Friday, March 26, 2010

Just for Fun Friday, Kinda.

As a part-time writer and full-time reader, it should probably go without saying that I love words.  Words are like facial expressions--intended to reveal certain thoughts or emotions while masking others. Invariably, both give away more than they were meant to--if the audience is looking for them--thus exposing the person beneath that they don't want the world to see.

I suppose that the base curiosity that fuels gossip rag sales is similar to this, but I find no value in the lurid affairs of celebrities in present context. Granted, I would love to read solidly researched biographies of Frank Sinatra and Muhammad Ali, with transgressions and all, because of the historical cultural importance of the men--within the context of their respective times and with complementary information that informs the reader. But the 'look how the rich/famous/mighty have fallen' tabloid material means nothing to me. (Perhaps that comes off as a rationalization, but that's my story and I'm sticking to it.)

Consequently, private missives between intimate friends can be frank and most revealing into the characters of the writer and his relationship with the addressee. So when my friend Liz shared this website in her on her blog, I was hooked. (She shared this letter from Kerouac about Burroughs--wow.)

My JfFF's tend to be odd videos or funny tidbits, but I thought I'd share this just in case you liked this sort of thing too.

Have a good weekend!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Rev. Al: "The Gift that Keeps On Giving"

Those words were written by one of my favorite law bloggers, GW Law Prof. Jon Turley. This is why:

This, of course, makes the ramifications of this meeting all the more potent as a political weapon. Sharpton is a crank, a huckster and the Republican political equivalent of manna from heaven.

I've never been a fan of Jesse, but Obama really needs to make his peace with him and ditch Rev. Al...yesterday.

The Chairman of the House Judiciary Senility Committee Drops Some Constitutional Knowledge...

...on the floor.

So, Chairman Conyers, where exactly does Congress get the constitutional authority to mandate health insurance purchase?

The "Good and Welfare Clause," you say. That's interesting. That must be somewhere between the "Good and Plenty" clause which gives us the right to concessions at the cinema and the "'Good Times' Welfare" clause that guarantees 'Good Times' star Jimmy 'J.J.' Walker walk-on cameos in bad television shows and movies until the day he dies.

Seriously, as several of us in the office discussed, that a member of Congress is ignorant of the Constitution is hardly surprising. Indeed, Congresspeople have mentioned to our staffers that they need to/would like to read the Constitution, but haven't yet found the time. But this, of course, is not a random member--John Conyers is the Chairman of the House Judiciary committee.

It would be funny if not so damned pathetic.

Conyers needs to step down and retire. I don't doubt that deep down in that old mind he meant to say General Welfare clause. And not because of his tortured reading of the clause, Conyers needs to step down because anyone who has followed the committee knows he's not with it anymore. He needs to let someone sharper, better, and more thoughtful takeover the committee (I would suggest Bobby Scott from the Dems' side) because the committee really has become a farce--and that is unacceptable no matter which party is in power.

H/T: @mkhammer and @allahpundit

My take on the Senate Health Bill

Surprise surprise: I'm not happy that the Senate health bill passed the House and is about to be signed into law. Friends and family have tried to couch it in terms that "well, it's better than nothing." No, in fact, it's not.

Let's say you have a chronic disease that can be fatal if left untreated. Let's call it, "Debtis Entitlementitis." You have another problem we'll call "Healthus Carus" that you need to solve. If you take the wrong medication for Healthus Carus, it can make you forget about your Debtis Entitlementitis in the short term, but it will actually cripple you in 5-10 years by exacerbating every problem you have including Healthus Carus, Oldus Takecareofus, Roadus Paveus, Poorus CantaffordusPleasa Dontkillus, etc.

This is what Congress just did. Sure, a lot of people can feel better--but the underlying condition of debt has been made worse and, consequently, Congress and Obama made the problem more intractable than it already was.

It's not conjecture and it's not partisan: it's math. We have committed ourselves to spending much more money that we have. Indeed, according to GAO estimates in the 2008 Financial Report of the United States, our entitlement spending in the infinite horizon--that is, everything we've promised to pay so far--is $101.8 trillion. Yes, that's trillion. (cf. Table 6, pdf page 143; report page 137)

That's seven times the economic output of the entire United States in a given year. No, not our tax revenue--our entire economic output. To call this situation "unsustainable" is to understate the case to tragicomic levels.

Blame Bush. Blame FDR. Blame whomever you like--but the fact of the matter is our entitlement spending is going to bankrupt us. We can either address it like adults and treat the problem, or we can act like children and foolishly pretend the problem will go away by itself without ever having to face the consequences.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Yglesias to Me: How Stupid Are You?


Oh Hai! 

you're probably looking for Matt's new digs at Slate, which can be found here. I noticed a recent uptick of hits on this post because people are Googling "Yglesias Slate" and come here. You can read on if you like, but to me this is a dead issue and I'd just as soon you read other more recent blog posts of mine as opposed to this one.

That said, I'm writing this addendum before the post to set a few things straight:

Matt and I are cool. We're not going for ice cream together any time in the forseeable future, but this was a spat from nearly two years ago because neither of us was feeling particularly charitable toward the other. I didn't understand where his unspoken shift from businessman meaning 'business owner' to businessman meaning 'rent-seeking Master of the Universe' was and the subsequent placement of nominally anti-immigrant condescension in the MOTU was somewhat unfair, but I overstated it. Likewise, he has a tendency to bite the heads off trolls on Twitter now and again, so it's totally understandable that he reacted the way he did.

Thanks for stopping by. JPB

So, in the mess that was the Health Care vote last night, I was checking Twitter for the various 140 character reax from conservatives, liberals and libertarians whom I follow. I noticed a tweet from Tim Carney referencing a post on rent-seeking earlier in the day from Matt Yglesias, late of the Atlantic and now a blogger at ThinkProgress: (In its original entirety)

As long as we’re talking about intellectual influences, I thought I might talk about an idea that’s important to me that, as best I can tell, I thought up all by myself. I don’t want to claim that it’s actually original—and certainly one way to think about it is that it’s just public choice economics looked at through the other end of the telescope—but I didn’t read it anywhere.

This is an idea about the simple story you’ll find in your intro micro textbook about the behavior of a perfectly competitive market. The normal way people seem to react to this story is that people with right-wing views start talking about how bad government intervention is and people with left-wing views start talking about how unrealistic the assumptions underlying the model are. But another way is to think about it from the point of view of a businessman. This competitive market sure looks like a horrible place! You might make a living there, but you sure as hell aren’t going to get rich. Think of the immigrant family that owns the dry cleaning shop around the corner—long hours, hard work, modest income. That’s your capitalism and it pretty much sucks.

Obviously the whole reason to become a businessman in the first place is to get rich. Operating a business in a competitive marketplace is for suckers, or immigrants with limited English ability. The whole name of the game is to do something else. Get a license for something. Get into a line of work with network effects. Win government contracts. Get your hands on some intellectual property. Become a monopoly. Find some barriers to entry. If you think about Bill Gates, who’s about as successful a businessman as they’ve got, and he’s doing a whole bunch of those things simultaneously. That’s how you get rich.

From a formal point of view, you could consider this a libertarian analysis. But I don’t think the formal aspects of ideology are very important, and it has relatively little to do with any concrete political program I see anyone trying to advance. And to me it suggests that people overrate tax cuts as a means to spur capitalistic growth.
Having read this--and not really knowing what to make of it--I tweeted:
Shorter @mattyglesias: Working immigrants' life "pretty much sucks" || wonder why they don't all leave then? #opportunity
As befits an Ivy League educated journo/talking head, Yglesias picked up and responded with the title of this post. Stay classy, Matt.

Given that we have a number of mutual friends and that my few brief personal encounters with him have been generally positive, I have developed a certain respect for Yglesias. I don't agree with what he says more often than not, but usually his writing is thoughtful and I have learned from him.

But the post I reprinted above is simply garbage, and well beneath him. Despite my deficiencies, I would like to flesh out my thoughts on the post.

The first paragraph sets no discernible tone for the piece. It's simply superfluous, but I'm as guilty as anyone for writing my train of thought too literally and, additionally, working without strict editing constraints sometimes leads to sub-par posts. c'est la blogging.

In the second graf, Matt moves from banality to straw-man land. He couches his forthcoming argument about rent-seeking in political Left versus Right terms, but then puts the reader in the position of an entrepreneurial businessman and the narrative takes an unsettling turn: (again):
But another way is to think about it from the point of view of a businessman. This competitive market sure looks like a horrible place! You might make a living there, but you sure as hell aren’t going to get rich. Think of the immigrant family that owns the dry cleaning shop around the corner—long hours, hard work, modest income. That’s your capitalism and it pretty much sucks.

Obviously the whole reason to become a businessman in the first place is to get rich. Operating a business in a competitive marketplace is for suckers, or immigrants with limited English ability.
Maybe it's my aforementioned stupidity, but I don't see the argumentative value of the two swipes at immigrants. I have no reason to believe Yglesias is a quasi-nationalist American exceptionalist who views all fer'ners as the "other"--so I can only operate on the assumption that this implicit suckers/immigrants comparison is projected upon the business owner.

As my tweet implied, the immigrants of limited English capacity are probably, in fact, very grateful for the opportunities this country gives them and for the opportunities they could pass on to their children. Yet, I fail to see how their national origin would in any way differentiate their motivations for busting their asses and providing for their families from the businessman in whose mind Yglesias puts his readers. I don't think my father and his now-deceased brothers began a janitorial and security service with the expectations they were going to become the next Brinks or join the ranks of those numerous millionaire janitors that pepper the country. Of course, there is nothing wrong with wanting to be "rich," but I don't think most entrepreneurs start businesses with greatly exaggerated expectations of wealth. After all, the harsh realities would set in rather quickly and all non-millionaire-making ventures would probably fold in short order once the owner realized that so much time, work, and energy was necessary to simply provide for his family and make the lives of his customers and employees better.

I don't know Matt well enough to understand his intentions for projecting this disdain for the sucker/fer'ner into the mind of your average American businessman. One could read either he actually does think their life sucks or that entrepreneurs look down their noses at them. Either way, I don't see what it has to do with anything, and that he did it twice is just odd

I agree that rent-seeking is bad, but your average entrepreneur never gets to the monopolist/professional rent-seeker status he alludes to. Indeed, one has to first attain more than moderate success to influence the government in the ways Matt describes--thus undercutting the crux of whatever argument he was trying to make.

And to that end, the last graf doesn't clarify what exactly that point was. Um, tax cuts? Disparaging the immigrants who work tirelessly to make a demonstrably better life in America than they had in their native country is a novel way of criticizing tax policy, I'll grant you, but hardly illuminating.

The post was crap, and apparently I'm stupid for saying so. Can anyone explain to me what sublime brilliance--or, I'd settle for a cogent point, actually--I missed in his post?