Is It Wealth And Status, Or Is It A Philosophical Crisis?

Janice Wood of PsychCentral reports:
Those in the upper class are more likely to lie and cheat, cut people off when driving, and endorse unethical behavior in the workplace, according to new research from seven separate studies at the University of California at Berkeley.
It has all the makings of a sensational class warfare study. Those readers more inclined to class dynamics discussions are already wiping the Pavlovian saliva off their chins. But of course, the real story is seldom contained in the first two paragraphs of a news story, but instead in the last two. This story is no different.
It turned out that even those participants not in the upper class were just as likely to report a willingness to engage in unethical behavior as the upper-class participants once they had been primed to see the benefits of greed, researchers said. 
“These findings have very clear implications for how increased wealth and status in society shapes patterns of ethical behavior, and suggest that the different social values among the haves and the have-nots help drive these tendencies,” Piff said.
That is to say that, despite the researchers' best efforts, they could not actually demonstrate that rich people are cheaters and poor people are honest. Instead, they settled for the weaker conclusion that wealth and status "drive tendencies" toward unethical behavior.

Glaringly absent from the researchers' analysis is any discussion of the underlying creed (or lack thereof) held by the study's subjects. They boil the question down to the extremely biased and borderline-dangerous belief that wealth and power spawns unethical behavior.

The problem I have with this idea is not its empirical accuracy, but rather the fact that it fundamentally skirts the whole issue. It's sort of like saying, "People who eat at Joe's Restaurant empirically cause more car accidents than people who eat at Juanita's Restaurant," while omitting the fact that Joe's is licensed to serve alcohol while Juanita's is not.

This kind of fundamental clinical error is the kind of thing I have blogged about before under the category heading "Scientific Method." The study does not say what it purports to say. It omits the most important indicators and then draws conclusions among weaker correlational factors.

Above all, I want to note that the sad, slow destruction of society's moral compass is a real problem. I would never suggest that the study participants did not behave exactly as the researchers observed them to behave. But rather than blaming these behaviors on income statistics, I want to know more about why people are losing their sense of ethics.

Is it merely a coincidence, for example, that those with higher incomes tend to be better-educated, and therefore have experienced the soul-crushing mishmash of value relativism present in modern college philosophy courses? Is income the guilty factor here, or has post-modern education beaten moral objectivity out of people?

Is it merely a coincidence that those with lower incomes tend to have a larger stake in scientific research in which they participate because the financial compensation they receive means more to them than it does for a rich person? In other words, do rich participants simply not take the study itself very seriously? Are they "just having some fun" with something in which they have no real stake? And if so, how did the researchers control for this eventuality? Is this the same thing as "cheating?"

Again and again I have pointed out that society needs ethics. Return to the 18th Century, and you will find yourself in a world in which ethical systems were basically provided by the upper class, or by religion. The closest thing you could find to lower-class ethics might be something like Poor Richard's Almanac, which itself was written by a member of the American upper class.

That values and ethics are deteriorating for any class of people is a real tragedy and a real danger. The solution to this problem is not to blame the rich (or anyone else as a categorical group). The solution is to instill in people a prevailing sense of ethics, a creed.

This blog is my attempt to do so. What is yours?


Maybe I'm Imagining Things

Call me crazy, but it sure is looking like the Austrian School of economic theory has taken over mainstream economic discussion.

For one thing, the Austrian view of the latest "financial crisis" and ensuing recession(s?) has for all intents and purposes become the dominant explanation. Consider this Wikipedia article, for example. For all the talk of risk valuation and deleveraging, the story has become one of miscalculation and malinvestment fed by low Fed interest rates. That is ABCT in a nutshell.

Then, Steve Horwitz points out that Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney recently addressed Austrian theory directly in his recent talk at the US Monetary Policy Forum. This is obviously a far cry from just a couple of years ago, when everyone was insisting that Austrian School adherents were essentially a heterodox group of [insert dismissive epithet of choice here].

Naturally, the broader discussion of the "crisis in economics" - that is, not the financial crisis itself but of mainstream economics' ability to accurately interpret the events - has largely swung in favor of core Austrian School concepts of information, economic calculation, governments-as-calculation-impediments, and marginal subjective value.

To wit, take this statement by Chicago School economist Richard Posner, from his take on obstacles to continued Chinese economic growth:
But without an efficient retail sector, it is difficult to motivate workers in the long run; they may be paid well but be unable to use their money to buy the consumer goods and services that they want. This was a huge problem in the Soviet Union; it is a factor in the very high savings rates in Japan and Germany.
What else can you call this concept, if not Misesian? Mises often wrote about the fact that modern standard of life increases in the West were a direct result of consumer demand. In his view, conditions in the workplace improved because it is impossible to extract modern levels of productivity from workers that have been poorly treated. Similarly, what good is it to be a Chinese millionaire if all you can spend your money on is pirated brand-name clothing and fried seahorses? So Posner is absolutely correct: A major impediment to Chinese growth is the fact that this growth cannot and will not occur unless consumers can reap the benefits of their higher incomes.

Perhaps Posner is too old to have a major shift in economic perspectives. Or, perhaps he has always had a sharp mind for interpreting economic events, and the only one who hasn't been paying attention is yours truly. But it sure feels like Austrian-themed economic theory is everywhere around us these days.

I look forward to Horwitz's upcoming event at the University of Carleton. Don't miss it, and please say hello if you see me there.


Qnexa Backed by FDA Panel

The Associated Press has the story. The push to approve a potentially risky diet drug like Qnexa has got me thinking.

First Of All, Access to Medicine Is Important
Faithful Stationary Waves readers know me to be, as a general rule, in favor of all new medications regardless of their comparative safety. My philosophy is, let all drugs come to market and let the consumers decide what works and what doesn't. Every product has a monograph and clinical data and studies are widely available to the general public. For novel drugs, the information is the most widespread because such studies are actually part of the pharmaceutical company's marketing strategy. For non-unique drugs (as I believe Qnexa to be), the risks are perfectly obvious: diet drugs are basically controlled doses of stimulants that burn a lot of fat. These products work for the same reason that smoking tobacco or doing amphetamines results in weight loss. But like all stimulants, the user pays a heavy toll in terms of heart and arterial health. We don't need FDA approvals to know this - we all know this already.

Now, please keep in mind that for some patients the risks are entirely worth it. This is why I think the consumers should decide. For some patients, obesity presents more urgent health risks than the controlled use of stimulants under medical supervision. So, as far as I'm concerned, the decision to use weight-loss drugs is an individual one that should be discussed with your doctor (or, preferably doctors). No one decision is right for everyone, universally.

Second Of All, Why The Double-Standard?
But this is not what I have been thinking about. Instead, the push to introduce a new diet drug "despite safety concerns" has highlighted the big discrepancy in regulatory handling of diet drugs versus painkillers.

In terms of risk-versus-benefit, the two therapeutic classes are actually very similar. Both can be addictive, both can be harmful if used over a long period of time, both have a history of finding their way onto the street and/or being abused "recreationally." Yet, the variety of available painkillers is huge, whereas that of diet drugs is comparatively small. Note also that while diet drugs that are found to be "dangerous" are quickly regulated out of the marketplace, whereas highly destructive pain medications like oxycontin persist despite being some of the most criminally abused products out there.

Hello, Bigotry, My Old Friend
I think one of the most obvious reasons for the double-standard is that our society is bigoted toward the obese. Let me rephrase that in case it isn't clear: Our society hates fat people.

We can argue about the various inputs for this bigotry, the various evolutionary sources of these feelings, the various solutions to how to make us all less bigoted, and whatever else. But, at the end of the day, the fact of the matter is that we as a society look less favorably upon people who require medication to deal with obesity than we do at people who require medication to deal with pain.

Perhaps we should avoid diving into a discussion of the comparative tolerability of pain versus obesity. I presume that different people will have different opinions about that. In truth, it is probably subjective. (Which is another reason why it is best to make these medicines available to all and let them decide.)

What I Think Is Going On
Having said all of that, talk of the so-called "obesity epidemic" is ubiquitous. Interestingly enough (and this goes back to the bigotry concept), what seems to bother people most is the idea that fat people drive up health care costs. This is why people seem to believe nowadays that being fat is immoral and should be made illegal.

In the sphere of public health, there seems to be a prevailing attitude that "disease prevention" starts when people seek out healthy lifestyles. The caricature here is that if you eat salad and exercise 3 times a day for your entire life, then you'll never have to worry about getting cancer.

To a great extent, I think this is misguided. People don't get sick because they're unhealthy; they're unhealthy because they're sick. It's true that eating bad things and being lazy will put you in a position where your body starts to deteriorate. But that is a separate issue than viewing a good diet and regular exercise as some sort of panacea that will prevent all chronic illness.

And yet, the notion persists. So I believe that much of what agencies like the FDA now consider is how to cut long-term systemic health costs. They believe that if they approve inexpensive medicines that "cure" obesity, they will "capture those gains" down-stream when the formerly obese people don't end up developing things like type 2 diabetes.

Time will tell whether the regulators are correct. For now, it is well enough that people are getting better access to medications they might want, irrespective of the reason stated by the FDA.


On Average, We Oppose Everything

Last night I had a good discussion with a couple of friends regarding the value and gradual decline of essential liberty.

"The More Freedom People Have, The Less Trouble They Get Into"
The discussion kicked off when one of us, RD, was reminiscing about the local music scene. He remarked that in the good old days, music acts would come into town during a tour, fill up one of the big local venues, and the entire venue would be full of marijuana smoke. Now, my friend's point was not to extol the virtues of doing drugs, but rather to point out that in simpler times when crime rates were lower, people had a better ability to do such things.

My other friend, CB, remarked that it is because a few kids took things too far that they ruined it for everyone else; but of course RD was quick to point out that the more freedom people have, the less trouble they get into. This was his core point. Whatever the dangers of drug use, the more freedom we have, the less inclined we feel to take things too far.

Naturally, anyone who has grown up in a socially repressed society (such as Mormon Utah) knows this all too well. The less freedom we all have, the further to the extreme social deviants will push things.

That's the first point.

Why Don't People Stand Up For Freedom?
The second point grew out of the ensuing discussion about freedom. We all tossed around a few of our favorite conspiracy theories, predictably, but at last CB asked why we thought freedom has disappeared and the overreach of Gub has become so prevalent. What I told him was this:

For every one act of government people oppose, there are ten acts of government they support. Therefore, there is no consistent, all-encompassing philosophy of freedom.

To a great extent, it becomes a governmental Paradox of the Heap. What I mean is that nearly everyone agrees that the US War in Iraq was wrong; some people think the US War in Afghanistan was wrong; few people think that US involvement in Libya was wrong; a smattering of people object to the TSA and its use of scare tactics and body scanners; most people willingly submit to seatbelt laws; and nearly everyone believes that anti-cellphone laws are a boon to society.

In other words, people don't really believe in freedom. What they believe in is an arbitrary subset of their own personal preferences. On the one hand, this is actually very natural and predictable. But on the other hand, our society seems to have crossed a threshold beyond which we oppose more things than we support.

Take any set of eleven issues: If I'm correct, then each one of us will oppose ten and favor - or at least not oppose - one of them. Which ten issues we each happen to oppose will vary by the individual. But on average all eleven of the issues will be opposed by most people.

This is the phenomenon I believe we're witnessing in our society. Some of us oppose drug use, some oppose gay marriage, some oppose free markets, some oppose immigration, and so on... But on average, we are all opposed to every freedom enjoyed by all of us in general.

Arguing about the virtues of one particular issue is largely irrelevant. Does it really matter how many different ways I prove that socialized medicine is bad for human health? There will always be someone who insists that the government must take control of it. And that is true of every issue. There will always be someone who thinks the government should take control of "it," whatever "it" happens to be today or tomorrow.

So the only way out of this vicious spiral is to stop talking about issues and start talking about freedom. We need to get back to the point where society favors more freedoms than it opposes. For that, we need to become a knee-jerk anti-government society at large.

For those of you who assume I am simply preaching anarchy, remember that on average someone opposes whatever freedom we're talking about. We are a long way from anarchy. We are a long way from free markets or minarchy. We live in a world in which we basically oppose everything except a vague concept of "free speech" and "non-judgementalism." But these ideas are vague and certainly not so all-encompassing as to account for the majority of our freedoms, or even a significant portion of them.


More Great Words

Someone named "Josh S" at the Coordination Problem blog makes this rather insightful comment that echoes much of what I have been thinking for the last couple of weeks:
DK [well-known econ-blog reader Daniel Kuehn], then is Keynesianism a theory? If Keynesians like you and Krugman can admit that Harding's spending cuts didn't cause the never-ending death deflationary spiral you say it should (and, similarly, that Canada also didn't experience this doom scenario more recently), if you can admit that decades of stimulus haven't brought Japan's economy screaming back, if you can admit that Bernanke's ZIRP hasn't created full employment, if you can admit that rising inflation and rising unemployment can coexist, if you can admit that huge postwar spending cuts and layoffs of government employees (aka the military) didn't cause a crippling depression, if you can admit that printing and spending didn't lift Zimbabwe's economy to the heavens, then under what set of conditions could your theory possibly be falsified? 
It seems like you've always got a mental Band-Aid ready when events don't go the way your theory says they should. If there's no conceivable set of conditions under which your theory could be wrong, it's not a theory at all. It's more like a philosophical system.
Josh S speaks of economic theories, but I would extend the criticism to leftist and interventionist political concepts in general. Under what set of conditions do we second-guess our pet theories? When something becomes a closed loop it is no longer intellectually powerful. It is simply a religion.


I'm short on time today, but for now, I'd like to point you to this indispensable Forbes article by the incredible Paul Gregory.


Immoral To Be Fat?

I have already pointed out that it is illegal to be fat in some places, a trend that will continue to spread across the world as governments binge and bulge.

Meanwhile, a more existential question emerges: Is it immoral to be fat?

Fox News reports on a man who allegedly suffered a heart attack while eating unhealthy food at a restaurant called "Heart Attack Grill." The irony is so thick, you can dip your fries in it. Some of us will take this episode as a cautionary tale against the dangers of leading an unhealthy lifestyle. Others of us will laugh.

Some, however, will claim righteous moral indignation. The article states:
Officials for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine said Thursday they sent a letter to Basso asking him to "declare moral bankruptcy" and close the restaurant.
The organization's use of the phrase "moral bankruptcy" is certainly a witty rhetorical jibe, but I have to call into question their application of morality in this case. The question is whether a restaurant that serves unhealthy food is in some way morally responsible for its patrons' desire to eat that food.

There are fascinating questions at the root of this matter. First of all, are obese people "victims?" Second of all, is it their obesity that leads them to consume unhealthy cuisine, or is it the unhealthy food that makes them obese? Third, do we have a moral obligation to be thin? Fourth, do we have a moral obligation to promote healthy behavior exclusively?

In short, just what is the moral issue we're talking about? The PCRM's own press release on the topic yields a  clue:
“Bypass surgery is no joke to anyone who has lost a loved one to heart disease,” said Neal Barnard, M.D., PCRM’s president. “This latest emergency should be a wake-up call for the Heart Attack Grill. The restaurant should end its bizarre attempts to capitalize on obesity and clogged arteries and reopen with a new name and a new menu featuring heart-healthy vegan options.”
There are two potential moral issues, but one is hidden. The obvious one is the notion of "capitalizing on obesity." The clear indication here is that those who are obese are hapless victims with no control over their circumstances - or at least victims with shortcomings such that anyone who simply offers up unhealthy food is taking advantage of them. But of course, if that were true, wouldn't that make health nuts like myself the hapless victim of the healthy food profiteers? Does the PCRM have a problem with restaurants that seek to profit off those of us interested in salad?

The second - perhaps hidden - "moral" issue is given away by the suggestion that the owner reopen with a new menu "featuring hearth-healthy vegan options."

Now, please understand that I am not an idiot, so I will not pretend that there is any pro-veganism argument other than the supposed "ethical" arguments. These arguments are all well-documented, and it would be insulting to myself, to vegans, and to dialogue itself to ignore the fact that all veganism is so-called "ethical veganism." So let us not get wrapped up in silly notions about how there are "health reasons to be vegan, too."

My intent here is not to call veganism itself into question, but merely to ask why we consider obesity and the sale of unhealthy food to be unethical. Clearly the PCRM is a vegan organization despite their careful public relations strategy to uphold appearances as a public health watchdog.

Therefore, we must recognize that the "moral argument" against obesity in this case is nothing more than a moral argument against meat. When we accept the notion that obesity is immoral, we implicitly accept a vegan premise.

If you are yourself a vegan, then there is no problem. Naturally, however, not all of us choose to be vegans, and we are morally entitled to that choice. If we allow vegan premises to define our sense of morality, then we may as well simply accept veganism as the only truly ethical diet and end all discussion there.

But the fact of the matter is that most of us are not vegans - and we are in fact extremely healthy human beings. If we require more conclusive evidence than this, perhaps we can compare the ratio of vegan Olympic athletes to non-vegan Olympic athletes. Whatever you may believe about the healthiness of a vegan diet, you are never violating any sense of morality when you choose to eat animal products except the morality of a vegan.

My point is that the food choices we make should not be the major moral issues of our times. We live in a world ransacked by war, poverty, credit expansion, tyranny, and crime. Food, at least, should be uncontroversial. Attempts to inject morality into innocuous concepts such as food are offensive to the human experience.


Pop Fitness

The New York Times health blog reports that even very minimal amounts of interval training have good positive impacts on the body.
Several years ago, the McMasters scientists did test a punishing workout, known as high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, that involved 30 seconds of all-out effort at 100 percent of a person’s maximum heart rate. After six weeks, these lacerating HIIT sessions produced similar physiological changes in the leg muscles of young men as multiple, hour-long sessions per week of steady cycling, even though the HIIT workouts involved about 90 percent less exercise time.
Then, this:
The results, published in a recent review of HIIT-related research, were especially remarkable in the cardiac patients. They showed “significant improvements” in the functioning of their blood vessels and heart, said Maureen MacDonald, an associate professor of kinesiology at McMaster who is leading the ongoing experiment.
What They Want You To Think
This report, like virtually all fitness reporting out there, uses clinical studies of sedentary people to demonstrate levels of health improvement as compared to a control group of people who do not exercise, or the same group of people prior to their undertaking a new fitness regimen.

The take home message appears to be that interval training twice or thrice a week is "just as good as" extended periods of cardiovascular workouts that occur more often.

And the general public drinks the Kool-Aid. They believe they have found a magic bullet. They think that getting fit is as simple as doing 20 minutes of exercise two or three times per week. And all this time they thought that they had to work out more than that! No, these studies apparently say, all they have to do is a bare minimum of effort and they will soon be just as fit as young men who do "multiple, hour-long sessions of steady cycling."

And here, science has proven it, right? QED! Ask no more questions. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

What You Should Actually Think
As I said, these studies involve sedentary people who take on a new exercise regimen. The important take-home message here is that, obviously, exercise of any kind is better for you than no exercise at all.

But here's the other thing: different kinds of exercise affect people differently depending on their current average level of activity and the amount of time they have been engaging in any given exercise regimen.

What I mean is, if you never do any kind of interval training, and then suddenly begin an interval training program, you will see a rapid and near-immediate physical impact. Your body will respond to the new stimuli it encounters. This progress will naturally increase at a decreasing rate until you have captured all the gains from any particular activity, up to the point where you reach a physical plateau. Once you hit that plateau, you will have to change your exercise regimen to see any additional progress.

There are two key points here:

First, the gains of any new exercise regimen are limited, and once you capture them, you must either choose a new regimen or increase the intensity or frequency of your existing regimen. That means that once you've done interval training for a few weeks, you will no longer see additional benefits. At that point, interval training no longer has the same kind of superiority over other forms of exercise that it did when you first started interval training. Your body has adapted to it and changed. It has become more efficient and requires less energy to perform the same interval training activity. You've plateaued.

Second, you would have experienced a set of gains by taking on any new exercise regimen at all, not simply an interval training regimen. That means that you could have lifted weights three times a week, or gone for a 5km run every morning, or gone to a bi-weekly spin class, or gone for a series of hikes, or anything. Whatever your regimen happens to be, you will experience a set of gains. And each type of exercise offers you a different set of gains. One isn't "superior" to the other, merely different.

That second point is why most really good exercise programs involve a combination of strength training, endurance training, interval training, and rest.

The point is that interval training my produce a good set of results if you go from nothing to something, but so will any other kind of exercise regimen, and like all them, once you've captured the initial gains, you have to move on to something else in order to maintain a given level of fitness.

No Magic Bullets
So there is no magic bullet here. Interval training won't prevent you from having to do endurance training, it will merely do the good things for you that interval training does - and vice-versa. Just because some study suggests that walking burns more calories for obese people than running does, that doesn't mean that walking burns more calories for me than running does.

Get it? You can't cheat with exercise. Despite all claims to the contrary, there is no clinical evidence that suggests that people can sub-in multigrain bread for white bread, do 20 minutes of exercise twice per week, and suddenly become as fit and sexy as a person who eats perfectly and exercises 6-7 days per week, multiple times a day.

No shortcuts! No gimmicks! Fitness is a lifestyle, not a temporary plan to go from zero to hero. It takes years of consistent work to get truly fit, not a few weeks of interval training.

Don't be fooled by pop fitness!


Henninger Asks A Good Question

Here is Daniel Henninger of The Wall Street Journal:
The question raised by the Catholic Church's battle with ObamaCare is whether anyone can remain free of a U.S. government determined to do what it wants to do, at whatever cost.... 
The Catholic Church has stumbled into the central battle of the 2012 presidential campaign: What are the limits to Barack Obama's transformative presidency? The Catholic left has just learned one answer: When Mr. Obama says, "Everyone plays by the same set of rules," it means they conform to his rules. What else could it mean?
Here is part of a comment I left at MarginalRevolution.com:
Serious question for progressives: What would the circumstances look like such that we would have very good reason to lower spending levels? Or, is every set of circumstances an argument for a spending increase?
Increasingly, the question I find myself asking in today's world is not whether a given policy is a good idea, but rather this: What are the circumstances under which the policy should not be implemented?

We as a society must start asking this question again and again. Increasingly, I find that we are easily wagged by the political tail. The Canadian Conservatives can use a phrase like "child pornography" and suddenly millions of Canadians agree to internet surveillance. The US Republicans (and Democrats) can use the phrase "terrorism" and justify all kinds of inhumane airport and border behavior. Any question of government funding of ________ becomes a question of the ethics of "helping" versus "depriving" whatever special interest group an expanded social safety net.

So I pose a serious request to my readers, and the universe at large: If each and every one of these policies is justifiable, the please point me to the circumstances under which we do not ratify yet another increase to the size and scope of government. Anything at all.

If you believe in leftism, then fine. But does that mean each and every new entitlement program is justified, no matter what? Are circumstances truly so irrelevant? If you believe in rightism, then fine. But does that mean that each and every new anti-terrorism or anti-immigration policy is good and important?

Seriously, think about it. Is that really the way the universe is?

Where Does Society End and Individuality Begin?

I Am The Boss Of You
In the New York Times, David Brooks expresses a smug and self-centered pessimism about life in the United States of America.
The American social fabric is now so depleted that even if manufacturing jobs miraculously came back we still would not be producing enough stable, skilled workers to fill them. It’s not enough just to have economic growth policies. The country also needs to rebuild orderly communities. 
This requires bourgeois paternalism: Building organizations and structures that induce people to behave responsibly rather than irresponsibly and, yes, sometimes using government to do so.
There is much to say here, but let's start with this: Anyone who uses the word bourgeois is making an appeal to socialism; anyone who speaks of "inducing people to behave responsibly" is a would-be dictator.

You're Not The Boss Of Me
Meanwhile, on the other side of the ideological world, Bryan Caplan is providing arguments for why it is morally important to leave strangers alone.
What fraction of your "fellow citizens" have you actually met?  Virtually zero.  The vast majority of your countrymen are, in fact, utter strangers to you. When you tell your kid "Don't take rides from strangers," you don't make an exception for anyone who happens to share your citizenship.  Modern government - and most of political philosophy - is just a massive effort to pretend otherwise. 
The point of the pretense is twofold.  First, to make unjustified demands on some strangers' behalf: You're going to help the American elderly, the American poor, and the American sick whether you like it or not. Second, to help us forget our basic obligation to leave all strangers alone: We've never met you before, but you still owe us.
Whether you agree or disagree with Caplan, I think he is objectively correct on this one. On an individual level, we respect each other's privacy and right to be left alone. Once we get talking about government, though, all of that flies out the window. Suddenly, things that we would never dream of doing to individual strangers becomes some sort of moral obligation to do to society at large.

There Are Two Ways Of Expressing This Dichotomy
As faithful Stationary Waves reader PR puts it, "Where does personal freedom stop and societal responsibility begin? I am nagged by this question as it is one that seems unanswered by uber liberty."

Well, at least the two poles are clear. On the one side, we have "uber liberty," which is the force that prevents us from mandating our will upon the lives of perfect strangers. On the opposite side, we have something else, which enables us to force other people to adhere to our own private beliefs about social responsibility. What is unclear, or at least unclear to PR, is when to prefer uber liberty over something else.

There are really two ways of asking this question: The "I'm the boss of you way," and the "You're not the boss of me" way:
  1. I'm The Boss Of You says, "Society has needs and obligations; under what set of circumstances are personal liberties allowed to trump society's needs and obligations?"
  2. You're Not The Boss Of Me says, "Every human being possesses rights inherent to being a human being, which they will only agree to compromise if they submit to living within a governed society."
Looking closely at these two perspectives, we see that in the first case, society's needs and obligations always trump the rights of individuals unless it can be shown otherwise; whereas, in the second case, individuals are supreme and only submit to being ruled by consent.

Which Is It?
One of the points I try to stress on this blog is the fact that absolutely every human act involves some sort of trade-off. The reason I say this now is because the question in the back of your mind right now is probably, "Why does it have to be one or the other? Why can't some individual rights trump some social obligations, and vice-versa?"

Well, the answer to why not is trade-offs. As I pointed out in my Primatene Mist example, one person's social obligation comes at the cost of another person's individual rights. In that case, social obligations literally came at the cost of individual human lives. In other cases, it is merely the private property of particular individuals that is sacrificed for "the greater good."

But in all cases, there is a trade-off. If you don't see it, you simply haven't looked closely enough. Even Chairman Mao saw it when he said that in order to make omelets, you have to break a few eggs. 

The punchline is that when it comes to social responsibility, the end always justifies the means. Individual sacrifices are always deemed "worth it" by whomever is determining what "social responsibility" is.

Two Final Points
The first is, who determines what social responsibility is? Really, who is it? Because it has to be someone. Within every society there is disagreement on everything. In democracies, majority rules. In monarchies, kings rule. But there is always dissent. So who controls the universally enforced "social responsibility?"

Obviously, the answer is "the government." Gub. So, in order to accept "social responsibility" as a concept, you must first accept that what the government says is always the right thing, i.e. that the governmentally determined "social responsibility" is always a valid one. 

Of course, if that is true, then how can we ever justify changing any social policy at all? The government is the one who determines social repsonsibility, right? Aha... so social responsibility is logically prior to government

My last point is a bit technical, and comes from my reading of Human Action

When you pay $5 for a gallon of milk (or whatever), keep in mind that you are saying that for you, milk is worth more than the $5 you pay for it. If it were worth exactly $5, then you would be ambivalent between having milk and having $5. You only submit to trading money for milk because you want milk more than money (at least at that point in time).

The implication here is that for every trade-off, the one you ultimately choose is the one you prefer (obviously). The choice you make implies that you value it more than you value the alternative choice.

That means, if someone dies as a result of your ban on Primatene Mist, you have obtained your stated objective. You prefer the death of a few individuals to an ozone hole. You are willing to sacrifice human life for social responsibility. 

If some high school kid loses his job as a result of a minimum wage increase, then that means you value higher wages for fewer people than you value higher levels of employment.

If you dutifully recycle plastic despite the fact that it costs more energy to recycle plastic than to create new plastic, then that means you value wasting resources for the sake of an imaginary sense of social ethics more than you value using all resources efficiently for real.

What I'm getting at is that in every case in which "social responsibility" trumps "individual libery," what we are really saying is that the moral sensibilities of a few "key opinion leaders" are worth more than the rights of anyone who dissents. Is this something you are morally comfortable with?


Puzzled by Boudreaux

Donald Boudreaux begins an otherwise fascinating blog post about legal property rights in socialist regimes with a rather baffling remark.
Is Obama a socialist? Or, rather more appropriately, is nearly every modern politician (and many a pundit) a socialist?  The answer is no, if by “socialist” is meant someone who advocates government ownership of the means of production.
No? Really?

I have often wondered at the many talking heads out there insisting that Obama and others are "not socialists." I cannot for the life of me understand how that position is tenable.

Of course they are socialists. If we must force ourselves to use the most technical definitions, then anyone who advocates government transfer payments is an advocate of public ownership of investment capital, i.e. a means of production. Money and investment capital is the means of producing returns on investments, which is certainly a form of production.

Why are we so afraid to call things as they are?

My Secret Society

A few months ago, a new employee joined my workplace. He arrives at the office at approximately the same time I do; we seemed to show up at the coffee machine at the same time; we seemed to show up at the water cooler at the same time; we seemed to show up at the washroom at the same time.

I put two and two together, and as it was eventually revealed to me through casual conversation, I was exactly right. We're both diabetic.

There is much to say about how lousy life is once you get diabetes, how many challenges you have to face, how many compromises you have to make, and how closely you have to monitor absolutely everything you do in life from the day of your diagnosis to the day of your demise. I try not to blog about any of that stuff because it's obvious, uninteresting, counter-productive, and depressing.

Instead, I like to focus on the positive. I am an optimist. It's hard for non-diabetics to understand that there are "positives" to diabetes, but the truth is that there are positives.

Here, I am reminded of a part of Lance Armstrong's biography It's Not About the Bike, in which he recounts a meeting with a fellow cancer patient who tells him, "You don't know this yet, but we're the lucky ones!" Armstrong thinks the guy is nuts, but by the end of his therapy, he realizes that the guy was right.

It's the same for diabetes. People don't realize the harm that their food does to them - they literally have no idea, no clue. We diabetics understand it well, though, because we can feel the pain. But just because you don't think you can feel the pain doesn't mean you're not suffering from it, as I pointed out a while back. Living such a regimented life actually puts us in a position where we might be healthier than the average joe. Really, it's true.

So that's one positive, but it's not the one I wanted to blog about today.

Back to my coworker. Upon discovering that he is diabetic, we instantly formed an indescribable kinship of common experience. We shared similar stories. We had similar advice for our eavesdropping colleagues. Knowing this about each other is great fun because we find ourselves in the same position often, whether it's pounding back a liter of water to bring our BG down, or hurrying off to the men's room after a long meeting, or sharing tips on how we figured out exercise and what we can and cannot eat.

Of course, it's not just my coworker. I know many people who are diabetics. We're the ones shooting our stomachs full of hormones before every meal, the ones tucking our shirts in in front of the mirror in the washroom in a restaurant having just taken some insulin. We're the ones making a midnight b-line for the refrigerator to finally have that piece of cake we had to forego at dinner (even hypoglycemia has its perks!), or sharing stories about what it's like having to - as my cousin put it - eat "like twelve bowls of cereal."

We can usually spot each other. We know what's going on when we see these things happen with others, and we help out. Frankly, we're a bit of a secret society.

No, you can't join the club. But luckily, you'll never have to. That doesn't mean we don't enjoy being in the club once we're inducted.

Thought In Crisis

Responding to a series of articles in The Financial Times, Becker and Posner both offer their own views as to whether capitalism is "in crisis."

Becker, I feel, does not say anything substantial in his article. The general thrust of it is that no other system of economic organization offers as much potential growth as capitalism. True? Absolutely. But everyone already understands this. Furthermore it does not exactly address the crux of the issue. The crux of the issue is whether capitalism is a house of cards that will eventually drop the majority of us into the pits while an exclusive few gain rewards beyond anyone else's wildest dreams. (Cue spooky music and perhaps a "Mu-hu-ha-ha-haaaaaa!")

It is Posner whose insight strikes deep into the heart of the matter. He writes (emphases mine):
I think there may be a looming crisis of capitalism, though one that has nothing to do with banking, but rather with technological progress, and specifically with the effect of that progress on income inequality. Technological progress in recent decades has included not only the well-known advances in computerization, communications, and medical treatment, but also important advances in marketing, including political influence and manipulation, and management. The overall effects of these advances on many fronts have included a sharpening of competition, an increase in government debt to finance middle-class entitlements, particularly medical, a reduction in the demand for manual labor, and an increase in the financial returns to IQ and to higher education (which are correlated). These developments seem to be increasing the inequality of income and wealth and creating sharper class divisions than the nation had become accustomed to in the decades following the end of the 1930s depression.  
There is nothing in the economic logic of capitalism, any more than in the biological logic of evolution, that drives an economy toward income equality. The basic logic of both systems is competition, and competition produces losers as well as winners. A class of workers can become extinct, just as a species can. The difference is that the combined effect of envy and democratic politics can result in policies that distort competition in order to increase the welfare of the losers in the competitive struggle. Such policies tend to be inefficient and thus to retard the smooth operation of capitalism as an economic growth engine. Evidence for this proposition is found in the sluggish economic performance of many European nations.
True to the sterility of the language employed on the Becker-Posner blog, however, Posner has greatly understated the adverse impacts of socialistic policies by couching them in terms like "retard the smooth operation of capitalism as an economic growth engine."

Thought, Not Capitalism
Nonetheless, Posner has nailed the core issue: Capitalism isn't in crisis, but there is obviously a looming thought crisis leading us to a ledge. Posner suggests that the crisis is due to "technological change" which has lead to large income inequalities. But of course advanced technology and capitalistic success stories are certainly no crisis to speak of. They are a social boon.

Instead, the problem is almost wholly perceptional. Rags-to-riches stories were once the bread-and-butter of American mythology. Now more than ever, though, there is an overall sense that the rich only get rich through misdeeds; the rest remain poor the rest of their lives. One frequently encounters this sort of attitude in Eastern cultures, where the eons-long absence of capitalism and democracy have created a culture in which only the already-rich are permitted to succeed, while the rest must bribe and scheme in order to gain access to wealth and power. (See the movies Corporate or London Dreams, or more recently Agneepath for poignant examples.) But in egalitarian America, such perceptions are foreign to our way of thinking.

Or, they were. At some point during the 20th Century, the seeds of socialism took root in America. When I say that, I don't mean socialistic laws, which have almost always existed in America's history. Instead, I mean socialistic attitudes. The post-Industrial Revolution presidents have all employed the language of class warfare to promote their ideas. We as a society took the bait hook, line, and sinker.

As a result, we can no longer separate the concepts of wealth and class, as we once could. The "classical tradition" in America was once our guiding light. We understood capitalism culturally. We felt that hard work, ingenuity, and opportunity were sufficient for success. We now believe that one man's wealth comes at the expense of another's.

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
Ironically, it is this perceptional shift - and not socialistic policies themselves - that paves the way for socialist policy and an anti-meritocratic society.

Once people accept the premise that politics are how things are achieved, not work, then all workplaces become political rather than meritocratic. The rules change completely. Rather than out-performing others in hopes of gaining a big promotion, people start to pursue face-time with the boss, closed-door meetings, special coffee outings, and so forth. It's not what you know, it's who you know.

My critics will tell me "it's always been this way," but in fact it really hasn't. In general, the politicians in the workplace were always viewed as such. We had words for them: schemers, shysters, sycophants, yes-men... The language has changed. We now say they "network." We laud them for their "social IQ" and their "soft skills."

And that's just the workplace. Even youth sports competitions have fallen victim to Whore Culture. Winning outright hurts feelings; when winning is no longer an option, people resort to politics. If the big prize is a big medal and you don't have the skill to win the big prize, your next best political option is to devalue the prize - give everyone a medal.

The Way From Here
Of course, there are a lot of issues mixed up in all of this. It's not clear to everyone where the line is between out-competing others and resorting to shady business practices. The reason it's not clear is because our perspectives have shifted to the point that people are no longer interested in identifying a difference. "They're all rich bastards, as far as we're concerned." So spread the wealth around because the winners can afford it.

We're not just stifling our economic growth engine as Posner points out, we're obliterating the difference between honest competition and dishonest competition, and filling up the resulting void with politics.

We are no longer interested in delineating. Consequentialism reigns supreme. The end more than justifies the means: the end is the means.

The only way out of this mess is get back to intellectual honesty, get back to the point where we know the difference between an honest businessman and a socially responsible businessman. (And trust me, there is a huge difference.)

We need to get back on track. We need to restore our ability to perceive nuance and discuss differences in concrete terms. We need our language back.


Empirical Evidence In Favor of Austrian School Economics

Way back in the 1940s, Ludwig von Mises wrote about contraception in Human Action [Scholar's Edition, p665], saying:
The transition to capitalism-i.e., the removal of the obstacles which in former days had fettered the functioning of private initiative and enterprise-has consequently deeply influenced sexual customs. It is not the practice of birth controI that is new, but merely the fact that it is more frequently resorted to. Especially new is the fact that the practice is no longer limited to the upper strata of the population, but is common to the whole population. For it is onc of the most important social effects of capitalism that it deproletarianizes all strata of society. It raises the standard of living of the masses of the manual workers to such a height that they too turn into "bourgeois" and think and act like well-to-do burghers. Eager to preserve their standard of living for themselves and for their children, they embark upon birth control. With the spread and progress of capitalism, birth control becomes a universal practice. The transition to capitalism is thus accompanied by two phenomena: a decline both in fertility rates and in mortality rates. The average duration of life is prolonged.
In the Misesian view, contraception came hand-in-hand with wealth. The first methods of birth control (i.e. drugs, devices and such) appeared at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution and gradually more and more widespread as society's wealth increased into the 20th Century.

One easy test of this line of reasoning is the presence of significant price elasticity in the contraceptive market. With a hat tip to Tyler Cowen, I can point interested readers to precisely such evidence in both the developed and developing world.

In the same chapter of Human Action, Mises emphatically noted that even having access to contraceptives isn't adequate for population control. What is important is a general spirit of capitalism and scientific progress. He called these things elements of Western culture, but 60 years later I no longer feel that's an adequate characterization. The spirit of capitalism and scientific progress is now more evident in the East than it is in the West, or so it seems to me.

Things That Used To Be Legal

Photo courtesy Amazon.co.uk
2011 was the last year Primatene Mist was available as an over-the-counter emergency asthma remedy in the United States. As of January 1st of this year, the product is no longer being produced; once the current retail stock is depleted, the product will no longer be on the market.

In what is perhaps a major sign of the times, Primatene Mist was discontinued in accordance with the "Montreal Protocol," which established international guidelines with respect to chloroflourocarbons (CFCs). If you remember, CFCs were found to deplete the layer ozone gas (O3) in the Earth's atmosphere, which protects organisms from some of the most harmful effects of solar radiation. Recall that the movement to eliminate industrial CFC use was borne out of the discovery of a large "hole" in the ozone layer above Antarctica.

Now, the ozone hole is very real. Were the ozone layer to be completely diminished, life on Earth would change dramatically. Species would be eradicated, and human life would have to be spent predominantly indoors. No one would deny this.

That being said, the amount of CFCs contained in Primatene Mist is very small. The product sells well, but not nearly on par with other over-the-counter remedies, because asthma is a comparatively rare condition. Furthermore, if used correctly, Primatene Mist offers a couple of puffs of relief during emergencies only. In other words, the product's overall contribution to the "ozone hole" is extremely minimal.

Many of you will be tempted to interject here: "But if every product containing CFCs were allowed to be sold, we'd continue to destroy the ozone layer." This is a ruse, and a very dishonest one. There is no "choice" between Primatene Mist and an ozone hole. The vast majority of industrial CFC use has been permanently discontinues. Primatene Mist represents one of the last product discontinuations.

Now let's take a quick look at who is affected. There are no longer any over-the-counter emergency asthma  relief products available. If someone requires emergency relief, they will now have to either call an ambulance, or use a product obtained from a pharmacist, the prescription of which had to have come from a doctor's visit weeks or months earlier.

The result of this product discontinuation on real, living, breathing people will be as follows:

  • More medical emergencies.
  • Busier emergency rooms and first-responders.
  • Longer wait times for emergency medical services.
  • Longer wait times for visits to family doctors
  • Higher health care costs.
  • A greater shortage of those emergency asthma relief products that are still on the market.

There is no question that CFCs deplete the ozone layer. There is also no question that reducing patient access to medicine results in all of the above phenomena.

The only question that remains is whether all of the above phenomena are an acceptable cost to eliminating a very minor contribution to atmospheric CFC content. I would argue that no human life that is in immediate harm is "worth destroying" over atmospheric CFCs. Your mind may vary.

It doesn't matter, however. In a few years, no one will remember what it was like when Primatene Mist was available over-the-counter. All of this will be a distant memory.

Except, of course, that I will remember, and will have made a note of it on my blog.


Incredibly Good News: Let's Hope It Sticks

No telling where politics will take this one, but this could be one of the most important bills proposed in the State of California of my time. The Washington Times has the details. Here is the crux:
This bill would specifically do the following: 
1) "Prohibit a health care service plan or health insurer" from requiring that a patient try and fail on more than two pain medications before allowing access to other medications to treat pain... 
2) "Authorize the duration" of any step therapy or fail first protocol to be determined by a physician.
What more do you need to know? Physician authority means better individual treatment and patient choice. The alternative is for all health decisions to be made by a federal authority, based on patient averages as reported in clinical literature.

Quote of the Day

From John Cochrane's article about the birth control mandate:
Here's a good mandate: Let's mandate that every time a government official says that the government is going to "help" some category of voter, he or she has to say who they are going to hurt in the same sentence. Because it has to be someone.


Save Yourself

Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic asks whether the conservative movement really wants the GOP nominee to lead it. Citing Nick Gillespie, he writes:
...I understand the impulse to puncture the myth that surrounds [Ronald Reagan]. For decades now, it has caused conservatives to imagine that if only they can elect the right charismatic Republican president, he can double as champion of their movement and shrink the federal government, a feat that wasn't among St. Reagan's several impressive accomplishments.
Both Friedersdorf and Gillespie make the point that conservatives seem to believe that if they just elect the right guy, then he will lead the country down a path of righteous conservatism and happiness.

My question is, why on Earth does this criticism only apply to conservatives? Obama was supposed to be the great liberal messiah, and he, too, turned out to fall far short of expectations.

What he is describing is neither a conservative nor a liberal phenomenon, but in fact the myth of democracy itself. People seem to believe that if they only elect "good guys," then the country will be okay. All the while, everyone we elect is leading us down the road to hell.

Politicians don't save countries. People do. If we all stop pretending that someone is going to save us, we can maybe start to save ourselves.


It's entirely possible that you may stumble upon this blog during an internet search, read a post or two, encounter something you like, benefit from it, and move on. It is also entirely possible that you read this blog a dozen or more times and only ever discover one thing about the blog with which you "agree."

What you find on my blog is a repository of my own personal thoughts and opinions. Some of them prove to be highly controversial, either because my readers outright disagree with me or because they feel I've been unfair to "the other side" of the issue. But, believe it or not, the majority of what I write here consists of beliefs and information that I consider to be largely uncontroversial.

Something I often say is that my ideas are "an all-encompassing philosophy." Another way to say this is that everything I blog about represents an incarnation of my personal creed.

It may seem odd to think that diverse - and sometimes trivial - topics like the Guitar Exercise of the Week, running a marathon, and Ryan Ruins Requests have anything to do with the more serious things I blog about. But what I try to convey as I write my blog is the idea that a person's creed is their modus operandi, that it is important, that it must be built from the ground up, and that, once established, it guides that person through every activity in which he or she engages.

This all seems quite serious, and again begs the question why I also blog about such trivial things when promoting an existential idea is basically the whole point of the blog. I will now attempt to address this apparent gap.

Life Is Like a Movie Theater, Not a Movie
Walk through a movie theater and you will encounter some horror, some drama, some thrills; but, you will also encounter a lot of comedy and romance.

While it can be fun to spend a couple of hours watching a fictional drama about global politics, it would be a major drag to watch only political dramas all the time, and nothing else. Simply put, there's more to life than drama and seriousness. That's why we find ourselves seeking out different kinds of movies at different times, depending on how we feel. It's not just taste, it's mood.

It's mental state. There is a lot of room in the human brain, plenty of room to fill it with all kinds of information; some important, some trivial. But all of it is important.

If we don't take time to laugh about silly things, we won't be able to keep a handle on the serious things. If we don't wrestle with serious topics from time to time, then we soon run out of things to laugh at. I wish I could take credit for this idea, but it is in fact thousands of years old. Aristotle put it best when he said,
Humor is the only test of gravity, and gravity of humor; for a subject which will not bear raillery is suspicious, and a jest which will not bear serious examination is false wit.
Philosophy Teaches Us About Life, Not Merely About "Deep" Things
Whatever else anyone may say about the content of Ayn Rand's philosophy, her view of philosophy itself is probably the clearest and most universally acceptable opinion she had. As she wrote in an essay called "The Chicken's Homecoming" (reprinted in a recent collection called Return of the Primitive):
The task of philosophy is to provide man with a comprehensive view of life. This view serves as a base, a frame of reference, for all his actions, mental or physical, psychological or existential. This view tells him the nature of the universe with which he has to deal (metaphysics); the means by which he is to deal with it, i.e., the means of acquiring knowledge (epistemology); the standards by which he is to choose his goals and values, in regard to his own life and character (ethics)—and in regard to society (politics); the means of concretizing this view is given to him by esthetics.
The purpose of developing a personal creed is addressed by that first sentence, i.e. having a comprehensive view of life.

And when we talk about life, we mean all of it. Not just the serious stuff, but also art, humor, goofiness, quirkiness, zaniness, and everything else.

When you meet someone new, do you develop your relationship solely around their opinions of "life, the universe, and everything?" During the initial stages of a new relationship with any friend, coworker, or casual acquaintance, do you even know what their metaphysical beliefs are? Of course not! In fact, you can relate to a great many people without ever discussing anything serious with them at all. For many nourishing, important relationships, life's biggest questions never come up. Some people never cultivate a relationship to each other that extends beyond small talk.

It would be wrong to say that such relationships are trivial, meaningless, or unimportant. The reality is that we have as many different kinds of relationships as we have relationships. All of them contribute to our lives in an important way, and all of them shape our perspectives somehow.

Philosophy, and more importantly your creed, doesn't ignore these many relationships any more than it ignores the kookier things life offers. Having an understanding of one's own life means having an understanding of everything in it.

Your Creed
Therefore, your creed is that aspect of yourself that governs how you behave in both important and unimportant matters. What's important here is that situations and moods change, but creeds do not.

A well-developed creed will just as easily guide you through situations that are silly as it will through situations that are somber. It will act as a compass through all moments of your life, not just the ones that you consider the most weighty. It can serve as the fabric from which you weave all of your behavior.

While that isn't the main reason I promote the idea of creeds, it is certainly a major benefit!

My Creed
My creed involves all of the concepts captured on this blog, and all those which have yet to be captured on the blog. I run because it's fun, and having fun is part of my personal creed. I also run because it's a healthy activity, and capturing the quality of life gains from a healthy lifestyle is also part of my creed. I also run because it gives me time alone, during which I can think through the big questions I face from time to time, and introspection is also a part of my creed.

Get the picture? It's not about running any more than it's about Insipid Pop Weekend. It's not about serious stuff like politics and economics any more than it's about YouTube videos of Weird Al Yankovic songs.

Stationary Waves isn't about any of these things in isolation. It's about building a cohesive, consistent line of reasoning and a modus operandi by which I live my life. Sometimes it's serious, sometimes it's trivial. But it's always my creed.

That's the idea I'm going for here.


No Monarchs, Only People

Nick Rowe tells a story about monetary policy, central banks, and whom to obey. What's fascinating about this story is how incredibly honest it is.

First of all, Rowe begins by admitting that central banks are effectively monarchs, setting guidelines that we must all obey. This one admission is precisely what Austrian School adherents have been criticizing for a century. Like all situations, monarchs rule at the expense of freedom and the choices of the masses. Rowe's parable gives away the whole game.

Second of all, Rowe admits that the only real power central banks have is society's collective belief in their authority. In other words, in order for despots to be effective, they must have at least the illusion of the consent of the governed. Or, if you don't like the phrase "the consent of the governed," you may replace it with another phrase I like.

Rowe's story climaxes with a naive child wondering why we couldn't just decide to obey the queen. I submit the following re-writing of the story's end, however...

Then one day a small boy had a suggestion: "Why does anyone give us orders? Why don't we act according to our own best interest, and that of those we care about?" 
The people were bemused. "We should obey! We're not the king! I fail to see any possible mechanism that links our choices what is happening out there in the real world. How can our choices possibly get the King to give orders in a lower tone? Everyone knows he can't lower his voice any lower. Sure, if everyone expected that everyone else would act in their own rational self-interest, then each individual would have to be stupid not to act in their own. But why should anyone expect that? Your reasoning is circular. Kings are real flesh and blood, with real kingly powers. Your belief in individual choice and monetary freedom is just fairy tale nonsense. Free choices are like Tinkerbell; they only have powers if people believe in them! Tell me what concrete steps my own choices could take to make people better off, and then I will believe you." 
The small boy started talking about imaginary worlds where there are no kings or queens, and where nobody gave anyone else any orders, and people still lived and thrived, happily. 
But the people just laughed. Those imaginary worlds weren't the real world, where kings gave orders, and people obeyed kings. And the boy's imaginary worlds didn't even include the role of the king's ministers, so they totally ignored the channel through which the king's orders were communicated to the people! Who could possibly take such stories seriously?
What a silly small boy I am.

The 100 Workout?

Faithful Stationary Waves ally "pebbles" writes about "The 100" workout:

Do the following in order, with little or no rest between (this was how I did it - wasn't specifically an instruction on the pin) 
1. 100 jumping jacks.
2. 90 crunches.
3. 80 squats.
4. 70 leg lifts.
5. 60 jumping jacks.
6. 50 crunches.
7. 40 squats.
8. 30 leg lifts.
9. 20 jumping jacks.
10. Run for 10 minutes.
Sounds like a good workout to me! Give it a try if you're not training for the marathon. (Or heck, even if you are, it would make a great option for a planned cross-training day.)


Things That Used to Be Legal

Just in case anyone thinks I just talk out of my bazooki, here is some unfortunate vindication of the predictions I make on this blog.

Here is something I wrote when I first introduced the "Things That Used To Be Legal" blog feature:
Given current governmental trends, I have no reason to believe that one country's or state's ruling is independent of another's. In other words, as soon as one government makes something illegal, the others will soon follow suit.
And here is something I read at CBC.ca today:
Children and teens under the age of 18 should be banned from using commercial indoor tanning beds, the Canadian Paediatric Society says. 
In a position statement published on Friday, the group called for laws to keep minors out of tanning facilities because of a "serious cancer risk."
 For reference, see my post on tanning beds here.

The Cause Of - And Solution To - All Life's Problems

Medscape reports (gated article - requires free registration) that drug shortages have finally reached the point in the oncology markets that they are going to start costing people lives.

I have discussed time and time again the international drug shortage and the fact that it is a natural and unavoidable consequence of market intervention. Now we are finally at a point where our intervention is killing people for sure, but that is apparently not good enough for the policy wonks. They want to see even more intervention, namely, price controls:
"There are numerous causes for the escalating drug shortage crisis, but in our view, none are as powerful as simple economics," write Dr. Link and 2 coauthors in an essay published online January 30 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
"The most straightforward solution is to change the way generic sterile injectables are reimbursed," they say.
Dr. Link and coauthors explain that "if the generic drug price is kept at 5% to 10% of the brand drug price, and/or the ASP [average sales price] plus 6% reimbursement is modified to an ASP plus 10% to 20%, the profit margin will remain reasonable, and generic drug companies will have adequate incentive to continue to supply the drug."
 Let me take this as an opportunity to demonstrate to my readers that I am not simply a corporate stooge. There is no question that increasing reimbursement expenditures would handsomely reward drug producers. This, of course, would come at the expense of insurance companies.

Before you go cheering on the added insurance company costs, though, bear in mind that they will simply pass this cost increase along to you and I, and our employers. This is bad for consumers, and bad for the health care system, and will inevitably lead to greater drug shortages as the risk pool shrinks under the weight of insurance premiums. (Fewer people who can afford drugs = fewer drugs produced and higher prices for those fewer drugs. Yes, it is a vicious circle.)

So let's take a brief look back at what the government has managed to do:
  • First, they have created a drug market in which it is virtually impossible for producers of brand-name medications to sell their drugs without first going through 12 years of hoop-jumping.
  • Second, they have forcibly prevented generic manufacturers from selling low-cost drug replicas for years and years, until the patent protection finally runs out.
  • Third, they have enabled both brand and generic manufacturers to manipulate the legal system such that the rules governing patent enforcement are completely unintelligible and for the most part arbitrary.
  • Fourth, they have created special back-room deals with generic manufacturers to ensure that the single largest buyer of medicine (the government) pays an artificially inflated price and passes the deadweight loss on to the taxpayer.
I am leaving out a few steps, but you get the picture.

Now, on top of all of that, when the policies reach their inevitable conclusions, the policy wonks call for government-mandated price increases to incentivize manufacturers. But naturally, such incentives would be superfluous in an unfettered free-market because the profit motive and consumer demand would be sufficient to guarantee the manufacture of all the necessary medications.

All the evidence continues to reinforce my position - the only tenable economic position - as the only viable interpretation of these events. But as I said before, people don't care about evidence.


Rob from the Poor, Give to the Rich

Here is a comment I left under a recent CBC news article about the Canadian government's intention to revise (read: cut) retirement benefits as the Baby Boom generation begins to retire:
The idea that the Baby Boomers are a "have-not" generation is a fiction. It makes no sense for the richest generation in human history to receive entitlement money funded by taxing a generation of younger people who empirically have less money and can expect a dimmer economic future than the recipients of such benefits. 
This isn't about left vs. right, this is a fundamental historical shift in human perspectives. Handing out transfer payments to the comparative rich is unheard of even in the most socialist nations in history. It would be a serious policy mistake *not* to cut old age pensions and social insurance benefits to the Baby Boomers. 
Boomers can thumbs-down this comment to their hearts' content - it will never alter the mathematics of the issue. As a generation, they are better-off than their children. Demanding pensions funded by their children's comparatively lower earnings is unconscionable.
What do you think?