Putting the cart before the horse: a ‘signal or cause’ saying

Have you ever heard someone say, “I need to buy a treadmill so I can get in shape.”

After a few months, these treadmills go unused and collect dust.

“But, I know people who stay fit and they have treadmills.”

Those people stay in shape because they have made exercise a priority. The treadmill is a signal of their priority, not the cause of it.

If you want to get in shape, you first have to make exercise a priority. That can be done without a treadmill.

Buying the treadmill first is putting the cart before the horse.

The consistently fit buy the treadmill as a supplement to their exercise routine — not as the centerpiece of it. It’s used on rainy or busy days to keep their priority.

I saw a tweet recently calling for building 600,000 futsal courts in the U.S. to give kids more places to play pickup soccer.

I agree that lack of pickup soccer is a key problem with soccer in the U.S., but building the courts before soccer is being widely played, informally, is putting the cart before horse.

The tweeter sees futsal courts in soccer-playing countries and thinks that’s the key to getting more kids playing.

Those futsal courts are a signal of a soccer-playing culture, not the cause of it.

My town has two street hockey courts that haven’t seen action since the 90s when that fad faded away. Simply having the courts doesn’t motivate anyone to play street hockey.

They sit there unused like the treadmill collecting dust.

More futsal courts will come when parks and rec directors see kids all over their town playing soccer in driveways, backyards and parks.

In fact, two areas in my metro area have futsal courts where a lot of pickup soccer is played. Those areas are rich in soccer-playing cultures from soccer-playing countries.

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Signals vs Causes: Bacteria

This NY Times article reviews studies that suggest that the makeup of bacteria in your gut may cause you to lose or gain weight (via Instapundit).

Perhaps as likely, the makeup of bacteria in your gut responds to what you eat, how much you eat and your activity levels.

We have high tolerance for disatrous gambles

In his column this week, Walter Williams discusses a Ron Paul/Wolf Blitzer debate moment and NY Times columnist Paul Krugman’s reaction to it.

He [Krugman] was referring to a GOP presidential debate in which Rep. Ron Paul was asked what should be done if a 30-year-old man who chose not to purchase health insurance found himself in need of six months of intensive care. Paul correctly, but politically incorrectly, replied, “That’s what freedom is all about — taking your own risks.” CNN moderator Wolf Blitzer pressed his question further, asking whether “society should just let him die.” The crowd erupted with cheers and shouts of “Yeah!”, which led Krugman to conclude that “American politics is fundamentally about different moral visions.”

This is a good example of why I don’t care to watch election debates.  This topic deserves more in depth exploration, but the debate format only allows for sound bite responses.

I agree with Williams and Ron Paul.  But, I doubt those answers will do much for people who disagree with us. I’m not sure if my responses will either, but here are some other things to consider.

First, I’d like Wolf to clarify what he means by “society.”  Members of society are free to do what they like for this hypothetical 30-year-old.  Who’s stopping them?  Why do they need to be forced through government?

Medical practitioners could donate their time for his benefit.  Individuals can choose to donate their money to cover his costs.  People can form organizations that raise funds to help folks like him.

But, I think what Wolf really means by “society” is “government”.

It’s a pet peeve of mine when folks use “society” in place of “government”.  The underlying assumption is that there are only two options — either the 30-year-old buys insurance or the government comes to the rescue.  When you say “society” and really mean “government”, just say “government.”

Second, I’d ask why the 30-year-old decided to not buy insurance?  This is rarely discussed, but the answer is important.

Certainly, we could just say the 30-year-old made a bad gamble, but that doesn’t give the root cause.  It’s not only a bad gamble, it’s a disastrous gamble. Why he would make such a disastrous gamble?   Running red lights is a disastrous gamble also and very few people intentionally make this gamble.  Why not?

What if he made his health insurance gamble because he knew government would back him up?  That’s called a moral hazard and we find ourselves in a bad position when what is believed to be compassionate government policy actually causes more people to make disastrous gambles.  That also drives up the cost of insurance, medical care and government for everyone, as they are left paying for those disastrous gambles (which is exactly one of the key underlying problems driving medical costs in the U.S.).

Third, I’d ask for more information about this 30-year-old.  What’s his income?  What kind of car does he drive?  What phone plan does he have?  Where does he live?  How much did his TV cost?  Which TV service does he have?  How much would a catastrophic insurance policy cost him?  Enter your zip code on this website to find out.  In my zip code, a $5,000 deductible policy for a 30-year-old single male with Blue Cross Blue Shield is quoted at $53 per month.

I wonder, if “society” would have less compassion for him if it found out that he could afford the $50 / month insurance insurance policy, but chose not to buy it so he could have the best data plan for his smartphone.

Apparently, “society” didn’t think much of this woman’s efforts to raise money for her cancer treatments with yard sales, since the local government shut her down.  But, it appears that individuals in society have privately and voluntarily taken it upon themselves to help her out.  Good for them.

Third, I might ask why “society” should value the 30-year-old’s life more than he valued it himself, as demonstrated by his own unwillingness to insure himself?

I can’t imagine “society” having much sympathy for a driver who died in a car accident because he recklessly chose to run red lights.

This is just another example of where we let poor logic lead us to make bad decisions.

Poor logic: That guy made a disastrous gamble, let’s help him.

Better logic:  Let’s encourage that guy to not make disastrous gambles and let’s, through our private actions, help the truly needy.

So, I can well imagine someone like Blitzer saying, “so what do we do when we have a 30-year-old male dying who didn’t buy insurance?”

First, “we” do like the people did for the lady having yard sales.  We take private actions to help him, because we are good people.

Then, if he recovers, we take him by the ear and let him know that he should be ashamed of himself for making such poor choices that others had to come to his aid and take away resources for the truly needy.

We let him know that he will be expected to make responsible choices, because next time there are no guarantees of help.  He played us for fools once.

Maybe he goes on a speaking tour or gets interviewed by the local news and sends the message to other able-bodied and able-minded folks to not take disastrous gambles because it’s selfish and not worth it.

And, maybe one day he will come across someone who took a disastrous gamble and lost and will do the same for her that others did for him.

Maybe, in the process, he picks up some dignity and reinforces it others.

Give it back? Part 2

Thanks for the comments on the post, Give it back? I think you all made great points.

I think dave’s comment will make sense to my friend (I’ll call him Sam):

what if instead of spending it, the person decides to save and/or reinvest the million? a million dollars worth of capital could probably create more than a couple jobs.

Sam is employed by folks who make good money.  He might not have his job if the owners gave most of it back.  I think it’s helpful to tie a discussion back to someone’s personal situation.  I can’t wait to see what Sam thinks of this.

Mari’s point is also excellent.  A million dollars may be more than enough in one year, but what if that isn’t consistent income from year-to-year?  Shouldn’t we be allowed to save it for the future?

thebigdog asks, give it back to whom?  Another great point. Who would judge to make sure the recipients are worthy?

Mari and thebigdog both get to a key problem with Sam’s statement, it’s arbitrary. As Mari points out, the million-dollars-per-year is an arbitrary judgment, and thebigdog points out that whomever is deemed as valid beneficiaries would be an arbitrary judgment.

If Sam’s arbitrary judgment were to be imposed on others, that opens the door for others imposing their arbitrary judgments on him and we all lose our property rights and freedom in the process.

I’m holding off responding to Sam until I hear back from him.  I’d like to see what he has to say about your points.

Thanks again!

Nice Video on Wealth Creation

Bill Whittle asks for 10 minutes of your time in the following video to explain how conservatives view wealth and where it comes from:

I like the central premise that liberals tend to view wealth as a fixed pie to be split among people, while conservatives tend to view it as something that derives from win-win trades.

To illustrate, I liked the graphics he showed of LA in the 1800’s and today.  Bill asks how it LA changed so much if wealth was a fixed amount?

My favorite part of the video starts at 4:16 where Whittle does an excellent job of explaining how he created a little bit of value as an office temp making $7.50 per hour for an insurance company by cross-checking a list of customers with a list of checks sent.

I made that insurance company just a little bit wealthier.  By confirming those check mailings, I was reducing loss of customers due to frustration and error.  I was reducing the amount of time that higher level, more valuable employees would need to spend undoing the damage caused by unsent checks and all the rest.

A cross-checked and confirmed list was more valuable than one that wasn’t.

To me, this example is easier to identify with than the examples often given by econ professors, and given by Whittle later in the video about trade between primitive tribes.

I know few people who can adequately explain the value they produce in their job for their employers or the value they find in the stuff they purchase on a daily basis.

I also enjoyed the final few seconds of the video.  “I would be much more impressed with your moral outrage…”  Great line.

What value do you produce for your employer or your customers?  Why are you worth more than what they pay you?

Random Thoughts

It strikes me as odd that people who believe government spending on infrastructure is good because it stimulates the economy (e.g. creates jobs for workers and encourages more efficient travel and shipping of goods with more road capacity) often are the same people who want to tax the same economic activity they sought to stimulate because they perceive that activity to have negative externalities like pollution and global warming.

It also strikes me as odd that the people who support socializing medicine because they believe everyone has a right to free medical treatment, seem to be the first people to assert that since they now help shoulder the burden for our medical costs they have a right to tell the rest of us how to live in order to minimize those costs.

In both cases, I can assure you that such people haven’t given much consideration that they may be wrong or that their thinking is somewhat paradoxical.

Potpourri Saturday

This morning while chatting after a 5k race, my father-in-law told me a story about a guy he knows who came to the U.S. from Cuba years ago.  During this gentleman’s first Christmas get-together in the states he cried when he saw all the food on the table because he knew his mother was back in Cuba eating measly rations.

While listening to Dennis Miller interview podcasts from this week a few gems brought a smile to my face.  First, Carly Fiorini said of Barbara Boxer:

Let me tell you after having debated Barbara Boxer, this is a woman unencumbered by the facts. She is unencumbered by the facts of her own record.  She is unencumbered by the devastating unemployment that is in California today.

Second, Ken Blackwell said:

We have become a culture where earning money doesn’t entitle you to it, but wanting it does.

Blackwell also said:

Our [Republicans] problem in the 90s, once we got the brilliant opportunity to be the dominant and governing party, we campaigned like Ronald Reagan and we governed like Jimmy Carter.

On leadership, if you aren’t spending a good amount of time surrounding yourself with honest and sharp people and doing your best to take care of them, it will very likely backfire on you someday.