Power & Market

In the Eyes of the State, We are All Russian (Bots) Now

Last September a very informative paper was published by the neoconservative Atlantic Council. In connection with this institution are such important public figures as Collin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and Henry Kissinger. The paper, written by John T. Watts, summarizes the main conclusions drawn at this year's Sovereign Challenges Conference in Washington, DC. The text allows for a deep look into some of the minds of the American elite and their allies. Its reading is therefore highly recommended. The inclined reader, however, should sometimes overlook empty phrases and distracting rhetoric to get to the heart of the matter.

At its core, it's about maintaining power. According to Watts, the big problem is “disinformation”, which is disseminated through new and alternative media. It destabilizes public institutions and in the worst case undermines the sovereignty of the state. This must be prevented.

Neoconservatives are fully aware that any state system ultimately depends on the trust of its citizens. Trust is the basis for the functioning of state institutions. New communication technologies, however, have increasingly enabled “extremist ideological” currents to spread their toxic messages and deprive people of confidence in existing institutions. It is precisely this loss of trust on the part of citizens that endangers the sovereignty of the state.1

The flood of information in the Internet age plays a decisive role because it makes targeted “disinformation” by small but well-organized groups possible in the first place. It leads to exaggeration, isolation and one-sidedness within one's own “echo chamber”. According to Watts, the sudden availability of large amounts of information can overburden a society. Too much useless and qualitatively inferior information can lead to isolation and polarization. People specifically select their sources of information and limit themselves in the process. They even have to do so in view of the many alternatives available to them. But in doing so, they tend to rely on those sources that confirm and reinforce their own prejudices.

In order to underline the potential seriousness of the situation, Watts refers to Nate Silver's book The Signal and the Noise, in which a parallel is drawn between the invention of the printing press and the advent of the Internet. This analogy was also taken up by the Scottish historian Niall Ferguson in his recent book The Square and the Tower.2 Both authors recall that the invention of printing not only made Luther's Reformation of the Christian Church possible, but also provided a powerful means of communication for many populist and, from today's point of view, deterrent movements. Here, for example, one can refer to the witch hunts of the early modern period. After Luther's Reformation, Europe was also plunged into centuries of religious wars. Is something similar threatening us today in the age of the Internet? It is clear that also today existing hierarchies and power structures are questioned and start to falter. This usually leads to the old elites giving their all in order to maintain their privileged position.

But first it has to be clarified who is really behind the specter of “disinformation”. Watts refers not only to all sorts of “conspiracy theorists” like “truthers,” “chemtrailers” or “anti-vaxxers”, whose political and social impact can really be doubted, but also to Islamic terror groups or the Russian secret service, which is said to have influenced the outcome of the American presidential elections through such powerful social networks as Facebook.

At this point, however, we should pause for a moment. Is interference in the political affairs of other countries an exclusively Russian phenomenon? No. This has always been the case everywhere, especially on the part of the USA in recent history. So, if the Russian secret service is behind targeted disinformation, can the American establishment really free itself from it? Here, too, a clear no. Think, for example, of the deliberate manipulation of public opinion before various military interventions in the Middle East.

For Watts it is simply about which narrative dominates and determines public opinion. Truth is an elastic term, he claims. The question is merely: "Whose truth?” So, it is nothing but a power struggle. From this point of view disinformation is merely a truth deviating from one's own truth and must be fought against. One's own truth becomes the disinformation of the opponent. Therefore, according to Watts, new gatekeepers are needed in the modern flow of information. The prevailing opinion must be brought back on track.

The good thing, however, is that Watts is wrong. Truth is not subjective. It is, if at all, very limited in elasticity. And if it turns out that the hitherto so dominant narrative of the American establishment has overstretched the truth at one point or another, it is a blessing that modern communication technology makes it possible to point this out critically and effectively. We can only hope that technology will always stay one step ahead of regulators and gatekeepers – and that citizens will ultimately trust the narrative that is closest to the truth.

  • 1. The loss of trust is reflected, for example, in this year's Edelman Trust Barometer: Global Report. Interestingly, India, for example, has a higher trust index than the USA.
  • 2. The interested reader is referred to Dr. David Gordon’s review of Ferguson’s book.
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Intergenerational Conflict Will Get Worse

11/28/2018Jeff Deist

The excellent British online magazine Spiked recently published this article warning about deteriorating attitudes toward elderly people in the UK.  As the article points out, there is more to the problem than logistical and financial concerns about providing socialist medical care to an aging population. Nor do increasing lifespans in the West, with attendant increases in loneliness and age-related morbidity, account for this unhappy state of affairs. No, the root of the problem is simply a lack of caring and empathy, made worse by fewer intact multi-generational families and alienation between taxpayers and pensioners:

These are not just technical questions for the social-care sector to grapple with. They are far bigger than that, touching upon the issue of what kind of society we want to live in, and what we expect of each other. At root, there is the issue of what we regard as individual and collective responsibilities; and what the duties of the young are to the old; and the question of how elderly people come to decide for themselves how they should be cared for later in life.

More than that, the problems facing the social-care system need to be understood in the context of a wider generational hostility that is compounding, if not driving, a longstanding official neglect of older people’s care. 

Sad, yes, but entirely predictable. Britain, perhaps faster and more vigorously than most western countries, has fallen prey to the doctrine of "presentism": an ahistorical narrative in which the past is always bad and repressive, feelings and "lived experiences" (generally quite lacking among the young, yes?) prevail over facts, and group identity dictates ideology. If the past is all wrong, the people who lived in it and even prospered during it surely are not to be admired or cared for:

‘Negativity about ageing and older people is pervasive in our society’, says Caroline Abrahams at Age UK. Whether it’s the nasty sentiment that Brexit voters are a bunch of selfish old bigots whose demise can’t come too soon, or that Baby Boomers have been piling up problems for moaning millennials, or that old people are just getting in the way with their ‘bed-blocking’ and their unreasonable expectation that younger folk should subsidise their state pensions, free bus passes, TV licences and winter fuel allowances – again and again, we see generational disdain for older people. 

Democracy, as usual, doesn't help. Brexit voters in the Leave camp skew older, more rural, and more "English." Remainers skew younger, urban, and more "European." In their 2014 independence referendum, younger Scottish voters overwhelmingly chose to leave Britain and fully embrace the European Union; older Scots chose the perceived safety of London pensions over counting on Holyrood and Brussels State pensions and state-provided healthcare, even more sacrosanct in the UK than Social Security and Medicare are here, will never be reduced or addressed by voting. Yet just as the American entitlement system faces a $200 trillion shortfall—the likely cost of future promised benefits minus likely future tax receipts— Britain's younger taxpayers will struggle mightily in coming decades to pay ever-expanding old-age pensions.

America is in the same boat, with the population above age 65 set to double over the next thirty years. Republicans and Trump voters are older, whiter, more rural or suburban, and more likely to see America in far rosier terms than the average Ocasio-Cortez supporter. Social Security, which in 1940 boasted more than 100 paying workers to one beneficiary, today struggles with a ratio of less than 3 to 1. And those three workers in many cases are decidedly younger, more left-liberal, less white, and less affluent than the one beneficiary. Unskilled workers, recent immigrants, and teenagers often work at low-wage hourly jobs, but still pay full Social Security taxes on their meager earnings. 

All of this is a recipe for intergenerational strife. 

The baby boomer mantra—never trust anyone over 30— is now bequeathed to millennials, but for very different reasons. In many senses millennials are more conservative than their grandparents were at the same age, particularly when it comes to sex, recreational drugs, education, and a carefree live-for-today attitude toward life. There is no millennial version of Easy Rider or American Graffiti; slacker paeans like Superbad show teenagers with low aspirations and no interest in eclipsing boomer noncomformity. But millennial distrust for older Americans is based on the strong perception that today's economic and social horizons are far less robust for them than previous generations, generations that are happy to ride out the clock until entitlements run out.

It will get worse. Cultural, economic, fiscal, and political fault lines in America today all bode ill for harmony between younger and older generations. But what should we expect in a country where politics and government dominate? Where transfer payments dominate old age and government schools dominate youthhood?

Family, religion, and civil society don't play nearly the same role for young people today as for Baby Boomers, who rebelled against all three. What we're left with, in the view of many Americans, is a society where government is the only thing we all belong to. Many scoff at the notion of any natural order, without recognizing that government simply substitutes an unnatural political order run by those in power.

Sensible societies harness the energy, optimism, and beauty of youth in productive ways: their talents are unleashed in art, athletics, business, and technology (not war). But apart from standout exceptions young people are not the leaders of sensible societies, because we recognize that what one believes at 16 or 20 or 25 will change, and often change radically. So sensible societies venerate the wisdom of older people, wisdom that is separate and distinct from mere information. Unlike data on a smartphone, this wisdom passes down naturally—albeit not without friction—because everyone recognizes the healthy and mutually beneficial connection between generations. Over time bad ideas, traditions, and modes fall away, replaced by new and better ones. 

Decaying, dysfunctional societies, by contrast, pit generations against each other at the ballot box and otherwise. Politics and government become powerful weapons in an intergenerational cold war. Aging western populations skew the demographic political balance in favor of older people, especially active older voters. Brexit, Trump, and the Scottish independence referendum have now exposed this growing reality. 

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Insight Is a Terrible Thing to Waste

11/07/2018Gary Galles

One of the dangers facing those who have come to believe in a certain philosophy or approach is the temptation to ignore or reject useful insight from those who are not “pure” enough—those who deviate from “the Truth” either in their position on certain issues or because of the hypocrisy of actions inconsistent with their alleged beliefs.

That is bad strategy. After all, in a world where, ultimately, ideas are what matters, one cannot successfully rebut incorrect positions one is ignorant of. But it also wastes useful insights.

Rejecting an insight because of hypocrisy that is unrelated to that insight or which does not disprove it is a logical error, with potentially serious consequences. For instance, that approach would put the wisdom of America’s founders “out of bounds,” particularly those whose actions once they had power differed from the principles they enumerated and fought for beforehand. Their abuses, once in power, testify to power’s ability to corrupt, but do nothing to reject their insights into the importance of liberty and the corollary need to curb government.

Restricting oneself to the insights of those who are “pure” amounts to an appeal to authority. Such consistency adds important endorsement to the power of a valid insight (one reason why libertarians are so fond of Murray Rothbard). That is particularly important in a complex world, where one can easily miss important incentives or causation mechanisms, undermining the degree of certainty one can have about deductions to be drawn. Those who have earned reputations for recognizing what others miss act as insurance against such potential mistakes. Yet a true statement is true regardless of whether the source is “pure of heart and action,” just as falsehoods that come from good men do not become true because they are stated by good men.

People also tend to shy away from giving much consideration to those viewed as deviating from “the Truth” in some of their actions. But such deviations do not justify ignoring their contributions.

In some situations, there may be only two basic positions possible—support for a particular group, especially the one in power, or joining with the opposition. Especially in violent disputes, one may be unable to opt out, forcing a choice between two imperfect options. Joining the opposition, often far from pure, may yet be the only effective means of opposing a greater evil (e.g., the resistance in World War II). That does not, however, amount to endorsing everything those in the opposition stand for. That is why defending the currently abused side can make the most sense (in the limited sense that in such choices, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”), even if their positive program, should they come to power, would also be abusive of those to be “ruled.”

Similarly, someone can have a valid objection to something that is wrong, without having an adequate conception of what is right or of what would best correct the wrong in view. As a result, just because you disagree with someone else’s broader understanding or “solution” does not justify throwing out their valid insights with their confusion. This seems most frequent in considerations of justice—I can often recognize when an injustice is imposed on me, but that does not mean my preferred “solution” either solves the injustice or does so without imposing new injustices on others (e.g., one of the attributes of negative rights is that they prevent injustice without causing injustice elsewhere, which positive rights cannot).

One practical consequence is that we can learn from and be inspired by victims of abuse and tyranny, who recognize the wrongs, without endorsing their possibly misguided or even harmful “solutions.”

A good example of someone generally overlooked by libertarians for certain “indiscretions” is Albert Camus, the 1957 Nobel Laureate in Literature, whose birthday is November 7. One can easily take issue with or be unconvinced by his existentialism or his conclusion that everything comes back to absurdity. One can also object to actions such as his brief membership in the Communist party, his personal infidelities, etc. But despite those issues, his defense of liberty against tyranny, particularly in World War II and its aftermath, was very important. Consider just a few of his most important insights.

  • The real passion of the twentieth century is servitude.
  • Political utopias justified in advance any enterprises whatever.
  • The welfare of the people…has always been the alibi of tyrants, and it provides the further advantage of giving the servants of tyranny a good conscience.
  • The tyrannies of today…no longer admit of silence or neutrality. One has to take a stand, be either for or against. Well, in that case, I am against.
  • The only conception of freedom I can have is that of the prisoner or the individual in the midst of the state. The only one I know is freedom of thought and action.
  • Absolute domination by the law does not represent liberty, but without law there is no freedom.
  • Freedom is not a gift received from the State or leader.
  • Freedom is not a reward or a decoration that is celebrated with champagne…It’s a long distance race, quite solitary and very exhausting.
  • Freedom is nothing else but a chance to get better, whereas enslavement is a certainty of the worse.
  • Liberty ultimately seems to me, for societies and for individuals…the supreme good that governs all others.
  • It is the job of thinking people not to be on the side of the executioners. Is it possible…to reject injustice without ceasing to acclaim the nature of man and the beauty of the world? Our answer is yes.
  • Instead of killing and dying in order to produce the being that we are not, we have to live and let live in order to create what we are.
  • The aim of art, the aim of a life can only be to increase the sum of freedom and responsibility to be found in every man and in the world. It cannot, under any circumstances, be to reduce or suppress that freedom, even temporarily…there is not a single true work of art that has not in the end added to the inner freedom of each person who has known and loved it.
  • The current motto for all of us can only be this: “without giving up anything on the plane of justice, yield nothing on the plane of freedom.”
  • Being aware of one’s freedom, and to the maximum, is living, and to the maximum.
  • More and more, when faced with the world of men, the only reaction is one of individualism. Man alone is an end unto himself.

There are many things Albert Camus wrote or did that I may have issues with. But it would be a shame to lose the inspiration of words such as these due to differences that do not negate their validity.

In a world where time and energy are scarce, choosing to read someone we have learned to consistently expect insight from makes a great deal of sense. It increases the chances that the time will be well spent. It expands our own insights and reminds us of how important some things are to life. That is why libertarians read a great deal from those who similarly value freedom. But while that may be our foundation, we cannot stop there. While holding on to our recognition of the importance of liberty, we can also learn from and be inspired by those who may be fellow travelers only in part.

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Is the Fed's Leading Dove Aiming to Replace Jay Powell?

10/26/2018Doug French

Perhaps Neel Kashkari is angling for the Fed Chair job, should Donald Trump attempt an Eccles palace coup and oust Jerome Powell for his tightening ways. General Mattis may be sending troops to the border to head off the “caravan” enroute from Guatemala (or was it the middle east?), but he can certainly redirect them to Federal Reserve HQ to suppress President Trump’s “biggest risk.”   

Mr. Kashkari, the president of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank, has hopscotched through various positions after being hired by then Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson. He’s worked at PIMCO, he’s run for governor of California, and he administered the much beloved TARP program during the financial crisis.  

Today his op-ed appears in the Wall Street Journal urging the Fed’s home office to lighten up on the interest rate hikes already.  The President must be pleased.  The 2 percent inflation target, which tall-Paul Volker writes in his new book, “I puzzle at the rationale. A 2 percent target, or limit, was not in my textbook years ago. I know of no theoretical justification,” is, according to Kashkari, “symmetric” not a “ceiling.”     

The Minnesota Fed man writes, “In 2015 the FOMC estimated unemployment could not go below 5.1% without triggering inflation. Its current estimate is 4.5%; the actual unemployment rate is down to 3.7%, and wage growth and inflation are still muted.”

Inflation is muted, except if you calculate it the way it used to be calculated.  John Williams does that for us at shadowstats.com and he says CPI is 6 percent using the 1990 method or 10 percent using the 1980 approach.   

 

Courtesy of ShadowStats.com

“Every time we do something great, he raises the interest rates,” Mr. Trump told reporters from the Wall Street Journal, adding that Mr. Powell “almost looks like he’s happy raising interest rates.”

During his meeting with the WSJ reporters, Trump, “pushed a red button on his desk, summoning an iced cola delivered to him on a silver platter.”

I can imagine Idi Amin did that.  

He also talked like Amin or other dictator. The reporting crew from the WSJ write, 

He referred to economic gains during his time in office as “my numbers,” saying, “I have a hot economy going.” He described his push for growth as a competition with former President Obama’s record, saying that increases under his Democratic predecessor were skewed because of low-interest rates.

Mr. Kashkari, himself, questions the government’s numbers to make the case to stop the interest rate music from being turned up too loud. 

And the formal unemployment rate only counts people actively looking for work. By another measure—the percentage of prime-age Americans who are employed—nearly a million adults are still missing from the job market relative to 2006, and more than 2.5 million fewer are working relative to 1999. How many more of those missing workers would re-enter the labor force if wages picked up? We don’t know.

All of that is true, but typically not uttered by government employees of any sort of rank. Evidently, it doesn’t matter what you write from the distant Minneapolis Fed outpost.

And, how about this from Kashkari,

Critics argue the tax cut is delivering a Keynesian sugar high, that modest growth rates will return once the high has worn off, and that taxpayers will be left holding $1.8 trillion in additional outstanding debt. Who’s right? It will take time to find out.

“Keynesian sugar high? Did he really take the Lord Keynes’ name in vain?

The former TARPmaster closes with,

But until inflation or inflation expectations get meaningfully higher, the Fed should allow the economy to continue to strengthen, so as to allow as many Americans as possible to participate in the recovery.

That sentence, even grammatically, sounds Trumpian. 

Trump feels as if Powell lied to him. “He was supposed to be a low-interest-rate guy. It’s turned out that he’s not.”  

Of course, it’s all about Trump v. Obama.  Michael C. Bender, Rebecca Ballhaus, Peter Nicholas and Alex Leary write,

Mr. Trump demurred when asked under what circumstances he’d remove Mr. Powell, whom he selected for a four-year term that started in February. “I don’t know,” he said. “I’m just saying this: I’m very unhappy with the Fed because Obama had zero interest rates.”

Wah, wah, wah. Mr. Kashkari, your next office may be in the Eccles Building.  

Originally published at DouglasInVegas.com
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In the Aftermath of Hurricane Michael, Civil Society and Voluntary Action Saved Lives

10/16/2018Tho Bishop

Last week my hometown of Panama City was devastated by Hurricane Michael, the most powerful storm to make landfall in over 50 years. The aftermath on the ground is impossible to comprehend without seeing first hand: buildings destroyed, trees scattered, basic infrastructure like water and power remain down for most of the county. To the east, the city of Mexico Beach has few structures that remain standing after receiving the brunt of wind and storm surge. Residents of rural areas such as Chipley and Marianna are forced to navigate around roads still impassable due to the considerable debris that remains.

I was able to visit Bay County this past weekend to bring supplies to friends and family. For all the horror the storm brought, it’s also demonstrated the best of what society has to offer. In the face of incomprehensible hardship is a community that has rallied around each other for strength, comfort, and survival.

While Federal, state, and local governments have been quick to respond to the storm's aftermath, much of this work has been the spontaneous action of residents both in and outside of the impacted areas. The aftermath of Hurricane Michael is the perfect illustration of the importance of civil society and voluntary action given the inherent limits of state action.

As soon as Michael made landfall, the first priority for anyone with loved ones in the path of the storm was trying to find a way to check on their wellbeing. Immediately the limitations of traditional emergency services to offer assistance help became clear. With 9-1-1 simply unable to handle the volume of requests coming in, social media became an invaluable tool for organizing rescue efforts. In many cases complete strangers stepped up to report on the wellbeing of residents thorough out the area, an immeasurable relief to friends and family who had no other option.

Of course social media requires internet access, and here too competition in cellular infrastructure has proved invaluable for recovery efforts. Damage done to Verizon’s network not only took away cell service for tens of thousands of customers, but took away the main service provider for Bay County emergency personnel. Access to AT&T’s network or other hot spots managed to provide semi-reliable means of communication, which became the backbone of continuing volunteer efforts.

Another vital means of communication has been commercial radio stations, particularly the network of stations under the umbrella of iHeartRadio. Not only did these stations provide a constant stream of information throughout the affected areas, but provided an outlet for requests far beyond anyone’s individual social network. Lives have literally been saved as callers have had requests for oxygen, medicine, water, and other necessities met within minutes after being shared on air. It’s also helped direct a legion of volunteers armed with chainsaws – now dubbed the Chainsaw Army – to help clear out parts of the city that are too isolated to be priorities for government-led rescue efforts.

Businesses, churches, and other organizations have also stepped up to feed, assist, and shelter thousands of those in severe need as well. Restaurants, bars, and even “illegal” Facebook food groups quickly emerged as pop-up soup kitchens, clearing out freezers to give hot meals to those that have lost anything.  Food trucks and other groups from around the country have stepped up as well, truckloads of food, water, tarps, and other vital supplies making their way into the area for distribution.

Another way we’ve seen voluntary cooperation emerge is the reaction to the darker side of human nature that comes out in a time of crisis. Reports of looting began just hours after the hurricane hit, and quickly spread well beyond those “salvaging” resources from stores devastated by Michael. With law enforcement faced with higher priorities than property protection, it’s been up to citizens to protect themselves – with many banding together to help look after their neighborhoods.

It’s also worth re-emphasizing that this praise of voluntary coordination in the aftermath of crisis is not at the expense of what government officials have been able to accomplish in the area. All parties involved, from first responders to state organized shelters to power companies have done incredible work over the past week. What we see, however, is the basic limitations of what a government can do for the public in a time for crisis – even when motivated with the best of intentions – and the importance of community beyond the state. The fact the community has been, for the most part, freed of heavy handed government management is precisely what has allowed for such a quick and vibrant response to the storm.

This becomes all the more clear when contrasted to a very different sort of catastrophe that hit the gulf coast: the Deep Horizon Oil Spill. In that case, efforts made by outside entities to assist with clean up were frequently turned down by the Federal government which claimed total control over the situation. Labor to help deal with the fall out on land was tightly regulated by OSHA requirements. Road block after road block emerged to stall the very sort of spontaneous order that a civil society offers. If such a centralized and bureaucratic response to a disaster was replicated this past week, many more lives would have been lost and far more even worse off than they are today.

Hurricane Michael brought destruction that the Florida panhandle has never seen before, but it failed to break the community it impacted. It will take years before the area is able to return to a sense of normalcy, and thousands will never be able to recover all they have lost. Still, it is a blessing that thanks to the incredible and voluntary actions of countless number of residents, lives have been saved and the steps to recovery have already begun. 

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Important New Book: The Case Against 2 Per Cent Inflation

09/04/2018Mises Institute

Our regular readers are by now familiar with the work of economist Brendan Brown who offers some of the most detailed analysis of investment and monetary trends at mises.org.

Now, Dr. Brown has finished a new book, The Case Against 2 Per Cent Inflation: From Negative Interest Rates to a 21st Century Gold Standard published by Palgrave Macmillan. and available at Amazon. 

Joseph Salerno writes: "With this book, Brendan Brown joins the ranks of our leading monetary policy experts. His acute and learned analysis and critique of the failed fiat-money regimes since 1914 and the fatal flaws in the current 2-percent inflation standard constitute the definitive treatment of an approach to monetary policy that is rapidly approaching its end."

The Case Against 2 Per Cent Inflation analyses the controversial and critical issue of 2% inflation targeting, currently practiced by central banks in the US, Japan, and Europe. Where did the 2% target inflation originate, and why?

Brown's book presents a novel theoretical perspectives, intertwined with historical and market understanding, and features analysis that draws on monetary theory (including Austrian school), behavioral finance, and finance theory.

And finally, the book explores how the 2% global inflation standard could collapse and what would ideally follow its demise, including a new look at the role of gold.

rownbook.PNG

 

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It Turns out School Shooting Data Is Vastly Inflated

08/29/2018Ryan McMaken

On Monday, National Public Radio revealed that two-thirds of school shootings reported in 2015-2016 never actually happened.

Morning Edition reports:

This spring the U.S. Education Department reported that in the 2015-2016 school year, "nearly 240 schools ... reported at least 1 incident involving a school-related shooting." The number is far higher than most other estimates.

But NPR reached out to every one of those schools repeatedly over the course of three months and found that more than two-thirds of these reported incidents never happened. Child Trends, a nonpartisan nonprofit research organization , assisted NPR in analyzing data from the government's Civil Rights Data Collection.

We were able to confirm just 11 reported incidents, either directly with schools or through media reports.

In 161 cases, schools or districts attested that no incident took place or couldn't confirm one. In at least four cases, we found, something did happen, but it didn't meet the government's parameters for a shooting. About a quarter of schools didn't respond to our inquiries.

The Education Department, asked for comment on our reporting, noted that it relies on school districts to provide accurate information in the survey responses and says it will update some of these data later this fall. But, officials added, the department has no plans to republish the existing publication .

...A separate investigation by the ACLU of Southern California also was able to confirm fewer than a dozen of the incidents in the government's report, while 59 percent were confirmed errors. ...

...Most of the school leaders NPR reached had little idea of how shootings got recorded for their schools. For example, the CRDC reports 26 shootings within the Ventura Unified School District in Southern California.

"I think someone pushed the wrong button," said Jeff Davis, an assistant superintendent there. The outgoing superintendent, Joe Richards, "has been here for almost 30 years and he doesn't remember any shooting," Davis added. "We are in this weird vortex of what's on this screen and what reality is."

Here's the report. The false claims appear on page 2:

Nearly 240 schools (0.2 percent of all schools) reported at least 1 incident involving a school-related shooting, and over 100 schools (0.1 percent of all schools) reported a school-related homicide involving a student, faculty member, or staff member. About 1 out of every 100,000 students was enrolled in a school that reported a school-related shooting or school-related homicide during the 2015–16 school year.

The government's definition of shooting includes "any discharge of a weapon at school-sponsored events or on school buses" even if no one is hurt. It's true that few would welcome news that someone is firing guns at their child's school, even if it resulted in no injuries. And, as NPR reports, the number that would be a rate of shootings, and a level of violence, much higher than anyone else had ever found.

However, once data like this makes it into the news, the 240 incidents are reported as "shootings" which strongly implies the presence of physically harmed victims. Moreover, even if we include all firearm discharges into the data, it appears that a great many of schools that reported "shootings" can't remember them happening.

These sorts of substantial data discrepancies are part of a larger tendency not only to inflate the numbers, but also to blur the line between mass shooting, school shooting, and shootings that don't even take place near any classroom.

For example, back in February, at least one gun-control activist group was claiming that 18 "school shootings" had already occurred this year.

These shootings were usually brought up in the context of massive news coverage of multi-victim mass shootings. Many of these, shootings, however, hardly fit the bill of what ordinary people would imagine a school shooting to be. For example, as John Cox and Steven Rich in the Washington Post reported, one often-cited list of school shootings included a case in which

On the afternoon of Jan. 3, a 31-year-old man who had parked outside a Michigan elementary school called police to say he was armed and suicidal. Several hours later, he killed himself. The school, however, had been closed for seven months. There were no teachers. There were no students.

Other cases include, according to CNN :

The list also includes multiple cases of single individuals being shot in apartments and dorms on the campus, including "an incident from Jan. 20, when at 1 a.m. a man was shot at a sorority event on the campus of Wake Forest University."

By May, media outlets were using this data and similar data to claim that 2018's tally was already up to 22.

These events are all certainly unfortunate, violent, and unjust, but describing them generally as "school shootings" is questionable. After all, the statistics are generally used with the intent of invoking images of mass shootings like the Columbine massacre.

Moreover, confusing mass shootings with a domestic shooting in an on-campus apartment blurs lines between suggested policy responses. Mass shootings such as the Parkland, Florida shooting are used to justify restrictions on high-capacity semi-automatic weapons. Most of the shootings listed in "school shooting" databases, however, are single-victim events that could be carried out with a small-caliber revolver. While murder is murder, these sorts of distinctions are relevant to the policy debate. After all, gun-control advocates themselves clearly think the sort of weapon is relevant since they tend to ignore homicides committed with weapons other than guns.

In addition to the fact that recent data on school violence appears to exaggerate school violence, evidence going back to the early nineties shows that school violence has declined over the period. In fact, forthcoming research from researcher James Alan Fox — publicized by Northeastern University — concludes: "Four times the number of children were killed in schools in the early 1990s than today."

Nor should this be shocking for anyone familiar with homicide trends in the United States. Since the early nineties, homicide rates have been cut nearly in half. And while homicide rates have been increasing during the past two years, numbers remains well below where they were 25 years ago. And most of that increase in attributable to homicides in a small number of American big cities.

homicide1 (1)_0.png

Back in May, I did a FoxNews segment, with former Clinton aide Chris Hahn contending that school violence was at epidemic proportions. He insisted on ignoring all the trend data from the past 25 years, asserting that only the post-2014 data mattered. And yet here we are now seeing that the data he was largely going off of was fabricated. Naturally, he insisted on ignoring the overall homicide data and its obvious trend.

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Is the Sharing Economy Exploitative?

08/24/2018Per Bylund

There's a whole lot of buzz about the sharing economy. Many seem to think it is something new, with some calling for a 'new economics' to explain it while others deride the 'gig economy' as a higher level of exploitation, inequality, and poverty. Neither is a good analysis.

First things first: the sharing economy was facilitated by advances in technology alongside consumer preferences changing from goods to services and thus from ownership to lease. These are not separate processes, but mutually constituting changes where each increases the other.

The advances in technology that brought about the sharing economy are those that allow for cheaper, faster, and more accurate communication, verification of factual claims, decentralized corroborated trust/reputation etc. They overall lower transaction costs by making information both available and trustable. The terrifying idea of 'getting into a car with a stranger' is no longer a problem if that stranger's reputation can be tracked, is publicly available, and is backed up by the experiences of many others doing the same thing (as with Uber, Lyft).

The availability of such information also means we don't need to rely only on first-hand (or second-hand through family and friends) trusted experience, but can, as it were, rely on the experience of unknown others - third-hand trust. This changes our behavior because the cost of making a mistake is much lower: getting into the car of a shady Uber driver is on average much less of a risk than doing the same as a hitchhiker or even taking a regular taxi. This change of behavior in response to 'outsourced' trust means the technology can progress further.

The sharing economy, as the term implies, also means we can 'share' (make available) productive resources in much more effective ways. In a sense, it undermines the materialist view of value creation by dissolving the difference between 'personal' property and private ownership of the means of production: your personal car can now be both your personal property and your source of income - and you, as the owner, decide when and how. It doesn't change the economic categories, but releases the economic analysis from the material goods.

This is all well and proper, since the economy is about the creation and distribution of *value* and not of material things. As value is subjective, so is the distinction between consumer good and production good. Everything can be both, and what is what depends on how you use it.

In other words, the effect of the sharing economy on the study of economics may (and likely is) the liberation of economic analysis from materialist biases. Economics becomes the subjectivist social science it was always meant to be. So in terms of economic theory, the sharing economy can help make the study of economics what it should be and always should have been: the study of the creation and distribution of [subjective] value and the unplanned social orders that emerge in the prosperity-creating process.

But what about exploitation?

I find the argument that the 'gig economy' makes people accept lower wages highly fascinating. Suddenly it is a problem to these critics, mainly on the left, that 'workers' own their own capital.

When personal property becomes capital, a source of income, then the obvious implication is a decentralization of capital ownership.

I'm not saying companies like Uber are in any sense perfect. They could certainly go further, by e.g. implementing free pricing between drivers and riders. Why not allow drivers to set their required minimum to provide a ride? Why not allow riders to set their max to get a ride? (This may actually be the next step in the sharing economy - an open-marketization of fares and fees.) The common argument that drivers (which is usually the example used) don't make a 'living wage' is also a bias that remains from the materialist and industrialist view of economy. It assumes that a job is all about the salary, and that what matters is the monetary outcome of it. But many of those who choose to drive for a ride-share company do so because it is a *flexible* type of work, which is itself a value.

Sure, it may not be as high-paying as 'full-time' employment, but any choice includes a trade-off of value: to many, flexible work hours make up for the lower pay; for others, it doesn't - so they instead seek traditional employment. The solution to the low wages in the sharing economy is not regulation, but more competition - and proper market wages. In fact, the reason ride-sharing companies can pay low wages (which, judging from my discussions with many a driver, exceed those earned by taxi drivers!) is the regulations already in place: primarily the barriers to entry in ride-sharing and elsewhere that keep overall wages down by providing employers with artificial influence (power). The expected outcome of the low-transaction cost economy should be the ultimate gig economy, where all or most hierarchies (such as firms) dissolve into market relations - and where those who (choose to) work earn a market wage. What stands in the way for this development is not employers or even capital owners, but those artificial restrictions that produce their privilege.

It is a sad irony, really, that those restrictions - regulations - that are intended to protect workers from employers (in the industrial age) is what stands in the way for worker liberation in the new era.

Formatted from Twitter. 
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In Washington, the Truth has Refugee Status

08/22/2018James Bovard

“Truth isn’t truth,” declared Rudy Giuliani, President Trump’s personal attorney, on Meet the Press on Sunday. Giuliani’s comment — the weirdest absolution yet proffered for Trump — is the “Trump era’s epitaph,” according to a Washington Post columnist. But truth really is defined differently inside the Beltway.

Trump could face a “perjury trap” from Special Counsel Robert Mueller because of the unique way that the FBI defines reality — and the truth. The FBI rarely records interviews and instead relies on written summaries (known as Form 302s) which “are widely held up in court as credible evidence of conversations,” the New York Times noted last year. Though defense attorneys routinely debunk the accuracy and credibility of 302s, prosecutors continue touting FBI interview summaries as the voice of God. Even if Trump made factually correct comments to Mueller, he could still face legal peril if his statements failed to harmonize with FBI “trust me on what I heard” memos containing contrary assertions.

Though other federal agencies cannot play the 302 game, they have plenty of options for editing the public record. Inside the Beltway, “plausible deniability” (a phrase first publicly used by CIA chief Allen Dulles in the 1950s) is “close enough for government work” to truth.

Congress enacted the Freedom of Information Act in 1966 to boost self-government by entitling Americans to learn what Washington did in their name. But FOIA is derided nowadays as a “Freedom From Information Act” that begets merely a mirage of transparency. Last year, individuals who filed FOIA requests “received censored files or nothing in 78 percent” of the time, according to the Associated Press. Federal agencies with the most power — such as the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and the Justice Department — are among the worst FOIA abusers.

Federal agencies also maximize their discretion in defining truth via almost 50 million decisions to classify information each year. And the Justice Department can totally suppress embarrassing facts on the most contentious issues (such as torture or assassinations) by invoking the “state secrets” doctrine. The George W. Bush administration routinely invoked “state secrets” to seek “blanket dismissal of every case challenging the constitutionality of specific, ongoing government programs,” according to a study by the Constitution Project. A federal appeals court slammed the Obama administration’s use of “state secrets”: “According to the government’s theory, the judiciary should effectively cordon off all secret government actions from judicial scrutiny, immunizing the CIA and its partners from the demands and the limits of the law.” Government’s sway over damning information is boundless — at least until some scofflaw like Edward Snowden obliterates federal credibility.

Read the full article at The Hill
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Inflation Ruined a Chocolate Bar — But Is the Dark Age Now Over?

07/23/2018Ryan McMaken

Chocolate company Toblerone announced this week that it will be returning its chocolate bars to the pre-2016 shape — at least in the British market. Back in 2016, the company had decided to put less chocolate in its chocolate bars by changing the shape. It was, the company said, part of an effort to deal with rising production costs. Here's what the two different versions of the bars looked like:

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Source: The Telegraph

Among chocolate lovers, this change was rather scandalous. Most people, of course, didn't exactly make an issue of it in social media, but the change constituted one of many efforts to deal with price inflation at the time — known as "shrink-flation."

Back in 2016, Christopher Westley reported on this, and how the Toblerone "scandal" was part of a larger inflation-created problem:

[Toblerone] widened the gaps between the segments of its iconic chocolate bar, reducing its total volume by some 10 percent. Although the reaction has something of an Old Coke-New Coke air to it, one can easily see it as a sign of the inflationary times, an effect of worldwide money creation coordinated by the leading central banks, with Toblerone being just one of many victims.

The economics of the decision shouldn’t surprise an actual student of economics. Since inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon, and since the world’s central banks have been pumping new money into the global economy at unprecedented rates for several years, we should expect an upward pressure on prices. In a Facebook post, Toblerone explained that it was forced into changing its product in response to “higher cost of numerous ingredients,” adding that

...we had to make a decision between changing the shape of the bar, and raising the price. We chose to change the shape to keep the product affordable for our customers, and it enables us to keep offering a great value product.

Statements such as this cause Toblerone to become, unwittingly, a case study for how firms in competitive markets respond when monetary inflation raises their costs of production. When that happens, firms are less able to pass the cost on to consumers in the form of higher prices because if they do, they face a strong likelihood of losing market share and revenues. Instead, these firms cut back in terms of volume, size, and portions.

We see this all the time. Have you been to a restaurant lately where the menu prices haven’t seemed to change but the portions of food on your plate has? Or opened a bag of chips that hasn’t fallen in size while the volume of chips inside has? Or consumed a product of lower quality than you remembered in less inflationary times because its producer was obligated to change ingredients to break even?

The fact is, Toblerone can’t raise its prices willy-nilly due to the many substitutes available to consumers. Critics claiming otherwise ignore this common side effect of inflation in competitive industries, a phenomenon that especially has applied to candy markets in recent years.

It remains unclear, however, if the company is just reverting to the old shape and size, or just the old shape? If it's going back to the old shape and size, this would suggest that the company has found a way to produce candy bars less expensively, or that it can raise the price of the bars without driving down demand to the point it will hurt the company.

It's a safe bet, though, that we shouldn't expect a general reversal of the shrink-flation trend. A "pound" of coffee now seems to be 10 or twelve ounces of coffee in the US.

On the other hand, median income growth has in recent years finally begun to significantly exceed old pre-2008 levels, so it may be food companies are now using the current income gains as an opportunity to re-adjust prices upward before the next recession, when sensitivity to price increases will be far more significant.

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