The Stone City

Words Made to Last

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Percentage of U.S. population who are non-Asian minorities: 28%

Percentage by which GDP is decreased due to an "education gap", as estimated by McKinsey and Company: 9-16%

Ratio of those numbers: 32-57%

That's an indicator of the cost per individual, as a fraction of everything they earn or own. Do you think the people affected somehow do not notice this, or do not care? Of course not. But the argument that parents need not be given more choices in education, because they are not skilled at rationally pursuing their children's best interests, is at heart an argument that they can't be expected to avert something as minor as a 40% decrease in lifetime earnings.

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?

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Looks Like a Nail

[Reposted from Chequer-Board; dated 8 May 2008.]

Will Wilkinson, while criticizing "unreflective anti-gubmint reactions of libertarians to the FLDS imbroglio", still prefers to limit his justification to the specific evils of the FLDS, and to maintain a defense of polygamy in the abstract:
The libertarian point is that the illegality and attendant marginalization of polygamy pushes it into isolated, authoritarian, quasi-state cult compounds where these kinds of crimes are most likely to take place.
But this is one case where the libertarian point is simply wrong. Tyler Cowen hints at the reasons:
Maybe the goals of the perpetrators are rape, abuse, and power-mad intimidation, rather than polygamy per se ("polygamy: merely a means to an end.") In that case polygamy legalization won't limit their ability to set up isolated, authoritarian, quasi-state cult compounds for their nefarious purposes.
Consider the demand pattern resulting from polygamy (i.e., from polygyny). The potential demand for women immediately and irreversibly exceeds any potential supply; thus there is steady pressure to expand the supply by including marginal cases. For example, 15-year-olds.
The definition of "marginal" is not fixed by Mr. Wilkinson's norms, of course. It changes; in fact, fairly rapidly. Megan McArdle has a long discussion of this, with some striking examples.
C'mon said the activists. That's just silly. I just can't imagine anyone deciding to get pregnant out of wedlock simply because there are welfare benefits available.
Of course, change didn't happen overnight. But the marginal cases did have children out of wedlock, which made it more acceptable for the next marginal case to do so.

Once the 15-year olds are no longer "marginal", demand is focused downward, and downward again.
Meanwhile this intrinsically unfair system of living can only be sustained if the exit is blocked. Thus the other symptoms observed in the FLDS case -- the brainwashing, abuse and too-ready excommunication -- are not pathologies at all: they are the natural and inevitable ramification of a system in which polygamy is permitted.
When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail -- but some things really are nails, and polygamy really is an intrinsically abusive institution which merits destruction by Leviathan. If society has any uses at all, this is one of them.

[I was taken to task by a commenter who had better thought through the legal issues:
OK, so polygamy is inherently abusive and society should crack down on it. So kindly explain the difference between the FLDS system of polygamy, and the modern practice of couples moving in and out with each other and siring children out of wedlock. Does the former require Leviathan's intervention, but not the latter? If so, why; and if not, why not? Do both require it?
See, here's the problem. The FLDS girls were never legally married to the older men, so the men can't be prosecuted for bigamy unless you define "marriage" to include people who live together as husband and wife. But by shooting with that blunderbuss you also consider all kinds of umarried couples as being common-law married. Now this approach to polygamy has been tried; Utah had "unlawful cohabitation" statutes for a long time. You can see how well it worked. "Unlawful cohabitation" as previously defined is at an all-time high in our country; and any attempt to crack down on it might run smack into Lawrence, if it doesn't first induce mass protests. Our society is currently in favor of cohabitation, for better or for worse, as witnessed by the development in many locales of domestic partnership registries (including, recently, Salt Lake City).
Personally, I think the best approach has been Utah AG Shurtleff's approach: live and let live, but prosecute the underage stuff and the welfare fraud.

I replied:
All these are good points. However:
Doesn't the existence of cohabitation registries provide a check which can be used against polygamy? The state should keep the total of marriage partners plus cohabiting partners to a maximum of one.
My post was largely in response to those who would use the FLDS situation as an argument in favor of explicitly legalizing polygamy; your arguments, on the difficulty of prosecution without diminishing other freedoms, are valid but do not extend so far as to require such legalization.
Thus I prefer that the crime of polygamy should remain in Mr. Shurtleff's arsenal.

This may be my least-libertarian post.]

Monday, March 30, 2009

How To Poison a Well

Glenn Reynolds points to Congressman John Murtha's defense of his aggressive earmarking practices:
“‘If I’m corrupt, it’s because I take care of my district,’ Mr. Murtha said.” And the beneficiaries of pork in his district take care of him.

They take care of Mr. Murtha by providing a good supply of funding for his re-election, which is used to buy advertising and other forms of positive press coverage. So far this has worked.

There is an effective tactic which can be used to reduce the electoral benefit Mr. Murtha can reap from this funding. That is to advertise against his corrupt dealings, and to explicitly and repeatedly note that he uses the money to promote himself. The idea is to create a mindset among undecided voters such that Mr. Murtha's campaign ads will reinforce the idea of his corruption -- to poison the well into which re-election donations feed. For example:

John Murtha calls it "taking care of his district". We call it a corrupt porkfest. John Murtha added hundreds of earmarks to make sure your tax dollars were spent the way his campaign donors wanted. And now those donors will pay for billboards, and radio and TV ads, supporting John Murtha and attacking [insert name here]. They'll pay to make sure you get the message. Because John Murtha is the man they want; because they know he'll represent them, not you.

This tactic is not specific to Mr. Murtha, or to Democrats. It seems it could help to reduce the efficacy of corruption.

Well, I'm Back

Congratulations to Mr. Yousefzadeh on his new role. Over the next few weeks I will be cross-posting archived items from Chequer-Board, possibly with minor updates, and also generating a little new content.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


A cogent exegesis by Myron Magnet.


At InTrade as of this writing, Hillary Clinton's odds of gaining the Democratic nomination are offered at 9.1% (in a wide market), while her odds of willing the Presidency outright are bid at 6.5%. So, even after crossing bid-offer spreads, you can effectively sell Hillary-to-beat-McCain at over 71% -- and a couple of hours' patience might improve that by 2-4%.

I think someone is leaning on the market. Why not go over and make it expensive for him?

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Looks Like a Nail

A brief against polygamy, at Chequer-Board.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Holman Jenkins, Homeowner

I am still exercised about Mr. Jenkins's evil and incredibly stupid editorial in the Wall Street Journal.
But another option has hardly been considered in Washington, though it's old hat in the sticks: Using tax dollars to buy and demolish foreclosed, unoccupied or half-built houses in selected markets.... Cleveland spends $6 million a year to demolish buildings. Dayton plans to demolish 550 this year. Only a small mental adjustment is required to begin aiming these bulldozers at "new" homes too. Get over it.
Knocking down surplus homes would be the most efficient and equitable way
to spend taxpayer dollars.

[Emphasis mine.] An unpleasantry is not sufficient response to this. Half Sigma summarizes the real effects:
This is just a negative sum transfer of wealth from the poor (people who rent or are even homeless) to the well off (people who own homes and big corporations that built too many homes and can’t sell them).

So it's clear that the manifest and overwhelming negative of this plan -- there will be fewer houses for everyone to live in -- is less important to Mr. Jenkins than some prospective gain. I would guess that Mr. Jenkins owns a home whose value he does not want to see reduced, and possibly has some personal stake in the stability of the leveraged financial system around him. This at least would give a patina of comprehensible avarice to what is otherwise stark lunacy.

This plan is as "efficient" and "equitable" as my beating up a homeless guy to steal his quarters.

Monday, March 03, 2008

False Advertising

My suspension of disbelief failed at Image 1 of this list, "Lava Rises from the Deep". It purports to be an image of Big Island's base... a photo of something 3 miles underwater. This image was not "taken primarily in the infrared spectrum"; it was computer-generated.

Downward Mobility

To update an old joke:
Q: How do you build a top-30 university?
A: It's easy; start with a top-10 one.

This is what the Duke University administration has been busily doing for two years now. Their latest newsmaker -- petitioning to shut down the website of the students who are suing the university and town -- is at least comprehensible: the administration is simply playing the bad hand they have dealt themselves.

Duke's rise as the uncontested flagship of the New South was amazing. In the 1980's, there was not much to choose between Duke and Georgia Tech; Rice was better at sciences and engineering, and U. Va. was better at everything else. Then, somehow, everything blossomed at once: Duke's bulked-up arts and humanities departments won top rankings, while its students won mathematics and computing competitions, and [perhaps most amazingly] it punched through the wall of northeastern self-regard to appear regularly in the U.S. News top five.

But a university is run by, and largely for the benefit of, its faculty. And that faculty, which had driven Duke's rise, naturally had a feeling of power and of secure rightness. They had come to this comparative backwater, and built it into something great, and that was a manifestation of their own intrinsic excellence -- and, for those trafficking in normative issues, of their tendency to be in the right. The politicized portion of the faculty would be irresistibly tempted by the case of the lacrosse players; and who could hold them back?

A university is sustained, over periods of decades, by the deep pockets of grateful alumni [especially those with marginally qualified teenage children] and by the confidence of top faculty that their efforts can be best rewarded there.

Who will be grateful to Duke now? Do its alumni now look forward to being able to announce their affiliation? And would they move heaven and earth -- or at least their bank accounts -- to expose their children to its lawless, envious, back-stabbing environment? I expect that the answers to these questions will be increasingly and embarrassingly clear.

Will the faculty, and the next generation of faculty, still look to Duke as the best avenue for their own advancement? Constancy is not one of the virtues this group has so far demonstrated; and the effort to convince young talent to cast their lot with a high-risk school will be difficult.

Duke is headed back into the obscurity from whence it came. Once again, U.Va. will be older; Rice will be better; and Georgia Tech will be cheaper.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Discovery Process

It is not often that the perspicacious Tom Maguire is naive, but his surprise at a Washington Post editorial is just that:

The WaPo offered a laugher of an editorial Sunday, as they tried to figure out Obama's true political leanings... if the answer is not clear it is because the WaPo is in denial of the evidence in front of their eyes.

McCain is the extremist, and his bipartisan efforts will be forgotten now that his opponent is a Democrat. Obama is the centrist, and the fact that he never moves rightward will be ignored. That's the narrative; get used to it.

Though the Powerline title, "A Centrist with No One to His Left", is well said.