Ben Powell on Penn and Teller

The latest episode of Penn and Teller’s Bull Shit is a gem (here’s the YouTube preview). This episode reminded me of the Free to Choose episode 8, when Walter Williams takes American union leaders to task on the minimum wage. Williams pointed out that union leaders are only looking out for the interests of African American’s who happen to be members in their union. At the time, blacks were under represented as union members by the way. The remaining African American population is negatively effected by minimum wage laws. They get pushed out of the labor market all together because they can’t find low paying jobs that suit their low level skill sets.
Penn and Teller do a great job at showing the hypocrisies of wealthy liberal elites and their favorite Wal-Mart bashing trend. They claim to be standing up in the name of small town values and the working man, all the while, real hardworking folks are happy to take Wal-Mart’s salaries and low prices and increase the qualities of their lives.
But what about the fact that Wal-Mart sells clothes made in sweatshops? Who would ever defend sweatshops? Ben Powell (recent GMU grad) to the rescue. If I had to make the choice between third world children working in sweatshops or being prostitutes, I’m with Powell, and I’ll take sweatshops.
If you look closely you can see Nick Curott (a San Jose grad student and friend of mine, in the background). Unfortunately no mention of Powell’s hardworking and well deserving co-author David Skarbek (GMU grad student) in this episode.

On writing well…

My first few years of graduate school were a constant struggle. I quickly discovered that just writing down my ideas was not enough. To succeed as an economist, I had to write clearly. In paper workshops I would repeatedly hear comments that the readers did not understand the argument or how the sections of my writing related to one another. The work would have flavor but they couldn’t tell what it was. Recently I’ve been told that my writing and clarity has improved. I attribute this to two factors. First, writing and revising more often. Second, reading material on the topic of writing. For the second, I recommend the following:
On Writing Well by William Zinsser
The Elements of Style by Strunk, White, and Angell
On Writing by Stephen King
How to Write with Style by Kurt Vonnegut
12 writing tips by George Orwell

Vandalizing the “Vandalism”

Susan from Artcrimes emailed me this story. A new trend in New York is to vandalize, vandals. Once popular, successful graffiti artists are being attacked as tools of the system and subsequent vandals are “splashing” over their works that have become customarily accepted.
Also, you might have noticed that some of my old posts in the graffiti category have gone missing. They’re still on the net but not logged in the blog. I don’t know why and I don’t know how to fix it. So here are some favorite links on the subject:
My old draft on Artcrimes
The Artcrimes graffiti resource page
The graffiti debate from the Mises Blog
The graffiti debate from the Austrian Forum
Literati presentation

Alcohol age restrictions and the divorce rate?

Here’s the thesis; I think that there is probably a correlation between the time that state alcohol consumption ages rose from 18 to 21 with the rise in American divorce rates. Here’s why, couples don’t dance anymore. Think of it this way, dance clubs are now just one stagae of longer production line to get into bed. On the other hand, as recently as the 1980s, dancing and sex were complements or even substitutes. Young people danced to determine and express their compatibilities with one another. When states rose the drinking age from 18 to 21 night clubs couldn’t afford to stay in business. Where they used to service customers between 18 and 21 their customer base radically shrank. These clubs shut down, the content of music changed, etc. Now no one dances and everyone gets divorced.
Hat tip to Geoff Lea for the fun discussion.

A challenge to those who don’t think the public school system is failing

Last night I went with the university Catholic student group (unusual for me I know) to the local Juvenile Detention Center. I’d recommend doing this to anyone who thinks that the public school system is doing a good job, or even someone who insists that public education is necessary. Watching these kids be ushered around the gym as though they were military cadets was surreal. Here’s a bet I’d be willing to make. Take a stop watch and a group of kindergardeners, time how long it takes them to make a circle when asked. Then time the juvenile inmates, when asked. I’ll bet you get something similar. When do the inmates fall behind on their time scores? When they are never asked to make a circle, instead they are marched by direction, a central planner, to line up in exactly the right places. It took almost five minutes.
Anyway, my impression of the kids was that it doesn’t take much to get them motivated and interested. You just have to try. These kids had no illusion about where they were and how much they disliked it, but they hated school as well. They said the learning environment in the facility was easier than outside. There was no choice but to pay attention and do the work. They hated school and when given the choice they weren’t going to go and all the choices that remained seemed to lead them here. These kids weren’t defective, they didn’t even seem to need much rehabilitation or anything. They needed motivation and inspiration. It all seemed like a big waist: a room full of talented and potentially motivated kids with no outlet.

Radicals for Capitalism

So you’ve probably read a dozen reviews of this book by now, but here’s one more brief comment. I heard Brian give a presentation at the Public Choice seminar yesterday and have read only a couple of chunks out of the book in the past two days but here’s what I’m liking about it.
I’ve been involved with libertarians and libertarian ideas going on 6 or 7 years now. In that time, I’ve amassed dozens of anecdotes and stories that you hear about the big figures in their hay days. Rothbard broke with Rand or Mises calling the Mt. Pelerons socialist, etc. As silly or dare I say cultish as these parables are the learning process they accomplish is still extremely useful and interesting. I’m more than willing to accept that people like Mises, Rand, Hayek and Rothbard were all smarter than me and I value information that communicates the way they thought about issues and dealt with opposing ideas in their times.
Doherty’s book seems to accomplish an immense degree of this proverbial learning in a single read. I’m willing to award it the title of “The first 700 page book on libertarianism that you should read.” In other words, I’d highly recommend it to people new to the ideas of liberty or even “on the fence” people, because it can accomplish the same feel and familiarity with the major thinkers that usually takes many years of casual conversations.
This book is important for young generation econo-austro-libertarians. It was most refreshing to hear Doherty comment about how traditional rivalries between many of the core libertarian institutions don’t seem to be carrying over to the younger generations. I applaud this phenomenon and agree with Brian’s assessment. Buy and start reading the book today.