Because no matter how many television channels they devote to trying to convince me I should be impressed with the Westminster-like preening that goes into squeezing celebutantes into garish rags designed by Italian poofters so they can prance like good little poodles down the red carpet, I'm still going to find Rachel McAdams' look in The Family Stone -- mussy hair, minimal make-up, wearing nothing but sweatpants and a Dinosaur Jr. t-shirt -- a gazillion times sexier than any pre-fab "diva" could ever be.
David Friedman -- whom I'd rank just ahead of Jan Narveson, just behind Antony de Jasay, and right alongside Randy Barnett and Thomas Szasz in the pantheon of modern thinkers who have most influenced my political outlook -- now has his own blog.
Among the early entries, an alternative explanation for why living together before marriage might not be such a swell idea:
For many people, cohabitation is much pleasanter than search. Not only does it result in a lot more sex, it also provides a range of emotional and practical support. If you are cohabiting with someone sufficiently well suited to you to make cohabitation workable but not to justify marriage, abandoning cohabitation in favor of continued search means giving up a current benefit in exchange for a distant and uncertain future benefit. So you may continue to cohabit, which means you are not searching--or at least searching much less. Lack of search means you don't find a better partner, so you eventually marry the one you have.
In 1931, at the height of the Great Depression, New York City had a population of about 6.9 million, took in roughly 1 million out-of-town commuters every day, and had 21,000 licensed medallion cabs (the traditional metered "yellow cabs" that pick up fares without prior reservations) to service them all.
Seventy-four years later, the city's population has hit 8.2 million, it now sees 6.7 million commuters making the daily jaunt into the city from Jersey, Long Island, Connecticut and surrounding environs, and the number of available taxi medallions is....just a shade over 12,000.
The credit for this counter-intuitive development goes to a Depression-era relic called the Haas Act. Passed in 1937 in an attempt to stabilize cabbie salaries, Haas capped the number of medallions issued by the city at 13,595.
Attrition brought that figure even lower over the next few years, before rising again to 11,787 in the late Forties. And other than the addition of just 400 new medallions in the early 90s, the number of licensed cabs has remained roughly constant since World War II, even as both the city itself and the demand for taxi services has exploded. Only the growth of livery services -- appointment-only car services and so-called "radio cabs," also known as "black cars," that typically contract with major hotels and employers -- has staved off a paralyzing crisis.
Of course, the city now finds itself in a paralyzing crisis, nonetheless, thanks to that other early 20th Century relic -- the transit workers union. And proving Mencken's dictum that, for every complex problem, there is an an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong, Mayor Bloomberg's initial response to the MTA strike crisis is a double-barreled shot of wrong-headedness. First, he imposes onerous new HOV restrictions on the city's commuters, saddling New York's Finest with the crucial public safety task of counting heads. Then, he warn taxi operators who dare think the proper response to a massive and sudden increase in demand would be to raise prices that he will not tolerate "fare gouging" and that he has "sent inspectors out to investigate and I encourage anyone who has encountered this to call 311 and report it."
Alas, Bloomberg won't acknowledge the 8,000 pound dinosaur in the room: the Haasasaurus rex. Price-gouging is, after all, a much easier thing to pull off when you are operating within a government-imposed monopoly system specifically designed to enable such a thing. Were the Act to be struck down -- or, should so radically rational a move be just unthinkable, then at (truly) the very least, temporarily suspended -- then the most deleterious effects of the transit strike would, likewise, quickly dissipate. A million gypsy cabs could bloom, enough to serve every ride-less Gothamite. The bridge-and-tunnel crowd, long-mocked for their bad perms and their taste in cheesy techno, could be hailed (literally) as saviors.
But hey, why wait in vain for Bloomberg or any of his fellow dunderheads on the City Council to come to anything approximating a sensible conclusion? If the union's members can openly flaunt their lawbreaking, then perhaps it's time to demonstrate that civil disobedience runs both ways, muthaf*&ka.
The power is in your hands, New Yorkers. The next time you hitch a ride, offer the driver a little something extra for his trouble. Gas, grass, or ass, as the saying goes. Commuters of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your change!
And in the end, when the Cosmic Barkeep has flicked on the house lights and I’ve tossed back my final gulp of the sweet nectar that is oxygen, when I stumble bleary-eyed out the exit doors of Ye Olde Moertle Coyle and tumble wretchedly into the back alley of damnation, it is your face, Mr. Hitchens, that I wish to see brightening that damp corner of Hades reserved for we heathen unbelievers, holding aloft a bottle of that most notorious Speyside single malt and bellowing “There is no last call ‘round these parts, lad!”
...except for me and my monkey.
So, for the fourth time in five years, I celebrated my birthday by checking out a Peter Jackson film. All in all, a very impressive spectacle, with both the swinging T. Rex scenes and the climactic dogfight battle among the most thrilling pieces of action I've ever witnessed.
Still, I just don't know that you really need a full hour before finally seeing Skull Island. I'm all for suspense-building, but there comes a point where it's time to just get on with it already.
Over at EconLog, Bryan Caplan indulges in one of my own personal favorite pastimes -- trying to work out the bugs in anarcho-capitalist theory:
Thousands of years ago, demand for defense services was very small relative to scale economies. In any locality, the market only had room for one defense firm. The result was just what the skeptics would predict: Private monopolies quickly turned into governments.
As economic growth progressed, of course, the market for defense services got bigger, making room for more and more firms. The problem, however, is that if you've got government in an area, it has the power and the incentive to prevent new entry by competing defense firms. Thus, if market conditions initially favor monopoly, monopoly can easily endure due to "lock-in," or "path-dependence."
This remains true even if current conditions are totally different from the initial conditions. Initially, there was room for one firm; now, for 10,000 firms. But the one firm that got on top isn't going to let the market respond to changing conditions. It's going to use its advantageous starting point to terrify potential entrants away.
Thus, my answer to the student's challenge is that scale economies are weak now, but things used to be very different. States emerged at a time when markets were too small to sustain more firms. Over time, the economic rationale for monopoly has grown weaker and weaker. Competition could work now, if you gave it a chance. But the state doesn't care about economic rationales. As long as it can credibly threaten to put new entrants in jail, its monopoly endures.
Much as I'd like to be convinced, I have my doubts about this picture. Bryan seems to imply that the advantages of scale diminish as the market for a particular category of goods and services expands. I'm not the doctor of economics he is, so perhaps there's something in the theory that I'm neglecting, but I don't instinctively see any reason why this should be so.
Indeed, drawing from another -- admittedly quite different -- market, it would seem we have a rather powerful empirical counter-example: Wal-Mart. No, it's not a perfect comparison. Wal-Mart is far from a monopoly, and there are relatively few markets it participates in that could rightly be termed oligopolies. But the advantages of scale that it brings to the table nonetheless prevail in large and small markets alike. And, indeed, the rise of Wal-Mart has accompanied the maturation of many small markets that nonetheless moved in the opposite direction -- rising demand for retail services was diverted from a plurality of small players toward dominance by one large one.
Now, perhaps there exists some tipping point higher up on the scale, such that when a market expands beyond some given size, scale once again recedes as a significant advantage. Or perhaps scale simply does not confer the same sorts of advantages upon defense organizations that it does upon Wal-Mart. There are certainly reasons to believe it may not -- defense services, after all, are not widgets whose production hinges directly upon being able to maximize efficiencies of labor or overhead -- but I think there are equally plausible reasons to suggest the advantages might be even greater.
Take the hypothetical that there is some AnCap society where 10,000 discrete firms offer defense and basic civil justice services for profit. Asking the most obvious question of such a market, how would a dispute between clients of competing firms be adjudicated fairly?
The usual AnCap response is that, because the costs of conflict are high, cooperative mechanisms would naturally evolve between defense firms to agree to common standards for dispute resolution. Because these standards would need to be both binding and acceptable to both parties, a natural equilibrium would arise, as arbitrators that showed themselves the most even-handed would draw the most business.
Tyler Cowen has argued, in effect, that this is letting the devil in the back door. If cooperation provides advantages in earning market share, then the anti-competitive genie is out of the bottle, and it's very difficult to get him back in again. Defense firms that may collude to SERVE the public may also collude against the public, by locking out new competitors from their cooperative venture. And since the boundaries between firms are ultimately just a measure of their transactions costs, the lower those costs, the more likely it is that you are witnessing the reemergence of the monopoly state.
I think that's a powerful argument, though Bryan has already authored a fairly compelling response to it. But there's an altogether different argument that has always given me the most fits.
What I've always felt was the weakest link in the AnCap chain lies in the assumption that defense firms are likely to cooperate to resolve inter-agency disputes in the first place. Why would any consumer of defense services -- who has paid good money to have a firm serve as his ultimate fiduciary, securing his life and person -- tolerate such a thing? I could imagine a defense firm -- at most -- advising that it is in the client's best interest to cooperate, much like a defense attorney might persuade a client to cop a plea.
But in the case that the client was unwilling, how could a defense firm agree to turn over their client without completely violating the terms of their relationship? Who would actually patronize a firm that conceded it would give you up at precisely the moment you need them most? Yes, it would be expensive to fend off attacks from all sides -- but isn't that precisely why you're paying the agency, because they are presumably better able to do so than you are?
In this case, it would seem that scale is terribly crucial, because the firm that is best able to defend its clients against all comers is the one that can best provide the service in question. The corollary of that, of course, is that scale is just as crucial to the other side of the equation -- the firm that is best able to overcome others' defenses such that they can secure restitution for an aggrieved party is likely going to be the one most in demand.
And, contrary to Bryan's initial assertion, it would strike me that the larger the market and the greater the demand for defense services, the more important it would become that your personal defense agency possess the scale both to fight for you, and defend you against others looking to fight for themselves.
Obviously, the problem with this system is that it is inherently unstable. It would require a perpetual ramping up of forces until you were ultimately left with a Leviathan state.
But, then, isn't that exactly what has already happened?
While the news that Richard Pryor and former Sen. Eugene McCarthy both died today will certainly get far more ink, those in this-movement-of-ours lament the unfortunate passing of R.W. "Bill" Bradford, the founder and publisher of Liberty magazine.
Though always modest in circulation, and even more humble in its production values, for nearly two decades Liberty served as the only reliable source for the "inside baseball" view of the libertarian movement. It was the first explicitly libertarian publication that I ever subscribed to, and at one point, I came within a hair's length of deciding to up and move to Port Townsend, Wash. (a couple hours north of Olympia, on the edge of Olympic National Park) to serve as its assistant editor.
Here's a sampling of some of those remembering him:
And a link to Bill's essay on "How We Started Liberty"
Or, more accurately, a relatively distant yesterday's vision
of a more recent yesterday.
Trolling around eBay recently trying to find ideas for Christmas gifts, I ran across a bargain that I couldn't pass up for myself -- a stack of 30 issues of Penthouse founder Bob Guccione's Omni magazine (which ranks behind only Spy among defunct titles whose loss I most lament) dating from the late 1970s and early 1980s, all for only $3.
Betwixt and between the hilariously dated ads for the Apple II, Intellivision ("Intelligent Television!") and Sony's very first Walkman, as well as some classic short fiction from the likes of William Gibson, Frank Herbert, and Harlan Ellison, I found this fascinating little nugget from the March 1979 issue -- a sampling of survey results submitted by 20,000 readers offering predictions on when certain scientific and social milestones would be reached.
So with the benefit of hindsight, how did they do? On the whole, I guess…not so well. But in at least a few cases, the results were better than you might expect.
Predictions Shared By More Than 50% of Omni Readers
Predictions Shared By More Than 90% of Omni Readers
So, all in all, not too shabby. Just think what they might have been able to forsee if they actually had some money on the line!