Getting Old Sucks

I wasn’t impressed with Ezekial Emanual’s article, Why I Hope to Die at 75.

Arnold Kling calls it “excellent and important” and asks commenters to spare him the “snark about Emanuel, Obamacare, and death panels.”

I’m not sure what annoyed me more, Emanual’s article or Kling asking to be spared the blindingly obvious, and in my opinion, wholly deserving snark.

I’m assuming the snark Kling doesn’t want is something like:

Since, Emanual is an architect of Obamacare, you see, and now he’s writing that he doesn’t want to live past 75 because life just isn’t worth living past that point (according to him), you see, and there was this whole (we were politically-correctly brainwashed to believe) stupid political meme about Obamacare leading to government “death panels” deciding who is worthy of being allocated precious medical resources and who is not and should just die so as to not be a burden on “society”, you see, it kind of seems like…uh…there may have been something that stupid meme, but we are still too brainwashed want to admit that?

The resistance to snark reminds me of the resistance people like Elie Wiesel’s family and friends had to the warning signs that their lives were changing in early 1940s in Transylvania as German troops approached and occupied their enclave.

The secondary title of Kling’s blog is “taking the most charitable view of those who disagree.” Wiesel’s enclave took a too charitable view with those approaching troops and Hitler’s intentions and they suffered mightily for it.

David Henderson is less charitable on Emanual’s article. He found the article and Emanual “troubling”. Thank you! He describes Emanuel’s attitude as:

“Sometimes wrong; never in doubt.” The man (Emanuel) really does seem to think he knows how everyone should live.

In his article, Emanual tries to convince the reader that this whole dying at 75 thing is just his personal opinion and he’s not suggesting anything by it. Henderson says to that, “Basically, I just don’t believe him.”

My opinion on Emanual’s article: It’s dumb.

I think it’s a good example of personal preference bias. At age 57, Emanual holds a personal preference for his life to end at 75 because of some stats that says he has a 50/50 shot have reduced faculties after 80.

While he assures us he’s properly taken his current age and state of mind into account and will not change his mind as he approaches 75 (though he doesn’t plan suicide), talk is cheap.

The rationale he provides in the article affirms for me that he is a dangerous idiot. His view on what constitutes a life worth living at a different age is unimaginative and narrow, and reminiscent of all of us proclaiming at 18 that if life can’t be like it is when we’re 18, it ain’t worth living.

Tyler Cowen is more imaginative in thinking about how life could be worth living at an old age with reduced faculties:

And to sound petty for a moment, I don’t want to pass away during the opening moments of a Carlsen-Caruana match, or before an NBA season has finished (well, it depends on the season), or before the final volumes of Knausgaard are translated into English.  And this is a never-ending supply.  The world is a fascinating place and I fully expect to appreciate it at the age of eighty, albeit with some faculties less sharp.  What if the Fermi Paradox is resolved, or a good theory of quantum gravity developed?  What else might be worth waiting for?

For those who make it another 23 years, look forward to Emanual’s follow-up: Life after 75: I was wrong! Why I was still thinking like a teenager when I was 57.

Economic and political rights first

I just finished readingThe Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor by William Easterly.

Russ Roberts interviewed Easterly in this EconTalk podcast.

I recommend reading the book and listening to the podcast.

Easterly’s key and powerful point is that the economic and political rights of humans in third world countries are often not considered by experts looking to prove out their prescribed solutions for alleviating poverty and often do so by working with the very leaders of those countries who suppress those rights.

Easterly made the excellent observation that Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t seek to alleviate poverty among African-Americans first. He understood that ensuring that they had economic and political rights came first.

The last half of the book provides a nice description of how the incentives work in a free market (or when people have economic and political rights) to be the most effective pill against poverty. Easterly, though, steers away from using terms that carry baggage in today’s political clime, like markets and capitalism, and keeps the focus on the individuals. Instead of calling it capitalism, he refers it to a people trying to solve other people’s problems.

Signals v Causes: Poverty

From the Introduction of the William Easterly’s book, The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor:
:

The technical problems of the poor (and the absence of technical solutions for those problems) are a symptom of poverty, not a cause of poverty. This book argues that the cause of poverty is the absence of political and economic rights, the absence of a free political and economic system that would find the technical solutions to the poor’s problems. The dictator whom the experts expect will accomplish the technical fixes to the technical problems is not the solution; he is the problem.

Think of technical problems as problems like not having medicine, food or the internet and technical solutions as providing medicine, food and the internet.

I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the book. I heard about it from this EconTalk episode with William Easterly and that discussion is worth a listen.

If you want to help the poor, you should read this

I agree with Mark Perry (an economist who has bought me a beer), of Carpe Diem, that the reduction in the world poverty rate is the most remarkable achievement in human history.

The percentage of the world population living on $1 per day or less has dropped since 1970 from around 26% to just over 5%.

It’s hard to argue with those results. They are inflation-adjusted.

I can think of a couple things that might be easier to argue about regarding those results.

1. I can imagine some folks would say that 5% isn’t good enough.

2. I can imagine that some folks would argue about the cause of those results. I agree with Perry’s explanation as provided by Arthur Brooks: “globalization, free trade and international entrepreneurship.”

I can imagine that some folks would say it was the growth in government and aid. But, for them, I’d ask, what if you’re wrong? As Brooks says:

…if you love the poor, if you are a good Samaritan, you must stand for the free enterprise system, and you must defend it, not just for ourselves but for people around the world. It is the best anti-poverty measure ever invented.

I agree. I could be wrong and I think — for the benefit of the poor — I should keep that in mind and stay open to evidence to the contrary, because whether I’m right or wrong doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.

What is important it what really helps them.

I also think us supporters of free markets often forget this. The opposition paints us as the defenders of the rich, the “1%” and king-like CEOs, while we’re really advocating for the benefit of everyone, including the poor. 

Let the experiments begin

Whenever I think of Bitcoin, I can’t help to think of the Liberty Dollar, a paper-based alternative currency that the Fed shut down in 2009 after about an 11 year run.

Bitcoin has a unique value proposition in currency.

It carries cachet among techies (and maybe druggies) and is in limited supply. The former gives it collectible value. The latter gives it purpose for citizens of countries with bureaucrats who have inked their money presses. It feels better heading to the store with currency that may not lose half its value before you get there.

If allowed to continue, I think Bitcoin has the potential of spawning an evolution in alternative currency experiments that may find all different sorts of niches for value propositions and, more importantly, reduce the power the Fed has to mess up the economy.

There already is a Bitcoin cousin, Litecoin. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the likes of Starbucks, Walmart, Amazon.com and Google test the waters. Why just supply a wallet when you can also supply the currency?

Pope vs. Mankiw

Here.

I’m surprised Mankiw didn’t point out that the greater good produced by free markets does not rely on the “crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power” at all.

Liberty is the Golden Rule

Why I’m Libertarian is a new Tumblr blog (via Pretense of Knowledge and EconLog blogs) where folks declare why they are libertarian. Great idea.

Here’s why I’m libertarian: Because I believe in The Golden Rule. I believe that’s the true source of liberty.

Do unto others as you would have done unto yourself.

The day we talked about The Golden Rule in church when I was a kid was a clarifying moment. I remember thinking, man, that makes a lot of sense. What a fabulously easy way to test your actions. Would I want others to do that to me? If the answer is no, or even a maybe not, don’t do it.

Lots of libertarians say they are libertarian because of things like ‘limited government’, ‘individual rights’, ‘don’t believe in war’…and so forth.

But, for me the Golden Rule is why all of those things are important.

Update: In another coincidence on this blog, in this week’s episode of EconTalk, Russ Roberts interviews Nassim Taleb about an essay he wrote called, Skin the Game. He also discusses the source of the Golden Rule.

I personally believe that the Golden Rule is a social norm that is responsible for the advances in the standards of living humans have experienced over the last several hundred years. I haven’t finished listening to the EconTalk podcast yet, but I’m hoping Taleb will agree with me.