Thursday, September 01, 2011

Quotes of the day

I've never been 100% sure whether patents help or hinder technological progress. When I was a kid I thought they helped. I thought they protected inventors from having their ideas stolen by big companies. Maybe that was truer in the past, when more things were physical. But regardless of whether patents are in general a good thing, there do seem to be bad ways of using them. And since bad uses of patents seem to be increasing, there is an increasing call for patent reform. The problem with patent reform is that it has to go through the government. That tends to be slow. But recently I realized we can also attack the problem downstream. As well as pinching off the stream of patents at the point where they're issued, we may in some cases be able to pinch it off at the point where they're used. One way of using patents that clearly does not encourage innovation is when established companies with bad products use patents to suppress small competitors with good products. This is the type of abuse we may be able to decrease without having to go through the government. The way to do it is to get the companies that are above pulling this sort of trick to pledge publicly not to. Then the ones that won't make such a pledge will be very conspicuous. Potential employees won't want to work for them. And investors, too, will be able to see that they're the sort of company that competes by litigation rather than by making good products.--Paul Graham

The Buffett investment just might turn out to erode, not increase, confidence. And not only for Bank of America, but for the banking sector as a whole.--Jesse Eisinger

To show her support for American workers, President Obama's labor secretary, Hilda Solis, has junked the standard black limo and purchased a new Chevrolet Equinox to ride around Washington in. The problem: the crossover SUV is built and assembled in Canada from parts also made in Canada.--Paul Bedard

Let's hope that labor economist Alan Krueger, as he assumes his new position as Chief Economist to the President, remembers that demand curves really do slope downward, despite his original flawed findings based on faulty survey data.--Mark Perry

If you add up all the promises that have been made for spending obligations, including defense expenditures, and you subtract all the taxes that we expect to collect, the difference is $211 trillion. That's the fiscal gap," he says. "That's our true indebtedness.--Laurence Kolitkoff

Bias matters not because liberals deliberately slant their stories, but because they are much more likely to interrogate the facts that contradict their ideological beliefs, than the ones that support them.  When they come across an uncomfortable fact, they'll go out of their way to figure out why it isn't really true.  When they come across a fact that confirms what they believe, they'll be more likely to accept it at face value.  I'm not claiming that liberals do this more than conservatives (I think that being human, they're equally prone to this phenomenon)--only that in the media, liberal bias is mostly what matters, because the media is overwhelmingly somewhere to the left of the American center.  Even if you have a conservative reporter prone to insufficient interrogation of convenient facts, those same facts are going to set off alarm bells with his editors, who are quite likely to question the whole story.  This is why I think liberal media bias is worrisome--not because it's a vast conspiracy, but because it creates a giant store of pseudofacts that "everyone knows", like all those ludicrous statistics about abortion and domestic violence that used to appear everywhere.  And new pseudofacts are being created, or resurrected, all the time.  Longtime readers of the blog have endured my jeremiads against Republicans who say that cutting tax rates raises revenue.  A few weeks ago I was flabbergasted to find out that a very smart left-of-center blogger I admire seemed to think it was common knowledge that there's really no evidence that tax cuts provide stimulus . . . a belief that I then find out seems to be common among some of the left commentariat.  This is not at all what any mainstream economist I'm aware of believes (the debate is over the relative size of secondary and tertiary effects of various kinds of stimulus, not whether tax cuts are stimulative at all.)  But somehow this belief had become common . . . presumably because in the milieu where it was transmitted, no one was disposed to question something that fit so neatly with what they already believed.  Add in a few hundred repeitions from people you like, and voila, "Everyone knows . . . "--Megan McArdle

Everything here [in Afghanistan] was difficult, and the longer we remained the more army officials from air conditioned lairs on high pronounced an increasingly complex series of edicts, lest someone had to explain the actions of a unit actually in contact with the enemy. Winning in the traditional sense, any one could see was not the goal. The months here, had resolved the entire project into the madness of so-called “nation building.” Trouble was there was no nation to build. There never really had been. ... With absolute clarity I see the awful meaning of war. The sand is bright red. Discarded crimson stained bandages fly away in the wind and we hold no illusions about what has happened here. Governments and chains of command are pale compared with these events. Philosophical discourse is of no consequence. It is a confusing moment of sadness and urgency.--Michael Woodard

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