Combs Spouts Off

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Posts Tagged ‘progress’

Things to be thankful for: Pilgrims, property rights, and technology

Posted by Richard on November 22, 2018

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you enjoy your turkey (or ham) dinner and the company of family or friends. Yes, even that crazy aunt or uncle. But please shut down any family member who starts spouting Tom Steyer’s talking points about the “Need to Impeach.”

On this Thanksgiving, Veronique de Rugy suggests being grateful for all the technological advancements that have improved our lives and the new ones that are on the horizon, such as air taxis (if the feds don’t stifle them with onerous regulations).

John Stossel, meanwhile, looks backward and is thankful for William Bradford and the Pilgrims’ “early correction” from collective ownership to private property rights.

For much more about the Pilgrims, see this old post of mine about the real story of Thanksgiving.

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The cheapest food on the planet

Posted by Richard on July 6, 2012

Here’s something else from Mark J. Perry, the cockeyed optimist of the dismal science:

Relative to our total household spending, Americans have the cheapest food on the planet – only 6.6% of the average household budget goes to food consumed at home.  European countries like Spain, France and Norway spend twice that amount on food as a share of total expenditures, and consumers in countries like Turkey, China and Mexico spend three times as much of their budgets on food as Americans.

Another measure of food affordability, total food expenditures in the U.S. as a share of disposable income (see chart above, USDA data here), shows that food has become more affordable in the U.S. over time.  Spending on food has fallen from more than 25% of the average American’s income in 1933 to only 9.4% in 2010, an all-time low.  Between 1980 and 2010, the share of disposable income spent on food in the U.S. fell from 13.2% to 9.4%, which is equivalent to almost a 4% increase in the average American’s disposable income over the last 30 years.   And a number of countries in the list below spend more on food as a share of household expenditures today than Americans spent on food during the Great Depression.

Americans spend less on food as a share of our household expenditures than consumers anywhere else in the world.

Most goods and services have gotten cheaper, better, or both over time. It’s called progress. I can think of two main exceptions, which keep taking a larger and larger share of the average American’s income. Both are largely under the control of the government, with lots of regulations and subsidies (!): education and health care.

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SpaceX launches private spaceship into orbit

Posted by Richard on December 8, 2010

The first operational test of the Dragon spacecraft, capable of carrying up to 7 astronauts, appears to be a success. This morning, SpaceX launched the Dragon into orbit atop its Falcon 9 launch vehicle. Gizmodo has video.

This was only the second launch of the Falcon 9 (the first was in June), and the first under NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. The plans for this flight were ambitious: 

The upcoming demonstration mission will launch from Cape Canaveral and should follow a flight plan nearly identical to the first Falcon 9 launch, but this time the Dragon spacecraft will separate from the second stage and will demonstrate operational communications, navigation, maneuvering and reentry. Although it does not have wings like Shuttle, the Dragon spacecraft is controlled throughout reentry by the onboard Draco thrusters which enable the spacecraft to touchdown at a very precise location – ultimately within a few hundred yards of its target.

While Dragon will initially make water landings, over the long term, Dragon will be landing on land. For this first demo flight, Dragon will make multiple orbits of the Earth as we test all of its systems, and will then fire its thrusters to begin reentry, returning to Earth for a Pacific Ocean splashdown off the coast of Southern California. The entire mission should last around four hours.

It looks like they're well on their way to a successful mission.

UPDATE: Splashdown! And complete success!

The Dragon spacecraft the first private space to reach orbit and return to Earth. It just splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, after a perfect launch, separation, orbit and re-entry. This is a huge milestone in the history of space exploration.

Woohoo! Congrats to Elon Musk and the entire SpaceX team!

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Best wishes for Thanksgiving

Posted by Richard on November 25, 2010

My 2006 post, "The real Thanksgiving story," still gets a fair number of hits around this time of the year from people searching for exactly those words. My follow-ups from 2007, 2008, and 2009 also get a little bump. I thought about reprising the 2006 post this year, or offering yet another follow-up like last year's. But it's been a busy time for me, and as I write this, it's already late on Thanksgiving eve. So, dear reader, please visit (or revisit) those posts and think about their message this Thanksgiving:

For something new this Thanksgiving, I refer you to a couple of fine columns. First, John Stossel recounted the lesson of the first Thanksgiving and noted that our government still hasn't learned that lesson, and Indians today suffer because of that (emphasis added):

What private property does — as the Pilgrims discovered — is connect effort to reward, creating an incentive for people to produce far more. Then, if there's a free market, people will trade their surpluses to others for the things they lack. Mutual exchange for mutual benefit makes the community richer.
    
Here's the biggest irony of all: The U.S. government has yet to apply the lesson to its first conquest, Native Americans. The U.S. government has held most Indian land in trust since the 19th century. This discourages initiative and risk-taking because, among other reasons, it can't be used as collateral for loans. On Indian reservations, "private land is 40 to 90 percent more productive than land owned through the Bureau of Indian Affairs," says economist Terry Anderson, executive director of PERC. "If you drive through western reservations, you will see on one side cultivated fields, irrigation, and on the other side, overgrazed pasture, run-down pastures and homes. One is a simple commons; the other side is private property. You have Indians on both sides. The important thing is someone owns one side."

Then, please read Fouad Ajami's column about how a Middle Eastern immigrant came to value Thanksgiving — but not the gravy (emphasis added): 

The fondness of Thanksgiving, the meaning and the appreciation of the ritual, came slowly. It came with my assimilation into American life, with my marriage, and with the family I would come to acquire. I was not fond of turkey, though I made peace with the stuffing. The gravy, for a man of the Mediterranean, was irredeemable. Pumpkin pie and the cranberry sauce were more to my liking.

But the source of the holiday's appeal was that it made no religious demands, for I had been stripped of all religious devotion. I could not make any connection to Christmas—the commercialism, the music, the carols, were all alien to me. Nor could I partake of the passion for two big gateways into American life: football and baseball. I had grown up on soccer, and the frenzy for these two American attachments left me on the outside, bewildered. It was ultimately two celebrations of great simplicity that appealed to me: Fourth of July and Thanksgiving. They are both, to the core, celebrations of Americanism, great assimilative affirmations.

Professor Ajami, feel free to send your unwanted gravy my way — email me for the address. 🙂 

Happy Thanksgiving to you all. I hope you enjoy a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner. With a fine giblet gravy!

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SpaceX Falcon 9 launch scheduled

Posted by Richard on June 3, 2010

The inaugural flight of Space Exploration Technologies Corporation's Falcon 9 launch vehicle is scheduled for this Friday, with a backup launch date of Saturday. The launch window on both days is from 11 AM to 3 PM Eastern, and the launch will be webcast here.

The Falcon 9 is SpaceX's next step in cheap, reliable private space transportation. Its predecessor, Falcon 1, has already successfully placed satellites into orbit. Falcon 9 will provide much greater payload capacities, including the reusable Dragon crew and cargo capsule that's expected to be used to resupply the International Space Station. 

One of the few decisions President Obama has made that I wholeheartedly agreed with was the cancellation of NASA's Ares/Orion shuttle replacement program in favor of relying on private companies like SpaceX. Unfortunately, after an uproar from all the vested interests and their congresscritters (Republican and Democrat), he backpedaled, so now it's going ahead in some kind of scaled-back form.

When Obama originally cancelled Ares/Orion, SpaceX CEO/CTO Elon Musk succinctly stated the argument against the breathtakingly expensive shuttle replacement: "The President quite reasonably concluded that spending $50 billion to develop a vehicle that would cost 50% more to operate, but carry 50% less payload was perhaps not the best possible use of funds."

Orion was designed to carry four people and cost $1.5 billion per flight. SpaceX's Dragon capsule will carry seven people in crew configuration. SpaceX has a contract with NASA to resupply the ISS using Falcon 9 and Dragon. The cost? $1.6 billion for twelve flights. Total. Just a smidge more than a single Orion mission.

I hope the Falcon 9 flight goes well (although a failure or limited success wouldn't be a big deal; the first Falcon 1 launch failed, but it went on to success). The commercialization and privatization of space flight can't come soon enough. As Glenn Reynolds says, "Faster, please!"

UPDATE (June 4): Woohoo! A completely successful inaugural launch:

Posted June 04, 2010 11:54 Pacific Time
T+ 00:09:34 Please continue to check SpaceX.com for additional flight information, including photos and videos as they become available!

Posted June 04, 2010 11:54 Pacific Time
T+ 00:09:04 Falcon 9 has achieved Earth Orbit!

Unfortunately for me, it happened while I was out getting lunch. Oh, well — I'm sure they'll post a video here soon enough.

UPDATE 2: The first video clips are available. 

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Thanking the producers again

Posted by Richard on November 26, 2009

The first ThanksgivingThis time each year, I get lots of hits on my 2006 post The real Thanksgiving story, and a smaller bump on my 2007 post This Thanksgiving, celebrate the producers. Please check them out (and please read T.F. Stern’s comment and my reply on the latter). This year, courtesy of Doug Fabian, I bring you another thanks to the producers, this one from Jim Woods:

This Thursday is Thanksgiving, and I suspect that most of you reading this have plans to spend time with friends and family feasting on a sumptuous meal. I know I will be gourmandizing on various gastronomic delights, not the least of which will be of the fine fermented variety.

Now, amidst tomorrow’s day of celebration, I undoubtedly will be bombarded by numerous television news spots aimed at making me feel guilty for my bounty. Although not directed specifically at me, the purpose of these stories will be to remind me that I should feel fortunate to have a roof over my head, warm clothes on my back and a hot meal on my plate. Because, these stories will imply, it could be me — or any one of us — who suffers the indignity of poverty, hunger or homelessness.

The plight of those less fortunate, shown to us via remote telecast from the nearest homeless shelter or inner city soup kitchen, is supposed to be a stark reminder that those whose lives aren’t immersed in peril should be thankful for all that we have.

Well, to this I ask, thankful to whom? Who are the people responsible for providing us with the tremendous bounty most Americans enjoy?

This year, I want you to give thanks to those who truly deserve it.

This year, I want you to thank the men (and women) of genius who first discovered how to harness fire and how to forge tools for hunting. I want you to thank the men of genius who discovered how to cultivate crops and how to ferment grapes and create wine.

I want you to thank the men of genius who are responsible for creating the planes, trains and automobiles that delivered the bounty to your table. And I want you to thank the men of genius who, throughout history, plied their various trades — often in the face of unimaginable opposition — to help lift us all out of a squalid state of nature and into the magnificence that is 21st-century America.

And finally, I think we should all give extra thanks to the real unsung heroes, the capitalists, who put their money and their livelihoods at risk to fund the various enterprises throughout the ages that made modern life possible.

To all of the great capitalist heroes, I thank you from the very core of my own productive mind. I can offer you no greater tribute this Thanksgiving than to enjoy, without the slightest hint of guilt, the life-sustaining bounty you all have made possible.

This Thursday, we need to thank the men and women of genius, both past and present, who truly deserve the gratitude, yet who so often get nothing but condemnation in exchange for their tremendous achievements.

I toast you all in the name of the best within us. 

Cheers,

Jim

Cheers to you, Jim, and to Doug for sharing your fine comments with us. And thank you, dear visitor, for dropping by. I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner with family and friends, and as I said in 2007, remember to thank the producers who made it possible — including yourself!

If you’re religious, by all means thank God for giving humans the faculties that make our achievements possible. But don’t forget that we have free will. It’s the choices we’ve made — and that countless others alongside us and before us have made — that are responsible for the bounties for which we’re thankful today. We have to choose to exercise those faculties productively and to establish and maintain societies in which such exercise is not just possible, but encouraged and rewarded. The incredible riches all around us aren’t the result of wishes or prayers, they weren’t just handed to us — they exist because of the creativity and hard work that countless people chose to exercise. And they will disappear if people stop making those choices.

So say thanks also to William Bradford and the Pilgrims, and their Massasoit Indian friends. And to the patriots of the American Revolution. And to the Founding Fathers. And to all the scientists and entrepreneurs and capitalists and laborers who’ve created this incredible modern world in which we live. And to all the people proudly and productively working to create more every day. I bet you’re one of them, so in the words of Debi Ghate, “selfishly and proudly say: ‘I earned this.'”

On a more somber note, don’t forget that today is also the first anniversary of the Jihadist attack on Mumbai. In recent years, our friends in India have joined us in embracing freedom, opportunity, progress, and modernity. For their achievements, they were brutally punished by 7th-century barbarians. There are those who will not rest until they destroy everything we value and the wealth, freedom, and opportunity for which we give thanks. Don’t forget that.

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More good news than bad

Posted by Richard on July 7, 2008

The mainstream media have been relentlessly negative about America's economy (and life here in general) for the past five years. Now that there really are some problems, it's gotten worse. And I predict they'll become even more obsessed with doom and gloom as the election gets closer.

Case in point: Saturday's AP story, "America's unhappy birthday." I won't excerpt it or link to it, since they threaten to come after bloggers who quote them without paying a fee. But you may have seen it in your local paper or on one of the news aggregator sites. Doug Ross has excerpts here (I assume he's defying them, not paying up). The gist is that life in America sucks, almost everyone's miserable, and people are hoping someone will "ride to their rescue" (you can quote up to four words free, according to the AP fee schedule).

Well, cheer up! Sure, we've hit a bit of a rough patch recently, with the gas and food price increases and the mortgage mess (all of which are a consequence of liberal feel-good policies out of Washington). But so far, this century's really looking pretty good. Last Thursday, Mark J. Perry posted some evidence from Investor's Business Daily, leading off with another great graph (Perry does terrific charts and graphs) illustrating how much richer we've become:

U.S. Household Net Worth, 1980 to 2008

 

Americans' net worth — what they owned less what they owed — was $55.97 trillion. That's down from the peak of $58.196 trillion in the third quarter of 2007, but still $15.3 trillion above where it was seven years ago (see chart above).

Put another way, a bit more than one-quarter of all the wealth created in America in the 232 years since our founding was created in the last seven years.

I blame Bush.

There's more good news regarding incomes, jobs, the poor, lifespans… Read the whole thing.

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What a difference a year makes

Posted by Richard on March 20, 2007

Michael Totten is doing some consulting work in Kurdistan, and he's produced a long report on the area, illustrated with lots of wonderful pictures. He reminds us that parts of Iraq are nothing like the chaos and hell that the MSM dwells on every day, and have in fact made remarkable progress in the past year or so:

Fourteen months ago I flew to Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, from Beirut, Lebanon, on the dubiously named Flying Carpet Airlines. Flying Carpet's entire fleet is one small noisy plane with propellers, cramped seats, and thin cabin pressure. Only nineteen passengers joined me on that once-a-week flight. Everyone but me was a Lebanese businessman. They were paranoid of me and of each other. What kind of crazy person books a flight to Iraq, even if it is to the safe and relatively prosperous Kurdistan region? I felt completely bereft of sense going to Iraq without a gun and without any bodyguards, and it took a week for my on-again off-again twitchiness to subside.

Last week I flew to Erbil from Vienna on Austrian Airlines to work for a few weeks as a private sector consultant with my colleague Patrick Lasswell. This time I didn't feel anything like a fool. Almost half the passengers were women. Children played on their seats and in the aisle with toys handed out by the crew. We watched an in-flight movie and ate the usual airline lunch fare served by an attractive long legged stewardess. The cabin erupted with applause when the wheels touched down on the runway. The pilot announced the weather (sunny and 60) in three languages and cheerfully told us all to have a great day. Have a great day may seem an odd thing to say to people who just arrived in Iraq, but this is Kurdistan. I did, indeed, have a great day.

Read the rest. Totten is far from a Pollyanna. He doubts that the Sunni and Shia Arabs will be able to live in peace (but he admits his predictions about the Middle East have been wrong before). Totten thinks that the Kurds, on the other hand, have a very bright future. His report certainly contains plenty of evidence to support optimism.

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