Sunday, December 30, 2007

New Feature: Topical issues, starting with Ron Paul

After more than a decade of preferring perennial issues of libertarianism, I've decided that Ron Paul is noxious enough to justify beginning topical entries on my front page of Critiques Of Libertarianism.

Ron Paul: Quackery enabler
Orac's heavily linked post at Respectful Insolence is a good starting place for why Ron Paul is a loon. No other candidate sets off the alarms of skeptics for science, medicine, economics, racism, and religion the way Ron Paul does.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Is offshoring foreign aid?

The US is rightfully criticized for providing very little foreign aid, as a percentage of GDP.

BUT: should we count offshoring of jobs as foreign aid? We're one of the leading nations when it comes to offshoring (indeed, it's one of the reasons why I've changed from software support to teaching) and the jobs created in third world nations patently benefit their economies hugely. I suspect that the US is THE major exporter of jobs worldwide, that the costs to the US (in terms of reduced income for people like me and other loss of industry) exceed our explicit foreign aid, and that the benefits to other nations (more industry) exceed our losses.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Markets in everything: where libertarians come from.

You won't believe this one.

If only the FDA had protected us from this, we might not have so many libertarians. :-)

See also: Bask In The Glow.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

This Choir Does The Preaching!

The Milton Friedman choir sings of how corporations are amoral and have no choice, so let us rejoice in privatization. Bizarre!


Via Marginal Revolution.

Sunday, November 11, 2007


I read somewhere that market power lies at the points of chains of sales where oligopoly or oligopsony exist. These price makers take the vast majority of consumer surplus in the maufacturing chain, leaving the competitors at other points in the chain with essentially no surplus, at subsistance levels.

For example, the oligopoly of cereal companies lies inbetween the commoditized market for grains and the highly competitive retail market. Thus, the cereal companies have much larger markups than their costs of inputs and operations would otherwise suggest.

Does anyone know the proper name for this, where I might have seen it, or have a reference to something descrbing it more explicitly?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Market Externalities in everything...

Routes of Infection: Exports and HIV Incidence in Sub-Saharan Africa

Free trade has externalities, including some of our most important diseases. (Also invasive species.)

Added to the Criticisms of Neoliberalism, Capitalism, and Free Markets index.

Very simply, trade has always been a substantial route for infection, including the black plague. Such externalities do not mean that trade should be stopped: rather they mean that efficiency should be improved by internalizing those costs of trade. Probably by government regulation, which may be the best of the second best alternatives.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Floating Utopias: The degraded imagination of the libertarian seasteaders

SF author China Mieville ridicules the numerous libertarian fantasy sea-states (such as the "Freedom Ship") that envision authoritarian class-based societies, but somehow never get built.

Based one chapter of Mike Davis and Daniel Bertrand Monk's book "Evil Paradises: Dreamworlds of NeoLiberalism".

Placed in the "Freedom Through Technology" index.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Market Failures in Everything: malaria net distribution

I started my "Market Failures in Everything series" in response to Tyler Cowan's "Markets in Everything" series. So I was pleasantly surprised when he published the following:

Tyler Cowen writes:
In 2000, a world health conference in Abuja, Nigeria, set a goal: by 2005, 60 percent of African children would be sleeping under nets. By 2005, only 3 percent were.

It turns out that handing nets out for free works much better than branding them, marketing them, and selling them, albeit at subsidized prices. And when there are enough insecticide-laden nets in a village, mosquitoes avoid the place altogether (after the very first net, however, the mosquitoes simply move on to another nearby hut).

The sad fact is that the best insecticide-filled nets last no more than three to five years. And is this good or bad news?

...sales of malaria pills were way down.

Here is the full and fascinating story. Eternal vigilance is the price of foreign aid, or something like that...

Market Failures in Everything: Malawi farming

How Malawi went from a nation of famine to a nation of feast

Removal of a system of public financing for the poorest farmers (as advocated by Western economic advisors) resulted in crop failures and starvation on a scale not seen except under communist regimes. Restoration of the programs resulted in massive surpluses providing much needed exports.

Thanks to Bob Harris at This Modern World

New Index!

Prompted by email from Robert D. Feinman, I've finally added a new index for:

Criticisms of George Mason U. Economics (and Mercatus)

The Economics department of George Mason University has been strongly shaped by tens of millions of dollars of donations by the libertarian Koch Foundations of the billionaire Koch brothers. Most, if not all, of the staff is affiliated with the Koch-financed Mercatus Center, a libertarian pro-corporatist think-tank. The result is a propaganda mill with academic credentials.

Notable libertarian ideologues at both include:

Peter Boettke
Bryan Caplan
Tyler Cowan
Alex Tabarrok

NEW 10/07: Koch Family Foundations
The foundations of the libertarian billionaire Koch brothers have funded the organizations that produce much of the libertarian and corporatist propaganda that floods the media. Notably, Cato, the Reason Foundation, the economics department at George Mason University, and many more. From Media Transparency.

NEW 10/07: Charles Koch and Libertarianism: How to "Buy" a University
Robert D. Feinman's overview of the financing of libertarian George Mason University faculty by Koch Foundations. Faculty such as Tyler Cowan, Alex Tabarrok, and Bryan Caplan. Sucking at the capitalist tit has never been so good!

Why I Am Not an Austrian Economist.
Bryan Caplan's dismissal of Austrian Economics. He's more courteous than they deserve.

(Additional note: when I mentioned these first two links at Cowan and Tabarrok's "Marginal Revolution" blog, my response mysteriously disappeared. Could have been a blunder posting, or could have been censorship.)

An answer to reflexive pro-market yammer.

What would a progressive trade agenda look like?
Dani Rodrik favors globalization, but with benefits more widely distributed, leveraging democracy, and respect for different cultural norms.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Strange bedfellows

Strange Bedfellows
The libertarian Association of American Physicians and Surgeons has a wacky set of positions against the FDA, public health, evidence-based medicine, Medicare, the new world order, abortion, evolution, handgun safety, homosexuality, illegal aliens, fluoridation, environmentalism, vaccination, etc. From Kathleen Seidel's neurodiversity weblog.

In the Make Or Break Views Of Libertarianism index.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Dickensian Dystopia

The Dickensian Dystopia
David Packman's criticisms of libertarian fantasies, based on history of company towns, propertarianism, enclosure of commons, slavery, and feudal tendencies.

Added to the liberal criticisms index.

While libertarians forever harp on unintended consequences of laws and government, history shows that there'd be plenty of unintended consequences for their favorite ideas as well. David makes a good start on these! Thanks, David, for pointing me to them.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Crank chemistry at

Normally, I criticize libertarianism, but there's a broad overlap between many crank movements and libertarianism. Anti-fluoridation movements are grotesquely crank, and have a widespread libertarian following because public health policy is a government (not market) activity.'s Guide to Chemistry, Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D., unfortunately includes her opinion of fluoridation in the chemistry topic.

Why I Oppose Fluoridation of Public Drinking Water lists a standard set of pseudoscientific arguments, and links to a bunch more articles by herself and Mary Shomon, the Guide to Thyroid Disease.

A really clear howler is this statement: "Fluoride that we put in water today will still be in water tomorrow. Fluoride doesn't magically disappear from water once it has been added." Evidently, Helmenstein has never heard of the water cycle and evaporation. No, she explains how fluoride is a permanent contamininant. In her article "How to Remove Fluoride from Drinking Water", she doesn't mention the possibility of drinking rainwater or your own well water, and she makes distilled water sound scary: "keep in mind that 'distilled water' does not imply that a product is suitable for drinking water and other undesirable impurities may be present."

Perhaps in a health topic such as Thyroid Disease, there's room for pseudoscience. But in chemistry, there's little excuse. And even more inexcusable, is that neither author identifies their opinion as a minority opinion or links to counterarguments.

Interestingly, the one article they link to that supports fluoride is Relationship Between Florinated Water And Cancer, in the Holistic Healing topic. It would be more accurately titled "No Relationship Between Florinated Water And Cancer": maybe that's why they listed it, by accident.

But a search of with the keyword "fluoridation" doesn't find any other articles supporting fluoridation, or opposing the cranks against fluoridation.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Unenumerated: Ten ways to make a political difference

Nick Szabo suggests Ten ways to make a political difference for libertarians. Number 3 is "Make your own law."

And so what law does he create as an example? Censorship, of course. He's hidden the replies to Unenumerated: Government for profit because he looked foolish. And he's turned on comment moderation so that he won't have my responses there unless he likes them.

Just goes to show that property is opportunity for private tyranny.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Sunday, April 01, 2007

New Milton Friedman index.

Long overdue: an index for criticisms of Milton Friedman.

There are lots of poor rants against Friedman: I'd like to collect the better criticisms.

Check out the first entry and suggest more, please.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Denialists' Deck of Cards

The Denialists' Deck of Cards: An Illustrated Taxonomy of Rhetoric Used to Frustrate Consumer Protection Efforts

Chris Jay Hoofnagle details the public relations methodology of CATO and other anti-consumer, business-funded organizations. Count how many of these you've heard on your favorite topic: global warming, for example.

I think the cards angle is a bit lame (and disliked the Bush Iraq application), but the large number of strategies needs to be organized somehow.

In the Discussion, Environmental, and CATO indexes.

Tip of the hat to David Fetter, who suggested it.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Ask a Libertarian, Part II: The Constitution as Libertarian Myth

Ask a Libertarian, Part II: The Constitution as Libertarian Myth

Logan Ferree does a good job of dispelling libertarian myths about being like classical liberalism and the early USA. He also tries to distinguish between libertarians and objectivists.

This one is nice for the Libertarian Revisionist History index.

Friday, March 02, 2007

The Sociology of the Ayn Rand Cult

The Sociology of the Ayn Rand Cult
Murray Rothbard makes a very convincing case for Objectivism as a cult. It's delightful to see it compared to the communist party.

Monday, February 26, 2007

How To Explain Things to Libertarians

How To Explain Things to Libertarians

What it feels like to realize that you're talking to a libertarian. A great parody of the quiz. And more than 500 heartfelt reponses in agreement in one day.

Added to several indexes in Critiques Of Libertarianism.

Thanks to Michael Greinecker! Please, do contribute more suggestions everybody.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Markets Are Not Magic

Markets Are Not Magic

Mark Thoma, at Economist's View, explains when markets can perform very badly, and how the belief that "privatization and deregulation are always best" is wrong.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Krugman on Milton Friedman's free marketeering

[From The New York Review Of Books article, Who Was Milton Friedman?, by Paul Krugman.]

Consider first the macroeconomic performance of the US economy. We have data on the real income—that is, income adjusted for inflation—of American families from 1947 to 2005. During the first half of that fifty-eight-year stretch, from 1947 to 1976, Milton Friedman was a voice crying in the wilderness, his ideas ignored by policymakers. But the economy, for all the inefficiencies he decried, delivered dramatic improvements in the standard of living of most Americans: median real income more than doubled. By contrast, the period since 1976 has been one of increasing acceptance of Friedman's ideas; although there remained plenty of government intervention for him to complain about, there was no question that free-market policies became much more widespread. Yet gains in living standards hav been far less robust than they were during the previous period: median real income was only about 23 percent higher in 2005 than in 1976

Part of the reason the second postwar generation didn't do as well as the first was a slower overall rate of economic growth—a fact that may come as a surprise to those who assume that the trend toward free markets has yielded big economic dividends. But another important reason for the lag in most families' living standards was a spectacular increase in economic inequality: during the first postwar generation income growth was broadly spread across the population, but since the late 1970s median income, the income of the typical family, has risen only about a third as fast as average income, which includes the soaring incomes of a small minority at the top.

This raises an interesting point. Milton Friedman often assured audiences that no special institutions, like minimum wages and unions, were needed to ensure that workers would share in the benefits of economic growth. In 1976 he told Newsweek readers that tales of the evil done by the robber barons were pure myth:

"There is probably no other period in history, in this or any other country, in which the ordinary man had as large an increase in his standard of living as in the period between the Civil War and the First World War, when unrestrained individualism was most rugged."

(What about the remarkable thirty-year stretch after World War II, which encompassed much of Friedman's own career?) Yet in the decades that followed that pronouncement, as the minimum wage was allowed to fall behind inflation and unions largely disappeared as an important factor in the private sector, working Americans saw their fortunes lag behind growth in the economy as a whole. Was Friedman too sanguine about the generosity of the invisible hand?

To be fair, there are many factors affecting both economic growth and the distribution of income, so we can't blame Friedmanite policies for all disappointments. Still, given the common assumption that the turn toward free-market policies did great things for the US economy and the living standards of ordinary Americans, it's striking how little support one can find for that proposition in the data.