Thomas Sowell on Ben Rogge as Teacher

The classic small liberal arts college is more than a pleasant place where other people know you, though that is not a small consideration for a student living away from home for the first time—especially a shy student.  Academically, the learning process can be far more manageable where professors are teachers first and foremost.  One of the best taught introductory economics classes I ever saw was taught by the late Ben Rogge at Wabash College in Indiana.  Few students at Harvard would ever get such a good foundation in the subject.  Ben, rest his soul, had obviously thought through all the pitfalls of the subject and led the student safely around them.

Source: online version of Thomas Sowell. Choosing a College: A Guide for Students & Parents. 1989.
http://www.amatecon.com/etext/cac/cac-ch03.html

Ayn Rand Admirer Illarionov Pushed Russia Toward Free Market

Image source: WSJ article quoted and cited below.

Since the following interesting article, Andrei Illarionov has resigned. That’s probably a bad sign for Russia, unless you argue that Illarionov can be more effective outside the government than inside it.
The article begins by quoting Al Breach, who is chief strategist at Brunswick UBS:

(p. A13) It’s a one-party state, and if you’re out, you’re out,” Mr. Breach says. “If he can help stop some of the bad things, it’s worthwhile sticking around.”
This year, however, things haven’t gone his way, with state-owned oil and gas companies swallowing up independent oil producers, vastly expanding the state’s presence in the economy. The result, says Mr. Illarionov, has been a fall in private investment in the oil industry and slowing oil-production growth–at a time when world crude prices are soaring. Meanwhile, state outfits have also bought stakes in private engineering companies and taken over the management of Russia’s biggest car maker, AvtoVAZ.
It is all anathema to Mr. Illarionov, a St. Petersberg-trained economist and longtime admirer of Ayn Rand, the American writer who lauded unfettered capitalism. In the early 1990s he was an adviser to Yegor Gaidar, then- prime minister and architect of Russia’s early market reforms. But he quit in 1994, criticizing the government for failing to curb inflation and for putting the brakes on overhaul (sic). He then became one of Russia’s most respected independent analysts: He was the only prominent economist to call for a sharp devaluation of the ruble before the currency crashed in August 1998.
Mr. Putin hired him as an adviser in 2000, and he was a top (sic) force in drafting the liberal, modernizing agenda that the president pushed through in his first term. His ideology — trimming state spending, slashing taxes, cutting red tape and deregulating Russia’s gas, electricity and railway monopolies — became official policy.
Mr. Illarionov was seen as one of the key drivers of crucial overhaul initiatives: a flat income-tax rate of 13%, a rainy-day Stabilization Fund for Russia’s oil windfall, and the decision to dip into the fund to make early repayments on Russia’s foreign debt.
But his reputation suffered in later years from a long, bruising fight over how to restructure the electricity industry, and a quixotic campaign against the Kyoto Protocol, both of which he largely lost. Russia ended up ratifying the climate-change pact last year.

For the full article, see:
GUY CHAZAN. “Putin Insider’s Outsider Game; Adviser Illarionov Preaches Capitalism, but Who Is Listening?” THE WALL STREET JOURNAL (Fri., December 23, 2005): A13.
(Note: There are several differences (e.g., in the title, and in the reference to Ayn Rand) between the online version of this article, and the print version of this article.)

Do-Nothing Leaders Are Not Always Wrong


The source of the above image is:&nbsp http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/posters

Edward Tufte says that the graph/map above is the best graphic ever drawn.   His criterion is how much information is communicated per unit of ink.  (Sort of a signal to noise ratio?)
The tan line that starts thick on the left, and gets thinner toward the right, represents Napoleon’s army as it enters and crosses Russia.  The width of the line is scaled to the remaining size of the army.   On the right hand side, the tan line ends in Moscow, where the army disastrously wintered.   The black line moving left shows the diminishing size of the army as Napoleon retreated.
When I was a student at Wabash College, I was a determined and vocal advocate of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.   My economics professor Ben Rogge, was not so enthused.  He thought there were better Russian novels to read, and on several occasions, suggested:&nbsp ‘Diamond, you should read War and Peace.’
I often did not take Rogge’s advice quickly, but usually I took it eventually.&nbsp After leaving Wabash, I read War and Peace.   Parts of it, I found too much like a soap opera for my taste.  But I did find a part that resonated.
Part of Tolstoy’s story is about the Russian general facing Napoleon, who would not fight, but who continued to retreat into the heart of Russia.  He was widely castigated as a do-nothing leader.   But as a result of the Russian general doing nothing, Napoleon ordered his army further and further into Russia.
It is very hard for leaders in government to do nothing.  They will be castigated.  But sometimes nothing is exactly the right thing for them to do.

Edward Tufte’s wonderful book is:
Tufte, Edward R. &nbsp The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. 2nd ed. &nbsp Cheshire, CT: &nbsp Graphics Press, 2001.

Rockefeller’s Money Conserved Land

The limestone buttes, granite steppes and near-permanent icecap that make up the urban expanse known as Rockefeller Center constitute the best-known landscape connected to the famous family’s name.
But those 12 acres in Midtown Manhattan are far from the only vista that owes its existence to Rockefeller philanthropy.
Over the last century, five generations of Rockefellers have used the family wealth to reshape the American horizon, creating a magnificent panorama of open spaces and more than 20 national parks from the rocky coast of Maine to the icecapped mountains of Wyoming.
These natural oases are not always linked to the Rockefeller name, but tonight they will be. As part of the yearlong celebration of its 100th anniversary, the National Audubon Society, one of the nation’s largest and oldest conservation organizations, is honoring the family for a record of conservation that matches the society’s century-long existence.
”Cumulatively, no other family in America has made the contribution to conservation that the Rockefeller family has made,” said John Flicker, the society’s president.
The towering Palisades that guard the west bank of the Hudson River were preserved with Rockefeller money. So was Colonial Williamsburg. The family created exquisite miniatures like Greenacre Park, tucked between two buildings on East 51st Street in Manhattan, and it donated 35,000 acres to help form Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. Part of the family’s Pocantico estate in Westchester County has become a beloved forest preserve, and an educational center known as the Stone Barns.
The Cloisters, Acadia National Park, Forest Hill Park, Greenpeace, the Nature Conservancy — the list of the family’s efforts to conserve and protect the environment goes on and on.
. . .
Many of the family’s most spectacular conservation efforts began with a family camping trip. ”As Father traveled, if he saw things that needed to be done, he took steps and did something about them,” David Rockefeller said.
He recalls accompanying his father to California in the 1920’s to see the giant redwood trees. When the elder Rockefeller found out that the trees were in danger of being clear-cut by a timber company, he helped buy 9,400 acres that he then donated to the state. That grove of ancient redwoods, including one that is more than 2,000 years old, is considered the largest old-growth redwood forest in the world.
. . .
More than 30 members of the Rockefeller family — ranging in age from 17 to 90 — will be honored by the Audubon Society at tonight’s ceremony, each one involved with the environment. Most times, though, the support is low key and the family tries to shun the spotlight.
”The important part for us is not having our name on it,” said Gail O’Neill Caulkins, 52, a fifth-generation Rockefeller who is president of the Greenacre Foundation, which assists in the maintenance of city parks and supports dozens of community gardens, ”it’s seeing that something gets done.”

For the full story, see:
ANTHONY DEPALMA. “Praising Rockefellers for Land They Saved.” The New York Times (Tues., November 15, 2005): A25.
(The online version has a somewhat different title.)

Only 13% of Americans Want to Live in Dense Urban Places

(p. A8) Strict growth limits have driven population and job growth further out, in part by raising the price of land within the growth boundary, to communities across the Columbia River in Washington state and to distant places in Oregon. Suburbia has not been crushed, but simply pushed farther away. Portland’s dispersing trend appears to have intensified since 2000: The city’s population growth has slowed considerably, and 95% of regional population increase has taken place outside the city limits.
This experience may soon be repeated elsewhere as planners and self-proclaimed visionaries run up against people’s aspirations for a single-family home and low-to-moderate-density environment. Such desires may constitute, as late Robert Moses once noted, “details too intimate” to merit the attention of the university-trained. Even around cities like Paris, London, Toronto and Tokyo — all places with a strong tradition of central planning — growth continues to follow the preference of citizens to look for lower-density communities. High energy prices and convenient transit have not stopped most of these cities from continuing to lose population to their ever-expanding suburban rings.
But nowhere is this commitment to low-density living greater than in the U.S. Roughly 51% of Americans, according to recent polls, prefer to live in the suburbs, while only 13% opt for life in a dense urban place. A third would go for an even more low-density existence in the countryside. The preference for suburban-style living continues to be particularly strong among younger families. Market trends parallel these opinions. Despite widespread media exposure about a massive “return to the city,” demographic data suggest that the tide continues to go out toward suburbia, which now accounts for two-thirds of the population in our large metropolitan areas. Since 2000, suburbs have accounted for 85% of all growth in these areas. And much of the growth credited to “cities” has actually taken place in the totally suburb-like fringes of places like Phoenix, Orlando and Las Vegas.
. . .
It is time politicians recognized how their constituents actually want to live. If not, they will only hurt their communities, and force aspiring middle-class families to migrate ever further out to the periphery for the privacy, personal space and ownership that constitutes the basis of their common dreams.

For the full article, see:
JOEL KOTKIN. “The War Against Suburbia.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., January 14, 2006): A8.
For more of Kotkin’s observations, it might be worth consulting his: The City: A Global History. Modern Library, 2005.

“Now we feel free”




The photos are by Ashley Gilberston, and the source was the online version of the article cited below.

The American invasion has been a bittersweet episode in the lives of many Iraqis here. In two afternoons of interviews in the parks this week, with both Shiites and Sunnis, mostly secular working people, they said the dangers that had shrunk their lives in certain ways had come along with new advantages.
Hind Jabr, a 16-year-old in a head scarf with bangles on her wrists, spoke proudly of the red Toyota her parents bought used two years ago. The salaries of her mother, a teacher, and her father, a police officer, have jumped since 2003. “We were suffering under Saddam,” said Ms. Jabr, sitting on a stone ledge that overlooked the lake. “It was safer, but we couldn’t get things.”
. . .
For Mr. Sadiq, there was a lesson in the day’s serenity. “Don’t focus on these bombs – they will end definitely,” he said. “What’s most important now is that Iraqis feel comfortable inside themselves. Now we feel free.”

For the full article, see:
SABRINA TAVERNISE. “In a City of Mayhem, a Respite in the Park.” THE NEW YORK TIMES (Fri., January 13, 2006): A4.

Nebraska’s Ban on Corporate Farming May be History (Three Cheers)

(1A) Initiative 300 generally bans corporations and certain other business entities from owning farmland or engaging in agricultural activity in Nebraska, although there are a number of exceptions geared toward family-based organizations.
It was added to the Nebraska Constitution through a petition drive and vote of the people.
Since receiving 57 percent of the vote in 1982, Initiative 300 has survived several state and federal court challenges, a petition drive to repeal it and attempts by state lawmakers to circumvent it.
The ban was promoted as a way to protect family farms in Nebraska from large corporations.
But Camp ruled that the effort to protect Nebraska farmers violated the U.S. Constitution’s commerce clause because it discriminated against out-of-state interests.
“There is considerable evidence to support the premise that Initiative 300 was conceived and born in a protectionist fervor,” the judge said.
Camp acknowledged that the ban might promote legitimate state interests, such as conservation of natural resources and rural economic development. But she said the state had not shown that the ban was the only (p. 2A) way to reach those goals.
In the lawsuit, Jones said the result of the ban has been a loss of income because he cannot contract with out-of-state corporations for raising and feeding livestock. The ban also reduces the value of his land and his stock in the family farm corporation by barring potential purchasers.
Other plaintiffs said the ban has prevented them from transferring their farm and ranchland as they wished and has interfered with their ability to compete in a national market.
In addition, the judge agreed with two of the plaintiffs who said the ban violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, because it says the person holding a majority of a farm must supply a majority of the day-to-day labor on the farm.
One was Shad Dahlgren of Lincoln, who was paralyzed as a teenager and uses a wheelchair. The other is Todd Ehler, an Elkhorn man who also is disabled.
Both said they are limited in their ability to own farms, since they cannot provide the day-to-day labor required under Initiative 300.

Governments do not know, and usually do not seek, the most efficient market structure. When they try to impose one, as in the Nebraska ban on corporate farming, their actions almost always end up reducing efficiency, and increasing prices for consumers.
For the full article, see:
Stoddard, Martha and Bill Hord. “Ruling Hits Corporate Fram Ban: Initiative 300 Unconstitutional, Judge Says.” Omaha World-Herald (Sunrise Edition, Friday, December 16, 2005): 1A & 2A.
(The online version is, I believe, the version printed in the evening edition of Thurs., Dec. 15, 2005, which I believe is the same, except for the headline.)

Ben Rogge on Bread, Capitalism and Free Choice


‘I believe that capitalism is the system that produces the wholesome bread, and socialism is the system that produces the moldy bread,’ Ben Rogge used to tell us. ‘But,’ he would continue, ‘even if I was wrong, and if it was the other way around, and it was capitalism that produced the moldy bread, and socialism that produced the wholesome bread, I would still choose capitalism. I would choose it because capitalism is the system of free choice.’
But most of us are not like Ben Rogge. Most of us are more like Deng Xiaoping, whose most famous saying is ‘It does not matter whether a cat is black, or white, as long as it catches mice.’ Contra Rogge, he cared only about which economic system produces the goods.
Personally, I believe Rogge was right. But I also believe that if capitalism is to survive, it will only be by continuing to convince the far more numerous Deng Xiaopings of the world.

Theory Uncomplemented by History, “Is Worse than no Theory at All”

I have been primarily a theorist all my life and feel quite uncomfortable in having to preach the historian’s faith. Yet I have arrived at the conclusion that theoretical equipment, if uncomplemented by a thorough grounding in the history of the economic process, is worse than no theory at all.

Excerpted from a letter from Schumpeter to Miss Edna Lonegan, dated February 16, 1942, stored in the Schumpeter archives at Harvard, and reprinted in:
Swedberg, Richard. Schumpeter: A Biography. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991, pp. 229-230.

Beware of the “Sparkling Error”

PixarFish.jpg
Schumpeter once wrote that “We all of us like a sparkling error better than a trivial truth.”
This image reminds me of the prudence of adopting a healthy scepticism toward the “sparkling error.”
I believe that the image from Finding Nemo is by computer graphics artist Randy Berrett. The source of the image is the online version of Joe Morgenstern. “MORGENSTERN ON MOVIES: Finding Pixar; A new exhibit examines a studio that can’t stop examining itself.” The Wall Street Journal (Sun., January 7, 2006): P11.
The “sparkling error” Schumpeter quote is from Schumpeter’s diary, and is quoted in: Swedberg, Richard. Schumpeter: A Biography. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991, aphorism 86, on page 205.

Ben Rogge on Consistency, Smith and Ricardo

Some would argue that consistency is not always a good thing. Ben Rogge’s favorite quote from Emerson was:

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesman and philosophers and divines.

Rogge used to mention this quote when he defended Adam Smith against the charge of inconsistency. He would say that Smith’s errors on one page would not keep him from writing an important (albeit inconsistent) truth on the next page. In this regard, he contrasted Smith with Ricardo. Ricardo was consistent, and since he was wrong at the start, he was consistently wrong throughout.
Source for the Emerson quote:
Bartlett, John. Familiar Quotations. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1955, p. 501, column b. Bartlett gives the source as Emerson’s essay “Self-Reliance.”