Saturday, January 21, 2006

Rothbard Smashes the Myths of Reaganomics

Yesterday marked the 25th anniversary of Ronald Reagan's inauguration as the 40th president of the United States. The War Street Journal observed the occasion with a paean rich in revisionist history:

Twenty-five years ago today, Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as the 40th President of the United States promising less intrusive government, lower tax rates and victory over communism. On that same day, the American hostages in Iran were freed after 444 days of captivity. If the story of history is one long and arduous march toward freedom, this was a momentous day well worth commemorating.

The article continues, approvingly (and predictably) citing statistics demonstrating the "successes" of Reaganomics. Though The War Street Journal continues to perpetuate these myths of Reagan's legacy, Murray Rothbard shattered these illusions back in 1987 with this scathing article, "The Myths of Reaganomics:"

Reaganomics has been an uneasy and shifting coalition of several clashing schools of economic thought. In particular, the leading schools have been the conservative Keynesians, the Milton Friedman monetarists, and the supply-siders. The monetarists, devoted to a money rule of a fixed percentage increase of money growth engineered by the Federal Reserve, have come a cropper. Fervently believing that science is noth­ing else but prediction, the monetarists have self-destructed by making a string of self-confident but disastrous predic­tions in the last several years. Their fate illustrates the fact that he who lives by prediction shall die by it. Apart from their views on money, the monetarists generally believe in free markets, and so their demise has left Reaganomics in the hands of the other two schools, neither of whom are particul­arly interested in free markets or cutting government.

A cursory survey of the blogosphere shows that the Reagan worship continues apace, which is pretty depressing considering it took me less than a minute to find two of Rothbard's classic repudiations of Reaganism (the other, "Ronald Reagan: An Autopsy," from 1989, can be found here).

It is no exaggeration to say that the celebration of the statist Reagan as a champion of freedom, while "Mr. Libertarian" Murray Rothbard has in many circles been marginalized and dismissed as a kook, is rapidly becoming one of history's great injustices.

Whimsical art and architecture of Jeff Shelton

Hat tip to the LA Times...

Jeff Shelton's ingenious designs tease and reinterpret the city of Santa Barbara's historically conservative architectural guidelines. Featuring open interiors and playful artistic flourishes, Shelton's work is inventive and pleasantly eccentric:

Cota Street Studios

Cota Street Studios from another angle

Shelton also designs and creates unique business cards:

Shelton's own Escher-inspired card

Mary Beth Adams

Check out more of Shelton's portfolio on his website.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

MLB wants to charge for historical facts

That post title stands in stark contrast to the rather biased headline of this Yahoo! story:

Fantasy League Co. Wants Free Stats

ST. LOUIS - A company that runs sports fantasy leagues is asking a federal court to decide whether major leaguers' batting averages and home run counts are historical facts that can be used freely or property that can be sold.

In a lawsuit that could affect the pastime of an estimated 16 million people, CBC Distribution and Marketing wants the judge to stop Major League Baseball from requiring a license to use the statistics.

The company claims baseball statistics become historical facts as soon as the game is over, so it shouldn't have to pay for the right to use them. [read more]

The company is right, of course, and this issue has already been settled by law. Alan Schwarz, in his excellent book "The Numbers Game," details how in 1997 STATS Inc. and Motorola prevailed over the NBA in a similar squabble over use of real-time stats and scores (p. 192):

The [Second] Circuit Court confirmed the original decision holding that no copyright laws had been broken, and reversed -- strongly -- the holding that STATS had taken NBA property by broadcasting scores and statistics. The NBA was not a news-gathering service on which STATS was free riding, and therefore did not warrant INS-type protection. And while the video and audio broadcasts of sports events are protected under copyright law, the facts contained in them are not. [emphasis mine]

MLB may have no legal basis for demanding payment for the use of its statistics, but this is depressingly characteristic of the game's brain trust -- greedy and shortsighted. Acting like the cartel/mafiosi that they are, MLB's clubs take the questionable view that nobody should be allowed to make a dime off the game without baseball getting its cut. Never mind that MLB has marginalized the fantasy game and its enthusiasts for years. Never mind that MLB took a dim view at best of the fantasy game, believing that it somehow diluted fan interest (rooting for individuals and "stats" ahead of home teams and their wins and losses), rather than enhancing it. Never mind that fantasy baseball and its devotees already help drive the game's bottom line (what percentage of subscribers to MLB's Extra Innings satellite package does so primarily for the fantasy implications?). MLB wants it both ways -- it wishes to profit off the fantasy baseball enterprise without having to contribute anything or innovate in any way. How sanctimonious, yet typical, of MLB!

And how stupid! Fantasy sports companies will have to pass on to customers the costs of paying MLB's "license fees" for otherwise freely available information, which of course will price some fantasy game providers out of business and drive others away from the hobby altogether. This is MLB's bold strategy for putting fans first? To potentially destroy a hobby that passionately binds fans to the game just to squeeze out a few more bucks? Fantasy sports companies offer baseball some of the best free advertising and publicity available! Why fight this?

Just so we understand: MLB wants to profit from an enterprise it won't support, sell the rights to property it doesn't legally own, and alienate a significant portion of its fan base in the process. These guys are pretty savvy, no?

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Do Supreme Court nominations matter? Not even Alito bit

I have absolutely no interest in the Samuel Alito nomination hearings, and two great blog posts succinctly capture why:

There is a pretense in the hearing process for each nominee that we are going to discover his or her philosophic dispositions. We already know what those are: each is insistent upon advancing their careers by interpreting the meaning of constitutional or statutory language so as to serve the interests of the political establishment. Otherwise, they would not have percolated themselves up through a system that regards them as "safe" trustees of power. Their positions on abortion, or capital punishment, or flag-burning, provide little more than peripheral entertainment; distractions from the Supreme Court's primary role: to rationalize the exercise of state power.

Constitutionalism and limited government have had their chance and failed. You can never really go home again. I maintain that the way forward, to correct the shortcomings of the vision of the US Founders while adhering to their ideals, is anarchy.

Anyone who has made acommodations with power and the powerful sufficient to allow for their nomination by a sitting president is not likely to be the sort of crusader against them that might rescue the system from its own self-destructive march toward ever greater tyranny and resulting instability.

Exactly. The system is so hopelessly corrupt that the composition of the Court matters only to the statists who worship it. When the problem is institutional, it doesn't matter who gets nominated or confirmed -- Harriet Miers would have been no "better" or "worse" than Sam Alito in any meaningful sense. The political establishment loves to squabble over the Court and its members, pumping it with an inflated sense of importance, because both sides agree that political power must be exercised -- the fight is over whose vision of statism will prevail. So you can see why none of this political theatre matters from the anarchist perspective.

Let's face it -- the system of checks and balances long ago metamorphosed into a rubber stamp. That's what happens when the government is permitted to decide the boundaries of its own power.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Go You Huskies

I've resisted blogging about the UConn Huskies men's hoops team, instead leaving the critical analysis to the folks who actually get to witness them in person. But having watched my fourth game of the season the other night, a 70-59 win vs Cincinnati, I have some haphazardly organized thoughts about the 2005-06 squad:

They're talented, no doubt, but something's missing right now. At this point they're coasting along on reputation and the national championship experience of 2004's holdovers. It's too early to say whether the #4 ranking means anything at all. This is an enigmatic team. Four days after an ugly 17-34 performance from the free throw line in a loss to Marquette, they somehow manage to sink 20 of 25 free throws against LSU and then went 16-20 vs Cincy. In the LSU game, they turned the ball over just 6 times -- 3 miscues each for Rudy Gay and Marcus Williams. Just two days later vs Cincy, Denham Brown turns the ball over 5 times by himself as the team commits 14 turnovers. What the hell?

This inconsistency drives me nuts. "UConn basketball," such as it is, can be boiled down to a single word: toughness. Calhoun emphasizes defense and rebounding, and he is particularly adept at recruiting fluid, athletic players and getting them to buy into his philosophy. He loves to use the phrase "imposing their will" to describe how UConn games are won or lost. The talent for this team is there, but is the effort?

And where's the killer instinct? They have yet to blow out an opponent that can be reasonably classified as "good." Case in point: in the Cincy game, against a shorthanded opponent (a 7-man rotation that just lost senior leader Armein Kirkland to a career ending knee injury), they take a 63-51 lead with 6:57 remaining. Ordinarily, a Final Four caliber team steps on the accelerator and wins going away, by 15-20 points, right? No, not this team -- they let Cincy creep back into it and cut the lead to 7 with 3:47 left.

And some of the veterans appear to be regressing. I defy you to watch Denham Brown, Josh Boone, Rashad Anderson, and even Marcus Williams at times, without wanting to break something. Forced passes into traffic, shot clock violations, dumb fouls, missed layups, etc. How about Rashad fouling an LSU shooter in the act of heaving a desperation 3 pointer with time running out, thereby stopping the clock and giving LSU 3 free throws? Or Josh Boone leading the NCAA in Missed Tipbacks and Shot Blocks Against By a Player 6-10 or Taller?

Calhoun's greatest challenge will be figuring out how to use all his pieces. Right now his substitution patterns and lineup choices are curious. Ed Nelson and Marcus Johnson might as well be serving the other guys water or waving pom-poms for all the minutes they've gotten lately. Rashad Anderson is a one-dimensional gunner. He'll grab a few rebounds, make the occasional nice pass, and is capable of sinking the dagger three but he can't dribble penetrate or create his own shot. Rudy Gay...don't get me started. Shows flashes of promise but too willing to settle for the 15-18 foot jumper. With his size and skill he should be going for the SportsCenter dunk every time. Who's going to stop him?

The brightest spot of the season, by far, has been Hilton Armstrong taking The Leap. He's aggressive, he's assertive, he's tough -- what a turnaround. By far the team's best post option and a legitimate matchup problem for many teams. Hilton has really improved his footwork and developed some moves around the basket; plus he's not afraid to pull up for a 10-12 foot jumper if left unguarded. He's a ferocious rebounder and tenacious shot blocker. As long as Armstrong stays out of foul trouble, he's going to be a major force. Another great example of a decent player who stayed in school and developed into a star. Yes, it's premature, but I'm relishing the inevitable Duke-UConn matchup where Hilton silences the Shelden Williams partisans.

Ultimately I think this team has the pieces to win another national championship. They're talented, they're deep, they're tough, and they have a nice blend of youth and experience. All that's missing is consistency and a set lineup with everyone's roles clearly defined. That tends to take shape by the middle of the Big East schedule and I am confident Calhoun will find the right mix.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Stupid Government Tricks

People often say to me, "J, your searing, vitriolic hatred for the state and its various depredations borders on fanatical and unnatural. How do you do it?" The answer is simple: constant exposure to news stories that reinforce my pre-existing disillusionment with forcible government. I mean, it's not like there's any shortage there, right? Consider the following:

U.S. Draws Up Space Tourism Rules:
"The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is attempting to regulate the commercial space industry in a bid to ensure minimum safety standards. It has recommended security checks similar to those for airline passengers."

Right, because we all know what a smashing success that has been. What really bothers me is the arrogance of these people. It's as if the FAA believes Sir Richard Branson and his insurance companies have no natural incentives to protect their investments from the scourge of terrorism! Let's assume that these commercial space launches take place on private property, in private spacecraft, with services contracted between consenting providers and passengers. All parties understand and assent to the risks involved, so tell me: what role does the F-A-Fucking-A have here? They have no property interest or financial stake in any of the proceedings, yet they presume to tell these innovators, these pioneers of private space travel, how to conduct their business and provide for the safety and security of their well-heeled clientele! Unbelievable.

$0.02 Stamps Hard to Come Buy:
"The price of a first-class stamp rises to 39 cents from 37 cents today - but all the vending machines at Manhattan's main post office were out of 2-cent add-ons yesterday. That left New Yorkers waiting for up to 90 minutes to buy the stamps at the window, because they were being sold only at one window."

See, this story would be cute if it was just another illustration of the government's legendary incompetence, but the truth is much worse. The government owns a legal monopoly over the delivery of mail, which means competition is legally outlawed. Absent the need to compete, the state has no incentive to innovate or adequately serve its customers, because there are literally no other choices. No market mechanism exists to ensure that postal prices reflect an equilibrium between supply and demand. Would private industry charge 39 cents per delivery, regardless of whether the destination is down the street or 3000 miles across the country? We'll never know since the government won't permit the competition. Here's the real problem: the postal system is one of the more visible and benevolent examples of the clumsy state, but this sclerosis and inertia is inherent in all government endeavors. Government does not face the same profit and loss test as entrepreneurs. It does not confront the threat of competition or obsolescence. It has no rational way to allocate resources or anticipate customer (citizen) needs. It produces nothing. All government does is extract resources from the productive sector through taxation and inflation, and it uses those resources in politically (not economically) expedient ways.

US Troops Seize Award-Winning Iraqi Journalist:
"American troops in Baghdad yesterday blasted their way into the home of an Iraqi journalist working for the Guardian and Channel 4, firing bullets into the bedroom where he was sleeping with his wife and children."

This is what George W. Bush means when he speaks of "spreading freedom and democracy" through the Middle East. But it's OK, because they're fighting terror, right?

Monday, January 09, 2006

On Defunct Hockey Teams and Obscure Acid Jazz Collectives

I've been meaning to post an update here for awhile now but, since my thoughts have lately amounted to little more than semi-coalescent wisps, you'll forgive my reticence. A couple of things that have me fired up:
  • The Hartford Wolf Pack, AHL affiliate of the vile NY Rangers, hosted a "Whalers Appreciation Night" Friday. The highlight: they brought back Ron Francis, Kevin Dineen, and Ulf Samuelsson, and raised their numbers (10, 11, and 5 respectively) to the rafters of the Mall. The Hartford Courant did a nice job covering the event, and even the hit-or-miss Jeff Jacobs scores with a nice column for anyone who ever cared about the Whalers. Nearly nine years have passed since the team left town and I still bleed green.

  • Incognito is coming to Atlanta! Halle-freaking-lujah! Most people on this side of the pond have never heard of them but, if you get the chance, check out their latest release. You won't ever hear a finer fusion of funk, soul, R&B, and acid jazz. Silky smooth vocals, groovy beats, catchy arrangements, mind-blowing jams -- it's all here. Incognito's Atlanta performance takes place at the Coca-Cola Roxy on Monday, February 13th. And oh yes, I will be there.