Las Vegas, again

My family is going to continue our recent tradition of heading to Vegas for a week to celebrate my birthday (on the 21st) and Isaac Newton’s (on the 25th). We’re flying out tomorrow.

I wish you all a great holiday season.

I’m Spartacus

I’m not rich enough, and I lack the level of professional ambition, to be in the “1%” but I stand with the 1% against the bullies of the 99%.

I’m not religious, but I’ve always said that I’m jewish if there are anti-semites around.

I stand with any intended victims against any mob that makes unwarranted claims, by virtue of their numbers or physical power or ability to muster political influence, against an identifiable group of scapegoats, or just against the rest of us.

If scenes like this make you want to join the crowd, then we’re very different.

I am the 1%.

The 1%

Most of the 1% (people in the 99th percentile of wealth) got there because they contributed much, much, more than average (their fair share, it seems to me) to the well-being of the entire population (as measured by the willingness of other people to trade wealth for the products of their labor). Some, small number, of them got there because others who contributed much more than their fair share wanted their wealth to go to these people. Some, very very few, are scumbags who got there because they manipulate government power to enrich themselves; And they will continue to do that, regardless of the tax code, so long as governments have power over vast resources and people respond to incentives.

If you think that they should pay more in taxes because (as Willie Sutton apparently never said) “That’s where the money is.” Then, be honest (at least in that respect) and say so.

If you think so because you are so offended by wealth inequality that you’d prefer that we were all more equal and less successful, then say that (you jerk!).

But all of this blather about the rich not paying their fair share is just annoying nonsense.

Occupying Incoherence

I haven’t been following the Occupy Wall Street protests very closely. The little that I’ve seen and read makes me think of it as a bunch of people who recognize some problems with crony corporatism, cannot stand wealth inequality, and have no ideas about where wealth comes from or how to address the problems. Mostly, they seem to like the idea of protesting, and making richer people suffer for poorer people. They want wealth separated from politics, and the political system to pay for all of their wants.

I think George Will captured my sense of the main problem best in this article.

Still, OWS’s defenders correctly say it represents progressivism’s spirit and intellect. Because it embraces spontaneity and deplores elitism, it eschews deliberation and leadership. Hence its agenda, beyond eliminating one of the seven deadly sins (avarice), is opaque. Its meta-theory is, however, clear: Washington is grotesquely corrupt and insufficiently powerful.

They’re abusing their power. It’s attracting lots of resources to try to control it…so let’s give them more power over more wealth.

Brilliant.

Scale

I was going to title this post “Big Numbers Make People Stupid,” but I thought this one was kinder.

Most of us do pretty well with thinking about a few orders of magnitude. We can contemplate 10s, 100s, 1,000s of things pretty naturally, and with effort can understand how these relate to millions (some of us have retirement goals of millions of dollars, and think about what it would actually take to accumulate that amount over time).

But, when we start dealing with numbers that are much larger (or smaller) than those we personally deal with regularly we don’t do nearly as well (without sustained effort), and I think this leads us to many errors.

For example, people are notoriously bad at judging relative risks, and expected costs and benefits; especially when they involve things with very high impacts and very low probabilities. This causes us to be vulnerable to arguments for bad policies with respect to things like responses to terror attacks, climate change, technological innovations, etc.

Another instance of this, I think, is that the large size of government budgets makes it difficult for us to reason well about what prudent and moral governmental policies entail. There is so much money in these budgets, that many are likely to view all of their favored policies as affordable, and any shortfalls as easily handled by cutting some of their disfavored expenses and adjusting revenue policies in ways that make groups that they disfavor pay more.

All of these can be believed without doing the actual math because it’s just such a gigantic pile of money (mostly taken from other people) that we have trouble taking the idea that we can’t afford all of the programs that appeal to us seriously.

So, we have many people who resent, for example, the money that the US government spends on foreign aid (“When we should be focusing on problems here at home”), but favor large entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare, thinking that cutting the former will solve the problems of the latter (even though we’re talking about billions for the former and trillions for the latter). Likewise for those who think that the “rich” aren’t paying their “fair share” of taxes, and that correcting that injustice will bridge the fiscal gap.

Stupid.

(Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

Alpocalypse

I took my family to see “Weird Al” Yankovic in concert last night, and we really enjoyed it. It’s nice to see that, at 51, he still has a lot of energy and can put on an amazing and hilarious performance.

Most of the songs were from his recent Alpocalypse album, but he did many older favorites as well. Here’s the setlist.

Of the new songs that he performed I really like TMZ (here’s the official video):

Skipper Dan:

CNR:

and his Jim Morrison style parody, “Craigslist” (here’s a concert video
that’s similar to what I saw):

And my wife really likes his Party in the CIA song:

And, of course there’s his Lady Gaga parody, Perform This Way:

If you get a chance, go see the concert.

Give Ron Paul Some Love

So, Ron Paul basically won the Iowa Straw Poll (virtually tying with Michele Bachmann), and most of the media ignored him completely. Kudos to Jon Stewart for calling them out with this great bit.

Ironically, now Ron Paul is getting press about how he wasn’t getting any press. I guess that’s better than nothing.

Nick Gillespie at Reason.com wrote a nice summary post that included a good video segment with Mike Riggs discussing the issue.

I don’t think there’s a huge conspiracy. I just think that the Republican party leadership definitely doesn’t want him to get the nomination, and they’re the ones that the media are listening to when deciding how to cover the candidates and who to expect to have a real chance. Most of the media don’t really understand a candidate who challenges the big government status quo and proposes eliminating programs they’re used to, rather than adding new ones.

But, Ron Paul has been a strong advocate of individual liberty and limited government for his entire career. He’s been a voice in the wilderness, consistently taking principled stands. I don’t agree with all of his positions (like immigration restrictions, and opposition to trade agreements because they’re imperfect) but his ideas have been gaining in popularity and command the attention (and lip-service, at least) of many of the other candidates.

Whether or not he ends up being the candidate, he’s helped to bring important ideas to the center of public debate, and he deserves our respect.

Enjoy his campaign video: