Odds and Ends Vol 19

Odds and EndsAll day today, I’ve been seeing articles that I’d like to comment on but don’t feel like there is enough to say for a full article. And then I thought, “What about another Odds and Ends?!” This is exactly the situation that I originally started the series for. Just the same, in this case, it may just be that I’m tired. I stayed up very late last night and then didn’t sleep well. You would think it would be because I was drinking, but I was actually working. Oh well.

Peak Uber?

Michael Hiltzik brought my attention to something interesting, Has Uber Already Peaked? There is a new study out by some investment types that looked at what’s going on in New York. Apparently, at this point, Uber drivers are as likely to cannibalize each other as the regular taxicab drivers. It looks like the reason for this is that Uber has saturated the market with its drivers and they quickly find that they don’t make much money. It comes as no surprise that this “new economy” job — despite the fact that all the upfront costs fall on the worker — only pays about minimum wage.

Mathematical Genius

John Nash was one of the greatest mathematicians of the 20th century — a century that had some great minds. You know, he’s the guy in A Beautiful Mind. He is known primarily for his work in game theory, and as such, he’s had a great influence beyond mathematics — most especially economics. He died earlier this year at the age of 86. He was also mad as a hatter.

In 1948, Nash apparently asked physicist Richard Duffin to write him a letter of recommendation for graduate school. The letter is wonderfully on point:

Richard Duffin Recommendation Letter for John Nash

Trump Got Boring

Matt Yglesias got it exactly right in an article last week, Donald Trump Used to Be the Most Interesting Person in Politics, but His Tax Plan Made Him Boring. As I said many times around here, Trump’s actual policies were better than any of the other Republicans running for president. His rhetoric was bad on certain issues, but his policies were no worse than the others. And on economics, he was talking like an actual populist. But then he brought out his tax plan and it was not qualitatively different from Jeb Bush’s — it was just worse. And you have to wonder: if this is what a self-funding Republican is for, it must be that the party is not dysfunctional because of its dependence on courting billionaires. They just really believe all their supply side claptrap.

Airbnb Thinks You Should Trust It

I’ll end with another Michael Hiltzik article, No surprise: That Airbnb Study of Rentals in LA Isn’t What It Seems. Airbnb put out a study claiming that its influence did not incentivize the transfer of long-term rentals into short-term rentals. But the company implied that it had analyzed data with a UCLA professor, when all that he had done was go over their procedures — he’s never seen the data and does not vouch for it. Of course, no one has seen the data. Airbnb won’t make it available — even to government regulators. So should we trust them? The business community does not have a good record of putting out objective research that just happens to prove that the best thing is for them to do exactly what they want to do.

That’s all for now folks. Have a good evening and I’ll check in with you in the morning.

Paul Bibeau’s Thorough GOP Vetting Process

Paul BibeauEveryone needs a chance to meet the voting public. I think that’s crucial. Whether it’s a town hall-style debate where audience members pose questions, a series of formal head to head match-ups among the top contenders, or an iron cage, no-rules bloodbath where the losers are dispatched without mercy… we all want to feel these people went through a real vetting process on the way to the White House.

I’m not saying they have to fight to the death with lead pipes. It’s a long process, and we have to be flexible. Maybe they could struggle to outlast each other while being hunted by wild animals in some kind of arena. The point is, we need to find out if these GOP candidates are right for America. There are a number of ways to accomplish this.

Perhaps a shark tank? I wouldn’t mind a shark tank at all. I’m just brainstorming here.

With so many political outsiders, I am concerned we’re not really testing these people to see how they’d govern. Carly Fiorina is a business leader, but how would she build a legislative coalition to get her policies through Congress? Ben Carson is a brilliant doctor, but what kind of science and technological policies can we expect from a creationist? And Donald Trump is a successful developer, but if he were hooded and chained up in a box slowly filling with water, would he be able to free himself in time? I need to know these things. And I don’t think I’m the only one.

Paul Bibeau
For The Third GOP Debate, Will The Candidates Go At Each Other With Lead Pipes?

Libertarianism Is Based Only on Property Rights

Matt BruenigI’ve long been a fan of Matt Bruenig’s battles with the “serious” libertarians. What he shows is what I know from experience: libertarians don’t think very deeply. It is a political ideology that appeals to people on a superficial level, because it has a certain mathematical simplicity to it. The arguments you most hear are that no one has a right to bother you if you aren’t infringing on their rights. Thus, libertarians tend to be in favor of the very governmental functions that are most often used by governments to oppress their people: the military and police.

The philosophical basis of libertarianism is the non-aggression principle: the idea that one cannot initiate force against another. But what does it mean to initiate force? This is where libertarians get into so much trouble. They believe in private property. Thus, if you think you own a piece of land and I step on it, you think that I am initiating force. But if I don’t accept the idea of private property, then I think you are initiating force. So the non-aggression principle is begging the question. The real issue is whether there should be private property or not. But libertarians pretty much never even mention that question — they take it as given.

So all libertarianism is left with is a particularly belligerent approach to property rights — one where a person can initiate all the aggression they like as long as they (or more likely, their ancestors) staked a claim before anyone else got there. To me, there is a real sense in libertarian thought that it works backwards from the result it is looking for. Proponents want absolute rights to their property, and so they work back to the non-aggression principle. But actually what they do is a lot of intellectual busy work that goes nowhere: I must have absolute rights to my property because I must have absolute rights to my property.

Unless we are going to get into Inequality: the Monopoly Analogy, all people born should receive an equal share of the earth’s resources. Obviously, that would be pretty hard to do as a practical matter. So as a result, we as a society, have come up with other mechanisms to facilitate this — at least to a small extent. These include things like safety net programs, public education, and so on. Is that really so hard to understand? Apparently it is to libertarians. To them, it is absolutely right and fitting that Donald Trump and someone else born to poor parents on 14 June 1946 get absolutely divergent resources because of the accidents of their births.

Say what you will about aristocrats, at least they had a theory for why one’s lot in life was totally random. Libertarians offer no excuse for why Trump deserved to inherit his fortune other than that history itself is a kind of God that must be worshiped. That is ultimately what the non-aggression principle means in practice: no one is to do violence to the way things are. And I fully acknowledge that in such a world, there are some born with great dis-fortune who will do well, and vise versa. But libertarianism stacks the deck heavily — providing the opposite of equality of opportunity.

Bankruptcy Laws and the Corporate Takeover of the American Government

Robert ReichDuring my lifetime, I’ve seen the laws change to make personal bankruptcy get harder and harder. At the same time, corporate bankruptcy has gotten easier. It’s kind of like how the banks were bailed out in 2008, but not the homeowners. The banks just had to sign a two page document to get billions of dollars in low interest loans. There was a program to help homeowners, of course; but it was incredibly difficult to qualify for. Most people didn’t. And those who did spent years doing it.

That’s the thing. As far as the government is concerned, there are the right kind of people and the wrong kind of people. The right kind of people are the rich and they are lavished with money because they always land on their feet. Of course, it’s a bizarre kind of self-fulfilling prophecy where the government “knows” the rich are good for any help they get because the government makes sure that they get help whenever they get in trouble. Meanwhile, if you are poor, you’re screwed. I once thought about applying for food stamps in the relatively liberal state of California, and I was handed a packed of about 50 pages of forms to fill out. If I had done it, I would have received about $20 per week in food.

Robert Reich wrote a very interesting article the other day, Donald Trump Proves What’s Wrong with Bankruptcy Laws in America. And he provided a way of looking at corporate bankruptcy and the economy at large that I had never thought about:

People with lots of money can easily avoid the consequences of bad bets and big losses by cashing out at the first sign of trouble. Bankruptcy laws protect them. But workers who move to a place like Atlantic City for a job, invest in a home there, and build their skills have no such protection. Jobs vanish, skills are suddenly irrelevant, and home values plummet. They’re stuck with the mess.

Think about about. When an individual goes bankrupt, it doesn’t affect the rest of the economy that much. Yes, some creditors end up with less money. But no individual is going to make or break a credit card company. But when corporations are allowed to go bankrupt, they can destroy the lives of thousands of works — sometimes far more. Yet our government has decided that the far more destabilizing kind of bankruptcy is the one that should be encouraged. Obviously, such policies have little to do with what is best for the nation as a whole.

Most of Reich’s article is about how the finance industry has warped the law for its own gain and against the people of the nation. Long ago, there was this idea that what’s good for General Motors is good for America. That certainly wasn’t true — even when it provided really good union jobs for tens of thousands of workers. But now we operate as though what is good for Goldman Sachs is good for America. And that’s simply a bizarre notion.

Morning Music: Leo Kottke

6- and 12-String Guitar - Leo KottkeI was going to get back onto my history of classical music, but it’s kind of time consuming and I’m working a lot right now. Also, I was listening to Pandora the other day and a song came on that blew me away. The guitar playing was unbelievably great. So I rushed back to the computer and saw that it was Leo Kottke. That didn’t surprise me. But it had been a while since I had listened to him. It’s easy to forget just how awesome he is.

So let’s start with a track from his first album 6- and 12-String Guitar, “Busted Bicycle.” This is from a recent concert, shot on a phone. But the sound is okay and the video doesn’t annoy me. What it shows is how much you can do with an open tuning. But if it weren’t for his amazing right-hand picking, it just wouldn’t work. That’s not to say that his left hand isn’t great. He makes it look easy. But then, he always does.

Anniversary Post: SpaceShipOne

SpaceShipOneOn this day in 2004, SpaceShipOne took its last, fastest, and highest flight into space. It was the first commercial aircraft to fly in space. It was designed by Burt Rutan for his company Scaled Composites. He’s an amazing guy. But the truth is that I only really know about him because I used to work for a real estate company that did most of its investing in the California desert where the company is located.

I’ve long wondered why it is that Elon Musk is such a big name in the world of high tech but Rutan isn’t. And then I realized: Musk is a billionaire. It’s not about tech. I never thought much of Musk. Other than a couple of successful — but hardly innovating — companies, what has the world gotten from him: talk. But this is America and “when you’re rich, they think you really know!” It’s a shame. And a sham.

But Rutan is the real deal. And he doubtless has a better life. He’s been able to do what he loves. Musk shows all the signs of needing the accolades he receives. He’s another Steve Jobs. And those who read me often will know that I don’t mean that as a compliment.

Update 4 October 2015 7:13 pm

David Nichols mentioned in the comments that “A Satisfied Mind” would would be appropriate here. I quite agree. But we’ll go with Porter Wagoner’s popular version instead of Cash’s: