Friday, October 07, 2011

Quotes of the day

There seemed to be evidence that the age of the universe was younger than the age of its oldest stars. There wasn’t as much total matter as theorists predicted. And there was less structure on large scales than people expected. The discovery of dark energy solved all of these problems at once. It made everything snap into place. ... Previously, string theorists (like everyone else) assumed that the right thing to do was to explain a universe with zero vacuum energy. Once there was a real chance that the vacuum energy is not zero, they asked whether that was easy to accommodate within string theory. The answer is: it’s not that hard. The problem is that if you can find one solution, you can find an absurdly large number of solutions. That’s the string theory landscape, which seems to kill the hopes for one unique solution that would explain the real world. That would have been nice, but science has to take what nature has to offer.--Sean Carroll

Buying the homes and destroying them or burning homes was the low cost option [to stabilizing the housing market].--Alan Greenspan

[Peter Orszag's proposal to subsidize those who buy vacant houses and rent them out] would be of no help at all to the underwater homeowner. It doesn't allow a homeowner to sell his house to an investor at the subsidized price because of the requirement that the house needs to be vacant. In other words, this would punish homeowners, incentivize banks to foreclose instead of modify, while enriching banks and absentee real estate investors. No wonder Orszag got tapped to be vice chairman of banking at Citi.--John Carney

The public is wrong. Indeed, the public is delusional. It's crazy to tax everyone to provide "free" pensions and health care for everyone. And it's logically impossible for benefits to permanently grow faster than GDP.--Bryan Caplan

Everyone knows that all striving occurs in a social context, so all attainments are conditioned by their context. This does not, however, entail a collectivist political agenda. ... [Elizabeth] Warren’s emphatic assertion of the unremarkable — that the individual depends on cooperative behaviors by others — misses this point: It is conservatism, not liberalism, that takes society seriously. Liberalism preaches confident social engineering by the regulatory state. Conservatism urges government humility in the face of society’s creative complexity. Society — hundreds of millions of people making billions of decisions daily — is a marvel of spontaneous order among individuals in voluntary cooperation. Government facilitates this cooperation with roads, schools, police, etc. — and by getting out of its way. This is a sensible, dynamic, prosperous society’s “underlying social contract.”--George Will

Without endless financial-industry profits, New York can’t afford to make good on the promises it’s made to workers and pick up the trash and keep criminals off streets. From 1997 to 2007, the city’s tax collections nearly doubled, from $20.4 billion to $38.6 billion, growth nearly three times the inflation rate. Why? The financial industry was making record profits from debt and derivatives.--Nicole Gelinas

The way I look at it, advocates of centralized, technocratic management respond to every failure by demanding more power for technocrats. Those of us who are opposed are equally committed to our point of view. Most of the cries for compromise or for bipartisanship strike me as calls for my side to surrender. I think that underneath this gridlock is a battle for status. I think that the peak years for status for technocrats were the 1940s through the 1960s. Since then, I see a trend toward technocrats experiencing (but becoming less willing to acknowledge) failures and loss of popularity. In the 1970s, the technocrats who supported wage and price controls as a solution to inflation admitted their mistake. If such a failure were to take place today, I do not think that it would be acknowledged. The technocrats' grip on status is more tenuous today, which means that they feel that they have less margin to be generous with those of us on the other side. I do not see a mutually acceptable solution emerging.--Arnold Kling

... according to the International Energy Agency, the U.S. is now cutting carbon emissions faster than Europe, even though the European Union has instituted an elaborate carbon-trading/pricing scheme. Why? The U.S. is producing vast quantities of cheap natural gas from shale, which is displacing higher-carbon coal. Meanwhile, China's emissions jumped by 123% over the past decade and now exceed those of the U.S. by more than two billion tons per year. Africa's carbon-dioxide emissions jumped by 30%, Asia's by 44%, and the Middle East's by a whopping 57%. Put another way, over the past decade, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions—about 6.1 billion tons per year—could have gone to zero and yet global emissions still would have gone up.--Robert Bryce

As for absolute decline, the US has very real problems, but the American economy remains highly productive. America remains first in total R&D expenditure, first in university rankings, first in Nobel prizes, and first on indices of entrepreneurship. According to the World Economic Forum, which released its annual report on economic competitiveness last month, the US is the fifth most competitive economy in the world (behind the small economies of Switzerland, Sweden, Finland, and Singapore). China ranks only 26th. Moreover, the US remains at the forefront of such cutting-edge technologies as biotech and nanotechnology. This is hardly a picture of absolute economic decline. Some observers worry that American society will become sclerotic, like Britain at the peak of its power a century ago. But American culture is far more entrepreneurial and decentralized than was that of Britain, where industrialists’ sons sought aristocratic titles and honors in London. And despite recurrent bouts of concern throughout its history, America reaps huge benefits from immigration. In 2005, foreign-born immigrants had participated in 25% of technology start-ups in the previous decade. As Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew once told me, China can draw on a talent pool of 1.3 billion people, but the US can draw on the world’s seven billion, and can recombine them in a diverse culture that enhances creativity in a way that ethnic Han nationalism cannot.--Joseph S. Nye

The death of Steve Jobs is a useful reminder of the fact that much wealth is not winner-take-all but winner makes everybody better off. Steve Jobs’s estate is estimated to be something between $6 billion and $7 billion. About 2/3 of that is Disney stock he received when Disney acquired Pixar. The rest if Apple stock. This is clearly a fraction, maybe a small fraction of the wealth Jobs created for the rest of us.Yes, he made a lot of money. But he made it by making the rest of us better off. He didn’t take it from us. He shared it with us. One reason that the top 1% only earned 8% of the income in the 1960′s vs. 20% now is that our economy has changed in ways that are good for all of us. I pause here to mention the obvious–the bottom 99% can be better off with a smaller share of the pie if the pie is getting sufficiently bigger which is what has happened over the last 50 years. But the top 1% gets a bigger share not because they are hoarding more of the pie. The top 1% gets a bigger share because the opportunity to create a lot of wealth for everyone has changed. ... If we fail to distinguish between ill-begotten gains and those gains that enrich all of us, we are headed down a very dangerous path.--Russ Roberts

For our fifth All Things Digital Conference, both Steve and his longtime rival, the brilliant Bill Gates, surprisingly agreed to a joint appearance, their first extended onstage joint interview ever. But it almost got derailed. Earlier in the day, before Gates arrived, I did a solo onstage interview with Jobs, and asked him what it was like to be a major Windows developer, since Apple's iTunes program was by then installed on hundreds of millions of Windows PCs. He quipped: "It's like giving a glass of ice water to someone in Hell." When Gates later arrived and heard about the comment, he was, naturally, enraged. In a pre-interview meeting, Gates said to Jobs "so I guess I'm the representative from hell." Jobs merely handed Gates a cold bottle of water. The tension was broken, and the interview was a triumph, with both men acting like statesmen. When it was over, the audience rose in a standing ovation, some of them in tears.--Walt Mossberg

The full legacy of Steve Jobs will not be sorted out for a very long time. When employees first talked about Jobs’ “reality distortion field,” it was a pejorative — they were referring to the way that he got you to sign on to a false truth by the force of his conviction and charisma. But at a certain point the view of the world from Steve Jobs’ brain ceased to become distorted. It became an instrument of self-fulfilling prophecy. As product after product emerged from Apple, each one breaking ground and changing our behavior, Steve Job’s reality field actually came into being. And we all live in it.--Stephen Levy

Ultimately it comes down to taste. It comes down to trying to expose yourself to the best things that humans have done and then trying to bring those things in to what you’re doing. I mean, Picasso had a saying. He said, ‘Good artists copy. Great artists steal.’--Steve Jobs

Now notice: doing what you love, and never settling until you find it, is a costly signal of your career prospects. Since following this advice tends to go better for really capable people, they pay a smaller price for following it. So endorsing this strategy in a way that makes you more likely to follow it is a way to signal your status. It sure feels good to tell people that you think it is important to “do what you love”; and doing so signals your status. You are in effect bragging. Don’t you think there might be some relation between these two facts?--Robin Hanson

Steve Jobs' gorgeous gadgets have no doubt helped some do what they love, and better. But mostly iStuff is so beloved because it offers such attractively pleasant diversion from the disappointment of having settled of necessity on lives we do not thoroughly love. To whom is watching Iron Man 2 on an iPad alone not settling? For my part, I intend to be the dickens out of myself and chase my dreams like a starved coyote chases a vole because I'm so awesome there's practically no chance this won't turn out spectacularly well. Which is why I write blog posts for very small amounts of money in Iowa.--Will Wilkinson

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