Thursday, June 26, 2008

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Is it the Militia that can carry guns or the individual people?  In the 1700's, the Militia was all able bodied males. In British common law, everyone was responsible for using force to enforce the King's Peace.  That was the world in which the Founding Fathers lived. To the framers, there was no difference between "militia' and citizen.

Did the Virginia National Guard fight off the Redcoats? No, of course not. A gang of guys with guns in their houses gathered themselves up to go fight. Were they putting down bandits? Again, no. They were putting down the King's Army. The second amendment was regarded explicitly (George Mason,  Patrick Henry, and in state constitutional debates) as a guarantee against a standing army of the, then as yet to be, United States of America.  The second amendment protects the right of individuals to own weapons so they can go blast the army if need be.

There was quite a bit of debate between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists on this point.  The Anti-Federalist didn't want to sign the Constitution, in part, because they feared a national army. They figured the army could be used to abuse them, and that wars could be fought on a voluntary basis. The Federalists wanted the Constitution to signed. 

They hit upon a compromise. The Anti-Federalists would sign, so long as there rights were forever enshrined in the Bill of Rights, including the second amendment.

As a reminder, the second amendment includes the word 'regulated', which doesn't mean the bureaucracy we have now. It mean that the individual must be trained and responsible with the weapon.  Conducting your affairs in such a manner that a child is not safe with a weapon is not a protected right.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Greetings from San Pedro!

From an email I sent out while on walk-about.

This email is going out to lots of people. Some should get it that I don't have email addresses handy for.
I spent Friday, Saturday, Sunday and part of Sunday at a 5 star resort attending the wedding of Justin and Nadine. "Awesome" is a word that gets used too often. This wedding was one of the times it should be reserved for. The facilities were excellent, massages, free booze, free eats and above all good company. The scenery was spectacular. The ceremony itself was tear jerking, becaue it was so pretty and romantic. I got some pics, including a spot where Keven wrote "Justin and Nadine" in the sand. I did have difficulty getting my laundry done (due in part because of Pesos using the '$' sign), but that was remedied with a $6 shirt. There were shows available, the water was clear, there were pools. It was cool. I understand Justin and Nadine paid for their own wedding, saving with discipline for years to make it happen. I am impressed by that effort, as I am in most of what they do.
If this sometimes reads like I'm going from a list, or with less polished than it should have, it's because I am in a hurry and reading from a list. I'm in a tourist trap inet bar and I want to go along as quickly as possible.
I reluctantly left Monday and traveled by Mexican bus (ADO) from Playa del Carmen to Chetumal. The bus was a damn sight better than it's american equivalent. It had A/C, the baggage was handled carefully and professionally, and there were a few movies shown in transit. The people were far cleaner than you would encounter on an American bus. The down side is that while travelling through the Yucitan, we encountered what have to be among the poorest people in the world. Cement and thatch were the building materials used. People still lived in buildings that had clearly decayed. A lady was sitting by the road trying to sell pineapples on an abandoned road. Mostly the place was overgrown with crap veggitation. Only a few areas were under cultivation. There were also few side streeets, so any farm that existed couldn't easily get products to market.
The trip from Chetumal to Corozol was different. The signs were in english (Belize bus), and that was comforting (especially after the fridgid welcome in Chet-town), but the quality wasn't as good. The driver and baggage handlers spoke english obviously as a second language and seemed contempotus of the passangers. They took no pride in their job (which is a darn good job by local standards). The bus did play english language radio. I have never been so happy to hear gangsta-rap.
The hotel was a hole! It was bad. It stank. It was hot. It was gross. As my loved ones would worry if I explained details, I'll just leave it at that. And say it sucked a whole lot. Never stay at Ucum hotel in Chet. As a matter of fact, don't go to Chet at all. The people were unfriendly. Even at the "liberal-university-student-coffee-bar", the service was with a scowl. I came in and the old guys playing dominoes left. All over town was "Liberation This" and "Socialist" that. There was a full band playing outside the Governor's mantion all day long. I can only think if the government focused on economic reforms rather than 'gimme' programs, they would do much better. When one of the biggest buildings in town is an elaborately decorated stone facility used for housing a dance class, you have a problem. I did walk to the beach, it was a walled and stony affair with muddy water (which I knew going into it), so it wasn't impressive - other than I find all large bodies of water impressive. Chet has Mexicans. Lots of Mexicans. They all want to sell you something too. There was stall after stall of people trying to sell belts and wallets. I mean really, how many belts and wallets can one fraking town need? The street side fod venders were a nice touch, but they didn't seem sanitary and I didn't want to risk Montezuma's that early in my trip. I'm not saying Chetumal is bad. It has good taxi service, and large Wally World stores. The Mayan Cultural Museum was nice (after stepping around the squatters), but it seemed delapidated (but that damn dance hall was fresh painted!). (Jon, I gots pics for you). I like the lay out of the city. There was a park by the gov's mansion, and the band was nice. So chet wasn't bad - it's just not my kind of town. And that hotel... NO! Oh, they don't finance buildings there, so all buildings seem to be in some sort of incomplete state and no building looks like it was finished at once.
Don't go to Corozal. It's very small, with only a few shops. The beggars are like sandfleas. The transport out is infrequent, and the citizens only seem to have a casual concern with time. The power goes out. The water doesn' work. A/C is not available - not that it would matter because the power is out. Water is $2 USD for a liter. It's so expensive that the locals serve blended fruit instead - which may be healthfull, if any of them could afford it. They drink blended juice from bags and the local water (which smells - but you have to shower in it). OTOH, the people are very friendly (except the damned pushy beggars). I talked to a lady for 4 hours while waiting on a ferry. She was 'working' for those hours and it was such a long wait because of the loose relationship with time the locals have.
The Corozal people seem to be very concerned with economic development, but not like a westerner would think. They all want the other guy to risk his money and do all they work so he'll be able to give them money. The Mennonites moved to Belize a few decades ago. Now that the price of corn has gone up, they now have more money. The locals are trying to pass a law that the mennonites must sell to Belizeans on the cheap before the international market. Mind you, there are 2,000 Mennonites that work with old farming tech (mules and wood plows and stuff), that are getting "rich". The Belizeans want them to essentially subsidize the other 300,000 Belizeans. They want investors, but then tax the crap out of every little thing they need. Corozal seems to try to get rich by having lots of restaurants, retail and gambling. They don't produce wealth, only try to get what little each other has. Lest you misunderstand, this is a place where the beggers raced each other to get to my cigarette butts fastest. The square had lots of taxis idling at $10/gallon, with no place in town far enough to use a taxi. How about using that wealth create other wealth? A sugar farm or something.
BTW, corn and potatoes are more productive than mangoes and pineapples - virtually by any measure you care to make. But people continue to raise mangoes and melons. I'm pretty sure that it's because farming what they do farm is like waiting until it's ready. No actual work goes into it. They people could do far better by trying... but they try to do better by taxing or otherwise acquiring what others have. This place is rule of the mob. The government changes hands and the power turns off.
BTW, I do not recommend staying in a hell hole filled with beggars, without power. It's a 'cultural experience'.
Corozol - don't go there. I was going to check out the expat community in Consejo, but after Corozol I had seen all I needed. If that is the 'big town' I didn't need to be there.
San Pedro:
Arrived by water taxi. The taxi ride was fun. It was sort of a chicken-bus experience but with a boat. No beggars. (Did I mention that I hate beggars?).
San Pedro is a small city on a sand bar off the coast of Belize. There are retirees north of the town, but I haven't been there yet. On one street there is more going on than in all of Corozol. Of course, it's mostly off-shore banking, souvinger shops, dive stuff, tour guides, hotels, restaurants, stuff catering to tourists... It reminds me of the second life enviornment. All the advertisements are plastered on top of each other, and everything is for sale. The locals are happy. The bargain hotel I'm at is only $5 more than the one in Corozol, and has water, plumbing, power and glorious, glorious A/C. You don't appreciate A/C until you've been in 101% humidity at 99 F for days just waiting for something to happen, trying to shoo away beggers while figuring how many you can take down if it comes to it.
People get around by way of golf carts. The roads are too narrow for real cars, and nothing is too far away anyway. There is a constant breeze, so you only get hot and sweaty in somebuilding... like an internet cafe.
The food is expensive, but if you wander around for where the locals eat it is cheap. Wow! $20 USD for my first meal here, which sucked. $3 for my second meal, which was awesome - but consumed on what looked to be a repurposed entryway. Litterally there were chairs and table sticking up from the sand of what used to be flower beds, while the aisle was an old stepway.
The beaches are sandy and the water is crystal clear. There is a nice furniture store that delivers. If you want hardwood furniture, this is the place.
ANd I must admit that I find the presence of other gringoes satifiying. I'm not as concerned for my physical saftey. Wealthier people are less likely to attempt violence to get to my wallet.
If I had it to do again, I would stick to the nice places and avoid the hell-holes. But I'm glad I went. Reading about a hole or seeing on on TV isn't the same seeing a baby with it's ribs showing. It's more real now.
I plan to go snorkelling and perhaps laying on some sand and getting sun. I haven't done the tan thing yet, because I didn't want to risk being sunburned for the majority of the trip. If you watch on satillite, I'll be the guy drinking local beer, listening to the latest Fareed Zakaria (Post-American World) on iphone, maybe reading some Jared Diamond (Third Chimpanzee). I already paid to stay another night in San Pedro. It's a nice place, and I'm tired of spending all my time waiting to get on transport, or actually travelling between one spot and the next. I want to relax somewhere.
After San Pedro, I will take a boat to Caye Caulker, and Belize City. Maybe Orange Walk (want to see orange fields and a decent city). I'll probably skip Belmopan and definately Dan Griga and Punta Gorda. Travel just takes to dang long.
Well, my hour is up. I must run. Did this really take a whole hour? Wow.
Love to you all, especially Kate.
Off to find some sand, sun and breeze... book in hand...

A Farewell to Alms: Book Review

What a pile of puss ridden filth!

Gregory Clark seems to think that populations decide what density to stay stable at for hundreds of years. Those that choose a lower density are richer per capita. They just magically decide to have 2 children per woman. What horseshit.

People try to keep all their children alive. In areas with more resources per person, they are more successful at keeping their spawn alive. Thus the next generation has more people in it. This leads to less resources per person and less success in keeping their brats breathing. This results in a long term stable population (in the absence of tech innovation).

Gregory Clark has his independent and dependent variables mixed up. He put his effect before the cause. Dumbass.

He has a book full of graphs, to give his crap some credulity - but it's just crap. Crap with some perfume, but crap all the same.

What really pisses me off, is that he talks a good game. He mass markets this shit to people. They buy the book to be enlightened and his making them stoopid. The average joe has no mental defense.

He claims that economics as a field reached in peak in 1800, and that it cannot be used when capital is involved. I'm thinking that all the econ I've observed works - therefore he is wrong. As a PhD economist... he is a dumbass to boot.

He claims that northern Europeans are better evolved for economic activity. Yeah, the West may have a culture advantage in the production of wealth... but genetic? Yes, most westerners alive today are the spawn of rich Westerners of the past. The poor all starved. But evolved? Jeebus! A few centuries isn't enough time to evolve something like a genetic predisposition towards thrift and industry.

I've only started the book. I'm in chapter three. But my reaction has been viscerally negative. I don't know if I've ever hated a book this much so quickly before. I'l try to soldier on to choke down the rest of this bag of crap.

Maybe it'll get better - but I doubt it.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Carbon Tax vs Cap and Trade

A carbon tax results in a known cost to the economy, but an unknown reduction in pollution. By contrast, a cap and trade system results in a known reduction pollution, but an unknown cost to the economy.

When politicians are talking about the high cost of gas, I can't see further taxes on carbon being politically acceptable. I think a cap-and-trade sold to the public as being a tax on those evil businesses being more likely.

The problem is that a cap and trade system will result in faster and more severe changes. This will have higher social costs.

For the record, either can be preferable to the hodge-podge systems that have been considered. Congress can't efficiently regulate each industry to thus-and-such amount of this-and-that type of pollution. That way lies madness.

Health Insurance - info and hazard

As you get older, you get more medical problems. Taken in large groups, as a population gets older, a higher percentage of it's income must be used to cover medical expenses. But we don't make health decisions as a large group. We make them as a collection of individuals.

Why should a 25 year old pay the same risk premium for health insurance as someone who is 75? They would opt out, keep their money, and take their chances.

That leaves the older (or those who for whatever reason have higher health risks), with a higher risk premium, and more expensive insurance. This causes the next most healthy person to opt out, and starts a cycle.

The individual knows more about their health than the insurance companies, which just increases the pace.

As our boomers age, and I have to pay their friggin' medical bills... I want this considered when the health debate is going on.

One Overall Solution - a bad solution

I was watching mid-day TV news. It's full of stuff like a six-year old being arrested for sexual harassment due to a zero-tolerance policy.

It strikes me as a good example of why one solution does not fit all situations. What sounds good for a federal election and gets votes may not apply equally well in every location and circumstance.

I've read that Europe's political fragmentation helped it when compared to China. China's Imperial policies were mostly good, but when China screwed the pooch all of China screwed the pooch. There was no province that could show a better way.

I think there is a lesson for us in the USA. If a policy is politically closely fought - why not leave it to the states? I rather have mixture of 50 answers, some good and some bad than risk one really bad policy. Over time a state with a bad policy could emulate another state's good policy - adapted for it's own peculiar circumstances.

Take education. We all agree it is important. We disagree on how to fix it. Why not leave it to the states to improve?

Tech for liberty?

I saw Doomsday last night. The level of barbarism is impressive. Elizabeth is on the tube today. The level of barbarism in history is equally impressive. It got me thinking in several different directions.

It seems to me that a brutal autocratic state would be less likely to have revolts or other resistance to it's rule than an autocratic state that was less brutal. If there is a high cost for deviating from societal norms, and it is clearly communicated - say public burning - a subject is less likely to risk the behavior. This should result in less deviance from the mainstream.

A society can live on the edge of it's resources. I don't mean to imply wastefulness, or inefficiency. I am referring to the diminishing returns of both capital and labor. When every bit of arable land is under cultivation, adding another peasant with a hoe won't help enough to feed that peasant. If you hold tech and capital constant, each extra person added to a project returns less results than the person added before - this puts the average return in constant decline. If you keep adding people, you get a situation where the return for that extra person isn't worth the cost of supporting that person. Getting rid of that last person doesn't loose you much production, but everyone splits and extra bowl of gruel that night. Life gets very cheap.

If a society is at the edge of it's resources, a democratic society could collapse. The tyranny of the crowds could easily take over and all hell would break loose. By way of contrast, an autocratic society could kill or imprison those desperate enough to act out, and preserve itself in a technological and social stasis.

Tech and capital increases result in an increasing standard of living - which gives democracy a relative advantage over autocracies.

So... if you want liberty... invest in tech and capital (human capital as well as material capital).

It also occurs to me that an autocratic society would have a vested interest in staying that way - and might actively oppose innovation.

I think the classical view that liberalism begets economic progress is true - but I think it works both ways. Economic progress also begets liberalism.