Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Quotes of the day

Just because you believe something firmly doesn’t make it true. Be willing to reexamine what you believe. The more you live in the truth, the more your emotions will help you see clearly.--William Young

But what if what the world really needs more of something else? What if it needs more specialists, more people with deep knowledge about the regions they study and work in? What if it needs people who are well-versed enough in their own disciplines to be critical of half-baked development ideas cooked up by aid planners who know just enough about every topic to believe they have the answers? What if the world needs more specialists to evaluate the quality of the work in each specialty?--William Easterly

Facebook is the people you went to school with. Twitter is the people you wished you went to school with.--unattributed

Letting prices rise freely isn’t the only possible response to a sudden shortage. Government rationing is an option, and so are price controls — assuming you don’t object to the inevitable corruption, long lines, and black market. Better by far to let prices rise and fall freely. That isn’t “gouging,’’ but plain good sense — and the best method yet devised for allocating goods and services among free men and women.--Jeff Jacoby

Here's my own New Labour Story. I joined the FCO in 1979 as a naive and truculent leftist, fresh from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in the USA. Trade Unions - good! Mrs Thatcher - horrible! How dare she and Raygun stand up so defiantly against the Soviet Union and all those of us who only wanted Peace? Then I was sent to communist Yugoslavia, where it dawned on me that so many things I had thought and been told about Socialism were simply untrue, or (worse) calculated lies. I came back to the UK in 1984 a fervent believer in the utility (and morality) of free markets and Western democracy. I played my part in helping the Thatcher government end apartheid in South Africa. Then she fell, but I was in London for the early Major years as Communism ended in the Soviet Union and across Europe. ... Somehow the Conservatives have not quite managed to lay out a clear, honourable alternative. With a record like Labour's no-one other than John Prescott's elderly relatives should be voting Labour ever again. Yet Labour lingers on, helped by the armies of loyal collectivist serfs they have created in the BBC and countless public sector appointments. They can not campaign on their record, so they spread dirty sneers and fears. Such is the debased public space they have left us that some of this works.--Charles Crawford

So it is not true that liberals have always believed communism is a bad idea, if by communism you mean an economic system where the government owns the major industries, sets prices, and has confiscatory tax rates on wealth. Of course they never bought into the (totalitarian) communist political system, but they most certainly did buy into its economic system. Samuelson’s textbook once predicted the Soviet living standards would surpass the US by 1990. If true, shouldn’t we adopt a democratic form of socialism in America? We’ve come a long way. Right-wingers should not get too discouraged about the regulatory “reforms” being considered. Of course the crackdown on derivatives will probably do more harm than good, but the key point is that the harm it does will be trivial compared to the harm done by policies in the 1970s that even conservatives bought into. ... I used to hate older guys that told me I just didn’t understand how things were in the old days. Now I’ve turned into that jerk.--Scott Sumner

From a libertarian point of view, it would be inconsistent to advocate legalizing marijuana and banning trans fats. A liberal would not see any inconsistency.--Arnold Kling

And why is the [distressed real estate investor] guy bad? Because he offers to buy houses. This isn't Kelo where the government just steps in and steals people's property. This is a voluntary transaction. So the seller gains, the buyer gains, and the ultimate buyer gains. What this one segment shows is that Moore doesn't understand the basics about how wealth is created.--David Henderson

When I graduated from college, I had no interest in investment banking or its close cousin, management consulting. But I went to McKinsey for reasons that were only slightly different than those of the typical Ivy League undergrad; after getting a Ph.D. in history, I discovered that I was unlikely to get a good academic job and was pretty much unqualified for anything else, and McKinsey was one of the few places that would hire me into a “good” job with no discernible qualifications (other than academic pedigree). Now that I’m at Yale Law School, where maybe 15% of students (my wild guess) come in wanting to be corporate lawyers but 75% end up at corporate law firms (first job after law school, not counting clerkships), I’m seeing it again. The typical Harvard undergraduate is someone who: (a) is very good at school; (b) has been very successful by conventional standards for his entire life; (c) has little or no experience of the “real world” outside of school or school-like settings; (d) feels either the ambition or the duty to have a positive impact on the world (not well defined); and (e) is driven more by fear of not being a success than by a concrete desire to do anything in particular. (Yes, I know this is a stereotype; that’s why I said “typical.”) Their (our) decisions are motivated by two main decision rules: (1) close down as few options as possible; and (2) only do things that increase the possibility of future overachievement. Money is far down the list; at this point in their lives, if you asked them, many of these people would probably say that they only need to be middle or upper-middle class, and assume that they will be. The recruiting processes of Wall Street firms (and consulting firms, and corporate law firms) exploit these (faulty) decision rules perfectly. The primary selling point of Goldman Sachs or McKinsey is that it leaves open the possibility of future greatness. The main pitch is, “Do this for two years, and afterward you can do anything (like be treasury secretary).” ... And when you have kids, you’re stuck; it’s much easier to deprive yourself of money (and what it buys) than to deprive your children of money.--James Kwak

... by your standards, FDR himself wasn't an FDR. He insisted, for example, that Social Security be limited to people who made some contribution, instead of backing the far-left proposal to immediately start cutting checks to anyone over 65. So what makes an FDR? Roughly speaking, a president who is more leftist than 90% of the Congressmen who held office immediately prior to his first election. I think FDR and Obama both qualify. Clinton, in contrast, was probably no more leftist than 65%. It's a pretty big difference.--Bryan Caplan

BP, now under federal scrutiny because of its role in the deadly Gulf of Mexico explosion and oil spill, is one of three finalists for a federal award honoring offshore oil companies for "outstanding safety and pollution prevention." The winner of the award - chosen before the April 20 oil rig incident - was to be announced this coming Monday at a luncheon in Houston. But the U.S. Department of Interior this week postponed the awards ceremony, saying it needs to devote its resources to the ongoing situation resulting from the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and fire.--Mike Ahlers

Last week, before the Times Square incident, I was talking with a former U.S. intelligence officer who worked extensively on jihadi cases during several overseas tours. He said that when a singleton of Shahzad’s profile—especially a U.S. citizen—turns up in a place like Peshawar, local jihadi groups are much more likely to assess him as a probable U.S. spy than as a genuine volunteer. At best, the jihadi groups might conclude that a particular U.S.-originated individual’s case is uncertain. They might then encourage the person to go home and carry out an attack—without giving him any training or access to higher-up specialists that might compromise their local operations. They would see such a U.S.-based volunteer as a “freebie,” the former officer said—if he returns home to attack, great, but if he merely goes off to report back to his C.I.A. case officer, no harm done. --Steve Coll

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