Highlights of My Week's Reading and Viewing
Here are four particularly notable articles, blog posts, or videos from this week.
First, the case for drinking.
[Alcohol] helps us to be more creative. It helps us to be more communal. It helps us to cooperate on a large scale. It helps to make it easier for us to kind of rub shoulders with each other in large-scale societies that we live in. So it solved a bunch of adaptive problems that we uniquely face as a species because of this weird lifestyle we have.
The speaker is Edward Slingerland, author of Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled Our Way to Civilization.
If you read Tyler Cowen much, you know how hostile he is to drinking alcohol. What I’ve always found striking is that he tends to emphasize the costs and doesn’t even attempt to assess benefits.
Second, Scott Beyer, “Africa’s Planned Cities Need Unplanning,” Reason, October 2023.
The more “formal” a project is—with master plans, institutional investors, and government involvement—the more slowly it materializes. The more “informal” it is, with minimal rules other than how locals self-govern, the more quickly it becomes a real city.
Such ingenuity is common in other slums. Days later we visited Agege on the northwest side. It too is packed with markets, including one that, due to lack of space elsewhere, has grown organically along the train tracks. The area has become known as a place to buy furniture, with patrons hopping off the line and back on with their new cabinets and beds. When a new train arrives, every few hours, merchants move their belongings to let it pass. They reoccupy the tracks afterward.
Third, Lee Ohanian, “I Once Thought California Would Fix Itself. I Was Wrong,” Hoover Institution, September 1, 2023.
One reason state government compensation significantly exceeds private-sector compensation is because few public-sector agencies seriously benchmark their compensation practices to those in the private sector. Private-sector compensation is disciplined by the value created by their employees. In a competitive marketplace, private-sector employers need to pay enough to attract the talent they seek but will suffer losses if they overpay. These compensation dynamics are largely absent in the public sector, which leads to public-sector workers receiving higher compensation than they would in the private sector. For example, average compensation in California’s Highway Patrol was $209,000 in 2019. For comparison, total compensation in the highest paying private-sector industry in the country (utilities) averaged about $128,000 in 2019. This is for an industry that is extremely capital intensive and that tends to hire highly skilled specialists. In contrast, the primary requirements for becoming a highway patrol officer are high school graduation or equivalent, a valid California driver’s license, and no felony convictions. The reason highway patrol employees receive such high compensation is because they are represented by a powerful union, and there are inadequate incentives within state government to do anything other than agree every three years to the union’s lucrative collective bargaining agreements.
If Ron DeSantis has the sense to quote facts like these when he debates Gavin Newsom, he wins.
Fourth, Michael Chapman, “Cato Report: Zero Chance of Being Killed by Terrorist Who Crossed U.S. Border Illegally, 1975-2022,” Cato at Liberty, August 28, 2023.
In that period [1975-2022], the report documents that “the approximate annual chance that an American resident would be murdered in a terrorist attack carried out by a foreign‐born terrorist was 1 in 4,338,984.”