Posted by on October 11, 2016

This will be the last of these “catch up” postings featuring drive-by comments on multiple issues.  After this, I will return to my normal format.

Car Crash

My girlfriend is threatening to stop talking to me until after November 8th.  She is tired of hearing about the US presidential election.  I tell her I can’t help myself.  It is like the people who slow down to stare at an accident on the highway.  A macabre compulsion.

Hard Brexit

The scenario of a “hard Brexit” is looking increasingly likely.  “Hard Brexit” means that England would leave without any kind of special trade relationship with the EU.  This scenario has become much more likely after Theresa May, the new UK Prime Minister, used her keynote address at the recent Conservative Party Congress to say that unfettered UK control over immigration was a sine qua non of Brexit.  Meanwhile, EU leaders, including Germany’s relatively sympathetic Angela Merkel, have made equally clear that there will be no free trade without the free movement of citizens.

One of the big losers in this scenario will be the City of London, since financial firms will almost certainly lose the ability to sell easily their services within the EU under the current “passport” system.  A study prepared for the industry – which means that it should be taken with a huge grain of salt – estimates that this could cost up to 75,000 jobs in UK financial services, a large majority of the losses falling on London.  These are generally high-paying positions that would put a significant dent in the London economy and property market.

The WSJ article cited above also makes the point that after the recent failings and scandals, the pleas of the financial firms, and London in general, are falling on deaf political ears.  As the Economist points out, however, “the citizens of that great deracinated, metrosexual Babylon [ie, London] pay more in work taxes than those of the next 36 cities combined.”  The politicians may not care much about London and the financial services industry now, but they will certainly miss the taxes.

Continuing strong consumption, and a short-term boost from the post-referendum fall in the British pound and the prophylactic stimulus from the Bank of England, have kept the UK economy growing.  For now.  But I still have no doubt that Brexit will cause substantial economic harm in the medium to long term, particularly now that May has made very clear, in the Economist article cited above, that any economic shackles from Brussels removed by Brexit will be replaced with new ones from Westminster.

Interesting Statistics

The next time you are arguing with an opponent of charter schools and voucher programs, particularly one who is currently sucking at the public school teat, be sure to quote the following statistics: In Washington, DC, and Baltimore, currently 25% of public school teachers send their kids to private schools.  In Philadelphia, 44%.  In Cincinnati, 41%.  Chicago, 39%.  Rochester, New York, 38%.[1]

Teachers are not that highly paid, so this must represent a big sacrifice.  It gives you an idea of just how little they think of the jobs they do.[2]

You Can’t Make this Shit Up

Reuters reports that Venezuela has created an annual peace prize in honor of its former President, Hugo Chavez.  The first winner is Vladimir Putin.  He will receive a miniature version of a statue of Chavez recently unveiled by the impoverished government.  The statue has drawn comparisons to the one of Saddam Hussein that was toppled.  A great many  Venezuelans are looking forward to the day when they will have the same opportunity.

Venezuela continues to prove that Ayn Rand grossly understated the problems of collectivism.

The Enemy of My Enemy

I am increasingly of the opinion that the old saying “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” is one of the more pernicious received wisdoms.

It is clear that a large number of Trump supporters are acting on this basis.  They reason that anybody who is against Elizabeth Warren, most of the mainstream media[3], Hillary Clinton, the entire PC movement and a whole bunch of other leftist deplorables must be their friend.

This is bad logic.  The world is more complicated than this and there are many forms of evil and stupidity.  The enemy of my enemy may very well be another enemy.

Clinton’s Emails

Just to remind folks that Trump is not the only disaster staring America in the face, here is a good, no-spin summary of the FBI’s report on Clinton’s emails.  This summary makes crystal clear that:

  • Clinton was warned multiple times about the security risks associated with using a private server, but she specifically declined to use government-issued equipment because it was subject to retention rules, public disclosure and Freedom of Information Act discovery. The John Podesta emails that have been recently published by Wikileaks also make very clear that Clinton was fully aware of the hacking risks: “At the State Department, we were attacked every hour, more than once an hour by incoming efforts to penetrate everything…we would leave all our electronic equipment on the plane, with the batteries out, because this is a new frontier.”[4]
  • Clinton’s equipment was wiped clean using a specially acquired program called BleachBit, and the emails were made irrecoverable, even after the email controversy had emerged and the emails became the subject of subpoenas.
  • Clinton has repeatedly lied about her motivation for maintaining the private server (which was decidedly not to minimize the number of devices she used, since these were always multiple), the confidential nature of the email traffic and the results of the FBI investigation.

Yet, people like Paul Krugman continue to maintain that the Republican Party is uniquely broken and they continue to feign ignorance on why Clinton is not ahead by 50 points in the polls.

Kaine Repeats Lie in VP Debate

Although I didn’t watch it, I understand that Tim Kaine repeated Clinton’s bald-faced lie that the financial crisis was caused by Bush’s tax cuts.  Pence apparently repeated Trump’s response: crickets.

The Democrats are clearly employing the “repeat a lie often enough…” strategy here.  Pity that the Republicans haven’t nominated anyone smart enough to respond.

In the Podesta emails, Clinton also claimed to have warned about sub-prime mortgages in 2006.  This is also a lie.  Clinton did not warn on mortgages until March 2007By this time, several of the largest sub-prime lenders had already filed for bankruptcy and the largest was days away from doing the same.  Two Bear Stearns mortgage funds would cease redemptions in June 2007; their troubles were alreadywidely known in March.

Trump has been widely, and rightly, criticized for falsely claiming that he warned about the second Iraq war in advance.  Clinton is doing the same with the sub-prime market, in addition to helping propagate the lie that the financial crisis had anything to do with the repeal of certain sections of Glass-Steagall or deregulation in general.

They are both scum.

Child Care

Both Trump and Clinton have responded to the high cost of child care by proposing government support.  Of course, neither has asked the more fundamental question: Why is it so expensive?

Fortunately, there are still some people in the world who can ask basic questions.  They often call themselves libertarians.  And the answer to the question is, of course, the government.

I could cite multiple articles (such as here and here), but probably the best single one is entitled “Why Is Day Care Scarce and Unaffordable?” by Jeffrey Tucker for the Foundation for Economic Education, a libertarian think tank.  The article notes that there are 114 pages of regulations on child care in Arizona and 329 in Michigan, in addition to a book-length of regulations at the federal level if you want to qualify for federal funds.   And these are just the regulations specific to the child care industry, which is also tremendously affected by zoning rules, immigration laws, minimum wages, health benefits, etc.

Tucker points out that, particularly in the age when the internet has made mass reviewing viable even for things much less important than child care, consumer choice and competition should be allowed to replace vast amounts of this regulation.

Tucker concludes with a general rule:

When you find a good or service that is in huge demand, but the supply is so limited to the point that the price goes up and up, look for the regulation that is causing the high price.

This is the way the state rolls.  Create a problem and then argue that it requires a government solution.  It’s a wonderful business to be in.

Helmets and Insurance

I recently had an exchange about helmet laws and insurance with one of my readers.  Since this allowed me to make an important general comment, I am recreating my response below.  The question discussed was whether riders who do not wear helmets should be required to buy disability insurance so that the government does not have to pick up this cost in the case of an accident.

The question you raise about helmet laws points out the incompatibility between freedom and broad government support. I remember arguing this point when I was on a debate team in high school. The reality is that, if the government is paying the piper, then logic dictates that it can call the tune. The solution, of course, is that the government shouldn’t be socializing these costs but that they should be between a rider and his insurance company. In fact, in a free society, insurance companies have an enormous role to play in controlling (through incentives and inspection) risky behavior — I am sure that you have heard that the first building codes and firemen were provided by insurance companies. Unfortunately, the general drift of government policy is a movement in the exact opposite direction. Instead of allowing insurance companies to provide incentives in favor of beneficial behavior and against risky or detrimental behavior through price discrimination, the government is forcing them to do the exact opposite in the interest of “fairness.” This is stupid.

Making a Murderer

Finally, for those who have not watched the Netflix series Making a Murderer, then this is a strong recommendation.  But only if you are prepared to be horrified.

We all know about the ability of filmmakers to distort through selective presentation and editing, but it is hard to believe that this is not a huge indictment of the US legal system.  I have written before about the need to improve the quality of our judges (and, by extension, district attorneys), including by terminating the insane practice of electing them, and to reduce the use of juries.  Watching this series has fuelled these beliefs.

Roger Barris

Weybridge, United Kingdom


[1] These are all the cities quoted in this article, which means that this could be a case of selective reporting.  Or it could mean that the statistics for other cities are not available.

[2] In their defence, there are probably a number of cases where institutional constraints – such as limitations on discipline or religious teaching – account for their decisions to place their kids in private schools.

[3] Reason has recently done a good short article on the hatchet job the media has done on Trump’s PTSD remarks.  Of course, Trump has no right to complain after his equally mendacious response to Clinton’s comments about Sanders’ supporters living in the basements of their parents’ homes.

[4] Clinton’s comments on this in the second presidential debate were also incredibly misleading.  She basically excused her behavior by claiming that there have been no known security leaks arising from her use of private email.  As if any security leaks would be publicly announced by either party to the hacking.

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3 Comments on "Finger Exercises (Part Three)"

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Neil Winward

Criticism of both presidential candidates (Johnson clearly is not competitive or worth considering at this point) is easy. The election is a multiple choice question (not essay) – who do pull the lever for? I don’t consider not voting to be a good choice.