A friendly critique of Steve Coast’s critique of rules

We stumbled upon this excellent essay (“The world will only get weirder”) by Steve Coast via the hyper-productive Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution (our second-favorite website, by the way). In summary, Mr Coast argues that there is an inverse relation between innovation and the number of rules in a given society:

The worry should be we end up with so many rules we become sclerotic like Italy or France. We effectively end up with some kind of Napoleonic law – everything is illegal unless specifically made legal. Luckily we’re far from that in the US. * * * To paraphrase Peter Thiel, new technology is probably so fertile and productive simply because there are so few rules. It’s essentially illegal for you to build anything physical these days from a toothbrush (FDA regulates that) to a skyscraper, but there’s zero restriction on creating a website. Hence, that’s where all the value is today.

Although Coast acknowledges that “it used to be that rules really helped,” his critique of rules goes too far. We would argue instead that there is an optimal number of rules. Too many rules may stifle innovation and productive pursuits by increasing the costs of doing business, but at the same time too few rules might likewise deter people from engaging in productive pursuits, especially if there are no effective property rules protecting innovators and investors alike, allowing them to reap the rewards from their risky ventures. (By the way, while we’re on the subject of rules, we really recommend Richard Epstein’s book “Simple Rules for a Complex World.”)

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Is the Eiffel Tower a work of art?

Happy 126th birthday to the Eiffel Tower! (Via Glogster.)

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Data-driven epitaphs?

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“Exploring Manhattan with Excel Power Map”

That is the title of this fascinating project created by Daniel Witriol.

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Crimes against economic logic (“lump of labor fallacy” edition)

Check out Adam Davidson’s explanation of the so-called Lump of Labor Fallacy in his essay “Debunking the Myth of the Job-Stealing Immigrant.” Here is an excerpt from Mr Davidson’s excellent essay (edited by us for brevity): Continue reading

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Jury Duty

Juries play an essential role in Anglo-American legal systems, and now that many countries like the U.S. have abolished compulsory military service, jury duty provides a rare civic opportunity to work with your fellow citizens for the greater good. For our part, we were called for jury duty in Orange County, Florida yesterday (25 March), but most of my fellow citizens and I were discharged from the jury pool by the end of the day. (A new batch of prospective jurors will show up tomorrow to replace us and replenish the jury pool.) In many ways, however, being called from the jury pool to serve on an actual jury is a lot like a negative lottery: if you are busy and can’t afford to miss work, you feel a great sense of guilty relief if you are not called to serve on a jury …

Image above courtesy of Lisabeth Posthuma.

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Crimes against logic (Lifehacker edition)

Patrick Allan, a writer at Lifehacker, has just posted a nifty little essay ambitiously titled “The Definitive Guide to Winning an Argument.” One fun tip is to let the other side present his or her arguments first: “The more you talk, the bigger the chance you’ll say something that can be used against you. So let them talk first to see if they can even support their own argument.” In addition, Mr Allan identifies a number of logical traps that people often fall into. Without further ado, then, here are some of the most heinous “crimes against logic” that people often commit: Continue reading

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