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Saturday, January 26, 2013

Congrats to aog:

Illinois’ credit rating has taken another hit. Standard & Poor’s Ratings Service downgraded the state from an “A” rating to “A-minus”, making it the worst in the country.
I rather thought California was going to win this race to the bottom, but Illinois might just beat us out.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Raw Sewage and Gender Equality

I've been enjoying discussions on a wide range of topics with my 16-year-old daughter.  I've probably poisoned her ability to ever be an unthinking person of the Left.  Sure, she goes to a California high school and is surrounded by Leftists (even though it's a private school) and as a result she still leans towards various ideologies like catastrophic global warmenism, but I've sown enough of a seed of doubt in such topics that she'll never be able to buy it hook, line, and sinker and will be easily able to reject it one day.  She has developed an impossible to completely suppress healthy skepticism of most topics.

Lately, she's been studying various gender and racial topics and she's been suffering from some cognitive dissonance. Things like, "there should be full gender equality but if they bring back the military draft, women shouldn't get drafted."  She knows that there's something not quite right about that statement, but she just can't bring herself to buy into the concept that men and women are different.  Yet.

Our drains backed up this morning.  I'm guessing that in this situation, a male deals with the drains and the associative disgusting raw sewage at least 95% of the time.  I mopped up the pools of backed up water, got the powered drain snake out, ran it through various clean outs, and cleared the blockages (roots of course, what else?).  As I was snaking the drains my daughter was getting ready to go shopping.  I called out, "You remember that discussion we were having about gender equality the other day?  As long as it's always guys who deal with the disgusting stuff like this, the concept of complete gender equality is nothing more than a giant load of stinking BS, much like I'm finding in these drains!"

She just smiled and walked out the door, but I think the point got through.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Dedicated followers of fashion (they are pretty clueless)

As a teenager interested in markets, mostly stock and commodity markets, but also economics I read the New York Times and The Wall Street Journal everyday.  Within a few years it was quite clear to me that the matters described and analysed in many instances were not even adequate as after the fact explanations.  The conventional wisdom was not to be taken at face value.

Motivated by intense curiosity I pursued better explanations of how the world actually works.  This allowed me to see beyond the statist assumptions that were so big a part of elite non-thinking.  I didn't even know the word statism back then.  My sense was that there were gains to be had in greater centralization but only up to a point.  

In a recent post  by my coblogger about resilience and collapse, I made a somewhat glib comment about how there were forces running counter to the trends of centralization that seem so irresistibly powerful.

In an article by Walter Russell Mead, The Crisis of the American Intellectual he expresses concern over having reached that point.  Because of his views he gives more credit to the Mandarins regarding past progress than I would, but here is some of his take on the matter:

Since the late nineteenth century most intellectuals have identified progress with the advance of the bureaucratic, redistributionist and administrative state.  The government, guided by credentialed intellectuals with scientific training and values, would lead society through the economic and political perils of the day.  An ever more powerful state would play an ever larger role in achieving ever greater degrees of affluence and stability for the population at large, redistributing wealth to provide basic sustenance and justice to the poor.  The social mission of intellectuals was to build political support for the development of the new order, to provide enlightened guidance based on rational and scientific thought to policymakers, to administer the state through a merit based civil service, and to train new generations of managers and administrators.

 Most American intellectuals today are still shaped by this worldview and genuinely cannot imagine an alternative vision of progress.  It is extremely difficult for such people to understand the economic forces that are making this model unsustainable and to see why so many Americans are in rebellion against this kind of state and society – but if our society is going to develop we have to move beyond the ideas and the institutions of twentieth century progressivism.  The promises of the administrative state can no longer be kept and its premises no longer hold.   The bureaucratic state is too inefficient to provide the needed services at a sustainable cost – and bureaucratic, administrative governments are by nature committed to maintain the status quo at a time when change is needed.  For America to move forward, power is going to have to shift from bureaucrats to entrepreneurs, from the state to society and from qualified experts and licensed professionals to the population at large.

So there you have it.  The foundational assumptions of American intellectuals as a group are firmly based on the assumptions of the progressive state and the Blue Social Model.  Those who run our government agencies, our universities, our foundations, our mainstream media outlets and other key institutions cannot at this point look the future in the face.  The world is moving in ways so opposed to their most hallowed assumptions that they simply cannot make sense of it.  They resist blindly and uncreatively and, unable to appreciate the extraordinary prospects for human liberation that this change can bring, they are incapable of creative and innovative response.

None of this is a great surprise to anyone who bothered to work things out rather than blindly parroting the ideas of the intellectuals.

(h/t Maggiesfarm)

Might Makes Right: Monopoly on Compassion

The wealthy actor Gérard Depardieu gave up his French citizenship in order to avoid France's seemingly ever increasing taxes.  The French socialists have been howling about the injustice of the huge and hugely wealthy man avoiding his obligation to help the French poor.

Theodore Dalrymple wonders if the socialists are really concerned with injustice and proposes the following thought experiment:
"Suppose that Gérard Depardieu were to undergo a conversion experience and see that his wealth was not unjust but unseemly in view of the difficulties or hardships of others, and that as a consequence he decided to give it away to those most in need (as determined by him) in exactly the same proportion as he would have been taxed. Would that be acceptable to all those who criticized him for refusing to pay his tax? 
"I suspect not: for in the modern world, the state claims the monopoly not only of force, but increasingly of compassion as well."
I find that the state's monopoly of compassion is an interesting concept.  Charity is one of the components of compassion, at least at the individual level.  The Jewish philosopher Maimonides lists 8 levels of charity (in ascending order of "goodness"):

  1. Giving unwillingly.
  2. Giving willingly, but inadequately.
  3. Giving adequately after being asked.
  4. Giving before being asked.
  5. Giving publicly to an unknown recipient.
  6. Giving anonymously to a known recipient.
  7. Giving anonymously to an unknown recipient.
  8. Giving that results in a person no longer living by relying upon others.

Giving anonymously is considered a preferred form of giving.  It has the advantage of not advertising the goodness of the giver but rather helps ensure that the giver is giving because of compassion with few other benefits to self.  The second advantage is that the person receiving the charity can't feel beholden to any individual since he has no idea from where the charity originated.  If anything, the recipient will feel beholden to the community, to humanity, and since this is a religious philosophy, the recipient will possibly feel beholden to God as well.  This all adds to social cohesion and harmony.

With the state having a monopoly on giving, in some sense the giving is anonymous.  Unfortunately, the benefits of that anonymity is preempted by the fact that the giver is often doing so unwillingly (many resent paying taxes).  On the other side, while the "givers" or taxpayers are unknown to him, the recipient can be sure that the vast majority of the charity comes from outside his community and therefore feels no sense of obligation to that community.  Government replaces God as well.

And that's probably the point.  Reduce the capacity for societal cohesion at the family and community level and replace that with worship at the altar of government.  It's not about injustice, but power.

Might Makes Right.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Let's Party on eBay!

This brought a smile to my face.

"Let's Party" is a rock CD that I wrote, recorded and produced about 15 years ago.  I printed 1,000 of them and have given away most of them (I never tried to sell them).

So I'm quite surprised to see that one is being sold on eBay by an eBay "CD Store"! They're listing it for $22.99.  It's advertised as:
The real thing, not a CD-R.   (1187 is # on spine of case)

NOT a cutout and NOT a record club edition.
Pretty funny! I wonder how it got there?

Monday, January 07, 2013

Quote of the Day

Any system that has unimaginable complexity can not be centrally planned or directed.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

The Furnace and the Tax

My furnace recently quit.  Fortunately, it wasn't that big of a deal because I live in San Diego and it's just not that cold, even in the middle of winter.

It was obvious what was wrong.  A motor started making lots of noise and then quit completely.  I looked it up and it was the "Draft Inducer Motor".

I got a local furnace repair place that I qualified with Yelp to come start the repair process.  I told the dispatcher what was needed.  The repair guy showed up without the part ("We don't stock our trucks with that part").  He verified that it was indeed that the "Draft Inducer Motor" needed to be replaced.

The next day he gave me a quote of around $900 to fix the furnace.  I was in the middle of a meeting in the middle of some lettuce fields when he called so I told him I'd get back to him.

$900 sounded like a lot to me so I removed the motor assembly from the furnace (took 1 minute), got the part number off of the motor, and looked it up on the Internet.  I found it for well less than $100.  Ultimately, I bought from a place that seemed reputable and was able to deliver it overnight and from them the motor was $140.

When it arrived, I disassembled the draft inducer motor assembly and reassembled it with the new motor and put it back in the furnace.  Everything was very straightforward and easy and took me about an hour and the furnace works fine again.

A $900 estimate for a $100 part and an hour of time (or less for someone who does this frequently)?  Great work if you can get it!

I gave them a bad Yelp!  The owner commented to my Yelp!:

"We appreciate this members concern with regards to pricing.  However there are a lot of things to account for when running an HVAC business that this customer fails to see. 
"First of all the service call and diagnostic are totally refunded from the repair charge that I quoted at $865 bringing it down to $770 when all is said and done. Secondly of course when you buy a non factory part online that comes with no warranty and install it yourself you are going to get it for cheaper, much cheaper!  We only install factory parts from the manufacture that comes with a 5 year warranty not to mentioned installed by a licensed and insured contractor. 
"For example my son's braces cost me over $4,500 this year however all the parts and metal only cost the dentist $185.  Do I feel I got ripped off because of this?  Absolutely not!  When you acquire a professional service to perform work; you are paying for many things, not just the part. You are paying for the skill and technical know how of the technician.  Not to mention things like Insurance, trucks, liability, workers compensation, employee training, vehicle maintenance, gas, test equipment, state and federal taxes, employee compensation, advertising, tools, warehouse and  office rent, phones, lighting, warehouse and truck stock, management administration, office equipment, computerization, legal fees, employee benefits, office staff and supplies just to name a few. [...]"
The motor I ordered was new and an exact replacement part with a 5-year warranty.  I remembered his quote being $900, but maybe he said $865, not really a significant difference.  The braces analogy made me laugh - my kid's orthodontist and assistants spent many, many hours over a period of years working on my children's teeth.

But then he gets to some valid points: "Insurance, ..., liability, workers compensation, ..., state and federal taxes, ..., legal fees, employee benefits, ...".  A whole lot of costs imposed by government and lawyers.  I rather doubt they justify charging $900 for a $100 part and less than an hour of time, but it justifies part of it.

Now let's consider what I would have to earn in order to cover that $900 fee.  Since I'm a programmer and I do some hourly consulting, I actually can consider what it costs me on a marginal basis pre-tax.  Between FICA (15.3% - both halves since I'm a consultant),  Federal Taxes (36%), and State Taxes (11% in California), with AMT ensuring that there are no deductions, my marginal rate is 60+%.  In order to pay that $900, I'd have to earn $2,250 pre-tax.  Of that $1,350 off the top would go to various governments, $800 would go to the furnace repair company of which a significant portion would also go to various governments, I estimate that $15 would go to the motor distributor, and finally $85 would go to the motor manufacturer and much of the manufacturer's cost also would reflect taxes and costs imposed by various governments.

This is a great example of a simple transaction in which governments are sucking the life out the economy.  Probably near 80% of the money required for this simple repair would've gone to governments.  All for no real gain by me, rather just trying to repair a rather critical household item and get back to where I was before it broke.