An Epidemic of Bad Ideas

From Glenn Harlan Reynolds in The USA Today, Social media threat: People learned to survive disease, we can handle Twitter:

Likewise, in recent years we’ve gone from an era when ideas spread comparatively slowly, to one in which social media in particular allow them to spread like wildfire. Sometimes that’s good, when they’re good ideas. But most ideas are probably bad; certainly 90% of ideas aren’t in the top 10%. Maybe we don’t know the mental disease vectors that we’re inadvertently unleashing.

Maybe there are some lessons for us here. We don’t know much about the spread of ideas, or what would constitute the equivalent of intellectual indoor plumbing. (Censorship isn’t enough, as it often just promotes the spread of bad ideas that people in power like). Over time we’ll learn more. Maybe we’ll come up with something like the germ theory of disease for ideas.

Where we can do something right away is with the equivalent of nutrition. Traditional training in critical thinking — the sort of thing the humanities used to revolve around, before they became focused on “social justice” — seems like it would be a useful protective. A skepticism regarding groupthink, ad hominem arguments and virtue signaling would likely offer considerable protection against the sort of mass hysteria we seem increasingly vulnerable to. Likewise, a social consensus on important ideas — the kinds of things we used to teach in civics classes — would help.

Better nourished minds are likely more resistant to social-media contagion.


An excellent and creative piece.  A creative writer can find illumination in seemingly unrelated ideas.  Read the whole piece.

The Trickle Down Mantra


by Henry Oliner

‘Trickle down’ is the preferred pejorative of the left towards any tax cut that benefits those who actually pay taxes.  The people who use it sound like idiots to anyone with a basic knowledge of economics.  It is a tool for those who prefer a demon to any understanding.

Money trickles downs, trickles up, and spreads around.  It pays taxes, funds welfare checks, hires employees, buys equipment and funds consumer purchase. It flows where it is least impeded and most welcomed and respected.  Money is an accumulation of a vast network of human action.

When you pay a thousand dollars for a new iPhone are you any poorer? You have willingly decreased your cash and increased your personal equipment. You may be joyful on your purchase or you may be resentful, but if the phone was not worth more than the money you spent you would not have bought it.

Our limited economic measurements may record a transfer of wealth from you to the shareholders of Apple.  But you are no poorer from the transaction.

Would you work an additional 20 hours a week for a substantial pay if the tax rate on your additional earnings was 100%?  Would you be more likely to take the job if the tax rate was cut to 40%?  If your answer is yes to the second question, then congratulations, you understand basic economics and the Laffer Curve.

We can debate the proper rates and the tax system. Claims are made from the right that all tax cuts pay for themselves. This is untrue and is as ignorant as the ‘trickle down’ mantra.

“Trickle down” may or may not be true based on numerous other factors. Regulatory and legal burdens, inconsistency and political uncertainty, debt loads, monetary policy, international competitiveness, unemployment levels, and other factors will impact the effects of tax policy.

But ‘trickle down’ is always an incomplete picture, meant to mislead  by a few, but more often a simple and obvious display of economic ignorance recited as a mindless mantra.

Self-Devouring Political Correctness

by Henry Oliner

I confess a certain demented joy in seeing the left eat its own in the avalanche of sexual predatory behavior burying its favorite icons.  When hypocrisy is illuminated, the light can be blinding.

Short of actual rape the behavior can range from threats and intimidation to jokes in bad taste. Are we to judge the behavior of a grown man last week equal to the same man in his youth thirty years ago?

Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher originated on Comedy Central and was a much different show before it went to HBO.  He would have voices from both sides of the political spectrum with much less of the political bias that currently infects the show.

On one episode the quartet was discussing a recent article about an Air Force bomber commander having an affair with a woman on his crew. When discovered the woman was reassigned. Debate started on why she was transferred instead of the predator.  In the same news cycle Republican Henry Hyde had been outed for an affair he had thirty years ago. The question raised was whether Henry Hyde should be held to the same standard for an act three decades old.

Defending Henry Hyde was evangelical preacher Jerry Falwell ( a frequent guest on the show).  His whole ministry, he explained, was based on the notion that a sinner could repent and move on.  If we were to forever hold everyone accountable for every sin, the act of redemption would become futile.

I was struck by the unexpected twist that the liberal on the panel (I forget who it was) was intolerant of the sexual indiscretion and the arch conservative evangelical Jerry Falwell was the forgiving one.

I do not condone sexual harassment, but I also do not condone criminalizing every youthful indiscretion at the apex of a career.

Democrats lost all moral authority on the issue when they demonized the women who accused Bill Clinton. It is one thing to voice support for Bill on his policies and still condemn his personal behavior.  It is quite another to describe his victims as the result of “dragging a $100 bill through a trailer park”.

When Time magazine White House correspondent Nina Burleigh declared   “I’d be happy to give him [oral sex] just to thank him for keeping abortion legal,” what kind of message did she and her magazine think she was sending to young women? ‘As women, we owe powerful men our gratitude as submission.’

The left is reaping what they sowed. The insanity of political correctness, like all insanity, is hard to contain.

Neutered Tax Cuts

The drive for tax cuts obscures the greater benefit of tax reform and simplification.  Taxes, however, are only a single component of friction costs. If the purpose of tax reform or tax cuts is to stimulate investment and productive activity then it can not be isolated from other friction costs. If taxes are cut but regulations are increased then the expected benefits are muted. Taxes and regulations are only two of the friction costs. The real cost of capital which is dependent on Fed policy and debt is also critical.  Trade policy  can open and close markets for raw materials and finished products. A  litigious culture plagues some industries more than others.

The dynamics of the tax cuts also matters: What taxes are cut? By how much?

One friction cost that is commonly overlooked is uncertainty.  Uncertainty is different from risk.  When the rules are known the investor can make rational decisions about risk. When the dealer can randomly change the value of an  ace, the black jack table will become vacant.

Kevin Williamson addresses the very real cost of this uncertainty in Regime Change in National Review:

One of the basic problems here — perhaps unexpectedly — is the national debt and the deficits that contribute to it. The debt presents straightforward problems: Keep running up the debt and eventually debt-service payments become so crushing that the federal government has no money left for anything else. But there are other problems related to the national debt, problems rooted in earlier efforts to reduce the deficit. Because of the way our budget rules now work, tax cuts passed by Congress frequently are temporary. They have sunset provisions, and have to be renewed. Hence all that endless talk a few years ago about “renewing the Bush tax cuts,” which eventually became the Obama tax cuts. The Byrd Rule, which is part of the 1974 Budget Control Act, allows senators to block bills being passed through the reconciliation process if those bills would add to the deficit over a ten-year budgetary horizon. Hence, lots of tax cuts expire in ten years. It doesn’t do any good, really — it’s just a way to keep statutory spending controls from doing their jobs.

There is not going to be any certainty on the big domestic-policy items — taxes, health care, the entitlements, and much else — until there is a reasonable, sober, sustainable settlement on our national fiscal challenge. So long as the charade of ten-year sunsets and CBO-satisfying accounting shenanigans rule the day, there is not going to be any predictability — and that is going to impose real costs on economic growth, employment, wages, and future prosperity.


Understanding Progressives

In The World is Never Finished Kevin Williamson addresses the fear of AI on employment .

But if we are going to look backward, let’s look back even farther. The belief that the remorseless efficiency of capitalist production will lead to mass unemployment and consign ordinary workers to lives of misery is older than the word “capitalism” itself. It is an ancient theme in science fiction and loomed large in the mind of Karl Marx. As Star Trek fans and etymology nerds know, the word “sabotage” comes from the French word “sabot,” a kind of simple wooden shoe that workers used to destroy machinery used to automate their work. The end of work has been upon us for a very long time, but it never quite gets here.

In the real world, the balance of power between the world of politics (which is to say, the world of compulsion) and the world of the market (which is to say, the world of cooperation) has shifted dramatically.

In that article he links to an old article of his from 2012 Risk, Relativism, and Resources.

This is a gem I have not seen before. It is a bit long -12 pages-  for him but it is an important article pointing out three things Conservatives need to understand about progressives:

  1. They are more risk averse- this is more defining that race and identity
  2. Inequality matters more than conservatives wish to admit.
  3. Progressive view people as liabilities, conservatives see them as assets.

Where Democratic-leaning Americans go wrong is that they miscalculate the welfare state’s value as a tool of risk mitigation. Americans support the relatively low returns on Social Security for the same reason that Britons and Canadians broadly support their relatively low-quality government health-care systems: because of the mistaken belief that these programs will always be there for them. Better a low-return retirement “investment” in Social Security than no retirement income at all, that line of thinking holds, or one that is subject to the inherent risks of the market. Similarly, many Americans understand that a government-run health-care system will be less innovative than a market-driven one, that it will be inefficient, and that quality will suffer — and they prefer it still, on grounds that access to health care will be guaranteed.

The article is worth the read.