Saturday, October 27. 2012
My latest op-ed at American Thinker:
For years, the press was filled with stories about how the U.S. had fallen behind Europe in wireless. A 1999 TIME article entitled "Why Your Cell Phone Stinks" boasted that Europeans routinely used their mobile phones to pay bills, make reservations, and share digital photos. Americans, meanwhile, were still catching up with Europeans in text messaging.
Read the rest here.
Monday, September 3. 2012
Some of the responses to Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” comment are equally ridiculous. The opinion editor for the Berkeley Political Review, Alex Kravitz, suggests that members of the Senate should have to pass an intelligence test before assuming office. Charles Johnson, who operates the once respectable Little Green Footballs blog, is stunned that Akin “managed to reach adulthood with a completely non-functioning brain” and upon learning that Akin is a member of the House Science and Technology committee advised his readers to “weep for America.”
No one disputes that what Akin said was silly, wrong, and offensive.
However, the idea that certain elected officials should have to pass an intelligence test is also silly, wrong, and offensive. It seems to me that many of the people who would support such a test are the same people who complained in the past that intelligence tests are biased. Plus, isn't there a risk that it would lead to an intelligence test for voters? (In that case, why bother having elections?)
Nor does Todd Akin’s comment disqualify him from the Committee on Science, Space and Technology. The main purpose of the committee is not to determine the merit of scientific claims. It’s to discuss public policy and propose legislation.
Besides, even some of the greatest scientific minds in history embraced ideas that most people would consider irrational, stupid, or silly.
Isaac Newton, who discovered much of what is now considered the foundation of classical mechanics and who shares credit with Gottfried Leibniz for inventing calculus, was intensely interested in alchemy and biblical prophecy. Though admirers point out that such ideas were commonplace in Newton’s day, there’s no getting around the fact that Newton devoted considerable time and effort to what were clearly occult ideas.
Oliver Lodge, who was one of the first to prove the existence of electromagnetic waves, was President of the Society for Psychical Research and fervently believed in telepathic communication between the living and the dead.
Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the DNA double helix, suggested that the seeds of life were planted on Earth by an extraterrestrial civilization—a theory known as “directed panspermia.” Though Crick opposed creationism, his own theory evaded the question of how life originated, passing the buck to space aliens.
William Shockley, co-inventor of the transistor, warned that less intelligent people reproduce at a higher rate and that this was particularly a problem among blacks. Though Shockley shared the 1956 Nobel Prize in Physics with colleagues John Bardeen and Walter Brattain, he seemed determined to offend people with his theory of race and intelligence.
Raymond Damadian, the principal inventor of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), is a young earth creationist. Here is a man who believes that the Earth is no more than 10,000 years old despite massive evidence to the contrary. Yet he not only understood the science underlying MRI, he built the first full-body magnetic resonance scanner. In my opinion, more in doubt is the intelligence of the committee that denied him a share in the 2003 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
Some prefer to believe in a binary universe in which people are either consistently scientific or consistently unscientific. But that’s not how the world actually works. It’s not only possible to be scientific about some things and irrational about others—it’s rather common.
Thursday, August 23. 2012
My opinion piece at the Daily Caller:
Obamacare is an imminent threat to people with life-threatening medical conditions.Read the rest here.
Tuesday, January 24. 2012
An OpEd in today's Wall Street Journal by Stan Liebowitz on the recent SOPA/FIFA furor is spot on. Most of the opposition to SOPA/PIPA is misguided. The "free speech" argument originated with people who either oppose intellectual property rights or want to substantially weaken existing copyright law. If you really believe piracy (stealing) is wrong but that SOPA/PIPA are flawed, then suggest a better way to combat piracy.
Critics of these proposed laws claim that they are unnecessary and will lead to frivolous claims, reduce innovation and stifle free speech. Those are gross exaggerations. The same critics have been making these claims about every previous attempt to rein in piracy, including the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that was called a draconian antipiracy measure at the time of its passage in 1998. As we all know, the DMCA did not kill the Internet, or even do any noticeable damage to freedom—or to pirates.
The OpEd is here.
Similarly, people such as Declan McCullagh make the argument that privacy demands are just a cover for squelching free speech. But keep this in mind: people are making money tracking you, selling advertising keywords to pirates, and even running ads on sites featuring pirated content. It's disingenuous to describe such activity as innocent free speech.
P.S.: See Scott Cleland's column about how Google led the fight against SOPA/PIPA. Google is masterful at skirting copyright and other IP laws as described in our book Search & Destroy: Why You Can't Trust Google Inc.
Monday, August 29. 2011
My recent OpEd at American Thinker:
One of the few bright spots in the current economy is sales of smartphones, tablet computers, and e-readers. Led by three U.S. companies -- Apple, Google (Android), and Amazon -- the worldwide market for these gadgets is expected to reach $190 billion this year. Driving much of the growth is a rapidly expanding universe of "apps" that offer exciting new capabilities such as helping patients manage their diabetes and letting physicians pull up CT scans from any location.
Wednesday, December 22. 2010
The last 24 hours have seen a chorus of calls to abolish the FCC. In the FCC's press release on Net Neutrality, they indicate that wireless networks deserve a lighter touch because the Android operating system is open.
Even Net Neutrality supporters are scratching their heads. How could the openness of one device operating system among many, which has nothing to do with how wireless networks are designed and operated, and nothing to do with wireless carriers' business models, decide what rules to apply or not apply to wireless carriers?
It looks like Verizon and Google have done a masterful job lobbying the FCC. From Engadget:
I wonder what Microsoft and Apple think about this?
Tuesday, November 30. 2010
Republican Representative Eric Cantor said today that Republicans would keep two provisions of Obamacare: permitting children to stay on their parents' insurance plans until age 26 and prohibiting insurance companies from refusing coverage to patients with preexisting conditions. Cantor doesn't understand basic economics: forcing companies to offer unprofitable products destroys market efficiency and will only hurt consumers and health care providers in the long run. In fact, this idea is analogous to pressuring banks to issue high risk mortgages. How's that working out?
The following essay was originally posted on March 23, 2010 as a Facebook "note."
The preexisting condition exclusion is necessary to make health insurance work the way it works best. That doesn't mean that people with preexisting conditions should be left with no options. It just means that solutions for those with preexisting conditions should be provided separately from commercial health insurance. I'll explain in a moment.
Insurance is a great idea that we have corrupted. The original concept was that you pay a low recurring fee for protection against a relatively unlikely catastrophe. For example, homeowner's insurance will help you replace your home in the unlikely event that it is destroyed in a fire. By getting many people to buy this form of protection, insurance companies can give homeowners a sense of security, make big payouts to clients whose homes burn down, and still make a profit. Everybody wins.
Somewhere along the line we transformed health insurance into a magical third-party payer. Instead of paying a small recurring fee for protection from an unexpected major illness, we pay a large recurring fee and expect the insurance company, in exchange, to pay out more in benefits than it takes in. This reminds me of people who have tried to get me to work for them for free in exchange for "exposure." All people--including the owners and employees of insurance companies--deserve fair compensation for their work.
If insurance companies are required to provide immediate comprehensive coverage to everyone regardless of preexisting condition, then what motivation does the healthy consumer have to buy insurance? There is none. They can wait until they get sick, buy insurance, and then demand that the insurance company pay increasingly exorbitant bills.
There is an obvious way around this problem: force everyone to buy insurance. Unfortunately, not everyone can afford today's health insurance premiums, and forcing insurance companies to accept everyone regardless of risk drives up premiums for everyone. Couple that with limiting insurance companies' ability to raise premiums, and you have a formula for driving health insurance companies out of business.
It's no secret that some people want the federal government to become the sole insurance company--the "single payer" solution. I can only appeal to anyone who sees virtue in being somewhat skeptical to consider these points: a single provider insulated from competition will tend to be inefficient and ineffective; the easiest way for government to control costs is to limit access to expensive products and services; and an industry run by salaried officials is susceptible to favoritism and even corruption.
To fix the system, we need to accurately identify what's broken. Unfortunately, that is a hotly disputed--and expansive--topic. I'll just say that I believe the problems boil down to two primary causes. First, whether you like or don't like programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, such programs increase prices overall by adding bureaucracy and payment delays, and by limiting and denying benefits for specific services. Second, we have removed almost all of the direct consumer-provider interaction that forces providers to offer competitive prices. It's not just the politicians' fault--we have all acquiesced with this state of affairs.
Many states already have health insurance pools for people who cannot get commercial insurance at standard rates. When these plans were first conceived, state officials feared they would be overwhelmed with applicants for what is, in effect, subsidized health insurance. I don't claim to be an expert on this but the evidence I have seen suggests that many if not most of these plans have been under-subscribed.
The solution--if it's not too late--is to let private insurers and private health care providers do what they do best, and let government focus on those who can't get private insurance. For example, government could provide subsidized health insurance for people with genetic conditions--people who are born with "preexisting" conditions; government could step in to pay the costs of patients who incur extraordinary costs, such as children requiring liver transplants; and government could encourage taxpayers to establish health savings accounts so that more people can purchase lower cost (higher deductible) insurance plans. These steps would allow insurance companies to concentrate on providing affordable insurance to the maximum number of people, so that government can concentrate on making sure no one suffers because they can't pay.
Saturday, November 20. 2010
Friday, October 29. 2010
Betsy McCaughey on the Obama Health Law:
The Obama health law forces you to buy a one-size-fits-all health plan, whether you want it and can afford it or not, and expands the powers of the IRS to punish you for noncompliance. This violates your rights. Nothing in the U.S. Constitution permits this coercion. In fact, the 28 beautiful words of the Tenth Amendment prohibit it.
See also the page debunking the World Health Organization's claim that the U.S. ranks 37th in health care.
Saturday, October 16. 2010
The battle between the champions of individual freedom and the forces of authoritarian collectivism never ends. However, the battleground has largely shifted from the physical world to cyberspace.
In many ways, Friedrich Hayek anticipated the Internet. In his masterpiece, The Road to Serfdom, Hayek dissects the methods and objectives of socialism. He shows that centralized, top-down planning by experts can never achieve prosperity and inevitably leads to oppression. Hayek built on Ludwig von Mises' theory that constantly changing price signals are essential to the efficient allocation of resources; the “experts” can never possess the knowledge that is distributed among individual buyers and sellers. Plus, the only way that a central economic plan can be successfully implemented is by forcing everyone to obey. You can't have a central economic plan if there are people out there doing their own thing.
The Internet is like the free market. It succeeded as a decentralized, self-organized network. Experts in various specialties contributed to its growth, but there never was a master plan. In fact, the way in which the Internet succeeded and the scale of its success surprised everyone.
However, the forces of authoritarian collectivism don’t give up easily. In the physical world, they have tried both violent revolution and gradual reform to achieve their ends. In cyberspace, the two biggest threats are attempts to regulate the Internet (e.g., “net neutrality”) and a broader movement to limit or even abolish intellectual property rights (e.g., Eben Moglen’s The DotCommunist Manifesto).
The worrisome part is that the enemies of liberty have learned how to disguise their objectives through the clever use of language. Instead of admitting that they want to regulate the Internet they pretend that they are trying to preserve it. Instead of admitting that they want to abolish private intellectual property they pretend they are defending freedom of speech. For example, the Free Software Foundation says “To understand the concept, you should think of ‘free’ as in ‘free speech’, not as in ‘free beer’.”
That’s nonsense. Redistributing someone else’s creation without asking or paying for permission isn't free speech—it’s freeloading.
Tuesday, October 5. 2010
The Obama administration and the media say that we have been in an economic recovery since June of 2009. If that’s true, then why aren’t consumers spending and businesses hiring? The implication is that our biggest problem is the reluctance of consumers and businesses to move forward.
Color me skeptical. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) was passed in February of 2009. Visit the press archives at Recovery.gov and you’ll see that ARRA spending began almost immediately. Gross domestic product (GDP)—often used as a barometer for the state of the economy—began to rise not long after. But GDP is calculated as the sum of consumer, business, and government spending; all of the growth was in government spending. It’s self-serving for the government to say that the recovery started in June of 2009.
Actually, the recession never ended and we are on track to The Greatest Depression. Congress just punted on extending the Bush era tax breaks. That can only mean that the majority want to raise taxes on the rich—a sure fire way to inhibit business investment. The House of Representatives just passed the Currency Reform for Fair Trade Act, which like the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930, seems designed to ignite a global trade war. Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman thinks the government isn’t spending enough fast enough.
Is the recession just a state of mind? In a way, yes.
George Santayana warned "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Take your pick.
Monday, September 27. 2010
The (U.K.) Daily Mail reports that the United Nations plans to establish a new diplomatic post: an ambassador to officially greet aliens visiting Earth. The position is being created because, according to the Daily Mail, hundreds of planets have been discovered orbiting other stars.
It's wise to plan for various contingencies, particularly those that are likely or that could have profound consequences. But that raises at least two more questions: What if the alien visitors are hostile? Do we all agree that the United Nations has the moral and political authority to handle this responsibility?
Personally, I don't think the discovery of planets orbiting other stars changes anything. Most scientists have long suspected as much.
I'm not sure what we could do if we were visited by hostile aliens who have mastered interstellar space travel. Though it's just as likely that intelligent aliens would find humans threatening once they really got to know us.
Nor would I trust the United Nations to handle this job. The United Nations is not the world's highest governing body; it was established to foster peace and international cooperation. And let's face it: the UN has done a lousy job. It's well known that the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), for example, serves mainly to shield the countries that are the worst human rights violators. The UNHRC has passed resolutions regarding the "defamation of religions" that are clearly intended to justify member state laws that curb freedom of speech. I'm also concerned about who gets to select and fill the UN's space ambassador post. For example, Iran was elected to the UN's Commission on the Status of Women; can you imagine anything more obscene?
Before anyone appoints a space ambassador purporting to represent the entire Earth, I suggest that the position needs to be clearly defined. And it has to be defined in a way that precludes the advancement of any particular religious or political agenda.
UPDATE: 2010-09-27 21:56
Stephen Hawking has another take, per the UK Telegraph:
He [Stephen Hawking] said: “I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. The outcome for us would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.”
So, the aliens could turn out to be environmental imperialists and all around bad beings.
Monday, September 6. 2010
I grew up in the Chicago area and know something about how the Daley family has dominated Chicago politics for 42 of the past 55 years. Chicago Democrat Party machine corruption takes many forms, but patronage is its lynchpin. In a nutshell, the Daleys perfected the art of handing out jobs to people who understood they were expected to work hardest during election campaign season.
Now, President Obama wants to scale up Chicago-style patronage to nationwide.
Obama calling for more infrastructure spending
Happy Labor Day.
UPDATE: Mayor Richard M. Daley recently announced he would not seek a seventh term. Surely it was not because he thought he would lose an election. Much more likely, he's noticed the country's anti-incumbent mood, and doesn't want to be around when Chicago's city government collapses from years of corruption, waste, and rising street crime.
Monday, August 23. 2010
An article in today's Wall Street Journal, The Case Against Corporate Social Responsibility, expands on some of what I said last week. Unfortunately, in an effort to soothe and persuade proponents of what was once called a "mixed economy," the article ends in confusion.
Aneel Karnani argues that private profits and public interests are sometimes compatible. When they are, corporate social responsibility is irrelevant. When they aren't, corporate social responsibility is ineffective. Either way, he says, corporate social responsibility delays development of better solutions.
Karnani claims that consumers are more likely to have choices when companies pursue profits. He points out that social responsibility adds cost: "Managers who sacrifice profit for the common good also are in effect imposing a tax on their shareholders..." Karnani suggests that by adding cost and inefficiency, government regulations may do more harm than good.
In the end, however, he suggests that industry should pursue government-defined goals through self-regulation, and concedes that when industry fails to police itself government should step in and impose regulations.
However, that's exactly where most statists say we are today. Namely, they claim that our biggest industries were built by robber barons, and that government was forced to act. Deregulation, they insist, brings back the injustices of the past.
Karnani should have taken a bolder position. A legitimate capitalist (i.e., someone not engaged in fraud) must serve genuine interests to be successful. To wit, the only way to grow a business is to deliver real value. Government regulation always reduces choices. Managers who sacrifice profit for the "common good" impose a tax on customers to the detriment of employees and investors. Government regulations should be used sparingly and only to prevent immediate harm (for example, polluting a source of drinking water).
Karnani ignores the elephant in the living room. Who decides which goals are socially responsible? Who decides the best way to achieve those goals? We can appoint a blue ribbon committee, but who decides its members? There is no escaping the fact that corporate social responsibility is all about politics.
History shows that the best way to meet not-for-profit goals is through philanthropy and volunteerism. If you force people to drive electric cars, then we will end up with fewer cars. If you persuade them to drive electric cars, then more people will drive electric cars, and entrepreneurs will work on developing better electric cars.
Friday, July 23. 2010
In a presentation to the annual meeting of the Property and Freedom Society, UK biochemist Dr. Terence Kealey asserted that government science is wasteful. He based that conclusion on data showing that private R&D contributes more to economic growth and his theory that science is not a "public good." He attempts to prove the latter by showing that most scientific research is inaccessible to those who don't have the appropriate specialized knowledge. (As if its value to the public hinges on the public's ability to understand it.)
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