Licensing vs. Free Speech Update

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The good news? Engineer Mats Järlström of Oregon, aided by the good folks of the Institute for Justice, has won a round of the litigation he has rightly pursued after officials of his state sued him for stating the truth without their permission. As noted here in April:

The state fined the man $500.00 -- while ignoring everything of substance he said about a traffic hazard he was trying to help a local traffic authority correct[.]
The better news is that this fight isn't over. According to the Washington Post:
Image of signal still being sent regarding freedom of speech, via Pixabay.
The state has already cut a check to Järlström for $500, but the traffic-camera saga is not over. Oregon wants the lawsuit thrown out, but Järlström and his attorneys from the Institute for Justice want the law itself declared unconstitutional. They say others have been improperly investigated and fined for protected speech.
My thanks and congratulations to Mr. Järlström and his legal team. May their further efforts successfully aid the cause of liberty.

-- CAV


A Master-Class in How Not to Oppose Subsidies

Monday, December 11, 2017

Jazz Shaw of Hot Air has a complaint about some "renewable" energy subsidies, but it isn't what you might expect from an ally of capitalism:

If you think leftists are the only ones who complain about recycling or renewable energy that makes actual economic sense, read Jazz Shaw. (Image from Wikipedia article on black liquor.)
["Black liquor"] isn't actually a "new" form of energy. Paper mills have been burning it since the 30s and there have been complaints about the burning of black liquor for years now. The Washington Post featured a number of paper mills engaging in this type of scheme back in 2013, finding them in various spots around the nation. And they're all using the corrosive substance as a way to either get around or even profit from government mandates requiring the use of renewable energy.

...

It's not just the pollution angle that has people angry. This scheme is allowing the paper mills to not only comply with, but exceed government mandates for using renewable energy. This means that they're not only saving money on fuel and earning subsidies, but they can sell renewable energy credits to other industries (such as fossil fuel plants) who can't meet their government quotas. This is the same sort of scheme that goes on with the RINs (renewable identification numbers) in the ethanol game.

At any rate, next time somebody wants to talk to you about all the progress we're making on renewable energy, ask them how much of it is coming from black liquor in their state. It's yet another example of government mandate programs running off the rails and being wide open to fraud and abuse. [link in original, bold added, other minor format edits]
Let that last sentence, in bold, sink in for a moment.

Of all the things to complain about with a government subsidy that is fraudulent to begin with, the fact that a company  inadvertently gets extra rewards for an intelligent work-around to a nasty waste problem is about the last thing I'd complain about. Indeed, unlike the "renewables" (read: unreliables) these subsidies are intended for, black liquor actually represents an economical source of energy, as witness the fact that it has been in use for nearly a century. Unfortunately, Shaw comes across like he is an environmentalist himself. This is  because his post amounts to complaining that the subsidies aren't being directed efficiently enough to those who would continue throwing money down the rat-hole of "renewable" energy. Worse, in his last paragraph, he basically dares leftists to fix this problem. His time would be much more productive if he stopped worrying about what they think. Instead, he should focus on reaching an audience receptive to the idea that the use of black liquor, despite its flaws, represents a counterexample to the argument that government meddling is necessary to cause people to find creative ways to extract energy or control pollution.

Government subsidies are immoral no matter who gets them, because, as wealth-redistribution schemes, they necessitate picking someone's pocket, which is exactly the opposite to what the government ought to be doing. Likewise for mandates, in which the government, rather than protecting freedom so that we might live according to our best judgement, issues marching orders. The real problem here is that there are mandates and subsidies in the first place, not that someone has managed to game the system for a tidy profit. Worse, from the standpoint of improving the situation, Shaw has opted to focus on some penny-ante profiteering rather than on the greater problem, and missed an opportunities to (a) name that real problem (misuse of government) and (b) suggest an alternative (such as better enforcement of property rights) that offers us more freedom and a real way to prevent companies or individuals from poisoning land, water, or air.

I'm not thrilled with paper companies getting subsidies, either, but at least what they are doing is in line with how pollution problems would get solved in a capitalist economy. Rather than complaining that they get free money that shouldn't be on the table in the first place, or don't live up to some improper government mandate or other, we should applaud their enterprise and work to put an end, altogether, to "green" command-and-control schemes by our government.

-- CAV


Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, December 08, 2017

Four Things

I haven't written about the kids in a while, so here we go...

1. There is a small freezer with popsicles in the waiting area where I take my kids for gymnastics on weekends. Usually, I let them pick one out to take home for a dessert as we leave.

But on the weekend of Halloween, I'd bought a pumpkin pie at my wife's request and I had told the kids about it in the morning. It was home, ready to eat, and eagerly anticipated by the kids, until...

... a little girl pranced by and taunted them with her popsicle : "I have a popsicle."

Suddenly, the dessert markets were in turmoil, with pumpkin pies in free-fall against the mighty popsicle.

Image of status symbol via Unsplash.
My four-year-old son became upset. Both kids demanded a trip to the freezer. Dad's poll numbers were looking pretty grim.

"Not tonight. We're having pumpkin pie. Remember?"

They tried to wheedle a popsicle out of me a little, but I wasn't going to budge. Ultimately, they calmed down, possibly aided by a reminder-bribe of whipped cream on top.

Then the girl came by again, and repeated herself.

"We're having pumpkin pie!" my son replied.

What passes for sanity in the life of a dad with two small kids had returned.

2. My daughter, who looks a lot like my mother did as a child, resembles her in another way, too: She likes stilts.

She quickly picked up that skill while we visited my baby brother's family over Thanksgiving. And she'll have a set of her own on Christmas, thanks to my mother.

3. My daughter, always imaginative, came up with a funny turn of phrase one evening at bedtime. She declared that she was going to be a "bed potato" that night.

4. I can also be imaginative. My wife likes to have little elves sitting around the house during the holidays to keep an eye out for Santa. It was never a tradition in my family, so it slips my mind every year until she brings it up. This year, Mrs. Van Horn got them out while she worked from home one day. Apparently distracted from putting them on station by a call, she forgot about them, and left them lying on the coffee table.

The next morning, my daughter spotted the elves, apparently asleep on the job, and asked about it.

"They're taking a nap because they just got here, and have to stay up for the next few weeks to keep an eye on you. Let them sleep."

-- CAV


Failing Faster in Communication

Thursday, December 07, 2017

I recently ran across an article that might have been much more useful to me about twenty years ago -- It's specifically dating advice -- but which has applications outside dating, as its author briefly acknowledges. Its title, "Fuck Yes or No," plays on a common problem I found particularly annoying about the whole process, namely wishy-washy answers:

You need to "fail faster," and not dwell on this.
Frustration with this grey area also drives many people to unnecessary manipulation, drama and game-playing. This is where you get rules about making men pay for this many dates before you can become intimate. Or how men need to transition from attraction phase to comfort phase by qualifying three times before they're allowed to commence an escalation ladder.

These things may seem clever and exciting to some people who are stuck or frustrated. But this dating advice misses the point. If you're in the grey area to begin with, you've already lost.

Let me ask again: Why would you ever be excited to be with someone who is not excited to be with you? If they're not happy with you now, what makes you think they'll be happy to be with you later? Why do you make an effort to convince someone to date you when they make no effort to convince you? [bold in original]
This advice is brilliant, because it uses the value judgements of both people in a proposed interaction to cut through the fog generated by common practices (like not giving a direct rejection), uncertainty about social mores, uncertainty about one's level of attraction (or attractiveness) to the another, and just plain indecision (about which Mark Manson has interesting things to say later on). The gist, and why this has broader applications than dating, is that one should ideally be genuinely interested in making an offer, and should really only be interested in dealing with others who show an enthusiastic response. Everything else is a waste of time. If two people really are interested in the same thing, they will find a way to at least try to get it.

This isn't to say this advice can be applied to just any interpersonal transaction, but, carefully applied, it can save lots of time and energy.

-- CAV


When Regulations Mimic Rational Behavior

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

There is an interesting look by the Niskan Center at how various economic freedom indexes quantify regulation. I find the fourth bullet point of the conclusions most interesting:

A few shelf-feet of federal regulations. The ones you'd do anyway can make it harder to argue against central planning. (Image via Wikipedia.)
Close examination reveals serious methodological problems in the way both the Fraser and Heritage regulation components are constructed. Neither makes adequate efforts to distinguish between helpful and harmful aspects of regulation. Both include some indicators that fit poorly with common notions of what the regulatory state really is and does, and both exclude important aspects of regulation (especially of international trade). [bold added]
This is a problem I repeatedly encounter when I think about or discuss the effects of regulation, even though I am clear in my mind qbout the difference between central planning and legitimate laws (and the rules, called "regulations" in government, used to carry them out). Setting aside the fact that most people fail to be clear about such a distinction, the fact remains that many government regulations exist that are similar to standards or conventions that would evolve in a free society. (Consider independent standards-setting bodies, free market incentives that might prove fertile for same, and evolving case law. For example, nobody wants to run a restaurant that is reputed to sicken customers with undercooked food: It's easy to imagine industry standards that aren't dictated top-down, and yet are enforced by something like a UL or a Consumer's Union.) To the degree that the government regulations are like what might have arisen anyway and are effective at achieving legitimate purposes, they will look like "good regulations" and will confound attempts to argue that central planning harms the economy.

That said, I regard it as a fundamental error to consider regulation in terms of its economic impact, absent first asking whether regulation violates individual rights. Put another way, while regulatory harm is not a central argument in favor of limited government, demonstrating it can bolster one's case. Conversely, failing to do so (or doing so poorly) can cause one's case to be overlooked for appearing weak or even discredited. See also the many pitfalls of cost-benefit analysis, of which this is an example.

-- CAV


Column: To Find the Equifax Culprit, ...

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Congress Must Probe Itself

A state-of-the art ATM screen, brought to you by a public-private "partnership." (Original image of dirty tile via Unsplash.)
The ongoing Congressional investigation of the Equifax data breach reminds me of a running joke my mother and I had about the old detective series, Murder She Wrote. What if the guilty party all along was the last person we expected, and Jessica Fletcher was really a serial killer who framed random strangers? Except that having our financial information written on a bathroom wall isn't a joke. And, as we shall see, Congress grandstanding about fixing it is a bad one.

Let's consider how the current hearings might instead prevent us from finding out what really happened and how to prevent it from happening again. It may have been fun to hear about the new Equifax CEO admitting that he doesn't know whether his company encrypts our personal information. At least he's being held accountable Gus! you say. But this is a hard problem, which he was only very recently brought in to address. More to the point,Congress effectively made itself the CEO of every credit bureau nearly fifty years ago when it passed the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)...

To continue reading my latest column, please proceed to RealClear Markets.

I would like to thank reader Steve D. and my wife for their comments on earlier versions of this piece.

-- CAV


Socialist Utopia Update

Monday, December 04, 2017

The New York Times, fresh off celebrating a century of Communism, makes  an astonishing report on living conditions in Venezuela. Here are a few highlights:

Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro, known to joke about how great for one's sex life starvation is. Really. Page the Times! (Image via Wikipedia.)
A self-described bibliophile -- "my life is literature," he said -- [Carlos] Sandoval is one of Venezuela's foremost literary critics and a professor at two of the country's finest universities.

Yet, Mr. Sandoval can no longer afford to buy books.

...

This is an economy in which even the hourly rate in a parking lot recently ticked upward in the two hours it took a shopper to run some errands.

...

The economic turmoil has put families -- poor and affluent alike -- at the intersection of some very tough choices, bred a stressful uncertainty about the course of any given day and turned the most basic tasks into feats of endurance.

"Something so simple as taking money out of a bank machine or buying a coffee or taking a taxi has become a race for survival," Mr. Sandoval said.

...

Like many poor Venezuelans, she has been gradually eliminating meals from her daily routine. She is now down to one, dinner, which usually consists of little more than rice and beans or pasta.

...

David, like many Venezuelans, spends a lot of time waiting in line to buy basic goods -- when they are available. The other day he awoke before 5 a.m. and stood in line for nearly two and a half hours to buy a canister of cooking gas. By the time he got to the front of the line, the supply had run out.

As he told the story, he seemed neither annoyed nor angry. Just resigned. "It's like something from a movie where you become accustomed to something that you shouldn't be accustomed to," he said. "Standing in line erodes the mind, erodes your thinking, the capacity to create."

...

[T]o buy a pair of shoes, I have to put together two biweekly paychecks and hope that a light bulb doesn't break," he said.
I meant to add "to them" to my description of the report. The word "socialism" doesn't come up a single time in the entire article. That fact, coming as it does from the same quarters who fling around terms like, "climate denier," is hardly astonishing to me.

-- CAV