Those without any sound principles about rights and economics are totally confounded by the issue of gene patents. The author of “The absurdity of patenting genes,” in The Guardian, for example, first observes, “Patents are a sensible idea, because people are more likely to invest in innovation …”. But on the other hand, “patents also act as a barrier to innovation, and gene patents bring these disadvantages into stark relief.” So, patents are sensible, because they stimulate innovation … yet they also hamper innovation. Mmm-hmm.
It’s not merely important to have principles, it’s important to name them.
Name them well.
One of the central insights of the French Liberal School of economics — and, since that school’s heyday, all of free-market economics — has not, to my knowledge, been given a technical name. Or, at least, a technical term that’s good enough. The principle in question is that of overlooking the unseen effects of an event or a policy in favor of the immediate, positive effects on the chief beneficiary. Bastiat wrote about it in “That Which Is Seen and That Which Is Unseen.” Classic essay.
The basic notion has been recently described in a fairly rigorous way as the problem of dispersed costs and concentrated benefits. Surely someone has called this The Principle of Dispersed Costs and Concentrated Benefits, or somesuch. But I’m not aware of a pithier academic formulation that sticks. In my head, anyway.
And, getting it to stick is important. People forget, otherwise. And what’s the use of a principle that people forget?
No surprise there. If Obama thinks it’s okay to spend trillions on everything else, how can he justify cutting this? It’s not like budget constraints have meant anything to him otherwise. In Obama’s world, if something is important, then you spend government money on it without regard for the budget (much less the impropriety of spending other people’s money). So when he comes under fire, what can he do? Say that he doesn’t think space travel (or science) is important? Of course not.
Under a new proposed compromise, the government will still build the Orion rocket that it had intended to use for new moon missions — it just won’t send it to the moon. Instead, the Orion will go to the space station and then just sit there in case we ever need it as an “escape pod.” (Really.) That way we can still show our commitment to space and science and stuff, and the military-industrial complex and NASA employees will still get paid.
But what about all the expense? Not to worry. The WSJ informs us that by not scrapping the Orion program, Obama “will help Lockheed and the government avoid significant termination costs associated with shutting the Orion project down.”
Phew! Glad we taxpayers (and especially Lockheed Martin!) will now avoid all those costs of… not spending anymore.
Obama has done one decent thing and moved to cut funds to the space program. Neil Armstrong has condemned Obama for it. There are two thoughts that immediately come to me as a result: 1. “So what?” and 2. “Who cares what Neil Armstrong thinks?”
Arguments in favor of the space program are based on two things: sentimentalism and militarism. The militaristic argument is the more sophisticated one. The space program, behind its veneer of civilian purpose, has always been a military program founded to improve rocket technology, and eventually, to provide the United States with military superiority over space itself. The sentimentalism is the rationale that most Americans subscribe to as they get misty eyed over fantasies about “the human spirit” and “destiny” and all those other concepts from Hollywood adventure films.
From a pragmatic point of view, the space program is nothing more than a massive socialist spending program with militaristic intent, but which benefits handsomely from hysterical and maudlin appeals to hope in the government’s ability to accomplish anything provided enough time and taxpayers’ loot. [Keep reading…]
Should employers be allowed to check job applicants’ credit reports?
I debated that question on CNBC’s Street Signs today:
Of course employers should be allowed to check applicants’ credit. Why should they look only at the biased information you put on your resume? Credit reports provide a fuller picture.
My debate opponent, consumer advocate Joe Ridout, pointed out that there aren’t any statistical studies that show a correlation between bad credit and employees who rip off their employers. But why should we need such studies? How about a little common sense, which tells you that, say, someone who is routinely late in making payments just might be late for work?
The consumer advocates’ argument rests on the assumption that businesses are irrationally discriminating against applicants with bad credit.
But if we just assume that businesses are greedy and care only about making money — which, I think, the consumer-advocate types would normally grant us — then why would they spend money on credit reports that have no value? Do “consumer advocates” really believe that they not only know what’s best for you and me, but also know what’s best for businesses’ bottom lines?
Finally, let’s not forget the people with good credit and what a great service credit reports perform for them. A clean credit report lets you carry your good reputation with you wherever you go. Because of this market innovation, it doesn’t matter if you move to a new town where you don’t know the people at the bank or at your prospective employer’s office. They can check your report and see that, to that extent, you seem to be dependable.
It would be a shame if misguided activists and pandering politicians took some of this benefit away.