Idea storage

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Unemployment hits lowest rate in almost four years.

Unemployment rate hit a nearly four-year low in June at 5%. It hasn't been lower since September, 2001. Interesting how this AP Economics story doesn't discuss that curious coincidence/ connection (how you describe it depends on your perspective). Meanwhile, the price of oil barrels dropped slightly. I think high oil prices are good for the economy. See here for my opinion on that.

On news of the low jobless report, the dow went up to 10,449. The dow, in my opinion, is "our" (all of the people in the United States) collective best estimate of a representation of our total net worth. While the dow doesn't necessarily reflect how much we have, it reflects how much we think we have which, for immediate purposes that we deem "the economy," is more relevant. Economics is ultimately psychology -- the more we think we have, the more we'll spend, and the less hard we'll work, and thus our standard of living will immediately rise. However, the more we spend and less hard we work in the short-term, the less we'll have to spend and the harder we'll have to work in the future. This will then force a reassessment of our assets in the future, when we have less than we otherwise would have. (Of course, such a simple analysis ignores the factor of technology, which theoretically means that total assets could rise even with less total labor). That explains the cyclical nature of the economy - the constant reassessment of assets.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Rhenquist to retire imminently?

According to this post at the Volokh Conspiracy, Bob Novak just said on CNN that Rhenquist will be announcing "as soon as the President lands," which will be approximately 5:00 EST. [update as of 7/9 @ 8:45 a.m.: No Rhenquist retirement after all, so all those rumors were wrong, at least as to the timing of the announcement. There was also some talk yesterday of Stevens and Ginsberg possibly making announcements, but a retirement from them was seen as unlikely].

The theory of evolution and homosexuality

The existence of homosexuality among a distinct percentage of the human population seems to contradict the theory of evolution. Most people are aware that the traits of organisms that reproduce, especially in high numbers, will come to dominate in future generations over the traits of organisms that don't reproduce, or reproduce far less than average. Thus sex is pleasurable: because organisms that devote energy enjoy towards having sex will tend to pass on that trait to future generations, while organisms that devote the same energy elsewhere will not pass on their proclivities. Why, then, does homosexuality exist in the animal kingdom? It would seem from the above that the opposite would be true. Organisms that show no desire for sexually reproductive activity would die without producing any offspring that shared the lack of desire. I can venture a few guesses at some answers but really don't have a clue what the honest answer is. According to this Wikipedia article, homosexuality is far more prevalent in the animal kingdom than had until recently been thought, probably because of observer bias. For example, the article says that 8% of male rams exhibit a preference for male partners, and that male penguin couples are known to mate for life together. Again, how does the theory of evolution explain these behavioral traits having survived? One possible answer lies in a "group selection" theory of evolution. For a controversial example of a popular writer who puts forward that type of theory see Howard Bloom's The Lucifer Principle. The basic idea is that groups compete, not just people, so that the traits of a successful group as a whole will be passed down to future generations, while unsuccessful groups will not pass on their traits. I see the process working but not necessarily on an evolutionary level, but more on an anthropological one. For example, let's take two cultures - one discourages homosexuality, and the other encourages it. Those two cultures compete, and the one that encourages homosexuality prevails, that is, it's cultural norms come to dominate. In that event, the social constructs that encouraged the homosexuality are passed down to descendant cultures. If we accept this model, then the current existence of homosexuality demonstrates a cultural construct that has contributed to the success of contemporary culture. The question then becomes, what about homosexuality has made it at least somewhat helpful? Check out Plato's The Symposium next time you're bored. Bloom though, and some others, while not denying the importance of anthropological explanations, somehow go further by saying that group selection can operate at a biological level. This I'm not persuaded of, and the prevailing theory, as expressed most popularly in Richard Dawkins's The Selfish Gene, is that group selection is not possible. All of this, of course, has enormous ramifications for the law in that the law is an omnipresent cultural construct that lends itself to study. As such, it is most interesting to note for its function ...

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Off-topic: best two-chord songs?

I'm trying to make a list of the best two-chord songs that I'm aware. The whole three-chord song thing is a cliche by this point. Few people talk about two-chord songs.

Here's what I've come up with so far: "Jambalaya" by Hank Williams Sr.; "Jane Says" by Jane's Addiction (it might have a quick bridge, and if so, I stand corrected, but as far as I can recall it's a two-chord song) and finally one of the true all-time best songs in the history of music, "Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down" by Merle Haggard.

Can you think of any others?

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Wal-Mart: Diversity is good for business

According to this article from, Wal-Mart is demanding that all of its legal partners boost up the number of female and "minority" attorneys of color. They're probably doing this partly for their image, but also partly because they realize that diversity really does help business -- people of diverse "backgrounds" will tend to have diverse sets of ideas as well. Of course, different geographic and lifestyle backgrounds is also important, but that's harder to assess, and therefore harder to implement. "Race" and gender has the advantage of being easily quantifiable (although with race that's not at all true, but it's still assumed to be true by some slow earners).

This story tends to support the libertarian view of economics: good business is utlimately ethical business. Like I said, this might be partially for the P.R., but don't assume that's Wal-Mart's entire motive here. I think it's a selfish act by business for what's in it's own good: a wider base of positive ideas, leading to greater profit.

The Winters school of economics

(Note: I am not an economist)

Frequently economists and politicians bemoan the fact that we import more goods than we export. Except for the necessity of having resources stockpiled, and an emergency production scheme in place should we be cut off from the rest of the world's resources, I don't see this reasoning. In fact, just the opposite is true as far as I can tell: goods being manufactured elsewhere and imported here is what allows Americans to dominate the world economy.

Let's work this out: the primary reason why a product can be produced in Singapore for much less than what it can be produced for here is the low cast of labor. That is, the Singapore workers who make the shirt make a lot less for their labor than an American would. Thus, when the item is imported, it is cheaper. This raises our standard of living, because goods are cheaper than they would be otherwise.

What about the American factory worker who loses this job? Undoubtedly he loses in the short run, and maybe the long run as well, depending on his ability to use other skills in the job market. The economy as a whole, as measured by the standard of living, improves because goods cost less.

A complete theory would address the ethics vis-a-vis the American worker, the Singapore worker, the consumers, the rest of the worlds, the environment, etc. However, I'm all concerned about practicalities right now.

What this system does is allows Americans to dominate, because American labor is worth more than foreign labor. Why is this? Because the American laws control, and so living in America, and receiving the benefit of our laws, is what allows the labor of Americans to be worth more.

That is, Americans are not inherently better workers than Singaporians or whoever. Yet our labor is worth more. Why is that? Because we Americans provide services: legal, banking, business, etc. Other citizens of the world are, by the nature of the system, unable to render these services, because they don't live in America, and because they don't have access to the education about how these systems work.

In the future, as information becomes more and more accessible, more and more rapidly, American domination will likely decline.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

In what areas of law will the new appointee have the most impact?

The SCOTUS Nomination Blog has a continuing discussion of which areas are most likely to see change with a new Justice. One case that takes on new importance is a New Hampshire case -- Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood, dealing with parental consent restrictions on abortion. Previously the Court had held that all abortion restrictions must have an exception for the health of the mother. Will a new Court overrule that principle? Could be a test for how strictly a new Court will construe stare decisis. A broad application of stare decisis will mean fewer reversals of prior caselaw, while a strict interpretation will mean more reversals. As SCOTUS points out, stare decisis is more likely to be rejected in constitutional cases, as opposed to statutory cases, because in those cases Congress does not have the power to legislate around the decision.

The blog also cites a piece by Rick Hasen in the New Republic (subscribe for free for the full article) discussing how a new Justice could mean surprising changes in election law, frustrating Voter Rights activists.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Happy Independence Day! Checks and Balances Are Plugging Right Away ...

Couple of articles in the past few days regarding the O'Connor resignation: The New York Times has this piece about how senators and other politicians and interest groups have started the war of words on talk shows and editorials (you have to subscribe for free to get the Times online). Right now the dispute is over procedure, and specifically, what questions of the candidate are "appropriate." Of course, while the debate is phrased as procedural, the ultimate goal for both sides is policy.

Even before O'Connor announced her retirement, there were reports of interest groups starting to prepare for a battle, presumably at the time anticipating a Rhenquist announcement. The fact that it's O'Connor and not Rhenquist makes the position even more important. Here in New Hampshire I recall that Republican Attorney Tom Rath, longtime friend of Souter and Rudman has already been assigned to start campaigning for the appointee, whoever that may be.

The Washington Post also has a procedure-oriented story about a deal that was made among seven Republican and seven Democrat senators to avoid filibusters save for "extraordinary circumstances." Will this box the Democrats in and prevent them from getting the most possible leverage in the attempt to force a more moderate nominee? We'll see - I'm sure some of the Democrats will not find the agreement binding, especially if they objected to it in the first place.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Editorial from the author: high gas prices are good in the long run

Here's an blurb in NH Insider about, despite rising gas prices, people are traveling in high numbers this 4th of July weekend. In a truly free market, gas prices should be higher to assess the damage that burning oil does to the environment and health of other people. This would have the affect of discouraging people from using gas, and encouraging them to use alternative energy sources, or simply use energy more efficiently.

I am an eternal optimist. In the long-run, we will run out of oil, but there's no particular reason why we must be dependent on oil. For one thing, with computers we truly need to travel a lot less.

[The irony might be that the Orwellian big brother scenario actually is a utopia not, a police state. With computers, which should become increasingly cheap, all barriers are broken, information is immediately accessible, cooperation is more efficient. Hopefully, this will mean that it will be increasingly difficult to horde power. I will post my case for optimism in the future]

New York Times coverage of the Supreme Court opening

In one article, the Times talks about how conservative Christians are rallying against the nomination of Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, who is thought to be soft (from their perspective) on abortion and affirmative action. I don't know how his problems with the Guantanamo thing will be a factor.

The other piece is about Senator Arlen Specter, chair of the judiciary committee. He himself is not too popular with conservative Christians.