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Friday, June 27, 2014

Would You Pay to Work?

Many years ago, I was at a rock concert in the San Diego stadium and there were around 50,000 people in attendance. I forget who the main act was, but the warm up band was decidedly mediocre in my opinion. And given that the crowd's response to the band was tepid at best, apparently a lot of people agreed with me.

I'm a musician and songwriter and I remember thinking that I would pay money, perhaps even a lot of money, to be able play a venue with 50,000 people. That was the moment that I began thinking about the sorts of circumstances where someone would pay to work.

There are actually quite a few circumstances where people either pay to work or work for free.  The most widespread example of paying to work are graduate students.  They work their asses off and pay tuition for the privilege of doing so.

Let's move from the skilled and somewhat elite graduate students or hobbyist songwriters and consider the meaning of jobs at the lower end of the skill spectrum. It turns out that for many people, the job itself has a significant positive impact on happiness:
[T]he well-established finding that unemployment has major negative effects on well-being, including both mental and physical health. And the effects are remarkably persistent. A study using German panel data examined changes in reported life satisfaction after marriage, divorce, birth of a child, death of a spouse, layoff, and unemployment. All had predictable effects in the short term, but for five of the six the effect generally wore off with time: the joy of having a new baby subsided, while the pain of a loved one’s death gradually faded. The exception was unemployment: even after five years, the researchers found little evidence of adaptation. 
Evidence even more directly on point comes from the experience of welfare reform – specifically, the imposition of work requirements on recipients of public assistance. Interestingly, studies of the economic consequences of reform showed little or no change in recipients’ material well-being. But a pair of studies found a positive impact on single mothers’ happiness as a result of moving off welfare and finding work.
It turns out you may be able to buy happiness and that happiness takes the form of a job.  If you didn't have a job but did have money, it might be worth buying the job with that money.

Picture of the Day

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Move along, nothing to see here

From Restating the Obvious, a year ago:

... RtO cannot restate the obvious about the imaginary IRS scandal. It will have to state the position as if it were new, although it really isn't. The key points are: 1. The Teadiots and conservatives were not singled out. Other, evidently leftish groups, also had to demonstrate their fitness for the 501(c)4 exemption. For example, Progress Texas. The difference is, the leftists have not been caterwauling about it. 2. What the IRS did was completely ordinary and necessary. In 2010, there was an explosion in new groups, partly, probably, because of the egregious Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case.


“Not even mass corruption — not even a smidgen of corruption.” — President Barack Obama when asked in February if corruption was to blame for the IRS singling out Tea Party groups seeking tax exemption for extra scrutiny.

“WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service said Friday it has lost a trove of emails to and from a central figure in the agency’s tea party controversy, sparking outrage from congressional investigators who have been probing the agency for more than a year.” — from the Associated Press, June 13.


Progressives want the gummint to run our lives. Yet neither it, or its minions, can manage something so simple as basic backup properly.

(This isn't a pop quiz, so the correct answers are: 1) Yes, they were. 2) No, it wasn't. And for the bonus round, further proof progressives have absolutely no respect for the Constitution. From the Citizens United decision: Although the First Amendment provides that “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech,” §441b’s prohibition on corporate independent expenditures is an outright ban on speech, backed by criminal sanctions. And that is just a start.)

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Intellectual lessons from a father to his children

Given my own experiences in intellectual inquiry, I wanted to give my children a few simple ideas that would be helpful for them in their pursuits.  They all have a bit of curiosity which is a good fuel for learning.

Intellectual lessons from a father:

1. "I don't know" is a perfectly acceptable answer.  (brights often have a hard time with this...)

2. "This is my best understanding so far" is often an appropriate answer.  (even hard won knowledge is contingent...)

3.  There is no substitute for doing the homework. Most people won't do the homework. (they're  too busy or are unwilling to put in the effort)

4. Many things are complicated, they entail tradeoffs because there are no good answers.  (they have to be studied from many perspectives and many layers deep because of their complexity - "Ogres" was a fun reminder when they were young)

5. People say stuff.  (could be blind parroting, intentional deception, best understanding that comes up short, or simply valid)

Friday, June 13, 2014

Splodey Head

A recent article titled Libs Go 'Splodey Head As Kochs Donate To United Negroe College Fund concludes:
There are few things more delicious than watching reality smack around a carefully crafted progressive lie. While Harry Reid is spending all of his time portraying the Koch brothers as Satan incarnate, they quietly give to a variety of charities, as well as to Democrat candidates and have long been supporters of same sex marriage.
 It gets even better when Walter Hudson weighs in on the matter:
This story stands as evidence that the political left holds no genuine concern for the well-being of black Americans, or any other minority group. Professor Gasman would rather see the 3,000 students who will be helped by the Koch Brothers donation go without scholarships than have her preferred political narrative discredited.
Professor Gasman also has something to say about the Tea Party, something of which Mr. Hudson has first hand experience:
As a black man operating within and alongside the Tea Party since 2009, I can speak to the movement’s agenda for black Americans. It involves a lot of freedom to do what we want, with whomever we want, on whatever terms we agree to. The Tea Party agenda includes such dastardly highlights as free association, true tolerance, security in person and property, and an unfettered pursuit of something called “happiness.” 
By all means, listen to the delivery in his own voice on the podcast.

Caution: (not a trigger warning - being offended is under an individuals control - take responsibility)
If you listen to the podcast with a Prog take the same precaution you would take if sitting in the front rows of a Gallagher concert (in case they go splody head.) 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Not a Perfect Place

"Now, Iraq is not a perfect place.  It has many challenges ahead.  But we’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people.  We’re building a new partnership between our nations.  And we are ending a war not with a final battle, but with a final march toward home.  This is an extraordinary achievement, nearly nine years in the making." President Barack Obama, December 14, 2011, Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
"Not a perfect place" but, nonetheless, an extraordinary achievement?

From ABC News, June 12, 2014:

Less than three years after pulling American forces out of Iraq, President Barack Obama is weighing a range of short-term military options, including airstrikes, to quell an al-Qaida inspired insurgency that has captured two Iraqi cities and threatened to press toward Baghdad. [...]
Obama, in his first comments on the deteriorating situation, said it was clear Iraq needed additional assistance from the U.S. and international community given the lightning gains by the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Levant.
 And here's a current picture of refugees fleeing from the captured cities in the "not a perfect place."

If you want particularly scary and pessimistic commentary about "not a perfect place," see today's column entitled The Day of Reckoning by Richard Fernandez.  Note that he predicted this current situation in Iraq over 4 years ago in The Ten Ships along with a lot of other prescient commentary over the years about the War on Terror.

Read the whole thing - if you want nightmares.

Now I Wish I Had Bought the Tesla

Well, it's still out of my price range, but I sure do like this ("All Our Patent Are Belong To You") from CEO Elon Musk at the Tesla Blog.  Maybe I'll be able to afford one of their future cheaper models.

I seriously dislike the patent system and its effect of stifling innovation and it's nice to see that Elon agrees with me.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Word That Must Not Be Named

Someone forwarded an email critical of Hillary Clinton to a mailing list of old fraternity brothers that I belong to with the subject line "Padding her bra & resume!"  I don't find that subject line clever, cute, humorous, or particularly good in any way. It's clearly meant to be kind of offensive in a sexist way, but not something I would've paid any attention to at all. It was kind of a stupid email with kind of a stupid subject line. Pretty commonplace on the Internet.

Much to my surprise, one of the fraternity brothers was offended:
hey.... just call me mr-pc but duz it strike anyone else that the subject line is disgustingly sexist / misogynistic? i find it objectionably so...
I actually thought he was kidding at first, especially since, as you might gather from his writing style, he comes across as a rather rough character.  And did I mention this is a frat boy mailing list? But no, as shown by the following retort to my questioning and a comment about being thin-skinned, he seems sincerely quite offended:
is it also ok for us to throw around the N word?  should thin-skinned blacks just suck it up & get freakin over it?! 
yeah, i'm REALLY offended by both the N word and the erstwhile subject...
Ahhhh, the n-word. Last I looked, there were tens of thousands of words beginning with 'n' but no doubt he's referring to "The Word That Must Not Be Named."  I was rather wondering if it was even in the dictionary anymore. It is. Here's an excerpt from the definition:
The term nigger is now probably the most offensive word in English. Its degree of offensiveness has increased markedly in recent years, although it has been used in a derogatory manner since at least the Revolutionary War. The senses labeled Extremely Disparaging and Offensive represent meanings that are deeply insulting and are used when the speaker deliberately wishes to cause great offense. It is so profoundly offensive that a euphemism has developed for those occasions when the word itself must be discussed, as in court or in a newspaper editorial: “the n-word.”
This important excerpt actually comes before the definition as you must be warned before seeing what it means.

Impressive. The MOST offensive word in English. If we ask google, we find that there are 1,025,109.8 words in the English language (not sure how you can have eight-tenths of a word, but that's what google says).  One in a million, six-sigma, and given the size of the population, probably the Most. Offensive. Word. Evah! For all time. Anywhere in the universe. Seriously.

That's a lot of power for a word. How did that word obtain such power? I'm pretty sure the answer to that is Political Correctness. We're afraid that someone, somewhere might be so upset or so outraged, that the world will explode if the word itself appears instead of the "n-word" euphemism. Or something.  So we tiptoe around trying not to break the epithet eggshells.

It is not illegal, and in my strong opinion it is neither unethical nor immoral nor should it be considered offensive to write the word nigger.  To call someone a nigger, yes, that would be very offensive.  Especially if you mean it.  But just writing it? Just using it to state facts? Not substituting the n-word euphemism? No, no, and no.

The whole concept of not being able to write "nigger" keeps reminding me of the Jehovah stoning scene in the movie "Life of Brian."

At least I can understand why some might consider the sacred name of god a word of power. But nigger should not be a powerful word. It would be much better to reduce the power of a word like nigger. But alas; because it's ever more powerful, it becomes ever more offensive; because it becomes ever more offensive, it becomes ever more powerful. Because of political correctness, we become ever more easily outraged, thin-skinned, and pathetic.

I'm going to file this under humor.  Not because it's funny, but because, in my opinion, we ought to be thick-skinned enough to laugh at this.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Who's Non-Profit?

At first blush, it might seem that a non-profit company would always be a good thing.  After all, since there's no profit motive, there must be no greed involved, and so the company must have been created for the sole purpose of doing good.  Or, as the economist Arnold Kling points out, at least that would seem to be the intention:
The intention heuristic is what generates the veneration of non-profits. One can readily suppose that the intentions of a non-profit are better than those of a for-profit institution. Accordingly, it seems morally superior to work at a non-profit.
As an example, here in San Diego, we have a non-profit company called Family Health Centers, that I happen to be very familiar with.  They provide health care for the underserved (i.e., the poor) and their headline mission statement is "[c]aring, affordable, quality healthcare for anyone in need." An excellent mission, and they do indeed, at minimum, make significant inroads towards their mission statement.  What's not to like?

In the past, the Veterans Administration has been highly lauded as the pinnacle of socialized medicine in America and an example of what's possible.  As Glenn Reynolds (of Instapundit fame) points out:
Writing in the Washington Post during the debate over Obamacare, Ezra Klein suggested that we should expand VA coverage to non-veterans, because the government just does health care better than the private sector: "Medicare is single-payer, but VA is actually socialized medicine, where the government owns the hospitals and employs the doctors. ... If you ordered America's different health systems (from) worst-functioning to best, it would look like this: individual insurance market, employer-based insurance market, Medicare, Veterans Health Administration."
A couple of years later, in 2011, Klein hailed the VA health system as an example of "when socialism works in America": "The thing about the Veteran's (Affairs') health-care system? It's socialized. Not single-payer. Not heavily centralized. Socialized. As in, it employs the doctors and nurses. Owns the hospitals. . . . If I could choose my health-care reform, I don't think I'd go as far towards government control as the VA does. But the program is one of the most remarkable success stories in American public policy, and it needs to be grappled with."
All government organizations are inherently non-profit, so the Veterans Administration is therefore, according to Mr. Klein, a shining example of what can be achieved by non-profits.

But what does non-profit mean?  Does anybody make money?  Or is it all volunteer?

Back to Family Health Centers (mentioned above).  Their CEO, Fran Butler-Cohen, made more than $550,000 in 2012 (I believe her current compensation package exceeds $600,000).  So it's certainly not all volunteer and $600,000 is pretty good compensation for someone running a fairly small operation ($80 million per year).  Especially when much of that $80 million comes from taxpayers (medicaid, medical and other federal health funding) and grants.  So we have to remember that non-profit simply means that the organization itself doesn't make a profit.  All of the employees at the non-profit company can make ludicrous amounts of money and, if they do, it's very profitable for them as individuals.

The shine on the Veterans Administration has lost a bit of its luster as of late due to a series of scandals. Back to Reynold's article:
Now that the VA has erupted in scandals involving phony wait lists, and people dying because of treatment delays, an audit reveals a "systemic lack of integrity" in the system. According to the auditors, "Information indicates that in some cases, pressures were placed on schedulers to utilize inappropriate practices in order to make waiting times appear more favorable." 
In other words, they cooked the books. And what's more, they did it to ensure bigger "performance bonuses." The performance may have been fake, but the bonuses were real.
People sometimes think that government or "nonprofit" operations will be run more honestly than for-profit businesses because the businesses operate on the basis of "greed." But, in fact, greed is a human characteristic that is present in any organization made up of humans. [...]
The absence of a bottom line doesn't reduce greed and self-dealing — it removes a constraint on greed and self-dealing. And when that happens, ordinary people pay the price. Keep that in mind, when people suggest that free-market systems are somehow morally inferior to socialism.
Yes, the problem with non-profits and government organizations is that they're made up of people and they have all the defects, foibles and imperfections of all other humans, with greed being one of the prime examples of those imperfections.  So what if people died?  They got their bonuses!

From Cosmopolitan, here's another description of the Veterans Administration:
Our disabled veterans are being betrayed by the incompetency, bureaucracy, and callousness of the Veterans’ Administration, the agency set up … years ago to ensure the finest medical care for them.
What's interesting about the excerpt above is that it's from the March, 1945 issue of Cosmopolitan, so apparently these problems have been going on for quite a while.

The economist Don Boudreaux captions the expectation that government organizations should be expected to be any better than any other organizations: "Then a Miracle Occurs:"
This famous Sidney Harris cartoon (below) captures what is wrong – what is deeply unscientific – about far-too-much modern economics.  The miracle assumed by the unscientific ‘scientific’ modern economist is that government will act (1) apolitically, (2) without any of the human imperfections, myopia, and psychological quirks that (are assumed to) give rise to the market imperfections that allegedly justify government intervention, and (3) with more information and wisdom than is discovered and used in markets.
For the purposed of this post, I consider non-profit and government to be very similar if not synonymous and we're specifically focusing on the "human imperfection" of greed. Once you eliminate Kling's "intention heuristic" and Boudreaux's "miracle," there's no reason to expect non-profits or governments to be better organizations than for-profit organizations.  In fact, as Reynolds points out, the bottom-line of a for-profit may actually constrain things like greed:
The absence of a bottom line doesn't reduce greed and self-dealing — it removes a constraint on greed and self-dealing. And when that happens, ordinary people pay the price. Keep that in mind, when people suggest that free-market systems are somehow morally inferior to socialism.
It's not that markets and for-profit companies are perfect, or even good.  It's just that it's naive to expect other organizations to avoid things like greed and be any better.

By the way, Washington D.C. is easily the greediest place in the country and probably the world.  It has nearly 2.5 times the GDP per capita ($146,000) as the next richest state (Delaware at $61,000) and more than 3 times the GDP per capita as the rest of the country.  Not a lot of for-profit companies in D.C., but a heck of a lot of people making a heck of a lot of money.  Sort of like the Hunger Games, but not quite as extreme. Yet.

When counties embrace true socialism, they essentially turn the entire country into one giant non-profit organization. Especially in a diverse populous such as that which exists in the U.S., I think that will be an utter disaster.