Random Thoughts

As a nod to Thomas Sowell and Jerry Heaster (a former business columnist for the local newspaper), I’m trying a random thoughts post.

Some have made a great point this week that Clarence Thomas’s “compelling life story” or his minority status didn’t get near the mileage in the media as Sotomoyer’s.  I have yet to come across a good reason why.  A sure sign of a media doing its job correctly would be an intense focus on Sotomoyer’s qualifications for the Supreme Court. 

Star Trek was an excellent movie.

North Korea.  Who didn’t see that coming?  The sad but true reason why we must keep a strong defense, you can’t trust other humans. 

Talking heads must get bored doing their jobs.  They must look forward to being able to say the hot phrases such as ‘compelling life story’.  Thanks to Chris Stigall for sharing a montage of those words from the past few days.  Can anyone else remember when the hot phrase was ‘Boutrous Boutrous-Ghali’? 

Michael Savage stopped caring on his radio show this week and it resulted in some entertaining radio.  Limbaugh seemed to take that approach a few years back.  Hannity should try it. 

GM. Chrysler. Banks. Dipping Treasuries. Large deficit.  The changes going on around us remind me of the way Elie Wiesel described the changes afoot in his community leading up to the Halocaust in his excellent book Night, which was a unwillingness to believe that anything that bad was happening and that everything would turn out okay.  A good visual depiction of this human behavior can be seen in the original Last Man on Earth with Vincent Price (the original I Am Legend with Will Smith). 

I’m the crazy one for thinking it strange for the government (i.e. Barack Obama, who else is calling the shots?) to own a majority of GM while Sweden, a Socialist country, said it wasn’t going to bail out its auto company because it wasn’t prepared to run an auto business.  And people keep buying the “he doesn’t want to run auto companies and the banks” line.

I love to read and listen to debates.  I often hear someone accuse the other of being wrong.  I rarely hear them explain why.

I think I’m losing the taste for Starbucks coffee.  Or maybe they’re just not keeping it fresh (brew every 20 minutes) like they use to.

True Measures: Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell’s Random Thoughts columns are always entertaining.  Read it here.  I like this paragraph:

Just days after Colin Powell informed us that the American people were willing to pay higher taxes in order to get government services– and that Republicans therefore needed to stop their opposition to taxes– California voters resoundingly defeated a bill to raise taxes in order to pay for the many government services in that liberal state.

Many seem to spend a good deal of time convincing us of the truth, but have trouble coping when the truth is different than they perceived.

Billionaires Do Something

This post at Cafe Hayek reminded me of a news story last week that reported on a power meeting of billionaires Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Warren Buffett and Michael Bloomberg.  What they discussed wasn’t clear, but the reporters think the billionaires were exploring what they could do with their wealth to help charities in this rough economy.   I believe Diane Sawyer speculated that they were sharing “what worked.”

I’m not billionaire, but I do have thoughts on “what works”, especially with these four.

These four have created tremendous value for the people who choose the products their businesses produce, those employed by their businesses,  those who sell things to these folks and other shareholders of their businesses.

I love charities and if they want to support charity with the private property they’ve earned honestly by producing value through voluntary exchange, that’s their choice.

But, I think the biggest impact these four can have on the economy is to continue doing what they’ve done best: run their businesses well and encourage others to do the same.

I know that doesn’t produce highly visible, tear-jerking Extreme Home Makeover “MOVE THIS BUS!” experiences, but think about it.  Over the last 50 years what’s improved the standard of living for everybody the most?  Charitable organizations or private industry?

Fable of the Shoes and Education

After many unproductive conversations on getting government out of running K-12 education, I came across this post on EconLog.org a few weeks ago, which might  improve the productivity of such conversations. 

In the post, Bryan Caplan reviews six-page chapter 10 in Murray Rothbard’s Liberty, The Libertarian Manifesto in which Rothbard writes his Fable of the Shoes. 

I highly recommend reading the whole post and the whole chapter (Caplan provides a link to an electronic copy of the the book in his post).  If Caplan says these are the best six pages in economics, the pages deserve a read. 

Fable of the Shoes:

The libertarian who wants to replace government by private enterprises in the above areas is thus treated in the same way as he would be if the government had, for various reasons, been supplying shoes as a tax-financed monopoly from time immemorial.. [H]ow would most of the public treat the libertarian who now came along to advocate that the government get out of the shoe business and throw it open to private enterprise? He would undoubtedly be treated as follows: people would cry, “How could you? You are opposed to the public, and to poor people, wearing shoes! And who would supply shoes to the public if the government got out of the business? Tell us that! Be constructive! It’s easy to be negative and smart-alecky about government; but tell us who would supply shoes? Which people? How many shoe stores would be available in each city and town? How would the shoe firms be capitalized? How many brands would there be? What material would they use? What lasts? What would be the pricing arrangements for shoes? Wouldn’t regulation of the shoe industry be needed to see to it that the product is sound? And who would supply the poor with shoes? Suppose a poor person didn’t have the money to buy a pair?”

This struck a chord with me because I’ve heard these questions when discussing education.  The beauty for people asking such questions is you can’t answer them. 

Nobody can predict how people will supply education in the absence of government K-12, just as nobody can predict how the shoe market does such a great job.  But that’s the beauty of Rothbard’s Fable, it makes that clear in a market that has met the needs of everyone. 

If someone says, education is a different product than shoes, turn the conversation to college education and explore that market. 

Also, ask them when they last checked out a book from the library for free.  Then ask when they last rented a movie.

Two Visions of Freedom

In The Conflict of Visions, Thomas Sowell points out fundamental differences in the constrained (conservative) and unconstrained (liberal) visions.  One of those fundamental differences is in how the two visions define freedom.

Those with the constrained vision think of freedom as freedom from coercion of others. 

Those with the unconstrained vision think of freedom as freedom to live as we choose without many consequences.

This explains so much.  So much.  

For instance, this evening I heard on the news that laws have been enacted to “protect the debt ridden” from credit card companies. 

Those with the unconstrained vision of freedom may see that as good, because it appears to remove a negative consequence for those in the unfortunate position of having a lot of debt.

Those with the constrained vision sees this as government coercion on trades between John and Mary (see previous post), likely resulting in John doing less business with Mary due to the government coercion and as a consequence of her own poor money management.

"Markets fail. Use markets."

Thanks to Cafe Hayek for posting a link to this piece from Arnold Kling. 

This is an interesting paragraph:

Most economists favor the free market, with reservations. Masonomics rejects the reservations. If John and Mary are free individuals, and John trades with Mary, then John and Mary both are better off. End of story.

This is exceptional:

Most other economists believe in the need for government intervention. Like many non-economists, they talk about government policy in terms of we. We must, we have to, we need, we should, etc.

Once upon a time, “We, the people” was the preamble to a charter that reminded those in government of the limitations on the power granted to them. In today’s political discourse, “we” is more often the preamble to something like a call for an involuntary collective health system.

If you want to be a Masonomist, you have to lose the we. When people use we in today’s politics , they are doing two things.

1.  Appealing to a moral entity that stands apart from and above John, Mary, or any other individual

2.  Treating government as the embodiment of that higher moral entity

People often tell me what”we” ought to do.  These people speak as if they represent “we” and “we”‘s will is all that’s important.  Mine isn’t.

Great Mission Statement, Great Pizza

Here’s the mission statement of one of the best pizza places in the country, Shakespeare’s Pizza in Columbia, Missouri:

It’s the pizza, stupid. And maybe the beer.
Everything else can go fly.

Have a good time doing it, just wash your hands before and after.

Simple and true.  Part of running a great business is having a good feel for what it is your customers want.  It amazes me how many businesses get that wrong.  Shakespeare’s doesn’t.

Their website says they can help with your mission statement for five figures.  For some companies, that would be money well spent.

"A Conflict of Visions" by Thomas Sowell

I’m reading it now.  It’s another great book from Thomas Sowell.    Sowell lifts the hood on the fundamental differences in visions that cause two normal looking people that grew up in the same city, same household with the same parents to diverge so widely in their political views.

Sowell identifies two visions.  The unconstrained vision, which lines up with today’s political liberals, and the constrained vision, which lines up with conservatives.

The differences in these two visions cause two otherwise similar people to talk past one another with exchanges similar to:  “The sky is blue.”  “No, grass is green.”  Sowell sums up the differences in visions well in this paragraph (p. 57):

The writings of those with the constrained vision abound with examples of counterproductive consequences of well-intentioned policies.  But to those with the unconstrained vision, this is simply seizing upon isolated mistakes that are correctable, in order to resist tendencies that are socially beneficial on whole.  However, to those with the constrained vision these mistakes are not happenstances, but symptoms of what to expect when the inherent limitations of individuals are ignored and systemic processes for coping with these limitations are deranged by specific tinkering.

Strange side note:  This book may help LOST fans.   Sowell quotes from philosophers and thinkers who share names with characters of the show and  the show itself may be an exploration of these two underlying visions.  I fear Jacob may represent the unconstrained vision, while the mystery man introduced in this season’s finale represents the constrained vision.  We’ll see.

I highly recommend this book.

Great Book

The same friend that sent me the Harvard Business Review article from A.G. Lafley recommended I read The Breakthrough Imperative by Mark Gottfredson and Steve Schaubert. 

I’m glad I did.  I recommend it to the business minded or anyone heading up any type of organization.  This book will give you ideas on how to make it the best it can be.  It’s a steal right now on Amazon.com for $7.99!

The authors work for Bain & Company, but don’t hold that against them.  While at times consultantspeak bleeds through, you can tell the authors benefit from the experience of Bain Capital, which invests in companies it helps manage to make money by increasing the value of those companies. 

In other words, they draw on real world experience influencing a true measure: shareholder value.  This results in very practical insights like:

From a company’s point of view, one of the most significant factors shifting [customer] behavior is simple customer dissatisfaction.

Or:

…a management team must understand which customer segments are most attractive in terms of size, profitability, and growth.  They must also make an honest assessment of their company’s capabilities to meet each segment’s needs relative to the competition.

And:

…in fast changing markets…customers often have trouble articulating or even recognizing there own needs.

To the last quote, I’d expand that to include any market.  Customers often only have vague understanding of why they buy what they buy and aren’t often able to say everything that went into their decisions.

"We Pay Too Much Attention to the Bad Guys"

Missouri executed a convicted killer this week.  It drew protests from those against the death penalty and those who said the killer changed and became a new, good man. 

Some lady on the news, I’m not sure who, I think some relation or friend of the victim, said something like, “We pay too much attention to the bad guys.  We look at their lives and see what they’ve done, see if they’ve changed or what might have caused them to kill someone, but we hardly pay attention to their victims or how different the lives of the victim’s families and friends are now.”

She made a great point.