Golden Gate Bridge at sunrise
-- Golden Gate Bridge at dawn. By Dennis Callahan.

RANDOM JOTTINGS a weblog by John Weidner

Main Page Archive

Natalie Solent
Dave Trowbridge
Betsy Newmark
Bill Quick
Suman Palit
Moira Breen
Andrea Harris
Richard Bennett
Iain Murray
Joanne Jacobs
Craig Schamp
Dean Esmay
Brothers Judd
Doctor Frank
Rand Simberg
Punning Pundit
Right Wing News
Brian Tiemann
Henry Hanks

Iraqi Democracy graphic

Powered by Blogger Pro™

Index to Krugman posts

Index to World War One posts


Saturday, May 11, 2002

I've been reading about the contortions the New York Times has been going through lately, blackballing Andrew Sullivan, portraying Pym Fortuyn as some sort of Nazi ... and it struck me, they are starting to doubt. They used to have an infuriating smug complacency, they knew they were the Fagship of the Liberal Establishment, and hardly stooped to defend what was obvious truth. Now the worm of doubt has entered their souls, and, as often happens, they are defending their beliefs with unscrupulous fury.

They remind me of the crazed Italian reactionaries in The Charterhouse of Parma, powdering their hair, quashing new ideas, and hating the frivolity and freedom that came in after the French Revolution.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

A good article in the Weekly Standard, A Nation Like Ours by David Gelernter. (He stole my ideas & then expressed them much better than ever I could)

... Jews are powerful and influential in this country. But if no Jew had ever set foot in America, the United States and Israel would tend to understand each other nonetheless--because they are two of a kind.

Both are pick-up nations created out of ideas, with populations drawn from all over the globe; they are self-made nations in a world where most nations had nationhood handed to them on a silver platter. A Frenchman or Japanese is so far removed from nation-building that he no longer has any moral stake in it; the energy and struggle that created France or Japan are none of his business. He washes his hands of them. Americans and Israelis still remember that nations do not create themselves ...

...TODAY it is no accident that America and Israel tend to understand each other--even to empathize with one another--not invariably, but on the whole. To see why, you don't have to be Bishop Tutu or some eminent Frenchman resurrecting tired but ever-popular Nazi theories about the satanically persuasive Jew. There is an easier explanation. The founding settlers of America and of modern Israel were offered victimhood on easy terms, and turned it down cold. They chose to create new nations out of nothing instead ...

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Friday, May 10, 2002

P. Krugman
#9, From the Anti-Krug Cartel

Who says, “that dog won’t hunt” or “you can’t beat that dead horse?” Paul Krugman in his column “Smoking Fat Boys” (05/10/02) is giving both of these old saws a shot. And, there must be a lot at stake. Seeing the likes of Gov. Grey Davis, Senators Boxer and Feinstein, Rep. Waters, and Krugman all handcuffed together trying to justify or reconstruct their various gaffs about the origins and solutions to the 2001 California electricity “crisis” is the kind of comedy that makes politics fun.

A more disparate group of characters could not likely be found–an east coast liberal elitist, a west coast boob and three women monuments to the power of victim-politics. What ties them together is the belief (or hope) that the regulatory mess and one-off circumstances that led to the California crisis can be laid at the feet of some evil perpetrator and that they can escape the blame for their prior policies, analyses and actions. Enter Enron–battered, bloodied and bowed. Internal memos concerning Enron trading strategies were released this week by the FERC and were immediately trumpeted by the New York Times as “smoking guns” in the case to argue, once again, that California electricity consumers were the victims of “big oil with ties to the Bush White House”, etc, etc.

Since we are discussing Krugman, the only real smoking gun in his case is the point he made over a year ago in his column “The Price of Power” 03/25/01 to the effect that the electricity problems in California were systemic in nature and that any price manipulation was a consequence and not a cause. Here’s how he put it:

After an introduction beginning “Welcome to Cartel California”, he goes on to say, “Actually, I shouldn’t have used the word cartel in the opening sentence. The generators did not have to conspire: the logic of the situation made it easy, almost irresistible, for each individual company to manipulate the market. In fact, to believe that the generators didn’t engage in market manipulation, you would have to believe they were either saints or very bad businessmen, because they would have been passing up an obvious opportunity to increase their profits.”

Without quibbling over whether the power suppliers were “manipulating” prices or simply “exploiting” inefficiencies in a flawed regulatory system, Krugman’s assessment is essentially an endorsement of the role of market forces in ferreting out goofy price control environments. And that is exactly what California has. Krugman’s policy recommendations were for more price controls in the form of price caps. The Bush Administration took the view that price caps do not work. They are still arguing over who was right. But that’s it. That’s the end of the story–unless Enron (or any of the others) actually broke the law. In that case, everyone, including the Bush White House, is agreed they should be prosecuted.

But our guess is that the horse is dead, really dead. !

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Rocks various
Rocks for sale at American Soil Products

I took this picture when recently we were at one of our favorite places, American Soil Products, in Berkeley, California -- the place to go for both rocks and soil. It's such a kick, we can happily spend hours there constructing imaginary gardens or hunting through bins for pleasing rocks. There's much more of it than the picture shows, including hills of various soil mixes, with huge loaders scooping soil into dump-trucks. (Word note: The stuff you grow plants in is soil, never dirt.)

The big rocks you see in the picture are mostly out of our price range, though we once bought an 800 pounder. What a time Charlene and I had sliding that baby across the garden! Now and then we have them deliver a few yards of our favorite Rhododendron Mix soil.

Thursday, May 09, 2002

An engineer dies and reports to hell. He is soon dissatisfied with the level of comfort, and starts designing and building improvements. In no time at all, they've got air conditioning and flush toilets and escalators, and the engineer is a very popular guy.

One day God calls Satan up on the telephone and says with a sneer, "So, how's it going down there in hell?"

Satan replies, "Hey, things are going great. We've got air conditioning and flush toilets and escalators, and there's no telling what this engineer is going to come up with next."

God replies, "What??? You've got an engineer? That's a mistake -- he should never have gotten down there; send him up here."

Satan says, "No way. I like having an engineer on the staff, and I'm keeping him."

God says, "Send him back up here or I'll sue."

Satan laughs uproariously and answers, "Yeah, right. And where exactly are you going to get a lawyer?"

Wednesday, May 08, 2002

And soon, thanks to American pressure, Yasser Arafat should be free to resume his bloody career. The deal is simple: He'll pretend not to be a terrorist and we'll pretend to believe him." --Paul Greenberg

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Megan is very good today, dissecting Jane Bryant Quinn's sly push for Hillarycare.

A better choice would be slimming down our immense private health-care bureaucracy and switching to a simpler single-payer system. That’s off the table today. We’re headed the opposite way.
I think that this may be the first time I've ever heard an apparently otherwise reasonable human being argue that the way to slim down bureacracy is to hand a project over to the government. Has anyone ever heard of any situation in which this was the case?

More importantly, Bryant seems to be relying heavily (though she doesn't say so; I'm guessing) on the belief that Europe's lower health care costs will translate directly here. But there's no reason to think that, for several reasons. The first is that we spend more per-capita on drugs here, because we spend more on R&D. Europe is free-riding on our drug innovations by forcing drug makers to either sell the drug close to marginal cost, or have the government break the patent and get no money at all. America's providing a massive subsidy to the rest of the world; if we stop doing R&D, we either don't get new drugs, or the other nations have to pick up the slack. It could be a tragic standoff where no one is willing to do beneficial research because of the fear of theft.

Moreover, American doctors can't be paid as little as they can in Europe, because there are other lucrative alternatives for bright science majors. Europe's moribund pharmaceutical and medical technology industries don't offer nearly as much competition for talent; hence the service can pay doctors less...
I read in the 5/13 Forbes (I guess this is germane enough to stick in here) about a health plan companies can offer that gives employees a stake in keeping down health costs.
...What would happen if consumers had a more direct stake in medical costs? By giving them discretionary accounts for their health care, Miller thought most people would think twice before rushing to the ER to treat a bad cold. They would demand generic drugs over pricier branded ones. Doctors and hospitals, he figured, might be subjected to the same kind of comparison shopping as, say, DVD players. That's how Definity Health in St. Louis Park, Minn. came into being.

The plan works like this: A self-insured company typically gives an employee who is single $1,000 in pretax health care money to spend without restrictions ($1,500 for a childless couple, $2,000 for families). Exceed that amount and you're responsible for a $500 deductible, after which your employer picks up 80% to 100% of the bills. Unspent balances are rolled over for the next year.

Like HMOs, Definity lands discount deals with providers, including Beech Street and Private Healthcare Systems (which have combined networks of 400,000 doctors and 3,500 hospitals). For mail-order drugs it turns to Merck-Medco.

The idea is to give employees enough information to make reasonable choices. At Definity's Web site members can check their account balances, view claim transactions and compare prices. Want a consultation on your blood pressure? You can spend $45 to $61 in the provider network—or $67 to $73 by going outside it. A month's supply of the allergy medicine Allegra costs $33 at the pharmacy, versus $30 via mail order...
The plans seem to work; one employer reports:
... Since January 2001, 85% of the 800 employees who get their health coverage at Ridgeview have signed on with Definity. Chief Executive Robert Stevens has seen radical changes in their choices: 28% ol employees have rolled over their accounts into 2002, and 19% haven't even dipped into their accounts; 60% have used generics, up from 28% in 2001. His people are four times more likely to rely on Definity's nurse phone line to inquire about treatments before going to the doctor than they were under traditional plans. Stevens says Ridgeview saved nearly $500,000 through the first nine months of last year...

Tuesday, May 07, 2002

P. Krugman
Missives of the contra-Krugman junto, #8

Krugman may be a city boy, but in “True Blue Americans” (05/07/02) he shows he can spot hayseeds and expose country bumpkins with the best of them. He begins by pointing out something most of us learned in grade school, that the power of rural America is based on an electoral system that gives two Senators to each State regardless of population. Over time this “raw political clout”, as Krugman puts it, results in a wealth transfer from urban to rural areas, sometimes via an assortment of boondoggles such as the farm bill currently before Congress. In fact, he could have gone much further and mentioned that this peculiar institution, the US Senate, has a long history of mischievous doings including protecting slavery in the 1840s and 50s, delaying civil rights legislation in the 1950s and 60s and is currently embodied in Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia who builds in-state monuments to himself with federal dollars.

On the whole, we agree with Krugman on such issues. The farm bill should be viewed as an outrageous example of corporate welfare and roundly condemned. But when he strays into such areas as interstate subsidies, family values and hypocrisy, we say - not so fast.

First of all, when it comes to using the federal income tax system to “level” incomes, Krugman is a leveler among levelers. Witness his repeated railing against “tax cuts for the rich” in previous columns. But since the blue “Gore” states are richer in aggregate than the red “Bush” states, what’s his problem with the rich sharing with the poor? On most other issues, that’s Krugman’s default position. He cannot object to the use of aggregated state data to make this point since he uses the same approach, e.g., Montana’s divorce rate compared to New Jersey’s and out-of-wedlock births in red states compared to the same in blue states. Moreover, when he disaggregates slightly to make another point, namely, that within red states the cities subsidize rural areas, he runs into the same problem. The cities have average incomes that are higher than out in the boonies, so why not share a little, Mr. K?

Things get even more obscure for this line of reasoning when we consider that most of the country’s rich live in the blue states. Since Krugman definitely wants to tax the hell out of them, the question then becomes, whom should the blue state rich be sharing with on a red state vs. blue state basis. Would he say the blue state hicks in upstate NY and downstate Illinois are more deserving than red state rednecks in Oklahoma and Tennessee?

The answer is that costly entitlement programs that Krugman supports are distributed nationally approximately by need and so the poorer red states tend to get more back in payments than they contribute in taxes. This redistribution effect may be compounded by pork barrel spending projects coming from Washington, but we doubt that pork is the principal factor in the transfers.

Krugman should have stuck to the farm program. We can agree on that much.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Glenn's piece in FOXNews, France or a Frontier is really good. It's about opposition to space travel.

...I think that space critics have thought about it, [space as frontier] though, and I think that’s why they’re so upset. For if you have a certain view of what’s desirable in terms of society and politics, a view that by no coincidence tends to be shared by space critics, then a frontier is your worst enemy ...

... To frontierspeople, self-reliance is important. On a frontier, a shirker isn’t just a figure in the welfare statistics — he or she is someone whose laziness may cause everyone else to starve. As a result, the frontier mindset isn’t very friendly to redistributionist policies, which is bad news for those who want to do the redistributing.

Frontiers also encourage liberty. On a frontier, things change too rapidly, and the reach of the government is too short, for there to be a lot of bureacratic governance. Nor does welfare appeal much to people who are having to work hard to support themselves on a frontier. And the kinds of people who flock to frontiers are no great fans of such things anyway.

Worse yet (from a certain perspective), this attitude tends to spread back into the society as a whole, which is bad news for people who like pervasive regulation and European-style bureaucracy...

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Natalie Solent has been writing about crap jobs (here we might call them crappy jobs), and boy do we need them. They are the first step on the ladder, and if people don't have a first step, they may never start. (Also vital for anyone slipping back down the ladder.) I read somewhere that 1 in 15 Americans got their first job at McDonalds. Are they then condemned to lives as baseborn burger-flippers? Of course not; having held onto one job, any one job, makes them much more employable.

It's important to remember that until about 50 years ago, most jobs didn't require much brainpower. What Peter Drucker calls knowledge work was in short supply. Middle Class white-collar jobs were much less abundant, and therefore fought over. Social critics used to go on endlessly about stuffy middle-class conformity, etc. This was an economic phenomenon, the Middle Class was a narrow ledge that one could easily be bumped off of. Conformity was a way of burrowing into the middle of the group, so someone else was on the edge. (Reason #12 why leftists are unfriendly to the study of history -- you might notice certain other people frantically conforming on narrow ledges ... say, the academic ledge or the newsroom ledge.)

Now we fight over blue-collar jobs, while companies raid each other for anyone who shows signs of cleverness. Working Class is the narrow ledge now, and our big problem is the people who fall off, or never get on.

One thing that mitigates the problem somewhat is that machines are getting brighter, and can be run by dimmer souls. Someone said that those cash registers that do things like scan products and calculate change are making people stupid. But I think that's wrong; what's happening is that less intelligent people are now working the registers.

Natalie also wrote a while back about people who mindlessly follow rigid policies. This is part of the same trend. Bank tellers are becoming more like McDonalds clerks. Memorized procedures allow non-thinkers to do complex jobs. Any thinkers are promoted to manager, and they alone are allowed to use common sense. This can drive you crazy. There was a Blockbuster employee recently who could not rent me the movie I had in my hand, because "the computer says there are no copies in inventory."

When that happens, try to smile and be kind to them. Don't scream. Repeat to yourself: Otherwise unemployable ... Could be on welfare ... Could be spending my tax dollars to buy breakfast at 11AM... Egg McMuffin and beer ...

Monday, May 06, 2002

"... [This] week will mark a key time in the Senate's ongoing war over judicial confirmations. Thursday, May 9 is the one-year anniversary of President Bush's announcement of his first nominees for the federal bench; on that day, the president nominated eleven judges for places on the circuit courts of appeal. Since then, just three have been confirmed -- and two of those were Democrats whom Bush nominated in a conciliatory gesture. Of the eight who have not yet been confirmed, none has had a hearing before the Democratic-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee." --Byron York

Sunday, May 05, 2002

Rand has a long post on spacecraft, that made clear a number of things that were fuzzy to me.

There were two potential development paths for space transportation. One was to take existing aircraft, put rocket engines on them, and gradually expand their performance envelope to the point at which they were capable of routinely flying into space. This was, in fact the evolutionary path that we were on in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
In my youth I built a plastic model kit, a "spacecraft" that was just an X-15 on top of a pair of boosters. I've wondered ever since if that was a real plan, or just a toy companies' fantasy ...
However, in our rush to beat the Soviets to the Moon, we short circuited this path, and in fact, cut it off altogether. Instead, we put men on top of munitions, because they were available, we knew how to build them, and we could do it quickly. As a result, all government-funded launch vehicle development (including Shuttle), has been right down the groove worn originally by Apollo and the early military and NASA unmanned space programs, and we seem to have trouble getting out of it.

The next generation of launch vehicles will arise from the first evolutionary path, which is being picked up again by companies like XCOR, and Pioneer Rocketplane, and some of the X-Prize contenders. NASA and its conventional contractors are institutionally incapable of following such a path--there's far too much bureaucratic inertia, and this bizarre notion of building an unpiloted reusable vehicle is just more evidence of that.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Charlene (to our son William, using her computer): How much longer are you going to be, Bill?
William: Oh, A little bit pretty long.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _