Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category.
I book marked this long ago when I was in Europe and forgot to blog it. From the Washington Post
You might be used to hearing criticisms of inequality, but economists actually debate this point. Some argue that inequality can propel growth: They say that since the rich are able to save the most, they can actually afford to finance more business activity, or that the kinds of taxes and redistributive programs that are typically used to spread out wealth are inefficient.
Other economists argue that inequality is a drag on growth. They say it prevents the poor from acquiring the collateral necessary to take out loans to start businesses, or get the education and training necessary for a dynamic economy. Others say inequality leads to political instability that can be economically damaging.
A new study that has been accepted by the Journal of Comparative Economics helps resolve this debate. Using an inventive new way to measure billionaire wealth, Sutirtha Bagchi of Villanova University and Jan Svejnar of Columbia University find that it’s not the level of inequality that matters for growth so much as the reason that inequality happened in the first place.
Specifically, when billionaires get their wealth because of political connections, that wealth inequality tends to drag on the broader economy, the study finds. But when billionaires get their wealth through the market — through business activities that are not related to the government — it does not.
The local food movement in Arizona needs just that – movement.
While some shoppers enjoy spending their Saturday mornings at local farmers markets, new research indicates Arizona lacks per-capita sales in the local food industry.
The 2015 Locavore Index found that of the 50 states and Washington, D.C., Arizona has the second lowest per-capita sales for local foods.
Here is a scoop for you: We live in the middle of the freaking Sonoran desert. It is a terrible place to grow most foods. In fact, it is an environmentally awful place to grow food. Local food folks somehow have gotten locked into transportation costs as the key driver of food sustainability that they want to focus on, but transportation costs are 10% or less of most food costs. A small savings on transportation is absolutely dwarfed, from a productivity and resource use standpoint, by the productivity of the soil and the fit of the climate with whatever is being grown.
Here is one way to think of it -- yes, locally grown food may not have to be transported very far, but every drop of water for food grown here in the Phoenix area has to be brought hundreds of miles from declining reservoirs to grow that food.
The movement seems to imply that locally grown food is more healthy. Why? Why is an Arizona tomato healthier than a California tomato?
Finally, the micro-trade-protectionism is pretty funny:
If local Arizonans start buying more local food, the economy may benefit as well.
When buying local grown food, “the money stays here in the local economy, as opposed to buying something in a national chain,” said R.J. Johnson, a sales representative for Blue Sky Organic Farms in Litchfield Park. “You buy something locally, 75 percent of that money stays here in town.”
This is so economically ignorant as to be beyond belief. If more people are growing food here locally (something that is likely a fairly unproductive task given our climate), what productive tasks are they giving up. And this is a national effort -- are they really with a straight face telling every single state that they should buy more locally so their money stays at home? Isn't that just one big zero sum game (actually a negative sum game because you lose benefits of specialization and comparative advantage).
You gotta love crony capitalism. Bowing to the demands of taxi companies, Uber is banned in Las Vegas. As a result, this is me and many others standing in a taxi line waiting for a non-existent taxi.
My son** tells me that it was way worse when the club shows ended at 4AM. Never since I was in pre-Uber Paris have I had so much trouble finding a damn cab. Fortunately the weather was under 100F so walking was a fairly nice option.
From the WSJ, an article on how politicians who tried to point out the unsustainability of Greek finances years ago where not only ignored, but villified and marginalized. Sort of like in places like California and Illinois.
In the past quarter century, Greece has had a handful of reformist politicians who foresaw the problems that are now threatening the nation with bankruptcy.
Their reform proposals were fought by their colleagues in parliament and savaged by the media and labor unions. They invariably found themselves sidelined....
Tassos Giannitsis is no stranger to this kind of war: His tenure as labor minister was more short lived, and the battles against him even more visceral. Mr. Giannitsis in 2001, again in the Pasok government led by Mr. Simitis, put forward a comprehensive proposal to reform the pension system.
Trade unions, opposition parties and Pasok itself unleashed menace on Mr. Giannitsis.
“Giannitsis was annihilated after his pension-reform proposals. There are few precedents for this kind of universal attack on a politician,” said Loukas Tsoukalis, a prominent economics professor here.
Mr. Giannitsis’s proposals, which would have reduced the pension levels Greeks receive and made the system overall more sustainable given the country’s demographic and labor-force trends, were never taken to parliament.
“From the fridge to the bin!” said the front page of newspaper To Vima on April 28, 2001, as the frozen pension-reform plan was scrapped for good.
“When I told my colleagues in the cabinet about the reforms I was proposing—which mind you were not the toughest available—the attitude I got was that I was spoiling the party,” Mr. Giannitsis said in an interview.
“They were, like, ‘everything is going great right now, why are you bothering us with a problem that may implode in a decade?’”
There are many other examples.
It turns out that small government libertarians like myself and large-government progressives actually have something in common -- we both fear accumulations of unaccountable power. We just find such power in different places. Progressives fear the accumulation of power in large corporations and moneyed individuals. Libertarians fear government power.
I won't try to take Caplan's ideological Turing test today, but will just speak from my own perspective. I wonder how Progressives can ignore that government has guns and prisons while corporations just have the ability to sell you something or hire you (though perhaps not on the terms you prefer). When pressed to explain why the Left is more comfortable with government power, their explanations (to my taste) depend too much on assumptions that competent versions of "their guy" pull the levers of power, and that power itself and the vagaries of government incentives will not corrupt this guy.
On the other hand, progressives ask me all the time, "how can you trust corporations so much" and then list off a justifiably long list of examples of them acting poorly. This, I think, is where the real difference comes in, and where the confusion often comes int he public discourse. I will answer that I don't trust anyone, government or corporations. What I trust are the incentives and the accountability enforced in a market where a) consumers can take their money elsewhere if they get bad products or services; b) employees can take their labor elsewhere if they are treated poorly; and c) entrepreneurs can make a fortune identifying shortcomings in incumbent businesses and offering consumers and/or employees a better deal.
Unfortunately, when a person or organization finds itself very successful in this game, there is a natural tendency to want to protect their winning position. But nothing in the market can stop a challenge from a better product or service, so successful entities tend to turn to the government (which has a monopoly on guns and prisons and asset seizures and the like) for protection against upstart challengers. If successful, these restrictions tend to hobble growth and innovation -- imagine if IBM had successfully used government influence to halt the PC revolution or if AT&T had blocked the growth of cell phones.
This dynamic is at the heart of Brink Lindsey's new white paper at Cato (pdf). As has been his wont in several past works, Lindsey is looking for proposals that bridge the gap between Left and Right. So, rather than stake out the 98th salvo in an area where there seems to be a hopeless ideological divide (e.g. minimum wage or low-skill immigration), he focuses on four areas one could imagine building a broad coalition. Lindsey focuses on attempts by successful incumbents to use government to cement their position and calls them "regressive regulation" because they tend to benefit the already-successful at the expense of everyone else.
In the following sections, I examine four major examples of regressive regulation: (a) excessive monopoly privileges granted under copyright and patent law; (b) protection of incumbent service providers under occupational licensing; (c) restrictions on high-skilled immigration; and (d) artificial scarcity created by land-use regulation. In all four examples, current government policy works to create explicit barriers to entry. In the first two cases, the restriction is on entry into a product market: businesses are not allowed to sell products that are deemed to infringe on a copyright or patent, and individuals are not allowed to sell their services without a license. In the other two cases, actual physical entry into a geographic area is being limited: on the one hand, immigration into the country; on the other, the development and purchase or rental of real estate.
One can immediately see how this might appeal across ideologies. Libertarians and market Conservatives will like the reduction in regulation and government scope. Progressives should like the elimination of government actions that primarily help the wealthy and powerful.**
I said "cross ideologies" above rather than bi-partisan because things get messy when actual politics intrude. All of these protected constituencies wield a lot of political influence across both parties -- that is why the regressive regulation exists in the first place. And they all have finally honed stories about how these restrictions that prevent new competition and business models are really there to protect the little people (just watch the battles between Uber and the taxi cartels and you will see what I mean).
Never-the-less, this strikes me as a pretty good list. For whatever barriers there may be, it is a hell of a lot easier to picture a bipartisan agreement on any of these issues than on, say, low-skill immigration. I haven't finished reading to the end -- I have to get on now with my day job -- so I have yet to see if there are any concrete proposals that look promising.
**The ideological problem here, of course, is that libertarians think that these restrictions are the primary way in which the wealthy unfairly benefit while most Progressives would (I suppose) see it as a side issue given that they believe that even the free-est of market capitalism is inherently unfair.
One can build a very good predictive model of government agency behavior if one assumes the main purpose of the agency is to maximize its budget and staff count. Yes, many in the organization are there because they support the agency's public mission (e.g. protecting the environment at the EPA), but I can tell you from long experience that preservation of their staff and budget will almost always come ahead of their public mission if push comes to shove.
The way, then, to punish an agency is to take away some staff and budget. Nothing else will get their attention. Unfortunately, in most scandals where an agency proves itself to be incompetent or corrupt or both (e.g. IRS, the VA, more recently with OPM and their data breaches) the tendency is to believe the "fix" involves sending the agency more resources. Certainly the agency and its supporters will scream "lack of resources" as an excuse for any problem.
And that is how nearly every failing government agency is rewarded for their failure, rather than punished. Which is why our agencies fail so much.
Note that organizations in the private world are not immune to similar incentives. A company's marketing staff will work hard to get more people and resources for marketing, and in good times their staff and budget may balloon. The difference is that in the private world, there is competition. Other companies are trying to sell similar products and services. And if the marketing department is screwing up a lot, or those resources spent on it are not being used productively, the company is going to lose sales and thus resources. To survive, massive changes will be made, including likely some deep cuts and large restructurings in marketing.
It is frustrating to work in corporations that seem to lurch from growth periods to cutbacks in an endless cycle. But it beats the alternative where the organization always grows and never is forced to confront the value of how it spends its resources.
Greg Patterson brings us this example from the AZ legislature, but this sort of thing is ubiquitous:
Just before I got to the Legislature, there was a big move to regulate day care facilities. Naturally, the government has a role in establishing basic health and safety standards for facilities that take care of young children, so I thought it was a good move.
Then a funny thing happened. The Legislature established one set of standards for private day care facilities and a different (lower) set of standards for public or non-profit day care facilities. Some Legislators dared to ask why the health and safety rules would be different depending on what type of entity owned the facility. After all, if a rule is really in place to keep a child healthy and safe, why should a publicly owned facility be exempt or have a lower standard?
The answer, of course, is that there's no reason for publicly owned facilities to have a different regulatory regime than private facilities and that these bills were really just disguised attempts to ensure that private day cares couldn't compete with public ones
We are facing something similar in my world. As you may know, my company operates government parks and campgrounds on a concession basis (which means we get no government money, we are paid by the user fees of visitors). This makes sense because we can do it less expensively and usually better than the government agency.
Recently, the Obama Administration has imposed an executive order that we concessionaires on Federal lands have to pay a $10.10 minimum wage. Since most of our costs are labor, this is causing us to have a to raise fees to customers substantially to offset the higher costs.
In response to these fee increases, the US Forest Service in California is in the process of taking back traditionally concession-run campgrounds to run themselves, in-house. Their justification is that they can do it cheaper. Part of this is just poor government accounting -- because many costs (risk management/insurance, capital assets, interest on investments) don't hit their budgets but show up on other parts of the government's books, what appears to be lower costs is actually just costs that are hidden. But their main cost savings is that since the Federal government is exempt from labor law and this new executive order, the Forest Service can staff the park with volunteers. They are allowed to pay a minimum wage of ... zero!
This is just incredibly hypocritical, to say with one statement that private companies need to pay campground workers more and with the very next action take over the campground and staff it with people making nothing.
When I was an undergrad, my interest was in interfacing microcomputers with mechanical devices. Most of what we did would be labelled "robotics" today, or at least proto-robotics (e.g. ripping the ultrasonic rangefinder out of a Polaroid camera, putting it on a stepper motor, and trying to paint a radar image of the room on a computer screen).
In doing this, we were playing around with S-100 bus computers (PC's were a bit in the future at that point) and I got interested in brute force approaches to solving the traveling salesman problem. The way this is done is to establish some random points in x,y space and then connect them with a random path and measure the length of that path. The initial random path is obviously going to be a terrible solution. So you have the computer randomly flip flop two segments, and then you see if the resulting total distance is reduced. If it is, then you keep the change and try another.
This will lead to a much shorter path, but often will not lead to the optimally shortest path. The reason is that the result can get stuck in a local minimum that is not the optimum. Essentially, to break out of this, you have to allow the solution to get worse first before it can get better.
The approach I was playing with was called simulated annealing. Everything I said above is the same in this approach, but sometimes you let the program accept flip-flopped segments that yield a worse (ie longer) rather than better path. The allowed amount worse is governed by a "temperature" that is slowly lowered. Initially, at high temperatures, the solution can jump into most any solution, better or worse. But as the "temperature" is lowered, the allowed amount of jumping into worse solutions is reduced. Essentially, the system is much, much more likely than the previous approach to settle closer to the actual optimum. This is roughly an analog of how annealing works in metals. The code is ridiculously simple. I don't remember it being much more than 100 lines in Pascal.
Anyway, if you lived through the above without falling asleep, the payoff is this site. After 30 years of pretty much never thinking about simulated annealing again, I found Todd Schneider's blog which has a great visual overview of solving the travelling salesman problem with simulated annealing. If you really want to visually see it work, go to the customizable examples at the bottom and set the iterations per map draw for about 100. Then watch. It really does look a bit like a large excited molecule slowly cooling. Here is an example below but check out his site.
A follow-up to this article is here.
The news has been zooming around the Internet that the US Forest Service (USFS) is going to require permits to take pictures on public lands. It was the first I had heard of this, which is odd in one sense because I actually operate tens of thousands of acres of US Forest Service lands, and in fact operate the ones with the most visitation (on the other hand, we are often the last to hear anything from the USFS).
So, knowing that the Internet can be a huge game of "telephone" where messages quickly get garbled, I went to the regulation itself. As usual, that did not help much, because it is so freaking hard to parse. Reading between the lines, here is what I think is going on:
- The regulations don't apply to all USFS lands, but to the federally-designated wilderness areas they manage. Even this is confusing, since the permitting authority does not apply just to wilderness areas, but to anywhere in the USFS. But even the wilderness areas constitute a lot of land, and often the most scenic.
- Apparently, the regulations have been in place for 4 years and this is just an extension and clarification
- Ostensibly, the regulations apply only to commercial filming, but how the USFS is going to distinguish between a commercial photographer and well-equipped amateur, I have no idea. The distinction seems to lie in what the photography will be used for, and since this use happens long after the individuals have left the land, I am not sure how the USFS will figure this out. Is the US Government going to start suing magazines for nature pictures, claiming a copyright on the scenery? What happens if I take it for my own use, then discover I have an awesome picture and decide to sell it. It is hard to write laws that depend on reading people's minds in determining if an act is legal.
The Federal Wilderness Act gives the government a lot of power to limit uses in a designated wilderness area. Motorized vehicles and tools are banned, as were bicycles more recently. My company operates in only one wilderness area, a canoe run at the Juniper Springs recreation area in Florida. If a tree falls across the stream, we have to float down in canoes and take it out with hand axes. We have to open and inspect coolers of those going down the run to make sure no banned items are in them. In other words, wilderness areas definitely have a higher level of restrictions than the average public land.
As to the First Amendment issues, well folks like Ken White at Popehat have taught me that it is very very dangerous for the uniformed (ie me) to pontificate on complex First Amendment issues. I am sure the USFS would say that they are not interfering with free expression, just banning a use that could be dangerous in the wilderness. There are a few problems with this:
- The USFS hasn't explained why taking pictures threatens the natural operation of ecosystems
- The USFS has undermined their own argument by making exceptions based on the purpose of the filming. Apparently only commercial filming hurts ecosystems, not amateur photography. And apparently commercial filming that has positive messages about the USFS are OK too. Its just commercial filming that goes into a beer company ad that hurts ecosystems. You see the problem. If it's the use itself that is the problem, then the USFS should be banning the use altogether. By banning some photography but not all based on the content and use of that photography, that strikes me as a first amendment issue.The best parallel I can think of is in Venezuela. There, the government claimed a paper shortage required it to shut down certain printing to conserve paper, and then proceeded to shut down only the newspapers it did not like. I suppose it could claim that it was not censoring anyone, just taking steps to deal with the newsprint shortage. Similarly the USFS claims it is not limiting anyone's first amendment rights, it is just protecting the wilderness form a dangerous use.
A few years ago, the USFS tried to reverse an expensive mistake it had made. The US government issues lifetime senior passes that allow free entry and half off camping for seniors. This is an expensive giveaway, paid for by taxpayers. But the USFS had gone further, requiring that concessionaires like our company also accept the pass and give half off to seniors. While giving half off to seniors at government-run campgrounds had to be funded by taxpayers, concessionaires only have use fees to fund operations. So to give half off to seniors, prices have to be raised to everyone else. The senior discount requirement was raising prices (and still does) $4-$5 a night for every other camper.
Well, long story short (too late!) the US Forest Service folded under the organized pressure of senior groups. And my guess is that they will do so again here. Unlike with the National Park Service which has a clear mandate and strong public support, few people get misty-eyed about the USFS, which means they are always sensitive to bad news that might hurt them in the next budget fight.
PS -- Is someone going to go back and bill Ansel Adams' estate? Isn't he exactly the sort of commercial nature photographer that this rule is aimed at?
Update: I have talked to a number of people in the know on this. Apparently what began as a desire merely to stop high impact filming in the wilderness -- full Hollywood movie sets with catering trucks, etc. -- has gotten taken over by a large group in the USFS that is at best skeptical and at worst hostile to commercial activity. They would explain these rules, at least in private, by saying that anything commercial is by definition antithetical to the very concept of wilderness that they hold in their heads, and that thus all commercial activity needs to be banned in the wilderness because it is inherently corrupting.
That is the only conclusion I can reach based on this story on the Center for Biological Diversity challenging the EPA over ocean acidification.
In all of the EPA's public relations and political documents, its position is that man-made CO2 is causing ocean acidification (higher levels of atmospheric CO2 causes more CO2 to get dissolved in ocean water which lowers the PH). One can find thousands of examples but here is just one, from their web site. This is a public briefing paper by the EPA on the general topic of ocean acidity. Here is a screenshot of the top of the first page:
Lets read that first bullet point in the purple section labelled "key points". It says
- Measurements made over the last few decades have demonstrated that ocean carbon dioxide levels have risen in response to increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, leading to an increase in acidity (that is, a decrease in pH) (see Figure 1)
This is a typical man-is-screwing-up-the-climate EPA statement made to affect government opinion. It sounds official. If I were to publicly challenge it, they would likely label me as anti-science.
The enlightening part of our story occurs when the Center for Biological Diversity took the EPA at their fear-mongering word and said, "well, then you should have an endangerment finding on the Pacific Ocean."
The Lawsuit, launched by the Center for Biological Diversity, seeks to impose enhanced clean water act protection upon the Pacific Coast. The suit argues that protection is necessary because, according to the EPA’s own climate narrative, ocean acidification is severely damaging the marine ecosystem.
According to the CBD;
“The CBD points out that the EPA has acknowledged that ocean acidification has killed billions of oyster larvae in the Pacific Northwest but still would not classify the waters as imperilled.”
The EPA had dozens of references to acidification in its endangerment findings, such as this example: (p. 137)
According to the IPCC, climate change (very high confidence) and ocean acidification (see Box 14.1) due to the direct effects of elevated CO2 concentrations (medium confidence) will impair a wide range of planktonic and other marine organisms that use aragonite to make their shells or skeletons (Fischlin et al., 2007).
So now the EPA is in court and supposedly subject to perjury charges. And wham, their story changes in a flash:
The EPA’s response is that there is insufficient evidence to support an endangerment finding – an apparent contradiction of their own previous climate narrative.
“There were no in situ field studies documenting adverse effects on the health of aquatic life populations in either state,” the EPA’s motion says. “Nor was there any other information documenting effects on indigenous populations of aquatic life in state waters indicating stressors attributable to ocean acidification. The only information available regarding aquatic life in ambient waters under natural conditions was inconclusive.”
The EPA's position is that there is no evidence, but it is a huge problem we should have every confidence exists. If you don't believe me, look at this passage from an EPA 2010 memorandum on the issue. Ignore the gobbledygook in the middle, just read it with the parts I have bolded.
This Memorandum recognizes the seriousness of aquatic life impacts associated with OA [ocean acidification] and describes how States can move forward, where OA information exists, to address OA during the 303(d) 2012 listing cycle using the current 303(d) Integrated Reporting (IR) framework. At the same time, this Memorandum also acknowledges and recognizes that in the case of OA, information is largely absent or limited at this point in time to support the listing of waters for OA in many States.
We are really really sure it is a problem although the science is largely absent.
PS- By the way, no one thinks the ocean will turn to acid. "Acidification" is one of those scare words that work better as PR than science. The ocean is alkaline and will alkaline even under the most catastrophic forecasts. The issue is with its becoming less alkaline.
I don't have much to add to all the commentary on the Ferguson killing, except to say that many, many examples of police abuse of power are covered by libertarian blogs --but seldom more widely -- so it is nice to see coverage of such an incident hit the mainstream.
Defenders of police will say that police are mostly good people who do a difficult job and they will mostly be right. But here is the problem: In part due to our near fetishization of the police (if you think I exaggerate, come live here in Phoenix with our cult of Joe Arpaio), and in part due to the enormous power of public sector unions, we have made the following mistake:
- We give police more power than the average citizen. They can manhandle other people, drag them into captivity, search and take their stuff, etc.
- We give police less accountability than the average citizen when things go wrong. It is unusual even to get an investigation of their conduct, such investigations are seldom handled by neutral third parties, and they are given numerous breaks in the process no citizen gets.
The combination of these two can be deadly.
If you are arrested for shooting someone, the police will use everything in their power — lies, false friendship, fear, coercion — to get you to make a statement immediately. That's because they know that the statement is likely to be useful to the prosecution: either it will incriminate you, or it will lock you into one version of events before you've had an opportunity to speak with an adviser or see the evidence against you. You won't have time to make up a story or conform it to the evidence or get your head straight.
But what if a police officer shoots someone? Oh, that's different. Then police unions and officials push for delays and opportunities to review evidence before any interview of the officer. Last December, after a video showed that a cop lied about his shooting of a suspect, the Dallas Police issued a new policy requiring a 72-hour delay after a shooting before an officer can be interviewed, and an opportunity for the officer to review the videos or witness statements about the incident. Has Dallas changed its policy to offer such courtesies to citizens arrested for crimes? Don't be ridiculous. If you or I shoot someone, the police will not delay our interrogation until it is personally convenient. But if the police shoot someone:
New Mexico State Police, which is investigating the shooting, said such interviews hinge on the schedules of investigators and the police officers they are questioning. Sgt. Damyan Brown, a state police spokesman, said the agency has no set timeline for conducting interviews after officer-involved shootings. The Investigations Bureau schedules the interviews at an “agreeable” time for all parties involved, he said.
Cops and other public servants get special treatment because the whole system connives to let them. Take prosecutorial misconduct. If you are accused of breaking the law, your name will be released. If, on appeal, the court finds that you were wrongfully convicted, your name will still be brandished. But if the prosecutor pursuing you breaks the law and violates your rights, will he or she be named? No, usually not. Even if a United States Supreme Court justice is excoriating you for using race-baiting in your closing, she usually won't name you. Even if the Ninth Circuit — the most liberal federal court in the country — overturns your conviction because the prosecutor withheld exculpatory evidence, they usually won't name the prosecutor.
Also see Kevin Williamson.
Washington DC has proposed an anti-auto transportation plan that is ironically called “MoveDC” when its real goal is to reduce the mobility of DC residents. The plan calls for reducing auto commuting from 54 percent to no more than 25 percent of all workers in the district, while favoring transit, cycling, and walking.
This strikes me as just incredibly elitist. There is no way the politicians and lobbyists who are writing this stuff are going to by cycling and walking or even riding a bus. They are going to drive (or be driven). This is about getting the hoi palloi off the roads and out of their damn way.
As Randal O'Toole points out, congestion pricing, if done correctly, could actually improve capacity, but he is skeptical it will be done correctly.
A while back I wrote about my concerns about the total absence of any security at all in the Arizona corporate annual reporting system
I started the annual reporting process by just typing in the name of my company and getting started. There was no password protection, no identity check. They had no way of knowing I had anything to do with this corporation and yet I was answering questions like "have you been convicted for fraud." The potential for mischief is enormous. One would have to get the timing right (an annual report must be due before one can get in) but one could easily open the site on January 1 and start entering false information in the registrations for such corporations as Exxon and Wal-Mart.
See for yourself. Here is their web site.
I showed how one could open and file the report for a company like Wal-Mart, changing all their officers names, and confessing to all sorts of imagined corporate crimes
Again, note what I am saying. This is not the result of hacking. This is not lax security I figured out how to evade. This is the result of no security whatsoever. I simply went to the link above, clicked on the Wal-Mart Associates link, and then clicked on the annual report link. I know from doing my own registration that there is a signature page at the end, but all you do is type in the name of an officer and a title -- data that is right there on the site. It's like asking you for a password after the site just listed all the valid passwords.
The head of the Arizona Corporation Commission wrote me back. Here is here email in its entirety:
Dear Mr. Meyer:
Thank you for your email regarding the Corporations Division. The Arizona Corporation Commission is the repository for all business formation documents for corporations and limited liability corporations. We are in full compliance with state statutes.
Submitting false documents to alter another’s corporate structure or status is a crime and carries a Class 4 or Class 5 penalty. The Commission or the aggrieved business entity may refer the false filing to the Attorney General’s office for prosecution. Additionally, the individual business entity may pursue a civil cause of action. The Commission only accepts on-line charges for a few services such as name reservation or to order a certificate of good standing, and the online payment process is completely secure.
Even though the Commission’s existing security measures comply with the state law and are similar to most other states and other Arizona governmental entities like the County Treasurer’s Office, the Commission is looking at implementing new technology to allow for the online submission of additional services – such as the filing of original Articles of Organization and Articles of Incorporation. We do intend to provide password protected security features when that new technology is offered to the public.
Arizona Corporation Commission
I had no doubt that submitting a false annual report for Wal-Mart would be illegal. Duh. However, it is just incredibly naive that this is the sole extent of the Commission's security, to prosecute people once the damage is done. Can you imagine if Amazon had the same security policy - "we are getting rid of passwords because it would be illegal for you to buy something from someone else's account." I wonder if the commissioners leave their doors unlocked at night, trusting in the threat of future prosecution to deter burglary and mayhem in their homes?
About one-fourth of the people who have entered their income information on their applications were deemed eligible for subsidies on the exchanges (about 900,000 out of about 3.6 million), which is lower than the number we saw in October alone and remains really far from what was projected. The CBO projected that just 1 million out of the 7 million people to enroll in the exchanges in the first year would be ineligible for subsidies, so the ratio is way off from what was expected (15–75 vs. 75–25). I had some thoughts on that surprising fact a month ago, and I’ll add a couple now: Unsubsidized customers (basically, those above the national median income) are generally savvier and more likely to have the resources to enroll and make their payments ahead of time, so maybe this is understandable and doesn’t say anything about who will eventually enroll. On the other hand, it may demonstrate that the people to whom insurance was supposed to be expanded — the uninsured, who tend to be low-income and not well educated — aren’t getting to the exchanges at all, and covering them will be a much longer term project.
There is a huge, enormous analytical problem with this-- they are looking at entirely the wrong numbers. Incredibly, Meghan McArdle makes this same mistake, and I generally respect her analysis of things. I am going to pull out my summary chart of the Exchange numbers to try to make things clear (click to enlarge):
There are 3 major mistakes, each worse than the one before.
MISTAKE 1: The 3.6 million total applicants number is in line 3 (3,692,599). This is the wrong number. The number he should use is line 4, the number of people who have had their eligibility processed. So the denominator should be 3.1 million, not 3.6 million.
MISTAKE 2: He leaves out the Medicaid piece. Seriously, if we looking at numbers that are partially subsidized, why leave out numbers (Medicaid and CHIP) that are entirely subsidized? This means the applicants eligible for subsidy are 803,077 + 944,531 or 1,747,608 which is 56% of the processed applicant pool. The subsidy number may be lower than expected but I get the sense that the Medicaid percentage is higher than expected.
MISTAKE 3: They are looking at the application pool, not the sign-up or enrollment pool. That is understandable, because the Administration refuses to give the subsidy percentage breakdown of those who have selected a plan (a number which they certainly must have). My guess is that people are putting in applications just to see if they are eligible for subsidies. If not, they quit the exchange process and go back to their broker. That is what I will probably do (out of curiosity, I would never accept taxpayer money for something I am willing to pay for myself). The people who actually sign up for coverage are almost certainly going to skew more towards subsidized than does the applicant pool.
Making reasonable assumptions about the mix of subsidies in the "selected a plan" group, one actually gets numbers of 80-90% Medicare and CHIP and subsidies in the enrollment pool.
I do think McArdle is correct in saying that the uninsured numbers were both exaggerated and mis-characterized. I have been saying that for years.
A few quick thoughts:
- I have a constant frustration that we never see these comparisons just on a straight purchasing power parity absolute dollar number. Numbers related to income distribution are always indexed to a number that is really high in the US, thus making our ratio low. I seriously doubt Turkey has a higher minimum wage in the US, it just has a much lower median wage. Does that really make things better there? I have this problem all the time with poverty numbers. The one thing I would like to see is, on a PPP basis, a comparison of post-government-transfer income of the US bottom decile or quintile vs. other countries. Sure, we are more unequal. But are our poor better or worse off? The fact that no one on the Left ever shows this number makes me suspect that the US doesn't look bad on it. This chart, from a Leftish group, implies our income distribution is due to the rich being richer, not the poor being poorer.
- Drum or whoever is his source for the chart conveniently leaves off countries like Germany, where the minimum wage is zero. Sort of seems like data cherry-picking to me (though to be fair Germany deals with the issue through a sort of forced unionization law that kind of achieves the same end, but never-the-less their minimum wage is zero).
- All these European countries may have a higher minimum wage, but they also have something else that is higher: teen unemployment (and I would guess low-skill unemployment).
Admittedly this only has a subset of countries, but I borrowed it as-is from Zero Hedge. By the way, by some bizarre coincidence, the one country -- Germany -- we previously mentioned has no minimum wage is the by far the lowest line on this chart.
Forget the #DIV/0! PE. That prices the company at over 57 times annual revenues.
I am working on a couple of euro-style strategy card games at the moment. The first is a business start-up game, and the second is a space-themed game loosely based on my experiences playing the Traveler role-playing game years ago. A good stock image account (I use Shutterstock) gets me everything in terms of card images I need for the first game, but royalty-free space images are harder. However, it is actually possible to start with prosaic industrial and other images and hack them to look futuristic, but it takes some work.
So I have been working on Photoshop skills. If I could digitally paint, I would paint beautiful concept art, but I cannot. So my Photoshop training has focused not on painting per se but on hacking images together and overlaying effects. A LOT of the work is learning to do selections well to mash up images and then overlaying a few effects. I can make a really good laser beam now, for example. Take a modern weapon, have a laser beam come out, wala a pretty functional sci fi gun (Don't believe me? Look at the Death Star Turrets in the original Star Wars movie and tell me those aren't essentially current-era battleship turrets with green and red light coming out). I wrote earlier about the lessons I followed in making custom planets.
As an example, here is the lesson I did last night. It is not production value because it started with a low-res iPhone photo my daughter sent me and as you can tell from the edges and especially the hair, I did not spend much effort getting the edge selection just right. But my daughter liked being a cyborg:
She has dark brown hair and dark brown eyes, so she is not the ideal model for this because those are hard to colorize well. Blondes may or may not have more fun, but they are much easier to colorize. The downsize of the exercise is that she loved the hair and now wants to color it that way for real.