The “Anger Index” or, “Profane in the Brain”

Having spent the better part of a year developing Cato’s Education Market Index, I’m obviously interested in the use of statistical indices to assess policies and measure trends. Well, it seems that the blogosphere is on the verge of developing a new “Anger Index” to measure the discomfiture of the left and right in America.

Blogger Patrick Ishmael has just compiled statistics on the use of profanity by the main left-wing and right-wing political blogs (hat tip Instapundit). The left is currently in the “lead” (waaaay in the lead).

It will be interesting to see how the distribution of political anger, as manifested by use of profanity, will be affected by the 2008 presidential election outcome. If a Democrat takes the White House, will the Anger Index flop the other way? Will it turn out to be lower in states that are more free than in states that are less free? What does it tell us, if anything, about the left, the right, and American political discourse?

T.R. with Nukes

So Senator John McCain has officially entered the race.  Which may be good news if you like the idea of a president who puts sardonic quote marks around the phrase “First Amendment rights.”  But if you like your government limited and constitutional, and the aims it pursues sober and realistic, you may not feel like cheering.   

Matt Welch has a piece in the latest issue of Reason detailing the myriad reasons limited-government types should fear a McCain presidency, among them: McCain’s fascination with Teddy Roosevelt, his indiscriminate hawkishness, and his affinity for National Greatness Conservatism, libertarianism’s bete noire.  The Reason piece isn’t online yet, but Welch’s recent LA Times op-ed on the subject will give you the flavor:

Sifting through McCain’s four bestselling books and nearly three decades of work on Capitol Hill, a distinct approach toward governance begins to emerge. And it’s one that the electorate ought to be particularly worried about right now. McCain, it turns out, wants to restore your faith in the U.S. government by any means necessary, even if that requires thousands of more military deaths, national service for civilians and federal micromanaging of innumerable private transactions. He’ll kick down the doors of boardroom and bedroom, mixing Democrats’ nanny-state regulations with the GOP’s red-meat paternalism in a dangerous brew of government activism. And he’s trying to accomplish this, in part, for reasons of self-realization.

But there’s a detail that I haven’t seen in any of Welch’s writings on McCain that further supports his case.  It’s stuck with me since I read it in newsprint some seven years ago.  From a profile of McCain in the February 27, 2000 edition of the New York Times, there’s this:

“I think he sensed that life held something bigger for him, but he didn’t know what it was yet,” said Doug McCain, his eldest son. The younger Mr. McCain remembers once going with his parents to France and visiting Napoleon’s tomb – Napoleon had been a childhood hero of John McCain – and sensing that his father was searching for any lessons history might hold about how he himself might best serve his country. [Emphasis added].

Napoleon “a childhood hero”?  No kidding.  As a kid, I think I preferred Aquaman, but it takes all kinds.   

Wealth, Income, and the Folly of Redistribution

A column by Peter Cuthbertson at TCS Daily comments on research showing that most wealthy people have very frugal habits. Indeed, their frugality is a big reason why they are wealthy:

Dr. Stanley revealed that the typical millionaire spent less than $400 on their most expensive suit, and only about 1% spent more than $2,800. Only one in ten millionaires had ever spent more than $300 on a pair of shoes. Most millionaires pay a few hundred dollars or less for their watch, and $30,000 or less for their main motor vehicle. They have been married to the same person most of their adult lives. …This is no coincidence. It is not that most millionaires are in the habit of being frugal despite their wealth: it is that they are so wealthy because they are in the habit of living so frugally. The plentiful residual income goes into savings and investments that are left to grow for decades. It is not inheritance that explains American millionaires: most inherited nothing and fewer than one fifth inherited even 10% of their wealth.

The column also notes that there is a big difference between income and wealth, and explains how class-warfare policies are poorly designed:

This surprising picture of America’s wealthy presents class warriors with two problems. First, un-American as it might be to scapegoat and overtax the rich when they are perceived as Porsche-driving and Rolex-wearing, one can nonetheless imagine the envy that might inspire. But what is the future of class hatred in an America where, in fact, Porsche drivers and Rolex wearers have little net wealth, and the real rich are those who eat at the same restaurants and drive the same cars as most people, even when they can afford not to? …Second, devising economic policies that would target the wealthy would be still more difficult. Higher income taxes might reduce income inequality, but it would be a sideshow to the reality that inequalities of wealth are a result of some living below their means, not unequal incomes.

Unfortunately, the American left is unlikely to promote the behaviors that would lead to greater prosperity among those with lower incomes:

If liberals are determined to reduce economic inequality, they would have to take lessons from Dr. Stanley and encourage generally a culture of delayed gratification and a certain amount of self-denial – a self-reliant America of stockholders and coupon-clippers who marry and stay married. This is the profile of America’s wealthy, and a serious effort to reduce inequality would mean getting more Americans to adopt this lifestyle.

India Reveals Its Preference

My favorite concept in economics (it should tell you something about my dorkiness that I even have a favorite economics concept) is the theory of revealed preference. Basically, this theory (one of Samuelson’s) says that if you want to know the preferences of a rational economic actor, you just need to observe their behavior. It is basically the economists’ way of saying (and showing, using the ubiquitous diagrams) that actions speak louder than words.

India has treated us to a beautiful display of the theory by announcing yesterday that it will unilaterally reduce its tariffs on some goods and reduce its maximum tariff on non-agricultural goods to 10 percent (from a previous cap of 12.5 percent) in an effort to control inflation (more here).

This is the same India that is one of the main hold-outs in the Doha Round of multilateral trade talks. The same India that, in the poisoned atmosphere of the failed talks in Cancun, formed the G-20 in an attempt to assert developing countries “rights,” and to generally disrupt talks. Particularly in the agriculture negotiations, India has been frustratingly adamant that developed countries do more to open markets than developing countries and has been a strong proponent of mechanisms by which developing countries can shield a certain (20 percent, insists India) share of their “sensitive” agricultural products from tariff reductions.

Why, one is then tempted to ask, are India’s trade negotiators still clinging to the same tired mercantilist position in the Doha round, while the treasury goes ahead with (albeit limited) trade liberalization? Bureaucratic inconsistency, perhaps. Or maybe India enjoys, in the theater of the WTO, stickin’ it to the man. It’s a pity that the man they’re stickin’ it to is the man on the Indian street.

Senator Susan Collins Supports National ID

I wrote here previously about Senator Susan Collins’ odd move to protect the REAL ID Act from a nationwide rebellion that began in her own state of Maine.  She had introduced a bill to extend the deadline for implementation of the REAL ID Act by two years.

Followers of REAL ID know that delaying implementation helps a national ID go forward by giving the companies and organizations that sustain themselves on these kinds of projects time to shake the federal money tree and get this $11 billion surveillance mandate funded.

It is now clear that the bill is intended to provide a key piece of support to proponents of a national ID, as shown by a press release on her Web site this morning touting a statement from the National Governors Association.  Collins has gone native, attending more carefully to the interests of national political organizations than to the interests of her constituents in Maine.

Representative Tom Allen (D-ME) has introduced legislation to repeal REAL ID and restore the identification provisions in the 9/11-Commission inspired Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act.  Unlike Collins, he seems to be paying attention to his home state.  Politicians’ stances on REAL ID have affected their electability in the past.

Senator Collins should be well aware that delay can’t make the REAL ID Act work.  The real problem is the law itself, and it should be repealed.

Update: A DHS press release issued today announces that it will grant states an extension of the compliance deadline, and it will allocate funds from the Homeland Security Grant Program.  The money tree has already begun shaking.  Secretary Chertoff is quoted saying, “We are also pleased to have been able to work with Senator Susan Collins, and I believe that the proposed regulations reflect her approach.” 

Gore the Glutton

After learning of Al Gore’s huge appetite for electricity at his Nashville home, I dug out my past electricity bills for comparison. 

Gore has a huge mansion to power, but he also consumes four times more electricity per square foot than my family. Is the inventor of the Internet running a computer server farm out of his home?

According to news accounts, Gore’s home is 10,000 square feet and he consumes 221,000 kwh of electricity per year.

My family’s home is 3,200 square feet and we consume 18,000 kwh per year.

Gore’s home is about three times larger than ours, but he consumes 12 times more power. Thus, adjusting for home size, Gore is plowing through four times the electricity. 

Our house has drafty doors and cathedral ceilings causing our electric heat pump to work overtime–it is not a model green home by a long shot. Thus, how Mr. Gore and family manage to vastly out-consume us per square foot is a big mystery.