Democrats Pounce

Republicans, not completely without justification, frequently argue that papers like the New York Times and Washington Post often frame mis-steps by Democrats in terms of the Republican response.  So instead of "Biden makes racist gaffe" the headline might read "Republicans pounce on Biden over his latest statements."  I will confess that I don't really notice this so much but Conservatives in my feed are often posting examples.

For balance, I thought it would be useful to demonstrate that Conservatives are perfectly willing to do the exact same thing.  Take this story by Rick Moran.  The headline is "Trump Has Democrats Acting Like Pavlov's Dogs."  After a couple of grafs describing Pavlov's famous work, he writes:

Donald Trump gets Democrats hysterical with just about anything he tweets. It's a classic Pavlovian response and Trump plays his opponents like a well-tuned fiddle. He doesn't even have to say anything necessarily controversial. Whatever he tweets, his opponents see 1) racism, 2) fascism, 3) white supremacy, or 4) his enabling one or more of the previous. Trump tweets, Dems salivate. It's classic.  He knows exactly which buttons to push, which subjects are liable to turn liberals into sputtering, spitting, stammering piles of gelatinous goo.

It's not until like the 13th paragraph that we find out what the article is actually about, which is this:

Trump shared a tweet and video from  conservative comedian Terrence Williams that claimed without evidence that former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- Trump's 2016 presidential election rival -- were responsible for Epstein's death. The Federal Bureau of Prisons and Attorney General Bill Barr said Epstein died in an "apparent suicide" while in federal custody.

I consider myself to be one of the last people in America who can evaluate Trump's actions on a case-by-case basis without resorting to a default tribal position.  And I will say that this is ...  pretty f*cking egregious.  On a number of dimensions.  First and and foremost, the DOJ has already announced an investigation into this matter, so Trump is effectively commenting on an active Federal investigation in its very early stage.  I encourage you to check Mr. Google and search for times where Conservatives criticized Obama for commenting on an active investigation.  I remember a number of such occasions, e.g. here.

Second, not only is he commenting on an active investigation, he is suggesting a suspect.  Yes, I know the comic is having fun with the Clintons-knocking-off-their-opponents meme.  That is fine for a comic, but it is unacceptable for the person at the top of the federal law enforcement establishment.  This is how people like Richard Jewell had their lives ruined.  The fact that the suspected targets here are a former US President and Mr. Trump's opponent in the last election just make this all the worse.

This behavior of Trump is indefensible, which I suppose is why Mr. Moran chose to play the "Democrats pounce" card.

Sometimes I Wonder If People Just Need to Have An Enemy

I find this depressing:

We seem to NEED an enemy.  We hop from one enemy to another -- Soviet Union to Iraq to Al Qaeda to Russia to Iran and now to China (with a certain minority always having Israel as their enemy).   I find this depressing.  As I told a reader in a private email the other day, for whatever cynicism I project here, I am actually a sloppy optimist, a pacifist, and a conflict avoider.  Maybe that is part of the appeal of Canada or New Zealand in surveys -- I mean, its hard to imagine them having enemies.

We had a Chinese exchange student back when my kids were in high school who frequently visits us here in the US.  The first day we saw here in America she looked exactly like Honey in the Doonesbury comics -- Mao jacket and hair and glasses and all.  After four years of college at Michigan, she is as American as my kids.  She and her friends want so much to be like us in so many ways, without rejecting her Chinese cultural heritage.

This country has so much positive soft power -- everyone around the world wants to be here and partake of our culture.  I don't think either Republicans or Democrats really understand the real reasons behind this pull.  Republicans seem to believe folks are lining up at the border for welfare checks while I don't know what Democrats believe any more, as their Presidential candidates all reject many of the great things about this country I would have thought attracted people.  Maybe that is why politicians of both parties so consistently piss away this potential goodwill.

I am not naive about China -- they are an authoritarian state desperately in need of reform.  I just don't think going into cold war tension mode with them is going to help.  I tend to believe in the power of engagement by ordinary people with the rest of the world to drive change, which we should have been trying years ago in Cuba.  Isolating authoritarian regimes is really just doing their work for them.

This Isn't A Map of Global Warming, It's A Map of Corrupted Temperature Stations

Kevin Drum published this map on his blog, which he says was originally from the Washington Post.  He does not include a link so I can't give any more background on the chart.  For example, I have no idea which surface temperature data set it is based on.

The fact that smart guy like Kevin Drum can publish this uncritically just demonstrates how little even vociferous global warming advocates actually understand about the issue.  Because all this chart does is reinforce a skeptic argument that the global surface temperature data set is corrupted and can exaggerate warming trend data.

Let's start with this:  I have read much of the IPCC reports and have skimmed the rest, and I can say with certainty that these reports contain no theory about how increasing the concentration of atmospheric CO2 from 0.03% to 0.04% causes warming of 2C or more focused in hotspots as small as a 50 mile radius.  There is absolutely no theory, and I would argue no way, that a general global warming trend of 1-1.5C per century is causing warming 2-3 times that rate narrowly over San Jose, California or Phoenix, AZ.

The fact that many of these hotspots are focused over urban areas is a good indicator that this temperature data set is corrupted with urban heat island biases.  This is a different kind of man-made effect but one which is local and is not the result of a global warming trend, and thus should not be in a database aimed at measuring this global warming trend.

Something like 10 years ago I saw a similar chart online based on USHCN measurement stations.  At that time, the chart showed a hotspot over Tucson

At the time, Anthony Watt was running his Surface Stations project to document the conditions of all the USHCN temperature stations (the crosses on the map) that formed the basis of the US global warming / temperature trend numbers.  So I drove down to Tucson to see the temperature station in the middle of that hotspot.  What I found was that the temperature station that 100 years ago was in a rural open field was now measuring the temperature of an asphalt parking lot in the middle of a large city:

As an aside, this was a fun project as I still see this picture reproduced in random places from time to time.  After this picture got some publicity, the government shut this station down and moved it to a better location.

But the point is that the hotspot on the temperature change map was both real and fake.  Real in the sense that Tucson was definitely hotter due to the change in land use, as are most all cities (just watch the weather in a city and they will often say that it will be a low of 45 in the city, and 40 in the outlying areas).  My son and I measured the urban heat island in Phoenix for a high school science project.  We found it to be as high as a 6-8F difference between city and the surrounding countryside at certain times of day.

But the hotspot was fake because this had nothing to do with global warming from CO2, and thus including this hotspot in the temperature data was exaggerating the global warming trend.  This is especially true since there are only a few data points, so this reading for Phoenix was averaged into the reading all over the Southwest and tended to raise the official temperatures for much of Arizona, not just in Tucson.  Where temperature stations are sparse, such as in northeast Montana, a single bad surface temperature station can corrupt the data for a large area.  This effect is even further exaggerated in places like Africa, where temperature stations can be hundreds of kilometers apart.

This is one reason satellite temperature measurement makes so much sense, as it is not subject to these sorts of biases (though it has other issues, including sensor drift and the fact that satellites can shift orbits and eventually die).  Whenever you see high temperature records today, they are usually set in the city at the airport, a big paved facility in the center of an urban area that 50 years ago was probably an open field.  There is a good chance the record has more to do with urbanization around the temperature measurement station than with global warming.

I believe the scientific community at NOAA and GISS have been almost criminally negligent with the surface temperature network over the last 30 years.  In the late 80's, when we became concerned with global warming, experts knew all to well about vast problems in how we measure surface temperatures.  We have invested tens of billions of dollars to fight global warming, but practically zero to measure it better.  We should have invested in a better, more reliable, less biased (in the scientific not political sense of that word) measurement system.  The amount of money we wasted in Solyndra would have paid for the upgrades, but we still have done nothing.  As a result, much of the warming signal is actually manual corrections to the raw data, undermining the signal to noise ratio of this critical metric and calling into question the bias (in the political not scientific sense) of these manual corrections (eg here and here).  For example, it turns out the past continues to cool.

Postscript Bonus:

The Danish Meteorological Institute, which has a key role in monitoring Greenland’s climate, last week reported a shocking August temperature of between 2.7C and 4.7C at the Summit weather station, which is located 3,202m above sea level at the the centre of the Greenland ice sheet, generating a spate of global headlines.

But on Wednesday it posted a tweet saying that a closer look had shown that monitoring equipment had been giving erroneous results.

“Was there record-level warmth on the inland ice on Friday?” it said. “No! A quality check has confirmed out suspicion that the measurement was too high.”

 

This Is Why I Resist Pleas for More Spending on Government Schools

I am perfectly willing to believe that some school districts somewhere have spending too low to ever provide the education we expect in 2019.  But after sending my kids to a private school that did a fabulous job with kids and whose tuition was lower per student than the spending in most public schools, I have become suspicious of pleas for more and more money.  It seems that lack of money is ALWAYS the claimed problem at public schools.

In fact, I am increasingly convinced the problem is not lack of money but how the money is spent.  As the percentage of staff in most public schools who are administrators rather than teachers climbs over 50%, many public schools are doing exactly what every other government bureaucracy does -- starve spending for actual public services in favor of feeding a growing, increasingly well-paid administrative staff.

Here is this week's example.  Via Zero Hedge:

The Baltimore Teachers Union (BTU) has set up a donation page on their website to raise money and supply classrooms with fans this school year because of 60 Baltimore City School (BCS) buildings don't have air conditioning.

"It's no secret that Baltimore's students have had to weather the spectrum of extreme temperatures in their classrooms. We've all seen the photos of kindergarteners sitting in their coats and mittens at their morning circle. The reverse is true when school is back in session at the end of summer, when schools' internal temperatures have been measured at over 100 degrees. The Baltimore Teachers Union knows that educators' working conditions are students' learning conditions," BTU said on the donation page under the title "Donate to the BTU Fan Drive."

You see this all the time -- teachers begging the public for donations to help them through shortages of basic school supplies.  The blame is always put on public funding -- obviously Baltimore public schools are starved for cash and forced to beg for simple infrastructure items like fans.  But wait:

Of the 100 largest school systems based on enrollment in the United States, the five school systems with the highest spending per pupil in 2017 were New York City School District in New York ($25,199), Boston City Schools in Massachusetts ($22,292), Baltimore City Schools in Maryland ($16,184), Montgomery County School District in Maryland ($16,109), and Howard County School District in Maryland ($15,921). Maryland had one additional school system in the top 10, making it four of the top 10 school systems in the United States.

In the public recreation field, I call this borrowing from the infrastructure.  Infrastructure maintenance and spending is starved in favor of richer deals for growing administrative staffs.  That is why most major parks agencies have billions of dollars in deferred maintenance.  Transit agencies apparently do the same thing.

 

My Preliminary List of Things That Irritate Me The Most About Modern Discourse

In no particular order, and sure to grow as I ponder it more:

  1. Tribal rather than thinking responses to any argument
  2. Using the wackiest person that can be found as representative of an entire group
  3. Judging the individual by the group to which they belong ("racism" and "sexism" used to be examples of this but apparently these words are defined very differently in practice today)
  4. Bad headlining (can include social media summaries) that obscures complicated situations with definitive black and white judgments.  When was the last time you clicked through from a social media headline to the underlying article and ever found it to actually say what the headline claimed?
  5. Using tortured logic (or even no logic at all) to claim the worst possible interpretation of a person's arguments
  6. Attacking a speaker's hypothesized motives, rather than their actual arguments
  7. Using ad hominem attacks rather than rational responses to arguments  (the prior #6 is really a subset of this, but the claimed ability magically be able to read opponent's minds is so prevalent that I wanted to break them apart).
  8. Post-modern "fake but accurate" facts. "It does not matter if fact X is wrong because it fits in so well with narrative Y we have created."  e.g. "this story about AOC turns out not to be true but it pretty accurately illustrates how uninformed she is."
  9. Stretching definitions of words to try to tar lesser crimes with the opprobrium meant for greater crimes (modern examples include "sexual assault" and "racism."
  10. Only learning about the arguments of person X from people opposed to person X (a sure path to failing the ideological Turing test).  Examples:  Relying on Rush Limbaugh as one's only source for knowing what Hillary Clinton's political positions are.  Never reading climate skeptics directly but only learning about what they supposedly say from those opposed to climate skeptics.
  11. Failure to be skeptical about any story or argument that support's one's own position or "side."  (I know I struggle with this in my personal reading."

Trump's Trade War Strategy Seems Doomed to Fail

Folks know I completely disagree with the whole premise of Trump's trade actions with China.  Tariffs on foreign goods hurt this country and its consumers even if the other country does not reciprocate with lower tariffs.

But let's put this all aside and think strategy.  A trade war is about creating enough pain for the other side's leadership that they agree to give in to your demands.  So the game is about American leadership outlasting Chinese leadership in dealing with unhappiness of its citizens due to the trade restrictions.  Put in this light, doesn't it seem like the strategy is doomed?  When would you ever expect the leadership of a democracy to be able to outlast an authoritarian government in terms of living with unhappiness from its citizens?

My New Award Winner for Worst Customer Service -- AT&T's ACC Business

ACC Business is apparently a subsidiary of AT&T that provides high speed dedicated data lines (think T1 lines if they still call it that).

Long rambling customer service nightmares are hard to describe in a coherent or engaging manner, so I will mostly avoid it.  The episode began innocently, 6 months ago, with an ACC Business salesman calling us asking if we would like to take advantage of lower pricing.  We said yes, signed off, and that should have been that.  Unfortunately the sales person filed the papers incorrectly internally as a new service, setting us off on a kafka-esque adventure were two accounts were created for the same service and it seemed to be impossible, given ACC's internal systems, to merge the accounts without terminating the physical service in the field.  Every month ACC Business merrily billed us twice for the same service, and threatened immediate extinction if we refused to pay one or the other bill.

After spending over a dozen hours of my personal time on the phone with this company I discovered the ACC Business unwritten customer service rules:

  1. No matter how many people told you that the person you are contacting is (finally) the right person, the person you are talking to is NEVER responsible for whatever it will take in their internal systems to fix the mess
  2. Any past mistakes made by ACC (e.g. their creating a second account by accident) are actually the customer's mistakes, somehow
  3. No matter how much time you spend on the phone with them, all past conversations are forgotten and inaccessible to the person you are talking to and thus require you to start from scratch trying to describe the issue and history to yet another new person.

I turns out there is a whole cottage industry of paid consultants whose entire job is to try to act as an intermediary between customers and ACC Business to fix these kinds of (apparently) frequent SNAFU's.  The very existence of such people should tell you all you need to know.  Such a consultant fixed my problem 2 months ago, I thought.

Until I got a note this morning from their disconnect department, saying in part:

If the information is not received within 2 business days, your request will be cancelled. At that time, you will be required to start the process over by contacting our Customer Care Department.

If you need assistance completing the required information or have any questions, please contact our Customer Care Department at 888-286-2686

Of course, per standard ACC Business procedure, the people at that phone number provided me in the email knew nothing about the email, and disavowed any involvement whatsoever with the disconnect department.  This is roughly equivalent to American Airlines telling you that you need to contact them about your upcoming reservation and then giving you a contact number in the catering department.   ACC Business customer "service" could not give me a direct number for the disconnect team or any way to contact them about this email.  So I called my consultant again and prepared to write them another check.

If there is any other way, any way imaginable, to achieve your goals without involving ACC Business I would highly recommend that alternative.

Postscript:  ACC Business has to be bad to displace my previous awful customer service award winners, which were several dying Yellow Page companies that went to quasi-fraudulent ends to try to avoid stopping my ad and ceasing to bill me.  Seriously, your customer service really has to be bad when your otherwise legal business model has worse customer service than a company resorting to fraud.

The Coming College Adversity Score Scam

As I wrote before, the College Board is going to award "adversity" scores to its college-bound test-takers (essentially the inverse of a privilege score).  As I wrote earlier, beyond self-identification questions that can't be trusted, the best data for this will be the student's address.  I predicted that rich people would quickly hack this system:

The obvious hack for this is for parents to buy or lease an empty room somewhere in a high adversity zip code and report this as their child's address.  To get away with this, probably will need to have also given this address to the school, which might be hard for public schools but is perfectly possible at a private school.   "Ah, Ms. Huffman, what was it like growing up in Watts?"  I am sure there are already folks gearing up to sell this service.

Several people, including my wife, criticized this concern as overwrought.  First, I would like to say I am not only not overwrought, I am not even wrought.  Frankly, I am past caring what happens to colleges.  I consider their model so broken that they deserve whatever they get.  The faster their whole model falls apart, the faster we can rebuild advanced learning (only part of which should be on a campus).

Second, read this and tell me that my hypothesis was exaggerated:

Well-off Chicago residents have been exploiting a legal loophole to obtain need-based college financial aid and scholarships by giving up legal guardianship of their children. 

The tactic, which has been used by dozens of families (and maybe more according to Propublica Illinois), involves handing over guardianship to a friend or relative during the student's junior or senior year in high school - allowing them to declare themselves financially independent from their families. This qualifies them for federal, state and university financial assistance, according to the report.

"It’s a scam," said Andy Borst, director of undergraduate admissions at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "Wealthy families are manipulating the financial aid process to be eligible for financial aid they would not be otherwise eligible for. They are taking away opportunities from families that really need it."

Based on this, if anything my suggestion was too modest.  Accommodation address?  Hah, that is for middle class wannabees.  We are going to rent an inner city family to take guardianship of our kids.   "Wanted:  single-parent impoverished household with history of drug problems and homelessness wanted for temporary adoption of our honor student.  Past incarceration a plus.  Whites and cis-gendered need not apply."

Postscript:  Yes, I did read Kurt Schlichter's novel People's Republic and found it a bit light fairly entertaining, though I am a sucker for dystopia novels of most all flavors.  At the time I thought his privilege score idea to be, uh, overwrought, but it appears he was fairly prescient.

Postscript #2: I am trying to figure out what conspiracy theory I can craft and spread on social media based on the fact that "dystopia" is not included in the Chrome (or the Brave version of Chrome) spell check dictionary.

Postscript #3:  A reader reminds me of this story of the disproportionate abuse by rich people of special needs test taking accommodations.

From Weston, Conn., to Mercer Island, Wash., word has spread on parenting message boards and in the stands at home games: A federal disability designation known as a 504 plan can help struggling students improve their grades and test scores. But the plans are not doled out equitably across the United States.

In the country’s richest enclaves, where students already have greater access to private tutors and admissions coaches, the share of high school students with the designation is double the national average. In some communities, more than one in 10 students have one — up to seven times the rate nationwide, according to a New York Times analysis of federal data.

In Weston, where the median household income is $220,000, the rate is 18 percent, eight times that of Danbury, Conn., a city 30 minutes north. In Mercer Island, outside Seattle, where the median household income is $137,000, the number is 14 percent. That is about six times the rate of nearby Federal Way, Wash., where the median income is $65,000.

Is Home Ownership An Unalloyed Positive?

Tyler Cowen pointed out this article on the widening gap between white and black home ownership rates.  Black home ownership rates have fallen pretty steadily since the financial crisis -- apparently when banks are castigated by activists and government officials for "exploiting" blacks by giving them easy credit, blacks no longer get as much easy credit.

For people trying to rise in their economic status, there are a lot of things wrong with home ownership.  The most important is that it limits geographic flexibility.  Home owners have much higher costs to pick up and move, making it harder and less likely to exploit opportunities for better work and/or lower living costs in other parts of the country.   And as someone who just had an $8000 air conditioning unit fail in 110 degree heat, I can testify that home ownership also involves more risk of large unexpected expenses than does renting.  All things considered, in a free market, there are a lot of reasons home ownership might be a bad idea for folks trying to rise in income.

The complicating factor, as usual, is it is not a free market.  Public policy has tipped the scales such that home ownership has become probably the most important of all middle class savings vehicles.  Part of this is a human behavioral issue -- people contribute to homes every month because the bank makes damn sure that they do so (sort of like having a really tough personal trainer).  No other savings vehicle has such strong incentives not to cheat on monthly contributions.  But even so homes would still not be such a great investment vehicle.  In a 30 year mortgage, the percentage of your monthly payment in the early years that goes to equity is trivial.  There is really no reason that a home should be anything more than a depreciating asset, like a car or a boat.

Which brings us to the public policy angle -- a myriad of policy interventions all conspire to make sure that home prices rise continuously.  On the demand side, demand is subsidized via special government mortgage programs, special treatment for mortgages on bank balance sheets, the mortgage interest tax deduction, as well as a number of direct subsidies for lower income folks.  We even had QE where the government was buying up mortgage bonds to keep interest rates low.  On the supply side, supply is constrained through growth boundaries, density limits, zoning restrictions and a zillion other local regulations.  The net effect of this subsidized demand and constrained supply is (with a few interruptions) ever-rising prices.

While many of us decry crony capitalism, most every homeowner in this country (including me) is a crony.  We benefit from this program that like most all other crony capitalist programs, benefits incumbents at the expense of new entrants.  In this case, those of us with houses get to enjoy a good rate of return on our home investment while those without homes are shut out of the market by rising prices.

On Tribalism and Discourse -- The Best Paragraph I Have Read For Quite A While

Today on Twitter I sought to give our Senator Krysten Sinema some support for her opposition to tariffs (kudos for Donald Trump for working to turn Democrats into free traders, though to be fair Sinema herself has come a long way from her radical roots).  I got this response:

I wanted to write about what a non-sequitur this response appears to be, as it is completely unresponsive to the issues at hand.  All the commenter is really saying is, "I notice you are not of my tribe."

But a detailed response on my part is unnecessary, given this awesome paragraph from Kevin Williamson:

Which brings us to the problem of trying to have a productive conversation with people who are caught up in the vast sprawling electronic apparatus of self-moronization. It does not matter what anybody actually has said or written. The rage-monkeys have an idea about what it is they want you to have said, or what people like you are supposed to think about or y. I cannot count how many times I have had some person respond to something critical I’ve written about some lefty fruitcake with “What about Trump, huh?” When I point out that, among other things, I wrote a little book called The Case against Trump, the response is: “Well, Republicans . . .” And then when I point out that I am not one of those, either, the retreat into ever-vaguer generality continues incrementally. The fundamental problem is that what’s going on in “conversations” such as these is not conversation at all but a juvenile status-adjustment ritual. These people do not care about ideas — they care about who sits at which cafeteria table in the vast junior high school of American popular culture.

Gad, I wish I had written that last sentence.

My Favorite Useful Idiot Story

Not long after China was opened to the US for visitation, actress Shirley MacLaine made a visit to the country.  As part of this visit she went to a rural agricultural commune where she met an ex-professor who had obviously been sent to the countryside during Mao's cultural revolution.  MacLaine thought it was wonderful that the professor expressed himself as so happy to have given up academics to do manual labor on the farm.

I don't know if anyone in the US who had a firmer grasp of China's history ever sought to correct MacLaine's understanding of the conversation.  The academic was very likely sent to the farm unwillingly, as were many other academics, as part of Mao's virulent anti-intellectualism as well as the broader rustication movement that consigned a whole lost generation to dead-end lives in rural China.  In 1979, Deng Xiaoping was visiting the US for the first time and was seated near MacLaine at a dinner party.  She retold her story about this wonderfully happy ex-academic she met on the farm.  In response, Deng provided the honest response to her story that none of MacLaine's American enablers seemed to be able to provide.  Deng responded to her, referring to the ostensibly happy academic, "he was lying."

I originally heard this story from a lecture by Richard Baum.  The best online version of it I can find is here.

Eeek

Slavery Made the US Less Prosperous, Not More So

I want to put a couple of caveats on this post.  1) Though there are utilitarian arguments related to slavery in this post, by no means do I think they ever come close in magnitude to the basic fact of the moral outrage of slavery. 2) Though there are utilitarian arguments about reparations in this post, by no means do I think they ever come close in magnitude to the moral outrage of penalizing people for sins of their grandfathers.

The other day, in what I thought was a quick throwaway comment on Twitter to an NBC article that seemed to be supporting slavery reparations, I wrote

One response I got which I want to address was this one:

This notion that slavery somehow benefited the entire economy is a surprisingly common one and I want to briefly refute it.  This is related to the ridiculously bad academic study (discussed here) that slave-harvested cotton accounted for nearly half of the US's economic activity, when in fact the number was well under 10%.  I assume that activists in support of reparations are using this argument to make the case that all Americans, not just slaveholders, benefited from slavery.  But this simply is not the case.

At the end of the day, economies grow and become wealthier as labor and capital are employed more productively.  Slavery does exactly the opposite.

Slaves are far less productive that free laborers.  They have no incentive to do any more work than the absolute minimum to avoid punishment, and have zero incentive (and a number of disincentives) to use their brain to perform tasks more intelligently.  So every slave is a potentially productive worker converted into an unproductive one.  Thus, every dollar of capital invested in a slave was a dollar invested in reducing worker productivity.

As a bit of background, the US in the early 19th century had a resource profile opposite from the old country.  In Europe, labor was over-abundant and land and resources like timber were scarce.  In the US, land and resources were plentiful but labor was scarce.  For landowners, it was really hard to get farm labor because everyone who came over here would quickly quit their job and headed out to the edge of settlement and grabbed some land to cultivate for themselves.

In this environment the market was sending pretty clear pricing signals -- that it was simply not a good use of scarce labor resources to grow low margin crops on huge plantations requiring scores or hundreds of laborers.  Slave-owners circumvented this pricing signal by finding workers they could force to work for free.  Force was used to apply high-value labor to lower-value tasks.  This does not create prosperity, it destroys it.

As a result, whereas $1000 invested in the North likely improved worker productivity, $1000 invested in the South destroyed it.  The North poured capital into future prosperity. The South poured it into supporting a dead-end feudal plantation economy.  As a result the south was impoverished for a century, really until northern companies began investing in the South after WWII.  If slavery really made for so much of an abundance of opportunities, then why did very few immigrants in the 19th century go to the South?  They went to the industrial northeast or (as did my grandparents) to the midwest.  The US in the 19th century was prosperous despite slavery in the south, not because of it.

Minimum Wage Increases Are Mostly Paid for by Consumers

Apparently there is a new CBO report on the effect of a Federal minimum wage hike to $15.  Before I get into the economic impacts, I want to observe that the $15 Federal minimum wage is a political smart bomb that hits mostly red states in much the same way as the reduced Federal tax deductions for SALT (state and local taxes) was a smart bomb that mostly hit blue states.  From an equity standpoint it is insane to have the same minimum wage in rural Alabama as in San Francisco, but since its main negative employment effects will be in red states I think this may be a feature rather than a bug for Democrats.

Anyway, for years folks have made the argument that government-mandated minimum wages are necessary because of the power imbalance between employers and low-skill workers which allows employers to exercise monopsony power and keep wages below some theoretical market clearing price (which is a total laugh -- if you really believe this you can come to my company and try to hire for unskilled positions at the top of the economic cycle and see how much power we have).   The progressive theory is that companies therefore earn excess profits due to this power.

But that is almost impossible.  To actually profit from such power, a company would have to have a consumer monopoly and monopsony hiring power and those two are Venn diagrams that don't overlap much.  As I wrote before (excerpt from a much longer piece)

Let’s consider a company paying minimum wage to most of its employees.  At least at current minimum wage levels, minimum wage employees will likely be in low-skill positions, ones that require little beyond a high school education.  Almost by definition, firms that depend on low-skill workers to deliver their product or service have difficulty establishing barriers to competition. One can’t be doing anything particularly tricky or hard to copy relying on workers with limited skills. As soon as one firm demonstrates there is money to be made using low-skill workers in a certain way, it is far too easy to copy that model.    As a result, most businesses that hire low-skill workers will have had their margins competed down to the lowest tolerable level.  Firms that rely mainly on low-skill workers almost all have single digit profit margins probably averaging around 5% of revenues (for comparison, last year Microsoft had a pre-tax net income margin of over 23%).

If there were some margin windfall to be obtained from labor market power that allowed a company to hire people for far less than their labor was worth to it, and thus earn well above this lowest tolerable margin,  new companies would try to enter the market, probably by lowering prices to consumers using some of that labor premium.  Eventually, even if the monopsony premium exists, it is given away to consumers in the form of lower prices.  If the wholesale price of gasoline suddenly falls sharply, gasoline retailers don't get to earn a much higher margin, at least not for very long.  Competition quickly causes the retailer's lowered costs to be passed on to consumers in the form of lower retail prices.  The same goes for any lowering of labor costs due to monopsony power  -- if such a windfall exists, it is quickly passed on to consumers.

As a result, the least likely response to increasing labor costs due to regulation is that such costs will be offset out of profits, because for most of these firms, profits have already been competed down to the minimum necessary to cover capital investment and the minimum returns to keep owners interested in the business.

I have not read the CBO report.  Interestingly, apparently both Kevin Drum and CNBC have and they summarize the findings differently -- not just draw ideologically different conclusions but report the key data differently.  I have not made any attempt to reconcile this (my guess is that Drum has picked the most optimistic case).  But I will take this from Kevin Drum's version:

  • Total wages for workers would rise by $44 billion (accounting for both higher wages and increased joblessness). Income for business owners would fall $14 billion.
  • Consumers would pay higher prices amounting to a total of $39 billion. That’s an increase of about 0.3 percent.

You can see that the CBO obviously does not buy the progressive argument about excess corporate profits.  90% of the wage increase is paid for by consumers in the form of higher prices.  My bet is that most of the business income loss is not margin compression as much as lost sales due to higher prices.  Note also the inefficiency of the minimum wage even in these optimistic numbers -- consumers and businesses contribute $53 billion in value to increase wages by $44 billion.  The rest is a net loss to the economy and my bet is that these numbers underestimate this loss.

The other problem with minimum wage increases as an anti-poverty program is that people are in the bottom 20 percentile of earnings mostly due to insufficient work hours, not due to wage rates.  It turns out that increasing the wage rates of the poorest 20% to middle class levels yields $6,335 a year in gains for a person in the poorest 20% while increasing that same poor person's amount of work done to middle class levels yields $28,844 a year in gains (government data here).  If you want to help poor people, economic growth and reducing barriers to hiring low-skill workers (combined with efficient transfer programs) is the way to go -- in this context the minimum wage increase can actually be counter-productive.

One other reason minimum wage increases are a bad anti-poverty program is that most of the data I have seen points to about a third of minimum wage jobs held by earners in families below the poverty line. So 2/3 of the increased wages from a minimum wage increase go to non-poor households

Last summer I had the cover story in Regulation Magazine titled, "How Labor Regulation Harms Unskilled Workers." I fear we are heading to a European model of very high minimum costs of employing anyone, which tends to result in a two-tier system of well-paying jobs for skilled and educated employees and lifetime government relief for the unskilled and under-educated.

Stupid Corporate State Tricks Here in AZ

First, it turns out our state's taxpayers were subsidizing a new Nike plant somewhere in AZ.  I am just exhausted writing about how stupid it is that we spend taxpayer money in this state relocation game.  The state takes away capital from current AZ businesses and gives it to Nike?  Even beyond the obscene power game going on here, taking from the small and giving to the rich and well-connected, what evidence is there that having Nike invest my money is better than having me do it in my own already-in-AZ business?

But then the story just gets stupider.  Apparently Nike was going to produce a sneaker with a colonial version of the American flag on it.  But then Colin Kaepernick said that African-Americans would be offended by it, which seems stupid.  Then Nike cancelled the sneaker, which seems even more stupid.  And then our governor said "hold my beer" and decided to cancel subsidies of Nike that shouldn't have even existed based on this product development decision by Nike.  Here is how a local commentator calling himself James Madison (I assume that is a pseudonym) crows about how awesome he thinks Governor Ducey's move is (sorry I get this as an email so I don't have a link)

Nike was planning on coming to Arizona to set up shop. A few hundred jobs were on the line. The city of Goodyear already approved their arrival. Then the anti-American, hateful little idiot that Nike hired a couple of years ago once again opened his bigoted mouth. Colin Kaepernick announced that Nike's new sneaker with the Betsy Ross American flag was "offensive." Nike caved to political correctness and pulled the shoe. Mr. Ducey responded by saying he was disappointed in Nike's decision and embarrassed for them. Mr. Ducey also instructed the Arizona Commerce Authority to withdraw any financial support that was promised to Nike for the move to Arizona. Mr. Ducey is right.

Nike has shown once again that they don't care about Americans--the primary source of their success. The sneaker was meant to be a tribute to America's founding, even hitting the store shelves the week of July Fourth. But, Nike would rather put their support behind American haters--like Mr. Kaepernick and others.

Is it any wonder our politics are broken? -- talk about taking a trivial issue and raising the stakes to wildly disproportionate levels.  Conservatives rightly get upset when student groups try to oust professors from their jobs over trivial, often unintentional, slips into political incorrectness.  But Conservatives have their own definitions of political incorrectness and are willing to run a few hundred innocents from their jobs for trivial violations of these norms.  I can't believe Ducey's decision is being haled as a brave act of some sort.  It is just silly, the Conservative form of the same virtue-signalling the Left revels in.My guess is that in a few days Ducey and his advisers will wake up and find themselves a touch embarrassed over all this, and find a quiet off-camera way to walk it back.

Politicians Should Not Have Access to ANYONE's Tax Returns

Since Richard Nixon weaponized the IRS against his enemies, by mining their tax returns for information he could use against them and calling down onerous audits on them, I thought it was an established principle of liberal democracy in this country that tax returns could not be used politically.  The only people who are supposed to have access to them are people who have legitimate enforcement responsibilities for tax collection.  That means the President and his staff can't rifle through them, and I thought those rules applied to Congress as well.

However, the Democrats in the House of Representatives, who mostly grew up excoriating Nixon's excesses, are now arguing the House should have access to any tax return they wish for any reason.  Of course, this is all playing out vis a vis Donald Trump.  From the WSJ:

The House’s tax-writing committee sued the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service on Tuesday for access to President Trump’s tax returns, hoping federal judges will pry loose records that the administration has refused to hand over.

The lawsuit from the House Ways and Means Committee puts the clash over Mr. Trump’s tax returns and audit records in the courts, exactly where Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D., Mass.) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchinhave predicted for months that it would land.

Mr. Neal is asking the courts to enforce a subpoena that Mr. Mnuchin and IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig have defied and produce the records immediately. The chairman also wants the courts to validate his authority under a tax code section that says he can get any taxpayer’s returns upon request.

Trump's lawyers are likely to argue Presidential privilege, but I hope the defense goes beyond this.  We all should be protected against individuals in Congress conducting fishing expeditions of their political opponents' tax returns.  And this is a fishing expedition, pure and simple.   There is no probably cause or any investigation that credibly needs to inspect some part of the returns.  Congress just wants them so they can fish for ammunition they can use in their political battles against Trump.

Trump is a pain in the *ss as President not just for his irritating demeanor and counter-productive economic nationalism, but also because liberals can't stop themselves from setting illiberal precedents in their desire to bring him down.

 

 

Dear Billionaires, The Best Thing You Can Do For This Country Is To Employ Your Capital Productively

From Anthony Gill

On June 24, 2019, nineteen billionaires released a letter to the media entitled “A Call to Action: A Letter in Support of a Wealth Tax.”  They urged potential presidential candidates to campaign for and, if elected, implement a new wealth tax that would strengthen America.  I hereby offer my own letter in response.

Dear Billionaires,

Thank you for your patriotic concern about our nation’s democracy and the global climate.  The willingness shown to submit yourselves to higher tax rates warms my heart as we approach the season in which we celebrate US Independence from Britain, brought about mostly over a concern about arbitrary taxation without adequate representation.

....  After just a few minutes on the Internet, I discovered that the US Treasury accepts voluntary gift donations to reduce debt held by the public.  The link can be found here, with more explicit instructions on who to make the check out to and where to send it here.  You don’t have to wait for all that pesky legislative debate and cumbersome bureaucracy to start making a difference immediately.  Even better, this proposal avoids the reems of paperwork needed for the typical tax filing and won’t require you to contact your accountant.

Simply calculate what you consider to be your fair share, write the check, and drop it in the mail.  Your honorable wishes realized, instantaneously! Better yet, you can do this every year.

I know Mr. Gill is mocking the billionaire's proposal to force all of us to pay more taxes so that they can as well, but here is my alternative response:

Dear Billionaires,

I appreciate your patriotic desire to make  "smart investments in our future, like clean energy innovation to mitigate climate change, universal childcare, student loan debt relief, infrastructure modernization," etc.  However, I beg you, the best possible way you can employ your capital to achieve these goals is to keep it and deploy it yourself.  Why?

  • You will naturally pay a lot more attention to how your own money is spent and how productively it is employed than any group of government bureaucrats ever can or will.  The government wastes orders of magnitude more every year than any of you could ever pump into its coffers
  • I presume many of you are billionaires because have creatively solved a problem or added new capabilities to the world, and have been paid handsomely by consumers for these contributions.   Keep it up!  I give you a far better chance to productively employ these resources, whether it be in new commercial ventures or in a non-profit to solve some particular problem, than I do some random assistant associate deputy director buried in the Department of Energy.
  • If you inherited it all and don't feel particularly competent in your own acumen, then put it into the S&P500 or the Russell 2000.  Even without knowing a thing about business, you can trust our markets to productively employ your capital and create value and jobs with it.
  • If you want to solve a problem via the non-profit route, go for it -- with your direct, passionate oversight, your money will almost certainly achieve more than if it were dumped into the Treasury.  Concerned about student loan debt relief?  Use your money to payoff the debt of worthy recipients, or better yet, go after the root cause and use your money to found educational institutions that don't cost $50,000 a year.  As I have pointed out before, rich people in the 19th century founded colleges all the time, but I can hardly think of one established in the last century. [I pick this as an example because if I were a billionaire, I would found a new model online/offline college with no intercollegiate athletics, no grad school, and no research establishment that provides a $5-$10K a year high quality degree to students chosen purely on testing and high school grades.  I would hire Bryan Caplan as a consultant and we would base the whole intellectual culture around understanding issues from all sides and his ideological Turing test].

What training I have in economics leans towards the Austrians.  An economy is growing and prosperous when its resources -- talented people, capital, etc -- are employed in the most productive ways.  Anything that diverts these resources from their most productive employment makes the nation and everyone in it poorer.  Which is exactly what will happen with every extra dollar you mail in to the government and every dollar your lobbying causes the government to coerce out of the rest of us.

Please, do not assuage whatever guilt you may have saddled yourself with (not guilt from me, as I have nothing but admiration for your accomplishments) by lobbying the government to tax me more.

The Non-Profit Scam

Arnold Kling writes on non-profits:

My general view on non-profits is that their status is too high relative to profit-seeking firms. In the for-profit sector, I think of the example of Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of Theranos. The company had a noble vision, and she made compelling presentations, but the product didn’t work. Because she claimed that the product worked better than it did, she got in trouble. She was ousted as CEO, and she faces a lot of legal jeopardy.

In the non-profit world, there are no end-users to hold you accountable if what you are doing doesn’t work. Just having the noble

From my direct experience, I would go further.  There is a tranche (I don't know how large) of non-profits that are close to outright scams, providing most of their benefits to their managers and employees rather to anyone outside the organization.  These benefits include 1) a salary with few performance expectations; 2) expense-paid parties and travel; 3) myriad virtue-signalling opportunities; 4) opportunities to build personal networks.  This isn't just criticizing theoretical institutions -- people I know are in such jobs in these organizations.

Advice to commenters -- please do not purposely misunderstand the point I am making.  Clearly great non-profits doing good work exist, but their existence does not invalidate the point I am making.  And I think their ability to continue to survive without creating value beyond that they provide for their employees is closely related to the point that Kling makes.

I Am Not Sure This Accomodation Law Needle Can Be Threaded

Via Zero Hedge:

The Washington Post and New York Times have recently opened up their platforms to Op-Eds defending, justifying and promoting abhorrent behavior committed against conservatives. Calling them out is the Washington Examiner's Byron York, who notes that "the toxicity of the resistance to President Trump has risen in recent days," with both papers "publishing rationalizations for denying Trump supporters public accommodation and for doxxing career federal employees."

First up, Stephanie Wilkinson, the owner of the infamous Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Virginia. Wilkinson unapologetically booted White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders and her family last June. Wilkinson told the Washington Post at the time that her gay employees were too triggered by Sanders to serve her due to the Trump administration's transgender military ban.

It is going to be fascinating to see how these folks on the Left thread the Constitutional needle to make it illegal to refuse to bake cakes for gay weddings but legal to refuse service to Republicans.  My prediction is that someone on the Left is soon going to try and I am sure the New York Times will gladly give them editorial space to do so.  My guess is that any such theory will take advantage of the popular but bogus "hate speech is not free speech" idea.

I don't really get worked up about accomodation law too much one way or another.  I know our company benefits from being open to all.  We get calls all the time from customers who have been turned away because they have kids or have an older RV and we are happy to have their business.  It's not as true today but 15 years ago we gained a lot of good workers by hiring gay campground managers when many campgrounds thought it was "unsafe" to employ gay people around kids in campgrounds.  On the other hand, I read the First Amendment right of association as the right not to associate as well, so if folks want to turn away business it does not wildly bother me.  I personally wouldn't bake a cake for, say, the local Nazi party rally or Che Guevara birthday party.

My public policy rule of thumb is to allow folks to refuse accommodation as long as they represent a small percentage of the supply in a market.

HBO's Chernobyl is Excellent

I am not breaking any ground here but I just finished the fifth and final episode of Chernobyl last night and the entire series was excellent.  From the confusion of the first hours to the anonymous and sometimes futile heroism in the aftermath to the backroom and courtroom scenes at the end -- everything was tense and engaging and felt pitch-perfect.  If nothing else, it's a must see just for its portrayal of architecture and interiors of the Soviet Union.   I will warn you that some parts are hard to watch, particularly the dying men in episode 3 and the animal control operations in episode 4.  The whole thing has, appropriately, a real darkness to it.  Even the great acts of heroism can't offset the ugliness because the heroes tends to be anonymous and largely unrewarded and unheralded.  Spoiler alert:  there are no winners here [not so much of a spoiler as you see one of the protagonists hang himself 2 minutes into episode 1].

I know there are folks who criticize the science in the show.  Basically they can bite me.  This is a drama, and a really good one, and generally sticks pretty close to the historical material.

In addition to being about the accident itself, the show is also about life in the Soviet Union as well.  Which raises the question -- clearly the Soviet Union's political culture was at fault here, but is ours any better?  The answer is yes and no.  No, because I don't trust our government officials any more than the Soviets to not prioritize their own power over the well-being of their citizens.  But the US would likely do better because 1) our government is not nearly as monolithic, so that bad authoritarian impulses in one section can be checked by others; and 2) our government has much less scope.  What I mean by the latter is that Chernobyl was part of the Soviet government, so admitting mistakes there required criticism of the government.  In the US, with private operators of power plans, the government would have no problem calling out, say, Duke Power for its shortcomings.  Imagine for example how the response to the 737Max issues might have been different if it were built by a state corporation.

Postscript:  OK, what are those areas the science may be off?  Well, my sense is that the risk to people exposed to the victims of heavy radiation exposure (people visiting the victims in the hospital) is exaggerated in the program.  And I think most observers since the accident have been pleasantly surprised that, with the exception of an increase of thyroid cancers in young children, the long term health problems associated with lower level radiation exposures in the Chernobyl area have been far less than feared.  A UN panel wrote in 2008:

Apart from the dramatic increase in thyroid cancer incidence among those exposed at a young age, and some indication of an increased leukaemia and cataract incidence among the workers, there is no clearly demonstrated increase in the incidence of solid cancers or leukaemia due to radiation in the exposed populations. Neither is there any proof of other non-malignant disorders that are related to ionizing radiation. However, there were widespread psychological reactions to the accident, which were due to fear of the radiation, not to the actual radiation doses.

That latter part refers to a finding that the one measurable long-term effect in the population has been an increase in alcoholism that is usually attributed to people's elevated fears of cancer.

Update -- Osteoarthritis and Changing My Running Gait to Toe-First Landing

Almost a year ago, I wrote that I had had to give up running due to my osteoarthritis but that I was looking for ways to at least still run a bit.  I really enjoy running, especially when I travel as a way to explore new places.  I am not a fan of bike riding, which is always the first suggestion people make as an alternative, but I do like my elliptical scooter and ride it from time to time.  But I can't take it on trips with me and I still like running.

It was at that time a year ago that I read an article about running gait and the potential for different gaits to have less impact on the knees (sorry I can't find the article now).  I realized I was a heavy heel-first landing runner, landing so hard each time it felt like I pile-driving my knees and spine.  So I started experimenting with different styles of running, including the classic old-guy waddle.  But what seemed to have the most benefit was running on my toes.  Whenever I ran uphill, my knees never hurt.  What if landing toe-first allowed the foot to be a sort of shock absorber?

Well, changing one's entire running gait at 56 was pretty much as hard as you might imagine.  The first few times I tried it I pulled something in both calves.  While that healed, I decided to strengthen my calves by walking on my toes.  I got to doing 5 miles with a pack totally on my toes which I am sure made me an oddball around the neighborhood (though to some extent this ship has already sailed as I do Pimsleur language courses as I walk so I am also the weird dude mumbling in Mandarin around the neighborhood).  I tried using Newton Gravity running shoes that have a design that almost ensures a toe first landing, but they just made the calf problems worse.

Today, I am finally turning a corner.  I ran five miles last weekend in my best time since I was last marathon training -- even a bit better in fact.  My endurance is still not great because I took so much time off and because I am sure this gait, being less natural for me, is not as efficient.  But being able to run 3-5 miles a couple of times a week, and maybe the odd 10K, really is all I was looking for and so (knock on wood) I will declare victory.  As an aside, and perhaps entirely unrelated to any of this, I have had zero problems in the last year with my heretofore recurring plantar fasciitis issues.

I am not a doctor, so ymmv.  My theory here may be complete BS, or counter-productive, or just a placebo.  Actual people who know things about this are encouraged to comment and dissuade folks if this is all terrible advice.

A Good Insight Into The Basic Assumptions On The Left -- Every Issue Is An Opportunity to Raise Taxes and Give Politicians A Bigger Trough to Feed At

When I saw the headline of this post by Kevin Drum -- Our Personal Data Is Worth a Lot. Facebook Should Pay For It -- I was just going to use it as the starting point for a quick post saying that if we should be paid by Facebook for our personal data, the government should pay my company for all the data (Census, DOL, etc) that we are asked to provide.

However, when I actually read the post, I was simply amazed at the way Leftists think about solutions to this.  To me, the least intrusive solution is say that Facebook needs to be transparent about the data it gathers so users can decide intelligently if they want to be on the platform.  Or, if we decide that Facebook is not a near-monopoly common carrier, the second least intrusive solution is to require Facebook to allow users to opt out of having their private data used for things beyond providing core services of the platform.  If Facebook can't make that business model work, they might charge users $10 a month but waive the charge if you opt in to their using the data for a defined set of other purposes.  Because we already are being paid for our data in the form of free usage of a (to some) valuable platform.  Its just a very non-transparent transaction where both the costs and benefits are hard to evaluate.  The best role for the government is to make it easier for us as individuals to better understand this cost-benefit tradeoff.

But here are the default solutions from two folks on the Left:

Shapiro thinks we all deserve a cut of that since this personal data is, after all, ours. He suggests a complicated mechanism where the government collects the money and then cuts everyone a check. But why not just levy a tax and be done with it? That would be simpler. Put all the money in a special fund designed to . . . I dunno, fight income inequality or buy everyone computers. I’ll bet Elizabeth Warren could come up with a plan for it.

Ugh, really?  If I did not read his blog all the time I would almost think Drum's personal solution is parody.   Does he really think giving my money to Elizabeth Warren to spend is a way for me to recover any value?

Trump Acts Crazy; Democrats Respond by Saying "Hold My Beer"

Six months into the Trump Administration, I was committed to voting for whomever the Democrats fielded in the next election -- I was even going to eschew my usual quixotic Libertarian vote.

Since then my views on Trump are mixed at best.   I still think his demeanor is appalling.  His trade policy is even worse than I had feared.  His demagoguery on immigration has only resulted in a gridlock that has left a total mess at the border.  His use of national emergencies to end-run democratic processes is a terrible precedent.  To be fair, there have been some good things.  I have been encouraged by some of the regulatory efforts in some of his departments -- in particular I would happily follow Sonny Perdue's lead and ship much of the Federal headcount out of DC and into flyover country.  And I think the tax cuts passed were largely structured in a sensible manner.  None of this silver lining, though, is enough to offset the bad things for me.

But the largest change that has occured since my original vow has been the behavior of the Democrats.  Seeing the craziness in the White House, their response has been "You think that's crazy?  Hold my beer!"  The competition among mainstream Democratic candidates to one up each other with trillion dollar giveaways and absurd socialist programs is simply astounding.  Even my wife the New England Democrat -- who I am pretty sure has never checked an R box in the voting booth except maybe for Jeff Flake -- is horrified at the choices.

I am exceedingly close to joining the Ostrich party and, after years of political engagement, just ignoring it all.

Regime Uncertainty and Trump's Trade Machinations

Conservatives rightly criticised the Obama Administration for rewriting rules so frequently and seemingly arbitrarily that businesses were reluctant to make long term investments.  As the WSJ editorialized in 2016:

Pfizer CEO Ian Read defends the company’s planned merger in an op-ed nearby, and his larger point about capricious political power helps explain the economic malaise of the last seven years. “If the rules can be changed arbitrarily and applied retroactively, how can any U.S. company engage in the long-term investment planning necessary to compete,” Mr. Read writes. “The new ‘rules’ show that there are no set rules. Political dogma is the only rule.”

He’s right, as every CEO we know will admit privately. This politicization has spread across most of the economy during the Obama years, as regulators rewrite longstanding interpretations of longstanding laws in order to achieve the policy goals they can’t or won’t negotiate with Congress. Telecoms, consumer finance, for-profit education, carbon energy, auto lending, auto-fuel economy, truck emissions, home mortgages, health care and so much more.

Capital investment in this recovery has been disappointingly low, and one major reason is political intrusion into every corner of business decision-making. To adapt Mr. Read, the only rule is that the rules are whatever the Obama Administration wants them to be. The results have been slow growth, small wage gains, and a growing sense that there is no legal restraint on the political class.

I am willing to believe this is true. On my own smaller scale, our company has disinvested in California because we simply cannot keep up with the changing rules there.

But all this forces me to ask, why doesn't this same Conservative criticism apply to Trump's trade policy?  The rules are changing literally by the day -- Consumers of goods from Mexico are going to be hit by new tariffs, Mexican goods are not going to be hit by new tariffs, China is hit by new tariffs, a China deal is near, a China deal is not near, Company A got a special tariff exemption, Company B did not get a special exemption, etc. How can any company with a global supply chain, which is most any US manufacturer nowadays, plan for new products or investments in this environment when they have no ability to make long-term plans for their supply chain?

Climate "Disruption" and Publication Bias

Quite a while ago I wrote an article about climate publication bias called Summer of the Shark.

let's take a step back to 2001 and the "Summer of the Shark." The media hysteria began in early July, when a young boy was bitten by a shark on a beach in Florida. Subsequent attacks received breathless media coverage, up to and including near-nightly footage from TV helicopters of swimming sharks. Until the 9/11 attacks, sharks were the third biggest story of the year as measured by the time dedicated to it on the three major broadcast networks' news shows.

Through this coverage, Americans were left with a strong impression that something unusual was happening -- that an unprecedented number of shark attacks were occurring in that year, and the media dedicated endless coverage to speculation by various "experts" as to the cause of this sharp increase in attacks.

Except there was one problem -- there was no sharp increase in attacks.  In the year 2001, five people died in 76 shark attacks.  However, just a year earlier, 12 people had died in 85 attacks.  The data showed that 2001 actually was  a down year for shark attacks.

The point is that it is easy for people to mistake the frequency of publication about a certain phenomenon for the frequency of occurrence of the phenomenon itself.  Here is a good example I saw the other day:

An emaciated polar bear was spotted in a Russian industrial city this week, just the latest account of polar bears wandering far from their hunting grounds to look for food.

Officials in the Russian city of Norilsk warned residents about the bear Tuesday.  They added that it was the first spotted in the area in over 40 years.

I am willing to bet my entire bourbon collection that a) hungry polar bears occasionally invaded Siberian towns in previous decades and b) news of such polar bear activity from towns like Norilsk did NOT make the American news.  But readers (even the author of the article) are left to believe there is a trend here because they remember seeing similar stories recently but don't remember seeing such stories earlier in their life.