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#2 Caplan's argument is bizarre. Extending his line of reasoning the government can even grant Bill Gates and Microsoft a blanket tax exemption: Gates' will become wealthier saving probably another million lives?

Clearly we should just give him money. Taxes should flow to him.

Caplan's full of it - what else is new?

So... only philanthropists are allowed to break the law? So If I go around charging local businesses "protection money" and then use that money to start an orphanage, and the government shuts my operation down, the government is responsible for the deaths of the children that might have been saved by the orphanage?

If giving Gates a tax exemption would save a million lives...why not?

In the end that's why utilitarianism and egalitarianism necessitate open borders libertarianism.


Assuming a) Gates makes more efficient use of it for this purpose than the government would * and b) that we want those million lives saved.

*(yeah, I know. I couldn't keep a straight face)

As I posted on his site, his argument would imply that if Bill Gates had donated his fortune to evil causes (like "Arm the Homeless"), that would be a reason to support stronger anti-trust laws.

Needless to say, anyone can see the non-sequitur there...

The issue is assuming utilitarianism as the sole organizing principle for society. The logic deduction from that principle is correct; disagreements are ultimately with the premise.

It's really not so bizarre. Let's assume the marginal utility of income for Gates is near zero - that's what Caplan means when he says Gates might give it all away.

The alternative is that government gets the money and does..... What exactly?

It is quite possible that Gates is a more efficient spender on social welfare programs than government. For example, we spend three times as much administering TANF than it would cost to lift every man, woman and child in America above the poverty line through cash transfers. Now, we all know that many of the poor would misuse pure transfers, and government must sacrifice some efficiency to ensure effective outcomes. Even these efforts can be circumvented (selling in kind transfers).

If Gates is more efficient at spending that $5 billion, maybe he ought to be allowed to do it.

Government has been fighting the War on Poverty since the late 60s, and poverty is winning.

"Government has been fighting the War on Poverty since the late 60s, and poverty is winning."
Its worse than that, poverty got worse (relatively) and social mobility decreased as a result of the War on Poverty. Furthermore, we have more transfers to rich people now than we did then.

There is a War on Poverty, but claiming the government has actually been pursuing it is laughable.

Perhaps the question should be: Which side is the government on?

#2: in hindsight everything's wrong =)

Caplan is right, except there are 2 major failures in his argument. A) He is writing in 2012, and the legal battle was on 1998. B) Lifes are saved in SubSaharian Africa and not US. US laws care about US people, cold fact.

Who on Earth have imagined that Bill Gates were going to use his money this way? Ok, let's assume a some close friend knew these great intentions of giving, how would you prove it? I don't see a lawyer trying to stop the process on the basis "Hi, this is a great guy who's gonna give ALL to charity". In order to get things done, you must "discretize" reality or take little fragments from it if you ever take a decision. That's what lawyers did. Take in account US laws and effects on US market & people. If your decision ultimately affected some other people on the other side of the world may be morally wrong but it is kind of impossible (money, time, human resources) to take in account all possible impacts from one single decision.

From 2012, knowing that Bill Gated gives a lot to charity and he is saving people it is really easy to blame anti-trust laws. But I hope Mr. Caplan would have written this words back 1998, if not better to keep in silence.

Actually, I'd say Bill Gate's personality has been a fairly well-known quantity in the industry since about that exact time. Perhaps it is because of the anti-trust case, but even then I knew that the nazi bill gates jokes were very much about his business practices and not about his personality. We knew his philanthropy was coming, and we knew it was going to be tied to getting a Windows machine in a every 3rd world classroom. This is completely in keeping with historical American entrepreneurs .

Now, what we didn't know is that he would switch his philanthropy to such rock-star pursuits as battling malaria in Africa. We only knew that his wealth would some day better the world.

#4 - In physics, you aren't generally put on a research grant until you pass your qualifiers and course work (in physics two years). The grant money takes into account overhead which supports those students, so Yglesias's point is totally pointless.

There are some useful comments to his post at Slate.

That's not how I've seen it in engineering, it's more like Yglesias says. What is universal about only being on a "grant" after quals? Besides, money is fungible. That is the kind of stuff I chalk up to academic bushwa designed to hide what they are really doing.

In general, you aren't going to get a lot work out of students in their first couple of years of classes and they need people to teach the labs. Qualifiers also filter out a lot of bad students.

In any case, it has nothing to do why students find science and engineering classes to be hard.

Even if some grad students went straight into research, his point still doesn't hold. Research grants and funding budgets for the grad students and/or post-docs. Teaching clearly pays the wages and tuition waiver for a TA. Many foreign grad students pay full tuition.

There is no substitution. No grad students are crowded out. I never saw a grad school class that didn't have some empty chairs.

As for price effects on their salaries, I don't buy it. New PHDs might make more through wage compression, but that seldom hurts the older professors (except their feelings). In fact, it is often a basis for giving them more.

#2 - if Microsoft hadn't been embroiled in the anti-trust suit, do you think they would have put out the $150m investment to save Apple, and commit countless more dollars to support Office for Mac?

Maybe the anti-trust suit is the source of Apple's current billions, and hence will lead to millions of lives saved in future.

But Apple is evil.

The "investment to save Apple" was actually a payoff/settlement of Apple's well-founded claims that Microsoft had violated Apple's copyrights (or patents) on QuickTime. Jobs let Bill Gates save face, and gave Microsoft an incentive to not crush Apple at a later date.

Cast it any way you like. Doesn't matter. Without the $150m and the commitment to Office for Mac, Apple might not have survived. M$ probably wouldn't have made the investment without the anti-trust suit.

Hence, you can argue that future millions saved by Apple benefactors are a result of the anti-trust suit.

#2 -- One way to look at the enormity of financial crimes perpetrated in this country by people who will never face justice. The livelihoods of many people are wasted; and money that could have gone to save lives is gone to enrich the already rich.

Everyone seems confused about the Caplan blog. The point was not that the anti-trust case should have been dropped because of Bill Gates' philanthropy. The point was that the anti-trust case cost many lives (I am not that sure, but I guess in general things that take money from "regular" people and give it to Africans will have that effect)

More generally, while the judgment might be zero sum for the litigants, the litigation process is not efficient and results in a net welfare loss.

If the patent owner who sued Microsoft was dirt poor, he would likely give a lower proportion of his windfall to charity than if Gates got to keep it. It's not clear what Apple and their lawyers would have done with the money.

The conclusion of the article turns on the near zero marginal utility of income of Gates and his propensity to give away the low MU dollars to charity. I think many readers are getting too bogged down in the specifics and are missing the bigger point.

No, it didn't cost lives. Caplan's point is an absurd abuse of logic that claims Bill Gates could have _saved_ more lifes. Using the term "cost" implies a certain amount of direct causation between the anti-trust and human lives. I'm getting the sense that Caplan is just a corporatist apologist.

#2 It's the other way around. The antitrust case saved lives because it turned Gates into a philantropist to improve his image.

I don't think anyone would spend $25B to improve their image

give me $25.01B, and I would in a heartbeat!

You say that now, but I bet the story would be different after you got the money. ;)


That said, it's too snarky to put all of his philanthropy down to image makeover.

When you have that much money, honestly, what is the point of keeping it or growing it further? I don't really understand why more megarich don't do the same.

Maybe some people have a passion and talent for it, much like some people have a passion and talent for wood carving or something. Some people, I guess like growing capital, enjoy investing money. Money means something to them that's very different than what it means to you.

Obviously. But at those levels it's getting a little pathological. It's their right of course, but it's my right to call them out for being a little nuts.

He needs to improve his image so he can make more money...oh wait...

If your wealth is bound up in stock, giving it away also means relinquishing control over your company.

And of course, if you want to do the most good, you could make a strong argument that you should spend your entire life acquiring capital (assuming you are good at it) and then give it all away in your will. Sure you could give away $100 million at 40 years old, but what if you could give away $10 billion at 60, or $100 billion at your death?

That works too. That's what Warren Buffett is doing. He is also trying to shame other megarich into pledging to do the same (actually he's trying to get them to commit to giving away at least half of their fortunes either while alive or at death).

Many have agreed, but far fewer than I'd consider 'appropriate'.

Yglesias misses one important point - any certified degree (BSChemE, American Chem Soc certified BS) has a limit on the number of graduates per lab bench. I went to Rice where there was a notorious Chem E cut course -- but it was based on the number of folks they could move through the Junior and Senior year and maintain their certification, not an inherent nastiness on the part of professors of chemical engineering.

Rice University students are very very smart, so the chem E courses are intensely hard.

Undergraduates per lab bench? There may be various limiting points. The question is why?

That's something they could improve over time by skimming a little off the football program.

However, there is an ethos among engineering professors that "you must be this smart and this hardworking to make it here". Having a weeder course means not dealing with people who aren't going to hack it in most of the other courses, allowing the professors to deal mostly with students who *are* capable of doing the work.

Scott Sumner already made a very similar point, quoted earlier on EconLog:

#4 The comments are vastly superior to the blog post.

Regarding STEM, from personal experience, I would say that reputation chasing by faculty/administration is a big factor. As an engineering undergrad, I was told pointe blank by faculty and administrators that the school was actively seeking to reduce engineering undergrads to increase reputation.

I ended up changing into a math major, which was a very different story. Classes for math majors were generally very tiny, so there was no incentive to cut, either from the Yglesias staffing perspective, or from the prestige perspective. Faculty was very encouraging to students.

Then again, math doesn't need any artificial pressure to reduce enrollment, it's very difficult (always an major with lowest average GPAs), and generally only directly qualifies you to be a math teacher (without graduate school, or actuarial exams).

So you're unemployed like me then?

No, he probably joined the SOA. :^)

#5 - I worked in a used bookstore and there was a guy who'd come in every week to return his sniper thriller novels and take out new sniper thriller novels. He'd been on the rifle team in high school. For his day job, he was a headhunter.

Just an anecdote ;)

4. Blame STEM faculty?

You get status by flunking and boring people out.

One of the reasons that no one respects diplomas from for profit schools is because when your money comes from the students it works to make you want to pass them thus lowering the status of your diplomas.

BTW IMO people learn more history from watching the history channel than in school but the grade in history is more impressive because the history teacher is far less interesting.

A separation of schooling and testing might help.

If you think the history channel teaches history, I'm guessing you think the learning channel is a wonderful alternative to reading.

I'd reply further, but I face-palmed so hard upon reading your comment that I have a concussion.

Way to miss his point. He was making the point that most History classes are less effective than just watching the History Channel. Not that the History Channel is some panacea of learned thought.

Given my own college experiences I would say this is true for all but the few professors who are knowledgeable enough and able to actively engage the students in the subject matter.

My point is that unless you want to learn about the Sasquatch and Hitler's bodyguards you should not watch the history channel.

I'm not sure what the ideal academic environment envisioned here is. It's been shown that Private Colleges boost grades, but so what? Generally the academic environment is so watered down at any school I've seen that a student can pass any non-STEM (and a healthy percentage of STEM) courses with one night of study.

I guess I agree that most people who need 'active engagement' probably would be better off watching the history channel. Academic achievement is boring :(

Hitler was guarded by Sasquatch!? I should have paid more attention in history class.

I don't know about you, but I usually read about what I've seen on the History Channel. I don't expect to learn much about the War of 1812 in a one hour TV show.

Hitler's Bodyguards was fascinating. I never read anywhere how many attempts there were to kill Hitler. I knew of only one attempt - the bombing in the bunker. The subject of assassination in general and efforts to prevent them would be a great topic for historians. The ability of a government to re-form after a successful assassination is very consequential.

I'll take your word on Sasquatch. I've only seen him on beef jerky commercials.

It also brings up the question would society be better off with more less qualified STEM grads or fewer more qualified STEM grads. I would think that if you believe that college teaches important things that will not be learned elsewhere that you would say more less qualified STEM grads, hands down.

The catch is that I think it's only true in sTEm, which is why it's so hard for people to come to terms with this issue.

What do you mean, Andrew?

5: It would be retarded to click on a link with such a moronic headline, so I did not do it.

That being said, if snipers are shooting at "victims," I suppose that so were bombers,riflemen, and navy bombardiers on D-Day in 1944.

But not jihadis or whoever Obama decided needs to die yesterday. Those are "legitimate military targets."

Am I right? Yes, I am right.

#1 - Chuck Klosterman has basically nothing of value to say about Tune Yards, or indie fame as it stands. He alludes to the fact that this isn't the first time some indie musician has received critical love, referring to LCD Soundsystem and Cat Power, but the list is much much longer than that.

His point can be summed up as: "Man I liked this CD. Hey, she's an indie rocker. Make more good CDs, please." Cool story bro. He wants her to keep making good albums, else her one good album will become a joke. Klosterman should have just tweeted that.

Right. I have *no idea* what Klosterman is talking about. None.

And that Tune-yards album is crazy good.

What Klosterman doesn't get into is why does "indie rock" create so many one-hit wonders, compared to other genres of popular music?

I think he alluded to it with the second footnote. "We always want to reward art for being innovative, but most artistic innovations are not designed to hold up over time." People love something new and innovative...briefly.

Yeah, that Klosterman article was just bad. He admits in the first paragraph that he's barely listened to the CD doesn't understand the lyrics (or even whether he *should* be able to understand the lyrics). He sees the pop appeal, but doesn't get the depth of the critical appeal, so he fantasizes that it's all overblown and one day, all the indie rock critics will be embarrassed for overrating her. No, only indie rock critics who need to be *right* about everything and to have their rightness validated will feel that way. Most critics will shrug and go back to trying harder to figure out what's appealing about the record, or what's not appealing about it, as the case may be. Lazy criticism, lazy writing.

Actually, I don't think Klosterman liked the CD much at all. His point, I think, is that the indie genre puts the artist in a box it's very hard to get out of. The indie musician is not rewarded for making catchy songs, selling records or writing music people want to listen to - in fact, according to Chuck, Tune Yards makes music that most normal people would go out of their way to avoid. So an Indie musician seeks critical and hipster acclaim rather than popular acclaim, and it is very hard to keep the critics and hipsters believing in your genius, probably easier as a career choice to try to write catchy songs every few years and say to hell with music polls.

My problem with Chuck Klosterman is that he sounds EXACTLY like Eric Cartman from South Park. How am I expected to take seriously anything he says in that voice?

As a scientist / engineer I have no idea what is so great about STEM. Real wages have stagnated since 2000. I know lots and lots of PhDs who cannot find jobs. A lot of pharma jobs were eliminated / outsourced during the recession. When I hear people talk about the need for more STEM graduates I wonder what planet they are living on.

Once you see the wreckage of the Statue of Liberty, you'll know it was this one. You Maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!

Ray, I kind of agree, except that if they don't get STEM degrees then they will be qualified for a lot less useful stuff. The only college-level jobs that require someone to be physically in the US are:

Teachers (Overloaded)
Lawyers (Overloaded)
Medical Doctors and Surgeons (more please!)
Social Workers
Law Enforcement

btw this is an off the head type thing so feel free to add any I forgot.

Plumbers & HVAC

True and some other skilled tech jobs, though I was restricting my list to the Bachelor's+ occupations. To the best of my knowledge I don't think a 4 year degree is required for Plumbing or HVAC, more like a year or two of technical school.

It would be nice if the blog software here actually respected line breaks, eh? (And/or had a preview function.) This has caught me out more than once when making lists.

Thanks for understanding :)

#2 is stupid. I'm not sure if Caplan was trying to make some larger point with a stupid example, but if he was, I missed it.

If Bill Gates is really that good with money, we should just give his foundation money directly. Use antitrust to prevent anti-competitive practices, thus increasing total economic output, then tax some of this away and give it to Gates' Foundation. Maybe that was somehow Caplan's point, but if so, he should have just said that.

Gates might be highly efficient with the money he has given but may be less efficient with more.

One relevant question is whether he can more efficiently donate $5 billion additional dollars than government can. I think we know that answer.

The other relevant issue is whether his gift giving has economies of scale or not. At some point, we know Gates will become a very inefficient benefactor.

I seem to recall a story where he donated money to schools based on test scores that were good only through statistical variation, and a lot of that money was wasted. I think he learns his lesson faster than Congress or executive agencies do.

#2: People have already made the obvious criticisms, but here's something else: The whole argument is based on the claim that the antitrust case destroyed $140B of wealth, but this claim is based on stock price movements in the middle of the tech bubble insanity. MSFT bounced around all over the place during that period -- maybe seven times it gained and then lost comparable market cap within a few months for no discernible reason. So not only does Caplan's argument fail logically, but the premises aren't even established.

You're quibbling with the numbers, not his point.

He used the numbers to draw attention to the article, and pedants like us try to take him to task for his mathematics. I guess he draws a foul for innumeracy.

Replace the dollar figure and lives saved with any numbers you can make up. OK, now realize that Gates has nearly zero marginal utility per dollar earned, and he has demonstrated a habit of giving that money to causes that, inter alia, save some lives.

The question is whether his use of that money is more enhancing to social welfare than taking it from him and distributing it to Apple, the government, or some homeless guy.

Except it's still an insipid argument. Even the straightforward act-utilitarianism of Bentham depends on a calculation of the fecundity and purity of the consequences of an act.

The relevant counterfactual is not 'what if Gates had been able to donate 5 billion more to charity,' but rather, 'what if Gates had been able to donate 5 billion more to charity and the government didn't enforce anti-trust law (or didn't enforce it regularly, or uniformly, or according to whatever pattern it does now, or even, 'in this particular case.')

The ability to elide the qualification depends upon masking a substantive assumption about the benefits, or lack thereof, of anti-trust law and its enforcement, in this case and in general.

But Caplan doesn't demonstrate anything about the costs or benefits of enforcing anti-trust. Obviously, Caplan and other chattering libertarians have plenty of arguments about that. But they aren't present in the example, and they're necessary to make it work.

#5 As the article points out, snipers often do the exact opposite of dehumanizing their victims; they sometimes go overboard inventing some non-existent connection to them instead.

And apparently they're not the only ones: here's a link to an NPR article about some hippy vegan-turned-butcher, who prattles about how "By killing the animal himself, Plotsky says he strengthens his bond to that animal".

Why imagine your victim in the role of some kind of complicit participant, with some bullshit mystical bond, even when death takes them suddenly and completely unawares? Maybe it's a psychological coping mechanism. Who knows.

What makes the article interesting us that it is counterintuitive. Dehumanization of enemies is a common training technique, and building a just cause has been an effective coping mechanism. The article points out that the sniper differs from the cannoneer because he looks his target in the eye. I think the point is that snipers have a different coping mechanism, perhaps by training, nature, or self selection.

A pilot can lawfully bomb a military target with civilians in the area, but he might not feel right about it later. The sniper must positively identify every target as hostile. It might be easier for the Army sniper because he makes an independent firing decision on every target. The pilot destroy the targets he is told to fire upon. The crew of the USS Vincennes was not too happy about their decision when they discovered they shot down a passenger plane.

'Do snipers dehumanize their victims?'
Well, they kill them - isn't that 'dehumanizing' enough?

Doesn't the argument about Gates also assume that there was no economic benefit from the anti-trust case? Didn't the people who were made wealthier or more productive also give to charities and pay taxes?

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