“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Sunday, May 08, 2005

news from austin

A friend wrote to tease me about the protests against Ann Coulter here in Austin. I didn’t even know Ann Coulter was coming to Austin. I feel about Ann Coulter and her movements the way Sherlock Holmes felt about the heliocentric theory, when Watson introduced him to the subject in Study in Scarlet:

“My surprise reached a climax, however, when I found
incidentally that he was ignorant of the Copernican Theory
and of the composition of the Solar System. That any
civilized human being in this nineteenth century should not
be aware that the earth travelled round the sun appeared to
be to me such an extraordinary fact that I could hardly
realize it.

"You appear to be astonished," he said, smiling at my
expression of surprise. "Now that I do know it I shall do my
best to forget it."

But if I was young and full of cum and a liberal undergrad at U.T., I’m sure that I would have thought protesting A.C. was just the thing to do. One has to teethe, no? And a little tussle with the cops, some shouting, and apparently one arrest – excitement was had by all.

No, the real news from Austin is that the smoking ban passed. I voted against it, of course. But I expected it to pass. The anti-smoking people did a really good job canvassing for that. And the pro-smokers did a piss poor job campaigning against it. Basically, there is already a ban on smoking in most work places. This ban would extend it to places where you drink and try to pick up your sexual preference (and if that doesn’t work, you listen to music). The pro-smokers should have emphasized the fun aspect of this. Instead, they mounted a dreary, geeky campaign about choice. Well, liberty will move the libertarians among us, all four of them – but to really block this ban, one needed to move the people who actually go to the clubs. And they would be moved only if it was obvious that this was a case of making good and sure that somebody else wasn’t having fun – a perennial preoccupation of punitive liberalism. This campaign, in other words, required mockery and song, but it didn’t get it.

The other issue that was much discussed and thrown about was the possibility that the state will rent some public roads to tolling companies. Or that tolling companies will build the roads. It is hard to know which it is to be. If the latter, it is a terrible idea. If the former, I don’t know. Extracting a charge from cars on the highway does have its good points – especially if, like me, you ride a bike. Seriously, although the highway system in the U.S. proves, once again, that sector specific socialism works, I’ve always held that there are no absolutes in the political economy. The social cost of allowing the state to spread the cost of infrastructure around is, evidently, to be measured in environmental damage here. And, as time goes by, in an unbreakable bond to an exhaustible resource accessed most easily under other skies. How to make that that social cost visible? LI is not against privatizing, with strict regulation, certain resources in order to make the cost of them real in every case. There are certain aberrant phenomena in this country – for instance, the million person lollapolooza in the desert known as Las Vegas – which are, in the long run, unsustainable. That the fastest growing city in these states is located in the area with the most rapidly dwindling supply of water implies something has gone wrong in our vaunted system of allocating resources.

I put down these stray thoughts as markers for a later post.


Deleted said...

The smoking ban makes me really happy. Is there any way this victory could be leveraged into ending the war?

roger said...

But Harry -- how about all the smoking we do on the vigilance committee? Admittedly, it isn't tobacco...

Paul craddick said...

"the highway system in the U.S. proves, once again, that sector specific socialism works"


Perhaps you meant to say "the highway system in the U.S. proves that sector specific socialism *can* work"

The Austin smoking ban is de facto "sector-specific socialism" - the leveraging of the state, qua coercive power, to mind other people's business.

And if you've driven in California recently, you'll be well aware of the parlous state of our socialized roads; and this despite - or because of?! - our exorbitant income and sales taxes.

roger said...

Ah, Paul, like Papagano I spread my nets! I knew you'd respond to that phrase, if you read the post.

Actually, I think it has worked quite spectacularly -- I can't imagine the auto industry taking off without it, and I can't imagine the American economy in the 20th century being the giant it became without the auto industry.

But I think "works" refers to the real economy, which is a thing of phases. California is a great example of how the federal government, pumping billions into an area, can create a base that in turn creates a society and an economy -- Keynes' multiplier effect.

From another p.o.v., it could be that the whole project was screwed up, and that a transportation system that generates fifteen to twenty thousand deaths a year was the great Wormwood, the worst thing that ever happened to the country and to the world at large.

Paul craddick said...


I'm almost - but not quite - prepared to declare, publicly and unqualifiedly, that all Keynesianism is a variant on the "broken window" fallacy which Henry Hazlitt focused upon in his classic, Economics in One Lesson.

The crucial point is the hidden cost - "cost" as in: alternative use(s) forgone - of any government expenditure. Nasa's investments have more or less "worked" (viz., been efficacious). They appear in a rather different light, though, when one considers the productive uses to which the appropriated funds might have been put, but for the appropriation. The controlling principle is this: the state cannot create wealth, but only divert, shunt, and redistribute it.

Anyhow, you didn't take up my central point, which is that a smoking ban, and the "therapeutic state" of your sequel, perfectly flow out of the socialist ethos, which is busybody-ism writ large. Taken to its logical extreme, one thinks not so much of Papagano, as of The Painted Bird.

roger said...

Paul, I will reply to your Hazlett comment -- man, I haven't thought of that guy in years! -- when you write up a nice juicy post on your site, explaining the broken window fallacy. You shouldn't waste all of your electricity on LI, when FP is crying out for a long post.