Quotulatiousness

May 24, 2015

Charles Stross proposes “The Evil Business Plan of Evil”

Filed under: Bureaucracy,Business,Government — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Well, “proposes” isn’t quite the right word:

Let me describe first the requirements for the Evil Business Plan of Evil, and then the Plan Itself, in all it’s oppressive horror and glory.

Some aspects of modern life look like necessary evils at first, until you realize that some asshole has managed to (a) make it compulsory, and (b) use it for rent-seeking. The goal of this business is to identify a niche that is already mandatory, and where a supply chain exists (that is: someone provides goods or service, and as many people as possible have to use them), then figure out a way to colonize it as a monopolistic intermediary with rent-raising power and the force of law behind it. Sort of like the Post Office, if the Post Office had gotten into the email business in the 1970s and charged postage on SMTP transactions and had made running a private postal service illegal to protect their monopoly.

Here’s a better example: speed cameras.

We all know that driving at excessive speed drastically increases the severity of injuries, damage, and deaths resulting from traffic accidents. We also know that employing cops to run speed traps the old-fashioned way, with painted lines and a stop-watch, is very labour-intensive. Therefore, at first glance the modern GATSO or automated speed camera looks like a really good idea. Sitting beside British roads they’re mostly painted bright yellow so you can see them coming, and they’re emplaced where there’s a particular speed-related accident problem, to deter idiots from behaviour likely to kill or injure other people.

However, the idea has legs. Speed cameras go mobile, and can be camouflaged inside vans. Some UK police forces use these to deter drivers from speeding past school gates, where the speed limit typically drops to 20mph (because the difference in outcome between hitting a child at 20mph to hitting them at 30mph is drastic and life-changing at best: one probably causes bruises and contusions, the other breaks bones and often kills). And some towns have been accused of using speed cameras as “revenue enhancement devices”, positioning them not to deter bad behaviour but to maximize the revenue from penalty notices by surprising drivers.

This idea maxed out in the US, where the police force of Waldo in South Florida was disbanded after a state investigation into ticketing practices; half the town’s revenue was coming from speed violations. (Of course: Florida.) US 301 and Highway 24 pass through the Waldo city limits; the town applied a very low speed limit to a short stretch of these high-speed roads, and cleaned up.

Here’s the commercial outcome of trying to reduce road deaths due to speeding: speed limits are pretty much mandatory worldwide. Demand for tools to deter speeders is therefore pretty much global. Selling speed cameras is an example of supplying government demand; selling radar detectors or SatNav maps with updated speed trap locations is similarly a consumer-side way of cleaning up.

And here’s a zinger of a second point: within 30 years at most, possibly a lot sooner, this will be a dead business sector. Tumbleweeds and ghost town dead. Self-driving cars will stick to the speed limit because of manufacturer fears over product liability lawsuits, and speed limits may be changed to reflect the reliability of robots over inattentive humans (self-driving cars don’t check their Facebook page while changing lanes). These industry sectors come and go.

Mitchell’s First Theorem of Government

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

Dan Mitchell clearly understands what modern western government is really all about:

mitchells-first-theorem-of-government

May 19, 2015

QotD: The iron law of bureaucrats

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

I should say I’m no free-speech absolutist. I think the notion that we should treat pole dancing like constitutionally protected speech while we try to ban actual political speech is just one of the loopiest manifestations of our popular confusion over the First Amendment. In fact, government support for the arts doesn’t offend me in theory, it’s just how they do it in practice that bothers me.

Specifically, I cannot stand the way New Class bureaucrats think they must be autonomous from the taxpayers who pay their salaries. Imagine if we lived in anything like the “Christianist” theocracy so many lefties live in quaking fear of. Evangelical bureaucrats would likely fund art they liked. The professional Bohemians would shriek — with some justification — that the state was imposing its values on the rest of us. But when those same people are in driving the gravy train, they think there’s nothing wrong — and everything right — with imposing their values.

Of course, this is a problem that extends far beyond outposts like the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). Public teachers’ unions and ed-school priests hate the idea that parents and other taxpayers should have a real say in how education money is spent. Bureaucrats in general have become a kind of secular aristocracy that resents second-guessing by the people who fund their will-to-power.

When voters say that bureaucrats shouldn’t spend money on X, the bureaucrats shriek “censorship!” But it is only the equivalent of censorship if you work from the assumption that it’s all the government’s money anyhow. As Bill Clinton once said about the federal surplus, “We could give it all back to you and hope you spend it right.” But if we did, alas, not enough of you would spend it on urophagic art.

Jonah Goldberg, “Bureaucrats Use Taxpayer Money to Subsidize Their Own Values — and No One Else’s”, National Review, 2015-05-09.

May 16, 2015

Charles Murray and Jonah Goldberg on civil disobedience in America

Filed under: Bureaucracy,Government,Liberty,Media,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 11 May 2015

The American ideal of limited government on life support. Is it time for civil disobedience? Charles Murray says yes. Murray has been writing on government overreach for more than 30 years. His new book, By The People, is a blueprint for taking back American liberty. Jonah Goldberg sits down with Murray to discuss civil unrest in Baltimore, the scope of the government, and why bureaucrats should wear body cameras.

According to AEI scholar, acclaimed social scientist, and bestselling author Charles Murray, American liberty is under assault. The federal government has unilaterally decided that it can and should tell us how to live our lives. If we object, it threatens, “Fight this, and we’ll ruin you.” How can we overcome regulatory tyranny and live free once again? In his new book, By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission (Crown Forum, May 2015), Murray offers provocative solutions.

May 13, 2015

QotD: Mono-culture banking

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

One of the factors in the financial crisis of 2007-2009 that is mentioned too infrequently is the role of banking capital sufficiency standards and exactly how they were written. Folks have said that capital requirements were somehow deregulated or reduced. But in fact the intention had been to tighten them with the Basle II standards and US equivalents. The problem was not some notional deregulation, but in exactly how the regulation was written.

In effect, capital sufficiency standards declared that mortgage-backed securities and government bonds were “risk-free” in the sense that they were counted 100% of their book value in assessing capital sufficiency. Most other sorts of financial instruments and assets had to be discounted in making these calculations. This created a land rush by banks for mortgage-backed securities, since they tended to have better returns than government bonds and still counted as 100% safe.

Without the regulation, one might imagine banks to have a risk-reward tradeoff in a portfolio of more and less risky assets. But the capital standards created a new decision rule: find the highest returning assets that could still count for 100%. They also helped create what in biology we might call a mono-culture. One might expect banks to have varied investment choices and favorites, such that a problem in one class of asset would affect some but not all banks. Regulations helped create a mono-culture where all banks had essentially the same portfolio stuffed with the same one or two types of assets. When just one class of asset sank, the whole industry went into the tank,

Well, we found out that mortgage-backed securities were not in fact risk-free, and many banks and other financial institutions found they had a huge hole blown in their capital.

Warren Meyer, “When Regulation Makes Things Worse — Banking Edition”, Coyote Blog, 2014-07-07.

May 1, 2015

Statistical myths in California’s water shortage

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

Devin Nunes debunks the common claim that California’s farmers use “80 percent” of the available water in the state:

As the San Joaquin Valley undergoes its third decade of government-induced water shortages, the media suddenly took notice of the California water crisis after Governor Jerry Brown announced statewide water restrictions. In much of the coverage, supposedly powerful farmers were blamed for contributing to the problem by using too much water.

“Agriculture consumes a staggering 80 percent of California’s developed water, even as it accounts for only 2 percent of the state’s gross domestic product,” exclaimed Daily Beast writer Mark Hertsgaard in a piece titled “How Growers Gamed California’s Drought.” That 80-percent statistic was repeated in a Sacramento Bee article titled, “California agriculture, largely spared in new water restrictions, wields huge clout,” and in an ABC News article titled “California’s Drought Plan Mostly Lays Off Agriculture, Oil Industries.” Likewise, the New York Times dutifully reported, “The [State Water Resources Control Board] signaled that it was also about to further restrict water supplies to the agriculture industry, which consumes 80 percent of the water used in the state.”

This is a textbook example of how the media perpetuates a false narrative based on a phony statistic. Farmers do not use 80 percent of California’s water. In reality, 50 percent of the water that is captured by the state’s dams, reservoirs, aqueducts, and other infrastructure is diverted for environmental causes. Farmers, in fact, use 40 percent of the water supply. Environmentalists have manufactured the 80 percent statistic by deliberately excluding environmental diversions from their calculations. Furthermore, in many years there are additional millions of acre-feet of water that are simply flushed into the ocean due to a lack of storage capacity — a situation partly explained by environmental groups’ opposition to new water-storage projects.

April 30, 2015

The rise of “administrative law” in the United States

Filed under: Bureaucracy,Law,USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In City Journal, Myron Magnet reviews a new book by Philip Hamburger on the rise and rise of the regulatory state:

We conservatives like to complain about overregulation and point to this or that destructive rule, but few of us go so far as Philip Hamburger does in his immensely important Is Administrative Law Unlawful?, published last year. A Columbia law professor, Hamburger indicts the entire structure of executive-agency rulemaking as illegitimate. It’s not just the regulations that have to go but the regulators as well, since their job is to fling down the Constitution and dance on it.

For over 400 pages of a 511-page, doorstopper-weight text, Hamburger counts the ways in which the slithery Medusa’s head of executive-branch agencies — from the Interstate Commerce Commission and the National Labor Relations Board to the Environmental Protection Agency and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, all spitting out the venom of administrative law — constitutes a flagrant affront to the Constitution. For starters, the Constitution lodges all legislative power in Congress, which therefore cannot delegate its lawmaking function. So it’s forbidden for Congress to pass a law creating an executive-branch agency that writes rules legally binding on citizens — for example, to set up an agency charged with making a clean environment and then to let it make rules with the force of law to accomplish that end as it sees fit. “The power of the legislative,” as the Founding Fathers’ tutelary political philosopher, John Locke, wrote, is “only to make laws and not to make legislators.” And if Congress can’t delegate the legislative power that the Constitution gives it, it certainly cannot delegate power that the Constitution doesn’t give it — namely, the power to hand out selective exemptions from its laws, which is what agencies do when they grant waivers.

Second, Constitution architect James Madison, following political theorist Baron de Montesquieu, saw the separation of powers as an essential bulwark of American liberty. But administrative agencies, which make rules, carry them out, and adjudge and punish infractions of them, blend together legislative, executive, and judicial powers in one giant anti-constitutional Cuisinart. Moreover, judicial power is as undelegatable as legislative power, since the Constitution lodges all of it in the judicial branch. So third, while administrative judges may look “just like real judges,” says Hamburger, they are no such thing — and not only because the Constitution makes it impossible for them to be so but also because, unlike real judges, their sole duty, rather than using their independent and expert judgment to carry out the law of the land, is to carry out the policy of their agency, as set and overseen by their department chief or the relevant cabinet secretary who in turn oversees him. As Justice William Howard Taft pronounced, an administrative tribunal is “miscalled a court.”

April 15, 2015

QotD: The secret weapon of the bureaucracy

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

… boredom is the deadly secret weapon of the bien-pensant technocrats of the EU and the UN. “They wear outsiders down with the tedium of their arguments and the smallness of their fine print, so that by the time anyone else notices what they’re up to the damage has been done and it’s too late to do anything about it.”

James Delingpole, “Green Global Governance: How Environmentalists Have Taken Over the World”, Breitbart.com, 2014-06-25.

April 14, 2015

Patently ridiculous, in one image

Filed under: Bureaucracy,Law,Technology,USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Total US patents issued annually 1900-2014

H/T to Veronique de Rugy, who explains that much of the increase in “patents for trivial and non-original functions” can be traced back to the creation of one particular court.

April 9, 2015

Politicians love to build infrastructure – they’re not as eager to maintain it

Filed under: Bureaucracy,Government,Media,Politics — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Politicians love big infrastructure projects, from gala announcement — featuring plenty of face time in the media for the politicos themselves — to ground-breaking, also featuring lots of media along with hard hats and “first shovel” action through to grand opening, usually featuring lots of media along with ribbon cutting and some sort of first action involving the newly built bridge/dam/tunnel/streetcar/etc. For some inscrutable reason, politicians are much less eager to get involved in making sure that the glitzy new infrastructure of a few years back gets appropriate and timely maintenance (and the permanent bureaucracy in charge of the now-built infrastructure have rather different long-term goals):

I think the cause lies in a couple areas related to government incentives

  1. Legislatures never want to appropriate for capital maintenance. If the legislature somehow has, say, $100 million money it can spend on infrastructure, their incentives are to use it to build new things rather than to keep the old things in repair (e.g. to extend a rail line rather than to keep the old one fixed).
  2. If you want to understand a government agency’s behavior, the best rule of thumb is to assume that they are working to maximize the headcount and the payroll budget of their agency. I know that sounds cynical, but if you do not understand an agency’s position or priorities, try applying this test: What would the agency be doing or supporting if it were trying to maximize its payroll. You will find this explains a lot

To understand #2, you have to understand that the pay and benefits — and perhaps most important of all — the prestige of an agency’s leaders is set by its headcount and budgets. Also, there are many lobbying forces that are always trying to pressure an agency, but no group is more ever-present, more ubiquitous, and more vocal than its own staff. Also, since cutting staff is politically always the hardest thing for legislators to do, shifting more of the agency’s budget to staff costs helps protect the agency against legislative budget cuts. Non-headcount expenses are raw meat for budget cutters, and the first thing to get swept. By the way, this is not unique to public agencies — the same occurs in corporations. But corporations, unlike government agencies, face the discipline of markets that places a check on this tendency.

This means that agencies are loath to pay for the outside resources (contractors and materials) that are needed for capital maintenance projects out of their regular budgets. When given the choice of repairing a bathroom at the cost of keeping a staff person, agencies will always want to choose in favor of keeping the staff. They assume capital maintenance can always be done later via special appropriation, but of course we saw earlier that legislators are equally unlikely to prioritize capital maintenance vs. other alternatives.

The other related problem faced is that this focus on internal staff tends to drive up pay and benefits of the agency workers. This drives up the cost of fundamental day to day tasks (like cleaning bathrooms and mowing) and again helps to starve out longer-horizon maintenance functions.

April 4, 2015

Canadian schools

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

David Warren is hiding from reality at the moment, so he’s reposting some of his older articles, like this one:

… I was parachuted briefly into a Canadian public school, from my earlier life in Asia (and before returning to Asia again). Canadian school came as a shock; quite unlike what I was used to. I had difficulty at first adapting to the sudden disappearance of anything resembling academic standards. Later, parachuted again, I was better prepared for life in the perpetual kindergarten. I found myself in something called a “high school,” with a curriculum that seemed especially designed for children with learning disabilities. Oddly, it considered itself to be an elite high school, which perhaps it was by Canadian standards. I bid my time until age sixteen, when I could legally drop out. For in my humble but unalterable opinion, these public “schools” are great crushers of the human spirit. No responsible parent will allow a child to be exposed to them. Ditto, no aspiring teacher should work in one, even if the alternative is starvation. The administrators should be prosecuted for crimes against humanity.

[…]

So far as I can see the purpose of the Canadian education system, or modern public education in general, is to suppress curiosity and enterprise in children; to cripple them morally, aesthetically, and intellectually; and make them identical on a bed of Procrustes. Hilda Neatby spelt this out in her remarkable survey, So Little for the Mind, published at Toronto in 1953. One must read it to realize that the demonic ideas of John Dewey, the American “philosopher of democratic education,” had already far advanced in Canadian schools by that year; and that as a result, standards once achieved and maintained through the later nineteenth and earlier twentieth century, had already collapsed. It is a myth they collapsed in the 1960s. Look at the schoolbooks for the Province of Ontario from that earlier period, and compare them with those introduced after the Second World War (we once did this for an article in the Idler magazine). The declination is obvious. The hippie generation was not the cause of this catastrophe. They were instead the effect.

March 9, 2015

Net neutering … now it’s time to repent at leisure

Filed under: Bureaucracy,Business,Government,Technology,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Matt Walsh has a message for all those net neutrality warriors doing their fist-bumps of triumph:

Dear Net Neutrality Proponents,

You dear, sweet buffoons.

I know you’re quite impressed that the Federal Communications Commission just passed a sweeping set of regulations granting themselves control over the Internet. President Barack Obama considers this a glorious victory. Liberals and Democrats across the land are delighted. Even some corners of cyber space — the ones populated by masochists and nincompoops — are cheering loudly, excited to finally be under the jurisdiction of an enormous federal bureaucracy. Hallelujah!

Now, Gullible Americans, I realize that you think you’ve just been once again liberated from the shackles of the free market and whisked away to a fanciful land where Father Government makes sure everything is nice and fair and everyone is sharing their toys like good boys and girls. I know you are under this impression. I mean, I can’t blame you. It’s right there in the title. They call it “Net Neutrality,” for goodness sake! It’s neutral! Neutral means fair! Fair Internet! Who can quibble with a fair Internet! Only big bad corporations and their right wing minions, you think. Fox News and the Koch Brothers and Lex Luthor and other scary names.

The FCC tells us that Net Neutrality will give us a free and open Internet by granting them the power to regulate it under laws that were written 60 years before the Internet existed as a common household service. Consumers need to be protected from the possibility that Internet providers will block traffic to certain sites, or set up paid prioritization systems for consumers or web services who pay more. That’s what this is all about, you think. The FCC is looking out for the little guy again.

Good old FCC, always fighting for truth, justice, and bureaucratic control.

But, see, this is where I need you to stop and think, Gullible Americans. It’s too late now, but I need you to finally try to learn something here. The government is not the knight in shining armor you think it is — even when it’s run by Democrats.

March 3, 2015

QotD: Secrecy

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

We do not believe any group of men adequate enough or wise enough to operate without scrutiny or without criticism. We know that the only way to avoid error is to detect it, that the only way to detect it is to be free to enquire. We know that the wages of secrecy are corruption. We know that in secrecy error, undetected, will flourish and subvert.

J. Robert Oppenheimer, “Encouragement of Science” (Address at Science Talent Institute, 6 Mar 1950), Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, v.7, #1 (Jan 1951) p.6-8

March 1, 2015

“The F-35 will cost more than the Manhattan Project every year for the next fifty years”

Filed under: Bureaucracy,Government,Military,USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Scott Lincicome would like to point out to the contending Republicans hoping to become the GOP’s presidential candidate that defence spending is not immune to the massive overspending problem common to big government:

F-35 on display

Over the next 20 months, a clown-car-full of Republican politicians will vie for their party’s presidential nomination. As the candidates crisscross the nation, each will undoubtedly call for smarter, leaner, and (hopefully) smaller government. However, there is one government program that, despite being a paragon of government incompetence and mind-bending fiscal incontinence, will most likely be ignored by these champions of budgetary temperance: the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. In so doing, these Republicans will abandon their principles and continue a long, bipartisan tradition of perpetuating the broader problems with U.S. defense spending that the troubled jet symbolizes.

During the Obama years, the Republican Party magically rediscovered its commitment — at least rhetorically — to limited government and fiscal sanity. Criticizing the graft, incompetence, and cost of boondoggles like the 2009 stimulus bill, green-energy subsidies, or Obamacare, GOP politicians not only highlighted these programs’ specific failings, but also often explained how such problems were the inevitable result of an unwieldy federal government that lacked discipline and accountability and was inherently susceptible to capture by well-funded interest groups like unions or insurance companies.

They railed against massive bureaucracies, like the Department of Energy, that paid off cronies with scant congressional oversight. And, in the case of well-publicized debacles like the botched, billion-dollar Healthcare.gov roll-out, many Republicans were quick to note that the root of the problem lay not in one glitchy website, but the entire federal procurement process, and even Big Government itself

[…]

One wonders, however, if these Republicans’ philosophical understanding of Big Government’s inherent weaknesses extends to national defense and, in particular, the F-35. According to the latest (2012) estimate from the Pentagon, the total cost to develop, buy and operate the F-35 will be $1.45 trillion — yes, trillion, with a “t” — over the next 50 years, up from a measly $1 trillion estimated in 2011. For those of you keeping score at home, this means that the F-35’s lifetime cost grew about $450 billion in one year. (Who says inflation is dead?)

That number — $1.45 trillion — might be difficult to grasp, especially in the context of U.S. defense spending, so let me try to put it in perspective: the entire Manhattan Project, which took around three years and led to the development of the atom bomb, cost a total of $26 billion (2015), most of which went to “building factories and producing the fissile materials, with less than 10% for development and production of the weapons.” By contrast, the F-35 will cost $29 billion. Per year.

For the next 50 years.

February 27, 2015

QotD: Decades of official dietary guidance … “Oops, our bad!”

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

Americans, prepare to feel angry: After years of watching our cholesterol, sacrificing shellfish and egg yolks and gloriously fatty pork and beef, and enduring day-glow yellow and too-soft tubs of butter substitute, Americans are about to be told by our government diet experts, “Oops … we had it all wrong.”

The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, which is charged with reviewing the government-issued dietary guidelines every five years, is preparing to release its “new and improved” guidelines any day now, and leaks from the deliberations hint at a reversal in the committee’s decades-long guidance that Americans should eat a diet low in cholesterol.

What are Americans to think of this new guidance that says cholesterol doesn’t really matter after all, that it is no longer a “nutrient of concern,” that eating food high in cholesterol may not be connected to heart disease?

Devotees of protein-rich, low-carb diets may see this as validation and reason to celebrate. Others will no doubt feel deflated, confused, and just plain bitter that for years they’ve been fed a lie that cost them, quite literally, the joy of eating delicious food, and possibly better health. Still others will misunderstand this new guidance and think butter and other high-cholesterol foods are now in the healthy column. In reality, those foods still ought to be consumed in moderation — particularly by people with preexisting conditions such as diabetes.

Yet there’s a bigger story here. Government really ought not be in the business of providing nutrition advice in the first place. Nutrition is a personal issue, and what’s best for one person may not be best for another. Moreover, Americans have ample access to information in the private sector on health and nutrition. In other words, Uncle Sam, we don’t need you anymore.

Julie Gunlock, “Government Dieticians Tell Us, Never Mind Our Decades of Bad Advice”, National Review, 2015-02-13.

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