Economic anecdote

I saw a train load of coal the other day – can’t remember the last time, but it must have been around 1990. On the parallel track was another identical train of coal cars, going the other way empty.

Sewing, rhetoric, politics, air travel

  • “The Vintage Patterns Wiki boasts more than 83,500 patterns that are at least 25 years old.” Seen here: I can’t believe it’s not Butterick.
  • “I worry there’s a general undersupply of meta-contrarianism. You have an obvious point (exciting technologies are exciting). You have a counternarrative that offers a subtle but useful correction (there are also some occasional exceptions where the supposedly-unexciting technologies can be more exciting than the supposedly-exciting ones). Sophisticated people jump onto the counternarrative to show their sophistication and prove that they understand the subtle points it makes. Then everyone gets so obsessed with the counternarrative that anyone who makes the obvious point gets shouted down (“What? Exciting technologies are exciting? Do you even read Financial Times? It’s the unexciting technologies that are truly exciting!”). And only rarely does anyone take a step back and remind everyone that the obviously-true thing is still true and the exceptions are still just exceptions.” — Two Kinds of Caution, by Scott Alexander
  • The Left’s Breaking Point? We might have found it with the transgender movement.”

    Maybe; maybe not. It seems like there have been several of these things over the last thirty years. “Surely this will be it,” the non-lefty things. “This is so obviously irrational that it will be the bridge too far.” Yet here we are.

  • I am beginning to think we need the Federal Government to step in and set up a Customer Bill of Rights (link goes to existing rules, which don’t do much more than prohibit the intentional killing of passengers). I don’t like more pointless government regulations, but I am starting to think that airlines can’t be relied on to maintain any kind of standards. They will keep compressing coach seats until passengers start suffocating, and then they will blame the passengers for buying tickets.”

  • How about standing-room-only on short flights? If it were $30 cheaper, someone would buy it.

Unemployment explained

Why are people unemployed? Those business plans are illegal that would make hiring them profitable. In some cases there are solid laws against particular business plans; in others the accumulation of goofy regulation has made nominally legal business plans unprofitable. But the people are still here.

In the absence of welfare, it wouldn’t be possible (in the long run) to pay a worker less than a living wage. He wouldn’t live, and then there would be no worker. Before he even starved, he wouldn’t be able to buy gas to get to work. Before that, the lender would repossess his car. Welfare makes viable some business plans that rely on paying workers less than a living wage.

Similarly, it’s not so much that immigrants take jobs. For some time now there haven’t been “jobs” as fixed things. There are business plans (and they aren’t fixed.)

The workers available are one limitation on what business plans are viable. Maybe industrial-scale poultry production is only possible if a large number of recent immigrants are available to cut up chickens in the factory. Maybe some business plans only make sense if you can have a bunch of special visa holders living in a dorm and being bused in to their cubicles every morning.

So it’s not that immigrants take jobs. It’s that constant unrestricted immigration, and the assumption that it will continue forever, affect what business plans are viable.

Fair tax?

We should talk more about remittances sent from the U.S. to other countries, like when Pierre sends money back to his family in Quebec. When I buy stuff in a neighboring state, I am obliged to pay a tax to the state in which I live, to offset the loss of sales tax revenue. Maybe something like that is in order for remittances. Should people be able to shield their income from state sales tax by sending it across the border?

Finance

The eugenist “laid the foundations of his fortune in a very curious and poetical way, the nature of which I have never fully understood. It consisted in his walking about the street without a hat and going up to another man and saying, “Suppose I have two hundred whales out of the North Sea.” To which the other man replied, “And let us imagine that I am in possession of two thousand elephants’ tusks.” They then exchange, and the first man goes up to a third man and says, “Supposing me to have lately come into the possession of two thousand elephants’ tusks, would you, etc.?” If you play this game well, you become very rich; if you play it badly you have to kill yourself or try your luck at the Bar.” — Eugenics and Other Evils, by G.K. Chesterton

It works great as long as you never need to actually deliver the whales.

Four observations

  • No amount of gritty determination will get all of us into the upper half.
  • Sawing an inch off one end and nailing it onto the other does not make the board longer.
  • Some business plans are unsustainable in a democracy.
  • The funny thing about a cargo cult is, sometimes the planes come.

Externalizing the cost

Suppose immigrants from Somalia make the US a better place in the long term – more vibrancy, richer tapestry, spicier salad bowl, whatever, it works out in the long term.

First, we never get to the long term. After the Somalis it’ll be the Congolese, then the Uighurs, then, who knows? the Latvians, or the Hutus, the Mancunians, the Savoyards.

Second, the long term benefits accrue to the Somalis, and to the upper class. The short term costs are born by those racists at the bottom who can’t live in a gated community and send their child to private school.

It’s part of a larger pattern. The people in charge make policy regardless of what the rest of us want, externalizing the cost of that policy while capturing the benefit. Then they condemn us as bitter clingers, racists, and resentful older brothers.