We’ll never know. We’ll never be able to conclusively rule out the conspiracy theories about Jeffrey Epstein’s death.

Look, I know the Bureau of Prisons is a bureaucracy. I understand idiotic things happen because bureaucracies are so under siege that they trip over themselves trying to get anything done.

This is a real problem: You should have seen the mountain of paper I went through getting hired by the U.S. Census Bureau last year (only to decide I couldn’t live with the ethics of non-voluntary participation[1]). And it was also clear to me in the training that as government employees, as they laid out how our work would be evaluated quantitatively for “efficiency” in dollars and cents, and how we were supposed to be “responsible stewards” of “taxpayer money,” that we were to feel guilty about living (on very low wages—still not a real job[2]) on the taxpayer dime. Read more

  1. [1]David Benfell, “Ethics,” Not Housebroken, n.d., https://disunitedstates.org/ethics/
  2. [2]David Benfell, “About my job hunt,” Not Housebroken, n.d., https://disunitedstates.org/about-my-job-hunt/

The quandary of anarchism as the tower crumbles

I am finding the quandary of anarchism[1] very troublesome today.

I had trouble sleeping last night because of what I saw with the police dog barking at a Black man yesterday,[2] and I wake up this morning to learn that Boris Johnson is indeed proroguing Parliament to ram through a hard Brexit;[3] that Donald Trump has essentially said damn the law, promising pardons for those who break it to build his precious border wall;[4] and that, after what I saw yesterday,[5] the Allegheny County Council voted down a proposal to institute a civilian police review board.[6]
Read more

  1. [1]David Benfell, “Ethics,” Not Housebroken, n.d., https://disunitedstates.org/ethics/
  2. [2]David Benfell, “Hey cops! Do you know what year it is?” Not Housebroken, August 27, 2019, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/08/27/hey-cops-do-you-know-what-year-it-is/
  3. [3]Karla Adam and Michael Birnbaum, “Queen approves Boris Johnson’s request to suspend Parliament ahead of Brexit deadline,” Washington Post, August 28, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/boris-johnson-accused-of-deeply-dangerous-behavior-after-reports-he-will-shutter-parliament-ahead-of-brexit/2019/08/28/6bca5988-c96f-11e9-a1fe-ca46e8d573c0_story.html; British Broadcasting Corporation, “Boris Johnson asks Queen to suspend Parliament,” August 28, 2019, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-49493632
  4. [4]Nick Miroff and Josh Dawsey, “‘Take the land’: President Trump wants a border wall. He wants it black. And he wants it by Election Day,” Washington Post, August 27, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/immigration/take-the-land-president-trump-wants-a-border-wall-he-wants-it-black-and-he-wants-it-by-election-day/2019/08/27/37b80018-c821-11e9-a4f3-c081a126de70_story.html
  5. [5]David Benfell, “Hey cops! Do you know what year it is?” Not Housebroken, August 27, 2019, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/08/27/hey-cops-do-you-know-what-year-it-is/
  6. [6]Jamie Martines, “County council votes down Allegheny police review board, supporters vow to keep pushing,” TribLive, August 27, 2019, https://triblive.com/local/pittsburgh-allegheny/county-council-votes-down-allegheny-police-review-board-supporters-vow-to-keep-pushing/

Liking Lyft, not liking Uber

Wall Street has decided it likes Lyft and that it doesn’t like Uber. I am not saying by any means that this is fair or even warranted, rather the contrary.[1] But a couple “analysts” think Lyft could turn a profit within a couple years.[2] For Uber, that goal appears nowhere in sight.[3] If this “analysis” has been published, the Wall Street Journal does not appear to have linked to it. For now, I think these analysts are seeing what they want to see, which they admit, by the way, puts them “significantly ahead of consensus,” which is to say that other analysts have not (yet anyway) reached such an optimistic conclusion. The analysts, while praising Lyft’s price increases,[4] neglect that Lyft has also apparently been cutting the percentage of those fares it pays drivers.[5] Read more

  1. [1]David Benfell, “Uber appears to be going down,” Not Housebroken, August 11, 2019, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/08/11/uber-appears-to-be-going-down/; David Benfell, “Proof of investor irrationality: The case of Uber (and Lyft),” Not Housebroken, August 22, 2019, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/08/22/proof-of-investor-irrationality-the-case-of-uber-and-lyft/
  2. [2]Michael Wursthorn, “Lyft Shares Rally on Hopes Price Increases Will Drive Profit,” Wall Street Journal, August 26, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/lyft-shares-rally-on-hopes-price-increases-will-drive-profits-11566845457
  3. [3]Rich Alton, “Basic economics means Uber and Lyft can’t rely on driverless cars to become profitable,” MarketWatch, August 12, 2019, https://www.marketwatch.com/story/basic-economics-means-uber-and-lyft-cant-rely-on-driverless-cars-to-become-profitable-2019-08-12; Eliot Brown, “Uber Wants to Be the Uber of Everything—But Can It Make a Profit?” Wall Street Journal, May 4, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/uber-wants-to-be-the-uber-of-everything-11556909866; Richard Durant, “Uber’s Profitability Problem Is Structural,” Seeking Alpha, August 21, 2019, https://seekingalpha.com/article/4287055-ubers-profitability-problem-structural; Ryan Felton, “Uber Is Doomed,” Jalopnik, February 24, 2017, https://jalopnik.com/uber-is-doomed-1792634203; Yves Smith, “Uber Is Headed for a Crash,” New York, December 4, 2018, http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2018/12/will-uber-survive-the-next-decade.html; Stephen Wilmot, “Uber’s Long Road to Profits,” Wall Street Journal, August 22, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/ubers-long-road-to-profits-11566471068; Julia Carrie Wong, “Disgruntled drivers and ‘cultural challenges’: Uber admits to its biggest risk factors,” Guardian, April 12, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/apr/11/uber-ipo-risk-factors
  4. [4]Michael Wursthorn, “Lyft Shares Rally on Hopes Price Increases Will Drive Profit,” Wall Street Journal, August 26, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/lyft-shares-rally-on-hopes-price-increases-will-drive-profits-11566845457
  5. [5]Dhruv Mehrotra and Aaron Gordon, “Uber And Lyft Take A Lot More From Drivers Than They Say,” Jalopnik, August 26, 2019, https://jalopnik.com/uber-and-lyft-take-a-lot-more-from-drivers-than-they-sa-1837450373

About that recession timing and the 2020 election

I’ve already noted[1] that as a field, economics is bullshit. And even economists acknowledge that they’re terrible at forecasting recessions.[2] Add one more article[3] to the pile of evidence. Read more

  1. [1]David Benfell, “Lies, damned lies, and … economics. Oh, and Donald Trump,” Not Housebroken, August 25, 2019, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/08/19/lies-damned-lies-and-economics-oh-and-donald-trump/
  2. [2]Hites Ahir and Prakash Loungani, “‘There will be growth in the spring’: How well do economists predict turning points?” Vox, April 14, 2014, https://voxeu.org/article/predicting-economic-turning-points; Richard Alford, “Why Economists Have No Shame – Undue Confidence, False Precision, Risk and Monetary Policy,” Naked Capitalism, July 19, 2012, https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2012/07/richard-alford-why-economists-have-no-shame-undue-confidence-false-precision-risk-and-monetary-policy.html; Ha-Joon Chang and Jonathan Aldred, “After the crash, we need a revolution in the way we teach economics,” Guardian, May 10, 2014, https://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/may/11/after-crash-need-revolution-in-economics-teaching-chang-aldred; Barry Eichengreen, “Economists, Remove Your Blinders,” Chronicle of Higher Education, January 12, 2015, http://www.chronicle.com/article/Economists-Remove-Your/151057/; Paul Krugman, “How Did Economists Get It So Wrong?” New York Times, September 2, 2009, https://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/06/magazine/06Economic-t.html; Paul Krugman, “Triumph of the Wrong?” New York Times, October 11, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/12/opinion/krugman-triumph-of-the-wrong.html; Andrew Simms, “Economics is a failing discipline doing great harm – so let’s rethink it,” Guardian, August 3, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/aug/03/economics-global-economy-climate-crisis; Mark Thoma, “Restoring the Public’s Trust in Economists,” Fiscal Times, May 19, 2015, http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Columns/2015/05/19/Restoring-Public-s-Trust-Economists
  3. [3]Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux, “Economists Are Bad At Predicting Recessions,” FiveThirtyEight, August 21, 2019, https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/economists-are-bad-at-predicting-recessions/

Proof of investor irrationality: The case of Uber (and Lyft).

Richard Durant offers the most comprehensive analysis I’ve seen of Uber’s prospects. It’s largely based on Uber’s own numbers, mentioning Lyft mostly in passing as a competitor and sometimes in comparison.[1] It’s devastating. It should also put to rest any residual notion that investors are rational because for all the numbers, it really only confirms what every analysis I’ve seen has been saying for quite some time.[2] Read more

  1. [1]Richard Durant, “Uber’s Profitability Problem Is Structural,” Seeking Alpha, August 21, 2019, https://seekingalpha.com/article/4287055-ubers-profitability-problem-structural
  2. [2]Rich Alton, “Basic economics means Uber and Lyft can’t rely on driverless cars to become profitable,” MarketWatch, August 12, 2019, https://www.marketwatch.com/story/basic-economics-means-uber-and-lyft-cant-rely-on-driverless-cars-to-become-profitable-2019-08-12; Eliot Brown, “Uber Wants to Be the Uber of Everything—But Can It Make a Profit?” Wall Street Journal, May 4, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/uber-wants-to-be-the-uber-of-everything-11556909866; Ryan Felton, “Uber Is Doomed,” Jalopnik, February 24, 2017, https://jalopnik.com/uber-is-doomed-1792634203; Yves Smith, “Uber Is Headed for a Crash,” New York, December 4, 2018, http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2018/12/will-uber-survive-the-next-decade.html; Stephen Wilmot, “Uber’s Long Road to Profits,” Wall Street Journal, August 22, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/ubers-long-road-to-profits-11566471068; Julia Carrie Wong, “Disgruntled drivers and ‘cultural challenges’: Uber admits to its biggest risk factors,” Guardian, April 12, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/apr/11/uber-ipo-risk-factors

Saving capitalism from itself. Again.

Monday (August 19), it was reported that the Business Roundtable had decided that corporations had duties to all stakeholders, beyond the fiduciary to shareholders. Of course in reporting the declaration, the Wall Street Journal duly noted that “[c]orporate boards have a legal obligation to protect the interests of shareholders.”[1] The Journal certainly didn’t suffer from any awakening of a conscience there and maybe, probably more than likely, this will all be forgotten. Read more

  1. [1]David Benoit, “Move Over, Shareholders: Top CEOs Say Companies Have Obligations to Society,” Wall Street Journal, August 19, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/business-roundtable-steps-back-from-milton-friedman-theory-11566205200

Lies, damned lies, and … economics. Oh, and Donald Trump

It’s a bit weird that Donald Trump assumes he has any credibility whatsoever to assure anyone that a recession isn’t coming.[1] After all, this is the same man who keeps fact checkers busy at an unprecedented rate, a man who revivifies the old dictum that you can tell a politician is lying by the fact his (it’s a really old dictum, so yes, ‘his’) lips are moving. Read more

  1. [1]Stephen Collinson, “Fretful Trump goes on attack as economy fears cloud 2020 hopes,” CNN, August 19, 2019, https://www.cnn.com/2019/08/19/politics/donald-trump-economy-2020-election-china-trade-war/index.html

Bernie Sanders’ self-destruction

Some disturbing Bernie Sanders tweets have surfaced in my newsfeed:

Blaming Donald Trump for this is like blaming Trump for Adam Smith. The economy isn’t “rigged” in this way. It is a capitalist economy and capitalism inherently operates in this way.[1] Read more

  1. [1]Max Weber, “Class, Status, Party,” in Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings, ed. Charles Lemert, 4th ed. (Boulder, CO: Westview, 2010), 119-129.