The WSJ ($) has an article on California showing the growth of expenditures and the budget deficit. I took the expenditures numbers and converted them to 2007 dollars and put them on a dollar per state resident basis, to correct both for growing population and inflation. Here are California government general fund expenditures on a 2007 dollar per person basis:
From these figures, we can learn a couple of things. First and foremost, the state of California demonstrates itself to be just as financially incompetent as any condo-flipping doctor who now finds himself stuck with a bunch of mortgages he can't pay. Lured by the false prosperity of the Internet bubble, California increased real government spending per resident by nearly 50% in the latter half of the nineties, and has done nothing to reign this spending in (thus the deficits). The only place where the analogy with the person caught short by the housing bust falls apart is that the person with expensive mortgages is probably not out buying a new Mercedes and big screen TV, whereas that is exactly what California is doing, passing a $14 billion a year health care plan that will whose price tag can only rise.
Up and Coming Writers of Science Fiction and Fantasy
One of the things I like about John Scalzi, other than the fact his books rock, is that he goes out of his way to promote other up-and-coming writers. His series in December called "a Month of Writers" has pounded my Amazon bill and filled up my "to be read" shelf. He indexes the entire series here.
When Calling in Sick Is Not Enough
I was tempted to title this post "markets in everything", but I just couldn't steal that moniker from the Marginal Revolution folks. USA Weekend has a story about the Alibi Network, which will, for a price of course, create an alibi for you:
Whether you are looking to skip a day of work or to secretly leave town for the weekend, Alibi Network can provide fake airline receipts or phone calls to your boss explaining your absence and even mock up an entire itinerary for a bogus conference you were "attending." Rarely has lying been so creepily airtight.
The Chicago-based company charges from $75 for a simple phone call to thousands of dollars for extensive lying, on top of a $75 annual fee. The most popular service is the "virtual hotel," in which the fibber can provide a boss or family member with the phone number of a hotel where he's supposed to be. The number rings to one of Alibi's phones, which are staffed by actors who will answer as if a particular hotel has been reached. The incoming call then can be forwarded to the fibber's cellphone, making it seem as if he's in a certain city even though he's not. (We use "he" here, but half of Alibi's members are female.)
Some requests involve a creative solution. One working stiff asked the service to get him out of a boring, week-long training class that was mandated by his office. The solution: Alibi hired an actor to dress up as a courier and barge into the class, informing the man that his house had been robbed and he needed to go home right away. Another request involved a married woman with small children who longed for a relaxing weekend away from the kids. Alibi concocted a story that the woman had won a free spa weekend in a prize drawing and hired an actor to call her home and leave a voicemail message informing her of her "win."
For those of you of need of such services, perhaps on January 2 nursing your hangover, their web site is here.
Update: Tyler Cowen informs me that I am waaaayyy behind the times, and that this company actually was the first entry in "Markets in Everything" several years ago. That's what I get for trying to take a break from blogging.
Arizona Business Death Penalty Enacted
This Tuesday, Arizona's death penalty goes into effect for businesses that knowingly hire workers who have not been licensed to work by the US Government. Employers must use the e-Verify system the Federal government has in place to confirm which human beings are allowed by the federal government to work in this country and which people businesses are not allowed to employ. Businesses that don't face loss of their business license (in itself a bit of government permission to perform consensual commerce I should not have to obtain).
There are any number of ironies in this law:
- The Arizona government has resisted applying the same tight standards to receipt of government benefits, meaning the state is more comfortable with immigrants seeking government handouts than gainful employment.
- The state of Arizona resists asking for any sort of ID from voters. This means that the official position of the state of Arizona is that it is less concerned about illegal immigrants voting and receiving benefits than it is about making sure these immigrants don't support themselves by working. This is exactly the opposite of what a sane proposal would look like. (and here)
- In the past, we have used Arizona drivers licenses to verify citizenship. By implementing this law, the Arizona Government has said that an Arizona driver's license is not sufficient proof of citizenship. Unable to maintain the integrity of their own system (e.g. the drivers license system) the state has effectively thrown up its hands and dumped the problem on employers
- The e-verify system, which the law requires businesses use, currently disappears in 11 months.
- The law requires that the e-Verify system be used for both current and new employees. It is, however, illegal under federal law to use the e-Verify system on current employees.
- In fact, the e-Verify system may only be used within 3 days of hire -- use it earlier or later, and one is violating the law. In a particular bit of comedy, it is illegal to use the e-Verify system to vet people in the hiring process. The government wants you to entirely complete the expensive hiring process before you find out the person is illegal to hire.
- There are apparently no new penalties for hiring illegal immigrants at your house (since there is no business license to lose). State legislators did not want to personally lose access to low-cost house cleaning and landscaping help. We're legislators for God sakes -- we aren't supposed to pay the cost of our dumb laws!
Update: Typical of the government, the e-Verify registration site is down right now.
Update #3: By the way, I guess I have never made my interest in this issue clear. We do not hire any illegal immigrants. Since most of our positions require employees to live on site in their own RV, it is seldom an issue since the average illegal immigrant does not own an RV. We have always done all of our I-9 homework, even though the government stopped auditing I-9's about 8 years ago. We have in fact been asked about five times by foreigners to hire them under the table without having the licenses and papers they need from the US government -- all of them have been Canadian.
Uh, Hello, Fair Use?
Nanny's of the Year
Spammers Get A Bigger Vision
In the middle of a block of Nigerian email scams and spam for cheap viagra, I got this:
Brazilian Sugar in Containers
C&F Price Worldwide
Icumsa 45 - US $ 435.00 per ton
Icumsa 100 US $ 425.00 per ton
Icumsa 150 US $ 420.00 per Ton
Minimum order quantity: 10 container of 20" with 27 tons per container and 270 tons in total
I must say that offering me $115,000 of sugar is not the usual come-on
Those who oppose more open immigration generally have three arguments, to which I have varying levels of sympathy:
- It's illegal! Illegal immigration violates the rule of law. I have always thought this argument weak and circular. If the only problem is that immigrants are violating the law, then the law can be changed and its now all legal. Since this is not the proposed solution, presumably there are other factors that make more open immigration bad beyond just the fact of its illegality. I am positive I could come up with hundreds of bad laws that if I asked a conservative, "should I aggressively enforce this bad law or should I change it," the answer would be the latter.
- We will be corrupting our culture. I am never fully sure what these arguments mean, and they always seem to carry a touch of racism, even if that is not what is intended. So I will rewrite this complaint in a way I find more compelling: "We are worried that in the name of liberty and freedom, we will admit immigrants who, because of their background and culture, will vote against liberty and freedom when they join our democracy." I am somewhat sympathetic to this fear, though I think the horse may already be out of the barn on this one. Our current US citizens already seem quite able to vote for restrictions on liberties without any outside help. If I were really worried about this, I might wall off Canada before Mexico.
- Open Immigration or Welfare State: Pick One. I find this the most compelling argument for immigration restrictions. Historically, immigration has been about taking a risk to make a better life. I have been reading a biography of Andrew Carnegie, which describes the real risks his family took, and knew they were taking, in coming to America. But in America today, we aren't comfortable letting people bear the full risk of their failure. We insist that the government step in with our tax money and provide people a soft landing for their bad decisions (see: Mortgage bailout) and even provide them with a minimum income that in many cases dwarfs what they were making in their home country.
My problem with conservatives is that they are too fast to yell "game over" after making these arguments, particularly the third. There are some very real reasons why conservatives, in particular, should not so easily give up on finding a way to allow more free immigration. Consider these questions:
- Should the US government have the right and the power to dictate who I can and cannot hire to work for me in my business?
- Should the US government have the right and the power to dictate who can and cannot take up residence on my property (say as tenants)?
My guess is that many conservatives would answer both these questions in the negative, but in reality this is what citizenship has become: A government license to work and live in the boundaries of this nation.
I can't accept that. As I wrote here:
The individual rights we hold dear are our rights as human beings, NOT as citizens. They flow from our very existence, not from our government. As human beings, we have the right to assemble with whomever we want and to speak our minds. We have the right to live free of force or physical coercion from other men. We have the right to make mutually beneficial arrangements with other men, arrangements that might involve exchanging goods, purchasing shelter, or paying another man an agreed upon rate for his work. We have these rights and more in nature, and have therefore chosen to form governments not to be the source of these rights (for they already existed in advance of governments) but to provide protection of these rights against other men who might try to violate these rights through force or fraud....
These rights of speech and assembly and commerce and property shouldn't, therefore, be contingent on "citizenship". I should be able, equally, to contract for service from David in New Jersey or Lars in Sweden. David or Lars, who are equally human beings, have the equal right to buy my property, if we can agree to terms. If he wants to get away from cold winters in Sweden, Lars can contract with a private airline to fly here, contract with another person to rent an apartment or buy housing, contract with a third person to provide his services in exchange for wages. But Lars can't do all these things today, and is excluded from these transactions just because he was born over some geographic line? To say that Lars or any other "foreign" resident has less of a right to engage in these decisions, behaviors, and transactions than a person born in the US is to imply that the US government is somehow the source of the right to pursue these activities, WHICH IT IS NOT...
I can accept that there can be some minimum residence requirements to vote in elections and perform certain government duties, but again these are functions associated with this artificial construct called "government". There should not be, nor is there any particular philosophical basis for, limiting the rights of association, speech, or commerce based on residency or citizenship, since these rights pre-date the government and the formation of borders.
Citizenships are club memberships you happen to be born with. Some clubs, like the Norway club, have truly awesome benefits. Others, like the Malawi club, offer next to none. Membership in each club is kept limited by club members, who understandably worry about the drain on resources that new members might represent. Wishing the U.S. would extend more memberships in 2008 isn’t going to get you very far.
Conceptually, for whatever reason, most of us are in a place where we think labor market access and citizenships ought to be bundled. A Malawian can’t come work here, we think, without the promise of a club membership, which is nearly impossible to get. This is an incredibly damaging assumption for two reasons: (1) memberships are essentially fixed in wealthy democratic societies (2) uneven labor market access is a major cause of global inequality. Decoupling the two leads to massive gains, as we see in Singapore, without the need to up memberships.
Here’s another way to think about it: Clubs have positive duties toward their members, including those of the welfare state. But the negative duty not to harm outsiders exists prior to clubs, and denying people the ability to cooperate with one another violates their rights in a very basic way. Our current policy is one of coercively preventing cooperation. In saying “we can’t let people into this country unless we confer upon them all the rights and duties of citizenship,” you are saying that we need to violate their right to move freely and cooperate unless we can give them welfare benefits. But that’s backwards.
Update on Kwanzaa
A few posts ago I wrote my annual rant against Kwanzaa as a seven step program to socialism. I concluded that if blacks in America wanted to stay poor and under the power of others, they could take no better step than to pursue the seven values in Kwanzaa.
In a stunning gap in my reading, I have never read PJ O'Rourke's "Eat the Rich." However, David Boaz reports this interesting snippet from the book:
In Tanzania he gapes at the magnificent natural beauty and the appalling human poverty. Why is Tanzania so poor? he asks people, and he gets a variety of answers. One answer, he notes, is that Tanzania is actually not poor by the standards of human history; it has a life expectancy about that of the United States in 1920, which is a lot better than humans in 1720, or 1220, or 20. But, he finally concludes, the real answer is the collective “ujamaa” policies pursued by the sainted post-colonial leader Julius Nyerere. The answer is “ujaama—they planned it. They planned it, and we paid for it. Rich countries underwrote Tanzanian economic idiocy.”
For those not familiar with Kwanzaa, Ujamaa is one of the seven principals celebrated in Kwanzaa.
Who Elected Me This Guy's Parent?
My company, as I have written before, gets hosed on unemployment insurance in states like California where the government does nothing to police cheating. Many of my seasonal employees take vacations during the winter, but draw unemployment from California because the state has absolutely no interest in really checking to see if they are looking for work (which is a legal requirement of drawing unemployment).
This week I received the most amazing ruling from California on unemployment. If you don't understand how it works, the state taxes me a percentage of my payroll in the state as unemployment insurance premiums. The rate is set so that the premiums I pay are about equal to the payments my ex-employees receive. This means that the rate can adjust up and down, and also means that any incremental payouts are eventually paid by my company. The rules are that the employee must have been terminated, not voluntary quit, and can't have been terminated for cause (i.e. theft) though in the latter case states like California give employees a huge benefit of the doubt (so huge, that I have never been able to prove "cause" to their satisfaction, and end up paying the unemployment for people who stole from me).
So I got this notice this week:
The claimant quit your employment on his/her doctor's advice. A leave of absence was not available or would not have resolved the problem. Available information shows that the claimant had good cause for leaving work [the claimant admits in a second document to having had a motorcycle accident on his own time]
Great. The state has agreed to exactly the facts as we submitted them. Victory at last! Or not:
Your reserve account will be subject to charges.
An employee of mine has a motorcycle accident on his own time, and my company has to pay his wages while he is hurt? Why? Because we were the nearest people at hand to grab the money from? Who elected me this guy's parent?
The Unwanted "Gift"
When reaching to take a gift from under the tree this morning, my wife did not see the scorpion clinging to the box. Unfortunately, she got a nasty sting from this little creature. While bites from the scorpions we have in Arizona are rarely fatal, they can be really painful and debilitating. My wife's hand and most of her lower arm are almost completely numb and she cannot muster any strength in her hand. The bite creates an effect much like when circulation just returns, such that she has had pins and needles in her hand all day. Bummer.
Update: 12 hours after the sting, and her hand is still nearly inoperative and hurts like heck to the touch. Do not worry, we have called poison control and her symptoms are in the normal band. Some Arizonans report that it can take weeks for full nerve function to return. Joy.
Hat Tip to Larry Niven
In the book Ringwold and its sequels, Larry Niven wrote of an artifact-world so large that 1:1 scale models of various planets, like earth, were created as islands in its vast oceans. Not quite 1:1, but here is the same idea:
The World is a man-made archipelago of 300 islands in the shape of a world map. The World is being built primarily using sand dredged from the sea. Each island ranges from 23,000 m2 to 84,000 m2 (250,000–900,000 square feet or 5.7–21 acres) in size, with 50–100 m of water between each island. The development will cover an area of 9 km in length and 6 km in width, surrounded by an oval breakwater. The only means of transport between the islands will be by boat and helicopter. Prices for the islands will range from $15-45 million (USD). The average price for an island will be around $25 million (USD). Dredging started in 2004 and as of March of 2007 The World is around 90% complete.
Update: I have long contended that, at least if you eliminate all entries from the list involving women, that owning an island is the ultimate male fantasy. Also a good way to "short" global warming predictions, if you are so inclined
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays
I usually create our Christmas card each year in Photoshop. Here is this year's effort. Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and have a great 2008.
I've Got To Finish A Book Project
I am working on a submission (outline and several chapters) for a book prize that is due December 31, so I may not be posting much over the next week. The contest is for a novel that promotes the principals of freedom, capitalism, and individual responsibility in the context of a novel (hopefully without 120-page John Galt radio speeches).
My project is one I have been tinkering with for a while, an update of the Marshall Jevons economist mysteries from the 1980's. If you are not familiar with this series, Marshall Jevons was a pseudonym for a couple of economists who wrote several murder mysteries that included a number of expositions on how economics apply to everyday life. Kind of Agatha Christie meets Freakonomics. I found the first book, Murder at the Margin, to be disappointing, but the second book called the Fatal Equilibrium was pretty good. I think the latter was a better book because the setting was university life, and the murder revolved around a tenure committee decision, topics the authors could write about closer to their experience. The books take a pro-free-market point of view (which already makes them unique) and it is certainly unusual to have the solution to a murder turn on how search costs affect pricing variability.
Anyway, for some time, I have been toying with a concept for a young adult book in roughly the same tradition. I think the Jevons novels are a good indicator of how a novel can teach some simple economics concepts, but certainly the protagonist as fusty stamp-collecting Harvard professor would need to be modified to engage young adults.
My new novel (or series of novels, if things go well) revolves around a character named Adam Smith. Adam is the son of a self-made immigrant and heir to a nearly billion dollar fortune. At the age of twenty, he rejects his family and inheritance in a wave of sixties rebellion, joins a commune, and changes his name to the unfortunate "Moonbeam." After several years, he sours on commune life, put himself through graduate school in economics, and eventually reclaims his family fortune. Today, he leads two lives: Adam Smith, eccentric billionaire, owner of penthouses and fast cars, and leader of a foundation [modeled after the IJ]; and Professor Moonbeam, aging hippie high school economics teacher who drives a VW beetle and appears to live in a trailer park. There is a murder, of course, and the fun begins when three of his high school students start to suspect that their economics teacher may have a second life. As you might expect, the kids help him solve the murder while he teaches them lessons about life and economics. The trick is to keep the book light and fun rather than pedantic, but since one business model in my last novel revolved around harvesting coins in fountains, I think I can do it.
Anyway, wish me luck and I will be back in force come the new year.
Christmas Tree Recycling
Most cities offer Christmas tree recycling, which for most people just means they haul the brittle, dried-up skeleton of their tree back onto the roof of their car and dump it in some big collection area. The city then grinds up the trees and uses them for mulch, and infinitely more elegant solution than burying them all in a landfill.
Or is it?
If I were to care about limiting CO2, wouldn't I advocate for wrapping all of those trees in Saran Wrap and burying them in the deepest hole I could find? Decaying Christmas tree mulch will eventually give up its carbon back to the atmosphere as CO2, or, theoretically worse, trace amounts of methane. Aren't the holidays a perfect opportunity to sequester all that carbon underground? While global warming catastrophists argue that young, growing forests sequester carbon from the atmosphere, what they do not mention is that older forests do the opposite, as new tree growth has flattened out and older trees are dying and decaying. If we really wanted to sequester carbon via forests, we would cut down all the old growth forests and bury the logs, while planting new fast growing saplings. While no one would advocate for such an approach, the next best approach is to cut down lots of trees and build long-lived houses out of them.
The New Energy Bill
If you want to have mood lighting in your house that dims and doesn't turn everything a weird color, then go out and stock up on light bulbs today because the new energy bill just passed**. I have already blogged plenty about the stupid stuff in this bill, but apparently Kevin Drum thinks its a good step. I don't see how anyone of any political stripe can see this as a good bill. Its just stupid in so many ways. Yes, I understand as a libertarian, my energy bill would look like:
- get out of the way
But I can for a moment place myself in a position where I would imagine being worried about CO2 and dependence on fossil fuels. For someone who really cares about these things, here is what a rational energy plan would look like:
- large federal carbon tax, offset by reduction in income and/or payroll taxes
- streamlined program for licensing new nuclear reactors
- get out of the way
** I personally have replaced most of the bulbs in my house, out of rational economic self-interest, with CF bulbs. However, there are about 6 where CF's just won't do the job I need and about 6 more (3 above my shower and 3 outside) where current CF bulbs do not hold up to the moisture. The desire by government to micro-manage me into using an inferior solution for these 12 locations is the same compulsion that has led to my not having a single toilet in my house that works (the shower also sucked too until I figured out how to remove the government-mandated flow restricter from the shower head).
Problems With London Congestion Charge
The idea of a congestion charge is a good one. London, however, is struggling with the implementation. Apparently, while the number of cars in the congestion zone has gone down, the rush hour congestion has gone up. Why? Because the congestion charge does not change by time of day, it is more than high enough to drive out off-hour users, but is not high enough to change the behavior of rush hour drivers. Basically, they have made the center of London quieter at night.
This is actually not surprising. Economic theory would say that the demand for travel at rush hour is more inelastic (i.e., less susceptible to fees) than travel at other times of the day. (If it were not inelastic, people would be willing to drive in such congestion.) If fees don’t change during the course of the day, they will have the greatest effect during the hours that are more elastic. A properly designed fee should temper peak-period demand; a fixed fee instead tempers off-peak demand.
And, as I can attest from my last visit to London, where I was actually dumb enough to drive a car into town, the way they have implemented the system is not very amenable to time of day pricing.
TJIC has a great roundup of 20th century lending regulation:
Once upon a time, when we had a free market, bankers made loans to poor people.
Then, FDR came into office, and he and the Democratic Congress passed laws to pressure banks to stop making loans to poor people.
Then, in the 1980s, Democrats heckled banks for not making sufficient loans to poor people, and pass laws to force them to change their ways.
Then, in the 21st century, Democrats heckled banks for making too many loans to poor people, and passed laws to force them to change their ways.
Where Have All the Anti-Globalization Rioters Gone?
It has been pretty quiet on the globalization front. I saw today that Don Boudreaux released his new book on globalization, and I thought to myself -- wow, that was a charged issue a few years ago, what happened to it? I was in Seattle for the riots and it was a big deal. Well, in part, I guess the feistiness of the anti-globalization types may have gone down because they are winning -- protectionism is advancing today on many fronts when for a while we had it against the ropes. In large part this is because the US has virtually abandoned its leadership role on free trade.
However, there is another reason we don't hear much from the anti-globalization folks: Because they have all joined the global warming movement, deciding that the environmental packaging is a better way to sell socialism and protectionism:
The Social Democrats are calling for sanctions on energy-intensive U.S. export products if the Bush administration continues to obstruct international agreements on climate protection, the party’s leading environmental expert said Tuesday.
The move, after the United Nations climate conference last week in Bali, Indonesia, has won strong support from the Greens and other leftist groupings in the European Parliament. Those factions will renew their bid to impose such levies when the Parliament reconvenes next month.
Regulation Protects Industry Incombents
I often see folks who are arguing for increased government regulation of some industry observe that "even those greedy corporations in this industry support this new regulation." For example, if a power company takes a public position to support greenhouse gas emissions, then that is used as evidence that such regulation must really be necessary if even the to-be-regulated are in favor. Greg Craven makes such an argument in his global warming video that I refuted the other day.
There are two very good reasons a company in such a position might publicly support even a bad regulation. The first is basic politics and PR: If the regulation appears inevitable and has public support, then it is sometimes better to get out ahead of it and try to curry favor with politicians and the public to manage the regulation's implementation. We all know corporations give donations to political candidates, but look at how they give them. Corporate donations correlate far better with "who is expected to win" rather than "who would create the most favorable regulatory environment for the corporation." In fact, corporations are highly likely to give donations to both candidates in a closely-fought election, and a lot of their giving is after the election, to the winner of course.
The other good reason that companies support regulation in their industry is because a lot of regulation is either designed to, or effectively, helps incumbent companies against new entrants. I have talked about this many times with the questioning of licensing. Global warming regulation and carbon trading systems in particular give us another great example:
BBC News understands the industry will be allowed to increase emissions as much as it wants by the European environment council. Aviation is the fastest growing source of greenhouse gases. But Europe’s environment ministers look set to reject a plan for a strict cap on emissions from planes. Instead, airlines will be given a set number of permits to pollute.
Instead, airlines will be given a set number of permits to pollute.
If they overshoot their limit they will be allowed to buy spare permits from firms who have managed to cut emissions elsewhere - manufacturing industry, for instance.
So, current airlines in Europe will be given carbon permits that presumable support their current business level. However, any new entrant, or any current player wishing to take market share from another airline, must spend money on carbon credits to grab this market share, carbon credits the current established incumbents got for free. This in effect becomes a tax on market share gains. This European-style protection of large corporations is typical, and is why the 30 largest companies in Europe are nearly the same as they were in 1965, but are completely different in the US.
This is also why, though I don't think expensive action on CO2 is justified, I think that if we do so the approach must be a carbon tax rather than cap and trade. But cap and trade has so much potential for political hijinx and giving special deals to the politically influential that my guess is that politicians will want cap and trade.
Vista Update: Still Floundering
Frequent readers will know that I have reversed all the new Vista machines in our household back to XP and I have banned Vista from any computers purchased in the company (Dell is quite happy to sell XP rather than Vista). Here is a how-to on how to downgrade to XP.
Now, PC World has voted Vista as the technology failure of the year (I would also vote the box as the packaging failure of the decade, and the new user interface in MS Office as the hose-your-installed-base gaffe of the year).
I thought this was an interesting fact, from PC World several months ago:
Certainly sales of Vista aren't blowing away XP in stores. Chris Swenson, director of software industry analysis for the NPD Group, says that, from January through July of this year, XP sales accounted for a healthy 42.3 percent of online and brick-and-mortar retail OS sales. By contrast, from January through July of 2002, after XP's launch in October the year prior, Windows 98 accounted for just 23.1 percent of retail sales.
I made a similar observation using Amazon sales rankings of XP vs. Vista here. Finally, just for the heck of it, I checked the OS's of users coming to Coyote Blog. In the past, our users have demonstrated themselves to be ahead of the technology curve (Firefox eclipsed Explorer as the #1 Coyote Blog brower long ago). As you can see, Vista barely has 4% share, in a near tie with Windows 2000 and Windows NT and barely edging Linux:
Government Health Care: Trojan Horse for Fascism
The city that banned plastic grocery bags and styrofoam take-out containers has found a new cause: your favorite soft drink. San Francisco may impose a new fee on those big retail stores that sell them. The purpose is to curb the obesity problem among kids and adults. Such fee or tax would be the first in the nation.
San Francisco says the obesity problem is costing the city too much money in health care costs. Studies have linked obesity to diabetes and heart disease.
"One third of all of our new on-set diabetics are type 2 because of obesity and this is in children now," says Robert Lustig, M.D., Endocrinologist, UCSF.
It is perhaps appropriate, given the polls in Iowa, that Mike Huckabee precipitated one of the earliest posts in this series:
Mike Huckabee, the Governor of Arkansas, now requires annual fat reports. These are sent to the parents of every single child aged between 5 and 17; a response, he says, to “an absolutely epidemic issue that we could not ignore” in the 1,139 schools for which he is responsible.
I just cannot craft any reasonable theory of government where this is the state's job. The "obesity" crisis in this country just amazes me. "Experts" every few years broaden the definition of who is overweight or obese, and suddenly (surprise!) there are more people defined as overweight. Even presuming it is the state's job to optimize our body weights, is it really the right approach to tell everyone they are too fat? Having known several people who were anorexic, including at least one young woman who died of its complications, is it really a net benefit to get young people more obsessed with looks and body style? And what about the kids that are genetically programmed to be overweight? Does this mean that years of taunting and bullying by their peers is not enough, that the state's governor wants to pile on now?
It is interesting to note that governor Huckabee apparently started this initiative after his own personal battle with weight loss:
[Huckabee] lost 110lb after being warned that his weight, more than 280lb after a life of southern fried food, was a death sentence. A chair even collapsed under him as he was about to preside over a meeting of state officials in Little Rock.
We all have friends who have lost weight or gotten into homeopathy or became a vegan and simply cannot stop trying to convert their friends now that they see the light. Now we have the spectacle of elected officials doing the same thing, but on a broader scale and with the force of law, rather than just mere irritation, on their side. One can only imagine what report cards kids would be carrying home if Huckabee had instead had a successful experience with penis enlargement. What's next, negative reports for kids with bad acne? For women whose breasts are too small? For kids who are unattractive?
Update: I see Q&O posts on the same issue
Yearning for Something Better than Kwanzaa
I have had several emails this week about Kwanzaa, so I guess it is time for my annual Kwanzaa rant. This article has become an annual tradition at Coyote Blog, I guess to make sure I start the new year with plenty of hate mail.
The concept of a cultural celebration by African-Americans of themselves and their history is a good one. Whenever I write about blacks in America, much of the email I get tries to educate me in how much the "lost heritage" issue matters to African-Americans, a concept I have never fully grasped since I am happy, after the 20th century, to leave behind my German heritage. Even if I'm not into it, I have no problem with people of any ethnic group or race or whatever creating a holiday. Life is worth celebrating, as often as possible, even if we have to make up new occasions.
The specific values celebrated in Kwanzaa, however, suck. They are socialist-Marxist-collectivist-totalitarian crap. Everyone seems to tiptoe around Kwanzaa feeling that they have to be respectful, I guess because they are fearful of being called a racist. However, I find it terrible to see such a self-destructive set of values foisted on the African-American community. These values are nearly perfectly constructed to keep blacks in poverty - just look at how well these same values have played out in Africa.
To begin, its important to understand that Kwanzaa is not some ancient African ethno-cultural tradition. Kwanzaa was made up in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga. Karenga was a radical Marxist in the 60's black power movement. Later, Karenga served time in jail for torturing two women:
Deborah Jones ... said she and Gail Davis were whipped with an electrical cord and beaten with a karate baton after being ordered to remove their clothes. She testified that a hot soldering iron was placed in Miss Davis' mouth and placed against Miss Davis' face and that one of her own big toes was tightened in a vice. Karenga ... also put detergent and running hoses in their mouths, she said."
Interestingly, after this conviction as well as incidents of schizophrenia in prison where "the psychiatrist observed that Karenga talked to his blanket and imaginary persons and believed that he had been attacked by dive-bombers," California State University at Long Beach saw fit to make him head of their Black Studies Department.
Anyway, I give credit to Karenga for wanting to create a holiday for African-Americans that paid homage to themselves and their history. However, what Karenga created was a 7-day holiday built around 7 principles, which are basically a seven step plan to Marxism. Instead of rejecting slavery entirely, Kwanzaa celebrates a transition from enslavement of blacks by whites to enslavement of blacks by blacks. Here are the 7 values, right from the Kwanzaa site (with my comments in red italics):
To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race
On its surface, this is either a platitude, or, if serious, straight Marxism and thoroughly racist. Think about who else in the 20th century talked about unity of race, and with what horrible results.
In practice, the notion of unity in the black movement has become sort of a law of Omerta -- no black is ever, ever supposed to publicly criticize another black. Don't believe me? Look at the flack Bill Cosby caught for calling out other blacks.
To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves
Generally cool with me -- can't get a libertarian to argue with this. When this was first written in the 60's, it probably meant something more revolutionary, like secession into a black state, but in today's context I think it is fine.
Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)
To build and maintain our community together and make our brother's and sister's problems our problems and to solve them together
Um, do I even need to comment? This is Marxism, pure and simple.
Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)
To build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses and to profit from them together.
OK, I said the last one was Marxism. This one is really, really Marxism.
To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
There's that collectivism again
To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.
I guess I don't have much problem with creativity and make things better. My sense though that if I was to listen to the teaching on this one in depth, we would get collectivism again.
To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.
What about in ourselves as individuals? Through all of this, where is the individual, either individual responsibility or achievement? It is interesting that a holiday that was invented specifically to be anti-religious would put "faith" in as a value. In fact, Karenga despised the belief in God as paying homage to "spooks who threaten us if we don't worship them and demand we turn over our destiny and daily lives."
However, this is in fact very consistent with the teachings of most statists and totalitarians. They tend to reject going on bended knee to some god, and then turn right around and demand that men go on bended knee to ... them, or other men. This is in fact what this "faith" was about for Karenga - he is a statist laying the foundation for obedience to the totalitarian state. He wants blacks to turn over their destiny and daily lives to their leaders, not to god.
So, in conclusion, Kwanzaa was designed as a celebration of creating a totalitarian collectivist Marxist racist state among African-Americans. I may well get comments and emails that say "oh, that's not how we celebrate it" and I will say fine - but Marxism is the core DNA of the holiday, a holiday created by a man who thought Lenin and the Black Panthers were all wimps.
Never wishing to criticize without suggestion a solution, here are alternate values I might suggest:
Freedom - Every individual is his own master. We will never accept any other master again from any race (even our own). We will speak out against injustices and inequalities so our children can be free as well.
Self-Reliance - Each individual will take responsibility for their life and the lives of their family
Pride - We will be proud of our race and heritage. We will learn about our past and about slavery in particular, so we will never again repeat it.
Entrepreneurship - We will work through free exchange with others to make our lives better and to improve the lives of our children
Education - We will dedicate ourselves and our time to education of our children, both in their knowledge and their ethics
Charity - We will help others in our country and our community through difficult times
Thankfulness - Every African-American should wake up each morning and say "I give thanks that my ancestors suffered the horrors of the middle passage, suffered the unforgivable indignity and humiliation of slavery, and suffered the poverty and injustices of the post-war South so that I, today, can be here, in this country, infinitely more free, healthier, safer and better off financially than I would have been in Africa."
By the way, if you doubt that last part, note that in the late 90's, median per capita income of African Americans was about $25,000, while the per capita income of Africans back in the "old country" was around $700, or about 35x less. Note further this comparison of freedom between the US and various African nations. Finally, just read the news about the Congo or Rwanda or the Sudan.
Not a Bailout?
I was watching CNBC over lunch and saw that Alan Greenspan has criticized the President's plan for freezing the interest rates on some adjustable rate loans. He argued, and I agree, that it is bad to mess with contracts and markets, and bad to stand in the way of a real estate bubble that needs to correct. He said that if the government feels sorry for certain mortgage holders, it should give them cash.
I am not too excited about giving away cash to people who made bad financing decisions, particularly since I have successfully weathered a couple of tough years in my business brought about in part by rising rates on our businesses adjustable rate loans. However, I am very much a supporter of being as open and up-front as one can be in government taxing or spending. For example, I prefer direct payments to farmers rather than price supports. I prefer a carbon tax to CAFE-type mandates. In both cases, while both alternatives probably cost the economy about the same in total, the cost-benefit tradeoff is more clear in the first alternative. Which is why, predictably, politicians usually prefer the second alternative.
All of this pops into my head because apparently the President's reaction was that he preferred his plan to a "bailout." Huh? How is his plan any more or less a bailout, except that the exact costs are more hidden and who pays the costs are more obscure. The only real difference is that Greenspan's approach is probably less likely to set bad precedents for the future or to make mortgages more expensive for the rest of us, which the President's plan almost certainly will.
Response to Greg Craven "How the World Ends" Climate Video
Apparently, a video by Greg Craven called "How the World Ends" has been getting a lot of attention, supposedly because it prevents an irrefutable argument for immediately taking massive action to fight global warming. A newspaper asked me for my response, and I thought I would share it here as well. You can find my response posted at Climate Skeptic today.
Everyone Would Be Burying Nuclear Waste
Dave Barry used to joke that whenever he would argue for a free society, the first objection people would have is "but people would all have sex with dogs." ** Now, Barry is just being funny (as usual) but as in all humor, there is a strong core of truth in his observation. For years, when I argued that private property rights should be absolute, folks would argue "but then everyone would trash their land." It in fact became incredibly predictable that someone would ask "how would you stop people from burying nuclear waste on their property?"
Um, why would they? Would you bury nuclear waste in your backyard? Well, No. Why not? Because it would be dangerous to my kids, and it would reduce my resale value. OK, so why would anyone else? No answer.
I call this the "you can't give people freedom because they will do malicious things even if it is against their own self-interest" argument, and George Will observes that it is alive and well in the Democratic Party:
Speaking ill of lenders began when homo sapiens acquired language, hence it is unsurprising that many people who until recently were criticizing lenders for not making money available to marginally qualified borrowers are now caustic about lenders who complied. Clinton is fluent in the language of liberalism, aka Victimspeak, so, denouncing "Wall Street," she says families were "lured into risky mortgages" and "led into bad situations" by those who knew better. So, lenders knew their loans would not be fully repaid?
Jesse Jackson speaks of "victims of aggressive mortgage brokers." But given that foreclosure is usually a net loss for all parties to the transaction, what explains the "aggression"? Who thought it was in their interest to do the luring and leading that Clinton alleges? While granting that "borrowers share responsibility," her only examples are those "who paid extra fees to avoid documenting their income" and "speculators who were busy buying two, three, four houses to sell for a quick buck." Everyone else has been victimized.
This is exactly the point I made back in April, when I said that the mortgage market was about to become a capitalism Rorschach test, acting a a catalyst to reveal everyone's core beliefs and biases about free markets. Which it certainly has with Hillary. But we already knew where she stands, didn't we?
** You wouldn't believe the Google hits I get since I made this post.
Perfect Gift for the Holidays!
From the Business Opportunities Weblog:
Continuing my list of my favorite business books of 2007 brings us to another unconventional one: BMOC. While the book, by Warren Meyer, is fictional, it does contain a number of interesting business ideas, including my favorite outlandish business opporunity of all time: fountain coin harvesting.
Amazon link for BMOC here (sorry, I tried to get the price cut for the holidays but it really takes a long time for that to work through the system).
I Called This One
I made this prediction way back in February of 2005:
I resisted the call by a number of web sites at the beginning of the year to make predictions for 2005. However, now I will make one: We will soon see calls to bring a tighter licensing or credentialing system for journalists, similar to what we see for lawyers, doctors, teachers, and, god help us, for beauticians. The proposals will be nominally justified by improving ethics or similar laudable things, but, like most credentialing systems, will be aimed not at those on the inside but those on the outside. At one time or another, teachers, massage therapists, and hairdressers have all used licensing or credentialing as a way to fight competition from upstart competitors, often ones with new business models who don't have the same trade-specific educational degrees the insiders have....
Such credentialing can provide a powerful comeback for industry insiders under attack. Teachers, for example, use it every chance they get to attack home schooling and private schools, despite the fact that uncertified teachers in both these latter environments do better than the average certified teacher (for example, kids home schooled by moms who dropped out of high school performed at the 83rd percentile). So, next time the MSM is under attack from the blogosphere, rather than address the issues, they can say that that guy in Tennessee is just a college professor and isn't even a licensed journalist.
So here we go, here are a few recent such calls for licensing of journalists. The first via Hot Air:
Supporters of “citizen journalism” argue it provides independent, accurate, reliable information that the traditional media don’t provide. While it has its place, the reality is it really isn’t journalism at all, and it opens up information flow to the strong probability of fraud and abuse. The news industry should find some way to monitor and regulate this new trend....
The premise of citizen journalism is that regular people can now collect information and pictures with video cameras and cellphones, and distribute words and images over the Internet. Advocates argue that the acts of collecting and distributing makes these people “journalists.” This is like saying someone who carries a scalpel is a “citizen surgeon” or someone who can read a law book is a “citizen lawyer.” Tools are merely that. Education, skill and standards are really what make people into trusted professionals. Information without journalistic standards is called gossip.
But that one is downright sane compared to this, from Cleveland's Voice for Social Justice (have you noticed how "social justice" always seems to require forcefully silencing people?):
For every champion of journalism who write stories about Walter Reed or Extraordinary Rendition Flights, there are two reporters at Channel 19 who care very little about society. For every Seymore Hersh there are five Michelle Malkins or Ann Coulters. With citizen journalists spreading like wildfire in blogs, we seem to have one Froomkin created, there are five extremist blogs proclaiming the assaults on homeless people everyday....
The Society of Professional Journalists must start licensing journalists or the government will start doing it for them. We need to start taking this practice seriously and separate the real journalists from the fakes. The decisions made by journalists have consequences for ruining people's lives or for causing grief, suicide or even murder. The genocide in Rhwanda were carried out using the radio commentators to urge citizens to kill Tutsis. If journalists want to be taken seriously they must figure out how to separate the real from the O'Reilly types. They must set up a structure to license journalists with an enforcement mechanism to strip bad journalists from practicing their craft.
This is from the weblog of a bunch of media students:
It scares me to think that the field I will going pursuing when I graduate might be confused with entertainment reporting – things like “Who Ben Affleck is dating now” and “Will Brad and Jen get back together.” Certainly, these things are news to a select few. I will not, however, get into the whole tabloid issue. I seems to have sparked some intense debate with that one a few weeks ago. But, I am worried that with the onslaught of weblogs and internet news, many readers and listeners will get confused and think what they’re reading and watching is actually news. I have nothing against web loggers, even though they are a threat to my future career. But, all of this leads me to question the professionalism of journalism.
Should we license journalists? This has been a question that has been debated back and forth for awhile. Many journalists are against the idea because they believe that that would mean licensing information and licensing free speech. But I think we need to look at the issues at hand right now. The news is getting out-of-hand. The public is being onslaught with an enormous amount of information due to our increasing rush of technology and it has to be hard for them to differentiate between real news and opinions being costumed as news. This is why we need to start seriously considering licensing journalists. It may be the only real hope for the future of journalists. With licenses, we can hold on to whatever ethical and moral characteristics we have left in the news business. There will be no more “parading reporters” and no more “video news releases.” Who thinks we should pursue this? Who thinks the entire idea is ridiculous?
Some countries are seriously considering it. Brazil and Indonesia are looking into licensing their journalists. Here's an article from Indonesia - even though it's agaist thh idea of licensing it's still a good example of how serious this debate is becoming
Its good we are taking lessons on free speech and the media from Indonesia and Brazil. I probably should not make fun of the typos and grammar errors in this post by a "media student" since I make such mistakes all the time. Of course, I am not a "licensed journalist."
This is not a new issue. In the early 1980's, the US vigorously resisted attempts by the UN to implement a variety of euphemisms that boiled down to licensing requirements for international journalists.
Environmentalists Want Us To Celebrate Squalor
I really want to thank Michael Tobis at environmentalist hang-out Grist. For years people have accused me of over-reading the intentions of climate catastrophists, so I am thankful that Tobis has finally stated what climate catastrophists are after (emphasis in the original, but it is the exact phrase I would have highlighted as well)
Is infinite growth of some meaningful quantity possible in a finite space? No scientist is inclined to think so, but economists habitually make this claim without bothering to defend it with anything but, "I'm, an economist and I say so", or perhaps more thoughtfully, "hey, it's worked until now".
Such ideas were good approximations in the past. Once the finite nature of our world comes into play they become very bad approximations. You know, the gods of Easter Island smiled on its people "until now" for a long time, until they didn't. The presumption of growth is so pervasive that great swaths of economic theory simply fail to make any sense if a negative growth rate occurs. What, for instance, does a negative discount rate portend? ...
The whole growth thing becomes a toxic addiction. The only path to a soft landing is down; we in the overheated economies need to learn not just to cope with decline but to celebrate it. We need not just an ideology but a formal theory that can not only cope with reduced per capita impact but can target it.
Decline isn't bad news in an airplane. Decline is about reaching your destination. Perhaps there is some level of economic activity beyond which life gets worse? Perhaps in some countries we have already passed that point? Could the time where we'd all be better off with a gradual decline have arrived? How much attention should we pay to the folks who say we should keep climbing, that there's no way we can run out of fuel, that we'll think of something?
So there it is, in the third paragraph, with no danger of misinterpretation. These folks want economic decline. That's a fancy way of saying "We want you poorer."
I could spend weeks writing about the fallacies and anti-human philosophy embedded in these four paragraphs, but here are just a few reactions.
The Zero Sum Fallacy
Every generation has people, like Mr. Tobis, who scream that we are all living in a petri dish and this is the generation we run out of Agar. Of course they are always wrong. Why?
Well, first, the prime driver of economic growth is not resources but the human mind. And the world of ideas has no capacity limits. This is an issue that Julian Simon wrote about so clearly. Tobis is trying to apply physical models to wealth creation, and they just don't apply. (and by the way, ask the passengers of TWA flight 800 if decline isn't bad news in an airplane).
Further, if we talk about the world of resources, we currently use a trivial fraction of the world's resources. By a conservative estimate, we have employed at most (including the soil we till for agriculture, extracted minerals, etc) less than 0.0001% of the earth's mass. In terms of energy, all energy (except nuclear) comes ultimately from the sun (fossil fuels, hydropower reservoirs, etc are just convenient storage repositories of the sun's energy). We currently use an infinitesimal percentage of the sun's energy. I wrote much more on the zero-sum wealth fallacy here. And here is my ancestor blogger in Coyote Broadsheet making the same fallacy as Mr. Tobis back in the 19th century, writing on the Peak Whale Theory.
Wealth Benefits the Environment
Just like actual 20th century data tends to undermine catastrophic climate forecasts, experience over the last century tends to contradict the notion that growth is devastating to the environment.
We can find the best example right here in the environmental Satan called the USA. The US has cleaner air and water today than in any time in decades. Because of technology and growth, we can produce more food on less land than ever -- in fact the amount of land dedicated to agriculture has shrunk for years, allowing forests to steadily expand in the US for over eighty years (that is, until the environmentalists got the government to subsidize ethanol). No one in Brazil would be burning huge tracts of the Amazon if they enjoyed the agricultural productivity we do in the US. Sure, we have done some things that turn out to be environmentally bad (e.g. lead in gasoline) but our wealth has allowed us to fairly painlessly fix these mistakes, even if the fixes have not come as fast as environmentalists have desired.
I will confess that the Chinese seem hell bent on messing up their air and water as much as possible, but, just like the United States, it will be the wealthy middle and upper class of China that will finally demand that things get cleaned up, and it will be their wealth, not their poverty, that allows them to do so. Similarly, I don't think CO2 reduction will do much of anything to improve our climate, but if we find it necessary, it will be through application of wealth, not squalor, that we overcome the problems.
Here is a simple test: Which countries of the world have the worst environmental problems? Its is the poorest countries, not the wealthiest.
Growth / Climate Tradeoffs
For the sake of argument, let's assume that man-made global warming increases severed storm frequency by 20%, or by 3 or 4 extra hurricanes a year (why this probably is not happening). Even a point or two knocked off worldwide economic growth means hundreds of trillions of dollars in lost annual GDP a century from now (2% growth yields a world economy of $450 trillion in a century. 3% growth yields a world economy $1,150 trillion in a hundred years.) So, using these figures, would the world be better off with the current level of hurricanes, or would it be better off with four more hurricanes but $700 trillion a year more to deal with them. Hmmm. Remember, life lost in a hurricane correlates much higher with poverty in the area the hurricane hit rather than with storm strength, as demonstrated by recent cyclones in Asia. This general line of reasoning is usually described as warmer and richer vs. cooler and poorer.
I cannot speak for Mr. Tobis, but many environmentalists find this kind of reasoning offensive. They believe that it is a sin for man to modify the earth at all, and that changing the climate in any way is wrong, even if man is not hurt substantially by this change. Of course, in climate, we have only been observing climate for 30-100 years, while climate goes through decadal, millennial, and even million-year cycles. So it is a bit hard to tell exactly what is natural for Gaia and what is not, but that does stop environmentalists from declaring that they know what is unnatural. I grew up in the deep South, and their position sounds exactly like a good fiery Baptist minister preaching on the sins of humanity.
More from Jerry Taylor, who got Tobis started on his rant in the first place.
Postscript: Here is an interesting chicken or the egg problem: Do you think Mr. Tobias learned about man-made global warming first, and then came to the conclusion that growth is bad? Or did Mr. Tobis previously believe that man needed to be fewer and poorer, and become enthusiastic about global warming theory as a clever packaging for ideas most of the world's population would reject? The answer to this question is a window on why 1) the socialists and anti-globalization folks have been so quiet lately (the have all jumped onto global warming); 2) no one in the global warming movement wants to debate the science any longer (because the point is not the science but the license to smack down the world economy) and 3) why so much of the Bali conference seems to be about wealth transfers than environmentalism.
Over the last week, I have heard about 20 commercials from our local prosecutor's office informing me that there is a web site I can visit with pictures of drunk drivers. Uh, why? Is this supposed to somehow help me, driving down a street at night, such that I might just recognize the oncoming driver from 300 yards away, despite his headlights, as being someone I saw on the web site?
Actually, no. The prosecutor believes that the criminal justice system does not impose harsh enough penalties, so he is using his office and public funds to add an additional penalty not specified by the court or the legislature: Public shaming. I was happy to see that Reason picked up this issue today:
Taking Thomas at his word, he is imposing extrajudicial punishment, based on his unilateral conclusion that the penalties prescribed by law for DUI offenses provide an inadequate deterrent
In addition, Mr. Thomas is very likely emulating the example of our self-aggrandizing county Sheriff, Joe Arpaio. Sheriff Joe has built a PR machine for himself at public expense, in large part through extra-legal get-tough-on-criminals show-campaigns like this one.
Can We Get Over Our Obsession with Agriculture?
Dan Griswold writes today about our depressing continued subsidization of the agriculture business, up to and including gutting any reasonable energy policy in favor of subsidizing corn farmers.
Beyond shear inertia and the fact that Iowa leads the primaries, can anyone really explain this. For God sakes, we have a cabinet-level position for agriculture, and, in case of a massive Cylon attack, the secretary of agriculture is 8th in line for the Presidency.
Here is some perspective: Agriculture, even if you include fishing and forestry, accounts for 1.1% of US GDP. $122 billion of total value added. Computers and electronic parts is a larger industry. As is entertainment and recreation. As is the restaurant industry. Heck, Exxon and Wal-Mart are probably more deserving of cabinet positions.
Is it Impossible To Make An Original Observation?
A couple of posts ago, I wondered how Radio Shack still survives when CompUSA is now dead. Thanks to a reader, I find that the Onion has already plowed this ground:
Despite having been on the job for nine months, RadioShack CEO Julian Day said Monday that he still has "no idea" how the home electronics store manages to stay open.
"There must be some sort of business model that enables this company to make money, but I'll be damned if I know what it is," Day said. "You wouldn't think that people still buy enough strobe lights and extension cords to support an entire nationwide chain, but I guess they must, or I wouldn't have this desk to sit behind all day."
The retail outlet boasts more than 6,000 locations in the United States, and is known best for its wall-sized displays of obscure-looking analog electronics components and its notoriously desperate, high-pressure sales staff. Nevertheless, it ranks as a Fortune 500 company, with gross revenues of over $4.5 billion and fiscal quarter earnings averaging tens of millions of dollars.
"Have you even been inside of a RadioShack recently?" Day asked. "Just walking into the place makes you feel vaguely depressed and alienated. Maybe our customers are at the mall anyway and don't feel like driving to Best Buy? I suppose that's possible, but still, it's just...weird."
I give up. But the whole Onion article is very funny and worth reading.
The climate catastrophists are starting to show their true socialist colors in Bali.
Hard for Me To Explain
CompUSA is apparently closing shop, something that is not too surprising observing the follies at my local store. I can understand how CompUSA was killed by the likes of Best Buy and Fry's Electronics (not to mention Newegg.com, which is my favorite source). What I cannot understand is how Radio Shack continues to plod along and survive. I buy a couple of things a year there (usually something like a transformer replacement or some kind of oddball splitter) but I am always kind of surprised to still find them there -- its like finding a Woolworth's in the local mall. Though it still seems to make money, with a TTM after-tax margin of about 5%, which is not bad for a retailer.
SLUTs Take to the Streets Today in Seattle
The unfortunately named and horrendously ill-conceived and over-priced Seattle trolley takes to the streets today. The Anti-Planner has an overview in the third in his series on light rail follies.
Congress: We Can't Stop Ourselves From Doing Harm
From the Washington Post, via Tom Nelson, comes a nice summary of the consequences of Congress's addiction to ethanol mandates and subsidies. The last sentence in particular is one I have warned about for a while on this issue.
To be sure, some farmers in these countries benefit from higher prices. But many poor countries -- including most in sub-Saharan Africa -- are net grain importers, says the International Food Policy Research Institute, a Washington-based think tank. In some of these countries, the poorest of the poor spend 70 percent or more of their budgets on food. About a third of the population of sub-Saharan Africa is undernourished, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. That proportion has barely changed since the early 1990s. High food prices make gains harder.
It's the extra demand for grains to make biofuels, spurred heavily in the United States by government tax subsidies and fuel mandates, that has pushed prices dramatically higher. The Economist rightly calls these U.S. government subsidies "reckless." Since 2000, the share of the U.S. corn crop devoted to ethanol production has increased from about 6 percent to about 25 percent -- and is still headed up.
This is not a case of unintended consequences. A new generation of "cellulosic" fuels (made from grasses, crop residue or wood chips) might deliver benefits, but the adverse effects of corn-based ethanol were widely anticipated. Government subsidies reflect the careless and cynical manipulation of worthy public goals for selfish ends. That the new farm bill may expand the ethanol mandates confirms an old lesson: Having embraced a giveaway, politicians cannot stop it, no matter how dubious.
Question About Nuclear
I was perusing the US electricity generation data a minute ago, and noticed this trend in nuclear generation in the US (all numbers in millions of MW-hours, from here):
I am wondering at the fall of 300 million megawatts-hours from 1999 to 2006. My guess is that maybe some of the really old US government-owned plants closed. But to the extent that this decline is due to aging plants and regulations limiting capacity, it strikes me that if someone in government really wanted to come up with a plan by 2020 to reduce CO2 in utility plant emissions, that regaining a portion of this lost nuclear capacity might be the cheapest and fastest approach. After all, 300 million MWH is about 20% of total coal-fired generation and about 45 times more capacity than the sum of all US generation from non-hydro renewables (which don't really reduce CO2 anyway).
Your UN At Work
These are the guys trying to take over the world economy in the name of environmentalism:
...But after a full week of attending plenary sessions and contact groups I can see why the process can be frustrating. I sat in a session about Carbon Capture and Storage last Thursday that exemplified the kind of frustration I think they were referring to. After 45 minutes of discussing how the discussion should take place, the facilitator noted that time was up and dismissed the meeting. Seriously? I was reasonably appalled at the productivity with which such an important part of the global conference was conducted.
Pining for the 1950's
The Democrats of late seem to be pining for the "Ward Cleaver" economy of the 1950's, lamenting that a) the middle class is worse off today financially, b) it takes two income earners to "survive" today rather than one and c) the middle class faces more risk without any additional reward. Rather than refute all this mess in detail yet again, I will leave you with this quiz, via TJIC, from Tamara K:
1) The balance on Ward Cleaver's three most frequently used credit cards is?
2) Does Wally have an Xbox3 hooked to a flatscreen TV in his room, or is he making do with an old Play Station hooked to a hand-me-down 19" Sony?
3) In addition to electricity, water, and the telephone, the Cleaver's largest monthly bill is: a. Cellular Service, b. Cable TV, c. Broadband Internet Access, or d. Late Fees At Blockbuster.
4) The Cleaver's timeshare is in: a.) Destin, or b.) Gatlinburg.
5) June's bread maker was made by: a.) Sunbeam, or b.) Krupps.
6) The amount of money Ward loses annually playing Powerball, Online Slots at home, and Texas Hold 'Em on vacation in Branson, Missouri is: $____ (Round to the nearest dollar.)
The Anti-Planner has a series of posts of late on light rail that in total point to a perverse moral hazard in public transportation funding that helps to explain why states and cities are building so many rail projects, when the numbers almost never make any sense (as I blogged for LA, Phoenix, and Albuquerque). Though the Anti-Planner does not state these rules, from his recent posts I have inferred three rules:
- A city can get capital construction dollars from the feds, but you can almost never get maintenance or operations money (similar story in recreation)
- The feds will fund big, expensive, sexy rail projects. They will not fund purchases of buses and are unlikely to fund something so prosaic as a bus stop or terminal (general rule of thumb: federally funded projects must be large enough to justify being named at some future point after the local Congressman or Senator who earmarked the project.)
- It is very easy to de-fund bus systems -- you just don't replace aging buses and cut routes over time. It is hard to de-fund, or, god forbid, abandon a rail line, since the thing sits out there so visibly. Sunk costs can also be a political issue if rail lines were to be closed.
For most public transportation goals, particularly in spread out western and southern cities, buses are a cheaper and higher service solution than rail. They can carry the same passenger traffic for far less total dollars (capital plus operating costs) and they can cover far more routes. In fact, one can argue that rail lines are inherently regressive, as they tend to serve commuting corridors of the middle and upper classes rather than the typical routes of the poor, for whom the systems are nominally built.
So what can one expect by the application of these three rules? Well, we would expect local authorities to favor large, expensive capital rail projects rather than refurbishment or expansion of bus systems. As operating costs rise for the trains, we would expect bus service to be cut back to pay for the rail operating deficit.
Which is exactly what happens. In fact, rail tends not to increase total ridership at all, at best shifting ridership from inexpensive buses to expensive trains, and at worst decreasing total ridership as rail lines with just a few stations and routes replace more extensive webs of bus transport. And, in twenty years, when these rails systems need extensive capital overhauls, we find cities with huge albatrosses on their hands that they are unable to maintain or update.
I Think We've Won the War on Poverty
One of the things I have observed in the past is that our poorest 20% would be upper middle class in most countries of the world, and would be far richer than 99.9% of people who have ever lived. Somehow the following burning concern in the LA City Hall seems to bring this message home quite clearly:
To protect the character of neighborhoods being dwarfed by the construction of oversized homes, Los Angeles officials are weighing a law that would radically limit the square-footage of new or remodeled houses across the city's flatlands.
The proposed anti-mansionization measure would stem a trend fueled by the meteoric rise in home values and address a backlash from residents who complain that the spread of large, boxy homes is spoiling the architectural flavor of established single-family neighborhoods.
Somehow, I don't thing "mansionization" is a major problem in most countries of the world.
Mandating the Impossible (Not to Mention the Stupid)
Here is a snippet from the energy bill that just passed the House:
On Thursday, just over a year after winning the majority, Democrats in the House of Representatives voted through an energy bill that represents a stark departure from the administration’s approach. It would raise vehicle fuel efficiency (Cafe) standards for the first time in over 30 years, by 40%, to 35 miles per gallon for both cars and light trucks and SUVs. A renewable energy standard mandates that utilities generate 15% of their power from renewables by 2020. It would set a renewable fuel standard aiming to generate 36 billion gallons of ethanol a year by 2022. A tax package would roll back some $13.5bn in oil industry subsidies and tax breaks to help pay for $21bn worth of investments in clean energy development, mainly in the form of investment tax credits for wind and solar, along with the development and purchase of plug-in hybrid vehicles. And it would raise efficiency standards for appliances and buildings.
Let's look at a couple of pieces very quickly. Recognize that this is based on 10 whole minutes of research, far more than a busy Congressman could possibly be expected to muster.
- They want 15% of power generation from renewables by 2020. I am not sure if this includes hydro. If it does, then a bunch of Pacific Northwest utilities already have this in the bag. But even if "renewable" includes hydro, hydro power will do nothing to meet this goal by 2020. I am not sure, given environmental concerns, if any major new hydro project will ever be permitted in the US again, and certainly not in a 10 year time frame. In fact, speaking of permitting, there is absolutely no way utilities could finance, permit, and construct 15% of the US electricity capacity by 2020 even if they started today. No. Way. By the way, as a sense of scale, after 35 years of subsidies and mandates, renewables (other than hydro) make up ... about .27% of US generation.
- The Congress is demanding 36 billion gallons of ethanol. Presumably, this is all from domestic sources because Congress has refused to drop the enormous tariffs on ethanol imports. But the entire corn harvest in 2004 of 11.8 billion bushels would make only 30 billion gallons of ethanol. So Congress wants us to put ALL of our food supply into our cars? Maybe we can tear down the Amazon rain forest to grow more.
- By the way, I am all for cutting all subsidies to any industry for any reason, but when they say "industry subsidies and tax breaks" for the oil industry, what they mostly mean is this:
These were leases for drilling rights in the Gulf of Mexico signed between oil companies and the Clinton Administration's Interior Department in 1998-99. At that time the world oil price had fallen to as low as $10 a barrel and the contracts were signed without a requirement of royalty payments if the price of oil rose above $35 a barrel.
Interior's Inspector General investigated and found that this standard royalty clause was omitted not because of any conspiracy by big oil, but rather because of bureaucratic bungling in the Clinton Administration. The same report found that a year after these contracts were signed Chevron and other oil companies alerted Interior to the absence of royalty fees, and that Interior replied that the contracts should go forward nonetheless.
The companies have since invested billions of dollars in the Gulf on the basis of those lease agreements, and only when the price of oil surged to $70 a barrel did anyone start expressing outrage that Big Oil was "cheating" taxpayers out of royalties. Some oil companies have voluntarily offered to renegotiate these contracts. The Democrats are now demanding that all these firms do so -- even though the government signed binding contracts.
The DRM Genie Just Won't Go Back into the Bottle
Another milestone has been reached in DRM lameness: Western Digital, which I considered, at least until today, to be the clear leader in the hard drive wars, has instituted DRM on its hard drives:
Western Digital's 1TB MyBook external hard drives won't share media files over network connections (UPDATE: Don't install the "required" client software! See workaround below). From the product page:
"Due to unverifiable media license authentication, the most common audio and video file types cannot be shared with different users using WD Anywhere Access."
It doesn't matter what the files are: If you try to share these formats over a network, Western Digital assumes not just that you're a criminal, but that it is its job to police users. You see, MP3, DivX, AVI, WMV and Quicktime files are copy-protected formats.
Here is the list of 30 file extensions the hard drive won't let you share. It does not matter if those mp3 files are just dictation files you created yourself using an MP3 recorder -- you still can't share them. Really lame. Why WD feels the need to get into the business of policing this stuff is beyond me. Can you imagine the product meeting. Gee, I think we should jump into the DRM fray, even though we don't receive a dime from the media companies and it will really piss all of our customers off. Corry Doctorow also comments.
All Your Base Are Belong to Rick Astley
I have to agree with Roger at Maggie's Farm: I really love all the silly weirdness on the Internet as well. I already Rick-rolled my readers once (belated apologies) a while back so I won't do it again. Instead, I will link with full discloser to this mash-up of Hitler doing Rick Astley.
Nothing New Under the [Rising] Sun
Sixty-six years ago today, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, which turned out to be about as smart of a strategic move as taunting the New England Patriots just before the game. During subsequent years, there was an inevitable investigation into why and how the US got caught so flat-footed, and who, if anyone, was to blame.
Decades later, revisionist historians reopened this debate. In the 1970's, not coincidently in the time of Watergate and lingering questions about the Kennedy assassination and the Gulf of Tonkin, it was fairly popular to blame Pearl Harbor on ... FDR. The logic was (and still is, among a number of historians) that FDR was anxious to bring the US into the war, but was having trouble doing so given the country's incredibly isolationist outlook during the 1920's and 1930's. These historians argue that FDR knew about the Pearl Harbor attack but did nothing (or in the most aggressive theories, actually maneuvered to encourage the attack) in order to give FDR an excuse to bring America into the war. The evidence is basically in three parts:
- The abjectly unprepared state of the Pearl Harbor base, when there were so many good reasons at the time to be on one's toes (after all, the Japanese were marching all over China, Germany was at the gates of Moscow, and France had fallen) could only be evidence of conspiracy.
- The most valuable fleet components, the carriers, had at the last minute been called away from Pearl Harbor. Historians argue that they were moved to protect them from an attack known to be coming to Pearl. They argue that FDR wanted Pearl to be attacked, but did not want to lose the carriers.
- Historians have found a number of captured Japanese signals and US intelligence warnings that should have been clear warming of a Pearl Harbor attack.
I have always been pretty skeptical of this theory, for several reasons:
- First, I always default to Coyote's Law, which says
When the same set of facts can be explained equally well by
- A massive conspiracy coordinated without a single leak between hundreds or even thousands of people -OR -
- Sustained stupidity, confusion and/or incompetence
I think it is more than consistent with human history to assume that if Pearl Harbor was stupidly unprepared, that the reason was in fact stupidity, and not a clever conspiracy
- The carrier argument is absurd, and is highly influenced by what we know now rather than what we knew in December of 1941. We know now that the carriers were the most valuable fleet component, but no one really knew it then (except for a few mavericks). Certainly, if FDR and his top brass knew about the attack, no one would have been of the mindset that the carriers were the most important fleet elements to save.
- I find it to be fairly unproductive to try to sort through intelligence warnings thirty years after the fact. One can almost ALWAYS find that some warning or indicator existed for every such event in history. The problem occurs in real-time, when such warnings are buried in the midst of hundreds of other indicators, and are preceded by years of false warnings of the same event.
- I don't really deny that FDR probably wanted an excuse to get the country in the war. However, I have never understood why a wildly succesful Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was more necessary than, say, an attack met strongly at the beach. I can understand why FDR might have allowed the attack to happen, but why would he leave the base undefended. The country would have gotten wound up about the attack whether 5 ships or 10 were destroyed.
It is interesting how so much of this parallels the logic of the 9/11 conspiracists. And, in fact, I have the same answer for both: I don't trust the government. I don't put such actions and motivations past our leaders. But I don't think the facts support either conspiracy. And I don't think the government is capable of maintaining such a conspiracy for so long.
Really? You Mean CO2 Reduction Has Costs?
New today from the new Australian government, who to date have placed themselves solidly in the catastrophic camp:
PRIME Minister Kevin Rudd last night did an about-face on deep cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, days after Australia's delegation backed the plan at the climate talks in Bali.
A government representative at the talks this week said Australia backed a 25-40 per cent cut on 1990 emission levels by 2020.
But after warnings it would lead to huge rises in electricity prices, Mr Rudd said the Government would not support the target.
The repudiation of the delegate's position represents the first stumble by the new Government's in its approach to climate change.
I Will Shut It Down First
We offer Wi-fi services to campers and recreators in some of the facilities we manage. But I am shutting it all down if I am put in the position of policing how my customers use the Internet.
The Real Coyote Blog
I get a number of search engine hits from people coming to this blog looking for information on, you know, coyotes. I actually get a lot of questions about coyote behavior, which I struggle to answer since by knowledge of the animals generally is limited to:
- Watching them play outside my house as they likely fantasize about making a meal of my family's Maltese.
- Taking humor from their hapless interactions with the ACME corporation.
Via a reader, this is the woman you need to be visiting for real coyotes. She also seems to be a marvelous photographer. This, for example, is beautiful.
Great Moments in Marketing Claims
"This prehistoric pet interacts and behaves like a one-week-old dinosaur."
Uh, right. Based on substantial observational data, I am sure. More correct statement: "This toy behaves just like the baby dinosaurs you saw that were so cute in that Spielberg movie."
Seriously Useful Privacy Tool
Many free websites (like newspapers and forums) require an email address to sign up. To make sure you give them a real one, they send you a password or activation code, usually within 60 seconds, by email.
Guerrilla Mail will issue you an email address that is good for 15 minutes. You don't even have to leave the web site, just hit refresh and any emails you receive show up there on the screen and can even be replied to. The only problem is that this will leave you with an impossible list of user ID's, but it is great for, say, forums where I only need to post one time (say with a customer support question).
Bloggers are Tehwable
Sports columnist Stephen A. Smith fires off an over-the-top rant at bloggers:
"And when you look at the internet business, what's dangerous about it is that people who are clearly unqualified get to disseminate their piece to the masses. I respect the journalism industry, and the fact of the matter is ...someone with no training should not be allowed to have any kind of format whatsoever to disseminate to the masses to the level which they can. They are not trained. Not experts."
Despite its wackiness, we can still draw some useful observations:
- Yet again, we have an industry incumbent calling for some sort of professional licensing, nominally to protect consumers, but in actuality to protect the incumbent's position in the industry. Smith himself couldn't be more explicit about this:
"Therefore, there's a total disregard, a level of wrecklessness that ends up being a domino effect. And the people who suffer are the common viewers out there and, more importantly, those in the industry who haven't been fortunate to get a radio or television deal and only rely on the written word. And now they've been sabotaged. Not because of me. Or like me. But because of the industry or the world has allowed the average joe to resemble a professional without any credentials whatsoever."
He can't even complete the sentence with the window dressing justification that this is for the consumers before he gets to the real people he is trying to protect, ie traditional media personalities like himself. You know, trained professionals. You could subsititute attorneys, doctors, nurses, real estate agents, funeral directors, massage therapists, hair braiders, fishing guides and any other licensed or unionized professional and find the same speech given somewhere at some time.
- People called me crazy when I said that the next step in the media wars with bloggers was a call for licensing (and here) Whose crazy now?
- McCain-Feingold sent us a long way down this horrible path by establishing that there are such things as "journalists" who can be trusted to speak in public before elections, and everyone else, who cannot be so trusted. This was the first time the debate over whether bloggers are journalists turned heated, because there was a legislated cost associated with not being a journalist.
- Note the implicit disdain for the consumer, or in this case, the viewer or reader. The unstated assumption is that the consumer is a total idiot, a dupe who mindlessly keeps tuning in to inferior news reports from untrained bloggers rather than watching pros like Stephen A. Smith as they should be
- Finally, and this may be unfair because I am only partially familiar with Mr. Smith's work, but I will observe that he is an African-American who brings a kind of street style to his reporting. A style that I might guess that a crotchety sports reporter from thirty years ago might easily have defined then as unprofessional. Mr. Smith's career has benefited in part because he has differentiated himself with new style and approach, but now he wants to slam the door on others trying to similarly bring innovation and new approaches to the sports world. Unfortunately, all too typical of professionals of all stripes, particularly since the government has set the expectation over the last 100 years that it is open to using its coercive power to enforcing professional standards in even the most trivial of professions.
I end such a discussion, as always, with Milton Friedman:
The justification offered [for licensing] is always the same: to protect the consumer. However, the reason is demonstrated by observing who lobbies at the state legislature for the imposition or strengthening of licensure. The lobbyists are invariably representatives of the occupation in question rather than of the customers. True enough, plumbers presumably know better than anyone else what their customers need to be protected against. However, it is hard to regard altruistic concern for their customers as the primary motive behind their determined efforts to get legal power to decide who may be a plumber.
World's Hardest Easy Geometry Problem
I wasted a lot of time yesterday with this geometry problem. I have about 12 pieces of paper here that look like a Mondrian retrospective, cutting new triangles and parallel lines. Still don't have the proof yet, so I thought I would see if I could pull some of your productivity down with mine. If you are like me, you will decide that the answer is trivial about twice in the first five minutes, both times discovering you have not actually gotten to the answer.
Answer: Because the Climate Models Have All Been Fudged
The Question, as asked (surprisingly) by a global warming believer:
One curious aspect of this result is that it is also well known [Houghton et al., 2001] that the same models that agree in simulating the anomaly in surface air temperature differ significantly in their predicted climate sensitivity. The cited range in climate sensitivity from a wide collection of models is usually 1.5 to 4.5 deg C for a doubling of CO2, where most global climate models used for climate change studies vary by at least a factor of two in equilibrium sensitivity.
The question is: if climate models differ by a factor of 2 to 3 in their climate sensitivity, how can they all simulate the global temperature record with a reasonable degree of accuracy. Kerr  and S. E. Schwartz et al. (Quantifying climate change–too rosy a picture?, available at www.nature.com/reports/climatechange, 2007) recently pointed out the importance of understanding the answer to this question. Indeed, Kerr  referred to the present work and the current paper provides the ‘‘widely circulated analysis’’ referred to by Kerr . This report investigates the most probable explanation for such an agreement. It uses published results from a wide variety of model simulations to understand this apparent paradox between model climate responses for the 20th century, but diverse climate model sensitivity.
Al Gore vs. the Environment
Yesterday, I noted Al Gore bragging that he played a critical role in passing current biofuel mandates, making him the father of ethanol, not just the Internet. The great goddess of irony is having a field day:
Environmentalists are warning against expanding the production of biofuels, noting the proposed solution to global warming is actually causing more harm than it is designed to alleviate. Experts report biodiesel production, in particular, is causing the destruction of virgin rainforests and their rich biodiversity, as well as a sharp rise in greenhouse gas emissions.
Opponents of biofuels read like a Who's Who of environmental activist groups. The Worldwatch Institute, World Conservation Union, and the global charity Oxfam warn that by directing food staples to the production of transport fuels, biofuels policy is leading to the starvation and further impoverishment of the world's poor.
On November 15, Greenpeace's Rainbow Warrior unfurled a large banner reading "Palm Oil Kills Forests and Climate" and blockaded a tanker attempting to leave Indonesia with a cargo full of palm oil. Greenpeace, which warns of an imminent "climate bomb" due to the destruction of rich forests and peat bogs that currently serve as a massive carbon sink, reports groups such as the World Wildlife Fund, Conservation International, and Flora and Fauna International have joined them in calling for an end to the conversion of forests to croplands for the production of biofuels
"The rush to address speculative global warming concerns is once again proving the law of unintended consequences," said James M. Taylor, senior fellow for environment policy at The Heartland Institute. "Biofuels mandates and subsidies are causing the destruction of forests and the development of previously pristine lands in a counterproductive attempt to improve the environment.
"Some of the world's most effective carbon sinks are being destroyed and long-stored carbon is now being released into the atmosphere in massive quantities, merely to make wealthy Westerners feel like they are 'doing something' to address global warming. The reality is, they are making things worse," Taylor noted.
Great Moments in Progressive Taxation
Many government programs have both a stated justification as well as a second, unstated justification which is the real reason that politicians support the program. For example, many regulations are portrayed as pro-consumer when in fact their real utility is in protecting a favored company or political donor from new competition.
The same is true for progressive taxation. The public logic is usually about the rich paying a "fair share" or reducing income inequality (by cutting down the oaks to give the maples more sunshine). However, progressive taxation pays rich dividends to politicians looking to increase the size of government and their own personal power. Some time in the last 10 years, we crossed an invisible line where less than half of American families pay for effectively all government programs (leaving aside Social Security).
This means that when any politician stands up and proposes a new program, a majority of Americans know that they are not going to pay for it. In fact, the situation is even more obvious when you consider new programs at the margin. If you listen to the Democratic debates, nearly every candidate is proposing to pay for his or her expensive programs via new taxes aimed solely at the top 10 or 20% of earners. Every time they propose a program, there is an unstated but increasing clear clause "and 80% of you won't have to pay anything for this." Already, we see many states funding new programs with surcharges on the rich. Here is but one example:
California voters agreed to tax the rich to support public mental health services.
More than half of them (53.3 percent) voted last month in favor of Proposition 63, which will impose a tax surcharge of 1 percent on the taxable personal income above $1 million to pay for services offered through the state's existing mental health system. The initiative will generate an estimated $700 million a year....
Richard A. Shadoan, M.D., a past president of the CPA, wrote in Viewpoints in the September 3 issue of Psychiatric News, "The scope of the program and its tax-the-rich source will provoke a debate. But it's an argument worth having to make California face the neglect of not providing treatment to more than 1 million people with mental illness."
So what happened? I don't know how many people make a million dollars in California, but it is certainly less than 5% of the population. So the headline should read "53.3% of people voted to have less than 5% of the people pay for an expensive new program." If the 53.3% thought it was so valuable, why didn't they pay for it? Well, it is clear from the article that the populace in general has been asked to do so in the past and refused. So only when offered the chance to approve the program if a small minority paid for it did they finally agree. This is the real reason for progressive taxation. (by the way, these 53.3% will now feel really good about themselves, despite the fact they will contribute nothing, and will likely piss on millionaires next chance they get, despite the fact that they are the ones who will pay for the program).
Ultimate Example of Progressive Taxation
My story today comes from the Roman Empire just after the death of Julius Caesar. At the time, three groups vied for power: Octavian (Augustus) Caesar, Mark Antony, and republican senators under Brutus and Cassius. Long story short, Octavian and Antony join forces, and try to raise an army to fight the republicans, who have fled Italy. They needed money, but worried that a general tax would turn shaky public opinion in Rome against them. So they settled on the ultimate progressive tax: They named about 2500 rich men and ordered them killed, with their estates confiscated by the state.
This approach of "proscriptions" had been used before (e.g. Sulla) but never quite as obviously just for the money. In the case of Octavian and Antony, though nominally sold to the public as a way to eliminate enemies of Rome, the purpose was very clearly to raise money. All of their really dangerous foes had left Rome with the Republicans. The proscriptions targeted men of wealth, some of whom had been irritants to Octavian or Antony in the past (e.g. Cicero) but many of whom had nothing to do with anything. Proscribed men were quoted as saying "I have been killed by my estates."
I wonder how many of today's progressives would be secretly pleased by this approach?
Eliminating the Reference Points
I really wanted to make a serious point about TJIC's post on Medicare overpaying for medical devices. However, that may be nearly impossible because the post selects "penis pumps" as the example medical device, and it is difficult to have a meaningful political dialog over penis pumps:
amount Medicare spent last year on penis pumps so that old can could stand at attention: $21 million
average price/ pump Medicare paid: $450
cost of the identical pump online: $108
Well, I will try anyway. I am sure if someone pointed this out in the Democratic debate as a potential issue with letting the government, famed for buying $800 hammers, run our health care system, they would all have stated piously that such things would not happen under their plan. But how? I mean, this kind of government waste has been going on for time immemorial. It is so closely tied to the unchangeable incentives of government managers that it could rightly be called a feature of rather than a bug in the system.
But I think I have figured it out. This is why most socialized health care systems do not allow one to go out of system to get private care. By banning all private care, the government eliminates all those irritating private analogs that might demonstrate they are inefficient. So, in the example above, the government typically tackles the problem not by reducing the $450 paid by Medicare, but banning the private sales of such devices so no annoying snoop can uncover the fact that a private system could have delivered it for 1/4 the price. Genius!
Let Us Not Forget This
It is good to know that Al Gore is proud of supporting, even "saving," corn-based ethanol (from a pro-ethanol site):
Vice-President Al Gore
Third Annual Farm Journal Conference, December 1, 1998
"I was also proud to stand up for the ethanol tax exemption when it was under attack in the Congress -- at one point, supplying a tie-breaking vote in the Senate to save it. The more we can make this home-grown fuel a successful, widely-used product, the better-off our farmers and our environment will be."
It is good to know that when the economic and environmental toll from our disastrous subsidization of corn ethanol is finally tallied, we will know where to send the bill.
Update: More Here on Ethanol Craziness