Friday, January 25, 2013

On Facebook Envy

Russian Joke, from Hedrick Smith's "The Russians", supposedly told by Russians about themselves:
An Englishman, a Frenchman and a Russian rescue a genie and the genie gives them one wish each. The Englishman wishes to be the richest man in the world–and “whoosh!” he is. The Frenchman wishes to be the world’s great lover – and “whoosh!” he is. The Russian thinks hard and says “Most of all I want my neighbour Ivan’s cow to die”.
For anyone who thinks he understands envy, wealth redistribution, or the motivations behind either, that joke is a real knee-slapper....

Here's something about envy from the Reuters News Service.  It's about Facebook and envy:
A study conducted jointly by two German universities found rampant envy on Facebook, the world's largest social network that now has over one billion users and has produced an unprecedented platform for social comparison.

The researchers found that one in three people felt worse after visiting the site and more dissatisfied with their lives, while people who browsed without contributing were affected the most.

"We were surprised by how many people have a negative experience from Facebook with envy leaving them feeling lonely, frustrated or angry," researcher Hanna Krasnova from the Institute of Information Systems at Berlin's Humboldt University told Reuters.

"From our observations some of these people will then leave Facebook or at least reduce their use of the site," said Krasnova, adding to speculation that Facebook could be reaching saturation point in some markets.

Researchers from Humboldt University and from Darmstadt's Technical University found vacation photos were the biggest cause of resentment with more than half of envy incidents triggered by holiday snaps on Facebook....

"Passive following triggers invidious emotions, with users mainly envying happiness of others, the way others spend their vacations and socialize," the researchers said in the report "Envy on Facebook: A Hidden Threat to Users' Life Satisfaction?" released on Tuesday.

"The spread and ubiquitous presence of envy on Social Networking Sites is shown to undermine users' life satisfaction."

They found people aged in their mid-30s were most likely to envy family happiness while women were more likely to envy physical attractiveness.

These feelings of envy were found to prompt some users to boast more about their achievements on the site run by Facebook Inc. to portray themselves in a better light.

Men were shown to post more self-promotional content on Facebook to let people know about their accomplishments while women stressed their good looks and social lives....
That's what I absolutely love and adore about my fellow Libertarians and libertarians.  They don't care how much stuff the other guy has, as long as he got it honestly.  They want everyone to have as much as the other guy has. 
I believe that most Libertarians are bewildered by Facebook Envy, and have little or no experience of the sensation.  They can look at someone else's vacation pics from Greece, and think "Good for him.  He's worked hard.  He's smart.  I hope that one day, everyone in the world can have vacations as cool as that one." 
May the tribe increase !!!
(Hit that Facebook tab to your right if you want to friend me on FB !!) 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

It's not fair !!! (But we voted for it anyway)

Here's a young woman griping and moaning about the national debt being unfair to the younger generation. 
Well, of course it isn't fair. 

So why do so many kids fall for the Hope'n'Change bullshit? 

Because they think they're being unselfish by bankrupting the nation . 
Because we haven't done a good enough job of explaining that true selfishness resides in Lockheed, Monsanto, Green Energy Scams, and D.C. Lobbyists, instead of in the people who don't want to burdern them with a 17 trillion dollar debt. 
Because my generation hasn't had to pay for anything yet, and these kids think they'll be able to pass on the mess just like we did. 
Because John Maynard Keynes didn't die in his crib as an infant, and billions of people around the world now believe that governments should try to control economies.  (Yeah, kinda harsh, I know, but I'm in a hurry and couldn't think of a better way to phrase it.) 
Because government schools promote government policies. 
Because the Republican Party's stance on most social issues is repugnant to many people under 30. 
Because the Republican Party, the primary opponent of the Hope'n'Change bullshit, is the party of big spending.
Because they truly believe, despite centuries of evidence to the contrary, that government can provide services more cheaply than the private sector. 
Because those of us who see through the Hope'n'Change bullshit don't always make the best evangelists.  We're too pissed about it, if such a thing is possible. 

Anyway, those are just a few reasons why I think the kids went for Hope'n'Change on their own credit cards.  I'm sure there are other reasons. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The ULTIMATE Chain Letter and The Invisible Hand

I found this old Russ Roberts essay while looking for something else.  It's pure, undiluted greatness. 
It's about who you trust with your stuff.....

To read more old Russ Roberts stuff, hit the Cafe Hayek and Russ Roberts labels at the bottom of this post.  And if my favorite current Troll, Mr. Invisible Backhand, shows up, I'm sure he can tell us all about the virtues of the U.S. Postal Service. 

Here's Mr. Roberts:

 The other day I had to get some important tax receipts to my accountant. He’s in St. Louis, it was getting close to April 15, and it was very important that the papers didn’t get lost. To give my accountant plenty of time, I wanted the papers to arrive the next morning.

So what did I do? My first choice was to get on a plane and deliver the letter myself. Too expensive. Too much time.

So I did the next best thing. I went down to the airport and found someone headed to St. Louis. I told her how important it was for my accountant to have my receipts by the next day. Fortunately, she seemed really nice. She said she’d be happy to help me out. I sealed up the envelope, and she promised not to open it after I left.

I guess I’m naive. I know it was foolish to trust a stranger with something so important, but she seemed very honest. She smiled a lot, but I suppose a good thief could learn to do that.

I got a little nervous when she confessed she wouldn’t be able to actually deliver the letter herself. She had a business commitment that kept her tied up the next morning. But she promised to find some other people to make the delivery. I may be naive, but I’m not a fool. That scared me. I wouldn’t be able to meet the other people who’d be helping me out. How would I know whether they were as honest as she seemed to be? Maybe I could at least talk to them on the phone?

No dice, she said, but not to worry. She’d make sure they were good people like her—people who wouldn’t open my envelope. People who wouldn’t steal my credit card numbers off the receipts. People who wouldn’t throw the package away just to avoid the hassle of delivering it. Really, it would turn out fine. Besides, she wasn’t sure in advance who would be available to help so I would just have to hope for the best.

It seemed nuts, but by now it was getting late. I had to trust her. There was no other way to get the job done. I didn’t have any other options.

I gave her some money. She didn’t object. Maybe she had done this before.

I slept like a rock that night. I’ve always thought people are basically good.

How about you? How would you have felt that night, knowing that your crucial package was in the hands of strangers, strangers you would never see and whose honesty and unreliability were unknowable?

Maybe I should have worried more. How much did I give her? A lot less than it would have cost to get the package there myself—19 bucks. That’s all she asked for. Besides, if she pulled it off and got the package to my accountant, I’d have a story I could tell for the rest of my life.

Truth is, I never gave it a second thought. I trusted that strange woman at the airport. I’d never seen her before in my life, and I’d never see her again. But I felt somehow she’d come through for me.

And she did. I called my accountant the next day, and sure enough, he had received my letter a few minutes before 10 o’clock.

A miracle? A lucky break for me? Or maybe a dangerous lesson that might cause me to rely naively on strangers in the future?

None of the above. My trust wasn’t a miracle or a lucky break. And I’m a little less naive than you might think.

That stranger I entrusted with my financial secrets was standing behind a FedEx counter wearing a FedEx uniform.

It changes everything doesn’t it? You go into a FedEx, give a stranger $19, and you can walk out without a worry in the world, knowing that your package is going to get there by 10 the next morning.

I never worried that the woman behind the counter might open the package after I left the office to see what I was sending or enjoy its contents. I didn’t worry that the man or woman who would touch the package next might open the package to see what was in it. I didn’t worry that the myriad of people who might come into contact with my package would check it out to see if there was anything in it worth stealing.

I also never worried for an instant that one of the people who would come into contact with my package might just decide it was too much trouble to deal with and throw it away.

Total strangers I would never see. What word best describes my lack of worry? Was it trust? Faith? Confidence? And what was the source of my contentment as I left my package behind?

It wasn’t trust. The chain of people who interacted with my package was long, and there was no way to interview each of them to explore if they were reliable. So how could I trust them? Never saw them. Never would. The woman behind the counter seemed like a decent enough soul. I trusted her in some sense. But it’s certainly the wrong word to describe her coworkers who brought my package safely to St. Louis. I can’t say I trusted them. I knew nothing about them.

Faith? Seems too open-ended. Faith comes from having used FedEx before and knowing that it always gets the job done. There’s a little of that. But I wasn’t even worried the first time I used FedEx.

Confidence seems like the right word. Confidence born of an understanding of how the division of labor works in a modern economy. What Hayek called the extended order of human cooperation.

You can see the miracle of the modern economy if you contrast FedEx with a different system, one where I actually find a real stranger, who seems honest, down at the gate at the airport on the way to St. Louis. Here, I say. Take this money and this package. And don’t worry if you need some help taking the package the last few miles. Take it part of the way, and give the package and some of the money to the next person on the promise that each person will keep the chain unbroken.

Who could be confident that such a gambit would succeed?

So what’s different about FedEx? On the surface, there’s no difference. I’m expecting somehow that a lot of strangers are going to come through for me and keep their promises. Yet everything is different.

When I use FedEx there are consequences of failure if the strangers let me down. There are feedback loops that reward excellence and punish dishonesty or failure. These feedback loops create accountability.

FedEx tries to hire honest, pleasant people who smile when you talk to them. They fire rude people who consistently lose packages or steal them. It honors and rewards people who do their job well. And why does FedEx try so hard? Part of the answer is reputation. But why does FedEx try so hard to keep its reputation intact? Competition is part of the answer. But there is more to it as well.

Even those feedback loops that keep the FedEx employees honest work best when people feel guilty about being thieves and slugs. Does capitalism work best when people are basically honest, or does capitalism help create the virtues that make it work well? Probably both.

The system works so well that we hardly notice it or appreciate the marvel of it. The smiling FedEx employee is always behind the desk waiting to take my package onto St. Louis. A stranger delivers my paper every morning to my driveway. I don’t even know what he or she looks like. Strangers built my car, wove my clothes, and filled the prescription for the antibiotic that cured my wife’s pneumonia this past winter. A myriad of strangers working together in some research lab in a location unknown to me discovered that antibiotic.

We think nothing of it. It has become natural to us to rely on those we do not see and cannot examine for their honesty, reliability, or excellence. Yet, most of the time, this extended order of human cooperation fulfills our expectations that the products and services we want will be waiting for us when we want them.

We understand the role of competition in sustaining this system. Having alternatives helps create accountability and raises the costs of failing to meet our expectations. But we often fail to understand or notice the resulting cooperation among strangers whose coordinated actions within and across companies serve us.

Surprisingly, relying on strangers beats relying on friends. We don’t have enough of the latter if we want to enjoy the standard of living with all of its material and nonmaterial satisfactions. Relying on friends or relying only on our family would lower our standard of living back to the level of subsistence. Self-sufficiency is the road to poverty.

Relying on strangers also frees up our friends to specialize in being friends and do what friends do best. I don’t want to buy a shoulder to cry on from the low-cost seller behind a counter. I want friends and families to give that out of love. But my friends and family have more time for comfort and delight because the extended order of human cooperation out in the marketplace means I’m not expecting them to sew my clothes or forge a car for me.

Relying on strangers creates the extraordinary web of cooperation that is the modern economy. A world where the division of labor and specialization—the fruits of trade and trust enforced by the feedback loops of price, profit, and competition—can let me send a package from Washington to St. Louis for about an hour’s worth of work for the average American worker.

What a lot of confidence can be bought for only $19. And this marvel of cooperation works even though most of us are oblivious to it and know not how it works. But appreciating the marvel may help us remember the value of the system of prices and profits that holds it together.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Billie Holiday on the evils of Occupational Licensing

If you've read Les Miserables (or seen the recent film of the musical) you know that Jean ValJean had a heck of a time getting a job.  Something to do with having the word "Convict" stamped on his papers. 

On a related note, here's Billie Holiday, courtesy of Bryan Kaplan, talking about the evils of Occupational Licensing.  This is from her autobiography: 
Before you can work in a joint where liquor is sold you have to have a permit from the police department and the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. This is a life-and-death matter. According to the law, which must be a hangover from the days of prohibition, nobody who has a police record can hold a liquor license...

When I got out of jail they threw the book at me. My application for a cabaret card was turned down flat. Without a card no one would hire me, and there was no place I could work in New York - not if they sold juice there.

I could play in theaters and sing to an audience of kids in their teens who couldn't get in any bar. I could appear on radio or TV... But if I opened my mouth in the crummiest bar in town, I was violating the law...

That's how screwy the setup is. The right to work everybody screams about doesn't mean a damn. If I had been a booster or a petty thief I'd have the parole board helping me to get a job so I could go straight and keep straight. But as a singer, the parole board couldn't do a thing for me. It was out of their hands.
Sometime in the next few weeks, I have to attend a Drug'n'Alcohol Awareness Seminar for work.  The cheapest one is $100.00 and the more expensive ones are $200.00.  This is so I can tell if a truck driver is drunk or stoned.  The instructor will have little or no idea what he's talking about.  But someone, somewhere, convinced a congressman once started an Awareness School and convinced a bureaucrat to make his school a requirement for Freight Brokers and Dispatchers.  (I promise you, the Congressman responsible didn't have the idea himself.) 

The same thing happens with interior designers, hairdressers, food-handlers, and coffin-makers. 
Here's a handy chart, broken down by state, of the funnier ones. :

Occupation State(s)
Athletic Trainer Most
Auctioneer Several
Barber, Cosmetologist All
Beekeeper Maine
Casket Seller Several
Chimney Sweep Vermont
Dietician Most
Elevator Operator Massachusetts
Florist Louisiana
Fortune Teller Maryland
Hairbraider Several
Hearing Aid Dispenser/Fitter All
Interior Designer Several
Interpreter for the Deaf Illinois, Texas
Jai Alai Athlete, Umpire, Vendor, Ball Maker, Ticket Seller Rhode Island
Junkyard Dealer Ohio
Lightning Rod Installer Vermont
Lobster Seller Rhode Island
Manure Applicator Iowa
Maple Dealer Vermont
Motion Picture Projectionist Massachusetts
Mussel Dealer Illinois
Photographer (Itinerant) Vermont
Prospector Maine
Quilted Clothing Manufacturer Utah
Rainmaker Arizona

If I'm going to hire an Arizona Rainmaker, I want to have the confidence that John McCain has approved his license.  Sheesh....

When time permits, hit the 2nd link in the Bryan Kaplan piece.  It's an outstanding PDF about what all this licensing does to the economy, and how it harms entrepreneurs.  Even Interior Designers and Lightning Rod Installers....

Here's some Billie Holiday. 

I don't care who you are, this is funny !!