Monday, May 29, 2006


I was thinking of something to post recently, when PL sent me a link to President Bush's speech to the 2006 West Point graduates. Having witnessed the speech in person, and not having any agenda (this time), I thought I would comment.

Bush's speech was a little disappointing. It focused so very little on the graduates themselves and seemed like an affirmation of his values. To me, West Point seemed like a poor place to pimp the War on Terror because these graduates were committed to serving the United States. West Point gives cadets plenty of reasons to drop out if my brother-in-law's stories are to be believed.

In addition, Bush compared himself to Harry Truman. Setting aside all of Marty Kaplan's conservative bashing rhetoric, his main point is true: that is a bit of a stretch from a policy standpoint. Not many similarities in the Bush and Truman Doctrines. American opponents were seen by civilians differently (nearly unanimously as liberators in France, with mixed reaction based on religion in Iraq). I cannot clearly say that money was not misspent in aid packages for the Marshall Plan, but I would be shocked to learn the corruption or money mismanagement was as bad as it is in reconstructing Iraq.

But these are all policy issues that I am critiquing. Bush has been reading Truman's biography, and he knows of similarities in their presidencies. Most people viewed Truman's presidency as an accident (indeed it was if you read about the Democratic National Convention of 1944 when Truman was nominated as Roosevelt's running mate). Clearly, the 2000 election would be viewed by some in the same way (and in a much harsher light but some bitter others). Truman was frequently mocked by the establishment as being unqualified for the presidency (their favorite term was "failed haberdasher"). They were also men of conviction.

As a whole, Bush's speech was too long and filled with stretches of the imagination. But I wouldn't expect a commencement address (especially what was essentially a policy speech) to focus on the less than favorable aspects that Truman and Bush shared. Also, no matter how much I disapprove of his handling of domestic or foreign issues, it was pretty cool to see the President, and his enormous security detail. It makes me much less pessimistic about the security of this country when I see the amount of planning going into making one man safe.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Hint: The Long Tail

"Continuing a recent pattern for Hollywood blockbusters, "Da Vinci" appears to have done better in markets outside the United States. The film earned $147 million overseas, the biggest opening weekend ever, and $77 million in the United States, where it placed 13th."
-The NY Times

Assuming this "pattern" is real and lasting (a big assumption), what is its significance?

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Breaking: Economists like Games.

Related to my last post, Bryan Caplan just finished a whole book on the subject: The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies.

While announcing the completion of the book, he also outed himself as a gamer. It seems he'll be at GenCon this year.

PS: Read Dr. McNinja.
UPDATE: This extension can be helpful when reading Dr. McNinja in Firefox.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Posner on Democracy

In passing, Posner dissected democracy today. Here's the excellent quote:

What happens in a democracy is that if the party in power does not deliver what the people expect, they will vote for another party, regardless of their views of sound policy--on which they probably have no settled views. Democracy is not a deliberative process (as many academics believe), in the sense that voters examine and discuss issues and so formulate a thoughtful, knowledgeable opinion on what policies are right for the nation or for them. Voters have neither the time, the education, nor the inclination for such an activity, as intellectuals imagine. All they know is results. So if the Right fails to deliver on its promises, the Left takes over, whether or not it has better or even different policies.

This sorta explains my recent skepticism on political reform and alternative voting systems. If there is some alternative system where voters are somehow given time and motivation to actually learn anything before making a decision, then I'm all ears. If not, then I don't see how political reform is going to make any difference in our process whatsoever, excepting the huge expenses such reforms would incur. I would prefer devoting our limited exchequer towards areas where there will be more noticeable benefits, like police protection, education, and disaster readiness.

(Posner also takes a somewhat cheap swipe at Catholicism later in the post, but I'll leave that for another discussion.)

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Finally, an Intellectual Property post!

(And it's about damn time.)

Arnold Kling (EconLog) writes:

My personal view is that intellectual property law has to be pragmatic. If you take an absolute view that is always in favor of intellectual property, then I think you end up defending too much--business process patents, for instance. If you take an absolute view that is always against intellectual property, then I think you have destroyed the incentive to undertake some valuable activities--pharmaceutical research, for instance.

That seems pretty reasonable to me. On the other hand, our laws currently seem to endorse an absolutist position that is always for intellectual property. So arguments that we should greatly reduce our IP protections seem more reasonable to me, as their current effect would only be to make our IP protections more moderate, more pragmatic.

Software patents are rife with examples that point to overprotection (Amazon's "click to buy" feature, for instance). Pharma usually provides examples that most intuitively support strong protections (though Becker and Posner have even weighed skeptically on the social utility of Pharma patents.)

As a result, most techies I know are skeptical of the utility of IP, and most medical/drug development people I know are skeptical of any assault on IP. Intractable disagreeement inevitably results.

Could we simply restrict software patents without affecting the drug patent system? Should both be reformed?

Comments please!