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The New Robber Barons



Now from San Francisco to Washington and Brussels, the tech oligarchs are something less attractive: a fearsome threat whose ambitions to control our future politics, media, and commerce seem without limits. Amazon, Google, Facebook, Netflix, and Uber may be improving our lives in many ways, but they also are disrupting old industries—and the lives of the many thousands of people employed by them. And as the tech boom has expanded, these individuals and companies have gathered economic resources to match their ambitions.

And as their fortunes have ballooned, so has their hubris. They see themselves as somehow better than the scum of Wall Street or the trolls in Houston or Detroit. It’s their intelligence, not just their money, that makes them the proper global rulers. In their contempt for the less cognitively gifted, they are waging what The Atlantic recently called “a war on stupid people.”

I had friends of mine who attended MIT back in the 1970s  tell me they used to call themselves “tools,” which told us us something about how they regarded themselves and were regarded. Technologists were clearly bright people whom others used to solve problems or make money. Divorced from any mystical value, their technical innovations, in the words of the French sociologist Marcel Mauss, constituted “a traditional action made effective.” Their skills could be applied to agriculture, metallurgy, commerce, and energy.

In recent years, like Skynet in the Terminator, the tools have achieved consciousness, imbuing themselves with something of a society-altering mission.


Joel confuses two issues but both are worth highlighting.

The first point is the political power that these new Robber Barons have acquired and use.  Like the Robber Barons of a century ago they acquired political power through the rapid accumulation of massive wealth.  I would add that they acquired this wealth at a very early age which gives them powered untempered by either wisdom or humility.

Unlike the Barons from the previous era they have acquired control of vast networks of individuals (Google, Facebook) with the ability to influence in ways that traditional media and political power brokers could not.  As more and more people get their information from these social networks and each other this has become a unique power that we are only now coming to grips with. In one way they challenge the old media monopolies; and in another way they create new powers to influence.

The second point Kotkin makes is that their new enterprises contribute far less to the increase in overall economic productivity than prior industrial titans did. This reinforces arguments from the left that economic activity and increases in production suffers from structural changes and not the effects of regulatory and political policy that increases friction costs and stifles innovation.  But should we blame the lack in increase in growth and productivity on one sector on the success of another sector?

The problems created by monetary and policy management failures are not the fault of the success of Google and Facebook. To reach this conclusion is to accept zero sum thinking. Perhaps the gains in productivity have simply not YET to be actualized. And perhaps the renewal of growth in the traditional sectors combined with the new technologies of the new sector will stimulate a growth that will dazzle us.

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Best Rebel Yid 2016 – First Six Months


These are some of the best articles that stood out to me so far this year- and a few of mine .

America Doesn’t Have a Gun Problem; It Has a Democrat Problem from Sultan Knish

Chicago’s murder rate of 15.09 per 100,000 people looks nothing like the American 4.2 rate, but it does look like the murder rates in failed countries like Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe. To achieve Chicago’s murder rate, African countries usually have to experience a bloody genocidal civil war.

But Chicago isn’t even all that unique. Or the worst case scenario. That would be St. Louis with 50 murders for 100,000 people. If St Louis were a country, it would have the 4th highest murder rate in the world, beating out Jamaica, El Salvador and Rwanda.

Obama won St. Louis 82 to 16 percent.

 People Aren’t Widgets by Kevin Williamson

 But every expensively miseducated jackass who thinks he should be president of these United States has an opinion about what a bottle of grape soda ought to cost in Des Moines or Dixville Notch. The assumptions in Washington are the same as those in Beijing: that everything is subject to political power, that it all comes down to having the right sort of enlightened rulers with the right sort of enlightened ideas, that everything else — the real world — is detail. But human beings, and their relationships, are not electrical circuits. They are not governed by circuit breakers. Not in reality.

 You Know Less Than You Think About Guns from Brian Doherty at Reason

 More guns do not necessarily mean more homicides. More gun laws do not necessarily mean less gun crime. Finding good science is hard enough; finding good social science on a topic so fraught with politics is nigh impossible. The facts then become even more muddled as the conclusions of those less-than-ironclad academic studies cycle through the press and social media in a massive game of telephone. Despite the confident assertions of the gun controllers and decades of research, we still know astonishingly little about how guns actually function in society and almost nothing at all about whether gun control policies actually work as promised.

 What Trump Doesn’t Understand — It’s a Lot — about Our Trade Deficit with China by Kevin Williamson at National Review

Our trade deficit with China isn’t a product of the Chinese getting rich — it’s a product of their being poor. We will not have more-balanced trade with China until Chinese people have a standard of living that is more like that of Americans. Putting a 45 percent tax on American shoppers and people who build computers in the United States (you know who does that? Lenovo, a Chinese company) or build robotics systems using some imported components isn’t going to change any of that. What’s worse, it will exacerbate one of the real problems that U.S-based firms do face: relatively high business taxes. Remember, much of that Chinese trade deficit comes from electronic equipment and industrial machines used by American companies rather than from cheap plastic waterguns, and Trump wants to put a 45 percent materials-and-equipment tax on top of the 40 percent they pay in corporate income taxes.

 Political Trade Schools

 There is no reason that intellectual values cannot be appreciated by a larger segment of our population.  There is no reason that intellectual values should be limited to a small segment of the academic elite. But to have a true development of academic virtues, higher education should be independent of both commercial and political interests.  The only thing worse than the expense of higher education in its pursuit of intellectual independence would be to make it free.

  The Traditionalist Rebel

 Leftist movements begin with rebellion and end with conformity. No Utopian movement can tolerate rebels for long because there is no room for dissent in paradise. An ideal society, the goal of leftist political movements, not only has no room for war, racism, greed and all the other evils the conformist paradises of the left hope to eliminate, it also has no room for disagreement.

The Progressive Itch to Regulate Free Speech

 Sanders and Clinton detest the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which they say their court nominees will promise to reverse. It held that unions and corporations — especially incorporated advocacy groups, from the National Rifle Association to the Sierra Club — can engage in unregulated spending on political advocacy that is not coordinated with candidates or campaigns. The decision simply recognized that Americans do not forfeit their First Amendment rights when they come together in incorporated entities to magnify their voices by speaking collectively.

If corporations had no rights of personhood, they would have no constitutional protections against, for example, the arbitrary search and seizure by government of their property without just compensation. And there would be no principled reason for denying the right of free speech (the First Amendment does not use the word “person” in guaranteeing it) to for-profit (e.g., the New York Times) or nonprofit (e.g., the NAACP) corporations.

 Please Lie to Us by Mona Charen

 Truth serum: Our problems arise from demanding too much of government. We, the middle class, have asked government to make sure everyone (no matter how credit unworthy) can buy a house. We’ve demanded that government bring down the prices of health care and education — with the result that those two sectors have seen the steepest price increases of any in the American economy. We’ve demanded that corporations pay the highest tax rates in the developed world in the mistaken belief that someone else pays those taxes (when in fact we all pay through higher prices or in the loss of jobs as companies relocate to business-friendlier countries). We’ve demanded that disability payments become the new welfare, and that political connections substitute for merit among businesses. Every time we vote for a candidate who promises to go to Washington to “fight for you” rather than to shrink government, we’re voting for the kind of corruption that we claim to despise. We’re empowering those who excel at manipulating political power for private gain.

 Engineering Better Voters by Kevin Williamson at National Review

 Progressives are a funny bunch in that they do sincerely believe that government should be empowered, almost without limitation, to do the will of the People, who are sovereign, but they imagine that the People speak with one voice, or at least that they should speak with one voice. When the People get froggy and refuse to fall in line behind, say, the Affordable Care Act, which the best experts drew up on behalf of the People, who (so the story goes) gave Barack Obama a mandate to reform health care, then something must be wrong. And we all know what that is: Too much debate and too much political discourse including too many voices, some of which — those of Charles and David Koch, for instance — must be silenced in order for the People to be heard as one voice, the way it was intended. (No, we are not allowed to ask: Intended by Whom?) So we arrive at the strange situation in which the Left desires maximal formal participation in democratic processes but heavy restriction of everything ancillary to those processes, most especially political speech.

  Don Boudreaux comments on Matt Ridley’s The Evolution of Everything In his Quotation of the Day on 7/1/16

 And then in the 18th century a few pioneering scholars (featuring prominently Adam Smith) – and of course building on insights from earlier scholars – stumbled upon (!) what is surely the single most important insight in all of the social sciences, and what is surely among the most important in all of the sciences – namely, that complex, productive, beautiful, and sustainable orders emerge undesigned and unplanned and undirected.  A corollary of this insight is that these orders are practically impossible to improve with conscious intervention.

Our minds do not naturally grasp this reality.  In fact, our minds rebel against this reality.  But that this reality is our world I am completely convinced.  (Do you doubt it about the economy?  Then tell me who designed and directs the order that will feed today the millions of people who live in, work in, and visit New York City.  Tell me who designed and directs the order that produced the shirt you now wear.  We can debate the necessity or not of state-funded research, state-built infrastructure, and state-created and enforced law.  Yet even on the most generous estimation of the importance of such collectively arranged inputs, the complexity of the order that feeds New York City and that clothes you daily is inconceivably greater than anything that the most magnificent and munificent state can have planned or even foreseen.)

The orders that emerge unplanned in society are no more perfect than are the orders that emerge unplanned in non-sentient nature.  Change is therefore incessant and necessary.  Life and existence is a process.  And while appreciation of the creative power of bottom-up, decentralized ordering methods isn’t natural to us, we humans perhaps never display as much genius and intellectual humility as we do when we grasp the reality and logic of spontaneous orders.


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Knee Jerk Gun Control- Part II


America has a gun problem. We can argue if the guns are a symptom of a crime problem, a cultural problem or a terrorist problem; or if they are a cause.  But we can certainly agree that we would like to reduce violent gun deaths. We can likely agree that we would like to avoid the availability of weapons of any kind to get in the hands of terrorists or the psychotically deranged.

But as a matter of policy it is more productive to properly analyze a problem than to respond emotionally or haphazardly to a tragedy such as Orlando.

Gun critics compare the gun deaths in America to other countries such as in Europe where there is no second amendment and most weapons are unavailable to the public.  But we should understand that such a comparison between a large land mass with 50 states with widely diverse cultures and population to a small homogenous population is of limited use.  There is a diverse range of gun control statutes that vary not only among the states but also differ among communities within the states.  Chicago and Washington, DC have locally restrictive gun laws.

It is far more useful to compare statistics of gun violence among the states.  Police use crime stats to target assets to the location of the problem.  We find that gun violence is concentrated in relatively few areas, mostly large urban areas. When these areas are removed the rate of gun violence for the rest of the country drops considerably, even in areas where the incidence of gun ownership is very high.

Gun rights supporters like to point out that Chicago with strict gun control measures has much higher gun violence that other cities with much less regulation. This is largely irrelevant. What we should ask is if the regulations in Chicago has reduced gun crime from the period before the regulations were instituted. If these regulations have failed to reduce gun violence, then perhaps other solutions in law enforcement should be considered. Blaming the access of guns from neighboring states may explain a few instances but it also points to the futility of only relying on the access to weapons in controlling the problem.

We should also distinguish between the classification of gun crimes. The common gun crime perpetuated by a single criminal is the larger source of deaths, and this can be addressed with restricted access and better background checks, since so many in this category have criminal backgrounds.  There are many laws on the books already to enforce this that are unfortunately poorly enforced.

But the psycho shooters and terrorists pose different threats and requires different solutions.   This may entail profiling in ways that challenge civil libertarians, but such a laws could be tried for a limited period like The Patriot Act, requiring reauthorization by Congress.  This will discourage the abuse of the law by the enforcement agencies.

Stronger straw man laws severely penalizing those who buy for others with known risks can decrease access to dangerous felons, but this can be tricky.  Could you buy a gun for someone as a gift who then shoots someone 5 years later and then be held liable?

Expanded background checks, and licensing gun buyers would also help.

But there are two tactics that will not help.  Relying on the second amendment to avert any restriction is not productive. Nor is the demonization of the second amendment as a 250-year-old relic of the constitution.  Beyond the practical aspects of gun ownership there is something profound about a government that can trust its citizens to be armed.  The government has nothing to fear from its armed citizens, because they rise and fall not from armed insurgency but from the sacredness of the ballot box.

While restricting the sale or availability of certain weapons or high capacity clips may seem productive, the existence of so many of these weapons renders this approach ineffective unless you intend to engage in a massive confiscation of these weapons in all 50 states that are overwhelmingly in the hands of law abiding citizens.  I can not picture agencies that are unable to enforce the existing laws being able to carry out such a task, and I can not imagine the population complying.

Those who call for such confiscation only embolden the opposition who sense that every effort to reduce gun access to anybody is only a step on the slippery slope to confiscation.

Pistols are far more common than assault weapons in gun violence and almost equally deadly. Identifying an assault weapon as such is not as obvious as you may think.  Such weapons are used in a very small per cent of gun deaths; banning then and even confiscating them (if you could) would have minimal effect on gun deaths.

We are emotional creatures and responding emotionally to such tragedies is expected, but it is not the way to enact effective solutions.

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Knee Jerk Gun Control


For my liberal friends who do not understand why  anyone needs an assault rifle or why anyone with basic common sense would object to banning them, allow me to try and explain and offer some other solutions that may actually have some effect.

Fully automatic weapons were banned in 1934. An assault weapon has the same fire power as a traditional looking rifle with a wooden stock.  It fires the same size round and at the same speed. The AR-15 style weapon was used in Vietnam because the older wooden stocks were less durable. Banning assault style weapons is just a ban on a gun that looks evil or military. Those of us who actually own one of these guns understand that your concern is misplaced and, sorry to put it bluntly, smacks of ignorance.

On many of these memes you say that no one wants to take away your guns and then proceed to call for the ban on a certain class of guns you clearly do not understand. You add memes that disagree with the actual second amendment or the current interpretation upheld in the Supreme Court that it means an individual right.  You may be right, but these positions do not logically jive with the first statement that you do not want to take away our guns.

So when you keep posting these memes to ban assault weapons those who disagree react with their memes, and they buy more guns and ammo because they sense that there is an effort underway to take away this ‘right’.

When the Brady Bill was passed in 1993, gun sales went through the roof.  People who never owned a gun bought one when they thought the window was closing.  I bought a couple of high capacity pistols for that very reason.  It included a ban on assault weapons.  There was no discernable drop in gun violence as a result of the bill.

There has been a big increase in gun sales under Obama for similar reasons; the rhetoric of the anti-gun crowd. Sales are particularly robust immediately after a shooting because the left floods us with the same old calls, that makes gun owners fear another ban. I do not deny that the NRA leverages that fear, but you play right into their hands.

Banning the sale of these weapons would have little impact because there are so many already out there in private hands. To effectively impact the availability of them you would have to confiscate the millions of them in private hands. Picture what this would entail.  The public would never stand for it. This reality is why the gun owners do not trust those who claim they do not want to take away your guns. They have been lied to before.

You can reduce the clip size, but the same dynamic applies; you would have to confiscate the millions of high capacity clips in private hands.  If you have ever used one of these weapons you would realize how quickly a clip can be changed. The net effect would be minimal.

The posturing on Facebook and social media after yet another tragedy only emboldens gun rights advocates.   You would be better served to understand the weaponry you want to ban and the many regulations and registrations that are already in effect for a gun buyer.  With that understanding and recognition it would be much easier to actually agree on regulations that may actually work.

For example:

Currently there is a three day waiting period in which the authorities can do a background check.  If the ATF or FBI does not respond in 3 days then the sale is assumed kosher and proceeds.  In many thousands of cases the sale is deemed improper after the sale and the ATF is charged with confiscating the recently purchased fire arm. They rarely do.

If the authorities are too poorly staffed to do the background checks as legislated or to confiscate weapons from those that should have been stopped, then imagine how daunting the task is to confiscate banned weaponry from millions of law abiding gun owners.

Perhaps we need to increase the waiting period to allow the authorities to do a proper check.

Secondly increase the penalties for straw man purchases.  Often criminal gun violators do not buy their own weapons because of the checks already in place. Hold those who buy the weapons for them accountable.

Licensing may be acceptable. I have a concealed carry permit, and it requires an extensive background check. but a license may become acceptable for any firearm purchase. This would also overcome the objection of the loophole at gun shows.

Republicans objected to banning those on a no fly list from buying guns. This has been getting its share of play on the social networks. But being put on the no fly list requires no due process and many are not even aware they have been placed on this list. They rightfully asked what other rights can be denied without due process. That constitution is a pesky document.

But this could be solved with a better run background check system to accomplish the same outcome.

Given the attention that the Orlando shooter had already earned from the FBI, it is hard to conceive that he would have been given greater scrutiny with a background check.  Perhaps it is long past the time to surrender to the politically correct and start profiling aggressively.

One popular video has the President answering a question on PBS from a concerned gun owner.  Obama compared the safety features we built into cars and the impact it has had on reducing traffic fatalities.  The critical difference is that nobody is suggesting that we ban cars, or restricting the horsepower that we are allowed to have under the hood. Yet owning a car has little constitutional protection.

The knee jerked reaction from the left just attracts the same from the right. But with some understanding we should be able to dramatically reduce such tragedies. But I fear the hardened hearts that carry out such acts will require us to take actions that many on the left and the right will find objectionable.  But at least we should take actions that will do more than deliver the short term satisfaction that we did something, no matter how ineffective.

Recommended further reading and viewing

Conservative for Gun Control by Kevin Williamson

The massacre in Orlando is horrifying, but the great majority of our murders are nothing like that. They are the ordinary work of ordinary criminals, who in most cases (more than 90 percent in New York City) already are known to police, as indeed was Omar Mateen. These killers and future killers are on the street committing their crimes because our criminal-justice system, with its vast resources, does not do its job. The police, the prosecutors, the jailers, and the parole-and-probation authorities all must answer for the fact that such a large share of our murders are committed by people already well known to law enforcement.

Charles Cooke expresses his frustration on Morning Joe for those who fail to get specific with suggestions on effective gun control measures, and we see agreement on some proposals.

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The Difference Between Florence Alabama and Florence Italy

Jeff Jacoby climate denier

Inequality in American Life is not as easy to measure as you would think and probably even more difficult to make relevant. The common solutions from the left point more to reducing the wealthy than raising the poor, as if the results will be the same.

While there is a point where inequality can affect social stability it is less relevant than economic growth and income mobility. I contend that the current obsession with inequality is a by product of lousy growth and ineffective growth policies

The big flaw in studying inequality is that it measures  groups, not individuals: individuals rise and fall and display more mobility than groups. America more than any other country celebrates the individuals. How it is measured is also critically important. What years you start and end, what is included in income, whether it is measured pre or after tax, whether transfer payments are included, whether it is adjusted for hours worked, and whether it measures individual or household income can greatly affect the measure of inequality. Not surprising many sources chose a measurement that exaggerates it.

Jeff  Jacoby addresses inequality in   Up and down — but mostly up — the income ladder

The 25th great-grandsons of medieval Florentine shoemakers and wool merchants may still be riding high, but things don’t work that way in America. Here, riches-to-rags stories are not uncommon. When Bhashkar Mazumder, an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, examined the earnings of thousands of men born between 1963 and 1968, he discovered that 17 percent of those whose fathers were in the top tenth of the income scale had dropped to the bottom third by the time they were in their late 20s or early 30s. Movement between income groups over the course of a lifetime is the norm for most Americans. The rich often get richer, but plenty of them get poorer, too. Though the top 1 percent makes a popular target, it’s actually a group no one stays in for very long. On the other hand, it’s a group that 11 percent of Americans will reach at some point during their working lives.

Affluence in America is dynamic, and our economic system is biased toward success. But bias isn’t a guarantee. Mobility — up and down — depends to a great degree on the choices that people make for themselves. Individuals who finish high school, marry before having children, don’t engage in criminal activity, and work diligently have a very high likelihood of achieving success. Those who don’t, don’t.

Of course, there are impediments to mobility that are beyond the control of any individual, and that are most likely to hurt those who start out in America’s poorest precincts. Broken public schools, for example. The normalization of single-parent households. Too-easy access to welfare benefits. Counterproductive mandates, like minimum-wage laws and stifling licensing rules. Would that our political demagogues and professional populists put as much effort into dismantling those barriers as they do into demonizing the rich and yapping about inequality.

Yappers notwithstanding, the American Dream is far from dead. This isn’t Florence. No one is locked out of economic success today because of their ancestors’ status long ago. America remains the land of opportunity. Make the most of it.