Inferior Good: Diminishing Marginal Stupidity in Action

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

I am love and acceptance

My political communication (emails, conversations, etc.) is too often about setting myself apart while putting others down. This self-righteous, vainglorious and destructive anger feels warm and powerful as it flows though my veins but later, in the mirror, I see harsh judgment and rejection, which is the opposite of who I want to be. I want to be love and acceptance. Scratch that, I am love and acceptance.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Buy Local?

Check out Joe Dresser’s rant against the buy local movement, which he sees as “nonsensical and… jingoistic”. Though his post may be a bit uncharitable, I tend to agree.

I recognize that there may be a certain romance associated with goods produced close to home (as with anywhere else), but otherwise simply being local isn’t enough to make something worthy of my purchase.

I get that the term “local” is about more than geography for some people, but I humbly submit that the terms “environmentally sustainable” and “artisan” describe this ethic much more clearly and accurately while avoiding the natavist, anti-cosmopolitan nature of the word “local”. It may be possible to optimize quality and environmental impact by purchasing local goods, but this is not necessarily so in many cases. Further, the term “local” is easily adopted as a simple marketing tool by producers with values quite divergent from those of the core buy local community.

[Ed: Why am I not surprised that a wine importer doesn’t view the buy local movement positively?] Fair enough, but consider also that Mr. Dresser’s vocation is probably consistent with his quite heartfelt appreciation for the world’s many wonderful wine traditions. I imagine that buy local might appear like a narrow minded assault on the diversity he thrives upon.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Hoodwink or hyperbole?

Patrica Cohen’s recent NY Times article on Heterodox Economists is very disappointing. The gist is that mainstream economics won't make room for heterodox views on trade and free markets.

First, as Alex Tabarrok points out, it is absurd to cast the profiled economists as embattled outsiders fighting the oppressive mainstream, for those mentioned in the article are most prominent.

Second, the profiled economists make some ridiculous claims. For example, Dani Rodrick states:

“I fall into the methods of the mainstream, but not the faith,” which he defines as the belief that more markets and free trade are always good and government regulation is always bad...

Assuming the article correctly characterizes Mr. Rodrick’s beliefs, Mr. Rodrick is guilty here of gross exaggeration or tremendous sloppiness.

I don't think I've ever read or heard an economist say that more markets are always better than government regulation. I learned about the concept of market failure in Econ 101. Does not every other economics student do the same? I’d be shocked if 99% of economists did not concede that there are at least some cases in which a government solution may prove optimal.

Friday, July 27, 2007


The Stranger’s Charles Mudede shares his view that Tyler Cowen and other “capitalist economist[s]” fail to understand that the problem of scarcity is manufactured by owners of the means of production.

First, when Economists talk about scarcity, they simply mean that people can’t have everything they want and that therefore, they must make choices. Put another way, resources are limited but desires are potentially unlimited. It’s not clear to me that Mr. Mudede grasps this meaning.

One example of a scarce resource is time, for all of us have a limited time here on earth. While we may want to live forever (unlimited desire), the fact is that we cannot (limited resource).

Another example of scarcity is the fact that people can only physically be in one place at one time. I physically can’t be in London and Kumasi and Seattle at the exact same time. Rather, I must choose one.

Certainly, Mr. Mudede is correct that abundance is important, for it entails more choice. If there were only one good movie in existence, then it probably wouldn’t be too hard to make time to see it. But in fact, there are probably thousands of good movies, not to mention there are many fun things to do besides watching movies. If one could live forever and one could be and do everything at once, then choice would be unnecessary. But of course, due to scarcity, we must make choices about how we spend out limited time, our limited money, our limited attention, etc. I must decide how many and which movies I will watch, and when I want to do so. Every time I watch a movie, I forgo something else that I could have done instead (aka opportunity cost).

Perhaps Mr. Mudede can identify with the phrase: So many movies, so little time. Notice the phrase wouldn’t make much sense if it were So few movies, so little time or So many movies, so much time. This is because abundance and scarcity both play a role in the meaning of this phrase. There are abundant movies one might like to watch, but one only has a limited amount of time that may be spent watching movies.

That being said, Mr. Mudede is correct that scarcity is sometimes manufactured. For example, cartels like OPEC collude in an attempt to create scarcity of oil. Governments attempt to create a scarcity of the legitimate use of force within their own borders. Labor unions create scarcity (by opposing immigration, for example) to protect their wages. Firms attempt to devise innovative products and services that will be hard for their competitors to copy, because they know that scarcity is associated with profit.

In a sense, I think one can plausibly argue that manufactured scarcity is a central problem for Africa. For example, Africa has many natural resources and of course talented, intelligent people. Yet, the lack of institutions and laws sufficiently defining and protecting property rights stifles the domestic accumulation of capital and foreign investment in Africa (see Hernando De Soto’s “The Mystery of Capital”). In this way, I suppose one could argue that African States are essentially manufacturing scarcity of capital. Of course, capital is already scarce to the extent that it is not unlimited, but surely African States have made capital scarcer in Africa than it might otherwise be.

I doubt however, that this is what Mr. Mudede had in mind. Rather, I suspect that he feels an item is scarce only when there’s not a reasonable amount to go around. So for example, he might say that food and energy are not scarce, because clearly the world can produce enough to provide all of earth’s inhabitants with some reasonable allocation of those products. So the problem isn’t that there’s not enough stuff to go around, rather the problem is the way that stuff is allocated.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

A refreshing change of pace

Last night I had a $5 Bairrada. It was one of the more enjoyable wines I've had in months, as: A) It was light to medium bodied; B) It was very juicy, beckoning me to take sip after sip, and C) at only 12% alcohol, it featured a welcome lack of throat burning activity. It was truly a pleasure to taste my food and wine though an entire meal (no numb tongue half the way through), to have each drink feel refreshing and to share an entire bottle's worth with my wife w/out getting all that drunk.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

WBW #26 2002 La Font du Vent "Les Promesses"

Long time no post. Sorry I’ve been neglecting you lately. I’ve been out of town each of the last 4 weekends. We put in new floors in the basement and new lighting in the living room. Additionally, work has been very busy. Blogging lost out.

In any case, I know you've been waiting on the edge of your seat to find out what I consumed for WBW #26. I will torture you no longer. It was the 2002 Cotes du Rhone La Font du Vent “Les Promesses”, produced by Domaine Font de Michelle. This inexpensive and enjoyable wine is made from Grenache and Syrah by skilled Chateauneuf du Pape producers Jean and Michel Gonnet. For more information on Domaine Font de Michelle, check out The Wine Doctor.

$8.99 from Esquin Wine Merchants, Imported by Robert Kacher Selections.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Give 'em a fair trial and then hang 'em

I check Craig Camp’s wine blog just about every day. He has an interesting perspective on wine and so far (based on only a few data points mind you) my palate seems fairly aligned with his.

I was a bit troubled by a link in one of his recent posts, however. The linked web page calls for a boycott of Krug-Mondavi in response to a labor dispute. I commented on Mr. Camp’s blog that it’s not clear to me that Krug-Mondavi actually did anything wrong. Mr. Camp responded:

The agriculture industry's track record of mistreating and underpaying its workers is well documented. Try picking grapes for a buck a bucket for a couple of days and then decide if the Union's demands were reasonable.

I was disappointed in his response, but perhaps not all that surprised. Here is my response to Mr. Camp:

Mr. Camp, it seems that your argument may be summarized as follows:

1) The agriculture industry's track record of mistreating and underpaying its workers is well documented.
2) Krug Modavi is a company engaged in industrial agriculture.
3) Therefore, Krug-Mondavi is guilty of mistreating and underpaying its workers.

I believe this logic suffers from a fallacy in which exceptions to the general rule are ignored. Here’s another example of similarly flawed logic:

1) Craig Camp finds recent release Alsatian Rieslings to be disappointing.
2) The Albert Mann 2004 Riesling is a recent release Alsatian Riesling.
3) Therefore, Craig Camp will not like Albert Mann 2004 Riesling.

Of course, we know you quite enjoyed the Albert Mann 2004 Riesling.

My intention here is not to be a persnickety punk, but rather to highlight the dangers of generalization. Of course, generalization is very useful tool with which we may simplify our complicated world. But imprudent use can be very hurtful.

You seem to be encouraging people to boycott Krug-Mondavi. This is a direct threat to the employees and owners of this company. Their lives could be materially damaged by this boycott, were it to be successful. Do you think it responsible to attack people’s livelihood in this manner before first knowing the facts?

If Krug-Mondavi truly behaved unscrupulously, then by all means take action. But in my view, we all deserve to be innocent until proven guilty.

Perhaps this particular issue is an emotional one for Mr. Camp. I know there are certain issues that cause an emotional response in my self that makes it difficult for me to see things objectively. It happens to me all the time really, but I work hard to avoid letting my knee jerk reaction get the best of me (not always successfully of course).

I think our world would be a much better place if we’d be a bit more careful about our use of generalizations. This is especially true for often contentious issues such as politics, race and religion.

UPDATE: Craig Camp posts this reply:

So by your own logic, as you admit you don't know the facts why are you bothering to comment. As you refer to the Mann Riesling, it is the exception to the rule, I can assure you that C.Krug/Mondavi are not when it comes to the treatment of agricultural workers. Perhaps if this boycott was successful it
would help the lives of these workers - a problem that is more pressing than helping the wealthy owners of these wineries. You could not have any other reason for taking up their banner other than you are indeed "persnickety".

This saddens me a bit. I was absolutely not trying to be an a*shole. I simple felt that the linked to webpage didn’t sufficiently support a very serious action such as boycott. I’d hoped we’d have a good discussion on the topic. Perhaps Mr. Camp had information on Krug’s past practices that he’d link to, for example.

Also, I’m simply suggesting that Krug should be treated as innocent until proven guilty. Isn’t that a basic concept in free societies? I’m in no way “taking up their banner”.

I find it distressing when a conversation turns from facts and issues to impugning people's motives. Why didn’t he just a) show me his evidence, b) grant he’s not positive Krug is in the wrong, or c) ignore my comment? Instead, he repeated his unsupported assertions and essentially called me a liar.

UPDATE II: Mr. Camp apologized in his latest comment to me. It appears that he mistook my intended tone. This certainly happens from time to time, and undoubtedly some of the responsibility is mine (I should have communicated more clearly my intentions… though of course I specifically said I wasn’t trying to be persnickety!).

He also provided this link to a blog entry talking about the poor conditions that vineyards workers face. I accept his apology of course, misunderstandings happen all the time.

[Ed. Update II was posted after Mr. Camp posted his comment at this blog. Whit intented to update earlier but was unable to do so.]