Friday, November 02, 2012

FRIDAY MORNING RAMBLE: In the wake of Poseidon

I would give the greatest sunset in the world for one sight of New
York's skyline… The sky over New York and the will of man made
visible. What other religion do we need? … Is it beauty and genius
[religious pilgrims] want to see? Do they seek a sense of the
sublime? Let them come to New York, stand on the shore of the
Hudson, look and kneel. When I see the city from my window - no,
I don't feel how small I am - but I feel that if a war [or destruction]
came to threaten this, I would throw myself into space, over the
city, and protect these buildings with my body.
- Ayn Rand

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Obama boasted his primary win would mark the moment "the oceans
began to roll back." We rate this claim "mostly false."
- Dave Weigel

“The number of deaths in the U.S. attributed to Sandy rose to at least 90, nearly half in New York City, as millions of people in the Northeast continued to confront traffic, gas lines and patchy public transit on Thursday.”
Sandy's Grim Toll Rises in Battered East – WALL STREET JOURNAL
Live Updates: Sandy  - WALL STREET JOURNAL

News reports naturally focus on Manhattan. But much of the US damage was inflicted in New Jersey.
6 stunning APP aerial videos show Sandy's Shore damage – ASBURY PARK PRESS

“Does ‘a big storm require big government’ as the NY Times argues? In fact, nearly every measure to prepare for the storm and to deal with its aftermath is a product of private efforts…”
Does a Big Storm Require Big Government? – Ari Armstrong, OBJECTIVE STANDARDMartin Hoerling: As to underlying causes, neither the frequency of tropical or extratropical cyclones over the North Atlantic are projected to appreciably change due to climate change, nor have there been indications of a change in their statistical behavior over this region in recent decades (see IPCC 2012 SREX report).
Kevin Trenberth: So we do have a negative North Atlantic Oscillation and some blocking anticyclone in place, but the null hypothesis has to be that this is just “weather” and natural variability.
Patrick Michaels: It’s also consistent with a planet with colder temperatures as well as one with warmer ones. More important, events like this are inevitable on a planet that has an ocean with the geography of the Atlantic (meaning a Gulf Stream-like feature), a large north-south continent on its western margin without a transverse mountain range to inhibit the merger of tropical warmth with polar cold, and four seasons in the temperate latitudes.
Quoted at TOM NELSON

imageOne of the biggest problems reported by Manhattanites … no power for their cellphones (Yes, #FirstWorldProblems).  Midtown Manhattanite Harry Binswanger reports

‘I have whined before (August 2003) about the trauma, for high-rise apartment dwellers like ourselves, of power outages. We're almost trapped in our apartments, with no heat or water. Fortunately, it's better this time than it was in 2003 because the power is on just a few blocks uptown from here. In the mobile age, that has created a new phenomenon: people congregating at publicly reachable sockets, such as inside some banks' ATM centers, re-charging their cellphones, laptops, tablets, and the like. At one socket, there was a guy with a power strip, allowing multiple people to charge up simultaneously.
    ‘Wandering around this afternoon, I found an outdoor socket at the Met Life building at 44th and Vanderbilt (near Grand Central Station), and started charging along with another guy, but a building employee came up and told us to stop. That's the owner's right, but it's nuts. Met Life loses as lot of good will—to save 25 cents? Most mobile devices use all of 10 watts to charge. If Met Life's PR department had any brains, they would run cables with power out to the sidewalk, provide chairs, and post signs saying: Charge up, courtesy of Met Life.

    ‘
Failing that, the few little shops that are open could sell time on their power for high rates. I would certainly pay $5 or $10 for half an hour of charging. And so would a lot of other New Yorkers.’

The local and international alarmosphere is already touting a dramatic Bloomberg cover story foolishly touting Sandy as the work of global warming—complete with blazing headline: “It’s Global Warming, Stupid.” As hurricane expert Roger Pielke, Jr, says, “The only accurate part of this Bloomberg Business Week cover is “stupid.”
Helping Bloomberg understand ‘stupid’ – Antony Watts, WATTS UP WITH THAT

And in the wake of Obama…
Hurricane Sandy to Cost $40 Billion… Or, About Half as Much as Obama Blew on Green Energy Boondoggles 
– Jim Hoft, GATEWAY PUNDIT

“The respect and good will that men of self-esteem feel toward other
human beings is profoundly egoistic… In revering living entities they
are revering their own life. This is the psychological base of any emotion
of sympathy… It is on the ground of this generalized good will and
respect for the value of human life that one helps strangers in an emergency…”
- Ayn Rand, “The Ethics of Emergencies

I fear now government is looking to be hands-on that “affordable housing” is going to mean “building the slums of tomorrow.”  “It is time, instead, to begin to think about quality not quantity in our urban planning.  And that means really thinking outside the compact city box.”
Trans-Tasman Blues – the Housing Crisis and Our Future – Phil McDermott, CITIES MATTER

“Christchurch inner-city commercial landowners remain confused and suspicious about compulsory acquisition of their properties.” To that, add “bloody angry”!
Confusion rife as valuers come to grips with compulsory acquisition – NBR

You can disagree with his anti-farmer invective and still realise he’s right: while protesting the suppression of democracy in Fiji, the National Government were following the same model in Christchurch.
National's tyranny – Idiot/Savant, NO RIGHT TURN

The Australian PM and Treasurer have now “retreated from what was once a rock-solid, come hell or high water guarantee” of a return to surplus in 2012/13.  Watch Bill English and John Key do the same next year. Which is…
Budget politics at its most cynical – CATALLAXY FILES
Peddling Spin and Paddling Furiously – Niki Savva, THE AUSTRALIAN

Why Hayek matters…

More signs that the writings of Hayek, Mises, and modern Austrian economists are beginning to have some influence even in places where it might be least expected … like China!
Austrian Influence: China and the WSJ – CIRCLE BASTIAT

“More than two decades of failed Keynesian economic policies have left Japan with near zero economic growth.”
Japan is in worse than a deflationary trap: One-time powerhouse, it’s withdrawing from the stage – MARKET WATCH

No, we haven’t.
Financial crises: Have we learned nothing? – ECONOMIST

And now, to US GDP figures: “With the figure for the third quarter now in, it puts the growth rate for the year at 1.7%. Wait a minute. As the Wall Street Journal put it, 'we borrowed $5 trillion and all we got was this lousy 1.7% growth.' But it's worse than that. Of the third quarter's growth, at least a third of it is attributable to growth in government spending….  This is described in the press as a "fragile recovery". But it is no recovery at all. It's a scam. The US population is growing at a 0.9% rate. That leaves actual growth per person at 0.4%.  And that's a figure that has already been twisted by seasonal, qualitative, substitutional and other "adjustments" that make it meaningless. In other words, there is so much fudge in the GDP figures that you can get tooth decay just looking at them.”
The GDP Figures Leading a Scam Recovery – Bill Bonner, DAILY RECKONING

If central banking were a stock, you’d go short.
Pity the Central Banker – Ingolf Elde, COBDEN CENTRE

“Despite last week's blowout $6 billion or so profit from ANZ, it turns out all is not entirely well in Australia's financial services industry. For the last five years, the pattern in the markets has been the same. A crisis starts at the margin, with a peripheral player, and then moves its way up the food chain.
That's what happened when non-bank US lenders got in trouble in 2006…. The same pattern held in Europe, with a few slight differences…
Australia avoided this fate, or has seemed to, but at a cost. The marginal players and non-bank lenders either disappeared or were swallowed by the Big Four banks…. You have less competition and arguably a lot more systemic risk in the home loan market than you did at the beginning of the financial crisis. From a risk perspective, things have actually gotten worse, not better.
This is all part of Australia having an over-sized banking industry relative the country's economy. But there is a more immediate worry for 3,000 people in Victoria. About $660 million in savings is in limbo after non-bank lender Banskia Securities Limited called in receivers…”
Australian Banks at Risk to the Core – Dan Denning, DAILY RECKONING

It’s true, you know. What folk need after disasters is some honest price gouging.
Price Gouging Saves Lives in a Hurricane – David M. Brown, MISES DAILY
In praise of price gouging, revisited – Eric Crampton, OFFSETTING BEHAVIOUR

There is a fundamental conviction which some people never acquire, some
hold only in their youth, and a few hold to the end of their days -- the conviction
that ideas matter. In one's youth that conviction is experienced as a self-evident
absolute, and one is unable fully to believe that there are people who do not
share it. That ideas matter means that knowledge matters, that truth matters,
that one's mind matters. And the radiance of that certainty, in the process of
growing up, is the best aspect of youth. . . .

- Ayn Rand

Warmist scientist, inventor of the Global Warming Hockey StickTM and Nobel Prize winner Michael Mann is taking Mark Steyn to court over this post. He’s a brave man.
Nobel Mann Takes On Revolting Peasants – Mark Steyn, NATIONAL REVIEW
Inherit the Wind Farm – Mann made global hilarity – Steve Kates, CATALLAXY FILES
Michael Mann Sues NRO, Mark Steyn, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and Rand Simberg – POPEHAT

“To mark Michael Mann’s Nobel Prize, we bought this full-page ad that ran in today’s Penn State student newspaper…”
Honoring Michael Mann’s Nobel Prize – Rich Lowry, NATIONAL REVIEW

“And does Prof. Mann fully understand the concept of "discovery" under American law? During this phase of his lawsuit he will be required to release any & all documents that the lawyers of the defendants demand of him. The public release of those will be beyond fascinating!”
Michael Mann to Proceed with Lawsuit – Robert W., SMALL DEAD ANIMALS

Meanwhile…
Mann’s hockey stick disappears – and CRU’s Briffa helps make the Medieval Warm Period  live again by pointing out bias in the data – WATTS UP WITH THAT

Climate skeptic Richard Lindzen joins Alex Epstein  talk about perspectives on climate change and the loaded questions surrounding the top, including questions about climate, “balance” in nature, the goals of environmentalists , and much more.
POWER HOUR: Questioning Climate Science with Dr Richard Lindzen – Alex Epstein, CENTRE FOR INDUSTRIAL PROGRESS

"The destruction of values by scientific error has increasingly
come to seem to me the great tragedy of our time."
— F. A. Hayek

This is Australia, where folk move to get away from big government. They think. But do you really think New Zealand is any better?

Evil on its own is is impotent. It’s said that all that is necessary for evil to flourish is for good men to do nothing. Even worse if you do for evil what it couldn’t do itself. “Someone designed the furnaces of the Nazi death camps…. This person was an engineer, an architect, or a technician. This person went home at night, perhaps laughed and played with his children, went to church on Sunday, and kissed his wife goodbye each morning… Few men better exemplify this danger than Albert Speer, Adolf Hitler’s chief architect.”
The Architecture of Evil – THE NEW ATLANTIS

President Obama took to teenage music mag Rolling Stone recently to tell readers Ayn Rand is only read by teenagers. “How ironic,” responds Stuart Hayashi, “that the President so reputed to have inspired the idealistic youth of America to vote for him, is now dismissing this very same demographic as being somehow inherently prone to shallowness.”
About Teens, Ayn Rand Answers President Obama from Beyond the Grave – Stuart Hayashi, SOLO
President Obama Duels With Ayn Rand Over What Makes America Great – Yaron Brook & Don Watkins
Obama’s Straw Man Attack On Ayn Rand – Don Watkins, LAISSEZ FAIRE
A Philosophy for Teenagers – Robert Tracinski, TRACINCKI LETTER

Obama’s hit was followed up by a dishonest hit piece from Huffington Post’s Sanjay Sanghoee, bizarrely using SuperStorm Sandy to smear Ayn Rand.
HuffPo’s Sanghoee Uses Tragedy of Sandy to Smear Ayn Rand – Ari Armstrong, OBJECTIVE STANDARD

So, is government the problem, or the solution? Ayn Rand Center’s Yaron Brook debates David Callahan.

Watch live streaming video from aynrandcenter at livestream.com

So, is fracking good or bad? Director of ‘Frack Nation’ Anne McElhinney debates ProPublica’s Abraham Lustgarten:

Summarising Leonard Peikoff on the election: “The political choice in November is: non-entity vs. anti-entity. Or: a man who is nothing vs. a man who wants to mass-produce nothings. This, in my judgment, is an unanswerable reason to vote for Romney, no matter what the nature and quantity of his flaws. A man such as our current president is far more dangerous to the survival of the United States than any terrorists from the Mideast.”
Leonard on the Election – LEONARD PEIKOFF

Diana Hseih disagrees in two ways.
Dr. Eric Daniels on Why Voting Doesn't Matter – Diana Hsieh, PHILOSOPHY IN ACTION
Vote for Mitt Romney? Thanks But No Thanks! – Diana Hsieh, NOODLE FOOD

“Historians, as a general rule of thumb, don't like playing the what-if game…. But there's one notable exception: the Cuban Missile Crisis.”
The JFK Library's Frightening Alternate History of the Cuban Missile Crisis – HISTORY NEWS NETWORK

“A real-life election mystery, with Edgar Allan Poe as possible victim.”
Death by voter fraud? – WASHINGTON EXAMINER

"A government which cannot obey any principles must maintain
itself by handing out special favours to particular groups."
- F. A. Hayek

“The American Association for the Advancement of Science says labelling [genetically modified foods] would “mislead and falsely alarm consumers.” The AAAS – best known for publishing Science magazine – says genetically modified foods are fundamentally no different from conventionally bred foods. In fact, the organization says they are tested more extensively than most new crop varieties… “Civilization rests on people’s ability to modify plants to make them more suitable as food, feed and fiber plants and all of these modifications are genetic,” the AAAS statement says.
In case you haven’t been paying attention – Tyler Cowen, MARGINAL REVOLUTION

And now, from our Good News Desk: “A recent study of children’s brains in the UK and the US found that adults who began drinking as children were more intelligent that their more sober peers…”
Smart Kids Drink More as Adults, Non Drinkers ‘Dull’ – Dan Denning, DAILY RECKONING

And even more good news: because the answer is “Hell, yes!”
Will 3D Printing Change The World? – FORBES

Yes, folks, this was the original meaning of the phrase.
Exception that proves the rule – WIKIPEDIA

Well, they had to start learning somehow…
#BaldForBieber Hoax Teaches Kids to Fact Check Before Shaving Their Heads – MASHABLE

English soccer has been trying to reduce racism and anti-racism to name-calling, handshakes and yellow t-shirts.
The phony war over football racism – Duleep Allirajah, SPIKED

How do publishers compete in the internet age?
For Magazines, The Digital Future Lies Beyond The iPad – Jonathan Harris, FORBES

“After seeing the Los Angles premiere of Atlas Shrugged, Part 2, the film that opens today based on the 1957 novel by Ayn Rand, a question struck me as I was exiting the theatre surrounded by Hollywood types most commonly stereotyped as liberal: Why don't liberals admire Ayn Rand and her philosophy of objectivism, so forcefully presented in this book and film?”
Why Ayn Rand Won't Go Away: 'Atlas Shrugged,' Part 2 and the Motor of Moral Psychology – Michael Shermer, HUFFINGTON POST

Don’t take Sociology if you’re looking for career prospects.
Worst College Majors for Your Career – KIPLINGER

Speaking of which, Joseph Schumpeter explains the emergence of a world full of Martyn Bradburys:
“The man who has gone through a college or university easily becomes psychically unemployable in manual occupations without necessarily acquiring employability in, say, professional work. His failure to do so may be due either to lack of natural ability—perfectly compatible with passing academic tests—or to inadequate teaching ... those who are unemployed or unsatisfactorily employed or unemployable drift into the vocations in which standards are least definite or in which aptitudes and acquirements of a different order count. They swell the host of intellectuals in the strict sense of the term whose numbers hence increase disproportionately. They enter it in a thoroughly discontented frame of mind. Discontent breeds resentment. And it often rationalizes itself into that social criticism which as we have seen before is in any case the intellectual spectator’s typical attitude toward men, classes and institutions especially in a rationalist and utilitarian civilization.”
Schumpeter on the Effects of College on the Willingness to Do Manual Labor – Kenneth Anderson, VOLOKH CONSPIRACY

[Hat tips to Catallaxy Files, Climate Depot, Anti Dismal, 3 Quarks Daily, TakingHayekSeriously, Joe Bastardi, BarrowiceSonaliRanade, William F desRosiers, Shea Levy, The Libertarians, Paul Hsieh, Dr Simon Sellars, Pete Cashmore, Tim Harford, Architizer]PS: NEW BOOK: The Financial Crisis and the Free Market Cure: Why Pure Capitalism is the World Economy’s Only Hope

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PPS: Free Market Revolution is the book that shows how Ayn Rand's ideas can END big government.

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And finally, let’s visit Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands for a dip in the world’s most spectacular swimming pool:

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Thanks for reading.
Have a great weekend!
PC

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Storm Economics in One Lesson

Guest post by Jeffrey Tucker of Laissez Faire Books 

imageIn a natural disaster like Hurricane Sandy, the only thing people should fear more than the storm is the government's response.

Let us count the ways.

Mandatory evacuations presume that politicians know the risks better than property owners themselves. That can't possibly be true. In an information age, we all have access to the same data. Especially these days. We should be able to make our own risk assessments, coming and going from our property as we choose.

Where is the evidence that property owners systematically underrate risk whereas political elites are clear headed and know precisely what to do? The incentives for the government is to clear everyone out because doing so exempts city workers from liability for failing to do the job they exist to do, namely to protect and serve people in times of crisis.

There is also something extremely perverse about arresting people for failing to take government-mandated steps to protect themselves. When it is all over, government is in then in a position to control access to one's own home and property. In every natural disaster with evacuations, people find themselves struggling against their own government to get back to their own property and assess the damage.  [Christchurch, anyone?]

In this case, all across the Northeast region, even where storms only brought some wind and rain, it was the government workers who fled first. It makes sense because they tend to regard themselves as more valuable than the rest of us. A friend posted the following even before the storm hit:

So I call 911 for the downed power line in the alley way. I get Fairfax county 911. They transfer me to Alexandria city 911. They refer me to the storm damage emergency line. I get the voicemail for the city communications office.
So I call 911 again. They transfer me again. They refer me again. I tell them, but nobody is answering. They say that's where I'm supposed to call. So I call again. The guy there does not know for sure whether he is supposed to take calls for downed power lines. (pause) He looks it up. (pause) He decides he is supposed to take my information and enter it into the computer.
I call my landlord. He comes right over.

Then there's the anti-gouging mania that hits every government executive. They warn with great bravado that no private seller can raise prices more than 10% in the event of an emergency. This defies reality. Storms and impending storms send existing supply and demand matrices into total upheaval.

Prices change, and that's a good thing. It should go without saying that when things and services are in shorter supply, the price of them goes up. This serves two purposes. It provides a signalling device and incentive for new sellers to jump into the market. It also signals the need for more and alerting consumers to conserve until more arrives. This is good for everyone. Would you rather pay $5 a gallon for water or have no water available for sale at all? That's the choice.

When government threatens people not to profiteer, it discourages producers from entering the market. And yet this is what they do. One North Carolina paper even editorialized for people to rat out any gougers by turning them. "It's a good law, and is made better when the public reports profiteering incidents to authorities."
Amazing: demonize the people who are providing solutions in time of crisis!

Short-circuiting the pricing process discourages gas stations, water sellers, restaurants, and everyone else in the commercial marketplace not even to bother showing up. Why take the risk when there is no reward? As for the goods and services that are available, they will be depleted more rapidly than they should be.

Lives are at stake here. Yet all the politicians seem to care about is their reputation and power, regardless of the consequences. Long experience tells us that it is not government that serves people well in emergencies, but places like WalMart, Waffle House, and Lowe's. Of course, these commercial establishments are the ones that the political class tries to shut down. It's perverse even by government standards.

Given the torrent of criticism over the last disaster, FEMA did its best to spin opinion in its direction this time. They have the National Response Coordination Center, which, as the New York Times says, decides "where officials gather to decide where rescuers should go, where drinking water should be shipped, and how to assist hospitals that have to evacuate."

In other words, they tell people what to do. But who is actually doing the thing itself? The Wall Street Journal reports that WalMart "staffed up an emergency operations center at its headquarters last Thursday and began routing shipments of goods to 10 disaster distribution centers along the storm's projected path. As the storm clears, WalMart will dispatch trucks from the disaster warehouses to stores in the areas hit by the storm."

Sandy was a less deadly storm than it might have been because of such preparations. Can we get a round of applause for Home Depot, Wal-Mart, Lowes, and the thousands of other retailers who made a difference this time around?
As well, how about a respectful nod to new commercial technologies. Even when the power failed, the cell towers still functioned. 3G connections were going full blast while the lights were out. YouTube's live streaming technology allowed anyone to watch live reports on their smart phones. Instagram permitted live documentation of the entire storm, with 10 images per second being posted. Reporters filed reports from their iPads even with massive power outages. This was the most-documented storm in the history of the world, all thanks to the market economy.

Then there's the aftermath in which government suddenly discovers millions and billions of dollars available to shovel onto the clean-up and rebuilding efforts. Decades of experience show that average people see little of this money. Instead, it goes to government contractors and real estate developers and other preferred groups who are closely connected to politics. The money is taken away from the private sector when it is needed most and transferred to people who waste it on projects that the market may or may not value.

The process to get approved for post-disaster largess causes city and state governments to even delay private clean-up efforts. The political class discovers that it has every reason to make the mess look as bad as possible as long as possible, all in the hope of getting ever more money sent from the capital city to the affected area.

Another tendency is for government to enforce licenses on all service professionals. Want someone to cut down the tree or fix your plumbing or rewire your home? You had better choose someone with a license to do business or you will be in big trouble. Of course, this only discourages an influx of new service providers just when they are needed most.

In general, government sees every emergency has a power-grab opportunity. I get shivers down my spine just reading about FEMA's wonderful plans to nationalize just about everything should the need present itself. If anyone believes that martial law is out of the question under these conditions, he hasn't been paying attention to the police-state trends over the past decade. Weapons confiscations? It's going to happen if conditions get bad enough, as happened in New Orleans during the Katrina disaster.

Then there's the role of economists. It is inevitable that some find an upside to the destruction in a natural disaster, same as they find an upside to stimulus and inflation and war. "While natural disasters take a large initial toll on the economy," Moody's Ryan Sweet said on economy.com, "they usually generate some extra activity afterward."
Yahoo Finance ran the most notorious example this time around, asserting that every act of destruction contains a multiplier that causes even more creation later.

For the umpteenth time, there is no upside to wealth destruction. But try telling that to the folks who calculate GDP. It is very likely the Sandy will be given credit for any fourth quarter fake economic growth. After all, that's how government affects the GDP. The more it spends, the higher economic growth appears to be.

You need only look at the third quarter 2012 GDP statistic that dominated the headlines last week. The government announced the thrilling news that the economy grew 2 percent. But Veronique de Rugy and Keith Hall of the Mercatus Center looked more carefully at the data to find that "all of the increase in GDP growth came from the biggest increase in federal government spending in over two years."

It turns out that government spending rose 9.6% at an annual rate in the third quarter. Hence the seeming “boost” to productivity. Never mind that the government has nothing that it doesn't take from somewhere else. Private sector growth rates actually fell in the third quarter compared with the second.

This is not economic growth. No matter how many economists tell us that the storm will inspire all kinds of new and wonderful things, the first impression will remain true. This storm has been a disaster and a serious blow to the economy when we least needed it.

At the same time, the storm should remind everyone who romanticizes about the wonders of nature that there is a more fundamental truth: the whole history of humanity has mostly consisted in finding ever more effective ways to diminish the nature's threat. First came shelter, then came clothes, then came tools to kills animals for our own use, then came transportation to overcome the limits of nature so that we could travel fast on land and water.

It's true with every advance: indoor heating, air conditioning, indoor plumbing, the washing machine, chemicals to kill pests, medical advances to keep killer bacteria at bay. To a very great extent, it is the struggle away from nature that defines the idea of progress. It is only once the elements have been master that we can afford to think of the environment around us as a friend.

These are things we can learn during times of natural disaster. They are the same things we should know before the natural disaster. Only people know what's best for themselves. Only markets can deliver goods and services. Only property owners know how to assess risk. As for politicians and bureaucrats, they care only about themselves.
Governments do vast damage in normal times, and vastly more precisely when it is commonly believed that they really need to act. In all times and places, people who are determined to build and sustain a life for themselves are inhibited only by the actions of powerful governments.

The people who are suffering through the aftermath of this storm are all being reminded that the political elites are not very useful in times of crisis, and, in fact, are frequently worse than useless. Storm preparation and storm survival is our job, not theirs.

There is no better preparation for any storm than understanding economic forces that are at work at all times and places. This is where the Laissez Faire Book Club does its work, helping people to understand their world in ways that government officials cannot and will not. Join us to stay dry in this and future storms.

Sincerely,
Jeffery Tucker
CEO of
Laissez Faire Books , and Primus Inter Pares of the Laissez Faire Book Club

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Thursday, November 01, 2012

Grow up, Mr Hickey

Mark Hubbard calls out Bernard Hickey for yet another childish swipe at efforts by governments, however lack-lustre, to either repay or avoid further debt--to both of which Big-Govt Bernie is apparently opposed.

In Bernard’s item number one this morning], looking at the continuing train wreck of Greece, he says:

        “…the debt debacle is getting even worse in Greece, forcing the Germans to think about
            stumping up yet more money.
           “
The austerity medicine is clearly not working.”

Really? It took Greece, and all the other Keynesian basket-cases, sixty and seventy years of irresponsible government spending to [reach their current position of indebted servitude]. In the face of such long term insanity, who seriously believes that just one year of austerity was going to change anything!?
    Thinking that sixty or seventy years of over-spending can be fixed by one year (or even ten) of (true) austerity, is the sort of childish emoting that got the West in to this mess in the first instance.
    Grow up!

Stimulus failure

Back in 2009, the Australian government panicked. It saw the global financial crisis and immediately pulled the Keynesian lever: they cut a cheque for $900 to every Australian for a shopping subsidy—which was paid for by every taxpayer.

How much extra spending did each $900 “stimulate”?

About $20.

Just twenty dollars for every nine-hundred dollars poured down this particular drain.

In fact, even the original unpublished paper on which the “stimulus” was based, now its finally been published, only talks about a fifty-dollar spending increase. Fifty dollars over seven weeks.

Not bad for a “stimulus” package which cost taxpayers around $16 billion and helped plunge Australia into an immediate $22.5 billion deficit*.

Mind you, good luck getting a Finance Minister to admit that. (Not without a Lockwood Smith in chair forcing her to address the question.)

“I wonder,” wonders Sinclair Davidson, “if politicians had been told …

‘Quick. We have to get people spending and if we give them $900 they’ll rush out during a seven week period and blow $50.’

… whether they would have been so keen to spend the money?

* * * * *

* The full “stimulus” package cost around $42 billion, half of it borrowed, hiking the govt’s debt to about $118 billion. This debt mountain now represents around 10% of GDP, and has climbed every year to now stand at nearly $150 billion. Last year’s deficit alone was around $44 billion.

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Your second time…

You might have seen the patronising approach the Obama campaign has taken towards women?

The likes of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton argued that women were just as capable of rational deliberation as men [writes Rich Lowry]. The conceit of the Obama campaign is that, to the contrary, they are quite susceptible to a few powerful dog whistles and unable to see beyond their gender. To paraphrase a notorious post on the Obama campaign’s Tumblr page, “Ladies vote like their lady parts depend on it.”
    The twenty-something filmmaker and actress Lena Dunham captured the sensibility perfectly in
an instantly mocked video likening voting for Obama for the first time to having sex for the first time. “You want to do it with a great guy,” Dunham gushes. As the conservative writer John O’Sullivan noted, if Dunham can really compare “the excitement of her first vote to losing her virginity, one can only encourage her to persevere: Sex really will get better.”
    Dunham’s pitch is fashioned, of course, to young, single women in particular. (One hopes that by age 35 or so, older and wiser, she will look back on the spot with embarrassment.) But single women in general are key to Obama’s coalition. He wants government to occupy an outsized role in their lives, as captured in the symbolism of his campaign. Obama was implicitly the husband of Julia, the cartoon character created to demonstrate the cradle-to-grave assistance rendered by his programs; Obama is implicitly Lena Dunham’s lover.

I hope she thinks more deeply about her second time round…

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[Pic hat tip Catallaxy Files]

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A registration revolution, starting with Charter Schools

Every form of occupational licensing, of professional registration, is a type of protectionism—a means whereby incumbents in that profession restrict entry to others. The result is an increase salaries and wages above market rates, and the removal of the threat of innovative newcomers.

It’s a modern form of medieval guild socialism.

One of the prime examples today is teacher registration, which teachers are registered not on the basis of knowing their subject, but because they have endured three years or more of indoctrination at a state teachers college.

No wonder the suggestion from the Charter School Working Group that teachers be hired on the basis of subject expertise, rather than attendance at a state indoctrination centre state teachers college, has caused outrage in the various teaching guilds.  [LISTEN HERE, 3’04”]

The group advising the government says expertise rather than qualifications should be enough…  The chairperson of the Charter School Working Group Catherine Isaac says it wants registration for people who work in partnership or Charter Schools and who have proven expertise in a particular area. “They may have PhDs or degrees in science or engineering, languages--they may be people with music, arts, trade qualifications—who would make great teachers. The objective here is to enrich a pool of high-quality teachers who want to teach, and to recognise that there are additional pathways into teaching…”
But the chairman of the Council of Deans of Education [i.e., the teachers colleges’ boys club] Dugald Scott, says the proposal … would undermine the value of teacher registration.
 

Let’s hope so.

The Director of the Teaching Council Peter Lind says teaching is like any other profession that requires registration … that subject expertise and enthusiasm is not enough to justify registration.

Whereas at the moment, subject expertise is virtually irrelevant to registration. Which if why so many children are taught English by virtual illiterates, science by folk who’ve never seen a test tube, and mathematics by people who have trouble balancing a cheque book.

No wonder the apostles of the status quo, like these two dinosaurs and others quoted in the report, are opposed! 

Because charter schools want people teaching subjects who know their subjects, which would truly be a revolution in the New Zealand classroom. Instead of moderating uninformed discussions on subjects on which they themselves are often totally ignorant (which describes so many of today’s classrooms), these teachers would be able to impart the knowledge on which they are abundantly qualified.

Think about it: science PhDs teaching science. Language experts teaching languages. Mathematics graduates teaching maths. Art history specialists teaching art history. Trades professionals teaching their trade skills.

Isn’t this what you thought schools were supposed to be doing?

Instead, this represents a division of classroom labour so unthinkable to the guardians of today’s calcified classroom management that they can do nothing else but stand in the way, because the extent to which  is allowed is the extent to which parents will be demanding more of it.

And then where will their cosy protectionist guild system be?

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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Cameron Slater takes over at the ‘Truth’

Checking my Google Reader for news I’d been told would be announced this afternoon, the first thing I saw was a post headlined “Rough and Tumble Play”—which I assumed must be the much-whispered announcement that Cameron Slater is taking over the Truth newspaper.

It wasn’t, as it turns out. That was a post by Literacy NZ. This is the post announcing Whale Oil is going mainstream.

Yes, ‘tis true Dear Readers. NZ’s favourite gonzo blogger is becoming the editor of what was once NZ’s favourite gonzo newspaper.  Which may or may not mean surrounding himself with a truckload of real gonzo journalists to do what The Truth used to do so well: to kick the arse out of every well-fed sacred cow they could find.  Which appears to be his aim:

“Wellington, you’re on notice – be afraid.”

New Zealand’s number 1 news and opinion blogger Cameron Slater has today been appointed Editor of the Truth.
Truth is New Zealand’s last remaining Kiwi-owned national newspaper, which this year turns 125 years old.
Slater has been brought on board to fundamentally change the way newspapers deliver to their audiences. Newspapers worldwide are in decline, due, Slater says, to a tired old business model that no longer works.
“We’re not going to spend $4 million on a paint job and then deliver the same tired old paid-for shit.
“Most of the media in this country is weak, and it’s paid for. The integrity in news went ages ago.”
Slater is adamant that the backbone of New Zealand – the people who work – are not getting a fair shake from government or the system. He aims to change that….
“We’re going to keep the buggers honest. There’s no better disinfectant than sunlight….

Changes will be rolled out over a period of months and will include both print and a 24 hour news website to support the paper. Slater aims to alter the approach to news presentation significantly.
“We took the pulse of the nation, and it had nearly bloody died.
“No bastard wants to read old news – they can get that online. We’ll be more of a views-paper that promises to deliver REAL news, REAL opinion.
“The people are numb from the eyes down with the diet of PR’d crap they get now. I will not do it to them anymore – it’s not right.
“I assure you – the little paper that could still can!”

Slater’s first issue will hit newsstands on Thursday 8 November 2012.

Here’s John Lennon:

Germany v Kiwi

Do you prefer the new German parking system?

Or…

…the more advanced yet traditional Kiwi system?

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Is there anything good about #Sandy?

The only good thing about a storm that killed at least 39 people, disrupted millions of lives and caused around $20 billion of damage is the chance to talk about Frederic Bastiat’s lesson in his seminal essay "That Which is Seen, and That Which is Not Seen".  And the only reason we have that chance is because there are so many alleged economists out there—the same trolls who emerge after every disaster—who leap into print to insist the destruction will actually be “good for the economy.”

Alleged economist and professor at Smith School of Business Peter Morici, for example, who took immediately to the Philadelphia Inquirer and elsewhere to argue:

in an economy with high unemployment and underused construction resources, Sandy will probably unleash $15 billion to $20 billion in private spending directly related to reconstruction.
    That figure could grow as many rebuild larger and better than before. Consider a  struggling restaurant, for example, whose owner invests his insurance settlement in a new and more attractive business. In areas like the Jersey Shore, older, smaller homes on large plots may be replaced by bigger dwellings that can accommodate more families during the tourist season. The Outer Banks of North Carolina saw such gains several decades ago after rebuilding from a storm of similar scale.

Equally moronic is Panos Mourdoukoutas at Forbes.com, Derek Thompson at The Atlantic, Moody’s Analytics Ryan Sweet writing in the Wall Street JournalChris Isidore at CNN Money, and AP “economic writers” Christopher S. Rugaber & Martin Crutsinger writing everywhere ---all of them saying, as summarised by the idiotic Bo Peng writing in The Street,

In an economy not constrained by resources, such as that of the U.S., limited crisis means only two things at the statistical level: stimulus to individual and government spending; and stimulus to jobs.

That’s a whole asylum full of morons, to which only a moment’s Googling would be needed to add dozens more. And Paul Krugman hasn’t even had the chance to post yet.  Or Bernard Hickey.

Blogging at the Acton Institute, Joe Carter asks

Frederic Bastiat provided the ultimate rebuttal to this spurious thinking 162 years ago in his essay ‘That Which is Seen, and That Which is Not Seen.’ So why do we people make the same claim that destruction is economically beneficial? Could it be that people are simply unaware of Bastiat’s “parable of the broken window?

imageEither unaware, or too blinded by lousy economic thinking.

No wonder the sane, dry and sober Don Boudreaux “is far less worried about the actual consequences of Sandy than about the additional battering that Sandy's winds, rains, and flood waters will prompt economically uninformed reporters and pundits to inflict upon the body politic.”

Fortunately, sane and serious commentators are educating bodies both public and politic.

Writing at Bloomberg, Caroline Baum has

a standard response to such nonsense: If wealth destruction is such a good thing, why wait for natural disasters to occur when we could nuke and rebuild our cities on a regular basis?
    Yes, housing starts will increase, but the stock of homes won't be any larger. Businesses will replace the lost capital stock, but drawing on scarce resources to rebuild isn't an efficient use of them.
    Our old friend Frederic Bastiat explained it best -- the parable of the broken window --  in his 1850
essay, "That Which Is Seen and That Which Is Not Seen." He tells the story of a shopkeeper whose son breaks a window in his store. The shopkeeper has to pay the glazier six francs (no euros back then) to repair it. The glazier then has money in his pocket to spend. This is "that which is seen," or the Keynesian multiplier decades before John Maynard Keynes was even born.
    What if the shopkeeper didn't have to spend six francs to repair the broken window, Bastiat asks? He could have bought a pair of shoes, or spent it on something else. "Neither industry in general, nor the sum total of national labor, is affected, whether windows are broken or not," Bastiat writes. "Or, more briefly, 'destruction is not profit.' "
    Even a Ph.D. economist should be able to grasp that principle.

Boudreaux himself  describes Morici’s flawed reasoning as Vulgar Keynesianism at Full Gallop:

There’s nothing surprising in Prof. Morici’s argument that the spending necessary to repair damaged buildings and other assets can help the economy. Predictions of economy-wide wealth springing from devastation are issued after every natural disaster. These predictions are examples of what the English jurist A.V. Dicey called “the idle contentions of paradox-mongers”* – predictions that are just clever enough to strike economically uninformed people as being profoundly insightful.
    But what appears to many to be profoundly insightful is, in fact, fallacious.
    If Prof. Morici is correct, then surely he also applauds, say, the economic consequences of drunk driving. As with hurricanes and earthquakes, he can bemoan the loss of life caused by drunk driving and then get on with explaining how, paradoxically, the economy benefits from drunk driving. After all, drunk driving creates unnecessarily large numbers of destroyed automobiles to replace, damaged automobiles to repair, dead victims to bury, and injured victims to be cared for by first-responders, doctors, nurses, physical therapists, and hospital administrators and clerks.
    If you sense – as you should – that the economy in fact does not benefit from drunk driving, then you should reject Prof. Morici’s argument that the economy benefits from natural disasters.

At National Review, Veronique de Rugy wonders aloud at those who argue

Being forced to spend money that people had planned to spend on something else or to save to prepare for harder days ahead in order to give an artificial boost to GDP in the construction business has benefits? No, it doesn’t other than superficially. That’s what French economist Frederic Bastiat called the broken window fallacy. Bastiat rightly noted that a country doesn’t benefit or get richer because of the destruction imposed by disasters (whether natural or man-made ones, such as wars). Destruction of wealth, buildings, streets, subway systems, houses, electric grids, bridges, and more doesn’t make a country richer even if it temporarily creates jobs in the construction business. All destruction does is destroy and divert to the reconstruction effort scare resources that could have been allocated to other things (things people actually really wanted). 

She attacks the standard Keynesian response to the broken-window fallacy argument:

Keynesians argue that the broken window fallacy applies if and only if the resources needed to fix the window were already fully employed before they had to be diverted. However, today’s economic conditions are such that there are plenty of idle resources lying around that can now be put to productive use. But … why are there so many idle resources lying around? (Especially after years of policies meant to put them to good use.) [On that, Robert Murphy has several good points in response to the Keynesian argument.]
    On that note I would add that what we have found out during the last episode of stimulus spending is that unemployment rates among specialists, such as those with the skills to build roads, bridges or schools, (basically the people who will be used during the reconstruction effort in the next few months) are often relatively low. Moreover, it is unlikely that an employee who specializes in residential-area construction can easily update his or her skills to include rebuilding bridges or electric grids and subway systems. As a result, firms receiving stimulus money
tend to hire their workers away from other construction sites where they were employed rather than from the unemployment lines. This is what economists call “crowding out.” Except that in this case, labor, not capital, is being crowded out. In fact, the original work of GMU’s economist Garett Jones and AEI’s Dan Rothschild confirms that a plurality of workers hired with ARRA money were poached from other organizations rather than from the unemployment lines. The same will likely be true today with Sandy and the reconstruction effort that will follow its devastation. 

Writing at Forbes, Tim W0rstall reminds us the ignorant are only able to make their argument these days because of their GDP fetish allowing them to confuse our stock of capital with the flows that emanate from them.

[Here] is half the problem with the way we calculate GDP: government spending counts at what it costs, not what value it produces.
    The other half of the problem is that we are measuring the current activity, not the capital value. This is a common complaint when we talk about pollution. Cleaning up an oil spill counts as an increase in GDP. Which it is of course: we think that cleaning up an oil spill adds value so cleaning up an oil spill does add value. That’s why we clean it up and also why we count it in GDP: our measure of value being added.
    The problem is that we don’t count the loss in capital value of the original spill itself: nor of any other pollution. GDP measures the flows in the economy, not the stock…
    Imagine that the total wealth of the US is $100 trillion. All the buildings, the factories, the financial assets, the human capital, the natural resources, all add up to $100 trillion. The GDP of the country is around $15 trillion. That second is the flow that we get from the stock of the first.
    Now imagine that Hurricane Sandy does $20 billion of damage to that wealth [which is what disaster analysts Eqecat suggest]. The US is now worth $99.980 Trillion. GDP might rise to $15.01 trillion as we repair that damage. But we’re not in fact any richer at all: despite the fact that GDP has gone up. What has actually happened is that some of our stock of wealth has been destroyed and we’re having to do more work in order to rebuild it. This is exactly the same as our pollution example. We’re measuring what we produce but not the capital stock of what we have (or had).
    Yes, the rebound from Sandy may well provide a boost to the economy. But that’s a function of the way that we measure that economy, not a real boost in our general wealth.

It would be nice if some folk remembered that. Or learned it.

It is the difference in essence, as David Ricardo once pointed out, between Value and Riches.

imageTo help them, let me conclude by quoting extensively from the great Frederic Bastiat himself—whose insights still cast an enormous shadow. Here below is the relevant excerpt from his seminal 1850 essay, around which the great Henry Hazlitt developed his “one lesson” of economics:  “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.”

…Have you ever witnessed the anger of the good shopkeeper, James B., when his careless son happened to break a square of glass? If you have been present at such a scene, you will most assuredly bear witness to the fact, that every one of the spectators, were there even thirty of them, by common consent apparently, offered the unfortunate owner this invariable consolation - "It is an ill wind that blows nobody good. Everybody must live, and what would become of the glaziers if panes of glass were never broken?"

Now, this form of condolence contains an entire theory, which it will be well to show up in this simple case, seeing that it is precisely the same as that which, unhappily, regulates the greater part of our economical institutions.

Suppose it cost six francs to repair the damage, and you say that the accident brings six francs to the glazier's trade - that it encourages that trade to the amount of six francs - I grant it; I have not a word to say against it; you reason justly. The glazier comes, performs his task, receives his six francs, rubs his hands, and, in his heart, blesses the careless child. All this is that which is seen.

But if, on the other hand, you come to the conclusion, as is too often the case, that it is a good thing to break windows, that it causes money to circulate, and that the encouragement of industry in general will be the result of it, you will oblige me to call out, "Stop there! your theory is confined to that which is seen; it takes no account of that which is not seen."

It is not seen that as our shopkeeper has spent six francs upon one thing, he cannot spend them upon another. It is not seen that if he had not had a window to replace, he would, perhaps, have replaced his old shoes, or added another book to his library. In short, he would have employed his six francs in some way, which this accident has prevented.

Let us take a view of industry in general, as affected by this circumstance. The window being broken, the glazier's trade is encouraged to the amount of six francs; this is that which is seen. If the window had not been broken, the shoemaker's trade (or some other) would have been encouraged to the amount of six francs; this is that which is not seen.

And if that which is not seen is taken into consideration, because it is a negative fact, as well as that which is seen, because it is a positive fact, it will be understood that neither industry in general, nor the sum total of national labour, is affected, whether windows are broken or not.

Now let us consider James B. himself. In the former supposition, that of the window being broken, he spends six francs, and has neither more nor less than he had before, the enjoyment of a window.

In the second, where we suppose the window not to have been broken, he would have spent six francs on shoes, and would have had at the same time the enjoyment of a pair of shoes and of a window.

Now, as James B. forms a part of society, we must come to the conclusion, that, taking it altogether, and making an estimate of its enjoyments and its labours, it has lost the value of the broken window.

When we arrive at this unexpected conclusion: "Society loses the value of things which are uselessly destroyed;" and we must assent to a maxim which will make the hair of protectionists stand on end - To break, to spoil, to waste, is not to encourage national labour; or, more briefly, "destruction is not profit."

What will you say, Monsieur Industriel -- what will you say, disciples of good M. F. Chamans, who has calculated with so much precision how much trade would gain by the burning of Paris, from the number of houses it would be necessary to rebuild?

I am sorry to disturb these ingenious calculations, as far as their spirit has been introduced into our legislation; but I beg him to begin them again, by taking into the account that which is not seen, and placing it alongside of that which is seen. The reader must take care to remember that there are not two persons only, but three concerned in the little scene which I have submitted to his attention. One of them, James B., represents the consumer, reduced, by an act of destruction, to one enjoyment instead of two. Another under the title of the glazier, shows us the producer, whose trade is encouraged by the accident. The third is the shoemaker (or some other tradesman), whose labour suffers proportionably by the same cause. It is this third person who is always kept in the shade, and who, personating that which is not seen, is a necessary element of the problem. It is he who shows us how absurd it is to think we see a profit in an act of destruction. It is he who will soon teach us that it is not less absurd to see a profit in a restriction, which is, after all, nothing else than a partial destruction. Therefore, if you will only go to the root of all the arguments which are adduced in its favour, all you will find will be the paraphrase of this vulgar saying - What would become of the glaziers, if nobody ever broke windows?

It is the same with a people as it is with a man …

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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Oh, Sandy [rolling updates]

It looks like Sandy is coming back to Asbury Park, New Jersey, today. This early Bruce Springsteen lament seems eerily appropriate.

PS: Just so you know, the Wall Street Journal has opened its pay wall and WorldStream so you can keep up with coverage of the looming hurricane.

imageMap from Wall Street Journal

UPDATE 1: In the wake of Sandy, be prepared for an onslaught of both enviro- and econo-silliness—both from economists arguing destruction causes prosperity (yes folks, sit tight for an onslaught of Broken Window Fallacies), and from warmists desperate to link weather to climate.  (“Even in the midst of hurricanes,” notes Anthony Watts, “these people don’t give up trying to tie weather to climate. It’s shameless desperation.”)

Here’s some first signs of the warmist schtick: US warmists Bill McKibben and Joe Romm were out of the blocks early with their Tabloid Climatology™. Our own Jim Salinger pitched in on State Radio this morning. And Mr Real Estate Martyn Bradbury tried to join the tabloid climatologists with his own contribution.

Meanwhile, Roger Pielke points out “Large, damaging storms are not unprecedented in the second half of October, with Storm 11 (1944, ~$54 billion), Wilma (2005, $26 billion) and Hazel (1954, $24 billion).”  Quite so, concurs Anthony Watts, who lists destructive October hurricanes making landfall in the north-eastern States all the way back to 1852—long before the first drop of carbon dioxide was emitted from an exhaust pipe.

Now, the alleged economists: Frank Stephenson points out some early alleged economics portraying Sandy as "stimulus.".  Meanwhile, Don Boudreaux and Tim Worstall fire the first salvoes on behalf of sanity: “Destroying Property Does Not Promote Economic Prosperity,” argues Boudreaux. And Worstall points out that if anyone does see prosperity in destruction, it is only because of the ridiculous way GDP is measured. “The problem is that we don’t count the loss in capital value of the original [destruction]: nor of any [further consequences]. GDP measures the flows in the economy, not the stock.”

These numbers aren’t accurate (no one really has an accurate number for the wealth of the entire US) but they’re in the right order of magnitude at least. Imagine that the total wealth of the US is $100 trillion. All the buildings, the factories, the financial assets, the human capital, the natural resources, all add up to $100 trillion. The GDP of the country is around $15 trillion. That second is the flow that we get from the stock of the first.
    Now imagine that Hurricane Sandy does $10 billion of damage to that wealth (for our purposes it doesn’t matter whether it’s $100 billion or $1 trillion. Although this obviously matters to everyone except for the purposes of this example). The US is now worth $99.990 Trillion. GDP might rise to $15.01 trillion as we repair that damage. But we’re not in fact any richer at all: despite the fact that GDP has gone up. What has actually happened is that some of our stock of wealth has been destroyed and we’re having to do more work in order to rebuild it. This is exactly the same as our pollution example. We’re measuring what we produce but not the capital stock of what we have (or had).
    Yes, the rebound from Sandy may well provide “a boost to the economy.” But that’s a function of the way that we measure that economy, not a real boost in our general wealth.

UPDATE 2: Don Boudreaux’s been busy.  He’s also taken the opportunity to send to the Washington Post the BEST LETTER EVER on speculation:

Have you noticed the enormous increase in greedy speculation in the northeast over the past two days?  It’s quite something!  In advance of hurricane Sandy, consumers are now artificially increasing the scarcity today of the likes of bottled water, canned goods, batteries, and medicines by stocking up on these goods.
   
And all of this self-interested speculation – done merely in anticipation of staple goods being much more scarce after Sandy strikes than they are today – is applauded and even encouraged by the news media and government leaders!
   
What gives?  Many of the same people who today publicly encourage us to speculate (“Make sure your family has ample supplies of batteries!”) are among the loudest critics of speculation at other times and in other markets.
   
But in fact the oil speculator who, say, buys oil today in anticipation of oil becoming more scarce tomorrow does just what a consumer does today in a supermarket in anticipation of a disruptive storm: both persons usefully transfer resources across time.  They both stock up on resources that are today relatively abundant in order to preserve these resources for consumption at a time when they are relatively more scarce (and, hence, more precious).  Both persons transfer resources from today – when the consumption of any one bottle of water or gallon of gasoline provides relatively less benefit – to tomorrow when the consumption of that same bottle of water or gallon of gasoline will provide relatively more benefit.
   
Anticipating the future and taking actions to allocate goods and services from times of relative abundance to times of relatively greater scarcity is an immensely useful activity.  And we all perform such speculation whether or not we are popularly identified as “speculators.”

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030

UPDATE 3: The first and longest boardwalk in the US is now floating through the streets of Atlantic City, New Jersey:

image

UPDATE 4: Hurricane Sandy death toll in Caribbean rises to 69, mostly in Haiti.

UPDATE 5: Storm surge and high tide put ‘lower’ Manhattan under water [pics from Zero Hedge]:

image

UPDATE 6: WSJ reports Governor Cuomo’s office “has confirmed at least five storm-related fatalities in New York.”

UPDATE 7:  CNBZ reports National Guard troops have moved into Lower Manhattan. Basement apartments, subway tunnels along the lower East River are under water. Water “rushing into” Battery Tunnel. Con Edison has begun shutting down all power in Manhattan … lights out in Greenwich Village … SoHo … Lower East Side …. Statue of Liberty…

UPDATE 8:  The East River continues to surge over its barriers. This is 34th St and First Avenue in Manhattan, almost in MidTown [pic by Robert Wenzel]:

image

UPDATE 9:  National Data Buoy Center reports winds are mercifully well below the 72 knots that would mark a hurricane, none of their stations recording over 50 knots.  Hat tip Willis Eschenbach who says, “Please note that the big damage from such storms is the flooding, so I am not minimizing the likely extent of the damage.  It will be widespread. However … not a hurricane.”

UPDATE 10: Still windy, however: “So The Front Of A Building Blew Off In NYC.”

UPDATE 11: Three feet of water on trading floor of NY Stock Exchange. May be shut down for weeks. [Hat tip @AmberLyon]  Oops. No. CNN (who had made the claim) redacts.

UPDATE 12:  Uh, Con Edision hadn’t been “shutting down” power. Turns out there was an explosion at the Con Ed Plant E14th and FDR Drive! [Hat tip Lyndon Hood]

UPDATE 13:  WCBS reports the storm surge at Battery Park (Lower Manhattan) has begun to recede.

UPDATE 14Salt Water Puts NYC Subway "In Jeopardy"

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DOWN TO THE DOCTOR’S: Unintended Consequences [with correction]

_McGrath001

This week, Doc McGrath points the finger of blame. [See Correction below]

I wonder if readers noticed this news item about the road toll at Labour Weekend—specifically a horrific, fiery car crash South of Te Karaka near Gisborne that saw four dead.

The story of that crash is a chilling demonstration of the Law of Unintended Consequences which states:

  The actions of people, and especially of government, always have effects that are unanticipated or unintended.

Now, we often say that where there are consequences, those who took the actions should bear the responsibility. So when those actions are taken by government, and those unintended consequences bear directly on someone else—someone who has often been prohibited from avoiding those consequences, however dire—then who takes  responsibility for that? 

How does that bear on this crash? Read this:

Police say passers-by stopped to try to help those trapped in the burning vehicle, but they couldn't get their seatbelts released before the fire took hold.

Did I mention responsibility?  I put it to you that those lawmakers who made wearing seat belts compulsory all those years ago should be held accountable to the family of the three people who suffered agonising death in the Ford Explorer because they were trapped by their seat belts.

Now I'm not saying these three people wouldn't have used their seat belts without laws mandating their use. They might have. And perhaps, without the seat belts, they would have died from injuries sustained directly as a result of the crash. The fact remains however that the restraints intended to save lives were in this case a contributing factor in the deaths of these unfortunate motorists.  And the choice over using those seat belts had been taken out of their hands—so even if they decided they’d be safer without wearing a restraint, they couldn’t.

Every action has consequences, and parliamentarians - like everyone else - should be held accountable for these consequences. If a law results in needless death or injury, justice should be sought for the victims.

I believe New Zealanders should have recourse to legal action against legislators who introduce bills to Parliament that end up as laws limiting the action of peaceful citizens, where this restriction leads to avoidable death.

Richard McGrath
Leader, Libertarianz Party

CORRECTION:  Later more accurate reports indicate the inability of heroic rescuers to extricate the car’s occupants before fire took hold had nothing to with seat belts. So while the discussion is a useful one, it has nothing to do with this tragedy. We regret the error.

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