January 13, 2018

Everyone You Love Did Drugs

Filed under: History, Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 06:00

Published on 12 Jan 2018

It turns out that a lot of accomplished, well-respected historical figures did drugs. From Winston Churchill taking amphetamines to Thomas Edison lacing his wine with cocaine, not everyone who uses narcotics is a hopeless basket case living in a dumpster. While some drug users spiral into addiction and crime, others go on to become president. It’s time to debunk the age old stereotypes of the back alley dangerous dealer or the lazy stoner when, according to the National Survey on Drug Use, roughly half of all Americans have tried an illegal drug.

In the latest “Mostly Weekly” host Andrew Heaton breaks down the cartoonish Drug Warrior portrayal of drugs by showing some of the beloved historical figures who used them.

The common factor of the Net Neutrality fight and the EpiPen price gouging scandal

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Economics, Government, Health, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Lili Carneglia explains what these two examples of “capitalist excess” are actually the result of regulatory failures:

Without net neutrality, regulations that prevent internet service providers (ISPs) from charging more for priority speeds and higher bandwidth-use sites would disappear. Most Americans are pretty confused by the revised rules but highly skeptical that this action could have any benefits. Many people, especially those living in the rural south where choices are limited, feel like these companies have been taking advantage of their customers for years, and loosening regulatory constraints on these companies seems like a terrible idea.

Net neutrality was a regulatory policy set under the Obama administration in 2015 that mandated ISPs to treat the internet like other utilities, such as highways and railroads, under laws established before most people had TVs. Under these rules, companies must act as neutral gateways to the internet without controlling the content or the speed of the content that passes through that gateway. Supporters of the rule argue that these regulations ensure the free flow of information, while those against the policy see net neutrality as a misapplication that stifles an industry that is more dynamic than other public utilities.


Yes, a handful of industry giants can and have abused their market power. Most consumers have limited ISPs to choose from in a given area, and options are more limited outside of big cities, where “three-quarters of American homes have no competitive choice for the essential infrastructure for 21st-century economics and democracy,” according to the former FCC chairman Tom Wheeler. It is important to consider how these circumstances came about before deciding that federal regulation might help consumers.

Governments, by and large, prefer to have fewer players in a given market as it makes that market easier to regulate, and the easiest market to regulate is a monopoly. When cable networks were beginning to spread across North America, many local governments were persuaded that a single cable provider would be the best option for their jurisdiction and the broadband internet market that came later was heavily shaped by the already carved-up markets for cable TV. For many, there were no competitive options because the local government had precluded the chance of competition for their already entrenched cable monopoly (or, in a few cases, tight oligopoly).

Competition is the best answer to monopolistic abuse of customers … if you get shitty service from the Blue Cable Company, you’ll be more likely to switch to the Red Cable Company. If you only have Red and Blue to choose from, your leverage is small, but if you have a full rainbow of competing options, Red and Blue are forced to make their services at least comparable to what Orange and Pink and Magenta are offering, or they lose too many customers. If there’s no threat of a competitor scooping up unhappy customers, there’s no incentive for the existing company to do more than the absolute minimum to keep customer complaints down to a dull roar. The customer’s only recourse — other than giving up the service or moving to a different jurisdiction — is to complain to the regulator.

The base problem with Mylan’s EpiPen price gouging is the same: an effective monopoly supported by the government:

The arguments against net neutrality repeals center around fears about what producers will do without regulation since they have significant market power and the ability to raise prices to levels that would not be sustainable under more competitive conditions. The concern about increased internet prices is similar to what happened in 2016 when a pharmaceutical company with market power, Mylan, increased the price of life-saving EpiPens by about 400 percent.

The “greedy” pharmaceutical companies were hung out to dry as Congress berated Mylan representatives in hearing after hearing. There were similar cries of outrage and demands that the federal government do something to prevent such selfish price-gouging, similar to what many consumers fear ISPs will do absent regulations.

Even (supposed) free-market advocates started supporting further regulation during the EpiPen debate. Most notably, then fiscal hawk representative and now Trump budget director Mick Mulvaney, defended further market intervention on the condition that, “If you want to come to the state capitols and lobby us to make us buy your stuff, this is what you get. You get a level of scrutiny and a level of treatment that would ordinarily curl my hair.”

However, in all of those hearings, almost no one bothered to unearth the problem that Mulvaney hinted at: Why was Mylan able to increase that price in the first place? Government intervention. Burdensome FDA regulations and other laws pressuring public schools to buy the drug essentially granted Mylan a monopoly. It was as misguided then as it is now to think that these same institutions can be trusted to clean up the mess they created.

Mylan had no effective competition, so there was nothing to stop the price gouging until it got so bad that even the regulator had to pay attention. If there were other pharmaceutical companies allowed to compete, do you think Mylan would have risked jacking up the price only to watch their competitors gaining market share?

Scott Alexander explained the Mylan monopoly quite expansively in 2016.

Prologue 1 Cuban Missile Crisis – The Cold War Begins

Filed under: Americas, Military, Russia, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 17 Oct 2017

This series follows the Cuban Missile Crisis day, by day. In this initial prologue we explore some of the background to the crisis. During the 1950s the ideological divide between totalitarian Communism and democratic capitalism pits the USSR against the US as both super powers try to expand their sphere of influence. In parallel a series of misunderstandings and false assumptions heats up the nuclear arms race and sees the US pull further ahead of the USSR in military dominance. The increasing pressure on both sides eventually brings them head to head during several covert operations, proxy wars and, direct confrontations including the Berlin Crisis and eventually the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Actors and public morality

Filed under: History, Media, Religion, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Jonah Goldberg on the differences in the way actors were viewed historically and today:

It may be hard for some people to get the joke these days, but for most of human history, actors were considered low-class. They were akin to carnies, grifters, hookers, and other riffraff. In ancient Rome, actors were often slaves. In feudal Japan, Kabuki actors were sometimes available to the theatergoers as prostitutes — a practice not uncommon among theater troupes in the American Wild West.

In 17th century England, France, and America, theaters were widely considered dens of iniquity, turpitude, and crapulence. Under Oliver Cromwell’s Puritan dictatorship, the theaters were forced to close to improve moral hygiene. The Puritans of New England did likewise. A ban on theaters in Connecticut imposed in 1800 stayed on the books until 1952.

Partly out of a desire to develop a wartime economy, partly out of disdain for the grubbiness of the stage, the first Continental Congress in 1774 proclaimed, “We will, in our several stations, … discountenance and discourage every species of extravagance and dissipation, especially all horse-racing, and all kinds of gaming, cock-fighting, exhibitions of shews [sic], plays, and other expensive diversions and entertainments.”


The most recent Golden Globes ceremony has already been excoriated for being a veritable geyser of hypocritical effluvia, as the same crowd that not long ago bowed and scraped to serial harasser and accused rapist Harvey Weinstein, admitted child rapist Roman Polanski, and that modern Caligula, Bill Clinton, congratulated itself for its own moral superiority.

The interesting question is: Why have movie stars and other celebrities become an aristocracy of secular demigods? It seems to me an objective fact that virtually any other group of professionals plucked at random from the Statistical Abstract of the United States — nuclear engineers, plumbers, grocers, etc. — are more likely to model decent moral behavior in their everyday lives. Indeed, it is a bizarre inconsistency in the cartoonishly liberal ideology of Hollywood that the only super-rich people in America reflexively assumed to be morally superior are people who pretend to be other people for a living.

I think part of the answer has to do with the receding of religion from public life. As a culture, we’ve elevated “authenticity” to a new form of moral authority. We look to our feelings for guidance. Actors, as a class, are feelings merchants. While they may indeed be “out of touch” with the rest of America from time to time, actors are adept at being in touch with their feelings. And for some unfathomably stupid reason, we now think that puts us beneath them.

Fast Food – Would You Like Capitalism With That? I THE COLD WAR

Filed under: Business, Economics, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 8 Jul 2015

A city that is not plastered with branches of US Fast Food chains is a rare sight nowadays. That wasn’t always the case. Fast Food, as we know it today, is a child of the economic boom after World War 2. Taking your new car for a ride to the Drive-In restaurant and getting a fresh burger; that’s the American Dream right there. Ultimately the concept of identical taste and identical manufacturing steps is one thing: pure capitalism. Food chains keep wages and costs as low as possible and that is why Fast Food is not nearly as glamorous today as it once was. So put down that Hamburger and find out all about the history of Fast Food with Guy on IT’S HISTORY.

Big Mac Index: http://bit.ly/TheBIGMACIndex

QotD: Occupational licensing

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Quotations, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

When my mother retired from selling real estate, she toyed with the idea that she — a talented cook who had long made her own croissants — might make a little money on the side by selling homemade baked goods. It’s the sort of business that people have started from time immemorial, letting them share what they love with someone willing to pay for it.

A quick investigation, however, revealed that the thing was impossible. You can’t just bake a little stuff at home and sell it, for fear that you might poison people. If you want to poison people with your deliciously flaky homemade croissants, it must be done on a strictly ad-hoc, volunteer basis.

Welcome to the modern economy, where increasingly, everything not compulsory is forbidden. We are hedged around with rules to protect us, to protect other people, to protect some theoretical victim who exists only in the minds of regulators and judges. And there’s reason to worry that this red tape is getting wrapped so tight that it risks rendering us immobile.

I’m not talking about environmental regulations, or even the labor regulations that make it increasingly expensive and burdensome to employ people. Today I’m talking about occupational licensing, and the burden it places on people who want to build a career.

Megan McArdle, “You’re Gonna Need a License for That”, Bloomberg View, 2016-05-17.

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