Blackford Oaks Plays Handball?

Recently NRO offered up some copies of High Jinx by WFB at a reasonable price.  We jumped and bought it.  Market efficiency (the paperback is $10.95 with used and electronic versions cheaper) means that NRO hasn’t cornered the market but it was offered in The Corner.  We have not read WFB fiction before.

Sidebar: We recognize the importance of WFB to the conservative movement but he was never our favorite.  We preferred George Will or Milton Friedman.  It was a matter of style rather than content.  End Sidebar.

It is a fun read.  Stalin is dead but Beria is still making mischief.  Ike is the President but Caroline is the Queen.  The author mentions himself and Brent Bozell in discussing Senator McCarthy.  But the most important part is on p. 24: “Master Sergeant “Newt” announced in an imperious voice that there would be a handball game….”  We know that there is team handball (we even got a shirt at the Olympics) but it seems hard to believe that WFB and his dashing hero would play such a mundane sport.  The text does mention team but that could be a (real) handball doubles team.  Since WFB isn’t around to answer the question, we conclude that Blackford Oaks is a handball player.  We plan to read the rest of the novels to see if handball shows up again.

The one disappointment in High Jinx is that there is no commentary on the matches. How does Blackford deal with balls on the left?  Who is the power server?

Hope Or Defeat?

Elliot Kaufman, writing on NRO, has a story of a ray of hope at a university.  Do read the whole thing and check out the video that it links to.  A cynic might conclude that the cloud of the mob means that hope is forlorn at our universities despite a few brave folks.

The story: The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington describes itself as, “A progressive, public liberal arts and sciences college.”  It has a day of absence each year on April 12 when students and faculty of color meet off campus.  It also has a day of presence but that is not part of this story.  This year, allegedly because of the recent election, folks wanted reverse the situation and evict all the whites from the campus.  Elliot reports what happened first:

One liberal biology professor, Bret Weinstein, took issue with this change. Weinstein wrote a powerful e-mail to his colleagues on March 15. Deeply respectful and generous in tone, he made a simple point: There is a huge difference between a group or coalition deciding to voluntarily absent themselves from a shared space in order to highlight their vital and underappreciated roles . . . and a group or coalition encouraging another group to go away. The first is a forceful call to consciousness which is, of course, crippling to the logic of oppression. The second is a show of force, and an act of oppression in and of itself. You may take this letter as a formal protest of this year’s structure, and you may assume I will be on campus on the Day of Absence.

You will not be surprised how these folks reacted to the professor.  Elliot says:

Students occupied and barricaded the campus library, and accosted Weinstein outside his classroom. As you can see in this video, the mob surrounded him, yelled at him, swore at him, and openly admitted they did not want to allow him to respond. In the video, Weinstein nobly seeks to engage in “dialectic” with the student protesters, hoping to use “disagreement to discover the truth.” For a professor of biology, this is rather impressive stuff. But he misjudges the mob. “We don’t care what terms you want to speak on,” one student explains to supportive cheers. “This is not about you. We are not speaking on terms — on terms of white privilege. This is not a discussion. You have lost that one.”

Elliot concludes by asking what the students, faculty, and administration will do about this injustice.  He reports that two students stood with the faculty member.  There is no report of the faculty or administration supporting him.  Eugene Volokh reports that an administrator confirmed that it would be safer for the professor to stay off campus.

Professor Weinstein and the two students are a small ray of sunshine.  The inaction of the faculty and the administration in response to mob violence against free speech and especially reasoned speech are an enormous cloud of gloom.  Universities exist for reasoned speech.  We know exactly why universities are currently held in such low regard.


Tie The Record

Craig Kimbrel of the Red Sox became the 72nd or 73rd (Wikipedia is inconsistent from paragraph to paragraph) pitcher to strike out four in an inning today.  Check the line here.  One inning with four strikeouts and the rest zeros looks strange.  Of additional note, Red Sox pitchers struck out 20 Rangers.  It has to be cool to own a record that will never be broken although it will often be tied.

Faculty Fail Again

From Tyler O’Neil at PJ Media discussing Mike Pence’s graduation speech at the University of Notre Dame:

But just as Pence began speaking, about 150 people, half students and half faculty members, walked out of the speech. [italics in original]

Sidebar: We could not find confirmation of the faculty walk out at commencement.  We did find this:

More than 1,700 University of Notre Dame alumni, faculty and staff had also signed an open letter protesting Pence’s commencement speech gig on similar grounds, claiming the veep “actively opposes this sense of human solidarity and concern for the common good.”

That’s enough to bring the faculty to account.  End Sidebar

Students can be excused for behaving badly with regards to freedom of speech.  They are still learning.  Faculty do not have an excuse.  This kind of faculty behavior hurts all universities.  It is a perplexing problem because faculty, like everyone else, have and deserve freedom of speech.  Unfortunately, they keep using it to identify themselves as nasty, intolerant, and committed to opposing freedom of speech.  It is not a platform to encourage university funding.

Ending Slavery

Richard Brookhiser has a history lesson for The Donald on avoiding the Civil War in the current (5/29/17) NRODT.  One part, ending slavery by buying them, fits into our expertise from almost 40 years ago.  We believe there was a financial opportunity to avoid the Civil Was that politics failed to find.  Here we only consider the financial cost but the human cost of the Civil War, like slavery, is huge.

Sidebar One: We wrote this paper for a grad class in economic history almost 40 years ago.  We don’t have the references or the exact details anymore so we are painting with a broad brush.  End Sidebar One.

It seems simple because the Civil War was extraordinarily expensive that the government could buy out the slaves and avoid the Civil War and everybody would be at least as well off.  For example, here is an estimate of the actual cost that comes in at over $6 billion.  So when Richard quotes estimates from $600 to $900 million it is easy to wonder why there was a war.

Sidebar Two: There is strong evidence of an efficient market in slaves.  Given the pertinent characteristics like age and gender, the value of a slave can be reasonably estimated based on prices of actual sales.  According to the census there were almost 4 million slaves in the US in 1860 so Richard is estimating an average cost of $150 to $225.  Of course, individual prices would depend on pertinent characteristics.  A 20 year-old male will be worth more than a 60 year-old female.  End Sidebar Two

The problem with this analysis is that it is after the fact or ex-post.  Nobody expected that the Civil War would be as long or costly as it was and both sides thought they would win.  The analysis needs to be ex-ante.  What did folks think the Civil War would cost before it started?  They, see Sidebar, expected it to last a few months and cost a small number of millions.  The financial solution, and this was discussed, was to free the slaves at birth and death (B&D).  The  B&D solution reduces the costs in two ways.  First, babies are cheap because they are not productive for several years.  Second, it reduces the present value of the expenditures because the amounts are paid later.  It also provides a plausible way out for both sides because it doesn’t end slavery immediately.  For the same reason, it will have negative reactions too.

The bottom line is that it would have worked.  The present value of B&D expenditures was less than the expected cost of the Civil War.  It was not easily avoidable but it was avoidable.    James Buchanan might have been worse that our Immediate Past President.

Free Finesses

The the bridge table yesterday we saw an example of how costly a free finesse could be. We were defending four spades and partner (West) led a diamond.  Dummy tabled the ace and three little ones.  Declarer had the queen and jack.  It was unlikely that partner led away from the king but declarer must have thought, “What is the worst that could happen?”

Sidebar: Because they are the only pair that regularly plays a version of precision they were the only pair to have the opportunity to make that mistake.  End Sidebar.

Declarer found out by playing low.  We produced the king of diamonds followed by the singleton ace of clubs and led a little diamond.  Partner ruffed the diamond and produced a club for us to ruff.  Trying to turn five into an unlikely six became down one as declarer ruefully claimed the rest of the tricks.  Free, finesses and otherwise, can be very expensive.

“Free” Health Care

We are thinking of exploring the Canadian Maritime Provinces this summer.  One of the political and cultural oddities is St. Pierre and Miquelon archipeligo which is French colony just off the coast of Newfoundland in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence.  The French got it from the UK in 1814 and it currently has a population of just over 6,000.  Wikipedia tries to explain the healthcare system:

Saint-Pierre and Miquelon’s health care system is entirely public and free.[58] In 1994, France and Canada signed an agreement allowing the residents of the archipelago to be treated in St. John’s [that is Newfoundland and should not to be confused with St. John, New Brunswick].[58] In 2015 St-Pierre and Miquelon indicated they would start looking for a new healthcare provider as recent rate increases by Eastern Health in Newfoundland were too expensive (increasing to $3.3 million in 2014 from $2.5 million in 2010). Currently Halifax, Nova Scotia or Moncton, New Brunswick are possible locations.[59] [Emphasis added.]

So you might ask: how can something be free and too expensive?  Well, it can’t happen monetarily.  But what is true is that they have a public healthcare system.  That means that the costs are not charged directly to the user of healthcare.  Typically, the users are charged non-monetarily by the need to queue up or the unavailability of services because the folks that pay have to limit costs somehow.  The question remains: why would anyone think that public healthcare is free?


Corbyn Tries Rhyming

UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is looking for ideas.  It looks like Jeremy is going for ideas that have been well tested.  The WSJ reports:

In a throwback to the politics of the early 1980s in Britain, the manifesto listed commitments to nationalize railways and water companies and to increase taxes on corporations and the top 5% of earners.

The 128-page document also promised to raise the minimum wage and to create a National Investment Bank with regional branches to finance small-business lending, policies the party hopes will strike a chord with voters wearied by years of sluggish earnings growth and a long squeeze on public spending.

So Jeremy plans to nationalize, tax, and try and pick winners.  It is about as full blown socialism as it gets.  We know what will happen.  Socialism has destroyed Venezuela.  Do we really need a link for Venezuela?  OK but you really need to read more.  Remember that it has the largest oil reserves in the world.  Maggie saved the UK from socialism a few decades ago:

On moving into 10 Downing Street, Thatcher introduced a series of political and economic initiatives intended to reverse high unemployment and Britain’s struggles in the wake of the Winter of Discontent and an ongoing recession.[nb 1] Her political philosophy and economic policies emphasised deregulation (particularly of the financial sector), flexible labour markets, the privatisation of state-owned companies, and reducing the power and influence of trade unions. Thatcher’s popularity during her first years in office waned amid recession and high unemployment, until victory in the 1982 Falklands War and the recovering economy brought a resurgence of support, resulting in her decisive re-election in 1983.

There seems to be disagreement about who said, “History doesn’t repeat itself but it sometimes rhymes.”  Everyone would want credit for such an insight.  We see the socialist, fascists, Communists, and others trying slightly different versions.  It doesn’t work and it won’t.

The persistence of socialism given its record of failure is amazing.  It is easier to understand the hostility towards capitalism despite its success.  Envy is a powerful force in the world.

What Is A Business?

Kevin Williamson at NRO discusses The Donald’s performance in filling personnel openings in the federal government and find it wanting.  We agree with that but then he goes on to say:

Businesses, nonprofit corporations, and religious congregations are all worthwhile forms of social organization, but they are not interchangeable. There is something poetic about the fact that our contemporary populist conservatives, avowed foes of progressives and progressivism, are in thrall to one of the most ancient and enduring of all progressive errors: the belief that the government (and society) can be run the way a business is run, as though a nation were only “one big factory,” as the socialists used to put it. One of the problems with running the government like a business is that the government is not a business.

He also throws in a comment about Hoover finding out how different government is from business.  We think that Kevin has confused theories of business management with business.  As Wikipedia notes in the first paragraph on Fredrick Taylor, scientific management was in vogue during the progressive era:

Frederick Winslow Taylor (March 20, 1856 – March 21, 1915) was an American mechanical engineer who sought to improve industrial efficiency.[2] He was one of the first management consultants.[3] Taylor was one of the intellectual leaders of the Efficiency Movement and his ideas, broadly conceived, were highly influential in the Progressive Era (1890s-1920s).

Scientific management’s influence waxed in the Progressive Era but has waned since.  Yet lots of folks think of business as scientific management.

Sidebar One: We recently saw the worst Dr. Who episode, Oxygen, in history.  It is quite an accomplishment because the show started in 1963 although there were some years without the series.  We should have checked the credits to see if Jeremy Corbyn was listed as one of the writers.  Folks, especially TV and movie writers, misunderstand business and capitalism.  End Sidebar One.

What is it that makes a business a business and what makes it different from other social organizations?  Secondly, why do folks want the government to be run more like a business?  Obviously, a business is the only one on Kevin’s list with a purpose, in fact, the primary purpose, to make a profit.  Yet businesses make profits in very different ways.  Take our two local successful supermarket chains.  One has service, service, service.  If a pregnant woman wants an chimichanga then you know where to go.  The other has efficiency.  Prices are low and, if it comes frozen or in a can or a bottle then they have it.  Businesses focus on making a profit but they have a culture that helps them focus on how they do it.  Now businesses are not 100 percent successful at creating such a culture but they have periodic reporting that helps evaluate the entity.

Sidebar Two: Yes there are problems with a focus on short-term accounting reports.  Such emphasis can lead to unethical behavior.  We have not yet had time to perfect accounting in our retirement but we still think that periodic reporting helps decision making.  End Sidebar Two.

We see the difference between a business and most government units is that the business is closer in having all employees pulling together towards a common goal than the government units.  Our accounting department in the 1990s was highly successful because all the faculty members agreed on a purpose of focusing our placement efforts on public accounting firms that were not what is now the Big Four.  It set us up well for the 150 hour environment in the next decade too.

A less successful model is the change in focus from teaching to learning at the university.  Not all instructors have adopted the learning model but a substantial percentage have and the percentage is increasing.  Moving from teaching to learning is fraught with challenges but it reflects a business mentality.  We shall see if it really works.

We think that when folks call for the government to be run more like a business that they recognize the different in focus and want government to focus on what it is supposed to do.  There are at least two problems.  First, government is trying to do many things.  As just one example, the FDA tries to protect people from unsafe drugs and support the creation of useful drugs.  The trade-offs are unclear.  Second, leadership is more of a challenge in government because of the political process.  There is real disagreement about what the government should do.

Kevin needs to realize that business has left scientific management behind but the progressives have not.  The government should try to be more like a business but the first order of business is to determine the organization’s mission.  Conservatives and progressives disagree on the government’s mission.  That disagreement puts government employees in a difficult position.  We think moving toward a business model is a good idea but we need to recognize what the value of the business model is.  It starts with understanding the purpose of the organization.