Thursday, May 27, 2010

The American Community Survey
Gail Heriot

I guess I won the lottery ... or at least the census lottery.  Too bad the prize is that I have to fill out the American Community Survey--with its 28 questions on housing and 48 questions on each resident.  It is essentially what used to be called the Long Version of the Census. 

Some of these questions appear to be unlikely to generate accurate information. For example, I am asked about my earnings (broken down into categories from wages to welfare) over the last 12 months.  The survey makes it clear that they want data for May 28, 2009 to May 28, 2010.  Like most Americans,  I figure my earnings for tax purposes based on the previous calendar year.  It's a lot of work, since, again like many Americans, I get money from more than one source.  Fortunately, when I'm doing my taxes, the documentation I receive is geared to the calendar year, so that makes it a little easier.  Having to re-calculate everything for a May 28th-May 28th year is a needless hardship.  It is certain to take several hours of work.  I strongly suspect that many persons in my position will simply wing it, and the data will be inaccurate. Alas, I am hard-wired to be a do-bee and will try my best. Do bee

May 27, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)

In the mood to read about big industrial accidents?
Tom Smith

What with oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico at a classified rate, how could you not be?  This book, Inviting Disaster, provides a fascinating and suitably chilling introduction to what is known as "accident theory" and systems safety.

May 27, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Official numbers understate inflation and risk
Tom Smith

And other interesting and alarming insights from the Greenlight Capital guy.

May 27, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The road to serfdom runs through unregulated banks
Tom Smith

Interesting but unpersuasive to me.  I suspect there is a lot of capture of government by the financial sector but I think regulation is more the mechanism of capture than its opposite.  Johnson cites Hayek but seems to miss the essential Hayekian point that the Archimedean point of the good, publicly interested regulator just doesn't exist over the long run.  Also, Hayek didn't think the opposite of serfdom was "democracy."  So I guess this is really just a complete misappropriation of Hayek.  Oh well.

May 26, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

East County killer bee update
Tom Smith

Weed eaters and killer bee hives don't mix.

May 26, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

The ever annoying David Brooks bathers on about Burke again
Tom Smith

Readers of this blog will know already that both I and my treasured colleague Professor Rappaport have a hard time abiding Mr. Brooks.  One could go on and on about why he is so irritating, but the purpose of this short post is just to note a few of them now that his is blathering on about Burke again.  And so, just the talking points:

  • Brooks is always using Burke to beat up Republicans and promote his squishy, sentimental statism.  Yes, yes, I'm all for little platoons, but the idea that paying near on half of my marginal income to the federal and state governments to support teachers who can't or won't teach, fire fighters who don't cover my neighborhood so much, and thousands of idiotic federal programs, somehow is about "community" is just an insult to anyone's intelligence. I would be willing to pay something for Brooks to stop whining about community, but paying taxes to distant, arrogant and incompetent politicians so they can spew it out to their pals in various destructive schemes is not about building the ligatures of society.
  • Brooks's hand wringing about radical change and those darn radical Republicans is just too much.  All anybody is realistically talking about doing is stopping spending so much money we don't have so that we don't end up in some sort of catastrophic national fiscal catastrophe.  If you are barreling down a steep hill toward a brick wall, putting your foot on the brake is not radical, theoretically motivated, Jacobin, off with their heads sort of change.  It's just stopping digging the hole you're busily digging yourself into.
  • Could we please have some context.  We live in a post-modern world where plenty of influential humans think they should control our lives down to whether we get born, what we do, how we think, and when we die.  The fastest growing country in the world and perhaps soon to be our superiour in power espouses a creepy blend of capitalism and communism that combines some of the worst features of each and certainly cares nothing for the ideals of the Scottish enlightenment.  This nightmare regime has powerful advocates in the home of the free.  Any of our current nightmares would be news to Burke and I find he hard to believe he would not be on the side of freedom.  If Napoleon had nukes and a billion subjects, for example, I don't think Burke would regard him with equanimity.  He would be saying, let's get clear about what we stand for.
  • The revolution Burke is famous for criticizing involved the judicial and extra-judicial murder of thousands, the chaotic overthrow of ancient institutions and the promotion of a radical ideology that was for sweeping everything from its path, including religion, normal family life, property, you name it.  All the Tea Partiers are pitching is reform by legal action, such as the election of new representatives, and the repeal of unwise legislation.  By Burke's measure, they (us) are not radical in the least.
  • While I hesitate to ascribe motives, in the case of Brooks I shall make an exception.  It really seems to me his ersatz Burkeianism is mostly about allowing him to pose as that irritating object, the liberals' favorite conservative.  And it conveniently allows him to do so without staking out any very specific territory.  It's just, oh, I don't have any specific principles or ideas, you know; with me it's about my dispositions, my habits, my gastro-intestinal predilections.  You just never know what I'm going to say because I'm just so wise, prudential, cautious and wise.  You know, like Burke.  If you're maneuvering your way around in the public intellectual biz, being the conservative of the NY Times and The News Hour, you could hardly pick a convenient set of non-commitments.  And, he combines that with the pose of standing, bravely, alone in the middle!  However moderate you are, Brooks is more moderate still!  He's the most moderate man in the world!  But moderation in the defense of liberty is no virtue.  If Brooks gets to make the most of his talents by posing as a Burkeian, why shouldn't ordinary people get to make the most of theirs by working hard, keeping more of what they earn, and governing themselves.  They just want to be Lincolnian men on the make like Brooks obviously is.  Let 'em be good Whigs and leave 'em alone.
  • If you're going to pose as a big intellectual and drop lots of big thinkers' names, you have to justify it by having things to say that are interesting even without the big names.  As Aristotle observed, there is such a thing as democracy, doesn't cut it.  Brooks bloviates about the banal too often.
  • He seems to hold ordinary people in contempt or at least looks down upon them condescendingly.  This is unpleasant of him.  He is no better than most of them.  He is neither all that smart nor deep as far as I can see.  He's obviously a good worker of the levers within complicated human institutions, such as the media biz, but he ain't no John Locke or even bright, young professor type that I can see.  Take George Will, and take away his willingness to speak truth to power and his basic respect for American people (e.g. who like baseball) and also Will's pretty good grasp of American history and thought, and you've got Brooks.  But Brooks thinks he's better than them all.
  • Brooks was such a nitwit that, though supposedly a conservative, he was a big supporter of our current young President, who in my view has substantiated the fears of those of us who warned against him.  So at the moment when he actually could have done something for Burkeian conservativism, he jumped on the Obama unicorn ride with all the other impressionable children, which was not very Burkeian of him.
  • I could go on, but you get the idea.

May 26, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Tom Freidman dreams of China
Tom Smith

What a strange dude.  I can see dreaming of being Italy, at least for dinner time, or England for a pub lunch, or Ireland for green hills and friendly people, or Germany for the autobahn, but dreaming of China for its government, even for a day?  And this guy is one of our great public sages.

May 24, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)

A response to Professor Lilla
Tom Smith

Here is an interesting response to Professor Mark Lilla's sobering essay on the Tea Party movement, sobering because as a professor, I always find it sobering to read another professor write about something he evidently does not understand very well.  There's a there but for the grace of God go I sort of feeling it induces, a kind of, holy shit, I hope I never make a fool out of myself in this way, feeling. But he probably need not worry too much, as his ideological compatriots will read his essay uncritically and his ideological opponents, such as I, can be dismissed as Tea-crazed.  

If you have not read the Lilla essay, you really should.  It is a quick education in how NYC and other urban elite intellectual types are likely to view the Tea Party.  Though, to give those elites credit, I find it hard to believe that all of them would be as innocent of American history as Professor Lilla apparently is.  I mean, US history is practically one darn popular irritation after another;  it's really hard to miss that.  You have all those original Revolutionary patriots, through the Whiskey Rebels, to abolitionists, various evangelical revivalists, those darn Jacksonian Democrats (!), free soilers, Latter Day Saints, Wobblies, Free Silverites, I mean come on.  American history is a veritable pageant of roiling individuals impatient of being governed.  You get a bunch of restless, anti-authoritarian Americans, and Lilla wants to call them Jacobins?! That like announcing to your class, "Ladies and Gentlemen, the thing to remember about American history is Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose!"

Perhaps Professor Lilla is showing off in a subtle way, the way the American exchange student does when she comes back from a year in Paris and pretends she cannot remember the English word for something. "Mais c'est ca quoi?!  Bien . . . Ah oui! The "automobile"!"  By revealing the depth of his not-get-itude of the Tea Party, he may be demonstrating just how far removed from exurban, church-going, driving to the supermarket, not walking to gourmet shop America he is, as one would profess to be simply incapable of imaging what people who live in Connecticut do of an evening.  That is, he is pretending to be ignorant in order to be cool.  If that is not the case, somebody should sit his butt down with one of those review books for AP American History and make him read it.  I mean honestly.  He's like a famous American intellectual or something, right?  If Professor Lilla is only recently arrived in this country from Europe, I apologize.  I am all for stealing the best European scholars and ensconcing them in our top universities where they can well paid and add to the interest and color of our great institutions. Oh, nope.  I see he was born to Catholic parents in Detroit, about the same time I was born in Boise. Well, I don't know then.

May 24, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)

State backed union thuggery
Tom Smith

Disturbing stuff.  It is definitely worth keeping an eye on this sort of thing. Montgomery County and the State of Maryland really has to let the District of Columbia know that this sort of thing will not be tolerated.  In fact, I would be surprised if this sort of thing does not violate the law.  If not, Maryland and other states should pass a law that makes it a serious crime to use out of jurisdiction law enforcement as part of conspiracy to intimidate somebody.  This like something out of the 1920s or 30s.

May 24, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

I guess that's why they call it the Nanny State
Tom Smith

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May 24, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)