Apple recently released an ad for the new iPad Air that — whether intentionally or not — mimics CEI’s I, Pencil short film. In the new ad, a pencil sits on a table as the narrator describes the many purposes of this simple machine. At the end of the 1:03 ad, the pencil lifts to reveal an iPad Air that’s been hiding behind the slim writing tool.
Hark, Leonard Read fans! Take heart, disillusioned entrepreneurs! The iPad is a wonder of capitalism just like the pencil. And contrasting a pencil – seemingly simple, but used far less in our digital age – with an iPad reminds us that the collaboration that made possible the manufacture of old tools still works the same way today.
An iPad and a pencil aren’t that different, after all. As the ad notes, both can “start a poem or finish a symphony;” both are “extremely simple and yet extremely powerful.” And just as importantly, the process of making each of these items hinges on the expertise of many parties, working independently of one another to advance their own interests.
With our I, Pencil short film recently winning the first Reason Video Prize, this pencil ad holds special value to us here at CEI. Hopefully, it will encourage all who enjoy Apple products to also consider the beauty and wonder in uninhibited creative energies.
Another ad on Apple’s website offers an expansive, beautiful montage of all the daring, innovative activities people around the world are doing with the iPad’s help. Yet another shows Apple’s design team raving about the device’s lighter design and longer battery life. One man describes the A7 power chip in the Air as “rigid but nothing precious about it.” But that could be said of any product. There’s “nothing precious” about anything until people find it useful. By that standard, a pencil and an iPad are both very valuable indeed.
Last night the Boston Red Sox won the World Series after coming back from a worst-place season in 2012. Their 6-1 defeat of the St. Louis Cardinals capped a remarkable turnaround that resulted from a mix of a new coach, a blockbuster trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers, seven free-agent acquisitions, and a “culture of excellence.” Sabermetrics undoubtedly played its important role, as it does for almost every ball club. But to a player, they created and bought into a team spirit that maximized their talent to reach their goal – and had fun doing it.
Here’s one report of how the team coalesced:
Red Sox players loved coming to the park early and finding several teammates ready to go to work with them to refine the subtle details of their games. They practiced together to improve their execution. And when they did not practice, they discussed their execution so that they could do a better job of preparing for game situations.
The result was a team striving for greatness in the details. And as the players sensed that shared purpose, they recognized the logical conclusion of the undertaking. The players felt empowered to set critical standards for each other, foremost to play the game with maximum effort and intensity, with perfection of execution.
This soon created the identity of a team that believed it could do something extraordinary.
Red Sox General Manager Ben Cherington, in discussing the additions to the roster that made a difference, was reported as saying:
He wanted players who had reputations for being good clubhouse guys. He wanted players who understand that playing for the Red Sox is a unique experience — that is, expectations are high, and players are held accountable.
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Steven Teles tells us in the fall issue of National Affairs that over the next decades, the challenge of “kludgeocracy” will come to the forefront of national politics:
In recent decades, American politics has been dominated, at least rhetorically, by a battle over the size of government. But that is not what the next few decades of our politics will be about. With the frontiers of the state roughly fixed, the issues that will define our major debates will concern the complexity of government, rather than its sheer scope.
Teles is certainly right that the underappreciated costs to our economy of administrative complexity and regulatory compliance ought receive more attention in spending debates. The first step is to think about regulation as a form of government spending itself. When we usually think of government spending, we imagine the government taxes individuals and firms and spends their money for them. But government can also spend money in a different sense by issuing spending directives to those individuals and firms themselves. As documented in CEI’s Ten Thousand Commandments: An Annual Snapshot of the Federal Regulatory State, the costs of regulation reached over $1.8 trillion in 2013.
A bigger challenge Teles presents for libertarians, however, is his argument that “kludgeocracy” is the result of our political system’s numerous obstacles to political action and Americans’ ambivalent attitudes toward government:
American institutions do, in fact, serve to constrain the most direct forms of government taxing and spending. But having done so, they do not dry up popular or special-interest demands for government action, nor do they eliminate the desire of politicians to claim credit for new government activity. When public demand cannot be addressed directly, it is met instead in complicated, unpredictable ways that lead to far more complex legislative solutions
One of the clearest findings in the study of American public opinion is that Americans are ideological conservatives and operational liberals. That is, they want to believe in the myth of small government while demanding that government address public needs and wants regarding everything from poverty and retirement security to environmental protection and social mobility. The easiest way to satisfy both halves of the American political mind is to create programs that hide the hand of government, whether it is through tax preferences, regulation, or litigation, rather than operating through the more transparent means of direct taxing and spending.
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Tea Party conservatives were beside themselves when they discovered that a Yale political scientist named Daniel Kahan had seemingly admitted that Tea Party members were more scientifically literate than the general population. Kahan went on to say:
I’ve got to confess, though, I found this result surprising. As I pushed the button to run the analysis on my computer, I fully expected I’d be shown a modest negative correlation between identifying with the Tea Party and science comprehension.
But then again, I don’t know a single person who identifies with the Tea Party. All my impressions come from watching cable tv — & I don’t watch Fox News very often — and reading the “paper” (New York Times daily, plus a variety of politics-focused internet sites like Huffington Post & Politico).
I’m a little embarrassed, but mainly I’m just glad that I no longer hold this particular mistaken view.
Of course, I still subscribe to my various political and moral assessments–all very negative– of what I understand the “Tea Party movement” to stand for. I just no longer assume that the people who happen to hold those values are less likely than people who share my political outlooks to have acquired the sorts of knowledge and dispositions that a decent science comprehension scale measures.
Tea Party favorites like Glenn Beck were ecstatic:
Glenn Beck and his radio co-hosts Pat Gray and Stu Burguiere discussed the poll on Thursday…
All three agreed that it was a “positive” development to find someone “honest enough to go through and run the data.”
“I hope you have tenure, Dan, because Yale’s not going to keep you around, dude,” Beck said.
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In a recent article in The Freeman (“The Abolition of the Playground”), Jeffrey Tucker decries public regulation of elementary school playgrounds. He makes a good point, especially in his criticism of the makers of silly rules, but misses one important aspect of freedom.
A disclaimer: I can’t remember a time I had fun on a playground. In elementary school, while my classmates played kickball on the acre plot allotted our school, I liked to sit by a tree with bulbous roots and read. I begged my teachers to let me stay inside, and some did. I dreaded the period of “play” after lunch every day. I found sunlight oppressive and physical activity nauseating. I went to a private school, played in “a good private playground, with clear rules and maximum choice within the rules” and had “an early experience of freedom itself.” It was bleak, mostly because “freedom itself” did not include the choice to opt out of playground time.
Children exercise very little autonomy. Such is the nature of childhood, and it can be a joyfully ignorant period of life. I take umbrage, though, at adults advocating for “liberty” from state imposed regulation for the sake of children’s happiness and free-spirited play. And a playground is, by definition, prey to “regimentation and central dictate” because the definitions of play are so limited.
Tucker notes that, “the point of the playground is the teeming activity of many individuals that somehow emerges into a micro social order without direction from above.” Yes, play time can help children learn about cooperation. But a true education of what freedom entails requires the choice to opt out of the faux-social order. Adults trying to reform our top-down state education system should consider what freedom could actually look like for students.
In a recent New York Times column, David Brooks describes American culture as “mentally lazy.” Overcoming that, he argues, requires a dose of what he calls “social paternalism” in public policy.
Is he right?
I thought about that yesterday, as I drank a can of pink grapefruit-flavored San Pellegrino while sitting in an old family friend’s living room. The friend had just returned from swimming laps and wore Speedo jammers—knee-length, spandex-tight swim trunks, a jarring sight on an adult male. “Mary,” he said. “Here’s the problem with the media today: No one can just sit with someone they disagree with and listen to their point of view anymore.” (Was I not listening to a man in Speedo jammers with all manner of civility?)
He continued, “America wants a media outlet that will provide civil disagreement; she just doesn’t know it yet.”
He presented, in effect, an interesting anomaly. Conflict around an idea creates buzz. Yet, bombast causes sources to lose credibility with media consumers. “News” coverage and opinion pieces dwell in a Catch-22: The ridiculous get attention while the substantive get lost in the fray—and then the ridiculous get dismissed anyway. Subsequently, the public, though engaged in a whirlwind of dramatic press, tunes out.
Where I differ with AMiJ (Adult Male in Jammers) is on what it is the public wants. Why search for an even-keeled news sources when loud commentary and feuding pundits attract so many eyeballs? A talk show where two or more parties calmly discuss current events without exaggeration would not do as well as the over-the-top pundits.
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Fred Foldvary’s article “Do Markets Promote Immoral Behavior?” in September’s issue of The Freeman considers an important question for defenders of markets—the moral status of market behavior. While a popular and scholarly consensus sees markets as necessary for growth and a useful technique for allocating resources, it nonetheless regards market institutions as either a necessary evil or morally neutral. Thus, markets occupy a fragile position in which they’re tolerated, but constantly under suspicion.
Foldvary argues against the conclusions of a recent study in the journal Science, which apparently shows that a simple isolated choice to be paid $10 or save a mouse’s life produced morally superior outcomes to those of an extended market. But purposes of this post, however, the conclusions of the study are irrelevant. What matters is the Foldvary’s framework for arguing against the study, which is flawed.
In brief, Foldvary wants to argue that the moral basis of markets reduces to consent. But despite the appealing tidiness of Foldvary’s argument, I think there are two big problems:
First, Foldvary is wrong to build so much of his argument on the moral value of voluntary exchange. Economists usually assume that exchanges will be mutually beneficial only if the exchange is voluntary on the assumption that people are the best judge of their own preferences and that third-parties aren’t any better. But while this is a useful statement of epistemic modesty by economists, it doesn’t tell us anything by itself about the fundamental moral value of voluntary exchange. As Nozick once asked, why should freely-made choices be worthy of respect in and of themselves? In the case of markets, Foldvary thinks we can understand their moral basis from the fact that buyers and sellers voluntarily participate. But his inference is ill-founded. There is nothing about voluntary action as such that makes it either moral or immoral.
Second, his account talks past critics of markets rather than to them. Critics of markets often want to block even market transactions that are clearly voluntary, which suggests that the interesting disagreement is over something else. Arguing that paying your kids to read, or charging your neighbor for using your generator after a hurricane, or charging for sex, is acceptable if and only if it’s voluntary misses the nature of the objection to those transactions.
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Success can pertain to personal satisfaction, an intangible, or outside validation (whether via spoken word, wealth, or popularity). Personal satisfaction may spring from accomplishing a task at a pre-set standard, thus prompting outside validation and so qualifying it as a success.
Dissatisfaction with the status quo can drive success, when tasks are accomplished only through the motivation to change a current reality. Even if the only goal is attaining wealth, the drive stems from dissatisfaction with one’s current fiscal situation. Yet turning dissatisfaction with the status quo into real world action requires a clear worldview and engagement with one’s surroundings.
Education serves to prime youth for such engagement—or at least, it should. The public education system often disillusions students, indirectly encouraging them to tune out a world that is presented as uninteresting, static, or irrelevant to them. Why engage cookie cutter curricula when you’re likely to gain more from skipping school to read Pynchon/eat fruit/smoke cigarettes/stare blankly at a computer screen/do virtually anything besides run on the hamster wheel that is public education?
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A New York Times article yesterday points out some of the potential difficulties already evident in early talks on a trade agreement between the United States and the European Union. The possible trade pact, called the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, is touted as a critically important step to getting the sluggish economies on both sides of the Atlantic moving.
Tariffs between the two parties are not likely to be a major issue, as both the United States and the EU have substantially lowered duties on most goods and services. The big bone of contention instead will be non-tariffs barriers, such as some sticky regulatory issues reflecting different approaches to risk as well as attempts to carve out “sensitive products” from the agreement.
Particularly in the agricultural area, the EU’s use of the “precautionary principle” in assessing the risk of genetically modified food products and of certain chemicals and processes is likely to conflict with the U.S. approach, which uses science-based risk assessment and looks at the safety of the product rather than how it was produced. In a prologue to the talks, the European Parliament’s inclusion of the precautionary approach in its list of negotiating objectives has already raised the ire of U.S. farmers.
Another big obstacle to the talks is France’s continued efforts to carve out a “cultural diversity” exception so audiovisual products and services would not be included in the agreement. France, Germany and several other countries supported a European Commission parliamentary amendment to allow films and other audiovisuals to be exempted.
Although an outright exemption would be the French choice, others have come up with so-called “red lines” that would effectively restrict what some French film directors and actors have called “a cultural invasion of Europe.” One would require EU broadcasters to provide the major share of time to domestic works. Another would retain the current film and audiovisual industry subsidies. The last red line would give the EU the right to revise laws to adapt to the digital environment.
Germany has since bowed out of its support, leaving France as the main country that would limit the amount of foreign films that would be allowed in the EU and continue to heavily subsidize the film and other AV industries.
France has said it would veto the agreement if films and AV materials are included. If that country has its way in asserting such a “cultural” exception, that would close out an important U.S. sector that is not likely to accept such a carve-out. It doesn’t seem plausible that the U.S. would accept such an exemption, even if some other sectors might see this as an opportunity for them to get their own “sensitive product” exemptions in return.
France has long feared foreign competition as a threat to its domestic producers. The nation has some of the most punitive taxes and labor regulations that make their products more expensive compared to foreign goods. Surprisingly, France has recently proposed to implement trade barriers in the same sector the French have constantly reminded the rest of the world that they have a comparative advantage in — culture.
In May, a 500-page government-commissioned report was released discouraging the viewing of non-French cultural content and encouraging the viewing of French cultural content. The French President Francois Hollande quickly expressed support for the report’s proposals. Out of 80 recommendations, the most stunning was a 4-percent tax on the sale of all devices, including gaming consoles and digital readers that allow access via the Internet to “cultural content.” The revenue generated from this tax would go towards subsidizing French music, television, and film. Titled Culture: Act II, the report’s recommendations were meant to counteract the influence American culture has had on the Internet, which the reports states “constitutes an immense threat to cultural diversity.”
Typically, protectionist policies are meant to protect weaker “infant” industries that governments wish were more developed. But France’s cultural industries, such as its music, architecture, paintings, and fashion have historically lead European trends for centuries. It is suspicious for policy makers to seek protection for an industry with such superior products.
Nevertheless, if French legislators indeed believe it is critical for French culture to be protected through trade barriers, they should have the political courage to state that French consumers prefer American content over French content because American films and music are of greater quality and value. I am sure French voters will appreciate the notion that the only thing that has kept French culture alive is the protective hand of government.
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