Quotulatiousness

February 6, 2018

QotD: The original goal of the minimum wage

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

For progressives, a legal minimum wage had the useful property of sorting the unfit, who would lose their jobs, from the deserving workers, who would retain their jobs. Royal Meeker, a Princeton economist who served as Woodrow Wilson’s U.S. Commissioner of Labor, opposed a proposal to subsidize the wages of poor workers for this reason. Meeker preferred a wage floor because it would disemploy unfit workers and thereby enable their culling from the work force.

Thomas Leonard, “Eugenics and Economics in the Progressive Era”, Journal of Economic Perspectives, 2005-09.

February 5, 2018

QotD: The Age of Hypocrisy

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

Hitler (one cannot mention him without the subliterates mouthing, “Reductio ad Hitlerum!” — not realizing that they are quoting Leo Strauss) was the great enabler. He gave cover to all lesser evils, including the greater of the lesser ones; and thereby retired all the prattling politicians from the Age of Hypocrisy, which he closed. Now all the baddies seemed good, by comparison, and everyone needed a baddie of his own, or they would get one assigned from Berlin.

The Age of Hypocrisy re-opened, of course, with Hitler’s death, when political discourse again softened. (Hypocrisy is the padding on the madhouse walls.) But for a twelve-year run in Germany, and shorter periods wherever their shadow fell, Hitler’s Nazis erased hypocrisy.

This is what Karl Kraus meant, when he said that the Nazis had left him speechless. For decades he had exposed the lies and deceitful posturing not only of politicians in the German-speaking world, but among their immense supporting cast of journalists and fashion-seeking intellectuals. He was the greater-than-Orwell who strode to the defence of the German language, when it was wickedly abused. He identified the new “smelly little orthodoxies” as they crawled from under the rocks of Western Civ — the squalid, unexamined premisses that led by increments to the slaughterhouse of Total War. He was not, even slightly, a revolutionist; he had no argument against anyone’s wealth or status, even his own. Rather, through savage satirical humour, with language untranslatably precise, impinging constantly upon the poetic, he undressed the false.

He had seen the First World War coming, in the malice spreading through the language; in the smugness that fogged perception; in the lies that people told each other, to preserve their amour-propre; in the jingo that lurked beneath the genteel. After, he saw worse.

David Warren, “The decline of requirements”, Essays in Idleness, 2016-06-07.

February 4, 2018

QotD: Modern feminism

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

Feminism now regularly calls for women to be treated as eggshells instead of equals. And through this, it does something pernicious to the women it claims to advocate for: Feminism has become a movement for female disempowerment, or what I call “encouraged helplessness” (from psychologist Martin Seligman’s “learned helplessness”—the feeling that there’s nothing you can do to escape your fate).

In fact, feminism, bizarrely, has morphed into paternalism — instructing women that they are fragile, passive, powerless victims who need authority figures to advocate for them.

That’s a movement I want no part of. Or, as I like to put it — because I’m neither a feminist nor much of a lady: Count me the fuck out.

If you’re a woman, I encourage you to join me — count yourself the fuck out of what feminism has become.

This doesn’t require you to be fearless. You just need to shove your fears aside and do what needs to be done — say, getting up on your hind legs and telling some co-worker, “Stop saying that thing to me” or “…treating me this way.”

Now, if they persist after you’ve told them to stop a few times, that’s harassment and you can seek support to get them to stop. But consider that it’s less likely to get to that point if you simply act like men’s equal—act as if you’re powerful — instead of acting like you’re a feminist.

Amy Alkon, “Are Women Really Victims? Four Women Weigh In”, Quillette, 2017-11-22.

February 3, 2018

QotD: Subsidising the arts

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

… the Luvvies justify tax subsidy of The Arts by saying, “We can’t call ourselves a civilized country without opera houses, ballet companies, etc., etc.”. Well, perhaps not. But can we call ourselves a civilized country when we have to be forced to pay for these things against our will? Does that not then make us an uncivilized country pretending to be civilized, aping true civilization, a sort of cargo-culture? It’s not our culture at all, spontaneously emerging through voluntary action, it’s someone else’s, laid on the top of our real civilization like fancy icing on (as they might have it) mud. Isn’t that worse?

Sam Duncan, commenting on David Thompson’s “Elsewhere (100)”, davidthompson.com, 2013-10-09.

February 2, 2018

QotD: Infrastructural sclerosis

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

I have an op-ed in the Boston Globe today on infrastructure, addressing the issue of quality rather than quantity of investment. Rachel Lipson, a graduate student at Harvard, and I describe the fiasco that has emerged from what should have been a routine maintenance project on the Anderson Memorial Bridge over the Charles River next to my office in Cambridge. Though the bridge took only 11 months to build in 1912, it will take close to five years to repair today at a huge cost in dollars and mass delays.

Investigating the reasons behind the bridge blunders have helped to illuminate an aspect of American sclerosis — a gaggle of regulators and veto players, each with the power to block or to delay, and each with their own parochial concerns. All the actors — the historical commission, the contractor, the environmental agencies, the advocacy groups, the state transportation department — are reasonable in their own terms, but the final result is wildly unreasonable.

At one level this explains why, despite the overwhelming case for infrastructure investment, there is so much resistance from those who think it will be carried out ineptly. The right response is to advocate for reforms in procurement policies, regulatory policies and government procedures to make the investment process more efficient and effective. This is all clear enough.

At another level, though, our story may illustrate phenomena that go way beyond infrastructure. I’m a progressive, but it seems plausible to wonder if government can build a nation abroad, fight social decay, run schools, mandate the design of cars, run health insurance exchanges, or set proper sexual harassment policies on college campuses, if it can’t even fix a 232-foot bridge competently. Waiting in traffic over the Anderson Bridge, I’ve empathized with the two-thirds of Americans who distrust government.

Larry Summers, “Why Americans don’t trust government”, Washington Post, 2016-05-26.

February 1, 2018

QotD: In Britain, crime does pay

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

Here it is instructive to look at the statistics for house burglary in England and Wales. 750-800,000 such burglaries were known to the police in 2006; the police found the burglars in about 66,000 cases. (The figures for the number of burglaries are underestimated, while those for the numbers of burglaries solved are overestimated, both for technical reasons not necessary to go into, and that we can for the sake of argument ignore.) In that year, just over 6000 burglars received prison sentences. In other words, even if caught, a burglar in England and Wales is not likely to go to prison; but he is even less likely to be caught in the first place. In this sense, then, criminals do indeed have nothing to lose, and possibly much to gain by criminality.

Theodore Dalrymple, “It’s a riot”, New English Review, 2012-04.

January 31, 2018

QotD: “Enhancing the user experience”

Filed under: Business, Media, Quotations, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Once upon a time, computers weren’t all constantly connected to the intertubes. What we call “air-gapped” these days was the normal state of machines back in the desktop beige box days.

Back then, when you bought a program it came in a cardboard box on physical media. You would install it on your computer and it would work the same way from the day you installed it to the day you stopped using it. Nobody could rearrange the menus on WordPerfect or change the buttons in Secret Weapons of the Lufwaffe … Good times.

Nowadays, half the software you interact with doesn’t even reside on your PC. Further, there are whole departments at, say, Facebook or Blizzard or Google whose entire job is to “enhance the user experience”. If they’re not constantly dicking around, adding and removing features, changing what buttons do, moving things around … then they’re not doing their jobs.

We have incentivized instability.

Tamara Keel, “Tinkering for tinkering’s sake…”, View From The Porch, 2018-01-10.

January 30, 2018

QotD: Worstall’s Law of Organizations

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

I would, and do, argue that this is, in fact, the inevitable fate of all and any organizations, so much so that we might call it Worstall’s Law of Organizations, perhaps a minor corollary to Parkinson’s Laws. All and any organizations will in the end be run by those who stay awake in committee. A brief survey of the world around us will show that this is a simple and obvious truth.

Tim Worstall, “‘Any Organization Will, In the End, Be Run By Those Who Stay Awake in Committee'”, Ideas in Action, 2005-06-23.

January 29, 2018

QotD: Churchill’s drinking habits

Filed under: Books, Britain, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

In the not so distant past around the sodden precincts of Westminster you were as likely to spot a yeti as a sober politician. The level of drinking that went on among MPs and their leeches for most of the last century was prodigious and was by and large expected. It was, as Ben Wright describes in his breezy, anecdote-rich and instructive survey of booze and politics, part of a culture which was tolerated and, to a degree, encouraged.

It was not without justification, for instance, that Adolf Hitler, who might have been a nicer fellow had he not been a teetotaller, described Winston Churchill as an “insane drunkard”, a “garrulous drunkard”, and “whisky-happy”.

If Order, Order! has a star it is undoubtedly Churchill who rarely let a day go by able to pass a breathalyser test. On occasion he would have a glass of wine at breakfast followed by a liquid lunch which invariably included Champagne and brandy. At tea-time he would progress to whisky. Then he would wash down dinner with more Champagne and brandy after which he had at least another whisky. According to one loyal aide who may have been sight impaired he was never the worse for wear for this intake and he “never felt the slightest ill-effects in the morning”.

Alan Taylor, “Lush tales of our political classes’ drinking exploits”, The National, 2016-06-20.

January 28, 2018

QotD: Protectionism

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

All protectionism is rooted in the mistaken presumption not only that existing, domestic producers have a moral right – enforceable by the state – to the patronage of domestic consumers, but also that no future domestic producers have such a right as against current domestic producers. This right, were it real, implies that consumers exist to please existing domestic producers; it implies that continued or expanded production of that which is currently produced domestically is the end, while consumption is only the means of encouraging such production.

Only the widespread, if unthinking, acceptance of this presumption gives credence to the demands of domestic producers that some “unfair” practice by a foreign rival or foreign government justifies the imposition by the home government of punitive taxes on domestic consumers who purchase imports. Only a widely shared, if seldom articulated, belief that current domestic producers have a right to some minimum portion of domestic-consumers’ incomes explains the nodding of the heads of many people of all political persuasions when they hear some politician or pundit or preacher demonize foreign producers for selling wares to domestic citizens.

Don Boudreaux, “Protectionism”, Cafe Hayek, 2016-05-27.

January 27, 2018

QotD: “Hate” laws and other redundant bits of legislation

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

As a customary principle of politics, whether “electoral” or “appointive,” I think it unwise to adjust legislation, or offer to adjust it, in response to behaviour by the criminally insane. This confers too much power on them. Verily, it is a mark of our present social condition that “reforms” are guided more and more by the hardest and strangest cases. […]

The need, specifically, for new “hate laws” is zero, at most. Murder has never been an expression of affection, to any individual or group; specific hatreds have always been considered in the interpretation of motives. We have enough crimes already, without inventing redundant ones in accord with the latest fashions. The intention behind them is never exemplary of mental and moral hygiene.

Which points again to the deeper “problematic” (one tires of the misuse of this word) in politics as practised today. We not only legislate in response to the transient behaviour of the criminally insane. Worse, our legislators, though arguably sane to start with, get in the habit of indulging insanity, even within themselves.

David Warren, “Orlando”, Essays in Idleness, 2016-06-14.

January 26, 2018

QotD: Britain’s boozy parliamentarians

Filed under: Books, Britain, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

It is Wright’s contention [in his book Order! Order!] that alcohol has as many benefits as it does drawbacks. Not only does it help loosen ties and tongues it also boosts confidence and dilutes stress. Most prime ministers drank, many to excess. Herbert Asquith went by the nickname “Squiffy Asquith” and regularly appeared in the Commons three sheets to the wind. Margaret Thatcher did her best to promote the whisky industry, the uncapping of a bottle of Bell’s marking the end of the working day. She believed that whisky rather than gin was good for you because “it will give you energy”, which I fear could be a hard fact to prove scientifically.

Tony Blair, whose reign ushered in an era of 24-hour drinking, thought his relatively modest drinking was getting out of control because he calculated it exceeded the government’s weekly recommended limit. This did not impress Dr John Reid, Bellshill’s finest, who once drank like a navvy. “Where I come from,” Reid told GMTV, “a gin and tonic, two glasses of wine, you wouldn’t give that to a budgie.” Blair, of course, did not have to look further than next door to find an explanation why his consumption increased over the years. Gordon Brown, his nemesis, was fond of Champagne – Möet & Chandon no less – which he did not nurse but washed down in a gulp. “He was like the cookie monster,” recalled one aide. “Down in one, whoosh!” Drinking is of course one of those areas in which we Scots have long punched above our weight and Wright’s pages are replete with examples of intoxicated Jocks carousing nights away and causing mayhem. Former Labour leader John Smith was one such. Occasionally I encountered him on the overnight train that carried Scottish MPs home from Westminster on a Thursday night. Known as “the sleeper of death”, it was a mobile pub that never closed until it reached Waverley, whereupon politicians were disgorged red-eyed and pie-eyed among bemused early morning commuters.

Alan Taylor, “Lush tales of our political classes’ drinking exploits”, The National, 2016-06-20.

January 25, 2018

QotD: The New Deal

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

Of such sorts are the wizards who now run the country. Here is the perfect pattern of a professional world-saver. His whole life has been devoted to the art and science of spending other people’s money. He has saved millions of the down-trodden from starvation, pestilence, cannibalism, and worse – always at someone else’s expense, and usually at the taxpayer’s. He has been going at it over and over again at Washington. And now, with $4,800,000,000 of your money and mine in his hands, he is preparing to save fresh multitudes, that they may be fat and optimistic on the Tuesday following the first Monday in November, 1936, and so mark their ballots in the right box.

H.L Mencken, “The New Deal”, Baltimore Sun, 1935-05-27.

January 24, 2018

QotD: What is a human life worth?

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

Government itself has this problem too in fact and the method generally used to deal with it is price mechanism. We generally try to work out what is the statistical value of a life by looking around at what people do and how much they charge for the risk. Some people work in more dangerous jobs (trawlerman, lumberjack), so what’s the difference in wages between a more dangerous and less dangerous job (trying, of course, to keep other things like effort, training and so on constant)? People smoke and are willing to pay some sum for a safer car but not an unlimited amount. This process is more of an art than a science, but the U.S. government comes up with numbers in the $4 million to $10 million range for the value of a statistical life.

This is not what a life should be worth. This is what, from observation of what people do, modern Americans think a life actually is worth. Now we can use it to decide on our safety regulations. And it doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about corporations eyeing their profits or government aiding the EPA in setting rules about what corporations may do. We still end up with the same economic point.

If the statistical value of a life is $10 million then a rule, a regulation, a new way of doing something, which costs more than $10 million per life saved is a waste of resources. It’s not just something we might have to think about doing: it’s something that we positively should not do. Equally, something that costs less than $10 million per life saved is something we should do. Either way, we are trying to make sure that we expend our limited and scarce resources in order to produce the greatest human value we can. Spending $20 million on saving one life is a waste of those resources: not spending $500,000 on saving one is a waste of that life which we value more.

Tim Worstall, “Sorry, Salon: The Koch Brothers Are Actually Right”, Forbes, 2016-05-17.

January 23, 2018

QotD: Indoctrination

Filed under: Education, Politics, Quotations — Tags: — Nicholas @ 01:00

In the hands of a skillful indoctrinator, the average student not only thinks what the indoctrinator wants him to think … but is altogether positive that he has arrived at his position by independent intellectual exertion. This man is outraged by the suggestion that he is the flesh-and-blood tribute to the success of his indoctrinators.

William F. Buckley Jr., Up From Liberalism, 1959.

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