Sunday, 16 March 2008


This New York Times op-ed column by Harvard economist Greg Mankiw proves the adage that economists know the cost of everything and the value of nothing. Perhaps I can explain it to the good professor. First, there are both winners and losers in free trade. Moving from a state in which there is no free trade (i.e., in which there are restrictions on trade) to a state in which there is free trade is not, in other words, a Pareto-superior move. Second, even if the winners win more than the losers lose (i.e., even if the movement to free trade is Kaldor-Hicks efficient), unless the winners are required to compensate the losers, which they are not, there are still losers—many of them blue-collar workers. Third, there is more at stake in the debate about free trade than material welfare. Free trade affects communities, families, and our culture. Why is there no mention of these things in Mankiw’s column?

Addendum: The following paragraph blows my mind:

Economists are, overwhelmingly, free traders. A 2006 poll of Ph.D. members of the American Economic Association found that 87.5 percent agreed that “the U.S. should eliminate remaining tariffs and other barriers to trade.”

“Should”? Given what ends? Economics is a social science, not a normative ethical theory such as utilitarianism. The most an economist can do, while acting as an economist, is to describe the costs of this or that action, law, or policy, leaving it to the actor, legislator, or policymaker to decide whether the costs are worth bearing. Economists are trained to evaluate means to given ends; they are not trained to evaluate ends. Economists can tell policymakers that if X is done, Y will occur; they cannot tell policymakers to do X. Economists present policymakers with various bundles of goods and bads and say, “Pick one”; they do not tell policymakers which bundle to pick.


The good news, from where I sit, is that either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama will lose the Democrat nomination. The bad news is that, barring a miracle, one of them will win. Suppose Clinton wins. How many of Obama’s supporters, many of whom are young and inexperienced, will be able to set aside their disappointment and support Clinton? They will think she stole the nomination the way George W. Bush “stole” the 2000 presidential election. Blacks in particular will be outraged, perhaps to the point of staying home on election day. Suppose Obama wins. Will Clinton and her supporters sabotage his campaign against John McCain, in the hope that he loses? That would give Clinton another shot at the presidency in four years. Given these scenarios, it’s almost essential for the Democrat nominee to choose the other as his or her running mate. By the way, we keep hearing about the black vote and the women’s vote. What about the white-male vote? Last time I checked, there were quite a few white males running around (118,797,402, to be exact—although that includes children).


It took almost 51 years, but now I’ve seen it all.


You were bad today, and you know it. But I’m going to forgive you and allow you to listen to some good music:

1. “Smooth Operator,” by Sade.

2. “Fairy Tales,” by Anita Baker (the sexiest woman alive).

3. “Cruising for Bruising,” by Basia.

4. “Get Here,” by Oleta Adams.

5. “Piano in the Dark,” by Brenda Russell.

Don’t let it happen again.


From Jim Reeves’s column in today’s Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

Quick quiz

Name the only player in the history of football with these five achievements: a national college championship, a Heisman Trophy, a spot in the Collegiate Football Hall of Fame, a Super Bowl championship and enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

No cheating.


Has anyone purchased a ShamWow? If so, give us a report.

Addendum: Did you watch the video? I love the line, “You followin’ me, camera guy?” What’s your favorite commercial advertisement of all time, and why?

From the Mailbag

Hey Keith:

I have been paying 3.60 a gallon or more for supreme for more than a year I think. It is because the NY Yankees have taken control of the world oil market and are exploiting the downtrodden, like those who live in Texas, which used to have a lot of oil which it wasted.


Note from KBJ: Another reason to hate the Yankees!


Is there a more exciting event than the NCAA basketball tournament? The teams were just announced. My beloved University of Arizona Wildcats made the tournament for the 24th consecutive year, despite a mediocre record (19-14, 8-10). (That’s the longest current streak in the nation and the second-longest in NCAA history, behind North Carolina’s 27.) The University of Texas at Arlington Mavericks (21-11, 7-9) also made the tournament—for the first time ever. I participate in two pools: in one of which the teams are randomly selected and in the other of which the teams are chosen by participants. If you want to match wits with me, choose one of the four #1 seeds, one of the four #2 seeds, and so on. I’ll do the same. You get one point for a victory in the first round, two for a victory in the second round, and so on. Whoever has the most points at the end of the tournament has bragging rights for the next year.

Addendum: Georgetown falls to Gonzaga in the second round. Mark it down.


Mark Spahn sent a link
To this incredible site;
For which I say, “Thanks!”

Addendum: Here is my favorite.

A Year Ago


From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Prison Nation” (editorial, March 10):

The United States prison population is out of control. Minimalist efforts such as alternatives to incarceration and parole reform may be politically palatable, but they will have no significant effect.

The real magnitude of this issue can best be grasped through comparison with incarceration rates in Western Europe. The United States incarceration rate is five times that of Britain or Spain. If we reduced our prison population in half, then in half again, and finally in half again, we would have fewer than 300,000 men, women and children in our prisons and jails, rather than 2.3 million, yet our incarceration rate would still be greater than that of Germany and France.

The only way to meaningfully reduce our prison population is to decriminalize drug use and provide drug substitution and treatment to those in need. A national program of harm reduction is the only way to reverse what you have aptly described as a “Prison Nation.”

Robert L. Cohen
New York, March 11, 2008
The writer, a former medical director of the Montefiore Rikers Island Health Services, was appointed by the federal courts in Michigan, Connecticut and New York to monitor the medical care of prisoners.

Note from KBJ: The editorial board of the Times writes:

Criminal behavior partly explains the size of the prison population, but incarceration rates have continued to rise while crime rates have fallen.

What the board should have said is this:

Crime rates have fallen because incarceration rates have continued to rise.

It’s called incapacitation. It shows that the criminal-justice system is working.

Peter Geach on Lying

[T]here is a logical asymmetry between good and bad acts: an act is good only if everything about it is good, but may be bad if anything about it is bad; so it might be risky to say we knew an act to be good sans phrase, rather than to have some good features. But there is no such risk in saying that we know certain kinds of act to be bad. Lying, for example, is bad, and we all know this; giving a man the lie is a deadly insult the world over.

If a philosopher says he doubts whether there is anything objectionable in the practice of lying, he is not to be heard. Perhaps he is not sincere in what he says; perhaps his understanding is debauched by wickedness; perhaps, as often happens to philosophers, he has been deluded by a fallacious argument into denying what he really knows to be the case. Anyhow, it does not lie in his mouth to say that here I am abandoning argument for abuse; there is something logically incongruous, to use Newman‘s phrase, if we take the word of a Professor of Lying that he does not lie. Let me emphasize that I am not saying a sane and honest man must think one should never lie; but I say that, even if he thinks lying is sometimes a necessary evil, a sane and honest man must think it an evil.

(Peter Geach, “The Moral Law and the Law of God,” chap. 5 in Absolutism and Its Consequentialist Critics, ed. Joram Graf Haber [Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1994], 63-72, at 64-5 [italics in original] [essay first published in 1969])


Yesterday, on the way home from Mineral Wells, I paid $3.399 per gallon for the intermediate grade of gasoline at a Shell station. The bill came to $48.00. That’s the most I’ve ever paid for gasoline, both per gallon and overall. What’re y’all payin’ in your neck of the woods?

Safire on Language