Quotulatiousness

May 24, 2016

QotD: The battle of the crony capitalists

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

I am not sure that many politicians are good on this score, but Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are likely as bad as it gets on crony capitalism. Forget their policy positions, which are steeped in government interventionism in the economy, but just look at their personal careers. Each have a long history of taking advantage of political power to enrich themselves and their business associates. I am not sure what Cruz meant when he said “New York values”, but both Trump and Clinton are steeped in the New York political economy, where one builds a fortune through political connections rather than entrepreneurial vigor. Want to build a new parking lot next to your casino or start up a new energy firm — you don’t bother with private investors or arms length transactions, you go to the government.

Warren Meyer, “2016 Presidential Election: Battle of the Crony Capitalists”, Coyote Blog, 2016-05-13.

March 1, 2016

QotD: Tall building mania

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

This is a sign of growing maturity on the part of the United States. Many of these super-tall building projects make little economic sense, but are completed to validate the prestige of emerging nations, like teenage boys comparing penis sizes. Grown men are beyond that behavior, just as are grown-up nations. I discussed this in the context of rail a while back at Forbes. In that case, it seems everyone thinks the US is behind in rail, because it does not have sexy bullet trains. But in fact we have a far more developed freight network than any other country, and shift of transport to rail makes a much larger positive economic and environmental impact for cargo than for rail. It comes down to what you care about — prestige or actual performance. Again choosing performance over prestige is a sign of maturity.**

The US had a phase just like China’s, when we were emerging as a world economic and political power, and had a first generation of successful business pioneers who were unsure how to put their stamp on the world. So they competed at building tall buildings. Many of the tallest were not even private efforts. The Empire State Building was a crony enterprise from start to finish, and ended up sitting empty for years. The World Trade Center project (WTC) was a complete government boondoggle, built by a public agency at the behest of the Rockefeller family, who wanted to protect its investments in lower Manhattan. That building also sat nearly empty for years. By the way, the Ken Burns New York documentary series added a special extra episode at the end after 9/11 on the history of the WTC and really digs in to the awful crony and bureaucratic history of that project. Though Burns likely did not think of it that way, it could as easily be a documentary of public choice theory. His coverage earlier in that series of Robert Moses (featuring a lot of Robert Caro) is also excellent.

** I have always wondered if you could take this model further, and predict that once-great nations in decline (at least in decline relative to their earlier position) might not re-engage with such prestige projects, much like an aging male seeking out the young second wife and buying a Porche.

Warren Meyer, “This is a GOOD Sign for the United States”, Coyote Blog, 2015-01-15.

January 20, 2016

Toronto gets mentioned in the New York Times … and there’s not a dry seat in the house

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

Colby Cosh discusses the sudden appearance of Canadian content in the Grey Lady’s pages:

No evidence is presented that Canadian access to the world’s pop consciousness has changed recently, much less that it has anything to do with Justin Trudeau. Given that Trudeau was the leader of the third party in the House of Commons 14 weeks ago, and was struggling badly in the polls another 14 weeks before that, perhaps the Times’ Hip Canada should be read as a tribute to the Stephen Harper decade.

What I notice about the list, in comparison with ones that might have been drawn up in the past, is how Ontario-dominated it is — Toronto-dominated, really. The Times, blind to the intricacies of the country it is celebrating, pays passing tribute to older Canadian icons Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, and Leonard Cohen — which is to say, two refugees from the west and the Pope of anglo Montreal.

[…]

The meaning of Justin Trudeau in this context may also be different from the one suggested by The New York Times. It is natural for us to contrast Justin with his father, and the stylistic contrast is strong: Justin is often said to be his mother’s son. Pierre Trudeau represented a culmination of the French-Canadian destiny. Americans found him hard to fathom, and he found them hugely uncongenial. His dress and his ideas were taken from Western Europe, a precise balance of Paris and London: he was a deux-nations beau idéal.

One has to say that Justin Trudeau seems less rooted: he has a worldview but no intellectual heroes to speak of, no battlescars from a life of disputation and reading. He belongs to a generation more than to any particular place: he has never lived anywhere for too long, and even his spoken French has come under some fire, perhaps unfairly. Americans adore him on sight. He is above all earnest, and there are hints his emerging role as a head of government will be mostly to convey earnestness, to serve as a sort of emotional mascot, while his ministers do the work. The Liberal Party may be quite happy to see him in the style section of the newspaper, where he belongs.

December 28, 2015

Vikings beat Giants 49-17 to set up showdown in Green Bay for NFC North title

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:27

Everyone knows the Vikings do not play well in prime time and even more so on national TV. They also don’t score a lot of points. Except when they face Eli Manning and the New York Giants, perhaps. Eli has had some terrible games playing against Minnesota, and last night might have been the worst of the lot:

And a few minutes after Judd posted that, Eli was picked off again, this time by Captain Munnerlyn who nearly got into the end zone.

Mid-game, the NFL decided to switch next week’s showdown at Lambeau Field into the prime time Sunday night slot. (See opening paragraph above…) Winner will host a playoff game in the Wild Card round, while the loser will play on the road. If the Vikings win in Green Bay, they’ll host the Seahawks at TCF Bank Stadium. If they lose, they go right back to Green Bay (if Seattle wins) or to Washington to face the Redskins (if Seattle loses). While the Vikings have done well on the road this season, they’re still historically bad in prime time on national TV:

(more…)

December 25, 2015

Repost – “Fairytale of New York”

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

Time:

“Fairytale of New York,” The Pogues featuring Kirsty MacColl

This song came into being after Elvis Costello bet The Pogues’ lead singer Shane MacGowan that he couldn’t write a decent Christmas duet. The outcome: a call-and-response between a bickering couple that’s just as sweet as it is salty.

June 24, 2015

QotD: Surge pricing

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

New York just killed every economist’s favorite thing about Uber: surge pricing. Sure, many economists also love convenient car service at the touch of a button. But black-car services have been around for a long time. Explicit surge pricing — which both creates new supply and rations demand — has not, but it’s long been a core feature of Uber Technologies Inc.’s business model. While it can be annoying at times (during a recent rainstorm, I noticed a sudden epidemic of drivers canceling rides, which I suspect was due to the rapidly rising surge price), it also allows you to be sure that you will be able to get a taxi on New Year’s Eve or during a rainstorm as long as you’re willing to pay extra.

Sadly, no one else loves surge pricing as much as economists do. Instead of getting all excited about the subtle, elegant machinery of price discovery, people get all outraged about “price gouging.” No matter how earnestly economists and their fellow travelers explain that this is irrational madness — that price gouging actually makes everyone better off by ensuring greater supply and allocating the supply to (approximately) those with the greatest demand — the rest of the country continues to view marking up generators after a hurricane, or similar maneuvers, as a pretty serious moral crime.

Megan McArdle, “Uber Makes Economists Sad”, Bloomberg View, 2014-07-09.

April 26, 2015

Debunking the myths about the destruction of NYC’s Penn Station

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

I admit up front that I’m a fan of railway architecture, so I readily followed along with the narrative that the wanton destruction of Penn Station in New York City was merely the most recent vandalic excess of the urban rejuvenation movement. Jim Epstein suggests that I was wrong:

Penn Station 1910In all the hoopla surrounding the 50th anniversary of New York’s Landmarks Preservation Act — Mayor Robert F. Wagner signed the legislation exactly a half century ago today — you’ll see plenty of photos of the old Penn Station taken around the time of its 1910 opening. These images depict the grand, light-filled main hall modeled after the Baths of Caracalla and the spectacular iron-and-glass train shed in its pristine state. Another series of photos shows the station being taken apart in the 1960s. In this set of images, the station looks like an ancient Roman palace; it’s as if the cranes pulling it apart are destroying the very bedrock of Western civilization.

“Seven-year-olds gasp…[when] we show them the old Penn Station,” Tara Kelly, the executive director of Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts, told the New York Times at an event last week celebrating the law’s half-centennial.

Penn Station 1910-2Penn Station’s destruction in the mid-1960s was a call to arms for the landmarks movement, leading directly to the passage of the 1965 law. Preservationists trot out these photos capable of leaving second graders breathless to remind us of why we need a government-appointed commission to save our historic buildings from cold market logic.

But this narrative is as one-sided as those photos. Profit-driven developers left to their own devices value wonderful old buildings as much as the general public they serve, but the old Penn Station was a deeply flawed structure. It emphasized form over function, so it was never a particularly good train station. And New Yorkers didn’t care for it very much — when it was still around, at least. It’s easy to revere the dead.

February 16, 2015

Even if you do nothing, you can still be arrested for “resisting arrest”

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

We’ve seen examples of this before, but if the NYPD gets its way, the all-purpose charge of “resisting arrest” will become a felony offense:

The most half-baked “weapon” in any policeman’s arsenal should never be raised to the level of a felony. “Resisting arrest” is the charge brought when bad cops run out of better ideas. This truism runs through nearly every law enforcement agency in the country. When you take a look at videographers and photographers who have been arrested for exercising their First Amendment rights (and backed by a DOJ statement), you’ll see plenty of “resisting arrest” charges.

When a San Francisco public defender tried to head off a detective who wanted to question and photograph her client without her permission, she was arrested for “resisting arrest.”

When someone has been brutalized by the police, the words “resisting arrest” are repeated nearly as frequently as the mantra that accompanies every taser deployment and baton swing (“stop resisting”). Resisting arrest is a dodge that makes bad cops worse and marginal cops bad.

Turning resisting arrest into a felony shouldn’t happen anywhere. But perhaps especially not in New York City.

[…]

To turn this into a felony is to grant bad cops a longer leash — and allows them to do much more damage. Not only will the victims of excessive force have to deal with injuries and psychological trauma, they may also find their futures severely disrupted by a felony charge that will follow them around for years.

The protests following the clearing of the officer involved in Eric Garner’s death, followed shortly thereafter by the murder of two NYPD officers by a civilian, have turned the NYPD against the public. Bratton’s support of this abhorrent idea makes it clear he’s willing to put more power in the hands of his worst officers. However bad he feels the situation is now, this action will only make things worse. The answer lies in greater accountability from the NYPD, not additional punishments for members of the public.

January 23, 2015

QotD: Taxicab cartels

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

Around the world, the government-charted monopolies and cartels that run the taxi business responded with protests and violence to the emergence of technology-empowered competitors such as Uber, which does not undercut traditional taxis on cost — in New York, its drivers earn about three times what a traditional cabbie makes — but is much more convenient for those who do not live or work in areas that are generally well-served by traditional taxis. As in most cities, New York law imposes price uniformity on taxis and long protected them from most competition, with the entirely predictable result that consumers are the worst-served parties in the taxi business. (It does not help matters that, unlike their London counterparts, famously steeped in “the Knowledge,” the typical New York cabbie cannot find the Brooklyn Bridge without GPS or turn-by-turn instructions from the passenger.) The lack of consumer focus has some perverse consequences here in New York: The taxi fleet schedules its shift change from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., meaning that taxis all but vanish from the streets during the hours when they are most needed. The New York Times calls this an “apparent violation of the laws of supply and demand,” which, New York Times geniuses, is exactly what happens when you use regulation to take supply and demand effectively out of the equation. A platform that combined Uber’s on-demand service with Google-style driverless cars would probably put the traditional taxi out of business — assuming that the cartels are not able to use government to strangle innovation in its cradle.

Kevin D. Williamson, “Race On, for Driverless Cars: On the beauty of putting the consumer in the driver’s seat”, National Review, 2014-06-01.

January 2, 2015

Debunking the “Broken Windows” theory of crime

Filed under: Law, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 07:51

In Mother Jones, Kevin Drum looks at the frequent claim on the political right that the “Broken Windows” model of policing was pivotal in reducing urban crime:

The “Broken Windows” theory suggests that tolerance of small acts of disorder creates an environment that leads to rising amounts of serious crime. So if police crack down on small offenses—petty vandalism, public lewdness, etc. — crime reductions will follow. George Kelling was one of the originators of the theory, and NYPD police commissioner Bill Bratton is one of its strongest proponents.

It sounds reasonable, but as Drum points out, it takes credit for improvements that it couldn’t have been driving:

Violent crime 1985-2012So here’s the thing: this is almost certainly wrong. Not even controversial. Just wrong: broken windows policing may well have been helpful in reducing New York’s crime rate, but there’s flatly no evidence that it’s been pivotal. It’s true that crime in New York is down more than it is nationally, but that’s just because crime went up more in big cities vs. small cities during the crime wave of the 60s through the 80s, and it then went down more during the crime decline of the 90s and aughts. Kelling and Bratton can dismiss this as ivory tower nonsense, but they should know better. The statistics are plain enough, after all.

Violent crime big vs small cities 1985-2010Take a look at the two charts on the right. The top one shows crime declines in six of America’s biggest cities. As you can see, New York did well, but it did no better than Chicago or Dallas or Los Angeles, none of which implemented broken windows during the 90s. The bottom chart is a summary of the crime decline in big cities vs. small cities. Again, the trend is clear: crime went up more during the 80s in big cities, but then declined more during the 90s and aughts. The fact that New York beat the national average is a matter of its size, not broken windows.

Now, none of this is evidence that broken windows doesn’t work. The evidence is foggy either way, and we simply don’t know. My own personal view is that it’s probably a net positive, but a fairly modest one.

December 25, 2014

Repost – “Fairytale of New York”

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

Time:

“Fairytale of New York,” The Pogues featuring Kirsty MacColl

This song came into being after Elvis Costello bet The Pogues’ lead singer Shane MacGowan that he couldn’t write a decent Christmas duet. The outcome: a call-and-response between a bickering couple that’s just as sweet as it is salty.

December 18, 2014

A mandatory registry that might actually do some good

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

At Reason, Ed Krayewski suggests that a Police Offenders Registry might be an excellent start to reduce some of the worst interactions between the police and the public they are supposed to serve:

This week, the Department of Justice announced new guidelines against racial profiling. The changes don’t actually change all that much. As regular incidents of police brutality get more and more mainstream media attention, it’s time for a bold move from the White House.

There’s a moral obligation to keep bad cops off the streets. A job with a police department is not a right and shouldn’t be treated like one. Police unions that push for permissive rules that end up protecting bad cops pose a serious public safety threat. Nevertheless, dismantling them where they’ve taken root is a difficult prospect even in the long-term. There are other ways to keep bad cops off the streets. The federal government, and state governments, ought to create and encourage the use of a police offender registry list. Such a list would register individuals who while employed as law enforcement officers were found unfit for duty or faced serious disciplinary issues they may have resigned to avoid. Just as any other component of comprehensive police reform, this won’t eliminate excessive police violence, but it’s a start.

When actually identified, a surprising (or not) number of officers involved in controversial, high-profile use of force incidents have previously disciplinary history. Officer Daniel Pantaleo, the New York City cop who put Eric Garner in a fatal chokehold, had been previously accused, at least twice, of racially-motivated misconduct, including strip searching a man in the middle of the street and allegedly hitting his testicles. The police union in New York City is among the strongest in the country. When a rookie cop shot Akai Gurley in apparent panic last month, he didn’t think twice to reportedly contact his union rep first. A man lay dying in a stairwell for no other reason that he startled a rookie, and the fact that the officer called his union representative before calling for assistance isn’t shocking enough to lead to the officer’s termination. Even if it were, it would still be impossible to terminate the officer immediately. While all this is happening, the state of New York is on the verge of placing even more of the disciplinary regime that applies to cops under the purview of the police unions.

April 2, 2014

Mapaholics rejoice!

Filed under: History, Media, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 07:53

The New York Public Library has released over 20,000 historical maps under a Creative Commons license:

Lionel Pincus & Princess Firyal Map Division is very proud to announce the release of more than 20,000 cartographic works as high resolution downloads. We believe these maps have no known US copyright restrictions.* To the extent that some jurisdictions grant NYPL an additional copyright in the digital reproductions of these maps, NYPL is distributing these images under a Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication. The maps can be viewed through the New York Public Library’s Digital Collections page, and downloaded (!), through the Map Warper. First, create an account, then click a map title and go. […]

What’s this all mean?

It means you can have the maps, all of them if you want, for free, in high resolution. We’ve scanned them to enable their use in the broadest possible ways by the largest number of people.

Though not required, if you’d like to credit the New York Public Library, please use the following text “From The Lionel Pincus & Princess Firyal Map Division, The New York Public Library.” Doing so helps us track what happens when we release collections like this to the public for free under really relaxed and open terms. We believe our collections inspire all kinds of creativity, innovation and discovery, things the NYPL holds very dear.

World's Fair New York 1939-1940. Proposed World's Fair site.

World’s Fair New York 1939-1940. Proposed World’s Fair site.

Complete railway map designed and engraved from the original maps, charts and schedules furnished by railway engineers, agents &c. to accompany the American Railway Guide (detail)

Complete railway map designed and engraved from the original maps, charts and schedules furnished by railway engineers, agents &c. to accompany the American Railway Guide (detail)

February 16, 2014

The crime that launched a thousand (bad) editorials

Filed under: Books, Media, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:20

In the New York Post, Larry Getlen retells the tale of Kitty Genovese’s murder and the myths that grew up around it:

The murder of Kitty Genovese shifted from crime to legend a few weeks later, when The New York Times erroneously reported that 38 of her neighbors had seen the attack and watched it unfold without calling for help.

The Times piece was followed by a story in Life magazine, and the narrative spread throughout the world, running in newspapers from Russia and Japan to the Middle East.

New York became internationally infamous as a city filled with thoughtless people who didn’t care about one another; where people could watch their neighbors get stabbed on the street without lifting a finger to help, leaving them to die ­instead in a pool of their own blood.

The people of Kew Gardens — before that, a relatively crime-free neighborhood where few bothered locking their doors — were referred to in the press as monsters.

But as journalist Kevin Cook details in his new book, Kitty Genovese: The Murder, the Bystanders, the Crime that Changed America (W.W. Nor­ton), some of the real thoughtlessness came from a police commissioner who lazily passed a falsehood to a journalist, and a media that fell so deeply in love with a story that it couldn’t be bothered to determine whether it was true.

December 22, 2013

Fairytale of New York

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

Time:

“Fairytale of New York,” The Pogues featuring Kirsty MacColl

This song came into being after Elvis Costello bet The Pogues’ lead singer Shane MacGowan that he couldn’t write a decent Christmas duet. The outcome: a call-and-response between a bickering couple that’s just as sweet as it is salty.

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