Friday, July 21, 2017

Not subtle

Bjorn Lomborg reminds us that "California is handling climate change all wrong."  Climate is a global commons and prisoners' dilemma problems are endemic. Go-it-alone California will bear significant costs while the benefits will be negligible.

But people who claim to be on the side of science (and the angels) disagree.  Here is a letter to the WSJ editor from Governor Jerry Brown defending the California approach. No mention of Lomborg's key point. Cap-and-trade may be a fine idea (as Brown claims) but he ignores the context.

Prisoner's dilemma is the flip side of gains from trade. The presumed subtlety of the gains-from-trade story is baffling. Most people cooperate; they trade an uncountable number of times and easily see that both parties acquiesce voluntarily -- for obvious reasons. The same people also have eyes and (must) notice that, around the world, those who are more involved in an exchange economy have better lives.  How many migrants in the world move away from an exchange economy to one where exchange is absent or difficult?

Bruce Yandle's Bootleggers and Baptists is the best explanation. I do not know whether Jerry Browns' place in all this is as the "Baptist" or as the politician who appreciates the phenomenon. I suppose one can be both. This is not subtle either.

Monday, July 17, 2017

It's bi-partisan

Timothy Taylor (citing Brian Taylor) offers a clear summary of the argument for congestion pricing on roads and highways. But spending and building is more fun than managing if you are in politics.  All the problems of democracy are in play: voters pay limited attention; lobbyists and special interests pay a lot of attention.

Competing "dog whistles" describes the discourse we have in the age of fast news and fast breaks. But there is one "dog whistle" that is special because it is bi-partisan. Everyone likes "infrastructure." Much of what we have is in poor shape. Almost everyone gets behind the idea of mega-spending to fix the problem.

But mega-spending American-style rarely does more good than harm. The Economist writes about "Notes from Underground". The WSJ describes Amtrak's "Summer of Hell."  It's very simple. Politicians are beholden to contractors and unions. More money will not fix this. It may make it worse.

Crony capitalism describes much of modern America. In this morning's WSJ, Elon Musk cites the "AI threat" and advocates a policy to regulate artificial intelligence. It's a terrible idea and I expect that Musk expects to be involved with the new regulatory agency. This would be the case no matter which party holds power. It's bi-partisan.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

The good and the bad

We would love to believe that high culture makes people better.  But Nazi Germany (and many fellow travelers) deflated all that. High-brow elites caved in to the brutes. Among the highest brows of those days were the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics. Look at Terry Teachout's "Orchestras and Nazis" which recounts the very sad story. It remains that how and why people turn good or bad is not simple.

Amos Elon's The Pity of It All elaborates all this. The author notes that Pre-Hitler, Europe's Jews assumed that Germany would be a safe place to be: German high culture would provide a haven.

On the brighter side, the NY Times book review of Toscanini: Musician of Conscience notes that the maestro made it a point to distance himself from Nazis and fascists.  The review also touches on Toscanini's amorous affairs. If you think of his adventures with many women as not so admirable, you again to face up to the complexity of human nature.

From the book review, here is Toscanini: "Every time I conduct the same piece I think about how stupid I was the last time I did it." If you are an aware person and reach the ripe old age of X years, you will wonder how innocent you were at X-5 years. Perhaps this awareness marks the good.