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Robert Paul Wolff has a humorous post about rational choice theory that you economically-minded readers are likely to enjoy.


Culture Matters II

Jacob posted that the difference between libertarians and conservatives is that the latter believe culture is vitally important. On a similar note, author John C. Wright writes:

I have read Libertarian writings quite closely for quite a number of years. Before I had children, and before 9/11, I was a libertarian of the most consistent and orthodox character. Then I realized that libertarians are guilty of the same fallacy which they see in others: the stolen concept fallacy.

The Libertarian assumes a Lockean or (if you will) an Ayn Randian theory of government, but does not recognize that the formal processes of the law are void and of none effect if not supported and sustained by the values and virtues of the culture, that is, by the informal and largely unspoken consensus of shared opinion.

In the same way that Christians, when they take vows and live in monasteries, can live like Communists, and prosper, whereas Communists who live like Communists die; and in the same way that Christians, when they accept the palm of martyrdom, can die like pagan Stoics, whereas pagan Stoics, when left to their own devices, merely become indifferent to the suffers of others, and erect gladiatorial circuses; so in the same way can Christians can prosper in a limited government of enumerated powers, tolerating differences, whereas Liberals and Libertarians cannot tolerate, and dare not tolerate, heretical opinions. Without Christianity, Libertarianism is little more than a movement favoring drug legalization and the repeal of gun laws.

That's an interesting question: what sustains free societies? Let's say you start with a libertarian society in year 1. How do we ensure that the people won't pass laws that make it a socialist society by year 100? Wright seems to believe the answer is Christianity.

BTW, The Golden Age was a fabulous book. I never got around to reading the rest of the series unfortunately.


No Need for a National Champion

College football is a different animal. Many fans who follow it from a distance by watching highlights on Sportscenter or the occasional game on TV don't appreciate this.

I for one have absolutely no desire to crown a national champion in college football. I honestly don't care. A college football national champion won't make my life better in the least. I'm perfectly fine having the regular season games, conference championships, and bowl games without crowning a champion.


The backwaters of humanity

Reading this article makes my blood boil (even if the first thing on the page is the Queen of Jordan, who is a real looker). If you don't have the time, while detailing Jordan's legal wrangles over "honor killings", it gives the story of a woman killed by her relatives in relatively civilized Jordan for...wait for it...leaving the house at night with her infant son.

His sister's crime was simple. Her husband complained that she had left the house on the middle of the night carrying her 16-month-old baby son. The police had found her wandering the streets half an hour later.

The dishonour such wanton behaviour brought on her own family, it seemed, could only be expunged by her death.

Here's the real punch in the gut:

Police inquiries have revealed his sister's husband had not told the brothers the entire truth. They allege he had beaten his wife severely with his belt, and then kicked her out. He only called for help when he realised she had taken his baby son with her.

Yet Abu Ishmael does not appear angry. Instead, the whole business remains to him a matter-of-fact quandary, one he seemed to think that any family might face, when addressing the competing possibilities of family disgrace.

"If she really had left the house of her own free will she would have deserved what happened to her," he said, with a sad shake of his head. "But it appears not."

Abu Ishmael is not only the murdered woman's brother, he also participated in her kidnapping. I'm dumbfounded by this attitude: if she actually had left the house of her own free will, she deserves to be stabbed until she dies.

I've tried to write this part several times now, and frankly I don't even know what to say. That family is a blemish on the human race.


A Champion By Any Other Name Would Be Just as Profitable

Speaking of what makes a "true champion" and the continuing destruction of college football, I read this absurd story from Lester Munson on the latest meddling of Congress into the BCS:

Federal legislation that will lead to a college football playoff tournament will move a step closer to reality on Wednesday in a hearing before a subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection will consider a bill that would allow the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to prohibit any bowl game from calling itself a "national championship" unless the game is "the final game of a single elimination post-season playoff system." The subcommittee is expected to vote on the proposal on Wednesday after a line-by-line consideration of the bill.

Written and sponsored by Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.), the bill is a direct attack on the BCS and, if enacted, would bring the long simmering controversy over the BCS to an end. In a legislative process that is long and can be tortuous, the hearing is a significant step. This is the furthest any bill on the BCS controversy has ever progressed on Capitol Hill.

I'm not going to argue that this represents a stupid government intervention into private economic affairs or a blatant attack on free speech. That is obviously true.

No, what interests me about this story is Munson's belief that this bill would "would bring the long simmering controversy over the BCS to an end." I think it's quite clear that it wouldn't. Since Congress has not (yet) decided it can impose a playoff system, it's working through its authority over false advertising. So you can't call something a "championship". Who cares?

Does anyone honestly think the NCAA wouldn't respond to this either by (1) calling the championship game something else like the "Awesome Megabowl!", or (2) just doing away with the BCS and going back to the old system. After all, everyone on Earth will know when a matchup between a #1 and a #2 is coming, and that it almost certainly will decide who ends up winning the polls. How much can the words "national champion" be worth in advertising? It has got to be smaller than what the schools would give up through the destruction of the bowl system.

Now, I'm virtually alone in viewing that as a good thing, since I'm anti-playoffs for sporting reasons. But even if you are a proponent of playoffs, given the money at stake, wouldn't that strike you as a far more likely outcome than acquiescence?


What is a "real" champion?

The 2007 New England Patriots went 16-0 in the regular season, including a win over the NY Giants. No other team in NFL history had achieved this feat. The Miami Dolphins achieved an undefeated regular season back when teams only played 14 games and went on to win the Super Bowl. But ever since the league changed to playing 16 games, no team had ever emerged unscathed.

Yet, to prove that they were "champions", they were asked to beat the Giants once more, a team that lost six more games than the Pats in the regular season. The Pats came up short. Giants were crowned "champions".

Does this system sound fair to anyone? It sure doesn't to me.


The New New Year's Day

Today was one of the best days of college football I've ever experienced. Lots of big games, and most of them went down to the wire. Nebraska gave the game against Texas away by kicking it off out of bounds giving the Longhorns great field position without running time off the clock. Despite what Colt McCoy says about knowing how much time was on the clock, I think he completely lost track of the time. If Ndamukong Suh doesn't pressure McCoy on the next to last play, he isn't forced to throw the ball away, and time runs out. Heck, even if they complete a pass, time likely expires before they call the time out. Texas got lucky.

Speaking of Suh, he's the best football player in the country. Since defensive players don't win Heismans, my vote would go to Toby Gerhardt. Though most experts are putting him third or fourth in the balloting, he's my dark horse to win by geographic voting. The West will vote for him unanimously but the rest of the country will split between McCoy, Tebow, and Ingram.

The large number of high impact games today was reminiscient of New Year's Day games of the pre-BCS era. These days, there are only a couple of bowl games on NYD that matter; the rest are played singly in primetime during the following week. College football is headed more and more towards a pro football culture, which is a shame. The first weekend of December when the conference championship games are held is the new NYD.

By my count, Alabama, Pitt, and Cincinnati all missed extra points, and the Houston kicker missed three of them for a total of 6 in one day. I usually don't see that many misses in a full season.

The biggest argument against the BCS is that it's dominated by BCS conference teams. If Nebraska had beaten Texas, that would have likely put TCU in the BCS Championship Game. TCU in that game and Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl, both non-BCS conference teams, would have bought the BCS another ten years before the Feds come a knockin' and force a playoff. As it is, both teams are likely headed for BCS bowls, so the BCS has probably bought another five years.

Prediction: Some time in the next ten years, Tim Tebow will come out of the closet. I've never seen an athlete that emotional, especially after losses. He sheds tears every time his team goes down. He reacts to the horde of young nubile co-eds at the University of Florida by saying, "No Thanks!" Hmmm.....


More On General Market Efficiency

It's very difficult for any single individual/entity to beat index returns. For anyone who has some money set aside, the advice, "Put it in an index fund" is sage. Very few mutual funds beat index returns in a given year. Over many years, almost none do. The average investor does not have access to inside information. The stock price moves within seconds in response to any information made public. If someone sees an incongruity or arbitrage opportunity, many others have probably already seen it and have already acted on it. "What makes you think you can beat the market?" is a good question.

It is also a question which I don't think is applied enough.

I was hanging out with some friends in Boston a few months back, and the crowd included friends of friends who I was meeting for the first time. During a conversation, one individual said that he was part of a club that engages in venture capital funding. I was surprised to hear this since he made as much money as I did, i.e., he probably didn't have money to throw around. My Hansonian leanings quickly concluded that he was merely trying to signal that he's ambitious and a "wheeler and dealer", a conjecture buttressed by the presense of several young ladies listening to our conversation. "What makes you think you can beat the market?" echoed in my mind. "What gives you that added edge to analyze fledgling companies better than the pros? Why do you think you can succeed where so many others fail?" were questions I didn't ask.

Vinod Khosla made a living funding fledgling companies through Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers. Presumably they were successful. But did they beat market returns? If so, they beat the odds. They're up against the same challenge the rest of us are: a market that incorporates knowledge very quickly. If he saw an opportunity, many others likely did too.

In the general economy, if I think of a new idea for a product, chances are someone has already thought of it. If I think of a new marketing tactic, chances are someone else has already thought of it. Instead of investing in starting a new business, why shouldn't I just put the money in a stock market index fund? Why should anyone start a business?

For someone with some money saved up, why should he do anything (like investing in individual stocks, investing in commodities, funding fledgling companies, starting a new business, loaning it out, etc) other than invest in an index fund?

I suppose the only good answer is, "Only if he wishes to take on a different risk profile than that involved with owning an index fund."


Religious intolerance: it's not just for breakfast anymore

The recent Swiss ban on the construction of new minarets is a very regrettable event, and the only Swiss voter I personally know is furious about it. It's a good example of how socially destructive even apparently benign regulations like building permits can be: now it's a huge political issue when someone wants to build a twenty-foot tall pile of cinder blocks. This is clearly antithetical to a free society, and symptomatic of a larger problem in the European response to Islam. These insular communities are not going to adapt when they're being persecuted.

The Christian Science Monitor's feathers are not ruffled. In a response, it notes religious intolerance of the reverse variety:

Saudi Arabia, home of Mecca and Islam more generally, is one of the least religiously free nation’s on earth. In the Kingdom, the public practice of any faith but Islam is illegal. Christian’s and Jews receive 50 percent of the compensation that a Muslim would receive in personal injury court and the country has no churches at all, though it officially tolerates private worship in homes.

None of this, of course, excuses the Swiss yes-voters from illiberal and immoral behavior. But it's something to keep in mind.


The lost war at home

One of the common laments from pro-Vietnam War commentators is that "We lost the war at home." Militarily, it wasn't as if the Vietcong were on the verge of overrunning a panicking Saigon or anything... The problem was that the US public lost the political will to continue the fighting. The fault, of course, ultimately rests with some variant or other of weak-kneed communist sympathizer or "isolationist."

As it turns out, the members of the US armed forces fighting in Vietnam were frequently antiwar. Not only did they realize its futility, they didn't think they should be killing and dying for this backwater nation halfway across the world. For example, "We Gotta Get Outta This Place" was one of the most popular songs on US military radio and in US military clubs in the fighting zone. Vietnam veterans were often fervent antiwar protestors, even testifying to congressional committees about how US forces needed to get the hell out of there.

What I wonder is if all these grimacing after-the-fact patriots blame soldiers as well as hippies for the lost war at home. I've never heard one say so.