Monday, September 26, 2011

A Key Question

I used to think that the important thing to ask someone whose views you wanted to understand is "why do you believe this?"  It seems like a good start for a discussion, and a way of figuring out whether you're on the same page as someone, what they value, and how they came to their decision.  But, after spending the better part of this year embroiled in near-constant virtually-zero-progress political debates, I can't help but think that I had this one wrong.  I think I figured out a better one.  "What hypothetical evidence would it take to change your mind on this issue?" Try it out on some people.

I like this question because it separates core value issues from higher order policy ideas.  If you can't give a real answer to this question (I can't think of any possible evidence that could convince me that slavery should be legal... for instance), then your policy goal is simply to enact your favored policy (in this case abolition).  However, I can think of lots of ways that, say, my belief in the fiscal stimulus's effectiveness could be overturned.  For example, if someone showed me that job losses or GDP losses had accelerated or stayed the same after its implementation, I would be forced to abandon my belief that the stimulus improved the economy.

If you manage to have a conversation with someone entirely about the ways in which each of your views could (hypothetically of course) be overturned, then you are a lot closer to understanding where they come from, and how you can fix them ;-).

Here's my economic issue list.  Please feel free to comment in your own convinceables.

Double Blind Politics

One of the consequences of uninformed and partisan politics is an enormous amount of cognitive dissonance.  Examples like the ones below make me wonder a lot how different things would be if we voted on policies rather than politicians.  No names and no parties attached to any proposal, just a list of ideas for voters to yay or nay. Just a couple examples of doublethink below the break:

Monday, September 19, 2011

A Libertarian model for Government Funding

Libertarian morality basically works around two fundamental property rights.  Each person owns their own body, and the bounty of nature is owned by all.  By trade, and by fair access to the bounty of nature, things are produced, exchanged, and improved, and the engines of capitalism start to fire.  In this model, the important thing is to ensure that property rights and contract law (which is really just an extension of property right to include the right to exchange) are protected.  Interestingly, this provides a clear area for the proper operation and implementation of government - counter to the anarcho-capitalist ideas that seem to follow necessarily from libertarianism.  Note, that the libertarian arguments for anarchism differ starkly from the arguments I have presented here earlier.  Frankly, I find the moral autonomy argument for anarchism much stronger than that of libertarianism, but I think it's worth exploring the libertarian ideas because they seem to dominate political discourse in a lot of ways.

The fundamental moral logic behind libertarianism is that each person possesses his or her own body, and all the things s/he creates using things fairly traded or gotten from the bounty of nature.  Now, the commonly recognized flaw in this kind of morality is that the "bounty" of nature isn't all that bountiful when you compare it to the entire needs of the human race over all of history.  In some sense, libertarians concede that we collectively own natural resources, but argue that they aren't scarce enough to spend time fighting over.  Unsurprisingly, this causes some issues when the resources in question really are scarce.  Another way of thinking about this is that libertarians believe that the only truly scarce resource is human labor.  Anyway, this collective ownership of natural resources combined with the scarcity problem provides what I see as an interesting niche for government.  Here's the plan.

Each nation is the sole owner of "nature" within its borders.  In other words, it owns all the land, all the air, all the sea, all the wildlife, basically all the stuff that isn't people or made by people.  It derives this right because it represents the people not just now but in the past and future... those people who collectively own all of nature's bounty.  They then rent the use of portions of that natural bounty to the entrepreneurs who want to use it.  They levy this rent... let's call it a tax... based on the market value of the nature, and on the expected risk of damage to nature by the tenant.  Just as landlords charge premiums for pets, the government might charge premiums for, say, high pollution.  The government then can invest this money in the protection and improvement of its property.  They improve their property by making it a more attractive place to live... increasing competition for the property and allowing them to increase rents. Offering universal healthcare, or utilities, or cleaner facilities, or safer business environments to occupants might all be value increasing ways to spend that money.  Now, in some sense, the government is a monopolist, but since the people who are competing for the resources it provides are in fact the owners of the government, the monopoly doesn't provide the leverage necessary to properly enable extortionary pricing. I think we can reasonably argue about whether or not this is the best way to manage the shared ownership of nature, but it does seem to be fundamentally compatible with libertarianism, which is win enough for me.  Any problems?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Some Funny Ways of Thinking About Defense

I hear a number of common rebuttals to the "U.S. is spending too much on military" thing.  One is that the comparison to our allies is unfair because our allies rely on us to protect them.  My response to that is, roughly speaking, why are we subsidizing their socialized healthcare regimes? If they really are relying on us for their military protection and using the money they save to do the things of their government, it's basically inevitable that that money is going into government provided healthcare... it's the biggest item on most country's balance sheets.  Why are we paying for Canada to have socialized medicine, instead of paying for our own healthcare and letting Canada pay for its own defense?

More broadly though, if you look at what our military is doing in the world today, you'll notice a disturbing trend.  What we're doing in Iraq and Afghanistan is protecting and building infrastructure.  We are providing public services, free of charge, to the Iraqi and Afghani people.  We are building roads, setting up internet, providing police services, and protecting people so that they can build roads, set up internet, and provide police services.  The trouble with this, of course, is that these are precisely the things that Republicans don't want to spend more money on for Americans.  Why is it okay to do big government spending to support public services outside our borders, but bad inside our borders? 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The only stat that matters for Notre Dame Football

Change this stat and the rest will follow.

Relevant excerpt:

NameGFum. GainInt. GainTotal GainFum. LostInt. LostTotal LostMarginMargin/G
3South Florida253802263.00
4North Carolina State235821352.50
9San Diego State240400042.00

107Western Kentucky2336369-3-1.50
107Arkansas State2202325-3-1.50
107San Jose State2202325-3-1.50
107Kansas State1022415-3-3.00
107Miami (Florida)1011224-3-3.00
115Western Michigan2123437-4-2.00
117Iowa State2202437-5-2.50
118Southern Mississippi2022448-6-3.00
118North Carolina2000246-6-3.00
120Notre Dame20335510-7-3.50

Saturday, September 10, 2011

National Defense - Are we spending too much? (Hint: Yes)

Basically, the US has a larger share of world military spending than it has of world anything-else.  Our spending far exceeds that of nations with recent history of war and strong credible threats to their sovereignty (such as Israel).  China, with a larger population, larger land area, worse world relations, a not too distant history of being invaded and occupied, and significantly crazier and more belligerent neighbors, has managed to keep its spending to 1/6th of ours.  It's obvious that our military isn't for the defense of our nation, but rather for the forceful enactment of US will outside of its borders.  Here are some numbers:

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Vegas Preliminaries

I finally found a site offering some historical gambling data (thought not as much as I'd like).  For those of you too lazy to click, this is the key thing:

Straight Up Trends (Won Loss Tie)

Away Teams11-67-014.10%
Home Teams67-11-085.90%
Away Favorites5-2-071.43%
Away Dogs6-65-08.45%
Home Favorites65-6-091.55%
Home Dogs2-5-028.57%

So I'm still getting my head around the way this works, but at a glance it looks like the picked favorites do well, and that this week betting on the home team was a good call.  Not surprising for opening week I guess.  It'll be interesting to see what happens with these going forward.  As a sidenote, I also found a site doing comprehensive statistics on college football.  I suspect we'll be seeing some comparisons between Notre Dame and the general field in this blog's future.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Vegas Odds versus NCAA rankings

NCAA rankings are stupid and no one likes them, but that's okay because the people using them don't have any skin in the game.  What I want to know is whether or not Vegas does a better job of predicting the outcome of matchups than the NCAA rankings.  So I'm currently rooting around for historical Vegas Odds and going forward this season we'll be taking the vegas odds and NCAA rankings before each ND game to see which is better (if they differ).  I might end up choosing more teams if ND isn't terribly interesting, but this is the plan.