Thankful for Capitalism

It might seem ridiculous to be thankful for capitalism today. It’s supposed to be about “important” things like family, health, and so on. I am, but so is everybody. But capitalism is how we’re able to gather together in comfortable houses, with food on the table, and football on our shiny HD televisions.

Today’s reprint of an old Calvin & Hobbes comic demonstrates this. The first panel:

I’m old enough to remember VCR rentals. Today, VCRs are obsolete, DVD players are cheap enough to be disposable, and our movies take up only a portion of a compact hard drive. Our lives are more enjoyable and more convenient because men and women have ideas and make them real. In an effort to make themselves richer, they make our lives better.

Introducing an idea I stole from everyone else.

Danielle once heard someone say that the next thing to come back in style would be something we’ve never seen before. This is not that, because you have seen it before. Almost every blogger has adopted a link-filled post of quick hits to fill in the spaces. Those resting outside of “almost” include me. No longer! Today, I’m stealing copying from everyone else. It’s just links I’ve found that interest me, but either I don’t have time or enough to say to write a full post.

LINK: The only political idea worse than Hillary Clinton at State is for New York Gov. David Paterson to give Bill Clinton the soon-to-be-vacant Senate seat. I’m not interested in occupying Bill Clinton “full time, with senatorial duties” because he can’t keep his mouth or his zipper closed. If “today’s unusual circumstances, surely beyond the imagination of any novelist” are so important, why would we want a preening megalomaniac drawing attention away from those already in place?

On second thought, maybe it’s not a terrible idea… Gridlock from egos, not from political parties? It could work.

LINK: With the inevitable “the bailout was about this before it was about that” we’re currently learning, Arnold Kling offers a succinct analysis:

I think it is important to understand the theory [that government should insure toxic assets rather than throw money around], if for no other reason than to understand the limits of the “root of the problem” approach.

Right. The government claims to understand what’s going on. Ask every politician. His favorite target is to blame. But we’re just throwing money around. How many more decades of that do we need to try before we learn that government usually creates problems with its solutions?

LINK: Julian Sanchez writes about anti-benchmarking and EULAs at Law & Disorder. His analysis that discussing a product’s performance is interesting, but I particularly the entry, and this statement specifically, in the context of my recent post on insider trading:

Throttling the flow of information just makes markets less efficient.

There are more nuances to both topics than a simple slogan could convey, but that is the starting point, not demonization of the users of information the government likes to push.

LINK: Greg Mankiw reminds us that incentives matter when you use qualifiers to any policy, in this case President-elect Obama’s call to end subsidies to farmers who make more than $2.5 million per year:

But why would you want to use taxpayer funds to encourage large, efficient, profitable farms to break up into smaller, less efficient, less profitable farms? Isn’t that precisely what you do if you maintain subsidies only for small farmers?

My own question: Is that earns $2.5 million in profits or generates $2.5 million in revenue? The difference in productivity could matter.

LINK: Bob Torres has a thought-provoking argument in favor of certain, limited animal rights. He makes a compelling case¹ using reason that knows where the boundary between logic and nonsense exists. This is the excellently stated foundation:

When it comes down to it, the case for animal rights is really a case for adopting a thorough moral and ethical stance in favor of treating like cases alike.

Dedicated readers of this blog know that I advocate exactly that in expecting equal protection of male and female children from unnecessary genital surgery². Mr. Torres explains the approach to principle quickly and directly. “Potential benefits”, whether from eating animals or modifying children, is not a principle.

If we applied a standard of “treating like cases alike” to animals in our society, we’d probably end up at something akin to the humanely-raised meat on a mass scale that is a niche industry in the U.S. Of course that’s better than the disgusting factory farm mess we’ve developed, but it’s little different than saying it’s okay to remove foreskins as long as we provide pain control techniques. Nope, sorry, that misses the point. For animals, cutting short a better life is an improvement over cutting short a miserable life, but the killing still matters.

¹ My only criticism is the aside about externalities caused by capitalist industrial production. It’s too blunt. For example, externalities exist when producing the computers we use to have this debate. Who should pay for this? Will the solution solve the problem? Capitalists understand this at least as well as the politicians who propose clumsy solutions catered more often to feel-good policies than to common sense. (i.e. Cap and Trade vs. Pigou Tax) A capitalist rejecting the existence of an externality, a common occurrence, is no worse than a politician who thinks we need to stop progress to prevent the smallest externality.

² You didn’t think I’d finish my first linkfest without a genital mutilation reference, did you?

Netflix $1 Blu-ray Fee Increase Crisis Watch

The Benevolent Giver of Rescue must be very, very busy with all the bailouts. It’s been 47 days since I demanded my fair share of Free Money. Have I received a response from my (outgoing) Congressman? Nope. He must be very, very busy. But I’m sure I’m somewhere in the queue for Free Money.

Remember, it’s not my fault I bought a Blu-ray drive or that I expected more expensive movies to cost the same in the mail-order rental business. With up to $7,000,000,000,000 in Free Money being discussed, I’m sure the government can figure out a way to give me $1 per month so I can continue enjoying Blu-ray rentals from Netflix.

I hope so, because the $1 per month increase kicked in. I’m not sure how much longer I can hold out.

Small comes to play.

What happens when a MINI Cooper S collides with a Chevy Tahoe?

Dr. Sheldon Cooper would respond that it’s a simple matter of physics. And Dr. Cooper would be right. Getting t-boned in an accident is not the best position. But it’s also a reminder that, if you drive like an ass, your car’s size can be a disadvantage. Today’s scientific lesson is “center of gravity.”

Today’s unscientific lesson is MINI’s are full of awesome. Link via MotoringFile.

The Ethics of Vanity, Part III

Even though blogging has been sporadic recently, I’m paying attention. I realize I’ve given far more attention to circumcision than any other topic lately. Rolling Doughnut is not turning in to “all circumcision, all the time,” I swear. But the backlog is there right now. So, a little bit more, and then other stuff will return.

Last week I saw news links similar to this article.

It sounds like just another uber-meltable cheese product, but Vavelta is actually miles away from anything you’d want to put in your mouth. It’s a radical new treatment for facial pitting, scarring, and wrinkles made out of—what else?—newborns’ foreskins.

I didn’t write about it because it’s just a new example of something I’ve discussed before. And, while I’m happy an ethical issue appeared in the article…

There are also ethical issues to consider, especially if the folks behind Vavelta start paying parents for their sons’ severed sheaths.

… it hints at the wrong ethical issue. Parents do not own their sons’ foreskins. That’s why they don’t have the right to cut them off, much less demand payment for them. If a similar value worked for freshly circumcised adult foreskins, adult males should be free to sell for the highest price. They’re not, because the state thinks selling parts of your body is “wrong”. But taking healthy, functioning body parts from a child for no objective reason without his consent? That’s somehow a valid parental choice. It’s madness.


The link came from Hit & Run where I expected to encounter juvenile nonsense, the normal trend of comments there. To my surprise, my fellow libertarians came through in shining glory. Before that, this from commenter Dello:

f I had male children, they’d all get the cut. In the end (of life, that is), it’s for their own good.

This is the dumbest excuse I’ve encountered, although this is not the first time. Dello explains further:

….wait until you’re 75, incapacitated, and in a nursing home. Since none of the aides will wash your genitals, having a foreskin means you won’t even get fresh water around the head of your penis.

It had to get worse before it got better. The good stuff, from SugarFree:

Yes. Mutilate your penis because you might end up in a crooked rest home. There’s a winning argument.

Right. Except, it needs a clarification, provided by Episiarch:

NutraSweet, you have it wrong. It’s mutilate your son’s penis because he might end up in a crooked rest home. That’s even more full of ethical win.

Bingo. Really, how hard is it to understand that most adult males will not end up debilitated in a nursing home that won’t care for them properly. Anyway, if it’s causing problems at 75, that’s a medical necessity. Circumcise then. This is not complicated.


Naturally, someone had to begin the path to logic with an unquestioned regurgitation of simplistic propaganda, as if this dismisses ethical concerns. From J sub D:

A serious note –

Circumcision Gives Men up to 60% HIV Protection; WHO, UNAIDS Urge Adult Surgery

First, condoms. This is not complicated. They’re more effective and cheaper. Second, what part of urge adult surgery involves newborn foreskins? The studies used adult volunteers, not infants who can’t consent.

Denmark proposes equal rights.

[Update: I’ve fixed grammar in the opening sentence. Also, the comments provide a critique and clarification on my point about Islam as it may or may not relate to this proposal.]

I suspect Danish politicians are proposing a ban on male child circumcision because it’s an accepted part of Islam. That’s the wrong approach, since individual rights achieve the same results without intentionally creating hostility to faith. As long as sanity prevails in the (potential) implementation, the risk is small.

For a thread of comments on this topic, I spent part of my weekend commenting at Amy Alkon’s Advice Goddess Blog. I can’t say I’m surprised by what’s been written there, but Ms. Alkon and a few commenters have been logical and accurate in assessing the issue. I recommend the thread because there are many examples of the thought processes leading to infant circumcision that I’ve written about.


About the proposed protection of children itself, it would apply to males under the age of 15, the age of majority for bodily decisions in Denmark. It’s entirely sensible and consistent with principles of liberty. Naturally, some people oppose it.

While the Social Democrats, Red-Green Alliance and Liberal Alliance have come out in support of a ban, the Danish People’s Party called it ‘tyranny’.

‘It’s completely ridiculous to compare the circumcision of girls – which is a barbaric mutilation – with that of boys, where it’s just the removal of a skin flap,’ said the party’s Jesper Langballe.

I don’t expect much from any group “People’s Party”, and this doesn’t disappoint. Unfortunately. Ethically, male and female genital mutilation are the same violation. But the issue always gets stuck at the physical results. Anyone who thinks that all FGM is the most extreme version is uninformed, especially if that person doesn’t recognize that anti-FGM laws make no such distinctions about results. (Again, correctly, as I’ve stated many times.) Anyone who thinks that the foreskin is just a “skin flap” is also uninformed. Langballe achieves a perfect score, I suppose.

Yet, the Danish People’s Party’s health spokewoman, Liselott Brixt, gets it right.

‘A lot of parents want it done to their children because they themselves had it done. But we’re living in the present and it isn’t fair to expose healthy children to religious circumcision.’

Healthy children is a reasoned fact. Religious adherence requires faith. One need not reject faith to recognize that it is not a reasoned approach to medical intervention. The latter must prevail because human rights belong to the individual.

More on Hillary Clinton at State Department

Didn’t Hillary seriously bungle the organization of her campaign, worse than even the shoddy results we saw? Fear, chaos, confusion? Is this the manager we want putting together an organization designed to represent the United States to the world?

Rather than politically stupid, this is starting to strike me as politically smart, if extremely short-sighted. That short-sightedness speaks to an unbelievable indifference to the leadership task at hand. It’s incompetently stupid. At least before, I thought it was motivated by something thought out.

Now I don’t even think that. It helps him protect his flank because Hillary’s political future rests on helping Obama rather than undermining him. But she’s not competent to do the job he’s offering, which is to correct and manage our international reputation and interests. Who thinks she’ll fall on her figurative sword at the first major screw-up?

I think Kip’s theory is likely, that Clinton will be the Democratic VP nominee in 2012. How better to protect himself from her, if necessary, during his potential second term? I also think this confirms my analysis on Obama saving Lieberman for his own political sake, not because he’s a new type of politician.

I’m thrilled that I did not vote for Obama. No buyer’s remorse here.

P.S. I link to Megan McArdle’s blog entry stating buyer’s remorse at Austan Goolsbee apparently being bypassed for chairman of Obama White House Council of Economic Advisers not to gloat that I’m smarter because she voted for Obama and I didn’t. I’m only saying that being skeptical beyond the point of cynicism will successfully predict a politician’s future behavior more often than his considering his campaign behavior. Ohio revealed the real Obama, not the rhetoric he offered before, or “secretly” during.

Two Random Political Observations

Joe Lierberman is still in good standing. Which is nothing more than “keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” All of the babbling about how this proves that President-elect Obama is somehow a new, enlightened politician statesman above petty politics and revenge is nonsense. It’s a tactical move. Who honestly believes that Lieberman would maintain his position in the Senate if the Democrats had 60 other Senators? Please.

Also, Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State is a miserable idea. She’s not suited for the job because she’s a politician without a hint of diplomat. She’s wrong on all the major foreign policy points because she’s a wet-thumb-in-the-air-which-way-is-the-wind-blowing adherent to polls rather than considered thought. If it helps her, it’s good. If not, it’s bad.

And the talk that this sets her up for another run at the presidency in 2016 (or 2012 if Obama falters/she stabs him in the back) is complete nonsense. Ignore that she proved herself an inept campaigner. In 2016, she’ll be 70. Follow some cliche about 70 being the new whatever. I agree, but it doesn’t matter. It will be a long time, if ever again, before we see another president that old. Think the Republicans will start grooming any 62-year-olds, on the billion-to-one chance they quickly figure out that effective government is not about Jesus? Nope. The future is politicians like Rep. Jeff Flake. Young, photogenic, and at least moderately informed. This is surprising?

So, if Hillary Clinton ends up Secretary of State: Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

Hey, it’s a new topic!

The SEC charged billionaire Mark Cuban with insider trading. He denies the charges. I despise the inevitable schadenfreude. (Read the comments at the link. We’re a nation of envious, success-hating malcontents.)

I have no idea whether or not Mr. Cuban did what the government alleges. Maybe he did, or maybe the conspiracy theories about political payback are true. The latter is too transparent to pass my skepticism, but I never underestimate government’s ability to be nakedly vindictive. If it’s the former I do not care because I think insider trading should be legal. I wrote a paper for my business school ethics class making that case. I’m an unrepentant libertarian at my core.

The gist of my support rested on the idea that, if markets are efficient, then more information is better than less information. I don’t want to pretend that markets are efficient in the short-term; they’re not. But they’re less inefficient than anything else in the short-term. In the long-term, I trust markets completely. (Your time horizon may vary.)

Nor do I wish to pretend that the information resulting from insider trading is easy to get at or evident to everyone because there’s never going to be information equality. That’s okay. Hard work to gather information – and the mind to organize and filter that information – deserves a reward.

Consider the opposite of what the government argues. If an investor is ready to pull the trigger on a stock purchase but uncovers bad news, she’ll refrain from the purchase. She’s used the information to her advantage. Is that unethical? I don’t believe it is, nor can I imagine anyone suggesting otherwise. However, the facts alleged by the government in cases like that now pending against Mr. Cuban suggest an entirely different ethical code to avoid a loss on a possession than a potential acquisition.

I’ve over-simplified in my hypothetical. There’s far more intricacy than I understand. Conceded. But the case for insider trading laws partially rests on a suspension of self-interest, of self-sacrifice for the benefit of others without regard for how self-interested behavior may benefit others. That is not rational.

Ethics does not require medicine. Medicine requires ethics.

I finally figured out how to explain the flaw in the thinking I challenged last week, the flaw that believes male and female genital mutilation are not morally equivalent. The path to missing the truth is clear. The blogger who claimed that gender is a valid surgical distinction assigned his entry to a category – “Medicine” – that misses the point. It’s a category that he would explicitly refuse to assign any discussion of female genital mutilation. He would file any such post to “Ethics”. That’s where he should’ve posted Wednesday’s entry.

In his mind, and in every encounter I’ve had on this topic, the assumption informing the lapse in reason always rests on the mistaken notion that the claimed potential benefits from male genital mutilation inform the ethics of imposing the procedure on another. It can be helpful, so it is acceptable. Obviously it’s desirable for the patient. Obviously. Also obvious, because it’s now acceptable and presumptively desirable, it must be desired by the patient. We assume that every male who can’t consent would consent if given the option, so there’s no need to bother with waiting. Waiting only increases the likelihood that one of the scary possibilities from being intact will affect the male.

But that misses the subjectivity of potential benefits and the evaluation each individual might undertake if he retains his normal choices. There is no medical need at the imposition of the surgery. Ethics must dictate a refusal to impose unnecessary surgical procedures, which is most often nothing more than tradition and conformity masquerading as medicine. The key word is impose. That requires legitimate ethical consideration, a test that cultural and ritual male child genital mutilation fail.

With female genital mutilation, our society recognizes no potential medical benefits. We do not consider the silly idea of chasing any. We assume no benefit and understand the obvious harm. We invoke only ethics, rejecting any hypothetical encroachment of speculative, preventive medicine into the ethics. Everyone in western society accepts that it is morally objectionable to impose unnecessary genital modification on a healthy individual who can’t consent, if the healthy individual is female. We know females would not consent to genital modification. Yet, we have evidence that seems to contradict this in societies that practice FGM. In the United States some adult females willingly choose cosmetic surgical alteration of their genitals. We refuse to accept the former and willfully ignore the latter.

This adherence to a gender-based relativism is the ethical myopia that leads to the mistaken belief that male and female genital mutilation are not the same immoral human rights violation. They are morally indistinguishable because humans possess human rights, not just female humans. Society errs every time it sanctions parents imposing surgical genital modification on their healthy child. We’ve reasoned our way to the proper understanding of female genital mutilation. We need to stop rejecting reason the same proper understanding of male genital mutilation.