Nonsense, horsefeathers, and idle musings from a decade in South Korea (2002-2012).

27 March, 2011

Keep Your Candles, Give Me My Fripperies

By Aaron
27 March, 2011

Every year, on March 26, masses of people around the world go around their houses, switch off the lights, and then proceed to sit in the darkness for an hour. This they do in honor of an event called "Earth Hour," which supposedly helps to raise awareness of the environment and climate change.

Thing is, these folks don't exactly commit to total darkness. As most news stories of the event note, participants in Earth Hour have a perplexing love affair with candles, which, as I wrote last year, produce ten times the amount of CO2 as an incandescent light bulb for the equivalent amount of light. Way to save the earth, boys and girls. (I suppose you could argue that we should use less light, but I've always found it hard to design next-generation windmills and solar panels in a darkened room).

Instead of cursing your microwave and desk lamp, then, I recommend a trip back in time. To hear the Earth Hour folks tell it, humanity and the earth would be better off if we gave up the luxurious fripperies of modern life and simply reverted to the technologies of our ancestors - candles, for instance. If this happens to be your refrain, I give you two PBS shows from recent years. The first is The 1900 House, in which a modern English family is put into a middle-class, Victorian-era home and limited to the conveniences of that period. The second is Frontier House, in which modern American families are sent out to the Montana wilderness and forced to live as 19th century pioneers. Blessedly, thanks to the wonders of modern technology and electricity, both shows are available on Youtube. Watch these shows and then tell me that our forebears lived a "greener," more sustainable life. I dare you.

Here's part one of The 1900 House:

And here's part one of Frontier House:

26 March, 2011

Australia & the Future of F1 Racing in Korea

By Aaron
26 March, 2011

Back in October, 2010, South Korea hosted its first Formula One event, with the usual mix of rookie mistakes (insufficient bathrooms) and sheer bum luck (torrential rains). Hopes are high, however, that future runnings of the Korean Grand Prix will be smoother and more profitable.

But speaking of profits, it happens that F1 events seem not to generate them - at least not in the aggregate.

As I wrote last October, the chief problem with these Formula One races is that they are giant money pits, viable only because of generous government subsidies. For instance, as the the New York Times reported last autumn:

Where private industry withdrew, the new races have one common backer: local governments.

South Korea passed historic legislation last year in the “F1 Act,” which supported the construction and management of the new circuit — the first time that the government had voted on an act to help a motor-sport project.

Not surprisingly, the Korean and Jeolla Province (where the Korean Grand Prix is held) governments are merely two of the many tits at which Formula One and its backers suckle. Recently, however, the mayor of Melbourne, Australia (which hosts the Australian Grand Prix) raised the idea that perhaps these glamorous, noisy events aren't really worth the money. As reported last week in the Wall Street Journal, Mayor Robert Doyle claims the cost of the event, for which Melbourne has a contract through 2015, will rise to A$70 million, and Doyle rightly wonders if taxpayers ought to be forced to pick up the tab for what amounts to a party for millionaires.

Of course, the F1 authorities and businesses which benefit from the races insist that Melbourne, in hosting the Grand Prix, is getting a doozy of a deal:

"Everybody wants one," said Ron Walker, chairman of Australian Grand Prix Corp. "Forget motor sport, it's about promoting Melbourne and we're using that as a tool to promote the city."


Melbourne's Grand Prix, which draws more than 100,000 spectators into the grandstands on race day, has never been profitable and requires the Victoria state government to subsidize the event to keep it out of the red.

I only hope the Korean authorities have a call into Mr. Doyle as I write this. If these events are such a boon to local business, then by all means let those businesses pool their resources and pay for them.

25 March, 2011

...Plus Being in Pennsylvania

By Aaron
25 March, 2011

From Remy and (video also here):

I've never much cared for the TSA, the US tax code, or Pennsylvania either.

23 March, 2011

A Midweek Buffet of Goodness

By Aaron
23 March, 2011

  • Nick Gillespie of sits down with the economist Walter Williams in the video above (also here) to discuss Williams' new autobiography. Among other things, Williams talks about growing up in the Philadelphia projects, the current state of race relations in America, and his experiences as "the wrong kind of black" intellectual. For more on Williams, see John Miller's recent profile, from which I learned that Williams grew up with Bill Cosby and is a cousin of basketball legend Julius Erving. Small world, this.
  • Chevrolet's Volt: the car that subsidies built...and it shows.
  • From The Telegraph: "So wind farms don’t just despoil countryside, frighten horses, chop up birds, spontaneously combust, drive down property prices, madden those who live nearby with their subsonic humming, drive up electricity prices, promote rentseeking, make rich landowners richer (and everyone else poorer), ruin views, buy more electric sports cars for that dreadful Dale Vince character, require rare earth minerals which cause enormous environmental damage, destroy 3.7 real jobs for every fake 'green' job they 'create,' blight neighbourhoods, kill off tourism and ruin lives, but they also KILL WHALES."

  • Over at the Asia Times, Andrei Lankov writes about the new face of North Korea's "narco-capitalism" and its possible implications for that nation's future.
  • Undeterred by the Japanese crisis, South Korea is pushing ahead with its own nuclear energy program.
  • As always, George Will is excellent: "So there are always many illegitimate governments. When is it America’s duty to scrub away these blemishes on the planet? Is there a limiting principle of humanitarian interventionism? If so, would Obama take a stab at stating it?"
  • Speaking of Libya, David Harsanyi also deserves your time: "Barack Obama pins his rationale for intervention on a 'humanitarian threat.' A noble cause, no doubt. It's too bad the folks in old Darfur missed out on those laser-guided missiles American and French fighter jets deploy to help avert massacre and man-made hunger. Maybe the victims didn't say 'please.' Maybe the city dwellers of Pyongyang will be more convincing."
  • In my family, homemade ice cream is mandatory for any summer gathering. I can't disagree with Jeffrey Tucker, however, who argues that "there's no such thing as homemade ice cream."

22 March, 2011

Time Saved = Prosperity

By Aaron
22 March, 2011

In his excellent 2010 book The Rational Optimist, Matt Ridley notes that "prosperity is simply time saved." In other words, humans do not become wealthier by creating work to do, but rather by destroying jobs - that is, by creating labor-saving devices that free up our labor for more productive pursuits.

As illustration, I give you the above video (also here), in which the always entertaining Hans Rosling (he of the fantastic Gapminder website) argues that the washing machine was the greatest invention of the industrial revolution. Why, asks Rosling, should we waste time scrubbing Grandma's dirty old bloomers when we could be designing a new iPhone app, studying for that engineering degree, or playing hopscotch with our kids? When we are able to outsource our mindless chores to various devices (washing machines, dishwashers, vacuum cleaners), we give ourselves time to engage in more fulfilling and rewarding activities. Rosling is spot-on, then, when he says that while we may put mere clothes into our washing machine, we take far more out when that cycle finishes.

Have a look at the video for yourself. You'll be glad you did.

20 March, 2011

After Japan, Time for "Green" Energy?

By Aaron
20 March, 2011

"We have seen green economies before, and we have seen them function quite nicely. We saw them in the 13th century."
-Jerry Taylor

As engineers continue their struggle to control radiation leakages at the damaged nuclear reactor in Fukushima, Japan, advocates of so-called green energies - including solar, wind, geothermal, and tidal - are taking this opportunity to tout their own favorite sources of power. Politicians around the world, meanwhile, have reacted to fears by ordering reviews of planned new reactors. Germany has even gone so far as to shut down its seven oldest nuclear power plants.

Of course, the middle of a crisis is no time to design long-term policy, as wise decisions seldom result from panic. That said, the Japanese crisis does remind us that there is no such thing as a risk-free energy. Nuclear power involves the storage of radioactive waste and, as in Japan and at Chernobyl, carries the risk of meltdown. But, of course, coal is hardly a better solution, with its risk of mining accidents and greenhouse gas emissions. And petroleum, as we were reminded last year in the Gulf of Mexico, ain't too damned purty when mixed with your oyster beds.

Which leaves us where exactly? Nuclear energy's stock had been on the rise of late as people rummaged around for a clean, cheap, abundant source of power, but the 'clean' and 'cheap' part of that equation have been called into question over the past week. Truth be told, however, nuclear power has long deserved more scrutiny than it got from its market-oriented proponents. Sure, a nuclear plant can generate copious amounts of power while emitting few or no greenhouse gasses, but is it viable without government subsidies (beyond what is necessary to ensure the security of radioactive material)? Some evidence says no. And if subsidies for ethanol, wind, and solar power are a bad idea (which they are), then how do subsidies to the nuclear industry make economic sense? Quite simply, if an industry - any industry - requires state subsidies to survive, it is wasting resources that could be used more efficiently elsewhere. And, to point out the obvious, the waste of scarce resources is one form of environmental damage.

How about wind, solar, tidal, and ethanol, then? As Bloomberg reported earlier this week, the price of shares in "clean" energy companies - especially solar and wind - have indeed jumped as the Japanese nuclear crisis unfolded. This, however, does not indicate that wind and solar are suddenly more economically viable than they were a week earlier, but rather that there is now the expectation that governments will more tightly restrict the use of nuclear power and perhaps even direct more subsidies to wind, solar, and the like. Unfortunately, as Robert Bryce points out in the video above (start at 12:10), and as Jerry Taylor discusses in the following (and shorter) video, these sources of energy require such subsidies precisely because they are so bloody inefficient and uncompetitive - and thus bad for the environment.

In the short and medium term, the energy most likely to benefit from Japan's woes is natural gas, the proven reserves of which are growing evermore abundant by the day as exploration and extraction technologies improve. As fossil fuels go, natural gas is relatively clean-burning and, from what my gassy engineering friends tell me, the transition to using natural gas can be made without much hassle. As above, though, no energy comes free of risks or headaches, and the complaint du jour of natural gas comes in the form of hydraulic fracturing, which has reportedly resulted in groundwater contamination and exploding kitchen water faucets.

My guess is that, around the world, the Japan-inspired fears about nuclear power will soon be overwhelmed by the need for electricity. After all, those computers, assembly lines, and office lights aren't going to power themselves. For countries that insist on avoiding nuclear energy, however, tough choices between imperfect alternatives await.

Postscript: Here's one more excellent, brief video on this topic. In it, the economist Robert Michaels makes the point that the green energy lobby is nothing more than "your stereotypical, big business, evil lobby."

17 March, 2011

On Japan, and Crisis as a Path to Reform

By Aaron
17 March, 2011

In the wake of the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan, former U.S. Treasury Secretary (and, until recently, director of the National Economic Council) Lawrence Summers, electing to take the optimistic view, had the following to say:

“If you look, this is clearly going to add complexity to Japan’s challenge of economic recovery,” Summers said. “It may lead to some temporary increments, ironically, to GDP, as a process of rebuilding takes place. In the wake of the earlier Kobe earthquake, Japan actually gained some economic strength.”

Not surprisingly, a number of commentators quickly pounced on Summers' remarks and correctly pointed out (for example, here) that the destruction of resources is the very opposite of wealth creation. As it happens, I made a similar point - using Bastiat's "Broken Window Fallacy" - in the aftermath of the February earthquake in New Zealand. Obviously, natural disasters are an economic bane, not a boon.

That said - and I must tread carefully here - the disaster in Japan may serve a purpose in the long run, albeit at a unacceptable cost in human life. In his 1982 book, The Rise and Decline of Nations, Mancur Olson argued that, over time, a stable democracy tends to accumulate more and more special interest groups, whose accretion of power gradually impedes that society's economic growth. This, argues Olson, is what happened in pre-World War II Japan and Germany. The war, however, served to sufficiently shake up the society and to dislodge many of the previous power brokers, allowing the nations to chart a new course. (Similarly, a crisis of another sort, the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997-1998, provided the impetus for many necessary reforms to the Korean economy.)

Japan and Germany, of course, recovered rapidly from their wartime devastation and have since become two of the world's economic powerhouses. Since the early 1990s, however, Japan has been mired in economic stagnation, exacerbated by a low birthrate and a dysfunctional political class. Even before the recent earthquake/tsunami/nuclear crisis, financial analysts were whispering that Japan's sovereign debt had reached unsustainable levels, and yet the government - which, since 2006, has had a new Prime Minister every week - seemed incapable of adequately addressing the nation's fiscal woes.

Could it be that the decades of uninterrupted stability were finally catching up with Japan? And could this latest crisis provide the sort of kick in the pants that Japan's political system seems to need? I'm not sure that the earthquake/tsunami alone is enough to force reform upon the Japanese system, but if the attendant costs of reconstruction push the nation closer to a sovereign debt crisis, the Japanese will be forced into a serious reckoning as regards their future.

As said, I would never wish such a deadly calamity upon Japan, or any other country, in the mere hope of shaking up the political environment, nor do I believe that this disaster, by itself, will be anything short of, well, a disaster for the nation's economy. The looming recovery, and the fiscal decisions that will have to be made, however, could have a profound effect on Japan's future.

15 March, 2011

A Midweek Buffet of, Well, Not 'Goodness' Exactly...

By Aaron
15 March, 2011

  • There's no shortage of remarkable video from the ongoing disaster in Japan, but this one (also above) - an eye-level view of the destruction of the city of Kesennuma - may be the most gripping yet.

  • Granted, Kim Jong-il is a megalomaniacal mass-murderer, but the real question about him is whether or not he would make a good father-in-law.
  • For those pushing a no-fly zone over Libya, the indispensable George Will has some questions that must first be answered.
  • Speaking of the Middle East and North Africa: for too long the U.S. has operated on the belief that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." But as Michael Munger argues, "letting our enemies choose our friends is also dangerous."
  • Tyler Cowen has a pair of posts on the most common mistakes made by economists, be they on the political right or the left. Ezra Klein responds with his list of common mistakes made by economists as a breed.
  • The 13 most incredible geological wonders on earth. I regret that I have visited exactly none of them, though I suppose this gives me something to do in the coming years. (h/t Amateur Economist)

14 March, 2011

Economic Growth Saves Lives

By Aaron
14 March, 2011

I'm often struck by how little the average person consciously appreciates the importance of economic growth. Oh sure, they appreciate the many products, services and comforts which such material advance brings, but folks don't generally burn much gray matter pondering the true meaning of annual GDP growth figures.

Several years ago on his HBO show, comedian Bill Maher complained about those people - economists, for instance - who obsess over economic growth and productivity gains.

"Why can't we just say that what we have is good enough?" Maher essentially asked (sorry, I don't recall the quote verbatim). "Why do we always have to be better and have more?"

Well, Bill, for Exhibit 1-A, I direct your attention to the recent earthquakes in Haiti and Japan. In January, 2010, a 7.0 magnitude quake hit Haiti, killing an estimated 316,000 people. Last week, an 9.0 magnitude earthquake hit Japan and, while the final death toll has yet to be calculated, the figure stands to be substantially less than that of Haiti (let's hope). Why was Japan better able to withstand such a disaster? That's right: because, through economic growth, Japan has achieved a level of material prosperity that allows its citizens, companies, and government to invest in the safety features necessary to limit the loss of life from such calamities. Haiti, meanwhile, can at present only dream of the kind of early earthquake warning system and earthquake-resistant buildings that the Japanese consider a necessity for life on the Pacific Rim.

In an editorial today, the Wall Street Journal makes precisely this point:

In late 2007, the Japanese completed the world's most sophisticated early-warning system for earthquakes, which was credited Friday with signaling Tokyo's residents—via TV, radio and cellphone—that a quake was coming. The warning system gives industrial, energy and transportation facilities time to shut down before a quake hits. The biggest concern as we went to press was the ability to cool the reactor cores at nuclear power plants that were shut down automatically as the earthquake hit...


Contrast this preparation with poor Haiti or the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan, China, which killed some 70,000 people. Haiti has the excuse of abject poverty caused by decades of misrule. China has wealth but a government answerable only to itself. Sometimes the hard phrase, invidious comparison, is apt...

And that, my friends, is why economic growth and prosperity matter - because it is the difference between life and death.

12 March, 2011

May You Live in Interesting Times

By Aaron
12 March, 2011

I received an email last week from my grandmother in which she mentioned that she and my grandfather had recently attended a series of church meetings on the End of Days phenomenon.

"They are very interesting and are based on Daniel and Revelation and the end time prophecies," she wrote. " We are in the end part of the prophecy. They are clearer now than when I first heard them when I was young because now we see what we couldn't then. It is happening."

As regular readers of this site know, I am a hopeless atheist and thus skeptical of these sorts of proclamations. Even a heathen like me, however, has had to wonder over the past month if perhaps the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse aren't saddling up in the stable. If you believe that God exists, he clearly seems to have a bee up his ass these days.

The world has been in an economic slump for the past three years, with particular turmoil in Europe and the United States. Add to this in late January the outbreak of revolution in Tunisia, which quickly spread to Egypt and now to Bahrain, Yemen and, most notably, to Libya, where the freedom movement has degenerated into civil war. As uplifting as these movements have been, they have happened in a region of the world where very little has ever turned out well and where uncertainty has generally been a cause for concern.

Then, as if those times weren't interesting enough, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake rocks Japan, sending a tsunami across vast swaths of the globe and killing thousands. And as if anyone needed more excitement, three nuclear reactors are threatening to overheat and cause a nuclear meltdown. Oh, and now the Japanese volcanoes are erupting.

As St. Thomas Aquinas would say: "Splendid. Just fucking splendid."

I realize that no one likes boredom, but would it be too much to ask for a slow news day?

Update: In a comment below, reader Estelle takes my bellyaching and makes an important, even optimistic, observation.

08 March, 2011

A Belated Buffet of Goodness

By Aaron
08 March, 2011

  • Over at Our Dinner Table, Seth discusses the problems with the way GDP is measured.
  • I've been fascinated by Ernest Shackleton ever since I was a kid, so it's no surprise that these color shots of his 1915 Antarctic expedition at How to Be a Retronaut caught my eye.
  • Also at Retronaut, check out these pics from Korea in 1955, and then compare them with Robert Koehler's shots of modern-day Korea.
  • Sheldon Richmond rightly wants the USA to stay out of the Libyan mess. Great. Now, can we discuss moving US troops out of Europe, Korea, and Japan, as well?
  • Korea continues to have one of the highest suicide rates in the OECD but, after screens were installed in Korean subway stations, fewer people are committing suicide by throwing themselves in front of oncoming trains. Trouble is, they're now leaping from Han River Bridges.
  • More than 50% of South Korean business executives believe that there is more to gain than to lose from a reunification of the Korean peninsula. I applaud their optimism, though I'm not sure I share it.

06 March, 2011

This Post Was Made in Korea by an American

By Aaron
06 March, 2011

ABC News this morning aired the final segment of its "Made in America" series (above or here) in which the hosts try their damndest to convince viewers that the United States' unemployment problem could be alleviated if Americans would simply stop buying so many products made by foreigners.

Citing a study by Moody's Analytics, ABC asserts that if Americans spent just 1% more to buy American-made goods, approximately 200,000 jobs would be created "today." (I should say that I was unable to find this Moody's report, so take my comments for what they're worth.) Provided we don't think too deeply about the matter, ABC is correct that simply buying more American-made items will indeed create new jobs. But such consumption patterns will also destroy jobs, because by spending more on one item, you'll have less to spend on other items. As a result, new jobs may emerge in some areas, but jobs will be destroyed elsewhere. The net result of trade on employment? Probably a wash.

If you really want to create manufacturing jobs - if not prosperity - in America, however, I recommend you take up the fight against technology. According to this paper, U.S. manufacturing employment peaked in 1979 and has been declining ever since, and yet the nation's manufacturing sector has continued to grow and is still the world's largest in terms of output. How can this be? Well, quite simply, American companies have become far more capital-intensive - and efficient - and thus no longer require the same number of humans as in the past. Perhaps, then, ABC ought to push Americans to buy only hand-made products as a way of taking jobs back from those thieving machines.

For its report, ABC recruited a family in Dallas, Texas and sought to fill their house with items made in America. But why stop at the American border? If they really want to create jobs for their friends and neighbors, why not only buy products made in Texas? After all, they certainly wouldn't want anyone from Oklahoma or Arkansas stealing "their jobs." Or, better yet, they could buy only products made in Dallas, or on their home street, or within their own home.

"That's absurd," you say.

And, of course, it is absurd, but no more absurd than the idea that the laws of morality and economics stop at an arbitrary line we call the American border. What makes an American worker any more entitled to a job and an income than, say, a Malaysian or a German worker? And if trade is beneficial across streets, states, and within nations, why is not beneficial between nations?

Finally, I appreciated the irony of seeing such a TV report - in which we are hectored to be patriotic and buy American - hosted by an Iranian-British person, Christiane Amanpour. Not surprisingly, this irony was apparently lost on ABC's producers. But just think, if ABC would simply fire Amanpour, it could hire an American and create an American job. In fact, I hereby urge Americans to boycott ABC and instead watch TV networks that employ full staffs of honest-to-goodness Americans.

* * *

Oh, and as this video shows, that "Made in ____" label is virtually meaningless anyway:

04 March, 2011

Freakonomics: The Power of Poop

By Aaron
04 March, 2011

In 1981, the late economist Julian Simon published The Ultimate Resource, in which he argued that human beings, competing and cooperating in free societies, are the most valuable source of wealth on earth. This is because, absent human ingenuity, nothing is a resource.

In a 2008 column praising Simon's work, the economist Don Boudreaux nicely condensed Simon's insight:

Nothing -- not oil, not land, not gold, not microchips, nothing -- is as valuable to the material well-being of people as is human creativity and effort.

Indeed, there are no resources without human creativity to figure out how to use them and human effort actually to do so. Recognizing the truth of this insight renders silly the familiar term "natural resources."

No resources are "natural."

Take petroleum. What makes it a "resource"? It's certainly not a resource naturally. If it were, American Indians would long ago have put it to good use. But they didn't. I suspect that for Pennsylvania's native population in, say, the year 1300, the dark, thick, smelly stuff that bubbled up in watering holes was regarded as a nuisance.

Petroleum didn't become a resource until human beings creatively figured out how to use it to satisfy some human desires and other human beings figured out how to extract it cost-effectively from the ground.

I was reminded of Simon's writings yesterday as I listened to the latest Freakonomics podcast, which delves into the world of "fecal bacteriotherapy," aka fecal transplants. Basically, fecal transplants involve a doctor taking a stool sample from a healthy person, homogenizing it with a saline solution, and then pumping it into the colon of a sick person. The theory behind the treatment is that the bacteria in our guts are responsible for more than mere digestion. In fact, these little buggers may influence the symptoms of multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's, diabetes, and who knows what else. The treatment is still in its infancy and many people, including doctors, are still repulsed at the idea, but research continues. And perhaps the general public will grow more comfortable with the idea if The New York Times continues to write about it.

Coincidentally, I posted a link to an article on this very topic earlier this week, so fecal transplants have apparently become a pet topic of mine around here. And why not? Finding a productive use for human waste - indeed, changing it from waste into a resource - is precisely what had Simon so excited, and if fecal transplants are all they're cracked up to be, I'll be thrilled, too.

03 March, 2011

Defending the Offensive

By Aaron
03 March, 2011

One of the challenges of espousing individual liberty is that I occasionally find myself aligned with ignoramuses, defending their right to indulge in all manner of jackassery. I once again found myself in such a position today upon hearing that the United State Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church, upholding on free speech grounds the church members' right to spout their hateful rhetoric in public.

And, goodness, are they ever a hateful bunch. As you can see in the video above, and as I wrote back in 2009:

To call this family "homophobic" would be unkind to homophobes, but then, I'm not really sure what the next step up the ladder of hate is called. Suffice it to say, I've never seen anyone as obsessed with fags and fornication, to use the parlance of the Westboro parishioners, as these folks.

In short, the Westboro parishioners have it in their heads that homosexuality is ruining America, and for whatever reason, have taken to picketing the funerals of dead U.S. soldiers. As the video's title puts it, this may well be the most hated family in America, and a parent of one dead soldier, whose funeral these nitwits picketed, recently decided to sue the church for damages related to emotional distress.

In an 8-1 decision (with Justice Samuel Alito dissenting), however, the court ruled that the church members, odious lunatics though they are, have the right to spread their version of God's word under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. But as Ilya Shapiro writes, the case touches on more than matters of free speech:

Stepping aside from the emotions and bizarre facts, this case implicates all sorts of legal issues aside from the First Amendment. A private cemetery can and should remove unwanted visitors for trespassing — but the Phelpses didn’t enter the cemetery. A town can pass ordinances restricting the time, place, and manner of protests — but the Phelpses stayed within all applicable regulations and followed police instructions. Violent or aggressive protestors can be both prosecuted and sued for assault, harassment, and the like — but the Phelpses’ protests did not involve “getting up in the grill” of people, as their lawyer put it during oral argument.

Not surprisingly, a large number of the Phelps family are lawyers, which no doubt helps them keep their outbursts within the bounds of the law. Church members have taken care to follow guidelines on public demonstrations, to not physically assault anyone (incidentally, I'd love to hear "getting up in the grill" used in the Supreme Court), and to not trespass onto private property. As the Constitution offers no guarantees against hurt feelings, the church seems to have stayed well within its rights.

When I first saw the video above, I recall being thankful that these nincompoops had the freedom to say what they please. The true measure of a nation's appetite for free speech, after all, is the way in which it treats the worst speech, the words that most appall the citizenry and provoke attempts to curb such basic rights. Fortunately, the Supreme Court, while rebuking the church for its tasteless behavior, held true to the principle that even ugly speech deserves protection.

Friedrich Hayek once wrote that "freedom will prevail only if it is accepted as a general principle whose application to particular instances requires no justification." People will often use this freedom to behave in ways that we find peculiar, pointless or repugnant, but provided they do not threaten physical harm on anyone else, their freedom to engage in such activities must remain intact.

So, to the Westboro Baptist Church I say congratulations. Now please shut up and go away.

Update: Seth, over at Our Dinner Table, has an excellent, short addendum to this post. Don't miss it.

02 March, 2011

Taylor, Roberts & Foster on the Stimulus

By Aaron
02 March, 2011

Mark Twain famously wrote, in 1887, that "if you want to drive traffic to your blog, you must post video from the The U.S. House Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs and Stimulus Oversight."

And so, ever the disciple of Twain, I give you the following video from a 16 February, 2011 hearing which includes testimony from John Taylor of Stanford (he of the "Taylor Rule"), Russ Roberts of George Mason University (and host of the excellent Econ Talk podcast), and J.D. Foster of the Heritage Foundation. Here's the video:

Perhaps I'm a masochist, but I found this video to be thoroughly entertaining. I enjoy watching politicians when their economic and political ideas come up against the challenges of trained economists, especially when the economists have minds like those above. Too often, we only see these politicians on the campaign trail or on network television, where the news anchors are not capable of slicing to the flawed core of their ideas. By contrast, no one gets away with much intellectual laziness when John Taylor is in the room.

Not that the committee members in this, or any other, congressional meeting are terribly keen to be challenged. Just watch Representative Elijah Cummings and the way he frustrates the economists with his incessant oversimplification of complex economic questions (from about the 45 minute mark).

But that's enough from me. I don't want to keep you from such a riveting video any longer.

(h/t: Cafe Hayek)