It’s the Economics, Stupid!

I’m not sure just what it is about people in my Property Law class. So far, we’ve been covering some basic economic issues, and today we touched on the topic of the tragedy of the commons. Despite some of the utilitarian thinkers whose names we were introduced to in the text, the ideas shouldn’t be so hard to grasp.

“Tragedy of the commons” may be a term of economics, but the idea is very basic. Let’s say you’ve got a communal pasture, which everyone can access, and which nobody has rights to. What happens, then, in a community of herders? You’ll get overgrazing, because when nobody owns the rights to the common pasture, and anybody can use it, nobody has an incentive to stop somebody else’s herd from grazing. It’s a recipe for environmental disaster. The basic economic idea underlying this is that, when there is open access, and no exclusive rights, resources will be consumed faster, resulting in underproduction or shortage. To prevent overgrazing in the commons, then, the community could either ban herding (which has the advantage of negating the entire scenario, but the disadvantage of being unrealistic and avoiding the question), or the community could create private property by dividing the commons into small parcels. Each property owner then has a vested interest in the productivity of his piece of pasture, and so will not only limit his own consumption, but invoke his right, guaranteed by the law, to prevent others from grazing on his part of the pasture by any reasonable means, such as by building a fence. Simple enough, right?

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An SUV and a Gun

Looking at the pictures coming from Louisiana and Mississippi it occurs to me that maybe now some people in the blue costal enclaves and in Europe might get an inkling why America red staters like their SUVs and guns.

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Quote of the Day

The interesting contradiction of those who think that all we need to do is better understand those trying to destroy us is that the only ones who apparently don’t understand the terrorists are those calling for understanding.

John Moreschi, commenting on a post at the neo-neocon blog.

Did New Orleans Have to Flood?

In looking at the reports from New Orleans, I really have to ask if the catastrophic flooding of the city was inevitable, or whether it resulted from poor planning. It seems to me that technology exists that would have prevented the massive flooding we are currently seeing. Why wasn’t this technology used?

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More Stinginess

Alashiya and I were trading Emails, discussing the hurricane relief efforts, when she dropped a bombshell on me. “What are all of these other countries doing to help the US victims of a natural disaster?”

Huh! Good question. It could very well be that there’s some sort of relief effort being organized in another country, but I can’t seem to find any mention of it in the news.

I mean, the people of the United States have always been generous when innocent people from foreign countries need help. You can trace this back to the Berlin Airlift, the opening salvo of the Cold War, and we’ve been going strong ever since. So now that Americans are hurting, why doesn’t someone step up and make an offer of help?

It’s certainly become fashionable in recent years to claim that Americans aren’t doing their share when it comes to aid. I’m waiting for those same critics to rip the rest of the world a new one.

Biased media Part 2,078

People wonder why I don’t take the media very seriously when it comes to their coverage of military or scientific matters. This story by Keay Davidson in the San Francisco Chronicle nicely encapsulates much of what is wrong with the contemporary media. [via Reason Hit and Run] In one story, Davidson manages to reveal his anti-military, anti-War-on-Terror and anti-Bush prejudices while simultaneously missing a real story of government waste. It’s bias and incompetence rolled up neatly in 500 words.

The headline and opening paragraph get it wrong immediately:

Military examines ‘beaming up’ data, people ? Critics say its extreme computing, energy needs keep teleportation unlikely for now

Frustrated that terrorist kingpin Osama bin Laden is still on the loose nearly four years after the Sept. 11 attacks, a few military types and their scientific advisers are pondering a “what if” solution straight out of TV’s “Star Trek.

Get it? The War on Terror is going so badly and the military is so desperate that it is trying to create a teleporter technology to use as a weapon!

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What is the purpose of society

The premise of this, aside from the deliberate use of inflammatory language, is simple.

The purpose of society is the care and feeding of the downtrodden. Period. Everything else is either a wasteful distraction or an unconscionable diversion of resources from this overriding purpose.

Note that the thread is not (for the most part) claiming that Bush had anything to do with the hurricane, or that anyone actually intended for the city’s poor minorities to remain in harm’s way. Instead, the claim is that the Administration and the country as a whole did not devote enough resources to the evacuation and protection of the city’s poor (and planning for same), that this was motivated by indifference to the poor, and that indifference is practically as evil as malice.

Is this true?

I’ll pick out one comment to illustrate the moral premise at issue:

“If it were 100K white middle class folk wading through water to their necks or trapped in their attics, the whole country would stop and hold it’s breath …. baseball games would be suspended, church services would be initiated, etc. The powerful and wealthy are safe and sound….. they’ve left the meek and the powerless to fend for themselves.”

The first part has never been empirically demonstrated, and the last part is demonstrably false, but never mind that. Supposing that the last part is true, the powerful and wealthy are safe and sound because they fended for themselves successfully. It wasn’t just the meek and powerless left to fend for themselves – in the alternate world where no one was rescued by helicopter or given shelter in the Superdome, everyone was left to fend for themselves! This is unconscionable bigotry?

Now there are human beings that civilized people have a positive duty to protect, to feed and shelter and plan for and rescue from or use force to prevent their own foolish behavior as needed. They’re called children. So is it really unconscionable bigotry to treat the downtrodden as if they weren’t children? And it’s not bigotry to treat them as if they were children, who could not, for instance, be counted upon to consider the possible implications of living in a disaster area waiting to happen without a car?

Disaster Preparedness Guidebook

For Instapundit’s Carnival of Hurricane Relief

Perhaps these lessons from other disasters would prove useful.

From the National Community Development Association (NCDA),
the Disaster Preparedness Guidebook for Community Development Professionals
Sept. 2003

The information provided enables community development professionals to
obtain practicable information based on case studies from several areas of the
country that experienced natural disasters: Hurricane Andrew, the Des Moines
flood, the Northridge earthquake, and the 1998 Florida wildfire season. In the
event of a natural disaster such as a tornado, flood, hurricane, earthquake, or
forest fire striking in their community, community development professionals
can be better prepared either to directly provide necessary services or to guide
citizens to the appropriate agencies or departmental representatives for assistance.

Table of Contents
Roles & Responsibilities of Community Development Professionals …………..1
Citizen Needs & Resources Available ……………………………………………………..5
Lessons Learned from Past Disasters ……………………………………………………….7
Case Studies
Hurricane Andrew (FL)…………………………………………………………………………9
The Des Moines Flood (IA) ………………………………………………………………..17
The Northridge Earthquake (CA) …………………………………………………………25
The 1998 Florida Wildfire Season…………………………………………………………39
The Oklahoma City Bombing………………………………………………………………61

We Apologize for any Inconvenience

Those comment spammers, dontchya love ‘em? Steven den Beste tried to leave a comment earlier in the day, and his immortal prose was blocked by our MT Blacklist anti-spam utility. Seems that a spammer slipped a little something in the URL line which prevented anyone from using the letters “DE”. Clever of them.

Clever, and yet oh so annoying.

It’s fixed now, but I thought it would be a good idea if I stepped up to the podium and said a few words to our readers.

I’m not an admin here, and I don’t set policy. That means your comment might be deleted due to content and language that Jonathan or Lexington find offensive and there’s not anything I can do about it. (Not that I’d want to, since anything that pisses off Lex or Jonathan automatically pisses me off as well.) But keep in mind that I can get into the Blacklist and make changes. If anyone has any problems they can drop me a line at and I’ll get right on it.

That is all. We now return to our regularly scheduled blogging.

Should the state stop you from looting essential items?

On the one hand, hell yes. It’s stealing. And why should people have to choose between risking their lives in a storm and losing all their property to looters in the aftermath?

On the other hand, this is the same state that forbids private entities from being paid for the cost of transporting essential items into a disaster area (or preserving them during a disaster, or stocking them up against the possibility of a disaster) when selling them to disaster victims. According to the state, this is “gouging”, and it means you’re SOL until charity or taxpayer funded disaster relief reaches you. So where does that state get off stopping you from taking the things you must have to survive that it has left you unable to buy, especially when the owners may or may not ever be coming back?

On the gripping hand, are you really justified in stealing when it was your own outrageously poor decision that caused you to be there in the first place? If others have to pay the price for your idiocy, you don’t have much of a case when you ask them to let you make your own decisions on, well, anything. That way the lifelong nursery lies, and we’re a good part of the way there already. (Granted, this reasoning doesn’t apply to all large-scale disasters, but it sure as hell applies to this one.)

Looting in Louisiana

According to WWL TV in New Orleans, the hurricane has brought out looters.
“With much of the city emptied by Hurricane Katrina, some opportunists took advantage of the situation by looting stores. At a Walgreen’s drug store in the French Quarter, people were running out with grocery baskets and coolers full of soft drinks, chips and diapers.

When police finally showed up, a young boy stood in the door screaming, “86! 86!” — the radio code for police — and the crowd scattered. “

An August 11 2005 USA Today article noted the passage of an anti-price gouging law and stiffened penalties for looting.
“Civil action can be taken against price-gougers, including fines and restitution. Criminal penalties range up to six months in jail and $500 in fines for each violation.
Also, looting during states of emergency starts carrying heavier penalties on Monday: a three-year minimum prison sentence and up to 15 years. Backers of that bill said fear of being looted was a hindrance to getting storm-threatened residents to evacuate.”

One man watching the looters said.”To be honest with you, people who are oppressed all their lives, man, it’s an opportunity to get back at society.”

It is a surely measure of the character of a people what their thoughts turn to in a disaster. That ‘looting’ was foremost on their minds is reprehensible, to be sure. But it speaks volumes for the type of people they are, none of it good.

Get back at society?
I fervently hope this is an isolated incident.

Another Czech President’s Speech

Instapundit notes a Brussels’ Journal article on Vaclav Klaus. who it contends made “‘[t]he most impressive speech during the recent Regional Meeting of the Mont Pelerin Society. He begins “View from a Post-Communist Country in a Predominantly Post-Democratic Europe” with Hayek’s description of the intellectuals’ role in shaping society.

They, therefore, look for ideas with specific characteristics. They look for ideas, which enhance the role of the state because the state is usually their main employer, sponsor or donator. That is not all. According to Hayek “the power of ideas grows in proportion to their generality, abstractness, and even vagueness”. Hence it is not surprising that the intellectuals are mostly interested in abstract, not directly implementable ideas. This is also the way of thinking, in which they have comparative advantage. They are not good at details. They do not have ambitions to solve a problem. They are not interested in dealing with the everyday’s affairs of common citizens. Hayek put it clearly: “the intellectual, by his whole disposition, is uninterested in technical details or practical difficulties.” He is interested in visions and utopias and because “socialist thought owes its appeal largely to its visionary character” (and I would add lack of realism and utopian nature), the intellectual tends to become a socialist.

Czech intellectualism is often countered by Czech pragmatism. And here is Klaus’s optimistic belief that the EU setback may be a chance to to “open the door” to reflections on “what makes our society free, democratic and prosperous.” He concludes with succinct descriptions of political, economic and social systems that are indeed free. These values should also govern relations with other countries. And, underlying all should be “a system of ideas, which will be based on freedom, personal responsibility, individualism, natural caring for others and genuine moral conduct of life.”

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Helicopter Parents: why the Hovering?

According to the Boston Globe, colleges are complaining about ‘helicopter parents‘, describing moms and dads whose constant hovering leads to overinvolvement in their student’s life. Such overparenting, they say, “endangers a crucial development phase in which students are seeking to become self-reliant.” Administrators say they began to notice the uptick in parents’ calls and oversight five to seven years ago. Schools have responded, attempting to impede some parents’ intervention on behalf of the student.

Point taken, but one wonders: why the hovering?

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Malcolm Gladwell Tips Over

In the August 29 issue of the New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell makes so many errors in discussing national health insurance, it’s hard to believe the piece was reviewed by an editor. To fisk it all would mean to delete it.

Arnold Kling does an excellent job junking Gladwell’s misguided notion of “moral hazard” (and the notion that American health care economists are mistakenly “obsessed” with the idea).

And Slate’s Mickey Kaus nicely rips Gladwell’s claim that health care copayments are a bad idea.

But Gladwell begins his piece discussing how the lack of dental care among the poor demonstrates the need for socialized medicine.
“People without health insurance have bad teeth because, if you’re paying for everything out of your own pocket, going to the dentist for a checkup seems like a luxury.”
Curiously, he does not follow up and tell you whether this method succeeds in producing better teeth in the UK, Canada, or elsewhere.

HT: Instapundit

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How Much do Journalists Earn, Anyway?

Florida Cracker and With Cheese brings us the story of a college newspaper that was the victim of an anti-war hoax.

For two years the paper published letters supposedly written by a little girl whose father was serving in Iraq. Some of the letters were also addressed to President Bush, taking him to task for invading Iraq in the first place. The only problem is that the father didn’t exist and the little girl was an imposter. It took so long for the hoax to be uncovered because none of the paper’s staff thought to confirm anything.

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Scott Ott doesn’t take the ironic note we expect from him, but he does retain an even and effective tone that goes well with James’s Powerline.

Great Essay at Power Line

John at Power Line has posted a great essay where he discusses the role the American media has assumed in the War on Terror. He points out that the constant emphasis on casualties in Iraq with no strategic or tactical perspective is, to say the least, counterproductive.

“We are conducting an experiment never before seen, as far as I know, in the history of the human race. We are trying to fight a war under the auspices of an establishment that is determined–to put the most charitable face on it–to emphasize American casualties over all other information about the war.”

Go read the whole thing. It’s well worth your time.

Also worth your time is this account from Michael Yon of a firefight in Iraq. Stuff like this should be on the front page of every newspaper in America. Instead we get big headlines about the casualties, and nothing else.

(My thanks to loyal reader Robert Schwartz for the heads up.)

Perfect Example

There has been a great deal of ink spilled in recent years in an attempt to define the differences between Democrats and Republicans. This news item sums it up in a nutshell.

The subject is a report by an advocacy group named Trust for America’s Health which says that obesity rates rose in every state except Oregon. The group then goes on to advocate increased government action in order to promote a healthier lifestyle.

Since this item is carried on the Associated Press wire, one would expect it to stop there. But the author, Kevin Freking, makes an admirable attempt at balance. He quotes a spokesman from The Cato Institute who says that it’s pretty much an individual’s responsibility so far as diet and lifestyle is concerned.

I’m a fellow with a big ol’ gut and I still don’t want the government to offer me anything extra because of it even though I’d be first in line to realize any benefits. I don’t know if that opinion would lead people to think of me as a Libertarian, a Neo-Conservative or a plain old Realist. Personally, I just think that I’m a grouchy old fart.

Quote of the Day

One irony of the “campaign finance reform” movement is that our elections are already funded by taxpayer dollars, at least as far as incumbents are concerned. Unable to motivate voters ideologically, incumbents of both parties appropriate tax money in order to buy votes.

Arnold Kling

Memo to Local Newspapers

Suggestion: When you set up your website, make sure to display the name of your city and state prominently on each page, especially if it is not obvious from the name of your publication. Otherwise, non-local readers may have difficulty figuring out who you are and what part of the country or even world you are in. I can’t count the times I’ve followed a link to a story in a local paper and couldn’t immediately tell in what state the events I was reading about took place (e.g., this story).

You do want to attract non-local readers, don’t you?

Did the Iraq war prevent us from dealing with Iran?

A recurring theme in the comments about Iran is that we could have dealt with Iran if only Bush hadn’t foolishly squandered our resources and our people’s trust with his horrible misadventure in Iraq.

What are we supposed to make of this?

Well, first of all, I’d say that an insurgency and a thousand deaths per year is a small price to pay to keep Muslim fanatics from getting nuclear weapons. If we can bungle Iran four times as badly as Iraq, but ensure there’ll never be any nuclear weapons to find there, we’ll be way ahead of the game. The Iranian government cannot be trusted with nuclear weapons – their officials have made too many flippant comments about the advantages of a nuclear exchange with Israel (a.k.a. the Little Satan; remember who the Great Satan is?), for one thing, and for another thing Iran is known to sponsor terrorist groups that it will have no incentive whatsoever to restrain once it has its own nuclear weapons. Even if they never use nukes on us, how’d you like Iranian sponsored terrorists frequently setting off regular bombs in the US?

So the prospect of “another Iraq disaster” sounds pretty damn good to me compared to the alternatives.

Now, assuming that we decide to use force to deal with Iran, would we be in a better or worse position if we hadn’t dealt with Iraq? Without a large body of troops already in Iraq, how exactly would we invade Iran? Over the mountains of Afghanistan? From Kuwait? Let’s not be silly. Not only that, if you don’t think we can invade Iran with an active insurgency in Iraq, how’d you like to try an invasion and occupation of Iran with Saddam Hussein in power next door? Maybe invade both at once? (Actually, that wouldn’t have been a bad idea two years ago… better to be hung for a sheep, as they say. What’re people going to do, accuse us of imperialism?).

Finally, let’s take a look at this “betrayal” that supposedly has all right thinking people aghast at the very idea of doing any other military operation anywhere in the world…

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