Who Made You King?

From page 291 of Sowell’s Intellectuals and Society (emphasis added):

…the intellectuals’ vision of the world — as it is and as it should be — remains the dominant vision.  Not since the days of the divine rights of kings has there been such a presumption of a right to direct others and constrain their decisions, largely through expanded powers of government.

Everything from economic central planning to environmentalism epitomizes the belief that third parties know best and should be empowered to override the decisions of others.  This includes preventing children from growing up with the values taught them by their parents if more “advanced” values are preferred by those who teach in the schools and colleges.

An effective technique is to call someone out on such presumptuousness.  Often times, they are blind to the fact that Continue reading

Let Cooler Heads Prevail

I came across this insight on page 295 of Thomas Sowell’s book Intellectuals and Society.  I think this may explain the inability for members of our society with opposing viewpoints to have productive discussions.

…intellectual prerequisites for reaching serious policy conclusions are, ironically, undermined by the intelligentsia themselves.  By encouraging or even requiring students to take stands when they have neither the knowledge nor the intellectual training to seriously examine complex issues, teachers promote the expression of unsubstantiated opinions, the venting of uninformed emotions, and the habit of acting on those opinions and emotions while ignoring or dismissing opposing views, without either the intellectual equipment or the personal experience to weigh one view against another in any serious way.

Reading this brought back memories of activities in school where teachers or facilitators encouraged or assigned us to take a hard stand on some issue and defend that against an opponent or write our congressman and such to effect change.

Much of the time, I remember, the winners of such engagements in class were not determined by who presented the Continue reading

Rasmussen Poll

I just took a Rasmussen poll.  It will be nice to know that my answers will be part of the next job approval ratings for the President.

Unfortunately I didn’t feel there was a good description included for my political affiliation.  It was purely a conservative/liberal scale.

Will it work? How do we know?

Michelle Obama thinks childhood obesity among poor children is the result of nutritional food deserts in low income urban areas.  To solve the problem, she wants to start a government program and spend $400 million.

To many people, the First Lady’s hypothesis sounds reasonable and her good intentions appear admirable.

But that shouldn’t get in the way of realizing that her hypothesis is just that, a hypothesis.   A hypothesis is an unproven possible explanation (“food deserts”) for the observed phenomenon (“childhood obesity”).   Which means it may be wrong.

I’ve seen people charge critics of Michelle’s hypothesis with “hating”, racism (ad hominem fallacies) and questioning whether her intentions are good (red herring fallacy).  None has anything to do with whether her hypothesis is correct.

I learned about hypothesis in my 7th grade science class.  The fact that many in society can’t seem to recognize and differentiate a hypothesis from facts and good intentions is disappointing.

What’s wrong with asking, will it work and how do we know?

If you were investing your own dollars in a new business venture or donating your money to a new charitable venture,  a sensible person would ask these questions and want to see some evidence that the hypothesis is correct.

If Obama is correct, it seems like it would be easy to find Continue reading

Roadblocks

I got a kick out of this news piece.  My local station ran it this morning.

The story is about Derek Costello, a Canadian man who converted a 1938 Jaguar to an electric vehicle for $15,000.   Costello gets 125 miles out of a charge and says that batteries that would allow him to drive in winter would cost an additional $7,000.

Right after that, the news reporter Lindsey Clark asks, “So why are car companies not building electric cars?”

Lindsey: I’m not sure if you’ve been watching the Tour de France coverage this year, but Nissan has sunk some advertising into its new all-electric vehicle, the Leaf.  Also, GM is getting ready to roll out the Volt.   And, a simple Google search on ‘electric vehicle history’ will turn up plenty of information about tried and failed attempts to produce and sell electric vehicles.

Instead, Lindsey offers this answer:

The critics say it’s because the oil companies are putting up roadblocks because they fear they’d lose revenue. And governments are dragging their feet because they would lose tax dollars.

It annoys me Continue reading

Netflix for Kindle?

Is there a Netflix-type service for the Kindle, Nook or other ebook devices, where for a monthly fee the subscriber can have any book or two checked out on the device?  It would essentially be a fee-based ebook library.

If not, I can provide a sample size of one (me) that there may be a market for that.

One thing keeping me from buying a Kindle, or similar device, is that I don’t really want to buy all the books I read (thank you local library) and keep them.  But, I can see myself paying a monthly fee to have an ebook or two checked out at a time.

Maybe this service already exists and I don’t know about it.  Perhaps my local library will start the service soon.  They do have a similar service for audiobooks that you can download onto your iPod devices, but the title selection is limited.

Below are a couple other reasons keeping me from buying an ebook device.  Again, maybe there are existing solutions to these and I don’t know about it.

One concern is  with book file formats.  Will today’s ebook files work on tomorrow’s ebook devices?  I’d hate to keep having to buy or convert my ebook library files every time a better ebook device came along.

I do buy books that I like and want to keep in my personal library.  The reasons I buy books for my personal library are to have easy access to those books that I’d like to reference in the future and to be able to lend to others who are interested in reading my recommendations.

As far as I can tell, the ebook device would be great for reference.   But, I’m not sure whether I would be able to lend my ebook files to friends.  Is that possible?

Perhaps, the more limited versatility of ebooks, along with a cheaper distribution (printing, shipping, etc.)  is reflected in the lower price of ebooks, and these are things I will have to give up to move into the ebook world.   But, I’m sure there are creative people out there who can figure out how to retain more of the benefits of hard copy books, while still capturing a lower cost for a cheaper distribution method.

A Reason Organizations Fail

Thomas McQuade and Chidem Kurdas have a nice post at ThinkMarkets called Understanding Markets: Point/Counter-Point.  I’m sucker for points and counter-points.  I love that stuff. I don’t think we have enough of it in our society.

Though, in this case I found the title misleading.  I think the two had good things to write about markets, but I’m not sure it deserves the title.  Both authors admitted in the comments that their points were complementary, rather than counter.

Regardless, I found one nugget that struck a chord from Chidem’s part of the post:

Political powers-that-be controlled economic activity and did not leave scope for much innovation—indeed often punished innovators.

This struck a chord with me because I’ve seen this first hand in business.  I’ve watched good businesses lose ground because they came under the control of people who desired political power and suffered from the fatal conceit in believing they can take the business to the “next” level with their great ideas and careful guidance.

What they actually do is run the business for their own benefit and try out a narrow range of ideas — most of which are their own.  They ignore the true engine of innovation that could take the business to the next level — trial and error experimentation, lots of it.  Several years down the road, competition, where the true trial-and-error is takes place begins to take its toll.

I imagine this can be true for many other organizations.  Education seems to struggle with this.  Charities seem to struggle with this.  Government entities definitely struggle with it. Churches struggle with it.  Homeowners associations struggle with it.

This isn’t be surprising, since all organizations are manned by people.

Questions for Managers

This is another post in my continuing series of good questions to ask managers you may be hiring to run a business.  These come in handy whether you are sitting on a Board of Directors for a business and need to interview executive candidates, running a piece of business or a small shop.

The Question:

We’re strangers sitting next to each other on an airplane.  How would you convince me to give this business a try?

This question gets to the heart of whether this candidate can effectively sell your business.

In the business world, I’ve witnessed many problems that stem from having managers in place that cannot sell the business.  They don’t understand the business’s value proposition, don’t know or seem to care why clients voluntarily part with their money to buy the products or services.

Having such a manager is bad news.  It will very likely destroy value.

What’s even worse is when the manager would not choose to use the product or service if they were not employed by it.  The tendency of such a manager is to remake the business to suit their own preference as customer, while ignoring or changing what it is about the business that makes it valuable to its existing customers.   This also destroys value.

Journalism Needs Government Help??? Update

Thanks to Don Boudreaux of Cafe Hayek for directing me Jeff Jacoby’s column, Don’t give the press a bailout.  Jacoby provides a worthy alternative to Bollinger’s thinking.  And it looks like more is on the way.  The title of his next column is Fair and balaned — and government subsidized?

In his current column Jacoby asks a key question:

Subsidies always amount, in the end, to confiscating money from many taxpayers in order to benefit relatively few. Those who call for keeping newspapers and other old media alive with injections of public funds are really saying that if people won’t support those forms of journalism voluntarily, they should be made to do so against their will.

I believe every American family should subscribe to one or two newspapers and read them regularly. But that doesn’t give me the right to make you pay for a subscription you don’t want — not even if I think you would be better off for it. How can the government have the right to do, in effect, the same thing?

The problem is too many people do believe the government does have this right.   This thinking usually comes from the belief that democracy means submitting to the will of a perceived majority (whether it is a majority or not), rather than Continue reading

Sending Men to the Moon Part II

I think I’ve been reading too much Thomas Sowell.  I’ve nearly finished one of his latest books, Intellectuals and Society.  It is a must-read.  The history of public and intellectual opinion around wars is worth it alone.

Sowell likes to point out arguments that aren’t really arguments, but we allow them to pass as acceptable arguments anyway.  He calls the ability to do this verbal virtuosity.   After reading a few hundred pages of examples, I’m finding myself better at picking out such things.

I heard a radio talk show host mention last night that if you believe that we didn’t send men to the moon (which reminded me of my previous post on the subject), then you’re “just crazy.”

That might be true and most people likely agree, but that is not an argument to support whether men were indeed sent to the moon or not.  That’s name calling.  It’s an ad hominem attack or fallacy.  In other words, whether or not a person is crazy is not linked to whether men made it to the moon or not.

It’s probably not worth debating whether we sent a man to the moon, which isn’t an argument either, but may be better than an ad hominem.