Monday, December 29, 2008

Tithing Santa

HT: Steven Furtick

Friday, December 19, 2008

How much?

Can't catch me, I'm the gingerbread man!

I have some friends and family who I've been begging to join facebook. But they resist for good reasons. Their fear is that they will be found by people whom they don't want to find them. The good news is that facebook has privacy features that allow you to stay as hidden as you like. Here's how to make yourself unfindable on facebook. My hope is that after reading this, my friends & family will join facebook so that we can keep up with each other. Anyway, here's what ya do:
  1. Sign up for a facebook account. Provide the bare minimum information necessary about yourself when you sign up. You can provide more information after you've finished reading this post.
  2. Login to facebook. On the top to the right, there will be a "Settings" menu. Click on it and choose "Privacy Settings"
  3. On the page that comes up, click "Search""
  4. To be completely unfindable, set it like this (If you're having trouble reading what it says, click on the image to make it bigger):
  5. Here are the other options that you have for how findable you are. This is how mine is set up
To my friends & family who are afraid of being found on facebook... does this help at all? I have another post on the subject of facebook privacy, that might also interest you.

Who Knew?

Apparently my non-informative post, was informative to someone. Here's how I import my blog into facebook.
  1. Login to facebook
  2. Click on "Profile"
  3. Click on the menu, then click on import:
  4. The box will change, click on "Blog/RSS"
  5. In the form provided, enter the web address of your blog
That's it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Test Post - pardon the interruption

I'm making a test post. I've imported my blog into facebook. My hope was that when I posted something here, it might attract the attention of my friends in facebook who would give me feedback.

But it wasn't working. When I post something here, it gets imported into facebook correctly. But, as far as I can tell, nothing ever shows up on other people's newsfeed indicating that I posted a new note. I test this by looking at my wife's newsfeed.

However, I now think (hope) I fixed it. This post is to help me find out! So, to all my beloved blog readers (all 4 of you), please pardon this non-informative post. To all my facebook friends (90 of you) I hope that you will start commenting on the notes that I have already published and will publish in the future.

A Good Husband

Entertaining story seen on the internet. Quoted in it's entirety:
Jack wakes up with a huge hangover after attending his company's party.

Jack is not normally a drinker, but the drinks didn't taste like alcohol at all.

He didn't even remember how he got home from the party. As bad as he was feeling, he wondered if he did something wrong.Jack had to force himself to open his eyes, and the first thing he sees is a couple of aspirins next to a glass of water on the side table. And, next to them, a single red rose!!

Jack sits up and sees his clothing in front of him, all clean and pressed. He looks around the room and sees that it is in perfect order, spotlessly clean. So is the rest of the house.

He takes the aspirins, cringes when he sees a huge black eye staring back at him in the bathroom mirror. Then he notices a note hanging on the corner of the mirror written in red with little hearts on it and a kiss mark from his wife in lipstick: 'Honey, breakfast is on the stove, I left early to get groceries to make you your favorite dinner tonight. I love you, darling! Love, Jillian'

He stumbles to the kitchen and sure enough, there is hot breakfast, steaming hot coffee and the morning newspaper. His 16 year old son is also at the table, eating. Jack asks, 'Son,what happened last night?'

'Well, you came home after 3 A.M., drunk and out of your mind and you fell over the coffee table and broke it, and then you puked in the hallway, and got that black eye when you ran into the door.'

Confused, he asked his son, 'So, why is everything in such perfect order and so clean? I have a rose, and breakfast is on the table waiting for me??'

His son replies, 'Oh THAT... Mom dragged you to the bedroom, and when she tried to take your pants off, you screamed, 'Leave me alone, I'm married!!'

Broken Coffee Table $239.99
Hot Breakfast $4.20
Two Aspirins $.38
Saying the right thing, at the right time:

Saturday, December 06, 2008


A friend of mine recently asked me to pray for something going on in his life. So I stopped what I was doing and dashed off a quick prayer in support of my friend. But in the middle of it, I thought, "Well that's rude. You just jumped straight into asking for what it was you wanted. Try again."

My pastor frequently uses A.C.T.S. as a way to help a person organize their prayers. The idea is to pray 4 specific things, and in a particular order.

A = Adoration: Take time to recognize who God is.
C = Confession: Take time to recognize who you are.
T = Thanks: Take time to appreciate all that God has done for you.
S = Supplication: Take time to ask God for blessing.

So that's what I did. But the problem is this. After recognizing who God is, who I am, and all that He's already done for me, it seemed incredibly snotty to ask for anything at all.

And yet the Bible makes it pretty clear that we are to come to God with our requests. Sometimes I don't know how to do that.

I finished my prayer for my friend. But it was, to say the least, really quite hesitant.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

IFC recently showed Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. I fell in love with this movie the first time I saw it in college. After seeing it again, it remains one of my all time favorites. If you enjoy language and, specifically how imprecise it can be, you might like this movie. Here are some of my favorite excerpts:
Rosencrantz: Do you think death could possibly be a boat?
Guildenstern: No, no, no. Death is not. Death isn't. Take my meaning? Death is the ultimate negative. Not being. You can't "not be" on a boat.
Rosencrantz: I've frequently not been on boats.
I love how what was meant could easily be turned into meaning something completely different.
The Player: The old man thinks he's in love with his daughter.
Rosencrantz: Good God. We're out of our depths here.
The Player: No, no, no! He hasn't got a daughter! The old man thinks he's in love with his daughter.
Rosencrantz: The old man is?
The Player: Hamlet … in love … with the old man's daughter … the old man … thinks.
It is so easy for there to be multiple possible meanings in a single sentence. Take this: The old man thinks he's in love with his daughter. The character meant it to mean this:
  • Polonius (the old man) thinks that Hamlet is in love with Ophelia (the old man's daughter)
But the imprecision of the original statement had multiple correct interpretations including these:
  • Polonius thinks that Hamlet is in love with Hamlet's daughter (which is first way that Rosencrantz interpreted the sentence)
  • Polonius thinks that Polonius is in love with Polonius' daughter (which is the 2nd way that Rosencrantz interpreted the sentence)
  • Polonius thinks that Polonius is in love with Hamlet's daughter
What should this tell us about how we interpret the Bible?
Guildenstern: What's the first thing you remember?
Rosencrantz: Oh, let's see. … The first thing that comes into my head, you mean?
Guildenstern: No – the first thing you remember.
Rosencrantz: Ah. … No, it's no good. It's gone. It was a long time ago.
Guildenstern: No, you don't take my meaning. What's the first thing you remember after all the things you've forgotten?
Rosencrantz: Oh, I see … I've forgotten the question.
Or how about this one. What's the first thing you remember?
  • Do you mean: what is the first memory that popped into my head the instant you said that?
  • Or do you mean: what is the first thing that I've ever remembered? Because I know that I remembered things as a kid, but I don't remember what they were now?
There are, of course other quotes in the movie that are just as fun, but not about the imprecision of language:
Rosencrantz: Did you ever think of yourself as actually dead, lying in a box with a lid on it?
Guildenstern: No.
Rosencrantz: Nor do I, really. It's silly to be depressed by it. I mean, one thinks of it like being alive in a box. One keeps forgetting to take into account the fact that one is dead, which should make all the difference, shouldn't it? I mean, you'd never know you were in a box, would you? It would be just like you were asleep in a box. Not that I'd like to sleep in a box, mind you. Not without any air. You'd wake up dead, for a start, and then where would you be? In a box. That's the bit I don't like, frankly. That's why I don't think of it. Because you'd be helpless, wouldn't you? Stuffed in a box like that. I mean, you'd be in there forever, even taking into account the fact that you're dead. It isn't a pleasant thought. Especially if you're dead, really. Ask yourself, if I asked you straight off, "I'm going to stuff you in this box. Now, would you rather be alive or dead?" Naturally, you'd prefer to be alive. Life in a box is better than no life at all, I expect. You'd have a chance, at least. You could lie there thinking, "Well. At least I'm not dead. In a minute somebody is going to bang on the lid, and tell me to come out." [bangs on lid] "Hey, you! What's your name? Come out of there!"
[Long pause]
Guildenstern: I think I'm going to kill you.
Or another favorite of mine:
Rosencrantz: Whatever became of the moment when one first knew about death? There must have been one. A moment. In childhood. When it first occured to you that you don't go on forever. Must have been shattering. Stamped into one's memory. And yet, I can't remember it. It never occured to me at all. We must be born with an intuition of mortality. Before we know the word for it. Before we know that there are words. Out we come, bloodied and squawling, with the knowledge that for all the points of the compass, theres only one direction. And time is its only measure.
All told this is a geek's movie. Hence why I enjoy it so much.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Nuther Debate

Inspired, I listened to another debate (see my previous post). For this one the proposition was this: Global warming is not a crisis. I am increasingly for that proposition, but I wouldn't be willing to place a bet. However, for the moment, I'm going to assume that the science in the IPCC is entirely correct. I'm swayed by others who have much doubt about some of the science. But let's forget that for now. Let's assume that the science is entirely correct.

Here's what I want to know: could we be better off in a world that's warmer and richer, than a world that's poorer and cooler? I think the answer is yes.

In 1900, a category 4 hurricane hit Galveston, TX. Sustained winds were about 135 mph. Estimates on the death toll from that storm vary from 6,000 to 12,000 (also here). The population of Galveston at the time was 37,000. This translates to somewhere between 16% - 32% of the population was killed from the storm. This was the deadliest natural disaster in US history.

Let's compare this to a more recent event: Hurricane Katrina, which is the deadliest storm in recent times. Many have argued that the strength and intensity of storms like Katrina results from global warming. And it's true, that the deadliest modern storm was a much stronger storm than the 1900 Galveston hurricane. Katrina was a category 5 hurricane with sustained winds of 175 mph. This represents an exponential amount of additional energy in Katrina compared to the 1900 Galveston storm.

Katrina killed over 1800 people. Katrina hit an area with a population of over 1.3 million in the metro-area. As a percentage of population, Katrina killed about 0.1% of the metro-population of New Orleans.

A much more powerful storm, hit a much more populated area, and while still very deadly, killed many many fewer people. Katrina was a terrible tragedy. But compared to 32% of the population being killed, 0.1% is beyond astounding.

So why the difference? We're wealthier. That wealth afforded rapid transportation. It afforded telecommunications so that people could be informed. It afforded structures like the superdome so that those who had no place to go, still had shelter. It afforded satellites to monitor the storm. Computers to predict the track. Meterologists to estimate the impacts. It afforded people taking time off of work to go down and help after the event so that fewer of those who survived wouldn't perish in the weeks after. It afforded news coverage, not just to people in New Orleans, but to the world so that we could be informed that New Orleans might need help.

And all of that wealth contributed to saving lives when facing a natural disaster. If Katrina had the same effects that the 1900 Galveston storm had, it would have been a tragedy that would have been unequaled in history. 32% of the metro New Orleans area is 415,000 people. 415,000 people who's lives were saved as a result of the wealth that we currently possess.

So even if the climate scientists are completely right, they may be wrong about the best way to mitigate the consequences of global warming. Perhaps a federal law forcing carbon reductions is one way to do mitigate those consequences. But such a law also has costs down the road in reduced wealth, and not just a little bit of reduced wealth. A 1% reduction in GDP over the course of 100 years adds up to reducing wealth by more than 50% (compared to what it would have been). Wealth that might be better at saving lives than the carbon reductions are. Wealth that might afford structures deep under water and rapid transportation to them to avoid hurricanes altogether. Wealth that might afford technology that, in my wildest imagination, I would never come up with. All that technology and infrastructure deployable in the event of a natural disaster.

So, are we better being richer and warmer rather than poorer and cooler? I think we might be *MUCH* better off.

P.S. The title of this post stems from something that I say occasionally, but try to avoid, and that my wife says frequently while taking glee in my annoyance. Let me give you an example:
mjh: Hey! You gave all the kids a piece of the pie, but didn't save one for me?!?

wife: Calm down, honey, there's a whole nuther pie right here.
Of course, the "correct" language would be either "another whole" or "a whole other". It's funny that I stress about this, because language is an emergent phenomena. No one decides the rules. They evolve. I *should* accept "a whole nuther" as an emergent phrase with meaning that everyone understands. But it still irks me.


A friend of mine pointed me to the Intelligence Squared US debates. I *love* this. This is got me written all over it. Come up with a proposition, pick smart people on both sides of the proposition, vote before and after the debate, and see who changes more minds. Of course, the fact that I just love arguing may have something to do with why I like this so much.

On most of the propositions, I have an opinion and I find myself leaning towards one particular side. I am frequently surprised by how much I am swayed by the side that I didn't start off agreeing with, and how they are able to change my mind on some topics. While I like to think of myself as open-minded, it's not as true as I'd like it to be. I am ideological. I want to be open-minded, but on some topics I'm not. I simply don't believe the other side. So it's surprising to me that on some topics, I'm more open-minded than I thought I was. This is good news.

I've listened to a few of these debates. But there was one debate in which I found myself disagreeing with *both* sides. It was on this proposition: Universal health coverage should be the federal government's responsibility. I am very much against this proposition. But I'm not against it in the way that debate panel was against it. The panel against this proposition spent precious little time talking about the problem associated with 3rd party payers. They let the other side get away with the assumption that the only way to avert financial catastrophe associated with a health emergency is to have the government to pay for it.

Here's what I wished would have been argued.

Health insurance that we have today is unlike every other insurance that we use. Insurance is an effective tool for covering high cost, but low occurrence events. Think about car insurance. It doesn't cover the cost of filling up, or tire replacement, or engine checkups, or oil changes. It covers accidents, which occur very infrequently, but can be very expensive when they happen. Nor does homeowners insurance cover the cost of utilities or other activities that take place inside the house. It only covers rare, but expensive events.

These insurance markets work. They work because everyone pays a little bit into a pool, that then has the money to pay out for the expensive, but rare, events. If the events really are rare, then this works. Everyone gets to deal with the risk of expensive events, but no one pays a lot because most of the time people are only paying in and not getting coverage out. Most of the time it's worth it to pay a little out, on the assumption that nothing's going to happen, for the assurance that if it does, you're covered.

Unfortunately, insurance can't work when the covered events are frequent or common. And, this is how our health insurance works. It covers everything. Any time you go to the doctor, get a prescription, do anything related to health care, you use your insurance to pay for some or all of it. There is no system of insurance that can work efficiently when it has to cover every event, not just rare ones. This has prompted economist Arnold Kling to stop calling it health insurance and instead call it "insulation". Because what happens is that the "insurance" provider insulates us from the cost of the doctor's visit, or the trip to urgent care, or the prescription that we receive. We're still paying for it, but instead of paying the doctor $200 for the visit we pay the insurance provider $600/mo.

There are two problems that come out of this:
  1. Over consumption: People who don't know the cost of something, will consume more of it. In other words, we will start going to the doctor for everything, because we don't see a cost associated with it.
  2. Increased premiums: the insurances companies have to get the money to pay for the medical bills that we're racking up. The only way for them to do that is to increase the premiums.
And if you want to see this in action, you should try living on a health insurance plan that really is insurance instead of insulation - where you pay for everything yourself except for the catastrophes. I currently live under such a plan. Very little is covered. And what I've found is that the doctors offices simply don't know the price of things. I've gone to the doctor with my child trying to get stitches for a cut. Before I went in, I asked what this was going to cost, because I was going to have to pay for it. They didn't know.

Stop for a minute and think about this. Is there *ANY* other service provider that you pay for, where they have zero idea of what the cost is going to be?

The reality is that the doctor's office didn't need to know. Their job is not to let the patient make an informed decision about the cost and benefit of the procedure/service that is being performed. Their job is to do the service and take care of the billing later.

Do you know how much it costs to get stitches put into a kid? Only after the procedure is done, and you no longer have a choice to pay for it, you find out from the billing department that it costs about $500. This is an extremely routine procedure, which requires hardly any specialized equipment, and little training to perform. Compare that price with lasik eye surgery. Their are lasik centers who charge less than that to perform a task that requires expensive specalized equpment and requires significantly more skill and training. And the lasik surgeons offer free consultations *BEFORE* the procedure to discuss with you what will be done, what the impacts will be *AND* how much it will cost.

So why is there such a difference? Stitches are covered by insurance. Lasik is not. Every lasik surgeon knows that to win your business he has to make the cost/benefit case to you. Every *other* physician knows that he can earn a high wage without having to discuss it with you. The reality is that the cost of eye surgeries has been going dramatically down over the last few years while the cost of every other medical procedure has been going up.

My opinion is that the problem boils down to 3rd parties paying for routine events. I can't tell you how much I wish that most of the rest of the US had only catastrophic health insurance. We could then unleash market forces onto health care providers and get the costs down.

Now, that does *NOT* mean that I think we should get rid of catastrophic health coverage. I absolutely think people should have insurance for what is insurable: rare and expensive events. Also, I don't think that the best organization to provide this coverage should be the US Federal Government. But this problem can *NOT* be solved by replacing private 3rd party payers of routine services, by a public 3rd party payer of routine services. This problem can only be solved when there are pressures on providers and consumers to work on each individual transaction and determine what the cost and benefit is. No central government authority can ever hire enough people to know what health procedures people need or want most. And no central government authority can successfully lower costs by hiding the costs from the people getting the services.

Only a market that is free can do this.

So in summary, here's what I would have argued:
  1. Catastrophic insurance: good
  2. Government provision of catastrophic insurance: bad
  3. 3rd party payment of common events: *very* bad - whether that 3rd party be government or private insurance
Update: I can't take credit for coming up with this all on my own. I am highly influenced by the writings of Arnold Kling on this subject.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

My Facebook Privacy Rules of Thumb

As a highly experienced facebooker (all of 2 weeks now), I decided that I needed to write down the privacy rules of thumb that I am currently using to ensure that I don't end up like some the CMS school teachers:
  1. I never accept as a friend anyone that I don't know.
  2. I divide up the people that I do accept as friends into two groups: acquaintences and everyone else
  3. I make every privacy setting to be "Friends Only" and I exclude acquaintances (howto) from certain elements, most importantly pictures of my children.
  4. I never post anything to facebook, that I would not want those in my inner circle to know.
I may refine or add to these as I learn more about FB.

Update: If you're one of my facebook friends, and I've placed you in (what I used to call) the outer circle, please don't take offense. My goal is not to say anything at all about you, but rather to recognize that you and I are more of acquaintances than friends. I seriously doubt that anyone who's in (what I used to call) my outer circle would think that we are more than just acquaintances.

Hmmm... maybe I should relabel that group. Instead of calling them the outer circle, I should call them acquaintences. Think I will.

Update 2: Here are the places in FB where there are security settings that I think are important:
  1. Settings -> Privacy Settings
  2. Profile -> Settings -> applications settings page (Edit each application and change how it can be viewed)
(I note this here because I keep forgetting how to get to #2.)

Friday, November 21, 2008

Will the left ever call for deregulation?

Matthew Yglesias writes:
Horwitz cites minimum wage laws and occupational licensure requirements as examples of non-beneficial programs. I’m not sold either way on the minimum wage, but definitely agree about the licensing. At the same time, things like rules that prevent dental hygienists from practicing without being supervised by a dentist aren’t being perpetrated by “the left,” they’re being perpetrated by dentists. It’s a classic example of concentrated benefits and diffuse costs. And the question, to my mind, is what is to be done about it.
How about eliminate the rules? If the left really wants to claim that they aren't perpetrating this, then how about someone on the left calling for the elimination of these rules that are in place? These rules serve only to reduce competition. They place a barrier to entry on the hygienist profession, and tying those that exist to dentists. Thus they make hygienists more scarce and raise the price that they can command. This is the case, not just for dental hygienists, but for plumbers, doctors, and believe it or not, interior designers! That's right. You need a license from the government to design interiors. Because, heaven knows the dangers that could accrue to the public if this was done without a license.

So if the left sees the issue of licensure as destructive, what do we see coming from them? Do we see them calling for elimination of government rules? Do we see them calling for decreasing the size and scope of the government? Of course not. We see the left constantly asking for *MORE* government involvement in this process to correct previous bad results. Let me know when the left starts trying to solve the problems caused by government, without calling for more government.

Now, of course, Yglesias also points out that we don't see this kind of thing from the right either:
If it were the case that electing politicians who are given to waxing effusive about the virtues of free markets (i.e., Republicans) was likely to mitigate such abuses, I would look more kindly on such politicians. But in practice, it doesn’t seem to make much of a difference.
On this point, he is, of course, correct. Which I would think would lead the left to exploit an opportunity to find the libertarian voters. But given that we're not as powerful as the interior design segment, that's not likely to happen.

The main point of Yglesias' article is that there needs to be a subtlety when it comes to deciding which government programs are effective and which ones cause harm. He would prefer a scalpel to a hatchet (to steal terms from the campaign). I think he's right that there are some programs that are doing good, but I take a much more conservative approach. In my opinion, history shows government programs mostly causing harm, and occasionally doing good. As a result, get rid of all of them. Then later on, put forth a case for why a particular program will be of net benefit. Make sure to use economics in the analysis, and then, and only then, should we consider bringing those programs back.

If we take the scalpel approach, we'll spend all of our time trying to demonstrate why the first program is doing harm, and miss the chance to cut most of the harm causing programs. If you agree that the vast majority of government programs cause more harm than good, this is a recipe for never changing anything. Which is exactly where we have been for the last 70 years.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Black Hole of Facebook

I've started facebooking. First things first: I had no idea what a powerful tool facebook is. I've connected with old friends from highschool. I've found out what current friends are doing and what they're planning on doing. I'm even using it to get to know my cousins in the Philippines! I'm thinking of pulling out my Tagalog text books from college and practice with my cousins so that I can surprise my mom. There is no way, going in, that I could have predicted that as a possibility.

But now that I've started using it, I've sorta gone crazy. I facebooked my father/son camping trip. I took pictures with my phone and uploaded them as events happened. My wife logged in and was able to see what we were doing. In less than a week, I've got 60+ friends, some of whom are relatives that I had no idea even existed. I have a facebook app for my phone, and I check it frequently. Facebook can easily turn into a black hole. Get too close, and it will relentlessly suck in all available time. It's already distracted me enough to keep me from blogging for an entire week!

And then I was struck by the need to be careful. I'm putting pictures, names and lots of information about myself and my family on facebook. Who can see this stuff? It turns out, by default, lots of people. So I've decided to restrict my friendship circles. I've limited my friends to only be those who I actually know and trust. Additionally, I've made just about everything about me and my family available *ONLY* to people who I accept as friends. I've had to say "no" to some people that I know because I simply don't know them well enough. I'm trying to decide if I need to take some people out of my friendship circle that I'd already put in.

And I'm suddenly feeling snooty. Like I'm saying, "Sorry, you're not good enough to be my friend. Go back to your caste."

I'm not sure what to do with this. I like facebook. I want to continue to use it to keep track of people who I've lost track of. I want to be able to tell them about what's going on in the life of my family. But I don't want to give anyone ammunition to exploit my family, which means I need to be careful who I call my friend. What to do? What to do?

Update: I discovered that FB has some really well thought out privacy capabilities. Here's a link that describes how you can be really specific about which friends can see what. I've done this. I've created a group on FB called "outer circle". These folks are people that I know, but don't really know all that well. They don't get to see pics of my family or my address or my phone numbers. But they still get to be my friends. If I wanted, I could keep them from seeing my status updates. Very nice.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Economist, Bryan Caplan wrote a post describing one of his favorite scenes from the show The Gilmore Girls. At the very end, he links to a previous post of his talking about regrets. I'm going to quote from the earlier post, but it helps to read both posts. Anyway, he says:

I don't regret anything in my life prior to the conception of my sons. This may sound like sentimental nonsense, but I tell you it's true. Here's my argument:

  1. Basic biology: A man produces hundreds of millions of sperm every day. Each of these sperm contains (half of) the genetic blueprint for a different person. The slightest physical movement changes the position of sperm.
  2. Therefore, any change in my life prior to my children's conception would have led my children not to exist. If I had crossed my legs differently, or walked to the frig, or even chuckled an extra time, the sperm would have been rearranged, negating my children's existence. I might have had different children, of course, but they wouldn't be the ones I have.


What I'm really saying is that if you love your children just because they're the ones you got, you have a special reason to be happy every day. After all, you can survey your whole life before your last child's conception and honestly say: "It all happened for a reason. I wouldn't change a thing."

This reminds me of the movie The Family Man with Nick Cage. It's basically an inverted version of It's A Wonderful Life. In the newer movie, the main character pursues his career with gusto, and becomes extremely rich and powerful. Until he meets his guardian angel who grants him a "glimpse". He is then transported to what his life would have been had he made one key decision differently. In his glimpse, he has a modest house, two kids, and an adoring wife.

The saddest part of the movie to me is when the glimpse ends. He knows that it's going to end and he's going to go back to his actual life. The relationships that he's built with his kids will be forever gone. It's actually worse than if the kids died. Then, he could at least remember them with someone else who knew them. Instead, his kids will be a memory that he alone has because when he returns, his kids never existed.

And this has me thinking about my regrets. I understand Caplan's logic. If given the choice to go back and undo some of the dumb things that I did, knowing that it would also undo my kids, I would leave the dumb things in place. I wouldn't even think twice about it. But I still can't shake the feeling of regret.

I suspect that the purpose of this feeling is to steer me away from a repeat performance. So in that sense, there is a value to regret. It's not that you should use the feeling to try and change past behavior (even if you could) but rather it's useful as a tool to redirect future behavior.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

She Works Hard For The Money

I am a Money Map Coach. This is one of the ministries in my church. It's a difficult, but rewarding ministry to participate in. I was doing a Bible study today related to Money Map Coaching, where I read this:

10For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: "If a man will not work, he shall not eat."

11We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. 12Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat.

14If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed.

And it struck me that this is difficult to reconcile with this:

42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'

44"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'

45"He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'"

In this passage, Jesus seems to identify directly with the poor. And he tells us that when we fail to feed the poor, we are rejecting Jesus himself. But in the first passage, we have Paul (and Silas and Timothy) telling us not associate ourselves with those who don't work. Holy Biblical contradiction, Batman!

Or maybe not. I can think of two ways to reconcile this.
  1. Maybe when Jesus is referring to the poor, he's not referring to the people who are unwilling to work.

  2. Maybe, when Jesus is referring to feeding the poor, he means something other than just tossing food their way.
I have very little input on #1. It's a possibility that I can't rule out.

But #2 is intriguing to me. I think that it might be an important part of the correct answer. I think that to feed the poor, we need to do more than just provide food for them. We need to teach them to provide food for themselves. We need teach them the value of work. Poverty is humanity's default state. Do nothing and poverty persists. It is through working that poverty is beaten back.

But what is work? Who can create jobs? After the recent election season, all the candidates - at every level - tried to convince us that they can create jobs. I don't think that's true. When the government "creates" a job what they do is take money (through taxation) from one group and use it to fund the work. Unfortunately, doing this fails to measure what jobs would have been funded by the people who were taxed. Because they can't spend that money on their own, there's a bunch of work that can't be done for them. So when the government says it "creates" jobs, it does nothing of the sort. It simply transfers the jobs from one group to another - completely ignoring the relative value that the taxpayer would have been able to give and receive had she been able to spend her money as she pleased.

So, how do jobs get created? A job gets created everytime any of us do things that are of value to other people and then trade. In fact, that is the only way to create jobs. When that happens, both the worker and the employer are wealthier than they were before the trade. The employer, valuing the work more than the money, is willing to give the money in exchange for the work. The worker, valuing the money more than the work, is willing to give the work in exchange for the money. After the exchange, both parties are wealthier than before. And that wealth is new wealth. It's wealth that never existed before in the world. But the key is the value. To fight poverty, you must be able to produce value.

But, of course, God created us all with gifts and talents. Those gifts and talents were given to us for a purpose. That purpose must be of value because it's from God. Which means that every last one of us has something of value to share with the world. And every last one of us can fight our own poverty through using the gifts that God has given us. And then trading with others.

So when I hear Jesus calling me to feed him, I don't think it means only providing food. I think that's a start, but I don't think it's enough. I think it means helping people to figure out what God given gifts they have so that they can use them to fight their own poverty. I currently do this as a Money Map Coach. I want to help people fight their own poverty by teaching people how to live within their means. Then, maybe they can find enough abundance to fund the projects that God has in mind.

That's what I'm doing to feed the poor. What about you? Are you just throwing money at them? Or are you helping them to learn how to fight their own poverty? What can you do to teach that?

Too Much Equality?

I know a guy who is a former NFL player and he recently discussed with me and some other guys what it was like to be in a locker room after the game, trying to get showered while female reporters were there trying to get interviews.

I understand that they are just trying to do their jobs. But if the situation were reversed, no female sports team would ever allow men into their locker rooms for post-game interviews. And they'd be correct to not allow that.

I understand why reporters want to interview in the locker room. The players are more likely to give raw, unrehearsed reactions to the game. Hence, it makes for a better story. Additionally, reporters have deadlines to meet. So they need those reactions as quickly as possible. But, frankly, I think it's a travesty that women are allowed to violate men's privacy after a game. If you ask me, no one should be allowed in the locker room after a game. Basic human decency suggests that a person (even a pro athlete) should be allowed a few minutes privacy to shower. But if that isn't possible, then it should be only men allowed in.

But maybe I'm wrong. Part of the criteria for convincing me will be that you have to be willing to flip all of the genders in your explanation, and still think it's a good argument.

I don't think it's possible. I think that there is a thing as too much equality. Men should not be allowed in women's locker rooms. Women should not be allowed in men's. Wishing for equality can't be taken so far that we forget that men and women are in fact different. And the behavior of both people will be slightly different when one of them is naked.


I woke up early this morning because I had a dream. In the dream, I was on the set of a movie that was shooting in the city I live. I don't remember what it was that I was doing for the filmmakers. I was important, but not in a way that would get me a lot of publicity - not even among the people working on the film. Still, I got to hang out with a few of the key people, most notably the star of the film. Who was, oddly enough, Michael Phelps. Yeah, the olympic swimmer. I guess in my subconscious, he can act, too.

Anyway, I'm sitting around the set doing something on my laptop and Michael stops by. We're just shooting the breeze, when he casually says:
Michael: Hey, do you know Angelu?

mjh: Who?

Michael: Angelu. She says she knows you.

mjh: I don't remember knowing anyone named Angelu. Who is she?

Michael: She works in the art department. She went to the same college as you.
Because, of course, Michael Phelps and I are such good buds, that he knows where I went to college.
Michael: Anyway, she says she dated you.

mjh: Is Angelu a nickname? Because I dated an art major in college named Annemarie.

Michael: Yeah, yeah, that's her. That's Angelu.
This news sent me into a tailspin. In college (in the real world) I dated Annemarie. We dated for 5 years. She was the first woman that I dated seriously for any amount of time. She was the first woman that I loved. And it was love - meaning that it wasn't just about me. It was about her well-being. But, unfortunately, it wasn't 100% selfless. And my selfishness resulted in my doing some dumb things. Really dumb things! Despite this, she stayed with me throughout college.

But when college was over, I had thoughts of marriage. She did not share these thoughts. In fact, she made it abundantly clear that it wasn't going to happen. I never officially proposed, but I broached the subject with her once. She said that she didn't know who she was. That she'd spent all of her life living in the shadow of her parents, only to come to college and meet me. Then she'd spent all of that time, seeing herself as a part of me. She didn't know who she was completely independent of anyone. And that's what she needed to go find out.

So I let go. It remains among the most difficult things I've ever done in my life.

I went off to get a job. She went off to grad school. We would call each other and chat from time to time. During one phone call she told me that she was seeing someone, and it was pretty serious. Up until that point, I had this thought in my head that I could swoop back in after she'd "found herself" and try to start over. But apparently she'd found herself and found someone else at the same time. I was devastated. Eventually, she told me that she was going to marry this guy. A few weeks after that, I made one more phone call to her. I told her that I would not be calling back, and I asked her not to call me.

A few years on from that, I realized that had I avoided the dumb things, the end might have turned out differently. And since that point, there has been exactly one thing that I wish that I could say to her. I want nothing more than to apologize, and ask her forgiveness. I want to tell her that even I realized how dumb I was, and that she was right to leave.

I tried to contact her once through a mutual friend. But Annemarie didn't want to talk to me. And ever since then, I've left it alone. I've never tried again to contact her, but I've always sort of hoped that I'd bump into her somewhere. Which is more likely than you'd think. When we left college, she went to one part of the country and I to a different part. I have since moved again to someplace new. Yet ironically, she lives only about an hour away from me. I only know this because during a few pathetic moments, I searched for her on the internet and found her. There were a few years there where she lived less then 30 minutes from me.

So back to the dream.

I stood up and walked away from Michael Phelps to go look for her. And I found her. She was sitting in a row of chairs in some back part of the set, chatting with a woman and bouncing a baby on her knee. I knew immediately that it was her child. Because that's the way that it works in dreams. She didn't see me, so I walked up to her and touched her arm. She turned to look at me.

This was my big moment. I could finally say to her what I've wanted to say for 16 years. But I didn't. I smiled and waved politely, and kept on walking. This is when I woke up.

I may never get to apologize to her. So here it is. Annemarie, if you ever read this, I'm sorry. I behaved atrociously. I hope you can forgive me. I fear, reading this, you may think that I haven't gotten over you. I have. I have a beautiful family and I'm happy. But I have this regret. That I hurt you. And for that, I am sorry. I hope, someday, to get your forgiveness.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

To The Left

Steve Horowitz has written an open letter to the left that really must be read, especially by those on the left, but really by most people who vote. I've made part of it my "quote of the moment" on the right side of this blog. What I will quote here is this:
I know, my friends, that you are concerned about corporate power. So am I. So are many of my free-market economist colleagues. We simply believe, and we think history is on our side, that the best check against corporate power is the competitve marketplace and the power of the consumer dollar (framed, of course, by legal prohibitions on force and fraud). Competition plays mean, nasty corporations off against each other in a contest to serve us. Yes, they still have power, but its negative effects are lessened. It is when corporations can use the state to rig the rules in their favor that the negative effects of their power become magnified, precisely because it has the force of the state behind it.
This is what I would want communicated to those friends of mine who think of me as pro-business. I am most decidedly not pro-business. I am in favor of institutions that effectively channel the self-interest of our entire society into social good. My friends on the left believe the only effective institution for that is the government. While I believe that the government is an extremely ineffective institution for this.

Government producing social good assumes that each individual in government can wield the power of forced taxation without becoming corrupted by it. Instead I think free markets do a much better job of producing social good. Because at the core, we are free not to fund the producers in that market. That puts a constraint on free markets that doesn't exist with the government. Instead, if government spending isn't serving us and we try to withhold that funding, the government shows up at our door with a policeman (with a gun) to arrest us for tax evasion.

In an environment where one institution is forced to serve our needs, and the other can force us to serve its needs, which one do you think will allow self-interest to become destructive?

Update: Here's the important closing paragraph of the letter:
Those of us who support free markets are not your enemies right now. The real problem here is the marriage of corporate and state power. That is the corporatism we both oppose. I ask of you only that you consider whether such corporatism isn't the real cause of this mess and that therefore you reconsider whether free markets are the cause and whether increased regulation is the solution.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


Instructions from wife: Please go check on child #3. I asked him to wake up a while ago, and he's not down here.

Child #3 is 5 years old and in kindergarten. I went upstairs to his room. He was awake and sitting in the middle of his unmade bed in his PJ's. I stood there for a second thinking that my mere arrival would motivate him to move. (Yes, I am egotistical.) Realizing that I had less of an imposing presence than I had hoped for, I resorted to conversation:
mjh: Hey. I see you're still in your PJ's.

#3: [Shrugs]

mjh: You don't think we'd let you go to school in your pajamas do you?

#3: [Shaking head] No!

mjh: Actually, son, that's wrong. We'd be happy to let you go in your pajamas. How would you feel about going that way?
He thought for a second. Then his eyes got wide and he started getting dressed.

Score one point to daddy.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Do Not Call List

Where I live, we have early voting. I was able to go out and vote early last week. I had to wait in line about 90 minutes. Fortunately, the people that were around me were quite friendly. I very much enjoyed the conversation with them.

But, of course, politicians don't know that I've voted. And as a result, continue to call me to tell me about their candidate. Tomorrow this will end and I'm disappointed by it. No, really. I am. I decided a few weeks back to make a game out of this. Here's how a recent conversation went:
mjh: Hello

politico: Hi, I'm calling for the campaign of XXX and I'd like to encourage you to vote for XXX.

mjh: Oh. Ok. Tell me about XXX.

politico: [blathering on about garbage]

mjh: Wow. That's really interesting. Hey, how are you doing? You know I've read that the job that you have can be really stressful, calling people and trying to get them to listen to you about a candidate that you believe in.

politico: uh... yeah it can be, but [not even skipping a beat] I will feel a lot better when XXX is elected. He believes in a lot of things that I think will make life better for all of us. [blather blather]

mjh: Yeah. Ok. So anyway, considering how stressful your job is, how are you doing life insurance wise? I'm a life insurance salesman, and I'll bet you really don't have enough.

politico: I'm doing quite fine life insurance wise
[blather blather]

mjh: [interrupting for the first time] Do you have whole or term life?

politico: I want to focus on XXX [blather blather]

mjh: [interrupting again] I understand but really, would your family be covered in unfortunate event that stress of this job got to you?
Eventually, he hung up on me.

Another caller was persistent enough to talk to me for 30 minutes. At which point, I told her that I had voted earlier in the week, but that I was so lonely and it was really nice to talk to someone, especially a woman who seemed interested in me. I asked for her number. She hung up.

Is this mean? Yes. Do I care? Not so much. My wife, who is by far, the nicer of the two of us is even getting in on the game. Basically whenever someone calls and I'm home, she just stops them and says, "Actually I think my husband would like to talk to you." She then hands me the phone knowing full well that I intend to play with them. So if it's got her endorsement, there's really a limit on how evil it can be. My goal is twofold:
  1. First and foremost: have fun at the expense of a pest.
  2. Keep the pest on the line as long as possible so that they won't pester someone else.
Unfortunately, most of the political calls are recordings. But a precious few are people. I like to think that I made some "do not call" lists. Or maybe a "only call with recording" lists. Still with the recordings I answer the phone, and then lay it down until they hang up on me. I don't want to signal the auto-dialer on the other end, that it's ok to call pester someone else. Maybe they'll get a few less calls in that way.

Friday, October 31, 2008

How I blog

I really need to change the way that I blog. In one sense, what I write about is really me. It's what I think about. I'm obsessed with correct thinking. It matters to me, very deeply, that the thoughts that I have are accurate. When I started this blog, my intention was to put out there anything in the hopes that wrong thoughts would be corrected by commenters. I had hoped that I would (eventually) get a sufficient volume of comments so that I could test my thoughts against the collective wisdom of others. I haven't been able to get a lot of comments. So it hasn't panned out the way that I'd hoped. My point is that my purpose for this blog was as an exercise in correcting my thinking.

But then I watched the video from TED. And I think I have to change some things.

I really don't think that this blog can be only about how I think. I look at the records that this woman has of her ancestry and it's barely anything. But, yet through blogging she knows perfect strangers from across the globe far more intimately than even her grandparents.

Niffer is quickly becoming one of my favorite bloggers. I read whatever she posts almost as soon as she posts it. Because her blog captures the story of how she sees her daughter. It's really quite beautiful. It's WAAAY better than my blog. I wonder if my children ever read my blog if they'd recognize me.

It's ironic. My pastor has a blog. It's only moderately interesting, despite the fact that I find little to criticize about the thinking behind it. But from the start, I've thought that his blog wasn't really much of a blog. I learn absolutely nothing about the man writing it. Instead it's just another outlet for him to teach. And that's a good thing. But as a blog its boring.

I don't think I need to remove the posts that are about my thinking. I need to do that. Thinking is important to me. But I need to put more stuff into this that is about my general experiences and how I react to them. I guess I just hope that someday, when my children are able to show this to their children, that they will get a sense of who I was. Not just what I thought.

What would you do?

Charles Hooper wrote the following commentary:

One of the unpleasant things I do as a consultant is recommend that pharmaceutical firms halt the production of uneconomical new medicines. I'm a drug killer.

If American voters hand Barack Obama the presidency and a filibuster-proof Democratic Congress, I'll be doing a lot more of this unhappy work.

Basically, what's going on here is that Mr. Hooper would be recommending to the pharmaceutical companies that employ him, not to produce several important drugs. At first this seems really heartless that he'd recommend to cut those things. I'd like to try and explain that it's not. And I bet, if you were in the same situation, you'd do exactly the same thing.

The concern is that Obama has talked about creating a single payer system for pharmaceutical products. Basically, his idea is that by forcing all payment through the government, the government can then negotiate a much lower cost for pharmaceutical products. So the government is forcing down the wage that the producer can get for their labor.

Now imagine in your current job that the same thing happened. Imagine that the government suddenly decided that all computer programmers made too much money. That they would no longer allow your company to pay for your services. All computer programmer services would be paid for by the government. Now, you couldn't just go out and get a different computer programming job, because all of them, even those offered by competitors to your company would be paid for by the government. And the government has decided that computer programming should be paid at minimum wage. What would you do?

Some people, who really love computer programming would still do it. Some people currently write computer programs and give them away for free. So some people would stick to it. But most people would look at the situation and realize that, on average, Wal-Mart pays more than minimum wage. And others who had skills other than computer programming would realize that they could make more money doing those other jobs. I might finally decide to take that risk and open up a franchise of one of my favorite pizza places in Wisconsin. Many people would make this decision to do something else.

And that's what Mr Hooper is talking about. Medicines are the labor of the pharmaceuticals. No longer would the current employers of the pharmaceuticals be allowed to pay them. All production would have to be paid for by the government. The government would then be in a position to demand that the price of medicine be drastically reduced. And what would happen is that people who work for pharmaceuticals would decide that they can make more money elsewhere. The ability of the pharmaceutical to produce new medicines will essentially dry up.

It's not the heartlessness of the pharmaceuticals that would be doing this, either. It's the rational reaction of people who work for a pharmaceuticals. They would be deciding that it's better for them to pursue other opportunities. Even though we like to think of pharmaceuticals as entities that make decisions. They're not. They are entities that are made up of people. And when the people go elsewhere, the pharmaceutical no longer exists.

So if single payer healthcare comes along it will achieve its goal of getting rid of expensive medicines. But that will not help the people who need the medication. Because the medicines will cease to be produced. Atlas will shrug.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Of/By/For the people

This is disturbing:

      U.S. District Judge R. Barclay Surrick on Friday night rejected the suit by attorney Philip J. Berg, who alleged that Obama was not a U.S. citizen and therefore ineligible for the presidency. Berg claimed that Obama is either a citizen of his father's native Kenya or became a citizen of Indonesia after he moved there as a boy.

      Obama was born in Hawaii to an American mother and a Kenyan father. His parents divorced and his mother married an Indonesian man.

      Internet-fueled conspiracy theories question whether Obama is a "natural-born citizen" as required by the Constitution for a presidential candidate and whether he lost his citizenship while living abroad.

      Surrick ruled that Berg lacked standing to bring the case, saying any harm from an allegedly ineligible candidate was "too vague and its effects too attenuated to confer standing on any and all voters."

First, let me say that the claims that he was not born in the US are completely ridiculous.  Hes produced a birth certificate. has validated it.  Those who brought this case don’t buy it Puh-lease!  Enough, already.

But, the part thats scary to me is the reason that this case was dismissed.  So pretend for a minute that the allegations were true.  Pretend he wasnt born in Hawaii, but that he was born in Kenya (as alleged).  The judge is saying that normal citizens could not bring this lawsuit even if they could prove what they claim.  The judge is saying that normal citizens do not have sufficient standing to police the eligibility of candidates for president.  This strikes me as a dangerous precedent to set.  If the people dont have sufficient standing, then who does?

Additionally, the judge is ruling that the harm caused by this is too vague.  In other words, if true, theres really no harm done.  On this point, I agree.  I cant possibly see how Obama having been born in Kenya or McCain having been born in Panama (as is alleged in a separate case) could possibly disqualify them for the presidency.   So I agree.  I don’t see the harm.  But I dont think its the job of a district court judge to change the constitution because he doesnt see what harm could be caused by not meeting something it requires.  The constitution says that to qualify for president, a person must be a natural born citizen.  Some people understand this to mean that you have to have been born in the U.S.   The judge can rule on whether or not natural born citizen means that.  But to suggest that the effects of this constitutional requirement are too vague is irrelevant.  The process for changing the constitution is defined w/in the constitution.  It is not conferred to a single judge just because he doesnt see what the effects are.

Its one thing for the judiciary to create law from the bench.  Many believe that they are doing this. But for the judiciary to start rewriting the constitution from the bench thoroughly undermines the constitution.  What rule of law are we under now?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

In Sync

My friend shared this with me. It's amazing on two levels.
  1. That there's so much that is not just in common, but *exactly* the same
  2. That anyone would do all the work to put this together.
Anyway, I loved it:

On Poverty

I read an article that really has me thinking:

There were two reactions to this. Both of which are on the comments on poverty:

  1. Financial resources are *not* the reason that poverty persists. Usurped power through bad government is. We in the west have donated nearly $1 trillion to Africa. And over that time, the per capita income has increased $0. That's right. Nothing. Not one plug nickel. Where has that money gone? The leaders in the government, and their political allies

    This election is, to me, extremely discouraging.
    There are only two practical choices. And both of them would like to centralize more power in the government. There is nothing unique about the US that would keep it from the same sort of poverty we see in other countries with too powerful governments. Both of these candidates wish more power for the government. Say what you want about the evils of the United States. I agree with much of that. But you must also recognize that our prosperity has meant an awful lot for the rest of the world. Impoverishing the US has greater impact than just to the citizens of the US.

    And both candidates are fine with that. Who to vote for? IMHO, neither.”

  2. On the concept of "Be the change you want to see." The change I want to see is poor countries participating in the global economy to enrich themselves.

    So what does that mean? Find someone who's poor and trade with them. Don't give. That bandaid won't cure the cancer. It will temporarily help, but when they've consumed whatever you gave them, they will be right back to where they were. By trading you insist that they provide something of value back to you for the thing of value you give them. And *THAT* is the key. Once a poor person can provide value, they won't be poor for long, even if you stop trading with them.

    So what does that mean for me? It means that I need to have something of value to offer the poor person as well. It means that I need to work on the things that I do best in order to create that value that I would like to trade. It means I have to keep working. And keep trading when I find value.

Part of the assumption that I make here is that people are innately poor. If a person does nothing, they will die of starvation. We are required to work if we are to thrive. The Bible describes this here. Once you recognize that you are innately poor, the question of where does poverty come from is no longer valid. Poverty is the default state. The real question is: Where does wealth come from? And the answer is pretty straight forward: it comes from providing value to others.

This has some pretty important implications.

  1. Since were all innately poor, the answer to the question of battling poverty must start with ourselves. If you want to battle poverty, first battle your own poverty. For me, this means that in the battle against poverty, my biggest responsibility is to go to work. No, its not inspirational. Nor does it grab many headlines. But it is the single most important contribution that I can make to the fight against poverty.

  2. The second most important contribution that I can make in the fight against poverty is to teach my children that they are also innately poor. And that their single most important contribution that they can make in the fight against poverty is to ensure that they are not poor themselves.

  3. Trade. That is, find someone who is providing value and come to an agreement to exchange with them. If you do your job well, and this other person does his/her job well, then by trading you only have to be good at your own job. And your trading partner only has to be good at his/her job. Yet you can both get the benefits doing two things well. This makes both of you richer. Repeat.

After these, my ability to fight poverty is drastically reduced. But there are still some things that I can do:

  1. Fight for trade. Demand that no one stand in the way of two parties trying to enrich themselves through trade. When you see individuals or governments enacting barriers to trade, get in their and let them know that they are sustaining poverty. This is true whether the trade barrier is:
    • a protester actively disrupting trade
    • a government import/export tariff
    • a restriction on immigration or emigration
    • a government subsidy to preferred goods/services in order to dissuade purchase of non-preferred goods/service

    This impacts voting. And part of the reason that I
    m really discouraged by the current administration and either of the two potential administrations is that they seem to have no problem enacting barriers to trade
  1. Give. Last on the list. Its on the list because there are some people who need a kickstart. Kinda like the engine in your car. It needs a jolt of electricity from the battery to start. But once it’s going, it produces its own electricity from the alternator. In fact the alternator produces sufficient surplus to ensure that the battery is recharged. But this is last on the list because its least effective. It requires two things:
    • the recipient of the gift must see it as a kickstart, not an entitlement.
    • the recipient of the gift must not be encumbered by a government that misappropriates the gift

    I have hope for giving as a tool to eliminate poverty. But too often the basic
    requirements are not met. In one case, the kickstart doesnt get the engine running. In the other case, the intended recipient doesnt get it. But when the requirements are met, giving is a powerful tool. Because an effective kickstart can cause a person to start generating sufficient surplus to provide a kickstart to someone else. At that point, there are two available kickstarts: the one that I gave and the new one.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Market Failures

Was there a market failure in today's crisis? I don't know. Some say yes. Some whom I really respect say yes. Some whom I don't respect also say yes. I don't know. I'm skeptical but I also realize that I'm ignorant.

But let's say that private financial markets did contribute to this. And the contribution was completely independent of government intervention.

Ok. So what? Markets produce failure all the time. A company that opens up it's doors with a poor business plan is going to fail. It should fail. That failure is not the fault of the government, nor is it the fault of lack of regulation. It's the fault of the company having a bad business plan. What happens in the market is that the company with the bad business plan is quickly discovered and put out of business. Such a company could not serve it's customers nearly as well as the alternatives that the customers had. Such non-serving companies should fail. And the market discovers these things very quickly.

So this makes me wonder if the failure in the financial markets is just another normal, run-of-the-mill failure. If it is, then that failure should be allowed to proceed so that the bad (non-serving) ideas that were created go away.

What then is the purpose of the bailout package? It recapitalizes financial institutions that were in trouble. In other words, it bails out the bad ideas and lets them live a bit longer. Is this good? It's hard to think that it is. It's more likely that bad ideas that aren't allowed to die will create more destruction in the future.

So, I find it ironic that it is our politicians who are claiming these two things at the same time:
  1. The financial market failed.
  2. Let's bail out the financial market.
Either the financial market has bad ideas that should be allowed to die or it has good ideas that should be bailed out. These two statements seem inconsistent.

But I realize that they seem inconsistent to me because I'm focused on the ideas behind the financial markets. Are they good or bad? But these statements might not be focused on that question. Instead, they seem to be saying that the problems we're seeing today would not have happened if the government were running things. So, let's not trust the market, rebuild the failed banks and then have them run by the government. And we'll be good.

Of course for this to work, it requires that we ignore the fact that the government is not immune to failure. And we must also ignore the reality that government failures are *MUCH* harder to undo than market failures. Bad laws, even ones that everyone agrees are bad laws, live on. We have to ignore those inconvenient facts. We seem to be blissfully willing to do that.

Monday, October 20, 2008

John Stossell

This is worth the watch. There 6 episodes. Watch them all. But be prepared to be depressed.