Monday, February 28, 2022

Economic Sanctions - Failure in Theory and Practice

Imagine you are trying to change someone's mind. How would you go about it? What techniques would be effective? 

Imagine now you are trying to change a group of people's minds. The difficulty multiplies. 

Now imagine you are trying to get a group of people to change their behavior or worse yet to get them to make active changes in their own status quo implementing changes that put them at high risk or involve great hardship. 

For instance, suppose you are strongly opposed to abortion. You believe it is morally wrong--it is the taking of a human life. Suppose you took political power and while you could not yet overturn the legalization of abortion, you could impose sanctions on those who engage or enable it. To bring about change you would like to cut off access to credit for those who have been a customer of or worked for an abortion clinic. This can't be done, though, because you cannot identify those individuals nor can you legally target them. But you do find a technicality in the law allowing you to target an area that has an abortion clinic. All those who live and work in that area suddenly cannot access credit or the banking system. This is crippling.* 

Do you think this would be constructive to your ultimate cause? Think of those marginal or median voters. While they don't have a strongly-held position on abortion, they are not just caught in this crossfire--they are the target. You are aiming to harm them so as to bring about change. At the very least you are willingly harming them because the shotgun approach you are limited to forces the collateral damage.

If that is too politically charged for you, consider this. You are the mayor of Shelbyville. One of the things that really irks you is how many of your citizens root for the nearby town of Springfield's baseball team, the Isotopes. This isn't just a minor annoyance. Your administration is trying to support the local team and economy by building a huge new stadium complex for the home team. The lack of hometown support, though, is making this quite difficult. So what to do? You institute a blackout zone through an indirect tax. All broadcasters are subject to the onerous tax, $10,000/minute of broadcasting, for any broadcast of a sporting event of a team located more than 20 miles from the Shelbyville town center. Viola, problem solved, right? 

The desire to have people change what sports team they root for is not going to be solved by force. Many people who never watched a single game before are likely to take up the cause against you. 

Want to increase vaccine acceptance and injection rates? Well, you could . . . oh, we've been doing that experiment. I don't think it moved many needles [pun intended].

We can extend this hypothetical to all kinds of causes: disuse of fossil fuels, antipornography, zipper merging, etc.

The result is consistently and predictably emboldened and extended resistance. It is not human nature to succumb to external pressure. Any parent knows reverse psychology and distraction are the keys to getting a young child to change course. Tell them they can't, and the deviant battle begins. 

This thought experiment alludes to why economic sanctions applied by governments so often fail to achieve their desired ends. 

Setting aside all of the very important concerns about moral authority and moral culpability given who is actually harmed by sanctions, consider just if they should work to begin with. Stated differently, why do they so often completely fail? The do so because that's not how people change or how they are made to change.

So why do we do it? Partially it is action bias, the fallacy of . . . something must be done . . . this is something . . . therefore, do it!

Perhaps more importantly it relies on social desirability bias. It seems like a strategy that is more humane than active warfare. However, it is arguably much less noble and less morally defensible as it targets noncombatants attempting to turn them into double agents. In an age of high-precision bombs, economic sanctions are carpet bombing combined with landmines. 






*Arguably the linked (trucker convoy and Canada's emergency response to it) is an example of sanctions that worked! But only in the narrow sense of getting the result of disbanding the convoy. I am not sure it won any hearts and minds on net. Rather I think it turned a lot of people against the government of Canada. It also was an arguably more harmful action than simple police action would have been. The greater harm is in the threat and concern of it being used going forward as a regular tool. In this way the actions of the Canadian government are not analogous to economic sanctions but rather analogous to escalating hot-war conflict.

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Resistance to Coercion versus Fighting for Freedom - Dimension Analysis

What do you do when confronted with someone wanting to have you do something you don't want to do? In fewer words, how do you respond to oppositional, hostile force? 

Of course, the force in question is probably a key to your response. Is someone trying to manipulate you into taking an unfair deal, or is someone trying to steal your car, or is someone threatening your life or way of life? Importantly your alternatives matter greatly as well. Can you delay, demur, deflect? Can you exit the situation with grace or perhaps with just some slight shame? Must you submit or resist perhaps with violence?

Let's focus on serious conflict where the stakes are relatively high if not exceptionally high. And in doing so we will think about situations from the standpoint of the victim or person under threat/attack. Therefore, this will be about degrees of losing where the best case outcome is the status quo.

I see the options being somewhere between resistance to coercion and fighting for freedom. In a sense this is passive versus active or reactive versus proactive. Take the recent actions in Ukraine with Russia threatening and then attacking. As I write on February 26, 2022, Russia has invaded and is actively attacking various areas within Ukraine including the capital city Kyiv. It is very ugly, as war always is, and the initial news is likely sketchy and subject to revision. 

That said, we can assume some basic facts to explore the implications. The Ukrainian government has not been friendly to Russia. This is a government the U.S. helped install and support going back to Obama administration. Long before that under the Clinton administration and then continuing into G.W. Bush's administration were numerous political moves and positioning to expand NATO including potentially adding Ukraine at some future date. Regardless of the likelihood of that officially happening, the support for Ukraine from NATO and its member countries as well as the outright enlargement of NATO to include former eastern-block nations in 1999, 2004, 2009, 2017, and 2020 have presented an expanding defensive/threatening position vis-a-via Russia. 

This is not an apology piece for Russia or especially Putin. It does potentially give us some understanding for what Putin is doing and how he at least tries to defend it. The Russian government is a threat to its neighbors and NATO interests. But from the standpoint of Russia, the same can be said of NATO and actions the U.S. in particular has pursued. What is interesting to me is how the perspective of both sides can be used in this dimension analysis.

As Russia engages in violent acts harming and killing people, one could label it as "fighting for freedom"--just not in the noble sense we typically use that phraseology. They have turned from resistance to coercion as an option to actively striking out (I very deliberately don't say "striking back" since Russia has not been attacked). 

Similarly the Ukrainian position has been resistance to coercion and especially the threat of future coercion by building an alliance with the West. Was this the only or best way to resist coercion? I would say probably not. Rather building ties economically and politically with Russia might have been a better strategy. In this I envision taking on an active Swiss-like neutrality while developing economic co-dependence through trade. NATO and the U.S. itself might have been much wiser to not expand NATO nor threaten to do so. Perhaps NATO should have deescalated following the fall of the Soviet Union in stages negotiating further and further withdrawal and peace leading potentially to eventually dissolving NATO altogether. This is my view, but this is not aimed at being an advocacy post nor a criticism. Rather I want to suggest that in light of these alternatives the geopolitical moves in Ukraine were in actuality fighting for freedom disguised as resistance.

Consider an analogy: A man and his family live and work in a dangerous community subject to high violent crime rates. While moving would be a great solution in theory, exit is not practicable for them. Whether they are correct or not, they feel trapped. Recently they have noticed that there are increasing incidences of violence in places they must frequent like the local grocery store and their workplace. So the man decides to start carrying a gun. Because he lives in a state that allows open carry, he can make visible his choice. [NB: This is not a post about the 2nd amendment, etc.] 

Carrying a gun in this case could be thought of as resistance to coercion, but it also can be escalatory. The thugs in the neighborhood also feel trapped--they can't take their violent ways to another place. This is where they "work". So the thugs now consider their options. They could increase their own muscle/firepower. They could target others who look less capable of defending themselves. They might even consider tactics that amount to negotiating territory and room to operate like co-opting the shopkeeper or threatening more while accepting less. 

But carrying a gun could also be fighting for freedom. The man is taking a stand and putting himself in harms way to the degree this act is escalatory or empowers him to take more risk. As an alternative or complement, he could advocate for more policing or security guards. If he didn't have an open-carry option, this advocacy might actually be more difficult if it puts him at greater risk when he carries a gun. Even if he can carry a concealed gun legally, the advocacy still pushes back on his own fighting for freedom option forcing him to be much more passive.

Sturdy doors with good locks, bars on windows, and burglar alarms are tools of coercion resistance for this family. But so too are guns, knives, big dogs, and baseball bats. The latter can easily become the tools of freedom fighting or outright aggression. The former might not have direct offensive capabilities, but they do invite suspicion as well as stronger opposition when opposition does come knocking. You're probably better off bringing no gun to a gun fight than bringing an unloaded gun and no ammo. 

The point I'd like to make with the analogy is that it is hard to see where the lines are between what is resistance and what is fighting. Active resistance (e.g., carrying a gun) can be a threat, and that can be good, justifiable, and peacekeeping. It can also enable a fight where flight would otherwise be the better course of valor.

While it might be socially desirable to align with fighting for freedom, this positioning is antagonistic with unintended consequences. While it might feel noble to claim the mantle of resistance to coercion, this can be a provocative self-deception. Think how many so-called freedom fighters were either defending a brutal regime or whose actions lead to tyranny. Consider how often a resistance movement became offensive destruction. Once put into motion, forces opposing change or pursing change can be very hard to control.

George Washington fought for freedom, but so supposedly did Che Guevara. Washington's legacy was not a fight for complete freedom (see slavery), but I think his value alignment was much, much closer to virtuous than was Che's. It is hard to know where freedom fighters might lead us.

There is no left or right monopoly with either resistance or fighting. Easily I can think of resistance to coercion as being a conservative position as when something is threatening the status quo or tradition. I can also see how people could decide to resist being victimized by traditional norms--for example, racism, homophobia, etc. Fighting for freedom is on the other side of the axis where "Hell no! We won't go!" becomes "Come and take it." with no natural political connotations.

Neither motives nor outcomes can be determined based on which of these strategies is employed. Both methods can have a claim on the moral high ground as well as disastrous pitfalls if not evil ulterior motives. The non-aggression principle (NAP), a founding concept of libertarianism and classical liberal philosophy, implies strong constraints on both ends of this spectrum lest we become that which we seek to avoid. 





Friday, February 25, 2022

What All The Pundits Are Getting Wrong About CFB Playoff Expansion

In the subculture that is major college football, big news broke earlier this month that the championship playoff at the sport's highest level, FBS, would not be expanding from the current 4-team format for the duration of the current contract.

from CBS Sports:

Many of us who follow the sport found this disappointing. In fact almost everyone weighing in on it including the people who decided the matter by voting against expansion expressed disappointment. So what's going on here?

Most pundits write it off as simply a group of people too petty and short-sighted to get past themselves and grasp the bigger picture. To be sure, that might actually be true. However, I think there may be something else at play. 

College football is in incredible flux. From the rise/revolt of the student athlete finally demanding and getting a fairer seat at the table to competitive pressures to realign into better and better deals, there is much uncertain about its future. 

I think it is fairly obvious that the current arrangement in college football is not sustainable. There are currently 130 teams in the division with four more planning to make the upgrade from the lower-division FCS. This is a league that ranges from Alabama to Kansas (winningest to losingest over the past 10 seasons). That is a big range.* The bottom of the league would typically be an extreme underdog to any opponent from the top of the league--perhaps on average a matchup between a top 20 team and a bottom 20 team would imply a +90% likelihood the favorite would prevail.

This is not a league with any sense of balance. Frankly, somebody has gotta go. Most of the members of the major conferences, the so-called Power Five, know this. As a group their teams are much better than the rest of the league, the so-called Group of Five. While some of the weakest teams are found in the Power Five (e.g., Kansas and Vanderbilt) and some of the strongest teams are found outside the Power Five (e.g., Central Florida, Boise State, and independent Notre Dame), these are exceptions. 

It is my contention that the major stumbling block to expansion of the CFP before 2026 is what kind of deal the Group of Five would get in the arrangement. If those conferences were granted slots in the playoff, they would hold a lot of bargaining power going forward. The teams within those conferences, especially the very good teams, would have much less incentive to move into a power conference. If nothing else, the buyout of those rights would grow astronomically. 

It has been at least rumored that the Power Five have offered to buy out the Group of Five from the CFP. This would line up with my hypothesis nicely. The elite teams and conferences see the writing on the wall. They know, I believe, that the highest division of college football should have perhaps 64 or so teams in it. 

They also know, I believe, that even if a field of ~130 teams continues, it very well might be one with a de facto two divisions (upper and lower). The lower teams would be there as sort of a relegation à la soccer. By no means in this arrangement should a lower-division team have anything but the slimmest of chances at a playoff berth. 

Any concession made today to a lower-tier team/conference, is very risky. As talent accumulates into the better teams/conferences, those entities have the luxury of wanting a bigger share of the spoils. Negotiations while the future of the league is still sorting itself out means deals can't come together--the lower-level teams/conferences want more than they can offer and the upper-level teams/conferences need more than they can get. 

I didn't see this clearly at first and expected an expansion to happen before the current contract's expiration in 2025. Now I understand it better if for no other reason than having to look hard to understand why a deal fell through. 







*If you don't agree that Kansas isn't a serious team (Texas Longhorns probably don't), then consider the other doormats over the past decade: UMass, New Mexico State, Connecticut. 

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream Portfolio


Imagine being an architect for a couple wanting to build a dream house. Their sentiment and emotions would influence what they asked for, but your job  includes a need to keep them within reason (not too big (or fancy) and not to small (or modest in terms of amenities)—basically Goldilocks).

Now image that they want to argue with you about how certain features should look, about how large certain rooms need to be, about what it takes to be within code and best practices, even about structural and engineering issues. Now complicate it by making yourself somewhat unsure about some of these answers and downright ignorant about the underlying truth of, say, why certain designs will likely work better for structural integrity than others. You must win the initial bid and keep their confidence throughout the project without misleading them or giving them what they think they want without regard to the tradeoffs, the downsides.

Financial management and financial planning is a lot about being the architect and general contractor for some principal (individuals, families, organizations, et al.) who probably wants more than they can reasonably afford and wants to achieve it with unreasonable certainty. Being a financial advisor means always having to say you're sorry.

This is not a rant. Clients are trusting you with their money--potentially all of their financial wealth. For many like individual retirees this will be all their potential wealth too because they are no longer able to work. For others their capacity not to mention willingness to go back into the workforce would leave them only with a fraction of the wages they are entrusting you to earn for them with, let me remind you, their money. They may not know what they do not know, but part and parcel with that is they do not know it. 

Oh, and one more thing: you as their advisor may not know what you think you know about them. It is a continual discovery process seeking to learn and refine and revise what goals they are trying to achieve and what constraints and risk tolerances they are subject to. 

Good car mechanics know a lot about fixing cars and keeping them running well. They know basically nothing about where you should drive. London cabbies know how to get you where you want to go (in London). They cannot know if you should want to go there.

Humility and honesty are essential attributes of a good advisor (financial and otherwise). They are among the necessary conditions for potential success along with actual skill in the area of advisement, good communication, and ability to establish and keep trust. Most clients are know they want the latter qualities in an advisor (skill, communication, trust), but in many cases they give little to no importance to the former (humility and honesty). In fact those often repel rather than attract clients. Add overcoming this bias to that which separates beneficial, successful advisors from charlatans and quacks. 

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Rather Sorry Than Safe



When friends who are interested in "prepping" ask me about planning for doomsday scenarios, I love the looks on their faces when I reply, "I'm planning on being one of the attacking barbarians ravaging the countryside. Thanks for telling me about your hideout." 

Let's consider the perspective of a prepper in regards to prepping for financial disaster. There are always reasons to be fearful about the future, and it doesn't take too much imagination to spin these true risks into worry of cataclysm. As I write, worries about the COVID-19 pandemic are gradually fading only to be replaced by concern of war with Russia vis-à-vis Ukraine.* 

If you don't have a back-up plan, you are naively gallivanting about while the asteroid circles the planet. Yet if you always hunker down in the bomb shelter, you are letting your fears prevent you from enjoying life. Risk inconsistency can be worse than consistent, willful exposure to high risk. If you are prepared for and understand that actions you are taking are likely risking bankruptcy for the chance to strike it rich and possibly very rich, then the risk you are taking may very well be prudent and necessary. Extremely few entrepreneurial efforts with appropriate upside potential do not inherently contain that kind of downside risk. But if you are running a decent risk of bankruptcy just through your spending patterns and arbitrary investment decisions, you are likely not getting enough reward for the risk. In a more technical sense you are not matching potential return with the level of risk. 

Return is the expected compensation for risk taken. It is not guaranteed nor predetermined. A lot can get in the way and almost always it is a spectrum of potential returns (some of them low if not negative) that result in the expected return. Sometimes we qualify return compensation in terms of a required rate of return. Required can really be thought of as minimum acceptable expected return. In highly efficient markets this required return becomes equal to the expected return as any potential return above this required level gets competed away.

Successful decision making in life as with successful investing is not about avoiding risk or taking risk. It is about understanding and managing the many varied risks one is exposed to while getting the proper potential compensations. 

We simply cannot predict the future nor can we entirely remove our exposure to it as good and bad as it will be. Well, I guess there is one way, but if that is your solution, this post isn't for you at all. For those of us who want to go prudently into that good night, remember the old adage:

Don't try to hedge the end of the world. It's only gonna happen once, and regardless of what you do, it won't work out too well for you.



*Calvin: You're sure?

Adam: Positive. The Soviet Union collapsed without a shot being fired. The Cold War is over.

Calvin: That's what everybody believes?

Adam: Yes, sir. It's true.

Calvin: What? Did the Politburo just one day say, "We give up?"

Adam: Yes. That's kind of how it was.

Calvin: Uh-huh.

Calvin: My gosh, those Commies are brilliant! You've got to hand it to 'em! "No, we didn't drop any bombs! Oh yes, our evil empire has collapsed! Poor, poor us!" I bet they've even asked the West for aid! Right?

Adam: Uh, I think they have.

Calvin: Hah! Those cagey rascals! Those sly dissemblers! Those, uh... They've finally pulled the wool over everybody's eyes!

--"Blast From The Past" via IMDB

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Don't Confuse Poverty For Inflation

Just when they said it was dead and gone, inflation is back loud and clear. The latest reading of the CPI for January 2022 is 7.52%! We haven't seen these levels since the early 80s, or is it since the mid 70s thinking that this is the upswing with more to come? That is a scary thought as inflation didn't peak until 1980 at 14.6%. 


While I believe the Fed has the resolve and know how to tame inflation, that indeed does remain to be seen. However, that isn't the point of this post. 

What is on my mind is a mistake I hear being made often as an apology/excuse for Biden. Since Biden is currently the President, it is the left who is offering this excuse. Had Trump won, I would fully expect the right to be making the same mistake. 

The mistake is thinking Biden (like Trump before him only more so with Biden) does not bear some blame for the inflation numbers we see. The short version is: "It's not Biden's fault; it's the pandemic's." 

Had the apologist said instead, "It's not Biden's fault; it's the Fed's," I would have cut them some more slack. The Fed is ultimately the reason we do or do not have true inflation (a sustained increase in the overall price level relative to the medium of account, USD). 

The pandemic and the policy responses to it have generated enormous supply and demand disruptions. The magnitudes here quite certainly matter. But the price affect from all of that is not inflation. It is a change in relative prices--dramatic as they are, they cannot result in an inflationary outcome without the Fed as an accomplice. Relative prices are the market adjusting to reality finding new price and quantity equilibria. This very necessary process is why price controls don't work causing painful problems themselves.

Here is the thinking that leads the apologist astray: 
  • The pandemic messed everything up where we couldn't work as much, killing production, etc. (negative supply shock).
  • It is no surprise the shelves are bear. (scarcity at current price levels)
  • With fewer things to buy and all the money still out there including all the government support, prices had to go up--same/more dollars chasing fewer goods and services . . . I thought you understood economics, Winkler? 
One problem with that story is that it neglects half of the equation--income. When we produce less, we have less income. We are poorer than before (the economy's output and perhaps its potential output is now materially lower). Understanding that is a glimpse into how a bad event like a pandemic cannot by itself cause inflation--another problem with that story. Inflation comes if the monetary authority, the Fed in our case, fails to properly adjust monetary policy adjusting it downward. 

Negative supply shocks like pandemics increase poverty--or reduce wealth depending on your framing. They make us poorer. Poorer might look like inflation, but it isn't. Consider this:

 

In this chart the farther to the right and/or the lower on the chart a country is, the wealthier it is in terms of how much it works (average annual working hours on the y-axis) for the income it generates (GDP per person on the x-axis log scale). Notice this data is for 2017. For example, Brazil has a per capita GDP of about $14,500 with the average worker working about 1,710 hours per year. The United States enjoys a per capita GDP of about $60,100 with very similar average worker hours, about 1,760. People in America are a lot more productive than people in Brazil.*

Along the vertical we can make another comparison between Hong Kong (GDP = $59,800 & Hours = 2,190) and the U.S. (GDP = $60,100 & Hours = 1,760). Again the U.S. has higher productivity generating about the same income as HK for considerably fewer hours worked. 

Ultimately time is the common currency all humans deal in as it is the one truly binding constraint. Looked at this way we can consider what a really bad supply shock might look like for the U.S. Imagine our total production went from $60,100 all the way down to Brazil's level but hours worked stayed the same. Suddenly the cost of our income (cost being hours worked) is much, much higher. Alternatively, if we now had to work as much as Hong Kongers do for the same income, the cost of our income is again much higher. We are working the same for less income in the first case and working a lot more for the same income in the second. In terms of hours worked is this inflation? No, it is an increase in poverty/massive reduction in wealth. 

Think about it this way: If you suddenly were relocated from the U.S. to Brazil doing the same job, you'd immediately notice that your pay was lower. If you were purely on the average, you'd notice that working your regular 1,700 hours per year only allowed you to buy about a quarter of the goods and services you enjoyed in the U.S. ($14,500/$60,100). You might say, "Wow! Things sure are expensive in Brazil." And you'd be right. But if you then concluded, "They must have had a crazy amount of inflation," you'd be quite wrong obviously. You personally experienced what looks like inflation to you but is really just a negative wealth effect due to the relocation.

People instinctively but mistakenly think bad events will cause inflation by assuming their incomes will remain the same while there will be fewer goods available. But for the entire economy incomes must go down if production goes down since they are the same number. 

So what did Biden (and Trump and Congress) do? Biden trumped Trump by helping Congress to spend a LOT OF MONEY.

Source

The reason spending during Biden's term has been so problematic is that we were largely exiting the pandemic at that time. You don't have to become an adherent to or expert on the fiscal theory of the price level to understand the issue. These greater and greater levels of government spending put more and more pressure on the Fed to constrain monetary policy so that the excess spending did not induce inflationary effects. So far the Fed has not been able to fully offset that spending.

Is the Fed to blame? Yes. Was its job made much harder by what the fiscal authorities (Congress and the President) did? Also, yes. Are there other knock-on effects from the spending and associated government programs the pandemic gave cover to? You bet, and they are likely worse than inflation [please, God, don't let the Fed now say "hold my beer".]


*There is a subtle pro immigration word choice I made here. Notice I didn't say "Americans" or "Brazilians". It is not the people so much as it is the economy they are working in. Relocate those same Brazilians to the United States, and their productivity would magnificently rise as if by magic even though it would for a time still be below current American rates. 

Monday, February 14, 2022

Three Things I Learned from My Favorite Podcasters

As a follow up to my favorite bloggers post, I select here a few of the many, many podcasters I have followed to identify those that I love the most.

Here are three things I've learned from my favorite podcasters (in alphabetical order):

  • Ask questions driven more by genuine curiosity rather than an agenda. 
  • Let the answerer answer and with limited exception let the answer stand without challenge.
  • Explore and consider loosely connected ideas and hypotheses. There is often more to learn in doing so even in the actually rare event there is not a strong connection after all. 

  • There probably is a conflicting precedent and there likely are anticipated consequences that a policy's advocate may not like.
  • He continually reminds me that the Law is more nuanced than I or the common commenter appreciates. 
  • The history behind a law, rule, or norm is very often fascinating.

Jason Feifer (Build for Tomorrow):
  • When it comes to change and people's reaction to it, there is truly nothing new under the sun.
  • Release your clutch of the pearls; whatever it is, it ain't that bad. 
  • These are the good ol' days.

Tim Ferriss (The Tim Ferriss Show):
  • High performers have a lot to share that you can profit from even if you cannot fully emulate it. 
  • Thoughtful, honest questions of an open-ended nature are the best method for a meaningful interview-style conversation. There is no reason to try to impress an impressive guest, and he never makes this mistake. 
  • There are always other methods to learning a skill or achieving an outcome including near mastery-level advancement. The obvious path is often not the best path to choose nor typically the one chosen by true masters. It isn't a "hack" in the derisive sense one should seek--you have to put the work in. Rather it is a constant questioning and willingness to find alternatives.

Kmele Foster (The Fifth Column):
  • Race as a social construct should not be given special identification status or importance--doing so is harmful to all individuals and to disadvantaged groups in particular.
  • Strong talk when backed up by strong reasoning is a persuasive and welcomed trait.
  • Tell people what you think and leave it to them to have an emotional reaction (if any), and realize the emotional response is theirs to own not yours to manage.

Nick Gillespie (The Reason Interview & The Reason Roundtable) - in the second case credit goes to the entire group as they all demonstrate the qualities below:
  • Postmodernism is a very useful way to view and evaluate the world with much to offer especially to libertarian or classical liberal perspectives.
  • A mix of irreverent humor skillfully layered in does not simply lubricate a conversation, but it can actually succinctly add information content--a picture is worth a thousand words, and a well-placed comedic side crack is worth at least 250. 
  • We are and have been in a Libertarian Moment. It is just taking longer to develop and be fully realized than he and Matt Welch originally projected.

Malcolm Gladwell (Revisionist History):
  • We can hold in high confidence only our principles, but not so much our evaluations based on those principles. Time and again our judgements don't hold up upon closer and still closer examination.
  • The overall narrative of a well-told story will stay with you long after all of the related facts of the story have faded from memory.
  • We should always question the past.

Jonah Goldberg (The Remnant):
  • The proper evaluation of a President while in office is not relative to the hypothetical Presidency of the most recent also-ran nor the upcoming opponent(s). Rather the proper evaluation is against the high standard of an absolute scale of desired quality.
  • Humans must believe in something. If they do not have a traditional, formal religion, they will invent one or behave in a way that de facto creates one.
  • There is still hope for the principles of conservatism to endure all the challenges it faces from within. Much like Colonel Jessep, deep down in places D.C. socialites don't talk about at parties, we want him on Chesterton's Fence. We need him on that fence. 

Tim Harford (Cautionary Tales, 50 Things That Made the Modern EconomyMore or Less, et al.):
  • A well-told story is one of the most effective ways to convey complex ideas and important truths.
  • Statistics and data are underused and underappreciated.
  • A devilish caveat: Beware simplistic answers when persistently offered; they are usually wrong. Beware complex answers when insistently provided; they are often hiding some important truth.

  • Be of good cheer in all cases and including in political argumentation.
  • A comedic approach to contentious positions (political and otherwise) can be very disarming if not downright charming as well as effective (meaning winning over the opposing side) when well executed through good-natured humor that is neither derogatory nor abrasive.
  • You shouldn't bring your own horse to a horse-themed diner where the waitstaff all ride horses. There is a deeper metaphor here for those willing to face challenging truths--I'm sure there is . . . just keep looking.

Penn Jillette (Penn's Sunday School):
  • You aren't just capable of being wrong; you are wrong. We all are. Our memories are wrong. Our explanations are wrong. Our viewpoint and narrative is wrong. But through all that, we can still get it mostly right.
  • He is one of the wisest people I follow on understanding life. In this respect I have learned a lot about what to prioritize.
  • There is no good reason to be emotionally dishonest--especially with yourself.

  • Delivery is more important than content--this is by no means a knock on his content.
  • Even comedy experts, masters of the craft, cannot always predict what will and what will not work in comedy.
  • Smart balance including a great straight man is essential to a comedic performance.

Aaron Ross Powell & Trevor Burrus (Free Thoughts):
  • Honest inquiry using the "devil's advocate" method is a useful way to interrogate one's own side.
  • The motivation and arguments offered by both anti-gun and anti-immigrant proponents are very similar in their style and substance with both having the same problematic faults.
  • Mindfulness can help heal our harsh political divide.

Russ Roberts (EconTalk):
  • Be intellectually honest with yourself and others.
  • A more fruitful conversation can come by allowing opposing views to lie unchallenged. 
  • The point of economics and the desire for the good life is about happiness AND meaning--two deep, rich, nuanced concepts that are poorly understood.

P.S. Mike Munger is my favorite podcast guest. 

On a sappy note there is a bit of trepidation I carry considering the many podcasters that I follow and very much enjoy. There is a certain human connection to someone whose voice you often hear. While this would be true of any person you know in your everyday life, there are few of these people whom you seek out in a friendship-like regard. Some day one of my my favorite podcasters will suddenly be gone. Not through a proper retirement or move to a new thing, as much as that itself would represent a loss, rather I am thinking about ... well, . . . Do You Realize? . . .