The Stone City

Words Made to Last

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Removing All Doubts

Ross Douthat, in an Atlantic column, called out Linda Hirshman on subsidies:

... if you're more of a Linda Hirshman-style feminist, on the other hand, you'll probably prefer the Scandinavian model, where after the guaranteed family leave runs its course, the socialized day care effectively incentivizes parents to get (back) to work whether they want to or not.

Ms. Hirschman responded with a post which, though meant to instruct onlookers of Mr. Douthat's boundless ignorance, turns out to be an instructive face plant. She compares the effect of subsidies with that of her own idea of tax cuts:

Case #1: The Socialist enslavement model

A family makes $100,000 in income and pays $50,000 in taxes and the government offers them public day care worth $20,000 and they take it. They have effective after tax income of $70,000. So they have a $20,000 incentive to use the government benefit and not have the mother quit her job and stay home with the children.
Case #2: Douthat "freedom" model

If a family makes $100,000 and pays $50,000 in taxes and the government offers them a tax break worth $20,000 off their taxes if the mother stays home with the children, and they take it. They have an effective after tax income of $70,000. So they have a $20,000 incentive to have her quit her job and stay home with the children.
Fancy that: tax cuts, government benefits, from the standpoint of pushing
people to do something, it's the same.

Alas, this "case #2" relies on the tax cut not being available unless the mother stays home; and this feature, so crucial to Ms. Hirshman's case, is pure projection on her part. The proposal itself contains no such feature, saying instead
The plan ... would be available to all parents no matter how much they earn, with the limit being the amount they pay in income and payroll taxes.

Ms. Hirshman was apparently in haste to illustrate her opponents' evil nature, and full of eagerness to demonstrate their inferior intelligence, so her entire post is written in the tone of one ministering to the mentally deficient:
That's because (repeat after me)

But all this rather clumsy rhetoric collapses on a simple obstacle: Ms. Hirshman apparently cannot comprehend that Mr. Douthat is not supporting government incentives but their absence -- what we would crudely call freedom.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

No Banana

I think most of Randy Barnett's proposed Federalism Amendments are admirable, though some would have extreme consequences which are difficult to fully fathom before the fact. But one mistake is being made repeatedly.
Article [of Amendment 7] -- [Term Limits for U.S. Senators and Representatives]
Section 1. No person who has been elected or served for a full term to the Senate two times shall be eligible for election or appointment to the Senate. No person who has been elected for a full term to the House of Representatives six times shall be eligible for election to the House of Representatives.
Section 2. ...
This is a centralized mandate on the selection of legislators; as such, it represents not federalism but its opposite. I would propose a much milder form:

Article [of Amendment 7] -- [Constitutionality of Term Limits]

No article of this Constitution shall be construed to limit the authority of each State to restrict the eligibility of persons for election or appointment to the Senate or to the House of Representatives from that state, or to its own legislature, provided that the grounds for such restriction are limited to prior election or service in those bodies.

Many others could probably word this more precisely. [I don't know whether to say "grounds" or "criteria", and there are probably larger problems as well.] This would be more flexible and far more faithful to the spirit of federalism.

Friday, April 24, 2009

All the Hot Buttons

Six [6] protestors are gathered, if that's the word, outside AIG's London offices. They are holding signs protesting the existence of Huntington Life Sciences, so I guess they are affiliated with the SHAC terrorists. One has a bullhorn and is exchanging slogans with the rest:
Five hundred animals died today!
A I G! You're to blame!
At any given time, around 10 passersby have stopped to watch.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Yale's Congressional Delegation

Dealbreaker transcribes Rosa DeLauro's (D-CT) explanation of the credit crisis:
One through nine, no maybes, no supposes, no fractions. You can't travel in space, you can't go out into space, you know, without, like, you know, uh, with fractions - what are you going to land on - one-quarter, three-eighths? What are you going to do when you go from here to Venus or something? That's dialectic physics.

Way to put your best foot forward, Bulldogs. Mrs. DeLauro excels herself here -- again via DealBreaker -- and has to be interrupted multiple times mid-rant.
Yes, this is the same Rosa DeLauro who rented the basement of a single-family dwelling to Rahm Emmanuel, breaking one of the minor stupid laws that she and those like her have spent their lives creating. So she fits the "useful" tag, as well.

Strong Language

I am not the first to notice this passage from Light in August, but it merits reproduction.
One wall of the study is lined with books. He pauses before them, seeking, until he finds the one he wants. It is Tennyson. It is dogeared. He has had it ever since the seminary. He sits beneath the lamp and opens it. It does not take long. Soon the fine galloping language, the gutless swooning full of sapless trees and dehydrated lusts begins to swim smooth and swift and peaceful. It is better than praying without having to bother to think aloud. It is like listening in a cathedral to a eunuch chanting in a language which he does not even need to not understand.

Also interesting is Mr. Faulkner's non-denying denial when asked whether this represents his own feelings about Mr. Tennyson's work.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Before the Cascade

I was thinking of an old post about "preference cascades" (linked here but the original seems to be gone):

This illustrates, in a mild way, the reason why totalitarian regimes collapse so suddenly. (Click here for a more complex analysis of this and related issues). Such regimes have little legitimacy, but they spend a lot of effort making sure that citizens don't realize the extent to which their fellow-citizens dislike the regime. If the secret police and the censors are doing their job, 99% of the populace can hate the regime and be ready to revolt against it - but no revolt will occur because no one realizes that everyone else feels the same way.

This works until something breaks the spell, and the discontented realize that their feelings are widely shared, at which point the collapse of the regime may seem very sudden to outside observers - or even to the citizens themselves. Claims after the fact that many people who seemed like loyal apparatchiks really loathed the regime are often self-serving, of course. But they're also often true: Even if one loathes the regime, few people have the force of will to stage one-man revolutions, and when preferences are sufficiently falsified, each dissident may feel that he or she is the only one, or at least part of a minority too small to make any difference.

[Emphasis mine.]
Thi is relevant to the present environment, and to the nascent "Tea Party " protests. Publicizing one's distaste for the government is not punishable by imprisonment or vanishment, as it was in the Warsaw Pact; but it is very difficult logistically. This makes preference falsification possible. The Bulk Media's role in preference falsification is to provide the appearance of a complete source of news, thus deterring truth-seeking individuals from investigating more widely.

If this model is correct, then the realization that you are not alone, that most around you feel the same way, will come suddenly and near-simultaneously to much of the country. The immediate result will be a vocal and energetic population; but this is not a guarantee of any lasting gains.

Chris Dodd, for example, is confident of being re-elected in 2010, despite the minor tempest stirred by his systematically corrupt dealings and despite polls showing he would lose a snap election now. November 2010 is a long way off, and there is no reason to expect that the voters' ire will be any match for Mr. Dodd's venality in a test of endurance.

A brief and passionate storm in, say, June of 2009 will lead to no systemic reform whatsoever. The Tea Party protests are beginning to roll the first loose pebbles of an avalanche; but what message will the participants learn and retain?

For my own part, I have little to offer here. I would like to add one slogan (inspired by the famous quote here) --
Don't you wish you'd known?