Friday, August 20, 2010

Gates and Buffett Take the Pledge -


Kimberly Dennis: Gates and Buffett Take the Pledge -


Bill Gates and Warren Buffett announced this month that 40 of America's richest people have agreed to sign a "Giving Pledge" to donate at least half of their wealth to charity. With a collective net worth said to total $230 billion, that promise translates to at least $115 billion.

It's an impressive number. Yet some—including Messrs. Gates and Buffett—say it isn't enough. Perhaps it's actually too much: the wealthy may help humanity more as businessmen and women than as philanthropists.

What are the chances, after all, that the two forces behind the Giving Pledge will contribute anywhere near as much to the betterment of society through their charity as they have through their business pursuits? In building Microsoft, Bill Gates changed the way the world creates and shares knowledge. Warren Buffett's investments have birthed and grown innumerable profitable enterprises, making capital markets work more efficiently and enriching many in the process.

Other signers of the pledge, like Oracle's Larry Ellison and eBay's Pierre Omidyar, have similarly transformed the way people all over the world exchange information and products. They have democratized the transmission of ideas and goods, creating opportunities for people who never would have had them otherwise.

Successful entrepreneurs-turned-philanthropists typically say they feel a responsibility to "give back" to society. But "giving back" implies they have taken something. What, exactly, have they taken? They haven't taken from society, but rather enriched us in ways that were previously unimaginable.




Friday, August 13, 2010

On Gay Marriage, Leave It to the Voters -

I disagree with Mr. Yoo on the policy goal, but he is correct in describing how we should resolve the issue.


John Yoo: On Gay Marriage, Leave It to the Voters -


In deciding Perry v. Schwarzenegger last week, Judge Walker struck down California's Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage, as a violation of the rights of gays to equal treatment under the law. Judge Walker did more than distort settled precedent and sweep aside centuries of practice. He short-circuited the Constitution's democratic process for the resolution of moral disagreements.

A single judge, he elevated himself above the collective wisdom of millions of California voters and the considered judgment of state and federal officials.

The Constitution does not set up the federal courts as a roving commission of do-gooders to correct all of the nation's problems. The courts, populated by a small number of older lawyers deliberately isolated from the people and inexpert in any field, are likely to cause more social diseases than they cure.

This distortion of the judicial role and rending of the political fabric are wholly unnecessary. The Constitution creates a far better approach to decide contentious moral issues: federalism. Under our decentralized system of government, states offer different combinations of taxes, spending and rights. Citizens can vote with their feet and live in the states that satisfy their preferences.

We trust federalism on other fundamental questions, like life and death. Gay marriage should be treated no different than capital punishment, euthanasia and the basic questions of education, welfare and the family. During the Constitution's ratification, Alexander Hamilton assured New Yorkers that the Constitution would never permit the federal government to "alter or abrogate" a state's "civil and criminal institutions [or] penetrate the recesses of domestic life, and control, in all respects, the private conduct of individuals."

Federalism will produce the political durability that supporters of gay marriage want. If states steadily approve, a political consensus will form that will be difficult to undo.

Consider, by contrast, abortion. Roe v. Wade (1973) only intensified political conflict at a time when the nation was already moving in a pro-choice direction. The decision tied the fate of abortion to the whim of the courts. It poisoned our politics, introduced rounds of legislative defiance and judicial intervention, and undermined the neutral principles of constitutional law.




Thursday, August 12, 2010

Washington vs. Paul Ryan -


Washington vs. Paul Ryan -


Mr. Ryan wants to remodel Medicare by giving seniors a modified voucher to buy private insurance. Mr. Orszag, et al., concede that the roadmap would make the entitlement permanently solvent, as confirmed in an analysis by their icon the Congressional Budget Office, but they claim that the amount of the voucher would not keep pace with rising health-care costs.

This is an odd complaint for an economist like Mr. Orszag, given that more market discipline and consumer choice in health care would drive down costs as it does in all other dynamic sectors of the economy. To take one example, recent research shows that a one percentage point increase in seniors insured by Medicare Advantage HMOs—the Ryan-like program that offers private options—reduces traditional fee-for-service Medicare spending by 0.9%, despite its price controls.

In other words, cost-conscious competition changes how doctors and hospitals provide care to all patients. A larger transition to market-based medicine could turn out to be as smooth as the private-sector shift to 401(k)s from defined-benefit pensions, and a similar reform was even suggested in 1999 by Bill Clinton's Medicare commission, which was led by Louisiana Democrat John Breaux.

This model is a threat to the ideology of those like Mr. Krugman who believe that government can and should decide how all patients are treated. But technocratic central planning won't reform the system, as its sad 45-year history in Medicare shows, and nothing is more likely to finish off Medicare "as we know it" than to continue the current trajectory as it swallows the federal fisc and crowds out all other priorities.

In that sense, Mr. Ryan is really presenting Washington with a philosophical choice between the status quo of an ever-larger and ever-more indebted government and a plan to pay for the promises we've made while still preserving free markets and economic growth. The firehose of invective pointed at Mr. Ryan is in part an attempt to scare voters and in part an effort to prevent voters from understanding that there is in fact a choice.




Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Why I'm Not Hiring -

First-hand account from an employer.


Michael P. Fleischer: Why I'm Not Hiring -


When you add it all up, it costs $74,000 to put $44,000 in Sally's pocket and to give her $12,000 in benefits.

To offset tax increases and steepening rises in health-insurance premiums, my company needs sustainably higher profits and sales—something unlikely in this "summer of recovery." We can't pass the additional costs onto our customers, because the market is too tight and we'd lose sales. Only governments can raise prices repeatedly and pretend there will be no consequences.

And even if the economic outlook were more encouraging, increasing revenues is always uncertain and expensive. As much as I might want to hire new salespeople, engineers and marketing staff in an effort to grow, I would be increasing my company's vulnerability to government decisions to raise taxes, to policies that make health insurance more expensive, and to the difficulties of this economic environment.

A life in business is filled with uncertainties, but I can be quite sure that every time I hire someone my obligations to the government go up. From where I sit, the government's message is unmistakable: Creating a new job carries a punishing price.



Monday, August 2, 2010

Does Language Influence Culture? -

I almost didn’t read this article, but I’m so glad I did!  Fascinating!


Does Language Influence Culture? -

New cognitive research suggests that language profoundly influences the way people see the world.


It turns out that if you change how people talk, that changes how they think. If people learn another language, they inadvertently also learn a new way of looking at the world. When bilingual people switch from one language to another, they start thinking differently, too. And if you take away people's ability to use language in what should be a simple nonlinguistic task, their performance can change dramatically, sometimes making them look no smarter than rats or infants.

All this new research shows us that the languages we speak not only reflect or express our thoughts, but also shape the very thoughts we wish to express. The structures that exist in our languages profoundly shape how we construct reality, and help make us as smart and sophisticated as we are.