THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 557 February 9 - 15, 2009
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February 9, 2009
I am still trying to catch up, meaning that I have the column to do -- it's late -- as well as revisions in the computers I am using. I've also got to keep up steam on Mamelukes, which is in the final part (under 10,000 words to go, I think). And I am still working on the proposal for The Mask on the Wall, which I hope will be a book about surviving brain cancer.
The good news is that Dr. Rodriguez and Dr. Wang are agreed, the treatment was successful, and I am a real live cancer survivor. They don't even want to see me for six months. And my internist is happy with the rest of my blood work, so I'm in pretty good shape for someone of my age. I can't think about more than one thing at a time, but I seem to do all right once I get focused on a task. I'm not out of business yet. Which is just as well, because I sure don't see any signs of great improvement in the economy.
John Maynard Keynes famously said that all governments would need to do to cure a Depression would be to stuff jars with money, bury them in old coal mines, fill the mines with garbage from the nearby towns, and then announce that they'd done that. Free enterprise would take care of the rest. People would go mine those jars, and spend the money, and this wouldn't compete with more legitimate and needed activities like producing cars or weaving cloth or even building roads. In other words, an economic stimulus ought to be for needless activities, and the problem with Roosevelt's New Deal was that the New Deal didn't spend enough. The New Deal did not manage to halt the Depression; it took World War II to do that; but that's just because the New Deal didn't create enough demand stimulation. They needed to spend more, and much of it ought to be for needless activities that wouldn't compete with real economic growth but would put the money out there so that people would want to buy things and have the money to do it.
While that notion has been questioned by many economists since Keynes wrote it, there's still a sort of pop economics acceptance of the idea.
The Senate has just passed the economic stimulus bill, the biggest appropriation in the history of the world. We will, apparently have a test of Keynes' theory.
This time for sure.
I have just heard the President's press conference. He's a long way past the Keynes approach; he's into micromanagement of what is done with The Biggest Appropriation In The History of the World. Some is cosmetic, as in executive compensation, and chartered jet planes. We will now test the Liberal Theory of Economics, big time. It's coming, there's no stopping it now, whether you like it or not; so, while I have my doubts about just how much better government will be at allocating resources than the private sector would be, my opinion isn't terribly relevant: as President Obama said today, that's not under discussion because that's what the election was all about. He has a mandate to do this, or believes he does, or believes he can convince us he does: in any even, He Won, and we will now test the Liberal Theory of Economics with The Largest Appropriation in the History of the World.
This time for sure.
As to what I would do? I don't really know. I have some principles I'd follow, the major one of which is that the less money we send abroad for buying energy the better off we are; while the price of energy is about the largest single factor in productivity. It's a lot easier to deal with a big booming economy than with a restricted and contracting economy. The more stuff we actually make and produce, the better off we are. If I were investing for the future I'd invest in energy, and particularly in nuclear power, which is clean, gives off no carbon, and produces about the cheapest baseline energy of all. I'd also invest in energy storage technology. My goal would be to limit overseas purchases of energy to as small an amount as possible.
If I were convinced that we must borrow money to invest in the future, I would be concerned that the borrowed money be invested in productivity: lowering energy costs (not raising them, and not putting taxes on domestic energy sources); improving transportation; eliminating needless regulation.
That isn't going to happen, apparently.
The President has said that only Government can end this Depression. He has said that there should be no debate about the New Deal -- it was a great idea, and that discussion is pretty well over. I fear he is wrong on the latter statement: as Amity Shlaes describes in The Forgotten Man, many things were tried during the early times of the New Deal and found not to be helpful. Roosevelt was desperate: and the New Deal wasn't all that different from what Hoover was also trying. No one knew what would work. I do hope that Obama realizes that, and that his advisors have learned something from the experiments that were tried in 1933 - 1937 (producing the recession within a depression of 1938).
And I had better get back to work.
I found this interesting:
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I have heard that it contains open ended appropriations for welfare; in other words reverses the Welfare Reform of the Clinton/Gingrich era, one of the most successful reforms in political history.
I have also heard but cannot confirm that it inserts rationing for health care, allocating fund by age and quality of life as well as need. I don't know if this is true, but I do know that any politician who votes for such a thing will probably face the Wrath of the Geezers, and the elderly are reliable voters with a fairly heavy interest in this matter. Still, I am told, that provision is in the bill. (I wrote this before reading the source article; see mail.)
The problem here is that we are going heavily into debt to finance 600 pages of fine print, and no one really knows what kind of pig is in that poke; and surely the US isn't in that much trouble? I wasn't thrilled by the original Poulson "Trust Me As I Buy Toxic Assets" bill, but it did have the merit of having a potential to stave off the stock market collapse -- which would have been pretty cheap at the price. Now we have had the collapse; there may be a need for us to Do Something, but surely it's not so urgent that we have to have The Largest Appropriation Bill in the History of the World without reading it?
Before we create new bureaucracies (which may look temporary but we know that such things tend to be eternal, and generate lobbies for their persistence) shouldn't we at least know what these things will do?
If we need an immediate stimulus, cut the payroll tax, cut it now and instantly, with the proviso that if this doesn't work it can be reversed; but don't go out creating projects without review.
Not that anyone will listen to me.
There is more discussion on the Stimulus Bill in Mail.
I have to get to work. I do hope I won't sound like a sour visaged Whig when I point out that the Stimulus Bill is full to the brim with earmarks? Do understand, I'm not instantly opposed to earmarks; I'd as soon Congressional staffers allocated resources as have that done by other bureaucrats; if we're going to spend money we don't have, surely it ought to go to places where it may be seen to be doing something. However, I do not understand how it can be contended that the Stimulus Bill is not Pork and Earmarks. Have I missed something? Surely the President sees this?
February 11, 2009
I'm late and falling behind, and I have errands that must be done. I'll catch up tonight I hope. Apologies.
Apparently there's something in the stimulus bill that revamps health care. No one knows what it is. How any Senator can vote for something that's as potentially revolutionary as this may be without understanding what he is voting for is way beyond me. That is the height of irresponsibility, and I mean that word quite literally. I think anyone of either party who votes for a critical change in the entire health care system without knowing what the change does should never be elected to any public office again.
It may be a good thing. It may be a bad one. It may be inconsequential. I have mail from people saying all of that; what I don't have is any sign that anyone in Congress knows what this means or does, and that, I think, is unconscionable. Surely after all the market crashes we are no longer in such a hurry that we must Do Something, even if it means death to a lot of older people -- which this change may accomplish by rationing health care. It may not do that; but I have been unable to find anyone who is sure. And that, I think, is frightening.
Is this the change we have been waiting for? If I sound a bit disturbed, I am: I am alive because I received prompt treatment for the brain lump. I couldn't have afforded it had I not been a member of Kaiser. It literally saved my life. Now I am not sure what the health care provisions in the stimulus bill actually mean, nor do I automatically accept the interpretations of its enemies; but when I can't find anyone who can tell me with any authority what is actually in the bill and what it actually accomplishes, it seems clear that it's time to take that provision out of the bill and debate it separately.
Big omnibus bills are not a good idea to begin with. A Congressional staffer who later became an important official of the RIAA inserted provisions in the DMCA that no Congressperson will admit to have approved. Not one. Yet it became law and as a result we get those enormous lawsuits against the grandmother of a teenager who downloaded pirated movies. We have long gone past the point at which every Senator and Congressperson needs to be aware of the details of every piece of legislation. That's to some extent what Committees are for. But when not one Senator or Congressperson is aware of a key provision before it passes, it does seem that we have taken haste a bit too far.
Well I am back from my errands, and I think I am Rip van Winkle. Some of you will know who that references. Alas, I fear there will be those who will not. In any event, I've been out shopping. Which I hate. There are no more Department Stores. For that matter, there aren't many electronic stores. There's Wi-Fi and Sci-Fi, but no longer hi-fi, at least nothing easily found. I spent the afternoon in a fruitless search, but I did manage to get some column material. I also have an observation: the stores that replaced Department Stores are not doing well. Most had the atmosphere of a filled grave...
The column is finished and should be up at Chaos Manor Reviews reasonably soon. Sorry to have been late. It has been a strenuous week. I have receipts from Tokyo, Istanbul, Sao Paulo, and Riyadh, and while I was a little late getting it there, apparently that didn't cause a problem. Now to get back to work on Mamelukes.
February 12, 2009
I'm actually writing this at 2330 Wednesday. I have errands in the morning, but I should be able to get this up to date at some point. By then the column should be posted at www.chaosmanorreviews.com .
Yesterday's Wall Street Journal ran an interesting article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123431293649170767.html .
The story does tempt one to the old sentence of Outlawry: "You are no longer under the protection of the laws. Whatever is done to you is no crime, and no one may be charged with any crime for doing you harm, taking your property, or damaging your goods, nor may you seek recompense in the courts." Free Enterprise and human perversity would see to the rest. No bounty necessary.
There is considerable Mail.
Fred Reed bows out.
-- Roland Dobbins
We will all miss him.
Richard C. Hoagland, former science advisor to Walter Cronkite, says this is a cover story, and the odds are trillions to one against it being true. He said so on the Coast to Coast radios show last night.
The Stimulus Bill continues: no one has read it, few know what is in it, and it continues like a juggernaut.
Given the mechanical nature of the "reading" voice, I cannot think this a ral danger to audio book sales. Perhaps one day it will be, but even Apple's "Victoria" and other extremely good computer generated voices based on human physiology -- Apple certainly led the world in such software the last time I look at it -- even the best in the world will be wearying after a few pages. As an aid to the handicapped this is a boon, but those who read for enjoyment will prefer the actual audio book. I suspect I will lose few audio book sales to electronic text to speech generators.
While we are on that theme:
Meanwhile there is news that California Republicans have reached a deal to reward Democrats by taking California from the highest taxed state in the nation to an even higher level, adding about a thousand bucks to each Californian's tax bill. What there won't be is any cut in the salaries and pensions of our masters, the teachers and state employees. The economy begins to look like India before recent changes sparked growth. The only safe job is a government job. I leave the implications of this as an exercise for the readers.
And there is this:
At 14 cents on the dollar, this has to be a very good deal, particularly with performing mortgages; after all you can afford to let them cut payments in half and still be above water, assuming the valuations make any sense. If it's all real, that's a killing. Of course if it is a killing the government will come take it away as being contrary to the new public policies. I hope that latter statement is not true, but what I am hearing from Washington leaves me in confusion.
At the same time, I am no fan of Rosa Brooks, but today's column was interesting:
I do not usually make a practice of including the mail in View, but once again:
The subject is quite important to me, for obvious reasons. I once thought pay per click was a great idea and championed Millicent, but that never happened so I built this place on the Public Radio model, and I tend to nag readers to subscribe whenever I hear KUSC do a fund raising pledge drive. It seems to work -- not spectacularly well, but it does work. No one has to pay, which builds readership, and some find it worth supporting, which brings me an income. (If you haven't figured it out, KUSC is just ending its Winter 2009 pledge drive...) Incidentally, I agree that I could make it easier to do a regular subscription, particularly those who aren't PayPal users, and it's on my list of things to get done.
In any event micropayments didn't work, but Amazon appears to be trying it again. It's not an experiment that appeals to me. The Public Radio model has worked well enough, and I'll continue that.
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And yet one more item: the end of England?
Apparently England has become a nanny state. And it can happen here.
February 13, 2009
Friday the Thirteenth falls on Friday this month.
Next month too, for that matter.
Well, apparently the energy crisis is solved. http://www.physorg.com/news153666127.html
On wishing and well wishing.
Rush Limbaugh insists that he wants the Stimulus Package to fail. Others say that is terrible, and that he wants the country to fail.
For myself, I don't want it to fail: I just know that it is not likely to succeed. I say this without knowing what "it" is -- nor does anyone else, so far as I can tell. The Biggest Appropriation Bill in the History of the World, now up to 1,000 pages, and I do not believe anyone knows what is in it; so how can one hope for it to fail or succeed? more likely it will do more harm than good, given that no one knows what's in it, and we do know that there are people with axes to grind whose goals are not good for the nation: could one or another of those have inserted something in the Bill? How would anyone know?
Certainly I wish that something would happen to restore the economy in these United States. I am also fairly sure that a this isn't going to do it. Anyway, I have to get back to work. I need the money.
February 14, 2009
Don't Celebrate Valentine Day in India
At least not in heavily Hindo provinces.
$36,000 per US citizen is now owed; the interest on the debt is likely to be $500 Billion a year. Direct benefits are a bit hard to ascertain. I am told that the actual Bill was not delivered to Congressional Staff in a machine readable form in time for vote, so they couldn't do key word searches.
We have now passed The Largest Spending Bill in the History of the World. The likelihood of it kickstarting the economy is not calculable: it depends on your theory of economics. But surely this is a test of the Spend It Now and get things moving hypothesis. Your grandchildren will be paying it off.
I would be pleased if the economy took off and the Dow went up to 12,000 in a year; but I suspect that will not happen. The smartest people in the world have given us the Biggest Spending Bill in the History of the World. I would be pleased to hear from those who think something this drastic was needed.
We attended a memorial service for two old and dear friends at the Episcopal Cathedral this morning, so I am way behind again. As usual there is mail, and if you have not seen it, the February Column is up at Chaos Manor Reviews.
February 15, 2009
I took the day off.
This is a day book. It's not all that well edited. I try to keep this up daily, but sometimes I can't. I'll keep trying. See also the weekly COMPUTING AT CHAOS MANOR column, 8,000 - 12,000 words, depending. (Older columns here.) For more on what this page is about, please go to the VIEW PAGE. If you have never read the explanatory material on that page, please do so. If you got here through a link that didn't take you to the front page of this site, click here for a better explanation of what we're trying to do here. This site is run on the "public radio" model; see below.
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