Archive for December 2007

California Insanity

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:

1990-1991: $2,755
1995-1996: $2,470
2000-2001: $3,558
2005-2006: $3,416
2007-2008: $3,767

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!

I have criticized the AZ Republic a lot, but they have pretty comprehensive coverage on this new law here and here.

Update:  Typical of the government, the e-Verify registration site is down right now.

Update #2:  It appears Arizona is taking a page from California's book.  California often passes regulations that it hopes businesses will follow nationally rather than go through the expense of creating different products or product packaging for California vs. the other states.  Arizona may be doing something of the same thing, since the terms of use for e-Verify require that if a business uses e-Verify, it must use if for all employees.  Therefore, a business that has any employees in Arizona is technically required to use this system for all employees nationwide.

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?

More absurd legal theories from the RIAA:

[I]n
an unusual case in which an Arizona recipient of an RIAA letter has
fought back in court rather than write a check to avoid hefty legal
fees, the industry is taking its argument against music sharing one
step further: In legal documents in its federal case against Jeffrey
Howell, a Scottsdale, Ariz., man who kept a collection of about 2,000
music recordings on his personal computer, the industry maintains that it is illegal for someone who has legally purchased a CD to transfer that music into his computer.

The industry's lawyer in the case, Ira Schwartz, argues in a brief
filed earlier this month that the MP3 files Howell made on his computer
from legally bought CDs are "unauthorized copies" of copyrighted
recordings.

"I couldn't believe it when I read that," says Ray Beckerman, a New
York lawyer who represents six clients who have been sued by the RIAA.
"The basic principle in the law is that you have to distribute actual
physical copies to be guilty of violating copyright. But recently, the
industry has been going around saying that even a personal copy on your
computer is a violation."

I guess I am guilty too, as I have ripped all 400 of my CD's twice to computers, once in MP3 format for my iPod and once in FLAC format for my home audio system.  All for my own, personal, fair use, because I prefer random access memory over 400 physical discs in boxes as a storage medium for my music.  I used to just listen to four or five CDs at a time, and rotate them for a month until I got up the energy to change them out.  Now, I listen to much more of my own music now that it is in a more accessible format.

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

Unbundling Citizenship

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.

I have advocated for years that the concept of citizenship needs to be unbundled (and here, on the Roman term Latin Rights).   Kerry Howley makes a similar argument today:

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:
A109_world

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.

Christmas2008

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:

  1. 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:

  1. large federal carbon tax, offset by reduction in income and/or payroll taxes
  2. streamlined program for licensing new nuclear reactors
  3. 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. 

Government Whipsaw

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:
Servers2

HT:  What's Up With That

Government Health Care: Trojan Horse for Fascism

In about the hundredth post in this series, yet another example of government health care costs being used to micro-regulate even the smallest personal lifestyle decisions:

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):

Umoja (Unity)
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.

Kujichagulia (Self-Determination)
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. 

Nia (Purpose)
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

Kuumba (Creativity)
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.

Imani (Faith)
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.

You can view the comments previously posted to this article here and here.

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.