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Current Affairs

July 15, 2014

"Fair Trade is Fraud. And Getting Worse."

Professor Munger issues a noteworthy smackdown:

FairTrade does not help the people it claims to help. . . . It does, however, give rich white people a chance to feel good about themselves, at a convenient price.

"The Invisible Economy Our techniques for measuring economic performance are obsolete, obscuring a complete picture of how we're faring."

I think economists would be virtually unanimous in agreeing that this is a serious problem.

However, finding a good solution is really difficult.

Yesterday I linked to some potentially good news about Detroit . . .

. . . but the bad news keeps on coming. See "Thousands go without water as Detroit cuts service for nonpayment" or "Going Without Water in Detroit".

And this is moving eulogy for the Detroit that was

To live in Detroit is like having religion—it requires faith in unprovable and sometimes irrational things. To live in Detroit is to live in hope, and when people live in hope they have to ignore some things that they know are true. That’s just how hope works.

"UNC professor blasts university and its athletic heroes in defense of Rashad McCants"

There's at least one UNC-CH professor who has some common sense.

"I'm struck by the profiles of those attacking Rashad McCants," Smith wrote in his email to me. "On the one hand, you have old-timers spouting off about their experiences in the 1960s, '70s or early '80s. These people haven't seen the inside of an academic support program in years, even decades. They don't have a clue what the program was like in 2005. Yet they hurl their venom at McCants – a player who had the guts to share his transcript on television, and who also had the guts to buck the tide while he was at UNC [an offense against ‘the family' for which he has never been forgiven].

July 14, 2014

"California High-Speed Rail—the Critics' Case"

James Fallows presents some of the criticism, but then he tries a neat rhetorical trick. Is there opposition to California's proposed high speed rail? Yes, but "Every big peacetime project that any democracy has ever undertaken has generated controversy." He gives as examples the Louisiana Purchase, the Alaska Purchase, the Golden Gate bridge, the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and Medicare ("now the sacred cow of American politics").  

Leave aside that both purchases involved just one-time expenditures and little bureaucracy to plan, execute, and administer, the Civil Rights Act didn't involve spending a lot of money of any kind, and that Medicare probably wouldn't have passed if it had been understood how hugely expensive it would become. (In 1965 a billon dollars was a really big deal rather than a rounding error in the budget of some obscure federal bureau.)

The main difference--the difference few Liberals understand--is that those examples are all about 50 years old or older. Government, particularly the federal government, doesn't work as well now. As Glenn Reynolds and his readers point out, two reasons are public employee unions and the environmental lobby. I'd add that now, as opposed to then, the federal government and many state governments are effectively broke.

Good Lord, people, don't you know that these are . . . *public goods*?!

Everyone know the private sector can't supply these efficiently. It's, it's . . . impossible! 

/Sarcasm off.

Whether or not they’re expecting to profit, Gilbert and other capitalists — large and small — are trying to rebuild the city, even stepping in and picking up some duties that were once handled by the public sector. Shop owners around the city are cleaning up the blighted storefronts and public spaces around them. Only 35,000 of Detroit’s 88,000 streetlights actually work, so some owners are buying and installing their own. In Gilbert’s downtown, a Rock Ventures security force patrols the city center 24 hours a day, monitoring 300 surveillance cameras from a control center. Gilbert is proposing to pay $50 million for the land beneath the county courthouse and a partly built jail near his center-city casino, with the intention of moving the municipal buildings to a far-off neighborhood; his goal is to clear the way for an entertainment district that flows south, without interruption, from the sports arenas past his casino and into downtown. Detroit’s new mayor, Mike Duggan, told me he had no problem with the private sector doing so much to shape his city: Other metropolises had their entrepreneurs and deep-pocketed magnates who built and bought and financed things. With a state-appointed emergency manager overseeing various aspects of Detroit’s operations, with many civic services inoperable for years and with a dire need for investment, Duggan said he felt lucky that his town was getting its turn.

While the jury is still very much out, there is much potential good news in "The Post-Post-Apocalyptic Detroit".


To paraphrase one of our previous presidents: It all depends on the what the meaning of the word "smidgin" is

"The Insiders: More IRS smidgens show up. ‘Perfect.’"

Anyone paying attention to the Internal Revenue Service scandal has been waiting for the next smidgen to drop. Well, two more hit pretty hard this week. At the president’s next encounter with the media, I will scream collusion if no one asks him for his exact definition of a “smidgen,” and if he thinks he has seen a smidgen of corruption yet. At this point, only the most gullible or culpable can continue to claim there is no compelling evidence in this case. Given the delays, lies and stonewalling, there is no viable argument against a special prosecutor.

"More Than a Smidgen".

Few of the explanations or justifications of this targeting provided by IRS leaders and Obama administration officials have held up. IRS officials at first denied that any targeting had taken place. That was false. They later claimed that the targeting had involved only low-level employees in the Cincinnati office. That was false. They argued that conservative groups weren’t singled out, that progressive groups were subject to the same level of scrutiny. That was false. They argued that the IRS has complied with all requests for information from Congress. That was false.

"The IRS Oddities Add Up".

Criouser and curiouser. It's hard to see how the details of the ongoing IRS investigation could anything but mystify a fair-minded and careful observer.

"Lois Lerner email: 'we need to be cautious about what we say in emails"

I think William Jacobsen nails it: "She’s also not the brightest bulb in the theater -if you are worried about saying incriminating things in emails because Congress may discover the emails, don’t talk about it in emails."

"Establishment Tea: The GOP is coming together, not apart"

Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru make an argument you're unlikely to find in the mainstream press. (Why is left as an exercise for the reader.)

"Why so many kids can’t sit still in school today"

A "pediatric occupational therapist" argues that it's because kids need more exercise. (Some supporting evidence here.)

Seems reasonable. But I want to know this: can they sit still for TV? For texting and Playstation and Xbox? If so, the problem isn't lack of exercise.

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