Wednesday, September 27, 2017

a few thoughts on the latest NCAA cartel scandal

The NCAA is a classic example of a government-supported cartel. Market competition and greed prevent most voluntary cartels from being successful. But with help and enforcement from the government, much more is possible. Govt is famous for regulating monopoly power, but in reality, govt increases monopoly power 10K times more often. #WhoWillBuildTheRoads

The problem with voluntary cartels: the incentives to cheat (by insiders) and to enter (by outsiders). In the case of the NCAA, when you're exploiting athletes (compensating them at far less than market value), cheating is inevitable-- whether universities, shoe companies, boosters, hookers, etc. It'll be fascinating to watch how deep the investigation will go and what they will find. #SportsTakesAnotherKickToTheShorts

I suspect we'll see little gloating from rivals of the teams impacted so far. Most people fear karma. Beyond that, most people expect other shoes to drop-- and it could well be your favorite team. 
This is akin to steroids. In a time when many are doing it, how do you stay clean and be effective? Can you stay clean and win? 
One would expect this to be a much bigger problem in basketball than in football. Fewer, impact players generating big excess revenues for their schools. 
The NCAA and its shenanigans are allowed / propped up by the government. The next time someone tries to tell you that the government and the non-profit sector are less greedy, more benevolent, etc.-- e.g., in health care-- than the for-profit sector, just spell out the letters N C A A. The question/topic is not that easy.

You understand why men's basketball coaches are so well-paid, right? They are the point persons in the competitive labor market for coaches: who's best at scooping the excess revenues from the players?
Will this result in the sacking of the NCAA? Will the government take away its sanction, given its inability or unwillingness to enforce laws, integrity, etc.? Or will the scandal be so widespread that universities will leave the NCAA to avoid its sanctions?

are we still free to be wrong?

Jonah Goldberg discusses an important part of the problem. We live in a time of heightened "tolerance", greater intolerance, feigned tolerance and virtue signaling-- especially among those who loudly claim to be tolerant and who used to defend true tolerance. Not good. It'd be funny if it weren't so hypocritical and damaging.

But it's more than that. Libertarians would say that "you're free to be wrong", as long as you "don't do direct and significant harm to others". Of course, it's still interesting to define "direct and significant"-- and for better/worse, the bar has been lowered there in recent years.

Economists refer to this as "externalities". Your actions have indirect impacts on me. Most of the time, we ignore this. When I don't mow my lawn for a a few extra days, I impose costs on my neighbors, but oh well. When company X pollutes the environment to make us products, that won't stand. In a word, we're more sensitive to externalities than we were.

"Snowflakes" on the Left and the Right are telling us that X, Y and Z result in the dramatic imposition of costs on others. X, Y and Z can be actual or perceived, action or thought, historical monuments or anthem-kneeling, Confederate or U.S. flags, etc.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

making baseball great again?

The Cowboys had more time to prepare and the advantage of seeing how other protest methods would struggle, but their choice seems to be best so far: effective and unified protest without denigrating a symbol that is **sacred** to so many people.

The lack of empathy on both sides is noteworthy. (In recent months, we've seen some on the Right struggle. Here, it's many on the Left in general [the more common problem a la Haidt].) Failing to understand how their protest could be so easily misunderstood. ("Oh, I didn't mean that!") Failing to understand the perceived sanctity of the religious symbol and the necessary/obvious fallout. (If I have a problem with African-Americans, how would it be perceived for me to denigrate MLK Jr. symbolism in some manner?)

Confusion over "free speech" is another problem. You're free to say what you want. (The govt ain't cranking on you, bro!) But private employers may find you personally bothersome (or attractive) based on your speech. And they may certainly find you a production-decreasing distraction to their teams and their teams' fans. (See also: Tebow, Sams, Kap, Rice.)

In any case, all of this will accelerate the NFL's decline, for better/worse. Wealthy professional athletes will not get much sympathy here. (Be careful, NBA!) NFL athletes will get less, given the shenanigans in their league AND their silence or defense of same. And people have substitutes-- in sports and entertainment.

Maybe Trump is trying to make hockey great and make baseball great again?

Monday, September 25, 2017

Stevie Wonder sees it

An excellent Stevie Wonder quote and action-- on the hubbub about the National Anthem-- was the catalyst for this post, but I'll talk about that at the end.

-Broadly, I understand the perceptions (based on various combos of knowledge and ignorance) that motivate the protests.

-Generally, I understand the avid responses to those protests-- everything from questioning the knowledge that motivates the protest to upset at a violation of a tenet/rite of American Civil Religion.

-I can't get excited about either approach. On the one hand, kneeling is a nice enough token, but mostly reduces to a cheap virtue display and egotism. On the other hand, kneeling is so likely to be misunderstood (trashing the country, the military, the police, etc.) Anger, in response, mostly reduces to a lack of empathy and a display of idolatry. All of it, like our culture's passion about the entertainment industry, is straining at gnats while missing the camels.

-It was good to study/discuss I Cor 5:9-13 yesterday as a reminder of the Christian's priorities in such things and a recognition of the sorts of things "the World" will do.

-What prompted this post: At an anti-poverty music festival this weekend, Stevie Wonder "took two knees" and prayed "for our planet, our future, our leaders of the world and our globe." Love the second knee and the content of the prayer; love the doing something significant vs. tokens and egotism; love the anti-poverty vs. anti-inequality trope.

Thanks Stevie! It's cool when a blind guy sees better than a bunch of people.

Friday, September 22, 2017

a few things on DACA

I hadn't look at the details of DACA much. It's just another jacked-up part of a jacked-up system, where the economic aspects are complex, the social aspects are important, and the political aspects require intellect and especially courage (good luck with that!). 

Obama's executive order was obviously not the ideal way to deal with the problem legally. His recent comments made him even more prone to charges of political cynicism on this issue. Trump's move to open the question and give it back to Congress is brilliant, especially given the hand he was dealt.

I had occasion to go through a pile of WSJ issues from early September when the Trump policy chapter of the DACA story was getting underway. All of them puts Obama in a light somewhere between nasty and cynical: their editorial of Sept 6; Karl Rove's op-ed on Sept 7; and McGurn's op-ed on Sept 11. In particular, the 9/6 editorial and McGurn's op-ed have some key observations on Obama's background here:  

-as senator, Obama "helped sabotage" the bipartisan Bush/Kennedy plan
-as president with a majority in both houses, Obama had the votes if he decided to push the issue, despite claims before interest groups that it would be "a top priority"

McGurn's conclusion: "For all his big talk...whenever he's had the opportunity to back one, he's either declined or actively worked to scuttle it."

-later, in June 2012 (presumably to help with his reelection), Obama used an executive order which he had earlier said (repeatedly) was beyond his constitutional powers: "that's not how democracy works"

The editorialists observe that the June 2012 decision would "galvanize his base" and give the GOP a good op to "harm themselves politically" and "that a GOP successor couldn't roll it back without a public backlash". This was "Obama at his most cynical and it takes gall for him to scold Mr. Trump...for making a 'political decision'...Mr. Obama's 'political decision' to act as his own legislature teed up this moral crisis and created the legal jeopardy."

Sam Harris interviews Charles Murray for two-plus hours

Excellent stuff!... and my first significant exposure / listen to Harris.

-a very powerful ten-minute intro from Harris, esp. starting at minute 7 or 8, including concerns about fundamentalism and hypocrisy in its response to The Bell Curve (including not reading are the book summaries and here are my responses to some responses to Murray)

-interesting on the Left's past passion for IQ and the history of the SAT back in the day at minute 46

-57:30 on the messiness of race as a variable, something he talks about in Losing Ground (when he carefully focuses on blacks) and Coming Apart (when he talks about whites)

-1:02 Murray notes that he and H started the name, "the Flynn effect"!

-starts with 1:08 on groups vs, individuals...and since Murray is a libertarian, the emphasis on individuals is paramount for him (although not so much for other folks-- and maybe that's why their inferences go south so easily?)

-1:12:30 Harris asks why go there? (Just before that, I love Murray's reference to his critics "doing the Lord's work"!) Murray's answer: if policy is based on groups (e.g., race), then it's going to be wrong-headed (impractical and unethical)-- and if we're going to pound group differences, you're going to get identity politics.

-and then at 1:27, he gets to summaries of Coming Apart (absolutely necessary to read if you're into inequality, social problems, etc.)

-finally, Murray's advocacy of UBI at 1:52, his account/thoughts on Middlebury at 2:02, and a poignant/powerful ending on the benefits of such scurrilous attacks at 2:15

Monday, September 18, 2017

Vietnam, Watergate, immense policy failures, and (often-blind) faith in govt

Good on Vietnam and Watergate-- and their impact on the presidency in particular...

Ideological concerns probably prevent Burns and Novick from extending their analysis to reduced faith in government in general.

And then beyond this essay, faith in govt has been (quite reasonably) diminished (greatly) by a slew of policy failures since then-- as govt tried to move from low-hanging fruit (e.g., roads and space exploration) to impossible efforts with massive side-effects (e.g., the War on Poverty and the War on Drugs).

selling charters as we war against the cronies

A helpful piece on tweaking public perceptions here...
Charters should be a no-brainer. (Vouchers are tougher, since there's a lot of bigotry toward religious education-- and people lack the policy imagination to envision the many secular schools that would pop up.) But even good obvious reforms get dicey when you're going up against powerful interest groups.

-more options for parents, students, and teachers
-more competition; less monopoly power
-lower costs for taxpayers
-from the literature (the handful of "gold standard" papers), modest (not large!) improvements in performance, particularly in the inner city (where one would expect the increased competition to make a bigger difference)

tax reform: this ain't 1981

An exceedingly helpful piece on tax reform-- then and now. The economy and the problems with the tax code were completely different in 1981. So, the ideal solutions are unlikely to be the same as they were then.

Reagan lowered rates on the wealthy and increased revenues from the wealthy, given where we were on the Laffer Curve. This would not take place today. So, cutting rates should not be a high priority.

FICA is a *far* bigger deal today, but Dem politicians enjoy crushing the working poor and middle class with taxes on income, preferring to use SS and FICA as a way to score cheap political points.

Corporate taxes are a far bigger deal today, especially with the always-increasing prospects of capital flight in a global economy. A lot of Dems will probably demagogue this too. But for the sake of the economy and workers, hopefully the GOP will be joined by some Dems who will have the intellect and the courage to improve things here.

A strange omission: I wish the author had mentioned tax simplification and eliminating loopholes. It's relatively easy to make a strong case in terms of both equity and efficiency. But gutless or corrupt politicians, along with interest group power, are likely to preserve that mess.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

try 50 state experiments...well, at least if you're into science, sociology, and economics

People often trot out international comparisons on health care/insurance, not catching that the comparisons are far more apt for states than our entire nation. (See: population diversity and size. #Science #Logic)

Beyond that, unless one is a #Statist or fond of playing policy-lottery experiments, it obviously makes sense (at least to #economists and #sociologists) to try 50 state experiments in such a complex economic/social arena. 
Maybe a few states would give nearly-free markets a whirl. And some states would likely experiment with various forms of single-payer for the lower and middle-income classes. Let's see what happens!

Monday, September 11, 2017

It's not just statism, cronyism, etc. in K-12 opposition to reform. It's having to take (vs. evade) blame.

I usually ascribe opposition to freedom and choice in K-12 as a penchant for statism, a desire to protect cronyism, or a lack of policy imagination.

Beyond that, Pullmann includes a desire to blame-evade-- that reform would force proponents of the status quo to (painfully) own their failure. I don't know why I hadn't thought of that previously.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

charters: empirical work, narrative, and the politics of anecdote

A good article in New York (magazine) on charter schools...

Intuitively, one would expect modest results-- and larger impacts on the inner-city where the monopoly power is (far) greater. (And of course, this doesn't get into the lower cost for taxpayers, more choice for students/parents and teachers, and more flexibility for the delivery of education services.)

I think the political analysis is correct too. For better and mostly for worse, the "debate" comes down to competing anecdotes/stories. Fortunately for charter proponents, it will be relatively easy to come up with compelling stories for their side. In most battles against interest groups, the subtle/concentrated calculus does not play nearly as well.

h/t: Chris Lang

labels and phobias

Labels are funny things. 

We generally allow people to self-label, even when the labels reflect a reality that is somewhere between unclear and misleading (e.g., most self-styled liberals and conservatives).

The use of "phobia" to describe some folks is a notable exception. For one thing, the state being described is rarely phobic/fear-based, which indicates the labeler's lack of clear thinking. (Can their claims be reasonably dismissed out-of-hand simply for this?) 

For another, these matters are usually complicated. So, such labeling is simplistic and seems designed to illiberally squelch free thought and free speech. 

Here's an application of this to "Islamophobia"...

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

what do Zeke Elliott, Obama, Trump and Osteen have in common?

Heard part of an excellent segment this AM with Will Cain, a legal analyst on ESPN, commenting on the Zeke Elliott suspension. The suspension seems like a great example of the ends justifying the means-- and Cain said (passionately) that he can't get on board. Good for him. 

This sort of thing is disturbingly common these days-- and from all sorts of folks: people who are willing to do what it takes to sacrifice X (e.g., truth, individuals) to reach their greater social ends (e.g., "well, we know...and that's not good"). 

Some people criticize Obama or Trump-- and for them, it doesn't really matter what the truth is. People run with little/flawed information in a hurry to condemn a popular preacher they don't like. And so on. 

Remember: if you're lying about or slandering a "bad person", this puts you in bed with the Father of Lies. Not a good look; not a good move.