A Stanford expert on philanthropy argues that tax-deductible American charity is actually a government subsidy and that philanthropy is not ‘redistributive’ enough. Acton’s Karen Woods points out (obvious to most) that helping the needy is not the exclusive domain of the state. “The real problem with government ‘charity’ is that government takes a ‘one size fits all’ approach to the problem of poverty,” Woods writes.
Apologies for a second Apple-related post in a row, but I thought this example might prove to be a decent case-study of competition in the marketplace. One of the new products that Apple recently introduced was iWeb, a new program that makes it easy “to create websites and blogs — complete with podcasts, photos and movies — and get them online, fast.”
Why do I bring this up? The reason is that a small software company has been working on a similar program, Sandvox. “Sandvox makes website creation elegant, intuitive and fun.” Karelia Software released a public beta last week in response to rumors that Apple was releasing a program called iWeb so that people wouldn’t think that iWeb came first. This is not the first time that this has happened to Karelia. A similar conflict existed between Karelia’s Watson program, and Apple’s Sherlock.
So why do we care? While many people might shrink from the challenge of taking market share from a large corporation, Karelia has embraced the challenge as an opportunity to provide a better product to its users. From Karelia’s blog:
What Sandvox can offer is a compelling alternative to iWeb, just as Watson turned into an alternative to Sherlock 3; Path Finder is an alternative to Finder; NetNewsWire and a host of others are alternatives to Safari’s RSS reader; and Adium can replace iChat. As each of these offer solutions to the limitations provided by Apple’s software, so too will Sandvox.
…As we move forward past version 1.0, we will be able to further distinguish Sandvox from iWeb by focusing on features that our users demand that will never be a part of the iLife suite.
Here’s tipping a hat to a company that understands that competition exists not to stifle, but to bring out innovation; and for embracing that challenge to produce a better product.
There’s interesting news on the global warming front in today’s Financial Times:
Everyone knows trees are “A Good Thing”. They take in the carbon dioxide that threatens our planet with global warming and turn it into fresh, clean oxygen for us all to breathe.
But now it seems we need to think again. In a discovery that has left climate scientists gasping, researchers have found that the earth’s vegetation is churning out vast quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas far more potent even than CO2. This is not a product of trees and plants rotting, which everyone already knew was a source of methane; it is an entirely natural side-effect of plant growth that scientists had somehow missed. Yet it is by no means trivial: preliminary estimates suggest that living trees and plants account for about 10 to 30 per cent of the methane entering the atmosphere.
(Via The Corner) The whole article is well worth a read. Perhaps it’s not such a great idea to destroy the global economy via Kyoto in order to save the planet from a phenomenon that may have much more to do with natural causes than climate change advocates have been willing to admit.
Many of you may have already heard of the new line of Levi’s jeans due out later this year, the iPod compatible RedWire DLX jeans: “With a joystick remote control built into the watch pocket, the new jeans will allow wearers to play, pause, track forward or back and adjust the volume on their iPods without having to take them out of their pockets.” There is also a built-in pocket designed to “conceal the bulge of the iPod.”
But Levi Strauss is a bit late to the concealment racket, at least as far as the iPod is concerned, since iPod-friendly underwear produced by Play, wittily named the iBoxer, is currently ready to ship. These boxer-briefs come in three standard colors (turquoise, black, and orange) with other print patterns available.
Worried about concealing the bulge? The iBoxer promises “a discrete front pocket.” FreshPair.com, a distributor of undergarments, also assures us that for every 2 iBoxers purchased, we’ll get 3 Free iTunes (Coupon Included in Order). Top sellers include Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” and The Black Eyed Peas’ “My Humps” (iTunes required).
I’ve resisted the urge to pain you, dear readers, by posting a picture of the iBoxer, but for those of you who are gluttons for punishment, click here.
On a more serious note, Apple should perhaps be concerned about market saturation. The typical cycle for pop culture rotations is the move from popularity in an underground sub-culture to the broader marketing and popularization of the movement. This is followed by backlash from the sub-culture and the accusation of “selling out” to corporate interests. We’ve yet to see whether such a backlash will occur from the tech-savvy (much like what has occurred against Microsoft).
And while Pat Buchanan recommends buying up gold reserves, I for one am waiting for the day when the currency switches over from dollars to iPods. Here’s a sample conversation:
Buyer: “How much is that 60 GB iPod?”
Seller: “3 iPod Shuffles.”
Buyer (crestfallen): “But I only have 1 iPod Shuffle and 1 iPod Nano!”
Continuing the discussion of energy usage from yesterday, check out this review in the New York Sun of Children of the Sun (W.W. Norton), by Alfred Crosby, emeritus professor of history, geography, and American studies at the University of Texas.
Reviewer Peter Pettus says that Crosby “has written a direct and clearly expressed analysis of the energy problem without hysterics, apocalyptic threats, or partisan rancor.” These, of course, are the precisely the characteristics that are so often found in discussions of energy policy.
Crosby finds that the essence of the problem is this: “we cannot solve the growing problem of our dwindling supplies of fossil fuels by turning to such popular palliatives as wind farms and solar panels, because to do so would condemn millions of our fellow humans to inevitable death. The answer to this dilemma is (as always): We must somehow find new sources of energy. The question is: where?”
Crosby does not rest at simply raising the question, but attempts to find a solution. Must we find a new answer, some novel technology as yet undreamt of? No, for “it already exists: the nuclear reactor waits at our elbow like a superb butler.”
Some new developments on the idea to move cable television to an a la carte subscription model: Christians and minorities are “concerned.”
According to the Christian Science Monitor, FCC chairman Kevin Martin is pressuring cable providers to move away from the tier-based subscription system to “a full thumbs-up/thumbs-down choice of individual channels.”
In what’s sure to tweak the sensibilities of the cable industry, Martin threatened that if no such moves were made, “basic indecency and profanity restrictions may be a viable alternative.” In other words, it’s the “Do what I want or there’ll be trouble” method of politicking.
The pressure by the FCC may in fact work against the existence of such “family friendly” or religious fare. In a curious confluence, “Democratic politicians and Christian broadcasters are crying foul. They are concerned that a wide expansion of channel choice could raise cable and satellite prices and spell the end of small networks targeted toward niche audiences.”
Martin emphasizes that there should also be “family friendly” packages, but I don’t see the real point of this if people can pick and choose what channels they want themselves anyway. Let them decide what is “family friendly” and what is not. Of course that’s precisely the situation these “niche” broadcasters want to avoid.
For its part, the Family Research Council and its senior legal council Patrick Trueman emphasized the importance of obscenity and decency enforcement on cable and satellite TV, in testimony before a Senate subcommittee last year.
As the nation prepares to celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. on Jan. 15, it’s time to broaden the discussion of race relations in America to include not just blacks and whites, but Asians, Hispanics and Native Americans. The long fixation on black-white relations has obscured some important measures of racial progress — or lack of it — in American society, argues Anthony Bradley. “In fact, the greatest impediment to appropriating King’s dream is our unwillingness to move beyond a white social barometer,” he says.
Jeffrey Tucker at the Ludwig Von Mises Institute:
You might say that water needs to be conserved. Yes, and so does every other scarce good. The peaceful way to do this is through the price system. But because municipal water systems have created artificial shortages, other means become necessary. One regulation piles on top of another, and the next thing you know, you have shower commissars telling you what you can or cannot do in the most private spaces.
Has central planning ever been more ridiculous, intrusive, and self-defeating?
Arnold Kling at the excellent EconLog says that “the government should empty its strategic petroleum reserve and buy energy futures contracts instead. At some point, the futures market has to be taken seriously.”
He concludes, “The government has all sorts of subsidies for alternative energy. However, the most efficient subsidy would be to buy oil futures contracts. If we must have an energy policy, it should consist solely of strategic futures market purchases.”
This on the heels of the announcement by Whole Foods Market Inc. that “the company is buying enough wind power credits to cover energy use at all of its U.S. stores, bakeries, distribution centers, regional offices and its Austin headquarters.” For Acton research fellow Anthony Bradley’s take on wind power, click here (and listen here for a radio interview [mp3] with Bradley on the subject). Read here about offshore wind farms.
I’m all in favor of the market determining what alternative energy sources there are and who decides to use them. Good for Whole Foods, I wish them luck. I’m not convinced, however, that I need to help pay for their switch to wind power, which government subsidies for such ensure that I do. Nuclear energy deserves a second look, and the harsh realities of energy markets is forcing even Europe to recognize this, as various European nations slate the construction of new nuclear reactors.
Check out this review of James Howard Kunstler’s new book, The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century (Atlantic), which describes it as a “litany around the increasingly fashionable panic over oil depletion.” This paucity of oil will in large part contribute to a future in which “the best-case scenario is a mass die-off followed by a forced move back to the land, complete with associated feudal relations. As the title implies, this is to be an ongoing state rather than a crisis to be overcome – a sentiment that the US critic Susan Sontag described as ‘apocalypse from now on’.”
Kunstler in part attempts to rehabilitate the figure of Malthus, who he says was generally right, but who could not take into account the veneer of transitory economic advancement enabled through the use of fossil fuels. Kunstler’s book fits in with a newly ascendent genre of apocalyptic writing, which unanimously agrees that humanity faces extinction. “The core elements of the litany are predictable: climate change, disease, terrorism, and an-out-of-control world economy. Other elements such as killer asteroids, nanotechnology or chemical pollution can be added according to taste,” writes the reviewer Joe Kaplinsky. Indeed, the view is shared across ideological and religious lines. The Rapture Index, for example, is currently at its high point for 2006: 154.
He contends that in The Long Emergency Kunstler essentially views humans themselves as the problem: “He has long argued against suburbia and the car, in favour of a ‘New Urbanism’. In places it is perhaps possible to read The Long Emergency as a revenge fantasy. Embittered at his inability to convince others that they should change their ways, Kunstler takes refuge under the wing of Nature’s avenging angel. He can be ignored (he attributes this to a psychological flaw in his detractors); the inhuman laws of nature cannot.”
For an introduction to New Urbanism, check out the controversy in the Journal of Markets & Morality on the question, “To What Extent and in What Ways Should Governmental Bodies Regulate Urban Planning?” beginning with an essay by Charles C. Bohl, director of the Knight Program in Community Building at the University of Miami, and continuing with a response by Mark Pennington, lecturer in Public Policy at the University of London. As is typical of the controversies, there is then one more cycle of responses.
Kunstler continues, noting that “apparently, those who will suffer most terribly in the long emergency are the US Republican states whose culture is built on violence and fundamentalist Christianity. Neighbourhoods with spacious housing (‘McMansions’) and ‘poor street detailing’, a particular insult to Kunstler, are singled out for destruction. Europeans, by contrast, may pull through in better shape. There is an uncanny alignment between the supposedly objective, inevitable laws of nature and Kunstler’s prejudices. Perhaps the best summary of his views is found in the book’s epigraph: ‘I don’t know if the Gods exist, but they sure act as if they do.'”
The remainder of the review gives a lengthy examination of Kunstler’s underlying claims, evidence, and prejudice, including his view of the effects of “entropy,” and is well worth a read.