October 1, 2015

US tax cut proposals fail the laugh test

Filed under: Economics, Government, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

At Ace of Spades H.Q., Ace responds to a recent Kevin Williamson post:

It is standard conservative theory that tax cuts and spending cuts go hand in hand. But after decades of ever-rising spending, coupled with occasional tax cuts, I’m not so certain of that any longer.

I believe it was after Reagan that Republican theorists began justifying his model of tax-cuts-now-spending-cuts-later as the “starve the beast” theory of limiting government — if we cut taxes, therefore cutting government’s resources, we should, logically, force the government to adapt itself to living with fewer taxpayer dollars. Ergo, spending should be forced down by the practicalities of the situation — either you start cutting spending, or else you start running up dangerous, Greece-level of debts.

The problem is that this country has always elected the “or else” part of this syllogism: We are racking up dangerous, Greece-levels of debts, and we’re barely even talking about that any longer.

The problem has grown so immense that we’ve decided to declare it officially a Non-Problem. (It will decide to re-assert itself as a Really Big Problem in a short period of time.)

So I no longer believe in the “starve the beast” theory, because the “starve the beast” theory relies upon Americans understanding the mid-to-longer term trajectory of their spending choices, which they plainly do not.

Since Americans are not capable of understanding the mid-to-longer term trajectory of their spending choices, it seems to me the only way to impose budget discipline and spending rollback is to offer Americans an immediate, as opposed to future, confrontation with reality: that is, if Americans wish to have so much government, they should be forced to pay for the level of government they are choosing, and not defer that payment (as they apparently will choose, every single time) into the future, to be imposed upon their children.

But, instead, they must be forced to reckon with the level of government they are choosing now by paying the full freight and cost of that government now.

That is to say: I believe that rolling back spending is only possible when Americans are made to feel the costs of the government they’re choosing, and that will only happen when they’re forced to actually pay for it.

The biggest hurdle, after the economic illiteracy of the voting public, is the starkly clear self-interest of the politicians: they can get re-elected only if they pander sufficiently to the voters. The voters, who do not understand how the government works (and refuse to believe it when you tell them) … want ever-more of it to benefit them as soon as possible. Telling the voters that you’ll not only not give them more but that you’ll be giving them significantly less is a great way to lose your next election (assuming you don’t get thrown out of office before that even comes up).

September 30, 2015

QotD: Self-government and the scale problem

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

The pioneering political thinkers of the West — Greeks, mostly Athenian, including the sublime Aristotle — devoted much thought to this question of scale. Their consensus was that a state of more than about five thousand people (plus slaves, of course) was essentially unmanageable, at least by its citizens. Large empires or alliances of states might attempt to guarantee the freedom and independence of these small states (or might not), but the hard fact was that above around five thousand souls, the participation of the citizen in his own government ceases to be reality, and becomes rather a pious (or impious) myth.

Skip forward to 1789, the year of the French Revolution. As I have written elsewhere, perhaps the most permanent effect of that Revolution was the transformation of local government across France. Overnight, the seemingly timeless boundaries of 60,000 French parishes, each governed in its own unique way — were erased and replaced with 36,000 “communes,” governed identically and now under central direction from Paris.

This model was copied, across most of Europe, for even those national politicians who did not share in the ideals of the Revolution were attracted by the prospect of central power. France has mostly preserved her revolutionary communes, of a piece in land area, though now a city such as Paris is a single commune with more than two million people. In other countries, these small districts were merged and merged again, into ever larger territorial units, ever more bureaucratic and ever more subject to central direction.


According to me — and I have mulled this at length, with my own feeble mental powers — the Greeks were right. Five thousand is near the top end of a population that can attempt genuine self-government, deciding for themselves what they will and will not put up with, inside their own little domains. In huge conurbations, I would say that is about the maximum size for a self-governing urban borough or ward, necessarily small in area. Outside, rural districts would be rather larger, and there the question of maximum acreage comes into view, balanced against the minimum population to make any formal government necessary.

Boundaries are important. Above the parish or ward, the county seems to be the next higher natural level of government, for the resolution of issues that cross parish boundaries. But at all levels, attention should be given to geography. The boundaries of the jurisdiction should correspond as closely as possible to natural landmarks, and elevations of land, such that e.g. riparian responsibilities can be assigned to the visibly appropriate jurisdiction.

What has all this got to do with the environmental management of the planet? Everything. Where people can see the cause and effect of their actions, problems such as pollution will be tackled, and beauties such as birdsong will not be sacrificed. If the problems aren’t tackled, and the blight spills into another jurisdiction, penalties may be imposed from a higher level, but first give people the chance and the power to solve their own problems at source. Give them ownership, and stable rule by law — not by central planning which rewrites laws for its own convenience.

David Warren, “Five thousand max”, Essays in Idleness, 2015-06-19.

September 21, 2015

Greek businesses discover the receipt

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

Megan McArdle is in Athens, where she’s finding that Greek businesses have started handing out receipts for transactions that once would have been undocumented (the better to hide revenue from the taxman):

I was last in Greece in 2006, during the twilight years of the boom that peaked during the Athens Olympics. Back then, Greece was notable to Americans for its lack of receipts. This is convenient for the shoppers, who don’t have to hunt around for somewhere to toss yet another piece of unwanted paper. But it was also convenient for vendors who wanted to underpay the tax authorities.

The inability of the Greek government to collect the taxes it is owed is one of the recurring themes of coverage of the financial crisis. This problem is sometimes exaggerated, but everyone agrees that it’s very real. And since the burden of structural adjustment is falling on fiscal reforms — rather than, say, firing unproductive members of the vast government workforce — that’s a big problem.

Widespread evasion narrows the tax base, forcing the government to set higher rates. If the evasion were spread evenly across all sectors of the economy, then these two things would roughly cancel out. Unfortunately, it’s not. Some sorts of taxes are easier to evade than others. Employment taxes are hard to evade, while self-employed professionals like doctors and lawyers have found it relatively easy to shelter most of their incomes. As a result, the cost of employing a new staff worker is quite high (especially since those workers are incredibly difficult to fire). The value-added tax here is now 23 percent, close to the EU maximum rate. (Thank God for that maximum, joked one journalist I met; otherwise, who knows how high they’d have raised it.) That’s making up for taxes that aren’t collected elsewhere.

The good news is that Greece has at least made progress on collecting sales tax. They’re hardly at the level that our Internal Revenue Service would accept, but most of the places I’ve gone have automatically given me a receipt, printed out by a cash register. The taxi drivers mostly offer printed receipts. One did ask me how much he should make it out for. (Note to boss: I told him to make it out for the amount of the fare.) I’m told that on the islands, collection is less sure. But here in Athens, they are slowly but surely improving their collection apparatus.

Greece is attempting to do in the space of a few years what other economies did over the course of decades. Most people think of a cash register primarily as a way to add up the value of the sale, but in fact, that is the least of its functions. Its most attractive feature to the merchants who adopted them back in the late 19th century was that they made it harder for clerks to steal. (That’s why old registers made a noise every time the cash drawer opened; that prevented employees from stealthily recording sales and then pocketing the money, or alternatively, giving goods to their friends without being paid.) Over time, of course, revenue authorities realized that cash register tickers were also a good way to ensure that employers gave the state its due.

Command and Control Solutions

Filed under: Economics, Government — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 18 Mar 2015

What happened to the cleanliness of your clothes after the U.S. Department of Energy issued new washing machine requirements? The requirements — which require washers to use 21% less energy — mean that washers actually clean clothes less than they used to. Is “command and control” an efficient way to achieve the desired outcome (which is less pollution)? Rather than a standard requirement, such as the Department of Energy issued, a tax on electricity would provide users with greater flexibility in their washing—and would prompt people to purchase machines that use energy more efficiently and keep their clothes clean.

Are there times when a command and control solution to a problem makes the most sense? We look at the eradication of smallpox as one example.

September 19, 2015

The miraculous cornucopia that is the welfare state

Filed under: Economics, Europe, Government — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

J.R. Ireland explains how the New Republic has it all figured out, so we can stop fretting about that boring old “capitalism” thing:

The beautiful thing about confirmation bias is that you never actually have to provide any evidence for your argument. All you have to do is find the first person or the first scrap of evidence which can be twisted and distorted to fit an already extant narrative, and you can carry on your marry way, gleefully the nearly infinite number of reasons that the argument you just made is actually quite terrible.

For example, in The New Republic, a once important magazine now fading into oblivion, Elizabeth Stoker Breunig wrote an article which declared airily that Paid Parental Leave Is Fueling Sweden’s Start-Up Boom. What evidence does she have for this? Well, she doesn’t actually have any — it just fits her biases so she purposefully chose not to actually look into any of the claims being made. If she had, she probably would have realized that virtually everything she is saying is wrong.

First of all, her entire argument is based on one woman’s opinion, which Breunig, true to form, never bothers to check up on:

    Each week, Sweden’s national Twitter account allows a different Swede to take over tweeting and tell his or her story. Last week it was Louise Samet, a new mom and an employee of Swedish e-commerce giant Klarna. But unlike Amazon, where women only receive eight weeks of paid leave and men receive none, Klarna supplements 68 weeks of paid leave, which is split evenly between mothers and fathers. According to Samet, Sweden’s parent-friendly policies mean not only a better corporate culture, but also fertile ground for people interested in breaking into the start-up scene. I caught up with Samet to get a little more of a tech start-up insider’s view on paid leave, innovative business, and workplace culture.

    Samet began her week of tweeting discussing paid leave. “I have a son who’s 5 months old and am currently enjoying the generous parental leave,” Samet tweeted on Monday, adding a few minutes later: “[Paid leave] enables me to have a career and spend time with my son, and it really promotes gender equality.” A little later in the week, Samet considered the role of Sweden’s robust welfare system, of which paid leave is a part, in shoring up its start-up companies: “I find the startup scene in Sweden very interesting, people dare to try out their ideas, prob partly thanks to the social welfare system.”

How very European! All that is good in life is thanks to the welfare state! Wunderbar!

The problem, however, becomes immediately apparent — this is just one random women’s opinion. She thinks the reason that there are so many startups in Sweden is because of the ‘social welfare system’ but offers quite literally no evidence that this is so. Breunig just takes her at her word.

September 18, 2015

What is killing small US businesses? Compliance costs and regulatory overstretch

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

Okay, perhaps the headline is a bit strong, but Warren Meyer explains why even “small” businesses need to be bigger than ever in order to be able to file all the appropriate government forms, rather than concentrating on serving their customers and growing their client base:

Over the last four years or so we have spent all of this capacity on complying with government rules. No capacity has been left over to do other new things. Here are just a few of the things we have been spending time on:

  • Because no insurance company has been willing to write coverage for our employees (older people working seasonally) we were forced to try to shift scores of employees from full-time to part-time work to avoid Obamacare penalties that would have been larger than our annual profits. This took a lot of new processes and retraining and new hiring to make work. And we are still not done, because we have to get down another 30 or so full-time workers for next year.
  • The local minimum wage movement has forced us to rethink our whole labor system to deal with rising minimum wages. Also, since we must go through a time-consuming process to get the government agencies we work with to approve pricing and fee changes, we have had to spend an inordinate amount of time justifying price increases to cover these mandated increases in our labor costs. This will just accelerate in the future, as the President’s contractor minimum wage order is, in some places, forcing us to raise camping prices by an astounding 20%.
  • Several states have mandated we use e-Verify on all new employees, which is an incredibly time-consuming addition to our hiring process.
  • In fact, the proliferation of employee hiring documentation requirements has forced us through two separate iterations of a hiring document tracking and management system.
  • The California legislature can be thought of as an incredibly efficient machine for creating huge masses of compliance work. We have to have a whole system to make sure our employees don’t work over their meal breaks. We have to have detailed processes in place for hot days. We have to have exactly the right kinds of chairs for our employees. We have to put together complicated shifts to meet California’s much tougher overtime rules. Just this past year, we had to put in a system for keeping track of paid sick days earned by employees. We have two employee manuals: one for most of the country and one just for California and all its requirements (it has something like 27 flavors of mandatory leave employers must grant). The list goes on and on. So much so that in addition to all the compliance work, we also spent a lot of work shutting down every operation of ours in California, narrowing down to just 3 contracts today. There has been one time savings though — we never look at any new business opportunities in CA because we have no desire to add exposure to that state.

Does any of this add value? Well, I suppose if you are one who considers it more important that companies make absolutely sure they offer time off to stalking victims in California than focus on productivity, you are going to be very happy with what we have been working on. Otherwise….

Beer? In Ontario grocery stores? It’s more likely than you think

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Government — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Ben’s Beer Blog scores an exclusive interview with Tom Barlow, President and CEO of the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers on the topic of liberalizing Ontario’s Prohibition-era market access rules for beer:

Some details about beer in grocery stores

  • We will likely see beer on grocery store shelves in the next 18 months
  • The province still hasn’t decided how to auction off licenses to sell beer in a way that is fair to small grocers
  • At least one grocery store chain has stated they’d like to sell “100% craft beer.”
  • If you have fears that bigger brewers are going to be able to buy shelf space, continue to be scared of that very real possibility
  • Brewers will be allowed to do direct-to-store delivery

A transcript of my chat with Tom Barlow, President and CEO of CFIG, edited slightly for length

Ben Johnson: Thanks for chatting with me Tom. It’s been pretty quiet in terms of the announcement about exactly how we’re going to get beer in grocery stores. So can you tell me a little about the process for becoming eligible to sell beer in your stores? Speculation has been pretty rampant that we’d only see bigger chains getting the privilege, so it’s interesting to hear that independent grocers are at the table.

Tom Barlow: Yeah, I’ll share what I can. The regs will be coming out soon, and the people that have been in discussions are under a non-disclosure but what I can tell you is that the original conversation was that it would be just large chains, then the government through consultations with [CFIG] and regions decided that it should be open to “grocery” under the North American definition of what grocery is, namely that they carry fresh produce, fresh meat, and that kind of thing. I don’t know if they’ve settled on a size — there was some discussion that there would be a minimum size — but for all intents and purposes it would be “grocery” and it would be wide open. The discussion we’ve had so far is that there would be so many licenses to start and they’d step it out, then get comfortable, then release some more, and then release some more. The number that was floated was around 450 licenses. That is, 450 retailers are going to have the opportunity to sell beer.

BJ: I’m assuming it’s a bidding process for getting the license and that’s the part you can’t talk about?

TB: They’re still working through the mechanism, but are looking at a biding process. I think we made our point that privately held — vs. publicly held — the access to cash is different, so there needs to be a plan made so all the licenses don’t all get swallowed up by —

BJ: Galen Weston?

TB: — Yeah, exactly. We were a little frustrated at first but after numerous conversations they’ve heard our position, and I think it’s the same with the corporate chains, is that they should have just opened it up to “grocery” from the start. If you’re going to go grocery, go grocery. This contest for picking winners and losers is a slippery slope to be going down.

September 10, 2015

Europe’s welfare system or free immigration – pick one

Filed under: Europe, Government — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

David Friedman discusses the EU’s immigration and existing welfare arrangements:

The strongest argument against free immigration, from the standpoint of supporters of the free market, is that immigrants from poor countries may come not in order to work but in order to take advantage of a rich country’s welfare system. Seen from one side it is an argument against free migration, seen from the other an argument against a welfare system. The easier it is for poor people to come to take advantage of welfare, the less attractive redistribution looks to the taxpayers paying for it, hence the less generous the system is likely to be. That may explain why levels of redistribution are generally lower in the U.S., where welfare was traditionally handled at the state level and intrastate migration was free, than in Europe, where welfare was handled at the national level and interstate migration was restricted.

Was. Within the E.U., there is now free migration. That puts pressure on national welfare systems either to reduce the level of transfers or raise redistribution to the supranational level. That pressure was limited as long as all E.U. members were relatively wealthy countries, became greater with the admission of poorer members from eastern Europe.

It is now greater still as the willingness of some European states to accept refugees and treat them generously, combined with conflicts that produce large numbers of actual refugees while making it difficult to distinguish them from voluntary migrants, is creating a flood tide of would-be residents on Europe’s southern and eastern borders

One way in which the E.U. might respond is by restricting immigration. That will be difficult when many of the would-be immigrants are fleeing real dangers, hence natural objects of sympathy. How do you distinguish real refugees from migrants seeking to take advantage of generous transfers (330 € monthly, accommodation, language courses and so on during the six months that it takes Germany to decide whether or not someone qualifies for asylum, according to a comment on a recent post here)? And immigration restriction is made more difficult by the fact that border control is done at the national level. A country with low levels of redistribution can leave its border open in the expectation that most new arrivals will promptly depart for richer fields.

September 5, 2015

Raising the minimum wage also means raising prices for many retailers

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

Louis DeBroux on the plight of some marginal businesses in California who are seeing lower support from their customers as they raise prices to ensure they can keep paying their current employees at the new mandated minimum wage:

Earlier this year, labor unions in Los Angeles whipped up low-wage workers into a frenzy with demands for a minimum “living” wage of $15 per hour. They achieved their goal and the $15/hour wage bill was signed into law. This was supposed to be a huge victory for the workers (though, it should be noted, within days of the law going into effect, the same labor unions that lobbied for the $15/hour minimum wage were lobbying government for an exemption for union companies, so that union companies could pay well below the new minimum wage).

Even so, some California business owners decided to show solidarity with the cause of low-wage workers, significantly increasing their starting wage of their own volition.

Vic Gumper, owner of Lanesplitter Pizza (with stores in Albany, Berkeley, Oakland, and Emeryville, California), voluntarily raised wages for his employees to between $15 to $25 per hour. In order to cover the cost of the higher “living” wage, Gumper began advertising $30 “living wage pizzas” to his customers, which include patrons from the Pixar Animation Studios and biotech companies located near his shops. In doing so he declared these pizzas “sustainably served, really … no tips necessary”.

The result? Sales have dropped by 25% as liberals in these communities have balked at having to pony up more money for the pizzas. The hit has been so significant that Gumper has had to close during lunch hour at several locations (think about that…a restaurant that has to close during LUNCH because it can’t afford to stay open!).

Gumper says that “The necessity of paying a living wage in the Bay Area [which has one of the highest costs of living in the nation] is clear, so it’s hard to argue against it, and it’s something I’m really proud to be able to try doing…At the same time, I’m terrified of going out of business after 18 years.”

There really isn’t a free lunch … if you use the power of government to raise the costs of doing business, either the local businesses pass on that increased cost by way of the prices they charge to their customers or they economize by reducing their labour costs (and the number of employees they support). A more drastic solution is going out of business or moving out of the jurisdiction: neither of which is typically considered during the legislative process.

August 31, 2015

The NDP and federal corporate taxes

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Government — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

In Maclean’s, Stephen Gordon looks at how the New Democratic Party is talking about their approach to corporate taxation during the current election campaign:

… the OECD says that the current combined (that is, federal plus state/provincial) corporate income tax rate in the US is 39 per cent. In Canada, it’s 26.3 per cent (the federal rate of 15 per cent plus an average provincial rate of 11.3 per cent.) Getting us up to something resembling the U.S. rate (in the absence of changes in provincial rates) would require increasing the federal rate to around 27 per cent.

The NDP has made use of several different reference points since then. For example, rolling back the cuts made under the Conservative government would bring the rate back up to 22 per cent. Increasing the federal rate to 19 per cent would bring us up to the average of the other G7 countries. The NDP’s target is apparently now down to 17 per cent or so.

As far as the prospects for Canadian economic growth go, this steady reduction is good news: corporate income taxes are the most harmful to economic growth. The growing recognition of the negative effects of corporate tax rates explains why Canada and other OECD countries have made it a point to reduce corporate income taxes over the past few decades […]

If you look at just the relationship between federal corporate income tax rates and federal income tax revenues, you get pretty much the same story. Even though federal corporate tax rates have fallen by more than half over the past 30 years, corporate income tax revenues have continued to fluctuate around two per cent of GDP.

Canadian corporate tax rates and revenue 1985-2014

There are at least two reasons why you might think that higher corporate tax rates might not result in higher corporate tax revenues:

  1. Higher corporate tax rates reduce the after-tax rate of return on investment. Everything else being equal, this reduces investment, capital accumulation and profits. Less profits means less corporate income to tax.
  2. Higher corporate taxes produce an incentive for multinational firms to shift taxable activities away from high-tax jurisdictions.

In the short and medium term, the second point is probably more important.

August 27, 2015

Incentives matter … but in a perverse manner for public employees

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

On the Property and Environmental Research Center website, Warren Meyer explains why the US Forest Service is cutting ties with private organizations that have been running federally owned facilities for less than the Forest Service is able to do … despite the private company’s proven higher levels of service:

Private concessionaires pay all operations costs out of the entrance fees paid by the public — and without further taxpayer subsidies. In addition, the concessionaire pays the public agency a concession fee. The resulting savings to taxpayers can be quite compelling. In a recent PERC case study, I showed how a parks agency had to supplement every dollar in visitor fees with an equal amount of tax dollars to keep a park open. By privatizing the park’s operations, the need for tax revenues could be eliminated. And in fact, the park could be turned into a money maker for the agency.

While this may resonate with the public, it’s a hard sell to the agencies themselves. The National Park Service uses concessionaires to provide some visitor services, but it has not considered private operation of entire parks. Even the Forest Service — which does allow some private park management — often seems eager to go back to running the parks themselves.


No private company would behave like this. So why does the government? Over the years, I have observed three possible explanations:

1. Government employees have incentives that go beyond “public service.” For most agency managers, their pay and prestige and future job prospects are tied to the size of their agency’s headcount and budget. Privatization savings that look like a boon to taxpayers may look like a demotion to agency managers.

2. People who are skeptical of private enterprise and more confident in government-led solutions tend to self-select for government jobs. Even in the Forest Service, concessionaires frequently experience outright hostility from the agency’s rank and file. “It’s wrong to make a profit on public lands” is one common statement.

3. Government accounting is not set up to make these sorts of decisions well. Few agencies have reports that tell them whether an individual park’s revenues are covering its full operational costs. Costs can be spread over multiple budgets, making it seem as though public park operation is less expensive than it really is.

To overcome these obstacles, we’ve learned that progress generally has to start above the agency. Some sort of legislative push is necessary. And we try to find ways to pitch our solutions as a way for agencies to free up money to address other problems, such as fixing rotting infrastructure.

August 26, 2015

Harper’s “boutique” tax credits

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Government, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Colby Cosh explains why Stephen Harper is so fond of certain kinds of tax system distortions (tl;dr — they work … politically if not economically):

On Sunday, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper announced that his government, if re-elected, would introduce a tax credit for memberships in service clubs like the Canadian Legion or the Kiwanis. This modest measure — and Harper himself emphasized its modesty — is already being greeted with some derision. Apparently this is because a tax break for service clubs is an absurd, baroque complication of the tax code, unfit to stand alongside sensible traditions like the Prince Edward Island aerospace tax credit, the Nova Scotia digital media tax credit, the British Columbia book publishing tax credit, the Ontario computer animation tax credit, the Manitoba odour control tax credit for farms, Quebec’s tax credit “for the modernization of a tourist accommodation establishment” or the various items exempted almost randomly from the GST, such as condominium fees and music lessons.

One senses that the Canadian media have decided, curiously late in the country’s history, that tax-code wrinkles introduced with the aim of social engineering are ridiculous, if the aims thereof are conservative ones. Furthermore, we have concluded that lifting taxes on Elks or Knights of Columbus memberships, and thus putting them on more or less the same footing as religious tithes, is especially ridiculous.

The Conservative party will be awfully disappointed if the press does not engage in some snickering here. The work of the Kinsmen or Rotary is not especially visible if you never cross Eglinton Avenue; the very names of these groups have a rustic flavour on the tongue, carry a whiff of old-school WASP dominance and gray-flannel respectability. Break out into the smaller cities, if you dare, and the traces become somewhat clearer: a seniors’ centre here, an air-ambulance fundraiser there. In smaller towns, service clubs are often practically synonymous with capital-S Society. Laugh at the idea of a tax break for the Legion, but make sure you are still laughing on election night.

August 25, 2015

Roger Kimball says Elon Musk is crazy

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

Oh, sorry, he actually said Musk is “crazy like a visionary“:

I am an unlikely fan of Elon Musk, the flamboyant, Steve Jobs-like (some would say Tony Stark-like) entrepreneur behind SpaceX, SolarCity, Tesla Motors, and other enterprises that seemed like starry-eyed impossibilities a scant decade ago. Musk’s two governing passions, he has said repeatedly, are “sustainable transport” to battle “global warming” and finding a way to make mankind an interplanetary species, beginning with a space colony on Mars.

For my part, the word “sustainable” has me reaching, if not for my revolver, then at least for an air-sickness bag. I regard the whole Green Lobby as a cocktail composed of three parts moralistic hysteria mixed with a jigger of high-proof cynical opportunism (take a look at Al Gore’s winnings from the industry) fortified with a dash of beady-eyed left-wing redistributionist passion. You can never be Green enough, Comrade, and if the data show a 20-year “hiatus” in global warming (so much for Michael Mann’s infamous hockey stick), that’s no reason not to insist that capitalist powerhouses like the United States drastically curtail their CO2 emissions right now, today, while giving egregious polluters like China a decade or more to meet its quotas.

No, when it comes to energy, I often quote, sometimes with attribution, the Manhattan Institute’s Robert Bryce: what the world needs now is cheap, abundant energy, period, full stop, end of discussion. My motto is: frack early, frack often. Do you want to help the poor/clean up the environment/save the spotted wildebeest? Then you need economic growth, and to achieve that you need energy, which at the moment means you need fracking. Q.E.D.

When it comes to interplanetary travel, I suspect that Musk’s passion for transforming us into “space-faring” creatures was heavily influenced by his youthful reading of Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and (one of his favorites) The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Not that those adolescent chestnuts necessarily argue against the plausibility of his ambitions. Behind Musk’s enthusiasm for space colonization is a worry that a future “extinction event” might delete human consciousness from the emporium of the universe.

For what it’s worth, I’m very much split on Musk and his works: I generally agree with his desire to help get humanity expanding beyond our single, frail planet … I just wish he wasn’t guzzling down government subsidies to get there. I’ve read the book Kimball is reviewing (Ashlee Vance’s Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future), and I certainly feel I got my money’s worth from the purchase … Musk is potentially a very great man. Right now, he’s a pretty good man who still takes everything he can get from the government.

August 19, 2015

The Duffy Affair – try explaining it in just one sentence

Filed under: Cancon, Government, Media — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Colby Cosh on the Senate scandal that is convulsing the Parliamentary Press Gallery from coast-to-coast (actually, it’s more like from Gatineau to Nepean):

I wish I’d captured the exact quote from Twitter, but a paraphrase will have to do: someone said recently, “If you want to feel better about Canada, try explaining the Duffy-Wright scandal to someone from another country in one sentence.” I cannot help feeling that there is something to this. Our media have blitzed a courtroom and consumed great newspaper acreage over a very technical and complicated topic. There is no glamour in the affair, by world standards — phrases like “paid for hookers,” “hired a death squad” or “donations from the Klan” are absent.

Dubious billing procedures by politicians make for good stories. They helped bring down an Alberta government not long ago. But that news story involved using public resources for partisan purposes. In the case of Nigel Wright — as distinguished from the issue of Mike Duffy being a scurrilous, greedy trimmer, a truth we did not need a trial to tell us — the fundamental problem is what the Conservative party and Wright did to defray the questionable expenses imposed upon the treasury.

A scandal and a shame it may be, but in an upside-down way. Mike Duffy’s expense claims have not yet been found to be legally or procedurally wrong. Duffy was unwilling to pay them back. Nigel Wright tried to pre-empt the issue by making use of his personal fortune. It’s a “scandalous” donation of private dollars to the public treasury.

If I ask what is actually scandalous about this, I am guaranteed to receive several different answers. The Conservatives are charged with having considered paying Duffy’s expenses out of party funds, which, I am told, are “public” in nature because they are supported by a tax subsidy. The Conservatives did, of course, contemplate using party funds … but didn’t. And those funds, though subsidized, exist precisely to be applied ad libitum for partisan convenience.

Another theory is that Wright’s payment was, by its inherent nature, a “bribe.” The Conservatives, covering up bribery! — non-lawyers are fond of that one. Whether Duffy was guilty of accepting a bribe is, of course, one of the issues in the trial. It is even less clear that Wright is guilty of having offered a bribe: in law, a bribe does not take two to tango. Under the Criminal Code, giving a bribe means giving money to a legislator in order to get them to do something, or not do something, “in their official capacity.” There are plenty of speculative theories about what Wright had to gain from paying Duffy’s expenses: none, as far as I can see, involve Duffy’s official conduct.

August 13, 2015

QotD: Libertarianism

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

Libertarianism is not the claim that individuals are always rational, or that markets are always efficient, or that the distribution of income under laissez-faire capitalism is always “fair.” Rather, it is the claim that, despite the imperfections of private arrangements, government interventions usually make things worse. Thus, non-intervention is the better policy.

Jeffrey Miron, “A case for the libertarian: Neither liberals nor conservatives recognize their inconsistencies”, Washington Times, 2014-07-17.

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