Thursday, May 05, 2005

Some Questions on Social Security 

A question for President Bush: How is it that you think people are competent to personally manage 2% or 4% of their social security contributions, but not the full 12%? Either they are competent to invest their own money, or they are not. Either they have the *right* to save and invest their own money, or they do not.

A question for Democrats: How is it that you think that people are congenitally incompetent to manage their own savings, and yet somehow intellectually competent to choose which politicians to elect, who will have absolute control and say over their "retirement savings" (using the term loosely)? If they aren't competent to manage their own money, how can they be competent to judge the far more important question of who will run every aspect of their lives?

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Democrats Moral Hypocrites on Taxes 

If there's one thing Democrats agree on these days, it's higher taxes. Yet,
this is something that each Democrat, right now, has the power to put into
practice. He need simply calculate his taxes at whatever higher rate he
advocates, and then send in that amount to the proper authorities.

As today's WSJ editorial mentions, Massachussetts even has an explicit
mechanism for doing this. Massachussetts taxpayers have the option of
paying taxes at the older (pre-2001) 5.85% marginal rate, rather than the
current 5.3%. Reportedly, only 1,330 taxpayers, out of 3.03 million, took
advantage of this offer. I'll go out on a limb here and venture that there
are probably more than 1,330 Democrats in Massachussetts....

Think about this for a minute. Democrats are so absolutely certain and sure
of the moral justice of higher taxes, that they advocate using the might of
government (the threat of arrest and jail) to forcibly remove more of your
income than you currently pay in taxes. They are so absolutely sure that
this is morally required that they are willing to use government guns to
*force* you to fork over your money. Yet these same people are so "strong"
in their belief in this "ideal", that they are unwilling to *voluntarily*
apply it to themselves, and implement it for themselves, right now!

Since roughly half the country votes Democrat, their voluntary contributions
would get them 50% of the way towards their stated goal of higher taxes.

Here's, in effect, the attitude: "You non-Democrats don't have the superior
moral insight that I do. You don't seem to 'get it' that higher taxes are
morally required. Therefore, you need to be forced under threat of jail to
fork over more money. Unfortunately, my superior moral insight doesn't
apply to myself, so I have to wait to be forced, too, before I will fork
over higher taxes."

Saturday, July 17, 2004

The EPA's corruption goes even deeper than one would think. In proposing new regulations, the agency is required to do "cost/benefit" analyses--i.e. who is harmed, who is benefited, and what the net dollar effects are. This kind of collectivist "social calculus" is already corrupt enough, but look what qualifies as a "benefit"... (From WSJ, 7/16/04)

Regarding an EPA rule on how many fish a power plant could kill when it sucked in river water for cooling: "The rule would cost utilities money while benefiting commercial fishermen by giving them more fish to catch. The EPA argued that there was an additional benefit: the 'sense of altruism [and] stewardship' consumers would feel by protecting river ecosystems. It contended this was worth hundreds of millions of dollars--more than the benefit to fishermen."

In other words, altruism--i.e. self-sacrifice--is counted as amonetary *benefit* in the EPA's calculus of regulation! When you hurt your own interests, that makes you feel good (or it should,unless you are some kind of monster). So it's really in fact a huge *gain* for you, when the government uses its guns to force you to pay higher costs for energy generation.

Fortunately, a Washington think-tank caught the EPA out in this particular case:

"They found [the altruism calculation] rested in part on a study of consumers in affluent eastern Long Island who were asked whether they would be willing to pay to protect the wetlands. By the EPA's logic, Ms. Dudley argued in formal comments and an opinion piece in the Washington Times last year, Americans 'place a much higher value on a fish swimming free than one on your plate.'

"The article was passed around EPA headquarters, and agency officials say it added to the pressure on the EPA from the WhiteHouse and the Energy Department to drop the altruism calculation."

Surprise--when the altruism component was dropped out, the'benefits' no longer outweighed the 'costs'.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Economics and Statistics 

An interesting question in economics is the proper role of statistics.
Ludwig von Mises is my favourite economist, yet he held that statistics have
no valid role in formulating or validating economic theory. It's
interesting to explore his reasons.

First, Mises held that for economics, unlike the physical sciences, there is
no laboratory where one can perform repeated experiments while holding
various aspects constant. Each day brings a new and unrepeatable
constellation of innumerable economic causes and effects, each in varying
degree. Thus, historical statistics alone cannot give us economic
principles. In fact, it's the other way around: economic principles must be
brought to bear in order to analyze and understand economic statistics and

Second, Mises argued that the economist is in the opposite position to the
physical scientist. The physical scientist observes effects, and must use
experiments and measurement to reason back to the causes that are producing
those effects. In contrast, the economist knows from the start the
fundamental causes of all economic phenomena: individuals acting to pursue
their self-interest. What's not (initially) known is how exactly these
causes interact and play out to result in various economic phenomena. This
is what the economist must reason towards.

This point leads to an important methodological principle of Austrian
economics, what they call "methodological individualism". This principle
holds that every economic concept and principle must be reducible (and
reduced) to the choices and actions of individual people. (This is in
contrast to e.g. Keynesian theories, where floating "aggregates" act upon
and "cause" one another.)

Granted, Mises' economic theories are set upon his untenable theory of
"praxeology". But I am of the firm opinion that most, if not all, of his
economics can (and should) be reset upon Objectivist foundations. For
example, the principle of "methodological individualism" is, in my view, the
correct application in economics of the Objectivist principle of

Economic theory aside, I do think statistics is enormously valuable in the
*practice* of business and the financial markets. While it's true that
humans have free will, and might choose differently even facing the same
circumstances, usually there are broad patterns of behaviour that can be
counted on to endure, within a certain degree of variation, for a certain
length of time. Statistics can help to quantify these patterns. If this
were not the case, no business could rationally plan what to produce for the

As an example, while it's possible for every American to suddenly choose
never to shop at Wal-mart again, it's false to assert that Wal-mart's sales
next year could just as easily be down 95%, as up 5%.

Friday, June 11, 2004

I couldn't help laughing out loud at a line from this Jonah Goldberg column:
Allegedly defending that: "Reagan, thankfully, was no pragmatist"

"[C]onservative ideology explicitly accepts that compromise is part of life." In other words: one of conservatism's firmly held beliefs is... that it's ok to betray one's firmly held beliefs.

I'm reminded of Groucho Marx's quip: "These are my principles. If you don't like them, I have others."

No wonder the size and scale of the government relentlessly continues to grow, even under Republicans.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

One of my favorite illustrations of the true, vicious nature of altruism comes from the bible:

Luke 21:1-4
As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. "I tell you the truth," he said, "this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on."

If the real meaning of altruism were simply "helping others", then obviously "the rich" in this passage would be the most praise-worthy, since they provided the most help. But the poor widow, whose objective contribution is virtually nil, is the one who is most morally worthy. Why? Because she is the one who *harmed herself the most*. How much you hurt yourself is Jesus's standard of moral value.

Monday, February 16, 2004

I particularly like this quote from Jefferson:

“I have examined all the known superstitions of the word, and I do not find in our particular superstition of Christianity one redeeming feature. They are all alike founded on fables and mythology. Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned. What has been the effect of this coercion? To make one half of the world fools and the other half hypocrites; to support roguery and error all over the earth.”

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