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The Case for Live Blogging a Book

The buzz on the next big thing: products and services that claim to make you smarter. Forbes says it is the next trillion-dollar industry. Get-smart video games are hitting the markets. Websites and apps that promise fast results are booming. I’m a skeptic of the tools being promoted these days, but not of the overall …

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How Government Wrecked the Gas Can

The gas gauge broke. There was no smartphone app to tell me how much was left, so I ran out. I had to call the local gas station to give me enough to get on my way. The gruff but lovable attendant arrived in his truck and started to pour gas in my car’s tank. …

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Material Progress and the American Spirit

The 1968 epic Planet of the Apes ends with Taylor the astronaut, played by Charlton Heston, coming upon the Statue of Liberty, except that it is buried in beach sand to the chest and covered in seaweed. Only then does he realize that this strange planet is actually his own planet Earth and that he …

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The Case of the Missing Low-Mileage Car

How would you like to drive from New York to Los Angeles with just one stop for gas? It seems incredible and wonderful, but it can happen. In late 2010, the Volkswagen Passat BlueMotion set a new world record for the “longest distance traveled by a standard production passenger car on a single tank of …

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If Government Spends Less, Are We Sunk?

Easy prediction: Congress will not cut spending. The hysteria in Washington is for naught, as usual. There will be no “austerity,” at least not the kind brought on by cuts in government. Nor will there be curbs on the Fed. Our credit-drenched, phoney-money culture would never stand for it. But let’s just pretend that this …

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Greedy Governments and the Double Irish

Beginning last year, mainstream reporters began kvetching about a rather brilliant tax strategy used by Google, Apple and hundreds of other technology firms. It’s been the path to survival for these companies. It relies on a feature of digital goods that would have otherwise been impossible with physical goods. Firms are setting up revenue-receiving subsidiaries …

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Economics By and For Human Beings

“Economics puts parameters on people’s utopias.” Yes. That’s exactly it. That’s why the politicians hate economics. That’s why the media are so… selective in which economists they call on to talk about policy. That’s why the economics departments in colleges are put down by the sociologists, philosophers, literature professors and just about everyone else who …

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How to Ruin a Kid’s Life

I was just down at the “feed and seed” buying two baby chicks to replace my female duck that was carried off by a bird of prey, leaving one lonely male duck behind. No one told me that ducks don’t like chicks. The rest of the story is, well, let’s just say “it’s complicated.” In …

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What Is or Should Be the Law?

It seems that the president is frustrated with Congress. What kind of legislature is this, he asks, that fails to immediately enact the will of the executive? The executive has been using a slightly different approach these days: He uses an executive order. Forget all that stuff you have read in the civics texts about …

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Throwing Out the Old

Two years ago, I was the soul of generosity. I had culled through my sizeable collection of CDs and found 30 discs that I was happy to give away. My social circle went nuts, praising me as the great giver. They were so happy to have such fabulous music for free. This week, I tried …

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The Economy Is Us: A Tribute to John Papola

For many people around the world, the first they had ever heard of the great economist Friedrich A. Hayek came from a rap video. That’s right. Some 3.4 million people have watched “Fear the Boom and Bust” since its release two years ago. It has been shown in classrooms and been featured in countless stories …

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The Great Lawn Mower Hack

The functioning of millions of our consumer products has been wrecked by government regulations in ways that are extremely hard to detect and difficult to narrow down. The other day, I wrote about discovering the reason lawn mowers have mysteriously stopped working and stopped improving over the last decade or so. (I now have a …

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Wal-Mart, Victim of Extortion

To do serious business in America requires vast campaign contributions to several layers of elected politicians, an army of lobbyists in Washington, retired government employees on your board and public devotion to the American civic religion. It goes on every year and restarts every election cycle. Even then, it is hard to know if you …

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The Secret History of the Club (Part 1)

“Launch” has been the watchword this week in the world of Spy Briefing Books. It’s been on everyone’s mind since the brilliant idea of a club first emerged in the early weeks of 2012. When the launch finally happened, I experienced one of those moments: “Pinch me so that I know I’m not dreaming.” I …

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Money and Finance as if You Mattered

During the 2008 credit crisis, a horde of central bankers, Treasury officials and large corporations screamed that the end of the world was upon us — unless trillions of your money were spent (or created) to prop up the existing financial and banking systems. The presumption was that the existing structure must never be changed, …

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The Bizarre World of Plastic Fees

Most everyone is really down on financial companies these days. What kind of scam are they running, anyway? It seems as if everywhere we turn, there are fees, fees, fees. Because most everyone has some kind of credit or debit card, the popular mind is particularly focused on them, expecting to find signs of exploitation …

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Despair and the State

The sad and tragic story of Andrew Wordes — the chicken farmer who was driven to despair by government harassment and killed himself last month — continues to haunt me. And it turns out to be just one of millions of cases of similar psychological torment caused by government, directly and indirectly. These are wholly …

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How Regulators Wrecked Our Mowers

When I was a kid, lawn mowers worked. You pushed them and they cut grass. The grass went into the bag. Then you emptied the bag. The results were great. There was no grass to rake. It all went into the bag, because that’s what lawn mowers did. Then the feds got involved. Or so …

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Regulators Take on the E-Book

Get this: The federal bureaucrat who last month started the litigation against Apple and book publishers for e-book pricing is the same person who, back in the stone age, represented Netscape in its lawsuit against Microsoft. Recall that Microsoft was trying to give away its Internet Explorer to computer users for free. Netscape went nuts …

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The Good News (for Animals) on Health Care

There’s so much bad news about health care these days. Maybe it’s time for some good news. One sector, technology, is advancing at a pace never seen before. Customers have a range of services to choose from, and price competition is very intense. The doctor sees you whether you have insurance or not. Customers mostly …

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A Tool of Human Liberation

Of all social media on the Internet, LinkedIn is the least splashy. A movie will never be made about this tool. It has introduced no new words into our vernacular. The teen crowd doesn’t download the app. But if you measure these technologies and Web tools by the positive ways they have changed lives, LinkedIn …

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Commerce, Our Benefactor

What if we had the following economic system? This system would shower the globe with free goods day and night, asking nothing and giving nearly everything. Most of what it generated would be free goods, and every living person would have access. Anyone who amassed a private profit would do so only because he or …

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Iran and the Recurring Bad Dream

Maybe U.S. energy independence isn’t such a great thing after all. Some years ago, when the American political class was whooping it up for war with China, what stopped the push were the American commercial interests who essentially asked, “What, are you crazy? This is bad for business. We need China, and China needs us. …