Archive for March 2010

Underestimating the Costs

No, today's post is not on health care, but CO2 abatement.  Marlo Lewis looks at a new Harvard study, and concludes what I have been saying for years -- gas prices are going to have to be forced to $10 or more in this country before we even start making a dent in the Administrations or UN's CO2 abatement targets.   I obviously don't think it is justified based on my views on the climate sensitivity to CO2, but even if it were, let's not pretend it is somehow free.

Markets in Everything, March Madness Edition

Sorry to steal the phrase from Marginal Revolution, but it seems appropriate for this story -- Surgery as an excuse to be laid up in bed watching TV

Come to find out that untold numbers of American males at this very moment are propped up in front of their television sets at home, bags of ice strategically placed in their respective crotches.

Cleveland urologist Dr. Stephen Jones has noted a 50 percent increase in recent years in vasectomies performed a day or two [before] the start of the NCAA men's tournament.

That's a lot of slicing and dicing.

You can imagine the dialogue, first between the dude and his woman:

"Honey, doc says I gotta take it easy for a couple of days. I'll be back to normal after the weekend."

Or this one with the boss:

"Sorry, I'll be out Thursday and Friday. Surgical procedure. Nothing big. No, I'll be laid up and it probably will be better if I start up fresh on Monday, OK?

Not sure I have the cojones to try that.

This Is Pretty Funny, in a Sad Way

After much back and forth, filibustering, meaningless diversions,  and head fakes, Obama finally admits that the same dollar can't be spent twice.

This is Stupid

From the new bill signed by Obama today:

Under the new law, businesses that hire anyone unemployed for at least 60 days would be exempt from paying the 6.2 percent Social Security payroll tax through December. Employers also would get an additional $1,000 credit if new workers remain on the job a full year.

This is absurdly game-able.  How do I know?  Because as I read this here (I have not read the legislation) this is a ridiculous windfall for our company.  As a seasonal business, my current payroll is about 40 people.  Over the next two months, I will hire nearly 400 workers for the summer, most of whom have not been working over the winter as they are retired and just work a few months of the year.  Am I really not going to have to pay Social Security taxes on all these people?

And how is anyone going to administer this?  Are my payroll company and I going to have to figure out the employment status of all of our hires for the last 60 days to figure out what taxes to collect?  Does anyone in Congress even think about this stuff when they pass this garbage?

Update: ADP has more

Update #2: Here is my prediction, if they forgot about seasonal hiring  (again, I have not read the letter of the law yet).  This will be like the cash for clunkers program - in a month or two they will announce that they have used up the money they had allocated for the whole year.

Economic Alchemy

So Obama just signed a new "jobs" package

It's the first of several such measures Democrats have promised this election year to address the public's top worry: jobs. The measure includes about $18 billion in tax breaks and pumps $20 billion into highway and transit programs.

This is fascinating to me.  Let's take it in reverse order, starting with the $20 billion in new spending.  We are going to take 0.14% of the GDP out of some people's hands, who presumably thought they were employing the money productively, and put it into some other people's hands, and that is going to be a net jobs creator? **  Does this Keynesian myth really make sense to thoughtful people any more?

OK, but lets accept the logic - somehow if the government spends the money, it is more stimulative than if private people spend the money.  But then the whole package is contradictory, because it includes $18 billion in tax breaks.   Isn't that just taking money away from that great optimizer, the US Government, and handing it back to yucky old individuals who might just save it or pay down debt or something equally silly in the Keynesian world?

**Postscript- to answer a frequent comment I get, it does not matter if it is borrowed or taxed.  Either way it takes money from some private purpose.  There is only so much capital in the capital markets, and more government borrowing squeezes out private borrowing.

I Am Tired of Hearing About Liquidity Traps

Here is as good a reason as any why many businesses (like mine) are currently reluctant to invest:

I've noted any number of times that government taxes comprise 14% of the national income and government spending is at 25% of the national income.

OK, so politicians have two alternatives -- they can make tough choices to reduce spending and reduce their own power, or they can just take more money from taxpayers and in so doing increase their personal power.  Gee, I wonder which will occur?

Combine this is a health care bill no one understands but everyone suspects will raise the price of labor and a climate bill that won't quite die that will raise the price of energy and therefore most other inputs, and is it any wonder that businesses are reluctant to invest when their three highest costs (taxes, labor, energy) are going up by some undetermined amount?

Devastating Post on Houston Light Rail

This post at Houston Clear Thinkers is just a devastating analysis of Houston light rail.  In it, we see the age-old story -- rail is enormously expensive, and starves the rest of the system for money, ultimately leading to fewer people riding at much higher costs.  He quotes from Bill King:

Decline in Ridership. Since 2004, Houston population has grown by over 10% from just over 2 million to 2.25 million. At the same time gas prices rose 47% from $1.81 per gallon to $2.67 per gallon. These two factors should have virtually guaranteed an increase in transit. However, exactly the opposite has occurred as bus boardings dropped almost 24% from 88 million in 2004 to 67 million in 2009. Instead of increasing bus service by 50% as it promised the voters in the 2003 referendum, Metro has slashed bus routes and increased fares by over 50%. Today Metro actually operates 225 fewer buses than it did in 2003. An outside performance audit in 2008 found that on-time performance fell by 29% from 2004 to 2008.

Financial Disaster. Since 2003, Metro's sales tax revenues have increased by 43%, rising from $357 million to $512 million. At the same time, its fare revenue increased by 41% from $42 million to $60 million by charging an ever dwindling ridership more. Yet, Metro is in the worst financial shape in recent history. At year end 2003 Metro's current assets exceeded its current liabilities by $125 million. The budget just adopted by the Metro board projects that it will have current accounts deficit of $165 million by the end of this fiscal year, a stunning loss of nearly $300 million in just five years. Over the same period, Metro's debt has swelled by nearly 50% from $546 million to $816 million. [.  .  .]

In the meantime, the cost of the [Metro's Light Rail Transit lines] has risen from the $1.2 billion originally estimated to something well in excess of $3 billion. Metro is seeking to borrow $2.6 billion to build the LRT, over four times what it promised the voters would be the limit in the 2003 referendum. Originally, Metro assured voters that it could build the LRT without tapping the mobility payments that are so critical to the Houston and the other member cities. Metro's projections now show that it can only afford the LRT if those payments are terminated in 2014. [.  .  .]

Hiding the Decline in Massachusetts

This is pretty scary.  From the Massachusetts state treasurer, the state health care system (essentially the model for the current version of Obamacare) is going bankrupt, and only huge cash infusions from the Federal government are hiding the full disaster.

"If President Obama and the Democrats repeat the mistake of the health insurance reform here in Massachusetts on a national level, they will threaten to wipe out the American economy within four years," Cahill said in a press conference in his office.

Echoing criticism leveled by congressional Republicans in recent weeks, Cahill said, "It is time for the president, the Democratic leadership, to go back to the drawing board and come up with a new plan that does not threaten to bankrupt this country."

[T]he state's health insurance law"¦Cahill said, "has nearly bankrupted the state."

Cahill said the law is being sustained only with the help of federal aid, which he suggested that the Obama administration is funneling to Massachusetts to help the president make the case for a similar plan in Congress.

"The real problem is the sucking sound of money that has been going in to pay for this health care reform," Cahill said. "And I would argue that we're being propped up so that the federal government and the Obama administration can drive it through" Congress.

The Democrats have no good ideas for controlling Medicare costs after a government takeover.  If they did, they would have already implemented these ideas on Medicare or in Massachusetts.  Their only plan is price controls and rationing.  Here is an example of price controls hitting a wall in Medicare:

Walgreens drugstores across the state won't take any new Medicaid patients, saying that filling their prescriptions is a money-losing proposition "” the latest development in an ongoing dispute over Medicaid reimbursement....

In a news release, Walgreens said its decision to not take new Medicaid patients stemmed from a "continued reduction in reimbursement" under the state's Medicaid program, which reimburses it at less than the break-even point for 95 percent of brand-name medications dispensed to Medicaid patents....

Washington was reimbursing pharmacies 86 percent of a drug's average wholesale price until July, when it began paying them just 84 percent. While pharmacies weren't happy about the reimbursement reduction, the Department of Social and Health Services said that move was expected to save the state about $10 million.

Then in September came another blow. The average wholesale price is calculated by a private company, which was accused in a Massachusetts lawsuit of fraudulently inflating its figures. The company did not admit wrongdoing but agreed in a court settlement to ratchet its figures down by about 4 percent.

So the Government is reimbursing retailers at 80% of wholesale costs.  Even forgetting their overhead,  Walgreens was asked to sell dollar bills to the government for 80 cents.

What both stories have in common are government health plans that are subsidized from the outside:  The Feds are pouring money into Massachusetts and money is sucked out of the private medical side to subsidize Medicare.  But what happens when there is only one system, when there is nothing outside of it to subsidize it?  What are they counting on to save them?

24 Hours To Get Your Bracket In

To join, go to and sign up, then enter your bracket.   More here.

By "Broadband" They Mean Banding Together to Broaden Federal Powers

The new FCC broadband policy just looks stupid.  It is classic political campaign fodder -- who can be against high-speed Internet access?  But what are they really trying to achieve?  Well, it does not seem that respect for individual preferances or decision-making has anything to do with it (emphasis added)

In addition, the plan is designed to encourage more people to subscribe to broadband. About two-thirds of U.S. households have high-speed Internet access now. Many people in the other one-third could get broadband but choose not to buy it, either because they think it's too expensive or because they don't see a need for it. The FCC plan calls for increasing adoption rates to more than 90 percent of the population.

So their major goal is to encourage people who do not value high-speed Internet access to suddenly value it.  How?  By force?  By subsidizing people who don't really even want it?   "We elites can't imagine living without Twitter for a whole day so the rest of you need to value the same things too. "

I Need Some Help on Alternative Energy Subsidies

Next week I am on a panel talking about alternative energy.  These guys have already told me they don't want to re-fight the global warming science battle at this venue, and my guess is that there will be a lot of pragmatist corporate types who won't really care about individual liberty or role-of-government issues  -- they will only care if there is money to be made, even if it is by rent-seeking.  My best bet, I think, will be to discuss why alternative energy is a bad investment.  My sense is that it is a bubble investment, like goofy Internet stocks in the 1990's or housing in the 2000's.  Already, I think we see the crash in the corn ethanol business.

My two assumptions are

  • I can't think of any industries that were initially heavily subsidized that eventually found their way to competing successfully and growing without subsidies.
  • With the exception of agriculture, the public's tolerance for growing subsidies to a single industry eventually wanes.

I would love for commenters or emailers to send me contra-examples if they have them to either of these assumptions.  In particular, can you think of an industry that could not have grown initially without subsidies eventually prospering without subsidies.

To the second point, I looked at the numbers two ways.

  1. In Germany, which is often held up as the model, feed-in tariff subsidies are between $0.06 (wind) and $0.50 (solar) a Kwh.  If the US reached a goal of 20% of its production in wind and solar (total production today is about 4000 billion KWh) then the subsidy would be between $50 billion and $400 billion a year.  It is hard to imagine these remaining popular for any period of time.  (lots of German numbers here and in the linked PDF)
  2. Venture capitalists and investors are expecting the growth stocks they invest in to grow at, say, 30% a year.   Let's assume alternative energy companies grow at 30% a year and the number of companies, attracted to the growth and subsidies, doubles every two years.  In this scenario, assuming unrealistically that the supply curve for alternative energy is flat rather than upward sloping, the amount of subsidies to support this growth would have to nearly double every year.  They would increase 21-fold in five years and 440-fold in 10 years.   In fact, given the shape of real supply curves, new more expensive capacity at the margin is replacing cheaper and cheaper alternatives, resulting in the need to grow subsidies even faster to keep up.   Never has happened, never will.  Once the industry outgrows the government's willingness to grow subsidies, the whole thing crashes.

(PS - the subsidy could also be in the form of taxes that increase the cost of alternatives, or production and/or import restrictions on the alternatives).

Any help along these lines in the comments is appreciated.

Update: This seems relevant:

First Solar shares skidded 8% Friday to close at $116 after the company issued a murky business outlook beyond June. Until then, however, "orders look very strong," First Solar CEO Robert Gillette said in a post-earnings conference call.

This commentary, along with price pressure and expected subsidy cuts solar panel makers get from the German government is making investors a bit more wary of First Solar, whose shares have been on a bumpy ride the past 18 months....

First Solar, helped by government tax credits extended to businesses for using solar power, has rewarded its investors since going public in November 2006 at $20 a share. The stock peaked at $317 in May 2008. But the shares have been skittish ever since.

Germany, the world's biggest solar market, is weighing a 15% cut on so-called solar feed-in-tariffs. This could make solar installations less attractive.

First Solar projects 60% of its 2010 sales from German-related contracts, according to Wedbush Securities analyst Christine Hersey.

Remember from above, the German feed-in tariff for solar is around $0.58 per KwH, or fully $0.50 above the price paid for the fossil fuel base load.  At this subsidy level, the US would be paying $400 billion a year in subsidies and/or higher prices.

First Solar has grown at over 150% per year for the last 3 years so the 30% assumption above is conservative, as is the assumption about the number of competitors doubling every two years.

Another interesting note - First Solar makes a pre-tax margin around 33% of sales, which is over 6x larger than health insurance companies make (and are excoriated for).  Is it any wonder Germany no longer wants to keep subsidizing First Solar's bottom line to levels far above most equipment manufacturing companies.

Exhibit A For School Choice

For years I have argued that the killer app that may someday actually lead to school choice will not be individual liberty (because no one in government gives a rip about that any more) and not education quality (because again, its clear no one really cares) but speech and religion.  If the right messes up schools enough, the left might finally be willing to shed their alliance with the teachers unions and consider school choice.  From a live-blog of a Texas Board of Education meeting (via Radley Balko)

9:27 - The board is taking up remaining amendments on the high school world history course.9:30 - Board member Cynthia Dunbar wants to change a standard having students study the impact of Enlightenment ideas on political revolutions from 1750 to the present. She wants to drop the reference to Enlightenment ideas (replacing with "the writings of") and to Thomas Jefferson. She adds Thomas Aquinas and others. Jefferson's ideas, she argues, were based on other political philosophers listed in the standards. We don't buy her argument at all. Board member Bob Craig of Lubbock points out that the curriculum writers clearly wanted to students to study Enlightenment ideas and Jefferson. Could Dunbar's problem be that Jefferson was a Deist? The board approves the amendment, taking Thomas Jefferson OUT of the world history standards.

9:40 - We're just picking ourselves up off the floor. The board's far-right faction has spent months now proclaiming the importance of emphasizing America's exceptionalism in social studies classrooms. But today they voted to remove one of the greatest of America's Founders, Thomas Jefferson, from a standard about the influence of great political philosophers on political revolutions from 1750 to today.


Per Nancy Pelosi:

"Think of an economy where people could be an artist or a photographer or a writer without worrying about keeping their day job in order to have health insurance."

Yeah, its a world where only the suckers work hard and try to be productive.

Fifth Annual NCAA Bracket Pool

Note: This post sticky through 3/18.  Look below for newest posts.

Back by popular demand is the annual Coyote Blog NCAA Bracket Challenge.  Last year we had nearly 140 entries.  Yes, I know that many of you are bracketed out, but for those of you who are self-employed and don't have an office pool to join or who just can't get enough of turning in brackets, this pool is offered as my public service.

Everyone is welcome, so send the link to friends as well.  There is no charge to join in and I have chosen a service with the absolutely least intrusive log-in (name, email, password only) and no spam.  The only thing I ask is that, since my kids are participating, try to keep the team names and board chat fairly clean.

To join, go to and sign up, then enter your bracket.  This year, you may enter two different brackets if you wish.

Scoring is as follows:

Round 1 correct picks:  1 points
Round 2:  2
Round 3:  4
Round 4:  6
Round 5:  8
Round 6:  10

Special March Madness scoring bonus: If you correctly pick the underdog in any round (ie, the team with the higher number seed) to win, then you receive bonus points for that correct pick equal to the difference in the two team's seeds.  So don't be afraid to go for the long-shots!   The detailed rules are here.

Bracket entry appears to be open.  Online bracket entry closes Thursday, March 18th at 12:20pm EDT.  Be sure to get your brackets in early.  Anyone can play "” the more the better.  Each participant will be allows to submit up to two brackets.

Balloon Boy in a Prius

I absolutely couldn't believe what I was listening to on NPR the other day, with the breathless coverage of the moron in Southern California who for some reason couldn't slow his Prius but did manage to alert the national media.   Your brakes on your car can stop it even at full acceleration. Why couldn't he?  Why didn't he shift into neutral?  Why didn't he turn the engine off?  How amazing was it that a one in a million problem (because even if the sudden acceleration issue is a real hardware problem, it is very, very rare) occurs at just about the exact height of the Toyota panic in SoCal, the world's largest media market?

I am glad someone else is showing some skepticism.  The media is just incredible.  I used to feel guilty that I was too hard on the media in stories like this in my novel, but now I think I stopped short of reality.

Health Care Fiscal Problem in a Nutshell

Via John Stoessel:

Medicare already faces a $30 Trillion deficit. The bigger issue is that Democrats are poised to make cuts in Medicare -- something that is incredibly difficult to do -- but instead of applying those cuts towards Medicare, they are applying it towards a lavish new entitlement program.

Of course, that assumed that the spending estimates for the new health care plan are meaningful, which is highly unlikely, since every single entitlement of this kind has always vastly outspent its initial estimates.   Greece, here we come.

Environmental Theater

Via Maggies Farm, much of your recycling ends up in a landfill, so that much of our recycling effort is just an empty ritual, a ceremony of dedication to the Earth mother god without any actual consequences.  I have written for years that only aluminum and certain other metals really makes economic sense to recycle, so effort on all those other materials is just a fiscal loss to municipalities to save landfill space that is not really even running short.  Given this, it is not surprising that, behind our backs, cash-strapped local governments are just dumping it.

This is a theme of my comments next week at a forum on alternative energy -- no business model (save perhaps farming, which the public seems willing to subsidize forever) is sustainable if it requires constant subsidies - at some point, the public wearies of the fiscal drain, or the growth of the business makes the subsidies too large to sustain.

By the way, don't even get me started on the government-enforced labor involved.  10 minutes a week per person is 2.6 billion man-hours a year of forced labor.  I remember old Loony Tunes cartoons where some guy is sorting mail into slots and on the other side of the wall you see all the mail from the various slots being sent back into a single bag.  Given that the government forces us to expend this labor, forgetting the individual liberty aspects of it, is this really the best use of 2.6 billion man hours?

Postscript: Every time I write about recycling, I get this:  Well, we agree that mostly it does not save energy and we agree it does not save money (even though we told everyone it did) but you are forgetting about landfill space.   OK, here is a take on landfill space -- it turns out that it is not running out, as technology and innovation  (and the profit motive) have expanded the capacity of existing landfills.

Slowing Progress at the FDA

Econlog tells the story of how the FDA is blocking a drug for Restless Leg Syndrome because massive doses caused cancer in a few rats.  Millions of humans have taken the drug with no ill effect, but let a few rats dies, and the FDA refuses to approve it for a new use.

This reminded me of a story I meant to point out from the winter Olympics.  I think many people saw the US Bobsled team win the gold, piloted by Steve Holcomb.  Perhaps you heard the story of how Holcomb would have had to give up the sport several years ago due to a vision disorder until a new operation restored his sight.  But note the clause I have bolded:

Traditional corneal surgery would have left his eyes susceptible to damage from a jarring bobsled run. So last March he underwent a radical procedure, yet to be approved by the FDA, in which doctors implanted a lens behind each iris. When he woke from the surgery, Holcomb immediately noticed the detail of the palm trees in one of the posters on his doctor's wall. "An hour before, I didn't even know there were posters," he says. "It was a new world."

I wonder how many hoops he had to jump through to get the operation, and whether average people who are not on the Olympic team would have been able to get the same benefits.

Capitalism and Developing Countries

Long ago on this site, I wrote this:

More recently, progressives have turned their economic attention to lesser developed nations.  Progressives go nuts on the topic of Globalization.  Without tight security, G7 and IMF conferences have and would devolve into riots and destruction at the hands of progressives, as happened famously in Seattle.  Analyzing the Globalization movement is a bit hard, as rational discourse is not always a huge part of the "scene", and what is said is not always logical or internally consistent.  The one thing I can make of this is that progressives intensely dislike the change that is occurring rapidly in third world economies, particularly since these changes are often driven by commerce and capitalists.

Progressives do not like American factories appearing in third world countries, paying locals wages progressives feel are too low, and disrupting agrarian economies with which progressives were more comfortable.  But these changes are all the sum of actions by individuals, so it is illustrative to think about what is going on in these countries at the individual level.

One morning, a rice farmer in southeast Asia might faces a choice.  He can continue a life of brutal, back-breaking labor from dawn to dusk for what is essentially subsistence earnings.  He can continue to see a large number of his children die young from malnutrition and disease.  He can continue a lifestyle so static, so devoid of opportunity for advancement, that it is nearly identical to the life led by his ancestors in the same spot a thousand years ago.

Or, he can go to the local Nike factory, work long hours (but certainly no longer than he worked in the field) for low pay (but certainly more than he was making subsistence farming) and take a shot at changing his life.  And you know what, many men (and women) in his position choose the Nike factory.  And progressives hate this.  They distrust this choice.  They distrust the change.  And, at its heart, that is what the opposition to globalization is all about "“ a deep seated conservatism that distrusts the decision-making of individuals and fears change, change that ironically might finally pull people out of untold generations of utter poverty.

Which is why I really enjoyed this article linked by Mark Perry:

"Years after activists accused Nike and other Western brands of running Third World sweatshops, the issue has taken a surprising turn. The path of discovery winds from coastal factory floors far into China's interior, past women knee-deep in streams pounding laundry. It continues down a dusty village lane to a startling sight: arrays of gleaming three-story houses with balconies, balustrades and even Greek columns rising from rice paddies.

It turns out that factory workers -- not the activists labeled "preachy" by one expert, and not the Nike executives so wounded by criticism -- get the last laugh. Villagers who "went out," as Chinese say, for what critics described as dead-end manufacturing jobs are sending money back and returning with savings, building houses and starting businesses.

Workers who stitched shoes for Nike and apparel for Columbia Sportswear, both based near Beaverton, Oregon, are fueling a wave of prosperity in rural China.

Update: I would have thought it unnecessary to add these provisos, but apparently per the comments it is necessary for some.  Of course people need to be treated as human beings.  Companies in some poor countries that are using the power of local government to actually enslave workers or to employ them in non-consensual ways are not organizations a good libertarian would ever defend, as our bedrock principle is to deal with other human beings without force or fraud.

My point is that we cannot apply our wealthy middle class values to the pay/benefits/workweek package being offered in poor countries.  To my mind it is immoral to try to deny poor people in poor companies jobs just because we rich people in the US would not consider taking such a job.  This arrogant and frankly clueless attitude forgets a critical question - what is their alternative?  We may think the Nike factory job sucks, and against the choices we have it probably does, but I would bet the subsistence rice farming job, with one's family always one bad harvest away from starvation, would suck worse.  Of course we should aspire that everyone in the world can work in an air conditioned building for $40,000 a year while spending most of the day surfing the Internet and texting friends complaining that they are underpaid.  But you can't tell these countries that the only ladder they can use to escape poverty doesn't have any rungs in the first 20 feet.

A Rare Links Post

I am really swamped at work, but I have a number of good things saved that I want to share.

1.  This picture is the best single explanation of what is wrong with the stimulus jobs creation numbers -- the stimulus money comes from somewhere, and starves efficient businesses of capital in favor of politically connected endeavors.  HT Russ Roberts


2.  More on what I call the only good idea for reducing health care spending -- making individuals responsible for making price-value purchasing tradeoffs like we do, oh say, with absolutely everything else we buy.  This article on on HSA's in Indiana:

State employees enrolled in the consumer-driven plan will save more than $8 million in 2010 compared to their coworkers in the old-fashioned preferred provider organization (PPO) alternative. In the second straight year in which we've been forced to skip salary increases, workers switching to the HSA are adding thousands of dollars to their take-home pay.

Most important, we are seeing significant changes in behavior, and consequently lower total costs. In 2009, for example, state workers with the HSA visited emergency rooms and physicians 67% less frequently than co-workers with traditional health care. They were much more likely to use generic drugs than those enrolled in the conventional plan, resulting in an average lower cost per prescription of $18. They were admitted to hospitals less than half as frequently as their colleagues. Differences in health status between the groups account for part of this disparity, but consumer decision-making is, we've found, also a major factor.

Mark Perry reports in a later post that Congress is declaring war on HSA's

3.  There has been a lot of good stuff lately on the growing rift between the two America's -- those in government or with access to government patronage and those who actually make a living by being productive.  I am increasingly convinced that Obama and Congress are working to create a European-style corporate state, where government insiders, a few large corporations, and a few large unions protect themselves against everyone else.  Katherine Mangu-Ward looks at a study of government vs. private pay for the same jobs.  It used to be government paid less in return for having to work less hard and being impossible to fire.  Now government workers have it all.

There are two million civilian federal workers. 1.1 million of them have direct private sector equivalents. And they are laughing their asses off at those private sector suckers, who are doing similar jobs for less pay"”often a lot less.

"Accountants, nurses, chemists, surveyors, cooks, clerks and janitors are among the wide range of jobs that get paid more on average in the federal government than in the private sector," according to a USA Today report. In jobs where there are private equivalents, the feds are earning $7,645 more on average than their private counterparts.

Her post has more data. And an update and response to criticisms is hereMark Perry looks at wage growth, and the difference is amazing.  Government employees are the new robber barons, and this time, the title is appropriate.


And speaking of the corporate state, this was an interesting essay at the Claremont Institute, via Maggies Farm.

Joseph Schumpeter ominously speculated that as capitalism succeeded, democracies in time would come to expect its end (wealth) but reject its means (free-market competition). He worried that because of the inequality and creative destruction it brings, capitalism would provoke a kind of adverse reaction. A popular call would arise for government to plan market outcomes according to some utopian view of society's good, and this democratically guided central planning would inevitably slow economic growth. Schumpeter predicted, in turn, that if economic expansion faltered, individual liberty would be directly imperiled or quietly ceded by citizens resigned to having their diminished economic position protected by the state.

The one mistake writers often make is to call capitalism a "system."  Capitalism is the un-system.  It is the lack of a system.  It is the natural self-organization of individuals when they freely follow their own self-interest.

4.  The individual responsibility story of the day, via Overlawyered

In 2004, truck driver Simon Loza Mejia violated company regulations, and took his eight-year-old Diana Yuleidy Loza-Jimenez along on a long-haul trip from Oregon to Bakersfield. That November 27, he was pulling away in the truck, but apparently didn't bother to check where his daughter was, and ran over her. This was, argued her attorneys, the fault of her father's employer"”and a Sacramento County judge agreed with the argument that it was legally irrelevant that her father was the one who ran her over. Unsurprisingly, a jury ignorant of the facts awarded Diana, whose lower body was crushed, a jackpot verdict of $24.3 million.

5.  Charter schools in Harlem.  Never have so many kids been held hostage to so few, in this case a few union officials and their captive legislators.

The United Federation of Teachers and its political acolytes in the New York state legislature are hell-bent on blocking school choice for underprivileged families. Worried that high-performing charters are "saturating" Harlem, State Sen. Bill Perkins and State Assemblyman Keith Wright have backed legislation that would gut state per-pupil funding at charter schools and allow a single charter operator to educate no more than 5% of a district's students. Unions dislike charter schools because many aren't organized. But how does limiting the replication of successful public education models benefit ghetto kids?

These obstructionists, Mr. Clark says, aren't doing the community any favors. "The teachers unions ought to be ashamed of themselves because they know better than I do how bad these schools are," he says. "Everybody on my block and in my building and around the corner . . . they all want charter schools. They don't want a political debate."

Separately, John Stoessel digs into Diane Ravitch's shilling for the teachers unions.

6.  I could have sworn the politicians swore up and down they would never ever interfere with business decisions at GM.

General Motors Co. will reinstate 661 dealerships it sought to drop from its sales network.GM executives said Friday that the dealerships -- more than half of those seeking to stay with the automaker -- will receive letters giving them the option to remain open. GM said it would not have enough time to negotiate with all 1,100 dealerships that appealed the automaker's decision to close them within a four-month window imposed by the federal government....

"It's not exactly what they wanted to do, and it's always I think a little embarrassing when you have to make changes based on an arbitration process, but they've had to adjust and move forward," he said.

Well, at least the Congress and the DOT is hammering GM's competitor Toyota, so I guess they can call it even.  Welcome to Europe, guys.  I have said it before, but this is exactly the kind of BS European nations do all the time - hammering foreign competitors of their domestic politically connected manufacturers in exchange for substantial ability to regulate and modify these companies decisions.  Soon to follow - Europe's lower growth rates and higher structural unemployment.

7.  Dog bites man:  Paul Krugman still a political hack who is willing to eschew everything he knows or has written about economics to support his team.

Somebody Should Write About This...

Years ago, I wrote a novel (still available at Amazon!) wherein a key plot point was a conspiracy between a Senator, a law firm, and a media company to create a high-profile tort case out of thin air.

Today, we may be seeing something similar with the Toyota sudden acceleration case.  In this case, we have the Senate calling stooges of the plaintiff's bar as "expert witnesses" with the whole thing getting a third of the air time on nightly news programs.   In my book, the whole thing was kicked off by a media company afraid of a new competitor - in this case it was kicked off by the US government, which controls GM, trying to sit on a competitor.

It is hard to spot the lowest behavior in the affair so far, but that honor can arguably go to ABC and the lengths to which it went to pretend it had recreated the problem.  In fact, they had to strip three wires, splice in a resistor of a very specific value and then short two other wires.  They made it sound like this is something that could easily happen naturally  (lol) but this is an easy thing to prove - and inspection of actual throttle assemblies from cars that have supposedly exhibited the sudden acceleration problem have shown no evidence of such shorting.  So the ABC story was completely fraudulent, similar to the old Dateline NBC story that secretly used model rocket engines to ignite gas tanks.   Its amazing to me that Toyota, acting in good faith will get sued for billions over a complex problem which may or may not exist in a few cars, while ABC will suffer no repercussions from outright fraud.

Basically ABC proved that if you bypass a potentiometer with a resistor, you can spoof the potentiometer setting.  Duh.  The same hack on a radio would cause sudden acceleration of your volume.

Henry Payne has more.

Commercial Jetpack!

It would be nice if it were more compact, but they are claiming a 30-minute flight time, which is huge compared to earlier efforts.


It does help to illustrate a different point I make about alternatives to internal combustion.  Note the device uses gasoline.  Nothing else that is so cheap and plentiful has gasoline's energy content to weight ratio.  Which is why it is so freaking hard to replace in cars.

The Oft-Missed Component When Evaluating European Socialized Health Care

Yes, the Europeans pay less per person for health care.  Is the care as good?

Well, when life-expectancies are adjusted for things that are not amenable to the health care system (like murder rates), Americans have the highest life expectancy in the world, and by far the highest cancer survival rates.

The prices we pay for drugs and medical devices, while high, effectively subsidize the entire world's medical R&D.

Oh yes, and we don't have to wait 6 months to get treated.  The wait time issue is often poo-poo'd by elites in the political debate, but it seems to be an important issue for real people:

In a survey, people were asked how they felt about various forms of medical care for a urinary tract infection or for influenza. While people preferred traditional, office-based care, they would opt to see a nurse-practitioner at a retail clinic if they could save at least $31.42. They would wait one day or more for an appointment if they would save at least $82.12.

The researchers concluded that the appointment wait period is the most important determining factors in an individual's choice on where to seek care for minor health problems such as influenza. Primary-care doctors who fear their business will be undercut by the growing popularity of retail health clinics may want to offer more same-day appointments and walk-in hours."

"This study is the first in the United States to quantify the relative importance of and the utility associated with the main attributes of retail clinics. The utility (willingness to pay) associated with receiving same-day care is more than twice the utility associated with receiving care from a physician. Primary care physician practices, especially in competitive markets, are therefore likely to derive greater competitive advantage by addressing patient convenience features (such as same-day scheduling, walk-in hours, and extended hours) than by reducing fees."

Follow the link for more and a link to the original study.  Patient convenience is the LAST thing government health care systems design for, but apparently, what actual people most want.

I say over and over, yes, we could reduce the cost of medical care (but by increasing the accountability of individuals for paying for their own care, exactly the opposite direction taken by the Obama plan).  But a big reason that we pay more is not because we are stupid and incompetent, but because we can because we are wealthier.  It is incontrovertible that we are wealthier per capital than the Europeans -- is it surprising that we would choose to spend a large portion of this extra wealth on our health?

Andy Thomas Apparently Toast

Our absolutely awful, self-serving, abusive County prosecutor seems to finally be getting the scrutiny he so richly deserves:

PHOENIX -- The Arizona Supreme Court has appointed a special investigator to look into accusations of misconduct against Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas.

That's bad, but it's not the end of Thomas's troubles.  The next shoe is the tort case.

Malicious prosecution is a tort and if a civil litigant obtains a ruling that Thomas abused his office, it could cost the County tens of millions of dollars.  Multiply that by the number of people whom Thomas has targeted, intimidated, abused or prosecuted and we are dealing with a very large number indeed.

My Only Oscar Comment

Yeah, I watched the Oscars, though I seldom find them entertaining any more.  My wife and I were able to attend about 20 years ago (the year Clint Eastwood won for Unforgiven) and go to the Governor's Ball afterward so we have a certain nostalgia for the event.    Only one image really sticks with me, and it was before the show.  It was an image of George Clooney high-fiving his fans, but doing it separated by a chain link fence.  Even the President still greets the public in person from time to time.  To me, it was a brutal caricature of a Hollywood actor trying to pretend he is engaging with the common man but utterly failing to do so.