Why I Prefer Markets Over Government

This piece is about Malthusian panics, with special reference to climate-change panic, but there is a beautiful general-purpose gem of a paragraph buried in the essay:

Perhaps one way to think of humanity is to think of a vast parallel processing computer network. Our species is constantly receiving vast quantities of data and constantly changing our behavior in response to it. When a big problem emerges, affecting us all over a country or the world, millions and billions of us start making changes in our behavior, trying new strategies and dealing with it in various ways. We are constantly monitoring one another as well; when somebody’s coping strategy is working, other people pick it up. When something is failing, we let it go. From moment to moment, all over the world, human beings are processing information, shifting behavior, collecting feedback and rethinking their behavior. A lot of this isn’t conscious; just as baseball pitchers can throw a curve ball without necessarily being able to understand the math that could describe the ball’s flight, so people who have no education or training in formal logic are able to process real world information and make good decisions.

That’s why I like market solutions over government solutions. Via Doing What Comes Naturally – Walter Russell Mead’s Blog – The American Interest.

The truth about airplane security measures. – By Christopher Hitchens – Slate Magazine

What nobody in authority thinks us grown-up enough to be told is this: We had better get used to being the civilians who are under a relentless and planned assault from the pledged supporters of a wicked theocratic ideology. These people will kill themselves to attack hotels, weddings, buses, subways, cinemas, and trains. They consider Jews, Christians, Hindus, women, homosexuals, and dissident Muslims (to give only the main instances) to be divinely mandated slaughter victims. Our civil aviation is only the most psychologically frightening symbol of a plethora of potential targets. The future murderers will generally not be from refugee camps or slums (though they are being indoctrinated every day in our prisons); they will frequently be from educated backgrounds, and they will often not be from overseas at all. They are already in our suburbs and even in our military. We can expect to take casualties. The battle will go on for the rest of our lives. Those who plan our destruction know what they want, and they are prepared to kill and die for it. Those who don't get the point prefer to whine about “endless war,” accidentally speaking the truth about something of which the attempted Christmas bombing over Michigan was only a foretaste. While we fumble with bureaucracy and euphemism, they are flying high.

via The truth about airplane security measures. – By Christopher Hitchens – Slate Magazine.

The Secret to Raising Smart Kids

Our society worships talent, and many people assume that possessing superior intelligence or ability—along with confidence in that ability—is a recipe for success. In fact, however, more than 30 years of scientific investigation suggests that an overemphasis on intellect or talent leaves people vulnerable to failure, fearful of challenges and unwilling to remedy their shortcomings.

The result plays out in children like Jonathan, who coast through the early grades under the dangerous notion that no-effort academic achievement defines them as smart or gifted. Such children hold an implicit belief that intelligence is innate and fixed, making striving to learn seem far less important than being (or looking) smart. This belief also makes them see challenges, mistakes and even the need to exert effort as threats to their ego rather than as opportunities to improve. And it causes them to lose confidence and motivation when the work is no longer easy for them.

Praising children’s innate abilities, as Jonathan’s parents did, reinforces this mind-set, which can also prevent young athletes or people in the workforce and even marriages from living up to their potential. On the other hand, our studies show that teaching people to have a “growth mind-set,” which encourages a focus on effort rather than on intelligence or talent, helps make them into high achievers in school and in life.

Emphasis mine. Via The Secret to Raising Smart Kids: Scientific American.

A Cyber-Attack on an American City

This is old (from April this year) but deserves reminding-about. Anyone know of any updates on the event?

Just after midnight on Thursday, April 9, unidentified attackers climbed down four manholes serving the Northern California city of Morgan Hill and cut eight fiber cables in what appears to have been an organized attack on the electronic infrastructure of an American city. Its implications, though startling, have gone almost un-reported.

That attack demonstrated a severe fault in American infrastructure: its centralization. The city of Morgan Hill and parts of three counties lost 911 service, cellular mobile telephone communications, land-line telephone, DSL internet and private networks, central station fire and burglar alarms, ATMs, credit card terminals, and monitoring of critical utilities. In addition, resources that should not have failed, like the local hospital's internal computer network, proved to be dependent on external resources, leaving the hospital with a “paper system” for the day.

This should lead managers of critical services to reconsider their dependence on software-as-a-service rather than local servers. Having your email live at Google means you don't have to manage it, but you can count on it being unavailable if your facility loses its internet connection. The same is true for any web service. And that's not acceptable if you work at a hospital or other emergency services provider, and really shouldn't be accepted at any company that expects to provide services during an infrastructure failure. Email from others in your office should continue to operate.

What to do? Local infrastructure is the key. The services that you depend on, all critical web applications and email, should be based at your site. They need to be able to operate without access to databases elsewhere, and to resynchronize with the rest of your operation when the network comes back up. This takes professional IT engineering to implement, and will cost more to manage, but won't leave you sitting on your hands in an emergency.

The most surprising news from Morgan Hill is that they survived reasonably unscathed. That they did so is a result of emergency planning in place for California's four seasons: fire, floods, earthquakes, and riots. Most communities don't practice disaster plans as intensively.

Will there be another Morgan Hill? Definitely. And the next time it might happen to a denser community that won't be so astonishingly able to sustain the trouble using its two-way radios and hams. The next time, it might be connected with some other event, be it crime or terrorism. Company and government officers take notice: the only way you'll fare well is if you start planning now.

via Bruce Perens – A Cyber-Attack on an American City.

Guy’s Opinion On “The Princess Complex”

File this under “nothing hotter than a woman putting fire and steel on target”.

Men do not want to be princes. Princes are born into success, men make their own. We want women who share that same ethic, however it is success is defined. It’s just not sexy to date a helpless princess with an aversion to peas and a bluebird fetish. Give us Sarah Connor in a black cocktail dress pumping a shotgun any day.

via Guy’s Opinion On The Princess Complex | The Frisky.

Portfolios of the Poor

The ultra-poor not only feed, house, and clothe themselves; they raise children and work hard to give them a better life. Portfolios shows us how they do it, relying heavily on financial diaries kept by villagers and slum dwellers in South Africa, India, and Bangladesh.

The main lessons:

1. The income of the ultra-poor is not only low, but highly variable. They rarely have regular jobs in a “sweatshop.” Instead, they desperately cobble together income from many different sources. Many days they earn nothing at all.

2. No one, no matter how poor, lives “hand to mouth.” Even the poorest people save money, make investments, and plan ahead.

3. The poor also borrow a lot of money. Who would lend to them? For the most part, other poor people – family, savings clubs, small-time loan-sharks. The rates are astronomical – 20% per month is pretty common.

4. Even the poorest people spend a lot of money on things other than food. One of their main reasons for saving and borrowing is to pay for relatively lavish weddings and funerals.

When reading this book, I had two conflicting reactions.

One was optimistic: “Isn't it great to see all the clever strategies the world's poor use to better their lives?” It's inspiring – and humbling – to learn that people in dire straits see themselves as protagonists – not victims.

My other reaction, though, was frustration. Yes, the world's poor are striving to better their lot. But what they really need isn't small-scale entrepreneurship and micro-credit. It's employment in the formal sector, and access to international credit markets. What they need, in short, is globalization. Either they need to come to us, or our institutions need to go to them.

via Thumbs Up for Portfolios of the Poor, Bryan Caplan | EconLog | Library of Economics and Liberty.