Archive for October, 2009

Mind Changer on Local Talk Radio

October 30, 2009

One of the two “moderate conservative” hosts of a local talk radio program admitted yesterday that he changed his mind about liberal media bias.  That was quite an admission, because for years he defended the media and said that any bias was perceived by the reader and not perpetrated by those in the media.

While the other host of the program tried to claim credit for the conversion, he admitted that the blatant actions of two people changed his mind: Charles Gibson and Katie Couric.  I didn’t get to hear which actions.  I assume Gibson’s response to the ACORN break played a factor.  I don’t pay enough attention to Katie to know what she did.

I’m always interested to see what things can change a person’s mind (hence the name of this blog), so I’m glad he mentioned it.  It turns out that Saul Alinsky was right again.  Alinksy, an alleged influence in Obama’s life, suggests showing an enemy in their true light so people can see what they really are.

The guy who made the ACORN tapes found success with that tactic.  It looks like Gibson and Couric.  All I can say is keep up the good work.

To appear “smart” this guy continues to qualify his position.  He doesn’t believe there’s an organized conspiracy in media, but now he sees how individual biases, especially when a majority of people in the profession align idealogically, can influence the angles and the coverage.  I haven’t heard any support the “organized media conspiracy” theory.  That’s a straw man he’s set up for himself to knock.

All this reminds of a story from conservative journalists (some do exist).  I’m not sure who this came from.  This gentlemen was working late one night with one of his liberal editors when the topic of bias came up.  The conservative journalist said that 90% of the staff were card carrying Democrats.  He asked his editor if he could see why the stories were biased.  The editor replied that journalists are trained to be objective and professional.

The conservative journalist then asked, “well, okay then, since journalists are trained to be objective and professional, how would you feel if 90% of the staff were card carrying Republicans?”

His editor replied, “That wouldn’t work.  You can’t trust them to be objective.”

I think of that story every time I hear people defend bias in the media or pretend it doesn’t exist or pretend it only exists on Fox.  It is hard to see our own biases.

But, I think people are starting to see their bias.

Great Write-Up of Elinor Ostrom’s Work

October 28, 2009

John Stossel provides the best write-up for lay people of Elinor Ostrom’s work that I’ve read so far in his column today, Self Governance Works.  Elinor shared the Nobel Prize in Economics this year.

If I take fish from a common fishing area, I benefit completely from those fish. But if I make an investment to increase the future number of fish, others benefit, too. So why should I risk making the investment? I’ll wait for others to do it. But everyone else faces the same free-rider incentive. So we end up with a depleted resource and what Garrett Harden called “the tragedy of the commons.”

Except, says Ostrom, we often don’t. There is also an “opportunity of the commons.” While most politicians conclude that, depending on the resource, efficient management requires either privatization or government ownership, Ostrom finds examples of a third way: “self-organizing forms of collective action,” as she put it in an interview a few years ago. Her message is to be wary of government promises.

She has studied, for example, self-governing irrigation systems in Nepal and found successes never anticipated in the textbooks. “Irrigation systems built and governed by the farmers themselves are on average in better repair, deliver more water, and have higher agricultural productivity than those provided and managed by a government agency. … (F)armers craft their own rules, which frequently offset the perverse incentives they face in their particular physical and cultural settings. These rules may be almost invisible to outsiders. …”

“These rules may be almost invisible to outsiders…” reminds me of Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand.  The Invisible Hand is why we do what we do.  Smith wrote more about this subject in his Theory of Moral Sentiments.  In addition to economic incentives, our actions are influenced by prudence, propriety, benevolence and justice.   These four governors of behavior are under appreciated.  I consider economic incentives along with prudence, propriety, benevolence and justice to be the five fingers of the invisible hand.

Government intervention can screw up economic incentives and it can also screw up the other four fingers.  Something a German lady told me comes to mind.  She said that while East Germany was freed 20 years ago, the culture of a heavy handed slave master statist government is still there.  The people are rude.  They live to meet the codified rules and not much else.  The government rules replaced a person’s sense of prudence, propriety, benevolence and justice.  DMV anyone?

I also love this passage: “While most politicians conclude that, depending on the resource, efficient management requires either privatization or government ownership, Ostrom finds examples of a third way.”

By examples, he means real world examples.  Real world examples are all around us, yet I find that those examples are often under appreciated by people who box themselves into theoretical confines.   I’m the Elinor Ostrom of my workplace.  Whenever we have a grand new idea, I look for real world examples that are similar.  It is darned difficult to get people to accept those real world examples.  It’s also darned difficult to get those people to admit that they should have more carefully considered those real world examples when they get similar results.

On the Margin

October 28, 2009

Here’s an excellent podcast from Russ Roberts of EconTalk:  Munger on Shortages, Prices and Competition.

Listen to it.   This covers a gamut of topics:   Vaccines, minimum wage, organ donation, airline deregulation.  Roberts and Munger do a great job of explaining factors other than price that we use to allocate our resources on the margin everyday and don’t realize it.

For example:  FREE VACCINE!!! Great. We’ll all get it.  Right?  Nope.  Why not?  It’s still not worth it to many because there are “costs” involved.  Time waiting in line, getting there, having a chance to catch the illness while waiting in line to name a few.

I’m listening to the podcast for the second time as I write this.

If This Guy is Concerned…

October 27, 2009

…you should be too.  Thomas Sowell’s column today is titled Dismantling America.   The beginning:

Just one year ago, would you have believed that an unelected government official, not even a Cabinet member confirmed by the Senate but simply one of the many “czars” appointed by the President, could arbitrarily cut the pay of executives in private businesses by 50 percent or 90 percent?

He goes on to ask a few more questions like that.  Then ends with:

Nothing so epitomizes President Obama’s own contempt for American values and traditions like trying to ram two bills through Congress in his first year– each bill more than a thousand pages long– too fast for either of them to be read, much less discussed. That he succeeded only the first time says that some people are starting to wake up. Whether enough people will wake up in time to keep America from being dismantled, piece by piece, is another question– and the biggest question for this generation.

I agree.  Some people are waking up.  Are enough?  We’ll see.  It’s easy to get the wool pulled over your eyes when it’s “your guy” pulling.   I talk to a lot of people with the woolly eyes.  You may too.

If you want to lift the wool a little, first remind them that as long as free elections are maintained in the country their guy may not always be in charge.  Then ask them what they think about some else’s guy or gal doing some of the same things, like setting executive pay, taking over businesses, ramming large bills through Congress and so forth.

For me, that’s always been a litmus test to keep the wool out of my eyes.

Why Government Doesn’t Work

October 25, 2009

Every once in awhile, I think it’s good to repost why government programs don’t work as well as free markets.

It’s because government programs funds are based on the intention of the program, while free markets are funded based on the outcome.  Failing government programs tend to get more money from the people controlling the purse strings, the politicians, in order to appear that they are working for the people and to buy votes. That’s called a negative reinforcing loop. In other words, negative consequences are rewarded and thus continued and strengthened.  This is like the parents who always bail their kids out of trouble and find out that their children can’t function as a productive member of society when then become adults.

Failing private programs get less money from the people controlling the purse strings, the customers or donors.  Customers and donors willingly buy from private programs that are producing desirable outcomes, otherwise customers would try something else.  This is a positive reinforcing loop.  Good consequences are rewarded and thus continued and strengthened.

People often miss, or discount, the strength of these positive and negative reinforcing loops.

They also seem to think that supporters of free markets believe that free markets are perfect and that any failure in a free market invalidates this belief.  They don’t understand that supporters of free markets readily understand that failure is present in both systems.  But, believe the self-correcting nature of the free market is better than self-destructing nature of the governmental system.

The Future of Health Care Part II

October 23, 2009

Raoul sent a nice follow-up to the photo he sent me from the waiting area of a DMV, from columnist Terrence Jeffrey of the Patriot Post.  Sadly, Raoul’s photo appears to have been right on:

The most revelatory passage in the so-called ‘plain English’ version of the health care bill that the Senate Finance Committee approved on Tuesday (without ever drafting the actual legislative language) says that in the future Americans will be offered the convenience of getting their health insurance at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

This is no joke. If this bill becomes law, it will be the duty of the U.S. secretary of health and human services or the state governments overseeing federally mandated health-insurance exchanges to ensure that you can get your health insurance at the DMV.

You will also be able to get it at Social Security offices, hospitals, schools and ‘other offices’ the government will name later.

Page 19 of the committee’s ‘plain English’ text says: ‘The Secretary and/or states would do the following: … Enable customers to enroll in health care plans in local hospitals, schools, Departments of Motor Vehicles, local Social Security offices, and other offices designated by the state.’

This is the bill’s most revelatory passage because it sublimely symbolizes the bill’s true aim: a government takeover of the health care system.

You do not get food at the DMV. You do not even get auto insurance at the DMV. But under what The Associated Press inaptly calls the Finance Committee’s ‘middle-of-the-road health care plan,’ you will get health insurance at the DMV.

Jason Whitlock

October 18, 2009

Jason Whitlock, a sport columnist, won my “Critical Thinker of the Week” award in March.   I’ve read Jason’s sports and non-sports columns over the years. I’ve always found his non-sports columns to be good examples of using our brains, to think through a situation and not automatically let conventional wisdom or our relexive biases do all the work for us.

That’s why I was disappointed with Whitlock’s column about Rush Limbaugh.  I wondered if this column was written by the same guy who wrote the past columns I appreciated so much.  From top to bottom the column is just plain dumb.  The pinnacle of stupidity was when he used unsubstantiated and quotes and, rather than doing the homework to substantiate the quotes, he puts up a flimsy argument that Rush doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt because “he’s earned a fortune with racial satire.  He know what he’s doing.”

That’s idiotic, fallacious and motivated by hate.

Attack on Rush Limbaugh, Attack on My Common Sense

October 18, 2009

I don’t often get into the fray on famous people.  I don’t have much faith in any particular famous person out there.  Over the years, too many that I’ve looked up to, I eventually realized were fallible and would probably do something, or had done something, to disappoint me so it wasn’t worth my effort to defend anyone.

To characterize what I think of Rush, I listen to Rush occassionally if I’m driving around town while he’s on the radio.  Sometimes I think he makes good points and sometimes I think he needs to get to the point.  When I am listening to him, my radio is not glued to his station.  I will switch if he’s in one of those “needs to get to the point” stage. 

A friend, who doesn’t happen to follow politics at all, called me the other day asking who Rush thinks he is.  “He doesn’t have a college degree, he’s been a drug addict, he’s been married several times…why do people listen to him?”  I asked where he’d heard all of this.  “The Today show.”  Then I asked, “Does any of that mean that he’s not able to be right about something?  Don’t you think you should listen to his opinion and determine whether you agree or disagree based on the merits?”

I think the thing that bothered me the most about the personal attack was the inclusion of not having a college degree.  This reminded me of the ridicoulous attacks on Sarah Palin for having attended five colleges.  Those attacks did not include the information that Sarah Palin attended that many for financial reasons, not academic.  Much like how I scrapped together credit hours from three colleges to earn my undergraduate degree.  I earned those credit hours where I could. 

But, somehow, the message is that because of this, Sarah isn’t as smart.  Neither is Rush.  Neither is anyone without a college degree or a degree from a non-elite institution, unless the person has a degree from an elite institution and happens to be from a wealthy family, then we can’t trust the validity of the degree because it may be consideration for a sizeable donation from the family. That’s the reasoning we actually have to put up with.  That reasoning would have earned me an F in my junior high school classes, yet it passes. 

I’m not a die hard Rush Limbaugh dittohead (the term that has come to describe loyal Rush listeners and followers), but I’m not hater either.  As with most people who offer opinions, I try to listen to the points they make and their reasoning.  I try not to let their personal baggage get in the way.  In fact, letting personal baggage get in the way is a fallacy.  It’s one of the most insidious fallacies of our time.   How often do you hear, or say, “I’m just not going to trust what this person says because he’s done [fill in the blank]…”? And, unfortunately, when that happens people turn themselves off to what may be valid arguments.

Rush being removed from the list of potential investors in an NFL team goes beyond this.  Painting Rush as a racist, at worst, and a polarizing figure not worthy of owning an NFL team, at best, is an assault on my common sense.    I recommend reading Rush’s response here.

I could care less if Rush owns an NFL team, but Rush’s main point is valid:

These intimidation tactics are working and spreading, and they are a cancer on our society.

I think so.  These tactics kick reasoning out the door.   I also think people are catching on.  I think media credibility is in the toilet and this type of unbalanced, unsubstantiated character assassination doesn’t help it.

Source of Most Problems: Feedback Loops

October 14, 2009

In today’s column, A Minority View: Academic Dishonesty, Walter Williams discusses one of the four feedback loops in our schools that could be fixed to improve the quality of education in our country.

Several times on this blog I’ve advocated that most problems can be traced back to a broken feedback mechanism or loops.  A feedback loop is simply information that we use to course correct.

For example, the sights and sounds we use when driving a car are feedback.  Our brain processes those and pipes physical adjustments to our hands and feet to keep the car on the road, in the lane, operating safely and moving toward our intended destination.

Car accidents often occur because of problems in the feedback or processing of feedback.  Obstructed views, misinterpretation of traffic signals and so forth are common causes of accidents.

I’ve used this idea to explain the problems we see in education result from four limited feedback loops.

  1. Parent choice is limited by the way we fund school districts.
  2. Teacher quality is muted by the rules the teachers’ union have put in place to provide them with job security and protect teachers from arbitrary administrators.
  3. Student grades are muted by several things, some of which are the topic of Walter Williams’ column today.
  4. Student discipline is the limited ability schools have to remove problem children from the classroom.

The Future of Health Care

October 13, 2009

Raoul Lufberry sent me an e-mail with the same title and the following image.

This Is Reality

This Is Reality

He also added: “It would be funny if I wasn’t into my third hour. I’m now waiting for them to correct the mis-spelling of my name.”  Btw…his real name isn’t Raoul.  It’s much easier.

Why supporters of government health care don’t want to admit this would be the eventual reality perplexes me.  Do you want to get more support for government health care?  Fix this stuff first.