Showing posts with label justice. Show all posts
Showing posts with label justice. Show all posts

Monday, May 3, 2021

Finding Common Ground

Lasting intellectual, legal, and cultural progress comes by working with ideological opponents rather than despite them. As good as it might make one feel to 'Yeah!' our team and 'Boo!' their team, those tribal behaviors set us back. 

That is why I am excited for the recent collaboration between strange bedfellows Ben Cohen & Jerry Greenfield and the Cato Institute scholars is Clark Neily & Jay Schweikert who are all working to end qualified immunity. 

See also Ben Cohen's book, Above the Law.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

I'm As Mad As Hell, And I'm Not Going To Let You Take This Anymore!

Partial list of difficult, unsavory (to the third-party at least), or troubling situations that third parties commonly attempt to help or "correct" but end up simply harming the people in the situation: 
  • sex work
  • organ donation
  • child labor
  • drug addiction and misuse
  • pay-day lending
  • immigrant smuggling
  • sudden, high prices in the midst of emergencies - anti-price gouging laws
  • high cost of housing - rent control
  • low-productivity worker earnings - minimum wages
Simply trying to correct the situation by enacting prohibitions or strict limitations does not address the true problems, almost always causes significantly more harm than good, and tramples on the freedom and dignity of those the prohibition ostensibly aims to help.




Saturday, December 26, 2020

Partial List of Current Practices Future Humans Will Detest as Immoral and Indefensible

I've speculated on this before, as have others. As we sit anxiously awaiting a new year so as to put the current one behind us, this thinking is on my mind. None of these are specific to this year, but I could write and probably will write soon on my hope that many things about this year will someday (hopefully soon but unfortunately not soon enough) be thought of as abhorrent or at least a very, very poor use of cost/benefit analysis.

Here is the short but important list:
  • Abortion
  • Immigration restrictions (especially for those seeking to escape poverty or tyranny)
  • Trade restrictions (to a lesser degree)
  • Tolerance for people living (anywhere) involuntarily in a condition of (meaning without a reasonable ability to escape) extreme poverty (coupled with no acceptance for ignorance as to the solution for extreme poverty--we know how to fix this--free markets and free minds)
  • Living conditions of the institutionalized elderly
  • The death penalty
Short note on abortion (perhaps the most controversial item on the list): Nearly all of the arguments in favor of abortion today sound to me very similar to those arguments made contemporarily to and in apologetic memory of slavery.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

It’s More Than Qualified Immunity


To truly help those suffering from poverty (poverty of justice, poverty of spirit, poverty of options, poverty of opportunity, poverty of consumption, etc.), we have to address all of the constraints and forces that are keeping people from being all that they can be. 
The police state abuses in general are an important aspect of this, but they are just a single portion of this plague. We must look deeper than these very important issues as they are themselves just symptoms of bigger problems. 

Qualified immunity is one particular, nuanced element in a much larger set of problems. The list of police and policing and prosecution reforms is deep:

  1. End qualified immunity
  2. End mandatory police unions
  3. Require police to obtain individual liability insurance
  4. Require body cams
  5. End no-knock raids
  6. Stop militarizing police
  7. Implement substantial bail reform
  8. End civil asset forfeiture
  9. Reform plea bargaining to limit prosecutorial power
  10. Strengthen the public defender process
But these alone are neither exhaustive nor completely sufficient. Broadly there are three additional major areas of reform that would start to help heal and to eventually enable tremendous growth in the communities that are suffering the most: 

1) Occupational licensure - Make no mistake about it. These are very simply anti-competitive policies to protect incumbents. They hide under the pretext of consumer protection yet operationally they are clearly a producer protection. The result is two groups of victims: the consumer generally and the weakest producers (competitors to the powerful vested interests). There is slow progress on this area, but much more is needed. 

2) Zoning and other forms of development restriction especially in housing - Zoning has racism at its origin. No, that does not imply it is still a racist policy in fact or in law, but it should give us pause in accepting it as innocuous. Zoning is still largely about keeping "them" out. Who "they" are varies. While a charitable reading leaves zoning as a plan to make the best decisions, it rests on a dubious logic that we can plan the future and government knows best. Housing unaffordability is a major obstacle to upward mobility for those in poverty (of all kinds). Barriers to opportunity are not a solution.

3) Most importantly the senseless, unjustifiable, and evil drug war - The drug war's biggest victims are those in the weakest position to fight back. Leave aside whether we have the right to punish people for doing things we wish they wouldn't but that otherwise only harm themselves. Leave aside the intentions of those who have promoted it. Prohibition does not work . . . no, it is worse than that. It very greatly harms. It must end if we are to build a world of justice and opportunity.

Friday, August 7, 2020

What To Root For

In late summer every football fan begins to dream about the season to come with aspirational hopes for one's team and general excitement for what autumn will bring. That is every normal late summer. 

But this is 2020. So, here we go. 

I am torn as to what I should want to see happen. On the one hand I do not think cancellation of the season is the prudent choice from a health perspective. I would rather see options kept alive as the developing situation continues to play out. And this is strengthened by two underlying convictions as controversial as they may be: the health risk is generally minimal and people should have the liberty to choose for themselves what risk they wish to face. 

Note that there is a wide gulf between being completely back to a regular football season and no football season whatsoever. Minimal fans with abundant spacing and many other procedures can be a prudent compromise. No fans initially with potentially many or full fan attendance later in the season is also a possibility (keep your options alive). 

The pandemic is not completely understood, but we know A LOT more about it today than 6 months ago. And we are a lot further along all the curves including toward herd immunity. In just about every action we take we are potential externalities for our fellow man. And do remember that those run in both flavors (positive and negative externalities) and to many varying degrees. Magnitude matters. 

Are we so certain that this disease is too misunderstood, too deadly or otherwise too harmful, too contagious, and simply too terrible for people to make their own choices about exposure? For many people the answer to that question is yes, which raises interesting questions about many other activities and diseases. I do not believe the evidence supports this point of view. If we cannot have football in any manner, then how different should the rest of our lives be? Trust me, I know how some are willing and eager to answer that question. 

My threshold for the use of force is much higher than that. Like Bryan Caplan, "I accept a strong presumption in favor of human liberty. You cannot rightfully shut businesses and order people to 'stay at home' out of an 'abundance of caution'. Instead, the burden is on the advocates of these policies to demonstrate that their benefits drastically exceed their costs..."

Who am I to say an elderly man living with terminal cancer should not come to a football game? I am referring to a specific, very devoted fan and personal friend. I believe he should have the freedom to make that choice. I am a strong believer in freedom, fair dealing, and justice. 

Deciding for others is an invitation for injustice. Unfair bargaining is a method of unfairly restricting the freedom of others. All of which brings me to the other hand . . . The players.

The general data for the typical college age-person shows very low health risk associated with COVID. While particular individual players very certainly have underlying conditions or other circumstances like close contact with at-risk people, most do not. For those that do, accommodation and excuse from the risk is very much the right thing to do. 

It is not the player's health risk per se that I believe gives rise to an "other hand" concern, but rather it is the general injustice of players not being compensated with the added burden of a health concern bringing this disparity into sharp relief. 

Most people when confronted with this idea ask the wrong question--"Why should we pay players?" The correct question is the opposite--"Why should we NOT pay players?" The default presumption in a free society is that people should be paid for their labor. If you want the services of another person, you should expect to do so by reaching a mutually agreeable arrangement.

"But the players have agreed to play, and they are paid. Haven't you of scholarships?" is the typical response. That response is as wrong as it is common. That "agreement" is made repeatedly in a very one-sided deal between the individual player on one side and a very powerful buyer of services on the other--college universities. These colleges act in concert under the rubric of a pure cartel organization--the NCAA. This is not a pejorative, emotional charge nor is it name calling. It is a very well established factual depiction. And the power and extent of the NCAA is supported explicitly and implicitly by government action at every level. This shouldn't be a surprise as cartels do not withstand the inevitable forces of competition and free markets without state support.

As a cartel the NCAA and its member institutions conduct themselves as a single buyer of college athlete services--the technical term for this is monopsony. This affords them considerable economic power and leverage, which they use to enforce an arrangement that is very good for themselves at the expense of the athletes. The reason why college football and basketball programs are limited to what they can provide athletes is because doing otherwise would unleash that terrible scourge upon the Earth unto the halls of college sport purity--the free market with its evil property rights and competition. More specifically, the athletic departments and universities and all those who individually benefit financially from the current arrangement would have to share. 

The most succinct way to explain why athletes are not currently paid what they are worth is to simply ask why would NCAA regulations on what athletes can earn be necessary if they were currently earning their market wage. The more detailed way is to do the economic analysis as sports economist Dr. David Berri among others have done repeatedly

About those scholarships . . . There are two very strong arguments against the common refrain that they’re getting a college education. The first is that that college education is something they could attain anyway and do so with little to no expense. Most of these players would be eligible for need or merit-based scholarships as well as grants that would cover the cost of college. The second is that that college education is in fact not worth very much to many of them. For many people college is not the right decision. We push way too many people through the college system inside and outside of sports. For many a different route through trade school or other education or flat out immediate pursuit of a job would be a better option.

There are many other bad arguments made in defense of the system that we know. These include:

What will happen to the schools who can't afford to pay? and This will just mean that football ends at many places and only the biggest programs will survive. While a radical change may and probably will result in a lot of disruption, the market is more dynamic than its opponents' imaginations. Plenty of room exists for true amateur and other types of football aside from a professional college league. And it is very wrong to assume that Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma, and other blue bloods in football as well as Kentucky, Duke, Kansas, and other blue bloods in basketball would benefit from a world where direct, open payments were able to be made to players. These programs benefit the most from a limit on the very important competition dimension of wage compensation. Alabama does not hurt for the top talent in football. Paying players would be a pure expense for them with little to no incremental benefit. Oh, and are you soooooo sure players aren't already being paid in many cases. Black markets of illicit payments to athletes are alive and thriving in this world of prohibition. And they do so with all of the horrible consequences associated with black markets.

How will they be paid? Will it be a free-for-all? Will players make different amounts? I don't know and I don't have to solve this problem to be correct about much higher compensation being the rightful world to strive for. I don't know how much the local grocery employee should make. I don't know how much the CEO of Exxon should make. Hell, I am not quite so certain about how much I should make. The market is a marvelous process that reveals this knowledge to us and constantly refines it. Let the market work.

No one wants to see college kids make that type of money. While this is not true as professional sports, entertainment in general, and many other areas of life attest--IT DOESN'T MATTER. An unfair deal is not made fair because a beneficiary (direct or indirect) prefers it. 

They aren't worth that much. Supposing you have ignored the vast research in this area including that referenced above, let me give you a simple example using a different sport as this will also defeat some of the false arguments that relate to worries about other sports and athletes. At my favorite university, The University of Oklahoma, Patty Gasso is an extremely good coach of the extremely good OU softball team. Coach Gasso makes about $1.2 million per year for her services. Of her many talents, two of them relate directly to athletes--recruitment and player development. So I ask, how good do you think Gasso's OU softball team would be if she were required to randomly pull her players from the pool of all female OU students and how well would the team do if the women selected to play were redrawn at random before each game? More to the point, how much would Coach Gasso be paid in this hypothetical? To the degree players add value above random replacement we get some idea about the added value talented players bring and are worth.

Title IX completely disallows this in fact or in economic result. This is Myth #6 in economist Andy Schwarz's 13 Excuses, Not Reasons: 13 Myths About (Not) Paying College Athletes

There are other bad arguments. Many play upon our biases and jealousies. These too must be called out for what they are. Two wrongs don't make a right. Frustration that there are great rewards for great, rare talents is common but unjustifiable. There is no reason or virtue in adhering to the rules of the past when those rules are revealed to be wrong for today.

Simply put, any argument justifying the current arrangement must address the central question--why should we NOT pay college athletes.

If ever there were a season to make a change, this is it. Beyond the pandemic and all the economic and health disruptions, we of course are in the midst of an opportunity to take a major leap forward in the name of justice. Perhaps 2020 will eventually come to be remembered as the year when significant racial progress started. When old institutions were challenged and remade. When we realized it doesn't just have to be this way because it has always been this way. 

This is another example of my theory that the pandemic has accelerated already present trends. In this case we may be witnessing some version of the universities of the Power 5 conferences separating themselves from the NCAA and beginning of the dissolution of the NCAA cartel. Let us hope a new cartel does not rise in its place. My optimism for change is tempered and I know that any new result will be with its flaws. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Don't forsake progress for the fear or even the certainty that change will be flawed.

Perhaps a lost season is not required. Compromise with true pre-commitment to reform could be a way out. Let the universities call the players bluff, but also let the universities come back to the table with solutions. Make them put up contractual commitments, earnest money, and public promise of specific and explicit change. The road map at this point of the journey is quite blurry and very undecided. The most we can expect is to have a destination, boundaries for the eventual route to be found, and a burning of the bridge of retreat once the journey begins.

That is what I am rooting for.

I stand with the players. 

Friday, July 3, 2020

From Hong Kong With Love

We stand at the precipice of a great opportunity. The government of China is doing what governments do by going state on Hong Kong. The leaders there correctly perceive HK as a threat to their power and way of life. While I continue to predict that in the long run HK will eat China rather than the other way around, there are alternatives.

Many are suggesting a policy tool to challenge Beijing is to open borders to HK emigration. This is a classic tails we don't lose, heads we win situation. To wit: If China balks, HK keeps its autonomy and the progress of freedom marches on; if China digs in, we get a giant gift. I'm sure you can see the first case, but I expect the second case is a bit harder to swallow. Allow me to explain the benefits of Open Borders with this extreme example.

A few years ago I had the pleasure of visiting HK. Although I was fairly familiar with it, I was still completely amazed. I look forward to one day returning. At the time I planned on doing a post about the HK economy in comparison to my native Oklahoma economy. Unfortunately, I didn't get around to it, but I think I can quickly summarize one of the economic points I wanted to make: 

Hong Kong is 138% more productive than Oklahoma and most of that difference is because of population. The average Hongkonger is only 25% more productive than the average Oklahoman. And that is despite/because HK has much less land area on which to work. Key takaway: More people equals more opportunity.

(sources below)PopulationArea2019 GDP (PPP)2019 GPD per capita (PPP)
Oklahoma3.95 million69k sq miles$206 billion $52,150 
Hong Kong7.45 million1k sq miles $491 billion $64,928 
% difference89%-99%138%25%

My extreme example to illustrate the benefits of Open Borders begins with a bold proposition: I propose we open the borders of Oklahoma to ALL residents of Hong Kong to become permanent guests with the opportunity to become citizens if they so wish. 

I can already hear the dismissive laughter followed by the panicked apoplexy. "Dear God, you can't be serious!"

Of course I am! This is easy. Do you think there is something magical about the small island of Hong Kong? Well, there might be, but it is nothing a little policy changing can't fix. And fortunately Oklahoma is not too far off from the HK freedom trail. 

"But wouldn't that influx crash the local economy? Think of all those mouths to feed."

Yes, and think of all those hands to work and minds to think! 

The one big stumbling block to a massive migration like this would be finding a place to house all the people. Well, Oklahoma has 69 times as much space as HK and construction here is cheap. 

Not convinced? The heart of my extreme example is how this would affect my personal employment. When I was in HK, it was for a couple of CFA Institute conferences. While there I was treated to a personal tour of part of the city by the president of the Hong Kong CFA society. We had a chance to chat about our relative societies--I was president of CFA Society Oklahoma at the time. His society was one of the world's largest with about 6,700 members. Mine was one of the smallest with only about 170. 

So what would happen if 6,700 CFA charterholders began migrating to Oklahoma? Would there be pressure on my job? Probably not immediately as people aren't as interchangeable as classical economics assumes. Over time there would be competitive pressures, but so too would there be competitive gains. With that massive increase in talent would come much in the way of business opportunities. I would have new job offers as well as a bunch of new job competitors. Would the net effect be to lower my wages? Maybe, but even here there less to worry about. 

The median total compensation* for a charterholder in HK is about 4% higher than for a charterholder in Oklahoma. While the cost of living in HK is perhaps 67% higher than in Oklahoma, most of that is housing, which remember is much easier to come by in OK. And for those like me who own a home, this influx should greatly increase my personal wealth. 

Think about it this way: Should current charterholders in HK want more or fewer charterholders in HK? The instinctual answer is as simple as it is wrong--fewer sounds good until you answer the question of how would there be fewer. A shrinking market for any type of employment is not good for those in that line of employment. As a native charterholder I stand to gain much if other charterholders want to migrate to my community. The likely worst-case scenario isn't that I lose my job and/or take a massive pay cut. It is that my job changes and new opportunities force me to make some changes. Change is scary, but change is inevitable. I would much rather have the trends of change as tailwinds than crosswinds much less headwinds. Growth is good.

Open borders in Oklahoma for Hong Kong citizens is unfortunately not going to happen. And even if it did, 8 million people would not show up tomorrow. In fact, most would choose not to make the journey at all. But for those that did it would be a great benefit for those already in the place of their reception. 



Sources for data in table: 
*CFA charterholder compensation data is from CFA Institute's 2019 Compensation Survey, which is proprietary to members--unfortunately, I can't directly share it.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

On Stowaways and Hostages


Consider the following hypothetical situations and associated questions. Some time in the 1800s . . .
  • A captain of a ship discovers a young boy (perhaps 9 years old) has stowed away on the ship once it is far out to sea. He will consume resources and be a distraction. Should dangerous events unfold such as bad weather, he will be an added liability. What duty of care does the captain have to the child? Can he force him to work on the ship—to what degree? Must he make him comfortable—to what degree? Can he put him in a lifeboat with small rations and send him adrift where he will likely suffer and quite possibly die before rescue? Can he ethically toss him overboard where he will certainly perish? What duty does the captain owe the boy?
  • Same thought experiment but now assume the boy was accidentally trapped on the ship while in port through no fault of anyone in particular. It was simply and definitively an innocent mistake. Consider the same questions. 
  • Same thought experiment but now assume the boy was accidentally trapped on the ship at port through the direct and certain fault of the captain. The captain was negligent by any reasonable measure. Consider the same questions. 
  • Same thought experiment but now assume the boy was deliberately kidnapped by the captain and brought aboard for the purpose of working for the captain. Once the captain tires of the boy or has no further use of him, consider the same questions as before. 
  • Same thought experiment but now assume the boy is the captain’s child, was deliberately and willingly brought aboard, and the child’s mother is deceased. Consider the same questions as before.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Help Me Find a Difference


What is the logical difference in the following statements. In other words, why should I agree with some but not all or disagree with some but not all? 

To my children’s teachers: I really appreciate the service you provide, but your pay should be limited to a figure well below the result of the competitive market.

To my garbage manI really appreciate the service you provide, but your pay should be limited to a figure well below the result of the competitive market.

To my dentist: I really appreciate the service you provide, but your pay should be limited to a figure well below the result of the competitive market.

To my favorite restaurant’s cooking and waitstaff: I really appreciate the service you provide, but your pay should be limited to a figure well below the result of the competitive market.

To my favorite college team’s athletes: I really appreciate the service you provide, but your pay should be limited to a figure well below the result of the competitive market.

To my favorite college team’s coaches: I really appreciate the service you provide, but your pay should be limited to a figure well below the result of the competitive market.

To tease this out explicitly - being consistent would require either market-based wages for coaches and athletes or highly-restricted wages for both. Perhaps Dabo Swinney should make as much (and only as much) as the lowest-paid college football coach.


Also, arguments about the "competitive market" being an unrealistic ideal compared the "real world" are not relevant for the point I am making here. Yes, there are all kinds of problems with wages being less than optimal from an idealized competitive market perspective. So one could easily use this same implied argument to rally against the state's monopolistic control of education, cronyistic contracts for municipal sanitation, medical and other occupational licensing laws, minimum wages, etc.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Highly Linkable: Pay College Athletes Edition

With two important cases working their way through the courts (Jenkins v. NCAA and Alston v. NCAA), I continue to be optimistic that we are witnessing the beginning of the end for the government-protected, exploitative monopoly.

Just as Patrick Hruby explains in this Deadspin article, I have always found the argumentation along the lines "define specifically and prove explicitly how this change will work" to be shallow and weak. To argue that you lack the imagination to assume the market can devise a way to pay athletes, is no argument at all. As he concludes,
College athletes don’t need a pay-for-play plan, because pay-for-work isn’t a quantum leap. It’s just a small step in the direction of the world the rest of us already inhabit. The NCAA loves to talk about how college sports prepare players for The Game Of Life. There’s an easier and much more just way to do that.
As Ziggy might say, you'd have to have a Swiss cheese mind to not believe solutions will be discovered.

While we are on the topic of the ridiculous, Andy Schwarz takes apart the contention that most colleges couldn't afford to pay a market price for athletes.

But rest assured, Condoleezza Rice's commission fixed it all.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Highly Linkable

So Jay Bilas of ESPN and Oliver Luck of Cosa Nostra the NCAA debated paying college athletes at an event hosted by FIRE. Andy Schwartz imagined what it would be like with a toddler included. Andy's version is right on the money--so to speak. And here is the actual debate.

Been traveling on the road again; hence, been listening to make productive the time as I go down the highway. Here are a few that stood out for mentioning:

Russ Roberts (EconTalk) interviewed Michael Matheson Miller on his film Poverty, Inc. I love the line: "Poor people are not poor because they lack stuff. Poor people are poor because they lack the institutions of justice."

James Altucher (The James Altucher Show) interviewed Brett McKay, creator of the site The Art of Manliness. I knew of the site (and liked it a lot), but I didn't know McKay was from Oklahoma and graduated from OU--as did I. I loved the discussion on minimalism.

Trevor Burrus and Aaron Ross Powell (Free Thoughts) interviewed Berin Szoka on net neutrality vs. Internet freedom. Admittedly, this one gets a bit too wonky for some, but I found it insightful. I loved the line: "The fundamental problem here is the FCC is writing rules that have real harms because they ban practices that could be good for users or for a variety of other reasons in order to deal with largely phantom problems."

Sunday, March 15, 2015

On The Boats, And On The Planes . . .

For roughly 70 years since end of World War II, we've been trying to bring America to "them". Isn't it time we gave bringing "them" to America a try?

What a better way to demonstrate the virtues and strengths of our relatively free and open society? This is my essay for Open Borders Day 2015.

We've spilled oceans of blood and mountains of treasure fighting for change in foreign lands. It seems that the best way to make the world safe for democracy is to let the most people into the world's leading democracy.

Instead of exporting The American Dream as an ideal, why not import those who wish to live the dream on very soil from which it springs? I know, I know . . . goods are imported, people are . . . well, they are largely denied a chance to voluntarily participate in a society in which they desperately want to belong. Why must that be?

Do we fear they will arrive only to be wards of the state where they take more than they provide? Then have them forfeit or delay eligibility to the programs we fear they will overuse. Or have them pay an entry fee (tax) of a substantial amount.

Do we fear they will arrive only to begin voting for policies truly "un-American"? Then let them in conditional on not being citizens; therefore, not eligible to vote. Let them stay indefinitely in this status or perhaps be eligible for citizenship after however many years we believe it takes for the assimilation we desire. Of course, I might quibble that all these fears and restrictions are themselves un-American. Nevertheless, let us not argue a side point while those who await our decision suffer.

Do we fear they will arrive only to drive down natives' wages and dilute our standard of living?
Then we must be talking about productive, working people. Now ask yourself how much better or worse off your local community would be if a substantial number of the workers exited (or were removed) from said community.

Another way to look at this is to say, "then for goodness sake let them in!" Surely they will do less economic damage to us as fully part of our national economy being both producers and consumers than if they continue to afflict us with their asymmetric warfare of only being low-cost producers from afar. Disagree with that framing of the economics? Good. You should, but perhaps not for the reason you suspect--assuming you hold the immigration-diluted-economy fear.

Eventually all production must be matched with consumption. If would-be immigrants are producing from abroad things we are buying from them, they directly or indirectly must eventually buy from us (consume our production)--accepting our IOUs is consuming our production in the future. They are already producers and consumers in our economy--they just do it inefficiently from far away. If all of this leads you to the conclusion that we should close the borders to both things as well as people to preserve our economy, I would remind you that economies don't get larger by getting smaller. The bigger the market, the more it can provide, the more specialization it can allow, the more productive and efficient and creative and prosperous it can become.

It is kind to say that our attempts at bringing America to the world has been expensive and with varying results. But why would we expect otherwise? We seem to be solving the problem in the worst possible way--we are trying to move an entire country and ethos to a person rather than move the person to the country.

Someone is knocking at the door. Do us all a favor. Open the door. Let 'em in.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Highly Linkable

A pre-New Year's Resolution I am setting is to blog A LOT more (and not just more links, but in all honesty how else would you know what to read).

I dubbed this "blog post of the year". Enjoy.

This TED talk was insightful. I really like the points she makes. And this TED talk is a great example of why we should be optimistic about the potential of medicine and technology . . . if we could only let the market do its thing . . . but I digress.

Watching this last night, I thought immediately what my heckle would be, "He's more King than you'll ever be, William!" I had read this by David Boaz the day before to give me strength.

I like Landsburg's three short essays on the Eric Garner tragedy. He brings up great points as well as giving a great economics lesson. I would like to know what happened in the missing 1:18 minutes of that video, but I doubt it would change my opinion that it was excessive, unreasonable force. Sadly, Eric Garner is but a statistic in a long line.

While I continue to be very critical of the Ferguson police and militarized police in general, this piece by Paul Cassell along with his other analysis convinced me that declining to bring charges was most likely judicially correct.

I've been waiting for this knowing it would be an epic takedown the likes of which we haven't seen since the Tri-Lams fought down the tyranny of Alpha Beta. Apparently, old grumpy was too.

I appreciate how Jerry Palm is thinking beyond the seen as he actually does some analysis regarding the Big 12's apparent "need" for a championship game in light of being passed over for a slot in the College Football Playoff. My own view is the 10-team Big 12 is much too unstable to look for quick fixes like adding a playoff game or two new (anyone will do) teams. I predict that more will change in college football than has changed already even though we have seen a lot of change. For universities strategic thinking is highly critical right now as is protecting what really matters--beware what loyalties you sacrifice for.

Lastly, glad to say I'm already doing quite a few of these backup strategies.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Highly Linkable

These people and their miniature worlds are so tiny. I'm crushing their heads! Be sure to hit the video at the end.

Megan McArdle asks us to take a moment to marvel at the kitchen wonders some of us (humans) enjoy today.

The rest of this link post is brought to you by Don Boudreaux (directly or via hat tips).

On the 69th anniversary of inexcusable brutality, Boudreaux asks us to remember and remember how conservatives felt about it at the time.

I relate very, VERY much to Sheldon Richman's sentiments in this post.

George Will rightfully takes to task those who would paint inverting corporations as unpatriotic. I love the conclusion:
This illustrates the grandstanding frivolity of the political class. It legislates into existence incentives for what it considers perverse behavior, and then waxes indignant when businesses respond sensibly to the incentives.
Matt Zwolinski has five important moral (and economic) points about payday lending.

The free market is filled with something even better than tolerance--indifference.

Here Boudreaux offers not just a strong argument against cronyistic policies like the Ex-Im Bank but also a strong argument against the minimum wage. To wit: why is it consumers' job (or in the case of the minimum wage, employers of low-wage employees' job) to compensate the "victims" of foreign subsidies (low wages)?

Just how dangerous is it to be a cop? Daniel Bier answers. (SPOILER ALERT: not very).

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Do We Want To Live In A Third-Best World?

I listened to this NPR story on my way home from work today. The basic facts quickly:
  • A disabled man uses marijuana for medicine. He says it works better than anything else for his symptoms. 
  • The man lives and works in Colorado where the state law allows medical marijuana and where state law prohibits discharging an employee for lawful activities conducted off work premises.
  • The man works for Dish Network, does not use pot while at work, and does not come to work high.
  • Dish Network conducts periodic random drug tests that screen for marijuana, and the test it uses can detect marijuana's THC compound days or even weeks after actual use (the story is slightly murky on this, but I believe it is the case).
  • Dish Network dismissed (fired) the man after his positive test result.
This got me thinking about the world according to a libertarian. Here is the breakdown:
  • In a first-best world marijuana is fully legal. Employers can freely choose to employ or not employ people at their will including considering if they use marijuana on or off premises. Different firms have different policies and people (customers, employees, and everyone else) respond to those policies by respectfully agreeing or disagreeing, engaging or disengaging, and supporting or protesting. This way norms tend to work themselves out and adapt over time. The evolution is completely based on persuasion rather than force. Where disputes come up about rights (always a conflict of negative rights since positive rights do not exist in libertarian utopia), those are handled by a common law process. Again, it is evolutionary from the bottom up. Sadly, we do not live in this world. 
  • In a second-best world marijuana is mostly or fully legal. Employers must adhere to rules governing their conduct as set by a combination of common law and local legislated law, but these rules that emerge from this process are few in number and necessarily local in scope and encumbrance. The relationship between employer and employee is adaptive since it is governed some by rules imposed externally but mostly agreements made between the two parties internally. You'll never have that kind of relationship in a world where you're afraid to take the first step because all you see is every negative thing 10 miles down the road. Hence, we do not live in this world either. 
  • In a third-best world marijuana is mostly illegal. Employers are strictly governed by a multitude of rules set both locally and nationally with little of it coming out of a common law process. These rules are often in conflict with themselves as well as political tensions that dominate at different levels. The environment is ripe for lawsuits since so much is unclear and arguable. And those suits have little hope of bringing precedent-setting resolution or clarity for future disputes. Nothing is ever settled and almost nobody is ever happy with the results. The clarion call for a solution demands a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach that is as arrogant as it is unjustified. Sadly, we live in this world. 
While we work towards a better world that I do believe we can achieve (to wit: No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world), we must settle for something less perfect. I hope Brandon Coats prevails in his case under state law. I hope the federal government takes a step back from the employer-employee relationship rather than offer its unhelpful solutions. 

We don't have to live in a third-best world, but it will take people learning to think for themselves. Your move, chief.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Highly Linkable

Into the caves

Out on the shore

If you're looking for poetry, look elsemore.

Sumner illuminates the thing versus the thing that is done.

In Europe silver spoons aren't just a good idea, they're the law! Is a world of Ricky Stratton's really the progressive dream?

Insider trading as a parallel to prohibition.

It's Derby time; hence, it is julep time.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A Little Whine

Me: "Look what just came in the mail!"


Me: "Wow! $100 off a case of wine. I really like wine. I'll put this to good use."

William Jennings Bryan: "I'm sorry, but you cannot use that voucher."

Me: "Why? Is it a fraud?"

WJB: "No, it is entirely legitimate."

Me: "Excellent! I think I'll start shopping right away."

WJB: "That will do you no good."

Me: "Is the Internet down?"

WJB: "No, the Internet is working fine. But the wine cannot be shipped to you."

Me: "Why? Is there some act of God preventing delivery of packages to my area?"

WJB: "No, the shipping companies are operating. They just cannot deliver wine to individuals in Oklahoma."

Me: "Why are they picking on Okies?"

WJB: "They are not. They would love to deliver the wine to you."

Me: "Is Zagat picking on Okies?"

WJB: "Oh, no. They would love to sell the wine to you."

Me: "Then who is behind this?"

WJB: "Okies. Well, Oklahoma law to be precise."

Me: "But wait, isn't Oklahoma part of America? Or did we get swept up by a twister and delivered to Oz?"

WJB: "Of course you're still in America. In fact there are several states that prohibit the direct distribution of alcohol to individuals who do not have a distributor's license."

Me: "Prohibit? I thought alcohol prohibition ended decades ago."

WJB: "Sadly at the federal level it did. But the states were reserved the right to limit it as they saw fit."

Me: "And the way they see fit is to prevent anyone without a license from having wine delivered to their address? That doesn't sound very consumer friendly. Why would they want to create a monopsony/monopoly situation?"

WJB: "It's great for the distributors. Plus, it's for your own good."

Me: "How is it for my own good?"

WJB: "How would you know the wine being delivered is wine without a licensed distributor verifying it by having it delivered to and promptly delivered out of his warehouse?"

Me: "Well, I could trust the people at Zagat and then when it arrives I could taste it."

WJB: "Oh simple citizen, imagine the chaos if every Larry, Moe, and Curly were having things shipped to their home for direct consumption. We must have licensed professionals as part of the process."

Me: "But we do have thousands of things via Amazon . . ."

WJB: "And what if your children were to go on this Internet and order wine? They could be dead drunk before you knew what happened."

Me: "Like if they got into the wine I have in my house that I purchased at an Oklahoma liquor store but not a grocery store because that is illegal in Oklahoma and not that I purchased on a Sunday because that is illegal and then they drank it all up . . . Do I need a state-licensed person perhaps to have a key to my liquor cabinet to make sure only authorized people consume my wine?"

WJB: "Interesting idea . . ."

Me: "Sigh . . ."

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Go On, Take the Money and Run

Almost three years later, I along with tens of thousands of Americans have now received back the money we had on deposit with FullTilt.com. Collectively we had about $80 million that we were using to play online poker. Suddenly on April 15th, 2011 (Black Friday) those funds were no longer available and the website and computer programs used to play poker and transact into and out of player accounts were shut down by our friends in the U.S. Federal Government. Of course, it was for our own good . . . Wish you'd stop bein' so good to me, Cap'n.

It is my understanding that playing real-money online poker has never been illegal--not before passage of the UIGEA, not between its passage then enforcement and the actions taken on Black Friday, and not after including when the DOJ said, "Oops, my bad!"

But my understanding does not matter here. Let us not have a failure to communicate when we say, "Consenting adults playing poker with their own money SHOULD NEVER BE ILLEGAL!" Alas, we do not live in a world of free markets and free minds. And so when the Attorney General of NY took action on Black Friday, he pushed online poker from the shadows and fully into the black market. Throughout this entire affair online poker has always been available to U.S. players. But as the government took a firmer hardline stance against it, the providers (Party Poker who abruptly exited the U.S. market in 2006, FullTilt, PokerStars, Bodog/Bovada, et al.) and facilitators (various third-party money transfer services) some of whom remained in the market became less transparent and less trustworthy. However, FullTilt never failed to fulfill any withdrawal requests I made including one made a few weeks before Black Friday. It remains unclear how at risk player funds were before government action versus how government action created a liquidity risk.

The fight goes on. There is strong, widespread support for poker including lobbying by the aforementioned via link Poker Players Alliance (PPA). And there is the fledgling coalition against it led by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. No fear mongering is beyond the pale for Sheldon's group--"Online gambling funds terrorists!" "It's going to target the elderly and college-aged children, CHILDREN!"

This recent NPR piece shows where the trend is going along with the position the prohibitions are staking. From the story, Sheldon states, "I'm morally against it and I think it will kill the entire industry." Sorry Sheldon, you can't be both the Baptist and the Bootlegger at the same time. Framing it as a moral stand is transparently pathetic. But at least that would be an argument, begging the question that government should enforce your morality positions. That it threatens your business model is never an argument against innovation or for prohibition.

And so we grind on.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Crime and Punishment, Law and Order, Optimal Rulebreaking

From Advanced NFL Stats:
Last week a WSJ article about the Seahawks' defensive backs claimed that they "obstruct and foul opposing receivers on practically every play."  I took a deeper look in to the numbers and found that as long as referees are reluctant to throw flags on the defense in pass coverage (as claimed in the article), holding the receiver is a very efficient defensive strategy despite the risk of being penalized.
That is from a guest post by Gary Montry, a professional applied mathematician. The article is very interesting, but gets a little deep into the statistics beyond the points I want to discuss here. Nevertheless, it is a rewarding read that I encourage including being as Brian Burke puts it, "a great refresher on conditional probabilities and Bayes' theorem".

The article made me think a little about how economic efficiency many times runs counter to our intuition and ideals when it comes to wrongdoing. Novices often get confused by the fact that the economically optimal level of pollution, crime, et al. is not at all zero. It is not that a certain level of pollution is a pure good or that some amount of crime is desirable in an absolute sense--these are still and always "bads" rather than "goods". It is just that at some point the benefit of eliminating the next (aka, marginal unit of) crime or amount of pollution is not worth the cost. At that point we tolerate the "bad". Fortunately, economic progress implies that the cost curve for fighting problems is ever declining.

Tying this back to the article, the question is how could the rules or enforcement be restructured so that this manipulation, which is arguably against the spirit as well as the letter of the law of the game, is corrected or reduced. Howard Wasserman's new paper on Football and the Infield Fly Rule, which is on my to-read list, may offer some help here. The paper is an exploration of how some football situations may imply and incite behavior that is counter to the spirit of the game and sportsmanship. I don't expect him to address this specific issue, but I do expect the analysis to offer some help in situations such as this.

The article also got me thinking about how my neighborhood's HOA is considering instituting fines for uncorrected violations of the neighborhood's covenants. At issue mainly is roof-mounted satellite dishes that are visible from the street--because we all know that things like this "obviously" lower property values by "a lot" (economic research forthcoming I'm sure). Here are some of my concerns assuming we even have the authority as an HOA to do this and assuming (a BIG assumption) the covenants are optimal as written:

  • Will the punishment (fine) fit the crime? How would we know? If the fine is set so that the behavior is undoubtedly discontinued, we've probably set it too high. If the fine is always paid with no change in behavior, it is not necessarily but could be too low. In fact the optimal fine probably has some of the violations corrected and some continued. But the same people who roll their eyes when economists say we want some level of pollution to continue probably roll their eyes in uproar to think that the neighbor gets to just pay a pittance to continue their property-value-destroying activity. Mrs. Kravitz would be shocked!
  • Do we set the fine equal for all violations (that is the proposal on the table)? Is parking a trailer or a boat for "long periods" in a driveway equal to satellite dishes being visible and equal to trash cans out of compliance and equal to dead trees not removed or not replaced by the right kind/size of tree etc.? It seems the answer to the second question is most likely "no", which implies the problems of getting the fines right is growing in magnitude.
  • Do we really want the reputation as the neighborhood who runs around assessing fines on one another? Is that property value maximizing? The list and litany of compliance violations came out a bit during the recent HOA meeting. The implication seemed to fall on deaf ears.
  • Have we given up on neighborly persuasion? Can't we all just get along? 
Rule making and rule enforcing are endeavors fraught with unintended consequences. Just desires and outcomes are almost always highly debatable and are always evolving. Simplier is usually better. Persuasion is generally preferred to force. Tread lightly. 

PS. I knew I was in trouble when the HOA asked if the trees I had planted were "free-range" or "farmed". 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Highly linkable

One of the great contradictions of America is that as we aspire to be a truly free and civilized country we continue to have such totalitarian edicts carried out in barbaric ways.

Jeff Jarvis makes some great points here arguing that the primary issue with the NSA is not privacy but government overreach and oversight--knowledge is not the problem. 


Maybe if they followed common core, we could get those horrible private schools to do better.

Bryan Caplan puts forth a powerful parable questioning why there isn't tremendous support for open borders. In response to those raising concerns from survey data and a recent paper that increased immigration might be threatening to libertarians, Hansj√∂rg Walther basically says, "I do not think it means what you think it means."

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: The three most powerful, promising, and productive ways we could advance mankind would be to get the state out of running the education business, end the prohibition and war on drugs, and open the borders to people and things. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Boardwalk Stillwater


This is really a story about prohibition. And prohibition is at its heart a story about economics.

When you make something illegal that is demanded, you get a black market. In this case the thing demanded is successful college football. The prohibitions are on free-market transactions that connect those providing value, college football players, and those who are consuming the value provided, college football fans. When value cannot fully be reflected between suppliers and demanders, externalities exist—in this case positive externalities meaning the market is undersupplying college football along some dimensions*. The market abhors externalities and is only prevented from erasing them by transactions costs that outweigh the benefits. Transactions costs cast shadows upon markets. When those transactions costs are high enough, the communication process revealing gains from trade can break down significantly. Hence, black-market transactions take the place of open-market transactions.

Black markets have two significant downsides: they aren’t as efficient as open, free markets and they come with baggage (technically speaking, negative unintended consequences). Notably in the second case, black markets incentivize suppliers who aren’t as sensitive to the transactions costs as the typical supplier. Additionally, black-market transactions take on forms that are both less efficient in an economic sense and less sensitive to the standards the original prohibitions attempted to uphold. To wit: Gangsters are successful because they are more willing and able to break the rules and the rules attempt to prevent what otherwise would come to be.

The local response has been predictable in nature and course but surprising in intensity. The clan has been attacked, and all members are called to unquestioned defense. I believe most of the response track has followed something similar to the stages of grieving, and I predict it will continue in such a fashion.

First has come Denial. This couldn’t be true because I don’t want it to be can be read between the lines of many responses. Some examples have been along the lines of: “The players making the accusations are disgruntled former troublemakers,” “There are no documents revealed proving these payments happened,” “One of the authors is an OU alum who dislikes OSU.”

Next will come Rationalization. I expect the group response to be along the lines of: “This happens everywhere, why single us out?” “Most of this isn’t that bad in the grand scheme of things,” “These events are taken out of context; it isn’t that bad.”

Next will come Acceptance along with Anger (I said similar to the stages of grieving, not mirroring it). Expect both some contrivance and sorrow along with a few scapegoats offered up. Eventually, though, someone significant must be to blame, and that person or group of persons will have to pay. Remember, I’m not saying what the NCAA or general public response will be. I am predicting the response from inside the community affected.

As for the response from general public opinion, the Oklahoma State brand has been badly tarnished. The labels these accusations will bring will not easily or quickly be erased. Assuming the accusations are completely true, which I do not, but I do believe they are largely and substantively true, I have already found and expect further to find interesting inconsistencies. There is what sounds bad given our mores: marijuana use along with other drugs, sexual arrangements, payment of college athletes for work performed (playing football well) and work not performed (housework, construction, etc.), and academic leniency and fraud. And then there is what does not sound so bad again given our mores including what is absent in the accusations: alcohol use, athlete exploitation, and unrealistic academic expectations. It is like our social norms on toleration and prohibition were determined by coin flip.

Take us home, Radiohead.

*There is nuance here. The aggregate supply of college football may be sufficient or excessive due to subsidies but at the same time there are specific shortages. For example, it could be that resources aren’t reaching their optimal use by being underemployed—football quality is too low at Oklahoma State and is too high elsewhere.