Posts tagged ‘france’

D-Day More Important in Containing the Soviets than Defeating the Nazis

Over time, my understanding of the importance of the D-Day invasions has shifted.  Growing up, I considered these events to be the single key event in defeating the Nazis.  Listening to the radio this morning, this still seems to be the common understanding.

Over time, I have had to face the fact that the US (or at least the US Army) was not primarily responsible for defeating Germany -- the Russians defeated Germany, and what's more, would have defeated them whether the Allies had landed in France or not.  Check out the casualties by front, from Wikipedia:

click to enlarge

The Russians defeated Germany.  Period.   And I don't think the western allies would ever have had the stomach to inflict the kind of casualties on Germany that were ultimately necessary to defeat her without Russian help.  To me, this is the great irony of WWII, that it was not ultimately a victory for democracy.  Only totalitarian Russia could defeat totalitarian Germany.  This thought often bothers me a lot.  It doesn't fit with how we want to view the war.

However, D-Day did have an important effect -- it kept Western Europe out of Soviet hands.  We did not know it at the time, but I would argue in retrospect that from mid-1944 on we were competing with Russia to see how Europe would get divided up after the war.  D-Day allowed the western allies to overrun most of Western Europe and keep it out of Soviet hands, perhaps an even more important outcome than just speeding the defeat of the Germans.  Sure, FDR gets grief for giving the farm away to Russia at Yalta, but what could he do?  The Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe at that point was a fait accompli.  What would have been FDR & Churchill's negotiation position at Yalta if their armies were not even on the continent (excepting Italy, where we might still be fighting in 2014 and getting nowhere)?

The Effect of the Black Death on Labor and Grain Prices

Long time readers will know that if I were asked to relive my life doing something entirely different, I would like to try studying economic history.  Today, in a bit of a coincidence, my son called me with a question about the effect of the Black Death in Europe on labor and grain prices ... just days after I had been learning about the exact same part of history in Professor Daileader's awesome Teaching Company course on the Middle Ages (actually he has three courses - early, high, late - which are all excellent).

From the beginning of the 14th century, Europe suffered a series of demographic disasters.  Climate change in the form of the end of the Medieval warm period led to failed crops and several years of famine early in the century.  Then, later in the century, the Black Death came... over and over, perhaps made worse by the fact that Europeans were weakened already from famine.  As a result, the population of Europe dropped by something like half.

It is not entirely obvious to me what such a demographic disaster would do to prices.  Panic and uncertainty usually drive them up in the near term, but what about after that?  Both the supply and demand curves for most everything will be dropping in tandem.  So what happens to prices?

In the case of the 14th century, we know the answer:  the price of labor rose dramatically, while the price of grain dropped.  The combination tended to bankrupt the landholding aristocracy, who went so far as to try to reimpose serfdom to get their finances back in balance (some things never change).  The nobility pretty much failed at this in the West (England, France) and were met with a series of peasant revolts.  They generally succeeded in the East (Germany, Poland, Russia) which is why a quasi-feudal agricultural system persisted so long in those countries.

But why?  Why did grain price go down rather than up?  Why did labor go in the opposite direction?  I could look it up, but that is no fun.

A first answer, which does not satisfy

People who think of all of the middle ages as "the dark ages" miss the boom that occurred between 1000-1300.  Population increased, and technology advanced (just because this technology seems pedestrian to us, like the plow harness for horses or the stirrup, does not make it any less so).  It was the only time between about 300 and 1500 when the population was growing (a fact we climate skeptics will note coincided with the Medieval warm period).

But even without the setbacks of the 1300's, historians probably would argue that Europe was headed for a Malthusian collapse no matter what in the 14th century.   An enormous amount of forest had been cleared and new farmland created, such that by 1300 some pretty marginal land was being farmed just so Europe could barely keep up with demand.  At the margin, really low productivity land was being farmed.

So if there is a sudden 50% population cut, then that means that all that marginal farm land will be abandoned first.  While the number of farmers would be cut in half, production would be reduced by less than half because presumably the least productive farms would be abandoned first.  With demand cut by half and production cut by less than half, prices would fall for grain.

But this doesn't work for labor.  The same argument should apply.  To get everyone fed, we would actually need less than half the prior labor force because they would concentrate on the best land.  Labor prices should fall in this model as well, but in fact they went up.  A lot.  In fact, they went up not by a few percent but by multiples, enough to cause enormous social problems across Europe.

A second answer, that makes more sense

After thinking about this for a while, I came to realize that I had the wrong model for the economy in my head.  I was thinking about our modern economy.   If suddenly, say, online retailing reduces demand for physical stores dramatically, people close stores and redeploy capital and labor and assets to other investments in other industries.  That is how I was thinking about the Middle Ages.

But it may be more correct to see the Middle Ages as a one product economy.  There was agriculture, period.  Everything else was a rounding error.

So now let's think about the "farmers" in the Middle Ages.  They are primarily all the 1%, the titled nobility, who either farm big estates with peasant labor or lease large parts of their estates to peasants for farming.

OK, half the population is suddenly gone.  The Noble's family has lots of death but someone is still around to inherit.  They have a big estate where growing grain supports their lifestyle as well as any military obligations they may have to their lord (though this style of fighting with knights on horseback supported by grants of land is having its last hurrah in the 100 years war).

Then grain prices collapse.  That is a clear pricing signal.  In the modern economy, that would tell us to get out and find a new place for our capital.  So, as Lord Coyote of the Castle Aaaaargh, I am going to do what, exactly?  How can I redeploy my capital, when it is essentially illiquid?  I can't sell the family land.  And if I did, land prices, along with grain prices and the demographic collapse, are falling through the floor.  And even if I could sell for cash, what would I do for a living?  What would I reinvest the money in?  Running an estate is all I know.  It's all anyone knows.  I have to support myself and my 3 mistresses and my squires and my string of warhorses.

All I can do is try to farm the land I have always farmed.  And everyone else does the same.  The result is far more grain than anyone needs with the reduced population, so prices fall.   But I still need the same number of people to grow the food, irregardless of the price it fetches, but there are now half as many workers available so the price of labor goes through the roof.  When grain demand collapsed, there was no way to clear the excess capacity.  It turns out everyone had a nearly vertical supply curve, because irregardless of price, they had nothing else they could do with their time and money.  You can see now why they tried to solve their problem by reimposing serfdom (combined with price controls, a bad idea for Diocletian and for Nixon and everyone in between).

Of course, nothing is stuck forever.   One way capacity cleared was through the growth of the bureaucratic state over the next 2 centuries.  Nobles eventually had to find some new way to support themselves, and did so by taking jobs in growing state bureaucracies.  They became salaried ministers rather than feudal knights supported by agriculture.  At the same time, rising wealth among the 99% non-nobility allowed kings to support themselves through taxes rather than the granting of fiefs, which in turn paid for the nobility to take jobs in the bureaucracy and paid for peasant armies with guns and bows that replaced the lords fighting on horseback.  So in the long term, the price signal was inordinately powerful -- so powerful it helped reshape much of European government and society.

By the way, if you are reading this expecting some point about modern politics, sorry.  Just something I was thinking about and it helped to write it down.  Comments are appreciated.  I still have not cribbed the answer from the history texts yet.

Government Regulation and Incumbent Business Protection

Scratch "consumer" protection laws and you will almost always find the laws are really aimed a protecting incumbent businesses and traditional business models.  This time from France:

To the surprise of virtually everyone in France, the government has just passed a law requiring car services like Uber to wait 15 minutes before picking up passengers. The bill is designed to help regular taxi drivers, who feel threatened by recently-introduced companies like Uber, SnapCar and LeCab. Cabbies in the Gallic nation require formidable time and expense to get their permits and see the new services -- which lack such onerous requirements -- as direct competitors.

This is the interesting political ground where the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Tea Party have a lot of overlap.  That is why the Chamber of Commerce, which represents all these incumbent businesses, is working with both parties to keep the cozy corporatists in power against challenges from the Left and Right.  If you are a business owner, eschew the Chamber and join the NFIB and support the IJ.

Good God, How Does This Help Anyone Except Perhaps Helping Government Officials Feel Powerful

Via Reason

A Paris appeals court this week ordered the French cosmetics chain Sephora to close its flagship boutique on the iconic Champs Élysées boulevard at 9pm, angering salespeople who say they have freely accepted to work until midnight for years and now risk losing their jobs.

Following a trend among other businesses on Paris's most celebrated street, Sephora began extending its opening hours in 1996. Its designer perfumes, makeup and other cosmetics were, until this week, sold until midnight between Monday and Thursday, and as late as 1am on Friday and Saturday.

Citing labour laws that restrict night-time work, France’s largest unions collectively sued the shop. An administrative court sided with Sephora on December 6, 2012, allowing the cosmetics giant to keep its exceptionally late hours on the Champs-Élysées.

However, the appeals court overturned that decision on Sunday, agreeing with unions that the store’s “normal activity” does not “make night-time work a necessarity,” as the law states.

War and Stimulus

I had an argument about the (economic) stimulative effect of war the other night.  As usual, I was not entirely happy with how I argued my point in real time (which is why I blog).  Here is an attempt at an improved, brief answer:

One of the reasons that people often believe that war "improves" the economy is that they are looking at the wrong metrics.  They look at unemployment and observe that it falls.  They look at capacity utilization and observe that it rises.  They look at GDP and see that it rises.

But these are the wrong metrics.  What we care about is if people are better off: Can they buy the things they want?  Are they wealthier?

These outcomes are hard to measure, so we use unemployment and GDP and capacity utilization as proxies for people's economic well-being.  And in most times, these metrics are reasonably correlated with well-being.  That is because in a free economy individuals and their choices guide the flow of resources, which are dedicated to improving what people consider to be their own well-being.  More resources, more well-being.

But in war time, all this gets changed.  Government intervenes with a very heavy hand to shift a vast amount of the resources from satisfying people's well-being to blowing other people up.  Now, I need to take an aside on well-being in this context.  Certainly it is possible that I am better off poor in a world with no Nazis than rich in one dominated by Nazis.  But I am going to leave war aims out of the concept of well-being.  This is appropriate, because when people argue that war stimulates the economy, they are talking purely about economic activity and benefits, and so will I.

What we find is that in war time, unemployment is down, but in part because young people have been drafted (a form of servitude) to fight and die.  Are they better off so employed?  Those who are left find themselves with jobs in factories with admittedly high capacity utilization, but building things that make no one better off (and many people worse off).  GDP skyrockets as government goes deeply in debt to pay for bombs and rockets and tanks.  This debt builds nothing for the future -- future generations are left with debt and no wealth to show for it, like taking out a mortgage to buy a house and then having the house burn down uninsured.  This is no more economically useful than borrowing money and then burning it.  In fact, burning it would have been better, economically, as each dollar we borrowed in WWII had a "multiplier" effect in that it destroyed another dollar of European or Asian civilian infrastructure.

Sure, during WWII, everyone in the US had a job, but with war-time restrictions and rationing, these employed people couldn't buy anything.  Forget the metrics - in their daily lives Americans lived poorer, giving up driving and even basic staples.  This was the same condition Soviet citizens found themselves facing in the 1970s -- they all had jobs, but they could not find anything to buy.  Do we consider them to have been well off?

There is one way to prosper from war, but it is a terrible zero-sum game -- making money from other people's wars.  The US prospered in 1915 and later 1941 as Britain and France sunk into bankruptcy and despair, sending us the last of their wealth in exchange for material that might help them hang on to their existence.  Ditto in 1946, when having bombed Japanese and German infrastructure into the stone age. we provided many of the goods to help rebuild them.  But is this really the way we want to prosper?  And is this sort of vulture-like prosperity even possible with our inter-woven global supply chains?  For example, I can't see a China-Japan war being particularly stimulative for anybody nowadays.

Why Re-importation Won't Lower Prices

Just the other day I was making the point that reimporting pharmaceuticals from other countries where they are sold cheaper is not any sort of long-term solution to bringing down US drug costs.  Sure, it's frustrating that the US pays almost all of the fixed cost of drug development while other countries get these drugs closer to marginal cost.  But there is no solution to this that has everyone paying marginal cost -- unless, that is, we are willing to give up on all future drug development by sending the signal that these costs can no longer be recovered in market pricing.   All drug reimportation will do is raise the overseas cost of pharmaceuticals and hurt millions of poorer people.

I always find it ironic that drug reimportation is a favorite solution of many liberals, who are absolutely offended at paying higher costs in the US than what is paid in other countries.  Well, welcome to being rich.  You may think you are safely not-rich when you are advocating various soak-the-rich tax policies, but on an international scale, even many of America's bottom quartile would be considered well-off in poorer nations.  Compared to the US, even countries like France are substantially less wealthy.

Anyway, this was all brought to mind by this useful analysis of re-importation by Megan McArdle, though in this case it is in the context of textbook prices.

I'm Happy About the French Election

Apparently, the fall of the Soviet Union is far enough in the rear view mirror that its time for another object lesson in the real effects of communism.   It's incredible to me that any country would want to actually emulate Greece, but France seems hell-bent to do so.  So all I can say is "way to go, France!  Better you guys than us."

Apparently Obama is already cozying up with Francois Hollande.   These two may be the socialist-corporatist answer to Reagan and Thatcher.  It is interesting that Europe seems to produce an analog to the American President in each generation (or vice versa).    Reagan-Thatcher, Clinton-Blair, now Obama-Hollande.

Great Moments in Bad Ideas

Via the Weekly Standard (with video):

Gene Sperling, director of the White House's national economic council, said today at an official meeting that "we need a global minimum tax":

Pegging our tax rates to France is almost as good an idea as pegging our exchange rates to Greece.

Also, this statement is a hilarious mass of contradictions

“He supports corporate tax reform that would reduce expenditures and loopholes, lower rates for people investing and creating jobs in the U.S., due so further for manufacturing, and that we need to, as we have the Buffett Rule and the individual tax reform, we need a global minimum tax so that people have the assurance that nobody is escaping doing their fair share as part of a race to the bottom or having our tax code actually subsidized and facilitate people moving their funds to tax havens," Sperling said.

He wants to lower rates for people investing, but he wants to institute the Buffett Rule, which effectively raises taxes on people whose income is substantially dividends and capital gains, ie people who invest.  He wants special rates for creating jobs and extra special rates in manufacturing, but he wants to get rid of loopholes, most of which were created at least with the nominal intent of spurring investment in certain sectors, particularly manufacturing.

The Mapmakers Petition

This could have also been labelled as from the files of "anti-trust is not about consumers."  Apparently, a mapmaker in France has successfully sued and won damages from Google for unfair competition, ie from providing Google Maps for free.

Just as in the Microsoft anti-trust case and just about every anti-trust case in history, companies who brought the suit are really trying to stop an up-start competitor from trashing their business model, but they have to couch this true concern in mumbled words about the consumer.  Specifically, they raise that ever-popular boogeyman of jacking up prices once the  monopoly is secured.  The next time this happens, of course, will be the first time.  Its a myth.  For example, in Google's case, left unsaid is how they would jack up their prices when at least two other companies (Bing, Mapquest) also provide mapping services online for free.

How Governments Solve Problems

This is hilarious, all the more so because the actors involved have absolutely no self-awareness of just how bad this looks

This week alone has seen a ratings downgrade for Spain as well as a threat by agencies to review France's AAA status -- and the markets have taken notice. Once again, it would seem, ratings agencies are making things difficult for European countries.

Now, the European Union is considering doing something about it.

European Internal Market Commissioner Michel Barnier is considering a move to ban the agencies from publishing outlook reports on EU countries entangled in a crisis, according to a report in Thursday's issue of the Financial Times Deutschlandnewspaper

This is not even a content neutral ban on speech - it obviously will only be applied to bad reports, not positive ones.  No wonder Obama has always been so admiring of the Europeans.

I Too Found This Puzzling

The other day I was reading an article on the crash of Air France flight 447, discussing recovery of the black box (two years after the crash).  It was suspected that the air speed measurement devices may have failed, thus impairing the automatic pilot, but it was not understood why the pilots were unable to fly the plane manually.  Was something else going wrong?  Did automatic systems, operating off bad data, override manual controls somehow?

The article said that the black box showed the plane went into a stall, and the pilots spent much of the fall pulling back on the yoke to regain altitude.  This made zero sense to me.  A stall occurs when the wing is angled to steeply.  The wing generates lift because the air on top of the wing must follow a longer curve than the air on the bottom of the wing, and thus must move at higher velocity.  This higher velocity results in lower pressures.  In effect, the plane is sucked up.  When the wing is too steeply angled, the air on the top of the wing breaks away from the surface, and lift is lost.

It is therefore absolutely fundamental in stall situations to drop the nose.  This does two things -- it decreases the wing angle out of stall territory, and it increases speed, which also increases lift.

Apparently, the experts are just as befuddled as I was reading the data.  Dropping the nose in a stall is on the first page of pilot 101.  This is not some arcane fact buried on page 876 of the textbook.  This is so basic I know it and I don't have a pilots license.  But apparently the pilots of 447 were yanking up on the nose through the whole long fall to Earth.

Government Agencies Run For Their Employee's Benefit

About 20 years ago I did a rail transit study for McKinsey & Company with a number of European state rail companies, like the SNCF in France.   With my American expectations, I was shocked to see how overstaffed these companies were.  At the time, the SNCF had more freight car maintenance personnel than they had freight cars.  This meant that they could assign a dedicated maintenance person to every car and still get rid of some people.

Later in my consulting career, I worked for Pemex in Mexico, where the over-staffing was even more incredible.  I realized that in countries like France and Mexico, state-run corporations were first and foremost employment vehicles run for the benefit of employees, and, as  distant second, value-delivery vehicles and productive enterprises.

Over the last 20 years, I have seen more and more of this approach to public agencies coming to the US.  If nothing else, the whole Wisconsin brouhaha hopefully opened the eyes of many Americans to the fact that public officials and heads of agencies feel a lot more loyalty to their employees than they do to taxpayers.

I see this all the time in my business, which is private operation of certain state-run activities (e.g. parks and recreation).  I constantly find myself in the midst of arguments that make no sense against privatization.   I finally realized that the reason for this is that they were reluctant to voice the real reason for opposition -- that I would get the job done paying people less money.  This is totally true -- I actually hire more people to staff the parks than the government does, but I don't pay folks $65,000 a year plus benefits and a pension to clean the bathrooms, and I don't pay them when the park is closed and there is not work to do.  I finally had one person in California State Parks be honest with me -- she said that the employees position was that they would rather see the parks close than run without government workers.

Of course, if this argument was made clear in public, that the reason for rising taxes and closing parks was to support pay and benefits of government employees, there might be a fight.  So the true facts need to be buried.  Like in this example from the Portland transit system, via the anti-planner.

In 2003, TriMet persuaded the Oregon legislature to allow it to increase the tax by 0.01 percent per year for ten years, starting in 2005. In 2009, TriMet went back and convinced the legislature to allow it to continue increasing the tax by 0.01 percent per year for another 10 years. Thus, the tax now stands at $69.18 per $10,000 in payroll, and will rise to $82.18 per $10,000 in 2025.

At the time, TriMet promised that all of this tax increase would be dedicated to increasing service, and as of 2010, TriMet CFO Beth deHamel claims this is being done. But according to John Charles of the Cascade Policy Institute, that’s not what is happening.

Poring over TriMet budgets and records, Charles found that, from 2004 (before the tax was first increased) and 2010, total payroll tax collections grew by 34 percent, more than a third of which was due to the tax increase. Thanks to fare increases, fares also grew by 68 percent, so overall operating income grew by about 50 percent, of which about 7 percent (almost $20 million) was due to the increased payroll tax.

So service must have grown by about 7 percent, right? Wrong. Due to service cuts made last September, says Charles, TriMet is now providing about 14 percent fewer vehicle miles and 12 percent fewer vehicle hours of transit service than it provided in 2004 (comparing December 2004 with December 2010). TriMet blamed the service cuts on the economy, but its 50 percent increase in revenues belie that explanation.

By 2030, according to TriMet’s financial forecast (not available on line), the agency will have collected $1.63 billion more payroll taxes thanks to the tax increase. Yet the agency itself projects that hours and miles of service in 2030 will be slightly less than in 2004.

Where did all the money go if not into service increases? Charles says some of it went into employee benefits. TriMet has the highest ratio of employee benefits to payroll of any transit agency. At latest report, it actually spends about 50 percent more on benefits than on pay, and is the only major transit agency in the country to spend more on benefits than pay. This doesn’t count the unfunded health care liabilities; by 2030, TriMet health care benefits alone are projected to be more than its payroll.

Michael Moore Propaganda Too Much Even for Castro

Via the Guardian.  No commentary really necessary (via Q&O)

Cuba banned Michael Moore's 2007 documentary, Sicko, because it painted such a "mythically" favourable picture of Cuba's healthcare system that the authorities feared it could lead to a "popular backlash", according to US diplomats in Havana.

The revelation, contained in a confidential US embassy cable released by WikiLeaks , is surprising, given that the film attempted to discredit the US healthcare system by highlighting what it claimed was the excellence of the Cuban system.

But the memo reveals that when the film was shown to a group of Cuban doctors, some became so "disturbed at the blatant misrepresentation of healthcare in Cuba that they left the room".

Castro's government apparently went on to ban the film because, the leaked cable claims, it "knows the film is a myth and does not want to risk a popular backlash by showing to Cubans facilities that are clearly not available to the vast majority of them."

In continues:

The cable describes a visit made by the FSHP to the Hermanos Ameijeiras hospital in October 2007. Built in 1982, the newly renovated hospital was used in Michael Moore's film as evidence of the high-quality of healthcare available to all Cubans.

But according to the FSHP, the only way a Cuban can get access to the hospital is through a bribe or contacts inside the hospital administration. "Cubans are reportedly very resentful that the best hospital in Havana is 'off-limits' to them," the memo reveals.

According to the FSHP, a more "accurate" view of the healthcare experience of Cubans can be seen at the Calixto Garcia Hospital. "FSHP believes that if Michael Moore really wanted the 'same care as local Cubans', this is where he should have gone," the cable states.

A 2007 visit by the FSHP to this "dilapidated" hospital, built in the 1800s, was "reminiscent of a scene from some of the poorest countries in the world," the cable adds.

The memo points out that even the Cuban ruling elite leave Cuba when they need medical care. Fidel Castro, for example, brought in a Spanish doctor during his health crisis in 2006. The vice-minister of health, Abelardo Ramirez, went to France for gastric cancer surgery.

Ditto Hamburgers

Apparently, the folks in France are at it again, valiantly trying to retroactively create trademark rights that don't exist.  I saw this link below:

Which leads to this site, which says in part:

When it comes to wine, there is no ingredient more important than location. The land, air, water and weather where grapes are grown are what make each wine unique. That is why we, as wine enthusiasts, demand that a wine's true origin be clearly identified on its label in order for us to make informed decisions when purchasing and consuming wine. This ensures we know where our wine comes from and protects wine growing regions worldwide.

Use the form below to sign the petition to protect wine place and origin names:

I hereby sign the Wine Place & Origin Petition. In doing so, I join the signatories of the Joint Declaration to Protect Wine Place & Origin - Champagne, Chianti Classico, Jerez, Napa Valley, Oregon, Paso Robles, Porto, Sonoma County, Tokaj, Victoria, Walla Walla, Washington State and Western Australia - and a growing list of consumers in supporting clear and accurate labeling to better ensure consumers will not be misled by wine labels.

Some countries like Germany cannot use "champagne" or "Cognac" to describe similar products.  Do you know why?  These conditions were actually thrown in to the Treaty of Versailles at the end of WWI.  Since the US never signed the treaty, it and its citizens and growers are not bound by this restriction.

In the same spirit I demand that:  1) Hamburgers only be made in Hamburg 2)  Franfurters can only be made in Frankfort 3) Wiener Snitzel can only be made in Vienna 4) Hollandaise Sauce can only be made in the Netherlands  5) Boston baked beans can only be made in Boston.  Obviously we consumers are all duped, thinking our hamburger was actually made in Germany.  Had I only known!


Sideways Protectionism

Apparently, legislators in California can't get away with just passing a law that says something like "no damn foreigners can build trains for us."  So they repackage their protectionism by finding a way to disguise it, in this case with a truly screwball piece of fiddling-while-Rome-burns legislation:

A bill authored by Assemblymember Bob Blumenfield (D "“ San Fernando Valley) requiring companies seeking contracts to build California's High Speed Rail system to disclose their involvement in deportations to concentration camps during World War II gained final approval from the state legislature today. AB 619, the Holocaust Survivor Responsibility Act, passed the Assembly on a vote of 50 "“ 7 and was sent to the governor, who will have until September 30 to act on it.AB 619 would require companies seeking to be awarded high speed rail contracts to publicly disclose whether they had a direct role in transporting persons to concentration camps, and provide a description of any remedial action or restitution they have made to survivors, or families of victims. The bill requires the High Speed Rail Authority to include a company's disclosure as part of the contract award process.

Apparently they have in mind specifically the SNCF, the French national railroad.  Its loony enough to blame current corporate management and ownership for something the entity did three generations ago, but the supposed crimes of the SNCF occurred when France was occupied by the Nazis.   Its like criticizing the actions of a hostage.  And even if there were some willing collaborationists, they almost certainly were punished by the French after liberation, and besides the US Army Air Force did its level best to bomb the SNCF's infrastructure back into the stone age, so I am certainly willing to call it quits.

Glass Houses

I thought this French socialist reaction to France's World Cup humiliation, which included the team going on strike and refusing to practice just 48 hours before their make-or-break final match, was funny:

Some opposition politicians said the players' behavior represented the selfishness fostered by the governance of President Nicolas Sarkozy, who had been called President Bling Bling for his flashy style.

"It's all about individualism, egotism, everyone for themselves, and the only way to judge human success is the check you get at the end of the month," Jérôme Cahuzac, a Socialist Party member of France's National Assembly, said in a radio interview, according to Reuters.

Certainly no French socialist ever went on strike when other people in France were counting on them.  I kindof thought the team sucked, but in total unison and solidarity.

Rommel Was an Illegal Immigrant in France

I have written on several occasions about how the data demonstrate pretty conclusively that immigrants are not driving a crime wave in Arizona (here and here).  The one exception to this may be well-armed quasi militaristic gangs raiding near the border.  These guys are certainly running rampant in Norther Mexico and conflicting reports have them making certain US border regions nearly unlivable.

OK, but how is this crime a justification for state laws that harass day laborers and companies that hire immigrants, while requiring law enforcement to check immigration status at traffic stops?  One could technically describe the German army in 1941 as illegal immigrants in France, but I don't think this euphemism would trick anyone into thinking that Arizona-style immigration laws would have saved France from Guderion, Rommel and company.

There is zero in SB1070 that will do one little thing to phase such gangs.  So how can people with a straight face use such crime as justification for the bill?

Atomic Welfare

Jerry Taylor echos my point I made last week that supposedly conservative supporters of nuclear power are ignoring the problem of huge government subsidies.

There is an interesting phenomenon in public discourse that I don't have a name for.  Take nuclear power.  Many of the people who oppose nuclear power do so for some pretty flawed reasons.   I think there is a natural tendency to take the other side of the argument when one sees this happening, even if by first principles one should joining the opposition to nukes but for different reasons.

I know I was pulled into having some initial sympathy for the Iraq war for just this reason, because the war-opposition arguments seemed so stupid (e.g. France won't like us as much!)  The correct argument on Iraq was not that Iraq didn't suck (it did) but that so many countries suck just as bad it was an impossible task to start knocking them off using large portions of the US Military, thousands of lives, and trillions of dollars each time out  (I call it the "cleaning the Augean Stables argument).

The Corporate State

From Henry Payne:

Rent-seeking is the new venture capital model, Kleiner Perkins managing partner Ray Lane explained to an electric car-conference here Wednesday.

In an extraordinary speech, Lane laid out how market socialism can guarantee profits for politically connected VC firms like Kleiner -- far more preferable to the old model of "throwing a dart at a dart board," as Lane has put it. While Silicon Valley-based Kleiner made its reputation as a financier of tech startups like Netscape, Lane confided that they are inherently risky ventures in uncertain, fast-moving markets.

By contrast, Lane expressed admiration for communist governments like China and market-socialist economies like France where government determines new markets, thus providing a more certain investment climate for rent-seekers. With Kleiner partner Al Gore lobbying for federal mandates from wind to electric cars, Kleiner would be assured of a return on otherwise risky investments like Fisker Automotive, a California electric car company.

The Absurdity of Top-Down Control

Thank god English is generally defined bottom-up rather than top down, a mirror of the liberal capitalist society both we and England used to have.  The alternative is absurd:

The word on the table that morning was "cloud computing."To translate the English term for computing resources that can be accessed on demand on the Internet, a group of French experts had spent 18 months coming up with "informatique en nuage," which literally means "computing in cloud."

France's General Commission of Terminology and Neology -- a 17-member group of professors, linguists, scientists and a former ambassador -- was gathered in a building overlooking the Louvre to approve the term.

"What? This means nothing to me. I put a 'cloud' of milk in my tea!" exclaimed Jean Saint-Geours, a French writer and member of the Terminology Commission.

"Send it back and start again," ordered Etienne Guyon, a physics professor on the commission....

Before a word such as "cloud computing" or "podcasting" ("diffusion pour baladeur") receives a certified French equivalent, it needs to be approved by three organizations and get a government minister's seal of approval, according to rules laid out by the state's General Delegation for the French Language and the Languages of France. The process can be a linguistic odyssey taking years.

"Rigor cannot be compromised," said Xavier North, the 57-year-old civil servant who heads the General Delegation.

In particular, its heartening that the French have a finely-tuned understanding of their rights.  They have no hard and fast right to free speech as we have in the US, but

Article Two of France's Constitution states that, "The language of the Republic shall be French." The French government, therefore, has a duty to offer citizens French alternatives to English words, he says. "Our citizens have a right to communicate without speaking English."

I discussed this same topic earlier.  This makes for another excellent reason to oppose laws mandating English as our official language, promulgated by folks who are outraged at having to press 1 for English -- it can't be a good idea if the French do it.

I found this incredible:

Each of France's government ministries has at least one terminology committee attached to it. The job of the people on the committee is to spot new English words and create and define French alternatives before the English version catches on. Ms. Madinier called on the committee in charge of computing terminology -- which is part of the French Finance Ministry -- to handle the expression "cloud computing."

I would have thought that the influx of so many new concepts and technologies in English might have been a clue that maybe France needed to do something about innovation; but no, apparently it will be fine to gravy train off American and English innovation as long as they can come up with a French name for everything.  The only other country I know of that was so fixated on making Anglo-American innovation look homemade was the Soviet Union.

Only In France

Via Q&OFormer French President Mauled by Clinically Depressed Poodle

Former French President Jacques Chirac was rushed to a hospital after being mauled by his pet dog who is being treated for depression, in a dramatic incident that rattled the ex-president's wife.

The couple's white Maltese poodle, called Sumo, has a history of frenzied fits and became increasingly prone to making "vicious, unprovoked attacks" despite receiving treatment with anti-depressants, Chirac's wife Bernadette said.

As an aside, does anyone else of my generation remember the Saturday Night Live fake commercial for "Puppy Uppers" and "Doggy Downers?"  Do you remember how this seemed, you know, like a ridiculous spoof?  (video here).

Update: By the way, here is our white Maltese, who to date has not received any of the benefits of veterinary psycho-pharmacology, but who is a great dog none-the-less.

snugs4

The Silver Lining

TJIC has the silver lining nailed for libertarians:

Let us not forget the good news from the election: one statist, speech limiting, freedom-agnostic candidate lost.

I'm kind of ambivalent this morning -  I knew in advance that freedom was going to lose again in this election, no matter what the outcome.

If I am depressed this morning, it is more about propositions and side issues than about the President and Congress.  Had this been a leftward shift in the county, I could have been satisfied that at least losses in freedom in one area might be substituted by gains in others  (though for me personally, changes in economic freedom tend to have far more direct and immediate impact than changes in social freedoms).

But the only pattern I could see yesterday was not leftward but government-ward.  In the same states where Democratic candidates won with economic interventionist messages, Constitutional bans on gay marriage also won by sizable majorities.   In Arizona, gay marriage was banned, an initiative to limit future tax increases was defeated, an initiative to protect health care choice was defeated, an initiative to soften last year's anti-immigrant legislation was defeated, and a payday loan ban was confirmed.  The voting in some way defies a traditional left-right explanation and is only consistent in that it was almost all the reverse of the libertarian position.  And to make the results even more irrational, nearly the biggest defeat of any ballot initiative in Arizona was for a pay increase for state legislators -- the voters seem to like government but don't trust or respect the individuals employed there.

After the last Bush election, a number of leftish folks claimed they were moving to Canada or France or wherever.  But that's the problem for libertarians in this country -- there is not place to run.  Those who want to run away to a country with a more controlling government have 180 or so choices.  Those of us who seek more freedom have approximately none.

Update: This slight paraphrase from the movie Zoolander encapsulates my thought on this election:

They're the same! Doesn't anybody notice this? I feel like I'm taking crazy pills!

I am actually less frightened by the candidates than by people who seem to get so excited by one or the other of them.

New Unemployment Numbers

US unemployment in August "jumped unexpectedly" to 6.1%, by the oddest of coincidences in the first full month just after new, 12% higher US minimum wages took effect

The unemployment rate is higher than it has been in the United States in the last 5 years, but substantially lower than the rate most Western European countries like France and Germany experience even during peak economic times. 

In response, the Obama campaign is urging further increases to the minimum wage and emulation of labor policy and legislation in France and Germany.

More Great Moments in Government Spending

Apparently, 3-1/2 miles of new border wall near San Diego will cost at least $57 million, or $16.3 million a mile (or a bit over $3000 per foot).  For comparison, the 350 mile long Maginot line cost France about $150 million in the 1930s, or about $2.3 Billion in today's dollars.  This puts the cost of the Maginot line, underground tunnels, bunkers, gun emplacements, and all, at $6.5 million current dollars per mile.  Of course, the Maginot line was not built as a continuous wall to catch individual infiltrators, but on the other hand the San Diego wall is (presumably) not being built  30 kilometers deep with layered emplacements to handle massed tank and artillery attacks.

It could be worse for taxpayers - they could be laying railroad track instead of building a wall, since that costs about $96 million per mile here in Phoenix.

I can't wait for those huge administration cost savings that are promised from nationalizing health care.

Update: I just thought of one other comparison- like the Maginot line, at least one end of this San Diego wall hangs in the air, meaning it just ends hundreds of miles before the border does, allowing it to be easily flanked.

Danger. Danger. Danger.

If I had to name the one single biggest problem in US healthcare, it would be this:

"Twenty years ago, when I was in training, nobody really dealt with
economics," says Stephen Hufford, an oncologist in San Francisco. The
prevailing thinking, he says, was: "Cost should never be an issue in
someone's care."

In a survey of 167 cancer doctors reported last year in the Journal of
Clinical Oncology, 42% said they regularly raised the issue of costs
when discussing treatment options with patients.

Which means that even today, 58% of oncologists did not raise cost or price issues with various treatment options, despite practicing in perhaps the most costly of medical fields.  What planet are we living on, here?  Can you imagine a survey in which 58% of car dealers refused to raise the issue of cost in a new car sale?   Or 58% of real estate brokers saying they never mentioned the prices of houses when discussing them with clients? 

This represents a process failure in the health care system on two levels.  First, not having any single person in the decision-making process making cost-benefit trade-offs is a recipe for disaster.   Insured customers will consume as much as they can when price is off the table.  Many folks in the health care debate recognize this.

But there is a second problem.  Even when there is a single entity making these trade-offs, it is almost never the patient.  Most "reformers" on both the left and the right want to place this decision-making authority in government bureaucrats, in insurance companies, in Congress, in doctors -- any place but in the individual patient herself.   This particular article discusses the role of doctors in this process:

Many health-policy experts say it's high time for American doctors to
start considering costs when assessing treatment options. In 2007, the
cost of cancer care alone reached an estimated $89 billion in the U.S.,
up from $72 billion in 2004, according to the American Cancer Society
using data from the National Institutes of Health....

The study, conducted
by Deborah Schrag, an oncologist at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in
Boston, found that 23% of oncologists said costs influence their
treatment decisions, and 16% said they omit discussion of very
expensive treatments when they know the cost will place great strain on
patients' resources.

This misses the mark.  Doctors should be ready to inform patients of their options, but at the end of the day we need a system where the patient is making these tradeoffs.  Note the absolute, nearly criminal arrogance of doctors who don't suggest the best treatment regime because the cost might stress out the patients.  How does the doctor know what financial resources the person might be able to bring to bear?

Postscript:  In an adjoining article, the WSJ has an article on the wacky way the French government makes these cost-benefit trade offs in health care:

Since 1860, when Napoleon III appropriated this
ancient Roman spa at the foot of the Alps for his empire, the National
Baths of Aix-les-Bains have been a symbol of France's cushy health-care
system.

On a recent morning, Jacqueline Surmont and her
husband, Guy, a 77-year-old retired construction worker, headed for
their daily mud wrap. The spa's rheumatism cures, thermal baths and
13-minute deep-tissue massage all are covered by France's national
health-insurance system. Transportation and lodging are, too....

"For many people, it's like a free holiday," says Ms. Surmont, who says
all her mud wraps and massages were properly prescribed by a doctor to
soothe her ailing back. "Some patients go shopping in the afternoon.
They're hardly in pain."

Wonderful.  This kind of BS is virtually inevitable in state-run systems.  I think one can already imagine a US health care system where taxpayers foot the fill for groovy treatments loved by the dippy left, from acupuncture to aromatherapy to homeopathy, while cancer patients are denied drugs and people have to wait months or years for elective surgery.

By the way, we get this in the "goes without saying" file from a state-run spa employee facing cutbacks:

"Of course we went on strike," said Martine Claret, a 52-year-old
physiotherapist who has worked at the spa since 1979 and doubles as a
union representative.