Dynamist Blog

Do I Repeat Myself?

My apologies to those of you on my Yahoo Groups list. I sent out a message today about recent articles and upcoming speeches--a single message that turned into eight or so copies once it went through Yahoo Groups. The same thing seems to be happening throughout Yahoo Groups. I also got multiple copies of a message my next door neighbor sent to our condo association's list. I'd send an apology to the list, but I'm afraid the same thing would happen to it, and I don't want to further clutter your in boxes.

The Road to Serfdom

Bruce Caldwell's definitive edition of Friedrich Hayek's The Road to Serfdom is now out. Although clearly grounded in a specific time and circumstance, The Road to Serfdom is one of those brilliant classics that yields new, and currently relevant, insights every time you read it. Still, the context is important, and easily forgotten. One of the things Bruce did as editor of the book was to check all Hayek's sources, which meant in many cases reading long-forgotten works. I interviewed Bruce three years ago, for a Boston Globe feature on Hayek, and he had this to say about revisiting popular books of the 1930s and early '40s.

They're just amazing. To a book, they're all assuming that the age of scarcity is over. We have the potential to produce much, much more. These are things being written after eight or nine years of the Great Depression, saying we can produce much, much more, we just have to get it right and this past view of competition--that may have worked in the 19th century, but it's a new world, a brave new world. All of them were saying, Here's the way to go, and none of them were saying markets had any role in that at all.

It's almost chilling to read some of these books to the extent that they were willing to accept fairly massive interventions in the economy--directing labor, who should be working at what jobs and that kind of thing. There was a corporatist aspect to it, where some of these writers at least were saying, We'lll all be solid together. It's strange stuff to read. The Road to Serfdom today reads reasonably, most of it. You read these other books and you feel like you're on another planet.

The occasion for my Globe piece was the publication of Bruce Caldwell's excellent intellectual biography, Hayek's Challenge.

UPDATE: Jesse Walker calls my attention to this comic book version of Hayek's argument, originally published by General Motors.

In Memoriam: Cathy Seipp

I'm very sad to that Cathy Seipp has died of lung cancer at the age of 49. There are lots of good memories on her blog, and Amy Alkon has a wonderful remembrance, with photos.

I was a big fan of Cathy's column in the old Buzz magazine, but I had no idea she was its author--she used a pseudonyn. I only met Cathy through the blogosphere, yet another demonstration of its great value. Although by then I'd moved to Dallas, I enjoyed seeing her on trips to L.A., most recently in late December. Although weakened by her sickness, she was still her smart, feisty self. She was a delight to know and, as the many comments on her blog attest, she'll be greatly missed by many people.

Is Bloggingheads Worth It Cont'd

mac-ad.jpgThanks to the many readers who responded to my post about Bloggingheads. Here are a few sample responses.

On his blog, Jim Hu says no, or maybe hell no. Sample: "I find the whole thing just annoying as hell. I've never actually watched one from start to end, or even from start to middle. I'm not sure why I can't stand Bloggingheads."

Alex Massie, by contrast, likes the format: "It's a fun format--and a welcome alternative to the brain-rotting tedium of the so-called cable news channels. So, I do hope you'll be appearing again."

Ted Frank recommends the addition of transcripts: "Bloggingheads is so not worth the trouble, at least until they come up with automatic-transcription software. I read blogs precisely because I don't find it a productive use of my time to watch clever repartee on tv news shows. The comparative advantage of the blogosphere is quick-reaction-publishing, the ability to go into detail that one can't in the MSM, the ability to digest it a post in one-minute chunks while one is gathering one's thoughts, and the power of computer search engines and RSS feeds to quickly find what you want to read and ignore what you don't want to spend time on. Bloggingheads has none of those advantages. I've almost stopped reading Kaus's blog because there are so many links to bloggingheads that tell me nothing about what I'm going to hear. And I would say this even if it didn't crash my computer a third of the time."

Doug Anderson shares my own preference for audio: "I enjoyed you being on Blogging Heads, although I obviously can't evaluate whether it is worth the trouble. I seldom actually see Blogging Heads (and your episode was no exception) as I listen to the podcasts (which are audio only instead). I download the podcasts via RSS and video is not available this way."

And then there's Joseph Britt: "Honestly, Virginia, I can't think which is more absurd: the idea that you have nothing better to do with your time than spend it on internet talk video or the idea that I have nothing better to do with my time than sit motionless in front of my monitor for an hour watching you."

In the end, I wound up deciding not to do any more appearances, at least in the short term, for reasons that have nothing to do with the format. Bloggingheads can't handle Macs. The audio and video get out of sync. I decided that dealing with the technical problems wasn't worth the trouble of anyone involved. There are plenty of interesting PC-using bloggers out there. Check out the latest entries here.

The Real MySpace Generation?

In response to these posts, reader Susan Self writes:

I enjoyed reading your prediction that Gen Y will eventually stop plastering their private life all over the internet once there are employment/financial/status penalities. BUT I don't think trend was a Gen Y creation. Instead I believe it had its seeds in the ghastly Boomer internet dating phenomena of the 90's. HERE'S WHY: My co-workers and I recently heard that our boss--age 45--had joined Match.com. Gleefully hoping for the worst, we logged onto Match.com and tried to find him via his zip code. (Santa Monica). I was shocked to see how many 50 year old guys in Santa Monica had posted ads for themselves (46 pages!!) and who also posted multiple pictures of the themselves (sound familiar?) in addition to writing overly revealing essays listing the most mundane aspects of their daily routine. Many of them gave the MySpace crowd a run for their money. So while Gen Y does go the extra mile, the Boomer's are right behind them.

Of course, the next step is media coaching.

The Libertarian Past, the Libertarian Future

Libertarianism: Past and Prospects

As many readers already know, Cato Unbound, the Cato Institute webzine edited by Brink Lindsey and Will Wilkinson, is devoting its current issue to the questions raised by Brian Doherty's new book Radicals for Capitalism: What was the American libertarian movement, and where does its future lie? After earlier responses from Brink Lindsey, Tyler Cowen, and Tom Palmer, I weigh in. Here's the opening:

As the editor of Reason, I used to be infuriated at the way the Los Angeles Times and other mainstream publications consistently capitalized Libertarian when referring to the magazine or its parent organization, the Reason Foundation. They wouldn't capitalize liberal or conservative, republican or democrat, unless they were referring to a political party. (Most Republicans are, after all, democrats, and I've never met a Democrat who wasn't a republican.) Why couldn't they understand that Reason was not a party organ but, like its liberal and conservative counterparts, a magazine of ideas? Were the copy editors just stupid?

After a decade of hearing me gripe, my husband cracked the code: Maybe newspapers don't think of Libertarian as a party label like Democratic or Republican, he suggested. Maybe they think of it as a religious description, like Catholic or Presbyterian.


Two things strike me about the essays. The first is an unexpected overlap between the concerns here and those of the designers I addressed in my new Print magazine article on DIY culture. Just as graphic designers worry way too much about who gets to be called a designer, movement libertarians have spent an absurd amount of time worrying about who was a real libertarian. That impulse was worst in the 1970s and early '80s--before my time--but it hasn't gone away.

The second is that intellectuals who have spent most of their careers working for libertarian organizations, including those like Brink and me who did not come up in "the movement," are probably unduly influenced by intramovement squabbles and purity tests, which get awfully tiresome after a while. I'd love to see a continuation of the discussion featuring libertarian writers who have spent their professional lives surrounded by mostly liberals or conservatives or both. (I suspect the contrarian side of Tyler Cowen would have come out differently if he hasn't spent all those years at George Mason.)

UPDATE: On Cato's blog, John Samples goes to great lengths to refute an argument I didn't even come close to making. Take it up with Brink, please.

The DIY Threat

Graphic designers seem to live in terror of amateurs with Pagemaker, as witnessed by Michael Bierut's famous post on Design Observer and the many, many comments that followed:

What stings here, I think, isn't just the specter of do-it-yourself. We're used to that. Some of us even applaud it. Once graphic designers possessed unique technical expertise: the names of fonts, the phone numbers of typesetters, the formula for calculating the precise length of a 200-word manuscript set on a 14 pica wide column of 12 on 14 point Bodoni Book. Today, anyone can do it. If some untrained-in-graphic-design parent wants to support Junior's political ambitions, out comes the Photoshop and some awful typeface and before you know it the printer is cranking away. (Of course, Junior, if he's got a brain in his head, has already launched his viral video and won't get around to hanging your pathetic old-skool posters. But it's the thought that counts!) For graphic designers, our craft is now a commodity.

It's a little depressing that there are some designers who can count on a little respect. Do you have to be a trained product designer to create a new sports car? Do you have to be a trained architect to design a new house? Despite Divine Design with Candace Olson and Pimp My Ride, the answer is still yes and yes. You don't see Business Week offering any fun courses in industrial design or architecture, at least not yet.

So what's an embattled graphic designer to do? During my three-year term as president of AIGA, our members consistently ranked one priority above all others: proving the value of design to the general public, and specifically, the business community. To put it bluntly, we were all searching for some magic formula that would make clients predisposed to respect us, and to demonstrate that respect by paying us large fees. We wanted design to have "a place at the table." We yearned for a silver bullet that would slay our insecurities once and for all. The silver bullet took a variety of forms. Perhaps the process of design was too mysterious to be credible: would agreeing on a standard 12-step sequence reassure clients that there was valuable science behind the art? So many amateurs out there: shouldn't we be licensing graphic designers so clients could distinguish the professionals from the dabblers? And, oddly, so many credible firms participate in unpaid competitions: can we make it, if not against the law, than at least professionally embarassing?

Chill, I argued in the comments back then and in this new article in Print magazine. DIY is not only here to stay. It's not a long-term threat to good professional graphic design.

Taxes al Carbon

Guest-blogging at Organizations and Markets, Professor Postrel analyzes the policy choices for dealing with CO2 emissions" carbon taxes or "cap and trade"?

Business groups are plumping for permits. Economists are mostly talking about taxes. There are three important criteria to consider in choosing the correct instrument:

Find out what they are here.

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