Mike Reiss and Mathew Klickstein – Springfield Confidential: Jokes, Secrets, and Outright Lies from a Lifetime Writing for The Simpsons

Mike Reiss and Mathew Klickstein – Springfield Confidential: Jokes, Secrets, and Outright Lies from a Lifetime Writing for The Simpsons

Reiss has been a writer for The Simpsons for 28 of its 30 seasons, and offers up plenty of Simpsons trivia and inside stories from the writers’ room. Reiss also co-created The Critic and contributed to several well-known animated movies such as Ice Age and has even written children’s books and written jokes for the Pope, of all people. He also discusses what the comedy business is like, what make something funny, and shares funny plenty of stories from throughout his career.

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Dennis C. Rasmussen – The Infidel and the Professor: David Hume, Adam Smith, and the Friendship That Shaped Modern Thought

Dennis C. Rasmussen – The Infidel and the Professor: David Hume, Adam Smith, and the Friendship That Shaped Modern Thought

A highly enjoyable dual biography of David Hume and Adam Smith that mixes the personal and the intellectual. Rasmussen spends too much time on their religious beliefs for my taste, but still gives plenty of attention to more interesting topics. Hume was famously gregarious while Smith was intensely private, though their friendship was a close one. Despite some differences, they were also close intellectual allies who repeatedly defended each other from their many critics.

Hume gets the lion’s share of the book’s attention, mainly because Smith asked that most of his papers be burned after his death. His wishes were mostly respected, leaving less material for the historian to work from.

Benjamin Powell – Out of Poverty: Sweatshops in the Global Economy

Benjamin Powell – Out of Poverty: Sweatshops in the Global Economy

Powell has the audacity to evaluate policies by their results, not their intentions. In this book, anti-sweatshop activists come off poorly. Most of their favored policies, despite good intentions, have lousy results. The concluding chapters contain a host of economically literate alternatives, from freeing trade and immigration restrictions to cultural openness and exchange. Integration, not segregation.

Richard Posner – Antitrust Law, Second Edition

Richard Posner – Antitrust Law, Second Edition

A foundational text in modern antitrust regulation. From the 1890 Sherman Act up until about the late 1960s, antitrust policy was strictly for lawyers and politicians. Posner, though a lawyer, incorporated economic analysis into antitrust questions. This was a controversial departure at the time, and came to be called the Chicago School approach.

Unlike more populist analysts, Posner placed results above aesthetics. Do large market share, mergers, tying, charging high or low prices, and more cause consumer harm? If so, then antitrust enforcement is appropriate. If not, then not. It is an empirical question, not an emotional one.

The consumer welfare standard displaced the previous Brandeisian “big is bad” standard. Posner’s work is vulnerable to criticism on public choice grounds, and his command of economic analysis not perfect. But his influence has been largely positive, and greatly improved policy outcomes in an area badly in need of reform.

The story is not over, though. The Trump administration and progressive activists would both like to revive big is bad; the coming years will see who prevails in this next chapter.

On a personal note, back in college I once had lunch at the same table as Posner. This would have been around the time this book’s second edition came out, though I don’t recall it being discussed. The conversation mostly revolved around prescription drug reimportation regulations, a hot issue at the time. Had I been more knowledgeable about Posner’s place in the law-and-economics movement, I would have loved to pick his brain about improving antitrust policy and other legal areas.

This Week in Ridiculous Regulations

Congress and President Trump passed a spending bill to avoid another shutdown, but President Trump’s national emergency declaration over a non-emergency provides a troubling precedent that future presidents could also abuse, regardless of how this battle plays out in the courts. Republicans are forgetting a cardinal rule of politics: never give yourself powers you don’t want the other side to have. Meanwhile, new regulations for the week range from telling time during emergencies to electronic olive grower meetings.

On to the data:

  • Last week, 86 new final regulations were published in the Federal Register, after 73 the previous week.
  • That’s the equivalent of a new regulation every one hour and 57 minutes.
  • Federal agencies have issued 209 final regulations in 2019. At that pace, there will be 1,633 new final regulations. Last year’s total was 3,367 regulations.
  • Last week, agencies published 707 notices, for a total of 2,070 in 2019. At that pace, there will be 16,172 new notices this year. Last year’s total was 22,205.
  • Last week, 1,577 new pages were added to the Federal Register, after 934 pages the previous week.
  • The 2019 Federal Register totals 4,659 pages. It is on pace for 36,399 pages. The 2018 total was 68,082 pages. The all-time record adjusted page count (which subtracts skips, jumps, and blank pages) is 96,994, set in 2016.
  • Rules are called “economically significant” if they have costs of $100 million or more in a given year. One such rule has been published this year. Six such rules were published in 2018.
  • The running compliance cost tally for 2019’s economically significant regulations currently ranges from $139.1 million to $175.8 million. The 2018 total ranges from $220.1 million to $2.54 billion, depending on discount rates and other assumptions.
  • Agencies have published 7 final rules meeting the broader definition of “significant” so far this year. 2018’s total was 108 significant final rules.
  • So far in 2019, 34 new rules affect small businesses; two of them are classified as significant. 2018’s totals were 660 rules affecting small businesses, with 29 of them significant.

Highlights from last week’s new final regulations:

For more data, see Ten Thousand Commandments and follow @10KC and @RegoftheDay on Twitter.

Plutarch – Parallel Lives

Plutarch – Parallel Lives

A Roman who wrote in the first century A.D., Plutarch wrote history through biography—an approach many contemporary historians could learn from. His purpose had more to do with moral instruction rather than to tell a chronicle narrative history.

Plutarch tells his biographies mostly in pairs, typically with one Greek and one Roman, with a short comparison afterwards. For example, he compares the Greek rhetorician Demosthenes with the Roman Cicero, Alexander the Great with Julius Caesar, and the mythical Athenian founder Theseus with Romulus.

He writes of each man’s accomplishments, but also tells of their personal lives and their personal character. This makes for livelier reading, and better serves Plutarch’s intended moral purpose. He was also a proficient storyteller, with Shakespeare drawing directly from Plutarch for many of his historical plays.

Henri Pirenne – Economic and Social History of Medieval Europe

Henri Pirenne – Economic and Social History of Medieval Europe

Though written before Mohammed and Charlemagne, it continues the Pirenne thesis up through the 15th century.

Trade never stopped during the medieval period, but it was geographically confined for political, military, and religious reasons. Eastern goods such as cloths and especially spices all but disappeared from Europe. The ultra-high prices merchants could command for these goods made remaining long-distance trade very lucrative.

When political and cultural change in the Near East eventually let more trade through, it quickly led to the birth of modern finance and banking—though Europe’s own cultural restrictions, such as prohibitions on usury and a popular disdain for commerce, slowed the process.

It also led to both the rise and decline of the Champagne Fairs and similar big annual events. Long distance trade went from almost nothing to enough to support large annual fairs, then finally became commonplace enough to make faraway goods available year-round in every city, making the fairs obsolete. In a weird way, both the rise and the fall of the Champagne fairs were evidence of progress.

Italy, especially Venice, and the North Sea traders from the cities comprising the Hanseatic League were some of the biggest drivers of the economic revival. It is not a coincidence that the Renaissance began around this time.