Category Archives: blogs

Adapt or Die

A fellow Michigander notes that his Kindle didn’t kill Borders, bad business decisions did:

The most-cited reason for Borders downfall will certainly be technological change. The Nook & Kindle e-readers both will be portrayed as the grim reapers for Borders, and bookstores in general. That may contain a kernel of truth, and is even more convincing when you throw in competition from online booksellers like Amazon and big box stores like Costco (their selection is always surprisingly robust). Detroit Free Press writer Mitch Album spent his Sunday column listing other factors, including the decline of books as an essential part of our culture. Absent Twilight & the Harry Potter series, and excluding homework assignments, how many American kids are devouring books? For that matter, how many of their parents use time after work to wind down with a book? Not many, it seems.

But I didn’t kill Borders, and neither did my Kindle-loving brethren – bad business decisions did. In 1992, Borders was sold to Kmart, which then merged it with Kmart’s Waldenbooks and started franchise expansion. Borders became a public company in 1995 and reached its sales per square foot peak in 1997 – at 204 stores – but kept opening new stores. It expanded overseas and failed to capitalize on growing (non-expansion) revenue streams, most notably in 2001 when it gave Amazon all of its online book sales. Instead of being conservative with expansions – even downsizing – as the market landscape changed, Borders kept pumping revenue up with store openings. On April 18, 2011 the truth was clear: Borders hasn’t been a truly healthy company since the late 1990s and now nothing can save it.

 

Like Gordon, the closing of Borders has kind of been a gut punch for me.  In someways it seems silly to get all emotional about a big box chain.  But Borders was a Michigan company that started in Ann Arbor.  There was something that always made me swell a bit with pride about this homegrown company making it big.

But Gordon is also correct that the company made mistakes that contributed to its demise.  It will be sad to see this great store pass into history, but it ultimately has only itself to blame.

Der Spiegel:We Heart Tabloids

Interesting and surprising thoughts from the German newspaper Der Spiegel on why people are hating on Rpuert Murdoch:

A glance at the television coverage and the op-eds in recent days would be enough to convince anyone that the media mogul from Adelaide governs Downing Street and that Great Britain is mired in a scandal akin to Watergate. Everywhere one can read about the extent of his media power. His real crime, though, are his views, even if no one will say so. He’s known to be a stalwart conservative whose newspapers reliably bang the right-wing drum — and that was plenty to make him an object of hatred.

It goes without saying that progressives would be more merciful in the verdicts they have passed on the tabloid press had they themselves ever found success in the genre. But it is difficult to create a left-wing version of The Sun. One can only tell readers so often why young criminals deserve compassion instead of tougher prison sentences, or why each foreigner is a blessing for the country to which he has immigrated. People still cling tightly to their prejudices, contemptuously leaving the pedagogical messages behind at the newsstand…

Those who condemn a nation’s tabloid press are actually condemning the segment of the population that makes such products big and powerful. The intelligensia has always struggled with the simple masses. Indeed, it is truly painful to know exactly what is good for the country, but to fail to earn mass approval, whether at the newsstand or the voting booth.

As early as the French Revolution, Enlightenment thinkers were forced to recognize an aggravating gap between the populace as they imagined it and the actual people who took to the stage as revolutionary subjects. In 1793, when food riots shook Paris, one of the era’s key figures, Maximilien de Robespierre, said that while he wouldn’t accuse the people of incriminating themselves, he had hoped they would have loftier aims. “When the people rise up, should they not have a goal worthy of them?” he asked. “Should they be concerned about a bag of groceries?”

It’s been that way ever since: The avant-garde makes lofty, magnanimous plans while the crowd seeks to fill more tangible needs.

Would I Let My Daughter Do It?

Stephen Levitt of Freakonomics has a little test he applies to public policy questions and they involved his daughter:

Most of the time there is broad agreement as to which activities should be made criminal. Almost no one thinks that theft or violence against innocents is socially acceptable. There are, however, a few activities that fall into a gray area, like illicit drugs, prostitution, abortion, or gambling. Reasonable people can disagree as to whether it is appropriate to prohibit such activities, discourage them through taxation or other means, or simply let them flourish. A common feature of these gray-area activities are that they are typically “victimless” in the sense that, unlike a theft or murder, there is no easily discernible victim of the activity. When a drug dealer sells to an addict, both are happy to have carried out the transaction.

I’ve never really understood why I personally come down on one side or the other with respect to a particular gray-area activity.  Not that my opinion matters at all, but despite strong economic arguments in favor of drug legalization, the idea has always made me a little queasy. Conversely, although logic tells me that abortion as practiced in the U.S. doesn’t seem like such a great idea (see the end of the abortion chapter in Freakonomics for our arguments on this one), something in my heart makes me sympathetic to legalized abortion.

I would love it if my daughter became a poker champion (iStockphoto)

It wasn’t until the U.S. government’s crackdown on internet poker last week that I came to realize that the primary determinant of where I stand with respect to government interference in activities comes down to the answer to a simple question: How would I feel if my daughter were engaged in that activity?

If the answer is that I wouldn’t want my daughter to do it, then I don’t mind the government passing a law against it. I wouldn’t want my daughter to be a cocaine addict or a prostitute, so in spite of the fact that it would probably be more economically efficient to legalize drugs and prostitution subject to heavy regulation/taxation, I don’t mind those activities being illegal.

Ross Douthat thinks this is a good way to think about policy:

…thinking “what if I my daughter did this/were in this position?” is a way to take an argument from the abstract to the viscerally real, and to bring moral and legal gray areas into a sharper focus. It isn’t a mathematical proof, or a system of inputs that spits out an automatic, universal answer: For instance, more pro-life father would take a different view of the abortion question that Levitt does. (Or to take the example that kicked off Levitt’s riff, one could imagine someone else saying that Internet gambling doesn’t pass his daughter test, because a gambling addiction can be as destructive as cocaine.) But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a useful way of thinking about public policy. The fact that I would want to be able to involve the police if my daughter became a streetwalker, but not if she became a Hari Krishna, tells me something important about what kind of legal regime I should support. (There’s a touch of Kantianism in it: One’s (legal) preferences for one’s daughter should become a universal law …) And the fact that Wilkinson disagrees doesn’t prove that he believes in logic and reason, whereas I believe in raw emotion. It just proves that his answer to the daughter test is — for now, at least — different from my own.

Bleeding Heart Libertarians: Yes, They Exist

One of the things that has kept me from totally embracing the libertarian label at times is the supposed indifference of libertarians when it comes to the poor and disenfranchised.  There seemed to be talk about freedom, but no talk about how the concept of liberty can empower the poor.

Well, I guess I wasn’t the only one thinking about this because a new group blog has come to the fore called, “Bleeding Heart Libertarians.” Matt Zwolinski describes this strain of libertarianism:

I’ve created this blog as a forum for academic philosophers who are attracted both to libertarianism and to ideals of social or distributive justice.  Labels are often a greater source of confusion than insight in academic discourse, and no doubt most of the contributors to this blog will wish to qualify the sense in which they fit this description.  Some, for instance, will qualify their libertarianism with a label – “left-libertarian,” or perhaps “liberaltarian.” Others might prefer to think of themselves as “classical liberals” or even “market anarchists.”  But libertarianism, as I’ve argued elsewhere, is a broad intellectual tradition bound together more by rough agreement than by meeting a set of necessary and sufficient conditions.   What we have in common on this blog is an appreciati0n for market mechanisms, for voluntary social cooperation, for property rights, and for individual liberty.  But we appreciate those things, in large part, because of the way they contribute to important human goods – and especially the way in which they allow some of society’s most vulnerable members to realize those goods.

It’s been a good read so far and has been getting boatloads of attention. This is the type of conservation that needs to take place within libertarianism and I’m glad to see it taking place.

That’s Education…I Mean, Entertainment

J.L. Wall has a brillant post on the…um “live demonstration” of a sex act at the end of a class at Northwestern University. It has got me thinking about how pastors, like professors entertain to keep people interested.

The other thoughts I have is that college was never so interesting in the late 80s, and upon first hearing this story my thoughts ran to a certain Monty Python skit.

Conservatives and Academia

Rufus S. from the League shares his take on the under-representation of conservatives in academia:

When people point to studies on race or the transgendered as proof of “liberal bias”, it’s unclear to me why conservatism as a political philosophy should be opposed to studying those topics. When they say, conversely, that “the classics” or “the Enlightenment” are no longer studied in academia, I read enough books and journals to know that they’re basically lying. When they cite a title like “Jane Austen and the Masturbating Girl” as proof positive of what’s gone wrong with the profession, I wonder why they never read the whole article. There’s a bit of an anti-intellectual parlor game to it all. Pick a title and scoff. Certainly there are, as ever, some silly books written by academics. But I do think we need to avoid the common mistake of confusing the self-interested, cultural/aesthetic spites of the Babbitt class for a defense of culture.

Read it all.