In Praise of Bad Habits

In Praise of Bad Habits — Text of fascinating lecture by Peter Marsh, a learned and even moving defense of hedonism and full living against the self-righteous ascetics and the health police. Highly recommended! I'm going outside to smoke a Marlboro!

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center

17 thoughts

  1. I think it’s safe to say that Obama is more economically literate than the vast majority of people who will be voting for him. That’s a good thing. If high level democratic candidates were as good as their word on silly pitch fork talk, we’d far worse on trade policy than we actually are.

  2. Will I agree with you about basically everything. But you sound like a real asshole lately. Most people don’t understand economics, not in election years or any years. Freaking out over the fact that such people vote (or worse fantasizing about how much better off we would be if such people didn’t vote) is just as stupid, and reflects just as much a lack of understanding of human beings, as fantasizing about how nice it would be if everyone had free health care.
    Whatever the campaigns mean by “energy independence” is a stupid idea. But do you understand why huge numbers of people find the phrase to be appealing? Why don’t you write a blog post about how “energy independence” is actually impossible, but that the alternative is not so bad as people think? You used to be pretty dependable for empathetic libertarian commentary, and I often recommend your stuff to my communist family and friends. But I’m uncomfortable with the amount of self-righteousness you’ve been displaying these past few weeks. Hoping it’s temporary.

    1. I disagree. I like Will’s careful analysis and heavily-qualified conjectures as much as anyone. But, I also like it when he occasionally breaks loose and gets snarky and calls “Bullshit!” on bullshit. There’s room for both kinds of posts.
      Sure people will get the wrong impression and/or get offended some of the time. But, maybe some of them will look a little deeper and consider whether or not he has a point.

    2. See what liveblogging does to me?! Empathetic commentary will return when I am no longer deranged by observing democracy in action.

      1. Will, I’d never heard of you before – to my knowledge – until today on NPR, where you were speaking of the bailout and the need for correct regulation etc. What a breath of fresh air. The market isn’t evil. Government isn’t evil. In fact they are an inseparable holistic hippy buddhist oneness. Isn’t the Bill of Rights, the Fed, the bailout and Congress all really just another expression of the market in the sense that ‘we the people’ put it all there to make our lives better. And we make mistakes with our puts and calls as well as with our bills and laws.
        I sound like frickin jesse jackson.

  3. Obama may be the lesser of two evils in this election, but even if – as John V indicated – Obama is more economically literate than most of his supporters, what are we to make of a political party which thrives on the economic ignorance of its constituents ?

    1. Well its a lot easier to educate people on economics than it is to reverse the extensive xenophobia of the Republican Party.
      As a liberal who’s changed my views on trade issues in the past year because I’ve been learning about economics- I assure you it’s possible.

      1. Good point about Republican cultural xenophobia. If you expect me to defend Republicans, you need to look elsewhere. But if you continue to educate yourself on economics, you should read up on Freidman, Hayek, Mises and Public Choice Theory. I think you will discover that the incorrect economic assumptions of most Democrats extend far beyond just trade policy.
        Incidently, I also consider myself a “liberal”. I think it is way past time for the rehabilitation of that word.

      2. Its worth emphasizing that the “liberals who understand economics” model for libertarianism is much more palatable to those who grew up in (left) liberal households (in my case with a Marxist mother).
        And I have no doubt there’s plenty for me to read up on on economics. But part of the problem is that those on the left wouldn’t really have a problem with a far less restricted market if there were market friendly solutions for the issues we were concerned about- like say some form of negative taxation in place (as I undestand it Hayek is ok with this, right?) But for various reasons that kind of program is much harder to put in place politically than is a minimum wage- same goes for a carbon tax versus cap and trade. Now you and I might feel differently about global warming and economic inequality but the point is the more market-friendly solutions to these issues have (somehow) become less politically viable than more statist solutions. From my perspective this happened because Republicans (and a lot of Democrats) are more concerned with protecting corporations than the free market and because the politics of welfare are so racialized.

  4. I usually hear the same message in all Will Wilkinson’s posts: He says, “I am the smartest guy in the room and I have a lot of disdain for those who don’t think like me.” Today’s posts are the same. He hates seeing democracy in action and disparages Obama as an economic illiterate.
    He exudes the same hubris that has infected the Bush administration from the start and has caused the financial system to implode.
    Globalization certainly has its good points, but we clearly have not understood its dangers, nor how to avoid its downsides.
    Energy independence may be impossible, but our dependence on foreign oil is dangerous and has lead us into costly and devastating wars.
    Ideologues of all stripes are dangerous.

      You will notice that wind, biomass and solar do not appear on this graph.
      Guess why. (Hint: it’s not Exxon’s fault.) No amount of investment in solar is likely to make its price reasonable in our lifetimes. Achieving energy independence in the
      absence of fusion power is unlikely. A milkjug of gasoline will for 4 dollars push a 2000 pound car 40 miles. To understand how much energy that represents, imagine pushing the car 40 miles by hand. If you want to stop using oil, figure out – realistically – how to change that graph so oil goes to zero.
      Wishing will not make it so.

    2. Do you hear that, Will? Your hubris has caused the financial system to implode! Shame on you! Exercise some humility and trust that the hopelessly ignorant (democracy in action!) can command and control national energy policy, health care policy, and the entire financial system. Keeping your hands out of other people’s pockets is elitist! Stop being such an ideologue! (I am not an ideologue because I disagree with Will.)
      Bonus points to lxm for writing quite possibly the most ridiculous comment on a blog I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot.

  5. Obama’s push for energy independence is a push for eco-friendly energy investment. Reduce energy consumption on the demand side with greener technologies/electric cars, and increase research into green energy on the supply side. As a side benefit, less petrodollars for Saudi Arabia! Yay!
    Aside from invoking government intervention, what’s wrong with that? What am I missing here?

    1. There is nothing wrong if ‘we the people’ want to invest in conservation and greenery, if it’s modest and the ROI is measured and we actually get that ROI. When governments are involved the ROI often goes negative. My problem is with expectations. Look at that graph I posted above. We will never in our lifetimes be off of coal and oil (unless there is a magic fusion breakthru). So stop saying we will be energy independent or off of oil. It just can’t happen. When the candidates say that crap they are pandering. They know better (I hope).

  6. The Obama ad Kerry linked to attacks McCain’s claim that he has “bought American all his life,” and his alleged refusal to vote for “loan guarantees for the auto industry.” That’s it. Now maybe this doesn’t sufficiently evangelize the unconditional, self-evident awesomeness of free global markets to your taste. But neither is it “depicting economic engagement [with foreign countries] as un-American.”
    You also make a lot of hay out of the “borrowing from China to pay Saudi Arabia” rhetoric. “Disgusting!” you say. But it’s not clear why we might not want to explore opportunities to change that status quo. If I’ve got to buy parts from Sam, and I reckon that Sam’s a real asshole, I might want to seek out substitutes. (Same goes with lenders.) Does it really say anything about my desire to do business with others generally that I may not care to do business with Sam?
    It’s not clear that any “strategy” could ever really uncover the esoteric meaning of our politicians’ enigmatic populist utterances. But, c’mon — a little more charity.

  7. I’m astonished at the rather blatant xenophobia in Obama’s recent advertisement. Depicting Chinese workers and businesspeople as antagonists, inference being our enemy, is downright disgusting.
    If McCain released an ad on crime, featuring video of African Americans, he would be condemned, and reasonably so. Obama too deserves condemnation.

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