Quotulatiousness

April 14, 2014

QotD: Collard’s Law

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Humour, Quotations — Tags: — Nicholas Russon @ 07:08

Given enough funding and little accountability, any organisation tends to look like a shit copy of the public sector.

Lewis Collard, in a comment on ESR’s Google+ post, 2014-04-13

April 11, 2014

Virginia bans campus “free speech zones”

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:51

The way the fight for free speech has been going, you might be forgiven for reading that headline as “Virginia bans free speech”, but fortunately it’s actually a significant improvement in the right of university students to speak freely:

On Friday, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe signed a bill into law effectively designating outdoor areas on the Commonwealth’s public college campuses as public forums, where student speech is subject only to reasonable, content- and viewpoint-neutral time, place, and manner restrictions. Under this new law, college students at Virginia’s public universities will not be limited to expressing themselves in tiny “free speech zones” or subject to unreasonable registration requirements.

HB 258, championed by its lead patron Delegate Scott Lingamfelter, passed both houses of the Virginia General Assembly unanimously. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) urged the passage of the bill and testified on behalf of the legislation in hearings in both legislative houses.

“FIRE thanks Governor McAuliffe, Delegate Lingamfelter, and all of Virginia’s delegates and senators for coming together and supporting this legislation,” said FIRE Legislative and Policy Director Joe Cohn. “One in six public colleges in the United States unjustly restricts student speech with free speech zones. Thanks to this new law, public institutions in Virginia will no longer be among them.”

Restricting student speech to tiny “free speech zones” diminishes the quality of debate and discussion on campus by preventing expression from reaching its target audience. Often, institutions that maintain these restrictive policies also employ burdensome permitting schemes that require students to obtain administrative permission days or even weeks before being allowed to speak their minds. Even worse, many of these policies grant campus administrators unfettered discretion to deny applications based on the viewpoint or content of the speakers’ intended message.

April 9, 2014

QotD: “Perhaps being a boy is a learning disorder”

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Health, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

… more children are being diagnosed with “autism spectrum disorders” than ever, specifically that diagnoses have gone from one in about a hundred and fifty to about one in sixty eight. A lot of these diagnoses are for children with extremely mild Aspergers, right at the borderline between normal (whatever that is) and Aspergers. Now this may be a result of more people suffering from ASD’s, especially extremely mild Aspergers, as a result of cumulative mutations and pregnant women being exposed to environmental risks. Or it could be that ever since the Fed’s started throwing money at diagnosing and providing educational services for kids with ASD’s they have become the diagnoses de jour. In fact, it is worth noting that since the Feds started throwing more money at ASD’s and less at ADD and ADHD the number of children diagnosed with the former has increased and the latter two decreased. Apparently getting more Federal funding causes learning/psychological disorders and getting funding cut cures them.

That or educators are blowing off the needs of kids with disorders that are not “getting the love.” My own personal opinion is that favored problems get over-diagnosed and those not blessed with Fed money get under-diagnosed. Shame on the education establishment either way.

It should also be noted that whichever disorder is getting attention it seems to hit males about four times as often as females. In fact, it seems that a lot of the descriptors of symptoms for various ASD’s and ADD read like pretty normal behavior for boys.

Perhaps being a boy is a learning disorder (there’s a large number of females who would nod their head in agreement with this thesis).

A.X. Perez, “Old News Interpreted”, Libertarian Enterprise, 2014-04-06

April 7, 2014

US government data security failures

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:02

David Gewirtz says that the press has totally mis-reported the scale of government security breaches:

Summary: This is one of those articles that spoils your faith in mankind. Not only are government security incidents fully into holy-cow territory, the press is reporting numbers three magnitudes too low because someone misread a chart and everyone else copied that report.

You might think this was an April Fool’s gag, except it was published on April 2nd, not April 1st.

According to testimony given by Gregory C. Wilshusen [PDF], Director of Information Security Issues for the Government Accountability Office to United States Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs that, and I quote, “most major federal agencies had weaknesses in major categories of information security controls.”

In other words, some government agency data security functions more like a sieve than a lockbox.

Some of the data the GAO presented was deeply disturbing. For example, the number of successful breaches doubled since 2009. Doubled. There’s also a story inside this story, which I’ll discuss later in the article. Almost all of the press reporting on this testimony got the magnitude of the breach wrong. Most reported that government security incidents numbered in the thousands, when, in fact, they numbered in the millions.

Emphasis mine. Here are the actual numbers:

Incidents involving personal identifying information grew from about 10.5 million in 2009 to over 25 million last year. By the way, some press reports on this misread the GAO’s charts. For example, the Washington Free Beacon wrote about this, claiming “25,566 incidents of lost taxpayer data, Social Security numbers, patient health information.” What they missed was the little notation on the chart that says “in thousands,” so when they reported 25,566 incidents, what that really reads as is 25,566 x 1000 incidents.

2014 GAO analysis of security breaches

This is an example of how the Internet echo chamber can get information very, very wrong. The Chicago Tribune, via Reuters reported the same incorrect statistic. So did InformationWeek. So did FierceHealthIT. Business Insider picked up the Reuters report and happily repeated the same statistic — which was three orders of magnitude incorrect.

This is why I always try to go to the original source material [PDF] and not just repeat the crap other writers are parroting. It’s more work, but it means the difference between reporting 25 thousand government breaches and 25 million government breaches. 25 thousand is disturbing. 25 million is horrifying.

March 30, 2014

State occupational licensing is out of control

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:58

Ramesh Ponnuru discusses some examples of ridiculous state occupational license requirements:

Melanie Armstrong wanted to be an African hair braider, practicing a skill passed down from generation to generation. In Tupelo, Mississippi, where she lived, government licensing rules meant she had to take 300 hours of course work to start her salon: 300 hours, she notes, “none of which covered hair braiding.”

In testimony before a U.S. House subcommittee on Wednesday, Armstrong explained that her “ultimate goal” was to teach others how to braid. Getting the needed licenses to do that would have taken 3,200 hours. None of them taught students how to braid hair, either. That’s more hours than it would have taken her to get licenses to become a firefighter, emergency medical technician, hunting instructor, ambulance driver or real estate appraiser. It’s longer than it would have taken her to get licenses for all those things combined.

The subcommittee — led by New Yorkers Richard Hanna, a Republican, and Grace Meng, a Democrat — was considering the excesses of state occupational licensing. More and more jobs fall under these regulations. In the 1950s, according to one study, only about one in 20 jobs required a license. By 2006, about 29 percent did.

While Armstrong helped get her state to scale back the requirements for hair braiders, the trend is toward more stringent regulation. Patti Morrow, who runs an organization fighting licensing for interior designers, says, “These bills come back year after year like zombies.”

March 17, 2014

Current US government programs actually increase income inequality

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:32

In the Washington Post, George Will says that we’ve learned nothing about helping the poor since Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s day:

Between 2000, when 17 million received food stamps, and 2006, food stamp spending doubled, even though unemployment averaged just 5.1 percent. A few states have food stamp recruiters. An award was given to a state agency for a plan to cure “mountain pride” that afflicts “those who wished not to rely on others.”

Nearly two-thirds of households receiving food stamps qualify under “categorical eligibility” because they receive transportation assistance or certain other welfare services. We spend $1 trillion annually on federal welfare programs, decades after Daniel Patrick Moynihan said that if one-third of the money for poverty programs was given directly to the poor, there would be no poor. But there also would be no unionized poverty bureaucrats prospering and paying dues that fund the campaigns of Democratic politicians theatrically heartsick about inequality.

The welfare state, primarily devoted to pensions and medical care for the elderly, aggravates inequality. Young people just starting up the earnings ladder and families in the child-rearing, tuition-paying years subsidize the elderly, who have had lifetimes of accumulation. Households headed by people age 75 and older have the highest median net worth of any age group.

In this sixth year of near-zero interest rates, the government’s monetary policy breeds inequality. Low rates are intended to drive liquidity into the stock market in search of higher yields. The resulting boom in equity markets — up 30 percent last year alone — has primarily benefited the 10 percent who own 80 percent of all directly owned stocks.

March 16, 2014

QotD: American “cheese”

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Europe, Health, Humour, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:05

Everyone thinks America Alone is about Islam and demography, but in fact it has a whole section in it on cheese, called “The Pasteurization is Prologue”. Page 181:

    I’ve never subscribed to that whole “cheese-eating surrender-monkey” sneer promoted by my National Review colleague Jonah Goldberg. As a neocon warmonger, I yield to no one in my contempt for the French, but, that said, cheese-wise I feel they have the edge.

    When I’m at the lunch counter in America and I order a cheeseburger and the waitress says, “American, Swiss or Cheddar?” I can’t tell the difference. They all taste of nothing. The only difference is that the slice of alleged Swiss is full of holes, so you’re getting less nothing for your buck. Then again, the holes also taste of nothing, and they’re less fattening. But, either way, cheese is not the battleground on which to demonstrate the superiority of the American way.

Most of the American cheeses bearing European names are bland rubbery eunuch versions of the real thing. I wouldn’t mind if this were merely the market at work, but it’s not. It’s the result of Big Government, of the Brieatollahs at the United States Department of Agriculture:

    In America, unpasteurized un-aged raw cheese that would be standard in any Continental fromagerie is banned. Americans, so zealous in defense of their liberties when it comes to guns, are happy to roll over for the nanny state when it comes to the cheese board… The French may be surrender monkeys on the battlefield, but they don’t throw their hands up and flee in terror just because the Brie’s a bit ripe. It’s the Americans who are the cheese-surrendering eating-monkeys — who insist, oh, no, the only way to deal with this sliver of Roquefort is to set up a rigorous ongoing Hans Blix-type inspections regime.

I’m not exaggerating about that. Nothing gets past their eyes, and everything gets pasteurized. That’s why American “cheesemakers” have to keep putting stuff into the “cheddar” — sun-dried tomatoes, red peppers, chocolate chips — to give it some taste, because the cheese itself has none. And, if you try to bring in anything that does taste of something, the US Government’s Brie Team Six seizes it:

    The US fate of the bright-orange, mild-tasting French cheese has been in jeopardy for months and the Food and Drug Administration has blocked all further imports.

    Why? Because US regulators determined the cantaloupe-like rind of the cheese was covered with too many cheese mites, even though the tiny bugs give mimolette its unique flavor.

    No formal ban has been put in place, but 1.5 tonnes (3,300 pounds) of cheese were blocked from being imported, and nothing is going through US customs.

“No formal ban has been put in place” — because that would involve legislators passing laws in a legislature and whatnot. So they just banned it anyway.

Mark Steyn, “Live Brie or Die!” SteynOnline.com, 2014-03-13

February 21, 2014

QotD: The unexpected benefit of government incompetence

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, Quotations, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 14:56

As Eugene McCarthy, of all people, observed: “The only thing that saves us from the bureaucracy is inefficiency. An efficient bureaucracy is the greatest threat to liberty.”

Luckily the United States is blessed with one of the most incompetent governments in the developed world. It isn’t simply that the Americans have a bloated government, it’s that they have a bloated government that accomplishes far less dollar for dollar than the bloated governments of other leading nations.

This is why Americans should have no fear of Canadian style socialized health care being imposed on them, their government isn’t smart enough to run it. That said Obamacare is turning out to be something that makes Canadian Medicare look like the Swiss Army. I grimly await the flood of American health care refugees trickling north of the 49th. That’s bad news for them and worse news for us. What kept the Canadian system semi-functional was the American escape hatch. If upper middle class Canadians can no longer sneak across to Buffalo, Burlington or Seattle for treatment, that puts more pressure on our system.

From time to time I’m asked why government is so incompetent. It’s such a truism among conservatives, libertarians and classical liberals that it’s rarely reflected upon. February is cold in Winnipeg, governments are generally incompetent. We accept these things perhaps too readily. The truism is true, but in assuming it so blithely we fail to communicate its importance to reasonable people who are uncommitted.

Richard Anderson, “The Incompetence of Evil Government”, The Gods of the Copybook Headings, 2014-02-20

February 19, 2014

NSA and DHS admit that parody is allowed after all

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Government — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:58

Julian Hattem reports that the NSA and the DHS have dropped their complaint about parody mugs that they initially claimed were violating some sort of “special legal protection” for certain US government agencies’ seals:

The NSA and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are abandoning their protests against a line of mugs, hats and shirts that mock official government insignia, settling a lawsuit filed by the consumer interest group Public Citizen on behalf of Dan McCall, a Minnesota activist who sold products poking fun at the government.

“This is an important win,” said Paul Levy, a Public Citizen lawyer involved in the case, in a statement on Tuesday. “Citizens shouldn’t have to worry whether criticizing government agencies will get them in trouble or not. This settlement proves the First Amendment is there to protect citizens’ rights to free speech.”

McCall’s site, LibertyManiacs.com, sold bumper stickers, shirts, hats and other goods featuring a series of parody images. One graphic featured the DHS seal with the words “Department of Homeland Stupidity.”

In 2011, the NSA and the DHS sent cease and desist letters to Zazzle, which printed McCall’s designs, claiming that the images violated special legal protections for the agencies’ official seals.

The LibertyManiacs site shows a selection of “Censored by” items on the front page (I imagine they’ll be getting quite a sales boost from this case):

LibertyManiacs front page

February 8, 2014

QotD: The defence ministry

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Humour, Military, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:14

The problem of the Ministry of Defence is that in peace time the three armed forces have no one on whom to vent their warlike instincts except the cabinet or each other.

Jonathan Lynn, “Yes Minister Series: Quotes from the dialogue”, JonathanLynn.com

February 4, 2014

Administration costs in higher education

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Law, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:27

Megan McArdle says that the meme about fast-rising tuition costs at university being driven primarily by the increase in administration staff isn’t the whole story:

Tim Burke, a Swarthmore professor who is also a top-notch (if insufficiently prolific) blogger, has penned a long post that is a very useful corrective to this complaint. It isn’t that the professors are wrong, exactly — administration has grown fantastically over the last 50 years. And empire building is undoubtedly some of the reason for this, because all organizations accumulate unnecessary mid-managerial retinues unless the leadership makes a regular effort to scrape off the supernumerary barnacles.

However, most of those administrators have been hired for two much simpler reasons: The faculty wanted to outsource their administrative responsibilities to professionals so they could focus more on teaching and research; and the demands placed on a university are much greater than they used to be.

I am not going to excerpt Burke’s piece because it is too multifaceted, and too good; you’ll just have to read the whole thing. He elaborates the many new things that administrators now do, from monitoring diversity to tending the mental health of the students. He touches on the legal changes that have made much of this administrative bloat into an expensive necessity, a sort of institutional immune system that defends against lawsuits. He also mentions the new regulations, like Title IX, that imply a whole new staff of people certifying that you have complied with their requirements.

February 3, 2014

The welfare trap

Filed under: Britain, Bureaucracy, Government — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:27

An older post by A Very British Dude discusses the real problem with most of the public welfare/income support/unemployment benefits in Britain, but the same argument applies to most Western countries:

So your taxes, about a third of which go to paying working-age benefits, about a third in pensions, and the rest, everything else are part of a decent society in which everyone’s helping everyone else. Or they would be if the system wasn’t comprehensively broken, failing at all the significant tasks the welfare state is supposed to achieve. The welfare state is supposed to prevent poverty. It is, in fact, its major cause.

The problem is one of incentives, and not just those faced by the poor themselves. It’s obvious to anyone who isn’t paid handsomely to farm the poor, that for many people, it’s simply irrational to work. Once they’ve paid for taxes, clothes, transport and lunch, they’re considerably worse off than they would have been had they stayed in their pyjamas and watched Jeremy Kyle. Why would you take a miserable, boring, unpleasant minimum wage job instead of existing on benefits? The job insecurity at the bottom of the pyramid and the bureaucratic complexity of informing the authorities of a ‘change in circumstance’ is a further barrier. So when when the low-waged is “let go” after a couple of weeks, he’s got to re-apply for Housing benefits, Job-seekers’ allowance, Council Tax Benefit, income support and so on, from scratch. He may be genuinely destitute as a result of payments stopped, then restarted again too late, thanks to an abortive effort to “do the right thing”. Is it really any wonder so many feel trapped?

So, who benefits from this system? Certainly not those getting the benefits many of whom are comprehensively trapped in a life they wouldn’t have chosen. Not the Children of those getting benefits, who learn no other life thanks to the distorted incentives faced by their parents, but in whose name the benefits are paid. Certainly not the people paying the bill, John Q. Taxpayer, who thanks to the system face a sullen and resentful underclass, some of whom spend their non-working lives looking for ways to relieve you of your easily saleable property in order to buy sufficient narcotics to break the tedium for a few hours.

The main benefit of the benefits system accrues to those employed on secure graduate salaries to administer the system. These people are the farmers of the poor. This is not just the civil servants and local government employees who administer the system, but also the charity employees who don’t see the homeless and destitute (they outsource this to unpaid volunteers). It’s the police who are part of the state-crushing of the spirit of the young who find themselves trapped in this hell. The that the poor exist at all causes fear in the hearts of the affluent, and justifies the need for a police force. The Bureaucracy is an excellent provider of jobs. Which is why none of the solutions suggested by the Left of the political spectrum would ever reduce bureaucacy or police numbers, or the benefits bill. For that would involve firing sub-paying members of Unite or the PCS, and Unite is by far the biggest funder of the Labour party.

H/T to Amy Alkon for the link.

Update: A useful reminder from Rob Fisher at Samizdata — inflation hits the poor much harder than anyone else.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies is pointing out that while poorer people are paying more for food and fuel, richer people are enjoying low interest rates. So government spending and borrowing and the artificially low interest rates that go along with that are harmful to poor people, as are taxes on fuel, and income tax on minimum wage earners, and countless other instances of state meddling.

Corruption in the EU

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Europe, Law — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:46

BBC News discusses a recent EU report on bribery and corruption in Europe:

The extent of corruption in Europe is “breathtaking” and it costs the EU economy at least 120bn euros (£99bn) annually, the European Commission says.

EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem has presented a full report on the problem.

She said the true cost of corruption was “probably much higher” than 120bn.

Three-quarters of Europeans surveyed for the Commission study said that corruption was widespread, and more than half said the level had increased.

Interestingly, the perception of corruption is significantly higher than the (self-reported) incidence:

In the UK only five people out of 1,115 — less than 1% — said they had been expected to pay a bribe. It was “the best result in all Europe”, the report said.

But 64% of British respondents said they believed corruption to be widespread in the UK, while the EU average was 74% on that question.

In some countries there was a relatively high number reporting personal experience of bribery,

In Croatia, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Romania and Greece, between 6% and 29% of respondents said they had been asked for a bribe, or had been expected to pay one, in the past 12 months.

There were also high levels of bribery in Poland (15%), Slovakia (14%) and Hungary (13%), where the most prevalent instances were in healthcare.

Ms Malmstroem said corruption was eroding trust in democracy and draining resources from the legal economy.

January 27, 2014

FATCA and the “toxic citizen” problem for Americans working abroad

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Law, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:04

Emma Elliott Freire explains why she and other Americans living and working in other countries feel like they’re being treated as “toxic citizens”:

The [travel] books tend to emphasize romance and adventure. As an American who is actually living abroad, though, I’ve found that the reality is quite different. My fellow Americans back home sometimes regard me with suspicion, and I feel like my government considers me a “toxic citizen.”

The US is one of two countries in the world that taxes its citizens on the income they earn while living abroad. The other is Eritrea. Every single other country bases its taxation on residency, i.e., you only pay taxes where you live and work.

Americans are required to file an annual tax return with the IRS when they’re abroad — even if they don’t owe any money. They’re also required to file a form called an FBAR to declare their foreign bank accounts. An undeclared account incurs a $10,000 fine.

As you might expect, international tax accountants get a lot of business from Americans. One tax accountant based in Amsterdam told me his American clients take their filings very seriously. “If they get the IRS going after them, they have a real problem,” he says.

His clients are the savvy ones, though. In my experience, many Americans who move abroad are not aware that they need to file. The US government does precious little to inform its citizens of their obligations in this area. Over several years, I’ve been informally asking Americans I meet abroad if they file their US taxes. Most of them told me they don’t. They only file and pay taxes in their country of residency. They assume that’s enough. But, in fact, they have unwittingly become lawbreakers. If they move back to America, they could find themselves in quite a bit of trouble.

The IRS is enforcing new rules passed in 2010, which extend US taxation laws to non-US banks that deal with American citizens. To no great surprise (except perhaps to the legislators themselves), a side-effect of this is that many banks are closing existing accounts and refusing to accept new business from American would-be customers:

The IRS is currently implementing a new law called the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA). Basically, FATCA requires every bank in the entire world to report the account information of its American clients. So every bank in the world is becoming an agent of the US government. It’s still unclear how FATCA can be implemented because in some countries it violates national privacy laws. However, FATCA stipulates that any foreign bank that fails to comply will be subject to a 30 percent withholding tax on its US income.

January 17, 2014

The Nanny State ethos – you’re too thick, so we’ll do the thinking for you

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:37

At the Adam Smith Institute blog, Tim Worstall talks about the way regulatory agencies approach problems:

It’s claimed as one of the great victories for enlightened (sorry) regulation, the way that the EU and US have both banned the incandescent light bulb through bureaucratic action. The ban came about by raising the efficiency standards required: this meant that the traditional bulb could no longer be sold.

The argument in favour of doing things this way was, in public at least, that everyone’s too stupid (or, in a more polite manner, subject to hyperbolic discounting) to realise that the new bulbs will actually save them money in the long term by consuming less electricity. There are also the more cynical in the industry who insist that it’s actually a case of regulatory capture. The light bulb manufacturing companies managing to get us all away from using cheap as spit bulbs and onto something with a decent margin on it.

[...]

This has a number of implications in the larger world as well: for example, it means that bureaucratic regulation on car mileages (like CAFE in the US) is contra-indicated. A simple tax on petrol will drive up average mpg because we’re not all as thick as bricks. Assuming that climate change really is a problem that must be dealt with then a carbon tax is going to do the job. For we’re not all so dim that we cannot work out the utility of using fossil fuels or not given the change in prices.

That is, we don’t need to be regulated into behaviour, we can be influenced into it through the price system. Something that really shouldn’t be all that much of a surprise to us market liberals: for we’re the people who already insist that people do indeed respond to price incentives in markets.

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