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While I agree, I do wonder if it really would have been "even better" with less state interference. What countries have had slightly more or slightly less interference, and how would that same "vacation analysis" look in those countries?

My impression, about academic economics, is that most studies are derived from "aggregate" macroeconomic statistics. An example, which I recently read about, is the study of "money" and its impact on "national income". 40 years of these studies seemed to demonstrate that this was all an exercise in pointless "data mining" or "curve fitting". While it was easy to look at various multi-variable historical correlation studies, these were never predictive. The models kept changing, including, even, the continual redefining of the term "money", in order to create higher historical correlations. Yet it never was predictive. So these studies, apparently, have become less popular.

The above example is typical, to me at least, of the economics profession on average. These kinds of studies (i.e., pseudo-science) were used to create these now apparently absurd predictions to justify the stimulus package. There always seems to be an economist out there willing to produce this stuff for politicians (I think of Mark Zandi's famous "1.76" mulitplier).

But, it would seem, the anecdotal story you told exists "inside" some localized area of Hayek's "spontaneous order". I think these smaller studies can be more easily replicated (your life cannot be "repeated", but people similar to you can be "studied", for example) to establish evidence of the principles of the "Austrians".

My "larger point" is we do not seem to have these kinds of studies (my example is probably weak, but I hope it captures the point) to help in the political debate, which presumably matters if these principles are true. If what we believe or think can be shown to be predictive--based on studies--perhaps we can make political progress against the "Zandis" of the world and their political patrons.

I will second what Mike Rulle has written. The problem, I think, Mike, as seen in "mainstream news," talk radio, or "cable news" is this one:

What makes a better story - and, perhaps, gives rise to more government intervention?

That Professor Horwitz (PhD) traveled to and from Pa, from New York State, with ease and comfortability with his children, due to the entreprenuerial discoveries of many (unknown) men and women.

OR

That Joe the plumber, for example, who was recently laid-off cannot afford to visit his family 25 minutes away because he must devote all of his savings to his health care that was terminated with his employment.

I completely agree with Steve, and I think the point about what resonates politically is important. It's easy to feel for Joe the Plumber's plight and perhaps easier to dismiss portable DVD players as mere baubles and trifles of consumerist modernity. Here are my thoughts on recent travels(cross-posted with links at Division of Labour):

While I’ve always enjoyed spending time with my family and visiting relatives, there is more of nightmare than of nostalgia in my memories of seemingly endless hours in the cramped backseat of Dad's Dodge Aries. We just took a road trip from Memphis to Great Barrington, MA and then to New York City in a spacious Honda Pilot that is “ultra-low emissions” certified with our GPS leading the way, a selection of CDs, and iPods in case we needed (or wanted) to listen to something without distracting everyone else. Our soon-to-be-one-year-old son enjoyed the Sesame Street and Baby Einstein DVDs he was able to watch on the portable DVD player his grandparents got him for his birthday (in their wisdom, they gave it to him before we took our enormous trip). 21st Century Technology made it a far more pleasant trip than it otherwise would have been. Perhaps the best evidence I can offer for how much better travel is than it was 20 years ago, though, is the fact that I wrote part of this post in New York and part of it in Atlanta. If I’d bought the in-flight wifi connection, I could have posted it from cruising altitude. It’s hard to be pessimistic when you can blog from 35,000 feet.

Changes in standards of living are notoriously hard to measure, but someday, I think we’ll be able to develop crude proxies by watching The Simpsons. Someday, I want to write a paper trying to measure trends on late twentieth and early twenty-first century American standards of living by tracking “The Simpsons” over its entire run and seeing how their assumptions about average standards of living have changed. I’ve shown the episode “”King-Size Homer” in a presentation I’ve given to high school writing camp students, and the last time I watched it I was surprised at its assumptions about Everyman’s access to technology.*

*-“Homer Economicus Responds to Incentives,” and yes, the title is an homage to the brilliance of my co-author and co-blogger Josh Hall.

"Finally, our whole trip was made much more pleasant by high-quality, user-chosen music on the car CD player."

User chosen?

Cheeze-n-effin-rice, Dad, if you play Moving Pictures one more ged-damned time . . .

I was driving back from Chattanooga yesterday, through the foothills of the Appalachians, blue-tooth stuck in my ear for phone calls, work emails popping on my PDA, MP3 player "reading" Shelby Foote's Civil War narrative through the stereo (which I had downloaded from the local library), Garmin telling me where I am and when I'll get home, cruise control humming along at 75 and the A/C on low but keeping me pleasantly cool on a hot, southern July day . . . and I was thinking of how my 8-year-old, 137K mile 2001 Mustang GT was so much better than my 8-year-old, 65K mile 1973 Nova was back in 1981. Faster, more efficient and a helluvalot more comfortable. I didn't stop to think about the gadgets and other technology . . . not to mention how easy it is to re-fuel with pay-at-the pump technology.

I had to go back to living the way I did in 1981 . . . not to mention earlier . . . I think it would completely and totally suck . . . and dating hot, teenage girls again wouldn't make up for it!


Let me just note that NO Rush was played during approximately 30 hours of driving this past week. My tastes in music are notably broader than some might be led to believe by my own behavior!

...which reminds me: the only thing better in the 70s and early 80s WAS the music. :)

When long enough time frames are looked at all the deviations from trend seem to be smoothed out.

Our human problem is that we live in "real time," i.e., at any moment we are living in one of the historically unique points on the scatter diagram.

And the whole or a good part of one's life, therefore, can be lived out in a series of those historically unique dots that can end up being above or below that smoothed long-run trend line.

(E.g., Stalin's Russia, Hitler's Germany, FDR's New Deal, or Obama's America and what may follow.)

So, yes, looking back from, say the year 2095, the first two decades of the 21st century may seem (in that long-run trend-line sense) to be just part of may turn out as the unending improvements of the current century (assume long-run trend continues).

But we who live out the rest of our lives long before 2095 comes may see it a less than perfect. And may still be nostalgic about aspects (notice I say aspects, not everything!) of early epochs.

Richard Ebeling

Richard,

So in the long run we're all dead, right?

In any case, the long-long run trend is for stagnation. The last few thousand years are an irregular blip in human history. Perhaps Obama and his cronies will return us to normalcy.

Steve,

But don't under-estimate how good you had it too! You had a car!!!!!

Two actually! My dad was one of those overpaid business school profs. ;)

Lee Kelly makes an important point in his comment above. The trend of human prosperity is really only three hundred years old.

Before that human existence everywhere was virtually unchanged -- nasty, brutish, and short.

There is no certainty that this peculiar and unique episode in human history -- due to the rise of capitalism and (classical) liberalism -- will continue indefinitely.

There are no "laws of history" -- including the analyst's "trend line" that is superimposed on the scatter diagram of real, historical events and moments.

I hope what we may go through, given the emerging shape of new government policies, turns out to be a "mere" deviation from trend. But we will only know that years and decades after the fact.

As for generally everything continuing to be better, well watch an old movie, say, from the 1960s or 1970s in which there is an airport scene.

There are no security lines, no metal dedicators, and people go up to the ticket counter smoking cigars (even if you are not a smoker, at that time government was not acting as an enforcer of "health Nazism" in the same way as today). And you could freely meet people at the gate as their plane arrives.

Or the world before 1914 -- virtually no passports or visas when traveling, and immigration barriers were only in their infancy.

So not everything is an upward and onward trend.

Richard Ebeling

Throw in a labor intensive war(s)with conscription and the trend line won't bring a smile of satisfaction. The problem with all these "as long as your property is used to mitigate the distress of the people and the reich" property "rights" is that they lead to a situation where your or a loved-one's body is the property that the reich wishes for a higher and better use than you might otherwise decide is a proper use.

If Obama would say in German what he says in teleprompted English, I suspect "blithe" would be a seldom used adjective, in English.

Richard,

No one, at least not me, said *every single thing* is better than it used to be. My only claim is that my life is notably better than that of my parents is most ways and that my kids will very likely be better than mine, in most ways. I probably have a less nostalgic view of the past than you do, but I won't disagree that *some* things were better back when (like music, for example ;) ).

Steve:

I agree completely about the music being better in the past -- but I'm thinking of Frank Sinatra and Glenn Miller!

Richard Ebeling

Richard - plenty of Sinatra and Glen Miller in my music collection, along with the aforementioned classic rock, so you're preaching to the choir here!

Not to gainsay the qualification that not everything is better now, would Richard's point about the airport scene still hold if we looked at what it was costing to board the plane? I don't know, but I'm guessing that we're paying a lot less for service that is less good in many ways (not all), and security services that we didn't need then.

All of this amazing technological progress has been made in spite of government interference in our daily lives not because of it.

Richard Eberling - all the things you point out about air travel being inferior now are the result of government action!

My previous comment was partly in jest. Although the last few thousand years of human history--from about the agricultural revolution onward--have been an irregular period of peace and prosperity in an otherwise brutal and impoverished history, barring a catastrophe so great that the planet is made inhospitable to all life, there can be no return to "normacly." The growth of knowledge cannot be so easily undone, not even by foolsih politicians.

Of course we have more of life's material comforts now: especially adult toys of the he-who-dies-with-the-most-wins type -- errhrrrm, make that "advanced electronics" -- so often mentioned here. But I doubt we produce more genuine food for the soul. Even if we do, it's far more difficult and time-consuming (hence more costly) to identify and retrieve it due to the mass of cheap muck it's buried under.

Alas, as I frequently lament, I was born about 40 years too late. I'd gladly trade in every consumer luxury I now own or ever plan to if I could discover a Nozick or an Orwell or a Rand -- or a Hayek -- working today! To my knowledge, since Friedman's passing, the closest The Dismal Science has got to anyone of that stature is Thomas Sowell.

On the other hand, I cheerfully rack my Reznor and Jourgensen (on CD, of course) next to my Vivaldi on vinyl. And I'd surely consider my complete unabridged Doyle's Holmes only slantwise compensation for everafter being denied my Thursday night "Burn Notice" fix on cable TV. So I should just shut up already with the nostalgia thing ;-)

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