Radical Reason

"Nil sine ratione."

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

September 27, 2006

Soft paternalism strikes again. Read about a pending New York law.

In response to this article, one of my friends said, to paraphrase,

"Good. Trans fats are bad for you. This law will save lives, and it will especially save the lives of the poor, who eat fatty foods disproportionately because they are cheaper. Most people are ignorant of the consequences of eating fatty foods, especially poor people. I am not scared of big government if it makes people healthier."

Now, I am no fan of big government. Neither are most Americans.

But with thinking like that paraphrased above, you can see why dictatorships sometimes enjoy popular approval.

I've never bought the "poor people have no choice" argument. I think it's incredibly weak - and insulting to the labor and intelligence of poor people. It's cheaper to go to the grocery store to purchase food. It's just that many people are lazy (or, if you prefer, harried and busy) and want the easy way out (or convenience, if you prefer) provided by fast food. I'll hit on this in a bit.

The problem here is twofold. One component is ignorance of the threats posed by fatty foods. That is addressed by education, not prohibition. And the second issue is one of choice. At base, people CHOOSE to eat fatty foods. Humans make choices in free societies. Perhaps that choice is not prudent - in one's humble opinion - but government prohibition of that choice represents a remarkable confiscating of freedom.

This law throws the baby out with the bathwater. Responsible healthy people who enjoy the occasional greasy bowl of french fries suddenly have been told by their caretaker governments that, "that's not a good idea. And we know better." It seems axiomatic to me that an individual can best pursue his or her interests, and that outside actors, despite potential information advantages, simply do not have the same incentive to pursue another's best interests. Particularly government actors.

Nationwide obesity is a problem. But the solution is not limiting freedom of choice. I think the solution is education and better parenting. The state has unfortunately stepped into too many similar arenas. Parents are no longer responsible for how their children develop. Individuals are no longer responsible for their own behavior. Suddenly - and remarkably ineffectively - the state is.

Back to the article. I also think economics plays a huge role in a law such as this, and the social planners on high seem to have ignored this. Restaurants will spend a fortune if they try to comply with this regulation, and those costs will be passed onto consumers. Suddenly, that poor family is plunking a lot more down to eat at McDonald's - that's money they don't have. Businesses will fail, jobs will be lost, and the only people that will benefit to any appreciable degree are those in the upper classes.

This is a typical leftist solution to a problem - pass a law that shifts responsibility for dealing with the problem to "others," then go home feeling good about yourself. It's the reason that many rich people support higher taxes for state-run programs. Rather than go out and fight poverty or some other ill directly - through teaching in low-income schools or giving of one's own time or organizing some charitable effort of committed souls, it's much easier to just shift the responsibility through money to others - it requires no real sacrifice on the rich person's part. He can wash his hands of the problem and sleep better at night, confident that he's "doing something."

You might call it the "White Guilt Relief Fund."

There are many problems in our society, and as members of that civil society, we can debate the nature of the imperative to solve them. But window-dressing such as the law described in this article serves only to whittle further away at the freedom of the individual and unleashes a host of unintended consequences that amount to little more than an effort to appear to do something, rather than to actually do something.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

From Mike Ditka. Seriously. He has the jersey and everything. -ed.

Sports analysis has become such a phenomenon yet people seem to disregard the simple facts. Like these:

1. The Bears dismantled the Panthers last regular season, but this game could be pinned solely on the Panthers O-Line as they were dominated by the Bears front four. (Bears 1 - Panthers 0)

2. The Panthers dismantled the Bears in the playoffs, but this game could be pinned solely on the Bears secondary as they were dominated by Smith/Delhomme (Bears 1 - Panthers 1)

3. Both teams made, in my opinion, one great offseason move and had solid, if not sexy, drafts. The key here is they both reinforced positions decimated by injury which held them back last year. Bears got Griese as a FA (reinforcing QB), which was a shrewd move while the Panthers goy Key, which can only help. The Bears bolstered that secondary that was toasted by SS and company (reinforcing our oft-injured secondary) in both FA and the draft while adding to their special teams with Devin Hester. The Panthers picked up arguably the best RB in the draft behind Bush (reinforcing their oft-injured RB) while offsetting the loss of RMJ by drafting Richard Marshall, who some "experts" had slated to go in the 1st round. I call this a wash, with both teams addressing glaring needs. (Bears 1 - Panthers 1)

In my opinion, it is this black and white. Now why is it that the sportswriters are so eager to tout the Panthers as the Superbowl champs while picking the Bears to lose their disgustingly weak division? My point here is not necessarily to compare the Bears and Panthers but to provide one instance where the "expert analysis" doesn't hold water when you analyze 2006 in light of the 2005 season and subsequent draft and free agency period. All said, sure, I'd probably trade the Bears team for the Panthers team. And yes, the Bears need to prove they can win a playoff game, which they haven't done since the early 90's (excuse me, I just puked in my mouth a little).

But, when you consider the above "analysis" in light of strength of schedule and teams in the NFC North and NFC South, this is a no-brainier. The Panthers play a very tough schedule and their division is, in my opinion, the second toughest in football. Atlanta will have a nasty D but their success with hinge on Vick. Everyone knows how tough TB is. Ask the Panthers and Bears. NO actually has a QB and added another explosive player in Bush. I doubt their D will hold up. Still, they're much improved. The 3 "other" NFC North teams feature 3 rookie head coaches, two QB's pushing 40, zero proven RB's, one team starting 2 rookies on their O-Line, one team who cut their projected #1 WR, 3 mediocre LB'ing units, a disaster of a secondary in Green Bay (give me a break with the Charles Woodson signing, he is OVERRATED like none other) and the list goes on and on.

Given all this, please tell me how the Panthers are the unanimous pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl while at least 1/3 of the previews I've read do not pick the Bears to with the North. Are the Panthers that much better? Am I missing something? Are these experts really experts??

From Ra-James - we'll have to do it this way until I figure out how to use the blogging software -

This is from a debate about our favorite idiot columnist, Harold Meyerson. He wrote a column about health insurance and Wal-Mart. -ed.

The health insurance concerns are, I believe, the reason that so many Americans are apprehensive about the state of the economy. The lack of health insurance is a major problem and needs to be addressed through fundamental and radical reform of our entire health care system, although I will stress that my statement doesn't imply nationalized health care (however, I do like the idea of a government subsidized health care voucher system) . I'd also like to point out that unlike virtually every good and service provided by our economy, the cost of health care has increased in real terms over the past century. I'd say that we need to figure out a way to get health care to behave more like those other goods and services.

The "Wal-Mart depresses wages" theory only holds water if Wal-Mart has such a hugely disproportionate market share that it can push down the wages of workers across the industry, by exercising said market share to push down really hard on its overall operating costs and allowing its prices to follow suit. Thus, it follows that other firms in the industry will have to cut their operating costs, which includes labor costs, in order to compete on a price basis with Wal-Mart. However, I find this claim to be exaggerated for a number of reasons:

1. There is no rule that says companies in the industry compete only on price. Target and Costco make up for their higher prices relative to Wal-Mart by offering higher quality merchandise and a more attractive shopping experience (higher quality staff, cleaner stores, etc.). Target and Costco also pay their workers higher wages than Wal-Mart, but hire less workers. In essence, anti-Wal-Mart activists are saying that they would like to impose the Costco model on all big box retailers in order to ensure that the workers are paid more. However, common sense dictates that if forced to do so, Wal-Mart will simply hire less workers and keep the same operating costs. The only way that forcing the Costco model onto workers at Wal-Mart would be good for those workers would be if Wal-Mart decided to absorb all of the increased costs of labor and not lay anyone off, thereby driving up their operating costs and forcing them to take a major hit in profitability. This scenario seems extremely unlikely and the whole anti-Wal-Mart argument amounts to a lot of wishful thinking.

2. Additionally, I mentioned that in order to exercise a strong depressionary effect on wages, Wal-Mart would need to have a hugely disproportionate market share in the sales of the goods it stocks on its shelves. In fact, it would probably need to have a near monopolistic grip on the market in order to do so. However, once a company gains a monopoly market share, it tends to raise its prices because it now has carte blanche to do so. Additionally, historically firms with a monopoly grip on the market will almost always pay their workers more than they would have earned if the industry was competitive. Moreover, it is glaringly obvious that Wal-mart is not a monopoly. Just off the top of my head I can think of a handful of competitors, including: Harris Teeter, Target, Costco, KMart, TJ Maxx, Best Buy, Meijer, the list goes on. Thus, this argument rests on an empirical fallacy as well as a theoretical fallacy.

Some other general comments:

1. I do not understand how anti-Wal-Mart activists can neglect the massive benefits that the store confers on the poor consumer by allowing them to purchase goods for much less than they would be able to get anywhere else. In that sense the poor have no greater friend than Wal-Mart. All that you have to do to confirm this is walk into a Wal-Mart and observe the shoppers who walk in and out. I guarantee that the clientele at Wal-Mart has a lower average income than the clientele at Costco or Target.

2. There is no reason to believe that the individuals who choose to work at Wal-Mart for low wages do not do so because it was the best option available to them at the time. No one is forced to work at Wal-Mart. Also, there is no reason to believe that people who work for Wal-Mart are stuck there forever. Indeed, someone with no work skills or experience who works at Wal-Mart for 2 years can use that experience with Wal-Mart to springboard to a better job at Costco, where they will be paid more and have health care benefits. I am willing to bet that since Costco pays so well, it rarely hires people with zero or marginal experience to work in its stores. Forcing Costco labor standards on Wal-Mart would probably cut off a source of upward mobility for the individuals who need the experience and skills gained by working at Wal-Mart the most.

3. There is strong evidence that Wal-Mart is a major contributor towards alleviating extreme third world poverty, which, judging by their attitudes towards trade, anti-Wal-Mart activists don't care about. (http://www.tcsdaily.com/article.aspx?id=082206D)

September 7, 2006

At long last, I return to Radical Reason. Let's hope indolence doesn't get the best of me in the next few months.

A format change - I've been toying with adding other contributors here, and now comes the time for that. We'll welcome experts from various fields - and by experts, I mean the people that I normally argue with about inane subjects.

Check the byline for the latest contributors. And some expanded topics - an economics focus, and the occasional sports post as well. We're jacks of all trades over here.