Aiiiii! The Sequester!!!!

posted on March 4, 2013 in

oh – and before I forget….


RT CoyoteBlog

Fantastic quote from an unexpected source

posted on January 7, 2013 in

If national institutions give even their poorest and least educated citizens some shot at improving their own lives — through property rights, a reliable judicial system or access to markets — those citizens will do what it takes to make themselves and their country richer

I would not have expected that statement to come from an article in the New York Times.

Great Quote

posted on November 14, 2012 in

As the philosopher David Schmidtz says, if your main goal is to show that your heart is in the right place, then your heart is not in the right place.

Things I need to make sure my children know

posted on September 11, 2012 in

  • People will try to sell you things by making you feel bad/inferior for not having it
  • People will try to sell you things by trying to convince you that you will be better/more awesome if you have it
  • People will lie about who uses their product in order to make it seem more important (so they can then sell it to you)
  • People will imply that their product is heavily used elsewhere (for example, in Europe) in order to make it seem better (so they can sell it to you)
  • People will make up statistics, facts, endorsements, etc, in order to make their product seem better (so they can sell it to you)
  • People will try to get you to buy their product by asking you for a favor
  • People will try to get you to buy their product by implying that you owe them a favor
  • People will try to get you to buy their product by implying that they are your friend, that they are “looking out for you”
  • People will try to get you to buy their product by making you feel bad about yourself, hoping that you’ll buy it just because you’re sad or depressed.
  • A _LOT_ of people will criticize your tastes/selections/preferences as inferior to their own. They will do this primarily as a way to boost their own egos, but also, often, to try to convince you that you should buy what they are selling
  • People will imply that they have a tremendous amount of insight/knowledge that you don’t have, in order to convince you to trust them with your money & decisions.
  • People will suck up to you, and tell you how great your choices are, so you will feel good about buying things from them.
  • People will tell you that you owe them a favor, often for no legitimate reason at all, just so you’ll feel defensive and awkward and apologetic. Then they’ll try to sell you something because “you owe them”.
  • People will imply that they have secret knowledge that no one else has. Then they’ll try to convince you to buy something.
  • Sometimes, people aren’t trying to get you to buy things with money. Sometimes they’re trying to get your vote, or your trust, or your time.
  • If you give time or money to a charity organization, they will almost always ask you for more, more, more.
  • People might ask you to volunteer to do X. Then, when you agree, they will try to change the arrangement so that you must do X+Y. If you refuse to do Y, they’ll often try to make you feel guilty.
  • Advertisements on TV are all essentially the same: If you buy this product, you will be as glamorous/be as successful/have as much fun as the people in the advertisement.
  • People will tell you that their product is in short supply, in order to make you feel like you must act fast in order to take advantage of this special offer
  • The price people offer you for something you want to buy is almost always not the minimum price they’re willing to sell at.
  • If you are buying a car, and you say you’re willing to pay X, the salesperson will almost always show you cars that cost X+Y, hoping that you’ll be too embarrassed or ashamed to push back.
  • Salespeople will always, always, always try to compel you to make a decision quickly. Sometimes it will be difficult to resist. But a decision made in haste is almost always worse than if you waited.
  • “Act now”, “going fast”, “will sell out” are all signs that they’re trying to get you to make a snap decision, because their product isn’t good enough to justify careful shopping.
  • Salespeople will try to imply that there’s a connection between you, that you are friends. So you will trust them, and buy things from them.
  • People will claim that the price of their goods is normally very high, but for you, there’s a pretty good discount. That’s a sign that you should continue negotiating.
  • Politicians are salespeople. Except that they can often throw you in jail if you don’t buy what they’re selling. Vote with care.
  • Politicians will imply that they are selflessly devoted to the common good. They will say that they are a ‘servant of the people’. That is a sure sign that they are power-hungry narcissists desperate for power and prestige. Vote with care.
  • Politicians will promise X to one group of people, and an hour later promise not-X to a different group of people, and they will seem absolutely sincere when they do it. Vote with care.
  • Politicians will imply (or say) that their opponents are vicious monsters. Even though they agree on 99% of the facts, somehow, that 1% of disagreement makes someone a monster? Vote with care
  • Politicians (and their supporters) will absolutely try to make you feel that if you don’t agree with them, that you are an uncaring monster. Vote with care.
  • Politicians will always imply that their preferred solutions are better in every possible way. That their opponents solutions are full of horrible side-effects. Every solution has lots of side effects. Vote with care.
  • People will lie about almost anything to get you to trust them. They will fake their accent, fake their history, fake their knowledge, who they know, what they do in their spare time, how they vote, what they like, what their name is, where they’re from. And they will do it all with incredible apparent sincerity.
  • If someone comes up to you and starts acting like they’re part of your life, that they’ve been your friend for a while, watch out. They’re probably a serial killer.
  • For a lot of people, credentials matter more than knowledge or skill. Those people are stupid, but there are a lot of them. Sometimes, its easier just to go with the flow.
  • Sometimes, people will respect you more for agreeing with them, and sometimes they will respect you for disagreeing with them. One secret to success is knowing when to agree and disagree.
  • Some people respect forceful, passionate disagreement, and some respect logical, thoughtful disagreement. Another secret to success is knowing how to disagree with any given person.
  • Hard work is not the only factor in success, but it’s pretty darn important. You’re must less likely to succeed by avoiding hard work.

More later.

Call Me Bowie

posted on August 16, 2012 in

How to disparage American Exceptionalism in 5 easy steps

posted on August 13, 2012 in

1. Pretend that the US isn’t the 3rd largest country on the planet, with a very low population density compared to most other highly developed nations. Because that can’t possibly matter in terms of infrastructure development, right?
2. Pretend that the rest of the world’s nations are just as accepting of foreigners and immigration as the US is, and, furthermore, that the US doesn’t have a dramatically more diverse racial mix than other highly developed countries. Because that can’t make a difference either.
3. Pretend that the US is not the overwhelming leader in scientific discovery, innovation and technological development.
4. Breezily compare statistics gathered in one way from the US from statistics gathered in a different way elsewhere in the world.
5. Take for granted that if the US isn’t at (or very close to) the top in every possible category of human achievement, the idea of American Exceptionalism is invalid.

The solution to all of our problems

posted on July 17, 2012 in

Really, we’ve had the solution since late June.

(Inspired specifically by this)

Whenever a problem like this presents itself, the answer is simple:

A) Obama mandates a specific solution (in this case, everyone must marry by a certain age)
B) Enforce it with a tax

Sadly, not tongue-in-cheek.


posted on in

Saw this question. I was perplexed that the question was even posed. In what world does this person live that they believe they have an ethical obligation to work on a project?

Well, maybe they signed a contract? Or made a promise to a manager?
Even if they signed a contract, it’s not unethical to break a contract, as long as you follow the rules (i.e. people and company break contracts all the time). A promise, well, even that can be broken under extenuating circumstances…

So I read the question. No – no contract, no promise. Just someone who feels underpaid and, since the company is about to begin a new project, and they are the one person who can do the work, that the company would be hosed without them.

Now, the obvious, spit-take element is “no, of course that’s not unethical!” . But that seems way too obvious. So I started thinking about the underlying issues.

1. Is the writer of the question confusing “unethical” with “impolite”?
Quite possibly. Even so, I think the answer is ‘no’. The company will fire you in a heartbeat if necessary, regardless of the politeness of the act. You have no higher obligation.

2. Is the writer of the question a narcissist?
This seems more likely – the person posed this question to get sympathy and attention. and they structured the question and the scenario in such a way that no-one would argue with them about the ethics. But the “tell” for me is in the “I’m the only/best person for the job” subtext. This is a developer who feels special and elite.

I suspect that this question was asked so that the developer can stay, and work on the project, and feel like a savior.

“Well, I’m underpaid, and I could have left, and no-one could have blamed me (I checked!), but I feel like the company would be lost without me, and so I felt like I should just be the hero and stick with it, and get the work done.”

Hey man, whatever works for you.

My Issues with Keynesianism

posted on July 11, 2012 in

  1. Aggregation
    Imagine a public school, where the students are struggling. Test scores are low. Graduation rates are low. This is a problem. What do we do? Well, of course, we just hand the principal a big check and walk away, assured that the problem will now get better. Oh wait. We don’t do that. We look carefully at the school, and try to understand the root causes. We hold people accountable. We adjust strategies, change plans, identify problem areas. We actually work to solve the problem.
    Imagine that we have an obesity problem. What do we do? Well, of course, we just dole out money to hospitals, and walk away. Oh wait. We don’t do that. We again attempt to identify the problems. We isolate causes, spend money on education, on labeling, on banning :rolleyes: things that seem to contribute.

    But in the world of economics, we get really, really sloppy. We don’t make any attempt at all to identify root causes, eliminate bad programs, change policies. No, we just throw money at random projects, hoping they’ll help. In the worst case, we talk about hiring people to do nothing but dig and fill ditches, because as long as the people have money, “aggregate demand” improves. This is not a grown-up, mature approach to solving problems. This is kissing a boo boo to make it better. And it’s distortionary and short-sighted and, most damningly, incredibly haphazard.
  2. Infrastructure has a multiplier > 1.
    I get it, government infrastructure projects can be valuable.
    The Hoover dam was built during the Great Depression, and it was (and is) a huge benefit to society. Reducing flooding, creating jobs and generating electricity are all wonderful things.
    The Interstate highway system is a huge benefit to society. A worthwhile project that has paid back far more than it cost.
    But not all infrastructure projects will have that kind of payout. In fact, arguably, we’ve built all the easy things, and now we’re going to spend more and more, to get less and less benefit. Yes, improving our sewer lines is a good thing. Yes, improving our bridges is a good thing. But that does not mean that those projects have a multiplier > 1. And if someone objects to spending money on projects that have a multiplier < 1, it doesn't mean they want people to starve. It means they want to think carefully about how we spend our finite resources.
  3. Red Tape
    Even if I accepted that increasing aggregate demand was a useful task, and that we had lots of useful infrastructure projects with a multiplier > 1, we’re still hosed. Because as we’ve added layers of bureaucracy and rules and committees to our government, in the name of accountability, good stewardship and environmental awareness, we have crushed our ability to pursue projects quickly. Shovel-ready, my ass.
    Note that I’m not saying, necessarily, that we should abandon our committees, rules and bureaucracy. But the fact is: they exist, and they suffocate any attempt to build infrastructure in a reasonable time frame. And if the infrastructure can’t be built quickly, it’s not going to stimulate aggregate demand.
  4. Bad Projects
    And those projects that we have pursued are often colossal wastes. Look, I get the concept of mass transit. Moving people efficiently where they want to go is a valuable service. If we can make it efficient, and if we can take them where they want to go. The high speed rail projects, the various light rail projects are all disasters. Except for New York City, they are all massive failures on every level – no one uses them, they don’t cover their expenses, and because they run with so few people on them, they aren’t environmentally beneficial.
    These are not projects to solve problems. These are monuments that politicians build to show how high-status they are, and make their cities and states seem important and sophisticated. I’ve got news for you: Important and sophisticated do not put people back to work. They do not make the US economy richer. They line the pockets of politically well-connected rich people, who then invest the money on ski trips to the Swiss Alps. Yes. that’s how I want my tax dollars to be spent…
  5. Political Will
    The philosophical discipline of Keynesianism is straightforward: The government should spend more when times are bad, and save more when times are good to counteract that spending.
    But in the real world, we have a couple of serious problems. First: Times are never good enough. Politicians win when growth is high. If one believes in Keynesian aggregate demand, raising taxes and limiting budgets during growth years will put a damper on growth. Politicians, wanting to remain in office, will oppose anything that puts a damper on growth. Because what if the forecasts are wrong? What if the growth isn’t as robust as expected. Why take that risk? Keep those budgets high and keep that deficit soaring.

    Second: When times were good, I never heard liberals saying ‘We should cut government spending to prepare for the next recession’. What I heard was: ‘We should introduce expensive policy X, because they do it in Europe. It’s the right thing to do, and we can afford it.‘ Nothing ever subverts sober pragmatism like a “just cause”.

I wrote this because of this article. Spain doesn’t have a lot of options – they can’t print their own money to inflate their way out of debt, and they can’t force others to loan them money at low rates. Cutting spending and raising taxes to balance their budget is really the only option left. I can see the scenario where this will weaken the Spanish economy. But without resorting to forcing other people to write Spain checks, what is Spain supposed to do?

Okay, Mr. Smarty Pants, what would you do for a country that’s in a recession?
A fair question. I would:

  • Look for ways to make it easier for small businesses to start and flourish. (i.e. Reduce bureaucracy, reduce red tape, etc
  • Reduce or eliminate the minimum wage. Yes, people may end up working for less pay than they used to, but at least they’d be working.
  • Reduce funding for programs and projects that do not have a strong and direct impact on the economy. I like art and bullying prevention, and forest-fire awareness, but given a choice between a long recession and a short reduction in spending on these projects, I know what I would pick. Fiscally, this is mostly symbolic, of course, but I still think it’s a message worth sending. You can always refund them when the budget is more balanced.
  • Take a really, really hard look at pension obligations. Many of these pensions are ridiculous. Modest reductions there will make some enemies, but will have a meaningful impact on current and future deficits.
  • Hold people accountable. There are a lot of government projects that ended up as major failures. And almost all of them involve a criminal level of financial negligence – politicians who ignored/punished bad news, inflated good news and/or rewarded campaign donors. They need to be identified, and punished. Pour encourager les autres

Okay, you got me. None of these are likely to “fix” a broken economy in a short time. On the other hand, based on what I laid out at the beginning, “government stimulus” isn’t going to accomplish that either. So really we just have to muddle through. But in my opinion, my recommendations would reduce the muddling time, result in less waste and less boondogledge. (Yes, I made that up).

What not to eat

posted on July 10, 2012 in

Based on a summary of what I’ve found here:

Do not eat these things:

  • Glazed Donuts from Dunkin Donus
  • Buffalo wings from Little Caesars
  • Chicken Salad Sandwich from Chik-Fil-A
  • Brownie Batter Blizzard at DQ
  • Seafood, Crab or Tuna from Subway
  • any non-fresh donut (i.e. being made in front of you) from Krispy Kreme. INCLUDING the ones at grocery stores
  • Ice from the ice machines in most places
  • Soda from the machines in most places
  • Sweet Tea from McDonalds (very, very sugary)

Safe options:

  • In-and-Out Burger
  • Five Guys

Random thoughts on Euro 2.0

posted on June 5, 2012 in

I find myself trying to solve the puzzle of the Euro – trying to balance the needs of the independent states against each other, and against the reasonable assumptions of corruption, change, boom and bust, etc

So, the problems:

  1. The countries in the Euro area want a common currency to reduce commercial friction
  2. The countries in the Euro area want to be able to borrow money to finance their debts
  3. The countries may wish to inflate their currency to reduce prices so they can sell their goods more cheaply than others
  1. But you can’t inflate “part” of the euro, at the expense of the other “parts”
  • Countries should have disincentives to taking on “too much debt”.
    1. But exit from the Euro shouldn’t be the only option when they have taken on too much debt

    My Concept:

    1. There is only one currency for the region, as today.
    2. The governments of the 17 countries can issue debt, as today. In the beginning, all Euro-country interest rates are the same.
    3. But there is only one buyer – the ECB. No one else can buy government debt in the Euro region.
    4. The ECB can resell this debt in the public market. But this debt is special – “Greek” Euro debt is auctioned independently from “German” euro debt, etc. And the interest rates set by the market will be used as the terms the next time the ECB buys debt from “Greece” or “Germany”
    5. This debt is also special in another way – if Greece elects to “default” on its debt (i.e. stop making payments in Euros to the ECB as debt bonds mature), two things happen:
    a) The people who bought this “Greek” debt from the ECB are refunded their initial purchase price. So the buyers don’t lose any money, but they don’t earn any money either. It’s a loss, all things considered, but not a catastrophic one. The buyers go in knowing this, so they have no illusions about the “riskless” nature of the debt they’re buying. Which will make the interest rates higher for Greece than Germany.
    b) Greece has to surrender a mutually agreeable, contiguous 1% of their current border lands to the ECB. This land is then auctioned off – any other country in the Eurozone can bid on buying it. (Ideally, each country would present itself divided into 100 chunks when it joins the Euro, prioritizing the chunks from 1 to 100 in terms of surrender). The results of this auction are kept by the ECB.


    Most likely, what will happen in such a scenario is that no-one but Greece will bid, and Greece will bid 1 euro, win the auction, and so there will be no changes in nationality. Greece resets its debt to zero – if it has a current account surplus, it should actually be in good shape at this point.

    If Greece doesn’t have a current account surplus, they can go back to the ECB and issue new debt, (which has bee reset back to the “default” ECB interest rate). This gives them a chunk of relatively free money that they can use to build infrastructure/whatever to help them grow out of debt.

    But, there is always the credible threat that someone else will buy that land. Which is potentially disruptive for everyone involved. But at some point, less disruptive than letting Greece default over and over again. The threat is meaningful enough that Greece has strong incentives to be fiscally responsible. But it is also moderate enough that a single “mistake” doesn’t destroy the country, and gives them a reasonable alternative to exiting the Euro.

    Anticipated Objections
    They won’t allow their land to be seized.
    Then they keep their land, and the ECB will no longer buy any debt they issue, and none of the debt they do issue independently will have the guarantee of the ECB behind it. I.e. no-one will buy it. Essentially, they’ll have to exit the Euro.

    They’ll sell debt independently.
    See above – the ECB will only “protect” debt that they issue – if Greece issues debt independently, there’s no guarantee from the ECB.

    If the land is sold, people’s lives will be disrupted
    Yes. This gives them an incentive to keep an eye on their representatives (especially the people in Zones 100 and 99) And in any case, it’s far less disruptive than war…

    The land parcels will be gerrymandered
    Probably. But given the rules:

    • Must partially be in contact with the border
    • Must be contiguous
    • Can’t cut a country in half

    They can only play games with their land for so long before it really hurts.

    The land they offer will be worthless
    Probably the first couple of zones will be… but you can’t do that forever.

    The Germans will eventually own all of Europe!
    Only if everyone else is incredibly foolish and profligate. Which I don’t think they are.

    There is a path through which multiple countries, defaulting cooperatively, could end up forcing the ECB to print tremendous amounts of money to pay for the defaults. But hyperinflation is generally a problem associated with war or social revolution, which makes such cooperative defaulting exceptionally difficult.

    This doesn’t help Greece today
    Why not offer Greece the opportunity to accept this plan, and present a 100-zone solution. In exchange, the ECB prints Euros to pay off all the outstanding Greek debt. Greek gets a reset, and now has a credible alternative to leaving the Euro.

    This doesn’t help Spain today
    Okay, now you’re just nitpicking – Spain is a lot larger, but the ECB has the printing presses, and the Eurozone is large enough to handle a fairly significant growth in the money supply without going into a hyperinflationary spiral. And another thought – existing spanish debt could be “folded in” to the new ECB model – so Spain would still owe money, but it would be backstopped by the ECB and the 100-zone contingency.

    Kasparov is wrong

    posted on April 17, 2012 in

    In this article, Kasparov claims that we’re in a period of technological stagnation. Some excerpts:

    We feel that we literally have something new every month, but in fact it is progress that is proceeding from technological innovations and revolutionary inventions of the 1960s and 70s. For example, my iPod containst latest technology from 1981. In medicine there nothing similar to penicillin has been invented. If we talk about the Internet, then do not forget that the whole theoretical framework has been prepared in the 1960s in America, and the first communication session was 1969. A patent for mobile communications was registered in 1962, and the first call was made in 1973. The fact that the phones are smaller, thinner, more beautiful, does not change the fact that they are basically the same technology.

    An example of real innovation was the emergence of personal computers, introduced by Apple in 1977. After that, it is hard to find innovation of this level.

    Ok, first off, it’s well known that technology takes a long time to move from concept to mass production. The fact that packet-switched communications and microwave wireless were conceived long ago does not mean that we’re stagnating. It just means that we’re following the ongoing trend we’ve been following for hundreds of years.

    What Kasparov doesn’t address, because it doesn’t support his argument, is what is in the labs and startups right now. And that would be:

    • Nanotechnology
    • Nano-medicine
    • Genetic sequencing and gene therapy
    • Quantum Computing
    • Safer nuclear fusion

    We are building insanely tiny things with incredible, magic-like properties. We are curing diseases that used to be uncurable. We’re building computers to solve problems that used to be essentially unsolvable.

    These are all dramatic new innovations that will make the future much brighter. Ignoring them because you want to have reasons to be dissatisfied with the present is just stupid.

    Time and Priorities

    posted on April 11, 2012 in

    Puter of the Gormogons has a thoughtful piece on how one spends one’s hours, minutes and seconds of remaining life.

    It’s a good article, don’t get me wrong. But it also made me angry. This, in particular:

    One Percenter got a far away look in his eyes and stated that occasionally he will stand in his window and watch his plow contractor, wishing he had the time to clear his own driveway. And to cut his own lawn

    This made me mad because Mr One Percenter Hedge Fund Guy has the time. He absolutely, 100% has all the time he wants to pursue whatever he wants. It’s a luxury that most people on Earth will never have. But instead, he hides behind excuses.

    That’s what makes me mad. Mr. One Percenter has the time, but he chooses not to use it. He says he wishes he had time to mow the lawn, but, in all frankness, he’s lying to himself, lying to Puter, lying to the universe. What he’s really saying is “I wish mowing the lawn was a bigger priority for me”.

    You see the trick I pulled there? I turned the statement from one about the uncontrollable physics of the clock, and made it a statement about free will. Can you imagine? A One-Percenter-Hedge-Fund-Guy who can’t muster enough free will to mow the lawn? Isn’t that (when you really think about it) kind of pathetic?

    But, really, I’m being unfair as well, at least a little. I’m sure Mr. One-Percenter knows (to some degree) that he could mow the lawn, if he really wanted to. So, the real question is, why doesn’t he? My guess (and this is only a guess) is fear.

    Mr. One Percenter, having conquered the world of high finance, is afraid of losing his position of power. He’s afraid of losing his status, the deference that others show to him. He’s afraid that his current pile of millions won’t be enough, that without access to ever-expanding piles of money, he’ll never be _safe_. So he keeps running on this treadmill, hanging out with people who act like his friends (but would sell him to kidnappers for a dollar if they could), enjoying his fancy cars, and fancy house, and the way the salespeople are so obsequious.

    And he says to himself (I’m guessing) “I have to keep going, or I’ll be a nobody.”

    Yes. A nobody… with millions of dollars in the bank.

    Bill Gates spends his money fighting disease in Africa. James Cameron builds submarines and dives into the depths of the ocean. Richard Branson builds spaceships. Jeff Bezos funds 10,000 year clocks and spaceships of his own.

    “Oh, well, those guys are super-rich. I can’t compete with that”. I hear you cry.


    John Carmack (one of the developers of Doom and Quake and other games) builds spaceships. He made millions, not billions. A guy who owned a dry cleaner in New Jersey spends his days dressed up as Batman, handing out toys to cancer-stricken children.

    And Mr. One-Percenter thinks he’s trapped, unable to find time to mow his lawn. What he’s really saying (I suspect) is “I’d rather be high-status and stressed out of my mind, than slightly-lower-status and relaxed.”

    Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Mr. One Percenter has made a lot of bad decisions, and is living paycheck-to-paycheck. Maybe he will go bankrupt if he walks away from the job and hours and the stress. But somehow, I doubt it. Somehow, I suspect that what he really is is a slave to the little voice in the back of his head whispering “more, more, more”.

    A moment’s courage, and he could walk away. He cash out, settle his debts, and live better than any king of old, probably without even eating into the principal of his accumulated wealth. He could feed the hungry, clothe the poor, touch the hearts of scared and suffering children. He could mow his lawn, build a shed, write a novel, travel to the 5 most dangerous places on Earth. He could do all the things that the vast majority of us will only ever get to do one of.

    A moment’s courage, a promise whispered to himself: “I know that lowering my status is scary, but every single book, every single study ever written on this topic tells me that I’ll adapt to it far more easily than I expect.”

    And he would be free.

    Game Of Thrones Geekery

    posted on February 19, 2012 in

    This is a really, really good painting, IMO.

    - if you’re not familiar with the series – this presents the scene where the yellow-clad rebel lord Robert Baratheon attacked the crown prince Rhaegar Targaryen, 15 years before the start of the first book.

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