Pursuit of Truthiness

my gut tells me I know economics

Archive for March 2009

Equimarginal Fail

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Consider, for example, that the 2009 budget for homeland security (the folks that protect us from terrorists) will likely be about $50 billion. Don’t get us wrong, we like the fact that people are trying to prevent terrorism, but even at its absolute worst, terrorists killed about 3,000 Americans in a single year. And less than 100 Americans are killed by terrorists in most years. By contrast, the budget for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (the folks who protect us on the road) is about $1 billion, even though more than 40,000 people will die this year on the nation’s roads. In terms of dollars spent per fatality, we fund terrorism prevention at about $17,000,000/fatality (i.e., $50 billion/3,000 fatalities) and accident prevention at about $25,000/fatality (i.e., $1 billion/40,000 fatalities).

…. To the extent that we do try to prevent scary things from happening, we should put forth more effort to prevent real dangers like car accidents, heart attacks, and diabetes. Interestingly, many of the real dangers are things that we have a lot of control over (unlike mass murder). Therefore, to the extent that we try to prevent them, we might actually improve our quality of life.

Thats from Psychology Today.


Written by James Bailey

March 25, 2009 at 4:32 pm

Posted in Economics, fail

A small step toward a much better world

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The website Wikileaks is currently down.  They recently broke the story of the list of websites banned by the Australian government, and their bandwidth has been overloaded by peoples’ interest.

Wikileaks allows little people to get information indicting powerful organizations in to the view of the larger world.  They protect the anonymity of their sources, and by locating servers in many countries and having extensive legal defense help they can keep stories up despite the opposition of governments.  Almost no case is too big or too small for them to handle.

But they have run out of money.

I can’t think of any other way a small donation could go further toward promoting freedom for individuals and transparency and accountability for institutions.  Freedom isn’t free, but this is your chance to buy it cheap!

Written by James Bailey

March 22, 2009 at 2:33 am

Nuclear Nazi Assassin: Making Maine look good

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My native Maine seems to produce about a story a year featuring backwoods types who do really messed up things, but this story blows away all the others.

Apparently a wannabe-Nazi living in Belfast was building a dirty bomb to set off at the Presidential Inauguration, but was murdered by a vigilante (his wife?).

The only thing more bizarre than the story is that almost no media outlets have picked it up, despite the fact that the story broke in early February.

But read up at Wikileaks and the Bangor Daily News for a glimpse into a dangerous bizarro world.

Wikileaks speculates that the story hasn’t spread because it doesn’t fit with anyone’s political agenda, but that doesn’t seem like enough.  Any thoughts?  Are reporters outside of Maine and the blogosphere just that bad at their jobs?

Written by James Bailey

March 12, 2009 at 11:26 pm

Fear the Enviro-Pirates

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I had never heard of the Sea Shepherd conservation society and was pretty incredulous when I was pointed to their history.  They sound like a super-hardcore version of Greenpeace, and indeed they were founded as a splinter group of Greenpeace.

One of the most hardcore parts of their story, additionally interesting for showing that radical environmentalists are not all Commies, was when they bombed the Soviet spy ship with paint and threatening messages.  Bombed, from a plane.  Generally lots of naval warfare and trouble with authorities.

Written by James Bailey

March 10, 2009 at 10:38 pm

Brzezinski’s Second Chance

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Being an author can be a very cushy job once you’ve got a good reputation and money for research assistants.

Zbigniew Brzezinski’s Second Chance examines how three post-Cold War American Presidents handled America’s role as the world’s only superpower.  Brzezinski’s own policy prescriptions in the book are mostly vague and general; when they are specific they concern minor issues.  His analysis of the Presidents is good but I am jealous of how much money he is probably making just by doing what so many do for free, giving his two cents about politics.

One opinion was certainly a surprise coming from a Democrat who worked for Jimmy Carter: Brzezinski finds George H.W. Bush’s foreign policy generally superior to Clinton’s.  At one point (in what seems to me to be a condescending exersize) he assigns grades to each president, and Bush I’s “B” beats Clintons “C” (Bush II of course flunks out).  At another, Brzezinski ponders how the world might be a better place had Bush I been re-elected.

One strength of the book is Brzezinski’s ability to give the reader a sense of the choices available at every turn in foreign policy.  He is always wondering what might have been.  So many things were uncertain at the end of the Cold War; many current realities could have been very different.

Would East and West Germany be reunified?  Bush I successfully pushed for reunification over French and British objections.  Which Soviet client states around the world would fall?  Many regimes in Africa and Latin America were toppled, but those in Cuba and across the Middle East remained.   By 1989 it seemed likely that the Soviet domination of Eastern Europe was over.  But would newly liberated states like Poland and Romania become a neutral zone, or would they be free to join NATO and the EU?  Would the Soviet Union itself disintegrate?  Could the Israelis and Palestinians reach a peaceful accord (Brzezinski sees peace here as a continually missed opportunity)?

The answers to these questions seem obvious now but things really could have been different.  States like Ukraine and Belarus had been parts of the Russian Empire long before the Soviet Union existed.  One telling story of the other possibilities (but also of the the sometimes stunning ignorance of the State Department) comes from Brzezinski’s days in Government:

The idea that the Soviet Union had succeeded in shaping a Soviet national identity was particularly ingrained in the State Department bureaucracy.  As a presidential aide in the late 1970’s, having long been convinced that the multinational character of the Russian empire was its Achilles heel, I proposed a modest covert program designed to support the quest for independence by the non-Russian nations of the Soviet Union.  In response, the State Department’s leading expert on Soviet affairs persuaded the secretary of state that there was now in fact a “Soviet nation,” a multiethnic mix much like America’s, and that such an effort would be counterproductive.”

Written by James Bailey

March 9, 2009 at 4:00 am

Democracy is Cool once more

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After the American Revolution, democracy was the new thing that all the cool Americans were doing.

In the 1960’s and 70’s, a large youth cohort and a constitutional amendment lowering the voting age brought down the age of the median political participant.  Political policies and styles became more in tune with the youngest generation which is the eternal font of cool.

Now the youth cohort is small but technology is multiplying their influence.

Two recent examples deal with symbolic bills rather than policy but demonstrate this so perfectly.

First, the Oklahoma State Legislature decided to choose the Official Rock Song of Oklahoma using an internet poll.  In an upset over many classics and many songs that had more to do with the state, the winner was the Flaming Lips’ “Do You Realize” (which can be found on the video page of the band’s website).

Second, the creators of the gaming webcomic Penny Arcade just got commended by the Washington State Legislature.

This officially ushers in the age of hip techno-democracy!

Written by James Bailey

March 7, 2009 at 7:55 pm