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Reblogged: How're we doing? (A review of 2013)
Overview: Slow economy, rocketing stock market! Since the 2007-08 downturn, most measures of the economy have stabilized. Despite this, total-employment is still lower. The broadest GDP measure has been increasing very slowly. Meanwhile, house-prices have turned up for the last two years, and the stock market is at an all-time high.
Corporate profits are high since GDP is growing slowly while firms have kept a reign on costs. In addition, companies have been buying back stock at above-average levels. This is different from the type of excitement that drove the dot.com boom, because it does not cascade into higher salaries and expenditures: quite the opposite. In the short/medium term, this does not bode well for employment numbers and wages.
Here are some of the details:
Employment: Though the unemployment rate has been falling, it is mainly because so many people (particularly younger folk) have given up looking for jobs. For the core age-range 25-54 years, employment % is flat.
(BLS has latest data)
Real GDP: Real GDP picked up after pausing for about a year. It is growing slower than before, with people like Bill Gross of PIMCO saying we're in a "new normal". The graph is from the FRED database. The Y axis uses a log-scale, to make it easier to see growth rates. I have added hand-drawn, rough (by eye) "trend lines". Real GDP has grown steadily after each recession, but the rate has slowed a few times. With that said, the current trend is not long enough to tell; see how it was similarly slow in the late 1970s.
Here is a per capita version: The flattening is clear.
Retail Sales: Have resumed their pre-recession pace. A flat first half of 2012 now looks like an inconspicuous blip.
The Case-Schiller index has been rising for two years now.
under 2% for the last year. Using the TIPS to calculate the market's "expected inflation" shows it is under 2% going out 10 years, reaching 2% only 30 years from now!
Summary: There is no enthusiasm about the economy. The Christmas season might improve on last year, but it is unlikely to be great. Consequently, companies are unlikely to raise hiring or wages much more than they've been doing. Government entities aren't likely to go gang-busters either. At the Federal level, even without another debt-limit stand-off, we will probably not see a new fiscal splurge. So, "new normal" seems appropriate.
Even though the stock-market is booming, it is without excitement: more like "there's no other game in town, while the FED keeps rates low; and, profits are high through cost-control". The divergence cannot go on forever, but it can resolve itself in various ways. Much of the market-sentiment is driven by what John Hussman calls "superstition" about the Fed's ability to keep this playing out for a many more years.
I still think a new downturn is very likely before Obama's term ends. Let's see.
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Reblogged: Altruism vs. Philanthropy
Within a recent discussion of the superior ability of capitalism to improve the general welfare, John Stossel describes an amusing encounter:
Today, [Bill] Gates spends his time giving money away. He's unusually conscientious about it. He experiments, funding what works and dropping what doesn't. His charity work saves lives. Good for him. But Gates was also unusually skilled at bringing people better software. Had he continued doing that at Microsoft, I bet the company would have been even more productive. And Gates would have done more for the world.Stossel clearly hit a nerve, but I don't see benevolence as a primary explanation for Turner's reaction. At best, I can see self-doubt: Perhaps Turner finds his charity work more fulfilling than other activities, but since he rejects egoism, he can't see this as a valid reason to have moved into the area. Too bad for him.
Stossel's piece is informatve, but while it is true that the rising tide of capitalism lifts all boats, this is not why we should fight for it, as Ayn Rand once argued:
The moral justification of capitalism does not lie in the altruist claim that it represents the best way to achieve "the common good." It is true that capitalism does--if that catch-phrase has any meaning--but this is merely a secondary consequence. The moral justification of capitalism lies in the fact that it is the only system consonant with man's rational nature, that it protects man's survival qua man, and that its ruling principle is: justice.It is interesting to see that Turner's anti-egoistic drive to "guilt" other wealthy people into parting with vast sums is making him less effective at his professed goal -- and perhaps even unable to derive any selfish enjoyment from his own charitable work.
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Reblogged: Force-Fed Their Own Dog Food
Many blue state voters who supported ObamaCare are about to be force-fed their own dog food, according to Dick Morris:
In red states, Republican insurance commissioners have generally decided to let insurers and their customers cooperate to waive the cancellations. But the true believers in the blue states who serve as insurance commissioners have largely refused. Thus, the very voters the Democratic Party depends on are the most likely to continue to be forced to cancel the policies they want, despite their wishes and protests.This may be true, but I am less sanguine than Morris about this being anything but what reader Jim May is fond of calling a "teachable moment".
Why? The Democrats have two big advantages still with such voters: (1) They will play "blame the Republicans" to an always-receptive audience; and (2) This will be relatively easy for them to do because they (and this audience), being altruists, think that ObamaCare is the "right" thing to do. The GOP will lose long term unless it stops perseverating on the poor roll-out of a system that can't help but be bad -- because it is designed to forcibly nullify individual judgement throughout the process of caring for one's health. Until one rejects the premise that we are our brothers' keepers, one will not muster the moral courage or the indignant outrage to ask: "By what right does some clueless third party dictate to me out of the blue how and whom I pay for medical care?" The GOP should be doing this already, and should be helping these voters see that, if anything, they are not mad enough bout their policy cancellations.
Morris has found an opportunity to score, but the ball won't find the net on its own.
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Reblogged: Idealizing the Past: Progress in Airline Travel
This article — What International Air Travel Was Like in the 1930s — fascinates me. If you just look at the pictures, like this one…
… it’s easy to think, “Oh, people had it so much better in the past! Now we’re all cramped in planes like sardines!” But once you read the text, you’ll surely change your tune.
Consider this, for example:
See what I mean?
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Reblogged: Conservatives Piling On
Often, conservatives realize that something is amiss about the political status quo, but opt for a quick fix, and often one that actually compounds a bad situation. For example, the blog, Fixing California correctly identifies a problem: public sector labor unions misusing members' dues for political lobbying or campaigning. The proposed solution disappoints:
The reform, known by the shorthand of "paycheck protection," typically requires unions to have the permission of individual members before their dues are used for anything but collective bargaining.Several major problems immediately leap into my mind about the law. Among these problems are: (1) The Supreme Court has already ruled that at least part of what this proposed new law is supposed to prohibit is illegal; (2) The law seems ripe for being undermined by whatever some court or future legislature might decide falls under the umbrella of "collective bargaining", since public sector unions are ultimately dealing with the same entity, be it by traditional negotiations or political maneuvering; and (3) Why not at least float the idea of repealing the laws that coerce individual employees and governments into having to deal with these unions in the first place?
Like various "right to work" laws, this proposal is a misguided attempt to remedy one violation of rights with another. What is really needed is to repeal the rights-violating laws that have caused this mess in the first place, as Ari Armstrong of the TOS Blog made clear some time ago when he commented on Indiana's "right to work" law:
The conservative solution ... merely compounds previous violations of freedom of contract with new ones, apparently on the grounds that two wrongs somehow make a right. In [this] view, the bill is good because it "prohibits contracts requiring workers to pay union dues." But why should the government be in the business of setting the terms of employment contracts? Employers should be free to hire whomever they want on whatever terms the parties mutually agree to accept.There is no fundamental difference between the government butting in to prohibit the payment of union dues and the government butting in to dictate how they are spent. Both of these "solutions" violate the right to contract.
Rather than joining the "progressive" left in piling layer upon layer of government meddling onto the backs of individual citizens, conservatives should work to remove such layers on the principle that they violate individual rights.
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Why Do 1.4 Million Americans Work At Walmart, With Many More Trying To
“Their net income was $17 billion,” says Vincent Orange, a D.C. city councilman who voted to force Walmart to pay a minimum wage of $12.50 per hour in the nation’s capital, adding, “You don’t want to share a little bit with the citizens? Come on.” OUR Walmart—a union-backed activist group—accuses the company of showing disrespect to its employees because it doesn’t pay so-called living wages.
This op-ed was published at Forbes.com on November 27, 2013.
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Reblogged: Remembering a Good Man
David Shribman, calling Gerald Ford "underappreciated", marks an anniversary that is more obscure than it deserves:
[This Friday] is the 40th anniversary of the confirmation of Gerald R. Ford as vice president.Reading the rest of Shribman's column, however, one sees that America got what it needed at the time when Ford assumed the Presidency: an even-keeled, decent man, who only reluctantly accepted power. Shribman reminds me of a few remarks by a contemporary of Ford's who did appreciate what he brought to the table: Ayn Rand, whose fame is enjoying a resurgence during a presidency held by someone very much Ford's opposite.
I'll note a couple of her comments here. First, Rand apreciated Gerald Ford's response to the Mayaguez Incident during the Vietnam War:
To go from the horrendous to the grotesque, consider the Mayaguez incident. I hasten to say that were it not for the proper and highly moral action taken by President Ford, the consequences of that incident could have been more horrendous than Phnom Penh. That a small band of those same Cambodian savages dared seize an unarmed American ship, was such an affront to America (and to civilization) that the collapse of international law would have followed, if President Ford had not acted as he did. To borrow Senator Goldwater's very appropriate phrase, every "half-assed nation" would have felt free to attack the U.S.--which would have meant world rule by terrorist gangs.We shall never know whether the seizure of the Mayaguez was a deliberate provocation to test what the global communist scum could get away with--or the spontaneous feat of a local gang drunk with power and acting more royalist than their kings. But this does not concern us: in either case, when a foreign country initiates the use of armed force against us, it is our moral obligation to answer by force--as promptly and unequivocally as is necessary to make it clear that the matter is non-negotiable. ("The Lessons of Vietnam", in The Voice of Reason, pp. 144-145)Second, she offered the following general appraisal of Ford ahead of the 1976 elections:
In today's political situation, a positive statement about any candidate is valid only at the time it is made, since no one can tell whose policy may change to what or when. Up to the present (and, I hope, in the future), I support the candidacy of President Ford. I disagree with his policies in very many respects, but he deserves great credit for his fight against government spending and for his attempt to cut down on government controls. Obviously, he is an honest man who shows no symptoms of power-lust and no desire to run everyone's life. This is an unusual value in today's politics. [bold added] ("A Last Survey, Part I", The Ayn Rand Letter, vol. IV, no. 2, Dec. 1975)In this age of massive and growing government intrusiveness, it is worth recalling that men like Ford have served relatively recently and might still be out there. We would do well to remember Gerald Ford this week.
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Reblogged: Spring 2014 Editorial Internship: Apply Today!
Join The Undercurrent. Spread the Right Ideas. Get Paid.
Who: Full-time students seeking experience applying Objectivism to today’s world.
What: Paid internship, $1000 stipend (100 hour commitment).
When: Spring 2014 (Feb-April).
How: The Undercurrent is always looking for the right people to join our growing team. Apply here! The Undercurrent draws participants from across the country, and therefore interns will work from home, collaborating over email and regular teleconference meetings. Work hours are flexible (averaging 10 hours per week) to allow interns to combine their TU work with normal classwork and other obligations. Candidates should be familiar with Objectivism but need not be experts in the philosophy. Candidates must be full-time students.
Early Application Deadline: December 16.
Internship Description: Editorial Internship Description Our program allows students to participate in our writing and editing activities to communicate an Objectivist analysis of culture and politics for our blog and print formats. Selected candidates will write and publish objective, persuasive articles and blog posts for a general or college audience and receive valuable feedback and editorial guidance from our editing team. Regular tasks include:
- Writing regular shorter blog posts and possibly longer articles for our print editions
- Participation in the collaborative editorial process with other writers
- Attendance and participation at regular teleconference meetings
“Writing for The Undercurrent offered me the chance to work with a wonderful team of highly-qualified editors and alongside like-minded students. I learned how to adapt my writing from satisfying the expectations of professors to appealing to the minds of a college audience. For students with an eye towards improving their persuasive writing, challenging their understanding of Objectivism and its application to current issues, and having their voices heard, this internship is well worth the time.”
Questions? [email protected]
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Reblogged: 11-30-13 Hodgepodge
Spying "Sanction of the Victim" in a Word
I enjoy stopping by Word Spy from time to time to see what new and interesting words are out there in the popular media, but I got a small jolt from an entry I saw this morning:
copyduty -- n. A legal or voluntary obligation assumed by the owner of a work in exchange for having the work protected by copyright.Given the increased cultural currency of my favorite novelist-philosopher, Ayn Rand, I must say that this is an interesting term. The term perfectly exemplifies something she once discussed in a famous speech to the graduating class at West Point: the often-unappreciated cultural influence of philosophers, such as the duty-foisting Immanuel Kant.
She also had a more general umbrella term for such practices as "compensating" for ownership, as if it isn't a right, or it isn't earned by the creative act itself: "sanction of the victim". Rand's longtime collaborator, Leonard Peikoff, defines sanction of the victim as, "the willingness of the good to suffer at the hands of the evil, to accept the role of sacrificial victim for the 'sin' of creating values."
"[W]hen Walmart opens a new store, it's not uncommon for as many as 10,000 people to apply for just 300 jobs." -- Doug Altner, in "Why Do 1.4 Million Americans Work at Walmart, With Many More Trying To?" at Forbes
"The FDA is waging war against the mind of the individual. The mind is a terrible thing to lay to waste." -- Harry Binswanger, in "FDA Says, 'No Gene Test for You: You Can't Handle the Truth'" at Forbes
"People with strong moral standards often get frustrated because they can't distinguish between explanations and excuses." -- Michael Hurd, in "Control and Serenity Don't Mix" at The Delaware Wave
"When I say I'm thankful to man, I'm expressing reverence for reason; the one quality that animates human beings to thrive and produce. " -- Michael Hurd, in "Thanksgiving, Rationally Speaking" at The Delaware Coast Press
My Two Cents
Right around the time I heard about the Binswanger piece, I also heard about one man's reaction to having been told, erroneously, in his DNA test results, that he was doomed to suffer from a rare, debilitating illness. His reaction -- to understand and question the results -- is an excellent example of someone behaving against the FDA's stereotype. (This is not to say that the FDA's meddling would be justified, even if most people did behave the way the FDA assumes we would.)
The manager of Arsenal F.C. has brought back the club suit:
In a bid to maximise team spirit in his squad, Arsène Wenger recently decided to re-establish the tradition of wearing team suits - proper suits, not tracksuits - to games on match days.Follow the second link for a team shot. It is nice to see, in this era of nihilistic -- and yet snobbish -- pressure to conform to slovenliness, that the players are on board.
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Reblogged: Friday Four
1. If you have too much spare time on your hands, you could while it awayby building your own cell phone:
Making the DIY cellphone can be a fairly involved process but it doesn't necessarily require specific electronics expertise. You'll need to order the circuit board and electronics components (about $200 total) and have access to some other electronics tools. There's a good amount of fine hand soldering to be done: about 60 components, mostly surface-mount, which can take from one to five or ten hours, depending on your experience. Programming and, especially, debugging the phone can take a while - again, depending on your experience and how much goes wrong. Making the case requires some plywood and veneer, along with access to a laser cutter (or you can find your own way to enclosure the circuit board). In short, this is a difficult but potentially do-able project.An amusing paradox occurs to me: Such a phone would be perfect for parents of small children, who would mistake one of these for a toy, and prefer to play with a "real" phone instead -- but such people have the least time on their hands.
Also: Compare the expense of this bare-bones phone, in time and money, to the price (even if not carrier-subsidized) of an average phone (which will have many more features) and raise a glass to division of labor.
2. As if New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees didn't have a sufficiently well-stocked trophy cabinet-- or the contest isn't already interesting enough:
Brees, meanwhile, has led the Saints to consecutive wins against the Cowboys, 49ers and Falcons. He's gaining momentum at just the right time. And the primetime stage against the 10-1 Seahawks provides the perfect forum to make his mark.I find the fact that he hasn't won this award borderline comical.
3. My favorite soccer manager knows better than I thought how to handle hostile media attacks:
"What do you know?" he said.One cannot help but speculate on how much improved news coverage would become if, at every step of the process -- from interviewees, to reporters and editors, and all the way down to the readership -- everyone asked "What do you know?" (Implicit in the question is a corrollary: "How do you know it?")
4. Pssst! If you want to buy perfectly legal, American-manufactured 100W incandescent light bulbs, go here. Of course, this will last until some bureaucrat closes the "commercial grade" loophole.
Or, better yet, such hoop-jumping could become a thing of the past with the eventual repeal of the inane law that bans the free sale of Edison bulbs.
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