Quotulatiousness

September 21, 2017

“Once Obama and his allies launched their domestic surveillance operation, they crossed the Rubicon”

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

Daniel Greenfield explains why the recent news on wiretapping Trump associates might yet bring about a Watergate for the 21st century, only with Obama team members in the defendant roles:

Last week, CNN revealed (and excused) one phase of the Obama spying operation on Trump. After lying about it on MSNBC, Susan Rice admitted unmasking the identities of Trump officials to Congress.

Rice was unmasking the names of Trump officials a month before leaving office. The targets may have included her own successor, General Flynn, who was forced out of office using leaked surveillance.

While Rice’s targets weren’t named, the CNN story listed a meeting with Flynn, Bannon and Kushner.

Bannon was Trump’s former campaign chief executive and a senior adviser. Kushner is a senior adviser. Those are exactly the people you spy on to get an insight into what your political opponents plan to do.

Now the latest CNN spin piece informs us that secret FISA orders were used to spy on the conversations of Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort. The surveillance was discontinued for lack of evidence and then renewed under a new warrant. This is part of a pattern of FISA abuses by Obama Inc. which never allowed minor matters like lack of evidence to dissuade them from new FISA requests.

Desperate Obama cronies had figured out that they could bypass many of the limitations on the conventional investigations of their political opponents by ‘laundering’ them through national security.

If any of Trump’s people were talking to non-Americans, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) could be used to spy on them. And then the redacted names of the Americans could be unmasked by Susan Rice, Samantha Power and other Obama allies. It was a technically legal Watergate.

If both CNN stories hold up, then Obama Inc. had spied on two Trump campaign leaders.

Furthermore the Obama espionage operation closely tracked Trump’s political progress. The first FISA request targeting Trump happened the month after he received the GOP nomination. The second one came through in October: the traditional month of political surprises meant to upend an election.

The spying ramped up after Trump’s win when the results could no longer be used to engineer a Hillary victory, but would instead have to be used to cripple and bring down President Trump. Headed out the door, Rice was still unmasking the names of Trump’s people while Obama was making it easier to pass around raw eavesdropped data to other agencies.

No matter how bad the information gets, I doubt that Trump will go after Obama personally — ex-Presidents have an unwritten constitutional privilege that way, I understand — but some of his former cabinet and sub-cabinet officers might well be sacrificed to minimize long-term damage to the Obama administration’s various legacies.

On the other hand, CNN hasn’t been having a lot of luck with their big breaking stories lately … this might be another one of those “lots of smoke, but no fire” situations. Democrats facing tough races in 2018 will be hoping that there’s no “smoking gun” there as far as criminal prosecutions are concerned.

September 20, 2017

In the 60s and 70s, “Confederate Chic escaped the modern odium that often had been accorded the Lost Cause revisionism”

Filed under: History, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Victor Davis Hanson on the era when the progressive left embraced the “Lost Cause” imagery of the South:

Leftists love Johnnie Reb in movies and songs. But statues? Not so much. How exactly did the Left romanticize the Lost Cause Confederacy, and by extension its secession and efforts to preserve slavery? To use a shopworn phrase, “It’s complicated.”

Good Ol’ Rebels

Well before the end of Jim Crow, post-war leftist Hollywood still largely continued its soft mythologies of the Confederate Lost Cause. Perhaps the cinematic romance arose because of the lucrative fumes of earlier Gone with the Wind fantasies, which themselves might’ve come from an understandable desire to play a part in “binding up the nation’s wounds.”

[…]

The supposedly left-wing 1960s and 1970s, in fact, were the heyday of Confederate Chic. True, there were plenty of In the Heat of the Night portraits of the now-familiar racist white Neanderthals, but with the passage of the Voting Rights Act and the end of Jim Crow segregation, the romance of the Old South reappeared, updated and tweaked for the era of counterculture protest.

The contemporary hippie style of long hair, beards and mustaches, resistance to government authority, twangy folk-song strains, and hard-edged metal all fed into the rural, down-home Confederate romance. Notions of slavery, segregation, and secession mysteriously disappeared. Southern attitude was no longer Bull Connor but airbrushed Sixties-era resistance, at least at the superficial level of pop culture.

In Walter Hill’s post-Vietnam The Long Riders (1980), the murderous Jesse James gang morphs into a sort of mix of Lynyrd Skynyrd with Bonnie and Clyde — noble outlaws fighting the grasping northern banks and the railroad companies’ “Pinkerton Men.” David Carradine and his siblings, playing members of the gang, appear like Woodstock rockers, with exaggerated southern accents, long unkempt hair, hippie buckskin, and a don’t-give-a-damn Bay Area resistance attitude.

[…]

The unlikely common denominator that brought together left-wing Sixties popular culture with Confederate cool was a mutual hatred of a supposedly big, square, soulless, and powerful Washington, hated for its insolence in Vietnam and for stifling the individual — as if the poor lost South had been once as defenseless as the Vietnamese in the face of such a godless steamroller, or as if the Carradine clan were like the Allman Brothers with six-shooters.

Southern pop-music angst, hard metal, and crossover country and western channeled southern and Confederate themes, supposedly adding authenticity to mostly mainstream northern suburban American pop. Were rockers from the South popular versions of the 1920s and ’30s Southern Agrarians (“I’ll take my stand”) critics?

Few pop icons (but see Neil Young’s “Southern Man”) dared in the 1980s to suggest that southern chic was somehow blind to the racism of the Confederacy rather than just defiant and anti-government. The Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd (“Sweet Home Alabama”), the Marshall Tucker Band, Charlie Daniels (“The South’s Gonna Do It”), Confederate Railroad (“Summer in Dixie”), and even REM squared the circle of grafting old-style Confederate attitudes with hip counterculture, even if superficially and often nonsensically.

In other words, Confederate Chic escaped the modern odium that often had been accorded the Lost Cause revisionism sweeping the country from 1890 to 1920, in part fueled by rising nativism and renewed commitment to Jim Crow.

QotD: Government meddling stifles innovation in energy

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

It is unfortunately the case that government meddling on a global scale has massively distorted energy markets through pervasive subsidies, mandates, and price controls. The result is retarded innovation in the technologies of energy generation. A big first step toward renovating our energy supply systems would be to eliminate those impediments to understanding the real comparative benefits and costs of the production and use of energy. Ultimately, the better and far more effective way to ameliorate and avert future climate change is to mobilize human ingenuity through market processes to drive down the costs of no-carbon energy sources. Despite the constraints on innovation caused by government interference, notable advances in no-carbon energy generation technologies have already been made, ranging from innovative nuclear reactor designs to more efficient and cheaper solar panels. New technologies and wealth produced by human creativity will spark a vast environmental renewal in this century.

Ronald Bailey, The End of Doom: Environmental Renewal in the Twenty-first Century, 2015.

September 17, 2017

American military command and control, as adopted by the Canadian military

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Cancon, Military, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Ted Campbell explains why he feels the complex and cumbersome system used by the US Army (and derived from the US experience of raising, training, and running a vast army in WW2) is not well suited to the much smaller Canadian Army, yet has become the “way things are done” in Canada:

The problem, as I see it, with the American command and control system is that it is totally systematic. This is born, to some degree, out of the practical necessity that the US faced in the 1940s when it fielded a force of over 15 million men and women but it, systematic management, became something akin to a cult when Robert McNamara, who had been a pioneer of systems analysis in the US Army Air Corps in World War II and was recruited to be one of Henry Ford II’s Whiz Kids who would use those tools to help reshape American industry in early the post war years, became President John Kennedy’s Secretary of Defence (1961 to 1968). He reshaped the US military using systematic management as his main tool. It works for the administrative management of very, very large organizations … it, American style systematic management, may not work as well as many would hope, but it can, and did, bring order, to a very large enterprise. But it stifles individuality and initiative, which are essential for command ~ even, I have read, American unconventional forces are forced into a very conventional systematic matrix.

Systematic management requires a great deal of rote learning and adherence to doctrine. There is a “school solution’ to every problem and that is the one that second lieutenants and lieutenant generals, alike, are required to offer … there is little room for, say, a Robert Rogers, T.E. Lawrence, Orde Wingate or David Sterling … and, in fact, even the missions of the much discussed US Seal Team 6 seem carefully managed by check lists and risk analysis and other tool of the systems analysts. The notion, as one American special forces commander had, for example, of using local animal transport in Afghanistan in 2001, remains unpopular: systems analysis says that only the latest technology can be employed and officers who break the rules do not become generals because riding horses, rather then helicopters, is not the “school solution.” The fact that it worked didn’t really matter because it violated the process.

Why does Canada follow along, uncritically?

First: we, our military, has long had a “colonial” mindset. Until the 1950s we were, for most intents, a sub-set of the British military. It went beyond “buttons and bows” (scarlet mess jackets and the same rank badges, and so on) and included important traditions, like the regimental system, tactical doctrine and equipment. Canadian officers, especially, served, often, in the British Army, in jobs up to and including (during my service) a Canadian major general serving as commander of a British division that was “on the front line” in West Germany, and attended British training courses. In the 1970s we began to shift, more and more, to be a sub-set of the American military and many Canadian generals have served in senior (but generally powerless) “exchange” postings as deputy commanders of large American formations. They come home deeply influenced by the “American way.” The same things happen to Australian and British generals. The American aim is to have all its allies adopt its systematic approach which will make interoperability (by which the US means doing what they want their way) simpler. Exchange postings, as they are called, with other forces are never bad things, not even when the lessons we learn are the wrong ones … IF we understand what we are learning. My complaint with Canadians serving in senior “exchange” posts with the US military is that the post are less about exchanging information and ideas (learning from each other) and more about indoctrinating Canadians (and Australians and Brits) with US ideas about command and control and organization and management which, to my mind, anyway, are less than useful.

September 16, 2017

“Mead” – The Drink That Fell From Favor

Filed under: History, USA, Wine — Tags: — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 31 Aug 2017

Mead was a very popular drink during the 17th century and before, but fell out of favor by the 18th century due to the rise of Beer and Ale. Nevertheless, recipes for Mead can be found in books written in the 1700’s and today Jon goes in depth on this fascinating drink.

QotD: The US housing market

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

… up until fairly recently, the home mortgage market was the most conservative financial market out there. The market was not a big money maker because risks were very low and the money was steady. The home mortgage market was the realm of community banks who held the mortgages as assets for the life of the loan. It was the 3-6-3 lifestyle. Borrow from the financial markets at three percent, make home mortgages at six percent and hit the links at 3:00 PM. That all changed in the early 1990’s when Democrat policymakers passed the Community Reinvestment Act and then forced banks to make loans that were far more risky in areas that the banks, for good reasons traditionally stayed away from. Then through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac the “policymakers” bundled the good and bad paper and sold it on the financial markets creating the current mess. What I don’t understand is how increased home ownership was supposed to increase rents.

Home ownership has been a policy of multiple administrations since WW2, as has suburbanization. There are a bunch of reasons for this. One big one was that the policymakers were, for a bunch of reasons, not fond of urban life. It was considered dirty, old fashioned and perhaps most importantly a big target. This was not a small consideration to people coming back from all those ruined cities overseas.

John C. Carlton, “Who ‘Stole’ The Country’s Wealth, The Rich, Or Government ‘Policy Makers?'”, The Arts Mechanical, 2015-10-16.

September 15, 2017

Will Google’s quasi-monopoly last as long as AOL’s did?

Filed under: Business, Liberty, Politics, Technology, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

In the big picture, I’m concerned with Google’s current market power and their ability to quash online freedom of speech almost at will (if not directly, through pressure on other companies to co-operate, or else: “Nice little business you’ve got here, Mr. Forbes. It’d be a shame if something happened to its Google search results…”). Google is huge and has fingers in an unimaginable number of pies, but it is still subject to market forces, as was an earlier behemoth of the online world:

The film [You’ve Got Mail] was released in 1998. Amazon was founded in 1994 and had its IPO in 1997. It was about to crush big discount bookstores — does anyone still remember the other big chain, Borders? — and nobody had a clue. There isn’t a single mention in the film of Amazon or online sales.

But the Internet is mentioned. It’s right there in the title of the movie. You’ve Got Mail, for those who are old enough to remember, was a tagline for America Online, the largest Internet service provider in the dial-up era of the 1990s. For millennials, let me explain: we had to connect our computers to a phone line, and an internal modem would place a phone call to a local data center from which it could download information at impossibly slow speeds. […]

AOL is there in the film’s title, because that’s how our protagonists are communicating: by trading e-mails on their dial-up AOL connections.

AOL’s high point was its merger with Time Warner in 2000. It was all downhill, rapidly, from there. Dial-up was quickly surpassed by broadband, and as the Web developed, nobody needed a “Web portal” any more. Again, for younger readers, let me explain. When you managed to get to this exciting new thing called the World Wide Web, how did you know what sites to go to or how to access information? Before the Google search, before Facebook, before Twitter, you went to a Web portal, a launching off point that gathered links and directed you to various sources for news, entertainment, shopping, etc. These Web portals had a huge amount of influence — until they didn’t.

Now here’s the fun part. At the same time nobody was paying much attention to Amazon because Barnes and Noble was going to crush all competitors and control the book business, there was widespread panic about the unstoppable monopoly power of AOL.

AOL was going to gain a monopoly because of its death grip on instant messaging. The “computer editor” for The Guardian worried that this was putting AOL “on its way to world domination.” The AOL-Time Warner deal raised “concerns that its merger would create a media powerhouse that would level competitors, dominate the Internet, and control consumer choice.”

A Wired podcast talked about fears of a Sun-AOL monopoly, but they didn’t call that sort of thing a “podcast” yet because the iPod hadn’t been invented. The audio clip was an MP3 file, and they suggested you listen to it on a Sonique MP3 player from Lycos. The Sonique stopped being produced about a year later. Lycos was a major Web portal, and according to Wikipedia, it was “the most visited online destination in the world in 1999.” It was bought by a multinational conglomerate for $12.5 billion at the peak of the dot-com bubble.

Whatever is left of Lycos was last sold for $36 million in 2010, though that deal seems to have collapsed in acrimony later on. Sic transit gloria mundi.

“Assemble the squad”

Filed under: Environment, Media, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Severe weather is coming, and the media know their role. Joe Bob Briggs has been there, and speaks from his own experience:

News executives love disasters. They get to act like Chuck Norris and Assemble the Squad.

“Maginnis, you cover first responders.”

“Wilson, get over to NOAA and stay on those maps.”

“Kelly, official press briefings. Work with Yurozawski to keep tabs on every emergency room within a 300-mile radius.”

“Bergram, you’re Cop Shop, but we’ll keep the aperiodic radio tracking the locals.”

“Ramstein, find that German guy who gets a hard-on for global warming.”

By the time a managing editor or a news director gets finished “covering this mother like blubber on a seal,” you’ve got thirty people who feel like they’re crammed into a D-day troop carrier, waiting for somebody to throw open the landing door and engage the Nazis. They have lust in their eyes. They’re hopped up like nekkid trance drummers at Burning Man.

You know those reporters clinging to lampposts in 120-mile-per-hour winds on the pier at Sanibel Island?

Same thing. They’re pumped. They’re wild. They’re getting all orgasmic from the needle burns on their cheeks as the gooey red juice of the hurricane danger zones envelop them in delirious wet convulsions.

I know. I was one of those guys.

QotD: The sexist TV shows of the 1960s

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

Speaking of a different world, there was one big barrier to entry into [the original Star Trek]: its ladies. I’m still not quite sure how to deal with the way women were treated in the show. I’ve found that when watching many movies or shows from the ’60s and ’70s, it’s incredibly hard to relate the characters — not just because plot pacing was slower and diction was different than it is on TV today, but because I’m almost guaranteed to be disappointed by the way the story treats women. Generally, one just has to accept that there is going to be out-and-out sexism in a lot of old movies and TV, and you can either toss out the whole thing or watch it from afar like you’re in a museum, analyzing an ancient culture.

Megan Geuss, “I watched Star Trek: The Original Series in order; you can too, Or: Filling the gaps in your cultural knowledge is equal parts boring and fun”, Ars Technica, 2015-09-05.

September 14, 2017

Ken Burns and Lynn Novick: The Vietnam War Is the Key to Understanding America

Filed under: Asia, History, Media, Military, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 13 Sep 2017

Nick Gillespie interviews Ken Burns and Lynn Novick about their new documentary series: The Vietnam War.

The Vietnam War led to more than 1.3 million deaths and it’s one of the most divisive, painful, and poorly understood episodes in American history.

Documentarians Ken Burns and Lynn Novick have spent the past decade making a film that aims to exhume the war’s buried history. Their 10-part series, which premieres on PBS next week, is a comprehensive look at the secrecy, disinformation, and spin surrounding Vietnam, and its lasting impact on two nations. The 18-hour film combines never-before-seen historical footage, with testimonies from nearly 80 witnesses, including soldiers on both sides of the conflict, leaders of the protest movement, and civilians from North and South Vietnam.

A two-time Academy Award winner, Burns is among the most celebrated documentary filmmakers of our time, best-known for the 1990 PBS miniseries The Civil War, which drew a television viewership of 40 million. He and Novick are longtime collaborators, and in 2011 she co-directed and produced Prohibition with Burns. In 2011, Reason’s Nick Gillespie interviewed Burns that film and the role of public television in underwriting his work.

With the release of The Vietnam War, Gillespie sat down with Burns and Novick to talk about the decade-long process of making their new film, and why understanding what happened in Vietnam is essential to interpreting American life today.

Produced by Todd Krainin. Cameras by Meredith Bragg, Mark McDaniel, and Krainin.

Full interview transcript available at http://bit.ly/2x0e5U4

QotD: The 1970s economic mess

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

He then goes on to blather about the policies of the 1970’s. I lived through the 1970’s and what you need to understand was that the governing motive of policymakers then was panic. The “policymakers,” by and large Democrats, screwed up as badly as possible and just couldn’t get a grip on what [the problems] really were.

John C. Carlton, “Who ‘Stole’ The Country’s Wealth, The Rich, Or Government ‘Policy Makers?'”, The Arts Mechanical, 2015-10-16.

September 13, 2017

Our Amazing Debt (Cosmos Parody)

Filed under: Economics, Government, Humour, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 06:00

Published on 12 Sep 2017

The math behind the National Debt is so complex that Reason TV decided to lean on “Cosmos” to explain it.
—-
We are about to begin a journey beyond ordinary human understanding. Lost somewhere between immensity and eternity. Join me, as we explore: Our Amazing Debt

We are all made of star stuff. And in America, we are all born more than $61 thousand in debt.

The collective debt we owe as a country now stands at $20 trillion, a level of debt unfathomable to our contemptible caveman ancestors.

How can we comprehend the sheer magnitude of the national debt? With our starship of imagination.

This is the USS Dumbitdownforme and it cost $12 billion to construct: all financed through debt. We didn’t have the money to build it and we didn’t want to raise taxes to pay for it, but we really wanted it. So, like a fiscal wormhole, we’ve used debt to puncture the reality of financial constraints, connecting what we want now to even more money we promise to pay later.

$20 Trillion is not just a lot of money, it’s all the money, and then some.

If we could round up all the US currency in existence–every dollar bill, every quarter, every penny–we’d still need another $18 trillion. All the gold that has ever been mined couldn’t even cover half of our debt.

Yet our story doesn’t end here.

Like our ever-expanding universe our debt is constantly growing larger. This year we will pay more than $250 billion on interest payments. Not the debt, just the fee for borrowing money.

Much as cosmic expansion will inevitably lead to the heat death of our own universe, the debt, too, is unsustainable. As nature seeks balance, so to will our creditors.

Will the government gut spending? Defund entitlements? Devalue our currency?

One day, perhaps in our lifetime, we will discover the answers and reach the limit of our amazing debt. But for now we can only behold this awesome force that binds all Americans, bewitching us with the fascinating possibility, that maybe, just maybe, we’re all f***ed.

Written and produced by Austin Bragg, Meredith Bragg, and Andrew Heaton. Edited by Austin Bragg.

QotD: The changed nature of “class”

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

For a while communists went around looking lost [after the collapse of the Soviet Union]. Umberto Ecco referred to them as “defrocked priests” who have lost their vision of paradise. And then … And then they decided we just hadn’t tried it hard enough or well enough.

But by the time they found this “new vision” (these doomsday cults never admit they were wrong, you know) they had given up on the idea of the proletariat conquering the bourgeoisie and rich, and had instead turned into sort of missionaries of victims and wounded people.

Instead of social class meaning what it meant to Marx, which was entirely economics based, it now meant “group vaguely aligned through some (usually natural) characteristic.” So we have the oppressed class of oh, gay people who come from all backgrounds and regions and who face differing levels of acceptance from family and society, but who are deemed to be all equally victimized, and as such to need equal intervention from the elites to make them whole. Then there are racial groups, so factionalized that at some point we’re all going to become a race of one.

The elites took to this new way of viewing society like ducks to water, partly because you don’t actually need to do anything to help anyone anywhere. Like Marx, who mistreated his illegitimate son from the woman who was somewhere between an indentured servant and a slave to his family, even as he preached social revolution and the triumph of the lower classes, they can simply preach acceptance and talk about how poor victims suffer without bothering to notice that their neighbor is unemployed and surviving on cat food. If you ask them about this particular instance, they’ll tell you that, well, come the revolution he will have a job and food… Meanwhile they’re working for the greater cause of bringing about the revolution.

And thus, more dreary than the “quality” that consisted of unpleasant people doing unpleasant things, we have the taste makers hailing the new “quality” which consists of “fighting patriarchy” or “white hegemony” or whatever latest crazycakes lens is applied to society. Yep, the people with the power are accusing other people of keeping them down because they have a vagina or can tan or whatever. (And the proof of this is the Dolezals of the world who find great rewards in pretending to be victims.)

Sarah A. Hoyt, “The Quality of Writing”, According to Hoyt, 2015-10-11.

September 12, 2017

QotD: Mandatory voting is still a stupid idea

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

My old boss, William F. Buckley Jr., often said liberals don’t care what you do so long as it’s compulsory (though he probably borrowed the line from his friend M. Stanton Evans).

There’s probably no better illustration of this illiberal streak in liberalism than the idea of “compulsory voting.” The argument usually goes like this: Voter turnout in America is low. Low voter turnout is bad. Therefore, we should make voting mandatory. (This argument is most popular after an election like last week’s when things don’t go so well for Democrats.)

When asked why low voter turnout is bad, one usually gets a mumbled verbal stew of Norman Rockwell–esque pieties about enhanced citizenship, reduced polarization, and, on occasion, veiled suggestions that Washington would get its policies right — or I should say left — if everyone voted.

To call most of these arguments gobbledygook is a bit unfair — to gobbledygook. First note that this logic can be applied to literally every good thing, from brushing your teeth to eating broccoli. Moreover, the notion that forcing people who don’t care about politics to vote will make them more engaged and thoughtful citizens is ludicrous. We force juvenile delinquents (now called “justice-involved youth” by the Obama administration) and other petty criminals to clean up trash in parks and alongside highways. Is there any evidence this has made them more sincere environmentalists? If we gave every student in the country straight As, that would make all the education trend lines look prettier, but it wouldn’t actually improve education.

This sort of enforced egalitarianism is reminiscent of Kurt Vonnegut’s short story “Harrison Bergeron,” set in a society where everyone must be equal. Above-average athletes are hobbled to make them conform with the unathletic. The smart are made dumb. Ballet dancers are weighed down so they can’t jump any higher than normal people. The prettier ones must wear masks.

[…]

Even the ancient left-wing assumption that if we could politically activate the downtrodden masses of the poor and the oppressed to storm the polling stations, we might topple the supposed tyranny of privilege and inequality is wrong, too. The overwhelming consensus among political scientists who’ve looked at the question is that universal turnout would not change the results of national elections. It would, however, probably have a positive effect on local elections for school boards and municipal governments, because these low-turnout elections are monopolized by entrenched bureaucrats and government unions (and that’s the way they like it, by the way).

Jonah Goldberg, “Progressives Think That Mandatory Voting Would Help Them at the Polls”, National Review, 2015-11-13.

September 11, 2017

Harvey, Irma, and Frédéric – the “Broken Window Fallacy” returns

Jon Gabriel tries to set the record straight on what a natural disaster means for the economy (hint, ignore anyone who says the GDP will rise due to the recovery efforts):

Ever since Hurricane Harvey slammed into Texas two weeks ago, we’ve seen countless images of heroic rescues, flooded interstates and damaged buildings.

As awful as the human toll was, it was not as bad as many of us feared. But it will take months to repair the homes, businesses and infrastructure of Houston and the surrounding area. The same will be true in Florida after Hurricane Irma.

The economic impact could be felt for years, but many economists and financial experts think there’s a silver lining.

The Los Angeles Times crowed that Harvey’s destruction is expected to boost auto sales. CNBC reported that Harvey “could be a slight negative for U.S. growth in the third quarter, but economists say it may ultimately provide a tiny boost to the national economy because of the rebuilding in the Houston area.”

Even Goldman Sachs is looking at the bright side, noting that there could be an increase in economic activity, “reflecting a boost from rebuilding efforts and a catchup in economic activity displaced during the hurricane.”

Economically speaking, it’s great news that all this damage in Texas and Florida needs to be fixed, right? Not only does this mean big bucks for cleanup crews, but think of all the money that street sweepers, construction workers and Home Depots will rake in.

And what about all those windows broken by the high winds? This will be the Golden Age of Texas Glaziery!

Not so fast.

All of this is based on a misunderstanding of what the GDP actually measures. It’s a statistic that often gets mentioned in the newspapers and on TV, but it is almost always used in a way that misleads people about what is happening in the economy. GDP — Gross Domestic Product — is intended to show the approximate total of goods and services produced in a national economy. Thus, when the GDP goes up, it means that the current period being measured recorded more goods and services produced than in the previous period.

When a natural disaster like a hurricane, earthquake, flood, or tornado strikes a city, state or region, all the work required to fix the damage will artificially boost the recorded GDP for that year. But the affected area isn’t that much richer than it was before, despite the GDP going up, because the GDP does not measure the losses suffered during the natural disaster.

This is where Frédéric comes in. I’m referring to the French economist and author Frédéric Bastiat, who brilliantly illustrated the GDP misunderstanding in his essay “What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen“:

In the economic sphere an act, a habit, an institution, a law produces not only one effect, but a series of effects. Of these effects, the first alone is immediate; it appears simultaneously with its cause; it is seen. The other effects emerge only subsequently; they are not seen; we are fortunate if we foresee them.

There is only one difference between a bad economist and a good one: the bad economist confines himself to the visible effect; the good economist takes into account both the effect that can be seen and those effects that must be foreseen.

Yet this difference is tremendous; for it almost always happens that when the immediate consequence is favorable, the later consequences are disastrous, and vice versa. Whence it follows that the bad economist pursues a small present good that will be followed by a great evil to come, while the good economist pursues a great good to come, at the risk of a small present evil.

The GDP problem I identified at the start of this post is a general case of what Bastiat called the “Broken Window Fallacy”:

Have you ever been witness to the fury of that solid citizen, James Goodfellow, when his incorrigible son has happened to break a pane of glass? If you have been present at this spectacle, certainly you must also have observed that the onlookers, even if there are as many as thirty of them, seem with one accord to offer the unfortunate owner the selfsame consolation: “It’s an ill wind that blows nobody some good. Such accidents keep industry going. Everybody has to make a living. What would become of the glaziers if no one ever broke a window?”

Now, this formula of condolence contains a whole theory that it is a good idea for us to expose, flagrante delicto, in this very simple case, since it is exactly the same as that which, unfortunately, underlies most of our economic institutions.

Suppose that it will cost six francs to repair the damage. If you mean that the accident gives six francs’ worth of encouragement to the aforesaid industry, I agree. I do not contest it in any way; your reasoning is correct. The glazier will come, do his job, receive six francs, congratulate himself, and bless in his heart the careless child. That is what is seen.

But if, by way of deduction, you conclude, as happens only too often, that it is good to break windows, that it helps to circulate money, that it results in encouraging industry in general, I am obliged to cry out: That will never do! Your theory stops at what is seen. It does not take account of what is not seen.

It is not seen that, since our citizen has spent six francs for one thing, he will not be able to spend them for another. It is not seen that if he had not had a windowpane to replace, he would have replaced, for example, his worn-out shoes or added another book to his library. In brief, he would have put his six francs to some use or other for which he will not now have them.

Let us next consider industry in general. The window having been broken, the glass industry gets six francs’ worth of encouragement; that is what is seen.

If the window had not been broken, the shoe industry (or some other) would have received six francs’ worth of encouragement; that is what is not seen.

And if we were to take into consideration what is not seen, because it is a negative factor, as well as what is seen, because it is a positive factor, we should understand that there is no benefit to industry in general or to national employment as a whole, whether windows are broken or not broken.

Now let us consider James Goodfellow.

On the first hypothesis, that of the broken window, he spends six francs and has, neither more nor less than before, the enjoyment of one window.

On the second, that in which the accident did not happen, he would have spent six francs for new shoes and would have had the enjoyment of a pair of shoes as well as of a window.

Now, if James Goodfellow is part of society, we must conclude that society, considering its labors and its enjoyments, has lost the value of the broken window.

From which, by generalizing, we arrive at this unexpected conclusion: “Society loses the value of objects unnecessarily destroyed,” and at this aphorism, which will make the hair of the protectionists stand on end: “To break, to destroy, to dissipate is not to encourage national employment,” or more briefly: “Destruction is not profitable.”

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