This Post Is Annoying

For similar reasons to this post, this post is annoying. And, to make sure my example is all cool and deconstructionist, this very post you’re reading would annoy me were I reading it and not writing it.

Why?

Because I don’t tell you much about what I’m linking to or why it’s interesting enough that you should read it. If you’re going to have a post that merely points out other people’s material on the Web rather than using it as a springboard for your own thoughts or writing your own piece from whole cloth, you should function as a mediating shopper and let me know why I, as a busy reader, should bother to visit the pages to which you link.

There’s nobody I trust well enough to visit every link they give me just on their say so, particularly on a busy day. I don’t want to waste time trying to figure out what a post is talking about–either yours or the one you’re linking to.

Some don’t require much description, and some would be spoiled by too much description: for example, funny links like the a site about the new map of the US.

But in general, tell me what it’s about, something of what it says, and what’s interesting about it and why I should read further.

Is Ignorance of the Law Still Not an Excuse?

The Federal Register at some point in 2003 hit a record 75,606 pages. There are now several hundred years of common law in effect. There were 187,017 patents granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 2003 alone. It is no longer even possible for one person to know the entirety of the law pertaining to his every day activities, and it’s increasingly hard for even lawyers to know if a given action is legal or illegal in one narrow area of the law.

Is it even possible for a person to live a life without breaking a law, regulation, or violating some contract or other? Could even notorious shut-in Emily Dickinson not be accused of some zoning violation or state or federal environmental protection rule-breaking? Has anyone born since 1950 not broken a law or violated a regulation?

There has always been a certain amount of contempt for the law. The most notorious in the U.S. are alcohol regulations and taxes, which date back to the Boston Tea Party and Whiskey Rebellion. But it would be interesting to know if contempt for the law is increasing. Certainly I get the sense that people divide the law into technical and moral: some laws, such as murder or rape, engender moral opprobrium if you violate them. Many other laws, and I fear an increasing number of them, carry no moral outrage even in the strictest schoolmarms. Does anyone, even police, really care if most people routinely go 5 miles over the speed limit at the very least?

These are not new questions, by any means. But given the explosion of regulation everywhere and litigation here in the U.S., it’s worth raising again: the law increasingly resembles an excuse to seek protection money from average citizens in order to be left alone. Pay regulators fines, pay lawyers fees, pay “donations” to legislators, and, increasingly, pay outright bribes to everybody.

When it becomes an acceptable cost of business to pay outright bribes throughout the U.S., not just in the Northeast, then our standard of living may start to follow our legal system in resembling a third world country.

Is It Indecency or a First Amendment Loophole?

CNN reports that a talk show host has been fired for alleged obscenity. However, the radio host did this while criticizing local legislators who were taking action against a political group that, among other things, funded his show and were guilty of Speaking While Black. This provides further evidence for Lunchstealer’s contention that the FCC‘s new obscenity push is effectively rolling back the First Amendment to the U.S. constitution.

Note that the FCC never got directly involved. However, the station cited the FCC as the rationale for firing “suspending” the talk show host. “‘I’m walking on eggshells with the FCC,’ [the station manager] said.” Due to the complaint-driven method the FCC uses to get around restrictions on “prior restraint” of publication, intimidating political opponents on the airwaves is easy: just find something marginally offensive to someone and complain about it. In the new climate, station managers will preemptively stifle the dissenting political speech.

If the FCC were to auction off the spectrum and charge a minimal fee to spectrum rights holders to arbitrate rights disputes, none of this would happen. To those who argue that dissenting political voices would be taken out of the picture, I’d remind you of two things. First, Clear Channel is now in the business of syndicating Air America content. Second, just how much diversity is the government-regulated scheme getting you? Even less today than last month.

Markets in Manipulation

Over at the ever-interesting Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowen notes the widely-reported story of a woman who put her father’s ghost on eBay. This sparked the realization in me that market behavior can explain children’s bad behavoir. Here’s the woman’s rationale for auctioning the ghost (with metal walker as a bonus): “Mary Anderson said she placed her father’s ‘ghost’ on the online auction site after her son, Collin, said he was afraid the ghost would return someday.”

This is perhaps an Internet equivalent of pretending to sweep out monsters from under a bed. However, the results of the auction are what triggered my thought: “The proceeds from the auction will go to buy Collin a special present, she said.”

So basically the woman is paying the kid to have unreasonable fears rather than educating them out of existence. Furthermore, she’s being clever and pushing the cost of this bit of bribery onto a third party by auctioning off the ghost (and her father’s metal cane in an attempt to avoid eBay’s anti-fraud policies). However, look at the market she’s just created: by rewarding the child’s behavior, she has instilled in him an incentive to invent new and more elaborate fears in an attempt to gain more rewards. In the child’s view, demand for that behavior has just gone up, and, as a rational maximizer, he’ll try to fulfill that demand.

Now, if the woman is a good parent future behavior not associated with something as traumatic as the death of a grandparent will not result in a reward. But such behavior explains how parents who seek to palliate children who demand toys in stores end up with uncontrollable children: by rewarding the behavior, they create a market for it. Eliminate demand, and the supply will eventually go away.

Similarly, government price supports for agricultural products can be seen as bad parenting. So George W. Bush is not just poor at domestic policy planning, he’s also a bad parent…and from the stories about Jenna…