Prediction #7: Home prices

NAR released its March numbers:

The national median existing-home price for all housing types was $159,600 in March, down 5.9 percent from March 2010.

That certainly didn’t take long. From my 2011 economic predictions: The national median existing-home price will fall below 160k from the present 170,600..

This is an interesting tidbit from the report: “NAR’s housing affordability index shows the typical monthly mortgage principal and interest payment for the purchase of a median-priced existing home is only 13 percent of gross household income, the lowest since records began in 1970.”

And yet many people still can’t afford to sell their homes, much less consider buying new ones. I’ll be getting into the updated details of the inflation vs deflation debate sometime in the next week, but keep in mind that continually plunging real estate prices despite easy money and historical affordability are not an indicator of inflation. And before anyone starts yammering about gold prices – do you seriously think I’m not aware of them when I was recommending it at $300? – here’s some homework for you. What is the ratio of the size in dollars of the global gold market versus the size in dollars of the U.S. residential real estate market?

The peril of the popular intellectual

No matter how copiously one cites the pertinent studies which purportedly prove your assertions, there is always the danger that someone might actually take your ideasthe ridiculous ideas of someone else you have popularized seriously enough to put them to an empirical test:

On his 30th birthday, June 27, 2009, Dan had decided to quit his job to become a professional golfer.

He had almost no experience and even less interest in the sport.

What he really wanted to do was test the 10,000-hour theory he read about in the Malcolm Gladwell bestseller Outliers. That, Gladwell wrote, is the amount of time it takes to get really good at anything — “the magic number of greatness.”…

The Dan Plan will take six hours a day, six days a week, for six years. He is keeping diligent records of his practice and progress. People who study expertise say no one has done quite what Dan is doing right now.

It’s not exactly a secret that the middlebrow Gladwell is completely full of it. His books appeal primarily to the half-educated, -1 to +1 SD intellects that soak up information insufficiently critically to notice the unsound foundation upon which most of his conclusions are based. Of course, Readers Digest created a small empire catering to the tastes of such readers, so there are not only a lot of them, but they tend to read more than the norm in search of that feeling of intellectual self-improvement that Gladwell sells so effectively.

It should be interesting to hear Gladwell attempt to explain away the inevitable failure of his thesis. Perhaps he’ll even get another best-selling book out of it.

One week

Before the Republican Party caves again:

Federal borrowing is on pace to hit the legal limit on the national debt in less than a week. As set in a law passed by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama on Feb. 12, 2010, the legal limit on the national debt is $14.2940 trillion. As of the close of business Tuesday, according to the Daily Treasury Statement released at 4:00 pm today, the portion of the national debt subject to this legal limit was $14.268365 trillion. (The total national debt, including the portion exempted from the legal limit, was $14.3205 trillion.)

This left the U.S. Treasury with the authority to borrow only an additional $25.635 billion before it hits the statutory debt limit.

Of course the Republicans are going to cave. Even the normally credible Sen. Paul has said that he would vote for raising the debt ceiling just this one last time so long as Democrats promised that they would contemplate considering the possibility of thinking very hard about pretending to cut federal spending at some point in the distant future. Rep. Cantor has staked out a similarly tough position preparatory to waving the white flag.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor fired off a stark warning to Democrats that the GOP “will not grant their request for a debt limit increase” without major spending cuts or budget process reforms.

Got that? Process reforms. Major process reforms! I feel much better now. Surely the economy is saved!

You can count on Sam

You may recall that I stated in TIA that Sam Harris is intellectually irresponsible, and “fails to do even the most rudimentary research into his chosen subject”. You can count on him to make fundamental factual and logical blunders that undermine his arguments or at least demonstrate his carelessness; when I read a Harris piece now I don’t even pay attention to his conclusions, I simply look for the incorrect assumption upon which he has based the argument. I am seldom unable to find it right away. Lest you think my observations are too harsh, note that is that the quote below was taken today, April 21, 2011, from Sam Harris’s amusingly inept attempt to “deflate the myths” about atheism on his own web site, more than four years after the piece appeared in the L.A. Times. This tends to demonstrate that it is unwise to rely upon a notoriously sloppy historical illiterate to set the record straight.

3) Atheism is dogmatic.

Jews, Christians and Muslims claim that their scriptures are so prescient of humanity’s needs that they could only have been written under the direction of an omniscient deity. An atheist is simply a person who has considered this claim, read the books and found the claim to be ridiculous. One doesn’t have to take anything on faith, or be otherwise dogmatic, to reject unjustified religious beliefs. As the historian Stephen Henry Roberts (1901-71) once said: “I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”

What I find so tremendously amusing here is the fact that neither Sam Harris nor any of his godless coterie of intellectually challenged fans has realized at any point in the last five years that Stephen Henry Roberts never said anything of the sort. In fact, there is no evidence that Stephen Henry Roberts was even an atheist; the only information from his biography concerning his religious faith suggests that he was an Anglican Christian at the time of his marriage. But had Harris ever so much as scanned TIA, he would have known that the fallacious One Less God was constructed by one Stephen F. Roberts, not the deceased Australian historian.

“2) Logical error. In Letter to a Christian Nation, Sam Harris borrows from Stephen F. Roberts in challenging Christians with a variant of the One Less God argument. He informs Christians that they reject Islam in “precisely the way” that Muslims reject Christianity, which is also the same reason he rejects all religions. So, either Harris believes that the Christian God exists and is a powerful spirit of evil or he doesn’t know what is almost literally the first thing about Christian theology”
– The Irrational Atheist, p. 117.

Harris actually devotes the first seven pages – nearly 8 percent – of Letter to walking through the hapless One Less God argument without ever a) noticing that it is both logically and factually incorrect, or b) crediting it to its author. Or even to the individual he incorrectly believes is its author.

And so we see once more that it doesn’t matter if one is discussing large historical matters or very small ones, it is easy to prove that the leading atheists can very seldom be trusted to have even the most basic facts correct. In itself, the confusion of one Stephen Roberts with another isn’t a big deal. But when such a mistake is combined with a large quantity of similarly careless mistakes that repeatedly lead to incorrect conclusions, it amounts to a serious pattern of unreliability that needs to be taken into account when considering the man’s arguments.