August 20, 2015

Frédéric Bastiat

Filed under: Economics, Europe, History — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Lawrence W. Reed makes the case for Frédéric Bastiat to be awarded a Nobel Prize … if they awarded them posthumously, anyway:

If a posthumous Nobel Prize was awarded for crystal-clear writing and masterful storytelling in economics, no one would be more deserving of it than Frédéric Bastiat (June 30, 1801–December 24, 1850). He set the standard over a century and a half ago.

This remarkable Frenchman was an economist in more than the traditional sense. He understood the way the economic world works, and he knew better than anybody how to explain it with an economy of words. He employed everyday language and a conversational tone, an innate clarity that flowed from his logical and orderly presentation. Nothing he wrote was stilted, artificial, or pompous. He was concise and devastatingly to the point. To this day, nobody can read Bastiat and wonder, “Now what was that all about?”

Economic writing these days can be dull and lifeless, larded with verbosity and presumptuous mathematics. Bastiat proved that economics doesn’t have to be that way: the core truths of the science can be made lively and unforgettable. In literature, we think of good storytelling as an art and stories as powerful tools for understanding. Bastiat could tell a story that stabbed you with its brilliance. If your misconceptions were his target, his stories could leave you utterly, embarrassingly disarmed.

If you aspire to be an economist or a policy maker or a teacher or just an influential communicator, take time to study at the feet of this 19th-century master.

One of the slickest marketing campaigns of our time

Filed under: Environment, Europe, Health, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

In Forbes, Henry I. Miller and Drew L. Kershen explain why they think organic farming is, as they term it, a “colossal hoax” that promises far more than it can possibly deliver:

Consumers of organic foods are getting both more and less than they bargained for. On both counts, it’s not good.

Many people who pay the huge premium — often more than 100% — for organic foods do so because they’re afraid of pesticides. If that’s their rationale, they misunderstand the nuances of organic agriculture. Although it’s true that synthetic chemical pesticides are generally prohibited, there is a lengthy list of exceptions listed in the Organic Foods Production Act, while most “natural” ones are permitted. However, “organic” pesticides can be toxic. As evolutionary biologist Christie Wilcox explained in a 2012 Scientific American article (“Are lower pesticide residues a good reason to buy organic? Probably not.”): “Organic pesticides pose the same health risks as non-organic ones.”

Another poorly recognized aspect of this issue is that the vast majority of pesticidal substances that we consume are in our diets “naturally” and are present in organic foods as well as non-organic ones. In a classic study, UC Berkeley biochemist Bruce Ames and his colleagues found that “99.99 percent (by weight) of the pesticides in the American diet are chemicals that plants produce to defend themselves.” Moreover, “natural and synthetic chemicals are equally likely to be positive in animal cancer tests.” Thus, consumers who buy organic to avoid pesticide exposure are focusing their attention on just one-hundredth of 1% of the pesticides they consume.

Some consumers think that the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) requires certified organic products to be free of ingredients from “GMOs,” organisms crafted with molecular techniques of genetic engineering. Wrong again. USDA does not require organic products to be GMO-free. (In any case, the methods used to create so-called GMOs are an extension, or refinement, of older techniques for genetic modification that have been used for a century or more.)

How Buildings Learn – Stewart Brand – 4 of 6 – “Unreal Estate”

Filed under: Randomness, Technology — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 10 Jun 2012

This six-part, three-hour, BBC TV series aired in 1997. I presented and co-wrote the series; it was directed by James Muncie, with music by Brian Eno.

The series was based on my 1994 book, HOW BUILDINGS LEARN: What Happens After They’re Built. The book is still selling well and is used as a text in some college courses. Most of the 27 reviews on Amazon treat it as a book about system and software design, which tells me that architects are not as alert as computer people. But I knew that; that’s part of why I wrote the book.

Anybody is welcome to use anything from this series in any way they like. Please don’t bug me with requests for permission. Hack away. Do credit the BBC, who put considerable time and talent into the project.

Historic note: this was one of the first television productions made entirely in digital— shot digital, edited digital. The project wound up with not enough money, so digital was the workaround. The camera was so small that we seldom had to ask permission to shoot; everybody thought we were tourists. No film or sound crew. Everything technical on site was done by editors, writers, directors. That’s why the sound is a little sketchy, but there’s also some direct perception in the filming that is unusual.

It’s safe to come out now … the “libertarian moment” is over

Filed under: Liberty, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Well, that’s what the Washington Post says anyway. Reason‘s Nick Gillespie disagrees:

There’s no question that Rand Paul’s presidential campaign has hit a soft patch. He got the least amount of air time in the first GOP debate and his numbers have been slipping for a long time. I’ve been critical of some of his positions over the past few months but Weigel quotes me this way:

    “It’s a mistake to conflate Rand Paul’s electoral success with that of the libertarian moment,” said Nick Gillespie, the editor of Reason.com. (Disclosure: I worked for Reason from 2006 to 2008.) “Rand Paul’s high visibility is better understood as a consequence of the libertarian moment than its cause. There’s a reason why he’s been at his most electrifying and popular precisely when he is at his most libertarian: calling out the surveillance state, for instance, and leading the charge against reckless interventions in Syria and Libya.”

Libertarians such as Lawson Bader, president of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and David Boaz, vice president of The Cato Institute, note that on fronts such as gay marriage, pot legalization, gun rights, criminal justice reform, general distrust of government, and more, things are going in the libertarian direction.

Full Weigel/Post piece here.

More important, broad indicators that Americans prefer social tolerance and fiscal responsibility continue to grow:

    According to a composite index of libertarian views on social and economic issues developed by pollsters at CNN, something clearly is afoot. The pollsters look at whether people believe that government is trying to do too many things individuals should be doing and whether or not people think government should enforce a particular set of morals. In 1992, the index of libertarian belief stood at 92 points. It’s now at 113 points. Virtually all surveys show trends of people thinking the government is doing too much, is incompetent or untrustworthy, or represents a larger threat to the future than big labor or big business.

As Matt Welch and I argued in The Declaration of Independents, politics is and always will be a “crippled, lagging indicator” of where the country is trendng.

It certainly doesn’t help that the American political scene has been rigged in so many different ways to be a duopoly of the two major parties … very few political issues are binary, yet that is the only way American voters are presented with a “choice” every election. Vote for the Red Faction of the Boot-on-your-neck party … or vote for the Blue Faction of the Boot-on-your-neck party. No matter who you choose, the government always gets in.

QotD: Defining “social justice”

Filed under: Media, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Still, though, what is social justice? That’s harder to figure out. Indeed, one of the fascinating aspects of “social justice” is that it sounds so pleasing and innocuous, a term any politician can use in a speech or signing statement. But each time someone tries to define it, the idea becomes more radical. The Green party is one of the few organizations that get into specifics, and its platform goes on for pages and pages delineating what “social justice” means — everything from “a commitment to ending poverty” through “welfare” to “open dialogue among all residents of Hawai’i on the sovereignty option of full independence.”

Meanwhile, a major report from the United Nations insists that “social justice is not possible without strong and coherent redistributive policies conceived and implemented by public agencies.” Typical U.N. statism? Perhaps, but it’s downright Jeffersonian compared with the more concentrated and pernicious asininity to follow. The U.N. warns: “Present-day believers in an absolute truth identified with virtue and justice are neither willing nor desirable companions for the defenders of social justice.” Translation: If you actually believe in the antiquated notion that rights exist outside the schemes of governments and social planners, then you are not part of the global effort to promote goodness.

I don’t have space here to detail the intellectual history of the term, but the sad irony of its birth is worth noting. In 1840, the theologian Luigi Taparelli d’Azeglio came up with the concept as a way to defend civil society from the ever-increasing intrusions of the state. Social justice, according to Taparelli, was the legitimate realm of justice beyond formal legal justice. Since then, the term has become completely inverted: “Social justice” has become an abracadabra phrase granting the state access to every nook and cranny of life.

The reason Hayek refers to the “mirage of social justice” is quite simple: There’s no such thing. “Only situations that have been created by human will can be called just or unjust. . . . Social justice,” Hayek concludes, “does not belong to the category of effort but that of nonsense, like the term ‘a moral stone.'” The assertion that high unemployment is “unjust” is dangerously misleading nonsense. Justice creates a claim on others. So who is being unjust? The employers who cannot afford more workers? The consumers who refuse to create enough demand to justify more workers? The government, for not raising taxes to pay for labor that isn’t needed? Social justice is based on rights — social rights, economic rights, etc. — that cannot be enforced in a free society. It’s like saying “Let the market decide” in North Korea.

The only way for social justice to make sense is if you operate from the assumption that the invisible hand of the market should be amputated and replaced with the very visible hand of the state. In other words, each explicit demand for social justice carries with it the implicit but necessary requirement that the state do the fixing. And a society dedicated to the pursuit of perfect social justice must gradually move more and more decisions under the command of the state, until it is the sole moral agent.

Jonah Goldberg, excerpt from The Tyranny of Clichés, published by National Review, 2012-04-22.

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