Thursday, September 29, 2005

Peggy Noonan's article today

at [never noticed before that "opinion" is hard to type] provides a great follow-up to the Sheldon Richman piece I quoted:
No one took responsibility, but there was plenty of authority. People in authority sent the lost to the Superdome and the Convention Center. People in authority blocked the bridges out of town. People in authority tried to confiscate guns after the looting was over.
And they did things like this: The day before hurricane Rita hit Texas, last Friday, I saw on TV something that disturbed me. It was not the usual scene of crashing waves and hardy reporters being blown sideways by wind gusts. It was a fat Texas guy swimming in the waves off Galveston. He'd apparently decided the high surf was a good thing to jump into, so he went for a prehurricane swim. Two cops saw him, waded into the surf and arrested him. When I saw it the guy was standing there in orange trunks being astonished as the cops put handcuffs on him and hauled him away.

I thought: Oh no, this is isn't good. This is authority, not responsibility.

You'd have to be crazy, in my judgment, to decide you were going to go swim in the ocean as a hurricane comes. But in the America where I grew up, you were allowed to be crazy. You had the right. Sometimes you were crazy and survived whatever you did. Sometimes you didn't, and afterwards everyone said, "He was crazy."

Last week I quoted Gerald Ford: "The government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take away everything you have." I was talking about money. But it applies also to personal freedom, to the rights of the individual, including his right to do something stupid as long as it's legal, like swimming.

Government has real duties in disaster. Maintaining the peace is a primary one. But if we demand that our government protect us from all the weather all the time, if we demand that it protect us from rain and hail, if we make government and politicians pay a terrible price for not getting us out of every flood zone and rescuing us from every wave, we're going to lose a lot more than we gain. If we give government all authority then we are giving them all power.

And we will not only lose the right to be crazy, we'll lose the right to be sane. A few weeks ago when, for a few days, some level of government, it isn't completely clear, decided no one should be allowed to live in New Orleans after the flood, law-enforcement officers went to the home of a man who had a dry house, a month's supply of food and water, and a gun to protect himself. The police demanded that he leave. Why? He was fine. He had everything he needed. The man was enraged: It was his decision, he said, and he was staying.

It is the government's job to warn and inform. That's what we have the National Weather Service for. It is not government's job to command and control and make microdecisions about the lives of people who want to do it their own way.

This sort of thing of course has been going on for a long time. In Katrina and Rita it just became more dramatically obvious as each incident played out on TV.

Governments always start out saying they're going to help, and always wind up pushing you around. They cannot help it. They say they want to help us live healthily and they mean it, but it ends with a guy in Queens getting arrested for trying to have a Marlboro Light with his Bud at the neighborhood bar. We're hauling the parents of obese children into court. The government has increasing authority over our health, and these children are not healthy. Smokers, the fat, drinkers of more than two drinks per night, insane swimmers in high seas . . .

We are losing the balance between the rights of the individual and the needs and demands of the state. Again, this is not new. It's a long slide that's been going on for a long time. But Katrina and Rita seemed to make the slide deeper.

Now Ms. Noonan, unlike Mr. Richman, seems a bit too nonchalant about "the needs and demands of the state," but other than that careless phrase I agree totally with all her points. RTWT.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Here's something good!

Sheldon Richman has a good piece on why bureaucracies can't be reformed by placing business leaders at their helm:
John Tierney is an excellent columnist, by far the best on the New York Times op-ed page. He showed it last week when he contrasted Wal-Mart’s superlative emergency preparedness with the government’s horrible performance during Hurricane Katrina. As he wrote, Wal-Mart is

one of the few institutions to improve its image here after Katrina sent a 15-foot wave across the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. If you mention the Red Cross or FEMA to people in Slidell [Louisiana], you hear rants about help that didn't arrive and phone lines that are always busy. If you mention state or national politicians, you hear obscenities.

But if you visit the Wal-Mart and the Sam's Club stores here, you hear shoppers who have been without power for weeks marveling that there are still generators in stock (and priced at $304.04). You hear about the trucks that rolled in right after the hurricane and the stuff the stores gave away: chain saws and boots for rescue workers, sheets and clothes for shelters, water and ice for the public.

Tierney says that among Louisiana officials, “there's even been talk of letting Wal-Mart take over FEMA's job. The company already has its own emergency operations center, where dozens of people began preparing for the hurricane the week before it hit by moving supplies and trucks into position. …I'm afraid the Wal-Mart Emergency Management Agency will be a tough sell on Capitol Hill. But I'd vote for WEMA.” At the least, he suggested, Wal-Mart chief Lee Scott should run FEMA.

But Tierney misses an important point. Wal-Mart did so well precisely because it is not a government agency or contractor. There is no reason to believe that Scott could run FEMA better than a political appointee or career bureaucrat. This is not meant as an insult. Rather, it’s a comment about bureaucracy. There’s an old conservative idea that government can be run like a business, but years ago Ludwig von Mises, in his classic Bureaucracy, showed that this is a misconception.

In that little book Mises contrasts the essential nature of a government bureau with that of a for-profit enterprise. As he points out, these forms of organization could not be less alike. An enterprise can prosper only if it pleases consumers, who are free at any time to take their money and search for satisfaction elsewhere. Thus business owners have an infallible guide to how well they are doing: the profit-and-loss sheet. If consumers don’t want a company’s products badly enough to pay a profit-yielding price, the business has two choices: do better or sell out to someone who will. The free market gives business owners indispensable tools for calculating success or failure: market prices for both inputs and outputs.

This combination of consumer sovereignty, free competition, and the price system—which all flow from the same thing: individual liberty—makes it possible for enterprises to perform efficiently. That is why market-based societies are far more prosperous than socialist societies and why freer economies do better than more-regulated economies.

Richman seems to be coming down harder on Bureaucracies than Mises does. Mises points out that the machinery of coercion that is Government needs to be tied down tightly by the Rule of Law lest it get out of control.

Oops, gotta go.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Wouldn'tcha know it?

Just as I was getting used to the idea of living without electricity, the power comes back on.

I wasn't entirely pleased. I had just revised my expectations of my home and my standard of living back about 80 years by 6:00 PM when my wife comes in the room and says, "Ya-a-ay! Guess what just happened?!"

I looked up from my book and realized the house was humming.

So, we immediately turned on the TV and watched the PBS special on the 1940s to celebrate.

We now get to move all the food back that we had moved into a freezer in St. Paul.

Life is wonderful.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Among the many weighty matters my brother deals with

he led me to this revelation:
My Japanese name is

Your Japanese Name Is...

Yoshiyuki Kawashi

Excuses, excuses...

The power's been out at my house since the big storm Wednesday night. (No, not Katrina or Rita.) It's been a little tough to get online.

The local squirrels are bunking the refugees from all the trees that are down and can't be enticed to join my power generation work-team. I haven't noticed that crime is up in their community, though they do get up in arms (metaphorically speaking) whenever the cat gets out. The cat and I, however, being both terrible speciesists (unless we need something from them), tend to ignore their protests.

The power is on for the local businesses, and the neighbors across the street. We apparently haven't passed the screening for suitability for power restoration yet. We don't know what they're looking for. The meth-house is on that side.

Well, the water works and the waterheater's gas, with a piezo-electric igniter, so at least we smell okay. (I suppose that facilitates the screeners' cavity searches.)

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Ah! I have saddened the hearts of my fans!

Ardent and casual.

I've been reading George S. Clason's The Richest Man in Babylon for the last few days. Since I returned from the early 19th century, in fact.

Alas, the batteries I found for my camera were not fresh, so I have no new pictures to regale you with. When I get some good batteries I'll show you the hook I made at the blacksmith shop. What a wonderful character that guy is! He has the unlikely name of Dave Hanson. Revealing which, in Minnesota at least, doesn't constitute an invasion of privacy.

Sadly, that can't be said of the name Al Erkkila. I fear I'm unique. And I've given up propagating the surname, unless one of my daughters does something I'd prefer she didn't.

(I promise to place Love over "prestige" or "face" in my priorities. Not to denigrate either of the latter, but my love for my children will always take precedence over them. Only their concern, or lack thereof, for their own honor could alter that relationship.)

Anyway, Clason: The first rule is one I'm sure you've heard: Pay Yourself First. Or, as one of his early characters says, "A portion of what you earn is yours to keep." What it means is, that you should save at least a tenth of your income. You may invest it, but you may never spend it. You're human, so you may invest it unwisely, but you MUST examine carefully your foolishness and never repeat that mistake.

Clason's wisdom strikes me as quite extraordinary in that it hits the heart of the arguments of the other advisors of wealth creation and management I've been studying. The book I have is 144 pages of elaboration on these basic principles. It cost me 7 bucks. I have no doubt that it will return a million times its cost.

God will bless the Clason estate.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Oldsmoblogger's been kinda putzin' along lately.

Seems like all the pragmatic libertarians are working on bumping up their personal income right now.

His last post was a butt-kicker though. Go check it out.
This I believe: The people who founded this nation got it as close to right as any collection of fallen people will ever get. Were they perfect? Certainly not. The revolution in human nature will not be televised, because it ain't happening short of the Second Coming. Humans and their institutions cannot be perfected; the best for which one may hope is to limit the potential for mischief. Which the Founders accomplished, in spades.

So say we all. [/galactica]

We who believe so beaver away to restore the government to its enumerated powers and functions, islands of power in a boisterous sea of liberty.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

We'll be hittin' the road for the Pine City Rendezvous tomorrow night.

Cookin' over wood fires lit by flint and steel (when we don't want to be sneaky and lazy), wearing clothes that won't last more than five years even under the light use we put them to.

{Limbaugh says the Boston Globe says that there's no evidence of any rapes in New Orleans, I suppose I'll have to check out that article.}

I'm on double secret vacation right now. My employers know I'm not at work, but my family doesn't. Well, I suppose it would be double secret if my employers (or I) weren't aware of it. Maybe I can claim it was double secret until I informed you all.

Anyway, I wasn't aware of it until my boss showed up and informed me that I'd asked for the whole week off this week. I have a hard time using all my vacation time, so I just accepted it. I'm pretending to do some work around here to justify my subterfuge. It's actually quite amazing how much time you can piss away when you're pretending not to be here.

{Paul Harvey's stand in says there's evidence of a 200 million year old civilization on Mars.}

Pretty much my job description.

I'm just here to proliferate humanity.

How cool is this?!!

Free Image Hosting at
What's cooler? The Japanese landing a sampling robot on an asteroid, or US smackin' a comet with a projectile the size of a washing machine?

Sunday, September 11, 2005

My latest post, besides this one of course,

seemed like a Natural fit for the Bourgeois Philistine.

So there it is.

Life was plain here today.

Church. sermon on forgiveness.

Lotsa yardwork. Then I watched Fox. Vikings lost. Haven't found out what the Packers are up to yet.

Update: Oy! Sorry I looked: 17-3 loss to the Lions.

Glad I missed it.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

God! I love John Stossel!!

Talk about nailing the target:
Politicians and the media are furious about price increases in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. They want gas stations and water sellers punished.

If you want to score points cracking down on mean, greedy profiteers, pushing anti-"gouging" rules is a very good thing.

But if you're one of the people the law "protects" from "price gouging," you won't fare as well.

Consider this scenario: You are thirsty -- worried that your baby is going to become dehydrated. You find a store that's open, and the storeowner thinks it's immoral to take advantage of your distress, so he won't charge you a dime more than he charged last week. But you can't buy water from him. It's sold out.

You continue on your quest, and finally find that dreaded monster, the price gouger. He offers a bottle of water that cost $1 last week at an "outrageous" price -- say $20. You pay it to survive the disaster.

You resent the price gouger. But if he hadn't demanded $20, he'd have been out of water. It was the price gouger's "exploitation" that saved your child.

It saved her because people look out for their own interests. Before you got to the water seller, other people did. At $1 a bottle, they stocked up. At $20 a bottle, they bought more cautiously. By charging $20, the price gouger makes sure his water goes to those who really need it.

Do those who don't worship the almighty dollar--those who purely consider "spiritual matters"--complain? How do you convert those considerations into incentives for me to move goods of interest to your babies from a place where they are abundant to the place where your starving kids are crying?

You're not doing it. You don't know how. I almost know how, but I'm not sufficiently motivated, by a pure sense of altruism, to take that last step to actually figuring out how to move the stuff to you.

Collectivists always take this level of calculation for granted. It is the collectivists' calculations that need to be ignored as unimportant.

SOB! I suppose I shouldn't be surprised!

Walter Williams summarizes Bastiat's great contribution to economics better than I could:
Frederic Bastiat (1801-1850), a great French economist, said in his pamphlet "What is Seen and What is Not Seen": "There is only one difference between a bad economist and a good one: the bad economist confines himself to the visible effect; the good economist takes into account both the effect that can be seen and those effects that must be foreseen." What economists Chan and Woodward can see are the jobs and construction boom created by repairing hurricane destruction. What they can't see, and thus ignore, is what those resources would have been used for had there not been hurricane destruction.

Bastiat wrote a parable about this which has become known as the "Broken Window Fallacy." A shopkeeper's window is broken by a vandal. A crowd formed sympathizing with the man. After a while, someone in the crowd suggested that the boy wasn't guilty of vandalism; instead, he was a public benefactor, creating economic benefits for everyone in town. After all, fixing the broken window creates employment for the glazier, who will then buy bread and benefit the baker, who will then buy shoes and benefit the cobbler, and so forth.

Those are the seen effects of repairing the broken window. What's unseen is what the shopkeeper would have done with the money had the vandal not broken his window. He might have employed the tailor by purchasing a suit. The vandal's breaking his window produced at least two unseen effects. First, it shifted unemployment from the glazier who now has a job to the tailor who doesn't. Second, it reduced the shopkeeper's wealth. Had it not been for the vandalism, the shopkeeper would have had a window and a suit; now he has just a window.

Williams wrote a preface to one of the volumes of Bastiat's life works. I cannot ignore his scholarship when I write my own small piece on Frederic Bastiat. I love them both dearly.

But can I beat this?

Well... Bastiat had more to say than this (beyond his failed effort to find a more comprehensive understanding of the Theory of Value). Maybe I can.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Well, it's the end of summer and we're out of money.

Even without going to The Fair. I've finally managed to curb my enthusiasm for life sufficiently to stop blowing cash left & right (books, mags, movies and CDs mostly). And since the bank account's down to zip and gas prices are going the other way... Well, my timing could actually be worse. We didn't actually go into debt this summer.

We'd really be in the black if it weren't for all the hookers & booze.

We blew the last of the cash on a trip 230 miles north to The Cabin. Just the gas and a stop at the DQ pretty much cleaned us out.

But enough whining. At least I still have a home and a cabin to go to and I don't have to dip into the (admittedly sterling) credit line to replace what the looters took. Or worse animals.

I've pretty much been staring with mouth agape at the news of the aftermath of Katrina. This is not the kind of behavior I expect from my fellow Americans. Maybe we shouldn't rebuild the worst flooded areas.

I haven't seen all the stories of kindness yet though, just the disaster.

Update: Walter Block, professor of Economics (an Austrian Anarcho-capitalist) at Loyola University in New Orleans, has a more personal stake, and a more logical take, than I do.

Three paragraphs:
I. Private Enterprise

First of all, the levees that were breached by the hurricane were built, owned and operated by government. Specifically, by the Army Corps of Engineers. The levees could have been erected to a greater height. They could have been stronger than they were. The drainage system could have operated more effectively. Here, the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board was at fault. It consists of three main operating systems: sewerage, water, and drainage. See here, here and here. Had they been, a lot of the inconvenience, fright, and even loss of life undergone in this city could have been avoided.

Then, too, these facilities may have fooled many people into thinking they were safer than they actually were. I know this applies to me. Thus, people were in effect subsidized, and encouraged to settle in the Big Easy. Without this particular bit of government mismanagement, New Orleans would likely have been settled less intensively. (On the other hand, at one time this city was the largest in the South; statist negligence of a different kind — graft, corruption, over-regulation— is responsible for it having a smaller population than otherwise.)

I am not appalled with these failures. After all, it is only human to err. Were these levee facilities put under the control of private enterprise, there is no guarantee of zero human suffering in the aftermath of Katrina. No, what enrages me is not any one mistake, or even a litany of them, but rather the fact that there is no automatic feedback mechanism that penalizes failure, and rewards success, the essence of the market system of private enterprise.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

By Crom! I'm pretty tired of property rights issues. How about you?

Yeah, I was a big Conan The Barbarian fan long before the Arnold movies came out. I loved the comics. I nearly memorized the Robert E. Howard stories as a teenager. They proved to be my ruin as a weightlifter. I wanted to be able to do everything Conan could do. Warning to kids! Conan is a FICTIONAL CHARACTER!! Don't try this at home!!

I loved the movies, but I was into bodybuilding then and I loved Arnold. Even with the whole '81 Olympia thing. The movies were great Sword and Sorcery. They even advanced Cimmerian theology beyond the books. I also loved Mentzer. [I AM NOT GAY!! he shouted defensively. Making you wonder if he doth "protest too much."] I flourish pretty well under Mentzer's principles, but even working out once a week... Well, it's hard to maintain the enthusiasm and discipline. I found John Defendis' workout easier to follow, even though it didn't seem to work at all for me. 40 sets for biceps, 60 sets for triceps... You get almost immediate results: the arms do swell up. Just imagine what you do for Major Muscle Groups. It's an exciting and addictive way to train. But... Well, where is he nowdays? Looks like the same place I am.

My joints couldn't handle that. They broke down.

Twenty years later, I started running. I got up to regular runs of 17 and a half miles. Then the joints broke down. Later I discovered that the problem there was my shoes. I can run quite a ways in my Earth [walking] Shoes. Even though I promised myself that I wouldn't run until I got back down to 225.

Just walking 3.5 miles five times a week has brought me significantly below 14 stone, as the Brits say. That's 238 pounds. Today I was 229, after my walk. A little dehydrated, but I'll take it. Thirteen stone, here I come!

I've taken up the study of marketing as my hobby. The thing that's kept me from blogging is that I found a guy with a habit of offering tons of content to read if you buy his books. There's lots of free info on marketing on the web [for a nominal fee - and the danger of spending a lot of nominal fees (yes, that's self-directed irony)].

Peter J. Fogel did that to me. Michael Masterson and Robert Bly are The Gurus of Marketing.

I've also discovered through them the original Self-Help book - well, after Ben Franklin's which I still haven't managed to get ahold of - Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill, available online. Masterson considers it crap - he says wealth is the result of behavior: actions you can take now are vastly more important than getting your mind and heart perfectly straight - but that's more a criticism of Hill's followers than of Hill.

Masterson: bump your income by getting involved in your company's income stream (sales, marketing, product creation and I forget the other - I've made my decision) or starting your own company - in particular, providing either useful information for people to use or the products, equipment or services those people need - invest in Real Estate (rental and "flipping"), bonds and gold. Stocks are okay IFF you spend a lot of time researching them. But, though all the other wealth building methods require a ton of research, investing in stocks requires the most research if you actually expect to get wealthy from them. He has recommendations for that too.

Hill (though I haven't actually finished the book yet): obsess about money and [but] give back to society. You can't get rich without the help of Society, so plan now for giving it it's cut.

I find value in both approaches, they're not mutually exclusive. I suspect it's the students who have objections, not the Masters. If you read any book of either you'll be better off for it. And better yet if you read all of both.

I'll get the links for you later. It's late. Early to Rise is Masterson's newsletter, I need to take that advice.