it contains supports the author's looks into our 30th President's foundational philosophy. His response to the Boston Police strike was his political springboard, yes -- but to Johnson, it was his separation from the Progressive wing of the Republican party: the founding event that created Coolidge as the Anti-Wilson.
Coolidge's entire collection of speeches in the Foundations volume, especially because it begins with Wilson's death and ends with the sesquicentennial address on the Declaration, may be seen as a thinly veiled rebuttal to the theory and politics of Progressivism. The question perhaps implicit in the collection is this: Now that Wilson has passed from the scene, what ought to replace him?
Herein lies much of the contrast with Coolidge: Wilson minimized the Declaration as a product of its time; Coolidge celebrated it as a document for all time. Wilson believed it was "impossible to apply the policies of the time of Thomas Jefferson to the time we live in." Coolidge believed the opposite: "The trouble with us is that we talk about Jefferson but do not follow him. In his theory that the people should manage their government and not be managed by it, he was everlastingly right."

I was chastised -- perhaps deservedly -- for a negative four star review of America 3.0 last week. I will over-compensate with a too-positive four for Johnson.

Johnson interrupts with little asides about how Coolidge's approach was better than President Obama's or the current Republicans in Congress. I don't know that I disagreed with a one, but it like an actor in a movie mugging for the camera with an aside; it takes you out of the space.

I think it also cheapens the final product. In eight years, all the data in this book will be valid, and readers can compare Coolidge to President Rand Paul or President Oprah. His asides turn a great book into a blog post.

Still great. Four stars. If you're reading one Coolidge book, make it his autobiography. Two, certainly Amity Shlaes's "Coolidge" [Review Corner] Three -- and you oughta read three, I'd pick up "Why Coolidge Matters."

Posted by John Kranz at 10:14 AM | Comments (1)
But johngalt thinks:

The Obama presidency can't be considered all bad, for it has given us cause to re-examine the New Deal era and its characters. It also gives partisans an opening to oppose government activity, who might not have done so if the chief executive were from his preferred party. I'm thinking Patriot Act, Prism, NSA scandal, etc.

Nice review.

Posted by: johngalt at July 15, 2013 2:44 PM

July 7, 2013

Review Corner

I shall not entrust Misters James Bennett and Michael Lotus to craft a set list. Every successful musician knows that you open strong and give the people a "slam bang finish" as Bing Crosby says in "White Christmas." Then, you can hide a lot of marginal crap in the middle. It has to be done and it works.

America 3.0: Rebooting American Prosperity in the 21st Century-Why America's Greatest Days Are Yet to Come opens poorly and I am not certain about the ending. This hides a great deal of exceptional content in the middle. The book came über-highly recommended by blog friend tg. I grabbed the Kindle sample and was über-ünderwhelmed. After ascertaining that we were talking about the same book, and that I should proceed, I provided Jeff Bezos with his pound of flesh and continued.

The opening section -- comprising the sample -- is a utopian vision of the authors' America 3.0. America 1.0 is the expanding agrarian Constitutional Republic from its founding until the Progressive era.

The words of the Declaration were subversive. They set a flag in the ground beyond where America was at the time. But the flag of freedom for "all men" was visible on the horizon, and it served as an inspiration in America and around the world. Jefferson's assertions were like a bit of rogue code left in our national software by its first programmer. It went viral and ultimately transformed the entire system.

America 2.0 is the industrialized. post-progressive nation we enjoy today, with its unsustainable debt and centralized institutions. America 3.0 is after we accept and implement the authors' suggestions. Like any good utopian manifesto, things are swell. People are affluent and underarm odor is non-existent. I have to confess it is a bit out of character for me to so denigrate an optimistic future vision of America -- and one that prospers on principles with which I basically agree. Yet, The Jetson's had flying cars.

I'm glad I was prodded to proceed. True to tg's enthusiastic review, it mines history to provide some original and well researched perspectives of the American character. The Absolute Nuclear Family (ANF), which the authors trace back to Germanic peoples, comes to Britain through the Saxons, and takes root in America which has the resources to feed and fuel it.

In the ANF, heritance is undefined and optional, children leave to start their own families and pursue their own careers. It is so normal to me that I am taken aback when I hear of other arrangements outside fiction, history or anthropology. Yet, though not unique, it is unusual and practiced to a highly individual extent here.

Societies based on extended families discourage people from being enterprising because any success you achieve personally necessarily "belongs" to your extended family. As a result, the trade-off for security in other societies has been stagnation. In contrast, if a nuclear family is successful, there is no extended family that can claim a right to the wealth it has generated. People may help out their relatives out of love or kindness or loyalty, but they do not have a legal or even social obligation to do so.

A dynamic society of quick innovation and capital formation required this mutability.
People in the Northeast were on average more literate than they were in the South. For these reasons the Northeast had the prerequisites for industrialization well in place as the nineteenth century got rolling. Perhaps the least visible of these preconditions, however, was the Absolute Nuclear Family (ANF) system, which allowed and expected children to support themselves and form their own families and to be free to move to another city or state if they desired.

Then came the Progressives. The authors and I agree on the transformative nature of their reign. But they hold, like many of my mixed-economy friends, that unfettered capitalism was breaking down and that it was somewhere between inevitable and desirable that large institutions and more centralized governments should take over and boot America 2.0
The first of these waves came in 1913, with the passage of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Amendments, authorizing, respectively, the federal income tax, and mandating the direct election of senators. In that year, also, the Federal Reserve Bank system was created, providing for the nation's first peacetime governmental paper money system, and insulating it from the direct influence of Congress. Collectively, these changes amounted to a substantial revision of the constitutional order. Had we been France, we would have called it a new Republic and given it a number. Although America 2.0 began, socially and economically, before the Civil War, 1913 marked the first real turn toward a state run fundamentally from Washington rather than from the state capitals.
The immediate postwar era was a disappointment to Progressives. Wilson's legacy was repudiated at the polls in 1920 with the victory of Warren G. Harding and his running mate Calvin Coolidge over James Cox and a young Franklin D. Roosevelt. Harding has been reviled by Progressive historians for the ultimate Progressive crime: giving the voters what they wanted instead of what Progressives thought was good for them.

Many of the 3.0 recommendations are right up my street as well: converting the military to a defense of the "commons" (Deepak Lal call your office, Professor Lal...) Keep the shipping lanes and communications infrastructure open without standing armies in Europe and Asia. Decentralization is a theme that resonates. Including -- what have we here? North Colorado?
Another tool that is overdue for use is the division of large or conflicted states into several smaller states. This state-level secession is not to be confused with secession of a state from the United States. Any such division of existing states would not be unilateral, but it would be negotiated. It is perfectly constitutional and has been done twice in US history, the first time in 1820 when the state of Massachusetts divided peacefully into present-day Massachusetts and Maine. The second time was hotly contested, in 1863, when West Virginians formed a separate state and gained admission as such into the Union when Virginia seceded. As these precedents demonstrate, dividing an existing state into two or more states is a remedy that can be pursued without any constitutional amendment, by state legislative action, although new states would require the approval of Congress before admission.
Division of a state in modern times would be a complex process, but clear guidelines can be imposed, and the process will be manageable. Precedents exist for division of state debt, and state assets, and this could be negotiated as part of the general debt workout. Creative solutions might include the creation of an interstate compact between the two (or more) new states to continue joint operation, either temporarily or permanently, of some state institutions or facilities that could not readily be divided. In fact, most financial and institutional matters might be handled in that matter temporarily, while still allowing each new state its own Senate and Electoral College representation, and, most importantly, to begin resolving taxation and social issues according to local majority will.

I have not provided much documentation for my negative comments. And to be fair, I would recommend this book. My complaints are two:

The authors take a very institutional and non-economic view of the changes in America. Yes, we grew in people and land mass. But, the American per capita GDP routinely doubled, compounding into changes of opportunity and lifestyle that exceed the changes in policy or institutions. Projecting into the future requires even more reliance on economics. I'd compare it to David Deutsch's Beginning of Infinity and speculate that economic changes will outpace and be more important than institutional ones.

Secondly, why not go back to 1.0? I look at the same events, very closely matching the authors, and see "great, free, prosperous nation grows, is ruined by Progressive-collectivism, almost recovers in Harding-Coolidge era with reapplication of liberty, then ruined by progressive-collectivism again..." Why do we need 3.0 when the principles of 1.0 were so successful -- and so well matched to an American character and family structure?

As tg suggests, it is an interesting and well-crafted book. I'll give it four stars and a fulsome recommendation.

Posted by John Kranz at 8:53 AM | Comments (5)
But johngalt thinks:

"New from Microsoft: Windows!"

I salivated when I disovered jk's review of America 3.0, a book my father is currently enjoying and was on my mind as I read and commented on the post about Men boycotting marriage. But this has to be the most negative 4-star review ever written.

I dismissed his second criticism with my opening quip. As for the first, don't the authors posit that the institutional framework of America 1.0 was the cause of the rapid economic expansion? Far from ignoring America's economic changes, the authors set out to find their cause.

I do not know, from jk's review or from dad's, whether the authors mention how earnestly the Progressives are trying to destroy that cause, intentionally or otherwise. The Absolute Nuclear Family is anathema to proponents of government welfare and free daycare for single mothers, tax policies that make it harder for a single earner to support a family by his or her self and, to a lesser extent, gay marriage. Progressives are trying to take us to an uber-extended family - one which includes all of my neighbors as brothers. We all saw where this strategy led the Soviet Union - and the Twentieth Century Motor Company.

But I need to add a critique of my own. The key attribute of the ANF is not the family itself, but the individual freedom of the family founders. The size and origin of their brood matters far less than the fact that that parent 1 and parent 2 chose whether or not to admit these dependents into their ANF. They were not assigned a larger set of dependents against their will, either by relation or by government fiat.

Posted by: johngalt at July 7, 2013 11:23 AM
But jk thinks:

Yes, and nothing from Redmond is remotely usable until its third release. Fair point.

You also know me well enough to suggest that this is not a well-constructed review. I started with much to say and lost steam after summarizing a small part of the book's content. Four stars as the content is good and well presented.

As those four stars were well earned, so too is the one subtracted from perfection and a dismissive introduction.

I'd answer your question by saying that they ably pollute Progressivism -- but from its failures and not from its structural philosophical defects; "oh, too bad we outgrew the New Deal like we outgrew the Constitutional Republic." Guess it is time to try something new. And let's start with a default on our fiscal obligations...

The less-than-effusive also represented a divergence from tg's worshipful review and personal suggestion on Facebook. No doubt my effusive praise of Buffy causes some to say "well it's good, but..."

I also have a deep dislike of utopia books. "Don't immanentize the eschaton, brah!" And the introductory section detracted from the seriousness of the rest of the book. Government is hard; the suggestion that the writer is smarter than the collective wisdom of Madison & Co and can produce happiness for all is off-putting. Some would think life stinks in Galt's Gulch -- and our 51st State initiative on Facebook is highlighting how much better we will be at protecting the unborn in North Colorado.

So I'll defend my score if not my presentation. You are absolutely right to identify with the ANF in the direction you're headed. The author's go even further and clearly mean to highlight not the strength of familial bonds, but the benefit of their limited range. Contract law exists only because cultures moved beyond trading within a trusted extended family sphere. And yet it remains a good size to secure its members from government dependency.

Posted by: jk at July 7, 2013 2:07 PM
But T. Greer thinks:

Interesting review.

hat unfettered capitalism was breaking down and that it was somewhere between inevitable and desirable that large institutions and more centralized governments should take over and boot America 2.0

Having read the authors work elsewhere, I think they tempered their views of big government somewhat to make their book approachable by a larger group than the libertarian/right milieu from which they come.

But I think their broader point rings true. America 2.0 did not come about just because a bunch of progressives got together and made a new political philosophy. Their political philosophy was intimately connected to the events of their day, and their policies would not have been possible - or even thought of - without them.

Consider the case of national regulations. In 1850 government regulations on consumer products would be impossible. Most things were produced locally. They were produced hamlet to hamlet and family to family. In 1950 this was no longer the case - a much smaller number of organizations were making products consumed by pretty much everybody. National regulation became possible and to many people desirable. But without the institutional systems that defined America 2.0 businesses - economies of scale and hierarchy are the notable ones - they simply would not have been thought of, and would be impossible to implement.

This is also why I find their description of America 3.0 convincing. What happens when you have a 3-d printer in your house that print out everything you used to buy at Walmart? Regulation becomes impossible. People have already started to talk about how difficult it will be to regulate gun ownership now that a machine in your yard can print one for you. I don't think it will be long before the same story is said about everything. When you move production away from the factories and into homes (or millions of little community production places), it becomes very much near impossible to make consumer-safety regulations. You can't tell people what kind of light bulbs to use when they are making the light bulbs themselves.

the suggestion that the writer is smarter than the collective wisdom of Madison & Co and can produce happiness for all is off-putting.

I just didn't get that attitude when I read the book. The authors did not seem to construct any new program - their observation was that the institutional/economic changes mentioned above are going to happen. They are happening. No matter how hard teachers unions or EPA regulators or progressive thinkers try to stop these changes from happening, they will. "Given that the economic character of the nation is changing", they say, "this is what we can do to take advantage of the transition." They are not trying provide a new plan that will bestow happiness to all of America - just suggesting how America can benefit from the changes that are coming.

Now I am a lot less sanguine about all of this than they are. I can see lots of nightmare scenarios where this may lead. But I do think this transition is happening and will keep happening.

(And you are right, I am not convinced that changes in purchasing power have "exceeded the changes in policy or institutions." But I am open to being convinced. Could you explain a bit more what you mean by this? )

P.S. One of the things I liked about America 3.0 was the entire approach it took. It is a book for popular audiences aimed at touching contemporary debates that is not obsessed with current personalities or character assassinations. It is a book about the future , but 7/10ths describe the past. Grounded in firm principles, historically informed - those are not words I can use to describe very many popular political works. Part of my 'worshipful' enthusiasm reflects how much I wish modern political debates had this type of grounding. I disagreed with a lot in the book. But I strongly support the way they reached their conclusions and the manner in which they presented them. This (combined my confidence I could give this book to a liberal friend and it would not talk past them) impressed me .

Posted by: T. Greer at July 7, 2013 5:00 PM
But johngalt thinks:

I shared JK's review with dad and he had a brief reply:

I pretty well agree with jk on the first part of the book, where the authors try to predict the future. It could have been omitted to the betterment of the book. Even if read with tongue in cheek, it still serves no purpose.

I am only about 30% into the book, so I cannot comment much more.

Posted by: johngalt at July 7, 2013 7:13 PM
But jk thinks:

As Brother jg points out, I did give it four stars; I, too, appreciated its historical grounding and seriousness.

You mentioned a couple times that this was a "popular" book. And I recall your telling me the introduction which did not wow was just there as a sop to placate the stupid conservative masses (or something like that... :)) I'm less likely to bifurcate and grade on a curve.

I'll set this book on the virtual shelf next to historical economics books like Deirdre McCloskey's Bourgeois Dignity, Nail Ferguson's Civilization and The Great Degeneration, Glenn Hubbard's Balance, Matt Ridley's The Rational Optimist, and His Majestic Holiness Professor Deepak Lal's Poverty and Progress and Reviving the Invisible Hand.

Perhaps I do Bennett and Lotus a disservice to lump this book in that genre, yet their point about the Absolute Nuclear Family is an important and original addition to the corpus. You compare it to Ann Coulter's "Why People I don't Like Suck!" I place it in good company.

Yes, technology enables regulation and fortunately facilitates escaping it sometimes. But I don't see the success of progressivism as inevitable. Cleveland-Taft-Harding-Coolidge fight TR-Wilson-Hoover-FDR and lose. It was worse in Germany and Britain and could have been better here.

But it wasn't reach. It was -- and remains now -- a taste of wealth and a Malthusian fear of the future.

As an economic book, the 3D printer example is perfect: the new innovation of distributed manufacturing. As a political book, the institutional changes were not as well defined and are a much less inevitable. I hope the monopoly of the Teachers' Unions are broken but they will hang on a long time and destroy as many children's lives as they can.

A friend pointed me at a TED-talkish interview of Elon Musk. The interviewer pinned him down with the statistical difficulties of replacing fossil fuels. Musk answered "We Must." The crowd cheered but I thought "that's not really an argument." Many of the 3.0 transitions struck me as "We Must."

Posted by: jk at July 8, 2013 10:48 AM

June 30, 2013

Review Corner

One argument for feminism was that we were wasting the potential of half of humanity. We're no better off if we just waste the other half.
That's from Helen Smith's Men on Strike: Why Men Are Boycotting Marriage, Fatherhood, and the American Dream - and Why It Matters . Readers of Instapundit and of Dr. Helen will be familiar with the thesis of this book. She sees lower participation of young men in education, marriage and the workforce as evidence that they are "going Galt:" that subtle -- and not so subtle -- biases against men have given them a rational interest in avoiding institutions that are hostile.
Most men are not acting irresponsibly because they are immature or because they want to harm women; they are acting rationally in response to the lack of incentives today's society offers them to be responsible fathers, husbands and providers. In addition, many are going on strike, either consciously or unconsciously, because they do not want to be harmed by the myriad of laws, attitudes and backlash against them for the simple crime of happening to be male in the twenty-first century.
She draws the comparison to Atlas Shrugged (don't worry, it's much shorter), so I will keep with it. I cannot point out a single item in the entire book and say "no, she is wrong." Yet, I find myself strangely not on board. "Men on Strike" does not match my personal life experience. I worked in a male-dominated industry and missed, by advantage of birth year, the worst of what Smith lays out.

She and her husband are steeped in academia, which I posit is the worst offender. I would share this book with a young man and I would consider counseling him to avoid a traditional campus education if he were at all ambivalent about his goals. In my day, college was a pretty good place for a moderately ambitious young person to "find himself or herself." You might change your major or meet a soulmate or transfer, but you would be racking up credit hours. Now between Dr. Helen's book and Glenn's Higher Education Bubble [Review Corner], I don't think that is still true. You're instead racking up debt and potential rights abuses.

On these hollowed pages we champion the right of risk-taking provided the risks are known. This book is eye-opening for risks. I was surprised by some of the paternity cases judged against men who were not the father, or were tricked, or in one case were essentially assaulted. That is grim reading and calls for action.

I was aware -- probably thanks to her blogging -- about the lack of due process afforded young men on campus if accused of harassment or even sexual assault. It is deeply disturbing that one's Fifth Amendment rights are discarded casually (like First and Second, but I digress...). Likewise, I agree that the alimony and custody procedures are anachronistic and in need of reform.

I do split off when the discussion turns to depictions in media. When Pizza Hut jokes about "Dad can't cook -- it's Pizza Night!" it really isn't Selma for me. I think men are ridiculed because they're the last group you're allowed to tease. No, that's not fair. But I'd rather see us lighten up about women, Jews, Blacks, gay Armenians and Mormon pole dancers rather that get more uptight about white dudes. Just me.

While it does not match my life and while I would still counsel a young man toward marriage (Yes, there are a million bad stories, but it's winning the lottery when it works), I cannot ignore or discount the dangers she exposes:

As one of my insightful readers, David, said, "the issue of marginal men is something that should be looked at from the point of view of innovation and advancement being replaced by a stalled nation. A stalled nation has its men in idle. Highly active men in a town of 50,000 can do remarkable things--that's all the Renaissance was. What can a small town do when the street corner is littered with men and feral dogs? Risk aversion does not a 'Start-up Nation' make."

Though-provoking and a great read (and probably a good buy for one's nephews...) Four stars.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:28 AM | Comments (6)
But Jk thinks:

On the other hand... where are the boys?

Posted by: Jk at June 30, 2013 8:47 PM
But T. Greer thinks:

So when I was a missionary I pretty much spent all two years in the ghetto. You know, places with lots of immigrants, black people, and really poor white people. Not a lot of marriage.

This was a kind of big issue for us, since chastity is something we Mormons care a lot about, and do not sanction cohabitation without marriage. So I had lots of discussions with people about why they didn't want to do it.

Sometimes the women would just straight out and say "Why would I marry a guy like that? No job, lazy - I don't want to be stuck with him forever." Other times both sides would agree on something a bit more moderate "We can't commit to something like that; we do not have the resources to care for a family" (which they were usually doing anyway...) or something else close to this. The general impression was that the inability of the men to hold down a job - because they were lazy, because they had a felony (and with the war on drugs that is a lot of people), or because there just weren't enough jobs for people at their skill level to go around. It did not make economic sense for the women to hitch themselves to someone who was going to drag them down.

Really terrible situation. 'specially 'cuz at that level families need two or more jobs to pay the rent. How do you create perpetual poverty? Raise the costs of living until families need two breadwinners and then tell people they shouldn't get married.

Posted by: T. Greer at July 1, 2013 1:57 AM
But jk thinks:

Well, yes, but at least Roxbury was free of drugs -- think of how much worse it would have been if they had had weed.

Sorry for the snark on your thoughtful comment, but I have a reputation to protect.

You should share that on Dr. Helen's blog. The book is targeted higher up the socioeconomic ladder where the men and women have more and better choices.

Posted by: jk at July 1, 2013 9:25 AM
But johngalt thinks:

A question for TG: Did you ever visit any poor folks in rural areas, or only in cities?

Posted by: johngalt at July 2, 2013 1:02 PM
But T. Greer thinks:

No, I was never out in West Massachusetts or Vermont. Other missionaries were there, but I was, for whatever reason, never sent to the rural boon-docks. Inner city was the name of the game.

I have lived in rural areas - when I was attending college in Hawaii I lived in Laie, HI, pop. 6,138. Right now I live in Grantsville, UT, pop. 8,893. Can't say that either place was poor in the same way that New Haven, CT or Lowell, MA were - Grantsville, for example, is in the midst of an economic boom. Unlike most rural cities, its population has doubled since 1990. (Similar story in Laie, but at about half speed).

Sill just as many horses as people though.

Posted by: T. Greer at July 3, 2013 1:47 PM
But johngalt thinks:

I ask because of your comment about the cost of living in an urban area. I wonder how many people live in cities because they don't know any other way to live, but could live more comfortably on less income in a small town? A truly benevolent government would try to encourage such lifestyles rather than discourage them, as it does today.

Posted by: johngalt at July 3, 2013 3:38 PM

June 23, 2013

Review Corner

Hat-tip Blog friend SC. Today's selection was spotted on his shelf: The Rational Optimist (P.S.) by Matt Ridley.

Yet, I am a big fan of his work, and it fits eerily perfectly in my Deutsch-McCloskey-Lal-Hubbard examination of economic history and our specie’s elevation from privation. It's truly a wonder I missed this -- it was published in 2010.

Ridley doesn't contradict the others. He does recognize more activity at the left tail. Most works of this ilk start the wonder at The Enlightenment, or Industrial Revolution, or some Capitalizable Date. Ridley looks a bit further back at incremental if not explosive growth and innovation leading up, such that the Industrial Revolution becomes more an inflection point than a launching pad.

And what launched this incredible ride from living as animals to living like people? Ideas having sex. (I do remember reading reviews or compilations of this -- that's a memorable phrase). Unique to man is not ideas so much as sharing them. An asexual creature can evolve, but the mutation and selection process is exponentially accelerated by sex. So too does innovation happen when I see your hay baler and think how I could make a metronome along the same lines.

Neanderthals had all of these: huge brains, probably complex languages, lots of technology. But they never burst out of their niche. It is my contention that in looking inside our heads, we would be looking in the wrong place to explain this extraordinary capacity for change in the species. It was not something that happened within a brain. It was some thing that happened between brains. It was a collective phenomenon.
I am going to argue that the answer lies not in climate, nor genetics, nor in archaeology, nor even entirely in 'culture', but in economics. Human beings had started to do something to and with each other that in effect began to build a collective intelligence. They had started, for the very first time, to exchange things between unrelated, unmarried individuals; to share, swap, barter and trade. Hence the Nassarius shells moving inland from the Mediterranean. The effect of this was to cause specialisation, which in turn caused technological innovation, which in turn encouraged more specialisation, which led to more exchange -- and 'progress' was born,

If I were to give my Facebook friends one book to explain me -- well it wouldn't really matter because they wouldn't read it -- but this book would be a great choice. Like Deutsch, Ridley is a big fan of affluence and modernity. He looks at a pastoral hamlet setting of 1800 in much the same way I would. There's a warm fire in the hearth, Father is reading from the Bible and the children pour water from an earthenware jug as Mother prepares dinner
Outside there is no noise of traffic, there are no drug dealers and neither dioxins nor radioactive fall-out have been found in the cow's milk. All is tranquil; a bird sings outside the window.

Oh please! Though this is one of the better-off families in the village, father's Scripture reading is interrupted by a bronchitic cough that presages the pneumonia that will kill him at 53 -- not helped by the wood smoke of the fire. (He is lucky: life expectancy even in England was less than 40 in 1800.) The baby will die of the smallpox that is now causing him to cry; his sister will soon be the chattel of a drunken husband. The water the son is pouring tastes of the cows that drink from the brook. Toothache tortures the mother. The neighbour's lodger is getting the other girl pregnant in the hayshed even now and her child will be sent to an orphanage. The stew is grey and gristly yet meat is a rare change from gruel; there is no fruit or salad at this season. It is eaten with a wooden spoon from a wooden bowl. Candles cost too much, so firelight is all there is to see by. Nobody in the family has ever seen a play, painted a picture or heard a piano. School is a few years of dull Latin taught by a bigoted martinet at the vicarage. Father visited the city once, but the travel cost him a week's wages and the others have never travelled more than fifteen miles from home. Each daughter owns two wool dresses, two linen shirts and one pair of shoes. Father’s jacket cost him a month’s wages but is now infested with lice. The children sleep two to a bed on straw mattresses on the floor. As for the bird outside the window, tomorrow it will be trapped and eaten by the boy.

And a happy Earth Day to you too, Mister Ridley! He nods to Deirdre McCloskey, but seeks to flip causation: perhaps wealth comes first:
Contrary to the cartoon, it was commerce that freed people from narrow materialism, that gave them the chance to be different. Much as the intelligentsia continued to despise the suburbs, it was there that tolerance and community and voluntary organisation and peace between the classes flourished; it was there that the refugees from cramped tenements and tedious farms became rights-conscious consumers -- and parents of hippies. For it was in the suburbs that the young, seizing their economic independence, did something other than meekly follow father and mother’s advice. By the late 1950s, teenagers were earning as much as whole families had in the early 1940s. It was this prosperity that made Presley, Ginsberg, Kerouac, Brando and Dean resonate. It was the mass affluence of the 1960s (and the trust funds it generated) that made possible the dream of free-love communes. Just as material progress subverts the economic order, so it also subverts the social order -- ask Osama bin Laden, the ultimate spoilt rich kid.

Though optimistic about the prospects for reason and continued growth, he worries about threats to reason from climate change, GMO food opponents, and locavores. He demolishes each bit of nonsense expertly, with a long chapter on agriculture. Continuing the genius of Norman Borlaug with today's tools will allow us to feed the whole world well -- and return a hunk of today's farmland to wilderness. You and Ridley would think the hippies would like that, but if they don't kill it with organic food, locavorism, and opposition to GMO crops, a wondrous world awaits.
Borlaug’s genes, sexually recombined with Haber's ammonium and Rudolf Diesel's internal combustion engine, have rearranged sufficient atoms not only to ensure that Malthus was wrong for at least another half-century, but that tigers and toucans can still exist in the wild.
Should the world decide, as a professor and a chef have both suggested on my radio recently, that countries should largely grow and eat their own food (why countries? Why not continents, or villages, or planets?), then of course a very much higher acreage will be needed. My country happens to be as useless at growing bananas and cotton as Jamaica is at growing wheat and wool. If the world decides, as it crazily started to do in the early 2000s, that it wants to grow its motor fuel in fields rather than extract it from oil wells, then again the acreage under the plough will have to balloon. And good night rainforests. But as long as some sanity prevails, then yes, my grandchildren can both eat well and visit larger and wilder nature reserves than I can. It is a vision I am happy to strive for. Intensive yields are the way to get there.

And do not worry, brother jg, Ridley is on board with "brown energy:"
Fossil fuels cannot explain the start of the industrial revolution. But they do explain why it did not end. Once fossil fuels joined in, economic growth truly took off, and became almost infinitely capable of bursting through the Malthusian ceiling and raising living standards. Only then did growth become, in a word, sustainable.

This leads to a shocking irony. I am about to argue that economic growth only became sustainable when it began to rely on non-renewable, non-green, non-clean power. Every economic boom in history, from Uruk onwards, had ended in bust because renewable sources of energy ran out: timber, crop land, pasture, labour, water, peat. All self-replenishing, but far too slowly, and easily exhausted by a swelling populace. Coal not only did not run out, no matter how much was used: it actually became cheaper and more abundant as time went by, in marked contrast to charcoal, which always grew more expensive once its use expanded beyond a certain point, for the simple reason that people had to go further in search of timber.
This is not to imply that non-renewable resources are infinite – of course not. The Atlantic Ocean is not infinite, but that does not mean you have to worry about bumping into Newfoundland if you row a dinghy out of a harbour in Ireland. Some things are finite but vast; some things are infinitely renewable, but very limited. Non-renewable resources such as coal are sufficiently abundant to allow an expansion of both economic activity and population to the point where they can generate sustainable wealth for all the people of the planet

Ridley does fear "The wrong kind of chiefs, priests and thieves could yet snuff out future prosperity on earth." As do I. But without "a globalised retreat from reason," things don't look too bad:
The more you prosper, the more you can prosper. The more you invent, the more inventions become possible. How can this be possible? The world of things -- of pecans or power stations -- is indeed often subject to diminishing returns. But the world of ideas is not. The more knowledge you generate, the more you can generate. And the engine that is driving prosperity in the modern world is the accelerating generation of useful knowledge.

Five Stars and an Editor's Choice Award.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:34 AM | Comments (1)
But jk thinks:

Rereading, it seems I implied that Ridley considers climate change to be nonsense. I'll share one more excerpt to provide his more nuanced view:

In short, the extreme climate outcomes are so unlikely, and depend on such wild assumptions, that they do not dent my optimism one jot. If there is a 99 per cent chance that the world's poor can grow much richer for a century while still emitting carbon dioxide, then who am I to deny them that chance? After all, the richer they get the less weather dependent their economies will be and the more affordable they will find adaptation to climate change.

Ridley, Matt (2010-06-10). The Rational Optimist (P.S.) (Kindle Locations 4622-4625). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Posted by: jk at June 23, 2013 11:46 AM

June 22, 2013

Five Stars and Two Snaps!


Be troth, ne'er have I gone to th' cinema with more rais-ed hopes! Yet verily twas I, and indeed the lovely bride, bewitched by the Bard's tale as by Mister Whedon spoken.

It was awesome! Shakespeare and Whedon really are a great match. This film is predominantly funny, but has dark characters and intensely dramatic sections: like Buffy in blank verse.

Five stars. Don't wait for the video -- get thee to thy local art cinema!

Posted by John Kranz at 9:14 AM | Comments (0)

June 16, 2013

Review Corner

Historians have a tendency to declare some theories determinist just because they are overtly quantitative, a common and wrong-headed complaint Paul Kennedy faced as well. To be sure, our approach is quantitative, recommending a new metric of great power, but the rhyme of history that we observe, a parade of decline, should not be seen as the inevitable destiny of America. Although the ominous pattern of Great Power imbalance follows from institutional decline, it must also be said that many, many times in history empires and nations did reform their institutions.
That's Glenn Hubbard and Tim Kane in Balance: The Economics of Great Powers from Ancient Rome to Modern America. Kane and Hubbard define a new quantitative metric of economic power, then apply it retroactively to historical and modern economic powers: Rome, China, Ottoman Empire, Spain, Japan, Britain, Europe, California and the United States.

Though I enjoyed the book mightily, I'm not certain that the metric succeeds. Both are serious wonks and the book does not lack for data and analysis. The measurement is introduced early and with great fanfare as a foundation. It seems the authors wander off and lose interest in favor of qualitative comparisons and policy discussion. Still a great book -- just interesting that they abandon their stated purpose.

The book certainly succeeds on many fronts. First as historical economics, which I seem to be reading much of late. Hubbard and Kane hold contrarian views. The great freshman history lesson where great powers rise, then overextend, and inevitably decline which we have heard from a hundred know-it-all-college hippies and -- admit it -- have probably said ourselves, comes into question.

I enjoyed the book in the scope of Deirdre McCloskey, Niall Ferguson, Deepak Lal, David Deutsch, et at (and Matt Ridley's Rational Optimist currently on Kindle). What causes, facilitates, perpetuates and terminates economic growth and innovation? The authors hold a Lal-ian view of power and a Fergusonian appreciation for institutions:

The technological achievements of Rome are sometimes overlooked. To be sure, there was no Age of Enlightenment akin to the seventeenth century. Concrete may seem to be Rome's only major invention, but that is if we limit our definition of inventions to hardware. The software of Roman society-- its professional army, federalist governance, property rights-- actually matter more for economic growth. And one should not ignore the impact of concrete! It enabled commercial growth in two major ways. First, concrete made possible increasingly dense urban areas with taller buildings, better sanitation, and water from the aqueducts. Second, intercity trade was enhanced with stronger roads, while underwater concrete enabled better ports for sea trade.

As we attempt to migrate the George W Bush Presidency from the political to the historical, we do see in his former OMB Director an appreciation for global economic stability (Professor Lal, call your office!), allowing that it is built on hegemonic power:
The Mongol power of the khans, notably Genghis Khan, reinforces the idea that military power rests on an economic foundation. Genghis "all but invented globalization," as the Economist claims. He freed his lands from internal tariffs, with the express goal of establishing a trade corridor from Korea to Syria. Moreover, the Mongols ensured public safety for traders and commoners alike. According to Jack Weatherford, a leading biographer: "It was said that during this time a virgin could cross the length of the Mongol Empire with a pot of gold on her head and never be molested."

Not only are these powers not undermined by "overreach," the authors hold that most of them declined when they turned inward to recover from institutional stress. Rot from the inside, and use isolationism to try and recover (Smoot-Hawley anybody?)
More fundamentally, we disagree with [Paul] Kennedy’s core conclusion that America's military expenditures come at the expense of economic vitality. This conclusion, the overstretch hypothesis, assumes a zero-sum pie of resources that a nation distributes between investment and protection.
The lesson for America is that understretch can happen even when critics are warning of the opposite. In an age of transformational globalization, we should wonder if the heuristic of wide-open America capitalism is a myth or a reality. International measures of economic freedom hint that the United States seems to be incrementally losing its vaunted free-market lead.

I come to the end of my typing and readers' attention without capturing the breadth of this superb work. I've focused on some subtopics of interest to ThreeSourcers. But the great thing about this work is its sizable scope of analyzing many ancient and modern economies, and its conclusion of policy recommendations for modern America. Looking back, there are larger and more sophisticated comparisons to Rome than bread and circuses and Hadrian's Wall through Britain. Rome also tried currency debasement, the Ottoman Empire turned its back on innovation, the Ming Dynasty eschewed trade.
MEET THE NEW PRAETORIANS Economically, the implacable fiscal crisis of California may resemble modern Greece, but politically the parallel is thousands of years older. The Roman army usurped control over imperial succession in the third century A.D. "An emperor would be chosen by a gang and would rule only so long as he pleased the assassins," explained historian Charles Van Doren. The Roman Senate had no control. The emperor himself had no control. All power during Rome's political crisis was in the hands of a self-serving Praetorian Guard. Could interest groups in Sacramento be a temporary Praetorian Guard?

Great stuff! Five stars!

Posted by John Kranz at 10:10 AM | Comments (4)
But T. Greer thinks:

I am skeptical. I find the comparison between the Romans, Ottomans, or Ming with modern America or the other powers in Kennedy's Rise and Fall. Over a period of four hundred years Rome transformed from a city in Italy to an empire that controlled the known world. Why do this? Glory. And gold. Lots of it. The difference between Roman conquests and American imperial adventures is that the Romans made a lot of money with every conquest they made - that is, they stole a lot of money with every conquest they made. And took slaves (1/3rd of pop was slaves by 7 AD, I believe). So empire was a very nice deal for the Romans, Ottomans, etc. Much like today's marcher lords in the Democratic Republic of Congo, they did not have access to exponentially expanding markets, and armed theft (sometimes called "tribute") was the only way to raise income. For them "imperial over stretch" meant there was nothing left for them to conquer and still make a profit doing so. That leaves them in a bind. GDP growth occurred too slowly to matter, so if a shock hit the system (say, a plague that cuts tax revenues or a civil war or a barbarian incursion) they only had a few options open to them. They needed more money, but had no way to get more income - thus we see Severus and his successors debase the currency into nothingness across the 2nd century.

Things work a bit differently today. America puts much more money into her imperial adventures than she ever gets out of them. She does not pillage foreign capitals, but pours money into them. Some of this money is private investment, but from the Marshall Plan on most of it has not been. Thus America spent billions rebuilding Japan, Germany, Russia, Eastern Europe, Iraq, Afghanistan. (And poured billions into protracted wars in Vietnam, Korea, Afghanistan, and Iraq). The United States gets few direct economic benefits from all this; today more Iraqi oil is piped to China than the U.S. We don't need money from imperial conquest to keep the state afloat - for the last century ours has been the largest and most innovative economy of world history. It pretty much runs itself, usually growing best without the state doing anything at all. Romans spent 70% of state income on the army; we spend a fraction of that. The economics of each power (and between pre modern and modern powers generally) are not set for useful comparison.

Posted by: T. Greer at June 17, 2013 10:29 AM
But jk thinks:

Perhaps that kept them from following through on the quantitate comparison.

And a quick point of order: they do not quote Kennedy approbationally. Their position is orthogonal.

They do discuss Roman currency abasement at length. It is a pretty cool trick if you have no "Mankivus ecX texttablets" to tell you what to expect. And, I would posit, extremely relevant to modern economic power. As is Ottoman Empire's turning its back on science and Ming China's eschewing globalization.

The US benefit to imperialism -- and I am going to put my Deepak Lal shoes on here -- is the virgin (we work with what we have) walking the empire unmolestedly with the pot of gold. Forty two nations contributed to the manufacture of an iPod; this got US customers cheaper electronics and supported the worldwide sale of our software, music and movies.

I think this is the subtext of a Bush administration economist: don't believe the Kennedy/CW idea of overreach -- it is not borne out by history.

Posted by: jk at June 17, 2013 11:54 AM
But jk thinks:

... and I did go ahead and buy "America 3.0" by James C. Bennett on your fulsome suggestion. Better than the sample chapter so far...

Posted by: jk at June 17, 2013 11:58 AM
But johngalt thinks:

The GW Bush Administration has suffered negative appraisals from some Monday morning quarterbacks over its failed attempt to bring the western values - liberty, property rights, trade - to Iraq and Afghanistan. "They aren't ready for it" or "they aren't like us" are the typical refrains. Heck, I've repeated them myself. But was Japan "like us?" We lacked common traditions with them but they responded favorably to our "imposition" of the mechanisms of prosperity upon their culture. Without getting into the reasons why this hasn't worked in the Mideast, I'll point out that for our part we ARE reforming. Millions of former "national defense" voters are adopting the Libertarian principle of "let them fight their own wars."

America is routinely derided as an "exploitative" nation because of her prosperity gap with much of the rest of the world. Imagine that gap had we not given so much, in aid and in military effort, in a failed attempt to bring those same western values to Russia and Eastern Europe, along with Western Europe. We arguably had more success in this regard with China, where very little aid was sent. The lesson, to me, is that foreign aid produces overbearing nanny states (in both the recepient AND the giver) while free trade "raises all ships."

Posted by: johngalt at June 17, 2013 2:59 PM

June 9, 2013

Review Corner

Scientists know the first exoplanet discovered in 1995 as "51 Pegasi b," but the madding crowd insists upon sticking with Greek mythology, and informally they have named it for the ancient slayer of monsters Bellerophon. One exoplanet I am particularly interested in is formally known as HD 209458b. But the online hoi polloi have already dubbed it Osiris. The world of exoplanets, like a lot of the sky, just won’t hold still for proper scientists, anymore than any Wild West’s frontier town waited for the Chamber of Commerce.
That is a genuine random page quote from Bunch of Amateurs: A Search for the American Character by Jack Hitt. And it introduces the thesis as well as I could. Or, "I could of named those exoplanets if it weren't for you meddling kids!"

I have to compare this to Glenn Reynolds's "Army of Davids" [Review Corner], James Surowiecki's The Wisdom of Crowds [Mentioned in a peculiar context] and Craig Anderson's The Long Tail [Review Corner]. The trend of greater contribution from the less credentialed is in all four. Hitt ties it to an American character, documented by Tocqueville, and tracing its roots to the iconic American amateur, Ben Franklin.

When Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart-- both of whom pose as "serious newsmen"--first appeared on cable news, it was widely understood by the traditional media to be mere comedy. But fairly soon there appeared articles worried that these "fake anchors" were more than phony blowhards. People were actually getting their news from them. The comedy was working on several levels. The real anchors on television fretted about what this all "meant," and the actual blowhards on cable, like Bill O’Reilly, got angry and called them all stoners and subversives. The line from the improvisations of Ben Franklin to the comedy of Stephen Colbert is as American as pie.

That's a substantive insight but it also exposes the flaw in this interesting work. Hitt has no compunction against letting you know his personal thoughts. And, neither do I, but were I to attempt a book of this seriousness, I would shut it off or hire a good editor to quietly expunge. He -- anachronistically, the book was released in 2012 -- takes several potshots at President George W. Bush. If I am reading The New Republic in 2008, I would not bat an eyelash. But I put the book down and ascertained that it was recently released. I thought it was newer than last summer, but still....

Even where I agree. He describes a fascinating conflict between professorial anthropologists and weekend warriors. It is well written and supports the book's thesis. Then he graces you with a dozen pages on what he thinks. Well, this is real interesting and all, Jack, but could you share with us some of your personal views on life?

It detracts from a superb book. If it were crummy, I would be more forgiving. But the Benjamin Franklin frame is genius: the book opens with John Adams and Franklin as archetypes of the correct and credentialed versus the effective yet intemperate.

Between the two of them were twin impulses, one more improvisational and experimental, the other more tradition-bound and knowing. There is no fixed American meta-narrative, but there is this ebb and flow between Adamsian veneration of piety and Franklinian love of improvisation, between Calvinist certainty and Deist doubt, between head and heart, virtuocracy and meritocracy, good character and cunning action, between security and freedom, between professionalism and amateurism.

Good stuff, no? Then, several modern amateur groups are highlighted: DIY gene-splicers, astronomers, birders: colorful characters involved in serious discussions. Franklin comes back at the end for a poetic finish that made me weep: the likely apocryphal nature of the key and the kite:
He did it by invoking an image that is at once playful and profound, practically the logo of the amateur's childish spirit, of liberty, of leisure-- the emblem of the lightness of being, where creativity thrives. It can be American, not out of nationalist pride, but because this sense emerged at our founding and is the inheritance of anyone born or driven to come here. While we might list the great liberties-- speech, assembly, due process, trial by jury-- the one that goes unstated, almost presumed, is the revolutionary decision to abandon one's past and one's self, as well as one’s culture, tradition, and history. To walk away from everything that one is-- whether it's fleeing a repressive nation for this new place or simply out the back door for the garage-- that is real freedom.

Miltonian heights, sullied by a few Olbermanian lows. Four stars.

Posted by John Kranz at 9:22 AM | Comments (0)

June 2, 2013

Review Corner

I enjoy most of what you see reviewed here. Dreary and turgid though some of it may be, it is interesting.

I'll confess, however, that I had a stack of "homework." Three books I really did not look forward to reading. And I do mean stack: While I prefer Kindle books, these were corporeal incarnations of guilt. First was "The Blueprint" reviewed last week. That wasn't bad at all.

Second was Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinsky. That was the one I really wanted to avoid. And it is awesome! I have decried the Progressives' lack of a canon. This is a beautiful and well thought out book. Let's hit the plusses:

  • It explains what the hell a "Community Organizer" is.

  • It is well written

  • It deals with the world more honestly than modern progressive pundits.

  • It is not without thought and rationality.

  • And yes, Newt, it does help you recognize some of the current left's tactics.

Alinsky on the always-interesting topic of "Self Interest:"
Self-interest, like power, wears the black shroud of negativism and suspicion. To many the synonym for self-interest is selfishness. The word is associated with a repugnant conglomeration of vices such as narrowness, self-seeking, and self-centeredness, everything that is opposite to the virtues of altruism and selflessness. This common definition is contrary, of course, to our everyday experiences, as well as to the observations of all great students of politics and life. The myth of altruism as a motivating factor in our behavior could arise and survive only in a society bundled in the sterile gauze of New England puritanism and Protestant morality and tied together with the ribbons of Madison Avenue public relations. It is one of the classic American fairy tales.

From the great teachers of Judaeo-Christian morality and the philosophers, to the economists, and to the wise observers of the politics of man, there has always been universal agreement on the part that self-interest plays as a prime moving force in man's behavior. The importance of self-interest has never been challenged; it has been accepted as an inevitable fact of life. In the words of Christ, "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."

I hear my Randian pals parsing words to contradict (they parse very loudly), but compare this to a screed from a Rachel Maddow, Paul Krugman, or E. J. Dionne. And that honesty is a consistent and compelling theme.

I will turn to Rand, however, for the BIG minus. Rand tells rational men in honest disagreement to "check their premises." And Alinsky has built his beautiful prosaic edifice on a weak philosophical foundation: zero sum economics.

But let us go deeper into the psyche of this Goliath. The Haves possess and in turn are possessed by power. Obsessed with the fear of losing power, their every move is dictated by the idea of keeping it. The way of life of the Haves is to keep what they have and wherever possible to shore up their defenses.

This opens a new vista--not only do we have a whole class determined to keep its power and in constant conflict with the Have-Nots; at the same time, they are in conflict among themselves. Power is not static; it cannot be frozen and preserved like food; it must grow or die. Therefore, in order to keep power the status quo must get more. But from whom? There is just so much more than can be squeezed out of the Have-Nots--so the Haves must take it from each other. They are on a road from which there is no turning back. This power cannibalism of the Haves permits only temporary truces, and only when equally confronted by a common enemy. Even then there are regular breaks in the ranks, as individual units attempt to exploit the general threat for their own special benefit. Here is the vulnerable belly of the status quo.

I have always held that if you really believe this -- and I know many who do -- Progressivism, wealth redistribution -- hell, even Communism -- is legitimate. Kurt Vonnegut's "God Bless You, Mister Rosewater" espouses this. Everyone is born in some proximity to the money river, and the whole morality play is how to pass it around form those fortunate "Haves" near the river to the "Have-Nots" further inland. (This is my überlefty brother's favorite Vonnegut book and my least).

If this is not your first trip to ThreeSources, you'll know I fulsomely disagree. Wealth is created; its distribution is far less interesting than its growth and its totality. Or as President Bush put it so eloquently: "make the pie higher!"

Once you are imbued with this bad idea, however, Alinskyism makes perfect sense. If Mom has three candy bars and three kids, egalitarianism has a place. Alinsky is clever -- and far more moral than a Bill Ayers -- in getting Mom to do things fairly:

TACTICS MEANS doing what you can with what you have. Tactics are those consciously deliberate acts by which human beings live with each other and deal with the world around them. In the world of give and take, tactics is the art of how to take and how to give. Here our concern is with the tactic of taking; how the Have-Nots can take power away from the Haves.

A beautiful and fundamentally wrong book. But it should be read by everyone. Four stars.

Posted by John Kranz at 9:09 AM | Comments (1)
But johngalt thinks:

Heh. Even Alinsky believed that there should be "rules" guiding our behavior. "Paging the oval office: Mr. Obama, Mr. Holder, please oick up line one."

But in the end, as JK rightly observes, the premises are all, or at least mostly, wrong. Add to zero sum economics the idea that something, anything, is free to be "taken" from others rather than earned or traded. Even political control is not "taken" from the opposition, but earned from voters on a temporary basis.

But let's not sail past altruism without thought. First please help me understand, did Alinsky view altruism as "virtue" or "myth?" It seems, more the latter.

It is clear that he embraced self-interest. But he did so in a way that justifies theft on the basis of inequality. By that logic, property rights expire once one has accumulated "too much" property. How is that any prescription for prosperity and, more pointedly, peace?

Posted by: johngalt at June 2, 2013 3:53 PM

May 26, 2013

Review Corner

This book's procurement comes with a funny story. And a funny story must always be told.

I have enjoyed meeting many new liberty lovers at Brother Bryan's Liberty On The Rocks -- Flatirons (LOTR-F), but none more than Russ. A garrulous and impassioned liberty lover, Russ would distribute copies of Bastiat's The Law before the meetings. I'm embarrassed to say my own lovely bride had not read it until she got one of those. (Learning about Bastiat on the street!)

The night Jon Caldera spoke, he interrupted. "Don't give away 'The Law!'" thundered my favorite speaker at my favorite listener. "People need to read "The Blueprint', or Alinsky's 'Rules for Radicals!'" It was brutal but effective. Russ has now added both to his travelling library. I bought one of each at the last meeting and will review them on successive Sundays.

The Blueprint: How the Democrats Won Colorado (and Why Republicans Everywhere Should Care) makes much sense after hearing Caldera speak at LOTR-F. The Blueprint describes how "the other guys" built infrastructure. While the GOP runs a campaign and then retreats to the Country Club after they lose, a powerful and wealthy group of Democratic donors fund continuing enterprises. And these groups have very successfully flipped Red Colorado to deep blue.

I think we all remember 2004 as "what the hell just happened?" The GOP did very nationally but crumbled in Colorado. This book describes exactly what happened.

Governor Owens, who now had to spend his final two years in office dealing with a hostile legislature, saw it differently. "They bought the state. We ought to treat this the way we treat naming rights to football stadiums--let's just put Pat Stryker's and Tim Gill's names on the gold dome of the Colorado state Capitol, because that's what happened." While many factors played a part, Owens pointed to one in particular. "Before campaign finance reform was passed, people tried to use money to influence an individual legislator here or there. Nowadays, big donors just buy them by the dozen."

However one chose to interpret 2004, it was immediately clear that the game had changed. Forever.

Is Colorado sui generis? Caldera himself is quoted in the book saying that the state is big enough to be important, yet small enough to be bought (my words not his*). The same players are expanding this to other states. They will not have surprise on their side, and some other media markets will be more costly to saturate. But they are very smart and very well-funded. And Republicans are ... well ... hang on a minute ... I had something....

The ThreeSources staple of tactics vs. philosophy is subject to examination. In short, do you hand out "The Law" or "Rules for Radicals?"

Discussion of issues that might divide the group was strictly verboten. "All the participants checked their political agendas at the door," said Polis later. "There was never any policy discussed. There were never any issues discussed. This was simply a group of people who believed that all of our issues, and regardless of what they were, what our differences were, would be better represented in a Democratic majority.

NARAL's Ganz agreed. "The basic concept was simple," she said. "A group of people and organizations that didn't like the direction the state was moving in came together to try to win elections so that policies that were being promoted by the state legislature and the governor actually shifted. The execution of that was the challenge. Although, it didn't seem challenging because the goal of those who came together--winning elections--was the same."

At the same time, what drove these people together? A very backward GOP dominated statehouse that was determined to push its social agenda. NARAL and Tim Gill and Jared Polis had a common enemy. A more libertarian GOP would not have been nearly as successful in uniting them.
Trimpa knew that equality for gays and lesbians would begin at the state legislature. "Ted understood that there needed to be changes in the legislature to move a more progressive agenda," said Lynne Mason of the Colorado Education Association. That meant electing Democrats and defeating Republicans.

Trimpa was ready to fight the Colorado Republican Party. He was hoping that after today's hearing on House Bill 1375, Gill would be ready too.

The GOP -- I dearly hope -- will always fight public sector unions. Perhaps if they read more philosophy, they might not facilitate such a phalanx against them.

It's well worth the read -- I'll go 3.5 stars. I am quite convinced its ideas are valuable but not convinced they are a blueprint for the forces of goodness and light.

*UPDATE: The full Caldera quote:

The beauty of Colorado is that it's big enough to be important but small enough that just a few people can radically change the political landscape. It's the best bang for the buck in American politics.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:56 AM | Comments (0)

May 19, 2013

Review Corner

Housekeeping task: First, here is your definition of friendship:


The book I made blog friend sc read atop the book he made me read. I got a kick out of that on a recent visit.

Last week's Review Corner was G.K. Chesterton's "What's Wrong with the World," a bit of indulgent but intelligent retrospective from a 70-year-old academic. This week's is curiously similar: Deepak Lal's Poverty and Progress: Realities and Myths about Global Poverty

At the start of my seventh decade, as I look back over the past 50 years, during which I have studied, engaged in various debates, and traveled in the Third World, I am amazed at the transformations that have lifted billions out of poverty. One of the saddening experiences in writing this book, and of reading what younger scholars have written during the last 20 years, is the realization that many of them have little sense of this amazing achievement or its causes.
This ancient history is relevant to this book, as it reveals the dyspeptic response (only strengthened over the years) of the foreign-aid industry to anything that smacks of the classical-liberal viewpoint from which the book was written and which if adopted would lead to the euthanasia of these Lords of Poverty.

Despite some sadness in that excerpt, Lal's book could be called "What's Right with the World." Professor Lal is quite pleased with economic liberalism's record of lifting people out of poverty. He did his early work in India, which has expanded its economy by judicious application of freedom and property rights (though still too bureaucratic for its true potential). China opened up and hundreds of millions of people escaped $1/day poverty. Now, Lal is optimistic about Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).
As in Asia, the answer to Africa's economic problems must lie in beginning to set its citizens free of the shackles of the state. Africa has for too long been used by western ideologues as a laboratory for their latest dirigiste ideas. They have made Africa’s problems worse. The best thing the world can do for Africa is to keep its goods and capital markets open and let the continent’s entrepreneurial multitudes make their own future, beginning by learning how to hold their predatory rulers to account and ensuring that the state becomes a civil, not an enterprise, association.

So...what is Lal's "magic bullet" that propelled us from privation? For Deirdre McClosky, it is "Bourgeois Dignity," for my progressive friends it is good vibes and labor unions. To what does Professor Lal attribute this miracle?

I hope brother jg is seated securely. Lal talks about "Promethean Growth" as cultures discover the limitless energy of fossil fuels as opposed to wood, peat and dung. He is an economic historian and suggests England superseded the Dutch because the lowlands ran out of Peat and Britain had plentiful coal.

The biggest lacuna in this theory of the transition from an agrarian to an industrial economy is its failure to account for the ending of the energy constraint posed by fixed land, with the increasing substitution of land-based organic energy by the unlimited mineral energy provided by fossil fuels (Wrigley 1988).
But the stagnant per capita income worldwide before the Industrial Revolution, for which Clark's stylized Malthusian model is broadly applicable, is best explained by the land constraint on the energy needs for generating Promethean intensive growth. Clark’s correct assumption of diminishing returns to land captures this. But he ignores the central feature of the story in mankind's escape from structural poverty-- for, it was the substitution of fossil fuels, which provided an unending supply of mineral energy, for the limited products from land in the preindustrial organic agrarian economies that was the hallmark of the Industrial Revolution. It was this that allowed, first the West and now the Rest, to escape from the age-old structural poverty of the "Malthusian economy."

Chapter Ten punctures the research on global warming and expresses concern that, just as we are poised to bring the last groups out of poverty, promethean growth is threatened.
This use of an unbounded energy source, accompanying the slowly rolling Industrial Revolution, allowed the ascent from structural poverty, which had scarred humankind for millennia. To put a limit on the use of fossil fuels without adequate economically viable alternatives is to condemn the Third World to perpetual structural poverty.

Not to say that Lal does not appreciate bourgeois dignity nor the individualism and freedom that animates ThreeSourcers.
By contrast, the alternative technocratic approach to poverty alleviation is necessarily infected with egalitarianism because of its lineage. At its most elaborate, it is based on some Bergson-Samuelson-type social welfare function, laid down by Platonic Guardians. 8 Given the underlying assumption of diminishing marginal utility, any normative utility weighting of the incomes of different persons or households leads naturally to some form of egalitarianism. But this smuggling in of an ethical norm, which is by no means universally accepted, leads to a form of “mathematical politics.” Poverty alleviation becomes just one component of the general problem of maximizing social welfare,

Why did England have an Industrial Revolution and China did not? All ThreeSourcers had better sit for this. It's a McClosky-esque turn from individualism and science
This cultural divergence, as I argued in Unintended Consequences and which was summarized in Part 1, was due in part to the family revolution of Gregory the Great in the sixth century in the West. This gave rise to the individualism that led to the Renaissance and the scientific revolution, but also to the rise of nuclear families and the creation of statist safety nets for the poor, replacing the communal ones provided in the past and which continued in the other Eurasian civilizations-- including China. It was not the welfare states, which were a necessary consequence of its newfound individualism, that led to the rise of the West, but the sheer escape from tradition in art and science that individualism promoted.

I put my Kindle down and shook in this section because of my decades working in Boulder, Colorado where most people just assume the superiority of Eastern philosophy, medicine, science, thought, religeon, art, and cuisine. I am totally down appreciating Thai, Himalayan, Chinese, and Vietnamese food.

But -- and I am clearly putting words in Lal's mouth here -- the codswallop of eastern spirituality over science denied this great, wealthy and brilliant culture their renaissance. Lal mentions that they did not have a Shakespeare -- I suggest they needed a Martin Luther.

I have picked a few items of interest to folks 'round these parts more than I have covered this magisterial work. It is five stars and highly recommended.

Posted by John Kranz at 9:40 AM | Comments (6)
But T. Greer thinks:

He is exactly right. I would go much further - fossil fuels are what make modern capitalism possible. I alluded to this (but did not explicitly say it - that was for part II, which I have not written yet) in my post "Notes on the Dynamics of Human Civilization." Even if you don't have time to read that whole big thing, take a look at the graphs at the beginning of the essay. Notice how closely humanity's energy expenditure and economic growth is. They cannot be separated. As I said in another post:

The answer: in many respects Gross Domestic Product is energy consumption. Every service and good in an economy is produced by using energy. "Wealth" is really just the word we use to name the goods created and services rendered through our energy use. Inasmuch as GDP purports to measure "The monetary value of all the finished goods and services produced within a country's borders" [2] it will inevitably reflect the amount of energy consumed to produce those goods and services.

The great thing about capitalism is that you can compete without coercion and you can gain vast wealth without stealing it from others. Before fossil fuels came around this was not true. Economic growth was just too small to gain wealth by honorable means - thus the great number of wars (the best way to make money back in the day) before the growth revolution, and the lack of wars after words. Fossil fuels have done more for the cause of world peace than almost anything else humanity has devised.

Posted by: T. Greer at May 19, 2013 2:48 PM
But Jk thinks:

Enjoyed your post (I always do -- did I ever respond to your "far right and far left?" I remembered doing so but did not see it on your blog.)

To channel Ms. McClosky (ever read her?) though, correlation is not causation. Coal was around, fire was around. Both were well distributed in time and geography. And yet, it happens in Western Europe and it happens in the 17th (ish) Century.

Posted by: Jk at May 19, 2013 9:33 PM
But jk thinks:

@tg: we do argue 'round these parts. Please accept that as a small quibble with an excellent essay. This exact why has become my favorite topic of late. My favorite explanations being Niall Ferguson's Civilization (six killer apps), David Deutsch's Beginning of Infinity: Explanations that Transform the World and Deirdre McClosky's Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can't Explain the Modern World. (I'll be tacking Lal on that list.)

If you figure out why we arose from primordial economic soup, it seems you have a substantive case for how we should proceed.

Posted by: jk at May 20, 2013 10:08 AM
But T. Greer thinks:

Nah, no worries mate. I have took much greater beatings before - heck, I have took greater beatings before here. (Remember those long conversations with Perry, anyone?)

1. Correlation/Causation. Sure. But the correlation is really, really tight - so tight that a few people have made an equation for it. See also the two graphs at the end of this post. Energy consumption goes down in depressions, up when the economy grows. They are tagged together closely. The reasons for this are pretty clear - wealth is the product of applied energy.

2. Why did Britain have an industrial revolution and China did not? I think this is probably one of the biggest (if not the biggest) debate found among world historians. There are those (Pomeratz, The Great Diversion that suggest that the big difference between Britain and the Yangtze river basin (China's most productive area, c. 1800) is that Britain had coal stores nearby, and the Yangtze had none.

I find this less convincing.

But I also do not think on can wave away the question by attributing stunted growth to 'Eastern mysticism.' The Chinese tradition is pretty diverse; it has just as many hard bitten realists who disdained all things cosmological or mysterious as it did Buddhist-mystic types. (Many of their manuals make Machiavelli look tame!) And China was the scene of both fairly impressive (for a premodern society) economic growth, technological innovation (among other things, they invented the cross bow, compasses, gunpower, paper, and printing), and were a center for international trade (think silk road - but they also had extensive maritime networks). They once were very open to outside technologies; they learned to sail on the ocean blue from Arab traders, and then supplanted them as the primary traders in the South Chin and Indian oceans. They also were pretty institutionally advanced when it came to economics - during the Song Dynasty (c. 1000-1200 AD) they had paper money, savings banks, and joint-stock companies. (Unfortunately the Mongols took over the place and that experiment ended).

So why did all of that change?

My personal inclination is to blame the Ming and Qing dynasties. They were isolationist to an extreme - shut down the trading routes, worked their hardest to fight "foreign" influence and whatnot. What is notable is that both dynasties had very few competitors - in contrast to the Song, who controlled only half of China, the Ming controlled all of it, and the Qing added Manchuria, Tibet, and Mongolia to their possessions. The world was controlled from one center. This hurts innovation. The renaissance flourished because there was no centralized authority to stop it from doing so; the same was true in China's most intellectually diverse periods. Wrote I in a post comparing the two:

Both premodern Europe and ancient China were host to vicious polities divided in a desperate bid for survival. There was no world spanning empire; all roads did not lead to Rome. (Or Luoyang, for that matter). There was no universal center of learning or prestige that all intellectuals passed through before their voices could be heard, nor was there a single governing authority with power to clamp down on thinking it disapproved of. The decentralized political system of both eras allowed intellectual movements to flower without serious interruption. The competitive nature of this system piled fuel on the fire, for dueling states that refused innovation - be it scientific or strategic - faced annihilation

A similar thing happened in Japan. Before the Tokugawa shogunate was foisted upon the Japanese people, Japan was divided into 8 or so dueling kingdoms. During the height of their wars (late 1500s) there were more guns in Japan than in all of Europe. But when the Tokugawa shogunate united them all and took over, they set up a system that was very stable. They de-armed the populace, made the nobles rotate between the capital and their homes so they could not concentrate power, and forbade contact with outsiders. The system worked - Japan had peace for 400 years and the ruling Shogunate stayed in power. But when Commodore Perry came around with his cannons off of Edo, forcing the Japanese to open up to the world at gun point, there was no guns in the harbor to oppose him.

Posted by: T. Greer at May 20, 2013 12:57 PM
But jk thinks:

I can't help it if you are a statist!

But I do think you provide a host-worthy petard in noting that energy use decreases during recession. I don't think you're suggesting that paucity causes it (70's America, maybe...). Likewise I don't think coal fell out of the sky in 1820 and landed in Northern England.

They learned to use it to enhance productivity outside diminishing returns. The Chinese were using gunpowder way back before color TV. I believe it is Niall Ferguson who talks about the machines they invented but used as toys and demonstrations of the greatness of the ruler. But never applying them to production or wealth creation.

The last thing I'd do is call energy unimportant, or quibble with Deepak Lal that environmentalists' restrictions threaten the continued lifting of people out of poverty.

But there's more to it.

Posted by: jk at May 20, 2013 5:48 PM
But T. Greer thinks:

I don't think we really disagree. Modern economic growth could not have happened without energy. But man would never have had the chance to harness it without the science of the enlightenment or the property rights ensure by Great Britain.

The Chinese failed, I think, not because they were particularly anti-science, but because they were headed by a government that had no interest in innovation and a vested interest in slowing it. The fact that all literati had to go through Beijing to become anything was part of this problem.

P.S. Chinese gunpowder - part of the reason the Chinese used gunpowder more for fireworks than fire-arms was the nature of the enemy they faced: nomadic horse empires to the north. In Europe gun powder first makes it mark as canon, to be used in sieges (which the nomads did not have), and as slow to load arabesques designed to fire haphazard into massed infantry (again, something the nomads lacked). Asian polities that faced infantry armies and castle fortifications (such as japan, whose many guns are noted above) were quick to use gunpowder for military purposes.

Posted by: T. Greer at May 23, 2013 10:51 PM

May 12, 2013

Review Corner

I'm going to infer from 11 substantive comments to last week's Review Corner that the topic of political language is still of interest and that Arnold Kling's division of American polity into Conservatives, Progressives, and Libertarians has been accepted on some level. Because I wish to marry this to another tenured ThreeSources discussion: canons. (One n -- looking up the plural I see I have been discussing aircraft armament. Oops. my bad).

Homonyms aside, I have frequently complained that the Progressives have a substandard canon. I hold that, but in the spirit of fairness must admit that my beloved Libertarian canon is inferior to the Conservatives. Mises, Hayek, Bastiat, Wollstonecraft, Locke and Rand excite me and I hold their ideas in great esteem.

But I spent last week with GK Chesterton's What's Wrong with the World. And I have to admit that Chesterton and Edmund Burke lay a timeless foundation for Conservatism (blog friend Sugarchuck would throw in C.S. Lewis; probably JRR Tolkien and Jonah Goldberg deserve slots in the pantheon).

Chesterton gets five stars for clarity and five for sparkling prose. I highlight quotes for reader's corners and it is difficult to stop and leave any lines un-highlighted. Sugarchuck compares his humor to Monty Python:

Compromise used to mean that half a loaf was better than no bread. Among modern statesmen it really seems to mean that half a loaf is better than a whole loaf.
It is not merely true that a creed unites men. Nay, a difference of creed unites men--so long as it is a clear difference. A boundary unites. Many a magnanimous Moslem and chivalrous Crusader must have been nearer to each other, because they were both dogmatists, than any two homeless agnostics in a pew of Mr. Campbell's chapel.
I am told that the Japanese method of wrestling consists not of suddenly pressing, but of suddenly giving way. This is one of my many reasons for disliking the Japanese civilization. To use surrender as a weapon is the very worst spirit of the East.

Gilbert Keith uses his gifts in support of conservatism. Jonah Goldberg loves to quote his line "Tradition is the Democracy of the dead." I'm a modernist and a libertarian, but the argument that we discard the proven is compelling.
Our modern prophetic idealism is narrow because it has undergone a persistent process of elimination. We must ask for new things because we are not allowed to ask for old things. The whole position is based on this idea that we have got all the good that can be got out of the ideas of the past.

I think the natural affinity between Kling's L's and C's is a common belief in property rights. GK is eloquent, as usual:
The average man cannot cut clay into the shape of a man; but he can cut earth into the shape of a garden; and though he arranges it with red geraniums and blue potatoes in alternate straight lines, he is still an artist; because he has chosen. The average man cannot paint the sunset whose colors be admires; but he can paint his own house with what color he chooses, and though he paints it pea green with pink spots, he is still an artist; because that is his choice. Property is merely the art of the democracy. It means that every man should have something that he can shape in his own image, as he is shaped in the image of heaven.

TGreer's comment on last week' Review Corner segues into this week's. I, too, came to little-l libertarianism through conservatism. For me it was Bill Buckley and National Review (and I still subscribe to Frank Meyers's Fusionism). Buckley subscribed to Milton Friedman's libertarian ideas on economics, school choice and drug legalization.

But Buckley and Chesterton "stand athwart history, yelling 'Stop!'" For Chesterton, that includes a large portion of the book devoted to Women's suffrage which a modern finds difficult to read. Chesterton is agin it, not because women are not good enough to vote. But because they are too good

Many voteless women regard a vote as unwomanly. Nobody says that most voteless men regarded a vote as unmanly. Nobody says that any voteless men regarded it as unmanly. Not in the stillest hamlet or the most stagnant fen could you find a yokel or a tramp who thought he lost his sexual dignity by being part of a political mob. If he did not care about a vote it was solely because he did not know about a vote; he did not understand the word any better than Bimetallism. His opposition, if it existed, was merely negative. His indifference to a vote was really indifference. But the female sentiment against the franchise, whatever its size, is positive. It is not negative; it is by no means indifferent.

Some things, sir, are not worth conserving.

But it is an awesome read and it is available on Kindle for $0.00. At five stars, that is an undefined value.

Click "Continue Reading" for more quotes.

Men have votes, so women must soon have votes; poor children are taught by force, so they must soon be fed by force; the police shut public houses by twelve o'clock, so soon they must shut them by eleven o'clock; children stop at school till they are fourteen, so soon they will stop till they are forty. No gleam of reason, no momentary return to first principles, no abstract asking of any obvious question, can interrupt this mad and monotonous gallop of mere progress by precedent. It is a good way to prevent real revolution. By this logic of events, the Radical gets as much into a rut as the Conservative. We meet one hoary old lunatic who says his grandfather told him to stand by one stile. We meet another hoary old lunatic who says his grandfather told him only to walk along one lane.

Chesterton, G. K. (Gilbert Keith) (2012-05-12). What's Wrong with the World (pp. 241-242). . Kindle Edition.

The mob can never rebel unless it is conservative, at least enough to have conserved some reasons for rebelling. It is the most awful thought in all our anarchy, that most of the ancient blows struck for freedom would not be struck at all to-day, because of the obscuration of the clean, popular customs from which they came. The insult that brought down the hammer of Wat Tyler might now be called a medical examination. That which Virginius loathed and avenged as foul slavery might now be praised as free love. The cruel taunt of Foulon, "Let them eat grass," might now be represented as the dying cry of an idealistic vegetarian.

Chesterton, G. K. (Gilbert Keith) (2012-05-12). What's Wrong with the World (pp. 281-282). . Kindle Edition.

What I say is that the communal ideal is not conscious of their existence, and therefore goes wrong from the very start, mixing a wholly public thing with a highly individual one. Perhaps we ought to accept communal kitchens in the social crisis, just as we should accept communal cat's-meat in a siege. But the cultured Socialist, quite at his ease, by no means in a siege, talks about communal kitchens as if they were the same kind of thing as communal laundries. This shows at the start that he misunderstands human nature. It is as different as three men singing the same chorus from three men playing three tunes on the same piano.

Chesterton, G. K. (Gilbert Keith) (2012-05-12). What's Wrong with the World (p. 271). . Kindle Edition.

The things philanthropists barely excuse (or do not excuse) in the life of the laboring classes are simply the things we have to excuse in all the greatest monuments of man. It may be that the laborer is as gross as Shakespeare or as garrulous as Homer; that if he is religious he talks nearly as much about hell as Dante; that if he is worldly he talks nearly as much about drink as Dickens. Nor is the poor man without historic support if he thinks less of that ceremonial washing which Christ dismissed, and rather more of that ceremonial drinking which Christ specially sanctified.

Chesterton, G. K. (Gilbert Keith) (2012-05-12). What's Wrong with the World (pp. 246-247). . Kindle Edition.

I quite understand why Mr. Carnegie has a hatred of Greek. It is obscurely founded on the firm and sound impression that in any self-governing Greek city he would have been killed. But I cannot comprehend why any chance democrat, say Mr. Quelch, or Mr. Will Crooks, I or Mr. John M. Robertson, should be opposed to people learning the Greek alphabet, which was the alphabet of liberty. Why should Radicals dislike Greek?

Chesterton, G. K. (Gilbert Keith) (2012-05-12). What's Wrong with the World (p. 228). . Kindle Edition.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:18 AM | Comments (1)
But johngalt thinks:

The trick has always been to adopt the new where it is an improvement and retain the past where it is best. The failures of human progress rarely come from incorrect judgment in each case, but from on person or group of people making those judgements on behalf of the rest.

My prescription for remedy is two-fold: Liberty, and an unfettered marketplace - of both goods and ideas. In terms that Facebook Progs can (perhaps) understand, call it "crowd-sourced progress." It may not happen as fast as advocates of "perfect shopping cart wheels for everyone, always, immediately" may prefer but it makes up for that failing with an oft overlooked feature: The ability to change direction before tens of millions of people die, rather than afterward.

And if only a single ten million lives would be saved, isn't that worth it?

Posted by: johngalt at May 12, 2013 12:38 PM

May 8, 2013

Review Corner (Bumped to propagate comments)

I gave away the premise of Arnold Kling's The Three Languages of Politics in a Pre-review corner. Kling takes on one of my favorite philosophical questions, videlicet, "How can my Facebook friends be such incredible Gooberheads?"

Perhaps they are and perhaps they are not. Kling suggests that each polity speaks its own language; that Conservatives, Progressives, and Libertarians not only judge policy on different axes as Jonathan Haidt suggests, but that each communicates in a different political language.

Progressives believe in human betterment. They see nearly unlimited potential for humans to improve materially and, more important, morally.

Conservatives believe in human weakness. In Biblical terms, man is "fallen." The dark side of human nature will never be eradicated. It can only be tamed by social institutions, including the family, religion, and government. Take away those institutions, and what emerges is Lord of the Flies.

Libertarians believe in human rationality. People pursue ends, and they act as they do for good reason.

To bring it home, I am always surprised how frequently people just do not recognize liberty and coercion. Good old Republican-voting family members support smoking bans and are receptive to helmet laws, nannyist food directives and the like. When I describe the issue as property rights, they look at me blankly, as if -- wait for it -- I am speaking a different language. Touché, Kling.

Kling and I fit quite well into the L's:

Libertarians also look at government as the ultimate source of the problem. Libertarian economics is closely aligned with the Austrian tradition, and Austrian economists view central banks as the Dennis the Menace of capital markets, distorting interest rates and causing bubbles.

It is impossible not to compare it to Haidt's superb The Righteous Mind. Kling references it and includes an appendix describing it. Where Haidt starts with data and infers some interesting political observations, Kling takes the "why can't we all get along" question head on, using Haidt and other behavioral books to assemble his thesis. I cannot imagine anybody not reading both.

Kling's is brief and direct -- I give it five stars.

Addendum: Blog friend TGreer, commenting on the pre-review corner, applies the scale to politicians (Specifically ones which he knows will torque me...) Kling applies his to journalists and pundits, which is certainly cleaner. Taking FDR's entire 17 terms as New Dealer, War President, and party leader, I would find it hard to shoehorn him into one of Kling's boxes, even though the two Presidents Roosevelt are the archetype of Progressivism. I don't know whether that is a failing of Kling's micro-taxonomy or the lack of purity in actual legislative politics.

UPDATE: John Stossel (High Prince of the "L's") posts this quote to Facebook today:

Liberty is not a means to a political end. It is itself the highest political end. -- Lord Acton

Posted by John Kranz at 12:37 AM | Comments (11)
But T. Greer thinks:

Well, I don't think you have to like TR's exchange with JPM to see that Roosevelt wasn't framing things in term of oppressed and oppressor. He was framing things in term of law, right and wrong.

IMHO, one of the admirable things about TR was his belief in the Strenuous Life. He believed that individuals should not accept laziness or ease; that they should try the hard thing, that heroism is always available to those worthy of it. One of his statements on this effect has so inspired me that I put it to memory:

Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.

Where TR gets problematic is that he applied this philosophy of living to national affairs. As he says two sentences above the one just quoted, "As it is with the individual, so it is with the nation." He really believed that governments should act like people; he believed that governments should act like him.

TR's weakness was that he conflated the government with himself. And I don't mean that in the King George, arbitrary gov. type of way (though I suppose you might make that case), but in how he behaved as captain of the executive and how he believed governments ought to behave in general. TR was an energetic guy, always on the look out for adventure, great deeds, and the chance to stand for the ultimate good. He could never just sit by and do nothing. Trust busting was just these heroics on a national scale. It was a fight against barbarity and corruption. Far from seeing himself as champion of the weak or the defenseless, TR saw his role as the guiding hand of the greatest power on Earth - the American people. The government vs. the banks was Lancelot against those evil medieval lords.

Now I think we can agree that this is the wrong way to do things. But it certainly was his of doing them.

And in the end that is what makes this idea of the three languages so interesting. As the Hitler example shows, you can be talking any of three languages and ultimately reach the same conclusions (in this case, that Nazis are plenty bad). TR promoted statism with a civilizational frame of thought; today it is mostly the progressives who argue for larger government powers. They found the same solution from different ends. (Although I will point again that TR would be probably a Republican today... nanny state was not his thing.)

The libertarian movement will succeed, I'd wager, not by convincing everybody to think on the liberty axis, but by convincing people concerned with civilization and/or injustice that increasing the scale of government will only make these problems worse. We've go to be reverse TRs.

Posted by: T. Greer at May 8, 2013 11:45 AM
But johngalt thinks:

Before I assume something that is incorrect, what do you mean by "reverse TR's?"

Posted by: johngalt at May 8, 2013 7:55 PM
But T. Greer thinks:

TR argued for an energetic executive (something we associate with progressives) with the "conservative civilization language." We should reverse the process: that is, use "civilization-conservative" (and "injustice-oppression") language to argue for smaller government.

If people don't understand the liberty/statist line of thought it will be easier to use their language for the right cause than it will be to get them to change their language altogether.

Posted by: T. Greer at May 9, 2013 12:14 AM
But johngalt thinks:

It's difficult to imagine using the language of statism, whether the "civilization-conservative" or "injustice-oppression" variety, to make the case for its opposite - liberty.

I believe everyone understands the liberty/statism dichotomy. The division is between those who fear their own individual failure and those who do not. Or if not "failure" then the class-envy that is continually manufactured by each new crop of statists. In either case the fear or the envy/hatred is unfounded, more so today than ever in history. Statists must be exposed and discredited. All of them.

My thoughts keep returning to jk's terminology, which I believe fuses your proposition with mine. He called it Prosperitarianism. Methinks that we, or at least I, didn't give him enough credit for it at the time.

Posted by: johngalt at May 10, 2013 2:49 PM
But jk thinks:

Perhaps you're right (you're certainly right about my being under-appreciated) that it is hard to use another's language to express your view. What I picked up from Haidt and reinforced by Kling, is that that is their belief/language.

Kling's Oppressed/oppressor is in line with Haidt's harm/care. Your interlocutor does not give a rat's ass about liberty qua liberty. People in his estimation are or would be beholden to McDonalds and Walmart if not government. And if people are lacking food, shelter, health care or free contraception under freedom, what good is it?

I'm not sure it gives you tools to convince. My uberprogressive (let's say Communist) biological brother read the Haidt book and we agreed that neither of us had ever really reached anybody or changed any minds. But it does give a perspective of why or from what perspective they're coming.

Posted by: jk at May 10, 2013 5:31 PM
But T. Greer thinks:

Oh, I think it is possible, though some issues are easy to do it with than others. Take government bail outs for example. Bail outs "destroy the moral hazard of risk" (civilization language), "prop up an entrenched rentier elite" (progressive language), and drastically increase government intervention is an otherwise free market ("libertarian language").

I guess I am living evidence of all this. If we were to take a referendum vote on the issues of the day, I would vote with the libertarians 9 times out of 10. But I am not really a libertarian. On matters of foreign affairs, drug policy, bail outs, and more I vote with the libertarians - but often for different reasons than they do. I utterly reject the "libertarian" idea that humans have limitless potential. I suppose my disposition is too conservative for that. Deep down my abiding concern is staving off barbarity and saving civilization; I just happen to think the concentrated power of unaccountable governments cannot do this. This was the starting point. I came to appreciate libertarian arguments because conservative civilizational types made their case first. (I shudder to think where I'd be if my introduction to libertarian thought had been The Fountainhead or something of that type - would have lost me at the start.)

P.S. On a related note - anybody notice how similar the "radical" right and "radical" left really are? (see this post: Far Left and Far Right: Two Peas in a Pod? ) It might be easier to work with them than we think.

Posted by: T. Greer at May 11, 2013 11:26 PM

April 30, 2013

Pre Review Corner

Don't wait for Sunday! Snap up: Kling, Arnold The Three Languages of Politics Kindle Edition. It's $1.99 on Kindle. It's short (short enough you could read it on a tablet or desktop with the Kindle app), and it will get five stars this weekend if I get Wi-Fi at my undisclosed location.

Kling distills Jonathan Haidt's "The Righteous Mind" and some other behavioral psychology texts to provide three languages as practiced by three sections of the American polity:

The first dominant heuristic is the one I associate with progressives (henceforth Ps). Ps, who are likely to respond X to the basic question, are most comfortable with language that frames political issues in terms of oppressors and oppressed.

The second dominant heuristic is one I associate with conservatives (henceforth Cs). Cs, who are likely to respond Y to the basic question, are most comfortable with language that frames political issues in terms of civilization and barbarism.

The third dominant heuristic is one I associate with libertarians (henceforth Ls). Ls, who are likely to respond Z to the basic question, are most comfortable with language that frames political

That sets it up, but it's a better read than "the third dominant heuristic" implies.

Posted by John Kranz at 3:40 PM | Comments (1)
But T. Greer thinks:

Interesting. According to this rubric, TR, FDR, and Truman would all be conservatives... probably on the same boat as GWB.

Posted by: T. Greer at April 30, 2013 6:07 PM

April 29, 2013

John LeCarre Meets Ron Paul

We have oft, on these very pages, jested about the turgidness of monetary policy. It truly is fundamental to Liberty but boy howdy...

In Battle of Bretton Woods, Benn Steil tells the remarkable story of the 44-nation postwar economic conference known for its location in the remote New Hampshire town.

I have always used "Bretton Woods" as synonymous with a gold standard, as in "Nixon took us out of Bretton Woods." In truth -- as gold bugs have screamed at me for years -- it was a managed convertibility, what Larry Kudlow would call a gold peg, but with rates dictated by fiat. Steil relates a story I had also heard from Amity Shlaes

From his bed each morning, Roosevelt would, after briefly conferring with his advisers, set a daily target for bumping up the gold price, not always through scientific methods. One day, November 3, the president suggested that gold should go up twenty-one cents. "It's a lucky number," he explained, chuckling, "because its three times seven." "If anybody ever knew how we really set the gold price through a combination of lucky numbers, etc.," observed Morgenthau, "I think they would be frightened."

Before we get into that snoozefest discussion, the remarkable parts are the participants, and the purposeful move to use the conference output to make the US and the US Dollar the global hegemon. Britain was financially ruined by the war -- she had zero hope without Lend-Lease. Heavily indebted to the US from Lend-Lease, Britain had no power at Bretton Woods to push its agenda; no one did, the US held all the good cards.

All Britain had was a formidable representative in John Maynard Keynes: the economics wunderkind who was rewriting the science, the first and last economic celebrity, and a formidable debate partner. Keynes learned his craft sparring with the likes of Karl Popper, American bureaucrats were intellectual cannon fodder.

But in the United States corner was one of the oddest characters you will encounter in history: Henry Dexter White. White had no title at all until late in his tenure, but he had the vision of the dollar replacing gold as the world currency and he had a plan to make it happen. Oh, and he was a Soviet Spy.

Keynes, not yet Lord K, was not too impressed with his interlocutor:

"He has not the faintest conception how to behave or observe the rules of civilised intercourse," Keynes groused. Arrogant and bullying, White was also nerve-ridden and insecure. Being wholly dependent on his ability to keep his boss, Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, an FDR confidant with limited smarts, continually rearmed with actionable policies, he was always acutely conscious of his tenuous status in Washington.

Keynes was Keynes:
Like another great mind of his time, Albert Einstein, Keynes had a preternatural ability to see relationships between complex phenomena entirely differently than generations of experts before him. Though mathematics was the primary analytical tool for both physics and economics, neither Einstein nor Keynes was exceptionally gifted in, nor fascinated by, higher mathematics. They had an utterly rare gift of intellectual intuition; both thought through problems which obsessed them using the vehicle of analogy, like riding on a light beam (which sparked Einstein's theory of special relativity) or living in an economy that produces and consumes only bananas (through which Keynes "proved" that thrift was deadly).

Excuse me, jk, did you say White was a soviet spy? Why yes, he worked with Whittaker Chambers before Chambers was traded for two third-round draft picks. And Chambers claims that he was second only to Alger Hiss in the damage done over his tenure. Yet -- at the conference -- he pursued US interests unfailingly. Though he thought that Communism was the wave of the future and that the US and USSR were destined to be the great postwar allies, there is no suggestion that he weakened the US position. White was out to best Keynes and Britain -- and did so.

Monetary policy types will dig the importance given by this book. WWII is attributed to bad policy, and the whole point of Bretton Woods -- planned long before Allied victory was certain, opening weeks after D-Day -- was to prevent currency nationalism that would precipitate additional conflict. That was how it was sold to Congress and the American people.

Most surprising to me was the enmity between the US and Britain. PM Churchill and FDR may have had a special relationship, but it was not passed to Misters Atlee nor Truman, nor Congress, nor Americans wary of Monarchy and Imperialism. We had them "where short hairs grow" and there were few people that wanted to let them off easy. If they were destroyed by the terms concluding Lend-Lease, who cares?

What was that spy thing again, jk? That sounded interesting.

White performed superbly at his HUAC hearing, He waved the flag and stated his love of Apple Pie and Motherhood, and turned the tables on unprepared examiners to draw applause. A young Senator from California thought that he could get him on perjury, for disavowing Whittaker Chambers. But each time While would answer that "he could not recall" his contact. The publication of the Verona papers in the late 1990s corroborate all of Chambers's charges.

And that young Senator Nixon went on to become President -- and pull our nation out of the Bretton Woods agreement...

A great and interesting story. Alas, it reads more like Ron Paul than the Spy Story at times, but it's a good yarn all the same. Four stars.

Posted by John Kranz at 6:42 PM | Comments (4)
But johngalt thinks:

So, you're saying that Barack Obama is a Soviet spy?

The Amazon book description says that White "also, very privately, admired Soviet economic planning and engaged in clandestine communications with Soviet intelligence officials and agents over many years."

And your review says he was a "Soviet spy." Which leads me to wonder, which description is more damning?

Oh yes, that Obama is a spy quip... Would you rather I say that he "admires Soviet economic planning and engage[s] in clandestine communications with Soviet intelligence officials and agents?"

[Awesome review, by the way, of an apparently awesome book.]

Posted by: johngalt at April 30, 2013 2:49 PM
But jk thinks:

Thanks for the kind words! I'm comfortable with the spy declaration because of the Verona papers. And while I agree that admiration of economic planning is wrong, misrepresentation of your intentions is far worse. It would be as if President Obama had said "I will not raise taxes on those making less than $250,000" or "if you like your health care plan, you can keep it." You know -- willful misrepresentation.

Okay, a little more seriously: this is FDR's administration, Rex Tugwell and Henry Wallace openly favored Soviet planning "I have seen the future and it works."

Posted by: jk at April 30, 2013 3:27 PM
But jk thinks:

"'I have seen the future,' wrote radical journalist Lincoln Steffens after a trip to Petrograd in 1919, 'and it works.' By the time of Bretton Woods a quarter century later, White believed that Soviet socialist economics had proven itself a success. 'Russia is the first instance of a socialist economy in action,' White writes. 'And it works!' Much of the animus toward the Soviet Union within the American political establishment was, he argued, political hypocrisy born of an ideological inability to acknowledge the success of socialist economics."

Steil, Benn (2013-02-11). The Battle of Bretton Woods (Council on Foreign Relations Books (Princeton University Press)) (p. 6). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition. "

Posted by: jk at April 30, 2013 3:32 PM
But johngalt thinks:

The Bolshevik Revolution was in 1914, if memory serves, so Mr. Steffens was comfortable proclaiming Soviet socialism a success after a mere 5 years. A striking parallel with today's champions of "Obamanomics."

Posted by: johngalt at May 1, 2013 2:05 AM

April 14, 2013

Review Corner

I'm slacking on you yet again. This week's "book" is a white paper. You can download "50 Vetoes: How States Can Stop the Obama Health Care Law" from Cato, or you can get it all pretty and packaged up for Kindle® from Amazon for $3.49. Spendthrift that I am, I dropped the $3,49 like it was nothin' and enjoyed it on the couch.

A few pages in and one asks "I wonder if this ObamaCare® was really a good idea?" Cannon enumerates the flaws and consequences -- intended and unintended -- of what he dutifully calls PPACA. Because the law diverted some control to the states to get the famous 60 votes, and because the Feds are woefully behind and outclassed in its implementation, Cannon says that the States have a real opportunity to upend the law -- and that they should.

Collectively, states have the power to block that spending and to reduce federal deficits by $ 1.7 trillion by refusing to implement Exchanges and the Medicaid expansion. So far, 34 states, accounting for roughly two-thirds of the U.S. population, have refused to establish an Exchange, while 16 have refused to implement the Medicaid expansion. Those states have reduced federal deficits by hundreds of billions of dollars.

Cannon destroys the concept that the state exchanges are actually autonomous examples of Federalism:
The Act thus empowers the secretary to require state-funded Exchanges to operate exactly as she would operate a federal Exchange. One example is the Act's "navigator" program, in which groups that help consumers select an insurance plan-- a role traditionally performed by insurance agents and brokers-- receive funding from Exchanges. Some states have enacted laws requiring navigators to obtain a license. Yet the secretary has prohibited states from requiring navigators to be licensed agents or brokers, or to carry insurance typically carried by agents and brokers. She has also prohibited navigators from receiving any compensation from health plans either inside or outside an Exchange. If the secretary later decides to prohibit insurance agents and brokers from serving as navigators, or likewise to require state-funded Exchanges to exclude certain health plans, state-funded Exchanges will have to obey. What the secretary declares bound in Washington shall be bound in the states; what she declares loosed in Washington shall be loosed in the states.

Even states expecting to proceed with creating exchanges find that the Feds have no plan, no documentation -- not even a Web site.
"We have gotten little bits of information here and there about how the federal exchange might operate," said Linda J. Sheppard, a senior official at the Kansas Insurance Department. "I was on a panel at Rockhurst University here, and I was asked, 'Where is the Web site for the federal exchange?' I chuckled. There really isn’t any federal exchange Web site."
Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of HHS, has repeatedly emphasized that "states have to meet a standard of transparency and accountability." A state exchange must have "a clearly defined governing board,” and the board must hold regular public meetings. . . . By contrast, federal officials have disclosed little about their plans, are vague about the financing of the federal exchanges and have refused even to divulge the "request for proposals" circulated to advertising agencies.

I know. The ThreeSources community is shocked at government opacity, arrogance, and incompetence. Most of the arguments will be familiar to ThreeSourcers: "The Act's 'community rating' price controls force insurers to sell coverage to the sick far below cost, and to the healthy far above cost. In that environment, an insurer that provides the highest-quality care to the sick will attract all the sickest patients, and will quickly go bankrupt, as healthy people avoid that carrier's higher premiums. In this way, the Act's community-rating price controls literally punish health plans that provide the most attractive coverage to the sick."

But the enumeration, collection, and strict documentation of the arguments is well worth your three-fifty. I do not suppose there is much chance in the newly Communist People's Republic of Colorado -- but there are real opportunities to avoid and perhaps repeal this wicked law.

A critical mass of states could force Congress to repeal the law. To some, it is unimaginable that Congress and President Obama would do so-- just as it was once unimaginable that 34 states would refuse to establish Exchanges, or that 16 states would refuse to expand Medicaid, or that congressional Republicans and President Obama would join together to repeal the CLASS Act. The PPACA is weaker, and the path to repeal is clearer, than it has ever been.

Four stars. Dry but informative and short.

Posted by John Kranz at 9:42 AM | Comments (1)
But johngalt thinks:

If the ideologues behind Obamacare and other efforts to promote "equality" such as capping the size of private retirement accounts were to actually go "all in" on that principle they would have to infect every one of us with every disease and sickness known to man. Otherwise, "some animals are more well than others."

Assignment to reader: Look up and post (or just post) your favorite quote on the evils of "equality." My first search will be H.L. Mencken. (Or maybe Eric Hoffer.)

Posted by: johngalt at April 15, 2013 7:24 PM

April 7, 2013

Review Corner

TIME Magazine's Executive Editor Nancy Gibbs and Washington Bureau Chief Michael Duffy trace the surprising, complicated story of "the world's most exclusive fraternity."
That's from the Amazon "Book of the Month (April 2012)" review of The President's Club. And that's all the Review Corner you probably need. It's a very conventional, TIME Magazine look at an interesting topic: the interplay between ex-presidents with each other and current occupants of the office.

It's full of fun facts and juicy tidbits:

He had reason to be especially grateful: thanks to Truman's personal intervention, the IRS judged Eisenhower to be a nonprofessional writer and so taxed his income from his war memoir Crusade in Europe at the 25 percent capital gains rate rather than the 75 percent income tax rate, which among other things meant that Mamie Eisenhower got her first mink coat. Eisenhower sent Truman a signed copy, the first volume he gave anyone outside the family.
Finally, there was something personal; whatever reverence Ike deserved as a general, Kennedy did not extend to the man himself; he called him "that old asshole."
Julie and David had met only a few times as children. "But each," observed the Washington Post, "had a mother who was forever saying 'I want my child to have a normal life'-- while normal mothers were talking about their children growing up to be president."

My recently deceased brother-in-law recommended this book last year; I read the Kindle sample and elected not to pull the trigger. I saw it on sale a couple weeks ago and gave it another chance.

I wouldn't tell anybody not to read it, but I will be unusually miserly with the stars. Among the juicy tidbits is a paucity of serious thought or anything outside conventional, Schlesingerian-academic-journalistic thought. It's like, well, reading TIME Magazine. On Bush Peré:

The first two years of the first Bush's presidency had delivered solid bipartisan achievements at home: a new clean air measure, a historic civil rights act for disabled Americans, and a landmark deficit reduction deal. But each was anathema to the party's right wing. Which meant the younger Bush would need to take a harder line on economic and social issues while signaling to uncertain independent voters that he wasn't a hopeless ideologue. Hence the mantle of the "compassionate conservative."

Historic civil rights act for the trial bar, maybe... Clinton's Impeachment:
But Ford's proposal seemed almost Edwardian in its quaintness. The notion that the House Republican leadership, a mostly male group led by Newt Gingrich that had developed a seething dislike of Clinton, would somehow limit its yearlong probe was unimaginable.

Yup, conventional wisdom about the modern presidents. Nothing about anybody before Hoover. I suppose those bewhiskered (and predominantly male) guys were not very interesting. Worth one trip through, but I doubt it will excite any ThreeSourcer: two stars.

Posted by John Kranz at 5:43 PM | Comments (0)

March 31, 2013

Review Corner

It's enjoyable to read the "it" book and be hip and up to date. Especially when one's fashion hails from the Clinton Years and musical tastes from Hoover's. But I found my inner Nassim Taleb and dusted off a moldy old book that was discarded from the Austin Peay State College Library in Clarkesville Tennessee. This contrarian is convinced that he may be one of the foremost experts on Vice President Charles G. Dawes.

There is, near as I can tell, one book on the General: "Portrait of an American" by Bascom N. Timmons, ©1953 Henry Holt & Company. And I've read it. I'm sure a little internet searching would disabuse me of my expert status quickly, but it is my dream, let me live it.(I will follow up with some of his writings.)

I was drawn to Dawes because he is a published composer; the haunting melody to the 50's hit "It's All in the Game" is his "Melody in A Major" from 1912 and I have a vintage piece of sheet music with his name. His Wikipedia page fed my interest:

After the war, the U.S. Senate held hearings on overcharges by military suppliers. During heated testimony, Dawes burst out, "Hell and Maria, we weren't trying to keep a set of books over there, we were trying to win a war!" He was later known as "Hell and Maria Dawes" (although he always insisted the expression was "Helen Maria").

This was a style Dawes used with great efficacy (and one I'd confess I'd like to cultivate): a generally reserved decorum punctuated by short and sharp blasts of well-directed anger:
And the Earl of Crawford, Chancellor of the University of Manchester, conferred the LLD degree on Dawes with the words:

"Strangely in his chariot is the tornado harnessed alongside the dove. And I trust I overstep no limits set by diplomatic reticence if I add that, under the tempestuous exterior and unconventional address, brimming over with picturesque expletives, none of which, however, he claims to have invented himself, he conceals the kindest of hearts and the most loving of dispositions.

(I'm cultivating the kindest of hearts and most loving of dispositions parts...)

After completing Amity Shleas's 5 star biography of President Coolidge, I wanted to learn a little more about his VP and scored the book used from Amazon for $7.98. As it happens, he did not participate much in the Coolidge Administration. Coolidge invited him, offering the courtesy Harding had extended him. But Dawes felt it was a bad precedent and Constitutionally dubious as the VP was more a Legislative Branch position. I recall our current VP laughing that off in a debate with Governor Palin.

He might not have been a big cog in the Coolidge Administration, but he is an amazing man with an amazing career and lifetime achievements. He personally met 15 Presidents; assembled and ran the Allied procurements for WWI attaining the rank of General; was ambassador to Britain after the war; built the largest bank outside of New York; made Sen. Robert Lafollette’s list of 100 robber barons; instituted huge philanthropy efforts -- oh, and was Vice President. And published a song.

The entire Dawes family shows up in American History like Forrest Gump. William Dawes rode with Paul Revere -- we know of one and not the other because Mr. Longfellow found one name more mellifluous. General Rufus Dawes was a Civil War hero and had tickets to see "Our American Cousin" at the Ford Theatre with President Lincoln. Dawes's mom was ill or else they would have been there.

Dawes goes west as a young man and meets William Jennings Bryan in Lincoln, Nebraska before Lincoln is served by rail. The two become fast and lifetime friends at a debating club. By 1896, Dawes has moved to Chicago and is heading the Illinois campaign to elect William McKinley. He tells everybody that Bryan will be the Democratic nominee "if he makes it to the podium at the convention." A paper in Lincoln is among the unbelieving:

"Just three people believe the boy orator of the Platte, who speaks in platte-te-tudes, has a chance for the Democratic nomination. They are: Bryan himself; his wife; and Dawes, a Republican."

The nominating speeches go late and it is not certain whether Bryan will speak. He takes the stage late and gives the "Cross of Gold" speech. Dawes telegraphs campaign HQ that Bryan will be the nominee and leaves the hall. All the large states withhold votes on the first five ballots. Then Bryan is nominated and quickly gets the nod.

He's there when JP Morgan rescues the banks in the Panic of 1907. New York says they'll keep the Knickerbocker Trust afloat if Dawes will run it. They telegraph that he can write his own ticket. Dawes demurs. The Man of the West will stay West.

Even in law school, he is in contact with future Presidents:

"I received the engrossed bill for the erection of the new building, and signed it as President of the Senate. Less than fifteen minutes later, Chief Justice Taft telephoned, asking whether I had signed the bill. He was anxious to have President Coolidge approve it today. This I arranged within an hour, to his considerable satisfaction. I have always felt grateful to Taft for, in 1886, he marked the papers of our graduating class in Cincinnati Law School, and passed nearly the whole class, including myself. He does not know it, but that was one reason why he got such quick service today. The friendship with the Chief Justice, which I have enjoyed during these last four years, has been one of the pleasant things of my service here. He is beloved by all."

Politically, Dawes joined Theodore Roosevelt's reform camp early, but like Taft and Coolidge, saw its flaws and veered away to a more lasseiz faire approach. TR begins coming after his friends:

Back in Chicago, Dawes told Armour and P. A. Valentine about the White House conversation.
"Armour is very much alarmed and worried over the matter," Dawes wrote. "He said to me in the most dejected tones:
"'Dawes, I am living and recently have been living the darkest hours of my life. I believe the intention is to indict the packers. Everyone eats meat and a suit against the packers would be politically popular. Roosevelt wants popularity. I am an accident in this business which I inherited from my father who was a great leader. I am not a criminal and if I am indicted as a lawbreaker it will be a great grief to me and my family.

"'I have endeavored strictly to obey the injunction. I have wanted to obey the laws always. All my life I have tried to be a good citizen. I have in this world only my mother, my wife, and my daughter. If I left my business to my little girl it would be a curse to her. I have felt almost as if I would like to quit the worry and stress of business life and sell out. Yet I have a sense of duty to the men who have grown up with the business and who would lose their places that has led me to abandon the plan. I have long since lost the desire for money and I feel I have few friends.'

The Bureau of the Budget was formed under President Harding at Dawes's request to cut spending:
"On the first onslaught, the Navy dropped out on a hundred¬million-dollar reduction I had put down for them. Admiral Coontz (Chief of Naval Operations) is a tough old buck. I had to accept his statement as far as the present is concerned.

"Agriculture followed by reneging on $25,000,000. Beads of perspiration formed on my forehead and, I regret to say, profane ejaculations characterized my vocabulary. Secretary Mellon, who joined me at the office, joined also in the perspiration, although naturally a cool man. By evening, I had raked up a dependable $305,000,000, notwithstanding the $125,000,000 that dropped out."

In spite of such signal achievements, Dawes never forgot the limits within which his bureau was to function.

The bureau brought spending down under Harding and Coolidge but was disbanded by FDR (surprise).

A great book about a most interesting American. Five stars. As I have a real live hardcopy, it is available to any ThreeSourcer who would like to read it -- I'll even pay shipping.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:05 AM | Comments (0)

March 17, 2013

Review Corner

In 2001, my wife, Shawnna, and I moved to Arizona. I love nearly everything about my adopted state, but the one thing that troubles me greatly is Arizona’s widespread hostility toward Mexican immigration, not just illegal but legal as well. Among many Arizona conservatives, opposition to immigration dwarfs all other political issues, even in the face of economic recession. The vehemence on this issue initially puzzled me, given that Arizona still is the land of Barry Goldwater and largely reflects his libertarian, live-and-let-live philosophy.

Indeed, I have often joked that if Arizonans are really serious about protecting our traditional values against assault from hostile newcomers, we should wall off our western border to California rather than our southern border.

Governor Jeb Bush and Clint Bolick provide a solid blueprint for moving forward in Immigration Wars. I don't agree with every word of it, and I'm rather certain it would not be any ThreeSourcer's idea of perfection. It is a contentious debate, and apart from the bitter clingers on both extremes, I think the authors understand it is about compromise and understand it is about moving forward. While imperfect, if Congress were to pass it exactly as written, there is nothing in this book that I could not live with.

The best part is its two foundational premises:

We believe comprehensive reform should be constructed upon two core, essential values: first, that immigration is essential to our nation, and second, that immigration policy must be governed by the rule of law. Those who expound only one of those values to the exclusion of the other do violence to both, because the two values are inseparable.

Many of our circular, circuitous, and cicumlocutious immigration debates have danced around this, because I was unable to state my premises so clearly.

The authors are as pro-immigration as I am and the book celebrates many reasons for increasing and legalizing/normalizing additional immigration. The talk shows and political reviews have focused on their solution to current undocumented aliens. Those who came here as adults are offered a pathway to permanent legal status but not a head start toward citizenship. This is not the plan I'd write, but I can sign on if this is un-am-nasty enough for a plurality.

This is the most contentious issue, and the position of a prominent Republican is newsworthy. Some of the more subtle points are more interesting. Bush and Bolick call for refocusing preferences on skills and economic need in favor of "family reunification."

Reuniting someone with their long lost third cousin twice removed is sweet. But it sets up a chain migration that can grow without bounds. Plus, it is biased toward less productive new citizens. Spouses and children can follow an immigrant but no further. We're sending home doctors and entrepreneurs and physics geniuses to bring more grandmothers in. Sweet, but not in our best economic interests.

One hopes that this might get resolved. We cherish rule of law, yet look the other way for startling abuses to people and equal enforcement.

It is in no one's interest for illegal immigrants and their families to live in the shadows. We need everyone to participate in the mainstream economy, to pay taxes, to participate openly in their communities, to be willing to report crimes-- that is to say, to be accountable, responsible members of society. That cannot occur when people fear they will be arrested if their immigration status is known.

It is an enjoyable and quick read touching economics, education and politics. If the debate were moved forward in this direction, that would be a huge net positive.

Four stars.

UPDATE: That other fella named Bush has a very good guest editorial in the WSJ today.

Posted by John Kranz at 11:16 AM | Comments (0)

March 11, 2013

Review Corner

Due to the bone-crunching blizzard this weekend, I regret that Sunday's Review Corner was not completed. (Out-of-staters, that's a joke -- the teevee news people prepared us for Snowmageddon all week and we got six inches and immediate heat to melt it).

In lieu of my completing, y'know, actual work, I offer the author c/o Prager University:

And some quotes:

Our ignorance of Coolidge hurts more than our understanding of the presidency; it diminishes our understanding of his era, and our past. The education in rhetoric, religion, classics, and geometry Coolidge received at his quirky independent school, Black River Academy, and at Amherst College reminds us how our schools have changed since then. Coolidge and the poet Robert Frost never knew much about each other; Coolidge was a Republican, Frost a Grover Cleveland Democrat. But the lives of the pair crossed in odd ways, including at Coolidge's college, Amherst. And Frost's themes-- independence, responsibility, character, property rights -- also preoccupied Coolidge.

It is hard for modern students of economics to know what to make of a government that treated economic weakness by raising interest rates 300 basis points, cutting tax rates, and halving the federal government, so much at odds is that prescription with the antidotes to recession our own experts tend to recommend. It is harder still for modern economists to concede that that recipe, the policy recipe for the early 1920s advocated by Coolidge and Harding, yielded growth on a scale to which we can aspire today.

Of particular interest to ThreeSourcers, however, will be Coolidge (and Harding's) fight to reclaim the party from TR and the Progressive wing -- enough to split Sen. Lafollette into a third party run in 1924.
But Roosevelt did not stay decorous long. By temperament Roosevelt was neither judge nor solicitor but prosecutor. In fact, he treated the White House as a prosecutor's office. In McKinley's time the Sherman Antitrust Act had not been used aggressively; Roosevelt, however, found it a useful tool. Roosevelt moved against the Northern Securities Company and J. P. Morgan aggressively, asking for the great company's dissolution. Astonished, J. P. Morgan asked TR if his other companies would be assailed. "Not unless we find out," said Roosevelt, "that they have done something we regard as wrong."
Roosevelt's cockiness piqued other Republicans. One was Warren Harding, the proprietor of a newspaper in Marion, Ohio. Roosevelt, Harding thought, resembled Aaron Burr in the magnitude of his egotism, with "the same towering ambitions."

I knew the facts and personal anecdotes. Where Shlaes truly breaks a new intellectual trail is in identifying the break of the Boston Police strike not only as the event that launched the plainspoken Yankee Governor onto a national stage, but the event which separated him -- permanently -- from Progressivism.
Still, Coolidge felt certain of one thing. The progressives could not be met. Conciliation would not work. As he made his rounds in the now quiet city, he went over the police strike and kept coming to the same conclusion. This time, there was no middle ground.

Shlaes, Amity (2013-02-12). Coolidge (Kindle Locations 3244-3246). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

A-freaking-men. Five Stars!

Posted by John Kranz at 11:47 AM | Comments (3)
But johngalt thinks:

"Coolidge was sympathetic to the farmers, but helping them wasn't the government's function."


But this comports poorly with "for the general good" and one should naturally expect today's response to be, "Well make it government's function then."

Posted by: johngalt at March 11, 2013 2:58 PM
But jk thinks:

Seven years -- and counting...

But the public good includes farmers and non-farmers, 'lectric car makers and non-'lectric car makers. I submit you can make the correct policy decision considering the public good.

Posted by: jk at March 11, 2013 3:50 PM
But johngalt thinks:

I can. You can. Government can't. They will always default to "yes" whenever asked.

Posted by: johngalt at March 11, 2013 7:08 PM

February 17, 2013

Editor's Choice Award

I'm perhaps too generous with stars in Review Corner. I'm pretty respectful of an Author's work, and -- contra Tyler Cowen -- by the time I invest the time and money in a book, I'm fairly certain I'll be interested. The problem is that I am left without tools to highlight that exceptional, once-a-year, mind-blowing book. My inner math guy will not allow six on a scale of five.

But this is a blog, and you can just make **** up as it pleases. Ergo and further pursuant to, I institute the "Editor's Choice Award" and if any of my blog brothers wish to award one, we'll move the apostrophe.

I retroactively award it to David Deutsch's "The Beginning of Infinity." We discussed it last year, but I am in a thread on the JC-JK Book Club on it. And it is a reminder of the kind of book that gets something beyond five crummy little ThreeSources Review Corner stars.

The second recipient is the topic of today's Review Corner: Nassim Nicholas Taleb's: Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder. Both are mind blowing books by brilliant, off-the-charts-long-tail-genius authors. Curiously, Taleb contradicts many things I believe; Deutsch much fewer. I mention that only because my ThreeSources reviews are more political and philosophical than literary. To most I would not bring it up

To steep in the intelligence of either is a great gift. Taleb worked as a "quant:" the highest, brainiac job on Wall Street. He worked just long enough to earn what he calls his "f*** you money," enabling him to pursue life and knowledge on his own terms. He is a polyglot and a polymath. His books will quote philosophy, physics, business, medicine, ancient history, and the derivation of Aramaic words -- all before breakfast. I enjoyed Black Swan, but this is his Magnum Opus. It is divided into seven books, and he says "Black Swan" should rightfully be the eighth book in "Antifragile."

If you don't wish to commit $15.99 and some serious brain cycles to the book, I'd search the Internet for interviews and reviews where he author defines Antifragility. My description will be too short and incomplete:

Fragility, like the author's favorite tea cup, is the exposure to great harm from volatility. When asked for the antonym of fragile, most will choose "robust." The stone, unlike the tea cup, can be dropped on the floor or shaken in shipment. Taleb claims that we have no term for the actual antonym of fragile, so he provides the neologism "Antifragile." Antifragile things don't just weather volatility, they are strengthened by it. The first example is human bones. Six months of weightlessness in space or an extended hospital stay greatly reduces bone strength which requires stressors. Indeed the entire body profits from random stressors of exercise, fasting, &c.

Much of our modern, structured, world has been harming us with top-down policies and contraptions (dubbed "Soviet-Harvard delusions" in the book) which do precisely this: an insult to the antifragility of systems. This is the tragedy of modernity: as with neurotically overprotective parents, those trying to help are often hurting us the most.
The antifragile gains from prediction errors, in the long run. If you follow this idea to its conclusion, then many things that gain from randomness should be dominating the world today-- and things that are hurt by it should be gone. Well, this turns out to be the case. We have the illusion that the world functions thanks to programmed design, university research, and bureaucratic funding, but there is compelling-- very compelling-- evidence to show that this is an illusion, the illusion I call lecturing birds how to fly.

There is the medical fragilista who overintervenes in denying the body's natural ability to heal and gives you medications with potentially very severe side effects; the policy fragilista (the interventionist social planner) who mistakes the economy for a washing machine that continuously needs fixing (by him) and blows it up; the psychiatric fragilista who medicates children to "improve" their intellectual and emotional life; the soccer-mom fragilista; the financial fragilista who makes people use "risk" models that destroy the banking system (then uses them again); the military fragilista who disturbs complex systems; the predictor fragilista who encourages you to take more risks; and many more.

Taleb, Nassim Nicholas (2012-11-27). Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder (Kindle Locations 462-467). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Did I mention that Taleb is rudely dismissive of those he considers beneath him? This includes most people, but happily for the ThreeSourcer, academics and mainstream journalists top the list. Thomas Friedman and Paul Krugman get some serious whacks. Alan Greenspan -- it's all good fun until he turns his sights on Hayek and Ronald Reagan (neither get it as bad as the others, but I am warning the ThreeSourcer...)

Academics, oh my:

A nail displaces another nail, with astonishing variety. But academics (particularly in social science) seem to distrust each other; they live in petty obsessions, envy, and icy-cold hatreds, with small snubs developing into grudges, fossilized over time in the loneliness of the transaction with a computer screen and the immutability of their environment. Not to mention a level of envy I have almost never seen in business.... My experience is that money and transactions purify relations; ideas and abstract matters like "recognition" and "credit" warp them, creating an atmosphere of perpetual rivalry. I grew to find people greedy for credentials nauseating, repulsive, and untrustworthy.

He's not very keen on Economists and big company CEOs.
Likewise, Gerd Gigerenzer reports a more serious violation on the part of Harry Markowitz, who started a method called "portfolio selection" and received the same iatrogenic Swedish Riskbank prize (called "Nobel" in economics) for it, like other fragilistas such as Fragilista Merton and Fragilista Stiglitz. I spent part of my adult life calling it charlatanism, as it has no validity outside of academic endorsements and causes blowups (as explained in the Appendix). Well, Doctor Professor Fragilista Markowitz does not use his method for his own portfolio; he has recourse to more sophisticated (and simpler to implement) cabdrivers' methodologies, closer to the one Mandelbrot and I have proposed.

If one judges a man by his enemies, Nassim Nicholas Taleb would be a ThreeSources hero and we would hold feasts in his honor with fireworks and martinis. Philosophically, it is hard to pin Taleb down. Some of his points should draw some amens from the ThreeSources choir:
The great benefit of the Enlightenment has been to bring the individual to the fore, with his rights, his freedom, his independence, his "pursuit of happiness" (whatever that "happiness" means), and, most of all, his privacy. In spite of its denial of antifragility, the Enlightenment and the political systems that emerged from it freed us (somewhat) from the domination of society, the tribe, and the family that had prevailed throughout history.
What Erasmus called ingratitudo vulgi, the ingratitude of the masses, is increasing in the age of globalization and the Internet. My dream-- the solution-- is that we would have a National Entrepreneur Day, with the following message:
Most of you will fail, disrespected, impoverished, but we are grateful for the risks you are taking and the sacrifices you are making for the sake of the economic growth of the planet and pulling others out of poverty. You are at the source of our antifragility. Our nation thanks you.

This great variety of people and their wallets are there, in Switzerland, for its shelter, safety, and stability. But all these refugees don't notice the obvious: the most stable country in the world does not have a government. And it is not stable in spite of not having a government; it is stable because it does not have one.

He's a great reader of philosophy. Of all the folks I read, I think only Popper (and Taleb is a Popper fan) has a close-to-equivalent grasp of straight-up philosophy. Taleb probably has an advantage in depth of Eastern, Islamic scholars. Taleb is an Eastern Orthodox Christian from Lebanon (Levant to him) he has a foot in the east and one in the west as it were, and he assembles his knowledge and philosophy from both.

He quotes approbationally from philosophers I have dressed in silver and black and put on the Raiders' sidelines: Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, and of course Plato. I can't help but feel his nuance is a higher order. He doesn't go to Hagel or Kant, the ThreeSourcer is safe from that. But he is no Randian.

Perhaps the idea behind capitalism is an inverse-iatrogenic effect, the unintended-but-not-so-unintended consequences: the system facilitates the conversion of selfish aims (or, to be correct, not necessarily benevolent ones) at the individual level into beneficial results for the collective.

And while he is not anti-modernity, he is skeptical -- here we separate him from Deutsch. He would gladly trade the "addition" via positiva of all Pharmaceuticals ever invented for the "subtraction" via negativa of smoking. He drinks coffee (mmm, coffee), chamomile tea and wine -- nothing that has not been around 1000 years. He doesn't approve of eReaders, he listens to baroque classical music. All of these seem rather charming to his character but I have no plans to join him.

You can certainly criticize medicine and Big Pharma for producing solutions with worse side effects than the disease. No doubt we've all had a chuckle at the narrated fine print in the commercials. But I (and Deutsch) see it as trial and error (a most antifragile process) on the way to better medicine and medication. Patients should consider his points, but I'm not going to shutter Roche and Merck.

Quibbles. Picayune philosophical quibbles with the brilliant work of a brilliant author. Five Stars and the coveted ThreeSources "Editor's Choice Award" to this magnificent book.

Posted by John Kranz at 11:09 AM | Comments (2)
But johngalt thinks:

If only your original elevator talk had explained that you saw classical liberalism's effect on "society" as an inverse-iatrogeneic effect. We would at least have been forced to delay pouncing on you long enough to look up what that means! ;)

The author's concept of fragility is intriguing. All of us have probably observed at one point or another that prosperity has made us soft. Here is a more rigorous explanation of that phenomenon.

Posted by: johngalt at February 18, 2013 4:01 PM
But jk thinks:

Heh, that was for you!

The fragility is less the softness of modernity, as the attempts to iron out natural volatility's setting up a catastrophic crash (Black Swan). Glue all of your expansion joints and the structure won't slip, but it will be more likely to shatter.

Posted by: jk at February 18, 2013 4:18 PM

February 3, 2013

Conscious, Huh?

John Mackey's Conscious Capitalism is a free-range chicken sandwich, on a whole grain roll with mustard, tofu and arugula. With a side of quinoa salad. Some good stuff, but it just does not work.

Libertarians of all typographical cases are celebrating the book's release for its full-throated, fulsome defense of free market capitalism. And they are right.

In the long arc of history, no human creation has had a greater positive impact on more people more rapidly than free-enterprise capitalism. It is unquestionably the greatest system for innovation and social cooperation that has ever existed.

Mackey, John; Sisodia, Rajendra (2012-12-25). Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business (Kindle Locations 352-354). Harvard Business Review Press. Kindle Edition.

Mackey quotes Hayek, and Deidre McClosky. He knows and lives his Adam Smith. I dance at the idea that a huge hunk of patchouli stained college-know-it-all hippies will be exposed, for the first time, to the fundamental moral case for freedom and property rights. Veritably goose pimply.

And yet Mackey will not be walking away with as many stars as you're expecting. My Randian brothers and sisters have explained the problems with believing the right thing for the wrong reason, and I have struggled with that. I seek "Mutual Forbearance" like President Van Buren. I look to build political coalitions around common beliefs and have watched the liberty-minded bifurcate themselves into oblivion. Conscious Capitalism is Exhibit A for the defense.

If the book is 33% defense of Capitalism, it is undermined by the next 33%. This is "Conscious" Capitalism. And like President George W. Bush's "Compassionate" Conservatism, the modifier negates the noun.

Capitalism is swell, says Mackey, but we need to get past it to a squishy loving and caring capitalism that is not measured so much on profit as saving the world and being really groovy. Most readers would say that is unfair, but I got off to a bad start as the book's foreword by Medtronic's Bill George takes a swipe at a hero of mine:

I first discovered John Mackey's philosophies when I read his 2005 debate with Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman about the way capitalism works. Shortly before Friedman's death, Mackey challenged his view that the only responsibility of business is to its shareholders, which financial markets have translated into its short-term stock price. [Italics in original]

Mackey would hang his hat on the italics and accuse me of reading in things he did not write. And he'd probably point out that I am overweight from eating too much animal fats. But I'm with Friedman -- and bacon. Capital is a scarce resource -- are we going to allocate it based on value or social conscience? I fear I am being too harsh and welcome correction -- every ThreeSourcer should buy and read this book.

If 33% is defense of capitalism and 33% is exposition of his "conscious," new-and-improved capitalism, the remaining third is a business management book, a'la Pete Drucker or Steven Covey. Mackey has been wildly successful. He has generated incredible wealth and value and built one of the world's most respected brands. His business acumen is well worth sharing.

Does it square the circle? There is a great business case to be made for treating stakeholders well; there is no better leadership than instilling a higher purpose in your team; and all these things add shareholder value, which Friedman would appreciate. Mackey is gracious with approbation for other leaders of innovative companies: Costco, Southwest Airlines, &c. who have also created amazing shareholder value with the concepts espoused.

Yet at the end of the day, I see Conscious Capitalism as an out. Well, me missed our quarter, but the new Thursday all-day Yoga sessions are really going to help us connect with our feelings.

A couple of years ago, we saw a billboard for at a bus shelter in New York City. The sign read, "If your company cared, it would be in the caring business." This is a sad but largely true statement; too many companies do not care and are not designed to care about anything other than their own prosperity.

Huh? What? With heavy heart, I apportion only 2.5 stars.

UPDATE: I'm being defensive before anybody even offers criticism, but I suggest John Allison performed the same task with philosophical purity. His [Unadjectived] Capitalism is no less empowering than Mackey's CC: workers are happy and management practices integrity. Yet Allison recognizes that capital is a scarce resource and proper allocation requires conventional scorekeeping.

Posted by John Kranz at 11:06 AM | Comments (0)

January 29, 2013

ThreeSources Book Club

The object of last week's Review Corner was not available on Kindle. So I have an actual, corporeal paperback edition to give away. I know I only gave it three stars but the price is right -- holler if you'd like it.

Posted by John Kranz at 5:36 PM | Comments (0)

January 27, 2013

Review Corner

In last week's Review Corner, I confessed that my lack of knowledge about the events, places, and people in Ancient Rome reduced my ability to appreciate Gibbon's work.

From Rome, I set the WayBack Machine™ to antebellum America. Blog friend TGreer surfaced on Facebook and recommended Harry L. Watson's Liberty and Power. Contra Rome, I know the stories in here chapter and verse -- enough that I found the exposition sections a little dry. Interesting that Watson accepts "The Corrupt Bargain" between John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay as factual. The biographers of Adams, Clay and Jackson that I've read tend to think it more of a tin ear for politics well exploited.

If we're to travel well worn roads, what new insights can the author bring? There is one Watson does extremely well and one he does poorly.

The assembly and rise of the Democrat and Whig parties -- indeed the acceptance of a two-party system of governance is covered very well. I will recommend this book to a lot of big-L Libertarian and "No Labels" types. I'm frequently told that a new third party is going to come along and fix everything. "It happens all the time" I am told. Well, it happened three times, in a smaller nation under extreme exigencies.

I always credited Van Buren's vision and wizardry with the creation of a national Democratic Party. Watson shows the importance of Jackson's cult of personality. He perhaps soft pedals the Little Magician's use of spoils and patronage, but an accurate assessment surely requires both.

The foundation of the Whigs and the integration and recruitment of multiple small factions is especially interesting: probably my favorite part of the book. Not having voluminous exit-polling data from the 1836 and 1840 elections, he looks at the counties of Western New York that were growing after completion of the Erie Canal (damned, Whiggish internal improvements!), the factions they attracted and their voting patterns in different years.

Into what crucible can we throw this heterogeneous mass of old national republicans, and revolting Jackson men; Masons and anti-Masons; Abolitionists and pro-Slavery men; Bank men and anti-Bank men with all the lesser fragments that have been, from time to time, thrown off from the great political wheel in its violent revolutions, so as to melt them down into one mass of pure Whigs of undoubted good metal -- Millard Fillmore

Less well done was the book's premise. The title and colophon address the balance of liberty and power. It is often and well discussed but Watson is a history professor at the University of North Carolina. If one loves history one must read academics or chose from a very small pool of material. But the good professor cannot grasp liberty were it to bite him in his professorial ass.

There is a great discussion of the bank war and the nullification crisis. Watson tries to present all sides. No doubt he has forgotten more about the historical than I have known. But he cannot accept that the BUS might be (nay, is sir!) philosophically wrong. The viewpoint of capitalists, agrarians, craftsmen, workers and politicians from both sides are meticulously examined. But in a book that looks to examine liberty and power, the little-l libertarian side of monetary policy is not even considered. The same can be said for internal improvements, arrogation of power to the executive, and to some extent federalism.

A very good book, but I would give it three stars and suggest that most would prefer John Meacham's American Lion or David Heidler's Henry Clay: the Essential American.

Posted by John Kranz at 9:58 AM | Comments (4)
But johngalt thinks:

Ah, the perspective from the Ivory Tower, where "fairness" and "objectivity" have come to dictate philosophical relativism.

You write that the author meticulously examines "both sides." (Not "all sides?") You mentioned Libertarians and No Labels. Third parties and Millard Fillmore's "one mass of pure" X "of undoubted good metal." All of this points to a natural dichotomy: good - bad.

I don't mean to suggest that there is or will ever be a "good" party and a "bad" party. Political parties are a means to organization and administration. I mean to explain that in both political parties, as in all human activity, there exist demonstrably good and bad ideas. The trick is to reliably and consistently identify which is which, made harder by the skill with which the proponents of bad ideas can and do cloak them with the sanction of "goodness."

But the first step is to acknowledge the dichotomy. All things are not equal, nor relatively so. One side is right, the other side is wrong, and the middle is evil.

The basic and crucial political issue of our age is: capitalism versus socialism, or freedom versus statism. For decades, this issue has been silenced, suppressed, evaded, and hidden under the foggy, undefined rubber-terms of "conservatism"ť and "liberalism" which had lost their original meaning and could be stretched to mean all things to all men.

-Ayn Rand in "'Extremism,' or the Art of Smearing," in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal

Posted by: johngalt at January 27, 2013 12:53 PM
But T. Greer thinks:

Good review!

The section on the rise of the Democratic Party was my favorite; it taught me a lot I did not know. Before reading it I did not realize just how much the creation of the party (and the party system that sprang from it) was dependent on the efforts of just two men (Mr. Jackson and Van Buren), or how the very existence of mass party politics was one of the central issues during those early elections. I also learned from Watson's description of the two leading characters. Historians tend to typify President Jackson as either an Indian-killing authoritarian or the blessed expression of true democracy; Martin Van Buren, however, is almost universally condemned as a slimy, wily, Machiavellian politico. It was refreshing to see him cast in something of a good light.

Says JK:

"But in a book that looks to examine liberty and power, the little-l libertarian side of monetary policy is not even considered."

But was small-l monetary policy really much in consideration back then? Today's libertarianism finds its roots in the classical liberalism of the 18th and 19th centuries, and I used to think that this classical liberalism was the main mode of thought back in those days. However, it had a competitor in classical republicanism (which, I am afraid, is even less persuasive today than classical liberalism, for it really does not have any modern political descendents). I thought Watson's chapter on the subject captured republican thought brilliantly. My amazon review summarizes:

The drama came about, Watson contends, because of the lens Jacksonian statesmen used to understand political realities of their world: republicanism. As with their revolutionary fathers, men of the antebellum looked upon liberty as the highest aim of state, and understood it to be "the power of self control in self governing communities" (44). The purpose of the statesmen, therefore, was to facilitate those conditions in which liberty could thrive and tyrannical power could not take root. They saw the issue in (for the average 21st century American) a very moral way. Only a 'virtuous' and 'moral' people would appreciate freedom, and only they would have the strength and independence to ward off corruption and tyranny. Thus anything that sapped the independence or reduced the virtue of the citizenry should be opposed, and anything that strengthened the citizenry's free exercise of their rights was to be championed.

Now in practice early Americans tended to synthesize the individual-rights classical liberal view of liberty with the "self control in self governing communities" type of liberty championed by republican thought, but it seems that the second type was the more dominant of the two.* In that age both parties were united in this view.

If what republicanism was the main filter through which antebellum politicians of all political stripes saw their world, I can understand why Watson may gloss over little-l views on the Bank. If it was not central to the days' debate, why spend time writing about it?

I am open to shattering my accord with Watson, however. His case makes sense, but it would make less so if contemporary arguments/politicians/thinkers were advancing little-l liberalism instead of little-r republicanism on these economic questions. Do you know of any books, articles, ect. that might so inform me?

JK said:

"I suggest that most would prefer John Meacham's American Lion or David Heidler's Henry Clay: the Essential American."

Agreed. Watson's work is a historical monograph. He does not write with a popular audience in mind, so almost any biography will be more readable. But it is a good example of its genre and I recommend it to those who want to understand what motivated politicians of our early Republic.

*I have been on something of an antebellum binge recently, and have only had this idea confirmed. I was surprised to learn, for example, that the month before James Madison vetoed internal improvements he gave a speech in favor of national improvement projects. He did not protest against improvements on principle; he actually thought a vigorous program of federally funded improvement was vital part of protecting the Union against external foes. Thus his speech was a call to amend the constitution and make internal improvement legal! What scared him was not the eclipse of free enterprise by the federal government, but the erosion of the constitution itself. He worried more about civic virtue than authoritarian economics. (Daniel Walker Howe, What God Hath Wrought: A History of America, 1815-1845, pp. 88-89)

Posted by: T. Greer at January 28, 2013 1:14 PM
But jk thinks:

I could be guilty of projection, but I have always seen Taney's and Jackson's opposition to Biddle and the BUS as being pretty compatible with today's Ron Paul supporter's view of Chairman Bernanke an the Federal Reserve.

Lord Acton and John C. Calhoun promoted a libertarian mindset that is pretty recognizable today and championed by folks like Tom Woods. Woods and Co. are a little too ready to say "things were really swell except for that slavery thing" for my taste. But every libertarian I know has had to confront the discomfort of realizing that Calhoun, Davis, and Alexander Stephens perhaps had a truer understanding of the Constitution than the victors.

Things change but the expression of liberty from John Locke to Rand Paul seems to have a large common cord. None of which is likely to be addressed by a book from an academic press.

On this topic, academic guy whom I've just insulted, can you tell me how to get my hands on Taney's Bank War manuscript? It's in the Library of Congress and I almost made a special trip to DC to see it a few years ago but that was scuttled -- is that the only way to read it?

Posted by: jk at January 28, 2013 1:38 PM
But jk thinks:

...and I always admired Madison more for accepting Constitutional restrictions on something he supported.

Posted by: jk at January 28, 2013 1:46 PM

January 20, 2013

Linquo (I quit)

The victory over the senate was easy and inglorious. Every eye and every passion were directed to the supreme magistrate, who possessed the arms and treasure of the state; whilst the senate, neither elected by the people, nor guarded by military force, nor animated by public spirit, rested its declining authority on the frail and crumbling basis of ancient opinion. The fine theory of a republic insensibly vanished, and made way for the more natural and substantial feelings of monarchy.
It's easy to draw parallels between the United States and the Roman Empire. Easier still to be concerned with that which brought down the last great world hegemon. Without discounting them entirely, I fear they are overblown. But I am getting ahead of the review corner.

I finished Volume I of Edward Gibbon's (2011-10-14). History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, It is very interesting, but I think I will find my inner Tyler Cowan and move on to some other material before tackling Vol. II.

I was concerned that it would be too dry. You know those 18th Century guys can go on sometimes. Rather, any difficulty is that he is too conversational and assumes too much background knowledge of the reader. Gibbon's 18th Century readers knew the emperors and key historical events. This allowed the author to comment and draw broad themes. Imagine somebody in 2325 figuring out the Clinton Impeachment from Hitchens's "No One Left to Lie To;" one could...

I enjoy old history books for the meta layer of how people at the time of authorship viewed the events. Carl Swisher's 1935 biography of Chief Justice Taney is pretty short of opprobrium for the Dred Scott v. Sandford decision. To read a contemporary of the Founders exegete on millennia old events is a great mental exercise. Kind of like playing video games at a Rave on Ecstasy.

The takeaway after one-sixth, however, is the Hobbesian cheapness of life. Tens of thousands are slain in battles. The whole Senate is poisoned (or was that a dream I had?). The Imperial purple is pretty much a death sentence. I wonder if a lot of the didn't go to battle for personal safety. There is the occasional 40 years of relative peace and safety if the dice come up two benevolent and sturdy monarchs in a row. But these patches seem awfully rare -- and include absolute slavery, a pervasive but not absolute caste system, foreign adventurism. Most every history book elicits an "I'm glad I didn't live then" out of me. But Ancient Rome: especially no thanks.

I chose to infer parallels between the Roman Empire and the USA more as universal truths than comparison of democracies. The franchise was so limited and temporal that I find it difficult to assess Rome as self-rule. Capricious monarchies controlled lives and fortunes more like the EPA than any system we would call "democratic." The near provinces enjoyed the services of government without paying their fair share. They financed services the old fashioned way: plundering neighboring lands.

The conquest of Macedonia, as we have already observed, had delivered the Roman people from the weight of personal taxes. Though they had experienced every form of despotism, they had now enjoyed that exemption near five hundred years;

Still, there are eternal truths. The first example of supply-side economics?
Constantine visited the city of Autun, and generously remitted the arrears of tribute, reducing at the same time the proportion of their assessment from twenty-five to eighteen thousand heads, subject to the real and personal capitation.40 Yet even this indulgence affords the most unquestionable proof of the public misery. This tax was so extremely oppressive, either in itself or in the mode of collecting it, that whilst the revenue was increased by extortion, it was diminished by despair: a considerable part of the territory of Autun was left uncultivated; and great numbers of the provincials rather chose to live as exiles and outlaws, than to support the weight of civil society.

Roots of the IRS?
About that time the avarice of Galerius, or perhaps the exigencies of the state, had induced him to make a very strict and rigorous inquisition into the property of his subjects, for the purpose of a general taxation, both on their lands and on their persons. A very minute survey appears to have been taken of their real estates; and wherever there was the slightest suspicion of concealment, torture was very freely employed to obtain a sincere declaration of their personal wealth.

Interesting and good clean fun. I think my time would be better served with a more modern, chronological, structured history of the period. Between Gibbon's loose style, and my ignorance about the people and places mentioned, this reads like a science fiction novel Illyricum/Alderon? Some place.

But I spent 2.99 and have five volumes left! Three-point-five stars.

Posted by John Kranz at 11:50 AM | Comments (2)
But Steve D thinks:

Gibbon's writing is itself history and for that reason alone is worth reading.

Posted by: Steve D at January 22, 2013 3:21 PM
But jk thinks:

Indeed, SteveD. I would like to have a better handle on historical events, as I think his contemporary readers did. That would allow me to better appreciate Gibbon.

Posted by: jk at January 22, 2013 3:36 PM

January 13, 2013

Review Corner

I love Penn Jillette. He is funny, appreciative of liberty, and celebrates the rational.

I have mentioned that his evangelism gets on my nerves. He can be the Governor Huckabee for Atheism, but I try to respect others' beliefs. Like Hitchens, I buy all but his most devout writings. Every Day is an Atheist Holiday!: More Magical Tales from the Author of God, No! was on the edge, but I was due a Penn book so I picked it up.

The book is a collection of short essays and stories. It starts with "the title cut" including a very funny riff on the severity of Christmas Carols. I had family over for Christmas right after finishing this book, and there were quite a few choruses everyone was laughing at. So here is the thesis to the book:

The word "holiday" comes from "holy day" and holy means "exalted and worthy of complete devotion.” By that definition, all days are holy. Life is holy. Atheists have joy every day of the year, every holy day. We have the wonder and glory of life. We have joy in the world before the lord is come. We're not going for the promise of life after death; we're celebrating life before death.

That's the thesis, but it quickly devolves into autobiographical sketches, philosophical musings, and general libertine madness. One of the items Jonathan Haidt uses to test psychological reaction to unexpected depravity appears in this book as a humorous anecdote. I'll not share that particular tale here. But there is much good fun to be had:
My girlfriend could now convince me to put on jeans and a shirt, so we decided to have a Thanksgiving celebration at our house. We invited a creepy elderly sideshow sword swallower, a lighting designer, Teller, a guy who had just quit dealing angel dust in Fresno and was hanging out with us to help him stay clean, and a geologist. It's always important to have a geologist around so that if you end up in space, there's someone to die first. At least that's what happens on Star Trek.

He explores what art is and his belief in Magic as "using lies to tell the truth."
I couldn't have put myself in the same category. I aimed for poet and hit Vegas headliner. Billy West, the greatest voice guy in the world (he's Futurama, Ren & Stimpy and the best M&M-- red), once said there was just one showbiz and we were all in it. Teller says art is anything we do after the chores are done.
I use Teller’s broad definition of art: “Whatever we do after the chores are done.” There’s one show business and Bach, Dylan, Ron Jeremy, and the guy at the mall in the Santa suit are all in it. By that definition The Celebrity Apprentice is art, and for my sins, I was on it.

A wee bit of politics sneaks in:
The real corporate EPCOT follows the libertarian ideal of making money. Goddamn, they are good at that. Losing on Dancing with the Stars got me VIP treatment at all the Disney properties "forever," which turned out to be about a year. We took our children over to California and down to Florida and we were treated great. I did worry a little that my children would be spoiled by not waiting in lines, but then ObamaCare was passed and I know they'll get to wait in lines when they're sick and that'll build some real character.

If you're getting the idea of a grab bag, you've got it. But they are unified by the Jillette's humor, and incredible underlying honesty. They're great stories, they're funny stories -- from a true believer.

Five stars.

Posted by John Kranz at 12:00 PM | Comments (0)

January 6, 2013

Review Corner


When I went to purchase Justice Scalia's "Reading Law" [Review Corner] I accidentally purchased another book by the same authors: Scalia and Garner's Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges. It might have been wishful thinking, as "Making Your Case" was $15 and "Reading Law" was $40. In the end, Nino got $55. Damned one percenters.

Making Your Case is targeted at lawyers -- and I do not even play one on TV. But I do like to argue (Do Not! Yes I do!) and I would like to communicate my positions more clearly. And a bit of time in a mind so expansive as Justice Scalia's is not time wasted.

You need to give the court a reason you should win that the judge could explain in a sentence or two to a nonlawyer friend.
If the academic brief seems particularly damaging, you might take the trouble to check the scholarly writings of the signatories; some professors have been known (O tempora, O mores!) to join a brief that flatly contradicts their own writings. By noting this, you’ll help both the court and the academy.

I love internecine debate, and the authors split over a few items. Bryan Garner (O tempora, O mores!) suggests that you can even use contractions in you brief:
In some sentences, are not contractions all but obligatory? Do you not think?

Scalia disagrees:
Formality bespeaks dignity. I guarantee that if you use contractions in your written submissions, some judges--including many who are not offended by the use of contractions in the New Yorker, Time, Vogue, the Rolling Stone, Field and Stream, and other publications not addressed to black-robed judges engaged in the exercise of their august governmental powers--will take it as an affront to the dignity of the court.

An interesting look at a career I never considered. From what I gather between the virtual covers of this book, that was pretty wise on my part. Yet, I admit it has fascinated me later in life. This book gives a good glimpse and much advice that is valuable outside of law. Five accidental stars.

Posted by John Kranz at 11:24 AM | Comments (2)
But Keith Arnold thinks:

You had me at "targeting lawyers."

Posted by: Keith Arnold at January 7, 2013 4:48 PM
But johngalt thinks:

"You need to give the court a reason you should win that the judge could explain in a sentence or two to a nonlawyer friend."

Did not Chief Justice Roberts fail this test in reverse in the matter of his Americans v. Affordable Care Act ruling? As I recall it, his justification was tortured in the extreme.

Posted by: johngalt at January 9, 2013 3:19 PM

December 30, 2012

Review Corner

I had the good fortune to share the evening with 2.5 Heinlein scholars on Friday night. That is an excellent method to prepare for a Review Corner -- I'll try to keep that up whenever possible: convene a small panel. I got some interesting historical perspectives, plus the empirically provable observation that "I am weird."

I was also reminded that I was not the target demographic. The martial tone and the action sequences were better tuned to younger folk, who would then encounter the more serious ideas in the book.

This very personal relationship, "value," has two factors for a human being: first, what he can do with a thing, its use to him . . . and second, what he must do to get it, its cost to him. There is an old song which asserts "the best things in life are free." Not true! Utterly false! This was the tragic fallacy which brought on the decadence and collapse of the democracies of the twentieth century; those noble experiments failed because the people had been led to believe that they could simply vote for whatever they wanted . . . and get it, without toil, without sweat, without tears.

I enjoyed it but yearned to return to my boring old non-fiction as I have lost much of my taste for fiction and novels. Ergo, I do not intend to pen the world's 3,463rd literary review of Robert A Heinlein's Starship Troopers. I suspect ThreeSourcers would better enjoy a discussion of its central premise.
We have had enough guesses; I'll state the obvious: Under our system every voter and officeholder is a man who has demonstrated through voluntary and difficult service that he places the welfare of the group ahead of personal advantage.

Heinlein, Robert A. (1987-05-15). Starship Troopers (pp. 192-193). Ace. Kindle Edition.

I'll let the Rand-Heinlein Axis squirm on that pivot for a moment, but I think most know that citizenship needed to be earned by national service. Our protagonist impulsively casts aside a cushy fast track through Harvard and family wealth to fight in the Mobile Infantry so he can vote. (And, of course, to pick up chicks.)

Blog Brother EY suggested that this was the only solution to democracies' devolving into voting themselves bread and circuses from the Federal Largesse. I too am tortured by this problem -- especially so after November 7, 2012. It is a perfectly valid hypothetical and would probably provide a government better than most. I'd be more comfortable placing my trust in America's veterans than the polity at large. Even though my friend JC would vote but not me, I could be persuaded.

But I am going to dissent from this solution on two counts.

One. It is hypothetical. I am a big fan of the United States Constitution. It started with some flaws that we fixed; and it had some original genius that we broke. But in between, it created a continental nation, and a global economic and military power. I make the same complaint that I do of the Rothbard - Rockwell - Lysander Spooner libertarian wing. Your ideas are interesting, but I am wary to compare the text on clean white sheets of paper (or Kindle eInk) to messy, real world empiricism. That, and well-tailored Che T-shirts, are what make Marxists look good.

Two. The two greatest things in American government -- and I will suggest they are one -- are civilian control of the military and our peaceful procession of power. Tears of joy at every inauguration: even when I disagree, I am happy that the people can choose to get it good and hard (Thanks, Mister Mencken!)

Reading Gibbon's little book on Rome, I was struck by the tumult of keeping the military in line. In all the contretemps and intrigue, the path to a career as Emperor seems to consist of knocking off the present officeholder and then getting the support of the armed forces.

The command of these favored and formidable troops soon became the first office of the empire. As the government degenerated into military despotism, the Praetorian Praefect, who in his origin had been a simple captain of the guards, was placed not only at the head of the army, but of the finances, and even of the law. In every department of administration, he represented the person, and exercised the authority, of the emperor.

Gibbon, Edward (2011-10-14). History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, All 6 volumes plus Biography, Historiography and more. Over 8,000 Links (Illustrated) . Packard Technologies. Kindle Edition.

Witness Gens. Wesley Clark and Colin Powell and (seven?) generals who have ascended to the Presidency. It is a political profession. A branch of most governments. Do we want to introduce a closer integration between the military and government?

I'm less worried about taste for adventurism and conquest. Rep. Ron Paul's candidacies remind that that appetite may be suppressed among those who have tasted it. I think that over time the lines would blur between military and government. And that losing that sharp interstice might introduce new problems to politics which we have been fortunate to avoid.

Posted by John Kranz at 11:08 AM | Comments (5)
But johngalt thinks:

Yes, all of that, but also - how much suspension of disbelief is required to swallow the notion that those who choose "a cushy fast-track through Harvard and family wealth" would sit still for a system that disenfranchises them. A Constitution has not safeguarded our government from self-dealers; could a simple restriction of the vote do any better? I think the rich and powerful would find a way to take over the government.

Posted by: johngalt at December 31, 2012 12:58 PM
But johngalt thinks:

Oh yes, and thank you for recognizing me as half of a Heinlein scholar. I'll add it to my resume!

Posted by: johngalt at December 31, 2012 1:17 PM
But Ellis Wyatt thinks:

The fantastically wide-ranging discussion of the other night was one of the best of my life! I will write something coherent about the meeting later this week.

I don't see limiting the franchise as "hypothetical" though. In fact, it was limited for much of the history of the (our) Republic by various tests. In his collection Expanded Universe RAH presents some alternative tests to Service; some tongue firmly in cheek, some more serious. You might want to have a look. The one about letting only women vote for the next hundred years is stimulating. Or something.

Posted by: Ellis Wyatt at December 31, 2012 9:23 PM
But jk thinks:

We had a great time as well. Thanks.

I fear brother jg may be correct that self-rule will always implicitly tend to devolve toward direct democracy. Do you restrict the franchise -- which is questionably moral -- or do you concentrate on limiting the purview of government, which is unquestionably moral?

By hypothetical, I meant that the existing system has been tested by 112 Congresses, 17 Supreme Courts, Civil War, LBJ, TR, FDR and Woodrow Wilson. I suspect a lot of damage could have been done to any system in 224 years.

If you can keep their hands off the pie, there is less pressure to control government and fewer opportunities for graft or rent-seeking. Make the ruling class small enough and it doesn't matter which loser the populace elects. That's why I think strict attention to enumerated powers has a better chance at success.

Posted by: jk at January 1, 2013 11:58 AM
But johngalt thinks:

Last night I heard a serious sounding discussion of a Constitutional amendment for spending limits under "article 5" or something like that. The forces of liberty have already lost the masses, but the US map is still, geographically, mostly red. Could be some hope there.

Posted by: johngalt at January 3, 2013 11:43 AM

December 28, 2012

Pre-Review Corner

I'll post a review of Starship Troopers this Sunday. No doubt it will benefit from association with Heinleinian Blog Brothers and Sisters at this evening's bash.

I recently started Gibbon's History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (only 5.994 books to go!) and was struck by this as a sort of Anti-SsT concept. In Rome you had to be a citizen to be a soldier:

In the purer ages of the commonwealth, the use of arms was reserved for those ranks of citizens who had a country to love, a property to defend, and some share in enacting those laws, which it was their interest as well as duty to maintain. But in proportion as the public freedom was lost in extent of conquest, war was gradually improved into an art, and degraded into a trade. 30 The legions themselves, even at the time when they were recruited in the most distant provinces, were supposed to consist of Roman citizens.

Gibbon, Edward (2011-10-14). History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, All 6 volumes plus Biography, Historiography and more. Over 8,000 Links (Illustrated) (Kindle Locations 463-467). Packard Technologies. Kindle Edition.

Posted by John Kranz at 11:34 AM | Comments (1)
But johngalt thinks:

I find it more synonymous with SsT than antonymous. Whether you must be a citizen to be a soldier or a soldier (retired) to be a citizen, in both cases the ability and duty to use deadly force are linked to having a personal property stake in the nation state. It's more of a chicken and egg distinction in my estimation.

Posted by: johngalt at December 28, 2012 4:12 PM

December 27, 2012

Review Corner Follow-Up

Ronald Bailey of Reason reviews the topic of the-Sunday-before-last's Review Corner:

Dinosaurs were cold-blooded. Increased K-12 spending and lower pupil/teacher ratios boost public school student outcomes. Most of the DNA in the human genome is junk. Saccharin causes cancer and a high fiber diet prevents it. Stars cannot be bigger than 150 solar masses.

In the past half-century, all of the foregoing facts have turned out to be wrong. In the modern world facts change all of the time, according to Samuel Arbesman, author of the new book The Half-Life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date (Current).

Posted by John Kranz at 6:32 PM | Comments (5)
But Keith Arnold thinks:

"... Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you'll know tomorrow."

Facts have had a half-life for quite a while. I shared this article with Galileo Galilei, and he just rolled his eyes and said "Eppur si muove."

Sometimes I wish celebrities had a half-life like facts do. I mean, aren't Justin Bieber's fifteen minutes of fame over yet?

Posted by: Keith Arnold at December 27, 2012 7:10 PM
But jk thinks:

The real joy of the book is its quantitative -- not just qualitative descriptions. Yes, everything changes but Mister Bieber's voice and lyrics; I was impressed by the long-term mathematical precision of the changes.

Posted by: jk at December 27, 2012 7:25 PM
But Keith Arnold thinks:

I caught that, with Price's observations on the increasing speed of new facts and knowledge - sort of a Moore's Law / Kryder's Law applied to discovery. Admittedly, the growth rate was somewhat slower in Galileo's day...

Posted by: Keith Arnold at December 27, 2012 8:07 PM
But jk thinks:

...but the log of the rate of change remains remarkably constant from eppur si mouve to VP Gore's inventing the Internet.

Posted by: jk at December 28, 2012 11:14 AM
But johngalt thinks:

That log of the rate of discovery wouldn't happen to be 42, would it?

Posted by: johngalt at December 28, 2012 2:06 PM

December 23, 2012

Review Corner

I want to start a fight right before Christmas on The Jc-Jk Book Club. I promised a review by Sunday of Don Fabun's "The Dynamics of Change." My pal jc will soon counter with his thoughts on ThreeSources' fave David Deutsch's "Beginning of Infinity."

Much more than our previous book exchange, I enjoyed this one. It's a big coffee-table book full of great photographs, illustrations, and quotes.

Curiously, it is very similar to the Deutsch book (without the "pitchers"). Fabun, in 1965, tries to look ahead to the mystical far off 1980's and picture what the world will be like. Not George Jetson and Rosie, he is surprisingly prescient about several things. He nails the iPod if not quite the iPhone:

That's it--over there on the bureau where you left it last night--your electronic alter-ego. It is no bigger than a pack of cigarettes, yet It has stored in it everything you have ever experienced. Ask it a question, and if it doesn't have the answer, it will plug into some system that does; a Federal central information service, a state service, a municipal one.
GPS, Google® cars:
This will be done by guidance systems in the vehicle. There will be television surveillance of every mile of highway so that a dispatcher can anticipate problems and correct them before congestion builds up, or take remedial action after an accident has occurred.

The driver's position in relation to other vehicles within one mile of him, together with his position on the roadway with respect to all points of conflict, will be shown continuously on a small television viewer, available to him at the flick of a switch. While he's watching TV, who is watching the road?

The next step of course, would be the completely computerized, electronically controlled movement of automobiles on freeway and turnpike systems. Such control systems will be well within our technology in the next two decades; they almost are now.

Like Deutsch, Fabun is optimistic about the future and sees a large role for technology. He even imagines Norman Borlaug but is unwilling to commit to the vision:
What more is needed as evidence that the serpent has transfixed at with his stare? Says The New York Times, July 12, 1965, The report by a government task force) observes that 10,000 persons die every day from malnutrition and starvation and that with food production declining and population increasing ... the world would be hard put to feed itself by 1980. The report estimates that about 70 per cent of the children in less developed countries are undernourished or malnourished.... About 50 per cent of all children up to 6 years old and about 30 per cent of the age group from 7 to 14 are labeled as 'seriously malnourished.' It is reported that about half the children in less developed countries including the Latin America countries, never reach their sixth birthday."

Or Vision magazine, May 29, 1964, says, "Without the successful achievement of fantastic --and up to now unforeseeable--economic development population growth must inexorably convert Latin America into one of the most unfortunate, miserable and devastated regions of this planet."

Great news Don: Borlaug was found, unprecedented growth did happen, and except in the most corrupt countries and those least respective of property rights, Latin America is doing pretty well.

Whereupon I diverge with Fabun. He reads the best and brightest of his day and is certain that their brainpower can be harnessed to create the brave new world. Yet history has shown that central planning produces "Brave New World." Spontaneous order, freedom, and crowdsourced innovation, on the other hand, produce unimaginable wealth.

Both Deutsch and Fabun see an unbounded sphere for man. Fabun sees an iPod and the Internet in 1965; Deutsch sees us mining asteroids and spreading through the galaxies in 2011. Deutsch is an Oxford professor and I doubt very much he shares many of my political views. I'm guessing he's a chattering class Guardian reader.

But he does not look to the faculty lounge for the future, rather to enlightenment values: Popperian epistemology and the scientific method (If you dig "Infinity," I highly highly highly recommend his "The Fabric of Reality.") These require freedom, trial and error, not central planning.

This being our second "book swap," I'd point this out as a unifying theme. Both your suggestions suggested that we get in line and follow our wise leaders -- both of mine say get the hell out of the way and let human beings create.

But I'll give this one four stars.

[Comment right here, or join the rough and tumble on Facebbok: The Jc-Jk Book Club]

Posted by John Kranz at 9:58 AM | Comments (0)

December 16, 2012

Review Corner

How about a little epistemology, scarecrow? I must admit, it is probably my favorite field. I prize the scientific method as the pinnacle of reason and foundation of our wealth and comfort. David Deutsch elevates it to one thread of four in his "Fabric of Reality;" Karl Popper moves so naturally between it and philosophy as to annoy a good friend of mine who wants "just the science stuff."

If you dig it too -- and you know you do -- you will dig The Half-life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date by Samuel Arbesman. My interest was piqued by a WSJ review which highlighted the degradation of facts, how many are proven wrong. The best example is probably a transcription error in the iron content of spinach. One newspaper prints that it has 35 and not 3.5mg of iron per 100 grams -- and the legend of Popeye is born!

That is the hook, but the book is more nuanced and more interesting than that. Like the title suggests, he puts actual numbers around the statistical shift in knowledge: how quickly new information is added, how quickly erroneous information is corrected or discarded in certain fields. Both hard and soft science are studied.

Technology can even affect economic facts. Computer chips, in addition to becoming more powerful, have gone from prohibitively expensive to disposable. Similarly, while aluminum used to be the most valuable metal on Earth, it plummeted in price due to technological advances that allowed it to be extracted cheaply. We now wrap our leftovers in it.
John Maynard Smith, a renowned evolutionary biologist, once pithily summarized this approach: "Statistics is the science that lets you do twenty experiments a year and publish one false result in Nature."

ThreeSourcers will enjoy a long-delayed correction from the New York Times. On January 13, 1920, the New York Times ridiculed the ideas of Robert H. Goddard:
Goddard, a physicist and pioneer in the field of rocketry, was at the time sponsored by the Smithsonian. Nonetheless, the Gray Lady argued in an editorial that thinking that any sort of rocket could ever work in the vacuum of space is essentially foolishness and a blatant disregard for a high school understanding of physics. The editors even went into reasonable detail in order to debunk Goddard. Luckily, the Times was willing to print a correction. The only hitch: They printed it the day after Apollo 11's launch in 1969. Three days before humans first walked on the moon, they recanted their editorial with this bit of understatement: Further investigation and experimentation have confirmed the findings of Isaac Newton in the 17th century and it is now definitely established that a rocket can function in a vacuum as well as in an atmosphere. The Times regrets the error.

Maybe they'll get around to Walter Duranty and the Ukraine Famine someday...

But this is five stars for certain. Just enough math, non-political but serious to deflect the bad arguments of junk science, and an entertaining read.

Posted by John Kranz at 12:27 PM | Comments (0)

December 9, 2012

Review Corner

And now for something completely different. After three Randian books, I read -- at the suggestion of a good friend of this blog -- Francis Collins's The Language of God. Collins attempts to sell belief to scientists and science to believers. Before we begin, it is worth noting that he is something of a Hoss. From his Amazon page:

Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., helped to discover the genetic misspellings that cause cystic fibrosis, neurofibromatosis, Huntington's disease, and a rare form of premature aging called progeria. A pioneer gene hunter, he led the Human Genome Project from 1993 until 2008. For his revolutionary contributions to genetic research, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007, and the National Medal of Science in 2009.

The book is very well written and I enjoyed it. As I confessed to my recommender, in 11 years of Catholic school education, I received exactly one semester of intellectually rigorous theology. He and another good friend did hard time with the Jesuits. I wish I had encountered more. The most enlightening spiritual parts of his book may be the C.S. Lewis and St. Augustine quotes. I've read a little Lewis and Zero Augz.

What the book did really well is sell science to the believer. Most of the text is devoted to providing a theological context to evolution and the big bang. Collins is no friend of Creationism, Intelligent Design, or Young Earthers (Senator Rubio, line one...) I confess that most people I know accept every word of his. It matches what I was taught in Catholic schools. I never saw science as the enemy to belief.

I found it less convincing in the converse: selling belief to the scientist. To Collins belief is self-reinforcing and the arguments sound circular. I don't know that this is bad -- that's what faith is right? Once it is demonstrable, it ceases to be faith -- no salvation for "Rock, Hard." He certainly provides a framework for the scientist to accept belief, but I didn't find the Tolkien-finally-breaks-down-Lewis argument.

I was troubled by the denial of human qua human greatness. I argue this on Facebook with my atheist buddies. Bushels of Carl Sagan quotes about how we are the hair on a bacteria of a flea of the dog that is the universe -- and why do we think we're so damn special? A lefty buddy asks me to prove that we are the only animal with free will. I suggest "deferred production" and he comes up with the example of a slime mold that leaves some bacteria to grow. Yes, JC, I admit it: us and slime mold, we're the great creatures endowed with free will and reason.

Collins does score by pointing out that:

By any estimation, the biological complexity of human beings considerably exceeds that of a roundworm, with its total of 959 cells, even though the gene count is similar for both. And certainly no other organism has sequenced its own genome!

Yet he later provides a long C.S. Lewis quote that ends :
But sooner or later they fell. Someone or something whispered that they could become as gods.... They wanted some corner in the universe of which they could say to God, "This is our business, not yours." But there is no such corner. They wanted to be nouns, but they were, and eternally must be, mere adjectives. We have no idea in what particular act, or series of acts, the self-contradictory, impossible wish found expression. For all I can see, it might have concerned the literal eating of a fruit, but the question is of no consequence.

My belief was always more defined by "render unto Caesar..." we are completely free to operate in the material, mammon sphere if we behave well. We're adjectives now?

I am not comfortable telling a guy like Collins, or my many believing friends of liberty not to believe. The Richard Dawkinses and even sadly the Christopher Hitchenses and Penn Jilletts can be as tiresome to me as TV preachers. Many people accept democratic capitalism under a rubric of love-thy-neighbor, I choose a render-under-Caesar appreciation of reason and consistent philosophy.

Very interesting read -- four stars.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:31 AM | Comments (2)
But Keith Arnold thinks:

Oddly enough, more than six years ago, I was part of a discussion on this very same book, but from the other side of the coin - from the theological half. JK, you write that though Collins did well is sell science to the believer; selling belief to the scientist, not so much. I humbly propose that he didn't do as great a job of selling science to the believers as you might think. Here's that 2006 discussion:

The blog, Pura Locura, is no longer active, but here are the major actors:

Pablo (blogging as "pableezy," as the original name of the blog was "Pableezy's Sheezy," and you may make of that what you will), proprietor of the blog, and a nice guy. His was a youth leader at a church near here that was once theologically sound, and then embraced postmodernism.

John (blogging as J-Lou), a former youth leader in the same church, an adherent of the Emerging Church Movement of Brian McLaren, a theological liberal, and most recently a proponent of "Social Justice" with urban youth.

Steve (blogging as "steve w" in this discussion), senior pastor of the same church.

Yours truly (blogging at the time as "Qoheleth," and often addressed simply as "Q").

Most of the other incidental participants were young adults and college-age commentors who were a part of the youth group Pableezy and J-Lou had led. I will apologize in advance both for the lack of grammar and youth-oriented writing (none of the participants there had the advantage of holding a copy of the Three Sources Stylebook) and for the theological underpinnings that some may find tedious. Think of it as another side of me that I don't inflict on my blog-brothers over here, if you would.

So, I wasn't all that impressed with Collins' book from that side of the coin, either.

Posted by: Keith Arnold at December 10, 2012 12:37 AM
But jk thinks:

Superb. For the internet, I'd call that great grammar and spelling.

It's a big world, isn't it? Thanks for the link.

Posted by: jk at December 10, 2012 11:04 AM

November 18, 2012

Review Corner

I enjoyed Gene Healy's "Cult of the Presidency." No doubt my references to it have become tedious over these last four years. But in all the right-left, conservative-libertarian, platonic-aristotelian discussion, I think it underappreciated how many of our freedom issues stem from the removal of Constitutional balance-of-power. If we did not think our presidents the leader of the free world and our dad, they would be far more limited in the rumpus they could cause.

Healy nails this in "Cult." It is an important look at the arrogation of power to the executive and is bipartisan in his disapprobation. The book details a litany of transgressors as we lost the idea of a constitutional magistrate a long time ago, but the book spends most pages thumping one President George W. Bush. I read it after Obama had been elected and laughed under my breath: "Oh. Gene, Gene...buddy you have no idea how much worse things are going to get."

Wishes do come true and the author has released an e-book update to cover the first Obama Administration. False Idol: Barack Obama and the Continuing Cult of the Presidency

Over the last few years, when people asked me if I planned to write another book, I'd demur, joking that I could just update The Cult of the Presidency every four to eight years with details on whatever fresh hell the next president visits on the country. The joke was on me, it seems. When it comes to presidential cults, Barack Obama turned out to be the gift that keeps on giving-- an irresistible opportunity to put Cult's themes in front of a new set of readers.

It remains celebrity and Congressional pusillanimity that gives our President such power -- not parchment.
"In a republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates," Madison wrote in Federalist 51, and he actually worried about whether the president would have sufficient power to resist congressional encroachment.
Their powers are anything but equal: Congress can remove executive officers, up to and including the president. Congress decides on the structure of the executive branch; it can create or destroy agencies and departments and regulate them through Article I, Section 8' s "sweeping clause." The president has no comparable powers over Congress. There's a reason the Capitol Dome dominates the D.C. landscape, towering over the comparatively modest presidential residence down the street. The capital's design mirrors the constitutional architecture, in which Congress, not the executive, was supposed to be the prime mover in setting national policy.
"My classes think I am trying to be funny," [Constitutional Professor Charles] Black continued, "when I say that, by simple majorities," Congress could shrink the White House staff to one secretary and that with a two-thirds vote, "Congress could put the White House up at auction." But Professor Black wasn't kidding: Congress has the power to do all that if it so decides. And if Congress can sell the White House, surely it can defund illegal wars and rein in a runaway bureaucracy.

I had hoped that waving the specter of the eeevil George Bush, that I might be able to bring some of my lefty friends into the fold on this. In 2017, maybe I can.

Four stars (just 'cause much of the meat is all in first book) but it is great -- and a deal at $3.49.

Posted by John Kranz at 11:28 AM | Comments (0)

November 11, 2012

Review Corner

The Cato Institute is in good hands.

I read John Allison's The Financial Crisis and the Free Market Cure: Why Pure Capitalism is the World Economy's Only Hope shortly after finishing Yaron Brook's "Free Market Revolution: How Ayn Rand's Ideas Can End Big Government." They are, curiously, the same book.

Allison saw the drama unfold from his point of view as head of BB&T Bank. Allison's take is a lot more detailed and technical than Brook's (while far less technical than Edward Conard's Unintended Consequences), but the two Rand acolytes are in synch philosophically and economically.

Allison was John Galt in Don Luskin's "I Am John Galt," and he describes how her principles guided the management team of BB&T, keeping them out of trouble even though real estate was a huge portion of their business and their geographic areas were among the worst hit. Of course, no good deed goes unpunished in government. BB&T was forced to take TARP funds it did not need, and Allison "went Galt" shortly after:

Unfortunately, BB& T's highly decentralized decision structure has largely been destroyed by the recent regulatory attack. This is true irony in that while BB& T's structure radically outperformed the industry, we have been forced to replicate the credit decision structure of Citigroup, Wachovia, Bank of America, and others, which fundamentally failed. However, a centralized structure gives the regulators a greater sense of control.

Both Brook and Allison use the Bernie Madoff example to separate self-destruction from rational self-interest.

In my role as CEO of a large public company, I have had the opportunity to meet many financially successful people. I have never met anyone who was both financially successful and happy who achieved this result primarily by taking advantage of other people. I have met a few people who were financially successful who, I believe, achieved this result based on some level of deceit. These are the unhappiest people I have ever met.

Unlike Conard (and like Brook), Allison sees little or no role for government regulators. Bad banks gotta fail and people have to select good banks and allow reputation and yield to manage the risk.
Many independents and moderates who are skeptical of big government believe that we do need many regulations. They fail to recognize the incredible march of the regulatory state. They also do not understand that, as public choice theory has proven, government bureaucrats are often motivated by destructive incentives. In my career, since 1971, I cannot think of a single additional regulation placed on the financial services industry that did not reduce the efficiency of the industry and lower the country's overall standard of living. The only success stories have been deregulations (such as interstate branching).

Lots of excerpts in this review, and trust me, there were a criminal number of great ones that did not make the cut. I'll give this book five stars and the heartiest of recommendations. I'll close with this bone to the Randians, from footnote #3:
I also thought about titling the book How the Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant (1783) Caused the Financial Crisis, but that was too obscure for most people, although it was more accurate, since Kant was the major philosophical opponent of reason who put an end to the Enlightenment century (1700s) that indelibly shaped the founding of the United States.

Posted by John Kranz at 9:01 AM | Comments (0)

November 4, 2012

Review Corner

Man, am I ever behind in writing Review Corners. I finished the selection for the Jc-Jk Book Club. but want to give my interlocutor seem time to catch up. The selection foisted upon me was short and he delivered a copy (what service!) Much to say later, but it was actually enjoyable.

I have a few finished books to review, but think it is time to address Yaron Brooks's Free Market Revolution: How Ayn Rand's Ideas Can End Big Government.

I'll start, and we can attempt virtual book club in the comments. But I will start at the end:

Stop letting the enemies of capitalism claim the moral high ground. There is nothing noble about altruism, nothing inspiring about the initiation of force, nothing moral about Big Government, nothing compassionate about sacrificing the individual to the collective. Don't be afraid to dismiss those ideas as vicious, unjust attacks on the pursuit of happiness, and self-confidently assert that there is no value higher than the individual's pursuit of his own well-being.

That remains the most difficult of Rand's ideas to accept. I do not disagree with a word of it. But I am drawn to the economic arguments and the pragmatic political possibilities. Brook in person (really, watch the video if you were not there) and in this book is affable and forthright. And I confess that I am finally seeing the wisdom of attacking the problem at a deeper level even if it is difficult.

Brook's clarity and humor bring principles to life.

It's crucial, here, that the use of force be physical. There is no such thing as forcing someone via emotional or intellectual means. If your loser brother-in-law guilts you into paying his bills, he didn't make you pay his bills. If Amazon runs a really great commercial for the Kindle Fire, Jeff Bezos didn't make you buy one -- he persuaded you. If peer pressure leads you to jump off a bridge, you still had the power to heed your mother's advice.
The worst victims of this injustice are the ambitious poor. By sapping immense amounts of capital from productive individuals, the entitlement state cuts down on the number of businesses that get launched, the number of jobs that get created, the amount of economic progress that takes place, the amount of economic opportunity that is available. Although the wealthy can get by in an entitlement state, at least for a while, those wishing to climb out of poverty often cannot.

I attempted to make an argument, a week before seeing Dr. Brook, against the altruism that celebrates Bill Gates and Warren Buffett's giving money away more than the massive good done by their earning it. I failed and perhaps could not do much better after the book to separate benevolence -- which is good -- from altruism. Modern people use the terms interchangeably, not thinking of Comte but of kind neighbors. Being against kind neighbors is a tough sell.

At the same time, ceding the moral ground cannot continue.

Individual liberty means that if you develop a scientific theory that holds that the earth revolves around the sun, no pope can silence you. If you want to follow your dream of becoming an electrician, no bureaucrat can demand that you first get a government license. If you and your doctor judge that an experimental new drug is the best shot you have at saving your life, you don't have to consult some FDA official. If you want to revolutionize transportation, you don't have to explain yourself to Rex Tugwell.

I am coming around...

Posted by John Kranz at 10:34 AM | Comments (0)

October 14, 2012

It Is So On!

I have to issue some personal props to my pal, JC. Most of the Colorado contingent knows him personally, and other ThreeSourcers may remember some heterodoxical comments. My friend is a man of the left and a Malthusian who sees much of what I call progress as questionable because of environmental impact.

But this guy engages with me on Facebook and drove across town on a Friday afternoon to surprise/meet me at the 3:55 showing of Atlas Shrugged Part II.

Most notably, out of dozens of attempts, he remains the only one to take me up on one of my "I'll read any book you suggest if you'll read X" offers. We discussed round one a bit on these pages. He surprised me by showing up to the movie, and he himself suggested another "book challenge." I accepted, of course, and he ran to the car to get a treasured copy of Don Fabun's "The Dynamics of Change." After a brief discussion, I countered with David Deutsch's "Beginning of Infinity" discussed 'round these parts

We briefly discussed "virtual book club" and I have made an attempt here. As JC is a Facebook guy (Doyen of the infamous FB nemeses), I started a Facebook Page: The JC-JK Book Club. A couple ThreeSourcers have "liked" it -- as have a bunch of lefty pals. Should be a wang dang doodle if anybody else cares to pile in.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:02 AM | Comments (0)

October 7, 2012

Review Corner

The word of the day is "relitigate." As in: "It is too soon to relitigate the events and policies of the Bush Administration."

But one is forced to, in conquering Condoleezza Rice's No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington. Rip those wounds open, relive the good times and bad.

The next morning I went down to the gym to exercise and found myself in the company of Tony Blair, with whom the President was to meet that morning. "Well, George has stirred it up a bit," he said with characteristic British understatement. The President came in a few minutes later and talked about the speech, explaining why he'd made it and that he had intended it as a clear indication of his dedication to Middle East peace.

Yes, George stirred it up a bit. Rice is unflinchingly loyal to President Bush, Secretary Colin Powell, and to her team at State and the NSC. VP Cheney and Secretary Rumsfeld, conversely, get hung out to dry on occasion -- but not in the long knives style of many DC memoirs. She is respectful and considerate of their positions while she unabashedly advocates hers.

Rice mixes the personal with the historical. The book proceeds chronologically. Not quite President Carter's White House Diary, but she hews pretty close to the timeline. I don't know about the mix of personal. I'll confess that sometimes the book seems a little too long. And yet, many of the anecdotes are satisfying:

The spring of 2002 gave me one of the best imaginable reasons to practice. One day in March, my assistant Liz Lineberry had come in to say that Yo-Yo Ma was on the phone and wanted to speak to me. "You mean the cellist?" I asked. "I think so," she answered. It was indeed the greatest living cellist of our time, and he had a proposition for me. He was receiving the National Medal of the Arts on April 22 and wondered if perhaps we could play something together at the ceremony. We'd met at Stanford several years earlier, when he'd given a concert there. At the time his "Let's play together sometime" comment had seemed to be just a polite throwaway line. But now here he was, asking me, the failed piano major, to play with him.
The performance went very well. The President was beaming as he congratulated us after we finished. It was one of the most memorable days of my life. I'd come full circle and back to music. But I wasn't confused about what my real destiny was. I would never have played with Yo-Yo Ma had I stayed in music. He played with me because I was the national security advisor who could also play the piano. I had made a good decision when I changed my college major.

Other great personal glimpses relate to her achievement from her beginnings as "a poor black girl from Birmingham." The book begins with the '99 campaign, but she and Alma Powell reflect on their shared background in Buckingham Palace before retiring for the night.

One cannot help but compare her story to Michelle Obama's "first time I was proud of my Country" comment. I accept that the left has a different cannon for patriotism. Yet, one hears Rice celebrating the possible while others distain the challenge. She is moving as she describes becoming the 65th replacement for Thomas Jefferson.

With the President and my Aunts Gee and Mattie and Uncle Alto looking on, my friend and Watergate neighbor Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg read the oath of office. As I repeated it, I took in every word:
and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God. Then I thanked all those who'd helped me, especially the generations of Rays and Rices who'd always thought such a day possible. I glanced up at the portrait of Franklin. What would he have thought of this great-granddaughter of slaves and child of Jim Crow Birmingham pledging to defend the Constitution of the United States, which had infamously counted her ancestors "three-fifths" of a man? Somehow, I wanted to believe, Franklin would have liked history's turn toward justice and taken my appointment in stride.

Too soon to relitigate, but it is an engaging story of a woman I admire very much and a candid look at the inner workings of the Executive Branch. Four stars.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:17 AM | Comments (0)

September 23, 2012

Review Corner

There's more to life than politics and dusty old economic texts. Why there's culture and art and architecture and Minneapolis geography and the music of our youth and the understated excitement of sexual attraction.

Who better to serve as a spirit guide for these than James Lileks?

Leaf through this blog or my predecessor blog, and my appreciation for Lileks will be on full display. He is a clever, provocative and funny writer. His political stuff carries more force because of its rarity. In addition, he seems to be the renaissance man of the commercial Internet: always experimenting, always something new commercially or design or just outrageous content like the story woven around the matchbooks.

I set aside my non-fiction for his new novel Graveyard Special. In Lileksian Internet pioneering style, I think it is Kindle Only. It is light enough that it would be a fun and comfortable read on a PC or tablet's Kindle reader for all you luddites that have the books with the paper and the cover-thingies.

Whatever your method, read this masterpiece. It is vintage Lileks: a bit noir-y but with a great deal more humor. I was the annoying guy at the coffee shop last week LOL-ing with my Kindle. But Lileks lines come one after another:

Joe was depressed. But we'll get to that. You can't tell the story of Dinkytown in the End Times without dealing with Joe's epic, all-consuming, life-smothering depression. It probably showed up on weather radar as a small black dot.
I think she believed me, because she seemed to vibrate at a frequency that would summon wolves and confuse bats.

And politics is never missing, even if it is not central to the storyline:
The new cook was sitting in A-6, his right foot jackhammering up and down, smoking a cigarette, reading the Worker's World. He had a T-shirt that announced his solidarity with the latest batch of communists in Central America. Vic was the name. Dick's brother. He seemed friendly enough, but every so often I'd see him flick his eyes over the restaurant, and he'd get that "some day this will all belong to the people" look, and I had the suspicion that his people weren't, you know, people as the term is generally understood.
Tara had a story about campus reaction to the election, including a quote from Vic's group, the People's Committee on Loudly Demanding Things Be Different, or whatever it was called. They'd decided that the best way to raise people's consciousness was to protest Militarism on campus.

It's Lileks. It's 3.99 on Kindle. It's five stars. What are you doing still reading me?

Posted by John Kranz at 9:51 AM | Comments (5)
But Ellis Wyatt thinks:

Thanks you for that, Lileks is one of the first people I ever read regularly on the web, circa 2000, and he gets me laughing, which is reason enough to love his work. The fact that's it's also intelligent, principled and insightful are welcome additions.

Posted by: Ellis Wyatt at September 24, 2012 3:35 PM
But jk thinks:

He's an amazing cat. Do you have any of his coffee table books? "Gastroanomalies" and "Interior Desecrations" anchor mine -- and I enjoy watching people leafing through them.

Posted by: jk at September 24, 2012 4:13 PM
But dagny thinks:

Actual books jk?? Don't they have a kindle you can put on your coffee table? :-)

Posted by: dagny at September 24, 2012 5:06 PM
But jk thinks:

Heh. They do have the DX... Guess I am just behind the tomes.

Posted by: jk at September 24, 2012 5:09 PM
But jk thinks:

Behind the tomes. A typo worth keeping.

Posted by: jk at September 24, 2012 5:14 PM

September 16, 2012

Review Corner

If I had a time machine, I would go back a couple months and try reading Niall Ferguson's Civilization first, then Deirdre McCloskey's Bourgeois Dignity. Just an experiment, I'm not saying one order is better than another. But it is interesting to compare, as both try to explain the same thing.

Ferguson starts man's leap out of the primordial economic ooze a couple centuries sooner than McCloskey, and while his version of events does not contradict McCloskey, he cites six "killer apps" that allowed the West to outpace "The Rest." Ferguson provides the Cliff Notes to his book at the beginning and at the end:

Why did the West dominate the Rest and not vice versa? I have argued that it was because the West developed six killer applications that the Rest lacked. These were:

1. Competition, in that Europe itself was politically fragmented and that within each monarchy or republic there were multiple competing corporate entities

2. The Scientific Revolution, in that all the major seventeenth-century breakthroughs in mathematics, astronomy, physics, chemistry and biology happened in Western Europe

3. The rule of law and representative government, in that an optimal system of social and political order emerged in the English-speaking world, based on private property rights and the representation of property-owners in elected legislatures

4. Modern medicine, in that nearly all the major nineteenth- and twentieth-century breakthroughs in healthcare, including the control of tropical diseases, were made by Western Europeans and North Americans

5. The consumer society, in that the Industrial Revolution took place where there was both a supply of productivity-enhancing technologies and a demand for more, better and cheaper goods, beginning with cotton garments

6. The work ethic, in that Westerners were the first people in the world to combine more extensive and intensive labour with higher savings rates, permitting sustained capital accumulation.

That's the whole book. Saved you $16.99 I did! I would highly recommend the entire work, however. Ferguson, like McCloskey, is a serious student of history, pulling out amazing and illustrative anecdotes from Ancient China or the Ottoman Empire like I quote Buffy. It's an enjoyable and substantive book.

His examples fascinate. His explanation of "#6 Work" goes beyond Calvinism to tie Christianity fundamentally to freedom. That could keep ThreeSourcers up until the wee hours separating the finer points

Protestantism, [Max Weber] argued, "has the effect of liberating the acquisition of wealth from the inhibitions of traditionalist ethics; it breaks the fetters on the striving for gain not only by legalizing it, but . . . by seeing it as directly willed by God".

He joins Reason in highlighting Western Culture's contributions to bringing down Soviet Communism. This old Reagan/Thatcher guy rejects efforts to undermine their accomplishments (and Pope JPII), but rock and roll and blue jeans cannot be forgotten, either.
So why not just let Czechoslovakian students have all the jeans and rock 'n' roll they wanted? The answer is that the consumer society posed a lethal threat to the Soviet system itself. It was market-based. It responded to signals from consumers themselves -- their preference for jeans over flannel trousers, or for Mick Jagger over Burt Bacharach. And it devoted an increasing share of resources to satisfying those preferences. This the Soviet system simply could not do. The Party knew what everyone needed -- brown polyester suits -- and placed its orders with the state-owned factories accordingly.
In any case, for the Soviets to keep pace with the much richer Americans in the Cold War arms race, tanks had to take precedence over tank-tops, strategic bombers over Stratocasters.

Ferguson is not the freedom lover that McCloskey is. He's a British Telegraph reader who talks about "The Texas Terror" in the introduction and is quite concerned that we lose Civilization to global warming in the conclusion. In-between, he is eminently fair and allows the data to lead him to conclusions that ThreeSourcers would applaud.

In the end, his conclusions seem compatible with McCloskey's, though you can see areas where her bourgeois dignity idea would underscore or better explain his ideas.

Also interesting to read East v West in the shadow of the Romney Gaffe embassy protests and killings. Islam squandered world dominance because they refused reason, the East in general even refusing to adopt obvious Western advantages in medicine and finance.

And, in the shadow of the riots, one cannot argue with his fears for "Civilization's future:

Maybe the real threat is posed not by the rise of China, Islam or CO2 emissions, but by our own loss of faith in the civilization we inherited from our ancestors.
Civilization will not last, freedom will not survive, peace will not be kept, unless a very large majority of mankind unite together to defend them and show themselves possessed of a constabulary power before which barbaric and atavistic forces will stand in awe.

Four point seven five stars. If you read just one, read McCloskey's. But read them both.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:11 AM | Comments (1)
But Ellis Wyatt thinks:

Thank you, sir! You are a Grandmaster of reviews.

Posted by: Ellis Wyatt at September 17, 2012 12:57 PM

September 9, 2012

Review Corner

We could have sent Steve Forbes to the White House, y'know. I look back on American History and look for inflection points which would have changed the country unrecognizably. My only actual serious effort to write a book was to flip the decision in Dred Scott v. Sanford.

Normally, a good counterfactual requires that something was close and almost happened and I confess we did not stay up late on a November Tuesday to see Mr. Forbes lose a squeaker. But he ran a serious campaign with a seriousness and honesty that caused Bernie Goldberg to see the rampant perfidy in his own profession of journalism.

A flat tax imposed 16 years ago would have changed the world. And listening to his wise words in Freedom Manifesto: Why Free Markets Are Moral and Big Government Isn't we still might.

Freedom enabled people unleash their energies, sharpen their skills, pursue their dreams-- and reap the rewards. The combination of latitude and necessity spurs people to develop their abilities and increase their knowledge. It develops what the philosophers call "autonomy," the capacity to be your own person, to think independently and act responsibly in a free society. Nicholas Capaldi of the National Center for Business Ethics at Loyola University calls autonomy "our greatest ultimate and objective good."

I don't think any ThreeSourcer will be too surprised by the beginning, middle or end. It's choir preaching 'round these parts -- but it is good choir preaching.

He marries the consequentialist case to the rights case for capitalism well enough that someday all ThreeSourcers might live as brothers and sisters.

To paraphrase Mises, people may refer to a successful pasta manufacturer as "the spaghetti king." But this king did not build his empire through wars and conquest, but by selling pasta people like. What Marxists totally miss, Mises writes, is that "the rich" in free markets do not get their power by impoverishing wage earners -- but by producing goods that improve their standard of living.

Or how about a response to SEIU President Andrew Stern's concern that parent's "cannot see where the jobs of the future are"
Responding to Stern's complaint in the Times, George Mason University economist Donald Boudreaux asks, "when could Americans of any generation foresee future jobs?" Did the telegram-deliverer in 1950 foresee his child designing software for cell phones? Did the local pharmacist in 1960 foresee his daughter's job as a biomedical engineer?

Donald Boudreaux's questions highlight another flaw of apoca-liberal pessimism: it's fixated on the present. Unlike entrepreneurs who think in terms of the future, bureaucrats and their supporters are stuck in the here and now. They see market conditions like high prices as permanent and can't imagine how things could possibly change-- even though they always do.

In the case of health care, statists believe government is the only answer "because health care is so astronomically expensive." It's impossible for them to grasp the idea that, if you removed today's innumerable government constraints that are inflating the cost of both care and insurance, the entire universe would instantly change.

Forbes makes a consequentialist case for capitalism on the environment, wealth distribution, innovation and personal freedom. Four stars -- only four as little will be new to ThreeSourcers, but it is a great a powerful read.

Posted by John Kranz at 9:53 AM | Comments (0)

September 4, 2012

Okay, One More...

But drive safely and don't forget to tip your waitresses and bartender!

My blog brother has successfully cajoled me into sharing a few more quotes from Deirdre N. McCloskey's Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can't Explain the Modern World. This makes this the third post in the review One and two here. To catch the new visitor up:

It initiates a humanistic science of the economy, "humanomics" as the economist Barton Smith calls it. Speech, not material changes in foreign trade or domestic investment, caused proximally the nonlinearities, or (expressed in more conventional theorizing) the leaping out of the production possibility curve, the imaginings of possible lives.

We know this empirically in part because trade and investment were ancient routines, but the new dignity and liberty for ordinary people were unique to the age. What was unique was a new climate of persuasion, out there in the shops and streets and coffeehouses populated by the bourgeoisie. As I shall try to persuade you, oh materialist economist.

I'm predisposed to join jg's critique that it is a product of many factors and that I am willing to accept her devotion to a rhetorical acceptance of bourgeois values if she'll concede the importance of liberty and energy and trade.

McCloskey does appreciate the value of other factors, but she is a data-driven economist and shows that these are fractional improvements from which we gained magnitude gains. She spends much time on energy, in her case the availability of coal in Britain in the 17th Century. Again, that is swell, sez McCloskey, but others could have bought and shipped coal or developed more wood or whaling -- energy is an input and it is great that it is cheap. But if it is expensive it shaves off percentages, it does not stop growth. Mister Rockefeller's energy revolution is 150 years and a continent away. The colonies experience mad growth with water power.

She pours through literature, looking for heroic bourgeois characters. Think "Merchant of Venice;" traders are outcasts, minority people a little too canny for their own good. McCloskey and I do share some heroes:

In 1913 Willa Cather without the antibourgeois sarcasm which her fellow members of the American clerisy were beginning to develop, has her heroine, Swedish-American Alexandra Bergson, exclaim, "There's Fuller [the real estate man] again! I wish that man would take me for a [business] partner. He's feathering his nest! If only poor people [such as Alexandra's unenterprising brothers] could learn a little from rich people!"

We still have Babbitt and Disney movies to fight though.
Or at any rate so enlightened Europeans and the new bourgeois liberals claimed, contrary to the zero-sum notions that had governed the world up to then, in which every win to Europe was supposed to have arisen from a comparable loss to the rest. It lives on, I repeat, in recent talk about "competitiveness." "Win minus lose equals zero. Profit is evil." No, said the enlightened liberals like Mill, not usually-not if the social accounting is win-win-win-win-win-lose.
It has given many formerly poor and ignorant people the scope to flourish. And contrary to the usual declarations of the economists since Adam Smith or Karl Marx, the Biggest Economic Story was not caused by trade or investment or exploitation. It was caused by ideas.

Posted by John Kranz at 3:30 PM | Comments (0)

September 2, 2012

Review Corner

Some intellectuals, though, look with suspicion on the Bourgeois Era, calling it "globalization," which they think they detest, along with McDonald's and the bourgeoisie and capitalism. The suspicion has been expressed since 1848 in repeated assaults by the clerisy on the bourgeoisie, commonly their fathers, each new assault presented as a courageous speaking of truth to power, a daring new insight, though expressed in identical form from Flaubert and G. B. Shaw to Sinclair Lewis and David Mamet.
Conversely, the Bourgeois Era to the author of those words, Deirdre N. McCloskey, represents the move from $3/day privation to modern abundance and personal freedom.

Her Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can't Explain the Modern World is a challenging book -- and it is only book two of a planned six. I hope both McCloskey and my pal Robert A. Caro are eating well and taking care of themselves.

Challenging because McCloskey is a Chicago School Economics Professor of tremendous intellect and reading. Clearly the book was written for much smarterer people than me. It is not turgid prose by any means, it is an entertaining read. It is thick with ideas and precise documentation. (Also like Caro -- you have to stop and let your brain catch up with the author's sometimes.)

[John Stuart] Mill was too good a classical economist, in other words, to recognize a phenomenon inconsistent with classical economics. That the national income per head might triple in the century after 1871 in the teeth of rising population is not a classical possibility, and he would have seen the factor of sixteen in Britain from the eighteenth century down to the present as science fiction.

And challenging because it contradicts my deepest beliefs. Contradicts is too strong a word because, as a Chicagoan, she is a devout believer in liberty and free markets and property rights and the importance of trade. No ThreeSourcer would pull out a single sentence and say "that is wrong." But her claim is that all those great things existed elsewhere and did not produce an enlightenment or a 16-fold increase in consumption.
Until the view suddenly changed in academic circles in Spain and in commercial and some political circles in Holland and then in Britain and then (in all circles) in the United States, dignity and liberty for the bourgeoisie was viewed as an outrageous absurdity. Of course the bourgeoisie was contemptible, in Confucianism the fourth and lowest of the social classes, or in Christianity the rich man of the gospels who can scarcely enter heaven. Of course the market needed to be regulated in the interest of the rich-or at least in the interest of the continued rule of the rich by way of giving a little to some selected and favored and relatively well-off poor people (unskilled automobile workers earning $30 an hour, high-school-graduate administrators in Cook County (now "Stroger") Hospital earning $1oo,ooo a year, members of local 881 of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union earning more than what Wal-Mart employees are eagerly willing to work for). Of course people should be arrayed in a great chain of being from God to slave, and kept in their place, except by special royal favor or state examination or party membership

My theme in short is the true liberal one of the de la Court brothers, Richard Overton, John Lilburne, William Walwyn, Thomas Rainsborough, Richard Rumbold, Spinoza, Dudley North, Algernon Sidney, Locke, Voltaire, Hume, Turgot, Montesquieu, Adam Ferguson, Smith, Thomas Paine, Destutt de Tracy, Jefferson, Madame de Stael, Benjamin Constant, Wilhelm von Humboldt, Charles [not Auguste] Comte, Charles Dunoyer, Malthus, Ricardo, Harriet Martineau, Tocqueville, Giuseppe Mazzini, Frederic Bastiat, Mill, Henry Maine, Richard Cobden, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Cavour, Johan August Gripenstedt, Herbert Spencer, Lysander Spooner, Karl von Rotteck, Johan Rudolf Thorbecke, Carl Menger, Lord Acton, Josephine Butler, Knut Wicksell, Luigi Einaudi, H. L. Mencken, Johan Huizinga, Frank Knight, Ludwig von Mises, Willa Cather, Rose Wilder Lane, Walter Lippmann until the 195os, Nora Zeale Hurston, Karl Popper, Isaiah Berlin, Michael Polanyi, Friedrich Hayek, Raymond Aron, Henry Hazlitt, Bertrand de Jouvenel, Ronald Coase, Milton, Rose, and son David Friedman, Murray Rothbard, James Buchanan, Ludwig Lachmann, Gordon Tullock, Thomas Sowell, Joan Kennedy Taylor, Roy A. Childs, Julian Simon, Israel Kirzner, Vernon Smith, Wendy McElroy, Norman Barry, Loren Lomasky, Tibor Machan, Anthony de Jasay, Douglas Den Uyl, Douglas Rasmussen, Deepak Lal, Chandran Kukathas, Ronald Hamowy, Tom Palmer, Don Lavoie, David Boaz, Richard Epstein, Tyler Cowen, David Schmidtz, Donald Boudreaux, Peter Boettke, and the young Robert Nozick. It is the obvious and simple system of natural liberty. It contradicts the aristocratic sneering by conservatives at innovations and at the bourgeoisie, or the clerical sneering by progressives at markets and at the bourgeoisie. The true-liberal claim is that unusual bourgeois dignity and personal liberty in northwestern Europe, and especially in Holland and then in Britain, made for unusual national wealth, by way of a revaluation of ordinary, bourgeois life..

Nor have I ever highlighted so many sections. I painfully culled it down to the few presented here. I'd love to share ten times as many, but I know ThreeSourcers will be holding big rallies to celebrate trade unions this weekend. You'll just have to buy it. Five Stars.

Parting thought: "So, do I 'believe it?'" It is consistent. It explains much. It cannot be effectively contradicted. In the end, like the Panic of '08, one is forced to weight the importance of different factors. Am I prepared to reduce my votes for liberty, free trade, and a codified scientific epistemology? No. But I will and suggest others should value more highly the acceptance of bourgeois dignity. And, who knows, maybe by book four or five she'll have me.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:05 AM | Comments (3)
But johngalt thinks:

If one skips over the "Galt's speech" listing of great names which comprise "the de la Court brothers" your collection of excerpts is quite modest. So much so, in fact, that the point remains distant from my full comprehension. Perhaps, with some discussion...

If I understand correctly, the bourgeoisie are most responsible for modern western prosperity yet are universally reviled by Marx-inspired progressives as well as the aristocratic segment of conservatives, which some have taken to calling the "establishment" and wherein I include Republican progressives or "RINOs."

So that we're clear, I take "bourgeoisie" to mean the ambitious, self-employed middle-class who, through innovation and sweat routinely become members of the "one percent." The "new rich" if you will.

What's not to believe? Why would any of this lead to a conflict with "votes for liberty, free trade, and a codified scientific epistemology?" To me it only reinforces the necessity and rectitude of a TEA Party revolution in the Republican party, where such votes are at least welcome if not universal.

And for such a conclusion to emenate from an academic treatise is both rare and of revolutionary value.

Posted by: johngalt at September 2, 2012 12:10 PM
But jk thinks:

One must be extremely cautious standing in front of a guitar player yelling "more!"

But keep in mind this is part two of this review: part one lives here.

You're correct in that she does not credit Cheetos® or astrology with the rise in living standards. But four weeks ago, I was very comfortable suggesting that scientific epistemology deserved credit (cf. David Deutsch) or a critical mass in good old Ricardian trade (cf. Deepak Lal) or an amorphous idea of "liberty" (Hayek, Mises, and presumably at least one of the de la Court brothers).

McCloskey says "No." They had science in 500 BCE China, they had free trade in the Ottoman Empire, they had movable type in ancient Korea, &c. There are 49 Chapters in this book and almost all of them are "No, it wasn't X." Somebody, somewhere had X in abundance and produced naught a knot on the hockey stick.

She knows Professor Lal. I don't remember Deutsch's name, but she quotes all of my heroes chapter and verse, understands them but says 'uh-uh, you don't get 16X from that."

What does give you 16X is the rhetorical acceptance of innovating, belief in buying low and selling high.

Went straight from that into Steve Forbes's book. He quotes McCloskey on a couple occasions, but a Forbes Quote of Thomas Sowell (meta-hoss) captures it:

But to his loud and vociferous critics, Romney was just "moving money around" and had gotten an unfair tax break.

These sentiments are rooted in age-old prejudices. Economist Thomas Sowell has written brilliantly about the long-standing distrust of "middleman minorities" that cuts across cultural boundaries. Middlemen include not only Jews and Asian immigrants in the United States, but groups like the Ibos in Nigeria and the Parsees in India. Prejudices against them, Sowell explains, were never about ethnicity. "Retailing and money-lending," he explains, "have long been regarded by the economically unsophisticated as not 'really' adding anything to the economic well-being of a community."

Like Michael Moore, people for hundreds of years have been unable to see how those who "make money off money"ť are really making anything.

Forbes, Steve; Ames, Elizabeth (2012-08-21). Freedom Manifesto: Why Free Markets Are Moral and Big Government Isn't (Kindle Locations 1625-1626). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Posted by: jk at September 2, 2012 7:04 PM
But johngalt thinks:

The easy critique to McCloskey's theory seems to be that a combination of factors was required. Did any other civilization ever have everything we do except a dignified bourgeoise and fail to prosper?

Further, the Industrial Revolution is widely regarded as a prerequisite for massive wealth creation. Aren't all civilizations that predate it excused for not producing more crops than one's family could consume in a year?

Let me be fair: I haven't read the book and am only going on your excerpts and summaries. As much as being critical, I'm just trying to pry more specifics from you. (More! More!)

And finally, I can't help but credit cheap and abundant energy, together with means to use that energy to do work, for the standard of living that modern man has become not only accustomed to, but takes as a natural and automatic condition - one that will "always be that way." Let Hollywood live on the beach and make movies without electricity or fossil fuels for a few years and we'll likely see a shift Eastwood in their philsophy and politics. (Yes, I do remember when American movies actually glorified Exceptionalism. It was before my time but the celluloid lasted long enough to bring it to my eyes.)

Posted by: johngalt at September 4, 2012 3:22 PM

August 26, 2012

2016 Movie - Food for Thought

I watched the Dinesh D'Souza film 2016-Obama's America yesterday with family and friends. My brother and father were the driving force and dad thought it so important we all see it that he paid for all of us. Having been cautioned by JK's distaste for D'Souza's conspiratism I was eager to see and hear for myself what evidence Dinesh presents, and what hypothesis he has formed.

As a starting point I read this critical review by Washington Post's Michael O'Sullivan. His instinct is to dismiss it as a rehash of prior Obama hatred, but some of his dissmissals ring hollow.

As readers of the Forbes article know, the central thesis of "2016" is that Obama's worldview -- his "compass," as D'Souza calls it -- was largely shaped by the anti-colonialist, anti-white and anti-Christian politics of Obama's supposedly radical Kenyan father. Never mind that Obama, growing up, spent precious little time with the man, who for most of his son's early life was estranged from Obama's mother. D'Souza trots out a professional psychologist to speculate on how the senior Obama's absence reinforced his influence, rather than weakened it.

D'Souza makes it all sound almost plausible, but only if you're predisposed to believe that Obama hates America. It's bashing, all right, but with a velvet-gloved fist.

What is glossed over here is how he makes it sound plausible. That explanation is omitted and replaced with a cautionary "almost" to convince readers they need not bother to evaluate the plausability on their own. D'Souza explains that Obama's worldview was constructed not in the image of his absentee father, rather in the idealized image of him portrayed by his mother. Ann Dunham, an almost completely overlooked component of Barack's formative years, was as anti-American, or at least anti-capitalist and anti-"colonialist" as they come. So says D'Souza. He supports this claim with multiple facts. He concludes that diminishing America's influence in the world, in effect punishing America for its colonial heritage, is fully consistent with many of the previously inexplicable acts of President Obama: To repair America's "plunder" of foreign resources he gave billions of American taxpayer's dollars to Brazil and others to build up those nations' oil industries; to push back present-day colonialism he has sided with Argentina over Great Britain in the Falklands conflict; his mideast policy arguably reflects a prejudice against western influence in favor of native rule, whatever that may happen to become. Actions as seemingly unimportant as returning a bust of Winston Churchill and presenting gag gifts to the Queen of England also betray a lifelong hatred for that country, the once great colonial power which had colonized and "exploited" his father's native land - Kenya.

In the film D'Souza also shows how then candidate Obama diverted attention from these beliefs and tendencies by suggesting his goal was a racial reconciliation within America. When longtime mentor Reverend Jeremiah Wright's anti-Americanism threatened to derail his campaign, Barack gave a nationally televised speech on race relations and distanced himself from the anti-colonialist values. And when other formative influences were called into question his campaign skillfully portrayed them as good-ol American leftists rather than the world socialists they would likely call themselves. When the President lectures America about the unfairness of the "one percenters" Americans think of wealthy corporate titans standing unapologetically on the shoulders of the working or "middle" class. But to a world socialist, EVERY American is a one-percenter, right down to the homeless shelter or overpass dweller who may freely beg for change and sleep opon the paved streets of American cities, free from scourges like disease, garbage dumps and open sewage running through the streets of a typical third-world village, always with ready access to medical treatment-on-demand in the shiny hospitals of the most prosperous nation on earth.

My opinion of the validity of D'Souza's original conclusions is buttressed by Elizabeth Reynolds' 'D'Souza's "Rage" a Middling Psychoanalysis' in The Dartmouth Review. After labeling Dinesh as an "ultra-conservative member of the Dartmouth Class of 1983" and praising Obama's book 'Dreams From My Father' she presents a fair, perhaps more fair than she intended, interpretation of the facts in D'Souza's book. Her conclusion:

Perhaps D'Souza's anti-colonial theory does help explain, as the Weekly Standard put it, Obama's omnipotence at home and impotence abroad. It is a matter of the reader's opinion. Regardless, D'Souza brings something new to the table with his latest book. It seems clear to me that D'Souza has done his research, with his extensive history of colonial Africa and insightful background information on Obama's early life. His concept of investigating the impact of Barack Obama's father had potential, but I'm afraid that D'Souza's conclusion, that Obama is trying to essentially destroy America, ultimately takes it too far.

Ironically, it is Reynolds who takes it too far for "essentially destroying America" is not D'Souza's claimed goal for Barack Obama. He merely wants to diminish our nation, not destroy it. The call to action at the end of the film? Every American must decide for himself if America should be diminished - and vote accordingly.

Posted by JohnGalt at 12:43 PM | Comments (7)
But Jk thinks:

#3 box office?

Posted by: Jk at August 26, 2012 11:36 PM
But johngalt thinks:

On entertainment value - 2 stars.
The music was good and the cinematography of exotic locales almost made one feel he was there. But really, how long can one enjoy listening to strange people speaking with strange accents?

On "must-see-ness" - 5 stars.
(Out of 5.) If he is right, don't you want to know?

Posted by: johngalt at August 27, 2012 1:20 PM
But johngalt thinks:

In reply to "did not" I might ask an Obama supporter why he asked a non-partisan commission (Simpson-Bowles) to develop a workable debt reduction strategy and then completely ignored their advice. "Can you tell me one reason why you believe the president seriously wants to lower the national debt?"

Big enough? Non-partisan enough?

(He [Obama] wants to raise taxes on the rich. "Okay, that's eighty billion dollars of debt reduction per year, assuming the rich agree to keep doing what they're doing. How many eighty billions are there in sixteen trillion?")

Posted by: johngalt at August 27, 2012 2:35 PM
But jk thinks:

Do I want to know? I don't know. Whether he is wedded to failed policies because of his academic background and ignorance (likely) or willfully wants to damage America -- does it matter?

My Dad used to correct me "you can't look into a man's heart." I think that advice may be handy here.

Then he'd suggest I get a haircut...

Posted by: jk at August 27, 2012 7:32 PM
But Boulder Refugee thinks:

Great review! The Refugee will likely save his money, as he does not need to be convinced of something he already believes. However, it does start a very worthwhile conversation in the broader electorate.

Posted by: Boulder Refugee at August 27, 2012 8:21 PM
But johngalt thinks:

Barack Obama's academic background, such as we know of it, started at home and was reinforced by every leftist who crossed his path, either academically or socially. Barack Obama may indeed be ignorant to the efficacy of Austrian economics but not because he is an ignorant man.

I never claimed to be looking into his heart. Supposedly he showed us that himself in 'Dreams.' But there exists a tidy triangle connecting the points of the "Global Fairness" Movement, young Barack's friends and family, and President Obama's actual policies and actions.

Posted by: johngalt at August 28, 2012 11:59 AM

August 19, 2012

Pre Review Corner

My fabulous and unprecedented streak of weekly Review Corners comes to a close today. I will be taking a bit more time with Deirdre McClosky's Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can't Explain the Modern World. ThreeSources apologizes for the convenience.

I am intrigued enough to take the opportunity for a two parter. As this is book two in a planned series of six, the idea of two Review Corners is not completely out of whack. I'll begin with a partisan rant.

McClosky opens with The Fact (her caps) and it strikes me that The Fact is the most important philosophical, political, and economic question in the history of the world. I plan to make it a sine qua non of engaging with me that a prospective interlocutor accepts The Fact to some level and has some thoughts on an explanation. Not that arguing with me is such a privilege, but my Facebook friends who will not rise to this level will get Likes on their cute kitty pictures but no engagement on politics.

The Fact is the undisputable hockey stick. Not global temperatures, but rather global median income. For x years (anthropology is not my field but x is large) man skittered about the surface like other animals, then formed larger social groups, communities and cities. And yet typical consumption was in the neighborhood of 1-3 dollars per day equivalent to modern income. There are small bubbles in Ancient China, Rome or 12th Century North Italy, but they don't continue, spread or increase. Homo Sapiens return to Hobbesian privation.

It has been this way for all of history, and for that matter all of prehistory. With her $3 a day the average denizen of the earth got a few pound of potatoes, a little milk, an occasional scrap of meat. A wool shawl. A year or two of elementary education, if lucky and if she lived in a society with literacy. She had a 50-50 chance at birth of dying before she was thirty years old. Perhaps she was a cheerful sort, and was "happy" with illiteracy, disease, superstition, periodic starvation, and lack of prospects. After all, she had her family and faith and community, which interfered with every choice she made. But at any rate she was desperately poor, and narrowly limited in human scope.

Then in Northwestern Europe in the late 18th/early 19th Century, this figure begins to grow until the present day Norway where it is $137. Not even accounting for Google or jet travel or anything we enjoy that was not available at any price, we use sixteen times the food, clothing, lighting and housing of our ancestors 50-200 years ago (depending where you live).

This is astonishingly interesting! How did this happen? Deepak Lal divides the hockey stick into two blades and credits Ricardian economics. International Economic World Orders Liberal International Economic Orders allowed most of the world, under pax Britannica then pax Americana, to trade and realize the advantages of Comparative Advantage and specialization. Mises, Hayek, and Schumpeter would likely accept that and add the power of economic liberty. My man, David Deutsch says it was the scientific method and a structured epistemology. I suppose I have always accepted a virtuous mix of all these. The Calvinist work ethic is frequently mentioned as well.

McClosky -- are you sitting down -- says these are all great things but that you cannot make the numbers work or show that these factors did not exist in places and times where it did not take off. No, the answer is philosophy and rhetoric. We climbed out of the $3/day ooze when we accepted bourgeois values and valued enterprise.

Once buying low and selling high was seen as beneficial and the trader was viewed as an upstanding member of the community -- sez McClosky -- the world changed, and we began to accrue wealth. Bourgeois Dignity.

I am only a quarter in, and this is the second of a planned six books, but I am hooked. She writes for the academic and must spend a lot of time laying a meticulous foundation for things which are obvious to ThreeSourcers. Yes, we're richer, yes it is better to be rich than poor, yes human freedom plays an important role. Yet these parts are solid and enjoyably comprehensive.

You can score this one and beat me to the end -- I doubt you'll be disappointed. I will of course withhold my rating until I have completed the assignment.

Posted by John Kranz at 11:28 AM | Comments (1)
But johngalt thinks:

I recall, when so-called 'anthropogenic global warming' was first floated as a theoretical phenomenon, thinking that nobody would ever voluntarily forego the prosperity of our plentiful-energy economy for the vague and infinitesimal goal of fractions of a degree of global cooling. This was before I was as learned in philosophy and came to understand the myriad reasons why an upright-walking human being would ever deign to advocate such a thing.

Posted by: johngalt at August 20, 2012 2:45 PM

August 12, 2012

Review Corner

First, the elephant in the room. Scalia and Garner's Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts was $40 -- on Kindle! "Does the Eighth Amendment no longer hold, Nino?" If anybody wants I have an old, first-gen Kindle I could put it on and lend. Ow!

I cannot pass on any book by a sitting Supreme Court Justice at any price, and I cannot complain about this one; it was informative and entertaining. Like David Deutsch, Nassim Taleb, or Thomas Pynchon, it is great to get an invitation into a mind of that caliber.

Scalia's acerbic wit is on display throughout.

In a curious and lengthy passage, Judge Richard A. Posner has likened a judge who follows the unintelligibility canon to a platoon commander who, on receiving a garbled message, does nothing and presumably allows his troops to be slaughtered.
The analogy limps.

One more word than "Jesus wept." But Ow!

More importantly, he promotes his judicial philosophy of originalism versus both the purposivist, living Constitution crowd and strict textualists. The book is presented as 70 common law cannons which are frequently used in judging cases. Each gets a description and most get an example case or two and the authors' opinion of whether it was applied wisely in the particular instance.

One could hardly imagine a more sweeping negation of the possibility of laws that accurately represent the judgment of the people, laws whose content is predictable, and judges who subjugate their personal views to the rule of law. "A government of men, not of laws" summarizes this cynical view, which invites judges to do whatever they like, since they cannot do otherwise--the doctrine of predestination applied to judicial decisions.

It's jurisprudential philosophy -- but in a very technical wrapper. Actual cases, many outside of or predating the United States, and difficult cases provide an appreciation for complexity that your typical pundit-class commenter may not completely grasp.
Contrary to the praise heaped on the Shakespearean character Portia for holding that Shylock could take his pound of flesh but not spill a drop of blood ("O upright judge! . . . O learned judge!"), it was a terrible opinion. She should have invoked the principle that contracts to maim are void as contrary to public policy. Her supposedly brilliant rationale ignored the well-acknowledged predicate-act canon.

Most importantly, I enjoy the authors' respect for Constitutional principles, most notably separation of powers and the job of legislative bodies in drafting the text. Scalia may be the béte noir of the left, but he is extremely respectful of other Justices, judges, and circuits. He has no compunction in attacking their opinions, but reading this book (or Bryers's or Stevens's or O'Connor's) one is struck by a higher level of respect and congeniality than we artisans ascribe to the Court.

A great read and a deeper look than I was expecting. Four stars.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:23 AM | Comments (0)

August 5, 2012

Review Corner

I hope ThreeSourcers appreciate how unseriously I take "Review Corner." When moved by a book, it is great to share it with both of my dedicated readers. But all in all, I took the name from Bullwinkle's "Poetry Corner" and take it about as seriously.

Authors work the social media and blogs, and it has been a great joy to get little thank you notes on good reviews and even a kindly defense on one that was less than five stars.

I happily picked up Brad Hennenfent's Anthem Against Obama when Dr. Hennenfent commented on one of Brother Ellis's posts. I traded a couple emails with the author and hope to preserve an alliance.

The book is a great read. I think every ThreeSourcer will dig it. He has repurposed Ayn Rand's "Anthem" to a modern dystopian post-Obama world. And it is done brilliantly. Hennenfent captures the timeless ideas of freedom and individualism and brings them to life.

We had never heard of these mountains, nor seen them marked on any map. They had never been mentioned in the Home of the Students. The world was much larger than they had taught us.

Long time Review Corner readers hear a "but" coming and here it is. The author mentions in an introduction that he might revise the book after the 2012 election. While the jabs at President Obama are enjoyable for a partisan like me, I think they present two problems.

First, they detract from the timelessness that Rand and Hennenfent capture. There are philosophical enemies to liberty everywhere and every when. Of course, that's the books concept and premise. "Did you think there were too many monkeys in Jane Goodall's book, jk? Huh?" Yet I found those to be fun but less satisfying than the rest.

Second, the level of Dystopianism that the story requires attributed to the current administration is a strawman argument. I'm sympathetic, but I imagine one on my Facebook friends picking this up -- or I imagine a book that has Mitt Romney forcing society into coerced Mormonism with all the Starbucks closed down. I'm not what most people would call a big fan of our 44th President, but the line from his bad policies and philosophy to this is tenuous (not non-existent to be fair, but tenuous).

Humorous to the dedicated opposition and enjoyable. But I found it turned a good and serious philosophy book into a "red meat for partisans" polemic. I think I might prefer the revision.

All said, you still have to buy and read this quality work: four stars.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:19 AM | Comments (0)

July 29, 2012

Review Corner

The Necessary and Proper Clause has been widely misunderstood. Some have called it the "elastic clause," and suggested that it granted Congress vast authority that Congress otherwise would not have. But leading Federalists, including Madison and Hamilton, asserted the contrary. Even John Marshall, the Ratifier who as Chief Justice was accused of taking an overly-broad view of the Necessary and Proper Clause, specifically affirmed that it was a mere statement of what the rule would have been if the Clause had been simply omitted.
Robert G. Natelson filed amicus curiae briefs on ObamaCare with Dr. Dave Kopel, who spoke on NFIB v Sibelius at Liberty on the Rocks. (If you have not watched the videos Ari Armstrong took, you are missing something.)

He is also the author of The Original Constitution, an all night house party for Constitutional Originalists. Natelson goes through the Constitution, clause by clause, and clarifies it based on the law books of the time in addition to secondary papers like Madison's notes, ratification documents and The Federalist Papers.

It was an entertaining read (you know who you are, it might not displace Harry Potter), and I look forward to hanging on to it for reference. It is a superb way to go "one step deeper" than just the original text. Natelson is a lover of liberty and brilliant legal scholar -- he is not imputing his beliefs on the text but rather expanding understanding based on originalist knowledge.

The Founders would have seen permanent federal land ownership for unenumerated purposes as subversive of the constitutional scheme. This was partly because the government was to enjoy only enumerated powers and partly because extensive federal land ownership would render many people dependent on the government.
The other six twentieth-century alterations, however, embodied ideals fundamentally at variance with those that had inspired the Founders. Their addition to the Constitution significantly changed the system’s design.

The Sixteenth Amendment of 1913 ended the apportionment rule for the income tax. While in theory this did not otherwise expand the power of the federal government, it helped to realize two of the Founders’ fears: that some groups would be able to use the tax system to plunder other groups, and that the central government could impose a "direct tax" on citizens of a state without regard to the population of their state. The Seventeenth Amendment, ratified the same year, provided that the people, rather than the state legislatures, henceforth would elect United States Senators. There were strong arguments for such a change, but there is little question that it impaired the constitutional balance by weakening the voice of state governments.

The Eighteenth Amendment (1919), which established national prohibition of alcoholic beverages, was repealed only a few years later by the Twenty-First (1933). During the time Prohibition was in effect, however, federal agents became involved in routine law enforcement in a way they never had before--and Americans became inured to the practice.

Five stars.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:39 AM | Comments (2)
But johngalt thinks:

This comports with my longstanding belief that American constitutional rule ended at the beginning of the last century, not this one - and that the Sixteenth Amendment was the lynchpin.

What is less clear, however, is why it happened then? Why was the government content within its limitations, at least economically, for over a century before seeking to expand its power? The passing of the Founders and their memories is one explanation. Anything more concrete than that?

Posted by: johngalt at July 29, 2012 3:55 PM
But Jk thinks:

I'm going with two clever parlimentarians: Speaker Thomas Brackett Reed made the house "efficient" and turned the reins over to TR; LBJ made the Senate work and took the reins himself.

These subverted Congress' avoidance of harm through inaction just in time for the Progressives.

Posted by: Jk at July 29, 2012 8:36 PM

July 22, 2012

Thomas Wolfe, Call your Office!

This Review Corner might become a midlife crisis -- thou art forewarned.

Insty linked to the Kindle Deal of the Day or whatever and I picked up Kurt Vonnegut's "Welcome to the Monkey House" for $2.99. My first apartment (below) was littered with Kurt Vonnegut paperbacks. I had read each a dozen times, but they were out and I would pick them up and reread them. "Sirens of Titan" was on the coffee table and I must have read it 20 times. "Welcome to the Monkey House," however, was in the car.

I continued to read Vonnegut -- if less obsessively -- as long as he wrote. Even though I came to abhor his philosophy, his percussive, poignant, and amusing writing style always made it worthwhile. He deteriorated as a writer pari-passu with my growing impatience with his ideas. The cruel joke was that his paean to Socialism, "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater," is an unappreciated flop while the damning scorch of "Harrison Bergeron" lives on.

I had reread Bergeron many times recently, but the rest of the stories in Monkey House were dim memories. I laughed out loud, the man was brilliant. But his dystopian themes and überhip irony grate on me. I could not really get into them. I don't know if have outgrown childish things or lost my youthful sense of whimsy.

About that apartment. I don't want to overplay my brush at fame, but I got on Google to look at my old 'hood that is on the news 24 x 7. It was closer than I thought.

Thomas Wolfe reminds "You can't ever go home again." True that -- and not just because it has been evacuated.

Posted by John Kranz at 9:46 AM | Comments (1)
But jk thinks:

I'd delete this post were it not for bloggers honor. A bit of reflection and a reread of a few stories show this is waaaay too harsh. Quite a few stories are brilliant and even the ones that bug me are superbly well written.

The author himself conceded that he was not on top of his game in the novels of his later years. These, conversely, are from the apogee.

A bit like hating the Grateful Dead for Deadheads, I placed some undeserved scorn on the author. He deserves scorn for other things, but not these amazing short stories.

Posted by: jk at July 23, 2012 9:50 AM

July 15, 2012

Review Corner

Or, Why didn't we nominate this Bain guy?

Edward W. Conard is, I believe, the current Managing Director of Bain (you know how hard it is to figure out when those guys come and go!) but for our purposes, the author of a magisterial book on the "Panic of '08," which Conard refers to as "the Financial Crisis" (caps his).

Unintended Consequences, Why Everything You've Been Told About the Economy Is Wrong. is a very serious look at the banking system, political economics, and policy. He pulls no punches and he goes into the weeds when he must to explain complex financial instruments.

Anybody who remains interested in the Po08 needs learn about MBSs, CDSs, SIVs and the like. I considered myself -- not a financial whiz -- but self-congratulatory that I understood what these were and why they were used. Conard's book took me to a brand new level. On a good day, I could now explain whey the mezzanine tranches of subprime mortgage backed securities were as deserving of AAA status as a 20% down home mortgage. But I'd still suggest you pick it up from Conard.

More interesting to the average ThreeSourcer is his philosophy. I would compare him to Larry Kudlow: he is an outstanding proponent of free markets and their benefits, yet he is in no way "all-in" on freedom when it conflicts with asset prices. He sees roles for government that many ThreeSourcers will not appreciate, yet his cogent appeals to liberty make his heterodoxies difficult to dismiss [If we had editors at ThreeSourcers, that last sentence would have a big red line through it...]

Speaking of Heterodoxy, he opens early with a numbingly-counterintuitive chapter to get things flowing. Conard credits Roe v. Wade as the source to American freedom vis-à-vis Europe. Fusionism writ large, the alliance of anti-abortion social conservatives and free-market folk saved the country from the general human disposition toward wealth redistribution. US and European GDP growth tracks closely through the 1960s, splits near Roe, and diverges from there.

By the random dint of history, the landmark Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade brought pro-investment voters to power in the United States. This faction, representing about 35 percent of the electorate, combined with enough of the now-mobilized social conservatives-- principally the Christian Right, who vote Republican and represent 15 percent of the electorate-- seized the majority and permanently shifted the political economic center to the right. Without a similar legal ruling in Europe and Japan, a similar shift in political power never occurred.
Nixon was the last Republican president before voters contested Roe. Without the 15 percent bloc of evangelical Christian voters in his back pocket, Nixon had to accept a 70 percent marginal tax rate to capture 51 percent of the vote. Even then, he only won the election because of the unpopularity of the Vietnam War. Eisenhower only won by accepting a 90 percent marginal tax rate! Clinton was the first Democratic president in office after voters contested Roe. With only 85 percent of the vote available to him, where 40 percent of that vote supported tax reduction.

He is brilliant on trade and immigration. I don't think he is up late worrying that the Chinese are sewing our Olympic Uniforms. He asks "if offshore workers were to offer their labor to US consumption for free -- how much would we want?" All of it, right? As much as we could get. Well, seventy-five cents an hour is essentially free. Let us have Americans do something more wealth-producing and have others stitch up our homoerotic, paramilitary athletic uniforms.
In addition to talented workers thinking about how to improve future outcomes, there are other forms of overlooked investment. Immigration has freed many talented workers from household tasks and increased their availability for more productive activities-- namely, work.

This is a hefty and serious book, which I do no favors by summarizing in a blog post, but he does see a role for government as lender of last resort. FDIC prevented bank runs for 75 years. If institutions keep sufficient liquid reserves to prevent runs, there will not be sufficient risk capital and growth will be slowed. Much has been written as to why Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers received different treatment. Conard would have had the Fed and Treasury save both. And backstop AIG.

The crisis was an old fashioned bank run -- only the investment vehicles were changed. As only government can provide enough warm fuzzies to depositors to prevent withdrawls, it makes sense to have them backstop these 75-year storms so that the economy can grow at full strength in-between. He has some innovative ideas to address concerns of moral hazard.

Of greatest appeal 'round these parts is his appreciation for the morality of freedom. I wish that "that other Bain guy" could explain so well the benefits of risk taking and capital accumulation:

Who captures the value from the tractor? Not the farmer who competes with other farmers for unskilled tractor-driving wages; his return comes largely from avoiding the cost of not investing. Not the tractor manufacturers who compete fiercely with one another on price. Not the landowners-- tractors make it easier to plow more difficult land-- and not investors, such as banks, that compete with one another to supply the capital at perhaps a 7 percent return. The consumer captured almost all of the value through lower food prices.

Long review corner, sorry. And I have still not captured much from this fascinating book. Five Stars.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:06 AM | Comments (0)

July 8, 2012

Review Corner

First. Apologies. In discussing Randal O'Toole, I had been dutifully looking up his last name to ascertain spelling -- all the while adding an extra l to his first. I hope some of the Colorado ThreeSourcers were able to catch O'Toole on Jon Caldera's "Devil's Advocate." He is a fascinating man and a serious mental hoss.

I'm on my fourth book which purports to explain the financial crisis I like to call "The Panic of Oh-eight." If you add the inane Matt Damon documentary, that's five different viewpoints. O'Toole's (the third book) is perhaps the most unusual and counterintuitive. Yet his knowledge of history, supporting statistics and anecdotal evidence force you to take it seriously.

Being a CATO guy, O'Toole is not a big fan of the Community Reinvestment Act, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, fiat currency, or Countrywide cronyism. And yet, he shows that the housing bubble did not devastate Houston, which had all of those, but did affect Vancouver which had none. The real problem, detailed comprehensively in American Nightmare, is zoning, growth restrictions, and urban planning that seeks to enforce the leftist utopia of dense urban housing and public transit.

In Houston, if you want a house, you can buy a plot, get a permit, build a house and move in within 120 days. Texas does not give counties the right to zone or restrict residential housing. Supply and demand are therefore matched and prices are non-volatile: when more housing is needed, they build it. What a concept, eh? In Boulder, you bid up the price of an existing home or start a decadal permit process.

Slow-growth advocates say, "Only the wealthy can move to our city." Smart-growth advocates say, "Less-wealthy people can move into our city as long as they are willing to live in one of the high-density enclaves we have prepared for them."

Houston is his favorite example but not an anomaly. Raleigh, Atlanta, and a host of other cities without onerous growth restrictions escaped the housing bubble. In his interview, Jon Caldera suggests homes are affordable in Houston "because nobody wants to move there." Turns out, Houston is the fastest growing metropolitan area and is adding another Boulder to its ranks every year. Yet $90,000 buys you a large three-bedroom house.

It's difficult to summarize this argument and not sound like a fruitcake. You've got to read the book or watch O'Toole (sadly, I don't think Caldera's show is posted online; if I find it I will link). He has a serious grasp of historical trends in housing and property ownership and a firm statistical/economic footing for his theory. Five stars.

Posted by John Kranz at 9:35 AM | Comments (7)
But jk thinks:

Really glad you saw it. They are rerunning it today at 12:30 PM (Mountain) for those who missed -- set DVRs to "stun!"

Posted by: jk at July 9, 2012 11:35 AM
But johngalt thinks:

Really glad you helped me see the big-picture conclusion. (I was multitasking while I watched it, like it was a Rockies game or something.)

I tried to "summarize the argument and not sound like a fruitcake" in a July 8 Tweet that for some reason is not showing up on the #3Src topic page yet.

#3Src What really caused the housing bubble that popped in '08? [link to blog post] Hint: It wasn't the CRA. Thank you Randal O'Toole!

I think my followers can see it though.

Posted by: johngalt at July 9, 2012 1:51 PM
But Ellis Wyatt thinks:

However, Nevada is one outlier that I'm very familiar with, and O'Toole notes in the linked article. As Elmer Keith said, "Hell, I was there!" I was planning to move to Reno and the way the market shot up in '03 was startling, so I congratulated myself on buying in fall '04 and moved about 9 months later. Peaked at about +20% and then Rock Lobstered ("down, down, down").

Anyway, the point is Reno and Vegaas were much more sensitive to recessionary shocks than places like Texas or some of the other states mentioned.

Not disagreeing with the role of the government in distorting the housing market, not at all. But there were some fairly free markets overwhelmed by other factors.

Posted by: Ellis Wyatt at July 9, 2012 2:29 PM
But jk thinks:

EW, he addresses Nevada several times directly in his book. There are many areas which have various proxies which provide the same impedance between supply and demand even if they cannot be laid directly on planners.

One section on Nevada:

Speculation plays a role in housing bubbles. It appears that the real demand for housing in California was probably met in late 2004 or 2005, but speculators kept pushing up housing prices through 2006. An overflow of speculation from the California market probably contributed to the housing bubbles in Nevada and Arizona. Without California's land-use regulation, California speculators would not have imagined that prices in Arizona and Nevada would increase fast enough to satisfy their desire for profit from the real-estate market.

O'Toole, Randal (2012-04-23). American Nightmare: How Government Undermines the Dream of Homeownership (Kindle Locations 4472-4475). Cato Institute. Kindle Edition.

Posted by: jk at July 9, 2012 3:52 PM
But jk thinks:


All these states except Nevada have growth-management laws; as described in Chapter 11, Nevada’s housing supply is constrained by the limited amounts of private land available for development.

O'Toole, Randal (2012-04-23). American Nightmare: How Government Undermines the Dream of Homeownership (Kindle Locations 4333-4334). Cato Institute. Kindle Edition.

Posted by: jk at July 9, 2012 4:08 PM
But Ellis Wyatt thinks:

Thank you gentlemen for the additional information. I'll have to read the book, because while I don't doubt that eeeevile California speculators were part of the problem in NV, my experience actually living there was that the cities and counties were very enthusiastic about encouraging housing development of both (local) public and private lands. The vast federal holdings were generally not a problem (yet - the cities were starting to grow up against them in some places, though).

Posted by: Ellis Wyatt at July 9, 2012 7:23 PM

July 1, 2012

Review Corner

With my company's fiscal year end and rollout of a new ERP system on adjacent days, hopes for a Sunday Review Corner were fading fast. Randall O'Toole's "American Nightmare" is superb but not really a page turner. And the RMA automation section for which I am responsible is not going that well...

How fortuitous, then, that Professor Glenn Reynolds's The Higher Education Bubble is finally out on Kindle®. I teased him a bit over email that -- of all people -- his electronic version should not have been two weeks after hardcopies were shipping. Among its many virtues, it's a quick read. ($4.99 on Kindle and the stats say 56 pages).

Regular readers of Instapundit will not be bedazzled by new concepts. But he very clearly lays out what I agree to be an important new trend. And it's short enough you might be able to get a teacher to read it (now that was just mean!) I'd pair it up with (free borrow for Prime members) to really see some of the flaws.

He opens with Herb Stein's superb dictum of "Anything that can't go on forever won't." Then he makes a compelling case that while the utility of a liberal arts education has fallen, its cost has soared. I remain pleased that my nieces and nephews in college today have chosen less expensive institutions and generally less debt. (That said, I'll package up a NBS [Niece Backed Securities] bond and offer it to ThreeSourcers at about .03 on the dollar if anybody is in -- but I digress). Most are following the recommendations of completing the first years at community college. Even our budding MD completed her undergrad downtown.

I'm less sanguine than the Professor that government bailouts are not going to be the answer. In the fever-pitch-shadow of the Tea Parties, all of our legislators fell all over themselves to make a 3.1% college loan a new American Right; they fought only over how to fund it.

A great, quick, read. A bargain at $4.99. A Karmic indulgence for all the free use of Instapundit all these years. Four stars.

Posted by John Kranz at 11:01 AM | Comments (2)
But johngalt thinks:

Glad the nieces aren't taking the path that leads to an appearance on the Huckabee show and saying, "I have sixty thousand dollars in student-loan debt that I don't know where it came from."

One counterpoint, however, to your close. Congress didn't "fall over themselves" to pass the student loan bill. It was more of an Obamacare, Stimulus bill, sorta thing. You know, here's this mondo bill we wrote and now we're all gonna pass it. But don't worry that you haven't read it. That is so four years ago.

Posted by: johngalt at July 1, 2012 7:00 PM
But jk thinks:

WHOA! Danger -- extreme hossness at brother jg's link. Don't read it within one hour of eating.

To bring it back to topic (and the digressions were all mine) that dysfunctional Congress will not be seen as obstructing education. Both Presidents Bush prided themselves on shoveling money at education. And Democrats...well...let's say the Teachers' Unions are a core constituency and move on.

The system Reynolds describes will have to fail before it is repaired, and it is "Too Sacred To Fail" by Congressional standards.

Posted by: jk at July 2, 2012 10:30 AM

June 24, 2012

Review Corner

I still have one chapter remaining of Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter. But Sunday Morning Review Corners are becoming habit.

It is an enjoyable yarn, well written, and there are several nice grace notes for somebody who follows the antebellum period closely. I guess it is a big deal now with a movie from the author's screenplay.

And that is my concern. It is to history what Jon Stewart is to current events. It -- and he -- are sort of right and basically well informed. Yet both are forced to trade the nuance of the facts for the yarn, the laugh, the story.

The War Between the States presents a rich depth of study in economics and liberty. Seth Grahame-Smith, like most high-school history teachers and Apu's Citizenship Test is forced to enforce the The-Civil-War-was-all-about-slavery meme. A new generation will use this book as a springboard to learn history (Yaay!). But they will start on a too prevalent misconception (Booo!)

DISCLAIMER: I am not ready to join the sympathizers. The existence of slavery was abhorrent enough to override -- and spoil for centuries if not all of time -- the high ideals of liberty and local governance embodied in the Confederacy. I'm not lining up with Lord Acton, but feel we must take a more nuanced view of this defining period of history.

That said, the book is fun. Four stars.

Posted by John Kranz at 11:04 AM | Comments (0)

June 10, 2012

Review Corner

How is anybody going to learn any history if it is written by historians? That's not a quip attempt, I am serious.

First a whole mess of stars to Kevin Costner for the History Channel's miniseries on the Hatfields & McCoys. It was well done. Costner brought money and star power and some big ticket crew to a cable special. If you missed it, I strongly recommend your trying to catch it.

I knew nothing of the story except that they feuded. While I enjoyed the miniseries, I wanted to read a bit more and see what they got right and what they missed. A little Kindle® shopping led me to Blood Feud by Lisa Alther: The Hatfields and the McCoys: The Epic Story of Murder and Vengeance

And for 11 chapters, murder & vengeance is what you get. Seriously, the descriptions of people and events throughout the feud are superb. While Costner's folks did a good job, a book is better suited to expressing ambiguity. Nobody knows what happened, and a researcher like Alther is faced with a McCoy book, a Hatfield book, oral histories and salacious journalism. Alther is humble but succeeds in a fair portrayal seeking outside references and corroboration.

I enjoyed the first 11 chapters and was ready to start dishing out the stars. The feud was complete and the loose ends were tied. Were this a miniseries the theme music would be swelling right about now -- and yet

And yet four full chapters and an epilogue remain. In this final third, Alther puts on her full professor hat and offers page after page of conventional academic nonsense.

I'm a big boy. I love history. And I am used to writers not sharing my liberty philosophy. I can roll my eyes at snarky asides and conventional wisdom. But it was as if the author went out for a cigarette and some evil grad student snuck in a hundred pages and sent the manuscript.

I highlighted a few lines from the last section. Why did they fight? She has a few interesting suggestions: genetic, economic, political, philosophical -- but the bulk is devoted to her theory of "daddy issues"

On the McCoy side, Perry Cline lost his father at age nine, leaving him vulnerable to the machinations of Devil Anse Hatfield. Frank Phillips never met his father, who was killed in the Civil War, and he spent much of his time trying to live up to his father's reputation for bravery. Harmon McCoy's sons lost him to murder when they were very young. Ranel and Harmon McCoy's father, Daniel, failed in his traditional responsibilities by giving them no land when they started families of their own. Ranel McCoy failed his own sons similarly. Daniel left a legacy of shiftlessness, and Ranel of litigiousness.

I sometimes picture all these sad young men, and some not so young, fighting their shadowbox battles for or against phantom fathers, acting out their longing for fathers who had died or never claimed them, their hatred of fathers who had failed or rejected them -- and slaughtering one another in the process.

Mmmkay. Then again, it could have been. No, you tell them:
If only the feudists had spent as much money and effort on acquiring contraception (which was, in fact, available in other regions of the United States at this time) as they did on acquiring guns, ammunition, and moonshine, a different scenario might have evolved. With fewer children, their farms could have remained intact instead of being constantly subdivided into ever-smaller plots. Those angry young hillbullies would have had secure livelihoods and perhaps wouldn't have felt such a compulsion to charge around the countryside on horseback, expressing their fury by creating such terror and misery for others.

But the real feud was the Appalachians against the wicked Corporations
Once again, while audiences gasped in horror at the outrageous behavior of the fictional feudists, they admired their ruthless aggression. As one writer puts it, "Those forces, which were shaping a new American business and political elite -- and hence American mass culture . . . found the idea of man's 'wolf-law' nature a useful indulgence, a justification for annihilating one's rivals

But an unknown number of miners and guards alike had died on Blair Mountain, and many more had been wounded. The large corporations had originally refused to enter the Tug Fork Valley due to the supposed savagery of the people who lived there. But the system the corporations had set in place instead turned out to be far more savage and lethal than anything enacted by the Hatfields and the McCoys.

I left out the section on how great President Wilson was. I can email that if you'd like.

A sad and sour ending to an otherwise great book. Four-and-a-half stars for Introduction - Chapter 11; minus 2.5 for Chapter 12 - Epilogue. Two stars. But if you have Tyler Cowen's discipline and can put it down when she goes off, I'd recommend it highly!

Posted by John Kranz at 6:26 PM | Comments (3)
But jk thinks:

Lonely guys commenting on their own posts...

The Costner folks seemed to do a decent job on accuracy. There are many discrepancies between the book and dramatization, but it's a credible version of events.

The worst part is having the über-sympathetic Costner play a character, making him immediately a hero. There are several stories about how "Devil Anse" Hatfield got his sobriquet -- but none are for Costnerian equanimity.

Posted by: jk at June 10, 2012 7:36 PM
But Robert thinks:

Regarding Costner, yes he's great at the sympathy. In "JFK" he managed to make Jim Garrison into some kind of hero, rather than a paranoid maniac who hounded and prosecuted an innocent man.

Posted by: Robert at June 11, 2012 3:42 PM
But jk thinks:

Costner AND Oliver Stone? You're Braver'n'me man.

Snark aside, Kevin did do a great job on the miniseries. He can't help it if he is likable.

Posted by: jk at June 11, 2012 5:14 PM

June 2, 2012

Review Corner

I have another data point, if not a direct answer to Brother jg's superb post on "Underdogma."

[Author Michael] Prell's premise is that our country's electoral preference for collectivist policies stems not from ignorance, but from a healthy American proclivity to root for the underdog.

On my brother-in-law's recommendation, I just read Winston Groom's Patriotic Fire which details Andrew Jackson and Jean Laffite and the battle of New Orleans. Underdogs indeed.

I'll reach back to a pre-blog Review Corner. One of my favorites and a book that launched my interest in history is What If? A collection of counterfactual essays well, I'll let the subtitle say it: "The World's Foremost Military Historians Imagine What Might Have Been." This 12 year old book is cheaper in paperback than Kindle but it moved me because the continuation of our American Experiment is so improbable. It starts (working from memory) with Washington and the Battle of Brooklyn. Without an unusual fog to hide the General's audacious retreat, American Independence would have been a footnote in British textbooks.

Thirty years in, we find ourselves back at war with the world's foremost military and, much as I dig James Madison, things ain't going well. Then a curmudgeonly Anglophobe General leads a small band of untrained and ill-equipped militia and a band of pirates to defend a near-undefendable city. [Spoiler alert -- the US wins!]

Staggeringly improbable! A great read. Four stars.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:30 AM | Comments (0)

May 28, 2012

Review Corner

I had posted James Pethokoukis's Road to Freedom QOTD a few weeks ago. Many of the AEI bloggers have piled on since, and there are quite a few quotes from Arthur C. Brooks's book available on the AEI Blogsite.

And yet, I would advise you to take The Road to Freedom for a spin. It's very good, and its topic is near and dear to the hearts of ThreeSourcers: how can we make the most effective case for free markets and free enterprise?

As President of AEI, Arthur Brooks's opinion is interesting by default. As it happens, I think it will have a lot of appeal to ThreeSourcers, even though he is ready to concede a lot more to the state than most of us. Yet, the demand for a moral and not economic case will attract some ThreeSources enthusiasm. So what if growth is a little slower, if it is more "fair?" Brooks points out that a 1% d2GDP/dt2 means that in 72 years our descendants will have half the wealth they would without the loss. That the poor and the marginalized are the ones who truly benefit from growth and wealth creation.

A great read. At the end of the day I don't think either I or dagny or jg can claim Brooks to be "on our side" in the Elevator Talk wars (he does use the phrase "elevator talk"), but it is good data.

Four stars, as I have been too generous of late -- and that most ThreeSourcers will not encounter many new ideas. But what is there is well said, well documented -- and well worth a read.

Posted by John Kranz at 4:14 PM | Comments (2)
But johngalt thinks:

Where was I on May 9th and why didn't I comment on Road to Freedom QOTD? That is some good stuff and I went back today to defend it from brother Perry.

Posted by: johngalt at May 29, 2012 7:04 PM
But jk thinks:

Down at the Occupy Denver Rallies fighting Capitalism?

Posted by: jk at May 29, 2012 7:34 PM

May 27, 2012

Review Corner

This hung on my office door for a long time:

He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much; who has enjoyed the trust of pure women, the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children; who has filled his niche and accomplished his task; who has left the world better than he found it, whether an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul; who has always looked for the best in others and given them the best he had; whose life was an inspiration; whose memory a benediction.

Attributed -- erroneously it seems -- to Ralph Waldo Emerson. A friend and I used to joke that "a perfect poem" was a rather high bar; neither of us though young at the time seemed on track to complete any of the markers to Emersonain success. He later got into Orchids; maybe he will make the botanical cut.

The poem was in an ad for a Boulder Bank, and the reason it scored the prized location was that it also had President Lincoln's letter to Mrs. Bixby I am shocked to learn that its authenticity is now debated. Even before the Internet: lies, lies, lies!

That was a long side track, but the phrase "perfect poem" has haunted me to this day. Who leaves behind something of perfection? Especially in art, it seems heretical.

And yet, I am going to credit Robert A. Caro with a perfect piece of scholarship for his four-volumes-and-counting exhaustive exegesis on President Lyndon Johnson. Caro is the greatest biographer of all time. While I quip that "it's too bad he wasted his skills on LBJ," that is neither fair nor accurate. Our Thirty-Sixth provides both a complex personality and an opportunity to examine our Republic's legislative and electoral system in intricate detail.

I think anybody is completely mad for not reading all four, and hope Caro's health holds out to complete the series. But I do recommend Volume III: Master of the Senate" to one who balks at the idea of all ("Master" alone is 1400 pages). These books show an insider's view of elections and legislation that nobody is naive enough not to suspect, yet nobody would be calculating enough to fabricate. I think you learn more about how government really works from Master of the Senate than 100 Civics textbooks. The warts and all view has even me rethinking the benefits of self government.

Caro also ranges around (again, he has the page count -- no idea how big this one is but it has occupied your humble blog brother for almost three weeks). The introduction sections on President Kennedy are as instructive as complete books. While the books are lengthy and dense with facts, they are not a bit turgid nor long winded. Masterful.

For a guy who has spent so much of his life on one individual -- I have always wanted to run into Caro at a cocktail party or Walmart* or somewhere so I could ask "Do you like him? At all?" Caro's writings have done much to engender a personal antipathy for Johnson that I do not feel for any other President, whether I like their policies or not. TR and Wilson destroyed this once free nation, but seemed interesting, real guys, who were devoted and patriotic.

The Lyndon Baines Johnson of the first three volumes -- and the author hints of the fifth -- is an unprincipled slave to ambition. All his personal failings happen to be those which most disturb me. He is brutal to subordinates, obsequious to superiors, and completely ruthless without an agenda to hang it on. All his crimes are committed for the betterment of LBJ.

For seven weeks in this book, his subject gets a chance to shine. The transition from November 22 in Dallas to his State of the Union gets deservedly high marks. His initial legislative agenda, where the master again finds the strategy and tactics to complete the JFK agenda and start his own has to be applauded for brilliance whether you agree with it or not. Like watching Marty Broduer beat my Rangers, you have to provide props where props be due.

Lastly, Caro grades on a curve because he does support the agenda without reservation. Those opposed to it are racists upholding progress demanded by the majority. No doubt true, but Caro surprised me by never giving the slightest nod to property or states' rights, or even questioning the efficacy or current fiscal condition of these vaunted programs.

That sounds like a huge negative to ThreeSourcers, but it is not. We're big boys and girls and we know academic dispositions. At the end of the day, nobody else on the whole planet could have passed JFK's tax cut, which set up decades of prosperity. Or the Civil Rights bill which suborned property rights but elevated human dignity.

A lot to think about. A lot to learn. A lot to enjoy. Five stars without question.

Posted by John Kranz at 3:41 PM | Comments (0)

May 6, 2012

Review Corner

I went to bed the night of April 30 sweating bullets.

I had a 5AM ride to the airport arranged and I had pre-ordered two Kindle books scheduled for release on May 1. Surely the good folks at Amazon would hook me up the night before or right at midnight and I would have something to read on the plane.

Right? Yes they did. And I enjoyed -- thoroughly -- Jonah Goldberg's Tyranny of Clichés on the way out.

It is hard for me to be objective with Jonah. He is such a favorite, I don't know if I could not like one of his books. We actually have a few areas of disagreement. But I so appreciate his method, writing chops and analytical skills that I consider him a real go-to guy. This book is no exception.

The premise -- and this book is far more partisan than Liberal Fascism -- is that the left cheats in the war of ideas by passing off platitudes and bromides as thought and argument. The Tyranny Blog on NR has more background on the book and several examples:

One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter
...the sort of thing that would make any good Jesuit weep. It steamrolls through a fallacious comparison, confusing ends and means on its way, in order to celebrate both relativism and nihilism and elevate moral cowardice as an intellectual principle.

Violence never solves anything
Really? It solved our problems with the British empire and ended slavery.

Better ten guilty men go free than one innocent man suffer
So you won’t mind if those ten guilty men move next door to you?

Diversity is strength
Cool. The NBA should have a quota for midgets and one-legged point guards!

Goldberg is funny and, as mentioned, far more pointed than in his previous book, but I appreciate the scholarly research to back it up. He quotes Michael Oakeshott
You truly take to heart Oakeshott's lovely epigram, "The conjunction of ruling and dreaming generates tyranny."

And then runs right into a pop culture reference:
But this is not really fair. The French Enlightenment was a lot like the Star Wars franchise: It started great; it just evolved into disaster over time, as the characters became more and more unbelievable. Montesquieu, after all, influenced the Founding Fathers as much as anyone, and was the author of the whole idea of the separation of powers.

Switching back and forth as easily as I switch from Sumatra to Columbian coffee:
"[W]e must demand that the individual shall be willing to lose the sense of personal achievement," insisted Jane Addams in 1902, "and shall be content to realize his activity only in connection to the activity of the many." Walter Rauschenbusch, the leading proselytizer of the progressive social gospel movement, declared, "New forms of association must be created.... Our disorganized competitive life must pass into an organic cooperative life." Elsewhere, Rauschenbusch put it more simply: "Individualism means tyranny."

I don't know that your average ThreeSourcer will change positions of discover a lot of new ideas in this book. But I guarantee everyone who takes it up will be entertained, learn a lot of new foundational material, and likely have a few myths punctured (let us say I have a couple of research projects after completing it).

Five Stars! It's Jonah fer cryin' out loud!

BTW: The second preordered book is Robert A Caro's The Passage of Power. Volume IV in his masterpiece biography of President Johnson. Mister Kindle says I am 13% in (Volume III was 1400 pages, I am not sure what I am into here) and it is incredible. The section on President Kennedy is better than any books I have read on Kennedy. I have no problem claiming Caro to be the best biographer of all time, this seems to keep on or above the trend line.

UPDATE: Good Tyranny of Cliches review in the New York Post

Posted by John Kranz at 7:37 PM | Comments (1)
But jk thinks:

And one for Sister dagny:

a mechanistic utilitarian could craft a perfectly consistent argument that the slavery of the few would maximize the happiness of the many. The only plausible utilitarian retort is that the many could not be happy while enjoying the fruits of slave labor.

Goldberg, Jonah (2012-05-01). The Tyranny of Cliches: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas (p. 71). Penguin Group. Kindle Edition.

Posted by: jk at May 6, 2012 8:32 PM

April 30, 2012

Philip K. Dick

The author seems to have enjoyed Blade Runner more than blog-sister dagny did.

Posted by John Kranz at 4:40 PM | Comments (2)
But dagny thinks:

Oops, sorry if I was not clear. I think Blade Runner is a fabulous movie! I highly recommend the Director's Cut and it remains a sci-fi movie masterpiece.

I occasionally admit that I spent many a college road trip journeying to Science Fiction conventions, wearing costumes, and being told by well-meaning friends that I needed to, "get a life." The Blade Runner Director's Cut was one of the movies played over and over at such events so you could watch it at 3am when the panels were over.

However, I did think it was kind of silly that they took the plot from one story and the title from another and just stuck them together. I suppose it was because the general movie-going public would not have gone to see a flick titled, "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep," even if it did have Harrison Ford and Daryl Hannah in it.

If there is anyone out there who hasn't seen it - 4 stars.

Posted by: dagny at April 30, 2012 5:27 PM
But jk thinks:


Actually, I have not seen it. I will remedy that.

Posted by: jk at April 30, 2012 5:45 PM

April 22, 2012

Review Corner

I missed it. It's all my fault. I read today that "John Stossel rivets enthusiastic Denver crowd while promoting 'No They Can't!'"

I canceled a couple meetings and made plans to go down to Denver Wednesday for a book signing at the Tattered Cover in LoDo. I was taken very ill that morning (mostly all better now) and did not make it after all.

While I did not get riveted, I ordered a couple of signed copies: one for a great friend and one for the lovely bride. Yet, in a further display of bad husbandship, I read it first and then leant it to our niece.

Like Joe (and Blake) Kernen's book, I don't know that most ThreeSourcers will learn a lot of new things or have positions swayed by "No They Can't!" But my niece is an interesting data point. She is an Obama true believer but she loves John Stossel. I can't wait to hear what she thinks (I had not even finished the last chapter but did not want to miss this opportunity). Of all the public personages in the world, Stossel probably represents my views more closely than any other. I cannot think of one issue on which we are far apart.

I also like his style. He concedes that our problems have bipartisan roots yet does not enjoy bashing the parties in the style of a Matt Welch, David Boaz, or Nick Gillespie. He makes his point, answers questions, rebuts thoughts misconstrued -- but then leaves it to his interlocutor to form opinions.

And while I love to plow through Hayek and Mises (for once, I am not being pedantic -- I really do) Stossel's books assemble the most important concepts in an accessible, fun -- dare I say riveting -- package. Assuming that the last chapter does not call for the nationalization of the oil companies, I give it a provisional five stars.

Thanks to Brother Keith for recommending Philip K. Dick's A Scanner Darkly. It was interesting. My head is just not in the fiction space, so I am going to eschew a review. It was thoughtful and interesting. I was not prepared for the darkness and dystopia, but will not critique the author for the reader's failings.

Posted by John Kranz at 12:24 PM | Comments (0)

"My Name is John Galt"

That was D.B. Sweeney speaking. Sweeney is cast in the pivotal role of the next installment of the Atlas Shrugged movie series, Atlas Shrugged: Part II - Either-Or

Sweeney is new to the franchise, partly because the John Galt character had a minor role in the first film and partly because the producers have chosen to recast the entire movie! There has been much consternation about this on the movie's discussion boards but I'm looking forward to it. My sense is that the first movie wasn't as well acted as it could have been. The leading roles of Dagny Taggart and Hank Rearden were played by Taylor Schilling and Grant Bowler who, while attractive, didn't seem to have their hearts in their roles. They are replaced by Samantha Mathis and Jason Beghe.

Mathis is a better fit in the role, being born in 1970 instead of 1984, and starring in major motion pictures like Broken Arrow, where she played the fetching park ranger who tracked down John Travolta and his nuclear missle.

And Beghe's name may not be familiar but viewers will recognize him from Judging Amy, G.I. Jane, Thelma and Louise, Castle, and dozens more TV series' where he had supporting roles.

Perhaps the only recognizable name in the cast is Esai Morales who replaces Jsu Garcia as Francisco. Garcia gave, I thought, the best performance of the heroic characters in Part I but Morales is still an upgrade. A consistent theme of the new cast is more experience and more maturity. It can't help but show up as a more compelling movie than the brave and fearless but out-of-its-league production of Part I.

And finally, who is D.B. Sweeney? New York-born in 1961, he set his sights on a pro baseball career. When a motorcycle accident scuttled that he pursued acting. His filmography is heavy on television roles and he had starring and supporting film roles as well, including Eight Men Out, No Man's Land and The Cutting Edge. [The last of these has special meaning to me and dagny. As washed out hockey player Doug Dorsey, Sweeney takes up figure skating with Olympian Kate Moseley and when they first meet, on the ice, Sweeney's effort to impress the young lady is dashed when he catches the ice with the toepick of his figure skate (non-existent on hockey skates) and face plants on the ice. I did the exact same thing on my first date with dagny.] Sweeney has the right build for the role of John Galt, and a natural smirking swagger that both fits the role and can lend it warmth and likeability.

I, for one, am really looking forward to the premier of Atlas Shrugged: Part II in October.

Posted by JohnGalt at 10:20 AM | Comments (5)
But jk thinks:

I, too, look forward to Part II. But less with this news. We are predisposed to love it because we want so badly for this to succeed.

But I watched it again recently (free on Amazon Prime -- yay!) and, stepping out of my booster space, I certainly see its flaws. Recasting will have a horrible effect on continuity. And I will miss Ms. Schilling, whom I thought did a good job. The discontinuity will provide more ammunition to those who wish to discount this movie.

Interesting bordering on the serendipitous that you post this today. A good friend of mine recently rented Part I only to be extremely disappointed that Pt II wasn't ready yet. My news that we were only 33% there was not greeted warmly.

If Donald Rumsfeld were producing, he'd realize that you go to war with the cast you got.

Posted by: jk at April 22, 2012 11:48 AM
But johngalt thinks:

Here's an interesting question: Should Part III retain the Part II cast, or be fully recast one more time?

I ask this from the perspective that "nobody saw Part I," at least not anyone who didn't seek it out or was otherwise already an accolyte. We "boosters" will have no trouble switching the characters to new actors and neophytes will do better with a higher grade of actor carrying the script. Presumably Part II will have greater box office than Part I. I can easily imagine - not predict, mind you, but imagine - a big budget finale for Part III. Audiences have already shown their willingness to sit through a speech or two by Mel Gibson or his ilk, and there is one humdinger of a speech coming one day in Part III.

Hey, a boy can dream.

Posted by: johngalt at April 22, 2012 3:17 PM
But jk thinks:

Maybe they'll get Mel for PIII...

Sorry, it just seems to be unraveling. Not sure the basis for expecting better box office for PII.

Posted by: jk at April 22, 2012 3:52 PM
But jk thinks:

Digging the idea of three casts. That's a good idea.

Posted by: jk at April 22, 2012 9:39 PM
But johngalt thinks:

Better box office because of:
- Better word-of-mouth due to better film, better acting.
- Better distribution through lessons learned on Part I.
- More compelling storyline in Part II vs. Part I.

Thin, I know, but I think low-budget sequels are often better than the original. (See: Road Warrior vs. Mad Max.)

Posted by: johngalt at April 23, 2012 2:18 PM

April 15, 2012

Review Corner

Only fun books today.

Walter Block Defending the Undefendable: The pimp, prostitute, scab, slumlord, libeler, moneylender and other scapegoats in the rogue's gallery of American society.

Two-ninety-nine on Kindle® -- you cannot go wrong. Novitiate-Brother Bryan turned me on to this and I enjoyed it quite a lot. Like Tom Woods, it is great to encounter those who would are "a little farther out there" than I am. I find myself always doing Block's job (you mean speculators aren't bad?) without his wit or knowledge.

It is a great and provocative read -- and a great reference when you are asked to defend someone who is not a Disney hero but is not harming anybody. I also enjoy the history of a book. Reading Mises or Wollstonecraft or Locke, you become immersed in their time period and must contextualize their ideas in it. Block writes in the 1970's and I almost dusted off my leisure suit and put "Some Girls" on. He decries that NYC Taxi medallions are an astronomical $30,000 (an investment to rival 1958 Les Paul guitars) and one of the cartoons that graces the text uses the n-word.

Did I mention he goes too far? He credits the drug pusher for keeping prices low, accepts pimps as economic middlemen, pushing any violence and coercion to a side issue. I dunno, Walter, I need to think about some of those. But that is all I ask those who are just as shocked at my defense of others. Four stars.

Joe & Blake Kernen Your Teacher Said What?!: Trying to Raise a Fifth Grade Capitalist in Obama's America

Joe Kernen cohosts CNBC's Squawk Box; Blake is his daughter. The two of them did a book tour appearance on Kudlow that is in the adorable hall-of-fame. Dad does most of the talking, but Blake takes on a bit of self-education to grow beyond her teachers' and pop culture's simplistic views on economics. I don't know that any ThreeSourcer will learn something from this. But it could be subtitled everything we believe made accessible to a fourth grader. Nice. Four stars.

Lastly, my lovely bride turned me on to the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay long ago. I had forgotten the exact phrasing of her famous verse:

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends--
It gives a lovely light!

I looked it up and became re-captured by her other work. Renascence and Other Poems is $0.00 on Kindle; several others are free or low single digits. What a voice, what a total HOSS (Merle Rubin noted: "She seems to have caught more flak from the literary critics for supporting democracy than Ezra Pound did for championing fascism"), what a nice change from economics and politics. Five stars.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:56 AM | Comments (1)
But dagny thinks:

Maybe we can start the 5th grade capitalist in First Grade. Think the jg and dagny home needs a copy of that one. :-)

Posted by: dagny at April 17, 2012 12:47 PM

April 12, 2012

Post ad hoc Review Corner

One of the reasons Jonathan Haidt's (five stars) The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion has caused such a stir on the right has been Haidt's data showing -- mirabile non dictu -- that Conservatives understand Liberals (conventional American usage of these terms) much better than Liberals understand Conservatives,

I chuckled and thought of my Facebook friends reading that the lefties asserted that conservatives would not object to someone harming a defenseless animal (Puppy-kicking-NASCAR-Retard-bastards!). Haidt presents it in the context of his six-dimensional morality scale and it is quite convincing. Haidt's admission of a lifetime in the liberal wing with no real exposure to right wing ideas provides additional verisimilitude.

Andrew Biggs has a brief review of that section and some additional speculation.

But Haidt's research went one step further, asking self-indentified conservatives to answer those questionnaires as if they were liberals and for liberals to do the opposite. What Haidt found is that conservatives understand liberals' moral values better than liberals understand where conservatives are coming from. Worse yet, liberals don't know what they don’t know; they don’t understand how limited their knowledge of conservative values is. If anyone is close-minded here its not conservatives.

Haidt has a theory regarding why this is the case, based on the idea that conservatives speak a broader and more encompassing language of six moral values while liberals embrace three of the six in a narrow set of core values. I see nothing wrong with this explanation.

I must confess that this book has really stuck with me. I not only enjoyed it but I think of its precepts frequently -- in work relationships, Facebook arguments, &c.

Posted by John Kranz at 5:21 PM | Comments (13)
But dagny thinks:

WOW, I hardly know where to begin here, so I will just wade in.

Regarding Phil K. Dick, I would add to Keith’s lexicon that the movie Blade Runner (Harrison Ford – probably qualifies as pop culture) is based on a Phil K. Dick story called, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.” The title Blade Runner comes from another Phil K. Dick story with an unrelated plot. Apparently the title was picked at random.

@JK: I do not think your list of conservative novels really qualifies as, “pop culture.” I do not disqualify them because they are novels but because they seem to me to be relatively unknown. I could be wrong here as I do not claim to be a follower of pop culture, quite the contrary in fact, but I think pop culture novels are those that are made into movies. Think The Hunger Games and Harry Potter. Perhaps you could get Heinlein into pop culture based on the Starship Troopers movie but the movie directly contradicted the ideas in the book and certainly didn’t reflect conservative thought. Not sure I have ever left a movie theater quite so angry…

Re-read what we wrote about V for Vendetta so long ago and I’m a little surprised that we were so hard on it. It has become a favorite, often recommended and re-watched. Makes a great Halloween costume too. Jg looks just like V. However, my liberal friends insist this movie reflects liberal thought and not conservative thought. “Clearly the conservatives are the bad guys!” Don’t see how this can possibly give liberals a look into conservative thought if they deny this reflects conservative thought. This might perhaps support the theory above that liberal values are a subset of the conservative ones and they only see the liberal ones in this movie. Also includes one of my all-time favorite movie lines, “You only have bullets, but I have ideas and ideas are bullet proof.”

Capt. Mal and crew are perhaps the best example of pop culture conservative thought. Although once again, I have liberal friends that claim this show reflects liberal thought too. Perhaps lack of commercial success noted by jk is because it reflects conservative thought and the liberals just aren’t interested.

Which leads me to yet another theory as to why conservatives understand liberals better than the reverse: Maybe they just don’t care what other people think?

Posted by: dagny at April 13, 2012 3:29 PM
But jk thinks:

Wait. You mean Willa Cather isn't pop culture?

Fair but I suggest that charlotte and bonfire were big deals -- they did a movie of bonfire, though unfortunately cast.

Posted by: jk at April 13, 2012 11:11 PM
But johngalt thinks:

In talking with dagny I realized I could have been more specific than "pop culture." I was trying to describe the societal influences that bombard the public without having to be sought out.

Posted by: johngalt at April 14, 2012 9:29 AM
But jk thinks:

Less that I misunderstood and more that I took the topic in the direction I wanted. But I think you undersell the impact of a popular novel. "The Stand" by Stephen King did much for the left as did Steinbeck in his day or Updike & Cheever in mine. Sadly more of us have been influenced by Dickens's "Christmas Carol" than "Bleak House," but what ya gonna ado?

Posted by: jk at April 14, 2012 11:23 AM
But johngalt thinks:

I see "A Christmas Carol" every year on television, in one or more of many film adaptations. The original novel was assigned reading in my public school. What is "Bleak House" and who wrote it? (You told me earlier and I still had to ask.)

I'm not the most well read among my generation, nor the least. I'm certainly not least read amongst thems that followed me. This goes to my original point: Liberals teach all of us their values in our formative years, but when we try to teach adult liberals anything it is water off a duck's back. They already "know" everything. It's like they are parents or something.

Posted by: johngalt at April 15, 2012 2:26 PM
But jk thinks:

Dickens wrote both "Bleak House" and "Christmas Carol." A friend had given me a collection of his one year for Christmas so I had read several of his novels but was never a huge fan.

Seeing Bleak House referenced in some Buffy lit-crit got me to grab it and I loved every word. I still don't know if it's the exact selection, or that I was older and I suspect I'll never know. Bleak House touched me.

There is a very good Andrew Davies BBC adaptation that is enjoyable and faithful. If you like that kind of costume drama stuff at all you should give it a try.

I put it into the Harrison Bergeron category because this man whom we know from Oliver Twist and Christmas Carol (and who appears of both my liberal five and conservative five) really hit this one out of the park. Countless characters are ruined by demanding the unearned. The multigenerational lawsuit Jarndyce & Jarndyce has multiple generations expecting a piece of an aristocratic fortune and ruined while good people create and manage their own lives.

Boulder folks will howl with recognition at Mrs. Jellyby, the "telescopic philanthropist" who leaves her own children unattended and uncared for while she ministers single-mindedly to poor children in Africa.

Posted by: jk at April 15, 2012 5:57 PM

April 1, 2012


My pre-review of James Madison and the Making of America attracted a comment from the author, Kevin R. C. Gutzman, who was kind enough to answer a speculation on the timing of the book.

Finishing the book and considering -- it would have been germane any year of the Republic. They fought over the Commerce Clause at the Convention in Philadelphia, and clever Congress people tried to use the General Welfare Clause and the text of the preamble to expand government power before the ink was dry.

The underline for me -- and I think my draw to Madison -- is how hard drafting a Constitution is. We argue self-assuredly about the wonder of the Tenth Amendment and the evils of the 17th. It's wondrous to think that with no scattered history and trial, that this magnificent document was assembled, sold, and ratified. Nobody at the birth thought it was perfect -- it was law-sausage and contained deep compromises to each signer.

No doubt the founders would yell "what are you doing!" at us for much of what we tolerate, but I think there would be some pride in the devotion to its principles.

That's me talking, not the book. But it is a great read with some new viewpoints. Four stars.

Posted by John Kranz at 12:26 AM | Comments (2)
But Bryan thinks:

I'm going to have to read it! I have been to several of Dr. Tom Woods lectures where he references Dr. Gutzman's research and always speaks very highly of him.

Posted by: Bryan at April 1, 2012 11:57 AM
But jk thinks:

It's very good; on Kindle or I'd lend. Hey, did you read Woods's 33 Questions??

Posted by: jk at April 1, 2012 12:04 PM

March 28, 2012

Preordered! (Drool...)

coolidge_cover.jpg My favorite author writes about my favorite President. Life is good, but I must wait until June 26.
Hat-tip: Ed Driscoll.
Posted by John Kranz at 6:31 PM | Comments (0)

March 18, 2012

Right for the Wrong Reasons

An odd Review Corner for an odd book today.

"Abundance: the future is better than you think" by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler was an emotional read. I often wanted to applaud their enthusiastic optimism for innovative, technological, reason-based solutions to current Earthly woes. My most loquacious Facebook interlocutor has forbade me from ever using Karl Popper's "back to the caves" on him again. Perhaps I did go to the well too often. But he and his cohorts see less technology as the solution to technology's negative externalities. I see more. Domesticating the horse was a big step up but London dung disposal (a good punk band name) was considered an insuperable problem, as was North American deforestation to power railroads.

I come from the Virginia Postrel camp that innovation will solve pollution, energy scarcity, ocean acidification and any deleterious effects of global warming -- if the foundational principles of freedom, property rights, and rule of law are honored. I think I am safe in saying that fellow Popperian David Deutsch agrees with me and Postrel. I want to welcome the Abundance authors to our club.

They think these problems can and will be solved, but they are naive to the effects of politics. This is not an original critique. Professor Glenn Reynolds made similar statements in his Washington Examiner review of the same book. Reason piles on. (Follow that last link for a good video interview with Diamandes.)

And, here, the emotion changes. The book has an inspiring chapter on education by teacherless peers with access to computers

This led Mitra to an ever-expanding series of experiments about what else kids could learn on their own. One of the more ambitious of these was conducted in the small village of Kalikkuppam in southern India. This time Mitra decided to see if a bunch of impoverished Tamil-speaking, twelve-year-olds could learn to use the Internet, which they'd never seen before; to teach themselves biotechnology, a subject they'd heard of; in English, a language none of them spoke. "All I did was tell them that there was some very difficult information on this computer, they probably wouldn't understand any of it, and I’ll be back to test them on it in a few months."

They did quite well (should I have said "spoiler alert?"); then better with a teenaged coach who did not understand biotechnology but provided encouragement; then better still with some volunteer "Grannies" from the UK available via Skype®

I wept a bit at the power of this. But it was back to anger at the section's conclusion:

Soon we're going to be able to create gamed-based learning that is so deep, immersive, and totally addictive that we're going to look back on the hundred-year hegemony of the industrial model and wonder why it ever hung around for so long.

Umm, excuse me...I don't think we'll wonder "why it held around so long." I think we'll wonder how we ever overcame an over-empowered public sector Teachers' Union aggressively promoting the fiduciary interests of its dues paying members.

The union does not merit a mention. Objections to GMO crops are dismissed as silly, but not enumerated as the threat to progress that they are. African farmers cannot use GMO seed to increase yields and still sell to EU countries. Maybe technology cures that somehow -- but quite possibly it does not.

And so on and so on though energy, health care, food, water, &c. Things are going to be swell -- with which I agree -- but the swellness is going to come from Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and NGOs under the auspices of the UN, more than free people with property rights.

I undersell the authors a bit. They do mention entrepreneurs in mobile phone adoption, and do suggest that "the bottom billion" of our planet's poorest be considered as an exciting market opportunity. But the call is for more philanthropy, not more freedom.

I would still recommend it -- just have some pain killing medication available. Four stars.

Posted by John Kranz at 11:03 AM | Comments (1)
But johngalt thinks:

A new tack for your FB friend: From now on instead of "environmentalist" or "alternative energy proponent" use the sobriquet neo-luddite.

If it catches on, maybe it will serve to make such ways of thinking "something that's not cool, that it's not acceptable, it's not hip to [be an environmental absolutist] anymore, in the way in which we changed our attitudes about cigarettes."

Posted by: johngalt at March 19, 2012 3:00 PM

February 26, 2012

Eviewray Ornercay?

I recently ordered, partially at JK's urging, a high-powered spotlight and David Deutsch's 'The Beginning of Infinity.' The "spotlight" is a piece of crap. The book, however, is a gem. Its premise involves one of those foundational ideas that affects, well, everything.

At this writing I've read only the recommended chapter 17. It contrasts two distinct worldviews: In one the survival of mankind is assured by living within the natural limits imposed by one's environment; in the other man's fate is secured by manipulation of that environment. But this isn't all. Those in the first camp say the manipulators are all wrong. In their unnatural, untested solutions and innovations they unwittingly create consequences. One such consequence is resource depletion, which the naturists claim they avoid by minimizing their numbers and moderating their consumption. This strategy is superior, they claim, to relying upon innovation after innovation to provide a healthy lifestyle for ever greater numbers of humans.

Before reading this and for as long as I can remember I have believed that we, mankind as it were, would always find a solution to any problem we may encounter. It was barely ever anything more than a curiosity. Now Deutsch has explained to me that this is why enviros, naturists and other advocates of primativism in its many forms believe the way they do - an inherent mistrust of human ingenuity.

I'm still plumbing the depths of how these ideas integrate with Rand and Heinlein, but they do. Quite thoroughly, in fact.

Posted by JohnGalt at 10:34 PM | Comments (2)
But jk thinks:

Clearly I need to expand the Review Corner franchise to include outdoor lighting.

Glad you dug it so far. I also think the quantum theory chapter will unite us; he separates the good science from the bad philosophy and mysticism.

Posted by: jk at February 27, 2012 7:38 AM
But johngalt thinks:

Maybe I'll skip ahead to that one too. I'm also reading Chris Kyle's American Sniper. A much easier read.

I'm looking forward to reading how, if, someone chooses to defend "static societies."

Posted by: johngalt at February 27, 2012 11:23 AM

February 12, 2012

Review Corner

First. I am innocent. I did not actually hijack my blog brother's post with a pre-review of David Deutsch's "The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations that Transform the World." It happens that I was correct in including Deutsch, and this book, in the epistemological pantheon of Robert A Heinlein and Ayn Rand.

Second. Drop everything and buy this book. If the $17.10 (Hardcover) or $14.99 (Kindle) is a hardship for you, it would be an honor and privilege to buy this book for you. If you could not possibly spare the time for its 496 pages, read Chapter 17 and decide if you want to make time for the rest.

Third. I'm going to go with five stars. I'd hate to pick a favorite between his "The Fabric of Reality" and TBoI but I am guessing most ThreeSourcers would prefer TBoI. The non-physics contingent will find it more accessible. Aside one chapter on quantum theory, the new book concentrates more on Popperian epistemology -- two of the four theories from which "The Fabric of Reality" was woven. It also includes nods to the others: computational theory and evolution. Make that two nods to evolution.

I shook while reading the second to last chapter (the famed 17). The intrinsic optimism of the primacy of reason and the very real dangers of choosing a static society made me want to walk around with hardcopies as PM Thatcher did with Hayek and say -- as the post I "hijacked--" This is what I believe!

There are some good excerpts in the pre-review. I marked a gob more of them but will instead ask you to trust me just once and buy this incredible book.

Posted by John Kranz at 3:35 PM | Comments (3)
But johngalt thinks:

It's on its way, along with a million candlepower spotlight for hunting the skunk that has made itself an unwelcome new resident of the farm.

I never really thought of myself as "insignificant" whether in comparison to the universe or to Whitney Houston. Instead I marvel at the inhospitability of the universe. Insignificant? That was the speck-sized insect on a piece of firewood I added to the waning flames yesterday. I was beyond a giant to him. And yet, I took his notice and think about him still -I wonder if he escaped the heat.

Posted by: johngalt at February 12, 2012 7:11 PM
But johngalt thinks:

Oh, and I thought highjacked was your word. It evolved in my consciousness from the memory of "crashing." "wondering why it exists" indeed.

Posted by: johngalt at February 12, 2012 7:27 PM
But jk thinks:

Great news -- I think you'll dig it mightily.

You know what I mean. There's a Carl Sagan, "we are the insect" mentality that correlates highly with leftism in the people I know. Funny, while there is not an overt political thought in the entire book, I find it to be the answer to and explanation of many of my infamous "Facebook friends."

PS Any high, medium, or low dudgeon on the hijacking accusation was self-inflicted or meant otherwise humorously.

Posted by: jk at February 13, 2012 10:19 AM

December 28, 2011

Review Corner

I have put this particular Review Corner off because I wished to do a serious post. Yet, Professor Reynolds serves up a sweet segue today, linking to How the Government Has Caused America's Obesity Problem.

The book, of course, is the oft Reynolds recommended Good Calories Bad Calories by Gary Taubes. And the surprise is that it is really not a diet book. In fact, I was forced to pony up another thirteen bucks for an actual diet book to follow Taubes's precepts.

Good Calories, Bad Calories is an epistemology book. He examines data from more than a century of dietary research. At the risk over over-synopsizing 500 pages, he suggests that the accepted wisdom is built on unproven concepts and weak data, while dispositive results are thoughtlessly discarded. The fundamental bedrock principle of "eat fewer calories and exercise more" to lose weight is (my words) a bunch of hooey.

We've broached the idea of bad government programs on these pages, and I like to reference "The Four Food Groups" and "The Food Pyramid" when my interlocutor suggests government involvement in our private lives to be a good thing. But Taubes documents the medical community's misfeasance and government's malfeasance in propagating these bad ideas. Of course, it continues to this day in FLOTUS's "" which I understand is being quietly withdrawn.

Epistemologically (a great MadLibs® adverb), I cannot help but draw a parallel to climate change. You start a logical assertion: "more CO2 in the atmosphere will retain more heat" or "calories ingested must be less than calories expended." Both statements are demonstrably true -- and yet, both operate in the context of a sophisticated, un-modelable, incomprehensibly complex and chaotic system. Neither the Earth nor your body is designed for ceteris paribus. The Earth can raise clouds and you can moderate your metabolism or digestion.

Yet the science is very much settled in both fields. The core principles are never truly proven but are accepted. Then a body of work investigates ancillary principles with scientific rigor. It's as if we accept that the moon is made of cheese, then commission elaborate measurement of cheese viscosity and density to complete our understanding.

Before the hate mail comes: of course both could be correct. Global warming might be real and low-fat diets and exercise plans might be effective weight loss in some group of people. But both should be evaluated by scientists who exhibit a bit of skepticism.

Five stars for what it is. He has a follow up, "Why We Get Fat," which is shorter and has more practical advice. But the comprehensiveness and serious of Good Calories, Bad Calories is a great read.

[Personal note: I lost 70 pounds and never felt better when I was on Atkins several years ago. I convinced myself that it would be difficult now but have reconsidered. Cliché though it may be, the new year will bring my triumphant return. I will start "induction" Jan 3, so that I might enjoy beer for the NHL Winter Classic on the 2nd.]

Posted by John Kranz at 4:42 PM | Comments (0)

October 23, 2011

Review Corner

The Economist called it a "resoundingly silly" caricature of economic liberalism and "a sad little book" that is simplistically dogmatic and displays "cocksure superficiality" in an abusive tone. The review suggested that the book would receive "low marks if presented by a second-year undergraduate to his tutor," and that "the case for freedom ... is ill served" by such a book. It accused von Mises of attacking straw men and having contempt for the facts of human nature, comparing him in that respect to Marxists.[1] Conservative commentator, and former Communist Whittaker Chambers published a similarly negative review in the National Review, stating that Mises's thesis that anti-capitalist sentiment was rooted in "envy" epitomized "know-nothing conservatism" at its "know-nothingest."[2]
Huh. I give it five stars.

The other two, I am guessing, were penned in 1956, when "The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality" came out. (BTW Mister Chambers: next year a book is gonna come out that you're reallly reallly not going to like.) With 55 years of hindsight, I suggest Ludwig von Mises's not so sad little book looks pretty fresh and describes Hollywood, the ivory tower, and #occupywallstreet as well as anything released this century.

It is a peculiar book from Mises. The technical, philosophical, economic,. epistemological content one expects is contained in this book -- yet it is wrapped in an accessible candy shell. I suspect Mises purposefully wanted to reach a larger audience, and I will agree with The Economist that is gets rather polemical in spots. But it is a question we still ask. Having the fun of meeting blog friend gd for coffee with a bevy of ThreeSourcers, it came up. My sister has asked. Everybody I know who loves liberty has asked once: "Why the bleedin' heck is liberty such a tough sell?"

It's not that you're fighting Marx and Roseau. You're fighting Steinbeck, Woody Guthrie, Stephen King, and every Disney flick ever made. The guys who meet personal needs, who make your life better are villains. Why for? How come?

If you want to chance disagreeing with one of Britain's best magazines and our nation's foremost opponent of Communism. I recommend this book. I do not agree it is sad, but it is very short, completely non-technical, and amazingly prescient. offers an eBook for $5, or a complete text or PDF version is available free.

Posted by John Kranz at 11:09 AM | Comments (0)

September 7, 2011

Review Corner

Hugh Laurie's "Let Them Talk" is out this week -- available on the distinctly non-evil Amazon MP3.

Laurie is best known as TV's (Randian) Dr. House, although I felt the end of the last season discarded all of his Randian cred.

But that isn't important now. Occasionally on House, and much more frequently on BBC shows like "A Bit of Fry and Laurie" and "Jeeves & Wooster," Laurie tickles the ivories with a great penchant for American Jazz & Blues. "Let them Talk" is a collection of New Orleans blues. I'm halfway through and must report I am diggin' it the most.

The Wall Street Journal offers a positive review:

"I wore a suit and a tie everyday as a sign of respect for the music," Mr. Laurie said. "When Irma [Thomas] arrived I was even more on my best behavior. She couldn't have been more gracious.

"Then the thought crossed my mind: Why not Dr. John? I was caught somewhere between hysterical laughter and abject terror."

On the day he was to cut "After You've Gone" with Dr. John, whose real name is Mac Rebennack, Mr. Laurie decided to arrive at the studio early so he could practice. But his guest was already there, working out an arrangement on piano. "Joe said, 'Step away from the piano. We want you just to sing.' Mac gives a performance that appears to be effortless. His phrasing and embellishments are completely spontaneous."

I'm enjoying it a lot. I'll go five stars.

Posted by John Kranz at 5:33 PM | Comments (0)

August 29, 2011

99 cents of debased fiat currency

I do love e-readers. I won't bore you again with the reasons.

Yesterday, I hit my Kindle's "suggestion for you" and it hooked this brother up with a collection of Bastiat essays with a foreword by FA Hayek: The Economics of Freedom: What Your Professors Won't Tell You, Selected Works of Frederic Bastiat, for the princely sum of 0.99. The ones I had seen are worth reading again, and there are quite a few I had not seen (unseen?) or forgotten. In "Credit," our favorite 19th Century French philosopher/economist predicts and debunks Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

This much being granted, what good can credit institutions do? They can make it easier for borrowers and lenders to find one another and reach an understanding. But what they cannot do is to increase instantaneously the total number of objects borrowed and lent.

However, the credit organizations would have to do just this in order for the end of the social reformers to be attained, since these gentlemen aspire to nothing less than to give plows, houses, tools, provisions, and raw materials to everyone who wants them. And how do they imagine they will do this? By giving to loans the guarantee of the state.

Bastiat describes two farmers, James & John, both of whom would like to borrow the only plow in France.
John, with his honesty, his property, and his good name, offers guarantees. One believes in him; he has credit. James does not inspire confidence or at any rate seems less reliable. Naturally, Peter lends his plow to John. But now, under socialist inspiration, the state intervenes and says to Peter: "Lend your plow to James. We will guarantee you reimbursement, and this guarantee is worth more than John's, for he is the only one responsible for himself, and we, though it is true we have nothing, dispose of the wealth of all the taxpayers; if necessary, we will pay back the principal and the interest with their money."

Is it just me, or is this story sounding somehow familiar?
In a given country and at a given time, there is only a certain sum of available capital, and it is all placed somewhere. By guaranteeing insolvent debtors, the state can certainly increase the number of borrowers, raise the rate of interest (all at the expense of the taxpayer), but it cannot increase the number of lenders and the total value of the loans.

If the President has a Kindle, I would happily cough up 99 cents to buy this for him. There are quite a few good lessons in it.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:49 AM | Comments (1)
But Boulder Refugee thinks:

You'll never get the preznit to read it unless you spoof the title to something like, "How to Take Your Mulligan on the Putting Green and Still Win the Calcutta."

Posted by: Boulder Refugee at August 29, 2011 11:38 AM

August 14, 2011

Review Corner

<bullwinkle voice>Welcome, Poetry Lovers...</bullwinkle voice>

First up is a proper review corner for Thomas Woods's 33 Questions About American History You're Not Supposed to Ask. Brother nb linked to Woods a few weeks ago and we discussed his appearance on Stossel.

I ended up grabbing his book and I am certain that any ThreeSourcer would dig it mightily. Woods strips away the PC version of American History, trashing shibboleths like the environmentalism of indigenous peoples, FDR's economic chops, radicalism of nullification and states rights, the importance of unions and progressive legislation to improve working conditions, &c.

I guess my favorite thing about it is that I was challenged from the wingnut side. Woods goes A LOT farther than I would on some of his answers. To give an example I must offer a painfully uncontextual paraphrase: Against the Federalization that accompanied the Civil War, the destruction of States Rights and creation of a modern nation state are presented as culpable for the 20th Century wars. Slavery was not only not the cause of what Brother Keith calls "The War of Northern Aggression," it seems to be too low on the list to bear inclusion, based on Lincoln's lack of dedication to emancipation and multiple Northern examples of racism and acceptance.

Yet, these are perfect examples of the value of the book. Woods presents a "book of questions." While I might quibble with some answers, the author is dead-on that these questions are not -- cannot -- be asked in a history class today. I thought of the Simpsons episode: Apu is getting his citizenship, and taking a test. The official asks the cause of the Civil War. Our favorite accented Slushee® purveyor launches into a nuanced disquisition of the place of tariffs in an agrarian economy versus the industrialized North -- the tester interrupts and says "Just say 'Slavery!'"

Four stars fer sure.

Next, a premature, advance review corner, for what I'm guessing is a future five star. I was not going to read David Mamet's The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture also discussed on these pages. It's a polemic, thoughts me, I'd rather read history or economics or something.

A "Kindle Sample" changed my tune -- I am enthralled at his eloquence, devotion to reason, and the scope of his reading. I'm going to tease the choir with the introduction to Chapter 8, The Red Sea:

There is another possible interpretation of the parting of the sea by Moses.

Rather than intervening to create a path in a unitary substance, it could be said that he demonstrated that freedom lay in the ability to see distinctions; that is, that life could be seen as divisible into good and evil; moral and immoral; sacred and profane; permitted and forbidden--that the seemingly unitary "sea" of human behavior and ambition could actually be divided. A slave is not permitted to make these distinctions. All of his behavior is circumscribed by the will of his master. The necessity of making distinctions is the essence of freedom, where one not only can but must choose.

This revelation of the long-denied, long-lost necessity was, to the escaping Jews, something of a miracle, inspiring awe, fear, and an attendant shame--shame that they had submitted to enslavement, and shame that they had forgotten the essence of freedom so completely that its possibility seemed to them supernatural. Moses told the Jews to look back at the pursuing army, and said, "Those Egyptians you see today you will never see again"-- that is, they would be freed from not only the fact but the shame of slavery as soon as they recognized in themselves the possibility of choice

I'd say it is purdy good...

[Mamet, David (2011-06-02). The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture (Kindle Locations 735-744). Sentinel. Kindle Edition.]

Posted by John Kranz at 8:06 PM | Comments (2)
But johngalt thinks:

Parting of the Red Sea = Red Pill/Blue Pill. I like it.

Posted by: johngalt at August 15, 2011 3:00 PM
But Lisa M thinks:

Just added to my kindle wish list...will plunge in right after I finish A Feast for Crows, A Dance with Dragons, and Steyn's "After America". In that order.

Posted by: Lisa M at August 19, 2011 9:27 AM

July 24, 2011

Review Corner

It's unusual to hate the ending of a non-fiction, history book. It is rarely a surprise "Huh? The South Lost?" And if you enjoy a book and its thesis for 14 chapters, the denouement is usually like the last day of the Tour de France: a pleasant ride without substantive changes.

But "Reckless Endangerment" broke the mold. Not enough to ruin the experience or force me to retract its recommendation, mind you, but certainly enough to lose one star and leave me with a queasy feeling for days after.

For fourteen chapters, Gretchen Morgenson and Joshua Rosner carefully construct a trenchant case against government's complicity in the housing bubble. The Community Reinvestment Act and the implied government "put" against Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are deftly told with names, dates and facts. The crony capitalism of Angelo Mozilo at Countrywide, the capture of regulators and of Congressional oversight are all documented in excruciating and maddening detail.

As I was warned, the authors mention but do not highlight loose money. Fed Chair Greenspan gets whacks for ineffective regulation, but not much for quarters of negative real interest rates. The repeal of Glass-Stiegel, which I consider a leftist bogeyman, gets a whole chapter while monetary policy gets mentions -- disappointing, but acceptable, it is their book.

But after they have layered and interconnected this airtight case, they graft a Chapter 15 onto the end that says "yeah, but it was really all about Wall Street Greed." "Squeeze me? Baking Powder?"

Maybe I read too much into it or am a tool for Goldman Sachs, but I thought this non-sequitor, afterthought compromised much of this excellent book. Unlike 1-14, Chapter 15 had little documentation and context. It was cribbed from the Matt Damon movie and contained all the hoary chestnuts like Goldman's shorting the securities it was selling. I know that offended Senator Levin. But the authors are more sophisticated and one expects them to understand that a trade has two sides, and that GS is a rather large entity. Were its traders bound to support the paper other divisions were creating, congressional hearings would be warranted.

In the end, though, the famed first fourteen are well worth the price and time. I give it four stars and a hearty recommendation.

Posted by John Kranz at 12:39 PM | Comments (1)
But johngalt thinks:

Heh. Maybe the last chapter was grafted on by the editor or publisher after signoff by the authors on the final proof.

Posted by: johngalt at July 24, 2011 2:28 PM

July 20, 2011

Don Luskin's Promo Video

Did I link this?

The book is great!

Posted by John Kranz at 6:40 PM | Comments (0)

July 18, 2011

Guest Review Corner

Blog friend JC puts this in the comments, but I want to promote it to a post:

FINALLY FINISHED Virginia Postrel's book: The Future and its Enemies!

First, I would like to begin with apologies. The book challenge was started back in Feb? March? My friend jk quickly procured and read my challenge to him: Making Peace with the Planet by Barry Commoner. jk must be a speed reader. He finished far ahead of expectations and quickly posted his review. Me, on the other hand, dragged my feet, ordered the book to be delivered by bicycle messenger and read by candle-light to reduce the fossil fuel impact this book challenge would have on our frail planet! ;-)

Excuses, excuses...
I carried this book with me everywhere I went. Unfortunately, I rarely found/made time to read it. Once summer started, the hiking, biking, kayaking and RC airplanes took precedence over Postrel's book. I guess I would have done better with a deadline - I might have finished it faster (maybe not).

The Future and its Enemies was the toughest book I have ever read. When I read, I read slowly to ensure I grasp the full intent, content and supporting comprehension of the author. My biggest problem with this book is how frequently Postrel shifted from lucid clarity in her reflections on the status of society to sheer and utter ignorance about the topic she assumed to know so well. These radical shifts between reality and fantasy made my head reel every time I picked it up. I frequently went back to re-read the previous section to ensure I understood what she was writing so eloquently before she drifted off into ignorant assumptions about practices and policies that have no basis in reality. Again, it was a tough read.

Postrel's book should have been titled "The Dynamist Manefesto (and how to label and mock anyone who appears not to be a dynamist") She writes the book in support of her beliefs and positions posted at Maybe the book should have been titled "Supporting the Dynamist Manifesto" - I don't know... the title and content were in conflict from my perspective but, then again, I would never claim to be 100% dynamist (or any other [insert term here]) based on Postre's judgmental assumptions.

Although the book made me wonder how a person could come to adopt the wildly ridiculous ideals presented in this book, I found a significant amount of useful material for reflecting on past and current technologies, industries and political policies. Case in point:

(quoting from p. 205) "It isn't terribly appealing to argue, for instance, that you want everyone else to be worse off so that your company can charge high prices, run inefficiently, and not worry about coming up with new and better products. Far better to invoke reactionary ideals of loyalty and stability, to suggest that turbulence is evil and competition suspect - or to offer technocratic promises of predictability and order against the messiness of experimentation. If you can also suggest that uncontrolled "technology" is plowing over "people", so much the better. The people inventing and using new technology don't count much in stasist calculations - and, chances are, they haven't yet gotten organized into an interest group."

Her statement is spot-on with regards to the battle between conflicting industries and/or political parties (fossil fuels vs. wind, solar and geo-thermal). Individual stasists in the FF camp are fighting hard to hold on to their old, inefficient and outdated product and the internal combustion engines that they feed. Ignorance, arrogance and greed seem to rule the day while rational thinking has taken a back seat to rhetoric.

My last point is regarding how Postrel believes that non-dynamists are working hard to destroy/slow/ruin the world we live in. She speaks as though technocrats, stasists, reactionaries and other “non-dynamists” are a growing population. I am not sure how she arrived at this conclusion but I challenge her to prove that human evolution is driven by epi-genetic proclivities that eventually eliminate dynamists from the human family. Fact is, the human family has always included reactionaries, stasists, technocrats and every other mindset we can imagine. We (humanity) would not have arrived at our current place in history if it were not for all of those conflicting views and philosophies. We need each one of these types of people in society to maintain a dynamic balance in our evolutionary growth and development. The world is much better off with our conflicting views than it would be if there was no conflict and/or no growth.

"Conflict is the gadfly of thought. It stirs us to observation and memory. It instigates to invention. It shocks us out of sheeplike passivity, and sets us at noting and contriving." - John Dewey

Posted by John Kranz at 7:07 PM | Comments (3)
But johngalt thinks:

We can see that the scales have not yet fallen from our friends eyes. "Rational thinking" does not lead to a policy of government subsidy to prop up favored but unsustainable (economically) energy schemes.

I'll give the reviewer credit for apparently finishing the volume, which I'd now like to add to my short list, and for his creativity in contorting Postrel's critique of group-identity politics and anti-competitive regulation into something that comports with his own worldview. A clever bit of philosophical self-preservation having been exposed to said "wildly ridiculous ideals" as, I presume, an individual's right to work, prosper and retain his earnings.

Posted by: johngalt at July 19, 2011 9:39 AM
But jk thinks:

I chose this because I thought jc would like it, so score me .000 for predictive power. But I know of two others' reading it on my recommendation, both of whom like it. So score me .667 on literary recommendation.

For those who have yet to have the pleasure, it is not political, per se. It is more about philosophy and economics, which might underlie politics, but she does not take sides or endorse anything remotely partisan. Her stasists include both VP AL Gore and Pat Buchanan -- two people not normally linked politically. But her point is that both impede innovation and progress in their own way.

I find it a paean to Hayek, spontaneous order, organic bottom-up structure, and the progress of incremental improvement. One of the most memorable is the creation of contact lenses. Imagine going to the FDA today and suggesting that you're going to grind lenses out of glass and insert them in people's eyes.

Yet somebody (named in the book but I have forgotten) did. Then plastic, then gas-permeable, then disposable, now overnight, &c.

I will correct my brave interlocutor on only one point. The title is not a bellicose denunciation of those who disagree; it is a homage to Dr, Karl Popper's magisterial "The Open Society and its Enemies" (which was far more bellicose).

Ah, well, you can't win them all.

Posted by: jk at July 19, 2011 11:59 AM
But jk thinks:

Again, props for playing. I have made this offer a hundred times and my friend, jc, remains the only one who ever took me up on it. My niece has ordered Ron Paul's book from the library, but this is predicated on their being much she'd agree with in it. And she told me not to expect that she'd read the whole thing.

Posted by: jk at July 19, 2011 2:14 PM

July 17, 2011

Pre-Review Corner

The stupidest line in the English language has got to be "I'm so behind in my reading." "Show me a person who is not behind in his reading," retorts me, "and I'll show you somebody with nothing to read." That rare -- as in never -- event caught me yesterday. I had finished everything on my Kindle. I went to the Kindle store for suggestions. They had several SharePoint books (that's work, ugh) and quite a few tatting books (I share an account with the lovely bride, something I recommend highly for his-and-hers kindlers).

And, Reckless Endangerment, which got the nod -- and $12.99 of my hard-earned fiat currency.

Today Rex Murphy has an extended review in the National Post.

First, a note about Reckless Endangerment's authors. They are, respectively, Gretchen Morgenson, a Pulitzer Prizewinning New York Times business reporter, and Joshua Rosner, a financial analyst -solidly competent and authoritative both. Reckless Endangerment does not come, in other words, out of the wild territory of hyper-partisanship or the backwaters of conspiracism.

Any person with a regard for the United States, or with some surviving faith in the virtues of representative democracy, will finish this book severely angry. It's a good game to play, should you start to read it, to keep count of the number of times you lay the book down in exasperated wonder that the American system could have been so twisted, so abused and so turned against itself.

I read several good reviews about this book when it came out, but I thought I would pass as I already agree with what I understand its conclusions to be. It seems to match pretty closely with my view of the Panic of '08 causes (though they have been accused of soft-pedaling monetary policy).

But what I am gonna do? Read SharePoint books on Sunday? I am just a couple of short chapters in, but I think it will be worth it. I have this vague notion that the Community Reinvestment Act forced banks to offer loans to subprime borrowers and include it on my list of government intrusion. But the second chapter really nails it down, from its passing in 1977 to a Boston Fed paper in 1992 that suggested broad racial imbalance in lending, to the ambitious strike of James Johnson at Fannie, to the substantive facts disproving the '92 paper.

All my friends believe greedy Wall Street guys and George Bush caused the problem to drive up Halliburton shares and get rid of Saddam Hussein -- I don't know, it gets murky sometimes. This appears it might be to the panic what Lawrence Wright's "The Leaning Tower" was to Islamic terrorism: a non-ideological and serious look at fundamental causes.

Posted by John Kranz at 11:45 AM | Comments (1)
But johngalt thinks:

I had a suggestion for anyone's reading list last week. The Mike Rosen show is a fairly good filter of authors on book promotion tours. While you read I move irrigation pipes, mow weeds, install sprinkler systems, move hay... I frequently envy you and always appreciate your Review Corner.

Maybe more than just your FB friends but certainly not "all" your friends believe the "greedy capitalists" narrative. But the non-partisan and non-conspiratorial disclaimer is proof that this is precisely how it will be treated by the government fat cats and those in their sphere. The fat cats by self-interest and the confederates by faith, all will be unpersuaded by even the most airtight case that "government did it."

Posted by: johngalt at July 17, 2011 4:38 PM

July 16, 2011

Review Corner

A quick review corner for David Heidler's Henry Clay: the essential American: this is a very well written book. It is interesting and informative, and the topic is truly one of the greatest of American statesmen. One encounters Clay as the rival when reading about William Henry Harrison or Zachary Taylor and the nemesis in any book about Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, or John Tyler. It is fascinating to look at the same issues from Clay's vantage.

Heider (and his wife I believe) bring this colorful character to life through decades of monumental American history. He is interesting as the five-time-almost-President, but he is essential as the third of the Clay-Webster-Calhoun triumvirate.

The best thing about Clay in the end is that he, Calhoun and Webster remain our dream of Republicanism: brilliant men of passion, principle, and patriotism. <yoda voice>Not this stuff</yoda voice>: of Dodd and Grassley. Even in disagreement, it is easy to respect these men. The likes of, I fear, we may never see again. And Clay was the star of even that elevated company.

Superb. Four stars.

Posted by John Kranz at 11:38 AM | Comments (0)

July 2, 2011

Review Corner

How 'bout a movie for a change?

I just sent "Departures" back to Netflix -- what a great film (it is definitely a film and not a movie, trust me). IMDB gives the plot as

A newly unemployed cellist takes a job preparing the dead for funerals.

The movie, er film, is in Japanese with Engrish subtitles. You're picturing a lengthy, tedious art film, c'mon admit it. Art it may be; tedious it is not.

I think ThreeSourcers would dig it -- not that there's a Reaganite message about cap gains taxes -- but for a serious and beautiful look at work and art, individualism, and human dignity. A small, ensemble cast is endearing. The cinematography is superb, showing a Japan that is not Disney, Clavell, or dystopian.

Sweet, well paced and unusual -- Five stars.

Posted by John Kranz at 11:10 AM | Comments (4)
But nanobrewer thinks:

Totally agreed; it's quite a stunning and moving movie. It reminded me of "Cold Fever" with it's deliciously slow pacing and odd moments of humor.

Posted by: nanobrewer at July 2, 2011 11:31 AM
But jk thinks:

Hmmm. Maybe I better see "Cold Fever."

Posted by: jk at July 2, 2011 11:38 AM
But jk thinks:

Dude, that is one seriously obscure film. Netflix no got. Amazon has a Region 2 DVD from a private seller used at $23. Did you see it in Iceland?

Of course, now I really want to see it...

Posted by: jk at July 2, 2011 9:43 PM
But nanobrewer thinks:

I don't know whence I saw it, nor how I got turned onto it. When in doubt, ask the guru's at the Video Station in Boulder... I've only found one film they couldn't get, and they did know it ("our copy finally died, and we can't get another"...).

IMDB fans give it a 7; which isn't the most reliable (aka, obscure films are mostly voted on by the geeks who sought them out), but I really liked it.


Posted by: nanobrewer at July 5, 2011 1:45 AM

July 1, 2011

Review Corner

I finished "The Jacket" and Matt Welch's Declaration of Independents last night. It is a remarkably uplifting book.

It is funny, thoughtful and well written. None of that surprises me because of the authors. But the book starts by laying out a serious and ambitious agenda:

The Declaration of Independents is a call to wave away the clouds of obfuscating political malarkey, to call things (in [Vaclav] Havel's phrasing) "by their proper names," identify governance for what it is, expose how it sells itself, and inject into the political sphere the same forces of innovation, individualization, and autonomy that are bettering the way we live in every other sense.

They accomplish all this without nattering the way Libertarians sometimes do. It remains very upbeat, in spite of chapters like "We are so out of money!" There's a kind of Reaganite optimism about it, not that they have many kind words for our 40th. but they do have a true belief that free people will overcome the challenges of over-weaning government.

Funny, upbeat, informative, thoughtful. I will offer any of my leftist friends to read anything of their choosing if they'll pour through this one. It should be easy as Speaker Boehner and President George W Bush get as many or more whacks than anybody else.

Five stars. Greg Gutfield says "It's better than 'War & Peace' and 'Everybody Poops' combined."

Posted by John Kranz at 12:41 PM | Comments (2)
But dagny thinks:

Any book using the description, "obfuscating political malarkey," goes to the top of MY reading list.

Posted by: dagny at July 1, 2011 4:09 PM
But jk thinks:

Heh. I hear you bought the Luskin book ; this hardcopy is up for grabs...

Posted by: jk at July 1, 2011 5:49 PM

June 19, 2011

Review Corner

To get a break from history and politics, I always enjoy a good pop-science-cosmology book. A good friend of mine and I trade recommendations, plus the Wall Street Journal has been reviewing a lot of them lately. I liked Stephen Hawking's newest, The Grand Design, and the best of the recent breed is Martin Bojowald's Once Before Time.

But I'll put Lawrence Krauss's Quantum Man well up there. Like Mr. Speaker, the author is gifted with an entertaining personality to document. Richard Feynman breaks the scientist stereotype nicely: he plays bongos at a strip club, moves to Brazil to support his research and carnal needs, and makes indelible impressions on his colleagues for his potent personality and an intelligence recognized even by the top strata as superior.

The author is a physicist who met Feynman but was not close. Krauss feeds a good dose of theoretical physics. It's not full strength or I would never have survived, but I would not recommend this to one with a casual interest. I laughed out loud a few times when the author or subject was attempting humor, but also once in Chapter Seven when Krauss drops a couple of sentences to explain what an integral is. "Dude. The folks who don't know what an integral is gave up in Chapter Two."

There's a devilish balance with all of these books, how far to dumb them down, and I think this one gets it about right. Four stars.

As this is ThreeSources, I'll make a political point unintended by any of the authors. After getting up close and personal with "climate science" and arguing epistemology with one of its true believers on Facebook "why do you worry so much about predictions when we should be fixing the planet????" it is an absolute joy and something of a shock to read about real, un-scare-quoted, science.

Early on, they split the well known lines of hydrogen spectrum into secondary and tertiary frequencies which comport to quantum effects. The third line is off its predicted value by 1/10,000,000. Nobody calls the UN or any of the country's ex-Vice-Presidents. The theory is scrapped until it or the experiment to test it can be repaired. Real science. Scientists argue and take sides, sometimes for petty reasons, sometimes for actual insights. Yet nobody is thrown out as a "photon-denier."

It's stunning to read these three and try to give any credence to the tomfoolery that is "climate science."

Posted by John Kranz at 11:08 AM | Comments (0)

June 9, 2011

Brian Doherty Tries Review Corner

I bet I reviewed his "Radicals for Capitalism."

He posts a thoughtful review of Ron Paul's book, with which I had some complaints. Doherty may not be the Republican wingnut I am, but he presages my concerns:

On the other hand, the Ron Paul of Liberty Defined seems in many ways designed to antagonize the standard right wing while emphasizing areas of affinity with the progressive left. This is not some centrist "liberaltarian" project of selling liberty to pundits and intellectuals of the Democratic mainstream. Ever the rebel, Ron Paul sounds more like a "left-libertarian," reaching out to the far reaches of the progressive left and the downtrodden to challenge concentrations of statist power.

Paul consistently criticizes the welfare and corporatist state as privileging the privileged instead of helping the poor. He never talks like his own party is better than the other. When he attacks Barack Obama--which is not that often--it is almost always in the context of pointing out that the president is just as bad as George W. Bush on questions of civil liberties or foreign policy. When criticizing restrictions on commercial speech, he uses the Utne Reader-friendly example of nutritional supplements. When talking health care, he gives a shout-out to homeopathy.

So, it wasn't just me...

Posted by John Kranz at 7:26 PM | Comments (8)
But jk thinks:

Perry and gd:

We're not that far apart. I don't think anybody 'round these parts is going to brag too loudly about GOP advances in liberty.

But Doherty captures something that I felt but did not isolate: there are elements in the current Republican party that are taking on collectivism. Paul's son in the Senate is a helluva start. Then you have Govs. Rick Scott and John Kasich turning away Federal choo choo crack; Govs. Scott Walker, Mitch Daniels, and Chris Christie taking on public employees' unions; the Ryan Plan, discussion on the debt limit; &c.

No, it is not time for a victory lap. But his party has proposed every serious impediment to government growth; the other guys are totally into the status quo ante (ante last November). But Paul would lose his iconoclast cred by giving props -- hell, one prop -- to his party. That is churlish, selfish, and his refusing to take a side impedes the cause of liberty.

Posted by: jk at June 10, 2011 10:55 AM
But jk thinks:

More partisan hackery from jk: Speaker Boehner wants to cut spending as part of a debt ceiling increase; House Democrats (Hat-tip Insty who says "surprise") want to raise taxes. Umm, that's not the same.

Posted by: jk at June 10, 2011 11:14 AM
But gd thinks:

Jk -- I want to clarify that when I speak about "Republicans and Democrats"ť I am talking about congressmen not constituents. I also agree that there are a few exceptions (you provided some in your post), but for the most part the Republican Party is still stuck in their traditional ways of pandering for votes. I do not hear Mr. Paul criticizing his son, Chris Christie, or Paul Ryan very often and when he does it is usually tempered (for instance, he has some public disagreements on policies with his son, but his harshest criticisms are not directed at the people you mention).

I think you might have some validity in your critique of Paul's demeanor as selfish and churlish in what could be perceived as attempts to create a divide in the Republican Party. Others could argue that he is bridging the political gap between Conservatives and Liberals and would consider his unwillingness to compromise his political beliefs as a virtue. Both opinions on his behavior might be right and they might also be wrong.

In my small world experience I find people from many different backgrounds (race, religion, sex, rich, poor, etc.) supporting Ron Paul. The two primary ideas they all have in common is the belief in a strictly limited Federal Government and sound economic policy. They usually understand the direct link between the two.

Posted by: gd at June 10, 2011 3:11 PM
But johngalt thinks:

That's all well and good, gd, but the problem with rallying behind a personality is that it is a package deal. Along with the limited government and sound money ideas we also get, in Paul's case, a neutered military and villifications of corporatism. (An abbreviated list of his oddball agenda to be sure.)

I've been impressed by the resilience and electoral might of the TEA Party. That moniker represents the two ideas you chose to mention but without tying them to any cult of personality or packaging them with unrelated issues (so far.) A comparison between the TEA Party and the Ron Paul REvolution (or whatever it's called) shows that TEA Party membership and influence is patiently growing with greater numbers and greater diversity, while the Paul Partisans seem to be a small but fiercely dedicated band of non-conformists. Which approach do you expect will be more persuasive with our friends and neighbors?

Posted by: johngalt at June 10, 2011 3:33 PM
But jk thinks:

Point taken, gd, but the Doherty review underlines my growing unease when I read the book. He can't throw out one of these? He can't say that he hopes the party follows young turks like Ryan, Rand (filè) and Rubio to embracing liberty? No, he can't because he finds every Republican but himself lacking.

Posted by: jk at June 10, 2011 3:52 PM
But gd thinks:

Jg, the relationship between creating a global empire and sound monetary policy is probably something we will have to agree to disagree on. I can understand why opponents consider it an “oddball” viewpoint, but that does not mean it is wrong (time will continue to tell).

His anti-corporation stance is not inherently anti-corporation. He just wants large corporations to be on a level playing field without the advantage of government assistance. For instance, I have never heard him say that large corporations should be punished by the government through higher taxes or increased regulation. Rather, he has said the exact opposite. He understands that the unintended consequence of more regulation and higher taxes actually leads to less competition through regulatory capture (i.e., the largest corporations can afford the increased costs and tax avoidance while the smaller businesses cannot). All he is trying to do is tell Liberals that their crazy punitive attitude towards business has the unintended consequence of penalizing small business and benefiting the large corporations that they purport to despise. I have nothing against large corporations myself, but am in complete agreement with him. Therefore, I do not consider this to be anti-corporation, but it could be spun that way I suppose.

Jk, I think you are probably correct that Rep. Paul would be doing himself a favor to be a little more conciliatory with the members of his party that directionally line up with his views.

Posted by: gd at June 10, 2011 6:01 PM

June 6, 2011

He Does't Even Award Stars.

An obscure law professor in Tennessee tries to climb aboard the Review Corner bandwagon. He presents an erudite view of David Bernstein's "Rehabilitating Lochner," but one misses the stars and toilet humor available elsewhere on the Internet.

Keep an eye on this young feller anyway.

Posted by John Kranz at 6:44 PM | Comments (1)
But johngalt thinks:

Awesome story, even without the humor. I can't resist a quote:

"That the narrative was a false one did not, for decades, undermine its force."

And there we have the subtitle of the entire Progressive movement. And yet with increasing frequency we see hopeful signs that those decades are uncerimoniously coming to an end. Yes, you may say it - I have hope for change.

Posted by: johngalt at June 7, 2011 3:01 PM

Review Corner

I'm in danger of damaging the franchise.

Anybody who gives three superlative reviews in a string of four books is obviously:

  • Not paying attention;
  • In the hooks of "Big Kindle;", or
  • Not sophisticated or ironic enough to see flaws.

But I can't help it, it's five stars for James Grant's "Mr. Speaker!"

I bought this after reading a WSJ review. I consider myself at least a minor league history buff and had not heard of (or much about) Thomas Brackett Reed. Reed was Speaker of the House in the 51st, 53rd and 54th Congresses.(Yawn!) But he transformed the House in the same way that Lyndon Johnson transformed the Senate 50 years later.

Today, it is said that a majority in the House "can pass a ham sandwich;" hard to imagine that the House of the Gilded Age was a model of obstructionism. Members of the minority party could sit at their desks and be silent for roll call, leaving the body without a quorum. Dilatory motions could tie up the house for days. Even bills with overwhelming bipartisan majority support would stew through multiple congresses because of the value in delaying the next piece of legislation.

I hear the ThreeSources choir muttering in the back. "Congress doing nothing sounds pretty good, n'ect ce pas?" "Why is Leader Johnson a villain and Speaker Reed a hero?" and "Are there any more Cheetos®?"

The party labels are reversed. Grover Cleveland Democrats and his compatriots in Congress, notably Southern House Democrats are happy to let whiz-bang Republican big government ideas stew. They would like to *ahem* lower taxes.

I give Reed a pass for three reasons. One: the House was not just dilatory, it was truly dysfunctional; it's Constitutional business could not be performed. Two: I personally like the idea of a "people's house" being the democratic and responsive section of government. Let the Senate and other branches be the cooling saucers. And, three, in a heart-rending Coda, private citizen Reed returns to the first district of Maine and is saluted by President Roosevelt. The author suggests Reed's concern that his efficacy was now in the employ of McKinleyesque taxation, Progressive encroachment on liberty, and TR's bellicosity. (Reed left the Speakership and Republican Party politics over these, most notably the Spanish-American War.)

The author is a financial writer and the discussion of monetary policy -- truly the issue of the day in Reed's time -- is clear and comprehensive.

Lastly, Speaker Reed's wit keeps the pages flying by. There are a few collections of Thomas B Reed Quotes online, but you have to hear dozens to get the full flavor of the man. I'll leave you with way too few:

One of the greatest delusions in the world is the hope that the evils in this world are to be cured by legislation.

[To Theodore Roosevelt, in response to an over-the-top compliment]: If there's one thing for which I admire you, it's your original discovery of the Ten Commandments

[Asked if he will be the GOP nominee]: They could do worse, and probably will.

Five stars.

UPDATE: The author interviewed on NRP (7:42).

Posted by John Kranz at 9:58 AM | Comments (0)

May 28, 2011

Drop Everything and Buy This Book

Last time I recommended a book before completing it, it did not end well. Yet, I have a lot more confidence here.

I saw Don Luskin on Kudlow and decided to put down some things I was reading and dive into I Am John Galt which Luskin co-authored with Andrew Greta.

The Introduction is a comprehensive and succinct view of Rand's philosophy. I make the daring prediction that it will generally please every ThreeSourcer. They do not cover a prodigious and productive career in 20 pages, but it is an awesome view from 20,000 feet

It is followed by nine chapters, each about a modern historical figure, paired with the fictional Rand character he represents. Steve Jobs as Howard Roark, Paul Krugman as Ellsworth Toohey...

When I write the real Review Corner I will suggest that Luskin is perhaps too close to Krugman and should have allowed his co-author to pen that one, but that will shave off a small fraction of a star at worst. I post this early so that you can all drop what you are doing and buy this book.

Posted by John Kranz at 5:15 PM | Comments (1)
But johngalt thinks:

I just dropped what I was doing and bought this book. (Okay, I needed something to get over the super-saver free shipping bar, but I'm looking forward to reading it!)

Posted by: johngalt at June 27, 2011 6:37 PM

May 1, 2011

'Atlas Shrugged Part 1' - Only the Beginning

I enjoyed the very fair Pollywood review of 'Atlas Shrugged Part 1' by two relatively pro-Rand film writers, Lionel Chetwynd and Roger Simon that JK linked for us. They had some very good points and I fully expect the producers to follow as much of their advice as possible in future efforts. This first production clearly had some handicaps that led to its shortcomings, many of which will not apply to the sequels, e.g. the looming expiration of contratual rights, inexperience of the independent production company, and perhaps most importantly... working with the most tedious and least compelling portion of the novel, i.e. the first third. As a first-time reader I wasn't hooked by the story until the tunnel scene, which won't transpire until Part 2.

If the Aglialoro-Kaslow Atlas Shrugged franchise produces better products with its promised sequels than was the original it will not be the first such situation in motion picture history. I'm thinking of the progression in production value, if not necessarily the story line, of the Australian 'Road Warrior' series. The film by that name was far more entertaining and compelling than the predecessor 'Mad Max.' And it's a well-known fact of life that improving on an existing product is a shorter bridge than must be crossed when blazing an original trail.

'Atlas Shrugged Part 1' also suffered from an almost maniacal focus on keeping a quick pace. This led to many stilted scenes where a bit more dialogue would have fleshed out the scene considerably. For example, the "old wounds" in the relationship between Francisco and Dagny are only hinted at in their solitary scene together alone. Rand wrote a richer storyline than was presented to viewers of this film and allowing it to "balloon" to a full two-hours wouldn't have hurt its flow one bit.

But I must disagree with Mr. Chetwynd over his characterization of Rand's novels as mere "ciphers" for her philosophy, having no "depth of character" and lacking the undescribed qualities that would have resulted from "a reflective, creative work." I did find the character portrayals in the film to be rather two-dimensional but I attribute this to the aforementioned limitations and not to the source material to which the producers "slavishly" adhered. I would have liked to see more of the warmth and vulnerability of the literary Dagny in the movie character - an extended scene with Francisco could have provided this. In contrast with Messrs. Chetwynd and Simon, Robert Tracinski observed:

But Ayn Rand started out her career--in the 1920s through the 1940s--as a Hollywood screenwriter, working for such legends as Cecil B. DeMille and Hal Wallis. She wrote her novels in a very cinematic style, with stark visuals, sharp exchanges of dialogue, and peaks of high drama. She gave a director everything he could ask for to keep the audience in their seats: visually beautiful settings from the skyline of New York City to the mountains of Colorado, large-scale action scenes set on railroad lines and in steel mills, big ideas expressed in sharp-witted exchanges of dialogue--and, of course, passionate love scenes with handsome leading men and beautiful leading ladies.

If you can't figure out how to make a good movie out of all of that, then brother, you don't know your own business.

I applaud the passion and dedication which drove Aglialoro, Kaslow, and the entire The Strike production company to complete this much anticipated movie that so many have tried and failed at previously. I am encouraged by their reaction to the predictable reception these Hollywood outsiders were given for their faithful adaptation of Rand's paramount though controversial work. I look forward to bigger and better products to follow, on both the big screen in Parts 2 and 3 and in special DVD releases such as director's cuts and a possible miniseries. These film adaptations can only add to the inspiration and defense of liberty offered by the most influential book ever written save the Bible.

Posted by JohnGalt at 12:12 PM | Comments (0)

April 21, 2011

Online Education Rocks!

This time, in history and literature.

First JK brought us the Khan Academy for math and science.

My contribution in kind is Shmoop University.

No one will be surprised that I found these guys by searching for something relevant to Atlas Shrugged.

In the brief time I've spent perusing the voluminous content they offer on this controversial and revolutionary novel I have been greatly impressed. The treatment is honest, accurate and thorough. I hope to use it to help explain some of the book's themes to others. (And to refer to other literary titles and, when time permits, move on to history topics.)

Posted by JohnGalt at 2:44 PM | Comments (0)

March 20, 2011

Review Corner, Deux

The Review Corner you've ALL been waiting for! I wonder what jk thought of "Making Peace with the Planet" by Barry Commoner? Well...

For those who missed the story, I made a bargain with an intelligent yet überprogressive friend. He will be feasting on the superb "Future and Its Enemies" by Virginia Postrel. In return, I would read a book of his choosing and landed MPWTP.

I was initially disappointed and concerned. Yet the quality of writing, and occasional heterodoxies made it an interesting read. In the spirit of sharing ideas, I would like to start with the book's good points. The writing, as I mentioned, is well done, but most of the plusses are what the book is not:

  • It is not Malthusian. It is not as dynamic as I'd like, but for an "environmentalist" tract, it allows for growth and population. He joins Postrel in taking some swipes at Kirkpatrick Sale for Luddism and Paul Erlich for Erlichism.

  • It is not misanthropic. A peer suggests "we should send atomic bombs to overpopulated nations, not feed them." Commoner is correctly appalled. He does not, like many, see humans as the problem. He also makes fun of those who would confer personhood on cute, furry, vertebrates and worship Gaia.

  • It is not anti-modernity. Commoner is not a back-to-the-caves guy. He admits that "a symphony performed in an urban concert hall has a majesty that cannot be replaced by a shepherd's hornpipe."

  • It does not reject economic incentives. Commoner shares a study that shows economic growth as a superior method of population growth than a birth-control regimen.

In spite of all the great things that the book is not, the problem becomes what the book is. The first edition was released in 1975. He has revised it a few times between then and 1992 and I must assume that he stands by all that is left in the most recent edition. But it is full of references to high compression engines and leaded gasoline, CFCs, PCBs, acid rain. These are intermingled with global warming concerns even though they were supposed to cause global cooling at the time.

I guess that's fair enough, but he takes a snapshot at the nadir of world environmental stewardship. I was around in '75. We were gonna die from killer bees and the ozone hole and global cooling, and smog, and leisure suits, and acid rain, and fallout from atmospheric atomic bomb tests. Contra Postrel, he makes no allowance for innovation or improvement. We have made huge improvements in almost every problem he describes. But it's always 1975 in Commoner land.

Most seriously, though, and most contra Postrel, he provides an authoritarian, top-down, static solution. The book ends with a bold plan to commit $500 Billion a year (in 1992 dollars, one presumes) for "at least ten years" to enact all of his fixes. The only mentions of freedom in the book reference it as an obstacle to doing what needs to be done. A sort of hopeless American nostalgia for capitalism.

Commoner ran for President in 1980. His candidacy for President on the Citizens Party ticket won 233,052 votes (0.27% of the total). * Yet, he feels empowered to spend more than $5 Trillion on his plan. Electric trains, retirement of third-world debt, government purchases of non-economic items like electric cars [check!] and photovoltaic cells, that will allow the providers to scale up production to make their products affordable.

You may guess that I won't be recommending the book for its Economics. For my last point, I will quote Ludwig von Mises instead of Postrel. He refers several times to the "capitalist flaw" that the producers dictate to the consumer. LvM makes that the central point in his superb "Socialism." The flaw under public ownership of the means of production is that the producers dictate what is produced. Under capital ownership, the consumers dictate and capital forces the producers to supply what will provide the best return.

Two and a half stars. You'll recognize many ideas from friends and relatives, and it is assembled pretty well.

Posted by John Kranz at 12:17 PM | Comments (5)
But johngalt thinks:

You are a kind and compassionate man of letters. Thank you for this glimpse into a volume I'd never have read. Further comment by me would be divisive, therefore I shall abstain.

Posted by: johngalt at March 20, 2011 2:24 PM
But JC thinks:

Interesting review. Thanks for sharing it. Postrel's book was sent via an environmentally friendly courier. The bicycle trip will take a few more days to get here and I look forward to reading it.

Posted by: JC at March 21, 2011 7:41 PM
But johngalt thinks:

Oh NED, it is so difficult to restrain myself.

Posted by: johngalt at March 22, 2011 1:07 AM
But JC thinks:

Book review: The Future and its Enemies by Virginia Postrel

I took on this challenge with an agreement to read the book The Future and its Enemies by Virginia Postrel while my comrade, jk, was asked to read Making Peace with the Planet by Barry Commoner. In my ignorance, I failed to acknowledge the fact that I not only had to read the book but I was required to provide a “book report” to share what I thought of the book.

Virginia provides a succinct and accurate note for the cause of her book: “This book examines the clash between stasis and dynamism and explores those contrasting views.” She goes on to confirm that she is a dynamist and in doing so, she presents her Web site:

So here we are, comparing two books. One book is written by a well-known author and scientist and the other written by a political and cultural writer, a self-proclaimed “dynamist” with libertarian and classical liberal views. Hmmmm… science vs. politics and culture. This is going to be interesting! (I am still reading – liking a lot of what she has to say and seeing more holes than a Swiss cheese party in Afghanistan!)

Posted by: JC at April 1, 2011 9:53 PM
But JC thinks:

FINALLY FINISHED Virginia Postrel's book: The Future and its Enemies!

First, I would like to begin with apologies. The book challenge was started back in Feb? March? My friend jk quickly procured and read my challenge to him: Making Peace with the Planet by Barry Commoner. jk must be a speed reader. He finished far ahead of expectations and quickly posted his review. Me, on the other hand, dragged my feet, ordered the book to be delivered by bicycle messenger and read by candle-light to reduce the fossil fuel impact this book challenge would have on our frail planet! ;-)

Excuses, excuses...
I carried this book with me everywhere I went. Unfortunately, I rarely found/made time to read it. Once summer started, the hiking, biking, kayaking and RC airplanes took precedence over Postrel's book. I guess I would have done better with a deadline - I might have finished it faster (maybe not).

The Future and its Enemies was the toughest book I have ever read. When I read, I read slowly to ensure I grasp the full intent, content and supporting comprehension of the author. My biggest problem with this book is how frequently Postrel shifted from lucid clarity in her reflections on the status of society to sheer and utter ignorance about the topic she assumed to know so well. These radical shifts between reality and fantasy made my head reel every time I picked it up. I frequently went back to re-read the previous section to ensure I understood what she was writing so eloquently before she drifted off into ignorant assumptions about practices and policies that have no basis in reality. Again, it was a tough read.

Postrel's book should have been titled "The Dynamist Manefesto (and how to label and mock anyone who appears not to be a dynamist") She writes the book in support of her beliefs and positions posted at Maybe the book should have been titled "Supporting the Dynamist Manifesto" - I don't know... the title and content were in conflict from my perspective but, then again, I would never claim to be 100% dynamist (or any other [insert term here]) based on Postre's judgmental assumptions.

Although the book made me wonder how a person could come to adopt the wildly ridiculous ideals presented in this book, I found a significant amount of useful material for reflecting on past and current technologies, industries and political policies. Case in point:

(quoting from p. 205) "It isn't terribly appealing to argue, for instance, that you want everyone else to be worse off so that your company can charge high prices, run inefficiently, and not worry about coming up with new and better products. Far better to invoke reactionary ideals of loyalty and stability, to suggest that turbulence is evil and competition suspect - or to offer technocratic promises of predictability and order against the messiness of experimentation. If you can also suggest that uncontrolled "technology" is plowing over "people", so much the better. The people inventing and using new technology don't count much in stasist calculations - and, chances are, they haven't yet gotten organized into an interest group."

Her statement is spot-on with regards to the battle between conflicting industries and/or political parties (fossil fuels vs. wind, solar and geo-thermal). Individual stasists in the FF camp are fighting hard to hold on to their old, inefficient and outdated product and the internal combustion engines that they feed. Ignorance, arrogance and greed seem to rule the day while rational thinking has taken a back seat to rhetoric.

My last point is regarding how Postrel believes that non-dynamists are working hard to destroy/slow/ruin the world we live in. She speaks as though technocrats, stasists, reactionaries and other “non-dynamists” are a growing population. I am not sure how she arrived at this conclusion but I challenge her to prove that human evolution is driven by epi-genetic proclivities that eventually eliminate dynamists from the human family. Fact is, the human family has always included reactionaries, stasists, technocrats and every other mindset we can imagine. We (humanity) would not have arrived at our current place in history if it were not for all of those conflicting views and philosophies. We need each one of these types of people in society to maintain a dynamic balance in our evolutionary growth and development. The world is much better off with our conflicting views than it would be if there was no conflict and/or no growth.

“Conflict is the gadfly of thought. It stirs us to observation and memory. It instigates to invention. It shocks us out of sheeplike passivity, and sets us at noting and contriving.” - John Dewey

Posted by: JC at July 18, 2011 6:50 PM

Review Corner, Un

NED bless Netflix. Not being a big movies guy, there are a lot of great ones that I have missed.

"The Dish" (2000, IMDB) showed up in a red envelope yesterday and I was enthralled. If you missed it, or have not seen it in awhile, put this on your queue.

NASA needs a radio telescope dish in the Southern Hemisphere to communicate with Apollo 11. The best choice for receiving TV signals is in Parks Australia. This brings the town to notoriety and the small town mayor to political attention.

The characters are interesting and well played, but I recommend it to ThreeSourcers for celebrating the Apollonian side of the Moon landing. I was nine at the time and, just like the mayor's son, I could rattle off specs and decipher all the acronyms. But I remember, and did not really share, my father's sense of awe. It was all on schedule for me. I knew the missions and this one was planned for '69. This film connected me with the awe of completing that mission with that technology. Five stars.

Posted by John Kranz at 11:46 AM | Comments (0)

March 8, 2011

Review Corner

John Ranelagh writes of Margaret Thatcher's remark at a key Conservative Party meeting in the late 1970's, "Another colleague had also prepared a paper arguing that the middle way was the pragmatic path for the Conservative party to take .. Before he had finished speaking to his paper, the new Party Leader [Margaret Thatcher] reached into her briefcase and took out a book. It was Friedrich von Hayek's The Constitution of Liberty. Interrupting [the speaker], she held the book up for all of us to see. 'This', she said sternly, 'is what we believe', and banged Hayek down on the table."

CoL probably remains my foundational book as well, but it's been joined by a couple in 2011. With my Presidents project completed, I have caught up of a few things I always wanted to read: important books by favorite authors. The first was Ludwig von Mises's "Socialism" with its brilliant economic defense of liberalism.

But I thought of the Thatcher quote upon finishing Virginia Postrel's "The Future and its Enemies." Something tells me I am going to be buying a bunch of copies of this (holler if you want on the list). Without delving directly into too much economics or politics, Postrel makes an astonishing case for freedom. I could throw this book down at any of my Facebook friends and say "this is what I believe."

Yup, I could do that with Hayek or Mises, but they'd never make it. This book is very accessible. It's an easy read, yet it captures the philosophy that underlies much of the politics and economics I hold so dearly. What you really need from Smith's division of labor, Ricardo's comparative advantage, Hayek's spontaneous order or Schumpeter's gales of creative destruction is lovingly nestled, without a dry or dismal paragraph in the whole book. (I can't quite say that about Wealth of Nations or Constitution of Liberty...)

Five stars.

Posted by John Kranz at 11:53 AM | Comments (6)
But johngalt thinks:

It sounds delightful. One of the Amazon reviewers calls it a "libertarian manifesto." But should you be successful in cajoling any Facebook friend to read it, what happens when they realize: [From the first Amazon review]

"The downside of this philosophy, Postrel readily notes, is that it doesn't allow us to manage tomorrow by acting today. And that's exactly the point: we shouldn't want to."

She says we shouldn't want to, and we don't, but Progressives will say "failure to manage man's future impact on his world is the height of irresponsibility." Then what?

Posted by: johngalt at March 8, 2011 12:40 PM
But jk thinks:

Then you quit. The central theme of the book is to reject the "stasist" axis of reactionary conservatives, luddite environmentalists, and authoritarian puritans. Someone who would read the book and still want to be included in one of those camps is beyond reach. But they would see what they were arguing against.

Posted by: jk at March 8, 2011 1:22 PM
But johngalt thinks:

Apologies. One shouldn't really expect any book or "elevator speech" to be the "Magic Mind Bomb" that can convince everyone to think for himself, do for himself, and stop stealing from his neighbor covertly as well as overtly.

Liberty and free trade are powerful armies in the war of ideas that have conquered more of east Asia than the Korean war and Vietnam war ever could have, even if the Allies had won. This book is another effective weapon in that war - particularly where the weakest front is located: The home front.

Let me know if you reach any of your FB friends. After reading it myself I may join you in pamphleting my stasist friends with this $6 paperback.

Posted by: johngalt at March 8, 2011 2:56 PM
But jk thinks:

The plan is to offer to read any book of their choosing in exchange for their reading this. I'll let you know.

Posted by: jk at March 8, 2011 6:19 PM
But johngalt thinks:

We used to call individuals with your zeal and dedidication "missionaries."

Posted by: johngalt at March 9, 2011 2:28 PM
But jk thinks:

The path of the pilgrim is never easy, brother...

Posted by: jk at March 9, 2011 4:09 PM

January 6, 2011

Here Comes John Galt

To the big screen.

Here IT comes. The film version of my favorite novel, which we last discussed here and here, is in post production and should appear in theaters "No later than Tax Day, April 15."

Many of my trepidations about making this story into a movie have been salved by this interview with executive producer and financier (read: owner) of the film, John Aglialoro.

Ranked by Forbes Small Business as the 10th richest executive of any small publicly-traded company (revenues under $200 million) in 2007, Aglialoro is one of those rare corporate executives who fully "gets" the philosophical message in Atlas Shrugged.

So the storyline should be safe. The scope of this movie is Part I of the book, which readers can review key points from by reading those entitled entries in Three Sources' "Atlas Shrugged QOTD" archive.

And the casting appears excellent as well. In my mind's eye I can envision Ms. Schilling walking through an abandoned factory, or consoling her poor, misguided young sister-in-law. And the movie's Hank Reardon, played by Grant Bowler, seems a perfect fit. I can easily see him telling Tinky Holloway that his game is up.

But we'll have to wait for the second sequel for that scene. I've heard that the intentions for Parts II and III of the book are to be separate sequels, each following about a year after it's predecessor.

Judging by some of the scene photos the setting of the movie will be decidedly modern. Apparently it will be set in our time, not in that of the book's writing. This is as it should be. The uninitiated youth will be more captivated than with a more faithful portrayal of the book. And, more importantly, we are closer to the events of the story becoming reality today than at any time in history.

Posted by JohnGalt at 2:46 PM | Comments (4)
But jk thinks:

Fun. But how's he intend to make a film without the wisdom of Hollywood?

They should steal Glenn Reynolds's tagline: "It's Ayn Rand's world, we're just living in it."

Posted by: jk at January 6, 2011 4:48 PM
But johngalt thinks:

I expect that production values will be the last thing for which critics will pan this film.

Posted by: johngalt at January 6, 2011 5:32 PM
But jk thinks:

I was being a liiiiiitle more sarcastic than that.

Posted by: jk at January 6, 2011 6:32 PM
But johngalt thinks:

Yes, I read the sarcasm. But I took it as a "quantum comment." It can have multiple meanings at the same time. (Alas, in our era it has no literal meaning whatsoever until a judge says it does.)

Posted by: johngalt at January 6, 2011 8:21 PM

January 5, 2011

Review Corner (Bumped)

Usually, when the chattering classes send up a big cinematic celebration of the decade between Jack Kerouac's and KC & the Sunshine Band's, I run for the hills. Surely, they will celebrate the Dionysian and not Apollonian vision of The Sixties. When the producer is Richard "blow up kids who don't believe in global warming" Curtis, a bit of trepidation is warranted.

Yet, no, if you have missed the little British indie comedy Pirate Radio, run -- do not walk -- to your Netflix queue.

Sadly, the comedic genius we enjoyed from British television seems diluted at the very best. Brother jg's atheist friend, Ricky Gervais, delivered a very original character in "The Office," but most of what I have seen of late have been hampered by political correctness (Robin Hood) or just a race to the bottom versus America (Couples, &c.) And yet, British film has stepped up to take up the slack with great little indie films like "Kinky Boots," "Blow Dry," and now "Pirate Radio."

Five stars.

UPDATE: Another viewing stirs up more commentary...

1) ERRATA: It is certainly not an "indie flick." Richard Curtis is a big time producer and the film is not starved for budget: aerial shots, stars, special effects -- it's not "Star Wars III," but it's not "Return of the Secaucus Seven." To its credit, however, the film feels indie. It is fresh, non-formulaic, and relies on writing and storyline.

2) It does earn its R rating. The free love sixties are viewed up close and personal. Yet not a minute seems prurient. What happens happens and all the costs and benefits are there to see.

3) Best of all, the film seems very neutral. The lifestyle is laid out, as are the fashion trappings: equal parts silly, pompous and cool. Curtis -- who wants to tell you what light bulb to use and where to vacation -- remarkably does not tell you what to think. It's like the Buffy episode "Normal Again," the creators keep their thumb off the scale.

4) The part that is not fair is the attack on government. This is a sea-steading movie and the antagonists are a joyless bureaucrat who is happy to rip joy away from 25 million of his countrymen just to display control and nannyism -- and his assistant, who is actually named "Twatt."

5) What a soundtrack. I worshipped 60's music as a lad, turned away as an adult, then got into the jazz snob thing. But these tunes, if you'll pardon the pun, rock. Beyond the Jimi Hendrix and Otis Redding stuff I knew I'd like, they pull up a bunch of great songs. "Judy in Disguise" was an oldie when I was a kid, but it sounds fresh in the movie (and I have been singing it for a couple days...)

I need a favorite movie. My bank asks me that every few months and I have to reset my account. I just don't have a favorite movie. This one might be it...

Posted by John Kranz at 11:20 AM | Comments (0)

January 4, 2011

I've Been Bested

I may have to quit "Review Corner." I can clearly not compete.

Blog friend LisaM embeds a three part review of Star Wars III. I confess I only made it through one part. It's as long as the movie. But, as lm points out, it's quite a bit better.

Posted by John Kranz at 4:13 PM | Comments (0)

December 6, 2010

End of a Journey

Close to President Obama's inauguration, I took some advice from Nicholas Nasim Taleb. In "The Black Swan," he suggests that people should read more books and less news. I knew the next few years of news would not be to my liking, so I allowed all my political magazine subscriptions to expire (I destroyed a rainforest with renewal offers).

I thought that I would read a book about each US President: 43 books and give myself a bright gold star. Finish up by the end of 2009. I had a plan and started with Joseph J Ellis's His Excellency: George Washington. (Five Stars!)

But the best plans have some flexibility and I quickly discovered both that I really enjoyed it and that I clearly needed to read more than one for each chief executive. So the one year plan was out the window. But this dropout actually connected with a multi-year intellectual exercise.

Last night I finished Barack Obama's Dreams From My Father. I'll give President O three stars for an interesting read and I'll recommend it to ThreeSourcers. You can see where he comes from. It disturbingly sets up his distrust of business as compared to his complete trust of government.

It belies campaign claims of a "post racial" America. He looks for his place among his family, the Luo tribe, and people of African descent. I know, I know. "I wouldn't understand" but...I don't understand.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:16 AM | Comments (0)

November 22, 2010

Review Corner

I think all ThreeSourcers will enjoy President Bush's Decision Points.

No doubt we differ in our opinion of 43 (who also liked to refer to presidents by ordinal), but Decision Points offers Bush's own view on many of the issues we have beat up on these very pages. You want to hate him for TARP or Medicare Part D, it is certainly your prerogative. I found I could go along with about any of his explanations -- you've heard me make most of them -- but I cannot join him on "when people hurt, government must act." He never questions that. He's essentially a market guy, but lacks Reagan's (and our) skepticism of government. For all of Senator McCain's blather, George W. Bush is the modern day's Theodore Roosevelt. And I do not mean that in the nicest way.

But after two years of his successor, it is hard not to feel nostalgia for his decency, probity, and patriotism. Without saying the present occupant of 1600 Penn lacks these, a few hundred pages of President Bush (and Laura's which I read right before) refreshes because he wears his love of country, freedom and our nation's military on his sleeve.

A mixed bag indeed. Of the 14 chapters, the one I found most difficult to accept was the penultimate on "The Financial Crisis." "Wall Street had a party and we all got the hangover" not only lacks nuance, but also connection to reality. He spins around and expresses cogent thoughts on Fannie and Freddie and comes close to questioning whether Federal largesse should subsidize minority home ownership, but he won't say a word against Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan and one is left -- at the very end of the book -- with the thought that he doesn't get it.

I quibble, and you will too. But it is a fun, interesting, and informative read. ThreeSourcers will know the policy but will enjoy the anecdotes. Four solid stars -- plus a quarter for pissing off Jacques Chirac again. One last time.

UPDATE: Shelfari invites users to create "Ridiculously Simplified Synopses." Someone submits:

"Red State: Texas hero arrives in Washington making brilliant decisions that save the world from terrorism."

"Blue State: Texas warmonger water-boards the US into hurricanes and economic doom."

Posted by John Kranz at 3:29 PM | Comments (0)

November 5, 2010

V, Guy Fawkes and the TEA Party

I don't remember what precipitated the choice but I decided to make "V" my halloween costume this year. I watched the movie again and found it much more pleasing than on initial viewing (during the second term of the "atavistic, homophobic, warmongering" President George W. Bush.) Obviously I wasn't so defensive about possible hidden meanings this time around.

I reviewed past reviews and commentary on these pages and was reminded that we all instantly recognized that labeling V as a "terrorist" was false. (He never attacked innocent civilians, only the guilty accomplices of a totalitarian state.) While searching the web for character quotes I found this leftist review which, despite it's anti-conservative bias and failure to grasp the "terrorism" distinction, recognizes the liberty and freedom message of the film.

One of the most progressive aspects of the film is its attempt to inject optimism about political change in a world that is despairing. "Every time I have seen the world change, it was for the worse", Evey tells V, echoing the reality of an entire generation in the First World. V sets out to prove to Evey that "governments should be afraid of their people", and, despite the terrorist trappings, the film's fundamental message is that responsibility for political change lies with the mass of people, not institutions or politicians or stars.

Then why do leftists so despise the TEA Party movement, which seeks to restrict government and champion liberty via popular activism?

Posted by JohnGalt at 4:07 PM | Comments (0)

September 19, 2010

Review Corner

ThreeSourcers may breathe a sigh of relief. This will be the final post discussing Robert A Caro's Master of the Senate.

At the Big Texan Steakhouse in Amarillo, TX, there was (is I guess) a 72 oz. steak that is yours for free if you eat it in one hour. I never tried this particular challenge. But I felt, at the conclusion of this book like I had just finished the steak. It was really good but I have been reading it for what seems like a Senate term and was glad to see the last page.

Despite all my whining, I am going to give it five stars and a hearty recommendation. I never learned as much between starting and finishing a book in my life. There are 1400 pages and I dare you to read one and not learn something.

He begins with a historical view of the Senate and the framers' intent in adding this antidemocratic house to the legislative branch. He charts the institution's course through the antebellum years of Calhoun, Webster and Clay. He lambastes the postbellum years as the Executive Branch gains strength. He gives serious consideration to both sides of the 17th Amendment. Then he charts how LBJ harnessed diffuse powers of the body to further his on ambition and lust for power.

The crowning achievement is a step by step walk through the passage of the 1957 Civil Rights Bill. LBJ wants the presidency and knows his only hope at being more than a sectional, Southern candidate, is to pass "a Nigra bill." For seven months, he pieces together one coalition after another, compromise, dealmaking and parliamentary chicanery. We all know this stuff goes on, but the detail and determination is stunning.

Y'all are better scholars than I and will not get bogged down in its thickness and density as I did. But there is not one of you that will not like it.


Posted by John Kranz at 8:00 PM | Comments (0)

September 5, 2010

Review Corner

Still slogging through Robert A Caro's "Master of the Senate." This becomes the longest I have ever spent with a single book and the end is barely in sight. While I am enjoying it, a good friend of this blog gave me a much appreciated diversion.

On the occasion of the passing of my wonderful dog Skylark, Brother Sugarchuck suggested I read Garth Stein's The Art of Racing in the Rain.

I would read a couple loooooong chapters of MOTS and click the Kindle over to read a few short breezy chapters of "Racing." After a decade-long run of reading mostly nonfiction, this is the first fiction book that has really grabbed me. We've got enough dog and motorsports lovers around here that I think it'd be a hit.

Beautiful. Five stars. Now back to LBJ...

Posted by John Kranz at 7:14 PM | Comments (2)
But Keith Arnold thinks:

I've also read both "The Art of Racing In The Rain" and "Marley and Me" recently, and liked Stein's book a bit better. I think it was the point of view - a dog recounting his life in flashback - and the unique premise. I won't spoil the end.

Posted by: Keith Arnold at September 6, 2010 10:54 PM
But jk thinks:

Truly enthralled by "Racing." I did not read "Marley & Me" but, like the rest of America got the movie, certain that with Owen Wilson, Jennifer Aniston, and a Larador, I was in for a laugh riot. I'm still in therapy.

Posted by: jk at September 8, 2010 11:42 AM

August 20, 2010

Review Corner Done Right!

Oh man, I have been bested:

For the record, 1554 is probably my favorite. But even without that, one has to appreciate what the New Belgium Brewing Blog called his "unpretentious style."

Posted by John Kranz at 2:50 PM | Comments (1)
But nanobrewer thinks:

With my moniker, you have to imagine I'd chime in. The folks at NB have my utmost respect and I like their beers (specifically, Blue Paddle Pils - THE summer quaff). That being said, I like 1554 but never seek it out.

I like my dark beers like my women: dark, a bit bitter, and even a bit mysterious.

Be good all.

Posted by: nanobrewer at August 25, 2010 7:15 AM

August 7, 2010

Consequentialist Libertarianism

First, a quick Review Corner. Haavaad Professor Jeffrey Miron's Libertarianism from A to Z would be enjoyed by any ThreeSourcer. As the title suggest, it is a dictionary of libertarian thought on various topics. Available for Kindle, I read a few every time I'm in the doc's office or finish another book. Five star stuff.

He introduces a pair of terms that make me think of my blog brethren: consequentialist vs. philosophical libertarianism. Miron espouses consequentialist thought because he suggests it is more suitable to explanation and evangelism. At the risk of reopening the biggest 3src war of all time, I've always been fond of pointing out freedom's successes. A'la Friedman: look at Hong Kong and Maoist China. Same people, climate, and geography -- but the free state is wealthy, while her resource-rich neighbor across the bay is poor.

The consequentialist does not have to disagree with the rights-based approach but chooses concrete practical examples. I don't expect everyone will change their beliefs (although he does teach at Harvard!) but it is a clear and respectful differentiation and I think the terms might do us well 'round here.

Posted by John Kranz at 1:20 PM | Comments (2)
But johngalt thinks:

Can we kumbaya on this with an "all of the above" libertarianism policy? You promote economic freedom as 'best for society' I'll promote it as 'moral and just for every individual' and we'll both celebrate Friedman and Kel Kelly.

Posted by: johngalt at August 7, 2010 6:25 PM
But jk thinks:

Kumbayas all 'round, bro. I just found it to be an interesting locution for different views heard on these pages.

Posted by: jk at August 7, 2010 7:36 PM

July 29, 2010

Sneek Peek

Thanks to Instapunit and

Posted by John Kranz at 4:02 PM | Comments (1)
But johngalt thinks:

"He doesn't owe you shit."

Works for me.

I note that he says "Part 1" is "only 127 pages." I'd like to see Part I be the first 10 chapters, followed by parts 2 and 3 with 10 more chapters each. I hope he's only referring to screenplay pages.

Posted by: johngalt at August 4, 2010 3:06 PM

July 19, 2010

No Brad Pitt...

Atlas Shrugged (2011)

Posted by John Kranz at 7:09 PM | Comments (1)
But johngalt thinks:

I'd meant to comment on this before now...

This was the first I'd heard of this latest effort. Thanks bro! A brief examination of the casting looks like faces I'd expect for most of the characters. Dad was surprised this was in production. "Hollywood? Hollywood?!"

It looks like a project of a brand new production company established specifically for the purpose: The Strike Productions. This bodes well.

Posted by: johngalt at July 22, 2010 8:22 PM

July 18, 2010

My Life in Ruins

We're going to share a post between "Review Corner" and "Quote of the Day" to reduce our Carbon Footprint.

I watched My Life in Ruins with Nia Vardalos and Richard Dreyfuss last night. If, like me, you have a high tolerance for chick flicks (or unlike me you perhaps are actually a chick). I'd recommend it. It had an honest feel about it that is usually missing from the Romantic Comedy genre. Dreyfuss may be king of the moonbats, but he is a superb actor and really knocks this one out of the park.

There is one great line that all ThreeSourcers might appreciate. Georgia (Vardalos) is an American who moved to Greece for an academic position. When it fell through, she took a job as tour guide, guiding tourists through ruins with professorial disquisitions when they would rather be at the beach or souvenir stands. Hilarity ensues, yadda yadda.

Early on, she is complaining about the general clutter, disorganization and lack of repair in a culture that prefers comfort to achievement (even before the sovereign debt crisis). She enumerates Grecians' contributions to politics, philosophy, science, astronomy, mathematics and art until: "until they invented 'the nap.'" That captures Europe (The South especially) so perfectly. They gave us so much until they invented the nap.

Four stars with a warning that if you can't stand the genre this one will not win you over. ("Elizabethtown" might).

Posted by John Kranz at 11:43 AM | Comments (0)

June 22, 2010

Six Stars

That's what I'm giving the new Ridley Scott "Robin Hood" film that JK rated (unseen) at 5 stars. It isn't just "a rousing love letter to the tea party movement" but a must see inspiration.

I also hereby nominate Ridley Scott to direct a film version of Atlas Shrugged, after reading How 'Nottingham' Became 'Robin Hood' and Robin Hood - Whose Fault Was It?

In Hollywood, the director is always considered to be the ultimate author of a movie. The director is always right, and the bigger the director, the less likely anyone will shoot down their crazy whims. So what happens, Martell asks, when the director is wrong? If Universal/Imagine had taken Robin Hood away from Scott when it started to go off the rails and had handed it to a younger, cheaper director -- one interested in actually making the script that Imagine had bought -- then it could have been delivered on schedule, wouldn't have cost a reported $200 million-plus, and might have actually been good.


This might not come as a welcome thought for fans of Loxley and the gang, but it was about half-way through the film that I realized that the 'origin' of Robin really isn't all that interesting. When it comes down to it, the tale of Robin Hood doesn't really get exciting until he's Robin Hood -- you know, robbing from the rich, giving to the poor. But in Hood, so much time is devoted to creating a supposedly 'realistic' setting around the myth that you kind of wish they would just get to the good part.

Yep, that explains why so many of these reviewers thought it was boring and too long and terrible - He never did get around to "robbing from the rich, giving to the poor." Instead, he protected the weak from the strong. (Dang, what a LOOOOOOZERRRR.)

Posted by JohnGalt at 3:03 PM | Comments (0)

June 3, 2010

Review Corner

I'm giving Robin Hood five stars just on David Boaz's review:

Robin tells the king the people want a charter to guarantee that every man be “safe from eviction without cause or prison without charge” and free “to work, eat, and live merry as he may on the sweat of his own brow.” The evil King John’s man Godfrey promises to “have merchants and landowners fill your coffers or their coffins….Loyalty means paying your share in the defense of the realm.” And Robin Hood tells the king, in the spirit of Braveheart’s William Wallace, “What we ask for is liberty, by law.”

Dangerous sentiments indeed. You can see what horrifies the liberal reviewers. If this sort of talk catches on, we might become a country based on antistatism, laissez-faire, individualism, populism, and egalitarianism and governed by a Constitution.

It seems all the lefty film critics are in full panty-wad mode over this "rousing love letter to the Tea Party movement."

Hat-tip: Instapundit

Posted by John Kranz at 3:55 PM | Comments (5)
But Keith Arnold thinks:

And I thought no one on this site would ever say anything good about Robin Hood.

Oh, you meant the movie?

The movie plays fast and loose with history, but at least this Robin Hood speaks with an English accent...

Posted by: Keith Arnold at June 4, 2010 2:15 PM
But jk thinks:

It's Friday, I'll take the bait: is Robin Hood intrinsically anti-capitalist? I'd suggest that "the rich" targeted by the merry men were government and church aristocrats, while "the rich" targeted by President Obama include many more legitimate wealth creators.

Reachin'? 'Cause I really like Russell Crowe.

Posted by: jk at June 4, 2010 2:31 PM
But johngalt thinks:

You are right of course, JK: Robin Hood "stole from the rich" monarch and "gave to the poor" whom said monarch had first stolen from via taxation. But what is remembered in popular culture is the part in quotes.

Robin Hood was beloved by the people, while Ragnar Danneskjold was reviled. Why? Because Ragnar gave not to "the poor" but to "the taxed." (And stole from the state, not from the "rich.") Ragnar also kept a very careful accounting of how much he returned to each, ensuring that it never exceeded what had been stolen from him by state taxation.

Posted by: johngalt at June 4, 2010 3:29 PM
But Keith Arnold thinks:

I know there are many different versions of the Robin Hood mythos, but as I seem to recall from my tender years, the monies liberated by Mr. Hood were taxes imposed by Prince John (the same one who would one day be forced to sign the Magna Carta), which John pretended were to ransom Richard the Lion-Heart from his captors. John hoarded the money himself, and Robin set himself to thwarting that. Richard, of course, showed up at the end of the story in disguise, after having escaped his captors without ever having been ransomed.

It's just a little jarring to see 21st-century political sentiment projected onto 11th-century England. Pre-Rutherford, "liberty, by law" and Constitutional governance would be something of an anachronism.

I once got teased - politely - for invoking Robin Hood on this site, if only to offer to serve as Friar Tuck's stand-in (my Shepherd Book reference was better received, I think...) - hence my first comment. Nonetheless, I could not in good conscience resist Cary Elwes' smackdown of Kevin Costner, and I'm stunned not to have been ribbed for it. Happy Friday, friends...

Posted by: Keith Arnold at June 4, 2010 4:40 PM
But jk thinks:

I remembered who said it, but I forgot at whom it was directed. And yes, I remember your getting attacked for invoking the name. Happy days...

Posted by: jk at June 4, 2010 6:10 PM

April 24, 2010

Review Corner

I think ThreeSourcers would enjoy 1912: Wilson, Roosevelt, Taft and Debs--The Election that Changed the Country by James Chace. It's an interesting mix of politics and philosophy, covering three Presidents and an important labor leader.

Chace does a good job. Of course, he is a historian so he doesn't appreciate anything that ThreeSourcers do. He's very dismissive of President Taft, who played golf instead of working 24 x 7 to remove our freedoms like Presidents Roosevelt and Wilson.

But I've inured to that. Think happy thoughts for me as I begin John Milton Cooper's new bio of Woodrow Wilson.

What Chace does superbly is to contrast Wilson's and TR's Progressivism, and -- as we've discussed -- contextualizing it and tying it to FDR's. I'll give it Four and a half stars for its readable and comprehensive look at a sizeable span of American history as many paths converge on this intriguing election. (Spoiler alert: Wilson wins!)

Posted by John Kranz at 10:55 AM | Comments (0)

February 22, 2010

Review Corner

2081.jpg FIVE STARS!

Fun, and pretty. The best part, whether watching or reading, is knowing it was written by America's premier Socialist. Watching it last night, it occurred to me that it could have been written by Ayn Rand. What a masterful celebration of the individual!

The lovely bride and I watched it twice (it is unrandianly short) and then clicked it off to find the Olympics on. I have mentioned that I have been less enthralled than some, but it seemed like the Men's skiing deserved to be grafted onto the end of the film: here were folks from all over the world trying to be the best and to prove they are the best -- an emotional juxtaposition from the equality dystopia.

Posted by John Kranz at 11:33 AM | Comments (0)

December 31, 2009

Avatar: Reincarnating the Same Old Story

With a teenage son facinated by mythical creatures and scifi, the movie "Avatar" (starring Sam Worthington and Sigourney Weaver) was a holiday must-see for The Refugee Clan. Although the 3-D special effects were at times vivid, the movie itself was nothing more than yet-another-attack-on-the-military-and-capitalism.

The Refugee would normally post a "plot spoiler" warning at this point, but there really is no plot to spoil. Avatar is the revenge of the American Indian, Custer's Last Stand and "Dances with Wolves" all wrapped into one. In the movie, the US military-industrial complex (which are indistinquishable as entities) has colonized a remote planet for the purposes of mining "unattainium," which sells for $20 million per kilo on planet Earth. The indigenous peoples, who happen to have braided hair, ride winged horse-like steeds, shoot bows and arrows, have shamans and speak a language that sounds remarkably like Lakota, coincidentally reside over the largest deposit of unattainium on the planet. The "company" wants the military, a bunch of ex-Marine mercenaries, to move the people from their sacred, ancestral homeland at any cost. The blood-thirsty ex-Marine commander is only too happy to do so, especially if he can kill them all with "shock and awe." He is completely unconcerned about women and children being in the way. How the movie progresses is not worth relating. Suffice it to say that the evil capitalists are vanquished from the planet forever and the local people become one with the environment.

Avatar, as work of art, is bereft of value because it adds nothing to the discourse. It is, frankly, left-wing propaganda packaged to appeal to a young audience. While not denying nor condoning the sometimes horrific treatment suffered by Indians at the hands of the US government (e.g., the Sand Creek Massacre), The Refugee labels this movie as a loser. It is just another ad hominem attack on the US, our military, our history and capitalism-as-greed. Balance and perspective are irrelevant to the producers. The similes are cheesy (i.e., "unattainium), the story plotless and the characters completely predictable. That the producers would intentionally propagandize to young minds in this way is deplorable. The Refugee is unhappy to have patronized this endeavor to contribute to the profit that the producers so apparently abhor. Perhaps his experience can serve as a warning to others.

Posted by Boulder Refugee at 3:36 PM | Comments (9)
But Boulder Refugee thinks:

The Refugee would refer XX to the example of the gentleman who started the company that he and many of us in this discourse either do or have worked for. No one would disagree that said gentleman started it to create his own wealth (to great success). But, think of the tens of millions of payroll dollars the company has paid to hundreds of employees over the past 30 years. Is this not an intersection of self-interest and the benefit of others? Moreover, if this entrepreneur announced tomorrow that henceforth all wages would be sent to the poor in Africa in the name of "social justice," would XX work another minute for the company? Would that make XX "selfish?"

None of this is original thought to Three Sourcers, but something that XX should consider.

Posted by: Boulder Refugee at December 31, 2009 9:16 PM
But johngalt thinks:

Perfectly put, br. And all of that despite paying confiscatory tax rates to various governments every step of the way. Those governments serve the "greater" good of others and the public, don't they XX? Isn't that good enough for you? Would any amount of altruism ever be good enough to satisfy your sanctimonious vanity? (You might reword that last bit jk.)

Posted by: johngalt at January 1, 2010 12:28 AM
But jk thinks:

Not a bad example, br. (By the way, xx has gone on to greener pastures, so he would likely applaud my CEO's giving away all our wages to the poor. Please do not put such ideas in his head...)

Prompted by his question, I did a lengthy exegesis (familiar to all ThreeSourcers) about Bill Gates. It started "One of my favorite topics. I hope that the Gateses do less harm giving their money away than Mister G did good earning it." And ended "So you're right. Gates harms the world through altruism and betters it substantively through a ferocious self-interest. Do we want to reward intentions or results?"

Posted by: jk at January 1, 2010 11:41 AM
But T. Greer thinks:

I enjoyed the movie. But then again, I think I have a higher tolerance for movies that do not match well with my ideology the other folks here. ^_~

On a more serious note, I was incredibly impressed with the film's visuals. It was a visual spectacle of the likes I have not yet seen. (I did see it in 3d, fwi.) The film's premise, that of the "avatars", intrigued me. So did a couple of the film's other ideas -- an ecology that is neurally integrated, and the idea of a 22nd century space traveling Dutch East India Company gave me food for thought.

Were the movie fails, I think, is in its villains. I did not find the grizzled, lets-slay-some-natives-before-breakfast, former marine to be realistic, to say nothing of the cookie-cutter evil corporate executive. Both were flatter than a rice wafer, and about as interesting to boot. The businessman, in particular, seemed to be nothing but caricature of what the typical hard-leftist thinks greedy stock-watching businessmen should be like. His behavior makes no sense in any other way; I sincerely doubt that such a man would be successful in the real world, much less a future trading colony in 2150.

(It is all the sadder really, because there was so much room to make the character interesting. I was hoping they would pull a Firefly and make him Chinese, but nope, they needed to whitewash the Evil capitalist's staff.)

So, in sum: Clever premise, amazing artwork, bad implementation. I say 3.5 stars.

if you only have enough time to see one movie, pass this one up and see Holmes. That film gets a 5.

Posted by: T. Greer at January 1, 2010 7:01 PM
But jk thinks:

Well, I'm going to stand up for the other folks around here.

I have no trouble reading Steinbeck or seeing an intelligent movie that does not match my beliefs. Nor do I think anyone will question the art and spectacle. I 'spect I'll see it when it comes out on DVD.

But the downside you describe is aggravating because Hollywood doesn't even bother to give enough real thought to my beliefs to make my villains interesting.

Posted by: jk at January 1, 2010 7:40 PM
But johngalt thinks:

Why, whatever do you mean? tg's description of the Hollywood depiction of soldiers and businessmen sounds precisely like the descriptions lefties recite about the real counterparts.

Posted by: johngalt at January 2, 2010 12:23 AM

December 21, 2009

Entertainment News

We don't do a lot of Entertainment News 'round here, but the death of Brittany Murphy suggests that I complete a Review Corner.

Ramen Girl is a fun little Indie flick. And if you are saying "Brittany Who?" it is a nice performance.

A fun 4-star rental (available on the Netflix instant queue). I don't think we'll follow a celeb death too closely, but RIP Ms. Murphy.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:19 AM | Comments (0)

September 25, 2009

Gitmo And Review Corner

We're saving database entries by doubling up -- there's a recession thingy you know!

Jennifer Rubin -- let me steal Insty's words -- rubs it in that the Administration has suddenly learned that closing Guantanamo Bay is a wee bit harder than giving a speech.

It was Obama who made closing Guantanamo the cornerstone of his national-security agenda. It was he who, with great fanfare, announced the decision to close the facility before all the data had been gathered. It was he who again and again derided his predecessor’s administration and the arguments against shuttering Guantanamo (it was only a “false” choice between our values and security, he lectured us). It was Obama who couldn’t resist the urge to debate the former vice president–and then lost the confidence of the American people. And indeed, just this week, he was preening at the UN:

You'll want to read the whole thing; there's more abuse where that comes from.

And you'll also want to put "Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay" on your Netflix queue if, like me, you missed it. I watched it last night and laughed aloud through much of it. If you have not seen any (how many are there?) I would start with H&K Go to White Castle, but this one was almost as good.

I don't need to warn you that this is not intellectual entertainment, nor is it family friendly (well, The Manson Family...) Call it a guilty pleasure, but I find these films fresh and funny. The "bad boy" films that grew out of 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up leave me cold. Harold & Kumar are no cleaner and no more moral -- but they are a lot funnier.

I tensed up when the bumbling President Bush character came on. But in the situation, he comes off pretty well. Totally stupid, but up to speed with the morality we expect from other key figures. He even gets several good lines in.

Four stars, if your tastes go that way at all.

Posted by John Kranz at 3:31 PM | Comments (0)

June 17, 2009

Review Corner

I'm going to reach back to the long ago and far away year of 2001. If you need a rental and maybe missed this like I did, you are in for a treat.

Blow Dry, with Alan Rickman and Natasha Richardson comes from that British indie comedy community that brought Full Monty (they call this "Full Monty with Hair") and my favorite, "Kinky Boots." Like Kinky Boots it concerns the inflow of London culture into a small rural town. This time, Keighley, as it is selected to host the annual British Hairdressing Championship.

It is laugh out loud funny but punctuated with some very poignant serious moments. It is available on the Netflix Instant Queue. Five Stars.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:37 AM | Comments (0)

May 30, 2009

Review Corner

First: Netflix vs. Blockbuster by Mail. Netflix has the coolest Internet, instant viewing service. If you have a TiVo or an XBox or buy a dedicated player for $99 you can watch any of their digital downloads at any time if you have a current subscription. Very very cool and sufficient to lure me away from Blockbuster's Blue to Netflix Red. But, I have to confess that Blockbuster -- true to nomenclature -- does a better job getting you the hot new movies when they come out.

I was the last guy in the nation to see "Slumdog Millionaire." By the time I got it, I had heard so much approbation I was let down. It's a good film but it did not hold up to the hype. Good story and all, but none of the characters were complex and the cinematography was rather conventional, though the Ballywood touches were entertaining (three stars).

By comparison, I watched "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" last night and was enthralled. A great Fitzgerald story, a superb performance by Brad Pitt -- but, most notably, a masterpiece in filming. We go from the end of WWI to Hurricane Katrina and the richness of each era is captured in the lighting and style. There are great grace notes of little homages to films of each era; I trust those who know and follow movies more than me would have caught many more.

I haven't given five stars in a while, but I will here. I plan to watch it one more time before I send it back, If you missed it, check it out,

Posted by John Kranz at 10:59 AM | Comments (0)

March 21, 2009

Review Corner

I cannot vouch for historical accuracy of this film. Several items seemed to contravene my understanding of events or basic beliefs about the personnel involved.

Disclaimers aside, "Cadillac Records," based on the the true story of Chess Records founder Leonard Chess is a lot of fun. Narrated by Cedric the Entertainer -- who makes an awesome Willie Dixon -- the movie tells the tale of Len who goes all in to create the studio and label. He plays pretty fast and loose with the rules but creates a viable enterprise and makes stars out of a young Muddy Waters and younger Little Walter. Chess does payola without apology and takes all the money coming in, capriciously providing Cadillacs and houses in lieu on any real accounting or belief in what ThreeSourcers might call property rights.

That was accepted as basic exploitation when I grew up, but the Len Chess character makes a pretty good defense of himself as providing positive impact. Howlin' Wolf, who was always known as an astute businessman, hurls a few bon mots at his less sophisticated colleagues. "I own this truck, it don't own me," he tells Muddy and his Cadillac. Later on, Muddy asks Chess for money for Little Walter's funeral and Wolf throws in a big pile of bills saying "I don't need no daddy."

The last half of the movie is lifted by the superb performance of Mos Def as Chuck Berry -- and the show is stolen by Beyonce Knowles's Etta James.

Great music, great fun. If you want history read a history book -- I give it four stars. I should confess that I am not a scholar of the period and that my misgivings do not constitute proof of inaccuracy. There were just a few parts that lacked verisimilitude.

Posted by John Kranz at 6:39 PM | Comments (0)

February 15, 2009

Crying for a Long Tail

Joss Whedon/Eliza Dushkus's new show Dollhouse has had a few of what Robert Johnson called "Stones in my Passway." The week it was announced, the writer's strike hit.

Worse, from those who know more than me, the show got scheduled on -- shield the kiddies' eyes here -- Friday night! Galley Slave Jonathan V. Last announced the Friday Night schedule as conclusive proof that the show was dead before beginning. The idea is that Sarah Connor goes to Friday for one last ultra-geek season before dying and that Dollhouse is strangled in the cradle.

I don't know how this works and I am tempted to accept my Buffy-sire's judgement. What struck me as sad is that the Whedon blog site spends the next day discussing ratings and things you can do to promote the show. A few posts down, it is noted that Dollhouse premiers five years after the news that Angel was canceled (also Friday the 13th).

I read a piece last week that suggested one or more of the broadcast networks will likely go to cable in the next few years, trading the certainty of the subscription model for the revenue opportunity for a big hit. Blow your gales through this model, Mr. Schumpeter -- it is broke! The viewers are in save-our-show mode the day it's out, viewership is down, revenues are down. There has got to be a better way to run a railroad. I still imagine a subscription for a network or small group of networks and wonder that Whedon fans wouldn't just pony up $49 for a season of his newest show, licensed to watch new episodes live and owning a digital copy at the end like Amazon Unbox.

Since nobody else is talking about the actual show, how 'bout it? Did anybody see it? I think the show has potential and I am anxious to see where it goes. There was a lot to take in in one episode.

On the down side, I was less pleased with the latest Sarah Connor Chronicles. I have been warming up to this show over the last season or so and if last night represents the start of a super-scifi-geeked-out denouement, color me unconvinced. Good SciFi enables an astonishing pretext to view un-astonishing human behavior (Cameron and the tortoise was magical). Attempting the special effects of the Terminator movie grabs me a lot less.

Joint promos with Summer Glau and Eliza Dushku were worth the price of admission. Whedon geeks were treated to a great reunion of Buffy and Angel characters that even extends into the previous show (don't forget Glau was the ballerina in "Waiting in the Wings" before she was in Firefly). I haven't liked anything since Angel and I find myself getting hooked on a few current programs. I watched three Seasons of "Heroes" in two months just in time for the new episodes; "Eureka" is good but I will have to buy it now if comes back on; and cautions optimism on Terminator: Sarah Conner Chronicles and Dollhouse.

UPDATE: I'm going to back off my Terminator Criticism. I watched it again and found much to like. Ms. Weaver's extendo-knives® didn't do it for me, but the plotline took some well defined turns.

Posted by John Kranz at 11:45 AM | Comments (5)
But nanobrewer thinks:

I've been reading here sporadically for a year or two, and had no idea of JK's passion for forward looking dramatech (my own word; most of Joss Whedon's work isn't quite Sci-Fi). Lest there be doubt, I am also a big fan of Whedon. Some day, I'll catch up on all those missed Buffy episodes... some day when I'm in the mood for the post 3rd season darkness... 'nuff said for now.

My reason for posting is to inquire as to why isn't there a CAT listing for either Sci-Fi or Joss Whedon? It seems like JK could surely fill a category up with interesting details (as alluded to in this post).

Posted by: nanobrewer at February 17, 2009 10:04 AM
But jk thinks:

Categories are pretty ad hoc around here. You'd think the corporate boys in Cleveland would issue a standard or something...

I'm the Buffy guy and have some strong support among the commentariat. But the show we all agree on is Firefly. It is not only a great show, it also fits with our passion for freedom. We talked at length when the Serenity movie came out, a category page to capture it would have been nice.

Terri linked to this on her blog, I Think ^(Link) Therefore I Err.

Never invite a blogger to share personal feelings unless you have time to spare, but I had no idea that I was a dramatech (nice term) fan. Buffy snuck up on me -- I read so much about the show on political blogs, I had to check it out. Then, total darkness until Eureka, now I find myself watching Sarah Connor. I read a little SciFi but not a lot, I missed the whole Star-Trek thing, I wasn't a comic book guy.

It's like some latent pod was planted in me by an alien being when I was young that was recently activated by the mothership or something...

Posted by: jk at February 17, 2009 11:19 AM
But nanobrewer thinks:

We talked at length when "Serenity" came out
Sorry I missed that. I wouldn't have much to offer, since with young-uns still toddling about we almost never got to a theater. I watched that NF disc probably 3-4 times and River's dance of death over 10 times!

It is is my top 10 of SF films (instapundit had it at #1), perhaps top 5 but I'd have to revisit that list some day.

dramatech: glad you like it, feel free to use it. TechDrama is perhaps more accurate but this slips trippingly from the tongue, I think.

I did like Buffy as well. Mostly the sharp repartee, and a bit of fun over high schoolers mostly dealing in a very mature fashion over the save the world/homework tonight? dilemma. H.Potter would approve. I recall asking some teeanagers about the show, once. Their "ooh, that's soo stooopid!!" made me think: Joss got it just about right

Posted by: nanobrewer at February 18, 2009 11:28 AM
But johngalt thinks:

Let me slip in a Serenity comment that never made the prior discussion because it took a while for it to gestate in my head:

Did anyone else pick up an intentional suggestion that Mal would have become a Riever if he'd lived on Miranda during the "experiment?" Mal's vengeful reaction to the operative's murderous tactics (and his character in general) tell me that he wouldn't have been one to "just lay down" had his mind been chemically manipulated. The same qualities which make him a decisive martial leader were presumably what caused the Rievers to go berserk when do-gooders tried to make the whole of the population more "civilized."

Perhaps this was obvious to everyone else and I'm just slow, but when I suggested it to dagny she didn't agree that it was intended.

Posted by: johngalt at February 19, 2009 1:30 PM
But nanobrewer thinks:

Sorry JG, I didn't see that implication, since there was no discussion as to how "the others" (aka, those who became Reivers) got there as opposed to just laying down in the sheep dip.

Certainly Mal was on fire in this movie, and Nate smoldered oh so well during Firefly. No, if there were any implication that Mal's personality was amenable, then surely Zoe would have been tagged as well.

Posted by: nanobrewer at February 21, 2009 1:46 AM

January 11, 2009

Review Corner

I won't have to give up the family-friendly animated genre after all. The pungent distaste remaining from my watching Pixar's WALL-E was wiped clean by 20th Century Fox's "Horton Hears a Who."

We've discussed the number of times you have to check your philosophy at the door to enjoy a major studio blockbuster movie these days. That is not required with "Horton." Perhaps it's the spirit of Ted Geisel shining through, or the Hollywood Censors were off the week this script was vetted, but I found the movie underscored my beliefs rather than contradicted them.

There is an awesome "tyranny of the majority" scene in which the pusillanimous city council asks the people whether they want the celebration to continue or follow the mayor's suggestion to prepare for potential calamity. "Bread and Circuses" win.

Meanwhile, in the other world, Horton sticks by his beliefs against a busybody, un-elected nanny-stater. Stand up and cheer!

Jonah Goldberg makes fun of Andrew Sullivan for "watching South Park for the politics" and I am not implying that the rest of the movie is not entertaining. The animation sparkles, and the voice talents of Jim Carrey and Steve Carell convey their large personalities into their characters. I don't know how many kids got the Dr. Kissinger reference, but I laughed out loud at many such grace notes.

Four and a half stars. Where I turned WALL-E off, we watched this one twice.

Posted by John Kranz at 12:46 PM | Comments (0)

January 9, 2009

Rantview Corner

Izzit a rant or a Review Corner? I type, you decide.

I love animation and have a soft spot for children's films. I have a Disney shelf of DVDs that looks much like the parents' of a couple toddlers -- except mine are not covered with peanut butter "Honey! You got brie and bojolais on 'Mulan' again!" The Pixar flicks have dazzled me. I have to put 'Toy Story' on top because of Joss Whedon, but I have liked them all well enough. 'Cars' was a triumph of computer animation and they have walked a nice line of making the plotlines and dialog kid-friendly yet entertaining for (soi disant) grownups.

Yes, Disney films all have a bias against business and commerce (except 'Meet the Robinsons.') I have considered that the price of admission and can usually dismiss it with a few eye rolls. But I finally got 'WALL-E' from Netflix and excitedly clicked it on last night. Maybe somebody can tell me how it ends because I turned it off in disgust 52 minutes in.

I hate to pan a movie I did not watch all the way through but my wife changed it over to Martin Scorsese's blues-concert documentary "Lightning in a Bottle" (3.5 stars and did I marry the right person or what?)

WALL-E, the trash compacting robot has been left on earth because we ruined the Earth with too much trash -- if only we had followed King County's lead for mandatory recycling! What is left of earth's population is travelling on a spaceship waiting for plant life to be rediscovered. They live in hovercraft-barcaloungers surrounded with servant robots, ubiquitous TV screens and (better cover the children's ears) all kinds of shopping and malls, all brought to you by B-L, the Big-and-Large Corporation whose CEO has a Presidential Seal. With no gravity and no work required, they have all become morbidly obese. The sum total is a dystopia of radical Malthusianism that would be discarded as too ludicrous if offered in a serious vehicle. But for indoctrinating the kiddies against the evils of innovation and commerce it's fine.

If you did not guess, zero freakin' stars. Sorry this review is too late to perhaps save some readers. It has been out long enough, I am likely the last one disappointed with it. There is a really nice acoustic sequence with Buddy Guy -- oh wait, that's in the other movie.

Posted by John Kranz at 11:11 AM | Comments (6)
But AlexC thinks:

I wish I had reviewed it when I saw it in theatres. I went because Lileks thought highly of it.

Even my five year old thought it was dumb.

Looked good, but jeez... a little heavy handed.

Posted by: AlexC at January 9, 2009 11:55 AM
But Boulder Refugee thinks:

The Refugee can't help here. He fell asleep after about 45 minutes - thought it started out slow and went nowhere.

Posted by: Boulder Refugee at January 9, 2009 12:22 PM
But T. Greer thinks:

Once again, I am in the minority: I liked it.

Perhaps we just read different things into it. I found the idea of a trash covered world too fanciful to merit criticism- it was nothing more than a plot device to get humanity off Earth and into Space.

If we are really are to force political metaphors onto the movie, I will go ahead and state that WALL-E contained one of the best depictions of Tocqueville's soft depostism I have seen on film. That, added with a lesson on the evils of mixing market awith state and a good ol' endorsement of the "Hello Dolly" lifestyle leaves this commentator with little to begrudge the movie.

~T. Greer, Pixar fan.

Posted by: T. Greer at January 12, 2009 12:49 AM
But jk thinks:

Actually, tg, I w