Sunday, February 27, 2011

Ezra Levant: Asking all the uncomfortable questions

I think it says a bit about priorities that Europeans would criticize Canadian oil sands while ignoring the... let's call them "issues", with Libyan oil. Their supposed concern for the environment ranks higher than that of people. Ezra Levant:For Europe, Alberta oil is too dirty. Isn’t Libyan oil too bloody? (Toronto Sun via Instapundit):

Europe buys 80% of Libya’s oil. Other than terrorism, that’s pretty much the only thing Libya exports. . . . None of this is news. It’s olds. It’s been going on for years. What’s new is last week, the very week when Gadhafi and his son told the world they’d fight democracy protesters to the last bullet, was the week the European Union chose to criticize Canada’s oilsands because — get this — they say we have 20 more grams of carbon dioxide per megajoule of oil than Libya does.

It’s true, it takes more energy to produce oil from Canada’s oilsands than from Libya’s desert because we have to steam it out of the sand.

European oil imports from Iraq and Nigeria have the same carbon footprint as our oilsands. Those countries burn off the natural gas that comes up when they pump oil — an illegal environmental practice in Canada. And oil from Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela has even higher carbon emissions.
Update: The Mead List - World's Top 10 Gaddhafi Toads: #1 UN Human Rights Commission, #2 UK's Gordon Brown and his Government, #3 Hugo Chavez, #4 Nicholas Sarkozy, #5 Tony Blair.

Charlie Brooker vs. Colonel Gaddafi

I'm not sure what to think about this. On one hand I thought it was hysterical but the subtext is well... terribly sad and damning (h/t Jordie P on FB). I confess I have been listening to Muse's Uprising (YouTube) on repeat for the last few days.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

On Measuring Poverty

Daniel Hameresh from Freakonomics thinks that how we measure poverty reflects our attitudes towards it. I'd qualify that - it reflects the attitudes of the bureaucrats and elites towards poverty:

In the U.S., we define the poverty line as absolute: three times the income needed for a minimally nutritious food budget. In Europe, the poverty line is based on relative income, typically 50 percent of the median income.

This transatlantic difference says something about political/cultural differences. With our definition, in a growing economy, so long as inequality doesn’t increase too much and food prices don’t increase more than average prices, poverty will eventually disappear. We will not always have the poor with us in America. What an optimistic view — and what lack of concern about inequality! In Europe, even with income growth, unless inequality decreases, the fraction of households in poverty won’t change. How pessimistic, yet how concerned about equality!

A Photographer Reports from Libya

Some inspiring images from Libya (WSJ).

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Some People Just Don't Get It

It's as if they feel they're entitled to taxpayer dollars. An SEIU organizer (LookingattheLeft via Instapundit):

You’re an entrepreneur, so you don’t work."

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Moral Authority of the UN

I've never been a fan of realpolitik, but as Libyan warplanes and helicopters bomb protesters (Washington Post via Instapundit) - or as governments attack their own citizens elsewhere as they have in the Middle East like Egypt, it's difficult not to feel a little anger that the UN General Assembly voted to give Libya a seat on the Human Rights Council in 2010 (ForeignPolicy).

Monday, February 21, 2011

TED: Noreena Hertz on How to Use Experts -- and When Not To

Thought provoking talk about the problem of relying on experts on making important decisions by Noreena Hertz ( where apparently when we trust an expert, scans of brain activity show the level of our independent thought, flatlines.

Quote of the Day

While the most successful are often older, just by sheer numbers, fearlessness, and the falling need of capital to show a concept works - or even build an entire empire, fortune, is I think, increasingly favoring the young.

On why the young can often find great opportunities, from the WSJ (via Paul Kedrosky):

It's remarkable what you can achieve when you're too young to realize your limitations, or even to know that limitations exist.
[Subsequent thought... perhaps it's not so much that fortune is favoring the young, but equalizing the playing field for good ideas.]

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Niall Ferguson: How the West Won

(Or perhaps a more appropriate title would be How the West Got There First). Niall Ferguson, a historian's look at why the West developed so much faster than the rest of the world. He argues that it was for 6 primary reasons (Spectator via Paul Kedrosky):

  1. Competition: a decentralisation of political and economic life, which created the launch pad for both nation states and capitalism.

  2. Science: a way of understanding and ultimately changing the natural world, which gave the West (among other things) a major military advantage over the Rest.

  3. Property rights: the rule of law as a means of protecting private owners and peacefully resolving disputes between them, which formed the basis for the most stable form of representative government.

  4. Medicine: a branch of science that allowed a major improvement in health and life expectancy, beginning in Western societies, but also in their colonies.

  5. The consumer society: a mode of material living in which the production and purchase of clothing and other consumer goods play a central economic role, and without which the Industrial Revolution would have been unsustainable.

  6. The work ethic: a moral framework and mode of activity derivable from (among other sources) Protestant Christianity, which provides the glue for the dynamic and potentially unstable society created by the application of 1 to 5”

I think this explanation is more complicated than necessary as property rights and rule of law can spur such things as medicine and consumption while providing the incentives for a strong work ethic. I prefer Brink Lindsey's explanation.

"Fred's Five Rules for Product/Market Fit"

That'd be Fred Wilson, a VC @ Union Square Ventures, and a list that's built off his somewhat more meandering post here. They're a few ideas that have been occupying my mind lately - ideas that apply especially towards web startups. (h/t Paul Kedrosky):

  1. Early in a startup, product decisions should be hunch driven. Later on, product decisions should be data driven.

  2. Hunches come from being a power user of the products in your category and from having a long standing obsession about the problem you are solving.

  3. Domain expertise to the point of obsession is highly correlated with the most successful entrepeneurs in our portfolio.

  4. Ideas that most people derided as ridiculous have produced the best outcomes. Don't do the obvious thing.

  5. Monetization should be native and improve the experience for users.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Why Technology Might make your Job Extinct and Why That's a Good Thing

The basic premise: the future is dynamic - and therefore jobs must be too. Technology not only destroys jobs but simultaneously creates more useful/productive opportunities. From Andy Kessler, a former hedge fund manager (WSJ):

Forget blue-collar and white- collar. There are two types of workers in our economy: creators and servers. Creators are the ones driving productivity—writing code, designing chips, creating drugs, running search engines. Servers, on the other hand, service these creators (and other servers) by building homes, providing food, offering legal advice, and working at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Many servers will be replaced by machines, by computers and by changes in how business operates. It's no coincidence that Google announced it plans to hire 6,000 workers in 2011. [...]

Like it or not, we are at the beginning of a decades-long trend. Beyond the demise of toll takers and stock traders, watch enrollment dwindle in law schools and medical schools. Watch the divergence in stock performance between companies that actually create and those that are in transition—just look at Apple, Netflix and Google over the last five years as compared to retailers and media.

But be warned that this economy is incredibly dynamic, and there is no quick fix for job creation when so much technology-driven job destruction is taking place. Fortunately, history shows that labor-saving machines haven't decreased overall employment even when they have made certain jobs obsolete. Ultimately the economic growth created by new jobs always overwhelms the drag from jobs destroyed—if policy makers let it happen.
Policymakers should take care that in implementing populist policies to "create jobs" that they aren't simply increasing the barriers and transitional costs of newer more sustainable jobs. The best way to do so is not to attempt to predict the future with directed spending/trade barriers/stimulus or subsidies, but to simply get out of the way.

Thomas Jefferson on Debt

Words of wisdom for nations and states around the world (Google Books via Instapundit/DailyPundit):

To preserve our independence, we must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt. We must make our selection between economy and liberty or profusion and servitude.

If we run into such debts as that, we must be taxed in our meat and in our drink, in our necessaries and our comforts, in our labors and our amusements, for our callings and our creeds, as the people of England are.

Our people, like them, must come to labor sixteen hours in the twenty-four, give the earnings of fifteen of these to the government for their debts and daily expenses; and the sixteenth being insufficient to afford us bread, we must live, as they now do, on oatmeal and potatoes, have no time to think, no means of calling the mismanagers to account; but be glad to obtain subsistence by hiring ourselves to rivet their chains on the necks of our fellow-sufferers.

Our land-holders, too, like theirs, retaining, indeed, the title and stewardship of estates called theirs, but held really in trust for the treasury, must wander, like theirs, in foreign countries, and be contented with penury, obscurity, exile, and the glory of the nation.

This example reads to us the salutary lesson that private fortunes are destroyed by public, as well as by private extravagance. And this is the tendency of all human governments.

A departure from principle in one instance, becomes a precedent for a second, that second for a third, and so on, till the bulk of society is reduced to be mere automatons of misery, to have no sensibilities left but for sinning and suffering.

Then begins, indeed, the bellum omnium in omnia, which some philosophers, observing to be so general in the world, have mistaken it for the natural, instead of the abusive state of man.

And the forehorse of this frightful team is public debt. Taxation follows that, and in its train wretchedness and oppression.”

– Thomas Jefferson

Struggling for Time

As someone who has been keeping and archiving all their email, while struggling through David Allen's Getting Things Done (Amazon, also more here), this has been a helpful video helping me to rethink how I handle email - More on Merlin Mann's series here (43Folders):

(OK, granted, I haven't quite made it through all 60 minutes quite yet, but I'm getting there).

"When Robot Programmers get bored"

Awesome (h/t Tim W.):

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Paper: Democracy, property rights, income equality, and corruption

Democracy, property rights, income equality, and corruption by Bin Dong and Benno Torgler via Economist Blog - from the abstract:

We establish a political economy model where the effect of democracy on corruption is conditional on income distribution and property rights protection. Our empirical analysis with cross-national panel data provides evidence that is consistent with the theoretical prediction. Moreover, the effect of democratization on corruption depends on the protection of property rights and income equality which shows that corruption is a nonlinear function of these variables. The results indicate that democracy will work better as a control of corruption if the property rights system works and there is a low level of income inequality. on the other hand if property rights are not secured and there is a strong income inequality, democracy may even lead to an increase of corruption. In addition, property rights protection and the mitigation of income inequality contribute in a strong manner to the reduction of corruption.
India is a country that comes to mind. Emphasizing the importance of strong property rights is often forgotten in the pursuit of democracy.

The Poor are Not Getting Poorer

(At least in the US) Simple and to the point (h/t Jeffrey Ellis):

Monday, February 07, 2011

"Development in 3 Sentences"

Am being creamed by another inordinate amount of procrastination coupled with actual work but this was too good not to post (The Coming Prosperity via Aidwatch):

If solutions are known, need $$. If solutions are knowable, need evaluations. If solutions are evolving, need entrepreneurs.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Skepticism, Hope and the Egyptian Revolution

While there have been a number of inspiring voices for liberty under the repressive regime of Mubarak. That something better will necessarily come out of this however, is far from certain given how organized the militants are and the likely influences of Iran. From Walter Russell Mead (read the whole thing):

On balance, the US administration has probably helped the government, and Washington’s intervention in the crisis is not (yet) turning out very well. Public pressure on President Mubarak to step down has allowed the Egyptian authorities to wrap themselves in the national flag. “Let’s find an Egyptian solution to Egypt’s problems,” they can say. “President Mubarak will not be running for re-election; do not let the Americans dictate our timetable for change.” Many in the Egyptian army who normally might have wanted to shed Mubarak quickly will now want to let him hang on through the fall to spite Obama if for no other reason. At the same time, foreign pressure gave the government an opening to crack down on foreign (and domestic) journalists, helping to deprive the revolution of the attention and television coverage vital to keeping public excitement and mobilization alive.

In revolution, momentum matters. In a poor country like Egypt, mass demonstrations cannot continue indefinitely. The middle class can stay in the streets, but the poorer people need to feed their families. A few days’ pay is all that stands between many families in Egypt and hunger. Beyond that, the kind of excitement that gives people the courage to defy authorities and risk death depends on an emotional surge that tends to fade as time drags on.

The Egyptian authorities needed to stall for time and slow down the clock. That they seem to have done; if they can hold the line, the regime (though not the Mubarak family) has a reasonable prospect of riding out the storm or of forcing a longer term stalemate.
And also from Jeffrey Miron:
But another component seems to be that the demonstrators want economic freedom, which is limited under the economic system in Egypt.

Milton Friedman’s view was that economic freedom is as important as political freedom: the right to vote in open elections is valuable, but so is the ability to run a business without oppressive regulation or earn an income without paying most of it in taxes.

A related point is that democracy does not necessarily produce economic development; rather, work by my colleagues Ed Glaeser and Andrei Shleifer suggests that better institutions, by themselves, do not systematically lead to economic growth. Rather, countries adopt better politicial institutions as their level of development progresses.