The price of everything is everything

Donald J. Boudreaux: Economists’ insights can be mundane & surprising

At first glance, the core insights of economics seem mundane. As something’s cost rises, consumers buy less of it. Producing more clothing requires transferring more resources to textile factories and, hence, away from other uses. When Jen buys a pear from Al for a dollar, she does so because she values the pear more than whatever she otherwise would have purchased with that dollar — and Al values what he will buy with that dollar more than he values the pear.

Pretty straightforward. But what economists do with such “obvious” observations is often mind-blowing.

An important counterintuitive insight was vividly conveyed long ago by my late colleague Gordon Tullock. Asked in the 1960s what government should do to maximize reduction in traffic fatalities, he replied, “Mandate that the steering column of each car be mounted with a steel dagger pointed directly at each driver’s heart.” Initially, that sounds crazy. Yet when you think about it, you realize such daggers would cause drivers to dramatically increase the care they exercise behind the wheel.

Instead of really wanting government to mandate mounted daggers, Gordon was warning government against going too far in mandating safety features such as airbags, seat belts and collapsible steering columns. Just as mandated daggers would lead to more-careful driving, mandated safety features lead to less -careful driving. Safety features truly might reduce highway deaths, but keep in mind the possibility that mandated safety features might have surprising opposite effects.

David Friedman explains another counterintuitive insight: “Economists are often accused of believing that everything — health, happiness, life itself — can be measured in money. What we actually believe is even odder. We believe that everything can be measured in anything.”

What Friedman means is that each of us routinely makes trade-offs among things that seemingly can’t be compared. Consider your enjoyment from going to a concert. Getting there conveniently requires driving. Yet by doing that instead of staying home, you raise your chance of being killed in an auto accident. If you nevertheless drive there, you conclude that the added enjoyment you expect from the concert is worth more than the added safety you’d experience by staying home. That is, you compare the experience of a concert to the risks of driving. Obviously, if the risk of being killed while driving there were high enough, you’d decide to stay home.

Another example: You buy a jacket, telling friends it “cost” you $100. But your statement is inaccurate. When you gave, say, five $20 bills to the clerk, what you really gave up wasn’t five pieces of paper engraved with Andrew Jackson’s portrait. What you really gave up is whatever you otherwise would have bought with those five pieces of paper.

Suppose that, had you not bought the jacket, you would have bought a meal at a nice restaurant for you and a friend. In this case, you compared a jacket to that restaurant meal.

We humans constantly compare apples to oranges — and choose sensibly between them.

Giovanni Gentile

Described as the founder of Fascism, he’s certainly one of the founders of the movement.

Wikipedia has an article on him, which has “multiple issues”.  This article also leads to a “fascism portal” with collected pieces on the subject.

His thought definitely has roots in Marxist and Hegelian philosophy. This may be a problem for those who are determined to assert that Fascism is absolutely, positively, right-wing.

Sacred Cattle and Bias

 

People Are Questioning Your Sacred Cows? Listen Up

There’s good reason to scrutinize claims like the Roy Moore mall story. It’s certainly not to protect a pedophile.

I’m skeptical about the mall story. No one in the New Yorker story seems to have been directly involved with the alleged mall ban; every source who was willing (even eager) to talk seems to have heard the story from someone else. It seems probable that there was a rumor floating around that Moore was banned from the mall; it seems possible that this rumor was even true. But it’s also possible it’s false. Those of us over a certain age will remember how many compelling, yet false, urban legends we believed before Snopes.com was invented. And who was the source for every one of those legends? That stalwart figure, “a friend of a friend.”

So without better confirmation than “35 years ago, I heard from a guy that Roy Moore got banned from the mall,” I will withhold judgment on whether Moore was actually banned. I tweeted as much after I read the New Yorker story. And was immediately inundated with aggressive accusations of covering up for a child molester and general partisan hackery.

I am not generally identified as a member of Team Trump, much less Team Roy Moore. Indeed, prior to my tweet about the mall story, I’d been saying some fairly astringent things about the people who were attacking Moore’s accusers — or worse, saying “But Democrats covered for Bill Clinton!” I just didn’t happen to think this particular story was very strong.

I also didn’t think it particularly mattered. If Moore did everything he has been credibly accused of, would we be inclined to give him a pass because that supreme judicial authority, the mall of Gadsden, Alabama, never got around to banning him?

But as I attempted to explain why this story looks weak to a lot of journalists (I was not the only one who noticed the thin sourcing), I began to understand why I’d triggered such outrage. Because several people asked me some version of the same question: “Why would you even question this story?” In their minds, it was clear that there could be only one reason: because I was trying to somehow salvage Moore’s candidacy.

I get asked this question a lot these days. Why would you even argue about rape statistics, when we know that rape is a problem? Why would you give even a moment’s consideration to those who theorize that global warming could be moderate rather than catastrophic? Why would you raise questions about that terrible gang rape at UVA?

My interlocutors have a point: We all make choices about which assertions we interrogate, and which we accept on easy faith. And because we are biased, we tend to interrogate most ruthlessly the inconvenient claims that stand in the way of something we’d very much like to believe. When someone casts doubt on a politically charged story, it’s not crazy to infer an ulterior ideological motive (even though in this particular case involving my qualms about that Roy Moore mall story, this inference was dead wrong).

But if we are committed to believing only things that are likely to be true, then how much does the motive of a questioner really matter? I’d argue “not much.” Knowing someone’s political commitments tells you that they are likely to accept evidence for some propositions more easily than for others. But it does not tell you that their analysis is wrong.

To the contrary, partisans with an axe to grind are often the people who see what others don’t. The faked Second Amendment scholarship of Michael Bellesiles, the forgeries that suggested Bush had gone AWOL during Vietnam, the imaginary gang rape at a UVA fraternity — in all cases, the people who raised questions were dismissed as cranks and partisans, and often this was actually true. And yet, they were the ones seeing clearly, while the people questioning their motives were not.

Truth is powerful stuff; it can be bottled up for just so long before it bursts its container and splatters all over the place. And when that happens, the revelation of the lie hurts the credibility of everyone who embraced it — and harms the very cause they thought they were helping.

So instead of labeling folks as partisan and dismissing their questions, we should embrace a tough critique regardless of its source. You have your blind spots, just like they have theirs. By overlaying their world view onto yours, you may be able to get a fuller picture. You’ll get closer to the truth by listening to people who see the world very differently from you, especially the ones who ask questions that make you uncomfortable. If what you believe is true, their objections can only refine your ideas into something stronger. And if what you believe is false — well, it’s better to find out quick.

Judeo-Christian Values

Dennis Prager has written a great deal on Judeo-Christian values, which he considers one of the underpinnings of American civilization. Many people have an almost reflexive aversion to the term “Judeo-Christian” and will leap to oppose the term. Judaism and Christianity are different religions, they will point out, which means there can be no such thing as Judeo-Christian anything.

Dennis Prager wrote a set of 22 essays on the subject, including what values he identifies as particularly Judeo-Christian. There’s one website I’ve found that has the essays conveniently in one place.

The Case for Judeo-Christian Values

One thing I think doesn’t get enough attention is the meta-law in Judaism. The Torah could have been interpreted in ways to make Judaism just as oppressive as Jihadist Islam. Instead, the rabbis have a history of interpreting laws so that the harshest penalties are literally impossible to invoke. One example is the ongoing arguments between Hillel and Shammai, and how much more restrictive Judaism would have been had Shammai carried the day.

One could make the case for this as an underlying current that drives the course of religious doctrine and practice. Because it’s not written down anywhere, it can be ignored. Individuals and institutions can swim against the current, at least for a while, but the current eventually overcomes all.

The Magic Mirror Trick

Robert Ringer made his name decades ago with his book, Winning Through Intimidation, followed by Looking Out for Number One. For years, I hadn’t seen hide nor hair of him, but it seems he’s still writing. The latest piece in his blog addresses the downside of being what Larry Elder terms a “victicrat” — someone who is determined to overdraw his victim card to the maximum possible level.

Focusing on the Real Enemy — You

in this article I’m going to focus on the most foundational aspect of overcoming what appears to be a hopeless situation, something I’ve always used as the first step toward getting back on my feet whenever I’ve been down. I call it the Magic Mirror Solution.

As an example, let’s say you’re feeling down because some malevolent miscreant screwed you out of your commission or your share of the profits in a big deal. As a result, you’re furious about what he did to you, which is quite natural — natural, but not good for you.

The problem is that so long as you’re focused on what the other guy did to you, your mind is frozen in the past. And if that’s the case, you shouldn’t even attempt to do anything constructive until you first thaw out your gray matter.

There’s an old adage that warns, “You’ll never smell like a rose if you roll in a dunghill.” Trust me, it’s true. No one in this galaxy has dealt with more certified members of the Dastardly Dunghill Gang than I have, so I’m in a position to speak from firsthand experience.

What the Magic Mirror Solution teaches us is that it’s not the dunghill guys’ responsibility to warn you ahead of time that you shouldn’t trust him. It’s your responsibility to open your eyes and your brain, and not only learn to spot these villainous vermin, but keep them out of your life.

Starting today, make it a habit to forget about what anyone else did to you. Forget about the bad breaks that foiled your best-laid plans. Forget about all the guys who are landing the good jobs and the good deals even though you know, in your heart of hearts, they aren’t good enough to carry your lunch pail.

If you insist on thinking of yourself as the victim, you’re using energy that could be better spent elsewhere, and it’s your own fault if it isn’t.

Now, you may actually be a victim. In that case, you will probably be very angry. But at whom should you be angry?

But let’s be optimistic here and assume that you’ve dispensed with the time-wasting exercise of projecting your missteps onto others. What’s next? Simple: Get mad at yourself. That’s right, yourself. Get really mad.

I cannot tell you how cathartic and powerful this exercise is. The reason it’s so liberating is because it frees you from wasting time and effort thinking about things over which you have no control, such as changing others.

This may be painful to hear, but the guy who screwed you in that big deal doesn’t believe he did anything wrong. He really doesn’t. Even if he robbed you blind, he long ago rationalized that you deserved it because of something you did to him — even if you didn’t do it!

I don’t know you or him, but I can tell you this much, sight unseen: You will never get him to admit he did anything wrong. Which is good, because once you understand and accept this reality, you can spend your time focusing on the real enemy in the mirror, which is you.

This is a very easy exercise to practice, so let me spell it out in the simplest way possible: Just look in the mirror and ask, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the dumbest one of all?” If the mirror comes up with any answer other than you, get another mirror.

But if it answers back, “It’s you, you idiot!” then you’ve just taken the first step toward turning things around. Trust your mirror’s judgment, get mad at yourself, and vow to become smarter.

Whenever I’ve put myself through this drill — focusing on my own ignorance, my own bad judgment, my own delusions, my own dumb investment decisions, my own irresponsible behavior, my own naïveté — my own everything — it has never failed me. And once I worked up a white heat of anger toward myself, that’s when I knew I was in a position to start turning things around.

“Never again” is not a hope, or a polite request. It’s a demand, backed by anger, both at those who oppressed, and at those who let the oppression happen.

Sultan Knish: Anger Privilege

Source: Sultan Knish: Anger Privilege

 

If you want to know who has privilege in a society and who doesn’t, follow the anger.

There are people in this country who can safely express their anger. And those who can’t. If you’re
angry that Trump won, your anger is socially acceptable. If you were angry that Obama won, it wasn’t.

James Hodgkinson’s rage was socially acceptable. It continued to be socially acceptable until he crossed the line into murder. And he’s not alone. There’s Micah Xavier Johnson, the Black Lives Matter cop-killer in Dallas, and Gavin Long, the Black Lives Matter cop-killer in Baton Rouge. If you’re black and angry about the police, your anger is celebrated. If you’re white and angry about the Terror travel ban, the Paris Climate treaty, ObamaCare repeal or any leftist cause, you’re on the side of the angry angels.

There’s a Talmudic saying (which may turn out to be in Tractate Tevye) to the effect that you can tell a great deal about a person by his pocket (how and where he spends money), his cup (how he behaves when drunk), and his anger (what he considers worth getting angry over)*.

One form of privilege is having a full purse; the wherewithal to buy what you need and want. Now we have the ability to express your anger as another form of privilege. Perhaps there is a third privilege associated with getting drunk?

Pretense, they explained, will disappear in situations involving money matters, in moments of anger, or by the way a man takes his liquor. As R. Ilai tersely phrased it: “You can recognize a person’s real character by his wine cup (koso), his purse (kiso) and his anger (kaaso).”