26 April 2013

Here Comes Gun Control

A Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Final Rule published today in the Federal Register and a news release issued Friday by the Department of Health and Human Services, followed up with a notice to be published tomorrow, are two developments all but ignored by the mainstream press even though Vice President Joe Biden announced last week that the administration would be using executive orders to advance “gun control” goals following a Senate battle that could not muster the votes to do so legislatively.
The Importation of Defense Articles and Defense Services -- U.S. Munitions Import List references executive orders, amends ATF regulations and clarifies Attorney General authority “to designate defense articles and defense services as part of the statutory USML for purposes of permanent import controls,” among other clauses specified in heavy legalese requiring commensurate analysis to identify just what the administration’s intentions are. Among the speculations of what this could enable are concerns that importing and International Traffic in Arms Regulations may go forward to reflect key elements within the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty.

This can’t really be stopped, save by an assassin’s bullet, but the measure is rather toothless, in the sense of making it impossible for people to get guns.  Some people will find it more expensive or more time-consuming to acquire guns in some instances, but people will still have guns, for the most part.  Revoking people’s right to bear arms is going to be tricky, to say the least, if not downright impossible.  I imagine that gun confiscation will also be impossible given how few guns are registered, or even in the possession/ownership of the original purchaser.  Keeping guns from the government will be fairly easy, with a little bit of preparation.  So, while another round of gun control sucks, it’s not the end of the world, nor is it anywhere close to a complete confiscation.

24 April 2013

This Doesn’t Engender Much Sympathy

The Guardian has one of those annoyingly Luddite human interest stories:

The three women, who trained at a church typing school in 1995, worked in local government offices but lost their jobs when computers were introduced and they did not know how to use them. So they set up their own small business in the bus station, charging between 200 and 300 Rwandan francs (20-30p) for each page. A page takes about two minutes to type and a good day will see them getting about 20 customers each.
Based in a bustling alleyway between the Nyabugogo bus station and the main road outside, they work rain or shine – with a large umbrella sheltering them from either extreme.
"We write all kinds of things," Mukankwiro said. "The most common things are project proposals, applications for jobs, CVs, judicial letters, that sort of thing. But sometimes we do write love letters for people. It's usually men who come and they are embarrassed at first but we tell them they need to stop it and just tell us what to write. Then we just get on with it."
She particularly enjoys typing works of fiction. "I also like it when people ask us to type up the plays they have written. They are always fun to read. I enjoy those a lot."
Her colleague, Marie Gorette Nimukuze, 35, said the work was strictly private and the typists would never reveal customers' secrets. "It's very confidential what we do, we never tell people what we've written. When people ask us to write letters there is a trust there and we don't break it."
But the march of technology will not leave them in peace. Just behind their office, a computer shop has opened, offering internet and printing services.
"Computers are really taking away our business," said Nimukuze. "More and more people are learning how to use computers so in the future they won't need us any more."

Naturally, the implicit spin is that technology is destroying something romantically retro, and seems to be nothing more than some sort of bait for curmudgeons.  You can basically feel sympathy for these women right up until you ask yourself the logical question:  why haven’t they purchased laptops?

Granted, they’d need more capital to run computers and printers than typewriters and ribbons, but given the market trends and the increasing ubiquity of technology in that corner of the world, holding on to a low-tech paradigm doesn’t actually make much sense from a business perspective.  Thus, it seems a little ludicrous to feel sorry for people who are facing a problem with an obvious and relatively affordable solution.

18 April 2013

Whatever Happened To The Presumption of Innocence?

The Internal Revenue Service doesn't believe it needs a search warrant to read your e-mail.
Newly disclosed documents prepared by IRS lawyers say that Americans enjoy "generally no privacy" in their e-mail, Facebook chats, Twitter direct messages, and similar online communications -- meaning that they can be perused without obtaining a search warrant signed by a judge.

The presumption of innocence is fundamental to common law, of which the US is supposed to be an adherent.  As I’ve noted before, the presumption of innocence should preclude the government from acting in any way to search for and/or prevent crimes from occurring.  Really, the government should only seek to redress crimes that have already occurred.  As such, the IRS has no business monitoring emails without a warrant.

Of course, the federal tax code is so complex that it’s likely that everyone at some point in their lives has violated it.  And once you work from that understanding, it becomes a little more clear as to why the IRS thinks that it has a right to monitor online communication without a warrant.  We’re all criminals now.

Standing on Shoulders

There are now many more libertarians in the world than there were fifty years ago. Libertarian writing has increased greatly, and the readership of libertarian literature has increased substantially, especially since the development and widespread adoption of the Internet and the World Wide Web. Yet, it seems to me, we no longer have libertarians of the same stature as the giants of the past two or three generations. Where today are the libertarians comparable to Ludwig von Mises, F. A. Hayek, Milton Friedman, Murray Rothbard, James Buchanan, and Thomas Szasz?

To make use of a metaphor, once a foundation is laid, you start building a house.  Mises, Hayek and the rest have all laid important groundwork in the realm of libertarian economic analysis.  Now that the groundwork is laid, though, it’s time to move on.  Most people who build on this foundation, then, are going to focus on the details of niche subjects, as seen through this particular lens, few are going to add popular, foundational work.  And that’s okay.

Ultimately, once a broad paradigm is established, you can only add depth to it.  This happens in every branch of science, both physical and social, and ultimately ends when a paradigm exhausts itself.  It has happened before, and will happen again.  Therefore, there is little need to bemoan the absence of intellectual giants in the realm of libertarian economic analysis.  The foundation is laid, and all that’s left is the detail work.

The End of Women

It’s the same as it’s always been:

Hersch uses a large database, the 2003 National Survey of College Graduates, that lets her identify 1,830 women who graduated from “tier 1” educational institutions — in effect, the Ivies and other high-prestige universities like Duke and Stanford — and compare them with women who graduated from less elite schools. When women with and without children of all ages are lumped together, the graduates of tier 1 schools are employed only slightly less often than their less privileged sisters. But as soon as Hersh separates out women with children from those without, it becomes obvious that women from tier 1 schools are significantly more likely to be home with the kids than the others — 68% of mothers from the tier 1 schools were employed, compared to 76% of those from the other schools.
A lot depends on the kind of degree that a married woman with children has obtained. If she is a physician, has a PhD, or has an MA in education (i.e., is probably a K-12 teacher), she is as likely to be employed as graduates from lower-tier schools. But those degrees involve only 24% of mothers who graduated from tier 1 schools. Those with law degrees are 9 percentage points less likely to be employed than graduates from lower-tier schools; those with MBAs are 16 percentage points less likely to be employed, and the largest single group, those with just a BA, are 13 percentage points less likely to be employed.
These numbers shouldn’t make sense. Who gets into tier 1 schools? Not just highly able women, but also women who are ambitious enough to want to be in those schools. It is plausible that they would be more likely, not less, to continue their careers after they have children than women who, on average, are surely less intellectually able and probably less intensely ambitious than the tier 1 women.

So, the constant push to get women out of the kitchen and into college and careers results in:  the most desirable* women staying at home and raising kids.  Poor women still work shitty jobs—assuming they aren’t able to completely get by on government benefits and charity.  Fucking feminism.

So all those ladies who played feminism’s game and won are taking a victory lap…in the kitchen.  It’s almost as if women were made to raise children and tend to domestic duties.  How else to explain why presumably attractive and reasonably intelligent women are staying home and raising children?  They can basically have whatever they want in this world, being both credentialed and presumably attractive, and yet they choose, of their own volition, to get married and have kids.

So in spite of feminism’s best efforts, the most desirable women are choosing the domestic life.  Because that’s what women want, and that’s what women are made for.  That is their sphere.

In the meantime, too many women, usually those who are just a cut below the most desirable tier, are stuck living out feminism’s nightmare, chasing a career when they’d rather be taking care of their family.  They live in the pursuit of the trappings of status and power, without actually attaining either.  In so doing, they perpetuate the self-sustaining cycle of low wages that make such a pursuit necessary in the first place.

It would be nice to end this cycle of misery by simply reverting to the (misogynistic) understanding that women are most happy when they live in the sphere of women, which is to say that women are happiest when they tend to child-rearing and domestic duties.  The sloganeering of feminism is nothing more than pretty lies, since it is clear that most women, once given the choice, choose to stay home and raise children.  Perhaps it’s time to admit that most everyone would be better off if they simply did what they really and truly wanted.  Perhaps it’s time to stop “”””””””encouraging”””””””” women to pursue those things that they don’t really want to do.

* Desirable being defined as a woman’s desirability as a mate, roughly some combination of looks of competence.

16 April 2013

Rothbard’s Myths

From LRC, here’s one myth:

It is usually added by flat-tax proponents, that eliminating such exemptions would enable the federal government to cut the current tax rate substantially.
But this view assumes, for one thing, that present deductions from the income tax are immoral subsidies or "loopholes" that should be closed for the benefit of all. A deduction or exemption is only a "loophole" if you assume that the government owns 100% of everyone's income and that allowing some of that income to remain untaxed constitutes an irritating "loophole." Allowing someone to keep some of his own income is neither a loophole nor a subsidy. Lowering the overall tax by abolishing deductions for medical care, for interest payments, or for uninsured losses, is simply lowering the taxes of one set of people (those that have little interest to pay, or medical expenses, or uninsured losses) at the expense of raising them for those who have incurred such expenses.

This analysis is correct on its terms.  However, I do think that a contrary argument can be made for closing loopholes/exemptions along with rates.

I think that Rothbard fails to consider the cost of loopholes properly. Yes, it’s true that loopholes allow you to keep more of your money.  However, finding loopholes or, worse still, paying a lawyer or an accountant to find loopholes for you, is a waste of time and possibly money.  Thus, it could be more cost-effective to reduce tax rates while closing loopholes, since doing so would reduce the cost of tax compliance while keeping tax costs roughly the same.  Thus, the same amount of your money would go to the government, but less would go to your lawyer and/or accountant, and less of your time would be wasted when paying taxes.  I think, then, that overall a simpler tax code can be better than a complex tax code if the cost of taxes remains the same and the cost of compliance declines.

Another myth:

This is the so-called "Laffer curve," set forth by California economist Arthur Laffer. It was advanced as a means of allowing politicians to square the circle; to come out for tax cuts, keeping spending at the current level, and balance the budget all at the same time. In that way, the public would enjoy its tax cut, be happy at the balanced budget, and still receive the same level of subsidies from the government.
It is true that if tax rates are 99%, and they are cut to 95%, tax revenue will go up. But there is no reason to assume such simple connections at any other time. In fact, this relationship works much better for a local excise tax than for a national income tax. A few years ago, the government of the District of Columbia decided to procure some revenue by sharply raising the District's gasoline tax. But, then, drivers could simply nip over the border to Virginia or Maryland and fill up at a much cheaper price. D.C. gasoline tax revenues fell, and much to the chagrin and confusion of D.C. bureaucrats, they had to repeal the tax.
But this is not likely to happen with the income tax. People are not going to stop working or leave the country because of a relatively small tax hike, or do the reverse because of a tax cut.

Again, Rothbard’s analysis is true on its own terms.  And once again it is short-sighted.  While revenue gains are not going to be seen from tax rate decreases, assuming that the tax rate is too low to yield optimal revenue, the rest of the time nominal tax decreases should lead to revenue increases, ceteris paribus.  Drastic tax cuts do generally lead to revenue increases, with few exceptions.  As I’ve pointed out before on this blog, tax revenue as a percent of GDP hits a wall at a rate of roughly 20%.  Tax revenue simply does not ever exceed 20% of GDP, regardless of tax rate.  Revenue may be significantly below that (and historically federal tax rates have been remarkably low at the time), but revenue does not generally exceed that.  Anyhow, the Laffer Curve is generally correct, and lowering nominal tax rates can lead to increases in revenue, particularly when the initial rate is quite high.

Wrong, Perhaps

Tyler Cowen, in addressing the hypothetical problem of what would happen if everyone died at age forty, makes a blunder:

Credit would be harder to come by and the rate of home ownership would fall.  The rate of voting turnout will go down, as would the degree of wealth inequality and the amount of innovation.  Federal discretionary spending, as a percentage of the budget, would rise. [Emphasis added.]

Credit would not necessarily be harder to come by.  While banks would stop offering, say, 30-year mortgages, they wouldn’t stop offering credit with shorter repayment terms.  In keeping with this, people would be less inclined to take on long-term debt since they could only discharge it through their estate post-mortem.  My guess is that longer-term debt would dry up while shorter-term debt would increase.

As for the decreased home ownership rate, I think it’s more probable that houses would still sell at the same rate (people do need a place to live), but at lower prices.  Markets tend to seek equilibrium, so it should not be surprising if the home ownership rate remains the same.

09 April 2013

Time To Get Out

Warren Buffett, who has been a cheerleader for U.S. stocks for quite some time, is dumping shares at an alarming rate. He recently complained of “disappointing performance” in dyed-in-the-wool American companies like Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble, and Kraft Foods.
In the latest filing for Buffett’s holding company Berkshire Hathaway, Buffett has been drastically reducing his exposure to stocks that depend on consumer purchasing habits. Berkshire sold roughly 19 million shares of Johnson & Johnson, and reduced his overall stake in “consumer product stocks” by 21%. Berkshire Hathaway also sold its entire stake in California-based computer parts supplier Intel.
With 70% of the U.S. economy dependent on consumer spending, Buffett’s apparent lack of faith in these companies’ future prospects is worrisome.

First off, if Buffett is leaving the US market, then it’s time for everyone else to follow suit.  Sell of all of your investment items, cash out your retirement accounts, and go buy gold and silver and keep what you buy in your possession.  Or at least hold cash in your possession.  The market is finally catching up with reality, and now it’s time to leave.

Second, and more broadly, it looks like this pretty much spells the beginning of the end.  American dominance, particularly of the economic variety, is drawing to a close.  Get used to living in poverty.

And Now We Know

Pat Buchanan:

Kim has crawled out on a limb. He has threatened to attack U.S. forces in Korea and bases in Asia, even U.S. cities. He has declared the truce that ended the Korean War dead and that "a state of war" exists with the South. All ties to the South have been cut.
The United States has sent B-52s and stealth fighters to Korea and anti-missile warships to the Sea of Japan. Two B-2 bombers flew from Missouri to Korea and back in a provocative fly-by of the Hermit Kingdom. And both South Korea and we have warned that, should the North attack, swift retribution will follow.

When it was announced, a couple of months ago, that women would be *********allowed********** to serve in combat roles in the USAF, the manosphere pretty much collectively lost its shit.  You had the woman-hating MRAs saying that women deserved to be shipped overseas and killed, and you had the traditionalists saying that women just weren’t fit for duty.  Both perspectives have their place, but I fear that both are missing the point.  The flair-up with North Korea might eventually prove to show why women are suddenly being ********allowed****** to serve in combat:  more bodies are needed to keep the gears of war turning.

Think about it for a minute.  The US has been fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan for over a decade, and there isn’t a whole lot to show for it.  The US still in those countries, and the continued promises of exit don’t look like they will be kept any time soon. In the meantime, the US has engaged in “war” with a couple of other countries, and looks poised to engage in another war.

Now, the US has the capacity to easily wipe out any third world opponent on the military battlefield.  For instance, it didn’t take that long to find and kill Saddam Hussein.  Normally, the death of the opposition’s leader is a clear sign of victory, yet the US remains in Iraq. Why?  Because there is money to be made by “nation-building.”

Specifically, military contractors stand to make a ton of money as long as they keep getting contracted to supply the USAF and DOD with lots of shiny new weapons, munitions, supplies, etc.  Of course, this requires soldiers that make use of the contracted supplies, thus spurring subsequent demand.  Thus, the reason why women are now allowed into combat is not because feminism has won, but because military contractors need a reason to produce more stuff to sell to the military.

Ultimately, neither contractors nor the government are concerned about the well-being on soldiers.  Hell, they aren’t even concerned about winning the wars anymore.  They are concerned about profiting from war, and if that means that more soldiers have to die, so be it.

And so, as the US gears up for war with North Korea, it would be wise to remember that wars, at least for America, in this day and age, are not about winning, but about selling.  As a result, thousands of lives of both men and now women will be lost to fuel the machine.

Why Not Just Disband?

The FCC is revisiting its broadcast indecency policies to determine if changes are needed or if the rules should remain as is. In a notice posted today on the regulatory agency’s website, the FCC said it wants to ensure that its enforcement of indecency rules is “fully consistent with vital First Amendment principles” following last year’s Supreme Court ruling that its enforcement of indecency rules was too vague. The FCC is seeking comments on whether it should shift the focus of its enforcement to egregious cases such as a deliberate and repetitive use of expletives and whether isolated flashes of nudity should be treated the same as or differently than isolated expletives. The FCC also said it has reduced the backlog of indecency complaints by 70%, down by more than 1 million, since last September. Many of the complaints, the agency said, were beyond the statute of limitations or too stale to pursue.

Of course, there is no way for the FCC enforce indecency rules in a manner that is full consistent with First Amendment principles since the First Amendment clearly states, “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech,” which I take to mean that Congress is prohibited from abridging the freedom of speech.  Or, to state things more clearly, no part of the federal government has any authority to regulate speech of any kind in any way.

The hilarious part, though, is how the FCC is seeking comments on how best to enforce the law.  Here’s a thought:  if you’re going to turn to citizens for advice on how to censor what’s being broadcast into their homes, why not simply just go ahead and tell citizens to handle censorship duties themselves?  If the people are smart enough to know how to censor broadcast television and radio, why not simply put them in charge of censoring their own households?  Really, what is even the point of the FCC if all the agency is going to do is ask people how to do the job the people delegated to them in the first place?  Is there a more compelling argument for disbanding the FCC?

More to the point, this just goes to show how the FCC is simply unconstitutional, anti-liberty, and completely unnecessary to boot.  People are quite capable of deciding for themselves what they do or don’t want to watch on TV, or hear on the radio, and therefore they do not need a parasitic bureaucracy infringing on their rights and telling them what can and cannot watch or listen to.

08 April 2013

The Slippery Slope

Government subsidies of gasoline, electricity and other energy sources amount to about $1.9 trillion a year and should be ended or offset with taxes used to battle climate change and pay for social programs, the International Monetary Fund said Wednesday in a major foray into the global warming debate.
From top energy users such as the United States and China to the poorest of the poor, the fund said countries should be more aggressive in developing energy tax and pricing policies that reflect the true cost of fossil fuel use, including such “externalities” as pollution and the steps needed to mitigate the effects of a warming climate.
For the United States, the IMF estimated that would require a $1.40 levy per gallon of gas and other fees totaling more than $1,400 per person each year — around $500 billion in total, or more than 3 percent of the country’s annual economic output.  [Emphasis added.]

Bob Murphy has already show why the IMF proposals fail on their own terms, so I won’t rehash that now.  Instead, I’m interested in at looking how governments use market problems to gain power.

As is well known, it is foolish for politicians to let a crisis go to waste.  The corollary to this would be that it is stupid for politicians to not exploit suboptimal market outcomes for political gain.

In this light, the IMF’s policy recommendations, once translated from paternal-esque statist jargon into plain English, are really, “we would like to have more power and control over more people.”  Yes, the IMF acknowledges ending government subsidies as a potential option for dealing with market imbalances, but the bulk of their policy recommendations concern gathering more power to the IMF.  Thus, they merely pay lip service to the free market, and use their lip service to introduce more statism.

This is how governments gain power.  They identify and politicize a problem.  Generally, they are correct when identifying a problem (in this case, market inefficiencies brought about by government subsidy), and will often cite a market ideal that bears quite a bit of resemblance to the free market.  And then they propose an alternative solution that, while not ideal, is more feasible to implement and, coincidentally, gives the government more power.

What’s intriguing, though, is how people fall for this charade.  What happens is that a market outcome is less than desirable, or perhaps even inconvenient for a couple of people.  This inconvenience is generally not permanent, and few people who find themselves inconvenienced by some market outcome will find themselves staying that way for long simply because the market, like reality itself, is dynamic.  However, these short-sighted, narcissistic fools get caught up in their own minor, short-lived problems, and demand that government solve their problems for them.

Most of the time, solving these sorts of problems is simply a matter of waiting.  The clamorous fools who are currently being inconvenienced, though, are stupid and impatient, and demand that something be done right away.  In a monarchy, a wise king would simply dismiss these complaints as the ravings of small-minded lunatics, and possibly have them beheaded (we can only hope).  In a representative democracy, though, these people have personal advocates who can try to solve their constituents’ problems.  Oftentimes, then, representatives collude together to solve the petty problems of petty people with sweeping policies, which coincidentally give the government more power.

For a short time, the small problems of the petty tyrants are solved.  In time, though, the solution breeds new problems for a now-larger number of people.  Whereas before, say, six people were inconvenienced by a temporary market outcome, now twelve people are inconvenienced by a market outcome.  These twelve beg their representatives to alleviate the problem.  Now, the government could correct its mistake by revoking its prior policy.  But that would give the government less power, and so there will definitely be none of that.  Thus, the government proposes yet another intervention to solve the twelve’s problem.  The solution works temporarily, but inconveniences an even larger group of people who demand a solution, which the representatives then enact, only to create a larger problem that harms more people, who in turn demand a solution, and so on ad infinitum.

Ultimately, we end up with the current situation, where a global government group is trying to solve a $1.9 trillion dollar market problem with more taxes, more regulation, and more wealth redistribution.  Sadly, the best solution to the problem—ending the subsidies—is mentioned then essentially dismissed out of hand.
The lessons to be learned from this, assuming any exist, are twofold. First, it is unwise to trust any government, particularly one that purports to be democratic, with solving any problems.

Second, it is unwise to allow foolish and short-sighted people to have any say in deciding government policy.  The lack of patience on the part of fools is what does them in every time.  This doesn’t make them bad (read: immoral) people, but it does make them unfit to lead a group of people, to say nothing of leading a nation, or even the world.  True wisdom is knowing which problems are important and which problems are transient, and ignoring the latter.  Most people are not wise, and therefore the evil seduce the foolish into trading their freedom for the illusion of a solution to their insignificant and transient problems.