Posts tagged ‘Carpe Diem’

Actually Dr. Krugman, They Are Unrelated

Via Cafe Hayek, Paul Krugman says:

And surely the fact that the United States is the only major advanced nation without some form of universal health care is at least part of the reason life expectancy is much lower in America than in Canada or Western Europe.

If I were a cynical person, I might think that the tortured and overly coy syntax of this statement is due to the fact that Krugman knows very well that the causation he is implying here is simply not the case.  Rather than rehash this age-old issue here on Coyote Blog, let's roll tape from a post a few years ago:

Supporters of government medicine often quote a statistic that shows life expectancy in the US lower than most European nations with government-run health systems.  But what they never mention is that this ranking is mainly due to lifestyle and social factors that have nothing to do with health care.  Removing just two factors - death from accidents (mainly car crashes) and murders - vaults the US to the top of the list.  Here, via Carpe Diem, are the raw and corrected numbers:

lifeexpectancy

And so I will fire back and say, "And surely the fact that the United States is the only major advanced nation without some form of universal health care is at least part of the reason life expectancy related to health care outcomes is so much higher in America than in Canada or Western Europe.

And check out the other chart in that post from that study:

US cancer survival rates dwarf, yes dwarf those of other western nations.    Even black males in the US, who one would suppose to be the victims of our rapacious health care system, have higher cancer survival rates than the average in most western nations (black American women seem to have uniquely poor cancer survival rates, I am not sure why.  Early detection issues?)

All this data came originally from a post at Carpe Diem, which I refer you to for source links and methodologies.

Crazy Awful Idea - Incarcerating People For Their Own Good

Via Carpe Diem

This does not include the millions in state and county jails.  All those drug offenders in jail for a victemless crime, essentially "for their own good."

"I've sentenced boys younger than you to the gas chamber. Didn't want to do it. I felt I owed it to them. "

Just How Little Does Government Trust Individuals?

From CNN via Carpe Diem

 

A 24-year scandal was quietly acknowledged last week. On July 3 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first "rapid home" test for HIV—a test that people can take in the privacy of their own homes to determine whether they have the virus that causes AIDS.

The approval is an unambiguously good thing—or so you would think. The saliva test in question, made by OraSure Technologies and known as OraQuick, costs less than $60 and takes just 20 minutes to self-administer. According to statistics an FDA advisory committee presented at a hearing in May, it holds the potential to prevent the transmission of more than 4,000 new HIV infections in its first year of use alone. That would be about 8 percent of the roughly 50,000 new infections we currently see annually in the United States. (About 1.2 million people in the U.S. are now living with HIV, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, of whom about 20 percent don't realize they have it. Since the epidemic began in the early 1980s, about 1.1 million people have been diagnosed with AIDS, and more than 619,000 have died from it.)

The scandal is that the approval of a rapid home test for HIV did not occur until last week—about 24 years after the FDA received its first application seeking permission to market one.

Apparently, for years, even decades, only tests of clinical options were allowed to proceed, basically because the government considers Americans to be infants:

There was great concern that the patient receive proper counseling, both before and after the test. The patient needed to appreciate the possibility of false positives, so he wouldn't panic unnecessarily if he got one. He needed to appreciate the danger of false negatives, so he wouldn't become reckless, endangering sexual partners. And he needed to understand the options and support groups available in the event he received a true positive. (On top of all these concerns, many AIDS activists at the time were opposed to almost any form of HIV testing out of fear that results could be used to ostracize and persecute HIV-positive people—though one hopes that public health concerns were paramount to the FDA, rather than political pressure and hysteria.)

It's A Mystery Why the European Economy is Not Growing

European economic problems must be due to the "austerity" (which means, in popular Leftist use, not growing government spending faster than the rate of inflation).  I am sure this kind of thing has nothing to do with high unemployment rates.  I would certainly be really excited to hire more employees under these conditions:

For most Europeans, almost nothing is more prized than their four to six weeks of guaranteed annual vacation leave. But it was not clear just how sacrosanct that time off was until Thursday, when Europe’s highest court ruled that workers who happened to get sick on vacation were legally entitled to take another [paid] vacation.

“The purpose of entitlement to paid annual leave is to enable the worker to rest and enjoy a period of relaxation and leisure,” the Court of Justice of the European Union, based in Luxembourg, ruled in a case involving department store workers in Spain. “The purpose of entitlement to sick leave is different, since it enables a worker to recover from an illness that has caused him to be unfit for work.

A Modest Proposal

I spend my business life taking over operations from bloated public agencies, so I suppose I should not be surprised at this picture (via Carpe Diem)

The PPACA has a provision that private insurance companies cannot spend less than 80% of premium on care (vs. administration) or money has to be rebated.  I am not a big fan of this provision, believing a free market is a better mechanism for enforcing price and cost discipline than some arbitrary metric like this.

But, since Congress and this Administration thinks this is such a good idea, here is my modest proposal:  Public universities may not spend less than 80% of tuition directly on teaching of students, or else they must rebate excess tuition back to their students.

 

I AM Doing Good

I accidentally watched a few minutes of a morning show today, something I try really hard to avoid.  Matt whats-his-name was interviewing Richard Branson, and they were talking about the importance of corporations "doing good".  Once startups get going, Branson said, they need to start doing good for people, meaning I guess that they buy carbon offsets or something.

Guess what?  If my startup is succesful, I am already doing good.  I can't make a dime unless I create value for people net of what they pay me.  Every customer walks away from our interaction better off, or they would not have voluntarily elected to trade with me (and if they are not better off, I will never see them again and I will find lots of nasty stuff chasing future customers away on the Internet.)  I am tired of this notion that a succesful business person's value can only be judged by what he or she does with their money and time outside of business.  I understand the frustration with a few Wall Street and GE-type executives who are living like fat ticks on their connections with government, but most of us only are succesful if we do something useful.

This, from Carpe Diem, is along the same lines.  He looks at an editorial from the DC paper about the entry of Walmart, which says among other things

Despite the peacocking by Gray and others after the agreement was signed, the District is receiving mostly crumbs. Walmart has committed to providing $21 million in charitable donations over the next seven years, an average of $3 million a year. That's a pittance."

Walmart does not have to do squat for the community beyond its core business, because selling  a broad range of goods conviniently and at really low prices is enough. Or if it is not enough, they will not make money.  The promise of $21 million to some boondoggle controlled by a  few politician's friends is just a distraction, I wish they had not done it, but I understand that this is essentially a bribe to the officials of the DC banana republic to let them do business.

Postscript:  I have no problem with doing charitable work outside of work.  Both my company and I do, by choice, though unlike Richard Branson I don't need to have a crew of paid PR agents making sure everyone knows it.

This is an AWESOME Idea. I Want to Propose California Do Much More of This

Via Carpe Diem and a whole string of other sites:

"How will California parents react when they find out they will be expected to provide workers' compensation benefits, rest and meal breaks, and paid vacation time for…babysitters? Dinner and a movie night may soon become much more complicated.

California Assembly Bill 889 will require these protections for all “domestic employees,” including nannies, housekeepers and caregivers. The bill has already passed the Assembly and is quickly moving through the Senate with blanket support from the Democrat members that control both houses of the Legislature – and without the support of a single Republican member. Assuming the bill will easily clear its last couple of legislative hurdles, AB 889 will soon be on its way to the Governor's desk.

Under AB 889, household “employers” (aka “parents”) who hire a babysitter on a Friday night will be legally obligated to pay at least minimum wage to any sitter over the age of 18 (unless it is a family member), provide a substitute caregiver every two hours to cover rest and meal breaks, in addition to workers' compensation coverage, overtime pay, and a meticulously calculated timecard/paycheck.

Failure to abide by any of these provisions may result in a legal cause of action against the employer ("parents") including cumulative penalties, attorneys' fees, legal costs and expenses associated with hiring expert witnesses, an unprecedented measure of legal recourse provided no other class of workers – from agricultural laborers to garment manufacturers."

I know this is exactly the kind of thing you would expect me to oppose, but I have decided this is exactly the kind of thing California needs.  I am tired of average citizens passing crazy requirements on business without any concept of the costs and injustices they are proposing, and then scratch their head later wonder why job creation is stagnant.
I want to propose that California do MORE in this same vein.  Here are some suggestions:

  • Every household will have to register for a license to conduct any type of commerce, a license to occupy their house, and a license to hire any employees.  Homeowner will as a minimum have to register to withhold income taxes, pay social security taxes, pay unemployment insurance, pay disability insurance, and pay workers comp insurance.
  • Households should have to file a 1099 for every payment they make to contractors
  • All requirements of Obamacare must be followed for any household labor, including payment of penalties for even part-time labor for which the homeowner does not provide medical insurance
  • No alcohol may be purchased by any individual without first applying for and receiving a state liquor license
  • No cigarettes may be purchased by any individual without first applying for and receiving a state cigarette license
  • No over the counter drugs may be purchased by any individual without first applying for and receiving a state over the counter drug license
  • No eggs may be purchased by any individual without first applying for and receiving a state egg license
  • Any injuries of any type in the household must be reported to OSHA
  • Form EEO-1 must be filed once a year to catalog the race and gender of anyone who did any work in the home
  • Any time one has a dispute in court with another citizen or an employee, they will now be treated the same as businesses in California, which means that the presumption, irregardless of facts, will be strongly in favor of any employee and against the homeowner, and in favor of any other party in any dispute whose net worth is perceived by the jury as less than the homeowner's.
  • At least once a year the home's kitchen must be inspected and certified by both the fire marshal and the health department.  Any deficiencies must be immediately repaired before the kitchen can be used.  All code requirements for commercial kitchens will apply to household kitchens, including requirements for a three-basin washup sink, separate mop sink, and fire extinguishers
  • All homes will be inspected once per year for ADA compliance.  All parts of the home must be wheelchair accessible, even if there are currently no handicapped residents in residence.  Homes more than one-story tall will require an elevator.  All counters must be of the proper height, and all bathrooms must have ADA fixtures.
  • Each home will be required to prominently display all its required licenses as well as state and federal information posters for workers.
  • All homes will be audited at least once every three years to ensure that use taxes have been filed and paid on all out of state Internet purchases
  • Material Safety Data Sheets must be on file for all household cleaning products and other chemicals and available for inspection by the fire marshal
  • All gas tanks (car, lawnmower, portable 5-gallon) will be treated just like commercial gasoline storage tanks, and require monthly leak / loss reporting.  Annually, a complete spill prevention plan must be filed with the state.
  • A stormwater discharge plan must be filed annually with the state
  • Any dropped thermometer or CFL bulb will require homeholder to call out (and pay disposal costs) of a state hazmat team
  • Lifeguards are required at all home pools during daylight hours
  • Households should file property tax returns in the same way that businesses must, listing individually every single piece of personal property they own, from their car to their lawnmower to the pink flamingo in the front yard.
  • Homeowner must track the number of days any guests stay in their house so they can file and pay lodging taxes on a monthly basis
  • Any homeowner who hauls a boat or trailer on US highways must register with the Department of Transportation and receive a DOT number.  They must keep full driver logs and maintenance records available for DOT audit and inspection, and every driver must be drug-tested at least once per year.
  • All food on pantry shelves must meet all state labeling laws
  • At each entrance to the house, a sign warming those entering must be posted warning that certain cancer causing chemicals may be present

Finally, after spending the entire day complying with these rules, the homeowner must read at least 3 posts each day from progressive blogs explaining why anyone who complains about such rules as unreasonable is just a reactionary who doesn't really know how to run his business very well, and they could certainly do better.

Postscript:  Every single item on this list is something my company has been required to do.  I am sure I left a bunch out.

Minimum Wage: Demand Curves Really Do Slope Down

Via Carpe Diem, from William Even and David Macpherson:

"Each 10% increase in the minimum wage [since 2007] was accompanied by a decrease in employment of 1.2% for Hispanic males, 2.5% for white males and 6.5% for black males. When looking at hours worked, we saw a similar effect: Each 10% increase in the minimum wage reduced hours worked by 1.7% for Hispanic males, 3% for white males and 6.6% for black males.

The data clearly show a disproportionate loss of hours and employment for black young adults. Let's put these lost opportunities into context. Between 2007 and 2010, employment for 16- to 24-year-old black males fell by approximately 34,300 as a result of the recession; over the same time period, approximately 26,400 lost their jobs as a result of increases in the minimum wage across the 50 states and at the federal level.

Least Surprising Fact Ever

Via Carpe Diem

Almost all discussions about Medicare reform ignore one key factor: Medicare utilization is roughly 50% higher than private health-insurance utilization, even after adjusting for age and medical conditions. In other words, given two patients with similar health-care needs—one a Medicare beneficiary over age 65, the other an individual under 65 who has private health insurance—the senior will use nearly 50% more care.

Several factors help cause this substantial disparity. First and foremost is the lack of effective cost sharing. When people are insulated from the cost of a desirable product or service, they use more. Thus people who have comprehensive health coverage tend to use more care, and more expensive care—with no noticeable improvement in health outcomes—than those who have basic coverage or high deductibles.

Its amazing that we still have serious public debates about which way demand curves slope.

Ethanol: Single Best Argument Against Technocratic Paternalism

The progressive argument for a larger state has, for over a hundred years, rested in part on the premise that smart people at the top in government can better optimize the allocation of resources and make better investment choices.

This premise always has been ludicrous.  Government officials have neither the information nor incentives to perform this function, and lacking such, decisions always get made based on political rather than economic or other objective functions.

Ethanol is such a great example, it will almost be a shame when its mandates and subsidies are repealed.  As a reminder, corn-based ethanol production get the trifecta of state sponsorship -- mandates for its use, subsidies for its protections, and stiff tariffs to prevent lower-cost imports.

The result is a classic government fail.  The economic subsidies benefit only a small number of the politically connected, while hurting the great mass of humanity, even outside the US, through higher food and fuel prices.  Because ethanol takes as much fuel to produce as it provides, it does nothing to change the amount of fossil fuels we use.  And as a result, it does nothing to affect CO2 production and in fact has a number of environmentally negative effects, particularly in land and water use.

I am reminded of all this by these staggering figures, via Carpe Diem

"U.S. ethanol refiners are consuming more domestic corn than livestock and poultry farmers for the first time, underscoring how a government-supported biofuels industry has contributed to surging grain demand.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that in the year to August 31 ethanol producers will have consumed 5.05 billion bushels of corn, or more than 40% of last year’s harvest. Animal feed and residual demand accounted for 5 billion bushels."

As Mark Perry shows in his blog, US ethanol policy has also pushed corn prices up from $2 a bushel in 2007 to over $8 today.

Great (Princeton '84) Minds Think Alike

Coyote, Jan 2011

For many, low wage jobs are the first rung on the ladder to success and prosperity.  Raising the minimum wage is putting the first rung of the ladder out of reach of many low-skilled Americans.

My classmate Henry Payne, saying it better in pictures (via Carpe Diem)

When Real Estate Prices Rise...

... people can seek out some pretty amazing spaces to do business.  Not sure OSHA would be hip to this.

Via Carpe Diem
Update: Substituted a video I thought was better.

Licensing is Anti-Consumer

Via Carpe Diem, yet another group of market incumbents using licensing and regulation to limit competition and, in particular, ban business models different than those of the incumbents.

From the Institute for Justice: "Until 2010, sedan and independent limo services were an affordable alternative to taxicabs in the Music City. A trip to the airport only cost $25. But in June 2010, the Metropolitan County Council passed a series of anti-competitive regulations requested by the Tennessee Livery Association - a trade group formed by expensive limousine companies. These regulations force sedan and independent limo companies to increase their fares to $45 minimum.

The regulations also prohibit limo and sedan companies from using leased vehicles, require them to dispatch only from their place of business, require them to wait a minimum of 15 minutes before picking up a customer and forbid them from parking or waiting for customers at hotels or bars. And, in January 2012, companies will have to take all vehicles off the road if they are more than 7 years old for a sedan or SUV or more than 10 years old for a limousine.

Deceptive Chartsmanship

Kevin Drum reports this chart on tax progressivity, with the comment that "the US is more or less right on target."

This is wildly deceptive chartsmanship.  Just because there is apparently a trend line here does NOT mean that all of the countries on that line have equal tax progressivity.   That would only be the case if the line were at 45-degrees.  But in fact, the tax share is increasing by 10 percentage points for every 4 points in income share.   This means that, even for countries on the line, the farther right one goes (on the chart, not politically) the more progressive the tax system is, at least vis a vis the top 10%  (Drum is probably right that you would get different results for the top 1%, but I think he is wrong to say that state tax systems are wildly regressive).

Here is the corrected chart.  The further right of the red line, the more progressive, making the US system (again for the top-10% measure) the most progressive of those on the chart.

It is interesting to note that the original chart tells us one thing -- countries with wider income distributions have the most progressive tax systems.  Which is an interesting and not necessarily expected outcome.  Certainly it seems to refute much of the purpose for such systems in the first place.

Update:  I am guess these are the data points on the chart, with analysis at the always terrific Carpe Diem

Measuring the New Economy

From Slate.com via Carpe Diem:

"Maybe it is not the growth that is deficient. Maybe it is the yardstick that is deficient. MIT professor Erik Brynjolfsson explains the idea using the example of the music industry. "Because you and I stopped buying CDs, the music industry has shrunk, according to revenues and GDP. But we're not listening to less music. There's more music consumed than before." The improved choice and variety and availability of music must be worth something to us—even if it is not easy to put into numbers. "On paper, the way GDP is calculated, the music industry is disappearing, but in reality it's not disappearing. It is disappearing in revenue. It is not disappearing in terms of what you should care about, which is music."

As more of our lives are lived online, he wonders whether this might become a bigger problem. "If everybody focuses on the part of the economy that produces dollars, they would be increasingly missing what people actually consume and enjoy. The disconnect becomes bigger and bigger."

But providing an alternative measure of what we produce or consume based on the value people derive from Wikipedia or Pandora proves an extraordinary challenge—indeed, no economist has ever really done it.

Ditto Facebook, free flash games, ichat, etc.  I think the point is dead on, though I have no idea how to fix it.  Maybe as a value of the consumer's time?  If your time is worth $15 an hour, and you spend it on Facebook, then your benefit must have been at least $15?

Thinking about this, it strikes me that there is no GDP credit for leisure time, either.  There is almost nothing more valuable to me .  If everything in my life stays the same but I can use technology or other factors to restructure my time to get one extra hour of leisure, isn't that of huge value?  But there is no credit for it in GDP or earnings accounts.

The article discusses consumer surplus, which strikes me as the heart of the matter.  GDP and earnings metrics track what we pay, not how much value we receive.  If one hypothesizes that consumer surplus is rising as a percentage of purchase price, then we are missing a lot of wealth creation.

Speaking of Income Distribution

This chart, from a book by Branko Milanovic via Carpe Diem reinforces a point about income distribution I make all the time -  for all we talk about income distribution in this country, our poorest 20% would be middle class in many countries of the world.  While I would love to see our poor doing even better, it begs the question of whether distribution or absolute prosperity is more important.

Just to give you a feel for reading the chart, the US's lowest ventile, or bottom 5%, have income that would put them in the 68th percentile worldwide.    Our poorest 20% (the first 4 ventiles) would be upper middle class or better in Brazil, China, and India.

When comparing to European social democracies, it turns out that while the US's income distribution is wider, that is almost entirely due to the top end being higher.  The poorest 10% make about the same as the poorest 10% in Europe, and I would argue that this analysis (from a leftish think tank) actually underestimates a quality of life advantage for American poor, who come out higher even than the middle class in Europe on things like living space and appliance ownership.

Perhaps more importantly than income inequality, income mobility remains high in this country. More on income inequality concerns here.

Angola?

I love maps like this one, and a year or two ago I linked an earlier version.  This one is from the Economist via Carpe Diem, and shows the name of the country whose GDP is similar in size to that of the state.

I have to criticize the map-maker, though.  They used Thailand at least four times on this map -- the original version managed to do it without repeats.  But I am amazed that Arizona ranks right there with Thailand.  This is not to diss the rest of the state, which has a lot going for it, but in terms of population and economic activity, a huge percentage in in just one city, Phoenix.

I do have to wonder whether New Mexico being matched up with "Angola" is really very flattering, and pairing Mississippi with Bangladesh is funny on a couple of levels.

A Thought on the Trade Deficit

Most of the time when folks lament about the US's trade deficit, I just yawn.  That is because to a large extent the trade deficit is simply an artifact of an arbitrary accounting definition.  Basically, we define a certain fairly arbitrary subset of total commerce and commercial activity between two countries, and then throw tantrums when that arbitrary account is unbalanced.  At the end of the day, the payments loop has to close - the dollars come back to the US somehow.  Historically, most money from such trade deficits have come back to the US as foreign investments in US assets (think, for the example, Japanese investments in the late 80's in US real estate and high profile companies).

It is amazing that we would complain about such a situation.  First, we should be thrilled that foreigners choose to invest in our productive assets rather than just our manufactured goods.  Second, think about it this way -- if we export a product, we get the foreign money but the product goes overseas.  When foreigners invest in our fixed assets, we get the money and the assets remain here.  It is the outsized political influence of shareholders and workers in a few export-oriented industries  rather than economic rationality that keeps the US Congress so fixated on the "trade deficit."

The one issue I have with the trade deficit is it is in large part tied closely to the budget deficits run by the Feds.   Think about it this way -- let's take the definition of the balance of trade and keep it intact, adding just one single additional export product to the calculation:  US Government debt securities.   Certainly these are products we export, and there is nothing wrong with thinking about them as an alternative way for foreigners to spend dollars vs. buying US exports  (just as we all face the choice of investing for savings or buying consumer goods with our own incremental income).

Last year the US trade deficit was between $400 and $500 billion per year.  In 2009 the US government deficit was something like $1.4 trillion.  Assuming they issued debt securities to fund this deficit (ignore QE for now) and assuming foreigner bought 40-50% of these bods, then we exported as much as $700 billion in US government bonds to foreign buyers.  Now, suddenly, when we consider this one additional export product in the mix, we are running a trade surplus.  This is why currencies like the yuan are not necessarily as undervalued as people (including President Obama) may assume -- the issuance of government bonds creates a huge demand for the dollar, and keeps the value high.  If exporters are truly pissed off about the high value of the dollar vs. the yuan, they should not complain to the Chinese, they should complain to Obama and the US Congress for competing with them in foreign markets.  Though we tend to go through phases where we forget it, saving is a competitive product to consumer goods.

Update: Scott Grannis via Carpe Diem

"The Chinese sell us mountains of cheap goods, then turn around and invest most of the proceeds (equivalent to our trade deficit with China) in U.S. Treasury securities. We get the goods, and we get to keep the money. Then we devalue the dollar, and they lose on their investment. Why we would want them to stop doing this is beyond me, though if I were a Chinese citizen, I would be furious with my government for directing such massive quantities of my country's export earnings to Treasuries.

Two Americas

Two Americas:  Those who use the coersive power of the government to take money for themselves, and those who have to earn it by giving value for money in non-coerced , arms-length transactions.

Via Carpe Diem, which has more thoughts on the trend

Note:  I have seen folks defend this type of chart by saying it is just the function of  the inflection point of a normal distribution creeping by inflation across a dividing line.  But look the $180K+ in 2010 vs. the $150K+ in 2005.  By inflation, a $150,000 salary should not have increased to more than $165,000, but we see more than twice as many people making $180K plus today than made $150K plus five years ago.

Nobody Likes Having Competitors, but Only the State Can Ban Them

Private companies often come running to the government to protect themselves from competition.  Sometimes they are successful, and get government licensing and certification requirements that help create barriers to entry that protect incumbents  (if incumbents are lucky, they will actually get to control the licensing and certification board and testing process).

But whether or note private companies have the political muscle to get this kind of protection, the government almost always protects itself whenever it embarks on any sort of quasi-commercial enterprise.  The ban on first class mail delivery competition is one example (as an aside, when email began making an end run around this ban, the USPS actually made a [fortunately failed] play to be the monopoly email provider).  In Denver, there was a story a while back that after they built a new toll road, they added traffic lights and lowered the speed limit on a parallel free road to drive more people to the toll road.

Carpe Diem brings another example:

"When the old arena for the Orlando Magic opened 21 years ago, it was common for Parramore neighborhood residents who lived nearby to charge Magic fans and concert-goers to park on their property. But five weeks ago, the Orlando City Council approved standards that will likely keep most Parramore homeowners from profiting on parking near the Orlando Magic's new $480 million Amway Center (pictured above).

Among other things, property owners must pay a $275 application fee and provide a business tax receipt. Lots must have an attendant, signs, proper lighting and a paved, gravel or grass surface free of potholes or ruts. City officials also recommend hiring security. Even when all those requirements are met, temporary parking lots are allowed only during an event expected to draw at least 5,000 attendees. So far, five applications have been approved, but all are for large properties such as churches, not homeowners.

The city, meanwhile, has doubled its event-parking rate to $20 at the two garages closest to the Amway Center; elsewhere, event parking at city garages and lots is $10."

The last sentence explains the first two. They are trying to charge an above market price for parking, so must constrain supply to avoid being undercut.

Wal-Mart and Income Inequality

First, I have not doubt that income inequality--  in whatever way the folks who care about such things measure it -- has increased.  The analysis that has been making the rounds of liberal blogs show the rich "capturing a higher share" of total output.  The very terminology here reveals their faulty core assumption, treating wealth as a zero-sum that must be grabbed and fought for and can only be gained to someone else's disadvantage.  They always write about incomes as if GDP is a sort of natural fountain in the desert, and the piggy rich crowd in too close to get more than their fair share of water from the fountain.

This is silly.  Wealth is created from the minds of human beings, and there are human minds that create far more wealth than others, and are able to keep some of that wealth for themselves as a reward.  I say "some" because even the richest people tend to keep only a small percentage of the wealth they create.  Sum up the benefits we all get from our iPods and iPhones and iPads, and the total number dwarfs what Apple shareholders have made from these devices.

Anyway, the actual point of this post was to revisit the notion that there are different inflation rates for the rich and poor (via Carpe Diem) that may be skewing income inequality numbers

Using scanner data on household consumption of non-durable goods between 1994 and 2005, we document that the relative prices of low-quality products that are consumed disproportionately by low-income households were falling over this period. This implies that non-durable inflation for the 10th percentile of the income distribution has only been 4.3 percent between 1994 and 2005 (0.4 percent per annum), while the non-durable inflation for the 90th percentile has been 11.9 percent (1.0 percent annually), and 13.4 percent (1.2 percent annually) for the richest 5 percent of households in the sample (see chart above)."...

"A large literature has focused on the rising inequality observed in official statistics, but have mostly abstracted from the fact that these official measures are based on a single price index for a representative consumer. This assumption is not crucial in a world with a stationary relative price distribution or where an identical basket of goods is consumed by different income groups. However, using household data on non-durable consumption, we document that the relative prices of low-quality products that are consumed disproportionately by low-income consumers have been falling over this period.

This fact implies that measured against the prices of products that poorer consumers actually buy, their "real" incomes have been rising steadily. As a consequence, we find that around half of the increase in conventional inequality measures during 1994"“2005 is the result of using the same price index for non-durable goods across different income groups. Moreover, given that the increase in price dispersion does not seem to be specific to our sample or time period, the overstatement in the increases in inequality from official measures can be even more significant, changing our view of how progress has been distributed in recent decades substantially."

The price of a night at the Four Seasons has gone up more than the price of a shirt at Wal-Mart.

Anti-Consumer Trade Policy

I have to reprint this Carpe Diem post nearly in its entirety.  Mark Perry does some editing on a Harold Meyerson WaPo article:

"This week, committees on both sides of Capitol Hill will plumb the conundrum of Chinese currency manipulation. The conundrum isn't that -- or why -- China is manipulating its currency: By undervaluing it, China is systematically able to underprice its exports, putting American (and other nations') manufacturing consumers and businesses that purchase China' cheap imports at a significant disadvantage. The conundrum is why the hell the United States isn't doing thinks it should do anything about it.

There are certainly plenty of senators and congressmen -- and Main Street Americans U.S. producers that compete with China -- who'd like to see the White House place some tariffs taxes on American consumers and businesses who purchase the underpriced low-priced Chinese imports. If the administration doesn't act, Congress may just consider mandating some tariffs punitive taxes against American consumers and business on its own."

Freaking Hilarious

Onion News Network:  Are Standardized Tests Biased Against Kids Who Don't Give a Shit? Via Carpe Diem.  The Onion is brilliant because in some ways, this is absurd and some ways it cuts way too close to reality.

Well, You Had To Expect This Was Coming

Via the Washington Post:

President Obama urged reluctant lawmakers Saturday to quickly approve nearly $50 billion in emergency aid to state and local governments, saying the money is needed to avoid "massive layoffs of teachers, police and firefighters" and to support the still-fragile economic recovery.

In a letter to congressional leaders, Obama defended last year's huge economic stimulus package, saying it helped break the economy's free fall, but argued that more spending is urgent and unavoidable. "We must take these emergency measures," he wrote in an appeal aimed primarily at members of his own party.

Of course, in retrospect we have learned that the first stimulus was mostly about saving government jobs as well, rather than creating any private stimulus.   Government workers are among the Democrats most reliable political supporters, and the SEIU, among other organizations, have had close ties to Obama for years.  State and local governments are finally facing some accountability for spending and being forced to roll back spending increases of the last few years that have far outpaced inflation and population growth, so of course Obama wants to short-circuit this accountability process.

Think about this -- every one of these bailed out governments have certainly had local legislative deliberations and likely votes on bonds and tax increases over the last year.  If their problems still persist, its because the local taxpayers don't want to pony up any more money for their local government and the local legislators refuse to cut spending sufficiently.  So if Smallsville, California won't pony up more money for their government and won't balance their budget, why should I be on the financial hook to bail them out?

Andrew Coulson looks at one of these groups, teachers, and wonders what all the fuss is about -- its about time we laid some public school employees off after years of rapidly declining productivity:

I have been looking for a good excuse to clear my reader cache of a whole series of articles on government salaries and pensions, and this seems a really good time.

Much like the bailout of billionaires on Wall Street, the government worker bailout is targeting a group already doing much better than their peers in private industry.  (via Carpe Diem)

Related, via Carpe Diem:

"Who are America's fastest-growing class of millionaires? They are police officers, firefighters, teachers and federal bureaucrats who, unless things change drastically, will be paid something near their full salaries every year--until death--after retiring in their mid-50s. That is equivalent to a retirement sum worth millions of dollars.

Chris Edwards has a related essay, focusing on federal government pay.

Matt Welch looks at two DC-area counties and shows how their relative financial health is closely related to their hiring and pay policies.

We're Sorry, Larry

Larry Summers caught a lot of grief for a statement that has been oft-misreported:

"It does appear that on many, many different human attributes- height, weight, propensity for criminality, overall IQ, mathematical ability, scientific ability - there is relatively clear evidence that whatever the difference in means - which can be debated - there is a difference in the standard deviation, and variability of a male and a female population."

Carpe Diem brings this chart, visit the link for more explanation.

Personally, I don't have a lot of problems with the gender hypothesis, but I am skeptical of our ability to test intelligence.  I think most of us in the real world have enough experience to understand that the people we meet have a range of cognitive abilities, but I am not sure it is even possible to put a number on this, particularly since my experience is that there are many categories of intelligence and intelligence in one area is not intelligence in another.  Besides, I think most IQ tests are dominated by logic problems where one's ability to solve them improves with practice and training -- but this is counter to the idea we are somehow testing some property separate from education or training.

Update: As to the idea of different intelligences, I will offer myself as an example.  In my prime, I was pretty freaking good at advanced math, and later in life I got pretty good at deconstructing business problems that were pretty complex.  But I can't spell my way out of a paper bag, and I have a horrendous proof-reading ability (as all my readers will know by now).  I can stare at text over and over and still miss obvious errors.  I have a fabulous memory for concepts and problem-solving approaches, and I can recite the entirety of Monty Python and the Holy Grail from memory, but have almost no ability to retain a name, date, or phone number.