20 March 2013

Miscellany for 20 March 2013

The New Republic | Adam Kirsch | The New Essayists, or the Decline of a Form?: The essay as reality television

Recommended. This touches, incidentally, on why I have never been able to stand David Sedaris, et al. Sedaris — err, excuse me -- the "David Sedaris" character that David Sedaris writes about, is a miserable person to spend time with.

That's only a side point. The main theme of the piece is that our contemporary essayists are both narcissistic and a-truthful. That is, they inhabit a borring in-between which is neither turthful enough to be non-fiction, nor untruthful enough to be fiction.

L'Hôte | Freddie | bullshit social climber faux-antiracism

Has all the privilege checking in every cultural studies class in the history of creation ever put clothes on someone's back or food in their belly? Ever stopped a single cop from beating a black man senseless? Don't mistake your purification rituals for progress, please.

∞ Cafe Hayek | Don Boudreaux | Sequester Question for Minimum-Wage Proponents

If employers of low-skilled workers can, in order to remain profitable in the face of a 24-percent increase in the minimum wage, rather easily and with success adjust the ways they manage and work low-skilled employees, why cannot Uncle Sam, in order to continue to ‘serve’ the public as before, adjust the ways it manages and works its employees so that the effects of a 3-percent budget ‘cut’ are unnoticed by the general public?

Hit & Run | Katherine Mangu-Ward | New Bill to Legalize Gun-Shaped Pastry in Maryland Schools

Jesus wept. Do we really need the state legislature to pass a law recognizing that there exists a difference between a thing and a symbol of that thing??

No! Don't answer that. It will only depress me.

As It Should & Ought to Be | Morgan Warstler | Guaranteed Income & Auction the Unemployed

This is a very interesting proposal. However, I think Warstler is papering over a lot of problems. For example: doesn't it become practically impossible to purchase labor at any price between $7 and $10? What if you don't have 40 hours/week worth of tasks to be done? Why do we want to subsidize hiring by small/less efficient companies but not large/efficient ones? I love feedback and reputation systems, but how will it protect the reputation of employers in situations like this? Aren't we being a little optimistic about how little friction their will be in assuming that every single person will be able to be matched with some job every week?

Side note: I think the idea of a 40-hour work week is going to be increasingly antiquated. Low marginal product workers will have difficulty getting up to 40 hours a week, especially in the current regulatory environment. High marginal product workers will be salaried and work much more than 40 hours. Let's not forget that 40 is a plucked-from-the-magician's-top-hat magic number not a law of nature.

Minding the Campus | David Wilezol | CNN Notices the Value of An Associate's Degree

Nearly 30% of Americans with Associate's degrees now make more than those with Bachelor's degrees, according to Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce. And some data is suggesting that community college grads are outearning bachelor's degree holders altogether in certain states. [...] The truth is that, in the aggregate, the value of a B.A. is shrinking because a greater percentage of bachelor degree holders are majoring in subjects for which there is little demand.
I would rather save money to let my future children study something practical for an associates and then front them money to start their own company than save money in a 529 for them to go to a four year school if they're going to study liberal arts.

Crisis Magazine | Jeffrey Tucker | There Is No Third Way

I want to print copies of this and leave them all over ND's Center for Social Concerns.

Asymmetric Information | Megan McArdle | What Happened at Intrade?
Rajiv Sethi, a Columbia economics professor, suggests that they may have failed to properly segregate their trading accounts:
My best guess is that the margin posted by traders was not held, as it should be, in segregated accounts separate from company funds. [...]
That would explain a lot. It would also, of course, be exactly what happened at MF Global. This is starting to look like some sort of epidemic. Which is rather odd, if you think about it. While I'm generally pretty pessimistic about the ability of regulators to keep ahead of financial innovators, this seems like the sort of thing that regulators should be pretty good at enforcing. If we can't even ensure that trading firms segregate their clients' money from the firm funds, then the state of financial regulation is even worse than I thought.
This would make a good jumping off point for a game of Left/Libertarian Ideological Turing Test. The progressive response is based around "see, this financial firm was shady; we need more regulation to protect us from their malfeasance!" The libertarian response is "this was clearly illegal already; if we can't trust regulators to catch & enforce these rules why would we give them new rules to enforce?"

I worry that this will cast a shadow over the entire concept of prediction markets, which is a bloody shame.

Ars Technica | John Timmer | We broke the tomato, and we’re using science to fix it

This is a great piece. I am very excited about science enabling me to get something better than the styrofoam stripped mined red things that pass as tomatoes around here. However, this 'graph grinds my gears all sorts of ways:
In the words of a panel at the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of science, we "broke" the tomato by allowing the plant breeders to respond to the needs of farmers, instead of the tomato's end-users: consumers. As a result, their breeding has produced a product that most people don't actually enjoy eating. And that's a public health issue, given that tomato-rich diets have been associated with a variety of beneficial effects.
By this standard everything is a public health issue. Anything which is marginally good or bad for your health, however broadly defined, is now something that "the public" — which in practice means "the state" — has an excuse for meddling in.

Also I'm going to disagree with the very notion that modern tomatos are liked by farmers but not consumers. Sure, I hate them. Strike that: I hate how they taste. I love that they stay (mostly) fresh forever and that they cost less than $2/lb and I can get them all year round. Of course I want the best tasting tomatoes. But I want the best of everything, provided I don't have to pay for any of it. If it was true that modern tomatoes are liked by producers but not consumers then the producers wouldn't have been able to sell them.

I'm really tired of journalists putting the cart before the horse on this. Have these people ever tried to sell something? You have to respond to consumer desire; you don't get to tell consumers what to want.


  1. "Recommended."

    I so desperately want to comment on your remarks on Kirsch's writing on Sedaris' essays on Sedaris' observations of Sedaris' fictionalized life, but I just can't bring myself to do it.

    Suffice it to say that I really enjoy reading your blog, and please keep it up.

    1. That might be one too many levels of re-direction, but I'd still like to hear what you have to say.

      Thanks for reading. It's good to know people are enjoying it.

  2. "you don't get to tell consumers what to want"

    That is precisely the business that journalists are in.