Quotulatiousness

January 11, 2013

The old left, the new left, and the late Howard Zinn

Filed under: History, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 14:13

In Reason, Thaddeus Russell reviews a recent book on the life of historian Howard Zinn:

There was once a radical left in the United States. Back then, it was common to hear on college campuses and in respectable left-wing publications that liberals and the Democratic Party were the enemies of freedom, justice, and the people. Democratic politicians who expanded welfare programs and championed legislation that aided labor unions were nonetheless regarded as racists, totalitarians, and mass murderers for their reluctance to defend the civil rights of African Americans, for their collusion with capitalists, for their use of police powers to repress dissent, and for their imperialist, war-making policies. There was widespread left-wing rejection of the liberal claim that government was good, and many leftists spoke of and stood for a thing they called liberty.

There was no better exemplar of that thoroughgoing, anti-statist left than Howard Zinn, the author of A People’s History of the United States, whose death in 2010 was preceded by a life of activism and scholarship devoted to what could be called libertarian socialism. It is difficult to read Martin Duberman’s sympathetic but thoughtful biography, Howard Zinn: A Life on the Left, without lamenting how different Zinn and his ilk were from what now passes for an alternative political movement in this country. And for those of us with an interest in bridging the left and libertarianism, the book will also serve as a painful reminder of what once seemed possible. Howard Zinn’s life was a repudiation of the politics of the age of Obama.

[. . .]

Zinn was deeply influenced by anarchists, and this anti-statism kept him from doing what most of the left has been doing of late — identifying with the holders of state power. Some of Zinn’s friends, Duberman writes, resented his “never speaking well of any politician.” When many considered John F. Kennedy to be a champion of black civil rights, Zinn declared that the president had done only enough for the movement “to keep his image from collapsing in the eyes of twenty million Negroes.” Going farther, Zinn argued that African Americans should eschew involvement with any state power, and even counseled against a campaign for voting rights. “When Negroes vote, they will achieve as much power as the rest of us have — which is very little.” Instead, they should create “centers of power” outside government agencies from which to pressure authorities.

This week in Guild Wars 2

Filed under: Gaming — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 12:14

My weekly Guild Wars 2 community round-up at GuildMag is now online. What seems to be transfixing the community commentariat is pinning down the exact meaning of the word “expansion” plus the usual assortment of blog posts, videos, podcasts, and fan fiction from around the GW2 community.

In praise of mergers and takeovers

Filed under: Business, Economics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:15

In The Register, Tim Worstall points out that most mergers lose money, but that they’re good for the economy anyway:

The final one of the four is the vital part that takeovers play in the clean up of the economy’s failures. Take a company that goes bust. The whole point of bankruptcy proceedings is to make sure that its assets aren’t then left, orphaned, or chained to an unpayable debt. The idea is to get them off into someone else’s hands where they might be put to good use. This is true of contracts, or the workforce, of the land and any other asset. It might be that the machinery is worth most as scrap. Or the factory is worth most as a supermarket. Or it could be that the OS coders and their desks would be best put to writing games: but under different management.

And it’s this last part of the whole system that our economists think is the most important. When failure happens, the vital thing is to clean up the mess and quickly. Don’t leave potentially useful assets orphaned but auction them off and get them working again. The price that is realised doesn’t matter very much at all: from the view of the entire economy, getting people and assets back to work pronto is the vital part. So important is this that we’re urged to overlook all of the above problems with takeovers and mergers to allow this part of it to function as efficiently as possible.

Yes, most takeovers lose money for the shareholders of the company doing the buying. This is often because the interests of the management diverge from those of those owners. Similarly, many companies are kept running longer than they should be for those selfish management reasons. But we put up with all of that (although try to constrain it) so that the scavenging upon the assets of the bankrupt can be as efficient as possible. For this is the very heart of the success of capitalism: Not how the successful make profits, but how the system deals quickly and cleanly with failure.

British forces to replace venerable Browning 9mm with new Glocks

Filed under: Britain, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:22

Lewis Page on the recently announced retirement of the Browning 9mm from British military service:

The new pistol is the Glock 17 Gen4, which fires the same NATO standard 9x19mm cartridge as its illustrious predecessor. However the Glock holds 17 rounds as opposed to the Browning’s 13 — and even more crucially the new weapon can be carried with a round in the chamber ready to shoot at a moment’s notice due to its modern safety mechanisms, a practice which was normally forbidden with the Browning.

[. . .]

The now superseded weapon was designed way back in the 1920s by the legendary weapons engineer John Browning and first manufactured by Fabrique Nationale of Belgium in 1935. It was known commercially as the “Browning Hi-Power”. It was first issued to British forces during World War II, and gradually replaced all other pistols then in service to become the UK’s standard military sidearm. In its day it was a great weapon, and pistol design has evolved only incrementally since then, but today’s handguns are measurably superior and it was surely time for a change — the more so as the existing Brownings must have been pretty worn out by now.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have enabled the British forces to slowly and belatedly sort out their dire personal-weapons situation of the 1990s. The crappy Royal Ordnance/BAE Systems SA80 (L85A1) rifle was rebuilt in German factories so that it is now a good weapon, and proper belt-fed light machine guns and 40mm grenade launchers were procured. Other popular pieces of kit such as the L115A1 sniper rifle (from the famous Portsmouth firm Accuracy International, perhaps better known under its commercial name Arctic Warfare Super Magnum), the new combat shotgun and the new 7.62mm Sharpshooter rifle have also appeared in response to battlefield needs. Now with the new Glocks, at last, pretty much all the personal weapons carried by British troops today can be said to be first-class.

The Browning 9mm was first handgun I ever fired, and is still one of my favourites:

Public choice theory is neither Left nor Right

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Economics, Government — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

In his obituary for the late James Buchanan, Radley Balko debunks the meme that public choice theory — of which Buchanan was one of the founding fathers — is by nature anti-left:

The discrepancy struck me at the time, and has stuck with me ever since. Buchanan’s work is often seen on the right as a critique of the left’s faith in public service. He showed that like everyone else, public servants tend to serve their own interests, not necessarily the interests of the greater public good. When a new federal agency is created to address some social ill, for example, there’s a strong incentive for the employees of that agency to never completely solve the problem they’ve been hired to solve. To do so would mean there would no longer be a need for their agency. It would mean layoffs, smaller budgets, even elimination entirely. In fact, there’s a strong incentive to exaggerate the problem, if not even exacerbate it. The agency itself is never going to get blamed for the problem. So exaggerating it helps the agency argue for more staff and a larger budget. (Thus, Milton Friedman’s axiom, “Nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program.”)

It doesn’t even need to be a deliberate thing. When your livelihood, your self-worth, and your career depend on things looking a certain way, there’s always going to be a strong incentive for you to see them that way.

Conservatives have always bought into public choice theory when it comes to paper-pushing bureaucrats. But when it come to law enforcement, they often have the same sort of blind faith in the good intentions and public-mindedness of public servants that the left has for, say, EPA bureaucrats. But public choice problems are as prevalent in law enforcement as they are in any other field of government work. And you could make a strong argument that it’s more important that we recognize and compensate for the incentive problems among cops and prosecutors because the consequences of bad decisions can be quite a bit more dire.

If we reward prosecutors who rack up convictions with reelection, higher office, and high-paying jobs at white-shoe law firms, and at the same time provide no real sanction or punishment when they break the rules in pursuit of those convictions, we shouldn’t be surprised if we start to see a significant number of wrongful convictions. If we reward cops who rack up impressive raw arrest numbers with promotions and pay raises, and at the same time don’t punish or sanction cops who violate the civil and constitutional rights of the people who live in the communities they serve, we shouldn’t be surprised if we start to see a significant number of cops more interested in detaining and arresting people than in protecting the rights of the citizens they encounter on their patrols. We can certainly hope that a sense of civic virtue and veneration for justice will override those misplace incentives, but it would be foolish — and has been foolish — for us to rely on that. Incentives do matter.

Any time I link to an article, it’s assumed that I suggest you read the whole thing. In this case, it’s a very strong recommendation that you read the whole thing.

« « Reason.tv: 5 Facts About Guns, Schools, And Violence| British forces to replace venerable Browning 9mm with new Glocks » »

Powered by WordPress