Quotulatiousness

April 3, 2017

“Politics is like the weather; it doesn’t care what you think about it”

Filed under: Government, History, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Jonah Goldberg, from last week’s “G-File ‘News’letter”, on the notion that the old political rules no longer apply:

Here’s the important point. Politics is like the weather; it doesn’t care what you think about it. It simply is. And at least in this sense, I was right when I said that democracy gives the illusion of control.

In 2006, I wrote in the Corner about the Left’s belief, as expressed by Simon Rosenberg, that we were entering an era of “new politics.” Conservatism was over. A new era of modern, expert-driven political management was upon us. To his credit, Rosenberg didn’t say that politics was over, just that this was some new era where the old playbook didn’t apply. But it’s sort of the same thing. The idea that politics will go away if we elect the right person is a form of utopianism that plagues the Left — and, alas, the Right.

Barack Obama entered office thinking the exact same thing (So did LBJ. So did JFK. So did FDR. So did Woodrow Wilson). As I’ve written 8 trillion times, Obama really believed that he was a post-ideological president who only cared about “what works.” This progressive understanding of pragmatism is a kind of exquisite confirmation bias. We’re not ideological, we just want to do the smartest, best thing (which just happens to line up with our undisclosed and unacknowledged ideological biases).

The problem? Politics doesn’t vanish just because you want it to. Wilson was convinced that the wisdom of the Treaty of Versailles was akin to scientific fact. It wasn’t, but let’s say that it was. His view didn’t erase the political necessity of selling it to Congress.

During the election, lots of people told me that a businessman would cut through all the politics by running the government like a business. Jared Kushner is apparently heading up the latest version of this incredibly hackneyed and ancient idea. The simple problem is that government isn’t a business (never mind that Donald Trump is not a typical businessman). The incentive structure of politics is entirely different than the incentive structure for a businessman. A CEO can walk into a meeting and explain to his employees that if they don’t hit their widget sales quota, no one will get their bonus. Politics doesn’t work like that.

Moreover, people who say “Who cares about politics” or “Politics are irrelevant” are like people who go sailing in a hurricane on the assumption that weather shouldn’t matter.

April 2, 2017

Yes, Prime Minister – The need to know

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

Published on 23 Sep 2014

Scene from season 2, episode 8.

April 1, 2017

Hello Angry Losers

Filed under: Britain, Europe, Government, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 31 Mar 2017

A Word To The Patronising Minority

March 31, 2017

“You can’t buy my internet data. You can’t buy your internet data. That’s not how this works

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

At Techdirt, Mike Masnick bravely attempts to tamp down the hysteria over this week’s vote in Congress to kill broadband privacy protections (which, as he notes, hadn’t yet come into effect anyway):

People are rightfully angry and upset about this. The privacy protections were fairly simple, and would have been helpful in stopping truly egregious behavior by some dominant ISPs who have few competitors, and thus little reason to treat people right. But misleading and misinforming people isn’t helpful either.

[…]

But here’s the real problem: you can’t buy Congress’ internet data. You can’t buy my internet data. You can’t buy your internet data. That’s not how this works. It’s a common misconception. We even saw this in Congress four years ago, where Rep. Louis Gohmert went on a smug but totally ignorant rant, asking why Google won’t sell the government all the data it has on people. As we explained at the time, that’s not how it works*. Advertisers aren’t buying your browsing data, and ISPs and other internet companies aren’t selling your data in a neat little package. It doesn’t help anyone to blatantly misrepresent what’s going on.

When ISPs or online services have your data and “sell” it, it doesn’t mean that you can go to, say, AT&T and offer to buy “all of Louis Gohmert’s browsing history.” Instead, what happens is that these companies collect that data for themselves and then sell targeting. That is, when Gohmert goes to visit his favorite publication, that website will cast out to various marketplaces for bids on what ads to show. Thanks to information tracking, it may throw up some demographic and interest data to the marketplace. So, it may say that it has a page being viewed by a male from Texas, who was recently visiting webpages about boardgames and cow farming (to randomly choose some items). Then, from that marketplace, some advertisers’ computerized algorithms will more or less say “well, I’m selling boardgames about cows in Texas, and therefore, this person’s attention is worth 1/10th of a penny more to me than some other company that’s selling boardgames about moose.” And then the webpage will display the ad about cow boardgames. All this happens in a split second, before the page has fully loaded.

At no point does the ad exchange or any of the advertisers know that this is “Louis Gohmert, Congressional Rep.” Nor do they get any other info. They just know that if they are willing to spend the required amount to get the ad shown via the marketplace bidding mechanism, it will show up in front of someone who is somewhat more likely to be interested in the content.

That’s it.

* Amusingly, Rep. Gohmert voted to repeal the privacy protections, which makes no sense if he actually believed what he was saying in that hearing a few years ago…

H/T to Amy Alkon for the link.

On a related note, LifeHacker posted a recommendation for “The Laziest, Cheapest Way to Circumvent Your Snooping ISP“. (Spoiler: it’s Opera). I use Opera, but not exclusively … I also use Brave, Chrome, and Firefox on a daily basis.

QotD: Government as Superman … reality as Kryptonite

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

… politics is all details. And each of those tiny little details has to be endlessly negotiated, because the system is set up precisely to frustrate a powerful guy with a big idea. You may recall your middle school social studies teacher talking about “checks and balances.” This is what that looks like. Kryptonite, if you will.

So there is no shortcut around the long days spent debating whether the tax credit should be 3.45 percent or 3.65 percent, and drafting pages of legislation that amend some obscure subclause of the immigration code to read “that” rather than “which,” and ending up with a middling, pork-riddled program that costs too much and doesn’t do anything close to what its visionary proponents promised.

Governing is not like building a building; it’s not like running a business. It’s like, well, trying to herd three branches of government in roughly the same direction. These branches are composed of thousands of people, each of whom has their own agenda, and represents millions more, each of whom has their own agenda, and will hound out of office anyone who strays too far from it. This is a wildly ponderous and inefficient way to do anything, which is why I am a libertarian; almost anything can be done better when you’re not trying to build it by a committee.

But in a representative democracy, this is what we have. There is no superhero strong enough to overcome the villain. There is actually not even a villain to defeat, only the unslayable amoeboid agglomeration of 300 million citizens’ worth of unenlightened self-interest. In the immortal words of P.J. O’Rourke: “Every government is a parliament of whores. The trouble is, in a democracy the whores are us.”

Megan McArdle, “Voters Want Change. Candidates Disappoint. Repeat.”, Bloomberg View, 2015-08-21.

March 30, 2017

Words & Numbers: The Arts Will Survive Without Your Taxes

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

Published on 29 Mar 2017

This week, James & Antony experiment with a slightly longer format, and get into the issue of government funding for the arts.

March 27, 2017

UBI as “trust-fundism” writ large

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

In City Journal, Oren Cass discusses the suggested Universal Basic Income:

The UBI’s implications are clear from a family perspective. Imagine promising your child a basic income beginning at age 18. This is not just providing support — most parents already do that. Within the constraints of their own resources, they may give their young-adult children assistance with educational costs and even the down-payment on a first home; other government programs already seek to offer such support to those with lower incomes. But the UBI goes well beyond that, to an unconditional, irrevocable right to receive the cash for meeting basic needs: basically, the ultimate handout, not a hand up. A child would not receive payments himself, but he would grow up expecting them in a culture that endorsed them.

So if a parent wants the UBI experience for his children, he should not only promise the payments but also envision having “the UBI talk” with each one at least once a year, beginning no later than age 10. It could go something like this:

    Son, it is important to me that you not feel obligated to support yourself. That’s my job. Nor should you feel a duty to be a productive member of society. It is a central principle of this family, rather, that you feel entitled to everything you need.

    I hope you will get a job, because I think you will find it fulfilling, and it will allow you to buy nicer things. I also hope my support will encourage you to take some extra risks and pursue a challenging career, or become an entrepreneur, or dedicate yourself to helping those less fortunate. But none of that is a condition of my support. You can also backpack through Europe indefinitely or just sit in the basement smoking pot. In fact, as soon as we are done with this talk, let’s go watch one of the many movies Hollywood has produced recently in which they show the enormous benefits of those choices and viciously mock anyone who frowns on them.

    If you find a girlfriend, I’ll be happy to double your payment. If you have kids, the payment will increase further. But lest you feel tied down, rest assured that you can break up, abandon the kids, and I’ll continue making payments anyway. And we’ll start those payments as soon as you turn 18, at a critical inflection point in your future.

Of course, some parents do provide their children with a system of automatic support. We call the result a “trust-fund baby.” The term is not usually synonymous with “kind, well-adjusted, productive member of society.” The day when parents embrace trust-fundism as a child-rearing ideal is the day when the UBI will gain mainstream traction as a public policy.

If the UBI’s advocates really believe in the policy, they should start with their own children. Granted, the “what about your own kids?” argument is usually a cheap rhetorical ploy. Advocates of foreign intervention don’t eagerly send their children into battle, nor do advocates of higher taxes voluntarily pay higher taxes themselves; they don’t claim that fighting wars or paying taxes benefits the individual, but rather that society as a whole would benefit. A policymaker might rationally enroll his children in private school while pursuing a public school model of education reform, or sign up his family for better health insurance than he believes the government should guarantee to all, without necessarily being hypocritical. What’s best for one’s own child need not align with the public policy one believes most appropriate for the government to adopt.

March 25, 2017

Trump Can’t Stop Marijuana Legalization (But He Can Slow it Down)

Filed under: Government, Health, Law, Liberty — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 23 Mar 2017

“The Trump administration can slow down marijuana legalization, but they can’t stop it.” says Reason Senior Editor Jacob Sullum.

Trump already endorsed medical marijuana on the campaign trail, and said that states should be free to legalize it, but his appointment of old school drug warrior Jeff Sessions as U.S. Attorney General is cause for concern.

“First of all the, federal government doesn’t have the power to force states to make marijuana legal again.” They could sue to knock down state regulations, but that would simply leave behind a legal but unregulated market. The feds don’t have the manpower to crack down on the local level, and there’s very little upside for the administration to roll back legalization. “They can create a lot of chaos, but ultimately they’re not going to reverse legalization and bring back prohibition”

Produced by Austin and Meredith Bragg

March 23, 2017

The rent is too damned high? I know – let’s kill the rental market!

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

Toronto’s real estate market has been insane for years, with prices for utter wrecks still approaching a million dollars. This has a knock-on effect for rental housing, with insufficient supply guaranteeing that rents will also go higher and higher. The Ontario NDP thinks they’ve got a silver bullet to fix the rental market: rent control! Chris Selley explains why this won’t work out the way eager would-be renters in Toronto might hope:

The NDP’s solution: rent control. MPP Peter Tabuns tabled a private member’s bill Monday that would extend limits on annual rent increases to units built after 1991 — thus closing a so-called “loophole” the Mike Harris Tories introduced in hopes people would build more new units. The Liberals followed quickly behind, with Housing Minister Chris Ballard promising “substantive rent control reform” — details to come.

You can see the attraction, politically. Robber baron landlords swoop in, cackling, forcing families onto the streets and auctioning off their homes, literally, to the highest bidder. The government can stop it. Why won’t the government stop it?

No doubt there are some very sympathetic stories out there. But we in the media tend to be very good at finding those, and it’s hard not to notice the preponderance of “victims” who could afford very high rent in the first place, and didn’t do their homework with respect to rent control or the lack thereof. A typical example: CBC introduced us to a 32-year-old who was paying $1,650 a month for a tiny one-bedroom condo, only to be sent couchsurfing by a whopping $950 increase.

[…]

The fact is, rent control would largely help high-end renters in a high-end market. The vast majority of units that aren’t rent controlled are condos. In October, CMHC pegged the condo-over-apartment rental premium in the GTA at 46 per cent for one-bedrooms, 54 per cent for two-bedrooms and 65 per cent for three-bedrooms.

The real challenge these days is finding an apartment, period: the vacancy rate in October was 1.3 per cent. Critics say the “loophole” didn’t actually incentivize building rental apartments, but closing the “loophole” certainly won’t. Indeed, it’s tough to see how it would accomplish much except transferring money from unit owners to their tenants. Many will like that idea on principle — but if owners can’t rent to the highest bidder, they are unlikely to suddenly rent for less to the youngest, most disadvantaged and most vulnerable people rent control ostensibly helps.

If you want central Toronto to be a more affordable place to live, you need to figure out how to boost supply. There are lots of different ideas out there. It’s a topic of constant discussion at City Hall and Queen’s Park alike. Rent control is nothing but a political distraction.

March 18, 2017

Don’t just “fix” CAFE … eliminate it

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

Virginia Postrel on the best idea for fixing the Corporate Average Fuel Economy regulations:

Although Congress originally established the Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE, standards to conserve gasoline in 1975, the Obama administration justified its sharp hike as a way to curb greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. A reversal will almost certainly trigger legal challenges.

Fighting over the right level for fuel-economy mandates obscures the fundamental problem, however. The CAFE standards are lousy environmental policy. Instead of targeting the real issue — burning less gasoline — the mandates meddle in corporate strategy, impose enormous hidden costs, and encourage drivers to hang on to their old gas guzzlers. Republicans should scrap the standards altogether while they control the White House and Congress. The CAFE rules are a terrible way to achieve either fuel savings or lower carbon emissions.

For starters, measuring miles per gallon is a misleading way to think about fuel efficiency. What we need is the reverse: gallons per mile. That more clearly shows how much fuel a given improvement might save. Going from 3.3 gallons per 100 miles (better known as 30 mpg) to 2 gallons per 100 miles (50 mpg) presents a much tougher design challenge than getting from 6.7 gallons per 100 miles (15 mpg) to 4 gallons per 100 miles (25 mpg). Yet the more modest improvement saves more than twice as much gasoline. And that’s without considering the relative popularity of gas guzzlers or how better gas mileage can encourage people to drive more.

And, of course, CAFE standards affect only new vehicles, a tiny percentage of the total. Higher mandates don’t get old ones off the road and, in fact, they may very likely keep gas guzzlers driving longer. Research by economists Mark Jacobsen of the University of California-San Diego and Arthur van Benthem at the Wharton School finds that among vehicles more than nine years old, the least fuel-efficient ones stay on the road the longest. By raising the prices of new vehicles, tighter fuel regulations encourage drivers to buy used ones or simply keep what they already have.

Catherine the Great – IV: Reforms, Rebellion, and Greatness – Extra History

Filed under: Europe, Government, History, Law, Russia — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 18 Feb 2017

Catherine had great ambitions to reform Russia according to her own highest ideals, but she soon found that the reality of governance made those ideals difficult to achieve. She also found herself tangled in war, rebellion, and (scandalously) smallpox.

March 16, 2017

Words & Numbers: Blocked by a State’s Wall of Taxes

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

Published on 15 Mar 2017

This week, James & Antony discuss the case of Connecticut’s budget shortfall. The state hopes to solve their financial problems by raiding the retirement accounts of previous Connecticut government employees who have moved out of the state, and take 30% of those savings. This plan would hurt retirees, break promises, and trap many people in the state based on a policy that may be illegal.

March 14, 2017

“Most policy ideas are bad” (especially in US healthcare)

Filed under: Government, Health, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Megan McArdle says that the best plan the Republicans could come up with to deal with Obamacare is to do nothing, at least in the short-term:

For a policy columnist, “Don’t do that” is the easiest column to write. Most policy ideas are bad. If you simply blindly oppose everything that anyone ever puts forward, you’ll end up being right most of the time.

However, that’s not very useful for politicians. If they just sit around Congress playing tiddlywinks all day, voters will get cranky. Congress is supposed to do things. So, having spent a few days saying unkind things about the Republican health-care plan, it probably behooves me to state what I think they should do.

Well, boy, that’s a hard question. Here’s the thing: For all the unkind words I’ve said, I get the forces that have brought Republicans to this point. As I wrote Thursday, Democrats built a shoddy and unworkable structure out of the political equivalent of concrete: nearly impossible to repair or renovate, and darned expensive to demolish. The task is made even harder by the fact that Democrats currently control just enough votes in the Senate to keep Republicans from passing any sort of clean, comprehensive bill.

[…]

What would I do in this situation? Well, the first thing I’d do is accept, deep in my heart, that there are no great outcomes possible at this point. The second thing I’d do is remember that nothing is always a policy option: If you can’t do something better than the status quo, don’t do anything. It’s what I said to Democrats in 2009, and it’s what I’m saying to Republicans now.

So what would I do to minimize the damage, within the constraints of political reality? Well, I foresee two potential futures for the current status quo. One, the exchanges where individuals buy policies could fail, leaving people unable to buy insurance. Or two, the exchanges don’t fail, and we’re left with an unsatisfactory but still operational system.

In either case, the Republicans’ best option is to wait. Why? Because what they can do now — hastily, without touching the underlying regulations that have destabilized the individual market — is worse than either of those outcomes. The partial-reform structure they think they’ll be able to get through the Senate is likely to make the problems in the individual market worse, not better. And the fact that they’ve tinkered with the program means that Republicans will take 100 percent of the blame.

She also re-iterates her own ideal solution (which she admits wouldn’t fly with the American public):

Longtime readers of my column know that my pet proposal is a radical overhaul of the whole system in which we zero out all the existing subsidies and just have the government pick up 100 percent of the tab for medical expenses that exceed 15 or 20 percent of a family’s adjusted gross income: basically, a single-payer catastrophic-care system for expenses that no one can realistically save for. Let people buy insurance for expenses below that, or, if it’s not too expensive taxwise, let people set aside more money tax-free in Health Savings Accounts. And make some more generous provisions for people closer to the poverty line, such as prefunding Health Savings Accounts for them. That’s the whole program. It fits on a postcard, though the finer details — like which cancer treatments we’re actually willing to pay for — obviously aren’t.

However, this is completely politically infeasible, because voters don’t want genuine insurance, by which I mean a pool that provides financial assistance for genuinely unforeseeable and unmanageable expenses. Voters want comprehensive coverage that kicks in at close to the first dollar of spending, no restrictions on treatments or their ability to see a doctor, nice American-style facilities, and so forth. They are also fond of their health-care professionals and do not wish to see provider incomes slashed and hospitals closed, nor do they want their taxes to go up, or to pay 10 percent of their annual income in premiums. This conflicting set of deeply held views is one major reason that Obamacare — and American health-care policy more generally — has the problems it does.

March 13, 2017

“It’s not really a debate over Obamacare, it’s a debate over Medicaid”

Filed under: Government, Health, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Robert Tracinski explains why the Republicans are having such a hard time with their oft-promised “repeal” of Obamacare:

House Republicans have released their proposed measure to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, and the whole enterprise is already losing steam right out of the gate. The measure is too small and incremental, less a repeal of Obamacare and more of a repair of it, keeping numerous basic features intact.

If you want to know why Republicans have bogged down, notice one peculiar thing about the Obamacare debate so far. It’s not really a debate over Obamacare, it’s a debate over Medicaid. That’s because Obamacare mostly turned out to be a big expansion of Medicaid. The health insurance exchanges that were supposed to provide affordable private health insurance (under a government aegis) never really delivered. They were launched in a state of chaos and incompetence, and ended up mostly offering plans that are expensive yet still have high deductibles. Rather than massively expanding the number of people with private insurance, a lot of the effect of Obamacare was to wreck people’s existing health care plans and push them into new exchange plans.

Ah, but what about all those people the Democrats are claiming were newly covered under Obamacare? A lot of them — up to two-thirds, by some estimates — are people who were made newly eligible for a government health-care entitlement, Medicaid. But shoving people onto Medicaid is not exactly a great achievement, since it is widely acknowledged to be a lousy program.

Conservative health care wonk Avik Roy explains why: “[T]he program’s dysfunctional 1965 design makes it impossible for states to manage their Medicaid budgets without ratcheting down what they pay doctors to care for Medicaid enrollees. That, in turn, has led many doctors to stop accepting Medicaid patients, such that Medicaid enrollees don’t get the care they need.” Partly as a result, a test in Oregon found no difference in health outcomes between those with access to Medicaid and those without.

March 11, 2017

The EFF’s guide to digital privacy at US border crossings

Filed under: Government, Liberty, Technology, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) provides a quick overview of your rights when entering the United States:

« Newer PostsOlder Posts »

Powered by WordPress