Because Money Is Liberty Coined

I really love these redesigns of the US Dollar:

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There’s a contest, and I like these designs by Michael Tyznik the most. On a graphical level, they look like money. He’s integrated micro-printing, aligned printing (that $5 in the upper left corner, it’s really hard to print so it works when you look at light) and moire patterns to make copying and printing difficult.

But I like them the most because money is liberty coined. As everyone who doesn’t have it knows, without money, you have far less freedom. As the government takes more and more of our money and decides what to give us, our ability to make choices to pursue our own happiness diminish. As we make fewer choices, we lose the habits and lessons of liberty.

Further, as you have more money, you have more choices. You have more ability to take control of your life and make more choices. As you get away from having just enough to get by, you have money to play with. You have the ability to make decisions and implement them. Money empowers you to enjoy liberty and pursue happiness in more ways.

And with the bill of rights on the back of each one, it’s a beautiful way to tie together the money that we use with the liberty that it enables and represents.

It’s Hard to Nudge

There’s a notion that government can ‘nudge’ people to do the right thing. Big examples include letting people opt-out of organ donorship, rather than opting in (rates of organ donorship go from 10-20% to 80-90%, which is pretty clearly a better thing than putting those organs in the ground or crematoria). Another classic example was participation in 401k retirement accounts, but somehow after the market meltdown, that’s getting less press.

A smaller example is how telling people they’re using more power than others, their power consumption declined. Awesomeness, right? Conservation is the easiest, freest power you can get. Remember that a 150 watt lightbulb consumes twice as much power as your laptop. And most of that goes to waste heat, but I digress. Let’s go back to that nudge study, described in this Slate article:

In a study evaluating the program’s effectiveness, Opower researchers compared power use before and after the HERs began arriving, and further compared this change with a group of control households that never received the reports. On average, the HER households reduced their consumption in the months that followed by a little less than 2 percent. Not bad, but probably not enough to save the planet.

and also:

One problem with this approach is that we all define “better” differently, as a new study emphasizes. UCLA economists Dora Costa and Matthew Kahn analyzed the impact of an energy-conservation program in California that informed households about how their energy use compared with that of their neighbors. While the program succeeded in encouraging Democrats and environmentalists to lower their consumption, Republicans had the opposite reaction. When told of their relative thrift, they started cranking up the thermostat and leaving the lights on more often. … One explanation is that many conservatives don’t believe that burning energy harms the planet, so when they learn that they’re better than average, they become less vigilant about turning the lights off. That is, they’re simply moving closer to what they now know is the norm.

People are complex. It’s hard to know what matters to people, and it’s hard to know what additional information will do to a market. As Hayek pointed out, this is why central planning fails. The planners can’t know all.

And when we start nudging people, lots more chaos will emerge. Planners don’t become better by giving people opt-outs from their planning. And while nudging is better than authoritarianism, it’s still worse than a government which does only what it needs to do.

In the case of energy consumption, a market is emerging to help people see what drives their energy consumption and environmental impact. Better to let a thousand startups bloom, and let the creativity of engineers and those who care deeply help people drive down their electricity use. Everyone else will pay for their long-burning lights, and if electricity is fairly priced, then that’s their choice.

The paper is at “Energy Conservation “Nudges” and Environmentalist Ideology: Evidence from a Randomized Residential Electricity Field Experiment,” National Bureau of Economic Research.

The Liquids ban is a worse idea than you thought

According to new research at Duke University, identifying an easy-to-spot prohibited item such as a water bottle may hinder the discovery of other, harder-to-spot items in the same scan.

Missing items in a complex visual search is not a new idea: in the medical field, it has been known since the 1960s that radiologists tend to miss a second abnormality on an X-ray if they’ve found one already. The concept — dubbed “satisfaction of search” — is that radiologists would find the first target, think they were finished, and move on to the next patient’s X-ray.

Does the principle apply to non-medical areas? That’s what Stephen Mitroff, an assistant professor of psychology & neuroscience at Duke, and his colleagues set out to examine shortly after 2006, when the U.S. Transportation Security Administration banned liquids and gels from all flights, drastically changing airport luggage screens.

“The liquids rule has introduced a whole lot of easy-to-spot targets,” Mitroff said.

Duke University press release, Mitroff’s home page, full paper.

Evil Clown Stalking for your Birthday?

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Dominic Deville stalks young victims for a week, sending chilling texts, making prank phone calls and setting traps in letterboxes.

He posts notes warning children they are being watched, telling them they will be attacked.

But Deville is not an escaped lunatic or some demonic monster.

He is a birthday treat, hired by mum and dad, and the ‘attack’ involves being splatted in the face with a cake.

What could possibly go wrong?

Evil Clown hired for stalking, threats and a pie in the face

Credit Checks are a Best Practice in Hiring

The New York Times reports that “As a Hiring Filter, Credit Checks Draw Questions:”

In defending employers’ use of credit checks as part of the hiring process, Eric Rosenberg of the TransUnion credit bureau paints a sobering picture. [...]

Screening the backgrounds of employees “is critical to protect the safety of Connecticut residents in their homes and offices, in their cars and in all other places they travel,” Mr. Rosenberg testified to Connecticut legislators in February 2009, explaining why TransUnion markets its credit reports to employers.

Trouble is, researchers say there is no evidence showing that people with weak credit are more likely to be bad employees or to steal from their bosses, a fact that Mr. Rosenberg himself later admitted.

“At this point we don’t have any research to show any statistical correlation between what’s in somebody’s credit report and their job performance or their likelihood to commit fraud,” he said in separate testimony to Oregon legislators in January.

But please keep sending Transunion your money, they really like your money, and it makes them happy.

So why do I say it’s a best practice? Because most best practices, like this one, seem to be good ideas, but actually have no evidence that they work. It’s like torture. There are people who think torturing people helps prevent terrorist plots, but there’s no evidence for that, and lots of evidence it undercuts our security. People keep advocating anyway.

Businesses would actually be better off sending their money to TransUnion and not getting the credit report: that way, all those people they reject for the wrong reasons would still be in their hiring pools.

Businesses would be even better off spending their money on something that protects them or their customers.

J.C. Penny knew best

JC Penney, Wet Seal: Gonzalez Mystery Merchants

JCPenney and Wet Seal were both officially added to the list of retail victims of Albert Gonzalez on Friday (March 26) when U.S. District Court Judge Douglas P. Woodlock refused to continue their cloak of secrecy and removed the seal from their names. StorefrontBacktalk had reported last August that $17 billion JCPenney chain was one of Gonzalez’s victims, even though JCPenney’s media representatives were denying it.

and

[The judge said] both retailers should have announced their involvement from the start, that consumers had the right to know. He said he would not provide the companies “insulation from transparency.” The judge stressed that the companies were seeking privacy as though they were individual victims, which he said was like “hermaphroditing a business corporation.”

Wired picked up the story and wrote:

It’s a bit jarring to see a lucid pro-transparency, pro-security argument from a federal prosecutor. For years, law enforcement has had an informal policy of protecting companies from the public relations consequences of their poor security — a kind of omerta among intruders, the companies they hack and the feds, where only the public is left in the dark. To be sure, it’s never been set in stone, and not all feds have played ball. But it’s a common practice, and it corrodes accountability.

Elsewhere…

Things are busy and chaotic, but while I’m unable to blog, here’s some audio and video I’ve done recently that you might enjoy:

  • “Meeting of the Minds” with Andy Jaquith and myself in either text or audio.
  • Face-Off with Hugh Thompson “Has social networking changed data privacy forever?” Video