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  • "The politics of relative position is the egalitarian welfare statist’s new favorite game"

    October 20, 2006 2:20 PM

    Cato's Will Wilkinson has an interesting, if slightly econ-jargon filled, article in Policy magazine on egalitarianism, class resentment and "zero-sum positional conflicts." Published by Australia's Centre for Independent Studies, link from Arts & Letters Daily.

  • The Latest Wal-Mart Scandal

    October 20, 2006 2:10 PM

    Well, they've gone and done it again. Wal-Mart, that is. Even with all kinds of labor and activist pressure on them to change their ways, they go right on and charge ahead with business as usual. That's right, that shameless corporation created another 8,600 new jobs in October. Will they never learn?

    Also, for a great, wide-ranging discussion on the economics of Wal-Mart, check out the Econ Talk podcast "Legislators vs. Wal-Mart," with Russ Roberts and his guest, the brilliant Richard Epstein of the University of Chicago.

  • Ralph Harris, RIP

    October 20, 2006 11:21 AM

    Ralph Harris, guiding light of the UK's Institute for Economic Affairs, has passed away. The Times has an extensive obituary:

    For three decades at the epicentre of free-market thinking, Ralph Harris was decisive in converting the British political consensus back to liberal economics. He did this chiefly by informing — and often inspiring — an ideological underpinning for Margaret Thatcher and Sir Keith Joseph as they remodelled the Conservative Party after 1975.

    Supplying the motivating energy (as its general director, 1957-87) behind the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), the most enduring and intellectually substantial of the think-tanks made famous by the Thatcher phenomenon, Harris had exhibited great character in maintaining his viewpoint while government by dirigisme dominated political fashion.

  • Cars, Women and Minorities

    October 20, 2006 10:25 AM

    The magazines Black Enterprise, African American Golfer's Digest and Divas On-The-Go are hosting the African-American Empowerment Weekend here in Washington this week. We've talked a lot in the past about how free market ideas can do just that - provide economic empowerment to members of historically disenfranchised minority groups - and how any number of government policies have done just the opposite.

    One of the most interesting of these examples is the role the privately owned automobile has played in expanding economic opportunities for women and minorities. Transportation policy analyst Alan Pisarski wrote an excellent paper for us in 1999 on the democratization of mobility that tells the story. Here's a summary:

    Disparities in mobility between men and women, and among various racial groups, have declined in recent decades, and the indications are that they will continue to decline. But automobility is under increasing attack, on grounds ranging from resource and environmental concerns to arguments over “urban sprawl.” If restrictions on car use are imposed, their impact across our national landscape will be far from uniform. Their most severe effects will fall on those groups that either have recently attained mobility or are just now on the verge of attaining it. By undermining the “democratization of mobility,” such restrictions would weaken a key attribute of the American Dream.

    You can read the whole thing in PDF here.

  • News of YouTube's Death Has Been Greatly Exaggerated

    October 19, 2006 1:59 PM

    An argument from Peter Hartlaub of the San Francisco Chronicle on why big business can never be cool, even when it acquires something that is:

    The circle of life on the Internet is very cruel: When giant corporations take interest in online cultural phenomena, they instantly become exponentially less cool. From Napster to MySpace to "Snakes on a Plane" -- all stopped being a good thing once the Man showed up in the room.

    In the wake of Google's acquisition of YouTube, parents groups are already calling for a safety czar to regulate the user-built video library, much like the one that MySpace appointed when News Corp. purchased that site. And is there anything that kills a party faster than a safety czar?
    In a sense, Google's purchase of YouTube will almost certainly kill YouTube.
    Of course, the declining edginess of aging cultural phenomena is exactly what inspires people to create something new in the first place. If Hartlaub is right, we can expect the next big Internet
    thing any day now.

  • Small Government Hate Speech?

    October 19, 2006 12:28 PM

    Craig Bannister of CNSNews just passed on a story out of Marquette University in which graduate student Stuart Distler was banned from displaying the following Dave Barry quote on his office door: "As Americans, we must always remember that we all have a common enemy, an enemy that is dangerous, powerful and relentless. I refer, of course, to the federal government."

    Lots to agree with there if you're a fan of smaller government. The chairman of his department disagreed, however, and removed the quote from Distler's office door, saying that the quote was "patently offensive," and that "hallways and office doors are not 'free-speech zones.'"

    One wonders where on Marquette's campus one can express one's ideas freely. Perhaps, like some modern airports do with smoking, there will be a seperately-ventilated, soundproofed "free speech lounge" where the despised few free thinkers still left can retire to throw around comments related to their patently offensive dislike of intrusive and overbearing government.

  • Frank Luntz, Save Us!

    October 19, 2006 11:58 AM

    The Powell's Books website has an interesting review (via The New Republic) of George Lakoff's latest book about politics and language, Whose Freedom? Lakoff argues, as many others have, that framing political issues with the proper metaphors goes a long way toward winning the debate:

    Political debates, according to Lakoff, are contests between metaphors. Citizens are not rational and pay no attention to facts, except as they fit into frames that are “fixed in the neural structures of their brains” by sheer repetition. In George W. Bush's first term, for example, the president promised tax “relief,” which frames taxes as an affliction, the reliever as a hero, and anyone obstructing him as a villain. The Democrats were foolish to offer their own version of tax relief, which accepted the Republicans' framing; it was like asking people not to think of an elephant. Instead, they should have re-framed taxes as “membership fees” necessary to maintain the services and infrastructure of the society to which they belong. Likewise, the lawyers who are said to press "frivolous lawsuits" should be reframed as “public protection attorneys,” and “activist judges” who “legislate from the bench” rebranded as “freedom judges.”

    I wonder, though, if some of his recommended phraseology will really catch on. Will freedom judges get any more of a respectful response that freedom fries did? TNR reviewer Steven Pinker seems to share my skepticism (while getting in a quick, dismissive dig at Objectivists):

  • And Now for a Word from the Critics

    October 19, 2006 11:21 AM

    We've just heard that our friend Marc Morano will be one of the panelists at the upcoming Society of Environmental Journalists conference in Burlington, Vermont. Marc will be debating with the AP's Seth Borenstein and The New York Times' Andy Revkin on whether or not reporters are "playing up the fear factor and skirting inconvenient uncertainties" when it comes to global warming stories.

    Open Market will also be there in Burlington, blogging, meeting and greeting the attendees. Keep an eye out for posts October 27th-29th.

  • They're Coming to Audit Your Avatar

    October 19, 2006 10:31 AM

    Fox News this morning raises the alarming prospect of the IRS taxing financial transactions taking places in online virtual communities like Second Life and World of Warcraft. So far people like Rep. Jim Saxton of the Joint Economic Committee are giving the proposal the thumbs down, but I guarantee we haven't heard the last of it.

  • Vote for Alternative Energy with Your Feet

    October 19, 2006 8:21 AM

    Tokyo rail users will now be expected to not only pay for their own tickets, but also to power the machines that sell them. "A Tokyo rail company has put footstep-powered generators under its
    ticket-vending machines; the tread of passengers generates electricity
    to power the machines."

    Another wonderful thing from Boing Boing.

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