≡ Menu

Some Links

George Will, while open-minded about Jonathan Haidt’s take on the dangers to young minds of smartphones, nevertheless warns against over-reaction and, even more, against empowering government to deal with these dangers. A slice:

Techno-pessimists should avoid the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy: The rooster crows, then the sun rises, so the crowing caused the sunrise. If smartphones vanished, schoolchildren would still be spoon-fed anxiety and depression about (if they are White) their complicity in their rotten country’s systemic racism, and (if they are not White) their grinding victimhood, until we all perish from climate change.

Haidt’s data demonstrating a correlation (the arrivals of smartphones and of increased mental disorders) suggest causation, but remember: Moral panics about new cultural phenomena — from automobiles (sex in the back seats) to comic books (really) to television to video games to the internet — are features of this excitable age.

Although Haidt is always humane and mostly convincing, his argument does not constitute a case for government trying to do what parents and schools can do.

Christian Britschgi reports on the ever-improving talent – and ever-heightening enthusiasm – of politicians in California to devise means of depriving their citizens of commerce.

Speaking of California, Steven Greenhut lays out “what the Biden administration could learn from California’s attempt to ban independent contracting.” A slice:

I cannot recall a single time that any government rule has improved my life in any noticeable way. It’s usually the opposite. After the Legislature passed Assembly Bill 5 — the “landmark” labor law that largely banned companies from using independent contractors — many Californians lost their freelance income, with many adopting costly workarounds that involved myriad legal and accounting costs. Thanks very much for the “protections.”

AB 5 was an unmitigated disaster. That should be obvious to any policymaker in California and at the national level. An old friend of mine had a saying that went, “even the worm learns.” It referred to a scientific experiment that found if you prod the dumbest of creatures (worms) several thousand times they will eventually learn not to squirm in a particular direction. The Biden administration is filled with Californians (Kamala Harris, Xavier Becerra, Julie Su), yet they somehow missed the requisite lesson. They apparently need a lot more prodding.

To recall, the California Supreme Court in the 2018 Dynamex decision imposed a strict ABC test on companies that used contractors. The case involved a delivery service that shifted its workforce from permanent employees to contractors. The court decided that contractors must be A) outside the control of the company; B) do work outside the company’s core mission; and C) be working as contractors in general. Unions were giddy. The Legislature codified the decision in AB 5.

California’s progressive Democrats, who apparently spend little time talking to normal people, were shocked at the results. Instead of hiring contractors as full-time workers with 9-5 schedules and oodles of benefits, companies downsized their workforces. Unions claimed they were battling “wage theft” — but there is no theft when willing workers take jobs from willing employers at agreed-upon terms.

Kyle Smith rightly decries the unwarranted cancellation of Woody Allen. A slice:

Mr. Allen is unlike many others accused in the #MeToo era. His alleged transgression was taken seriously and investigated by police. There exists a compelling counter-narrative that exonerates him. Yet popular culture’s mandarins have turned against him like the townspeople who form a bizarre hostility brigade tormenting the character he played in his marvelous Kafkaesque parable, “Shadows and Fog” (1991). He is a pariah in a situation that to him makes no sense.

Why, for instance, did Amazon find “A Rainy Day in New York” so repellent that it refused to release it—only later to boost the film by placing it among its Prime Video offerings? Why, asked the essayist Freddie de Boer, does Hollywood ostracize Mr. Allen yet treat Mike Tyson as a beloved kitsch figure? Mr. Tyson is invited to goof around on Jimmy Kimmel’s show, even though the former boxer is a convicted rapist who has admitted to hitting his ex-wife Robin Givens so hard that “she flew backwards, hitting every room in the apartment. . . . That was the best punch I’ve ever thrown in my entire life.” Why do people lump Mr. Allen together with Mr. Weinstein, whom a jury convicted of sexual crimes, and Roman Polanski, who pleaded guilty to one?

Mr. Allen may shrug and say he’ll keep doing what he does even if every company shuns him. But the cultural forces that condemned him ought to put down their pitchforks and torches. This great artist shouldn’t end his career in shadows and fog.

On April 11th, Arnold Kling will talk with my GMU Econ colleague Dan Klein.

Samuel Gregg reviews Richard Cockett’s Vienna: How the City of Ideas Created the Modern World. A slice:

Viennese mixing extended beyond ethnicity. Drawing upon contemporary accounts and later reminiscences, Cockett demonstrates how students roamed freely across classes, seminars, and disciplines as their whims and changing interests took them. This saved the University of Vienna from what Cockett calls the “dead hand of specialization.” The effect was to stimulate a tremendous cross-fertilization of ideas that would lead notable Viennese figures to apply, for example, the insights of psychology to economic theory, or physics to the development of new literary trends. Interdisciplinary integration and synthesis thus drove intellectual creativity.

It wasn’t only in lecture halls that these dynamics manifested. Viennese café and salon culture helped to foster schools of thought as different as logical positivism and Austrian economics. In these relaxed settings, students and professors would furiously debate disputed questions in a cross-disciplinary manner until the wee hours.

Jack Nicastro and Samuel Crombie argue that “AI, like all other capital, is about maximizing production.” A slice:

Far from inimical to the interests of mankind, production is the means by which our material interests are satisfied. As Adam Smith says so succinctly in the Wealth of Nations, “consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production.” We are only able to consume to the extent that we produce. Those who oppose technologies that increase productivity actually oppose mankind’s wellbeing.

Juliette Sellgren continues her discussion with Kristi Kendall.