Archive for March 2008

Libertarians Are Losing

How do I know libertarians are losing?  Because our local paper can write 396 words on rising "weed complaints" and ensuing city citations for weeds without once even questioning whether the government needs to be enforcing landscape aesthetics.  Here is one local house that is endangering the Republic enough to require government intervention:

Is the Global Warming Hysteria Killing Environmentalism?

Of late, I have been getting the strongest sense that the global warming hysteria is sucking all the oxygen out of the rest of the environmental movement.  Quick, what is the last environment-related article you read that didn't mention global warming?

Here is an example:  I give a lot of my charity money to groups like The Nature Conservancy, because I personally value preservation of unique areas and habitats and I don't sit around waiting for the government to do it for me.  But it has become almost impossible of late to drum up enthusiasm from contributors for such causes, unless the land can be labeled a carbon-sink or something.  In fact, the global warming hysteria has really been a disaster for private land conservation because it has caused politicians to subsidize ethanol.  This subsidy is bringing much more wild land into cultivation in this country and has been the single biggest driver for deforestation in the Amazon over the last decade. 

Or take China.  China's cities are an unhealthy mess.  But focus on global warming has led environmentalists to take the position with China they have to stop coal combustion and growth in auto-miles entirely.  This is a non-starter.  There is no WAY they are going to do this.  But it is much more achievable to start getting China focused on a Clean-Air-Act type of attack on vehicle and coal plant emissions of real pollutants like SO2.   China could be made much more healthy, as the US has done over the last 30-60 years, but instead of working with China to get healthier, the focus is on getting them to shut down their growth altogether.

The UPI published a survey of people's environmental priorities:

  1. drinking water
  2. pollution of rivers, lakes, and ecosystems
  3. smog
  4. forest preservation
  5. acid rain
  6. tropical rain forests
  7. national parks
  8. greenhouse emissions
  9. ozone layer
  10. nature around "my" home
  11. urban sprawl
  12. extinction.

I feel like #1 is overblown based on a lot of media scare stories, but most of the top 6 or 7 would all be things I would rank well above global warming fears as well.  There are still real issues to be dealt with in these areas which can have far more of a positive impact on health and quality of living than CO2 abatement, but they are being suffocated by global warming hype.

Update on the "Right Not To Be Offended"

Every decade or so, enemies of free speech adopt a new strategy for trying to curtail the First Amendment.  The current effort consists of attempting to define a "right not to be offended", and college campuses are a leading laboratory for this approach (see here and here).

Chris Robinson was recently brought up on trial at the University court for violating this right not to be offended of some of the women at Colorado College (you may notice that this "right not to be offended" seems to be enforced suspiciously asymmetrically, like all speech restrictions).  He has fired back with a marvelous editorial, of which I include one short excerpt:

Hyper-sensitivity in service to a purported greater good became the
justification for an authoritarian lock-down on speech. It's the same
logic every time: the state comes down hard on behalf of "community."
Changing the rhetorical justification only masks the tyranny. The
effect of this on citizens, in the words of John Adams, is "reducing
their minds to a state of sordid ignorance and staring timidity."...

The simple fact that we were brought before a Soviet-style show
trial has already sent a message to campus, and it is a clear one,
namely that every other potential bearer of heterodox views
should think long and hard about expressing them for fear of ending up
in the same situation as us. In order to avoid even the possibility of offending one group or another, nobody outside the "approved" ideological categories will say anything.

is precisely the chilling effect that the First Amendment is
specifically designed to guard against, and to sanction it is a
fundamental violation of the mission of this college. Transparently
selective enforcement against ideologically disallowed speech is
categorically the same as those abhorrent thought-control missions
carried out by the Saudi Ministry of the Propagation of Virtue and the
Prevention of Vice, a perfect example of what John Adams called "the
most mischievous of all doctrines, that of passive obedience and
non-resistance." It's Orwell and Kafka, together at last.

Bonus judos to Mr. Robinson for recognizing that as a private institution, Colorado College can legally implement whatever speech restrictions it likes, and so frames the question as an issue of "should it" rather than "can it?"

Frightening Incompetence

Every food service operation has some problems matching supply with demand, but strikes me as staggering incompetence (via a reader):

Hospitals are throwing away as much as half of their food, NHS figures show.

to 13 million meals were thrown away last year, with 33 hospitals
dumping more than a quarter of their food, including two that discarded
more than was eaten.

Meanwhile, almost 140,000 patients left hospital malnourished, double the figure a decade ago.

Last year, Ivan Lewis, the health minister, admitted that many elderly
people were in effect being starved in hospitals. He said that some
were given a single scoop of mashed potato as a meal, while others were
"tortured" with trays of food placed beyond their reach and no help
with eating.

Maybe the last bit shows that the Brits are enshrining the same "duty to die" that is being discussed in Canada.

Long Overdue: Some Style In Manufactured Homes

Now, I will confess to be a lover of quite modern home designs, but with that in mind, I really think that this design is a breath of fresh air in manufactured homes.  A lot of people are buying these as vacation homes or cottages for land they have bought, either permanently or as a temporary solution until they build their dream vacation home  (Don't click the "decor" button though - it seems that furniture design for manufactured homes is still stuck in the 50's).

Can't Anyone Solve Problems Without the Government?

Here is today's lament in the Arizona Republic:

Government plans to more than double the size of Petrified Forest
National Park appear to be in jeopardy because Congress has failed to
come up with the cash to buy surrounding properties.

The upshot: An irreplaceable treasure of dinosaur bones and Indian
ruins may be lost as ranchers sell off their properties for subdivision
and development.

And Petrified Forest is not alone. A study to be released April 8 by
the non-profit National Parks Conservation Association, says 56 federal
historic and recreation sites "could lose
land inside their borders to developers this year." Others on the list
range from Gettysburg National Military Park near Philadelphia to
Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco.

Here is an idea:  All you folks who are worried about these "treasures" can pool your money and buy the properties yourselves.  That way you can either take charge of the preservations or donate the land to the government to do so.  This is how many public parks came into being in the first place, from private donations.

Of course, this was back in the days when environmental groups actually spent their money on the environment.  Today, they spend their money instead on lobbying.  The more modern approach is not to spend your own money on the environment, but to lobby the government to force other people to spend their money on the environment.  That is why people have apparently donated $300 million dollars (!) to Al Gore to create an advertising campaign dedicated to trying to spur government action on CO2.  Rather than donating money to help solve the problem, people now donate money to push for government coercion.

Besides representing the modern approach to environmentalism  (ie don't work the problem, just lobby the government to force other people to work the problem), Gore's campaign also represents a new frontier in rent-seeking.  He has managed to get people to donate $300 million dollars to advocate government action that will likely have very little actual impact on the climate, but may have a huge impact on Al Gore's managed $5 billion investment fund.  Congrats, Al.  Even the kings of rent-seeking at ADM would not have had the cojones to ask folks to donate to a charitable advertising fund to support their subsidy requests.


Day Late, Billions of Dollars Short

The NY Times has finally published a comprehensive take-down on the insanity of biofuel subsidies here.  All well and good, but this is at least five years too late.  For years, while this and other blogs have tried to point out that the biofuel emporer's has no clothes, the NY Times has been publishing breathless articles in support of biofuel subsidies and mandates, in fact criticizing the Bush administration and Congress for not moving faster on them. 

So is this what we must expect from the NY Times and the rest of the media?  Shameless pandering to politically correct policy goals that make no scientific sense until it is virtually too late to halt their momentum?  If so, everyone should read the Times' coverage on climate with a jaded eye, because it would not surprise me in the least to see the Times publish the definitive article on why the global warming alarmists are full of hot air only after Congress has gutted our economy with new climate taxes and mandates. 

The Statist Trap

I thought this comment was kind of interesting for what it reveals:

And to some degree, doctors are the property of the state. It
is impossible to have medical education without significant state
subsidization, and although I don't know the specifics of every single
country in Africa, that's a safe generalization to make.

For instance, here in the US, your medical education is
heavily subsidized by the state. Probably on the order of 100k/student.
Resident training programs also receive about 100k/resident from
government entitlement programs.

I haven't a clue whether or not there is a net subsidy of medical education in this country, but assume it to be true.  This is the statist trap in a nutshell.  Statists insist that the government should subsidize (or, in more extreme cases, entirely fund) public education.  But once you have attended these government schools, which one virtually has to do because of the steps the government takes to maintain its education monopoly, you then become the property of the state because the statists claim "well, you took our money for your education..."

How I Stopped Demagoguing and Learned To Love The Oil Companies

I am on the road this week, and still do not have time to write the post I want to write about Obama demagoguing against oil companies.  Fortunately, I do not have to, because Q&O has this post.

Here is the short answer:  companies like ExxonMobil, even in the best of times (or most rapacious, as your perspective might be), makes 9-10% pre-tax profit on sales.  They make something like 5-6% when things are not so good.  This means that if gas prices are $3, when you take out the 45 cents or so of tax, Exxon is making between 13 and 25 cents a gallon profit.  Call it 20 cents on average.  So, wiping out profits completely with various ill-advised taxes or regulations would achieve the substantial goal of ... cutting about twenty cents off the price of gas, or about $2.50 off the price of a fill-up.  Of course, that is at the cost of eliminating all investment incentives in the world's most capital intensive resource extraction business.  Which in turn will mean that that price cut will last for about 2 years, and then be swamped by price increases from disappearing gas supplies  (exactly what happened in the late 1970s). 

Part of the problem is that most people do not understand the supply chain in crude oil.  It would seem logical that if the price of oil rises form $30 to $100, then all that $70 price increase is pure profit to Exxon.  That would have been true in 1905, but is not true today.  Exxon, even when it does the exploration and drilling, gets its oil via complicated agreements with state-owned corporations which in the main are structured so that the country in question, and not Exxon, gets windfall.  This means that if Obama wants to tax windfall profits, he needs to seek out Venezuela and China and Saudi Arabia.

The article covers all this and more.

News Stories You Really Don't Want to See

I know there are people who take the position that all PR is good PR, but really, do you really want newspapers running a photo spread entitled "Hookers Made Famous by [Fill In Your Name]"?

No Bias Here

Via Tom Nelson comes this interview with climate "scientist" Dr. Kate Rawles:

Greenbang: What do you think is wrong with the debate on climate change?

Dr Kate: It hasn't really got to grips with the fundamental problem,
which is that Western, industrialised lifestyles are literally
unsustainable. Climate change is just one symptom of this. WWF famously
calculated that if everyone on earth were to enjoy the lifestyle of an
average Western European, we would need three planet earths.

Not even the most optimistic believers in technology think that we
can technofix this problem so that 6 billion people (let alone the
projected 9 billion) can enjoy a western lifestyle without ecological
meltdown. It follows that we urgently need to rethink what we currently
mean by a "˜high standard of living' and move away from materialistic
versions of this to an understanding of quality of life that could be
enjoyed by everyone, without causing environmental mayhem. This is
about values, not just about technology.

To a large extent, understanding the passion of climate alarmists is a chicken and egg problem.  Normally, scientists identify a problem and then we seek to solve it.  But, as you can see with this woman, climate science works in reverse.  The debate began with people who believed that technology and economic growth needed to be diminished, and then found global warming as a conveniently manufactured "problem" that pointed to their already preferred solution. 

This, by the way, is her complete answer to the question about what is wrong with climate debate.  You can see her answer to this climate science question has nothing to do with climate, but everything to do with her pro-poverty position.  She actually states her position as anti-western-standard-of-living, because that plays better with the soccer moms, but this is exactly the same as pro-poverty.  And get a load of this great scientist quoting WWF advocacy press releases as if they were peer-reviewed science.

By the way, I personally believe that the world could easily sustain 6 billion people in a western standard of living, and love humanity enough to root for this to occur, so here statement is untrue  (by the way, why are people who advocate for universal poverty like this person considered "sensitive" while folks like me who would love to see all the world wealthy considered evil and cold-hearted?)  I don't know exactly how this will happen, but if I stood in the year 1908 I would not know how (or probably believe) even a single person could  enjoy what we call a western standard of living today, but billions do.  The human mind is a wonderful thing, and can achieve a lot, at least when scientists pursue new possibilities rather than simply shrieking that we need to turn the clock back.

Update:  Here is one faulty assumption she is making:

Current levels of consumption in industrialised societies are too high
- as the three planet earth analysis clearly shows. This presents a
major problem for current economic thinking, which is premised on
growth, and which requires us all to keep consuming more, not less.
Clearly we can't grow infinitely, and consume infinitely, on a finite

Her assumption is that the Earth is somehow at capacity.  How do we know that?  If a scientist bases all of her beliefs on an assumption like this that has never been proven and the scientist is perfectly comfortable taking on faith, can we really call her a scientist?  Or do we call her a religionist? 


Cheap Cables? Well Mostly

This post advocates always buying the cheap home theater cables.  I agree up to a point.  I have never been able to hear the difference in really, really expensive cables, say for 3 foot interconnects.

But there is an exception to this, and it is interesting the author Glen is quoting actually uses this example -- long runs of video cable, particularly HDMI.  If your TV sits on top of your video source, and the video run is 6 feet or less, then the average person with the average equipment will not notice the difference in video cables.  But should your cable run extend to, say, 25 feet or more, then you are going to have problems.  Video is both very high bandwidth and very susceptible to noise.  HDMI and other digital cables are no exception  -- the only thing that changes are the symptoms. 

In an analog cable, you will start getting a lot of video noise with longer cable runs.  Computer VGA cables were notorious for this -- if you went more than 6 feet, your picture could be a real mess.  SVGA S-video also had such problems.  Now, with digital cable, the picture does not gain noise but at some point the signal is lost altogether and the picture drops out completely -- think of a youtube video streaming over a bad wireless connection.   I will about gaurantee this will happen with 25 feet of JC Penny HDMI cable.

Another Government Program that Misses the Point

Apparently, the state of Arizona, fearing the coming old-folks demographic boom, is looking to create programs to keep older Americans working longer (and by extension off the government teat longer).

The thought of millions of boomers taking their early-retirement
benefits is causing concern about the stability of Social Security and

"We know not everybody is going to up and retire all at once," Starns
said, "and we will have younger workers coming in. But if you look at
all the demographics, there just won't be enough people to fill all the
jobs that could be vacant."

Add that possibility to existing shortages of workers in health-care
and other fields, she said, and "there could be some pretty significant
problems in society."

Arizona, which launched its Mature Workforce Initiative in 2005 to
avert such a crisis, was one of five states lauded last month for
efforts to engage people 50 and older in meaningful jobs and community

The San Francisco-based Civic Ventures think tank also cited
California, Maryland, New York and Massachusetts, saying the five
states recognize older workers as "an experience dividend," rather than
a drain on resources.

Of course, since it is government, the state of Arizona is, with one hand, patting itself on the back for instituting vague and meaningless but well publicized programs nominally targeted at this issue, while with the other taking steps that have real and substantial effects in exactly the opposite direction.

First, Arizona has some of the toughest laws in the country to penalize businesses for hiring, even accidentally, young vigorous immigrants who don't have all their government licenses in order.   Young workers are pouring into this state every day, but Arizona is turning them away and locking them up. 

Second, Arizona has been legislating as fast as it can to make it nearly impossible to hire older workers.  I know, because the vast majority of my work force managing campgrounds is over 65.  These workers tend to work for a free camp site plus minimum wage.  They like the job despite the low pay because they get a place to park their RV and because the job is part time and very flexible in how they work (not to mention offers the opportunity to take whole chunks of the year off).  I like these workers because they are experienced and reliable and paying them minimum wage helps offset their slowing productivity and higher workers comp costs as they age. 

Here is the math:  Older workers might work 30-50% slower than a younger worker (I have workers right now in their nineties!)  They also have higher workers comp costs, maybe equating to as much as 10% of wages.  This means that an older worker at the old minimum wage of $5.15 an hour might be financially equivalent to a younger worker making $9.50 an hour, which is about what we might have to pay for such a worker. 

However, many states have implemented higher minimum wages with annual cost of living escalators.  States like Oregon and Washington now have minimum wages over $9.00.  At $9.00 an hour, an older worker is now financially equivalent to a younger worker making $16.50 an hour, well above what I can hire such a person for.  This means that as minimum wages rise, I have to consider substituting  younger workers for older but slower workers.

Last year, Arizona adopted just such a minimum wage system with annual escalators.  Though we have not reached the point yet, the state soon may make it impossible economically to hire older workers.  Already, we are looking at some automation projects to reduce headcount in certain places.  This is sad to me, but in a business where a 12% rise in wages wipes out my entire profit, I have to think about these steps.  I have to react to the fact that, no matter how many "policy advisers on aging" the state hires, in reality it is increasing the price to my company of older people's labor vis a vis younger workers.

Unfortunately, the EU Is What Many US Politicians Long to Emulate

From the Times, via Daniel Mitchell at Cato:

An award-winning winemaker whose wares are sold at the royal palaces is
facing a £30,000 bill after European bureaucrats ruled that he was
using the wrong-shaped bottles. Jerry Schooler, who sells 400,000
bottles of fruit wines and mead a year, has been threatened with
prosecution over his determination to use traditional measurements. The
proprietor of the Lurgashall Winery in West Sussex, has been told to
halt the sale of beverages such as mead, silver birch wine and bramble
liqueur in 75cl and 37.5cl bottles. If he continues to sell them, he
could be taken to court under a new EU directive that permits the sale
of such products in 70cl, 50cl or 35cl measures only. "¦Mr Schooler now
faces costs of about £30,000 to change his production line. "We are
going to have to change all our bottling, the labels, machinery, boxes
and maybe the corks as well and it is going to cost me thousands to do
it," he said. "¦West Sussex County Council's trading standards
department said that the winery was bound by EU Directive 2007/45/EC,
which was drawn up in September to "lay down rules on nominal
quantities for prepacked products". It said the directive meant that
the use of 37.5cl bottles for liqueurs was illegal.

Don't miss his other story of passengers having to hop off buses every 30 miles to satisfy EU regulations.  The latter regulation is actually one that is remarkably similar to railroad regulation in the US, where a crew day was defined as something like 100 miles.  Modern freight railroads were having to change crews every two hours - I don't know if that one is still on the books.

Bracketology Update

Not many people predicted to 12-13 matchups in the second round, but if they had, they would have runup some nice points given our upset-bonus in the scoring system.  Here are the standings to date, which I reproduce only because, well, I am in them:

BracketRankPointsCorrect GamesUpset Risk %Possible Games
Jeff Charleston1743716.752
Keith Ehlers3703616.748
Warren Meyer #24703321.446
Ron Gallagher5693610.847
Nicholas Stergion ii6693235.343
Dawn Werner7693129.240
Stan Brown8693032.043
Wade Condict #29673525.044
Craig 10673510.347
Paul Noonan11663126.342
Warren Meyer12653414.347

The good news is that both my brackets are in the top 12.  The bad news is that I do a good job every year of picking early upsets and racking up early round points, and then I fall by the wayside in later rounds.  We will see if I can hang in there.  By the way, my loud-mouthed, smack-dealing son is in 76th place.  The leader has 14 of his sweet-16 still intact, while my brackets have 11 and 9 respectively, which are pretty good leading indicators for future problems for yours truly.

One of the reason I like is that they have some cool analysis tools.  Here is my favorite, analyzing who has the best chances to win:

15 games remainingMust wins for best finish

(125 total)


Super SixteenExciting EightFinal FewChampion
1 (74)Jeff Charleston1 (29.6%)47 (<1%)  
2 (71)hopeful1 (7.1%)90 (<1%)   Wiscon    
3 (70)Keith Ehlers1 (4%)85 (<1%)    Memphs    
4 (70)Warren Meyer #21 (7.2%)83 (<1%)       Xavier 
5 (69)Ron Gallagher1 (<1%)67 (<1%)  
6 (69)Nicholas Stergion ii1 (4.3%)100 (<1%)  
7 (69)Dawn Werner1 (<1%)95 (<1%)    Memphs   Xavier  Memphs
8 (69)Stan Brown1 (19.5%)92 (<1%)  
9 (67)Wade Condict #21 (<1%)95 (<1%)    Memphs   Xavier  Memphs
10 (67)Craig 1 (1.5%)68 (<1%)  
11 (66)Paul Noonan1 (3.1%)101 (<1%)  
12 (65)Warren Meyer1 (2.9%)89 (<1%)  
13 (64)Jeff Charleston #21 (<1%)64 (<1%)UNC      UNC   UNC
14 (63)briain's1 (<1%)66 (<1%)  
15 (63)Kevin Clary #21 (<1%)62 (<1%)  Kansas  Memphs    Kansas 
16 (62)Tom Kirkendall1 (<1%)74 (<1%)    Memphs     Memphs
17 (62)Andy Nemenoff1 (1.6%)85 (<1%)  
18 (62)Random 2x Risk1 (1.6%)104 (<1%) Tenn      Tenn   
19 (61)Derek Jankowski1 (<1%)93 (<1%)   Davdsn  Stanfd UCLA Xavier   UCLA UCLAUCLA
20 (60)Tony Casciano #21 (1.2%)112 (<1%)     Texas   Texas TexasTexas

See the whole analysis here.  

Flaws with the Constitution

From the Arizona Republic:

Three day laborers filed a lawsuit Tuesday that seeks to overturn a
suburb's law prohibiting people standing on public streets from
soliciting employment from occupants of cars.

The federal lawsuit alleges Cave Creek's law passed is unconstitutional
because it restricts the free speech rights of people trying to find
work as day laborers.

"Cave Creek does not have the right to pick and choose who has free
speech rights," said Monica Ramirez, an attorney for the American Civil
Liberties Union, one of the group's representing the day laborers. "The
town cannot bar people from peaceably standing in public areas and
expressing their availability to work."

The stated reason for the law is this, but don't believe it:

Mayor Vincent Francia said the law was a response to concerns raised by
residents over traffic being impeded by people congregating on street

If you followed the genesis of this law, it has less than zero to do with traffic.  It was crafted as a way to prevent people of Mexican birth, with or without the proper papers from the US government, from seeking work in Cave Creek.  Which explains why sheriff Joe Arpaio is so eager to help enforce the law, and why, by some statistical fluke, everyone arrested under the law seems to be of Mexican Latin descent  (the three laborers filing the suit are Mexican and Guatemalan and are in this country legally).

I am happy to see this suit get filed under whatever auspices that it can, and have in the past supported using the first amendment to protect free commerce.  Further, I am thrilled to see the ACLU, given its Stalinist origins, for once actively support the right to publicly advertise and conduct commerce.  However, it is sad to me that Thomas Jefferson and company did not think it necesary to enshrine the right to free commerce as an protected right up there with speech and association.

One might argue that the enumerated power concept and the 9th amendment should be protection enough, but obviously Jefferson did not think so or he would not have pushed for the Bill of Rights.   And saying the following may just prove that I am not a Constitutional expert, but it strikes me that another problem with the original Constitution that probably wasn't fixable at the time was the fact that the Bill of Rights did not originally restrain the states, only the Federal government.  Only with the beat-down of states rights concepts in the Civil War and the passage and later interpretation of the 14th amendment did the Supreme Court begin to apply the Bill of Rights to states and municipalities as well.  It is good that they have done so, but these protections enforced on states only tend to be the enumerated protections of the Bill of Rights.  In fact, in this context, the 9th is meaningless because it reserves unenumerated powers to the people or the states, so it contributes nothing to reigning in municipalities, only the Feds. 

All that being said, it should would have been nice to have three extra words such as "or conduct commerce" inserted after assembly:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of
religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the
freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people
peaceably to assemble [or conduct commerce], and to petition the Government for a redress of


Our Technology Is Not Economic -- Do We Invest in R&D, or Lobbying?

Lobbying of course!  Silly rabbit. 

The wind industry's trade group spent nearly $816,000 to lobby last
year as wind companies tried to persuade Congress to extend a key tax
credit and make power companies use more renewable sources.   

Despite the efforts of the American Wind Energy Association, neither desire found its way into legislation this past year.   

group, whose members include General Electric Co., BP PLC, AES Corp.
and FPL Group Inc., is still pushing for the tax-credit extension after
lawmakers failed to tuck into the economic stimulus plan. The industry
argues that 116,000 jobs and $19 billion in investments are at risk if
the 1.9 cents per kilowatt-hour tax credit doesn't get a second wind.
It expires in 2008.

Here is the really, seriously amazing part:  In 2004, there were just over 400,000 people employed in the US power generation, transmission, and distribution business.  This means that, incredibly, this advocacy group is claiming nearly 30% of the electric utility industry owes their job to wind power, despite wind generating a bit less than 1% of all the power in the US.  If this is true, then here is a solution - forget the 1.9 cent subsidy, and cut some staff. 

Oh, you mean that job number probably isn't real, kind of like those municipal stadium and sports team subsidy studies.  Really?  Boy are you cynical.   

(HT Tom Nelson)

Maybe Its Not So Lucky

I don't mean to draw too much from a cutsie human interest story, but the Freakonomics Blog links an article in the Chicago Tribune about a guy who claims to have found 160,000 four-leafed clovers.  My only real take was that maybe they really aren't very lucky, since the previous record-holder recently died in prison.

Just What We Need

It has already been reprinted around most of the freedom-loving portions of the blogosphere, but in case you have missed this quote from Hillary Clinton:

We need a president who is ready on Day 1 to be commander in chief of our economy.

Also revealed by Hillary:  John Galt has been captured and has been offered Wesley Mouch's job.

The Division of Labor

The joy of free exchange, and the law of comparative advantage, are explained quite well by Jeffrey Tucker.

Many seem to think of economics and capitalism as sterile or even ugly.  This article helps get at the real beauty of free exchange and capitalism, which I would boil down to the following:

  1. Every exchange between free and uncoerced people increases the well-being of both parties (by each individual's definition of their own well-being).  It has to or there would be no transaction. 
  2. Point #1 can and does occur even when one party to the transaction has no absolute advantage in any type of labor or production over the other party

Arizona Politicians Pursue Protectionism -- Against New Mexico

Taking the economically illiterate but apparently politically powerful notion that it is important that commerce across arbitrarily selected geographic boundaries be minimized, some Arizona politicians are taking the argument to the next, ridiculous level:  Not content to blame perceived problems in the state economy (which has outperformed most other states) on NAFTA, Mexico, or Mexican immigrants, Arizona politicians are now blaming them on New Mexico.

An Arizona energy regulator is frustrated that Arizona Public Service
Co. is passing up in-state wind-energy for power from New Mexico and

The state's largest utility buys 90 megawatts of energy from the
Aragonne Mesa Wind Project near Santa Rosa, N.M., and officials have
informed Corporation Commissioner Kris Mayes of plans to buy more
renewable energy from out of state, including from a Utah
geothermal-power plant.

"I am concerned that such out-of-state purchases hinder the development
of renewable energy here in Arizona, and potentially deprive our state
of much needed economic development," Mayes said in a letter to APS,
echoing concerns she raised at a regulatory meeting last week.

Of course, everyone knows that silly government energy mandates have much more growth potential than, say, low electrical rates.  So obviously the power company is just being treasonous in buying power from the cheapest sources:

When APS [one of our electric utilities] chose to buy power from the Aragonne project in New Mexico, it
rejected a similar proposal from a company that wanted to build a wind
farm in northern Arizona, which wasn't built because of the decision
from APS, Mayes said.

Brandt said the New Mexico project was better for customers.

"We put all these projects out with a competitive bid," Brandt said.
"Then we select the resource that comes out the best. It's not always
the cheapest. It's a combination of price, reliability and do-ability,
all the things a common businessperson would look at."

He said APS would rather support Arizona power projects, but so far those that have bid on power have not been competitive.

Of course, all of this, even taking the cheapest source, is more expensive than electricity would be without these mandates:

When the Corporation Commission approved the renewable-energy standard
in 2006, officials estimated it would raise an existing monthly tariff
on customer bills from less than 50 cents to $1.05 to help APS meet the
goal, but those projections have gone up. Regulators are expected to
set a new limit on the tariff in the next month, according to Mayes and
APS officials, with some proposals nearing $2.

The protectionist argument is summed up:

"This is Arizona ratepayer money that is currently going to other
states that ought to stay in Arizona," she said. "We are in an economic
downturn. It's a terrible time to be investing out of state."

Yes, yet another blow is struck against economic literacy and the concept of division of labor.  Just how arbitrarily small does a geographic area have to be before protectionists will accept that this area does not need to be self-sufficient of all products and services?


I Told You Arizona Was Conflicted

A couple of posts ago I said that Arizona could be very libertarian, and then could be just the opposite on the next day.  I showed the libertarian side in that post, here is the other:

The state Senate voted 17-11, with two senators not voting, to allow a
rock-and-roll theme park proposed between Phoenix and Tucson to issue
$750 million in revenue bonds to help build the project....

Revenue bonds are repaid with income from the funded projects. The park would tax visitors to repay the bonds.

To issue the bonds, the developers must come up with $100 million of their own financing.

Oh my god, three quarters of a billion dollars of public financing for a theme park?  And we give the theme park operator taxation authority?  And the developer has to come up with less than 1/8 the total cost from private sources?  Yuk.  Just for scale  (I know the spending sources are apples and oranges), $750 million is more than 2.5 times the total of the federal earmarks that go to Alaska, the #1 porkbarrel state.  So here we are patting ourselves on the back for being Congressional pork-free, and then our state Senate does something like this.  Sigh.

Trying to Market Poverty

An announcement in the AZ Republic yesterday:

Best-selling author Bill McKibben, who wrote one of the first books on
global warming, will be the featured speaker at a roundtable discussion
on sustainability Tuesday afternoon at the Burton Barr Central Library...

In his latest book, McKibben argues that accelerated cycles of economic
expansion have brought the world to the brink of environmental

Instead, he suggests that we should be creating smaller, more sustainable local economies. 

I have never fully understood the word "sustainability," but in this context, doesn't it mean "poorer"?  It strikes me that McKibben is trying to sell poverty, or at least advocating that everyone voluntarily become poorer.  He is successful with middle-class soccer moms at the library only to the extent that he hides this fact and calls poverty something else  -- in this case "smaller, more sustainable local economies."

By the way, does jetting from city to city across the country to sell his book make him a sustainability expert?  If he believes what he says, why doesn't he just sell his book within a 50-mile radius of his home?

Sustainability is always for thee and not for me.

This Is What You Like To See: AZ Last in Pork-Barrel Cash

Arizona can be a weird place, politically.  Sometimes it can be among the most libertarian, part of the Goldwater legacy, and sometimes it can be absurdly statist, for example in the huge popular support our individual-rights-abusing Sheriff Arpaio enjoys.  But this is certainly good to see:

Arizona has some powerful lawmakers in Washington, including Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

But when it comes to pork-barrel spending, otherwise known as earmarks, the state isn't very powerful. In fact, it ranks last.

That's mostly because three of the state's 10 lawmakers in Washington,
McCain and House Republicans Jeff Flake and John Shadegg, refuse to ask
for any federal money
for local projects. Another Arizona Republican, Sen. Jon Kyl, strictly
limits his earmark requests. They all say the earmark process wastes
taxpayer money and desperately needs reform. But other Arizona
lawmakers counter that their colleagues' stance hurts the state.

rizona, one of the fastest growing states in the nation, will receive
$18.70 per capita in federal earmarks this fiscal year. By comparison,
Alaska, with roughly a 10th of Arizona's population, is set to receive
$506.34 per capita, the highest in the nation, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense, a watchdog group that tracks earmarks.

Alaska receives about three times as much as Arizona in actual dollars,
$346 million to $119 million. That means Arizona gets less money for
water projects, bridge repairs, road construction and rural clinics.

Good for us.  While I have my problems with McCain, Shadegg and Flake are two of my favorite people in Congress. 

The article, since it comes from the Republic, of course fails to really explain the issues well.  It tries to get the reader confused into thinking that zero earmarks means zero government spending in the state:

"When you have reformers and purists, you end up not getting a
reasonable share of money coming out, which hurts the state," said
James Thurber, director of the Center for Congressional and
Presidential Studies at American University. "When you're holier than
thou, you don't get much of the money."

This is, of course, silly.  Having no earmarks merely means that the huge amounts of money the Feds spend are doled out by existing statute and by the bureaucracy, rather than the whim of individual Congress persons trying to pay back favors to large donors.

update:  see the bad half of AZ here.