Thursday, October 30, 2008

If you're happy and you know it...

After opting into a Race, Class, and Gender course last spring and suffering through an intolerable amount of Marxism and postmodernism and a whole lot of other -isms, I was happy to read this this morning:
One of the most annoying tropes of modern intellectual life is that the material abundance of liberal market societies has come at the cost of increasing unhappiness and unease — the "paradox of prosperity," I call it. Over the past half-decade, a raft of books has been devoted to our allegedly paradoxical ennui. Examples include The Progress Paradox, by Greg Easterbrook, The American Paradox by David Myers, and The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz. But the paradox of prosperity is a myth. The multidisciplinary field called "happiness research," from which all these books draw, now shows that, other things equal, prosperity makes us happier. Wealthier individuals tend to be happier. Wealthier societies tend to be happier. Average happiness tends to rise in places where average wealth is rising.
One of the main arguments against capitalism that I've heard from my profs is that wealthier nations become unhappy - that there are diminishing returns to the free market. These studies thus give me comfort.

One postmodern bugaboo that I still need empirical evidence to refute is that inequality in a society is intolerable and inherently unjust. Last semester, I remember making the mistake of trying to speak up for the free market and my prof interrupted.

"Excuse me, there is no such thing as a free market."

[Was she going to clarify that we live in a mixed economy, I thought?]

"There is no such thing as a free market because capitalism inherently enslaves people. It requires inequality."

Since when were inequality and slavery the same thing? Sigh. A less extreme version of her argument is that inequality makes people unhappy because they see what they cannot have and it makes them feel inferior. So does anyone have any sources/books/references on people coping with inequality?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

To adjudicate or legislate THAT is the question

A discussion on how to redistribute legally (from Drudge yesterday). Note that this is not a discussion on whether redistribution is just or unjust - it's about which branch of government is best for establishing redistribution....brought to you by Barack Obama in 2001.

Have we really come to the point where we're past whether or not redistribution is good or bad? I hope that is still up for debate!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Because Leonardo says "Don't Vote"

Hilarious political ad parodies on Reason here.

The way to my heart... through Ayn Rand. She's a smart girl, that Emily. A smart girl who sent me the following in an email entitled, "I can't let up on my crusade!!!"

AR: I'd rather vote for Bob Hope, the Marx Brothers, or Jerry Lewis. I don't think they're as funny as Professor Hospers and the Libertarian Party. If, at a time like this, John Hospers takes ten votes away from Nixon (which I doubt he'll do), it would be a moral crime. I don't care about Nixon, and I care even less about Hospers. But this is no time to engage in publicity seeking, which all these crank political parties are doing. If you want to spread your ideas, do it through education. But don't run for President—or even dogcatcher—if you're going to help McGovern.
So the plan was to write in Ron Paul, but then darling Joe informed me that the commonwealth doesn't track write-in votes. Though I know my vote doesn't matter technically, philosophically and traditionally it means a great deal to me. So here I am, undecided. Yes, I'm one of those people. However, my decision isn't between Obama and McCain. It's between McCain and a third party candidate. Obama may tick me off just enough to vote McCain, but I don't feel comfortable with condoning McCain's policies. Philosophically, I'm most aligned with the Constitution Party candidate who Ron Paul has endorsed, but if I vote third party, I feel like I should vote Libertarian. Then, there's the problem of Barr's mustache and his sponsorship of DOMA amongst other things...I am truly undecided. Sigh

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Progressive arguments

Obama Wants Social Security to Be a Welfare Plan - His tax credit amounts to a radical change in the system.

"While Social Security has always been progressive, many would say this plan goes too far and risks turning Social Security into a "welfare program." Low earners receive more in benefits than they pay in taxes -- meaning their "net tax" is already negative -- and Mr. Obama's plan would increase net subsidies from the program."

Call me radical, but I can barely fathom the justification for a progressive tax system let alone a redistributive one. At least with Social Security one theoretically gets out what one puts in, but Obama would change even that! I don't know anyone my age who counts on receiving Social Security benefits, but we have yet to get mad about paying into a system we won't benefit from. Maybe Obama's perversion of the system would finally get us up at arms like we should be [and picketing the AARP as this article suggests we should be - lol].

Not only is a progressive tax system morally questionable, but it also encourages unwieldy amendments and regulations that inevitably lead to an even more unjust system.

Progressive taxation challenges the basic incentives behind wealth creation. Why should I work hard for that raise if it bumps me into the next tax bracket? Why should I start a new enterprise if a larger share of my income will be taxed? My liberal friends tell me, "Rich people should have to pay more." They still would if we were all taxed at a flat rate! 15% of a million dollars is a helluva lot more than 15% of $40,000. In fact, more would pay more under a flat tax system becuase compliance is so much higher. The point is that a progressive system disincentivizes people at the margin to invest in themselves and society like they should.

Because even liberals have to admit that not all rich people are selfish hoarders, progressive taxation has to allow for tax deductions for dependents, charitable activities, and activities that create new wealth and jobs. Once you start down this itemized road toward the complicated hell of tax returns, you welcome tax evasion, havens, special interest favoritism, and a system too complicated for lower and middle income people to navigate. But what is charitable? Who decides? What is a legitimate special interest? Who decides? Think of the voices neglected under this system and the potential for abuse. Most agree that our tax system has grown too complicated and biased, but what most ignore is the fundamental problem is the progressive nature of our tax system.

I can only hope that the Democrats don't get 60 senate seats so Obama's full economic plan can be avoided.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Making fun of VPs

Some great gaffes from Biden can be found here.

Fun interactive website spoofing Palin can be found here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Slightly more coherent cogitation than last night

I should be studying for my statistics midterm, but I will take a respite to try and make up for my admitedly shoddy post that Sherman enjoyed shooting bazooka size holes in this morning.

Most of the world and most Americans still admire the United States because it is a proven environment for creating wealth and prosperity. I would argue - as many have before me - that this is because of strong property rights, rule of law, generally free markets, and somewhat of a libertine air of rugged independence amongst its citizens.

Tonight, I would like to address the last two points.

"The market that failed was not exactly free" (subtitle of the editorial in today's Post). Increasingly, the U.S. government has intervened in what can best be described as a mixed economy. But we do live in a fundamentally capitalist society or a "market society" - even this liberal Lindblom I read in grad school admits it.

Markets beat government coordination both logistically and philosophically. No planner, politician, or bureaucrat can be all places at once, the market can. Markets are also much more vast in scope than any government could hope to be. They are self-adjusting and customizeable down to individual transactions and adapt instantaneously. Compare this with the unilateral, one-size-fits-all approach of government coordination which also takes ample time to adjust. Which approach honors individuality and most efficiently rewards hard work and innovation? We live in a market society because Americans have always held these values.

We are a country of individualists. We value innovation, hard work, and opportunity. Opportunity has been abused as of late. Opportunity in the traditional American sense does not convey a sense of entitlement or governmental obligation. Opportunity meant/means FREEDOM. But as our country has gotten wealthier, we have called for more and more to be given to us instead of earned. We've lost faith in our ability to make our own way in the world yet most would defiantly defend their right to do so (even with their hand outstretched for government money).

Americans are also optimists. My Bubblicious Optimism post was trying to address this. We are more positive about the private sector and the future than other developed countries and this shows in our acceptance of risk. And it turns out that tolerance for risk pays! Maybe it's hard to see now, but in the long-haul risk has paid America dividends. While some in society may gain more directly from growth than others, compare the lot of the bottom 10% of Americans others. Or maybe compare the basket of goods the bottom 10% can afford in the U.S. versus elsewhere. But that bottom 10% issue is a whole 'nother blogpost. American optimism puts stock in the individual over the government and in the long run over the short run.

Optimism is fundamental to the American psyche and I'd have it no other way.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Bubblecious Optimism

Yes, yes - I'm tired of Joe the Plumber too, but you have to admire how downright American he is - hard workin' brute with an aversion to taxation. While this aversion to taxation may not win McCain this election (sorry my hardworking friends who fight taxation on a daily basis), it may ripen the broader debate about taxation:
“The core difference between the American working class and its European
equivalent is that Europeans are inclined to vote based on their current
conditions, while Americans base their decisions more on their goals and
objectives for the future. Americans assume upward mobility, while Europeans do

And why do Americans assume upward mobility? Um, maybe because our GDP/capita looks like this:

[(source: Bubble Meter - a pretty good blog on the housing bubble with a specific focus on the D.C. area. And these boys have been tracking inflated home prices since 2005.)
(And here is The Economist's jusification for using GDP/capita as a better measure of wealth and success than straight up GDP.)]

Ok, this post is getting sloppy, but I'm tired and stats is taking up all my brain power lately.

Eloquent inevitability

The coming of fall has added to the heavy air of inevitability that the impending recession has given me. I'm not entirely dejected by it, but I don't think it's going to be as bad as everyone says. It's simply a cycle - as Robert Samuelson eloquently stated this morning, "the genesis of the next recovery usually lies in the ruins of the last recession."

We'll get through this.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Role models or rebels?

How often do children adopt their parents political attitudes? How often should they?

There's a new ad that turns this concept on its head by challenging children to get parents to adopt their cool support of Obama. The ad plays upon "the talk" and basically encourages kids to parent their parents. My friend, Karin, derides the peer pressure approach of the ad and then argues here on Townhall that parents should still have a role in cultivating their children's political outlooks.

I used to work for a nonprofit that brought highschoolers from all over the country to D.C. to learn about American history and government. It was both sad and funny to see how much these kids live up to their stereotypes. Nebraskans were zealots about their right to bear arms; California kids were much more likely to be liberal, hippies; and South Dakotans hate speed limits almost as much as they hate abortions. And all of these highschoolers were depressingly apathetic and ignorant about American politics. Whether these kids liked to admit it or not, their political opinions (what few they had) were direct reflections or rebellions of their parents. Though it was my job to encourage them to become politically engaged, I wouldn't count on any of them being able to change their parents' minds nor would I really want them to.

Children will either adopt blindly or rebel willingly against parental politics until they move into the real world, start educating themselves, and feel the onus of taxation. Parents can influence their children's perspectives by discussing the issues, encouraging discussion, and keeping an open mind. How did your parents' politics influence you?

Thursday, October 16, 2008


Having completed a midterm last night and in desperate need of some libation, I headed over to a local establishment with some grad school friends. We were in a large group, and I heard someone had ordered pizzas for everyone. As I went in for a slice, "Excuse me, that's my pizza."

"My mistake," as I reluctantly turned away from the guy's claimed pie.

He must have seen the hunger in my eyes because he said, "Tell you what - Who are you voting for?"

"Eh, I'm probably writing in Ron Paul."

"As long as you don't vote for McCain you can share my pizza."

Over slices, we proceeded to discuss his rationale for supporting Obama. I asked if he was aware that about 40% of Americans don't even pay taxes. No, he wasn't. So how the heck is Obama going to give "95% of Americans a tax cut"?! Redistribution - that's how! That's the greatest injustice of this election season - that Obama can get away calling redistribution (i.e. a tax credit) a tax cut! How can so many be hoodwinked!

Then, this morning this WSJ article was in my inbox which addressed this very issue!

Hat tip: Ilya

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Optimistic consumption

Professor Ronald T. Wilcox from my undergraduate institution explained to me today (via my alumni magazine) why Americans suck at saving money. Turns out we're optimistic to a fault!
"Americans have saved less than most developed nations for a long time, even pre-World War II. It's not like we've ever been a nation of savers. There are famous examples of people who are prominent in American history—Thomas Jefferson being one—who were always in debt. We are a country of optimists. When you're optimistic you tend not to save because you think tomorrow is going to be better than today."

Maybe we're naive or maybe we're just brilliantly manipulating the rest of the world to underwrite our lavish lifestyles.

One tip I recently stumbled upon to curb my own consumption is (hat tip: Rebecca Marie). It's this uber simple, attractive website that helps you consolidate all of your finances - checking, savings, investments, loans, etc. My bank offered the same thing online, but with a lot less functionality. is definitely worth checking out. Warning: initially this thing is a timesuck to set up, but I have a feeling the time investment will pay dividends when it emails me that my account balance is low or when my checks clear.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Fun with linguistics

Fun human interest piece in the NYTimes today about a psychology professor - Dr. James W. Pennebaker - at the University of Texas and his foray into the systemized analysis of linguistics. This was the part that interested me most:
Health improvements were also seen among people whose use of causal words —
because, cause, effect — increased. Simply ruminating about an experience
without trying to understand the causes is less likely to lead to psychological
growth, he explained; the subjects who used causal words “were changing the way
they were thinking about things."

Pennebaker litterally counts the frequency of individual words and then analyzes the patterns that unfold.

For more juicy tidbits along these lines, check out his blog on the candidate's use of language in the 2008 election here.

One woman's patriarchy is another woman's...

Leave it to the NYTimes to bemoan the last vestiges of civility in this piece - "Old Gender Roles with your Dinner".
Although the goal in many public places and in much of public life is to treat
men and women equally, most upscale restaurants haven’t reached that
Then again they haven’t really tried all that hard. They’ve learned
that ignoring gender is risky, and often foolish, because men and women approach
and respond to restaurants in different ways, looking for different things.

Could those differences be attributed to differences between genders? Why must liberals celebrate diversity so fervently for everyone but women. These differences can be celebrated and honored without compromising our equality with men.

Timely anecdote:
A friend asked me to sew a button for him this weekend and another male friend turned to me and asked, "Are you going to take that?"
"Take what?"
"That sexism."
I take no offense. Maybe it's because I'm an instinctually nurturing woman or maybe it's because I'm Whitney, but I enjoy taking care of others. Give me that button.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Hold the phone - Justice Clinton?!

I actually needed to remind myself to breathe after stumbling upon this nugget casually mentioned in a RealClearPolitics article:
"Beckel sees an Obama appointment of Hillary Clinton to the Supreme Court bench
as soon as an opening occurs..."

So we avoided 4 to 8 years of President Hillary Clinton and now we may get her appointed to a lifelong position on the Supreme Court!? Breathe, Whitney, just breathe. Had this occurred to anyone else? She is technically qualified - she'd give Harriet Miers a run for her money - but what would a Clinton on the bench mean?

In the short term, not much. A President Obama would simply be replacing one of the liberal justices who has been waiting to retire until Bush was out of office.

Long term, however, her expansive view of government authority and negative rights could lead to court opinions with lasting effect on this country's rule of law. I shiver.

When did you start to feel the pinch?

About a year ago, I noticed the portion sizes of some of my staple goods were starting to shrink. It started with those delightful sweets at Starbucks getting cut in half - fine I don't need those empty calories anyways. My mother shared that the same thing happened to candy bars in the 1970s. Then I noticed portion sizes at resteraunts getting smaller. Fine - Americans need some help in the will power department as well. But then came the day that I noticed my tampons were now 24 to a box instead of the usual 36 despite being the same price! That's when I knew things were starting to get bad. My budget continues to get tighter as I pay more for my necessities. It makes everyone take another look at what they consider a necessity.

Relatively speaking, if things get bad enough education can seem like a luxury. This week, I got an inevitable email from my graduate school about the state budget. I braced myself for a tuition increase.
On Thursday, Oct 9th, the Governor released budget information on reductions for the current budget year (FY 2009). [My university] will experience a 7% budget reduction, or $9.8 million. Units have submitted budget reduction plans and will be notified by the end of next week regarding the specific amount of their unit cuts. The Governor also announced a delay of the previously planned 2% salary increase for state employees until July 1, 2009. The current budget reduction cannot be addressed through an additional tuition increase this year or through any reductions in financial aid. At this level of budget reduction [my university] was not considering either action.

Apparently, things are bad, but at least not bad enough to raise tuition mid-school year. With property values flailing, state and local governments have to be feeling the pinch. Technically, this graduate degree is not a necessity, but to me it is. Thankfully, I already have school loans for this year. What about next year? I wonder how many people will have to cut the necessity of education due an increasingly tight budget, steep tuition, and an unsure credit market. What will happen to the student loan market?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Pirating the rule of law

A pirate spokesman told news agencies by satellite telephone that the ransom of
$20m (£12m) must be paid by Monday night or the ship would be destroyed.

These Somali pirates threaten to even go down with the ship if they don't get the ransom they demand. The BBC article ends by noting the lack of a functioning Somali government and the continuation of civil strife. This seems to be a drastic example of what happens without a functioning rule of law.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Dazed reactions to the market

This photo on MSNBC reminded me of this post on photos to accompany bailout stories I found via Megan McArdle. I think we've hit the "dazed" photo state.

Update: Just discovered the "Brokers with hands on their faces BLOG" - awesome!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Why does Sarah Palin evoke such a visceral response?

Ed Koch, an Obama supporter, speaks out against the media's treatment of Palin.
She deserves the media's respect, instead of its mockery and efforts to destroy
her by their clear distain. Interestingly, highly intelligent women friends of mine who support Barack Obama, as I do, were horrified when I told them of my views and that I was writing this commentary. Their position is not to give Palin any credit.

Why do these women dislike Palin so much? Is it true dislike or perhaps fear or even insecurity? I thought this was a very honest confession by one of these elite women:

it's because Palin makes us look like the slackers we mainly are. We've had our
bit of success, but we've also spent a lot of time smelling the roses. We've gone back to school to get another degree, volunteered in poor countries, devoted ourselves to a sport or a hobby. We've not had kids, or if we have, we've had one or two, and we've had nannies paid for by our work or our husbands or our inherited money.

We not only have had passports for decades, we've put serious mileage on them. We've lived overseas or spent months wandering around Africa or India, we understand foreign people and places in ways Palin never will--and yet it's she who could become vice president, not one of us.

This is something I can relate to. Most conservative women I know don't necessarily agree with all of Palin's policies or honestly think that she's qualified, but they support her out of sheer admiration for everything that she's accomplished. If she can do everything she's done while bearing five children, we should give her the benefit of the doubt! Perhaps conservative women have done Palin just as much a disservice by going too easy on her.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


A large part of my job is talking to old people. I love old people - I attribute it to a good relationship with my grandparents. They rock. Whenever I talk to older people, I just imagine I'm talking to Grandma Lee or Grandpa John (which also means my Texan accent comes out - bonus!). Sometimes though, I have to raise my voice or talk slower because the person I'm talking to is hard of hearing. Let's hope, however, that I never engage in elderspeak. This NYTimes article talks about the serious ramifications of talking down to the elderly:
In a long-term survey of 660 people over age 50 in a small Ohio town, published in 2002, Dr. Levy and her fellow researchers found that those who had positive perceptions of aging lived an average of 7.5 years longer, a bigger increase than that associated with exercising or not smoking. The findings held up even when the researchers controlled for differences in the participants’ health conditions.
The article also made me reflect on how I speak to my own mother. Part of her Transverse Myelitis is an impaired short-term memory. Add onto this painkillers and my mother is understandably not always herself. It's hard not to take on a patronizing tone when you're constantly repeating yourself. Sometimes I just have to count to three or take a break from the conversation. Now, I'll remind myself that my tone can impact her psychological well being as well.

Greenspan's guarded optimism

In this WSJ article entitled "Seeking Rational Exuberance," Greenspan says we're emerging from a time of irrational exuberance - an overly indulgent investment period. How did this failure in aggregated knowledge happen? Megan McArdle has a nice bulleted list of 'cognitive errors' not the least of which I think is being overly optimistic. Believe me, it's my Achilles' Heel - I would know.

Monday, October 6, 2008

One of the things I'm getting my brother for Christmas

Disappearing Civil Liberties Mug - your liberties disappear when you pour in hot liquid!

Timely discussion on faith

Great discussion about intellectualizing God over at Sand in the Gears. Actually worth slogging through the comments, but here's my favorite of Tony's retorts so far:

I suspect where you and I disagree about knowledge of God is that I don’t confine knowing to that which can be discerned by the senses. Christian belief is predicated on the underlying assumption that we can know by means other than the senses, i.e., by the action of the Holy Spirit, who generates throughout the Christian life epiphanies large and small, all of which go into a category of knowing that cannot be reached by sensory investigation.

The rationalist and the atheist rejects this out of hand, of course, and for understandable reasons — because all he has known has come to him, so far as he can discern, via the senses. Thus when he hears that there is knowledge to be had by some other means, he naturally rejects the notion. This is akin, however, to a man who has been blind for life, and who has been raised among the blind, asserting that there is no such thing as this mystical “seeing” that the so-called “sighted” claim to engage in.

"Love Actually" has its limits

Seven calls from my mother in twenty minutes last night. This doesn't count the three calls earlier in the day. Two of which were for me to explain how to use her remote to view the On Demand video channel. I only answered the first of the seven calls. Yes, I ignored 6 calls. She's obviously not on fire or dying or she wouldn't be able to dial me over and over. Four conversations in one day is enough. Four interruptions to an otherwise pleasant Sunday was enough. Enough!

Ramblings on faith

Why do I believe in God? Where does my faith come from? Humility before creation. Awe of the complexity of nature. Experience in the intangible. The blessings of kindness in my fellow man. My favorite Bible passage - Hebrews 11:1 "Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things unseen."

A friend sent me a sermon with the following passage this morning that seemed especially timely:

I think William James captured it pretty well when he observed that the crucial element within all the varieties of religious experience throughout the world came down to one woefully inadequate word: and that word is "more."

That to be religious was, simply, to recognize or to learn that there was – that there is more. More to all of this than meets the eye. More than language can ever capture. "More things," as Hamlet tells Horatio…. "There are more things in heaven and on earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

The language of faith is, maybe, the only language we have to express what's going on in those fundamental moments of life when we encounter a sense, or maybe even the presence of the reality of "more."
The passage was timely because I was moved to tears by a late night theological discussion over the weekend. Surprised even by my own passion, I tried to stick to a somewhat rational discussion of what motivates my faith. The primary sticking point was whether I could be with someone (long term) who wasn't Christian. I'm an open minded gal and as long as my main squeeze would accompany me to church, I think I'd be fine, but the thought of having kids with someone who lacks faith chills me to my core. Yes, this is a few years off - this is just how Whitney's mind works.

When I was a little girl, I was scared of the dark and of alligators under my bed. I was scared when my daddy worked late and came home after I went to bed - would he get home ok? The future frightened and overwhelmed me.

My belief in God comforted me even at a tender age and got me through tough times. Perhaps it was a vivid imagination or perhaps children understand the essence of existence better than us adults, but young Whitney knew with radiant certainty that there was a loving and merciful Creator out there who gives life purpose. What that purpose is differs for every individual, but it makes individuals optimistic and self-reliant. It's what makes me the rationally exuberant woman I am today. Though I want my children to find faith on their own, I want to provide them a religious structure and example to guide them in their youth.

My faith is the manifestation of all my hopes and the cumulative result of many unseen, but meaningful experiences.

The Psychic Power of Crowds

Years ago, I skimmed The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki. Over the last two years, I've also read a lot about the aggregation of information in society and spontaneous orders. I got another interesting example of this seemingly magical phenomenon in one of my grad school classes last week: the Delphic Method. Cool example from class:

Thirteen people were asked to write their weight on a sheet of paper along with their best guess at the class's average weight. The actual average weight was 158.15. The estimated average weight = 157.23. The amazing thing is that the law of large numbers tends to balance out individual errors even in a small group. So the aggregated estimate was closer than any one individual's guess. Cool, huh?

This financial crisis seems to fly in the face of this concept. I mean isn't that Wall Street specializes in - aggregating financial information? But like a frog being gradually boiled to death, Wall Street didn't see what hit 'em. Despite this failure, I still trust the crowd more than I trust the government. The audacity they have to think that they know how to fix it.

Even the people I know who understand this meltdown and can explain it up and down still don't have a firm opinion on what the government could possibly do to fix it. But ask these individuals what they plan to do and they know. Ask Joe Sixpack on the street what he plans to do and he knows. That's because they will all do what is in their individual self interest. When you aggregate this self-interest, I have faith that the economic tide will continue to rise and we'll get through this mess. If the government doesn't drown us first.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


I thought the Amish couldn't use modern technology so I was surprised when I stumbled upon the following page created by an Amish person selling Amish wares. Then I found this Amish Furniture Review site which looks like it was created by a non-Amish person. But it got me the Amish really only market their goods by word of mouth or do they cheat...just a little?

Question: Is the internet exempt from the Amish's technology ban?