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Subject: Prager U: Why Is America So Rich? rss

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Kelsey Rinella
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Continuing my series of considerations of Prager U videos, their newest. I won't bother with the whole transcript, as it's long and sort of redundant, but here's a piece:

Quote:
Why didn’t the U.S. government profitably use what Morse had invented? Part of the answer is that the incentives for bureaucrats differ sharply from those of entrepreneurs. When government operated the telegraph, Washington bureaucrats received no profits from the messages they sent, and the cash they lost was the taxpayers’, not their own. So government officials had no incentive to improve service, to find new customers, or to expand to more cities.


As with the last bit on school choice, this basically seems like a reasonable statement of the conservative position, and a good place to begin discussion. It's nothing like a complete or balanced perspective, but it's fairly clear and seems less motivated by bitterness than a desire to help us all prosper. A good model.
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Ken
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I'm simply stunned at the lack of real history in their history.

1. McKenney didn't run a company - he was head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and ran a series of government "factories" to trade finished goods for furs with the Indians as a part of plans to engage the Indians more effectively.

2. The US never ran the telegraph system. They even invested in Morse's company to the tune of $30,000 in 1844 to string wire for the test that proved the system worked. Private companies strung the wires and ran the systems, often competing directly and forming partnerships to extend their reach.

3. Collins ran a successful company for decades before receiving a government subsidy to carry mail (I guess this is the "bet" the goverment bet" he talks about). His line failed because he & his company built ships that were larger than they needed, dramatically increasing operating costs. So decisions made by a private business led to its failure (helped when the Subsidies weren't increased to cover the higher operating costs).

There's just about nothing there that stands up to scrutiny. So does fake history prove his point?

BTW - I actually agree that government subsidies to business are a bad idea. I simply don't understand the need to justify it with fiction.
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Kelsey Rinella
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perfalbion wrote:
I'm simply stunned at the lack of real history in their history.

1. McKenney didn't run a company - he was head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and ran a series of government "factories" to trade finished goods for furs with the Indians as a part of plans to engage the Indians more effectively.

2. The US never ran the telegraph system. They even invested in Morse's company to the tune of $30,000 in 1844 to string wire for the test that proved the system worked. Private companies strung the wires and ran the systems, often competing directly and forming partnerships to extend their reach.

3. Collins ran a successful company for decades before receiving a government subsidy to carry mail (I guess this is the "bet" the goverment bet" he talks about). His line failed because he & his company built ships that were larger than they needed, dramatically increasing operating costs. So decisions made by a private business led to its failure (helped when the Subsidies weren't increased to cover the higher operating costs).

There's just about nothing there that stands up to scrutiny. So does fake history prove his point?

BTW - I actually agree that government subsidies to business are a bad idea. I simply don't understand the need to justify it with fiction.


Not being personally familiar with the history and, like you, finding the anti-subsidy conclusion perfectly reasonable, it didn't occur to me to check on it. Thanks for the correction.
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Yeah, this is really bad economic history.

When US manufacturing was developing in the 19th century, there was a tariff on manufactured imports to prevent US industry from being crushed by British imports. That's why our economy is far less dependent on primary resource extraction like Canada or Australia. This was a gubmint decision.

The reason why (outside of the Jim Crow era South) our social structure isn't like Mexico or Latin America is because of the Homesteading Act. The Federal gubmint gave land away, set up the Land Grant colleges to teach how to farm and other trades and disciplines.

In fact, the gubmint not only put a tariff on chemical imports, it expropriated Bayer, Hoescht, and BASF's patents under the Trading with the Enemy Act during WW1 and auctioned them off to US chemical cos like DuPont. DuPont and Dow lobbied to keep the tariffs, and prevent the expropriated assets being returned to their German competitors. They framed this as necessary for national security because of we'd need a strong domestic chemical industry if there was another war where chemicals weapons were used.

The US is a very successful economy, but it is so because of specific government policy to enable the private sector to thrive. In the short term, the gubmint would have made more money by auctioning land off to investors rather than giving it away. But by giving the land away, it created a class of individuals with property, and title to that property, who could then use it to improve their lot and create demand. It also meant less social conflict: we didn't need agrarian reform movements, like in Ireland or Russia or Latin America, to relieve people from living in quasi-feudalism - we started where the agrarian reform movements wanted to get to.

More recently, the reason why US is the leader in pickup trucks is because of a 25% tariff on pickup trucks called the "chicken tax" (because it was introduced as retaliation against 1960s Germany putting a tariff on US frozen chicken).

More on this theme in Brad DeLong's book "Concrete Economics." Just 'cos the gubmint didn't have five-year plans doesn't mean it didn't have an overall strategy for the economy, and that it did not pursue policies to favor the development of the economy in that direction.
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rinelk wrote:
Continuing my series of considerations of Prager U...

WHY?
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Kelsey Rinella
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Tall_Walt wrote:
rinelk wrote:
Continuing my series of considerations of Prager U...

WHY?


Several conservatives have pointed to it as a source they regard as stating their views well. I would like to find some good conservative sources, and would like to give conservatives the opportunity to help me see merit in some of the pieces which strike me as vacuous or deceptive.

So far, my impression is that Prager U is uneven. Some of them, like this one, start a conversation with a fairly clear statement of the conservative view and reasons for it (though, as Tom points out in detail, it doesn't end the conversation). Others are pretty terrible partisan hackery.

If there are better conservative sources, I'd be interested to know of them.
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tmcvey wrote:

More on this theme in Brad DeLong's book "Concrete Economics." Just 'cos the gubmint didn't have five-year plans doesn't mean it didn't have an overall strategy for the economy, and that it did not pursue policies to favor the development of the economy in that direction.


Yep. Goes all the way back to Henry Clay and his policy of internal improvements (and a national bank and high tariffs), which was called the American System. We'd call that "infrastructure building" today.
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rinelk wrote:
Continuing my series of considerations of Prager U videos, their newest. I won't bother with the whole transcript, as it's long and sort of redundant, but here's a piece:

Quote:
Why didn’t the U.S. government profitably use what Morse had invented? Part of the answer is that the incentives for bureaucrats differ sharply from those of entrepreneurs. When government operated the telegraph, Washington bureaucrats received no profits from the messages they sent, and the cash they lost was the taxpayers’, not their own. So government officials had no incentive to improve service, to find new customers, or to expand to more cities.


As with the last bit on school choice, this basically seems like a reasonable statement of the conservative position, and a good place to begin discussion. It's nothing like a complete or balanced perspective, but it's fairly clear and seems less motivated by bitterness than a desire to help us all prosper. A good model.

It's Friday, you should tune in and listen to the Happiness Hour from ol' Mr. Prager. Give it a spin.
 
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Well, there is one video on Prager U that I stumbled on a few months ago that I'm good with.

A US military historian laying out very clearly that YES, the American Civil War was fought over slavery.



In my experience, most conservatives don't like to admit this. But Prager U being Prager U, the next vid was one criticizing Democrats for calling conservative racists "racists".
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rinelk wrote:
If there are better conservative sources, I'd be interested to know of them.


Mises would be a better source, if you ask me. The philosophy will be "purer" (it will lack overt US political agendas) and they almost never make shit up to justify their conclusion. At least then, you'll actually be able to discuss conservative philosophy and not the crap that some use to mask it.
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rinelk wrote:
Tall_Walt wrote:
rinelk wrote:
Continuing my series of considerations of Prager U...

WHY?

Several conservatives have pointed to it as a source they regard as stating their views well. I would like to find some good conservative sources, and would like to give conservatives the opportunity to help me see merit in some of the pieces which strike me as vacuous or deceptive.

It would be nice if you could actually state what you find meritorious, vacuous, or deceptive instead of just plopping a dog's breakfast in the forum and expecting us to somehow divine what you want us to do with it.
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Kelsey Rinella
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Diabolik771 wrote:
It's Friday, you should tune in and listen to the Happiness Hour from ol' Mr. Prager. Give it a spin.


I really dislike consuming text in audio or video form. That's what started this series, actually--I finally noticed the "transcript" links on the Prager U videos.

Tall_Walt wrote:
It would be nice if you could actually state what you find meritorious, vacuous, or deceptive instead of just plopping a dog's breakfast in the forum and expecting us to somehow divine what you want us to do with it.


On some of them, I've been quite argumentative, and pointed out bits I thought required aggressively missing the point of the liberal view in order to make their argument, or which were otherwise much less good than they could be. This time, I thought it was okay, and quoted the portion which seemed to me to concisely state their point. Turns out I was wrong, in that the history part was apparently problematic, but the same point could presumably have been made by choosing other examples.

But, mostly, I wanted to run the series for a little while bringing up every Prager U video released for a time, and give my perspective on them, as a way of helping conservatives see how a liberal sees their arguments and of inviting them to help me see things more their way. This one didn't really require much, so it's included more for completeness, and as a way of acknowledging that some of the Prager U stuff is ideological but not objectionable. I think it's important to recognize that these days.
 
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See, I'd avoid Prager U entirely because it's symptomatic of the rational vs. irrational argument problem. Even if I agree with their conclusion here (government subsidies bad!), the fact that they chose to present it with an argument so clearly full of bullshit makes it completely untenable. It's a video that's supposed to provide a quick primer on a real issue that's worth discussing and it doesn't need to have crap injected into that conversation.

Particularly when there are so many good examples of subsidies doing real damage. Picking just one bit of low-hanging fruit: Steel subsidies and prohibitive tariffs to bolster US Steel in the face of increasing foreign competition.

Personally, if a site/source doesn't respect the topic enough to treat it honestly, it's not a site that's worth referencing. Hence my avoidance of HuffPo, Slate, or Salon as primary sources of news. Their spin often takes real issues and turns them into such twisted political screeds that any real discussion becomes impossible.

The moment we take our eyes off of facts, the fight stops being about what's real and starts being about how people feel. That's usually disastrous and leads to stupid statements and discussion (like asking people if the approve of welfare vs. helping the poor or keeping the ACA over Obamacare and the idiotic opinions we get).
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When looking at a policy decision that we disagree with, we should try to spend time looking at the best possible arguments behind it, instead of what we are often told, which tends to be weak, emotional, easy to understand ones. There is a lot of cynicism in politics, so we aren't being told the real arguments pretty much ever.

If all we look at this the weakest look of the opposite side of the argument, we just get stupider, because we learn nothing other than disregard opinions different than our own.

And that is why I often end up looking at conservative arguments in strange places, which often would be considered elitist: They are the only ones actually trying to be intellectually convincing. Prayer isn't one of those sources.
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Geez. I took a minute to browse a couple of videos and the level of BS is stratospheric. For example, this winner on how fossil fuels are the greenest energy source. It presents "facts" to support all of it's claims, and all of them look great! Until:

1. You bother to do something like extend the range of some of their graphs. Fossil fuels reduce pollution? Only if you exclude the swaths of time before we implemented emissions regulation.

2. You think about the definition of "green." It's great that we have clean water and sanitation, for example, but those usually aren't what people are talking about when we're discussing "green." By this logic, leaded gas was "green" because it drove clean water and sanitation - just ignore the lead poisoning and smog problems it introduced.

3. You bother to actually look at what scientists say about global warming rather than the crap the speaker/author decides to present. Because they don't present their concerns and potential impacts the way that he does and theirs, oh, make sense from a scientific perspective.

4. It finishes with this gem: " In sum, fossil fuels don’t take a naturally safe environment and make it dangerous; they empower us to take a naturally dangerous environment and make it cleaner and safer." Ahhh, that's brilliant. The world would be a terrible, polluted, and dangerous place and we're actually improving it. Brilliant! You've earned your choco ration this week!

ETA: I forgot a biggie - 5. You never actually discuss CO2 emissions and how they've grown, just say "This one guy said something that turned out to be wrong."

This just isn't honest. There's no point to engaging with this tripe unless you're going to go debate one of these guys and want opposition research on what to use to show how full of shit they are.

Just ignore it, Kelsey. It's nowhere close to worth your time and unless you're spending all your time ferreting out the BS, you may even hurt your critical thinking skills. The occasional gem (like the slavery video) isn't worth the partisan crap.
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^ ive been trying to tell rinelk that prager u sux
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Kelsey Rinella
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hibikir wrote:
When looking at a policy decision that we disagree with, we should try to spend time looking at the best possible arguments behind it, instead of what we are often told, which tends to be weak, emotional, easy to understand ones. There is a lot of cynicism in politics, so we aren't being told the real arguments pretty much ever.

If all we look at this the weakest look of the opposite side of the argument, we just get stupider, because we learn nothing other than disregard opinions different than our own.

And that is why I often end up looking at conservative arguments in strange places, which often would be considered elitist: They are the only ones actually trying to be intellectually convincing. Prayer isn't one of those sources.


I think that's much more true of some of the pieces than others; unsurprisingly, when I find that the conservative view is most contrary to fact, I find it most partisan hackish. Ken's example is great--there's really no way to oppose the view that burning fossil fuels has caused climate change without total BS.

So part of what I'd like to do is help people who see value in Prager U recognize when they're being informative vs. when they're simply engaging in ideological defensive rationalization. Even better than that would be to encourage our conservative cohorts to do the same to some oft-cited liberal source (perhaps The Atlantic? What's good?).

But part of the point of all this isn't to try to decide these issues, but rather to meet conservatives where they are. I'm not saying we need to engage with the stuff they understand is just rage porn--we have MSNBC, and don't take their perspective to really reflect reality, after all, it's just something we* watch because it can be fun to feel the way it makes us feel. But there's other media we consume generally thinking that it's fair and accurate, in addition to being ideologically comfortable. That's what I want to read from the conservative side. Not necessarily the best conservative view, but the one conservatives themselves generally see as representative of reality and ideologically suited to their views.

* Given what I understand of their viewership, apparently not that many.
 
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There is such things as positions that are not really well defended on the other side at all, and global warming is one of them. You have to look at the best defense possible though: It is probably still not convincing, but it will at least be respectable.

There are other places where there's relatively little intellectual defense of current conservative perspectives: One is immigration, where the strong conservative arguments get to cast doubt on a full opening of borders for everyone, but not about, say, doubling the number of green cards we hand every year. The other is the new turn towards protectionism, where the best case scenario leads to an isolated US with more free trade everywhere else, which is a nightmare scenario.

But there's places like in education, or messing with the FDA, where the best conservative argument is very defensible, it's just that we never hear said good arguments in most media.
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rinelk wrote:
So part of what I'd like to do is help people who see value in Prager U recognize when they're being informative vs. when they're simply engaging in ideological defensive rationalization. Even better than that would be to encourage our conservative cohorts to do the same to some oft-cited liberal source (perhaps The Atlantic? What's good?).


This is a great motive, but I think it's doomed to fail from the outset. If I run into someone that's spouting gobbledy-gook from Prager U or some similar source, then I know that they aren't actually interested in knowing the facts behind the story. If they were, they'd go look for better sources (Scientific American, Discovery Magazine, Nature, etc. for the fossil fuels story). So either a) this person doesn't care or b) they don't know that they're getting crap information. If it's b), there's an outside chance you can fix that. If it's a), it's time to ask about sports and move on.

BTW - that goes both ways. If all I get from a liberal argument is HuffPo and MoveOn and ThinkProgress, then they're often just as much a lost cause. I have better odds with them because they might listen to someone that's center-left try to convince them there are better arguments to be made. But me trying to convince someone on the right? I expect dismal failure.

People that are really interested in the dialog, the discussion, and the debate don't need to be encouraged to look beyond crap sites (Paul/fizzmore springs immediately to mind). They may disagree with your conclusions or your suggested fixes, but they won't try to do it by defining the debate in such a way that they can't lose.
 
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To my learned RSP colleagues,

Are there any credible sites that talk about topics like this that you could recommend?

I already listen to Ted Talks.

I'm fairly esoteric in my interests. I like science, technology and history, but would be interested in some political science with respect to 'why things are the way they are.'

20-30 mins would be the most I would realistically spend unless it's effortless to pick up where I left off. I usually listen to stuff on the way to work.

Thanks!
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neoshmengi wrote:
I'm fairly esoteric in my interests. I like science, technology and history, but would be interested in some political science with respect to 'why things are the way they are.'

I find http://www.bbc.com/ most useful since they don't have a dog in the US political fight. For similar reasons, I use http://www.economist.com/ for economic issues. Bloomberg, Fortune, and similar tend to tilt to business interests; given one accounts for their bias, they're good.
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neoshmengi wrote:
Are there any credible sites that talk about topics like this that you could recommend?


I'm not a fan of any of these types of sites. My recommendation would be to focus on reading more good history or biography so that it's easier to put things in context.

Books on tape might be a good option if you're looking for chunks of time and it'd be easy to pick up where you left off. You might also seek out a good podcast or two. Freakonomics has a great podcast (about an hour), History Extra (from the BBC so it might focus on things of less interest), Dan Carlin's Hardcore History (often focused on ancient history and long but interesting), or Backstory. For political issues, but the NPR Politics podcast and the 538 podcast are quite good.
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I didn't read this thread or watch the video because you guys are prolific. But, I think America is so rich because it is basically a gigantic island with an absurd amount of natural resources. No real competition or threat from neighboring countries to develop at our leisure.

It is like getting the best starting square possible in Civilization.
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galad2003 wrote:
2. Large population - people are a resource and having more people means more ideas. We have been really good at attracting the best and the brightest from across the world to live and work in the US.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_capital_flight

4. Free Market - More evil! Free market and capitalism are two separate concepts for those who don't know. Having a free market capitalistic society is great for generating wealth and IMO the best economic system Your beliefs may vary. The US doesn't have a complete free market capitalist society but we lean that way more than most other countries.
http://www.investopedia.com/ask/answers/042215/what-differen...

5. Winning World War 2 - Ok basically the US and Russia won WW2. Every other major world power was pretty much crushed economically and these two supper powers stepped in to fill the void. With the collapse of the USSR that left the US as the sole super power.

7. Investment in technology - Again we get flak for this but the US invests more money in technology than any other country. Granted it takes money to spend money. Plus we have a good ethic about innovation in this country. So much tech is invented here and we are constantly looking for more.


Human capital flight, investment in technology, military hegemony and control of international trade, especially of the "raw materials in, manufactured materials out" sort, has traditionally been less generously described with the term "empire". No moral judgement, just pointing out, as you said.
 
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galad2003 wrote:
5. Winning World War 2

Not so much being on the winning side, but having very little rebuilding to do in comparison to Europe. The geographical location helped a lot. Mainland USA was pretty safe from damage. Also the fact the US joined quite a bit later on helped too.
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