Archive by Author

Why You Shouldn’t Vote

1 Nov

1. Your vote probably won’t make a difference. A reasonable metric about whether vote makes a difference would be if your ballot was the ballot that decided the election. If your vote doesn’t decide the election, then you could have not-voted and the outcome would have been the same. Though highly-unlikely, suppose your vote does decide who wins. Most states have laws which demand a recount if the difference in the number of votes won is too small (this was part of the problem in the Franken-Coleman recount in Minnesota) – so even if your vote “decided” the election, the margin of one vote is not big enough to declare one candidate the winner.

2. You lose the right to complain about politicians and their actions. I think George Carlin says it quite well (language NSFW):

3. There are many more fun or productive things you could do instead. For example: cooking, reading, discussing what it means to be a citizen, exercising, competitive gardening, singing, base-jumping, sleeping, whale hunting, homework, drinking, testing series to see if they converge or diverge, writing, and so much more.


“Changing” Definitions

29 Oct

Suppose we have a finite set A in R. There exists a point x in R such that x is not in A. Suppose we take the union of x and A. Call it B. Then A is still in R and all of the points in A are in B. That is, those points in A were completely unaffected by adding another point to the collection. B is in R. Math didn’t break.

So can anyone tell me why NOM still exists and why they believe that the “new” definition of marriage will harm everyone else? Merriam-Webster already made the drastic change. Get over it.

Basic Game Theory

27 Oct

There are people who look like Muslims wearing Muslim clothing.
They are therefore affiliating themselves more strongly with Islam than America.
Therefore, I fear them if I see them get on a plane.

It seems that Mr. Williams has a difficult time putting himself in the perspective of another person. If I were a Muslim terrorist, I would want to consider a few things:

1. The number of eyes watching any particular plane is greater now than in the pre-9/11 period.
2. The number of people that fear or hate Muslims (or people who look like them) is greater.
3. People profile; and with a higher frequency after terrorist attacks.

If I were a terrorist that was hell-bent on destroying America and freedom by taking a plane hostage, why would I want to draw unnecessary suspicion upon myself until I’m ready to declare my allegiance to the one true god, Allah, blessed be his name? If anything, Mr. Williams should want to be on a plane full of people who are dressed “like Muslims.”

Also, as a side note, observe that by Mr. Williams’ thinking, outward affiliations 1) suggest you put that affiliation before America and 2) that this is a bad thing. I don’t think I need to go through a list of things that would show why this thinking is nonsensical.

Also, I’m paying the people who don’t use my services…

4 Oct

It is often the broadest and most generalized claims that are the most difficult to approach and analyze. Recently, Bill Maher, host of HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher,” decided to voice his opinions about the rich people who are whining over the threat of a 3.6 percentage point tax increase on their incomes. “Greedy assholes,” he calls them; in his mind, anyone making over $250,000 per year and complains about a tax increase should “be publicly vilified by the Obama administration.”

Maher goes on to allege that the American people bailed the wealthy out, that it is those with incomes over $250,000 who are responsible for outsourcing “all the jobs, destroyed the unions, and replaced workers with desperate immigrants and teenagers in China.” There’s a trillion dollar deficit, states Maher, so the rich should have to fill the gap! The wealthy don’t create jobs asserts Maher, “They’re much more likely to save money through mergers and outsourcing and cheap immigrant labor, and pass the unemployment along to you.” (We can ignore the fact that employment is the result of an economic transaction to trade wages for labor. Employment, or the lack of it, cannot be moved, passed on, or swapped out).

Before progressing further into the heart of Maher’s claim, this economic fallacy that the wealthy don’t create jobs must be dealt with – although I really shouldn’t have to explain this (Ch. 23). Take the greediest, most caricatured capitalist billionaire you can imagine. Suppose he saves money (even Maher agrees that this occurs) – the way in which he does it isn’t relevant. What does he do his money? Stuff it into his matteress and pillowcases? If he is a greedy money-grubbing capitalist, then he’ll either invest it or put it into a savings account where it can accrue interest. But the bank isn’t going to just sit on it either. They are going to loan it out to people. Not only that, they’ll try to get the money to people that will pay back the money with interest. The people who take out the loans invest in things – factories, businesses, homes, themselves, etc. But this money must go somewhere. People are needed to work in the factories and businesses; homes need to be built and renovated; those seeking an education need educators. Jobs are created and resources are productively employed. And the capitalist and the banks profit from this. That is, they profit from the jobs they helped to create. Not only do the wealthy create jobs, they have an incentive to make sure that people have jobs and are producing goods and services that people want.

In Maher’s mind, it doesn’t matter whether you are helping others – only that you are making much more money than others. It doesn’t matter if your income is legitimately earned – if you have more than others, then you owe it to them. The flaw in Maher’s argument is that he seems to believe that not-taking is the same as giving. More and more frequently, we are hear politicians and economic prostitutes claim that if the government refrains from taking more money from the people, it’s equivalent to paying them. Perhaps just as disturbing as the misguided notion that not-taxing=gift-giving is that these claimants mention the size of the deficit and are advocates for more government spending. They say “If you reduce taxes, how are you going to pay for that deficit you keep crying about?” Do they forget that reducing taxes isn’t the only way to make the deficit harder to pay back? Increasing spending works just as well. 

The idea that it’s greedy to keep what you’ve earned from an organization that will arrest you if you fail to obey it is as of yet unjustified. I don’t even know that Bill Maher believes that it’s greedy to keep what you’ve justly earned. If Maher really believed what he said, shouldn’t we expect him to give up all of his income to the government? We can just increase the tax rate by 3 percentage points every year until 100 percent of his income goes to our brilliant representatives. A 50 percent increase in the income tax rate is as arbitrary as 3 percent. For Maher to argue that he shouldn’t have to give up all of his income is for him to argue on the price and not the principle.

Masking the Debate

11 Sep

I’m surprised the “debate” over the “mosque” to be built two blocks away from Ground Zero is still raging. I call it a “mosque” because it’s really more aptly described as a Muslim community center (with Christian and Jewish prayer area)s. It’s a “debate” because there is no substantial argument against the “mosque” and people are simply shouting loudly and stupidly. Each of the arguments against the mosque is so flimsy and easily pushed over, that the notion of their being people who would protest it is laughable. Here are the main arguments:

1. It dishonors those who lost their lives on September 11th. What about the (at least 60) Muslims who died in those towers? Do they not deserve to be honored?

2. The “mosque” will support or be funded by terrorist/evil/Iranian organizations. How many actions should should we stop because they might lead to someone somewhere doing something wrong? Besides, if you believe in these guilt by association arguments, there are results which me must accept if we are to be logically consistent.

3. We have enough mosques. A) How do you know? B) Does this mean we can stop the production of any building or business because some decided we have “enough”? No more cars. No more restaurants. No more American flags. We have enough.

4. Building the mosque supports those who want to destroy “Western Civilization”. A) We don’t live in Western Civilization. B) Does change imply destruction? Should we ban anything that might make life different in any way? Perhaps we should ban planes, movies, and anything that creates or is wealth.

5. Ground Zero is sacred. A) What about the atheists, secularists, and humanists that died on 9/11? B) Do Christians really believe that the second most popular religion in the world is completely devoid of sacred teachings? C) Should we try to purify the area if it so sacred?

6. It’s offensive/a “slap in the face”/an insult. This argument deserves special attention. One reason for the special attention is because it’s not an argument. Saying “I’m offended” has no weight in any debate and it never will. If you care about freedom of speech or freedom of religion, then you can’t stop someone for saying something you don’t like or praying to a god you don’t believe in. There is no debate. You don’t get to decide what others are allowed to say or where they are allowed to pray, because the second you do is the second you’ve agreed that any form of a dissenting opinion is justifiably silenced.

If you care about individual rights, if you care about civil rights, if you believe that people should be allowed to worship as they desire so long as they themselves are not hurting someone else, if you believe people should be able to use their resources as they desire, if you believe in any form of questioning authority or challenging conventional wisdom, if you care about freedom, justice, sanctity, or equality, then the only justified position is unrelenting support for the creation of a “mosque” two blocks from Ground Zero. We owe it to the victims of 9/11 and to future generations to defend the freedoms that make living in this country worthwhile.

Protectionism is Always Bitter

2 Sep

CNN further demonstrates how far they’ve fallen with a slew of B-movie puns (no pun intended).

The issue is honey laundering. Chinese honey producers ship their honey to producers in another country who then ship it to the United States, tariff and duty-free. That sentence should be a quick lesson in the law of unintended consequences. Here is more on the nature of honey laundering:

Earlier today, eleven executives and four foreign companies have been indicted by several US federal agencies. It is frequently claimed that the antibiotics in the Chinese honey are deadly to a small percentage of the population. But we are never told how many people might suffer from this allergic reaction. (Should we ban everything that people might die from because of allergies?) It’s also claimed the Chinese are dumping their honey on us. The evidence? There is lots of Chinese honey coming into US markets and at a lower price than domestic honey producers. Lower prices, of course, do not constitute “dumping.” Otherwise, we would need to ban all of competition (indeed, if you follow the logic, it would only be by increasing prices that we make ourselves richer).

The honey producers asking for protection don’t care about public safety. If they did, they would advocate the removal of the tariffs and anti-dumping legislation. It would eliminate the necessity of relabeling by foreign producers; Chinese honey manufacturers would then seek to build a better brand name. It’s difficult to make profits if you produce honey that kills people. Moreover, it is the competitive forces of markets and the entrepreneurship of individuals that we can rely on for better, cleaner, and safer products – not the protection and institutionalization of industries.

Perhaps the worst feature of this is that it illustrates the difference between the market and governments so well. Under the market, I vote with my dollars to say “I don’t support your protectionist, lobbying activities.” They lose profits. Under the political system, the exact people I don’t want to have my money go to the government (because they are losing my customership) to strangle competition. We can tell that political decisions are bad because they have to be forced onto people.

Euphoric Thinking

31 Aug

I’m a little surprised that TED allowed this to be a talk (you should watch it so the post makes sense).

It concerns me that he considers himself a statistician.

Marks rightly challenges the use of GDP per capita as a matter of national well-being. It isn’t a perfect measure. Everyone who has had even the most rudimentary lesson in what the GDP is can say exactly why it’s flawed. Our country’s output is not an accurate measure of it’s happiness. Measuring happiness is tricky and misleading and we should be skeptical of attempts to do so and the policies that result.

His graph of happiness versus ecological footprint rests on shaky assumptions.  Even if we put the Austrian critiques of interutility comparisons aside, I’m not sure Marks’ graph makes rational sense. Can you compare my happiness to the happiness of someone in Costa Rica if I have adifferent type of happiness from him/her? If we want to compare things, we can’t have apples and oranges. As well, he claims that moving further to the right of the graph (which increases our ecological footprint) is bad. How bad is it compared to the alternatives? And if he really thought it was all bad, then why wouldn’t he have shown the final “clumped” distribution even further to the left and higher up? The graph also doesn’t show where these countries are (in terms of happiness) relative to where they used to be.

Comparisons of happiness are difficult precisely because language is imprecise. To the economist, “wealth” is often synonymous with “things that make you happy.” It doesn’t have to be money. Why is it reasonable to assume the sample subjects in happiness measures aren’t using alternative definitions of “happiness” or “love” or “wealth” than is intended by the researchers? People are told their entire lives that money doesn’t matter in the end – are they expressing their own sentiments or sentiments they feel they should express when selecting happiness as being more important?

Collecting and aggregating data is difficult and time-consuming. Marks’ suggests that there aren’t trade-offs in our society for having a “better” environment. The notion is misguided. But worse than that (in this case) is the ignorance of trade-offs in statistics when he himself is a statistician.

I suppose the adage is correct: “there are liars, damned liars, and statisticians.”