17 June 2010

Turning the Sausages Inside Out

Reflexive analysis r us.

  • Noblesse oblige appears to still have its place, as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett call on the "ultra-rich" to give to charity instead of their descendants. Notice that this isn't a demand for the guy who built the family hardware store up into a three-store local institution; this is a call for those who have truly relied upon externalities to subsidize the building of their fortunes to acknowledge the externalities.

    And it wouldn't be entirely a bad thing to reverse the usual "spendthrift child" meme: Instead of grant the parasitic kids full control at 25, take it all away at 25... because if they can't manage to set themselves up by then, there are other, more-important issues that need to be dealt with. I'm lookin' at you, PH (and trying to avoid barfing while doing so).

  • The entry for 17 June 1940 in Orwell's diary bears some thought, particularly the first two sentences.
  • Despite five new opinions from the Supreme Court this morning, none of the hot-button cases were decided. The closest that it came was Schwab v. Reilly, No. 08–538, in which the Court decided a technical issue on the valuation of exemptions. On the one hand, the Court's opinion is well-taken; a debtor should not be allowed a "virtual right to amend" the amount of an exemption (up to its maximum) if some exempted property turns out to be more valuable than the debtor thought it could get at auction. On the other hand, the Code itself undervalues the sentimental value of certain exemptable items to debtors (e.g., the difference in personal value placed upon, say, a signed home-run ball caught in a particular player's last at-bat... when there was a further connection between the debtor and that player that isn't well-reflected in auction values).
  • A nicely-balanced and -reasoned piece on the "revolving door" between the SEC staff and practice nonetheless doesn't go far enough. Instead, it points out a severe shortcoming in legal (and lobbying) ethics: The rules on conflicts of interest are nowhere near stiff enough. Instead, the legal profession (and lobbyists) should adopt the rule that military officers have tested over the years:

    If it looks like a possible conflict of interest, it is a conflict of interest. It can be cleared only after a competent, disinterested third party investigates and determines that there is no conflict.

    In this particular context, I'd argue that a two-year bar is probably insufficient, given the extended lengths of investigations, of lobbying efforts, and of schemes that come close to the edge (from either side). I have little trust in so-called "Chinese walls," especially when those walls are implemented by (and on behalf of) people who have no idea what an EEFI is, or how an EEFI gets used in practice as part of intelligence-gathering... and, conversely, in propaganda. The key point is this: There's a lot of information that some might pass off as "stale," because it doesn't directly compromise anything currently active, that is still extraordinarily valuable to an analyst and will allow the analyst to infer the current, "classified" information quite accurately.

  • Professor Crawford (welcome back to the blawgosphere!) notes that the communications industry is trying a despicable end-run around regulation that distinctly implies that too many of the FCC's lawyers now aren't any better than those decried by soon-to-be-Justice Frankfurter... and have given up too many EEFIs to their new employers. She notes that "There’s an effort afoot to have Congress cut the FCC’s funding if it … inquires into the regulatory structure for high-speed Internet access." It's a worthwhile piece for thinking about, if nothing else... and bears disturbing echoes of the problems with DoJ hiring under George III.
  • Or, on the other hand, one could be concerned about how to save print publishing while begging the question of what that means. I've put off blawgging on this topic for a couple of days because both the CMLP discussion and the FTC proposal make a critical unexamined assumption: That "saving print publishing" means saving the current ownership and investment structure of print publishing. Umm, have you guys ever even heard of Schumpeter, let alone figured out how to refute his more-whacko extreme conclusions (which you can't do without knowing what they are)?