May 31, 2016

“Illegal” British schools – “If this whole fuss were any more of a smear you could use it to test for cervical cancer”

Filed under: Britain, Bureaucracy, Media, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Natalie Solent uses up some past-the-use-by-date outrage over a report of “illegal” schools in Britain:

Here is a BBC story from a couple of weeks ago: Thousands of children taught in ‘illegal schools’. Similar pieces appeared in the Times, the Guardian, and other newspapers. When this story came out I listened on the radio to an interview on the subject with some Ofsted guy, either the Sir Michael Wilshaw quoted by the BBC or one of his minions. Whoever it was, he came across as so evasive on one particular point that by comparison even the BBC interviewer was plain-spoken. From the way Ofsted Guy spoke of these illegal schools as places where only “religion” was taught you’d think clicking on the BBC Bitesize GCSE Religious Studies page makes a red light flash in GCHQ, and from the way he spoke of “radicalisation” you’d think that all roots resulted in the same flower. Oh, and from the way he spoke of these schools being “illegal” you would think that they had been convicted in a court of being illegal. The BBC interviewer pressed him and eventually got him to admit that the alleged illegality was merely his opinion, not having been tested in court, and that “some” of these schools were Islamic.

That’s progress of a sort. The Guardian article linked to above does not mention Islam at all but has a quote from a disgruntled former pupil at a Charedi school. We should all be very grateful to the Charedim and the Belzers. When one simply must have someone other than the Muslims to point to, they are there. They ought to start an agency and charge for their services: “Jews in Hats: the safe option for all your denunciation needs.”

The Times says the unauthorized schools are “predominantly Islamic”.

So far this post has almost written itself. The usual pathetic fear of naming Islam from the establishment, the usual pushback from angry commenters, the usual opportunity for bloggers like me to use up old out-of-code packets of sarcasm from the bottom of the freezer. But now things get a little odd and diffuse and unsatisfactory.

I would like to offer a few scattered thoughts regarding three points. (1) Not for the first time, the efforts of the media to conceal that some minority are disproportionately involved in some disfavoured activity has resulted in the public overestimating the involvement of that minority; (2) this whole effort on the part of the so-called Office for Standards in Education has all the characteristics of a power-grab and a smear; and (3) there is no evidence that these little informal schools, including the Muslim ones, do any worse than the state schools at either education or terrorism-prevention. There is some reason to suppose they might do better in some circumstances despite worse facilities. Many children turn to these schools having suffered bullying at normal schools. The low number of people involved means that everyone, teachers and pupils, knows everyone else; no one can “slip through the cracks”. Another benefit is that the presence of an affordable alternative helps keep more traditional types of schools on their toes.

May 25, 2016

QotD: Administrative bloat at American universities

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

Some commentators blame lazy, overpaid faculty [for the rising cost of tuition]. But while faculty teaching loads are somewhat lower than they were decades ago, faculty-student ratios have been quite stable over the past several decades, while the ratio of administrators and staff to students has become much less favorable. In his book on administrative bloat, The Fall Of The Faculty, Johns Hopkins professor Benjamin Ginsberg reports that although student-faculty ratios fell slightly between 1975 and 2005, from 16-to-1 to 15-to-1, the student-to-administrator ratio fell from 84-to-1 to 68-to-1, and the student-to-professional-staff ratio fell from 50-to-1 to 21-to-1. Ginsberg concludes: “Apparently, when colleges and universities had more money to spend, they chose not to spend it on expanding their instructional resources, i.e. faculty. They chose, instead, to enhance their administrative and staff resources.”


And according to a 2010 study by the Goldwater Institute, administrative bloat is the largest driver of high tuition costs. Using Department of Education figures, the study found administration growing more than twice as fast as instruction: “In terms of growth, the number of full-time administrators per 100 students at America’s leading universities increased by 39.3% between 1993 and 2007, while the number of employees engaged in teaching research or service only increased by 17.6%.”

Colleges and universities are nonprofits. When extra money comes in — as, until recently, has been the pattern — they can’t pay out excess profits to shareholders. Instead, the money goes to their effective owners, the administrators who hold the reins. As the Goldwater study notes, they get their “dividends” in the form of higher pay and benefits, and “more fellow administrators who can reduce their own workload or expand their empires.”

But with higher education now facing leaner years, and with students and parents unable to keep up with increasing tuition, what should be done? In short, colleges will have to rein in costs.

When asked what single step would do the most good, I’ve often responded semi-jokingly that U.S. News and World Report should adjust its college-ranking formula to reward schools with low costs and lean administrator-to-student ratios. But that’s not really a joke. Given schools’ exquisite sensitivity to the U.S. News rankings, that step would probably have more impact than most imaginable government regulations.

Glenn Harlan Reynolds, “Beat the tuition bloat”, USA Today, 2014-02-17.

May 17, 2016

Charles Stross updates a classic WW2 field guide – a dot-com sabotage manual

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Humour — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Many people have noted that the sabotage techniques listed in a Second World War espionage manual seem to have somehow migrated into a lot of management texts in the last few decades. Here he imagines what an updated version of the manual might look like:

In 1944, the Office of Strategic Services — the predecessor of the post-war CIA — was concerned with sabotage directed against enemies of the US military. Among their ephemera, declassified and published today by the CIA, is a fascinating document called the Simple Sabotage Field Manual (PDF). It’s not just about blowing things up; a lot of its tips are concerned with how sympathizers with the allied cause can impair enemy material production and morale […]

So it occurred to me a week or two ago to ask (on twitter) the question, “what would a modern-day version of this manual look like if it was intended to sabotage a rival dot-com or high tech startup company”? And the obvious answer is “send your best bad managers over to join in admin roles and run their hapless enemy into the ground”. But what actual policies should they impose for best effect?

  1. Obviously, engineers and software developers (who require deep focus time) need to be kept in touch with the beating heart of the enterprise. So open-plan offices are mandatory for all.
  2. Teams are better than individuals and everyone has to be aware of the valuable contributions of employees in other roles. So let’s team every programmer with a sales person — preferably working the phones at the same desk — and stack-rank them on the basis of each pair’s combined quarterly contribution to the corporate bottom line.
  3. It is the job of Human Resources to ensure that nobody rocks the boat. Anyone attempting to blow whistles or complain of harassment is a boat-rocker. You know what needs to be done.
  4. Senior managers should all be “A” Players (per Jack Welch’s vitality model — see “stack ranking” above) so we should promote managers who are energetic, inspirational, and charismatic risk-takers.
  5. The company must have a strong sense of intense focus. So we must have a clean desk policy — any personal possessions left on the desk or cubicle walls at the end of the day go in the trash. In fact, we can go a step further and institute hot desking — we will establish an average developer’s workstation requirements and provide it for everyone at every desk.

This would explain some of the management policies at a few places I’ve worked at over the years…including the software company where I first met Charlie.

May 12, 2016

The State is not actually monolithic

Filed under: Britain, Bureaucracy, Government — Tags: — Nicholas @ 02:00

In a comment on Facebook, Sean Gabb explains why even a government in a non-federal system sometimes seems to act inconsistently from moment to moment:

Sean Gabb In a country as large and rich as ours, The State is best regarded not as an entity with a single will, but as a collection of interest groups with agendas that sometimes overlap and sometimes conflict. The job of the people at the top is largely to try balancing these interests.

May 7, 2016

The Canadian Forces’ obesity problem

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Cancon, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

The Canadian military (all branches, but especially the reserve forces) have an obesity problem that needs drastic measures to address. Ted Campbell offers his prescription to trim down the bloat:

Command of the Armed Forces should flow from the Governor General, who is, by the Letters Patent of issued by King George VI in 1947, the Commander in Chief, through the Chief of the Defence Staff who should also, for clarity, be styled “Commander Canadian Armed Forces” (COMCAF) and to four regional joint commanders: Commanders of Pacific, Western, Eastern and Atlantic Commands. Each of those commanders should have subordinate and appropriately ranked Naval, Army and Air “component commanders.” (Appropriately means according to the size and scope of the forces in their commands. The Naval Component Commander in Western Command, which has only a handful of Naval Reserve Divisions, might be a Navy Captain while the Army Component Commander in each of Pacific and Atlantic Commands might be an Army colonel or, at best, a brigadier general.)

Staffs should be lower ranked and as [a] firm, absolutely inviolable rule no staff officer in any headquarters may outrank the principal commanders who are directly subordinate to the commander that staff officer serves. In some, rare, cases principal staff officers might be equal in rank to subordinate commanders so that the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff and the officer who heads the national Joint Staff might both be three star officers (vice admirals/lieutenant generals) as would be the commanders of the four Joint Commands. But in an army brigade group, which, given its size and combat power, ought to be commanded by a brigadier general (not by a colonel), where the principal subordinate commanders are lieutenant colonels, the principle operations and support staff officers ought to be majors.

In short almost every staff officer currently serving in almost every HQ, large and small, high and low, in the Canadian Armed Forces is, right now, one (in a few cases two) rank higher than (s)he needs to be. This (over-ranking) is a serious problem because it contributes to HQ bloat and it clouds what should be a very, very clear “chain of command.” It should change, soon. Change would be unpopular and moderately difficult but not, at all, impossible.

Fewer, smaller, leaner and meaner, and lower ranked HQs will, I am 99.99% certain, be more efficient and effective and they might be forced to actually understand the unique pressures that face reserve force members ~ most of whom have full time, civilian jobs (or are full time students) and who do their reserve force work after the “bankers’ hours” that almost all Canadian Armed Forces HQs work. (If I had a penny for every horror story I have heard about army staff officers who know far, far too little about the reserve force units in their areas and who give, sometimes just silly but often quite stupidly impossible orders guidance or tasks, that cannot possibly be met on time, if at all, I would be a wealthy man. Now, it may not be clear that lower ranks will solve that, but I believe that lower ranked officers are more likely to work harder (as all staff officers should) and, in an effort to impress their commanders (and his subordinate commanders, too), work smarter, too, which will alleviate many of the problems that are the result of useless HQ “busy work.”


Less money spent on useless, over-ranked staff officers in redundant HQs would mean that equipment and support personnel could be found for the Army Reserve. Minister Harjit Sajjan knows the problem … all he needs to do is to push General Jon Vance in the right (unpopular but right) direction. They are both new enough on the job and each brings to it well known sense of “operational” soldiering that they could make unpopular decisions, give unpopular orders and shake up the comfortable, somnolent, entrenched uniformed bureaucracy, especially in the Canadian Army, and, thereby, reinvigorate the Canadian Army Reserve, using the Auditor General’s damning report as a catalyst for change.

May 5, 2016

All regulations have obvious costs and hidden costs

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Environment, Government, USA — Tags: — Nicholas @ 02:00

J.C. Carlton explains why the US government’s latest regulatory intervention in the dishwasher market is pretty much guaranteed to make dishwashers more expensive and less capable:

… it’s amazing how much doesn’t work, or works poorly because of the rules that bureaucrats come up with. Yet time and again the bureaucrat’s solution is always more cowbell. For some reason they think that because something may have worked before, it will always work as long as you just do it more. The fact is that no matter what you do, that 24% energy “savings” and 38% less water use are going to have to come from somewhere. My guess is that it will come from making dishwashers that do a very lousy job of actually washing dishes or are terribly expensive.

There’s only so much you can do. 24% less electricity means that you will have to use a smaller motor, a smaller heating element, or both. You might have to use different heating elements or motors that work at different times during the cycle. More than likely you will have to use complicated electronics to run it all. Even when you are all done with meeting the mandate, you will end up with a machine that just doesn’t work very well. Which also costs more and has to be serviced more often to boot. How much savings to you get it the reliability is halved and the truck has to keep coming out for service calls. That’s the problem with those one-dimensional rules. They tend to cost more in compliance than they actually save.


Of course the endless quest for false efficiencies does have its costs. Somehow the bureaucrats never seem to have to pay those costs in their lives, or at least aren’t effected enough by the pain to notice. I have to wonder if whoever came up with the 1 gallon toilet ever flushes. Does the Energy Star guy never have to go shopping for appliances and when he gets home finds out that it barely works?

April 14, 2016

Why there’s very little “free trade” involved in the TPP

ESR explains why the Trans-Pacific Partnership is such a huge monstrosity of regulations, crony capitalist favours to big business, anti-consumer intellectual property rules, and other mercantilist interventions in trade:

Today there’s a great deal of angst going on in the tech community about the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Its detractors charge that a “free-trade” agreement has been hijacked by big-business interests that are using it to impose draconian intellectual-property rules on the entire world, criminalize fair use, obstruct open-source software, and rent-seek at the expense of developing countries.

These charges are, of course, entirely correct. So here’s my question: What the hell else did you expect to happen? Where were you idiots when the environmentalists and the unions were corrupting the process and the entire concept of “free trade”?

The TPP is a horrible agreement. It’s toxic. It’s a dog’s breakfast. But if you stood meekly by while the precedents were being set, or – worse – actually approved of imposing rich-world regulation on poor countries, you are partly to blame.

The thing about creating political machinery to fuck with free markets is this: you never get to be the last person to control it. No matter how worthy you think your cause is, part of the cost of your behavior is what will be done with it by the next pressure group. And the one after that. And after that.

The equilibrium is that political regulatory capability is hijacked by for the use of the pressure group with the strongest incentives to exploit it. Which generally means, in Theodore Roosevelt’s timeless phrase, “malefactors of great wealth”. The abuses in the TPP were on rails, completely foreseeable, from the first time “environmental standards” got written into a trade agreement.

That’s why it will get you nowhere to object to the specifics of the TPP unless you recognize that the entire context in which it evolved is corrupt. If you want trade agreements to stop being about regulatory carve-outs, you have to stop tolerating that corruption and get back to genuinely free trade. No exemptions, no exceptions, no sweeteners for favored constituencies, no sops to putatively noble causes.

April 13, 2016

The bureaucracy will always be with us

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Europe, Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Strategy Page recounts some of the recent the bureaucratic snags between NATO countries in eastern Europe when troops need to cross inter-alliance borders:

In early 2015 Operation Dragoon Ride rolled through Central Europe to send a message to Russians. From March 20th to April 1st, an US Army squadron returning from Atlantic Resolve NATO exercises took an unusual route back to its base in Germany, after spending three months in training facilities in Poland, Lithuania and Estonia. The unit involved was the 3rd Squadron (battalion) of the 2nd American Cavalry Regiment. This unit refers to itself as dragoons (an ancient term for horse mounted infantry) and the movement operation was called Dragoon Ride and the apparent reason for it was to demonstrate to the locals as well as the Russians that American armored units could reach the East European NATO nations by road, as well as by ship, aircraft or rail. Dragoon Ride purposely rode close to the Russian border, often in full view of Russians and Russian media. The American troops frequently stopped in towns and villages so the locals could meet their allies, take pictures and quietly enjoy the pain this demonstration was causing the increasingly aggressive Russians.

But what was not publicized, and what the Russian government knew full well, was that this road movement took the efforts of hundreds of unseen troops and bureaucrats to deal with the paperwork. For all of 2015 it required nearly 6,000 travel documents to be prepared, filed and approved to get foreign military vehicles across East European borders. Some of these documents take several weeks to get approved and operations like Dragoon Ride required hundreds of them and nearly as many NATO local government personnel were involved with this paperwork as were actually participating (500 troops) in the actual Dragoon Ride (of 120 vehicles). While all these rules and approvals would not stop invading Russians they would, in theory, slow down reinforces from the West.

The pile of paperwork and weeks required to handle it were used as very concrete evidence to persuade the East European nations to streamline the process, a lot, or have themselves to blame if reinforcements did not arrive in a timely fashion. As usual a compromise was worked out. Thus eight NFIUs (NATO Force Integration Units) were organized, each consisting of 40 troops trained and equipped to handle the paperwork and traffic control measures required to get military convoys across eastern borders as quickly as possible. The NFIU work out of embassies and stay in constant touch with the border control bureaucracies of the East European nations involved. NFIUs also arrange for rest areas and resupply for the convoys.

March 25, 2016

QotD: The infrastructure problem in America

[David Cay] Johnston’s piece is titled America should be more like Disneyland but instead of thinking seriously about what this means he fumbles on the 20 yard line and concludes that what makes Disneyland different is… happy thoughts. If only we were more like W.D., he says, “we could make America into a happy place.”

No, what makes Disney invest in infrastructure is not happy thoughts. Johnston is in fact clear about this:

    The Walt Disney Co. invests in infrastructure because it makes the company money.

The problem with America is that our public infrastructure has been turned over to a fickle political process that is not governed by a rational calculation of cost and benefit, market test and experimentation but by a pursuit of power, glory and advantage that only rarely coincides with the public interest.

America should be more like Disneyland and to do that we need to develop institutions that allow more infrastructure to built by the private sector. Most ambitiously we need more cities as hotels, more proprietary cities. As Rajagopolan and I wrote in our study of India (in Cities and Private Planning):

    The lesson of Gurgaon, Walt Disney World, and Jamshedpur is that a system of proprietary, competitive cities can combine the initiative and drive of private development with the planning and foresight characteristic of the best urban planning. A proprietary city will build infrastructure to attract residents and revenues. A handful of proprietary cities built within a single region will create a competitive system of proprietary cities that build, compete, innovate, and experiment.

Alex Tabarrok “How to make America more like Disneyland”, Marginal Revolution, 2014-12-17.

March 8, 2016

QotD: The Civil Works Administration, the Works Progress Administration and the Wagner Act

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

Roosevelt created the Civil Works Administration in November 1933 and ended it in March 1934, though the unfinished projects were transferred to the Federal Emergency Relief Administration. Roosevelt had assured Congress in his State of the Union message that any new such program would be abolished within a year. “The federal government,” said the President, “must and shall quit this business of relief. I am not willing that the vitality of our people be further stopped by the giving of cash, of market baskets, of a few bits of weekly work cutting grass, raking leaves, or picking up papers in the public parks.”

But in 1935 the Works Progress Administration came along. It is known today as the very government program that gave rise to the new term, “boondoggle,” because it “produced” a lot more than the 77,000 bridges and 116,000 buildings to which its advocates loved to point as evidence of its efficacy. The stupefying roster of wasteful spending generated by these jobs programs represented a diversion of valuable resources to politically motivated and economically counterproductive purposes.

The American economy was soon relieved of the burden of some of the New Deal’s excesses when the Supreme Court outlawed the NRA in 1935 and the AAA in 1936, earning Roosevelt’s eternal wrath and derision. Recognizing much of what Roosevelt did as unconstitutional, the “nine old men” of the Court also threw out other, more minor acts and programs which hindered recovery.

Freed from the worst of the New Deal, the economy showed some signs of life. Unemployment dropped to 18 percent in 1935, 14 percent in 1936, and even lower in 1937. But by 1938, it was back up to 20 percent as the economy slumped again. The stock market crashed nearly 50 percent between August 1937 and March 1938. The “economic stimulus” of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal had achieved a real “first”: a depression within a depression!

The stage was set for the 1937–38 collapse with the passage of the National Labor Relations Act in 1935 — better known as the Wagner Act and organized labor’s “Magna Carta.” To quote Hans Sennholz again:

    This law revolutionized American labor relations. It took labor disputes out of the courts of law and brought them under a newly created Federal agency, the National Labor Relations Board, which became prosecutor, judge, and jury, all in one. Labor union sympathizers on the Board further perverted this law, which already afforded legal immunities and privileges to labor unions. The U.S. thereby abandoned a great achievement of Western civilization, equality under the law.

Armed with these sweeping new powers, labor unions went on a militant organizing frenzy. Threats, boycotts, strikes, seizures of plants, and widespread violence pushed productivity down sharply and unemployment up dramatically. Membership in the nation’s labor unions soared; by 1941 there were two and a half times as many Americans in unions as in 1935.

From the White House on the heels of the Wagner Act came a thunderous barrage of insults against business. Businessmen, Roosevelt fumed, were obstacles on the road to recovery. New strictures on the stock market were imposed. A tax on corporate retained earnings, called the “undistributed profits tax,” was levied. “These soak-the-rich efforts,” writes economist Robert Higgs, “left little doubt that the president and his administration intended to push through Congress everything they could to extract wealth from the high-income earners responsible for making the bulk of the nation’s decisions about private investment.”

Higgs draws a close connection between the level of private investment and the course of the American economy in the 1930s. The relentless assaults of the Roosevelt administration — in both word and deed — against business, property, and free enterprise guaranteed that the capital needed to jumpstart the economy was either taxed away or forced into hiding. When Roosevelt took America to war in 1941, he eased up on his anti-business agenda, but a great deal of the nation’s capital was diverted into the war effort instead of into plant expansion or consumer goods. Not until both Roosevelt and the war were gone did investors feel confident enough to “set in motion the postwar investment boom that powered the economy’s return to sustained prosperity.”

Lawrence W. Reed, “The Great Depression was a Calamity of Unfettered Capitalism”, The Freeman, 2014-11-28.

February 13, 2016

QotD: Education

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

I put the donkey ears on “teaching” to this purpose. I do own a tweed jacket, though as a priestly colleague has pointed out, it lacks the regulation elbow patches. That is about the extent of my formal credentials as a pedagogue, yet by unlikely fate I have found myself “teaching” sometimes, at the “post-secondary” level, on a variety of topics — from development economics, to science and scientism in Hellenistic times, to the elements of typography, to the prehistory of modern journalism, to proper English Lit — and these days will do almost anything for money.

My father was also reduced to teaching, on several occasions — medicine, for instance — in addition to art, when it was discovered in a certain developing country that he actually knew some anatomy, and had access to a nursing textbook belonging to my mother.

From him, I learned to cite Hippocrates: “First do no harm.” The young, shall we call them, have almost invariably greater capacities for learning than will be revealed in modern schools. This is not only because their wee minds are therein seldom teased nor challenged. It is also because subjects are taught to them in a methodically lethal way, dispensed in cubes from the intellectual freezer, by teachers who, as a general rule, know nothing of the subjects themselves. (They have specialized degrees in “education.”)

I retain vivid memories of a Canadian high school where best efforts were made to kill my budding interests in poetry, theatre, music, art, biology, physics, math, &c.

There are, as George Bernard Shaw once counted, two basic methods of teaching. One is “education through art,” in which the student learns essentially through mimesis, by doing and making, gradually unfolding himself, as a flower to the sun in the moist air, feeding upon the nutrients beneath him — rich soils collecting through time. And the other is through torture. Each has its own standards. (I’m not against torture as a last resort.)

The expression “education through art” could easily mislead the literal-minded, who may not realize that science is an art. One acquires science by doing science, starting at the most rudimentary level, with small children, magically enthralled. Moreover, the various subjects are entwined. To master biology, for instance, one must learn to draw, in order to observe with precision. Physics, which naturally pairs with math, also pairs with music, which turns to pair with dance. The art of writing requires the art of reading, but vice versa equally so. And as throughout this world, while body and soul stay united, form has everything to do with content; meaning everything to do with style. Neither, and nothing, can be “prioritized”: until it comes time for the waterboarding.

“First do no harm.” God has set before every teacher this anciently humane instruction. Even if he should fail to do a student any good, at least do no evil. Do not repel him from the book forever; nor clutter his head with falsities. Even the torture should be carefully administered, leaving a prospect of some better way, and the happier alternative of following it.

David Warren, “Sigrid Undset”, DavidWarrenOnline.com, 2014-12-04.

January 4, 2016

QotD: The Science Czar

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Media, Quotations, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I have noticed a tendency of mine to reply to arguments with “Well yeah, that would work for the X Czar, but there’s no such thing.”

For example, take the problems with the scientific community, which my friends in Berkeley often discuss. There’s lots of publication bias, statistics are done in a confusing and misleading way out of sheer inertia, and replications often happen very late or not at all. And sometimes someone will say something like “I can’t believe people are too dumb to fix Science. All we would have to do is require early registration of studies to avoid publication bias, turn this new and powerful statistical technique into the new standard, and accord higher status to scientists who do replication experiments. It would be really simple and it would vastly increase scientific progress. I must just be smarter than all existing scientists, since I’m able to think of this and they aren’t.”

And I answer “Well, yeah, that would work for the Science Czar. He could just make a Science Decree that everyone has to use the right statistics, and make another Science Decree that everyone must accord replications higher status. And since we all follow the Science Czar’s Science Decrees, it would all work perfectly!”

Why exactly am I being so sarcastic? Because things that work from a czar’s-eye view don’t work from within the system. No individual scientist has an incentive to unilaterally switch to the new statistical technique for her own research, since it would make her research less likely to produce earth-shattering results and since it would just confuse all the other scientists. They just have an incentive to want everybody else to do it, at which point they would follow along.

Likewise, no journal has the incentive to unilaterally demand early registration, since that just means everyone who forgot to early register their studies would switch to their competitors’ journals.

And since the system is only made of individual scientists and individual journals, no one is ever going to switch and science will stay exactly as it is.

Scott Alexander, “Reactionary Philosophy In An Enormous, Planet-Sized Nutshell”, Slate Star Codex, 2013-03-03.

December 28, 2015

QotD: Nuremburg revised

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Humour, Law, Quotations — Tags: — Nicholas @ 01:00

It takes a while, sometimes, for news to reach me from Kampala, Uganda. But a correspondent alerts me, this morning, to the result of the Review Conference of the International Criminal Court, declared on Saturday, 12th June, 2010. It is big news indeed: signatories have agreed to make starting a war into a grave international criminal offence. Henceforth, anyone who starts one goes straight to The Hague, to be disciplined for his improper behaviour. This means he could face years of hearings. Surely, knowing that will stop aggressors dead in their tracks.

How relieved one feels, to know there will be no more wars.

As my correspondent mentions, this may seem a small thing in the labour of ages. But it is a first step, a “baby step,” decisively in the right direction.

I entirely agree, and look forward to further efforts by the United Nations, on behalf of the ICC. For I think they should also have laws against earthquakes, floods, and tornadoes.

David Warren, “Nuremberg revised”, DavidWarrenOnline.com, 2014-12-05.

December 24, 2015

Repost – Hey Kids! Did you get your paperwork in on time?

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Humour — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

If you hurry, you can just get your Santa’s Visit Application in before the deadline tonight!

December 13, 2015

The TPP is pretty far from being a genuine “free trade” deal

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Economics, Environment — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Last week, Kevin Williamson attempted to explain why the Trans Pacific Partnership isn’t all that similar to an actual “free trade” agreement (and why that’s so):

Prominent among the reasons to look askance at TPP is that its text calls for the incorporation — sight unseen — of whatever global-warming deal is negotiated at the conference currently under way in Paris. It is one thing for a trade deal to incorporate changes to environmental practices — regulatory differences are an inhibitor of truly liberal trade — but there is a world of difference between incorporating specific environmental policies and incorporating environmental policies to be named later.

It would be preferable if we could simply enact a series of bilateral “Goldberg treaties,” so called in honor of my colleague Jonah Goldberg, who argued that an ideal free-trade pact would consist of one sentence: “There shall be free trade between …” But the unhappy reality is that the snouts of the nations’ sundry regulatory apparatuses are so far up the backsides of various industries and economic sectors that sorting them out requires thousands of pages of text. Consider, for example, the problem of defense-acquisition practices. Some countries have rules mandating that defense procurement be restricted to domestic firms, and some countries don’t. Coming up with a harmonized, one-size-fits-all approach is difficult; we Americans, accustomed as we are to operating in an economy that produces the best of almost everything in the world, sometimes forget that there are countries with no domestic aerospace industry or sophisticated manufacturers of military materiel. Of course Kuwait goes abroad for military gear; if memory serves, at one point their air force uniforms were made by Armani.


All of which is to say, we should expect trade deals, especially multi-lateral trade deals, to be complex, and we should expect environmental and labor standards, along with government procurement procedures and the like, to be part of the accord. There’s no getting around it. And, again, there is nothing wrong in principle with using trade accords, which have real economic bite, as a critical instrument for enforcing environmental rules and other regulatory reforms that are incorporated into trade relationships. But using TPP to commit the United States to whatever is cooked up in Paris, without an additional vote in Congress, is a poor tradeoff. It’s not often that I will turn up my nose at a trade deal — even far-from-perfect trade pacts are generally desirable — but here we should draw the line. TPP was negotiated, Congress and the public have had a chance to review the text, and Congress should reject it. That’s the system working, not the system failing to work. It’s why we have votes.

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